I had a great time meeting Chris Hanna of Hanna Winery & Vineyards last week. We met at Brennan's for dinner, some conversation and a tasting of a few of her wines. Chris told me that she had not expected to join the family business originally. She was an English major with her sights set on academia when her father requested that she sit in on some interviews for a new position in marketing and public relations that he was needing to fill. She listened to the interviewees with a mix of concern and skepticism, she couldn't imagine most of these people representing her family's brand. The final interview had the opposite effect, it was so positive that she was inspired to do the job herself. When all the applicants had left, she told her father that she felt that someone with the last name of Hanna should represent the family business. He told her that he was hoping she would say that; shortly thereafter, her immersion into the family business began.
We started our meal with the 2012 Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. This wine makes up about half of the 50,000 cases they produce each year. When she made the decision to focus on Sauvignon Blanc, she also started the transition from purchased grapes to an estate grown program. I really enjoyed this wine with everything from my amuse bouche to my salad to my redfish on the half shell. It had a light body with ripe peach, grapefruit citrus and herbal/lemongrass aromas and flavors; it had crisp acidity and a mineral-laced finish. This is a great summer wine that you can enjoy sipping out on the patio or with any light dinner. It is the house white at Chris' home. In addition to finding it on the wine list at Brennan's, you can find this wine at Spec's for approximately $20. Next, we tasted the 2012 Hanna Russian River Valley Chardonnay. I loved this with both my salad and entree. It had rich aromas and flavors of baked apples, orange citrus and baking spices; a medium+ body, fresh acidity with a long creamy finish. Highly recommended, priced at approximately $25, this is a wine that will work with just about any type of food. Chris is a cookbook author as well as a winemaker so finding that synergy between the food and wine is always her goal. She wanted to create a Chardonnay that was a bit different than the heavy, buttery style that seemed more available; she wanted to maintain the natural acidity but she also wanted a creamier, rounder white wine than her crisp, angular Sauvignon Blanc. She achieves that with this Chardonnay through night harvests, the use of wild yeasts and light use of new oak. Conversation flowed with the wine, in addition to our mutual love of all things wine and food, we found that we also shared:
the joys of living with a sports fanatic husband
mothering 2 kids, one boy and one girl for each of us/ both of our college daughters are considered wine experts in their peer group
we each learned a lot about cooking from the Food Network
we are both regular practitioners of yoga
and so much more.
We tasted some red wine as well. Most notably, the 2007 Hanna Bismark Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. I wasn't familiar with that vineyard designation. Chris explained that it is located on the western facing side of the Mayacamas Mountains and will be labeled with its new named appellation, Moon Mountain, on future bottles. This wine tasted surprisingly young for 2007. It was fresh and fruity with blackberry and plum with cocoa and a bit of black olive. It was full bodied with smooth, ripe tannins and a long mineral-laced finish. Highly recommended, approximately $55.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Chris and tasting her wines. She has me completely motivated to come up to Sonoma and learn more. In the meantime, we can find her wines at Spec's or enjoy them in restaurants all around town.
Klaus Gasser from Cantina Terlano was in Houston last month conducting a tasting up at Camerata for the Houston Sommelier Association. The wines he brought come from Alto-Adige in the northern part of Italy near the Dolomite Mountains in the foothills of the Alps. There is a heavy German, French and Austrian influence in the region. Alto-Adige is a high mountainous region which Klaus compared to Colorado. He recommends the skiing if you are traveling there in the winter. He also compares the area to Burgundy because of its diverse micro-climates imparting unique characteristics to the wine. The region is known for its aromatic whites but it can also produce rich, full body reds. The area around Terlano is warmer than other parts of the region but it still has a good diurnal range to protect the grapes' acidity. The vineyard area ranges from about 800-3000 ft above sea level and has red quartz porphyric rocky soil with a high mineral content which is believed to give the wines their freshness. The porous soil also allows for good drainage. Warm days and cool nights complete the perfect growing conditions.
