Spring Forward

 

One thing that is consistent about Texas weather is its inconsistency. Fifty degree swings in 24 hours are not unheard of.  In fact the week before Spring Break we had freezing temperatures, the weekend it began we hit the seventies, the second weekend was chilly and raining.

Another consistent for Spring break is daily drinking with friends. There were plenty of opportunities to do some sampling, and those bottles were as varied as the temperatures.

The week before, I participated in a Snooth Twitter Tasting with Ruffino‘s line of Chianti*.  They ranged from the 2013 Chianti DOCG ($9) with bright red fruit and plenty of acid to the 2010 Riserva Ducale Oro ($28), a rich, layered, brooding example of what Sangiovese can be.  One thing remained true throughout.  These are well made, balanced wines that are priced to benefit the customer. It was a pleasure to hear from the winemaker, Gabriele Tacconi, about both the history and winemaking process and the participants always entertain.  If you haven’t joined before, we will banter again on Monday April 27th,

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Malbec is a grape I enjoy more in cooler weather so I made it a point to open a sample from Rutini** ($18) before the temps changed.  This 100% Malbec from Argentina is held in 50% French, 50% American barrels.  The fruit was deep, rich, intense and has a smooth and spicy finish.  I paired it with a ratatouille with turkey sausage, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, onion, tomatoes, and herbs.  I finished the sauce with some of the Malbec and let it simmer for a couple of hours.  It turned out really well and paired nicely.

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Later that week we opened the Rutini** Chardonnay($18).  Chardonnay is generally not my go-to white, but when the oak is subtle and the fruit has a starring role, I am in.  This wine had tropical fruit notes and honey balanced with abundant acid.  50% goes though Malolactic fermentation and it sits in New French Oak for 10 months. I rarely make recipes anymore but as I was thumbing through my mom’s Country Living magazine, I found this for Pancetta and Brussels Sprouts linguine.  Since I had the ingredients (sub bacon for pancetta and pasta) I gave it a try.  Lovely together.

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By mid-break I was in the mood for Sauvignon Blanc and so I invited a neighbor over to sample with me.  These two SBs from Chile were vastly different. Outer Limits by Montes($30)*** is a series that explores grapes from new regions.  This bottle yields from the Zapallar vineyards in Chile, 6 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  This came as no surprise to me as the first sip tasted like the ocean.  A great deal of salinity, tropical fruit, and citrus with a touch of oily green.  The color reminded me of an unripened banana, yellow with hues of green.  Although not my preferred style of SB, it was a food-friendly, complex, and interesting wine.

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The second Montes wine was Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($15)***. Grass, white peach, and floral notes on the nose and in the mouth.  Crisp, fresh, floral and delicious.   Grown in the Leyda Valley, this was exactly what I am looking for when I open a Sauvignon Blanc.

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They say if you don’t like the weather, wait.  By Friday, it was chilly and rainy.  I had previously caramelized onions for French Onion Soup and then frozen them.  I knew it might be our last chill of the season so I decided to finish the process.  With one more sample that was predominantly Malbec looming, I knew what I had to do: call in the hubs for red meat reserves. When the wine suggests decanting for at least an hour, you know you’re dealing with a big one and the soup just wouldn’t cut it.

The 2011 Achaval Ferrar Quimera**($38) is a Bordeaux style blend but the predominant grape is Malbec. 60% was aged 12 months in 1-year old French oak barrels, 40% 12 months in new French oak barrels. The color was a deep cherry plum, the nose conveyed spicy dust and sun-warmed fruit.  A surprising amount of acid at first, it faded as it opened.  Black fruit and alpine herbs with sturdy structure and a long finish.

There are some wines that I receive as samples that, in my mind, need to be held for a bit.  It pains me to open them, but it hangs over my head if I don’t. This was one of those wines. In retrospect, I would have paired it a little differently (stinky cheese?), decanted more, and held it a little longer.  It was clearly well-made and has potential, but I think I missed the mark with this one. Now I know.

Sometimes price point is not an indicator of how much you will enjoy the wine.  Yet another reason to taste before you judge and  review with an open mind.  In each of these samplings, for whatever reason, I found myself enjoying the wines that were less costly. Now if only that were true with shoes…clothes…hotels…

Wishing my friends up north a jump towards spring and for my friends in Texas, a lengthy one.  Cheers!

*These wines were provided as media samples for Snooth Virtual Tasting and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

**These wines were provided as media samples by Gregory White PR and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

***These wines were provided as media samples by Feast PR and I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

 

An Enchanted Weekend

This past weekend, we kicked off Spring Break with a camping trip to Enchanted Rock.  It was a plan that originated nearly a year ago, apparently the required lead-time for a spot over this crowded weekend.  Our friends and neighbors made the reservation, we divided meal responsibilities, and we headed west.

