Monday, December 28, 2015

Pierre Péters Champagne Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs

Sparkling Wine of the Week: Pierre Péters Champagne Cuvée de Réserve Blanc de Blancs 

Always a favorite in our home, this sparkling wine was sourced from Grand Cru vineyards located in the commune of Le Mesnil sur Oger in the Cote des Blancs sub region of Champagne. The belemnite chalky soil of the area helps maintain acidity while adding a chalky mineral nuance to the wine. 

A pale straw color in the glass, this wine has aromas of baked pear with citrus, it has a creamy texture with refreshing acidity. It is dry with crisp citrus flavors and a light toasted note with a long mineral finish. 

A preferred choice with cold seafood platters but easily enjoyed anytime, approximately $60.

Monday, December 7, 2015

André Clouet Champagne Rosé No. 3 Grand Cru Brut

Sparkling Wine of the Week: André Clouet Champagne Rosé No. 3 Grand Cru Brut

This wine was given to me by a friend that joined us for dinner over the holidays. I can assure you that 
he was well-received when I opened the door and saw the bottle. The Champagnes of André Clouet are favorites at our home. This high-quality small production sparkling wine comes from the Grand Cru village of Bouzy located in the Champagne region of France. It is made from 100% Pinot Noir sourced from the prime mid-slope section of the vineyard.

A pretty pale pink color, this wine is dry and refreshing with aromas of raspberry and orange zest with a light floral note. It has similar flavors with a bit of yeast and gingerbread in the lingering mineral-laced finish.

The wine is the perfect hostess gift, approximately $50.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige

Sparkling Wine of the Week: 
Mumm Napa Brut Prestige* 
A blend of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with some Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier made in the traditional method, this is Mumm Napa's signature sparkling wine. 
Fruitier and a bit rounder than most Champagne, this bottle of dry bubbles offers fresh apples and citrus with a bit of yeast and a light toasty note with a lingering finish. This is the perfect wine with which to greet your holiday guests at the door, approximately $22. 
*Media Sample

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving with Wines of Alsace

Are you looking for a sparkling wine, white wine or dessert wine for your holiday meal? Wines of Alsace created a Thanksgiving wine pairing plan to make your day both easier and more delicious. 

Check out their chart and my suggested wines before you head out to do your holiday wine shopping. 




  • Lucien Albrecht Cremant D'Alsace Brut NV - Wine-Thoughts sparkling wine of the week. The grapes for this dry, sparkling wine were hand picked and the wine was produced in the traditional method with a minimum of 18 months aging on the lees. Crisp and refreshing with light notes of green apple and citrus; perfect for appetizers, the cheese course and beyond. I have enjoyed both this style and the rosé version many times. This wine was a media sample. Suggested Retail Price: $21.99
  • 2013 Frey Sohler Reserve Pinot Blanc Vin D' Alsace- This dry white wine has light aromas of honeysuckle with fruity flavors of pear and melon. It is light, fresh and easy-drinking. Versatile with the varied vegetable side dishes and delicious with the turkey, too. This wine was a media sample. Suggested Retail Price: $11.99 
  • 2010 Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc- I recently enjoyed the last of 6 bottles that I had purchased of this wine. If you can find this vintage, buy it and enjoy it now. This dry white wine has aromas of melon and green apple with a light hint of honeysuckle. It has light honeyed flavors with a subtle tropical note and a bit of spice in the lingering finish. Elegant and delicious. Suggested Retail Price: $18.99 
  • 2013 Jean-Baptiste Adam Alsace Reserve Riesling- I purchased this wine at a Spec's in Houston at the suggestion of one of their wine guys. This dry white wine has light fruity aromas and flavors of lemon, green apple and apricot with fresh acidity and a clean finish. Food friendly and a great value. Suggested Retail Price $10.99.
All are highly recommended wines.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut

Sparkling Wine of the Week: 
Desiderio Jeio Brut Prosecco* 
This non-vintage sparkling wine is produced by the Bisol family in northeastern Italy from 100% Glera grapes. The family has been producing wine in the Valdobbiadene region for over 400 years. 
This DOC Prosecco wine is dry and refreshing with fruity aromas of peach and sweet citrus with a light floral note. It has flavors of green apple and melon with a soft lingering finish. Perfect with weekend brunch at home, approximately $15. 
*Media Sample

Friday, November 13, 2015

"My Spain" A Seminar and Tasting with Karen MacNeil

Author of The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil, was in Houston this week to share some of her thoughts on the wines of Spain with local wine trade and media at a seminar and tasting held before the Spain's Great Match event. On the panel with Karen were Camarata at Paulie's wine bar owner, David Keck, and wine educator, Mark Rashap of The Iluminated Bottle.


