For the last nine years, I’ve hosted an annual girl’s wine club champagne and sparkling tasting. Usually this involves me recruiting my kind husband who cooks massive amounts of great food paired with very loud conversation, lots of catch up and of course bottles and bottles and bottles of sparkling wines and champagne.
Each year there seems to be one dominant brand — and 2013 was the year of Perriet Jouet, which was ironic because that trend continued on a carriage ride a few days later with friends. Someone asked me if I was ready to blog about everything we tasted – the memorable and not so memorable. While I got some good content for an upcoming Culture Map article about sparkling wines, my answer was no. I love blogging and I love writing Dallas Wine Chick, but this was a time for friendship, good food, catching up and just being in the moment. Truly what the holidays are all about and if you approach it with a notebook in hand, you are going to miss what is really important.
And so, my dear readers and friends, put down your notebook and look up. That’s how memories are made. Cheers and happy holidays!
I was an invited guest of Malai Kitchen, the Southeastern Asian cuisine restaurant owned by Yasmin and Braden Wages, for a food/wine pairing showcasing their off the beaten path wine list. I visited the Thursday evening prior to “Icemaggeden.”
The restaurant is located in Uptown and the concept was inspired by the Wages’ travels to Thailand and Vietnam and their love for the cuisine. Braden serves as the executive chef and Yasmin manages the front of the house as well as the wine and beverage program.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I love this style of food and while the cocktail and beer lists look great, I encourage you to try their wine list. The Wages have put so much time into putting together a well thought through, approachable and unique wine list. Many of the wines that I tried were ones not familiar to me and the ones that I have tried before were on my favorite list. Malai offers 20 wines by the glass and they are great values.
We tried two dishes and started with two wines per dish, but quickly Braden and Yasmin began pulling out others that I just had to try. Their enthusiasm and passion for food and wine was contagious and I loved spending time with this delightful couple.
We paired the ahi tuna spring rolls with the Rodez “Cuvee des Crayeres” Ambonnay Grand Cru champagne from France. At $45 for the bottle (yes, at a restaurant – grand cru champagne at $45 a bottle)…, I got fresh baked bread, floral notes, minerality, pear and apple. It went really well with the spring rolls, which were fantastic. Our next wine was the 2012 Aveleda Vinho Verde from Portugal at $7 for the glass or $26 for the bottle. With a slight effervescence to it, I tasted notes of lemon and apple. Another great match.
The next course of Thai coconut soup was paired with a 2008 Domaine Laru Murgers des Dents de Chien, Saint-Aubin Premier Cru at $11 a glass or $42 for the bottle. The acidity and depth of this wine worked perfectly with the soup. The second wine was the 2007 Pinot Noir Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon Les Crais (Gevrey-Chambertin, France), which was priced at $12 for the glass, $46 for the bottle. This was a pairing that I never would have considered but it rocked. Big notes of cherry, earth and spice worked perfectly.
Yasmin and Braden wanted to share the 2010 Domaine de Nalys Chateaneuf-du-Pape at $38 for a half bottle. I got lavender, pepper, rose, cherry and spice. I wish more Dallas restaurants offered half bottles so you can better pair the dishes with the wine. Malai has this as well as a 2003 Sawyer Merlot half bottle at $25.
Our final course was an Australian lamb shank with Massaman curry which was a great match with the lamb. We then moved to one of my favorite Syrah’s from the New World, the 2005 Longoria Clover Creek Vineyard Syrah, at $10 a glass and $38 a bottle. Lots of wild cherry, berry, plum and oak in this wine and it rocked the lamb. You can’t find this wine easily in Dallas – come and drink it before I do. Our final wine was the 2006 Chateau Compassant Bordeaux at $10 a glass or $38 for the bottle. I definitely preferred the Syrah with the lamb, but they both worked.
Thankfully, Dallasites are moving beyond the safe choices and trying the adventurous wines with happy outcomes. And with a 4-7 happy hour with $6 wines, cocktails and a happy hour appetizer menu from Monday to Friday and all day on Sunday, you have every reason in the world to try Malai Kitchen. I have already returned with my husband and kiddo and all signs point to us becoming one of the many regulars who rely upon the Wages’ hospitality.
When sample packages from Cornerstone Cellars, J Vineyards and Elyse Winery arrive in the mail, I’ve learned to stand up and take notice.
I’ll lead with the still wines. Both Cornerstone and Elyse are known for hand-crafted and boutique wines that express the terrior where they are produced. I’ve found these to be balanced, delicious and get better and better every year. The wines are all distinct and differ depending on where they are grown. Winemaker Jeff Keene who talked about how his wines express their sense of place .
