April 27, 2009

An "A-List" Night In with Chef Rocco DiSpirito

Who says that the office has to be all work and no play? Not so true in my profession. Such are the joys of being a PR diva by day and a wine blogger by night. You get to promote delicious food in a swanky $35 million Tribeca flat with some of the most fun and notable celebs...
A little over a week ago (yes, I've been slacking in my blogging duties *slap*), I had the opportunity to pull together a special dinner party for Kathy Griffin in light of her hosting duties for the BRAVO A-List Awards. Bertolli teamed up with celeb chef Rocco DiSpirito to create a special menu chock full of delicious options for Kathy and a few friends - and lucky for me, I got a taste of it all... wine included!

So, just who was at this shindig? Well, it all started with the outspoken Jill Zarin of "Real Housewives of New York City." Fashion guru Robert Verdi was also in tote with a beautiful Louis Vuitton handbag, followed by  Ross "I'm No Longer an Intern" Mathews who's got new show on TheInsider.com! Even Rachael Ray dropped by for cocktail hour! And did I neglect to mention my personal eye candy slash date for the evening (ok, I wish) Tyson Beckford was there too? 

And speaking of tasty, take a peek at the below which I swiped from Rocco just for all of you. I even snagged the wine list... would you expect anything less of me? Rocco even told me that the variety of  wines chosen "taste great at are at a good price." So grab a few bottles alongside new Bertolli skillets and you can create a night in all you own in a matter of minutes!

Hors D's
  • Scallops in chilled Tomato Brodo
  • Eggs in Purgatorio with Caviar
  • Purple Potatoes with Pesto Rosso and Fresh Mozzarella
  • Wine? Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco, nv - $19/bottle
1st Course
2nd Course
3rd Course

Tasting Note Tuesday - A 'twofer'

So, I got a little thirsty this weekend - can you tell? Today I'm offering up, not one, but two reviews of moderate priced reds. If you've ever tasted either (or both), leave us a message in the comment box - we'd love to hear about your experience!

2005 Georges Vigouroux Cahors Pigmentum - Southwest France, Cahors

Just like handbags, cars and shoes, wine goes through trends, and Malbec is one quickly turning heads and even being coined the "new" Pinot.

While many Malbecs accomodate both the taste buds and the wallet, I personally don't agree. Afterall, Pinot is the God of Wine! But with that being said, right now, Argentina is producing some outstanding Malbec - names like Norton, Luigi Bosca, and Catena, are becoming more prominent. And while Argentina is producing some of the best Malbec around, you can't forget about wines from it's native France. A "traditional" Bordeaux varietal (along with Cab Sauv, Merlot and Petit Verdot), Malbec is also produced in the Cahors region in France (where this Pigmentum is made).

My Thoughts: Wow, this is a tannic beast. I even Vacu-vinned half the bottle and threw it in the fridge... and it was still tannic two days later. The nose showed promise with hints of blackberry and plum combined with some old world charm of earth and mineral. However, I couldn't quite get any of that on the palate because the tannins ripped the first layer of skin off the inside of my mouth. This didn't really open up after two days... and there's not way I can see the fruit outliving the tannins. And to be honest, who wants to wait for an $11 bottle of wine to be ready to drink??

Review: Average
Retails: $11/bottle

USA, California - Sonoma County, Russian River Valley

Maybe you had a long week, maybe you're celebrating, but sometimes you just need to open a better bottle. And I felt the urge this weekend. So I pulled the trigger on one of my favorite Pinot producers... Walter Hansel. The winery is located in Sonoma County in the Russian River Valley and they focus solely on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In fact, they make four different Chards and five different Pinots!

I'd classify their wines as very "Burgundian" (this is my subtle tagline for Pinot and Chardonnay's birthplace... Burgundy, France) in nature, showing more finesse and femininity... rather than typical "in-your-face" California Pinots.

