Archive for October, 2012
My wife, Cheryle, & I recently went to New York to attend the International Chefs Congress put on by starchef.com. This certainly was quite the event.
While there we also has an opportunity to eat at a myriad of places for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here were 3 of our most memorable experiences.
We were really impressed with Babbo. Normally we have found restaurants with such high acclaim often turn out to be disappointing as it really hard to live up to the mystique. In this case however we loved this stylish eatery & its rustic Italian food done with a New York edge. The foods were tasty, a dynamic combination of interesting flavors and VERY wine friendly (which is a detail many restaurants do not think about). Some of the highlights included the Grilled Octopus with mushrooms & Chianti vinegar;
Rabbit with Spring scafata & Cinzano vinaigrette ;
One of the things I do NOT think Mario Batali & his restaurant group get enough credit for is their wine programs. In addition to a list of well selected Champagnes, the Babbo list has an amazing, comprehensive, well selected line-up of Italian wines. On this night, for example, we were thrilled to find the 2010 Kuen Hof Eisacktaler Sylvaner, a dry, airy, wonderfully minerally & perfumed, crisp & refreshing white wine from the Dolomites up in Sudtirol, Italy. Eventhough it was not the perfect pairing with all of the food, it was a wine that was tasty, delicious and kept the palate fresh & alive between bites.
Through the Chefs Congress, we also had the great pleasure to meet Michael Madrigale, the Wine Director of Boulud Sud who conducted a Tasting of Cote Rotie on the second day. His genuine passion for wine, especially Rhone Syrah, was truly inspiring, which actually convinced us to visit him at the restaurant. The menu was very Mediterranean inspired, done with a clean, fresh, refined touch. We loved starting with, for example, the Mediterranean Mezze, a tasty, colorful quartet of Herb Falafel, Red Lentil Hummus, Babaganoush & Lavash.
Since this was our third restaurant of the night we then ordered several appetizers to sample, the highlights including Octopus a La Plancha—Marcona almonds, arugula & Jerez vinegar and the Cured Spanish Anchovies with shaved fennel.
As expected the wine list was VERY well selected, so much so, if I lived in New York, I would go back just to sample through the various, unique wines listed. The centerpiece section was clearly rustic styled French red wines, which included an amazing selection of northern Rhone Valley Syrah ranging from the current vintage back to 1978. The highlights included a 1986 Clape Cornas and the 1992 Domaine Grange des Peres (Michael noted their first vintage) from the Herault.
Being our third stop of the night, however, we instead opted to sample several of the restaurant’s wines by the glass offerings, which we had a great time with. It is so refreshing to see a wine professional go out of their way to offer tasty and interesting wines by the glass which work magic with the foods! Kudos here. We started out with the Argyros Atlantis Santorini (Greece) & a glass of the Domaine de Bagnol Cassis (Provence, France) . We loved them both and were especially amazed how the Cassis went with so many of the foods. For red wine, the clear standout was the Abbatucci Ajaccio “Cuvee Faustine”, a wildly rustic , masculine though well textured & balanced red from the Isle of Corsica.
Our final stop of the trip was Ai Fiori, a Chef Michael White restaurant. Although we had originally planned to dine at 3 other restaurants on this night, based upon the oodles of recommendations from so many top wine professionals we met at the event, we felt we had to instead stop by and see star sommelier Emilie Perrier and taste the foods of Ai Fiori.
Thank goodness we did! The restaurant was very stylish, detailed and elegantly fashioned, One could say the same for their Mediterranean inspired foods. We started out for instance with two fish crudo, one of fluke with Siberian sturgeon caviar.
and the Spaghetti served with blue crab, shaved bottarga & scallion. Both were excellent!
