People drink wine for many reasons. It makes them happy, it cheers them up, it is delicious, it makes meals better, it is intoxicating, it enhances friendships, it serves a spiritual purpose, and that is only the beginning. Eric Asimov
I enjoy collecting pictures of famous folks in the wine business (and chefs, too). This is Beyers Truter, a delightful, down-to-earth, and extremely famous winemaker in South Africa. He was relatively young when he was awarded the Robert Mondavi Trophy as the International Winemaker of the Year at the 1991 International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. The former winemaker for one of the best wineries in South Africa, Kanonkop, he twice received the Pichon Longueville Comtesse de la Lalande trophy for the best blended red wine at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London. Currently he is the owner of his own winery, Beyerskloof and makes wine for other brands as well.
We met at an intimate dinner party hosted by Anthony Bell at Bell Winery in Napa. I was invited by Dave Jefferson, managing director of Silkbush Mountain Vineyards, (a client of mine); we were joined by half a dozen up-and-coming winemakers who Beyers had brought to California to learn about other winemaking regions. Coincidently, the Bell Vineyards dinner followed Dominican University’s International Wine Marketing Conference where I spent a few days with folks from New Zealand, France, Australia, South Africa and other countries.
* Mr. Truter is also the founder of the Pinotage Association with the mission of improving the growing, making and marketing of Pinotage grapes and wines. Anyone who thinks they know Pinotage needs to drink from his cellar! He brought some nice bottles to the dinner party. I know Beyers hasn’t been at Kanonkop for years, but parenthetically my mouth still waters when I think of opening a Kanonkop Pinotage.
Why do I advocate drinking global wine? It satisfies my desire to dream about other places, cultures and people, and it’s a favorite game, quite entertaining.
Food and wine is an easy way to explore the world. Chianti with Italian Foccacia sandwiches at San Francisco’s Mario’s Bohemian Cafe was my first introduction to pairing, at age 23. (For lots of pairing ideas, pop over to here.)
I enjoy comparing grapes from different parts of the world. Pinot Noir, for instance, is quite different if it is from Germany (called Spätburgunder), Chile or California. Each region in each country (like Santa Barbara vs. Russian River) produces wine with a unique flavor profile. One could spend her whole life becoming an expert on just one grape and how it differs in all of the world’s regions.
A lover of the unusual rather than the common, I’d rather have a South African Viognier over a bulk Napa Chardonnay. And if I am offered a Napa Chardonnay, I’d prefer the one produced in a small batch than the big brand name on the grocery store shelf.
Next time you go to the grocery store, I enourage you to try something new, if the wine is within your budget, what have you got to lose? You can find lots of ideas throughout Girl with a Glass by using the search bar at the bottom of this page or you can go directly to Wine Picks. To get started, pick a grape you like (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot), get some ideas of countries that I recommend for that grape, go to your wine store and find a bottle from the region you’ve picked. Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact wine that I recommend, this is about exploring your palate and exploring the world.
In my line of work, I meet a lot of fun, attractive, smart wine lovers and Cortney Roudebush is one of them. On our first date, she was my guest at a media event. She reciprocated by introducing me to one of her favorite intimate (and insider) food and wine haunts in San Francisco.
I could immediately tell that Cortney had an experienced palate and that she was Napa-savvy. I knew she had started a blog and was working at a fine wine shop in upscale Tiburon. What I didn’t know is that she is a novelist. It’s almost irrelevant that Where I Want To Be is her first novel, the woman can write.
In a nutshell, it’s a story about a single woman who moves to Napa to attend wine school, becomes fast friends with three women (each with intriguing stories and personalities) and through trial and tribulation, she begins to find her true self and live her dream life. I’ll tell you the best part of reading this novel is not that I know the places and recognize the personalities from which she draws her characters; this is just a darn fun book and I want more. The good news is that the book is sub-titled, A Wine Country Series eBook, so there’s more to come.
