Sunday, March 29, 2020

What I'm Drinking Now - Wine at Home

As in many households, more wine is being consumed at my home now since the stay-home order has been issued to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic. As I am more likely to write tasting notes while at home than when I am out in restaurants, I wanted to share some of the wines that we have been enjoying recently.

Francois Diligent Brut Nature Pinot Blanc Champagne NV - While every wine student knows the three main grapes of Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, many people don't know that there are actually seven approved grapes that could be in your bottle. This 100% Pinot Blanc sparkler was sourced from the Côte des Bar and spent three years on its lees. It is a Brut Nature which means that no sugar was added. It is currently on the list at Backstreet Cafe and is available chilled on the restaurant's take-out menu.
Fresh and dry with a more rounded feel, it had notes of pear and almond with a persistent mousse and clean finish. It was delicious with our takeout dinner of crab-cakes and spicy crab bucatini. Affordably priced at $39, this unique bottle of bubbles is a great choice to upgrade your dining at home experience.

Cantele Chardonnay 2018 - This Italian Chardonnay is sourced from Guagnano and Montemesola in Puglia. Surprisingly aromatic, I had to check to see if it was blended, it is not, it is 100% Chardonnay which has been fermented in stainless steel. 
In the glass, it displayed typical citrus aromas and flavors but it also had abundant floral notes, primarily chamomile with hints of lily. The wine is dry, medium bodied, and has a lingering finish. I served this wine with grilled chicken, sautéed mushrooms, roasted potatoes, and green beans. 
This easy drinking white was purchased at Vinology Bottle Shop & Wine Bar for $18 during a winemaker tasting event, it has since sold out.

Domaine Séguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume 2015 - I am a lover of Chablis wines and this one was no exception. The Fourchaume vineyard area is one of the most well-known Premier Cru vineyards in the region. It is located north of the town of Chablis on the east bank of the Serein river where there are limestone soils. I had opened this bottle to enjoy with some salmon roe on blinis while we waited on my son and his girlfriend. I had already prepared rice pilaf and had some shrimp ready to cook for dinner. 
This white was crisp and dry with a medium body displaying notes of peach, pear, and a hint of white pepper, with citrus blossom and zest in the long mineral-laced finish. It was elegant, it was rich, it was beautifully balanced. 
I decided to open a bottle of rosé for my son and his girlfriend to have with the grilled shrimp just so my husband and I could have the rest of the bottle for ourselves. This bottle was purchased at Spec's over a year ago for about $37.


Matthiasson Limerick Lane Vineyard Zinfandel 2017 - This wine is sourced from a vineyard in the Russian River Valley that Steve Matthiasson helped a friend plant in 2008. It is not your typical California Zin, Steve Matthiasson made the choice to produce a lighter, fresher style that he refers to as a “California Claret”. 
Bursting with mixed berry aromas and flavors, the wine is dry, soft, and zesty with only 14.2% ABV. Fresh and easy drinking, it was delicious with our barbecued brisket and ribs. This wine was purchased directly from the winery which I have been doing yearly ever since I made a visit there in 2015.

Bending Branch Newsom Vineyards Tempranillo 2012 - Sourced from one of the largest vineyards in the state located in the High Texas Plains, this wine is a dry, medium-bodied red that is loaded with black cherry fruit, black pepper spiciness, and a hint of mint. Despite being 8 years old, it still seems quite youthful. It is nicely balanced with good acidity and soft, silky tannins. There is an interesting mix of sweet cherry flavors and a hint of tartness which continues through the lingering finish. Beautiful, elegant, and a delight to drink!
I pulled this bottle from the back of my collection. I had tasted it when it was the current release but the Bending Branch Tannat that year was what had really impressed me and was the one I chose to recommend in Galveston Monthly magazine. This Tempranillo was aged 24 months in American Oak, the same length of time a Spanish Rioja Gran Reserva would be in barrel and I found the oak to not be very integrated at that time. A Rioja Gran Reserva calls for a total of five years of aging including time in the bottle before release. The additional years of bottle aging have done this wine well!  
This was the wine I chose to share on the #TXWine Twitter chat this week which happens every Tuesday night at 7:00pm CST. 

