Sunday, February 9, 2020

Toasting Academy Award Wins with Piper-Heidsieck

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

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

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

Monday, February 3, 2020

Exploring the Delicious World of Hunter Valley at Wine Media Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Ventisquero creating terroir-driven wines of character in Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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