There is no doubt Italy’s Piemonte wine growing region ranks among the world’s most elite.  The appellations of Barolo & Barbaresco, for instance, have been producing majestic, world class red wines for quite some time, each based upon the Nebbiolo grape variety.

Well, wine lovers, the Nebbiolo grape is not the only act in town.

In the old days, Nebbiolo would ripen only 2 or 3 vintages out of every 10.  This extreme marginality is at least partly why the wines are what they are & why they are so treasured. Furthermore, even on the finest hillside sites (called concas), if the aspect changed, even ever so slightly, the risk of ripening Nebbiolo would be even more challenging.  Many families took that opportunity to then plant other grape varieties–Barbera & Dolcetto are the 2 most famous, but the list also included Grignolino, Freisa, Brachetto, Croatina & Ruchè, just to name a few.

Red wines produced from any of these “other” grape varieties, especially if grown on a hallowed Cru hillside could not only be interesting & superb in quality, but also be very well priced too.

In addition, once in a while, one can run across a small, family run estate who actually specializes in the “other” grape varieties.  Such is the case with Cantine Valpane.  Here is an excerpt from their U.S. importer’s website, which will hopefully whet your appetite some.

The stately villa at Valpane overlooked one of the most enviable vineyard sites in the Monferrato, a perfect amphitheater that had been planted with vines since at least the 1700s. Pietro Giuseppe Arditi began working the land in 1900 under a sharecropping agreement, and purchased the estate in 1902.

Although the names Asti and Alba may be more widely recognized today, Pietro explains that the Monferrato provides more faithful expressions of Barbera (& the “other” grape varieties). This is due in part to the warmer climate and longer hours of sunlight here, which allow the grapes to ripen completely and unfurl the full personality of the variety. The Monferrato is also still relatively untamed, and the forests and fields here benefit the area’s vineyards by providing a natural source of variety.”   aa1-ruche

While I thoroughly enjoy & relish Valpane’s Barbera, Freisa & Grignolino bottlings, it is the highly aromatic, light colored, though masculine & virile “Rosa Ruske”, which produced from the nearly forgotten Ruchè grape variety, is a recent & amazing “find” for me.  Thank you, Kermit Lynch.

Yes, this wine does smell like roses….with musk, ferality, spice, earth & sandalwood all intermixed.  Furthermore, you will see the fabulous, innate perfume creates a whole new & unique dynamic with Mediterranean styled foods.  WOW!  These aromatic wines seemingly uplifts foods just as fresh herbs would.

Furthermore, it may be light colored, but this wine still has mojo in the core, all done with deliciousness, balance & lots of charm & personality.

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Again, I believe we as an industry need to spend more time talking about pairing wine & food.  There is never one answer, so dialogue to me just helps imagine the possibilities.  Here is a menu that was just sent to me.  Here is how I approached this challenge.

Another facet of this dinner which should be mentioned & considered is that this is an upscale dinner at an upscale venue.

Well, here goes……….

Spinach Pappardelle–with cider braised pork belly, butternut squash puree, Flathead cherry reduction & a hazelnut-parmesan crisp

So, the first aspects I would notice, wine pairing wise, cider braising, the butternut squash puree & the cherry reduction adds sweetness to the dish.  Therefore, eventhough there is pork belly, my knee jerk reaction would be to look to German “brown” bottle Riesling, at least spätlese quality & probably with some age.   The real key is to find one which has less than 10% alcohol.  The wine’s slight sweetness will help mitigate the dish’s sweetness & if we do one such as from Weingut Gunderloch, the wine’s innate stoniness (from the red slate soils), especially more noticeable with some bottle age, will help accent & uplift the dish’s real savoriness.  Plus, by serving an aged one, the once apparent sweetness will have changed into a more tactile, viscous kind of mouthfeel AND therefore seem less sweet.  Now, the challenge here really is, will the attendees dig have a Riesling with a star chef’s food & during the colder Winter months?  Probably not.  They probably are expecting a red wine.  So….let’s look down that wine road & see if we can come up with something workable.  One thing for sure, we need to minimize the tannin & alcohol levels in the paired wines because of the dish’s sweetness.  I would also hope that we could adjust some of the dish’s components, such as adding some kind of stock to the cider braising liquid, perhaps either char, smoke or grill the butternut squash before pureeing it & add some red wine and/or stock to the cherry reduction.  So, I am sure some would think of an Italian red wine of some sorts.  In most cases, however, I believe the acidity & tannins would be too hard.  Consider instead a Carignane based red, such as the Maxime Magnon “La Démarrante” from Hautes Corbières in southern France.  I think the wine’s wonderful perfume & aromatics would first of all add to the pairing.  Secondly, I am sure Magnon uses some carbonic maceration to make it this wine, which in addition to adding a different dimension to the aromatics, it also enhances the lively, delicious fruit without taking away from the terroir or integrity AND keeping the tannins & alcohol lower.  Lastly, the wine’s innate stoniness would also connect with the earthy, stony qualities of the dish.