All of these wines are highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

En Primeur at Fall Creek Vineyards


  Texas cattle ranchers, Ed and Susan Auler, became excited with the idea of growing wine grapes after a trip to France in 1973. Ed saw many similarities in the soils and climates in the great vineyard areas of France and his land back home. He was certain that some of the unique features of the Texas Hill Country would make it ideal for grape growing. Over the next decade, they began to bring their dream to fruition by first planting a test vineyard on a corner of their Fall Creek Ranch in 1975 and then eventually progressing into making wine.The couple was also the force behind the Texas Hill Country getting their AVA status.
  
  Today, Fall Creek Winery produces many award winning wines and has long been revered for their Bordeaux-style blend Meritus. A recent project by current winemaker, Sergio Cuadra, is the single varietal ExTerra line. This premium group of three wines is sourced from the Salt Lick Vineyards and includes wine made from Tempranillo, Syrah, and Mourvedre and all have received high scores from critics.

  I visited with Ed Auler at the Fall Creek tasting room in Driftwood when I first arrived to the Hill Country. I sampled three of the rosé wines they are producing this year, the Chez Rosé,  the Merlot Rosé “Vintner’s Selection”, and the Grenache Rosé “Vintner’s Selection,” all from 2019. Each one is sourced from the Texas Hill Country appellation and is charming in their own unique way.  Ed shared the story of his and Susan’s early trip to France with me. They initially went to look at a French breed of cattle that they were interested in breeding with their Angus beef. Ed laughed as he recounted how they spent two days looking at cattle and nineteen days touring and tasting wine across France. Their family thought they had lost their minds when they returned home and discussed their idea to plant a vineyard.

  On day 2 of my trip, I went to the original Fall Creek location in Tow, TX and was greeted by Sergio Cuadra who led me out to the estate vineyard. He explained that they were in the process of retraining their vines to help “renew the plant.” The vines have been spur pruned for decades and they are transitioning to cane pruning. The goal is to improve both yields and quality. Most Texas vineyards had followed the California method of cordon training and spur pruning when they were originally planted. Sergio feels that this is not the best method for these Hill Country vineyards. He has previously worked for Viña San Pedro, Anakena, and Viña Concha y Toro in Chile and said, “I did not come here to make great Texas wines, instead I came here to make great, world-class wines that just happen to grow in Texas.”

  Forty-five years later. the Aulers, along with the other first families of Texas wine, have proven they were visionaries and not so crazy after all. Today, the winery produces five different lines of wine priced from $12-100 which allows wine lovers at every price point to enjoy a taste of Texas from one of the modern day pioneer couples of Texas wine. 


The tasting:

Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Vintner’s Selection Escondido Valley 2019 - This area was once under the Gulf. Its formation dates back to the Cretaceous period, the soils are composed of clay, sandstone, siltstone, and limestone. The sandstone is highly calcareous and, in some areas, contains beds of oyster shells. It is very dry with little rain which has kept the minerals from leaching from the soils. The vineyard was an experiment planted in the 1970s by Texas A&M and the University of Texas. Very little Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Texas, the acreage isn’t even counted, so this is a very unique wine for the state. The wine is fresh and lightly fruity with citrus notes and a distinct saline minerality that persists through the lingering finish.

Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay Vintner’s Selection Texas Hill Country 2018 - Sourced from sandy loam soils with fragmented sandstone and mixed clay below, this wine is fermented and aged with sur lie stirring for five months in a stainless steel tank before bottling. It is fresh and flavorful with a medium body, classic notes of apple and citrus and a lush feel from the lees stirring and has a lengthy finish.

