Tasting Notes: Buena Vista Vineyard

Ever heard of a little spot in Sonoma called Buena Vista Vineyard? It’s the oldest winery in California.

Just let that sink in for a moment. Now, before I get to the wines, I want you to understand the history of this interesting place. Yes, history and culture are part of terroir—in other words, part of the environment that makes a wine unique.

The American Dream 

Way back when during the gold rush, back before your grandparents were even born, a Hungarian immigrant named Agoston Haraszthy (and you thought my last name was un-pronouncable!) came to the U.S. seeking fame and fortune. Some say he was an exiled noble, others believe he was just some guy chasing a dream.

Well, he didn’t find gold, but what he did find was even better. After serving a brief stint as San Diego’s first sheriff, Haraszthy (jokingly called “the Count” by his friends when they wanted to tease him for his supposed noble heritage) relocated to Sonoma county.

He quickly realized what he’d found: purple gold, the perfect terroir for Old World grape varieties to flourish. After some experimentation, he started churning out some kickass wines, and made quite the name for himself. The Count began to build his kingdom in earnest.

Sadly, phylloxera (a louse that eats wine grapes and destroys vineyards in no time flat) ravaged the land in the early 1900s, and Haraszthy believed his dream was destroyed. While he worked to slowly rebuild, he took a detour to South America. There, he hoped to do it all again, this time as a sugar cane plantation owner.

Long story short, one fateful day he took a dip in the wrong river, and perished when the crocodiles found him. Thus ended the life of the sheriff, the count, the legend. But his story wasn’t over.

Buena Vista Vineyard, his baby, continued to rebuild, and later to thrive. The winery survived Prohibition, and continues to produce fine wines to this day. Fittingly, the enterprise is now owned by Jean-Claude Boisset, another big personality who has a taste for the finer things in life, including delicious wine.

The Tasting

So, why does all of this matter? Why Buena Vista? As I’ve set about the task of revamping our wine list, I’ve brought in several Buena Vista wines in the past, and cultivated a bit of a following here in Old Town Lewisville. When I got the opportunity to host a Buena Vista wine dinner, I jumped at the opportunity.

So, today I set out to choose the perfect wines to pair with a gourmet four-course meal. As I take you through each of the wines I tasted today (by no means the entire Buena Vista catalog), I’ll go over tasting notes, overall impressions, and offer some pairing suggestions for each.

Let’s get to it.

The Wines

The lineup.

BV North Coast Chardonnay (2015)
This food-friendly Chard presented ripe green apple, lemon rind, and yellow pear on the nose. On the palate, a touch of butter accompanied flavors of ripe pear, yellow apples, lemon zest, and green apple jolly rancher. This wine has pronounced acidity, isn’t too heavy on the oak or malolactic fermentation (which causes buttery flavors), and would pair well with a variety of starters, notably seafood.
Likely Pairings: Shrimp & grits, scallops

BV Carneros Chardonnay (2015)
Remarkably different from its cousin, this Chardonnay presents rich, ripe stone fruit flavors and notes of creme brûlée, buttered popcorn, vanilla, and caramel from the oak and malolactic fermentation. This wine is prefect on its own, and perhaps not the best match for food.
Likely Pairings: I successfully paired this wine with a strawberry cupcake. True story. This is also a decent match for a cheese plate.

BV North Coast Pinot Noir (2016)
This is a light Pinot Noir denominated by bright flavors of ripe red fruits: strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, and cherry. A good acidity balances the fruit basket palate. This isn’t a Pinot to stand up to lamb or filet, but best matched with lighter dishes.
Likely Pairings: Stuffed mushrooms, chicken, foie gras

BV Carneros Pinot Noir (2014)
Compared to the last Pinot we tasted, this is bigger and more complex. On the nose, I got flavors of dried and stewed red fruits, potting soil, fermented honey, and dried spices. The palate to this Pinot is much earthier, with notes of compost and forest floor alongside the rich, cooked strawberry and cranberry flavors.
Likely Pairings: Duck or pork (preferably with a fruit garnish or sauce), stuffed mushroom

BV Sonoma Valley Merlot (2013)
Truly a Cab drinker’s Merlot. Dessicated red and black fruits led the palate, alongside notes of cedar and potting soil. On the palate, the flavors of cedar and soil continued alongside richly ripe currants, spiced plum, cherry, and dark berries. Pronounced tannins and a balanced acidity suggest this is a great food wine.
Likely Pairings: Beef, lamb, or even chocolate (think fondue or a dense, death-by-chocolate style cake)

BV “The Count” Founder’s Blend (2014)
This wine is the epitome of the Buena Vista story, and truly a piece of living history. Even its label—black faux crocodile skin framing an ancient photograph of the Count himself—recalls the winery’s story. This bold blend of 8 grapes is characterized by stewed plum, blueberry, and black cherry on the nose. On the palate, these ripe red, black, and blue fruits continue, with a sharp, distinct note of black pepper.
Likely Pairings: Braised beef, rack of lamb, lamb chops

BV North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon (2016)
On the palate, this wine reminded me of the North Coast Pinot we tried earlier today. Ripe red and black fruit was prominent (cassis, plum, blackberry); on the palate, blackberry compote, cherry pie, and potting soil continued.
Likely Pairings: Filet mignon, Black Forest cake

BV Sonoma County “The Sheriff” Red Blend (2016)
Just to remind you of Mr. Haraszthy’s accomplishments, a gold star on the bottle announced the name of the vineyard. This delectable wine is almost purple in the glass, signaling rich, unctuous juice to come. On the palate, notes of blackberry jam, prunes, cigar box, cassis, and dried green herbs tease the palate. When you sip this wine, you taste lush, stewed black fruit with hints of tobacco and vanilla. Napa Cab lovers will enjoy this wine.
Likely Pairings: Beef tenderloin, filet, lamb, wild game (such as elk or venison)

BV Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Chateau Buena Vista (2015)
On the palate, black fruit (cassis, plum, currants, and blackberry) dominate, along with notes of cigar box and subtle green bell pepper. On the palate, rich layers of black fruit and cocoa with silky tannins and velvety texture explode on the tongue. This wine boasts the highest price point of the wines I tried today, and I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the extra money.
Likely Pairings: Ribeye, chocolate cake, a fine cigar

The Legacy

Although the Count himself has long since left this mortal coil, his ghost still wanders between the rows and lingers on the grand staircases of the Buena Vista Estate.

