What’s in my Glass: Random Wine Samples

Lots of samples!
Lots of samples!

As a wine and travel writer, I am often asked to visit wineries and accept wine samples. I say yes to samples, but I try to specify exactly what I want. That does not always work, because wineries and public relations people want to get their wines out there for some media love. Therefore, I end up with more than I had planned. This could not be more true than this fall, where I literally can’t keep up with all of the samples I am receiving and trying not to feel guilty that I don’t have enough time to taste them immediately. (I don’t get paid to write this blog, I have one full-time job and two part-time jobs in real life.) Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to share random wine samples with you incrementally, now and in future posts. I believe all of these I requested.

2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir
2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir

The first random wine sample is the 2014 Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot Noir. I visited this winery for a wine dinner as part of the Wine Tourism Conference in 2013. Oddly enough, I had just read about this wine in Wine Enthusiast, one of America’s Best Value Pinot Noirs. Sixty percent of this wine is fermented by carbonic maceration. If I had blind tasted this wine, I think I would have thought it resembled a Beaujolais (made from the gamay grape). It is very light bodied and light in color, easy drinking, fruit forward, and shows soft acid and tannin. If you are new to red wines, this might be a good entry point. SRP $22.

2013 Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer
2013 Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer

I’ve said it time and time again: Gewürztraminer and Kung Pao Chicken is one of the best wine and food pairings ever. The 2013 Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer ($28 SRP) possesses heady, floral and citrus aromas; a soft, textured mouthfeel; rich, ripe tropical and stone fruit flavors and a near-perfect integration of sweetness and acidity. Combined with the warm, spicy brown Kung Pao sauce, it’s euphoric on the palate. This wine is imported to the United States by Magnum Wines International, for whom I used to work in 2013 prior to moving to Napa.

2014 Banfi Centine Bianco
2014 Banfi Centine Bianco

The 2014 Banfi Wines Centine Bianco is a white blend of 30% chardonnay, 30% pinot grigio, and 40% sauvignon blanc. It really shows off the trifecta of grapes with its freshness and aromatics, as well as its dual treatment in both stainless steel and French oak. It has a fuller body than I expected, perhaps due the partial oak treatment, the time spent on lees, and/or the percentage of each grape variety used. Tree and stone fruits dominate the nose and palate, with a touch of smokiness from the oak, and a hint of residual sugar (3.4g/l), which is balanced by moderate acidity. The sauvignon blanc component really shines on the back of the palate, with flavors of lime and lemon. This is a lot of wine for only $11-$13/bottle. I paired this with shrimp.

More samples!
More samples!

If these weren’t enough to whet your palate, I have two or three more cases in my closet to taste during the upcoming months, so stay tuned. As always, if you are in the Napa/Sonoma area and you want to taste, let’s get together with samples.


Wine and a Movie: Under the Tuscan Sun Paired With Wines of Tuscany

Under The Tuscan Sun
Under The Tuscan Sun. Source: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/16395986118151053/

You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think “What the hell happened to you?” Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they are standing at a crossroads…someplace where they had to decide whether to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chicken-shit, Frances. ~ Patti, Under the Tuscan Sun

How I missed watching Under the Tuscan Sun, I’ll never know. Well, I do know. I’ve never been much of a movie person. Combine that with an all-consuming relationship that I thought would last forever, there just wasn’t time. In retrospect, this movie would not have meant to me then what it means to me now.

If you’ve seen the movie and you know me, you will understand the uncanny parallels of a female professor and writer unexpectedly betrayed by her life partner. After living for a while as a shell of the person she once was, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she travels to Tuscany and buys a villa, Bramasole, in Cortona. Or in my case, she takes a leap of faith and does something crazy, she moves across the country to Napa, California to start a new career in the wine business. Once there, she throws herself into restoring her life, but it is slow going at first. She does not immediately find a romantic relationship, but she does have a cat and begins to connect with the people around her. Unbeknownst to her, everything she wishes for comes true, just not exactly how she planned.

Of course, there are differences. One finds the relationship she desires, the other still awaits that moment. One of us is an amazing cook; the other is a budding oenophile.