Fall Creek Vineyards Chardonnay Terroir Reflection Certenberg Vineyard 2019 - This wine was a barrel sample, it still looked a bit cloudy and is not ready for release. The grapes are hand selected from a single vineyard with sandy loam soils with fragmented sandstone and mixed clay. It goes through malolactic fermentation and will be aged sur lie in French oak barrique for about 13 months before bottling. Sergio waits for the natural Diacetyl, which gives wine a buttery note to dissipate. This wine has juicy, tropical notes  and a hint of spice with a bigger structure and a richer texture than the previous Chardonnay. 

Fall Creek Vineyards Chez Rosé 2019 - This was the most affordable rosé in the lineup that I tasted yesterday. It is composed primarily of Merlot (87%) with some Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were grown to be a rosé wine versus an early bleeding off from a red wine production. It is dry, fresh, and fruity with notes of sweet red fruit.

Fall Creek Vineyards GSM Terroir Reflection Salt Lick Vineyards 2017 - This wine is made from a blend of Grenache 4%, Syrah 36%, and Mourvèdre 60% sourced from    clay and loam topsoils over weathered limestone. The vineyard is deep and nutrient rich from years of flooding from nearby Onion Creek. The wine is loaded with red fruit flavors and has a savory edge to the finish.

Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo Terroir Reflection Salt Lick Vineyards 2018 - This wine was a barrel sample. It is barrel aged for 18 months in predominantly American oak of which 20% new. The wine is showing red fruit and sweet spice notes.

Fall Creek Vineyards Tempranillo ExTerra Salt Lick Vineyards 2017 - This wine has just been released. This wine is produced from the same clay and loam topsoils over weathered limestone of the Salt Lick Vineyards but from the highest quality grapes which are carefully selected. In the last vintage, only 72 cases were produced. The wine is full-bodied and robust with a firm tannic structure with notes of red cherry, plum, and currant fruit with hints of tobacco smoke, sweet spice, and coffee along with a persistent finish. It is barrel-aged for 18 months in 66% new American oak.

Fall Creek Vineyards Meritus Certenberg Vineyards 2018 - Prior to the advent of the ExTerra line, this wine was the most premium priced in the line up. Like the ExTerra line, it is only made when the quality of the vintage warrants it. The blend is composed of Merlot (80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%) from the Certenberg Vineyards and is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels with an additional 2 years in bottle before release. The plum notes from the Merlot defines the flavor profile of the wine while the Cabernet Sauvignon adds black currant and floral violet notes. It is firmly structured yet elegant with good aging potential.

  In addition to these wines, Sergio offered up barrel samples of three new wines which are not finished yet but with which they are experimenting: a Pinot Noir, a Carignan, and a Cabernet Sauvignon from a new vineyard area. I was quite taken with both the pale and elegant Pinot Noir and the fruit forward Cabernet. The Carignan was very acidic and quite earthy, Sergio stated that he is looking at it as a potential blending component due to its natural higher acidity.

  Fall Creek is one of the oldest 100% Texas grown and Texas made wineries in the state. It is a quintessential stop when hitting the Texas Wine Trail whether in Driftwood, located outside of Austin, or at the original Tow location. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Rosé All Day this Spring

As originally seen in the March issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

  Springtime is upon us and the time to think pink has begun. This month, all of the recommended wines are available on the Island so wine lovers can shop locally without leaving their spring break fun. Top picks include sparkling rosé from New Mexico, a Rioja, and a classic Provence pink. 
  Lovers of Texas wine will also find a suggestion of a Texas rosé to pre-order directly from the winery to make the most of their time off so they, too, can rosé all day.



Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Tropical Staycation with Spy Valley E Block

After a fair amount of traveling this summer with more still to come, I was looking forward to spending time at home with my family this week. Both of my millennial children have recently moved back to Houston but the home-cooked meals have been few and far between. I had recently received a sample of the Spy Valley E Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017 along with an invitation to participate in an on-line tasting with the Wine Pairing Weekend group (find them online under the hashtag #Winepw), this became the inspiration for this family gathering.

