Monday, April 6, 2020

Australia’s Mudgee region offers delicious wines and warm hospitality

The people of Mudgee, Australia, have been cultivating wine grapes since 1858. The downtown is full of two story buildings with upstairs porches and arcaded storefronts that have a romance of yesteryear.

There is plenty of charm in both the town and the extensive wine region – wineries in cozy wooden structures, but also modern marvels with floor to ceiling windows providing achingly beautiful views of the lush vines in the valley and brown undulating hills in the distance.

A small group of wine writers from the Wine Media Conference had the chance to explore the rugged terrain and visit a group of producers from the region. Here are some highlights of a trip through the area:

Gilbert Family Wines
The winery offers a range of wine, heavy on the whites. I found their 2015 Riesling Single Vineyard to be particularly noteworthy with a nose of white flower, palate of zesty lime, and high acidity.  A 2016 Chardonnay L.C.R. was a contrast to this – nutty notes, yellow apples, with rich texture.  Interesting bottles included a couple of petillants and a delicious skin-contact Gewurztraminer.

Highlights of this winery, which offered a modern, glamorous tasting room were Pinot Gris.  The winery offered some wines that were labled “Adventure.”  These included the Weemala Pinot Gris 2019, which had light body with hints of melon and refreshing acidity.  The Clementine Pinot Gris 2019 was an orange wine that had savory notes, spice, and tangerine.  The winery had made some ambitious moves to offer unexpected flavors including an “Orange Shiraz” – Ridge of Tears.  It’s a beautiful wine tourism destination.

This is a rustic tasting room that offers an authentic outback vibe, with a big open porch and natural wood tasting room.  A light-hearted approach to the wines is evident in the fanciful names. My personal favorite was the first sparkling wine we tried – Twinkle Toes – what a marvelous name for a sparkler. The full range of their wines were tasty, uncomplicated, and winning.  Worth the drive to visit.

De Beaurepaire
Truly a world apart – the winery tasting room lies down a dusty road surrounded by hills.  There a gentile sensibility derived from a Burgundian ancestry provides a refined wine experience.  Some of their most outstanding pours included a sparkling, 2018 Blanchefleur Blanc de Balance; 2017 Perceval Pinot Noir, which had a tart sour cherry palate; and 2016 Leopole Reserve Shiraz Viognier, which had a rich mouthfeel, loads of black cherry fruit, and lovely balance of tannin and acidity.

Mudgee is only a few hours north of Sydney, and the drive there takes you over some beautiful stretches of the Blue Mountains.  Once you arrive in this rolling landscape of vines visited by kangaroos at sunset, you’ll know you’ve arrive at truly a world apart.  I recommend making it a weekdend wine trip during a vacation down under.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Bodegas Bianchi honors its roots with new wine project in the Valle de Uco

Bodegas Bianchi has earned a reputation as one of Argentina's best family-owned wineries. The winery marked its 90th anniversary in 2018, and the family commemorated the occasion by adding to its vineyard properties with 420 acres in Vista Flores in the Valle de Uco in the southern end of the Mendoza wine growing region. This region has special significance, because it is here that founder Valentin Bianchi established the original winery in 1928. The new Enzo Bianchi winery is named for Valentin's son, who made wine for the family business for 50 years.  

Silvio Alberto, Chief Winemaker and Agronomist of Bodegas Bianchi, was in New York recently to present current vintages from a number of vineyards at a media dinner. With regard to the new project in the Valle de Uco, Silvio pointed out that the region has a good diurnal shift with warm days and cool nights.  Although San Rafael is famously known as a sparkling wine region, Silvio saw more potential there. In his opinion, "San Rafael means Cabernet Sauvignon," and he said that this area has good conditions to make great wine.  

We had the opportunity to taste through the following wines at the dinner: 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay, San Rafael, 2018 - This Chardonnay has a nice freshness but also a rich texture. Silvio said he prefers this wine to have more fruit and acidity and he does not have it undergo malolactic fermentation.  It was a crisp, well-balanced wine. $18.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Oasis Sur Malbec, San Rafael, 2019 -  Silvio said he finds this wine "easy to drink" and that it has "lots of fruit."  The vineyards are in the far south of Mendoza.  The wine had black plum and blackberry on the nose and palate. The fruit profile was tart and the wine had a smooth mouthfeel. At $15.99 it's a very good value. 

