If you have a moment, this is a pretty good read that I feel translates into our current state here in Hawaii.
The last sommelier standing — where are all S.F.’s wine pros?
Here is an article I received from a friend, which I think you might find interesting. Even if it were only partially true, I would still find it quite unsettling.
I believe we should look to applaud & grow the concept of a TRUE sommelier in mid to upper tier restaurants.
In the old days we had sommeliers here is the islands at top echelon restaurants such as Bagwell’s 2424, Michel’s, Third Floor, Kahala Hilton, Kapalua Bay Hotel & later the Halekulani just to name a few. Times have really changed since then. Part of the reason is for many restaurants, food, ambiance & service are the top priorities & wine usually is further down the priority list. The upper echelon of operations, therefore, took the labor dollars (inclusive of commissions) & re-allocated them.
In the late 1980’s, the culinary phenomenon, Roy’s Restaurant, created quite a splash here is Hawaii because of the unique, dynamic & ground breaking cooking genius of visionary chef Roy Yamaguchi & a very thought provoking, well selected wine program spearheaded by Managing Partner Randy Caparoso. They certainly set a new standard with their highly innovative food & wine program, not only locally, but nationally & internationally as well.
Fortunately, since then, we have seen a resurgence of the sommelier position in bigger mainland cities such as New York, Los Angeles & San Francisco.
The article linked above, however, intimates otherwise in San Francisco.
Although quite controversial to say the least, especially after viewing other blogs & comments from sommelier friends on the merit & credibility of his assessments, his article does bring up some pertinant & valid questions.
Here are some of my thoughts on sommelier-ing, for whatever it’s worth.
How many sommeliers, for instance, truly provide expertise rather than just salesmanship?
As an important as a chef is in providing expertise, so is a sommelier (& a mixologist) today, in addition to providing another viable revenue source for the restaurant.
Expertise is the key word .
Let’s first consider the wine list.
I try to always remember that as a wine buyer for our restaurants, my job isn’t to find & select wines that I like. I can do that for my personal home use. The goal would be to create a list which offers a smartly selected matrix of wines which can appeal to as wide a spectrum of potential buyers as possible…..another words try to have something for everybody.
The foundation would be selecting good, interesting wines. In this day & age of how important marketing & branding is, the art of a restaurant or retail store selecting “good” wines is getting lost to the concept of large, totally recognizable brands. I suggest we as an industry should therefore spend more time understanding and sharing the concept of what a “good” wine is.
From there, I would want to make sure I spend my budgeted dollars wisely & smartly. That for every dollar that I spend the restaurant is getting as much quality as possible. This is especially important in the value oriented categories, so that one can offer a better balanced list, in terms of price to quality, as opposed to one which is stacked mostly with high priced wines or the hottest, new labels.
Since we have 8 different restaurants in our group, hopefully we can create a list which fits in with the schtick & targeted clientele of each restaurant AND, at the same time we also include & look to grow the number of wine selections which are better suited for our foods.
I also believe a sommelier should really work to be more effective in training the staff and looking to nurture & grow a following of both staff & potential & existing clientele.
There really is an art to nurturing customers into better understanding & appreciating what is good wine, and/or what goes well with the foods they are eating.
Sommelier-ing is therefore a craft, a skill, just like a plumber or carpenter is & therefore this skill should shine on the job site, which in this case in the restaurant floor.
Part of that skill set is the ability to make a connection with the customer, which includes creating a comfort zone/trust with each guest. This to me is even more important than being an encyclopedia of knowledge.
Sommeliers are, after all, part of a service industry. How many sommeliers think of themselves as experts on wine & often act more like professors, rather than servers?
Can you imagine a caddy telling Tiger Woods, “no you shouldn’t use the 9 iron”? Or a butler telling their host, “no you shouldn’t have coffee after 10pm?” The caddy’s job is to serve Tiger. He should know when to talk, when not to; when to walk 5 feet behind or right next to him; when to wipe the ball, etc, so that all Tiger really needs to concentrate on is striking the ball with the right swing & tempo. That takes experience, astute observation & much preparation.
I am hoping those working in a restaurant understand a similar thought.
The wine list then can be as creative as your food menu is. And, therefore, if a server can sell a highly innovative sushi or fish dish, then they (or a sommelier) should have the ability to make some interesting recommendations so that at least some of those who ordered the dish, will try a wine with it & therefore enjoy a more complete dining experience.
How does serving a brand X Chardonnay, which sells like crazy at Costco or Safeway, work equally with a fish dish done with a tomato sauce, teriyaki sauce or a butter sauce?
I suggest & hope we as a professional community here in the Islands, will look to band together & help nurture wine (& food) to more & more people, just for pure enjoyment, not only the latest hottest wine or the most recognizable label, but more along looking to have a glass with the next meal.
I grew up in this industry working with & around more classical fare. With the advent, however, of fusing Asian & European cooking styles, it was a time to think out of the box in order to better understand what worked & what didn’t with this dynamic new culinary frontier.
