Women & Wine: A new perspective

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment
A lovely gathering of inspiring women

A lovely gathering of inspiring women

Every now and again we have experiences in life that either support or challenge our own unique point of view. Most experiences do neither and are therefore not particularly noteworthy. On March 22nd, Julie Brosterman of Women & Wine and Wine Valet hosted a get-together at her home to honor five women who are blazing trails in the wine industry. Aside from having a beautiful home and being a fantastic cook, Julie has an amazing set of friends and acquaintances… and I walked away with a new amendment to my point of view. Doing business with women is great… even when the relationship is predicated on fellow womanhood.

You know how we always talk about how men and women are different? And it always sounds like a cop-out for us not understanding each other? Well, it’s true. Women and men ARE different… in a good way. We learn different things from each other and it’s so important to remember that. Businesses, relationships, and even the way we make wine benefits from a well-rounded perspective that includes women and men.

I’m really trying to not make generalizations here (well, not more than usual at least), but after wading through a man-filled techie business world for so long, it was incredibly refreshing to discover the differences in the way women talk about their businesses. The passion level is the same, but the expression of that passion is rooted in more in the human part of the experience, the friendships, the struggles, the triumphs… and less in the numbers, the “success,” or the technical details.

Here’s what I learned from these women who kindly opened up their worlds to me, and 30-something other women, to share their passion for … wine!

Julie Brosterman, Women & Wine and Wine Valet
A venerable host and generous spirit

I’m so glad I finally got a chance to meet Julie Brosterman. I have a soft spot for women entrepreneurs (gee, I wonder why) and a personal connection to her store Wine Valet. Julie is an impressive social networker and plugged in to the wine world from multiple angles making her a fantastic connector (think The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell). But she’s also generous and talented, open and honest, and very very hard working. If you have a reason to do business with Julie, you should… if you just want to be part of a network of women who love wine, she’s got you covered there, too…

Karen Cakebread, Ziata Wines (Buy)
A brave one who thinks it’s worth trying

I love how Karen talks about her “project.” As if launching a winery, and all of the work that goes into it, could be encapsulated by such an ordinary word. What it reflects most is her humility considering what she has accomplished in what must be acknowledged as one of the most difficult climates ever in which to launch a new business.

Karen’s “project” is a lovely pair of wines that tasted as good when I had them in the giant, cold, clammy seaside Fort Mason Center in San Francisco as they did in the warm Hollywood home of Julie Brosterman. Karen demonstrates an impeccable taste level not just in her wines but in decisions including the naming of her winery after her mother and the commission of exquisite wine labels that perhaps only a print designer would go gaga over.

P.S. Yes, her last name is from that Cakebread. But she wanted to do something different and share her point of view with “friends, family, and other wine lovers.”

Cathy Corison, Corison Winery (Buy)
One who sees, and knows the importance of, the details

It takes someone with keen vision to recognize an idea within herself and bring that vision to life. After almost 30 years of making wine for others, Cathy transformed the “wine inside me that needed to be made” from an internal notion to an incredible wine. From the precise location of her vineyards, to the specific (down to the forest) source of her oak, to letting “the vineyards speak,” Cathy has found a way to give all of us something from inside her.

Each year Cathy crafts two Cabernet Sauvignons at her Rutherford winery in Napa Valley, California. She brought two of these to Julie’s soiree and one of them was such an incredible experience I sat down alone with it to savor it (and take notes).

My experience with the 2001 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon
(Note: I try not to use prose to describe the wines I drink because it’s nearly meaningless to anyone else, but this wine was special and I found myself unable to access the experience with out flowery language.)

Beautiful black pepper, purple and black fruits, smoky on the nose. Silky tannins, pleasant bite, graceful finish. Lively, deep Cabernet, roundness. Light minerality or chalkiness. Red fruit in the finish.

Julie Johnson, Tres Sabores Winery (Buy)
Loves her life, and it shows

It’s always interesting to meet someone who you already know a little about. Even more so when that person warmly opens up, exudes friendliness and happiness, and welcomes in new people with a big smile and joyous eyes. Or maybe Julie just likes a party!

