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Dec
09

French White Wine “Collectibles”

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2005 Coche Dury Puligny Montrachet “Les Enseignères”–there is no doubt that Coche Dury is at the very top of the “A” list of white Burgundies today.  While this domaine is based in Meursault, they also own 1/2 hectare of Les Enseignères vineyard in Puligny MontrachetWhen I first tasted the 1986 Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne, I was absolutely floored by its boldness, grandeur & magnificence.  It had presence, personality & mojo that was previously only seen from the Montrachet from Domiane de la Romanee-Conti.  Their style was certainly game changing & would inspire others to follow & emulate.  The 2005 is still surprisingly closed.  It certainly & almost vainly has the stuffing, but, even at 12 years in age, still has a LONG way to go in resolving itself.

2010 Château Haut Brion Blanc–one of our regular VINO guests likes to come in & blind taste me on one of his wines now & then.  On this night, it was this wine!  I was very thankful he shared such a wine.  The point of this exercise for him I am sure is to stump me or watch me struggle.  Ha! Ha!  For me, however, the exercise is to see if the wine was good or not…..how much would I pay….& think about what kind of foods I would consider pairing with it.  After all, how many times would someone have an opportunity like this, with such a wine?  This wine tasted VERY sophisticated, refined & high quality with a dollop of very expensive oak to it & I thought a distinct salinity.  Upon a quick 2 minute assessment (this is during service after all), Burgundy came to mind.  I would have paid, $125 to $150 a bottle online, but not $335 as is quoted today.  The wine as it turns out is 46% Semillon, 54% Sauvignon Blanc (not sure if there was a % of Sauvignon Vert in this vintage)….9 to 12 months in oak, 50% new.  The parcel is but 7.09 acres in size.  Yes, I was very thankful to try this wine.  The last Château Haut Brion Blanc I tried & purchased was I believe the 1986 for a winelist I was working with at the time.  I remembered being so inspired by a bottle of 1966 Laville Haut Brion in the early to mid 1980’s that we went on a Château Haut Brion Blanc buying binge of 5 vintages in pursuit of the wonderful perfume & regality I had experienced from that Laville Haut Brion.  It unfortunately never came even close.

2014 “Y”–another rarely seen white wine from Bordeaux.  The question is was this wine brought to assess quality or to stump fellow tasters in a blind tasting?  Again, my thought is always, I am so thankful for tasting such a wine, as opportunities like this don’t around too often.  Here is something I recently read “The dry white wine of d’Yquem. The chateau produces this wine in certain years when conditions permit. ‘Y’ comes from the same exceptional terroir and vines as Yquem’s famous sweet wines. It benefits from identical strict vinegrowing methods, but is harvested and produced differently. ‘Y’ is produced when the deliberate decision is made to pick certain plots of sauvignon blanc grapes at the beginning of the vintage and overripe Semillon grapes later on. This accounts for the small quantities and irregular production. There have been only 23 vintages of ‘Y’ since the first one in 1959!”  The 2014 is 75% Sauvignon Blanc & 25% Semillon, 7 g/l, residual sugar. 

2005 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos”–despite being so VERY youthful, this wine on this night was really strutting its stuff that’s for sure.  This is without a doubt a real thoroughbred.  In the past, the Valmur grand cru vineyard was typically the Raveneau bottling I gravitated to each vintage.  I guess it is because of the remarkable ethereal, sophisticated, high pitched minerality & pedigree the wine typically offers.  This wine in comparison had more bass than treble….more stony & about grandeur.  Furthermore, this wine is WAY more open than my previous encounter, eventhough that was only 3 or so months ago.  What a wine, to say the least!

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This is actually Part Three of our post on the wines of Santorini.  I was so taken by this particular wine project, its visionary, dedicated patriarch & his whole mission of growing & producing wines in as natural way as he can…..we thought this one needs its own post.

As I had mentioned on a previous post, while at Gaia winery on Santorini, the very enthusiastic, highly professional winetasting room host, Melina, after our taste of the Gaia wines, handed the keys of her own car to her friend & told her to drive us to Art Space.  She did mention this was an art gallery, who also happened to make wines……my kind of wines, as she put it.

Art Gallery?  Part time winemaker?  I didn’t know what to expect.   

When we drove to the spot, our driver wasn’t even sure if this was it.  (There is but one very small, plain sign, almost un-noticeable, that she finally saw that confirmed we were there!)  I can honestly tell you my apprehension really grew at this point, as we were far removed in location & a considerable wait for any taxi or driver to come.

After a short time (which seemed like an eternity to me), a gray haired, bearded, wily man came out to greet us.  (It turned out this was owner/winemaker Antonis Argiros himself).  He then took us down to his labyrinth of caves ranging from 30 to 40 feet below, with 21 feet thick pomice walls & ceilings creating a cool, quite remarkable space.  The first few tunnels were decorated with many paintings, separated now & then with sculptures & other artistic pieces.  Yes, this is a really cool looking art gallery, BUT, I couldn’t help but wonder, what am I doing here? 

Then, I saw a concrete hole in the ground & some other winemaking/distilling equipment here & there, all cleaned & neat.  It became apparent, that his space allowed him to have a vertical vinification system (or was it created for that & the art was used to fill in the spaces.  Since he spoke no English, I didn’t know)–3 levels–designed to use natural, gravity flow.  Now, I knew we were on to something. 

He also showed us pictures of the old days–1861 when it started–as well as pictures with him as toddler; how they grew grapes & how they dried the grapes for their vinsanto bottlings.  Since he spoke no English & me no Greek, it was another way to communicate.  As our time together went on, I got a growing sense & appreciation of his fiery passion & his mission.  He was something special & I grew more & more intrigued at the possibilities.

