Sunday, February 3, 2019

American football deserves the iconic American wines of Robert Mondavi

Stumped about what wine to pair with cheering for the Super Bowl?  With over 50 years of play, the game is as American as you can get, so why not pour an iconic American wine? 

Robert Mondavi was one of the pioneers of Napa Valley, founding his eponymous winery in 1966.  Robert Mondavi wines created from the now-legendary To Kalon vineyard (the name means "highest beauty" in ancient Greek), are wonderfully expressive. This vineyard sources the winery's signature Fumé Blanc - the Sauvignon Blanc named with a nod for the Loire Valley's Pouilly Fume - as well as its superlative Cabernet Sauvignon.

Looking for some delicious wine and food pairings for tonight's game? 

  • 2016 Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Fumé Blanc with oysters - The aromatic citrus notes of the Sauvignon Blanc along with its creamy mid-palate will match wonderfully with fresh oysters.
  • 2017 Robert Mondavi Winery Pinot Noir Caneros with stuffed mushroom caps - this lighter-bodied red with notes of dark cherries and baking spices is a good weight to pair with this crowd-pleasing vegetarian appetizer. 
  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Oakville BDX Napa Valley with pepper-bacon potato skins - This Bordeaux-blend of Cabernet Sauvignon from the To Kalon vineyard and Cabernet Franc make a plummy, lush red wine that's not shy on flavor and will deliciously pair with rich and smoky bacon on these classic game-time snacks. 
  • 2014 Robert Mondavi Reserve To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Napa Valley with grilled steak nachos.  Gorgeous layers of dark fruit are expressed in this lush wine, which will beautifully complement the seared steak of this shareable dish.  

Monday, December 31, 2018

Starting the New Year with a Nouveau attitude

Beaujolais Nouveau had a great vintage in 2018, according to Franck Duboeuf, so it's time to give these wines a taste beyond the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Franck was in New York to introduce this year's line of new wines from the winery founded by his father, Georges. The Georges Duboeuf wines from the new harvest include Beaujolais Nouveau and Beajolais Village Nouveau - which is made from grapes grown in villages designated for the quality Gamay grapes. And now the line includes Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé. 

Ringing in the new year, make a resolution to broaden your palate with the lighter-style wines of Beaujolais Nouveau.  They are perfect aperitif wines to welcome guests with as they arrive and to enjoy with lighter flavored meals.  

I attended a media event with Franck Duboeuf at Morton's Steakhouse. We got to taste through the 2018 Beaujolais Nouveau lineup as well as some more mature Beaujolais from the Cru Villages.  

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 - Fresh and fruity wine, smooth red fruits, bright and fun. 

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Village Nouveau 2018 - A more sophisticated rendition of the fresh Nouveau style, this wine had intense aroma and palate of crushed blackberries and raspberries. 

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé 2018 -  Produced from hand-harvested grapes, Franck informed us that this wine was made as a "true rosé," meaning that it is made by brief skin contact on the juice. I found it light bodied with pretty strawberry and raspberry flavors - an engaging wine for the rosé lovers in your crowd. 

We also tried several other offerings from Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. 

Pouilly-Fuissé 2016 - From the Macon region, this wine had a fresh citrus aroma and clean, bright flavors of lemon and minerality, with a good finish. 

Jean Ernest Descombes Cote du Py 2017 - From 50 year old, south facing vines, this wine had a fresh red fruit nose and rich flavors of ripe bing cherries as well as minerality on the palate.  A delicious wine that shows depth of flavor and a good finish. 

Chateau des Capitans Julienas 2017 - Fresh aromas of black cherry and white pepper, the wine offers raspberries and cherries on the palate with a hint of tannin.  This wine is made from grapes grown in the heart of the AOC Cru Julienas region. 

So, whether a light-bodied Beaujolais Nouveau or a more structured Cru Beaujolais, the wines of Georges Duboeuf offer a way to bring new flavors to your glass in 2019. 

Friday, November 30, 2018

Lugana captures the imagination of wine lovers seeking a different kind of white

“What was a weakness has become an opportunity.”

So said Luca Formentini, President of the Consorzio of Lugana, at the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla Washington. Luca was joined by Carlo Veronese, Director of the Consorzio of Lugana, in presenting an educational wine tasting session for wine media about this small DOC region in the picturesque area near Lake Garda, Italy.

