As DC braces for its first cold snap of the season, I’m reminiscing about July in Malibu!
Wine grapes growing in Malibu
In a region known more for surfing and celebrities than vino, I had the opportunity to have lunch with an outstanding winemaker, Elliot Dolin. He was kind enough to share his wine, chat his past life on the road with Willie Nelson, and the newly designated AVA in Malibu over lunch at V’s.
Dolin wasn’t always a winemaker, or even aficionado. In fact, in the mid 90’s he started out knowing “next to nothing about wine at the time other than the fact that wine was either red or white.” It was at a friend’s regular wine gatherings where he began learning more, collecting wine and taking classes at UCLA.
After purchasing a home in Malibu, Dolin realized he had land perfect for growing grapes, and so began his vineyard in 2006.
“Given our proximity to the coast, Chardonnay was the logical varietal choice. There was then no question that we would pursue the production of wine from these grapes,” said Dolin.
Elliot Dolin with his 2011 Chardonnay
Although the cost of production at small, family owned wineries can be prohibitive, Dolin had his eye on expansion from the very beginning.
“Effective with our 2012 vintage, we have dramatically expanded our production to include four distinct single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings. In addition, for the 2012 vintage, we have produced a proprietary red wine made with grapes grown in a vineyard at a much higher elevation in Malibu. Thus, our 2012 production was close to 2000 cases, almost 10 times that of 2011.”
This is good news for wine lovers here on the East Coast!
“Given our higher, yet limited, production, we’re currently seeking distribution channels that will make our wines available throughout the United States.”
Currently, his Chardonnay is available to enjoy in DC at Oya. Drinkers can expect a well balanced wine with a rich, creamy mouth feel, tropical fruit notes and vanilla on the palette. It recently received 90 points from Wine Spectator.
2011 Chardonnay, which recently received 90 Points from Wine Spectator.
2013 was an odd year for California vintners. Harvest broke records in many areas with its early timing, but Dolin is optimistic.
“We are quite excited about the 2013 vintage. Our Estate chardonnay vineyard produced almost exactly the yield that we targeted. And the barrel samples that I have tasted reveal a very promising 2013 vintage for both our Estate Chardonnay and our single vineyard Pinot Noir grapes.”
There was quite a lot of hoopla over the designation of Malibu as its own distinct AVA. Dolin’s perspective on how this affects his own winemaking:
“The new Malibu Coast AVA allows us to label and identify our wines as being produced with grapes from a specific region, versus being limited to identifying them as originating from either “Los Angeles County ” or “California”. Aside from establishing this sense of place for our wines, we also benefit from the official government recognition that establishes the Malibu Coast as a legitimate wine growing region.”
Dolin was a professional musician for much of his life and has great stories of touring with music greats Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, and Merle Haggard. When he’s not making wine or music, Dolin is an avid classic car collector.
From Dolin’s days as a professional musician. Pictured: Ray Price and Willie Nelson. In Willie’s sunglass lens you can see a reflection of the legendary steel guitar player Buddy Emmons.
Have you tried wine from Malibu?
I recently attended a celebration of Tarara Vineyard‘s 25th anniversary, moderated by winemaker, Jordan Harris.
After a Leesburg lunch with Just the Bottle, we made our way to the winery to join something of a motley crew of Virginia wine bloggers and press.
There, we enjoyed a glass of their Boneyard Bubbly before exploring 5 flights of wine, including verticals and selections from the library. We sipped and chatted 25 years worth of wine-making in the tank room before taking in the last of 2014’s summer concert series on the late summer evening.
Despite the bevvy of Riedel crystal glassware and artisanal cheeses, the event was anything but pretentious. Harris set the tone early on with his assertion that a “winemaker is the most overplayed profession in America.”
I don’t know that I agree with him on that, but the evening offered a rare opportunity to lob questions at a winemaker in a small group setting.
As Virginia comes into its own as a respected wine producing state, it faces a serious marketing dilemma. Attempts to pigeon hole the diverse terroir have led people to make associations with the Loire Valley in France, asserting “Viognier THE Virginia Grape”, “Cab Franc THE Virginia red grape.”
One of the most popular discussions among Virginia wine makers and consumers lately has been that there doesn’t need to be a state anything and to let Virginia be Virgina. While marketing has its place, I’m a much bigger fan of letting the wines and terroir speak for themselves.
When Harris joined Tarara in 2007, the winery made some major changes. There was a distinct lack of focus that they decided to tackle head on.