Caution! Julie comes with show-and-tell props that can be mistaken for snacks! She brought a Ziploc sandwich baggy filled with the organic (of the carbon-based kind, not the Whole Foods kind, though it’s probably that, too) fertilizer they use at the vineyard. The stuff looks like trail mix but it’s kind of neat to think the vines can get their nutrients the same way we do. No, I didn’t taste it.

Related anecdote: Several months ago I purchased a bottle of wine for Arianna’s birthday and the wine shop I bought it from saw me buying an expensive (by my standards) Zinfandel so tried to sell me on others. Being a oeno-neophyte I had not yet heard of The Prisoner, but no amount of reputation conveyed to me by a salesperson is going to convince me to shell out that kind of cash. After a stern “that’s outside my price range” they suggested I try a wine they referred to as “The Little Prisoner.” This was Tres Sbores’ ¿POR QUÉ NO? I think the store is doing themselves a disservice by pushing The Prisoner (I found it ruined the expensive meaty meal I drank it with) and considering ¿POR QUÉ NO? to be similar.

Paula Kornell, Oakville Ranch (Buy)
Connected to the land

Paula was born and raised in the Napa Valley… an upbringing I’m more than a tad bit jealous of. From childhood she recognized the Napa Valley as an extraordinary place to be protected, revered, and enjoyed. She brings that love of the Napa Valley to her post at Oakville Ranch, where you can taste how the wines reflect the company’s dedication to “giving back to this land.” Paula is a warm and lovely woman who not only manages a fantastic winery, but also has a long history of charitable work for a variety of causes and does everything to support her love of life, community, and land. I can’t wait to visit her at the winery and see first hand where all the magic happens.

Kelly McElearney, Ehlers Estate Winery (Buy)
Dedicated to something bigger

In the days when too many wineries to count are competing for your taste buds and your wine budget, it’s getting harder to tell the difference between wines (and equally hard to remember the difference). Some wineries are offering us better reasons to buy their wines than just “it’s a Napa Valley Cab that got 91 points from The Wine Spectator.” Among them, Ehler Estate is a non-profit winery where 100% “of the proceeds from the sale of these wines go to support the Leducq Foundation, a highly regarded, not-for-profit foundation dedicated to funding international cardiovascular research.”

What’s even cooler about this winery is Kelly. Kelly comes from a well-known Napa wine family. You may have heard of them… the Duckhorns? Rather than take a leadership role in her family’s legacy, Kelly is putting her knowledge and passion to work supporting a winery with much larger goals. What’s not to love about that?

P.S. I think her Mom sounds pretty neat, too.

A Weekend Full of Great Wine & Friends

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store | Comments Off on A Weekend Full of Great Wine & Friends

This past weekend my husband and I flitted off to San Diego to visit some friends and chill out. In addition to excellent company and excellent food, it was a fun wine weekend, too.

Wine #1: 2006 Beringer Napa Chardonnay

2005 Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay

2005 Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay

As a pre-dinner diversion, our friends Greg & Celine had us over for snacks and a glass of wine before heading out. They served us homemade dips (a delicious Greek yogurt dip with herbs in it and a yummy parmesan-artichoke dip) with pita chips and edamame. They served it to us with (and here's an adjective I never thought I'd use to describe a Beringer wine) Napa Valley Chardonnay. It was crisp, a little oaky, and had hints of green fruit. A well-structured, enjoyable white wine for $10-13 per bottle.

Wine #2: 2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2007 Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Greg & Celine brought us to their friends' new restaurant in Del Mar, California called Zel's. The patio was lovely, the food (mine at least) was excellent, and the service was an adventure. Greg insisted that since I have a wine blog I needed to choose the wine for the table. Unusually, there was a choice to be made because Zel's has a great wine list and really great bottle prices on the wine. I asked around and everyone liked Cabernet, so I chose the Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. You've heard me say before that you can't go wrong with a Cab from Alexander Valley and this gem was no exception. A delicious Cab typical of Alexander Valley, it carried us gracefully through mussels & french fries, warm spinach salad, sea bass with mushroom risotto, steak, pork shoulder, and a serrano ham woodfired pizza. We happily ordered 2 bottles during dinner and not only would I go back to this restaurant (a rare compliment from me) I would buy this wine at twice it's normal price of $14-17 per bottle.

