Friday, December 30, 2011

Popping for Bubbles

With 2011 drawing to a close, (how did that happen so quickly?!), I can't but help about some of my favorite bubbles for ringing in a fresh slate. Whether you will be saboring a bottle at midnight or slowing sipping your way through many bottles on New Year's Eve, I have put together a short list of some of my favorites.

Before I dive into the list, this time of year all is a very reflective time for me as with many others I'm sure. I once read that life is lived in stages and phases. I couldn't agree with this more especially as a stage of my life is drawing to a close while many phases are also beginning. As many commit to going to the gym everyday next year, while a good goal, I know if I go twice and that will be an accomplishment, I will be focusing on living in the moment while pushing towards goals such as becoming a better wine writer for example. I'm looking forward to both my personal and profession worlds undergoing some major revamping this year and would like to thank all my readers and supporters - you're the best! I wish you all the happiness and health New Year!

Alright, with the mushy stuff out of the way, here are my recommended bottles to pop:

Gruet Sauvage Brut - The most amazing wines to come out of New Mexico - seriously. This sparkling is full of green apple, citrus and flowers. Dry and crisp and retailing for around $17 it doesn't get much better than this outside of the Champagne region of France. And while you are at it, check out their Chenin Blanc - it rocks!

Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc - Rachel Zoe would either love or hate me for saying this but "I die" for this sparkling. If there is only one bottle to open as the new year approaches, this is it.

Cristalino Cava Brut - The best "cheap" bubbles out there if you ask me. Add a scope of your favorite sorbet for a fruity dessert or pre-party aperitif.

Anything Mumm - cause she knows best ;)

Gratien and Meyer Saumur Rose: Who says you can't drink summer in the dead of winter?! This unique sparkling is made from Cabernet France and Grolleau grapes. Crisp and delicious any time of year.

Have a great time celebrating and see you next year!

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wine for Whisk(e)y

No, don't worry, I'm not abandoning wine for whisk(e)y...well not yet anyways. But let me ask you, what generally comes to mind when you think Japan? Cherry blossoms? Sushi? Memoirs of a Geisha? (even though that wasn't very accurate). Perhaps even sake comes to mind but how about single malt whisky? Yeah, that's right, the Scots may not be too thrilled, but I am!

After surviving a fairly debilitating cold last week, I managed to feel better just in time for the Women and Whiskies event. (Good timing right ;)) Finding myself smashed among too many people in the a small yet sleek sushi joint I was thrilled to start tasting some whiskies.
The highlight of the night was the Japanese whisky made by Suntory. Having set up shop in 1923 making them  the oldest Japanese distillery, they really know what they are doing. The 12-year old Yamazaki single malt whisky was subtle, smooth and almost evaporated from your tongue.  Having been matured in three different kinds of oak; American, Spanish, Japanese, the roundness of flavors were evident. Tasting of dried fruits, honey and toast. If you love peat this may not be the whisky for you, however, the subtly of this whiskey made for some easy sippin'.

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The 17 year old Suntory Hibiki blended whisky was also a must try. Sitting at higher price point around $90, this sleek bottle looking like a large perfume bottle was by no means lacking scents. With more baking spice aromas than the Yamazaki and also a fuller mouthfeel, this whisky would be the perfect gift for any whisk(e)y lover.

Other noteworthy whiskies were Russell's Reserve 10 year old Bourbon and the Glen Grant Speyside 10 year old single malt scotch. I have to admit I skipped right over the Wild Turkey, even if it was the 18 year old "classier" version than the corner store special we drank in college, I'm not sure if it was memory lane I didn't want to visit or rather the unpleasant hangover-ville, either way, the turkey stayed out of my glass.

To check out Women and Whiskies events happening in your neck of the woods, find them on Facebook for more information.

In the meantime, let me know if you plan to drink any whiskies this holiday season.

Charlotte :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Yup....It Has Been Two Years

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Today I am popping champagne and celebrating a new year, (early, I know). But today marks the two year anniversary of The Wine Key. (Happy Birthday!) They say as you get older, time starts to fly. Well if that is true, I'm starting to feel like I'm approaching 100 years old, and quickly. It feels like only a few months ago that I starting writing about wine. After two years, I honestly feel like I have said anything yet!

On this day, two years ago, I set out to write about a passion of mine with no expectations that anyone else would care to read about my wine experiences. As it turns out, I am fortunate enough to have developed relationships with loyal readers and met amazing co-conspirators that are just as crazy about wine as I am. This also being the week of Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude for both my loyal readers and everyone I have met along the way. Connecting to my "tribe" has been inspiring to say the least. I have found a thriving online community that shares a wealth of information each and every day about their wines experiences and it was an honor to have met many of you at The Wine Bloggers Conference this year.

