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Confession: I don’t drink a lot of wine from New Zealand. But I’m not one to turn down the opportunity to have dinner with Erica Crawford- yes, that New Zealand Crawford, at A Rake’s Progress. Truthfully, I was hoping her wines from the Love Block label might surprise this New Zealand skeptic, and that’s just what happened!
The Love Block wines, first produced in 2013, are all sustainably farmed. This started as a logical extension of a health scare which prompted Erica to take a look not just as what she was eating, but the products she used to clean her home, beauty products, and ultimately what was going into the wines she produced. I love when vineyards take a sustainable approach, but if the resulting wines don’t taste good it’s a lost effort in my book.
“It’s not always easy, but it is hugely gratifying.” – Erica Crawford
These wines achieve a really high quality level, without sacrificing environmental or health integrity. (They also happen to be vegan, a request from one of Crawford’s daughters.) As Crawford said, “it’s not always easy, but it is hugely gratifying.” Eventually, they plan to transition the vineyards to certified organic, but want to ensure quality and consistency before making this transition.
We started with the pinot gris- a natural start on a somewhat muggy DC day. I often find these wines can be a bit flabby or one dimensional. However, the Love Block was well balanced with plenty of acid and a beautiful minerality balancing out the melon, pear and passionfruit notes. Super easy drinking- this is a wine that doesn’t need food to enjoy, but it complemented the array of salads and late summer produce from A Rake’s Progress beautifully. SRP $22.99
New Zealand is perhaps most famous for its sauvignon blanc, and it’s frankly not a style I’m drawn to. They’re often “loud” wines- the fruit, the grass, that distinctive cat pee note…it’s all a bit much for me, lacking subtlety in favor of brute force. Not so here. I got plenty of fruit in the form of pineapple, lemon, and tinned yellow peaches, but this was balanced by lovely green, herbaceous notes. If New Zealand and Bordeaux had a lovechild, this would be the resulting wine and I can see it pleasing fans of both old and new world styles of Sauvignon Blanc. SRP $21.99
The pinot noir was actually my favorite wine of the trio. It had lovely notes of violet, black raspberry, black pepper and a subtle mushroom note. Silky and smooth, medium bodied, but just enough complexity to keep me reaching for my glass over and over. The family style meal featured everything from smoked trout to prime rib, to roast chicken, and the wine was versatile enough to pair well with all three dishes. Again, this wine straddled old world/new world styles, making it an easy pick for dinner parties or a hostess gift. SRP $29.99
The wines are available for purchase at the following DC stores and online:
- Bacchus Wine Cellars
- Circle Fine Wine and Spirits
- Ace Beverage
- Burka’s Fine Wine and Spirits
Have you tried Love Block wines?
Most California wine fans are familiar with Napa and Sonoma, but there’s so much more to California wine country than these venerated locales.
19th C. Murrieta’s Well
is located in Livermore in California’s Central Valley. The vineyard has a long and venerated history; it was even started with cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateeau Margaux in France. However, in a true testament to how much terroir and place matter, their wines today have few similarities with this French heritage. Their wines are ALL California new world in style: big, luscious, juicy, and fruit forward.
Recently I had the opportunity to try an assortment during a Snooth
tasting. Below are my favorite wines from the tasting along with some pairing recommendations! If you’re ready to branch out from Napa, these wines from Livermore are a great place to start exploring what else California has to offer.
The Whip, 2016
This was the fan favorite at my tasting gathering- a lovely blend of Sauvignon Blanc (33%), Semillon (24%), Chardonnay (21%), Orange Muscat (12%), and Viognier (10%). Extremely aromatic with lively acidity. This white wine was crisp and floral with notes of tropical fruit, jasmine and honeysuckle. This was a compelling wine on its own and would pair extremely well with spicy dishes. Vinified in a combination of stainless steel and small oak barrels.
Small Lot Sauvignon Blanc, 2017
I haven’t had a huge amount of oaked Sauvignon Blanc, and it’s certainly a different profile than what one might expect from the variety, but again, I found this wine compelling. The french oak adds a roundness and creaminess- there’s loads of pineapple and peach on this wine and some orange creamsicle happening here. I think it would pair beautifully with citrus infused poultry.
Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015
Pre-Release: Available September, 2018
This chewy, dense, fruit forward Bordeaux Blend (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 2% Malbec) is just screaming for a smoked brisket! Definitely give it some time to open up and I would recommend decanting. Fruit forward with notes of blackberries, cherry, baking spices and cocoa. Aged for 18 months in new French oak; 30% second and third use French oak barrels.
Have you tried wines from Livermore before?
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One of my favorite things about wine is how it so often interacts with culture, art, politics, history. In addition to the beautiful spread of mezze and interesting wines, these topics were at the forefront of a wine dinner at Agora I attended with Vinkara wines.
Wine consumption in Turkey is small, averaging just one liter per person a year. In fact, 80 percent of Turks do not drink alcohol at all and advertising within the country is currently forbidden, making the export business critically important to the success of wineries. However, the grapes are often ancient indigenous varieties which can be difficult for foreigners to pronounce. To say that winemakers are up against some particularly tough odds is an understatement.
It is a tumultuous time in Turkey, particularly for the nation’s wine industry. Current laws and custom stand in stark contrast to an ancient history of viticulture. Anatolia is said to be the birthplace of winemaking- scientific studies note the existence of winemaking in the region for 15,000 years. The vines have remained through millennia of turmoil and good fortune, war and peace.
It is often said that the best wines come from vines that struggle. In many parts of the world vines are partially deprived of water so that they seek deeper soil, adding strength and character to the plant and its prodigy. Just as vines that have grown more complex and resilient through struggle, the wines produced in Turkey are wonderfully complex, in spite of, and perhaps because of, the very struggles that they face.
The good news is, Vinkara has an incredibly passionate winemaker, Ardiç Gürsel, who is focused on revitalizing many of Turkey’s indigenous grapes with an eye on producing quality wines. She makes beautiful and complex wines at accessible price points- just $18 to $40.
Below, a few of my favorite wines from the beautiful mezze dinner with pairing suggestions. The overall quality was outstanding for the price, and while the names of these wines don’t exactly roll off the tongue, they are a pleasure to consume.
If you’re new to Turkish wine, here’s where I recommend you start! Kalecik Karasi is an ancient variety that is related to pinot noir. It’s all gorgeous red fruit, herbes de provence, and earthy minerality. Light bodied, immensely approachable, and a great pairing with a variety of foods. Average Price: $21.
This wine has a slightly more intense body style. I got a lot of raspberry, cherry notes, coffee, and baking spices. Medium tannin, medium acidity. Pair with meat or heavier pasta dishes. Average Price: $18.
This reserve wine was the most full bodied of the night, with brooding tannins. Chocolate, dark fruit, and licorice on the palate. It deserved some time to decant and open properly to reveal beautifully integrated fruit and a voluptuous body. Pair with rich stews and red meat. Average Price: $24
Have you ever tried Turkish Wine?
I’m often asked why I’ve decided to make a career in wine and the answer, like many, is a circuitous one. Not many people start their careers in wine, but almost everyone you ask will be able to point to one or two seminal experiences in their lives that changed the game, pointing them towards their eventual career.
My Dad introduced us to great food at an early age and we were permitted to enjoy a small glass of wine on special occasions. His favored tipple was- and remains- heavily oaked American chardonnay, and so that was my reference point for all wine from a young age.
My family has always believed in spending money on travel over material things- we’ve all got a serious case of wanderlust, and it’s often when I’m furthest from home that I feel the most myself.
When I was 16 we took a trip to Paris and the Loire Valley over Thanksgiving break. There were as many Griswold type gaffes as there were outstanding moments on that trip.
My Dad isn’t the most patient of travelers, and teenage girls aren’t known for traveling light. At one point the four of us were separated, jet lagged on three different metro cars on the way to our hotel. We eventually all made it in one piece, exhausted, angry and overburdened by our stuffed suitcases ill suited for the myriad stairs and cobblestones of Paris. My father was enjoying his second glass of wine in the lobby bar as if nothing was amiss by the time my sisters and I huffed in.
