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We’ve selected two of our favorite local wine blogs for whom wine is a passion. Dallas Wine Chick and GrapeStone Concepts take you on a journey and exploration of a wide variety of wines.

Each wine blog is a direct feed into our blog page. Their opinions are their own, and are posted here without edit or further refinement.


 

New Jersey Wine Studio: A November to Remember

Our November #winestudio focused on the wines of New Jersey.  I have vivid memories of my childhood, running through the

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Our November #winestudio focused on the wines of New Jersey.  I have vivid memories of my childhood, running through the family farm of my Great Aunt Stella (on my mom’s side) who raised chickens and vegetables.  I remember chasing my brothers through rows of corn and playing tag in Manville, New Jersey (which later was gentrified and changed to Hillsborough, NJ).  I remember visiting my grandparents in Lebanon, N.J. and going to the New Jersey State Fair, where I met my very first “boyfriend,” who won a Journey shirt for me playing a dart game.  Those days were very long ago and I had to confirm the locations with my mom.  Her response was – “I wasn’t even aware that New Jersey made wines.”

And that, I believe, is something that must change.  It’s not like New Jersey is just getting started in the wine industry – it’s been growing grapes since the late 1750s.  According to the Garden State Wine Growers Association (GSWGA), Great Britain’s Royal Society offered £100 to any colonist who would produce red or white wine ‘of acceptable quality, meaning the wine was of the same caliber as that being purchased from France.  New Jersey Residents William Alexander and Edward Antill raised their hand and accepted the challenge.

The Hunterdon Grape Growers and South Jersey Wine Growers, both formulated in 1985, came together to form the New Jersey Grape Growers Association in 1987.  The boom came in 2000 and there are three designated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs):  Warren Hills AVA, Central Delaware Valley AVA, and the Outer Coastal Plain AVA with more than 50 members.  The region is top 15 in wine production and has about 100 varieties in production.

I walked in not knowing what to expect and I walked out with an appreciation for the region.  I definitely found myself wishing I could find more of Heritage’s Brut as well as Tomasello’s Palmaris 2013 Outer Coastal Plain Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

I didn’t love everything that I tried, but I liked a lot of what I did. We tried some of New Jersey’s premier producers with a selection of sparkling and still wines, including chardonnay, chenin blanc, syrah, and a cabernet sauvignon/petit verdot blend. The #winestudio program included online conversation and tastings with the Garden State Wine Growers Association, Unionville Vineyards, Tomasello Winery, William Heritage Winery and Sharott Winery.  It was clear that the GSWGA and these winemakers had bigger plans for New Jersey domination than what existing today.  I completely agree with their plan.  This region has a branding and distribution problem, not a quality problem.

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Final 2017 Sample Update: The Top 30 That Turned My Head in this Tasting

It looks like I have a New Year Resolution and that’s to get a little faster about reporting on the

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It looks like I have a New Year Resolution and that’s to get a little faster about reporting on the samples that I’m sent.  This time I reviewed more than 65 wines and today I’m going to talk about more than 30 that made the list.  Note that these encompass a number of countries, price ranges, styles and types of wines.  Some are special occasion, some are meant to open with Tuesday night pizza (or salads if you are on the same get back to reality plan that I’m working toward after the holidays).

Anyway, I hope you had a fabulous holiday season and cheers to a wonderful 2018!

Whites

2016 Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc – notes of lemon, lime, tangerine, lemongrass and herbs.  This has great acidity, nice flintiness and a balanced minerality.

2016 Atlantis Albarino – notes of green apple, tropical fruit, herbs and minerality.  A refreshing Albarino wine.

2016 Matua Sauvignon Blanc – notes of tropical, stone fruit, lime and herbs.

2016 Terlato Pinot Grigio – this wine had a complexity that I am not used to in Pinot Grigio wines.  This one had notes of peach, apricot, pear, white flowers with a nice minerality that made me want more.

2015 Scott Family Chardonnay – a traditional Chardonnay with notes of pear, apricot, citrus, lemon zest, vanilla and oak.

2016 Stoller Chardonnay — from the family estate in Oregon, Stoller wines are made focusing exclusively on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The 373-acre farm has been in Bill Stoller’s family since 1943.  The family planted its 200 acres in 1993 and the vineyards are known for volcanic soils as well as being the largest contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA.  This was my first opportunity to taste the wines and I was impressed.  The Chardonnay was Old World in its profile with stone fruit, Meyer lemon and tropical fruit with a nice mineral balance that made the bottle disappear quickly.  This was a non-Chardonnay Lover’s Chardonnay.

