Four Must-Try Sips in Chattanooga

Taking the stairs from my swanky digs at the boutique Dwell Hotel in Chattanooga, Tennessee, drinks at Matilda Midnight were in order before dinner at the Solarium Cafe, where botanicals and locally-sourced ingredients are the theme in this cozy, 35-seat cafe.

I’m a sucker for honeysuckle anything. I love the scent and the taste, let alone the name. So, when I found Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka on a few cocktail menus, I had to order those first and foremost. According to distiller Phillip Ladner, the notes on this unique vodka are “soft floral & herbaceous aromas of honeysuckle. A sweet and delicate flavor with a well-rounded fresh finish.”

At the Dwell Hotel’s zodiac-inspired Matilda Midnight lounge, seasonal cocktails are on the menu.

DRINK #1 – At the Matilda Midnight lounge, order the Summer Sanctuary ($10) with Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, St. George Pear, Creme de Violette, Sparkling, and this is where the visual gets really interesting… icebound seasonal fruits & herbs. The ice cube is over-sized and encapsulated in the cube is a work of art — colorful, fresh herbs that become one in your drink if you drink it too slow.

DRINK #2 – A few steps from the Matilda Midnight lounge is The Dwell Hotel ‘s Solarium Cafe. The menu is health-conscious and the wine list is a mix of Old World and New World. My choice was perfect: A Shiraz/Grenache that proves Australia wines of McLaren Vale are keeping up with the Joneses.

DRINK #3 – I deem St. John’s Restaurant in Chattanooga as the best restaurant in the city. Before I perused the dinner menu, I ordered myself a cocktail of April Showers (you can order this off-menu off-season) because, well, honeysuckle… Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka with yellow chartreuse, strawberry-rhubarb, thyme, lemon and sparkling wine. Oh, my.

DRINK #4 – Still at St. John’s Restaurant, my cocktail was set aside for a glass of Anthill Farms 2015 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, which paired nicely with my order of pork belly “Croque Madame”.

Bridge Walk

Once you’re ready to walk off the alcohol, head to one of the longest pedestrian-only truss bridges in the world: the Walnut Street Bridge. This iconic bridge was built in 1891 and spans 2,370 feet over the Tennessee River to connect downtown Chattanooga with the vivacious North Shore District. The best way to walk it is to grab a cone of hand-crafted, creamy Clumpies Ice Cream on the North Shore Coolidge Park area at sunset.

NOTE OF INTEREST: Head to Chattanooga on October 6, 2018 to participate in the Wine Over Water Food & Wine Festival that takes place on the bridge.

 

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Three Shades of Rosé

The little black dress isn’t only for women. Sorry, ladies, but according to a 2018 Wine Intelligence Study, over half of rosé wine drinkers are male! Excelsior Wine Company discovered a way to cater to both sexes… with a gender-neutral label of a script acronym, “lbd” and to cater to the ladies… its new vintage has been featured as part of LBD Cares Initiative supporting women at nationwide events. How’s that for keeping everyone happy?

My bottle of Mendocino County, California 2017 ldb rosé pours a full-flavored watermelon and berry sweet summer sip. It is the perfect blend of zinfandel and petite syrah in a pink-salmon shade that speaks of summertime.  The price point doesn’t break the bank, either. At $12/bottle, visit www.lbdwines.com to locate your Little Black Dress. If you’re feeling cocktail creative, here’s a recipe for an LBD Spritzer:

  • 4 oz. LBD Rosé
  • 1/2 oz. lychee liqueur
  • 1/2 oz. Pama liqueur (or POM juice)
  • 2 dashes of rhubarb bitters
  • Dash of Strawberry Rhubarb soda or Club soda

Fill a wine glass with ice. Combine LBD Rosé, lychee liqueur, Pama liqueur, and rhubarb bitters. Top with strawberry rhubarb soda or club soda. Garnish with fresh-cut strawberries and wheels of lime and fresh sprig of rosemary.

Next, I sipped a Vivanco 2016 Tempranillo Garnacha. This is a deeper shade of rosé and hails from Rioja, Spain in a blend of 80% tempranillo and 20% garnacha from Vivanco’s estate vineyards. The bottle was inspired by an original 18th century bottle on display at the Vivanco Museum of the Culture of Wine. Visit www.vivancowineculture.com for more information. The buildup to taste begins with aromas of red licorice, raspberry, and strawberry wrapped in a floral mix of roses and violets. This affordable bottle retails at $14.99.

Last, but not least is a Western Cape, South Africa sparkling Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut produced at Simonsig Wine Estate. I brought this straw-colored bottle to a Fourth of July celebration/cookout and it was a huge hit! I will definitely be ordering more bottles to pair with breakfast (scrambled eggs), lunch (sushi) and dinner (duck) with dessert of almond cake suggested as the perfect pairing. Priced at $25/bottle, I’m impressed.

