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Italian Syrah Strikes Again!!

Leuta 2013 Syrah Cortonaimg_5780

There are days when you just have to say, “I love my life!!”  The wine tasting I went to last night gave me great reason to say so.  The owner/winemaker of Leuta Winery in Cortona, Italy, Denis Zeni,  was in town looking to move his distribution further west than the Northeastern restaurants that currently purchase much of his  export wine to the United States.  My life was further rewarded when I found that Leuta Wines grow Syrah and have a 100% Syrah in their portfolio (see my blog post The Rise(?) of Italian Syrah).  And even further upping my happiness ante, Denis makes kvevri wines with vines originating from Georgia (formerly of the Soviet Union).  Most people have heard of wines made in clay amphora (kvevri), but they are few and far between.  I had only recently read an in-depth article about this type of winemaking in Georgia and Portugal… and found it providence that I would meet a winemaker a week later employing similar methods for some of his very special wines.  Another future treat!!

Good wines are best served with good stories.  Denis knows that and he told his story well.  He grew up and spent large portions of his life with his grandfather in Trentino.  His grandfather was a farmer of  both food crops and grapes for wine.  His passion was for the wine.   He passed away and the land was sold.  Denis went into economics, banking, and investments for many years, but his spare time was spent pursuing his fascination with grape growing and winemaking in each hemisphere and many countries.  He eventually purchased the Cortona land that is now Leuta Winery and he is the hands-on decision maker, charting the course of his vineyards.  Denis explains that he chose the soil, the layout of his vineyards, the concentration of plantings, the winery equipment and how the grapes are grown, harvested and how wines are made.  Super organically, I might add!!   Denis is also working on making the process vegan, as well.

So, how good were the wines??  They were Very Good!!!!!  I am the frugal wine drinker, but I had no problem purchasing Leuta wines.  I am looking forward to the delivery of his Syrah, Sangiovese and Cab Franc.  The wines are very clean and modern in the best of ways.  New French oak is used judiciously, so these wines are not reeking of toasted vanilla.  The  2013 Leuta Syrah Cortona was big on blackberry, dark plum, pepper and spice with a little fresh potting soil.  The wine was refreshing.  I thought the Leuta Merlot was excellent, but I kept returning to the Syrah to freshen my palate and indulge my myself again!!  The Leuta Sangiovese was my second favorite — well crafted and elegant.

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My thanks to Bill & Stephanie Lloyd for including us in your gathering and to Christin Hartung for being a lovely hostess.  Leuta Wines have a wine club (a very wise business plan) that has nice benefits, especially if you are in the Cortona area.  I think Denis picked up quite a few new members (as he should!) from this gathering!  Check out the website leuta-wines-cortona.com    Although Leuta is a small, boutique, estate winery, you will see that Denis has used his business background to promote his beautiful wines in a very organized, user-friendly way.  As an American capitalist… I love it.

 

 

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Cuvaison:  First Words? Butter Bomb!!

Standing in the grocery store looking for a Chardonnay to go with my chicken breasts browned in butter with spices and a little lemon.   And thinking, “Huh?!  I never drink Chardonnay any more.”  So I looked at the selection and discovered I am truly a top shelf girl…at least at this store, anyway!

I chose Cuvaison because I’m thinking, “Carneros.   A cooler climate.  They grow grapes for sparkling wine there.   Shouldn’t be too oaky.”   Well, I was wrong there!!  It’s oaky.  It’s buttery.  It’s bursting with flavors of crisp fresh pineapple , lemon juice, vanilla.  It has enough crisp acidity to give the wine a good backbone so it’s not just a flabby, buttery, pineapple sledgehammer.  This has slightly more restraint!

The wine comes from 44 separate vineyards, harvested and vinified separately.   Then the wines are blended together to make a sum greater than its parts.  The wines are aged in oak barrels for eight months, with 25% of the wine aged in New French Oak.   About 66% of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation .  This is a second fermentation that introduces a special bacteria (think good bacteria!!)  that converts crisp tartaric acid to softer  lactic acid.   Lactic acid is found in milk and sour cream.  This fermentation also creates a organic chemical compound called diacetyl.  This is the compound that makes butter taste like butter!!  If you love buttery wines…malolactic fermentation is your friend.  Malolactic fermentation is used in virtually all red wines  but it is sometimes used in white wines to make the  pH less acidic, make the body of the wine fuller, and impart buttery or butterscotch flavor.

