Stay at home mom, lover of wine



Balance, Bubbles, and Bertolucci

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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,


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




Storytellers-Sequoia Grove

This past summer, my family and I flew into San Francisco, pieced together equipment from my brother and father-in-law, and headed north.  I had seen them before.  I was probably eight.  At that age, everything seems a bit taller than it does now.  You tilt your head back, way back and gaze up, up, up until the weight of your upper body nearly tumbles you backward.  Even then, I knew I was in a special place.  There was nothing that approached that size in the Adirondacks.  No cone that large, no trunk so vast.  And there was a stillness, a sense of reverence.

California 2013 321

I knew the Sequoia Groves were magical then.  My children felt that same sense of awe.  They looked up,up,up and were delighted when they could see the top.  They climbed, giggled, wondered as I had years before.  What have these trees seen?  How much more will they see?  The sense of time palpable, I thought of how much life I’ve lived since I was there last and how little time frame was in the life of the tree.  I thought of how my mother taught me about what I was seeing, how I hoped my daughter would do the same one day.  Tradition, strength, a sense of place.

I had the honor of attending a winemaker dinner a few weeks ago.  Molly Hill of Sequoia Grove Winery was in town with her representative from Kobrand, Mike Zinni.  The dinner was at The Salty Sow and even though it occurred in a week already filled, I did not want to miss the opportunity.  I had read about their history, their approach to winemaking and knew the wine would be something special.

Founded by Jim Allen in 1980, they began making classically structured Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  Michael Trujillo began as a cellar worker and is now President and Director of Winemaking.  Molly Hill began in 03 and was promoted to winemaker in 08.

Together, they have refined, acquired, and revised to produce the best wine possible.  Being in Rutherford AVA, the Bordeaux varieties flourish.  With the acquisition of the Tonella Vineyard, they’ve been able to go from 80% sourced to 80% estate grown.  Through relationships with other growers, they are able to source the highest quality fruit, continually evaluating and striving.  Each lot is sorted twice, kept separate through fermentation.  In Trujillo’s words, they “like to use Andre Tchelistcheff’s analogy for making tea.  You steep and taste, steep and taste, until it’s just right.”

I think they are on to something.  Each wine we tasted was “just right.”  Not overly manipulated, great fruit, balance.  We started with the 13 Chardonnay.  The color was phenomenal.  Beautiful nose: apple, stone fruit.  The fruit was intense and rang through.  It begins fermentation in stainless and ends in French oak.  Citrus, apple, minerality, often lost with too much oak, were pronounced.

We then moved on to the 10 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I got stuck just on the nose.  Super layered, structured, enticing.  Black fruit, cocoa, maybe coffee?  something vegetative?  On the palate, black cherry and cocoa with a beautiful finish.  Approachable and complex.

The final wine of the evening was the 09 Cambium.  This wine was perfectly balanced, incredibly smooth.  Black and red fruit, earth, floral notes, and bit of cocoa.  Subtle fruit, layered, incredible mouthfeel.  A gorgeous wine.

Reading through the marketing literature, I found out more about the origin of the Cambium wine.  The term “Cambium” refers to “a living layer of cells, between the bark and hardwood, that each year produces additional wood and bark”.  It is the living force that grows the massive Sequoia and the delicate vines.  As Michael Trujlllo said, “The cambium imprints the memory of the vintage on the grapes and that’s what I want in the wine.  Each bottle holds the memory of the sun and the soil-the memory of the season.”

There are Sequoia on the property for which the winery is named. They towered over the Rutherford valley long before they were colored with vines.  The vines have their own stories to tell.  They may not have seen all the towering trees have seen, but they are capable of sharing those stories with us.  Molly Hill and Michael Trujillo have become the storytellers, giving the fruit a voice.  And just as the place for which it is named, each bottle of Sequoia Grove contains a tale of tradition, strength, and a sense of place.

Classic and Elegant-Franciscan Estates

When I was teaching, I didn’t review the files of my students right away.  I wanted to meet them, interact, observe with no preconceived notions about the individual.  After a time, in preparation for a goal-setting conference, I would look at what previous teachers had found in their time with the student in order to best serve that child.  Sometimes the notes were surprising; often they echoed my observations.