By the time, we sat to taste his wines, he had asked someone to come & interpret for us.  The first wine he poured was produced from the indigenous Aidani grape variety–2014 (organically grown grapes from 70 year old vines, 24 hours skin contact, wild yeast fermented, no ML, 7 months on the lees–looking like an “orange” wine–unfiltered, unfined, coppery color, unusual fruit, slight oxidative taste & showing a distinct bitterness & alcohol in the finish).  I thought it was good, in fact the best Aidani based white wine we had had on the island so far, with real character & mojo.  Sensing our fascination, he then disappeared & came back with a taste of the still fermenting 2017 (with 10% Assyrtiko)–still displaying unusual fruit–quince, starfruit, peach skin, minerality, & still had the same mojo & character to its core.  One could readily see this was some kind of winemaker, whose wines touched me much more so than the other wines we ran across on Santorini.  The defining moment of this visit, however, proved to be the third wine–2015 “Saint August” (98% Assyrtiko, wild yeast fermented, 7 months lees contact).  My notes include–“copper tinge, unique fruit, nutty, full of character, heart, minerality/salinity, surprisingly sublime, seamless, holds 14.5 alcohol surprisingly well“.  This wine really moved me!  I was quite stunned, as the wine was quite unique & idiosyncratic–to the point where I don’t think too many wine lovers would embrace its wildness, its “orange” wine nuances & its completely atypical character. 

At that point, the game changed.  I inexplicably & surprisingly got chicken skin (something that has happened only a few times over the years, especially on a first visit like this).  Because of my obvious reaction, at least partially, I could also see Antonis change.  His demeanor became softer, more like a father talking about his children AND his eyes blazed with excitement & his passion clearly was showing in all its glory.  We definitely connected at that moment.  I made a new wine friend, halfway across the world.

He then disappeared & came back out with a sample of the 2017, which was still fermenting.  I was amazed, despite how hazy, unpolished & fizzy it was, the wine still showed the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness, mojo & obvious winemaking mastery of the bottled wine. 

Antonis then disappeared again, this time coming out with a 2013 “St August” (which when the “interpreter” finally came, noted that he last opened this wine on his BIG birthday, meaning it was something truly special).  Well, it was something truly special.  This slightly aged version again had the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness & mojo, but with a unique nuttiness, peach skin & insane etherealness.  I was absolutely taken by this wine, the grape growing & the winemaking genius of Antonis Argiros.  “Chicken skin visit!”.

Antonis was kind enough to give us the remainder of the 2013 to take back to the hotel so we could taste it again later, after it had aired.  I could more clearly see then, it was not a white wine for everyone’s palate.  Quite candidly & realistically, probably just a few would really get the genius behind his wine, even more so, because the wine is VERY tasty, but not really delicious, charming or truly noble.  I later asked myself, was I just caught up in the moment? 

To that, I would reply–quite candidly, it is possible & probable.  Still, I must add, I don’t get chicken skin like that too often.  (I, in fact, recall less than 10 times previously over the years).  Secondly, I don’t need someone to sing a song pitch perfect.  I just want to someone to sing from the heart AND that it moves me.  That was the case here.  Furthermore, this visit reminded me of what true artisan can mean.  Antonis grows & makes wines like no one else I have encountered.  Lastly I met a very special, new wine friend on the other side of the world AND, I will treasure meeting him & tasting his wines forever.

Thank you Antonis!  Aloha, my friend.

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Dec
02

Wines of Santorini, Greece Part Two

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This is Part Two of our visit to wineries on the Island of Santorini.

Domaine Sigalas–founded in 1991, Sigalas is certainly one of the most heralded in all of Greece.  Paris Sigalas is not only celebrated by the international press, but we found how highly revered he is within his country.  As I noted in an earlier post, we had not set up any winery appointments prior to traveling to Greece.  It was so serendipitous how things worked out for us on this trip, especially winery wise.  Yes, we visited a wine bar in Athens named Vintage & had a fabulous winetasting experience with their resident wine sommelier Effie Anastopoulou, a VERY knowledgeable, charming, welcoming, consummate wine professional.  After tasting several top notch Greek wines with her, she asked if we would be visiting any wineries during our stay in Greece, to which we replied, nothing scheduled yet.  But I said there were at least one winery I had in mind to see–Sigalas in Santorini.  Her eyes lit up & she beamed I used to work there!  She helped us to get an appointment there, a private wine tasting & an audience with Paris Sigalas himself.  Thank you so much Effie!  Sigalas not only produces some stellar wines, but they are always looking to do things better, which means continual experimentation & evaluation.  (They, for instance, train some of their vines along the lines of Burgundy–see picture— versus the traditional koulara style).  I view Sigalas as very scientific in its approach versus the more renegade charge of Hatzidakis.   The wines were therefore, quite pure, minerally, well crafted, stylish & classy.  There is no doubt his Assyrtiko white wine sets the standard for others to aspire to be.  What a great visit!

Hatzidakis–Haridimos Hatzidakis started his namesake wine project in 1996 when he took & worked a small half hectare parcel roughly located at 1200 feet in elevation.  This parcel had laid essentially fallow & unattended since 1956.  Currently the Hatzidakis winery organically farms more like 10 hectares in Pyrgos Kallistis, Megalochori, Akrotiri & Vourvoulos, ranging in elevation from 100 feet up to 1200.  Haridimos represented the New Age of winemaking in Greece, someone who thought & played “out of the box”, & was helping usher Greece, its winemaking & resulting wines into a new era.  It was really sad that we lost him & his genius a couple of months ago.  Wines & Spirits magazine–“He was quiet, hard to draw out; the wines, on the other hand, weren’t shy at all: they were big, rich and concentrated. He raised them organically and vinified them without added yeasts or enzymes and a minimum of sulfur, often in old barrels. They were, on one hand, a throwback to older times; on the other, they spoke of an obsessive attention to farming and a commitment to low yields that could only happen today, when an international audience clamors for wines like these“.  Although, Hatzidakis was respected for championing indigenous Santorini grape varieties such as Aidani (white) & Mavrotragano (red).  It was, however, his work with the Assyrtiko (also indigenous), especially old vines & single vineyards (specifically the Mylos & Louros “Vignes Centenaires”  bottlings) which won his acclaim & his cult like following, internationally.  Assyrtiko de Mylos (the proper name) is very ripe, old vine Assyrtiko grapes of a single vineyard in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis–wild yeast fermented, 8 months on the lees & bottled unfiltered & manually with minimal sulfur.  Assyrtiko de Louros Vignes Centenaires” is 100% old vine Assyrtiko from the village of Pyrgos Kallistis at roughly 360 to 750 feet elevation.  The wine is also wild yeast fermented & spends 24 months on its lees in old barrels & is regarded as their crown jewel.  For me, I would also add that his Assyrtiko grappas (VERY limited) are worth seeking out.  It is really quite a blaze of glory in its category.  His former wife, Kostantina Chryssou, looks to keep the legacy going forward.