So -- what was this weakness that Luca admitted to in Lugana wines?  Quite simply, not being Chardonnay – probably the world’s most recognized white grape.  There was a time when off-grid wines like this one would spur buyers to move on as they browsed the shelf.  All Lugana must be at least 90% Turbiana – a grape few consumers have heard of – and any additional grapes added must not be aromatic.

But today, there is greater open-mindedness among sommeliers and consumers both.  Today, being “anything but Chardonnay” is a plus.

It doesn’t hurt that Lugana wines are well-crafted and balanced, with a bright acidity as well as round fruit and mineral flavors.   A variety of wine-making styles is also producing more serious Lugana wines that can pair with elegant cuisine -  in addition to lighter style ones that hit the spot on a hot day.  

Here are some of the more memorable wines from the tasting:

  • Lugana DOC Selva, Selva Capuzza 2017 –  Bright flavors of white peaches and almonds and a refreshing acidity make this wine a delightful white with a round mouthfeel and good finish.
  • Lugana DOC Molin Ca Maiol 2017 – Rich, almost oily, mouthfeel, dense flavor with bitter almonds, salinity, and white peaches plus a long finish. A wine to contemplate.
  • Lugana DOC Riserva Vigne di Catullo Tenuta Roveglia 2015 – Crushed almond and chamomile nose, on the palate there was round, mouthfilling fruit including white peaches and kiwi, finished with a bit of minerality.  This riserva is fermented in steel tank, and (surprisingly for a wine so complex) it sees no wood.
  • Lugana DOC Back to Silence Ottella 2017 – The only orange wine from Lugana, this wine had a rich mouthfeel, with complex layers of fruit and nutty flavors and high acidity. It is yet another style and presentation of what wines from Lugana can be.

I’ve had the privilege of tasting wines from this beautiful region a number of times over the years, and I see a uniform rise in quality and courage – with winemakers expressing their individual visions for the Turbiana grape.  I look forward to tasting an even broader expression of these wines in the future.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Veteran California winemaker George Bursick takes Maxville in delicious direction

If you’re starting a new winery project in Napa Valley, it helps to have a winemaker experienced in the region take the reins.  That’s what happened at Maxville Winery, and the results so far are delicious.

When it comes to California winemaking, George Bursick has an impressive resume. After receiving a master’s in Enology from UC Davis, he spent nine years in Mendocino at McDowell Valley.  There, he oversaw the first commercial release of California Syrah.  That auspicious start was followed by being Director of Winemaking at Ferrari-Carano, where his 1985 Chardonnay was named “wine of the year” by Wine Spectator.  His success there was followed by work with Judy Jordan’s J Vineyards and then consulting work. 

Now George is Executive Winemaker at Maxville.  In this role, George has been charged with taking the winery in a new direction, including replanting some of the vineyards.  I met George at a media dinner at Avra Estiatorio in New York where he shared his current releases.  I was surprised they included a Cabernet Franc – a grape I think of more for cooler climates.  When some people suggested scrapping the grape, George said “Let’s just give it a little love, and a little nitrogen.” 

One of the unique aspects of these wines is where they’re grown. The Maxville Winery estate lies in Chiles Valley, 900 feet higher than the Napa Valley floor.  Elevation is part of the “secret sauce” to Maxville wines. The cooler weather retains grapes’ acidity, and the longer growing season gives grapes time to develop complexity.  In addition, their careful viticulture practices include dry farming to stress the vines to limit vine productivity and increase quality.

-       -   Maxville 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Crisp and fresh wine with aromatic citrus nose and citron on palate with good acidity.
-      -    Maxville 2015 Cabernet Franc Napa Valley -  This was a Cabernet Franc that made me re-think what a Cab Franc could be.  There was such plushness to the wine, it made me think of the Merlots of St. Emilion.  In addition to the velvety mouthfeel, there was mouth-filling fruit, including red currents and ripe raspberries plus a sprinkle of cloves.  This is a round wine which delivers richer flavor than most Cab Francs.
-      -     Maxville 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – So much going on with this wine: blackberries and chocolate, great ripeness, fine grained tannins, full-mouthfeel, and good acidity.  This is a wine to drink or keep, and it was delicious with orzo with seafood in tomato sauce.

