Archived entries for Wine Education

Spanish Wine Trip: My Time in Bullas – Day Three

On day three, with 5,000+ calories in our system and a workout underneath my ever tightening belt, we packed up on our road trip with our fearless guide, Eduardo Ruiz.  Eduardo is the export manager of MGW Group and drew the short straw of driving us all over the region … or watching us sleep after consuming copious amounts of wine and more food that should be allotted for a small country. Bullas is a Spanish Denominacion de Origen (DO) for wines located in the region of Murcia and covers the territories of eight different municipalities and focuses on the Monastrell grape. 

Like Alicante, Bullas has existed since ancient Roman time and evolved from a Moore influence to Christian influence over time.  The region changed from a producer of bulk wines in the 1980s to an official DO in 1994.  The landscape is also limestone and has numerous valleys with unique microclimates with mountains to the west.  The weather is challenging with very hot summers and very cold winters.  

As part of MGW Group’s mission to create unique wines from organically grown grapes, Bodegas Lavia was created.  Bodegas Lavia is a boutique winery focused on balancing the fruit that is yielded with expressing the unique terroir in their wines.  The winery was built in 2003 and is located in Venta del Pino, an area known for great wines and a focus on the Monastrell grape.   

Bodegas Lavia’s production is concentrated on preserving the maximum expression and concentration of the grapes. Bodegas Lavia focuses on the same tenants as Sierra Salinas – temperature and gravity control.  The wines are over 40 years old and are grown 800 meters above sea level in an appellation – a higher appellation than yesterday – that is 2,400 hectors.  The soil is clay-based with gravel and the grapes are cultivated in a Mediterranean climate and planted diagonally. 

Sebastien took us through the winery and vineyards on a rainy day.  We learned that only 50,000 bottles are produced in the winery today because they want to keep the quality of the production at a high level.  These wines are produced in a Burgundian style and water is more of a natural source.

We tried three of the Lavia wines – Lavia, Lavia+ and Finca Paso Malo.  We started with a vertical of the Lavia wines and it was eye opening how different the vintages were in this representation.

2006 Lavia – it was rust colored and tasted of tomato confit (not in a bad way), asphalt and red fruit.  This was a really interesting evolution but different than anything that I’ve tasted.

2004 Lavia – this was the first vintage, but was surprisingly bright and drinkable with notes of leather, rose and red fruit.  I really like the smoothness of this wine and was a deal at $17 retail.

2009 Lavia+ — It had notes of spice, cherry, cedar, pepper and a nice nuttiness.  2006 Lavia+ — this was also delicious and ended up coming home with me.  Big notes of cherry, petrol and a nice minerality. 

2012 Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo – Only 2,000 bottles were made of this stellar single vineyard wine.  I tasted cranberry, spice, earth, rosemary, tobacco and a nice nuttiness that tied the wine together.  I really enjoyed this wine.

We then went into the winery and tried two blends directly from the barrel.  The 2013 Lavia+ and the 2017 vintage that just went into the tank.

After our wine tour, we had an amazing lunch at Restaurante Borrego.

Our next stop was the Museo del Vino Bullas, the region’s wine museum where we learned all about everything from the terroir to the way wine was stored to the grapes of the region. 

We ended our day with an exquisite dinner at La Nyora, which was my favorite dinner of the entire trip with a focus on the region’s seafood.  And of course some late night drinking and walking of the city by the #olewinos.   


MGW Wine Experience: My Time In Alicante

Our next day was spent at Sierra Salinas in Alicante.  Alicante is a Spanish Demoninacion de Origen (DO) located in the province of Alicante in Valencia, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary.  There are two sub-zones: Vinalopó, which is the Southern area of the province known for Monastrell, which we visited.  The other sub-zone is known as La Marina in the Northern area of the province.  Alicante’s grape growing and wine production traces back to the Romans.  The soil in the region is comprised of lime and sedimentary rock with a sandy consistency.  Vinalopó is known for Mediterranean temperatures that tend to shift to frequent frosts in the Winter creating extreme temperatures ranging from day to night.

Ramon Castano Santa is the original visionary behind the winery.  Ramon has been involved in the wine business since 1950 when the family built its first winery in Yeda, a small city near Villena,.  The family acquired Sierra Salinas vineyards in the beginning of 2000 and built the winery,  Bodagas Sierra Salinas, which is named after a mountain range.   The winery was up and running in 2006.  The Castano family made a bet on Monastrell (a red wine grape variety), and wanted to balance the legacy, quality and technology to make the best wine possible.  The production of Sierra Salinas will never pass 200,000 bottles because the family believes that the wines need to show the authenticity of the soil, terroir and the people.  In 2013, MGWines Group acquired the property.

