Saturday, December 29, 2007

Wrapping up 2007

Where did this year go? I truly believe 2007 was the fastest year of my life. I admit, it was a year of greatness and only a smidgen of bad. In fact, I can really only think of a few bad things – besides usual frustrations with the Texas wine sales supply chain (there are a lot of Jackasses I get to deal with), Norwegian attic rats filming the sequel to Ratatouille all summer long in my attic and walls, but falling off my porch at 6am onto my ankle resting on 3 inch heels took the top “things that sucked” spot. My Ankle is still messed up after 3 months.

As for all the good, man, what a year of learning how far I can push myself and really enjoying running TexaCali Wine Co. I’ve always known I’d end up making a career out of something I love; it is such a feeling of freedom. I know I say this all of the time, but I really do believe in and like all the wines and sake producers I so proudly represent. I have such an obligation to them all – which is profoundly scary and exciting all at the same time.

In 2008, you’ll see the producers of TexaCali Wine Co. in more high-profile events this year and I promise you this – many more placements on wine lists across the state as well. I didn’t travel much in 2007, things kept me busy here in Texas, but in 2008 I must get to Spain and France to explore and strengthen my wine knowledge of these regions. Many exciting projects in the works - like adding new items to, completing a cookbook and finalizing a Texas wine buying guide next year. Personally in 2008, I want to read more, start playing golf again, take a French language class, see more live music, and of course step-up the workouts. Oh and it wouldn’t hurt to find fall in love this year for real, I’m way over due in this department. Just a few little things...

Happy New Year everyone, thank you for supporting me and the producers of TexaCali Wine Co., 2008 is going to ROCK. Cheers - Ali

Thursday, December 27, 2007

In Food and Wine Magazine NOW

A Sushi Lover’s Taste Test

Sushi pairs well with both sake and wine. Give fanatics a copy of Sushi: A Pocket Guide ($8.95; with a bottle of sake—Rihaku’s Wandering Poet Junmai Ginjo ($35) is very good—and the 2006 Poet’s Leap Riesling ($20).

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas with the Family

Packing up my dog, loading the car with gifts, a few bottles wine and then off to Fort Worth for a few days. Here's a shot of the best thing about Christmas 2007. - my little nephew Brady - such a heartbreaker already.

My Christmas Day wines include: Handley Cellars Brut Rose, Luca Chardonnay and Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet. Finally a day of rest after a very busy year and hopefully my last 6 hours on I-35 this year!!!! Cheers - Ali

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A little nugget ...

Luca Chardonnay is annually a candidate for Argentina’s finest Chardonnay, the primary competitor being Catena Zapata. The 2006 Chardonnay was aged for 12 months in French oak, 50% new. It is light gold in color with a superb aromatic display of spicy oak, mineral, butterscotch, poached pear, and tropical fruits. Medium to full-bodied, it is smoothly textured with outstanding depth and concentration and a lengthy finish. It blows away most white Burgundies and California Chardonnays at twice the price. Luca is the personal project of Laura Catena, daughter of Nicolas Catena. Luca takes its name from Laura’s oldest son.

Robert Parker's review of Argentina just published today, Jay Miller has provided an indepth look at all Vine Connections producers and WOW, I am so proud! OH YEAH - ALI

Friday, December 21, 2007

3rd Annual "The List"

Drum roll please...With the thousands of wines to choose from these days, count on this list to make you and anyone you share these bottles with happy during holiday sipping.

This list of win
es is the one to print off and keep close while holiday shopping...Enjoy! - TexaCali Ali

Wet your Whistle Wines…Bottles for yourself to sip before your party or while preparing a festive holiday dinner…

2005 Jo Pithon Savennières La Croix Picot: Chenin Blanc from the Mastermind of the Loire Valley, a full-bodied white brimming with tropical fruits and supported by superb minerality and acidity. $35

2006 Pellegrini Sauvignon Blanc: A Wine Spectator Best Buy, Crisp, Fresh and slightly Mineral Driven, special Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County’s Leveroni Vinyeard. $14

