Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Intriguing Romanian Wines Have Appeal for Curious Wine Lovers

The world of wine seems to get wider all the time, as new countries offer exciting indigenous grapes to a curious American market. I recently attended a media lunch at Avra Estiatoria hosted by Marinela Ardelean, ambassador to the Open the Romanian Wine program. This eastern European country offers Americans unique varieties, sophisticated winemaking, and new flavors to explore -- all while boasting a winemaking tradition that goes back 6000 years. Romania has seven wine regions with nearly 500 wineries that grow 165 grape varieties. At this media lunch, Marinela only selected wines made from native grapes for us to sample. 

The first was a sparkling wine, The Iconic Estate's Rhein Extra Magnifique Brut. This off-dry sparkler with notes of lime was made in the traditional method of having a second fermentation in the bottle, similar to Champagne. 

Next we were treated to a duo of roses. The Iconic Estate Hyperion Rose Feteasca Neagra had an inviting nose of savory herbs and on the palate there were strawberries and good acid. The second rose was noticably paler in color and more intensely aromantic - with aromas of lychee and white flowers. This was from Domeniile Averesti, the Spectrum Busuioaca de Bohotin -- legend says this wine was drunk by Stefan the Great. The wine had a perceptible sweetness balanced by lime and cranberry on the palate. 

Our first red was light-bodied and fresh, La Sapata Babeasca Neagra from Crama Delta Dunarii. The wine offered a mix of berry flavors and a dash of balsamic in a refreshing wine that can be served slightly chilled. 

We moved on to The Iconic Estate Hyperion Feteasca Neagra 2016, a medium-bodied red with good balance of red and black fruit, acid, and tannin. 

The Avincis - Olt de Vie Negru de Dragasani had a deep garnet color, a rich tannic structure, black and red fruit, and a long finish - definitely a wine that can age but which was also delicious at its current state. 

The group of American media and wine professionals agreed that the Romanian wines we tried were deliciously food-friendly with the ample spread of Greek dishes we tried at Avra. They were all very palatable -- but also offered unique flavor notes and aromas. These nuanced differences make Romanian wines a great find for curious wine consumers who are looking for new taste sensations to explore.       


Monday, December 6, 2021

Discovering Oltrepò Pavese Northern Italian Wines

In northern Italy lies a wine region in the southwest corner of Lombardy, nestled between Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna – Oltrepò Pavese.  Although little known in the U.S., this Italian wine region is Europe’s third largest area for Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir). Unsurprisingly, the region is on the 45th parallel, which Burgundy and Oregon – of course two of the world’s very famous Pinot Noir regions - share. I had the opportunity to taste through a number of this area’s wines with Susannah Gold, who is a brand ambassador for the region.

Wine has been grown in this area for two thousand years. Today, the region’s main grapes include Pinot Nero, Croatina, Barbera, and Riesling. 

There are a host of historic family wineries in Oltrepò Pavese that date back to the early 19th century – a rarity in Italy.  You'll find both large cooperatives and tiny wineries. One unusual aspect of the region is that many of the wineries are run by women.

One of the more noteworthy wines from Oltrepò Pavese is Bonarda, which is a blend of Croatina (from 85% - 100%) as well as Barbera, Ughetta/Vespolina, and Uva Rara.  Bonarda is often made in the sparkling style here – similar to the frizzante Guttornios in Emilia-Romagna.  I sampled the Bonarda from Calatroni Vini, which is bottled with the label Mon Carul. The name of the wine is Viggio. A light, friendly, sparkling red with lively red fruit flavors, this would work well with pizza and casual snacks with friends.

One noteworthy fact is that this is the only part of Italy that makes classic method sparkling wine, i.e. with second fermentation happening in the bottle, from Pinot Nero grapes. The rosé version is called Cruasé. The sample I tried from Mazzolino made a sophisticated impression, with persistent bubbles, a dried strawberry nose and palate with some baking spice on the finish – delicious with hors d’oeuvres and cheeses before Thanksgiving dinner.

Sangue di Giuda is a sweet wine blend of Barbera, Croatina, Uva Rara, Ughetta, and Pinot Nero. This wine is only found in this region. It has a lightly carbonated texture and a medium level sweetness – the alcohol is only 6%. Perfect for lightly sweet cakes or cookies, such as the Offelle di Parona of Lombardy. Susannah told us that, traditionally, every family would make this at home and offer it to guests.

