by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Season to Splurge

As seen in the December 2019 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

December is gift giving season! This month we take a look at some great gifts for the wine lover in your life. You'll find some that are easy to order on-line and some that are available right here on the island.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

All That Sparkles

As originally seen in the November 2019 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

  Between holiday meals and parties, November seems to start the sparkling wine season. While Champagne will always be the king of the bubbly, there is a whole world of sparkling wine to enjoy at every price point.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

The Pinot Noir Pioneers of Willamette Valley

As seen in the October edition of Galveston Monthly magazine

  It wasn't so long ago that Willamette was known for other agricultural products other than wine grapes. In the 1960s and 1970s, a few families shared the same dream of making world class wines and the valley was changed forever by their pioneering spirit. This month, we take a lot at the first families of Willamette Valley wine and learn some of their stories along with a recommended wine they are producing today.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Côtes de Bordeaux

As seen in the September issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

  When people hear Bordeaux, they often picture grand chateaux and exorbitantly expensive red wines. This month we take a look at some of the more affordably priced high quality wines sourced from the hillsides with this guide giving you recommended producers and information about each of the growing areas of the Côtes de Bordeaux region.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

A Tropical Staycation with Spy Valley E Block

After a fair amount of traveling this summer with more still to come, I was looking forward to spending time at home with my family this week. Both of my millennial children have recently moved back to Houston but the home-cooked meals have been few and far between. I had recently received a sample of the Spy Valley E Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017 along with an invitation to participate in an on-line tasting with the Wine Pairing Weekend group (find them online under the hashtag #Winepw), this became the inspiration for this family gathering.

I gleefully sent out a group text, "I'm grilling poolside tonight, be home by 7:30 p.m. to eat, come earlier if you want to swim." I am surrounded by funny people as the responses reflect, "Who is this?", "What have you done with my mom?", "Not a good night, Bachelor in Paradise is on."

I was undeterred, I knew that they would come. I pulled the bottle out of the wine fridge to investigate what I was serving. The label had a wealth of information on it including, of course, the origin of the grapes, Waihopai Valley. While I certainly know a fair amount about Marlborough, it is New Zealand's largest wine producing region, Waihopai Valley was not a subregion with which I was familiar. A quick google search got me up to speed.

Per Wikipedia, "Waihopai Valley is an area near Blenheim in the Marlborough region of the South Island of New Zealand. The Waihopai River drains the area. The Government Communications Security Bureau operates what it describes as a satellite communications monitoring facility in the Waihopai Valley, which it GCSB Waihopai. It has been identified as being part of ECHELON, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by UKUSA consortium of intelligence agencies." 

How interesting, plus, it explained the winery's name. I decided to make a low prep dinner because I was working on a magazine deadline in conjunction with being an exemplary wife and mother. I also really wanted to make sure that I had time to enjoy a glass of wine in the pool before my guests arrived.

As soon as my article was submitted, I went grocery shopping without too much of a plan besides light and summery. As soon as I had everything prepped and ready at home, I opened the bottle and gave myself a generous pour before heading outside. The first sniff made me wish that I had bought the Texas Peach salsa instead of the one I had chosen. 

The Spy Valley E Block Sauvignon Blanc 2017 is loaded with aromas and flavors of fresh ripe peach. It also has notes of melon and tropical fruit with a distinct mineral edge from start to finish. Fresh and beautifully balanced with moderate alcohol and bright acidity, this wine had a pleasing texture and was a delight to drink. The light tropical note dances with the minerality through the lingering finish.

The dinner that I prepared was simple to make yet still a big hit with the family. Aside from the wine, everything came from Whole Foods - sustainably sourced food to go with my sustainably produced wine. We started with Hatchamole served with tortilla chips, heads up, that guacamole was spicier than I expected. Second course, I bought their in-store prepared jumbo lump crab cakes and cut them in half to make  normal sized cakes and gave each a little sprinkle of Mexican seasoning. I sautéed them in butter and topped them with warm pineapple-mango salsa. My husband and I each had one before the kids arrived because we were hungry and they were a little late. For our main course, I grilled jumbo shrimp skewers with peppers, onion, and tomatoes with more of the salsa on the side. I also grilled some fresh corn just because it is summer.
The wine was excellent with everything. It helped cool down the heat of the guacamole and was a great complement for both the crab cakes and the grilled shrimp. After dinner, we did turn on Bachelor in Paradise. It fit my tropical theme and added some drama and entertainment to an otherwise quiet evening, the wine definitely made the show more palatable as well.