-     -     Maxville 2015 Petite Sirah Napa Valley – Blueberry jam nose, blueberry/blackberry pie palate, inky purple color, rich, dense, gorgeous fruit.  George told us that the “tannins are resolved in the vineyard” suggesting that the normally big tannins of this grape are modulated by the cooler microclimate.

While Maxville Winery is a relative newcomer in Napa, the Chiles Valley has been growing grapes since the mid 19th century.  All in all, this is strong portfolio of wines from a slightly offbeat – and elevated – Napa Valley location.  Any lover of elegant wines with bold fruit character should seek out Maxville.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Colomé’s Thibaut Delmotte works Malbec magic at world’s highest vineyard

It was 2004 when Thibaut Delmotte, a young French winemaker living in Argentina, got the invitation to visit the remote mountain winery of Colomé.  It was supposed to be a four-hour drive, and Thibaut took to the road in a small, economy rental car – which he later learned was clearly the wrong vehicle for the trek.  After an hour of driving, the paved road ended.  After several more hours driving unpaved switchbacks into the mountains, he arrived at the remote destination where he met Donald Hess – Swiss bottled-water entrepreneur, avid art-collector, philanthropist, and winery owner.

I had the chance to meet Thibaut recently in New York, where he discussed how he came to the winery and stayed to shape the distinctive Malbecs from the sites in the Upper Calchaqui Valley, a highly elevated area in the Salta region in the country’s northwest. 

Colomé is the oldest continually-operating winery in Argentina.  After the winery joined the Hess Family Wine Estates in 2001, a new energy came to the area.  Donald’s philanthropic efforts brought better living conditions, education, and cultural development to the remote wine region – as well as sustainability in the vineyards.

Here are tasting notes on current vintages of Colomé’s wines which I received as media samples:

Colomé Estate Malbec 2015, Salta, Argentina – Inky purple in color, the wine offers blackberries on the nose and palate, with additional cranberry notes and spice, with a long finish.  The wine has lots of body and mouth-filling dark fruit with an energetic acidity keeping the wine in balance.  The wine retails for $30 – an excellent quality wine for this price range.

Colomé Auténtico Malbec 2016, Salta, Argentina – This wine is from 90-year-old vines growing at 2,300 meters.  It is produced in a way that honors the traditions of wine-making in this region.  This wine was very aromatic with vivid aromas of blackberries and floral notes. On the palate, the wine offers plush black fruit and hint of spice with soft tannins and a long finish.  This wine is sold in the $24.99 range – again, a well-structured, fruit-forward wine that offers very good quality at this price point.

Colomé Altura Maxima Malbec, 2014, Salta Argentina – The label denotes that only 24 barrels of this special wine are made from the world’s highest estate.  The name of this wine means “maximum height,” and it was a passion-project of winery owner Donald Hess, who hailed from the land of the Alps, to plant the world’s highest elevation vineyard.  At the height of 10,200 feet the vines are exposed to more UV rays, which results in grapes with thicker skins to protect the fruit from the sun’s rays.  The thicker skins offer deeper flavors and bigger structure in the wine. In addition, the dramatic diurnal shift from day to night ensures good acidity.  The wine spends 24 months in used barrels and a year in bottle before release.  The fresh, inviting nose offers floral and blackberry aromas. On the palate, the wine is hugely expressive, a bold Malbec with layers of flavor that include black and red fruits, balsamic, and spice -- all against the backdrop of fine-grained tannins.  This special wine retails in the price range of $119. 

For a uniquely bold, full-bodied expression of Malbec – that’s also sustainably farmed at staggering elevations – explore the wines of Colomé. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Wines of Portugal visit NYC with delicious variety on display

If you only think of Port when you think of Portugal's wine - you're sorely missing out!

Don't get me wrong - Port (which is only made in Portugal) is wonderful.  It's actually a fortified wine, i.e., has the addition of a neutral spirit added to it which amps the alcohol and adds to the longevity. The creation was made to better preserve the wine on ship voyages.  I am a huge lover of port and partial to tawny - which, like its name implies is a rich amber color.  There are also wonderful ruby ports available.  At the recent Wines of Portugal tasting in New York, I had the good fortune to try a number of 10 and 20 year old Tawny ports. 
The best-kept secret at the tasting was a special vintage Port from Kopke, the oldest Port wine house established in 1638 -- their Coheita port from 1978.  