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Dec
02

Wines of Santorini, Greece Part One

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We finally arrived at Santorini.  And, while the majority of the time, we walked around to the various towns & breathtaking scenic routes, we did squeeze in a little wine time here & there.  Since Santorini is based on a volcano, the soils are very volcanic in nature.  I found it amazing how one could drive around 3 turns in the road & see its 3 main soil types.

In addition, the island has quite a constant, gusting, ocean wind (at least when we were there) which I would say also affects the vines & especially the grapes.  Interestingly, the local vignerons have therefore over the years (centuries?) trained the vines in a very unusual, bird nest looking style, which they call koulara (bush vine training).  It seems outside of the towns, everywhere you look, there are fields of these koulara trained vines.  We were told, they help to shade the grapes from the blazing sun & help shield the grapes from the gusting winds & flying pumice.

We were fortunate to visit several wineries during our stay. 

Venetsanos–this was a recommendation by our tour guide.  The winery & tasting room is located on a hill over a breathtaking view of the sea.  The wines were tasty, cleanly made & would appeal to a wide audience of wine drinkers.  The view, while one sits there tasting is also well worth the visit.

Gaia–we visited this winery based upon the recommendation of the iconic Sigalas winery.  The winery is located right on a beach with the sea right outside.  We were told, they are one of the most innovative on the Island.  They are also highly acclaimed, having been named Top 100 wines by Wines & Spirits multiple times.  One of their   innovations is to submerge a cage of 500 or so bottles–40 to 50 meters under the sea…….for 4 years, just to see how the wines age.  Their white wines are mainly produced from the Assyrtiko grape variety grown on Santorini.  I was fascinated how they are able to masterfully integrate their new oak into their white wines.  Interestingly, they also feature red wines, produced from the Agiorgiotiko grape variety grown in Nemea, of the Peloponnese at 2300 feet in elevation.  One of them, pictured here, was one of the real standout red wines of our trip to Greece.  It was very classy, well textured & balanced.  Cheryle found this wine to be delicious, provocative & a wonderful, memorable treat!  (Also, pictured here is the amazing Melina, whose knowledge, enthusiasm & beaming personality completely won us over!  She also arranged a visit to a little winery, in fact had her friend drive us there, which would surprisingly be the most profound visit of the trip & truly one of the memorable visits of my whole career.  Thank you Melina)!

Faros–we were taken by our tour guide to a VERY unique, small shop, run by Maria Valhou, named Faros products.  She is especially known for her tomatoes & tomato products, but she also produces fava, chloro cheese, capers, caper leaves AND “homemade” style wines, all uber naturally.  Where some people say such things, Maria lives it & has developed quite the following because of her beliefs.  Her products are amazing!  I was a little apprehensive of what her wines would taste like, given her au naturale approach & her shying away from sulfur use.  (We all have had such wines, & in many instances find wine with many flaws).  Honestly, I would say her wines are NOT for everyone.  They have quite an oxidative edge & all kinds of atypical qualities one would not normally associate with wine.  Still, I have to say, I was quite moved by several of them.  They were so personal & I was taken how she fawned over them, as if they were her children.  She is a true artisan & her wines also reminded me of her devout beliefs, passion & dedication.  Thank you Maria for sharing your heart.

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Nov
19

Douloufakis Wines Crete, Greece

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We have been fortunate to carry the Douloufakis Vidiano here in the Islands.  Being only an hour drive away from our hotel in Elounda, we therefore, decided one day to go see the winery & vineyard.  The family owns roughly 20 hectares in Dafnes, in the center of Crete, near the larger city of Iraklio (where we would eventually catch a ferry to the Island of Santorini in a few days).  The vineyards are quite breathtaking–mostly on various, undulating hillsides of very white calcareous soils.  Being at higher altitudes (up to roughly 1500 feet) there is constant, strong, gusting, cool ocean winds.  The vineyard tour really was an eye opening & breathtaking!  

What we tasted were the 2016 Vidiano (indigenous grape–white grape variety) & their Liatiko (indigenous red grape variety).  (They also produce a little Malvasia di Candida Aromatico, which they label as Femina & another Liatiko, this one sun dried, & 5 years in barrel–resulting in a sweet, viscous wine named Helios).

The Vidiano is produced from 40 year old vines, fermented in stainless steel with NO malolactic & 4 to 5 days on the lees.  This grape variety grown in these hillside calcareous soils, though not about grandeur, does produce very pure, scintillating white wines with star fruit/quince like fruit, heightened by riveting minerality & a wonderfully crisp & refreshing edge, ideal for seafood & lighter pasta dishes. 

The Liatiko is also produced from 40 plus year old vines, which are de-stemmed & aged for at least 1 year in old oak (barrique, 1.5 & 3.0 foudres).  The resulting wine has a roasted chestnut, savory, bay leaf character with acidity & astringency that reminds of Italy’s Galioppo based red wines.

I should add, that both of these wines are surprisingly reasonable in price & therefore offer GREAT VALUE.  I would further add, the Vidiano is probably more applicable to most restaurants.  If you can sell a Sauvignon Blanc, then one should also readily be able to suggest this wine in place.

