Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Feeling the love for expressive New Zealand wines from Loveblock

The world of wine is always changing, and the big, overblown New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs that were hugely popular over the past few decades are making way for more subtle interpretations of the grape. You can see this particularly in the newest releases from Loveblock, where organic farming practices are being increasingly applied. 

At a wine media dinner at Osteria La Baia, Erica Crawford, founder and CEO of Loveblock Wine, explained that organic farming is one of the factors that contributes to a more restrained Sauvignon Blanc. Rather than encouraging abundant growth through applications of fertilizers and clearing any other plants between vines, the Loveblock vines are made to struggle. So, no fertilizer is applied, and, also the vines compete for soil nutrients with the plants growing between the rows. Erica used the analogy of an only child who gets everything versus one who needs to share with many siblings – in other words, those vines are not getting spoiled.

Our dinner began, however, with a different grape—Pinot Gris. It’s fair to say that those of us in attendance fell in love with this wine. It was a luscious, aromatic interpretation, offering a crisp minerality, tart apple and pear, as well as a lovely acidity. This is a wine I’d happily drink on its own, and it was also delicious with the sea bass I had for a main course. In addition to seafood, I’d enjoy with poultry, pork, and light-sauced pastas.  Erica assured us that this wine “just gets better with age.”

Next we enjoyed the Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc. Erica told us that 82% of the vines are either organic or in the process of conversion to organic. I enjoyed the quieter aromatics that were still quite fresh with grassy, citrus notes and the wine’s flavors of lemon, tangerine, and white pepper – with refreshing acidity as well.  Erica noted that “Texture is quite a focus for us.” The vineyard management practices include using a cover crop between vines. 

A special new project for the Loveblock team is the introduction of a very different style of wine – Loveblock Tee.  This wine made of Sauvignon Blanc grapes has the addition of green tea tannin to preserve freshness, rather than the traditional addition of sulfites. On the nose and palate, we found clove and ripe red apple. The texture was more round than a traditional Sauvignon Blanc. Consumers who have an affinity for natural wines as well as those who wish to avoid sulfites will be interested in this unique wine. 

Our final wine was the Loveblock Pinot Noir. This was a delightful wine with floral aromatics, medium to light body, and tart cherry and cranberry flavors with low levels of well-integrated tannin. 

The Loveblock wines are delicious representations of what wines from Marlborough, New Zealand can become with careful vineyard management and intentional winemaking choices. With their beautiful botanical labels, they’re easy to spot on the shelf. For myself, I especially look forward to enjoying their sensational Pinot Gris again soon.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Georges DuBoeuf Cru Beaujolais 2019 and 2020 Add to Growing Luster of Region

Living in the shadow of some of the world's most revered vineyards is something that may feel like a bit of a hardship, but the Beaujolais wines of Georges DuBoeuf are getting along just fine, thank you. In fact, the proximity to Burgundy's Cote d'Or is even garnering the region some accolades as a value choice from the area. 

Tasting through a number of 2020 and 2019 bottles from DuBoeuf's cru Beaujolais wines, I was pleased to note that they were a pleasure in their own right - and no comparison to other regions or styles was necessary. These are wines that are thoughtfully made and not trying to be anything other than terrific renderings of tangy, fresh, fruity Gamay.

It's always a pleasure to see Romain Teyteau, Export Director, North America for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. Romain was in New York to show a selection of current releases at Benjamin Prime Steakhouse. 

I was thrilled that we began with the Domaine Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse 2019. Pouilly-Fuisse has always been one of my favorite whites, and this one was drinking beautifully with aromatic white flowers and honey on the nose and a round mouthfeel with yellow apples and cream on the palate. 

With an assortment of appetizers, we sampled the 2020 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages. The 2020 vintage has been characterized as "warm and clean" and this Villages wine was a reflection of that - tart raspberry on the nose and palate with an easy appeal and no perceptible tannin. 

Moving on to our main courses (steaks all around) we began to explore the Cru Beaujolais wines of Georges DuBoeuf. 

The Chateau de Saint-Amour 2020 had more black fruit character than is often found. Romain explained that the winemaking involves both whole cluster and destemmed fruit, which produces wines of intensity while keeping the texture silky. 

Clos des Quatre Ventes Fleurie 2020 offered attractive aromas of tobacco and dried cherry. The fruit here is from a historic vineyard of 80-120 year old vines. The palate was full of tart cranberry and raspberry with bright acidity and low tannin. 