On the menu for Friday was pulled pork.  Tempranillo was just the wine to fit the bill.  I had a sample from Rioja and another from Texas.  The plan was to open both and compare. To me, comparing wines with other regions, producers, or years is a great learning tool.

We opened a 2012 Viña Zaco* from Rioja and a 2012 Duchman Family Wnery Tempranillo from the Bayer Family Vineyard.  They may have begun thousands of miles apart, but when opened, there was much less distance.

Both were medium to fuller bodied with good structure, a blend of fruit and spice.  Each wine complimented the smoky pork and held up to the acid in the sauce and slaw.

The Viña Zaco began with a pop of red fruit, then faded into floral spice with a touch of smoke.  Or maybe it was the campfire? Either way, it was delightful. This wine spent nine months in barrel with a mixture of equal time in French and American oak.

The Duchman Tempranillo was slightly more fruit-forward, tempered with earth and spice.  They choose to use neutral oak.  This wine could go in several pairing directions.  But is there a better match for Texas wine than BBQ and sunset at Enchanted Rock?  I think not.

Enchanted Rock is a magical place.  The red granite meets the blue sky, arid terrain and springs highlight the path.  The beauty is in the contrast.  Much like a good Tempranillo, the soft floral notes meet the weighted spice, the fruit is tempered with earth and leather. The result?  A wine that shines, no matter the scene.  But this dinner, with these friends in this space?  That’s a hard one to beat.

For more information on how other Texas producers are doing with Tempranillo, follow Texas Wine Journal for an upcoming report.

*{This wine was provided as a media sample by Gregory White PR.  I received no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

 

Reflecting Vision- Coppola Winery

In film, the Director’s Cut refers to a version of the film that best reflects the vision of the Director.  It is the best representation of what he or she was trying to create.

The Coppola family was seen on the big screen long before it was found on the wine shelf.  That doesn’t mean they are new to wine.  Winemaking was part of the family culture for generations before Francis Ford Coppola chose to expand his vision and share it with the world.  To best reflect winemaker Corey Beck’s vision, they produced a line of wines aptly named “Director’s Cut.”

I recently received a sample of the 2012 Director’s Cut Zinfandel($27) sourced from the Dry Creek Valley.  In my eyes, you’d be hard pressed to find a region the better exemplifies Zinfandel’s potential than Dry Creek Valley.  The region consistently produces grapes that have a concentrated depth of flavor without being overly heavy.  With the addition of 20% Petite Sirah, Beck added structure and dimension.  Together, the create a beautiful scene.

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This year we took our Valentine’s dinner in a slightly different direction in more ways than one.  We decided that our children, at 5 and 7, were old enough to participate and were an integral part of our “love story.”  We all dressed the part, I had gifts for all of them, and the evening was less about romance and more about true love.

I planned their favorites: grass-fed steak, fingerling potatoes, a salad. I planned on opening one of our “special” bottles of Cab and bought a bottle of 07 Mumm DVX to begin the night.  But as I was prepping dinner, I made a change of plans that required a change of wines. Gorgonzola sauce.

Bubbles for Everyone

Bubbles for Everyone

Take 2: New sauce, new scene.  The Cab just wouldn’t be right.  The gorgonzola is big and tangy and needed a bolder counterpart.  I looked through the extras and decided on the Director’s Cut.  I’m glad I did.  Black and red fruit, spice and cocoa, it held up and shined.

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A change of scene often requires other adjustments.  To counter the sauce, I changed the salad to frisee, arugula, and pear with pecans and a fig dressing.  The sweetness of the fig and spice of the greens were great with the wine as well. I added some Balsamic vinegar to the potatoes to give them a glaze.

IMG_0266When I chose the wine, I did so only with the sauce in mind.  As I looked into the wine a little more, I realized how appropriate the change was.  When Francis Ford Coppola was building his winery, he did so with families in mind. In the vision statement he writes:

“I’ve often felt that modern life tends to separate all the ages too much. In the old days, the children lived with the parents and the grandparents, and the family unit each gave one another something very valuable. So when we began to develop the idea for this winery, we thought it should be like a resort, basically a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”

Perhaps one day, my family and I can enjoy his wonderland, but our dinner with my loves of all ages was a good start.

Thank you to Erica at Nonni Marketing and 42West for sending the wine and this great short film about moviemaking and winemaking from the Coppola Family.  Cheers!

{This wine was received as a media sample.  I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Conversation Wines: What Message are You Sending?

