Archive for November, 2018

Nov
28

Corsican Wine–Part 4–Sartène

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The visit with Jean-Charles Abbatucci in Ajaccio took 6 1/2 hours.  It was supposed to be only 20 minutes.  We were running late & I was especially anxious because I didn’t relish driving & navigating the narrow, harrowingly winding roads of Corsica at night.  After all, our next destination, the city of Bonifacio in the southern tip of Corsica, was still a considerable drive away.

When we told Jean-Charles we were headed down to Bonifacio, he said his trademark phrase–“NO problem!”  He then added that along the way, we should stop by to see his friend Pierre Richarme, a true vigneron in Sartène, located roughly halfway between Ajaccio & Bonifacio.  The look in his eyes was one of respect, so we thought how can we argue with a vigneron recommending another vigneron?  He, after all, only recommended ONE AND, he doesn’t do so lightly or casually.  It really is a statement of respect.  So, off we went.

I was quite thankful that the roads seem to widen as we headed south.  The hills also seemed more rounded with less height.   It also seemed warmer. 

Finding Pierre Richarme was another interesting mini adventure.  Following GPS, we drove to a winery in Sartène, but no one was there.  There really wasn’t an address anywhere to be found, so we weren’t sure if we were actually in the right place.  Up the hill, we could see a residence, but we didn’t want to barge into anyone’s private residence.  So, after a while, we headed back out.  We stopped to take a break.  Imagine our surprise when someone drove up.  It’s Pierre.  Thankfully Jean-Charles had called him to advise him of our possible visit.  We followed him to the tasting room/restaurant, which was just down the road, again with no signage.

Pierre seemed like a very warm, nice guy.  He watched us very intently & we communicated well, considering he spoke very broken English & we no French. 

His domaine is 24 hectares of vineyards (2HA-Vermentino; 8HA Sciaccarellu, 10HA Niellucciu & 4HA Grenache), all biodynamically farmed.

His wines, over all, were tasty, interesting & very pleasurable, in fact, some of the better wines we had during our trip.

He uses a lot of concrete during his winemaking, with some oak.

His 100% Vermentino (Serenite) is wild yeast fermented, 6 months on the lees–pure, fresh, lean, uplifting & quite lively.  I would buy it.

He produces another 100% Vermentino (Le Lion de Roccapina)–6 months in 50% new oak, 50% 600 liter demi-muids–modern, grander, clove, spice & FRAMED.

HarmonieRosé–100% Sciaccarellu, direct pressed rosé–masculine, hearty, savory, darker colored.

Le Lion de Roccapina Rosso–80% Niellucciu, 20% Sciaccarellu, NO stems, 10 months in oak, 40% new–masculine, structured & well framed.

Equilibre–interestingly Pierre chose to next serve us this lighter, more forward, fruity red wine–40% each Niellucciu & Sciaccarellu & 20% Grenache, all fermented in concrete.  Quite the change-up–lighter colored, more transparent & fruity though with a savory edge.

Espirit de la Terre–80% Sciaccarellu, 20% Niellucciu–10 months in oak, 40% new.  seemingly riper, more plump, lower acid. 

XX Cuvée–100% Sciaccarellu, 10 months in oak, 40% new.  Now, this was a wine to behold.  It totally rocked!  (In fact, when we tried this wine later with Carlo Deperu of Deperu Holler on Sardegna, Carlo was over the top thrilled at tasting this wine!).  It is masculine,  uber savory, vinous & quite soulful!

Thank you Pierre for a wonderful visit!

Nov
26

Corsican Wines–Part 1 – Patrimonio

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Let’s talk story about Corsica & its wines.  My wife, cousin & I recently visited the island of Corsica, landing in the north & traversing the countryside down to the town of Bonifacio in the south.

I had a wine, Clos Nicrosi from a producer, Luigi, way back when & have wanted to go visit because of how interesting, unique & “otherworldly” it smelled & tasted.  I was completely captivated & it had been at the top of my wine bucket list since.  30 plus years.

