It has taken me a VERY long time to even begin to understand Tuscany & the Sangiovese grape variety. Was I waiting for wines which could stand on the same level of pedestal as Bordeaux? I hope not. I have since discovered that I believe the true nobility of Tuscan Sangiovese is not really about showiness or bravado, but rather more about how wonderfully food friendly it really can be. That’s what inspired this particular tasting. 4 Sangiovese based Tuscans….each should shed a different light on what this grape variety is capable of. How often do opportunities like this come about?
2013 Casa alle Vacche Chianti “Colli Senesi”–we absolutely love this style of “country” styled Tuscan red wines. We thankfully finally understand how incredibly food friendly they really are. The 2013 is 85 % Sangiovese – 15 % Canaiolo & Colorino blend of varying percentages….from mid slope–up to 1100 feet elevation in the Colli Senesi appellation. A wonderful example of Tuscan Sangiovese reminiscent of the Old Days in deliciousness, food friendliness & gulpability BUT, with some oak qualities in smell & taste.
2012 Tua Rita “Rosso di Notri”–in comparison, here is a superb, contemporary Tuscan thoroughbred– 50% Sangiovese & 50% (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah) , grown in pebbly soils in the foothills of Suvereto out towards the Tuscan Coast. What a considerable splash Tua Rita has made on the world wine stage with their contemporary crafted Sangiovese based red wines!
2006 Melini Chianti Classico Riserva “La Selvanella”–“La Selvanella was the first wine made from a single vineyard in Chianti and among the first in Italy. Gambero Rosso has declared La Selvanella a “crowning glory” and “standard-bearer of the zone’s most traditional style.” Yes, a 2006 in all its glory!
2006 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino–I don’t really know what to make of all of the different bottling I now see of Brunello di Montalcino. I remember for the longest time in the old days, the standout was Biondi Santi, a winery whose first vintage was in the 1880’s. Then back in the early 1980’s, maybe late 1970’s, Poggio Antico made quite the splash for their rendition. The under dog for me around then was the Carpazo bottling, only because it was spearheaded by superstar consultant, Vittorio Fiore, who introduced me to the wine while on a wine visit to him in Italy sometime in the early 1980’s. Since then, it is like the flood gates have opened for this wine appellation & I have since tried a considerable bunch. Here is one of the standouts for me–a truly superb, majestic, 11 year old Tuscan aristocrat, which was aged for 39 months in 30hl botti & bottled unfiltered, unfined.
A chance to get together to taste wines, talk story & share insight. Thanks to all who came.
2012 Cambiata Tannat “Monterey”–we found this winery sometime back. Our relationship with owner/winemaker Eric Laumann with his Albariño, which stood out among its Californian grown peers, but later very impressed, as well, with his big, black 2004 Tannat red wine beast & its character, texture, remarkable balance despite its enormity. Albarino, Tannat???? Who in their right mind specializes in these kinds of grape variety & challenges & still have a viable business model in California? Here is what Eric has to say about it all–“Cambiata is not your average California winery. I launched Cambiata in 2002. My intention was to make distinctive wines that go beyond the Franco triumvirate of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. Today, we are vinifying a handful of compelling wines from some of California’s scarcest grape varieties including Albariño, Tannat and Dornfelder. We planted our small Tannat vineyard in the rocky and well drained soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Tannat has an incredible ability to absorb oxygen. Technically speaking, the wine is full of procyanidin‐type tannins, which slow the aging and development process to a crawl. While today’s technology has given winemakers aggressive tools to introduce oxygen, at Cambiata we do it the old‐fashion way – extended barrel aging. For our 2012 Tannat it took 28 months before the wine had reached an appropriate balance between fruit and tannin that allowed us to put it into bottle. We fermented the black juice in small open‐top fermenters. The wine was then pressed straight to 60 gallon barrels (100% French, 40% new). Our 2012 Tannat is incredibly deep and concentrated with notes of earth, blackberries, saddle leather and licorice. On the palate it is thick and chewy with bold, well‐integrated tannins“. Our intent was to show the younger generation, “good” wine can be found out of the box, without getting esoteric & trying to carry the next new frontier. In our humble opinion there are opportunities in our VINO restaurant for wines like this…because it is very good……especially for the dollar.
