Just the Bottle

One woman's adventure in beer, food, wine and spirits

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Waiting for the Perfect Wine

Wines in Spain express such different stories and experiences. There's a lot there to take in if one is willing to put forth the effort to discover it. 

Toro has been a known wine making region in Spain about 40 miles west of Portugal for since early medieval times. The DO was officially recognized only in 1987 with less than 7 wineries in existence. The wines are known as big and expressive with hedonistic qualities. However, after sampling Matsu, I have seen how they can be shaped cautiously and strategically to exude more finesse. 

Matsu, which means "wait" in Japanese, pays homage to the viticulturists of generations past. This dedication to those of past and present is also on display on the Matsu labels. The line features real-life photos of viticulturists. 

The Matsu portfolio includes budget friendly wine as low as $13.99 with a surprising amount of character to the highest end being quite reasonable at $46.99 showcasing a rich intensity. These wines would be perfect as we are at the height of BBQ or cook out season. However, the El Recio 2015 was the real winner for me for value and taste. 

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Matsu El Recio 2015

This wine is 100% Tinta de Toro. The wine is sourced from a selection of 90 to 100 year vineyards in pool soil and cultivated biodynamically. Fermentation and maceration during 3 weeks utilizing natural yeasts. The wine is aged for 14 months in second use French oak barrels. What follows this labor of love is an award winning wine of intense ruby color, layers of chocolate and black fruit, with a silk smooth palate that leads to lingering finish with mineral notes.

Disclaimer: I received these wines as part of a sample from vintae.

Transparency at Portal del Montsant

"Don't follow trends" is part of the ethos of Portal del Montsant. Their story begins in 2003 after finding the perfect space that once housed the old Marcá wine cooperative. 

The majority  - 95% - of their wine production is Garnacha and Cariñena. Portal del Montsant sources from small plots of land they consider their "crus." The plots produce different expressions through their soil (clay, chalk, and sand), elevation (ranging from 700-800 meters), and age of vines (average of 60 years old). Generally, they practice organic winemaking and growing, but aren't certified. These factors among their desire to produce wines they would enjoy create something special. 

Portal del Montsant produces around 250,000 bottles per year with 85%-90% remaining within the Spanish market. 

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Santbru Vinyes Velles

The Portal del Montsant Santbru Vinyes Velles was one of the stand out wines to me that I also purchased. I sampled the 2013 within their gorgeous space and purchased the 2014 to bring home. The 2014 paired perfectly with the delicious lamb paella my significant other made upon my return. It recently received 90 point rating in Wine Enthusiast. There is an earthiness that is almost smoky to me that came through with spicy red fruit. 

These are not wines to sleep on especially considering the limited export market. If you do find the Santbru especially the very enjoyable 2014 vintage, perhaps have more restraint than me and allow it to age some. I can only imagine what this wine will taste like in the next 5 years, which perhaps leads me to planning my next trip to Spain again soon. 

Freedom to Express Great Wine at Big Cork Vineyards

There's something special about Big Cork Vineyards and it's evident when you enter. From the whimsical decor with big and small corks dotted around the room to the attentive and knowledgeable staff greeting you and finally to the breath taking views. Dave Collins serves as BIG winemaker (master winemaker and head of operations). His passion and dedication is evident in the wine and felt in the vibe of the place.

"We grow whatever we want." Dave explained as we began a wine journey through his storied career and what he's done at Big Cork. It's true. This man is the epitome of "I do what I want" shunning others' ideas to what should or could be done. He's one of the first to grow Nebbiolo when he was at Breaux Vineyards. That time allowed him to gain confidence and win many  awards. Dave doesn't do this by having an interventionist style, but by taking chances and risks that have taken others years to be willing to try.

I don't think Dave always wants to be known for his Nebbiolo (even though it is a rock star), but did have an almost holy experience visiting Piedmont. This brought I believe a newfound love into something he had already been executing beautifully. 

Dave seems most excited about "Russian Kiss." Russian Kiss is made up of three proprietary Russian varietals. These varietals are simply numbered with no names. They were brought into the United States in the 1970s by Purdue University as research varietals. These varietals have no American linage and are very Germanic in style. This was wine that I think will only grow with popularity and time as Dave continues to play with the varietals. 