2011 Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo
2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT

The recurrent themes of the movie – rebirth, renewal, growth, love, family, friends, food, and wine – are essential to living a fulfilled life. It’s in that spirit that Frances Mayes developed her Tuscan Sun brand to include these elements, most recently, Tuscan Sun Wines.  The movie and wine were not my first exposure to the Tuscan Sun line of products. Fewer than two years ago, I reviewed the olive oil.

One of the two wines provided to me by Banner Media Group was the 2011 Frances Mayes’s Tuscan Sun Wines Tondo Tondo, Toscana IGT, which means Just perfect. This Sangiovese is delightful, especially at the price point of around $14. It’s feminine, floral, and fruity, with loads of bright cherry, raspberry, and strawberry flavors. It finishes with soft tannins, spice, and a bit of acidity. It’s aged in stainless steel, so the berry flavors have a starring role.

One of the Tuscan Sun Wines is still available at wine.com. The others can be found through retail locations or by contacting Tuscan Sun Wines.

2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot Cortona
2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC

The other wine that paired well with the movie was produced by Baracchi Winery, located just east of Cortona overlooking Valdichiana Valley. The estate villa once belonged to 17th century poet Antonio Guadagnoli. The Baracchi family restored the property and today 22 hectares of the 60-hectare property are vineyards. Also located on the estate is Relais Il Falconiere, a luxury hotel, spa, and restaurant.

The 2008 Baracchi Smeriglio Merlot, Cortona DOC ($35.99) is aged 12 months in small French oak barrels. It’s deep garnet-red in color, with a medium body and mouthfeel. The dominant aromas and flavors are cedar and cherry and still has high tannins and a peppery, minty finish. I suggest decanting this and drinking it now.

After watching the movie and tasting the wines, my next step is to finally read the book that brought life in Tuscany to the forefront (I just purchased it!) and to always remember this,

Unthinkably good things can happen even late in the game. It’s such a surprise. ~ Frances, Under the Tuscan Sun

Cortona is now on my bucket list. And maybe, just maybe, I will learn to cook, too.


Disclosure: Earlier this year I was contacted by Binario Immagine e Comunicazione, a public and media relations agency working on behalf of Toscana Promozione, to assist in an international marketing campaign in support of Tuscan wine consortia, companies, and wine brands. The member consortia include Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano and Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and together they created a brand called Tuscany Taste. In exchange for three blog posts and social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, I received five wine samples from these five consortia members. I published two posts earlier this year, Will you be a Best Tuscan Wine Lover Awards 2013 winner? and Tuscany Taste: A Unified Brand and Vision, in support of this initiative. My wine samples arrived this week, so below is my third post about one of the wine consortia members, Chianti.

2010 Podere Dell'anselmo di Forconi Fabrizio Terre di Bracciatica Chianti DOCG
2010 Podere Dell’anselmo di Forconi Fabrizio Terre di Bracciatica Chianti DOCG

Chianti is perhaps one of the most well known wine-producing areas in Tuscany/Italy. When people think of Chianti, they often think of the rounded wine bottle in the basket. However, most Chianti is now sold in traditional Bordeaux-style bottles.

The primary black grapes grown in Chianti are Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and Colorino. Red wines from Chianti must be at least 70% Sangiovese (those from Chianti Classico DOCG must be at least 80% Sangiovese and no white grapes allowed). Chianti may contain up to 10% white grapes and up to 15% international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. (Source: Chianti: Vast Region Makes Vast Improvements). However, the Chianti percentage requirements seem to be constantly changing.

This week I opened of my samples, the 2010 Podere Dell’anselmo di Forconi Fabrizio Terre di Bracciatica Chianti DOCG, for a dinner with friends. It was more robust at first sip than I expected, as it is a Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. My friends and I decided to let it sit for a while. A couple of hours later it was much more approachable, with both black and red berry aromas and flavors, a toasted oak quality, and a nice balance of acidity and tannins. We also tried it with a Metrokane Rabbit Wine Aerating Pourer, which softened the tannins and brought out more of the bright fruit flavors and acidity.