What became more evident over time & much experimentation, was what Asian foods clashed with most was alcohol, heat & saltiness. Essentially, alcohol became much more glaring; oak seemed bitter & bitterness seemed somehow even way more bitter.
We found that wines lighter, fresher, more fruity, less extracted & lower alcohol levels worked much better with a wider gamut of Asian influenced foods.
More recently, we have also been quite fascinated how aromatic grape varieties can add a whole ‘nother dimension to the pairings. The challenge, of course, is finding really good ones.
Here are some examples of pairings we have recently done in Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, which hopefully help you better understand what we mean.
WINE: Domaine Skouras “Zoe”–to make this dish more wine friendly, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas’ Chef John Iha added a potato puree for richness. Furthermore, the infused lemongrass, not only heightened the dish itself, but also really connected with the wonderful, innate aromatics of this wine, which is a blend of Roditis & Moscholfilero (both indigenous grape varieties to Greece). The Mediterranean minerality also worked well with the squid ink. Another insight is how Chef John toned down the needed heat by making the chili pepper water into an “air” & therefore far less confrontational.
Pastrami Cured Ahi “Nicoise” Salad with buttered fingerling potatoes, Mari Garden mini greens, Ho Farms tomatoes, long beans, marinated onions, sunnyside quail egg & adobo vinaigrette
WINE: Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Dry–normally we would have looked to a PINK wine for this pairing, but on this occasion decided we needed more aromatics because of the adobo vinaigrette. Yes, we marvel again & again how these aromatic style wines really can a whole ‘nother dimension to a pairing. The challenge is finding the good ones.
WINE: Strub Riesling “Soil to Soul”–yet another aromatic wine, because of the fragrant, uplifting galanghal-scallion pesto. We chose the Strub (from Germany’s Rheinhessen) because it is rounder, deeper yet still remarkably light & refreshing.
WINE: Hofstatter Weissburgunder–yes, another aromatic, minerally white wine, this one from the hills of northeast Italy. The wine’s minerality helped keep the palate fresh & alive while navigating the dish’s unusual (at least for wine pairing) components such as seaweed & daikon.
WINE: Birichino Malvasia Bianca–currently one of our absolute favorite “go to” wines when pairing with Asian inspired foods. We seemingly use this wonderfully perfumed, lime edged white wine in so many of our pairings & am therefore continually re-amazed on every occasion at how wide of spectrum of foods this wine can readily work with. By itself, I think the perfume may be too strong for most wine drinkers. But then, I watch how it remarkably synergizes with aromatic sauces or uplifting herbs. It really is an amazing food wine to say the least. Pure genius. Who would have thunk it?
WINE: CF “Euro-Asian” Riesling Medium Dry–Riesling works well with the oiliness of salmon. Yes, there is lushness to its fruit & the rounder acidity when physiologically ripe. We also love how minerality livens things up in the pairing too. The CF Euro-Asian is produced for us by Weingut Gunderloch. A special thanks to Fritz, Agnes & Johannes Hasselbach for making this dream come true. The grapes come from hillside vines grown in red slate soils, which creates that stoniness/minerality, which is VERY different from the black/gray/blue soils of the Mosel, Saar, Ruwer river regions. And, because this wine is medium dry, it has just enough sweetness to buttress the fruitiness for the pairing. FYI–there is a marked difference in this cuvee, beginning with the 2012 vintage. Thankfully, the extract, bitterness & alcohol levels seem more moderate, despite the growing frequency of real sun drenched vintages.
WINE: Maxime Magnon “La Demarrante”–this is a fabulous dish from Chef John Iha, as he thinly sliced the pork & then reconstructed the many layers before panko-ing & deep frying. To, however, make sure this dish was red wine friendly, Chef Iha, created a peppercorn-brandy sauce, instead of the VERY oriental slanted one he originally planned. La Demarrante is a wonderfully delicious, refined Carignane & Cinsault blend from southern France around Corbieres. Owner/winemaker Maxime Magnon studied with Jean Foillard, a true master/game changer in the Beaujolais Cru village of Morgon. That influence can be seen by the carbonic maceration used in the making of this wine, making it more fruity, fresh without the typically rustic, often hard edges of many “country” red wines of the area.
WINE: DR F Weins Prum Riesling Feinherb “Graacher Domprobst”–we chose a Feinherb for this pairing because of tiny bits of refreshing ginger & shiso used to accent the unagi, as well as the kabayaki drizzle which ties everything in the dish together. Owner/winemaker Bert Selbach has such a fine touch & his resulting Riesling has such a magical, spellbinding purity, ethereal & aristocratic perfume & taste. Furthermore, its precision & finely tuned sweet-sour teeter totter is exactly what this dish needed.
I recently sent out an email. which stated the following, & here are some of the responses I got back. I purposefully did not include names, as who said what is not the point. It really is about sharing insights & learning from each other. I have found there is never just one answer.
