Forming a Theory with Help from Mia Wines

I may have a cure for the Texas Hill Country drought.  It requires wine, food, wonderful people, and a great deal of planning, but if we work together, I think we can pull this off.  So far, I am two for two on the Wine event:Torrential rainstorm ratio.  Last month, after the Dry Creek event, I couldn’t see ten feet in front of me, even going 10 mph.  I avoided highways, prayed, and made it safely, but the lakes rose.  On Thursday, I went to a party at a private home to launch Mia wines, the new line from Freixenet, and we rushed home followed by tornado warnings and downpours.  Coincidence?  You decide.

This was not just any home.  This was one of the most beautiful private homes I have been in.  High above Lady Bird Lake, the views to the right were of the river winding past the downtown skyline, to the left, Red Bud Isle and Lake Austin.  The home had been recently purchased and redesigned by Mark Ashby Design.  The home was contemporary, sleek, yet comfortable and inviting.  That can be a difficult balance to strike; Mark and his team did so with an incredible eye for both subtle and dramatic details.

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As guests arrived, tapas were passed.  With the Spanish wines, Spanish fare was a given.  Eva Bertran of Freixenet and Daniel Olivella of Barlata have a friendship which has spanned decades, so even on his birthday, he provided a beautiful spread.  Crostini with Octopus and fennel, Iberica and micro greens, Chorizo, prawns, and wild mushroom with pine nuts.  Again, I cursed this shellfish allergy, but what I could have was delicious.  My husband oohed and aahed and claimed it was the best paella he’s had.  I have never seen a Paella pan like the Paella pans Chef Olivella had at this party.   What came out of them had to be fantastic.

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Gloria Collell is from a family of wine entrepreneurs so it is no surprise that the lure of enology trumped the lure of law school.  She has been with the Ferrer family, owners of Freixenet, for years and felt the next move should be into easy-drinking, food-friendly wines.  She wanted them to be approachable and festive.  She wanted them to capture the essence of Barcelona and be at an accessible price point.  Gloria has achieved what she set out to do.  These are perfect party wines.

The Mia line currently consists of five wines: white, rose, red, sparkling, and sparkling rose. The whites and pinks are low in alcohol with a level of sweetness.  They are all fermented in steel to retain the fresh, bright flavors.  The grapes are quintessentially Spanish.  The labels boast a colorful mosaic, a perfect representation of the wine.

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Mia’s white blend consists of Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Moscato, and Parellada.  Bright blossoms, tropical fruits, and honey.  The rose was my favorite and new grapes for me, Bobal and Sumoli.  Subtle red fruit, floral notes, a great food wine.  The red was, of course, Tempranillo.  Red and black fruit, spice and earth.  Both sparklings are Moscatos.  She suggests pairing the white with rich cheeses or dessert.  The rose has a 2% addition of Tempranillo which changes the wine immensely.  It balances the sweetness and would be perfect with berries and chocolate.

As The Brew played, the sun set, and in the distance, thunder clouds began to roll in.  It did not stop the band from hitting every note.  In fact, that could also be said about Janet Kafka and her team.  Every detail was well executed; the setting could not have been more captivating.  The hosts were gracious and inviting and the service was top-notch.  The food and wine sang of Barcelona, with casual, colorful elegance.

To test a theory, one need to evaluate in several controlled settings.  There needs to be a consistency in the elements, careful observation.   Now, I’m not saying that there is a definite correlation between the great food and wine events and the storms, but it is something I am willing to offer my services as a test subject, repeatedly if necessary.

Many thanks to Janet Kafka and team, Mark Ashby, Daniel Olivella, Gloria Collell, and everyone that made the evening possible.

I was invited to the event as media but received no additional compensation.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

“Congratulations, You’ve Been…”

This morning I heard the news that we lost a woman of incredible valor.   I’ve absorbed her words, envied her confidence, and admired the grace with which she conducted herself.  I had intended to share some news today, but it somehow felt inappropriate.  And then I read this quote shared on Oprah Winfrey’s site.   She said one of the best lessons that she learned from Dr. Angelou was this: “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”  It was then that I realized this was exactly the kind of news I should be sharing.