…OK. Not quite. So, Mr. Boisset employs a convincing look-alike and actor to portrary Mr. Haraszthy for vineyard guests. It’s a full time gig, and this gentleman does a fantastic job. If you ever pay a visit to Buena Vista, you can book a private tasting with the Count, or perhaps encounter him in the tasting room or out on the grounds.

Occasionally, he even goes on tour. Mr. Boisset has agreed to send this entertainer all the way to Texas for a visit. Old Town Wine House is proud to host an exclusive wine dinner hosted by the Count himself on Monday, October 29, 2018.

If you’re in the area, make reservations! Eat, drink, and be merry with us. If not, don’t fret, I’ll share pictures when the time comes. And I’ll have a glass (or two) for you.

 

Local Hot Spot: Urban Alchemy

A few streets over from Main Street in Arlington, there’s a tiny little neighborhood with crooked fences and old sidewalks overrun by dandelions. An unassuming metal building faces the street, with arcane symbols painted on its side. 

This is Urban Alchemy, a hidden gem that’s become a staple both for university students’ coffee-sipping study groups and  day drinkers looking for a place to sample unique wines.

I’d been aware of Urban Alchemy for about a year, but as my visits to my hometown grow fewer and farther between these days, visiting it was still on my to do list.

…Until one afternoon when I made the trek off the beaten path to try it out. A wave of blessedly cool air washed over me as I walked in from the sweltering July heat. Distressed leather couches, industrial chic metal tables surrounded by wooden chairs, and a wooden bar occupied the open plan room. It was like a hip coffee house and uptown wine bar fell in love and had a beautiful baby.


Though my eyes were drawn to a cool graphic portraying winemaking as alchemy over the bar, I soon found myself immersed in the menu.

For appetizers, cheese boards (you can build your own) and other typical fare abound, but a standout pick is popcorn with herbs de Provence and olive oil. Pro tip: pair that fancy popcorn with the Pierre Sparr Brut Rose and prosper.

The all-day breakfast menu looked tasty too—mostly elevated basic brunch dishes, with pastry as well as egg-based options.

For lunch, salads and sandwiches are the main choices, the most appealing of which is a grilled cheese with Manchego and apple.  They even have a small dessert menu. Bananas foster panini, anyone?

The best part of Urban Alchemy, hands down, is their healthy wine list. Grüner Veltliner* from Austria featured alongside Rose Cremant d’Alsace, and a host of other wines from the road less traveled by most eateries—a wine enthusiast’s daydream come true. I enjoyed the Cremant d’Alsace** as an aperitif, then switched to a big glass of Primitivo*** to pair with Texas wild boar sausage – divine!

I’ve since returned to Urban Alchemy to try the coffee. They have a great cold brew that’s perfect for this time of year.

So, if you’re in Arlington and you want to study in a laid-back environment with a cappuccino, or ring in a Friday afternoon with a glass of bubbly and a charcuterie board, head over to Main Street and check out Urban Alchemy. You won’t be disappointed!

Glossary

*Grüner Veltliner: A white grape commonly grown in Austria, known for its “green” or vegetal flavors and refreshing, crisp acidity. This wine is a match made in heaven for salad, grilled asparagus, and other veggie dishes. Vegetarians, take note.

**Cremant d’Alsace: Sparkling wine (cremant) made in Alsace, France rather than in the Champagne region.

***Primitovo: An Italian red wine that’s genetically related to Zinfandel. It’s a big, bold wine that’s nearly black in color and features jammy fruit flavors, medium tannins, and relatively low acidity.

Tasting Notes: Big, American Reds

One of the perks of my job is getting the opportunity to taste unique and premium wines that are anything but run of the mill—wines that many people don’t get the chance to drink unless they’re willing to shell out a pretty penny in a restaurant.

My favorite wine rep, Shelley, shows up at my bar like Santa Claus. Instead of a sack thrown over one shoulder, she drags a black wheeled suitcase behind her. Her visits are decidedly better than Christmas, though—at least once a week I can look forward to a chime from my phone announcing Shelley’s text: “hey kid, wanna taste?” Spoiler alert: I always do.

She likes to show up during slow times and shift changes to brighten my day, and introduce me to new wines her company can offer us. On this particular occasion, she had just visited a local steakhouse, and so she had a grab bag full of bottles of the most luxurious reds imaginable—velvety, sensuous, sinful bottles of blood red or inky purple juice.

It would be criminal for me to not chronicle the experience.

The wines in question, from left to right.

Wine #1: Periano Estate Six Clones Merlot, 2014, LodI, California
Oh Lordy, Lodi. If you’re deep in lust with sinfully jammy fruit flavors but can’t stand to sacrifice a crisp acidity, you may find something to swoon over in Lodi. This Merlot* is excellent. The nose of this brick red wine is full of juicy red and black berries, spiced plum, and cedar. On the palate, I tasted plum and cherry compote, sweet baking spices, and a robust earthy flavor that I wasn’t expecting.

*I refuse to hate on Merlot just because it has fallen out of fashion these days. It’s a perfectly acceptable grape varietal that makes a lovely wine, whether on its own or blended with other Bordeaux family reds (Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Carmenere, etc). Merlot is delicious and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (I blame the movie Sideways.)

Wine #2: Buena Vista Merlot 2013, Sonoma, California
Aromas of ripe blackberry, black currants, and boysenberry wafted from the glass. Flavor reminiscent of a mixed, brambly berry compote with notes of warm spice, vanilla, cedar, and smoke exploded on the palate. Fine tannins suggested that this wine was born to be paired with filet mignon—or perhaps a roast pork loin, or grilled rack of lamb.

