Archive for September, 2017


Wine & Food Workshop

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At VINO, we created this 1 hour session for our guests to hopefully learn a thing or 2 for home use, through this experience.  We really try to keep it simple, but informative.  We also look to feature foods which could be prepared at home AND feature more affordable wines.  Most importantly, though, we really try to make it fun & interactive.  Here is our latest one.

COURSE #1  Seared Bristol Bay Scallop with Kahuku corn relish & herbed butter 

With this savory, somewhat rich preparation, we offered 3 different wines, each for a different intent.  The first offering–2014 Poppy Chardonnay “Santa Lucia Highlands”–was to initially serve a wine in many people’s comfort zone, a rounder, quite delicious style of California Chardonnay.  We chose this particular rendition, which retails for roughly $15 a bottle retail, because it we feel it really over delivers for the dollar.  This wine was quite popular among the tasters, as one noted–“delicious, round, seamless, pretty & a real pleasure to drink“.  While most thought this wine went with the food well, as several noted, perhaps, not as interestingly as the other 2.  The second offering–2015 Sella Mosca Vermentino de Sardegna “La Cala”–is a dry, mineral scented “country” styled white wine from the picturesque Isle of Sardegna.  This is very much the style of wine one would sip at a café or bistro along the Mediterranean basin.  Yes, the lemony edge of this white & its innate minerality/slight salinity really highlighted the scallop preparation well.  The third offering–2012 Domaine Skouras “Anassa”–a wonderfully, bordering exotic, aromatic, refreshing & lively white wine (mainly Moschofilero) from Greece.  This too was fashioned in a more country/café style of white wine.  While most did not fully understand/appreciate this wine on its own, it definitely created quite a fascination for many when served with the scallop.  I think many would agree it had something to do with the wine’s high toned, exotic aromatics & minerality.

COURSE #2  Chicken Cacciatore

With this savory, homey dish, we offered 3 different wines, each for a different intent.  The first offering–2011 Paul Mathew Valdiguie “Turner Vineyard”–is a very light colored, pretty, intriguingly perfumed, light to medium bodied red wine, produced from a small patch of 50 to 60 year old vines in Knights Valley, California.  Highly unusual to say the least, but still reminiscent of a lighter bodied Pinot Noir, which greatly over delivers for the dollar.  The second offering–2013 Sella Mosca Carignano del Sulcis Riserva “Terre Rare”–is another wonderfully perfumed red wine, though much more masculine & rustic than the Valdiguie, which we felt would shed a very different light on a possible pairing.  We have quite a fascination with old vine Carignane based red wines, especially at the dinner table.  This one is produced mainly from 100 year old, own rooted vines grown in the sandy soils of southwestern Sardegna.  It too greatly over delivers for the dollar.  The third offering–2015 Cantine Valpane “Rosa Ruske”–is a very provocative red from Piemonte, Italy.  The main grape is the nearly forgotten (until recently), indigenous Ruche grape variety.  The core of this baby still showcases the meaty, ground, earthy, sandalwood, feral nuances typically found in Piemontese red wines, but with a very pretty, alluring, exotic rose petal quality which is what really caught our attention.  As is the case with all 3 wines of this flight, we suggest these more exotically aromatic wines interact with foods quite uniquely in comparison with the more classic, standard wines one would normally consider.

Categories : Wine
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Mano e Mano

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Tasting wines side by side (mano e mano) can really shed very interesting insight into better understanding the wines tasted. At least, that is our goal for this night. Two pairs of wines.

2015 Faury Syrah “Collines Rhodaniennes

2015 Faury St Joseph

I have a real fascination with the Syrah based red wines, especially those from France’s Rhone Valley. So, here are two, mano e mano. Faury is one of the real shining stars championing the Syrah grape variety in the northern Rhone Valley. Their Collines Rhodaniennes bottling is produced from vines planted on the plateaus (flatter aspect, deeper top soil) above the steep hillsides and VERY different from their hillside grown (thin layer of top soil, more extreme growing conditions) St Joseph bottling. Here is your chance to compare the two—side by side—mano e mano. As you will see, BOTH are pure, transparent, provocative & soulful Syrah, from one of the VERY best artisan Syrah masters out the France, each with a different thing to say.