I read ebooks constantly and enjoy being able to highlight my favorite lines and paragraphs. Let me share a few (with my commentary):
“A captivated audience of one, she is batting her eyelashes so fiercely I feel a breeze.” (This sentence should win an award.)
Shaking my head, I swat the piece of paper away. “He’s not my type. Besides, he didn’t even notice me.”
“You have a type Oliva?”
“This is my type right here,” I answer, gesturing to the diminishing wine in front of me. Between my fingertips, I take the stem of the wineglass and move it in small circular motions. like drawing circles with a pencil. The dark red wine dances around the crystal bowl of the glass, captivating my interest as my best friend brings up her newest millionaire clients.” (This writing is as good as Sideway’s author Rex Pickett.)
“Immediately afterward, he put his pants on and said, “So I’ll see you in class tomorrow?” (Any Sex in the City fans?)
“Could it be that I’m tired of being invisible?” (Depth and change is what makes a novel sing.)
“Parched and bleary-eyed the next morning, I forget where I am.” (An absolutely classic thought for people of a certain age.)
Ernesto is one of my top ten favorite wine personalities. When you visit Argentina, do not miss meeting Ernesto at his place, Alma Negra (which means “dark soul“). A free spirit with advanced degrees from Argentina, Milan and London, Ernesto is a fan of beauty and balance. At Alma Negra, one can feel the terroir in the soft thin air, soil and the sun while walking his labyrinth, relaxing under the shade trees and smelling the old roses from Patagonia that line his vineyards. His Chef, Orlando Lima, fits perfectly into the scene; see if he’ll give you the recipe for his Chimichurri sauce. (Click the first thumbnail to view larger photo album.) More galleries of my travels can be found at https://www.facebook.com/alana.gentry
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Earlier this year I decided to get a certificate from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) to add to my credentials. I had mixed feelings about it because I believe wine knowledge is best gained by practical experience: I also knew that I had gaps in my knowledge that could be best addressed (initially) with a course or two. My major gap was French wines.
I made the decision years ago to specialize in New World wines (what I call re-emerging markets*). The reasons for my decision: 1) Napa, Sonoma and surrounding areas are my backyard; 2) I’m attracted to the Southern Hemisphere countries; 3) French wine knowledge is unfortunately yet irrefutably an affectation associated with wine snobs; and 4) I find mavericks more interesting than traditionalists.
In three months of classes, I got a crash course in French wine regions that required memorization to pass the test, their history of winemaking, a few cool anecdotes about monks and best of all, that there is an inkling of modernism in the French wine market and I must go there to fully understand it. (I’ve been to Paris but that’s another story.)
Right after I graduated, Michelle McCue, a Burbank, CA publicist sent me three bottles of Paul Mas’ French wines to try. Paul Mas, a recipient of many international accolades, could be the poster child for my point of view–take old vines, history, winemaking integrity, and deliver balanced, approachable wines that can be enjoyed now. Go one step further (which he does) and print the grapes on the back label so wine lovers do not have to know every Château and region in France to know what’s in the bottle. My review of his wines.
*My definition of re-emerging wine markets is regions that have hundreds of years of wine making history but are just now getting positive attention from the mainstream global wine market.
**The picture is Château de Conas in Pézanas where the Mas family still lives. It was originally built over 1,000 years ago.
“It’s fine to say, I like this wine or I don’t, just be able to tell me why.” New York Times Wine Critic, Eric Asimov
Wine professionals are taught the language of wine evaluation and a systematic approach to tasting. When I judge a wine (professionally or at my own table), I’ve found that I have two favorite questions, “is this wine balanced?” and “do I know I want another sip?”
Three French wines were recently sent to me to sample and they each passed my tests with flying colors. When I sniffed, swirled and sipped they continued to impress me with lovely smells, attractive flavors, and long finishes. To me, that’s all that is required of a wine.
