by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Summer Sips from Spain - from Galveston Monthly

  In this month's issue of Galveston Monthly magazine, I write about a few of the wine growing regions of Spain along with some history and wine recommendations. Top picks include an Albariño from Rias Baixas, both a red and a rosado from Rioja, and a pair of Cavas. 

  Read the articles here as they appeared in the printed version or check at the on-line issue at 

Friday, July 3, 2020

The Tastes of an Independent America - From Galveston Monthly

As seen in the July 2020 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

  This month, I wrote about the drinking habits of the Founding Fathers with suggestions on the imported wines that we know they enjoyed drinking from Bordeaux, Champagne, and Madeira. While no one should consume as much as they apparently did, we can all take tips on the best wines to enjoy on Independence Day, read the printed version below or follow the link to the online magazine spread. Galveston Monthly - The Tastes of an Independent America



Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Recommended Rosé from Oregon for Summer


Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended the "4th Annual Largest Blind Tasting of American True Rosé". This is an event hosted annually by wine writer/blogger, Jeff Kralik of The Drunken Cyclist. Texas had already begun to reopen after the Covid-19 Stay Home order had been lifted but this was my first day to go out since it had begun. In addition to Jeff and I, two other brave souls, also writer/bloggers ventured out to join us as well, Katrina René from The Corkscrew Concierge and Rebecca Castillo from My Vino Rules.

Jeff defines a true rosé as an intentional rosé, a wine in which the grapes have been grown, harvested, and vinified with the plan of making a rosé versus the Saignée method which is bleeding off from a planned red wine and vinifying the juice as a white wine.

He had accumulated seventy-four sample bottles of American-made rosé wine for this tasting. Virtually all were more than acceptable ranging in the very good category of an 88-89 score or the excellent category of 90 and up, we did have one corked bottle. I would be delighted to accept a chilled glass of any of these wines this summer.
Jeff Kralik - After the unveiling.

The rosés that were Pinot Noir-based tended to be more highly-rated by me at this tasting though their were exceptions. Many of my highest scores were  wines from Willamette Valley though my highest was from California. I decided to write this event up in two posts featuring my top picks from both states, I'm starting here with my top scorers from Oregon. I brought the leftovers of some of my favorite wines home, I did not get them all as some of my fellow tasters were quick to take their favorites as well. I re-tasted these wines with my family with barbecued ribs as part of our holiday celebration the following day. I will include their top picks along with my original notes from Jeff's house.

Big thank you to Jeff Kralik for inviting me to all your great tastings!

Top wines from Willamette Valley:
Willakenzie Estate Rosé 2019 - Light pink with fresh berry and melon aromas and flavors with a hint of minerality in the lingering slightly pithy, crisp finish. 93 points with a $28 SRP. 
Adelsheim Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 - Complex mix of floral and fruity aromas with red cherry flavors with lime zest in the fresh, citrus-filled finish. 93 points with a $28 SRP. 
This was my husband's favorite from the lineup.
Gran Moraine Rosé of Pinot Noir 2019 - Fresh watermelon and grapefruit aromas and flavors with tangy acidity in the lingering citrus-laced finish. 92 points with a $28 SRP. 
My daughter who has taken the WSET-2 and Texas Wine Specialist course and now tastes with me on the Houston Chronicle Tasting Panel crowned this as her favorite, her note was that it tasted like watermelon and joy.
Lange Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 - More deeply hued, this wine was a bit weightier and had sweet ripe raspberry aromas and flavors with a pleasant slightly tart persistent finish. 92 points with a $28 SRP.
My son loved this one, he tends to prefer darker rosé and lighter red wines.
Winderlea Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 - Floral notes of red rose with beautiful acidity and more subtle lingering flavors of apricot and citrus. 90 points with a $35 SRP. 
Raptor Ridge Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 - Light and fruity with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberry, a bit softer on the palate with a fresh grapefruit note in the finish. 90 points

From elsewhere in Oregon:
Troon Vineyard Rosé - This Tempranillo-based blend was a very different wine in the line-up. It had a yeasty sour beer note, great acidity and grapefruit aromas and flavors with a lingering fresh citrus finish. 92 points with a $25 SRP. 
Fullerton Three Otters Pinot Noir Rosé - Crisp and lively, very Provencal with notes of lavender and a mineral laced finish. 92 points and a $20 SRP.
Division Winemaking Company Gamay Noir - Sweet fruit aromas with a floral note and a lingering fresh, fruity finish. 90 points with a $ SRP.
A to Z Winework Rosé - Composed of Pinot Noir, this one had an interesting sweetart candy note with a rounder feel and a fresh finish. 90 points with a $16  SRP.

