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. 



Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Pioneering Santa Rita Hills spirit re-energized at Sanford Winery

The history of Sanford Winery is in the soil, as some of the first vineyards in the cool climate Santa Rita Hills AVA were planted at the pioneering Sanford and Benedict winery in 1971. There the winery's Pinot Noir soon began to gain attention. The operation later added an adjacent vineyard, La Rinconada in 1997.

I met one of the original founders of the winery, Michael Benedict, and one of the partners in the business, John Terlato, in New York this summer.  The pair guided a group of media through a vertical tasting of their award-winning Pinot Noirs, as well as two of their Chardonnays. 

Before the tasting began, John Terlato filled me in on the history of this special area, telling me that California had been covered by an ancient ocean that left calcareous shale in the land that would become the vineyard. John noted that the geological history of this vineyard was similar to Burgundy, which also was once covered by an ancient sea and still has fossilized sea life in the soil. 

John told me that when his family first became involved with this winery, their focus was on improvements in the vineyard, changing the canopies, the pruning techniques, and the grapes.  One of the exciting aspects of the vineyards is that there are some 47 year old vines on their own roots - a rarity in the world of wine. 

Today the winery is pioneering once again in the winemaking process: around 2017-2018 they stopped using commercial yeast in favor of all native yeast.  John showed me detailed notebooks of other experiments, including a comparison of wines that had low intervention and those that used "battonage" - meaning the wine was stirred in an effort to develop more flavors by encouraging more contact with the "lees," essentially dead yeast left after fermentation.  John found the wine in the trials that were not stirred were "mineral" and "precise." 

After enjoying learning some history of the vineyard and winery, we moved on to an extensive flight of excellent Sanford wines that showed the progression in winemaking philosophy over the years. 

2016 La Rinconada Chardonnay - This had fresh flavorful white pear and a clean mineral quality. $50

2015 Founders' Vines Chardonnay - Rich, browned butter nose, with extended length, and a palate of ripe yellow apples - a truly elegant Chardonnay reminiscent of Burgundy. $70

2011 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - A touch rustic with savory notes of cherry, clove and baking spices. 

2012 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Brighter tart cherry notes with balsamic on the finish, it opened and became more fragrant as it evolved in the glass. 

2013 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Bing cherries and wild blueberries dusted with clove. There was well integrated oak in this wine. $140 

2014 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Ripe cherries and raspberry puree with savory notes on the midpalate and a touch of leather on the nose.  $70

2015 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Tart cherry throughout with an angularity and fine tannins.  $70

2016 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Plush mouthfeel, round, soft tannins, cherry compote with a long finish. Excellent Pinot. $70

2015 La Rinconada Pinot Noir - Bright fruit character with cherry/raspberry notes, and a touch of cola on the midpalate.  $72

2014 Founders' Vines Pinot Noir - Deep flavors of ripe sour cherry mixed with rich baking spices of clove and nutmeg. Gorgeous depth of flavor and extensive length. $120

This impressive vertical tasting showed the evolution of this winery and its philosophy. The earlier vintages showed the gorgeous ripe fruit that this pioneering vineyard area is capable of, but the later vintages begin to show a more direct representation of Pinot Noir character.  This re-energized spirit of pioneering is serving Sanford winery well. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Working Up a Thirst for Ferzo Wines at the Metropolitan Museum

I was recently the guest of Winebow on a mouthwatering Met tour for wine media led by the charismatic tour guide, Angelis Nannos, founder of the highly-rated In Food We Trust culinary tours.

The "Yum Yum Met Tour" began at a medieval carving of St. Nicholas with three small boys exiting...a pickle barrel. Angelis related the harrowing tale of an evil man "pickling" the small boys  during a famine. The unfortunate youngsters were miraculously rescued and revived by the saint.  Angelis told us food and drink are depicted throughout the museum, as he handed us tiny Heinz pickle pins and led us enthusiastically to the next exhibit. 

Here we admired a beautiful Austrian stag crafted from precious metals. Angelis asked what we thought the piece was used for, stumping us all.  As it happened, the stag could be animated to traverse a dining table, stopping randomly in front of a guest.  That lucky person got to bend back the stag's head to reveal a body full of wine - which it was the obligation of the guest to drain.  Oh, to bring back the days of the Hapsburgs! 

In our hour and a half tour, we saw Egyptian tomb relics that depicted beer and bread making, the "oldest shopping list" in ancient Greek, and a frieze with the Assyrian host of the world's largest dinner party.  

