Thursday, May 14, 2015

Small Vineyards: The Gold Seal of Approval

Every spring, I look forward to the Small Vineyards (August Wine Group, LLC) tasting for industry members. This year, I especially thank Michael and Mark, from Noble Wines, LTD and Susie Curnuette of the August Wine Group, LLC for allowing me sit in, sample, and enjoy the afternoon learning about the new vintages from Italy. 


The August Wine Group, LLC is a wine company that specializes in importing high-quality wines of distinct character from Italy, and other regions along the Mediterranean. They especially support small environmentally-responsible growers from both traditional and new wine regions. 

What I enjoy, just as much as the tasting of the wines, are the stories that are shared about the history, locations, and the people who produce these very special wines. The Small Vineyards project is proud of their connections with their small batch wines they have procured from family-owned wine estates. Therefore, every Small Vineyards' bottle of wine (and even their olive oil) that is imported will carry a gold seal. The label is worth looking for, as you can be assured of high-quality, yet affordable wines. 



How small is small from Small Vineyards, you ask? About 99% of the grapes are picked by human hand, the estates use sustainable growing methods, and most of all; the estates are owned by families - no large corporations. Small Vineyards estates are among the smallest 10% in their region - - that is how "small" the wines are that carry the Small Vineyards "gold seal of approval." 

Our afternoon tasting consisted of 20 different wines - - from, not only Italy, but also from France (Provence), Croatia, and Slovenia. We tasted the "usual suspects" such as Sangiovese, Montepulicano, Nebbiolo, Aglianico, Vermentino, and even a Prosecco - and all enjoyable, especially with food. Since there were so many wines, I won't go over each and every one, but highlight a few favorites and more unique ones. 

Some of the surprises were two sparklers from the Monte Tondo estate produced from the Garganega grape. This white Italian wine grape is widely grown in the Soave region in north-eastern Italy  - - and two of only six Soave sparklers produced in the region.  

Gasevina (Welschriesling) was a new grape of the day for me. This white wine grape is not related to the Rhine Riesling, as you would think. However, in Croatia it is the most planted white grape variety. The nose resembled a traditional Riesling, but the color and palate reminded me of a Semillon with the bright yellow hay color; and apple and stone fruit flavors. This wine was produced by the award-winning Krauthaker Vineyards and Winery in Kutjevo, Croatia. 

Produced by Salvatore Lovo, of Lovo Wines, is Colli Euganel Fior d'Arancio (orange blossoms). This white grape, Fior d'Arancio, is known for its aroma of orange blossoms. I believe in the USA it is the same -  Orange Muscat. Lovo produced this sparkling wine, with small refined bubbles, in a frizzante style. A tangerine nose with a creamy and orange palate is perfect for "porch sippin'," salty tapas, or save it for dessert. It reminded me of a orange creamsicle. 

A popular wine for many, yet still obscure for many, was the Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia - - Giocato.  This indeed was a wine I was very familiar with. Giocato is a popular label to many with the cat on the label. The wines are affordable and a great value for the quality. This white wine had all of the traditional notes that I enjoy in a Sauvignon Blanc, from the grassy nose, with hints of mineral and stone fruit on the palate. 

Nadia Curto is the Italian wine woman amongst the men, therefore comes from a long lineage of male winemakers in her family. "La Fola" Barolo  from Curto Wines was produced in La Morra located in the Piedmont region. This 100% Nebbiolo was what I would refer to as a "feminine" wine, as in "pretty," - - if I was to describe it in one word. The tannins were a bit on the "puckerish" side, yet juicy and smooth. Earthy dark fruits, and even a hint of roses in the finish. 

Also, from Lovo Wines was a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Veneto region. It wasn't just any Cabernet, but one that had been produced through carbonic masceration. As expected it was fresh, bright, fruity, and low in tannins. Truly a food wine, especially in the summer time. You could even put a light chill on it. 