I gleefully sent out a group text, "I'm grilling poolside tonight, be home by 7:30 p.m. to eat, come earlier if you want to swim." I am surrounded by funny people as the responses reflect, "Who is this?", "What have you done with my mom?", "Not a good night, Bachelor in Paradise is on."

I was undeterred, I knew that they would come. I pulled the bottle out of the wine fridge to investigate what I was serving. The label had a wealth of information on it including, of course, the origin of the grapes, Waihopai Valley. While I certainly know a fair amount about Marlborough, it is New Zealand's largest wine producing region, Waihopai Valley was not a subregion with which I was familiar. A quick google search got me up to speed.

Per Wikipedia, "Waihopai Valley is an area near Blenheim in the Marlborough region of the South Island of New Zealand. The Waihopai River drains the area. The Government Communications Security Bureau operates what it describes as a satellite communications monitoring facility in the Waihopai Valley, which it GCSB Waihopai. It has been identified as being part of ECHELON, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by UKUSA consortium of intelligence agencies." 

How interesting, plus, it explained the winery's name. I decided to make a low prep dinner because I was working on a magazine deadline in conjunction with being an exemplary wife and mother. I also really wanted to make sure that I had time to enjoy a glass of wine in the pool before my guests arrived.

As soon as my article was submitted, I went grocery shopping without too much of a plan besides light and summery. As soon as I had everything prepped and ready at home, I opened the bottle and gave myself a generous pour before heading outside. The first sniff made me wish that I had bought the Texas Peach salsa instead of the one I had chosen. 

The Spy Valley E Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is loaded with aromas and flavors of fresh ripe peach. It also has notes of melon and tropical fruit with a distinct mineral edge from start to finish. Fresh and beautifully balanced with moderate alcohol and bright acidity, this wine had a pleasing texture and was a delight to drink. The light tropical note dances with the minerality through the lingering finish.



The dinner that I prepared was simple to make yet still a big hit with the family. Aside from the wine, everything came from Whole Foods - sustainably sourced food to go with my sustainably produced wine. We started with Hatchamole served with tortilla chips, heads up, that guacamole was spicier than I expected. Second course, I bought their in-store prepared jumbo lump crab cakes and cut them in half to make  normal sized cakes and gave each a little sprinkle of Mexican seasoning. I sautéed them in butter and topped them with warm pineapple-mango salsa. My husband and I each had one before the kids arrived because we were hungry and they were a little late. For our main course, I grilled jumbo shrimp skewers with peppers, onion, and tomatoes with more of the salsa on the side. I also grilled some fresh corn just because it is summer.
The wine was excellent with everything. It helped cool down the heat of the guacamole and was a great complement for both the crab cakes and the grilled shrimp. After dinner, we did turn on Bachelor in Paradise. It fit my tropical theme and added some drama and entertainment to an otherwise quiet evening, the wine definitely made the show more palatable as well.

I highly recommend the wine and this easy dinner for your next tropical staycation at home.

Join the discussion about New Zealand Wine on Twitter on Saturday morning by following at #WinePW. You can participate in this live chat at 11:00 ET, 10:00 CT, or 8:00 PT. 

You can also check out the other participating writers below and get their thoughts and menu ideas for pairing with an array of New Zealand wines. 


Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be making Hāngī in a Dutch Oven + Gimblett Gravels Malbec 2017
Linda of My Full Wine Glass will be posting New NZ wine, old Sicilian dish
Jane of Always Ravenous will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Fresh Flavors of Late Summer
Cindy of Grape Experiences will show how to Beat the Heat with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mint
Gwen at Wine Predator will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Zesty Arugula Kale Pesto Pizza and Salad 
Jennifer of Vino Travels Italy demonstrates Seeing the Potential of North Canterbury, NZ at Mt. Beautiful Winery
David of Cooking Chat  will be pairing Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings will be serving New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pan-fried Chinese Potstickers
Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm will be Discovering New Zealand Wines
Cynthia and Pierre of Traveling Wine Profs will be sipping New Zealand Chardonnay with a view of… The Pyrenees
Rupal the Syrah Queen will be drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Grilled Mediterranean Swordfish
Lori of Exploring the Wine Glass, is thankful that Humans May Only Be 5%, But They Make Great Wine