Vegetable Consommé–with nutmeg dumpling, carrot, leek, cauliflower & sliced radish

I know some people would immediately say rosé .  If you take this route, then I would recommend a lighter, more ethereal style, like My Essential Rosé from Master Sommelier Richard Betts.  (as an update, the rosé we actually went with the 2015 Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rosé, from France’s Loire Valley, which worked wonderfully).  Soups serve hot, can accentuate the tannins.  If this were a meat based soup, that might be different.  The route to consider is doing a light, wonderfully aromatic white wine such as the Birichino Malvasia Bianca.  If this is the case, I would ask to garnish the soup with some kind of light herb nuance.  You will see how the perfume of the Malvasia & the herb connect & create a wonderful synergy.

Certified Angus Beef, Prime New York Stripwith baby carrot, duck fat roasted Sunset fingerling potato, chimichurri & cherry bomb radish

Not only does this dish sound delicious, it is also one that could work a wide range of red wines.  Choose your foil–New World Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Franc & a host of Old World red wines from places such as Bordeaux, Bandol, Piemonte, Tuscany, Priorat & Cahors just to name a few.  Because at our VINO restaurant, our chimichurri is bay leaf driven, my first choice would be a slightly aged Old World Syrah based red.  The one that immediately comes to mind is the 2005 Clape Cornas.  While Thierry Allemand is generally recognized as the current generation headliner from the Cornas appellation, I really love the wildly rustic, soulful renditions from Clape & Verset.  And, it is really is that gamey/feral/green peppercorn/andouille sausage nuances which is why it was selected in this instance.  Furthermore, the 2005 still has a very youthful, virile core & structure which can readily handle this dish, yet with development & a rounder edge because of the 11 years of bottle age.  I had also considered the 2005 Domaine Grange des Pères from southern France as another viable option.  A blend of Syrah & Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon & Counoise (% of each change vintage to vintage), I look at this wine as a wild, rustic thoroughbred with lots to say, but in a much more civil, classy manner than Cornas.  As with the Cornas, we look at the 2005, because it still has mojo to its core, but with much more harmony because of the 11 years of bottle age.

Dulcey Moussewith salted caramel sauce, dark chocolate flourless cake & feulletine crunch

Our first choice was the 2012 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls “Rimage”–a fortified, old vine Grenache (10% Carignane) grown  down in southern France, roughly 2 kilometers from the Spanish border.  This wine was seemingly crafted for desserts like this.  We suggest you serve it well chilled.


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I find that so exciting that more and more people than ever ask me for advice on what wine to serve with their meal, whether in their home or dining out.  Not only can wine make food taste better, but food can make wine taste better too. And, for the adventuresome, the possibilities seem endless.

Here are some ideas which I hope will spur further interest into this subject.

2014 Chateau des Deux Rocs Rose–is a dry, fairly masculine, earth nuanced pink wine from the hills of southern France near the Mediterranean.  One can smell the wild countryside that surrounds the vineyards which adds to the interestingness of this wine. Where many people are still quite apprehensive of wines colored pink, if you closed your eyes and then tasted it, I think most tasters would think it is white, perhaps with a little more stuffing and mojo. The role at the dinner table I am really hoping wine lovers will consider, is keeping the palate refreshed and attentive, just as cranberry does at the Thanksgiving feast.

Consider, for instance serving this wine with Roasted Bone Marrow—simply roasted with salt, pepper and bread crumbs. At VINO, we serve it with roasted Roma tomatoes, braised short rib ragout and Nalo Farms greens tossed with lemon vinaigrette. Although we originally added this dish to our menu for red wines because of richness and savoriness, I now find roses like this actually a more interesting pairing.

Another dish one could have fun with by serving this wine would be octopus marinated in olive oil, rosemary and garlic and then braised in red wine to tender. At VINO, we season with cumin, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil before serving in a ham hock stew. The wine really works its magic with the octopus, the stew is optional. As a side note I love octopus and regularly enjoy roses as long as there is no Asian inspired qualities to the preparation.

