Travel Wine Chick – Elizabeth Smith Consulting is excited to announce a supporting role as Director of Advertising Sales and contributing writer for Basil & Salt. I could not be more thrilled to assist publisher and editor Karie Engels in growing her dream of this print, digital, and online magazine. My goal is to lead the Basil & Salt Magazine sales team in establishing and growing long-term, creative partnerships with brands and advertisers.
Basil & Salt is filled with recipes, cocktails, wine, beer, and travel recommendations, focusing on the enjoyment of the gourmet lifestyle. The corresponding digital issues are beautifully interactive, taking readers directly to the sites of advertising partners and those featured in the magazine. The website, in harmony with the magazine, contains lighter content designed to complement the print and digital content.
For advertising and product placement inquiries, opportunities, and rates, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to work with you.
Wine tasting as a standalone activity is something I have never really enjoyed. Wine should be enjoyed with friends and food, so when my Seattle family invited me for a long weekend, I brought with me two recently received wine samples, the 2016 Château de Poncié Le Pré Roi Fleurie ($22), and 2016 Augusta Winery Vignoles, Augusta AVA, Missouri ($15), for a summer wine dinner party. A public relations representative pitched the Fleurie to me as a “Beaujolais, The Rosé for Fall” and a Thanksgiving wine, to which I countered, “I think Gamay is a perfect summer red, too, slightly chilled.” I decided to go with my angle. Missouri Wines sent me the Vignoles without a pitch or advanced notification. I learned it was in route thanks to an automatic tracking alert from UPS My Choice, then a follow-up email from Missouri Wines after the wine shipped.
Often wine consumers know Beaujolais because of the annual Beaujolais Nouveau release, but are unfamiliar with Cru Beaujolais. This was confirmed in Seattle by the dinner guests when I presented the Fleurie. Furthermore, none of the guests had heard of Vignoles, and my co-host, Gary, did not reveal that this wine was from Missouri until the next day. I will also confess that while not my first Missouri wine, this was my first Vignoles. If you have not had Vignoles, either, it is white grape that can be made as a dry, semi-sweet, or dessert-style wine. This sample was semi-sweet.
Gary had already planned the menu for the evening: grilled chicken and asparagus, always respectful of my healthy lifestyle. The other dinner guests brought brats for appetizers, green salad to accompany the meal, and fruit salad for dessert. When informed about the menu, I decided to serve the Fleurie with dinner and the Vignoles as the closer because of its sweetness. Gary seemed surprised that I chose a red wine with poultry, but I explained that this should be a good pairing with the chilled, lighter red. We had also selected a sparkling rosé for the evening, too, but as the evening progressed, we realized these two wines were enough.
Once everyone arrived, a discussion ensued about the preparation of the meal. Gary decided to cook the brats by simmering in a can of Rainier Brewing Company beer, then grilling them on a 600-degree infrared grill. He marinated the chicken breasts in Italian salad dressing for 36 hours, then grilled them at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes, turning them over near the end. He tossed the asparagus in avocado oil with a dash of salt and pepper, then grilled them on low for 10 minutes.
We took the Fleurie out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before we served it with the main course of chicken, asparagus, and salad. The commentary from the group was interesting to hear as everyone’s palate is different. The Fleurie expressed a much darker fruit profile than I expected, such as blackberry and plum. In fact, I think this wine would have paired wonderfully with the brats we had before dinner, which were nothing short of amazing, because of the fattiness of the meat and the acidity of the wine. This is also why this wine would work for a traditional Thanksgiving’s hearty, higher-fat, poultry-based menu. Gary, who is accustomed to drinking bolder reds, immediately noticed the much higher acidity and softer tannins, noting that this is a food wine, not a sipping wine. And, Kelly remarked that the wine had a lot more going on in the middle and back of the palate than upon first sip. This Fleurie is young and would be even more lovely a few more years in the bottle.
When we tasted the Vignoles, I thought, “This is the perfect pairing for this fruit salad”. Another confession: I am not usually a fan of wines with any sweetness. However, the Vignoles smelled and tasted like summer: a bowl of fresh apples, peaches, pineapples, and tangerines. The dinner guests took it a step further by adding the fruit to their glass, creating a delightful, adult summer cocktail. This was the shock and awe wine of the evening, and when Gary texted the group the next day telling them it was from Missouri, the surprise reactions continued.