The bottles were from Jean-Claude Mas, a winemaker from Southern France whose family tended vines and made wine in the Languedoc region even before the French Revolution. (European wine history is pretty cool.) The winery is Domaines Paul Mas.
Domaines Paul Mas is growing quickly under Jean-Claude’s leadership and at the time of this writing, I see ten different brands on the website. The wines I tasted were all single vineyards; the links to the winemaker’s notes are below:
Domaines Paul Mas, Chateau Paul Mas – Clos de Savignac, Gres de Montpellier 2011 (A blend of Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache.)
The literature sent to me included this quote, When consumers sip his wines, Jean-Claude’s goal is to create a moment of pure pleasure. When I read that after I tasted these wines, I thought, wow, he nailed it. In addition to insisting that his wine taste good, he is a proponent of premium quality from grape to bottle, environmental stewardship, modern equipment and incorporating New World innovation with century-old expertise. (Thank you Jean-Claude for listing the grapes on the back label!)
The distributor is Palm Bay and while the entire Domaines Paul Mas portfolio isn’t available in the states yet, you can give this article to your favorite wine store and tell them to order it. I’m going to be sending this right over where I shop in Sonoma, Valley Wine Shack.
The producers of the 2013 Dominican University Global Wine Marketing Conference for University Professors asked me to talk about California’s wines so I decided to conduct a tasting from two unique wineries and discuss how each winery does their marketing. The wineries were Cornerstone Cellars and Robert Biale Vineyards. When Dominican’s Robbie Hayes recommended Robert Biale Winery, I realized that Biale wines would be ideal to illustrate something important to me, the story of Zinfandel.
In the wine world, especially among old world enthusiasts and academics, there is a great deal of interest about where vines originate and how they grow in different areas. Observations and other business factors lead some people to want to pigeon hole a country with one grape which fails to reflect actual complexities of a wine region. A well-known example of this is Malbec and Argentina. I have found a tendency among folks from other countries, (often encouraged by wine writers and pundits) to think of Zinfandel as California’s grape. In my opinion, it’s counterintuitive to assign Zinfandel (or any one grape) to America, after all we are a nation made up of revolutionaries and individualists. To be clear, this doesn’t take away from the fact that the name Zindandel is from America and California’s old growth vines is an interesting story.
Here is the information I shared with the professors about California Zinfandel as they tasted Robert Biale Vineyard’s 2011 Black Chicken Zinfandel.
Vintage Notes: Another chilly and rainy spring, with cool and moderate summer and fall seasons.
Harvest Dates: 9/26
Winemaking: The fruit was hand-sorted first in the field then again at the winery. Open-top fermentation and punched down three times per day. Pressed to Burgundian oak – 25% new. Aged 14 months.
Winemaker’s Tasting Notes: The 2011 is one gorgeous “Chicken” and is right on the money: lush and dark fruits of blackberry, berry pie, black cherry, white pepper, peppermint, molasses, Oreo cookie, turmeric, vanilla, clove and nutmeg. A mouthwetting snap of acidity balances the round and ripe fruit, and the thin-skinned Zinfandel tannins propel the wine into an elegant and impressive big Pinot Noir style. We expect that this Black Chicken has an optimal drinking range from 2013–2020.
Girl with a Glass Notes: Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is the most famous for producing excellent Zinfandel. (There are over 5,000 acres planted in that county.) Napa only has approx. 1,500 (bearing & non-bearing) acres, and while it has ancient vines, it’s over-shadowed by Cabernet Sauvignon. Biale is one of Napa’s “old vine specialists” along with Peterson, Carlisle, Ridge and Turley wineries. Originally Napa’s vineyards were mostly field blends; some wineries still make their Zins from field blends, others, like Biale’s Black Chicken are 100% Zin but from different Napa vineyards.