Three varietal staples of sparkling wine went into this brut: chardonnay, pinot noir and a touch of pinot meunier. If you enjoy sipping light flavors of apples and pears, you’ll love this sparkling imported by Quintessential Wines. Note of interest: In 2004, winemaker Johan Malan created the first ever blend of Pinotage.

St. Hugo of the Barossa Valley, Australia

We were chauffeured to the Barossa Valley, a premier wine region an hour from Adelaide in South Australia, in a vintage Daimler as part of an Ultimate Wine Experiences tour. First stop: St. Hugo winery.

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Although we were in the one of the driest continents in the world, it rained off and on that day, mostly when our group walked through the vineyards. Our umbrella procession escalated in its amusement when we spotted a few kangaroos hopping between a few rows of grapevines. No need to worry about the grapes; kangaroos like to munch on the grass and offer free labor for their excellent vineyard maintenance.dsc02568.jpg

Inside the luxurious underground private tasting room, where a vault holds a time capsule of vintage wines, I tasted from a bottle of 2016 Shiraz that had no label. Like most Australian wines, it was secured via screw cap. This wine offered a lovely perfume of cherry with a slight of oak, and its taste was somewhat approachable, but could be more so once it’s released next year. The grapes for this Shiraz were sourced from several vineyards.

While at St. Hugo, I learned that from 1980 through 2008, the region only grew Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, but now there’s plenty of Shiraz, Grenache and a few white grape varietals, especially impressive are the Semillon grapes.

I taste a 2015 Barossa Shiraz with ripe tannin structure. Very nice, full-bodied. And then a 2009 Barossa Shiraz harvested during a drought. Those vines were stressed while growing in the ancient sea bed soil, and as a result, the wine offers an intense flavor and velvety structure with great tannins and leather aroma. If held for three more years, you’d get more characteristics of plums and pepper.

Next, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon with no label was green pepper dominant in its aroma. St. Hugo deems this as its flagship cabernet. It tastes different than my palate recognizes as cabernet, but it does have a good tannin structure and I find it interesting in comparison to the 2009 cabernet that was so black currants-jammy and high in acidity that I craved a filet mignon to make it work for me.

Behind the Saint

Formerly the wine label Gramp & Sons, St. Hugo came about following a tragedy that occurred in 1938, when Hugo Gramp’s flight from Adelaide to Melbourne – with two other prominent wine industry members, Thomas Hardy and Sidney Hill Smith, ended with a crash.

Honoring Hugo as a legend in winemaking, in 1983, a wine labeled “St. Hugo” was released. The “Saint” was inspired by European tradition of naming vineyards after saints in order to bestow good fortune upon them.

The first St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes harvested in 1980 and hailed for its power and elegance, much like the great man himself. St Hugo sets the benchmark for excellence in Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.

Two French Rosés and a Portuguese White to Enjoy This Summer

Rosé is probably the most subjective wine that catapults conversations and arguments among wine drinkers. Considered the summertime sip, there are variations on the winemaking methods and grapes used to create a ballet-pink to jewel-ruby color wine, best served chilled.

As a fan of Alsace wines, I wasn’t surprised to fall in love with a 2017 Gustave Lorentz Pinot Noir – Le Rosé, even though I prefer Grenache rosés. Pretty as a perfume bottle, its shape and label match the elegant palate of soft and supple femininity. I would suggest sipping this throughout summer, and stocking up isn’t going to break the bank, either. Depending on where you purchase this wine, it ranges from $13 up to $19.99 per bottle. It also pairs well with barbecue, roasted meats salads, light cheeses, non-spicy Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Indian foods. Win-win.

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Next, a bottle of Chateau Ferry Lacombe Haedus Rosé 2017, Cotes de Provence (AOP) France sets the stage for rosé excellence. I gave this wine five stars on Vivino because of color, clarity and taste. All magnificent. Fifty percent Grenache, 25 percent syrah, 15 percent cinsault and 10 percent vermentino work for me. The soft pink/peach color leads to a delicate taste of raspberry and strawberry mixed with some freshly-picked white and citrus fruits. Served best as an aperitif, but if you must sip with food, choose white meats or grilled fish, mixed salads, paella or Thai satay. Priced at $21.99 a bottle, you’ll want to savor this one.

Now we’ll head to Portugal for a 2016 Vila Nova Vinho Verde (DOC) made with 50 percent Loureiro, 30 percent Arinto and 20 percent Avesso grapes. Priced at $11.99, you get what you pay for with this bottle. It’s a bit Vila_Nova_Verde_BFfrizz-forward upon opening, but once it relaxes, it offers a fresh, tropical fruit palate. Best served with shellfish and vegetarian dishes (sushi).

