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. 

Saturday, April 11, 2020

What I'm Drinking Now

André Clouet Brut Nature Silver Champagne NV -  This Pinot Noir sparkler is sourced from the Grand Cru village of Bouzy and has no sugar added to the dosage giving a very pure example of the vineyard. This wine, along with their Rosé Champagne, has been a long time favorite in my home. 
Clean, fresh, linear, and dry with a persistent mousse, this Champagne is more mineral driven with subtle notes of pear and toast through the lingering finish. We often consume this with shellfish but this week, we had it on our table for our Sunday brunch of charcuterie, omelet, and pastries. This wine was purchased at Spec's, it is not showing online but I have purchased it both at the Midtown and Sugar Land stores.

Cantele Primitivo 2016 - This spicy red was chosen for pizza night. It comes from the Salento area of Puglia and is 100% Primitivo grown on limestone soils. The wine is fermented and partially aged in stainless steel but also spends 6 months aging in used oak barrique. 

This wine is dry, medium body, with soft tannins and good acidity. It has spicy red cherry aromas and flavors with a medium length. Easy drinking and perfect for a casual meal. We picked up a couple of pizzas from Coppa Osteria and settled in for a night of Netflix. This wine was purchased for $17 at Vinology Bottle Shop and Wine Bar.

William Chris Pétillant Naturel Rosé 2019 - I have been participating in the #TXWIne Twitter talks every Tuesday since the Stay-Home began and Texas rosé was the theme this week. I have been doing most of my grocery shopping through curbside pickup but I went into Whole Food to get a few items and saw this bottle there at that time and decided to purchase it for that night. 

When dinner was almost ready, I put out the glasses and gently popped the crown cap. An explosion of pink ensued filling my kitchen with strawberry aromas. I lost a little over a third of the bottle despite having the glasses ready, it was just that effusive. In the glass, the wine is a cloudy salmon pink with flavors of underripe strawberry and grapefruit with a hint of a sour beer note. Very pleasant and easy drinking, the bottle was finished quickly. I served it with grilled chicken but think it would be better with grilled sausage or charcuterie. $25 at both Whole Food and the winery's website. 

After discussing cancelled travel plans abroad, we started discussing returning to some favorite wine locales when we are able to freely move about again. That led me to opening these two bottles from Chateau Montelena. My husband and I re-visited Napa in 2015 after helping our daughter move to grad school in southern California. You can read about that visit here

I served these with grilled New York strips, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted carrots. We started with the 2015 which disappeared quickly and the family wanted more. I decided to open the 2013 next so everyone could compare. I believe both were priced around $55 when purchased. The winery is not currently offering these vintages except in the vertical package but there are some available on Wine-Searcher.
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 - Dry, full bodied and generous from a vintage that was known for exceptional fruit with lower yields, this wine is rich and intense with red currant, blackberry, licorice, and hints of spice with soft ripe tannins, fresh acidity, and a lengthy mineral-laced finish. A beautiful and very drinkable wine. 
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 - From a year that has been called "epic' for being so even and consistent throughout the growing season, This wine was far less giving upon opening than the previous and seems to be going through a more closed period as some wines do. After a few hours of being opened, it, too showed beautifully with a similar depth of flavor though with a slightly bigger structure and with a bit more savory notes developing. I was sorry that I hadn't thought to open it earlier and give it time in a decanter, I will be more inclined to drink the 2015s now and to continue holding my 2013s a bit longer to see what the future holds.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

What I'm Drinking Now - Week of 3/29

As in many households, more wine is being consumed at my home now since the stay-home order has been issued to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic. As I am more likely to write tasting notes while at home than when I am out in restaurants, I wanted to share some of the wines that we have been enjoying recently.

Sosie Bare Necessity Sparkling Rosé 2018This bottle of pink bubbles was opened late morning/early afternoon on Sunday for our at home brunch of breakfast tacos, berry muffins, and cantaloupe. Sourced from Sonoma County and made in the traditional method, this wine is crisp, fresh and fruity. It is dry with bright notes of red berry, peach, and citrus with persistent bubbles, a round feel and a lingering fruity finish. Delicious and easy drinking, I am looking forward to learning more about this producer and tasting more of their wines, sample- $30 SRP


Love you Bunches Sangiovese 2018 - Sourced from Santa Barbara County, this red from Stolpman Vineyards underwent carbonic maceration. It is very drinkable and was very enjoyable with take-out Tex-Mex food from Pappasito's. Fruity and juicy with notes of raspberry, cherry, and blood orange.  I recently saw their Rosé at Whole Foods and I plan on checking it out soon. This was a gift from a friend but I know it was purchased at Montrose Cheese and Wine for about $22.






Perissos Texas Hill Country Aglianico 2015 - I am a fan of Aglianico, I have vacationed on the Amalfi Coast and ventured deeper into Campania to taste Taurasi while there. I have enjoyed other Texas renditions of this variety and was delighted to visit this winery in 2018 and discover it being grown on the estate. I tried both the 2015 and a barrel sample of the 2017 at that time and was very impressed. I opened this for #TXWine night on Twitter, it is a bold red wine, dry, rich and flavorful with red berry aromas and flavors with white pepper and a hint of licorice. It is nicely balanced with good acidity and fully ripe tannins with a slightly spicy finish. We enjoyed it with grilled hamburgers for dinner. Purchased at the winery, the current release is $44.




Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2017 - I am a fan of the Gary Farrell Chardonnay. I have had less of the Pinot Noir they produce. This wine is fresh, medium-body and easy to drink. It has red cherry/berry fruity aromas and flavors with some baking spice and a hint of earthiness with a lingering cranberry fruit finish. We had barbecue brisket for dinner and I had a glass with that and I enjoyed another glass during a virtual cocktail party with some like-minded friends. Sample- $45 SRP.




Soléna Nos Amis Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2011 - Nos Amis translates to Our Friends. I visited this winery in 2017, ate a picnic lunch out on their terrace while tasting, and wound up buying a fair amount of wine from them. I have been using my time at home to reorganize my house including my wine storage and have discovered some nice surprises. I didn't know that I still had this bottle and it turns out I actually had two, I am looking forward to revisiting this wine again soon. I am a fan of the 2011 vintage in Willamette, it was a long and cool growing season and many of the wines that year were very elegant. This nine year old wine was fresh and vibrant with floral notes and red fruit and a silky texture that invites you back for another sip, the finish is spicy and lingering. We enjoyed it with grilled chicken and vegetables. I could not find this wine available for sale anywhere. 



Chateau de Bligny Grande Reserve Brut NV -  This Champagne is a go-to for brunch at a favorite Houston restaurant. It is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. More fruity than mineral-driven with aromas and flavors of peach, apricot, and citrus along with a slight nuttiness. This sparkler has a soft, creamy feel with a persistent mousse and a clean, dry finish. It was enjoyed with some take-out Vietnamese food and was particularly good with the fried rice topped with fish roe and the tamarind shrimp. I found it available at Spec's for $42 but this bottle was purchased curbside at Backstreet Café for only $32.