I met my husband at the end of 2001.  We casually dated over the holidays; neither of us were looking for a relationship. So when February 14th was approaching, I decided to diffuse it rather than cause either of us unnecessary stress.

” I am not one to buy into the mass marketing commercialism of holidays.  Especially ones that try to force people to spend quadruple the price on flowers, etc.  However, I do think Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spend time with someone you are kinda in to sooo… what do you think of making dinner together tomorrow night?   Just an excuse to drink a nice bottle of wine and hang out.”

Simple, non-committal, casual.  I made filets, potatoes, salad.  Easy, tasty, a little special but not crazy.  But I made a critical error in my “low-key” approach.  We opened this bottle of wine.

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I had brought it back from my trip to Italy in 2000.  A small producer, Francesco Mollaioli,  I found on the streets of Assisi.  Even though I didn’t know too much about wine at the time, this wine had a story. I’d saved it for the right occasion, I couldn’t easily replace the bottle. Cover blown.

Your approach to this holiday sends a message.  The wine you choose punctuates that message.  If the relationship is new, the wine should convey that.  If you are getting super serious about this person, you need to step it up. In a long-term relationship? Well, that’s up to both of you. There is the freedom to keep it low-key or the excuse to show your significant other what a treasure he or she is, and drink some dang good wine. I always opt for the dang good wine, even if we drink it in comfies on the couch.

I recently participated in the Boston Wine Expo Twitter Tasting featuring Hope Family Wines*.  Three wine samples were featured. The names of the wines naturally lend themselves to my Valentine’s wine choice theory. Allow me to demonstrate.

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Liberty School Merlot ($16)

You’ve spent some time together, but are focused on your freedom. You don’t want to send a message that conveys anything but so stay under $20.  Even if the evening is a total bust, you aren’t out too much. Black fruit, spice, a good Merlot for the price point.  this would be great with a pork dish.  I recently made a Chinese Five Spice Pork with horseradish sweet potatoes that would’ve paired really well. Or chocolate. Love Merlot with Chocolate. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of good wine.

Troublemaker ($20)

Ok, maybe you weren’t looking, but this person is taking up way too much of your brain space.  You find yourself thinking about them. Involuntary smiles at the sound of their voice. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Zinfandel, I described this wine on twitter as Boysenberry cobbler with a smoked crème anglaise. A little sweet, a little sassy. Your favorite kind of trouble.

Treana Red ($45)

Hope Family calls this their benchmark blend: the wine by which all others are measured. If you have one of these in your life, you do what you can to hold on.  It’s beautiful on the outside, multi-faceted on the inside. A blend of Cab and Syrah, this wine meets its match with something equally complex. Filets with bleu cheese, braised short ribs, think big and rich. A memorable wine for a memorable evening.

 

We would both say that, even though we don’t donate to Hallmark, Valentine’s will always be special for us. Over the years we’ve had swoons and laughter, tears and silence. We’ve had dinners in which I put on a new dress and one when held a four-day-old bundle in sweats. But one constant is recounting our first special bottle together while enjoying another.

So, maybe the wine choice blew my cover. But, maybe the risk was just what we needed because we were rarely apart after. Whether you are opening something special to treat yourself, a new interest, or your benchmark in life, think about the message your wine could be sending. Cheers!

 *{I received these wines to participate in a #BWETaste Twitter conversation. I received no other compensation. thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

Scandalous Thoughts

I’d heard the buzz about Scandal and the ensuing buzz from wine-drinking Scandal watchers but I’d never watched.  Until last October when I was hit with the proverbial blessing in disguise.  Yes, if you are a mom, you can’t call in sick, but you can spend the day in bed if it gets that bad.  And it got that bad. But that meant that I was able to get acquainted with Ms. Olivia Pope and her gladiators. Yes, I watched 2 seasons in 3 days.  Shameful, I know, but if you have to be in bed, might as well be “productive.”

Ok, so it wasn’t productive, but it was really addicting and now that I have caught up, I’m ready for tonight’s winter premiere.  And I have a few thoughts on Ms. Pope and her wine habits.  Inspired by a post earlier this week by Doug Trapasso, I decided to look at other wine folks’ ideas on the show.  It wasn’t surprising to me that some fellow Women Wine Writers were all over it. Here are a few “hiccups” that only we wine-snobs…I mean, aficionados.. I mean, lovers might get annoyed by…I mean, roll our eyes at… I mean, notice.

1) Where is the ritual?

