by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wente Wetmore Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

This was one of the featured wines on last week's episode of the Somm Con Geographical Digest series. Aly Wente was on and spoke about the family’s five generations of winemaking in Livermore Valley, the region's coastal influences, and the Charles Wetmore Vineyard from where this wine was sourced.

The Wente Wetmore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 is a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petite Sirah, 8% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. It is grown in the Charles Wetmore Vineyard which is named after one of Livermore’s most prominent early wine pioneers who is believed to have brought vine cuttings from many of Bordeaux’s top Châteaux to the Livermore Valley. It is located between the two major arroyo’s, or steep gullies, in the Valley Arroyo del Valle and Arroyo Mocho and ranges in elevation from 460 to 735 feet. This vineyard site was primarily planted to Cabernet Sauvignon because of its climate and gravel soils which allow for a later harvest and help the vines to fully ripen while encouraging intense dark fruit flavors to develop. 

Wente Wetmore Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 - Pronounced dark fruit aromas with floral violet and dried herb notes, dry, and beautifully structured with a full body, velvety tannins and bright acidity with flavors of blackberries and hints of tea and earth. (14% ABV) SRP $35.

Aly Wente described it as a yummy wine with a strong sense of place.

Pasta Bolognese was one of the recommended pairings for this wine so I cooked that to serve with the wine for dinner and I do agree that the pairing was delicious.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Geographical Digest - A Wine Education Series


I registered to participate in SommCon's live educational series Geographical Digest last Thursday which focused on some of the top American wine regions in the western United States. That week's webinar was called Domestic Bliss: The West Coast - California, Oregon and WashingtonThis wine tasting series is in conjunction with The SOMM Journal and National Geographic Books who publishes The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.

I tuned into the Zoom webinar to watch it live but the monthly series is also available through an on-demand streaming platform, SommGo. This is a new service that provides year-round training and education for both beverage professionals and wine enthusiasts. It can be watched live one Thursday a month or it can be viewed at a time that is more convenient. Wines for each seminar are also available for purchase from BottleTribe.

Sarah Quider with Chalk Hill Estate Winery and Heidi von der Menden with Merry Edwards in Russian River Valley, Aly Wente with Wente Vineyards in Livermore, Miles MacDonnell from Round Pond Estate in Napa Valley, Damien Grindley with Brecon Estate in Paso Robles, Guillaume Large with Résonance Wines and Wayne Bailey from Youngsberg Hill in Willamette Valley, and Dennis Cakebread with Mullan Road Cellars in Columbia Valley were the guest speakers for the Domestic Bliss webinar. 

I was given media sample bottles of two of the wines that were discussed to taste while I watched, I will be sharing my tasting notes in a separate post. 

The remaining schedule is listed below:

  • November 19, 2020: Burgundy and Bordeaux: Choose your Passion
  • December 16, 2020: The Southern Hemisphere: From Down Under to the Top of the Andes
  • January 21, 2021: A Exploration of Renowned Single Vineyards
  • February 18, 2021: Technique or Terroir: Is it Production or Nature That Make These Wines Great?
  • March 18, 2021: Italy: North to South
  • April 22, 2021: Luxury from Remarkable Sites
  • May 20, 2021: A World of Bordeaux Blends
  • June 24, 2021: Western Europe
Sign up for the series at Geographical Digest.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Fine Wine Tasting

These wines were sent to me from the Texas Fine Wine Group as part of an online group blind wine tasting. They were bagged and taped to conceal their identity. My husband uncorked them for me so I did not see any branding prior to tasting. Tasting notes were written before the reveal. Afterwards, winery representatives discussed each via zoom.

The Texas Fine Wine group is comprised of five well respected wineries who have set the goal of making high quality, benchmark wines from 100% Texas grown grapes. They make estate wines as well as source from some of the top growers in the state. All of the following wines are recommended and are excellent examples of the caliber of wines that Texas can produce.



Bending Branch "Lost Pirogue Vineyard" Texas Hill Country Picpoul Blanc 2019 - Clean, fresh, and dry with notes of honeydew, pear, and lemon zest on the nose. The wine is medium bodied with medium+ acidity and flavors that echo the aromas with the addition of a grilled pineapple note in the lingering mineral-laced finish. The wine was fermented and aged in barrel giving it a more rounded texture,  it is very balanced and easy to enjoy.  (12.7% ABV) Only 250 cases were made of this wine but Bending Branch does have several other Picpoul Blanc options, $32 

Brennan Vineyards Comanche County Texas Dry Rosé 2019 - Beautifully aromatic, the floral notes distinguish this wine immediately on the first sniff quickly followed by orange zest and red fruit aromas. The wine is dry, medium bodied, and refreshing with medium acidity and ripe raspberry and red plum flavors in the lively finish. Crisp, elegant and pleasing. An unusual blend of 70% Mourvèdre and 30% Muscat of Alexandria.  (12.1% ABV) $22

