Category Archives: wineries

Tasting Yarden Odem Vineyard Organic Chardonnay 2005

Yarden Chardonnay 05I received this wine as a sample for tasting. I’ve had Yarden before and enjoyed it, but that was a long time ago – before I had really started learning about wine.

Bright gold in color. Nose of butter, honey, hazelnut and cream. Woodsy on the palate, with candied apple, tropical flavors and rounded creamy tones. Slight bitter astringency from oak tannins, a hint of copper penny minerality and a lingering finish of Golden Delicious apple.

Yarden and pork loinI was hoping that this might pair well with maple-glazed roast pork loin with rosemary that I had planned for that evening, and I whipped up some creamed spinach and creamy polenta with garlicky mushrooms. I rarely prepare Cooks Illustrated recipes, as they are usually complicated despite their relative perfection. This pork loin, however, looked quite simple and seemed to result in a minimum of pans to clean. Of course, I mucked that up for myself by making those two side dishes, but there you are.

Pork Loin dinner plateThe Chardonnay took the pork easily, and the rosemary was felicitous, but the maple syrup glaze brings a candied element to the wine. The wine was divine with the creamed spinach; creamy flavors met buttery wine, and the spinach tasted clean but without bitterness. The polenta was an interesting pairing; the oak tannins quarreled with the corn flavors, but the parmesan was oddly OK with it all. It was kind of like the stereotypical Italian family, where yelling is the norm but no one takes it wrong.

The Galilee region of Israel is the northernmost wine appellation in the country, and the coolest growing region. The Odem Vineyard has been farmed organically since 1998, and is located at an elevation of slightly under 4,000 feet.

Israel, of course, has been making wine since time immemorial. One big blip in this millenia of history was when Baron Edmond Rothschild aided a group of Jewish immigrants to Israel in 1882 by sponsoring their attempt to found a winery. They struggled for a while, but in the end Rothschild built two wineries in Israel. His son donated the wineries back to the growers cooperative in 1957.

Israeli vineyards started modernizing in the 70s, and now owe more to California than they do to France; this Chardonnay is certainly testament to that.  Golan Heights Winery, which produces Yarden as well as two other labels of wine in Israel, is one of the houses that’s lead the charge to bring the entire industry up to world standards.  I’d say they’re there.

Tasting Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon 1997

Found this wine at the Cowboy Steakhouse in Kerrville, a city I rarely visit except during the Folk Festival. Fredericksburg is really my Hill Country dining destination of choice, but when I saw in Kerrville’s dining brochure that this restaurant had the most extensive wine list in the Hill Country, I just had to go.

Truth in advertising, y’all. I could have been more impressed by the food (my strip steak was correctly cooked to temp but could have been more much flavorful), but the wine list at the Cowboy Steakhouse is really impressively extensive. According to their website, they’ve got over 600 labels on the list, and that’s quite plausible based on the list I saw. They also have multiple verticals (a collection of the same wine from many different years), some dating back to the 80s. The Ferris family has been in the restaurant business since 1977, so I suppose all that collecting could have happened slowly and over time. At least I hope so, or I hope they have pockets as deep as Micheal Bloomburg.

Leeuwin 97 CSAfter dithering extensively over the pages and pages of wine available, I found a 1997 Cabernet from Leeuwin Estate in the Margaret River district. They make the best Australian white wines I’ve ever tasted, but I confess I had never been blown away by their Cab. Nonetheless, I was excited to find this aged red on the wine list for only $59.

Great deep black ruby in color; little no brick red on the edges. First up in the glass, menthol, redfruits, pine tar and cassis show in the nose. The palate showed great smooth raspberry jam and a hint of red Swedish Fish. The finish of green tobacco and cigar box is remarkably smooth, with rounded, soft tannins.

As it opens up, a musky limburger aroma shows up and the menthol strengthens into eucalyptus and cedar. Some green olive scents are evident, as well. The palate develops into licorice and coffee, with kirsch, graphite, green pepper and black olive. The flavors are exceptionally well-integrated. With steak, even the smooth tannins recede, and a cocoa-cassis syrup element peeks around the corner.

Leeuwin Estate was part of Robert Mondavi’s  attempt to break into the Australian wine region in 1972.  Dennis and Tricia Horgan founded this winery, located in arguably the best wine region in the country, with Mondavi’s guidance.  They have three labels: “Siblings,” meant for drinking young, “Prelude,” meant for drinking within a few years of release, and “Art Series,” meant for aging.