So although I find this wine to be a butter bomb, those of you who like buttery Chardonnays will LOVE IT!  I don’t love it because I am the girl who enjoys tartaric acid in my white wines, but I appreciate how it Cuvaison is crafted and the crispness that still shows through.  You don’t have to always love something to appreciate it.    $18-20.

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A Serious California Cab (Seriously Good!)

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My friend, Chuck Caldwell, introduced me to Altamura wines.  Chuck is one of those rare people from Texas who was visiting and enjoying Napa wines during their early Renaissance in the 1970’s.  He has many wonderful stories about some of the valley’s iconic wine makers.  I only wish I could have traveled on those old, quiet, Napa Valley roads with Chuck…preferably in a little convertible.  Chuck has been a wine mentor for me.  He has great recollections of meals eaten and wines consumed with them.  His treasured friendships with people like Frank Altamura are just pleasant chapters in Chuck’s storied life. I always tell Chuck, “I can’t wait to hear the story about when you raced in the Iditarod.”   To me, Chuck’s done EVERYTHING, so running dogs in the Iditarod doesn’t seem too far-fetched.   Of course, there would be wine. It’s Chuck’s wine stories that have made me eager to reach out and pluck the grapes of all these beautiful wines and learn about the vineyards from whence they came.

So back to my serious Red.  I was introduced to Altamura wines by Chuck.    And on my last trip to Napa we visited Altamura vineyards.  The visit, of course, being arranged by Chuck.  He’s such a nice guy and we love his wife, Jane, too.   The Altamura estate is in Wooden Valley, located down an 11  mile woodsy, hair-pin-curve road running northeast out of Napa proper.  Altamura is the only winery in Wooden Valley that is within the Napa Valley AVA.  A word of advice, try to avoid this drive with a hangover or sitting in the back seat of the automobile.  Trust me.  All of us were slightly green on arrival… but we made a splendid recovery!!

The winery  is much further away from Napa in spirit.  The estate and surrounding area is very quiet and pastoral.  It truly is a road less traveled.    The recently built winery appears as though it was transported from Italy. The building is faced with stones ‘harvested’ from the estate.  The big wood doors have an old Italian feel while concealing  a very modern wine making facility inside.    I didn’t see it  completely finished.  I think the construction was done over several years… perhaps dictated by  the success of their harvests.   How very old school!!  Luckily, Napa has fairly predicable harvests.   During our visiting 2014, we arranged the details of our wine shipment of our  wine  in a modest, but very practical, portable trailer next door to the winery.  It was air-conditioned!  No one cared!

Altamura Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  A big, cocoa and coffee infused Cabernet.  Nice structure.  Still with acidity despite its ripeness.  Sublime with my Grass Fed ribeye, mashed Cauliflower ‘potatoes’ and steamed broccoli.  This Cab is lush, sensual, , and a joy to drink.  Soft tannins and polite acidity.     I am glad I have a few more bottles in the cellar.  This Altamura Cabernet has aged well .   Although this vintage is no longer available,  recent Altamura Cabernet Sauvignon vintages run $85-ish.

Altamura also produces several Italian varietal wines such as Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Negroamaro.  I have been so pleased with all of them.   I have also tried their Sauvignon Blanc which is Fume Blanc in style.  Well crafted and well praised… as long as you like yours oaked.

If you are out in Napa Valley, consider a stop in to Ciccio, the Altamura family restaurant in Yountville.   Inside this old Italian grocery store, we delighted in the casual atmosphere, excellent pizza and salads.  The menu offers everything from pasta,  wood grilled artichokes, to steak.  If you live to have a Negroni, the bar offers seven variations.  Additionally, all of the Altamura wines are available… and they are very, very nicely priced.

Thanks Chuck!!

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Wine Judging at Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo

img_4818Because sometimes wine is a loose term!!

I used a photo from the delivery carts with the word wine painted on it… because looking at the green glass, the one that looks like anti-freeze… you might not be sure!!

Wine isn’t always vitis vinifera!!  Last weekend I had the extra-ordinary opportunity to try seventeen (17!!) fruit based wines.  I say extra-ordinary because that denotes rare and unusual.  And I am hoping I don’t revisit these anytime soon!!  But I am grateful to have had the experience!  The wines on cart  (above) are fruit based wines.  Even fruit might be a loose term because the green one had definite flavors of jalapeno.   We all worked hard to find a winner amongst those we tasted and we were intrigued by the one that tasted like cake.  Pound cake or white sheet cake with amaretto frosting.  Hard to say.  But cake… as opposed to fruit cake.

