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!

Trends, Schmends-I never gave up on you, Merlot (Repost for #merlotme)

In the wine-loving Social Media world, today is #Merlotme day.  A day set apart to honor the movie-maligned grape.  I’ve always been a fan.  This piece, written almost two years ago, was part of my personal assertion that I would not be dissuaded.  Shortly after, Gundlach Bundschu produced one of the best wine videos I’ve seen to declare their love.  The grape is on the upswing.  Today is further evidence.  So go ahead.  Open your favorite Merlot and tweet, loud and proud, using the hashtag #merlotme.  Cheers!

I’ll admit it.   I have fallen victim to many a trend, especially in my 20s.  The wishy-washy years where you virtually swing from trend to trend.  If I could have all of the money back that I spent on clothes worn once, I could have a lovely wine “closet.”  (Yes, no cellar for this Texan, closet)  In fact, if I had just saved on all of the trends and bought something classic and lovely, I would still be wearing it.  Something classic and lovely, just like a Merlot.

When I first began drinking wine, I can recall more than a few gasps when I admitted to preferring Merlot to Cab.  In general, if forced to pick, I chose Merlot.  I get it.  It is hard to beat a Cab (Franc or Sauvignon) with a steak.  I won’t argue that.  But, for versatility-appetizer through dessert-I would choose Merlot.  The men in my life rarely agreed, but that was okay.  I liked the round, juicy fruit of a Merlot.  I remember feeling like I was “wrong,” but for a people-pleaser, it was a baby-step of self-assertion I was willing to take.

Bob Ecker wrote a great piece in Thursday’s Napa Valley Register, “After being slammed by Hollywood, Merlot is getting its due again.”  He had me at “Merlot” but I was sold when he gave props to one of my favorites, Gundlach Bundschu.  After taking a whooping from the Pinot-loving Sideways film, the much defamed grape is back.  Well, it never left.  Those who do it well, just maintained, or improved, and have been waiting patiently.

There is a beauty in aging.  We settle into our own and give a more well-rounded representation of who we are.  We lose our harsh edges (hopefully) and become unapoligettically unique.  We are not as easily swayed by the trends of the moment and more likely to speak boldly about who we are.  As long as we are properly corked (at times, ahem) and given the proper care, age does wonders. Like a fine wine; like a fine Merlot.

Going Out with a Bang

Ok, so I am doing it.  Trying it.  Ok, starting it anyway.  I eat healthy.  I exercise (sometimes more vigorously than others).  And I can’t drop the last ten from my now 3-year-old “baby.”  My sister has been eating the anti-inflammatory way since she discovered it, for the most part.  She was motivated by arthritis but the weight loss is a welcome “side effect” so I am going to try.  Which means no dairy, gluten, sugar, booze, etc.  Which means that I won’t be 100% long-term, but I can be strict for a while and then do some figuring out what works for me.

So I went shopping yesterday for some new supplies but when I got home I realized I had one “last supper.”  I should have planned ahead and made it more exciting, but I did want it to include wheat and dairy with a dash of decadence.  So I did a play on Pasta Carbonara and popped open a wine I’ve been waiting to try all summer, Dane Cellars 2009 Chenin Blanc.  I met the winemaker, Bart Hansen, at SXSW last spring and he sent me a few samples.  I was trying to wait for other wine writers to taste them with me but summer schedules have not permitted any get-togethers.  I got tired of waiting.

In typical fashion, I popped the cork while I was cooking to taste while my palate was clear. And just because.  I think of Chenin as a summer wine, but last night I tasted early fall.  Growing up near MacIntosh apple country, I have a weak spot for a crisp, slightly tart apple.  That is exactly what I tasted when I tried the wine.  Clean, tart early harvest MacIntosh apples.  Add a touch of acid and floral and there you have it.  The recipe I used suggested Sauvignon Blanc but this pairing worked well too.  Basically what you want with Carbonara is some acid to cut the richness of the pancetta and cheese.  The Chenin had that in spades. And at around $15, it nearly qualifies as a Monday wine.

I also didn’t have pancetta since this was on-the-fly gluttony, so I used olive oil and a touch of bacon grease I had in the freezer.  While the pasta was cooking (no spaghetti, just wheat gemelli), I sautéed the garlic and thin ham strips until the garlic was soft and the ham was crisp.  While that was happening I grated about a cup of parmesan cheese and mixed that in with two whisked eggs.  When the pasta was just out of the water, I tossed it in the pan and added the egg/cheese mixture.  (If you want to thin the sauce,add some pasta water).  At the very end I added about a tablespoon of thinly sliced green onion, a touch I adopted from La Traviata.