There is something intriguing or enjoyable in every wine produced at Big Cork under Dave's guidance. We enjoyed another Italian varietal that is sometimes a forgotten gem - Barbera. Big Cork makes it a flag ship and there's a reason why. It shines here with great tannins and acidity. 

"That's kind of fun," Dave shares as he lights up talking about all that he's working on and what we can expect in the future. I expect more fun concerts, great wine, and laughter with friends with wine in a beautiful space.

Live a little more!

During the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa last year, there were two post conference excursions to choose from - Napa and Livermore. Both seemed like great options, but Livermore intrigued me. I didn't know much about the area, the wine, or the history. I went with Livermore and returned to DC with love for a new part of California.

As we departed Santa Rosa on a gloomy day after our conference concluded, we were greeted by an amazing team from Livermore Valley who along with serving us sparkling wine promised us sunshine, wine and a non pretentious, but informative wine trip. As we drove past Oakland and San Francisco, the clouds gradually melted away.

We entered a world that is growing in reputation as a place to visit for so many things like wine, food and even ice cream.  Every winery we visited had great value wines along with a unique story or passion that drove the owners or winemakers. One winemaker I met, shared how he was previously in construction and kept getting laid off from jobs or the pay would be sporadic. This spurred him to pursue a degree in oenology, and follow his dream. Another winery owner shared how she had been a pilot with an airline that went under. She decided she would rather be closer to her family and be in control of her own destiny.

These stories of work and determination led to a very genuine and thoughtful experience. Even though this was my first trip to California, I felt as if I were visiting home. Every person greeted me or treated me as more of a family guest as opposed to a tourist. 

If you are planning a California adventure especially one with wine, I would strongly urge you to visit Livermore Valley area. The wines and people have a story to share and it's one worth getting to know.

Why I am going to Wine Bloggers Conference

I have debated for years attending the Wine Bloggers Conference. Numerous friends and wine writing/loving aficionados have gone and highly recommended, but I waited. There was always an excuse or reason. Well, one year there was a real reason that involved two amazing friends who got married and I needed to consume all the things at their open bar and help punch open a manatee pinata. But this year with a deadline approaching I finally said do it (after numerous texts, emails, gchats with friends telling me to as well).

On the day the scholarship application was due, I filled it out. I almost decided through imposter syndrome that I wouldn't be selected. Did I have enough followers? My dad reads my blog (hi dad) and my grandma reads it when someone prints it out for her. But, who else? Does it have real influence? Can I prove such influence? 

Days went by. I remained somewhat hopeful, but decided I probably wouldn't get it. With certain issues pending in my life, I figured I wouldn't make it without the scholarship. Another year would pass with promise of attending and me not going. My life is cliche of good intentions paving the road to Hell (along with beer, wine and cheese paving that delicious road).

I found out eventually I had won a scholarship! I shared this great news with trepidation again. After talks with many it finally hit me - I deserved this and it was a great honor. 

Having engaged in nonprofit fundraising and fundraising for causes I care about, I realize the importance of donors. Donors to the scholarship fund were able to help me and many others have the ability to travel, stay and attend the Wine Bloggers Conference. I am truly grateful for their generosity and hope to return the favor to others in coming years.

As my anxiety of flying and travel comes and goes, my excitement builds for what lies ahead. This conference is known for helping many to hone their skills and build amazing connections. I am looking forward to so many things! Besides meeting so many people I have engaged with through social media, I am really interested in many of the sessions. 

"The Ethics of Wine Writing" should hopefully be a truly honest and insightful debate over ethics. When I worked in prospect research, I attended a similar session on how to ethically research people and engage them. Ethics is something that I feel evolves over time and I always love to debate the policies people set and why.

"Lights, Camera, Action!" will be another important session with much to learn. Tanisha Townsend and Sarita Cheaves among others will be panelists. Tanisha has been a pioneer in video and wine. She has continued to perfect lighting, content and more. I know I can get a lot of useful information for my own blog from the speakers.

I hope you continue to read and follow me through my social media accounts (Twitter:  @justthebottle and IG: @justthebottle) for my Wine Bloggers Conference fun along with my upcoming European experience through Belgrade with #winelover, Budapest, and Vienna.

I will try to follow my grandfather's advice for life and for my adventures. My paternal grandfather passed this year in March after I returned from Cuba. He had a sharp tongue and wit. He once told, "try to be a good girl...but it's not an absolute necessity." I think I will lean on the latter.