I highly recommend the wine and this easy dinner for your next tropical staycation at home.

Join the discussion about New Zealand Wine on Twitter on Saturday morning by following at #WinePW. You can participate in this live chat at 11:00 ET, 10:00 CT, or 8:00 PT. 

You can also check out the other participating writers below and get their thoughts and menu ideas for pairing with an array of New Zealand wines. 

Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be making Hāngī in a Dutch Oven + Gimblett Gravels Malbec 2017
Linda of My Full Wine Glass will be posting New NZ wine, old Sicilian dish
Jane of Always Ravenous will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Paired with Fresh Flavors of Late Summer
Cindy of Grape Experiences will show how to Beat the Heat with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Chilled Cucumber Soup with Mint
Gwen at Wine Predator will be pairing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Zesty Arugula Kale Pesto Pizza and Salad 
Jennifer of Vino Travels Italy demonstrates Seeing the Potential of North Canterbury, NZ at Mt. Beautiful Winery
David of Cooking Chat  will be pairing Tomato Caprese Salad with Pesto and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Pinny of Chinese Food and Wine Pairings will be serving New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pan-fried Chinese Potstickers
Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm will be Discovering New Zealand Wines
Cynthia and Pierre of Traveling Wine Profs will be sipping New Zealand Chardonnay with a view of… The Pyrenees
Rupal the Syrah Queen will be drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with Grilled Mediterranean Swordfish
Lori of Exploring the Wine Glass, is thankful that Humans May Only Be 5%, But They Make Great Wine

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


As seen in the August issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

Mourvèdre is becoming more well-known in Texas as more and more grape growers and wineries focus on this grape. This month, we take a look at where else it is grown in the world and give recommendations for top picks.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Going Organic at Château Peyruche

On one of Bordeaux's hottest days this summer, I rode with Chateau Peyruche's owner, Bertrand Weisgerber up into the vineyard to meet winemaker and vineyard manager, David Sarry, to learn more about their conversion to organic farming. Along the way, Weisgerber shared that locals refer to this area as "little Tuscany" because of the rolling hills and bucolic landscape.

Château Peyruche sits on the small hillsides of Langoiran which overlooks the Garonne River in the Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux region. The name comes from old French words meaning "rough stone." The estate is built on these calcareous rocks. The house was built in at least the 15th century, if not earlier, and was renovated in the 17th century. Weisgerber is now in the midst of renovating it again.

Weisgerber purchased the estate in early 2017. He had always wanted his own winery and upon seeing the historic property, he immediately fell in love with it. He quickly hired David Sarry to begin the three year long process of converting the estate to certified organic.

The vineyards are primarily planted with Merlot vines with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sémillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. Sarry explained that as hot and dry weather becomes more typical, they are planning on planting more Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot which are later ripening varieties to help manage alcohol levels.

Weisgerber shared that the property had enjoyed greater biodiversity in the 19th century and they were hoping to regain some of that with their care of the estate now. He pointed out some nearby walnut trees and he also added that the surrounding woods has led to some animal traffic coming through the vineyard. We headed back to the Château for a tour of the renovation, a tasting, and some lunch.

The wines:

Château Peyruche Bordeaux Blanc 2018 - After an erratic spring that brought lots of rain and hail threats, the year evolved into a beautiful summer and fall with a smooth harvest. The wine is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Sémillon grown on gravel, red clay and and limestone soils. The wine was fresh and bright with white nectarine and pear with hints of spice and floral notes. The wine has a rich, rounded feel from lees aging that was done partially in barrel. It was an elegant pairing with the local oysters.

Château Peyruche Bordeaux Rosé 2018 - Fruity and fresh with aromas and flavors of mixed red berries and a lingering finish, this Merlot rosé is ideal in the summer but can be enjoyed with simple seafood dishes all year.

Château Peyruche Côtes de Bordeaux 'Fûts de Chêne 2015 - This blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon came from a year that many have described as ideal. The wine is aged partially in new oak and partially in used oak for 12-14 months. Aromatic and fresh with cherry, berries, and plum, the wine is well-structured with a tannic backbone and a persistent spicy finish.