2006 Handley Cellars Pinot Gris: 94 pts. by Wine & Sprits Magazine, this Pinot Gris is gorgeous. Loads of apple and pear tastin’ magic. Luscious and almost honeyed…but it finishes crisp. $17

2005 Teira Zinfandel: Dry Creek Zinfandel that smells like ripe black cherry, blueberry and black currant with hints of vanilla and black pepper on the nose. On the palate, elegant flavors of ripe black cherry, currant and creamy spice are complimented with hints of dark chocolate. $16

Party P
als…Save these bottles for your Holiday Bash or as a gift for that special person who doesn’t quite know what kind of wine they especially like. Very appealing wines for just about anyone…

2006 Storrs Gew√ľrztraminer: Gorgeous perfume of lychee fruit and rose petals. The flavor is full of Lychee nut, honeysuckle and spice with a touch of oak and an underpinning of creaminess – all complemented by a firm acidity which allows for a clean, bright finish. Slightly sweet with 1.2 % residual sugar. $16

2005 LIOCO
Sonoma County Chardonnay: This wine, like all of the LIOCO vineyard designate wines, was grown from the ground up. No bulk wine/juice was used. It was hand picked and sorted, and naturally fermented in 100% stainless steel using a wild yeast. It underwent a natural malolactic fermentation, and was bottled without fining or filtration. This wine showcases the hallmark traits of Sonoma County Chardonnay with lemon blossom, chamomile, and chalk playing leading roles. $20

2005 Olivet Lane Russian River Chardonnay: A cabernet lovers Chardonnay! 90 points W
ine Enthusiast: "Nice and oaky and rich, from a vineyard in the heart of the cool-climate southern part of the Russian River Valley. Acidity stars, giving zesty balance to the ripe pineapple, green apple, Key lime pie and pear flavors. New oak, to the tune of 40%, adds an opulent touch." (10/1/2007) Classic Burgundian notes of mineral, flint and wet stones evolving into hints of toasted bread crust. The mouth is rich and full-bodied with firm acidity, and the lingering finish is long and seamless. $24

2005 Tikal Patriota: 91 pts Wine & Spirits Magazine. Bonarda and malbec, Argentina's flagship red grapes, offer all their charm in this blend: The bonarda delivers juicy, ripe red fruit and a soft, lush texture; the malbec adds elegant tannins plus violet and dry red cherry notes. $24

Pinot Noir Lovers Only – a great collection from the most superior Pinot Noir growing regions on the West Coast…

2004 Lange Estate Freedom Hill Pinot Noir: A cabernet lovers Pinot Noir…this is a masculine expression of the grape with extraordinary depth. A distinct nose displays dark, brooding fruit, crushed peppercorns and sage. The palate shows ripe blackberry, blueberry, anise, tobacco and toast all balanced by a well-integrated tannins structure and elegant acidity. $62

2004 Fort Ross Vineyards RSV Pinot Noir: 92 points
Wine Spectator: "Deep and complex, with wonderful earth, clay, spice and earthy berry flavors that turn more expansive, with dense, chewy currant, mineral and anise. Ends with ample tannins and a long finish. Drink now through 2012. 370 cases made." $60

2005 Handley Cellars Pinot Noir: Milla Handley mixed several Pinot Noir clones plus 1 percent Pinot Gris to attain the various characteristics she wanted in this wine, including floral perfume, fresh strawberry, dark cherry and lovely hints of earth on the nose. The palate
has fresh red fruit acidity and some density with soft tannins and a lingering finish. $28

2006 Olivet Lane Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: Most famous for
the role it's played in Williams-Selyem's vineyard designated pinot noirs, the Olivet lane Estate Pinot Noir exhibits those same unmistakable characteristics typified by brilliant color, silky texture, delicate mouthfeel, and upfront flavors of framboise, cherries and spice. A gorgeous pinot noir! $35

The Trophy Collection – impress your boss, your accountant, your wife and maybe even that good friend who named his dogs “Opus and Sir Silver”, most importantly save a few for your own killer wine stash…