So, after 27 hours of planes & airports, we landed in the city of Bastia, in the north eastern part of the island.  Rather than touring the city, its cathedrals & old port, we set out early morning westward to the Patrimonio wine appellation.  It was truly remarkable how once you leave the city limits & get into the countryside how remote & seemingly uncivilized it is.  One can drive for hours upon hours & see only hills, mountains, wild shrub & rocks jutting out everywhere.

Our first stop was at Yves Leccia.  The Leccia family have been growing grapes & making wine in the Patrimonio for generations.  Yves split off on his own in 2004 & today produces some of the most elegant, refined, sophisticated wines out of the rugged Patrimonio AOC.  He is a firm believer in his “E Croce” parcels–where there is a thin clay chalk layer resting upon a bedrock of schist just 1 meter or 2 down below.  He works with indigenous Corsican grape vines such as Vermentino & Biancu Gentile for white wine, Muscat for dessert style whites & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minustellu for red wines (although he has recently added some Grenache to his repertoire, for finesse & more roundness).  His wine portfolio includes 2 main labels–YL I.G.P Île de Beauté–Blanc, Biancu Gentile, Rosé; a Rouge & a very special “O Ba” red bottling…..& a set labeled as AOC Patrimonio–Blanc, Rosé & Rouge.  In each case, his wines are in fact wonderfully elegant, refined, pure & surprisingly classy.

Our next stop was with the Arena family, also in the Patrimonio appellation.  Patriarch, Antoine Arena, is one of the most iconic, revered wine vignerons in all of Corsica.  His domaine vineyard holdings have now been split between he & his 2 sons (Antoine Marie & Jean Baptiste).  Moving forward there will therefore be THREE labels now–Antoine Arena; Antoine Marie Arena & Jean Baptiste Arena, each using grapes from their split of the estate & done via the family style (with a few adjustments here & there, which I would venture to say, will continue to grow as time goes on).  Their vineyard holdings are some of the most breathtaking & eye catching that we saw in Corsica.  Spectacular, to say the least.  It starts with the Morta Maio parcel–clay, limestone & schist–2 hectares planted to Niellucciu (planted in 2001)–which goes to the Antoine Arena label; & 1 hectare of Vermentino (planted in 2014)–which goes to the Jean Baptiste Arena label.  The Griotte di Sole parcel, one of the domaine’s oldest holdings dating back to the 18th Century, is south facing (great sun exposure).  The 2 hectares of Niellucciu are 60 plus year old vines & the 1 hectare of Vermentino was planted in 1991 (wild yeast fermented in concrete).  The Carco parcel–east facing, with limestone, chalk, clay soils, was planted in 1987–2 hectares to Niellucciu (wild yeast fermented in concrete & then partially aged in old barrels–350 liters, 600 & 800 liters & the rest concrete up to 2 years) & 1 hectare planted to Vermentino (wild yeast fermented in concrete, 7 months aging on fine lees & typically 100% malolactic).  Their most recent addition is their Haut de Carco planting, which is a very steep, hillside planting directly above Carco–roughly 1 hectare–of a much harder, thicker limestone, planted in 2003.  (They in fact had to use blasting powder & heavy equipment to clear the land & blast holes to plant their vines, as nothing really grew well there previously).  What a vineyard site to behold!  Antoine Marie Arena also has a 1/2 hectare parcel of Morta Maio named Memoria–90 year old vines planted in red schist soils, which he produces maybe 1000 bottles of in any given vintage (fermented in concrete & aged in 8 years old, 350 liter barrels).  They also have a 1 hectare parcel which lies between Griotte di Sole & Carco of clay limestone soils where they planted the rarely seen Biancu Gentile native grape variety in 1996.  In addition they have a small 3 hectare parcel of calcareous, schist soils where they planted Muscat a Petite Grains–for their Muscat du Cap Corse cuvee–a low yielding parcel which is then fortified with Corsican grappa to produce a surprisingly delicate, wonderfully perfumed, minerally, uplifting dessert style white wine.  The wines are some of the very best from the island & deserve all of the major hype & acclaim they perennially receive. Their plantings are on this hillside.