She dumps expensive Bordeaux in a Burgundy glass and glugs it. What?!? This is a woman who was supposedly reared by a wine expert father. Said wine expert is an extremely controlling, extremely powerful man who drinks extremely expensive wine AND HE NEVER TAUGHT HER HOW TO EVALUATE IT? Or fully appreciate it? Or is she just so spoiled by “good wine” that she blows it off the way she blows off murderous affairs? Possible.

2) ’94 doo bah-lay

New York Times calls it ” du Bellay.” Bon Appetit calls is “Duvillet.” Jet Mag calls is “Doublé.” Whatever you call it, it ain’t real.  She says the wine will change your life, but how much change do you need when your life is on a beautiful island with a beautiful man and plenty of everything you need?  Do you NEED five bottles of this crazy rare wine? Your whole life was tracking people down, finding evidence. You changed your name but not your habits and you got busted.  Cheers!

3) So why not choose a real wine?

Mary Cressler of Vindulge was recommending wines for Shondaland return but had to guess…”we can assume it’s really ‘fine’ wine, similar to the wine her evil dad introduced her to years ago. My guess is really good Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or expensive California Cabernet Sauvignons.” No, California Oak doesn’t exist either, and even if it did, I’d skip on name alone.

Doug Trapasso wondered, “…does it surprise you that no wineries have jumped on he connection and advertised on the program?” He’s heard the idea of cost but wonders if it is a matter of tradition.  I would say both.  If they are big enough to pay for the spot, they probably don’t need the advertising and aren’t exclusive enough for Ms. Pope.  If they are exclusive and wealthy, they probably don’t have the supply to reach potential demand.  Or maybe they just don’t think the show is wine-savvy enough to create the link?

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the show.  Obviously, or I would not have binged on it.  As Jo Diaz of Wine-Blog says, “No wine consultant is on the set is the most logical conclusion… Someone making set decisions and loving the large globe, but never having experienced wine glasses 101.”  It is a recurring theme in the series so you might as well do it well. I nominate Jo.

On the other hand, there is also the push to make wine more accessible, enjoyable, less formal. So if she wants to drink it straight out of the bottle at the end of the day, (and who wouldn’t at the end of those crazy days) have at it. If she has the means to buy new white cashmere and couches if a spill occurs (which is likely when you hold the glass like a toddler), good for you. If she has enough good wine to drink it like it is like it Kool-aid, enjoy.  But don’t think that we wine-lovers won’t roll our eyes(a little) or feel a slight punch in the gut when you do.  Respect the vine. And next time you want to hide out, order something a little less obscure.

Will you be watching tonight? With popcorn or without? Do you have your Camille glasses ready? I won’t judge no matter what you put in it. Post a pic of what you open as we cheer on our favorite fixer! And follow Grapefriend for weekly wine recaps. Cheers!

 *Photos found under “free to use and share” license on Bing.  If there is any discrepancy, please notify me and I will change immediately.

 

Resolution 1: Drink More Tempranillo

It was nearly two years ago when I first delved into the wines of Ribera del Duero at the Drink Ribera campaign here in Austin.  I was completely impressed with the diversity and quality for the price point.  That remains.  The more I try, the more I want. So when the people of Gregory White PR asked if I was interested in sampling some, I jumped all over it.

To share the love, I chose to open them on New Year’s Eve with two other couples from the neighborhood.  We decided on a Spanish potluck to pair with the wines.  Here’s what we made:

Cheese Plate

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger (recipe at end)

Berbere Lamb Meatballs (recipe at end)

Papas Bravas with Smoked Paprika Aioli

Pincho Ribs with Sherry Glaze

DSC_0569Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is just thinking about it.  My dear friend Laura made the last two items.  Laura is the friend that always knocks my socks off with her effortless, amazing cooking.  The papas were baked instead of friend, the aioli was with a mayonnaise base instead of from scratch but you’d never know. Keep that in mind for quick prep. I don’t generally care for ribs.  It could be a Pavlovian reaction to “fat” from growing up during the fat-free craze, but they just aren’t generally my thing.  I ate four of these and couldn’t stop picking at the crispy edges.  They were divine. The meatballs were a hit with everyone, juicy and full of flavor.  The kale, a great foil for the rich dishes and, well, anything wrapped in prosciutto is awesome.

We opened two wines with the meal. I’ve learned from experience that if I am opening multiple samples, I open them before guests arrive to evaluate with a clean palate and sharp mind.  That way I can relax and enjoy the evening and let the wine flow, as it usually does.

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2011 Tinto Ribon Crianza

This wine is 100% Tempranillo, aged 12 months in American and French oak. Brilliant color, ruby with a hint of violet. Warm berries on the nose.  Medium body, red fruit, tight tannins, spices and herbaceous with rich nuances.  Fresh, long finish.