Wine #3: 2005 Clos du Bois North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon

2005 Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast

2005 Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast

In the afternoon, I took my friend Gary shopping at Walmart. There are so many parts of that sentence which sound strange to me, but the strangest of all is that I voluntarily went into a Walmart (stranger still I spent money while I was there… on wine!). While we were wandering the aisles, I discovered they sell wine. In fact, I picked up a couple bottles of the Bonterra Organic & Biodynamic Chardonnay for $6 which is a STEAL. While perusing the shelf I saw the 2005 Clos du Bois North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon and opted to pass. Boy was that dumb. Later that afternoon, while sitting around playing games and drinking (that's what Sunday afternoons are for, right?) we opened a bottle that Gary already had at his place… and it was better than I've come to expect from Clos du Bois which can be SO hit-or-miss. (Example: I love their Pinot Grigio but hate their Pinot Noir.) This Cabernet was not of the same exceptional quality as the one from the night before, but nonetheless, when you're looking for value in your limited wine budget, this wine will make you think you spent more than you did for your $12-15 per bottle.

Wine #4: 2006 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

2006 Domain Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

2006 Domain Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros

When we made it to our final dinner of the weekend, we were ready to keep the good times rolling, so we ordered another bottle of wine. Well, I guess we technically ordered two bottles of wine. The first one was a Zolo Malbec… a wine I love! Or thought I did. I in fact love the Zolo Gaucho Select Malbec which I bought at BevMo! (which is, near as I can tell, a Reserve wine). They also bottle a lesser-version of it without the Gaucho Select, and I can tell you it's not as good as the Gaucho Select. So, I sent it back. Instead we ordered the 2006 Domaine Chandon Pinot Noir Carneros because Mitch loves Pinot and we were all eating dinners that would go nicely with a Pinot. Lately I've felt like every Pinot Noir I taste is overwhelmingly cherry or tastes like water even though it looks like wine. Finally that streak has been broken but I don't have a new Pinot to add to my shopping list when I want a wine in the $20-25 range because I don't think it was worth that much. More like $15-18 per bottle.

Kirkland Signature Chardonnay – from Costco… Really!

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Jess' Wine Tasting Notes | 2 Comments
2007 Costco Napa Valley Chardonnay

2007 Costco Napa Valley Chardonnay

I noticed recently that Costco has come out with more wines in their Kirkland Signature wines line and naturally, since I'm there once a month trolling the wine bins like the wine whore, er value seeker, that I am, I picked up a bunch more of 'em.

This time I tried the 2007 Napa Valley Chardonnay from Costco's Kirkland Signature brand line of house wines. In a different but happy way, I'm as impressed with this Chardonnay as I was with the Kirkland Signature Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

First, I've never had such a well-balanced Chardonnay under $20, much less under $10. California Chardonnays are often overly oaky, frequently too acidic, and sometimes taste like Sauvignon Blanc. Occasionally we come across Chards we love, but this one is a solid enjoyable player in a field of mediocre wines priced under $15.

What they say: 2007 Kirkland Signature Napa Valley Chardonnay is opulent and richly flavored. The succulent notes of apricot and fig are surrounded by intense bursts of apple and pear, finishing with bright, mouthwatering acidity; a distinctive, buttery edge; plus hints of cedar and oak. Chardonnay from Napa Valley is scarce, highly sought after, and the source for some of the finest California Chardonnay from the 2007 vintage. Drink now through 2010.

What Jess says: The bouquet is oaky, but don't let it fool you, other wonderful flavors come out to play once you take a sip. At first I noticed a brightness at the front of my mouth, oakiness in the mid-palate, and a smoky finish. The wine lingered in my mouth to offer a mild green-fruit and buttery finish. This wine would be great with any of the traditional foods one pairs with a Chardonnay (cheese, salad, fish, chicken, etc.) but could also compliment a heartier meal.

It doesn't seem to be on their website (I think because it's only available in California), so if you live in California you'll have to go to your local Costco to pick some up at the super bargain price of $7.99 a bottle. Here's an article about Kirkland Signature wines at Costco.com.