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As I celebrate this little milestone today, I am very focused on the future and excited about my plans to develop The Wine Key into much more than just a blog. Stay tuned for big announcements over the next few months. I find I am feeling similar to the Beaujolais Nouveau, which were released last Thursday; young, fresh, fruity, just a preview of what is to come. With additional aging and maturing, I hope to be celebrating even bigger achievements next year. (I apologize for the cheesy analogy but I'm clearly wrapped up in the moment - let me have it.)

So today, please join me is taking a moment to appreciate lives little accomplishments and cheers to new beginnings! Here is to finishing 2011 on a strong note and Happy Thanksgiving.

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Croatian Grape Juice

Somewhere nestled in the hills of San Francisco, I found myself in a chilly wine cellar of my unassuming host. As the recognition of wine labels started to register on my face, my host realized he was in good wine company, resulting in a stellar line-up of open bottles. This lead to the discovery of one delicious and exotic wine from Croatia.

Being a stones throw away from France and just across the Adriatic waters from Italy, I'm pretty sure if you were to squint hard enough from the shoreline of Croatia, you can see Italians sunbathing and eating spaghetti across the wavy seas. (Stereotyping, I am not.)

Croatia is shaped much like a seahorse and vintners have somehow mastered planting neat and tidy square vineyards within this oddly shaped country. Croatian wines joined the international wine stage in 2004 when the press got their hands on some wines and were pleasantly surprised. Like many parts of the Mediterranean, winemaking actually dates back to Antiquity and having recently gained in popularity due to amiable prices and exceptional quality.

Along the tail of the seahorse, lie Dalmatia. A well known wine growing region where both indigenous and international grape varieties are planted. In the northern part of Damatia, (similar latitude to Tuscany), among the limestone, red, and rocky soils, near Skradin, lies Bibich Winery. (If you know where this is without the use of Google Maps, I'm impressed). With a family history of winemaking, but with little interest from other family members, Alen Bibic revitalized the family business in 1995 at the ripe age of 22. Pun intended.

When Alen's bottle of 2007 Bibich Reserva was pulled from my host's cellar, I immediately poured out the previous wine from my glass in anticipation, (well poured it straight into my mouth that is, don't want to be rude at a dinner party now do I?!) The Reserva is a blend of Babic, Palvina and Lasin, all native varietals rumored to be cousins with the Californian Zinfandel. Aged 12 months in American oak barriques. This wine is both recognizable and unique. Being rustic much like its Italian counterparts but completely different with elements of raisinated dark fruits, musty cellar, cranberry, pepper spice with a solid tannin structure. Being relatively light to medium bodied, there is a resemblance to Zinfandel. Overall, an exotic blend sure to excite your palate.

When I ventured to K&L's website, they are selling this wine for $17.99. A wine worth much more and absolutely worth all the conversation that will be had while tasting.

My casual Sunday dinner with friends has now sparked a strong interest to learn more about Croatian wines putting them front and center on my wine stage.

Charlotte :)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween and the Headless Horseman

A lot of changes tend to happen for me around November 1st. This year is no exception. On this crisp and chilly evening of all Hallow's Eve, I find myself feeling sentimental as I celebrate my 4 year anniversary of living in San Francisco, packing to move into a new apartment, starting a new job and preparing for my first photography show, among other projects. As last minute alterations are happening to costumes, candy being handed out and pumpkins being lit, I find myself putting my feet up and popping the cork on a spooky wine.
Ash Hollow Winery from Walla Walla, Washington produces the Headless Red. With a label decorated by a Headless Horseman on what appears to be a creepy, foggy evening, I wasn't sure what to think. After watching their promotional video, I couldn't help but feel a little chill down my spine. A Bordeaux style blend made of 58% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Syrah and 3% Malbec aged 30 months in 15% new French Oak and 85% neutral (which I love to hear!); I was amazed at the depth, subtleties and structure.

With the estate vineyard sitting at 45 degrees north in latitude, same as Bordeaux, it is no wonder this wine presents the complexity that it does. The 2008 had only 500 cases produced and smells of coffee, cranberries, dark plum, cherries and a hint of violet. The palate experiences plums, tart cherries, blackberries, cranberries and chocolate. The acid structure is right on point, making this a great food pairing wine.

As I sit back and relax, (enjoying my adult Halloween treat, if you will), preparing for the big transitions ahead, I hope, by the end of this bottle and week, to at least still have my head. ;)

Happy Halloween!

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Modern Day Box Wine

Lets face it, boxed wine conjures up the image of Grandma's afternoon rose in what appeared to just be a larger "juice box" than mine. Or similarly, memories of college friends preparing for Friday night by stocking Franzia next to the PBR and jugs of Carlo Rossi. Remaining naive to the contents in the box was bliss, discovering the bladder was terrifying. Why would I drink out of something that resembles hospital use only?!

