Sunday, May 30, 2010

Texas Wine Trip: Day Two

For those who don't know, Hubby and I are in Texas this week tasting wine and exploring cuisine. I have a conference in San Antonio the second week of June, so we came over a week early to check out Texas wine, food, and scenery. We're exploring the hill country and Austin.

Day Two:
Wineries visited: 5
Thoughts about work: ~10, but had work-related stress dreams
Snakes in the car air conditioner vent: 0, but we did have to watch out for loose livestock. In case you were wondering, cows are really big.

If you're familiar with Hubby's and my typical wine trips, the fact that we left our hotel at 11:30 a.m. and got back around 5:30 p.m. and only visited five wineries attests to the fact that things are freakin' far apart in Texas. The "Hill Country" is still pretty wild in parts, and we even saw one place that had a zebra and camel behind its wire fencing. At that point, I couldn't help but wonder just how far we'd driven.

We started at Stone House Vineyard in Spicewood, which is south of Marble Falls. They have a basic tasting for $5, reserve for $10, and dessert wine tasting for $7, but if you get the basic and reserve tastings, they'll add the dessert for free. Their owner and winemaker is Australian, and so most of the grapes or juice or wines (I wasn't really clear as to when it comes to Texas) are sourced from Barossa Valley and other Australian AVAs. Our favorites:

2006 Claros: 100% Norton grown on site (see picture)
Spicy and a little raisin.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Shiraz (Barossa, Australia):
Nice and smooth with good, dark fruit.
Rating: Good to Very Good

The outside Stone House tasting area:

Our next stop was Spicewood Vineyards. They pour a nice lineup for $2 per person per tasting. They, too, source some of their fruit from elsewhere, namely Columbia Valley. I surprised myself and Hubby by really liking the Chardonnay, which is aged in stainless steel, and -- are you sitting down? -- new French oak. It's a little smoky/nutty on the nose, but beautifully balanced with pear, melon, and almond. I rated it Very Good, and yes, it's from Texas fruit.

Spicewood Tasting Room building:

We went for lunch at Flat Creek Estate, where we were supposed to meet up with a college friend who now lives in Houston. She couldn't make it, but we had a great lunch at the Bistro and enjoyed the view:

I had the brie and blackberry jam sandwich, and Hubby got the special flatbread, which had mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, and some sort of special cheese in addition to mozzarella. Sorry, we didn't get pictures because we were hungry. I had a glass of the 2008 Pinot Grigio, which was very floral and had good melon and citrus to it, and Hubby had the "Super-Texan," mostly Sangiovese and medium-bodied with bright fruit. Both played well with food. We tried to do a tasting of other wines, but the tasting room was a little crowded and understaffed because they, like many of the other wineries we talked to, expected that the crowds would be in Austin for the Wine & Jazz Festival and not visiting the wineries.

After a long drive through some narrow roads, we arrived at Texas Legato, which we were intrigued by because they offer Malbec. Our favorites:

2007 Family Reunion: blend of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Syrah, which, according to the label are "from Texas and California"
A nice, medium-bodied red with bright fruit and smooth tannins. It would be great slightly chilled and sipped on the back porch.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Malbec: blended with 3% Cabernet Sauvignon
Coffee and cassis nose. Full, dark fruit and very smooth.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon:
Cranberry-cherry nose. Definitely tart and with good acidity. Wants MEAT.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

We got the Family Reunion and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rudy the winery dog at Pillar Bluff

The final stop of the day's tasting was Pillar Bluff, where I got a little distracted from the wines by the cute winery animals. First, there was Rudy, the winery dog, and then Pistol, the winery cat. Our favorites:

2006 Boar Doe: No, this isn't a spelling error on my part or a wacky Spellcheck correction, this is how they put it on the label:

It had a big fruit nose, nicely balanced fruit and acidity, and very dry finish.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Founders Red: blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc, and 5% combined Petit Verdot and Malbec (same blend as Boar Doe)
With 2% residual sugar, it's a little sweet, but lovely raspberry and cherry flavors. Another great summer sipper.
Rating: Very Good

Pistol the winery cat

My GPS took us through some very scenic spots, most of which don't have a place to pull off, and Texas ranch roads and farm roads and random county roads don't have much in the way of shoulders. He did get this one:

FYI, all the pictures in this post and the previous one were by Hubby with his spiffy new camera. He's doing a great job with his new toy, and I feel like a big shot blogger with a cameraman.