It wasn’t fancy, but everyone loved it and it paired really well with the wine.  The hubs even ate anything that was left on the kids’ plates.  I’ll make it again, I think?  Or if you know of a good vegan gluten-free version, let me know. (Or any other favorite adaptations).

So I won’t have a lot of new wines to share in the next couple weeks, or maybe I’ll have time to write about ones I’ve already had.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Either I lose that stubborn ten or I get to go back to Pasta Carbonara.  I call that Win-Win.

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.


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)


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!

P.S. You Were a Hit at the Dinner Party!

Without question, one of my favorite things about wine is how it brings people together.  From harvest to blending, tastings to dinner parties, community is central to the production and enjoyment of wine.  One community that has grown around the love of one grape in particular is P.S I Love You.  The producers and advocates of Petite Sirah formed the group in 2002.  Since then it has grown to over 100 members.

I was introduced to the group by Jo Diaz, the executive director and a fellow member of another group, Women Wine Writers.  I was recently the fortunate recipient of samples from P.S. I Love You.  This gave me a great excuse to bring a new group of wine lovers together to help me sample and learn more about Petite Sirah.

I taught in a multi-age setting and I still love the theory behind it.  Surround the learner with those that are farther ahead in one arena and those that are behind.  Ideas become solidified as you share and support others.  You are challenged to grow as you see new ideas practiced and applied.  All people have different gifts.  We excel in one area and need help in others.   These ideas don’t stop in the classroom.  Or perhaps our entire experience is one big “classroom.”  Either way, the same theories still apply.

Although the Petite Sirah gathering was only scheduled two days in advance, the group could not have been better planned.  One guest had more technical and production experience.  Another came with a palate trained through years of cooking.  Yet another spent years in Italy and fine dining so he brought his own unique angle.   I invited friends that love wine and the learning process and I learned from their unbiased perspectives.

I got a head start on the sampling the night before so that I could come into it with some prior knowledge.  Plus, it gave me the opportunity to try another pairing.  On Thursday, my brother-in-law made grilled Balsamic pork chops which I paired with roasted sweet potatoes and a kale salad.  We opened the 2011 Rock Wall Jack’s Dry Creek for the meal.  This wine was beautifully balanced with tons on blackberry and spice.  Hearty enough to hold up to the balsamic and pepper on the pork, smooth enough to drink by itself after the meal.  A very nice wine.  We also opened the Petite Petit by Michael David Winery.  Trust me, there is nothing “petite” about this wine.  Huge fruit, punctuated by the Petit Verdot, this one really needed some food.  Next time I plan on having some cheese with enough muscle to hold this one.  After a sampling of both ends of the PS spectrum, I felt more prepared for the full tasting.

petite sirah

I read a lot about pairings and asked the producers to share their favorites. We started with a cheese plate.  For dinner, I decided on venison meatballs with marinara, garlic bread and salad.  That way I could bring in the game and the hearty tomato in one dish.  Also, I could do all the work before guests arrived which is always preferred.  I chose six wines to taste that night.  I have found that, after that, my palate becomes saturated and I can’t properly evaluate a wine.  Plus, that leaves me a couple more to pair in the future.

In retrospect, I may have changed the order, but based on what I knew, courses, and price point, I put them in the following order:

1) 2010 Bogle Vineyards $11 Cheese course-Big black fruit, tar, spicy pepper, full-bodied

2) 2011 Concannon Central Coast $10 -Cheese course-Red and black berries, leather, medium-bodied. Would have served this before Bogle. A great value.

3) 2010 Stanton Vineyards $45- Served with Main Course-Absolutely delicious.  Complimented the meal nicely.  Perfumed nose. Integrated red and black fruit, balanced, big and complex.

4) 2010 Pedroncelli Dry Creek Valley$17 Served with Main Course-Super complex.  Red and black fruit, some eucalyptus and spice.  Hearty and rich layers. Full bodied and a fantastic value.

5) 2010 Wooden Valley Winery $19 Served with dessert. Cocoa and Cassis, round vanilla and almond notes.  With the addition of Zinfandel, this wine is fruit forward and approachable.

6) 2010 Earthquake $26  With a name like Earthquake, I assumed this wine would pack a big punch and needed to come last.  I was right.  Bold, hefty, in your face tannins and fruits that doesn’t quit.  Consider yourself warned and pair with something that would rank high on the Richter scale.