In addition, sommelier Emilie Perrier was as good as advertised and more—charming and the consummate professional. Knowing we loved true Italian wines, she recommended the Il Monticello Vermentino Colli di Luna “Groppolo”, a very tasty, mesmerizing, lively white wine from the Liguria region of Italy. What a really good recommendation this proved to be! In addition, 2 other “wines by the glass” selections we also sampled were the 2006 Jean Louis Trapet Gevrey Chambertin and the 2007 Colpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino. Kudos to Emilie.
Bruce & Barbara Neyers purchased their 40 acre ConnValley vineyard in 1988. The estate ranges from 400 feet to 1000 feet elevation & has several soil profiles. They first planted Merlot in the basalt (compacted volcanic ash) soils. They first planted cabernet in 1996. The high slope parcel was only recently dynamited & then also planted to Cabernet (where in 2005 their AME bottling was produced from). The vineyard is farmed organically & sustainably. Their other superstar vineyard source, is Il Novillero.
2010 Chardonnay ‘El Novillero’ –
For my palate, this is one of the top five Chardonnays out of California–the grapes from a great vineyard in the hands of one of California’s contemporary winemaking phenoms. While credit for the farming of the remarkable El Novillero Ranch goes to the Sangiacomo Family, the visionaries are Dewey Donnell, who founded the property over sixty years ago, and his children, who opted to develop a portion of it to vineyard forty years later. The vineyard upon first glance, really doesn’t look like anything special. Its located in the hills ( at roughly 750 feet in elevation) on the western limit of the Carneros District appellation, & could hardly be better. The grapes enjoy the best of what California can offer Chardonnay — gravel/tiny pebble soil mixed with a high concentration of clay, a south-east facing slope to capture the best part of the day’s sunshine, and cool breezes off nearby San Pablo Bay. The yields are naturally low & the acidity level in the fruit is naturally high with lots of extract, concentration & a distinct stony character. The wine is wild yeast fermented & aged in French oak, 25% of which is new.
It was another fun night in our VINO restaurant. We had the opprtunity to again sample some top caliber wines, each with some bottle age to it. Yes….another fabulous learning experience.
We started out with the 2000 Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru “Foret” . This was not one of the highly rated years on the “vintage charts”. Goes to show you once again, vintage charts are often generalizations. When you are tasting wines of this upper echelon, I believe, each vintage just shows the taster another perspective on the vineyard & the winemaker’s skill. The true test of that skill is when a year produces many challenges & the winemaker has to be VERY selective in choosing the grapes to be used & then using his skill to make the wine sing. I love trying Raveneau’s wines, no matter what vintage it may be. This is another stellar example of his amazing talent.
At first the wine was closed & unyielding. I believe the person who brought this wine may have “shocked” the wine some, when he put it in the freezer to chill it down some more for the travel from his house to the restaurant. Thankfully, the wine finally began to open up after 1 1/2 hours of breathing. This was a Raveneau wine in all its glory…..incredibly ethereal, wonderfully perfumed, PURE, unbelievably minerally, airy, light & as refined as refined can be. Nothing ripe, opulent or oaky here. I just loved the mesmerizing seashell/floral nose with its honeyed nuances. This was an example of drinking an amazing wine at a perfect time in its life.
Upong opening & decanting this wine, I was in heaven just smelling it. Yes, it was mature & GLORIOUS with lots of complexities & bouquet from the 26 years of bottle age. The characteristic rank andouille sausage & green peppercorn character I typically get from Verset Cornas was still there….along with many other nuances–saddle leather, sandalwood, smoke, pepper, raw meat, cherry wood, earth….& the list goes on & on. It was grand, old, very mature red wine which I kept smelling over & over again as it unfolded with time. I must say, however, on the palate, the fruit seemed somewhat dried & tired, causing the acids & the tannins to poke out more than normal, both because the fruit was quite resolved. Still…..the nose made up for any nitpicking critiques…..& made for a VERY memorable experience. Makes me soooooo sad that a true master like Noel Verset has retired. Since there will be no new vinatges of his artistry, tonight’s bottle means there is one less available in the world’s dwindling supply of his masterpieces.
