Archive for March, 2019

Mar
27

Interesting Sparkling Wine

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While Champagne is the traditional bubbly most will look to pop, we think there is a growing opportunity to try sparkling wines from “other” wine growing regions, ones that are more affordable in price. The really good ones are somewhat hard to find, but they are certainly worth the effort when you take your first sip. Here are four such wines, each really good in their own right and I suggest you jump on the bandwagon now & beat the crowds, the inevitable long wait lists and escalating prices.

Gregoletto Prosecco “Sui Lieviti”True, authentic, artisan Prosecco, unlike the more generic, commercial minded, mass produced versions more commonly found in the market.  In fact, every bottle may taste different—vino vivente—living wine. Yes, this is your chance to sample the real stuff! The family can be traced back to the late 1600’s/early 1700’s.   “All of the family’s work from the vines to the bottling is done by hand—artisinally, carefully, and patiently—based on oral traditions passed down over the centuries. Many of their secrets are closely guarded. The sui lieviti bottlings represent the history of this region before the Champagne method was invented. Secondary fermentation takes place in bottle slowly and a fine sediment forms in the bottom of the bottle”.   Former “SLO Foods Winemaker of the Year”.

Scammacca del Murgo Brut Rosé “Metodo Classico”  (Sicily)100% Nerello Mascalese grown on Mount Etna & its volcanic soils.  Primary fermentation in stainless, secondary fermentation in bottle.  Aged on fine lees in bottle for 3 years.  Dosage—5 g/l.

Nicole Chanrion Brut “Effervescence”Nicole Chanrion is a true vigneron, in every sense of the meaning, think of the difference between a samurai and a swordsman from their perspective.  She is total hands on and lives it, not only talks about it.  Her Beaujolais red wines are standout and iconic because of their quality, personal touch and soulfulness.  Every now and then she produces this wine—100% Gamay Noir (a proven descendent of Pinot Noir) from 50 year old vines, grown in schist and porphyry soils, vinified methode champenoise in stainless steel, 18 months on the lees, hand riddled two times a day and bottled with only 3g/l dosage.  Yes, it is definitely one worth checking out!

Raventos I Blanc Brut Rosé “De Nit”This is as good as Spanish Cava gets and is thankfully a very different take on what sparkling wine can be. This family has owned their vineyards since 1497.  Yes, you read that right, 1497, just 5 years after Christopher Columbus set out to find America!  Located in the Anoia River Valley, biodynamically farmed– 48% Xarel-lo, 32% Parrellada, 15% Macabeu & 5% of still Mourvedre—18 months on the lees.

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Mar
25

Another look at what Syrah can be.

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What can Syrah be?

Let me just say some of the true standout red wines I have experienced over the years have been Syrah based and I really can’t say that about too many other grape varieties, that have that kind of potential.   In addition, I must say that I believe that Syrah seems to building more & more momentum, especially recently & when I visited some of the top wine stores in Seattle & Los Angeles recently, I was happy to see so many Syrah based red wines, especially from France, that were available on the shelves.  Moving forward, just to give us a better, growing base towards understanding what Syrah can be, we put together this sampling.

2015 Faury St Joseph–Faury makes some of our favorite Syrah based red wines out of France’s northern Rhone Valley.  We get so lost in the purity, stoniness, vinosity AND the lavender, violets, green peppercorn, masculine, savory rusticity of their wines.  Yes, this is a standout producer of more classical styled Syrah. The vines are located around the winery on very steep hillsides. 60 to 70% de-stemmed. Foot stomped. Aged for twelve months in 24 to 35 hectoliter, 600 liter and 228 liter barrels, no more than 10% new in the rotation.  This wine really started off the night by deftly setting the tone.

2016 Christelle Betton Crozes Hermitage “Espiègle–what a comparison this wine proved to be, as it represents a style of northern Rhone Valley Syrah we seem to be encountering more & more.  The 2016 was quite striking on first whiff–forward & captivating–which I think a wide spectrum of tasters would enjoy right out of the gates.  In the mouth, the wine had ample, generous fruit–a cornucopia of black fruit, pepper, violets, lavender, a dash of smoke & raw meat nuances, with a round, quite delicious mouth experience.  100% Syrah. Soils are alluvial with large quartz stones. Foot crushed, wild yeast fermented and aged in old French (white Burgundy) barrels.  Though quite good, I believe we get more quality for the dollar AND character from the other 3 wines of this tasting.

