Archive for May, 2013


A Pair of Interesting Beers

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Our “friend” Grant brought a couple of interesting beers for us to sample the other night.  He is a real beer “freek” & really has a passion for interesting beers from around the world.  Here is what he graciously shared with us.

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 Ithaca Beer Co. Excelsior Brute

Here is a beer project, founded in 1998 whose goal was to feature “the spirit of the Finger Lakes” via beer rather than wine.  On this night, we sampled their Brute, which is a Golden Sour Ale, produced from American barley, wheat, corn & local hops….fermented in oak (in this case for 4 months) with Brettanomyces & then finished with 3 different Champagne yeast.

I am not sure Sour beers are for everyone…..nor those using Brettanomyces for that matter.  The vivacious tartness is however quite refreshing & uplifting & the Brett adds real uniqueness & interesting-ness to the beer, just as one sees in some of the traditional, regional, rustic “country” wines of the Mediterranean basin.

I am not so sure I would buy such a beer again (I am admittedly a winer, not a full on beer enthusiast) ….BUT it sure was fun to try!

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Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek   (bottled 10/17/08)

Now here is a beer I would buy, eventhough it must be hard to get & I am sure pricey….it is that good!

Drie Fonteinen is located in Beersel, Belgium near Brussels, founded in 1887.  They specialize in some of the very finest, classic lambic beers.  Schaerbeekse Kriek is a sour & dry, Belgian lambic beer, spontaneously fermented with an increasingly rare (at least in terms of supply), wild, small, firm fleshed, sour Morello cherry (the best include the pits as well).

I REALLY liked this sour beer!  It had something extra besides fruitiness & the unique character.  Soul….would be a good way of putting it.  It additionally has compelling aromatics (where the fruit aromas are not overdone), great flow & balance on the palate & a long, long finish.  Certainly one of the best beers I’ve had!

Categories : General, New Discoveries
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2010 Relic Wines

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I first met wife & husband team, Schatzi Throckmorton (whose day job is GM of Behrens/ Erna Schein) & Mike Hirby (then–ass’t winemaker of Behrens/Erna Schein), just as they were ready to launch their Relic label.  These are two incredibly nice people whose true passion for wine is quite contagious.  It was no surprise when their Relic project came to fruition & was deservedly & wonderfully received by the wine media.

Here is what their website explains–

The story of Relic is the story of us: two dreamers following our passion, falling head-over-heels for the epic wines of our times and falling in love with each other. We make wine because we love it and find it mysterious yet deeply satisfying. On the one hand wine provides simple pleasure, something to be shared with friends and family, complementary to a great meal, and on the other hand can be a magnifying glass into the soul of a vineyard site.

We began Relic in 2001 with just a few barrels of Pinot Noir and have since continued to mine history for the old secrets in the making of Rhone varietals, Bordeaux varietals, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When we apply these traditional methods to our California climate, we find the resulting wines to be modern and vibrant, yet adamantly more complex and satisfying. Our goal is to make world-class wines that have all of the complexity, aromatics, nuance and concentration that one would expect from some of the best sites in Napa Valley and the Sonoma Coast“.

I am a HUGE fan, as these are VERY interesting, provocative, impeccably made wines that have delicious-ness & balance right out of the gates.  Wines like this don’t just happen.  They are born from interesting & unique vineyard sites & the passion & dedication of a gifted, visionary wine team.  High kudos to Schatzi & Mike!

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2010 Pinot Noir “Kashaya”

In 2010 Relic produced 2 different Pinot Noirs.  The Kashaya Vineyard is located above the Salt Point State Park out on the true Sonoma Coast, 3 miles from the ocean & above the fogline.  Relic uses 3 clones/selections from here–115, Old Wente & Pommard.  The wine is wild yeast fermented & spends 11 months on the lees.  Like many Sonoma Coast Pinots, this rendition is masculine in style with a good, solid frame & structure.  At the same time, however, there is a real loveliness & deliciousness which separates it from many of its neighbors.  Kudos to Mike & Schatzi on this gorgeous wine!  WOW!