The third wine of the night was the 1999 Domaine du Grange des Peres, another of our favorite wine producers of the world. Since the 1992 vintage, this “tour de force” wine estate from southern France, masterfully blends Cabernet Sauvignon with Syrah & Mourvedre which I find utterly amazing. This 1999 was still VERY young, with very youthful fruit, spice, depth, length AND pedigree. Sandwiched between a Verset & a Chave wine on this night, without skipping a beat in terms of nobility, shows us what level this wine is playing on. I really think this is one of the most interesting & unique red wines of the world.
Wine number 4 was the 1994 JL Chave Hermitage. I was clearly reminded by this wine, how great Syrah can be. Very few wines have this kind of pedigree…..AND effortlessly so. True, the 1994 was quite developed, in fact, more than I would have expected. Initially I could readily though smell the crushed rocks, with leather, Chinese li hing mui, peppercorns, raw meat & some kind of green/vegetal edge. With air, the wine just seemed to explode in its aromatics/perfume. I just kept smelling it over & over again. On the palate it was lean, masculine with good, firm acidity (nothing supple here) & a good core of fruit still, which tells me it really has a way to go. There is no doubt the Chave Hermitage is still one of the GREAT red wines of the world. Despite the scores & accolades, nothing from the New World can play in this arena.
The real sleeper of the night was the 1999 Champy Clos Vougeot. Until recently I was not that familar with this producer, as it doesn’t come to Islands on a regular basis. I am though quite respectful of the 1997’s & 1999’s I have had from them recently. In short the wines have been lovely, delicious & REALLY enjoyable. This particular rendition definitely smelled Grand Cru in quality, with lots of pedigree, dark cherry, humus, sandalwood nuances……strikingly youthful….with tannins VERY evident, surprisngly so. My take, though, is this wine was closed down & certainly not truly strutting its stuff.
Because of our VINO restaurant, we are always on the look out for interesting, really good Italian wines. It is harder than you would think. Recently we had the opportunity to sample THREE really good Italian RED wines, which I thought you might be interested in.
The first is the 2006 Siro Pacenti Brunello di Montalcino. Without a doubt, Siro Pacenti is one of the standout producers of this highly revered Tuscan appellation, albeit very modern in his approach to winemaking. Thankfully, however, his Brunello di Montalcinos still taste Italian.
Of his 50 acres of vineyards, 17 acres is located in the northern part of Montalcino, where it is cooler & typically provides aroma & elegance to his wines. The remaining 32 acres is in the southern sector & provides grapes showcasing power, structure & firm tannins to the blend.
Pacenti ages his Brunello in French barriques, of which 50 to60% is new. His goal is produce wines of richness, complexity & structure with an edge of freshness. The 2006 is a superb rendition, well worth seeking out.
Guido Porro Barolo
This is a new producer for me which is imported in the U.S. by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. His holdings in the limestone influenced soils of the Lazzarito Cru lie within the Serralunga d’Alba appellation, which historically is renown for producing long lived, full bodied Barolo. Interestingly, however, Porro crafts more classical Barolo, which although very masculine in character, have superb refinement & class rather than just power & testosterone.
On this day, we tasted the 2007 Barolo “Vigneto Caterina”, which is a 1 hectare monopole parcel within the Lazzarito hillside…..400 to 410 meters in elevation, west facing, with 30 to 35 year old vines. Of his 2 Barolo, Caterina offers more delicacy & finesse.
In comparison, Porro’s 2008 Barolo “Vigneto Lazzarasco” is a 2 hectare parcel, 380 meters in elevation, southwest facing, with 40 to 45 year old vines…..and results in a more powerful, masculine wine, which I really think will be glorious with 25 to 30 years of age in the bottle.
No roto-fermentors are used and both wines are aged for at least 3 years in large 15 to 25 hectoliter Slavonian oak botti.
