Taking my #wine kung fu to the next level: #WSET II & Napa Valley Wine Academy

406064_562298363799327_175257724_nI have been immersing myself in the study of #wine in a semi-systematic manner for much of the last 8 years.  Indeed, #Vinopanion‘s 8 year anniversary with @WineLog is approaching in the middle of this month. Yet I have slowly realized that something is lacking in my devotion to the knowledge of the vinous delights: focus, structure and external credibility. You’d think that a trained scientist would have recognized this long ago and I did notice these thoughts in the back of my mind a few years back.  But they were always battered back by “where’s the time?” and “I’m still receiving plenty of media travel & event invites,” along with “my wine consulting services continue to expand.” Then I reached last year and I started to recognize some clear patterns in my wine work. While I had plenty of media opportunities and my fellow wine colleagues were continuing to get work, I could see that the pace of my own trade offers beginning to slow down. It was then that I noticed that most of my colleagues began to sport letters after their names on their business cards: they were taking certified educational courses to formalize their wine training. I needed to set up my wine game. It was then that I contacted the good people at Napa Valley Wine Academy (FB, Tw): “help!”

Our-certification-menu-logoThe Napa Valley Wine Academy (NVWA) was founded in 2011 by longtime wine industry veterans, R. Christian Oggenfuss, D.W.S., F.W.S., I.W.P and Catherine Bugue, D.W.S., IWP. As residents of Northern California wine country, they both perceived a lack of true connection between the schools that offered wine and spirits training and the actual regions about which they taught…and thus a fine beverage academy in the Napa Valley was born!  Featuring industry educational luminaries including Master of Wines Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, as well as Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser; they are truly “one foot in the classroom and the other in the vineyards.” The NVWA has experienced tremendous industry support and strong early success, prompting them to expand to satellite locations around the US in Tampa, Florida and Santa Barbara, CA; as well as online. 

IMG_5975The NVWA instructors are spread across all of the major industry certifications, allowing the Academy to provide a full service range of official beverage certifications, including wine, spirits, saké, and beverage service, and region-specific courses. All courses and examinations are given by the academy itself, making it a one-stop educational experience, unlike many other piecemeal organizations. I have chosen to start my wine and beverage education in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (FB, Tw, YT, NVWA) program, starting with the WSET II Award, courtesy of the NVWA.  More on those adventures later however, as I need to get studying for my first exam! ¡Salud!

Hall Wines Cabernet Cookoff tastes great, gives help

11855799_868280449915926_2336774847356483997_nWe’re a little late on our coverage of this fine event, but we did want to send out hearty Vinopanion props to Hall Wines (WL, FB, Tw, IG, YT) and their highly enjoyable 6th Annual Cabernet Cookoff charity #foodie and #wine event this past April. Fifteen Napa Valley and San Francisco based chef teams competed to see which one could most favorably pair their small bite with the 2012 Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvigon and the 2012 Hall Napa County Coeur Cabernet Sauvignon red wines.  To whet the almost 700 attendees’ palates, the festivities were kicked off with a glass of the delicious 2012 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  On this particularly hot April day, the SB was quite a treat, with its juicy citrus acidity, rounded out with some tropical fruit and floral notes, and finishing with some zingy minerality.  Following the SB intro, the Lady and I headed into the array of tents to taste through the many culinary delights on prep.

Bunny Foo Foo welcomes the culinary charity masses. (By Lawrence Argent, Hall Wines).

Bunny Foo Foo welcomes the culinary charity masses. (By Lawrence Argent, Hall Wines).

Hall Wines has been producing ultra high end reds and whites in the Napa Valley at their two properties since 2002.  Owners Craig and Kathryn Walt Hall are renowned art collectors and thoughtful curators of their land and ecology with 5 Certified Organic estate vineyards and a Leed Gold Certified new winery at this, their St. Helena location.  We had the lovely opportunity to attend their grand opening of the gorgeous new St. Helena facility earlier in the year, but this was our first opportunity to see it in the daytime. And it was quite an experience! While it was a bit difficult on the hot sunny day to grasp the pairings with the smoky and oaky young Napa Cab, the brighter acidity and less oaked Coeur paired brilliantly with many of the dishes, including our favorite of the day: The Farmers Market Pantry’s Ancho Chili Roasted Mushroom & Squash Blossom Quesadilla. They were sponsoring the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center and their alternating savory and lightly spiced quesadilla rocked it with both the sauv blanc and the Coeur cabernet.