I am writing a piece on Syrah and am hoping to get your thoughts on the subject. I recently read somewhere the Syrah has a propensity to go “reductive” in bottle.
What does that mean? How? Why?
Is there other grapes with this tendency?
Reductive, anaerobic, as opposed to oxidative.
Reduction can show as shut down with muted aromatics and palate to an extreme of stinky, sulfitey aromas and off flavors.
Syrah is notorious for being reductive in the cellar, as well. Wines are made using non-oxidadative techniques more and more, resulting in wines with a tendency towards reduction. Syrah is oftentimes aged on lees. This helps protect the wine, keeping CO2 in solution and oxygen away. This can drive the wine further into reduction.
When I’ve had the opportunity to taste at Clape and Faury they pour young Syrah’s from foudre or barrel, they are often reduced. They often then follow with the previous vintage out of barrel and bottle and the reduction has disappeared.
Syrah made by Cabernet Sauvignon makers where they rack and return the wine often tends to be less reductive. However, the wine tastes less like Syrah, in my opinion.
I like having some reduction in our Syrahs, and most of our wines for that matter, during the aging process. Keeping our wines on lees in barrels enables us to use less SO2 during the barrel aging process. The wines tend to be a little closed, especially during the winter. I like that. The wines evolve slower and are a little tight when bottled. A little time in bottle or decanting will help.
If a vineyard has been sprayed with sulpher too close to harvest, there will often be some residue on the grapes and will result in stinky, reductive, sulfite-like aromas and off flavors in the wine.
Chardonnay comes to mind as a variety that also tends to be reductive. We always have several barrels that show those reductive characteristics. These barrels tend to be barrels that were the last filled from that particular lot and tank. So these barrels likely have more lees and heavier solids in them.
I’ve read recently regarding the style of Chardonnay winemaking, Burgundy in particular, and the inclination winemakers have towards the reductive, matchstick quality. Think about winemakers whose style and trademark go hand in hand with the matchstick quality: Coche-Dury, Roulot, Pierre Yves Colin.
We like some of that character in our Chardonnays, for sure.
It’s a fascinating topic always worth chewing on. I’d love to hear your impressions and thoughts on it and your experiences with wines in bottle and in winery cellars.
I did forget to some notes regarding nutrients during fermentation.
If a vineyard is low or deficient in nitrogen, the grapes or juice in the fermenter will be low in nitrogen. We know this by a juice sample we send to the laboratory to measure sugar concentration, acidity, potassium, and nitrogen and ammonia for fermentation.
Yeast, native or lab, can stress during fermentation if there aren’t enough nutrients in the must. A too warm fermentation and not enough oxygen will also stress yeast. When yeast are stressed, not only is there a risk of a stuck fermentation but the wine can also end up with the hydrogen sulfide spectrum of odors and flavors – extreme reductive smells and flavors.
We don’t add nutrients to our Chardonnay. We taste and smell our red fermentations along fermentation observations. If there’s an off smell or flavor we’ll pump it over longer to introduce some oxygen to the fermentation. Usually, that helps a lot. If that doesn’t do the trick we will add small doses of yeast nutrients to rid the wine of those attributes. These nutrients include nitrogen, ammonia, yeast hulls.
It’s much harder to rid the wine of any of those characters once the wine is dry and in barrel.
Without getting into gains and losses of electrons, “reductive” is a loosey-goosey term used by wine tasters to refer to a wine that show sulfur-based aromas, things like rotten egg, burnt rubber, burnt match, rotten cabbage, etc. With oxygen, these sulfur-based aromas can dissipate to reveal the true character of the wine but occasionally they can develop into something more permanent. Copper sulfate is used to remove excess sulfur based aromas but it does not remove mercaptans (more the rotting cabbage/onion smell). Why is Syrah more prone to reduction? I don’t know exactly why but it may have to do with with the lack of nutrients available for yeast and/or the chemical makeup of Syrah. Other varieties with which we work that are prone to reduction during elevage are Mourvèdre and Petite Sirah. Interestingly, I have never had a reductive Zinfandel. Sulfur-based compounds play a significant role in the aromas of many whites such as Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Colombard, Sauvingon Blanc, and Petit Manseng.
For a nice overview of reduction in wine see (http://nanaimowinemakers.org/Steps/H2S_Issues.htm) Syrah and other varietals ( Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and certain Pinot noirs for us) have a biochemical propensity to resist oxidation and therefore being reductive. It is positive as it gives them a greater ability to age but will also present challenges as it goes through phases where it generates sulfur compounds that change the fragrance and mouth feel of a wine (usually for the worst or at least masking other features). It is complicated to explain as Oxidation and reduction happen at the same time and has to do with layers of chemical reactions I am not that comfortable with and are actually not that well understood. We learn how to link it with, the farming, the fermentation, nutrients, temperatures etc. One becomes familiar with it through sensory analysis and empirical observations.