The winemaker’s notes predict an aging period of 7-10 years, but the 1997 Leeuwin Cabernet Sauvignon is in its prime at eleven years and counting. If you can find any (and it looked like the Cowboy Steakhouse had about 10 bottles left), I suggest you run, don’t walk, for a corkscrew.

Label image lifted from http://www.leeuwinestate.com.au/

Tasting Pellegrini Family Vineyards

I heartily recommend the Saturday tastings at the Austin Wine Merchant. They’re free and feature interesting, stylish wines that you probably haven’t heard of or tasted before. I have a slight infatuation with the shop right now, I’ll admit, which will likely fade as I start putting out my wine shop feelers closer to my new workplace, Anderson and Mopac. Yes, I know: Grapevine. We’ll see; I could have been much more impressed the last time I was there.

I tasted 6 wines at the AWM last Saturday, all from the Pellegrini Family Vineyards in California. Robert Pellegrini and Moreno Panelli were there, representing the winery, as was Alison Smith of Texacali Wine Company, who represents Pellegrini in Texas. Ali is a fellow blogger, writing about her experience running her small wine sales and marketing business at the Texacali Wine Trail. She’s a charming woman who reps an interesting portfolio, and it was a pleasure to meet her.

Wines are listed in order of tasting: Continue reading

Winebat Tales: Australia

This was my first Winebat blind tasting since I started coming off of the cedar fever, and at the end of the night I didn’t think I was really 100%, olfactory-wise. Damon really Brought It as far as wines in this tasting, and none of them really blew me away.

Since we were tasting wines from a region, rather than a single varietal, we did a flight of whites and a flight of reds. This was a neat exercise in blind tasting to detect varietal, and I did medium-OK considering my nasal handicap. Wines listed in order of preference within each flight: Continue reading

Tasting Tablas Creek Vermentino 2006

I got a Tablas Creek VINsider club membership for Xmas from my beloved this year, and couldn’t resist opening one bottle of the six right away, because I’m undisciplined like that.

Tablas Creek VermentinoPale straw in color. Very, very green on the nose, with a slight copper penny whiff of mineral, and lots of lime zest and honeydew melon.

Lovely minerality and acid on the palate, with prickles on the sides of my tongue. Delicate herbal flavors of chive and thyme, with lemon/lime-coated honeydew and green apple. Exceptionally refreshing and well-balanced. A great quencher of a wine, with lots of style. Yum.

Tablas Creek Vineyards was founded in California’s Paso Robles region by the Perrin family, famous winemakers of Chateau de Beaucastel, the iconic Chateauneuf de Pape, as well as other great Rhone wines, and Robert Haas, a highly influential American importer. They imported all their vines from the Rhone, and all of their wines are made from estate-grown fruit. They also farm organically and have a minimalistic approach to winemaking, meaning they try to fiddle with the wine to the least amount possible. General Manager Jason Haas has a blog, and posts interesting stuff a couple times a week on average.

The grape Vermentino is best known as an Italian varietal, grown all over the country but with distinction in Tuscany, Liguria and Sardinia.  It’s thought to have been brought over from Spain in the Middle Ages.  In southern France, the same grape is called Rolle, and vinified in Provence and Corsica, the latter of which is really well-known for its great Vermentino-based wines.

When Tablas Creek was purchasing vines from the Perrin’s source in France to import to America and grow in Paso Robles, the nurseryman recommended that they also purchase some Vermentino, as he thought it would thrive in the rocky, limestone-rich soils (which makes me wish some Hill Country winery would plant them some Vermentino.  Spicewood Vineyards?  Are you listening?).

Tablas Creek originally tried to blend the Vermentino into their other whites, but the wine was so distinctive that they ended up bottling it by itself.   They bottle all their Vermentino with a Stelvin closure (which is a fancy kind of screwcap).  The minerality makes it a great pairing for shellfish and the citrus and herbal qualities make it a natural for Mediterranean cuisine as well.  A little pricey at $21 or so, the wine was impressively well-made and it was interesting to taste a US Vermentino, for sure.  If you’re into obscure varietals and you don’t mind plunking $20+ for a light, refreshing, sporty white, this is your bottle fa shizz.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #41: Friuli Whites

I really didn’t want to get a Pinot Grigio for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday tasting of Friuli-Venezie Giulia whites, hosted by Fork & Bottle. I know that if they make Pinot Grigio well anywhere in Italy, it’s in Friuli, but still. There are all these other interesting white wines coming from this region, not the least of which is Tocai Friulino. I’d been reading all about them in Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, the book we’re reading right now in our Wine Book Club. And then, two things happened.

Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio 2006First, I decided that my unreasoning, stubborn resistance to Pinot Grigio, even when I knew it would be well made and really interesting to drink, is unnecessary and stupid. Great wine is great wine, no matter how many people make plonk from the same grape all over the place. Second, I saw this adorable bottle with its cute little twig wrapped up in ribbon and a strong recommendation from the wine buyer at Specs. Cute, almost definitely good, and cheap? Italo Cescon Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave DOC 2006 here we come!

The twig, by the way, called a tralcetto in Italian, is attached to the bottle as a tribute to patriarch Italo’s grandmother Anna, who had a practice of keeping a bit of dead grapevine in her pocket after harvest as a remembrance of the vine’s rebirth in the spring. Or at least, that’s what the back label said.

Anyway, here goes tasting wine with one nostril tied behind my back: Continue reading

Tasting Vina Antigua Sangiovese-Bonarda 2006

For me, January is a month of financial abstinence; whether I spent too much on Xmas gifts, or I have newly resolved to be fiscally prudent, I tend to cut way back in January. This does not mean that I stop drinking good wine! Well, it didn’t until I moved to Austin and developed a dreadful allergy to cedar pollen.

But in the one day in a fortnight that I am in possession of two working nostrils, I am still able to open a bottle of wine without breaking open my piggy bank. In the spirit of January and the economic asceticism you, too, may be practicing, this month I’ll be reviewing about 6 wines that I bought at Specs for less than $7 each. They’ll have to come in spurts, depending on pollen levels. It’s supposed to rain this week, and I have high hopes! Continue reading

Flora Springs goes solar

What does this do to the carbon footprint of a wine? 

According to a story in Wines & Vines this Tuesday, Flora Springs, the Napa Valley winery owned by the Garvey and Komes families, has installed enough solar panels on a hillside behind their winery to power all of their yearly red wine production. How many solar panels does it take to power a year’s worth of red wine from Flora Springs?  435 SunTech panels at 170w each, that’s how many!  That covers over 6,000 square feet; they installed the panels on an elevated platform to allow for shady storage below.  Isn’t that clever, now?

Flora Springs takes its sustainability pretty seriously.  They’re in the process of getting all of their vineyards certified as organic, which takes 3 years in California.  About 70% of the vineyards will be certified organic by 2009.  No word if they’re planning to convert the white wine production to solar too, but kudos to Flora Springs!  They make great wine, and now there’s a great excuse to drink more of it.

Tasting Veritas Monticello Cabernet Franc 2005

Veritas 05 Cabernet FrancWhile in Portland, my husband and I stayed with my father and his partner Mary (and Nikki the dog), in Mary’s gorgeous craftsman bungalow. They’re both wine lovers and keep a respectable-sized cellar in their basement, wherein lie many gently aging bottle of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

On this trip, we drank a lot more beer than wine, my husband having brought 4 liters of his latest homebrew, a double chocolate stout, for all to enjoy. Also, Portland has so many truly great small microbreweries that when I visit, I try to take advantage of being able to walk down the block and fill up the growler. (sighs) I fear Austin will never develop the beer culture Portland enjoys.

In any case, rather than opening any Oregon Pinot Noir this year, Mary pulled out a bottle she had been given as a gift: a wine from Virginia. I’ve never tried a Virginian wine, and in a kind of queer Xmas cultural mash-up, “Yes, Virginia” was all I could say! Continue reading

Pennywise… and Poundwise, too

Warren en familleI was approached a month or so ago by my friend Jessica, whose co-worker Warren had been given a $100 gift certificate to Spec’s Wines, Spirits, & Finer Foods. Jessica reads my blog as regularly as her driving work schedule allows, and had spread the word about the Scamp around her workplace, so Warren now reads my blog. Friends are the very best publicity, I promise!

Jessica explained to me that Warren spent a couple of years studying in Italy, and thus has been exposed to good wine. As the father of two young children, however, he does not have the budget to spend much on wine, and the opportunity to spend $100 guilt-free dollars on himself is quite unusual and luxurious indeed. His desire was to spend it wisely, and so Jessica contacted me for advice. Continue reading