2013 Hilt Pinot Noir “Old Guard”–on one of last trips to Californian wine country, this was THE standout of 8 days of visiting countless wineries, vineyards & tastings. We loved how un-clonal it was, showcasing amazing intensity without any sense of overdone-ness & how seamless, well textured & balanced it really was. We later found out, the core is old vine Mount Eden vine selection (with a little Martini as well), from the iconic Sanford & Benedict vineyard. Their parcel was planted in 1971 on its own roots & organically farmed. (I don’t think the rest of the vineyard is organically farmed). I just to show the tasters what American grown Pinot Noir can be. 2014 Guillemot Savigny-lès-Beaune “Vieilles Vignes”–in comparison, here is a Pinot made in the “old fashion” way. The vines average 55 years in age & are grown in limestone, marl, clay & gravel. I have to say, however, this wine is SOOOO transparent & ethereal–much more about the limestone, especially in taste. I could tell from the tasters’ faces, it was something they were not used too. I understand, as it took quite a long time to understand & appreciate these wines too. The 2014 came from 3 parcels–Planchots de la Champagne, Dessus les Gollardes, Vermots within the village. Here is what importer Kermit Lynch appropriately says–“The Guillemot family has worked Savigny-lès-Beaune vines for eight generations (!) and produces wines with classic Burgundian finesse and balance, all while leaving us a reminder of Savigny’s rustic character. Guillemot is one of the quintessential KLWM producers, with wines that epitomize the local terroir and emphasize grace and elegance over power and structure“.
Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–this particular bottling/producer is one of typical favorites from the Southern Rhone Valley of France. I am the first to admit, these wildly rustic, hearty, masculine red wine beasts are not for everyone. Even the majority of the professional wine community I surmise probably would not tolerate the higher levels of volatile acidity & brett frequently found in these wines. Still, for me, the true soulfulness this wine typically has is the reason I keep coming back for more, which is partly why I therefore presented these 2 wines. In addition, I thought it would be interesting to compare a younger vintage to one completely different in profile AND with a little bottle age. We started with the 2014, as it was showing well right out of the gates—surprisingly approachable, transparent & tame with lower in alcohol & tannin levels. It reminded me of some of the vintages back in the 1980’s which featured rusticity, integrity & soulfulness without so much bravado. I also would add, I cannot wait to try this wine again when it is 10 to 15 years of age, as I think it will be quite the experience! For comparison, we then poured the 2007, a wine now 10 years of age. I remember trying this wine upon release & thinking how humongous it really was–much darker than usual & showing mostly deep, lavish, opulent fruit & a profile I was not used to from this domaine. (Please remember, this was coming after the 2006–which I found to showcase its feral/rusticity & stoniness right out of the gates with lighter coloring & a leaner mouthfeel….& the 2005–which was power packed & such formidable structure). I was anxious to taste the 2007 again, as it had been awhile. In short, despite much early on apprehension, I was mesmerized how gorgeous this wine tasted on this night. OMG! Yes, 10 years of bottle age had done wonders for this behemoth. One memorable facet, was how the visceral, higher alcohol & glycerine levels from the vintage’s generous sunshine added a very different & luscious texture to the wine & the innate rusticity & stoniness was once again shining through, though with seemingly deeper base notes. Wow!
