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Here are FOUR very interesting wines that not too many wine buyers would go looking for in a wine store, but I would say, each are worth experiencing. I had my first Irouléguy and Cahors in the 1980’s and my first Zweigelt in the early 1990’s AND, I still keep going back for more. Why? Because each are unique, interesting and authentic wines, which shed a very different light on what wine can be and each is from a family owned and run wine estate. I find it so fascinating when a winery incorporates the family’s culture and heritage into what they do, especially when new generations tweak without taking away from the integrity, typicity and soul of the wine. Please join us on this journey.

2015 Arretxea Irouléguy–66% Tannat, 17% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  This masculine, savage, wildly rustic, savory red from the Basque area of southwestern France is a unique, authentic, family owned project reminiscent of the old days & ways.   Their steep, terraced land is amid beautifully lush wildflowers, set against the white peaks of the Pyrénées,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.”

2015 Château La Grave Cahors–100% Malbec.  Cahors is the ancestral home of the Malbec grape variety.   Historically A.O.C. Cahors is known as the “black wine” of the Southwest—deeply inky, hearty, earthy wines”.

2013 Sattler Zweigelt “Reserve”–How often does one get to sample a top Austrian red wine?  “Zweigelt is Austria’s most widely planted red variety. It is is a cross of two traditional Austrian varieties St.Laurent and Blaufränkisch and produces some of Austria’s most interesting red wines. In this case, the estate vineyards are located around the village of Tadten in the winegrowing district of Neusiedlersee. Tadten is part of an enormous gravel bar that stretches more than five kilometers and the soils are therefore mineralic and layered with gravel, brown earth and occasionally sand”.

2010 Château Moulin “Canon-Fronsac”A throwback in style to the Old Days, when Bordeaux reds smelled and tasted like Bordeaux wines. This bottling is 100% Merlot grown in the clay limestone soils of Canon-Fronsac on the Right Bank of Bordeaux.


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A Tasting of Pinot Noir

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Last night we did a tasting of Pinot Noirs with the VINO staff & some of our wine friends.  We served the wines BLIND (again, not to guess anything, but instead just to assess the wine–whether it was good or not–why/why not–……how much would you pay retail for it……& what kinds of foods would it work with & why).   This was fun & quite insightful.  It is amazing what side by side tastings can help reveal.  (FYI–I eliminated those that didn’t show so well in this blog, just to keep things positive).

2016 CF Wines Pinot Noir “Santa Maria Valley”–The 2016 has just arrived into Hawaii & this was the first time our staff actually tried the wine.  Like the 2015, it was light in color–one could readily see through the wine–, had wonderfully alluring perfume (although there was fruit smells, it definitely had an underlying minerality/earth core, especially on the palate).  Yes, this wine was quite ethereal, savory, remarkably light on the palate, though very compelling, lovely, delicious, seamless AND UN-oaky, UN-heavy, UN-alcoholic–& therefore ideal with a wide range of foods it could work with.  I was very proud of the wine, & even more so because everyone liked it so much.  In fact, for many, it was the wine of the night, which was saying a lot, given the incredible line-up.  Thank you Gary Burk of Costa de Oro again for another wonderful vintage.  (I believe the first vintage was 2002 & with each vintage, the outcomes just seems to be getting better & better.  I really don’t completely understand how Gary does it!)

2012 Neely Pinot Noir “Spring Ridge Vineyard–Hidden Block” –while this wine was quite masculine & savory in style, it displayed a surprisingly light hue, which was very different than the last time I had had it.  It had dark kinds of fruit with a stoniness/base notes in the core, was seamless, suave & a wonderful drink.  On this night, this bottling showed so much better than what I have experienced from previous vintages, which were also very good, especially for the dollar.  It was also a popular selection on the night from the tasters.  (3 acres–roughly 700 feet in elevation, planted in 1997–Dijon clone 115–fractured sedimentary soils, no irrigation, NO herbicides/pesticides, wild yeast fermented, bottled unfiltered, unfined, for all 405 cases).

2016 Camino Pinot Noir “Umino Vineyard”–this is the handiwork & own project of Tadeo Borchart, winemaker of Neyers Vineyards.  The grapes come from Umino Vineyard in the Sebastopol Hills appellation, a very cool hillside (11 acres planted in 1996/1997 to Dijon clones & #459. though I am not sure what Tadeo actually gets) within the Sonoma Coast AVA.  This wine was not as showy as one would expect from Dijon clones & this neck of the woods, but that’s just Tadeo’s style.  Tasters all agreed it was very enjoyable–suave, classy & VERY well balanced, something to be thankful for in these parts & these days.

2016 Big Table Farm Pinot Noir “Willamette Valley”–When we opened Sansei in Seattle in I believe 2015, we made sure we included their wine onto the small, but well selected winelist.  While in Seattle recently, I was reminded this to be one of the hotshot wineries from Oregon by 2 of the finest wine stores there.  So, I bought a bottle to try.  The Oregon wines we had previously admired included top end projects such as Evening Land, Chapter 24 & more recently Lingua Franca, each interestingly feature superstar French consultants such as Dominique Lafon & Louis Michel Liger-Belair, as well as highly revered American wine professionals such as Master Sommelier Larry Stone, Rajat Parr & winemaker Sashi Moorman.  I originally searched out Big Table Farm because winemaker Brian Marcy did a stint at Neyers winery in the Napa Valley, a winery who does things in the vineyard & winery with Old World sensibilities & uber-sustainably.   NO big press & NO big star power, just a couple set to own an actual working farm, complete with animals & respect for the land, to which they added a winery.  (Maybe it was wine first, then came the farm).  The perfume was pretty, nuanced, alluring & compelling rather than showy or oaky.  On the palate, we loved the elegance, grace, transparency & balance of the wine.  It was delicious & very intriguing in a more civil, well balanced style.   This style of wine sometimes gets overlooked in side by side comparative tastings, especially ones like this with so many quality minded wines.  It grabbed my attention!

2016 Rose & Arrow Estate Pinot Noir “1st Highland Close–Chehalem Mountain”–I originally opened a single vineyard Oregon Pinot Noir for this slot, but was shaken in disbelief how much VA the wine overtly displayed, UNTIL I realized it was “barrel sample”.  My mistake.  (Barrel samples should be consumed as early on as possible, especially those using little sulfur).  So, to remedy the situation, I grabbed this bottle of wine, as I was scrambling around, searching for something to fill the slot.  In short, this wine was a revelation.  I was really taken by its supreme elegance, grace, class, texture & balance.  While the others tasted really good, this was CRU quality…..majestic & highly sophisticated.  I previously did not know what I was opening, so you can imagine my surprise & thrill after popping it open & tasting it!  OMG.  The “1st Highland Close” bottling is from 1.88 acres–very rocky & higher elevations–in the Chehalem Hills & crafted by team Chapter 24.  346 cases.

2014 Denis Jamain Reuilly Rouge–The appellation of Reuilly is located in the Central Vineyards of France’s Loire Valley.  Its nearby neighbors include the more recognizable Sancerre & Pouilly Fume.  Interestingly, one of Reuilly’s other neighbors, Quincy, was the 2nd appellation approved by the French government in the 1936 AOC declaration (even before anything from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne!).  The point being, this area has been noted for growing & making noteworthy wines for quite some time.  I would add to that, that the notoriety was more for the white wines back then, pre-“warming of the planet” & its effects of more sun drenched vintages & therefore the increase in frequency of red wine production & the subsequent higher acclaim.  While the soils of Sancerre & Pouilly Fume are a mix of limestone, sand, gravel & marl to the clay, Jamain’s Reuilly vineyards feature Kimmeridgian limestone soils, very similar in profile to those found in Chablis.  As wine lovers well know, the white wines of Chablis, at its best, offer such purity, divine minerality, etherealness & lightness on the palate, so very different from the other Burgundy Chardonnays to the south.  Jamain’s Reuilly similarly offers this kind of character in their white wines, intertwined with the traits of Sauvignon Blanc.  On the red side, their Pinot Noir based reds similarly are light colored & weighted, more ethereal, leaner, firmer, lower in alcohol & therefore much more quaffable & food friendly in style.  Not for everyone, but certainly a treat for us to try.