My notes on the wines were as follows:
- The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon combines the grapes of three vineyards — Ink Grade on Howell Mountain, Oakville Station in the To Kalon district and Kairos in Oak Knoll. Tons of blackberry, raspberry, dried herbs, chocolate and mocha. I had the chance to try this in the spring and it only got better with age.
- The 2010 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Ink Grade Vineyard on Howell Mountain known for its white soils, which is unique. This wine had tons of black fruit, spice, flowers, mocha and chocolate. I loved every sip of this and it was beautiful.
- The 2010 Stepping Stone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc was full of berries, herbs and the greenness that is indicative of cabernet franc. It was balanced and delicious.
In the spring, I sat down with the Elyse Winery’s portfolio of wines at the winery. The Elyse Morisoli Vineyard Zinfandel 2008 was impressive then, and the 2009 is impressive now. I took this wine to a gathering with friends and it was definitely the favorite of the evening. It was full of red berry, spice, earthiness, plum and coffee.
And now onto J Vineyards & Winery bubblies. I had the chance to meet Kathryn Lindstrom, chief operating officer, and Melissa Stackhouse, vice president of winemaking, when they made a trip to Dallas, also in the spring. Melissa talked about the collaboration that happens with her wine making team of three where there is a focus on the integrity of the grapes and bringing the fruit into the glass. She views her team’s role as “allowing the wines to find their own happy place” and interfering minimally.
I tried the J Cuvee 20 Brut which we opened at the turning point of the Auburn game when it became clear we were going to the Championship game. I tasted almonds, citrus, pear and freshly baked bread. With our victory solidified and as I made my plane reservations to Pasadena, we turned to the J Brut Rose NV, which was full of luscious strawberry, brioche, raspberry and notes of floral. Both of these wines stood up to a national championship celebration! War Eagle!
Exhibit A of what not to drink after a Bordeaux tasting
November was the season of Twitter tastings and I was asked to be a part of three tastings – one from #planetbordeaux, the second from #Franciacorta, and a Whole Foods Top Holiday wines under $25. Lesson learned #1 – if you really want to enjoy the next morning, don’t invite your girlfriends over, taste all the wines and then plan a crazy night out. Lesson learned #2 – and I should know better – even if you are spitting the wines, tasting eight of them in one evening leads to palate fatigue.
You may remember that I was blown away by the sparkling wines from Franciacorta during the last Twitter tasting. Let’s just say that “the blush is not off the rose.” I continue to be blown away by the versatility, complexity and individuality of these sparkling wines. We tried four during the tasting and they were delicious:
- Antica Fratta Brut ($25 retail) – notes of green apple, flowers; citrus; bread and a nice minerality.
- Bellavista Cuvee ($35 retail) – pear, apple, fresh baked biscuits and ginger made this blend in my top #2.
- Ricci Curbastro Extra Brut ($40 retail) – it was complex with minerality and savoriness; notes of almond, fresh baked bread and pear. I loved it.
- Contadi Castaldi Rose ($25 retail) — notes of berry, spice, flowers and bread.
The other tasting scheduled the same night was the Whole Foods: Holiday Wines Under $25 Tasting. We tried several wines with other bloggers around the country including the following:
- 2011 Grace Lane Yakima Valley Riesling – notes of peach and green apple with spiciness that would be perfect with a holiday dinner – especially turkey. This was in my favorite two.
- 2012 Tablao Navarra – notes of stewed plum, tobacco and cherry. A nice tempranillo for under $10.
- 2008 H&G Priorat – nice balance with notes of black cherry, vanilla and black pepper. This was my favorite of the tasting.
- 2011 Les Hauts de Bel Air Bordeaux Rouge – notes of raspberries, blackberries, violet and black pepper.
The final tasting was for “Planet Bordeaux for the Holidays.” This is #Planet Bordeaux (shout out to Duran Duran’s Planet Earth).
There I said it as it goes through my mind every single time I see the hashtag. We had a line-up of six wines that were all priced under $15 and all were ready to drink today although some may benefit from decanting.
- 2011 Mouton Cadet Bordeaux – red fruit, herbs and oak.
- 2011 Chateau de Camarsac Bordeaux – spice, berry, cassis and plum. This was one of my favs.
- 2011 Les Hauts de Lagarde Bordeaux – cranberry, herbs, spice and blackberry. Definitely one of the top ones from the tasting for me and many of the participating bloggers.