So what did we learn for our course in Petite Sirah?  Also known as Durif, this grape is typically used in blending, but is lovely on its own.  Depending on growing conditions and production techniques, the grape can produce very diverse wines.  We learned that this wine is made for food, specifically hearty foods.  We learned that there are some great values in Petite Sirah.  Layered, rich and under $20?  Yes, please.

The best learning is done is a safe environment.  When wine flows, conversation follows.  Questions arise, points of view differ, but, in the right setting, you all come away richer, and hopefully wiser.  Thank you P.S. I Love You for providing the opportunity to learn.  Thank you, dear friends, for teaching and learning with me.  Most importantly, thank you for creating an environment in which learning is possible.  Cheers!

Disclaimer: These wines were provided as samples by the producers affiliated with P.S. I Love You.  The opinions are my own and those of my dinner guests.

Brows, Bangs, and a Bad Taste

When is the last time you dug through old photos? Not precious baby pictures or the early courting days, but the really embarrassing ones. I went through mine for a girls’ weekend in the Hill Country. Middle school eyebrows, Pioneer dresses, and bangs. I sported large men’s flannel shirts through the birth of grunge, perms, and belly-button-skimming-acid washed-pleated jeans. (A trend I will not repeat.) I take full responsibility for some of the choices. As if dressing like Laura Ingalls would make me a better educator. In other shots I was merely a victim of being born in the 70s. I was keeping up with the trends. Either way, it wasn’t good.

On our way out west, we stopped at a couple of wineries. My friends have had limited experience with Texas wines and I wanted to give them a glimpse of the great work some winemakers are doing. Our first stop was one of my favorite producers and they ooh-ed and aah-ed. They left gushing, surprised, and with a few bottles.

The second stop was very different. Of the four wines we tasted, only one was palatable. Now, I don’t know if we hit on a bad day, I don’t know if it was not an accurate sampling, but I do know it was not good. One of my friends, a phenomenal baker, posed the following question.

“So, I wonder if they know it isn’t good and serve it anyway. Is it like when you’ve made a cake that isn’t your best and you know it? Or do they think it is good?”

Which got me thinking about the pictures. Was it a bad bottle? A challenging crop? Were they trying to be trendy and pull off something they weren’t ready to pull off? Were they victims of the vintage or did they, like the frumpy student-teacher in the photos, just make a bad decision?

Maybe they enjoy those traits in wine. After all, taste is very subjective. But when does a matter of taste cross-over into a flaw? When is a flaw so egregious that it becomes a fault? What does the winemaker have control over and what happened after the bottle was sold?

Let’s look at the difference between a “flaw” and a “fault.” Basically, a flaw is a minor attribute in the wine that is not generally characteristic and that you weren’t expecting. A fault is due to poor winemaking or storage conditions. There is a lot of great information on these topics and I am only skimming the surface. Here is a common list of “faults” in a wine as listed on Wikipedia.

Acetaldehyde Smell of roasted nuts or dried out straw. Commonly associated with Sherries where these aromas are considered acceptable
Amyl-acetate Smell of “fake” candy banana flavoring
Brettanomyces Smell of barnyards, fecal and gamey horse aromas
Cork taint Smell of a damp basement, wet cardboard or newspapers and mushrooms
Diacetyl Smell of rancid butter
Ethyl acetate Smell of vinegar, paint thinner and nail polish remover
Hydrogen sulfide Smell of rotten eggs or garlic that has gone bad
Iodine Smell of moldy grapes
Lactic acid bacteria Smell of sauerkraut
Mercaptans Smell of burnt rubber and/or cooked cabbage
Oxidation Smell of cooked fruit and walnuts. Also detectable visually by premature browning or yellowing of the wine
Sorbic acid plus lactic acid bacteria Smell of crushed geranium leaves
Sulfur dioxide Smell of burnt matches. Can also come across as a pricking sensation in the nose.

Again, taste is subjective. A great example is Brettanomyces or “brett.” A hint of brett is common in Italian wines and in small amounts can add complexity. If it is too strong, I don’t care for it. But how strong is too strong? Chances are that your idea is different than mine.

One of the samples was a rosé. It started bad and ended like a beer. Not a hint of yeast that you expect from sparkling, but a beer. He tried to tell me that some attributes can come off as yeast. Sure, but this wasn’t hiding as anything. This was in-your-face-licking-rising-dough yeast. I don’t imagine that was the winemaker’s intention. But, I’ve been wrong before. There is photographic evidence.

