Mar 142016
 

TEXSOM International Wine Awards

3200 Entries. The good news is that my panel didn’t have to judge them all!

As a judge at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards, there are always three things I look forward to doing.

  1. Meeting and chatting with the other judges. This is a wonderful collection of some of the finest palates in the world, and this group is particularly fun to talk and taste with. Many of us have judged for quite a few years here, and there is just a little bit of a sense of something between a reunion and a tontine about the whole event.
  2. Tasting some really good wines. This year the first day’s panel, chaired by Sharron McCarthy, worked through a whole series of wines from Latin America, and the second day I chaired a panel focused on California wines from RON: Regions other than Napa. And each day we found plenty to like and give bronze, silver and golds medals.
  3. James Tidwell and Drew Hendricks know how to put on a competition. With the foundation laid by Becky Murphy, this one is really well organized, from the reception and lodging of the judges to the logistics and table organization of the wines. I am sure there are a thousand small crises in the back room, but from what I could see as a judge, it was flawless.

Will I do this one again? Absolutely, assuming I’m invited back (every competition rotates judges from time to time to keep things fresh.) And in the meantime, I have a new appreciation of some of the wines and regions I judged this year. Can’t beat that!

Oct 022015
 
TEXSOM International Wine Awards

Photo Credit: Texas Monthly

Last week, I received an invitation to judge at the TEXSOM International Wine Awards in 2016. This is one of the best in the country, for so many reasons. The judges really draw on the connections of James Tidwell MS, and Drew Hendricks MS, with a strong backbone of legacy from Becky Murphy. Those are three of our favorite people in the wine business, and their friends, quite often, turn out to be our friends, too—with enough MS (Master Sommelier) and MW (Master of Wine) post-nomials to fill a couple of large wine glasses.

And the organization, again based on Becky’s initial framework, is smooth and efficient. That makes being a judge a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

And then there’s the scene in Dallas, with great food in all kinds of different locations and styles.

For those of you who think Texas and wine don’t go together, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Sep 242015
 

iSommelier from iFavineA few weeks ago we were contacted by iFavine about a new wine decanter called the iSommelier that might revolutionize wine service in restaurants.  We were intrigued.  We were also pretty darn skeptical.  It seems that every few years somebody has a “great new technology” that is going to change the way we serve wine.  And yet…When we met the international team of people who are working on this project, we got more interested.  In the first meeting we met people from China, Holland, and France.  And they seemed remarkably sane and reasonable.  In fact, we really liked the Ifavine team. So we set up a tasting with a group of our local Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine to see this thing in action. It’s slick—even glamorous—with delicate blue lights and lots of glossy surfaces.  It even comes with a remote control.  And when we started using it to taste some wines, the results were pretty darn clear.  In the words of one of the Master Sommeliers, the thing obviously does what it says it does: it adds oxygen into the wine. We tried it on four different wines, including an Austrian Riesling, a California Chardonnay, a Barolo, and top Napa Valley Cabernet.  In each case the wines structure was softened by the iSommelier.  In most cases the delicate aromatics of the wine seemed less obvious after “decanting” with the iSommelier, and the wine was a bit simpler but with more direct fruit and more approachable tannins and acidity.  Just what you’d expect from a wine that had been allowed to breathe for an hour before serving.  Except that it had happened in something under one minute with the iSommelier.  And we all agreed that for many wine drinkers in the USA, this was a very attractive option.

Don’t be surprised if you start seeing these in top steakhouses around the country.  If you do, check one out for yourself on a nice bottle of young cabernet.

Sep 032015
 

Our good friend Olivier Bernard, the president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, is enthusiastic about this year’s harvest.  In his remarks that he sent out this week, he raved about the perfect conditions, the warm weather, and the performance of the vines.  And now we are seeing the first notes from winemakers who have started the fermentations.

They are even more enthusiastic.  Stephan Von Neipperg of Chateau Canon-la-Gaffeliere who also sits on the board of directors of the UCG, says that he is already sure this will be a great vintage.

Hang onto your hats…and be patient.  It will be a couple of years before you get to taste these wines!

Click the image below for the full update:

Bordeaux First Impressions

 

Feb 212014
 
Courtesy of Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery, LLC

Courtesy of Raffaldini Vineyards & Winery, LLC

At a seminar for the American Wine Society’s annual conference, fellow TTB contributor, Mike Wangbickler, presented a session on “local wine.” As president of the Board of Directors for Drink Local Wine, Mike tried to dispel the notion that the only worthy wines in the U.S. were from California, Washington and Oregon. To support his claim, Mike had the audience blind taste a selection of five wines – not only didn’t the participants know which grape variety (or varieties) were in the glass, but they were truly clueless as to where the wine was made.

Once the wines were revealed, we found ourselves not just drinking, but enjoying, Finger Lakes Riesling, Texas Tempranillo, Ohio River Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Maryland Red Blend Landmark Reserve (69% Merlot, 19% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot), Colorado Cabernet Franc and a Bordeaux-style blend from Virginia. (Did I mention that the last wine retails for $75.00?)