My Thoughts: I have really enjoyed the past two vintages of both North and South Slope Pinots, so it was with great anticipation that I opened this bottle... and maybe that was the problem. To my dissatisfaction, there was something "off" about this bottle. Dark ruby red, but almost too dark. I could taste some hints of strawberry and raspberry, but they seem muted. There seemed to be an overlying hint of rubber or minerals. It wasn't off-putting (I don't think the bottle was bad), it just wasn't what I was hoping for. It seemed to fade with air time, but the fruit didn't seem to emerge. Very awkward experience. I hope this is just too young. But this wasn't too enjoyable now.

Review: Below Average
Retails: $36/bottle

April 22, 2009

California Wines Going Green

Happy Earth Day! In honor of mother nature, I felt I should re-post this story from San Jose Mercury News. It's a good read about how California wineries are making attempts at going green, which means we can feel better about all we are consuming!

By Laurie Daniel
for the Mercury News
Posted: 04/21/2009 05:00:00 PM PDT

Earth Day is here, and a lot of California wineries are taking the opportunity to trumpet how they've gone "green."

Some have installed solar systems; others are packaging their wines in lightweight, recyclable cartons or bag-in-box containers that require less fuel to transport. But perhaps most important, they're putting out the word that they're growing their grapes organically, biodynamically or sustainably.

There have long been certification programs for organic and biodynamic viticulture. Sustainable viticulture in California, however, had relied largely on self-assessment programs like the Sustainable Winegrowing Program put together by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

While supporters argue that self-assessment programs are valuable, the lack of certification led some critics to complain that the term "sustainable" was too vague. Any winery could claim to be operating sustainably. Some were criticized in the industry for "greenwashing," or marketing themselves as more green than they truly were. But in recent years, a few regional organizations have put together third-party certification programs for vineyards that are being farmed with sustainable practices. These programs go beyond rules about the use of herbicides and pesticides to encompass such things as water and energy conservation, watershed preservation, air quality and treatment of workers.


April 20, 2009

Tasting Note Tuesday - 2007 McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

I thought it would be fun to do a weekly tasting note on a wine (or three) that I've recently had. This way, readers can check-in to see if I've found a wine worth 'buzzing' about... or whether I got 'stung' by a recent purchase. And if I've found something good, hopefully it'll give you enough time to try and track down a bottle that you can enjoy over the weekend (Or week night. Heck, every night can be wine night!!!). So, without further ado, we give you... Tasting Note Tuesday!! And if you've got a wine you're just dining for me to try, shoot me an email at ratherBEEbuzzed@gmail.com.

2007 McManis Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon - USA, California

On my never-ending quest to find delicious, but inexpensive wine, I've been scoping out a lot of the 2007 wines from California (hence my last review on the 2007 Grayson Pinot Noir). 2007 is the vintage currently on shelves in most wine stores, and California had a really good year (it's best overall year since 2003). And while you'll hear some of the wine "snobs" complain that it's too soon to be drinking '07's, most wine in the world is meant for immediate consumption... especially a lot of the inexpensive stuff I'll be reviewing. This all led me to the 2007 McManis Family Cab.

McManis Family Vineyards has been making wine near Lodi, CA since 1990... but they have been farmers in the area since 1938!!! They source fruit from all over California for their broad lineup of 9 different wines.

My Thoughts: Now this was interesting... I've had wines that have an enjoyable nose, but don't give much on the palate. This may be the first time I've ever had the opposite... not much on the nose, all on the palate. And unfortunately, most of it is hidden behind the oak. What little I can pick up on the nose is all oak/butter/vanilla and a small hint of black cherry. Thankfully, on the tongue there are some nice blueberry and cherry notes. But again, the oak takes center stage... at least it gives the fruit notes a sweet side (oak generally gives wine a vanilla, butter, toffee, butterscotch scent/taste). I think this wine is a little heavy-handed on the oak, which is too bad because there are some nice darker fruit notes that are masked. If there was less of an oak influence, I probably would have rated this Very Good. But as is, it's a little out of balance.