We met with Winemaker Sebastien Boudon, who came to Spain from France because he was excited about the opportunities in the region.  He took us through the winery and showed us the unique temperature control system designed to manage the extreme temperatures as well as the gravity system the winery uses to avoid pump racking.  The grapes are processed on three levels of the building – the vinification plant is one the first floor; the grapes are pressed on the second floor and the bottling occurs on the third floor.  The grapes are hand picked and harvested in small batches to make sure the best fruit is used, but no fruit is sold in bulk.  The wines are stored in French Oak barrels.

We also walked through the vineyards, which are located 650-680 meters above sea level and we saw the dry irrigation of vines.  The winery is organic and planted on limestone, which is dry farmed.  There are 42 hectares of Monastrell and 10 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Petit Verdot, trained with trellis and goblet systems.  We saw two different vineyards – which had terroir that changed from clay to stones and with older vineyards.

We then went into the tasting room and had the opportunity to try seven wines.  Here was our line-up:

2013 Puerto Salinas – a blend of 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Moscatel, which had lots of jasmine and floral notes with white stone fruit and mineral notes.  A great deal under $10.

2012 MO Salinas Monastrell – lots of juicy cherry, berry, spice and very fruit forward.  The price tag here is $8.99 making it a hell of a deal and it matched my purse.

2010 Puerto Salinas – this had some age and more complexity.  You could taste the blackberry, spice, liquorice, beef jerky, balsamic and black pepper.  This one was a great deal at under $15.

2011 Puerto Salinas – it was fun to taste the difference that a year of age can make.  This had notes of floral (violets and roses), graphite and lots of spice. It was very silky and was easy to drink.  Same price range as above.

2010 Mira Salina –this one had notes of maple, vanilla and a deep berry.  The balance on this wine was great and I really enjoyed this more between the vertical.

2011 Mira Salina – this had earthier notes of licorice, berry, hazelnut and coffee.

2009 Salinas 1237 – this was an amazing and intense wine.  I tasted notes of currant, toffee, blood orange, balsamic and earth.  This wine was elegant, long lasting and a wonderful special occasion wine.  I made sure to bring a bottle of this home with me.  Sebastien talked about how this wine takes the best of the landscape with both the terroir and the grapes.  We ended with the Dulce dessert wine, which I didn’t have enough time between notes and pictures to truly savor.

We then moved to a delicious paella lunch at Restaurant La Despensa and ate our weight in paella and dessert.  At that point, we needed to walk the city so it was time for me and my partners in crime, Thea and Liza to explore the city.  Then another night at a great restaurant and another food coma.


MGW Group: My Introduction to the Wines of Alicante, Bullas and Bierzo, Day One

James Melendez (James the Wine Guy), Ward Kadel (Vinopanion) and me

I was invited by MGW Group, a new group of the top-of-the-line wineries from different appellations or denomination of origin (DOs) in Spain, to attend a U.S. wine bloggers trip to visit three wine regions – Alicante; Bullas and Bierzo – three terroirs where the weather couldn’t be more different and spanned from South to the North. 

The MGW Group focuses on boutique wineries that produce no more than 500,000 bottles per year that truly focus on the terroir of each region.  These are incredible value wines and the range and depth of what I tried impressed upon me that I need to do everything in my power to get them to Texas.  Distributors, take heed.

The trip started with a bang – after holding my breath from being number one on the American Airline’s upgrade list – I got the announcement that “Weazy was movin’ on up” to business class.  I knew that two of my fellow bloggers, James Melendez and Ward Kadel were flying through Dallas, but we didn’t meet up until the flight was delayed.  At that point my three million miles and American Express platinum card (membership has its privileges) allowed us to grab a quick glass of wine at the Centurion Lounge at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport and catch up.  We were having so much fun that we looked down to realize the delay wasn’t quite what we originally thought.  The mad dash for the plane was on and we made it with barely time to spare.

James, Ward and Mike

We were met by Mike from Kraynick & Associates, who served as our cruise director, with patience, humor and a passion for the region.  He was unflappable when our two compadres were delayed in Paris, he found a way to take make sure they were taken care of and had details on how to catch the later train. 

