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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musical Pairings with Banfi

When it comes to stocking your wine fridge, or cellar if you’re lucky, you can and should do so with several things in mind.  You have those special occasion bottles and the duplicates for comparative purposes.  You have the obscure blend you found at your favorite store and the ones you picked up at the winery.  And then you have the others.

If you have the means and the storage, you have several bottles that are Monday wines.  Wines that you know are the old reliables.  Wines that you can open and not finish and not worry.  The wines that you can pop for any reason or no reason and not have to think about them.

Wines that qualify need to be affordable and versatile.  Maybe you buy them by the case, maybe you stock up during the semi-annual sale.  One favorite red for such purposes is Chianti.

Chianti is wine from the Chianti region of Italy.  Depending on the specific area and time in the barrel, the wine is given different designations. All Chianti needs to be 75% Sangiovese.  To be considered a reserve, the wine needs to be aged at least two years in barrel, three months in bottle.  Classico is from the central region, an area given DOCG status in 1996.  If it has the black rooster, it has been tested and deemed worthy of the designation.

I recently sampled three Chiantis from Banfi Wines: Placido Chianti ($9), Chianti Classico($15), and Chianti Classico Riserva($19).  They were doing a campaign about Chianti and comfort foods, very appropriate.  It is nearly impossible for me to eat Italian without wine so these were fun to sample.

I’ve mentioned that I sometimes like to taste “blind,” without reading anything about them first.  When I went to open these, I couldn’t find the attachments with the retail info. or production sheets so I paired blindly as well.  A bit risky, but a good experiment.

A few weeks ago I wrote about pairing Chicken Saltimbocca and the Placido Chianti was one that was an option.  A few nights later, I made Minestrone which I paired with the Chianti Classico.  The following weekend I made Pasta with meatballs and we drank the Riserva.

The Placido was a little “thin” for the rich sauce of the Saltimbocca and, while it worked, the Riserva would have been a better choice.  The Minestrone was great with the Classico, but knowing what I know now, I should have held on to e Placido.  A true Monday wine in price and complexity, it would have been just fine with the soup.  The Riserva was great with the meatballs.  I had opened it early to put a splash in the sauce and, since it was already opened, I channeled my inner-Olivia Pope and had a bit with the afternoon matinée popcorn.  It even worked there.  However, the red fruit and acidity of the Classico may have been a little better.

Every bottle WORKED but I could have paired better.  But for versatility, affordability, and as the promotion was claiming, comfort, Chianti hits the mark. I may need a do-over and a wine do-over is one I never mind doing.  I know I’ll be stocking up on some more for the holidays.

{These wines were supplied by Banfi as media samples. I received no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Hannibal Would be Proud: Texas Tuesday

“I love it when a plan comes together.”  If you are an 80’s kid, you surely recognize that as the catchphrase of John “Hannibal” Smith, fearless leader of the A-team.  Oh, you thought I meant the Punic Carthaginian military commander?  Well, if he liked wine I guess he would be proud.  For future reference, you are safe assuming I am alluding to mindless pop-culture rather that ancient military strategists.  Anyway, back to the plan.

We had plans to go camp for a friend’s 40th birthday but a health hiccup for our black lab meant that we couldn’t leave her overnight and couldn’t go camping.  But we could get out of the house in the afternoon for a couple of hours of marriage maintenance.  A beautiful winter day means one activity (ok, any day) has my vote: heading out to the wine country.

This is the part in the A-team when each character starts throwing out crazy ideas which require Face to smooth talk someone while they drug B.A so Murdoch can fly them into the middle of the chaos.  Fortunately for us, it only required an email, two phone calls, and a quick shower to get an appointment, my favorite mom here, and out the door in 40 minutes. I guess that is kind of A-team comparable when you have little ones.

On the drive I was able to do some reading about Kuhlman Cellars and the people behind it.