After viewing some of the Met's treasures through a delicious new lens, we had worked up a good thirst, and this was where our friend from Winebow came in.  We gathered in the Met's upstairs restaurant to sample a selection of delicious wines from Abruzzo with several of the restaurants' cheese plates. 

2017 Ferzo Pecorino, Terre di Chieti IGP - We started with the Pecorino, and I was delighted by the crisp white wine with nice acid, aromas of grass and lemon, and zesty citrus character. $26 

2017 Ferzo Cococciola, Terre di Chieti IGP - Next, we moved on to a lesser-known indigenous Abruzzo grape Cococciola.  Rounder on the palate, this had more lush stonefruit with minerality and a medium level acidity to keep things fresh. $26

2017 Ferzo Passerina, Terre di Chieti IGP - The Passerina grape had lovely aromas and flavors of white peach and lemon and also had a touch of salinity on the palate. As with the other Ferzo whites, it was a tangy pairing for the goat cheese and olives we were served. $26

2013 Caroso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva DOP - This six year old Montepulciano was full bodied with black plum on the nose and black and red fruit on the palate, with savory flavors of olive and balsamic inflecting the wine with more character. It's an excellent value at $30. 

The white wines of Ferzo were universally fresh and crisp, yet far from simplistic.  Each of the native white Abruzzo grapes presented a different fruit expression and different weight - while all possessing refreshing acidity.  The Caroso Montepulciano is a nice reminder of how wonderful these wines can be and what great value they deliver.  And, without question, the In Food We Trust tours are well worth checking out - especially for entertaining out-of-town guests.  I challenge you to start looking for the food and wine in art - you'll begin to see delicious works everywhere. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Piper-Heidsieck's Emilien Boutillat honors tradition while seeking innovation

The historic Champagne house Piper-Heidsieck has engaged a new cellarmaster, Emilien Boutillat.  The charming Frenchman, who grew up in a winemaking family, has already made wine on four continents.

I met Emilien at a media dinner in Manhattan and the first thing one notices is his youth - at only 32 he may seem a surprising choice for cellarmaster of such a revered house.  Yet, when Emilien explains his approach, it's clear he has great respect for the traditions of Piper-Heidsieck that have made it so renowned.

He explained that he isn't intent on changing the wine much, but he stated that he "wants to focus on small details to make this wine even better."  He is encouraging sustainable farming practices in the vineyards that supply grapes to the house, and he's working with the growers on choosing when to pick the grapes. 

Dinner began with the Piper Heidsieck Brut, which Emilien explained is 80 percent of their production.  For this wine, Emilien said he wants "the nose to be complex, but not complicated." The brut had medium high acidity; fine, quick moving bubbles; crisp lemon on the attack; and a midpalate of pear.

We then moved on to the rose, Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage.  Emilien described this wine, which is predominately Pinot Noir, as "a basket of fruit on the nose." This very dark rose, which boasted  aromas and flavors of raspberries and cranberries and crisp acidity, was meant to pair with food.

The third wine was a special vintage Champagne, the just-released Piper-Heidsieck Brut 2012.  The cuvee is 52 percent Pinot Noir and 48 percent Chardonnay.  The Champagne was rich, the flavor mouth-filling. On the palate there was a heady  mix of yellow fruit, gingerbread, butter, and a citrus lift on the finish.  This very special vintage wine can age and develop even further to gain greater complexity.

The fourth wine showcased the tradition of off-dry Champagnes, the Piper-Heidsieck Sublime, a demi-sec.  Emilien told me that it would work wonderfully with my foie gras (he was right!) and that it also pairs very well with spicy Asian cuisine.  With red fruit aromas and flavors - pureed raspberries with vanilla notes - the wine offered a balance of freshness and sweetness.

Across the various blends, Emilien stated that the style of the house is "elegance and finesse," noting that it's "all about the fruit."

After tasting these current Piper-Heidsieck releases and speaking with Emilien, I believe the prestigious Champagne house is in very capable hands.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Nino Franco celebrates 100 years of Prosecco success

Primo Franco is a renowned figure in Italian wine.  As the third generation to head the ground-breaking Prosecco winery in Valdobiaddane, his commitment to producing delicious wines has helped the brand reach its 100 year anniversary in 2019.

The historic winery was started by Antonio Franco.  In 1919, he created Cantine Franco in the hilltop village of Valdobbiadene.  Primo took over the business in 1982, and he traveled across Italy and around the world to bring Prosecco to a wider audience.  His outreach efforts, along with quality improvements he introduced in grape cultivation, helped make Prosecco the widely popular beverage it is today.  

