A New Zealand Winemaking Success: Yealands Family Wines

Peter Yealands in the Vines-0037344Joe’s Chicago was a fitting venue for a delicious luncheon paired with affordable, delectable selections from Yealands Family Wines located in Marlborough, New Zealand.  The menu choices and the wines combined to create a taste sensation. The bonus?  Peter Yealands and his team enjoyed lunch with me and other wine loving media folk from Chicago as part of their United States press junket.

Speaking softly with an unpretentious tone, Peter Yealands briefly shared the story of his winemaking journey. From humble beginnings as a youth to leading the way in New Zealand’s mussel farming and deer farm industries to purchasing and working the land to develop his Estate Seaview Vineyard, this pioneering, hard working entrepreneur was awarded the 2013 Lincoln University foundation “South Island Farmer of the Year” for his “visionary tenacity”.

Yealands Family Wines is now New Zealand’s leading environmentally sustainable winery based in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough.  Through the years the commitment to the environment has earned the winery a multitude of awards and Peter Yealands vision is to “create the world’s most environmentally-friendly wines”.  Yealands, the largest privately owned vineyard in New Zealand is the eighth largest producer in New Zealand.  Its wine team has garnered 11 trophies and over 800 wine medals since the winery’s inception on August 8, 2008.  The Yealands Estate Single Block S1 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (see my review below) was honored as the Best Sauvignon Blanc in the World at the 2012 London International Wine Challenge and just last week, Yealands was named New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year. I encourage you to look at the Yealands Family Wines website for more detailed information.

Seaview Vineyard From The Air-0041395

At Joe’s, I enjoyed a tasting of six selections of wine with my lunch of oysters on the half shell, Joe’s chopped salad, lump crab cakes with crispy Brussels sprouts, and fresh berries. As I tasted through the wines, all food friendly, it was easy to select any to combine with my luncheon choices.  The Sauvignon Blancs paired just as effectively with the chopped salad and crab cakes as the Pinot Noirs.

The fastest selling wine in New Zealand, Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc 2013, is their entry level choice at $15.99 and the fresh and crisp flavors of stone fruit ,herbs and minerality were a snappy way to begin.  Following, we tasted the Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013, a very rich and complex wine with more citrus and mineral notes ($24.99).  The Yealands Estate Single Block S1 Sauvignon Blanc, our last Sauvignon Blanc tasted, was my favorite thanks to its display of texture, lively acidity, and tastes of black currants and ripe stone fruits ($29.99).

The Peter Yealands Pinot Gris 2013, balanced and crisp, exhibited lovely pear and nutty characteristics leading to flavors of stone fruit and honey ($15.99). A fabulous value, the Peter Yealands Pinot Noir 2013, fermented in French oak barrels, presented aromas of red cherries, exotic spice, and juicy fruits which led to a lithe, soft finish (18.99). The last wine of the day was the Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, my favorite of the two reds.  Aromas of succulent black cherries, purple flowers, and spice were powerful.  This full bodied, structured Pinot Noir showed flavors of more dark cherries with lovely acidity and minerality ($32.00).

Are you ready to taste wines from Yealands? Just pour yourself a glass of their lovely Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir.  You’ll be ready to watch the following video to view the beauty of Marlborough and learn more about legendary Peter Yealands’ cutting edge winery which is doing so many things right.

Cheers and thank you to Yealands Family Wines! ~ Cindy

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Chew and Sip: Mikey’s Beef Jerky and Wine

This was not the usual “C’mon over and let’s drink wine, ladies” night. Creamy cheeses, fresh fruit, spinach artichoke dip, or homemade chocolate brownies were nowhere to be seen. Instead I served samples of Mikey’s Beef Jerky with several bottles of wine as a taste test of sorts…which wine pairs best with the most iconic snack known to any gun-toting, hiking-in-the-Northwoods, truck driving, manly man on the face of the earth? (Yeah, I know this is a sexist comment, but whatever, it’s true.) And guess what? Move over, guys. The ladies of my ‘hood loved the spicy dried beef and its wine companions. Lest you worry, you’ll still retain your man card if you join them for a gnaw on the jerky and a glass of wine, too.