Piemonte Reds–while we all are quite fascinated with the standout style of wines, at VINO, we also work hard to keep an eye out for really good “country” styled wines–those that are delicious, lighter, food friendly & gulpable–& therefore well suited for the dining table. We frequently encounter 2 real challenges on that question, living way out here in the Islands. The first is availability/supply (which is undoubtedly linked to the lack of demand here) of the smaller, true artisan renditions. We instead see examples from large houses or those done, almost as an after thought. Secondly, finding examples which are shipped all the way here in temperature control. Yes, all of this can be quite formidable. We tasted these 2 wines to show participants, it is though possible. In addition, we wanted to show tasters 2 completely different “takes” on what dinner table red wines can be, at least from Piemonte. The 2014 La Palazzotto Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba–we started the duo with this wonderfully delicious, fabulous new “find”. Yes, there are quite a bit of very good Dolcetto based reds available. I, however, don’t run across which catch my fancy like this one did. Why? Because of its real deliciousness. Furthermore, it still has such a wonderful artisan feel & therefore displays the earthiness, muskiness, spices I find in many Piemontese quality reds. In comparison, we then poured the 2015 La Pergola “Il Goccetto”. As VINO regulars well know by now, we have been really searching for well grown & made aromatic wines, both white & red (& I am sure soon to include rose too). They can uplift foods, just as fresh herbs do. Here was our latest arrival, produced mainly from the lighter colored, highly perfumed Brachetto grape variety, along with some Barbera for structure & core. It certainly did not disappoint. The perfume is quite a shock for most. Many wine drinkers today after all been trained in the wine world to think, bigger & darker equates to higher quality, even with innately lighter pigmented grape varieties such as Pinot Noir. Imagine trying these 2 wines with VINO food–whether it is our Braised Spanish Octopus served with a ham hock stew or our homemade fennel sausage pizza! The Dolcetto would be much more classical & the Brachetto would provide a completely different & unique experience. Isn’t that at least part of the fun of pairing wine & food?
We then followed with a duo of exemplary Nebbiolo based Piemontese red wines to remind tasters of the difference between “country”/dinner table wines & more top echelon Piemontese wines. Furthermore, this could hopefully provide a glimpse of how different Barolo & Barbaresco can be. 2012 Cavallotto Barolo “Bricco Boschis”–yes, this is certainly one of our favorite Barolo producers, located in the Castiglione Falletto appellation. The family owns 25ha of prime vineyard, mainly in the Bricco Boschis & Vignolo crus, all organically farmed. We loved the 2012 because of its perfume, purity, vinosity, depth, mojo, structure & balance. It is a real GUN. In comparison, we poured the 2011 Cascina Luisin Barbaresco “Rabaja”. Their winery is located on the ridge lying above the iconic Rabaja cru, right down the road from Giuseppe Cortese, another favorite producer. This estate was founded in 1913, owns 7ha, mostly in the Asili & Rabaja crus. The 2011 was very pretty, seemingly softer, more broad, flatter & approachable than the Cavallotto, yet still showcasing the purity & virility their wines are renown for. This past October while visiting Piemonte, I was reminded how wonderful AND true these 3 producers’ wines are & how each is done with much respect to where they came from.
Loire Valley–this duo centered around the fact that I was able to get a bottle of the much heralded Guiberteau Saumur Blanc “Brézé” on my last trip to Seattle. My point was, while I really respect & appreciate superstar cuvees like this, I wanted to compare it to another producer’s top echelon Loire Valley bottling, Bregeon “Gorges”, just to keep things in perspective. The 2013 Bregeon “Gorges” hails from the western region of the valley, where the greatly under appreciated Muscadet grape variety calls home turf. While many of the soils are marine influenced, mostly sand & fossilized sea critters, this particular producer & his vineyards are planted on “Gabbro soils–an old, blue-green, volcanic rock, rarely found in vineyard land. Formed by magma eruptions under the ocean floor, it is said to impart intense complexity to Michel’s wine“. To add to this wine fulfilling its potential, Bregeon further ages this cuvee for at least 2 years (different vintage to vintage) in subterranean glass cuvees on its lees, all done with a very masterful touch. The 2013 was just SOOOO breathtakingly pure, minerally & delicately nuanced with a distinct, salivating salinity. Eventhough it is quite pricey at roughly $38 a bottle retail, I bought it just because of how good it really is.. In comparison, we poured the much heralded 2012 Domaine Guiberteau Saumur Blanc “Brézé”. This family has owned vineyards in the Saumur appellation for well over 100 years & today headed by Romain Guiberteau, who along with his father reinvented the estate & wines in the 1990’s. The single vineyard La Brézé is their crown jewel & is truly recognized as one of the most profound single terroirs in all of the Loire Valley. Their 1.2ha parcel, is sand & clay on limestone & today organically farmed. A little over 1/2 of the vineyard was planted to Chenin Blanc (the other half Cabernet Franc), planted in 1933 & 1952 (although I believe there are some younger vines scattered here & there). The juice is whole cluster pressed & wild yeast fermented in 1 & 2 year barrels & then aged on it lees for 18 months. This is an example of a SUPER wine. It seems every wine sooner or later features a similar standout. Yes, there is still Beaujolais–light, delicious, unpretentious & carefree….& now there are also SUPER Beaujolais, just as their is Loire Valley Chenin Blanc & now this SUPER version. This is an undeniably “tour de force’ bottling–so mega intense & concentrated, almost to the point of being liquid rock, with a resounding, bordering puckering structure & a strong oak presence, especially on the palate. I suggest those lucky enough to have this wine in their collection, put it away for at least 15 years before trying it. And, while I think the Guiberteau wine is a real trophy & deservedly so, for VINO, we think the Bregeon “Gorges” is much more appropriate, especially with our foods (& targeted price points).
