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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Best Party that Almost Wasn’t: A Night with Lindsay Hoopes

Me and Lindsay Hoopes

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit down and meet Lindsay Hoopes, the second generation leader of Hoopes Vineyard and Liparita wines as well as a former homicide prosecutor in San Francisco.  Lindsay was scheduled to come back through town and had tentatively scheduled an informal party at our house, but had a pretty bad fall where she broke her leg.  I was impressed by Lindsay’s focus and drive when I first met her and should have known that she’d find a way to make it through a grueling week in Texas, wheelchair and all.

This was almost the party that wasn’t.  Lindsay had sent 20 plus bottles to our home and we kept getting UPS delivery slips while we were at work.  I had a long week at sales kickoff for my paying gig and had to stay a few nights at the hotel where we scheduled the event.  My Friday in the office was crazy with people from all over the world who wanted to meet, so I just made the judgment call that I’d pick up the wine from UPS on Saturday.  I called my husband and he said, “are you sure that UPS will be open Saturday?”  I answered of course they would.  Luckily he checked.  And they weren’t.  So the wild goose chase began against time to grab the wine before UPS closed for the weekend.

I grabbed a very small group of wine lovers, who were up for the task of consuming the 20 plus bottles, because that is the kind of friends I have.   Lindsay told the story about her entry into the wine business and the how she was severely underestimated by many of the distributors.  I loved her quote, “I had to sell prison sentences of 20 years to life – this was nothing.” 

She talked candidly about how she decided to enter the family business when her father, Spencer Hoopes, became ill (the good news is that he recovered).  Spencer originally was a grape grower and decided 15 years later to make his own wine.  The focus has been on classic cabernets that capture the best of old world techniques and the new world of Napa fruit.  “I built a career, but it was time to come home to my family business.” 

Anne Vawter, the former protegee of Heidi Barrett, took over as winemaker with the 2012 vintage.  I also learned that Hoopes Vineyard boasts the oldest surviving set of vines in Oakville.  We drank some amazing wines.  We started with the 2013 Hoopla Chardonnay, which was a lovely white full of citrus, tropical fruits and minerality.  We moved to the 2012 Liparita Cabernet Sauvignon, which boasts a great story and a storyline that dates back to 1900. The winery, which was purchased in 2006 by Hoopes, boasts winning the Judgment of Paris in 1900 until it disappeared due to Prohibition.  We then tried the 2006, 2010 and 2012 Hoopes Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, which was beyond amazing – each and every one of them.

Our night ended with a very special treat that Lindsay had in store for us.  We became the only consumers in America to try the 2012 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that was especially bottled for the Napa Valley Premiere Auction (#164 to be exact).  Last year, HEB bought the lot for $1,000 a bottle.  Absolutely gorgeous and what a special experience for Lindsay to share with us.


January Wines Under $25

I was falling way behind on my wine reviews so I gathered the work folks together and it was time to celebrate Wine Wednesday.  This time, we were more successful with the wine selection.  We tried seven wines and I’m going to write about five of them.

Sparking:

  • Sokol Blosser Evolution Sparkling NV – this was a delicious sparkling that could be opened on any night.  It was full of tropical fruit, green apple, baked bread and minerality.  There was a little bit of sweetness, but a very nice balance.

White:

  • 2013 Hanna Chardonnay – full of baked apple, tropical fruit, crème brulee and hazelnut.  This was another well balanced chardonnay that had a nice proportion of oak.
  • 2013 Hahn SLH Chardonnay – also with baked apple, citrus, toffee and lemongrass.  A nice chardonnay for the person who is not a fan of chardonnay.

Red:

  • 2012 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir – lots of deep cherry, black currant, vanilla, spice and cherry cola.  This was both fruity and herbal at the same time.
  • 2012 True Grit Reserve Petite Sirah — this was bold and immense with notes of blackberry, spice, chocolate, mocha, eucalyptus and caramel.  This was a fantastic find.

January Wine Favorites: Top Three that Knocked My Socks Off

Last week’s tasting acutely illustrated the expression that you have to kiss frogs to find a prince. We tried 12 wines.  I’m going to cover three.

White

  • 2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone North Coast White Rocks – this wine begs for a pairing with Asian food but is delicious on its own.  You’ll taste jasmine flowers, honeydew, peach and other tropical notes.  Note there is some sweetness, but the balance is countered with a nice acidity.  Definitely a group favorite of all the whites in the tasting and a top three of all wines tasted.

Reds

  • Santa Rita Triple C 2010 – what a lovely red wine!  This elegant blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere brings together black currant, tobacco, blackberry, violet, mocha and chocolate.  It was absolutely delicious and was the first bottle consumed.

  • 2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Stepping Stone Cuvée – full of juicy cherry fruit, herbs, earth and balance.  This was a delicious pinot noir and another shining star example of how Cornerstone continues to produce wines that are consistently on my list of favorite wines.

Minibar Launches in Dallas: The App Bringing Alcohol Your Way in a Zap

I usually do not wax poetic about another wine, spirits or beer related app.  I was recently introduced to Minibar, an experience that could easily be the most ingenious and dangerous app ever introducing to wine, spirits and beer loving consumers.

