Thursday, January 2, 2020

Ventisquero creating terroir-driven wines of character in Chile

Chile’s Ventisquero winery is a quality-focused house that seeks to produce wines from some of the most highly-regarded regions of the country, including Coastal Maipo, Casablanca, Leyda and Huasco valleys.  A relatively young winery with first plantings from 1998, the winery has built a reputation for producing award-winning wines.

Winemaker Alejandro Galaz met a group of media in New York City recently to pour his most recent releases and share his vision for the wines he is producing. 

Alejandro shared some details about why the wines of Ventisquero are being recognized for the quality and style.  One contributing factor the their success is that they only use estate fruit owned by the winery, so that they have control from vineyard to bottle.  Alejandro himself specializes in Pinot Noir and white varieties for the operation.  His passion for Pinot can be attributed in part to time he spent in Burgundy. Of that experience, he remembered, “I discovered how they work with the stems.”  Accordingly, Alejandro has been adding more stems to his Pinot noir barrels, and in 2018 some of his wines had as much as 50% stems in the fermentation.  He finds that adding stems in addition to the fruit gives the wines good structure. 

His passion for the grape was evident, and he said that, “For me, Pinot Noir is all about finesse and elegance and trying to express the place it came from.”

Heru Pinot Noir,  Casablanca Valley, 2017 – “Heru” is that hat of an elf, and it refers to a local myth of an elf who guards a treasure – in this case the granite soil is what’s valuable.  This wine was complex with peppers, cranberries, strawberries, spicy and minerality.  It was a Pinot Noir of note that sells for $40.

Grey Pinot Noir, Leyda Valley, 2017 – With a fresh nose of black fruits, this wine is from terraced vineyards. I found the profile to be inviting and fresh with blueberries and black berries on the palate as well.  $22

The Tara Vineyards - Tara is the name of a local salt mine. Alejandro told us that millions of years ago the Andes were under the Pacific Ocean and that the foothills of the Andes had salt lakes that dried and left salt.  The vineyards where Tara wines are grown have limestone and salt in the soil, affecting the resulting character of the wines.

Tara Red Wine 1/ Base Wine Pinot Noir, Atacama, 2016 –  I enjoyed the very perfumed nose of tobacco and roses and the nice weight on the palate, where flavors of dried cherry were prominent. The wine also had a good acidity.  $40

Tara Red Wine 2 / Base Wine Syrah, Atacama 2016 – This wine had a richer structure. The aromas were more savory – bacon, smoke, and spice.  The palate belied more stewed cherry and baking spice.  A rich wine for hearty winter stews and meats. $40

Tara White Wine 1 / Base Wine Chardonnay, Atacama, 2016 – The nose was briny with a whiff of salt air as well as herbal tones of chamomile.  This white gets structure from being aged on the skins. Old used barrels are used to give the wine texture rather than to add oak flavor.  $40

Alejandro is a passionate wine maker who also believes that the most important part of wine is "to have a nice moment with wine." As we finished our meal and savored a last pour together, I couldn't help but to appreciate his wine-making and his philosophy about sharing good moments with friends over a good bottle. 

As a whole, I found the wines of Ventisquero to be delightfully unique, while still very accessible.  For such well-crafted wines, the price of these bottles is absolutely a good value in the world of wine. I encourage wine lovers who seek a deliciously different expression of familiar grapes to seek them out.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Hunter Valley wine legends honored at Wine Media Conference

Australia is a new world wine region, right? Well, even though the vineyards don't have the same length of history as some in Europe, doesn't make them exactly new. Case in point is the wine region of Hunter Valley in New South Wales. This area, Australia's oldest, was established in the 1820s by James Busby. It's old enough, in fact, to have "legends," and I had the good fortune to meet a number of these distinguished gentlemen at a special Wine MediaConference event at Brokenwood Winery.

According to , "The status of 'Hunter Valley Legend' is an honour bestowed on individuals who have given many years of outstanding service to the advancement of the Hunter Valley as a wine producing region."

Hunter Valley legend Brian McGuigan was one of the featured speakers at the event. The attendees of the Wine Media Conference, which included wine bloggers, marketers, and trade professionals from a number of countries, were excited to hear from him.

Brian established his first winery, Wyndham Estates, in the 1970s, and then moved on to create his eponymous winery in the early 1990s. McGuigan wines are now distributed across Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and the US.