When reviewing a wine, I like to come to it with a clear palate and a clear mind. When I have had sufficient time with the wine, I like to go back and read the winemaker’s notes and the history of the vineyard. Each piece of information paints a picture and build my understanding of the industry, the winemaker, and the wine itself.  It also serves as a means for self-examination.  Did I pick up on that nuance?  Did it remind me of another wine from the same AVA?  Do I have a good understanding of how that variety typically shows?  And did the pairing I chose work or not with all of this in mind?  Then I go back to the wine with this knowledge and continue to learn. 

When I tasted the 2011 Franciscan Chardonnay and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, they both elicited the same response.  These are very classic wines; these are very elegant wines.  If I were to think of a well done California Chardonnay or Cabernet from Oakville, the flavor profile of these wines would come to mind.  

Thanks to one of my favorite wine writers, Meg Houston Maker, I have learned how to best plan a meal to go with the wine.  Taste, plan, then revisit. Sometimes I have the luxury of time to do that, most often I do not.  The evening that I opened the Chardonnay, I did not have time to plan well, but happened to get lucky.  I had family at my house for a short time and had to pull something together.  I had bought a frozen Salmon filet so I quick thawed it, drizzled it with olive oil and dusted it with herbs and lemon zest.  I made orzo with goat cheese and lemon and asparagus.  I chilled the wine and dinner was on the table thirty minutes later.    

The wine was round and supple, a very elegant mouth feel.  The fruit was intense and the vanilla from the oak made it almost sweet and very creamy.  It was sturdy enough to hold up to the hearty Salmon and the acid of the lemon.  Each brought out the best in the other. 

With the Cabernet I made a Roasted Pepper Goulash with caraway seeds and paprika.  I had thought about pairing it with a peppery Syrah, but really wanted to try this Cab, so the Franciscan won.  This is an instance where the pairing worked, but it may have not been the best.  Either way, the wine was fabulous.  Dark cherry, spice, and a hint of rich cocoa.  Big enough to hold up to most anything, but not intimidating.  Smooth and delightful.  In the future, I would likely pair it with a grilled New York strip or something simpler.  It is such a classic wine, that a more classic pairing would allow the wine more room to shine without competition from a powerful sauce. 

When I sat down this morning to read more about the history and winemaking at Franciscan Estates, I felt as if I had passed an exam.  The descriptions and philosophy were very much in line with my experiences with these wines.  In the letter from Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking, she even states that, “they represent classic expressions of each variety.”  My thoughts exactly.  I say this, not to pat myself on the back, but to say that the process of learning about wine does not have to be intimidating.  It is as simple as being mindful during your experience.  Take note of all you smell, taste, see.  What does it remind you of?  Have you tasted a wine like this before?  Do you like certain aspects more than others?  Then read, learn, and reflect.  Repeat as necessary. Or as desired.

Disclaimer: These wines were provided as samples from Folsom and Associates.  The opinions are my own.

East Coast vs. West Coast

This week I decided to sample two Chardonnays, back to back, for an East Coast/West Coast showdown.  The first Chardonnay was the 2010 Biltmore Reserve Chardonnay from North Carolina and the second was the 2010 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay ($20).

The Biltmore was very easy to drink.  Which was great because we opened it after my son’s third birthday party.  I’d love to tell you how it paired, but we didn’t get that far.  A fresh pear green in color, with similar nose.  Hints of citrus, rounded with a bit of buttery notes.  There was some of the banana that you find with malo-lactic fermentation.  I would say this would be a very versatile wine, but not to pair it as you typically would when you think Chardonnay.  The oak was light, the fruit remained on the crisper side.  A fun take on Chardonnay, for sure.

We opened the Robert Mondavi for dinner last night.  I made a light pasta with asparagus, mushrooms, and chicken.  This was, what I consider to be, a very classic Chardonnay.  Classic, but without the heaviness that is sometimes overwhelming.  A pear yellow, lighter than some Chardonnays, but don’t let that fool you.  This bottle drinks like one that is older.  Pear, something tropical, and a floral perfume.  I tasted lemon, apple, some tannic notes, and a nutty, creamy finish.  There is definitely oak, but it doesn’t hit you in the back of the throat as some do.  I enjoyed this wine, especially as it hit the right temperature. 

So who won the bi-coastal showdown?  I think it depends on what you’re looking for in a Chardonnay.  A fun, lighter fruit forward wine with subtle oak or a creamy classic one?  Personally, I can’t call a winner.  As with most wines, there is a time and a meal for each of these.

