Reflections on A Year in Champagne

Champagne was once elusive to me. I had tasted sparkling wines à la méthode traditionelle, but never had tasted Champagne until a few years ago. My first Champagne was a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut NV Yellow Label in October of 2012. I had purchased it to participate in my first #ChampagneDay virtual tasting and so I could practice opening the bottle, as I had just completed WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 Foundation and was taking WSET Level 2 Intermediate. I had never opened a sparkling wine bottle before. My ex-boyfriend told me I was awkward and I could never learn to do it correctly. As karma would have it, I nailed it, and I have never failed since. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate Champagne.

A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)

A Year in Champagne Poster (ayearinchampagne.com)

I have had a few passions in my life: music, French, travel, and wine. For me, A Year in Champagne showcases all of these passions as renowned importer Martine Saunier pays visits to six Champagne houses: Champagne Saint-Chamant, Stéphane Coquillette (S. Coquillette), Gonet-Médeville, Bollinger, Diebolt-Vallois, and Gosset. Written and directed by David Kennard, the movie is the second in a series, the first being A Year in Burgundy, which I also reviewed.

The musical score is abundant with classical music masterpieces, such as Gabriel Faure’s Sicilienne, Op.78, a piece I immediately recognized as one of my best and favorite flute performances from my high school years.

A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)

A family celebration dinner (ayearinchampagne.com)

Then there’s French, the first great love of my life. I taught French for 24 years, so any time I’m given the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture, I dive in headfirst. The movie captures many of the nuances of French culture, both at work and at home. It touches on winery and family life, meals, winery family dogs, traditions, religion, and even basic greetings and politeness. If I were still teaching French, A Year in Champagne would be a part of my lesson plan.

As to travel, I envisioned myself through the eyes of the cinematographer and cast, riding in the hot air balloon, walking through vineyards and cellars, toasting at mealtimes, and flying on the crop dusting helicopter. Perhaps someday, I will visit Champagne.

Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)

Explaining remuage (ayearinchampagne.com)

Most importantly, there’s wine. The creation of the wine we know as Champagne is presented à travers the very challenging, mostly sunless, cool, and wet 2012 vintage season: spring, summer, harvest, and winter. The viewers receive a veritable lesson in history, terroir, vineyard management, and winemaking. The movie captures both the magic and the technology of Champagne production, including vineyard pruning choices, harvesting, fermentation, remuage (often by hand), dégourgement, dosage, and second fermentation in the bottle. If only my WSET instructors could have demonstrated Champagne production the way A Year in Champagne does.

A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)

A hot air balloon ride in Champagne (ayearinchampagne.com)

Champagne is not just any wine, but rather is the thread that weaves the tapestry of life in this northernmost winemaking appellation in continental Europe. From death and destruction, the war-ridden region of Champagne has survived, making some of the world’s most celebrated wines for hundreds of years.

As movie bonuses, the Gonet-Médeville family dog, Bouchon (Cork), steals his scenes, and the best quote comes at the end of the movie:  It [Champagne] makes women lovelier and men wittier. I couldn’t agree more.

A Year in Champagne will be available to the public starting March 6, 2015.. For a complete list of showtimes and locations, visit this link. To pre-order the film on iTunes, visit this link.

Santé, bonheur, et prospérité!
Beth

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

What’s In My Glass

A few years ago, I used to post reviews such as these, where I shared a few noteworthy wines I’d been drinking. Today seems as good of a day as any to do the same. Below, in the order consumed, are a few of the special wines that have been in my glass lately.

2012 Damselfly Sémillon, Lake County

2012 Damselfly Sémillon, Lake County

2012 Damselfly Sémillon, Lake County, not yet released
This wine was a gift from the producers. It’s not often you find Sémillon as a standalone, dry wine, but this inaugural effort from Damselfly Wines is an easy-to-drink sipper with loads of lemon and lime and a long finish. As it warms up, juicy tropical fruit flavors become more pervasive, as does lime peel on the finish. The story behind the name Damselfly, as shared on the bottle’s back label, is both inspiring and befitting of this Sémillon. I can’t wait until this wine is released to the public. I paired it with scallops and veggies.

2012 Trentadue La Storia Merlot, Block 500, Alexander Valley

2012 Trentadue La Storia Merlot, Block 500, Alexander Valley

2012 Trentadue La Storia Merlot, Block 500, Alexander Valley, $34 at the winery
Another gift from a friend, this award-winning, 100% Merlot will change your mind about the grape if you still hold any ill will against it. On the nose and the palate, it’s decadent, with black cherry, raspberry, baking spices, cocoa, and vanilla. At 25 Brix when the grapes were harvested, and aged in 38% new French and European oak, this Merlot yields a fine balance of ripe berries, oak influence, firm tannins, and lively acid. You may drink this now or lay it down for three to six years.

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

2012 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $55 at the winery (sold in six and 12 packs online)
Legend has it that Faust sold his soul to the devil in exchange for magical, supernatural powers. This wine, like its namesake, exhibits its own magic in the glass. The grapes are cold-soaked and fermented in both stainless steel and French oak, then aged for 19 months in 100% French oak (30% new). A blend of 80% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot from vineyards in Coombsville, Atlas Peak, Mount Veeder, St. Helena, and Oak Knoll District, this wine is deep ruby-purple in color, with a dense, luscious mouthfeel and long finish. Layers of black cherry, blackcurrant, and chocolate dominate the nose and palate. It’s a quintessential Napa Cabernet. Decant it and drink now or age six to eight years longer. This was a sample provided by Faust by way of Fineman PR.

That’s what’s in my glass. What’s in yours?