Reds

2012 Château de Pitray Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux – notes of cassis, black cherry, pepper, black currant, sage and earth.  A well-priced and delicious Bordeaux at $15.99.

2012 Chateau Le Grand Moulin Cotes de Bordeaux – notes of chocolate, plum, licorice, earth, herbs and blueberry.

2013 Quilt Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a big Napa Cabernet.  I tasted blackberry, rhubarb pie, Asian spice, licorice, cassis, chocolate and spice.

2014 Capezzana Barco Reale di Camignano – priced at under $15, this Italian steal has black cherry, blackberry and cassis along with herbs and spice. I really enjoyed this wine.

2015 Cusumano Nero d’Avola – notes of red fruit, black cherry, violet, juniper and spice.

2014 Pertinance Barbera D’ Alba – lots of red fruit like raspberry and cherry along with spice and vanilla.

2014 Masi Campofiorin Rosso del Veronese – notes of red and black fruit, Christmas spice, chocolate, licorice and herbal notes.  I enjoyed the depth and elegance of this wine.

2013 Flora Springs Ghost Winery Red Wine – we opened this on Halloween for our neighborhood adult “trick or treat” party as our 12-year-old had better plans and it impressed.

Flora Springs has three special Halloween-themed labels created by CD-cover artist Wes Freed.  The blend is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 17% Syrah, 8% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  I tasted lots of juicy fruit, dark chocolate, mocha, herbs and oak.  It was the first bottle to go.

2015 Michel Gassier Cercius Cotes du Rhone Villages Red – I tasted blackberry, cassis, black cherry, licorice and herbal notes.

2013 Francois Baur Schlittweg Pinot Noir – juicy red berries, cherry, flowers and herbs.   I really enjoyed this wine and will definitely will be seeking Pinot Noirs from Alsace in the future.

2013 Lamole Lamole Chianti Classico Riserva – black cherry, flowers, flint and herbs.  A classic take on Sangiovese.

2013 Lodi Ave Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel – while I was able to get a small taste, my two-brother-in-laws commandeered this bottle over Christmas.  From the Scotto Cellars family, this Zinfandel had notes of red and black fruit, chocolate, spice and mocha.  It was a well-balanced Zinfandel that represented Lodi well.

2015 Left Coast Latitude 45° Pinot Noir –  notes of black cherry, chamomile tea, cinnamon, cedar and spice.

2014 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Benchlands – a symphony of blackberry, cassis, black cherry, mocha, Asian spice, plum and licorice.  This is an elegant and well balanced special occasion wine that was immediately drinkable.

2014 Cornerstone Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Calistoga – same grape, different terroir.  I tasted the same black fruit, but with notes of vanilla and leather.  This wine, however, needed some more time to age and develop.

Rosé

2016 Stoller Pinot Noir Rosé – from the family estate in Oregon, Stoller wines are made focusing exclusively on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The rosé was delicious with notes of grapefruit, tropical fruits and a great minerality.

Champagne

NV Gallimard Père & Fils Champagne Cuvée de Reserve Brut – pear, apples, orange peel and brioche.  This was a delicious champagne that is very well priced in its category.

Sparkling

NV Gratien & Meyer Cremant de Loire Brut Rosé – under $15, this sparkle offers red berry, citrus and a nice minerality.  Very enjoyable.

Special Groups

Wines of Navarra

I had the opportunity to taste several bottles from the Navarra Denominación de Origen (DO) of Spain, which is located right below France.  The terroir is a series of valleys and mountains in Northern Spain.  Navarro is known for its climatic diversity and microclimates.  Once known for Garnacha-based Rosado, but with French varieties being introduced in 1980, the region now has a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Here are my favorites that I tried and I have to note that the last two are under $10, which make them a great bargain:

2015 Principe de Viana Edicion Rosé – this was an easy drinking rosé with notes of cherry, strawberry, nectarine and citrus.

2015 Ochoa Calendas Bianco – a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 43% Viura, and 7% Moscatel de Grano Menudo. Notes of stone fruit, citrus, peaches, pears, flowers and minerality burst from the glass.

2014 Vega del Castillo Garnacha Cepas Viejas 2014 – Lots of black cherries, raspberries, violets, spice.

Australian Wines

I missed the Australia Up Close Seminar in Dallas in June, where winemakers visited five cities to talk about the diverse wines, regions and styles that personify Australia.  Australia has some of the world’s oldest shiraz and Grenache vineyards in South Australia’s Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale.  Hunter Valley is known as the country’s oldest wine growing region with more than 150 wineries producing world-class wines.  The theme of Dallas’ event was Australian Shiraz from Coast to Coast, so my samples reflected that diversity.

