I Never…

Invariably someone would bring it up. In the hours just before curfew, after a few Bartles and Jaymes or cans of Busch.  It might be a gossipy girl wanting a chance to passively spill the proverbial beans.  Rarely, a love-struck guy wanting info on the out-of-his-league Chemistry partner.  Or even the Math League honor roll student wanting to make jaws drops with a divulgence.

I Never. Why we chose to play, I can’t say.  Looking back, it was a self-deprecating ridiculous game in which most people were probably lying. But in the age of self-discovery and wanting to connect, wanting to know you weren’t alone, the game was commonplace.

If you weren’t reared in the 80s, the game was played like this: Someone would say, “I never…cheated on a test.” Or “I never…made out on school property.”  If you had, you would drink. It usually went downhill quickly and ended dramatically.

I’m going to ask you to play an “I Never” of sorts, with  improvements.

First of all, I am changing the name to “I’ve Never.” The grammar kills me.  Secondly, it will be a nod to the Century Club. So instead of sharing your most embarrassing moments with total strangers, you’ll have a chance to wow with your knowledge and experience with obscure grapes or regions.  Or grapes that are obscure to a region, etc. Anatoli, drink a lot of water and proceed with caution.

Let’s Practice…I’ll go first.

I’ve never had Viognier from South Africa…drink!

Label-Front_sI’ve written about Silkbush Mountain Vineyards *and their Pinotage and practices.  Beautiful wines.  The Viognier was unlike any I’ve had. Not French, Cali, or Texas.  Jasmine and tropical fruit, briny shale and a bit oily, more acid than I expected.  I paired it with pasta with prosciutto, Brussels sprouts, and parm and it was perfect. A great wine for the $17 price.  Buy it if you can find it.

I’ve never had Corot Noir…drink!

One of many cold-weather grapes that were new to me, I sampled it in my hometown at The Champlain Wine Company. Interesting, it would be good in small portions with a cheese plate.  Like violets in a glass.

IMG_5941I’ve never had Tennessee Wine…drink!

On our way back home we stopped in Knoxville at Tupelo Honey Café.  I sampled two blends, La Diabla, white and red from Reedy Creek. Both very well balanced, great fruit and acid, friendly.  (There was no info on the bottle or site that I could fine about composition but I will update.) I was impressed and hope to try more.

It wouldn’t take long with experienced wine connoisseurs to become tipsy, I’m afraid, so if you decide to play, do so at your own risk.  It is one game that novices might have the upper-hand. It will be all the rage at the next Wine Bloggers Conference. (It certainly wouldn’t go downhill with mature adults, right Thea?) Ok, never mind, it might.

Your turn!

I’ve never….

*This wine was sent as a sample from the producer. I receive no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

Sweet Freedom!

I’m free!  I’m free!  I’m free!  After 7 1/2 years, over 8 if you count gestation, I am no longer beholden 24 hours a day.  I can write without interruption.  I can make a lunch date and stick to it.  I can go to the bathroom without mediation.  I’m free!

Ok, so I know some moms are really struggling today.  I did too. But when I say it feels different this time, I mean it feels AWESOME.  I mean setting the alarm for 6:15 means a jump towards peace, not punishment.

Before you judge, let me say this. My son was READY.  More than ready.  He didn’t want us to walk him in for the first day of Kindergarten ready. My sweet boy makes the energizer bunny look lazy.  He makes Ann Coulter look wishy-washy.  He is two parts Houdini and one part Evil Knievel.  I love that boy with every part of my being.  I will miss having my buddy around. But we are both ready.

This past summer I likened myself to being at mile 26 of the marathon.   I have trained, I have bled, I have had the runner’s highs and the bloody nipples. I’ve stumbled and there have been tears. But, I have crossed the finish line of the 24/7 race.  Now, I will be able to catch my breath, take a nice jog with them every afternoon and have the space and energy to dance.

This summer we spent time with my dear friend.  Her boys have grown and she was magical with mine. I was lamenting that she is so much better with them than I am, than I want to be.  She said, “They’re not my kids.” And she’s right.  A fresh perspective, a clean slate, clarity.  It is good for all of us; it is good for our children.  My child will benefit from his and her teacher. Your child will benefit from his or her teacher. Our children are in good hands and will, hopefully flourish.