Rating: Good

Retails: $9.99

April 13, 2009

Critique: 2007 Grayson Cellars Pinot Noir

2007 Grayson Cellars Pinot Noir
USA, California, North Coast, Napa County

After being impressed with their 2007 Paso Robles Cabernet, especially given it's $9 price tag, I decided to pick up a bottle of Grayson Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir.

Grayson really emphasizes the "Napa" name, even though none of their wines carry the Napa designation (Note: In order for a wine to carry the Napa designation, 75% of the fruit needs to come from the appellation). Their website claims the wine is from their "Napa Valley production facility very near Highway 29" and made by Larry Levin, who is "among the most experienced winemakers in the Napa Valley".

Appellation or not, this is the second bottle from this winery that has snagged my interest and has inspired me to try the rest of their lineup (a 2007 Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Merlot... all carrying the California designation).

My thoughts:
Purchased for $12, I didn't have high-hopes for this wine, especially after pouring. The color is a translucent "brick red". I was thinking to myself that this would likely be another poor attempt at a low-end, mass produced Pinot. But boy, was I wrong. This is actually really enjoyable stuff. It tastes and smells like a Pinot should. It's more elegant... not in-your-face; more red fruits than black. The nose is mostly dominated by raspberry and strawberry aromas, with a slight hint of asian spices and oak. It's the same on the palate, but the fruit shines through and gives it a bit of a sweet twist. It has almost a vanilla hint to it, too. The finish is rather short and turns a bit sour, but not enough to ruin the overall experience.

With summer fast approaching, Pinot is a great wine to have around the house. Personally, I like drinking lighter reds when the weather turns warmer. Pinot can also pair nicely with some of the lighter fare which is typically served during the summer months (like chicken, fish, grilled veggies, etc.). This was definitely worth the $12 and I plan to purchase a few more bottles.

Rating: Very Good

April 12, 2009

BeeHind the Vine: Hopper Creek

I’ve always marveled at the skill and discipline it requires to produce outstanding wine. BeeHind the Vine, a new addition to WinoBee, will introduce you to the men and women whose extraordinary talents are on display each time we uncork a bottle (or two).

Our inaugural column profiles Barry Grushkowitz, winemaker at Hopper Creek since 2005. The vineyard and winery, which produces award-winning Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Merlot Rose, is located in the heart of Napa Valley. My wife and I first discovered Hopper Creek last September on a day trip with Napa Valley Bike Tours (highly recommended). Needless to say, we have been devotees ever since.

Recently, Barry was gracious enough to sit down with me on a beautiful Sunday morning for a Q&A, followed by a tour and tasting. Additional photos can be found here.

In three words, describe your winemaking style.
Minimal handling, a minimum amount of additions, and a minimal amount of mechanical action.

What’s your favorite part of the job, other than unlimited access to amazing wines?
Smelling and tasting a wine that’s turned out really well, and sharing it with people.

What’s the most challenging part of the job?
Getting good quality grapes.

...Hopper Creek has six acres devoted to Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, with a couple rows of Cabernet Franc (a recent addition). The rest of their grapes are purchased from other vintners in the area…

Do you find it easier to work with grapes grown onsite?
No, not really. I don’t think it makes a difference when you’re working with a really good grower. After many years, you get to know sections of their vineyards as well as your own. Good growers will also take suggestions, if there are any to be made on improving growing conditions.

What wine that you’ve produced are you most proud of, and why?
It hasn’t been released yet, but I think I’m going to be most proud of our (estate grown) Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a new addition to our vineyard, and it’s turning out really nicely.

When will that be released?
We’ll be bottling some of it out on the 22nd of this month, and it probably won’t be released for another seven or eight months at a minimum to get over bottle shock. And that’s going to fun, because it’s kind of an unknown, so it’ll be interesting to see how people respond.

What do you see as the “next big thing” in winemaking?
The next big thing I’d like to see is an improvement in filtration – some way we can filter wines without losing flavors and aromas.