Best resource for following California Zinfandel is ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers)
Clearing up the Zinfandel Mystery. Until only recently, Zinfandel was California’s “mystery grape” because its origins were unknown. In 1994, DNA fingerprinting confirmed that the Primitivo and Zinfandel grapes were genetically identical, however, it’s not a 100 percent match. There are clonal differences between the Zinfandel grown in California and the Primitivo in Italy. On wine labels, U.S. regulations require that Zinfandel and Primitivo be identified separately. Studies have also indicated that the grape used for making California Zinfandel did not originate in Italy, but migrated from another origin to various destinations that include Italy. Scientists know that the Zinfandel grape has a European origin. Although further research is required, all evidence to date points to Croatian grape varieties as the origin. The Zinfandel name, however, is truly American—the earliest and only documented use of the name is in America where a Boston nursery owner advertised Zinfandel for sale in 1832. (Source: Wine Institute)
Thank you to Napa Photographer Mary Steinbacher.
As part of Dominican University’s invitation-only inaugural Wine Marketing Conference, I was invited to speak on the topic, “Observations of a Wine Marketing Practitioner.” Since all of the other attendees were marketing professors from around the world, I thought it’d be opportune to conduct a tasting of local wines while speaking about wine marketing. The professors tasted three wines, two from Robert Biale Vineyard and one from Cornerstone Cellars.* (Read my article about Biale’s Zinfandel.)
Robert Biale Vineyards is a small production winery in Napa whose wines are mostly distributed through their club. With this exclusivity, the keys to successful cultivation of fans is high-touch attention to each individual, a high degree of perceived value to belonging to the inner circle, and unique wines.
As sophisticated as the next winery in Napa, Biale conjointly creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere by greeting visitors (mostly wine club members, their guests, and soon-to-be-members) as if they are family. When I was there, the “guests” were so comfortable in the tasting room and on the porch, I could not easily ascertain who worked there and who didn’t. One enthusiastic woman was saying hello to Robert Biale and when he introduced us, she gushed, “This feels like my second home.” I have no idea who she was, but she chatted with the winery owner like an old friend.
Biale is doing a few things that some would call old-school; for instance, when you call the winery during business hours you never get a machine where you must punch a few numbers and hope you get to the right person, instead the phone is answered by an actual person in the tasting room who acknowledges and thanks you for calling Biale. One thing that immediately caught my eye was a lovely printed newsletter available in the tasting room/greeting area. With blogs and other digital media being so ubiquitous it’s unusual to see a nice print piece these days. Nevertheless, my reaction was positive; it didn’t seem outdated, it seemed purposeful and quite compelling to pick up and read. When I asked one of the partners Dave Pramuk about it, he confirmed that the newsletter complements their brand identity, causing people to slow down and enjoy reading about their favorite winery. Personally, I found the writing and the presentation to be extremely well done and agree with Dave that it suits their brand and target market.
When a winery chooses to sell mostly direct-to-consumer (DTC), participating in winemaker dinners and reception events across the country are important. By visiting markets where there are pockets of supporters, wineries have the opportunity to further solidify their relationship with their fans as well as garner new fans (friends of their members).
Last of all, but certainly not least, it’s important that small production DTC wineries thoughtfully position their wine in the marketplace. Biale’s wines are considered to be special for several reasons: they are making wine from old Zinfandel vines in Napa and they make Petite Sirah which is in itself rare (see my other articles about Petite Sirah). Biale also makes sure the wine is not easily available in retail markets but is available in select fine restaurants. Lastly, the price point is competitive for Napa which makes entry into the Club easier for more people. Biale does submit its wines to critics such as the Wine Advocate and it gets glowing scores, but this strategy is secondary to creating raving fans who like the wine, the story and Biale’s high-touch personal atmosphere.
(This is a post that just reflects who I am and some writing I shared with a friend while traveling in Spain a few months ago.)
I’m enjoying a vacation in Barcelona for 2 days and thought of you. I spent a week as the guest of Segura Viudas, owners of Freixenet Cava and added 2 days on my own in Barcelona. Today I hired a private tour guide, Marga, for 4 hours. Wonderful decision. I learned all about the eccentric, touched-by-God Antonio Gaudi.