Château Peyruche Côtes de Bordeaux 'Fûts de Chêne 2017 - This was a low yielding year due to spring frosts. It is also a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon that was aged in both new and used barrels for 12-14 months. The wine displays rich cherry and cassis aromas and flavors with a good tannic structure and a lengthy, slightly spicy finish.
Château Peyruche Cadillac 2017 - Spring frosts also made this a very limited production wine. Loaded with honeysuckle aromas and tropical flavors, this sweet wine is fresh and rich with a creamy feel all the way through the lingering finish.

All of these wines are highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Biodynamic in Bordeaux - A Visit to Château Pré La Lande

Located on the hillside overlooking the Valée de Dordogne in the Sainte-Foy sub-region of the Côtes de Bordeaux lies Château Pré La Lande. On a recent trip to Bordeaux, I had the opportunity to meet winemaker and owner, Michel Beaucé and his family.

Beaucé led our group into the vineyard and gave us a brief overview of the small region which, of the five Côtes, is the farthest from the city of Bordeaux. There are twenty-three winegrowers and two cooperatives working 1,640 acres of land on primarily limestone and clay soils. Most are located along the northern part of the river where it is very hilly with wooded areas between the vineyards. The region produces mostly dry red wines but also some dry white and sweet wines.

Beaucé was born in the Champagne region of France. He began his journey into wine as a merchant selling French wines across the globe. After getting married and starting his family, he decided to make a change to a simpler, more authentic life and purchased Château Pré La Lande, an estate which has produced wine since 1860. He quickly learned that although he knew a great deal about Bordeaux wine, he had a lot to learn about grape growing. After meeting with a consultant to discuss best practices for his property, he became appalled at the idea of using commercial chemical fertilizers and pesticides on the grounds on which his children played. After two years of trying to determine which was the least harmful, he made the decision to go organic and was certified in 2007. 

All was going well until 2013. There were many difficulties in Bordeaux that year, quality, quantity, and the market were all down. Beaucé sold his entire vintage in tank to a negociant rather than bottle under his own brand as he felt that it did not measure up to his standards. 
Rather than giving up on organic farming, he decided to take it a step further and seek biodynamic certification through Demeter. He had been tasting more biodynamic wines and was impressed with the purity of flavor. "The taste is straight," he said. 

He found that going biodynamic was very different than when he sought the organic certification. Demeter required two weeks of training at certified vineyards and provided him with a mentor to help with the process. There were many new rules, no industrial yeast or added products. "We are making wine with grapes. I know every winemaker will say, me, too. The difference is we are making wine using only grapes and a few sulfites when doing long term aging in barrels. It's quite difficult to be biodynamic, that's why many winemakers choose organic, because they can still use quite a lot of organic products for problems. When you are making the wine biodynamically, nothing can be used. When you drink biodynamic, you can be sure that you are only drinking something that comes from the grapes." He was also quick to point out that modern winemaking techniques like temperature controlled tanks make controlling the wild yeasts easier.

Château Pré La Lande is not quite 35 acres in size which makes it more manageable to be biodynamic. He feels fortunate to have like minded neighbors, one is organic and the other is biodynamic. He noted, "Part of being biodynamic is having to accept that sometimes we have bad conditions. It's difficult because the work and cost are the same." In a typical year, he produces 70,000 bottles, in 2018 he was only able to produce 14,000 because of mildew issues caused by atypical weather.

Beaucé produces three different cuvées, One has no added sulfites, one is aged in terra cotta tanks, and one is aged primarily in French Oak barrels. He has worked with two different sized terra cotta tanks, both made in Tuscany. His preference is the 450 liter as there is less wine loss. He likes the way it rounds out the tannins without imparting any flavors. His oak barrels are 300 liters as opposed to the traditional 225 liter classic Bordeaux size. He uses mostly French oak but does have four high quality American oak barrels that he has experimented with as well. He blends the wine first and then barrel ages for 12-16 months depending on the vintage. All of the wines spend six months in bottle before they are sold. The wines are vegan as well. If fining is necessary, he uses pea protein.

When asked if he would do it again knowing everything that he knows now, he was quick to respond, "We love being close to the land and to be able to make our own product. We have chosen the real life."

The Tasting
All of the following wines are a blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2015 - Fresh, light, soft, and floral with juicy mixed berry fruit flavors and a touch of mocha in the finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Terra Cotta 2016 - Similar but more aromatic than the previous, also fresh, light, and soft though with more acidity and bright red fruit flavors. 