Texas Wine Trip: Day One

For those who don't know, Hubby and I are in Texas this week tasting wine and otherwise getting into trouble (but not too much trouble -- don't worry, Mom!). I have a conference in San Antonio the second week of June, so we came over a week early to check out Texas wine, food, and scenery. We're exploring the hill country and Austin.

Day One:
Wineries visited: 1
Thoughts about work: ~15
Snakes in the car air conditioner vent: 0

Hubby and I listened to NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me! news quiz this morning between taking a very unhappy diabetic gray cat to the vet for boarding and deciding to leave the car in the PreFlight covered parking in case of hail. They mentioned this story, which happened in Austin. Yep, apparently the snakes in Texas get frisky. We both kept a close eye on the a/c vents in the rental car and will continue to do so as we travel around and in Texas hill country.

The trip itself went smoothly, for which we were grateful. Apparently a very bad combination of weather and the new federal laws about tarmac wait time combined to create headaches for quite a few travelers last night, and the Atlanta airport was crazy busy today. Our flight left Atlanta and arrived in San Antonio generally on time. We picked up the rental car and headed north in search of Texas wine:

Our first stop, about an hour north of San Antonio, was the Mandola Estate Winery. They had followed me on Twitter and tweet under the #TXWine hashtag, so my curiosity had been piqued. Even better, they were open until 9:00, which was perfect since we didn't get to the area until 6, after all of the others had closed. We would have gone anyway because of their focus on Italian varietals.

Mandola Estates started in August 2006 with juice sourced from California and moved quickly to Texas grapes. They get some of their fruit from the High Plains AVA near Lubbock and grow some of their own. Thanks to Bill Elsey for sharing that information with me and connecting on Twitter. The only complaint I have is that the tasting room gets a bit noisy when crowded because of the rustic Italian stone construction.

I didn't rate any wines below a Good, so here were the highlights:

2008 Viognier:
Grape-perfume nose, but good stone fruit and citrus. Not at all syrupy.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Vermentino:
Grapefruit nose, pear and herb on the palate. Like a Sauv Blanc, but herby instead of grassy.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Dry Rosé:
Made from Cabernet, tart and spicy cherry/strawberry.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Aglianico: Grape exclusive to this winery
Tobacco and dark fruit nose, plummy supported by tobacco with a smooth but leathery finish.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Spino-Montepulciano:
Smoky nose, but great fruit moving to the darker side with more depth
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Rosso:
Blend of Cab and Merlot, this one has dark fruit and spice with some cedar notes.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

We got bottles of the Rosé and Rosso. The Rosé came to dinner with us at Salt Lick Barbecue, which we had gotten several recommendations for. It's BYOB, so we had to ask for cups for sipping while we waited:

And it was a bit of a wait:

We actually ended up only waiting for 45 minutes, and it was worth it. Here's a picture of the "pit:"

And the plate:

Yes, that's sausage, beef brisket, and a pork rib with cole slaw, potato salad, and beans. The sauce, Salt Lick's secret recipe, is more vinegary and mustardy and not at all tomato-ey. It's also a little sweet. We debated on how to describe it, and the only thing we could agree on was that it's really good.

Oh, and it's true that Texans wear their cowboy boots all year long, even when it's 90 degrees outside. There's even a statue to honor the almighty boot:

Tomorrow's agenda: meeting up with a college friend at Flat Creek Estate winery for "Jammin' in the Vineyard"

Disclosure: Mandola comped our tasting. When I asked why for clarification, I was told it was "for being a fan and supporter." They did know I was a wine blogger through the Twitter connection.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Winery Review: Frogtown Cellars

I've been trying to figure out how to review Frogtown Cellars, one of the North Georgia wineries located around Dahlonega. I admit to having had the tasting notes on my desk for a week, all three sheets. Yes, Frogtown has an almost overwhelming array of wines to sample. The question is whether quantity means quality.

Whoops, I'm getting ahead of myself. The basic info is that you can choose one of three tastings. There are seven reds, seven whites, some sweet wines, and a list of "Additional Dry and Dessert," which I'll refer to as the ADD, wines. The options are to choose reds or whites for $12 each, a combined one with a small discount, the sweet wine tasting for $6, and/or additional pours from the ADD wines for $2 each. Confused yet? Basically, they've got whatever you're in the mood to taste.

Hubby and I did the combined red/white tasting with a few extra pours from the ADD list. That ended up being seventeen wines. I'm not going to list my notes on all seventeen, so I'll summarize and hit the high points. All of the wines we tasted were under the Frogtown label. They have a couple of others as well, the Thirteenth Colony and Talking Rock.

