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Ninety Years of Pedroncelli Wines: A Toast to Family, Wisdom and Consistency

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and authentic … and uncensored … and completely humble – still escapes me.

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

The Pedroncelli family – while in the middle of celebrating a 90-year milestone that should have been squarely about, well, about them – chose to share the credit with Sonoma County and the businesses that make up the fabric of the city.  As I quickly learned, this is a family that would rather share the spotlight than be in the middle of it.

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000.  Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acress of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes door to door in town.  The also conducted early “social media of the day”, was a the word of mouth that resulted on how they sold grapes in that door to door fashion. The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Father’s Model T breaking down in town.  The axel snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation.  They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934.  The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals.  In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955.  The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification.  The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres.  Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was replanted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added.  In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker.  He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker.  She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

 

Gabe, Amy and me

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition.  For example, both Jim and Julie work out of offices that were once their childhood bedrooms.  I had a great and very honest conversation with Jim where he told me he really didn’t understand the whole blogger and social media thing.  Let me be clear that he said this in the most charming and candid way possible.  And, with Gabe Sasso and Amy Anderson Gross representing the blogger’s world along with me, he has a point (grin).

Me and Ed St. John, a Self-Described Innovator and Aggravator

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California.  They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek.  Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company.  And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing – especially social media with the help of PR pro Robert Larsen.  It appears to be working as the buzz for Pedroncelli’s 90th (even with its own hashtag #ped90th) continued to build.  I’m sure this is a continuous debate as the fourth generation comes up the ranks and it will continue to encourage more debate.

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged:  The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

Now let’s talk a little about the Pedroncelli 90th celebration.  We were picked up on Thursday night from San Francisco and brought to the Dry Creek Inn, where I ironically was checked into the Rodney Strong Suite (you may remember that my dear friend, Robert Larsen, who helped with the strategy of the 90th celebration used to run communications for said winery – he assured me it was a coincidence).

 

 

We got to know the entire family over dinner at Catelli’s in Geyserville.  Catelli’s was originally opened in Geyserville around 1936 by Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The restaurant was originally known as Catelli’s “The Rex” (“The King” as translated from Latin).  Third generation Catelli’s and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, are now co-owners.  I think the Pedroncelli’s were a little nervous when Richard, the second-generation patriarch, and myself got into a spirited conversation about politics and Texas and it appeared neither of us was going to back down.  Reinforcements were sent in (unnecessary as strong Italian opinions are part of my heritage and a debate is always fun in my book).

On Friday, we began our morning with breakfast at SHED, a market, café, and community gathering space with a mission is to celebrate and nurture the connection between good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

 Julie Pedroncelli

We moved to the winery with Julie to learn all about the family, it’s history, the wines and to tour the historic winery and walked through the Home Ranch vineyard tasting the wines made from the diverse soils including Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah.  My biggest takeaway is that wine is part of the family’s culture and has been since day one.  We learned that Julie and Ed have known each other since they were in kindergarten when they took the same bus and took a long journey to come back together as they both ended up in the wine business and found each other again.

We then visited Dry Creek Peach & Produce where proprietor Gayle Sullivan allowed us to taste two of the juiciest most wonderful peaches I have ever been lucky enough to taste.  We toured the orchard where more than 30 varieties of peaches, nectarines, vegetables and even a few fig trees are planted.  We even started our day with a lovely Bellini that was bursting with ripe peach and delicious bubbles.

We had a picnic lunch at Lake Sonoma and learned all about the steelhead conservation that happens with a docent tour of the hatchery that included props to bring the story to life.

Our last stop before the hotel was Wisdom Vineyard, one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Dry Creek as well as one that grows all five Bordeaux varieties.  This is an example of innovation as one block was machine picked for the first-time last year after 89 years of hand picking.  That night we ended our festivities with another small family gathering that included cocktails, wines, ribs, reds and fun.  We may or may not have had a late not stop at Duke’s but photos will be concealed to protect …well everyone…

We awoke on July 22 excited that it was the big day, the 90th anniversary of Pedroncelli.  This is the date the family originally signed papers to buy the original property and winery.  We started at the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with a goal of grabbing breakfast and food for an alfresco lunch at John’s Grove on the shore of Dry Creek.  Little did we know what an intimate family experience we were in for later.