The Tasting:
  1. 2014 Bengoetxe Txakolina, Txakoli de Getaria (SRP $19)- Txakoli, pronounced sha-KO-lee, is from the Basque region in northern Spain and is made from an indigenous grape called Hondarribi Zuri. The wines of the region are typically bone dry and are defined by citrus, a briny minerality and what Karen describes as "a buzz of acidity". This dry white wine made from organically grown grapes had a smoky/savory character that Karen said was more unique to the producer, Bengoetxe, than the region. Fresh and food friendly-perfect with sheep cheeses and Serrano ham, versatile enough for poultry and seafood.
  2. 2014 Fillaboa Albarino, Rias Baixas (SRP $20)- Karen called this one "a complete sensory wine", one that provides pleasure from beginning to end. Aromatic, but not perfumed, with fruity aromas of fresh peach and melon with pineapple flavors, refreshing acidity and a bit of salinity in the lingering finish. This dry, white wine is produced in what is known as Green Spain along the northwestern coastline. David referred to it as "a wine with a Viognier nose and a Riesling palate".  Crisp, pleasant and easy-drinking, it makes a great pairing for coastal cuisine.
  3. 2014 Bodegas Abad Dom Bueno Godello Joven, Bierzo (SRP $15)- Bierzo is located west of Rias Baixas in the rocky mountains of northwestern Spain. This dry white wine is produced from the indigenous thicker-skinned Godello grape variety from a more inland vineyard with heavier clay-based soils giving the wine a rich texture and what Karen calls "the good bitterness" or a slight bitter phenolic character in the finish. Delicate peach and grapefruit aromas and flavors with a stony minerality, a slight autolytic character and a light peppery finish, an excellent wine for heavier vegetarian or poultry dishes 
  4. 2014 Pago de Valdoneje Vinas Viejas, Bierzo (SRP $15)- This dry red wine was made from Mencia grapes from old vines planted in the 1920's. Mencia tends to produce more savory rather than fruity wines. Mark introduced this as "a really groovy wine" which showcases the terroir of the region. Rich and deep with leather and black cherry with grippy tannins and good acidity and a gaminess in the finish. David described it as burly, smoky and oaky with chunky tannins while Karen called it a "mountain structured red". It is big and bold and beckons you back for more.
  5. 2007 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Rioja Riserva (SRP $33)- Karen described this dry, red wine as having "a sweet, langorous, addictively complete beat." A high quality, traditional Rioja with coconut, leather, cherry, earth and spice with a light lingering dill note in the long finish.
  6. 2014 Alvaro Palacios "Camins" Priorat (SRP $22)- The rocky, black granite soils of Priorat support a variety of red grapes such as those used in this blend- Garnacha, Carinena, Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot. David said he likes Priorat wines because they have a sense of place  and you truly taste the soil. He called this wine "aggressive, yet balanced with power and structure." Intense with dark fruit, black pepper and an earthy note, Karen said this wine's allure comes from a "sense of corruption" or "an unspeakable darkness underneath the fruit."
  7. 2010 Numanthia, Toro (SRP $45)- Powerful, structured, intense, tannic and raw; Karen called this "the wine equivalent of Burning Man". The terroir of Toro delivers the more powerful structure to this Tempranillo wine which was then aged almost two years in new French oak. The panel felt this wine had a long life ahead of it and would continue to improve as it became further integrated. 
  8. Gonzalez Byass Apostoles Palo Cortado Sherry (SRP $55 for half-bottle)- A blend of Palomino and Pedro Ximenez, this rare style of Sherry has pronounced caramel and dried fruit aromas with a rich texture and a never-ending finish. Aged for thirty years, Karen said the addition of Pedro Ximenez is what changes the dynamic of this sherry and adds the textural richness. 
As the room grew quiet as many in the room pondered this type of wine for their first time, Karen said, "It's drinking us" and it seemed to be true.

All of the wines are highly recommended and worth seeking out.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs

Sparkling Wine of the Week:

2012 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs- This north coast California sparkling wine is made in the traditional method from Chardonnay grapes sourced from cool climate vineyards. It is partially fermented in barrel for added complexity and small lots undergo malolactic fermentation before blending for a creamier texture. This wine spends approximately two years aging on its lees before it is disgorged which helps the wine to maintain its fresh taste. 

Crisp, dry, refreshing with classic aromas of green apple and lemon with honeysuckle hints and a clean, mineral-laced finish.

Perfect with hot buttered popcorn on movie night at home, approximately $40.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tasting at Fall Creek Vineyards in Driftwood

Open less than a year, the second location of Fall Creek Vineyards now sits on the Driftwood Wine Trail. While in the area for a Texas Wine Month celebration dinner, my husband and I stopped in to check it out and enjoy a tasting. 

The new facility is a renovated former private home surrounded by butterfly gardens and native Texas plants. The tasting room opens out onto a relaxing tasting patio complete with a water feature. Some food is available in the form of a small bites menu with options such as cheese trays, pâté and bread or a grilled cheese sandwich.