Among the samples I tried was the La Versa Pinot Grigio 2019. La Versa was founded in 1905, and the winery joined a larger cooperative in 2020. The Pinot Grigio I sampled had a fresh nose of lime and was crisp on the palate with a zesty citrus profile, as well as minerality and good body.

Having only sampled a few of this small wine region’s varied bottles, I was left yearning to taste more of these interesting and delicious wines. I recommend putting Oltrepò Pavese on your list of new wine regions to explore.  



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

French and German Clink Different Wines Salute Sustainability During COP26

The #ClinkDifferent media campaign showcases German and French wines with their winemakers in an effort to create awareness for an American audience. Spreading the word about these wonderful wines is a good enough mission – but this time the idea of sustainability took the program up a notch.

On today’s media tasting, four passionate winemakers expressed their strong views on creating sustainability in the vineyard and winery and using agricultural practices that make winemaking better for the environment – and for the resulting wine. 

Johannes Hasslebach is winemaker for Gunderloch, a winery that has been in his family for six generations. He explained that they just finished their conversion to organic this year. He has been making an effort to bring biodiversity to the steep, rocky vineyards in the Rheinhessen.  Beyond his own winery, Johannes leads a sustainability initiative for a winegrowers organization known as the VDP (Verbrand Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter.)  The Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2020 he presented was full of tangy lime notes, minerality, and fresh acidity.

Claire Villars-Lurton of Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal, said her goal for the wine is to express the complexities of the vineyard in the bottle. She acknowledged that it is difficult to be low-intervention with Bordeaux weather, but they have made great strides and have operated biodynamically for 15 years. She notes, “We have to improve all the time.” Claire presented a natural wine with no sulfites, the Ceres de Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal 2020.  The wine had cranberry and eucalyptus aromas. On the palate, this is a big wine with lots of personality and notes of cherry lozenge and blackberry.

Claus Burmeister makes wine at one of the oldest wineries in the world – Burg Ravensburg in the Baden wine region is 770 years old! When the event host noted that the alcohol on his Pinot Noir was below 13%, Claus said “We don’t need to power up our wines.” He believes in finding the perfect moment when grapes have ripeness that will give wine freshness and energy.  Claus is passionate about soil management and aims to increase the capacity of the soil in his vineyard to store water. When talking about his shift to organic winemaking, he notes that the natural fermentation (without use of commercial yeasts) works perfectly, and that the wines show more character and energy. His Burg Ravensburg Sulzfeld Pinot Noir 2017 offered dried cherries and sage on the nose, and on the palate there was more dried cherry and fresh herbal notes. The wine had well integrated tannins and a long finish.

Finally, Jean Baptiste Cordonnier from Chateau Anthonic in Bordeaux discussed how he has been passionate about rebuilding living soils.  Noting the important role of plants in taking carbon from the air, he says “We have in our hands part of the answer to global warning.”  He spoke enthusiastically of a garter snake coming inside from the property and how inspired he is to create a biodiverse environment among the vines. His Chateau Anthonic 2016 was one of the more classic in style among the four wines we tried. It had lovely dark blackberry fruit and hints of green peppercorn on the palate. The wine had a long finish and was a satisfying, big wine with a delicious, lingering finish. 

While many of us have attended to the serious climate news out of Glasgow over the past weeks, this conversation with winemakers who were so committed to sustainable practices was truly uplifting. The winemakers themselves had distinct personalities and their wines did as well. While the Ceres is not yet available in the states, the other wines we enjoyed are able to be purchased here.  Cheers to #ClinkDifferent for showcasing the important subject of sustainable winemaking in a fun tasting session.



Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Cultivating exciting biodynamic wines at Troon Vineyard

Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley has been a pioneer in biodynamic winemaking, and the winery's commitment to regenerative agriculture is evident from the moment you set foot on the expansive property. 

There is much science behind the process, but it feels like there's a little magic here, too. And I'm not talking about cow horns, although they certainly play a role. It's more the smile on the faces of the winemakers and vineyard managers, the happy wag of the tails of the big dogs, the way even the sun seems to shine a little brighter on the flourishing vines. Quite simply, Troon is a happy place. And the combination of biodynamics, talented winemakers and viticulturists, and happy magic combines to make some pretty exciting wines.   

I had the opportunity to visit Troon during the recent Wine Media Conference in August. As part of that group, I met a number of the people who are creating these low-intervention wines. One of the folks embodying the cheerful spirit of Troon is Craig Camp, general manager. Craig originally convinced the winery's owners to take this biodynamic journey, and he has witnessed the positive difference in the grapevines since they have. 