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My wife Cheryle & I decided to go to Greece, which had been number one on her bucket list for quite some time.  We really didn’t have a strict, detailed itinerary planned other than 2 days in Athens, 6 days on the island of Crete & 3 days on the island of Santorini.  AND, we did not plan out any winery visits ahead of time.  We would just go, have fun & a relaxing time.  After 2 days in Athens & doing walking tours at such landmarks as the Acropolis, we left the big city & flew to Crete, specifically Chaniá first. 

In Chaniá, Salis Restaurant was THE eatery recommended to us, mainly because of how fresh their seafood is & the fact that it is open air & located right on the water & cooled by the fresh ocean breezes.  In addition, they have quite the reputation for their wine program.

We ended up going there to dine 3 times in 2 days.  The food was fresh & good, the winelist well selected & the sommelier–Grigorios Rappos–was quite the professional–very helpful, very knowledgeable and really charming &. gracious. Grigorios was kind enough to let us try a bunch of Greek wines.  If you are visiting Chaniá, this is definitely a restaurant well worth seeking out.

To top off our enjoyment at this restaurant, on the 3rd visit there we met Afshin Molavi (who happened to be the owner of Salis) & we hung out until 10:30pm (7 hours), during which time he popped open many, terrific wines to share.  Afshin is really passionate & knowledgeable about wine….& it was quite the night of talking story & just hanging out.  

He offered to take us to his winery the next morning–Manousakis.  I had no idea of what to expect & was blown away with the vision of this project & its remarkable vineyard.  Thank you to Afshin for sharing!

The Manousakis estate & its wines labeled under the Nostros label, is the dream of Theodore Manousakis (Afshin’s father-in-law), as a way to give back something to his homeland of Crete. 

I was in awe of how breathtaking this property is–25 hectares planted (half in 1993)–located in a rugged, vertically remote (up to roughly 2500 feet in elevation) wild, mountain side, wind pounded & with a breathtaking view.  The soils were extreme & iron rich planted on various nooks & crannies along the mountain contour.  The vines include–Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Mourvedre with Greek grapes varieties such as Romeiko, Vidiano & even a little Assyrtiko.  The rest of the wild countryside has all kinds of wild shrub, wild herbs–thyme, sage, rosemary, lavender & lots of bay leaf (a nuance very pronounced in their red wines).

The wines were very well made, had style, polish, wonderful texture & balance.  The 2 most interesting were the Mourvedre (1 hectare) & the Syrah (roughly 3 hectares).  Both were quite masculine with a warm & real savory generosity.

In short I was really blown away with the vineyard, the vision & passion behind their mission.  This is a winery to watch out for.

Thank you Afshin for sharing!  I am so thankful to have found a new, special wine friend on the other side of the world.  Congratulations on all of your amazing projects.  Wow.

Nov
16

Young Sommelier Tasting 10-29-17

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Yet another opportunity for young wine minds to get together–to share & learn.  Thanks to all for coming. 

2015 Sassotondo Ciliegiolo–in Umbria, the Ciliegiolo grape variety is used mainly to make lighter, more café styled red wines.  In Tuscany Ciliegiolo has very different character, eventhough it is also used more for blending.  This bottling is 100% Ciliegiolo grown on the Tuscan Coast in Maremma, seemingly riper, not as much apparent acidity in the middle & perhaps a little more “fur” to it than Sangiovese?  In any case, this wine still has deliciousness, is tasty, interesting & quite enjoyable with a wide range of VINO styled foods. 

2015 Planeta Frappato–our search for tasty, interesting, well balanced Sicilian Frappato has been a long journey.  We have found several with profuse, charming, enticing perfume, but they are often coupled with hollow middles, high alcohol & bitterness levels.  Here is an interesting one to help fill the niche.  The 2015 is grown in the red sands of Vittoria, Sicily.  They say, the Frappato grape vines does its best work in the red sand.  I don’t know if that is true, but we love this wine’s wonderful, exotic perfume & its seamless flow on the palate, its innate savoriness & warm balance.  The innate aromatics creates a very different & interesting dynamic when pairing with foods.

2014 Domaine de Durban Beaumes de Venise–2014 was the first vintage we purchased this wine.  It just caught our attention because of its wonderfully, surprisingly low keyed savoriness & its warm, velvety like texture.  I have previously been a HUGE fan of this estate & especially their dessert styled, vin doux naturel white wine–Muscat Beaumes de Venise–which many consider to be the finest example of what this wine can be.  This red wine comes from the same village, its higher altitude & white limestone looking “chips” scattered throughout the vineyards, bordered by a wild countryside with pine trees, shrub & herbs.  The blend is typically a blend of mainly Grenache, Syrah & a dollop of Mourvedre.  I would also have to add the price tag is way under priced, making this a truly SENSATIONAL VALUE, especially if you like more traditionally styled French “country” red wines. 

2012 Les Milles Vignes “Cadette”–located in the Fitou AOC (granted in 1948–the first for Languedoc), this winery has just skyrocketed to fame under the direction of winemaking phenom Valérie Guerin.  It is really amazing how their wines are now the “toast” of Paris & its progressive wine bar scene.  I love this wine’s enchanting charm, surprising elegance & refinement, which is so different than most Languedocien typically showcase.  The 2012 is roughly 1/3 each of Grenache, Carignane & Mourvedre (50 year old vines, grown in clay-limestone-schist soils).  This is a winery well worth seeking out as the wines are standout, interesting & can add to the dinner table experience.

2012 Gallety “Côtes du Vivarais”–Cheryle & I first visited this estate in 2007.  It is located on the western flank of the northern area of the southern Rhone, an area not so highly regarded for so many years.  Well, this estate will help change that perception.  The vineyards & countryside looks to be semi-arid (though it is said to be cooler & wetter, & therefore longer to ripen than the vineyards across the river) with all kinds of soil fragments–gravel, stones, sand, limestone chips.  This particular bottling is typically 50% Grenache (45 to 60 year old vines) % 50% Syrah (25 year old vines).  I love how different this rustic & provocative Grenache-Syrah wine is year in & year out.  To that end, the vines are organically farmed & the wines are aged in older Burgundy barrels to contribute more purity & finesse to the resulting wines, unlike the more opulent, brooding, high glycerin reds produced across the river.