I will never forget being at a restaurant, not so long ago, when the patrons next to me ordered the house wine only then to see the bartender removing the nearly empty bladder from a box, and squeezing the remains into a glass like it were the end of the toothpaste tube. It took all my restrained to not slide down the bar on my belly and intercept the horrific event I was witnessing.

So how did Franzia become "The World's Most Popular Wine," and is Box Wine making a comeback? Lets start with the Australians and the 70's.

Thomas Angove from South Australia was the first to patent the the bladder in a box format. This allowed producers to cut costs on bottles and corks particularly for those who were not making fine wine. The 1970s were also a time when Americans were not drinking that much wine. The industry was starting to gain traction but overall, wine was not a part of American culture. Therefore, families were not coming together over a bottle of wine at dinner. An inexpensive format that would allow wine to stay "fresh until the last glass," (as Franzia advertises), was needed.

Since the wine industry has really taken off and produced award winning wines at all price points, why do box wines still exist and can high end, fine wines, be packaged in this method recover from the stereotypes that have come to surround wine in boxes? Are we compromising the quality of wine for convenience?

I recently had the opportunity to try what I am calling "Modern Day Box Wines." From The Black Box, the Clif Family Winery's "Climber Pouch", CalNaturale, Vendange, among others. The best part, I am happy to report, there are no bladders involved!
Most recently I tried CalNaturale's Chardonnay and have to say, this is not a corrugated box becoming soggy by its contents but rather a fairly complex package made by Tetra Pak. The Tetra Pak cartons are made from paper with a twist off top, boasting half the carbon footprint of a glass bottle. What makes this wine a Modern Day Box Wine, is that the winemaking is traditional. A vintage can be found on the packaging in addition to single vineyard designation. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles. The Chardonnay comes from Menecino, Ca. and is crisp, full of apples, pears, citrus, vanilla and holds a solid structure. Both wines are organic and retail at $12.99 for 1 liter and $6.99 for 500 milliliters.

Clif Family Winery markets directly to those who are outdoor adventurers through their Climber Pouch. Producing both an unoaked Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, their wines provide "all-terrain wine transport" and consider "Life [to be] a journey and every day we are inspired to travel lighter and appreciate more." In other words, if you lead a very active lifestyle, you can still have you wine and drink it too. Both, CalNaturale and Clif Family make wines in eco-friendly packages that are easy to reseal, stays fresh longer all the while providing convenience.
In a society that is so consumed by convenience, these wines are the snickers bars for the wine industry. Yes, we would all love to sit down and eat a chocolate cake but sometimes, we need a quick fix for the craving, a snickers bar does the trick. If you are going on a hike, who wants to carry the extra weight of a bottle? Grab a Tetra Pak or Climber Pouch. If I were into outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, these wines would be accompanying me. Will they be joining me at my next dinner party, no. With that being said, they are good, solid, wines showcasing modern winemaking. I would bring these wines to a picnic, unlike Franzia, which I wouldn't be caught dead with.

To answer some of my own questions from above, after tasting these wines, I don't feel we are compromising fine wine for sustainable packaging. (Not that I think bottles are bad, especially when recycled.) With that being said, these wines are not as good as they could be, but on the right track to becoming something outstanding. I like seeing vintage and vineyard designations on the packaging. I trust this product because there is a connection to place.

And to answer my other question, yes, I do think boxed wines are making a comeback. These Modern Day Box Wines are changing the stereotypes of its predecessors and redefining "box-wine" by addressing the need for on-the-go, convenient, eco-friendly wines. These wines are not your Grandmother's juice box but rather wines designed to be as active as we are while being environmental conscience.

Charlotte :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Touriga - More Than Just Port

Sometimes as a writer, I get caught up in drafting a wish list of subjects I am determined to research and write about. Like a lot of good intentions in life, we don't always get to the things on our "to-do" lists in a timely manor. In this case, I am acknowledge my newest obsession and had to stop all other projects to share it with you. Touriga Nacional is a grape varietal primarily grown in Portugal in low yielding crops producing a highly desirable flavour profile. Traditionally used in Port production, I have recently come across this grape being produced as a single variety in a dry wine. I was instantly hooked.

Imagine sitting atop haystacks in an aged brick coloured barn on a steep hillside on a summer's afternoon in Portugal overlooking rolling hills while lunching on hand crafted sandwiches getting ready to saddle the horses up for a trail ride through the vineyards and blackberry bushes. This is Touriga Nacional. A rustic, peaceful yet complex experience. Don't be fooled though, a slight astringency will follow the earthiness that may sneak up on you if you are not prepared.

With wishful illustrations aside, I have tasted a couple of producers lately and have been very impressed not only by the well-rounded product but the price retailing right around $15. Drinking a wine that creates an experience is powerful and in my book, the sign of a great wine. Being the most desirable grape for port production, the high skin to pulp ratio produces not only a rustic countryside aroma but is rich in raisinated fruits such as plums, blackberries and dark cherries.