I was the crazy mom who kept my kids with me as long as possible.  I don’t regret that decision and grateful that my husband and I chose to sacrifice in some areas so I could do so, but it did make me a little loopy and more than a little grumpy some days.  It did take a toll on my social life and writing aspirations and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

But, I’m (relatively) free now.

Free to enjoy the time I have with them.  Free to wander the aisles of the grocery store at my own pace.  Free to write when inspired and rest when fatigued.  I will have more of me to give when they are home because I have the chance to restore, explore, reflect, and grow.

Take heart, mamas with the balled up tissues and empty car seat.  It gets better. It won’t always feel like you left part of your heart.  Ok, maybe it will, but when you drop your youngest, you will have the time and space to fill your own. And when you pick them up at the end of the day, your hearts will still beat together, just with a little more strength.

 

 

A Crisis of Identity- #MWWC18

Know Thyself.  The imperative has been circulating since the togas were in fashion and still remains an ideal.  For some of us, the desire to please, the pursuit of acceptance still trumps more often than we care to admit. For others, the footprints are well caked in the path.  Living “authentically” in each breath and decision.  There is no crisis of identity, only a daily unfolding and refining.

In the Finger Lakes, people have been making wine for decades.  It is a region where people expect to find great Riesling, and they will.  As the growers and winemakers try their hand at different grapes and processes, they are forming their own identity. With each year, the grapes share more of their story. The winemakers refine their personal style.  And yet, in the two tasting experiences I have had while here, there were some definite surprises.

Hector Wine Company began making wine in 2009.  They describe themselves as “quality-driven” with the philosophy that winemaking is equally a creative and scientific endeavor. We were surprised to see Sauvignon Blanc, and even more surprised at how much we liked it.  We sampled a Riesling that had been oaked, a collaborative wine under another label, another identity. We had a Cabernet Sauvignon with a deeply saturated color, surprising for a cold region. They are forming their identity with each harvest, experimenting and challenging expectations.

After a variety of studies, ranging from Philosophy to Plant Chemistry, Dave Breeden chose to pursue winemaking.  He has been with Sheldrake Point since 2002 and has been paring down their offerings to those that best reflect the region.  A portfolio that began with about 35 wines has been trimmed down to 16 or 17.  By the end of the year, there will be only two reds.

Breeden is committed to allowing the grapes speak for themselves, to tell the tale of the region without filter or manipulation.  The smallest bit of oak gleaned from staves in the Chardonnay is from an oak that was once on the property. Even his oak speaks of the Finger Lakes terroir.

And yet there were surprises. A Gamay, savory and bright.  A Dry Riesling and a Reserve Dry Riesling, picked from the same plot, with the same numbers, same treatment, worlds apart.  The Dry Riesling sang lovely notes, the Reserve took the aria to the next octave.

The 2014 Wild Fermentation Ice Wine would not be contained.  Picked while the moon shone bright and the temperatures dipped into the teens, the harvest was abundant.  While the Ice Wine was being made, a slow and meticulous process, a tank of cold-pressed juice became impatient.  When tested in April, it had chosen to ferment itself, the brix suddenly dropped.  It knew its path and was determined to get there.

And then I had my own crisis.  The sun was low coming through the window, time had passed more quickly than anticipated.  The wine writer in me wanted to stay and ask bottomless questions.  To sip and share and inquire.  Sitting with a writer and a winemaker, both of whom had works I was wanting to devour, and yet my children were calling.  Bedtime was looming.  Anxiety, building.

“Is there one you’d like to take home?”  One? How about 10? I could still smell the samples of Quiche, marbled with farm fresh onions and thyme.  I wanted the Gamay with that so that was the first wine I mentioned and it was in my hands before I could protest. I spent the ride home thinking about the Riesling.  That gorgeous, vibrant Riesling. I should have asked for the Reserve Riesling!

And then the larger crisis reared its head.  In less than a month, when my son goes to Kindergarten, will I still be a SAHM?  Does the Stay-at-home label still apply to moms that have children in school? Is that who I want to be?

