Archived entries for Wine Blogging Wednesday

Day Three Paso Robles: From Zip Liner to Winer to Niner (Estates)

Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region.  And how cool is that?

We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region.  Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard.  Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard.  Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.  With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.

We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure.  It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that?  Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure.  And what an adrenaline high!

Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor

After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines.  I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place.  Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”

Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip.  Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth.  We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.



Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion.  The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.

We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries.  We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals.  The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip.  ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex.  I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.

Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso.  Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983.  After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics.  After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s.  This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).

He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines.  These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.

Gary Eberle

Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves.  He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.”  Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards.  Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.

So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport.  Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be.  This is false.  You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore.  We didn’t do that.  Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight.  I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.



A Night with Danielle Cyrot from CADE Winery at Rapscallion

Cyrot and me

March was an unbelievable month for me as a blogger.  Almost daily, I had the opportunity to break bread and hear the stories of California’s top winemakers.  One of the highlights included my dinner with Danielle Cyrot, winemaker for CADE Estate Winery, at, one of Dallas’ hottest restaurant.

CADE has two sister properties, PlumpJack and Odette, that are focused on making powerful Cabernet Sauvignons – all with a Shakespearian name play.  PlumpJack was the first winery among the group to be established in 1995 with a muse of Sir John “PlumpJack Falstaff,” a jolly, fun-loving, round bellied gentlemen with a love for wine.  The name was also the name of a wine shop in San Francisco with a goal of demystifying wine.  PlumpJack was the first high-end winery that gave screw caps credibility by putting them on reserve wines.  It is also a LEED certified winery.  Odette is known as a princess, a mistress to the king, a judge and a heroine and the winery was founded in 2012.

In 2005, Gavin Newsom, Gordon Getty and John Conover established CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain.  CADE is also a Shakespearian name that refers to the wine casks (cades) that were shipped from Bordeaux to England.  The volcanic soil of Howell Mountain makes deep, rich and elegant wines.  The winery is 50 acres.

Danielle Cyrot is the winemaker.  She is passionate, smart as a whip and a great dinner companion with style.  She grew up with a wine loving French dad who took her to France to discover her wine heritage.  Her great grandfather was the last of her ancestors to own the Cyrot vineyard in Burgundy.  Wine was not in her original plan, but her love of viniculture and technology was inspired when she took an introductory winemaking class.

After two internship stints at Schramsberg and Artesa, she worked abroad in Alsace, France and South Australia.   She moved back to California and worked as an enologist, as assistant winemaker for Stag’s Leap and then became the winemaker for St. Clement.  In 2012, she joined CADE.

She talked about being a purist.  “I take what the fruit gives me and make it the best that it can be.  I don’t try to make an apple pie a lemon meringue pie.  It’s all about elevating great fruit and making it the best it can be.”

Danielle talked about the techniques she learned in Australia and France and how they taught her the chemistry and technology behind making good wines.  “I find the terroir and use science and technology to make my decisions.”

And now for the wine pairings with the dinner.  We started with Oysters, Jumbo Lump Crab Toasts and House Pimento Cheese and Benne Wafers paired with the 2014 Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley.

Our first course was Herb-Ricotta Cavatelli with Little Neck Clams, Smoked Pork Cracklins, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Pickled Celery with the 2013 Adaptation by Odette Chardonnay, Napa Valley.

The next course was a Wood-Grilled Texas Quail with Huckleberries, “Curry Q” Duck Hearts, Coal-Roasted Beets, Green Goddess, Popped Sorghumpaired with the 2013 PlumpJack Syrah, Napa Valley.

We moved to A Bar N Ranch “Rotisserized” Texas Wagyu Tri-Tip Roast with Wood-Roasted Baby Carrots, Robuchon Pommes Purée, Dry-Aged Beef Spuma, Coal-Fired Onion Juswith a 2012 Cade Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain.

Our final course was a cheese selection with the 2014 PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay, Napa Valley.

It was a night to remember of Shakespearian proportion…. and I don’t even have to tell you how great every single wine was that evening.

And, on an insiders note, Randall Grahm, the first ballot hall of famer in the world of wine, Bonny Doon Wine Maker and someone who changed the wine world will be at a Rapscallion wine dinner on April 11 beginning at 6:45 pm.  The cost is $105 plus tax and tip.

The Oscar Goes to … Piper Heidsieck



When one gets an invitation to a party by the official champagne host of the Academy Awards, the answer is a resounding yes.  From the moment we walked the red carpet at the terrace of the Joule Hotel – naturally in our black tie attire – this was a dress to impress party that was absolutely a special occasion.  Aside from the Oscars in Los Angeles, other parties were held in other major markets in the US including New York.