Friday, August 2, 2019

Going Organic at Château Peyruche

On one of Bordeaux's hottest days this summer, I rode with Chateau Peyruche's owner, Bertrand Weisgerber up into the vineyard to meet winemaker and vineyard manager, David Sarry, to learn more about their conversion to organic farming. Along the way, Weisgerber shared that locals refer to this area as "little Tuscany" because of the rolling hills and bucolic landscape.

Château Peyruche sits on the small hillsides of Langoiran which overlooks the Garonne River in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux region. The name comes from old French words meaning "rough stone." The estate is built on these calcareous rocks. The house was built in at least the 15th century, if not earlier, and was renovated in the 17th century. Weisgerber is now in the midst of renovating it again.

Weisgerber purchased the estate in early 2017. He had always wanted his own winery and upon seeing the historic property, he immediately fell in love with it. He quickly hired David Sarry to begin the three year long process of converting the estate to certified organic.

The vineyards are primarily planted with Merlot vines with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sémillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sarry explained that as hot and dry weather becomes more typical, they are planning on planting more Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot which are later ripening varieties to help manage alcohol levels.

Weisgerber shared that the property had enjoyed greater biodiversity in the 19th century and they were hoping to regain some of that with their care of the estate now. He pointed out some nearby walnut trees and he also added that the surrounding woods has led to some animal traffic coming through the vineyard. We headed back to the Château for a tour of the renovation, a tasting, and some lunch.


The wines:

Château Peyruche Bordeaux Blanc 2018 - After an erratic spring that brought lots of rain and hail threats, the year evolved into a beautiful summer and fall with a smooth harvest. The wine is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Sémillon grown on gravel, red clay and and limestone soils. The wine was fresh and bright with white nectarine and pear with hints of spice and floral notes. The wine has a rich, rounded feel from lees aging that was done partially in barrel. It was an elegant pairing with the local oysters.

Château Peyruche Bordeaux Rosé 2018 - Fruity and fresh with aromas and flavors of mixed red berries and a lingering finish, this Merlot rosé is ideal in the summer but can be enjoyed with simple seafood dishes all year.

Château Peyruche Côtes de Bordeaux 'Fûts de Chêne 2015 - This blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon came from a year that many have described as ideal. The wine is aged partially in new oak and partially in used oak for 12-14 months. Aromatic and fresh with cherry, berries, and plum, the wine is well-structured with a tannic backbone and a persistent spicy finish.

Château Peyruche Côtes de Bordeaux 'Fûts de Chêne 2017 - This was a low yielding year due to spring frosts. It is also a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in both new and used barrels for 12-14 months. The wine displays rich cherry and cassis aromas and flavors with a good tannic structure and a lengthy, slightly spicy finish.
Château Peyruche Cadillac 2017 - Spring frosts also made this a very limited production wine. Loaded with honeysuckle aromas and tropical flavors, this sweet wine is fresh and rich with a creamy feel all the way through the lingering finish.

All of these wines are highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Biodynamic in Bordeaux - A Visit to Château Pré La Lande

Located on the hillside overlooking the Valée de Dordogne in the Sainte-Foy sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux lies Château Pré La Lande. On a recent trip to Bordeaux, I had the opportunity to meet winemaker and owner, Michel Beaucé and his family.

Beaucé led our group into the vineyard and gave us a brief overview of the small region which, of the five Côtes, is the farthest from the city of Bordeaux. There are twenty-three winegrowers and two cooperatives working 1,640 acres of land on primarily limestone and clay soils. Most are located along the northern part of the river where it is very hilly with wooded areas between the vineyards. The region produces mostly dry red wines but also some dry white and sweet wines.