A few months ago, I applied for a scholarship to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara County.  A SAHM doesn’t exactly earn a salary, so it would hard to justify the expense, but I knew it was a unique learning opportunity.  I have connected with so many other writers online.  I have found mentors and support, encouragement and inspiration.

In August, I will have been writing for three years.  I have not yet acquired any certifications or attended any seminars.  I have yet to take it to the next level or monetize my blog.  With the changes in Facebook policies it seems my reach has lessened.   At times, it can feel as if what I am doing doesn’t really “count.”  But I want it to matter.  I want to build something of value, monetary or otherwise.  I want to reach beyond, to connect, to be seen.  And although my current schedule allows minimal time for exploration and writing, I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My children are growing and I want to grow with them.

Yesterday afternoon, I was beginning to write when I saw the email pop up in the corner.  “Congratulations! You have been…”  I couldn’t see the full subject line but I assumed it ended with a “…chosen to take a survey.”  Or “…have a chance to win a Carnival cruise.”  And then I saw the sender: Thea@WBC Scholarship.  Holy Moly!  What?  Me? How?  AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

So, I am going!  I am beyond excited and grateful for the opportunity to meet so many I’ve long admired.  I’m so humbled to have been chosen.  I am so excited to drink good wine…I mean…have a break from my kids….I MEAN learn from all of the talented writers that will be there.  Truly.

Thank you Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Committee.  Thank you to all of you that donated so that I can be there.  Thank you to all of you that will be sharing your insight and wisdom.  Thank you for teaching what you’ve learned and giving of what you have.

I will be sharing more about the conference when it is in full swing and as I process.  Right now, I would love to hear from those of you that have been.  Tips?  Water, spit…anything else?  Ladies, what to wear? (Have to ask)  Friends, when and where will you arrive? depart?  Most importantly, when can we toast in person?  Yay!!!!

Many thanks to the corporate sponsors that have made this possible:

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Calling my Name- Bodegas Protos

Wait, did you hear that?  Oh, there it is again!   It happens every time I’ve opened a bottle from Ribera del Duero.  It is Spain calling my name.  It’s been happening more lately.  Maybe the voice is getting louder and more persistent, but the voice is balanced and never too much.  They are lively little wines.  Zesty, spirited so maybe that is how it keeps jumping in my cart.  Or maybe it is the fact that our kitchen remodel has me looking at value a little more.  The region is packed with value.

Recently, one even showed up on my doorstep!  Fate?  Kismet?  A sign from above?  (Ok, it was a sample from Gregory White PR but no matter.)  The voice was clear.  From the bright fruit, the acid to the depth of flavor without the heavy tannins, this wine speaks to me.  It was from Bodeagas Protos, the 2011 Tinto Fino.  And it was yummy.

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I paired it with a flatbread for happy hour.  It is a new go-to appetizer.  Easy, quick and impressive.  I take store-bought pizza dough, spread it on my pizza stone, brush with olive oil.  Throw on some garlic powder, Italian herbs, salt and pepper to taste and thin strips of prosciutto.  Bake for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, slice grape tomatoes.  Toss tomatoes and arugula in olive oil.  When the flatbread is done, cover with veg and shaved parmesan.  Cut into rectangles, or whatever you want, really.  Simple.

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It paired really well: the smoky flavor of the prosciutto, peppery arugula, salty parm all complemented the wine.  But, really this wine is so easy to drink, so versatile you could go in many directions.

I first became acquainted with the region last year at the Drink Ribera event in Austin.  My crush has only gotten bigger.  I have yet to see this wine in the stores yet, but I’ll be stalking the Spain aisle.  And dreaming of the day we can meet in person.

{This wine was received as a sample from Gregory White PR.  The thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

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.

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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!

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.

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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?