Cheers!
Beth

Hope Family Wines Selections

Got #hashtags?: #VirtualVines, #ZinEx, and #BWETaste

This past week and a half, I had the good fortune to participate in three events, two virtual, one live: #VirtualVines with Old York Cellars (January 29), Zinfandel Advocates and Producers’ (ZAP’s) annual #ZinEx, Zinfandel Experience (January 31), and #BWETaste (February 4), a virtual tasting with Hope Family Wines, a sponsor of the Boston Wine Expo, which I attended two years ago. Here is my roundup of the wines and events.

Old York Cellars Southpaw Collection

Old York Cellars Southpaw Collection

#VirtualVines with Old York Cellars
As you may recall, Old York Cellars invited me to participate in a similar virtual tasting a few months ago, which resulted in my first experience with New Jersey wines. When they asked me again to taste their port-style offerings, I couldn’t refuse, even though I don’t typically drink port-style or fortified wines because of my palate sensitivity to alcohol. The samples were provided by Old York Cellars. Below are my thoughts.

2012 Old York Cellars Southpaw White

2012 Old York Cellars Southpaw White

2012 Southpaw White (port-style Riesling)
Bronze Medal: US National Wine Competition
20.6% alcohol, 7.5% residual sugar, $24.00 (500ml bottle) at the winery
Can be cellared up to eight years.

The wine was gold in color due to longer, stainless-steel aging. The wine spent a year to a year and a half in the tank before bottling. Without food, aromas and flavors included baked apple and peach and honey. It had low acidity, a long finish, and noticeable alcohol. With vanilla bean ice cream, the dairy softened the presence of alcohol, while the sweetness of the ice cream enhanced citrus fruit flavors on the palate. The alcohol should integrate with more time in the bottle and as the wine opens up by exposure to air.

2012 Old York Cellars Southpaw Red

2011 Old York Cellars Southpaw Red

2011 Southpaw Red (ruby port-style Maréchal Foch, a hearty, hybrid grape)
20.57% alcohol, 5% residual sugar, $22.00 (500ml bottle) at the winery
Can be cellared up to nine years.

This wine was garnet in color and barrel aged. It was drier than the white, with a burst of candied cherry and plum flavors, a light oak quality, low acidity, and noticeable alcohol. My food pairing choice was blue cheese, a classic, contrasting palate pairing. The cheese enhanced the fruit forwardness of the wine. Again, the dairy softened the presence of higher alcohol. This wine will also soften with more bottle ageing and after being open for a while.

If you have a sensitive palate like me, you might prefer these wines with more bottle age and/or paired with food.

D-Cubed Zinfandels, Napa Valley

D-Cubed Zinfandels, Napa Valley

ZAP’s #ZinEx
I was supposed to attend the Saturday tasting last year, but my big move to Napa got in the way. Lucky for me, ZAP and their public relations company, Elemental Meme, gave me a second chance to attend. I was a little wary, as I prefer small, intimate tastings, not large public tastings, but I said yes. I rented a car and headed to the Golden Gate Club on the most gorgeous day of 2015 to taste some Zinfandel. I am a lightweight, partially because of my aforementioned palate sensibilities, but I tasted around 25ish Zinfandels in four hours, which didn’t even scratch the surface. My key takeaways from the event were:

2013 Bedrock Wine Company Old Vine Zinfandel

2013 Bedrock Wine Company Old Vine Zinfandel

This was the most organized public tasting I’ve ever attended. Entry was allowed in increments, so not everyone was there at once. People flowed in and out, which helped greatly with crowd control.

The event provided ample water, spit cups, dump buckets, bread, and cheese. There’s really no reason that anyone should have left the event impaired, unless they didn’t take advantage of what was provided. Always remember: equal parts wine, water, cheese, spitting, and dumping.

1997 Ridge Jimsomare Ranch Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains

1997 Ridge Jimsomare Ranch Zinfandel, Santa Cruz Mountains

There were barrel samples, current and upcoming releases, and some library offerings. The 1997 Ridge Jimsomare Ranch Zinfandel , Santa Cruz Mountains, was a show stopper. I was amazed at how this wine held up, still with great fruit and acidity.

2012 Mazzocco Warm Springs Ranch Zinfandel Reserve, Dry Creek Valley

2012 Mazzocco Warm Springs Ranch Zinfandel Reserve, Dry Creek Valley

Not all Zinfandels are big, jammy fruit bombs. In fact, none of the ones I tasted from Ridge, D-Cubed, Miro Cellars, Hendry, Bedrock Wine Company, Mazzocco, or Four Vines fell into that Zinfandel stereotype. Zinfandels, when well made, are food-friendly wines with a balance of fruit, spice, acidity, and tannin.

2012 Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel, Amador County

2012 Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel, Amador County

Many Zinfandel producers add a small percentage of another grape variety or varieties, the most common being Petite Sirah, to give the wine a boost. The most different blend I tasted was 2012 Four Vines Maverick Zinfandel, Amador County, with 10% Barbera, a wild berry child with ample acidity and spice.

2013 Miro Cellars Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel, Russian River Valley

2013 Miro Cellars Alegria Vineyard Zinfandel, Russian River Valley

Zinfandels are produced in a variety of climates and AVAs, but the most unique came from Miro Cellars, two single-vineyard, Russian River Valley Zinfandels (upcoming releases). The cooler climate produces fruit with more acid, red berry flavors, and a peppery zing.

2012 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel, Napa Valley

2012 Hendry Block 28 Zinfandel, Napa Valley

Ahem, Napa makes more than just Cabernet Sauvignon. Just ask D-Cubed and Hendry. Just sayin’.