1999 Chateau Pegasus Xinomavro “Naoussa”–this was highly recommended to us by a small, husband/wife wine specialty wine store in Athens, Greece.  They noted this bottling is one of the best out of their country AND this was a 1999 the winery recently re-released.  The grape variety is Xinomavro & comes from the Naoussa appellation.  I was excited to pop this wine open for all to taste, having carried it all the way from Greece in our suitcase for that purpose.  The wine, right off the bat, had a musky wood kind of smell–kind of like sandalwood meets cherry wood with licorice, sweet pipe tobacco, wet li hing mui cherry & a VERY savory, pungent core.  It was not like any wine I had had before.  On the palate it was dried fruit, actually quite tight knit with charcoal, cedar, sweet tobacco undertones.  It was also quite layered & the wine unveiled more & more layers as the wine sat open.  Certainly was an interesting wine.

Gregoletto Prosecco “Sui Lieviti”–a relatively new discovery for us.  This producer is making quite a splash with its sur lie Prosecco–“Sui Lieviti”. “The sui lieviti bottlings represent the history of this region before the Champagne method was invented. Primary fermentation in stainless steel, then bottled by hand along with a small amount of natural liqueur made from their own grapes that triggers fermentation in bottle.  The secondary fermentation continues in bottle over an indeterminable amount of time, in fact each bottle is slightly different. Vino vivente! Living wine!”  This wine is capped & therefore cannot be DOCG. 

2015 Domaine Skouras Moschofilero–Giorgio Skouras is Burgundy trained & is undoubtedly one of those leading Greece into a modern era of wines through his expertise.  This is one of his Moschofilero white wines, grown in the Peloponnese of southern Greece at higher altitudes.  Since the Moschofilero grape variety has color (& therefore potential bitterness), 53% of this is produced from free run juice.  It still has the wonderful aromatics, which creates a very different dynamic with foods & a surprisingly somewhat thick, viscosity, despite being still light, refreshing & tasty. 

 2014 Domaine Skouras Moschofilero “Salto”–in comparison, this bottling is a produced from a single vineyard, 100% Mavrofilero (a unique, highly aromatic Moschofilero vine selection), from Martinia at roughly 1800 feet in elevation.  This wine is wild yeast fermented & displays a much more high toned, lime skin perfume & leaner, crisper, fresher on the palate.  What an amazing difference!

2015 Sigalas Assyrtiko–having just gotten back from Greece, I wanted participants to compare the difference between Moschofilero & Assyrtiko, two of Greece’s finest indigenous white wine grape varieties.  Assyrtiko is indigenous to Santorini where it is trained koulara (bird nest looking) to protect the grapes from the light volcanic pumice that is whipped around by the strong, gusting ocean breezes AND to give it some shade from the hot Summer sun.  Paris Sigalas is without a doubt the most notable internationally recognized wine producer name from the Island & deservedly so.  He experiments so much both in the vineyard & in the winery in search of producing better wine.  This is his standout wine for me–masculine, stony, masculine & very savory with quite a assertive, somewhat bitter finish.  one can see, when tasting his wines, why he & his wines are held in such reverence.

 2013 Hatzidakis Assyrtiko de Mylos ”Vieilles Vignes”–the winemaking turk of the Island & amongst those growing & producing the Assyrtiko grape variety was Haridimos Hatzidakis.  having tasted his wines a little while back I was anxious to taste his wines again, shake his hand & hopefully walk his vineyards.  I was saddened to hear he had passed away only a couple of months before we got there.  His grape growing & winemaking was totally “out of the box” not only for Santorini, but anywhere else for that matter.  His wines were therefore also unlike any other.  His Mylos bottling comes from a single, organically farmed vineyard of 80 plus year old vines in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis, VERY matured grapes, wild yeast fermented & spent 8 months on the lees & bottled unfiltered with very minimal sulfur.  Where Sigalas is more clean & vibrant Hatzidakis is taking a trip on the wild side–a wine unbridled & unapologetic for its attitude & rustic, “on the edge” style.

2002 Dönnhoff Spätlese “Norheimer Delchen”–Helmut Dönnhoff has made quite the international reputation for his estate & his world-class Rieslings.  TOTALLY deservedly so!  This wine clearly reminded all of the tasters why.  The 2002 displayed such profound character, structure & mojo with a real majestic presence, pedigree, incredible balance & masterful precision.  I remember tasting this wine upon release & then thinking it was too much.  2002 was that kind of vintage, especially back then.  15 years later….OMG….though still quite the youngster & somewhat still hiding some of its glory, the transparency, clarity & minerality is definitely back out.  This is some kind of wine!  Thank you Brent & Helen for sharing!

1980 Quintarelli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico–Thank you Mike for sharing!  Only a wine crazy guy like you would come armed with a heavyweight like this to a BYOB to share.  This bottling was typically produced only 3 or 4 times in a decade.  Giuseppe took so much effort to meticulously produce one of his favorite children.  (Insiders estimate–it takes 30 pounds of grapes & 10 years worth of care & coddling to produce one bottle).  Now, 37 years young.  Yes, young.  It is true the once youthful unctuality/sweetness had changed considerably.  It is still so powerful, virile & vinous–a true beast–still showing, however, some class & intrigue.  What a bottle of wine this is!!!!!

Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Nov
11

A Quartet of Cabernet Sauvignon 07-12-17

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Here is a tasting we did recently in our VINO restaurant.

Yes, Cabernet is now being planted throughout the world. It seems to do well in many different kinds of soils & growing conditions. Having said that, finding distinctive, more unique & handcrafted renditions can be quite the challenge. Here are examples of four worth consideration.  Each from a different growing region.  How often do opportunities like this come about? 