Domaine de Javernieres Cote du Py Morgon had a delicate nose of violets and raspberries. The soil here is a cumbly schist that encourages vines to root deeply bringing minerality to the wine. On the palate, raspberries and blackberries with a touch of balsamic are balanced by light spice. The wine has good length. 

Chateau des Capitans Julienas 2020 is full of ripe black cherry aromas and delivers the same on the palate, along with a hint of white pepper. Romain explained that the wine is made with some parcels going through carbonic maceration and others not. In addition, parts of the harvest are destemmed while others are whole cluster. The resulting wine has power and length while still maintaining elegance and low tannin. 

Domaine des Rosiers Moulin-A-Vent 2019 had delicious cherry and spice aromas that paid off on the palate. Cassis notes added to the lushness. This is a wine of depth that will age, defying the idea that Beaujolais should only be drunk young. 

It's always an education to drink through a number of the Cru Beaujolais villages. Each has its own special characteristics - some bolder, others more delicate, yet all quite special. These wines of Georges DuBoeuf reflect the pleasures that the 2019 and 2020 vintages have to offer and bring credit to the region. 



Saturday, April 23, 2022

Cultivating Time at Chateau Palmer Champagne

Chateau Palmer, a very English-sounding Champagne house, was in fact founded in 1947 by seven French grape growers. The owners had set their sights on the British market and chose what they considered to be a classy English name for their venture: "Palmer." Today the house is esteemed for the consistency and elegance of its cuvees. More than 50 percent of vineyards used by the Chateau are designated as Grand and Premier Cru vineyards located in the Montagne de Reims area which lies between the Marne and Vesle rivers. 

Today the house is dedicated to sustainability and has committed to providing sustainable protection of the vineyards for the sake of the wine, the grape growers and winemakers, the environment, and its customers. 

At a media dinner at Scarpetta, Raymond Ringeval, Export Director of Champagne Palmer & Co., led a small group through a tasting of some current releases as well as some rarer bottles. 

We began with the Brut Reserve NV which, according to Raymond, always has at least 50% Chardonnay. He told us that it is rare to have this much Chardonnay in this kind of blend, but that this "queen of grapes" is one of the signatures of Chateau Palmer, as they source from two of the Grand Cru villages where Chardonnay thrives. The Brut Reserve was crisp with fresh citrus notes as well as toasty brioche. It is aged four years on lees before bottling. 

Next we sampled the award-winning Blanc de Blanc made from 100% Chardonnay sourced from Premier Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims as well as from the Cote De Sezanne. Raymond explained that this was one of their most renowned Champagnes. Of special note is the aging these wines see; magnum bottles of the Blanc de Blanc spend 10 years on lees. The 750 ml bottle had 6 years on lees and had notes of crisp lemon, toast, and hazlenuts.  

These non-vintage Champagnes spend more time on lees than many, contributing to their complexity and roundness. In addition to the grapes and winemaking techniques, aging is another important factor in what makes these Champagnes special. According to Raymond, "We're cultivating time." 

The Rose Solera NV Champagne has 42% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Meunier, and there is the addition of 8% of Solera of Pinot Noir.  The solera was begun 40 years ago, and every year new wine is added to it. This unexpected addition is the source of extra richness and complexity. Of all the Rose Champagne I've had, none have made such an impression on me. There is a power to this wine, along with finesse. On the palate, straweberries, baking spice, and cream.  

The Vintage 2012 Champagne was very aromatic with notes of ripe pear and marzipan. On the palate there was great complexity and layers of marzipan, pear, and toasted almonds. The wine also had minerality and bright acidity. Raymond explained that the house only creates a vintage wine every 5-6 years. 

The next wine was a special cuvee known as Amazone. The name hearkens to the mythical race of women warriors and reflects the strength and elegance in the wine. The current release of Amazone is a blend of three top vintages - in this case 2012, 2009 and 2010 - as well as a solera Chardonnay. It spent 8 years on lees. The wine was dense with flavors of apple compote, baking spice, and marzipan. A delicious and unique cuvee. 

We ended the evening with the Vintage 1999 Chauteau Palmer Champagne. Raymond told us that vintage Champagne is part of the Palmer DNA.  This wine had aromas of dried fruits and toffee, which continued on the palate, along with minerality and a freshness that belied the wine's 23 years.  

Among the world of Champagne, Chateau Palmer is making wines that are distinct due to their high concentration of excellent Chardonnay in the cuvees as well for their penchant for long aging. I was impressed by the line, which had excellent choices for many moods and occasions - from parties to noteworthy anniversaries.    