The area has a 2,000 year history of producing wine. Terlano is the name of the winery, the village, a historic wine blend and the name of the DOC in the area. It is a very traditional wine producing area. Cantina Terlano, the winery, was founded in 1893 with a goal to produce high quality white wines for long aging. The white wine making style has remained the same while the approach to red wine making has become more modern. They make white wines at higher fermentation temperatures than most modern winemakers use to get more flavor. Their wine making philosophy is to use large oak casks in the German fuder style for the important whites. They typically have long yeast contact with battonage to increase creaminess, often a minimum of 10 years of yeast contact for some wines. They have some wines on the lees in stainless steel going back to 1979. The tasting: 2012 Chardonnay- Originally, Chardonnay was known as "the yellow Pinot Bianco" and the two were fermented together. Since 1984, it has been bottled separately. Clean, fresh, citrus, mineral, medium body, long finish. 2013 Pinot Grigio- Klaus describes it as "soft, creamy and persistent". Fresh, subtle, medium body, pear with a saline minerality. Perfect with any Mediterranean cuisine. 2011 Muller-Thurgau- This is a very small production wine. Medium body, higher acidity, elegant, peach. 2012 Terlaner Classico- This historic blend takes its name from the village; it has been produced for over 120 years. It consists of 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Light floral aroma, pear, minerality. 2011 Terlano "Vorberg" Pinot Bianco- Medium body, saline minerality, clean, dry finish. 2008 Andriano "Movado" Gewurztraminer- This is grown on calcerous-dolomite stone soil in a cooler area, the wine was aged in stainless steel. Full body, rich, dry, medium acidity, complex, lychee, cold cream, long finish. 2013 Lagrein Rosé- Traditionally made, pressed with a white wine fermentation. Fresh peach with strawberries. This goes with everything. 2012 Andriano "Bocado" Schiava- "This is a popular, everyday red. It is fresh, easy-drinking, not complex, a fantastic food wine," per Klaus. It is more aromatic and less pigmented. Round, moderate tannins, red cherry, light lingering finish. A good summer red. 2011 "St Magdelena" Red Blend- 95% Schiava and 5% Lagrein which gives a deeper color. Black cherry. More tannic from terroir.
The style of the wine has changed in the last 20-30 years. "It used to be produced in a more rustic style due to a lack of phenolic ripeness." Klaus considers this to be the most important red wine from the region. 2008 "Gries" Lagrein- Spicy, black plum, bitter chocolate, long finish. Sourced from 3 different vineyards with 40-100 year old vines. It spends 18 months in French Oak. 2010 "Porphyr" Lagrein- Amarone-like, rich, ripe with a long chewy finish.
Another great educational experience and tasting from the
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Cru Artisan, who oversees the luxury selections of the Banfi portfolio, was in Houston last week sharing their wines and knowledge with local wine professionals. The experience started with a walk around tasting and an opportunity to talk with some of the winemakers. The selected wines for the tasting were produced by Castello Banfi, Sartori di Verona, Banfi Piemonte, Cerulli Spinozzi, Fontana Candida and Bolla. I took my 21 year old daughter to work on this day. She was in on a short break during her summer internship and, although she is more of a cider aficionado, she was delighted to expand her knowledge of Italian wine. Within her own circle of college friends, she is already the leading wine expert.
Having just walked out of the already oppressive Houston heat and due to my own agenda of searching for wine recommendations for upcoming summer stories, we started with some sparkling pink wine, the 2010Cuvée Aurora Rosé from the Alta Langa DOCG. This classic method 100% Pinot Noir was dry with subtle notes of rose and apricot, a silky mousse, refreshing acidity with a smooth finish. Ideal anytime with anything. Priced at approximately $30. I was then pleased to meet Enrico Cerulli and learn about his family's history in Abruzzo and hear about his choice to farm organically. We tasted his Cerulli Spinozzi "Cortalto" Pecorino which was "like spa water", per my daughter. It had fresh aromas and flavors of citrus and peach with almond, a medium body, dry and smooth with a light mineral finish. Priced at approximately $14.