2012 Erial Tradicion Familia ($22)

16 months in French and American Oak. A deep saturated color with intense nose of black plums and baking spices.  Tight tannins and leather, well integrated blue and black fruit, powerful mouth feel.  Of the four wines, this felt like the “grandfather”, and rightly so. The grapes are sourced from 80-year-old vines.

2009 Pata Negra Reserva ($16)

24 months in barrel, 12 in bottle before release. Deep maroon and plum in color.  Black fruit, plums, spicy vanilla.  Strong chewy tannins, structured like a thick cedar post.

2010 Emina Prestigio ($32)

I had this on another night with a play on Yankee Pot Roast. If the Erial was the grandfather, this is the family Patriarch. 16 months in French Oak. A deep, brooding color.  Vibrant black plum weighted by spicy tannins. Bossy acid, bold and mature tobacco leaf and vanilla.  This wine means business.

Part of the wonder of wine is how one grape can be so diverse.  Soil, conditions, season, age of the vine effect the grape.  These four from the same AVA but from four different years.  Add in the choices of the winemaker and you never know what you are going to get with Tempranillo.  That’s why I love it so and why I am resolved to try more Tempranillo in 2015.

Here is your challenge. Sometime this year, have a Tempranillo party.  Every guest brings one. Young or old, Spanish or domestic. High Plains in Texas or Sonoma County. Take notes and compare. No matter what your taste in wines, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find one (or ten) that you like.  It is a great exercise in developing palate and a great lesson.  Just because you had one (fill in the blank) that you didn’t care for doesn’t mean that you don’t like that grape.  That lesson could be applied in all are of our lives, don’t you think?  With that, I’ll wish you happy tasting. ¡Salud!

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger

Massage Kale with Olive Oil (lemon or regular)

Add finely chopped candied ginger

Salt to taste

Lemon Zest

Lemon juice

optional:Chopped nuts or seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds)

 

Berbere Meatballs

2 lbs Ground Lamb

1 Onion diced, sautéed

2 eggs

2 TBSP Berbere seasoning

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients.  Make 1-2 inch meatballs.  Brown them in pan, finish in the oven at around 300 for about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

{These wines were provided as media samples by Gregory White PR. No other compensation was received and thoughts and opinions are my own} 

 

Reflections on 2014-Part 1

In Wine and War, Don and Petie Kladstrup, illustrate a point that resonates with me on my path of wine discovery and enjoyment.

“One of the greatest wines we have ever tasted was 1905 Grand Vin de Chateau Latour. It was exquisite, absolutely mind-boggling, but what made the experience even more special was being able to share it with…a dear friend….There was also a bottle of rose we once drank that, in all honesty, was not much of a wine, but sharing it with friends on a warm summer day made that day special and the wine as unforgettable, in a way, as the 1905 Latour.”

I have yet to taste Latour.  I may never.  But I have had many unforgettable wines, some because of the wine, some because of the company with whom I shared the wine.

This has been, in many ways, a year of transitions for me.  In 2013, I felt the need to pull back an reassess. The constant  pull of social media and self-promotion began to weigh on me and my family and I needed to readjust.  In 2014, I rediscovered the joy of blogging and was rewarded in ways I never thought possible.  Several times this year I found myself looking around and giggling in disbelief.

2014 was a year of finally connecting with so many that I have long admired and communicated with virtually. It was a year in which I was able to attend some amazing events, intimate and extravagant.  It was a year in which I may not have received as many samples or gained thousands of twitter followers, but I received genuine encouragement in quiet ways that left me humbled and grateful for this journey.  I sampled some exclusive wines, some very accessible wines and both made my list.  It is not only about what is in the bottle, but the stories behind the bottle and the stories shared over the bottle.

Here are some favorite wines from 2014. They are probably the top 5, in no order. I say probably because I don’t keep accurate enough records, unless it is a sample, and my memory gets iffier with age.  Regardless, I’m still thinking about these:

Remarkable Reds

2009_2[1]2009 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon-The 2010 Made Wine Spectator’s Top 10 list.  I have an idea as to why.  The attached link shows how I paired it for an unforgettable dinner party. Sequoia Grove Cambium was a challenger but I only tasted it in conjunction with others, with several foods. It is harder to create a lasting impression in that setting.

2010 Vineyard 511 Cabernet Sauvignon-We tasted this wine the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference and it was one I still think about. It also made Talk-a-vino’s list. If you have an extra hundred and want to show me some love, keep this in mind.

Ballard County Syrah- Don’t make me pick just one.  My mouth was high after this session.  Check out what Solo Syrah had to say about the wines.