2012 Henry’s Drive Shiraz, Pathaway – notes of dark chocolate, black fruit, pencil lead, smoke, vanilla and menthol.  This was a well-balanced and very drinkable Shiraz.

2013 Campbells Bobbie Burns Shiraz – notes of dark fruit, pepper, licorice, mocha and chocolate.  This was a big wine.

2013 Wakefield St Andrews Syrah – this was the most complex and layered wine that I tasted.  Notes of dark berry, chocolate, spice, herbs, mocha and oak.

Carménère Day

In honor of Carménère Day, I was sent several bottles to explore the differences of this unique grape.  Carménère is a red wine that originated in Bordeaux, France, and now grows almost only in Chile.  The grape was actually once thought to be Merlot when it was first transported into Chile.

My two favorites were:

2012 Santa Rita Medalla Real Carménère – black fruit, dark chocolate, spice with notes of leather and notes of cedar.

2014 Alcance Carménère – this wine was incredibly smooth with lots of red and black fruit, exotic spice, mocha and minerality.

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Take a Look at the Loire Valley: A Wine Chat Led by MW Christy Canterbury

The Loire Valley is known as one of France’s most diverse regions with more than 60 appellations.  Master of Wine,

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The Loire Valley is known as one of France’s most diverse regions with more than 60 appellations.  Master of Wine, Christy Canterbury, was our guide, and took us through the region during this #loirelovers #winechat, which was a night of Loire Valley Wine.

The Loire Valley Wine Region includes the French wine regions situated along the Loire River from the Muscadetregion near the city of Nantes near the Atlantic and then Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume southeast of Orléans in north central France.  We also navigated Anjou, Saumur, Bourgueil, Chinon, and Vouvray.  For more information and a map of the region, courtesy of Experience.Loire.com, click here.

We talked about the 61 appellations, three sections and the 380 million bottles that are produced from the region each year.  The region is best known for its white wines from chenin blanc, sauvignon blanc, sancerre, vouvray and pouilly-fume; reds are made from cabernet franc as well as rosé, sparkling and dessert wines.

For this tasting, the group tried five wines, but I only had four in my shipment.

NV Cremant de Loire Bouvet Ladubay Excellence Brut – notes of raspberry, cassis, currant, citrus stone fruit, minerality and fresh bread.  The Loire is the second largest sparkling wine producer in France.

2015 Alain Gueneau Sancerre Rouge – Notes of cranberry, pomegranate, cherry, currant, raspberry along with wet tobacco and herbs.  I have always been a fan of “the other side of sancerre” and this did not disappoint.

2015 Chavet Fils Menetou-Salon Rouge Pinot Noir – notes of cranberry, pomegranate, violet, lavender and spice.  Menetou-Salon is a village at the eastern end of the Loire Valley, which has its own appellation.

2015 Domaine Jacky Marteau “Lulu” Touraine Gamay – this fourth generation of winemakers, a brother and sister team in their late 20’s, bought the property with the goal of making wine using the wisdom of their ancestors paired with modern technology and innovation.  This Gamay named after Ludivine, the sister, is meant to be drunk every day and is easy drinking with notes of blueberry, herbs, flowers and fruit.

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The Second Day of Pre-Conference in Sonoma: Our Journey Continues with Arista and Mauritson

Michael Kansberg, Artisa, Estate Sommelier, Cindy Rynning and me; Photo Credit: Chris Pittman  Our second day began with a visit

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Michael Kansberg, Artisa, Estate Sommelier, Cindy Rynning and me; Photo Credit: Chris Pittman 

Our second day began with a visit to Arista Winery.  I first met Mark McWilliams at a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club in 2002.  He is a former Texas boy and our friendship clicked immediately.  When I had the chance to visit the winery again, I was bummed to find that Mark was going to be out of town, but he set Cindy and I up with Michael Kanbergs, Estate Sommelier, who took fabulous care of us.

We arrived at the picturesque Pavilion for our Taste of Terroir.  My earlier dinner with Mark gave me a little background into the McWilliams family and how they came from Texas to California and their philosophy about wine. That story is here.