One of the first things that strikes you when you visit Troon, is the idea that this place is a farm, not just a vineyard. There are vegetable and flower gardens along with grapevines. Walking further, you see the large fenced area for sheep and the energetic dogs who guard them -- and who know when Craig is about to give them a treat. 

And the land is tended with respect. Biodynamic farming, an agricultural approach developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century, seeks to restore balance to nature. How do modern viticulturists apply these techniques? Creating biodiversity in the farm is one approach as is turning to natural solutions to solve vineyard challenges.   

But what about the wines? In short, they are exciting and delicious. There's a playful approach and new ideas are welcomed. Winemaker Nate Wall waxed enthusiastically about his new amphorae, which he told us give wines a different texture than those stored in stainless steel or oak.  

Winemaking styles can also be playful; Troon is making a Piquette, the trending, upcycled beverage that is low alcohol, slightly fizzy, and fun.  There's also a Pet Nat - the category that is slightly carbonated as the wine is bottled while still fermenting. The Troon version is Pet tanNat - a fun play on words, as the grape used is Tannat. 

Beyond these playful offerings, there are still wines that are wonderful expressions of the varietal grapes they contain, including Vermentino and Syrah from a range of vineyard sites. Blending wine is also important, and Troon is making white, red, and rose blends, too.  I've tasted Troon wines numerous times over the past years, and the quality is always very high. 

On the occasion of our visit, we were treated to a wide range of wines served with a fantastic, wood-fired meal prepared by the authors of Fire + Wine, Mary Cresslar and Sean Martin, who also own a catering busines, Ember and Vine. The smokey, delicious fare - all prepared outdoors - was a delicious match for the vivacious wines. 

Visitors to southern Oregon can stop by Troon's tasting room to sample and buy the wines. The winery also has a VRBO onsite for those wishing to relax among the vines.  

Of all the wineries I visited during my recent trip to Southern Oregon, Troon holds a special place for me. The combination of care of the land, innovative winemaking, and a happy spirit make this a wine destination to remember. 




Sunday, September 5, 2021

Albino Armani's quest for quality Pinot Grigio in Italy's Triveneto

As the 16th generation winemaker of his family, Albino Armani is passionate about the mountain-rimmed vineyards where he nurtures one of Italy's most important export wines - Pinot Grigio. 

His family owns 750 acres of vineyards in the Triveneto, comprised of Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. 

I recently attended a virtual tasting hosted by Albino where his passion for the wines of these regions was evident. In fact, Albino has served as the president of the Consorzio DOC delle Venezie. In that role, he was committed to winemakers elevating the overall quality of Pinot Grigio in the area, and he convinced 10,000 grape growers to reduce their yields by 40 percent! These efforts to improve quality were instrumental in the former area labeled by the government as IGT now qualifiying for the more prestigiuos DOC designation. As such, all the DOC delle Venezie wines are traceable and blind-tasted to assure quality. 

As we were introduced to the region, Albino told us that he feels the best Pinot Grigio is from the mountains. Pinot Grigio forms tight clusters that can be susceptible to mold and disease, so the breezy, elevated vineyard sites where his wine grapes grow are beneficial to this variety. 

In this tasting, we explored distinct Pinot Grigios from different parts of the region. What was so suprising is the differences among them! Albino says that the three regions in the DOC are like a mosaic, and oenologists can have fun seeing how grapes from the different soils express their terroir. 

Our tasting included:

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio delle Venezie - Lime, celery, and thyme on the nose. A fresh wine with lemon and herbs on the palate, minerality and good acidity. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Friuli - Nose of chamomile, minerality, with white peach and apple and minerality on palate. The wine has nice texture and body. Albino told us these vines have to fight through rocks to get through to soil, which is only 7 percent of the earth in this area. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Corvara, Valdadige - This single vineyard wine had an intense nose with camilla mixed with caramel. On the palate there was white peach, pear, minerality. The wine had good structure, minerality, and ample acidity. Albino told us that limestone rock walls above the vineyards reflect sunlight onto the grapes, increasing the ripeness. 

Albino Armani Pinot Grigio Colle Ara, Terradeiforti - This wine has a slight copper tint, reflecting that the grapes are macerated on their skins briefly (8-24 hours). The nose had candied ginger. The palate had pear and more ginger, and the wine had a prickling acidity and a long finish. 

