On Wednesday November 15, 2017, I helped facilitate the latest Twitter tasting with Villa Maria Estate, and I could not be more pleased with the selections that the winery sent to me to taste and review. Time and time again, Villa Maria fulfills at a price point that all wine lovers can enjoy. Thus, I am declaring these three wines Beth’s Smart Sips, wines that over deliver with regard to quality versus price. Below are my thoughts. As always, your palate may vary.
2017 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $14 (sample)
It is always exciting to taste this flagship offering from Villa Maria and this year’s vintage is no exception. Herbal notes lead to an abundance of citrus and tropical fruits on the palate. Mouthwatering acidity makes this the perfect aperitif wine. Pair this with light appetizers, salads, shellfish, and cheeses like chèvre, fromage blanc, and gruyère.
2016 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Chardonnay, East Coast, $15 (sample) My first taste of Villa Maria Chardonnay did not disappoint. Its balance of citrus and stone fruits and a kiss of toasty oak are gently cradled on the palate by a medium-bodied, luscious mouthfeel. For white wine lovers, this is the go-to wine for brie, charcuterie, salmon, poultry, and pork.
2016 Villa Maria Estate Private Bin Pinot Noir, Marlborough, $18 (sample)
Can you say cherry, spice, and everything nice? This Pinot Noir is oh, so approachable with its bright, red berry fruits and delicate tannins. This wine has it all: drinkability, softness, and food-friendly acidity that will be the ideal red wine accompaniment to casseroles, coq au vin, duck, roasted pork or turkey, and sausage stuffing.
Find your favorite Villa Maria wines at this link and stock up!
The 2016 Bridge Lane Chardonnay (Lieb Vineyard, North Fork of Long Island, New York), produced and bottled by Lieb Cellars under their second label, is everything I love about chardonnay: clean, crisp, dry, and pure. Oakless fermentation and aging allows the bright, tart and zingy acidity to shine. Imagine biting into a crunchy, green apple, then chasing that with juicy grapefruit, lemon, and lime. At 12.5% alcohol and 0% residual sugar, feel free to pour a second glass or three, and sip this nearly guilt free. This is a whole lotta unoaked chardonnay for $16/bottle. I suggest pairing this with raw oysters or a warm day at the beach. Grab this chardonnay for spring and summer, available by the 750ml bottle, 3L box, or 20L keg. Only 1100 cases produced. Sample provided by Lieb Cellars. If you’re in the Long Island area, taste this wine and other offerings at Bridge Lane’s tasting room at 35 Cox Neck Lane Mattituck, NY 11952, phone 631-298-1942.
By far, Hendry was the most comprehensive tour and tasting I have ever experienced. Those who are new to the Napa Valley, grape growing, winemaking, how to taste wine, and wine and food pairing would benefit greatly from a morning spent with second-generation vintner and winemaker, George O. Hendry.
Once you visit Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, you understand the significance of the phrase ‘cool climate’ with regard to winegrowing and winemaking. It is indeed quite chilly in the mornings, with moderating breezes throughout the day. I must confess that if I were not living in the Napa Valley, I would love to call Sebastapol and the Russian River Valley home. *CLICK HERE TO READ*
It was a beautiful evening in Beaune. We had checked into our small hotel and headed downstairs for dinner. Many memories of that summer in France as a college student studying French have faded with time, but not this meal and not the wine. This red elixir moved me. I had never had wine like this before. Our hosts kept bringing us bottle after bottle to the dinner table. We drank well into the night. Our dinner celebration spilled into the streets near our hotel, where you could hear our laughter before a backdrop of a clear, starry night. My best friend on this trip, who never drank wine, was giddy with delight. She said, “I don’t even like wine!” But that night, we all fell in love with Beaune, with Burgundy, with pinot noir.
The award-winning documentary, Burgundy: People with a Passion for Wine, a film by Rudi Goldman Productions released October 13, 2016, captures a similar sense of celebration. Through a series of video snapshots across time and place, the door into Burgundy’s wine, culture, and lifestyle is opened to us. For one hour, we become Burgundy. We experience the excitement of harvest. We learn of the power of Mother Nature’s wrath when hail damages precious grapevines. We listen to the wisdom of notable producers such as Maison Alex Gambal, Domaine Huber-Verdereau, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Coffinet-Duvernay, Maison Olivier Leflaive, Château de la Crée, Domaine Vincent Bouzereau, and Château de Santenay. Other perspectives of Burgundy, such as those from Laurent Peugeot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner of Le Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses), Jérôme Brochot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner, Jérôme Brochot Hotel-Restaurant Montceau-les-Mines), Willy Roulendes (a grape harvester from New Zealand), and Romain Schneider (Tonnelerie François Frères Saint Romain), are intertwined to give us a comprehensive portrait of the wine, food, and people of Burgundy. Scattered amongst these renowned tastemakers, we catch a glimpse of other cultural aspects of Burgundy. Especially captivating for me was Burgundy truffle hunting with Karine Magnin of Les Truffières de Crépey, Aubaine.
