Monday, August 24, 2015

My First Wine Blogger's Conference

When I started blogging in 2010, I quickly became aware of an event called the Wine Blogger's Conference. Every year via social media, I watched my on-line cohorts discuss the benefits and fun of attending this yearly gathering. I toyed with registering and making the trip but other things kept taking precedence. As I met more people who had actually attended, I became a bit more determined to go and see what it was all about for myself. 

This month, I finally did just that, I arrived in the Finger Lakes region of New York on August 13 and it was game on. Upon getting off the plane, I was greeted by a representative of the region at a table loaded with wine just waiting to be tasted. This was just the beginning of my immersion into #FLXWine. 

Later that evening, we enjoyed a sip and stroll style tasting with light bites from local restaurants served alongside the  many diverse wine offerings from the area under a tent in a park in the Gaffer District. This casual evening event provided a great opportunity to officially meet some people that I had only previously spoken to on-line.

The next day, the non-stop whirlwind of wine and information would continue. Karen McNeil, author of The Wine Bible, opened the conference. She shared her personal journey and her thoughts on everything from improving one's writing skills to being a better wine taster. We then learned about the unique terroir of the Finger Lakes from Cornell professor, Alan Lasko, who started at the beginning with the prehistoric glacier movements that formed the lakes. 

The conference would continue with breakout sessions which attendees selected based on their personal interests from an array of topics. I opted for a Lambrusco class taught by Bill Whiting, Director of Wine Education for Banfi Vintners, I'll be writing more on that later. 

An alfresco lunch, along with an opportunity to taste more wines, would follow. Booths set up with some sparkling wines of Alsace and cool Verdejo wines from Rueda would lure me over to them on this warm afternoon.

Back inside, we were ready for some live blogging. This is an intense speed dating type of event. Ten winery representatives would take turns presenting their wine for a tasting at each table; conference attendees blogged or tweeted their initial thoughts on each as quickly as they could before the allotted time was up.

After that, it was time to load up the buses and head out for our excursions into wine country. I enjoyed riding with Scott Osburn of Fox Run Vineyards. He not only crafts some fantastic wines, he is obviously loved by everyone in the community. Destinations were unknown as each bus left the Radisson in Corning; we soon arrived at Lakewood Vineyards on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. I was so pleased to meet the Stamp family, every member seems to be involved with creating their fabulous line of wines.

We took a hayride through the vineyards and, after another tasting of Finger Lakes wines, we dined outside with a lake view. I was pleased to sit with Judy and Len of Keuka Spring winery, I enjoyed tasting their wines and hearing their story and seeing photos of their beautiful property. This could have been the end to a very full day but it wasn't.

That evening we were dropped off at the Rockwell Museum where we viewed collections of Native American art and western artifacts. I had the pleasure of taking in the sights with Aurelio Montes del Campo, flying winemaker extraordinaire from Montes and Kaiken. Lest you think we had stopped tasting, fear not, tables were set up to allow further sipping while viewing the museum exhibits.

Back at the hotel, Jordan Winery hosted an after party for attendees who hadn't yet sampled enough. Guests could also find rogue parties happening throughout the area with further opportunities to taste and network. 

That was just the first full day of #WBC15. 

The next two days held even more educational opportunities, I attended a class with Aurelio Montes where I learned more about winemaking and the terroir in both Chile and Argentina while tasting some great wine. I also attended sessions on photography, wine writing and wine blogging. I participated in a second round of live blogging which allowed for another opportunity to get a taste of the Finger Lakes. I am now unquestionably a fan of the Cabernet Franc, the Pinot Noir along with the many different white, sweet, sparkling and rosé wines I tried.

The Saturday night dinner and award ceremony were held at the Corning Museum of Glass where we also enjoyed seeing a glass blowing demonstration. More parties were happening at the hotel and in the town of Corning after the evening's official events. In addition to all that I've mentioned here, there were optional winery excursions both before and after the conference. These side trips provided a bit more for those with extra time. I didn't take part this year but I hope to do so the next time that I attend.

Overall, my expectations about this conference were exceeded. I had a great time, I learned a lot, I met so many wonderful people and I got to personally connect with many others whom I had only known virtually. If you have ever considered going to the conference but haven't pulled the trigger on that decision, I highly recommend that you seriously make your plans for next year. It will be held in Lodi, CA, and expectations are high.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The "Generous Pour" with George Miliotes

Master Sommelier George Miliotes was in Houston last night presenting his wine selections for this summer's "Generous Pour" event at The Capital Grille in City Center for local wine and food writers. From now until August 30, guests can opt to indulge in eight wines that are new to the menu for $28 per person. This year's fun twist is that all of the selected wines were produced by women in California. The list features three whites and five reds in a range of varieties and styles.