Wine #3: Paydirt, “Going For Broke” Red Blend, 2016, Paso Robles California
True to its name, this wine is purple gold, and I don’t say that lightly. This wine represents a rabbit I’m constantly chasing—the elusive blue fruit flavors that aren’t found in just any wine. An intense purple in the glass, the aroma was redolent of ripe cranberry, wild blackberry, black pepper, savory stewed tomato, fresh basil, and black olive tapenade. As I sipped, I expected a bold, earthy wine full of smoke and oak. I was shocked when I instead tasted sweet fruit flavors, including ripe boysenberry, blueberry-basil jam, and fig preserves. What a wild ride. I cannot recommend this bottle enough. Actually, scratch that, don’t try it—more for me!

Wine #4: Aviary Cabernet Sauvignon, 2016, Napa Valley, California
Aromas of ripe blackberry, cassis, and black currants interlaced with baking spices, specifically cinnamon and nutmeg, filled the nose of this deep purplish-black juice. On the palate, bursting flavors of black fruit—blackberry, currants, cassis, and fig jam rippled alongside smooth Mexican vanilla. My overall impression of this wine was that it’s like drinking black velvet. You know that sultry song by Alannah Myles? Black velvet, if you please. That’s Aviary.

Wine #5: Lucas & Lewellen Cote Del Sol Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014
Ripe black cherry dominated the nose, accompanied by notes of jalapeño and fresh-cut green bell pepper, blackberry pie, cedar, and cigar box. On the palate, layers of rich black fruit (blackberry, cassis, black spiced plum), pipe tobacco, and a hint of cocoa powder enticed the tastebuds. On the third sip, the flavors seemed to morph, revealing bright notes of tart blackberry and boysenberry. This wine was a pleasure to drink, a bit like combining the sensations of eating a decadent dessert and smoking a fine cigar into one. Sounds weird, but it’s surprisingly tasty.

 

If you can’t tell, I love red wine. There are plenty of Old World reds that would knock your socks off and give these selections a run for their money, but these New World beauties are definitely worth a try.

My absolute favorites from the tasting.

If I had to pick a favorite from this tasting, I’d likely go with Paydirt. It’s a fun, chameleon-like blend with a lovely dissonance between its bouquet and actual flavor on the palate. Lucas & Lewellen and Aviary tie for second place, followed by the two Merlots, which are perfectly delicious and drinkable in their own right.

To summarize, these six wines are last meal or desert island material. Don’t believe me? Try them for yourself!

Summer Survival: Canned Wine

With temperatures heating up and the days growing long, it seems like everyone is ready to shake the dust off their fishing rods, hiking boots, tents, trailers, and campers.

Summer activities—from boating around the local lake to roasting s’mores by the campfire—are traditionally paired with beer. The occasional mason jar of moonshine might also make an appearance, or perhaps a stainless steel flask etched with a sarcastic saying and filled with your liquor of choice. Wine is usually an afterthought in summer, if it’s included on the menu at all.

I’ve often wondered why that is. Surely I can’t be the only one with a hankering for a big glass of Amarone under the stars, or who thinks a crisp Sancerre would pair nicely with fresh-caught grilled fish.

Let’s briefly examine the reasons behind our summer beverage choices.

  1. Convenience. Many people are uncomfortable opening wine. Unless there’s a screw cap involved, uncorking a bottle can be a bit of a production. Since not everyone is a somm who keeps a wine key in their car, purse, backpack, and everywhere else, they may feel ill-equipped to open a bottle of wine on the fly in the great outdoors. So for most, wine isn’t worth the hassle.
  2. Taste. When it’s hot, we crave something refreshing, cold, and carbonated. Beer hits the spot for the average American. Sodas and other mixers with a shot or two of the hard stuff are also appetizing. Most of us don’t want to reach for a glass of bold, smoky Cabernet served at room temperature when we’re sweating. All too many of us forget about chilled rose and ice cold sparkling wines.
  3. Price. Over and over again I watch people make the assumption that to get good wine you have to pay top dollar. We imagine that wine exists in two categories—the cheap, crappy stuff (i.e. Boone’s Farm) that one drinks in college, and the delicious, refined, but overpriced stuff (i.e. Chateau Margaux) that’s always slightly out of the budget. When you want to party on the Fourth of July, you want to get it done without breaking the bank—meaning wine is right out.

But fear not, friends! I may have a solution to your summer wine woes: canned wine.

Yep, that’s right. I, a sommelier, recommended “canned wine” on my wine blog. You thought I was classier than that, right? Think again! There’s nothing tacky or gauche about a beverage packaged for your convenience.

I was definitely a skeptic at first. Granted, I still prefer to drink my wine in a glass straight from the bottle or decanter, but I’ve come around to the idea of canned wine. Most canned wines don’t use aluminum, so you don’t need to worry about that metallic, tinny taste ruining your vino. And once you get over the shock of popping open a cold one and tasting actual wine, you might grow to love this trend!

Here are a handful of canned wines I found at my local adult beverage depot, complete with my tasting notes and review.

Pop + Fizz
For me, Pop + Fizz is the most natural fit of all the canned wines I tried. We expect fizzy drinks to come out of a can. And, like sodas or sparkling water, most of us enjoy sparkling wine served ice cold. Pop + Fizz is nothing to compose poetry about—it’s a basic, crisp, refreshing sparkling wine. It’s not going to give Veuve Clicquot or Piper Heidsick a run for their money, but it’s fun, convenient, and a crowd pleaser. It’s great for someone who’s not feeling too picky but just wants another option in the ice chest besides beer.

Wine #1, pictured at game night, because sparkling wine pairs well with starship combat.

Gladiator Cycles Pinot Noir, California
First of all, can we talk about the packaging? This ethereal, otherworldly image enticed me, beckoning a drink. Sipping a bonafide, earth-and-cherry bomb Pinot Noir from a can was a little unsettling. Had I poured it into a glass, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell the difference between this or any other generic California Pinot Noir. The aromas and flavors of cherry, blackberry, earth, and loamy soil were there. Not bad for something that comes in the same vessel as soda.

Wine #2: warning, this may cause serious can envy.

