MWWC 36: Environment

Life is funny.   Recently, I went back home to Texas for a visit, which conveniently coincided with Jeff (having won last month’s challenge) setting this month’s challenge as Environment.  Hailing from the Texas Hill Country Appellation, I mentally began creating bullet points about the environment of the Texas Hill Country Appellation and which wineries I was going to feature–debating if I should focus on one or several.  While I was at home, I did quite a bit of tasting in preparation for this wine writing challenge (I’m thorough like that).  Although ironically most of what I was tasting were Hill Country wineries using grapes from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but I digress.

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Then it happened.  After departing Texas, I went back to NYC via an extended stopover in Minnesota.  On Day 2, April took me to a little town on the St. Croix river called Stillwater.  We were there for the tacos (that’s a story for another time)–but after lunch we wandered down the main street of the town, poking around the boutique shops in search of a brewery/winery/distillery (Stillwater has some of each and long ago, April learned long ago that a happy Shez is a Shez plied with alcohol and coffee and food).  We saw the Northern Vineyards Winery and headed inside.

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They offered tastings and, well, why not?!?  I figured it would be great feature for a future-topic-not-yet-determined MWWC and then the tasting began.  I was introduced to 3 new grape varietals, which I had never heard of before and upon asking about them I was told that they were developed by the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!).

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Well shit.  Of course, after hearing that I realized that what better way to incorporate ENVIRONMENT into my wine writing like discussing grapes developed specifically for growing in a particular region.  Since I was only on my second taste, I knew it had to be fate rather than the alcohol talking.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the following grapes developed by and/or with the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!):

  • Frontenac (red/rosé)
  • Frontenac Gris (white)
  • Marquette (red)
  • Edelweiss (white)

Northern Vineyards uses all of these grapes and other varietals, like Le Crosse and St. Croix, which were developed to withstand the hearty Minnesota (read: cold) environment, basically “varieties adapted to severe winters and short growing season are chosen.”  For all the grape varietals suited for growing in Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!) Fruit Research website.

And now on to some tasting notes.

The first thing I sampled was the Prairie Smoke, made with La Crosse grapes.  I’m not a big fan of fumés in general, however, this one was light and fairly crisp for a fumé. In addition to the smokey nose, there were also ginger and hints of grapefruit.

Probably one of my favorites that I tasted was the Main Street Rosé.  A dry, crisp blend of La Crosse and Frontenac grapes.  This wine is very fruit forward with lingering strawberry both in the finish and on the nose.

They also have a semi-sweet blush, Lady Slipper, made with Frontenac Gris grapes.  Before tasting I was worried I had just been poured something akin to Strawberry Hill, however, the Lady Slipper was medium bodied and not overly sweet which I think would pair nicely with a cheese & fruit plate.

Of the reds I tried, I think the Downtown Red was my favorite.  A blend of Frontenac and Marquette, it was smooth.  It had a hint of blackberry and white pepper on the finish and reminded me of a light cabernet sauvignon.

I have to confess I was surprised not to find a dessert wine offered–I would think that the early frosts would lend itself to naturally sweeter wines, alas Northern Vineyards did not offer any.

It was a fun tasting–our hostess seemed to have a good handle on the wine grapes of Minnesota, I got to taste some varietals I had never even heard of before, and learn more about wine!

So much emphasis is placed on the environment in which grapes grow–and for good reason, terroir is one of the most important factors in the world of wine. We often talk about how this region or that region is perfect for growing grapes, but what about the areas that are not?  Hybrid and indigenious varietals catering to the less than perfect environment–be it Frontenac in Minnesota, Black Spanish in Texas, or even Roobernet in South Africa– seem to be the solution for sustainable grape growth and wine production.

Now if only one could be developed for the environs of a New York City window sill…

Cheers!

Sunday Comics: Texas Heat Wave

too. hot. to. type.

Actually we were given a brief heat wave reprieve today in NYC–but Sundays are great for being lazy.

Meanwhile, back home:

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Stay cool & hydrated–and watch out for rings of power!

MWWC 34: Memory

I have often said that the best part of wine is sharing it with someone.  As such, there are some wines and/or wineries that will always and forever remind me of a specific person, like Teresa & Grape Creek or Nerida & Chandon.  Or even Matthew & Silver Oak–ironically not because we’ve consumed copious amount of Silver Oak, but because we arrived at their tasting room 5 minutes after they closed and I might have had a momentary meltdown that ended 4 seconds later with Matthew flatly informing me to get back in the car or he was going back to San Jose without me.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with Hawaii: nothing.  What it has to do with is that this month’s wine writing challenge (#34), as selected by last month’s winner Kent of Appetite for Wine, is MEMORY.

