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, December 28, 2018

Feudi di San Gregorio offers world-class modern wines from ancient grape-growing lands

It was the label that first caught my eye. A compact square offering a graceful reproduction of Byzantine mosaic from the Galla Placida mausoleum in Ravenna.  Under that, a second square with the winery's name in an elegant font: Feudi di San Gregorio.

Ancient roots and a modern aesthetic are good representations of Feudi di San Gregorio.  The winery is located in Irpinia near the famous volcano Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy's Campania region. The hilly land of Irpinia has been growing wine grapes since antiquity, and its vineyards were referred to in work by Pliny.  

Yet the winery of Feudi di San Gregorio was established less than four decades ago in 1986.  Today the winery has a futuristic look, thanks to its design by Japanese architect Hikaru Mori that was constructed in 2004.  An elegant Michelin-star restaurant, Marenna, completes the package of a contemporary destination for wine and food pairing.  But, despite the modernity of the exterior, the winery honors the old, indigenous grapes of Campania:  Aglianico, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, and more.  

It is this seamless integration of old and new that fascinated me when I had the opportunity to meet Antonio Capaldo, Chairman of Feudi di San Gregorio, when he was last in New York. At a media dinner in Manhattan, I tasted through a number of his current releases: 

Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo DOCG 2017 - Medium gold in color, the wine was a well-structured white with lemon and minerality.  I considered that it would be delightfully food-friendly with many dishes thanks to its high acidity. 

Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2017 - Highly aromatic with notes of white flowers, the wine had a rich, round mouthfeel and lush white peaches on the palate. This is a gorgeous white. 

Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi DOCG 2013 - The winery's Taurasi wines are made from 100 percent Aglianico grapes, and they're aged for 18 months in French oak before completing their aging in bottle.  On the nose, I found vanilla and pomegranate. The palate was layered with fresh black plum and blackberry, as well as firm tannins. 

Feudi di San Gregorio Piano di Montevergine Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2012 - This is a huge wine that was created from the winery's best hand-selected Aglianico grapes.  On the nose there were violets and herbs.  Tasting revealed blackberries, spicy notes of pepper, savory notes of olive, and a long finish with more blackberries and blueberries.  This is a wine to enjoy now and over years as it evolves.  

I saw Antonio shortly after at Robert Parker Wine Advocate's Matter of Taste.  There I had the opportunity to sample a vertical tasting of one of the more interesting wines of Feudi di San Gregorio - its Patrimo line.  The tasting was led by Antonio and the Wine Advocate's Monica Larner.  The Patrimo wines are unique and a slight contradiction - in a winery that focuses on native Campania grapes, these wines are crafted from Merlot.  However, the single-plot Merlot vines are impressively 75 years or older.  They were present when Antonio's family acquired some vineyard areas, and thus are a heritage part of the property.  While the grape variety means these wines are labeled IGT rather than DOCG, they have become flagship wines of the region.  

My favorite wines from this vertical included: 

Feudi di San Gregoio Patrimo 2001 - Intense red fruit in a wine that balanced tannin and acidity elegantly. 

Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo 2009- Deep crimson in color, the wine had an intense black cherry nose that was echoed in a plush palate of juicy, ripe black cherries. 

Feudi di San Gregorio Patrimo 2010 - A nose where violets and blackberries intermingled, this was big, complex wine that offered bing cherries, as well as savory notes of balsamic vinegar and rosemary. 

Feudi di San Gregorio has made a name for itself as a leader in the Campania region. Their outstanding range of red and white wines are easily available in the U.S., but the most devoted fans may wish to book a flight to Naples to experience the hospitality and gourmet cuisine of the winery in Sorbo Serpico. 

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! 


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The state of wine blogging examined at 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference

Wine bloggers hard at work at the 2018 Wine Bloggers Conference
At the 11th annual Wine Bloggers Conference (this year in Walla Walla, Washington,) a question was posed to a panel of experts: should the name of the conference be changed? On the panel was Tom Wark, the man who created one of the first wine blogs, Fermentation - which he continues to publish today. Tom answered, “Yes.”

