Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chablis Class & Tasting with Guy Stout MS

Guy Stout M.S. taught an informative and delicious class on Chablis to a full house of Houston wine professionals earlier this month. The focus was the terroir of the region and how the wines are influenced by it. 

Grapevines have been cultivated and wines have been made in the area since the first century when the Romans came through France. Vineyards improved in the 11th century when Cistercian monks arrived from the Loire Valley. They planted the first Chardonnay vines that would eventually spread as the white grape of choice throughout Burgundy. The region as we know it now was officially established in 1938 with the birth of the Chablis AOC.

Currently, there are about 7,500 acres under vine in Burgundy's northernmost region. The current generation of winemakers has improved their production methods to bring the quality standard up from a quality slump in the mid-20th century. The goal is to create a pure expression of Chardonnay through the use of concrete or fiberglass vats and stainless steel tanks for fermentation. There is limited use of barrels which are predominantly neutral.

Climate changes are raising grape ripeness levels and bringing fruitier nuances to the wines across the board though frost remains the main concern during the early growing season. The still cool climate gives the wines the racy acidity for which the region is known.

The famous limestone soils of the region are known for giving a mineral edge to the wines. There are two types of soils in the vineyard areas. The more highly regarded Kimmeridgian with its mix of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells tends to create a more distinct mineral or flint character to the wines while the younger Portlandian soils, though similar, allow for a fruitier aspect to the wines. The Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards all sit on Kimmeridgian soil.

Fun fact- Chardonnay is also known as Beaunois is the region.

The Tasting:

2013 Louis Michel & Fils Petit Chablis- Sourced from areas with more sandy silt in the soil, this more affordable offering was fresh and easy drinking with citrus aromas and flavors and a stony note smoothed out with a slight autolytic character which added a bit of creaminess to the wine. Serve as an aperitif  or with  goat cheese or puff pastry appetizers.

2012 Maison Simonnet-Febvre Chablis- Dry, crisp, accessible with a ripe grapefruit character and a bit of nuttiness and minerality in the fresh finish. Serve with grilled fish or Asian  cuisine.

2011 Louis Michel & Fils ‘Butteaux’ Premier Cru Chablis- Dry, fresh and lively, a bit more angular; aromas and flavors of apple pastry with a mineral edged finish. Serve with grilled oysters or escargot.

2011 Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fevre ‘Vaulorent’ Premier Cru Chablis- Dry, richer with floral notes with sweet citrus aromas and tropical fruit flavors and a long distinct mineral finish. Serve with poultry or fish with heavier sauce.

2012 Domaine Vocoret et Fils ‘Blanchot’ Grand Cru Chablis- Dry, rich and creamy with aromas of citrus blossom and aromas and flavors of baked pear with a long, distinct mineral finish. Serve with lobster or foie gras. Guy Stout pronounced it, "Big, rich and delicious." I thoroughly agree.

All the wines were dry with a clean, refreshing acidity and pureness of flavor; each one is highly recommended. 



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lady of the House - Margrit Mondavi

One of the highlights of my trip to Napa Valley was the opportunity to meet Mrs. Robert Mondavi, the Vice President of Cultural Affairs. She was at the dedication of the winery's newest art addition, a true likeness of her husband which had been placed in front of the entrance to honor the mind that originally envisioned and then which had overseen the creation of all that each visitor sees upon approach.

Margrit Biever Mondavi was instrumental in the selection of the bust of Robert Mondavi, a fittingly larger-than-life rendition of the head of the man whose mind had envisioned long ago the Napa that we all see today.

She discussed the initial difficulty in choosing the right piece of art to honor her husband as the founder of the winery. She had originally considered a life-sized depiction of him standing with a glass of wine in hand welcoming all who came to the winery, a memory that all who knew him would certainly have cherished. She ultimately decided that his vision, his ideas, were the greater statement on who was Robert Mondavi and the bust was then commissioned and created by artist Len Urso.

The spirit of Robert Mondavi is alive and well. He is still seemingly overseeing much at the winery through the continued celebration of food and wine. The friendly hospitality in the elegant surroundings are displayed when the server that brings the Moscato d'Oro slushy with dessert quickly explains this is purposefully done, this is how Mr. Mondavi preferred it. This well-placed faith in his decision making continues throughout, you hear it as the head winemaker discusses both grape growing and wine making decisions made by Mr. Mondavi that are always followed to ensure his preferred style.