Wine is a product born of love, passion and intense labor.  It should be enjoyed with the same emotional vigor.  At Kuhlman Cellars, we strive to appreciate what brings richness to our lives: Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship. Our tasting room was carefully designed to include every guest in our personal wine journey with education about our process from a knowledgeable guide, an intimate view of our working winery and Sommelier & Chef prepared cuisine carefully paired with each wine.

I had a feeling this was going to be my kind of tasting experience.  We arrived at Kuhlman Cellars with five minutes to spare, ready to taste the wine I’d been hearing so much about. Although the winery has only been open for two months, the Cobb family is not new to the wine industry, previously managing a Hill Country vineyard. Together with winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne, Chris and Jennifer Cobb are creating wines in an Old-World style with Texas flair.  Many of the wines are made with Texas fruit, the blends and the winery are given Texas geological names. Kuhlman Creek runs through the family property and eventually joins the Pedernales River.

My husband and I immediately noticed the ingenuity and design behind the Tasting room.  The bars are mobile, industrial and yet warm.  Two formations create a sit-down tasting experience for you and a few of your closest, or newest friends.  Each guest is given a tasting sheet, enough stemware for the flight, and an appetizer plate with the chef-inspired bites.

Sommelier Jeremy Wilson was our host for the tasting.  With each wine we were given information about the vineyard, the production techniques, and the thoughts behind the pairings.  Our group for the tasting included wine lovers with a wide variety of experience and Jeremy catered to each guest.  We even were treated to a barrel tasting.  Here are my top three:

The first wine was a 2013 Texas Sauvignon Blanc.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The grapes were from Mesa Vineyard in Fort Stockton.  The wine, not surprisingly, was more French in style.  Very classic notes, well-balanced and refreshing. Tart fruit, some grassy notes, gooseberry. This was paired with a cracker with smoked salmon and caper to play off the acid.

The third wine we tasted was Rousanne.  You are seeing more of this Rhone variety in Texas and I expect that trend to continue.  A weighty white with stone fruit and rich texture even when done in stainless.  This is a perennial favorite for Thanksgiving. Paired with a bite of bleu cheese and fig it was divine.

My favorite was the 2012 Texas Red.  A Texas take on a Bordeaux blend, this wine is 49% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both are sourced from the High Plains.  With the addition of Carignan, Cab Franc, and Grenache you get the depth of flavor while remaining medium bodied.  Red fruit, violet, a little spice, a little anise, a lot of yum.  We brought home two of these.

As a bonus, Jeremy brought out a barrel sample of the Texas (yes, Texas) Zinfandel that wasn’t ready but was delicious.  This wine is jam-packed with flavors, none of which include jam.  I can’t wait to taste the finished product.

Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship.  Those are the driving principles at Kuhlman Cellars and they put those into practice.  Although I had never met Chris Cobb, and Jeremy and Jennifer Beckman only once in person, they made us feel like family.  Food and wine shared with friends is the best kind of fellowship.

We left with four bottles of wine and big smiles.  We left excited to open a bottle at home and create our own pairings and we left saying that we love it when a plan comes together.

Thank you, Kuhlman Cellars, for fitting us in and for what we both agreed was the catalyst to one of the best dates we’ve had in a long time.  I’ll always drink to that!

{I am embarrassed to say that we were having so much fun that I totally forgot to take pictures!  Some blogger I am. I guess I’ll have to go back and remedy that.}

 

 

 

 

Tis the Season-Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir

We had been trying to decorate our tree all week, but my husband was late every night.  If your home is like mine and you have littles, you know the delicate balance with food and fatigue in the school-night witching hours.  If decorating the tree is going to be joyous and celebratory, it is best to avoid the cranky hours.  It could have gone from “Deck the Halls” to “Deck Each Other” faster than you can say Jingle Bells.  So we waited until Friday night and I planned a dinner that could be grazed.  That way I could stave off the hangry monsters while we waited for Daddy and I could start sipping so all would be merry and bright by the time we began.