Gary and I have talked about this dinner party over the course of the past week and have decided to plan future wine dinners together. He will be the chef and I will provide the wine. If you would like a wine to be featured at one of our dinner parties, please contact me in advance and send suggested healthy and flavorful food pairings, too. Oh, and stay tuned for the video that didn’t happen at this party!
Founded in 1980 by Allan Green, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is one of the original Anderson Valley wineries. Today, under the ownership of Wilson Artisan Wines, it still produces only around 1500 cases of premium wines, including riesling, late-harvest riesling, sauvignon blanc, merlot, pinot noir, and zinfandel.
I parked my car and walked confidently to the famed, octagonal-shaped tasting room, designed by Allan’s father and associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, Aaron G. Green, and constructed from one, 400-year-old redwood tree. Someone outside immediately welcomed me and gave me a glass.
As I opened the door and heard the friendly laughter and chatter, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Allan Green himself was pouring (and sipping) a vertical of aged rieslings from 1985, 1988, and 1996 (prices unknown), which were mind-blowingly delicious. More guests arrived, more wine appeared, and the noise level grew with lively conversation and music. Dinner was a fantastic barbecue buffet, not a fancy, sit-down dinner, and in that moment, I realized that the staff of Greenwood Ridge and the Anderson Valley producers in attendance were my kind of people.
As the evening progressed, I found myself among friends, new and old. At some point, dinner turned into a party, and the crowd trickled outside into the cold, where we huddled near heaters and fire pits, sipping beautiful Anderson Valley wines and getting to know each other.
Next, she poured the exceptional 1999 Greenwood Ridge Mendocino Merlot (around $24 at release), another showstopper. I was smitten with both Greenwood Ridge and Stacie. She was a consummate host. And, as I was leaving, she gave me a couple of wines to take home, a 1995 Late Harvest Riesling (price unknown) and the 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling ($20). The former is awaiting a special occasion. My thoughts about the latter are below.
The Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling showcases how the cool, maritime influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean benefits grape growing. With only 1.6% residual sugar, this wine is a lovely, mouthwatering play of zippy acidity and delicate, ever-so-slight sweetness. Fruit flavors run the gamut from tropical to stone to tree to citrus, surprising and delighting the palate in every sip. Pair this riesling with nearly anything, but especially spicy Asian cuisine. I would also put a few bottles in the cellar for later, because if the 1985, 1988, and 1996 are any indication, this will be fantastic to try with age.
I have kept in touch with Stacie and she sent me a few more wines to taste. I am sure they will find their way into my heart, too, and be delectable reminders of my first visit to Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Anderson Valley, a place that feels like a home away from home.
Firehouse Wine Cellars is aptly named, of course, after the 1905-era, former fire station purchased by some Rapid City, South Dakota, locals in 1991 to create a local brewery, Firehouse Brewing Company, South Dakota’s first microbrewery. From this venture came the idea of opening a winery beside the brewery. The entire operation – brewery and winery – is still owned and operated by the original partners and family members.
On the back label of Firehouse Wine Cellars’ The American Marquette, I discovered this lovely description from Michael L. Gould, whose Old Folsom Vineyard is the source of the winery’s South Dakota grapes:
Nearly 100 years ago, my grandfather, Antonio Finco, emigrated to this country on a ship called America from the port of Genoa, Italy. Like many others, he left his home and all that was familiar to start a new life in a strange new land. His few possessions he carried in a small suitcase, his traditions he carried in his heart.
Like his fathers before him, Antonio made wine and continued that tradition in his new country. Even now, we continue this family tradition from our own estate grown Marquette grapes, harvested from Old Folsom Vineyard, just south of Rapid City. Like my grandfather, this remarkable grape has made its start in America. Genetically, the Marquette and I are both grandsons, it is a grandson to the noble Pinot Noir. Together we have found our roots under the South Dakota sun.
It is in this spirit of tradition and family that I present to you Firehouse Wine Cellars and three of their wines: one made from Nebraska brianna and edelweiss grapes (my first Nebraska wine) and two made from South Dakota marquette (my first South Dakota wines).