Recommended pairings include cheeses, braised or grilled red meat, vegetable soup, and fish/fish pasta dishes. Due to the robustness, I would recommend hearty cheeses and red meats rather than a delicate pasta dish. My friends and I paired this wine with spaghetti and meatballs in a red sauce. I think it would have paired better with a steak or burger.

Tuscany Taste: A Unified Brand and Vision

Tuscany Taste Butterfly

After a record-setting 2011 when the export of Tuscan wines exceed the €659 million mark, as well as increased competition from producers such as California, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile and quickly expanding markets such as those in Brazil, China, and India, five Tuscan wine regions have combined their marketing efforts to form The Tuscany Taste project. Tuscany Taste, developed by by the Lorenzo Marini Group for Toscana Promozione, is comprised of Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano, At wine exhibitions, festivals, and shows, Tuscany wines will use one single image, the Tuscany Taste butterfly, to promote and sustain Tuscan culture, heritage, and product quality. The next step will be adding a tag with the Tuscany Taste symbol on all Tuscan wine bottles sold abroad to emphasize origin and quality.

Tuscan products package
Tuscan products package

The Best Tuscan Wine Lover Awards 2013, which I covered in a previous post, is part of the launch of this new initiative. If you haven’t entered, please don’t hesitate. All you have to do is read the official participation rules, download the Tuscany Taste logo, print it color, take your best photo with the logo, and post it on the Redazione Toscana Promozione Facebook fan page. Each of the three winners will receive a Tuscan products package and a printed plate.

Will you be a Best Tuscan Wine Lover Awards 2013 winner?

Tuscany TasteThe Best Tuscan Wine Lover Awards 2013 (BTWL 2013) is an international initiative designed to create awareness about Tuscany Taste, a brand recently launched to promote and sustain Tuscan wines like Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Tuscan products package
Tuscan products package

Do you want to be a 2013 Best Tuscan Wine Lover Award winner? If so, all you have to do is read the official participation rules, download the Tuscany Taste logo, print it color, take your best photo with the logo, and post it on the Redazione Toscana Promozione Facebook fan page. Each of the three winners will receive a Tuscan products package and a printed plate. Simple, right? What are you waiting for? Viva Toscana!


Frances Mayes’ Bramasole Olive Oil

Frances Mayes' Bramasole Olive Oil
Frances Mayes’ Bramasole Olive Oil

As many of my friends know, I am not much of a cook. I am more of an expert on other people’s food. That being said, when I do cook, I almost always use olive oil in some way. However, I didn’t know much about olive oil except it’s healthier and tastes better than other oils. Having recently tasted olive oils at the Boston Wine Expo, as well as my complimentary samples of Frances Mayes’ Bramasole Olive Oil, I now know that not olive oils are created equal.

The name Bramasole means yearning for the sun and is pronounced brah-mah-so-ley. The oil is made traditionally with hand-picked olives that are ground without heat. The resulting oil is first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The olives used to produce the oil come from Moraiolo, Frantoio, and Leccino trees. They both originate from and are processed in Tuscany I.G.P. (Indicazione Geografica Protetta). The oil is tasted and observed with other Tuscan oils to ensure quality.

Frances Mayes' Bramasole Olive Oil
Frances Mayes’ Bramasole Olive Oil

I tasted the oil during a ThirstyGirl Twitter tasting in December. My friend and I tasted the oil with a spoon first, then added balsamic vinegar, Italian dry spices, and Kosher salt to three different sample bowls. The oil was much greener than I had ever seen before and also had a bit of a spicy bite at the end. I recently learned that this indicates an olive oil of outstanding quality. When combined with the three aforementioned ingredients, the oil was perfect for dipping in crusty, Italian bread. In fact, we couldn’t stop eating it.

At the Boston Wine Expo, I made it a point to taste some olive oils as I felt like I had a better basis for comparison. Of all the oils I tasted, the Bramasole was definitely the best. I am looking forward to using the remaining oil in both cooking and as a dip for more yummy, crusty bread.