During this hour inside of Burgundy, we attend celebratory events such as a traditional harvest lunch, the Great Burgundy Wine Festival, the Confrérie des Grumeurs de Santenay, the Hospices de Beaune Press Tasting, the Semi-Marathon de la Vente des vins de Beaune, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction, and La Paulée de Meursault.
As states the film, Burgundy winemaking is like Baroque music. It possesses a duality of complexity and simplicity. Its minimalist approach and great diversity of terroir result in some of the world’s greatest wines, exhibiting exemplary structure, acidity, and balance. Vintage variation means that these wines are never duplicated again.
As explains Cécile Mathiaud, press contact for the Bureau interprofessionel des vins de Bourgogne, there exists a word in French that we do not have, gourmand(e). It means to eat, drink, and enjoy with pleasure. With this one word, she identifies the essence of Burgundy. Across these portraitures of Burgundy, one begins to feel the humanity and passion that is Burgundy. This film took me back to that evening in Beaune years ago. In that moment and during this viewing, nous sommes gourmands. Nous sommes Bourgogne.
Video and photos courtesy of Rudi Goldman Productions
I’m taking a wine marketing class this fall and on the first night of class, my instructor reminded me of something very important: only 20% of the United States population purchases wine and those customers are often drawn to wine brands based on an emotional connection or experience with the wine. Perhaps it was a dinner with friends or family, a visit to a winery made special by the tasting host, or a friend’s recommendation. Generally, most wine consumers don’t want to know what the percentages of blends are, how the wine is fermented and aged, or the vineyard management details. They want what tastes good and brings back memories of a great experience. When we meet someone, we don’t want to know their genetics or their chemical composition, we want a human connection. When I heard this, it hit me that maybe I am doing an injustice to the wines and wineries I review by sharing technical details that only wine geeks want to read. In light of this revelation, I am making a conscious change to the way I write. It should be fairly easy since this is who I am. I crave emotional connections to people, places, and things. I want to feel something inside after winery visit or a wine dinner. I want to feel inspired. Therefore, I’m bringing back storytelling, fun, passion, and emotion.
Three weeks ago, I arrived in Lodi, California, for the Wine Bloggers Conference. Unlike many of my peers, I had just visited Lodi in June and had already fallen in love with the wines and the people. Before that June visit, I harbored no preconceived notions about Lodi. If there’s anything I’ve learned after five years of wine and travel writing, it’s to visit wine regions with open mind, heart, and eyes, without reservation or hesitation.
I was especially lucky this fifth conference that my friend, Jeff Kralik (The Drunken Cyclist), had included me as one of the wine writers who would be staying at Michael David Winery’s Bare Ranch as a guest of the Phillips family. The first night I was there, I had the opportunity to share wine and dinner with David Phillips. Like my earlier trip to Lodi, I was taken aback by the kindness of David and his family to share their event property with a few crazy writers. Thank you again, David and Jeff, for including me in the Bare Ranch experience. I spent five nights there and it was at Bare Ranch that I had the lengthiest exposure to Lodi wine during the conference. The ranch was well supplied with Michael David wines and I had the opportunity to taste a few of them.
One of my favorites was the 2012 Bare Ranch Sparkling ($35), which is a small-production, traditional method sparkling wine crafted from Bare Ranch estate chardonnay (and a little pinot noir), located just over the fence from where I stayed, in honor of and especially for Bare Ranch guests and events. Its fresh and fruity fizziness with just a touch of yeast was the perfect accompaniment to starry Lodi nights by the pool, unspoken shenanigans, camaraderie, and lots of laughter. I am certain that I am not the only one who loved it, as somehow, over the course of five nights, a case of it mysteriously disappeared.
The second day in Lodi, Alison Marriott (Bon Vivant DC) and I visited Michael David’s tasting room and café. I knew I wasn’t in the Napa Valley any more when the freshly made burgers we ate were fewer than $10 each with the most AMAZING fries I’ve ever eaten. Since we were stocked up on wines at the ranch (understatement!), we decided to have a glass of the 2013 Inkblot Cabernet Franc ($35). The polar opposite of the delicate sparkling wine, this bold cabernet franc comes from a single, nine-acre vineyard near the winery. If a wine could be described as tall, dark, and handsome, this would be it. Opulent and juicy, spicy and smoky, this cabernet franc is seductive, the wine I wanted to take home with me after frolicking at the pool with the Bare Ranch Sparkling (wink, wink).
Not to be outdone by the sparkling or the cabernet franc, the 2014 Ancient Vine Cinsault ($25), sourced from the famed, 130-year-old Bechthold Vineyard, found its way into my heart one evening. More of a refined gentleman, this wine was indeed a smooth operator, with delectable red berry fruit flavors and tannins that gently caressed my palate. I had discovered a holy grail of Lodi wine.
Last, but certainly not least, was the comfortable, uncomplicated wine, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc ($16). The first wine I shared with David Phillips and Jeff Kralik by the pool, it’s easy to drink, clean, and crisp, with loads of zingy citrus and tropical fruit flavors. Like a good friend, this is the reliable, go-to wine for hot, summer days in Lodi or wherever your travels might take you. It’s possible we may have consumed a case of this wine, too, but I’ll never tell. After all, what happens at Bare Ranch stays at Bare Ranch.