With very small amounts of Touriga planted in the United States, it is not readily available. However, one producer based in Napa near my beloved Spring Mountain has vines planted in Sonoma County. York Creek Vineyards is growing Touriga for a port project they also produce this variety in a dry red wine style and a rose. They had my attention at first sip. Having selected their mountainous site to produce rich, bold and tannic wines I can only imagine my summer afternoon horse riding fantasy coming true.

With that being said, there are plenty of producers from Portugal being imported to the United States. One in particular I tasted at a local restaurant was a 2007 T. Roriz "Tradicional" Tega, Alqueve, priced at a very reasonable $8/glass.

If you happen to come across Touriga during your next dining experience, I highly recommend you give it a taste. You may not experience a rustic countryside fantasy in Portgual but it will give you something to talk about nontheless.

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Too Many Fake Fendis - Trusting your Palate when Purchasing Wine

I'm not sure if I am out of tasting practice (much like my muscles are out of swimming practice), or perhaps, dare I say it, my taste buds are bored. The majority of wines I have tasted lately have left me wanting more and wondering if wine consumers are settling in our wine preferences, or is one mass palate continually being catered to?

Like the fashion industry, the wine industry, unfortunately, is subject to fads. Certain varietals and styles become in season. Look at, for example, the success of overly oaked chardonnay or Pinot Noir after the movie Sideways. I am not saying these wines do not have their place and, in fact, have played a significant role to increase the number of Americans who are drinking wine on a regular basis. But has the American palate become comfortable and undemanding resulting in mediocre wines being production?

Courtesy of Yapp Brothers
Now I'm sure you are asking, "where is she buying her wine from?!" I will admit, I have been exploring more of what the grocery stores in my area have to offer. But when you look at who makes the majority of wine purchasing discussions in this country, it is women. And where do women shop? The grocery store, a one stop market for all their families' needs. Looking closer at the trend of wines on the shelf priced between $10-$15 they tend to be mediocre at best. If this is where the majority of wine buying decisions are happening, why is mediocre acceptable? Why does one trend such as, heavily oaked chardonnay, dominate the shelves catering to one particular palate?

Perhaps purchasing decisions are made based on fear. Fear of looking like a wine novice and wanting to drink whats "in." Gravitating to a certain style or brand because so and so said, "its good!" Much the like the point system drives sales of 92 award winning wines, a trend begins to dominate the market resulting in plunk producers trying to copy the style to make a quick buck much like buying a knock-off Fendi purse. These wines get marked at a reasonable price in order to increase sales and the bottom line, forget about the quality of product.

As much as I praise the point system for coming into play when consumers needed help to demystify wines, making them measurable and a way to categorize, it has also created a culture dictating what we should be drinking and doesn't really educate consumers. Consumers should untimely trust their own palates and use additional resources such as Sommeliers, local wine shops, blogs, books, social media, apps etc. to learn.

Wine is about an experience, it is something to be shared, it should evoke emotion. So maybe I have been buying too many fake Fendis lately and hoping to get the real deal, its obviously not working. My palate is bored and awaiting the next trend. With that being said, I really hope the next trend is to follow what you like but to also have high quality from around the world available at the local grocery store. Why can't the local grocery store be a local wine store that sells Vouray, Bugurndies and Chenin Blanc?

So I ask my readers, what resources do you use when making wine purchasing decisions? How do you educate yourself on wine? What trends/fads do you see in the wine industry both good and bad? Do you feel influenced by these trends?

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Bottle Brolly

The independent kitchen supply store down the street from my house is exactly the china shop a bull should never enter. Think antique store meets Sur La Table. With mountains of strategically stacked china, glassware, cookbooks and an impressive collection of cheese graters, one swift turn will result in shattered goods. If you break it you will be buying it! As usual, I find myself sucking in to pass the old auger oven at the same time as strategically twisting to my right to avoid a stack of iron skillets to reach, but of course, the bar section. Upon reaching the wooden hutch jammed full of corkscrews, wine glasses, martini shakers and finally, I see it: The Bottle Brolly. I did a triple take on this one! Was I reading and seeing this correctly?! This is a joke, right?! Where is the TV crew?!

With no 15 minutes of fame in sight, I decided for the sweet price of $5 I couldn't resist, I had to have this wine gadget! Made by Vinicool, which was based out of Surrey, England and for you non British speakers, a Brolly is what we call an umbrella. In other words, an umbrella for your bottle of wine. As the back label perfectly describes; "Open air parties are such fun but chilled wine and other drinks need to be shaded from the sun. Use the Bottle Brolly with its multi-position swivel/clip to give maximum shade and protection." I very much enjoy a picnic or "open air party" when the San Francisco weather permits, but I'm pretty sure this is the worst wine gadget ever invented. As the company has since dissolved (according to my research), I'm thinking they agree.