In addition to these beauties, our panel judged a flight of Mead (5) and a flight of flavored Meads (7).  Mead is a fermented beverage… I just can’t bring myself to say wine… made with at least 50% honey.  It can have flavors of clove and cinnamon and I think those are the better ones.  You start adding some other flavors and, to me, they just taste weird!!   Of course, I still can’t comprehend the flavor of banana in beer.

img_4821 In addition to these very unique “wines”, we also tasted flights of Zinfandel (47), Viognier (12), and Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc based blends (41), New World Temprnillo and blends (13), Sparkling Red (2) and Very Sweet White (8) wines.  I am officially done with sweet wines until after the 2017 holidays.

The judging of these wines is done on an all volunteer basis. The wines are double blinded by having separate teams of volunteers that pour, volunteers that deliver the wines on carts, and volunteer judges that taste. There are fun, yet very professional, volunteers to help with tabulating scoring, running information and food,  glass washing and polishing, pulling wines from the warehouse, driving forklifts, working with the wineries on entries, and I know I am leaving a ton  of groups out.  img_4803All these efforts help determine who wins Gold, Double Gold, Class Champions, etc. from a pool of 2,850 wines.  Many of the winning wines are served in the Wine Garden at the official Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo (HLSR).  A wine auction is also held as part of the fundraising process.  I am not on a rodeo committee, so I do not know all the ins and outs of the planning and execution.  What I do know:   HLSR is an impressive labor of love to promote agriculture and raise money for education via scholarships for Texas youth.  I do know that I am excited about participating in this process, even on a small level.  All of this makes every wine I taste while judging, a wine deserving of responsible contemplation…. even if it is green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump Wins!!! I mean Trump Wines!!

img_4794My blog is not a political blog, but since Trump is now our President-elect, it seemed like a good time to dust off the 2013 Trump Winery Meritage and give it a swirl.  This wine was a gift to me this summer.  I made the assumption it wouldn’t be good ( I should have had more faith in the giver….maybe even Trump, as well) and didn’t mind holding it until the election.

This Meritage was respectable.   Dusty dark cherry and blackberry.  The medium body wine was easy to drink.  “Very easy,” my friends said.  The tannins were smooth.  I found a bit of savory herb  character to it as well. The finish was medium in length.  The breakdown for this wine is Cabernet Sauvignon 33%, Merlot 26%, Cab Franc 16%, Petite Verdot 14% and Malbec 11%.   I wouldn’t rush out and buy it again… but my research has me very intrigued to try the 2015 Viogner and find the 2014 Meritage… which has a  better reputation for complexity than the 2013.

Trump Winery is located a few miles from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It was formerly known as Kluge and wines from this estate have been served at the White House and at the rehearsal dinner for Chelsea Clinton’s Foundation wedding.

The  wine estate is the largest in Virginia and the entire east coast with 195 acres under vine.  All the fruit is from the estate and is hand harvested. The tasting room is open for sampling and the estate also has a 45 room inn, Trump Hotel Collection, Albemarle Estate.  The pictures are quite nice!  You can get married there, picnic there and/or bring your dog when you come taste.  Other wines include Cabernet Sauvignon,  Blanc de Blanc (Sparkling), Viogner and Rose.

 

 

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Portable Wine!

I Love Being Ahead or At Least With the Curve!!

The Wine Spectator 40th issue magazine has an article about canned wine.  One of the photos features cans of Underwood Wine.  For the few of you that follow me, you saw it here first (August 2016)!!img_4667

Wine in Cans for Fishing, Boating or At the table?  You tell me!!

IMG_1541.JPGWines in cans.  How extraordinary!  I recently tried to purchase some French Rose in cans at my local Specs Liquor store.  The wine salesman seemed somewhat appalled that I would ask.  (Honestly, I didn’t blame him.)  Of course, I came bearing my recent issue of Food & Wine magazine that featured not one, but two, French Roses in a can.  He then was more polite about saying they didn’t carry canned wine.