I attended a Spanish guitar concert in a 15th century church that I booked online at home. Intimate and didn’t disappoint. I walked from my hotel down Las Ramblas, the promenade full of people at 9pm, past the Pt Catalunya square with a huge fountain into the Egleslias Santa Ana courtyard. Mass was being held in one of the buildings.
I had booked the concert and 3 course dinner. Ended up I was the only person to have purchased the dinner tonight. When you travel you imagine what it will be like. It is only a dream, when you are there it is usually different.
After the beautiful concert I met the musician who now lives in Slovenia. I asked why did you choose to live in Slovenia? He said love.
A producer walked me across a square to the restaurant. My dinner included a bottle of Vina Mantibre 2011 listed under young wines (Cosecha from Rioja) 7 Euros-cheapest on list. All for me. Thank goodness it was decent wine.
My first course was salad with goat cheese and apple compote served with warm bread. The goat cheese was the size of a mini frisbee. The salad could feed 4 people. It could easily have been my meal. How do the women here stay so slim? Healthy mediterrean food with wine.
The people In Catalonia are nice. Every time I smile a small smile at someone they smile back.
Eating at this restaurant alone, I feel a bit like Jane Austin observing and writing about what I see.
Table of six women, I’ve finished first course they have just wine (two different glasses each) white, I think they already ate. They are dressed like they are single, 4 of them went out for a smoke.
My second course is duck confit on scalloped potatoes. Devine smell. Large leg with sauce. Earthy not as sweet as I’m used to. I serve it with black cherry sauce. A little salty but good enough that I wanted to eat more than I had room for.
I am also surrounded by tables for 12 and 8, young people plus lots of couples. Interested new dates and older couples too. The table of 8 seem like blind dates.
The smokers returned and were given dessert menus.
Lively atmosphere. Fabulous. Staff scurries. Why?
The couple to my left, there is a rose on the table. They are falling in love. Would it be too intrusive to ask for a picture? Now or never they are leaving. I can not do it because they may be ready to spend their first night together. He’s carrying a motorcycle helmet. They kissed before walking out the door.
I ordered a dessert that has a liquor in it and it is 3Euro more. I have no euros with me. They will have to eat the profit tonight.
With such small wine glasses people drink slower. I’m on dessert and if I can drink 1/2 of this bottle…didn’t make it if I drink half a bottle I won’t make it down the Ramblas without someone noticing. I wonder if I order coffee if I have to pay for it?
It is 1120 and half the restaurant is empty. A previously loud table of 7 older men (40′s) is quieter now but they are still here.
The girls table of six are 1 talkative blonde and the rest dark. I think they know I’m writing about the restaurant and perhaps them.
Only 8 tables left, myself, the one behind me, the girls, the men, a not so in love couple who have been talking a lot but not smiling.
My 10 minute dessert was a lie. It feels much longer. Ah here it is! Oh wow. Amaretto ice cream, the pastry full of chocolate sauce not worth it. I am not in France.
No food came for the ladies. They were given menus and I notice dessert spoons but none of them ordered any I guess. Ah wait desserts were delivered to all of them. The empty wine bottles were removed and a large bottled water placed in the middle of the table.
My fresh red wine did not compliment my dessert.
I accepted the offer to have an expresso- it will help me walk back to the hotel 6 blocks. I hope I don’t get billed for it since I left the room without any money!
I just noticed the only table with a little lamp is where the lovers sat.
Also the couple who were talking and not smiling are holding hands across the table.
The table of beautiful skinny girls are licking their dessert spoons and seem happy. Another detail. The blonde is wearing white and all of the brunettes are wearing black.
The empty check plate arrived with 3 business cards.
Will I recommend them? Of course, especially if you are a married yet independent woman spending a weekend in Barcelona.