2015 Meyer Näkel Spätburgunder “Ahr”–I vividly remember my first experience with this producer & his wines back in the late 1980’s, they were that good!  I was also quite in awe when I traveled there in the early 1990’s when seeing their vineyards & just talking story with Werner.  While many of the top echelon of German winemakers have a real precise, more scientific edge, I instantly found Werner Näkel, to be more engaging, which makes sense since he was previously a school teacher before taking over the reins of this iconic estate.  That first encounter was, in fact, a big welcome party, complete with a big tent, lots of wine, simple pupus & lots of talking story & laughter with at least 50 to 60 people.  I was again quite taken by his Pinots, & on this night, especially his “S” bottling.  These were definitely wines to be taken seriously, at a time when German Pinot Noir was almost as a novelty, with exceptions from Joachim Heger from Baden & Paul Fürst from Franconia.  Meyer Näkel is located in the Ahr region, the most northerly of all of the winegrowing regions of Germany.  They have 3 noteworthy Cru vineyards–2 featuring some blue slate to the base & the other gray slate to the base.  That is why I often get a slate-y character in the wines & the wines over all have a distinct minerality to them.  Werner was selected 2004 “Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” & deservedly so.  The wines feature a masculinity in their core, but are nonetheless seamless & well balanced.

2014 François Lumpp Givry Premier Cru, “Petit Marole”–François Lumpp is located in Givry within the Côte Chalonnaise of Burgundy, France.  Because of the ever rising prices of the noteworthy Pinot Noir based red wines, especially from the Côte de Nuits & its iconic villages such as Chambolle Musigny, Gevrey Chambertin & Vosne Romanee, we are always looking elsewhere & digging around for gems, which offer quality at more affordable prices.  Here is one which recently came on to our radar screen.  While, this wine will never be confused with any of these more renown, iconic villages by any means, one can’t help but appreciate the wonderful transparency, pretty & ethereal qualities of this wine.  Yes, I adore Pinots which are alluring, classy, refined & delicately nuanced.  This is that kind of wine AND we were all quite surprised at its reasonable price.

2015 Ganevat Pinot Noir “Cuvée Julien”–“Jean-François Ganevat is a master of his craft, one of the true magicians of the eclectic. To say that his grapes are spun into gold would not be far from the truth; they are entirely otherworldly.”  Ganevat works with vineyards in the Jura region of eastern France, each at varying elevation, steepness grades & facings.  I therefore thought why not throw in one of his extremely hard to get wines just to provide a different perspective & hopefully create a stir.  Cuvée Julien comes from a 7 hectare parcel of limestone-clay, which was planted in 1977.  Its done via whole cluster & aged for 12 months in oak.  The resulting wine is NOT oaky, but one can readily tell it is framed by oak.  This wine has a mesmerizing purity/transparency, wonderful, soothing texture, bountiful sublime nuances which just appears with each swirl & sip.   Yes, this was a wine to behold & I think referring to it as entirely otherworldly is most apropos.

2000 François Jobard Blagny “La pièce sous le bois”–François Jobard has been one of my favorite producers out of Burgundy for a long time, though mainly for his Cru white Meursaults.  Over the years he also produced this bottling of red wine, which was always hit or miss for me.  It wasn’t about the quality of what’s in the bottle at all.  I find/found this bottling to be very moody with more downs than ups.  Someone in the know once lamented to me that this wine just doesn’t travel well at all.  Makes sense to me, because usually when I taste it, it is so closed & unforgivingly hard, even more so than their white wines can be.  On the other hand, I once tried a 1996, which was re-released from the winery in the mid to late 2000’s that I thought to myself–“finally”!  Well, unfortunately the other 11 bottles of the case, were closed & hard.  There is no doubt the wine has vinosity & complexities, but they are so hidden.  I even had a 2002 & a 1995 in the past couple of weeks & walked away scratching my head in bewilderment.  The 2000, on the other hand, on this night was halfway open.  It had a murky, masculine, tight fisted perfume that I thought was captivating once the bottle stink aired away.  In the mouth, it was NOT welcoming or delicious in any sense, but this wine had good structure, vinosity in the core & was finely detailed, just tight fisted & still quite hard.  The partially open nose still made it a wine well worth trying.  Sadly this vineyard has been redone with Chardonnay, so whatever bottles are out there is the last of this bottling.  Thank you Helen & Brent for sharing.  I always love the opportunity to try a wine from François Jobard.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Old World Classics

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The wine world has greatly changed over the past twenty years and will continue to change as time rolls on. The lines of typicity and authenticity for each region, each wine is getting blurred by the dramatic improvements both in working the vineyards and in the winery. What are classic wines today? Here are four that we think fit the bill. We will serve them blind, just for fun! Please join us on this journey.

2014 Domaine de Durban Beaumes de Venise–We thought this wine was important to show because of it’s wonderful savoriness.  We find savoriness can very important when considering food pairing.  The Leydier family took over this ancient site in the 1960’s.  Although located in France’s southern Rhone Valley, their Grenache based red wines (this one  typically roughly 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah & 5% Mourvedre) are very different from the other, more famous villages, partly because of the grape mix, the vineyard’s soils & special microclimate.  “To walk through the high-altitude vineyards at Domaine de Durban is to walk through an astounding span of history. On the site of a former Roman healing springs destination, a mere handful of soil reveals well-preserved, ancient Roman roof tiles and medieval pot shards. The domaine and its vineyards sit atop a picturesque plateau in the Vaucluse, sheltered by the Dentelles de Montmirail, just above of the village of Beaumes-de-Venise.   A constellation of fortune seems to converge at this particular spot. Pine trees protect the area from the intensity of the persistent mistral. The soils are rich and deep, with clay, limestone, and the soft, ochre Trias, (quite different from the flatter, lower elevation vineyards of sand, clay & galet stones of the neighboring villages), lending finesse and freshness to their wines. The high altitude in the vineyards means a slightly cooler microclimate with strong sun exposure, a blessing that the Leydiers credit for the amazing consistency their wines enjoy year after year“.

2005 López de Heredia Rioja Reserva “Bosconia”–this truly iconic Rioja estate is one of the few who still follow the traditions which Rioja is historically world renown for.  This family has preserved for over 130 years of running this estate & their inclusive vineyards, the 2 most notable–Bosconia & Tondonia.  This 2005 Bosconia is classic Rioja–Tempranillo (80% or so), Garnacho (15% or so), Mazuelo and Graciano, spending 5 years in barrel.  It’s no wonder that this venerable Rioja star & its Tempranillo based reds in all its glory, is the rage among the sommelier community across the country.

2012 A & G Fantino Barolo “Dardi”–we were so thankful this estate came on our radar screen.  For me, it is getting harder & harder to find small, artisan Barolo-ists like this, who own & farm these kinds of special vineyard parcels & grow & craft more classical styled wines with this kind of pedigree, old style typicity, authenticity & personal touch.   In addition, their wines have a wonderful purity/transparency & though quite masculine in its core, they still offer elegance & refinement, rather than being coarse, (especially in its youth), surprisingly accessible (without the use of roto fermentors) & controversially rustic.  “The Fantinos are also blessed with some of the oldest vines in the entire Barolo zone, thanks to the fastidious care given to them by Alessandro and Gian Natale. Planted in 1946 and 1947 and pruned in an old style that is very labor intensive. Barolos from Bussia tend to have deep color and rich fruit and while they don’t lack the classic tannic structure of Nebbiolo from this part of the world, they are not nearly as hard as the Barolos from the southside of Monforte or from Serralunga”.