For more comfort, homey foods, these kinds of pink wines also work with all kinds of pizzas, especially those using tomato sauce bases. In addition, try wines like this with richer soups such as oxtail, pig’s feet or beef luau (no coconut please).  I also greatly enjoy well chilled roses for the barbecue occasions. They help off set the heat and certainly quench the thirst, all at a reasonable price.

2014 Maior de Mendoza Albarino “Fulget”–is a wonderfully perfumed, dry, captivating white wine from Rias Baixas, Spain. I adore the wine’s enticing, exotic aromatics which is greatly accented by the uplifting edge the minerality adds. From my point of view, these kinds of really fragrant nuances uplift foods, just as fresh herbs would. And, to make a pairing with this wine even better, one just has to add fresh herbs to the dish, as they will just connect and create great synergy and electricity which will surprise you.

Consider, for instance, just seasoning and then searing a fish like mahimahi in a very hot pan with a bit of olive oil, 2 minutes on one side, and another 2 minutes on the other (time is dependent on how thick the fillet is and how hot the pan is). Set the fish aside, deglaze the pan with white wine, add some lemon, reduce and just melt in some butter and finish with a generous sprinkling of diced fresh herbs. To make this an even more eye opening experience, now try this dish with a Californian Chardonnay, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and this wine. Most tasters will be familiar with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and what they do with foods. I am hoping, though, you will have a whole new experience when the fresh herbs connect with the Albarino and the wine’s lemony edge cuts through the fishiness and oils of the fish. And, when one considers the price, hopefully, you will add yet another wine to your dining table repertoire.  One could easily do similar kinds of pairings with shrimp, scallop, crab and lobster dishes. The key is really the fresh herb sprinkle and no oriental ingredients.

2013 Sella Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva”–is a wonderfully delicious, wildly rustic Grenache based red wine from the picturesque isle of Sardegna, located off the west coast of Italy. Here is yet another “country” styled red wine, which greatly over delivers for the dollar.  Not only is this wine so tasty and interesting, it can work with a wide range of foods because of its lush, rounder edges. You will find “country” styled wines like this really do have an amazing affinity with a wide range of foods.

Consider comfort foods like meat loaf, red pasta dishes and pizza at home and roast chicken like we do at VINO, with a Tuscan bean stew or with savory pork chops dishes are also pairings worth experiencing.   At home, we like to barbecue sausages and serve them with roasted red and yellow peppers (a dash of red wine deglazed and a bit of fresh thyme) with wines like this.   In each case, I would recommend you stick the bottle in the refrigerator for 8 minutes or so, before serving.

Along the Mediterranean basin, having wines with these kinds of foods is a way of life. Hopefully, this will help encourage you down that road. I really think one can have a lot of fun and interesting experiences pairing wines and foods, without a lot of fanfare.

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Here is a tasting we put together for our staff & other young sommeliers on wines from France’s Loire Valley.

For this tasting, we divided the Loire Valley into 4 main subregions–Nantes to the west, & then heading east from there–Anjou (colored in fusha); Touraine (colored in red wine stain) & finally the Central vineyards, located in the far eastern stretches of this map.

We then set up the tasting order by grape varieties & comparing them, which we hoped would provide additional insight.

FIRST FLIGHT–Red wines.  The 1st two wines were produced from the Cabernet Franc grape variety, one from Chinon & the other from Bourgueil across the river.

2014 Chinon, Charles Joguet “Cuvee Terroir”.  Charles Joguet produces several different bottlings of Chinon.  We chose the “entry” level bottling, named Cuvee Terroir”–a blend between a parcel from Beaumont-en-Véron with the alluvial soils of the left bank of the Vienne River, along with press wine from all the other cuvées of the domaine.   This wine deftly displayed very typical qualities of Chinon Cabernet Franc–lots of transparent red fruit, intriguing spice, notable minerality & the distinct “green thing” with higher levels of acidity, bordering lean for most Californian wine palates & low to medium tannin levels.  Tasters could readily see the difference between what the Loire Valley typically offers in comparison to what one would find from Bordeaux’s Right Bank or California.  We then poured the 2014 Bourgueil, Chanteleuserie “Beauvais” 2014.  The vines for this cuvee was planted in 1971 on clay limestone & fermented & aged in old oak.  The most obvious difference to tasters is how much more this wine had to say, not so much in loudness or ripeness, but really more about intricacy & detail.  Most would surmise this is from the older vines & the layering created by the length in the older oak barrels.  This side by side taste certainly made one remember that not all Cabernet Francs are created equal.  We then poured a Pinot Noir from Reuilly, Denis Jamain 2014 from the Central Vineyards to the east.  This small artisan estate is quite renown for their Kimmeridgian limestone soils.  The 4 hectare parcel where this wine was grown has a little more clay to the mix & the vines average 25 years in age.  It was quite evident that the tannin structure was very different from the first 2 Cabernet Franc based reds & it was definitely lighter in color.  This wine was also not as forthcoming–much more delicately nuanced, pretty & ethereal with more minerality than fruit.  It was also much lighter in weight & mojo.