Fall Creek Vineyards is one of the oldest and most respected wine producers in the state. This second location has allowed them to expand. The property sits on 17 acres by the Salt Lick Vineyards, the source of some of their single vineyard wines. They are planting vines across the front with more planned.

We sat out under the covered portion of the patio and I tasted the premium series for $15 which is a choice of six wines from either the Vintner's Selection and/or Terroir Reflections Series.

My Tasting:
  • 2015 Sauvignon Blanc-  Honeydew melon with a lime pith finish. SRP $21.99
  • 2014 Chardonnay-  Apple with citrus, clean finish SRP $21.99
  • 2015 Grenache Rosé- Refreshing, strawberry and grapefruit with a floral note. SRP $21.99
  • 2013 GSM Blend Salt Lick Vineyards- Chewy, plum and coffee with a slight earthiness, long finish. SRP $45.99
  • 2012 Tempranillo Salt Lick Vineyards- Dark ripe berries with leather and baking spice. SRP $29.99
  • 2012 Dotson Cervantes "Gotas de Oro"- A dessert wine made from a 50/50 blend of Muscat Canelli and Chardonnay. Sweet and citrusy. SRP $27.99
Fall Creek Vineyards in Driftwood offers quality 100% Texas wines to taste while enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay, the Rosé and the GSM.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Texas Fine Wine Dinner at Duchman Winery

The Texas Fine Wine Dinner was held at Duchman Family Winery in Driftwood, Texas on Friday evening. The group of four Hill Country wineries hosted this gathering to celebrate Texas Wine Month. The meal was served family-style with open seating and the atmosphere was festive. Guests were treated to a glass of the light and refreshing Duchman Trebbiano upon arrival which was served with passed baked gruyere cheese puffs while they mixed and mingled before choosing their seats.

As each course was served, winery representatives shared the stories behind the wine being poured. Many of the guests were expecting to enjoy a full Texas culinary weekend with plans to attend the Fredricksburg Food and Wine Fest the following day. Table talk revolved around tales of Texas winery visits and comparisons on favorite Texas wines.

The dinner:
  1. Lump crab salad with orange slices, crisp fennel and avocado served with the 2014 Brennan Vineyards Mourvedre Dry Rosélighter bodied, fruity strawberry aromas with a light tropical note.
  2. Seared king salmon on spaghetti squash with blistered tomato and mushroom in a butternut squash broth served with the 2012 Pedernales Texas Valhallaa non-traditional blend of Tempranillo, Montepulciano and Aglianico- medium bodied, plum aromas and flavors with a peppery finish.
  3. Smoked crispy duck with dried cherry and peppers alongside meyer lemon grilled brussel sprouts served with the 2012 Duchman Aglianicofull bodied, good acidity, light floral aromas with black plum and baking spice.
  4. Braised pork shank with duck fat mascarpone mashed potatoes and maple carrots served with the 2012 Bending Branch Texas Tannat- full bodied, ripe tannins, good acidity with aromas and rich flavors of black cherry and tobacco.
After the dinner, guests took the opportunity to talk wine a bit more and photo-op with Duchman and
Bending Branch winemakers, Dave Reilly and John Rivenburgh. For dessert, attendees were given small boxes of assorted baked goodies to go. It was a fun evening of good food and wine enjoyed by everyone. Many events and dinners like this one have been happening all over the Hill Country, it is a highly recommended way to celebrate Texas Wine Month. The dinner was priced at $75.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Una Serata Piemontese - A Piedmont Wine Dinner at Ciao Bello

On September 29, acclaimed restaurateur Tony Vallone and Houston Chronicle wine writer Dale Robertson hosted "Una Serata Piemontese", an evening featuring the wine and food of Piedmont at Ciao Bello on San Felipe. Well over a hundred guests filled the patio dining room to taste the northwestern Italian inspired menu along with the paired Piemonte wines while listening to two of Houston's taste gurus talk about one of their favorite wine regions and the culinary culture that comes from it.

