Saturday, September 30, 2023

Chimney Rock Vertical Showcases Elegant, Long-lasting Napa Wines

When we think of what makes a winery noteworthy, we often consider a sense of continuous quality that somehow transcends the vintage challenges. Such wineries produce good wine in even the tough years – and magnificent wine when nature is more forgiving. The best way to determine whether a winery has done this over the course of time is to sit down at a vertical tasing. I was lucky enough to do so with Elizabeth Vianna, lead winemaker of  Chimney Rock Winery, at a media tasting in New York City.

But, first, we were provided with some context. Chimney Rock Winery was founded in 1980 on a former golf course, and the winery was designed with distinctive Cape Dutch architecture. In 2000, the Terlato family became involved with the estate, and they assumed full ownership in 2003. From the beginning, their vision was to create top quality wines from Bordeaux varieties in the premier Stags Leap District.

Elizabeth spoke about the Stag’s Leap Palisades where bedrock traps heat and low hills pull cool air across the vineyard. The climatic factors along with volcanic soil produce fruit “that’s intense but graceful.” She added that as a winemaker she doesn’t want to “futz” with the fruit a lot, but rather let the wine express a sense of time and place.

Our vertical included Chimney Rock Winery SLD Cabernet Sauvignon from 1984, 1985, 1992, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2012, and 2019. Elizabeth choose both vintages that were critically acclaimed and others that were not, but which she felt offered something special.

Here are some of the Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon SLD vintages that impressed me most:

1984 – The color was ruby with brick-toned rim. The nose was complex with caramel and pot pourri. On the palate, dried fruits and a hint of white pepper. The acid was still present, remarkably, and there was still plenty of length.

1992 – The nose still offered the promise of raspberry, which was delivered on the palate, where black and red fruit were still present. There were fine tannins and good acidity, truly a wonderful wine over 30 years old.

1998 – I got a lot of tart cranberry on the nose, and the palate was lush with red and black berries. The tannins were silky. This was an elegant wine with true finesse.

2006 – This was a lush, big wine with gorgeous cherry compote on the palate – a crowd-pleasing, Napa wine.

2012 – A generous wine with jammy blackberry fruit. Persistent finish with fine tannins.

2019 – Cassis on the nose, fruit-forward on the palate, lively acidity, and very long length. 

During the course of the afternoon, Elizabeth told us that she and her staff are in the vineyards all year long. The winery also considers sustainability a priority, and they use biological controls such as cover crops to ensure vineyard health. Solar power and pollinator gardens add to the sustainability focus.

This exceptional opportunity to taste over 30 years of one winery’s vintages was truly illuminating. I left with the strong impression that Chimney Rock is consistently making high quality wines that offer wonderful fruit when young and beautiful complexity with age.  

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Bodegas Bianchi new releases show lasting luster of family-owned Argentinian winery

Bodegas Bianchi is a historic family-owned winery in Argentina that has been producing wine since 1928. With successive generations, the winery grew and modernized, and in 2018, the family brought in renowned Argentine winemaker Silvio Alberto to be Wine Director. For the past five years, he's been on a mission to update classics and expand their vineyards beyond their home in San Rafael, the southernmost part of Mendoza. 

Silvio was in New York recently showcasing the current releases at a media dinner at Capital Grille. Sitting down with Silvio, a gregarious man of good humor and wine wisdom, is always a treat. He discussed how winemaking has changed at the bodega to provide more of what today's consumers want. One of the changes is that the heavily-oaked wines of the past are no more - now the wines that do see oak get lighter touches of wood. Today's palates also seek more freshness in wines. Silvio explained, "People like more fruit, more acidity." 

Bodegas Bianchi wines sampled included: 

Famiglia Bianchi Chardonnay 2021 - This wine had both fresh apple as well as some honey and butter, and offered crisp acidity. I was impressed that the wine had complexity and rich texture at the price point of $18.99. 

Famiglia Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 - Surprisingly light and fruity, this Cab had blackberry on the nose and palate, fine tannins, balanced acidity, and lots of freshness. $20.99. 

Gran Famiglia Bianchi Malbec 2019 - My first note was simply "delicious" for this wine. On the nose there was leather, caramel, black cherry, and on the palate I tasted chocolate covered cherries. This was a full bodied wine with good length and mouth-filling fruit. This is one of the wines from the Uco Valley, 3600 feet above sea level. $29.99

Particular Bianchi Malbec 2019 - A very structured wine created from 30-year-old vines in San Rafael, this Malbec had inviting aromas and flavors of toffee, cherries, and spice. Silvio told us that the wines from the Finca Asti Vineyards of Parades are known for having notes of pink peppercorn as well. This was an exciting Malbec that would certainly age longer. $39.99 

Particular Bianchi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 - Also from San Rafael, this is a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc. Blackberry was on the nose, and flavors of blackberry, blueberry, spice, and a little rosemary created a lively palate. The wine was full bodied with long length. $39.99 

Enzo Gran Corte 2018 - This blend has Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The name Enzo honors the son of the original founder. This powerful wine had a big nose of red and black fruit and notes of caramel. The palate was quite rich, with dense, ripe fruit and fine tannins. It's a wine of elegance with great length. $69.99 

Our delicious Bodegas Bianchi wines were brilliantly paired with the Capital Grille's famous steaks, for a wonderful food and wine pairing treat. What struck me most about this dinner - other than Silvio's charming personality - was the way that these wines really were punching above their weight. For relatively modest price points, they were delivering very well crafted wines that had distinct qualities that showcased their Argentinian terroir.  

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Also a Refreshing Winter Treat

Can you drink Beaujolais Nouveau after Thanksgiving time when it's released? Mais oui! 

Most sources suggest you can enjoy Beaujolais Nouveau wines from six to 12 months after their bottling, which means that when you want to reach for a refreshing light red this winter, you can still enjoy your Beaujolais Nouveau! 

Beaujolais Nouveau and Les Vins Georges Duboeuf

Franck Duboeuf, who runs Les Vins Georges Duboeuf and is the son of the house's founder Georges, was in New York City to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau day this November. This year he celebrated with a media lunch at Quality Bistro, where he poured a range of the house's Beaujolais Nouveau. 

The idea of promoting the new wine of the Beaujolais harvest came from his father, Georges, and has grown into a phenomenon that is celebrated world wide on the third Thursday of November. This year, the wines were fresh and flavorful. 

And, even though many regard the young wine as being a Thanksgiving staple, there's no reason not to have some bottles on hand for the months after their release. Stock is still available, and there's no denying the appeal of the red fruit palate and light body. 

The line of Beaujolais Nouveau wines are mostly light-bodied reds, but for the past couple years Dubouef has also released a delightful rose, which Franck admitted is "not an easy wine to produce."  

2022 Beaujolais Vintage

The 2022 Beaujolais vintage saw the hottest summer ever recorded in France, with long dry stretches as well as strong storms. Harvest began August 17th, a month earlier than in 2021, with perfectly ripe grapes. This year's wines are full of tart cherry, cranberry, and the hint of herbs like thyme anchored by good acidity.    

Beaujolais Nouveau for a lighter winter wine

Just as drinking sparkling wine is a great change of pace from the heavier reds we normally pour in winter, so too can drinking Beaujolais Nouveau provide your palate with a fresh, flavorful departure from the big winter reds in many glasses.