Beaucé was born in the Champagne region of France. He began his journey into wine as a merchant selling French wines across the globe. After getting married and starting his family, he decided to make a change to a simpler, more authentic life and purchased Château Pré La Lande, an estate which has produced wine since 1860. He quickly learned that although he knew a great deal about Bordeaux wine, he had a lot to learn about grape growing. After meeting with a consultant to discuss best practices for his property, he became appalled at the idea of using commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the grounds on which his children played. After two years of trying to determine which was the least harmful, he made the decision to go organic and was certified in 2007. 

All was going well until 2013. There were many difficulties in Bordeaux that year, quality, quantity, and the market were all down. Beaucé sold his entire vintage in tank to a negociant rather than bottle under his own brand as he felt that it did not measure up to his standards. 
Rather than giving up on organic farming, he decided to take it a step further and seek biodynamic certification through Demeter. He had been tasting more biodynamic wines and was impressed with the purity of flavor. "The taste is straight," he said. 

He found that going biodynamic was very different than when he sought the organic certification. Demeter required two weeks of training at certified vineyards and provided him with a mentor to help with the process. There were many new rules, no industrial yeast or added products. "We are making wine with grapes. I know every winemaker will say, me, too. The difference is we are making wine using only grapes and a few sulfites when doing long term aging in barrels. It's quite difficult to be biodynamic, that's why many winemakers choose organic, because they can still use quite a lot of organic products for problems. When you are making the wine biodynamically, nothing can be used. When you drink biodynamic, you can be sure that you are only drinking something that comes from the grapes." He was also quick to point out that modern winemaking techniques like temperature controlled tanks make controlling the wild yeasts easier.

Château Pré La Lande is not quite 35 acres in size which makes it more manageable to be biodynamic. He feels fortunate to have like minded neighbors, one is organic and the other is biodynamic. He noted, "Part of being biodynamic is having to accept that sometimes we have bad conditions. It's difficult because the work and cost are the same." In a typical year, he produces 70,000 bottles, in 2018 he was only able to produce 14,000 because of mildew issues caused by atypical weather.

Beaucé produces three different cuvées, One has no added sulfites, one is aged in terra cotta tanks, and one is aged primarily in French Oak barrels. He has worked with two different sized terra cotta tanks, both made in Tuscany. His preference is the 450 liter as there is less wine loss. He likes the way it rounds out the tannins without imparting any flavors. His oak barrels are 300 liters as opposed to the traditional 225 liter classic Bordeaux size. He uses mostly French oak but does have four high quality American oak barrels that he has experimented with as well. He blends the wine first and then barrel ages for 12-16 months depending on the vintage. All of the wines spend six months in bottle before they are sold. The wines are vegan as well. If fining is necessary, he uses pea protein.

When asked if he would do it again knowing everything that he knows now, he was quick to respond, "We love being close to the land and to be able to make our own product. We have chosen the real life."

The Tasting
All of the following wines are a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2015 - Fresh, light, soft, and floral with juicy mixed berry fruit flavors and a touch of mocha in the finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2016 - Similar but more aromatic than the previous, also fresh, light, and soft though with more acidity and bright red fruit flavors. 

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2015 - Aromatic, fresh and floral, nicely balanced with black cherry fruit flavors, a hint of coffee, and a smooth, lingering, licorice laced finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2016 - Very elegant and fresh with lively raspberry and plum flavors, and a bit of mocha. Very round, well-structured and refined with a hint of spiciness in the persistent finish.

Cuvée des Fontenelles 2017 - This very limited production botrytized sweet white wine has no sulfites added. It was nicely balanced with good acidity and was very effusive with tropical fruit aromas and candied fruit flavors.

All of the wines are highly recommended.

The Bonzai tree on the label is a nod to Beaucé longtime hobby of caring for his collection of trees which he has done since his first purchase of one in 1994.