We had the opportunity to walk the city of Madrid and begin our journey of eating for ten each meal.  We started at Gastrobar Larumbe with a preview of several of the wines that we would discover – the Tillenus, the Lavia + and the Puerto Salinas white, which I’ll talk about in more detail in futureposts.  The meal, which consisted of multiple tapas was delicious and substantial.  I soon discovered this was our “light meal” of the trip.  The two remaining bloggers pulled a stunt straight out of the show “Amazing Race” and made the train even though we thought they’d be several hours after us.  We didn’t figure this out, of course, until ten minutes before the train pulled into the Alicante station.

After a badly needed shower, we met for dinner and walked through the city of Alicante stopping for tapas and wine along the way.  There was a futbol match of Barcelona against Real Madrid, which a few of our group wanted to see, so we found a pretty authentic place to experience the game.

At this point, with our stomach’s full of great food and wine, the #olewinos probably made the last smart decision of the trip and retired to be fresh for tomorrow’s adventure. 


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

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

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


March Madness: A Wino’s Perspective

I’ve had so many great stories to tell lately that it has been a while since I’ve done a wine round-up.  We tried ten wines and five made the list of our #thirstythursday tasting group.  I love bringing this group together because it is such a diverse group of palates and it has been fun to see the evolution of several of them as their passion and knowledge of wine evolves.  It also keeps snobbery in check because it’s fun to watch them discover a Zinfandel that makes them want to drink Zinfandels for the first time.

2012 Loveblock Pinot Noir – this New Zealand-based pinot noir was full of red fruit with a funky layer of earthiness.  It was well balanced and a totally different take on pinot noir that I enjoyed.

2013 The Federalist Zinfandel – this was described as “the zinfandel that makes me want to drink zinfandel” by several of the members in our group.  This was loaded with spice, berry and had big notes of mocha.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

1999 Lazzarito Vigna La Delizia Barolo – for many in the room, this was the oldest wine that they had ever tried.  It had a big earthy quality with plum and almost a raisin taste.  It was very good but I wish I had given it some decanter time and had a food pairing to match.  I wasn’t fair to the wine in that aspect.

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Franc Napa Valley– another great representation of what a cabernet franc should taste like to be bottled on its own accord.  It was full of a balance of green pepper, chocolate and deep berry. 

2012 Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – it’s like receiving a gift from one of your favorite and elegant relatives.  You start with looking at the stylish packaging and follow by carefully unwrapping what is inside.  In this wine, I found layers of sophistication and tasted everything from blackberry to chocolate to mocha to licorice.  Intense and delicious.


Savor the Moment: Mark Your Calendars and Celebrate Dallas’ Food and Wine Scene

Courtesy of Savor Dallas

Somehow the stars have never aligned for me to attend Savor Dallas and I’ve regretted it.  Unfortunately it has always been sandwiched around the time that we take my daughter on holiday for Spring Break.  This year, I will get to attend one event before I leave for a blogger’s trip to Spain and I’m excited. 

If you are a wine lover based in Dallas, you’ve got to love the mission of Savor Dallas – showcase the best of Dallas – educate and entertain with the best wine, spirits and beer out there and show off culturally what Dallas has to offer.  Isn’t that why we live here, y’all?

In its 11 year history Savor Dallas has become a signature event and since CrowdSource, a Dallas Morning News events division, acquired it from Jim White and Vicki-Briely-White, there is some big momentum to take it to the next level.  And now that my favorite charity, Café Momentum is hosting a Community Brunch, complete with gospel music and food, I couldn’t be happier. 

Here’s the line up and details for the four-day festival. 

  • Arts District Stroll, March 19 from 5-7:30 pm
  • Savor the Arboretum, March 20 from 6:30-8:30 pm 
  • The Reserve Tasting, March 21 from 5:30-7:30 pm
  • The Grand Tasting, March 21 from 7-10 pm 
  • The Community Brunch, March 22 from 11 am-2 pm

There’s also The Toast of the Town Series that is scheduled in conjunction with the festival.

Tickets are available via the Savor Dallas website and they range in price from $40 to $150 per event.  Use the special code WINECHICK, which is good through the Friday of the festival and gets you 15 percent off the Arts District Wine Stroll and The Grand Tasting.  Anyone joining me at the Arts District Wine Stroll?  I’ll see you there.


Hawaii, Wine and Mixing Work with Pleasure

Aloha.  I had the opportunity last week to go on a sales incentive trip to Hawaii.  I left as the snow and traffic snares piled up in Dallas and landed in paradise.  As many of you know, I head marketing for a software company for the paying gig, so it’s fun when my passion for wine and job collide.