Hope Family Wines Selections

Hope Family Wines Selections

#BWETaste
This was not my first Boston Wine Expo tasting, but it was my first experience with Hope Family Wines based in Paso Robles, California. I was impressed with the variety and quality of the three samples provided to us by our sponsor: 2013 Liberty School Merlot, Troublemaker Blend 8, and 2012 Treana Red. The social media representative from Hope Family Wines was a riot and there was lots of fun camaraderie during the hour-long tasting. Below are my reviews, originally published on Vivino.

2012 Liberty School Merlot, Central Coast

2012 Liberty School Merlot, Central Coast

2013 Liberty School Merlot, $16.00 from the winery
Throw out all of your biases and past experiences with Merlot. This baby is dark and dense, with blackberry, blackcurrant, and black cherry flavors, accompanied by a kiss of vanilla, a hint of spice and a touch of red berry acidity on the finish. Pair this with steak, burgers, or pork.

Troublemaker Blend 8

Troublemaker Blend 8

Troublemaker Blend 8, $20 from the winery
Here comes Troublemaker Blend 8 (2011, 2012, and 2013), a Rhône-style blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre, plus Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Floral, fruity, and spicy, with aromas and flavors of violets, black cherry, raspberry, cocoa, baking spices, and pepper. It finishes with nice acidity. Oh, and it’s sassy, just like me.

2012 Treana Red, Paso Robles

2012 Treana Red, Paso Robles

2012 Treana Red, $45 from the winery
Treana is Hope Family Wines’ flagship brand. Treana Red is comprised of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, and is deep purple in color. It dazzles the palate with a velvety mouthfeel, dark, rich plum and blackberry flavors, and a peppery, spicy finish. It’s bold, yet refined. I’d pair this with hearty meat dishes and strong, pungent cheeses.

A big thank you to Old York Cellars, ZAP, Elemental Meme, Hope Family Wines, and Boston Wine Expo for the opportunity to taste lots of different wines and participate in these events. It’s been a wine-tastic week and a half.

Peace out,
Beth

#ZinEx: Your ticket to Zintastic Zinfandel!

Zinfandel Experience Postertop (source: ZAP,  http://www.zinfandel.org/)

Zinfandel Experience Postertop (source: ZAP, http://www.zinfandel.org/)

Last year I was supposed to attend Zinfandel Advocates & Producers’ (ZAP) Zinfandel Experience, but I was in a middle of a big, cross-country move and settling into a new life and career. In fact, on January 11, 2015, I celebrate my one-way trip to Napa, California, where I continue to live today. Life is a little more normal now, so I hope to attend this year’s grand finale tasting. I’ve been a big fan of Zinfandel for a while, since my Zinfandel moment at Trentadue Winery in 2009, having reviewed examples from 3 Steves, Alexander Valley VineyardsChateau Montelena, Frank Family, and Renwood.

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed, but in fewer that three weeks, it will ZAP’s Zinfandel Experience time again. The 24th anniversary of this event is shaping up to be one of the Bay Area’s best events of the year. Below is a schedule of the three-day event, January 29-31, 2015.

Epicuria Food & Zin Pairings
Thursday January 29 6:00-8:00 PM
Golden Gate Club, Presidio of San Francisco

Epicuria Food & Zin Pairings is dubbed an informal dine-around, with plentiful food and Zinfandel samples. Mingle and chat with chefs and winemakers.

Flights! Forums of Flavor
Friday January 30
10:30 AM-1:00 PM
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

ZAP has partnered with the Historic Vineyard Society to present Flights!, a professional tasting seminar, with a focus on limited-production and old vine Zinfandels.

Winemakers Reception, Dinner & Auction
Friday January 30 5:30-7:30 PM
Winemakers Reception 7:30-10:00 PM
Winemakers Dinner Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

This Friday evening event is a Mad Men inspired reception, dinner, and auction. Offerings include locally-farmed and produced cuisine and reserve Zinfandels. Auction items include rare Zinfandels, small lot Zinfandels, and intimate winery experiences. Proceeds will benefit ZAP’s educational programs and projects.

The Tasting
Saturday January 31
11:00 AM-5:00 PM
11:00 AM-1:00 PM Reserve and Barrel Tasting (VIPs and All-Day ticket holders)
Golden Gate Club & Film Centre, Presidio of San Francisco

The Tasting is the walk-around grand finale and includes barrel, reserve, sneak peak, old vine, and single-vineyard Zinfandels from over 100 Zinfandel producers paired with cuisine from gourmet food trucks. It’s your opportunity to connect with the Zinfandel producers’ community.

Tickets are available at this link. If you’re a ZAP member, discounted tickets with special entry times are available. To join, click here. If you want the total Zinfandel Experience, check out the VIP Package.

2015 Zinfandel Experience. Reach out and grab it. ~ ZAP

Hope to see you there!
Beth

2014: A Few of My Favorite Things

My signed barrel at Passaggio Wines

My signed barrel at Passaggio Wines

I keep trying to come up with a way to describe this year in my life, but all I keep coming up with is crazy. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to do a life 360 needs to give it a try. You can read more about my personal life this year at this link.

At any rate, this is my year-end roundup from the wine and travel side of my life, clearly not normal, either. I’d been struggling to figure out what to call this post, then all of a sudden, this song popped into my head (see, crazy, I’ll tell you!), so voilà, below are a few of my favorite things from 2014.

Vineyard view on Silverado Trail

Vineyard view on Silverado Trail

Favorite Wine Blogs (besides mine, of course)

1. Uncorked Remarks:  Doug’s niche is local wine and wine tourism and he excels at writing about winery experiences so that you feel like you’re right there with him. He has this conversational style that immediately draws you in and you can’t stop reading. His blog is also the reason I’ve discovered Pennsylvania wine and traveled to the area three times in 2014. We’ve collaborated a few times, too, always fun, and a great honor.

