A Surprise in Any Package-Monday Wines with Banfi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taste the Memory- Brunello di Montalcino and Snooth Virtual Tasting

I had been once before.  My parents and I weaved and wandered through Umbria to the hills of Tuscany.  It was the year 2000.  They carefully planned our route to highlight loves from their previous visit. Assisi, Montepulciano, to Montalcino.  We nibbled on Ricciarelli as we combed the cobbled streets.  Although we visited a few tasting rooms that day, I did not know much about what I was tasting.

When I returned seven years later, I came with both a husband and a love of wine. Not an abundance of knowledge, but a well established affinity.  Our course was defined by both a desire to share what I had seen years before and epicurean exploration.  When we entered the medieval walls of Montalcino, we were met with crowds and signs indicating and food and wine festival that was about to begin.  Luck was on our side.  When the booths opened, there was one thing I wanted:a glass of Brunello di Montalcino.   We found a bench overlooking the hills of Tuscany and toasted.

In 2007 with Brunello di Montalcino

In 2007 with Brunello di Montalcino

Brunello di Montalcino is 100% Sangiovese grown in one of the warmest, most arid climates of Tuscany.  It is fermented  and held in Slavonian Oak.

Fattoria dei Barbi was established as a winemaking estate in 1790 making it one of the oldest estates to continually produce wine in the region. Colombini is the 20th generation heir. With new technology and respect for tradition, the name continues to well represent the region. These grape are hand-harvested and given a “cold-soak” for 48 hours before fermentation.

Tonight I will join Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth’s Editor-in-Chief and Fattoria dei Barbi’s owner Stefano Colombini to discuss five examples of Brunello that are currently available.

When the invitation to participate in tonight’s event came, I was thrilled.  When I opened the shipment, I was taken back.  As I turned over and inspected each label, I couldn’t help but smile.  One of the bottles we will be tasting tonight is from the 2007 vintage.  The same grapes that were just breaking on the vine as we meandered through the back roads of the region, were potentially the grapes in the bottle I was holding.  And I can’t wait to taste them.

Join us tonight, April 27th at 8:30est, 5:30pst for a discussion of Brunello.   We will be tasting:

  • 2013 Brusco dei Barbi
  • 2011 Rosso di Montalcino
  • 2008 Brunello di Montalcino
  • 2008 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
  • 2007 Vigna del Fiore

For more information on tonight’s tasting, please visit Snooth and grab a bottle of Fattoria dei Barbi to join the discussion.  Salute!

 

Spring Forward

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

A Day Late…But Not a Bit Short

Last night was the Texas Wine Twitter chat featuring three lovely wines and Chef Josh Watkins of The Carillon Restaurant here in Austin (see pairings below).  I will be making that Celery root and apple soup with Duchman Viognier soon.  Because we have been in full combat mode, fighting a nasty respiratory virus, I had to miss the tasting at a fellow Texas wine lover’s house and could only tweet vicariously.  I made up for it today.  

My husband made a pork tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto and sage.  My brother-in-law made salad with pears sautéed in maple syrup which became part of the vinaigrette.  My job was to pair and hold my sweet son.  Honestly, a kangaroo pouch would have come in handy the last few days since he’s too big for a sling and can’t be off me for more than a minute at a time when he’s sick.

I paired the meal with McPherson Sangiovese.  A good pairing brings out the best in both and this was spot on.  The fruit was subtle as to not compete, but with enough earthy backbone to hold its own.  The salt of the prosciutto, the sweet of the pear, the acidity of the vinaigrette all worked with the Sangiovese.  Yum.

This is a very food friendly wine that can go in many directions and blend right in.  I have joked before that I think Kim McPherson and I have kindred palates.  I love everything he makes.  The Sangiovese is no exception.  Thanks to Chef Josh Watkins for the great suggestions and to all the Texas wine advocates and producers for all you do!

 Duchman Family Winery Viognier

Celery root-apple soup
Spiced apples with brandy syrup

McPherson Sangiovese
Free-raised veal tenderloin with sweet potato hash, and mustard greens with bacon gastrique
Beef tenderloin with Brussels sprouts and potato puree
Braised beef short ribs with grill romaine and pickled radish

Fall Creek or Messina Hof Muscat Canelli (semi-sweet)
Buttermilk panna cotta
Manchester cheese
Almond cake

Molto Bene, Y’all

What happens when you grow Italian grapes in Texas? Un bel vino. A beautiful wine. The more I am learning about Texas wine, the more I am convinced that growing Mediterranean varietals are the way to go. Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Mouvedre all thrive in this climate and the vintners that have figured this out are doing beautiful things.