2005 Mendel Unus: As one of Argentina’s most highly anticipated and regarded new wi
neries, the Mendel Unus is incredibly dark red/purple in color. Incredible dark purple color. The aromas of dark cherries, plums and roasted cocoa come leaping out of the glass. This is a big, but very suave, wine with layers of ripe cherry and berry fruits, and the cocoa and vanilla flavors simply make this wine's finish go on and on and on. There are loads of ripe, soft tannins, so this wine will certainly age beautifully for a decade or longer, but the temptation to drink it right away may be too much to resist. 91pts Wine & Spirits Magazine. $50

2003 Medlock Ames Cabernet Sauvignon: This dark and intense Cabernet shows delicious dark cherry and cassis aromas which are enhanced by chocolate, dark berry and licorice on the palate as well as an exotic spicy quality we find characteristic of their vineyard. The dark fruit core of this wine is balanced by firm structure and supple tannins that last with the finish. $50

2005 Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon: This may be the best vi
netage ever produced by the Pellegrini Family…The 2005 Cloverdale Ranch Cabernet is a beautiful deep red color with purple highlights. The cooler weather in September gave us a wine with classic Cabernet aromatics and structure. Ripe black cherry and current aromas dominate the nose with chocolate, coffee and spice notes adding complexity. The vintage once again put its stamp on the wine. The structure is firm and elegant and promises a graceful evolution in bottle, a steal at $28 a bottle.

2004 Davis Family “Guyzer Block” Syrah: For this wine, Davis Family Vineyards follows the Cote Rotie tradition of fermenting the Syrah with about 2% Viognier grapes. The results are staggering. The wine shows cool-climate blackberry fruit with beefy notes all at the same time. With only 15% new aging, the pure fruit quality really comes through. The texture is pure crushed velvet while hints of white pepper on the finish keep the palate intrigue going. It's everything you love about the exotic nature of Syrah with a pretty side that you will not be a
ble to leave alone. Won a gold medal at the 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. $40

2001 Storrs BXR: The grapes for the 2001 Storrs BXR were grown in a series of plantings located in the recently-recognized San Francisco Bay appellation. Each of the classical Bordeaux
varietals is represented in the blend… Merlot; Malbec; Petit Verdot; Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The various plantings are all located in Region II mezo-climates where the heat of the day allows for the formation of the cassis and black cherry notes found in the wine; while the evening coolness promotes the tobacco box and cedar hints that you will discover in the long, lingering finish. This tasty number is deep garnet with a purple edge and has a delightful nose of cassis and black cherry, with hints of cedar and cigar box. In the mouth it is very big and full-bodied with layers of cassis, ripe plum, cigar box, tobacco and notes of vanilla round the palate. This wine has backbone to spare and will age beautifully for many years to come. $58


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Coming to Texas......

sake2me is the first bottled drink to blend pure, premium junmai sake with all-natural Asian flavors.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cloverdale Ranch Merlot on You Tube

You'll see...just in from the west coast.

Michael Lonsford Says Farewell to the Houston Chronicle

An email from Michael...this blog is read by hundreds of industry folks each day, so here ya go...

"After 28 years of writing my wine column, and dealing with some terrific people such as yourself (but let's call a spade a spade here - I had to deal with many assholes, too, like Justin Meyer, I don't care if he
is dead), my wine column at the Houston Chronicle is history. So I need to say that dealing with many of the wine people I have come to know and like - the pleasure
has been mine, and I'm grateful.

So, a few words of farewell, and
please do me this favor and pass this on to others in the wine business - suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, public-relations people. I only managed to retain a few e-mail addresses from my work computer before I left the confines of the office, and anyone who knows me knows I am completely computer-illitirit (I may has mispeled that).

For a long time I fought the good fight, but I never,
ever kidded myself. I always knew I was local and never pretended that I wielded a big stick like wine critic Robert Parker (and some of you liked to point that out to me - just business, you said, and I understood, although ...). My one satisfaction: I'd like to think I was a better writer. You may disagree, but at least allow me this one self-delusion.

