Archived entries for Wine Education

The Art of Davis Bynum Blending: A Pinot Noir Clonal Lesson

Robert Larsen and Me

He just threw the question out, which might as well been rhetorical.  “Do you want to join the trade event or should we do a private one for a few of your wine club friends?”  That’s what Robert Larsen, director of communications for Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum Wines, asked me back in October.  Without hesitation, I gathered eight women and we began a journey led by Robert about Davis Bynum wines, the Russian River Valley and the art of deciphering clones of Pinot Noir.

First, a little about Davis Bynum.  Davis was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973.  I loved hearing about how Bynum, an aspiring winemaker and reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, purchased his first wine, a petit sirah, from Robert Mondavi in 1951.  Other key dates included 1965 when he purchased a warehouse and transformed it into a winery in Albany to his purchase of a 26-acre vineyard in Napa, which he was unable to build due to construction restrictions.  His journey continued taking him to Sonoma in 1973, where he established the winery in Russian River Valley, which became an AVA in 1983.  Here he began his focus on pinot noir and chardonnay wines.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, who has been making wine for four generations and is the owner of Rodney Strong Vineyards.  Forty years later, the focus is still the same and he continues his involvement with Davis Bynum and often has lunch with winemaker, Greg Morthole.

Pinot Noir, a widely known grape, has several sub-varieties, referred to as “clones.”  The seminar that Robert led for us detailed five different clones and what made them special as well as the final Pinot blend – the 2012 Davis Bynum Jane’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, which shows the beauty of blending the right clones, at the right time and in the right wine.  Clones are described as a group of identical genes, cells or organisms derived from one ancestor.

Grapevine clones are those that have been grown from cuttings from one single “source,” and were found to have interesting or superior qualities.  Pinot Noir aka known as “I’m too sexy for my clone – at least after this tasting” is the grape with the most clones with a total of more than 400.

The clones found in Davis Bynum Pinot Noir are Pommard, Clone 777, Clone 667, Clone 115, Clone 114 and Wadenswil.  Here’s my assessment:

  • Clone 777 – dark, black cherry, earthy, fruit-forward, violet and licorice.
  • Clone 114 – earthy, cola , pomegranate, blueberry and some minerality.
  • Pommard – mushroom, cinnamon and cherry.  This was my favorite with lots of “sex appeal.”
  • Clone 115 – floral, cherry and raspberry. This was more Burgundian in nature than the others.
  • Wadenswil – cherry, rose, herbal with raspberry.  More tannins in this one due to the thicker skins due to climate.
  • Clone 667 – cherry, black tea and earthy. 

What I learned is that each clone has its own unique flavor and the finished blend was where the rubber meets the road and the grape meets the earth.  And, once again, Robert is truly the host with the most as he took us out for an amazing dinner at Dragonfly at Hotel ZaZa after the seminar.


Bubbly for the Holidays: Why Yes, I Think We Will…..?

We are officially in holiday mode and that means it is the most “bubbly time of the year.”  According to the Wine Institute, 40 percent of sparkling wine and Champagne for the year is sold in the fourth quarter.

Although I am a year-round bubbly kind of gal, nothing embodies the holidays more than the festive pop of a cork.  As I plan for my annual sparkling wine tasting that I hold for my girls’ wine group, I am in festive mode.

Champagne is very different than sparkling wines such as prosecco, cava and Franciacorta.  Some sparkling wines are made in the traditional Methode Champenoise, not all of them can be called Champagne unless they are made in the region of Champagne, France.

Champagne and sparkling wines can be very dry (brut), slightly sweet (extra dry) or sweet (sec and demi-sec).  You will also see them identified as “blanc de blancs” (Chardonnay grapes), “blanc de noirs” (wines from black grapes such as Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier) or rose sparkling wines.

Here’s my list of sparkling wine and Champagne recommendations at all price ranges:  

De Chanceny Cremant de Loire ($13)
This wine from the Loire Valley is complex with notes of apple, flowers, white stone fruit and lime.  It is lovely and one of the best values out there.

Bocelli Prosecco NV, Italy ($17)
Made by that Bocelli that sings opera… It is full of green apple, tropical fruits, pear and floral notes.  The Bocelli family collaborates with Trevisiol, the first family of prosecco.

Fratelli Berlucchi Rose ($27)
Franciacorta comes from Lombardy in Northern Italy, which is the well-known region for Italian sparkling wines using the traditional method of re-fermentation in the same bottle and the first to obtain Italy’s Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation.

I can almost guarantee that you’d be introducing your guests to something that they had not had a chance to try before.

J Vineyards Brut Rose NV ($38).

This is one of my favorite sparkling wines.  I love the strawberry and cherries, baked French pastry and a silky texture.

Pierre Peters Cuvée de Réserve Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($56)
This is what I am serving at the girl’s tasting.  It is one of my favorite grower’s Champagnes, and is a favorite of many sommeliers.  It has notes of apple, apricot, floral, fresh bread, lemon zest and orange with a finish that lasts forever.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne ($80)
This is elegant, beautiful and is amazing.  I taste citrus, pear, raspberry, flowers with some herbs and spice at the end.

In the words of the late Lily Bollinger, figurehead of the Bollinger champagne house, describing her attitude toward drinking Champagne:

“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.” 

A very smart lady giving me the right direction on enjoying this holiday season.  Will you join me?

 


It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

I recently sampled two high-end wines that deserved their own write up.  First, let me say in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not on the Cornerstone Cellars payroll.  I just really like the style and structure of their wines – up and down the value chain.  They are consistently well made, represent the terroir where they are grown and vary from year to year depending on nature.

  • 2011 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – we tried this over a two day period and it really needs a chance for the layers to unravel.  At first sip, it was big and powerful with notes of chassis, mocha and blackberry.  On day two, it was elegant, nuanced and the floral and spice notes really came through.  It was everything a Howell Mountain Cabernet should be.

  • 2010 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of six different Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards and one Cabernet Franc vineyard from the renowned Puente Alto Vineyard in Maipo.  The wine had the juiciness of ripe red fruit, balanced minerality, notes of Asian Spice, plum and chocolate.  Since this was recently named number nine on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list, finding the Don Melchor might become a treasure hunt.  But well worth it. 

Cornerstone Cellars and J Vineyards Make a Vacation Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Non-Rain View of Punta Mita

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

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

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

My line up included:

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

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


 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November Wine Round Up: California, Spain & Italy

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

Whites:

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

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

Reds:

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

October Wine Round-Up

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

White

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

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

The other favorite whites included:

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

Red

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

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

Rose

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

Dessert Wine

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

The Wines of San Juan and the Quest for Dallas Distribution

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

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

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

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

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


Wine Blogger Conference 2015 Preview: Get Your Riesling On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




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