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11060935_868285769915394_6407453637873669927_nThe event was a resounding success, raising over $59,000 for the local community and satisfying the thirst and stomach of hundreds of charity-minded patrons that day.  The people’s choice and judge’s choice winners are listed below, along with a link to the fantastic drone video courtesy of Darren Chestnut.

A big thank you to Hall Wines for our attendance that day.  Cheers!

Judges’ Choice 1st Pl: Chef Zack Mutrux, PRESS & Charity, If Given a Chance

Dish: Braised lamb neck with beef fat potatoes and bacon sherry vinaigrette

People’s Choice 1st Pl: Chef Chris Jorosz, Andrea Reiter, Capital Dime & Charity, Food Literacy Center

Dish: Savory wild rice Belgian waffles, crispy duck and fig balsamic wildflower syrup

Drone video of the festivities, courtesy of Darren Chestnut.

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#OleWinos Final Day: Tilenus/Estefanía & the little #wine valley that could

IMG_5408The final day of our brilliant #OleWinos trip was spent in a little appellation in the northern part of Spain, tucked in between still snowy mountains (if only we had that snow and rain in California!): DO Bierzo (WL, FB, Tw). Our group was finishing up our stay across Spain, hosted by high end #wine group MGWines Group (WL, FB, Tw), in the small, but lovely & ancient, Roman-era town of Ponferrada.  It was here that we would visit the previously known property of Bodegas Estafanía (WL, FB), now known better by its main label, Tilenus. Named for the Celtic god, later appropriated by the Romans for their own Mars god of war, their label features a Roman coin that was once found in their very old vine vineyards. It is those very vineyards that sparked an image of ancientness themselves in my mind, with their Dantesque vine-hands reaching towards the sky, during our soggy visit to their longtime home.

More details after the leap!

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MGWines Group’s very old vine vineyard in DO Bierzo, part of their Bodegas Estefanía Tilenus estate. #OleWinos

The Bierzo DO is made up of a lot of ancient, family-owned vineyard properties that have a similar Napoleonic inheritance process as Burgundy: each property is split into equal portions following the inheritance of the next generation.  This results in a lot of small vineyards that still sit right next to each other.  As such, MGWines sources fruit from both their own properties, as well as very select, old vine neighboring properties that share some of the same characteristics as their own estate vineyards, such as soil and vine age. Depending on how close you are to the mountains in the Bierzo valley, you will find sandy soil sitting on top of clay or slate.  This has contributed to the lengthy life of these vines, as they have avoided the phylloxera plight of most of European vines, being protected by the mountains and in some cases, sandier soil.  It is quite common to come across a head-trained, gnarly row of dry-farmed vines that were planted 60-110 years ago.  These elderly vines produce a small amount of fruit, but it grows into tight, small berries with plenty of flavor concentration, savory characteristics and deep minerality.  And the vines of Bierzo are almost entirely of one grape: mencía.

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Relief of the Roman coin of Bodegas Estefanía & Tilenus. #OleWinos MGWines Group

Bodegas Estefanía is yet another beautiful jewel in the stable of MGWines Group.  Originally founded by the local Frias family in 1999 in a former creamery, MGWines Group purchased the property last year and kept on our host, Pablo Frias as General Manager.  Pablo is a stylish and tall Spaniard, dressed comfortably in a semi-hipster fashion, yet still functional for the winery work environment in which he’s developed his career.  He is very well-versed in the property and its wines, and a wonderful, soft-spoken, well-humored ambassador for the brand.