SECOND FLIGHT–2 white wines from the Nantes.

The first wine was the 2014 Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Bregeon “Sur Lie”.   When I was growing up in this industry, I was told, if the wine is really neutral tasting with a prickle of bubbles, it is probably Muscadet.  It is probably because we were able to only find commercial grade examples AND ones that were not shipped in temperature control or from a fresh new vintage.  Times have thankfully greatly changed & my new favorite is from Andre & Michel Bregeon.  In a region where sandy; fossilized oyster shells are common, the Bregeons grow their wines in gabbro soils.  They also wild yeast ferment & age their wines on the lees in underground, glass-lined cuves until bottling. As pure & typical as can be.  They also produce a tiny bit of Gros Plant du Pays Nantais in a small ¾ of a hectare parcel, also of gabbro soils & aged for 18 months on the lees.  We thought, this would provide an interesting comparison


THIRD FLIGHT–2 Sauvignon Blancs from the Central Vineyards.

I was once told, this winegrowing features a collision of 4 different main soil types.  Therefore understanding what soil type your vines grow in, will help you better understand the resulting wine.  The 2014 Reuilly, Denis Jamain “Les Pierres Plates”, for example,  “is an ancient winemaking village that today has only about 300 acres in vines.  Our bottling, Pierres Plates, is from a specific vineyard with Chablis-like soil full of chalk, fossils and sea shells.  Try to imagine Sancerre grown at Chablis.  The fruit is lively, with white flower perfumes, citrus and minerality.  It has finesse and precision”.  The 2015 Pouilly Fume, Regis Minet “Vieilles Vignes” —in comparison comes from a prized vineyard which sits at 750 feet elevation & has scattered pieces of flint in addition to the clay limestone soils.  This gives their Sauvignon Blanc a very different, more pronounced presence & broader paint brush stroke.



FOURTH FLIGHT–2 Chenin Blanc based white wines–1 from Touraine & 1 from Anjou.

We began with the 2012 Jasnieres, Pascal Janviers.  It’s not often that we run across a Jasnieres, especially a good one, so we were thankful that Brian brought us this one to share. Jasnieres is from the northern reaches, along the Loir tributary & generally regarded as the coolest of the subregions. Clay, limestone, sand & flint soils, Pascal farms 66 different parcels (a total of 9 hectares). A very different take on Chenin Blanc.  In comparison, we followed that with the 2008 Savennieres, Chateau D’Epire, a very different take on what Chenin Blanc can be.  It took me a very long time trying to understand what Savennieres wines want to say.  I find the wines to be so severe, very austere, hard & masculine, often unforgiving in its youth.  The nose is quite unique in its blend of honey, beeswax, floral, flinty/matchstick nuances.  Savennieres is located in the Anjou sub-region & the top soil is blue-gray slate which lies atop sandstone & slate. With some bottle age, however, the nose can become glorious & the mouthfeel much more luscious texturally.  Eventhough we poured one with some bottle age, I would say, it REALLY needs much, much more.  This wine really does need LOTS of time to resolve itself.  Wow!  What a difference–the same grape variety, grown in relatively close proximity–resulting in such VERY different wines????



FIFTH FLIGHT–2 Chenin Blanc whites from Vouvray (in Touraine) & the standout Champalou winery.

Here is yet 2 other examples of what the Chenin Blanc wants to say.  We start with the 2015 Vouvray, Champalou.  This is to me, the very best of the Loire Valley has to offer—such, mesmerizing purity, remarkable lightness on the palate, wonderful ethereal-ness/minerality, seamless texture & a precise, delicious, sweet-sour edge.  The 2015 Vouvray, Champalou “La Moelleuse” is in comparison, a late harvest wines–produced from grapes which are sorted by hand in order to best select botrytized berries & the ones with the largest concentration of sugar from raisining (passerillage). The level of botrytis in the grapes used to make this wine depends on the vintage. Definitely not as severe or hard as some of the Coteaux du Layon wines can be.

Hopefully a tasting like this gives participants a base to work from.  The first goal was to show tasters what I think are “good” wines.  Secondly, hopefully one can now ask better questions moving forward.