 

www.quintessentialwines.com

 

Two wines, Two Angels

Jacob DeBacker’s artistic interpretation of the Two Angels label of Lake County, California is a yin-yang for oenophiles; it depicts the hilarity of inebriation and the trauma of the morning after. In my own yin-yang evaluation of one white and one red, I came to the following conclusions:

#1 – Two Angels Sauvignon Blanc made from grapes grown in High Valley, California, proved to be a lovely 2017 vintage priced at approximately $15. I enjoyed sipping this fruit-forward wine and was informed that it is reminiscent of the Rhone Valley’s Crozes-Hermitage vineyards, which are in the northern region opposite of where the best Rhone grapes are grown. This French region uses white grapes as a blend in the red wines. High Valley in Lake County, California offers red volcanic soils from the hillsides while the valley floor provides well-drained beds for the vines.

What makes this wine special is the winemaking technique of leaving a percentage of sur lies, as it adds a silky-ness while keeping it crisp. I give it three stars.

#2 – Two Angels Petite Syrah made from grapes grown in Red Hills of Lake County, California is a 2015 vintage. What you need to know is that in 2015, Lake County experienced a horrific fire storm. I was eager to see what resulted in the finished product, especially knowing a bottle is priced at approximately $25.

Upon a pour, this was as inky as a petit syrah should be in color, but it fell flat after the start. It was texturally rich but with a band-aid finish, sort of like a dead end, devoid of fruit. It was an abrupt end to a good start. It was more a beverage than a wine. I give it two stars. I do look forward to the next few vintages to taste a difference.

The ‘Little Rascal’ of Northern Italy

The scent of honeysuckle thrills me. Italy thrills me. Wine thrills me. And I was able to embrace all three pleasures in a bottle of 2016 Langhe Arneis (DOC) from Luca Bosio Vineyards in Piedmont, Italy.

As one of the most acclaimed Old World wine regions in Italy, Piemonte (Piedmont) is located in the northwest corner, and is a region most notable for its Barolo wines. In Italian, Langhe Arneis means “little rascal”, which is a good way to describe this grape and the winemaking method where technology and rural tradition co-exist.

Valter and Luca Bosio, father and son, with Rosella, mother and wife, manage Bosio Family Estates. The Bosio’s winemaking philosophy is about sharing a heritage: “It’s our style, style of people who like to cultivate the vineyards and make wine, an old and tiresome ritual that is patrimony of everybody, as the piedmontese landscape is.”

I was ready to pour a glass. The first thing I noticed was this deep straw yellow color, which may be a result of the young winemaker’s method of 24-hour arneis grape skin contact. Next, I inhaled the aroma, and its floral scent gave way to a fruity taste of apricots, pineapple and peaches, which explains why this wine would pair well with white fish, chicken, pork and savory vegetable dishes.

I was ready to pair with dinner, but all I had was a slice of pepperoni pizza. This was not a good pairing because the red sauce heightened the acid component a bit too much for my taste. Next time, I’ll try it with white fish.

Now that I’ve sipped this Piedmont arneis, I’ve established an introduction to the Langhe region. Eventually, I hope to visit Piedmont, Italy, so that I might taste more of its wines. Until then, cheers!

Déjà vu through Cremant d’Alsace Rosé

To converse about sparkling wine, one has to be willing to share personal experiences that most often involve a memorable moment of celebration. It doesn’t always have to involve celebration, though. It could simply convey an emotion you recall when you first sipped a particular wine. Perhaps the sunshine felt especially comforting, or a particular scent permeated the air that you pick up in the wine’s aroma, or the minerality of a wine connects you to the soil and rainfall experienced during a visit to the vineyard where those grapes were grown.

Wine déjà vu is interesting, and when I opened a bottle of Cremant d’Alsace Rosé produced by Gustave Lorentz, the group who sipped this sparkling pinot noir had much to share. My personal reaction was more about Alsace, a region in France I did not get to visit during my year living in Paris. Once I tasted this sparkling brut made in “Methode Champenoise”, my desire surged for a visit to explore Alsace.

A oenophile friend among my group of tasters had visited Alsace, so it brought her the opportunity to share details of her travels and love of cremant. Another in our group is a huge fan of rosé wine, so she was thrilled once she tasted the Alsace cremant and realized a new discovery to add to her wine collection.

We sipped this refined aperitif (valued ~$30/bottle) at the start of a dinner party, and it was perfect in its reception, both in its fresh and subtle fruit taste, and in its chilled serving as a toast to a wonderful evening. This pale, straw-colored sparkling is definitely worthy of opening at the start of any dinner party, if only to see where the conversation goes.

For more information on Gustave Lorentz, visit http://www.gustavelorentz.com. 

Silver Trident wines: A blend of symphony and the sea, Old World & New World

Throughout the Napa Valley, wine novices and oenophiles associate cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay as world-class wines to explore within the 400-plus wineries in the region. But in the heart of the Napa Valley, Yountville, the small town with a population in the mid-2,000, is all about luxury boutique wineries. Silver Trident is no exception.