2013 CF Wines Riesling Medium Dry “Euro-Asian”

2009 Gunderloch Riesling Spatlese “Nackenheimer Rothenberg”

Both of these wines are produced from hillside vines, planted in red slate soils rising above the Rhine River of Germany. The CF Wines Euro-Asian” Riesling is crafted exclusively for our restaurants & our style of cooking, especially at the Sansei’s. It is medium dry, stony, lush & fabulous with foods. We then decided to pour the 2009 Gunderloch Spatlese next to it—longer hang time on the vines—& therefore more mojo & physiological maturity—done slightly sweet, lower in alcohol AND this one has more bottle age.  Interesting comparison!  Sadly, the patriarch of this family domaine, Fritz Hasselbach passed away last year.  He was certainly one of my favorite wine friends in the world.  He had a GREAT sense of humor, a really kind heart, was so sincere AND grew & made superb wine, like few others could.  Thankfully, his son, Johannes, is now running the show (& has been for several years now).  There is no better, as he devoutly understands their cru vineyard, their culture & where they came from.  He also has new ideas & we greatly look forward to the future.


Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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A Hodge Podge of Wines Tasted

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Yes, we are continually searching for new, “good” wines.  Although true standouts are hard to come by, the search & subsequent tastings at least keeps one updated on what’s available out there & its really good fun too.

2012 La Ferme des Sept Lunes St Joseph (Jean Delobre)–100% Syrah from a 5.5 hectare site up in the northern part of the St Joseph appellation of France’s northern Rhone Valley.   I have a real thirst for provocative Syrah based red wines from interesting vineyard sites & character seeking wine making.   Here was one that was highly recommended to me.  The wines was initially too cold when first served, but one could still immediately smell the distinct olive nuances nonetheless, which instantly caused one taster to knee jerk blurt out–Northern Rhone Syrah, despite the wine being quite closed in aroma.  As the wine warmed up, brambly, blackberry like qualities opened up along with a dose of black pepper & rustic gaminess.  In taste, the wine was tasty, seamless & surprisingly classy.  Although the wine was quite dark in color, it still was transparent & thankfully had really good virility & elevated acidity (which could use some bottle age to resolve).  I didn’t mind the VA, as it probably added rather than detracted in this case.   Yes, the winemaking is pretty good. I liked the wine, especially initially, but liked it less, however, as time went on & the wine had a chance to open up.  Sadly, being overly picky, I just wanted more mojo/soul.  Still, it was very enjoyable & several of the tasters took pictures of the label, which is always a good sign.  FYI–I paid roughly $36 for the bottle in a store in Seattle.

2014 Chateau Feuillet “Cornalin”–Here is a new star from the high altitude vineyards of Valle d’Aosta, 2400 to 3200 feet in elevation—rocky, meager, terraced with shallow, sandy soils, an indigenous grape variety, Cornalin,  whose “vine’s roots wriggle in the crevices of solid granite and all kinds of rock underneath.   The trump card, however, may be the exposition of the vineyards, which in combination with the chilly climate, high altitude, and drastic diurnal temperature shifts provides the magic charm sought by vignerons everywhere: extremely long hours of gentle sunlight.  This gives the grapes an exceptionally long, slow ripening season–so this wine still definitely has an earthy, stony core & masculine mojo, but it doesn’t have a thick viscosity or high glycerine mouthfeel.  Certainly not for everyone, but it is VERY intriguing & unique, yet light, delicious & food friendly.

2013 Coudert Fleurie “Clos de la Roilette”–There is no doubt that Alain Coudert is producing some of the most interesting & delicious Cru Beaujolais today.  It is curious that the true appellation of Fleurie although on the label, is much smaller in print than the vineyard & the producer’s name.  There seems to be stories about why, but to me the more important fact is how assertive, juicy & wonderfully perfumed & delicious this wine really is.  OMG.  Alain came on board of his family’s domaine in 1984.  His father had replanted the vineyard in 1967 & they attribute the character & richness of the resulting wine to their clay-manganese soils & their old vines.  I greatly thank Master Sommelier Greg Harrington for sharing this wine with myself & all who attended the Gramercy Cellars dinner we did with him at Sansei in Seattle, this past January!