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2015 - Aromatic, fresh and floral, nicely balanced with black cherry fruit flavors, a hint of coffee, and a smooth, lingering, licorice laced finish.

Château Pré La Lande Cuvée Diane 2016 - Very elegant and fresh with lively raspberry and plum flavors, and a bit of mocha. Very round, well-structured and refined with a hint of spiciness in the persistent finish.

Cuvée des Fontenelles 2017 - This very limited production botrytized sweet white wine has no sulfites added. It was nicely balanced with good acidity and was very effusive with tropical fruit aromas and candied fruit flavors.

All of the wines are highly recommended.

The Bonzai tree on the label is a nod to Beaucé longtime hobby of caring for his collection of trees which he has done since his first purchase of one in 1994.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Vineyards of Lodi - Historic Old Vine Zinfandel at Mohr-Fry Ranches

  The next stop on the Lodi wine trail was at Mohr-Fry Ranches to get a view of the gnarled old vines that made Lodi famous. We parked on the road next to certified historical vineyard, Marian’s Vineyard. which holds 8.3 acres of old vine Zinfandel planted on its own roots. The vineyard sits on Lodi’s west side and is located in the highly esteemed Mokelumne River AVA. This historic vineyard was started in 1901. It sits on sandy soils on the Mohr-Fry Ranches property. Owner, Jerry Fry named the vineyard after his mother. It is currently farmed by father/son team Jerry and Bruce Fry.

  The Mohr-Fry property consists of vineyards and orchards, along with diversified row crops. They grow twelve varieties of wine grapes, two varieties of cherries and over twenty-five varieties of dry heirloom beans. The agricultural history of the Mohrs and Frys extends back to the 1850s when Bruce Fry's great-great-grandfather on Jerry's mother's side, Cornelius Mohr left his job on a whaling ship in the port of San Francisco to move inland to become a farmer.

  Bruce Fry, Jerry’s son, is a 5th generation farmer. He joined our group in the vineyard to share how Marian's Vineyard became one of the first vineyards in California to be certified sustainable under the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing. Stuart Spencer of St. Amant Winery and Chad Joseph, winemaker at Oak Farm Vineyards, also joined us and brought wines made from the fruit of the Mohr-Fry Ranches vineyards with them.

Tasting the Terroir

Oak Farm Vineyards Block 417 Mohr-Fry Ranches Zinfandel 2017
 - This vineyard block was the first in Lodi to be Lodi Rules Certified in 2005. The 6,472 vines are head trained and own-rooted, they were planted in 1945. The block is over 14 acres with vines spaced about 10 feet apart. The soil is comprised of fine sandy loam. Only 245 cases of this wine were produced. Despite the 15% abv, the wine has a lighter, more medium bodied feel, it is well structured with fresh acidity. It has elegant floral aromas and bright red cherry/berry fruit flavors throughout the smooth, lingering finish.

St Amant ‘Marian’s Vineyard’ Old Vine Zinfandel 2017 - Deep, dark and rich, Spencer jokes that it is the “mother of all Zins” giving a nod to the vineyard named after Jerry Fry’s mother. The wine is full bodied with aromas and flavors of mixed berries with a lingering spicy note throughout the persistent finish.

Lodi Native ‘Marian’s Vineyard’ Zinfandel 2017 - Vibrant and plush with mixed berry aromas and flavors, a light floral note, followed by a hint of black pepper into the lengthy finish. I was introduced to this label on a previous trip to Lodi in 2016, I had the opportunity to taste all of the wines in the line at that time, read more about the wines tasted on that trip here at An Unadorned Taste of Lodi's Old Vine Vineyards.

All of these wine are highly recommended.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Vineyards of Lodi - Bechthold Vineyard

  Lodi’s famous Bechthold Vineyard sits on 25 acres in what is now the southwestern Lodi sub AVA, Mokelumne River. This parcel of land is home to 133 year old vine Cinsault which was planted in 1886. The vines are head trained, un-grafted, dry-farmed, and organically grown on sandy loam soil. Bechthold has the distinction of being the oldest continuously farmed vineyard in Lodi and the region’s only known large planting of Cinsault.