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Harris. In this case- that meant wine. And so they got to work. He axed the top three sellers and replaced equipment. Harris is only willing to produce and do what he enjoys- with one major exception: Cab Franc.
If he were to have a Facebook relationship status with THE Virginia red grape, it would most certainly read, “It’s complicated,” but Tarara can’t seem to keep it on the shelves. Relationship status aside, Harris produces some outstanding Cab Francs (although we seem to have opposite preferences when it comes to vintages!)
Cab Franc is known as having some of the greatest variability between vintages of any variety. “I just don’t trust it,” said Harris.
Cab Franc flight
The 2012- to my palette- was outstanding. Well-balanced, earthy, with just a touch of funk and pepper I love to taste in Cab Francs. “Hedonistic,” was Harris’ assessment of the vintage, but I don’t expect Cab Francs to exhibit exceptional restraint. This wine was no shrinking violet, and that’s just how I like it!
Other stand outs from the tasting include the Tranquility Red 2010, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat. This wine showed incredible finesse. Slow to open up, I liken it to the introvert at the party that proves worth getting to know. The longer you gave it, the more it gave back with ripe dark fruit and earthy balance. This wine speaks quietly, but profoundly, if you care to listen.
The 2010 Syrah was another treat. No longer available for sale, this $100 gem (gasp! A $100 bottle from Virginia!?) was elegant with spicy ripe fruit, espresso, licorice and exquisite balance. This was an elegant wine with some serious staying power that will only get better with age.
With winemaker, Jordan Harris.
Thanks to the entire Tarara team and winemaker, Jordan Harris, for sharing some of your gems on this special evening- we may not agree on our favorite vintages, but it’s always refreshing to meet a winemaker willing to spill the secrets (and the juice!) behind one of Virginia’s most established wineries!
Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday – Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
For a special occasion, consider booking the private room for a reserve tasting!
Although we’re coming up on Labor Day weekend, the weather will continue to be warm for the next month or so. Here in DC, we’re looking at a heat wave! Here’s what I’ll be drinking:
A summer favorite, this budget friendly wine from the South of France is light and intensely refreshing. It’s well-known as a great pairing for seafood and is enjoyable for casual patio sipping as well.
Bon Vivant DC’s Pick: 2011 Domaine De La Fruitière Petit M ($13)
The tangy acidity and minerality in this Muscadet will make you a convert to this oft-overlooked variety.
Although many drink rosé year round (yours truly, included!), it’s often best enjoyed during warmer months. The most popular region for this type of wine is Provence, although they are increasingly being produced in almost every wine region. They often have red fruit flavors and a bone dry finish.
Bon Vivant DC’s Pick: Montfaucon Domaine Les Gardettes Rosé ($12)
This has been one of my go to summer rosés to enjoy al fresco this summer. This rosé from the Loire Valley has a wonderful bouquet of peach blossom and raspberry.
I know this is a common recommendation on the Bon Vivant Blog, but if you’re anything like me, any excuse will do to enjoy a festive glass of bubbly! It’s refreshing, pairs well with a variety of foods, and is perfectly acceptable to drink before noon on your Monday off!
Bon Vivant DC’s Pick: Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs ($40) & Biutiful Rosé Brut Cava ($13)
In the wake of the recent earthquake, show Napa some love with this superb bottle of bubbly. I’m partial to the Blanc de Noirs, but this established bubbly house produces outstanding bubblies from a variety of grapes.
For a more budget friendly option, look to Cava from Spain- equally delicious and usually lighter on the wallet! I like Biutiful’s brut rosé. Made from 100% Garnacha, this easy drinking bubbly has lovely red fruit notes and a bone dry finish.
For those who will be grilling out this weekend, Spanish reds are a great pairing with Barbeque and other grilled meats. They are slightly spicy, fruit forward, and balanced out with an old world, earthy quality.
Bon Vivant DC’s Pick: Ladrón de Guevara ($12-$30)
A spicy Tempranillo from Rioja fits the bill! Their cosecha will set you back a mere $12, while their Reserva can run about $30. The younger the wine, the lighter and more fruit forward it will be. I generally like to drink their middle ground- Crianza, which runs about $17.
This is another classic pairing for those who will be manning the grill this Labor Day weekend. California comes through again with this fruit forward and zesty red wine. (Just steer clear of the much maligned white Zinfandel!)
Bon Vivant DC’s Pick: 2012 F. Stephen Millier Angel’s Reserve Zinfandel ($20)
This classic producer from Lodi consistently puts out quality Zinfandel with jammy fruit and a hint of smokiness that will pair great with anything char-grilled.