Open shy of three years, the Silver Trident name is a nod to Neptune, and associated with the owner’s ancillary businesses in luxury Virtuoso and Oceania Cruise line.

Private tasting roomBecause Yountville has an ordinance in place that requires wineries to offer a percentage of retail, Silver Trident is adorned with the interior design of Ralph Lauren. With its muted neutral shades of upholstery and tartan wallpaper, seemingly endless crystal accessories and framed photographs of artfully colored sea turtles and retro-glamour photographs, a tasting at Silver Trident feels like a visit to someone’s home, except that each item is priced for potential purchase, including the tasting plates. The intent of tasting in someone’s living room is to eliminate any intimidation.

To set the stage for this wine-tasting experience, please know that the winemaking style of Silver Trident is Old World, but with New World grapes.

Lori and Cheryl - CheersMy trio headed to the larger dining room to take our seats for a wine/food pairing experience that began with a tasting of pinot of rosé made in the Provence style. Ooh la la, it was perfection, and I was surprised I loved it even though it wasn’t made with Grenache. Next, a taste of spring: A sip of 2017 sauvignon blanc with the label Symphony No. 9 (named after the owner’s love of music), paired with a small spoonful of goat cheese and fresh yogurt, courtesy of Sarah Scott, the winery’s chef and caterer.

Taking things up a notch, a Dijon, France clone of pinot noir grown in the Russian River in Sonoma County is a label Silver Trident calls “Benevolent Dictator”. The 2015 is a taste of some of the most sought out fruit in Sonoma. Sipping this wine felt like rose petals falling on my palate. Yes, the tannins were that soft.

A 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon labeled “Twenty Seven Fathoms” mimics marine depth. We enjoy this 100% varietal with an aged Gouda, butter and sea salt biscuit.

It’s no wonder there is a long list of wine club members who receive shipments of the eclectic wines of Silver Trident Winery. Please visit http://www.silvertridentwinery.com for more information.

Best of Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Party

Distinguished university Professor Kirshenblatt-Gimblett described wine tasting as an event: “It matures over the years and changes even in a few hours. It is an event. Even a single taste can be like an act in a play that is as long as the life of the vintage.”

Perhaps wine opens doors of communication relative to taste and travel, and with discussions revolving around Old World and New World wines, it’s the stuff of wine tasting parties. Have you ever been to a blind tasting party? If not, now is your chance to create your own with help from Boutique Wine Club. Its Boutique Wine Sampler features 6 ultra-premium, small-production wines in small bottles that serve 2.5 glasses each.

I enjoyed a sample pack of wines from Santa Barbara, one of my favorite destination spots in California. I would recommend most of the 6 bottles I sipped, and I would recommend setting up a tasting party of up to 12 (one-ounce pours). Once each taster has breathed in the wine’s aroma, a taste and swirl around the mouth and over the front and back of the tongue is next, followed by a swallow to consider the tastes that surface. The best part is the discussion.

While I might believe E11even, An Andrew Murray Production of Chenin Blanc 2016 from Santa Ynez Valley with its rich and luxurious texture and melting flavors of melon and citrus fruit was the best wine out of the pack, it could also be argued that Blair Fox Cellars 2016 Petite Sirah of Santa Barbara County, with its luscious dark berry flavors and finish of earthy herbal notes performed best.  Or perhaps the 2017 Larner Rosé of Santa Barbara County was a favorite for anyone who loves raspberries and a crisp wine on a warm day.

Once I tasted all six wines, I realized that my personal taste preference is for wines of Santa Ynez Valley. I loved that Chenin Blanc, as well as the 2016 Carr Cabernet Franc with elements of white pepper and spice mixed with raspberry. Did I mention that all of the wines in the sampler pack have been rated 90+ points within Santa Barbara? And there’s more. With each pack, you get a 12-page full-color tasting guide profiling each wine, winemaker and region, plus food pairing tips, recipes and tasting notes, a tour guide map to Santa Barbara County and its unique wine growing areas, and a custom placemat with instructions for hosting your own wine tasting party.

Visit BoutiqueWineBox.com and join the Wine Club so you can begin receiving shipments on a regular basis to plan your wine-tasting parties!

U.S. Zinfandel Recommendations from a wine judge

It’s no surprise to me to discover the best of class U.S. zinfandel hails from Lodi, California, also referred to as the “unofficial” zinfandel capital of the world. Close to 40 percent of the nation’s best zinfandel is grown in this northern portion of California’s Central Valley.

As a wine judge at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, I was bestowed the honor of selecting the best of 82 U.S. zinfandels priced between $28-$31 per bottle. Here is a list of my team of three’s picks:

Many congratulations to all of these zinfandel producers, and special congratulations to best of class, Prie Winery!