Primo hosted a media dinner in New York at Avra Estiatorio, where his range of crisp wines paired beautifully with Greek seafood dishes.  The range of wines poured included: 

Rustico Prosecco - With generous mousse and a brioche-laced nose, this wine had good body and notes of pear.  The wine sells for $24. 

Faive - This rose wine's name is from Venetian dialect, loosely translated to sparks from a fire.  This uplifting beverage had flavors of a summer fruit bowl of raspberries, strawberries, and pomegranate. A wonderful rose sparkling for $29. 

Vignetto della Riva di San Floriano Valdobiaddane Prosecco Superiore DOCG - A single-vineyard wine from the San Floriano vineyard, this Prosecco had a more structured body, with notes of white peaches and bosc pears and a good length.  This retails for $37. 

Primo Franco Valdobiaddane Prosecco Superiore DOCG - With lively acidity and long length, this is Prosecco with distinction.  The grapes are grown on high hillside vineyards, and the flavor profile includes ripe golden delicious apples, a whiff of citrus, and roasted almonds.  This wine sells for $37. 

The Nino Franco portfolio offers strong, diverse interpretations of Prosecco that prove that this DOCG region can make serious, delicious wines. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Rosés of many dimensions from noteworthy Cotes de Provence Chateaux

Simple is a word often associated with rosé wines, but the adjective is not one you’ll hear at a tasting of Cotes de Provence wines from Chateau Roubine and Chateau Sainte Beatrice. 
I recently had the pleasure of meeting the elegant and talented winemaker and owner of the pair of wineries, Valerie Rousselle at a special media dinner at Benoit. 
Valerie’s involvement with Provencal vineyards is straight out of a romance novel – the land called to her on a visit and even when she returned to her home in Paris, she couldn’t put it out of her mind.  Valerie’s holding include Chateau Roubine, which is located in Var.  The region is rich in history and legend of the knights Templar, with renowned cru classé vineyards between Verdon and the Mediterranean. 
Valerie’s second property is Chateau Sainte Beatrice, with south-facing 30-60 year old vines of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more. 
With 13 grape varieties grown on estates with different terroirs, Valerie is able to blend both within the cellar as well as take advantage of field blends.  The wineries harvest both by grape and by parcel for the most precise control of wine blending. Valerie’s passion for Provence extends to nurturing a near-extinct and difficult-to-work native grape, Tibouren. It is used in blended rosé.
Paired with authentic French cuisine including Quennelles de Brochet, Nantua, the wines shone in a variety of hues and flavors.
Chateau Sainte Beatrice Summer Dreams Rosé 2018 – Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault - Fresh nose of clove spiced raspberries, good acidity and strawberries on the palate with a clean finish.
Chateau Sainte Beatrice “B” Rosé 2018 – Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault - More pronounced nose of rhubarb and mouth filling flavor with savory notes of white pepper and basalmic-drizzled strawberries.  This is a full bodied rosé for red wine drinkers.  
Chateau Roubine “R” Rosé 2018 – Grenache/Syrah/Cinsault/Rolle - Floral notes on the nose, a lighter bodied wine with delicate strawberry and red currant flavors.
Chateau Roubine La Rose 2018 – Grenache/Cinsault/Syrah – Gorgeous, pronounced nose of ripe wild strawberries and rose petals.  The wine has good body with notes of cranberries and cloves, a full-flavored wine that paired well with the Quennelles.
Chateau Roubine Cru Classé Premium Rosé 2018 – Grenache/Cinsault/Tibouren/Rolle/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mourvedre – A carefully blended wine that includes Tibouren, it has a fresh nose of raspberries and on the palate, lively fruit including strawberries as well as a savory, salty hint of bacon, making it food-friendly.   
Chateau Roubine Inspire 2018 – Tibouren/Syrah/Grenache – In this wine, Valerie lets Tibouren shine, giving it 90% of the blend.  The organic wine is made with some of the Tibouren vines over 80 years old.  It’s a full bodied, savory wine with clove and pepper burnishing rhubarb and star anise. 
Chateau Roubine Lion & Dragon Rosé 2018 – Grenache/Tibouren/Mourvedre/Rolle – According to Valerie, the idea behind this wine is to create a “strong rosé” with “character and intensity.”  The wine is made from vines averaging 50 years old, but with Tibouren vines over 80.  The wine is full bodied, with concentration, and spice dusting the core of strawberry compote.  It has a long finish that comes as a lovely surprise in a rosé.
The wines of Chateau Roubine and Chateau Sainte Beatrice are all about balance and blending.  While some of them offer intensity, they are never heavy. Yet they are far from the light-weight quaffers people expect from rosé.  They showcase the grape varieties that thrive in this Mediterranean region, as well as precise blending and care in the vineyard.  Each cuvée is unique, and all well-suited to the fine French fare of Benoit.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Tinto Figuero winemaker Jean Francois Hebrard rises to challenge of making great Tempranillo in Ribera del Duero