Honorable mention to these wines who scored in the 87-89 point range.
Brooks Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Rosé 2019
Montinore Estate Pinot Noir Rosé 2019
Saffron Fields Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2019
Yamhill Valley Vineyards Rosé of Pinot Noir Estate 2019
Erath Pinot Noir Rosé Oregon 2019
Furioso Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé 2019
Tori Mor Pinot Noir Rosé 2018

Monday, June 8, 2020

Sampling Ron Rubin Winery

I received some samples from the marketing team for Ron Rubin's River Road Family Vineyards and Winery. I was unfamiliar with the brand so a little research informed me that Ron Rubin had grown up in the beverage industry as his family owned a wine and liquor store in Illinois. He attended UC Davis in the early 1970s and studied winemaking. 

Rubin was interested in more than just wine and spirits. He would start his own beverage company and acquire The Republic of Tea which was based in Larkspur, CA. Eventually, he would purchase the River Road Vineyards and Winery in the Green Valley AVA which is a subzone of the Russian River Valley and begin making wine. This is a family company, his son now manages the tea business and his wife, Pam, inspired one of the Chardonnays in their line which is reviewed below.

Ron Rubin Winery Pam's UN-Oaked California Chardonnay 2018 - This is not a traditional dry Chardonnay, it is an off-dry wine with sweet ripe fruit aromas and flavors. It has classic Chardonnay notes of pear, apple, and citrus with food-friendly acidity, moderate alcohol, and a tropical pineapple nuance in the finish. It is a fun summer wine for only $14 per bottle. The grapes are sourced from family owned vineyards in Clarksburg, Lodi, and Mendocino County. I served this wine with a salad lunch made of grilled chicken, feta, spinach, apple, and avocado. It has a suggested retail price of $14.

Two other products for wine lovers that like a bit of sweetness in their vino come from the River Road winery, Ron's Chillable Pink and Ron's Chillable Red. I served these at home on a Sunday evening spent poolside in our backyard. The Pink version was preferred by everyone there except for one young lady friend of my son who had previously told me that she prefers sweeter wines and prefers reds. I set out some fresh berries, ice, and sparkling mineral water for anyone that wanted to make a spritzer or faux sangria. 

Either wine could be a good choice for use in a Sangria recipe and may eliminate the need for adding any additional sweeteners. Both also have a low 7.1% alcohol. The wines were served with a spread that included spicy barbecue sliders, potato salad, avocado salad, and fresh melon. They could be enjoyed with any salty or spicy snacks. Both have a suggested retail price of $12.99.

Ron's Chillable Pink - Appearance wise, any rosé lover would be attracted when seeing this in a glass, however, for those that like their rosé dry and mineral driven, this may not be the right wine for them. It is spritzy, fresh and fruity with sweet mixed berry and melon flavors and a lightly sweet but not cloying finish. I enjoyed it most over ice with a few berries and a splash of sparkling mineral water.

Ron's Chillable Red - Loaded with aromas and flavors of raspberry and plum with a slight savory note which I found disconcerting with the sweetness level. It was also lacking that spritzy element which enhanced the pink version. Only one in our group favored it, she drank it both straight and in a spritzer with fruit and sparkling water. 

The wines are sold at Total Wine, they are affordable and the quality is good for the price.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Restocking Your Wine

As seen in the June 2020 issue of 
Galveston Monthly magazine,
on the stands now.