Rebecca Barry had opened her heart, mind, and home to us.  Colorful and inviting, a home with soul. Her latest book, Recipes for a Beautiful Life was written in the place where I find myself.  The “mom” superceding the story-teller, the daily consuming the vision. And here, in her living room, tasting wine with her brother-in-law, I had an epiphany.

“Do you know what is next?”  What is next? The question that has consumed me. 

“You should stay for an hour.” We SHOULD stay! My new friend who has walked a familiar path, who has turned her love of crafting words into something that impacts many.  What wisdom could I pull from her?  And one of my oldest, dearest friends.  Surely between the three of us, if we sit and toast and share for just another hour we can figure out what direction I need to head. And yet at every turn of phrase, every new topic, the theme remained.  “You’ve got this.  You need to figure it out on your own. It has to come from within. If you listen to yourself, the answers will come in the quiet.”

My crisis of identity is simply a path. It is a path that I will take, one step at a time. I will pare down, I will choose the unexpected. I will listen and I will make my voice heard in ways that I can’t yet anticipate.

Know Thyself. It is also a warning.  It says, “pay no attention to the masses.” It is a proverb that encourages. It is an ideal. And as the region refines its identity, as each grape tells its story, it is gaining a voice, a voice that deserves to be heard. I understand.

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This was written as a delayed entry into the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.  Since I am on the road and the story only came to me after last night’s tasting, it is late.  However, the wines of the Finger Lakes will be highlighted in the coming weeks at Wine Bloggers Conference.  I wanted to whet the whistles of fellow writers before I got back off the grid.  I will share more detailed tasting notes in the near future.  Thank you, Rebecca for opening your home.  Thank you, Emma, for your cheerful, knowledgable service.  Thank you, Dave for the gift of delicious wine and your time-an experience I won’t forget. Cheers!

 

 

 

The Test of Time-Emilio Moro Wines

“Winemakers who wax poetic about wines from a new vineyard hope the qualities they see early on will continue throughout that vineyard’s life. Others believe that the truest expression of a vineyard comes when it has endured the test of time. I believe both viewpoints may be correct.”

-Kirk Grace, Vineyard Manager at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Two weeks ago, we compared and shared three wines from Ribera del Duero with dear friends from down the street.  A virtual interview was taking place that night, three bottles were to be opened.  As with many things, the pleasures derived from a glass of wine are increased exponentially when shared. And like many things, the complexity and value of these wines increased with age.

The tasting coincided with one of my oldest and dearest friends’ birthday. Toasting with new dear friends, I began thinking of the layers or friendship, the value of those old and new, and how they correlated with the wine.  I found the above quote while reading about how the age of the vine impacts complexities in wine and as I read, I found myself replacing the subject, friendship for wine.

Like a new love, a new connection with a friend injects a vivacity into your life; every story is new, each perspective refreshing. And we find ourselves hoping to maintain the connection.  In turn, one that has remained, one that has not been shaken by the elements, but persisted and weathered life provides each person a haven to be their truest selves.

Emilio Moro Wines are not given the classic distinctions of Tempranillo based on the time in the barrel, Rioja to Gran Reserva.  They are given unique names based on the age of the vines from which they came.

IMG_5657The Blossoming Connection-Finca Resalso 2014 ($15)

It presents itself as mature and bright, a little spicy.  Intriguing.  When you finally connect, you realize that there is more than meets the eye.  Fresh and inviting, but with layers. Cedar and spice, black plums, bright violet hues, easy to drink.

 

Tried and True-Emilio Moro 2012 ($25)

IMG_5656Depth of color, classic notes; I know what to expect.  No matter the mood or pairings, this wine will show up.  Classic Cherry-cola, menthol, plum.  No need for big surprises, this wine can slide effortlessly into any dinner party. Complex and comforting, sturdy and supple. Each aspect integrates to create an elegant experience.

 

The Rare and Wonderful Lifetime Connection-Malleolus 2011  ($45)

IMG_5655One taste and you are transported. Scents of home. Burned sugar and anise. A baked plum tart. Like curling up in a favorite blanket, it conjures a coziness and deep appreciation.  Layer upon layer, richness and wonder. No matter where you are, literally or figuratively, a lifetime friend can make you feel at home. Each subtle nuance or quiet glance conjures a story.  Each story contains sub-plot and references that can’t be fully explained.  It is a deeply rooted story, years in the making, told without a single word.