What a thrill it was finding these 3!
I am sure many avid wine aficionados have read alot about the 2009 Bordeaux wines. The main issue for me is the price. I am not saying they are not good wines, I am saying for the top echelon chateaux, I just can’t afford them.
In addition, when buying wines for a restaurant. especially nowadays, I am always looking instead for wines which over deliver for the dollar. To me…….Value will never be out of style. Please understand, I am NOT saying cheap……….VALUE.
Having said that, here are two Bordelais chateaux which fit the bill.
2009 Chateau Belle-Vue, Haut Medoc
The Haut Medoc appellation covers roughly 40 or so miles on the Left Bank of the Gironde River. This 9 hectare estate is located near the border of the Margaux appellation. The blend of the 2009 is 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot & 20% Petite Verdot. …and spent 16 months in French oak, 50% new & 50% 1 year old barrels.
From the first whiff, we were so taken with this wine’s classic perfume–textbook Bordelais, done with class & charm. And, with some air time, the wine just kept opening up with more & more. There is also lots of flavor & character, with wonderful balance & a long finish. This really is a pretty wine & I would love to have the chance of re-tasting this SENSATIONAL VALUE 15 to 20 years from now!
2009 Chateau Haut-Bergey, Pessac-Leognan
I have not tasted a wine from this chateau before, so needless to say I was anxious & somewhat apprehensive especially given the price tag. This is 28.5 hectare estate located in the Pessac-Leognan, with its famous gravel, pebbles & stones on a subsoil of silaceous clay. We just loved the resulting perfume, elegance, refinement & class in the wine. The 2009 is 54% Cabernet Sauvignon & 46% Merlot, aged for 18 months in French oak (50% new).
We were first introduced to Winemaking Partner Paul Wilkins by Chad Melville a few years back at the Hospice de Rhone wine festival in Paso Robles. Of all of the many, many wines being poured that day, Chad strongly suggested we taste Alta Maria’s Grenache & Syrah wines. He was right! They were awesome.
The bad news though was in that particular vintage (2004 I believe), Paul only produced 1 barrel (roughly 25 cases) of Grenache & 3 barrels (roughly 75 cases) of Syrah. Nonetheless we were thankfully able to get a tiny bit of each in addition to a few cass of their red wine blend as well as a little Pinot Noir. We were absolutely thrilled & thankful.
Subsequently, we have also met Paul’s partner, superstar vineyard-ist, James Ontiveros, who is the catalyst for getting all of the super premium grapes they now work with. In case you do not know, James is involved with vineyards such as Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, French Camp & his own estate–Rancho Ontiveros….& we have walked the vineyards with him to get his thoughts on the hows & whys of their wines from the vineyard perspective. James is an unreal guy…..& so very knowledgeable.
Terrific grapes to work with & a very talented winemaker makes for a very interesting project. 2009 makes the 6th vintage we have been working with their wines. They have certainly delivered…and on ALL cylinders. What a discovery this has been for us!!!!
With the 2007 vintage, Paul & James split up their portfolio. Native9 (which has been labeled as such since the beginning) is a more vanguard style of Rancho Ontiveros vineyard Pinot Noir. Alta Maria is now dedicated to very elegant, classy, wonderfully ethereal Santa Barbaran grown Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & the latest addition Sauvignon Blanc. Autonom is the home for their Rhone varietal based red wines.
Each of the wines are fabulous!!!! and well worth seeking out.
Here are two of the latest releases from Autonom, with winemaking partner, Paul Wilkins’ notes included. I always find it is interesting to hear the voice behind the genius, especially on this quality level.
2009 Red Cuvee
“From aspects of my past comes this broad, unsparing autonomous creation. In my mind, it stands alone amongst other wines I make. It can never be common, for each vintage shapes it uniquely.”