We quickly stopped at the winery and we were in for such a fun surprise.  The winery had just received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).  As Ed joked, “We’ve been sustainable for 90 years and counting and it’s in our DNA.”   This is an arduous process that was handled by Mitch Blakeley, a fourth generation Pedroncelli, who worked for a month to answer the hundreds of questions.  He met with an expert, reviewed the self-assessment and in the spirit of good things happen to really good people, got to put up the signs the day of the big anniversary party.

We toured the Bushnell Vineyard, which has been associated with the Pedroncellis for over 50 years.  John Sr. purchased the land in the 1940s and it was passed to their son-in-law Al Pedroni in the 1950s.  Al’s daughter Carol Bushnell inherited the vineyard in 1990 and she and her husband Jim continue the extension of the family estate where they farm Bordeaux variety blends.

Altogether, two-thirds of all Pedroncelli wines produced are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel comprising nearly 50% of estate vineyards.

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

We left the vineyard and headed to John’s Grove, where we immediately knew we were in for something special.  John’s Grove was built as a tribute for the family to go to remember the special family member they lost in 2015.  It is located around a lovely creek and is tree lined and picturesque.  We had a beautiful picnic and Gabe, Linda, Amy, Julie and I figured you had to get in the creek to experience Dry Creek.  It was amazing and I’m blessed to have been included on a milestone day in a blessed family place.  I know John must have been looking down and smiling at the legacy he helped to build.

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

The big event began later that afternoon at the winery kicked off by one of the press attendees that I have yet to mention.  Author Dick Rosano (as well as esteemed wine writer) talked about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.  I knew about the influence of agriculture on these families, but Dick really brought to life the tenacity it took to sell grapes door to door in the middle of Prohibition just to keep the families financially afloat.  I got to know Dick and his lovely wife, Linda, pretty well over the trip and I loved getting to know them.  Dick’s friendship with the Pedroncelli’s, his knowledge of wine and his passion for learning made him one of the most interesting Renaissance men I’ve gotten to know in a long time.

 

Me and Pedroncelli Friend and Bill Smart, General Manager of Lambert Bridge Winery

Syndicated columnist Dan Berger led us through a Flights through the Decades event of Cabernet and Zinfandel wines beginning in the 1970s that I cannot image how hard it was to curate.   Here was our first flight line-up (reach out if you want my notes – I know this is getting long…):

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

Our second flight line-up of Cabernets were as follows:

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (still dreaming about this one)

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

After the tasting, we joined the Pedroncelli family to dedicate the newest vineyard, the Noventa Vineyard, where Ed had arranged for a drone to take a picture of the entire crew as he, Jim and Julie toasted to “family, wisdom and consistency.”

A brief glimpse at our dinner, which was served by Ken Rochioli of KR Catering:

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

Filet Mignon with Bacon, Bourbon, Shallot and Mustard Sauce; Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Peppers; Pepper Jack Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro with Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon

Almond Bar with Caramel Drizzle and Fleur de Sel; Cappuccino Chocolate Mousse Cups in Mini Phyllo Cups and Peanut Butter Bars with Honey with Four Grapes Vintage Port

I want to share the video that was played where the family talked about the legacy that they built together.  It’s special as they will never willingly do this.

Finally, we drank from Big Bottles – we ate, we drank, we shared memories and I can’t remember laughing so much.  The room was filled with people who began the journey with the Pedroncelli’s and clearly will be around the next 90 years.  It had all the signs of a big family gathering of people who cared a great deal about each other.  And, it’s interesting – you can’t spend any time with any of the Pedroncelli family without feeling as if you are a part.  As I left, I felt a sense of sadness, as if I was leaving behind a group of near, but very dear friends.

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

And as I left a few weeks later for my family reunion, my Pedroncelli Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Mother Clone Zinfandel occupied 25 percent of my wine suitcase.  Because it was important for me that I bring the Pedroncelli experience to my family as they made me feel a part of theirs.


