Archive for July, 2012
photograph by Kalei Nuuhiwa, Makakolu Photography
The Pacific Ocean of California is VERY different from the same body of water we experience here in Hawaii. Where our water is warm & inviting, it is real cold & gnarly there. The winds that come of the ocean there are therefore quite chilling….& it follows the cut in the mountains by the various rivers such as this one to create very different climatic conditions, especially during the respective growing seasons.
The Rudesheim hillside wraps around a sharp bend in Germany’s Rhein river…..truly breathtaking & picturesque. I was amazed at the breadth of Leitz’s vineyard holdings & thankful how many of his wines are so amazingly well priced given the sites were they were born.
Just as with wines, there is also a real connoisseur level to coffee. Undoubtedly one of the most unique, gourmet coffees of the world comes from Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.
There just has not been enough correct and detailed information available to the average Joe to better & fully understand the differences between all of the coffees labeled as Kona, and therefore appreciate how special (or not) some of these can be.
For example, there are many restaurants & retail venues who serve & sell Kona Coffee regularly. For the coffee purists, however, this is quite a controversial issue & ambiguity, especially on what percent of these coffees are actually grown & produced in Kona itself. We will however leave that topic & debate to those involved.
We instead intend to focus on the small, artisan, single estate coffees grown & produced in and around Kona. Many of these can be found on the website www.konacoffeefarmers.com.
One in particular which deserves more attention is the Harens Old Tree Estate.
This 5.4 acre farm is located on the volcanic slopes of Honaunau, Mauka, at somewhere between 1300 to 1500 feet elevation. All the Harens Old Tree Estate coffee is from this single estate, where over 80% of coffee trees are 100 years old and still happy and producing an extraordinary bean. All beans are hand picked, than milled, sun-dried, aged, green milled, roasted and bagged on the estate.
This coffee is then aged for at least 5 months before it is roasted, so that all the flavor components & character come together, just as a winemaker would do for a great wine.
Only Full City / Medium dark roast is offered for this estate, as it maximizes the rich flavors, outstanding aroma and delicate acidity. It also compliments both the Origin Character (of the bean from this particular estate) and the character added via the roasting process, which is the same theory as the grape & soil nuances of a wine coupled with the winemaking & oak character.
The bottom line? This is a true Kona born & raised coffee of superb, world-class quality. It will of course be higher in price, and deservedly so, when one truly understands what it takes to make such a treasure.
Over all the years of my involvement in the wine field, two of the most prolific wine importers for me have been Kermit Lynch and Rudi Wiest. Kermit specialized in boutique, artisan, soulful French “country” wines who capture regional character, soulfulness & culture in their wines. Rudi does virtually the same thing with a selected group of German estates. In my opinion, this single estate Kona coffee is along the same lines
More of such estates can be found on the Kona Coffee Farmers website and there are also coffees being grown on Kauai, Waialua, Oahu & even Molokai you might want to check out.
Lastly, in these challenging times, why not “support local and buy local”, especially when it is good!
By Chantal Sarrazin
A drop of white in an ocean of rosé: the image of Cassis is deeply entrenched. Influenced by the Mediterranean climate, these white wines are infused with minerality drawn from the clay and limestone soil. At Clos Sainte-Magdeleine, this feature is amplified by the élevage.
Seen from above, Clos Sainte-Magdeleine in Cassis looks like an emerald-green towel spread on a white beach. All around the vines is the intense blue of the Mediterranean. Here and there the silvery leaves of olive trees provide a contrast to the azure landscape. This is not a mere vacation spot—it is heaven on earth! “The sea enfolds our vineyards on every side,” smiles Jonathan Sack-Zafiropulo, whose eyes are as blue as the water. He is one of just eleven producers in Cassis, a Lilliputian appellation of 210 hectares with its toes in the water that is flanked by the Cap Canaille to the east and the Massif des Calanques to the west. Our host, the fourth generation to run the extraordinary Clos Sainte-Magdeleine, shares his family’s story. “My great-grandfather bought it in 1920 from a négociant in Marseille. He was from a Greek family of shipowners.” This little story ties into the big one. At the same time they were founding Marseille, the Greeks were also planting the first vines in thebay ofCassis, over 2000 years ago. “This is one of the earliest confirmed vineyards inProvence,” Jonathan proudly notes. What were the wines like at that time? No one knows…. But Cassis has since found its voice, or rather its color: white. Three of every four bottles here are a lemony color, while all their Provençal neighbors are blushing.