Friday, April 22, 2022

Famille Bouey Celebrates Two Centuries in Bordeaux with Fresh Approach

Few wine regions are as steeped in tradition as Bordeaux. While this has had many benefits – being world-renowned for high quality wine is an enviable position—it has also created challenges for wineries wishing to create a new path in the region. For Famille Bouey, the answer is to respect the past while innovating for today’s wine consumers who want drinkable, fresh wines at value prices.

The Bouey family has been growing grapes and winemaking in Bordeaux’s Medoc region for two centuries, starting when Jean Bouey first planted vines there in 1821.  In recent years, the winery committed to an environmental management system, which shifted the vineyards away from artificial chemical treatments and towards biodiversity on their lands.

I had the opportunity to taste through much of the current Famille Bouey portfolio at a media dinner at the Capital Grille in midtown.  

Our introduction to the winery was an entry level wine called Oh la Vache! (holy cow!) 2020. Fun labeling and a fresh, accessible palate make this a crowd-pleasing red. It’s comprised of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and has a fruit-forward character and no perceptible tannins.

Famille Bouey Cuvee 11 2019 is a wine made from 100% Merlot. 2019 was a good growing season that produced a wine redolent of blackberry, black plums, and raspberry flavors, as well as low tannin and fresh acidity. This wine is a great value at $12.99  The number eleven in the name is a nod to Jean Bouey’s first 11 hectares that he planted in 1821.

Famille Bouey Cuvee 20 2020 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The number twenty in the name references when the fourth generation of the Bouey family joined the business in 2020.  This wine had fresh blackberries and balsamic notes on the nose and palate and well-integrated tannins. This young Cabernet could certainly age, and at $12.99 it would be great to see how it developed.

Family Bouey Cuvee 58 2019 is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had a more complex aroma with blackberries and balsamic notes on the nose and a layered palate with black fruit and a hint of white pepper. It had considerable length and well-integrated tannin. I found this wine delicious – and what a great value at $14.99. The 58 in the name honors the year 1958 when Roger Bouey founded Maison Bouey.

Famille Bouey Les Parcelles No. 8 2020 is a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. This wine had more structure with red fruit and cloves on the palate and silky tannins. The “parcelles” are single vineyard plots that have distinctive soils, from clay to chalky limestone. Ready to drink --or suitable to put away--it sells for $19.99.

Maison Blanche Merlot Cabernet 2020 blends the two most iconic grapes of the Bordeaux region. The wine has a nose of cherries and chocolate with firm tannins and nice length.  

I found that all the wines from Famille Bouey were fresh, with low tannins, and all seemed to have a straightforward approach that showcased the traditional grapes of Bordeaux. They are all priced well,  and I encourage wine lovers who may have shied away from Bordeaux in the past to definitely give them a try.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Lugana Wines Shine at Il Gattopardo

Lugana wines are produced in northern Italy from the indigenous Turbiana grape. More specifically, the vineyards are located on the southern reaches of Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake. The lake helps to regulate temperature in the vineyards and provides a steady breeze that assists with grape health. The mineral-rich soil and numerous old vine vineyards contribute to the wines' unique flavor profiles. At a recent media event at Manhatan's Il Gattopardo, Lugana wines paired beautifully with an array of northern Italian dishes. 

Our exploration of the region began with a flavorful sparkling wine, made in the traditional method,  Sguardi di Terra. Its golden color and persistent bubbles made for an inviting sparkling wine. 

For our first course of casconcelli, we sampled two whites from 2020 - the Citari Lugana Sorgente, which was aromatic with notes of pear and sage. The La Meridiana Lugana Organic was more floral in aroma with yellow plum flavors and salinity. 

With the second course of capu' ripiene di carne, we had the Tenuta Roveglia Limne, a wine of freshness, salinity and bright acidity. The Colli Vaibo Lugana 2019 had a more creamy texture with fresh acidity.  The third wine with this course was the Zeni Lugana Doc Vigne Alte 2019   - a delicious wine with riper notes of sweet green melon on the midpalate. 

With our third coruse of trota del Garda, we enjoyed the Seiterre Lugana Superiore 2018, a lean, focused wine with herbal notes of sage and chamomile as well as salinity and fresh acidity.  The meal ended with Zenato Riserva from 2016 - with six years of age, this wine was more golden in color, an aromatic, rich wine that felt reminiscient of young Burgundy. 

