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A Night In Dallas with Greg Morthole, Winemaker of Davis Bynum

Me, Andrew Chalk (wine author/writer); Robert Larsen (president, The Larsen Projekt);  Terry Hill (editor, Texas Wineaux); and Greg Morthole (Winemaker, Davis Bynum)

My favorite posts on Dallas Wine Chick have always been ones that tell a great story about wine, a winemaker or a region.  As a blogger, research goes into every post.  Living in Dallas, not necessarily next to acres of vineyards, much of this research is done online, while drinking the wine or during wine trips.  Davis Bynum is a winery that has figured out not only how to tell its story but how to truly teach complex lessons in a very easy to understand format.

In December 2014, Robert brought a group of us together to learn about Pinot clones; what goes into each clone and why; and we had a chance to sample the stand-alone clones and a resulting blend.  Here was my last experience with the clones of Davis Bynum.

So what is a clone?  Basically, a cut is made from a “mother” vine with the assumption that the cut will be genetically identical to the first.  Usually the winemaker is trying to find certain characteristics in the mother vine that they want to replicate.

This trip, Robert brought Greg Morthole, winemaker of Davis Bynum, to pour the latest round-up of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and four of its pinots.  Greg started working for the winery as a lab director before he was promoted to his current position.  His grasp of the intersection of science and earth was apparent as he discussed the wines.

First a little background about the winery. Davis Bynum was the first to produce a single vineyard pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in 1973 from Joe Rochioli’s vineyard.  Bynum was a newspaper man working at the San Francisco Chronicle, but inherited his love of wine from his father, who was a wine judge at both the Los Angeles and California State Fairs. He originally experimented with petite sirah from Robert Mondavi, which he deemed a success.  After several years, he decided to make wine his career and did it in Albany, California.  In 1973, he bought a property in Sonoma and found his group of dedicated grape growers.  The rest is history.  In 2007, he sold the winery to Tom Klein, owner of Rodney Strong, but the goal of producing single vineyard wines has not wavered.

 

 

We tasted through the 2014 Virginia’s Block Sauvignon Blanc and then tried the 2013 Chardonnay.  We moved to four different pinot noirs – two that were Sonoma blends from 2013 and 2014, one from the Russian River Valley and one from a single clone – all from Jane’s Vineyard.  The pinots had such different characteristics and I remain astonished on the range and deliciousness of each of these wines based on the block, the clone and the elevation.


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.


Cellars of Sonoma: A Virtual View of Sonoma’s Boutique Wines

Cellars of Sonoma asked several bloggers to partner during the month of February as part of its TV Tuesday Live sessions #tvtuesdaylive.  These tastings are scheduled every Tuesday at 6 pm PT at the Cellars of Sonoma tasting room in the Railroad District of Santa Rosa and feature family-owner, small-production boutique wineries from Sonoma counties.  The format is live and interactive with the Owner Scott Jordan interviewing a wine maker about his wines, wine philosophy and includes virtual participants (who use the Ustream feed at http://bit.ly/e4nxIF can ask questions).

From all accounts, Cellars of Sonoma truly feels like a neighborhood place.  Aside from the tastings, it sells wines by the glass, has a great selection of boutique wines you can’t find elsewhere and has great live music.

I received a four pack of wines from Cellars of Sonoma, which all are featured in their wine club shipment – four bottles in each shipment once per quarter.  It was fun for me to have to research all of the wines and the winemakers since I had never had the wines before.  And, they were all really good wines.

We’ve tasted with two of the winemakers so far and I was impressed with the passion for staying true to Sonoma that each exhibited.  These are the wines that we sampled:

2011 Super Sonoman Knights Valley Meritage — we tasted this with Winemaker Chris Taddei where we had the chance to try the wines and ask questions about the challenges of working with mountain fruit that is known as being tough because of the elevations and changing temperatures.  The Meritage as a blend of five grapes and I really enjoyed the wine.  Big notes of dark berry, herbs, tobacco and spice.  It was even better day two.

2011 Deering Cabernet Sauvignon – We tasted with Todd Maus, winemaker and owner of Deering Wine. Todd talked about the family’s belief that “their roots are in the earth.”  That is certainly evident with the long agricultural and farming background of the family.  This is another tough terroir with rocky slopes with fluctuating temperatures.  This wine had notes of tobacco, blackberry, spice, pencil lead and herbal notes.