2015 Faury St Joseph–we absolutely love the nose of this wine-exotically perfumed, gamey, peppery & lavender scented–as it does capture the core of what the Syrah grape variety can be.  The vines were planted in 1979 & 2007 on steep terraced hillsides.  “The steep slopes of the northern Rhône present a challenging terrain where farming is only feasible through terracing. On these terraced slopes, the Faurys’ vines take full advantage of the southern and southeastern sun exposure, benefitting from optimum ripening.  A combination of the predominately granitic soil, partial de-stemming (in about 70% of the grapes), soft crushing of the grapes with a pneumatic press, and temperature controlled fermentation offer a liveliness and freshness that one does not often find in wines from the northern Rhône.  There’s a real attention to detail here, and nothing is done in haste.  Every method used encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility.  Pigeage, the punching of the cap, is not carried out with tools, but gently by foot – not just poetic but also pragmatic.  Unlike many other vignerons in the region, the Faurys have a strong aversion to new oak. Though the reds definitely see time in barrels, there is a rotation between new and old alike, along with a variety of sizes, ranging from the smaller barriques to the larger 600-liter demi-muids. 

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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A Quartet of Tuscan Sangiovese

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Back in the 1970’s, when I was just getting into wines, Tuscany had its share of controversy. In America, because of the great notoriety the name Chianti had, its straw flask and often elaborate/twisted shaped bottles, Chianti was synonymous with Italian red wine for the dinner table. Soon there was a sea of plonk coming out of the region to feed the HUGE demand. It was the tireless crusading of regional champions like Piero Antinori and the emergence of superstar winemaking and grape growing consultants, which thankfully moved Tuscany from misery and lackluster to superstardom once again. The quality pendulum then swung to the far side with the extreme use of Cabernet Sauvignon and new French barrique to the point where the resulting wines could be confused as not tasting Italian. The Sangiovese grape variety can fade into the background, I have found, with as little as 15% Cabernet blended in. So, where is the median, that point where better grape growing and winemaking can produce something noteworthy, yet still Tuscan? That was inspiration for this tasting! 

2012 Poggio Scalette Chianti Classico–Back in the 1970’s, we saw the emergence of consulting enologists, especially in Tuscany, and we subsequently witnessed a rise in the quality of the Tuscan wines. One of the three most prominent stars was Vittorio Fiore. Poggio Scalette is his own most prized property (today run by his son Jurg). It is located in Ruffoli, 1400 feet up above the town of Greve & its very rocky soils. It is truly a magnificent vineyard, whose grapes are done with elegance, refinement and class, while still be thankfully true to its Italian heritage.  Their 2012 Chianti Classico is 100% Sangiovese di Lamole, 10 months in cement, to highlight this wonderful heirloom vine which is grown in this very special site. 

2010 Villa di Geggiano Chianti Classico “Riserva”–This estate produces wines of sheer elegance and class, while still being vehemently Tuscan. Here is the highly acclaimed 2010–97% Sangiovese, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon, grown in clay, silt, sand, limestone soils.  90%–20 months in 500L & 10% 225L French barrels (15% new) AND then an additional 12 months in 12HL & 20HL botti. 

2010 Villa Artimino Carmignano–Carmignano was granted DOC in 1975 & then DOCG status in 1990 and is today one of Italy’s smallest DOCG’s, roughly 270 acres planted and only twelve or so producers. It was also one of the original appellations permitted to use (up to 10 to 20%) Cabernet Sauvignon and later Cab Franc, in their blends. Here is one of the top estates.  “Villa Artimino is truly a historical site. There is a rich history on this property dating back to the Renaissance period, when ancients such as Galileo & da Vinci once visited. And it is here that Italy’s 1st wine was produced under the DOC rules (which was Carmignano, the answer to a wine-geeky trivia question!) back in 1716”. 

2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–When I was growing up in this industry, Fontodi was one of the two Tuscan standouts others were measured by, showcasing the world class skill of then pioneering consultant Franco Bernabei. Rather than resting on its laurels, this venerable estate is producing their best wines of all time. Here is their highly acclaimed 2009 Riserva “Poggio al Sorbo”–I was told 100% Sangiovese (their own heirloom vine), 24 months in Troncais & Allier barrique, 50% new.  94/95 point rating.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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The illustrious Domaine Tempier has shown that the Mourvedre grape variety can result in something special and soulful, all in a very unique manner. While many others have valiantly tried to grow and produce another rendition of that top rung, somehow the results don’t offer the same kind of magic. Still, because of the limited availability and rising prices of the Tempier Bandol, we continue to look. Here are four new standouts, maybe not quite at the level of Tempier, but certainly very interesting in its own right and well worth checking out! Join us on this search! 

2013 Chateau La Roque Mourvedre “Vieilles Vignes”–Here is yet another completely different take on what the Mourvedre grape variety can be. While Mourvedre seems to flourish in the soils and climates of southern France, especially in a wild countryside with clay/limestone soils and a fierce mistral wind to keep vines healthy. To really make superb renditions, however, one has to really almost coddle and nurture this vine and it is not as easy as one would think. Well, since the Romans cleared and planted this vineyard way back when, one can say, the vine has had hundreds of years to prove its worth. If it didn’t result in something special it would have been long gone.

2012 Domaine du Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”–Here is a completely different “look” to what this grape variety can be.  “The estate’s terraced vineyards of alluvial soil and galets roulés mirror Châteauneuf’s terraces right across the river. Cuvée Les Muses, an inky blend made predominately with Mourvèdre, which owner/winemaker Marine Roussel masterfully crafts into a masculine, suave red wine of wonderful balance, purity and minerality—a noble, if not challenging, goal given the sunbaked terroirs she farms”.


2013 Domaine de la Tour du Bon Bandol–Who says the Mourvedre grape variety can only produce, hearty, masculine, rugged wines? Here is the proof that does NOT have to be so.  “Domaine de la Tour du Bon rests peacefully atop a limestone plateau in Le Brûlat du Castellet, in the northwestern corner of the A.O.C. Bandol. Nestled beneath the mountains to the North, it is a bastion of tranquility, an oasis on the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful gardens and vineyards.   Today, Agnès Henry runs the show, crafting wines with power and precision, but also finesse and charm. Who better to understand how to make the wine than the person who knows the story of the land the best?   Fourteen hectares of red earth, clay, sand, and gravel rest upon sturdy limestone bedrock. Brow-beating excavation and focused determination alone have built these vineyards”.

2008 Domaine du Gros Noré Bandol–We end this tasting with a slightly aged Mourvedre beast—the wild side of what this variety can be.  “Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. He is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Kermit–“Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.”.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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BYOB Chardonnay Tasting

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On this night, tasters, mainly our VINO staff, brought an assortment of Chardonnays just to try side by side.  Since it was a group tasting, we asked everyone to add in their 2 cents, so we could all learn together as group, from the wines & each other’s comments.  Thank you Keith for hosting this wonderful learning opportunity.

Here is the list of wines everyone brought–

2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello”; 2015 Ballard Lane Chardonnay: 2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block”; 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara”; 2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”; 2013 Jean-Paul Brun Beaujolais Blanc; 2015 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon Chardonnay “Clos de la Crochette”; 2016 William  Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux”; 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes”; 2010 Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin Chablis Premier Cru “Vaillons”; 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix”; 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte”; 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières”.  Yes, lots of highly rated wines!  Thank you all for sharing.

Here are some of my highlights.