Thank you all for coming & sharing!

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Side by Side wine tasting

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A fun way to better understand the world of wines is through comparative, side by side winetastings.  One example would be to do side by side tastings featuring wines from the Old World & wines from the New World.

Examples of the New World include wines from California, Washington, Oregon, New Zealand, Australia, Chile & Argentina.  Often these countries label their wines by the grape variety—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec for instance.

In comparison, examples of the Old World would include wines from France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece and Portugal.  Their top tier wines are usually named after the place where the grapes are grown—Pouilly Fuisse, Chianti Classico and Piesporter Goldtröpfchen for instance.

To better understand this concept, think about the Kula onion.  There is something special about the area of Kula on Maui which results in a special onion.  Neighboring Makawao or the rest of Maui for that matter, the onion is not quite as special.  Well, that’s kind of how it works in the Old World with wines.  Please remember they have had centuries of finding those special places which result in unique wines.

So, an interesting comparison, for instance, would be to taste a New Zealand grown Sauvignon Blanc (2013 Mohua “Marlborough”) next to a Sauvignon Blanc from France’s Loire Valley (Domaine du Salvard Cheverny).

I find the Mohua to smell of all kinds of exotic fruit nuances—melons, kiwi, ruby grapefruit and even guava/passion fruit.  The fruit also carries through to the taste with a lip smacking, uplifting lemon/lime kind of crispness which really can get the digestive juices flowing.

In comparison, the Cheverny (the name of the village it is from) seems so light in color, almost water looking.  The nose is quite deceptively and unexpectedly explosive, also displaying lots of fruit nuances with a much stronger mineral component (think of wet rocks).  The wine has an understated and remarkable intensity/concentration to the taste without any sense of heaviness and is very long on the palate.  I also love how amazingly light this wine is on the palate.

Now here is the kicker to me and how tastings like this can help tasters.

New Zealand has made quite the reputation world wide for their Sauvignon Blancs.  Where there used to be only a few renditions available retail here in the Islands, now there are so many choices today.  The challenge now becomes to find the good ones, especially at affordable prices.  Here is one worth searching for.

On the other hand, who ever heard of Cheverny?  And, how many people run to the store to buy the latest vintage?  Having said that, Cheverny helps me satisfy my sense of adventure and discovering something new and good!  The soils for this bottling is meager sandy and clay and the climate cool, all which translates in strong sense of place in this wine.  Furthermore, the Loire Valley of France, just so you know, is where Joan of Arc did her crusades and where Leonardo Da Vinci chose to be buried.  This estate was founded in 1898, through five hardworking generations of the Delaille family.   So, besides sense of place, there is also history, culture and heritage involved here, which find so intriguing and interesting as this helps to make the wine what it is.  AND, all of this at under $18 a bottle!

Another interesting comparative tasting would be to taste the Ernesto Catena Cabernet Sauvignon “Tahuan” side by side with the Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès”.

The Tahuan bottling is the wine project of Ernesto Catena, the son of iconic Argentina mogul Nicolas Catena.  The vineyards lie high in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and are organically farmed.  How can one not love the elegance, class, seamless texture and tastiness of this wine?

In comparison,  how many readers ever heard of or even know what Vin de Pays d’Oc Rouge “Les Traverses de Fontanès” means?  I would have asked something along those lines until I visited the estate to see the vineyards and tasted their wines.  There is nothing fancy or “trophy” about this small, family owned domaine located down in southern France.  This is the work of a young couple, farming and producing small amounts of wines how their families did before (except they now organically and biodynamically farm) to make a living to raise their 2 young children.  What struck me most of our visits there was how I could smell the intoxicating sun baked rocks and wild shrub and wild herbs which surround the vineyard. And, then to smell them again in the finished wine reminds of their strong “sense of place” presence in the wine’s core.   I didn’t mention that this wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon (40 year old vines) on purpose, because this wine is not at all about a grape variety.  It really is about a sense of place and a family who lives and is part of that sense.

There are many different levels one can create with side by side tastings.  Most people try to find wine they prefer.  One winner, one loser.  In each of the duos above, I instead look for “good” wines, which have something to say in their own way.  AND, when takes a closer look at the prices, these 4 wines do so while greatly over delivering quality for the dollar.

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Something Interesting to Read

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A Piemonte update

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We just came back from Piemonte, Italy, a month or 2 ago.  While to most visitors it may seem things haven’t changed much over the years, to me it has.