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2010 Ritual

Their Rhone styled blend, which in 2010 was 47% Mourvedre, 21% Carignane, 15% Grenache, 12% Petite Sirah & 5% Syrah.  The grapes for this wine come from 5 vineyards. The Mourvèdre from Juliana’s- organically farmed, small berried clone with yields at 3 tons/acre. Grenache is organically farmed Alban clone from Temple Family Vineyards. Carignane is 110 yrs old from Frediani vineyard, which is adjacent to the iconic Eisele vineyard of Araujo fame (both of Aken soils), which naturally yielded a mere 1 ton per acre. The Petite Sirah is also from Frediani as well & was planted in the 40s. It has always been organic, which is pretty cool.  The Syrah comes from the Farella vineyard down in Coombsville (southern Napa Valley & cooler) & tufa soils.

The Syrah and Carignane are whole-cluster fermented with foot-stomping. The wine is in 50% new French burgundy barrels (Remond & Ermitage cooperages) for 16 months. The wine is racked only once for the assemblage. 

I was really fascinated with the 2008 Ritual, as all of its parts are coming together so nicely.  It has alot of flavor, character & gumption while still having fabulous texture & flow on the palate.  I believe the 2010 ups the game even more…..because of its balance, seamless-ness and texture right out of the gates.

Plus…..I admire how Mike Hirby is deftly able to craft such a wine where its sum is better than each part individually.  And using the grapes to do so, rather than depending on scientific/winemaking gimmicks to do the magic.

This is REALLY a winery “under the radar screen” & grossly under rated.  Get it while you can.

Categories : New Releases, Red, Wine
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A Vertical of Forman Wines

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Yes, it was a crazy kind of tasting last night in VINO, which was spearheaded by2 of the regulars.  Interestingly, we all share a real appreciation for Napa Valley’s Ric Forman and his wines.  (There is another post on this site with a picture or 2 of the vineyard itself).

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 1996 Merlot

Here was the “lead off batter”…..showcasing the same graphite/pencil lead/gravel character typically found in Forman’s red wines & therefore found in the bevy of Cabernets tasted later.  This one has a little more plumpness in the middle.  We were so impressed how remarkably youthful this wine still is.

From here we did 3 flights of Forman Cabernet Sauvignons, in a particular order, with the intent of each wine strutting its stuff in the best light possible.


FLIGHT #1 (in order–left to right)–1991, 1990, 1992 & 1995


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  1991–probably the lightest of the group in weight, but very elegant, refined, classy.

  1990–such a lovely, suave, well polished aristocrat 

  1992–I was very surprised with how youthful this wine seemed.

  1995–here was the “alpha” of the group.  Lots of vigor & structure still.




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(Right to Left)

1984–It was the weakest wine of the night.  I didn’t think, however, it was a comment on the wine….more about the storage.

1986–a VERY impressive wine still–layers of complexity, nuance, terrific harmony with youth & vigor in the core.

1985–the ‘alpha” of the group–lots of character & structure.  Wow!

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(Left to Right)

1993–a very elegant, suave (though tight), classy wine with a gorgeous gravel perfume.

1994–another classy wine with lots of the graphite/pencil lead/gravel character

1997–for many, the wine of the night!  It had everything & in all the right places.  It was also the most showy.

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2009 Chardonnay (final wine of the night)

Ric Forman’s only white wine, at least as far as I know.  The fruit comes from Forman’s Rutherford Star Vineyard, which I believe was planted in 1980.  The wine is whole cluster pressed, barrel fermented….sur lie for 7 months….aged in barrel for 9 months….and sees NO ML.  Gorgeous, classy, transparent & wonderfully nuanced….an ideal way to end the tasting!

Categories : Red, Wine, Wines Revisted
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Tasted some interesting Greek wines today

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Cheryle & I had a sampling of some interesting Greek wines at the’s “Chef’s Congress”  last October, which really perked our interest.  Finally…..some are making their way to our Islands.   Here are a few of the highlights we tasted today.