In the 2018 online landscape, is “blogger” a qualifier that’s no longer necessary among wine writers?

Tom traced the early development of blogging, when it was looked upon as either “cute” or “annoying” by members of the wine industry. At that point there was a sharp divide between bloggers and journalists. As wine blogging grew, it enabled many voices to compete inexpensively with traditional media. For example, consumers could choose between reading blogger Alder Yarrow or New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov. By 2009-2010, interest in wine blogging hit its peak.    

I started my first blog in 2006, soon followed by this one in 2007.  I recall the "us versus them" dynamic of the aughts. Print journalists declared they had legitimacy (and fact-checking and copyediting) on their side, and bloggers insisted on .... well, our right to exist. We had an alternative viewpoint that made the conversation about wine richer. But even as we attended the same media tastings, wine dinners, and press trips as traditional journalists, we were aware that there were some who questioned our right to be there.  Underdog status pushed many of us to try harder, strive to write better stories, and look for fresh angles. In my own life, the urge to prove myself prompted me to pursue the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) level three certification -- which I was proud to pass with distinction. 

But now, according to Tom, “We’re all members of the wine media.” For him the word “bloggers” in the conference name is a distinction that no longer needs to be made. I’ve been in the blogger community as long as we’ve been having conferences, and I recall when the European Wine Bloggers Conference shifted to the Digital Wine Communications  Conference. It felt right to me, because there always seemed to be a mix of traditional writers and bloggers at that event.

As for this Wine Bloggers Conference -- I can see both sides. I like to be considered as part of a larger group of wine communicators that includes journalists, podcasters, vloggers, and more. But, in my heart, I still embrace the word. There is something bold in it – the fact that no one gave us permission to do this, the very chutzpah it takes to create your own platform for opining about wine. 

Part of me wonders, isn’t being a blogger enough?

Then again, maybe it’s not the word, but the spirit of blogging that I hope is preserved. Because it implies boldness, creativity, and a commitment to sharing one’s vision. As I looked around the crowded ballroom, where many new bloggers had joined the ranks of more seasoned writers, one thing was sure: the passionate drive to write about wine online – no matter what the name -- is alive and well.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cecchi wines showcase heritage of Chianti with a fresh approach

"We believe in Sangiovese for Chianti Classico."  It was a declaration of commitment, passion, and heritage from fourth-generation Tuscan winery owner Andrea Cecchi.  The gregarious Italian was in New York City to commemorate his winery's 125th anniversary by showcasing current vintages of his Cecchi wines at a media dinner at Casa Nonna.

But first, there was the winery's very fine Vermentino from their La Mora line, from an estate in Maremma, a wine-making region on the rise in Italy.  This crisp, medium-bodied white with lemons and almonds on the palate had refreshing acidity that washed down our starter of cheese flatbread.   

And then, the range of Chianti was presented. We began with the 2015 Storia de Famiglia Chianti Classico.  All of the Chianti names remind us that "famiglia," i.e. family, is essential to Cecchi wine production.  Created from 95 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent Colorino, it is fermented in stainless steel instead of the traditional oak to retain freshness.  This wine had a black cherry nose, while on the palate there was mouth-filling dried cherries and baking spices lifted by fresh acidity. 

We then moved on to the 2014 Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico Riserva, comprised of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was a bigger wine redolent of cherry and blackberry with a medium-long finish.  This wine struck a good balance between depth of flavor and freshness. 

And then there was the top offering, a 2015 Valore di Famiglia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is brand new to the U.S. market.  This top level of Chianti must come from estate fruit.  The Cecchi Gran Selezione offered ripe black cherries on the nose, while the palate echoed juicy cherry flavors drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  The wine had a long finish and still offered the refreshing acidity of the other levels of Chianti from Cecchi.  I gave this vibrant pour four stars. 