There was Thanksgiving dinner at Le Jules Verne, where I learned that turkey is highly over rated on that most American of holidays.
There was the car wreck in a torrential downpour set against the splendor of a brooding Chambord, beautiful and desolate in the slanted rain and fading light.
And there was my wine epiphany, in a wine cave somewhere in the Loire.
I don’t remember it being a planned stop, but pretty much everyone was ready to get out of the rental when we saw a sign advertising “Wine Tasting” on the side of the road.
It was cool and damp in the small, dimly lit cave. As the host graciously poured us all a sample of chardonnay he described the wine, “pomme, poire…” trademarks of great Loire chardonnay, but it was the pear that jumped out to me. I had no idea up until that moment that Chardonnay could taste of anything other than vanilla, buttered popcorn and oak. But PEAR?! It was revolutionary, and I started my love affair with old world wine and French chardonnay then and there.
My dad bought a full case of the wine and each evening before dinner we would all gather to enjoy a glass. I’m not sure how much ended up making it back home, but that no name wine changed the game for me.
I called my Dad to see if he could remember anything else and at first he didn’t recall the wine at all. Jules Verne, yes….the car wreck at Chambord, yes. As I described the wine it clicked. “Yes, I do remember buying a case of wine somewhere. It was definitely chardonnay, but I don’t remember anything about pear?”.
What wine changed the game for you?
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The storm clouds in DC have finally given us a break and many people are planning outdoor entertaining for Memorial Day Weekend. What you may not know is that today is also #LanguedocDay.
Wine “days” seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but what I love about this particular one is that it breaks people out of wine ruts and raises awareness about an unsung region in the Southwest of France that offers incredible quality at affordable prices.
When Wines of Languedoc approached me about reviewing some of their wines, I was excited- mainly because I happen to love them, but also because they were focused on quality, with only AOP (Appelation d’origine contrôlée) designated wines. Though the region is often known for its bulk wine production, only 10% of wine from the region receives AOP designation, meaning stricter sourcing and production guidelines, but also higher quality wines.
It also gave me an opportunity to invite some friends over to chime in with their own opinions! We took advantage of a gorgeous DC day and threw a garden party.
Wines from the Languedoc lend themselves exceptionally well to entertaining. They’re accessible wines in both flavor profile and price- 2 things that make them prime candidates for any party wine!
The bar was set up for guests to easily serve themselves and sample all of the wines. Sparkling water and a carafe of cucumber lemon water kept guests hydrated!
On the menu:
- Homemade pimento cheese with ritz crackers- a must for any southern garden party!
- Crudité platter with hummus
- Orzo pasta salad
- Fruit platter
- Assorted olives, nuts, charcuterie and artisanal cheeses
- To hydrate: I like to serve cucumber lemon water and sparkling water.
- The bugs: These pretty citronella candles give off a gorgeous glow while keeping the bugs at bay.
These citronella candles not only give off a gorgeous glow, they keep pesky bugs at bay!
All of these, with the exception of the Crémant, are available at Weygandt Wines
. They’ve been kind enough to offer readers 15% off if you mention this post! Stop by to stock up for any weekend entertaining you might be planning.
Montfin Corbieres $13.99
This wine offers lovely red fruit with some earthy undertones. I noticed plum, red pepper and leather notes with medium tannin and acidity.
Montfin Rosé $13.99
This easy going rosé was a crowd favorite on such a gorgeous day! Dry, with notes of white peach and raspberrry.
Arbalète Coquelicots $17.99
This wine showed best after it cooled off a bit. Red fruit, a hint of baking spice and lovely earthy qualities.
Picpoul de Pinet $11.99
Crisp and light with notes of apple, pear and citrus. This is a warm weather no brainer!
Saint-Hilaire Crémant de Limoux $15
This crémant was both festive and accessible at a fraction of the cost of champagne! Crisp with notes of pear and soft floral notes.
Have you tried Languedoc wines? If not, this weekend is a great opportunity to do so. To learn even more check out L’Aventure Languedoc, a celebration of Languedoc AOP wines throughout June, coming to Seattle and Washington DC. Click here for more information!