You know I’m not a chemist so I’m sure you will find the chemistry answer from someone else. What I can tell you is the practical side, and that is Syrah is opposite of Pinot Noir in this regard. I take a completely different approach in protection of the two varietals.
Pinot needs to be protected from oxygen, it breaks down easily, the color, the aromas the textures all seem to be unstable.
Its its not cellared at the right temp, if the lees are not perfectly clean, if the ph is too high, if the free so2 is below molecular threshold, pinot can fall apart. I only go 6-9 months before the lees have consumed all the extra o2 thats available, and needs to be racked then sulfured.
Syrah on the other hand is very forgiving. Although I cellar everything at the same temp, (55 degrees year round) syrah eats up oxygen at any opportunity. I typically go an entire 24 months in barrel on the gross lees before its racked for the first time and receives its very first addition of so2. Pretty crazy huh? Obviously I only work with cold climate syrah (low ph, high acid) and this allows me to take this approach with much more confidence, because the chemistry of the wine is stable.
Reduction is lack of oxygen. Syrah eats up oxygen and when its tapped out the wine goes into a reductive state. Once the wine hits more oxygen, the reduction aroma lifts off the wine like a protective blanket. Chardonnay (Roulot is a great example) is another grape always flirting with reduction.
Syrah does have an odd perpensity to become reductive or form H2S, Hydrogen Sulfide or rotten egg aroma.
So does Gamay. People think it is due to the thick skin on a big grape. Serine which is smaller doesn’t do it as much. It is tougher to aerate after it forms because it oxidizes easily. It probably has something to do with the nature of the chemicals in the larger skins.
This is a complicated issue.
‘Reduction’ is not a term used consistently in even the most technically savvy wine communities. It can be a term for a ‘not very splashy racking strategy’ vs reduced sulfur compound formation at some point in the wines development. The t wo do not have to be connected by anything other than Sulfur being part of the chemistry.
Sensory wise, it’s about how volatile thiols pose themselves according to the reduction-oxidation potentials of their parallel equilibria. If they are not there in large numbers or in highly stinky form, nobody senses them. If conditions vary to Chang amounts or forms, even low levels are distracting. It’s not a nutshell subject.
Makes sense now. Right?
The two usages of the term are not joined at the hip. It drives me crazy. Once you have Carbon and Sulfur joined, the options become…complicated.
Think more about HOW you get there vs WHERE you happen to be.
There’s way more to say on the subject, but I’m tapped out right now keeping things at home happening. Plus, I’m no expert chemist. I only have a BS with at-home graduate studies and decades of experimentation.
Thank you for digging into that mud hole. It is a fertile subject.
Keep asking those questions.
Never if one’s systems are in place.
“Reductive” is an excuse.
I find that Syrah likes a traditional approach to fermentation, and using native yeast, moderate amounts of nutrients, low SO2 at the destemmer, some whole cluster inclusion, all help to bring the level of sulfide development in the must to about the same level as any other grape. Basically, sometimes a little happens, but if it is a small amount I don’t worry about it too much.
Regarding elevage, I find it all starts in fermentation, so if the lees are clean and your fermentation went well, no further problems occur. I keep Syrah on the lees for about 8-10 months usually, sometimes longer, with no problems.
If Syrah goes reductive in bottle, it was already reductive in barrel. period. The same thing goes with screwcaps. It was a problem that the winemaker thought was addressed, which reared its ugly head again in bottle.
But, as others have noted, some “reductive” compounds bring typicity in small amounts. I don’t mind it in small amounts, but I don’t want to smell vinyl or perm or diapers.
I also am not a fan of many Roulot wines that too me are deeply flawed. Coche on the other hand I think is well judged.
The Managing Partner of both DK Steakhouse & Sansei Waikiki, Ivy Nagayama, loves creating interesting & thought provoking wine & food pairings. Her latest craze is with the wines from the Pacific Northwest. On this night, she & Sansei Exec Chef Jason Miyasaki created a menu & pairing for visionary wine mogul, Mark Tarlov of Chapter 24 out of Oregon & a few select local customers.
Intermezzo: Opakapaka Carpaccio–Maui onions, Nalo basil relish, red jalapenos, kalamansi essence
2nd Taste: Red Wine Marinated Grilled Duck Breast–with Nalo Farms mixed greens & roasted fingerling potatoes, Maui onions, hard boiled quail egg, & a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette (wines: 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Flood” & 2012 Chapter 24 Pinot Noir “Fire”)
Entree: Red Wine Vinegar Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly–with Kaneshiro Farm’s bok choy, Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms, roasted peanuts, saffron rice pilaf & star anis jus (wine: 2012 Chapter 24 “Last Chapter”)
Pairing wines & foods is always fun & challenging. Here are a few we had fun with recently.