Understandably, lugging ice around to keep your whites chilled can be a nuisance and no one wants overly heated reds, but would you really be the person to show up with a bottle size umbrella at your next picnic? As much as this may have been a very proactive product for its time, I'm guessing it is not the most effective way to keep wines at the appropriate temperature. It is however, a great conversation piece and why not give your tasty bottle of wine its own personalized cabana?!

Due to the lack of availability, I am not going to recommend this product but I do recommend you invite me to your next picnic as a good giggle will be had! With all of this being said, if this product was still available, would you use it?

Happy Picnics!
Charlotte :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Wine Bloggers' Conference 2011

First, let me apologize for falling short of my commitment to write every day while attending the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. With a jammed packed schedule, hundreds of people to meet, rich Virginia history to learn and copious amounts of wine tasting, there just wasn’t enough time!

The side effects of continually wine tasting for three days is slowly starting to wear off as I find myself still aerating both water and coffee in my mouth. It was a true delight to have attended such a magnificent event in Charlottesville, Virginia. Thank you again to the Sponsors for making it possible. I feel re-energized and inspired to not only keep writing but to be challenged by the content I produce.

Being a bloggers’ conference, it is no surprise that social media tools such as Twitter played a significant roll in documenting all the fun. With Twitter feeds running throughout the main conference room driven by the largest amount of Blackberries, iPhones, and laptops, I have even seen in one room at a time. At first, I felt at a disadvantage due to the recent theft of my laptop and not to mention my anti-smart phone which, however, does glow pink when flipped shut. (Jealous?!) Then I realized, perhaps I am not at a disadvantage but witnessing a social media backfire.

Don’t get me wrong, social media and technology makes anything and everything more accessible any time we want access to information. According to the conference committee, 10,000,000 impressions were made by conference attendees and viewed by 1.2 million people via Twitter alone. That is a huge audience of wine consumers leaving an undoubtedly large impact on purchasing decisions, not to mention the shout-outs regarding Virginia’s wine industry (Yum! More on that to come). Additional, I am convinced this conference and others like it, would not exist if it wasn’t for such online communities. But my issue lies within here, if face-to-face interactions are being constantly interrupted by retweets, DMs and status updates, blog posts, etc., where is the balance with actually engaging with the person next to you verses crafting 140 character opinions addressed to the person across the room with whom you Tweet daily? Wasn't that the point of the conference, to meet each other?

This was increasingly evident during my idol’s keynote speech. When Jancis Robinson, a mentor from afar, took to the podium she must have seen a room full of hunchbacks dialed into an online community talking quietly amongst themselves. A presenters worst nightmare if you ask me! Understandably, everyone wanted to share their experience immediately and were excited to be there to hear her wise words. But why can’t we just be present and listen instead of turning and burning information so quickly?

One of Janicis’ main points can be summed up by saying: the written word is not dead, just the forum with which we share it has changed. So why is there a sentiment to regurgitate all information we are being told right away, why don’t we write it down, think about it and question information more often? Bloggers, are but self published authors so why as wine writers don’t we question our sources of information more often? Why aren’t we investigating our stories instead of just spouting opinions and tasting notes off immediately into various forums?

When it comes down to it, asking more of the right questions and being investigative journalists will makes us all better writers. Perhaps there wasn't a social media backfire but instead we need to practice and establish some social media etiquette.

With all of my questioning and theories of backfires aside, I must congratulate my fellow bloggers on attending this conference from a place of passion. I was very impressed with the lack of competition. I never once felt there was a sentiment of “my blog is better than your blog.” Even the wine blogger’s awards were not the center of the conference but rather received as a pat on the back for a job well done.

Now, I’m sure you are asking, “but what about the wine?!” It was an outstanding showcase. Ultimately, I hope that as an active writing community we were able to highlight the excellence of the Virginia Wine Industry and bring attention to the fact that they are the 5th largest wine producing state in the United States, making some damn fine wines if I do say so myself! With that being said, there were a number of producers that really stood out for me and I want to give them the attention they deserve by following up with more individualized posts.

So as a wine tasting Millennial moving through this information age I am happy to take on a new challenges as a writer and hope that my fellow writers continue to take responsibility for all content produced and ask questions before feeding it through various platforms.

I hope to attend the conference again next year in Portland, Oregon, perhaps with smart phone in hand, but then again, that could distract me from some quality people watching. ;)

Now if I could only stop swirling this beer in my glass...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wine Blogger's Conference Countdown is On!