Bodegas Bianchi Oasis Sur Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael 2019 - This wine offered  blackberry and black cherry fruit - tart and fresh - with well-integrated tannins. Another good value at $15.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Malbec, Mendoza, 2018 - Dark, ripe cherries dominate the flavor profile with additional notes of tart cranberry and blackberry. A wine of richness and deep flavor that's a great deal at $19.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael, 2017 - This wine had blackberry, spice, and a touch of smoke on the palate with a rich mouthfeel and smooth  finish.  $19.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Gran Famiglia Bianchi Corte, Vista Flores, Uco Valley, 2017 - A "Bordeaux" blend of 59% Malbec, 23% Petit Verdot, 11% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Tannat.  The nose was blackberry and plum with a whiff of caramel (most likely from the French Oak barrels the wine is aged in.)  On the palate there was more black fruit, spice, and minerality.  Silvio noted that "the idea with all my wine is to maintain the fruit." $29.99 

Bodegas Bianchi Particular Malbec, San Rafael, 2017 - The perfumed nose had black fruit and a hint of black pepper. On the palate, there was black cherry, a little spice, and smooth, well-integrated tannin. For this wine, Silvio told us he mixed using new and used French Oak barrels for 12 months.  Before bottling, the wine spent a 10-15 day period in stainless steel tanks, which allowed sediment to precipitate, as the wine is not filtered. A year of bottle aging follows that.  Excellent quality for $30.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Particular Cabernet Sauvignon, San Rafael, 2017 - Bold wine with slightly briny nose along with prominent black fruit. On the palate, the wine is well structured with nice acidity and good depth of flavor showing black fruit and black pepper, with long length.  $30.99. 

Bodegas Bianchi Enzo Bianchi Gran Corte, San Rafael, 2017 - The fruit on this blended wine is all from San Rafael and includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.  With an inviting nose of black fruits and spice, the wine's was lush with flavors of cherries, blackberries, and pepper.  The wine has well-integrated tannins and long length. $59.99. 

With the development of a new vineyard area, Bodegas Bianchi shows that it is a historic winery that is still striving to improve and expand the types of wines it can make. The tasting with Silvio showed that wines at all levels are made with intention, and that the Bianchi brand has the innovation and attention to quality to continue to offer great wine at excellent price points.  

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Toasting Academy Award Wins with Piper-Heidsieck

Piper-Heidsieck is the official Champagne of the Oscars - so why not pop a cork tonight to see who comes away with the big wins? Whether you put your money on The Irishman, A Marriage Story, Little Women or one of the other great films from 2019, you're sure to be on toasting the winners in style with this iconic French Champagne. 

The Champagne house has been the official pour of the Academy Awards for six years running, and tonight in the Dolby theater it's the bubbles that the stars will be celebrating with or drinking to better luck next time.    

In a wink to the 100th anniversary of Prohibition, the bottles served at the awards will feature a limited-edition magnum with the same label used in the 1920s. During Prohibition, Piper-Heidsieck would be served in secret at speakeasys -- looks like we can't live without this crisp and satisfying Champagne, and luckily we have plenty to go around in 2020. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Exploring the Delicious World of Hunter Valley at Wine Media Conference

The 2019 Wine Media Conference was the first time this gathering of wine communicators (formerly known as the Wine Bloggers Conference) gathered in Australia.  The participant list included a number of North American/U.S. wine bloggers who were eager to learn more about the region that was hosting them - the Hunter Valley.

On day one of the conference, an educational session was led by a local historian and winery folks. They provided participants with a historical perspective as well as a comprehensive understanding of the region today. 

Dr. Julie McIntyre is the author of Hunter Wine - A History.  She told the conference attendees that Hunter Valley grapes were planted in 1828 and that it is the oldest continuously producing wine region in the country.  She revealed the character of the region when she told the group that there are continuing generations of the same families farming the land and making the wine over the course of many years. 

Australia's history in wine dates back to 1788 when British colonization brought wine grapes to the colony.  The first fleet carried wine purchased from the Canary Islands, Rio, and the Cape of Good Hope.  At the time, wine was used as medicine.  Grape vines were brought to Australia on ships from the Cape of Good Hope. 

In 1792, the first Australian wine was made and it was noted to be "strong and red." 

During their days in the region, the wine media conference participants tasted many Hunter Valley wines.  I was not alone in expecting to find boldness and strength in the Shiraz.  But the Hunter Valley style of this wine - sometimes called Syrah - was actually more elegant than we had expected.  A new trend of harvesting the grapes earlier was holding back some of the alcohol. The resulting wines had plenty of fruit but also a bit more restraint than the bold Shiraz we'd come to think of as Australian.

We liked the change and took back many bottles from the oldest continuing producing wine region in the land down under. While it may be that Australia can still produce strong red wines as heralded over 200 years ago - today they may be a little less powerful, more balanced, and fully delicious.


P.S. - A footnote about the region after the recent wildfire season.  While Hunter Valley was not among the hardest hit regions, it was affected.  Consider buying, drinking, and sharing Australian wine as a way to support the hard-working wineries as they come back from the destruction.

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.