Spicewood Vineyards Texas Hill Country Estate Tempranillo 2017- Vibrant black cherry and dried leaf aromas with a full body, smooth, integrated tannins, balanced acidity and flavors of blackberry with hints of sage and red pepper continuing through the persistent and slightly spicy finish. This wine was sourced from the estate vineyard which sits on sandy loam soils and was planted in 2008. About 50% of the wine was aged in new French oak barrels for 18 months. (14.9 % ABV) $40 

Duchman "Oswald Vineyard" Aglianico 2016 -  Rich and dark with black cherry, plum and sweet spice aromas, the wine is full bodied, dry and well-structured with high acidity and smooth, ripe tannins and matching flavors of black plum, black cherry, and white pepper with a slight savoriness in the long finish. (14.5% ABV) $40

Pedernales Texas GSM Melange 2017 - A blend of more than the GSM would imply, the mix is 43% Mourvèdre, 10% Carignon, 14% Cinsault 25% Grenache, 4% Syrah, and 4% Petit Sirah which creates a very complex and layered wine. Robust yet approachable with blueberry, chocolate covered cherries, baking spice, and hints of leather and smoke, this wine is medium+ bodied with smooth tannins and medium acidity and a lingering finish. (13.3% ABV) $35 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sangiovese Wines for Fall - from Galveston Monthly

In the October 2020 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine, I talk about the Sangiovese grape, its home in Italy and some of the places that make magnificent wine from it. I also talk about how Sangiovese is doing in Texas.

As seen in Galveston Monthly magazine - on the stands now.

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Spicewood Vineyards and Ron Yates Wines - From Galveston Monthly

 As seen in the September 2020 issue of Galveston Monthly magazine

This month, I talk to Ron Yates, owner of Spicewood Vineyards and Ron Yates Wines. He shares some thoughts on the 2020 Texas wine grape harvest and gives a few recommendations for wines to drink now and some that collectors may want to hold.


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

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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Visit to Château de Pitray


This photo was borrowed from Château Pitray's Facebook Page while the rest were taken by me during my visit.
Jean de Boigne

Château de Pitray rests on 250 acres of land in the Côtes de Cadillac sub-region of Bordeaux. The estate is divided between meadowland, forest, and the vineyard. 

The Dining Room
Château de Pitray, which looks like a storybook castle, has a long history. It is the oldest continuously family-owned château in Bordeaux. The family has been there for six hundred years. The manor house, located about ten miles from St-Émilion, was built in the 15th century. The property is known now for its grape-growing and wine production but its record as a vineyard would not begin until the 18th century. Prior to that time, it was a more typical mixed-use farm. The family would not only survive years of war at home in France but would also continue to flourish while some members even came to fight for American independence as well. The chronicle of this family is as interesting and diverse as the land itself. 

The current vision of the estate began in the 1960’s when Louis de Simard de Pitray began selling his wines in both the U.S. and Great Britain. The next generation continued to build for the future. Alix de Pitray and her husband, P.E. de Boigne, would begin to invest in new French oak barrels in the early 1990s in an effort to improve the quality of the aging they were able to do. Modernization of the cellar was completed with temperature controlled stainless steel vats for maceration and fermentation.


Jean de Boigne, who took over the management of the chateau in 2003, met our group upon our arrival. After getting us settled into our rooms, we were welcomed into the living room to have pre-dinner cocktails with the family. Happy children invited us to go swimming with them and to see more of the property. A family dinner immediately followed giving us the opportunity to taste through several wines over dinner as the family's long history was shared. 

We tasted not only wines from Château de Pitray but some selections from Boigne's friends and neighbors, as well. The 2015 vintage was generous, smooth and enjoyably drinkable. We were surprised by a single varietal Cabernet Franc and we were taken back in time a bit with a bottle of the Château de Pitray Madame 2011 which was fresh, bright and elegant. I did not take tasting notes at this dinner as I wanted to hear the family's stories and enjoy the experience.

All of the vineyard care is done by hand from the pruning to sorting the grapes at harvest. Château Pitray has chosen to not use any herbicides in an effort to protect their people, the land and the environment. The vineyard of Pitray is ninety contiguous acres in size and sits on the clay-limestone plateau of Gardegan, facing south. It is planted with 73% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Malbec. On average, the vines are about thirty years old. 

