Just the Bottle

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

Filtering by Category: Wine Tourism

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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#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.  

 

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.