Entrepreneur Mikey Allen 26, pictured above, is Chief Everything of his company Mikey’s Beef Jerky located in the Chicago area. His zesty handcrafted power snacks are made with all natural beef containing no hormones or antibiotics. The secret recipe (which I tried to trick him into sharing but to no avail) boasts no added preservatives. All ingredients are sourced locally and Mikey works tirelessly day and night to ensure that his product is crafted to meet the highest standards. 17 to 20 pieces of jerky are in each bag which has a shelf life of around three months and costs $8.99. I was fortunate enough to receive samples for tasting and pairing with wine.

My group of seven ladies tried three styles of Mikey’s Beef Jerky. The Grim Beefer was hot and spicy with crushed red pepper, Cajun spice, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce. With exotic herbs and tingly spices, The Great Barrier Beef contained garlic powder, crushed red pepper, black pepper, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Caribbean jerk sauce. Finally, Mikey’s Original exhibited the classic flavors of beef jerky with ingredients of crushed red pepper, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worcester sauce, liquid smoke, and hot sauce.  Wow! Bring on the wine…and some camouflage gear!

I asked each of my jerky loving, wine swilling guests to share a bottle of their favorite juice from the vine – it didn’t matter which varietal they chose. The idea was to taste a sample of the beef and pair with each of the wines. The trick, however, was to find a combination that not only honored the texture, spice, and smoky taste sensations of the beef but which brought forth the flavors of the wine. This was going to be fun…

My contributions were Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut and Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel 2012. I thought the bubbly Prosecco would be a cleanse-the-palate antidote to the bold flavors of the jerky and the Zinfandel a terrific compliment. Friends shared Chateau St. Michelle Gewurtztraminer 2012, Jacob’s Creek Moscato, Pieroth Silvaner Spatlese 2011, Menage a Trois California Red Wine 2009, Castoro Cellars Blind Faith Pinot Noir 2010, and Cockamamie Syrah 2011.

We had our favorites but there were some clear winners. The Prosecco paired with all of the samples thanks to its effervescence and light fruit notes. The sweetness of the Moscato was a delicious pairing with the spice and heat of Mikey’s Original. A rule of thumb is to remember that “heat needs sweet”.  As predicted, the Zinfandel reigned with all of the beef thanks to its deep, rich blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet…and plenty of sultry flavors. Your takeaway?  A refreshing sparkling wine, a sweet varietal such as Moscato (or sweet Riesling), and a rich Zinfandel pair extraordinarily well with beef jerky.

Guys, when you bring a pouch or two of Mikey’s Beef Jerky to the deer stand, tailgate, bro gathering, or heck, to the movies on date night, don’t forget the wine. Trust me, it will be fine…and you’ll get another punch on your man card.

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Note: You may order my new favorite chew, Mikeys Beef Jerky, online or become of a member of the Jerky of the Month Club. Check out Mikeys website for more information!



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Affordable Wines from Greece and Chile – It’s the Weekend!

redwhitewine2The weekend is upon us and you may have your favorite, expensive bottle ready to open.  But there is more than enough space on the wine bar to open a few bottles of wine under or around $20.  It’s always fun for me to taste then suggest wines that are at or around that reasonable price range.  I hope you find the affordable wines reviewed below interesting enough to purchase and pair with a Friday night dinner or Sunday supper at home, with friends who drop by unexpectedly, or with a good book waiting for you on the back porch or by a cozy fire.

The two wines sent to me as samples couldn’t be more different.  Each is food friendly, albeit with different sorts of fare, enjoyable in its own way, and at a price point which should encourage you to find a bottle at your local wine shop…especially if you’ve never tasted the varietal.  I hope your palate appreciates the wines as much as mine!

The 2013 Thalassitis Santorini from Gaia Estate is comprised of 100% Assyrtiko grapes.  Grown on volcanic soils in a vineyard on the southeast slope of Santorini’s Episkopi, the wine is from ungrafted, low yielding vines which are 70-80 years old. Unoaked with no malalactic fermentation this selection is the winery’s signature wine.  Pale lemon in the glass, I found aromas of honey, tropical fruit, and yellow flowers.  Bone dry with high acidity, this energetic wine with its fresh fruit, subtle herbal notes, and a steely zing presented a warm, pleasant finish with tastes of lemons.  Upon opening, the Thalassitis was tight on the palate…it was still delicious but I felt that it needed to open and breathe for a longer period of time.  Sips on the second day revealed a bounty of more juicy fruits and minerality on both nose and palate. You may want to pair this terrific example of Assyrtiko with seafood, light yet rich cheeses, and the movie, Zorba the Greek.  Cost is $25.