German wines–This duo was to be the final pairing of the night. It wasn’t that long ago where Germany would ripen Riesling typically 2 to 3 vintages out of every 10. This encouraged scientists to work on finding grape vine crossings, which would offer Riesling nobility, but would ripen earlier. One of the most popular crossings developed was Scheurebe. In the old days, I sometimes would pair the quite exotic, fruity styled Scheurebe Spätlese with lighter foie gras dishes as well as with Asian inspired meat/fowl dishes such as Chinese Peking Duck. Not all Scheurebe, however, are equal & one therefore needs to be very selective when purchasing one. Plus, now, because we can essentially get ripe Riesling Spätlese & Auslese more regularly, the demand for Scheurebe for me is far less. Still I thought it would be fascinating to try 2 Spätlese–1 Scheurebe & 1 Riesling–both from the 2008 vintage. The 2008 Pfeffingen Scheurebe Spätlese “Ungsteiner Herrenberg” proved to be quite tropical/exotic fruited in aroma with some gewurz-ish spice & floral nuances. Eventhough it was a more classic vintage, this 2008 was filled with gorgeous, unctuous, ripe, tropical fruit (I suspect more Auslese than actually Spätlese) whose once obvious, apparent sweetness (despite the 10.5 alcohol level) had at least partially morphed into a more tactile, visceral mouthfeel/texture. The 2008 Dönnhoff Riesling Spätlese “Niederhauser Hermannshöhle”, in comparison , was decidedly more about slate/rock character than any kind of fruit–seemingly chiseled out of rock & done with precision & masterful workmanship. Dönnhoff produces wines of immense concentration, elegance & adulterated power with truly majestic pedigree (especially with this vineyard, revered as the finest in the Nahe region) & the innate ability to get better with age. The soils of Hermannshöhle are “mostly black slate with some igneous rock & limestone“. We really treasure vintages like 2008, especially in this day & age, as they can offer wines of such purity/transparency, elegance, refinement & filigree, as was the case here.
2014 Sucette Grenache–here is a standout Grenache from superstar Master Sommelier Richard Betts, certainly worthy enough to measure others by. It is lush, lavish & ripe, yet still remarkably transparent, delicious & surprisingly UN-heavy. Richard selected this parcel of 90 year old vines….own rooted in the sandy soils of Vine Vale (Barossa Valley)—because of the sand & the old vines, both reminiscent of Chateau Rayas of the southern Rhone Valley of France, in addition to the vines being grown in the wild & therefore completely feral. 20 to 40% stems. Basket press. Aged in OLD oak
2011 Sella & Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva–made only in select vintages. 100% Cannonau, 2 to 3 years in old Slavonia oak. There is much discussion about whether the Cannonau grape variety is in fact Grenache or a descendent & even some who think Grenache is a descendent of Cannonau. I’ll leave that to the scientists & wine geek patrol. I think this Sardinian red offers SENSATIONAL VALUE, which is why we put it in this flight with lots of Grenache like qualities, done in a VERY delicious, rustic, food friendly, “country” style of red wine.
2014 Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras–This is undoubtedly one of our favorite Grenache based wine blends, because of its wild/feral edge & soulfulness, in spite of what many wine professionals would say are winemaking “flaws”. That’s is probably why this wine is still so reasonably prices, especially considering the quality & soulfulness the wine innately has. “All of Serge’s seventeen hectares rest on the great Plateau des Garrigues, where red clay, limestone, and the famous galets roulés, or rounded stones, impart a terrific intensity and depth to the wines. Given the aridity of the soil, the vines here are naturally prone to lower yields—this gives the wines their concentration and power. That Serge has been farming organically for years but has never sought certification says something about his philosophy. He is not looking to impress; only to make the best wines he possibly can. 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre & Cinsault. Hand harvested, de-stemmed, wild yeast in cement cuvees & 6 months in old foudres. Bottled unfiltered, unfined”. We are huge fans!