Tiamo Pinot Grigio, California
Here’s another case of cute packaging. Upon popping the can, the familiar aromas of a sun-drenched Tuscan (or in this case, Californian) Pinot Grigio greeted me. Ripe stone fruits—peach, apricot, and pear, with that familiar new tire/superheated tarmac smell I associate with the varietal. On the palate, the fruit-driven flavors continued. This Pinot Grigio wasn’t complex, but anyone who prefers dry but fruit-forward wines will enjoy this offering.

Wine #3: under the Tuscan sunflowers?

Before we review the last two cans, I want to make note of something. Anyone who knows me is aware of  how picky I am about Texas wine, and that Messina Hof (a very popular mass-production venture) is far from my favorite producer. Still, sometimes as a somm it’s not about what you personally like, but what you think your guests might like. You have to be informed about all types of wine. So, with that in mind, I put my brave face on and tried some canned Messina Hof.

Messina Hof Rose, Texas
A traditional dry rose inspired by Provence, although it doesn’t quite taste like it. This is a rose of Grenache, and though the Mediterranean red grapes can stand the Texas heat, they may have suffered from overripeness at harvest, giving the wine a bit of unwanted jamminess. Flavors of strawberries and orange zest dominate the one-dimensional palate, but overall the wine is decently tasty when chilled. It’s certainly better than the alternative—no wine!

Wines #4 and #5.

Messina Hof Beau, Texas
Try this if you have a sweet tooth. The wine itself is a mix of unspecified “red grapes” blended with Muscat Canelli white grapes. On the nose, I was assualted by what smelled like perfume. Floral notes and scents of candied red fruit abound. On the palate, flavors of sugarplum and blackberry jam continued. Honestly, my overall impression of this wine is that it’s reminiscent of Fruit Punch, like one of the Hi-C juice boxes of my childhood summers. Were I on a raft floating in the middle of the Guadalupe River and I reached into my cooler to find one of these, I’d probably drink it.

While I’m not a big Messina Hof fan, a lot of Texans love them. If you ever wander through my home state, it’s relatively easy (and cheap) to get your hands on their wines.

Conclusion

While it’s true that canned wines aren’t going to displace the regular bottled variety in popularity or quality, the handful of canned wines I tried were decent, drinkable, and damn easy to travel with. You can’t really cellar age canned wine, and these cans might look silly in the candlelight at your next date night. Still, if you’re looking for an easily packed addition to your ice chest this summer, look no further.

 

 

Why You Should Join the Rosé Soirée

When most of us think of rosé (pronounced ro-ZAY) wine, we immediately think of White Zinfandel or other sugary-sweet pink beverages beloved of bachelorette parties and ladies’ luncheons. Because of the way gender works in our society, we often associate pink with sweetness and femininity.

Now, I don’t want to wine-shame anyone. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sweet wine. If you like White Zinfandel, drink it proudly! But even if the sweet pink stuff is your jam, you have other options. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Most rosé is nothing like White Zinfandel. It’s typically dry, meaning it has little to no residual sugar, and therefore is not sweet. It has fun, complex flavor profiles that include floral and herbal notes, fruit flavors, and minerality (when you can smell or taste rocks in a wine). It’s zesty, with high acidity that makes your mouth water like a glass of lemonade. It’s fun and refreshing, and at this time of year it’s everywhere!

So, what is rosé? Do winemakers mix up red and white wine until they get pink? To understand what rosé is and how it’s made, I need to talk nerdy to you. If you’re not interested in wine geekery, skip to the bottom section to read why you should be drinking rosé. Still with me? Cool, let’s learn something.

How Rosé is Made

First, let’s talk about grapes. Go to the supermarket and pick up a white (green) grape and squeeze it. The juice is clear. Now try squeezing a red grape. What color is the juice? Yep, it’s clear, too. The flesh and juice of red grapes is clear, so how does wine made from these grapes end up red?

When a producer makes white wine, they quickly separate the skins from the grapes before fermentation begins. This means the resulting wine will be clear, or perhaps have a yellow hue. When making red wine, red grapes are allowed to stay in contact with their skins for a long time—for days or even weeks. This causes the resulting to wine to appear red, to have more depth of flavor, and guarantees the presence of tannins.

If a winemaker wants to, she can remove the skins from red grapes immediately and produce a white wine from red grapes (known as blanc de noir, literally white from black, in French). This is common practice in Champagne and other regions that produce sparkling wine. I’ve even come across a white Pinot Noir from Oregon.

To make rosé, a winemaker starts with red grapes. The winemaker allows these grapes to maintain skin contact for a much shorter time than they would when making a red wine, usually for a few hours. This results in wine that is pink or copper in color, rather than red or purple.

The above method is the most common one for making rosé—simply remove the skins much sooner to give the wine a hint of color and flavor. Boom, you have a batch of rosé! Most of the rosé you can buy is made in this way. The other two methods are far less common.

The saignee, or bleeding method, is used when a producer wants to make an intense, concentrated red wine. A few hours into the process, they bleed off a small amount of grape must, removing the juice from contact with the skins. This grape must will be fermented separately and ultimately become a small batch of rosé. The wine left in the main vat benefits from more intense skin contact, producing a wine that will be dark in color, have powerful flavors, and a high level of tannins—excellent steakhouse wine. To recap, the saignee method produces a batch of super concentrated, delicious red wine that you’ll want to write home about, with the added bonus of a small batch of rosé.

Even less frequently, a rosé can, in fact, be created by actually blending a small amount of mature red wine (usually Pinot Noir) with a batch of mature white wine (typically Chardonnay). This creates a wine that is 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir, with a slight blush of pink color. Winemakers in the Champagne region are fond of this method to produce a blended sparkling wine. Ruinart’s Rosé Champagne is made using the blending method.

Why Should You Drink Rosé This Summer?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed a few trends that kick off in the warmer months each year. Social media hashtags proclaiming “rosé all day” repeat like a Top 40 refrain. Wine retailers erect monuments to the flavor of the season: displays of hundreds of bottles of pink and copper wine for generally low prices. It seems like everyone is obsessed with rosé during the summer. You may be scratching your head, wondering why this latest trend is such a big deal.

This phenomenon has several explanations.