At the same conference, I had the opportunity to taste wines from Michigan. Admittedly, the state of Michigan is not my first thought when it comes to wine regions, but I was impressed with many of the wines, especially those made from Riesling, Vignoles and Cabernet Franc.

So, when a winery located in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina (technically called Ronda, NC), contacted me, I was game. Although the winery graciously invited me to attend one of their upcoming events in Ronda, my schedule prevented me from joining them; when I declined, they offered to ship the wines to me instead.

The culmination of Jay Raffaldini’s dream, Raffaldini Vineyards draws on his family’s Italian heritage, which dates back to 1348 in the town of Mantua (of Romeo & Juliet fame) in Lombardy. Jay’s own father immigrated to America shortly after World War II, choosing the state of New Jersey to make his new home.

As a Wall Street businessman, Jay had the cahones and the cash to set about establishing an Italian-style winery in the U.S. With a preference for bold reds, Jay chose to look south of the City, instead of north, for the perfect property on which to pursue his passion.

Upon discovering the area of Swan Creek in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley back in 2001, Jay had found a home for his vineyard and winery. The 43 acres of vineyards were primarily planted between 2003 and 2005. While neighboring wineries in the area haven chosen to focus on French varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Savignon and Viognier, not surprisingly, Raffaldini has opted to concentrate on Italian varieties. Consequently, Raffaldini is the only local vineyard with Sangiovese, Vermentino and Montepulciano planted. They also grow Pinot Grigio, a variety which is also found at nearby Laurel Gray Vineyards.

Despite North Carolina’s southerly location, its proximity to several mountain ranges provide high elevations and consequently, a cooler climate that the latitude would suggest (just one degree north of Sicily).

As evidence of Raffaldini’s success, it was one of ten wineries named as a “Hot Small Brand of 2009” by Wine Business Monthly magazine, sharing that honor with Pacific Rim and Abacela among others.

The company’s image comes across as a little bit confused – the family is from Lombardy, but the grapes hail from Tuscany and Southern Italy, the property boasts of a Tuscan villa and the winery’s tagline is “Chianti in the Carolinas.”

Of course, in their defense, it would have been even more challenging to try and sell Barbera or Bonarda than it already is Vermentino and Sangiovese. And, frankly, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that the Raffaldini family has created an idyllic location in which to produce and taste good wine.

In perusing their website and other materials, it is clear that the owners have spared no expense in making the estate beautiful. A well appointed, Tuscan-style villa sits atop a hill, while the winery is housed in a fattoria (Italian for farmhouse). Sweeping vistas of the vineyards from the villa’s terrace make it obvious why the winery has been ranked as a top place for weddings and other events.

This is precisely the type of place that my in-laws would find and fall in love with while traveling. We have occasionally been the beneficiary of their travels, previously receiving wines from Temecula and Sonoma. Most recently, they enjoyed a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, where they spent considerable time tasting. In fact, they just bought a second wine refrigerator to store a case of wine purchased on that journey, which they had been encouraged to lay down for a few years.

As we continue to think locally – from beets to beef – we should be equally encouraged to seek out these local wineries. What you find just might surprise you, whether you are in your own backyard or just passing through someone else’s.

Tasting Notes
Tasting through the generous selection of samples sent by the winery, I had the opportunity to try six of their wines. In general, these were well made wines that offered some varietal characteristics, good balance and, with a few, some complexity. My preference among them was the Vermentino, Sangiovese and the sparkling Dolce Vita, which resembles an Asti wine.

Raffaldini Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $15.00
With floral and tangerine aromas on the nose, this wine has medium+ acidity, medium body, citrus and pith on the palate. It is simple, but varietally correct and pleasing.

Raffaldini Vineyards Vermentino 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $19.00
Floral/blossom, pear and citrus aromas greet the nose, and are joined by beeswax on the dry palate, with medium acidity and medium+ body, culminating in long length.

Raffaldini Vineyards Sangiovese 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $$18.00
This wine has cherry, oak and vanilla aromas which are repeated on the palate, along with high acidity, medium+ tannins and a slight herbal note in the finish.

Raffaldini Vineyards Sangiovese Riserva 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $23.00
Although this wine is very similar to the Sangiovese 2011, the Riserva has more pronounced herbal aromas and flavors and a longer finish.

Raffaldini Vineyards Montepulciano Riserva 2011, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $29.00
This wine displays blackcherry, rosemary and vanilla notes with bright, ripe blackcherry flavors on the palate and an undercurrent of wet leaves and earth, along with medium+ tannins and full body.

Raffaldini Vineyards Dolce Vita 2012, Swan Creek (NC), U.S., $16.00
This lightly sweet wine has floral and peach notes on the nose and palate, beautifully balanced by sufficient acidity and good length.