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Flying Fox Vineyard

My special fella and I decided to take a short trip over Labor Day Weekend. Usually I avoid travel on holiday weekends as it's expensive and stressful. However, we were lucky with a pretty pleasant drive to and from the Staunton, Virginia area. We also lucked out as I found a Howard Johnson Express for about $60 a night. It was cheap enough and was walking distance of restaurants in the downtown area. The dream would be to stay in a quaint bed and breakfast or a 5 star hotel, but you know....that costs money. Hojo Express didn't let us down except for some really weak wifi.

One of our first stops on our winery day of fun was Flying Fox Vineyard. I briefly stopped by the winery years ago and am glad I finally made it back. They are located in Afton close to some other cool wineries such as Veritas as well as distilleries and breweries. Their grapes are grown at Flying Fox Vineyard (mostly their reds such as Cab Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot) in Monticello AVA and Ridge Run Vineyard (mostly their whites such as Viognier and Pinot Gris) in Shenandoah AVA. 

Their tasting room is really welcoming albeit very small. We arrived early and were able to hang out some after our tasting. There was seating outside that would have been amazing if the weather was cooperating. I definitely want to return on a snowy day to sit by that fire place.

We bought several bottles of their wine and enjoyed a 2014 Merlot to start off our wine tasting filled day. It can be enjoyed now or allowed to age. It had some dark cocoa characteristics and raisin or plum. 

What was pretty exciting was their launch of the vermouth! We found out that day was the first day people could sample or buy the vermouth (well fancy wine club members had access earlier, but I'm not a VIP I just play one on tv). The vermouth is basically all Virginia made except for the wormwood. The vermouth was really intriguing with the spring being incredibly fruity with strawberry notes. We both enjoyed the summer edition and discussed cocktail pairings. I can't wait to see what they do with the winter vermouth.

Interestingly enough during our visit we heard that they may also be experimenting with orange or amber wines. Chances are it will be made with the Pinot Gris.

Flying Fox Vineyard states on their website that they are Nelson County's Best Kept Secret. I truly don't know how this can still be the case, but I imagine with their vermouth and tasty wines, they won't be for long.

Natural Wine Tasting

I recently learned of a group in the DC area, Pineapple DC, designed to connect industry and lovers of food in a fun and frank environment around wine, food and spirits. After learning more about the group, I signed up for one of their upcoming events, #Pineforwine.

At this second version of #Pineforwine, the conversation was focused on natural wines. Remy Samuels who is a manager at Cordial Wine & Spirits located in Union Market led the discussion. Remy studied French and Italian in undergrad and traveled abroad. She began to wonder what career would truly make sense for her. After visiting a winery, she knew what she wanted to do. She's insanely knowledgeable about natural wine. Natural wine has been a supposed trend for wine geeks for quite, but it's not quite entirely clear what it means. There are no legal definitions of what makes a natural wine.

As Remy explained and from what I have read and heard from others, true natural wine is allowing the wine to really tell the story where it comes from. Wine should be part history and culture and exhibit a time and place. After a brief introduction, we sampled three of the several natural wines that Cordial carries.

Kloof Street Chenin Blanc (retails at Cordial $19.99) - This wine is created by a husband and wife team. The wife is originally from California and the couple met in France. Their wines are sustainable and biodynamic. The wine was really accessible and lighter in body than I anticipated. I found it a fun sipping wine with tropical fruit notes.

Red Tail Ridge Miscreant Finger Lakes 2015 (retails at Cordial $27.99) - We have another rockstar husband and wife duo running the show here. Nancy serves as winemaker and Mike as winegrower. The wine is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Gewurztraminer. The wine is considered orange or amber as it is fermented on the skins giving it a more golden hue. The wine is unfiltered meaning no animal products were used. This wine grew on me considerably as I enjoyed it. I do love my orange wines, but fragrant varietals can over power me. As I sipped the wine evolved and the rose petal and floral elements became less pronounced and I was able to detect more nutty and savory elements. I think I would have enjoyed it further with the right food pairing.

Domaine De Clovallon Pinot Noir Pays d'Oc 2015 (retails at Cordial $22.99) - This is our first mother and daughter team in the mix! They were founded in 1989 in the south of France. They are in it to win it with their natural wines and only farm biodynamically. The wine has what you would expect from a tasty natural wine. It was funky to nose with some slight effervescence. It was juicy with some dark fruit notes that came through. 