One important note is that Albino is committed to growing grapes sustainably. One of the most important factors in enabling sustainable winemaking, according to Albino, is growing the right variety in the right place. For Pinot Grigio, he says that means having "wind, altitude." In fact, Pinot Grigio is a variety that needs some of the coolest temperatures among wine grapes. 

All the wines in this tasting ranged in price in the U.S. from between approximately $10 - $20 -- a remarkable value for the quality delivered. They are available at Total Wine among other retailers. 

The U.S. is the number one export market for Pinot Grigio, and it is our third most popular grape. Wine lovers would be advised to reach for one of the Albino Armani bottles to taste expressive, high quality Pinot Grigios that are a true value. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

How Can Wine Bloggers Improve Engagement - Wine Media Conference 2021


How can wine bloggers improve engagement? 

Wine bloggers sometimes struggle to see engagement with the posts they've worked hard to create. Yet there are some simple tweaks they can make in their blogging and social posting that can help. At the 2021 Wine Media Conference in Eugene, Oregon, I was honored to be selected to present a lightning talk  that leveraged my career in digital marketing and my 15 years as a wine blogger. The presentation  was titled “How to Stand Out in an Overloaded Media World.” Here’s a re-cap of my talk.

Message overload

There are 6,000 tweets a second, 350 photos on Facebook per hour and 7.5 million blog posts a day. The digital landscape has definitely become crowded. And while Instagram adaption has been very successful (with the U.S. representing the biggest user base), so many users means more competition for your message.


The key to gaining attention and engagement is a fun acronym – MUTTS. Message, Uniqueness, Timing Testing and Socializing.


It’s never been more important to be focused and not present a scattered message on your platforms. Being newsworthy and including photos and videos also help engagement.


To have a chance at the first search engine results page (SERP), a narrowly focused topic helps. Don’t just blog about Pinot Noir – write about a rare grape, a specific region, etc.


The worst time to Tweet is after 8:30 p.m.  For Facebook and Instagram – weekends are a dead zone, while midweek midmorning to early afternoon are best times.


Marketers always test their message, send time, and more.  For Twitter, try testing the same content at 10 a.m. and then 3 p.m. – and repeat it for a couple weeks. Soon, you’ll have some data to base your audience engagement on.


Once the hard part is done and you’ve created content – the fun part is socializing it to all your channels. And remember to adjust messaging to platform – your Instagram should look different than your Facebook than your LinkedIn.

I was honored to be a speaker at the 2021 Wine Media Conference and look forward to the next.



Saturday, August 14, 2021

South Willamette’s Pfeiffer Winery - A love story in wine

Pfeiffer Winery in south Willamette is located in a prime location for Pinot Noir. Owner Robin Pfeiffer enjoys telling the story of how French investors eagerly tried to buy 70 hillside acres of his family’s farm - tipping him off that the farm should pivot to grape growing.  

The pivot worked in the best possible way. Robin and his wife Danuta now run a very successful vineyard and winery. Success to the couple means selling 90 percent of their grapes to King Estate.  That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy making wine. In fact, their estate Pinot Noir is a labor of love - for the grape, the familial property, and each other. 

On a recent visit with the Wine Media Conference, we tasted the Blue Dot Pinot Noir - fresh raspberry and black cherry on the palate, good balance, a touch of acidity adding vivacity and long finish. I also enjoyed the estate Pinot Gris, which had lush tropical fruit on the nose & palate and a rich mouthfeel.  According to Robin, the Blue Dot Pinot Noir is the wine that he and Danuta share as they watch the sun set into the Pacific on romantic getaways to the coast.  

Pfeiffer winery is a local Friday night destination, and the garden was full of guests enjoying the wine and dancing to a live band.

Although Pfeiffer wines are not available beyond the tasting room, it was fun to get a look at the hillside vineyard that provides so many grapes to prestigious Pinot Noir.  

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Clink Different Seeks to Expand Wine Lovers' Flavor World

The ongoing Clink Different promotion is a pair up of an unlikely duo - wines of Bordeaux and wines of Germany. While France and Germany may seem like unlikely partners, in fact both have long, esteemed histories in wine dating back over 2000 years. And with those long histories comes a level of confidence in what grows well in certain terrain.  

I attended a fun media tasting led by the very knowledgeable and engaging Cristie Norman, Co-Founder and President of the United Sommeliers Foundation and Wine Enthusiast's 2020 Educator of the Year. 

Cristie led us on a taste journey across some lesser-known grape varieties that she encourages consumers to try. 