First, the champagne was free flowing starting with the Piper Heidsieck Brut NV and the Piper Heidsieck Rose Sauvage.  As the evening continued, we had a chance to sample both the 1999 and 2002 Piper Heidsieck Millesime Champagne, which were poured at the Oscars and the bottles had a detachable Tierra (of course I had to wear it).  Naturally it was opened by sabering the bottle.  The guests had a chance to fill out Oscar ballots and win prizes so the spirit of competition kicked into gear.   There were great prizes from customized gear to magnums of champagne.

Terri Burney, Owner of Winetastic and Oscar Trivia Pro

I started off strongly with my ballot, but sadly ended up pretty middle of the road at the end with some of the big upsets like best picture.  Thankfully, the owner of Winetastic, a great wine bar in Dallas, took home the special magnum, so I was glad to see that it found a good home.

Checkered Past Winery: A Dallas Wine Bar Where Someone Always Knows Your Name

If you are looking for a wine bar that takes itself incredibly seriously and is full of folks discussing the esoteric qualities of wines, Checkered Past Winery is not for you.  If you are looking for your next neighborhood “Cheers experience,” but with a mix of Texas and international wines (and beer too), belly on up to the bar and let Sandro DiSanto , co-founder, owner and winemaker and Carolynne Chancellor, manager and vineyard owner, change your mind about wine snobbery and Texas wines.

So I’ve told you what Checkered Past Winery isn’t.  So what is it?  It’s an urban wine pub in the South Side neighborhood which features quality Texas wines, locally brewed beer, and great wines from around the world with really great folks running the show.  Checkered Past actually has its own wines made in Texas.  We tried several of the wines – the albarino, the viognier and the syrah.  I liked them all, but really enjoyed the two whites.

The winery, which opened in early December of last year on Prohibition Day, is themed around Mods and Rockers, two different British youth subcultures of the early to mid 60’s and 70’s.  The rocker subculture was based upon motorcycles, leather jackets and 50’s rock and roll.  The mod subculture was based around fashion (think Mad Men), music and many rode scooters.

There are a lot of things that make Checkered Past Winery unique including the fact that Sandro is a winemaker making his owned branded wines that you can try at the winery.  His philosophy is to make “balanced wines without faults and pair well with food and friends.”  Carolynne is also growing grapes that will eventually be used in the branded wines.  There is a list of fellow Texas winemakers (higher end) that are considered “friends” as well as seven tap wines as well as local beers and ciders in addition to the international wine list.

Sandro wanted to build an urban winery after commuting more than 80 miles each way to work and wanted to change the traditional model of having to travel to a winery.  The Cedars neighborhood was chosen because it was creative and artistic.  Walking into the building, you see that influence.  The staff at Checkered Past Winery designed the entire space themselves except for the paint you see on the walls.  You see old metal, scooter and motorcycle parts that showcase the theme.  The music also is a mix of reggae, ska, jazz and punk – depending on the night and live bands are prevalent.

Wines are available by the glass, bottle and through the wine club.  It’s free to join and you are only committed to one month for two bottles – usually around $40.  You won’t find wines on the center shelf of the grocery store – it’s a cool and eclectic selection.

And, the food.  A picture says one thousand words and I’m positing all the delicious things that we ate.  This is a wine bar that is meant to be a place to demystify wine and become your next neighborhood destination.

Favorite Brands Portfolio Tasting: Kid in a Candy Store Reality

Being a blogger is pretty amazing.  The A-list invitations to dinners, wine debuts and portfolio tastings makes for a blessed existence. I recently posted pictures of more than 100 bottles of wine and amazing wine makers present at a Favorite Brands portfolio tasting and my direct messages exploded with very pointed questions about the process and how does one get invited.  Having just returned from a Universal Trip with my daughter to Harry Potter World, this is my idea of “kid in a candy store” with fun that is not manufactured.

So the main question is what is a portfolio tasting?  Essentially it’s when distributors debut the entire portfolio of wines available to the wine shops, restaurants, country clubs, etc., who have the ability to buy wines in the market.  Favorite Brands always has an incredible European portfolio of wines that are highly coveted and delicious and the wine makers are always front and center.  This year, Pierre Pastre from Chateau Fortia; Bertrand Stehilin of Bertrand Stehilin Vigneron; Bruno Boisson from Domaine Boisson and Domaine Cros de Romet; Jean Baptiste Lafond of Domaine Lafond; Luc Planty of Chateau Guiraud; John Junguenet of Alain Junguenet and Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co all attended to talk about the wines.