Savoy Cabbage Wrapped Shinsato Pork Sausage & San Marzano tomato sauce–this is not a super hearty, robust dish by any means. It is instead a more refined combination of VINO Chef Keith Endo’s savory home-made pork-fennel sausage & the refreshing, fruity-lightly earthy edge created by the tomatoes. This dish therefore, in my opinion, really beckons for a dry, fruity, earthy, more masculine style of PINK wine. The wine which really worked well on this night was the 2012 Corte Gardoni Bardolino “Chiaretto” from the Veneto region of Italy. Produced mainly from the Corvina grape variety (the same one used to produce Valpolicella & Amarone red wines). It has a very red color & features lots of refreshing, earth nuanced fruit with very tamed bitterness & extract levels, especially in the finish. I like to work with rose (& Beaujolais) with sausages. It really does help take the fatty edge off the dish & keeps the palate refreshed between bites.
House Cured Bacon with charred, carmelized red onions, Kahuku corn, BBQ sauce & white beans–the whole key to pairing wine with this dish is finding a wine which can handle the BBQ sauce & its sweetness. The wine we suggest is the 2012 Gunderloch “Jean Baptiste”. This wine has some residual sugar to counter the sweetness, & a pronounced, stony minerality, which will help refreshen the palate & thereby make the pairing seem fresh & alive.
Jicama “pockets” with avocado, Santa Barbara uni & local opihi–the wine we paired with this surprisingly delicate dish was the 2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca. It is yet another example of how wonderfully perfumed, fruit driven, somewhat minerally, crisp white wines deftly produced from an aromatic grape variety can work magic with contemporary, fusion dishes like this. Its lime-like edge worked wonders with the avocado AND also the uni & opihi. The 2013 is plumper with much more fruit than the 2012 & was much better suited. (we tried both). BOTH, FYI, are wines which work with a very wide range of foods, in addition to being delicious, light, & gulpable.
Veggie Crudite with grape tomato, breakfast radish, cucumbers & “buttermilk ranch”–the 2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca really came in handy & worked with this dish as well, which again showcases the wonderful diveristy this wine has with foods.
Braised Veal Cheeks with fresh, home-made fusili pasta & shaved Oregon Summer truffle–one could easily pair a more rustic style red wine with this dish. The one we really liked was the 2009 Domaine Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”, which had a good dollop of Mourverdre to its blend. Lirac is one of the rising star villages of France’s southern Rhone Valley, largely because of young vignerons such as Marine Roussel, in this case. Her wines are NOT so masculine or brooding or overdone like those of the neighboring, much more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Much more tempered, suave & classy AND without hard edges or high/noticeable extract/alcohol levels. Plus, this one had a few years of bottle age, which really helped to round out the edges. Another wine one could do with this rich, savory dish is the 2012 Domaine Maxime Francois Laurent “Il Fait Tres Soif” Rose, a masculine, somewhat heady, surpisingly dark hued rose from the northern part of the southern Rhone Valley. This Pink wine certainly has the guts, hutzpah & some apparent tannins in the finish to hold its own here, but with a far more refreshing personality to freshen the palate between bites. This one gets my vote!
Over at our DK Steakhouse, located in Waikiki, we dry age our own steaks. Generally speaking, as the meat dry ages, moisture evaporates from the muscle which concentrates the natural meat flavor & at the same time, helps to tenderize (the natural enzymes help break down the connective tissue) the steak.
The showpiece steak to try here is a 21 day dry aged “bone in” rib-eye. We start with a terrific no growth, no hormone steak. In addition to the qualities listed above, once the steak gets over 20 days of aging, it also develops a nutty, gamey, almost bleu cheese like character which true steak lovers really look for & relish. I bring this up, only because it will be an important consideration when we look to pair a wine. For me, 21 day typically is a good sweet spot for many to enjoy.
DK Steakhouse also has an 1800 degree oven, which essentially sears the steak on 2 sides, keeping the middle tender & juicy when cooked medium rare. In addition, the steak does not get that charred, burnt taste on the outside like charcoal or wood cooking can create. This is again, another factor to consider when pairing wines.
Yes, to me, this is an ideal dish to pair all kinds of red wines with.
For many wine collectors, this is certainly the dish to bust out your treasured bottle of Californian Cabernet/Merlot or red Bordeaux. Since most wine collectors are well versed in this arena, I will only mention the Forman Cabernet Sauvignon. Ric Forman Cabernets are not like anything else from the Napa Valley. They exude a much more gravelly character, which really steps forward in the wine with bottle age. I find the gravel rusticity works very well with this steak’s more rustic character. In addition, the Forman Cabernets are not “fruit bombs” & have really good structure, elegance & wonderful balance. I have been very fortunate to taste many older vintages of these masterpieces recently & would suggest the 2002, if I had a choice. The 2002 still has an amazing, resiliant core AND, the gravelly character is very prominent, both qualities very ideal to create an interesting pairing.