Because the sales team worked their collective butts off to get to Maui, this trip needed to be special.  I learned early about the sacrifices that spouses/significant others and families make for deals to get done.  And wine was going to be a significant part of the experience.

I needed to find the perfect balance of “off the beaten path” wines that would satisfy palates from around the globe at a cost that wasn’t too outlandish, but certainly didn’t taste that way.  Here’s what I chose – Iet me know how you think I did….

 I learned a few lessons along the way:

  • Avoid “porn star martinis” at all cost.  Trust me.
  • A 7:00 a.m. excursion will not attract the masses.  Three out of 14 actually showed for the ATV trip.
  • Speaking of ATV tours, do not try to overachieve or you may come dangerously close to tipping the vehicle.
  • Do not try to out dance a dance troupe, even if you were in one in your younger years.
  • Every party has a tipping point moment, try to identify that before it happens.

I hope my co-workers had as much of an amazing time as I did.

 

 


A Tale of Two Cities: A Chat with Margo Van Staaveren and Christophe Paubert

 

Margo Van Staaveren, Winemaker, Chateau St. Jean, and Christophe Paubert, Winemaker and General Manager, Stags’ Leap Winery

Usually it’s the tale of two cities – Napa and Sonoma.  But sometimes there is an exception and that’s where the best stories originate.  I had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Margo Van Staaveren, winemaker for Chateau St Jean, and Christophe Paubert, winemaker and general manager for Stags’ Leap Winery.  I learned quickly that an apostrophe is worth a thousand words when you are waxing poetic about your experience with the wrong, but closely named winery.

Let’s start with the correct history of Stags’ Leap Vineyard, a vineyard with a 100+ year history and more than 240 acres, which was founded by Horace Chase and his wife, Minnie Mizner. The property was named “Stags’ Leap” after an old Indian legend, which talks about a lone stag taking a great leap over the palisades to escape hunters.  During the Chases ownership, a manor house and a winery were built and it became quite the social destination, known for great parties with prominent politicians, artists and writers in attendance.

Fast-forward to a fortune lost, and Mrs. Francis Grange acquired the property in 1913.  She transformed the property into a working ranch and Napa’s top resort.  Again, the property remained a destination for the fun and the famous.  After the Grange legacy ended, the property fell into disrepair until Carl Doumani restored the property in 1971.  Carl’s dream originally was to restore the hotel, but Napa zoning laws kept that from being a reality.  He planted grapes instead.  Today the 80-are vineyard is divided into 23 blocks.

Christope joined Stags’ Leap in 2011 and has worked at some of the world’s most pre-eminent vineyards including Chateau d’Yquem and Gruard-Larose as well as projects in Chile, Spain and Washington State.  He wanted to go to California, but also wanted to make sure he could still produce the wines in the style that he was passionate about creating.  He said he was the only winemaker to actually bring his own wines to the interview.  Once he was hired, first and foremost, he focused on the fruit, the soil and making sure “the transparency is evidence between the consumer.”

Chateau St. Jean was founded in the Sonoma Valley in 1973 and has long been a leader in showcasing vineyard-designated wines with a “small lot mentality.”  In the beginning of its history, the winery made single vineyard cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel as well as chardonnay.  But, the winery became known for producing award-winning chardonnay and Chateau St Jean stopped making red wine in the early 80s.  In the mid 80’s, the vineyard was replanted and the winery started again to produce red wines.

Margo’s husband, Don, was the assistant winemaker when Cinq Cepages Cabernet, a Bordeaux blend of five varieties of Chateau St Jean was the first Sonoma winery to be awarded the Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year.”  I asked Margo if she felt pressure about continuing the award-winning tradition, she said “Absolutely not.  I was part of this team from the beginning.”

The year 2015 will mark Margo’s 36th harvest at the winery, which becomes an even cooler story when she tells you how she started as a lab tech.  We talked a little about some of the women like Merry Edwards who helped to pave the way.  Her perception that she’ll validate in time for a spring keynote is that the percentage of women involved in the winemaking top roles probably remains the same today as it was 35 years ago.  I sure hope that isn’t the case.

In talking with Margo, she is all about capturing what makes each vintage special with the best the fruit can bring to the wine.  I tried the following wines from both winemakers during the tasting:

-       2011 Chateau St Jean, Robert Young Vineyard Chardonnay,

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley Cabernet

-       2012 Stags’ Leap, Napa Valley “The Investor”

-       2012 Stags’ Leap Napa Valley Petite Sirah

-       2010 Chateau St Jean, Cinq Cepages

The philosophies of both winemakers and vineyards are the same.  The wines sampled were all delicious and truly showed this guiding principles of showcasing terroir, blending Old World and New World techniques and making the best and most genuine wine possible.   Both winemakers told me they look to retain their own expressions, but they have the “keys” and the crews behind them who make the wine possible.