Many that were in attendance at the dedication remembered the man that they called Bob. He was seen as a friend and neighbor throughout the valley. His ideas about Napa Valley and the wines that would come to be made here were visionary; he both shared that vision and supported all those around him in seeing it realized. Margrit Mondavi's choice to have this thought-full man's visage oversee the comings and goings of the many guests that arrive to the winery while at the same time ensuring  that their perspective is to contemplate the man who had an idea is a truly fitting tribute.

Together the couple supported the arts in the community at every level and you can see their passion on display throughout the buildings and across the beautiful grounds. Margrit Mondavi created the concert programs that benefitted the Napa Valley Symphony and Opera. She brought chefs in from France and across America to showcase the magic of food pairing so winery guests could build a greater appreciation of both the wine and the culinary arts; the many Food and Wine Experiences that are available today were born of her endeavors. Her winery sketches adorn the tops of the menus for these many events. She continues her support of the arts across Napa Valley while overseeing that the vision of both her husband and herself continues to be realized. The lady of the house was definitely in and she was a pleasure to meet.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quicktake Tour of To Kalon Vineyard

I was fortunate to be able to tour the famous To Kalon Vineyard by bike with Peter Alig, Wine Education Coordinator at Robert Mondavi Winery, along with some other journalists, during my most recent stay in Napa Valley. 

I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the vineyard and the wines that come from this special place along the way. 

That is the bike tour guide in my photo on the left.  Peter is on the video. You can set up your own bike tour through the same group that we used, Napa Valley Bike Tours during your next trip to Napa Valley. 

Here is a quicktake tour of what I saw along our ride.


To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville

Notes from "A Taste of Oakville" Master Class

"A Taste of Oakville" Master Class was held last Monday at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Wine professionals came from around the country to learn more about the terroir of the Oakville AVA and to taste how that environment affects the wines which come the vines that grow here.

Giles De Chambure, M.S. began the introduction of the 5,275 acre region where Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape. It shares space with all the Bordeaux varieties and numerous others as well. Oakville was granted its appellation status in 1993 though grapes were grown here long before then. The region's mid-valley location is the home to many of Napa Valley's most distinguished brands.

Graeme MacDonald, 4th generation grower, took to the floor to discuss the history of the region with a focus on the long growing vineyard area, To Kalon. The name is of Greek origin and translates to "highest beauty". Hamilton Crabb, known as the "wine king of the Pacific Slope" planted 400 different grape varieties in the Napa area in the mid 1800's to try to determine which were best suited to the climate and soil. He created the first successful American wine brand using the To Kalon Vineyard name. The history lesson continued through the area's rise of cult wines beginning in the 1960's on up to the present.

David Howell, co-author of The Winemaker's Dance, was up next for a class on Oakville geology. He discussed the varying elevations ranging from 130-825 feet and how the surrounding mountains affect the rainfall. He talked about the 20 different soil types and how they are dispersed through the Oakville growing area. He took the history lesson back millions of years and brought us forward to today discussing how the fault line is still creating change.

Matt Ashby, Robert Mondavi's vineyard manager, discussed Oakville viticulture starting with the more uniform area 4 portion of Oakville where controlling vigor by draining water is the first concern. Other vineyard managers and winemakers stood up to continue our education throughout the tasting.



The Wine - each one, fantastic and highly recommended!