Palama Arcangelo Rosato has the distinction for being one of the top rosatos in Italy. This bright red rose is produced from 100% Negroamaro. The nose bursts with strawberries and bright and juicy acids on the palate. Our restaurant host was the popular Bacon & Eggs in Walla Walla. They prepared beautiful serving plates of assorted cheeses, charcuterie, and fruits. There was also bruschetta with an assortment of toppings. I made a discovery that this lovely Rosato was not only a perfect pairing with the cured meats, but also the bruschetta that was served with the thyme and mushroom topping. If you can find this wine - - it needs to be on your Thanksgiving table, and especially served with the sage and thyme dressing. 
Last but not least, and on purpose, is the Maison Fabre,  Cotes de Provence Serpolet Rose. "Serpolet"  in French means "Thyme," which of course grows abundantly around the vineyards in Provence region of France - - of course, even the curvy bottle expresses notes of Provence with the periwinkle blue-colored foil and label reminiscence of summer window shutters in Provence. The nose of the pretty pale pink wine was of cotton candy and the burnt crackling sugar found on a creme brulee.  On the palate there was strawberries, citrus, and with a finish of light herbs - - such as thyme.  It was everything I want in a French rose and it indeed made me very happy. 

The wines from Small Vineyards are ordered once a year and imported into the USA. Once again, I cannot stress how affordable they are for the quality. However, it's important to know that once they are gone  - - they are gone, until next year.  Salute! 














Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Passementaries ...

What is Passementaries? It's my newest journal. 

Oh no, I am not forsaking this Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman blog. She will be celebrating 10 year anniversary next month, and I will continue to write about my wine experiences and opinions. I am just mixing things up a bit. 




Passementaries is about the simple trimmings for an elegant life ... 

I'll even talk a little bit about wine. Please join me. 

Monday, May 04, 2015

Castillo de Feliciana Winery Rosebud Tempranillo


Once in awhile, you happen to come across a wine that you continue to ponder, long after the last sip. Castillo de Feliciana Winery Tempranillo - 2012, with grapes sourced from the Rosebud Vineyard at the Wahluke Slope, was that wine for me. 

The estate of Castillo de Feliciana is located in the heart of the Walla Walla Valley AVA, encompassing 66 acres just south of Walla Walla near the state line at Oregon. It is an exceptionally beautiful property, where 6.5 acres of the estate property are planted in wine grapes.  Not only do they use their own estate grapes, but source grapes from other areas such as the Wahluke Slope AVA which is located north of the Columbia Basin in Washington State. Their emphasis is Spanish-style wines such as Tempranillo. 

Let's cut to the chase, the last time I tasted a Tempranillo that I swooned about was an earlier 2000 Campo Viejo Rioja Grand Reserva.  In fact, I believe in that sitting of discovering the Campo Viejo, we killed almost two bottles of it between the two of us.  It was exceptional.  

Last week I was sitting at one of my favorite lounges in Walla Walla, as we were celebrating a birthday. I started my evening sipping on Champagne, but kept noticing the table tent in front of me advertising the Castillo de Feliciana Rosebud Tempranillo - 2012.  My table decided it was time to order something to nosh on and we ordered the shaved prime rib sliders on a toasted brioche, with horseradish cream and a side of au jus. I love food and wine pairings and knew that this wine, advertised in front of me, was going to be the answer.  It was. 

The winery's tasting notes state that their Tempranillo is reminiscent of wines from the famous Rioja region in Spain.  Indeed!  This was an elegant wine for sipping, as well as a wine that would pair up well with beef. Castillo de Feliciana's Tempranillo is dark and almost inky. The nose was a bit of dried fruit and smoke, with a waft of vanilla. It was a luscious mouthful with soft, yet structured tannins. Big in flavors with notes of dark Bing cherries, juicy blackberries, plums, and chocolate-covered raisins. A hint of vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in the finish.  A very smooth and elegant wine - - and a memorable wine. "Swoon-worthy!"

I would consider pairing this wine with other beef dishes, grilled vegetables and portobello mushrooms, and just noshes of dark olives, figs,  and salty Manchego cheese. Salud! 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Two Lands: California and Australia Fusion

We've heard of "Fusion Cuisine," the trend of cuisine that combines elements of different culinary traditions. Wine fusion? Jacob's Creek is Australia's largest wine brand, and one of the oldest Australian wineries since 1847.  Jacob’s Creek Chief Winemaker, Bernard Hickin reached out 7,982 miles crossing the equator from Barossa Valley, South Australia to Napa Valley, California, USA procuring Ehren Jordan 2008 San Francisco Chronicle's Winemaker of the Year. So together, winemakers, Hicklin and Jordan created a "fusion" using the handcrafted artistry of a boutique California winery and the senior vineyards of Jacob’s Creek.  