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I was trying to figure out which wine holds the most memories for me, however, I realized that was a bit like picking a favorite child.  Instead, I decided to pick a winery.

I’ve talked about the Chisholm Trail Winery before.  I mean, any winery that can get me to love their merlot is quite special indeed–and their 1994 Merlot did just that.  But their cabernets–spectacular: fruity, but dry with just a tiny bit of spice and oh-so-smooth.

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But the wines aren’t the reason that I picked this winery.

Perhaps you might think that it has to do with winemaker, Paula K. Williamson, who is charismatic, has an infectious laugh, and is almost never seen without her signature black Stetson.  But no, while Paula is fabulous and I adore her, she is not the reason either.

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You might even think that it’s because Christi & I spent one hot August day helping Paula & crew pick grapes in the vineyard and then watched the bottling process while sampling some of the winery favorites.  It was a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, but no.  That’s not it either.

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The reason Chisholm Trail Winery holds so many memories for me has nothing to do with wine at all.  It is because the land where the winery sits used to be owned by my family.  Specifically my great-great Uncle Hugo.  Hugo was my grandfather’s uncle and we spent a lot of time at Uncle Hugo’s because he had the best fishing hole in the county.  As a young girl I spent hours and hours at the creek behind the house, which now runs long the south side of the vineyards.  I spent hours running around the old, gigantic trees scattered around the now-winery picking flowers for Granny, who rarely came with us.

It’s been probably 35 years since I last went fishing with Uncle Hugo, but every time I open a bottle of Chisholm Trail wine, memories flood back.  I feel the sun on my face, the cool water tickling my feet, and can hear Uncle Hugo’s hearty laugh.  There are many reasons to love Chisholm Trail winery and their wines.  But for me, I love it because tastes like home.

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Cheers!

 

 

MWWC #29: My Winestory

In this month’s wine writing challenge, John of Pairs With: Life challenged us to tell our Winestory, aka what lead us down the path of awesomeness that is wine writing.  Technically, I just dabble in the wine writing while drinking a lot, but here goes:

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Picture it: Fredericksburg, Texas 1994.  I was home from college for Thanksgiving break and a job opportunity presented itself.  My cousin had been offered a job at a local wine tasting room and declined because she was working at a winery (Grape Creek Vineyards) at the time.  She told me to go apply.  Having fell in love with red wine from the Riojas just the year before (read all about it here!), I marched (okay, drove….around the block 4 times looking for a parking spot) down to said wine tasting room and asked about the job.  My interview went something like this:  have you ever worked in a winery or wine tasting room before?  No, but I like to drink wine and honestly, isn’t that half the battle?  Can you wash dishes?  Of course, who says no to that in an interview?! Great! You’re hired!  (okay, it was slightly more in depth than that, but not much).

My first job?  Try all the wine on the bar available for tasting.  After all, how you could describe a wine you’ve never tasted before?  So I tasted and tasted and tasted some more.  Nearly every Texas winery was represented.  Right now, my inner wine-geek wants to name them all, but my inner OCD is afraid I’d miss someone and it would drive me nuts.

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Job 2?  Washing a lot of glasses.  TONS and TONS of glasses!  I only mention this because Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest weekend in the store and there were a lot of people in the tasting room that weekend.

Job 3?  Cleaning up an entire rack of dropped glasses.  The truly sad part was that I just hand washed and hand dried them all (sigh).

So, for the first few days that’s all I did: taste wine, wash glasses, and clean up (although thankfully the breaking of the glasses significantly decreased!).  But….I also listened.  I listened to my coworkers describe wine.  I saw how customers reacted to their descriptions and I noticed that whatever each worker liked best is what sold best on that day because they got excited about it and could get the customer excited as well.

I was determined to channel that excitement, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked.  First of all, I preferred (and still do) dry, spicy full bodied reds.  But I quickly discovered that wasn’t actually a popular choice amongst the majority of our customers.  They were looking for something fun.  Something easy to drink.  Something to walk down the street with while shopping (oh yeah, you can do that in Fredericksburg!).

Thus, I had to change tactics.  And instead of trying to get people excited about the wine that I liked, I tried to get them excited to find that special bottle of wine in the store that was going to make them love wine.  I started listening and asking them a lot of questions .  After awhile I realized I was good at something other than just washing and breaking glasses:  I was good at wine pairing.  Not just pairing wine with food, but with people:  finding that one  bottle that was going to make a them a wine lover.  Being a fellow beer-lover as well, I couldn’t fault the non-converts who just wanted to stick to beer.  But for everyone else, I tried to focus on creating an ambience where it wasn’t just about the wine, but was about having fun and allowing customers to go on their own journey to be able to proclaim “I love wine!”