What are your Labor Day Weekend Plans?
I am not what you would call an “early adopter”. Recovering technophobe might actually be a more appropriate term.
But wine apps are all the rage these days, and enough of my readers and clients use them that I thought it was high time I finally took the plunge to see what all the fuss was about.
As of last week, I became a featured user on Vivino wine app- the largest in the world. I’m still getting the hang of all of the advanced features, but so far I’ve found it to be really user friendly (a must!). It’s been a great tool to track wines that I enjoy with some simple tasting notes in a matter of minutes.
If you are looking to keep track of the wines you enjoy, I’ve found it to be far more efficient than my old “snap a label shot” method since they are all kept tidily in one spot…not so with my photo stream since I can get a little snap happy!
Oh yes, and it’s FREE to join.
Follow me on Vivino at “Bon Vivant” to see what I’m currently sipping!
Do you use a wine app? If so, which one?
*This post was NOT sponsored by Vivino.
Stage Four. Those aren’t words anyone wants to hear when it comes to breast cancer.
My Mom and sisters on Mother’s Day. May, 2014.
My mom grew up Westchester County, New York, born to South Carolinian parents. She attended boarding school at Madeira, where she was an equestrian. She made her debut at the International Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria, joined Tri-Delta and later the Junior League of Atlanta.
In short, this is not a woman you would expect to shave a faux hawk. And it’s definitely not a woman you would expect to dye said faux hawk pink.
So when she decided that’s what she wanted to do, my sisters dubbed it “The Pink Party” and like proper southerners, we ran with it.
Because when life throws you “The C word”, sometimes you’ve got to throw a little sparkling rosé and joie de vivre back at it.
A family silver tray was polished to present a flight of rosé wine, which was generously donated by Andrew Stover, of Vino 50 wines.
Hillinger makes a delicious sparkling wine, a portion of the proceeds benefiting Breast Cancer Research. For the past 5 years, they have donated 10,000 Euros a year with proceeds from their pink ribbon label- a refreshing secco made from 100% pinot noir. When menu planning and selecting wines, it was the obvious choice.
When cancer strikes, you either accept the diagnosis lying down, or you carpe your diem. My Mom has done the latter.
Since her diagnosis 4+ years ago she has traveled to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, France, Montreal, Scotland, the Grand Canyon. She made the move to Maryland with her service animal and companion, Maggie, a rescue Doberman Pinscher from the Dawson County Humane Society in Georgia.
The affair was civilized as these things go- we all wore pink. A family member, also a breast cancer survivor, sent a mass of hot pink roses. The luncheon was comprised of pink food and drink as we listened to a sound track of Frank Sinatra, Bon Iver, and Norah Jones. The hair dye was applied as we sipped Hillinger in my bathroom, and “set” as the tomato flat bread bubbled in the oven. As one does.
So if life has thrown you a curve ball lately, remember that it’s possible to celebrate even in the midst of dark and scary times. In fact, it is perhaps even more important to do so. So pop a cork, support a good cause while doing so, and live the good life. It’s what wine is all about.
Hillinger Sparkling Rosé, Pink Ribbon Label
Made from 100% pinot noir, this Austrian secco is lightly refreshing with notes of red fruit and strawberry. Enjoy as an aperitif at your own pink party!
Stone Hill Sparkling Rosé
This Methode Champenoise bubbly from Missouri (yes, Missouri!) is a blend of Vidal Blanc and Chambourcin. Its slightly more fruit forward style and dry finish paired well with our luncheon, and even better with the strawberry compote. Only 200 cases produced.
Boe Brookly Oenology Cabernet Franc Rosé
This rosé is comprised of 100% Cabernet Franc. Slightly tart with cranberry and raspberry on the palate, this dry, still wine hails from the finger lakes region of New York. Delicious on its own or paired with light appetizers.
Our chemo friendly menu (no raw fruits or veggies allowed!):
- Sparkling pink grapefruit juice
- Shrimp Cocktail
- Genoa Salami & Cheese (the only non-pink item served, but it’s not a party without a cheese plate!)
- Tomato and feta flat bread
- Strawberry Lemon cake served with stewed strawberry compote
To purchase the Hillinger wine we enjoyed, visit Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, DCanter, or Sherry’s in DC.
To donate to Breast Cancer Research, click here.
To donate to the shelter where Maggie was adopted, click here.
Update: Though my mother has since passed away, she rocked the faux hawk for as long as possible. This October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and was also my mother’s birthday month. For other ways to support both wine and Breast Cancer awareness, check out the #wineloversagainstcancer campaign.