Throughout the meal, Andrea discussed the trends that had shaped the Chianti region in the last few decades.  While some winery owners had gone in the direction of building their own brands in the Super Tuscan space (abandoning the great Sangiovese traditions along the way), he advocated investing in the region as a whole.  A member of the Consorzio Chianti Classico, Andrea said he wants to "reclaim the greatness of Sangiovese" in the Chianti area.  His range of wines, culminating in his Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, do just that. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hess Family Wines Elevate, Innovate

The Hess Family Winery was established during the late 1970s when Swiss bottled-water entrepreneur Donald Hess visited Napa Valley in search of spring water -- but fell in love with wine instead. He changed his life focus, befriended Robert Mondavi, and was among the first Napa winery owners seeking to source grapes from Mount Veeder. Five generations later, Donald has retired but his family succeeds him in running the business.

Today, the family owns wineries in California and Argentina – with more west coast vineyard acquisition planned.  Donald has also been an avid art collector and his wineries in Napa, California and Salta, Argentina include his carefully curated collection.

Nicole Carter, Hess Family Wine Estates Director of Winemaking and Chief Marketing Officer was in New York City this week to show some of the wines from the Hess Collection series and talk about exciting news in the winery.  

She started by explaining that, by planning the winery’s succession while Donald is still alive, the family is well-situated for a successful transition.  She explained that now millennials are at the helm of a 40-year-old business, which provides interesting opportunities to connect with the wine drinkers of tomorrow.  Another big change is Nicole’s own recent promotion to Director of Winemaking, Nicole is leading the enterprise in the development of new luxury wines – in other words, they are not aiming to develop more of the under $20 offerings. So Nicole is looking to elevate the offerings of the winery.

And, speaking of elevation, in addition to vineyards on Mount Veeder, the Hess family has historically planted high (harkening to Donald’s Swiss background.)  Donald was determined to plant the highest vineyard in the world and today his 10,000 foot high vineyard in the Andes, named Altura Maxima, is in the Guinness Book of World Records.  

The wines we tried at the recent tasting included current Napa offerings:

 Hess Collection Estate Grown Chardonnay 2016 – Nicole said she thinks a Napa Valley Chardonnay requires a certain texture and this wine eschews the all-stainless approach that some winemakers have to deliver a definitely Californian Chardonnay – but with restraint. Grown in a cool pocket of Napa near the bay, the wine had refreshing acidity and flavors of crisp apples with a hint of butter. Oak was present but not pervasive, and careful aging included putting only 19% of wine in new French oak.  $22

-       Hess Collection Lion Tamer, Red Blend 2015 – The labeling on this project is distinct, with the family crest symbol of the lion taking on a beautiful, Byzantine feel.  Inside the bottle is a surprising blend that includes 50% Malbec, 23% Zinfandel, and five other traditional Bordeaux blend grapes. The result is a big wine with a sweet cherry/blackberry fruit profile and a kick of black pepper.  Great with the ribeye we enjoyed at the Tuscany Steakhouse. $45

-       Hess Collection Napa Valley “Allomi” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – A single vineyard comprised of six different Cabernet clones growing in the hills of northeastern Napa. This rich Cab had a pretty nose of roses, cherries, and leather. On the palate there was black cherry, black currants and black pepper. The wine offered nice acidity and a long finish.

-       Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – While many Napa Cabs need a good deal of aging for tannins to settle down, this wine isn’t one. In another innovative blending twist, Nicole explains, “Malbec tames tannin.” The addition of 18% Malbec brings a quality of lushness to the often angular Napa Cab structure.  This wine had a blackberry nose and intense blackberry flavors on the plate.  It was a round, somewhat plush red, rich and full, but without the harshness of a full-on young Cab. Highly recommend. $65

For consumers looking for moderately priced Napa wines at a luxury taste level, look no further than the Hess Collection.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Valentin Bianchi - Argentine wines with Italian pedigree

In the 20th century, Italian immigrants came to Argentina in search of a new life, including Valentin Bianchi, who founded a winery in San Raphael, Mendoza in 1928.  After a few short years, the winery's efforts were winning awards, including the nation's Maximum Quality Prize in 1934.  Today the Bianchi family continues to make wine in Mendoza using rootstock from their ancestral home of Italy, as well as California and France.