I am still learning more about natural wine and enjoying the many opportunities to taste wine and meet others. It's a journey, but it's definitely a tasty journey.

Any recommendations on natural wines or female winemakers or winery owners? List your comments below! 

Nuit du Champagne

There are always several events of every price point in DC as I am sure there are in many other regions.  I recently found out about the upcoming and innovative Champagne tasting and educational series Nuit du Champagne...and I am thirsty.

The first event in the series will occur at the Sofitel in Washington, DC on Tuesday, June 28th.  Tickets are available and include VIP experiences and an attorneys lounge.  The show will continue onto  Houston, Philadelphia, Miami, New York and Chicago.

The line up for the tasting includes: 

  • Veuve Clicquot: Veuve Clicquot Yellow, Veuve Clicquot Rosé, Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008, Veuve Clicquot 2008 Rosé and La Grande Dame Blanc
  • Moët & Chandon: Moët & Chandon Impérial, Moët & Chandon Rosé Imperial, Moët & Chandon Vintage Blanc, Moët & Chandon Vintage Rosé and Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial
  • Krug Grande Cuvée
  • Dom Pérignon Blanc
  • Ruinart Blanc de Blanc

For more information or to purchase tickets visit here.  I'll see you there!

 

 

#Winelover Athens Anniversary Welcome Dinner - Scala Vinoteca

I attended the #winelover anniversary trip to Athens, Greece in February 2016.  It was a great opportunity that I found from a friend I made from the International Wine Tourism Conference.  The #winelover community is based online, but is pretty simple - we love wine.  All are welcomed to join and members include industry, sommeliers, importers, winemakers, and simply wine lovers.  I had seen some of the members blog posts, tried some of their wines, and was excited to finally meet some of the members on the trip.  

The trip started off with a welcome BYOB dinner at Scala Vinoteca.  Scala Vinoteca was the perfect welcome to Athens and to the #winelover community.  Every member brought a special bottle of wine.  Before coming I heavily debated what I should bring.  I asked my friend who is also a #winelover ambassador and specialist.  I was concerned that perhaps everyone's bottles would be super rare or high end ($100 or more).  She stated it should just be something really interesting or important to me.  Therefore, I ended up going with Chester Gap Cabernet France 2012.   I have written about my love of Chester Gap and their wines before.   It ended up being a big hit!  Many people hadn't traveled to America or their travels were limited to New York or other cities.  They were incredibly excited to try a Virginia wine and also  appreciated my love of promoting local.  Others experienced that difficulty in promoting local wines and food especially when at times they may be pricer than others.

The Scala Vinoteca space was somewhat modern with an open kitchen design.  Our group took over multiple tables and moved around to socialize.  The food was a delicious evolution in Greek and Mediterranean cuisine.   Being part of a large party, we had pre-set menu for the dinner as we did for other meals.  Every course was a tasty surprise ranging from vegetarian friendly to meaty delights.  

After eating our fill, we returned late to the hotel and continued the after party in the hotel lobby just as R. Kelly sung. 

Chester Gap Cellars

Chester Gap Cellars has quickly become one of my favorite Virginia wineries.  One of my good friends fell in love with Chester Gap and introduced me to their wine.  Ever since then, they have consistently proven to be one of the best wineries to visit with some of the best wine in Virginia.

Unlike some bloggers who have been quite prolific and sampled TONS of Virginia wine, I am definitely behind them.  I have visited under 20 wineries and sampled less than 50 wines from various portions of the state.  

However even with my lack of sampling prowess, Chester Gap stands above the rest.  Chester Gap is a more relaxed environment.  They cannot accommodate buses or large vehicles.   Not that there's anything wrong with party buses, but having options for more chill places is important.

The tasting room is one of the friendliest I have visited with incredibly knowledgeable people working there.  If you buy a bottle or more, your tasting fee is comped.  Which, I cannot say that for many others.  There are also no minimum requirements such as being a case club member to use the patio.

On this latest visit, the Roussanne didn't speak to me as it had in the past.  I gravitated to the 2012 Viognier and 2012 Cabernet Franc.  The 2012 Viognier is all stainless steel fermentation.  I found notes of stone fruit and floral elements on the nose.  The 2012 Cabernet Franc was a little tight and we were recommended to hold onto the wine until winter.  