  Cinsault is a red grape originally from southern France primarily used in both red and rosé blends. Cinsault is valued for creating wines that have fruity aromas with a pleasant texture. The Cinsault vines at Bechthold Vineyards are believed to be the oldest Cinsault vines in the world due to the vines of Southern France being replanted in the early 20th century after the phylloxera epidemic. Kevin Phillips of Michael David Winery, has farmed the vineyard with his team since 2008 under a long term lease with the Bechthold family. 

  Michael Klouda, viticulturist for Michael David Winery, joined our group to explain how the vineyard is managed. Klouda shared that twelve wineries pick grapes from specifically allocated rows in the vineyard. Some of these winemakers are coming from outside of Lodi to purchase this unique variety. Due to a bit of variance throughout the field, most of their rosé clients pick from vines closer to the river which accounts for about 20% of the grapes. The vines from that area display more vigor and the grapes tend to have less color. Twenty rows in from the river is where the vines for red wine production begin. The grapes from this part of the vineyard tend to display both a deeper color and a richer flavor. 

  Klouda reiterated that the vineyard is organically farmed. He pointed out some tags that were hanging from the vines and shared that these were pheromone disruptors designed to help control a mealy bug infestation. The pheromones that are released from the tags confuse the male mealy bugs preventing them from finding mates. He said they have noticed a decline in the spread over the course of their use. Klouda also noted that rotating the cover crops on every other row provided the vineyard with a natural 15-30 lbs of slow release nitrogen throughout the growing season.

  We were joined by Bob Colarossi of Estate Crush and Ryan Sherman of Field Family Wines to taste their selections that contain the Cinsault grapes from the Bechthold Vineyard alongside the offerings from Michael David. 

  As the tasting began, Randy Caparoso (not pictured), resident editor for the Lodi Winegrape Commission Blog, shared his thoughts on the common element of the wines made from the Cinsault grapes from the Bechthold vineyard. He describes them as having a strawberry rhubarb pie characteristic. If you've never had a rhubarb pie, this is a great way to describe the light note of pleasant tartness that seems to always accompany all of the lively red fruit aromas and flavors of the Bechthold grapes in the glass. I would add that the wines also seem to share a familiar freshness and elegance, a lighthearted acknowledgement to the drinker that they do, indeed, come from a special place.
All of the following wines are highly recommended, 

Tasting the Terroir:

Estate Crush Rosé of Cinsault Bechthold Vineyard Lodi 2017Dry, fresh and fruity with strawberry and watermelon notes throughout the lingering finish. "We like restraint," said Colarossi when asked to describe his wine making philosophy as he poured, "by that, I mean we like good acid and lower alcohol." 
Michael David Winery Cinsault Rosé 2018 - Crisp and dry with light floral aromas over strawberry and peach ending with a slightly tropical finish. Klouda shared that this vintage spent less time on its skins than the previous year, creating a lighter, more easy-drinking style for 2018.

Fields Family Wines Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault 2017 - Vibrant floral notes combine with an explosion of pomegranate to create a zippy, yet juicy red with a pleasantly persistent and slightly spicy finish. Sherman said that the Fields Family had changed their style a bit over time as they became more familiar with what the vineyard offered, they now do whole cluster, semi-carbonic fermentation with native yeasts to showcase both the grape and the terroir.

Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault 2017 - Raspberry and pomegranate happily slow dance with white pepper throughout the lengthy finish. Klouda shared that this wine spends 10 months in neutral oak which contributes to the round feel.

Later in the week, we would also have the opportunity to taste two vintages of Bechthold Cinsault from Turley Wine Cellars along with their fantastic line up of Lodi Zinfandel with winemaker, Tegan Passalaqua. There will be more on that here later but I wanted to include those wines in this post. Passalaqua shared that he has been picking from Bechthold since 2008. He had traveled through Southern France and had fallen in love with the grape there and that was the style he was hoping to make from the grapes from Bechthold Vineyard. He selected his rows before he knew exactly what the vineyard would offer, he has stayed in the section he originally chose because, "It tastes the best," he said with a smile.

Turley Cinsault 2017 - Light, fresh, and elegant with bright floral aromas and red berry flavors with a pleasant tartness in the finish.

Turley Cinsault 2013 - Fuller bodied, lots of structure, grippy tannins and a beautiful purity of fruit. Passalaqua described 2013 as "a phenomenal year."

Monday, April 8, 2019