The dinner:
  • Antipasti - Bagna Cauda, Ripiene di Ventresca, Grissini 
  • Bollito Misto  di Mare - Melange of seafood with a salsa verde
  • Tortellini Piemontese - Proscuitto & Mortadella, Grana Padano and sage.
  • Nebbiolo Stained Risotto - topped with Tallegio Fonduta
  • Controfilleto di Vitello - a center-cut veal sirloin with roasted autumn vegetables in a Barolo ristretto wine 
  • Bonet Amaretto - Chocolate and espresso Budino with Dolcetto poached pear and biscotti
The wine:
  • 2013 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis- a dry, medium-bodied white wine with lemon citrus aromas, minerality and a slight nuttiness in the finish. Clean, refreshing, an excellent starter wine and fantastic with both the first and second course.
  • 2013 Poderi di Luigi Einaudi Dogliani Dolcetto- a dry, medium-bodied red with moderate tannins and medium acidity, richly textured with concentrated black fruit aromas and flavors. Smooth and easy drinking, delicious with the pasta. The town of Dogliani is known for producing big, longer-lived Dolcetto wines.
  • 2011 Castello di Neive Barbaresco- a dry, full-bodied red wine with fine tannins, fresh acidity with fruity aromas of cherry with leather and a bit of herbs and a long spicy finish. Fruitier and more approachable than I expected; my favorite wine of the evening. 
  • 2009 Fontafredda Barolo- a dry, full-bodied wine with a floral rose nose, tobacco and baking spice with fine tannins and a long savory finish. 
The price was $110 per person. Excellent wine, fantastic food and two charming hosts, una magnifica serata Piemontese!

You can subscribe to emails from the Vallone Restaurant Group to receive information on upcoming events by clicking here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Parparoussis Dinner at Helen Greek Food and Wine


The exclusive Parparoussis Dinner at Helen Greek Food and Wine was held earlier this week. This was the first event of this type to be held at the restaurant which opened in Rice Village this past summer. Owner and sommelier Evan Turner invited Athanasios and Vasiliki Parparoussis to showcase their wines at this special dinner which he limited to 45 guests. The wines that were chosen for the meal are on his wine list and they are some of his favorites. He feels their expression of acidity and mineralty are the hallmark of Greek wine. 

Winemaker, Athanasios Parparoussis trained in Dijon, France. He has recently stepped back from the day to day operations. The multi-generation family-run organic winery is now overseen by two of their daughters, Dimitra and Erifili. The winery is located in Patras in the Peloponnese. The dinner featured wines produced from indigenous grapes of the region like the rare Sideritis variety, a pinkish skinned grape that had been used to create both a white and a rosé wine.

Importer George Spiliadis was acting as translator as needed. He talked about how the American interpretation of Greek cuisine is finally moving beyond moussaka and retsina and towards a more modern expression. This has had the effect of creating more interest in Greek wine. Evan Turner discussed how well the wines work with our own local seafood and goat cheese. 

Executive chef William Wright created a 6 course menu featuring elevated Greek cuisine inspired by Vasiliki's own recipes. The couple is known for their hospitality to visiting guests at their winery and they were very pleased to share their wine and food at Houston's newest Greek taverna-style eatery. This was their first trip to America; they were enjoying our city and they were surprised to see how green everything was here at this time of year. Their next stop is Boston so they will see some fall color before heading back to Greece.

The Menu

  • Purslane salad with Yukon gold potatoes, beet puree, candied beets, watercress, kalamata olives, lemon juice and feta cheese served with the 2014 "The Gift of Dionysus" Sideritis- a dry white wine with grapefruit aromas and flavors with a slight vegetal note and a crisp mineral finish.
  • Roasted grouper with local horta-style greens over a caper scented tomato sauce garnished with fried capers, oregano and olive oil served with the 2014 Petite Fleur Dry Rosé which was almost sweet seeming against the salty capers and creamy sauce.
  • Makaronia pasta with yogurt, tarama fish roe, green onions and lemon zest served with "Les Dons De Dionysus", a barrel fermented white wine blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri, the Athiri gives an added richness to the more lean Assyrtiko and the use of oak is very judicious with a mix of both new and used barrels.
  • Moussaka stuffed pumpkin made with feta and kefalotyri cheese, baking spice and bechamel sauce served with the 2010 Nemea Reserve which had a complementary spicy note.
  • Venison cooked in Mavrodaphne with baby fennel, carrots, leek and hen of the wood, type of mushroom, with the 2010 Taoe, a 100% Mavrodaphne red wine that is barrel aged for 2 years creating a dry, dense wine with blackberry, bay leaf, eucalyptus and black pepper, smooth, long spicy finish
  • Feta Mousse with olive oil and thyme shortbread cookies with wild berry spoon sweet served with Muscat de Rio Patras, a rich, naturally sweet wine with orange blossom and peach notes; an elegant pairing with the sweet and savory final course.
A fantastic inaugural wine dinner at Helen Greek Food and Wine, be on the lookout for more events like this in the future. You can also find the wines discussed here on the wine list to enjoy on any visit to this establishment. The restaurant is located on 2429 Rice Blvd. The dinner was priced at $125.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

New Zealand Wines- Notes from A Seminar & Trade Tasting

The New Zealand Winegrowers were in Houston last month to host a trade tasting and seminar for local wine professionals at Pappas Bros Steakhouse. The association brought in an array of wines from several regions and vintages to showcase that, in addition to the great Sauvignon Blanc that the world has come to expect, there are many styles and varieties being produced that may surprise. David Strada and Ranit Librach hosted the event that began with a class and tasting. 

