The Magic of Bubbles

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What is it about bubbles?  Is it the anticipation? The way they reflect the light with swirling colors?  Perhaps it is the challenge of blowing the biggest bubble or the chase as they float out of reach. Children of all ages can easily become absorbed in the magic on a sunny afternoon.  That doesn’t change in adulthood.

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Any afternoon becomes an occasion when you accept the invitation to play. Here are a few bottles of Monday wines for any occasion.

Codorniu Clasico is cava made from  Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada.  I bought it for mimosas but it was fun by itself.  Stone and tropical fruit, dry, bright, tasty.  A great bottle for the price point of around $8. An even better bottle when shared with friends.

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Anna de Codorniu Brut NV* is from the same family but this bottle is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada. The bubbles, delicate, the color, straw yellow.  Tropical and citrus notes combine to create a balanced bottle of bubbles that is impressive, especially at $15. It was just the right bottle to celebrate my friend’s end of a grueling semester.

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Ruffino Prosecco** was sent to me to create a holiday cocktail they suggested.  I had every intention of doing just that, but when I got home on NYE to discover I was missing the cranberry juice, I improvised.  (The cider was for the littles). The original cocktail was:

Sweet and Spiced Holiday Sparkler

3 oz. Ruffino Prosecco DOC

3/4 oz. apple cider

3/4 oz. cranberry juice

1 tsp. maple syrup

squeeze of 1 lemon wedge

Instead I made:

Five Spice Sparkler

4 oz. Ruffino Prosecco

1/2 tsp of Five spice Syrup***

Squeeze of Meyer Lemon

While the first cocktail looked yummy, I generally prefer less juice, more booze and bubbles.  The one I came up with was delicious if I do say so myself.  On its own, I find the Ruffino a little bitter in the finish but the syrup and lemon worked well with it.  I’ll be making that again.  Holidays or not.

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*This wine was provided by Gregory White PR as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

**This wine was provided by Nike Communications as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

***Five Spice Syrup (approximate recipe)

1/4 c sugar

TBSP Five Spice Powder

1/8 c water

Combine and heat, stirring until syrup consistency.

A Trifecta of Taste-Somms Under Fire

I made it!  I have been trying for three years to make it to Somms Under Fire but January always seems to conspire against me with sick children and cedar misery.  Not this year.  They say “third times the charm” and three was the theme for the evening.  Three Sommeliers from around the country paired wines for three courses for three judges.  The sommeliers were judged on three levels: pairing, service, and education.

Competing were:

Advanced Sommelier Luke Boland

Advanced Sommelier Eric Crane

Advanced Sommelier James Watkins

The judges were:

Winery Owner and Sommelier, Rajat Parr

Author and Wine Writer, Jordan Mackay

Master Sommelier Jay James, Chappellet Wines

There were 9 wines available for pairing.  The sommeliers sampled and took turns pairing.  Once a wine was chosen, it was no longer available.  The somms then served and explained their choices as the audience sampled the fare and the wines. In the end, James Watkins walked away with the title of Champion.

The winning pairings were:

First Course:  2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Hinter der Burg,
paired with Charred Broccoli with White Bean, Mushroom Confit, Preserved Lemon, Poached Egg, & Gulf Bottarga, created by Chef Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
Second Course:  2012 A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs, Red Blend paired with Roasted Pork Loin, Sunchoke, Endive, Tangerine, Curry Mustard created by Chef David Bull, Congress Austin
Third Course:  2013 Patrick Puize Chablis “Terroir Découverte”, paired with Coomersdale, Bonnieview Farm, Vermont;  Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery, California and Everton Reserve, Jacobs & Brichford, Indiana, hand selected by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

According to sponsor Keeper Collection’s newsletter, James Watkins will also receive” a scholarship to attend “Wine Internship in Burgundy, France under the tutelage of Burgundy Author and Expert,  Allen Meadows, of Burghound, focusing on the Village of Chambolle Musigny. provided by Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co., and a $1,000 travel grant presented by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, as well as a Laguiole Champagne Saber, presented by Keeper Collection, LLC.”

It was a great evening of food, wine, and fellowship that I was able to share with my sister as guests of Diane Dixon and an event that I will make every effort to attend in the future. The food was top-notch and all of the wines were delicious but after the pairings, I found myself reaching for more of the 2012 Lioco “Indica” Carignan from Mendocino County.  Great acid, bright fruit, complex and easy to drink.