Overall, we were disappointed with the whites, which tended to be too light-bodied for our tastes. Yes, I realize that white wines are supposed to be light-bodied, at least the more popular ones, but these were really light. Beginning wine drinkers may disagree. The reds showed much better than the whites with good fruit and overall nice balance. The highlights (for us) are as follows:

From the Whites List:

2006 Vineaux Rosé: dry blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese
It's always nice to find a pink wine that Hubby likes. This one had a "hot" alcohol nose, but nice fruit overall with strawberry and lime. It would be a great back porch wine.
Rating: Very Good

From the Red List:

2008 Audacity: "Super Tuscan Blend" of 55% Sangiovese and 45% Cabernet Sauvignon
Hot cherry nose, but smooth with black cherry and a hint of butter on the finish.
Rating: Very Good

Shotgun, First Reload: 40% Tannat, 40% Touriga Nacional, and 20% Cabernet Franc
Off dry nose. Fruity and chewy with good acidity. Wants salmon.
Rating: Good (but Hubby really liked)

2006 Tannat: 90% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Franc
Nice acidity with good dark fruit and pepper. Would be great with lamb chops.
Rating: Very Good

Convergence: blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec; 66% of the fruit comes from the Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) and 34% from Frogtown
Big and savory with rich fruit on the nose and palate. Some berry.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

From the ADD List:

2006 Cabernet Franc:
Nice and smooth with blackberries and a spicy finish. Hubby decided it wanted food.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2006 Frogtown Family Reserve Merlot:
Berry and cassis with nice fruit/tannin balance.
Rating: Very Good, but not $48.99 good

2006 Frogtown Cabernet Sauvignon:
Berry nose and smooth, round tannins.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Frogtown Grandeur: 100% Tannat
This is a dessert wine. The best way to describe it is that it's kind of like a Port, but not as heavy.
Rating: Very Good

The tasting room itself is lovely, and the winery has a restaurant as well as spectacular views:

If you're doing a winery tour, this is an easy one to hit along with Three Sisters, which is just over the hill, and Blackstock, which is very close as well. We did come home with a few bottles, the Rosé, Audacity, Shotgun – First Reload (which Hubby liked better than I did), and Grandeur. They kept company with the Wolf Mountain wine club shipment we'd picked up on the way.

As always, check the web site for tasting room hours. If they have a wedding, they offer tastings outside.

I liked this guy, mindfully keeping watch over the tasting room:

The bottom line: Not impressed enough to become a Frogtown Citizen (i.e., join their wine club), but had good ones on their lists. Would like to see them concentrate on making fewer wines and doing them better. Still worth a visit if you're in the area.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tasting Notes: Grenache at JavaMonkey

Grenache is an often overlooked varietal. Frequently blended, it's a nice, fruity red grape that can make you pucker if not done right. Last Thursday's wine tasting definitely had some Grenaches gone wild. Okay, maybe not, but I couldn't resist the pun.

The wines:

2008 Bitch Grenache (South Australia):
This was kind of like wine cordial in that it was sweet and strong. Atlanta Wine Guy suggested it would be good served chilled. I think I agree with him.
Rating: Good

2007 Artazuri Garnacha (Navarra, Spain):
Fruity and a little green on the nose. Berry bomb with blue- black- and strawberries.
Rating: Very Good

2007 Boots Grenache (Barossa, Australia):
A little funky on the nose. I said chemical, Hubby said Brie. Smooth start and fruit-forward with a finish like a pat of butter on the middle of the tongue.
Rating: Good

Little James' Basket Press, NV (Cotes du Rhone, France): "Grenache and sometimes other stuff."
This is one of my favorite blends. The best balanced of the bunch, smooth, and fruity.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent

2008 Monte Oton Garnacha (Campo de Borja, Spain):
Musty nose. Nice black cherry with a little bitter tartness, like plum peel.
Rating: Very Good

2008 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha (Calatayud, Spain):
Fragrant nose. Tobacco, chocolate, and sour cherry.
Rating: Good to Very Good

In other news, we visited Frogtown Winery last weekend. Will post that review soon!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tour of France at Sherlock's

When Hubby and I got tired of the Taste of Decatur shenanigans a couple of weekends ago, we went for a sure thing: the free Saturday afternoon wine tasting at Sherlock's in Decatur. As I've mentioned, one of my New Year's resolutions was to drink more French wine. The topic for the tasting was "Tour of France." Yes, I believe this was meant to be. We didn't do food pairings for this one because it was on the run.