The island nation of New Zealand has a cool climate. Due to the geography of the country, all of the vineyards lie within 80 miles of the ocean so there is a strong ocean influence that affects the character of the wines. They typically enjoy mild and very sunny summer days with cool nighttime temperatures, this broad diurnal range allows for slow ripening and full flavor development. 

The isolated country is famous for its pristine landscapes and its commitment to preserving the natural environment. This concept has been in place since the Maoris, New Zealand's first people, settled there. They believed for the people to thrive, they must be good guardians of the land. Over 94% of vineyards are under independently audited sustainability programs with a producer goal to turn a minimum of 20% to fully organic by 2020.
Sauvignon Blanc was the first varietal wine from New Zealand to catch the wine drinking world's attention back in the '90s. Their more vibrant expression of this French variety impressed wine critics while growers in other countries were influenced to improve the way they were growing the grape due the depth of aromas and flavors being achieved. Wine drinkers around the globe thoroughly embraced it. By 2014, Sauvignon Blanc alone accounted for 72% of New Zealand's wine production.

While the majority of Sauvignon Blanc vines are planted in Marlborough, the variety is grown throughout the country. Climate is the major factor in the distinction of regional styles. In the south, the long cool growing season creates wines with vibrant fruit flavors while maintaining high levels of acidity, this produces crisp, intense wines with tropical fruit, red pepper and gooseberry. In the warmer, northern growing regions, the more mild conditions result in a richer style with ripe melon and stone fruit nuances.

Aromatic wines have a strong presence in New Zealand, Pinot Gris is grown throughout the country while Riesling is mainly on the cooler South Island. The Pinot Gris style is more in line with Alsace than an Italian Pinot Grigio. Expect aromas of apple, pear, honeysuckle, spice and bread notes. The Rieslings are in a range of styles from dry to fully sweet. The climate comes into play again with the cooler South Island regions having higher acidity and more pronounced aromatics. 

Together the Burgundian grapes make up over 15% of vineyard plantings with more Pinot Noir than Chardonnay; Pinot Noir is New Zealand's most planted red grape. Though both are produced in a range of styles, Chardonnay from Marlborough and other cool southern regions is typically light to medium bodied with fresh acidity, citrus and minerality while the Pinot Noir is fresh with red fruit flavors, subtle acidity and a more linear structure. Warmer regions like Gisborne and Hawke's Bay typically produce fuller bodied, richer, rounder Chardonnay and warmer Central Otago produces softer, fruit forward Pinot Noir with more herb and spice notes. 

Less than 4% of the the total wine production is dedicated to other red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. These grapes are grown primarily in the Hawke's Bay region though there are plantings scattered on both Islands. 

The tasting:
Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2014 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard (Marlborough)- more coastal area; tomato leaf, tropical fruit
  • 2014 Villa Maria "Taylor's Pass" (Marlborough)- further inland, more elevated vineyard; grapefruit, citrus, floral
  • 2014 Palliser Estate (Martinborough)- more vegetable character, more texture, green pepper, citrus
  • 2013 Jackson Estate "Stitch" (Marlborough)- "a stellar vintage for the Wairau Valley"; more elegant, balanced, more mineral driven, slight spice note in finish
  • 2012 Saint Clair Reserve (Marlborough)- more herbal with green pea & bell pepper notes over grapefruit
  • 2013 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- barrel aged; more savory with toasted notes
All were very refreshing and clean with high, food-friendly acidity.

Chardonnay
  • 2011 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay (Auckland)- noticeable oak influence, still fresh, full body, lemon custard, caramel finish
Aromatic Wine
  • 2011 Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris (Central Otago)- round, pear, honeysuckle
  • 2013 Mondillo Riesling (Central Otago)- from gravelly soils, nectarine, slight petrol minerality, lime citrus finish, dry
  • 2013 Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc (Gisborne)- roasted notes, wet wool, savory finish, smooth
  • 2013 Spy Valley Gewurztraminer (Malborough)- classic; rose, lychee, cold cream
Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Waihopai Single Vineyard (Marlborough)- fruity, candied cherry aromas; intense tart cherry, earthy, slight vegetable note in finish; moderate tannins, good acidity
  • 2011 Neudorf "Tom's Block" (Nelson)- tighter, structured, tea tannins, cherry, earth, leather
  • 2011 Felton Road Calvert (Central Otago)- more savory, earthy, mushrooms, forest floor, raspberry 
  • 2011 Escarpment (Martinborough)- licorice/anise nose; cherry, dried herb flavors
All were medium bodied with clean fruit flavors.