Many thanks to Diane, Keeper Collection, and to the family of Sommelier Nathan Prater who shared their table and company with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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} 

 

Curious About Texas Wine? Time for a Twitter Date

Tonight on Twitter, I will be joining fellow Texas Wine lovers for the year’s first #TXWine Twitter Tasting.  We will be chatting about the 2014 Best Texas Wines and a new opportunity for you to taste some of these wines, no matter where you live.

Here are the details:

Tonight January 13th, 7-8pm CST

Sign in to your Twitter account and search for #TXwine

Our hosts are Denise Clarke, Jeff Cope,Jessica Dupuy, and Russ Kane.  They can be found at the following Twitter handles:@DeniseClarkeTX, @TXWineLover, @JDewps, @VintageTexas respectively.

If you are local, grab a bottle (or more) of the top wines of the year and join us.  If you aren’t but are #TXwine curious, come hang out.  There will be plenty of info and laughs.

Even if you can’t join us tonight, check out Texas Monthly’s new wine club.  Four shipments a year,six bottles per shipment of Texas wine. Partnering with Vinovium Partners, TM is offering the chance to taste the wines I love.  Interested in a one-time shipment?  That can be arranged.

Look forward to “seeing” you and tweeting with you tonight!

Reflections on 2014-Part 2

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Marcel Proust

2014 was a year in which my soul blossomed.  A seed, or should I say cutting, was planted years ago, one of fascination, intrigue.  A love, not just for wine, but for the people behind the wine, began to grow. Through the cultivation of connectedness and encouragement that vine began to produce fruit. I am grateful.

Each year, WordPress provides a year-end summary of the site’s performance.  Included is a list of the most popular posts of the year. Each of the five most popular posts could be tied back to the idea of gratitude. Three out of five of them were connected to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, my first highlight of 2014.

1) Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6, January

I had enjoyed reading the entries in previous months, but when the theme “Mystery” was introduced, I couldn’t resist entering. It was an opportunity to share one of my favorite stories from our time in Italy, a story the voters enjoyed enough to honor. When writers you admire give a thumbs up, it is especially encouraging.

2)Wine Blogger’s Conference 2014

I applied on a whim, what could it hurt?  I’d always wanted to go, but didn’t know how I could afford to.  I had taken the year off from any freelance writing so how could I  justify spending the money when my venture was not producing any? It turns out that thanks to the wonderful people and companies behind the WBC Scholarships, I didn’t have to.

Mary Cressler took me under her wing and kept me laughing.  Rachel Voorhees charmed all of us at the Rodney Strong dinner. Thea Dwell’s enthusiasm in unmatched.  Anatoli Levine and Cyrus Limon provided familiar touch points.  Anatoli and I had met in Austin and bonded over Texas wine. Cyrus and I swapped stories since we had a mutual friend and he’d even been to my hometown. I felt a little like a groupie meeting the big publication writers and as if we were at a reunion with all of the Women Wine Writers I had never met.   The whole weekend was like summer camp meets college course at a candy store, only it was wine…and free.

The opportunity was one that I will never forget.  The idea that the people providing the scholarships saw potential in me was an incredible honor.  Finally getting to meet so many I’d admired, the friendships formed, were food for my soul.  Being able to learn from and be challenged by talented, driven writers was a boost I couldn’t have received in any other way.  It was truly a gift on every level.

3)Rodney Strong 25th Anniversary Dinners

Yes, dinners, plural. The first was in Solvang, the second in Austin…and NYC, Healdsburg, and Miami.  The food and wine were crazy good.  The first was a great way to kick off #WBC14 and an honor to be invited.  The company and shuttle ride were enough to make the evening one I won’t soon forget.  The second was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of evening with the collaboration of crazy-talented chefs.  I’m sure I wasn’t the best date since I was focused on trying to capture the event through social media, but it was a wonderful evening. I could not have attended were it not for the faith Carin Oliver at Angelsmith PR put in me.

4) G.H. Mumm’s VIP Formula 1 Amber Lounge Party

Are you kidding?  This was one fabulous party. Incredible music, sound system, lighting.  Beautiful people everywhere, a VIP section for the guests of Mumm, Champagne for days. I even wore sequins.  I kept asking my husband, “Did you ever imagine that my little hobby would lead to this?” Neither did I.