2012 Kante Malvasia–There is no doubt Edi Kante is one of the vanguard winemakers of contemporary Italy.  One of the pioneers of the “orange” wine movement, he has now thankfully settled back into producing wines which feature character & a core of authenticity of what the vineyard, the climate & what the vine wants to say in any given vintage.  “Kante was born a contadino in this rugged area of northeastern Italy, at the crossroads of Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian culture today and historically at the crossroads of the Venetian and Austro-Hungarian cultures.  In his near-perfect combination of climate and terreno, Edi Kante produces wines that are poised, solid, fresh, and brimming with the character of both the chosen grape and the stark limestone soil of  Carso“.   I found this 2012 Malvasia so fascinating.  This grape’s innate highly aromatic perfume was much more sublime than I anticipated.  It seemed to accent the rockiness of the wine rather than be in the forefront, like we frequently see in other renditions.  That daring combination was followed by wonderful intensity, structure (not at all overly so) & a seamless, very invigorating buoyancy that really caught my fancy.  In thinking about this wine further, I was quite surprised at how fresh & alive this 2012 still was.  I really think the additional bottle age in fact greatly helped.  Yes, superb winemaking, that’s for sure.  And, yes, I would definitely buy some more!  I am anxious to try more of his wines.


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We decided to showcase FOUR real showpiece white wines on this night! Side by side….BLIND.  This was some kind of tasting!  After all, how often do opportunities like this come about?

2009 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre “Ortus”–Hippolyte Reverdy grows and produces some our favorite Sauvignon Blancs in the world from the French appellation of Sancerre. After all the years of following wines and getting distracted with newly discovered Sauvignon Blancs, I am now more than ever, convinced he is the master of this grape variety.   The wines are pure, minerally, intricate, masterfully textured and balanced year in and year out. Every now and then, when the vintage warrants, Reverdy produces an “Ortus” bottling—his best of the best—done with aging in large neutral oak barrels, 100% malolactic and twice a week lees stirring without being over done or with too much bravado. This is undoubtedly one of the real standouts from France’s Loire Valley. 

2015 Faury Condrieu–a rarely seen, nearly forgotten standout white wine appellation! Having said that, there really is no other wine like it, when it is grown and crafted at this level AND standard. The media hype those that, in my opinion, over do their wines. Thankfully, this family understands the importance of preserving such vines and craft their wines in honor of their history and heritage.  Such an intoxicating perfume combining exotic fruit/floral qualities, stony, base notes, a lush, visceral texture, bordering unctuous & surprising, sublime pedigree which separates it from other Viogniers I have encountered.  Nothing thankfully over done.  Definitely a benchmark! 

2013 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Alte Reben”–A chance to taste the finest Austrian Grüner Veltliner standouts of the year. The vineyards are steep and mostly primary rock (gneiss) and mica slate, tucked deep in the Krems Valley on the edge of the Senftenberg mountain. Here is his Old Vine bottling–mega-intense, seemingly chiseled from the rock it is grown in, with lots of old vine intricacies, resounding, bordering hard structure with great length & grandeur. 

2012 Dönnhoff Riesling Hermannshöhle “GG”–There is no doubt Helmut Dönnhoff is one of the world’s TOP winemakers and his Hermannshöhle parcel is his crown jewel. GG is Germany’s attempt at a Grand Cru level of quality. Iconic winemaker + great vineyard + Grand Cru quality = whew, what a truly monumental wine!  The 2012 deftly combines power, mesmerizing minerality, old vine intricacy, structure with class & grandeur.  This is a REAL majestic thoroughbred.  OMG.

Categories : General, White, Wine
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I believe I first met Eric Laumann during his tenure at Bonny Doon.  He has since launched his own label, Cambiata.  For me, these are tasty, interesting wines at quite reasonable price points.  Here is what his website aptly says—

Cambiata is not your average California winery. We are a little more unconventional and iconoclastic than our compatriots around the Golden State. I launched Cambiata in 2002 after making wines for other people for nearly two decades. My intention was to make distinctive wines that go beyond the Franco triumvirate of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. Today, we are vinifying a handful of compelling wines from some of California’s scarcest grape varieties including Albariño, Tannat and Dornfelder. We also make limited quantities of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands.”

From what I can best make out, Eric was working for a large vineyard owner down in Monterey, making wines for them under various labels, including Poppy.  Through his knowledge of the vineyards & his relationship with them, he was able to find some interesting parcels to work with AND even have some parcels planted for him. 