The Two Faces of Winemaker Steven Urberg: A Little Country and A Little Bit Rock and Roll

Winemaker Steven Urberg

When you are the winemaker for an iconic sparkling brand, and you have a vision for making a luxury still wine brand, that dream often doesn’t come to fruition.  Unless: i) the sparkling wines come from Gloria Ferrer (the original sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros):  ii) you have the backing of Freixenet USA: and (iii) you have a tremendous vision based on specific vineyard blocks in Carneros.

Not only did winemaker Steven Urberg do that, but he also produced two new brand new vintages this summer for Gloria Ferrer.  He made it clear that the Gloria Ferrer wines that we were trying were very separate in terms of identity of the new boutique still wines we would be sampling at the luncheon.

 

We tried the latest release of the non-vintage Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose and Urberg talked about the increasing adoption of sparkling wines in the United States of sparkling due to prosecco adoption.  It was a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.  I tasted notes of black cherry, crème brulee, ripe berry and citrus.  Fermented for 6 months before blending, the wine was in bottle for five and a half years before disgorgement.  This was delicious with stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.

We then moved to the new luxury wine brand WineVane, a homage to the wine that contributes to the unique character of the wines of Western Carneros named from the wine patterns and microclimate of Carneros.   Their two vineyard sites are known for the steepest, rockiest and thinnest soils with diverse microclimates, allow for slower ripening, intense flavor development and high levels of acidity in the grapes.

Urberg was very pragmatic in his approach to balance, “No chef ever wants to beat a steak into submission.  Wine is the same – it’s all about texture and balance.”

We tried two estate wines with very different characteristics.  Our first was the 2015 Chardonnay, which tasted of buttered popcorn, lemon, pineapple, white stone fruit and had a little nuttiness and a lot of creaminess.

The second, my favorite, was the 2014 WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir, a blend of Pinot Noir from vineyard blocks from the east facing 335-acres of estate vineyards located in Carneros.   Only 100 cases of the WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir have been produced and Texas unfortunately will not be receiving the shipments.  This is an elegant, nuanced, black cherry, earthy, bottle of deliciousness.


Cedar Ridge Distillery: One Man’s Original Dream for Putting Iowa on the Map Leads to Distillery of the Year

Jeff Quint and me 

Jeff Quint traces his family back nine generations with a history of making wine, brandy, distilling and grain farming.  The winery that his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Gerlaci Quint, started in the 1700s, which is located on the Moselle River in Germany, is still producing wine today.

In the 1880s, his great-grandfather, Johann Quint, moved the family from Wintrich, Germany, to eastern Iowa, and that’s where the story of farming and distilling continued.  In 2005, he and his wife, Laurie, founded Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, Iowa’s first and oldest distillery, and solidified the family’s legacy in craft distilling.  That legacy was solidified in April of this year when Cedar Ridge beat out more than 300 distilleries representing 44 of the 50 states and 18 different countries to win Distillery of the Year from the American Distilling Institute.

In Jeff’s way, he’s very non-descript about the honor.  He states it simply – “It’s about authenticity. It’s about using the corn of the state.  It’s all about grain to glass. And, it’s all about crating micro-distilled small batch spirits dedicated to craftsmanship.”   He’s passionate.  His frustration of the fact that Iowa is the number one corn producing state, but had no bourbon, resulted in the founding of Cedar Ridge.  He has a Midwest mentality — do the best you can do with what nature provides and never, ever sacrifice quality for quantity.

Sounds simple? Right, but there’s much more to the story.  Swisher-based Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery has a mission to be focused on whiskey with an emphasis on controlling the process from start to finish.  Cedar Ridge not only grows its own corn, but it also mashes, ferments, distills, ages and bottles the product with a focus on letting nature run its course with non-climate controlled aging in barrels stored in a natural environment.

The production capacity is currently at 1,000 barrels, but has the capacity to double in the future.  The whiskeys are double distilled to 148-150 proof, resulting in a purer end-product.

I had the chance to try the Cedar Ridge Bourbon, Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey and the Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey.


