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Wine Blogger Conference 2014: Let the Countdown Begin

Bloggers Gone Wild at #wbc12

Many of you have asked me about what a Wine Bloggers Conference experience is really like.  With about two weeks left leading up to Wine Bloggers Conference 14 #wbc14 in Santa Barbara, I thought I’d go “old school” and recap advice that I gave after attending my first conference several years ago. 

Here’s the link and below is the updated recap.  As my blog has grown in readership, my invitations to private events have increased exponentially.  In essence, remember that if you are with a group of 300 citizen bloggers, everything you can say and do may show up online (exhibit A is below).  Someone posted this week that what happens in Santa Barbara stays in Santa Barbara … said no blogger ever.  So true!

1. You may have the opportunity to let another blogger who cannot attend live the experience through your eyes. Otherwise known as the what you say can and will be used against you adage Vintage Texas.

2. Under any circumstances possible, schedule your birthday to coincide with #wbc11. Trust me on this. My birthday falls a few weeks prior to the event, but Thea and I make it a habit to celebrate in style.

3. Get to know your local distributors, wine representatives and others in the industry.  

4. Share a room. Having been married for over 20 years, I was planning to have my own room until a mutual friend asked if I’d mind sharing with another female blogger who needed accommodations. I ended up with the most fun roommate in Liza and she became my running buddy at all events and has continued to be a fabulous roomie over the years.

5. Attend the unconference events. In the midst of one of our sessions, a note was sent out on Twitter that an unofficial wine tasting was in process on the back patio. As I slipped out in between the sessions, I found the bottle of Turley that I brought from home paled in comparison with the vintage Bordeaux wines, high end champagne and other cellar selections from other bloggers. 

6. Bring your list of Twitter handles included in the #wbc handbook. It was so much fun to put faces and names with personalities that I’ve come to know and love over the past year and a half.

7. Spit. Thankfully this is a lesson that I didn’t need to learn. If you were to ingest all the wine that is offered to you, especially during speed tasting, you would end up curled up in a ball in a corner somewhere. You already need a bionic liver to hold your own here anyway.

8. Open your mind and try to put aside preconceived notions. Over the years I went from being not a big rose fan to learning to appreciate it….

9. Partner with the local experts.  There are a ton of events that never make the formal agenda – after parties, educational events, tastings, etc.  Do keep in mind though that these invitations take time.

10. Exercise daily. Just trust me on this. It clears your head, jump starts your metabolism (you desperately need this based on the 6,000 calories that you consume daily with food and wine) and there is not a better way to see your surroundings.  The reactions of your fellow bloggers as they pass you in the exercise room on the way to the conference are priceless.

11. My bonus tip is to buy flair. The ribbons are sassy, fun and help define your personality. Know that your money will go to the scholarship fund to send a deserving blogger to the next blogger’s conference.

In terms of what the actual conference is like, it is like speed dating a wine region with the red carpet rolled out.  Imagine wine bottles everywhere, after parties beginning at 10pm and going until the wee hours, swag bags, wine makers, workshops, food trucks, bus tours and conferences that begin at noon.  Sessions where 10 winemakers have five minutes to pour the wine, tell you his or her story, and answer your questions for a total of 50 minutes. And wine – lots of wine.  For this year’s pre-conference excursion, we actually stay one night at the Day’s Inn where Miles stayed in the movie Sideways.  Apparently it hasn’t changed a bit.  And the after parties are just over the top – Jordan and Rodney Strong always do great events.  This year, I’m excited to be a part of the committee that chose the great scholarship recipients.  I can’t wait to meet them.

And tune on Twitter and on Facebook to follow along with the adventures from July 8 to 13.  I’ll be posting on the blog after the event and hope you’ll follow my journey.


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.


An Unexpected Conversation with David Adelsheim

Sometimes the stars align … last week appeared to be the perfect storm of a very tough and demanding work week.  We had a series of key all-day meetings for most of the week, which was grueling.  At the end of the week I found myself at the Fairmont Hotel with my executive team where we were having a very well deserved drink.