  • 2012 Franciscan Estate Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon- Structured, balanced by mid-palate, dark berry/cherry fruit, minty.
  • 2012 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - 100% To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monastery Vineyard which is dry farmed and has a higher gravel content with 2,700 vines planted per acre on St George rootstock. 100% aged in new French oak. Powerful, balanced, fruity, dark berries with a graphite/mineral finish.
  • 2012 Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from a single vineyard area with mixed alluvial fans, 45-60% aged in new French oak. Deep, balanced, beautiful, very smooth; mixed berries.
  • 2012 Far Niente Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- pure, perfumed cassis, black berry fruit.
  • 2012 Futo Oakville Estate Red Wine - From a volcanic soil site with sub-marine sediments contains 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot; more acid-driven with a mix of black and red fruit
  • 2012 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from 30 acre vineyard area with same soil which was replanted in 2005; black fruit, softer tannins
  • 2012 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Aaron Miller, head wine maker, introduced this wine. It was sourced from the estate vineyards which contain 3 different soil types all within 400 yards creating different vineyard management needs. More elegant aroma, more red fruit with sage and minerality, a concentrated dark berry finish.
  • 2012 Dalla Valle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - Winemaker Andy Erickson discussed how stressed the vines become in the rocky, red volcanic soil and how that iron gives the wine the unique mineral character. He discussed the importance of controlling the temperature and the level of extraction. Two-thirds of this wine aged in new French oak. He prefers as little racking as possible with no fining or filtering. Big, intense, tannic, black fruits, cedar, mineral finish.
After the Master Class, attendees enjoyed a luncheon prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher and then attended the full walk around tasting in Robert Mondavi's barrel room featuring all of Oakville's best wines. Get a a quicktake of the day in the video below.


Taste of Oakville

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Media Dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery



My trip this week to Napa Valley began with a media dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery with four other journalists and winemaker, Megan Schofield, on hand to discuss the wines of the evening. I might not typically write about this meal if it was something of which I felt my readers would not be able to ever partake. The reasons that I decided to do so are that, on this evening, we enjoyed the most affordable and available wines in the Robert Mondavi portfolio and I also learned how easy it would be for others to enjoy wine and food pairings in this venue.

Robert Mondavi Winery sits on the famed To Kalon Vineyard with a view of the mountains in the background, to call it scenic would be selling it short. The grounds are complete with stunning gardens blooming with flowers and beautiful art all around; a combination of the best that nature and man can offer. 

Our dinner that evening and our lunch on the following day were prepared by the in-house chef, Jeff Mosher. His philosophy on food is "...about obtaining the highest quality local and sustainably grown ingredients harvested at the peak of freshness..." and believe me, this was absolutely showcased in my two meals there. 

This would be an over the top choice for a destination wedding or for a corporate incentive trip of which I know many Texans that are fortunate enough to be able to experience. In addition to the winery's ability to accommodate large private groups, individuals that wish to tour and taste at Robert Mondavi have several options to do so on their own as well.

Our dinner began with the 2004 To Kalon Vineyards Fumé Blanc Reserve which is a higher end library wine that would be more difficult to find on your own. We enjoyed it with grilled fava beans (picked earlier that day from the vineyard garden) and with pork belly sliders out in the Rose Garden. This 11 year old wine was incredibly fresh with tropical aromas and flavors with the famed smoky notes from the barrel fermentation and aging, absolutely delicious and a great lesson on the age-ability of this wine; look for the current release and feel confident in knowing that you can enjoy it immediately or lay it down for years to pull out for a future special occasion. More recent releases range from $40-60 in price.

The other wines served at this dinner were all current releases in the more affordable Napa Valley line.

2013 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay with aromas and flavors of pear, melon, toast and a pronounced spicy note had a medium body, refreshing acidity and a creamy finish.It paired perfectly with the seared salmon alongside peas, carrots, nasturtiums and coconut curry. Though a majority percentage of the wine was fermented in French oak barrels, this is not an oaky Chardonnay.

2012 Robert Mondavi Carneros, Napa Valley Pinot Noir had aromas and deep flavors of black cherry with dried herbs and a slight earthy note with a medium body balanced by good acidity with a dark fruity finish, This was served with Sonoma duck confit with forbidden rice, turnips and tatsoi with pickled garden strawberries and a red wine swipe.This vintage was described as an "epic year". (wine bottle not pictured)

2012 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet was a classic Napa Valley Cabernet with its pronounced aromas and rich flavors of sweet ripe blackberries, a bit of tobacco and chocolate with a decided mineral-edged finish. This paired phenomenally with the grilled Five Dot Ranch Ribeye Cap served with fingerling potatoes, spring garlic, morel mushrooms and bordelaise sauce. (wine bottle not pictured)

2013 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscato d'Oro was served slushy style as the founder, Robert Mondavi, enjoyed this wine. This fragrant sweet wine had aromas of citrus blossoms with juicy peach and rich tropical fruit flavors balanced with a clean acidity. Another perfect pairing with strawberries, blueberries, shortbread crumble and black pepper chantilly cream.