The family purchased the property in 1999, initially for grape growing, and then decided to switch to winemaking in 2003.  In 2012, they sold the brand to their sons, Mark, who is the winemaker and Ben, who oversees hospitality and estate activities.  The McWilliams have always believed in small lots of Pinot and Chardonnay focusing on quality with a focus on unique vineyard sites, and the sons have continued that legacy.  The focus is about showcasing classic Russian River Valley profiles – which as you taste through these wines you find are diverse and reflective of the vineyards and their sense of place.

 

We had the following line-up with a surprise food pairing from Arista’s Executive Chef, Tim Caulkers that featured some of the freshest garden tomatoes that I have ever eaten:

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Chardonnay – this was an Old-World style that was elegant with notes of lemon custard, tropical, passion fruit, pear, apple and an almost saline characteristic that I adored.

2015 Arista Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – this was an earthy blend with cherry cola, plum, licorice, all spice, earthy and cloves.

2015 Arista Perli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – bursting with cranberry, raspberry, strawberry, herbs, Asian spice and minerality.

2015 Mononi Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – these three acres of grapes are farmed exclusively by Paul Mononi.  I tasted notes of black tea, flowers, red fruit, herbs and spice.

2015 Banfield Vineyard Russian River Zinfandel – these vines were planted in 1880, the year that Edison applied for a patent on the light bulb.  It was a nuanced and balanced zinfandel with black and red fruit, but done in more of a Pinot Noir style.

Carrie, me and Cindy Rynning

After Arista, we returned to Mauritson Family Vineyards, another favorite from my Spring trip a few years ago.  We had the opportunity to four wheel with Carrie Mauritson who heads up sales and marketing for a lovely picnic lunch in Rockville Vineyard.  For the story, click here.  The family has been growing grapes and making wine for six generations and been in the Dry Creek Valley for more than 150 years.

S.P. Hallengren, the great-great-great grandfather of the family and pioneer of the Rockpile region, first planted vines in 1884 and was also a sheep rancher.  This land has quite the history.  The Rockpile land and ranch grew to 4,000 acres by the early 1960s when the Army Corps of Engineers decided the land was needed to build Lake Sonoma.  The government paid 48 cents on the dollar and most of the family’s original ranch is now under water.  The family moved to Alexander Valley where it purchased 110 acres and then to Dry Creek Valley.  Maurtison has 310 acres across Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and the Rockpile AVAs.

For this tasting, Cindy and I sat in the library and had a special tasting with Carrie of current release and library wines and tasted through the following:

2016 Maurtison Chardonnay, Alexander Valley – notes of citrus, almond, pear, flowers and a nice minerality.  Definitely an Old-World style of chardonnay that is my style.

2014 Mauritson Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley – blackberry, raspberry, jammy notes and chocolate along with Asian spice in this complex Zinfandel.  A great Zinfandel and all proceeds benefit Sonoma Country Resilience Fund supporting recovery from the wildfires.

2015 Rockpile Zinfandel, Cemetery Vineyards – rich blackberry pie, Fig Newton’s, Espresso, Maple Syrup and Chocolate make this happiness in a glass.

2012 Rockpile Zinfandel, Rockpile Ridge Vineyards (library selection) – After our wonderful lunch with Carrie the last visit, this is a special place for me and this wine did not disappoint.  The age gave this wine some time to evolve and you could taste the minerality, the mellowed fruit and the elegant nature of the wine.

2014 Rockpile “Buck Pasture” Red Wine – black and red fruit, chocolate, mocha, earth, tobacco and herbs.

2009 Suther Cabernet Sauvignon (library selection) – I learned on this trip that Mauritson was doing a single soil 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon program in its LOAM series.  There are four – Suther, Loam, Positas and Clough.  We tried Suther, which was weathered from sedimentary and extrusive igneous rock.  Suther soil is a gravelly loam found on broad ridge tops and side slopes of mountains, with elevations ranging from 800-4,000 ft.  I tasted black fruit, dark cherry, chocolate, minerality, some oak, some herbs and some spice. Divine and the ultimate time for a wine geek to well … geek…

We were transported by my favorite driver in the Valley, Chris Pittman from My Napa Valley Driver who has been driving us for years and I cannot say enough great things about.

We ended the day with a great meal at Chalkboard with some of my favorite people and had the opportunity to try the wines from Ed Thralls at Benovia.  Rachel Thralls also brought some of the Rodney Strong and David Bynum wines.  And then, these generous friends treated the table to a great dinner.

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A Pre-Trip to Sonoma: Day One to Lambert Bridge Winery

Cindy Rynning, me and Jennifer Higgins, Lambert Bridge Winemaker It’s amazing how the world and your intentions can change quickly. 