  After the stay home orders depleted all supplies kept on hand, its time to restock and rethink what are the necessities really needed to stay home for a long time. For wine lovers, there are other pressing needs than just food, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. As hurricane season arrives and you think about restocking freezers and pantries again, think about what wines you will enjoy most while staying at home.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Fall Creek Vineyards Celebrates 45 Years

Fall Creek Vineyards is one of the Texas wineries that I have visited the most, both at their Tow and Driftwood locations. This year the Aulers are celebrating their 45th anniversary in Texas wine. This month, I share some of their story in Galveston Monthly magazine, on the stands now.

Ed and Susan Auler have proven that together they can do just about anything. In the early years of their marriage, Ed was practicing law while Susan was the ideal mother taking care of their children. As if that was not enough to keep a young family busy, the two also took over operations of Ed’s family cattle ranch...

Read the on-line version at Galveston Monthly.com

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Pink Bubbles for Mother's Day

As seen in the Houston Chronicle

My daughter and I were both delighted to be asked to recommend some wines this year for Mother's Day in the Houston Chronicle. Check out our selections of pink sparklers to enhance your family celebrations.

https://www.houstonchronicle.com/life/food/article/Houston-mother-daughter-duo-offer-wine-15250654.php

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Scarpa Freisa Secco 'La Selva di Moirano' Monferrato 2006


Jeremy Parzen gave me this bottle of Scarpa Freisa Secco 'La Selva di Moirano' Monferrato 2006 to review. He is a friend and also works with the winery. Since I had taken my daughter to a Scarpa tasting at a local wine bar last fall, I decided to include her in this tasting. Morgan has the WSET2 certification. I also thought it would be fun to share how we go over a bottle of wine at family meals. Please excuse any Italian misprounciations.

Scarpa Freisa Secco 'La Selva di Moirano' Monferrato 2006 - This wine is very complex yet still somewhat youthful with notes of sour cherry, leather, sage, and black olive with a distinct savory element. It is beautifully structured, dry, with fresh acidity, fully resolved, smooth elegant tannins, and a lingering finish. It is very food friendly and quite easy to drink. As my daughter states in the video, "it's elegant with a rustic flair". Highly recommended.


As we are both very curious about this grape now, we will be seeking other versions and vintages. Please share in the comments if you have a recommendation.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Blaye - Côtes de Bordeaux

During my trip to the Côtes de Bordeaux last summer, I visited all five terroirs or sub-regions of the greater AOC. Blaye is the largest of the five regions, it is located along the Gironde Estuary. The fruit forward red wines produced here are accessible and easy drinking.

Regarding tourism in the region, there is quite a bit to see and do. It has a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Citadel of Blaye, which was built in the 1600’s. This historic site houses not only an ancient fortress and a herd of goats, it also has a recently remodeled hotel with nearby cafes and shopping. I stayed at the Hôtel de la Citadelle Blaye for two nights. It had a nice restaurant with a excellent breakfast spread and it also had live entertainment on Friday night. The pool overlooks the water and the rooms are air-conditioned which is always important to my fellow Texas travelers.


Our group participated in something more modern that you might not expect to find in such a historic region. In addition to enjoying a tasting at Chateau Monconseil Gazin, we also played an Escape Room game in their old cellar. If your group wants to win, knowledge about the history of wine in France and some tasting skills are definitely required.

We also got to enjoy a very French celebration at Château Le Camplat, a Festibalades. We were treated to a dinner feast with many wines and some live entertainment along with both a vineyard and nature tour. Everyone we met was very welcoming. While we were very focused on the red wines while we there, the region also produces some excellent dry, Sauvignon Blanc wines as well.

Some of my recommended producers that I tasted with during my visit are Chateau Le Camplat, Chateau La Croix St-Pierre, Chateau Mondesir-Gazin, Chateau Monconseil Gazin, and Chateau Cap Saint-Martin. I am always looking for their wines here in Houston.

Recently, I located two wines from Blaye in my area. While I did not visit these two producers, the exceptional drinkability brought back many fond memories of my time there.

I served both of the wines to my family with a steak dinner.
Château Peyredoulle Blaye - Côtes de Bordeaux 2016 - This wine is 91% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot. Intense cherry/berry aromas and juicy flavors with a distinct floral note, dry, full-bodied, with good acidity, velvety tannins and a slightly spicy, mineral-laced finish, a steal for $19 at Total Wine.