True wine lovers can also use this as an opportunity to be adventurous & try other kinds of wines. Consider, for example, a hearty (for the meat’s full flavor & marbling), more rustic styled (which will work with the nutty/gamey edge) red wine. My first, knee jerk thoughts are from France’s Rhone Valley –Clape (or Allemand) Cornas, a Syrah based red from the north or Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” (or Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras) a Grenache blend from the south. In each case, I would suggest vintages which still feature a virile core of mojo, fruit & structure. For both the Clape & Allemand Cornas, therefore, consider the 2000 vintage. Although not overly heralded, having had both recently, they both still have the hutzpah to handle this wonderfully marbled steak & the wild gaminess to make things interesting. In the case of the Vieux Telegraphe & the Sang des Cailloux, my wish would be the 1998, both still being a real beast with lots of true character, depth & soul.
If you are looking for a Californian red wine, I suggest this can be a wonderful opportunity to explore California Syrah & other “Rhone Varietal” red wines. There are growing number of really interesting, provocative renditions being produced up & down the state. Standouts which immediately come to mind include more worldly styled Syrah based reds, such as the 2001 Ojai Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard” (from the Santa Maria Valley); the 2011 Linne Calodo “Perfectionist”; the 2006 Saxum “Bone Rock” (both from the limestone/siliceous hillsides of Paso Robles); the 2010 Neyers Syrah “Old Lakeville Road” (from the Sonoma Coast, near Petaluma) or the 2007 Autonom Syrah “Law of Proportions” (a blend of Santa Barbara & Arroyo Grande grapes). Somehow these kinds of masculine, rustic, earth driven, peppery reds create a real interesting synergy with dry aged steaks like this.
Here are some other interesting wines/grape varieties, recommended by managing Partner, Ivy Nagayama, to explore–
–Mourvedre (Domaine Tempier or Domaine Gros Nore from Provence, France)
–Nero d’Avola (Riofavara “Sciave” from the southern tip of Italy)
–Malbec (Clos la Coutale Cahors from southwest France or Tritono from Argentina)
–Tannat (2004 Cambiata from Monterey, California)
–Nebbiolo (2005 Barolo or Barbaresco from Piemonte, Italy or the 2004 Palmina”Ranch Sisquoc” from Santa Barbara, California)
“In Pursuit of Balance” Thursday, February 26th 6pm
A few years ago, then Michael Mina Restaurants wine director, Rajat Parr along with Jasmine Hirsch from Hirsch Vineyards, launched a concept they entitled “In Pursuit of Balance”. Here is an excerpt from their website–
“In Pursuit of Balance is a non-profit organization seeking to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.
This growing group of producers is seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir”.
Needless to say, it created much controversy, as wineries lined up taking sides/stances on the issue. There is never just one right answer to these things, AND to me, the issues were, in fact, not as important as the questions being asked.
The IPOB website further asks–
“What is balance in pinot noir and why does it matter?
Balance is the foundation of all fine wine. Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed. The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these
characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole. The purpose of this event is to bring together like-minded growers, winemakers, sommeliers, retailers, journalists and consumers who believe in the potential of California to produce profound and balanced Pinot Noirs.
This isn’t a rebellion, but rather a gathering of believers. This is meant to open a dialogue between producers and consumers about the nature of balanced Pinot Noir, including:
- Whole-picture farming and winemaking. Artisan winemaking techniques are a given at this point. Looking beyond that, let’s consider farming, or even pre-farming decisions, and the thought process behind identifying a great terroir. How do these decisions affect the balance of the ultimate wine?
- Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?
- A question of intention: Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?
- Reconsidering the importance of heritage Pinot Noir clones with respect to the omnipresent Dijon clones.
What do heritage clones contribute to balanced wine?
Pinot Noir grown on the west coast has been the next big thing for a while now, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case. Popularity is an exaggeration, a distortion of Pinot Noir’s defining qualities and a distraction from what makes it truly great. As Pinot Noir lovers, we face a collective challenge in the search for truly expressive, honest wine: What must we do to achieve balance in California Pinot Noir?”
For this tasting, we have chosen wines from 4 members of IPOB (from 4 different vintages) to showcase what can be—
from the cool confines of the Anderson Valley, this vineyard is located in the hills to the east, roughly 1300 to 1500 feet elevation, 30+ year old vines—2A & Pommard heritage selections. Business entrepeneur Peter Knez a few years back purchased both Demuth & the adjacent, well renown, celebrated Cerise Vineyard. Both vineyards feature bear wallow soils on a wind pounded hillside. Knez smartly hired Anthony Filiberti of Anthill Farms to over see this project & the wines have so far been pretty darn good–lighter in color, enticingly fragrant, fresh & snappy with wonderful texture, refinement, balance & only 13.2 alcohol, naturally. This is just the beginning………
Jason Drew is one VERY talented winemaker. We have watched, in fascination, him grow & develop over the years & there is NO doubt, he is in the zone right now. The Valenti Vineyard is perched up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge roughly between 1200 to 1600 feet elevation, planted to 667 & 10% Rochioli cuttings. This 2009 is absolutely gorgeous & well textured. 72 case production. Yes, this boy is on fire right now.