I ordered an Adelsheim Pinot Gris, usually one of my favorite “go to” whites on the Fairmont’s by the glass list. Our waitress stopped and said, you know that David Adelsheim, the founder, is sitting right over there doing a private tasting.  Of course I immediately crashed the tasting with Dallas Wine Chick card in hand.  Luckily, Hunter Hammett, one of the top somms in Dallas who leads the Fairmont’s impressive wine program and who is a friend, asked me to join while my executive team, at the paying gig, watched incredulously.

I had to get back to the meetings, so it was much faster than I would have liked.  David talked about the introduction of two chardonnays from Adelsheim and the concerted effort that has been going on back in the Willamette Valley to bring this grape to the public.  He’s been part of the effort of folks that have been working on making a good chardonnay since the late 1990s – to truly understand when to pick them, how to make them and how to make it the best grape it can be.  When I was at the wine bloggers conference (#wbc10) in Oregon, I was struck by the collaboration that occurred with the wine making community.  We tried the 2013 Willamette Valley Chardonnay and the 2012 Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay – the later of which was newly released.  Both chardonnays were great good, the Adelsheim Caitlin’s Reserve Chardonnay 2012 was stunning.  Pick it up while you can at Pogo’s – it’s lovely and only 350 cases were made.

We also tried the Adelsheim Rose 2013, a dry rose made from Pinot Noir grapes.  This had lots of fruit, but a minerality that made it a “Melanie” rose.  Those of you who know me understand that I don’t normally like in a rose.  This was a very nice rose.

We also tried two Pinot Noirs – the 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and the 2011 Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir, both newly released.  These were great representations of Oregon style Pinot’s, but I never would have picked these out of a blind tasting as Oregon Pinots.  2011 was a very cool vintage and was the latest harvest on record.  I asked David what he thought would happen with the evolution of these wines – he laughed, shook his head and said he had absolutely no idea.  The Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was full of black cherry, spice and was lovely.  Elizabeth’s Reserve was a bigger wine with lots of forest floor, berry, cherry, spice and cherry. 

I asked David if he was trying to replicate the style of the 2011 and he said his goal was not to make another replicated vintage but just to make lovely wines.  Based on my experience with Adelsheim, this is a strategy that has worked well for him since 1971.

 


Summer Wine Round-up: Feeling Thirsty?

If you’ve been following Dallas Wine Chick since I started my job as the head of marketing for an energy software company, you know that I work with a great group of people who are more than willing to step in and “assist” in the tasting of wines.  We started #thirstythursdays which evolved into #winewednesdays and then occasionally turned into #tipsytuesdays.  My travel has been challenging lately, so when we were able to gather, I would open a large number of wines that I needed to review.

The latest tasting included 25 wines from Spain, France, California, Argentina, Italy and even two ciders – the first time that I have ever been given cider samples.  These were the 14 that made the favorite list:

Sparkling/Rose

California

2013 Isabel Mondavi Deep Rose Cabernet Sauvignon – very crisp with raspberry, strawberry and apple. I’ve come over the years to enjoy rose much more than I used to and wines like this have caused that evolution.

Spain

NV Anna de Codorniu Cava – a very nice drinking cava with notes of apple, lots of minerality and freshly baked bread.

Whites:

France

2011 Chateau Lamothe de Haux Blanc – this was a delightful white wine with crispness, character and balance at $13.  Refreshing and with a great minerality.

Spain

2012 Martin Codax Albarino – I am a huge fan of this wine and Albarino wines in general.  This one had great minerality, pear, white peach and notes of citrus.

2012 Laxas Albarino — lovely and also well regarded.  I tasted pineapple, orange, apple and apricot.  It was also a great expression of this grape.

2013 Cune Monopole Rioja – tropical fruit, jasmine and other floral notes make this a perfect wine for a hot Texas Summer. 