1. Rosé is seasonal. Rosé is a wine that’s typically not meant for aging. The rosé made from grapes picked last year is ready to drink this year, and will quickly lose its flavor integrity if left forgotten in a cellar for too long. Each spring, the rosé produced from last year’s harvests are shipped around the world, and the influx of product means happy drinking for all of us.

2. Rosé is cheap. Even rose imported from places like Provence, France costs an average of $6 to $16 a pop. More exclusive rosé exists for higher prices, but this is one time you can count on the cheap stuff being just as tasty as the higher end bottles.

3. Rosé goes with just about everything. Food wise, rosé is an easy wine to pair. Salads, dips, seafood, poultry, fruit, and even BBQ all benefit from a glass of rosé. It’s one of the few types of wine that you can drink with spicy food without burning a hole in your tongue. In the mood for Thai? Bring a bottle of rosé. Going out for oysters? Try a sparkling rosé from Provence or the Loire. Backyard barbecue? Many of your summer snacks—chips and salsa, roasted corn, grilled chicken, pork tacos, and watermelon—are perfect matches for a glass of rosé.

4. Rosé is refreshing. It boasts crisp acidity, low sugar content, fruity and floral flavors, and an ephemeral taste that doesn’t linger on the palate. A glass of chilled rosé is the perfect thirst quencher for yard work, lounging by the pool, and outdoor concerts. Summer activities are better with rosé.

5. Rosé is a great mixer. You don’t have to drink it by itself. This is one of the few times I advocate watering down your wine. Fill a glass with ice, add some rosé, then top with club soda and sliced limes for a badass wine cooler. You’re welcome.

6. Rosé is fun. It’s visually stunning. Rosé ranges in color from pale carnation pink to coppery salmon to deep magenta. Remember, we eat with our eyes, and brightly colored drinks can make a meal more enjoyable.

7. Rosé doesn’t have to be girly. Not that there’s anything wrong with being girly, but men out there shouldn’t be afraid of enjoying a glass of pink wine. Fellows, bring a bottle to the beach and proudly share it with the ladies or men in your life. You might even make some new friends.

Which Rosé Should You Try First?

The perfect place to enjoy some Kerloo Painted Hills Rose, by the pool!

I love trying new things. My idea of a fun Saturday afternoon is heading over to Total Wine and grabbing a few random bottles off the shelves, then taking them home for my own private tasting. If you don’t like to leave things to chance, don’t fear! I’ve blazed the trail for you and have a few rosés I can recommend.

France

Royal Provence, Rivarose Brut, Provence, France
Grapes: Rivaner, Syrah
Tasting Notes: This sparkling rosé is one of my top picks this summer! It’s delightfully bubbly with delicate strawberry flavors with a touch of citrus and minerality. I could drink it by the gallon.
Where to Find It: This may be exclusive to restaurant retail. If you’re in Texas, you can get this at both The Four Seasons and at my wine bar, Old Town Wine House. Price varies.
If You Can’t Find It: Try another sparkling Provençal rosé, such as Maison Fortant Brut (www.warehousewinesandspirits.com), $14.99

Famille Bougrier Rosé d’Anjou 2017, Loire Valley, France
Grapes: Gamay and Grolleau
Tasting Notes: Light and crisp with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberry, white raspberry, and watermelon rind. Delicious, refreshing, and dangerously like drinking juice that will get you buzzed.
Where to Find it: Total Wine, $11.99
If You Can’t Find It: You really can’t go wrong with French rosé. Just pick one.

Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé 2016, Cotes de Provence, France
Grapes:
Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, Vermentino
Tasting Notes: This one is a bit pricier, and perhaps a bit cliché (it’s also known by its nickname, “Hamptons Water.”) Still, Whispering Angel is worth a taste. Enticingly aromatic floral nose, with flavors of sweet strawberries and peaches on the palate, balanced by mineral notes.
Where to Find it: Total Wine, $15.77

Domaine de Bendel, Cotes de Provence 2016
Grapes: Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvedre
Tasting Notes: Deep salmon color with orange and coppery tints. Aromas of cantaloupe, strawberry, herbs de Provence, and lavender blossoms. On the palate, green flavors abound: fresh herbs, cut dandelion stalk, and melon rind.
Where To Find It: Total Wine, $16.99
If You Can’t Find It: Pick any rosé from Provence. Drink. You win.

Washington State

Kerloo Cellars Painted Hills Vineyard Rose, 2017, Columbia Valley, Washington
Grape:
Grenache
Tasting Notes: This wine is a beautiful pale salmon color, suggesting delicate and ephemeral flavors. On the nose, I smelled melon rind, citrus (grapefruit, lemon zest), and white flowers. Mouthwatering flavors of cantaloupe and pink grapefruit exploded on the palate. This is an excellent rosé and it’s worth the price and shipping, trust me.
Where to Find It: Kerloo‘s website, $24
If You Can’t Find It: Waters  and Latta wines (also from Washington) make great rosé as well.

Charles & Charles Rosé 2017, Washington
Grape:
Syrah
Tasting Notes: The wine is coppery pink with fuchsia reflections. This fruity wine leads with wild raspberry and strawberry on the nose, accompanied by notes of lavender and herbs, citrus, and rose petals. These flavors continue on the palate.
Where to Find It: Total Wine or grocery store, $10.49
If You Can’t Find It: You shouldn’t have any trouble.

California

Day Owl Rosé 2017, California
Grapes:
Barbera
Tasting Notes: This wine is salmon colored with copper tints. On the nose, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, grapefruit, and dried flowers dominate. On the palate, I tasted juicy cantaloupe, melon rind, and sour watermelon. This rosé would pair nicely with a watermelon-cilantro salad.
Where To Find It: Total Wine, $12.59
If You Can’t Find It: Try Dark Horse, another rosé from California. Dark Horse is more floral with notes of rose petals and strawberry flavors on the palate, but it’s also affordable and enjoyable.

The Strange
I couldn’t resist including the more unusual rosés I tried. Sadly, these probably aren’t available in your typical wine store.

Boya, Leda Valley Rosé 2017, Chile
Grapes:
Grenache, Pinot Noir
Tasting Notes: Though it wasn’t my favorite, this Chilean rosé was interesting. On the nose, lots of green: cut Bell pepper and fresh-cut grass. On the palate, tart citrus flavors and a hint of brine suggested that this might be the perfect rosé for oysters.