- 2011 Chateau du Bois Chantant Cuvee Laurence Bordeaux Superieur – plum, soft berry, cedar and mocha.
- 2010 Chateau des Arras Bordeaux Superieur – plum, vanilla, mocha and toast. This is a fantastic wine for the price (under $14).
- 2010 Domaine de Courteillac Bordeaux Superieur – oak, berry, plum, chocolate and a touch of anise.
To read more about these Bordeaux wines, visit www.planet-bordeaux.com.
With eight months to the day until the 2014 Wine Blogger’s Conference (#wbc14) in Santa Barbara, Central Coast Wine & Food conducted a live Twitter tasting with 12 of the top-tier wine bloggers (plus me). Wes Hagen, the colorful winemaker and vineyard manager of Clos Pepe Vineyards, hosted us with lots of quotable commentary and the best hashtag ever #dirtdontlie.
Central Coast Wine & Food is undertaking a marketing campaign for the up-and-coming agricultural regions between Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. Hagen led us through a tasting of his acclaimed 2008 Close Pepe Estate Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir.
Clos Pepe Vineyard was the ninth vineyard in what would become the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The vineyard makes small production, boutique pinot noir and chardonnay. The winery has its own label but provides fruit to other well-known California winemakers.
The wine was full of black cherry, spice, oak, cranberries, mushrooms, herbs, earth and a beautiful balanced taste. Unfortunately this wine is really hard to find, but I would easily pay the $62 price tag.
Aside from the really funny comments from a great group of bloggers who have gotten to know each other well over the years, Wes’ great personality, promised “underground parties” and a really great bottle of wine, July can’t come soon enough.
It’s time for another round of wines from around the world and this week focuses on Chile, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Most of these wines are under $25 and the majority under $15. A good showcase of values and “off the beaten path” wines make these regions ones to try.
- 2012 William Cole Albamar Sauvignon Blanc – grapefruit, citrus, flowers and orange blossom. This was the favorite white of the tasting.
- 2012 Como Sur Sauvignon Blanc – herbaceous with lots of grapefruit and green apple.
- 2012 William Cole Columbine Special Reserve – citrus, floral, grassy and a nice balance of minerality
- 2012 Garcia and Schwaderer Sauvignon Blanc — grapefruit and notes of honey.
- Campo Viejo Garnacha – very drinkable with notes of cherry, flowers, spice, vanilla and oak. A great easy drinking Tuesday night pizza wine.
- Joseph Drouhin 2011 Bourgogne Pinot Noir – red cherry, black cherry, earthiness, red raspberry, balanced fruit. A very nice pinot noir for a value price.
- Joseph Drouhin 2012 Bourgogne Chardonnay – a nice Old world style with notes of lemon, vanilla, honey with a nice balance and in the style that I prefer in a chardonnay. I really enjoyed this wine.
- Herdade Do Esporao 2012 Monte Velho White – tropical, vanilla, peach and lemon peel. Had some depth and layers to the wine.
- Herdade Do Esporao 2012 Monte Velho Red – bramble, berry, bramble and cedar. Very drinkable but would benefit with food.
- 2012 San Pietro Lagrein – plum, cherries, spice, floral and oak
- 2011 Elena Walch Lagrein – blackberry, cherry, chocolate, floral with a nice balance. This was one of my favorite reds with that tasted much more expensive than $20. This was the crowd pleasing red for our group.
Australian wines hit America right around the time I started to drink wine with a cork and figured out that I could afford to buy a case of Lindeman’s. About 1.6 million cases were imported in 1995. Today the Australian wine industry is the world’s fourth largest exporter of wine with 750 million liters a year.
I credit Australian wine with beginning my long love affair with the grape. However, along the way what was shipped in by the large wine makers began to lose its luster. Smaller production companies were acquired and some of the brands languished. Luckily, that course is starting to correct.
With the acquisition of Hardy Wines by Accolade Wine Group about 15 months ago, there is a renewed focus on bringing the Nottage Hill and William Hill brands back to the US market. Paul Lapsley, group chief winemaker for the Hardy portfolio wines, came through Dallas to talk and taste about the wines in his portfolio. Lapsley’s been making wines for more than 30 years and has worked at some of the top wineries in Australia after doing several months in Burgundy. Hardy Wines have been made since the late 1870s and are one of the long-time family wine making legacies.
We tried the following wines and they were some of the best value wines I’ve tried in a long time:
- Nottage Hill Chardonnay 2012 – had lots of tropical fruit, peach, nectarine and oak.