The wines of Bodega Valentin Bianchi were poured at a media dinner at the Chimichurri Grill in Manhattan and wowed the participants with their high quality, variety of styles and varieties, and winning quality/price ratio.   

The wines poured are as follows: 
- Bianchi Brut Sparkling - This inviting sparkling wine has fresh, toasty nose from 12 months lees aging.  It is produced in the traditional method with second fermentation in the bottle. A crisp wine to celebrate with for only $21.99. 

- Elsa Torrontes - Named for the grandmother of the current owners, this expressive wine is highly aromatic.  The lush tropical fruit on the nose is rewarded with pineapple and mango on the palate.  It was a vibrant wine honoring a woman who was the same.  This terrific distinctive Argentine wine offers great quality for the low price of $11.99. 

- Valentin Bianchi Malbec 2016 - Delicious, well-priced Malbec with plummy notes, plush mouthfeel, medium tannins and leather and tobacco. Dark chocolate and cherries, too - all for $15.99

- L10 Premium Malbec 2015 - Complex layers of chocolate, plums, dark cherries with firmer tannins and good length.  This project was produced to benefit world-renowned soccer player Leo Messi's charity benefiting disadvantaged children. $29.99

-  Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2014 - And here the old and new heritage of the winery are both present in a blend of Italian Nebbiolo and Argentine Malbec.  Sweet fruit core of strawberries with spicy cloves, backed up by good acid and nice length.  $19.99

- Particular Malbec 2014 - Bright red fruit on nose and palate, well integrated tannins, long length, super plush mouthfeel. Highly recommend. $30.99 

- Enzo Bianchi 2013 - Dark black and red fruit, huge length, nice pepper spice as well.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Mabec (20%), and Petit Verdot (7%).  Fantastic age-worthy wine. $54.99

In this tasting, participants enjoyed a range of flavors from this Neuvo Argentine restaurant - from oysters to empanadas to filet mignon.  We found the range of wines worked really well with all the bold flavors served.  Seek out the wines of Valentin Bianchi for well-priced wines of distinctive  character. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Attilio Ghisolfi working magic with seven hectares of prime Langhe

The wines of Attilio Ghisolfi were recently poured at a media dinner in New York City at Bobby Van’s Grill. The tasting covered a range of wines from the portfolio, and there’s something for everyone there.  The winery intentionally is creating some entry-point Barolo and Barbera, as well as high-end single vineyard offerings from prime Piedmont real estate.

Founder Carlo Ghisolfi started out by buying a compact, nine acre property in 1895 where he began making wine.  Carlo's great grandson Gianmarco along with his father started producing wines under their own label in 1987.  Today, this family-owned winery is committed to farming organically, eschewing pesticides and chemical fertilizers in favor of organic soil enrichments.  The small winery itself is surrounded by vineyards that fall within “Bussia,” one of the best Barolo cru production areas.

The portfolio tasting included: 

Attilio Ghisolfi Barbara d'Alba Maggiore 2013 - A dark and lovely wine with firm tannins, juicy cherry, and nice acidity. Am a big fan of Barbara d'Alba as a moderately priced, high quality northern Italian red.  

Attilio Ghisolfi Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 - Fragrant nose of dried cherry and leather, with good acid and a long finish. A delicious entry point to the winery's Nebbiolo-based wines. 

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bussia 2013 - Elegant wine with dried rose petals, cherries, good acid structure. Grapes are from vines grown in white tufa soil near Monforte d'Alba.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2013- The 2013 shows good potential for development with ripe cherry flavors, firm tannins, and plenty of acid. The vines used in this wine range from 15 - 50 years old, and the maturation combines large and smaller French oak barriques.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2011 - Seeing the development from this highly prized vineyard region, which is 300-350 meters high.  The 2011 is drinking great now - a rich wine with tart blackberries mingling with the cherries and firm tannins propped up by good acidity. Highly recommend.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2010 - Nose offers hints of coffee, while palate is bright with lush ripe cherries as well as baking spices. Long finish. At eight years old, this Barolo from the Bussia area is drinking great now, highly recommend.