 

José Moro shared his thoughts of what makes the wines from his region shine. Their approach combines “tradition, innovation, and social responsibility.” Moro believes “the fruit is the essential protagonist of the wine… Aging is a secondary protagonist. The root going down, taking minerality—that’s what we like to express…Minerality is the expression of the soul of the wine.”

As the fruit grows, it gleans its unique qualities from the soil.  The struggles, the elements affect the yield. The growers prune and support. The winemaker helps the fruit shine. Each step in the process impacts the outcome.

Each person comes to the friendship with their unique gifts, products of nature and nurture.  Our struggles and successes create and close opportunities. Each person chooses to feed and support or allow for uninfluenced growth.  Sometimes our choices yield more fruit, others cause the vine to wither. Each step influences growth.

I asked Moro if he had a favorite style of Tinto Fino or if, like me, it was a matter or mood, season, and pairing.  He emphatically agreed with the latter.  Each wine has its own personality. He later added, “I never drink wine alone – I am always with my wines every night, talking to them!”

I would imagine that the conversation with the Finca sounds different than that with the Malleolus.  There is a time and place for each, and even both. And times when only one will do.

A quick browse of the wines I’ve saved and you’ll find an older magnum of a Sonoma blend and a small bottle of Barolo.  I have a high-end Napa Cab and a recent Texas Rosé. But nothing mass-produced.  My friends, as varied as my wines, run the gamut of beliefs and backgrounds, current situations and previous dreams.  Each brings such value to my life, each a source of support and laughter. And I am hopeful that each will endure the test of time.

{These wines were provided by Gregory White PR to participate with a virtual tasting and interview.  No other compensation was provided. Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile in #TXwine-Texas Tuesday

While my opportunities to sneak away may diminish with summer, the world of Texas wine isn’t slowing.  In fact, it continues to expand in size and reputation.  My news feed has been full of announcements of accolades, invitations, and openings.  While I can’t attend or respond to all of them in the 18 minutes of free time,(on a good day) I am there in spirit, and in time, I’ll get to experience these wines and places myself.

One event I was able to attend was sponsored by Llano Estacado and featured wines from their new line for restaurants, Mont Sec.  The Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache Rose are made from grapes from Mont Sec Vineyards in the Chihuahuan Desert. Despite the rugged climate and challenging conditions, the area yields fruit that makes fantastic wine.  I really enjoyed both wines and would buy them by the case if I could.  Unfortunately, they are only available through restaurants.  If you see them, don’t hesitate.

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I paired the Mont Sec Sauvignon Blanc with Greek style meatballs, Tzatziki. and cucumber salad.  I shared the bottle with my family, all of whom were impressed. The Rose was a fun fresh compliment to a casual Friday dinner of Berbere meatballs, Rosemary white bean dip, asparagus. My only complaint was that there was a hole in my glass.

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The other stand-out of the evening was, of course, the flagship Viviano ($35).  The nod to a Super Tuscan (70% Cab, 30% Sangiovese) is a perennial favorite.  Jubilant fruit, spice, elegance.  I paired a bottle with lamb chops, roasted fingerlings, and kale avocado salad.  It worked, but I think I could have done better.  I’ll have to try again.

Hawk’s Shadow Winery had their opening this past weekend in Dripping Springs.  I wish I could tell you something about the wine, but this is one I missed.  Since Saturdays from 12-6 are currently booked, it may have to wait until fall.  For more information, see their website.

If you are looking for something to do this weekend, Flat Creek will be holding Vinopalooza on premise.  Music and wine in a beautiful setting sounds like a great way to celebrate.  For tickets and more detailed information, follow this link.

One of my favorite Texas wineries received five awards at the recent San Francisco International Wine competition.  Congratulations Kim and company.  You continue to impress me with the quality of wines that you are able to make while keeping them accessibly priced.  I’ll miss our stop this summer. McPherson Cellars wines stood out with the following wines:

Les Copains Rosé – GOLD
Les Copains White – Silver
Albariño – Silver
Viognier – Bronze
La Herencia – Bronze

In the same competition, Brennan Vineyards became the first Texas winery to bring home TWO Double Golds. The 2014 Mourvedre Dry Rose and the 2013 Tempranillo were both given the highest accolades.  I can’t wait to try them!