2. The Drunken Cyclist: I love Jeff’s mix of wine, bicycling, travel, and his son, Sebastian. I’m especially envious of his travel to France, as I haven’t been since 2005. He also isn’t afraid to tell it like it is from his point of view. His writing makes you feel welcomed in his world. I’m happy to have had the honor of meeting Jeff at the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference and hope our paths will cross again someday.

3. 1WineDude: Joe’s strengths are his creatively awesome 140-character wine reviews and his opinions about wine writing and the wine business. He’s both serious and seriously funny. He’s also controversial. Yes! I’ve been following his blog for a while, but meeting him in person made me pay more attention. There’s nothing like a real-life connection to add another dimension to one’s writing.

4. SAHMmelier: I really admire Alissa’s ability to capture a wine moment or event. She, too, like my other favorites, is able to personalize her wine experiences and cause me to experience them in my head and my heart. I also met Alissa at the 2014 Wine Bloggers’ Conference during a presentation which included the aforementioned 1WineDude.

5. Cheap Wine Curious: I’ve enjoyed getting to know Loie both online and in real life, so it’s no surprise I like her blog. She calls herself The Comtesse du Cheapeaux Vin and is always looking for great wine bargains. She writes some of the most creative, well-researched posts I’ve read in a long time. I also love her wine rating system: Case Worthy, Guest Worthy, Buy Again, Drinkable, and Blech! Cheers to wine unpretentiousness!

Most Memorable Wines
I’ve been reviewing wines over at Vivino as a Pro and Featured User more than my blog because it’s quick and immediate (gotta love immediate gratification), so you may have missed 56 wine reviews (as of this post date). I hope you will take a look. I never want to hurt a business, so you’ll only find the good stuff over there, no negative reviews. These are a few of the most memorable wines of 2014.

2011 Va La Vineyards Cedar

2011 Va La Vineyards Cedar

1. 2011 Va La Vineyards Cedar: This is perhaps one of the most unique blends I’ve ever tasted. Va La Vineyards‘ winemaker Anthony Vietri captures the fruit and terroir of his aptly named little vineyard in this Nebbiolo-based blend bursting with dark fruits, sweet spice, earthiness, tannin, and acidity. You can decant this wine for 6-12 hours and drink now or put this baby back for a while. (My Vivino review)

My 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling Lineup

My 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling Lineup

2. Finger Lakes Wines: I wish I could pick just one, but I can’t. Anyone who has dismissed Finger Lakes wines are making a huge mistake. All the wines I’ve been fortunate to taste have been outstanding and I can’t wait to visit again in August 13-16, 2015 for the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference. You can read more about these wines in these two posts: Finger Lakes Wine: Always In Style (collaboration with Uncorked Remarks) and Finger Lakes Rieslings continue to shine!

2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse

2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse

3. 2012 Mark Ryan Dead Horse: I first visited Mark Ryan Winery‘s tasting room and tasted a vintage of this wine in August 2012. That was the wine I brought home. Two years later, I had the opportunity to visit Mark Ryan again in its new tasting room location in Woodinville, Washington and it’s still my favorite. If you love Red Mountain, Cabernet Sauvignon-based red blends, you can’t do much better than this. It’s rich and bold, yet balanced, a mélange of lush fruit, firm tannins, and good acidity. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)

2012 Passaggio Unmarked Pinot Noir

2012 Passaggio Unmarked Pinot Noir

4. 2012 Passaggio Unmarked Code Seven Pinot Noir: Aged in neutral oak means amazing red berries, spices, and acidity. I love this Pinot Noir produced from Sonoma Coast fruit. Perfect for the holidays. And 5% of the selling price goes to families of fallen law enforcement officers. Win-win. However, I’ve heard it’s almost sold out, so get yours before it’s gone. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)

2012 Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank

5. 2011 and 2012 Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank (Very different, but both stellar. And yes, I work for Conn Valley, but these wines rock!)
2011: Velvety smooth mouthfeel with a near-perfect balance of red and black fruits, tannins, and acid. Don’t be afraid of this blend of 78% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc. (My Vivino review)
2012: This vintage is more Cab Franc than Merlot and it shows in color and on the palate. It’s gorgeous with lush, black fruits, firm tannins, and a long, juicy finish. It’s hard to say no now to this wine. Drink now or later. It’s simply amazing. (My Vivino review)

Favorite Winery Experiences
You would think living in Napa that I would be wine tasting every weekend, but there’s this thing called real life that gets in the way. Oddly enough, I may have tasted at more wineries outside of California this year. Here are my personal favorite experiences this year, although again, all the wineries I have visited this have been great.

Sunset at Va La Vineyards

Sunset at Va La Vineyards

1. Va La Vineyards: If there ever was an example to set or a bar to reach, every winery should aspire to be Va La Vineyards. Anthony Vietri, the self-proclaimed, ever humble, The Farmer Va La, gets it without compromising his core beliefs. Va La is family owned and operated, Anthony and his team produce enough wine to sustain a happy and fulfilling lifestyle for the family, and there’s that freaking awesome juice for his deliriously happy friends and fans like me produced from just a little, 6ish-acre vineyard in Avondale, PA.