There are two other wines that we have not had winemaker sessions with yet.  I wrongly assumed that we would open the wines the first session vs. having several sessions so I can tell you what I thought about the wines. You’ll have to stay tuned for the winemaker conversations to come.

2013 Moondance Cellars Reserve Pinot Noir – this is everything a Russian River Valley Pinot should be!  Big notes of cherry cola, raspberry and earth.  This was a gorgeous wine.

2012 Bonneau Winery Cabernet Sauvignon – this had earthy notes of plum, cassis, mocha, cedar, dark chocolate and clove.

 


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.

 


Bella Vita Bags: For the Most Interesting Wine in the World

You always hear that it’s the inside that counts, but I am a sucker for a well adorned package.  I’m not usually one to review many wine accessories, but these were just so darn interesting that I had to do it.

Bella Vita Bags features wine gift bags, gourmet bags, olive oil bags as well as wine charms, bottle stoppers, corkscrews and just about any other wine accessory needed to make what’s in your bottle shine from the outside.

Two immediately caught my eye — For the ladies there is a pink leather wine purse with flowers on the side. It’s not cheap at $39.99, but put an amazing bottle of wine there and it puts a paper bag to shame.  I’d suggest a Pierre Peters champagne to match the look here.

And for the more rugged male in your life (Masseto not included), there’s the Wooden and Leather wine box tower priced at a more affordable $14.99 here.  There are a ton of other options as well that are going to beat the majority of your wine store bags that start at $1.99.  And for those stores looking for a better selection, Bella Vita also does wholesale as well.


Taking a Second Look at the Best of Texas Wines: An Eye Opening Experience

 

As the Dallas Wine Chick, there has been an expectation by some folks in my fair state that it is my duty to write about Texas wine.  I had some interesting experiences with Texas wine early on including a Texas winemaker who told me that it was clear that I needed to re-examine my palate since it was obvious that I didn’t know good wine.  My reaction was probably exactly the one that you just experienced with a few key unladylike words inserted.  The joy about this blog is that I am not beholden to anyone and can write, or not write, exactly what I want to cover.

 

Last week, I wrote about our awesome experience at the Omni Barton Creek Resort.  After we left the Omni, Denise Clarke who leads the marketing initiative Texas Fine Wine #texasfinewine #txwine, arranged for us to taste wines at two vineyards.  The Texas Fine Wine initiative brings together five Texas wineries — Bending Branch Winery, Brennan Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery, Pedernales Cellars and the newly joined Spicewood Vineyards — with the goal of bringing national and statewide attention to high-quality wines being produced in Texas.

 

 

We piled into Amy Corron Power’s VW Beetle and set off on our adventure with bad country music and worse singing as the backdrop.  Our first stop was Pedernales Cellars. We were hosted by Julie Kuhlken, the winery’s co-founder, designer, and communications director.  Julie has a non-traditional background for a winery owner.  She was a graduate of Stanford University and received a doctorate in Philosophy.  She’s taught at universities in Europe and North America.

The winery is named for the Pedernales River and was started by the Kuhlken Family in 1995 when they planted a small vineyard outside of Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country, the oldest AVA in Texas.  This training served as a lesson that grapes that do well in California do not necessarily do well in Texas.

In 2006, the Stonewall, Texas, location opened anchored by a 1880s farmhouse that was moved from Fredericksburg with the understanding that being closer to Highway 290 would be good for business.

Asst Winemaker Demi Matar

I loved Julie’s honesty about lessons learned and how Pedernales is on a journey to be one of the top high-end wineries in Texas and ultimately just be known as a great wine.  We tried a number of Pedernales and Bending Branch reds and whites.  Demi Matar, the assistant winemaker, took us through several tank samples that I look forward to trying in the bottle — the Vermentino and the Rose.

 

I was impressed with the quality of the wines and appreciated the well designed labels on the bottles.  In fact, I took several bottles home and look forward to the evolution of those wines in my cellar in a year or two.