Château Belle Coline Blaye - Côtes de Bordeaux 2014 - This wine is a blend of Merlot and Malbec. It is loaded with red fruit aromas and rich, red raspberry flavors, nicely structured with a medium body, good acidity, and smooth, rounded tannins, it is dry with a pleasant, fruity finish, quite quaffable and affordably priced, $22 at Houston Wine Merchant.

Both wines are highly recommended.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Texas Wine on the Table

Texas Twitter Talk happens every Tuesday on social media. As the name would indicate, the main discussion is taking place on Twitter but Texas wine lovers also post and discuss their Texas wine choices on Facebook and Instagram as well. Some earlier picks were included in a weekly roundup of wines that I tasted during the first few weeks of the Stay Home order. I decided to separate them out a couple of weeks ago to make it easier for Texas wine lovers to find my notes on these home grown wines.


This wine was selected when favorite Texas white wines was the theme of the talk. I consider Duchman to be one of the best wineries in the state. My favorites have typically been the Vermentino tasted here and their Aglianico, but they also make a good Trebbiano and Montepulciano.
Duchman Family Winery Vermentino 2016 - Grapes sourced from the Bingham Family Vineyard. Dry, smooth, medium body white wine with tropical aromas of white flower and pineapple with notes of lemon peel and a hint of saline in clean, refreshing finish.
Full disclosure, one of the owners is now my husband's cardiologist but I was enjoying the wines long before they met. Read more about the winemaker for Duchman in a feature I wrote for a local magazine.

This wine was selected when favorite Texas winery was the theme. I met Ron Yates a few years ago at Spicewood Vineyards. Since then, he has expanded with a new winery producing wines under the Ron Yates Wines label. I wrote about meeting Ron in 2014, you can click here to read more about him. I tasted both of these wines at that first meeting mentioned above and purchased both of these bottles at that time. The High Plains was my favorite of these two wines then. This was my last bottle of each. Halfway through dinner, I pulled the Hill Country wine out. We were discussing that first trip and I couldn't resist comparing the two again. My son and daughter were also at home to join the discussion, both bottles were fully consumed.
Spicewood Vineyards Texas High Plains Tempranillo 2012 - This wine was starting to show its age a bit but has become more elegant as well. I had a friend that used to make oven dried fruit snacks with no added sugar for her kids and that was the aroma and flavor of which I was reminded. Dried strawberry with leather, and a dusty note, the wine was dry, and medium bodied with a lingering white pepper finish. It was definitely different than the fruity wine, I remembered.
Spicewood Vineyards Texas Hill Country Tempranillo 2012 - This wine is also evolving but it is defying its age a bit better. This wine had the similar strawberry note but was more vibrant, it displayed some fig and tobacco, along with a lighter leather note, it was fuller bodied, a bit more structured but still with a persistent spicy finish. On this evening, the Texas Hill Country was the preferred wine by all.

The theme for this night was wines made from Italian grape varieties. 86% of this wine meets that criteria. I was also curious to see how the 2013 vintage was holding up after tasting the 2012s. The THP on this label stands for Texas Hocus Pocus named because it is a blend of grapes that are not usually blended together. This red is composed of 54% Aglianico, 21% Montepulciano, 14% Tempranillo, and 11% Barbera.
Llano Estacado Texas High Plains THP Stampede 2013 - Red cherry and cranberry aromas and flavors with fresh cracked black pepper, and dried herbs, medium-bodied and easy drinking with good acidity and fine, powdery tannins, and a juicy, spicy red fruit finish. 

These vintages are no longer available on the winery websites but you can find more current releases.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Malbec World Day Celebration

Malbec World Day is an annual celebration for wine lovers to drink their favorite  Malbec wine and share it online with other like-minded drinkers. It happens every year on April 17. I am a little late posting about it but I celebrated on time.