With just a couple of days left to pack my bags and make the trek across the country to Charlottesville, Va., I could not be more excited! Not just because I share the name of town, but I am truly excited to meet fellow bloggers, industry leaders and learn all about the Virginia wine industry. I have a giddy feeling in my stomach which I often get before travelling somewhere new. It comes from a place of excitement. I feel much like a kid heading off to summer camp, only this camp requires an ID check at the door! ;)

As I taste my way through the long weekend, attending seminars and listening to keynote speakers, I plan to blog daily about my experiences. Watch here for updates! You can also follow all the action on Twitter, follow me @Simplygrapes.

I also want to thank all of the sponsors for making this experience possible! I cannot wait to meet you and thank you in person. I will also be writing about these amazing sponsors as the weekend unfolds.

Charlotte :)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Terra Savia

Meeting a winemaker is common in an industry which centers around their craftsmanship, but none the less, I can't help but feel like I am meeting a celebrity of sorts. (Wine dork, proudly I stand!) There is something about that twinge in their eye as they pour a sample of their latest vintage much like one would imagine Santa Clause having when he delivers all those toys.

Courtesy of Emily Heller
I recently attended a tasting of Mendocino County vintners which lead me to one winemaker, Jim Milone of Terra Savia. Jim is not only outgoing, informative and a great story teller but extremely passionate about what he does. A fourth generation grape grower with a philosophy that winemaking happens in the vineyard and only finished in the cellar, our "wise earth" takes care of the rest. With 37 acres of Certified Organic grapes and no more than 6,000 cases of production, I was immediately drawn. It only took one sip of sparkling to know I had discovered a new treat, well ok, it was two sips as you should never judge a wine upon first sip! Produced in the traditional methode champenoise, 100% chardonnay and remaining on tirage for minimum 30 months, the result is a crisp, refreshing, yet yeasty bubbly ready to accompany a hot summer evening.

Moving to the Chardonnay, I realized I had found a producer that really understands his trade. Showcasing chardonnay in a way I have been seeking out for a number of years. Produced in stainless steel  this exemplary chardonnay remains bright, flavorful and keeps the integrity of the grape. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of chardonnays being made in stainless steel but many fall short as some winemakers may be transitioning out of heavily oaked chardonnays to please the mass market's palate. Terra Savia does an extraordinary job at  presenting the chardonnay grape in its original and fruity form. I think this has a lot to do with their sustainable practices, experience and passion.

Courtesy of
Finishing with the Meritage, a brilliant and elegant melange of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignin and Petit Verdot comes together in a structured and complex manner. With solid tannin structure and a long finish, this is a wine to savor.

In addition to their wines, Terra Savia also produces Olive Oil a secret (or not so secret) obsession of mine and honey through cultivating their own bees. Their land also serves as a Wildlife Rescue dedicated to the wise Owls which you will find gracing their label. With over 1000 species of plants and animals thriving on the property, this sounds like much more than just a great place to grow grapes but a wildlife retreat focused on sustainability.

Next time you are in Hopeland, Ca., make an appointment to tour and meet Jim who will tell you all about the Owl adventures happening at their oasis in Mendocino. Visit Terra Savia for more information.

Charlotte :)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Charity Wines

There is a segment of the wine industry less often talked about and almost never rated by the "big guys." Wines made for charity seem to loose out on top rankings, media coverage and prestige. I will admit, I am guilty of assuming wines produced for charities are primarily made from bulk juice bottled for a cause. Let me tell you, how wrongly mistaken I have been! I recently had the opportunity to taste some wines from both Charity Case and Cleavage Creek wineries. Both of these wineries not only changed my perception on "charity" wines but are wines I look forward to drinking again. 

So often in our busy lives, our to-do list are full with good intentions, such as being charitable, but these items are ofter pushed to the way side. I recently learned that putting things off for tomorrow, again and again, will eventually leave you will an expiration date. Taking the time to help others goes much further than just the act of helping. It also lifts our own spirits. Drinking hand crafted fine wines with a charitable twist might be one way to accomplish your charity "to-dos."

courtesy Coutesy of Vintage Point
So much of wines sales has to do with hearing a great story and wanting to be a part of it. Charity Case wines have really inspired me. Formed in 2008 by Jayson Woodbridge who recognized excess "juice" being drained from fermenters due to a rainy vintage in Napa Valley. He began to ask around to see if winemakers would be willing to donate the extra wine. Receiving an overwhelming response, Napa Vintners have donated tons and tons of rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Charity Case is now on its third year of operation and is run solely through volunteers, there are no paid employees. Corks, bottles, wine, labor are all donated leaving 100% of net profits donated to agencies throughout Napa County who support children and families in need. As for the wines, they are all bright, clean and lighthearted. Now, Savignon Blanc is one of those wines I have to be in the mood for but I have to say, the Charity Case 2009 Sauv Blanc is one I could drink on a regular basis. The subtle complexities of white flowers, lemon, minerals with a soft undertone of grass and a finish of cantaloupe and honey, makes my taste buds very happy.