 

 

 

 

 

We also tried to stop & see Giacometti–in Patrimonio, but in an area named the Agriate Desert.  While the area is very remote & semi arid, it is not at all like the Sahara desert & its completely barren, wind swept series of sand dunes.  It really is a wild countryside, with very little evidence of civilization.  I was told it is 4 1/2 hours of rugged four wheeling to get to the vineyard.   We valiantly tried but turned around after a while because the road was just too jagged & gnarly for our SUV.  The wines are good, interesting, very savory & intriguingly rustic.  Next time, maybe.

We did try other wines from the area, but nothing was nearly as good as what we had from these 3.

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Nov
25

Corsican Wine–Part 3–Ajaccio

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Next on our agenda was to hopefully see Jean-Charles Abbatucci in the seaside city of Ajaccio.  (If one were to look at Corsica as a clock, Ajaccio would be located at roughly 8:30).  It is the capital of Corsica AND also happens to be the largest in population.  In short, Ajaccio is, well, a BIG city, especially by Corsican standards.  Our hotel was just 2 blocks off the port in a very congested part of the city, maybe 2 blocks from the old part of town.

Then why go to Ajaccio?

It had quite a concentration of small neighborhood eateries nearby to the hotel & therefore an opportunity to try some authentic Corsican food, especially in the old part of town, eventhough the parking was very challenging.  Plus, my cousin really wanted to see where Napoleon was born & raised (his one tourist-y stop on this trip).

Domaine Comte Abbatucci is a drive outside of Ajaccio city.  It wasn’t that easy to find, given the vineyard & winery really doesn’t have an address listed.

Our early attempts to schedule a visit with Domaine Comte Abbatucci were declined.  I was told Jean-Charles rarely sees visitors & especially at this time, since it was the end of harvest & heavy winemaking operations going on.  Yes, he is very hands on.  On Saturday, however, we received an email from them noting that he would be willing to see us on the coming Monday, but only for 30 minutes.  We were thrilled, as this was not only one of the very top vignerons of the island, but also a big proponent of rarely seen heirloom/heritage indigenous grape vines, which his father started searching out & collecting during his frequent travels into the mountains–fallow, dilapidated vineyards & many small, “peasant” farmers.  He is also a vehement champion of uber-biodynamic farming & a true master at grafting (to the point of almost appearing to be a bonsai master) indigenous vines to the old vine root system (which is used to the biodynamic regiment & less compacted, horse trodden soils).

The original 30 minute time limit actually ended up being more like 6 1/2 hours, as he passionately showed us vine after vine after vine of his masterful grafting techniques, which seemingly differed with each plant.  His goal was to be as minimally intrusive as he could be, so the vine would concentrate on producing supreme quality fruit, rather than on healing from the cuts & stress created by grafting.  Imagine at least 1 hour of looking & explanation……vine by vine!

He also proudly & patiently explained what he meant when he referred to his craft & several other of his peers as a vigneron.  In short, it was a definition of a code, an ethic, a passion, an honor, kind of similar in thought to the difference between a samurai & a swordsman.  He named only a few on his island who he considered true vignerons.  (Those that I was not familiar with, we then tried to add them to our list of visits or we bought the wines at stores or restaurants during our travels to sample).

So, I asked him, if you are not a vigneron, what are you?

In his broken English he referred to many as bricoleur.    I then asked, what is a bricoleur?  He smirkingly said, “He drives a BIG car.  He has nice shoes.” 