The wines of Attilio Ghisolfi are widely available in both New York and New Jersey.  Seek them out for elegant expressions of age-worthy Barolo and delicious Barbara and Nebbiolo.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Recent Bel Colle Barolos impress at NYC tasting

Piedmont’s Bel Colle winery was founded in the late 70’s and has grown to be recognized for producing award-winning wines.  The winery was purchased by Luca Bosio, from another Piedmont winemaking family, in  2015.  A trained winemaker, Luca was particularly excited to work with the rare native grape, Pelaverga, as well as the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. The wines of Bel Colle and Luca Bosio were poured at a recent media dinner at Sparks Steak House, where they were paired beautifully with the restaurant's signature prime sirloin steaks. 

Some of the highlights of the wines poured included:

Luca Bosio Langhe Arneis 2016 – A floral nose leads to rich flavors of peaches and lemons with great mouth feel. Arneis is a native white grape in the Piedmont region and a wonderful alternative white wine for only $19.99.

Bel Colle Verduno Pelaverga 2015 – This rare grape is only grown in Piedmont and is enjoyed there chilled as a light-bodied red with a peppery kick. ($29.99)

Bel Colle Barbaresco Roncaglie 2011 – Fairly light-bodied with fantastic acid/tannin/fruit balance. This wine showcases the Nebbiolo fruit with a long fermentation of 24-28 days. Roncaglie is a top Barbaresco area. ($54.99)

Bel Colle DOCG “Simposio” – We tasted through three vintages of this traditional Barolo.  2013, noted as a great vintage, was tight but showed its potential in a fragrant nose of leather, dried cherries and roses.  That fruit and spice continued on the palate. The 2012 was drinking well, with a pretty nose of dried roses and potpourri with cherries and a bit of sage. The 2011 was drinking beautifully, very lush midpalate with layered flavors of dusty flowers, cherries, raspberries and bit of tobacco. ($59.99)

Bel Colle Barolo Monvigliero 2011 – A showstopper single vineyard wine from one of the best vineyards in Verduno (200-300 feet above sea level).  With average vine age of 50 years old, this one showed sweet cherry fruit, spice, and very long finish. ($74.99)

Bel Colle Barolo Monvigliero 2009 – The same wine with more development. The dense cherry fruit had softened a bit and now tertiary aromas and flavors of mushroom, smoke, spice were coming forth.  The acid was still present and the tannins still firm – a great-drinking Barolo nearly ten years old now.  ($74.99)

The wines of Bel Colle are made with thoughtful aging in a mix of new and old French barriques as well as large format Slovenian casks.  Each vineyard and vintage is treated differently to bring out the best in the harvest.  While all the wines were delicious, I recommend purchasing the 2011 Barolo for immediate consumption and putting the 2013 away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Toasting 2018 Oscar Nominations with Piper Heidsieck

The luxurious iPic Fulton Street was abuzz this morning with wine media, all enjoying a decadent Champagne breakfast and waiting for the announcement of the 2018 Oscar nominees.  After gathering plates of caviar-topped eggs Benedict and flutes of Piper Heidsieck Champagne, we ensconced ourselves in the plushest of movie theaters for a live-streaming of the results. 

I was happy to see some of my faves from this year - including Lady Bird, The Big Sick, and Disaster Artist - all got nods from the Academy.  And myself and other attendees made notes on nominated films that we wanted to see before the 90th Oscars in March. 

After the excitement of the announcements, we enjoyed more Piper Heisieck from magnums with gorgeous art deco designs that commemorate the 90th Oscars. I found this Champagne to be balanced, crisp, and elegant, and it paired beautifully with the rich Hollandaise sauce as well as with decadent donuts from Under West Donuts. 

Piper-Heidsieck is the official Champagne of the Oscars, so when you watch on March 4 - this is what they'll be celebrating or drowning their disappointment with.  With Champagne this delicious in one's glass, even not being nominated would be a lot more acceptable I imagine. 

The best idea for those of us without tickets to the Oscars? Tune in with plenty of Piper Heidsieck on hand and enjoy a touch of Oscar glamour at home.