Wedding Oak Winery was awarded “Best Albariño” and given Double Gold for the same wine. They also received two bronze medals for Terre Rouge and Sangiovese.

These are the awards I have found via social media but when the full list is released today I am sure we will be adding to the list.

Finally, another wine on the list to try is one bottle by Vinovium Partners that I spied at Whole Foods Arbor Trails. I have the utmost respect for the guys behind this, Daniel Kelada and Craig Mayer.  They are driving the Texas Wine Journal and putting their efforts, energies, and enthusiasm into Texas wine like few others.

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In summer, my children’s freedom expands, mine shrinks.  And attempts to shrink waistlines for summer means an expanding list of wines I need to try.  My apologies for not much in the way of personal experience, but just because I’m having less fun in the wine world doesn’t mean you can’t have it for me.  I’d love to hear about your adventures and new discoveries in #TXwine. I’ll put them on the list for the freedom of fall. Cheers!

P.S.  The complete list is available now on TX Wine Lover.  So much to be excited about!

A Surprise in Any Package-Monday Wines with Banfi

One of the joys of writing about wine is, indeed, the packages that arrive requiring a signature.  Some are expected, others are not.  Each time, it is a little like Christmas.  You may have a good idea of what is inside, but there is always a little flutter of expectation with the slicing of the tape.  Sometimes the surprise comes, not with viewing the bottle, but what happens when you open it.

I recently received three wines from Banfi: a Rosso di Montalcino (always a bit of comfort), a Prosecco (always a bit of fun), and something unexpected. I read the description of 2013 Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi Frascati DOC and thought, hmmm.  Composed of  50% Malvasia Bianca di Candia, I thought it may be a little a little sweet for me.  I read on.. 30% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Greco, 10% Malvasia del Lazio.  I love Trebbiano, great acidity and citrus usually.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was recommended with Thai or Asian (read sweet) but described as dry.  Now I was really confused.

And that, my friends, is why I always try to taste with an open mind.

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I brought it to my parent’s as an appertif (as recommended) for my father’s birthday. That way, if it were indeed too sweet, I had just the people there to enjoy it. It turns out, that was everyone.

Light and tropical, fruit forward without too much residual sugar.  It was bright but not biting, refreshing and easy to drink. And at around $13 it is great for summer parties with a little something for everyone. Surprise!

The Rosso and the Prosecco were as expected. The Maschio Brut Treviso is festive, citrus and stone. 100% Glera it is classic Prosecco in style and composition and another great Monday wine ($13). The Rosso is fruit, and spice, and everything nice.  Just enough tannins to give it structure while remaining versatile. I never say no to either.

Let’s face it, I don’t say no to wine very often.  I always like to try something new.  Sometimes it is hard to check my expectations at the door. But, now I know, even more definitively, that surprises come in all sorts of packages and packaging.

Top 9 Reasons I’m Over Top 10 Lists

9) Why does it have to be 10?  Who decided that 10 is the magic number for a list? And how can I write a “Top 10” if that is what I’m ranting about? That would make me a hypocrite.

8) There was a time when I would have put Richard Marx on my Top 10.  Is this list supposed to quantify all-time or just this week? No one clarifies this very important distinction. Curious minds need to know.

7) The powers that be say to catch a reader’s attention with a Top 10 list.  If what you have to say isn’t interesting enough on its own, why would I want to read 10 things?

6) Is it ascending or descending?  Is it like a 3rd degree burn or the 1st place winner?

5) How does one decide what makes the cut?  It is torture!  I was once tagged to write my top 10 books.  How am I supposed to narrow it down to 10?

4) And on the contrary, sometimes you only have 6 all-time favorites and then you have to throw in a few consolatory choices.  They are nowhere near as good as the others and yet they made the same list.

3) Because the only people who are going to read your Top 10 list are the last 10 people who YOU read and liked and commented on.

2) Because it is the rare list that can compete with King Letterman.

And the number one reason I am over Top 10 lists…

1) Because the number 1 is never as witty as number 3 or 4.  It is always a letdown.

This list was not written in any scientific manner but in an early morning daze.  Some were pre-coffee, some post.  Thoughts and Opinions are my own.  Which means this list is, for all intents and purposes, useless.

