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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

“Sparkle and Shine”

I love Steve Earle.  I first fell for El Corazon, went back to I Feel Alright and then on to Transcendental Blues.  “Ft. Worth Blues” was on repeat as I watched the moon over the Adriatic.  I had people come up to me at the show at La Zona Rosa and say they had never seen anyone so into Steve Earle.  I snuck up front at The Backyard and “Galway Girl” and “More Than I Can Do” always get me moving.  I’ve missed some of the more recent stuff as I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to music these days, but one from 2007 will always be a favorite.

When I think back on my first pregnancy, two songs come to mind.  We chose not to find out the sex, but I knew.  I knew I was having a girl and I sang to her in the car, as I walked, whenever I was alone.  One was Patty Griffin’s ‘Heavenly Day,’ the other was Steve Earle’s “Sparkle and Shine.”  Much of what he writes is rough and tumble and colored with political punches, but when he writes a love song, he writes a long song.  “My baby sparkles and shines and everyone knows she’s mine…”

Who doesn’t want to be described as sparkling?  Sparkling personality, sparkling eyes.  The word connotates vivacity, magnetism.  When we think of celebrations, we want sparkling lights and sparkling wine.

As the year ends, many of us will gather with those that have meant something to us in the past year.  We will look back fondly or bid good riddance to a year we’d rather not repeat.  Either way, the evening should end, or begin, with something that sparkles.

You’ve got choices to make.  Domestic or foreign?  What’s your price point?  What’s the gathering?  If it is intimate, you may choose to have one or two bottles of something splurge-worthy and elegant.  If you’re hosting the whole block, you probably want something that tastes great at a reasonable price so you can pour freely.

I recently received some samples of Cava, sparkling wine from Spain, and Prosecco, bubbles from Italy.  I’ve discovered some new French favorites and some domestic standouts.  Some I have mentioned this year and some are newly tried.  Either way, there is sure to be something here to fit your gathering.

Feeling domestic? Try J Winery Sparkling Cuvee.   Priced in the low $20s, it is affordable and delicious.  Warm pears and citrus. A good compromise between splurge and a save.  Another that falls into that category is Jean Charles Boisset’s JCB bubbles.  The Brut and the Rose are delish and you can find them in the high teens, low 20s.  If you want to try a Texas sparkler, I really enjoyed McPherson Cellars Sparkling Wine with Chenin Blanc and Muscat Canelli.  A great value, too great I am afraid.  It is currently sold out but look for it next year.

Viva  España! There are some great values if you go for Cava.  Some better than others, of course.  One sample of “value” Cava I didn’t care for but it made a great cocktail with grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and bitters.  I did like the Segura Vidas Brut Rosé ($10)* and was pleasantly surprised by the Freixenet Brut($11)*.  Neither were overly complex but pleasant for sipping.  If you want to bump it up a notch, try the Segura Vidas Reserva Heredad.*  The bottle itself is beautiful.  Pop the cork and find lots of beautiful bubbles, floral notes, apple, citrus and yeast.  Elegant and nicely priced around $25.

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Oui, Oui, Mon Cheri!  Last month I told you about a Cremant that I have a big crush on.  Aimery Sieur d’Arques Cremant de Limoux Rosé.  If you want to splurge on something pink, I’d suggest my birthday bubbles, Chassenay d’Arce, Rosé Brut, Champagne.  It is 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 100% delicious.  Maybe it was just the fact that I had it with my mom’s strawberry cake, but it was worth every bit of the $45(ish).

Molte Bene In the mood for Prosecco?  A guest favorite in my Moms-coping-with-winter-break Blind Tasting was the Voveti Prosecco.  On the nose, some honey and yeast, good green apple notes and a decent finish.  In general, Prosecco can be a little sweeter than Cava or Cremant.  This one was indeed a little sweeter, but nice with the salty snacks.

Brasil!  For my (cough,cough) 40th, a friend shared this yummy number with me.  Casa Valduga 130 Brut is made using méthode champenoise and was nutty, full-bodied, and tasty.  A unique wine that is sure to be a conversation starter.  How many wines have you had from Brazil?

Now I know when Mr. Earle wrote the song, he didn’t mean “baby” like I meant “baby,” but I’ve got to say, my baby does indeed sparkle and shine. I can’t really think of anything “sparkling” without thinking of that song.  So, while the lede may have you scratching your head still, I hope you still enjoy the song.  2013 has had its challenges, there have been highs and lows, but I have much to be grateful for.  I hope that you will be surrounded by those you love and that there is something delicious in your glass and fabulous in your future.  See you in 2014! Cheers!