Cedar Ridge Bourbon – my husband is the bourbon expert in our family, but I loved how easy it is to sip this bourbon – notes of caramel, honey, anise and cedar are well balanced making it very approachable.  The blend is 74% corn (as we say in wine, it is estate grown from the family farm), 14% toasted rye and 12% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye – lots of notes of toast, smoke, spice and berry.  Another easy drinker with a blend of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn and 3% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – another smooth, fruity and malty expression of a great scotch with notes of vanilla, honey, spice and a nuttiness.  The blend is 100% malted barley and there is a 3-step aging process, which includes primary and secondary cast married with solera.

Cedar Ridge sells more than 20,000 cases per year.  It’s available to 90 percent of the U.S. population in 15 states including Iowa — and Canada and the Caribbean.  It’s the No. 2 seller in Iowa next to Maker’s Mark.

Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery offers daily tours and tastings, and wine and spirits are for sale on site.

It was a pleasure to taste a true expression from “grain to glass” and experience the craft expertise of why Cedar Ridge Distillery brought home the gold this year.


Villa Maria: A Virtual Taste of New Zealand with a Croatian Twist

New Zealand is a country known for hard work and innovation.  From Sir Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom in the twentieth century to the invention of the Hamilton jet boat to electric fences to the fastest motorbike in the world, this has been a country known for hard work and embracing new things.

That is why I was excited when last month’s #snooth virtual tasting took me across the world to New Zealand.  Villa Maria was our host and Lead Winemaker Helen Morrison was our guide.

I’ve had the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc before, but as I unpacked my six pack of sample wines, I was excited to see I would be trying a sparkling sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a rosé as well as several red wines.

The Villa Maria name comes from Founder George Fistonich, who started making wine in 1961, when he leased land near Auckland from his father. George mashed up two names — Villa, a common name for a house in New Zealand, and Maria, a popular name from Croatia where George is from.  He wanted a European name because it sounded authentic.

Since then, he’s been singularly focused (and passionate) about crating unique, New Zealand style sustainable wines from four regions – Auckland, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.  The winery has grown from George and his wife, Gail, to more than 250 people and exports to 50 different countries.

We tasted a variety of wines that ranged from $13 to $45.  Villa Maria offered something for everyone as I found with my neighbors gathering to help me taste through these wines.

2015 Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc – this was my first New Zealand sparkling (friazzante meaning lightly sparkling) wine.  It tasted like a slightly carbonated sauvignon blanc with notes of lime, tropical fruit, grass and tart apple.

2016 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc – I’ve had the opportunity to taste another vintage of this sauvignon blanc and I enjoyed it as well.  Very crisp and tart and is a great expression of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

2016 Private Bin Bay Rosé – this was my first New Zealand rosé and I loved it.  Lots of berry with a great minerality.

2015 Taylors Pass Chardonnay – this was a complex and nuanced Chardonnay with a great deal to offer.  There were some oaky notes to it, but the fruit shone brightly.

2014 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir – herbs, terroir, red and black fruit made this a very, very drinkable wine.  It was the first red to disappear.

2013 Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet – I tasted blackberries, blueberries, spice, oregano and this one also was very easy drinking.

I enjoyed the ability to branch out and try the variety of Villa Maria wines during this tasting.  These wines have always been easy to drink, well priced and a safe bet for the consumer.  If you want to watch the Snooth video, feel free to follow along here.

 


A #winestudio journey with Pago de Arínzano

Our latest #winestudio journey took us on a virtual destination to northeastern Spain.  I’ve been lucky enough to explore Spanish wines in various regions due to press trips and my own travel.  I always leave the country with a sense of magic and a sense of how special this country is in terms of history, wine and the passionate people who love what they do.

Our focus over four weeks in June introduced me to a new vineyard, Pago de Arínzano, which was first planted in 1055 AD.  Manuel Louzada, the fourth-generation winemaker, spoke about his creative vision for wine inspired by Michelangelo.  Michelangelo was once famously quoted,  “The angel was already in the marble, I just missed it.”  When Manuel first viewed the family’s vineyard, he saw the unique terroir and strove to make the purest expression he could envision.  Manuel has a great resume prior to coming to Arinzano where he worked at several vineyards, including the well-known, Numanthia in Toro.