This new wine, "Two Lands" was "fused" to over-deliver on price point, yet bringing together the best of these New World wine areas - - it's a California expression using Australian wine. 



Two Lands Pinot Grigio - 2014: The palest of yellow in the glass, and a perfect summer wine. The winemakers chose to pick late in the Australian season (April) to get the ripest fruit possible. The nose is fresh, zesty, and lemony. The wine has a bit of an oily mouth feel, yet crisp, lemony, and refreshing. Just a kiss of oak, as the winemakers chose to use older barrels. How would I pair this wine? A rich clam or salmon chowder, my favorite clam linguine sauce (and maybe toss some of the wine in the buttery sauce), and even fish & chips.  

Two Lands Chardonnay - 2014: It's bold in the color of yellow, but light in body. Rainfall was higher this year around the Limestone Coast zone where these grapes were grown. The result left them with a low yield in fruit, but high in quality. The nose expresses exotic tropical fruit. The taste on the palate is that of peaches, honey dew and cantaloupe. There was also just a hint of residual sugar, which makes it easy for a newer group of learning wine lovers. I would pair this as a picnic wine, serving chicken salad sandwiches, salted nuts, and a fresh fruit salad. 

Two Lands Cabernet Sauvignon - 2013: It was a year of high temps and low rainfall in the southern Australia. It meant low yields, but exceptional quality. Fruit picked in the late season on purpose for soft tannins and ripe flavors. Lots of dark ripe bramble berries on the nose. On the palate it was more berries, cherries, plums, and a light spice in the finish. Due to there is still a bit of ripeness in this wine, I would consider sipping it on the porch with maybe a wedge of blue cheese, and pair it with anything hearty from a big juicy burger to even Julia Child's boeuf bourguignon. 

Two Lands Shiraz - 2013: Yup, this is a Australian Shiraz, in spite of the touch of California flair.  You cannot get around it. Big! Ripe! Black and almost inky in the glass. Blueberry and blackberry jam, with a little bit of smoky bacon on the nose. It finished with a bit of nutmeg and lots of black pepper. This is a wine that is meant for the Australian "barbie." Grilled meats such as burgers, steaks, ribs, and even grilled vegetables of zucchini, eggplant, portabello mushrooms, and peppers would be perfect with this wine. 

At this time there are four wines in their Two Lands wine portfolio. Their wines are affordable for the American market, and priced under $15.00 (US). Two Lands can be found now in markets in the United States. While affordable, the labels are very beautiful with detailed illustration. Please see the video to watch the illustration. 



Received as complimentary samples

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Feast Walla Walla - 2015

There were a couple of years when I missed Feast Walla Walla, and several years when I had a  press pass and "worked" the venue by taking notes and videos. This is the first year when I
Me with Shane of Downtown Walla2 Farmer's Market
was on "my own" and it was fun to relax, sip some good wine, visit with friends, and sample many goodies. 

Feast Walla Walla is always a great venue and the magic happens on First Avenue downtown Walla Walla at Main Street. The gigantic white tent begins to take shape Friday evening and by Saturday morning, it can pack up to 600 people and several food and wine purveyors. The excitement begins at the tent entrance when guests receive an etched wine glass commemorating the event, a souvenir plate to hold the "feast" from local food vendors and 10 tokens to be used towards food and wine. 

The Marc - Asparagus! 
So let's cut to the chase. Some of the highlights for me was it didn't seem as crowded this year, therefore I didn't feel as "squished."  I am not sure if it was due to less people or larger space. I will also take the time to talk about some of my favorite food. Of course, one must not leave without dropping a token to get a little bag of chocolate truffles from Bright's Candies. 

The Marc Restaurant at the Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, of course didn't disappoint with their selection of food. They served bites of local Walla Walla pickled asparagus rolled with house-cured prosciutto. Oh my! The Marc also served a bite of dessert with a Parisian-style milk chocolate, hazelnut, and apricot macaroon. Beautifully done.  

Sapolil Cellars
Sapolil Cellars really thought their presentation through ... (a hint to other wineries who serve food - - pair food and wine) ... Chef Peyton of Sapolil Cellars presented little bites of deliciousness that paired so well with their Sapolil "Dwelley" Reserve - 2009 (red blend). The bites were Sapolil "Dwelley" Syrah-infused salami chips topped with roasted garlic, goat cheese, and pickled red onion. I kept going back for more. 

