Fellow Austin wine-lovers –

Come join in some Pinot Noir drinking fun at Vino Vino in Hyde Park on Thursday, August 18th, and if you’re a twitter-user, tweet your favorite Pinot region to participate in the second annual Pinot Noir Smackdown! More to follow on eligible hash tags (sorry, I’m in MBA study group getting behind on finance as I type)!

Check out Vino Vino’s site for more info!




After spending four and a half years in Atlanta, Georgia, I am departing to become a Longhorn – that’s right, I’ll be attending graduate school at the Red McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas! During a visit to Austin last fall I had the chance to attend my first Texas football game, and all my fellow Tarheel fans know why I felt like a bit of a traitor. And yes, I never thought I could add “burnt orange” to my alma mater color scheme…hmph. I lose there. While I’ll stay true to my Carolina blue, I suppose a little variety is nice.

I know very little about the Austin wine scene and can’t wait to explore it! In spite of my excitement, I am also incredibly sad to leave Atlanta, especially my comrades in my tasting group. To say good-bye, I hosted a tasting at mi casa, and lots of fun wine was had. The theme was burgundy, both red and white, but the stand out wine of the night was far and away a Champagne brought by fellow sipper Dennis Sullivan. He could not have come up with a better way to say good-bye.

First of all, let it be known that the Wine Genie does not drink a lot of champagne. I prefer other sparklers that are more in my price range – assuming this MBA does what it’s supposed to, this buying pattern will change in the future. Hah! And so readers, I present to you a little information on the 2000 Gaston Chiquet “Special Club.” There are two important letters on the label of this wine – RM – standing for Recoltant-Manipulant. These letters indicate that the wine is classified as a “grower champagne.” In other words, the growers make wine from their own grapes. You may be thinking “doesn’t everyone do that?” Not so much – it is common in the Champagne region (and elsewhere) for grape growers to sell their grapes to larger producers instead of bottling wines themselves.

So what makes the “Special Club” so special? The Special Club, otherwise known as Club Trésors de Champagne, is comprised of 26 Champagne producers that each make grower champagne. This group, which seems quite exclusive, seeks to represent the utmost quality in Champagne. When the Champagne region experiences a solid growing year, each of the 26 member estates are allowed to make their own cuvee and place it before a jury. After what sounds like an incredibly rigorous judging process, approved wines are allowed to go to market. Some years there are several Special Club wines; in other years there are none. When you’re buying one of these bottlings, you can be quite confident that what’s inside is good, because a series of experts, all personally invested in the wine’s success, has allowed the wine to be made available to the public. That sounds like a guarantee to me.

2000 Gaston Chiquet Special Club

This Champagne was “different” from other champagnes that I’ve ever tried. When I think about Champagne, the common descriptors that immediately come to mind are yeasty and biscuity. Yes, adding a -y is acceptable for creating adjectives. The Gaston Chiquet certainly displayed yeasty notes, but had substantially more minerality than other Champagnes I’ve tried. I think this is why I liked it so much. The wine was 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The third grape that is allowed in Champagne and often used is Pinot Meunier – this grape was not included in this wine.

Many thanks to Dennis and Melanie for making my Atlanta Wine Group good-bye so special and so fun (this tasting lasted until 1 am – and it was on a Monday – whoops!). While I know there are new and interesting things to come in Austin, this wine has made it’s mark in my memory, not only because of the Special Club designation –  but from the special people in Atlanta that it represents! Cheers!

View from Borgo Finocchieto

I just got back from a whirlwind vacation in Italy, and I have been writing blog entries in my head non-stop since landing in Atlanta on Tuesday evening! I spent just under two weeks in Italy, starting in Rome and ending up in Lake Como. My travel comrades were my boyfriend, Rob, and very dear friends Mary Grace and Danny. Mary Grace and I both begin an MBA course of study this fall (sadly at different schools), so this was one last hoorah before we re-enter the joys of life as a student.

Town of Barolo in Piedmont

In between our time in Rome and Lake Como, we were in both Tuscany (near Montalcino) and Piedmont (near Barolo, etc.). Fortunately for me, my boyfriend humors my love of wine enough to tolerate this leg of the trip, Mary Grace is one of the people that I first discovered wine with several years ago, and Danny shares my love of wine and manages Ripple in DC, which boasts a very impressive wine list. I would go so far as to say that this trip was the perfect storm for AWESOME times, and awesome times were had. We had a number of vineyard tours and conversations with winemakers across the great wine-making regions of Italy, and after having a few days to reflect on these experiences, there are 3 themes and/or lessons that for me, are important take-aways…..