 


Mondavi Legacy Continues: My February #ThirstyThursday Wines

After the opportunity to chat with Peter Mondavi last week, I had the chance to experience the wine of another Mondavi – Michael Mondavi.  This was another lesson in heritage as Michael strives to recreate the style of cabernets that the Mondavi family were known for in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.  

I was sent a sample of the 2010 Michael Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100 percent Cabernet, which is a rarity in itself. This wine truly reflects timelessness and a family heritage.  “Animo” means spirit in Italian and Michael Mondavi’s grandfather taught him that all great winemakers respect the soil. It is velvet in texture, a deep purple in the glass and has a rich mouthfeel.  It has elements of Old World and New World with lots of earthy, blackberry, plum, minerality, vanilla, cinnamon and caramel.  It was stunning and as my colleagues noted, “I think your eyes just rolled back in your head when you tried it.”

We tried several other wines on this #thirstythursday that made the list including the following:

  • 2013 Amici Sauvignon Blanc – this 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Musque and Sauvignon Blanc was full of tropical fruit, citrus, orange blossom and notes of flowers and flint.  It was mineral and a great afternoon patio wine.
  • 2011 Chateau La Pointe Pomerol Bordeaux – this was a great entry level Bordeaux with truffle, chocolate, terroir and red fruit.

My Conversation with Peter Mondavi from Charles Krug: Family, Sustainability and Tradition

It’s not often I have the opportunity to sit down with one of the reigning members of one of the undisputable first families of wine in Napa.  But I got to do exactly that when Peter Mondavi Jr, co-proprietor of Charles Krug, came to Dallas.  By the way, he also happens to be one hell of a nice guy.

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943 and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Sr family. Estate vineyards are located in St Helena, Yountville, Howell Mountain and Carneros.

Cesare Mondavi first came to Minnesota from Italy in 1906 and became a miner.  In 1908, he returned to Italy to marry Rosa Grassi and started a boarding house and saloon.  In 1922, as Prohibition hit, the Mondavi’s and their four children moved to California and started C. Mondavi and Sons, which was a grape shipping business. 

Cesare didn’t set out to be a winemaker – just an accidental entrepreneur who wanted to take care of his family.  After success in the grape shipping business, he decided to purchase the Charles Krug winery.  Cesare Mondavi was an innovator and introduced the cider press for winemaking and many other advanced winemaking techniques that were unheard of during that time.

His son, Peter Sr, attended Stanford and pursued graduate studies in enology.  He then served in the US Army in World War II and returned home to the winery.  Peter has carried on many innovations at Charles Krug including vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, among others.  Peter Sr had two sons, Marc and Peter Jr, who followed in his footsteps, one attending UC Davis and one attending Stanford.

Fast forward a generation.  You can tell that both sons have the entrepreneurial spirit and understanding of how technology done well can improve key steps of a business and are very involved in the workings of Charles Krug.  Peter Mondavi Sr is still active, and comes to the winery to sign checks at age 100, but has handed the reins to his sons. 

Peter Jr told me about how his role at the winery evolved from working for 50 cents a day at age eight where he was assigned the task of unwrapping tasting glasses.  After returning to the winery with a BS in mechanical engineering and a MS in engineering management followed by a MBA, he handled everything from the capital expansion of the winery to designing the state-of-the-art temperature control system at the winery.

We tried a number of wines and I loved the pride that Peter had as he described each one, which were all delicious.  Here’s my assessment (please note that some of these wines will not be on the market for another few months).  I continued to drink them over a three day timeframe and the evolution was amazing:

  • 2014 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc – full of lots of citrus, grapefruit, peach and minerality.  It was the only wine with a twist top and meant to be enjoyed young.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of Mondavi family members.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of cinnamon, All Spice and berry.  He discussed it being one of their cocktail wines that you drink before dinner as it stands alone without needing a food pairing.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, mocha and caramel flavors.  This is a wine that is roughly not produced three out of five years and it was incredible.
  • 2012 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the second vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis and big black fruit.

During my conversation with Peter I never lost track of the fact that Charles Krug Winery is about family, sustainability and keeping a tradition strong.  The Mondavi’s continue to innovate and invest to bring the Charles Krug brand back to its heritage.  The result is a delicious one.




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