*These wines were provided by Janet Kafka and Associates as media samples.  The opinions are my own.

Frankly Delicious

I wish you could smell my kitchen right now.  Scratch that, I wish you could smell my whole house right now.  By now, no matter where you live, you’ve likely heard of Franklin BBQ.  If you haven’t seen the press, maybe you’ve seen the Chase credit card commercial.  The local joint has reached cult-like status and, in order to try the smoked gold, you will likely need to stand in line for 2-4 hours depending on the day.  Unless…

There is another option.  If you order well in advance, like weeks in advance, you can pick up a whole brisket or two.  It’s in limited supply as well, but if you can swing it, you’ll be in hog (or cow) heaven.  So for my husband’s 40th camping trip, we ordered a couple of briskets and shared the love.  The first night we dined (chowed) in traditional form, the second night out I made a soup with some of the leftovers.  You can guess how that went over.  In fact, my husband has been asking for it weekly since then.  So tonight, I thawed the leftover’s leftovers and made Franklin’s Brisket Stew, Take 2.

If you’ve done much cooking while camping, you know you have to sacrifice a little.  We bring a stash of spices etc, but there is always something you forget.  This time I had my entire kitchen (running water and all) at hand.

Franklin’s Brisket Stew, Take 2.

1 small onion

3 celery stalks

3 large carrots

1 leek

1 Yellow pepper

2 wax peppers (anything with a little heat, or a lot)

1 can beef broth

4 cups Chicken Broth

1 cup tomato puree

2 Tbsp. Brown sugar

1 Tbsp. Red wine vinegar

(While camping I subbed the 3 above ingredients for ketchup)

1 lb. Franklin’s brisket ( I defrosted in the broth, removed the really fattty pieces, and shredded it but you have options.)

1 bag frozen green beans, or fresh

1/2 bag frozen corn

Dash clove

a few shakes of Italian herb blend

Salt and pepper to taste, but the brisket adds a lot of each. 

So what to drink with this big bowl of comfort?  I wanted something big, but not overpowering.  Something that could stand up to the pepper and compliment the smoky flavors, not compete.  Then I remembered back in March when I met Bart Hansen.  He got up early to stand in line for some Q but the line that is foreboding on a normal day becomes down-right unsurmountable during SXSW.  Bart owns Dane Cellars and sent me some samples which I’ve been opening with measure.  I don’t want them to end.  The Chenin was delish. The Zin, super yum.  I’ve been saving the Old Vine Zin and the Syrah, but what else could I open tonight?  If he couldn’t try it when he was here, he can at least be paired with it, right? Plus, he’s the featured winemaker at The Girl & The Fig this month so, if you’re in the Sonoma area, you can taste this wine.

The 2009 Just Creek Vineyard Syrah was aged 15 months in French oak and bottle unfiltered.  The color is deep, opaque, with a lighter ring, like the skin of a Bing Cherry.  A rich, powerful nose, with black fruits and pepper. This wine is huge, yet well-balanced.  A great intermingling of fruit and spice the whole way through with a long, coying finish.

This is the third wine I’ve had from Bart and each time I have been so impressed with his talent.  Each wine has so much going on and yet shows great restraint.  Every sip leaves you wanting more, intrigued and enticed.

So how did it work with the stew? Beautifully.  No competition.  The pairing brought out blueberries in the wine and the smokiness in the stew.   I don’t know if I could have picked a better match.  That’s a big statement from me.  And the hubs said he thinks the dish could win awards and was the best stew/soup/comfort food I’ve made.  That’s a big statement from him.  Now, I know most of you don’t have access to Franklin or Dane Cellars, but you can improvise.  I’m not saying it will compare.  I mean, people wait HOURS for this stuff, but it could be dang good.  And Bart sells his wine online.  That’s a great consolation prize. And next time you’re in town, Bart, you may want to bring some Syrah.

B.L.A.C.(K) Friday

…or what I’ve been drinking this week.

I don’t shop this weekend.  But I do enjoy wine, so I thought I’d share my own version of “Black Friday.”  The only wines I could think of that begin with a K are either bigger producers or ones that I haven’t had in while so forgive the incomplete acronym.  But by the time you finish tasting B, L, A, and C, I don’t think you’ll mind.cabernet_sauvignon_img[1]

B is for Bridlewood 2011 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

Last weekend was a rare cold and rainy weekend here in Austin.  We lit the fire around noon and by two, the smells of browning roast told my husband that it was time to open some red wine.  We wanted something with some body and depth so I opened a sample* I’ve had for a bit.