Yellow City Cellars, Texas High Plains Dead Flowers Rosé 2017
Grapes:
Carignan
Tasting Notes: Funky nose full of medicinal herbs and stale tobacco. The flavor was pleasant, and very different from the aromas. On the palate, flavors of juicy raspberry, cherry, and burnt orange peel (like the garnish for an Old Fashioned) gave way to a finish reminiscent of strawberry and banana candy.

Chateau Goudichaud Rosé 2017, Graves de Vayres, France
Grapes:
Bordeaux red blend
Tasting Notes: When I think Bordeaux, rosé is not a wine that comes to mind. Yet, here it is, a Bordeaux rose. In the glass, this wine is more orange and copper than pink, though it looks almost red in the bottle. On the nose, ripe strawberries and cherry blossoms are the main players. On the palate, I detected crunchy red fruits and a definite hint of tannins. The taste overall is bright, though the wine has an almost medicinal finish to my taste.

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In Conclusion

There are thousands of rosés on the market, either at your local grocery store, specialty wine shop, or one click away on your internet browser. With low prices, they’re a low risk/high reward wine to try.

Be adventurous, fill your glass with something pink, and toast the summer. Like this wine’s ephemeral flavors, it won’t last forever.

Rainy Chardonnay Day

Tropical storm Beryl rolled in last Friday, leaving the streets of historic Old Town Lewisville grey and soggy with warm summer rain. Luckily, I wasn’t stuck outside in the deluge or the steam bath that followed it—I was tucked away, cozy and dry, inside my little wine bar with a friend and four bottles of Chardonnay.

No, we weren’t planning to drink until the rain stopped. This friend is a sommelier who, like me, is fairly new to the trade. Last Friday was one of our tasting and study group sessions, where we sip different wines to broaden our palates.

Tasting groups run by sommeliers are a little different than your average wine tasting. Everyone brings some wine, and we serve it in one of two ways. For practice with blind tasting, we wrap our offerings hobo-style in brown paper bags and have a trusted party serve them to us, then see who can identify the mystery wines. For comparative tastings, we taste wines made from the same varietal in different regions and discuss how the flavors differ. And yes, we spit rather than swallow these wines. It turns out that getting drunk affects your ability to differentiate flavors and verbally describe a wine.

My contribution to the tasting group.

This time, the subject of the day was Chardonnay. I admit, I’ve neglected this grape varietal in the past. I treat Chardonnays a bit like fairytale stepchildren—I lock them in a cellar to be forgotten and only trotted out grudgingly for the benefit of family and friends who actually enjoy them. I dismiss Chardonnay as an option in nearly every wine tasting opportunity, except for the rare occasions when I find one that manages to be truly amazing or if I feel like I have to taste one (for example, when I’m at work).

Since I don’t personally love Chardonnay, I went into the study session with a bit of a groan. “Ugh,” I thought, “I’m going to end up with half a dozen bottles of Chardonnay on my hands that I have to pawn off on someone.” But, since a somm can’t limit her knowledge to her favorites, I went into the tasting with a resigned determination. Here’s what happened.

We tasted five different wines, all a hauntingly similar shade of deep lemon yellow, all full-bodied with medium plus or higher acidity and alcohol content. But that’s where the similarities ended. All five wines tasted drastically different. Getting to really experience and identify these subtle differences is the best part of this type of wine tasting.

The full Chardonnay line up.

For our first Chardonnay, we sampled a wine from Meursault, a commune in the southern Côte d’Or subregion of Burgundy, France.

Wine #1: Patrick Javillier, “Cuvée des Forgets,” Chardonnay, Bourgogne 2016
This bright, refreshing wine was full of flavors of lemon curd, underripe peach and apricot, tart green pear, and juicy green and yellow apples. The texture was creamy and I detected new French oak in the subtle notes of crème brûlée and vanilla bean. The sharp taste of limestone dominated this wine’s finish.
Wine #1 was my personal favorite of the day. For those who find Chablis too austere (or too expensive), this is a great choice. It’s also the perfect pick for someone who’s new to French Chardonnay and wants to get their feet wet.

Buoyed by the delicious white Burgundy I had just enjoyed, I poured myself a glass of Wine #2, a Chilean Chardonnay, with a little more gusto.

Wine #2: Chateau Los Boldos, “Cuvée Tradition,” Chardonnay, Alto Cachapoal, Chile, 2014
After an initial aroma reminiscent to me of rubber or superheated tarmac, scents of ripe fruit—golden delicious apples, yellow peaches, and nectarines—filled my nose. On the palate, the fruit flavors continued, accompanied by something green that my friend and I decided to call asparagus. The mineral-driven finish left me with the poignant taste of graphite—yes, it tasted like pencil lead for a moment there.
Wine #2 was refreshing, with tart flavors deepening into ripe fruit, all leading to an elegant finish—a solid wine. I would love to try this paired with Chilean sea bass.

Our third wine hailed all the way from Padthaway, Australia, an area south of Adelaide known for its Mediterranean climate and pink granite-laden terroir, locally termed “jip jip rocks.”

Wine #3: Jip Jop Rocks Chardonnay, Padthaway, Australia, 2016
The characteristic scent of eucalyptus leaves invaded the nose, alongside lush tropical fruit aromas: lychee, banana peel, mango, and papaya. Aromas and flavors of what my friend thought tasted like flint provided a sturdy backbone. Considering what we know about the wine’s terroir, this must be the famous jip jip rocks.
Wine #3 was not my favorite, but my friend really loved this one. I’m glad I had the opportunity to taste it.

The next two wines came from the same regions and producer and were harvested one year apart. The main differentiating factor was the use of new oak.