The Chateau features four guest rooms that can be rented for a stay in the Cadillac area of the Côtes de Bordeaux, you can get more information on that here. During my time on the property, I was in the Bamboo Room. Both this bedroom and the attached bathroom are spacious with views overlooking the pool. The location is ideal for a relaxing country retreat but also close enough to easily visit the historic town of St. Emilion by car. 
Both wines seen here are highly recommended as is a night at the château when traveling in the area.
Check out Château de Pitray's website for a virtual tour.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Two from Abruzzo

  I traveled to Abruzzo for the first time in 2018 and it was an eye opening experience for me. Throughout my time studying wine, both by myself reading various wine books at home before finally progressing on to certified courses in 2010, Abruzzo seemed to be an unimportant area to know. It was acknowledged primarily for the large amount of grapes grown for bulk producers rather than as a place from which one could seek interesting wines. The main concern from both books and instructors was that its main grape, Montepulciano, should not be confused with a place name in Tuscany.
  On my first day there, I was struck by the expansive views of the Adriatic Sea which I could see from my hotel followed by the lush beauty of the countryside with the mountains in the background that I would see while visiting wine producers. Why was this place not on more American's radar as a travel destination, I wondered. To see to what I am referring, you can just look at the photo at the top of this blog, it is a vineyard in Abruzzo that I took on my first day there.

  One of my first wine surprises of the trip was learning about the deeply-hued rosato they produced called Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo. This wine had earned its own DOC in 2010 though it has been produced for longer under different labeling. The name translates to cherry and refers to the wines cherry-red color. The wine is made from Montepulciano grapes just like its red counterpart. The shorter time with the grape skins during fermentation is what allows it to have its lighter, brighter color and its more vibrant fruity flavor. I'm always delighted when I find one of these on a wine list. It is enjoyable to drink alone (as most dry rosés are) but it is particularly good to enjoy with lighter menu options like salads or with prosciutto. I did not visit this winery during my time there but I would be interested to do so on a future trip.
Cirelli La Collina Biologica Cerasuolo D'Abruzzo 2018 - This was a fairly average year for red wines in Abruzzo but this organic rosato shines brighter than the year would lead you to believe. Dry, fresh and flavorful with notes of sour cherry, orange peel, and a light floral nuance with a hint of minerality in the crisp finish. This was purchased for $23.99 at Houston Wine Merchant.

  I was already somewhat familiar with the red wines of the region upon arrival. They were apt to turn up on Houston wine lists at casual Italian restaurants and, occasionally, as a bargain priced red on steakhouse menus. I was, however, surprised by the higher quality wines that I tried during this trip. Some from the Colline Teramane subzone were particularly incredible and deserve the higher prices being demanded. The wine that I am reviewing here is not that, nor is it a Riserva with extra aging time. It is one of those simpler reds that was my first introduction to the region many years ago.
This wine is produced by one of the winery's that I did get to tour. Our group then tasted a line of the wines over lunch at Castello di Semivicoli which you can read about here, I enjoyed myself so much on that visit that I did not take good notes while there.
Masciarelli Montepulciano D'Abruzzo 2016 - This year was an exceptional year in Abruzzo and it can even be seen in this budget friendly red. Fruity aromas of black cherry and raspberry dominate over the lighter savory and spicy pepper notes, though its only has a medium length, this medium body wine is dry with soft tannins and enough acidity to keep it food friendly, particularly with the pizza with which it was enjoyed. Approximately $12, purchased at Spec's.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Lodi Wines Masterclass - Zinfandel


  Two months ago, I attended a Lodi Wines Masterclass in Houston taught by wine educator, Elaine Chukan Brown with Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission, Stuart Spencer. I am breaking this seminar down into three posts starting with the Zinfandel wines. I have also added some additional terroir notes from my visit to Lodi last spring.

  Lodi calls itself the "Zinfandel Capital of the World" because historically it has produced about 40% of California's Zinfandel grapes.  There are over 100,000 acres planted to wine grapes in Lodi with Zinfandel making up approximately 17,000 of those acres. About 2,000 acres are home to ungrafted, head-trained, old vines that date back to pre-Prohibition, most of the wines below belong to this category. The amount of Zinfandel being grown in Lodi has been on a lowering trend in the past few years due to the fact that less White Zinfandel is being produced. Yields from red Zinfandel vineyards are much lower than what is grown on a white Zinfandel field. In 2019, only 32.7% of California Zinfandel came from Lodi, Spencer notes, "We will likely see this percentage gradually decline as less white Zin is produced up here and more vineyards are removed." 

  No one needs to be concerned about less Zinfandel being produced, however, when these changes are leading to higher quality Zinfandel being made. Lodi also makes far more than just Zinfandel with over 125 wine grape varieties growing in the greater Lodi AVA, stay tuned for more on that in an upcoming post.
  Lodi enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and cool, damp winters. The overall yearly rainfall is 17 inches. There are some subtle climatic and soil differences that exist throughout the seven nested sub-AVAs. For this tasting, we are looking at just two, the Mokelumne River AVA and the Clements Hills AVA which, as Brown explains, are truly the "heart of Lodi". 