The 2010 Ridge Chardonnay “Monte Bello” (roughly $80 a bottle retail–92 to 94 point ratings)–showed lots of blatant, toasty oak/hazelnut (with apparent American oak pungency) notes right out of the gates.  Well made, good flow, structure, stony, surprisingly light on its feet (in comparison to what the nose forewarned), oak framed with prominent alcohol in the finish (more than the 14.4% shown on the label).  A question mark purchase for me after seeing the price.  2015 Foxen Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard–UU Block” (roughly $40 retail–rated 90 points)–reminiscent of the region’s old guard & therefore balance & mineral driven, more so than expensive oak,  flashiness & alcohol.  This wine showed a better finish & therefore was much more palatable than the previous 2.  Surprisingly elegant, though forward with well integrated oak & high lemon like acidity (almost too much so for some tasters).  It is also a peculiar combination of stony, fresh steamed rice nuanced & an old fashion pungency (the latter I sometimes get from Santa Maria Valley old vine clone 4).  Interestingly, the 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Santa Barbara” (roughly $22 retail–88 points)–was much more seamless from beginning to end, classy, better textured & more complete than the previous 3 wines.  Tasting these wines side by side was really eye opening & made me appreciate the Au Bon Climat winemaking even that much more.  While it wasn’t grand or anything of the sorts, it displayed sublime minerality, grace, deliciousness & real value.  2007 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” (roughly $35 retail–88 points)–there is no doubt this was by far the most compelling of the Californian Chardonnays we sampled on this night.  By far!  The wine had mesmerizing vinosity, minerality & mojo, like one would expect from a Cru bottling with superb texture, seamlessness, balance & class. We hear more & more rumblings of how ABC has seen their best days or their production is way too high to make top echelon wines.  This bottling clearly shows otherwise……AND, at 11 years old.  What a wine!  Thank you Erica & Jamm for sharing.

We then segued into Chardonnays from Burgundy, France.  While on paper the list looked impressive & interesting, I scratched my head in wonderment as I felt some of them greatly under delivered.  Still, tasting these wines side by side turned out to be quite the learning experience–which made some wines really shine & others not.  (We didn’t do the tasting blind, in order to make the experience less intimidating for the new attendees).

The 2016 William Fèvre Chablis “Champs Royaux” was a real surprise, as it perennially receives media high praise, is surprisingly reasonably priced & has wide appeal.  The 2016 features a pretty floral, seashell & mineral scented nose with a delicious, rounder than expected mouthfeel.  In comparison, the 2104 Savary Chablis “Vieilles Vignes” was a Chablis of wonderful, sheer etherealness & mesmerizing, pristine purity.  The finesse, vinosity, delicate intricacies carry through on the palate, done with great class & truly remarkable lightness/airiness.  WOW!  The 2012 Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuissé “Vieilles Vignes–La Croix” also showed exceptionally well on this night.  Much richer, seemingly riper & therefore more showy than the preceeding Chablis born wines, this La Croix vineyard (but 2 hectares of 80 year old vines) bottling had prominent & captivating vinosity & character done with superb texture, balance & class.  Stellar!  I distinctly remember the 2004 Cherisey Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru “La Genellotte” upon its release, mostly because how much I loved this newly discovered domaine for me & its wines.  Theirs was very reminiscent of the old style of artisan white Burgundy I grew up with.  It was vehemently masculine, virile & seemingly like a chiseled block of rock……with a resounding oak thread framing it.  I remember thinking, “I wish I could taste this wine again when it is 20 years old!”  On this night, it was but 14 years of age & I was quite stunned at how beautiful, seamless & stunning it truly evolved to be in the bottle with age.   I understand & appreciate that it is a VERY unique style & therefore VERY different from the more highly acclaimed domaines such as Coche Dury, Ente & Roulot.  And, I am most thankful for the difference, because it is so good, artisan & unique.  (Thank you Cheryle for sharing!)   The shining star of the evening for me was the 1996 François Jobard Meursault Premier Cru “Genevrières” (thank you VERY much Jamm & Erica for sharing).  I also remember having this wine upon release.  It was unbelievably tight fisted & hard.  (I think this style has held them back from gaining the true acclaim they profoundly deserve).  I also remember thinking, I can’t wait to try this wine again when it is 25 years old.  Here it was  23 years old… all its glory.  For me, this was having a grand wine at an ideal point of its life.  (I should also mention, that in the early days, I thought their Premier Cru Charmes parcel was their showpiece.  While it still is so very impressive, I find their Genevrières to be worthy of Grand Cru level quality & this wine clearly shows why).

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Italian Barbera

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In the old days I would stumble upon a Piemontese Barbera & think to myself imagine the possibilities of what can be.  Barbera can produce & make really interesting AND food friendly red wine.  One of the big challenges it faced was living in the shadow of the highly esteemed Nebbiolo…..the grape variety used to produce Barbaresco & Barolo.  It was, after all, these appellations & wines which would draw so much fanfare within & to the region, even before their regional truffle came onto the mass American radar screen. 

Because of this, many of the finest sites (& MUCH attention) was devoted to Nebbiolo.  If Nebbiolo fared well in a spot, it was planted.  If it didn’t, then other indigenous grape vines were planted–Dolcetto, Freisa, Grignolino, Ruche, Croatina AND Barbera, just to name a few.

While those “other” grape varieties can be interesting & a really good drink, Barbera for me, was a possible though distant heir apparent to the throne.  It was capable of making interesting wine which could have character, mojo, tremendous food friendliness AND, it was much easier to grow.

The real challenge is Barbera actually likes to over produce.  It grows & loves to grow.

One of the secrets then is how does one harness its energy & attributes–essentially tame it, first in the vineyard & then in the winery.

I would further add that Piemonte is also the home to some of the world’s finest truffle.  Their vines therefore share the same soils as their truffle.  While, one may not get a “truffle”-ness in the wines, in my opinion, I find similar kind of pungency & savoriness in their core & that is another reason why good renditions can work well at the dining table.

Two of the early champions for me of this grape variety were the Coppo brothers with their Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Giacomo Bologna with his Braida Barbera d’Asti “Bricco dell’ Uccellone”.  Both created quite the sensation & really made others rethink what this grape variety could be.  Needless to say, the category grew in availability here in the U.S., in most cases however, with either wines overdone or wines that seemed like they were secondary to the winery–something I consider when buying each bottle & from each producer.

There are some very good Barbera out there that will show you what can be, but one just has to be very selective.  Here are several we tasted recently which are well worth checking out. 

Elvio Tintero Rosso–this bottling is not 100% Barbera.  It is also not labeled with a vintage.  I included this “country” wine because more often than not it is predominately Barbera & because it is delicious, food friendly & so gulpable.  This is the kind of wine one pops open when friends come over just to hang out &/or talk story.  Unpretentious, thirst quenching & brings a smile to your face with each gulp.  PLUS, it is a GREAT VALUE. 

2015 Cantine Valpane Barbera del Monferrato–what a discovery this has been for us!  It is a more meaty, musk oriented rendition–dark & intriguing in its core–with lots of character & mojo at an almost silly price, it is so reasonable.  It will never be confused as being Cru in quality, but it is very pleasurable, is an interesting drink AND does really over deliver for the dollar spent. 

2011 Cavallotto Barbera d’Alba “Vigna del Cuculo”–I am a HUGE fan of Cavallotto & their wines.  They have such purity, etherealness & refinement, done with wonderful texture, balance & transparency.  This wine comes from their Bricco Boschis Cru (wild yeast fermented & aged for 15 to 18 months in oak) & is one to search out for if you are looking for superb, interesting, classy, well made Piemontese red wine at surprisingly reasonable prices. 

2016 Giuseppe Cortese Barbera d’Alba–this is yet another winery who crafts very elegant, refined red wines & one of our favorites from Barbaresco.  The winery (& their house above) is located just above the iconic & breathtaking Rabajà CRU. Their Barbera (7/10’s of a hectare–planted in 1968), however, comes from the “other” side of the hill, 600 to 800 feet in elevation–Trifolera–on one of the 3 crests between the great Rabajà & Martinega CRUs.

SUPER Barbera.  While these are all quite good & interesting, these next 2 are really in a different class, which is why I refer to them as SUPER Barbera.