I later mentioned this to a wine friend from France, & he later emailed me this–“A Bricoleur does “Bricolage” which is defined as: Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available.  It was very often used by artisans when I was growing up in France when talking badly about some of their competitors not having great skills or performing shoddy / sloppy work”.

Got it.  Jean-Charles Abbatucci is definitely a vigneron.

Wine wise, Domaine Comte Abbatucci has three main, differentiating sub-labels–

Cuvée Faustine–(Blanc–produced from 40 year old vine Vermentino; Rosé–typically produced from 90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa; and Rouge–typically produced from 70% Sciaccarellu, 30% Niellucciu).  I would say, these are his core wines & the ones most restaurants & retail stores should concentrate on, especially when considering price points.

Vin de France–(wines grown &/or produced not withholding to the AOC laws)–Extra Brut “Empire”–100% Barbarossa, planted in 1960 & 1962–done method traditionelle…….Rosé “Gris Imperial–90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa……Rosé “Valle di Nero”–100% Carcajolu Neru–typically 250 cases production…..Rouge “Frais Imperial”–100% Sciaccarellu…….Rouge “Monte Bianco”–100% Sciaccarellu–typically 400 case production……..Rouge “Valle di Nero”100% Carcajolu Nero, typically 200 case production.  There is also a dessert style Aleatico “Dolce Rosso”–produced from a smattering of 20 year old vines, .21 hectares, fermented for 2 months in 300 liter barrels & then aged for 9 months in demi-muids.  (roughly 80 grams per liter residual sugar).

Cuvée Collection–are grown & produced from their oldest vines & is his homage to his long, long line of distinguished ancestors, using nearly forgotten, indigenous grape varieties such as Carcajolu Biancu, Paga Debbiti, Riminese, Rossola Brandica, Biancone & Vermentino for white wines; AND Carcajolu Neru (young vines, as it was only recently discovered & planted), Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu, Montaneccia, Morescono, Morescola.  These wines are quite pricey as Corsican wines go, but are his “family’s crown jewels”–produced in the vineyard & winemaking at their highest level. 

We ended the afternoon at his childhood friend’s seaside restaurant, enjoying his Extra Brut “Empire” & 2 different of his Cuvée Collection bottlings with Jean-Charles.  The sea breeze & aromas were wonderful, the seafood super fresh, the wine mesmerizing & the conversation intoxicating.  It was definitely a life long memory moment.  Oh yeah, we also got to try his brother’s (Jacques) lean, tasty Vaches Tigre beef–rare indigenous Corsican cows which roam freely on the 80 hectares of the estate which has no vine plantings.

Thank you Jean-Charles for a great & very insightful visit.

Nov
25

Corsican Wines–Part 2–Calvi

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Upon leaving St Florent, we then drove to Calvi, in the northwestern part of Corsica.  (If Corsica was a clock, Calvi would be at roughly 10:30 on the dial), roughly 1 1/2 hour drive through again a very mountainous, wild terrain on narrow, winding roads. 

Calvi is located right on the sea, a sleepy, surprisingly small town highlighted by a historic citadel overlooking the water.  We went there to visit Domaine Maestracci, a local winery, whose vineyards were roughly 1 1/4 hours outside of the city proper, because of their wines.

The domaine sits “on an ancient, sandy-clay moraine, located on the foothills of the Monte Grossu, surrounded on all 4 sides by high, granite mountains“.  The vineyard’s origins date back to 1893 & is now in a real groove, run by Camille-Anaïs Raoust, the one person our wine yoda Bruce Neyers insisted we just had to meet on our trip to Corsica.  She is a very integral part of the Island’s wine future.

Camille-Anais certainly lived up to Bruce’s billing.  It was really great to spend time with her & walk their vineyards.  It really solidified to us all what they stand for & we are honored to carry their wines at VINO.

Maestracci owns & farms roughly 30 hectares & mainly focus on their old vine Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Vermentino vines (roughly 25 to 60 years in age).  She has also more recently planted some Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre too.