The vineyard site has quite a history dating back to the 16th century, but the property was abandoned in the 19th century.  In 1988, the property was discovered and returned to its former greatness.  Pago de Arínzano is in Northeast Spain between Rioja and Bordeaux.  The goal is to create wines that express the vineyards, but using natural techniques.  The 877-acre estate is right near the Ega River where half of the acres are planted for vineyards and the rest to the environment.  They are the only winery in Spain certified by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for environmental responsibility for the tracks of land dedicated to nature.

The vineyards of Arínzano have been classified as Vino de Pago, considered the highest category on the quality scale of Spanish wines.  To date only 14 properties have been awarded this designation, one that mandates a ten-year track record of quality with estate-grown grapes that are grown, processed, aged and bottled at the property.

Manuel added, “we are artisans and we control the entire process.”

We tried a line-up of wines over the month of June.  I was missing the 100% Tempranillo wine that received “off the charts” feedback from the other bloggers.

2014 Hacienda de Arinzano White – I got tropical, citrus and floral notes.  I never in a million years would have guessed chardonnay, but it was lovely.

2011 Hacienda de Arinzano Red – red raspberry, blackberry, rosemary, vanilla, licorice and floral notes.  Very drinkable and great with food.

2008 Arinzano La Casona —cherry cola, mocha, cassis, licorice and blackberry notes.

2010 Arinzano Gran Vino White – notes of citrus, tropical fruit with pineapple leading and a nice minerality.  This was another fantastic and elegant expression of how good Chardonnay can be.

2016 Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé – berries, sweet grapefruit, floral notes and a little spice.  Refreshing and wonderful.

I took this photo of the wine with a piece from one of my favorite artists, Guilloume who captures his love for his family in oil painting as well as bronze sculptures and reliefs.  I believe these are both indicative of men who find beauty in art and terroir and strive to showcase perfection.


Another Wine Round Up: Belated Edition

Once again, I am completely behind on my wine round ups.  I only have myself to blame.  I had the vision of doing a rosé roundup and found myself with about 75 roses to drink (as well as a dedicated #winestudio program), so this is going to a series of round ups or you’d be reading about 150 wines (with a total of 300 under review, so advance apologies to the PR folks who sent these my way).  Figured that would not be fun to read, let alone daunting to write, so we’ll take it by varietal and today I’ll cover 33 of them.

Rosé

 

2016 Caves d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé – this is a fabulous expression of Provence rosé and is a critic favorite for a reason.  Grapefruit, minerality, peach and blood orange.  Absolutely delicious.

2016 Aridus Rosé – this Arizona wine was new to me and was a fun new find.  I tasted tangerine, peach, strawberry and spice.

2016 Alta Vista Rosé – made to be an everyday, easy drinking fruity rosé with notes of Bing cherry, roses and a nice minerality.

2016 Caposaldo Rosé – notes of strawberries, raspberries, cherries with floral and mineral notes.

2016 Louis Jadot Rosé – notes of flowers, raspberry and currant with spice.

2016 Maison Saleya Rosé – This was the first one to go at the tasting.  Notes of tangerine, raspberry, cherry, roses and a little spice on the end.  Definitely the crowd favorite.

2016 Masi Rosa dei Masi – juicy berry, cherry and almost a richness balanced with a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Rosé of Pinot Noir – I tasted stone fruit, cherry, strawberry and citrus notes.  Small production and appears to be sold out, but definitely seek out if you can find it.

2016 Noble Vines Rosé – notes of raspberry, citrus, tangerine and roses.

2016 Ferraton Père & Fils, Samorëns Côtes du Rhône, Rosé – notes of flowers, peach, melon and citrus as well as stone fruit with a balanced minerality.

2016 Marqués de Riscal Rosado – strawberry, cherry, raspberry and rose with a nice mineralogy.

Sparkling

This was my first sparkling from Utiel-Requena, which is an appellation in Spain’s Bobal Valencia region.  I learned that while 95% of the 35,000 hectares of vines are planted to red grape varieties, the Bobal is the star of the show here.