 

Young Winos of DC at Dino's

The Young Winos of DC next event will be at Dino's on Thursday, February 5th at 6:00pm.  Jessica Hagadorn, founder, Young Winos of DC has organized another great event that will prove to be fun and educational.  The event will focus on orange and unusual red wines.  There will be cheese and charcuterie served.  It's the perfect event for someone who wants to learn more about this exciting trend in wine with a great group of people.  Hurry fast as tickets may sell out quickly.

Visiting Tarara Winery

I recently accompanied Alison who writes and owns her own wine consulting company, Bon Vivant, to Tarara Winery.  Along the way, we stopped in Leesburg, Virginia for a bite to eat.  Unfortunately, Wine Kitchen was closed.  We ate in the secret garden at Shoe's.  It was a family friendly environment with bocce and cold beer.

After our brief meal we headed to Tarara Winery.  The facility is astounding.  We arrived and quickly were lost.  Note, do not follow another car assuming they know where they are going.  We turned around and found parking.  As we entered the tasting room, we were immediately greeted by friendly staff.  Our group was also provided with sparkling wine to start and taken to our guided tasting area.

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The story of Tarara begins 25 years ago when Whitie and Margaret Hubert launched their dream - a winery showcasing the best of Virginia wine.  The estate consists of 475 acres.  Their main vineyards are Nevaeh, Tranquility (located in Purcellville), and Honah Lee (located in Orange).  Side note, we all know Nevaeh is heaven backwards, right?  Apparently, it's now one of the most popular baby names. 

Tarara under Jordan Harris' direction follows the belief that the land and wine should speak for itself.  They do not use fining agents and many of the wines are fermented with indigenous yeasts. 

We enjoyed five flights of twenty-one wines that included wine from Boneyard and Killer Cluster.  This is a pro-tip from me to you, a guided tasting of this size requires spitting and avoiding palate fatigue.  It's not an easy job, but someone has to do it.

Photo courtesy of Alison Marriott, Owner and Founder, Bon Vivant DC.

Photo courtesy of Alison Marriott, Owner and Founder, Bon Vivant DC.

The first flight focused on wine from Nevaeh that featured Chardonnay.  All of the wines used oak not to cover or mask the wine, but to add value.  Oak when used judiciously adds depth and personality to Chardonnay.  My favorite was the 1997 Chardonnay.  I love to see how a Chardonnay evolves and develops a more funky flavor.

The second flight focused on Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc is very common in Virginia wineries, but finding it well is a different story.  Every vintage told a different story.  The 2012 had mint and floral notes.  The 2010 experienced a very hot and dry season.  The 2010 is HUGE, big, and wanting to be drank with a steak.  It had an amazing velvety texture.  The 2007 had more restrained wine making practices and led to a balanced wine.  The 1997 was incredibly delicate and showed some blackberry.

Photo courtesy of Alison Marriott, Owner and Founder, Bon Vivant DC.

Photo courtesy of Alison Marriott, Owner and Founder, Bon Vivant DC.

The third flight contained one of my favorite wines the Nevaeh Red 2010 . It was spicy with some dark berry notes.  The Tranquility Red 2010 showed great complexity with a lengthy finish.  The CasaNoVA 2010 can easily change people's minds who still believe Merlot is bad.  This is an example, of Merlot done well with the silky palate that you want.  The Meritage 2007 had a long finish with dark fruit and smoky elements.  We finished with a Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 that again was interesting to see how the wine evolved. 

The fourth flight contained wines from Boneyard.  Boneyard offers grapes sourced from Monticello AVA.  Jordan is experimenting with orange or amber wines by using Rkatsiteli, a varietal usually found in Georgia, and leaving the wine for an extended maceration with skin contact.  I'm excited to see how he continues to play with this wine and make it uniquely Virginian.

The final flight contained wine from Killer Cluster that is sourced from Columbia Valley AVA.  Two of my favorite Rhone varietals were included - Marsanne and Roussanne.  The Marsanne was my favorite.  It is incredibly aromatic with nutty elements and a fuller body. 

After we finished the guided tasting, we proceeded to the private tasting area for dinner and more wine.  This was the time to begin to actually consume the wine. 

After we finished eating, the group went to the outdoor concert.  It was a laser light show!  The show was fantastic with an amazing turn out.  I have already made plans to go back.