Hannibal Would be Proud: Texas Tuesday

“I love it when a plan comes together.”  If you are an 80’s kid, you surely recognize that as the catchphrase of John “Hannibal” Smith, fearless leader of the A-team.  Oh, you thought I meant the Punic Carthaginian military commander?  Well, if he liked wine I guess he would be proud.  For future reference, you are safe assuming I am alluding to mindless pop-culture rather that ancient military strategists.  Anyway, back to the plan.

We had plans to go camp for a friend’s 40th birthday but a health hiccup for our black lab meant that we couldn’t leave her overnight and couldn’t go camping.  But we could get out of the house in the afternoon for a couple of hours of marriage maintenance.  A beautiful winter day means one activity (ok, any day) has my vote: heading out to the wine country.

This is the part in the A-team when each character starts throwing out crazy ideas which require Face to smooth talk someone while they drug B.A so Murdoch can fly them into the middle of the chaos.  Fortunately for us, it only required an email, two phone calls, and a quick shower to get an appointment, my favorite mom here, and out the door in 40 minutes. I guess that is kind of A-team comparable when you have little ones.

On the drive I was able to do some reading about Kuhlman Cellars and the people behind it.

Wine is a product born of love, passion and intense labor.  It should be enjoyed with the same emotional vigor.  At Kuhlman Cellars, we strive to appreciate what brings richness to our lives: Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship. Our tasting room was carefully designed to include every guest in our personal wine journey with education about our process from a knowledgeable guide, an intimate view of our working winery and Sommelier & Chef prepared cuisine carefully paired with each wine.

I had a feeling this was going to be my kind of tasting experience.  We arrived at Kuhlman Cellars with five minutes to spare, ready to taste the wine I’d been hearing so much about. Although the winery has only been open for two months, the Cobb family is not new to the wine industry, previously managing a Hill Country vineyard. Together with winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne, Chris and Jennifer Cobb are creating wines in an Old-World style with Texas flair.  Many of the wines are made with Texas fruit, the blends and the winery are given Texas geological names. Kuhlman Creek runs through the family property and eventually joins the Pedernales River.

My husband and I immediately noticed the ingenuity and design behind the Tasting room.  The bars are mobile, industrial and yet warm.  Two formations create a sit-down tasting experience for you and a few of your closest, or newest friends.  Each guest is given a tasting sheet, enough stemware for the flight, and an appetizer plate with the chef-inspired bites.

Sommelier Jeremy Wilson was our host for the tasting.  With each wine we were given information about the vineyard, the production techniques, and the thoughts behind the pairings.  Our group for the tasting included wine lovers with a wide variety of experience and Jeremy catered to each guest.  We even were treated to a barrel tasting.  Here are my top three:

The first wine was a 2013 Texas Sauvignon Blanc.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The grapes were from Mesa Vineyard in Fort Stockton.  The wine, not surprisingly, was more French in style.  Very classic notes, well-balanced and refreshing. Tart fruit, some grassy notes, gooseberry. This was paired with a cracker with smoked salmon and caper to play off the acid.

The third wine we tasted was Rousanne.  You are seeing more of this Rhone variety in Texas and I expect that trend to continue.  A weighty white with stone fruit and rich texture even when done in stainless.  This is a perennial favorite for Thanksgiving. Paired with a bite of bleu cheese and fig it was divine.

My favorite was the 2012 Texas Red.  A Texas take on a Bordeaux blend, this wine is 49% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both are sourced from the High Plains.  With the addition of Carignan, Cab Franc, and Grenache you get the depth of flavor while remaining medium bodied.  Red fruit, violet, a little spice, a little anise, a lot of yum.  We brought home two of these.

As a bonus, Jeremy brought out a barrel sample of the Texas (yes, Texas) Zinfandel that wasn’t ready but was delicious.  This wine is jam-packed with flavors, none of which include jam.  I can’t wait to taste the finished product.

Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship.  Those are the driving principles at Kuhlman Cellars and they put those into practice.  Although I had never met Chris Cobb, and Jeremy and Jennifer Beckman only once in person, they made us feel like family.  Food and wine shared with friends is the best kind of fellowship.

We left with four bottles of wine and big smiles.  We left excited to open a bottle at home and create our own pairings and we left saying that we love it when a plan comes together.

Thank you, Kuhlman Cellars, for fitting us in and for what we both agreed was the catalyst to one of the best dates we’ve had in a long time.  I’ll always drink to that!

{I am embarrassed to say that we were having so much fun that I totally forgot to take pictures!  Some blogger I am. I guess I’ll have to go back and remedy that.}

 

 

 

 

Tis the Season-Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir

We had been trying to decorate our tree all week, but my husband was late every night.  If your home is like mine and you have littles, you know the delicate balance with food and fatigue in the school-night witching hours.  If decorating the tree is going to be joyous and celebratory, it is best to avoid the cranky hours.  It could have gone from “Deck the Halls” to “Deck Each Other” faster than you can say Jingle Bells.  So we waited until Friday night and I planned a dinner that could be grazed.  That way I could stave off the hangry monsters while we waited for Daddy and I could start sipping so all would be merry and bright by the time we began.

It was a gorgeous 70 degree Texas winter kind of day.  A Pinot kind of day and I had a sample I’d been holding on to for the right time.  Last night was the right time to try the 2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir.  Although this is the first wine released on a national basis, the Chambers family has been involved in winemaking for nearly a quarter of a century in Oregon.  Her winemaker, Michael Stevenson, sources grapes from some of the top growers in the region, a region known for their Pinot Noir.

DSC_0500

In the glass, the wine shines and although I’m pretty sure there is a better descriptor, I kept thinking “raspberry cola.”  On the nose, red and black berries with baking spices.  The flavor profile made me feel like an autumn walk in woods.  Red and black fruit, cola, mushroom, anise, and soft leather. This wine is medium bodied with softer tannins although the acid gave it a chewy mouthfeel.  This wine has all the classic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir qualities that I had been craving all day.

DSC_0502

Our repast consisted of cold-cut roast beef, brie, arugula, black and green olives, capers, and horseradish mayonnaise.  I served it with a baguette and a salad of arugula, pear, bacon, and shallot dressing.  The acidic olives, the earthy spice of arugula, creamy tang of the spreads and the beef all complimented one another and the wine. It was perfect for nibbling and a spread I will revisit this holiday season.

In the media materials there is the following quote from Liz Chambers:

“It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles. I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that can dance. I want elegance and style in my wines.”

I would welcome Liz and her wines at my table anytime.

The lights are strung, the stockings hung.  My littles danced in their Santa hats and semi-evenly distributed the ornaments.  You won’t ever see my tree on Pinterest, but it was made with love.  And it is done.

Many thanks to Gregory White PR , Michael Stevenson and Liz Chambers for the holiday cheer and for adding a little elegance to our tree-trimming.

DSC_0512

 

 

Everything was Big(ger) and Bubbly in ATX

There is a reason that this event sells out every year.  This year marked the 12th annual Big Reds and Bubbles sponsored by the Wine and Food Foundation, but it was my first time to attend.  It won’t be the last.  Held at the historic Driskill hotel, this event exudes every bit of refinement and elegance you would expect from this organization at this venue.

Any event that is this extensive means that you need to be purposeful in your tasting.  If you were fast and furious, you might have time to taste every wine, but I know that my palate would feel punished.  One would likely be able to taste each appetizer, but I know I would be ready for a nap if I tried.  So when I was invited to attend a little preview with June Rodil, one of Food and Wine’s Sommeliers of the year, I jumped at the chance.