Maybe you still like your acid washed jeans. I hear they are back in style. Maybe you still rock a perm and it looks fabulous. You may look back on something you wore and cringe, or wish that you’d never given that shirt away. Fashion and beauty are as subjective as taste in wine. The wine that I don’t care for may be one of your favorites. But there is a point where, taste aside, it crosses a line. Does the winemaker always know that line? And which is worse? Knowing the line and crossing it anyway or not knowing?

Cabernet Showdown

On the last Tuesday of every month, the Texas Wine and Food Consortium hosts a good old-fashioned duel.  While there may not be a definitive winner, there is definitely a good time had by all.  Gusto Tastings Sommeliers, Daniel Kelada and Oscar Montes-Iga choose a grape and draw a line between producers from all over the world and those in Texas.   We get to enjoy the battle.


I previously attended the tastings in which we looked at Viognier and Tempranillo, both grapes that do very well in the Texas climate.  This month, Cabernet Sauvignon was the star of the show.  I will admit that I had my doubts.  After all, how well can Cab really do here?  Denise Clarke, shared my skepticism and chose to taste blindly.  I think we were both surprised by the evening. 

As with each of the competitions, the evening was divided into four flights: Old World, New World, Texas, and then a vertical tasting of a Texas wine.  This month, Becker Vineyards provided the vertical tasting.

For the Old World tasting, we had two French and one Israeli wine.  For the New World flight, we tasted Washington, Chile, Napa, and South Africa.  We then moved to nine Texas wines and the vertical flight.

Tasting this many wines can be a funny thing.  My palate begins to fade.  I can taste through a flight and think I know which one I prefer.  Taste them again, and it becomes less clear.  As a wine opens it changes.  Have a snack, it changes again.  If you asked me which wine was my favorite, I would also have to ask, “With food or without?”  And if you asked the person next to me, there may be very little overlap in the list of favorites. 

Some of my tasting notes of the evening included the classic terms such as, “cherry, leather, tobacco, greens.” And then there were some less common descriptors: “dill pickle, green pepper with cherry on top, cream soda, tomato leaf.”

Some personal highlights included:

Le Relais De Dufort-Vivens, Margaux, Grand Vin, 2009 (classic notes, Bing cherry, tobacco)

Marques de Casa Concha, Puento Alto, 2010 (Less classic but friendly, cherry cola, Eucalyptus, Green tomato leaf)

Flat Creek, Texas High Plains, Newsome Vineyard, Reserve 2010 (Big, impressive, yet subtle fruit, cherry, and greens)

The Vineyard at Florence, Williamson County, ‘Veritas’ 2010 (huge sour cherry and berry blend)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2007 (elegant nose, hazelnut and cranberry, some vegetative notes)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2009 (earth, leather, fruit, surprising elegant for age)

Becker Vineyard Claret 2011 (drought year so concentrated fruit, bright sour cherry, some green, cocoa)

As an encore, Tim Drake of Flat Creek Estate, decided to finish the evening with something very special.  He opened a 2002 Flat Creek Cab that was amazing.  If there was any question about whether Texas can do Cab, more importantly, a Cab that can age, Flat Creek gave us the answer. 

So who was the winner?  Well, there is no clear answer to such a subjective question, but you can judge for yourself.  Next month’s tasting will look at Tannat and will be featuring wines from Bending Branch.  In April, Texas Wine and Food Consortium will bring us fortified wines (port, Sherry, Madeira) with Haak winery.  Upcoming tastings will feature Roussane, Rose, Red Blends, White Blends, Merlot, Malbec , and Sangiovese.

For more information on these tastings, contact Daniel Kelada.

 This piece was originally written for and posted on Texas Wine and Trail


Romanza for Your Valentine-Bocelli Wines

A few years ago for Valentine’s Day, we decided we would open one of our special occasion wines.  I wanted a perfect pairing so I referenced the website and decided to make gnocchi and marinara from scratch.  After hours in the kitchen, we were almost ready to cook the dumplings when I decided to put everything on hold so I could find, what I deemed to be, the only music worthy for the meal, Andrea Bocelli.  When you think romance and Italian, the tenor is the first music that comes to mind.  Now, you can do more than drink in his amazing voice, you can toast with his wines.