Essentially, this showcase is a “best of the best” weighed by regional preference but focused on a specialty or region of wines that are believed to be successful in a certain region.  If you have heard of “wholesale markets,” this is the wine industry version of that.

I can’t tell you how to get an invite, but you will see pictures of what I loved. I hope it reaches your favorite wine bar, restaurant or retail store so you get a chance to try these wines, which is the entire goal of these portfolio tastings.


The Evolution of a Palate: What Can a Four Year Old Teach You About Wine

It’s funny how Facebook can remind you of a moment.  Yesterday a message popped up that I posted about my daughter’s first interest in wine.  Mind you, she was only four years old when I posted this blog, but it’s interesting that she has continued to show an interest six years later and now is given the occasional taste (don’t be a hater – it’s standard in France and I have vivid memories of trying Uncle Louie’s awful homemade wine when I was young.)  And look how I turned out … well maybe that is a bad example.

For the record, she still isn’t blind tasting esoteric grapes and telling me the vintage, but neither am I.  I do think seeing wine on the table along with taking the stance that she always had to try everything has evolved her into quite the little foodie.  It’s allowed her to tag along on a few international business trips where she’s fallen in love with the cultures of London and Barcelona.

She recently asked if she could be the Dallas Wine Chicklet … at least I know I have a succession plan for the blog.   Look out world, when this kid’s palate evolves when she’s legal, she’s going to be unstoppable.


Kaiken: An Authentic Approach to Wine and Terroir

Authenticity in marketing and brand. It’s talked about often, but at the end of the day, most companies do not practice what they preach. I was asked by PROTOCOL wine studio to be part of its online twitter-based educational program designed to engage brains and palates.  This month featured Viña Montes and Aurelio Montes, who holds the title “Guardian of the Spirit” at the wine conglomerate – usurping any usual corporate role, especially at a winery that ships more than 1 million cases per year. 

In 2001, Aurelio Montes, the senior winemaker and founding partner of Viña Montes in Chile, visited Mendoza in Argentina and saw the potential of these wines.  Kaiken was founded in 2002.  In 2007, Aurelio Montes Jr. joined the winemaking team as the Enological Director in the Apalta facility.  He was there for four years and was responsible for developing new wines and studying the terroir.  In 2011, Aurelio moved his family to Mendoza, Argentina, to manage the Kaiken project.

First, a little about Kaiken.  The winery was built in 1920 in the district of Vistalba, Mendoza by Italo Calise and acquired by Kaiken in 2007.  Kaiken currently owns three vineyards of the highest quality in different terroirs, accounting for fifty percent of production.  Kaiken was named after Caiquenes, the wild geese, who fly over Patagona between Argentina and Chile.  The name is symbolic – combining the great attributes of both Chilean and Argentinian wines.

In terms of authenticity, Aurelio Jr strongly believes that it is time to start describing wines by region vs varieties.  This brings up the importance of terrior and puts a strong focus on the winery to educate the consumers, which usually translates into big dollars.  I absolutely respect that and Aurelio said,” it’s the energy of nature to express the terrior, so to me, it makes sense.” 

Last night’s tasting featured two Kaiken wines from Argentina. The Kaiken 2012 Ultra Malbec has been on my list of “the top 5 under $20 value reds” for ages.  It had notes of plum, blueberry, herbs, violets, spice, bittersweet chocolate and clove. It was delicious.

We also tried the Kaiken 2014 Terroir Series Torrontes, which had notes of peaches, white flowers mainly jasmine, tropical fruit, orange blossom and was really nice and different than the usual Torrontes that I’ve tried before.

Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc: A Taste of the Region

Finally, after 40 days and 40 nights of rain in Dallas, it looks like we are off to the start of Summer.  I am a big fan of well-made Sauvignon Blanc wines – especially in the Texas heat on a patio.  So, when I got the invitation from Dry Creek Valley Wine Association to taste some Sauvignon Blanc wines from a region during the #DCVSauvBlanc Virtual Tasting, I sent an enthusiastic “yes” as my response.

The live tasting featured winemakers Tim Bell of Dry Creek Vineyard, Emmett Reed of Gustafson Family Vineyards, and Ed Sbragia of Sbragia Family Vineyards.  I had the opportunity to meet Tim during a Sonoma wine event in Dallas last year and was impressed by his Sauvignon Blanc then.  The other family owned wines were new to me.  We tried the following wines:

  • 2013 Dry Creek Vineyard DCV3 Sauvignon Blanc ($25)
  • 2013 Gustafson Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
  • 2014 Sbragia Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($22)

Every one of these wines was delicious.  The styles differed based on the elevation, weather and a number of other factors.  What remained common was that the Dry Creek region is a place to find stellar Sauvignon Blanc.