Believe me when I say I have been the luckiest wine writer in the country. I'm not sure, but my tenure may have been the longest - if not, certainly one of the longest - uninterrupted wine columns in U.S. newspaper history. Which means you have been kind enough to overlook all my mistakes (and I know that was a lot of overlooking!) and that you understood that you - the Chronicle reader - were my customer. If I liked a wine, fine. If I didn't, fine, too - but you needed to know that there are a lot of crappy wines out there. I never hedged my bets.
I always did it for you my way -
straight, no chaser.

Believe it or not, the first time I wrote a a farewell wine column for the Chronicle was more than 20
years ago. You see, periodically I would get burned out and would approach people on staff I knew who liked wine to see if they would like to take over the beat - offered to help them over the rough spots - but no one would take up the challenge. I was amazed - the wine beat, along with, maybe, being a travel writer or movie reviewer - was primo - yet no takers. How strange. So even though I would get refreshed on the wine beat I would still update periodically the "goodbye" column that was, I hope, more inclusive and certainly much more
eloquent than this rambling. But again, the Chronicle deemed it not necessary to run my farewell column. So be it. Sometimes silence speaks far more loudly than words.

My retirement from the Chronicle is now complete: No more pun-dacious headlines, no more haikus and - now - no more wine columns. As for the latter, if you enjoyed them even half as much as I enjoyed writing them for you, it was worth all the time, all the inconvenience, all the hassle - and that was a lot, not just for me but also for all the people involved.

Don't believe it? Think of all the winemakers and winery owners who came to Houston, dog-tired from weeks on the road, when all they wanted to do was sit in a hotel room, watch CNN and have a beer, but no - they had to sit down with yet
another wine writer and repeat the same mantra over and over again. They weren't happy, but it was business. And I was there, too. Dog-tired, often bored, too, but it w
as business. Yourbusiness.
And think of all the
Houston wholesalers who had to schedule interviews with me and their suppliers at inconvenient times to accommodate my inflexible schedule, at local venues such as the Corskcrew, Crapitto's, Shade, Brennan's - so many places - that generously let me come in and occupy a table and dirty up glassware just to let me do my thing. The list is long and, I'm thankful to say, distinguished, and folks, I am grateful beyond words.

Yes, I'm grateful to you, the restaurateurs. And to you, the distributors. And to you, the wineries and your winemakers and reps and brokers and and PR people. Twenty-eight years - whew - I couldn't have done it without you.

To all of yo
u, I am grateful. For your thoughtfulness. For your support. And for your friendship. Yes, I'm grateful: That's the truth - as always, straight, no chaser."

Please visit the IN THE NEWS section on to read a few reviews and feature articles Michael so generously wrote in years past...Cheers - ALI

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jingle Bells and Oh What Fun

"But if anybody else wants to come with me, this moment will be the ground floor of something real and fun and inspiring and true in this godforsaken business and we will do it together!"... Like my little brother always says about TexaCali Ali!

Cheers - Ali (PS, thank you to the fella who opened his WHITE TRUCK DOOR into my NEW CAR last SATURDAY - you know who you are and what you did , 3 dings and scuff marks??? I parked next to you b/c you work there and figured I was safe). AWESOME. Merry Christmas too.

Keeping the Holidays Weird

So I'm all eyes and ears when conducting in-store wine tastings all year long. But something about the Holidays just makes things so freaky strange at times...a few highlights over this past weekend include:
  1. Listening to the entire Amy Grant Christmas Album 4 times in a row while pouring Argentine wines at Grape Vine Market for 6 hours last Saturday. All I could think about was those countless teenage hours spent in youth choir at the ol baptist church my parents made me go to. I was laughing to myself all afternoon about it.
  2. No kidding - while standing in Whole Foods yesterday, a man walked by with his CAT ON A LEASH, I think he was trying to hide it under his coat, but come on - a CAT ON A LEASH? Freaky.
  3. While at IKEA purchasing a cool new glass-top desk, I was almost knocked off my feet by a group of 6 teenage girls riding and racing each other on those electric shopping carts - they were laughing and screaming all the way and NOBODY at Ikea even gave them a second glance.
  4. I was parked at the very top of the escalator in Whole Foods in Austin yesterday as the welcome committee and the ultimate sampling station while pouring the Crios Malbec. I counted at least 10 people who said "we need to load up on wine, the inlaws are staying with us this year". HA!
  5. Weirdest Holiday gift I've ever seen - "Santa, Reindeer and Snowman Poo" Pez Candy dispensers. I just shake my head back and forth with this one...
Thanks to all of you who bought the beautiful wines I represent over the past weekend - Cheers! Ali

Friday, December 14, 2007

So I'm not the only one blogging about Storrs!