The wines (all from France, so I'm just giving region):

2007 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc (Alsace):
Pear, pear, pear, and smoke. This unassuming wine needed some Brie.
Rating: Good

2006 Leon Vatan Pouilly-Fume (Loire Valley):
The nose was tangerine with a hint of coffee (yes, really!), and melon and fig on the palate.
Rating: Good

2006 Chateau Marjosse Blanc (Bordeaux):
I swear, this one had a hint of muscadine on the nose, but Hubby didn't get it. Maybe because it wasn't "funky muscadine." Yes, I've just alienated all the muscadine wine makers here in the Southeast. But I liked the wine! Nice, silky texture with green apple and lime on the palate.
Rating: Very Good

2006 Chateau Haut-Vigneau (Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux):
This red had nice fruit and some complexity.
Rating: Very Good

Okay, now I get to go on a little rant of my own. Sherlock's has some sort of agreement with the J. Sanders winery such that it's sort of their house wine, and it appears at every tasting. I'm starting to suspect that the nature of this agreement has something to do with blackmail because the wines are just not very good. I decided to give them one more try at this tasting because I love Cotes due Ventoux, but, well, you'll see:

2008 J. Sanders Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy):
Light bodied, and made me pucker with the tartness at the end.
Rating: Meh

2004 J. Sanders Cote de Nuits Village (Burgundy):
Looked good on the tasting notes, smelled okay and like grapes, but didn't deliver, especially on the flat finish.
Rating: Meh

2008 J. Sanders Cotes du Ventoux: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and Cinsault
I don't know how you mess up a blend with such great red grapes, but they did. The fruit was overpowered by bitterness.
Rating: Moo*

The bottom line is that Sherlock's has great wines and a decent selection of beer, and they even got Kwak for us when we asked for it. Just stay away from the J. Sanders.

*Rating system, from best to worst is: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Okay, Meh, Moo

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tasting Notes: Rustic Reds at JavaMonkey

Yep, it's time to review wines from a tasting at JavaMonkey again! Hey, at least I'm consistent. For those who don't know, JavaMonkey in Decatur, Georgia does a wine tasting every other week with a different theme each time. The cost is $15 per person, and you get six good pours.

This past tasting's theme was "Rustic Reds," or, as the distributor put it, "wines with a bit of earthiness to them." Hmmm. I was suspicious since I'm not a big fan of the "barnyard funk" flavor profile. Really, how could that possibly describe something positive? Thankfully no wet sheep or chicken poo in these wines:

2007 Sierra Cantabria Tinta (Rioja, Spain): 100% Tempranillo
This old vine Tempranillo made my mouth water just from the savory, fruity nose. It did have a little earthiness, but balanced with tart plum.
Rating: Very Good
New Feature! Suggested Pairing: A fruity pork loin dish

2007 Busi Chianti Rufina (Chianti Rufina, Italy): 100% Sangiovese
Leathery nose. This one had an interesting flavor progression with mild but noticeable acidity, some blueberry, and a little funky mushroom finish. Definitely rustic and interesting.
Rating: Good
Suggested Pairing: Italian meat and cheese tray, especially with salami

2006 Chateau Norbert Bordeaux Rouge (Cotes de Bourg, Bordeaux, France): 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
There was a sweet note on the nose, like hay, perhaps. Nicely fruity with dark cherry, but kind of wimpy for a Bordeaux and had an odd finish.
Rating: Okay to Good
Suggested Pairing: Something with puff pastry and spinach

2007 Odfjell "Armador" Merlot (Maipo Valley, Chile):
The notes promised "pronounced tarriness" on the nose and delivered hints of asphalt. The palate was berries and cedar, but with some funkiness and a hint of clove.
Rating: Good
Suggested Pairing: Braised Pork

2008 Grand Veneur Cotes due Rhone Rouge (Cotes du Rhone, France): 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 10% Cinsault
Okay nose, but not much there. The fruit is a bit chewy with some spice.
Rating: Good to Very Good
Suggested Pairing: Braised Beef

2007 Argiolas "Costera" Cannonau (Sardinia, Italy):
Cannonau is an old Spanish varietal, a clone of Garnacha.
Dark, smooth fruit with a hint of pepper and allspice.
Rating: Very Good to Excellent
Food Pairing: We've achieved steak!

Yes, Hubby and I decided to start figuring out what foods would go well with the wine. He keeps insisting that we have "too much wine in the house." I argue that there's no such thing. The only thing we can agree on there is that we should drink it. So, look out over the following weeks as to how we solve this dilemma and what we pair the wines with.