Andegavia: Smart Package, Tasty Product

The folks at Andegavia Cask Wines reached out to me in the Spring with a green proposition – help reduce the amount of discarded wine bottles and still drink good wine daily.  A chat with our recycling guys would result in an admission that I drink a lot of wine and therefore generate a lot of empty bottles.  Or, perhaps they’d advise an intervention.

Andegavia Cask Wines was named after the region, Andegavia, where the wine trade began and where wines were once shipped in casks or barrels.  It’s meant to be an intersection between Old World and New World, but with a twist.  Andegavia is working with Patrick Saboe, the head wine maker at The Wine Foundry in Sonoma.  Patrick’s been known for overseeing production for Verismo, Keller Estate, Petroni and Pezzi King and has produced wines that the critics love.

I received a .375 bottle of Ruthven Napa Valley Red Blend.  If you look on its website, you see that the packaging is sustainable and eco-friendly.  I tasted big berry, black pepper and herbal notes with a bit of mocha.  It was a very nice wine and placed well in the #thirstythursday tasting with my colleagues.  Then you get to the price – one cask, which is four bottles, for $78, $199 for three casks making this a very affordable option that has some care and tending to the wine.  There are several red blends, one pinot noir and a chardonnay.

Winebow and Wilson Daniels Wine Portfolio Tours: A Taste of Heaven

Recently I had the opportunity to attend two portfolio tastings that swung through Dallas.  For those of you who haven’t had the chance to attend a portfolio tasting; it’s designed to showcase the wines imported and distributed by the company sponsoring the event.  It is a bit of a “kid in a candy store” experience, with wine buyers, restaurants, sommeliers and other industry wine people together in one place at the same time. 

Winebow was the first to come through town with the Vini d’Italia Tour 2014.  With this tour there was an opportunity to spend a brief period of time with one of my favorite wine people and friends, Melissa Sutherland Amado.  The tour focused on the Northern, Central and Southern regions of Italy and with 35 wineries they brought an array of wines.   

Melissa brought me through a variety of Italian wines.  I enjoyed them all – it was a diverse and interesting snapshot into “off the beaten path” Italian wines.  My favorites included:

  • Valdipiatta (Toscana) Vino Nobile Di Montulciano DOCG – this was 95 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent Canaiolo Nero.  It was elegant and delicious.
  • Giuseppe Cortese (Piemonte) Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva DOCG – this was earthy, rich and fabulous.  I really enjoyed this wine and would love to see what develops in the bottle over time.
  • Tenuta di Fessina (Sicilia) Erse Etna Rossa DOC – grown in volcanic rock, this was a mix of herbs, flowers, oak and black fruit.  I loved it – so different.
  • Altesino (Toscana) Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG – made from 100 percent estate grown grapes, this wine was truly the crème de la crème of the region.  It was stunning.

The next portfolio tasting came from the Wilson Daniels, a company known for its collection of luxury wines and spirits.  When I say luxury, I mean luxury.  Approximately 32 wineries and spirit companies attended and attendees were given several tickets that I soon realized the value of as I walked the floor.  The first ticket entitled us to a generous taste of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux, one of the Grand Cru burgundies.  

I quickly learned to hold my other tickets close to the vest as the second one brought me to Domaine Leflaive where I tried the 2009 Puligny-Montrachet.  Whoa.   There I had a great conversation with the rep at the table who guided me toward a small winery purchased by Anne-Claude Leflaive and Christian Jacques in 2008.  Clau de Nell made some great estate wines that are biodynamic.  I had never tried Grolleau, a native Loire Valley wine that I loved.  Seek it out if you can find it.

My final ticket gave me access to the Royal Tokaji portfolio where I was lucky enough to sit down with Ben Howkins, author of Tokaji, “A Classic – Lost & Found” and the co-founder of Royal Tokaji and the Tokaji Renaissance.  He personally tasted me through 10 wines in the portfolio including still and dessert wines that ended up with a spoonful (yes, usually a mother of pearl spoon, but not at a portfolio tasting) of the 1991 Tokaj Betsek, proof that God loves wine.

This was a great week to be a wine blogger – I must say.  The good news is that these importers understand that Dallas wine drinkers expect to have access to great wines – and they are answering the call.


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