From a friend and fellow wine blogger a few days ago...


2005 Storrs Winery Petite Sirah - Santa Cruz Mountains

storrs_05_petite.jpgI don't know who said it, but in the last few years I've heard it uttered that the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is quite possibly the most underrated wine growing region in California. I'm not sure if I'm confident or encyclopedic enough in my knowledge of California wine to affirm that statement, but in my experience there's definitely something to that claim.

The winegrowers and winemakers of the Santa Cruz mountains suffer from the same obscurity that a lot of winemakers in other AVAs do throughout the state, simply by virtue of not being in Napa or Sonoma. I also privately think that having the name of the lazy beach town in the name of the region causes some people to dismiss the whole idea of growing good grapes so close to a bunch of flip-flop-wearing surf bums.

In reality, the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation is a large and diverse winegrowing area that spans three counties. Despite its geographical coverage, however, it is sparsely populated with vineyards and wineries -- containing only about 50 wineries and only about 1500 acres of vineyards under cultivation.

Whatever its association (imagined or real) with the laid-back town that shares its name, growing wine in the appellation is not a particularly easy task. The mostly hillside vineyards are anchored in shallow soils, and subject to quite a few extremes of weather, depending on where they are situated, from chilly fog to blazing sun, and everything in between. Of course, many grapes do well under the stress such climactic conditions provide, and the regions generally cooler aspect makes for generally very nice ripe fruit without the sugar spikes (and correspondingly higher alcohol levels) that warmer regions must grapple with.

One of my long-standing favorite producers in the Santa Cruz Mountains is Storrs Winery. They are one of my favorites not because they make wines that I or others score off the charts, but simply because they consistently make great tasting, authentic wines at humbly reasonably prices.

Storrs is a small family outfit that has historically made wine from fruit sourced all over the Santa Cruz Mountains and Central Coast. Owned and operated by Stephen Storrs and his wife Pamela Bianchini-Storrs, the label started small, but got off with a bang: winning gold medals at the SF Wine Competition for their very first vintage in 1988. The UC-Davis-trained couple – he with a degree in Viticulture and she with a degree in Enology (winemaking) – make small quantities of high-quality wine with great care.

Recently the Storrs have planted their own estate vineyards, which will gradually replace their fruit purchased on contract.

This wine is made from fruit grown on the slopes of Mount Madonna, which rises up to the west of Gilroy. The vineyards are on the Pacific-facing side of the mountain and benefit from the cool maritime influence. Surface temperatures rarely get above 80 degrees during the summer, making for slow maturation of the sun-loving Petite Sirah grape. The vineyard sits on an ancient riverbed of gravelly soil, and generally yields less than two tons of fruit per acre. The grapes are picked by hand, totally destemmed, and fermented at relatively low temperatures in small lots without crushing, and with lots of hand punchdowns (mixing of the juice and berries). This all has the deliberate effect of managing the tannin levels of this beastly, tannic grape. The wine is aged in a combination of French and American oak for about 14 months before bottling.

Tasting Notes:
Dark, inky garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of black and blue fruits with distinct notes of cassis and wet earth. In the mouth it is remarkably smooth, and relatively light-bodied (emphasis on relatively) given the variety, with cool flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and mixed spices, and beautifully restrained tannins that support a long finish.

Food Pairing:
Despite the generally accepted friendliness between red wine and chocolate, there aren't a lot of wines that I think really do go well with chocolate, but this is one of them. I'd drink the remains of my glass with a chocolate pot-du-creme any day.

Overall Score: somewhere between 8.5 and 9
How Much?: $23

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12 - A Toast to Health

Nice little rhyme to start off the day...sorta.