2016 Kermit Lynch/Louis Barruol Crozes Hermitage “Tenay” —interesting to taste 2 Crozes Hermitages side by side, even more so because this wine was actually served BLIND, just for the fun of it all.  I found this wine had much more true northern character, vinosity, savage, rusticity & mojo, at a little less cost.  This is a collaborative wine project between Louis Barruol & superstar wine importer/super palate Kermit Lynch.  Louis Barruol’s family has been working in the Rhone Valley for 14 generations & has the “insider’s information”, network & relationships to find interesting vineyard sources, such as this one–2 barrels worth–from the lieu dit, Tenay”, 30 to 50 year old Serine vines grown in granite soils.  the vineyard is located on an up slope just north of Hermitage.

2016 Clape “Vin des Amis”–There is no doubt, the name Clape is synomous with world-class Syrah. We were really sad to hear of patriarch, Auguste’s recent passing. He was certainly regarded as one of the true giants/champions of the Syrah grape variety. Vin des Amis is produced from younger Cornas vines and the core from a one hectare parcel right outside the appellation with round river stones. Stems, six months in cement and six months in large oak foudres.   On first whiff, I immediately thought–wow, this is the kind of Syrah I grew up on–wild, rustic, olives, green peppercorns, meat/gamy/ floral, vinous & old style, very different than that of the Christelle Betton listed above.  Certainly not a style for everyone, but you can count me in on this one.  One of the tasters commented he actually preferred the 2015 bottling, because it was seemingly riper, rounder, deeper, better texture & flow on the palate.  To that I would say, on this level of winemaker & vineyard site, every vintage & its growing/climatic conditions results in a different insight into what the vineyard wants to say.  And, I appreciate that.

Thank you to all who came……AND brought & shared some “extra credit” Syrahs of their own after the tasting.

Categories : Wine
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Mar
20

A Dinner with Fred Scherrer

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We are so excited and honored Fred is coming to VINO! He is one of our absolute favorite winemakers out of California and is essentially a one man show, a true artisan.  Fred is a true vigneron! NO foo-foo, bells and whistles or fanfare from him or his wines!   His wines are always so elegant, refined, classy, well-balanced and without a doubt, some of our favorite. This is your chance to taste his wines and to meet him in person. Although it is well known that Scherrer excels at masterfully crafting some of the very best Zinfandel, Chardonnay & Pinot Noir out of California.  (At one of the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival events, I remember tasting his 2002 Chardonnay “Scherrer Vineyard”, which at that point was 10 years old.  It was the finest, most memorable Chardonnay I had had.  On the same day, we later tried his 1999 Pinot Noir “Hirsch Vineyard” & it was the finest California Pinot Noir I had had.  BOTH in one day! I could also tell many stories about my encounters with his Zinfandel “Old & Mature” bottlings over the years too).  Having said that, I feel his best kept secrets are his undeniable mastery with Syrah & dry rosé.  So on this night we decided to show a whole different “look” to Scherrer wines—featuring THREE—most fans, even the most avid, might not be familiar with! This will reinterate what a real winemaking master he truly is!) PLUS, they work better with our style of cooking.

 

first course

Nature’s Natural Beef Carpaccio–topped with a savory winter salad

 WINE: 2017 Scherrer Dry Rosé–after years of working with different grape varieties, (including Zinfandel, Pinot Noir & even Pinotage) & combinations of grape varieties, Fred has since the 2011 vintage has really settled in his sweet spot for making pink wine–blending Syrah & Grenache, gently direct pressed, barrel fermented in old oak; on the lees for 5 to 6 months & NO malolactic.  It is without a doubt one of the finest rosé wines out of California today & the 2017 one of his finest ever.   “As a pink wine, Syrah and Grenache are more similar than they are when vinified as red wines. Here, they are James Taylor and Carly Simon in harmony, their vocal range and overtones being rather similar. The grape varieties for this wine divide to conquer. The Syrah provides more plummy tones and texture while the Grenache brings acidic focus and soaring high perfume in the places Syrah does not go naturally. Yet the majority of tones are quite similar and they blend perfectly. This wine is essentially a carbon-copy of the past two vintages, which I consider to be precisely in the pocket of my intentions“.