You use French oak barrels – what’s your take on unoaked Chardonnay?
I really do like Chardonnay with some oak in it, but I know there are people who don’t like any oak, or just a very minimal amount. It really depends on the vineyard – if the grapes from a particular vineyard provide a very fruity wine, then oak can add another dimension. It can offer some spiciness that you wouldn’t get, and I like that complexity. If the grapes provide very little fruit, you have to be careful with the oak and I can see using a very minimal amount.

…while plenty of Napa wineries have a stuffy and business-like atmosphere, Hopper Creek is quite the opposite. The tasting room, which is adorned with photos of past visitors, is more living room than showroom…

What kind of influence, if any, does Hopper Creek’s laid-back style have on your winemaking?
It doesn’t really have any effect on my style, but I love the atmosphere. I’ve worked at other wineries where no one came around – it’s fun to enjoy the winemaking process with other people, and see the pleasure they get out of it as well.

…on our first visit to Hopper Creek, we were invited to help with the “punch down.” As red wines ferment, the skins rise to the top of the tank or bin and form a thick cap. This cap needs to be broken up three or four times a day in order to ensure maximum extraction of flavor and color, and to prevent bacteria or mold from forming. While most wineries use various tools for punching down, Barry believes in a hands-only approach…

What wine myths would you like to dispel?
Winemaking is not 100 percent romantic. There’s a lot of labor, hard work, and some disappointments.

Also, good wine does not have to be expensive. For people just getting in to wine, I think they make that assumption. Even people that have been in the industry a long time, as far as consumers, assume that the more it costs, the better it’s going to be. There’s some truth to it, to an extent, but it’s certainly not always the case.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to an aspiring oenophile?
Try as many wines as you can.

Hopper Creek distribution is extremely limited, as they produce only 2,000 cases per year. While it’s possible to find a few bottles online, your best bet is to order straight from the winery. (A new website, with up-to-date ordering information, is on the way!) Better yet, make your purchases in-person while visiting one of Napa Valley’s hidden gems.

The vineyard and winery are located at 6204 Washington Street, Yountville, California. They are open for retail sales (and tastings of their current releases) Tuesday through Sunday from 11-4. To schedule a visit, call (707) 944-0675 or e-mail

April 11, 2009

New To The WinoBee Swarm

We owe it to you that our hive is continuing to grow! With a prominent Twitter following and a brand new Facebook page, it was only appropriate we up the ante on the content we're developing for the site. And how do you propose we do that? Well, with brand new topics and brand new writers, of course!

Check out the latest WinoBees who've joined our swarm, and follow them through a journey of wine critiquing, food and wine reccomendations, and the detailed scoop behind the winemaking process:

  • BEEHind the Vine: To borrow a line from Thomas Jefferson, our "T.J." thinks that “Good wine is a necessity of life." He's a sucker for an earthy Bordeaux and a California Zin, but falls in love with new varietals on what seems like a weekly basis. He's intrigued by the winemaking process, so his posts will introduce you to the men and women whose talents are on full display each time we uncork a bottle (or two). Feel free to email TJ at BEEhindthevine@gmail.com if you'd like to be considered for an interview, or if you have a great reccomendation on someone we should be chatting to.

  • BEELicious -- Stephanie just entered her 30's and loves to drink and eat in her spare time. Ahhh, don't we all?! We thought she'd be the perfect person to contribute to our pairings section because she loves to cook, entertain and has eaten at some of the most amazing restaurants in the US and Europe. Oh, did I mention she's also a Momma, so while she doesn't have a million hours to slave away in the kitchen with intricate recipes she has a great arsenal of pretty cost-effective and diverse cuisines, which fits our mantra to a "T"! Don't hesitiate to share with her your own thoughts or recipes at BEEliciousBuzz@gmail.com or on Twitter at @ItsBEElicious.

  • RatherBEEBuzzed -- critiquing is all subjective, we know, so for sake of this column we're keeping this WinoBee's identity anonymous. But don't fret because he's been drinking and collecting wine for the better part of a decade, and he what he enjoys most about wine is the thrill of the hunt. There is nothing more satisfying than finding that true 'diamond in the rough'... an inexpensive wine that tastes like an expensive one... a wine that you can afford to drink everyday, but tastes like one you'd reserve for special occasions. But what fun is it if he can't share his discoveries? So join him as he buzzes his way through the inexpensive wine world. For each wine he reviews, he'll include a little bit of winery trivia (so you can get to know the wine more intimatley), a tasting note on the wine, and a rating based on the following scale: "Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Average, Below Average".