Please remember this was a region where once upon a time the Nebbiolo grape variety was lucky to ripen 2 or 3 vintages out of every decade, at least enough to produce a stately, eye catching Barolo or Barbaresco.  One could therefore safely say the Langhe hills was a very marginal growing region for the Nebbiolo grape, therefore quite challenging to produce true magic.

In comparison to the old days, consider the wonderment of a string of recent, highly accoladed vintages–2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2001 & 2000.

Yes, I would say things have changed & Nebbiolo is certainly now more than ever the center of attention…..AND in a big way.  (I was, in fact, utterly amazed how at the producers we visited, they were essentially sold out of everything).

Furthermore, since we were there right in the middle of harvest, I would also note that 2016 looks to be another vintage worth buying.  aa2-la-morraaa2-barolo-hillside

This trip to Italy really wasn’t about wine, so our winery & vineyard visits & times were quite limited.  When we first drove into the region, we were drawn to the La Morra hillside, it was that breathtaking, especially this time of the year, full of grapes & workers buzzing around.  Some of the grapes were already harvested & others were just waiting to be plucked.  Yes, it look to be another successful crop.  The Nebbiolo grapes we tried from Cru vineyards such as aa2-barolo-vinesaa2-barolo-grapesaa2-nebbioloBrunate, Cannubi, Cerequio, Rocche & Bricco Boschis, although quite different in taste & character, the grapes we randomly tasted seemed to have wonderful ripeness & superb physiological maturity.  Furthermore, watching the faces & expressions of the winemakers, as they tasted the grapes coming into their winery, they seemed quite happy with the quality.

Our first official stop of the morning was with Elena Penna & her husband/winemaker Luca Currado of Vietti.  As Barolo followers well know, Vietti is & has been one of the true pillars of Barolo wines.  Although some might say this is a traditional minded winery, there is some modern innovations & thinking going on at this estate.  I would also venture that since the estate was recently sold to an American family, it is inevitable there will be further changes down the road.   Still, on this day, Elena was at her best–BIG personality, just full of life, passion, so exuberant & so charming.  How can one not love her?  The estate has roughly 37 hectares (30 owned & 7 leased).  The vineyards are farmed organically & biodynamically.  Their main Crus–Villero (1.3HA old, 1HA new); Brunate (2.2HA, planted in 1965), Lazzarito (roughly 4HA, planted in 1965); Ravera (7HA, planted in 1999 & 2000) ( Rocche di Gastiglione (2.2HA, planted in 1961).  aa1-scarrone

In between grape deliveries, Luca would come in & out & taste the wines with us.  Each of the wines tasted were stellar.  I was especially, however, taken by the 2013 Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Scarrone”.  This is truly some kind of Barbera.  Luca, in fact, convinced his father this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) should be planted to the Barbera grape instead of Nebbiolo.  And, so it was in 1989 & 1990.  This was a REALLY big deal!  Such a big leap of faith to say the least!  I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement.  Truly a standout!

I was also quite taken with the 2013 Nebbiolo “Perbacco”.  (We also had had the 2012 the night before at a restaurant in Alba the night before).  The wine had such elegance & class AND WAY over delivered for the dollar.  I wasn’t at all surprised, given the innate class both wines deftly displayed, that both vintages were comprised of some noteworthy Barolo vineyards.  aa1-brunateaa1-rocche

Lastly, we tasted all 5 of their 2012 single vineyard designated Barolo.  While each of them were truly superb & for different reasons, I was especially drawn to the 2012 “Brunate” & the 2012 “Rocche di Castiglione”, each being a scant 300 case production in 2012.  The 2012 Barolo “Brunate” (the vines planted in 1956 & 1964) was resoundingly Grand Cru like in quality, if there was such a thing.  It was that good!  It was rich, savory with deep, provocative character, umami & vinosity with saddle leather, bay leaf, sandalwood, roasted chestnut nuances & a distinct rose petal like quality in the finish.  The 2012 Barolo “Rocche di Castiglione”, on the other hand, was totally all about pedigree & vinosity from the very first whiff–majestic & aristocratic, done with refinement & style.

aa2-robertoOur next stop was at Giacomo Conterno.  The winery is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno.  The estate vineyard, Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera.  In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera).  Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different.  In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard (100% Nebbiolo).  “Monfortino” is the estate’s top wine–(a concept hard for me to explain, as sometimes in parcels which standout in the vineyard or lots which standout in the winery & is produced only in certain years–by Conterno himself.  There was, for instance, NO Monfortino made in 2003, 2007, 2009, 2011 & 2012).

The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness character.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame.