When I met Tinto Figuero's chief winemaker Jean Francois Hebrand at a media dinner at Il Molino in New York recently, I had lots of questions about how a French winemaker fell in love with Tempranillo. Luckily, he was gracious and forthcoming about how he came to be making wine in Spain and conquering the challenges of Spain's most famous grape.

Jean Francois, who was born in France's Bordeaux region and raised by a wine-making family, previously made wine in top Bordeaux chateaux as well as consulting in other parts of France and Switzerland. He moved to Spain and began making wine in 2001 and became chief winemaker at Tinto Figuero in DO Ribera del Duero in 2010. Here he makes elegant Ribera del Duero wines from 100 percent Tempranillo.

As for the Tempranillo grape, Jean Francois characterizes it as "very generous." He explained that even though the grape skin is the same color as Pinot Noir, it produces a much more deeply colored wine. He added "Give it good conditions and it produces." The vineyard regions where Tinto Figuero's Tempranillo grows are calcacerous gravel, sandy, and clay. The influence of the Duero river is felt, as the river cuts through their property. Tinto Figuero uses organic farming techniques and relies on sponateous fermentation from natural yeast.

For "personality and expression" Jean Francois says that "organic is best." He sources the wines from 80 different plots including 30 hectares of very old vines with 50 years plus age.
The Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions are recognized denoting aging as signs of quality. For a number of its wines, Tinto Figuero simply states the months of aging on the label, providing guidance for consumers in a straightforward manner. Here are some notes on the recent vintages we sampled:

Tinto Figuero 4 (Roble) 2016 - Four months in barrel is an indication that this wine is meant to be an easy-drinking, approachable wine - and it is. Bright fruit flavor of cherries shines through, and the wine has a nice acidic lift. American oak is used to give the wine round tannins.

Crianza 12 2016 - Moving up in aging to twelve months, this wine provides a more structured approach to Tempranillo with deeper layers of flavor including red and black fruit. French oak is used on this wine to provide fresh tannins that Jean Francois says are good for aging.

Tinto Figuero 15 (Reserva) 2015 - A gorgeous wine of depth and richness. Strong red and black fruit character and a very long finish. I rates this wine four stars.

Tinto Figuero Vinas Viejas 2015 - Jean Francois says this wine is a "brother" to the 15. It has a more herbal nose, and the addition of minerality to the deep flavors and black and red fruit. The wine had huge length and ample acidity to sustain the richness.
Milagros de Figuero 2014 - Named for a matriarch of the family, Milagros has a richly aromatic nose of violets and red currents. The grapes used are from bush vines with more than 60 years of age. They produced a wine very pronounced blackberry and dark cherry flavors with a hint of chocolate.

Figuero Noble 2014 - The nose was a melange of violets, herbs, and raspberry. On the palate, blackberry jam and sour cherries as well as a hint of eucalyptus and spice. This highly-structured wine had tannins that were present but well-integrated. The finish had great length.

Figuero Tinus 2012 - A rare wine from a single, family owned vineyard of 70+ year old vines. The nose promised black fruits and eucalyptus which carried through on the palate. There were complex layers of flavor including black plums, pomegranate, and baking spices including cloves. The huge finish lingers. I found this a wine of great complexity. This is an achievement of winemaking that indicates the beauty and age-worthy quality that these Ribera del Duero Tempranillos can achieve.

This tasting of Tinto Figuero with Jean Francois Hebrand revealed a well-composed portfolio of quality wines at a range of price points to satisfy consumers seeking expressive Tempranillo from the famous Ribera del Duero region.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

From Chenin to Pinotage, Simonsig's current releases shine

Simonsig winery, based in the Western Cape of South Africa, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, and this year's releases prove that the winery's longevity is well deserved.

Simonsig Marketing and Sales Manager Jacques Jordaan was in New York recently to present the wines available in the U.S. at a media dinner at the Korean restaurant Gaonnuri.  We enjoyed a range of highly seasoned  appetizers - including salty, spicy, and sweet flavors - followed by short ribs and other red meat main courses - and the wines stood up well throughout. 