Cleavage Creek is also a winery on a powerful mission. Creating exceptional wines while supporting Breast Cancer research and survivors by donating 10% of sales. Each bottle tells the unique story of a women who survived breast cancer. Budge Brown started the winery after loosing his wife of 48 years to breast cancer. Being a great supporter of the Bastyr University in Washington helping women find alternative treatments to cancer, makes these wines much more than a beverage. We recently lost Budge Brown earlier this month in a plane crash. It upsets me to have lost such a devoted and passionate man who truly understood that we should live to love life. I hope that each one of us will continue to support the cause even in his absence. Budge believed in fruit forward wines that you didn't have to cellar in order to drink. The 2007 Tracy Hills Secret Red is one of my favorites! Priced very reasonable at $18, this wine has strength, dept and enough fruit to make a weeks worth of cobblers! Full of blueberries, blackberries and cherry outlined with a smokiness and long finish. This is definitely a wine I will be putting into rotation more often. To learn more about Budge Brown and hear more about his mission see his episode on Wine Library TV.

The next time you pick up a bottle to toast to life with friends and family, not only cherish the moment but ask yourself if you have done any charity lately, if not, pick up a bottle of wine that supports a bigger cause and do your part. 

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring in Sonoma

Now I know not everyone is a huge fan of Nikki Minaj but her song entitled "Moment 4 Life," (thats right, please refrain from spelling the word "four," as the audience may not understand your longhand.) This song, albeit, does not display top musical talent but the message is clear. Living in a moment and feeling alive is important and yet so often forgotten in our busy rush to get everything done.

Spending a day in Sonoma is one of those reminders of how amazing life is when you slow down. Tasting phenomenal hand crafted wines, eating like a queen and enjoying it all with fabulous company. I get asked often why I like visiting Sonoma more than I like visiting Napa. Sonoma tends to be a more relaxed with more mom-and-pop wineries. That's not to say you can't find this experience in Napa but I have yet to lounge for hours in an organic, fruitful and unmanicured garden in Napa. I have yet to experience sitting under a 100 year old tree watching the owner tend to his bees. I have yet to have an experience petting a pig. I have yet to be wowed by how beautiful and colourful chickens are. I have yet to enter a tasting room where the winemaker runs the tasting room, solo. I have yet to find a speakeasy hidden behind the tasting room. Sonoma takes you back to the basics; sustainable, happy living.

Aside from the scenery highlights, the wines are pretty damn amazing too! My new obsession: Frick Winery in Dry Creek Valley. I almost didn't want to share this winery as the production is small. About 1400 cases, I would buy it all if I could. Bill Frick, a humble and interesting gentleman founded the winery in 1976. He is a one man team working the vineyards (all 7.77 acres), the cellar and the tasting room. He specializes in Rhone varieties, all single vineyard and unfiltered. This is your place to taste Cinsaut, Counoise, Carignane and Grenache Blanc. Bill's wine and method of running his business is exactly how I wish the wine industry had remained. Small, simple, interesting, hospitable with outstanding wines.

Another winery that really stood out for me was Michel-Schlumberger. With French ties to Alsace, I couldn't help but feel I had disappeared to France. Sitting beneath the oak trees, sipping the most amazing Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Franc, watching a group play bocce ball while the owner tends to his bees in the distance. He even came over to introduce himself and check in with his very generous staff. As the breeze picked up and the sun began to set, I found myself wishing I could sit there forever. Next time, I might just do that.

These kind of experiences make me want to stay in each moment 4 life. That is why I love Sonoma. It is the perfect escape from the busy city to enjoy amazing handcrafted wine in a place passionate about getting back to the basics and enjoy the smaller things in life.

Charlotte :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear Wine, Please Visit Often.

Just the sight of fine stemware immediately evokes salivating. The anticipation of a complex, cool fluid instantly consumes my thoughts and my entire existence. How is it that a liquid can be so seductive? 

The way you allow me to hold onto the wine, swirling, slurping, aerating and engaging with the liquid before its slips towards the throat is mesmerizing. The pearly whites surrounding me are not big fans of wine, especially the red, it stains. They may think they are more sophisticated hanging on by a root, completely consumed by appearances. They will never truly understand wine the way I do.

The first sip is always the most difficult to bare, I am never sure what to expect. There is so much to decipher and breakdown, I often feel overwhelmed by the experience at first. But then the wine starts to linger, swimming with mystic. It amazes me with its true harmonious, peaceful and honest message. A delicate conversation can always be had with wine, if you are willing to listen.

As the second and third sips flow, I can start to breakdown each individual component. Wine, both red and white, are embodied by a multitude of flavors, each never as it appears.  For example, the sensation of tasting blueberries but not actually chewing on the berries themselves is both a surreal and a refreshing experience. A word to the wise, watch out for the fuzzy sensation or tannins that follow, they bite! 