Reds:

Argentina

2008 Susana Balbo Brioso Agrelo Malbec – this was one of my favorite reds of the tasting and personified what a Malbec should taste like. 

California

2011 Emblem Cabernet – a very nice cabernet with notes of blackberry, cassis, vanilla and tobacco.

2012 Olema Pinot Noir – black cherry, all spice, black pepper with some of the earthiness that comes from Sonoma Pinot Noirs.  It was a head turner.

NV Rare Red 4 Grape Blend – a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Verdot, Petite Sirah and Merlot from Lodi, Paso Robles and the Central Valley.  This is your perfect pizza wine at $10.

Chile

2012 Rios de Tinta – I thought this was a very affordably priced everyday Chilean table wine.  I got notes of blackberry, mocha and plum.

2011 Rios de Chile Reserva Carmenere – lots of tobacco, vanilla, clove, plum and blackberry in this wine. Well balanced and a great representation.

Oregon

2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir – this was delicious and I tasted mushroom, plum, black cherry, truffle and violets.  I so enjoyed this and am very glad this Oregon-based winery has expanded nationally and to Texas.

Ciders:

I am new to craft ciders so it was fun for me to learn more about Michael & Paul Scotto’s approach to bringing wine making techniques to making hard apple cider.  They use a combination of five different apple varieties and the process of making wine and making cider have many similarities.  We tried two versions – the William Tell Hard Apple Cider and the William Tell Pinot Grigio Hard Apple Cider.  I liked them both, but the 15 percent of Pinot Grigio had a special something.  It was delicious, refreshing and tasted like a baked apple.


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.

 


Get Underground and Take A Gamble on a Better Bottle

Underground Cellar is an online wine marketplace designed to deliver premium wine to consumers with free upgrades to higher priced wines on a random basis.  I was  recently provided a credit to experience their membership.  This is not a wine club – it’s designed to provide upgrades to premium wine, by chance, to members who have the opportunity to improve their chances by referring friends, purchasing wine and joining the site’s online forums.  You purchase wines by individual offer and I’ve seen them feature some really good ones from around the world..

As a marketer on a full time basis, I judge companies by the customer experience they offer when you have something go wrong the first time.  My first bottle came corked.  Immediately they issued another credit for me to try something new and that process was flawless.  Each week, Underground Cellar posts offers comprised of similar wines at different price points.  Members pay the lower price and receive their wines mostly direct from the winery so there is a delay until the offer is sold, the inventory depleted and then the wine is shipped.

Another cool feature is the CloudCellar, the ability to store purchases at no cost in their temperature controlled wine cellar in Napa.  Members can mix and match bottles over time and pay $5 to ship six to eleven bottles or nothing to ship more than 12.

I was given one upgrade to the 2008 Susana Balbo Brioso, which was at least $20 more than I paid for my original bottle.  Susana is known as the “Queen of Torrontes” or the “Evita of Wine.”  She has a reputation for making great Argentinian wine. The wine was very nice and full of blackberry, tobacco, currant, cedar and mocha.

This is definitely a fun experience for a wine lover to experience wine from around the world and gamble on the chance of getting a better bottle than you paid for originally.  To learn more, visit their homepage or sign in with Facebook to get started. No obligation, no hassle and just good wine.


Cork Wine Bar: Wine 101, 201 and 301 Education Series

I was recently asked to participate in Cork Wine Bar’s series of wine classes — Wine 101, 201 and 301, that was hosted by Stephanie and Jeff Rennells, the passionate and funny owners of Cork.  At each session we tasted six wines from around the world.  I found the wines to be diverse, off the beaten path and came to the realization that Stephanie and Jeff took great care to select wines that they were excited about sharing.  The entire series of three diverse and fun tastings was only $115, which is the deal of the decade.

The Fundamentals of Wine Series 101 took folks through wine producing regions of the world, common varieties, how to taste wine, common flavors of wines, wine ratings and common wine terms.  I was in Palo Alto for work, so I couldn’t attend this one, but the materials that were distributed looked like a great primer for beginners looking to learn more about wine. 