Full Bodied Reds-
2013 Mission Estate Syrah (Hawke's Bay)- raspberry, sage/eucalyptus, white pepper finish
2013 Craggy Range "Sophia" (Hawke's Bay)- Bordeaux blend of 62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; black fruit aromas, slight graphite mineral note, green flavors 

After the class, attendees were treated to a hearty lunch before enjoying the optional walk around trade tasting. 
I was only there briefly so I'm sure I missed many more good options but a few noteworthy wines that I did taste were:
  • 2013 Loveblock Pinot Gris (Marlborough)- floral, fresh
  • 2013 Dog Point Vineyard Selection 94 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- savory finish
  • 2012 The Fuder Single Vineyard Selection "Dillons Point" Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- richer, jalapeño note
  • 2014 Sacred Hill Orange Label Pinot Noir (Marlborough)- fresh, fruity, clean
  • 2013 Giesen Single Vineyard Selection Ridge Block Pinot Noir (Marlborough)- fresh, mineral, raspberry, tea
  • 2013 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah Hawke's Bay- red berry, earthy, savory finish
An informative class with an excellent selection of wines which showcased both New Zealand's continued success with Sauvignon Blanc while offering a glimpse into what appears to be a more varied future for the island country in regards to wine.





Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tasting Malbec with the Houston Chapter of the American Wine Society

I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the Houston Chapter of the American Wine Society at my home in September for a Malbec Tasting. This event was organized by my sister and her husband, a long time member of the organization. We opted to set up tasting stations throughout the house to allow guests to move through with greater ease. 

My sister was recovering from a recent foot surgery so she primarily manned the kitchen while I was on hand throughout the event to discuss fun facts about the wines. Attendees are given any information about the wines in which they are interested such as scores, pricing, etc, before the "people's choice" style voting. 

I shared my stories of meeting Bertrand Vigoroux here in Houston, he was the producer of two of the evening's wines, and my more recent introduction to Aurelio Montes of Kaiken at a wine event in New York. My brother in law, who has traveled extensively throughout South America, shared his stories about the Argentine wine tours at Balboa and Catena. 

The tasting began upon each guest's arrival in the foyer with some chilled rosé. 
  • 2014 Georges Vigouroux “Pigmentum" Rosé Cotes du Lot ($11)- Dry, refreshing, raspberry/apricot aromas, minerality, long finish.
  • 2013 La Flor Malbec Rosé Mendoza ($15)- Dry, smooth, red berry/plum, dried herbs and spice.
Next stop, the coffee table, where there were some anytime, affordable reds ready to try.
  • 2013 Urban UCO Malbec Valle de Uco ($10)- From high altitude vineyards, fresh sweet berries, lightly spiced finish.
  • 2012 Kaiken Malbec Reserva - Mendoza ($10)- More floral, plum flavor, smooth finish
In the dining room, members found Malbec from more specific areas in the $20+ price range.
  • 2012 Susana Balboa Signature Malbec-Valle de Uco ($25)- A blend of 92% Malbec with 8% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from high elevation desert vineyards. Floral, ripe berries, elegant, smooth finish.
  • 2012 Luigi Bosca Single Vineyard Malbec- Lujan de Cuyo ($21)- From a 70 year old high altitude vineyard. Fuller bodied, more intense, rich, ripe blackberry, white pepper, spicy finish.
  • 2009 Chateau De Mercues Malbec- Cahors ($22)- From the vineyards surrounding the home that housed the Bishop of Cahors for centuries. Full bodied, also intense with berries, spice, dried herbs and a savory note, more structured, long finish.
The final wine:
  • 2011 Catena Alta “Historic Rows” Malbec- Mendoza $(48)- Sourced from select rows from four Zapata family Andean vineyards to create a best of blend to reflect the four generations of the family that have worked there. Savory with blueberry jam, eucalyptus; structured, tighter.
Guests could then move throughout the house to retry the wines or head into the kitchen. Snacks for the event included warm smoked sliced sausage with barbecue sauce on the side with sweet potato chips, fresh bread and crackers served with a cheese array and a platter of fresh berries with an assortment of roasted nuts and dark chocolates.

The cocktail party atmosphere was interrupted briefly for a short meeting. Members and guests then placed their votes for their favorite wine of the evening and the winners were announced. Opinions varied in this close competition with the fourth place winner ending with 11 votes.

The Winners:
First place- 2012 Luigi Bosca with 18 votes 
2nd place- 2011 Catena Alta & 2014 Georges Vigouroux "Pigmentum" Rosé- tied with 13 votes each
3rd place- 2009 Chateau De Mercues with 12 votes

It was a great time with a great group of people!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Visiting Rodney Strong Vineyards

Our final winery visit was to Rodney Strong Vineyards. Social media manager, Laura Perret and her husband met my husband and I for a Sunday morning tour and tasting. We began in the winery. Our guide, Bill, started us off with a barrel sampling of the 2014 Symmetry and the 2013 Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon. He wanted to showcase both the terroir differences between the two and the different points in development between the two vintages. 