Sparkling and Pinot Flights at Domaine Carneros

Sparkling and Pinot Flights at Domaine Carneros

2. Domaine Carneros: At the other end of the spectrum is Domaine Carneros, owned by Tattinger, a French champagne producer. I immediately fell in love with this winery during my first visit in September 2012. The Chateau Society is the only wine club in Napa Valley I’ve joined because I simply feel like a princess at their Carneros chateau, sitting on the beautiful patio or in the club room, sipping bubbles. I still love the vintage Brut Rosé, with juicy strawberry and stone fruit notes and flavors, vibrant acidity, and a fine, creamy mousse. (Excerpted from my Vivino review)

Penns Woods White Merlot

Penns Woods White Merlot

3. Penns Woods Winery: Penns Woods is another American Wine Story-worthy success from Pennsylvania. This was my first Pennsylvania wine experience and it was a superb first introduction to the wines of Pennsylvania. I felt welcomed, in spite of being from Napa now: no pretentiousness, just a great family-owned producer with a wide range of wines for every palate, from the sweeter side to the drier side. I suggest visiting when it’s warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the patio and vineyard views.

Tasting at Galer

Tasting at Galer

4. Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery: Again, nothing quite tops visiting a family owned and operated, craft winery. Galer Estate is truly a blend of nature, art, and science, and an exemplary producer of award-winning, Pennsylvania wines. During my visit, I was particularly enamored with the friendly and welcoming staff, the behind-the-scenes tour, and their terroir-driven wines. I am looking forward to trying the inaugural 2014 wines from their new winemaker, Virginia Mitchell.

2012 Jordan Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

2012 Jordan Chardonnay, Russian River Valley

5. Jordan Vineyards and Winery: Jordan is another place you need to visit if you want to feel like royalty. The building, grounds, and views are impeccable and gorgeous. Jordan only produces two wines, a Russian River Valley Chardonnay and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, both splendid examples of wines produced from those AVAs. I’m also a big fan of their nontraditional rewards system for frequent buyers of their wines.

Wine Firsts
In looking back through my posts and reviews, I’ve experienced a few wine firsts this year.

Silk and Castana at Va La Vineyards

Silk and Castana at Va La Vineyards

1. Pennsylvania Wine: I’ve always believed good wine can be made anywhere, but when I mention Pennsylvania wine, some people still don’t believe me. However, I am here to tell you there are some great ones out there, so don’t be afraid to try. The key to finding what you like is leave your biases at home and open your mind and palate. Taste with your eyes closed. Recommended wineries and their wines (in alphabetical order) include Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, Penns Woods Winery, and Va La Vineyards.

2. New Jersey Wine: My first wines from New Jersey hail from Old York Cellars. Don’t dismiss New Jersey, either. I had the opportunity to try two through a Twitter tasting, hashtag #virtualvines, samples provided by the winery.

2013 Old York Cellars Dry Riesling

Old York Cellars Dry Riesling 2013: This is my first ever wine from a New Jersey producer. It’s lemon in color, not as pale as many Rieslings often are, and is medium bodied. It has aromas and flavors of apples, peaches, and pears, with a grapefruit-lime finish. It’s 100% Riesling vinted in New Jersey. Residual sugar of only 1%. $17 direct from the winery. (My Vivino review)

2013 Old York Cellars Malbec

2013 Old York Cellars Malbec

Old York Cellars Malbec 2013: This is an award-winning Malbec vinted and produced in New Jersey. It is deep purple in color and medium bodied. The nose and palate are dominated by blackberry, raspberry, and plum. This is a big red wine, 15.8% alcohol, and I think the alcohol will integrate more with time in the bottle or by decanting first. Enjoy this fine effort by Old York Cellars with a steak or burger! (My Vivino review)

3. Wines from Turkey: My first Turkish wines came to me by way of importer VinoRai. To date, I’ve tried these from Turasan:

2013 Turasan Cappadocia Emir Dry White

2013 Turasan Cappadocia Emir Dry White

Turasan Cappadocia Emir Dry White 2013: This is my first Turkish wine, produced by Turasan in the Cappadocia wine region. It’s a winery that dates back to 1943. The grape is Emir, the primary white grape produced in the area. It is pale straw in color and light bodied. It’s quite refreshing. To me, it’s reminiscent of some white Greek wines I’ve had, a balance of bright citrus and tropical fruits, great acidity, and a salty minerality. The sole importer of this wine is VinoRai and this was a sample provided to me. (My Vivino review)

2012 Turasan Kalecik Karasi

2012 Turasan Kalecik Karasi

Turasan Kalecik Karasi 2012: This is my first red wine from Turkey and it’s nothing like I’ve ever had. It’s light to medium bodied, but very aromatic. The front palate bursts with ripe red berries, like strawberry, raspberry, and cranberry, while the back of the palate finishes with bold, exotic, peppery spices. I think this wine screams holidays. It’s fragrant, festive, and flavorful. This was a sample provided by the importer, VinoRai. (My Vivino review)

I promised myself I would not write a book about this year, but it appears I almost did. I want to thank everyone who had supported both my blog and me personally during this year of great change, wines, and travel. I will never forget you, no matter where my path takes me in 2015 and beyond.

Cheers!
Beth

Wine and a Movie: Under the Tuscan Sun Paired With Wines of Tuscany

You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think “What the hell happened to you?” Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they are standing at a crossroads…someplace where they had to decide whether to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chicken-shit, Frances. ~ Patti, Under the Tuscan Sun

How I missed watching Under the Tuscan Sun, I’ll never know. Well, I do know. I’ve never been much of a movie person. Combine that with an all-consuming relationship that I thought would last forever, there just wasn’t time. In retrospect, this movie would not have meant to me then what it means to me now.

If you’ve seen the movie and you know me, you will understand the uncanny parallels of a female professor and writer unexpectedly betrayed by her life partner. After living for a while as a shell of the person she once was, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she travels to Tuscany and buys a villa, Bramasole, in Cortona. Or in my case, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she moves across the country to Napa, California to start a new career in the wine business. Once there, she throws herself into restoring her life, but it is slow going at first. She does not immediately find a romantic relationship, but she does have a cat and begins to connect with the people around her. Unbeknownst to her, everything she wishes for comes true, just not exactly how she planned.