The dinner kicked off on a celebratory note with the winery's exellent Kaapse Vonkel Brut 2017.  The name is Afrikaans for "Cape Sparkle."  This medium weight sparkling wine made in the traditional method had toasty notes of brioche from 24 months lees aging as well as herbal notes of chamomile as well as white stone fruit. The sparkling wine was excellent with a baby greens salad with sashimi.  It retails for $19.99, a great value sparkler. 

We progressed to scallion pancakes, and with these the Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2018 was a good match.  This wine was a well-executed rendition South Africa's signature white grape, with crisp notes of lemon and riper notes of melon, followed by a hint of minerality, all balanced with a good amount of acidity.   At $13.99 this is a fantastic white wine for everyday with lots of food pairing options. 

As we continued our feast, we tried the Simonsig Avec Chene Chenin Blanc 2017.  This rendition of Chenin had more complexity, as the oak aging brought a different layer of structure to this wine that is sourced from the Estate's oldest Chenin vines, some dating to 1986.  It is a wine that warrants more consideration, with layers of ripe pear followed by a bit of minerality and a touch of marzipan. It retails for $35.99. 

Our third white was the Simonsig "Sunbird" Sauvignon Blanc 2018.  I found this wine crisp with bright flavors of lemon and melon - a delicious wine with enough acidity to pair well with the fried scallion pancakes. Another value pour at $17.99 

With the appearance of main courses - mostly beef and short-ribs - we welcomed the Simonsig red wines to the table. 

The Simonsig Pinotage 2016 exhibited bright cherry flavors and aromas and had a bit of spice on the back end with a medium long finish.  This entry-level Pinotage shows the aromatic fruit nicely and is well priced at $17.99. 

Simonsig Redhill Pinotage 2016 really won me over with ripe sour cherry flavors mingling with blackberries and a hint of white pepper all supported by firm tannins and a long finish.  Simonsig has an award-winning winemaker, Debbie Thompson, who brings out the best in this sometimes difficult grape.  This high quality wine retails for $37.99 

Although I have tasted the wines of Simonsig on a number of occasions, I didn't recall having their Bordeaux blend, and I ended up being a huge fan.  The Simonsig Tiara 2015 is a blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Merlot, and the balance Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.  I found the wine to be very elegant, with plush black fruits including plums, black cherries and blackberries, along with a hint of spice and a very long finish.  I found this wine to be very drinkable at the moment but also worthy of aging - it retails for $38.99. 

Next came the Simonsig Merindol Syrah 2015, a 100% Syrah wine from Stellenbosch. This is a big red, with cherries and chocolate on the nose and palate.  While it was a robust, big bodied red, I also found that it was balanced and had a nice amount of acidity to keep the wine from feeling heavy in the mouth. This was another wine I would drink immediately or age for 5-8 years. It sells for $43.99 in the U.S. 

As tiny chocolate-filled madeleines made their way across the table along with other rich desserts, we ended dinner with another refreshing sparkling wine, the Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut Rose 2017.  I enjoyed its persistent effervescence as well as the flavors of strawberries and cloves.  As much as Americans love their rose wines, I have a feeling this wine - comprised of 72% Pinot Noir, 27% Pinotage, and a dash of Pinot Meunier - will be popular, especially at the $24.99 price. 

The night had been a wonderful showcase for the strong quality and precise winemaking of Simonsig. These wines stood up to the many strong flavors of Korean food we enjoyed, and were also delicious on their own.  The fact that even the most high-end bottles are less than $45 seems to ensure that Simonsig will continue to be a successful South African wine producer for at least another 50 years. 

Wines of Brasil pursue a sparkling agenda

Brazilians are known for fun - carnival parades, the beaches of Rio, dancing the Samba until all hours.  But winemakers in Brazil are getting serious about creating world-class sparkling wine, which, when you think about it, is always a fun beverage.

Brazil is not a huge wine-drinking country, with a paltry 2 liters per person per year consumed there. Those Brazilians who do drink wine, like it on the sweet side.  But today's young generation of winery owners and winemakers are looking to capture foreign markets with dryer wines suited to international tastes - and at the forefront of that effort is a push for sparkling wine. 