2011 Gramercy Cellars “L’Idiot du Village”--Gramercy is the project of superstar Master Sommelier, Greg Harrington. FYI–Greg used to be the wine director for all of the Emeril Lagasse restaurants & the Wolfgang Puck empire. His highly lauded Washington based winery specializes in Syrah, but also produces a very noteworthy Mourvedre based red shown here. Greg has told me that he feels this grape variety has huge potential in his neck of the woods & we have seen quite the improvement with each vintage he releases. The 91 point rated 2011 “L’Idiot du Village is 90% Mourvedre, 5% each Syrah & Cinsault. The fruit comes from eastern Washington—Olsen (near Red Mountain) & Alder Ridge (Horse Heaven). Roughly 50% whole cluster (dependent on the vintage) & aged for 15 months in old oak. Typically 200 to 350 case production.
2014 Domaine de la Tour de Bon–We decided then to compare the Washington grown Mourvedre with one from the Bandol appellation of Provence, France. “Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests peacefully atop a limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet, in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol. Nestled beneath the mountains to the North, it is a bastion of tranquility, an oasis on the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards The Hocquard family has been farming this land since 1968, though this has been a full-time farm since 1925. Today, Agnès Henry runs the show. Independent, finally set her mind to making them on her own, she hit her stride, crafting wines with power and precision, but also finesse and charm. The domaine is situated at an altitude of 150 meters above sea-level—a high point on this coastal appellation where maritime breezes cool the arid climate. Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock. Brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone have built these vineyards. 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 5% Carignan. de-stemmed. Traditional vinification with indigenous yeasts. age in foudres for 18 months“.
CARIGNANE–We are increasingly more & more intrigued with old vine Carignane & what it has to offer. It started way back when with Californian old vine bottling we discovered here & there over the years. We then became huge fans of bottlings back in the 1980’s we had from Domaine Fontsainte of Corbieres. In our continual search for noteworthy bottlings, here are 3 fabulous, interesting Carignane based red wines that will shed new light on what this grape variety has to offer.
2015 Neyers “Sage Canyon Cuvee”–I always refer to this very special & unique bottling as a homage to the wines of Maxime Magnon (see below). The 2015 is 45% Carignan (vines are 140 years-old), 25% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre and 15% Syrah—heritage/heirloom, foot stomped, wild yeast fermented & then aged in old Oak. Absolutely delicious!!!!!!
2012 Leon Barral Faugères “Jadis”–I believe Didier Barral took over the domaine with the 1993 vintage & as he converted the vineyards & winemaking to a very fanatical uber au naturale mind set, quite candidly there were quite a few of rough patches along the ways. In addition, he relied a lot of the Syrah grape variety as the core for his various bottlings…..with one specific showpiece which was Mourvedre dominated. Somewhere along the way, his appreciation for old vine Carignane grew & so it is thankfully today. We love the deliciousness it brings to the otherwise wild, feral, intriguingly rustic, earthy, core of his wines. “Deep in the heart of the Languedoc, in the Faugères appellation just outside the hamlet of Lenthéric, Domaine Léon Barral is a beacon of revolutionary winegrowing. 50% Carignan, 30% Syrah, 20% Grenache, biodynamically farmed, hand harvested. de-stemmed, however whole clusters are also used. No SO2 is added. vinified in gravity-fed, cement cuves with natural yeasts. lightly pressed with an old, wooden, vertical, basket press. aged for 24 to 26 months in barrel (10% new oak)“.