2013 Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi from 100% Cortese grapes was light, fresh and citrusy with a clean finish. This is easy to find in our area and affordable at approximately $14, I have served this with simply grilled fish on many occasions and a previous vintage was a Galveston Monthly top pick back in August 2012, it is consistently good. Maur Merz, chief winemaker for Fontana Candida, poured us a taste of his 2011 Luna Mater Frascati Superiore, a dry Malvasia-based white blend with aromas and flavors of citrus, melon and almond. Approximately $22, try it with light seafood pasta dishes. We tasted the Albinea Canali FB Lambrusco Metodo Ancestrale from Emiliana. This was unlike any Lambrusco that I have ever had before, I really enjoyed it as did my daughter. It was dry, fresh and fruity. She proclaimed that she could just stop there until I was done and enjoy that wine with the charcuterie as recommended. We were disappointed to learn that we won't be seeing this in our market. After our quick snack, I wanted to welcome Rudy Buratti of Castello Banfi and Andrea Sartori back to Houston and taste some red wine. We made the rounds and tasted too many good wines to name here. I was interested to taste the La Lus Albarossa from Monferratowhich is a variety that I have not tasted very much- very smooth and easy drinking. The wine makers stayed in town and conducted classes at Camarata on the following day teaching locals about the different wines and the places from which they come.
Thank you to Cru Artisan and Banfi for bringing both their wine and wisdom to Houston!
I had a fantastic night out in Houston at the end of May with Jeremy Parzen, Mai Pham, Alfonso Cevola and Silvia Franco.The evening began at Vallone's with a tasting of some Nino Francowines and ended with a trip to Camarata to check out the latest offerings from David Keck.As always, the food and wine were delicious and, on this evening, both the wine and the company were sparkling.
We tasted through the following wines over miniature lobster roll appetizers: Rustica Prosecco Superiore NV- fresh and crisp with a subtle pear and citrus aroma and flavor with a touch of yeast. Brut Prosecco Superiore NV- dry, fresh and crisp with delicate aromas of citrus blossoms and flavors of apricot and pear with a hint of yeast. And, the unusual 2011 Faive Rosé Brut Sparkling; this wine is made from 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc rather than the usual Glera grape that is used to produce Prosecco. It was dry and crisp with fresh aromas and light flavors of red berries and apricot. All were refreshing, crisp and very drinkable. They were drier and less fruity than other Prosecco I have tasted and they were somewhat softer and easier drinking than some other sparkling wines of the world. I couldn't pick a favorite, all are recommended. I learned that Silvia enjoys tasting wine from whatever country she is traveling in while doing business and sharing tastes of her family's fantastic wines. In addition to our Prosecco tasting, we had a "new to the Vallone's wine list" Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to wind down dinner. Check with the sommelier to try that wine or whatever else might be new to the menu now. You can't go wrong.
The Texas Fine Wine group held a tasting at Reef last Monday to showcase some of their award winning wines and the best of their new releases. Following are a few of my favorites from the tasting: The2012 Duchman Vermentino sourced from the Bingham Family Vineyard is clean, crisp and a perfect patio sipper for summer with light citrus and pear aromas and flavors. It would be a great pairing for any salad or simple, grilled seafood.
The 2012 Pedernales Viognier Reserve was a treat to try. With peach, honeysuckle, and buttered toast aromas and flavors, this smooth, fuller bodied white has great pairing potential but you can also keep it simple with herb roasted chicken and vegetables. It took top Viognier honors at the Lyon International Wine Competition in France, the only winery in the U.S. to do so. I have previously recommended the non-reserve version in Galveston Monthly. It is easier to find and also very good. The 2012 Brennan Vineyards Super Nero from Commanche County was an easy drinking summer red made from Nero d' Avola. It has a cranberry, smoke and spice character that would work with pasta, grilled meat or pizza. I was equally excited about both of the Bending Branch reds. The 2011 Newsom Vineyard Tempranillo was fresh and balanced with cranberry, coffee and smoky tobacco. The 2011 Texas Tannat was big and rich with black cherry, pepper and dried herbs. Two great wines for Texas brisket. All recommended! Check out the wineries for more special selections not available in stores.