 

We tried the following line-up:

2014 Pedernales Vermentino

2014 Pedernales Viognier Reserve

2014 Bending Branch Comfortage (Roussanne)

2014 Pedernales Dry Rosè

2012 Pedernales Texas Vahalla*

2013 Bending Branch Tannat

2013 Pedernales Tempranillo Reserve*

Stonewall Glogg (this was “Christmas in a bottle.  It’s essentially a port in a Swedish style that we decided tasted delicious with notes of cinnamon, gingerbread and spice. I’m saving mine for 2016 Christmas)*

*Wines that I purchased

 

Denise Clarke and Duchman Family Winery General Manager, Jeff Ogle

Our next stop was Duchman Family Vineyards.  The winery was founded in 2004 by Doctors Lisa and Stan Duchman.  The Duchman’s focused on Italian grape varieties that grow successfully in Texas’ ever-changing weather.  The winery focuses on 100 percent Texas grown grapes to make 100 percent Texas wines.

 

 

We tried a number of wines and I’ve starred my favorites:

2014 Duchman Family Trebbiano

2014 Duchman Family Viognier*

2012 Duchman Family Vermentino

2012 Duchman Family Dolcetto*

2012 Duchman Family Montepulciano*

2012 Duchman Family Tempranillo*

2012 Duchman Family Aglianico

NV Duchman Family Progression*

2012 Duchman Family Nero D’Avola

2014 Spicewood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc*

2013 Brennan Vineyards Tempranillo

2012 Spicewood Tempranillo*

2012 Brennan Vineyards Super Nero

I’m heartened to see that Texas has found its groove in growing the right grapes that will flourish in our climate.  I have to say that trying these wines was an eye-opening nice surprise and I look forward to the continuing evolution of the Texas wine scene.


Omni Barton Creek Resort: Calling All Food and Wine Lovers

We’d talked about it for years.  Bringing the women blogger gang together for a weekend trip outside of the madness associated with the annual Wine Bloggers Conference.  January is usually a tough time of the year for me.  Traditionally it is a time of Sales Kickoffs, annual marketing planning and budgets as well as kick-starting the marketing lead generation efforts that will lead to future software sales.  This year was different.  I had just left my paying gig and I actually had the ability to exhale.

When the Omni Barton Creek Resort (which is known for great wine and food) invited us to stay at a great discount, the deal was sealed.  Liza Swift, Thea Dwelle and Amy Corron Power caravanned from Oakland, San Francisco and Houston to make the trip.  We checked in to a welcome note from the Omni marketing team and the most amazing welcome drink.  The glass contained brandy infused local apples, crack habit inducing honey and tea accented with local herbs.  There was also a bottle of Topo Sabores apple soda and a cute bottle of crown royal to make a delicious pre-dinner drink.

Alissa Leenher and her husband Derek generously agreed to host us for the first night.  It was a night of amazing wines, incredible food and great company.  Ryan Snedegar brought the supersize Cards Against Humanity and a plate of ribs.  Matt McGinnis came bearing Texas wine and spirits.  I think I had more beef that night than I had in the last six months.  It was a belly laughing, wine drinking kind of night.

Chef Andre Natera

The next day we were hosted by 8212 Wine Bar & Grill which featured creative dishes from the very talented Chef Andre Natera.  You may remember Natera from his awesome rebuild of the Pyramid Restaurant and Bar and then at Village Kitchen.  Let’s just say that Dallas has suffered a great loss with this talented man moving to Austin.  He’s now responsible for all seven restaurants at this Omni location.  He talked to us about his whimsical but clean approach to food and wow it was delicious!   We were joined by Tim Holloway from DE Fine Wine Group who encouraged us to taste the wines blind.

Here was our line up:

Clam chowder with chive potato puree and smoked bacon paired with the 2014 Zocker Gruner Veltliner.  This Napa Gruner contrasted nicely with its citrus, floral notes and mineralogy with the creamy soup.

Seared branzino, artichoke barigoule and preserved lemon vinaigrette with the 2014 Lemelson Dry Riesling.  This also worked incredibly well.

Mushroom tortellini, chives and butter paired with the 2013 Li Veli Susumaniello.  This was earthy, delicious and absolutely a perfect pairing.  It was also the one that stumped all of us.

Dry aged ribeye, pommes puree, cippolini and a thyme truffle sauce with the 2011 Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds. Yin and yang.

Chocolate tart with a caramel creameux with NV Verve Clicquot Yellow Label.  It took every ounce of willpower to cut the small corner and not inhale the entire dessert.

We were the first audience to try the new wine and food culinary series that the Omni is debuting in January.  #obcwine #wineanddine.  The Omni is still building out the list of events, but right now the line-up appears to be something like this (the dates after February may move a date or two):

January 26 – Niman Ranch Dinner.