Of course, there are differences. One finds the relationship she desires, the other still awaits that moment. One of us is an amazing cook; the other is a budding oenophile.

2011 Frances Mayes's Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT

2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT

The recurrent themes of the movie – rebirth, renewal, growth, love, family, friends, food, and wine – are essential to living a fulfilled life. It’s in that spirit that Frances Mayes developed her Tuscan Sun brand to include these elements, most recently, Tuscan Sun Wines.  The movie and wine were not my first exposure to the Tuscan Sun line of products. Less than two years ago, I reviewed the olive oil.

One of the two wines provided to me by Banner Media Group was the 2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT, which means Just perfect. This Sangiovese is delightful, especially at the price point of around $14. It’s feminine, floral, and fruity, with loads of bright cherry, raspberry, and strawberry flavors. It finishes with soft tannins, spice, and a bit of acidity. It’s aged in stainless steel, so the berry flavors have a starring role.

One of the Tuscan Sun Wines is still available at wine.com. The others can be found through retail locations or by contacting Tuscan Sun Wines.

2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC

2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC

The other wine that paired well with the movie was produced by Baracchi Winery, located just east of Cortona overlooking Valdichiana Valley. The estate villa once belonged to 17th century poet Antonio Guadagnoli. The Baracchi family restored the property and today 22 hectares of the 60-hectare property are vineyards. Also located on the estate is Relais Il Falconiere, a luxury hotel, spa, and restaurant.

The 2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC ($35.99) is aged 12 months in small French oak barrels. It’s deep garnet-red in color, with a medium body and mouthfeel. The dominant aromas and flavors are cedar and cherry and still has high tannins and a peppery, minty finish. I suggest decanting this and drinking it now.

After watching the movie and tasting the wines, my next step is to finally read the book that brought life in Tuscany to the forefront (I just purchased it!) and to always remember this,

Unthinkably good things can happen even late in the game. It’s such a surprise. ~ Frances, Under the Tuscan Sun

Cortona is now on my bucket list. And maybe, just maybe, I will learn to cook, too.

Cheers!
Beth

American Wine Story: A Review

I had the opportunity to preview American Wine Story the weekend of October 10-12, 2014, and after viewing it, I saw bits and pieces of myself in the movie. I moved to Napa, California nine months ago, my own leap of faith after a divine storm that shook me awake from my comfortable, yet unsatisfying life, and led me to a career in the wine industry after an initial wine epiphany in 2008.

In my mind, I also envisioned some of my wine friends in this movie: Cindy Cosco of Passaggio Wines, Mike Anderson of MTGA WinesMichael Westerberg of Hardball CellarsKim and David Vance of Zoetic WinesWilliam Allen of Three ShepherdsCarlo Razzi of Penns Woods WineryBrad and Lele Galer of Galer Estate, and Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards, just to name a few.

The primary focus of the movie is Oregon winemaker, Jimi Brooks, and the pursuit of his American dream. When Jimi suddenly dies in 2004 at the age of 38, the impact of his legacy is felt as a community of winemakers come together to work his harvest. Subsequently his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, and winemaker Chris Williams save and grow Brooks Wines into the business it is today. The winery is now owned by Jimi’s son, Pascal, who at age 18, plans to join the business after college and traveling.

Passaggio Wines: Passion In A Glass

Passaggio Wines: Passion In A Glass

The supporting cast of passion-following winemakers, owners, wineries, and distillers includes other Oregonians such as Sam Tannahill of Rex Hill/A to Z, Jim Day of Panache Cellars, Dick Erath of Erath, Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines, Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars, Airlie Winery, Chehalem Wines, Bull Run Distilling, Ransom Spirits, as well as those from other states, such as Alan Baker and Serena Lourie of Cartograph Wines (CA), Mike Officer and Kendall Carlisle of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards (CA), Drew Bledsoe of Doubleback (WA), Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards (VA), Cindy and Al Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards (VA), Michael Amigoni’s Amigoni Wines (MO), and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks (AZ).

I was happy to see some wineries from nontraditional wine states included. However, I kept thinking, “What about the Finger Lakes and other areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, etc.? ” There are so many American wine stories to be told.

While on the surface, the movie is about the irresistible, career-changing call to make wine, it is ultimately a movie about living life in the moment, listening to your heart, and following your passion without hesitation, regardless of your career choice. As Pascal Brooks says near the end of the movie, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m really afraid not to live.”

The movie will be available for purchase on October 14, 2014.

Finger Lakes Rieslings continue to shine!

My 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling Lineup

My 2013 Finger Lakes Riesling Lineup

Finger Lakes wines and I go back to fall of 2012 when I found out my teaching position had been eliminated and I started taking wine certification courses. I feel blessed to have discovered this beautiful wine region. I participated in the 2011 Riesling launch in September 2012, traveled to the Finger Lakes in November 2012, April 2013, and July 2013 for the Tierce Riesling release party, then participated in the Finger Lakes Wine Month tasting on May 31, 2014. If you search Finger Lakes on my blog, two and a half pages of posts will be referenced. I miss visiting now that I am in California, but I am looking forward to the 2015 Wine Bloggers’ Conference there. I am also fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in virtual tastings such as the 2013 Riesling Launch Hour on September 27, 2014. I had a work conflict and had to miss the live tasting, but here is my roundup of the wine samples that were sent to me by the Finger Lakes Wine Alliance in the order that I tasted them.