My only wish is for wine to stay will me longer before the enviable swallow. Such is life, good things come and go, and it’s our job to enjoy them in each moment. Do not wish for it, do not long for it, just enjoy all the good when it does come. But remember, once it leaves, do not linger over its absence, know it will come again, be ready to accept it then.

In the meantime, I will be consuming food, eagerly awaiting the next sip of wine.

Your Mouth

Monday, March 14, 2011

WARNING: Sex in a Bottle may lead to Toasted Dreams

We all know that Mondays can be a drag. Determined to change my mentality in regards to this dreaded working day, I decided to take advantage of 40% off bottles of wine at Maverick, a small, slick and stylish Mission restaurant. Walking in, I was surprised by just how small the restaurant was. Sitting no more than 30 patrons and glowing by candle light, this warm and inviting space was perfect for catching up with a dear friend over a common love of wine.

We decided to get a little adventurous with our palates ordering a new varietal of wine and beef checks, a delicacy which melted in my mouth, officially making me an instant fan of this succulent meat. The Italian blend of Lambrusco, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was a perfect pairing. Lambrusco comes from the Alto-Adige region in Italy, a northern region known more its white wines with a very small red wine production due to the cooler climate. Lambrusco presents itself similar to a Cab Franc making it an excellent blending grape. Overall, the wine was very medium in body but complex in flavors paring with everything we ate, including the endive salad, crab puffs and of course the beef cheeks.

The real gem of the evening, however, was dessert. Like many, wine geeks, I prefer to drink my dessert. With only a couple of options to choose from, we settled on the Cossart Gordon 5 year Maderia. A little apprehensive upon the first sip, as one might have been before loosing one's virginity, I found myself giving into the experience. Whatever I had just sipped was making love to my mouth! Upon the second and third sip, I knew I was falling in love. This was sex in a bottle.

The flavor profile was complex, tantalizing and very intriguing. At first you are hit with toasted pecans followed by a weightiness that coats your tongue and teeth, (this may be attributed to the 19% alcohol but lets pretend I didn't see that on the label ;)) The toasted pecans were complimented by candied orange peels and caramel. The finish lasted for what seemed like hours! I will confess, I didn't even brush my teeth before going to bed because the flavors continued to change and develop long after I was cozy in my pj's, cuddling with toasted dreams of pecans pie drizzled with an orange glaze.

Charlotte :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Champagne, Chablis and Vouvray, oh my!

An advantage to having worked in the wine industry, is still having friends who work in the industry. Attending the "anti-Super Bowl party," I found myself bar side by 12:30 pm, in quite an elegant affair, sipping $150 Champagne and slurping three different kinds of oysters. Sampling Blue Points, Malpeque, and Sweet Waters, I learned that there are different textures, flavors and complex depending on the region and waters they are from, much like wine. I am inspired to learn and taste more.

Hesitant to move on from the Champagne, what could possibly top this example of French perfection? The refined pin point stream of golden bubbles were tantalizing. However, after being persuaded not to spent my last paycheck on more Champagne, I began to taste my way through France. Visiting regions of equally brilliant French wines houses' with extraordinary examples of perfection from their respected regions. Including, a very tart, dry and citrus-ie Chablis, a Vouvray which reminded me of my study abroad days in the Loire Valley. A dry Hungarian Tokaji that smelt of chilantro and corn, making it the perfect paring for a burrito... seriously! And that was only the first couple of hours!

Staying until close, (about 7 hours later), we decided it was time for dinner. Another advantage to knowing people in the wine industry is that they also know colleagues in the restaurant industry. Allowing the manager and kitchen to decide what we would be eating, we began to test each other's blind tasting ability amongst a three course meal. I have to say, I was rather impressed with my own palate, especially hours after I had started drinking. Maybe my lowered inhibitions allowed me to say exactly what I was smelling and tasting, no hesitations. :) Continuing to drink Chardonnay from Burgundy and slowly tasting our way into Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Tempranillo...I honestly did not want the day to end! The company, wine and food were all amazing! These kind of experiences remind me of why I am so passionate about food and wine.

Ultimately, I was reminded that I have not only have a talent and trained palate but I have a true passion for fine wine and sharing it with others. I love tasting, (who doesn't?!), and learning about the world through wine. I also have a passion for the people working in the industry, as we are all connecting over a common passion and occasionally, trying to blind taste a wine with 100% accuracy. Champagne, Chablis and Vourvray have come back into my life with vengeance, re-awaking my senses, reminding me how important wine is to both my personal and professional life. Ultimately, it brings people together, challenges some of us and awakens a dormant heart in a select few of us. I am truly a proud oenophile.

Charlotte :)