Now, please take this with a grain of salt. I will still likely read and enjoy any lists that my fellow writers create.  But only if you read mine first. Happy Friday!

 

Lately The Drunken Cyclist has been writing a Friday rant or rave which I have enjoyed.  Although he is much better at it, I decided to follow his lead. Thanks for the inspiration, Jeff.  You have a place on my top 10.

Summer Salmon,Two Ways

School’s…out…for summer!

Somehow I tried to believe that I, too, was now “off.”  I have to admit: I’ve been a little casual about cleaning and a little last-minute lazy in the kitchen.  But aren’t I allowed?  I always try to keep it simple, even more so now.  Throw something on the grill (or let my husband).  Turn the oven on minimally. Enjoy the fresh produce in simple salads. Eat what is in season.

One such food now in season is Copper River King Salmon. Known for its abundance of Omega 3s and anti-inflammatory properties, Wild Salmon is considered one if the world’s “Superfoods.” Although I have to admit, it isn’t my favorite thing to eat, I do so a few times a month for health reasons.  I have found a few ways to prepare it that, I think, tempers, without masking, the flavor. And a crisp glass of white only enhances the meal.

At the local HEB, they were sampling a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Drylands, that I liked quite a bit.  Based on that, she suggested I try Sea Pearl, on sale at $9.  Sold.  Subtle grassy notes, tropical fruit and lime zest.  Very easy to drink with fun acidity.

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For this dish, I mixed chili powder, smoked paprika, salt, cumin, thyme, and s little garlic powder and dusted the fish.  My favorite grillmaster got it super hot and seared it for a minute, then turned it down to 400 for about ten minutes (depends on size of filet). This gave the fish a really nice crust. While it was cooking, I made a lime-cilantro butter which I drizzled over the fish when it was done.  Add some grilled zucchini, Israeli couscous (for those eating carbs), an avocado and you’re done.  It paired really nicely and was a fun change from my norm. 

What’s my norm you ask? Generally, I throw on some fresh herbs (oregano, thyme), salt and pepper, lemon zest.  When finished I top with parsley, chopped olives, lemon juice.  During Greek Week at Central Market, I picked up a couple Greek wines and, I must say, for pairing with fish, I’m hooked. (Ba-dump-bump.)

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But seriously, Domaine Sigalas in making wine from some of the oldest vines of Santorini. The vines are not trellised, but grown in these beautiful cylindrical baskets of vine. The Assyrtiko was packed with minerality and vibrant acidity.  Balanced, playful, citrus and stone fruit; I enjoyed every drop.

An image formerly on the winery’s website.

Salmon can be tough sometimes.  The intensity of flavor doesn’t always “play well.” I’ve done Soy glaze, tropical salsa, dill yogurt, and a few others. These, so far, are my favorites.  Easy, quick, tasty, and I usually have the ingredients in-house.  And since we have another month of Salmon season, I’m sure I’ll be finding more.

I’d love to hear from you (if you aren’t out frolicking). What are your favorite preparations and pairings?  And what are your go-to, not-much-time-in-the-kitchen meals? I’ll be sharing more here and also meals that can be made at the campsite. Happy summer!

 

 

Balance, Bubbles, and Bertolucci

Nearly two decades ago, a film set in the Tuscan countryside provided my first wine-related epiphany.  Not through her teenage prattle or any life-changing plot, but through one scene in particular.  The rich golden rays on a rustic table, wildflowers and clinking glasses, laughter and debate beneath the branches. I remember so clearly thinking: THAT.  That is what I want in my life.

Perhaps the memory is idealized, it has been half a lifetime ago, but the sentiment remains strong. It is a moment I’ve chased, and caught several times.  Outside of Rome, on the hills of Sonoma, the Hill Country of Texas, and even whispers of it in downtown Austin.

Whether it was the breadth of the table, the diversity of the group, the lively conversation or the Old World wines, something about a recent wine lunch reminded me of that movie. Gregory White PR held a lunch at Second Bar and Kitchen with representatives, writers, and winemakers from some of their brands: Codorniu, Scala Dei, and Artesa.