The Malbec grape is originally from southwest France near the Pyrenees in Cahors and it is one of the approved red grapes for Bordeaux. It immigrated to Argentina in the 1800s and since 2011, it has been the main grape cultivated in its new homeland. Argentina has over 100,000 acres planted to the grape with 85% of that in Mendoza. Lujan de Cuyo is a subregion of Mendoza, it is located next to the Andes Mountains about 3,300 feet above sea level and has a hot, dry climate. There is good temperature variation from night to day allowing the grapes to fully ripen from the intense sun yet still maintain their natural acidity.

I celebrated Malbec World Day with a bottle of Eolo from Trivento. 2015 was considered a more challenging vintage, it was warmer and wetter than typical. Producers spent more time in the vineyard working to overcome these difficulties. The grapes for this wine are sourced from a vineyard planted in 1912 that is situated on the north side of the Mendoza River. The site is very windy which is the inspiration of name, Aeolus was the Greek God of the winds and  the name Eolo is the Spanish form of that name. 

Trivento Eolo Malbec 2015 - Very balanced and elegant with rich blackberry aromas and flavors with notes of tobacco and spice. It is full bodied, yet supple with fully integrated ripe tannins, good acidity, and a persistent spicy finish. A beautiful wine thoroughly enjoyed with grilled ribeyes. I've held this wine for over a year, it is available on Wine-Searcher.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Champagne Mailly Grand Cru Rosé NV

During the stay home period, we have been drinking more bubbles than usual in my home. If you are going to watch Netflix for hours on end, it is always better with some sparkling wine and some popcorn.

The Champagne Mailly Grand Cru Rosé got a spot at my dinner table with a curbside carryout meal from one of my top Houston restaurants, Nobie's. Their Winner Winner Chicken Dinner is a family favorite. We added some grilled carrots, pierogis with carrot sour cream for dipping, and their famous dilly bread to accompany it.

Friend and fellow wine blogger, Jeff Kralik, introduced me to this Champagne house a few years ago. He is such a fan, he named their beloved family dog after it. I've been seeking it at restaurants and wine shops ever since and it has become a preferred brand in my home as well.

Champagne Mailly Grand Cru Rosé - The grapes for this wine come from one of the seventeen Grand Cru villages in Champagne, this one located in the Montagne de Reims. This area is famous for its Pinot Noir and this sparkler is made primarily from it. The brand was created in 1929 by a small group of growers that decided they wanted to make their own wine exclusively from the region's grapes. Crisp and fruity with aromas and flavors of red berries and blood orange citrus, it is dry, fresh, and has a softer finish than many Champagnes, it was excellent with dinner but is also superb on its own. $50 at Total Wine.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Casa Madero V Rosé 2018

Mexico is the oldest wine producing country in North America. Despite its long history with the grape and my frequents trips to Mexican resorts over the years, I was not familiar with the wines. My brother-in-law introduced me to my first Mexican wine in 2012, an L.A. Cetto Don Luis Seleccion Reservada Merlot from the Valle de Guadalupe. He had purchased a few different bottles during a trip to Mexico City to enjoy with our family when he returned. Despite my eight years of interest, I still haven't tried that many different brands. I have mostly enjoyed wines made by Casa Madero, Mexico's oldest winery, at local restaurants and wine events. This brand seems to be more available than others in Houston.

Casa Madero was established 1597. It is located in the Valle de Parras which is located in the southern part of the State of Coahuila, in the north-east region of Mexico. The area is situated at almost 5,000 feet above sea level. Winters are cold and summers are sunny with temperatures ranging between the high 60s to mid 80s Fahrenheit.


Local sommelier, Sean Beck, is the beverage director for the H Town Restaurant Group which includes the James Beard Award winning restaurant Hugo’s, as well at Caracol, and Xochi. Beck has been promoting Mexican wines at these authentic Mexican restaurants for many years. I purchased this bottle from him with a take-out meal from Backstreet Cafe, another restaurant in the aforementioned group.

Casa Madero V Rosé 2018 - This rosé wine is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Parras de la Fuente region in Coahuila. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks. It is dry, medium-bodied with fresh aromas of raspberry, watermelon and orange peel with rich juicy flavors. Smooth, fruity and refreshing with a hint of salinity in the finish, it is an excellent wine to enjoy on the patio by itself or with a mixed array of food including, but not limited to, tacos, grilled fish, grilled vegetables, and cheese.