We started with the 2013 Barrymore Pinot Grigio from Monterey. This fresh and fruity easy-drinking white paired perfectly with the pan fried calamari with hot cherry peppers. This was followed by the Galerie "Naissance" Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc which was aged on its lees in neutral oak barrels giving an added richness to the wine and it was served with prosciutto wrapped mozzarella and vine ripened tomatoes. The final white wine was the very limited production Stonestreet "Bear Point" Alexander Valley Chardonnay made in California's classic style- oaky and creamy, perfect with the lobster and crab cake appetizer.


I next enjoyed tasting the red wines with my dinner entree of porcini rubbed bone-in ribeye with 15 year aged balsamic accompanied by lobster mac 'n' cheese, roasted brussels sprouts with smoked bacon, grilled asparagus and roasted fingerling potatoes. The red wines include the single estate Cambria "Julia's Vineyard" Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley, the Matanzas Creek Sonoma Merlot from cooler climate Bennett Valley, the limited production Arrowood Reserve Speciale Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, the Mt Brave Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt Veeder and the 2007 Kinton Syrah from Santa Barbara which George Miliotes called California' greatest vintage. All five were excellent wines but the Syrah was the best pairing with my steak; it was very smooth with spicy berry flavors and a slight savoriness in the long finish.

The evening ended with coffee and an array of desserts including flourless chocolate espresso cake, coconut cream pie and cheesecake with seasonal berries. The food was all delicious and the new "Generous Pour" wine list offers something for everyone, it would make a great date night or a fun evening out with friends. It is something to check out before the month ends, don't miss out!

Learn more about the women behind the wine- here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso

My husband asked me to make Bolognese sauce with pasta the other day so I took the opportunity to open this bottle of 2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso* that I just received. While the most prominent reds of Umbria are labeled Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG and are made from 100% Sagrantino grapes, the easier drinking Montefalco Rosso DOC wines are made from a blend of grapes with food-friendly Sangiovese being one of the main components. 

The 2010 Tenute Lunelli Ziggurat Montefalco Rosso* contains 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Cabernet and Merlot sourced from the family owned vineyards in Montefalco and Bevagna. This wine spent 12 months aging in barrel and 6 months in the bottle before it was released. The high percentage of Sangiovese makes it a classic pairing with pasta and tomato based sauce while the addition of the Sagrantino and the other international varieties makes the wine even more meat friendly.

We enjoyed it with our simple week night meal of salad, bread and pasta with meat sauce. It was a bright ruby red in the glass with aromas of ripe cherries and raspberries with a bit of Chinese 5-spice. It was dry with moderate tannins and good acidity with fresh cherry/berry flavors and a long, lightly spiced finish. Balanced, easy-drinking and casually elegant, we loved it! This wine is priced at approximately $13; it is highly recommended and I will be seeking out more.

*I received this bottle as a media sample from the Consorzio Montefalco.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Thoughts on Orange Wine

I spent the last couple of months trying to seek out the orange wines that are available in the Houston area. Orange wines were a bit of a novelty for me with just the occasional glass at a wine bar or at a wine friend's house. Although I dine out "in town" as much as I can, I also do a lot of dining out in the suburbs. This type of wine, unfortunately, is not a feature on anyone's list out there. This spring, I decided to see what orange wines I could find in our broader market, I wrote about what I found in a feature for Snooth.

Side note for my fellow Houstonians, I found the best retail selections at the Houston Wine Merchant and the best wine menu offerings at Dolce Vita.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

2014 Domaine Suffrene Bandol Rosé

This year to celebrate Rosé Day, I opened a bottle of the 2014 Domaine Suffrene Bandol Rosé. Every summer, this seems to be one of my favorite wines. I have repeatedly recommended it in Galveston Monthly magazine. I had the pleasure of visiting the winery in 2012 and meeting winemaker/owner Cedric Gravier and his dog, Gaston. You can read more about that day by clicking here.

The 2014 vintage is a dry, medium body rosé with aromas and flavors of ripe mixed berries, apricot and grapefruit with a bit of herbs, refreshing acidity and a long mineral finish. Its a fantastic wine to enjoy by itself poolside and it is even more delicious with simply grilled fish. Elegant as always, the perfect wine for summer and, again, a highly recommended wine.

The blend consists of 40% Mourvedre, 30% Cinsault, 20% Grenache and 10% Carignan from 40-70 year old vines that sit in sandy silt soils over limestone and clay. Though the vineyard and winery are not organic certified, Cedric uses virtually all organic practices in his grape growing. This wine was created primarily through direct pressing but it is also blended with some saignee. It was fermented with natural yeasts at low temperatures in stainless steel and malolactic fermentation was blocked. It spends six months in the tank before bottling. It is not fined or filtered. With only 3,000 cases produced, this is wine that Houston does not receive enough of as it quickly sells out in our market, make sure and get yours now.

Friday, June 12, 2015

2007 Tenuta Castelbuono Montefalco Sagrantino

An issue with my outdoor grill has forced me back into my kitchen this summer which is not my favorite place to cook in the Houston summertime. Unable to cook outside along with the need for a large family dinner meant that I was slow roasting a pork shoulder inside.