So while I am at Trader Joes to purchase a gallon of milk, I came acress these little canned cuties.  Yes, I somehow ended up in the wine department.  Go figure.  So I scooped them up ($5.95 each, 12 oz).  I left the canned Pinot Noir on the self — it just doesn’t seem possible that you could find good or even okay Pinot in a can.  They may label it Pinot Noir, but it won’t taste like Pinot Noir.  Darn, now I will have to go back to double check-because journalists must investigate.

I shared these cans of wine with a couple of friends.   One of my friends insisted she drink  them from a glass and decreed the idea of drinking wine from the actual can as “horrifying.”  But once we got past that little sticking point–she actually enjoyed them.

These wines come from the Union Wine Co. and the grapes are sourced from somewhere in Oregon.  No single vineyard.  No estate winery.   But don’t hold that against them.  The Pinot Grigio, our favorite of the two, was crisp and dry with flavors of ripe, bruised pear and apples and ripe peach (13% ABV).  The Rose had nice flavors and aromas of peach and strawberry (12%).    Give me a hot day and I would drink either  of them if a host offered one to me nice and cold, and in a good Yeti.  I like many other wines better, but these both have their place… in the sun!!

Cheers!

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CabRené Loves Rosé

imageRose is  Summer in a Bottle

It’s June and while it may still occasionally feel like spring in New York, summer has arrived with a vengeance in Texas!!

To me, summer means Rose´.  It is perfect to enjoy on the boat dock or patio on a hot summer day and continue sipping right into our hot, muggy evenings.  I love it all by its little lonesome self. But here is the BIG tip…

Rose´pairs beautifully with almost any food!!  I’m blonde and Rose´is a no brainer.

Rose´is so versatile that you can sip on it with salad, seafood, chicken, cheese plates, tandoori and even barbecue!   Yes, BarBQ!!!  And although I prefer a heavy Red wine with my steak, I would never turn up my nose at a Rose´.  This is the easy wine.  The one to keep multiple bottles of on your coldest shelf in the fridge.  The one that is so pretty and pink.

Here is the other big tip.  When you are looking over a wine list at dinner and nothing looks comfortingly familiar (or, if it does look familiar, it looks expensive darn it!), look to see if they have one or more bottles of Rose´.  It is not unusual to find a bottle of Rose on a restaurant wine list for $25-$35 and, like I said, it goes with everything.  So it doesn’t matter if everyone is ordering wildly different appetizers or entrees!!  And,  my last tip, no one will ever think you are being cheap because Rose’s are the coolest thing going right now!

And get over that “I don’t drink sweet wine” excuse, because the majority or Rose’s are dry!!!  They are nothing like White Zinfandel or the blush wine of your mother’s day.  Rose’s range in color from pale salmon to cherry pink.  The pale salmons tend to be bone dry and extraordinary crisp!  The darker wines tend to be softer and rounder in style and may even have some mild tannins.    Flavors tend to encompass strawberry, watermelon, grapefruit and, my favorite, minerality!

If you are considering what mixed case of Rose’s to purchase (Yes, a case!  It’s cheap!!!), you would want to include classic Rose´from Provence, France, but Rose´ is made everywhere and from almost every red grape.  Spain makes beautiful Rose from Garnacha (Grenache) and Italy has their Rose´ of  Sangiovese.  Around the world, Rose´ is made from Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Syrah, to name a few.

Drink it young.  Drink it cold.  Just drink it!!!

 

 

Improvise the vessel!!

My husband says our Rose choice is  wet, cold and drinks well!   I think he’s right!  What does it matter if we enjoy it in a wine glass or a small soup bowl??Scarpetta Timido Brut Rose Sixth Edition (Non Vintage).  Yeasty, dark cherries and berries with a hint of peach.    Heavier than a rose from Provence and with a bit of dry tannin.  The wine held up well to our Asian dinner of Razor Clams, Peppered Lobster and Fish Soup.  All these dishes were a bit spicy.  A little more sweetness in the wine would have been good, but that is a my pairing problem and not the fault of the wine.  Sometimes it’s just what wine you have available in the fridge. Our waitress eventually brought wine glasses, but soup cups worked just as well while we waited.  She eventually decided to try a taste of the Rose herself.  She looked around for a glass and then picked up a small soup bowl from another clean table.  We may have started a trend. 

