Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape

France- first 2 days have been total CDP immersion. I'll let a few pictures do the talking, hard to say what the highlights have been since every minute has been full of new & fabulous experiences.  More details soon...6 pages of tasting notes to decifer! Cheers - Ali

Friday, March 25, 2011

France, Finally.

Travels to Italy, Argentina, Spain,'d think France would have been first for this gal, finally 2011 brings it! I'm off to a 14 day romp in the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux with a handful of my wine-mentors from K&L Wine Merchants -  which makes this trip even sweeter.  Many of you know I got my true wine biz start working for K&L Wine Merchants back in 2003.  I walked into my position with eyes-wide-open and soaked up knowledge from every person and every sip, every single day.

Hours learning from Ralph Sands, not only listening to him talking and selling to collectors over the phone but really discerning my own palate while I tasted alongside Ralph.   He probably doesn't know this, but I use to hustle to get in front of him during staff tastings each week.  I would sip, spit and think about what it was I tasted then would eagerly await his notes to compare my own taste buds to Ralphs.  This built great confidence in my wine palate quickly, which I'll forever be grateful.

I also had the great pleasure of learning from Clyde and Trey Beffa.  I was a California girl from the start, mega enthusiasm and passion for the family winemakers all over the West coast actually.  One of my fondest memories is when Trey asked me if I would begin writing a blurb about domestic wine for the September 2003 K&L newsletter - 'Plain Talk about Fine Wine...", funny to think of my excitement to write about wine now that I've been blogging weekly since 2005! 

So the next few weeks ahead are full of new experiences in the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux specifically.  Anchoring in beautiful Avignon for the first week, I'll be alongside Mulan Chan, who's made quite the name for herself leading the Rhone category for K&L over the years.  We have a packed itinerary visiting some of my favorite producers and tasting some new wines as well.  

The last few days of the trip brings the Big Guns...I'll have the great pleasure of visiting and tasting all the First Growths of Bordeaux and a few hundred more (I'm not kidding here).  Back in the day while at K&L, I was lucky enough to attend the EPIC Bordeaux dinners that Clyde and Ralph would put on.  I learned so much sitting next to famous Bordeaux vintners and tasting their gorgeous old and new releases at those dinners.  To be tasting on their home-turf will be fascinating. 

Tune into the TexaCali Wine Trail, I'll do my best to post along the way.  I'm looking forward to seeing many of my wine friends from all over the world in Bordeaux especially.  Honestly I already feel like a kid in a candy store and am thrilled to see what the next 14 days brings...Cheers! Ali

Friday, March 18, 2011

Up Close and Personal with Stony Hill Vineyard

As the TexaCali Wine Trail moves along, I am thrilled to have spent a few hours with Peter McCrea recently of the legendary Stony Hill Vineyard. I mentioned to a few friends of mine who know my wine preferences well "figures you would make the trek over to Napa for the first time in months for a Cult White Wine producer!".  Whew, a very curvy and steep drive up from Hwy 29 just a few miles south of Calistoga atop the St. Helena western hillside sits Stony Hill Vineyards.
They were right, what a pleasure to taste the beautifully and electicly made wines of Stony Hill alongside the McCreas and Mike Chelini, their winemaker of 40+ years.  They've been making fruity "non-oakey", non-maloactic, Chardonnays, White Rieslings and Gewurztraminers for fifty-eight years straight.

The afternoon sunshine was beaming down the first hint of spring warmth as I walked past 48 year old Riesling vines.  To see the very tops of the vineyards I had to take a few steps back  - a vertical gaze straight to the top of the mountain side that faces East towards St. Helena.   I couldn't help but text photos of the old Riesling vines and post a few pics to my Facebook during my walk with Peter - overwhelming historic views to share!

Character with Style...
What was most surprising to me during the tour of the tiny old winery - "the French Oak barrels were purchased about 38 years ago", yep, the wines scream "NO NEW OAK".  A welcome tasting experience indeed.   

In the very back corner of the winery, I pointed to barrel with red streaks stains around the bung hole, "what is this red wine?"...Peter was quick to thieve a little out of the barrel and fill my glass.  Beautiful!! It's Cabernet Sauvignon from their estate vineyard planted on the West side of the hill in 2004.  Of course the Cab was made in the same vein as all the Stony Hill whites...all about the fruit! I loved it. Currently they are selling their 2008 Red Table Wine -  they produced about 195 cases of the 2008 vintage and are selling it for a steal $25 a bottle. This is a Napa Cabernet I could drink weekly. A pleasant surprise.