  Both of these southern AVAs have historically been the main growing areas. They have the most acres of wine grapes planted of the seven. Between the two, they have over 63,000 of the total100,000 in the greater region.

  The Clements Hills AVA is located on the south-east side of the Lodi region. It comprises 85,400 acres of which 21,700 acres are planted to wine grapes. It has rolling hills with elevations ranging from 100-450 feet above sea level. The Mokelumne River flows down from the Sierra Nevada through its northern part. It is somewhat warmer and wetter than the Mokelumne River AVA on its western border but it still experiences wide diurnal swings like the west side due to the cooling influence of the Delta Breeze. Soils vary through the subregion and include old volcanic sediment, clay, and sandy loam. 

Clements Hills - Lodi wines:
Fields Family Wines 2016 Stampede Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel - Sourced from a 1920s vineyard with a small portion planted in 1940. The berry size tends to be smaller in the Stampede Vineyard due to its more depleted sandy loam soils. The more elevated juice to skin ratio creates a firmer acid/tannin structure than average. The wine was fermented with ambient yeast and underwent malolactic fermentation. It was aged in old French oak for 18 months. ABV: 14.6% I found this wine to be the most elegant and it was my favorite in this line up.
Fruity aromas of fresh plums and berries with dusty tannins (Brown referred to them as powdery), full-bodied with crunchy raspberry seed spice, a slight savory note, and a lingering, fresh finish. SRP $28

Turley Wine Cellars 2018 Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel - Sourced from a vineyard planted in 1944, the vines grow in granitic-based sandy soils with some volcanic influence. This wine was aged in old French oak for 14 months. ABV: 15.4%
Full-bodied and rounded, a bit riper than the previous wine with more intense blackberry aromas and flavors, velvety tannins and a long, spicy fruit-filled finish. $38

The Mokelumne River AVA is located on the south-west side of the greater Lodi AVA and surrounds the City of Lodi, it is comprised of 85,700 acres of which 42,000 acres are planted to wine grapes. The elevations are some of the lowest in Lodi ranging from 10-85 feet and it is named after the river that flows through it. This sub-AVA has the most old vine vineyards in the region, not only of Zinfandel but also Carignan, Cinsaut, and Alicante Bouschet. It has a cooler climate due to the Delta Breeze which flows directly from the Bay area through an opening in the mountain range. The cold, deep soils are made up of sandy loam with a high organic content which hold more water due to the more absorbent clay. These conditions make dry farming easier. Vineyards in this AVA tend to produce larger grape clusters than the vineyards in the east, creating more flavor and softer tannins.

Mokelumne River AVA - Lodi wines:
St. Amant Winery 2018 Marian’s Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel - This vineyard was planted in 1901. The vineyard appears to have a different clone of Zinfandel which produces more elongated clusters with larger than average berries.The winery is also historically important as they were the first to start buying grapes from single vineyard sites to make wine which allowed growers to taste their grapes in finished form for the first time. Prior to this, most growers sold their wine to bulk producers and never knew exactly what was the quality from their own vineyards. This wine was aged in French oak for 11 months. Brown referred to this wine as an example of “classic Lodi Zin”. ABV: 15.7% 
Complex aromas of brambleberry and root beer with a savory, earthy note, a full body, soft tannins, and a slight raisiny nuance in the persistent spicy finish. $24

Lange Twins Family Winery & Vineyards 2014 Centennial Zinfandel - Sourced from the Lewis Vineyard which was planted in 1904 and sits on fine, sandy loam. This wine has a legacy component and, unlike the other wines in this tasting, is aged in American oak for 24 months.
Full-bodied, soft, and more rustic with aromas of cooked fruit and a short, earthy finish. I found it lacking in acid and freshness. ABV: 16%

I happened to have another vintage of this bottle at home which had been gifted to me. I decided to open my 2011 to serve with a dinner of barbecue ribs and sausage. It was a very different wine than the 2014.
LangeTwins Family Winery & Vineyards 2011 Centennial Zinfandel - Red fruit aromas and flavors with licorice and a smoky, nutmeg note from the American oak barrels, with a full body, smooth tannins, good acidity and a lingering finish. ABV: 15.6%
All but one wine had over 15% alcohol, Brown stated that in her opinion, “14.5-16% alcohol is the natural alcohol level for a ripe Zinfandel grape.” She also warned against assuming that the higher alcohol levels automatically meant that the wine would taste too big, too jammy, or too hot. Lodi is making Zinfandel in more than one style and these producers in these southern AVAs are doing a good job with balancing Zinfandel’s higher alcohol potential with lifted aromas and flavors.