My Pink Heaven

img_5726First, let me get past the myth that have so many of you as Pink Haters.  There wasn’t one sweet wine among the twenty or thirty that I tasted.   Sweet pink existed!  There was pink Moscato.  But sweet pink was not on my radar.  I was looking for dry pink.  Pink with some bubbles.   Pink with a little tannin (that’s right!).  Pink with a little attitude.  I found all the pink I could possibly love and I left a swath of iced down, delicious pink still untasted… being enjoyed by other pink lovers…who had more time than I did.  It hurt to leave.  But the effort of leaving just kept me wanting more.  God, I really do love good Rosé!!  I admit… I  even like medicore rosé.

Yesterday, Houston was home to pink.  A treasure trove of Rosé (thank you Southern Glazers) put out for buyers to sip through and determine what pinks should grace their wine list for the summer…or even all year through.  I was lucky to be there.  What is my favorite Rosé?  I’m still enjoying the looking, but here are a few that talked to me.

Casata Monfort Pinot  Grigio Romato.  This is an Italian Rosé made from a grape we consider to be a white wine grape–Pinot Grigio.  However, Pinot Grigio grapes have a lot of color in their skin and this wine was created to be a Rosé.  Skin contact with the juice gives the wine its coppery color and also some  unique complexity.  $20-ish

Palmer Brut Rose. Amazing.  Bubbles.  Could not spit this!  $75(?).  Spendy but so worth it.

Paul Cheneau Brut Rose.  This was the most unique of the pink bubbles I tried because it was dry and loaded with, of all things, dark fruit flavor.  Blackberry  and dark cherry bubbles.  Who knew? Lots of fun.    $15.

Pleasant Hill Sangiovese Rose.  This 2016 Rose hails from Brenham, Texas.  Pink is even better when its local and this local is great.

Lageder Lagrein Rosato from Alto Adige.   Another excellent Italian Rosé  $18-ish.

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Moet and Veuve Cliquot had a great presence… but I never made it to that side of the room.  Whispering Angel and Miravel showed up, too.  But you have already heard about them, I’m sure.  They are top sellers in the United States, respectively.  They have helped put Rosé in your shopping cart.  You are putting Rosé in your shopping cart??!!

To add icing to my pretty pink cake, the Southern Glazers offered up a Rosé Master Class led by Gillian Balance, Master Sommlier.  It was an Old World vs. New World tasting and both came up as winners.  Three tiers of Chateau Minuty rosés Cote de Provence) made up the Old World entrants.    The Chatea Minuty 281 retails for over $60.  Talk about a serious Rosé!!  And it was awesome!!  Matua Pinot Noir Rosé (Marlborough, New Zealand), Chateau St. Jean Bijou Rosé (California)  and A by Acacia Rosé (Napa Valley) were the New World offerings.  Slightly darker in color.  A bit less acidity.  All the wines were fresh, dry, enjoyable and lovable.

 

Taking a Pulse with Thumbprint

After a week of heavy lifting, moving my son into a new apartment in a strange town and a flight home with rough connections, it was time for a steak dinner.  My husband requested a nice red for both sautéing mushrooms and a dinner beverage.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you will know my wine cooler has  been on the fritz with a slow upward trend in temperature.  Outside 86 F.  Cooler 66F.  So it’s been time to pick out the older fruit. 

I brought out the Thumbprint Alexander Valley, Schneider Vineyard, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon.   I was hesitant. Unsure.   An eleven year old Cabernet from a new world vineyard.  Would it still be good??  The first sip was uninspiring–as often first sips are.  However, we were on an inspiring ride from there.  Dark plums, cassis, tobacco, sweet hot cigar and vanilla lit up my night!!   A perfect pair with my steak (what Cab isn’t?) and mushrooms.  Gorgeous wine completed a gorgeous full moon night. 

We bought this wine during a visit to Napa in 2007 or 2008 with a great group of new friends. The wine is still good and so are the friends.  Price–Unknown. 

Inaugural Wines

Whether you love him, hate him (Why hate anyone?  It’s sooo taxing!) or don’t even think about Donald Trump, you have to wonder what the inauguration committee served at lunch!!   I did!

A relatively inexpensive line-up for the inaugural lunch today as reported by Decanter Magazine.  

Korbel’s Special Inaugural Cuvée of ‘California Champagne’.  

J. Lohr Arroyo Vista 2013 Chardonnay

Delicato Family Vineyard’Black Stallion’ 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.  

Decanter Magazine mentioned that serving ‘California Champagne’ may not endear our relationship with France… but President Trump did say he will put America First!