We viewed more of the production facility and learned about some innovations they have made to keep the wine more secure during earthquakes before heading out to the terrace to enjoy a tasting with a vineyard view. Bill served us two rosés to start, both from the 2014 vintage and both priced at $25, one made from Pinot Noir and the other from Malbec. The Pinot Noir's character was more raspberry and rose petals while the Malbec was more watermelon with a bit of vanilla and toast. Bill explained these were primarily sold at the winery for the summer concerts but they are both available on line. While I wouldn't reject either one as both were refreshing summer wines, if given a choice, I would pick the one made from Pinot Noir.


Bill brought out some plates of charcuterie and cheese for us to enjoy and he poured the 2013 Reserve Chardonnay which was rich and slightly creamy with an apple pie nuance. We followed this with four of the red wine current releases. All are recommended wines.
  • 2013 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $28)- Smooth, easy drinking, blackberry, black pepper
  • 2013 Knight's Valley Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $35)- Richer, more chocolate character, more structured
  • 2012 Symmetry Alexander Valley Meritage (SRP $55)- Rich, ripe blackberry, cassis, coffee
  • 2012 Rockaway (SRP $75)- Concentrated, rich, more minerality behind the plum and cassis with baking spice and tobacco.
The tasting room is open daily to the public from 10:00am-5:00pm with tastings ranging from free for two tastes from the Sonoma County line on up to $55 for a paired food and wine experience. A visit to Rodney Strong Vineyards is highly recommended when in Sonoma County, see large scale production with an artisanal touch while enjoying a wine tasting in a beautiful vineyard setting. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Visiting Quivira Vineyards

Reprinted from the
October 2015 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine Pg 57-59



Quivira Vineyards and Winery, located in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, takes its name from the mythical seven cities of gold that explorers sought through out the sixteenth century. Upon visiting the estate in the late afternoon, one can easily see how the original owners could have chosen the name. The place seems to be bathed in a golden light. The vineyards are not only organic, but biodynamic; there is the sense of life happening wherever one looks.

Sitting out on the tasting room patio with the grapes looking so close to ready on the nearby vines or strolling around to watch the bees working the garden, which includes over a hundred raised beds, a pond, a greenhouse and a chicken coop, all the while tasting the array of wines that are offered would unquestionably delight any visitor’s senses. In back, the grapes are coming in from other areas and more wine is being made adding just a bit of fermentation aroma to the air out there.

Harvest time at any winery is exciting but the atmosphere was intoxicating at Quivira. The grounds are very beautiful yet feel a bit wild. The winery has been Demeter-certified Biodynamic and organic since 2005. Managing soil fertility is a prime area of focus. By composting all winery residue and using cover crops, which are tilled back into the vineyard soil, the natural fertility is maintained. Quivira's energy needs are met with a 55kW solar electric system. The winery has also been actively engaged in restoring Wine Creek, a spawning ground to Coho salmon and Steelhead trout which winds through the estate, for even longer than they have been certified organic. 

Quivira's commitment to the environment means that they must often allow nature to take its course with no repercussions. Though workers at Quivira wake up to routine destruction from wild boars foraging in the vineyards, they understand that it is a part of their area’s terroir and a bottle of Zinfandel was created to honor the bold animals with whom they share the land.

The packaging illustrates the winery's relationship to its surrounding environment with each wine featuring a label with an icon representing a different element of Quivira's Dry Creek Valley estate, such as a red-tailed hawk, a Coho salmon, or in this case, a black boar.

Here in Texas, we are some of the lucky few to be receiving this new limited bottling; be on the lookout for it in wineshops and restaurants. You can also check out the winery website at www.quivirawine.com for their complete line of fantastic wines including a more affordable Rhone-style red blend and a dry Rosé.

Wine Recommendation of the Month: 
2013 Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County has classic aromas of ripe blackberries and baking spice with flavors of mixed berry cobbler with black pepper in the finish. Full bodied, rich, complex, bold, balanced and smooth, an excellent wine for Fall and beyond. SRP $45

Pair it with Blackberry-Balsamic Pork Tenderloin
Recipe from the Quivira Kitchen
Ingredients
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 ea 8 to 10-ounce pork tenderloin
1 tbsp olive oil
1 ea minced shallots
3 tbsp picked and coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 cup chicken stock
2/3 cup blackberry preserves
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 450' F. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Rub pork tenders with olive oil and 1 tablespoon of thyme, salt and pepper. Sear pork on all sides, about 2 minutes. Place skillet with pork in oven. Roast pork until thermometer inserted into center registers 155' F, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallots and saute until soft, about 3 minutes. Add remaining thyme leaves, stock, blackberry preserves and vinegar and whisk until combined, about 2 minutes.