We began, as all evenings should, with bubbles.  Specifically, French, June suggested.  The lighter, clean bubbles awaken your palate without being heavy or interfering with what is to come.  Our first taste of the evening was one of my favorites, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay and retails for about $80.  Yeast and a touch of citrus on nose, structured bubbles and pear, acidity.  A beautiful Champagne.

We moved onto one of Italy’s standout sparklers, Bellavista Brut Cuvee.  This was mostly Chardonnay, but the addition of 10% Pinot Nero gave it a softer mouthfeel.  The bubbles, a little more subtle, the fruit a little less so.  At about $45, this is a great alternative to Champagne when you want elegant bubbles at a more approachable price point.

As we moved to the third taste, the doors opened to the general public which meant that both the positive energy and volume increased.  We all angled to hear the full scoop on the next Champagne, Pol Roger Brut.  This family-owned Champagne house was established in 1849.  The wine is equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier which creates a fuller, balanced wine. This wine also was the official Champagne served at William and Kate’s wedding.  You can wow your guests with that tidbit.

It didn’t take long for the room or the glasses to fill.  Each room buzzed with “oohs” and “mmmms.”  When it was time to eat, my focus turned to pairing and we found a few brilliant ones.  We also found some dishes that required no accompaniment to shine.  Here were a few that stayed with me:

Vox did it again.  They were a favorite at Tour de Vin and they created another whimsical bite with their play on a Twice baked potato served in cigar boxes.

Chavez created a sweet potato huarache with cochinita pibil and pickled red onion.  I had two and I NEVER have two.

Moonshine created a lamb shepard’s pie that paired brilliantly with Banfi’s biodynamic blend from Chile, Emiliana Coyam.

Bonneville’s cassoulet with duck confit was just the thing to warm you on a chilly night.  Yum.

Lick’s sea salt caramel gelato paired perfectly with Gloria Ferrar’s Royal Cuvee.

Dolce Neve’s flavors were everything you want in gelato.  Pure and rich and delicious.

I am sure there were many fabulous dishes, wines, and pairings that I missed.

Throughout the evening,  my husband kept reiterating what a wonderful job the The Wine and Food Foundation did with the event, from start to finish.  Even the next morning, when I asked him about his birthday dinner menu, his response was that his mouth was still singing from the night before.  It was that good.

Many thanks to June Rodil for the great tips, to The Wine and Food Foundation for the invitation to attend as media, and to all to great chefs and staff that made the evening possible.  Every person pouring and serving was knowledgeable and smiling.  It is that kind of attention to detail that makes events stand out.

{I was given a media pass but no additional compensation to attend.  Thoughts and opinions are my own}

Hye-lights from the Weekend

I probably don’t have to tell you that doing a cleanse is NOT conducive to wine writing.  Three weeks without wine means that I was not the only thing drying out.  My apologies for being quiet as of late. Just when I was ready to open some wine and dine on grains, I was delayed even further with bronchitis.  Needless to say, five weeks without wine meant that I was more than ready when Friday rolled around.  And seeing that it was 90 degrees out, I was ready to go pink.

IMG_4458Josh Fritsche of William Chris has his own label, Tatum Cellars, which is super small in production and big in demand with those in the know.  He made 30 cases this year but rumor has it that may increase.

The wine is 60% Grenache, 40% Mourvedre.  History has shown that this combo is one of my favorites.  This wine is no exception.   A beautiful rosy pink, it dances in the light.  Floral and fruit on the nose, some minerality to add dimension.  Every sip made me happy.  And made me wish I had bought more than one bottle!  This is one of the best roses I have had and would rival any domestic and many French.  Very well done.

Did I mention I was excited to drink wine?  A little too excited.  Once we emptied the pink (there were 3 of us) we opened another gem from Hye, Hye Meadow’s Trebbiano.  We made a brief stop there after hitting William Chris on the day I caved and since I was trying to be “good” I didn’t want to do a full tasting.  I asked for two favorites and that is what we bought, the Trebbiano and the Tempranillo, both Texas grapes.