Davis Bynum Pinot Noir– My favorite from the Rodney Strong dinner in Solvang. Their Russian River and Cambria Julia’s Vineyard Pinots are closely behind.

IMG_4404William Chris Vineyards 2012 Enchanté– It was the wine that broke my resolve.  We picked up a ’10 after Chris shared some on our last visit.  This baby has aging promise.

Winning Whites and Pinks

McPherson Cellars Les Copains White/Dry Rose Blends- Love all these blends. We shared a bottle of white at Haviland Lake in Colorado. We paired the white blend with the first trout my children caught which we stuffed with shallot, lemon, and herb butter. Add fire-roasted potatoes and veggies and that is a camping meal to remember. The pink made for a very happy hour at Ridgeway State Park.

Grassini Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc- Even in speed tasting at #WBC14 this stood out as a favorite white with J Vineyards Pinot Gris a close second. From Happy Valley Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County, this wine has racy acidity and controlled elegance. Yum.

Cuvee Classique Chateau Roubine-This blend on Cinsault, Mourvedre, and Grenache is classic Provence.  I’ve realized that these grapes generally make wine that I like.  Herbacious, red fruit, acid.  Diverse and delish. Actually can I choose several from that lunch?

IMG_4458Tatum Rose-Sorry to do this to you, but you probably won’t be able to get this wine.  Unless you live here and you know people.  It is small production and goes quickly but it is so delicious I’m still dreaming about it.

Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc– Again, don’t make me pick one.  You pick and let me know.  Dutchers Crossing, Fritz, Ferrari-Carano…you can’t go wrong if you like SB.

Beautiful Bubbles

Gerard Bertrand Cremant de Limoux Brut- Our first dinner, first weekend away, my first interview for an upcoming digital magazine, USA Ambassadors.  This bottle was sent to our table by the interviewee (stay tuned). All the above made it a bottle to remember.

Pol Roger Champagne-One day I will splurge on a whole bottle.  Still thinking about the tasting at Big Reds and Bubbles.

Ferrari Perle– This was part of a sample of three and my favorite.  Elegant, creamy, memorable.

Bollinger Brut Rose– My sister and I were trying to rally for a day at the wineries but both a little funky.  Then I said, “Or I can come to your house and we can look through old pictures in our jammies and drink Champagne.” Gorgeous fruit, warm bread, zesty with a finish that didn’t quit. Some days, like the photos we were organizing, are worth holding on to.

When I started this piece, my goal was to compile the year in one post.  Silly me.  Tomorrow I’ll reflect on the moments that made the year and the people who shared the moments with me.  And maybe I will even come to some resolutions.  Do they count if after January 1st? Now, what to open for inspiration?

Haviland Lake

Haviland Lake

 

 

 

More Last Minute Gifts: Central Market Wine

We all have our favorite stores, or if you are like me, you have favorite stores for different types of shopping.  I like one store for staples, another for grass-fed beef, yet another for when I need a combination of staples and epicurean novelties.  When it comes to grocery stores for choosing wines, my favorite locally is Central Market Westgate.  The selection is excellent, the people are knowledgeable and easy-going.  Andy Christiansen took over the wine department a couple of years ago and he frequently holds themed tastings, holds secret stashes, and always has great recommendations.

Last week his newsletter contained his 10 favorite wines of 2014.  What I love about his list was that it is diverse and accessible.  Prices range from $13-$40 and all wines were (at the time) in stock.  That’s a practical list that I can work with.  I asked his permission to share with my readers.  If you are in Austin, you can find most, if not all, of these wines.  If you are elsewhere, I’m sure there are more than a few readily available.  Thank you, Andy, for the recommendations and for making the trips to the grocery store that much more fun.  I’ve been a very good girl so if Santa wants to put aside an Assobio for me I won’t complain.  Now, if you can create a list of 10 ways to keep my five-year old occupied while I peruse your department…

Cheers!

#1 2010 Chateau Carignan, Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux, $17.95

We introduced this around Halloween when we inevitability have guests asking for wines with vampires, devils or monsters on the label. To these inquiries, I would ask, “How about a wine that tastes like Halloween!?!”. This beautifully balanced wine tastes like a slightly bloody, rusty hatchet that was dipped into a bucket containing gorgeous blue and black fruits. Sounds slightly odd and gruesome but there is poetry here. David Lynch wishes he had made this wine!