I should also add that we had the opportunity to try other highly recommended wines from Calvi & even stopped by some.  We discovered that NOT all Calvi wines are created equal.  In short, Domaine Maestracci stood out.

We were definitely impressed with their wines, especially given how well priced they really are.  We currently carry their “E Prove” line–Vermentino, Rosé (these 2 by the glass) & the Rouge (soon be done by the glass) at our VINO Restaurant because of their quality, food friendliness & sensational value!

Thank you Camille-Anais for a wonderful, insightful visit.

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Nov
24

VINO–out of the box

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Someone recently commented that Italy had roughly 511 different grape varieties. Another said 1200. The point is—there are many. The most challenging aspect I have discovered during my travels to wine country is finding the really “good” examples, sifting through the lists of possible wines and wineries to find those that have something interesting, unique and memorable to offer. That is not as easy as one would think. Last trip, for instance, after two weeks, up and down Italy, we found none fitting the bill. Still, one has to keep trying, right? Here are four which recently came on to our radar screen and are really worth checking out, keeping in mind, each is totally out of most people’s comfort zone. 

2014 Castelluccio Sangiovese di Romagna “Le More”–Here is Sangiovese with a twist. This one is grown in the Modigliano hills, which until the 1930’s was referred to as “ancient Tuscany”, as it was still considered part of Tuscany. The soils have a layer of marl-limestone with elevations between 750 to 1500 feet. Not only is this quite a unique & special site, BUT also consider this project is overseen by legendary, superstar winemaker Vittorio Fiore.

Lambrusco, Ariola “Marcello Gran Cru”–At VINO, we have a real hankering for a glass of well chilled, wonderfully refreshing, uplifting Italian Lambrusco & are therefore always looking.  Here is one of the most acclaimed of the Lambrusco category.  Produced from 100% Lambrusco Maestri, this is a vividly fresh, fizzy, completely refreshing wine ideal served well chilled & with a selection of salumi & cheeses.  “Marcello impresses with its aromatic richness and for its softness. A Lambrusco that contains a rare amount of technique, passion and nature, thanks to its immediate pleasantness of the flavor. The cellar Ariola, founded in 1956, stands on the hills between Felino and Langhirano, in the heart of the Food Valley and Doc Colli di Parma”.  Undoubtedly a benchmark to measure others by in the future.

2014 Livon Pignolo “Eldoro”— I became intrigued with the Pignolo grape variety back in the early to mid 1990’s, because of one bottling–that from then named producer Zamó  & Palazzolo, from the Colli Orientale subzone of Friuli, Italy.  Those early renditions, had a very dark pigmentation, very strikingly blue/purple hued, (rather than black) showed that this grape variety had a strong core, ample tannins & firm structure.  I then was further intrigued with the Pignolo from Walter Filiputti & vintages in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, when we were opening VINO over on Maui.  Filiputti also worked with vines near & around the Abbey at Rosazzo, just as Zamó had.  This certainly seemed to be a sweet spot for growing this rather challenging grape variety.  I didn’t know what to expect from this Livon rendition, as it was a gift.  It’s core, mojo & presence was a shadow of what I had had before.  I wouldn’t say I was wow-ed by any means, but it was interesting nonetheless.

2010 La Viarte Schiopettino del Prepotto–100% Schiopettino.  La Viarte’s estate vineyards are located in the Colli Orientale region of Friuli.  Insiders say this red grape variety grew in popularity because it was much easier to grow & with more consistent yields than indigenous Friulian vines such as Pignolo.  Still, we continually look for more & more red wines like this which offer real savoriness from beginning to end in the wine without any sense of heaviness & richness. We believe wines like this can offer a completely different dimension to food & wine pairings.