February 29 – A celebration from Chef Alice – touching every creation of food along with Texas wines

March (tentatively 21st)— Celebrating the Wines of Germany – Riesling and Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc – German themed food

April (tentatively 25)– Sparkling wines – Cava, Prosecco, Asti, Champagne and  Espumante – French, Spanish and Portuguese food theme

May (tentatively 23) – Italian Regions and the difference between the North, the Center, the South and the Islands paired with regional food.

June (tentatively 27) – Grill and Smoke with pinots and rosé

July (tentatively 25) — Tomatoes from Salsas to Sauces with Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese

August (tentatively 22) — Peaches and Nectarines with Moscato and Pinot Gris

September (tentatively 26)  — Celebrating the Wines of Napa Valley and Harvest Theme

October (tentatively 25) — Day of the Dead with South American Wines

November (tentatively 17) Vintage wines with Charcuteries

These events are reasonably priced at a $85-95 range for the food courses (averaging 5-6 course) with the wine pairings being another $35-45 and will be scheduled monthly.  The first event benefits a charity so the kick off is officially in February.

The hospitality of the Omni, the quality of the food, the fantastic wine pairings and the gorgeous rooms and views at this location, makes it the perfect getaway, staycation or a local’s food/wine experience.


January Wine Round-Up: The Work Chapter Closes as Does the Wine Fridge

It was the last week of my former position and I found myself with more than 30 bottles left in the wine fridge in my office.  I thought a fitting tribute to end the company #hashtagged (i.e. Dallas Wine Chick provided) happy hours would be to open them all.  We took the bottles out and let the tasting and celebration begin.  The bottles were from all regions, price points, varietals and truly could be categorized as one extreme to the other (superhero good or downright evil).

Here were the notable half that we tasted.  For this last tasting, and because many of these folks have been part of my Wine Wednesdays/Thirsty Thursdays over the last three years, I captured the crowd favorites (often with a special shout out for my own personal favorites):

 

Rose

2014 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila Haut Pays D’Oc – such a nice balanced minerality with watermelon, raspberry, strawberry, herbs and plum.

2014 A Rose Alpha – another great balanced rose with floral notes, strawberry and black cherry.

Whites

2014 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Chardonnay —a nice budget-oriented, poolside chardonnay with tropical and vanilla notes.

2013 Olema Chardonnay – notes of apple, citrus and toast.  This is a chardonnay that might convert non-chardonnay drinkers.  Balanced and delicious.

2014 M. Chapoutier Les Vignes de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages – lemongrass, grapefruit and a saline minerality that makes this a balanced and delicious everyday drinking wine.

2013 Kir-Yianni Paranga — Grapefruit and peaches with a hint of sweetness but a nice crispness.

 

Reds

2012 Matchbook Tinto Rey — a very well balanced Tempranillo with notes of blueberry pie, leather, currant, chocolate and pepper.

2012 Matchbook The Arsonist Red Blend — chocolate, caramel, blackberry, smoke and mocha notes make this wine beg for a meat pairing.

2011 Bodegas Cepa 21 Ribera del Duera — blackberry, currant, earth and candied fruits.  This was a delicious wine.

2014 Bodegas Cepa 21 Hito — notes of black cherry cola, licorice, flowers and balsamic vinegar.  This was another one of my overall favorites.

2011 Emilio Moro Malleolus — a delicious and powerful red wine.  Another favorite.  Big notes of licorice, mocha, chocolate, blackberry pie and cassis with a fantastic balance and complexity.

2012 Cecchi Chianti Classico – big notes of earth, dried flowers, leather, black cherry, cinnamon and a delicious match to great antipasto.

2013 Cecchi Sangiovese di Toscana — earthy, red fruit and smoke.  This is a perfect match to any hearty Italian food.

2013 HandCraft Pinot Noir — raspberry, black cherry, mocha, cherry cola, vanilla and oak.  This was a nicely structured wine at a great price.

2012 Parducci True Grit Reserve Red — plum, dark cherry, leather, spice and blueberry  This was a great everyday drinking wine.

And a special shout out to the 2011 Concha y Toro “Don Melchior” Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto which was the perfect special occasion wine.  It was elegant and rich with notes of raspberry, mocha, dark chocolate, cassis, pepper and licorice.  I adored every drop of this wine.

 




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