The Trebbiano was straw in color, citrus and tropical fruit, zesty and great acid.  It is a great summer wine.  If you aren’t familiar with Trebbiano, this Italian grape is known as Ugni Blanc in France.  Still not familiar? If you like Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine.  Trust me.

The problem with doing a cleanse? If you aren’t careful, your body can get too clean, thus greatly reducing your tolerance.  The headache began before I even went to bed.  Word to the wise.

IMG_4465On Saturday, we decided to stay with the Hye (Hye Meadow Winery, that is) and opened the Tempranillo.  We loved this wine.  Great classic cherry-cola notes, the spice and acid I’ve come to expect from a lot of Texas wines.  Since the weather was screaming “summer” we complied.  We started with bruschetta with tomato and basil and made NY Strips on the grill, sliced them thin over arugula with lemon and Parmesan.  Simple and tasty every time. It paired perfectly.

I know I have been (begrudgingly) quiet during Texas Wine Month, despite my hopes to highlight all of the great work that is happening here.  But I began with a great example in the William Chris Enchante and am ending with three more.  And the end of October doesn’t mean I’ll stop singing its praises.

It does, however mean that my to-do list of costumes, my daughter’s school carnival, and prepping for Gobble Gobble Give may take precedence.  That and my super-old laptop not allowing me to access WordPress anymore may slow me down (thanks, Mom, for letting me borrow your’s). I take suggestions from all of you tech-wise-wine-loving-blog-writing friends for replacements.  In the meantime, be safe this weekend and post pics of your costumes! Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

My Achilles’ Heel-William Chris Enchanté

There have been a few moments in life that I have surprised myself with my own strength. Hiking the Na Pali coast, natural childbirth (x2), and the Dr. Junger Clean Gut diet that I have been doing for the past 14 days. No coffee, alcohol, grains, sugar, fruit, or fun. I resisted pizza (x2), cut an Italian cream cake without a lick. I made apple crumb pie and while others oohed and aahed, I had raspberries with almond meal. We held dinner parties, a football party. Nothing swayed me. But last night I crumbled. My Achilles’ heel, it turns out, is William Chris Enchanté.

I would say that I’d had a perfect track record until last night, but that wouldn’t be the case. I went to both the pick up party and industry party at William Chris last week. I had the tiniest of tastes, then dumped or shared, except for the Enchanté. I couldn’t resist; no dumping for this gem.  But honestly, that’s some dang good will-power.

IMG_4404Then last night, we made a belated birthday dinner for my father-in-law who is visiting from Sonoma. My husband and I teamed up to make something delicious that I could eat without cheating. We decided on grilled lamb chops with rosemary. For sides I made acorn squash with braised balsamic leeks and a kale salad which I massaged with avocado, garlic, lemon juice and salt. I was home free. Until my husband asked me to pick the wine.

I tried to pick something I wouldn’t mind missing, but it was staring at me. I knew it would be perfect. Merlot, Cab, Malbec, Petite Verdot. The acid, bright cherry, subtle tannins. It was too much. And I knew that if I opened it, I would not be able to resist.

So I did what any Texas-wine loving, soft-spined woman would do. I listened to my “gut” (ha,ha) and declared it Splurge Sunday. And I’m so glad I did.

It was honestly one of the best pairings I’ve had in a long time. Each dish brought out a different nuance in the wine. A bite of acorn squash brought out subtle notes of baking spice. The lamb complimented the earthy Malbec notes. After the kale, the bright red cherry notes shined.

It’s not easy to impress my Sonoma father-in-law but the 2013 William Chris Enchanté did just that. How impressed was he? Well, I am writing this from the back seat on our way out there. Well done, gentleman. You made a believer out of him and broke my will. But it was well worth it. I may have to create my own “cleanse” that allows wine in moderation.  The question is, do I pretend it never happened and continue to day 21?  Or just avoid everything but wine on the weekends?  I’ll be pondering that, but in the meantime, I’ll be planning my Texas Wine Month post-cleanse splurge. Cheers, y’all!