Chef Paul and crew from the Bank & Grill Catering Co are usually one of the most popular booths and nothing has changed. I chose a crostini, spread with a blue cheese compound butter and topped with hand-carved beef steak from their generous platter of grilled meat. 
Bank & Grill Catering Co. 

I wished I could have visited more winery booths than I had, but one must be responsible ... I sipped on Henry Earl Estate Riesling - 2013 and Henry Earl Estate "Homesteader" (red blend),  Kontos Merlot - 2010, Plumb Cellars "Damn Straight" (red blend), Plumb Cellars ViognierSYZYGY Syrah - 2009, Waterbrook Winery Sangiovese Rose, and Dunham Cellars Riesling.  None of these wines disappointed. All very lovely, and especially paired with food - - which leads me to this suggestion ...
Zach of ZYZYGY

Now, this event is called "Feast," right?  I had a revelation but I think every winery and food booths need to be more conscientious of food and wine pairings and seek out each other.  I am always thinking about menus and wine pairings. 

So, I had a few wooden coins leftover and asked a suggestion of a friend on how to spend some of my last wooden coins. He mentioned to check out Marcy's booth and get a pulled pork slider with sweet and spicy coleslaw on a brioche bun - - and just as important, he told me, was to pair it with the Dunham Cellars Riesling.  

As I got my slider, the Marcy's chef told me to be sure and pair the slider with Dunham Cellars Riesling. As I walked across the tent to Dunham Cellars table, the two tasting room staff members saw me coming towards them with my slider, and immediately grabbed the bottle of Dunham Cellars Riesling - - impressive and on point.  The sweetness of the riesling balanced out the spiciness of the pork. Perfect. 

Pork slider, Riesling, and Macaroon. 
If I could make a suggestion to the Downtown Walla Walla Feast Team who worked hard on  another great year of Feast Walla Walla, would be to suggest to their vendors to think more about food and wine pairings, and also a little music was needed. Nothing loud, but perhaps a little light jazz or a string quartet at the very back of the tent at Alder Street - - for just that little hint of ambiance.  Or perhaps to even have a band or some kind of a interesting performer outside the front entrance to capture the attention of others who you might be able to sell a last minute ticket to. 

I hope that many other people who attended Feast Walla Walla also continued to stay downtown Walla Walla, after Feast closed,  and enjoy the many things that were going on. We sure did, as we visited Sapolil Cellars to listen to music and hoping to snack on their remaining salami chips (Yup, we scored!), as well as we later visited winemaker Cameron and super-duper tasting room woman, Brianna at Kontos Cellars to sip on  their Malbec and listen to their visiting band. And a good time was had by all ... 

Salami bites from Sapolil Cellars

Friday, March 27, 2015

Love in a Glass: Stoller Family Estate Pinot Noir Rose

The phone rang. I looked at the caller-ID and my little heart started racing as if it was a call from a former love. It was the call I had been waiting for. It was from Stoller Family Estate in the Willamette Valley. They were letting me know my Spring Wine Club shipment was getting ready to be packed and while they were at it, was there anything else they could send me - - perhaps more of their Stoller Pinot Noir Rose? 

Yes-yes-yes! Fill me up with bottles and bottles of Stoller Rose - 2014! Now I can finally finish up the last two bottles of the 2013 that I have been hiding in the wine cooler. Hiding from who? From me! There's also a few bottles of 2013 Provence rose, as well. I guess I feared there was going to be a 2014 rose shortage. It is also about storing some fond memories. 

I think it is very possible to fall in love with the experiences you have had with a wine, as much as it is to fall in love with the wine, itself. If your two loves go together, then as a lover of wine, you are blessed.  

One of the world's greatest wine collectors is Park B. Smith, a textile entrepreneur in his late 70's,  who lives in an New England town of Northwestern Connecticut. About eight years ago Mr. Smith left a quote with Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, and it has resonated with me, ever since. 
“Something happens to people who love wine. You really discover a camaraderie. It’s not like coin collecting or something cynical. It’s like sharing love in a glass.” 
Besides my love of a crisp cool dry rose, especially those from Provence, there has always been something about this Oregon Pinot Noir rose from Stoller that has captivated me. On a hot day, I will often crave the palate of this peach colored
wine that expresses notes of strawberries, raspberries, watermelon and the crisp fruity acidity of ruby red grapefruit. 