Consider opening a bottle (or two) of the Concha Y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2012 when you plan to grill that thick, juicy steak or create a hearty stew with roasted potatoes. Although this varietal brought from France to Chile was thought to be Merlot, DNA evidence discovered years ago that it was, in fact, another grape, Carmenere.  This particular example from Casillero del Diablo was inky purple in the glass and exhibited intense aromas of black cherry, purple fruit, sweet spice, and dark chocolate.  Dry and balanced, the oaky Carmenere with its deep red and purple fruits, herbs, and touches of earth and bramble led to a long and spicy finish. Open about thirty minutes before drinking for optimum enjoyment.  If you can hold on to this wine for a few more years, the rich, tertiary flavors of the Carmenere will be truly expressed. But you won’t be able to…the cost is a mere $11.


Enjoy the wines and cheers to the weekend! ~ Cindy




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Meet David Launay of Château Gruaud Larose

operaThe Lyric Opera of Chicago and its Women’s Board are preparing for another dazzling stage performance on February 7 with its Wine Auction 2015, a most elegant affair with proceeds going directly to the Lyric’s annual campaign which supports the world renown opera company’s activities. The February evening will begin with a ball-gown-worthy reception and silent auction after which guests will enter the Ardis Krainik Theatre where the main stage will be transformed into a memorable dinner and live auction setting for more than 500 guests who are able to bid on an array of carefully curated wines, visits to renowned restaurants and unique luxury items and experiences.

The Honored Guest of the evening will be David Launay of Château Gruaud Larose which is known internationally for its incredible caliber of Bordeaux wines.  It is one of the most historic estates in the Left Bank region of the Medoc and boasts a unique distinction as being a single vineyard estate with boundaries unchanged since the 18th century.  Grape varieties grown are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon along with Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc.

Recently I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and talk with David Launay at The Boarding House where a lovely reception was given by the Women’s Board to begin the Wine Auction season and to toast their 2015 Honored Guest. Between swirls and sips of Château Gruaud Larose 1998 and 2010 and Sarget 2006 and tastes of savory appetizers including chick pea fritters with tahini vinaigrette, grilled sliced steak with harissa, pickled fennel on a crostini, and lamb shanks with feuille de brick and mint yogurt I learned more about David Launay…his passions, philosophy, and yes, his favorite wines.  I now understand why this incredibly interesting, gregarious man was chosen as the Honored Guest at such a highly profiled charitable event, the 2012 Wine Auction having been named as one of the Top Ten Charity Wine Auctions by Wine Spectator.

David Launay, from the Maine-et-Loire region of France, has a degree in Viticulture and Oenology, four years experience as a wine broker in Hong Kong, and now twelve years experience at Château Gruaud Larose.  He shared that he “started from scratch, going through the different works of the vineyard up to the harvest and vinifications.”  Currently Launay is the Sales Director and works with Jean Merlaut, the owner, as a team.  He considers one of the challenges of the position is to “produce the best wine every year by accepting the whims of the weather.  Then, the next step is to succeed in selling the wine.”

As I was waxing poetic about the aromas and palate profile of the Château Gruaud Larose 2010, Launay explained that “one of his major highlights was to produce the 2010 vintage, a unique vintage which respects the style of Gruaud Larose, powerful and elegant, most accomplished, and probably the best ever produced at the Château.”  However, he continued, the 2010 vintage was difficult since “all of the levels of sugar, acidity, and tannins were over the top.  It was crucial to respect the balance of our wine.  It finally came out through the weather with a beautiful autumn with some hot days and cool nights.”

I was curious about how he spends his time away from the vines. Launay shared that he enjoys wines from around the world.  He likes those “which provide some soul through the history of the estate or the personality of the owner and winemaker”.  It could be from France, California, Spain, Italy…but “they need to be authentic.  They have to create some emotions, some pleasure.”  Launay has plenty of opportunity to taste wines from around the world as he travels more than half of his time.