2009 Giacomo Conterno Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”–As many have noted on line, this is considered the best of what Piemontese Barbera can be.  Here are some of my notes previously posted in this blog after our trip to Piemonte in 2016.  Giacomo Conterno is run by the current generation–Roberto Conterno.  Roberto said the estate vineyard, (a former wheat field)Francia was planted in 1974–9HA of Nebbiolo & 5HA Barbera.  (most sites however say that Francia was purchased & planted in 1976 & the first vintage was 1978).  In 2008, Conterno also purchased 3HA of Ceretta vineyard (1HA of Barbera).  Although these vineyards are only about 2km apart as the crow flies, the soils are so very different (Francia–more calcareous & Ceretta more clay)….& the wines are therefore very different.  (In 2015, Conterno also purchased a little less than 6HA of Arione vineyard, but is currently 100% Nebbiolo).  The 2 Barbera d’Alba we tried, both from 2014 were obviously different.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Francia” was much more musky, masculine with more obvious mojo & distinct rocky, mineral & saltiness in character.  The 2014 Barbera d’Alba “Ceretta”, on the other hand, although made virtually the same way offered much more bay leaf, spice & a savoriness on a much more elegant, refined frame“.  On this night we tried the 2009 Barbera d’Alba “Cascina Francia”.  I was really taken by the class, character & impressive harmony this wine displayed, even at only 9 years of age.  I had not previously consciously really considered whether Barbera got better with age.  (I had previously only sampled slightly aged Coppo Barbera d’Asti “Camp du Rouss” & Braida “Bricco dell Uccellone” before & those wines did NOT wow me like this wine did).   While his Nebbiolo may have more pedigree, this 9 year old Barbera’s vinosity, harmony, balance & savoriness was really compelling & therefore a terrific drink.  Definitely impressive & I definitely learned a thing or two with this wine.

2012 Vietti Barbera d’Alba “Vigna Vecchia Scarrone”–here is another SUPER Barbera, one that like the Conterno “Francia”, supersedes any of its neighbors’ renditions. Located in the Castiglione Falletto commune, the Scarrone Cru has but 1 hectare of 90 plus year old Barbera vines.  Luca, in fact, vehemently believed in this wine & convinced his father they should keep their small parcel of old vine Barbera in this esteemed Barolo entitled vineyard (Scarrone) instead of replanting or grafting over to Nebbiolo.  This was a REALLY big deal!  Such a big leap of faith to say the least!  I absolutely loved the savory, roasted chestnut/sandalwood character of this bottling & its divine elegance, class & refinement.  Truly a standout!  Whether it is worth the price tag or not is up to the taster, but I will say, this is truly some kind of Barbera.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Sommelier Wine & Food Workshop 04-20-18

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”Sommelier Wine & Food Workshop”    Sunday, May 20th  

We put together a sommelier driven “Wine & Food Workshop” on this night. Wow! What a golden opportunity to learn something about wine and food pairings first hand from some of Hawaii’s finest sommeliers, at VINO.  A most memorable event.  (Thank you Mirella for some of the pictures).

Along the Mediterranean basin in café & bistros, one commonly sees well chilled carafes of white, pink & reds wines on the various tables.  People are talking, laughing, eating & unpretentiously gulping the wine to help wash down the food & keep the palate fresh & alive between bites.  There is not a lot of thought given during this moment.  Wine & food at the dining table is really a way of life there.  It is a source of enjoyment & celebrating food, wine, conversation, humor, stories, laughter & each other’s company.  NO formalities whatsoever.  And, for the most part, many of these places have had generations of enjoying this lifestyle.

What wines are typically served at these more casual eateries are the “country” styled wines from around the area.  In the more upscale restaurants, which have tablecloths, lit candles & polished wine glasses, especially in France, the in house sommelier recommends wines to pair with the foods of the evening.

In either case, the goal is to enjoy wines with one’s meal.  While this is a VERY subjective subject, we created this workshop, just to get some helpful insights from 7 of Hawaii’s top wine professionals. 

Joining us on this evening to share their expertise & their thoughts were–Justin Sugita (from Lucky Belly/Tchin Tchin/Livestock Tavern); Rick Lilley (12th Avenue Grill); Sean Isono & Kevin Toyama (Halekulani Hotel); Micah Suderman (Royal Hawaiian Hotel & the current Echanson Provinical of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Hawaii); Chris Ramelb (Level 3 Advanced Sommelier/2016 Rudd Scholarship winner) & Mark Shishido (Alan Wong’s Restaurant).  Yes, quite the list of amazing talent & each really well versed on the inner workings of pairing wine & food.  We were so thankful that each came to share so we could all learn & at the same time hopefully learn from each other.

We first served 7 wines BLIND to 4 of the sommeliers.  This was NOT a blind tasting/grid kind of exercise at all, nor was it a competition AT ALL.  We gave them 15 minutes just to taste through the wines & try to understand what their food pairing qualities might be.  

The list of wines included–2016 Punta Crena Mataòssu Vigneto Reiné”; 2015 Manni Nossing Sylvaner, 2015 Savary Chablis “Vieilles”, 2015 Birichino Malvasia Bianca, 2016 Birichino Malvasia Bianca “Pet Nat”, 2016 Domaine Skouras “Zoe” white & the 2014 Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Kabinett DRY “Iphof”.

We then served them a dish & gave them 15 more minutes to then select a wine they felt worked with the dish.

FIRST PAIRING COURSEPesto Marinated Prawns served with kabocha ravioli & sage brown butter 

We chose this particular dish because a wide array of wines could potentially work with the pesto marinated prawns & sage brown butter.  The real challenge & therefore a smaller window of pairing opportunity would be the sweetness of the kabocha ravioli.

We then served the same dish to the 27 attendees (inclusive of 3 other “color commentating” sommeliers) in the next room & asked the 4 sommeliers to pour their selection & explain why it was selected. 

This certainly proved to be quite a fascinating learning opportunity.

One readily chose the 2016 Punta Crena Mataòssu Vigneto Reiné”, a very tasty, minerally, somewhat briny white from Liguria, specifically a sun baked, terraced hillside which just dives into the sea below.  Liguria is also the reputed home of pesto, so there was something to their choice.

Two actually chose the 2015 Manni Nossing Sylvaner, a dry riveting, mineral driven, remarkably light weighted, seamless & crisp white wine grown high among the Dolomites of northeastern Italy. (In this case, 2 different sommeliers chose the same wine, so one changed to his second choice).  Both thought this was a very dynamic, intriguing pairing with lots of WOW factor.

So, one chose to go instead with the 2016 Birichino Malvasia Bianca “Pet Nat”, a profusely aromatic, cloudy, fizzy, completely “out of the box” contemporary wine from Monterey.  (We purposely chose to serve the still version of this wine & the petulant naturel bottling side by side). The wine’s uplifting perfume worked well with the pesto, had enough grit & crispness for the shrimp & really handled the kabocha element surprisingly well.

Lastly, one sommelier chose the 2016 Domaine Skouras “Zoe” white for his pairing.  This was another very perfumed wine, that also has a mesmerizing minerality both which worked its magic with the basil pesto, was light bodied & had a lemon like edge which acted like a squeeze of lemon with the shrimp.  This delightful, uplifting, “country” styled white wine is from Greece–produced from 2 indigenous grape varieties–Roditis & Moschofilero–grown in the southern Peloponnese & crafted by contemporary star winemaker Giorgio Skouras.

Four different wines from four different wine growing regions of the world were selected & each created quite the stir amongst the attendees AND for very different reasons.

To further add to this learning opportunity, we then asked the other 3 guest sommeliers, sitting with the diners, to color commentate on each pairing, again the wines were BLIND.

I could see the light bulbs going off in people’s eyes & this created more fervor & much discussions amongst all present.

SECOND PAIRING COURSE–Grilled Braised Spanish Octopus with a smoked ham hock bean stew

This is a wonderfully earthy, savory dish, influenced by some that we tasted in Spain.  VINO Chef Keith Endo created this dish to pair with red wines, hence the addition of the hearty, very savory smoked ham hock stew.  After a short time, however, we also found that dry, more hearty, heady, masculine pink wines could also work.  (Think of what the refreshing cranberry does at the Thanksgiving table). 