An opportunity for local wine professionals to learn more about Sonoma County's Alexander Valley arrived with a group from Rodney Strong Vineyards last month. The seminar and tasting were held at Hotel Zaza. All of the wines were from the 2010 vintage and were tasted in groups of three to showcase a particular aspect of the terroir of the Alexander Valley. We started with an examination of the soils and geology. The area has a history of soil upheaval from tectonic plate movement. This has created a diverse mix of soil types creating a need for wine growers to carefully match the correct variety of rootstock and grape variety to each vineyard site. For example, highly acidic soils are better suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than Cabernet Sauvignon. The soils on the valley floor are younger and more fertile while the hillsides have older soils. In the valley, the grapes are thinner skinned and plumper which create softer and more supple wines. All of these wines were soft, smooth and easy drinking. The Scion was the softest. Side by side, I liked the Alexander Crown from the Jimtown area the best because of its higher acidity. Elevation and the effects of altitude were examined next. The older hillside soils are well-drained, rocky and less fertile. As the elevation increases, the thickness of the grape's skin increases from the higher UV exposure while the berry size remains smaller. This adds color, flavor and structure to the wine which was apparent in the next tasting line up. The Rockaway from a 550 ft hillside vineyard was more structured than the first three with more complex aromas and concentrated flavors. The Stryker was the softest of these three and it came from the lowest elevation at 190 feet. The Stonestreet Monument Ridge is a mountain wine at 1800 feet and it had lighter aromatics than the others and it also had a bit of eucalyptus or laurel in its profile; it was also a bit more rustic and tannic than the others in this set.
Last, we looked at the weather and climate, which winemaker Justin Seidenfeld said was the most important factor in the terroir of the Alexander Valley. The cooling fog that comes in off of the Pacific through the Petaluma Gap and Russian River Valley keeps Sonoma cool for a majority of the day which helps to preserve acidity which add freshness to the wines while the sunny afternoons allow for full ripening. The Hawkes Pyramid had more green flavors from cooler vineyard temperatures. The warmer vineyard area of Skipstone Oliver's had produced a wine with more plum aromas and flavors with a bit of black olive in the finish. It did have 6% Merlot while the other two were 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge was from the furthest north, it was well-structured and rich with a distinct mineral finish from the soil blend. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the Alexander Valley's 2010 vintage on your next steak night, there are many enjoyable wines to be found.
Monique Seillan was in Houston recently visiting with local wine trade and media. I sat down with her at Mark's American Cuisine to sample some of the fantastic wines created by her husband, Pierre and her daughter, Helene Seillan along with Amy and Joe Power of Another Wine Blog and Denman Moody, wine writer for Houston Lifestyles and author of The Advanced Oenophile. Monique explained that Pierre's wine making career began at his family's estate in Gascony where he focused on red Bordeaux varieties. After working at several different wineries, he began to develop his micro-cru philosophy where he attempts to preserve the unique nuances that each site can contribute based on soil type and topography. This more precise management of the vineyard allows many unique parcels to be vinified separately for more blending options. Daughter Helene joined the team over seven years ago and has worked closely with her father splitting her time between Sonoma County and Saint-Emilion, France.
We started with the 2004 and 2005 Lassegue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. This is a right bank Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc with some Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 was from the cellar at Mark's, it was fresh and and balanced with a full-body with ripe red fruit aromas and rich flavors of cherry and plum with a bit of herbal marjoram and spice in the long finish. The 2005 was similar but the aromas and flavors were more intense while the tannins were a bit smoother. Very enjoyable. We also tasted: The 2009 Arcanum from Tuscany, a Cabernet Franc based blend with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had fresh aromas and flavors of raspberry with nutmeg and white pepper with fresh acidity, smooth tannins and a lightly spicy finish. The 2004 Helena Dakota Vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Knight's Valley had pronounced aromas and flavors of blackberry, cassis, coffee and graphite. It had a full body with velvety tannins and fresh acidity with a long mineral laced finish. 2009 Verite La Muse from Sonoma County is a Merlot based Bordeaux blend with fruity aromas and flavors of cherries, berries and plums with a touch of fennel. Full body, slightly grippy tannins with a slightly spicy finish. The 2009 Cenyth Sonoma County Red Wine was overseen by daughter, Helene. This Cabernet Sauvignon based blend has aromas and flavors of red and black berries with chocolate mint. It had a full body, silky smooth tannins, fresh acidity and a lingering finish. All were rich and elegant reds, all recommended and all absolutely fantastic with the bison strip steak on special that evening.