Photo courtesy of Duchman Winery

Photo courtesy of Duchman Winery

After our visit to Salt Lick Cellars a couple of weeks ago, we decided to also visit Duchman Family Winery while we were in the vicinity. I had tried some of their wines in previous years, but I had been reading a lot about their Vermentino and the multiple accolades it was receiving. Pear dominated the nose. Crisp and green in the front, the citrus and pear create a long, and clean finish. I was getting something floral but couldn’t determine specifically. They describe it as “white flowers.” Perfect. No surprise it has been so well received. The Trebbiano had a sweeter nose, tropical fruits and citrus, and less of a finish. My favorite white was, no surprise, the Viognier. A bit more acidic than some, the fruit was alive. Bright and balanced with a lot of stone fruits: apricot, peach, and some citrus to make it dance. Super yummy. I brought home one bottle, but should have gotten more. Fortunately, it can be easily found in the area. We then tasted the Sangiovese. I love the bright red fruit of this wine. Light on tannins, and easy on the palate. The Dolcetto had more of the black fruits, a bit richer than the Sangiovese, but still medium bodied. We brought home one of each.

Since we were suffering from the BBQ hangover, I made a vegetarian Antipasto for dinner. Grilled and fresh veggies, olives and cherry peppers, and a couple of cheeses. The Sangiovese complemented it perfectly. I enjoyed the wine at the winery but, by the end of the bottle, I adored the wine. As it opened, what was bright and more acidic became round and luscious. If we’d had more, we would have opened it. Instead we dove into the Dolcetto. My Father-in-Law from Sonoma has always been skeptical of Texas wines. Duchman made him a believer.

I have spoken about how your host at a winery can make or break the experience. In full disclosure, on my previous visit to Duchman, the men helping us didn’t seem to interested in helping. It soured the experience. As much as I had enjoyed the wine, I didn’t enjoy the visit. This time, the people could not have been nicer. Jordan was friendly and knowledgeable. The women in the office were great with my children. I can see that we will be going out to Driftwood more frequently. The wines are delicious, the prices are more than reasonable, and the facility is lovely. What more could you ask for? Grazie, Duchman Family.

A Sunny Saturday at Solaro

It is hard to beat Austin in March.  The Mountain Laurels, with their grape scented clusters, are in full bloom.  The landscape is painted with every green you can imagine.  The sky, cerulean and vast, illuminates the rebirth.  It is almost criminal to stay inside.  So when my parents offered us a date this past weekend, there was only one thing on my mind- a Hill Country Winery.

There are several wineries within a thirty minute drive of Austin, and I have hit most of them, but I was looking for a new adventure.  My husband and I decided it was time to hit Solaro Estate in Dripping Springs. 

This winery is truly a labor of love.  The family has incorporated the Old World traditions from their family winery in Solaro, Italy.  The wines are produced using only grapes grown in Texas.   Some are grown on their 160 acres, others are purchased from the Texas vineyards that have the most favorable conditions for the particular varietal.  The family is directly involved in every step, from picking the grapes to hand racking the wines.  Jessica, our host for the tasting, educates the guests and pushes the button to cork the bottles on bottling day.  The dedication and love are reflected in the wines.

We began our tasting with a Montage Blanc (70% Viognier, 20% unoaked Chardonnay, 5% Muscat Canelli, %5 Chenin Blanc).  Honeysuckle nose, medium body, well-balanced.  Soft peach and floral with a clean finish.  A great sipping wine.  Our next white was Arancia, a dry orange muscat.  Big flavor in front.  Think orange creamsicle with out the sugar.  Since I prefer dry wines in general, I really liked this take on what is typically a sweeter wine.  This wine received a Silver medal in the Finger Lakes Competition.  In fact, of the six wines Solaro submitted, four medaled in the competition.

We transitioned to reds in a big way.  The 2010 Mourvèdre is big.  There is nothing “young” tasting about this wine.  Cherry, vanilla, earthy nose.  Soft, round, cherry, and plum with rustic heft.  Then we had the Lisse, which means smooth.  The blending of 40% Merlot with the Mourvèdre changed it up.  It added surprising tart qualities (in a good way) and a long finish which inspired the name.