The sommelier team was again given 7 wines, served blind (no label, no look).  They had 15 minutes to taste through the wines.

The list of wines included–the 2015 Eric Chevalier Cabernet Franc, 2015 Domaine Skouras “Zoe” Red, 2015 Villa Geggiano “Bandinello”, 2013 Corte Gardoni “Becco”, 2015 Giacometti Patrimonio “Clos des Agriate”, 2016 La Pergola “Il Goccetto” & the 2015 Maestracci Corse Calvi Rosé “E Prove”.

Each sommelier was given 15 minutes to choose a wine to serve to the 27 attendees in the other room with the same dish. 

(In one instance, two sommeliers chose the same wine, so one changed to his second choice).  What a fascinating array of selections.

One chose the very elegant, savory, highly refined, classy Villa Geggiano Tuscan Sangiovese based “Bandinello” bottling for the octopus.  Interestingly, this dish was at least partially created with Tuscan Sangiovese like this in mind.  Another chose a tasty, charming, juicy, light & delicious, “country” styled Eric Chevalier Cabernet Franc (Loire Valley, France) to “wash” down the food.  A third chose the highly/exotically perfumed (think rose petals & musk), lighter colored, musky, savory Piemontese Brachetto based “Il Goccetto”, which proved to be quite the dynamic, compelling pairing, (re-introducing the concept of aromatic wines with foods).  Lastly one chose the masculine, very savory Corsican rosé, which displayed nuances of the sun baked, rocky terrain of the island’s remote, wild countryside.  Again, reminiscent of what the cranberry does at the Thanksgiving feast–refreshing the palate between morsels of rich, savory food.

Four different wines from four different wine growing regions of the world were selected & each created quite the stir amongst the attendees AND for very different reasons. 

To further add to this learning opportunity, we then asked the other 3 guest sommeliers, sitting with the diners, to color commentate on each pairing, again the wines were BLIND.

What a fabulous learning opportunity/experience this was, hopefully for the attendees, the sommeliers & our staff.  I want to really thank all who came to be part of this, especially the 7 sommeliers, who took time from their busy schedules to come share, add to the camaraderie & collaborate.  Hopefully, the lessons & insights shared will help us think differently moving forward.

Categories : Wine
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A Taste of Paso Robles

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We have been spending quite a bit of time in the Paso Robles wine growing region over the past few years.  We have found in our search the most compelling wines display an earthiness/minerality, which not only makes the wines more interesting, but also create buoyancy in the wines that make the wines seem less heavy/dense then they really are.  We featured this set of wines at trade tastings, both on Maui & then again on Oahu today to share some of our “finds”.  (Sorry guys.  No Saxum to be had).

Ancient Peaks–was a very important “find” for us a few years back because of what great value their wines tend to offer.  Located in the southern nook of Paso Robles at roughly 1000 feet in elevation, this is also one of the coolest niches of the Paso appellation, greatly cooled by the fog & coastal breezes that roll in over the hills to the west.  In addition, the vineyard has 5 distinct soil types & because of the size (roughly 900 acres) of this estate vineyard, there are all kinds of nooks & crannies scattered throughout the hills to plant vines.  This vineyard (& the surrounding 14,000 acres) is owned by 3 ranching families, who also oversee its operation.  The 2015 Zinfandel “Santa Margarita Ranch“–This bottling was the first wine from this winery to really catch our attention, way back when.  We weren’t looking for another Zin, but jumped at the chance anyway because of how this wine really delivers for the dollar spent.  It is an earnest, blue collar red wine, nothing fancy & no bells & whistles.  Just good, interesting flavors, a solid core, structure & very satisfying (meaning I feel like I definitely got my monies worth & am appreciative of that).   100% Zin. 3 blocks—volcanic, shale & rocky alluvial soils. Harvested Sept 27, Oct 1, Oct 12.  16 months in oak—40% French, 57% American, 3% Hungarian, 25% new.  The 2016 Merlot “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was one of the prizes of this tasting for many, as it really was much more about the soil the vines grow in rather than fruit qualities.  We were also quite taken by the savoriness the wine had in its core, its structure & balance, all at less than $19 a bottle retail.  What a great value! 95% M, 5% CF—5 blocks—all ancient sea bed, where Merlot excels.  Harvested Sept 24, 28, Oct 8 & 27.  17 months—70% FR, 30% Am, 25% new.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Santa Margarita Ranch”–was another GREAT VALUE red wine.  After all, where else can one get interesting, estate grown Cabernet like this at less than $19 a bottle retail? The 2015 is quite masculine with a virile “beefy” character, & with a very satisfying core, structure, depth & earthy/savory/mineral driven edge.  85% CS, 15% Zin.  3 soils—seabed, rocky alluvial & shale parcels.  Picked Sept 25, Oct 5, 8, 27.  Oct 14—Zin.  16 months in oak—Fr & Am.  I would say the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc “Santa Margarita Ranch”–really caught everyone’s attention, because it was more about deliciousness & gulpability in a refreshing, uplifting, thirstquenching style & less about the grape variety’s characteristic fruit/pyrazine qualities & hard acids.  Yet, another great value.  100% SB  Block 41—rocky alluvial.  5 separate picks—5, 17, 20, 21, 23.  5 months in stainless

Broadside–we ran across the Broadside wines in San Francisco some years back.  This is another winery whose wines overall offer tremendous value.  The first bottle that caught our attention was a Chardonnay produced from the 30plus year vines grown in the iconic James Berry Vineyard, with a retail price of less than $20 a bottle!  Yes, we are always looking for these kinds of well priced, interesting wines.  We have since spent some time with (wife/vineyard-ist) Stephy Terrizzi & (husband/winemaker) Brian Terrizzi, in the vineyards & tasting their wines.  What another fabulous discovery for us…..wines that really over deliver for the reasonable prices.  The 2016 Chardonnay “Wild Ferment”– is done in a tasty, lively, uplifting style, featuring grapes from Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles & Los Alamos, wild yeast fermented/& aged in 90%  stainless steel & old oak barrels.  We have been carrying this wine for years on our lists.  The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is a VERY reasonably priced Cabernet–from Paso Robles/San Juan Valley vines–I would say targeted for by the glass considerations.  It is tasty, light on its feet & totally gulpable.  (please don’t take that meaning this wine is wimpy.  It is not).  100% Cab, 14% months in old French & American oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Margarita Ranch” 2016–is another one their wines which really initially caught our attention.  Since the first vintage we tried of this bottling, we were taken by the wine’s elegance, civility, texture & balance, all at a great price.  The 2016 is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot—from a parcel, comprised mainly of shale within the Santa Margarita Ranch.  14 months in French & American oak, 97% old, 3% new.  (I should add that Brian & Stephy really opened the door with the Ancient Peak people & we are thankful for that).  The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon “Ephemera” is uncharacteristic of the Terrizzi’s portfolio, because of its very upper tier/trophy pricing.  I would say, however, everyone has a dream to do something to the umpteenth degree, pulling out all stops, to make their dream wine.  I believe this is THAT wine for them.  I would also say, the wine is really good, guys.  Yes, very made, & with savoriness, style & class.  Kudos!  (As a side note, the Terrizzi’s also have their own Giornata label which specializes in Italian grape varieties grown in the appellation).