Brazil's pursuit of sparkling wine success encompasses all levels of production. The more economical charmat method creates value-driven wines that are fruit forward and fizzy - straightforward and easy drinking. But Brazil also makes sparkling wine with the "traditional method" used in Champagne and other prestigious regions, in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.  This produces wines with more toast or biscuit notes from the extended time on the lees, or dead yeast. Traditional method Brazilian wines are at a quality level that can compete with wines such as French cremants and California sparkling wines. The price point of around $18-$25 makes them an attractive alternative to sparkling wines that start at double that price.   

There are over 100 grapes grown in the huge country, with about an even split between white and red. There are no native grapes grown here, so you see international varieties such as Chardonnay and Merlot, as well as varieties that reflect the country's Portuguese roots as well as the Italian heritage of many of the people in southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where some of the most successful wineries operate.  

Brazil is also aspiring to become a wine tourism destination. The rolling green hills of the Serra Gaucha wine region and elegant new winery hotels are sure to attract travelers ready for a new country to explore with a glass of bubbly always at the ready.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Piper Hiedsick is an Oscar-worthy choice for tonight

Piper-Heidsieck is the official Champagne of the Oscars, so when you tune in tonight you’ll know this is the bubbly that the stars themselves will be celebrating with. Why not pick up some bottles for your own Oscar-watching party to commemorate a great year of film?  Whether you’re rooting for Rami Malek or Bradley Cooper, Glenn Close or Melissa McCarthy, you can drink like a Hollywood star.

Nothing says elegance like Champagne, and Piper-Heidsieck has been a glamorous choice for centuries – Marie Antoinette loved to drink the cuvee in the eighteenth century. Over the years, Piper-Heidsieck was poured at royal courts across Europe and Asia.

Adding elegance to your own Oscar watching – whether at a posh party or in your PJs – is as easy as popping a cork of Piper-Heidsick.  Your choice of snacks runs the gamut, as Champagne pairs with nearly everything! But perhaps the best choice tonight is to drink Champagne with buttered popcorn.  So start popping and pouring to get ready for Hollywood’s big night.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Valdivieso exceeds its sparkling reputation with well-crafted Chilean reds

The neon Valdivieso sign - a larger-than-life bottle of sparkling wine being poured into two flutes - is so beloved a fixture in Santiago that it was declared a national monument in 1954. The winery was the first sparkling wine producer in the Americas, having produced its popular bubbly since 1879.

And while the historic winery still enjoys wide popularity for its sparkling wine, it is also exploring Chilean terroir to create a range of still wines for both domestic and export markets. 

I had the opportunity to meet Valdivieso winemaker Brett Jackson in New York recently at a media event.  Brett began making wine in his native New Zealand, and -- in a career that has spanned decades -- he also has made wine in Napa, Stellenbosch, and Southwest France.  Brett brought this world-wide experience with him when he joined the winery, and he's made great strides in strengthening its still wine program.  We tasted through some of the winery's current releases of red wines, and I was impressed by their overall elegance and balance. 

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2015, Curico Valley - A gorgeous, rich rendition of Cab Franc with ripe red berries and minerality. 

Eclat Cinsault 2017 - A delicate wine, with a translucent ruby color. This wine also had red berries on the palate and a crisp light weight.  Brett told us it is dry farmed from vines on their own rootstock and fermented in stainless steel to preserve its freshness. 

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2014, Colchuagua Valley - Brett informed us that the "crazy horse" reference in the name was from one of the winery owners who was a larger than life character.  He  explained that the Caballo Loco wines are meant to reflect the "essence" of where they come from.  This wine from Apalta is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. The rich, full-bodied wine has ripe red and black fruits and a mineral finish - a bold wine for steaks, chops, and hearty stews. 

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Limari 2014, Limari Valley - This wine showcases Syrah from the Limari Valley, where its proximity to the coast produces a cool influence but there is also plenty of sunshine. The vineyard soils contain calcium as well as salt. This was another big wine, with full mouthfeel, and it exhibited fully ripe black fruits, spice, good acidity, slight minerality and a long finish.  

Valdivieso Eclat Old Vines Blend Vigno 2010 - This project blends old vine Carignan and Mourvedre from the Maule Valley with at least 40 to 60 years of age.  All of the grapes are from bush vines that are dry farmed.  The resulting wine has a delightful freshness, with sweet bing cherry flavor -- and a high acidity that makes it ageworthy.  

The still red wines from Valdivieso that we tasted were high quality and well-balanced, and all sell at appealing price points between $25-$35.  For lighter style reds, reach for the Cinsault or Cabernet Franc. And for a bold red pour, the Caballo Loco line delivers.  

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.