Since I wasn't just throwing some hamburgers on the grill, I had to start early which gave me time to stare into my wine "cellar" fridge and contemplate what I wanted to open. I also needed a little bit of wine to add into the roasting pan.

This bottle of 2007 Tenuta Castelbuono Montefalco Sagrantino seemed the perfect choice. I popped it open and poured myself a taste. It was big, it was powerful and it had a higher level of tannins than most of the wines that I've been enjoying lately. I poured a quarter cup over my roast, decanted the rest and then re-poured it into the bottle. I then put it back in my wine fridge to keep it at cellar temperature until dinner. I also picked out some other lighter weight wine options for my guests to start the evening.

When I went back to this wine three hours later, I was enthralled. Intense aromas of sweet ripe dark berries with a touch of rosemary and fennel and a light earthiness. It was dry, full bodied with rich berry/cherry flavors and a slight spiciness in the, now, very smooth finish. It had both power and elegance at the same time. I lamented the quarter cup that I had used for cooking.

I poured myself a full glass and I waited until near the end of the meal to share the wealth as I only had one bottle of this wine. I let my guests finish the other (still good) options and then gave everyone some of this wine. It was unquestionably deemed the best wine of the night by all.

This was a media sample and it appears to be priced about $30-35 on-line. I intend on seeking more out and I will let you know in the comments where I find it out in the Houston market; a highly recommended wine!
  • Montefalco Sagrantino wines are produced in the Montefalco apppellation of the Umbria region in Italy. They are made with 100% Sagrantino grapes which have one of the highest concentrations of polyphenol antioxidants. They require a fair amount of aging (a minimum of 30 months by law) to smooth out the tannins to create a more balanced wine. The wine above is almost eight years old and it is drinking beautifully.

Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase


The Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase was held at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center last Saturday evening. This annual event is one of the best consumer wine and food events held in the greater Houston area every year. 

This year more than 2,500 wine and food lovers tasted their way through imaginative dishes and hundreds of wines while chefs representing nearly 60 restaurants competed for Wine & Food Week's Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs award.  The competition was intense and the impressive culinary creations were not to be missed.

While guests sipped and tasted, Chef Robert Del Grande of RDG was inducted into the Wine & Food Week Chef of Chefs Hall of Fame. He was Houston's first James Beard Award winner in 1992. Kris Jakob, the executive chef of Culinary Institute LeNôtre, took top honors as the 2015 Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs winning a $5,000 cash and prize package along with the highly sought after Waterford Crystal Trophy. The winning dish was a delectable Foie Gras Creme Brûlée with Ginger Snap Cookies. The first runner-up in the savory competition was Corner Table Executive Chef Ja'Nel Witt with her Summer Yellow Gazpacho, an heirloom tomato gazpacho with crab and cucumber salad finished with jalapeño honey. John Brazie, the Executive Chef at The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center representing Robard's, took the second runner-up position with his Candied Bacon French Toast with Champagne Pickled Cherry, Roquefort Ice Cream and Toasted Bourbon Syrup. 

This year's event featured some of Texas' best wine along with California and European favorites, as well as a fantastic array of Champagne and other sparkling wines of the world. The impressive line up of wines features something for everyone and allows each guest the opportunity to try wines in a variety of styles from all over the globe and enjoy pairing experiences that they might not have ever discovered on their own. It is one of Houston's not to be missed wine and food events.

See My Photos of the Event Here

The Woodlands Wine & Food Week - The Grand Tasting

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

50 Harvests Meritage Napa Valley Red Wine 2012

This bottle of 50 Harvests Meritage Napa Valley Red Wine 2012 was a media sample that I received last fall in a half bottle size. It had dropped to the back of my large wine fridge where it had, unfortunately, gotten lost and forgotten with some bottles being saved for long term storing. During a clean-up/rearranging session, I recently discovered it. 

While working at home, I decided to open it up with a takeout burger that was topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. Yes, I usually eat much lighter than that during the day but I was staying home, my husband was out of town for a few days and I was living in yoga pants. My schedule was actually the writer's schedule that everyone suspects that I have all the time.

Anyway, back to the wine. This was a wine that I could easily have believed was Napa Valley or Bordeaux in a blind tasting; I would have gone back and forth when having to fill in that blank spot. Intense aromas of ripe blackberry, violets and graphite; dry, moderate acidity, velvety tannins with more cranberry and black tea in the flavor and persistent finish. A recommended wine, I finished the half bottle alone on my long lunch break.

Some info from the bottle: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 10% Malbec and 10% Petite Verdot from low yield vineyards in the Oak Knoll District, aged in French Oak with 13.9% ABV. This wine was created to honor the Scotto family's 50 years in California and the grandfather that had brought the family here from Italy in time for the 1963 harvest. A limited production, SRP is $50 for a 750ml bottle.