Sometimes it was a challenge, especially when snobby wine people came in insisting that they only like [insert trendy wine region here] and they’d never like any that came from Texas.  They were the most fun to convert.  Did it always happen?  No! I was a wine peddler, not a miracle worker!

The other thing I really loved was getting to know the winemakers.  They are truly an amazing group of people.  We often had special tastings on the weekends and would invite the winemakers to join us to tell our customers about what makes their wine so special.  It was like getting a sneak peek behind the curtain!

But you’re here to hear how I got into wine writing–so let’s fast forward a few (or more) years when I decided that I needed a change and moved to New York City (with 7 cases of Texas wine, 3 cases of Shiner Bock, and a warning from my brother not to get pulled over for speeding otherwise I’d be arrested for bootlegging!).

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to walk into a wine store and just browse, but after some time, I started missing the wine-speak: the geeking out over a great $10 bottle or splurging on the bottle of bubbles.  I missed talking about wine. And then one day serendipity struck and I was followed by The Drunken Cyclist.  Of course, I immediately followed him back because I knew that anyone with the slogan: I have three passions: wine, cycling, travel, family, and math. had to be amazing–and I’m not just saying that for the vote!!.

A few weeks later, I noticed that he put up a Wine Writing Challenge (#10, I believe) and I thought why not?  I didn’t really consider myself a “wine writer,” but I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to do what I love most with wine: share it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So that’s my WINESTORY…and I’m sticking to it.

🙂 Shez

PS–Okay, I can’t let it go, so I’m going to apologize if I missed anyone and maybe check back regularly to see if I’ve added more…or feel free to comment if you know of any that need to be added!

Texas Wineries when I started working at the wine shop, Texas Wines, Etc., in no particular order and as best I can remember after over 2 decades of consuming copious amounts of wine (but that’s a story for another time!):

  1.  Grape Creek Vineyards
  2. Bell Mountain Vineyards
  3. Becker Vineyards
  4. Sister Creek Winery
  5. Texas Hills Vineyards
  6. Dry Comal Creek Vineyards
  7. Fall Creek Vineyards
  8. Val Verde Winery
  9. Messina Hof Winery
  10. Llano Estacado Winery
  11. Cap*Rock Winery
  12. McReynold’s Winery
  13. St. Genevive Winery
  14. Spicewood Winery
  15. Wimberley Valley Wines
  16. Piney Woods Country Wines
  17. Homestead Winery
  18. La Buena Vida Winery
  19. Inwood Estate Vineyards

Have Wine? Will Travel!

This month’s wine writing challenge is TRAVEL, as selected by last month’s winner: the hilarious and enlightening Loie of Cheap Wine Curious.

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Of course, my first thought was to write about Napa, the first place I traveled for wine–but then I remembered I’ve already written about my trip and since I haven’t had the chance to go back, there’s nothing new to report.

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Then I thought about allllllll the places in France and Italy I passed through many, many moons (aka decades) ago that I’d love to go back and visit now that I have a true appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of champagnes and burgundies and amarones (ohmy!)–but then I realized that this post may never end.

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So then I thought about all the amazing Texas Hill Country wineries around where I grew up, which seemed apropos since I’m traveling (see what I did there?) down there at the end of the week–but then I realized that I should wait and do a bit of exploring of all the new wineries that have popped up since the last time I visited.

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Then I thought about cleverly describing how going to the wine store is like traveling around the world–but about the same moment that idea popped into my head, so did another:

Hawaiian Mead.

I know, I know you’re probably thinking “no, no…go back to writing about the wine store/traveling the world idea!”  But nope!  Hang on to your hats, we’re traveling to Hawaii!

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If you know me in real life or follow me on InstagramTwitter, or Facebook (shameless plug!), you will know that last September I went to Hawaii with some amazing friends.  While on the stunningly picturesque island of Kauai, we stumbled across the Koloa Rum Company.  By stumble, I mean April quickly learned she was traveling with lushes people who enjoyed sampling local adult beverages and she was trying to keep us appeased.

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But of course, this writing challenge is about wine, not rum (although THAT would be awesome!).  Having had a great time at Koloa, we (aka April, who was quicker with her google-searching fingers since she was giving away her rum samples) looked for other local places that made adult beverages.