Whether alone or with a group, taking the time to enjoy a food and wine pairing or full paired meal at Robert Mondavi Winery should definitely be on your radar as an experience to not miss on your next trip to Napa Valley.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gambero Rosso Top Italian Wines Road Show - Houston

Notes from The Master Class
Taught by Marco Sabellico, the top taster and editor of the Vini d'Italia, Gambero Rosso's annual guide to the wines of Italy.

This is not the order that we tasted the wines, I reorganized them by region.

Veneto
De Stefani Valdobbiadene Brut Mill. 2014 - Smooth, round, fresh; green and yellow apples
Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Superior Extra Dry - Smoother & sweeter than above, floral wisteria aromas, lighter structure, peach and apple
Bortolomiol Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Banda Rossa 2014 - Fresh, pleasant, apples
Ruggeri Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B 2013 - from 70+ year old vines, one of Italy's top labels; fresh, floral, mineral finish
Tenute di Genagricola Pinot Grigio I Classici 2013 Tenuta Sant' Anna - floral, pear and peach, fresh acidity, food friendly; pair with pasta with shellfish
Otella Lugana Superior Molceo Riserva 2012- Trebbiano/Ugni Blanc mutation from clay-based terroir facing lake; rich, smooth, creamy, easy drinking

Cesari Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Bosan 2011 - from a quality conscious producer in a young, fresh style; medium body, fruity, smooth tannins
Bolla Valpolicella Classico Superiore Ripasso Le Poiane 2012 - heavier style best with heavy meaty pasta; sweet, ripe cherry/berry flavor, good acidty, velvety tannins
"Different styles of Amarone but both fantastic, traditional wines"
Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2010 - lush, ripe but not over-ripe and complex, black cherry/berry, baking spices, long finish
Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2010 - classic with more than pure fruit; dried cherry, tobacco, chocolate

Lombardy
Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Brut Cuvee Prestige - made from 90% Chardonnay with 10% Pinot Noir & Pinot Blanc with 24+ months on lees; more structured, fresh acidity, long finish; pair with shellfish or mediterranean cuisine
Barone Pizzini Franciacorta Brut Nature 2011 - "Sustainable Winery of the Year", from a biodynamic vineyard; clean, pure, fresh, citrus and green apple
Agricole Gussalli Beretta Franciacorta Extra Brut 2008 (Lo Sparviere) - 95% Chardonnay; very different, complex aromas of toast, coffee, and yeast, fresh acidity, more structured

Trentino
Gruppo La Vis Pinot Grigio Simboli 2013 - Fresh pear, lighter structure, mineral finish

Friuli Venezia Giulia
Le Monde Fruili Grave Pinot Bianco 2013 - fragrant, fresh, lime zest, persistent finish
Livon Collio Friulano Manditocai 2013 - some French oak aging; citrus, peach, herbs; fresh acidty, long finish
Schiopetto Collio Friulano 2013 - more classic, no oak, slight vegetal aroma, nice acidity, food friendly
Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 - "an elegant blend of everything"; fresh, smooth, easy drinking

Alto Adige
A.A. Pinot Bianco Sirmian 2013 - from high elevation; pure, fresh pear, no oak, flinty mineralty; long finish
Cantina Produttori San Michele Appiano A.A. Sauvignon Lahn 2013 - single vineyard selection; lime citrus with tomato leaf , fresh mineral finish

Liguria
Lunae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Lunae Et. Nera 2013 - aromatic, smooth easy drinking, herbal basil note; pair with pasta and tomatoes; very Mediterranean

Piedmont
Tenuta Carretta Barbera d'Alba Superior Bric Quercia 2012 - very good producer from a single vineyard for everyday drinking; clean acidity, structured, juicy red fruit
Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi 2009 - from calcareous soils creating a long-lived wine, "premier grand cru, classic single vineyard, can age 25-30 years"; floral rose, licorice, earth

Marche
Cherri d'Acquaviva Offida Pecorino Altissimo 2013 - very popular in Italy; fresh, floral jasmine aroma, spicy, mineral finish
CasalFarneto Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Cl. Crisio Riserva 2012 - easy drinking, rich, fresh, new oak

Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superior Roggio del Filare 2010 -  a modern wine aged in new French oak"; good acidity, spicy finish

Emilia Romagna
Medici Ermete & Figli Reggiano Lambrusco Concerto 2013 - yields heavily controlled for quality; very berry-black, blue and strawberry; fresh, vibrant
San Patrignano Aulente Rosso 2013 - Product of home for addicted boys located close to sea made from Sangiovese, typical, clean, sharp.