2014 Maxime Magnon “Rozeta”–Maxime is yet another one of the “young guns” of southern France changing the “game” both in the vineyard, the winemaking & his belief in old vine Carignane. While he produces a few different bottlings, his Rozeta cuvee is typically our favorite, because of its wonderful perfume, vinosity & supreme deliciousmess. “Maxime Magnon is part of one of the most revolutionary wine movements in France. He was fortunate to have purchased some prime parcels of old vines from abandoned plots and rents his cellar—a garagiste if ever there was one. He farms nine parcels over eleven hectares, with steep vineyards that reach high altitudes, and manages it all on his own. Maxime is part of the new wave of passionate viticulteurs who cultivate their vines with the utmost respect for nature and the soil. He’s certified organic, but also incorporates biodynamic practices into his vineyard management. Most of Maxime’s vineyard land is comprised of schist and limestone subsoils in the sub-appellation Hautes Corbières, bordering Fitou to the South. This is incredibly tough terrain to farm in, as there is virtually no top-soil, just pure rock and garrigue. The Corbières “Rozeta” is a blend of these two district terroirs. This blend is particularly unique, from 50 to 60 year old vine Carignan vineyards that are dispersed with numerous varietals of older vines, namely Grenache Gris, Macabou, and Terret, which are all picked and fermented together—a true field blend of the old school. Grapes from field blend are picked and fermented together & aged in old Burgundian barrels from a producer in Chassagne-Montrachet“.
2014 Mollydooker “Blue Eyed Boy”–a lavish, opulent, highly lauded Australian “fruit bomb” in all its glory! The fruit comes from McLaren Vale–Coppermine Road, Long Gully Road & Mollydooker Home vineyards…& Joppich vineyard of Langhorne Creek. Sustainably Grown. Barrel fermented and matured in 100% American oak—70% new; 30% one year old.
2014 Anthill Farms Syrah “Sonoma Coast”–Grown out on the true Sonoma Coast near Annapolis & crafted by a trio of Pinot Maestros. The core comes from 2 main vineyards–Campbell Ranch is a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, near the tiny town of Annapolis, and is farmed by Steve Campbell. At approximately 750 feet above sea level, it sits right at the boundary of the marine layer, ensuring that the cool, coastal climate delays ripening well beyond the warmer vineyards to the east. The two-decade-old vines grow on sandy, low-vigor Goldridge soil, which helps reduce yields to near two tons per acre. The Peters Vineyard Syrah–Randy Peters farms this vineyard outside of Sebastopol in western Sonoma County. The southern slopes of these hills form the northern edge of the Petaluma Gap, which rushes cool, marine air from the Pacific Ocean inland. These Syrah and interplanted Viognier vines, which Randy put in for us just a few years ago, occupy less than an acre at the lowest edge of this cool, foggy vineyard. The entire block produced just above three tons of fruit. I am sure there is fruit from other vineyards blended in too.
2013 Chateau Fontanes Pic St Loup “La Petite Sérine”–Here is an absolutely thrilling, new wine discovery. The conventional Old School thought in the northern Rhone Valley of France is the appreciation of the La Petite Sérine, a selection of the Syrah grape variety made famous by iconic Syrah masters such as Marius Gentaz of Cote Rotie, Chave at hermitage & Noel Verset at Cornas. Here is the results of some cuttings, planted down in the Pict St Loup appellations southern France–organically & biodynamically farmed, & hand-harvested. 60% de-stemmed, wild yeast fermentation in cement tanks, aged in cement tank and foudre that have aged 2, 3, and 4 wines for 3 to 6 months & bottled unfiltered, unfined,
2009 Clape Cornas–One of the “Hall of Fame”, true stalwarts of northern Rhone valley Syrah. “The Clapes farm only eight hectares, the challenge presented by the rough, tightly stacked terrace vineyards of Cornas is largely enough to handle by anybody’s standards. The dicey precipices make using any machinery in the vineyards impossible. All work must be done by hand. There are no official rules to their viticultural methodology—they work the old-fashioned way, by instinct, feeling, and common sense. The vineyards sit on granite subsoil, behind the village, with optimal sun exposure. They farm a number of prime parcels, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset. Whole grape clusters are fermented with natural yeasts in open air cement cuves with punch-downs or pump-overs twice a day over 12 days. Malolactic fermentation occurs in foudre. Then, aged for 22 months in 6 or 12 hl-foudres”. Now, this is Syrah–soulful, profound & worth searching out to taste.
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.”
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.
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 Strip—with 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 Mousse—with 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.
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.
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!
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.