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I was familiar with the Cava of Codorniu, a staple for everyday value and one I’ve recommended before, so it was a pleasure to meet Bruno Colomer Marti.  Marti has been the head winemaker there since 2008 and his dedication to quality is evident.  Before the lunch, I had only sampled the entry-level wines ($8-12) and was blown away by Reserva and Vintage Pinot Noir sparklers.  Delicate, fresh, complex.  The Gran Codorniu Pinot Noir was a favorite with the fresh berry notes and long, lively finish and at an excellent value at $20. (It is in my refrigerator now, in fact.) Effervescent, approachable, and complex: a reflection of the winemaker.

All dinner parties should have a few surprises.  Ricard Rofes of Scala Dei took on that role. Perhaps it was the language barriers, perhaps the size of the group, but he seemed to be more of a quiet observer at first. Friendly and warm, but reserved.  However, when it was time to discuss his beloved Priorat and his wines, his passion was evident. He explained the history, the unfamiliar grapes, the process and soils. And when we tasted, we understood.  We tasted a Garnatxa and two blends, Prior and Cartoxia. Each wine was intense, but balanced.  Deeply saturated color which is typical of the region. The Cartoxia was strength and spice, incredibly elegant. Powerful, but subtle. Sound familiar?

Representing the domestic line was Artesa from Napa.  The Chardonnay was fresh citrus and baked apple.  The Pinot Noir had great clarity with red berries and spice. Very tasty wines. If asked about what wines from Carneros taste like, this would be a top contender for examples.  Well made, well-balanced, and a classic representation of the region.

The name “Scala Dei” translates to “Ladder of God.” This rings true to me on many levels.  The region’s beauty is dramatic and awe-inspiring.  The fruit it produces tastes like a gift from above. Most importantly, the collective enjoyment of the resulting products brings people together in a unique way.  Sharing a glass leads to sharing a story. Sharing stories brings connectivity. Connectivity provides the rungs of the ladder; it is what this life is about.

Many thanks to Patricia Clough at Gregory White PR and Aveniu Brands for inviting me and the opportunity to meet such wonderful people. Thank you Bruno and Ricard for taking the time away from your families and your work to share your wines. Thank you to each person that brought a piece of yourselves and shared with us all.  I will always drink to that. Cheers!

BTW-I made a last minute jump into the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge with this piece.  If you liked it, please vote. I haven’t entered in over a year!

{I was invited as media to this lunch.  I received no additional compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Picnic with Portugal-Memorial Day Wines

You’ve been invited to a BBQ or a picnic this weekend with 20 of your closest acquaintances.  You know them, but not well enough to know their taste in wine.  Do they drink wine? Are they REALLY into wine?  You want something nice, but not too nice.  Interesting, but approachable.  Something that goes with a wide variety of foods and one that can be sipped solo.  It can be intimidating, but not impossible.

Look no further than the wines of Portugal.  You will find new varieties that may serve as conversation starters.  You’ll find value.  You’ll find versatility.

Sweltering? Pick up a low-alcohol, refreshing Vinho Verde.  You can sip all day without embarrassing yourself. BBQ chicken? Try an Alvarinho. Grilling ribs? Perequita pairs wonderfully. Burgers? The Esteva Douro* would fit the bill.

Not sure what is on the menu? You can grab a white and a red for around $20.

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I recently grilled some ribs with a rub and a quick Root Beer BBQ sauce. I reduced said brew down to a syrup and added Stubbs.  (I said it was quick.) The Periquita*, a blend of Castelao, Trincadeira, and Aragones (Tempranillo) complemented the smoky spice, the acid cut the sweet and kept it fresh. This wine can be found a Whole Foods for around $10.

Whether you plan on celebrating this Memorial weekend with a few close friends or joining a large group, check out the Wines of Portugal.  There is something for everyone at a price everyone can afford. Cheers to that!

I would be remiss in mentioning Memorial Day without expressing gratitude for my freedom to do so. Thank you to all of the men and women that serve our country and have sacrificed their time, lives, and families so that we can be free. There are walks going all throughout the country with the organization, Carry the Load. There will be a walk in Austin area. Follow the link for more information on the organization. My deepest gratitude to those that have served and those that continue to do so.

*{These wines were received as media samples from Palm Bay International. I received no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}