Throughout the luncheon, the strength of these northern Italian white wines clearly shone through. While every producer and every microterroir bring differences to each wine, they all are food friendly, fresh, and a welcome change from the workaday white wines that most consumers are more familiar with. 

As summer approaches and more seafood and lighter fare are served, Lugana wines make the perfect accompaniment to the fresher dining options of warm weather. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Bodega Otazu Wows Wine and Art Lovers in Navarra

A 20-minute drive from the bustling city of Pamplona in northern Spain lies an incredible treat for wine and art lovers alike – Bodega Otazu. This Navarra winery is a must-visit for anyone who enjoys modern art and delicious wine.  

The scenic countryside surrounding the estate features softly rolling hills and abundant rows of vines used in the estate wines. The winery is housed within a grand historic building dating from 1840.  In order to preserve the lovely landscape, 70% of the facility is housed underground.

Upon entering the interior, I was immediately struck by a spectacular sculpture of a woman’s head. This large scale work conveyed strength, beauty, and elegance. It is also the image on many of Otazu’s wine labels. Then I was led through a long hallway featuring antique winemaking equipment and instructive displays that oriented visitors to the winery’s vineyard properties and wines.

My visit was part of an organized press tour by the Navarra wine region – but all tourists can make their own appointment for a 90 or 120 minute tour by visiting Otazu’s web site. To ensure your preferred date and time, it’s advisable to reserve in advance.

After viewing the entry area, visitors can tour the extensive art collections within the property. Our guide told us that the current owners have established an art foundation and believe that wine is “the only art you can drink.”  I was particularly excited to learn about the many artists who have collaborated with the winery to produce one of a kind pieces that are on display.  These are works that cause an array of emotions – from pleasurable to provocative. There is also a premium level wine available in packaging that is itself a work of art – a truly unique experience for wine collectors.

I always love unique wine tourism experiences, and Bodega Otazu’s art-centric experience was truly one of the best I’ve had.  Even the large barrel room featured original works. Some of these were works that were created using the winery’s barrels, including a barrel with lights in a star-shaped configuration hanging from the ceiling. The lights could be activated by placing your finger on a sensor and then they would shine in rhythm to your heartbeat – an incredible experience.

But Bodega Otazu offers more than just unique art.  I was able to taste through many of their current releases as noted below:

Palacio de Eirada Chardonnay 2021 – A crisp, clean wine with fresh citrus aromas, appealing lemon notes, and refreshing acidity.

Pago de Otazu Chardonnay 2019 – A hand-harvested, limited edition Chardonnay with pear on the nose and palate, a round mouthfeel, rich toffee notes, and a long finish.

Rosado Merlot 2021 – This was a fresh rose with bright red fruit notes on the palate and a nose of bacon and red candy. 

Premium Cuvee 2019 – This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Merlot. It’s aged in oak for 12 months and rests another 14 months in bottle.  The wine offered aromas of black cherry, and on the palate there was a plush mouthfeel, gentle tannins and black and red fruit flavors – for an overall pleasing and not heavy red.

2019 Pago de Otazu Tinto – A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo, this wine sees longer aging before being released – 18 months in barrel and another 36 in bottle.  It’s a very aromatic wine with ripe red fruit notes and well-integrated tannins – a wine that can age.

2010 Altar – Our group was lucky to taste an older vintage – this one was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was fragrant with black plum and minerality, with a flavor of blackberry compote and slight balsamic notes, well-integrated tannins and a long finish. A delicious wine to drink now or hold.

My overall impression of Otazu is that I would recommend a visit to anyone in the Navarra region or who wants to take a drive over to Navarra during a trip to Spain.  I also will be looking for Otazu wines on the shelf as they offer delicious value.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Toasting 2022 with Italian Wine Pairings

Italian cuisine has a timeless appeal – and with so many rich sauces and ragus, tempting pasta shapes, airy pizzas, fresh fish, rich polentas, creamy risottos, and more, it’s easy to see why. Americans enjoy a lot of Italian food – in fact, one survey said that the average US consumer enjoys over 15 pounds of Italian cheese a year!

And Italian cuisine is perfect for dinner parties – for example, pasta recipes can easily be modified to serve more or less guests.  A fun entertainment idea for the new year is to host your own Italian night with a multi-course celebration featuring all Italian wines.

It’s always great to start the evening with something sparkling – a time-honored way to welcome guests as they enter your home in Europe.  The Ca Di Prata Brut Prosecco DOC ($16) is a great choice with crisp pear and apple flavors, lots of fine bubbles, and delightful acidity.  Passed trays of fresh salami and hard pecorino cheese (need inspiration on a building a cheese board? look here) would work well to start the evening off.