The winery has received extensive restoration and remodeling since its old days as a creamery.  Clean, stylistic wood and concrete modern Spanish design still maintains the painstaking utility to produce minimally-handled fine wines, as seen at all MGWines’ properties.  Gravity flow is enforced here as well, where they also hold onto their wines for 3-4 years before release in their “sleeping room” racked cellar. Once told by the then Bierzo Coop head winemaker that mencía would never make a fine, single varietal wine, Pablo’s father and uncle are now respected leaders of the mencía monovarietal movement that has been taking Bierzo and Scandinavia by storm, not to mention the US if you can find their wines. Twenty wineries in the DO ten years ago have now expanded to 72 wineries, as of March 2015, all focused mainly on mencía and the lone white in the Group, godello.

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

The #OleWinos Tilenus #wine lineup! MGWines Group

Mencía, despite appearances after 4+ years of aging, is an extremely ageable grape variety. Many of the wines that I enjoyed below, as evidenced by the many WKBadges given out, showed color aging as early as the 2011’s.  In some ways they reminded me of garnacha, including it’s medium weight and acidity.  Yet, these wines feature a lot more savory complexity than many garnacha, along with their shared floral notes, and mixed mainly red fruits that complement their good acidity.  Mencía does have a slightly smoother mouthfeel and fuller tannin, however.  Based on our historical tasting of wines from the property, even the Tilenus Bierzo Godello can age well, not just their well-priced mencía varietal wines, at all price categories.  Seek these Tilenus wines, and all Bierzo DO vino, near you, they are worth the affordable price!

IMG_5239 - Version 2A giant thank you goes out to our hosts, MGWines Group and Kraynick Consulting.  You can find all of our #OleWinos content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos are posted at the #Vinopanion Facebook page and the wines reviews at WineLog. You can read the MGWines Group blog post about our trip at their site, as well.

Wines tasted during our #OleWinos visit to Bodegas Estafanía Tilenus (WL, FB):

Tilenus Bierzo Godello 2013

Tilenus Bierzo Vendimia Roble Mencia 2014

QPRWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2011

Color: Dark garnet in the core, with garnet on the edges as well, slight brick.

Nose: Good earthy & meaty nose here, with all dark black fruit and flinty toasted notes.

Palate: Very nice smooth and full mouthfeel here, then cherry liqueur comes in, deep and ripe. Flinty, floral oak comes in towards the good and long finish that is more savory and with finer tannin and great acidity: QPRWK.

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2010

Tilenus Bierzo Crianza Mencia 2008

Tilenus Bierzo La Florida Mencia 2008

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pagos de Posada Mencia 2006

Color: Darker garnet in the core, garnet edges.

Nose: Big ripe black and red plum, graham cracker, light toast and flinty earth.

Palate: Big mouth here, more coating tannin, then all of that ripe plummy fruit arrives, with more toasted graham into the full, toasted, powerful finish, with more tannin: KeeperWK.

KeeperWK - WKBadgesTilenus Bierzo Pieros Mencia 2006

Color: Very dark rust colored sediment core, rust edges.

Nose: Huge black plum here, with some raisin and mocha aromas.

Palate: Big juicy plum here as well, distinct pencil lead and flinty earth, with cocoa and big tannin structure. Cocoa into finish with some sweeter toast as well. Continues to open with air, and gain forest floor: KeeperWK.

 

#OleWinos: MGWines Group’s Lavia rocks the A+ #wine

We continued our #OleWinos adventure with host MGWines Group (WL, FB, Tw), at their stellar Bodegas Lavia (WL, FB, Tw) #wine estate in the Bullas DO (WL, FB). You might remember that I visited DO Bullas a couple years back during our #Murcia8 journey. It was wonderful to be back and to visit a new part of this small Spanish appellation, the smallest in the Murcia region of Spain.  It is here that MGWines found the latest jewel in their basket of unique, fine wineries across the multitude of Spanish wine regions.  Our host for this trip was again, winemaker Sebastien Boudon.  He splits his time between Sierra Salinas and Lavia, which are about 100 km apart from each other.  The rain and clouds followed us to Lavia as well, but that didn’t stop us from taking in the striking mountainous surroundings of the Lavia estate.