I first tasted his very own Cambiata wine, an Albariño, based upon a recommendation from fellow Master Sommelier, Peter Granoff, at his Ferry Plaza Wine merchant store some years back.  I was instantly quite taken by the wine because of its lovely, enticing aromatics & its vivacious, refreshing personality.

2015 Cambiata Albariño—the 2015 marks the 11th vintage of this wine.  Not only is it hard to find such wonderfully perfumed, well made, tasty, delicious & buoyant white wines, the very reasonable pricing makes it a no brainer to work with on our wines by the glass list.  If our staff can serve a Sauvignon Blanc, why can’t it instead be this wine?  Same kind of mouthfeel & crisp refreshingness, BUT with more wonderfully dynamic aromatics which create a much more interesting food pairing.  Wines like this are hard to come by, especially when one considers there were only 205 cases produced of the 2015.

2012 Cambiata Tannat—this was the second eye catching wine for me—a BIG, bold, provocative BLACK wine, which greatly overdelivers for the dollar.  I admit I was quite leery of tasting the 2004 back then.  My previous experience with the Tannat based red wines of southwest France was dark, gnarly, highly tannic, higher acidic red wines, which they said would finally open up after 20 to 30 years of cellar time.  Who could wait?  And, who would want to wait?  Well, the 2004 was in fact a bold, wildly rustic, full flavored beast, which was still however quite an interesting drink & far more interesting than many of the Zins & Petite Sirahs I was tasting at the time.  I loved its intriguing, provocative, soulful core!….& how well textured it actually was!  I haven’t unfortunately had the pleasure of having too many vintages since.  I happened to reach out to Eric a short time ago & he sent me some of his new releases to try.  OMG!!!!  Here is what he had to say about his 2012—

We planted our small Tannat vineyard in the rocky and well drained soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The cool growing conditions allows us to harvest grapes that are fully ripe yet still possessing an appropriate amount of food worthy acidity.  Tannat has an incredible ability to absorb oxygen. Technically speaking, the wine is full of procyanidin‐type tannins, which slow the aging and development process to a crawl. While today’s technology has given winemakers aggressive tools to introduce oxygen, at Cambiata we do it the old‐fashion way – extended barrel aging. For our 2012 Tannat it took 28 months before the wine had reached an appropriate balance between fruit and tannin that allowed us to put it into bottle.   We fermented the black juice in small open‐top fermenters and pumped over twice a day during fermentation. The wine was then pressed straight to 60 gallon barrels (100% French, 40% new). Our 2012 Tannat is incredibly deep and concentrated with notes of earth, blackberries, saddle leather and licorice. On the palate it is thick and chewy with bold, well‐integrated tannins. Big wine. Good wine”, well worth trying!!!!!!

Cambiata Pinot Noir Estate 2015—surprise, surprise, now a Pinot Noir!!  Why?  Because he is working with a very old vine parcel!  Yes, don’t expect any of that snazzy, flamboyant, showiness one associates with Dijon clones here.  This a very pretty, natural beauty who needs no make up to be what it is—pure, delicious, refined & quietly captivating.  At $16 a bottle, it is also quite a steal for the price that’s for sure!!!!  “The grapes come from the oldest Pinot Noir planting in Santa Lucia Highlands, planted 1973. Because the vineyard is old and somewhat virus led, the morphology is inconsistent and fairly unique vine to vine. I make the wine because it has the flavors I remember from Pinot’s we made in the 1980s. (1983 was my first professional harvest.) With everyone moving like lemmings to Dijon clones, this selection stands out as a viable option for a unique, old school experience. This is why I include the wine in the Cambiata portfolio. I always want people to drink different, I’m not out to follow the crowd and this selection gives us a moment to reflect and reevaluate what we’re doing with Pinot Noir and with our bulldozers.  It’s a hillside vineyard about halfway up the ridge. The grapes are certified sustainable (SIP) but I don’t put it on the label because as a one person operation I don’t have time to do everything. Soil is typical SLH decomposed granite. No stems. I do a bit of thermo maceration to enhance and stabilize color as well as denature esterases giving the wine (particularly when young) some carbonic macerated character.  Oak is 30% new, French/American 75/25. I think a bit of American oak adds complexity. I don’t leave it for too long in oak, about 5 months”.

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