Sangiovese does well when grown in limestone so it is a natural fit in Texas.  As with the other red wines at Solaro, it is unfiltered, a beautiful ruby-red.  Bright, silky, Strawberry spice.  The Tempranillo was incredibly smooth.  Soil and spice and everything nice; it developed with each sip.  Solaro also does a Bordorosso, an even blend of Merlot and Tempranillo which is held for 27 months in French Oak.  Rich fruit and chocolate.  The Merlot brought out even more spice in the Tempranillo.

Finally, the pièce de résistance: Cheval 5.  Solaro is home to five Thouroughbred horses, thus the name of this winner.  A blend of Tempranillo, Mourvèdre, Sangiovese, Barbera, and Ruby Cabernet.  (If you are, as I was, unfamiliar with Ruby Cabernet, take the time to read up on it.  An interesting hybrid.)  Raspberry and rhubarb on the nose.  A brilliant red.  Fruit in the front, huge in the mid-palate, and an incredibly smooth finish.  An amazing wine.  If you are lucky enough to spend a Saturday at Solaro, you can sample this beauty by the glass at a great discount while listening to their music series.  This wine alone is worth the visit.

I love being “wowed” by Texas wines. I love seeing family-run wineries excel at what they are doing.  I love when the people at a winery add to the charm of the experience.  Solaro Estate exceeded my expectations in each of these areas and was an all around delight.  A perfect way to get outside and spend a spring afternoon near Austin.   With the impending release of the Barbera, I think we will be heading west again soon.

Let’s Get it Started

This past weekend, I started 2012 off right.  By “right,” I mean with two fabulous women at a winery on a warm winter day.  We ventured out to Driftwood Winery to get some quality time and take a moment to sit back and catch our collective breath after the chaos of the holidays.

If you have not had the privilege of spending a day out at the winery, I highly recommend it.  It is seated atop a hill country bluff, overlooking the vineyard, surrounded by live oaks.  If you time it right, the lighting at sunset is spectacular.  The winter here in the hill country is a bit of a misnomer most of the time.  It is not uncommon to have a dry, breezy 65 degree day.  Days like this are the reason we suffer through the summer.  They beg for a picnic basket, friends, and a bottle of wine.

We have several up and coming wineries in central Texas, but one of my favorites is Driftwood Winery.  Unpretentious attitude, several tasty varietals, and there is no shortage of chairs, tables, and open grass upon which to lay a blanket.  I learned after the first visit to come prepared with cheese, crackers, and various sundries to nosh upon while swirling a glass of their finest.  Seriously, you won’t want to leave until the sun fades behind the hills, ushering in a good breeze across the valley.

Now, let’s talk wine.  It is, after all, why we head out there.  For $5.00, you can choose any 5 wines to taste.  This past weekend, there were thirteen to choose from:3 dry whites, 5 dry reds, 2 dry red reserves, 2 wines from a Paso Robles sister vineyard, and 5 sweet wines.  My sister and I chose 5 different ones so we could tasty more.  Aren’t we tricky?  Fortunately for us (not for her), our friend was doing a fast and abstaining (WHAT??) so we had a chauffeur.

My perennial favorites remained the winners in my book.  They make a fantastic Viognier.  This visit they were pouring a 2010 ($18.00) which we both liked enough to share a bottle.  Round, apricot/peach with a touch of brightness.  It is my favorite white varietal anyway, and I really like their’s.  My other favorite used to be called Super Texan, but another local vineyard bought the rights to that name, so now they have to call it, simply, Sangiovese ($18.00).    It is 76% of its namesake, 8% each of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah- a Hill Country cousin to an Italian Super Tuscan.  The B&E Red Rhythm (35.00) was also  really nice.  It is a Merlot, Cab, Syrah blend that won Double Gold Best of Class Judges Choice in San Fransisco.  My sister brought home a bottle of that for her husband.  He’s a good guy. She’s a great gal.

Many people are surprised that we grow wine in Texas.  We do.  And some of it is pretty darn good.  In fact, we Texans (can I call myself that now after 16 yrs?) had a big hand in saving the French wine industry.  Oui, oui.  So if you live here in the Hill Country, and you haven’t been out to Driftwood, grab someone (and some cheese) you love and head out for a wonderful afternoon.  If you aren’t lucky enough to call the Hill Country home, come visit.  Just not in August.  I’ll happily take you out for the day.  The tour is gratis, although I do accept tips in the form of vino.  Cheers, y’all.