It has also been about the experiences I have had at their winery, the camaraderie I had with friends who had joined me at the estate; from the stroll through the Stoller Estate Vineyards talking about the soil, the canopy of the vines, and even my personal future; to another visit at Stoller enjoying a picnic sack lunch out on the beautiful winery grounds with other wine writing peers. In those visits we were sharing camaraderie and most certainly we were sharing "love in a glass."  

My last visit to Stoller was three years ago, and the winery gave me one of their signature etched Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses. It was a token that meant a lot, as whenever I look at the glass, whether it is in the cupboard or I am using it, the glass brings back so many wonderful memories of events and people. In fact when I left Oregon after my last visit,  I even held the glass in my lap all the way back home on the airplane. Check the luggage, but let me hold my glass - my memories, my love in a glass. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Thoughts From A Former Tasting Room Staff

The other day I was working on my blog. I decided to change the coloring and just freshen it up. As I was "cleaning" it, I happened to notice some former blogs I wrote, especially one where I ranted about some of the customers I have met along the way.

Now you could wag your finger at me and admonish me for "picking" on the customer, but technically the wine customer is typically savvy about the world and if not, usually eager to grow and learn. However, like any group of people, there are always those who will try manipulate, mangle, and mash things up to get their way.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter what kind of bullshit the customer gives you, it is important to keep smiling and/or refer the customer to your manager. If there is no manager around, then just keep smiling and create scenarios and dialogue in your mind to get you through it. For example, it is okay for you to visualize in your mind how when the customer isn't looking, you pour wine from the spit bucket into their glass. Of course, you really don't want to do that, as you want to still sell them some wine.

Here are a few tidbits of dialogue I created in mind of things I wanted to say - - but didn't. Just remember, keep smiling.

Me saying to customer: "Gosh, as much as we would like to accommodate you, we don't stack discounts. Our computer doesn't recognize them."


Me thinking: "Oh forget about all of those discounts. Why don't we just give you a key to the winery so you can help yourself to as much free wine anytime you want? Can I come over and clean your toilet, too? Really. I don't mind."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "No problem. It's easy to see how we get mixed up."

Me thinking: "Ahem - and earlier you were telling somebody on the phone that the manager was your best friend, so you could get a special deal and now you don't remember what your "best friend" looks like."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to new hot shot industry person who brings his friends in to dazzle them with his self importance two minutes before closing time: "Really, that is amazing! You sure know a lot about wine."

Me thinking: "You effing idiot. I know about you and I also know that you finally got your first job when you were 38 years old because your folks called in some favors and you've been living in their basement. Tell your brilliant wine data to the wine association. Do your friends know that your self named title of "Distributor" really means that you are the delivery person?"

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer who claims the Cabernet Sauvignon is bad because of the sediment (tartaric crystals): "Your friend is right. This doesn't mean that the wine is bad. If anything, this is a good sign. It shows that the wine has been treated with a gentle touch and not been overly fined and filtered. In Europe these crystals are accepted and appreciated as a sign that the wine is a natural one and you will be rewarded with all of the complexities that the wine diamonds indicate."

Me thinking: "Shut up you little freak. Listen to your friend. He obviously knows wine more than you do, you little whiney-pee-pants. Now lower your #%&%# voice."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Gosh, I am really sorry. We are not equipped to give out rainchecks for sold out vintages."

Me thinking: "What do you think vintage means and where do you propose we get these 2002 grapes at? Now mark an "L" on your forehead and get the hell out of here."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Wow. Good question. I am not sure when we'll produce a sweet white Zinfandel with a screw top that sells for $6.99."

Me thinking: "When hell freezes over."

But I don't say that. I just smile.

Me saying to customer: "Thanks for coming in. It was good seeing you and please come back."

Me thinking: "It's about time you asshole. It's now 7:20 pm. I thought you would never leave. We close at 5:00 pm and you show up at 5:20 pm, beg to come in for one minute to buy a bottle, you ate the last of the food, drank more than your share of free wine, and you didn't buy a damn thing. I've been standing now on my feet for over nine hours and haven't sat or ate since 8:00 am. What do you think we are - your own personal happy hour? "

But I don't say what I've been thinking. I just smile. Remember, just keep smiling.