Varietals: 70% Syrah, 30% Grenache
Vineyards: 50% Laetitia, 20% Minetti, 30% Nielson. 25% Stem Inclusion, wild yeast fermented…aged in 100% New French Oak for 32 Months. 1000 bottles produced (80 something cases)
2009 Law of Return Grenache
Originally planted in 1964, the oldest wine grape vineyard in Santa Barbara County, Uriel J. Nielson, lies in the warmer, eastern most section of the Santa Maria Valley.
“This wine returns me to my origins. It speaks to me of nuance, history and experience like none other. It is home for me, it is where I started, but it is also where I hope to end.”
Varietals: 95% Grenache, 5% Syrah
Vineyards: 95% Uriel J. Nielson, 5% Minetti (located in the Tepusquet Canyon, two and a half miles north of the cooler Santa Maria Valley, this is a vineyard I farm myself)
25% Stem Inclusion, wild yeast fermented, aged in 100% New French Oak for 32 Months. 1000 bottles made
Without a doubt, Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo from Paso Robles is one of the very top echelon winemakers out of California today.
In the old days, I would just drive by Paso Robles as I headed from San Francisco down to the Santa Barbara appellation. I had always thought Paso was just too hot for producing top caliber wines. Back then there were only a few wineries from the area & generally speaking their wines showed nothing interesting enough for me to make me a stop.
In the late 80’s, however, I came across some wines from Justin Vineyards & Winery, which really caught my eye. Having then stopped by their winery & their vineyard, I was definitely intrigued by the limestone/silaceous clay soils & the tremendous potential I believe they had for producing interesting wines showcasing unique character. Furthermore while it was hot (100 degree days), at night, especially on the western edge, they had 50 degree nights.
The next real find after a couple of visits to the area was Linne Calodo, an up & coming wine project spearheaded by 2 young turks, Matt Trevisan & back then Justin Smith (who later branched off & founded Saxum). Their wines were amazing & really WOW-ed me.
Three of the things in their wines that further stirred my fascination–
–buoyancy. The wines were ripe, opulent, deeply flavored & full of character, yet had a remarkable buoyancy which was eccentuated by minerality which I believe came from the limestone/silaceous soils.
–Grenache & Syrah. By this time having tasted many wines from the region, the wines I found most interesting were produced from either Grenache or Syrah. Both seemed to create a distinct synergy with the unique soils, although it was site & winemaker specific. With the Linne Calodo wines which were centered around these two grape varieties (& Zinfandel), I knew they were on to something special.
–blending. Thirdly, rather than adjusting the wine scientifically, this dynamic duo artistically & deftly blended in various grapes from interesting vineyards to produce a more complete & interesting wine…to the point where the sum was better than each part individually.
Since then, I have been really moved watching Matt Trevisan really grow at his craft. His gift of corraling top caliber grapes & artistically & masterfully crafting remarkably interesting & complete blends is unrivaled. One of his true standouts, for instance, was the 2008 Sticks & Stones, which for me was a true landmark wine to this day.
Here are 2 of his latest & amazing releases–2010 “Outsider & 2010 “Slacker”. I am including some notes Matt recently sent, so you can get a better idea of how his mind works. Genius.
“All the Fruit is from a 3 mile radius around our facility. Currently we have 4 vineyards on Willow Creek 1.4- 3 miles as a crow flies North West: Heaton Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Cushman Zinfandel, Cherry Zinfandel, and Denner Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Zin, and Viognier. Over off Anderson Road 1.7 Miles as a crow flies North we have Booker Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Caliza Syrah. Back at the Mother Ship of LC (Linne Calodo), we have Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Tannat, Picpoul Blanc and Grenache Blanc. Across the Street at Oakdale Ranch ( Farmed by LC) we have Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Tannat”.