While on the Big Island we visited the Kona Brewing Company, and so despite having not seen a grape growing anywhere in Hawaii’s lush and volcanic landscape, we were hopeful that we could find a winery.

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Alas, no grape winery…but BINGO! we found Nani Moon Meadery!  Now I will confess that I’ve never been a huge fan of mead, however, when in Rome…

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Nani Moon is in the back of a shopping center in Kapa’a.  We pull up, walk in, and, well, started tasting!  It seemed pointless not to try the full line-up, so we did.

For those of you out there who are unaware, mead is wine (although it can also be beer) made from honey instead of grapes.  It’s been around since…forever (and I’m pretty sure that’s an accurate timeframe!).  Much more sustainable, when you’re smack dab in the middle of the Pacific ocean and you have access to local apiaries.

As Stephanie (the owner) took us through each wine, she paired it with an appropriate snack and talked about where she sourced the honey (they weren’t all the same!).  I think my favorite was the Laka’s Nectar, which was the driest and most crisp of the wines.  While a little too sweet for me, the Cacao Moon was a big hit–understandable, given its chocolate undertones and velvety chocolate finish.  Stephanie definitely got bonus points for her Deviant Beehavior, which packs a kick as it is not only made from honey, but also chili!

We finished the tasting with some of the local honeys that she used, which was great–not only because they were delicious, but because you could really taste how much the nuances in the honey affected the taste of the wine.

If you’re interested in learning more, visiting, or throwing caution to the wind and just buying a bottle, contact Stephanie and tell her what you like.  I’m quite confident she will find you something you’ll truly enjoy and give you suggestions on pairings to help you enjoy it more!  She even has a cocktail section that encourages you to “bee inspired and mix it up!”

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours–and I think that if you find yourself smack dab in the middle of the Pacific on a tiny island named Kauai, you should go visit Stephanie and try her meads.  I’m not going to say that meads are now my favorite type of wine, but I did walk away with a better appreciation for just how versatile a wine made from honey can be.  And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Aloha!

Try The Wine…Again.

This month’s wine writing challenge is Second Chances.  It was selected by last month’s MWWC winner, Jill from L’occasion.  And I must confess that it was a bit hard to focus on second chances when all I can think of when I see second is:

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But then I remind myself that the best breakfasts always include some sort of festive libation, which loops me back around to wine…and second chances.  And when I think about wine and second chances, three things come to mind.

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The first thing I think of in regards to second chances with wine is a reminder I like to impart to new wine drinkers: keep drinking and trying wine outside of one’s preferred palate and don’t forget to revisit these wines from time to time to see if and how one’s palate has changed…a second chance, if you will. 😉  As their palate evolves, so too evolves their choices in wine.  Many will find that initially hated wines end up being a house staple.  Over the years working at the wine shop, I saw a lot of this with my regular customers who initially came in with the silly notion that “I don’t like [insert wine here]” and within a few visits, were drinking aforementioned wine–or at the very least, something similar.

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But I think it’s a valuable tip to seasoned wine drinkers as well.  Isn’t that why we purchase extra bottles?  To lay them down for months or years and try them again? At least in theory? At my house, rather than saving them, it usually ends up being “oh what the hell, let’s jussss open another riiiiiight now!”  And one turns into two, which turns into we’ll just get more at the wine shop later…stop judging me, it’s been a long week!

Anyway, I do a lot better hoarding my TEXAS! wine because you can’t purchase it here in New York City (or State for that matter), so I’m actually still sitting on a few bottles that I brought up with me 8 years ago (Becker, Grape Creek, Sister Creek, McPherson, Chisholm Trail, Messina Hof, and Flat Creek…alright, more than a few).  It is usually even more delicious the second time around (or third or fourth…depending on the number of bottles and your willpower!).  Although it doesn’t always go to plan and I’ve had to tragically dump a bottle or two.  However, that doesn’t mean that I go and dump them all–that would be a travesty indeed! For more tales about that, go here: Success.

Finally, don’t forget that the same can also be said of vintages!  So many things can have an effect on how a particular wine tastes from year to year.  Some years it is minute nuances, and some years it varies between “OMFG! This is the best they’ve ever made!” and “What the hell were they thinking?”