NV Brianna Edelweiss, American, $24
(Sample; 235 cases produced)
While this wine is sold as non-vintage and is sometimes a blend of South Dakota and Nebraska grapes and different vintages, winemaker Adam Martinez confirmed that all the grapes in this offering are from Nebraska and the 2017 vintage. However, it was easier to keep the label consistent with previous releases. (Those who have submitted wine labels to the TTB understand.) Cool fermented at around 55 degrees, fined and clarified, and aged in stainless steel, this semi-sweet white, a blend of 50% brianna and 50% edelweiss, is a light gold in the glass. On the palate, the .08% residual sugar meets its match with the 10.4% total acidity, rendering a bright, integrated play of honeysuckle, sweet tropical fruits, tree fruits like apple and pear, and a lime finish. With an ABV of 11.1%, sip away without the guilt. Pair this with spring, summer, salads, and seafood.
2016 The American Marquette, Old Folsom Vineyard, South Dakota, $30
(Sample; Only 27 cases produced due to a summer of hail and bird damage) This 100% marquette wine, whose grapes are sourced from Mike and Marnie Gould’s 10-year-old vineyard just south of Rapid City, goes through a cool fermentation and manual punch downs, which, according to Martinez, creates more skin contact. This does not increase tannins, but rather, higher phenolic compounds. It is aged in for nine to twelve months in a blend of 60% French and 40% American oak barrels. With lower alcohol (13.6% ABV) and high total acidity (11.2%), this medium, brick-colored wine is replete with tart blackcurrant, cranberry, plum, and peppery spice, begging for rich, fatty foods like hearty, meaty pasta dishes and charcuterie.
NV Tradition Marquette, Year Two, $29
(Sample; 60 cases produced) Tradition is Firehouse Wine Cellars’ take on a fortified, port-style wine made from South Dakota marquette grapes and bottled every two years. During fermentation, Martinez adds a neutral brandy spirit made from distilled syrah grapes. The finished wine has 8% residual sugar and 20.5% ABV. Martinez uses a solera-style system’s fractional blending and aging regime. The first vintage was aged in barrel and the second vintage added to that barrel. Year One was the first year of bottling and this is Year Two. The original vintage and the newest vintage will always be part of future blends. As a result, going forward, the youngest part of the blend will be two years and the oldest is five or more years. This Year Two selection is dark and opaque in the glass, more brown than red, and tastes like someone spiked the homemade, chocolate-covered, black cherry cordials. In fact, chocolate-covered cherries are exactly how I imagine pairing this wine, although Black Forest cake isn’t out of the question.
For more information about Firehouse Wine Cellars and to purchase their wines, visit their website, or better yet, visit both the winery and brewery for a complete, South Dakota craft beverage experience.
The next day, Napa Elizabeth entered the festival’s grand tasting, and before her very eyes stood Philo Elizabeth (also known as Alisa or Ali Nemo) and her partner, winemaker André DuVigneaud (Andy), who beckoned her to taste two of the rieslings from Bee Hunter Wine, their winemaking project featuring a range of whites, a rosé, and reds from the hidden gem vineyards of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Like a bee is always hunting for the perfect garden, Bee Hunter, a word from Boonville’s own language dialect, Boontling, is always searching for lesser-known, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards from which to source their grapes.
Napa Elizabeth’s mission: to find the festival’s perfect pairing for their 2015 Wiley Vineyard Riesling ($24), whose slight effervescence gave it a unique Pét-Nat or cider quality. She buzzed around the room (pun intended), stumbling up on the small plates prepared and served by Boont Berry Farm Store, which featured locally sourced foods like smoked salmon, turkey, avocado, mushroom, sweet onion, and cranberry. The winner: the plate that Andy fondly called “deconstructed Thanksgiving”, featuring the turkey, onions, mushroom, and cranberry cream cheese spread. Better grab this wine for your Thanksgiving table before it is gone.