First up was the Weingut Strum 2019 Silvaner Trocken, which retails for $19. Cristie recommended this white wine made from the Silvaner grape with sushi, fish dishes, salads, and stir fry.  I found it delightful - with a fresh, grassy nose, high acid, good weight, and a long finish.  

Next we went to Bordeaux for the Dourthe 2019 La Grande Cuvee Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc. This affordable wine retails for $14. With a very aromatic nose of lemon and vegetal notes, the wine delivered fresh tart citrus flavors and high acid - perfect for goat cheese, creamy pasta, and shell fish. 

Moving on to the reds, we tried the Schnaitmann 2017 Steinwiege Lemberger. This grape is also known as Blaufrankisch.  With a nose of bramble fruit and bell pepper, the palate was structured with perceptible tannin, a stewed red fruit flavor, and a long finish. This wine retails for $37. 

Finally, we were treated to a fascinating wine made from 100% Petit Verdot - a 2018 from Chateau Belle-Vue.  The opaque, inky purple color of the wine struck me immediately. The flavor delivered on the promise of the color - this is a big wine, with lush black fruit and grippy tannins indicating that the wine can certainly age. Cristie suggested gouda cheese, dishes with mushroom, or a nice steak to pair with this bold wine, which retails for $25. 

I enjoyed these wines made from some lesser known grape varieties and appreciated that this campaign is encouraging consumers to drink "outside the box" and experiment with new varieties.  You can follow the @clinkdifferent campaign on Instagram and Twitter to see what's next. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Theresa Heredia Crafts Captivating Chardonnays and Silky Pinots at Gary Farrell Winery

Walk through a city and you’ll notice distinct differences from one neighborhood to the next. In Manhattan, the creative energy of the Chelsea Gallery district is a different world from the soaring skyscrapers and hard-driving speed of the Financial District.

It’s the same in wine regions. The AVA of the Russian River Valley is a large expanse, and a stretch of several miles can make a big difference in vineyards – more ocean breeze, higher elevation, and distinctive soil variation. In fact the Russian River Valley has more soil types than France!

Theresa Heredia has been the winemaker at Gary Farrell winery since 2012. One of the aspects of Gary Farrell that attracted her is that the winery has no estate fruit but sources grapes from some of the best vineyards across the Russian River Valley.  She compares this to the role of “negociant” in Burgundy. Although Gary Farrell winery doesn’t own the vineyards, Theresa works closely with the vineyard managers, especially when it comes to picking decisions. She endeavors to have their fruit picked early to try to get good acidity and manage the alcohol.

She aspires for her wines to have Burgundian elegance and restraint while also showcasing the unique aspects of the Russian River Valley.  Theresa told us that she wants to make expressive wines that have a sense of place.  In a guided tasting for media, Theresa walked us through seven wines made from grapes sourced from various neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley. The distinct flavors and aromas of each wine was striking considering they all came from one AVA.

We started with three lively Chardonnays:

·         2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains  /  Notes of ripe yellow apple dancing with vibrant lemons with a dash of minerality – a Chardonnay with bright flavors and good length  and refreshing acidity.

·         2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge / Made from small bunches of grapes, this wine was very concentrated with lemon and floral aromas and a round mouthfeel with apple and pear – also with the lift of acidity.

·         2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach  /  A lush Chardonnay with notes of caramel, baked apple and a dash of pineapple on the nose, on the palate more baked apple flavors along with a shot of acidity to lift the lushness.

Then we progressed to the silky Pinot Noirs:

·         2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach  / Classic Burgundian style Pinot with earthy notes along with the red fruit flavors – juicy yet complex wine. Theresa told us she does some whole cluster additions to this to add some tannin.

·         2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley  / A tart cherry nose and black and red fruit on palate with white pepper on the black cherry midpalate and bright acid.

·         2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills  /  Rosemary and red fruit on the nose with bing cherries and baking spice on the palate. Theresa told us the cold temperatures in this vineyard produce lots of acidity in wines from here. She also noted that she does 40% whole cluster when fermenting this wine which adds some dusty tannins.

·         2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains  / Black plum nose with loads of ripe cherry on the palate and refreshing acidity – this is a real crowd pleaser of a Pinot Noir.

Overall, I found the wines to be balanced with regard to alcohol, fruit, acidity, and tannin but fairly bursting with lively flavors.  Theresa Heredia is most assuredly a precise winemaker who brings a clear vision to the wines she creates.  We are all the better for it when we partake of her creations.