Transfer pork tenders to work surface. Scrape any juices from large skillet into cranberry mixture. Simmer on high flame until sauce has reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 6 minutes. Prior to serving, remove sauce from heat and whisk in remaining butter - continuously stirring until combined. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Slice the pork on the bias into 1" thick medallions, plate with haricots verts and herbed spaetzle and spoon sauce over the top

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tasting and Touring at Sterling Vineyards

A visit to Sterling Vineyards was a recommendation from a marketing acquaintance. In addition to seeking new material for various articles, this trip was also a fact finding mission for a trip with a group of consumers being planned for this spring.

Sterling Vineyards is a larger operation making numerous styles of wine. They are set up to move large groups of people through the winery with a bit of a Wine 101 self-guided tasting tour. There is the sense of being at an amusement park when you arrive and get your ticket for the gondola ride up to the winery. You get to enjoy expansive views of the surrounding area during your ride to the top.

Guests are greeted and tagged in the portico after their ascension. We were treated to the "Silver Experience" which means that after the self guided walking tour, we would enjoy a seated tasting of some limited releases in the terrace tasting room. We received our first glass of wine and were directed to the next tasting area. Along the way, guests enjoy educational media, stunning views and an overview of the wine making process. Sauvignon Blanc grapes were waiting to become wine on the day that we visited. Following the winery tour, there is an art collection on display as you meander through to the tasting room.

The Tour Way featured wines:
2012 Winery Lake Chardonnay (SRP $30)- Served upon entry; soft, round, floral aromas, tropical flavors, creamy. 
2012 Napa Pinot Noir (SRP $30)- Served on the Diamond Mountain Ranch Plaza; wild berries, forest floor, caramel finish.
2012 Napa Merlot (SRP $26)- Served at the fermentation overlook; cherry/berry, spicy oak finish.
2014 Malvasia Bianca (SRP $30)- Served at the south view terrace; pronounced sweet orange and ginger aromas and flavors.

In the Tasting Room:
2013 Cellar Club Viognier (SRP $30)- light peach, melon, citrus
2012 Cellar Club Sangiovese (SRP $35)- earthy, cranberry, forest floor
2011 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $55)- blackberry cobbler, graphite, dusty tannins. 

A great place to tour and taste for couples on up to large groups. This tour is particularly recommended for anyone wanting to learn more about how wine is made. General admission with current release tasting is $29, the Silver Experience is $39. Cheese, charcuterie and wines by the glass are all available for an additional fee in the tasting room.  

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tasting at Chateau Montelena

For our final day in Napa Valley, we headed up to Calistoga for a 9:30AM tasting at Chateau Montelena. Kevin Jordan, our tasting room host, had a question for us, "Have you seen the movie?" [Bottleshock]. Of course, we've seen the movie. The next question, "Do you know how much was fiction?"

"I think I do," I replied, "I read the book, too," [Judgement of Paris-by George M. Taber]. I could tell this earned me a bit more respect in Kevin's eyes, he spends a lot of his time during tastings explaining the fictionalized moments in the movie's rendition of the story.  We would start our discussion closer to the present time.

Then, from my husband, "That wasn't all true?" I gave him the big eye roll while poor Kevin politely had to return to his usual routine. Many people that visit Chateau Montelena, like my husband, have seen the movie and believe they "know" the story of Bo and Jim Barrett, they are surprised to learn that the movie was not 100% accurate. The tasting room at the winery features some pictures from the movie along with some props and other mementos. These were fun to check out and it was interesting to learn more stories from behind the movie scenes.

The fortieth anniversary of the famed Paris tasting is fast approaching so I was very excited to visit this winery, see the Chateau and taste the new releases. Bo Barrett is still working at the winery, we caught a glimpse of him out in the field on a tractor as we were leaving.

Signed by
the cast of Bottleshock
We enjoyed all the wine that we tasted at Chateau Montelena. Kevin was entertaining and he had a lot of information to share about the winery's history and all the current releases. The grounds are absolutely stunning, we learned that club members are provided several different additional tasting options allowing them to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the lake along with their wine.

A must-do winery stop in Napa Valley, the tasting room is open to the public daily from 9:30-4:00. No reservations are required for the current release tasting which is priced at $25. For the more extensive tasting and tour experiences offered, reservations are required.

The Tasting:
2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Citrus blossom, melon, ripe peach, fresh, delicious
2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay (SRP $50)- Very similar, more honeysuckle floral note.
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Zinfandel (SRP $39)- Kevin says this is Bo's pizza wine. Mixed ripe berries, dried herbs, peppery finish
2012 Calistoga-Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $53)- Spicy, ripe berry aromas, chocolate, smooth
2010 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $150)- Juicy dark berries, licorice, coffee, rich, mineral laced finish
2008 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $170)- Berry jam, licorice, tobacco, spice, nice structure
2007 Calistoga-Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $180)- Earthier, dark berries, licorice

All were fantastic wines that I would happily accept more of at any time. I particularly loved the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- a bit more elegant, beautifully balanced.