2014 Pago de Tharsys Bobal Unico Blanc de Negre Brut – this was a sparkling wine made with the Bobal grape.  I got yeastiness, apples, almonds, pears and notes of citrus.   I loved the minerality and the freshness of this wine.

I also tasted (from another region) Vineyard SEROL Turbullent Sparkling Rosé – it was a berry explosion with notes of pear and white fruit.  A very refreshing and fun expression of sparkling wine.

Whites

2014 Troon Vermentino – let’s start out by saying that I love this wine and the fact that Craig Camp is involved, makes it even better.  I tasted cherry, citrus, hazelnut, ginger, lemon curd and floral notes along with a great acidity.

2014 Cecchi La Mora Vermentino – an easy drinking white wine with notes of papaya, pear, apple and a nice acidity.

2015 Marques Casa Concha Chardonnay – this smooth drinking Chardonnay was chock full of pear, quince, almonds, spice and candied citrus.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – notes of tropical fruit, apples, vanilla, pears and stone fruit.  A well-balanced and elegant chardonnay.

2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc – notes of lime zest, citrus, grassiness and a nice minerality.

2016 Martin Ray Sauvignon Blanc – a refreshing wine with lemon, floral notes, tropical fruits and a nice minerality.

2015 Martin Ray The Tower – made from Rhone varietals, I tasted tropical fruit, melon, flowers, honeycomb, lemon and grapefruit and a minerality that kept it refreshing.

2015 A2O Albarino – this was a true expression of albarino with minerality and notes of peach, melon, honey and a little herbal note.

2015 Torresella Pinot Grigio – a balanced pinot grigio with pear, apple and mineral notes.

2014 Naia Verdejo — notes of citrus, apricot, tropical fruit and flowers.

Reds

2013 Tarantas Tempranillo – another wine from the Utiel-Requena region (see sparkling section above).  This wine had notes of cranberry, blackberry, spice, oregano, earth and cherry.  A very drinkable tempranillo from this new regional discovery.

 

2014 Bodegas Hispano Suizas Bassus Pinot Noir – from the Utiel-Requena region and who knew Pinot Noir would be part of this region?  Almost jammy it is so fruit forward.  Lots of currant, floral notes and a nice spiciness makes this a very easy drinking wine.

2014 Alder Fels Pinot Noir – this lush pinot has notes of red cherry, earth, herbs and licorice.  Definitely one of the favorites.

2014 Aridus Petite Sirah – this was a fun petite sirah to try and another surprise from Arizona.  Loads of berry, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.

Mezzacorona Vigneti Cliffhanger Vineyards Proprietary Red (NV) – red and black fruit combined with spice, oak and vanilla make this a bigger wine that begs for food.

2007 Mezzacorona NOS Riserva – I really enjoyed this wine with notes of blackberry, black cherry, charcoal, pepper and spice.  Over the course, it kept opening nicely and was a great match with the appetizers we were snacking on.

2012 Praxis Lagrein – this was a new find for me and I was so glad for the discovery.  A mix of cherry and black fruit with coffee, chocolate and herbal notes.

2016 Farraton Pere & Fils Cotes du Rhone Samorens – this solid red offered notes of raspberry, cherry, licorice and spice.  It was very approachable and drinkable.

Other – Wines/Spirits in a Can

Bushido Premium Sake — A sake in a can?  Yes, the convenience era has come to a head and now cans run prevalent – sometime with varying successes.  Bushido’s Way of the Warrior sake can, contains premium Ginjo Genshu sake.  I tasted red fruit, Asian pear along with floral notes and some spice.  I think this can will convert some newbies to sake as it as a refreshing and unique way to experience sake.

Backpack Rosé – boat wine in a box… these cans of rosé were very drinkable and I tasted strawberry, white stone fruit with some floral notes.


Tequila – Give it a Second Shot (or even better, a Sip)

Note: My husband, John Ofenloch, has served as my editor since Dallas Wine Chick began more than 8 years ago.  When he decided to go down the path of learning about spirits, I 100 percent supported that journey.  In March, he asked in lieu of a Father’s Day gift, to do the high end tequila tasting at the Four Season’s Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico.  This is his story.

