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.

 

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!

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.