Villa Creek–I happened to eat at the Villa Creek Restaurant (now closed) one year while visiting the area in search of wine.  They had several “designer” wine offerings, labeled as Villa Creek, which showcased different grape variety blends from some of the area’s most pedigree-d vineyard sites.  The wines were really good, certainly noteworthy without having the “over the top”, unabashed bravado some of the other top wines of the area (at least at this time).  We were really taken by the wines & the prospect of how this project would evolve.  A year or 2 ago, owner/winemaker Cris Cherry decided to take a big leap of faith & concentrate on his vineyards, his winery & his wines & less on the restaurant.  Fast forward to last Summer, I have to say, the Villa Creek 2014’s were without a doubt the best I had had from this estate.  Cris is in the “zone” & his wines are today some of the very best out of the Paso Robles appellation.  The 2013 Garnacha–is a wonderfully transparent, intriguing, delicious drink.  It is quite a unique Grenache red wine, as it’s underlying minerality makes it much more interesting & mesmerizing that just the typical cherry, cherry cough drop, cherry lifesavers like qualities one frequently finds in Californian Grenache based reds.  Thankfully, our friends decanted this wine just to make sure it opened up before service.  We also enjoyed its surprising elegance, grace & refinement.  For a restaurant, I would then also suggest this wine could readily help to fill the gap that lies between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of drama & mojo.  100% Grenache—from the Luna Matta & Denner vineyards.  75% whole cluster.  Aged 500L puncheons—20% new.  The 2013 Avenger–The Avenger bottling was one of the first 3 we purchased from Villa Creek, way back when.  While the actual blended grape percentages change vintage to vintage, Avenger consistently offers a dark, mysterious, masculine, savory, sultry core, yet done with elegance, class & civility.   80% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache—Luna Matta, James Berry, Denner, Basetti (granite, serpentine).  60% whole cluster.  French & Hungarian oak, 20% new.  The 2013 High Road–The High Road bottling took me the longest to understand.  It’s not necessarily because the grape varietal mix is so different vintage to vintage.  High Road  just has a different intent.  It really is about Cris showcasing what the James Berry vineyard wants to say through its grapes in any given vintage.   It is therefore a very intellectual wine with much more refined layers of intricacies, nuances & character, which challenge the tasters in very different ways.   AND, the real pleasure comes when you have one that has a few years of bottle age.  40% Mourvèdre, 40% Syrah, 20% Grenache.  100% James Berry vineyard.  70 to 75% whole cluster.  50% concrete & 50% puncheons.

Daou Vineyards–The Daou brothers have moved into the appellation & certainly created quite the splash & attention.  The core of their 200 plus acres is & neighbors the old, historic Hoffman Mountain Ranch, with its highest 2100 feet apex.  They have also made the appellation’s Cabernet Sauvignon “cool” again & helped usher a resurgence of interest & plantings of this grape variety (& its peers).  Yes, they have an assortment of other grape varieties planted here & there, but so far their Cabernet based red wines are the ones grabbing the most attention & high acclaim.  The 2015 Chardonnay “Paso Robles”–the big question hiding behind all of the highly acclaimed red wines & their notoriety, is there an opportunity for Chardonnay grown in limestone/siliceous clay/marine soils of the westside to shine?  In other parts of the wine world, such marine soils works magic with the Chardonnay grape variety.  So, the bigger question would be the climate/temperatures.  Here is the Daou’s rendition of Chardonnay–Old Wente vine, grown in calcareous-clay, west facing.  Fermented in stainless steel, 7 months of lees contact with frequent stirring (batonnage) & then aged for  7 months in OLD oak.  The 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–is currently the wine which grabs the most attention, because of perennial 90 plus point scores & a $20 retail price tag.  One shouldn’t expect the black fruit of those from the northern winegrowing areas of California.  This is red fruit & much more transparent with a thread of mesmerizing “minerality” from beginning to end.  How can one not love its interestingness & drinkability, done with elegance, class & style?  The majority of the vines–337, 15, 8., grown on clay/calcareous clay predominantly.  The wine spends 11 months in tanks as well as barrels. 60% new oak.  The Daou portfolio can be somewhat confusing at first, as there are so many different offerings.  The next interesting tier starts off with the 2012 Zinfandel “Reserve”–On first taste, one can immediately tell why the word “Reserve” was attached.  This not easy drinking, transparent red wine.  It has hutzpah & bravado–ripe, dense & oak laden with lots of core & frame.  100% Zin.  (south facing). Calcareous clay soils. Destemmed.  Fermented in stainless steel tanks. Aged for 16 months in French oak barrels, 50% new.  The 2015  Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”–is a step forward from their “Paso Robles” bottling in terms of density, depth, masculinity, oak presence & framing.  It is more studly & definitely has something to say.  337, 169, 412. Calcareous clay. Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  100% free run.  19-20 months in French oak, 50% new.  The next tier features 2 real studs, the first being the 2013 “Mayote”–Mayote is in keeping with what is currently being referred to as “crazy Paso blends“–the art of blending batches where the sum is a provocative, synergistic orchestra of flavors & character.  The 2013 is like a world class wrestler–full of unrestrained power, density & muscle–though surprisingly civil & well mannered.  45% Syrah, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412 for Cab and for Syrah 877 ad 470. Calcareous clay. 100% Free Run.  Destemmed & optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new (expensive) French oak barrels.  “Soul of a Lion” 2013–in comparison is an aristocrat with more class & much more about the Bordelaise grape mix model, though featuring the Paso Robles soils & climatic conditions.  The 2013 is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot.  Clones are 337, 169, 412, 191, 31 (To Kalon) for Cab. Calcareous clay soils.  100% Free Run.  Destemmed and optically sorted with a pellenc machine.  22 months in 100% new French Oak Barrels. .

Epoch–is one of the real rising stars of the Paso Robles appellation.  I was first introduced to this project by Justin Smith of Saxum, who was their consultant in the early days.  Now, the project is in the hands of immensely talented winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.  She has at least 3 incredibly diverse estate vineyards to source grapes from & an incredibly outlandish (though not gaudy) winery full of a whole arsenal of winemaking “tools” to craft the best wine she can.  This is definitely a winery to keep an eye on as the wines just seem to keep getting better & better as time goes on.  Jordan’s wines have precision, refinement, class, wonderful texture, balance & are thankfully so mineral driven.  The 2015 Rosé–a very mesmerizing, mineral driven, savory pink wine (nothing tooty fruity here)–54% Mourvèdre, 35% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 68% Catapult and 32% Paderewski Vineyards.  Fermented in stainless steel barrels with weekly batonnage. 50% whole cluster press/50% saignee.  5 months lees in stainless.  The 2013 Estate Red Blend–is a red wine blend that is the most masculine, studly, firmly structured of today’s Epoch entourage.  32% S, 25% GR, 25% Mour, 10% Temp, 8% Zin–intended to show the character of their sites rather than any grape varieties.  17% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 ton bins & oak puncheons,  15 months in French oak & puncheon, 33% new.  The 2013 Veracity —this is a very provocative, seamless blend of 49% Grenache, 34% Mourvedre & 17% Syrah.  This wine has  bright acidity, a vivacious charm with superb texture, intricacy & balance. 227% whole cluster.  15 months in oak & puncheons, 32% new.  In comparison the 2012 Ingenuity shows a more masculine, darker side to what these estate vineyards want to say, while still being classy, wonderfully minerally & transparent.  The 2012 is 58% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 14% Grenache, 10% Petite Sirah.  80% Paderewski, 20% Catapult vineyards.  32% whole cluster in concrete, stainless, 1 tons bins & puncheon.  18 months in oak & puncheons, 40% new.  2015 Epoch White–early  on, I wondered why the New Age winemakers of the Paso Robles appellation were not embracing Chardonnay in their plantings or their portfolios  While Chardonnay may work some magic in these marine soils, as we are discovering, not with the lift, ethereal qualities & mesmerizing minerality other white grape varieties like Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Viognier get.  We are also really digging on those that are worked in concrete rather than stainless.  Here is such a wine–46% V, 40% GR BL, 14% Roussanne.  71% Catapult, 31% Paderewski vineyards.. COOL concrete, tulips, barrels, weekly battonage.  15% skin contact, NO ML.  5 months less—61% concrete, 39% OLD oak, 9% new/1 year.