I am a bourbon guy.  Always have been and still am, which makes it a bit unusual for me to write my first guest blog about tequila.

Tequila – for many (including me) it brings back memories of bad decisions in college when we thought “gold” meant “good.”  Being uneducated about tequila, I, like many after poor experiences, took a break from consuming this spirit unless it was buried in a margarita.  That changed about a decade ago.

It took a trip to Mexico and an informed and persuasive bartender to convince me to go “local”.

Efrain and me

I was at the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, sidled up the bar and asked the bartender to recommend a sipping tequila.  He immediately recommended a brand-name tequila that is highly marketed, very popular in the US and not cheap.  Not that it is bad tequila, but having done a modicum of research, I shook my head and asked for another option.  He smiled.  What happened next was a tasting of tequilas, mezcals and raicillas.  Some pulled from secret compartments behind the bar usually allocated for knowledgeable nationals who knew better than me.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m a convert.  I now own proper Riedel tequila glasses and my college experience of tequila is far behind me.  Since that enlightening day in Mexico, I have had the opportunity to try many great tequilas, but recently I had the rare opportunity to taste three tequilas that you will not find…well…most anywhere.  On another beautiful afternoon in May at the Four Seasons , Punta Mita, I sat down with Efrain (a tequila expert at the Four Seasons) to try the three Extra Anejos:

Gran Patron “Piedra” Extra Anejo  - Aged for at least three years in new American oak and French oak casks, this tequila is produced using the traditional stone wheel process to grind the agave heart.  I tasted cinnamon, vanilla and clove.  I found it online for $400.

Clase Azul Ultra Extra Anejo – Wow – I am a frequent consumer of the Clase Azul Reposado but the Ultra is double distilled, aged for five years in sherry oak casks and produced in batches of 100 bottles per year.  This lingered longer on the palate than any of the other two tequilas.  I found it online for $1,800.

Jose Cuervo Ultra-Rare 250 – Jose Cuervo, there were times in college when you were NOT a friend of mine, but tonight…I love you.  This insane tequila is first aged in French and American oak barrels, then blended with tequilas found in the legendary depths of the Cuervo cellar and finally aged for another year in sherry barrels brought from Spain.  This limited-production tequila comes from agave grown on the original plot of land granted to Don Jose Cuervo in 1758 by the king of Spain.  From my research, 495 bottles were made and I found it online for $3,000.

I don’t know if I will be able to try these again but if you have the chance, and especially if someone else is picking up the tab (I picked up this one), don’t pass up the opportunity to try these amazing tequilas.  And if you still shudder when someone mentions the word “tequila”, find a knowledgeable rep at your local liquor store and give this spirit another shot – trash the lime and salt and find one you can sip.

 

 


The Art of Wine: When Passion and a Business Plan Intersect

 

Ariane Garcia, Owner, The Art of Wine

She’s a philantropher. A health care executive.  And the owner of The Art of Wine, a neighborhood wine bar in Preston Hollow.  Ariane Garcia found herself with a business plan to write for her graduate studies at Southern Methodist University and The Art of Wine was born.

I had a chance to visit The Art of Wine and chat with Ariane about her vision for the business.  It’s a retail boutique, by-the-glass bar, and local artist display with a goal of providing off the beaten path as well as better known labels.   I found Billecart-Salmon to Hoopes Vineyards to Guidobono to Long Meadow Ranch as well as the better-known labels.

The wine bar also offers a mix of wine and painting classes as well as wine education.  It’s a great neighborhood gathering place to grab a glass of wine and toast to the week’s victories.


History, Heritage, Honor and Hard Work: A Conversation with Murrieta’s Well Winery

The latest Snooth tasting focused on the Livermore Valley, a pivotal region in shaping California’s wine industry back in the 1880s when it received America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition.  Livermore Valley wineries were the first to label Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah and approximately 80 percent of California’s Chardonnay vines trace roots back to a Livermore valley clone.