The change came after Phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in the mid-19th century, when vignerons replanted to white grapes. This choice helped them to obtain AOC status on May 15th, 1936, along with the pioneering Sauternes and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It also placed Marsanne in the spotlight: this variety now constitutes 30-60% of all white Cassis. “They chose it because they wanted a white grape that wasn’t grown anywhere else in the region,” Jonathan says. “It comes from the north and adapted very well to the seaside. It gives round, fleshy wines that develop honeyed notes on the finish as they age.” At Clos Sainte-Magdeleine this grape shares the clayey seaside with Ugni Blanc. Jonathan’s grandfather and father also planted Marsanne on the terraced vineyards on the side of the Cap Canaille,France’s highest maritime cliff. At400 meters altitude these parcels are colder and rockier. With more limestone here and less clay, the vines are forced to send their roots deep into the earth.
These vines are less generous than on the flat land, yielding barely 30 hectoliters per hectare. At these heights we also find more Ugni Blanc, a little Bourboulenc, and some Clairette, which prefers the cooler temperatures here. Sainte-Magdeleine’s whites are a blend of the two terroirs, with the Marsanne providing structure and the Clairette contributing acidity. Though the vigneron wishes Rolle and Grenache Blanc were permitted in this appellation, he has learned to expand his palate. In two years he will plant Sauvignon, whose fruit aromas will hone the wine’s profile. “We had some in the past, but it ripened before the other varieties so we ripped it out. Now that our cellar equipment has evolved we can handle that challenge.” While waiting for that aromatic boost, the best of the region is already concentrated in the estate’s white wine: a floral bouquet with a mineral touch, a rich, fleshy mouthfeel, and fresh undertones of citrus, spices, and a hint of iodine. “The iodine flavor is the marker of the wines from this appellation,” Jonathan Sack-Zafiropulo explains. “It comes from the ocean spray that leaves its salt on the grapes.”
There are other advantages to having the sea so close by: the breezes that waft through the vineyards restrict the spread of mildew and oidium. Sainte-Magdeleine therefore converted to organic agriculture easily. The estate was officially certified on January 1st, 2012. And other producers have made the same choice—almost half of the appellation’s vineyards are now worked organically. Jonathan dreams that one day the appellation will be 100% organic. After all, the vineyards are within the newly established Calanques National Park…
In order to bring out the Cassis character, the white wines are matured in neutral vats. Two vintages, the 2010 and 2009 (14€), are currently available. Over time, the precious minerality will become more prominent, along with notes of iodine, honey, and citrus. The freshness will last, bringing elegance and taking on a spicy character. Right now, the 2009 is more ethereal than its successor. “Our white wines go perfectly with fish and shellfish from the Mediterranean,” notes the vigneron. “With age, they marry well with delicately spicy dishes and Japanese cuisine.” These unusual nectars make Cassis a unique spot that is not to be missed when visiting Provence!
Winemaker/owner Adam Tolmach left Au Bon Climat to start his own label, Ojai. His Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir is from the highly revered “N Block”, which was planted in 1973 to Martini clone. The 2008 is stellar….classy, vinous & complete with great texture. Very impressive…..BUT not obvious.
Paul Lato is a former sommelier turned winemaker, who is currently one the “new age” winemaking prodigies out of California today. Working at a few wineries during crush, Lato eventually hooked up with Gary Burk at Costa de Oro & started making his own wines. This is his Solomon Hills vineyard bottling which he named “Suerte”. Without a doubt the Lato wines are the darlings of the wine media. His is a style which certainly has impact, yet is surprisingly suave & classy, despite their late pickings. Cheryle & I were amazed at how long their lines were at the past 2 World of Pinot Noir. Yes, the secret is out!