 

second course

“Coq au Vin Stew”classic red wine braised organic chicken stew with pasta

WINE: 2013 Scherrer “Huntsman”–a whole different side to Fred Scherrer winemaking………blending.  His Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir & Zinfandel are, after all, single varietal.  “Imagine Country singers Johnny Cash and June Carter here as red wine forms of Syrah and Grenache–combining the interplay and harmony are haunting, compelling and undeniably satisfying.  In difficult vintages, they bring complementary strengths where needed most by each other. In very favorable vintages, such as 2013 here, they build strength upon strength without overdoing it in any one spot. What a perfect varietal blend partnership!  This wine is a synthesis of sites where wildlife and viticulture meet at the edge of civilization. From both the far eastern and western edges of Sonoma County, the wine speaks of more of this general wildness than of a specific variety or site.  A red wine that spans much of the breadth and diversity of Sonoma County. It is a great opportunity to have both early and late season varieties become ripe at the same time within a reasonably short distance. This allows the powerful option of co-fermentation: a chance to commingle diverse components as they are extracted, truly stabilizing and creating something that could not otherwise be obtained.  Here is a great example where blending two very different things become intertwined as a balanced, unified entity“.

 

 

entrée

Grilled Marinated Nature’s Natural Steakroasted fennel, charred root vegetables, Provencal potato au gratin and peppercorn demi

WINE: 2009 Scherrer Syrah “Sasha”–With the 2001 vintage, my long time friends Jeff Figone, Nunzio Alioto MS & I purchased some Syrah grapes from the Eaglepoint Ranch.  The vineyard is located at 900 to 1400 feet above the town of Ukiah in Mendocino.  The grapes came from rows between what Wells Gutherie (Copain) & Van Williamson (Edmeades) was getting.  We then asked Fred Scherrer to craft it for us.  It was a dream come true, as the wine far surpassed anyone’s expectations.  In fact, all kidding aside, it was the finest Californian Syrah we had had, up to that point.  (It today, is still glorious at its age).  The best way I could describe it, was a “mountain grown” Syrah, crafted by a Pinot Noir maestro–so elegant, graceful, suave, civil, savory, wonderfully textured & balanced.  It certainly updated my view on what Californian Syrah could be.  I could use similar descriptors to describe this 2009 Syrah “Sasha”, which is why we wanted to showcase it for this dinner.  “I have been working with Syrah since 1992My love of cooler climate Syrah is no secret. I have focused on a couple of sites in the western Sonoma County (most significantly, Calypso) to work with on an ongoing basis. Knowing that some vintages we may receive serious winter storm system before perfect textural ripeness in these vineyards – in 2009 I hedged my bets by contracting for small bit of earlier ripening Russian River Valley Syrah nearby“.

 

Dessert

Strawberry Tiramisuchocolate gelato

Mar
18

Tasting Wines–out of the box

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My list of wines that we buy seems to be getting smaller as time goes on.  Every once in a while we stumble on something interesting that captures a unique moment on the wine journey. 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. 

2013 Quenard Mondeuse “Arbin”–Most people would not be familiar with the Mondeuse grape variety and probably not the wines of the mountainous Savoie region of the foothills of the French Alps. While many I have tasted over the years are more of a novelty and easily forgettable, I would say, this is one you should try at least once, just to get a feel and understanding of what is possible on these rocky, impressively steep, terraced vineyards. Who would work this hard nurturing and harvesting these fifty to sixty year old vines at such a dramatic slant in such a fierce climate? Here is your chance to taste why.

2015 Manni Nössing Kerner–Here is yet another one of those really committed to a vision.   They deal with the “hard work” associated with the dramatic rocky vines at a 2500 foot elevation, along with the frequently swinging climatic conditions. They produce THIS wine from a Germanic grape variety, the Kerner grape, a cross between Riesling and a red grape named Schiava. Manni’s wines have such incredible purity, precision and wonderful class, really unlike anyone else’s and we are so thankful for every bottle we can get.

2104 Jean-Philippe Fichet Bourgogne Aligoté–Here was a chance to taste a stellar example of the “other” white grape variety of Burgundy—Aligoté. Tnis one with slight age, in fact just enough to transition from the youthful energy, exuberance and edges to something worth more than just one glance. As a reminder, Jean-Philippe Fichet is certainly one of the stars of the Meursault appellation and this was an opportunity to sample his craftsmanship.

2005 Gioielli “Rappu”–I have been wishing and hoping to go Corsica for over thirty years. One of the old time vignerons I was hoping to visit was Michel Angeli at Gioielli. “After World War II, Angeli left his home town of Bastia and relocated in the very remote and wild countryside of the Cap Corse of northern Corisca where he planted and personally grew indigenous vines such as Vermentinu, Codivarta (from neighbors), Niellucciu (from Patrimonio) and Aleatico (from the island of Elba), for six decades”. I was really sad to hear of his passing last year, before I had a chance to visit. Michel was truly one of the most interesting characters of the wine world. We were fortunate to get some of his Vermentinu white on two occasions and relished every bottle. They were truly wines of the countryside, done in a personal, timeless style. Interestingly he also made tiny amounts of a unique wine once in a while named Rappu–“produced from fifty year old Aleatico vines, which were partially dried and left to ferment on its own until it stopped, normally with some sweetness and 16% alcohol, which he then aged for seven years in old oak. This is that wine–passionately & unscientifically made–totally out of the box and well worth trying.

Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Mar
18

Finding Wines

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There are so many different ways of searching out & finding good wines for one’s wine program.

The most consistent source is of course wine importers.  Iconic standouts, for me, include Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants (French & now Italian) & Cellars International (German wines).  The list should also include the no longer existent Wine Distributor (a wholesale spin off of Draper & Esquin of San Francisco)–who introduced us to Andre Ostertag, Angelo Gaja, Laurel Glen, Qupe & Ravenswood just to name a few AND Empson USA–who introduced us to many fine Italian wines over the years, such as Silvio Jermann & Poggio Antico.  There are, as one would imagine, so many more to be thankful for.

While traveling to wine country, another way is to check out the more progressive retail wine shops of the area you will be or are visiting.  I can immediately tell what level the shop is playing on after scanning their shelves.   If it is in fact top level wines, I then will ask the store manager or buyer what “new wine discoveries” they would recommend.  Those that I don’t know, I will do further research on them.  Or, I will then buy some & try them.  We found such a store in Athens, Greece, for instance.  Run by husband & wife (Dimitri & Sofia Athanassopoulou) I will remember this wine store forever.  Their selections were fantatic & their knowledge & passion for searching out such wine treasures was so contagious.  Yes, we bought several bottles & each was soul stirring.

Another way is to ask the winemaker I am visiting of others in his area which he feels are shaking the bushes.  That’s how I found Enrico Esu down in the Carignano del Sulcis appellation of Sardegna (recommended by Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada) & Pero Longo of Sartène, Corsica (recommended by Jean-Charles Abbatucci of Ajaccio).  Vigneron recommending another vigneron.

Sometimes, it is about first finding a vineyard that has the potential for something extra in the finished wine.  The Sanford & Benedict Vineyard is a fine example.  Located in the western reaches of what is today called the Santa Rita Hills appellation, the old vines of this now iconic Chardonnay & Pinot Noir vineyard was planted back in the early 1970’s by Richard Sanford & Mike Benedict.  The earliest & most memorable bottlings of this single vineyard for me included–Au Bon Climat Chardonnays (& Pinot Noirs) from the mid 80’s & on; a 1992 Babcock Pinot Noir, some Whitcraft Chardonnay–’94, ’95 & ’97 & some Chardonnay from Ojai.  Each had something really interesting to say in the finished wine.  This was the start.   Subsequently, other wineries using Sanford & Benedict fruit which later also caught our attention included Cold Heaven (Viognier), Sandhi, Chanin, Tyler & The Hilt.

Yes, there are many ways to find interesting wines.

Here are 2 of the most unusual & unique introductions, over the years for me.

EDMEADES WINERY–early on in the 1990’s, I had not heard of this winery.  My experience with wines from the Anderson Valley up to that point included Roederer Estate, some single vineyard designated Pinot Noir from Williams & Selyem & the release of the 1993 Littorai wines.  There were also some encounters with Greenwood Ridge Zins, Lazy Creek, Handley, Navarro & just a few others.  With the Mendocino Coast Ridge, later simply named Mendocino Ridge I had tasted & was somewhat aware of some of Jed Steele’s Zinfandels under his Steele label.  But, that’s about it.  Then one fateful day I received a call from Michael Hopkins, a good friend, who was the local representative for the Jackson Family wine empire.  Quite candidly, the phone call blindsided me & I did not know what to expect….at all.  Michael said he had 3 wines for me to try–1995 Zinfandel “Mendocino”, 1994 Zinfandel “Zeni Ranch” & the 1994 Zinfandel “Ciapusci Vineyard”.  In short, I was absolutely blown away.   These wines were truly not like any other I had previously had & I found each really mesmerizing.  I think we both agreed, the wines were not for everyone’s palate because they were so rustic, wild & wooly (most professionals would say flawed), but they had vinosity, great texture & were deviantly spellbinding.  I was hooked.  The winemaker was “mountain” man–Van Williamson–who was affectionately referred to as Vanimal.   I was so taken with the wines, I was on the road shortly afterwards to visit Vanimal, the vineyards he worked with & taste through his many wines.  In addition to his Zinfandels, I was also quite taken with his more masculine styled, wild yeast fermented, unfiltered & unfined Chardonnay & Pinot Noir…….a masculine, explosive Gewurztraminer & a sensational Petite Sirah.  These were curious, VERY idiosyncratic wines, but I really liked them.  I saw Michael the other day.  I thanked him again.  It’s not often opportunities like this come around.