April 10, 2009

Wine Bloggers' Conference: July 24-26th

FYI for all my fellow Wine Bloggers:

Wine Blogger Confererence
July 24-26, 2009
Napa and Sonoma, CA

Did you know blogging is changing the wine industry as we know it? Love wine? Love blogging? Join as fellow wine bloggers, new media innovators in the wine industry, and wine industry leaders converge on California wine country on July 24-26 for the premier conference for new media and the wine industry.

This three day symposium brings you a unique opportunity to learn about and discuss the intersection of wine with the world of new media including blogging, social media, and more. We hope to see you there - it’s going to be a fantastic wine country experience! Click here to register!

April 8, 2009

BUZZWORTHY: The Dregs Report

If you’re not an early adapter, chances are you missed out on some chucklish reads that would have left you peeing in your pants last week. After all, it was April Fools, so tricks and jokes were to be had.

But just how do Winos celebrate the special day? They team up together and play the ultimate prank on the World o’ Wine and its oh-so-pretentious loyalists. End result…. Dregs Report, a collaborative effort of satirical wine writing pulled together by 40 wine writers and bloggers whom had never even met, myself included.

Given my contribution, I got the chance to put some quality facetime in with a few of the masterminds, including W.R. Tish, for an evening filled with delicious wines, blind tastings, and humorous foodie stand-up. Check out Tish in action, revealing our lovely mystery wine at the site's launch party:

We also had the opportunity to put one of our fellow WinoBees to the test. Amy, a 20-something PR practitioner and Founder of GlutenFreeGossip.com enjoys red wines, so we decided to have her see if she could tell the difference between a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. Did she get it right? Check out the below (and bare with us, we did it on a whim - no make-up, no script, no real lighting... just all in fun): 

Now, as I mention in the video, in order to appreciate wine its essential to understand the characteristics that different grapes have to offer and how those traits are expressed in wines. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are both red grapes, and while they both do exude alot of similarities, there are a few traits that differentiate them. 

Characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Typically marked by dark fruit flavors - like plum, currant and black cherry
  • Has an affinity for oak, and when barreled  will show hints of vanilla, pepper and spice
  • Tend to have firm tannin levels so they give a little more bite on your palette
  • Fuller body, firm acidity and great intensity 
  • Likely to be bottled in its own blend
  • Dark purple color

Characteristics of Pinot Noir:

  • Black cherry, spice and raspberry flavoring with earthy undertones
  • Delicate, floral aroma
  • Dark ruby color
  • Silky smooth finish

**Was this  helpful? Would you like to see us continue a series of interactive videos like these? Leave your comments below.**

So as you can see, we had our fun (and drank it too)! Now its time you do the same.  If you haven’t already, pour a glass of Cabernet or Pinot, visit www.DregsReport.com, and laugh your tooshie off! WARNING: Stories may become funnier as more alcohol content is consumed.

April 6, 2009

BUZZWORTHY: Crystal Moll Art & Wine

Shout-out to all my WinoBees in Maryland... 

Spring has sprung, so its only appropriate to celebrate with good art and good wine. Join Artist Crystal Moll and Artists & Framers of Federal Hill to celebrate her recent works... tomorrow! Details as follows:

April 7, 2009
5:00 - 8:00pm
1014 South Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21230
*Open Tuesday through Saturday

April 5, 2009

BUZZ ALERT: St. Supery "Recipes from Napa Valley"

Our friends over at St. Supery Vineyards just digitally posted their "Recipes from Napa Valley" booklet online. The booklet includes 14 recipes from winery chef, Ron Barber, and eight wine cocktail recipes. Yummy!

You can download a PDF version at: http://www.stsupery.com/lifestyle.