Bryan Babcock was very involved with the planting of the Mt Carmel vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. It is a steep rocky hillside, opposite the river from Sanford & Benedict in the Santa Rita Hills appellation. With every visit to this site, I am always re-amazed at how the wind just pounds it. With the 2005 vintage, Greg Brewer & Steve Clifton took over the farming & it became one of their exclusive vineyard sources for both Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. This 2008 maybe the best one I have had to date. (Unfortunately, they recently parted ways with the vineyard). It showed very well in this night’s tasting–snazzy, upbeat, wonderfully perfumed & superbly classy and the seemingly tell tale sign of lots of stem inclusion. It was the favorite for many of tonight’s tasters.
In our circle of wine friends, Domaine Roulot is noted for their ‘tour de force” Meursault white wines. I happened to be one of those people who also happen to love their pure, lovely, sexy Pinot Noirs too, especially in a vintage like 2008.
In case you are not familiar, Aldo Conterno is the brother who left his family’s domaine, Giacomo Conterno to start his own namesake winery. This 1995 we opened the other night was fabulous, with wonderful perfume, intricacy on the palate & evolution & a long, inspiring finish. What a fabulous drink!
1976 was quite a banner year for Rieslings in Germany. I have heard more than one winemaker over the years say it was so ideal alot of winemakers didn’t know how to handle what this fabulous vintage offered. These two 1976 Auslesen, however, were fabulous! The Von Buhl was glorious, rich, lush & the once apparent residual sugar had changed into a much more tactile, creamy sensation. The Dr. Fischer, in comparison, although higher toned, full of pedigree & much more refined, this particular bottle is starting to get what I call charcoal notes, which tells me it is time to drink up. In both cases, what an experience!
Out of the gates, the 1988 was lighter in color, much more refined, precise & high toned. In comparison, it took the 1982 some air time to really start opening up & show its stuff. It eventually & really proved to become quite a remarkable glass of Champagne–nutty, toasty, much more lush, deep, harmonious & interesting.
The first older Pinot Noir of the night. The nose had some interesting nuances, but overall, yes, it is showing its age. We suggest you drink up.
I last had this wine roughly 2 years ago…at which time I was absolutely blown away with the wine! It was served at a tasting at the Kapalua Wine & Food festival over on Maui…and it clearly was THE wine for me. On this night, I was shocked at how youthful & oaky it appeared on first smell & taste. After an hour & a half, however, the wine started to open up & was again an absolutely sensational experience. Oh my goodness! It’s really too bad Fred Scherrer doesn’t produce Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir any more (2000 was his last one).
If you have not had an older Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” Pinot Noir, do yourself a favor & try one. They are surprisingly reasonable in price, considering the quality one gets. Unfortunately this 1998 followed the 1999 Scherrer “Hirsch Vineyard” but it really is a very intriguing, worldly styled Pinot nonetheless. In case you are not familiar with Isabelle, this cuvee is named after Jim Clendenen’s daughter & is produced from his finest barrels of the vintage, which can include Russian River, Anderson Valley, Arroyo Grande in addition to his notable Santa Maria Valley fruit. This cuvee also sees quite a bit of new oak, so it really does take several years to really harmonize & open up.
In the old days, there were only a few wineries able to get Hirsch Vineyard fruit–Williams & Selyem, Littorai, Siduri, Flowers, Whitethorn, Kistler & Whitcraft. In several side by side BLIND tastings specifically with the 1995, 1996 & 1997 vintages, the standout in each vintage for me was Whitcraft’s bottling. Sadly in 1998 Chris Whitcraft I recall had some health challenges & the fruit was delivered REALLY ripe. The resulting wine I believe was listed at 16.8 alcohol. Having tasted the wines many times over the years, that alcohol always seem to poke it’s glaring edge to the point of being totally distracting. On this night, however, the higher alcohol was overshadowed by the wine’s provocative, intriguing, captivating perfume, which was glorious, earth laden & quite memorably Whitcraft-ish. Talk about having a wine at the ideal point of its life!
Recently we fortunately have been tasting quite a few 1997 red Burgundies & have been impressed how they have come out of their shell & once again, in many cases, flaunting their “peacock tail”. This 1997 Bertagna Chambertin, however, started out VERY closed & disappointingly quite hard. Yes, one could smell the wine’s pedigree….but it certainly is not stylistically like the Burgundies of old. I am not sure if I would buy more from this producer, as it is really not my cup of tea.