 

Around the World in 80 wines-Tour de Vin

The sky was not all that was pouring in Austin on Thursday night.  The 12th annual Tour de Vin sponsored by The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas at The W Hotel in Austin.  Guests enjoyed dozens of wines and food from some of Austin’s finest restaurants.

Navigating this much yum in one evening can be challenging.  It is easy to find that your palate is shot and your belly is full before you even get around the room.  It is even easier to realize at the end of the night that you missed a golden opportunity to sample a hard to find wine or hard to get into restaurant.  This time I went in with a plan.  No tasting, no sampling until I made the rounds.  Ok, almost not tasting.  When you see this sign at an entrance, you can’t walk by.  Nearly all good evenings begin with bubbles.

IMG_4308-0

I perused the offerings, snapping pictures before the crowds began.  The last booth?  A soon-to-be-opening restaurant, Vox Table.  Their offering of Cured Cobia with a curry pipette cum skewer was one of the most interesting and tasty bites of the evening.  A great way to amuse my bouche.

IMG_4322

The other highlights, as far as food, were the Beef Tartare from Searsucker, The Goat and Tomatillo stew from Cafe Josie, the I.O. Lamb pastrami from Bonneville, and the Pork Rillette with pickled peach from the new chef at Bess Bistro, Roman Murphy.

IMG_4318IMG_4314IMG_4319

 

The title of this piece is not a misnomer.  There were 80 wines being poured that night, but my rule is to only taste what is new to me.  There was a lot of great wine there, but some from such established, classic brands that I knew I would have another chance to taste.  Without a spit cup and with the car keys, I needed to be conservative with the wines.  I am sure there were several gems that I missed, but of those I tasted, I will look for more of the following:

Domaine de la Villaudiere Sancerre (currently obsessed with the Loire Valley)

13 Au Contraire Pinot Noir (Healdsburg)

12 Castello di Fonterutoli Super Tuscan

Schramsberg Brut and Rose

A series of Single vineyard Malbecs from Argentina (of which I somehow managed to NOT get the paperwork or a photo)

That’s the danger of events like these.  You start in the most professional of mindsets.  Work before play.  Document, document, document.  Next thing you know you are chatting with friends, making new contacts.  You get lost in a glass bubbles and the professional hat gets lost in all the fun.  It’s a tough gig.

Thank you, Wine and Food Foundation, for allowing me to be your guest Thursday.  Thank you for all you do to promote wine, food, and fun here in Austin.  And if anyone has the info on those Malbecs, please pass them along.  I look forward to the next big event, Big Reds and Bubbles.  Cheers!

**{I received a media pass for this event but was given no other compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own}

 

 

 

A Practical Girl’s Ferrari

In my preteen years, we spent hours playing the game MASH. We fantasized about Ferraris, mansions in Malibu, and our passionate relationship traveling the world with Simon Le Bon. We let the spiral of fate determine our career path and number of children. Gratefully, my life looks very little like the best or worst of what MASH threw at me. I have no desire to tame a rock star and there’s only one kind of “Ferrari” that turns my head. I mean, honestly, where would the booster seats go?

I recently sampled Ferrari sparkling wines* which are produced in the Trento D.O.C. of Italy: Brut, Perlé, and Rose. Both the Brut and Perlé are 100% Chardonnay, the Rose has 60% Pinot Noir. Ferrari was founded in 1902 by Guilio Ferrari. It has been owned by the Lunelli family  for three generations. Ferrari sparkling wines are produced with grapes from the foothills of the Alps employing Metodo Classico.  Sustainable growing practices are a growing focus for the family.