*{Disclosure: I was provided with these wines from PR Firm, Folsom & Associates. All statements and opinions expressed in this article are my own.}

A Taste of Home-Lamoreaux Landing

A few weeks ago, I had my first weekend away since becoming a mom four years ago.  When the possibility of a weekend jaunt arose, it was clear where I wanted, no needed, to go-home.  Well, not quite home, but close.  Although I have been in Austin for nearly half of my life, Upstate New York will always be home. So a trip to the Finger Lakes, to visit one of my dearest friends, was just what I needed.

I had visited Ithaca in the mid-90s and had stopped at a winery, but was just learning about wine at the time, so I thought I would have my hosts pick a few possibilities.  I was intrigued by the wine offerings at Lamoreaux Landing, but knew that was going to be our destination after corresponding with one of the owners, Josh Wig.

Lamoreaux Landing sits above Seneca Lake with magnificent views and an inviting tasting room.  Towering windows,warm wood floors, great displays, and plenty of browsing room.  A space large enough to accommodate summer crowds, cozy enough to linger on a quiet winter day.  As impressive as the room is, it pales in comparison to the wines.

When tasting, I find that the host can make or break your experience. Laura, the Special Events Coordinator, was our host and could not have been better.  Warm, patient, knowledgeable and an all-around pleasure.    We started with the Riesling.  They do six Rieslings here, three are Single Vineyard.  All were fabulous.  The ’08 Reserve has a good balance of minerality and fruit- a touch of citrus and orange blossom. The ’10 had more of a lemony long finish.  The ’10 Semi Dry had softer, honeyed fruit and a long finish.  Of the Single Vineyards, Red Oak was our favorite.  Really big flavor.  Honeysuckle and pear, creamy and delicious.  Although grown so close geographically, each SV Riesling was so different.  Round Rock has a clean minerality (shale/slate) and a touch of gooseberries (I got currant or something, but borrowed gooseberries from their description).  Yellow Dog has more stone fruit , blossoms, and a touch of citrus.

Knowing my palate would only stand so much tasting, we skipped around after the Rieslings and tried a few that were new to me.  The 42 North was an interesting blend.  Mostly Moscato, this wine had fruit and floral notes with a touch of spice (coriander) and would be great with Thai.  The 08 Chardonnay was lovely.  Held  mostly in oak, it had the creamy roundness you would expect, but the time in stainless steel gives the fruit more of a chance to shine.  At $12.99 it is a bargain.  The Estate Red is another excellent bargain.  Cab Franc, Pinot, and Merlot.  Perfectly balanced and a perfect Monday wine at $11.99.  Finally, the big surprise for me was a 2009 T23 Cabernet Franc.  An unoaked Cabernet Franc.  I have never had anything like it.  It has all the big fruit, earthy herbs that you would expect from a Cab Franc and yet, it had a light finish.  Cranberry and soft tannins, this wine would be really versatile in pairings.  Big enough, but not too big for about anything.  Really interesting wine.

When we headed out to Lodi, I had read the accolades in popular publications.  I was impressed by the property. I was rooting for my home state so I was really hopeful that I would like the wine.  I didn’t just like the wine, I LOVED the wine.  I was blown away by the quality for the price point.  I tried things that were completely new to me and was tickled by the depth and variance in the Single Vineyard Rieslings.  And to top it all off, the people were as delightful as the wine.  I cannot recommend this winery enough.  I’d like to say the day was without but disappointment, but there was one.  A big one.  They can’t ship to Texas.  Devastating.  But all the more reason to head back home.

Gobble, Gobble, Gewurztraminer

Turkey Day is almost upon us!  I think you could go in several directions for pairing your gobbler and your goblet, but one particular favorite is a dry Gewurztraminer.  Gundlach Bundschu has a FABULOUS one.  Here is the description in Wine Enthusiast:

“A very nice example of a dry Gewurtz. Name an exotic spice, and you’ll find it here, especially cinnamon. The fruit is all about oranges, pears and lychee, while acidity is brisk and fine. Will challenge home chef and sommelier pairing talent. Pork and stewed fruit come to mind”. (90 points)

Equally fabulous are the promotional videos they have pulled together this year-Turkey Love.  If you have five minutes, they are worth viewing. 

Depending on your sides and personal preference, you can always go with a Chardonnay or Pinot.  I am curious to hear from you folks on this one.  What is your favorite Thanksgiving wine?  Do you go with more reasonable and more of it?  Or one glass of something super special?  Is there a side you have in mind or do focus on the bird?  (or Tofurkey, Turducken, Spam?)  Whatever you pour, you will, no doubt, have much to be thankful for this year! Cheers!

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