 Linne Calodo–we first encountered owner/winemaker Matt Trevisan when he was the assistant winemaker at Justin Vineyards & Winery.  He was a young turk, set on changing the local wine scene through a “dream” winery with his then cohort, Justin Smith.  They finally started Linne Calodo, I believe with the 1998 vintage.  Unlike his work at Justin Vineyards & Winery, Matt (& his partner Justin Smith) created red wine blends (mostly Rhone grape varietals) from a collection of vineyards on Paso’s westside in the Willow Creek AVA.  (There is no doubt that today, the Willow Creek AVA, a series of remote canyons & looming white/gray hillsides, is considered by many to be the epicenter for the region’s top wines.)  We were quite taken by what they were doing.  The wines were subsequently met with much acclaim & the wines received much accolades.  A lot has happened over the 20 or so years since (including Justin leaving to found his own project–Saxum).  Having said that, there is not doubt that Matt Trevisan has a gift, the talent & is today “totally in the zone” with craft, as the following wines will show.  The 2017 Pale Flowers Rosé–is a break out vintage with pink wines for Matt.  The approach is so different than in the past.  100% GR. 22 to 23 brix. From a specific block to make rosé. Whole cluster pressed in baskets over 24 hours. Fermented in fiberglass Gimar tanks.  The color is darker than I would have thought, & the wine is therefore quite masculine & savory, with lots of flavor, mineral character, a seamless flow on the palate & an uplifting finish.  The 2016Sticks & Stones”–This was the wine most tasters fawned over, in BOTH tastings.  It really is not about grapes or decadent ripeness.  It just has presence, transparency & magic–seamless & totally compelling. 74% GR, 19% M, 7% S, all Willow Creek—Trevy (1250 to 1350, planted in’13); LC Estate (1180-1000, planted in ‘05/’07) & Oakdale Ranch (1075 to 1175, planted in 1999, grafted over in ’08).  25% Whole Cluster Grenache, 75% Whole berry Grenache, 10% whole Cluster Mourvedre, 90% Whole berry Mourvedre, 100% Whole Berry Syrah.  6x6x6 concrete cubes, 2 ton stainless & 3 ton SS large. Aged for 16 months in 2250 liter Ermitage foudre, PLUS 2100 liter concrete cylinder & various OLD puncheons & casks.  The 2016 “Perfectionist”–is darker, more mysterious, sultry & savory in its core, effortlessly combining power & grace, reminiscent of a champion thoroughbred.  74% Syrah, 17% Mourvedre, 9% Grenache—(from Trevy & LC estate). 100% whole cluster. 2 & 4 ton fermenters. 2 ton basket press & then aged in 2100 liter concrete for 17 months.  The 2017 Contrarian” is another “game changing” wine for Matt TervisanAlthough, it is much better than previous vintages, I really think the 2017 is just the tip of the iceberg of what can be.  I suggest wine tasters keep an eye out on this cuvee, moving forward.  Here is what Matt had to say.  The “2017 Contrarian is a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Picpoul Blanc and 20% Viognier.   Willow Creek District .  The Grenache Blanc and Picpoul come from the Linne Calodo estate and comprise 1.7 acres total.  The Viognier comes from Trevy Ranch and comprises 1/2 an acre.  The GB and PB are west Facing while the Viognier is East facing. Soils are Linne Calodo, Cropley and Naciamento.  Grenache Blanc is harvested at around 22-23 Brix and 3.10 pH .9 TA.  Picpoul Blanc is harvested at 21-22 Brix and 3.05 pH  .95 TA.  Viognier is harvested at 24-25 Brix and 3.35 pH  .6 TA.  The Grapes are whole cluster basket pressed into Nomblot Concrete Eggs 1600L where the wine is native/naturally yeast fermented.  The juice is co-fermented in the eggs and the basket pressing increases the amount of skin contact and thus the phenolic profile.

2017 Contrarian is an evolution of white wine making for LC.  The wine started out in 2003 as a 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier blend with 24 hr skin contact and an oily rich texture.  As times have changed and my palate as well,  I’ve planted GB and PB in the search of acid and a more refreshing wine.  I have achieved this but felt like I needed to bring back a hint of volume and thus re-introduced Viognier to the blend.  All the fruit is hand farmed and picked, no pesticides or herbicides.   Contrarian is blended by combining proportions of the two concrete eggs in December and the settling of lees starts in February.  The wine goes through 100% ML.  The 2017 vintage is the first year I have filtered the wine using a CrossFlow membrane filter.  In the years past Contrarian has always seen a yeast/sediment pellet form in the bottle, didn’t bother me, but the consumer thought something could be wrong from the slight haze.  Now hazy unfiltered beer and wine are a thing? go figure.   The wine is not cold stabilized and thus could throw some crystals if chilled  for a significant amount of time ( totally harmless).  The Viognier that is not used for Contrarian, finds its way into the Syrah blends and does not make the label“.

That’s just a start.  To help you explore what Paso Robles has to offer, here is a list of those wineries who were selected to pour wines at Wine Speak 2018 this past January.  There really is so much to learn about this appellation.

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Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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What Sauvignon Blanc Can Be

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from a winetasting at VINO………

Here is a chance to check out first hand what Old World Sauvignon Blanc can be.  Yes, for us, these are some of the very best!  How often does one get such an opportunity? 

2014 Denis Jamain Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates”–This is a wonderfully pure, remarkably light and ethereal Sauvignon Blanc—to me, one that is quite unique and riveting. Certainly, a VERY interesting way to start this tasting.  “Reuilly is located in Sauvignon Blanc territory (central Loire Valley vineyards), an ancient winemaking village that today has only about 300 acres in vines.  Our bottling, Pierres Plates, is from a specific vineyard with Chablis-like soil full of chalk, fossils and sea shells.  Try to imagine Sancerre grown at Chablis.  The fruit is lively, with white flower perfumes, citrus and minerality.  It has finesse and precision”.     

2015 Régis Minet Pouilly Fume “Vieilles Vignes”–Quintessential Sauvignon Blanc in all its glory and certainly one others can be measured by.  “His vineyards sit at 750 feet, surrounded by hills on the far east of the Loire River, and centered proudly on the prized limestone and clay of the Kimmeridgian chain. The scattered flint in these vineyards imbues the wines with a character quite distinctive from the neighboring village of Sancerre. In the eloquent words of KLWM Store Manager, Steve Waters, “You couldn’t ask for a cleaner, fresher, flintier, or truer expression of Sauvignon Blanc. Its mouth-watering acidity, depth of flavor, and fleshy texture will have you racing back for more.”

2014 Diploi Sauvignon Blanc Voglar–What a unique, standout white wine.  It is a wine all about chiseled rock & displays that kind of profile.  “Peter Dipoli represents one of the wine world’s pure talents, a pioneer in Alto Adige who is producing wines on a level beyond what anyone thought possible in this mountainous region. After much research and study, Peter determined that the steep, high-altitude (1500 to 2000 feet) slopes near Bolzano are ideal for the production of complex, age-worthy Sauvignon Blanc. His in-depth study of terroir seems to have paid off, as the Voglar bottling—a pure Sauvignon Blanc grown in limestone soils on near-vertical slopes, fermented and aged in acacia casks—is characterized by gorgeous exotic fruit with abundant minerality

2009 Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre “Ortus”–Hippolyte Reverdy perennially produces some of our favorite Sauvignon Blanc.  We are enamored how remarkably light, ethereal & minerally the resulting wine typically is.  Yes, I have frequently been, over the years, distracted by neighboring wines which are initially more prolific & eye catching, but, I always somehow make my way back to this producer & his wines.  “Reverdy’s world renown importer into the U.S., Kermit Lynch, says–Reverdy has “become the benchmark domaine of our day. One of the things I love about it is that it leaves on the lips, not the palate, not the throat, but on your lips, a fresh little lemony whisper which makes it a fabulous complement to simple fish dishesThe Ortus bottling is produced only in exceptional vintages—so far—2003, 2005 and 2009. This special wine is aged in 400 liter barrels where it undergoes malolactic and sees lees stirring daily. It is then aged in old barrels for an additional year and then released after an additional year of aging in bottle. This is the crown jewel of this venerable estate”.

Categories : General, White, Wine
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