Vacations, though, aren’t too far from Bordeaux.  During winter, he enjoys skiing in the Alps and in summer, beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean coast or those in the Bordeaux area beckon with a “special light and color of the sky and sea”.  Yet, Launay loves to travel to Tokyo “for the refinement”, New York “for the energy and sensation that everything is possible”, Hong Kong “for the spiciness” and England “for its style”.  Running (he successfully finished five marathons including the New York marathon), tennis, sailing, hiking (he completed two 62 mile hikes in Hong Kong), and golf along with a passion for classic cars and Japanese gardens round out the interests of this fascinating, charismatic, Renaissance man.

Previous Lyric Opera Wine Auctions championed wines from Burgundy and Champagne. It was decided that it is time for wines from beautiful Bordeaux to be showcased.  David Launay is the perfect choice to represent the region and I look forward to his return to Chicago for the event.  For more information about the Wine Auction 2015, please follow the link and don’t forget to pour yourself a special glass of Château Gruaud Larose Bordeaux.

Cheers~ Cindy

 Note: I would like to thank David Launay for taking the time to answer my questions during the event and upon his return to France, Janet Isabelli of Isabelli Media Relations and Alpana Singh at The Boarding House for orchestrating the evening’s festivities, photographer Jaclyn Simpson for allowing me to use her pictures in the body of this article, and the beautiful ladies of the Women’s Board of the Lyric Opera for hosting such a wonderful reception.



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Wines to Drink When You’re Getting Dressed

gettingdressedEvery woman I know has a ritual when she gets dressed to go out for the evening. For many, besides the requisite hair and makeup, there is a step which may rival the importance of selecting the “just right” jewelry and shoes to go with that perfect outfit: having a glass of wine during the process.

I am one of those wining women who loves to sip and style while wrapped in a cozy robe in the privacy of my bedroom. Danger to those who interrupt this relaxing tradition!  I always choose a white wine to pour having spilled a bit of red on one of my favorite jackets several years ago.  Price is a consideration, too.  My “getting dressed” wines are always inexpensive. I’ll save the pricy bottles for later…!

In the event that you share the same custom, suggested below are a few choices you may want to try. All are reasonably priced, quite good although not complex, and may take the edge off or heighten the excitement of a potentially memorable evening.  Pour yourself a chilled glass of any of these wines and get ready to embrace the evening!

*Mionetto Organic Prosecco DOC – Of course we need some bubbles and this selection is delicious. Glera grapes are sourced from a certified organic winery in the town of Vazzola in the hills of Treviso. No synthetic chemicals and fertilizers are used in their organic farming techniques. The Mionetto Prosecco is fresh with subtle aromas of citrus and a touch of florals. On the palate, I found green apple and tropical fruit notes complemented with lively bubbles and a zesty finish.  This will be a wonderful start to your evening.  Cost is $16.


Little Black Dress Chardonnay 2012 (sample) – Pale lemon in the glass, aromas were of green apples, pears, and citrus. This tart, dry , high acid wine had tastes of more juicy citrus which led to a medium finish.  Although not a complex Chardonnay, you’ll enjoy the price of $12.


Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay 2013 (sample) – You can’t beat the price for this Chardonnay which presents aromas of intense citrus with green apples and ripe lemon zest. On the palate, I found nice acidity and more juicy citrus notes.  Balanced, this Chardonnay is only $6.

Innovacion Santa Julia Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay 2013 (purchased) – A lovely lemon color in the glass, I enjoyed the aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle and minerality. Another high acid wine, this dry blend was light and refreshing with more juicy green apples and a satisfying finish.  Cost is $10.

Little Black Dress Pinot Grigio 2011 (sample) – Put on your party dress after of sip of this crisp dry Pinot Grigio with a medium lemon color. Aromas of stone fruits, pears, and a bit of citrus wafted from the glass and tastes were much of the same leading to a pleasant, lingering finish.  Cost is $10.


If you have a favorite “getting dressed” wine, leave a comment or email me at cindy@grape-experiences.com!  Cheers ~ Cindy

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