2013 Thirsty Owl Riesling

2013 Thirsty Owl Riesling

2013 Thirsty Owl Wine Company Riesling (Cayuga Lake, Finger Lakes)
Thirsty Owl and I have a history. I first tasted the 2011 Dry Riesling in 2012 and tasted the 2013 Dry Riesling in May of this year. Unfortunately, I still haven’t made it to the winery. The grapes for this Riesling, a blend of clone 09 and an unknown clone from 30-year-old vines, are 100% estate-grown and produced. It’s pale lemon in color and has both sweet and tart fruit aromatics. It has no tannin, 1.5 % residual sugar, 8 g/l acidity, and 11% alcohol. On my palate, I taste sweeter stone fruits and apple up front, followed by mid-palate zesty citrus, then a honeysuckle-like, long finish that isn’t as sweet as you would think due to its ample Finger Lakes acidity. You can drink it now, but it also has the potential for aging. Cork closure. Price = $14.95.

Awards
Silver Medal, New York State Fair

2013 McGregor Riesling

2013 McGregor Riesling

2013 McGregor Vineyard Riesling (Keuka Lake, Finger Lakes)
I’ve been to Keuka Lake, but have not visited McGregor Vineyard nor tasted their wines. The land for the vineyard was purchased in 1971 and the winery founded in 1980. Most of the vines are over 30 years old. It was one of the first wineries in the eastern United States to grow vinifera grapes and continues to be owned and operated by the McGregor family. The grapes for this Riesling 100% are estate grown and hand harvested. It’s pale lemon in color, has 10.5% alcohol, has no tannin, and is semi-sweet (4% residual sugar), much sweeter than the Thirsty Owl above. However the bright acidity prevents it from being cloyingly so. Sweet stone fruits like apricot and nectarine dominate the aromatics and flavors. You can drink it now, but it also has the potential for aging. 323 cases were produced. Cork closure. Price = $17.99 estimated (2012 Semi-Dry price from the website).

2013 Keuka Spring Riesling

2013 Keuka Spring Riesling

2013 Keuka Spring Vineyards Riesling, Humphreys Vineyard (Seneca Lake, Finger Lakes)
I have not visited Keuka Spring, founded in 1985 by Len and Judy Wiltberger, but vintages of this Riesling keeps appearing in wine award listings. I am very excited to have the opportunity to try this wine, as it lives up to the hype. The grapes for this Riesling are sourced from Humphreys Vineyard on the west side of Seneca Lake. It’s pale lemon in color, with both floral and fruit aromatics. This offering is dry (.7% residual sugar), with what I like to call kick-ass, cool-climate acidity, no tannin, and 12% alcohol. It’s loaded with mouthwatering citrus, green apple, and stone fruits, has noticeable minerality, and has a long finish. You can drink it now, but it also has the potential for aging. 360 cases produced. Cork closure. Price = $21.99.

Awards
Best of Class, Gold Medal, 96 pts., Los Angeles International Wine Competition
Gold Medal, 90 pts., San Francisco International Gold Medal, Riverside International Gold Medal, New York State Fair
Gold Medal, New York Wine & Food Classic
Silver Medal, Tasters Guild International
Bronze Medal, Great Lakes Great Wine

2013 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling

2013 Dr. Frank Dry Riesling

2013 Dr. Konstantin Frank Dry Riesling (Keuka Lake, Finger Lakes)
Dr. Frank was the second winery I visited on my first trip to the Finger Lakes in November 2012. The winery, founded in 1962, is humble in appearance, but Dr. Frank’s legacy is that he was the pioneer in producing vinifera grapes in a colder climate, this earning the nickname of Father of Vinifera in the Eastern United States. The grapes for this Riesling are estate-grown and produced. It’s pale lemon in color, with citrus and floral aromas. It is very dry (.4% residual sugar), with that delectible acidity (7.4 g/l), no tannin, and 12.5% alcohol. This baby is delicious, with tangy citrus and green apple flavors and a very long finish. You can drink it now, but it also has the potential for aging if the Stelvin closure will allow. Excellent price-to-quality ratio for this wine. Price = $14.99.

Awards
2013 Taster’s Guild Consumer Judging: Gold
2013 – Ultimate Beverage Challenge: “90 Points”/Gold
2013 – Denver International Competition: Gold
2013 – Los Angeles International Competition: “95 Points”/Gold
2013 – Great Lakes Wine Competition:  Gold

Cheers! Hope to see you in the Finger Lakes in 2015!
Beth

A to B with Elizabeth Smith

Beth:

My telephone interview with Douglas Trapasso and his blog, Still Searching For My First Growth! Link to the interview contained within the post!

Originally posted on Still Searching For My First Growth:

Elizabeth Smith photo Elizabeth Smith went from her “A” job to a “B” dream career in wine – maybe you can too!

This month, I celebrated (if you want to call it that) a milestone birthday.  Yes, one of those where the second digit is “zero” (no guesses to the first one!)  In order to cheer myself up a little, I reached out on Facebook, looking for folks who went from Point A to a Point B job working in wine/hospitality, because that kind of is my dream as well.

A longtime Facebook friend, Elizabeth Smith, volunteered herself for an interview, which I hope will be the first of many. Her current roles are as the Tasting Room Coordinator at Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and also the Travel Manager for Trentadue Winery (which I kept mispronouncing in my interview – sorry about that, Elizabeth!)  She also blogs as the Traveling Wine Chick.

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A week in the life of Traveling Wine Chick

Pennsylvania Rainbow

Pennsylvania Rainbow

It’s been a month since I last posted. I’ve been working, traveling, attending chiropractic sessions, assisting a friend with her new business venture, oh, and surviving the Napa earthquake. I can’t believe it’s September already.

Regarding the earthquake, I was very fortunate to have not sustained any damage, just some stuff was moved, including large appliances, and I had to deal with a terrified cat who didn’t want to come out of his carrier. He’s also become a good indicator of aftershocks, as he will stand still with his ears back and his eyes wide open.