- William Hardy Chardonnay 2012 – loved the minerality and acidity of this wine. It was made in a very Old World style with tropical fruit, lemon, vanilla and oak.
- Nottage Hill Pinot Noir 2012 – black cherry, mushroom funkiness, vanilla and herbs. Quite the bargain at under $10.
- Nottage Hill Shiraz 2011 – dark berry, spice, chocolate, licorice and herbs.
- William Hardy Shiraz 2011 – blueberry, plum, blackberry, chocolate and earthiness.
We then moved to the Tintara wines from McLaren Value, which was established in 1861. These wines were from 2010, what has been referred to by many as a stellar year for Australian wine. After trying the 2010 Tintara Cabernet Sauvignon and the Shiraz, seductive and lush are the words that came to mind – especially for the $20 price tag.
The grand finale was the Winemakers Rare Release Shiraz 2008, which was made from the best grapes of three wineries. This was incredible with notes of chocolate, spice, pepper, thin mint Girl Scout cookies (trust me), blackberry, mocha and vanilla. It had miles of depth, power and complexity.
I was invited to explore a region lately that was unfamiliar to me – South Africa. The distribution of these wines haven’t been strong in Dallas, so it requires some detective work to try a variety of wines from the region. According to the Wines of South Africa site, the region has grown by 219 percent between 1998 and 2010.
The South African wine industry is backed by the Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, a state region which includes the departments of viniculture at the University of Stellenbosch and the Elsenburg Agricultural College.
The people of Graham Beck delivered six sample bottles containing of a mix of sparkling wines, chenin blanc, pinotage and cabernet sauvignon. Every wine was value priced and I was enthusiastic about every one that I tried. While Graham Beck produces premium wines, the winery is also dedicated to education and empowerment of farm workers.
The first three were sparkling wines, one vintage and two non-vintage bottles all produced in the Methode Cap Classique. The line-up was as follows:
- Graham Beck Brut Rose, NV – notes of berry and floral, this was a delightful first taste into South African sparkling wines.
- Graham Beck Brut NV – notes of pear, apple and baked bread with a nice minerality.
- Graham Beck Blanc de Blancs 2008 – a premiere cuvee with notes of lime and of apricot.
We tried three still wines including:
- Graham Beck Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2012 – a refreshing white with notes of melon, pineapple and other tropical fruits. I really like this style of white wine.
- Graham Beck Game Reserve Pinotage 2010 – this is a style of wine that South African is well known for and this doesn’t disappoint. Big notes of cigar, berry and plum.
- Graham Beck Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 – notes of blackberry, cherry, chocolate and mocha. I think this wine would benefit with a little more age in the bottle.
I really enjoyed getting a snapshot into South African wines and plan to do some exploring to find out more about the region. Definitely worth the passport stamp.
Pablo Sanchez, Catena Zapata Winemaker
How I wish when I received the invitation to the Catena Zapata vertical tasting that I knew Winemaker Pablo Sanchez would be attending. I admit, I would have come better prepared. So I was surprised to find him standing in the room at Specs, but thrilled that I arrived early to spend some time with him. Sanchez was there for his first trip to Dallas, one of Catena Zapata’s most successful markets, to satisfy a room full of Dallas wine lovers who were ready to sample the latest line-up of his wines.
In 1898, Nicola Catena, who founded the winery, left the European famine and came to Argentina with a dream of owning his own vintage. His son, Nicolas Catena Zapata, originally a physics major, had a vision for the Malbec grape and was the first to plant Malbec at an extreme high altitude. The winery blends six different vineyard blocks and six types of soil into its line of wines. The wines first arrived in the states in the 90s.
Sanchez was here to educate folks in the United States about the face of Argentinian wine that went beyond the room of passionate folks who were ready to buy in Dallas. We tried the following line up:
Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay 2009 – big notes of butterscotch and honey. This was a big bodied chardonnay.
Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay 2009 — wonderful stone fruits, nuttiness, vanilla and a mineral finish. This was an Old World style that blew me away
Catena Zapata Nicasia Vineyard Malbec 2009 – currant, cherry, spice and licorice that has a lush finish. This was truly cellar worthy and delicious.
Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2009 – lots of black fruit, licorice and pepper. Very drinkable.
Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Malbec 2009 – big berry, earthiness, mocha and chocolate. Another very nice example of what good Malbec tastes like.
Nicolás Catena Zapata 2008 – spicy with notes of chocolate, cherry and herbs. Delicious.
Nicolás Catena Zapata 2001 – this was fun to see what happens with age in a Malbec and I can tell you that it aged nicely. Still had notes of cherry and was a complex wine.