A big thanks to Cef of Zambrano's Wine Cellar in Fort Worth - what a wonderful night of great people and beautiful wines. We all sipped on Crios Torrontes, Crios Malbec, Tikal Patriota and Susana Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the drop in
temperature - 30 wacky degrees, the turnout was super. Can't wait to lead another tasting soon...

So today - I must say - is a HUGE day for TexaCali Wine Co. I'm meeting with a top wine importer all afternoon and tasting through a portfolio of very prestigious wines. Soon - I'll write up a complete report on each wine and the events of the day. I'm so excited that Decemeber 12 has finally arrived!!! It's all about helping Texas wine drinkers discover the best wines from around the world...I love it! Cheers - ALI

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hometown Wine Talk

Hey Fort Worthians...Hope to see you all tonight!

Please join us to as we taste and learn about a few great wines from Argentina. Special guest Alison Smith will be with us talking about these delicious wines! Be sure to call and reserve your spot today!

When: December 11,2007
Time: 6 to 8 PM
Cost: $25 per person
Where: Zambrano Wine Cellar

Zambrano Wine Cellar
910 Houston St Suite 110
Fort Worth, Texas 76102

Friday, December 07, 2007

Crios, Ben Marco & Susana Balbo Wines

Here's the next best thing to being at the winery...thanks to Susana Balbo, you all now have a wonderful view inside her surroundings. AMAZING! Cheers - Ali

In the News - BIGTIME

San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, December 7, 2007

Winemaker to Watch: Robert Pellegrini of Pellegrini Family Vineyards

Robert Pellegrini doesn't want people to drink his wines only at Christmas or other auspicious occasions. And if one of his wines is on your Christmas list, he hopes it will be in your glass, not under the tree.

Pellegrini, who oversees the vineyards and the winemaking for Pellegrini Family Vineyards near Santa Rosa, betrays his Tuscan heritage by the way he views wine - as an integral part of a meal.

The veteran Sonoma winemaker prides himself on top-quality wines, all produced from single vineyards, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the family's Olivet Lane property in Russian River Valley; plus Cabernet Sauvignon from Cloverdale Ranch in Alexander Valley and Merlot, also from Cloverdale Ranch, that made this year's Chronicle Top 100. He is businessman enough to want a fair return on his investments. But he refuses to let prices go so high that only the wealthy can afford to crack open a bottle. His wines sell from about $14 to $45, a price range that allows most wine lovers to enjoy a bottle with a meal.

It's a traditional view of wine for someone who could charge dearly, considering that the Pellegrinis' grapes are sought after by prestigious winemakers like Merry Edwards. He could easily plant the acreage now devoted to Merlot with something flashier, but his loyalty to this traditional grape is yet another reminder that the Pellegrinis have been a part of Sonoma County's wine culture since before Pinot went hot and Merlot went cold.

Read full article here...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Texas...listen up.

Now this AMAZING bottle is available anywhere in Texas. The Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch Merlot was selected by the San Francisco Chronicle in their Top 100 wines of the year. Come on, please quit buying factory produced merlot folks, here's a family made wine that is tremendous both in quality and value.

2004 Pellegrini Cloverdale Ranch Alexander Valley Merlot
($22) Often known for Pinot from its Olivet Lane property, the Pellegrinis also deserve credit for their Cabernet and Merlot from their Cloverdale Ranch property in Alexander Valley. There's subtle dried cherry, pebbles and black tea aromas that preface a juicy, textured wine with plenty of backbone. Cheers - Ali

Quick post - fun pics

I'm so excited about 2008, it's going to be a super great year for the producers of TexaCali Wine Co. I've been in non-stop meetings since I landed on Saturday -well, there was the Karaoke last night in San Francisco's Japan town, jut a little team building exercise to bring out the Pop-Star in TexaCali Ali. Love it. Ed - our fearless leader of Vine Connections morphs into Mick Jagger with a crowd and microphone in hand...hilarious.

Please visit my website to check out some snapshots over the past 3 days...Cheers - Ali