Molise
Di Majo Norante Aglianico Contado Riserva 2011 - a top selling label from a quality conscious producer with good aging potential; rich, ripe tannins, blackberry, licorice, herbal note

This is an abbreviated list from the Italian wine guide chosen specifically for the Houston tasting, there are so many more than this. Hopefully, you will find the wine of interest to you when shopping or eating out. These are some of the top Italian wines and producers and they are worth seeking. 
The guide is available for purchase on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Italian-Wines-2014-Gambero-Rosso/dp/1890142239. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dinner with Silvano Brescianini of Barone Pizzini

After the Gambero Rosso Road Show, I was pleased to be included, along with my husband and daughter, for dinner with Jeremy Parzen and Silvano Brescianini at Dolce Vita, one of Houston's best casual Italian restaurants. After a day of spitting wine, it was so nice to sit down and enjoy some of Silvano's fantastic sparkling Italian wine alongside the delicious and authentic Italian dinner offerings while hearing more about his home and his organically grown wines.

We drank his Animonte Francicorta Brut which is a Chardonnay based blend of the three allowed grapes.This fresh sparkling wine has aromas of lemon zest with light hints of toast and jasmine with long lasting bubbles, fresh acidity and a lingering citrus finish. It was perfect with everything from the fish to the octopus to the salad to the pizza. The pairing potential of this wine is endless.

I do love sparkling wine and it is so wonderful to see more of this type of wine in Houston on wine lists and in retail stores, we are fortunate to live in the city that we do. After listening to Silvano, however, it does seem a trip to Brescia and the Franciacorta region is a must-do; I personally will be trying to get there as soon as possible.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

The McBride Sisters of Truvée Wines

The McBride Sisters of Truvée Wines were in town this week introducing their wines to the Houston market. At a press luncheon at Coppa Osteria, members of the media had the opportunity to hear their story and taste this new line of wines now conveniently available at Kroger's grocery stores. The name Truvée is derived from the French verb that means to find, a fitting name as I learned, after hearing their history. 

Robin and Andréa McBride grew up without each other. They had the same father but they had different mothers and they did not know that the other existed. Interestingly, they were both being raised in up and coming wine regions on opposite sides of the globe. Robin, the elder sister, grew up in Monterey, California, surrounded by vineyards leading to her early career in technical sales and the international importing and exporting of wine. Younger sister, Andréa, was growing up in Marlborough, New Zealand, where she was introduced to the wine industry via the business of grape growing by her uncle in Spring Creek.

When their father learned that he was dying, his final wish was to find both of his daughters and unite them. Their father, unfortunately, did not live to see this dream realized but his brother made sure that this connection was completed and that the two girls would find each other. The two sisters were brought together by their father's family in 1999 and their mutual passion for wine led them to begin a wine import business together. They would later create eco.love Wines, a sustainable wine company making Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines in New Zealand. 

The McBride sisters then brought their vision to California's Central Coast sourcing grapes from some of the best vineyards in Chalone, Monterey, Edna Valley, San Benito and Paso Robles to create both a Chardonnay and a Red Blend made from Grenache, Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel, both created in a fresh approachable style. Their goal was to make high quality yet affordable wines that would showcase the terroir of California's Central Coast. Their dream has come to fruition with Truvée Wines.

I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay which was sourced from several vineyards that were selected for their sustainable practices. The wine has lush tropical aromas and flavors with a honeysuckle floral nuance and a touch of minerality and spice. The wine is only partially aged in oak and less than half undergoes malolactic fermentation creating a fresh, juicy style with a lingering crisp, green apple finish. The wine paired beautifully with the fritto misto at lunch. Highly recommended and priced at under $16 a bottle.