Just because I don’t want to drive a fancy Italian car doesn’t mean I don’t have expensive taste. My favorite of the three wines was the Perlé ($38) which is hand harvested from the family’s own vineyards. Elegant and crisp, great texture, sweeping mid-palate with notes of green apple and integrated yeast. A classic sparkler and a fun alternative to Champagne. The Brut was tasty and I always love pink bubbles but the Perlé was the standout.

I am a Volvo girl. I’ve owned four which range from an ’82 240 to my current ’02 XC70 wagon. Practical, sturdy, safe: a mom car. Yes, I was driving mom cars before I earned the right. But you know what’s great about a wagon? Room for EVERYTHING. Strollers, a big black lab, and cases of wine. And although I can pretty much guarantee there will never be a shiny red sports car in my driveway, I will come home with a Ferrari or two.

*These samples were provided by Gregory White PR as media samples.  I recevied no other compensation and the thoughts and opinions are  my own.

Solid as a…(Thoughts on Marriage and Winebelly)

I do some of my best “writing” in the middle of the night. In those quiet moments, my mind stirs while others sleep. Maybe it is the quiet. Maybe it is the half-conscious mind, free to roam. Tumbling around, thoughts and ideas seem both foggy and clear, vague and precise. I find an angle, a ribbon to tie it together, a theme upon which to build.

Sometimes in the morning, the idea is still there and solid, sometimes it fades with the light, and other times it is revealed to be not the cohesive profundity I’d imagined. And sometimes it dangles between all of those outcomes. I can’t quite let go of the idea, it is there somewhere, but I can’t quite pull it together.

Yesterday was my anniversary. So between the hours of 4-6am, marriage was on my mind. And rocks. One after another, the analogies and word pictures came to me. I was sure that I would wake up and start writing about rocks. But when you haven’t slept well, creativity can come slowly. Instead of writing about rocks, my legs felt strapped to them, my mind felt full of them, and I had nothing to write.

But, a good glass of wine can help you find renewed inspiration.  And as my husband and I sat on the patio of Winebelly, a great new wine bar and tapas place in South Austin, I decided that I would toss out a few pebbles of wisdom (?), gratitude, and wine recs whether or not the theme “worked.”

My marriage began with a rock. With great planning and fanfare, he placed a rock on my finger and asked me to be his. Our home, built upon and with rocks(or a derivative) has been the place where we’ve tried to build something of value. I’ve carried rocks. Rocks of resentment and anger, until they become so heavy I have no choice but to put them down. He has scaled the same boulder, day after day. Building a business to support our family as I rocked our babies to sleep.

We’ve thrown stones, words that hurt and scar. We’ve collected stones of beauty and skipped them from the shore. We’ve climbed together, mountains that were both literal and figurative. Sometimes he’d carry the weight, sometimes I would. But there is usually something beautiful at the top.

20140410-175735.jpgWhat do we get from rocks? Minerals. And what wine inspired me? A great mineral-driven, citrusy, Sancerre with well-integrated acid. (Like that segue?) Chateau de Sancerre from the Loire Valley to be specific.  He ordered the special, scallops over a coconut risotto cake with red curry and apple-mango slaw.  He loved it.  I can’t vouch for it, obviously, but it looked delicious!  We also shared the roasted asparagus with wild mushrooms, soft poached egg, shaved parm and smoked aioli.  Amazing.  I’m going to try to replicate it for Easter.  The pairing worked.  I’m sure there are wines that would have worked better, but we were going by the glass and wanted to have the same.  It is a wine I will be seeking out.

20140410-175722.jpgFor the second round we ordered Fried Quail legs with roasted pear, arugula and black pepper honey.  For the third round we had the Brick chicken with herbed spaetzle, grilled raddichio and crispy shallots.  To work with both we Proyecto de Espana Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo which was poured from a bottle with one of the prettiest labels I’ve seen.  Medium bodied, subtle tannins, great fruit with some earth and acid.  Really food friendly and a great story.  The service was great.  Well informed, friendly, casual.  (Thanks, Scott and David!)  It was a great evening and we will be back soon.