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 2011 Domaine Douloufakis Dafnios

Produced exclusively from the Vidiano grape variety, which is organically farmed on the southern Isle of Crete at roughly 1800 feet elevation.  Very pretty, well made, fascinating perfume, good balance with lots of life & vigor.  This wine has an innate bitterness in the finish, so one needs to be thoughtful on what foods to pair with it.

zzzzzzz 003 2012 Domaine Sigalas (Santorini) Assyrtiko

Took a while to open up aromatically.  I had to keep coming back to try this wine over & over again to better understand it.  It, however, was worth it as I find this to be a fascinating white wine.  On the palate, it displayed a assertive-ness, bordering coarse-ness/rugged-ness, which reminded me of an Italian Nebbiolo vinified white, I had with the 1991 vintage–stony, masculine, red wine-ish character (viscosity &  innate bitterness).  When I came back to it after a bout with the red wine line-up, I enjoyed it more, as the bitterness was NOT as evident (after having the red wines).  One would need to be quite specific in pairing foods with this fascinating wine, I believe.  I have since been told these are 60 plus year old vines grown in black lava, volcanic ash, pomice & sandy soils & fermented in stainless steel.

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 2011 Domaine Douloufakis Malvasia “Femina”

Here is another really good wine from this domaine & the isle of Crete.  As one would expect from a Malvasia….yes…it is very aromatic & perfumed/bordering pine needle in nuance.  The wine has a wonderful roundness & surprisingly refinement & balance.  They apparently do some pre-fermentation skin contact for flavor (at cool temperatures) & some ageing in old oak.  One could have alot of fun with this wine & Mediterranean foods.

zzzzzzz 006 2009 Alexakis Winery Kotsifali-Syrah

Also from the isle of Crete, this is a rustic, sultry, deeply flavored, sumptuous, tannic blend of 60% Kotsifali & 40% Syrah….a blend of the old & the new.

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 2009 Domaine Karydas Xinomavro Naoussa

I was quite intrigued by this very contemporary, more modern style of Naoussa.  It had a dark/sinister edge, quite masculine, musky & forest floor-y.  Still, I think this wine will have a surprisingly broader appeal, as the 16 months in French oak (30% new) tamed the innate rusticity some & framed it quite well from beginning to end.

 zzzzzzz 0022008 Domaine Skouras Synoro

Yes…this is VERY modern wine, to the point, I am not sure many tasters would guess this to be Greek in a blind tasting.  At the same time, it would have broad appeal for those weaning away from New World wines.  The blend is 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot & 20% Xinomavro grown in rocky clay soils at roughly 2000 feet elevation.  The wine spends 13 months in French barrique…30% new & 4 months on fine lees.  A style similar in profile to what the Italians are doing with Super-Tuscans….BUT…at a fraction of the price.

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We did a staff winetasting down at Sansei Waikiki/DK Steakhouse the other night.  The staff wanted to learn a little more about Italian red wines.  Since we had previously tasted some examples produced from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo & Aglianico before, I decided to show them some wines, which were more “country-ish” in style.  Thankfully the wines showed wonderfully.

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Sella & Mosca is located near the port of Alghero in the northwest part of the picturesque Isle of Sardegna. They work with only their estate fruit, which in this case is comprised of clay-sand soils. The wine is 100% Cannonau (Grenache), which is aged in large Slavonian for 24 months. Although, this wine too can be delicious like Grenache from other parts of the world, it has a wildly rustic, somewhat masculine personality & firmer structure which works very well with VINO kind of foods.

 NANFRO FRAPPATO  zzzzzzz 002

Frappato is a grape variety indigenous to the Isle of Sicily. Nanfro is located in Catania, a city world renown for their ceramics as well as wine. The vineyard is located at roughly 1200 feet in elevation, comprised of sandy soils with clay & is organically farmed. The locals insist the region’s temperate climate & sandstone terrain create ideal conditions for precious wines with great personalities. This 2011 is juicy, intriguing & rustic yet VERY delicious & gulpable. We have been looking fior a good Frappato for many, many years. Here is the first one to really catch our eye.

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The current owners patriarch, Pietro Giuseppe Arditi purchased this estate in 1902. “Their 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. One day a young man came to the estate and enthusiastically described his dream to buy Valpane and pursue his passion for winegrowing on this exceptional plot of land & is renown for structured, aromatic wines.. Today Pietro runs the estate. “People tell me I’m a great winemaker,” he says, “but the wines of Valpane have been winning awards for well over a century, so it can’t be my doing. I’m just careful not to ruin what the land gives us!”

