Archive for Vineyards

Dec
08

Sardinian Wine–Part 3–Mamoiada

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To be candid, the winery I was most anxious to visit during our 2 week trip was Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada, Sardegna.  I had tasted 3 of his wines previously & was astounded at how “otherworldly” each was.  It was like when I first tasted the Luigi Clos Nicrosi from Corsica back in the 80’s.

Mamoiada is located “in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior“, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive through very winding, often narrow roads through the rugged countryside.  Because of the wines & the drive I had visions of visiting somewhere reminiscent of the old days, just like back in the 80’s visiting Clape, Verset & Gentaz in the Rhone Valley of France for the first time–old wood, very rustic, converted garage-like wineries with earthen floors handed down from the generations before each, & all stuck in time. 

Upon arrival to Mamoiada, I was instead very surprised at how settled & westernized it looked.  It still was small & very neighbor-ish, but much more modern than what we had experienced in Corsica.  Giovanni’s home (with his winery located below in his what would be for most, the 2 car garage & the small downstairs apartment) featured a modern fountain (seemingly from an upscale garden shop) with a small front yard of artificial turf AND a remote opened & closed gate.  This was WAY different from what I day dreamed about. 

His winery was meticulously clean & very well organized.  I was just amazed at how small it was & understood there can’t be too much wine available, especially for us out here in Hawaii.

Montisci ferments some wines in large plastic tubs which reminded me of Chris Whitcraft & his plastic bins back in the day.  Giovanni’s were just covered with plastic sheets. 

Giovanni owns & farms but 3.5 hectares of vines, most of it 60 year old vine Moscato & Cannonau up in the hills just above his town (2200 feet in elevation), all organically farmed. The chilly nights encourage slow, ripening times.  The soil is sandy, granitic clay & the vineyard somehow has a very special feel to it.  (I got similar vibes from Laurel Glen’s Sonoma Mountain estate vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s on my first visit).  It is much more than just vines & soil & I could understand the wines much differently.  (This is really not just a romantic notion).  I tasted the grapes still on the vine & they were so different than any of our other stops on this trip.

The grapes are harvested by hand & sorted in the vineyard.  All of the fermentations are spontaneous (wild yeasts) & done in 1000 liter tanks.

Biancu “Modestu” (100% Moscato–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for 5 days, wild yeast fermented then aged in 225 liter OLD oak for roughly 6 months, vinified dry, 100% malolactic.  Every time I taste this bottling, now, 4 vintages worth, I scratch my head in wonderment, because it is so unique & interesting–lemon verbena, lemon, lime, star fruit nuances with a honey backdrop.  Full flavored with a unique lush, unctuality/thickness/viscosity–masculine, savory & stony, expansive.

Rosato “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for several hours, wild yeast fermented & then aged in 225 liter OLD barrels for 6 months, vinified dry & 100% malolactic.  This is a very heady, masculine, savory, stony, BIG rose with almost an earthy-oxidative-“orange” style & an old oak mouthfeel.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–I would say, this is a beast–masculine, rustic, surly, savory with much bravado & structure, but still very juicy, pliable (not hard) with lots of depth, layering, virility, vinosity & resounding character.  It certainly catches my attention every time I have tried it.  Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 1 year in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva “Franzisca” (100% Cannonau–90 year old vines–200 to 250 case production).  I believe 2010 was the first vintage the word “Franzisca” (in homage to Giovanni’s wife) appeared on the label.  It was previously labeled as Riserva.  This is something totally “otherworldly”–profoundly lavish, wildly rustic, vinous, totally about character & savoriness with a pine needle nuance intermittently present.  I have never had a wine like this before that’s for sure.   Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 2 years in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.   We tried the 2018, 2016, 2015 & the 2007 (labeled as Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva) which was the finest wine we had on this trip, by far! 

Afterwards, we had lunch together at his childhood friend’s restaurant, right in the center of town.  REALLY good Coriscan “country” styled foods.

Thank you Giovanni for a great visit.  I am a total believer!

Our next stop–Deperu Holler–was at least another 45 minute drive from Vigne Rada.  We made good time, but really got “lost” when we were in the general area, as again the GPS was NOT really too thorough on getting us to the winery door, compounded by the fact there were no signs to be seen anywhere.  Thankfully someone came to meet us & take us there.  I could not find this winery on my own if I were to go back.