We then continued with the 2012 Barolo “Francia”–very majestic, magnificent, elegant with tar, roses, musk & lots of pedigree.  The 2012 Barolo “Ceretta”, in contrast, was seemingly more forward, riper, bigger tannins with a savoriness & distinct bay leaf nuance & a rose petal-ness in the finesse.

All 4 wines displayed terrific presence, style, balance & top tier quality & in my opinion well deserved of their high level of respect & acclaim.

Having said that, the 2010 Barolo “Monfortino” was on a whole ‘nother level.  OMG.  In the past, I found some vintages of Monfortino to be somewhat over the top & actually too much for me.  This was NOT the case with the 2010.  Yes, it was more intense, concentrated with much mojo than the younger 2012 “Francia”, but was at the same time amazingly pure with breathtaking depth, intricacy & with such grandeur & pedigree.  It certainly WOW-ed me that’s for sure.  (BTW & FYI–in 2013 there will be NO “Francia”….all 100% “Monfortino”….which should tell you something about what Roberto thinks of the vintage).  aa1-cortese  aa2-cavallotto aa2-mascarello

We also did a quick jaunt to taste/buy some other Piemontese producers of which the 2 we were most impressed with was Giuseppe Cortese (Barbaresco & his “Rabaja” bottling) & Cavallotto (Barolo & his “Bricco Boschis” bottling).  Both were sold out of 2010, 2011 & aa1-cortese-bottlesaa1-cortese-rabaja-132012 & we tried in vain to get some 2013.  We were especially fortunate at Giuseppe Cortese, however, as he had some open bottles of older vintages we could try.    I must say, the 2005 & the 1998 were in real sweet spots right now.  I could go on & on about these 2 standout producers & their wines, but let’s just say these are 2 stars well worth seeking out, especially if you are looking for pure, elegant, refined, more traditional minded Nebbiolo.

Finally, let me just say, I am also in awe every time I have the opportunity to visit Rabaja.  Whether it is considered a vineyard or a hillside, the answer depends on who you speak to.  In any case, one thing is certain….this is certainly one of those special, unique sites for Nebbiolo.  aa1-cortese-rabaja5aa1-cortese-rabaja2aa1-cortese-rabaja3aa2-barbaresco

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We recently did a winetasting in VINO, featuring 4 interesting wines from southwest France.

Marcillac, Domaine du Cros

The appellation of Marcillac is found in the western part of Auvergne, nestled in the mountain range known as the Massif Central. Philippe Teulier’s vines lie at elevations as high as 450 meters on a few different steep, rocky hillsides that surround the village of Clairvaux. Much of his vineyard is terraced and the soil is an iron rich clay known locally as “rougier” with outcroppings of limestone. His wines are made from one grape type, the local grape of Marcillac, Fer Servadou”.  The 2014 is masculine, quite savory in its core, interesting & really delivers for the dollar.

Cahors, Chateau La Grave

Deep in the southwest of France, amidst dramatic rock formations and cliffs, the Lot River slowly snakes its way along the valley floor, coiling covetously around the charming town of Cahors. A.O.C. Cahors is known as the “black wine” of the Southwest—the deeply inky, earthy wines–is also the birthplace of Cot, the grape more commonly known as Malbec”. Here is a new project for the Bernède family –100% Malbec from a vineyard right down the road. “It is increasingly rare to see a Cahors, which consists exclusively of the native Malbec, or Côt, as it is locally known. Without any Merlot to soften it, this Cahors is decidedly old-fashioned, with a deep black robe and earthy, chewy tannins to frame the ripe, juicy fruit that seems to jump out of the glass”.  As far back as I can remember, Cahors was readily referred to as black wine, so on this day I expected it to be dark & impenetrable.  It was not, although it was still very masculine, savory, structured & virile with lots of earth, spice & mojo.  This is another wine which really over delivers for the dollar.

Irouléguy, Domaine Arretxea

Irouleguy is one of the smallest appellations in southwest France. It is surrounded on three sides by Spain, France and the Basque, which at least partially explains its unique foods, wines & sub-culture. “The majority of their eight hectares are planted to the native grape varietals, Tannat for the red. The sandstone soils of Irouléguy are ideal for these grapes because they are streaked with iron oxide, mica, silica, limestone, clay, and dolomite. The mineral diversity lends an intensity to the wines, making them wild, earthy, tannic, and rich in spicy aromas. Full southern exposure allows the Riouspeyrous to achieve ripeness in these cooler climate vineyards. They vinify each terroir individually through traditional vinification methods.” This is a hearty, robust, masculine red wine, one not for the feint hearted or those looking for New World fruit bombs.