Take for example, Grape Creek‘s Cabernet Trois. Grape Creek has been making their Cabernet Trois for a looooong time now.  It is a blend of the three Cabernet grapes: Sauvignon, Ruby, and (my favorite) Franc.  It was THE first Texas wine I fell in love with.  It was deep and flavorful with just the right amounts of fruitiness balanced with spice.  At the time (mid-90s) it very much stood out from a lot of Texas reds, which tended to either be very sweet and heavy or thin and so dry the BFF likened it to leaving your mouth feeling like you’ve eaten sandpaper.  But not the Trois.  It was dry, yes, but with a lot of mouthfeel and delicate flavors.  It was delicious, won a lot of awards, and was my go-to Texas red wine for years.  But then slowly the taste of it changed.  I’m not sure if it was due to the grapes or the wine maker or the need to shake things up a bit.  Maybe all three!  People still loved it, it still won awards, but I was no longer a huge fan, preferring other varietals in Grape Creek’s line-up, like their merlot (shocking, but true, in fact, I still have a bottle of the merlot hanging out in the wine rack downstairs!).

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NOT my hand, btw, but you gotta love the internet where you can find pictures of anything, like a Texas wine from 20 years ago!  Click on pic to got to Vivino, where I found the pic.

Fast forward to a recent trip home where I was in my old wine shop tasting wines from all the new Texas wineries that have popped up in the last several years when my old favorite caught my eye.  Should I?  Should I not?  How could I not?  So I thought, “what the hell?!?” and gave it another chance.  And guess what?  It was back to having all those little nuances that I originally loved about the Cabernet Trois 20 years ago: the fruit, the spice, the mouthfeel.  It was like welcoming an old friend home.

Most importantly, it was a vivid reminder that in a day and age where it is always full steam ahead and looking for the next great thing, sometimes it pays to take a step back and revisit some old friends.  Thanks for the delicious reminder Grape Creek!

Cheers!

MWWC #19: To Wine Or Not To Wine?

I know you’re thinking “what a silly question,” but an appropriate one for this post…because a) wine why not? and b) Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick, the winner of the last Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, selected the theme for this month’s Challenge to be CHOICES.

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Everyday we make thousands of choices–some are subconscious, some are instinctual, some are habitual, some regrettable, some are hard, some are easy, and a lot are somewhere in between.  But I have a confession about these choices that I hope doesn’t get me lynched by my lovely wine blogging superstars: I don’t always choose wine, in fact, I rarely do.  That is not to say that I don’t enjoy, love, cherish, and revel in wine–because I do all the above.  I just…well…usually…pick beer.  I’ll give you a moment to sob uncontrollably while going through all the stages of loss.  I only ask that when you get to the anger stage and are threatening to smite me, you leave the Princess out of it…

Now before you gather the pitchforks and angry villagers, let me just say that it’s not that I like beer better than wine.  It’s that beer is easy.  And really, it’s the “easy” part that attracts me to the B-word.  I know what I like and while I also like to try new beers, I have certain go-tos that are non-negotiable.  If I go into any establishment (other than sporting events) and either Stella or Guinness are not on the menu, chances are I’m making a u-turn and heading out before you can even say “well, do you have…”

But this is not true with wine.  I mean, I have my favorites–but a lot of them are Texas wines and you can’t find them anywhere but the great state of Texas and my wine rack (and perhaps other wine racks–but most people are generally opposed to you walking into their house and pilfering their wine selection, especially if they don’t know you!).  So then it becomes a gamble of “is it worth $10-15/glass” for something I’ve never heard of?  Sometimes it is.  When out at a nice meal, especially when that meal is Italian or steak, wine is non-negotiable.

At home, the choice is probably about 50-50.  That is to say about 50% of the year (aka spring and summer), my choice is beer and 50% of the year (aka autumn and winter), my choice is red wine.  Part of the issue is that–as I’ve mentioned before–I’m not a big white wine drinker and when it’s 96F with 87% humidity, red wine is just too heavy.  I can’t lie, I’ve never spent 2 hours doing yard work and thought “mmmmm, I just want a nice glass of chardonnay.” [note: I almost NEVER pick chardonnay, so if you hear those words come out of my mouth, you should just assume my body has been taken over by aliens and consider locking me up!]

At home beer is also easier choice because at any given moment I usually have two maybe three kinds in the fridge: Shiner, Guinness, and whatever struck my fancy one day, usually like a cider…mmm…Stella Cidre

Ahem, anyway, the point being that my choice with beer is pretty easy.  With wine, it’s not so clear cut.  I currently have 19 bottles of 8 different varietals, so then I get stuck in the details: do I want something I can drink by itself?  Or something I can drink with a snack plate or something big and bold and in your face?  Do I want to wait while I chill a viognier?  Am I overthinking?  Perhaps, but it’s wine!  And these things can’t be taken lightly, unlike beer (because apparently, I’m trying to get the die-hard beer nerds to lynch me as well!) 😉