I was able to attend Wine Series 201 where we covered New World and Old World wines.  The format was casual, laid back and fun with wines that were affordable and then sold at a discount that evening.  People asked plenty of questions and the knowledge of the attendees ranged from newbies to serious wine lovers.  We covered how sparkling wines and champagnes are made and then tasted wines and cheeses from around the world – Spain, Austria, France and California primarily.  I loved the Qupe Marsanne which had layers of caramel, butterscotch, almond and a lot of complexity.  Just delicious.  Other stand-outs were The Franc Cabernet France and Chateau Paul Mas Rhone.  We talked wine storage, sustainable wines, tasting and Old World vs New World wines.  

In the Wines Series 301 class, we focused on wines from Italy and France.  They did a nice job in covering the geography of the region, which highlighted the complexities to help attendees understand the differences between the regions of Napa Valley, France (ranging from the Loire Valley to Champagne to Cotes du Rhone to Burgundy to Bordeaux.  Right Bank Merlots to Left Bank Cabernets) and finally Italy.  We talked about pairing food/wine as well as advanced wine terms ranging from unctuous (rich, lush and intense) to volatile (smells of vinegar as a result of a heavy amount of bacteria).  And then, we had a great page of tasting notes of characteristics of red and white wines.  In our tasting, I loved the Antech Cremant, the Val de Mer Petit Chablis, the Langhe Nebbiolo and the Chateau D’Aurilhac Cabernet.

I learned a lot – did you know there were more sulfites in a banana than a glass of wine?  Did you know there was no official certification for natural or sustainably labeled wines?  Stephanie and Jeff reinforced what I am a big believer in personally – try wines you like from lesser known regions.  You’ll find a bargain and you’ll find some wines that you love.    

You will walk away from this class with an understanding of wine varieties and regions, how to identify what you smell and taste, how to spot common defects in wine, how to select wine from a menu, how to read a wine label, and the basics of how wine is made.  There is a lot of information that you will take away from this class, but I won’t be able to bring it all to life the way that that Stephanie and Jeff did.  I highly recommend this wine class series.  It fills a big need in the Dallas market that is currently not filled without taking an expensive certification class.

 

 


Tasters Choice: A Round-up Of Higher End Wines

I received several fantastic packages in the mail this month full of wonderful higher end sample wines.  Because I put my #thirstythursday group to the test with trying the good, the bad and the very ugly in the world of wines on a continual basis, I wanted to make sure to show appropriate gratitude.

We started with two great whites from the Russian River Valley – ironically both with ties to the Jordan family.

  • J Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012 – full of lemon curd, pear, lemon and orange notes with great minerality.  It was a very good wine.
  • Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay 2012 – pear, lemon, vanilla and baked apple.  Heads down one of my top California chardonnays.

Reds:

  • J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2012 – full of black cherry, currant, cassis and plum.  A favorite of the group and a wonderful representation of Pinot Noir.
  • Piccini Villa Al Cortile Reserva Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2008 – earthy, herbal, fig, tobacco, chocolate with a nice fruit balance.  I really liked this Brunello and it was one of the first bottles to go.
  • Jordan Alexander Valley Cabernet 2010 – pepper, blackberry, tobacco with notes of mocha and cassis.  Another big hit of the group.
  • Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet 2011 – These guys make amazing wines and the big notes of blackberry, violet and rose petals did not disappoint.

Central Market’s Passaporto Italia: A Whole Lot of Mangia Going On

Central Market’s Passaporto Italia is kicking off on April 30 to May 13 and I attended the media preview at the Lover’s Lane store in April.  Think of this as a two week tribute to all things Italian – pastas to cheeses to foods to beers to winemakers to chefs. 