MGWines Group's Bodegas Lavia, in DO Bullas.

MGWines Group’s Bodegas Lavia, in DO Bullas.

As described previously, wines from Bullas are mainly composed of the magnificent monastrell grape and tend to be more elegant, floral and lighter in weight than other wines from its neighboring Murcia DO’s of Yecla and Jumilla.  It is also the highest in elevation of the three and tends to get the most rainfall (though still quite low) and have higher humidity from the surrounding conifer forests, all of which stresses the dry-farmed vines less than neighboring regions.  The green trees and forests of the surrounding mountain peaks are a marked contrast from the drier Alicante appellation that we visited the day before. The soil is characterized by lot of shale rocks and stone, making for a very well-drained mixture and also allows these vines to easily send their roots quite deep in search of water and nutrients, picking up fine minerals along the way.  The estate owns roughly 30 acres of organically grown vines, with 5 of syrah and the rest monastrell. The syrah averages 16 years in age, with the monastrell at 35 years old. They further source fruit from surrounding old vine vineyards, of airén, syrah, macabeo/viura, and 2-3 other foreign grape varieties.

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Thea Dwelle tasting the newest Bodegas Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo with Bodegas Lavia winemaker Sebastien Boudon. MGWines Group

Similar to Sierra Salinas, this winery is also quite the architectural wonder and designed to minimize manual handling of the grapes, juice and wine, allowing gravity to take care of those movements.  The gorgeous modern stone building manages to both shine alone in its surroundings, but also blend in with nearby natural landscape.  Built in 2004, MGWines purchased the property in 2014, which was also Boudon’s first vintage at the estate.  The winery is much larger than their current needs, but they plan to greatly expand production, while still maintaining a boutique, hands-on approach by Boudon and his team.  Wine production currently sits at roughly 4,000 cases, so there is plenty of room to expand, as they continue to identify the best nearby fruit and vineyards.

It is quite clear from our tasting following the estate tour, that they have already found some of the best vineyards in the DO: these were some of my favorite wines from the strong MGWines Group portfolio! It was in the Bodega’s very modern tasting lounge and wine store, which overlooks the rows of old syrah vines and stony soils that surround the winery, that we tasted through the wines of the day.

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The #OleWinos in the Bodegas Lavia public tasting lounge. MGWines Group

We tasted through a number of mainly back vintage wines from the estate, from all three tiers of wines.  The lowest tier, though still with plenty of #QPRWK quality, is the straight Lavia red blend.  Next up is the Lavia+ label, a tighter selection of some of the best lots from each vintage, followed by the flagship Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo.  This single vineyard wine is made only in select years and is 100% estate monastrell.

All of these wines are characterized by balance, acidity, elegance, and in the case of the Paso Malo, restrained power, all of which can age for long time past their stated vintage.  You will find peppery, juicy red fruit in the early vintages, along with only a dusting of toast to balance the medium body and smooth, fine tannins.  With age, savory leather, scorched earth and more black fruit starts to enter the palate and nose.IMG_5280  If you’ve ever read any of my tasting notes in the past, you’ll know that these combos excite my palate in its core.  Please enjoy the tasting notes below and hopefully you too can try these wines in the coming years.  ¡Salud!

IMG_5239 - Version 2A giant thank you goes out to our hosts, MGWines Group and Kraynick Consulting.  You can find all of our #OleWinos content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The photos are posted at the #Vinopanion Facebook page and the wines reviews at WineLog. You can read the MGWines Group blog post about our trip at their site, as well.

Wines tasted during our #OleWinos visit to Bodegas Lavia (WL, FB, Tw):

 

QPRWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2010

Color: Medium ruby in the core, light ruby by edges.

Nose: Peppery red cherry berry fruit here, almost of garnacha, with light toast.