Soon after the walk along the grounds we tasting inside the McCrea home. The house next to the winery is the original home purchased by Eleanor and Fred McCrea in 1943. I felt the history just upon walking through the front door streaming at me.  What a magical hillside to have created memories on for so many years.  I'm super glad to know the youngest generation (a daughter and son about my age) of the McCrea family is actively involved in the winery to this day. Stony Hill is an old producer and the "new generation" of world class Sommeliers and Wine Pros should be showing off these wines to their followers no doubt!

The line up in the kitchen that day included: 

2009 Stony Hill Gewurztraminer - 12% alcohol. Very Dry and floral. Sees time in French Oak, which gave it a tiny hint of softness on the finish.

2009 Stony Hill White Riesling- 1% residual sugar, 12% alcohol. A fun riesling to "blind" your pals on...honeydew melon on the nose, touch of apple in flavor - very dry.

2008 Stony Hill Chardonnay - Tasted pretty opposite of how I remembered my first sip of Stony Hill years ago - a bottle that was at least 6-8 years old. The 2008 was just a baby - a baby Burgundy if I was blinded on this glass though!  Great structure but has not come into her glory days yet.  Peter told me the 2007 is much more lush in flavor than the 2008, but haven't pulled a cork on the 2007 yet - tasting notes posted as soon as I do - promise.

2008 Stony Hill Red Table Wine - another low alcohol at 13.8% - which is crazy speaking in Napa Valley Cab terms.  What I loved about this red wine, it was all about the deep red fruit - berries to be exact that drew me into the glass and made my mouth water once sipped. It's a perfect medium-bodied red for me, the tannins were slight, but structured.

2008 Semillon de Soleil- screams Creme Brulee! Went home with 2 bottles...can't wait to pair these at a fun dinner party, a total treat!

Recent Press from the Sommelier Journal: 

Hot Picks
2007 Stony Hill Chardonnay
Lots of California winemakers are talking about changing their style to feature lower alcohol and less oak.  Stony Hill started building California's reputation for Chardonnay nearly 50 years ago, and its approach has never changed: careful handling of the fruit and hand-off winemaking.  In this version, the purity and depth of character that come only from older vines will impress even the most diehard white Burgundy fans.

If you have a chance to visit the winery - awesome! But if not, you can always buy directly from Stony Hill and experience their history at home.

Cheers! TexaCali Ali (click on each photo to enlarge for a better view!).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Many new photos and wine experiences to share from the past 7 days, but I can't bring myself to be all chipperooski about them due to all the horrific events happening to and in the country of Japan.  Just not relevant.  Many of you know along with fine wine from all over the world, I dedicated myself for a handful of years to teaching the state of Texas about Japanese Sake.  Premium Ginjo Sake made by families from all corners, nooks, stream, rivers and mountains throughout Japan. 

In 2006 I was honored to travel to Japan & meet these highly regarded Japanese Sake Brewers and experience the reverence & beauty of their legendary craft...each warm smile, respectful bow and generous spirit propelled me each day to spread their passion.  Today, I pray for their safety, strength, and their beautiful country tonight with a heavy heart.   A few posts from the past highlighting some of my favorite Japanese people, memories and of course incredible Ginjo Sake. 

- Ali ( I miss Mr. T the most!!, March 16, 2010)

April 26, 2006  "Bon Appetite"

" CBS Highlights Sake..."

March 7, 2006 "Live from Japan" 

November 29, 2007 "Time Magazine..."

January 30, 2010 "Daiginjo"

January 17, 2010 "Spec's Features Ginjo..."

May 12, 2009 "Brewer's Visit Texas"

April 10, 2008 "Brewers sing a little Willie Nelson..."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

I love my job!

"The wine profession finds you and keeps you 
forever if you love it back".  

No time for a big writeup tonight, so posting the best 2 photos taken earlier today in Sonoma County. Cheers - Ali

1) Ridge Lytton Springs @ 10am

2) Wine Dogs @ Inspiration Vineyards @3pm (yes, they like the wine!)