Although the names Asti and Alba may be more widely recognized today, Pietro explains that the Monferrato provides more faithful expressions of Barbera. 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. At Valpane these factors combine to provide meaty Barberas that nevertheless offer plenty of lively fruit. Pietro then lets them sit in large oak botti and cement tanks for several years, depending on the cuvée, and releases them only when they are ready“.

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Here is yet another fine example of a TRUE Italian, what I call “country” wine. “The Isasco vineyard sits on a plateau high up in the coastal mountains of Liguria, overlooking the small town of Varigotti and the expansive Mediterranean down below. Thanks to the altitude, the vines benefit from cool nights that allow for slow ripening all the way until harvest in mid-October”. I am told the soil is a red clay. (The rocks in Varigotti have an unusually high aluminum content; as the rock breaks down the aluminum is released and washes into the clay soil, where over several years it oxidizes and turns red. This soil is found only in Varigotti and certain areas of Provence (which is just a few hours away by car)”. The grape variety for this fresh, juicy, surprisingly light & delicious RED wine is Rossese, which this family has been farming since the 1500’s. The Ruffino family & their Punta Crena wines have a real connection with their land, their vines. I believe in addition to terroir, however, their culture & heritage also add to the magic & unique-ness of their wines.

Spending time in the coastal villages of Liguria—or anywhere in Italy, for that matter—will immediately reveal that life revolves around food. People always seem to be eating, and even while enjoying one meal, you might overhear them planning out the next. Paolo Ruffino, whose family has been growing and vinifying local varietals in Varigotti since around 1500, discloses his philosophy: “I only eat once a day—I start in the morning after I wake up, and I stop before I go to bed.” (No, he’s not fat—on the contrary.) It only follows naturally that the Ruffinos should produce a Rossese that is both thirstquenching and extremely food-friendly. In fact, it’s a challenge for me to imagine a dish that would not pair terrifically with a slightly chilled glass of this delightful red. And if you’re not hungry yet, its buoyancy on the palate and fruity exuberance make it delicious on its own “ . ‘

The tiny village of Varigotti sits on the Mediterranean, just a few rows of houses and restaurants on a pristine beach, with its back against steep hills. Climb up into the hills and you will discover neatly terraced vineyards on the slopes and in hidden clearings further up on the peaks. The Ruffino family has been tending these vineyards for over 500 years, hardly changing a thing as they pass their knowledge and wisdom from one generation to the next. Ask Paolo if the family follows organic methods in the vineyards and he’ll laugh. We’re not “organic,” he says as if you had asked about some crazy new technology. We just do everything the same way our ancestors have for hundreds of years. They even build their stone terraces by hand, using the method established here three thousand years ago. The vineyards of Punta Crena (which is named for a large promontory jutting into the sea at the edge of the village) are all within 1200 meters of the water and enjoy sea breezes that help keep the grapes healthy and happy. The Ruffinos are proud to work almost exclusively with local varietals, but they don’t have much company. These unpretentious people are firmly rooted in Varigotti, and the wines they craft are infused with local tradition and character”.

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The Riofavara estate is located on the southern tip of Sicily in the Noto Valley, just a few minutes down the road from the town that gave Nero d’Avola its name.  Though the area’s image still suffers in some circles from the historic production of high-alcohol wines that were good only to boost thin wines from the mainland, estates like Riofavara have completely reversed this trend, eliciting vivacious, mineral wines from the zone’s rocky limestone and marl terrains. Named for the Tellaro River, this geological feature known as The Tellaro Formation of the Noto Valley is a layer of active limestone that helps the vines withstand the extreme heat of summer by providing them with a reserve of water.

The Padova family has tended vines here for almost a century, but only in 1993 did they begin bottling their own wine. Their philosophy revolves around two central concepts: Sicilian typicity and the environment. This family is so fervently dedicated to organic production that a few years ago they deemed the official Italian certifying agency too lax and “fired” them, establishing their own stringent standards that demand quality in the finished wine as well as environmentally friendly practices during production“.   Riofavara was also the first producer to dignify this grape with the use of its own indigenous yeasts.