Ojai is the wine project of Adam Tolmach, one of California’s true winemaking masters of all time. Over the years, his wines showcase an Old World sensibility, especially for minerality & balance. This 2008 Clos Pepe Vineyard designate is produced from a Pommard heritage selection harvested at a scant 1.5 ton per acre. This vineyard is continually pounded by a gusting coastal wind, which at least partially accounts for its low vigor. I don’t typically quite understand wines produced from the Clos Pepe vineyard. (Although, I actually prefer the Chardonnay to the Pinot Noir). The wines are often lean, angular & tight fisted. Furthermore, I am not sure this is a Cru quality vineyard, but I would say, Tolmach produced a wonderfully pure, minerally, well balanced, wonderfully textured, classy Pinot which is very tasty, sumptuous & interesting right now. 140 case production.
The Bien Nacido vineyard is very large at over 800 acres. Over the years, the 2 blocks which have really stood out for Pinot Noir are “Q” & “N”. Justin Willett now gets tiny quantities of “N” Block–Martini heritage selection, planted in 1973 on its own roots. (I also believes he gets a tiny bit of Q Block too). As expected, this finished wine displays lots of vinosity & character, much more so than the “G” block fruit he previously worked with, AND much more interesting & provocative. Yes, this is quite a standout & well worth trying to get. Roughly 100 case production.
Although the relatively little known Carignane grape variety is one of the world’s most widely planted, over the years, it has been generally regarded as a “work horse” rather than a noble one. Still thankfully, there is a niche for this unsung grape variety being established by a growing number of young buck winemakers, from different parts of the world. Why? When grown & made by the right hands & minds, athough not showy or grand, it certainly can range from being interesting, delicious & food friendly to provocative & soulful.
Furthermore, since there are many really interesting, old vine parcels & their grapes accessible & at good prices, one can get really good, interesting wine at much more reasonable prices. To show you better what we mean, here are 4 well worth trying. (I was so surprised when overlooking our wine inventory how many more Carignane based red wines we actually have at VINO to choose from!) Just another really good opportunity to learn!
“This barrique-aged, cru Carignano (100%) is a real star: lush, extract-fraught, full-bodied, with ripe, chewy fruit & supple texture, it is also extremely long-living. Bush-trained Carignano is especially rich in noble tannins. Experts believe Sulcis (of Sardegna) is the exclusive Italian home of Carignano. Whatever its beginnings, here the Carignano vine is so ancient and rooted in the Sulcis region it can safely be called one of the island’s native stars”.
A relatively new discovery for us from the Island of Sardegna, in the seafront Valli di Porto, extending to the sea. The core of this wine is produced from 100 year old Carignane with a small amount of Syrah blended in.
“100 year old vine Carignane–natural yeast fermentation in neutral vessels & bottled unfined and unfiltered, with little to no added sulfur. This special bottling has profound concentration and minerality from the clay, limestone, granite, and schist of this corner of the Roussillon”.
an extremely steep 2.5 acre vineyard in Priorat, Spain, full of slate with almost no topsoil. 2007 yielded a scant 4/10’s of a tons per acre of roughly 80% Carignane (Samso) & 20% Grenache Garnatxa) vines that are over 125 years old . A true throwback to another century, the vines really get to know the meaning of struggling.
The Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation can be quite confusing at first to the non-professional avid wine lover. This mountainous AVA covers parts of 3 counties–Santa Clara, Santa Cruz & San Matteo & is much more of an altitude specific (covering the mountain terrain essentially above the fog line, ranging from 400 feet rising to nearly 3000 feet in elevation).
Without a doubt, the most famous of this AVA’s vineyards is the Monte Bello Vineyard, which ranges in elevation from 1300 to 2700 feet. This tract was purchased in 1959 by 4 Stanford Research Institute engineers. Their first commercial release was the 1962, but their rise to superstardom really began when they hired Paul Draper in 1969. The vineyard has a very unique green stone/clay soil with underlying decomposing limestone, which coupled with the cool, windy growing conditions, create a very different character to the wine than those from other Californian appellations. The 1977 I was fortunate to taste again in 2014, is still one of the very finest Cabernet based red wines I have yet to have out of California.
Kathryn Kennedy moved to Saratoga, California in 1949. I often wonder how & why she had the foresight to plant a 7 acre vineyard of essentially Cabernet clone #8 (which she got from David Bruce)in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation in 1973. When I first tried to contact the winery to get some wine sometime in the 80’s, I remember being told how much they struggled to get even a ton per acre from their vines & in 2 vintages the vines gave them a mere 1/4 of a ton per acre! That doesn’t sound like a very sound financial model to work. In addition because of the value of their land, being in close proximity to the Silicon Valley, I am sure the family has given over the years considerable thought to selling off to the highest bidder, strictly in a real estate sense. Still she perservered & her youngest son, Marty Mathis started in 1981 & eventually took over the reins, including winemaking. Theirs is an earthy, masculine Cabernet, with lots of structure & a unique character, which is VERY different from the fruit bombs one normally encounters from the Napa Valley & is well worth checking out!