I had a chance to talk to Timothy, the assistant wine buyer, who discussed the 350 new Italian wines being brought in for the event.  We tasted through five wines from small producers.  Poor Timothy drew the short straw as all the other wine buyers were in Tuscany experiencing the region, but someone had to hold down the fort.

Our line up included the following:

Riondo Prosecco Punto Rosso – lots of pear, apple and nuttiness.  It was a very nice representation of Prosecco.

Castellari Bergaglio Fornaci, Gavi di Tassarolo – lots of citrus fruit, apple, pear and minerality. It was a very refreshing white wine for $20.

2009 Ormanni Chianti Classico – cherry, spice, floral notes and a herbal rosemary note.  This was a good representation of chianti.

2009 I Giusti & Zanza ‘Dulcamara’ Rosso Toscana – dark fruit, coffee and chocolate with hints of tobacco, spice and leather.  This was a big wine that would benefit with decanting.

2007 Orlando Abrigo Barbaresco Rocche Meruzzano – dark black cherry, black pepper, spice, marian berry and anise.  This was great.

A quick run down of the wine events that Central Market is offering follows:

Weds, April 30

Wine tasting with Luca Speri, a fifth generator winemaker, from 4-7 pm

Friday, May 2

Francesco Daddi, Owner of Ormanni/La Leccia hosts an evening of food and wine pairing his wines with traditional Tuscan game dishes, from 6:30-9 pm, $65. 

Monday, May 5

Stefano Chiarlo, winemaker for Michele Chiarlo will host an evening in Piedmont.  Chiarlo is noted as one of the ten best wine producers by Wine Spectator.  This is event is from 6:30-9 pm and is $65.

Tuesday, May 6

Francesco Mazzei, owner of Mazzei family wines, is hosting a tasting from 4-7 pm.

Saturday, May 10

Winemaker Tancredi Biondi Santi is hosting a Tuscan food and wine pairing featuring his family’s wines from 6:30-9 pm, $60.

Reserve your seats at www.centralmarket.com for the Lover’s Lane store events.  This is a great chance to try “off the beaten path” Italian wines at a great price point in a fun atmosphere.  And, check out the best gift bag ever….


Rhone Rangers Show the Diversity and Delightfulness of American Rhone Wines

My friend @sonomawilliam, a blogger, wine “MacGyver” and garagiste turned commercial vintner for Two Shepherds Vineyard asked me to be a part of a blue-chip list of “who’s who” in the blogger world for a #winechat dedicated to American Rhone wines.  This was a precursor to a “Weekend Celebration of American Rhones” held in the Bay area. 

Humbled, I joined the chat which included bloggers like David White of Terrorist, Jameson Fink of Wine Without Worries, Fred Swan of Norcal Wine, Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, Meg Maker of Makers Table and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, who is known as an industry legend and guy who started the Rhone train “a rolling” in America. 

We tried several wines and I enjoyed them all thoroughly.  I must say that each of these were diverse, unique and delightful.  Our line-up included the following:

  • Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc 2012 – citrus, orange blossom and minerality make this a delightful alternative to your usual white wine.  In the spirit of full disclosure, these wines impressed me enough to make my very short list of paid wine clubs.
  • Bonny Doon Cigare Blanc Reserve 2011 – hazelnut, walnut paste, stone fruit that was an alternative to your usual white.  I very much enjoyed this.
  • Cornerstone Syrah Napa Valley, Black Label — I’ve always been a big fan of Cornerstone wines and this one did not disappoint.  Full of plum, truffle, violets, coffee and blackberry.  It was just as good or possibly better on day two.
  • Kieran Robinson Le Voyageur Bennett Valley Syrah 2010 – this was my first experience with this brand and I’m impressed. It was smooth with notes of cocoa, cherries, smoke and almost a meaty quality.
  • Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas 2011 – another impressive wine with notes of cranberry, currant and big berry. 

Lesson learned during this tasting.  American Rhones are diverse, hold their own against French versions and I highly recommend you seek them out if you haven’t prior.  Keep me posted on how much you enjoy them.




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