After everyone arrives, it’s time to sit down for the first course. A risotto with parmesan and lemon (see recipe here) is a crowd-pleasing first course that would match beautifully with the Barone Montalto Pinot Grigio 2020 ($12), a dry white wine with hints of citrus on the palate.  And your guests will be intrigued that this Pinot Grigio is not from northern Italy, but Sicily!

After the risotto has disappeared, it’s time for the main attraction – a roast loin of pork rubbed with olive oil and rosemary. The wine to pair is one of Italy’s iconic selections – a Barbaresco made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes. The Riva Leone Barbaresco 2017 is a perfect choice, as its complex flavors of dried red fruits and spice will complement the juicy pork wonderfully. At only $25, it’s a great value as well.

While some of your guests may say they don’t have room for dessert, they’ll certainly be persuaded to have a slice of this traditional semolina cake and a last glass of something lightly sweet. The Acquesi Asti Spumante ($18) is 100% Moscato from Friuli. Its lightly sweet flavor and lovely perfumed nose will create a sweet and sparkling ending to your night of Italian fun!

Monday, January 3, 2022

Celebrating Charming Abruzzo and Bordeaux Wines at Il Gattopardo

New York at Christmas time is a treat, and the same can be said about a meal at the midtown East restaurant Il Gattopardo, which specializes in southern Italian cuisine. I had the opportunity to attend a wine media lunch there where we sampled a wide range of wines from Abruzzo during the main courses as well as a trio of sweet wines of Bordeaux with dessert. 

The alluring combination of quality dry and sweet wines from two different EU countries is part of the Charming Taste of Europe promotional program, which doesn’t limit its celebration of European wine to a single area. 

While some Abruzzo wines are not as well-known as those of Tuscany or Piedmont, their wallet-friendly prices, delicious flavor profiles, and intriguing indigenous grapes should put this Italian region on wine lovers' radar. 

Our meal began with one such variety – the lively Pecorino grape. The Poderi Constantini Antonio Abruzzo Pecorino Superiore 2020 was a crisp wine with dried herbs on the palate, as well as notes of chamomile and a touch of minerality. Pecorino is a food-friendly white with a unique flavor profile -- worth seeking out as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. 

With the first course of  spaghetti alla Chitarra, we sampled a white wine from the Trebbiano grape, the Masciarelli Tenute Agricole, Marina Cvetic, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2019, which had a crisp nose reminiscent of fresh cut celery with sage, green melon, and minerality on the palate. We also tried a rosata, the Valori, Abbruzo Talamonti Cerasuolo Rose 2020. This had more heft than many roses with a nose of cranberry, good structure, and tart fruit flavors. 

The second course of patate maritate (potatoes with sausage), was paired with the Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019, a biodynamic wine made in amphora. All Montepuliciano d'Abruzzo wines must contain at least 85% of Montepulciano grapes. This had powerful black fruit and balsamic vinegar aromas and deep flavors of black plums and black pepper, as well as perceptible tannin. 

The flavorful fish soup course -- “brodetto alla Vastese” – needed robust wine to match it, and the answer was two substantial reds. The Cantina Frentana Montepulicano d’Abruzzo “Rubesto” 2017 was a big wine with blackberry and caramel on the nose and lots more blackberries on the palate. The last Abruzzo wine was the Podere Castorani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Casauria Riserva 2015. This wine had a savory rosemary nose and dried cherries dusted with sage on the palate. This wine is truly made with care – it’s harvested late (in November) and has a long maceration period of up to 30 days to increase complexity.

The light dessert course of lattacciolo was served with three sweet wines of Bordeaux. Although Sauternes is the most famous (and pricey) example, Bordeaux sweet wines come from several appellations in the larger Bordeaux area. The Chateau de Garbes “Cuvee Fut de chene” AOC Cadillac 2019 had a lovely honey nose with honeysuckle on the palate. The Chateau Fayau Premieres Cotes de Bordeaux 2019 also had honey aromas with a richer marmalade palate. The most luxurious selection was the Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet AOC Loupiac 2017. The nose was full of ripe apricots and the wine had a rich texture and a long finish. 

Cheers to the Charming Taste of Europe for showcasing a large selection of delicious Italian and French wines in a fabulous, fun lunchtime tasting.  The wines we tried at Il Gattopardo from Abruzzo and Bordeaux are certainly worthy of your attention in the new year.