I was so impressed by the production required to totally transform La Zona Rosa into this crazy, swanky, nightclub.  But the people of Mumm not only did it, they did it with a smile. Warm, gracious, accommodating…even at 1am.  Which was when this lady turned into a pumpkin. Had we not scheduled a dinner party the next day, I may have stayed long enough to see the celebs and what happens at 4am, but this old lady just can’t do it anymore and still be smiling.

5) A Few of Her Favorite Things

Elizabeth Smith was one of the first bloggers I began reading.  I enjoyed watching her transition from a teacher to the wine world.  I learn from her honest introspection and get to live vicariously through her move, tackling her dreams in the Wine Country.  At the end of 2014, she put out a list of her favorite things: winery experiences, wines, wine firsts, and blogs.  I was moved, literally to tears, that my blog made her list. In my last post I mentioned “genuine encouragement in quiet ways” with Elizabeth in mind.  We were finally able to meet at the Wine bloggers conference.  In her writing and her manner, Elizabeth is both quiet and genuine.  She is subtle and wise and encouragement from her is truly an honor.

I could go on.  There were dinners with Sequoia Grove and Dry Creek Winegrowers, paella with Mia and lunch with Wines of Provence.  There were events like Tour de Vin and Big Reds and Bubbles.  Equally special, however, were the less glamorous dinner parties at home.  I am so fortunate to be able to buy quality ingredients to serve my family and friends.  I am grateful for the example my mother provided and the love of cooking she passed along.  Celebrating birthdays or creating occasions, being able to commune with those I love always feeds my soul.

Thank you for sharing in this journey with me.  Thank you for reading and for the encouragement.  Thank you for sharing your ideas and inspiration.  Most especially, thank you to all the “charming gardeners” that share yourselves over a glass of wine or with a click of a keyboard.  Cheers to a wonderful new year.

 

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

 

 

 

“Sparkle and Shine”-Bubbles for NYE and Beyond

SAHMmelier:

Anyone else find that the time of year with the most drinking and celebrating is also the time of year when it is most difficult to find time to write? This piece was originally published last year. I have included a couple more Champagne suggestions in italics. I’d love to see what you open on NYE. If you get a chance, comment below with a picture and your thoughts. I’ll compile for Valentine’s Day. Hope you have a wonderful end to 2014, surrounded by those you love.

Originally posted on SAHMmelier:

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

When I think back on my first pregnancy, two songs come to mind.  We chose not to find out the sex, but I knew.  I knew I was having a girl and I sang to her in the car…

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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.

Last Minute Gift Idea-Texas Tuesday

So, it’s Texas Tuesday, but I am a bit congested thanks to our favorite winter visitor, cedar pollen.  I didn’t want to open anything special so I am simply offering an idea for a very last-minute gift.  I always like to give Texas wine because so many people just don’t know what they’re missing.  Even locals have never tasted the wines that are being made just down the road so I do my part to remedy that.

I was a teacher in my past life and know that I rarely splurged on a bottle that was more that $15.  I also know that there were many nights that I felt absolutely spent and welcomed the reprieve of a glass of something tasty.  So, I often give my children’s teachers the gift of wine.  For Thanksgiving, I gave her a bottle of Gundlach Bundschu Gewurtraminer, a favorite with turkey.  For Christmas, I gave her a bottle of Pedernales Cellars 2012 Tempranillo.

I chose this wine in particular because I find it both elegant and approachable.  It is a grape that is unfamiliar to some, but so diverse and available in several local stores.  Also, if they love it, they can drive west and sample more of what the producer has to offer.  Medium bodied, red fruit with layers of baking spices and a touch of earth. It is complex enough to hold up to almost any fare, but smooth and soft enough to drink alone.  But to make sure that doesn’t happen, I paired the wine with some Mexican Cocoa almonds.  Cocoa, cinnamon, and a little cayenne would be a great compliment to the wine.  The addition of a homemade snack to compliment the wine gives it a more personal touch.

If you are looking for a white, I’d suggest taking a pairing from Kuhlman Cellars and doing some Marcona almonds with herbs de Provence with a bottle of their Roussanne or McPherson Cellars Roussanne.