Wine #4: River Road Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma 2017
This unoaked Chardonnay bursted with ripe, nearly jammy stone and tropical fruit flavors. Some of the individual tastes I identified were ripe Anjou pear, key lime, tangerine, lychee, passion fruit, and cantaloupe. Though I got hit with a dash of white pepper on the finish, this wine seemed to hold the same flavor note throughout. I remarked that the wine reminded me of juicy fruit bubblegum, and my friend agreed with my comparison.
Unlike the previous wines, wine #4 was off dry—I detected a hint of residual sugar on the tip of my tongue. Anyone who likes sweeter wines, or fruit-bombs, would love this.

Wine #5: River Road Reserve Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma 2016
Like its sister, this wine had a lot of tropical fruit action, accompanied by pear and citrusy notes. On the nose, those flavors were somewhat subdued in favor of crème brûlée, butter, and vanilla bean. On the palate, this wine was reminiscent of lightly spiced tropical fruit flambé. It had a creamy texture, with hints of vanilla and sweet spices from the oak, with no earth or mineral flavors that I could detect.
Overall, if you like oaky California Chardonnays, this is an affordable option that you should try.

I waved goodbye to my friend from the bar feeling like I’d made a discovery. Chardonnay is far more complex than the two drastically different incarnations we’re most familiar with. It’s not just about the buttery oak and ripe fruit flavors of Napa Valley, or the bright citrus and minerality of Chablis. Like all grapes, Chardonnay changes dramatically when planted in different soils, climates, and elevations. Finding a bottle you like is only a matter of time if you put your mind to it.

So, to all my diehard red wine drinkers who never thought they’d touch a bottle of Chardonnay, I challenge you to go out and try one of these five Chardonnays (all available at Total Wine) or one not listed here. You might surprise yourself and enjoy it!

Greek Wine At a Glance

As the oldest fermented beverage in the world (sorry, beer drinkers) wine has been a part of the human experience ever since the dawn of civilization. Since wine itself is older than recorded history, we can only marvel at ancient clay jugs and other archaeological finds and wonder when our ancestors first realized that, if allowed to ferment with the aid of native yeasts, the fruit of wild vitis vinifera would transform into a sacred elixir.

The pharaohs drank wine, and in some cases even kept stashes of it in their pyramids to quench their thirst in the afterlife. Sadly, we don’t know much about what the wine of ancient Egypt was like. Nothing stored in the desert for thousands of years is going to be particularly tasty, with the possible exception of honey. So for all intents and purposes, the wine we know and love today was born in Ancient Greece and Phoenicia.

The Greeks loved their wine. Greek poets, like many writers today, couldn’t get enough of it. City-dwellers played drinking games with their cups of wine after dinner. Did you know that the Greek word “symposium” originally referred to a conversation over wine? The Greeks turned winemaking into a bonafide industry as they colonized the Mediterranean. The rest is history.

Now, the “O.G.” of Greek wines doesn’t have a lot in common with what we drink today. Historical records suggest wine was commonly used as a mixer back then—a cocktail of herbs, spices, honey, and water was needed to make the stuff palatable. This raises the question: did Ancient Greece actually invent sangria?

Luckily for us, modern Greek wine does not need to be sweetened or flavored. It’s delicious in its pure form.

Now, unless you want to hop on a plane (and I’m not stopping you!) it’s probably going to be hard to find a wide variety of Greek wines. Local wine stores’ Greek sections are depressingly small—if they exist at all. Restaurants, unless they serve Mediterranean cuisine, are even less likely to have a healthy Greek wine list.

It’s long been on my to-do list to break down and special order some Greek wines straight from the source, but I had pretty much resigned myself to an absence of Greek wine in my life. Until, as if straight from the hand of Dionysus, chance dropped it into my glass.

”I’m hungry for Mediterranean food,” I remember saying as my husband and I discussed where to have lunch last Saturday. We let modern technology work its magic and arrived at our destination guided by GPS and Yelp a few short minutes later.

I walked into the lovely Greek cafe not expecting to get buzzed on my lunch break. Boy, was I wrong.

As the waitress deposited our menus, the words “Greek wine flights” shone like a beacon. Now that I think about it, I’m sure the presence of wine I haven’t tried before called me to the location, a psychic message no maenad can ignore.

Up until then, my only real experience tasting Greek wine had been about a year ago at TexSomm, a yearly wine convention held in the DFW area. A free pass to the tasting rooms got me 1-oz pours of several hundred wines from too many regions and producers to remember.

While proper somm protocol is to spit, I’m here to tell you that no matter what you do some of the alcohol is absorbed through your tongue. After several dozen tastings, you start to feel pretty good. Also, palate fatigue is a thing, and after awhile even the most sensitive taster can find herself lost in a muddle of unrecognizable fruits and new oak.

So by the time I found the Greek tasting room, I was a little fuzzy. I distinctly remember sampling a rose there that tasted, I kid you not, like a medley of unsweetened Big Red and Strawberry Fanta. It was wild. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, and that Greek rose has become my white whale—I will find it again.

I didn’t find it at Ziziki’s, but I did get a chance to taste six fantastic Greek wines.

Not the best picture—I didn’t realize I would be blogging about this experience!

Behold, my tasting notes. I’ve listed the three white wines I tried first.

My tasting notes follow this format:
Wine #: Producer’s Name, Wine Name, Year (or NV if non-vintage), Region of Origin
Grape: the grapes used in the wine.
My impressions of the wine.
Recommended for: would like this wine and what to pair it with.

Wine 1: Moraitis, Paros White 2017, Paros
Grape: Monemvassia
On the nose, I detected juicy aromas of pineapple, ripe yellow apple, and lemon. On the palate, this wine bursted with flavors of pineapple, Granny Smith apple, citrus, and a dash of white pepper. This wine actually tasted spicy.
Recommended for: Those who like Spanish wines (white Rioja, Verdejo). Try this wine with dolmas or seafood.

Wine 2: Wine Art Estate, Plano Malagousia 2017, Macedonia
Grapes: 
Malagouzia
This wine had a lovely floral nose full of citrus blossom and honeysuckle, with notes of ripe tropical fruits. On the palate I tasted lychee, banana, and ripe yellow peach with a hint of honeycomb and something mineral.
Recommended for: Those who like Torrontes. Try this wine with aged white cheddar or poultry.