2011 Gramercy Cabernet Sauvignon “Columbia Valley”–This is an important wine to consider as Washingston state is primed to really boom in the very near future with Gramercy Cellars being one of the shining lights.   What I learned to really appreciate on my recent trip to Washington state is several things.  The average cost of premium grapes run in the $3,000 to $4,000 per ton range, which is WAY lower than one would pay in Napa or Sonoma valleys.  This translates into less expensive bottle prices.  Secondly, many of the vines, especially in the top vineyards are own rooted AND have some age to them.  Stylistically, I really appreciated the savory edge many, such as this Gramercy, innately have.  I also appreciate how they approach their wines with Old World sensibilities–looking to wineries such as Chateau La Conseillante & Chateau Leoville Las Cases rather Harlan or Bryant Family.   Their 2011 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from the truly iconic Phinny Hill vineyard & saw 20 months in oak, 35 to 40% new.  This wines does have wonderful savoriness & is so very elegant, suave, superbly textured & balanced.  As I had noted in a previous post, superstar Master Sommelier Greg Harrington is the vision & co-winemaker Brandon Moss is the energy.  Kudos guys!

2013 Chateau Aney “Haut Medoc”–Classic Left Bank Bordeaux–“65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Located in Cussac Fort Médoc lying strategically between St-Julien and Margaux, where the summer sun is tempered by the cool breezes of the Garonne, and round, polished, gravelly, river stones cover the vineyard”.  I have read somewhere how scientists have said noted that the vines’ roots cannot pick up the minerals & transmit them to the grapes.  Well, if that is true for limestone than they must feel the same about gravel.  So, my question is……then why does this wine smell of gravel? 

2013 Camino Cabernet Sauvignon “Montecillo Vineyard”–A wine to show tasters of the huge potential the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas truly has. This one is 100% Cabernet (planted in 1964), on steep, rocky hillsides, wild yeast fermented & sees 21 months in oak, 50% new.  This is the handiwork of Tadeo Borchardt (who is also the winemaker at Neyers.  I think of it as a real thoroughbred–powerful & full of mojo/character, all done effortlessly so & with no fan fare.  100 cases produced. 

2012 Selene Cabernet Sauvignon “Dead Fred Vineyard”–Classic Napa Valley! 100% Cabernet from the cooler (Coombsville) area of southern Napa Valley Valley. “Just under three acres are planted on soils that range from sandy loam to gravelly and even cobbly loams, with clone 8 Cabernet Sauvignon on St. George“.  Another masterpiece from superstar winemaker Mia Klein. Only 236 cases produced.  I would also like to add, Mia delivers these wines at such amazing prices, when one considers this is premium Napa Valley fruit crafted by a superstar winemaker!!!!  OMG

Categories : General, Red, Wine
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Nov
10

Young Sommelier Tasting 08-26-17

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Here is yet another tasting with many of the new generations of wine professionals.  It really is a fabulous opportunity to get together & share wines, experiences & insight.  Thank you to all who came to hang out.

FLIGHT #1

We started off with this duo, just to remind tasters that finding wines which offer great value at reasonable prices is a very challenging task.  One of the things I was reminded of in Washington state wine country on my recent visit, was that if you are paying $4,000 per ton of grapes, that would roughly translate into $40 a bottle retail for the wine.  If that is a plausible example, if you are looking to pay $15 a bottle retail, then I would ask, where are these grapes being grown & who is farming interesting, quality Cabernet Sauvignon at $1,500 a ton?    This makes for an ideal segue to the 2015 Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon “Santa Margarita Ranch”.   All of the fruit comes from their estate vineyard which is located down in southern Paso Robles at roughly 1,000 feet in elevation.  That is precisely what made me keep tabs on what they were doing for several years.  I just waited until the winemaking really got in the ‘zone”.  This winery is primed now & really rocking & rolling on the value scene for all to take advantage of.   In comparison, we then poured the 2011 CF Cabernet Sauvignon “Santa Barbara”, our very own designer wine, created for our 8 restaurants.  We couldn’t find a really interesting, delicious Cabernet which offered great value, with availability all year around, so we went out & created it.  Furthermore, given that most of restaurants feature contemporary Asian inspired foods, we looked for a much more elegant, classy style of Cabernet.  It made sense then to ask a Pinot Noir master to make one for us.  What a great fit!!!!!!  I think the first vintage was the 2002 & we have been sailing along since. The grapes mainly come from the organically farmed Stallion Vineyard right outside of the Happy Canyon appellation, with roughly 3 to 5 % Merlot coming from Bien Nacido vineyard of Clendenen’s home turf of the Santa Maria Valley.  Boy, this wine was REALLY singing on this day & made us quite proud!  Thank you Kimo for this wonderful wine!

FLIGHT #2

The theme for this next duo was to taste & compare TWO Beaujolais.  My thought was to actually show tasters the difference between a light, delicious, more “country” styled Beaujolais versus a SUPED UP  Beaujolais in all its glory.   What often gets lost in the media ratings is lighter, more delicious, food friendly & gulpable “country” styled red wines such as the 2015 Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais.  How many of today’s new generation of wine buyers are willing to buy a wine, with a non-descript label & a 86 to perhaps a 88 point rating for $16 a bottle?  I will!  Especially one like this.  The Dupeuble family have owned & farmed their estate vineyard for over 500 years!  AND who is going to farm organically AND biodynamically, produce the wine as naturally as they can….at $16 a bottle?  They do!!!!!  AND, this wine is absolutely delicious & one can have a blast sipping the wine or at most dinner tables.  What an epic STEAL of a bargain!   I suggest you just serve it well chilled.  In comparison, I wanted tasters to try one of the contemporary darling producers–2012 Jean Foillard Fleurie–Cru quality grapes, uber-sustainably grown at VERY low yields, VERY ripe & passionately sorted, all done in a more lush, viscous, visceral style which is Foillard’s signature.  When I say SUPED UP, I don’t mean complete with mag wheels & striking rims.  It is my way of saying, a real show stopper……attention grabber…..trophy quality.