Over the years, one of the true iconic Chardonnay & Pinot Noir estate standouts from California is Mount Eden. Located 50 or so miles south of San Francisco, at roughly 2000 feet in elevation overlooking Silicon Valley, this small, historic estate was founded in 1972 (essentially the year, the vineyard founder, Martin Ray, was kicked out by his partners/investors). The original plantings, however, began in 1945 for Chardonnay & Pinot & sometime in the 50’s for Cabernet Sauvignon (by Martin Ray). Theirs is a cool, exposed mountain top, with Montebello perched high above in the distance & the vines are planted in infertile Franciscan shale soils. The 20 acres of Chardonnay is Mount Eden selection; the 7 acres of Pinot is also Mount Eden selection (65 years of being around) & there is 9.75 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.9 acres of Merlot & roughly .4 acres of Cabernet Franc, mostly planted in 1981 & 82. The 2006 Chardonnay was barrel fermented & aged for 9 months in 50% new & 50% one year old barrels. This is big, wonderfully oak laden Chardonnay, broad, grand & full of character & hutzpah.
One of the relatively new standouts of the appellation is actually 2 labels–Varner & Neely. I group them together only because they overlap in many ways, starting with the fact their wines both come from the Spring Ridge Vineyard (which is actually located above the Stanford University golf course in the hills). Jim & Bob Varner oversee the farming & winemaking & Neely owns the vineyard. There are 3 distinct blocks for Chardonnay–“Home Block” (2 acres, east facing, 805 to 840 feet in elevation, of own rooted clone 4 which was planted in 1980); “Ampitheater Block” (2 acres, south facing, 735 to 780 feet in elevation, of own rooted Wente selection, which was planted in 1981); & “Bee Block” (3.5 acres, northeast facing, 670 to 735 feet in elevation, masale selection from Home Block, which was planted in 1987). Under the Varner label, there are then typically 3 single parcel Chardonnays produced in any given vintage. There is also a 4th Chardonnay produced, under the Neely label, which is a blend of the 3 parcels & the percentages different every year.
There are also 3 Pinot Noir parcels–“Upper Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 645 to 660 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was grafted over to Pinot in 2003 from own rooted vines planted in 1981); “Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 600 to 645 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was planted in 2000); & “Hidden Block” (3 acres, northeast facing, 650 to 730 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 115, which was planted in 1997). 3 single parcel Pinot Noirs are produced under the Neely label & a 4th Pinot, under the Varner label, is produced from a blend of the 3 parcels.
As you can imagine, the quantities of each are small & the media praise is high–& therefore availability limited.
The pursuit of superb red Burgundy is such a challenge. It really is hard to imagine a more elusive, fickle grape variety than Pinot Noir, even those from its home turf in Burgundy.
In a recent discussion with a wine friend & whose palate I greatly admire, I was amazed at how he diligently spends so much time looking for flaws & imperfections in wine. Well, one would have such a hard time looking for pure perfection in wines, especially in Burgundy.
I, on the other hand, now look whether I enjoyed the wine or not, a little brettanomyces, or a huge dollop of oak or not, especially in Burgundy.
Which brings us to the 2 red Burgundies we recently tasted, which we enjoyed, flaws & all.
I don’t think the Burgundies of Domaine Maume were or are on too many top 10 lists. There are many possible reasons for that, but the fact is, I tend to enjoy their idiosyncratic, more rustic, old style approach to their Gevrey Chambertin based Pinot Noirs. I was amazed watching their wine ferment in underground cement tanks, unlike those in so many other luxury domaines. The wines have a musky masculinity & a deep, resounding stoniness woven throughout the wine which sets it apart. Maume has 2 Grand Cru parcels–1 in Mazis Chanbertin & the other in Charmes Chambertin. 2000 certainly had its challenges for many producers & their resulting wines, but I don’t care about that in this case. I enjoyed this wine. It was like seeing an old friend again. I was saddened to hear that this domaine sold a little while back, which made tasting this wine even more memorable. I am sure what once was, may be only a memory shortly. Change is inevitable at this domaine.
1998 was yet another vintage with its challenges. I remember once hearing a winemaker say “anyone can make a really good wine in great vintages. It’s those challenging vintages which really shows the true skill of a master“. This wine had wonderful perfume & pedigree…..& definitely Grand Cru in character. There is a lot happening in this bottle & one can understand why Leroy has such a huge reputation for their wines. The biggest challenge for me is the price tag, so I am most thankful for having the opportunity to even try this superstar cuvee.
1989 Emmanuel Rouget Vosne Romanee “Cros Parantoux”
One of the true iconic collectibles from Burgundy today! I have tried in vain to write something logical, coherent about this wine & still express something that is not expressible to me. So….instead, here are some excerpts fromto the rescue–