#2 NV Cleto Chiarli ‘Vecchia Modena Premium’ Lambrusco di Sobrara, $13.99

Wow, does this wine ever represent a category that is needed in central Texas; a dry, fruity, dark rose/light red sparkler that is what I like to call “seriously fun”. It is like a well crafted pop song that is sure to get your toes tapping but you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught singing in your car with the windows down. Think Buddy Holly vs. Justin Bieber. It’s no surprise that this lyrical wine was introduced to me by one of our guests and local musician Adam Aherns. By the way, his latest release, Black Pepper Corn, is addictively joyous and we’ll be having a drawing at the tasting to give away 5 copies of it. If you don’t win, I suggest you read more about it at www.adamaherns.com and purchase through iTunes!

#3 2012 Joan D’ Anguera ‘Altarosas’ Granatxa, Montsant, Spain, $17.99

I can’t think of many grapes that I have as much of a love-hate relationship with as much as Grenache/Grenacha. Grown under certain conditions and under the direction of heavy-handed winemakers looking to impress your palate rather than seduce, it can be a hot mess of globby, bubblegumy fruit and scorching rubbing alcohol. Spain is a region that sometimes seems to let this happen more frequently than not. This is an example of how the grape is capable of “transparency” in much the same way great Pinot Noir can be. It is certified biodynamic and made using old-school techniques such as concrete tank fermentation and aging. The end result is a wine with lifted red fruit, mineral and floral notes that breath life. I can scarcely think of any wine I’d rather drink with a wide range of foods, especially pork or turkey.

#4 2011 Riserva Del Canapone ‘642’ Maremma Toscana Rosso, $14.95

The first of several wines on this list that our buyer sourced to introduce during our Passport Italy event. We’ve had a hard time keeping this one in stock ever since. This is a unique blend from Tuscany that blends six grapes into one magical expression that feels like the closest thing I’ve experienced from Italy to a high quality Rhône blend and yet does not lose an essence that can only come from Italian terror.

#5 2012 J. Bouchon ‘Canto Norte’ red blend, Maule Valley, Chile, $12.99

This was also introduced during one of our events this year, Wine Week, where numerous winemakers from around the world came to sample and discuss their wines. This is a true family winery that dates back to the late 1800’s when the first Bouchon immigrated from France. The current owner/winemaker continues to make wines with Bordelaise influence, no doubt influenced from his enology degree received from the University of Bordeaux. This is Merlot predominant which provided suppleness, spice from Carmenere and Cabernet Franc and stability from a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. Made using many organic and natural winemaking principles.

#6 NV Baron Fuente Brut, Champagne, $24.95 (normally $29.95)

Champagne is probably the hardest category of wine for us to convince people to try something new. I think it mostly has to do with tradition and traditionally (at least in this country), Champagne has been consumed as a celebratory beverage on various holidays or to mark certain achievements. Like many things related to tradition, people like to replicate details. It’s a nostalgic way of connecting to past times and people. That’s cool. What’s also cool is that we are in the midst of a sparkling wine revolution where people are realizing what an incredible beverage Champagne and the like can be as a daily drinker. They are uniquely suited to go with an amazingly wide range of types of food. We introduced Baron Fuente a couple years ago across all nine Central Markets in Texas but it has been the Austin market that has been the most open to trying something different than the Grand Marque houses they’ve known for so long. Pat yourselves on the back for recognizing quality and value over fashion and pretense! By the way, if its been awhile since you’ve had this Champagne, I’d recommend trying it again. I’m sure what we’re getting in now had the same disgorgement date as when we first brought it to Texas and it has done nothing but get better!

#7 2012 Graffito Malbec, Luca de Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina, $17.99

Many years after it began, the Malbec craze shows no signs of slowing down despite many predictions that it would see the same sudden and dramatic decline in popularity that Aussie Shiraz did not too long ago. This is another example of a small family-owned producer make outstanding wine. Again, the owner/winemaker visited us for our Wine Week in July. While working for years for iconic winery Catena, Jimena Lopez would drive around Mendoza all day checking on many vineyards. She got to know them all intimately and when she recognized the incredible opportunity to purchase fruit from a 7 acre vineyard planted in 1908 she was able to realize her dream of making her own wine. With fruit as good as she is able to buy, she smartly takes an approach to intervene in the winemaking process as little as possible. The fruit and wine speak for themselves with depth and complexity. It’s remarkable to think that an outstanding wine like this, made with vines over 100 years old can be had at such an accessible price!

#8 2013 Bosio Gavi, Piedmont, Italy, $12.95

Another newly introduced Italian. This crisp white with subtle peach, tropical and citrus notes pretty much blows away any comparably priced Pinot Grigio. There are some very good Pinot Grigios out there, but this is an example of why Italians don’t consume it nearly as much as Americans do. They know there are usually better options and this wine made with the Cortese grape is just one of many interesting Italian whites we’d like to introduce you to if you haven’t been already.