In addition to introducing conference participants to the Hunter Valley legends, the event also featured dozens of fine wines from the region. At the conference, participants straight-away learned that the region is proud of its Semillon. At the event, we got to taste a delicious 10-year-old bottle from McLeish Estate. Aged Hunter Valley Semillon has a textured mouthfeel, lemon curd on the palate, and makes a rich impression.

Coming with the expectations that there would be plenty of Shiraz, we weren't disappointed. One of the outstanding offerings was poured by Pepperwood Winery. However, those of us from the US didn't expect to taste Shiraz with restraint and elegance as well as plentiful fruit. Earlier harvesting is a trend in the region that's contributing to these wines possessing a new-found finesse.

The event also showcased the gorgeous, open air tasting room - or as referred to in Australia, the  cellar door - at Brokenwood. Recently opened, this is a destination winery that is already attracting numerous visitors.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Holiday season starts with vivacious Beaujolais Nouveau from Georges Duboeuf

With Thanksgiving weekend here, the U.S. has entered the holiday season, and that means a new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau - the young Gamay wine from Beaujolais, France.

Georges Duboeuf, founder of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, is the acknowledged father of this world-wide phenomenon in which Beaujolais wine is released just weeks after harvest.  Because it's bottled quickly after fermentation, the wine has great freshness and the fruit notes are far more present than in aged wine.  But Beaujolais Nouveau is more than a novelty; in fact, over the course of many vintages, it seems to have evolved into a refreshing, light-bodied wine with delightful fruit character that is worthy of wine lovers' consideration.

Georges' son Franck Duboeuf, who manages the winery, and his wife Anne, who runs the tourism park known as Le Hameau Duboeuf, were in New York City last week to open their new releases.  They joined a group of New York-based wine media at Brasserie Ruhlmann.

Georges told the group that the growing conditions in 2019 were not ideal, with severe summer storms pummeling vines and diminishing yield.  But, as harvest approached, he said the weather was "fantastic" and turned sunny.  Franck said that 2019 is "a Beaujolais vintage" and a "vintage of pleasure," stating it has "much more vivacity" than 2018.  He also noted the freshness and good acidity in this year's young wines.

Maison Duboeuf produces three styles for the new wines: Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais Nouveau Village, and Beaujolais Nouveau Rose.  Franck proudly shared that his 22-year-old son, who has been studying oenology, vinified the rose wine.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 - With a lush pomegranate nose, the wine had rich flavors of blackberries and mulberries, with a light to medium body.  A delicious rendition of the Nouveau style.  $12.99

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2019 - This wine was created with grapes from the 38 designated Beaujolais AOC Villages. The 2019 had a sweet bing cherry nose, and on the palate there was tart red fruits, noticeable acidity, and a light, fresh finish. $14.99

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rose 2019 - What a joy to know there is a rose for Beaujolais Nouveau season now! Introduced last year to wide popularity, the rose version of this young wine continues.  The 2019 had a nose of strawberries and white carnations.  The flavors of strawberries, raspberries, and a sweep of cloves played on the palate with a light touch and refreshing acidity. $12.99

At the event, we also tasted some of the other fine wines from the house, including:

Domaine Bois Rosier Pouilly-Fuisse 2018 - An intense white wine from Chardonnay grapes, it had a creamy texture and generous flavors of ripe yellow apples and creme Anglaise. $44.99

Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Chateau des Capitans Julienas 2018 - This Cru Beaujolais had a nose of wild blackberries, with dense blackcurrant and raspberry flavors, good acidity, and fairly light body. $21.99

Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-A-Vent 2018 - Another Cru Beaujolais, this had a spicier nose of blackberry and pink peppercorns.  The flavor profile included ripe black and blueberries and a touch of minerality with light tannins and good finish.  $26.99

The wines of Georges Duboeuf are widely available, so no matter which style Beaujolais you wish to pour over the holidays, there's a broad range ready for your table.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Kay Brothers’ Precise Vineyard Management Reaps Rewards in McLaren Vale

Kay Brothers Winery is renowned in Australia for being the oldest McLaren Vale winery still owned by the original family.  Yet although the operation dates back to 1890, this is a winery that is decidedly not resting on its past laurels. 

Duncan Kennedy, Chief Winemaker of Kay Brothers Winery, visited New York City this fall to attend a media dinner with some of his current releases.  Duncan is a seasoned winemaker who began apprenticing in Padthaway vineyards as he studied for his viticulture degree. After a few years of consulting in South Australia, he shifted focus and locales, beginning to make wine in Okanagan Valley, Bordeaux, and Napa.  That was followed by post-graduate studies in Oenology and then working in cellars in McLaren Vale. 