1. the importance of putting down your roots – both personally, but also in terms of maintaining your family’s legacy

2. winemaking is an art form – a thing of beauty that is to be appreciated and valued

3. slow down a little – pause to recognize the little things that make life wonderful

I look forward to sharing our experiences with readers on the blog – my next entry will focus on what I learned from the winemaker of Martin del Nero, Anna Lisa Tempestini. What an amazing woman. For now, here are a couple of my favorite pictures from our trip…

Sun setting over Montalcino hills

Me and Rob in Barolo

Martin del Nero

Look forward to sharing more about the trip this week. For now, happy sipping!

– Photo credit goes to Rob Shands

To all readers who stumbled across this blog through Atlanta Dish – thank you for visiting! If you’re a wino like me, feel free to subscribe (to the right) for email notifications of new entries.

And a special thanks to Atlanta Dish for naming me their Tweep of the Week! Every non-tweeting friend I have has immediately inquired what a Tweep is…my response – just think of it as a Twitter peep. A tweep!

Here is a link to the Atlanta Dish blog entry – if you’re interested in local eats then this blog is a great resource!


Happy sipping!

A: A brown bag wine party.

As you can see, we did quite a bit of damage! My roommate and I recently hosted a wine tasting at our house, but this was not a super serious, even remotely stuffy wine tasting. Our wine party, in addition to being incredibly rowdy, turned out to be quite interactive. Rather than sitting around, tasting and sipping, our guests milled around the house tasting each bagged wine that had been set out. The style of the tasting really facilitated wine conversation. With the Final Four playing in the background, these conversations often turned to basketball (forgivable), but I was impressed with how engaged each guest was with the wines.

If you feel like you don’t know a lot about wine (or just want to have a good time) and want to host a wine party, here are the rules.

1. Each guest (or couple) brings 2 bottles of the same type of wine.You can set a price point or type (i.e. Pinot Noir). Kevin and I decided to make the wine selections a free for all, but set the price point at between $10 and $20.

2. As guests arrive, take one of each bottle and place it in a numbered brown bag. The other bottle goes in the stash. Make sure you have an honest person bagging the wines. Kevin put me in charge of this.

3. Set out the wines around the room. Guests each take a wine glass and walk around, tasting each of the bagged wines and giving them a score based on how much they like or dislike it. Kevin and I kept our scoring very simple, and had guests rate each wine on a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lowest.

4. Once each wine has been tasted, collect the score sheets and tally the winning wine. Being the nerds that we are, Kevin and I did this in excel. I would recommend this as all guests will have consumed nearly a bottle of wine by this point, likely resulting in compromised math skills.

5. Have an unveiling ceremony to reveal the winners. The person or couple who brought the crowd favorite leaves the party with the stash of wines we set aside!

For our tasting, we had about 18 bottles of wine. The first place winner went home with 12 bottles, the second place winner left with 5, and the person who brought the worst wine got to pick their favorite wine of the stash to take home as a consolation prize. Our first and second place winners – Kathleen Farr and Tyler Stinnett – are a couple, so they really lucked out with enough of a stash to last them for quite some time!

This tasting is a guaranteed good time. If you’re looking for a good reason to have a party, why not host one that involves a little wine education? Your guests are guaranteed to love it. When else do people get the chance to taste as many as 20 wines in one sitting? Not every day. Kevin and I have already had requests to host another one at our house soon!

Ridge is one of the most reputable producers out of California, and my tasting group recently got together to do a horizontal tasting of all the single vineyard wines produced in 2007.

Ridge is incredibly important to the history of wine-making in the United States, thanks to the Judgment of Paris. In 1976, there was a blind tasting of California and French wines organized in celebration of the American Bicentennial, and this tasting proved a turning point in American wine. After the scores were totaled, California wines were clearly the judges’ favorites. The French responded with a challenge that the California wines that had been tasted would not age as well as their French counterparts and thus, the tasting was repeated 30 years later, in 2006. The winner in this re-enactment was the 1971 Ridge Monte Bello.