One look at this wine in the glass and you know you are in for something rich.  It has a ton of stewed black fruit on the nose with a hint of warm spice.  Maybe cinnamon?  On the palate, the fruit is a little brighter than the nose indicates, less “stew” more “blue.”  Not overly tannic but a great finish and plenty of depth. A different style than you might expect from a California Cab, but a great deal at around $12.

L is for Lewis 2010 Texas Red Wine

October 2013 004I was so excited to make it out Lewis Wines in Hye, Texas.  It is by appointment only but absolutely worth planning ahead for a visit.  A blend of Touriga, Tempranillo, and Tinto Cao, this wine is gorgeous as it is unique.  With a focus primarily on Mediterranean and Portuguese grapes, grown in Texas, Doug Lewis is building something beautiful in the Hill Country.  I was really impressed by everything he poured.  If he is making wine like this in his 20s, I can only imagine what’s to come.  You’ll be hearing more about him, here and in the wine world.

A is for Aimery Sieur d’Arques Cremant de Limoux Rosé

I went to a Sparkling wine tasting at the local Whole Foods Market on Tuesday.  They poured 5 bubblies: a Cava, Cremant, Prosecco, Moscato, and a Champagne.  This was a lovely sparkling rosé.  Subtle fruit and yeast notes, long finish, elegant bubbles.  At $15 it is accessible and festive, great for the holidays.

 

C is for Canard-Duchêne 2005 Brut Millesimé Sparkling

This is a true Champagne, meaning it was born and bottled in the Champagne region.  It is composed mostly of Pinot noir and aged five years.  It is a pale gold with a fruity nose and is super rich.  Great yeast notes and minerality, a long fruity finish and lovely mouthfeel.  This is the splurge of the list at $55, but much more fun than some of the other big production Champagnes.  Whether you’re looking for a gift, somewhere to put your bonus, or something celebratory, this vintage Champagne is bound to impress.

If you’re braving the craziness, pick up something, or a few delicious things, while you’re out.  Cheers!

South A. Welcomes South A.

20131029-102802.jpgA few weeks ago I told you about a South African Pinotage that I blew my socks off. It was my first piece for Wine Savvy so you may have missed it but the experience whet my appetite for South African wines. This past Sunday, Wines of South Africa held a Braai and wine tasting to benefit the Amala Foundation. Held in the new venue, Vuka, in South Austin, the atmosphere was friendly and casual, approachable and diverse, just like the wines.

The organization is currently doing a US tour to showcase the wines and the changes being made in the industry, socially and environmentally. There were about 25 wines being poured and a few stations with nibbles: ostrich burgers, chicken skewers, etc. Because I was there on a mission, I only tried a little of the food, but what I tried was tasty. I had more important things to taste.

I had sampled some of the wines at previous events so I tried to stick to the new labels. I came away with two clear favorites. The main varieties being poured were Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinotage with a few classics thrown in. If you are one that sticks with what you know, I would recommend checking out the Passages label. They were pouring a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cab/Merlot blend. I preferred the bookends in the list but they were all good values around $15.

If you are adventurous, I highly recommend the Bellingham wines. The two being poured were very different, in every way, but my two favorites of the day. The Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc was a great value at about $12. Bright citrus, tropical notes, easy drinking. The Bellingham Bernard Series SMV was a beautiful blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, softened with Viognier. Really versatile and smooth with floral red fruits and enough spice to give it weight. It could easily be quaffed alone or with a variety of foods. At $30 it is one of the higher end wines, but worth it. Both wines are available at Whole Foods.

If you are looking for some others to try, I also enjoyed the Stellar Organics Pinotage and Extra Dry Sparkling, both ridiculous values at $11. Also, check out the Mulderbosch Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. Tasty.

Usually at wine events I see a few people I know. These were new faces. These were happy faces. The wines of South Africa may not be well-known yet, but I see that changing. The quality for the price point is attractive, especially for those just experimenting with wines. The wines were easy to drink and easy to share. I’ll always drink to that. Cheers!

Oh, That’s Right This is a Wine Blog…

Lately I have been writing about a little of this and a lot of that but not a lot about wine. Lest I forget why many of you started reading, here are some of the highlights of my summer quaffing.

1) Champlain Valley wines.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I was tasting. Think cool climate acid, clean fruit, not overly complex but versatile. Most of these producers are fairly new to the game and some are doing better than others but it was fun to try some varieties, like Louise Swenson and Marquette, that were new to me. East Shore Vineyard and The Champlain Wine Company were at the head of the leaderboard in my limited experience.