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Cindy Rynning, me and Jennifer Higgins, Lambert Bridge Winemaker

It’s amazing how the world and your intentions can change quickly.  Cindy Rynning and I started planning our trip to Sonoma prior to the 2017 Wine Blogger’s Conference with the intent of visiting some boutique wineries, telling their stories and trying out some new social media skills.  Little did we (and the wineries know) that we’d be part of a much more important task – informing our readers and communities that one month after the fires in wine country, these regions were open for business.  And, that you can support them by visiting now, and just as importantly, buy wine.  You can see our first Facebook live story here.

So what started as a collaboration between two friends, turned into a let’s tell the world Sonoma is still open for business wine tour.  I first became familiar with Lambert Bridge Winery when my friend Robert Larsen, PR person extraordinaire and now winemaker for the Larsen Project, told me I absolutely had to go and visit them during my last trip to Sonoma in May 2016.  I am so glad that he did.  We had an amazing trip.

 

 

Cindy and I returned to Lambert Bridge Winery, which is located just West of Dry Creek in a very picturesque setting.  This time we were asked to stay at their beautiful guest house located on the grounds, which could have been right out of a Houzz photoshoot.  The refrigerator was stocked and there were two lovely wines waiting for us at our arrival.  It killed to leave one behind.

Lambert Bridge is located west of Dry Creek near its namesake bridge.  Ironically the C.L. Lambert family settled on this property a century ago.  And 60 years later, Jerry Lambert, who is not related, decided in 1975 that this was an amazing site to make wine.  Fast forward to 1993 and Ray and Patti Chambers fell in love with the property.  They had a dream to make boutique wines in a place that combined food, hospitality and friendship.

From the moment you walk in, you never meet a stranger.  The welcome that we received from General Manager Bill Smart, Winemaker Jennifer Higgins and Wine Educator Patti Chambers was incredible.  We had a private tasting in the library.

While it had been 18 months since my last visit, things had not changed in terms of the hospitality mentioned above or the outstanding wines.  Jennifer is in control of every aspect of the farming and winemaking process and it shows.  Each cluster is farmed individually and sorted.  The winery continues to make wine for passionate wine drinkers.

We had a wine and cheese flight for six wines and then Patti brought out an extra bottle just so we could try the Zinfandel.  Full disclosure: this is one of the few wine clubs that I am a member of because I love their wines so much.

2014 Lambert Bridge Chardonnay, Chambers Vineyard paired with Highway 1, Valley Ford Cheese Company – full of tropical fruit, apricot, spice, citrus and orange peel.  This was my kind of elegant, Old World Chardonnay.  It was delicious.

2014 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Franc, Sonoma Country and St. George, Matos Cheese Company – notes of blackberry, pepper, spice, red cherry, mocha and cigar box, this has long been one of my favorite California cabernet franc wines.  It was perfect with the cheese.

2013 Lambert Bridge Malbec, Chambers Vineyard and Mt. Tam, Cowgirl Creamery – notes of berry, spice flowers and blueberry.  Never in a million years would I have put these two together, but they were a great match.

2013 Lambert Bridge Crane Creek Cuvee, Sonoma County and Dry Jack Special Reserve, Vella Cheese Company – this is Lambert Bridge’s Bordeaux blend and is a gorgeous wine.  Plum, spice, blueberry, earth and elegance all wrapped up in one sexy, elegant package.  The cheese was beautiful with it, but it needed nothing.

2012 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Fiscalini Cheddar, Fiscalini Cheese Company – more elegance in a glass with red cherry, pepper, spice, mocha and chocolate with an almost velvet finish.  Excellent with the cheese pairing.

2013 Petit Verdot and San Andreas, Bellwether Farms – Boysenberry, cherry cola, mocha and spice continue to make this another favorite wine of mine.  Also worked very well with the cheese.

2015 Lambert Bridge Meyers Zinfandel – notes of cranberry, pomegranate and white pepper.  It was a well-balanced and lovely Zinfandel.

Bill Smart, Lambert Bridge GM, and Dustin Valette, Owner and Executive Chef of Valette, the two most hospitable men in the business

 

We journeyed that evening with Bill Smart to Valette, which is one of my favorite Sonoma restaurants since discovering it with Lisa Mattson several years ago, where we met a dear friend, Marcy Gordon.  Dustin Valette, the Owner and Executive Chef, rolled out the red carpet for us with one delicious treat after another until we could no longer eat another wonderful thing he put in front of us.

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