Jurançon, BruBaché

A VERY unique & special white wine produced from “10 hectares of terraced schist & limestone vineyards along steep slopes surrounded by breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains that crown the Basque country. This is Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng, all biodynamically farmed”.

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a Duo of Italians

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At our VINO restaurant, we are constantly looking & tasty Italian wines to add to our offerings.  Here are a couple, which came highly recommended–“trophy” styled wines–which is a category really growing in popularity across the country.  They are certainly each mega intense & are very swashbuckling in style.  We, however, only bought one of them.

2011 Dipoli Sauvignon Blanc “Voglar”–here is a Sauvignon with the presence & swag of early Didier Dagueneau bottlings, similarly produced from the aa1 voglarvision & passion of one man.  The importer noted–“a pure Sauvignon Blanc grown in chalky dolomitic limestone soils on near-vertical slopes (1800 to 2000 feet in elevation), fermented and aged in acacia casks—is characterized by gorgeous exotic fruit with abundant minerality“.  This wine is certainly a “stand alone” star–really mega intense & structured, yet is still so pure, quite stylish & refined.

aa1 braida2009 Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”–Barbera is a grape variety which has a lot of interesting attributes.  The challenge pre-mid 1980’s, was finding ways to harness its mojo in fulfilling its real potential.  Braida was certainly one of the stars to bring this grape variety to the limelight with their Uccellone bottling.  It was also suggested to me to search for Barbera in the Asti appellation, as the Alba appellation usually reserved their best sites to the Nebbiolo grape variety, which is how I came upon 3 producers–Coppo, La Spinetta & Braida.  The Bricco dell’ Uccellone bottling hails from the Rocchetta Tanaro vineyard, located roughly 500 to 600 feet in elevation with predominately clay & sandy soils, which helps in the savory, masculine edge the resulting wines have.  The 2009 was aged in French barrique (225 liter) for 15 months.  Definitely a stud to search out for, although insiders would say the high acclaim certainly has decreased the availability & increased the prices.

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Lavantureux Chablis

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Lavantureux has been one of our favorite wine producers since the 1980’s. We love and have loved the stark, authentic, mesmerizing purity of their wines, which hail from the limestone soils of Chablis. I once read, “NO nonsense wines with show stopping nerve”, which is certainly and completely apropos. “The region is best-known for the Kimmeridgian soils, a highly-prized terroir of limestone and clay infused with tiny, fossilized oysters. The intense chalk and sea-shell minerality lends deep complexity to whites”. Furthermore, I have admired how tasty, honest, artisanal & personal their wines really are…….always at a truly remarkable price, given what’s in the bottle. There are not many wineries singing a song their own way like Lavantureux. Here are three of their offerings we tasted & bought recently. Wines like this just don’t happen along. Don’t miss out.

2014 Petit Chablis 

aa1 box“The Portlandian soils in the extension of the Chablis appellation, known as Petit Chablis, may not enjoy the same reputation as the Kimmeridgian, aa1 Petithowever they imbue the wines with a crisp, lively freshness and zesty, citrus aromas that speak to the deep mineral component of northern Burgundy. There is no accounting for these imaginary boundaries. As Roland once told Kermit Lynch, his US importer– “I don’t know why the INAO named some vines ‘Chablis’ and others ‘Petit.’ When I stand in the middle of my vineyard, the row to my left is Chablis, to the right it is Petit Chablis, but you can’t see any difference.” Fermented and aged in stainless with five to ten months on the lees, depending on the vintage.  Of the 3, this seems to be the lightest in weight and with more etherealness to the minerality & therefore  a wider window of foods one can work with.

2014 Chablis   aa1 chablis

This was the bottling which originally captured my attention and spurred my imagination. Yes, this is Chardonnay in its purest form—so transparent, minerally lively and zesty. In the old days, we would offer such a wine with raw oysters. While other producers may offer a Chablis bottling, I haven’t had one this artisanal, personal and sincere. “This wine drinks as honestly as the man who made it”. Typically 70% stainless and 30% older five to six year old barrels (something his sons added to the winemaking).

2013 Chablis Grand Cru “Vaudésir”  aa1 Garnd Cru

In the beginning I recall there only being two Lavantureux bottlings. The sons added other bottling including this one2.6 hectares of 60 year old vines. This wine is therefore VERY different than what Roland would make, as it is barrel fermented (partially stainless steel)—with aging in old oak with roughly 15% in new oakGrand Cru….baby……that tastes like chiseled rock–pure & majestic.

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