Here is the recipe for the almonds:

Mexican Cocoa Almonds

Whisk an egg white until frothy. Add a teaspoon of Vanilla.

Toss about 3 cups of almonds in the egg white.

In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 TBSP good quality cocoa, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt.  If you’d like also add the zest of an orange.

Toss the almonds in the sugar mixture and bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently. Allow to cool before bagging.

What are your favorite Texas wine gifts? And what snack would pair? Wishing you and your family the merriest of days. Cheers!

Holiday Comfort-Texas Tuesday

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Which, for many of us, also means one of the busiest times of the year.  So, even though I’m up to my eyeballs in holiday crazy…I mean, cheer…it is Texas Tuesday which now means a post about Texas wine.  This makes three weeks in a row and since three is required for a pattern, I just must. Here we go…

Four years ago we spent a week in Bandera.  We had a timeshare week that was going to expire and we had a 1and 2-year-old so we kept it simple: a week in the Hill Country.  We discovered several gems and have meaning to get back out there every year at Christmas time but those wishes seem to get usurped by the busyness.  But this year I was determined.

Friday after school we picked up my daughter and headed west to Boerne, a favorite German town.  We ate dinner at The Dodging Duck Brewhaus and planned to do some wandering, but this town shutters early.  So we went to the hotel and relaxed.  The only hiccup?  Not a bit of glassware in the hotel.  Not even a coffee mug.  FYI, in a pinch, Styrofoam cups are less egregious than the plastic.  I felt a little “Emotional” about drinking William Chris Emotion out of Styrofoam, but it was better than swigging out of the bottle.  Note to self: next time we stay at  Fairfield Marriot, bring glasses.

The next morning, our little elves woke us early so we ate and went downtown for Market Days.  If you live in the area, this was a great one.  The vendors were varied and reasonable.  The food trucks looked great.  Home Depot was even there with a wood-working project for the kids.  A few presents later, we were off to Comfort.

We ate at High’s, a wonderful café, and then made our way to Bending Branch Tasting Room, Branch on High. It was a glorious sunny afternoon. I went inside to taste and the hubs stayed on the porch with the littles.  They all came in periodically to grab a cracker and listen to the music.  Then, we sat on the porch and shared a glass of The Thinker, a secret blend of 7-9 varieties.

Here is what I sampled:

2013 Comfortage Hall Ranch, Paso Robles 100% Rousanne: Soft mouth feel, stone fruit, acid, clean.

2013 Vermentino Las Brisas, Carneros Citrus, pear, soft fruit, salinity, crisp.

2011 “1840” Bella Collina Tannat RF Black fruit, blueberry, chocolate, velvety, tannins for days.

2010 “1840” Silvaspoons Tannat RF Blue, black fruit, herbaceous, silky, bold.

2011 Texas Tannat Black integrated fruit, more cigar box notes, old world.

2011 Petite Sirah Shell Creek Vineyards, Big, bold, and blue. Smoky and elegant.

Thinkers Blend Red fruit, seemed unfiltered, floral, spice, acid, easy to drink.

The tasting room feels like you are in someone’s home and our host, Linda continued that air.  Friendly, warm, great décor, acoustic music. It is a place where you can unwind and enjoy a break from the crazy, a place to find a little “Comfort.” We brought home a bottle of the Bella Collina which was delicious with lamb chops.

From there we went to  Camp Verde, a general store established in 1857 in Center Point.   As luck would have it, they were having their annual community Christmas party.  It was an amazing event :food, wine, music, Santa. If you need a little holiday cheer, this is the place.  And they were serving wine from the Boerne Wine Company produced by McPherson Cellars, Tribute 1866.

We had one last stop before we headed home: Johnson City.  The lights there are amazing. It helps that the Pedernales Electric Company is headquartered there.  If you are looking for a family-friendly place to view lights, it is great. You can even put your name down at the Pecan Street Brewing Company and head out to see the lights.  They will call your cell when your table is ready.  The kids can run at the courthouse under the lights and you can sip on some great Texas wine while you wait.  I’ll always drink to that.

I’m always more about experiences than gifts and this was a great way to get in the holiday spirit. What are your favorite Hill Country Holiday traditions?  Feel free to share in the comments.  Cheers y’all!