The Bocelli family has been making wines for four generations.  Now Andrea and his brother, Alberto, have started to share them with others.  From a vineyard in Tuscany, the Sangiovese has all of the classic notes you would expect from the grape.  A lively garnet red with a strawberry nose.  Tart cherry, bright with hints of mineral and oak.  The first day I opened the wine, it seemed to have a little bite on the finish.  I knew that I was way too tired to fairly assess anything, so I revisited the next day.  Any bite that may, or may not, have been there on the night I opened the wine was long gone.  A very pleasant finish.  Enough acid and body to hold up to a marinara and light enough to sip alone.  A very enjoyable wine and I am so glad we met a second time.  

If you’ve been reading for long, you know that I am a fan of the bubbles.  I loved this Prosecco.  Delicate bubbles, and plenty of them.  Stone fruit, apple, and citrus.  Some honeysuckle on the finish.  Very balanced between crisp and soft.  I may have a new favorite.

With both wines priced in the mid-teens, these wines are an excellent value.   I have seen interviews with Andrea Bocelli and I have been struck by his humility and gentle spirit.  His sense of family and love for the Italian culture is palpable.  It is not surprising that he would make classic Old World wines, available at a price that allows for sharing with family and friends.

If you’ve been keeping up with the crazy week I had, I will not be making gnocchi from scratch this year, but I will be opening something special.  If you are still looking for wines for your Valentine’s meal, or for any time, the Bocelli wines are sure to add a bit of romanza.

* These wines were provided by the August Wine Group as media samples for review purposes.

Classic and Elegant-Franciscan Estates

When I was teaching, I didn’t review the files of my students right away.  I wanted to meet them, interact, observe with no preconceived notions about the individual.  After a time, in preparation for a goal-setting conference, I would look at what previous teachers had found in their time with the student in order to best serve that child.  Sometimes the notes were surprising; often they echoed my observations.

When reviewing a wine, I like to come to it with a clear palate and a clear mind. When I have had sufficient time with the wine, I like to go back and read the winemaker’s notes and the history of the vineyard. Each piece of information paints a picture and build my understanding of the industry, the winemaker, and the wine itself.  It also serves as a means for self-examination.  Did I pick up on that nuance?  Did it remind me of another wine from the same AVA?  Do I have a good understanding of how that variety typically shows?  And did the pairing I chose work or not with all of this in mind?  Then I go back to the wine with this knowledge and continue to learn. 

When I tasted the 2011 Franciscan Chardonnay and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, they both elicited the same response.  These are very classic wines; these are very elegant wines.  If I were to think of a well done California Chardonnay or Cabernet from Oakville, the flavor profile of these wines would come to mind.  

Thanks to one of my favorite wine writers, Meg Houston Maker, I have learned how to best plan a meal to go with the wine.  Taste, plan, then revisit. Sometimes I have the luxury of time to do that, most often I do not.  The evening that I opened the Chardonnay, I did not have time to plan well, but happened to get lucky.  I had family at my house for a short time and had to pull something together.  I had bought a frozen Salmon filet so I quick thawed it, drizzled it with olive oil and dusted it with herbs and lemon zest.  I made orzo with goat cheese and lemon and asparagus.  I chilled the wine and dinner was on the table thirty minutes later.    

The wine was round and supple, a very elegant mouth feel.  The fruit was intense and the vanilla from the oak made it almost sweet and very creamy.  It was sturdy enough to hold up to the hearty Salmon and the acid of the lemon.  Each brought out the best in the other. 

With the Cabernet I made a Roasted Pepper Goulash with caraway seeds and paprika.  I had thought about pairing it with a peppery Syrah, but really wanted to try this Cab, so the Franciscan won.  This is an instance where the pairing worked, but it may have not been the best.  Either way, the wine was fabulous.  Dark cherry, spice, and a hint of rich cocoa.  Big enough to hold up to most anything, but not intimidating.  Smooth and delightful.  In the future, I would likely pair it with a grilled New York strip or something simpler.  It is such a classic wine, that a more classic pairing would allow the wine more room to shine without competition from a powerful sauce. 

When I sat down this morning to read more about the history and winemaking at Franciscan Estates, I felt as if I had passed an exam.  The descriptions and philosophy were very much in line with my experiences with these wines.  In the letter from Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking, she even states that, “they represent classic expressions of each variety.”  My thoughts exactly.  I say this, not to pat myself on the back, but to say that the process of learning about wine does not have to be intimidating.  It is as simple as being mindful during your experience.  Take note of all you smell, taste, see.  What does it remind you of?  Have you tasted a wine like this before?  Do you like certain aspects more than others?  Then read, learn, and reflect.  Repeat as necessary. Or as desired.

Disclaimer: These wines were provided as samples from Folsom and Associates.  The opinions are my own.