Duncan stepped up to chief winemaker and viticulturalist at Kay Brothers in 2015.  In describing the region, he told us that it’s 50 kilometers south of Adelaide and has a Mediterranean climate, with breezy hills and nooks and valleys. 

It’s clear his start in viticulture is reflected in his careful vineyard management.  He shared that he “spends most of my time in the vineyard.”  He’s always checking on the vines and the grapes to ensure “that they’re in a happy place.”

The wines Duncan brought with him included Shiraz as well as – unexpectedly – Grenache.  In the McLaren Vale, 50% of plantings are Shiraz, 15% are Cabernet Sauvignon, and a modest 5% are Grenache.  Yet the grape is clearly one of Duncan’s passions, as he admitted, “I’m a bit obsessed with Grenache.”   He conveyed his pride in the results, stating, “We’re definitely making some very exciting wine.”

The wines tasted that night were uniformly impressive, and included:

Kay Brothers Amery Basket Pressed Grenache 2017 – The basket press is used for crushing grapes in a less rough way. Duncan told us the soil for this wine is sandy and produces a more perfumed wine.  The basket pressed wines have soft tannins and the gentle treatment is aimed at preserving that freshness.  I found that this lively wine offered rosemary and blackberry on the nose with sour cherry on the midpalate and a long finish.  $39.99

Kay Brothers Amery Basket Pressed Shiraz 2016 – A well-balanced wine with spicy pepper and ripe black cherries on the nose and palate.  The tannins are well integrated and the length is good.  $39.99

Kay Brothers Amery Hillside Shiraz 2015 – Grown on the Hillside vineyard that was originally planted in 1892, this wine was held back for two years, aging in American and French oak, and was bottled in 2017.  Duncan regards this wine as a more traditional McClaren Vale-style Shiraz.  A big Shiraz, this had black cherry and blackberry fruit character with a perfumed nose of cherries and herbs.  $59.99

Kay Brothers Amery Griffon’s Key Grenache 2017 -  A big wine, which offered flavors of black pepper, thick skinned-black plums, and ripe raspberries. It had a plush mouthfeel, with elegant smoothness.  Duncan sources this wine from two different parts (top and bottom) of the same sloped vineyard.  A terrific expression of Grenache.  $59.99

Kay Brothers Amery Cuthbert Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – Named for one of the family owners of a past generation, this was a complex, big wine with blackberry, plums, balsamic, and black olives mingling on the palate. Duncan shared, “Cabernet doesn’t like to be too stressed,” and told us that these vines are shaded by timber.  A beautiful, expressive wine with a long finish.  $119

Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2015 –  Duncan told us that this wine was grown in “a dryer year.”  While the resulting crop was small, the grapes offered intensity.  The 2015 Block 6 Shiraz had a spicy nose with black fruit.  On the palate, there was huge black fruit flavor as well as pepper and spiciness.  Fine tannins were well integrated and the wine had huge length as well as a touch of minerality. $119

Kay Brothers Amery Block 6 Shiraz 2017 – In contrast to the 2015, this vintage was during a wet year with thriving canopies.  The wine was full-bodied, with gorgeous blackberry and mulberry fruit, herbal notes of rosemary.  It was elegant and smooth with good length.  As we complimented the Block 6, Duncan told us it “reflects the giving nature of the vintage.”  $119

Tasting through a few vintages that had such different weather conditions is a real test of a winery’s ability to produce quality wine consistently.  These Kay Brothers releases are all solid, delicious wines that are a testament to the care both in the vineyard and the cellar.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Reinvention Down Under – Kim Longbottom’s Next Act

Kim Longbottom has been successfully leading Henry’s Drive Vignerons, a winery she began with her late husband, for a number of years. Now Kim has embarked on a new winemaking journey with the creation of Vintage Longbottom.   The fresh venture welcomes Kim’s daughter Margo to the family business.  With Vintage Longbottom, Kim has moved her winemaking ambitions from the Padthaway area to two of Australia’s revered wine regions: McLaren Vale and Adelaide Hills. 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Kim at a media dinner in New York this fall. We started with three wines from the H line.  The labels are distinctive, with an oversized, patchwork letter that hints of handcrafted quality. To this point, Kim stated, “I hope my wines look like they taste.” It was true that the restraint on the packaging reflected the elegance these wines showed in the glass. 
The “H” wines we tasted, all sourced from Adelaide Hills, included:

Vintage Longbottom H Sauvignon Blanc 2018 – This wine was round, with ripe tangerine notes and a nice amount of acidity to keep the wine lifted.  I found it a surprisingly luscious Sauv Blanc.  I was most impressed because this was Kim’s first attempt at working with the grape. $29.99

Vintage Longbottom H Chardonnay 2018 -  This chardonnay presented an assortment of rich aromas including butterscotch and white flowers.  The wine had good weight, and the gentle less stirring produced a level of complexity the wine.  $29.99

Vintage Longbottom H Syrah 2017 – With black pepper and blackberry on nose, this spicy Syrah had delicious red and black fruit and spice on the palate.  The deep fruit flavors are in part a result of a portion of the fruit (10%) being fermented in whole bunches.  Those tannins were softened by ageing in new and used larger format barrels. $29.99

As we moved to the second line of wines, Henry’s Drive, Kim shared that with this line she is making three last transitional vintages that will use grapes from Padthaway and McClaren Vale.

Vintage Longbottom Henry’s Drive Shiraz 2017 – This richly textured wine had notes of black pepper, eucalyptus, and black olive. The layers of flavor included black plum, chocolate, and spice, and the wine had well-integrated tannins and a long finish. $49.99

Vintage Longbottom Henry’s Drive Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – With a tantalizing aroma of roses and cassis, this wine with grippy tannins and big length revealed layers of raspberry, blackberry, and spice.  It's a wine that would marry well with Australian lamb.  $49.99

Vintage Longbottom Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz 2017 – Offering inviting aromatics of toffee, blackberry, and herbs, the wine had flavors of ripe black cherries, blackberries and a dusting of white pepper.  Another big bodied wine with considerable length.  It's fermented in open fermenters with skin contact for three weeks – creating a full bodied wine with great depth of flavor. $79.99

When it comes to Kim's approach to her new wines, she emphasized the importance of picking time, admitting that Australia has at times picked when grapes are overripe.  With Kim's oversight of harvest and selection of new vineyard sites, Vintage Longbottom is producing Australian wines that manage to be rich, but restrained, and always balanced.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Steeply terraced vineyards producing excellent Gruners and Rieslings at Domane Wachau

On the steep slopes of Austria's picturesque Wachau Valley where the Danube River flows past terraced vineyards, wine grapes have been cultivated for hundreds of years.  And it's here that an award-winning winery (recently chosen as one of the top 50 vineyards) is creating great Austrian white wines.  I had the opportunity to meet with Heinz Frischengruber, oenologist and winemaker of Domane Wachau in New York this week. At a special media dinner, he conveyed the philosophy of making wines with clarity that reflect the diversity of soils as well as the elevation and exposure of more than 100 single vineyards of this UNESCO heritage area.

I have been a fan of Austrian wines since visiting the vineyards in 2010, and the wines that Heinz brought offered fantastic quality at a modest price.  Dining at midtown Manhattan's Aureole restaurant, we had a variety of well-prepared dishes to keep these food-friendly wines in good company.

Our dinner wines included:

Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen 2018 - The wine had a fresh herbs and white stones on the nose.  The wine had crisp acidity and flavors of chamomile and lemon with good length.  A wonderful, food friendly wine at $18.  The Federspiel category refers to the weight/alcohol content of the wines - they will be 12.5% alcohol, medium-bodied wines.

Domane Wachau Riesling Federspiel Terrassen 2018  - Nosing the wine, I found lush aromatics of honeysuckle and orange blossom.  It had a round mouthfeel, while also offering mouthwatering acidity.  The palate was pleasant with tangerine.  Such a good wine for only $20.

Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner Federspiel Ried Liebenberg 2018 - This single vineyard wine from the Liebenberg (in German, "love mountain") vineyard showed the true spicy character of the Gruner Veltliner grape. Heinz explained that he only uses stainless steel to ferment Gruner and then ages it in very large barrels - not the small barriques that would impart oak flavor - thereby allowing the grapes to express themselves.  According to Heinz, this allows the wine to "keep the clearness, the straightness."  On the nose and palate, I found celery seed, chamomile, and stones, with spice and lemon at the finish.  $25

Domane Wachau Riesling Federspiel Ried Bruck 2018 - Heinz told us that the Bruck vineyard is in a cold part of the sloped terraces.  This wine was lush, with gorgeous honeyed apricots on the nose and palate as well as a spritz of lemon.  I found it to have mouthwatering acidity and a long finish. $25

Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner Smaragd Achleiten 2016 - Heinz told us the Achleiten vineyard is the best in the country.  It has a stunning slope, with the Danube at its feet and a forest that grows above the terraces. The mix of soil types including slate, mica, loess, help create a wine of great complexity. The wine had mineral aromas as well as herbal aromas like fresh cut palm.  On the palate there was lemon, celery, minerals, and huge length.  The acidity was racy and made it a great match for my plate of diver scallops.  Smaragd wines are more full bodied than Federspiel, as they are picked later in the season but before boytritis can set in. $46

Domane Wachau Riesling Smaragd Achleiten 1996 - In this comparison, we had another wine from the famous Achleiten vineyard, but this time a Riesling and 20 years older.  Heinz said that with age, the soil actually comes through more in the wine. This, he explained, made it harder to distinguish between the Gruner Veltliners and the Rieslings as they aged.  What a treat to taste this 20-year-old Riesling.  There were honeycakes on the nose, apricot jam and refreshing grapefruit on the palate, as well as a smokiness.  The wine was still very lively and it had huge length.  Heinz assured us this was a white wine we could eat with grilled steak - perhaps the focus of another wine dinner?  This gorgeous wine is only available in limited quantities.

Wine tourism is popular in Austria, and Heinz told us the winery offers a number of experiences to visitors.  To help them with planning, there is a new app called "My Wachau."  The app shows aerial views of vineyards, maps, and details about arranging visits.

While Domane Wachau is a relatively modest producer, their wines are thankfully available in the states. I recommend trying them with a wide range of foods - from pork, to chicken, to fish.  And yes, try the rich Smaragd wines with steak.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Lugana wines delight at Cantonese Happiness Dinner

A birthday was at hand, and a feast was in order. That was the setup for a recent wine media event at Jing Fong in New York's Chinatown, where Lugana wines and a stunning array of Cantonese dishes delivered on the promise of the name "Happiness Dinner."  Pinny Tam, publisher of the blog Chinese Food and Wine Pairing and collaborator in the special menu, explained that the traditional happiness dinner is an elaborate celebration meal.

The parade of dishes wowed us, with beautiful and sometimes surprising presentations.  The flavors were enticing but not overwhelming, with mild sauces seasoned with garlic, ginger, scallion and rice wine among other flavors.  Our extensive menu for the night included: baked scallops with seafood rolls, sauteed cuttlefish, sauteed shrimp and chicken, seafood in a basket, steak filet, crispy chicken, fried fish with garlic, steamed lobster with garlic, and fried rice.  

A dinner of this magnitude needs special wine to carry you from one delicacy to the next, and at this event we learned that the white wines from northern Italy's Lugana region fit the bill very well. With medium to medium high acidity, depth of flavors ranging from stone fruit to bitter almond, and medium weight, they can stand up to and enhance - but not overwhelm - a wide variety of foods. 

Our dinner wines were: 

Cantina Bulgarini Lugana DOC 2017 - A crisp white with refreshing acidity and good length. Aromas of white peach with ripe yellow apple on the palate.  

Le Morette Lugana DOC Mandolara 2017 -  This rendition of Lugana wine had a kiss of sweetness along with flavors of fresh plums and apricot, with a finish of bitter almonds.  

Ca Maiol Lugana DOC Molin 2017 - This wine was produced with techniques to obtain greater depth of flavor by fermenting at low temperature and allowing skin contact.  This wine had more structure, with flavors of ripe bosc pear and a crisp minerality.  

Cesari Cento Filari Lugana DOC 2016 - This wine adds a touch (5%) of Chardonnay to the traditional Turbiana grape of Lugana.  I found this wine to be far richer than the first ones, with butter aroma and flavor as well as clementine and peach on the palate. It had a long finish and was a white wine of character. 

Ca Dei Frati Brolettino Lugano DOC 2016 - This wine offered a fuller-bodied rendition of a 100 % Turbiana wine.  The winemaking process includes fermentation in steel tanks and 10 month aging in barriques.  I found richer fruit flavors such as dried apricot and even a hint of candied pineapple in the wine.  While it offered plush fruit flavors, it also had refreshing acidity that made it a wonderful pairing for fried fish. 

Tenuta Roveglia Lugana DOC Vendage Tardive Filo di Arianna 2014 - Grapes were picked at the end of October to the beginning of November for this late harvest wine that had slight sweetness.  With fermentation and aging in barriques, this wine has lots of structure, stone fruit flavors of apricot, peach, and plum, and a long finish. 

To end such a feast is sweet sorrow indeed, but the cheerful part is that it gives us a reason to gather with good friends and pour delicious wines like this array of delights from Lugana at a future celebration.