Wine 3: Anemos White N.V., Peloponnesos
Grapes:
Moschofilero, Rhoditis
On the nose, ripe stone fruit (peach, pear, apricot) and banana ran the show, accompanied by floral notes of citrus blossom. On the palate, flavors of ripe banana, Anjou pear, and apricots continued. The wine had a creamy texture and I detected hints of vanilla and minerals.
Recommended for: Those who like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Try this wine with poultry or pasta, I’m thinking chicken carbonara.

Now for the red wines!

Wine 4: Palivou Estate Nemea 2016, Nemea
Grapes: Agiorgitiko
On the nose, aromas of black cherry, cocoa, and exotic spices. On the palate, this wine tasted of ripe cherry, plum, and black olives with a hint of tobacco and cinnamon.
Recommended for: Those who like Chianti or Merlot. Try it with cured meats and cheeses.

Wine 5: Porto Carras LimNeon N.V., Meliton
Grape: Limnio (oldest red varietal in the world!)
This wine called Napa Valley Cabernet to mind in a big way for me. On the nose, ripe red and black fruit dominated. On the palate, I tasted black cherry, blackberry, black currant, with a hint of vanilla and sweet baking spices from the oak aging.
Recommended for: Those who like Napa Valley Cabernet. Try it with filet mignon.

Wine 6: Palivou Estate Anemos Red N.V., Peloponnesos
Grape: Agiorgitiko
Out of all the wines I tried, this was probably my favorite. This one possibly suffers from “sixth wine syndrome” but it is without a doubt an interesting red. Allow me to sing its praises. Though this wine is fruit-forward with aromas and flavors of overripe wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries, it has intriguing floral notes that called to mind backyard fences overrun by climbing vines—orange trumpet flowers, honeysuckle, and Passion flowers. This wine is a bit funky (and yes, for me that’s a good thing). Something about its flavor recalls raw meat, composting leaves or forest floor, or even fruit in the earliest stages of rot. This is not to say the wine tastes rotten, quite the contrary! The nose in particular was wonderful—it had an intoxicating, almost primal scent I can’t quite define.
Recommended for: Maenads. It was excellent with my lamb souvlaki, pictured below.


In conclusion, Greek wines are interesting, fun, and you don’t need to be able to pronounce their names to enjoy them. All three whites I tried were floral, had a wonderfully zippy acidity, and refreshing. In other words, they are perfect for summer!

All three reds were fruit-forward but had enough complexity going on with floral and earthy notes to keep even the most seasoned wine tasters interested.

So whether you’re a beginner or a wine geek, I highly recommend grabbing a glass of any of these approachable and delicious wines. Opa!

Check out my ratings of these and other wines I’ve tried on Vivino, the free wine rating app.

 

Why A Maenad?

Or, specifically, what is a maenad? If you’re not familiar with the term, don’t fret. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “maenad” is defined as:

1. Bacchante: a priestess or female follower of Bacchus.
2. An unnaturally excited or distraught woman.

Other sources define the term as a drunken reveler, or a female follower of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. Maenads were said to roam the wilderness and perform ecstatic dances while under the influence of their deity, and, less pleasantly, were known to whack men who offended them with a thyrsus, or pine cone staff. Maenads had two modes: jolly day drinking or enraged frenzy, and they had a thing for leopard print.

Don’t worry! I don’t own a thyrsus, nor do I dance semi-nude in the forest. I don’t feast on raw meat (with the exception of sushi). I usually don’t wear leopard print. So why do I call myself a maenad? I may not worship Dionysus or his Roman counterpart Bacchus, but a good portion of my professional and personal life revolves around wine. I am a woman who gets unnaturally excited about wine—studying regional maps, tasting new vintages, traveling to vineyards, and yes, occasionally getting tipsy and making merry mischief with my friends—so perhaps the name is fitting.

I wasn’t always this way. I wasn’t raised around wine or people who drank it. My zsia zsia (grandfather) drank vodka, my dad drank beer and whiskey, and my mom drank the occasional glass of Chardonnay but didn’t put too much thought into it. As a child I didn’t tiptoe through my parents’ wine cellar or frolic amongst the vines on a familial estate in California wine country.

I didn’t realize that the word “sommelier” could refer to someone other than a French butler or a royal attendant who taste-tested the king’s beverages for poison until a few years ago.

At university, I flip-flopped majors between Biology, Linguistics, Psychology, and Liberal Arts before finally settling on a degree in English Literature and History. Back then, Boone’s Farm or bargain bin White Zinfandel were more my style than Rioja Gran Reserva or Chateau Margaux. After graduating I became a teacher, but I eventually realized that my passion lay elsewhere. So how did a nice Texas girl like me get mixed up in the bacchanalia?

Three years ago I started attending wine tastings at a local Renaissance Faire. There, I met my first sommelier, Glenn Boswell, aka Flynn. (For those who don’t know, “sommelier” is a fancy word for a wine steward, someone who knows way too much about wine and makes a living because of it.) I didn’t know it at the time but he would become my friend and mentor. His wine tastings opened my eyes to the world of wine, and the multitude of career paths that branch off from it. Wine became my passion.

One night, while curled up with a glass of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and The World Atlas of Wine, I had an epiphany. Language, culture, geography, history, biology, ecology—and yes, even psychology—all intersect in the study and service of wine. Sommeliers and other wine professionals inhabit a lovely interdisciplinary crossroads, and I longed to tread those paths. In other words, I wanted in on the party.

I embarked on an intense self-directed study course and registered with the Court of Master Sommeliers. I passed the introductory course with flying colors. Since then I’ve worked in various restaurants and bars, tried hundreds of wines, met wonderful people, and landed myself a job as beverage manager at a local wine bar.

I’m still new to this, but I’ve come a long way in the past few years, and I still have a long way to go. My journey is only just beginning, and there are so many paths to take. So, I invite you to come with me. I can’t promise an ecstatic frenzy of moonlit dancing or trysts with the gods of the vine, but it will be fun. We’ll try a lot of wines, explore the world of wine as an outsider-turned-insider, share real talk about the service industry, travel to places far and near, and we may even learn something in the process.

You don’t need to carry a thyrsus or wear leopard print. Unless you want to.