Minibar launched in Dallas on December 9th and the folks there gave me a $20 credit to try the experience.  The holidays got in the way, so it was actually December 27 when I downloaded the app, checked out the inventory and ordered my bottle of Domaine Carneros by Tattinger.  It took about 2 minutes to download from the app store (available on IOS, Android and the web); plug in my information including age (ID is checked for some and a $20 restocking fee is charged for those who cannot confirm being over 21) and credit card and then search the inventory available from the wine, spirits and beer local vendor partnered with Minibar near my location.  The service is free (you just tip the delivery person who is sourced by the local vendor).  Thirty seven minutes later and the bottle was at my door.  I had a $20 credit and probably put another $14 which included tip. The service also offers pairing recommendations, cocktail recipes, mixers and bar supplies – it’s truly one stop shopping in the palm of your hand.

The company started out of New York in February 2014.  After the completion of a $1.8 million round of financing, the service is available in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago and New Jersey.  And the folks at Minibar tell me there are many more to come.  The company was founded by two successful corporate business women with direct to consumer experience.  Co-founders Lara Crystal and Lindsey Andrews worked for successful businesses like Rent the Runway and FreshDirect.  They realized that almost every other service was available to consumers, with the exception of the trip to your local liquor store.

It truly is the perfect app for those on the go; those who want to restock their bars but have little time as well as those who are currently in celebration mode and should not venture out to the liquor store.  From app store to your door in less than an hour, Minibar truly breaks down the last delivery frontier from your friendly neighborhood liquor store.


Twas the Night Before …. A December to Remember? Maybe?

‘Twas the Christmas season and all through the abode, my liver was working overtime to keep up with the load.  Much to my delighted eye did appear, some of the best wines that I’ve seen all year. 

Come Dom, Come Schramsberg, Come Pierre Peters. Come Charles Heidsieck.  As far as the eye can see, there are full tables of delicious bubbly. 

Come Clos Pegase.  Come 24 Vineyards.  Come Terra Valentine.  Come Coquerel. Come Barnett.  Come Caymus Select.  Come Quilceda Creek.  Come Larkmead. Come Tercero.  But I’m not done yet.

The bubbles have sparkled, the magnums shone bright.  The posts have been many – each and every night.  Merry Christmas to all, and in the next year, the added bulge I will fight.


December to Remember: Wine Round Up

The wines were stacking up along with my responsibilities as I tried to get through work obligations, attended holiday parties, checked the box on family duties and tried to handle everything else in between.  I felt the same overflow of tension amongst my co-workers – it was time for another wine tasting blow-out.  This time we sampled 23 wines, 16 of them made today’s roundup.

Sparking Wines

Segura Vidas Brut Rose NV – I have always been a huge fan of this wine.  You get raspberry, spice, strawberry and currant.  It’s refreshing and very drinkable with some of the coolest packaging out there.

Chandon Delice NV Sparking – The good folks at Chandon sent me a kit of this newly debuted sparkling wine along with fresh fruit and veggies and a drink recipe.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the sweetness of the sparkling combined with the contrast of the cucumber, the grapefruit and the mint, was fantastic over ice.  My husband and I have decided this may become one of our new house cocktails over the summer.

Pascual Toso Brut NV – notes of apple, baked bread and tropical fruit made this a very drinkable and nice sparking option.

White Wines

2012 Trapiche Torrentes – notes of honeydew melon, tropical fruit and white jasmine made this a wonderful blend that was a favorite of the group.

2012 Rutini Encuentro Chardonnay – this was a rich wine with lots of depth.  Notes of lemon curd, tropical fruits and a touch of herbs.

Red Wines

2011 Trapiche Broquel Malbec – notes of smoke, chocolate, herbs, meat and blackberry made this a nice blend that called for food.

2013 Dead Bolt, Winemakers Blend – notes of chocolate, blackberry, cranberry and a nice smoothness.  Great value for the price.

2012 50 Harvests Meritage – big notes of rich berry, cola, fig, flowers, earth and chocolate.  This was great today, but would age nicely. 

2012 Murphy Goode Operation Homefront – this wine is so approachable with big juicy fruit.  I love the story of this wine.  For every bottle sold, Murphy-Goode will donate 50 cents to Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that provides emergency and financial assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors.

2012 Old Zine Vines OZV – spice, herbal and juicy fruit make this a well-priced Tuesday night wine.

2011 Rutini Encuentro Malbec – deep black fruit, vanilla, granite and notes of deep chocolate.

2013 Siciliana Nero d’Avola – a lighter wine with notes of raspberries, black currant and spice. 

2012 Faust Cabernet – a delicious wine with notes of chocolate and berry.  It was smooth and elegant.

2012 Domaine Terlato and Chapoutier Shiraz-Viognier – a very nice blend of red and black fruit, smoke and notes of rose.  

2011 Pascual Tosa Alta Cabernet – this gorgeous and well priced wine has notes of chocolate, mocha, licorice, herbs and leather and blew the group away. The fact that Paul Hobbs is a consultant is not lost upon me in the quality of this wine.

2011 32 Barrels Magdalena Toso – holy moley. This special occasion wine, also with Paul Hobbs’ touch, is full of cola, tobacco, berry, oak, wood and pepper.  It is amazing today, but will make a grown woman cry with a little age.  Delicious.


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

Robert Larsen and Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J Vineyards Brut Rose NV ($38).

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


It’s the Holidays: Live a Little

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

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

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



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