Moretto is to Lambrusco what Tempier and Terrebrune are to rosé. It reminds me of the best reds of Bandol and Tuscany, with herbs like thyme, and a sort of dusty mineral quality, like you find in some of the top Bordeaux and Tuscan wines.”  Kermit Lynch

Right from the start Domenico and Albertina worked their vines with entirely natural products and made the most of their excellent vineyard sites. When their sons Fabio and Fausto joined the estate in 1991 the family took another step forward, building a new winery, acquiring another four hectares of vineyards, and finally bottling the wine themselves; and in 1997 their organic status became official. The vineyards of Fattoria Moretto are located in the heart of the hills of Castelvetro, near the famous town of Modena, where a silt and clay soil gives fresh, mineral wines. The Altarivas also choose to highlight the local grape Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro by vinifying it alone, resulting in an intense, terroir-driven Lambrusco with a nose serious enough for even the most knowledgeable wine connoisseur“.

Categories : Red, Wine
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2011 Witching Stick Pinot Noirs

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As VINO regulars well know, we have been HUGE fans of winemaker Van Williamson over the years & his tenure at Edmeades Winery.  He made some superbly vinous, beasty, yet well textured, surprisingly balanced Zin behemoths which displayed the raw character of some interesting Old Vine Mendocino vineyards, such as Ciapusci, Zeni, Piffero & Eaglepoint Ranch, just to name a few.  From 1994 to 2007, it really was an era of Van Williamson in all his glory.

At the same time, what most people do not really know or remember, Van also crafted some really terrific Pinot Noir from the Edmeades estate vineyard in Anderson Valley, from the 1994 vintage, with 2000 being his last.  In their youth, these were very masculine, hard, provocative, firmly structured Pinots, which came alive with several years of bottle age.  They too were full of character & therefore were some of the most interesting Pinots out of California.  AND they got better with age.

I was quite saddened when their parent company decided to have Van concentrate on Zinfandel…only, hence 2000 being the last vintage for Pinot, 1999 for Chardonnay, 1999 for Syrah & 2000 for Petite Sirah.

Now, however, that Van Williamson is on his own & making wines under his own label, Witching Stick, he thankfully is again making Pinot Noir, starting with the 2011’s.

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 2011 Witching Stick Pinot Noir “Cerise Vineyard”

The Cerise vineyard is located on a hillside, I would say roughly between 600 & 1000 feet in elevation on the eastern hills of the Anderson Valley above the town of Booneville.  Business entrepeneur, Peter Knez, purchased both the Cerise (& the adjacent Demuth) vineyards a few years back.  Heading his operation is Anthony Filiberti (of Anthill Farms fame).  In 2011, Anthony graciously sold Van some Pinot grapes….a mix of clones/selections–Pommard, 2A, 115 & Martini.  Van fermented (using wild yeast) the grapes 5 different ways…..50% of the 115 batch, using 15% whole cluster……..50% of the 115 with 50% whole cluster, laying 50% of the Pommard on top with 50% whole cluster……..50% of the Pommard with 20% stems…….the 2A with 30% whole cluster…….the Martini with 30% whole cluster.  The wine finished at 12.8 alcohol naturally, was aged for 16 months in French oak, 40% new.  The resulting wine, though still VERY youthful, tight & lean, is VERY pretty, soft on the entry, though masculine in character & with good structure & superb balance.  One just needs to give it some time to open up.  I really like it.  211 cases produced.

zab 0022011 Witching Stick Pinot Noir “Gianoli Vineyard”

The Gianoli Vineyard is located roughly 1800 feet up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge, somewhere between Zeni & Ciapusci ranches.  This hillside parcel was planted to an unknown clone/selection (though probably Dijon) & is farmed by Steve Alden, a long time friend of Van’s.  This wine was also wild yeast fermented, saw 25% stems & 70% new oak.  It finished at 14.1 alcohol naturally.  In comparison to the Cerise, this one is rounder, broader, darker, more masculine, juicy, riper flavors & therefore more showy out of the gates.  It will also probably get higher scores & ratings.  77 cases produced.

It is great to see Van Williamson making wine again…..AND….his way.  Whether it is his Zinfandel (Fashauer Vineyard), Pinots, Chardonnay (Durell Vineyard) or Dry Rose…..his style has really changed….without compromising the wonderful character & artisan, handcrafted qualities he has been known for.

Categories : New Releases, Red, Wine
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