#9 2012 Maison L’ Envoyé ‘The Attaché’ Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $39.99

The winery’s name translates to “The House of the Messenger” and they are intent on making sure their wines “jublilantly sing of their origins”. While most of the wines I’ve already listed have high ratings from big name critics, you’ll notice I’ve refrained from mentioning them. I do want to mention here that this received 94 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits and I believe they both got it right. Spectator said, “An essay of volcanic and sedimentary soils, delivering density and concentration without oppressive weight. A long, focused core of blue fruits and intriguing spice dances across the palate, bound by silky yet precise tannins and a bright line of minerality. An unabashed come-hither mouthfeel”.

#10 2011 Assobio, red blend, Douro, Portugal, $12.99

Portugal table(non-Port) wines have been predicted to be the next big thing for as long as I can remember but continue to lag far behind their Iberian Peninsula neighbor, Spain…by a bunch. This blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and Touriga Franca will show you why we all should be looking a few miles more to the east for our wines from the Iberian Peninsula. This also received a big, fat rating from a major wine publication and because of that our supply is unfortunately very limited.

Nothing Provincial about Provençal Pink

Grapefruit, peach, salmon: whichever shade of pink, rosé is fabulous all year around. Whatever you’re serving, there is a hue for you. Those were the major takeaways from a recent Wines of Provence lunch held at Arro here in Austin which featured wines chosen by Master Sommelier Craig Collins. And I enjoyed every drop of the lesson.
I love every shade of pink, in drink and color, but there is one region that is synonymous with rosé: Provence. In Provence, rosé is not a novelty or an afterthought, it is the goal. The grapes grown, the choices in production are all made with the goal of bring the finest quality rosé to the table…or porch, picnic, fireside.
Right now you may be thinking, “Fireside? I only drink pink in the summer.” Some of you may not even realize there is pink beyond the sweet stuff your aunt used to drink. To that I would say it may be time to expand your ideas about rosé.
We sampled nine rosés in three flights. Each flight was different. From very pale in color to hints of rich peach, from red fruit to black fruit, mineral-driven to floral, these wines showed a vast swing in pairing options which were reflected in the menu choices.
We began with a puff pastry with olives, anchovy, and onion. Delicious. The first course was seared shrimp with clams, mussels, and sorrel pistou. It was lovely but I had to admire from afar. They graciously pulled together an alternate for me at the host’s request (a lovely but unnecessary gesture) of tuna with green beans, radish.
Craig shared how whenever he is pairing flavors of the sea, he likes to go for acidity and minerality. The first flight spoke to that well. The grapes were classic Provençal: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah. Red fruit, acidity, some tart and herbal notes. Some were more aromatic than others, all were balanced.

IMG_4552Domaine de la Sangliere ($16)
Maison Saint Aix ($19)
La Vidaubanaise ($15)
The second course was lamb brochette with white beans and shaved Brussels sprouts. Yes, lamb with rosé, and it worked! The herbal notes in the dish played off the wine brilliantly. This flight included two more robust rosés and one red blend. They all paired so nicely with the dish; I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. The pink wines had red fruit, bigger, silky mouthful. The Roubine had a lot of grapefruit, herb, acid. Our one red of the lunch was black fruit, cocoa, and an intoxicating mouthfeel. Delicious.
IMG_4553

Domaine Houchart Saint-Victoire ($19)
Cuvee Classique Chateau Roubine ($25)
Chateau Vignelaure ($30,red)
Our dessert course was chosen to reflect the region’s propensity to serve cheese and nuts for a final course rather than sweets. Chef Curren hit every note with a goat cheese tart with fig, pistachio, honey, and lemon. I ate every bite. With the final course, Craig paired some really aromatic wines, each with a slightly different structure and color. This final flight was a great reflection of how color is simply a matter of grape and soil, not an indication of complexity.
Chateau Paradis ($20)
Hecht & Bannier Cotes de Provence ($18)
Ikon Rose ($35)
Let me be clear, I am biased. I went into this lunch with a firm stance on rosé. I love it. I love it in the summer and as an alternative to white in the winter. Now, granted, our winter here in Texas is mild. However, my favorite whites are acidic and crisp. I am not generally a fan of whites in a winter coat (aka oaky whites). But if I want something lighter to start a meal or sip on a warmer day, rosé provides the body, acidity, minerality to go in many directions.
Thank you to Wines of Provence, Arro, Chef Andrew Curren, and Master Sommelier Craig Collins for a wonderful lunch and for creative examples of pairing and variety in options for drinking pink.
(Lunch was provided by Wines of Provence as a promotion for the region. I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.)

Hye-lights from the Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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