Palate: Great medium smooth feel and weight here, juicy and tasty, ripe cherry berry fruit as well, with good blackberry, light tannin, and great acid. Finishes with light toast and unsweetened chocolate: QPRWK.

QPRWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2006

Color: Starting to get some brick in the core color, edges are clearer brick red.

Nose: Drier red fruit here, with earthier, fully integrated oak. Some dried leaves here as well.

Palate: Dried, tasty cherry liqueur here in the fore, light dry tannin, juicy acidity, finishes with a bit of chalk, and flint. Good: QPRWK.

OldWorldWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Lavia 2004

Color: Medium to dark garnet in core, more dark brick edges.

Nose: Deeper cool, earthy menthol and anise here, drier black fruit in the nose with cigar and new leather.

Palate: Medium full and very round and smooth palate. Good mix of drier red and black fruit, dry firmer tannin, savory cherry tobacco as well, with good acid. More leathery notes into the finish: OldWorldWK.

KeeperWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ 2009

Color: Light to medium ruby in the core, light on edges.

Nose: Brambly and brighter cranberry fruited nose here, then rounder raspberry near the rim with medium toast.

Palate: Good savory mouth at first here, with nougat flavors, but unsweetened, with earth, black fruit, anise, medium fine tannin and good balanced acidity. Good mouthfeel that continues to get smoother and more elegant with additional air: KeeperWK.

Lavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ 2006

KeeperWK - WKBadgesLavia Bullas Monastrell Lavia+ Finca Paso Malo 2012

Color: Darker garnet core with violet highlights, violet edges.

Nose: Big red and black plum in the nose with nice violet and rose petal florals. Lurking oak underneath.

Palate: Bigger mouthfeel here and integrating but already nicely smooth and round with very fine tannin, almost feathery. Medium sweet chocolate marzipan as well, with juicy acidity to brighten things up. Still integrating, but will be good in a few years: KeeperWK.

 

 

Inaugural TasteLive! Café 140 Broadcast: Winemaker Patrick Krutz

Regular followers of the Vinopanion wine madness know that I regularly partake in the fun online Twitter tastings, brought to us by TasteLive! (Twitter, WineLog).  Many a post has been written and a wine has been reviewed about their solid tastings.  Now the innovative wine minds behind #tl_wine are kicking it up a notch, launching Café 140 as their latest online, and now physical, wine & lifestyle event series.

  Café 140 is a joint venture, physically based at the Heritage Public House at Santa Rosa Vintners’ Square, in partnership with Smiling Tiger Video.  It’s intended to be a monthly series, featuring guests from across the fine beverage, food, and arts lifestyle sphere.  Have no fear, however, they will still be broadcasting live on their great interactive website, per their other projects.  First up on the docket is Patrick Krutz, winemaker for his eponymous Krutz Family Cellars (Facebook, WineLog) as well as the new House Band Wines (Facebook, WineLog), intended to bring wine to the outdoor, music-loving masses.

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Krutz Family Cellars has been kicking out seriously good, fully family-produced fermented grape juice for the last 9 years. Based out of Monterey, I’m a big fan of their Pinot, but they have made a number of solid wines from across the great state of California.  Meanwhile, House Band Wines is a more value-driven brand that utilizes portable packaging so that thirsty wine lovers can have some solid wine everywhere they go, including music events that they will support in the future.

Further adding some excitement to this tasting, at least at Vin0panion HQ, is the knowledge that The Lady will be cooking up a fantastic suite of food to pair with the wines that we’ll be tasting, listed below.  Beth Fontaine is been rocking the food & art blogging on her site, Rollerskating With Scissors, and this TasteLive! Café 140 event will be not be one to miss!  The full details for the event are below and we look forward to seeing you all online.  Cheers!

Café 140 Live with Winemaker Patrick Krutz

Location: Heritage Public House, 1305-A Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa, CA

Time: 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM PST

Twitter: #tl_wine

Wines for Cafe1402012Krutz from House Band Wines (Facebook, WineLog) & Krutz Family Cellars (Facebook, WineLog):

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