2011 Petro Nera Sforzato di Valtellina–a completely different and unforgettable take on what Nebbiolo can be. Valtellina is one of the northernmost grape growing areas of Italy. The entire DOCG is but 282 hectares in size, the best sites—high in elevation, dizzyingly steep and therefore terraced This the home to Nebbiolo, locally known as Chiavennasco.   Sforzato di Valtellina takes a slightly different approach, using the passito method–the grapes are harvested late when the bunches are partly raisined. And then they undergo further drying in aerated crates. It is quite unusual to do so with Nebbiolo,” says Stefano, “But it really enhances the wine in color, aroma and flavour.”

 

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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I truly believe we as an industry need to continually work at getting better at wine & food pairings.  The food scene is always changing, with all kinds of new, really dynamic food preparations & whirlwind combinations of ethnic ingredients & cooking techniques.  And, each require very different thoughts on what wine to pair. 

With this thought in mind, I moderated a wine & food workshop recently held at the prestigious Halekulani Hotel, which was one of the many events held here in the islands for the 2018 Hawaii Food & Wine Festival.  Conceptualized & put together by Warren Shon of SGWS, this workshop was a most memorable collaborative effort featuring foods created & presented by superstar chef Masaharu Morimoto, 3 sets of world class German wines from 3 truly iconic producers–Johannes Hasselbach (Weingut Gunderloch, Rheinhessen, Germany); Johannes Haart (Weingut Reinhold Haart, Mosel, Germany) & Andrea Wirsching (Weingut Hans Wirsching, Franconia, Germany) AND 2 color commentators–Richard Betts MS & Joseph Spellman MS.  What an epic lineup of talent!!!

MENU 

MIZUHIKI SASHIMI SALAD with white soy-onion dressing

WINES:  The wines for this course came from the iconic Weingut Hans Wirsching of Franconia, Germany.  Andrea Wirsching represents the 14th generation to run this large, privately owned estate.  (Unfortunately she was not able to actually come, because of family emergency).   The wines tasted were the–2016 Silvaner “Estate”; 2015 Silvaner Erste Lage “Iphöfer Kalb; 2015 Scheurebe Kabinett Trocken “Iphöfer” & the 2014 Scheurebe Kabinett Trocken “Iphöfer”.  Chef Morimoto really showed much thought & execution with his food considering these style of these wines! 

SLOW COOKED PORK SPARE RIB with hoisin-tamarind glaze 

WINES: The wines for this course came from Weingut Gunderloch of the Rheinhessen, Germany, whose estate dates back to 1890.  All 4 wines presented on this day came from their finest holding—Nackenheimer Rothenberg–a highly revered red slate vineyard rising from the Rhein River & owner/winemaker Johannes Hasselbach, a New Age winemaking phenom, who I have been working with for many years.  the wines tasted were the 2016 Riesling Kabinett “Jean Baptiste”; 2016 Spätlese “Nackenheimer Rothenberg”;  2012 Spätlese “Nackenheimer Rothenberg” & the 2011 Auslese “Nackenheimer Rothenberg”.  What a wonderful exercise with the sweet-salty, ever so slightly spicy, savory spare ribs!

FRIED FILLET OF BRANZINO with sweet, spicy chili sauce   

WINES:  Theo Haart was selected as “2007 Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” & deservedly so.  His Piesporter Goldtröpfchen wines were true Riesling thoroughbreds–combining purity, filigree, power & grace….so effortlessly.  We have witnessed the same genius & masterfully skill from his son–Johannes Haart–who came to share their 2015 Riesling Kabinett “Piesporter Goldtröpfchen: 2014 Riesling Spätlese”Piesporter Goldtröpfchen”; 2007 Riesling Spätlese “Piesporter Goldtröpfchen” & the 2016 Riesling Auslese “Piesporter Goldtröpfchen”.

Thank you to all who came & were part of this incredible learning opportunity.

Also thank you to Kevin Toyama, wine cellarmaster of the Halekulani Hotel & his team of sommeliers for the complex & intricate execution.  Wow!

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