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Rue La La

One of the things I love most about my journey in the world of wine is learning about new business channels.  I'm honored to be working behind the scenes of Rue La La - curating their once a week wine collection. Rue La La is a huge messenger and brand builder for all things fashionably cool and hard to find.  From their website -  

"What is Rue La La?
Rue La La is... an exclusive, invitation-only online destination where Members discover premier-brand, private sale Boutiques, each open for just a brief window of time"

Last Monday I flew in with the pioneering  Wine Country Connect team for a day of strategy meetings with Rue La La.  Their Boston offices are in an old brick lofty style building which reminded me of my time working at CNET back in San Francisco.  Man I love how my background and wine passion have merged!!  

On Monday, every hour of the day a different team of young, sharp and incredibly savvy minds collaborated with us about continuing to make Rue La La the PREMIER destination for purchasing very special offerings direct from the wineries featured.

Changes to the weekly wine collection feature are all teed up and should go live in a few weeks.  I'm excited to show off this new direct sales channel to all the family owned wineries on the West Coast. Rue La La is a perfect place to reach dynamic wine lovers, the Rue La La demographic is golden, 3.5 million active members and growing each day.  Quite possibly the most exciting & hip sales channel I've ever encountered in the wine biz. 

Let me know if you want a personal invite from me to join Rue La La...a phenomenal small-production winery is in the spotlight tomorrow with some very rare offerings. 

I'll say it again, this year is FABULOUS! Thanks for all your continued support and enthusiasm along the TexaCali Wine Trail.   Cheers - TexaCali Ali

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Texas Welcomes Milla Handley this week!

In honor of Milla's visit throughout Texas this week, here's a re-post from last March.  Cheers to a great week sipping on the newest releases from Handley Cellars! Cheers - Ali

Handley Cellars

Last Monday I spent a beautiful day with Handley Cellars in California's Anderson Valley - approx. 10 miles inland from the Mendocino Coast. Milla Handley and her co-winemaker Kristen Barnhisel hosted a group of wine-pros from around the country to learn more about their Pinot Noir program, and to experience blending a bottle of Pinot.
The day begin with touring Pinot Noir vineyards in the Anderson Valley ... Ferrington, Helluva and Handley's Organic Estate Vineyard. A bottle of Handley Anderson Valley Pinot in some years can have as many as 10 different vineyard sites, or as little as 1 - depending on the particular role Mother Nature played. The group spent the afternoon blending a bottle of Pinot using 5 different vineyard sites. "Day Dream" was my final blend, Milla suggested I wait until XMAS to open. I'll report back then.

For now... a few quick facts from Monday:

1. Handley Cellars is located in "Region 1" , a scale the folks at UC Davis c
reated to determine the coolest (the chilly kind) to the warmest climate regions. Region 1 means the most days at 50 degrees and under.

2. Bell Beans and Arugula are grown as cover-crop between the v
ineyard rows. Why? They hold a lot of nitrogen down in the roots which is very good for the soil and grapevines.

3. Most of the
Anderson Valley Pinot vineyards are pruned already this year and are budding early.

4. Soils: Most of the soils are clay and sandy loam, with 5-15% rock.

5. Temperatures in the Anderson Valley
swing can reach 100 degrees by 3pm and dip back down to 45 degrees at night. This is fabulous in creating acidity levels and the high heat days help prevent disease and mildew.

6. How to tell if the vines need water: If you reach your hand inside the canopy (where the grape clusters hang and are surrounded by their leaves) and it's the same temperature as the outside air - they need water. The canopy should create it's own little AC system within the vines.

7. Handley uses a propane
flame to control weeds. It's the shot with the guy on the tractor down below, flames shoot out at the very bottom on the backsides behind the tractor and hit just deep enough to kill the roots.

8. Handley Estate Vineyards (Martini Clone = big fruit flavors, lower tannins and silky smooth texture) were planted in 1987, the water tower and ranch house
were built in 1906. Milla, her husband and their 2 daughters lived in the old water-tower for awhile (great stories about this time in their lives, ask me in person, too long to type now!).

2007 is the current Handley Cellars Anderson Valley Pinot Noir release.

10. Handley uses solar-power and organic growing practices.
You can see the solar-panels in the background of the first picture on the right with Kristen and Milla.

Handley Cellars wines are available anywhere you like in Texas, Avante Beverages is their distributor and currently has the Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. Cheers - Ali

(Please click image to enlarge each picture, such a magical place)

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