2) Ridge Vineyards 06 Lytton Springs Zinfandel

Huge fruit and spice, beautiful layers. This super complex Zin is a special occasion wine at around $50 but it is sure to impress. Paul Draper has such a great approach to the art and industry of winemaking that the wine is a conversation piece in and of itself.

3) Loxton Cellars

Originally from Australia, Chris Loxton is no stranger to Syrah. His goal is to produce wines with a sense of place.  With a focus on Syrah and Zin, he uses the most natural processes that he can. When I think of California Zins and Syrah, I think big, bold, and a little heavy. His were surprisingly light, yet complex. We left with a bottle of Zin. Subtle tannins, spice, acid and bright fruit. Delish. We may be joining this one.

4) Walt Wines

The tasting room is right off the Sonoma square and they specialize in Pinots. I think we tasted six, all tasty. They source their grapes from several regions and the labels are color coded accordingly. My two favorites were from the Anderson Valley, so that’s good for me to know when choosing. They did one that was an experimental wine with the stems being removed, smoked and then the wine filtered through them. I wish I had my notes (taken on the tasting sheet, a casualty of travel), but I think that is correct. Really interesting. Check them out.

5) Domaine du Montru Muscadet Sevre & Maine sur lie.

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My new favorite summer Monday wine. Priced under $10, this wine is complex and bright, with great citrus notes and minerality. Find it, open it, and enjoy. Easy and the perfect wine on these hot September (?!?) days.  If you’re in ATX, it is at Central Market.

6) 2009 Haraszthy Zinfandel Amador County ($18)

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While camping in Big Trees, we would go down to the local Chevron each day so my husband could get some work done. While in there, I saw a small wine section with all local producers. On a recent Twitter tasting someone mentioned that he felt Amador County Zins didn’t get their due so I tried this little, or should I say big whopping, gem. Jammy red fruit and bold spice, perfect with ziti and sausage that my husband whipped up on the cool Sierra evening.

When I looked up the wine, I realized that the family is well versed on the topic. Vallejo Haraszthy, the current owner, is a descendant of General Vallejo, founder of Sonoma, and Count Agoston Haraszthy, the founder of Buena Vista Winery.

The bear on the label is a nod to the flag of California and the motto, Solus Sto, is Latin for “Stand Alone.” They continue to honor each region for its’ own unique characteristics. A fun wine with a great story.

As I ease into my new-found twice-a-week morning freedom, I hope to not be such a stranger. And I’m celebrating a BIG birthday this weekend so I should have some more recommendations soon. Cheers!

Rosé Colored Glasses

When we began planning our trip to Northern California I had visions of my husband and I running off to vineyards, or I would take off on my own for the day. I’d head up the Silverado trail or 37 solo, windows down, music up and not a hair out-of-place when I arrived for my tasting appointment. But apparently I was looking ahead with rose-colored glasses.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. We watched the sea lions on the Lost Coast, hiked in the redwoods, and relaxed on the beach in Tahoe. But that has meant that I have had three, yes, three days to visit wineries. Two brief appointments with the hubs and two while the hubs tried to manage the littles during my brief tour and taste.

In Tahoe, we broke even with the reds and the blacks on our date night. We had better luck with the pinks. Since it is Wine Blogging Wednesday on the topic of dry roses, I’m riding shotgun and doing a quick write-up on our way back from the Sierras.

In a recent post I highlighted a few dry roses from Provence. Here are a couple of gems from Sonoma.

J Vineyards Vin Gris Made from Pinot Noir, this is a gorgeous wine. Pale salmon, but don’t let the color fool you. This wine starts with light red fruit, a hint of tart acid and it finishes long and strong. We paired it with salmon with herbs and lemon and it was delicious. ($20)

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Gundlach Bundschu Tempranillo Rose This one is almost at the opposite end of the color spectrum; think hibiscus tea. Super rich in color and flavor. Ripe red fruit, floral and spicy notes. It is the wine I first wrote about when I kicked off this site with “Punt,” (excuse the pun). Versatile, fun, and delicious. ($22)

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Earlier this summer I wrote about how I was going to put more energy into my family than my writing.  Even though the trip did not turn out like I was planning, it did serve as a test of my resolve to refocus.  It did provide my family with some wonderful memories, challenges, and learning opportunities.  My daughter will start Kindergarten shortly after we return.  I can come back to Sonoma and Napa, but I can’t get this time back.  I’d rather see things through her eyes than through any colored glasses.

We just crossed the Sonoma County line. We may need to make a quick stop at Gun Bun on the way back to my father-in-law’s. All this writing is making me thirsty.

Thanks to Lenn Thompson and Tim Elliot for bringing Wine Blogging Wednesday back with a great topic. Cheers!