As we sat down, the light was just as it had been when we had our first dance.  It was to the Madeleine Peyroux version of a Leonard Cohen song, “Dance Me to the End of Love.”  We could not have know what was coming, how love changes and changes you.  We could not have known about the rocky roads and the everyday triumphs.  But we held on tight and climbed.  Thanks for sticking with me.  Thanks for always looking ahead.  Thank you for being MY rock through all of the crazy.  Happy Anniversary!

20140410-184912.jpg

 

Storytellers-Sequoia Grove

This past summer, my family and I flew into San Francisco, pieced together equipment from my brother and father-in-law, and headed north.  I had seen them before.  I was probably eight.  At that age, everything seems a bit taller than it does now.  You tilt your head back, way back and gaze up, up, up until the weight of your upper body nearly tumbles you backward.  Even then, I knew I was in a special place.  There was nothing that approached that size in the Adirondacks.  No cone that large, no trunk so vast.  And there was a stillness, a sense of reverence.

California 2013 321

I knew the Sequoia Groves were magical then.  My children felt that same sense of awe.  They looked up,up,up and were delighted when they could see the top.  They climbed, giggled, wondered as I had years before.  What have these trees seen?  How much more will they see?  The sense of time palpable, I thought of how much life I’ve lived since I was there last and how little time frame was in the life of the tree.  I thought of how my mother taught me about what I was seeing, how I hoped my daughter would do the same one day.  Tradition, strength, a sense of place.

I had the honor of attending a winemaker dinner a few weeks ago.  Molly Hill of Sequoia Grove Winery was in town with her representative from Kobrand, Mike Zinni.  The dinner was at The Salty Sow and even though it occurred in a week already filled, I did not want to miss the opportunity.  I had read about their history, their approach to winemaking and knew the wine would be something special.

Founded by Jim Allen in 1980, they began making classically structured Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Michael Trujillo began as a cellar worker and is now President and Director of Winemaking.  Molly Hill began in 03 and was promoted to winemaker in 08.

Together, they have refined, acquired, and revised to produce the best wine possible.  Being in Rutherford AVA, the Bordeaux varieties flourish.  With the acquisition of the Tonella Vineyard, they’ve been able to go from 80% sourced to 80% estate grown.  Through relationships with other growers, they are able to source the highest quality fruit, continually evaluating and striving.  Each lot is sorted twice, kept separate through fermentation.  In Trujillo’s words, they “like to use Andre Tchelistcheff’s analogy for making tea.  You steep and taste, steep and taste, until it’s just right.”

I think they are on to something.  Each wine we tasted was “just right.”  Not overly manipulated, great fruit, balance.  We started with the 13 Chardonnay.  The color was phenomenal.  Beautiful nose: apple, stone fruit.  The fruit was intense and rang through.  It begins fermentation in stainless and ends in French oak.  Citrus, apple, minerality, often lost with too much oak, were pronounced.

We then moved on to the 10 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I got stuck just on the nose.  Super layered, structured, enticing.  Black fruit, cocoa, maybe coffee?  something vegetative?  On the palate, black cherry and cocoa with a beautiful finish.  Approachable and complex.

The final wine of the evening was the 09 Cambium.  This wine was perfectly balanced, incredibly smooth.  Black and red fruit, earth, floral notes, and bit of cocoa.  Subtle fruit, layered, incredible mouthfeel.  A gorgeous wine.

Reading through the marketing literature, I found out more about the origin of the Cambium wine.  The term “Cambium” refers to “a living layer of cells, between the bark and hardwood, that each year produces additional wood and bark”.  It is the living force that grows the massive Sequoia and the delicate vines.  As Michael Trujlllo said, “The cambium imprints the memory of the vintage on the grapes and that’s what I want in the wine.  Each bottle holds the memory of the sun and the soil-the memory of the season.”