Ridge Monte Bello

My tasting group included the Ridge Zinfandel wines and the Zinfandel blends in our tasting, as well as the 2007 Monte Bello. Zinfandel is a grape that does well in California. It is known as a hearty grape that ripens easily and often results in wines with incredibly high alcohol content. This is part of the reason I don’t always find Zinfandel very appealing. A challenge that many winemakers face is producing Zinfandel wines that are balanced and not adversely affected by the searing alcohol levels.

Each of these wines was made from grapes grown in vineyards in Northern California, specifically different sub-appellations in Sonoma County, with the exception of one wine whose grapes were grown in Paso Robles. I won’t include all of our tasting notes here, but will say that of the six wines we tasted, the Ridge East Bench was far and away the crowd favorite.

This wine was 92% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sirah. I think we liked this wine more so than the others because it was much smoother and more integrated (i.e. the alcohol didn’t knock my socks off). This wine was 15.4% alcohol so this is kind of a surprise. I picked up hints of violet and blackberries on the nose, but clove was far and away the most pronounced aroma. Thank you, Joon for pointing that one out to us.


We had high hopes for the Monte Bello, but the truth is, we “killed a baby.” This wine had a beautiful nose already, but was very tight. The tannins were very intense, and the wine definitely needs more time to allow the tannins to smooth out. I would let the 2007 Monte Bello sit for many more years, but we wanted to include it in our tasting to make sure we got a comprehensive glimpse into what Ridge single vineyards had to offer.

My exposure to Ridge wines had previously been limited, and thank you to the Atlanta Wine Group for giving me a glimpse into what the producer has to offer. I certainly won’t turn down my next chance to try them!

When the weather is nice, what do I want to do? Go wine browsing. When the weather is terrible, what do I want to do? Go wine browsing. Well. Today was officially the most beautiful spring day we’ve had in Atlanta so far this year. I use the term “spring” lightly, because the high was 87 degrees! In a pathetic attempt to enjoy the nice weather, I sweltered in my backyard while reading for a couple of hours. Not my thing. I then decided to venture out into the neighborhood and pay a visit to pH Wine Merchant, newly opened and oh-so-conveniently located approximately 150 yards from my house.

pH Wine Merchant in Peachtree Hills neighborhood

pH Wine Merchant was fantastic. Maggie and Anthony were incredibly helpful, and to further entice buyers, pH pours delicious wines every Saturday afternoon from 2 – 4. I got so excited by a little find that I just had to do a quick entry on Syrah. Syrah is, without a doubt, my favorite grape juice to drink right now. I can’t get enough of it. In fact, I am drinking Syrah while I write this very sentence. Anyway, pH Wine Merchant was offering the 2008 Arnot Roberts North Coast Syrah. Such a fantastic producer, but I have only sampled their wines at Cellar 13 when helping out there on Saturdays because normally, their price point is out of my range. But TODAY, at pH Wine Merchant, I picked up an Arnot Roberts Syrah, with fruit sourced from the North Coast, for $24.99. Yes, this is still a bit expensive, but I have a feeling it will be totally worth it.

rustic and refined

What do I love about Syrah? It has such a fantastic personality – refined, but with a little lip. On the surface, it is rustic and masculine, and at its best, becomes a thought-provoking, complex grape. Syrah can drink very differently based on the wine-producing region. Northern Rhone Syrah is often referred to as a “smelly” wine, with traces of barnyard animals and leather. Australian Shiraz, on the other hand, with extremely warm growing temperatures, is often made in a style that is fruit-forward, chocolaty and rich (side note – Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape, but Australians and South Africans often choose to use a different naming convention). Washington State and California Syrah can strike a perfect balance between these two extremes, but retain the spice aromas that make Syrah so interesting to drink.

For whatever reason, Syrah sales have slowed lately. An abomination, in my humble opinion! The next time you’re doing your own wine browsing, I ask you to pass over your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot selection and give Syrah a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Here are some regions to look for:

Washington State Syrah - K Vintners

Washington State – Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley

California – Central Coast and North Coast

Rhone Valley, France – Cote Rotie, Hermitage, St. Joseph

Australia – Barossa Valley and Hunter Valley

Saint-Joseph Domaine Durand Syrah

I have a fair amount of Syrah around the house right now. The Atlanta Wine Group is getting together for a Syrah tasting at my house next Monday, and we plan to have each of these different regions represented. Check back soon for tasting notes, firsthand information on what differentiates each region and photos from the evening!


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