FLIGHT #3

We take a similar perspective in setting up the next pair–one more “country” in style & the other–SUPED UP.    It really wasn’t that long ago when most Loire Valley red wines were in most vintages a little more in color than a dark rosé .  Well, times have changed & so has the climate.  The first of the pair we poured was the 2015 Chanteleuserie Bourgueil “Cuvée Beauvais”.   The Boucard family have toiling in their limestone/tuffeau soils for 7 generations.  Their prized Cuvée Beauvais comes from old vines on the most treasured tuffeau hillsides in all of Bourgueil.   The resulting 2015 is quite masculine, full of red, stony fruit, jalapeno pepper, flint, savory nuances, really firm structure, lots of vinosity & a somewhat wild countryside character.  I was quite mesmerized by this wine & its minerality, vigor & nerve.  In comparison the 2015 Guiberteau Saumur is grown & crafted by New Age star, Romain Guiberteau.  He bottles several red Saumur wines, this one coming from 3 small parcels laying up on silt/clay topsoil with limestone underneath.  Eventhough this wine is fermented in cement & does not flaunt new oak at all, this is a more modern styled wine  & his style of wine will certainly help grab the newer generations of sommeliers/wine lovers attention & hopefully show them what Loire Valley can offer.

FLIGHT #4

Here was a flight which featured two stellar red wines from Italy.  The 2015 Cavallotto Langhe “Grign” was brought & shared by Jamm & Erica, who I believe brought this bottle back with them from Italy & the estate!  Thank you both.   Cavallotto is undoubtedly one of our favorite wine estates from Piemonte.  Their vineyards are breathtaking & certainly have something interesting & provocative to say through their wines.  This particular red wine is produced from 100% Grignolino grown on a .58 hectare parcel of the Bricco Boschis Cru.  It therefore has the masculine, musk driven, savory edge I commonly find in Piemonte grown red wines.  It also has a very rose petal character that uplifts the wine’s persona, which makes it quite an interesting pairing for lighter meat dishes, especially those using vegetables, & herbs in the preparation.  In comparison, we then tasted the 2010 Biondi Santi Rosso di Montalcino, which I thought was fabulous–a real thoroughbred–classy, majestic & quite a glass of red wine!  Impressive, to say the least without being too much or overdone.

FLIGHT #5

This next flight featured two wines from Austria.  The 2013 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Alte Reben”  had a very mesmerizing & captivating nose.  I just kept diving in more & more.  It smelled of rock with exotic fruit–star fruit & currants?? & a white pepper edge.  It also had lots of pedigree & vinosity, that’s for sure with resounding character & structure.  I didn’t, however, care too much about the somewhat bitterness in the finish & it was a touch hot.  Still, it was such a pleasure to have tasted it nonetheless.  I really didn’t know what to really make of the 2013 Sattler Zweigelt “Reserve”.  It had lots of earth, vinosity & character, but tasted disjointed & did not flow too well at all.  Still, there was a lot going on & it was quite interesting to taste.

FLIGHT #6

The next duo featured Pinot Noir from Burgundy, France.  The 2013 Michel Gros Hautes-Côtes de Nuits was a very masculine, lean, savory red wine that I would say most tasters would not think of as Pinot Noir in a blind tasting.  BUT, in reality, it is Pinot Noir….but one much more terroir driven than grape variety driven.   I read recently–“While Côte de Nuits consists of vineyards located on or close to the main Côte d’Or escarpment, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits covers the area on top of the escarpment, and the adjacent area of various valleys and slopes.”  Yes, it is a very different profile of wine…..AND, thankfully so.  Interestingly, even the 2009 Robert Chevillon Nuits St Georges did NOT wow all of the tasters, which made it a perfect wine to follow.  This again reiterated that these are wines, specific to a place & the Pinot Noir will manifest itself therefore & thankfully differently.  I loved the musk, savory, earthy nuances of the wine.  It had pedigree, was lean AND so refined & ethereal on the palate.  This was a treat for my palate.  Thank you Rick for sharing.  I was say, however, the wine was very closed–in a dumb period–& I would therefore recommend people stash the wine right now & resist the temptation of popping the cork.

FLIGHT #7

Now, this was a very different kind of duo that’s for sure.  The 2003 Bodegas López de Heredia Rioja Alta Reserva “Viña Bosconia” had a superb showing on this day!  Such a glorious, majestic nose…OMG….with a very masculine, leaner frame & layers upon layers of savory, vinous, provocative nuances.  What a wine!  Thank you Keith for sharing!   We then moved to the 1999 Tempier Bandol “La Migoua”.  Yes, there has been quite a tale & almost romantic story told about this iconic Provencal estate, its family & its wines.  While that may be true, the mojo & soul is still certainly in the bottle.  This is a one of kind wine–very masculine, actually macho, displaying virility, strength & countryside fortitude (as compared to aristocratic).  I love its remarkably savory core which is so much about the wild, sun baked countryside that surrounds the site.  And, for those unfamiliar with the concept, this wine innately features a true soulfulness.  Given that this was a 1999, I was also amazed how youthful the core of this wine still is.  VERY impressive to say the least!

FLIGHT #8

We now moved into uplifting, minerally Chardonnay.  If we had done this before the last flight, these wines would make the Rioja taste so oaky & forward & the Bandol belligerent & coarse.  That was the first lesson.   Having them in this place in the line-up would be an upswing & accentuate the fabulous minerality each wine offers.  In addition, this was an opportunity to show tasters the difference between the 2 kinds of limestone featured in each.  The 2014 Henri Perrusset Mâcon Villages is undoubtedly one of our favorite French “country” white wines.  It is so tasty & invigorating AND offers GREAT VALUE!   How can a buyer go wrong, especially at this price?   Furthermore, this really is a standout for me amongst a sea of Mâcon grown whites In comparison the 2014 Lavantureux Petite Chablis is grown in Portlandian limestone in the much cooler confines of the Petite Chablis appellation & is much lighter on its feet, much more refined, delicately nuanced, linear & amazingly more sea-shelly & ethereal.  What a really pretty, wonderfully food friendly style of Chardonnay, which deserves much more attention than it is getting, especially at its remarkably reasonable price point!