There are Sequoia on the property for which the winery is named. They towered over the Rutherford valley long before they were colored with vines.  The vines have their own stories to tell.  They may not have seen all the towering trees have seen, but they are capable of sharing those stories with us.  Molly Hill and Michael Trujillo have become the storytellers, giving the fruit a voice.  And just as the place for which it is named, each bottle of Sequoia Grove contains a tale of tradition, strength, and a sense of place.

Dinner with the Don

2009_2[1]Last fall I was invited to a dinner in Houston hosted by Concha Y Toro to introduce their 2009 flagship wine, Don Melchor.  The winemaker, Enrique Tirado, would be hosting the event which included a vertical tasting of the wine.  It sounded like a fabulous event, but without much notice, I couldn’t get away.  Fortunately for me, the company representing *Don Melchor, Gregory White PR, knows how to make a great impression.  As a consolation, they sent me a bottle of the 2009 to try at home.

So I did what any food-loving, wine-loving person would do.  I researched the menu from the event and did my best to create a meal worthy of the wine.  I invited some friends, those friends, that I knew would really appreciate the wine and we made our own event.

Grown in the Puento Alto Vineyard in the Maipo Valley of Chile, on vinestock that hails from the Bordeaux region, the fruit in this wine has the potential to rival any Cabernet from around the world.  Enrique Tirado’s natural talent and dedication to research have elevated the wine to cult status.  Each final blend is tasted with Jacques Boissenot, one of Bordeaux’s most well-respected consultants.  Old world vines, new world soil, old world methods, new world research.  It is truly an expression of the best of both worlds.

According to the Examiner article, the wine worked really well with roast lamb with fennel.  So, I headed to the local Farmer’s market to get a couple of racks of French cut grass-fed Lamb rib from I.O. Ranch, well worth the extra stop if you are in the Austin area.  And if you don’t, they ship!  From Johnson’s Backyard, I picked up fennel, turnip, and carrots.  My goal was to use what I knew about the wine and to bring out earthy notes with the root vegetables.  I used my brother-in-law’s rack recipe.

20140129-113950.jpgSear the lamb rack on high heat, 2-3 minutes per side.

Coat the rack with a combination of goat cheese and Dijon mustard.  Then coat in seasoned (rosemary, salt and pepper) Panko bread crumbs.

Cover the tips with foil so they don’t burn.  Roast on a rack at 400 degrees until medium rare. (20min depending on size)

20140129-114010.jpgFor sides I boiled and mashed equal parts turnip and Yukon gold potatoes with horseradish, milk, butter, salt and pepper.

I roasted whole carrots with sliced fennel, leeks, olive oil, salt and pepper for about 45 minutes.

When the lamb was roasted, we pulled it, let it sit for about five minutes, sliced it and then drizzled it with au jus, frozen from the Christmas Prime rib, which I reduced.

We decanted the wine for about an hour.  Aromas of black fruit, cassis and berry.  Spice, tobacco, and cocoa.  The flavors echoed the aromas with big, smooth fruit, velvety mouthfeel, layered finish.  The elements of spice and tobacco were there but in balance with the fruit.  It paired beautifully with the dish.  The earthy lamb and turnip, the sweet fennel and carrots, the richness of the au jus with the soft tannins.  It was fantastic.

20140129-114146.jpg

This wine is in the very special Weekend Wine (or holiday) category with a price point of $125.  As I’ve said before though, if you are cooking at home, you can justify a splurge in the wine realm.  Rack of Lamb and Don Melchor at home or a crowded Prix Fixe chicken dinner and paying $75 for a $25 bottle on Valentine’s Day?  No contest.

It is hard to rival the experience of delving into new wines with the winemaker, especially wines of this caliber.  Of course I wish I had been there.  But I will also say, it is hard to compete with dinner at home with those you love.  Many thanks to the people at Gregory White PR for the invitation and for allowing me to “join” from the comfort of my crazy home.

*This wine was provided as a media sample by Gregory White PR.  The opinions are my own.