ART SPACE–The story actually really begins, when we landed in Athens, Greece.  (Greece was at the top of my wife’s bucket list, so in 2017, off we went).  Being this was her trip, we of course did the walking tours–all of the historic sites–some with guides, other walks just by ourselves.  For whatever reason, as we headed back to our hotel after each walk, we passed by the “Vintage Food & Wine Experience”, a brightly lit, very snazzy, modern looking restaurant/wine bar.  Despite being somewhat disappointed at previous wine bars in the city, we finally went in one afternoon.  There, we met Effie Anastopoulou, who served us 6 Greek wines (out of the 600+ they offer by the glass via Coravin) of her choice to give us a glimpse of what Greek wines can be, from her perspective.  Each were terrific.  She was so upbeat, warm & very professional.  We found out she had worked previously at Sigalas on Santorini & she then actually helped us get an appointment there.  Once we were on Santorini, we did visit several wineries, including the 2 island winemaking superstars–Hatzidakis & Sigalas.  (please check out our previous posts on Hatzidakis & Sigalas–October 2017 for more information on the visits).  Because of Effie’s introduction, we had a great visit at Sigalas & our host at Sigalas then suggested we visit Gaia on the other side of the island, because they produce very good wine, in styles very different from their own.  Gaia also received quite a bit of attention/press because they would submerge 500 bottles of wine in cages in the sea, 4o to 50 meters below & its ideal storage temperatures.  Our tasting host was Melina, another upbeat, charming, very informative professional, who made our visit quite memorable.  Her whole attitude/demeanor however changed when she discovered that Effie had sent us to Sigalas.  They had apparently worked together at Sigalas previously.  A fiery passion in her now became clear.  She excused herself & we found out she went to ask a friend to drive us to another winery, which she later said we must go to.  Her friend took us to a small, gravel parking lot & dropped us off.  There was but a small sign which simply said Art Space.  (Please check out our previous blog–October 2017–on Art Space).  In short, it was one of the most “chicken skin”, memorable wine visits of my 40 plus years in the wine business.  Owner/winemaker Antonis Agryros is truly something special & our visit was game changing!  All of this because of 2 very savvy, dedicated, passionate wine professionals–Effie & Melina.  I am so thankful to have met such special wine people.

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Mar
08

A Quartet of Portuguese Wines

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We have been digging around for some time in search of tasty, interesting wines from Portugal.  We literally stumbled upon a Santa Monica wine importer named D’Ouro Vino Selections.  Here is your opportunity to try four of their selections–each from a different appellation and their finest resident producer. Each well represents a very different slant on wines and they should show tasters the vast potential of what this relatively undiscovered wine niche is capable of producing……way beyond fortified Port wines and large commercial wineries. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon now and beat the crowds, the inevitable long wait lists and escalating prices.

2017 Quinta de Linhares Loueiro “Vinho Verde”–A light, fizzy, crisp Portuguese “country” white wine—Vinho Verde–predominant grape varieties are Loureiro, Avesso, Azal and Arinto—fresh and alive as can be. Toast!!

2011 Herdade do Mouchão Alentejo Tinto–predominantly Alicante Bouschet (red colored grape juice), 80% or more, the rest being Trincadeira, perhaps more famously known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro, where it is used in Port production. It is aged for 24 months in large oak vats (foudres) and then aged for a further 24 to 36 months in the bottle prior to release.  The gang really loved this wine, largely because of its wonderful savoriness.

2004 Rio Bom Douro Grande Reserva “Mario Braga”–30% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinto Roriz and 10% each of Tinto Amarela and Barroca. These are some of the mainstay grape varieties for the fortified Port wines, but this is one, however, is a standout still RED Grande Reserva, which was fascinating to try!  This is a very intense, dense, packed, vinous, vehemently structured, macho stud with lots of oak framing. And, it was still remarkably youthful, eventhough it was 14 years old.   If you have the patience, I would suggest cellaring this wine for 20 more years before opening.  I think you will be quite thankful you did!

1991 Luis Pato Bairrada “Vinho Branco”–yes, you read the vintage correct…..1991….in all its glory…produced from the indigenous Bical, Maria Gomes and Cerceal grape varieties, grown and crafted by superstar winemaker Luis Pato.  We all agreed, this wine was “otherworldly”.  I’ve never had anything like before AND it was seamless, complete, wonderfully nuanced & VERY captivating.  What a terrific ‘find”.

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