Anyway, I had the very good fortune to do some awesome things this past week and I wanted to share them with you!

Tasting at Galer

Tasting at Galer

Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery

Labor Day weekend Sunday, I had the honor of visiting two exemplary examples of Pennsylvania wineries with a friend of mine, a local wine columnist and blogger. The first stop was Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery. The winery’s philosophy, Blending Nature, Science, and Art, is the perfect descriptor of what I discovered. The winery is owned by Dr. Brad Galer, M.D., and his wife, artist Lele Galer, who purchased land for the winery in 2005 after considering a winery start in Sonoma, California. The winery has multiple vineyards, including the Galer Home Vineyard, Red Lion Vineyard, and Folly Hill Vineyard, and they also source grapes from within a 30-mile radius.

Side-by-side Galer Chardonnay tasting

Side-by-side Galer Chardonnay tasting

Over the past nine years, the winery has received more than 60 awards for their wines, which have included Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Rosé, Cabernet Franc, Vidal Blanc and Cabernet Franc Icebox Wines (ice wines), as well as some white and red blends. Former winemaker, Catrina North, produced the 2013 wines and earlier. Galer now has a new winemaker, Virginia Mitchell, who will begin a new legacy with her 2014 vintage. While there, my friend and I each chose different wines to taste so that we could taste eight wines instead of four. However, we were treated to additional barrel and bottle tastings, including a Viognier and different Cabernet Francs. We also were lucky enough to taste a wine that Virginia produced prior to her arrival at Galer, a rosé produced from Erie area grapes for her recent wedding.

Galer Albariño

Galer Albariño

What most impressed me about Galer was not just the quality of the wines, but the expression of terroir in every wine. I am sure that I could recognize it in a blind tasting, it was so remarkable. I was particularly enamored with the Albariño, which demonstrated a balanced expression of citrus, tropical fruits, and noticeable minerality, almost salty on my palate, and that is the wine I chose to take home with me.

Va La's Little Vineyard

Va La’s Little Vineyard

Va La Vineyards
The second winery we visited last Sunday was Va La Vineyards, a winery I had been wanting to visit for a while now because I had heard such good things. Winemaker and owner Anthony Vietri, The Farmer Va La, who once had a career in film production, also considered starting a winery in California before deciding upon returning to Avondale, Pennsylvania, the site of his family’s farm. Vietri produces only four wines from his aptly called little vineyard of 6.73 acres and he only produces enough wine to sell directly to the consumer at the winery. No shipping, no distribution, no middle man. Vietri has created a simple dream that sustains his family and provides to those of us who are lucky enough to visit some of the most gorgeous and unique wine blends I’ve ever tasted.

Silk and Castana

Silk and Castana

Both the tasting room design/décor and the vineyards are understated, but the tasting experience is amazing. Our visit was especially nice because Anthony joined us and told us his story and stories about his family. Guests taste the four wines paired with local cheeses and chocolate. The wines are elegant blends of white and black Northern Italian grape varieties. The blends vary based upon what nature offers each vintage. The wines are meticulously made for later consumption, except for one, but all can be consumed now with decanting. They include:

2011 La Prima Donna: A white blend comprised of Malvasia Bianco, Petit Mansang, Pinot Grigio, and Tocai (Friuliano). It is aged for 17 months sur lie. Should peak in years 4-8.

2011 Silk: A dry rosato produced from free-run juice and aged 12 months in barrel. Grapes include Corvina Veronese, Barbera, Carmine, Petit Verdot, and Nebbiolo. Drink now through 2018.

2013 Castana: A special summer red blend to be consumed young. Grapes include Barbera, Petit Verdot, Carmine, Lagrein, Sagrantino, and Teroldego.

2011 Mahogany: A red blend of Barbera, Malvasia Nero, Charbono, Petit Verdot, Carmine, Teroldego, Lagrein, and Sagrantino aged 27 months in barrel. Should peak in years 6-12. If consumed now, decant at least 4-12 hours.

The Farmer Va La and me

The Farmer Va La and me

Truth be told, I wanted to take every one of these wines home with me, but I ended up settling for La Prima Donna and Mahogany. Now I just have to figure out when to return to get my Va La fix.

Sunrise over the vineyard in Lake County

Sunrise over the vineyard in Lake County

My First Harvest
This week, my friend, winemaker and owner of Passaggio Wines, Cindy Cosco, texted me and asked if I could join six others to pick her 2014 Sauvignon Blanc at a vineyard in Lake County, California. I’ve always wanted to experience harvest, but at the same time, have been a bit afraid since I am allergic to bees, sunburn easily, and I am not really a “get dirty” kind of gal. All of these reasons are exactly why I said yes. The quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, Do one thing every day that scares you, has become one of my mantras.

Lake County Sauvignon Blanc

Lake County Sauvignon Blanc

I stayed overnight with the harvest team in Sonoma Friday night. We departed Saturday morning at 4:30 a.m., arrived in Lake County around 6:30 a.m., then began picking. The most important lesson was cut away from your hand, which served me well all day. I also dressed appropriately: old jeans, a thermal underwear T-shirt with a flannel shirt on top, old tennis shoes, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. I never wear hats, but today I was thankful for that and being covered up from the elements, even when it got very warm towards the end of the five and a half hours. In that time, we picked around a ton of Sauvignon Blanc. I got my hands dirty, but got smart and put on a spare pair of gloves after having to rinse my hands about halfway through. Bees chased me and I ran. My hat protected me as I literally stuck my head into the vines to cut grape bunches. By the end, I was dirty, dusty, sweaty, and had terrible hat head. I did it. I conquered my fears and discovered a sense of pride within me.