The two Elizabeths would reunite that evening at Bee Hunter’s pop-up tasting at Aquarelle Catering & Events in Boonville. Napa Elizabeth tasted through their available portfolio and could not get enough, so returned once again the next day to discover that not only is Andy a winemaker, but he is a chef, making his own brisket sliders and BBQ tacos, surprising those who ventured in to taste. He made a special-order plate for Napa Elizabeth that fit her wellness lifestyle. The wine pairing: Bee Hunter’s take on Bordeaux, the Yorkville Highlands blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon and 50% merlot ($48), which showed off its higher-terrain terroir in unison with the rich, fatty brisket.
Napa Elizabeth was sad to depart Boonville, but Philo Elizabeth said that she and Andy would be in Napa soon, the following Thursday, in fact, and the two reunited for a wine club pickup at Mumm Napa. As they said goodbye, Philo Elizabeth handed Napa Elizabeth two open samples, the 2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir ($48) and the 2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60). She returned home to taste with her cat, Einstein, by her side, and spoke to Philo Elizabeth and Andy via telephone the next day to get the rest of the story.
As always, your palate may vary.
2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir
With grapes sourced from three vineyards in Mendocino County – Wiley, Docker, and Oppenlander – this wine is aged 20 months in a mix of 20-25% new, tighter grain, French oak barrels, and the remainder used one to four vintages. This oak regime, longer extraction time, and a blend of vineyard sources renders this wine very fruit forward and aromatic, a delight for even the most sensitive wine drinkers. A light garnet color in the glass, this wine shows juicy, sweet berry fruit like black cherry on the front of the palate, finishing with a tart berry mélange of redcurrant and cranberry with a backdrop of black tea.
2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir
Made the same as the previous wine, but sourced from one vineyard, Oppenlander Vineyard, located just north of Anderson Valley and east of the coast, but close enough to enjoy the cool, foggy coastal influence, this pinot noir is the dark and brooding sibling to the Mendocino. A medium garnet in the glass, this wine is creamier, more weighty on the palate, and reveals an intense, brambly fruit profile of blackberry, blackcurrant, and black raspberry. The zingy acidity and spice are notable, the latter of which reminded me of my favorite cinnamon tea. If you spend any time with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, you may hear this wine referred to as “Guns & Kittens”, a throwback to their first vintage meeting with the growers in their 1860-era farmhouse and its plethora of vineyard kittens and 30 long guns, which precariously found themselves together in a closet during this fateful visit. The following year, one of the vineyard kittens, Baxter, found a home with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, joining family members Cleo and Puff.
Thankfully for us, this is only the beautiful beginning of the tale of two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine. Visit their website, where you can purchase wine, learn about their Bee Hunter Brand Ambassadorship program, book a tasting event, or become a Bee Hunter club member yourself. Stay tuned and always bee huntin’.
I decided to reread my website articles from the past year and categorize them. I realized that despite the challenges, I live a simple, charming life here in the Napa Valley. It is not easy living solo in a place far away from my real home, which in my heart will always be the East Coast.
I have enjoyed and shared with you some amazing wine and winery experiences this year, such as:
Most importantly, I transformed myself by losing 87 pounds in 10 months and have maintained this healthy, fit lifestyle for five months and counting. I finally loved myself enough to take care of me, so that I may give to you my best self. This transformation is my second lease on life. Many of you have contacted me with your encouragement and stories inspired by my success, so I created a separate website which focuses on this journey, Napa Fit Girl. I share my thoughts about wine and health here, too, though:
In 2017, I contributed to five other outlets: basil & salt magazine, Drizly, Snooth, American Winery Guide, and Cellar Angels. I did not realize I had published so much. In fact, all year I have been feeling guilty for not doing more. I accepted fewer wine samples due to my lifestyle change, and instead, opted for more wine destination experiences, which I prefer. Through my words, you and I visited East Coast destinations such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. You accompanied me on my travels to Amador, El Dorado, Napa, Placer, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma Counties in California. By way of my palate, I took you to Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, New York, and New Zealand. I wrote about my favorite wine movie, my philosophy about tasting notes, and craft beer. Below are my articles for these other outlets, in case you missed them. I was much more prolific than I imagined.
In light of all that I have accomplished and enjoyed throughout the year, I have changed my one word to describe 2017. The new word is love: self-love, love of the written word, love of wine experiences, love of travel, and love for you, my readers.
I wish for you in 2018 the kinds of love I have discovered this year in the face of great challenges. May 2018 be our best year yet.