“As always, I think it is important to note that I make regionally specific wines that reflect our neighborhood of South West Paso Robles. Our estate vineyard is the coolest location and sits 11.3 miles from the Pacific. Elevation is 1108. As we move North West the Elevation climbs to 1300 feet and the distance from the cooling Pacific increases due to coastal geography. The farther from the coast I go, the higher the pH, for a given phenolic ripeness and Brix level“.
“The 2010 Outsider is a blend between the South facing and deeper soils planted to Zinfandel. The fruit comes from the Whalebone block at Heaton ( Dry farmed, head trained, planted 2003), across the street, literally, Cushman Zinfandel planted in 1976, Lower cool area very high total acidity. Denner Zinfandel, Dry Creek clone selection, planted in 1998: Bright and enthusiastic. The Syrahs used in the blend are a selection of clones and vineyard sites, Currently we are working with 470, 383,174,525,877,Alban,Estrella,Shiraz 5, split between 15 blocks on variable aspects and soils. The Syrah is used to build extra backbone and soften the texture. It is hard for me to be more specific on that one. The mourvedre is From the estate block 369 South. Full of tannin, earth, meat locker. Percentage wise the Zin in Outsider will be heavier in Heaton Zin because of the higher pH, and rounded mouthfeel. The soils from this ranch are pulverized calcarious rock and clay. Feels like you are walking on the Moon, 30% slopes. In the vinification process all blocks are fermented in small lots and fractionated at the press with Free Run, Middle press and tails. At pressing the Zin Bbls are filled to 75% and topped with either Syrah or Mourvedre. This process facilitates completion of alcoholic fermentation and secondary fermentation. When the stars align I like to press Zinfandel on top of my Syrah pumice. Acting like a filter, I gain complexity and tannin. The wine was blended in March 2011 and returned to 20% New American Puncheon, and 80% Neutral 265L (4 years or Older). Bottled in March 2012.”
“The 2010 Slacker is a compilation of Caliza Syrah ( high pH), with basket pressing bbls from Denner, Booker, and LC. To counter the higher pH I am adding a decent amount of Grenache from both the Estate and Denner (Middle block). The Grenache brightens the wine, adds a savory character and elevates the aromatics. The Mourvedre is from our Estate “Long Rows” this Mourvedre is more classical, if I can say that, Mineral, fresh dirt, low alcohol, a wonderfull component to have when blending. Aged in 100% Neutral cask to allow the true expression of both the vineyard sites and blending style.”
The Haarts own roughly 7.5 hectares of vineyards in Piesport–4.5 in Goldtropfchen (soft, splintered gray/blue slate) , 1 hectare in Grafenberg (red slate) & .4 hectares in Domherr (deeper, finer soils from erosion). In addition they own .3 hectares in their monopole Kreuzwingert (big stones/clay soils, cooler microclimate, which is actually a parcel in the Goldtropfchen vineyard) & .3 hectares in Wintricher Ohligsberg (big stones/hard blue slate with quartz).
The Haart wines combine power with great purity, balance & filigree. Theo crafts his wines in a reductive style & his wines therefore have tremendous aging potential.
On a recent visit we were fortunate to drive through the vineyards with Johannes, a few weeks before harvest (the grapes were roughly 55 to 60 degress Oechsle). We were certainly re-amazed at how steep & rocky each of the sites were. Furthermore, seeing the various vineyard’s soil types, aspect & exposures made for a clearer understanding of the resulting wines.
The Goldtropfchen vineyard characteristically offers power, opulence with pedigree, superb refinement & intricacy. VERY aristocratic. I also love the mineraility, floweriness & perfume which makes you want to smell the wine forever.
The Grafenberg, on the other hand, is seemingly more straightforward, rounder. The 2003 & 2009 were more showy, flashy, while the 2008 & 2010 much more pure, transparent & classic.
The Ohligsberger seems more focused, pure & cleaner with lots of citrus/grapefruit/lemon nuances.
The Kreuzwingert caught me by surprise as it showed RED fruit nuances & was quite exotic in comparison to the others.