It was great to taste with one of the iconic wineries from the region, Murrieta’s Well, which is affiliated with pioneer winemaker, C.H. Wente, who bought the vineyard from the original owner, Louis Mel in 1933.  Snooth’s Chief Taster Mark Angelillo and Murrieta’s Well’s Winemaker Robbie Meyer took us through a portfolio of six diverse wines.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wineries and has been growing grapes since the vineyard was first planted with cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards.  Talk about some aristocratic rootstalk.

The 500-acre vineyard features three different soil types, a range of elevations and microclimates and produces 21 different varietals.  Mark stated, “you can cherry pick based on the different characteristics and terroir to blend diverse and exceptional wines.”

Murrieta’s Well focuses on terroir-driven, limited production wine blends and the original gravity flow winery is the site of the tasting room today.  In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso renamed the winery and wine label, Murrieta’s Well.  The name pays homage to Joaquin Murrieta, a gold rush bandit, who discovered the estate in the 1800s.

Murrieta’s Well focuses on all estate, small-batch and small lot wines.  Michael talked about “the art of blending based on the best of the vintage.”  He spoke about being able to make the best blend that ties in with the best aromatics.  This happens by farming each acre by hand because it is unique.

We tried the following line-up:

2015 Murrieta’s Well The Whip – was first released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a white Bordeaux blend.   I tasted melon, peach and floral notes.

2014 Murrieta’s Well The Spur – this wine was also released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a red Bordeaux blend.  I tasted vanilla, tobacco, cranberry, spice and blue fruit.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rose – I tasted notes of strawberry, watermelon, berry and floral notes.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Muscat Canelli – this wine had a burst of citrus followed by white stone fruit and flowers.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Franc – notes of both red and black fruit, herbs, spice, vanilla and toast.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Merlot – notes of mocha, cassis, red fruit, vanilla and blue fruit.

To follow along with the tasting, click here.

Murrieta’s Well is a winery with a place in history that is working grape by grape to make sure it has a legacy that continues into the next century.


Pedroncelli Celebrates 90 Years: A Legacy of Farming, Fun and Flagships

Ninety years ago, it all started with a goal of three pillars – farming, fun and flagships – with flagships being the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon wines Pedroncelli is known for producing.  That was recently reinforced on a Twitter virtual tasting.  However, I think one additional pillar needs to be added to the mix – and that is family.

This has been a family business since 1927 when Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli Sr. purchased a vineyard and shuttered winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  In the beginning, due to Prohibition, they had to sell grapes to home winemakers to stay afloat.  There’s some heritage here.  The Pedroncelli family was the first to put Sonoma County on a wine label when the area was designated in the late 1940s.  The name Pedroncelli is Italian for Summer.

The family has been making wine since 1934, starting with bulk wines and evolving into the legacy wines that continue to get great wine scores from the critics.  Now, the fourth generation of family members continue the family legacy.  With the expansion of the generations, came the decision to expand varietals, replant the vineyards and now the winery has 70 percent female ownership.  And, that’s a trend that I love to see.

The Pedroncelli’s farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek and source grapes from those who have the same farming vision.  We (okay, my husband since I don’t cook) were asked to create the family’s special recipe for Feta and Kalamata Chicken and were given a gift card to cover the cost of the ingredients.  I loved the recipe and as someone that is the last to order a big beef dish on a menu, it was a nice change of pace for a wine pairing.

We tasted three wines, which were fantastic, and I got a glimpse prior to my invitation to the big 90th celebration blowout in July in Sonoma (watch for #Ped90th).

2016 Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc – notes of Meyer lemon, lychee and a nice minerality made this a crowd favorite and a great match with the chicken.

2016 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel – notes of candied violets and just plucked off the vine berries.  So refreshing.

2015 Pedroncelli Sangiovese – notes of cherry, cranberry, pepper and spice made this incredibly drinkable and food friendly wine disappear quickly.

Ninety years — nine decades strong in a tough business.  The pillars remain true and the family remains focused on tradition, heritage and making amazing wines that reflect a sense of place.  So, looking forward to my celebration at Pedroncelli in late July and I plan to be wearing this amazing hat.




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