It was a gorgeous 70 degree Texas winter kind of day.  A Pinot kind of day and I had a sample I’d been holding on to for the right time.  Last night was the right time to try the 2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir.  Although this is the first wine released on a national basis, the Chambers family has been involved in winemaking for nearly a quarter of a century in Oregon.  Her winemaker, Michael Stevenson, sources grapes from some of the top growers in the region, a region known for their Pinot Noir.

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In the glass, the wine shines and although I’m pretty sure there is a better descriptor, I kept thinking “raspberry cola.”  On the nose, red and black berries with baking spices.  The flavor profile made me feel like an autumn walk in woods.  Red and black fruit, cola, mushroom, anise, and soft leather. This wine is medium bodied with softer tannins although the acid gave it a chewy mouthfeel.  This wine has all the classic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir qualities that I had been craving all day.

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Our repast consisted of cold-cut roast beef, brie, arugula, black and green olives, capers, and horseradish mayonnaise.  I served it with a baguette and a salad of arugula, pear, bacon, and shallot dressing.  The acidic olives, the earthy spice of arugula, creamy tang of the spreads and the beef all complimented one another and the wine. It was perfect for nibbling and a spread I will revisit this holiday season.

In the media materials there is the following quote from Liz Chambers:

“It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles. I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that can dance. I want elegance and style in my wines.”

I would welcome Liz and her wines at my table anytime.

The lights are strung, the stockings hung.  My littles danced in their Santa hats and semi-evenly distributed the ornaments.  You won’t ever see my tree on Pinterest, but it was made with love.  And it is done.

Many thanks to Gregory White PR , Michael Stevenson and Liz Chambers for the holiday cheer and for adding a little elegance to our tree-trimming.

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Ahhh-lianico: Texas Tuesday

Awake at five, lunches packed, presents opened, cupcakes frosted, drop-offs, four loads of laundry, a couple of hours of work and a very brief workout. Pick-ups, stop at library to deal with missing book, trip to the toy store for the birthday boy punctuated by gelato courtesy of his grandmother.  Rhyming game leads to discovery and multiple attempts to use newly discovered inappropriate word. At a loud volume.  In public.  Long talk in the car about limits, boundaries, word choice, testing, and loss of new toy which demands responsible choices.  Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Just your typical Tuesday!

Enter my liquid hero for the evening: Duchman Family Winery’s 2010 Aglianico.  Or tonight, it is known as Ahhhh-lianico.  Not familiar with this grape? Originally from Greece, Aglianico made its way to Southern Italy where it became a signature grape in Basilicata and Campania.  It produces a full-bodied wine with structured tannins and acid to match.

This grape does well in hot, sunny climates so it is not surprising that it is shining in Texas.  Duchman Family Winery produces their Aglianico with grapes sourced from the Reddy and Oswald Vineyards in the Texas High Plains AVA.

Dave Reilly made a bold move with this bold grape and it has paid off in a big way.

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In the glass, the wine is brick-red with a burnt orange rim.  That’s either a nod to our local university or to the origins of the grape.  My understanding was that Italian wines often have the rusty ring around the glass.  Maybe some domestically produced wines do as well.

On the nose I get red cherry and a ton of cinnamon.   Red cherry, baking spices, violet with a different note highlighted in every sip. The time in the bottle has allowed the flavors to really integrate and blossom.  It is full of flavor, but the acid keeps it from being heavy.  It is structured, but has the honest, rustic nature you expect from Italian wines.

The birthday boy has requested pizza for dinner.  He is five, after all. So while this wine calls for hearty, chewy Italian or grilled meats, pizza will work just fine.  It could be the cooler weather, it could be the wine, but if I had my druthers I would put this with chunky tomatoes or mushrooms.  Maybe a Bolognese.  Tonight I will be blissful with anything I don’t have to cook and a full glass of this beauty.

You may have noticed the subtitle of this: Texas Tuesday.  I am really excited about what I am seeing and tasting in the Texas wine industry and my goal is to be more purposeful about getting the word out.  So, while it may not be very Tuesday, I am aiming to make Tuesdays for Texas wine.  And this was a great way to start. Cheers!