But Portugal has so much more to offer. From the far north, white wines of sizzling acidity: Vinho Verde.  From the Douro Valley, fantastic dry red wines made from mixes of indigenous grapes including the distinctly aromatic Touriga Nacional.

As one looks further south, big red wines of bold character are found in regions such as Alentejo - where Esporao is one of my favorite producers. But this hot climate also makes fine white wines.  Their reserve-level white is a wine of great richness and length at an outstanding price point.

Look for wines of Portugal for reds and whites that will wow your palate at a very agreeable price. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Donnachiara Campania wines please with structured reds, satisfying whites

The wines of Campania, Italy, are not well known by most Americans, but that seems destined to change, thanks, in part, to efforts by winery owners such as Ilaria Pettito of Donnachiara winery.  Ilaria passionately extols the virtues of Campania's indigenous grapes, and she's committed to improving the quality of the native wines of the region.  Donnachiara was established in 2005 and is named for Ilaria's grandmother.  

I had the great pleasure of meeting lovely Ilaria and tasting through her current releases at a media event at Il Gattopardo

Falanghina Beneventano IGT 2017 - The event began with a crisp, white wine of high acidity with notes of lemon and minerality. A refreshing pour with assorted stuzzichini sul tavolo. 

Greco di Tufo DOCG 2017 -  This white's freshness can be attributed to its creation in stainless steel tanks and the fact that it does not undergo malolactic fermentation.  This limited production wine has depth of flavor and richness from twice weekly battonage. Lime on the attack gave way to herbs such as dill -- with a mouthwatering salinity rounding out the flavor profile. Tufo is a porous volcanic stone found in the region. 

Fiano di Avellino DOCG 2017 - Fiano is Ilaria's favorite white grape. This DOCG wine is structured, offering acidity, ripe pear, and a backbone of minerality.  It was a great match with the first course of clams with buckwheat pasta. 

Beneventano Falanghina IGT "Resilienza" 2016 - This wine represents a new project aimed at building the reputation of Falanghina -- considered a less important grape from the region.  The idea of resilience came to Ilaria from her father's work in the steel business. This wine was aged on lees and then spent a year in bottle.  The fruit was allowed longer hang time to develop more intense flavor.  With a deep gold color, this wine offered rich fruit including apricot and pear along with typical crisp acidity of wines from this hilly region. 

After the first course of seafood pasta, we were served the spectacular Colorado lamb and a quartet of reds from the region. 

Campania Aglianico IGT 2016 - This wine won a prestigious Tre Bicchieri award and it's no wonder.  I found it to have a wonderful nose of ripe plum. On the palate, there were black and red fruits supported by a firm tannic structure and good finish.  The fruit retains liveliness from stainless steel fermentation followed by malolactic in barriques. 

Irpinia Aglianico DOC 2015 - A Wine Spectator Top 100 Wine of 2017, this red was rounder with fresh cranberry and blackberry notes, and good grip. While many people consider that young Aglianico is too tannic and rustic, winemaking is improving and now these wines have far greater balance than 20 years ago.  According to Ilaria, "We believe it's important to wait, but also to enjoy." She aims to make wines that can be pleasurable when released - or when aged. 

Taurasi DOCG 2013 - This 100% Aglianico was an elegant red that has matured into a lovely wine. It has an intensely perfumed nose of violets and blackberries with a round mouthfeel and rich blackberry and sour cherry on the palate.  I gave this wine four stars.  

Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2012 - This 100% Aglianico grown on clay soil was more subdued than the 2013, with fruit profile of pomegranate and cranberry and minerality. It had an elegant balance of acidity and fruit and had a long satisfying finish. The Taurasi Riserva is only produced in best vintages. 

The take-away from this lunch is that the wines of Campania are improving in quality with careful winemaking, vineyard selection, and grape growing.  More specifically, the team at Donnachiara has proven that they are serious about creating top quality white and red wines from the hilltop vineyards of this southern Italian region.  Get them while they're still affordably priced!