FLIGHT #9

The next flight paired 2 Viognier based white wines.  We strongly feel there is a real need for these kinds of well made, well balanced aromatic white wines with today’s contemporary fusion foods.  Since good ones are harder to come by than one would think, we showcased these two just to show tasters what is possible with a little research.  The 2015 Drew Viognier “Valenti Vineyard” proved to be such a pretty, enticing, alluring white wine with a lighter Chardonnay like weight & mojo AND a wonderfully delicate perfume & remarkable transparency.  It certainly was a crowd favorite.  I, too, was really taken with this wine & thought it was one of the very finest examples of this grape variety I had had from California.  In comparison, we then tasted the 2015 Faury Condrieu.  This wine was also quite mesmerizing & show stopping, but with more grandeur & seemingly more masculine & virile.  Condrieu is another series of steep, rocky hillsides in the northern Rhone Valley of France, just as dramatic as Cote Rotie & Hermitage.  I remember my wife asking, when she first saw pickers picking & climbing up the steep terrain, what happens if one trips & falls?  Over the years, I have had a fair share of Condrieu wines, & I don’t recall having one so captivating, pure & well balanced like this one.

FLIGHT #10

We ended this tasting with 2 stellar white wines from Alsace, France.  The 2013 Albert Boxler Gewürztraminer  was a full blown, textbook example of what this grape variety can do in this growing region.  Its nose was an explosion of lychee, rose petal, exotic fruit & stony perfume–so very different from any other grape variety.  On the palate it was unctuous, lush, tropical, stony with a nearly hidden savoriness & firm structure.  The 2013 Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris “Rotenberg”, in comparison, has much more “meat on the bone”, surreal unctu-ality, opulence & power in a very masculine manner.  It really is like turning the speaker on 11, when it normally only goes to 10.  Decadent, lavish, thick, viscous & full blown, yet still having a savory, stony core & mojo, this is some kind of white wine that’s for sure.  In both cases, I would suggest enjoying with samplings of pâté, charcuterie & rich cheeses.  Now, that would be interesting!

Categories : General, Wine
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Nov
06

A Taste of Pink Wines 07-16-17

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‘Tis the season for delicious, thirst quenching PINK wines.

The world of rosé has greatly changed over the past 10 years or so.  Where once rosé was essentially a by product of red wine production, more & more winemakers (& the public) understand that if you want a really good rosé you have to set out to grow & make a good rosé.  From there, rather than having one that only smells of strawberry, cherry, cherry, cherry……..I much prefer one that has minerality to it.  This makes for a more interesting wine to sip, but also creates a very different dynamic when served with foods.

Thankfully, today really good rosés are grown in different soils & climates, produced from all kinds of different grape varieties & are done in many different styles.  Here are 4 worth looking for.

Domaine Arretxea Irouléguy Rosé–comes from “the Basque country lies along the southwestern border of France and Spain, deep in the dramatic Pyrénées mountains. It received its own A.O.C. in 1970 & this domaine farms organically & biodynamically.  A mere glimpse of their steep, terraced land, amid beautifully lush wildflowers, set against the white peaks of the Pyrénées, with sheep grazing on the soft, aerated soils in between vineyard rows, The sandstone soils of Irouléguy are ideal for these grapes because they are streaked with iron oxide, mica, silica, limestone, clay, and dolomite. The mineral diversity lends an intensity to the wines, making them wild, earthy, tannic, and rich in spicy aromas.   80% Tannat, 20% Cabernet Franc, all saignee, sees some less contact but no malolactic.”  This is a very masculine, hearty, savory style of rosé & works very well with hearty, savory foods.

The next wine, the 2016 Chateau Thivin Beaujolais Villages Rosé is a very delicious, pretty, totally uplifting, vivacious pink-ster & has therefore really grown meteorically in the past 7 years in popularity, bordering a mania, among local wine lovers.  Chateau Thivin is a real iconic, long time revered, artisan producer of standout Cru Beaujolais.  Interestingly, though, it was really their 2010 Rosé that caught our attention in this category.  While the previous pink efforts were good, the 2010 was a HUGE qualitative upgrade.  The Gamay Noir vines average 50 years in age & grown in pink granite, sandy soils.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel & sees 100% malolactic.  This wine is really worth seeking out, especially since it greatly over delivers for the dollar spent!

The 2015 Bouvier Marsannay Rosé has been one of the benchmark pink wines of Burgundy for quite some time.  It is not by any means about bravado or showiness.  Quite contraire!  This is a very pretty, highly refined, wonderfully light & ethereal style.  100% Pinot Noir, grown in clay, marl, limestone & gravel, 80% direct press, 20% saignee, fermented in stainless steel & sees 100% malolactic.  Before the recent climate warming, the village of Marsannay, at the northern tip of the Cote de Nuits, below the city of Dijon, was renown for producing wonderful pink wines.  Bouvier’s shows what Marsannay Rosé can be!

The 2016 Hans Wirsching Rosé Trocken is from Franconia, Germany.  It was the most charming & compelling of the group because of its sheer lightness, etherealness & superb deliciousness.  It just says–drink me.  I had had Wirsching rosés in the past, I believe made mainly from Pinot Noir as the base & while they were tasty & lively, this 2016 was light years more captivating.  The 2016 is produced instead from 50% Pinot Meunier, 4%0 Portugieser & 10% Domina grape varieties. The vineyards are very steep, sloping & mostly south facing with gypsum-keuper based soils.  VERY impressive!!!!

Categories : General, Rose, Wine
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