Deperu Holler is a small, husband (Carlo Deperu) & wife (Tatiana Holler) wine project in “Carlo’s hometown of Perfugas, where they replanted the family vineyards AND added some new parcels (bringing up the estate vineyard to 6 hectares)The soils alternate between granite & limestone with clay, chalk & fossil rich stones, depending on where in the vineyard one digs”.  As we walked the vineyard, Carlo kept digging holes to show the varying soil mixtures in the different pockets of the rolling hill site.

I noticed the cooling wind (maestrale–continuously blowing in from the sea 10 miles away), which they said is very beneficial in supporting their organic regiment in the vineyard.  This was proudly another vigneron in every sense of the word.

The winery itself is small & very practically set up.  I surmised their production was quite small, given there were 2 hectares each of Vermentino & Cannonau, 1/2 hectare of Muristellu & the remaining 1/2 hectare to small quantities of other indigenous grape varieties–Moscato, Malvasia, Arvesiniadu & Nasco, just to name a few. 

Vermentino di Gallura “Fria” (100% Vermentino)–native yeast fermentation in stainless, 10 days lees contact, partial ML & then aged 7 months in stainless.  This was a tasty, frisky, pure white wine with lots of vitality & wonderful texture, despite the crisp refreshing acidity.  This wine typically comes from the iron rich parcel.

Isola dei Nuraghi Bianco “Prama Dorada” (typically 70% Vermentino, 20% Moscato, 5% Arvesiniadu & Nasco)–wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement.  100% ML, aged in stainless for 9 months with regular lees stirring.  This wine typically comes from the top of the vineyard–clay/galestro soils & the middle section, which has some limestone to the clay.

Isola dei Nuraghi Rosso “Familia” (70% Cannonau & 30% Muristellu)–foot stomped, NO stems, wild yeast fermentation in stainless & cement & then aged for 12 months in stainless.  This Cannonau blend had much more mojo & savoriness than what we had tried previously from others, which I would say is at least partly because of 30% Muristellu (dark pigmented, ripe, round, & tannic).

Solid wines, which will only get more interesting I believe as the vines get older.  

On the phone, Tatiana had urged us to get there for lunch.  I assumed that she was having some kind of get together.  As it turned out, this adorable couple just wanted to have a typical, local lunch, in the vineyard, just to get to know us & us them, as a kind gesture of their warm, genuine hospitality.

The food was from their area & was so tasty, wonderful & hit the spot.  Thank you for sharing.

We brought out two white wines we had purchased during our travels–1 from Buzzo & 1 from Clos Canarelli–plus 2 red wines–one from Clos Canarelli & 1 from Pero Longo–Cuvee XX, just to share.  Carlo went especially crazy over the Pero Longo.  (He is such a wine passionate guy & wears his emotions on his sleeves). Their friend who came to help interpret, said Carlo was quite a respected taster in his area & island, so his appreciative antics over the Pero Longo really meant something.  He was so jazzed, he walked away & headed back to the winery.  He came back holding an unlabeled bottle for us to try.

He proudly said it was a Cabernet Sauvignon he grew, produced & wanted to share with us.  What a real surprise!  I really liked it.

Thank you both for such a wonderful, insightful visit & your gracious, true hospitality!

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Our wine & food adventure traveling up, down & traversing through Corsica sadly came to an end.  It was a great trip to say the least.

Our next adventure was explore the island of Sardegna just south.  We caught a ferry, leaving Bonifacio, Corisca & arriving to the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north part of Sardegna.  After renting a car in Olbia, we drove to our hotel in Castelsardo, an hour & 40 minutes away.

It was immediately apparent Sardegna was very different–much flatter, warmer & we now drove on highways.

After a brief stay & a very good dinner in Castelsardo, we headed the next morning to see 2 wineries. 

The first was Vigne Rada.  Vigne Rada is located less than an hour outside the city of Alghero on the north end of the island. There really wasn’t a lot of road signs & GPS got us to the general area, but we eventually had to call for someone from Vigne Rada to meet us & take us to the winery.  As we followed, it became real apparent we would not have found the winery otherwise.  Even stops to stores in the area to ask for directions didn’t help.  We quickly learned this winery is just too small & even the immediate area locals were not familiar with it or its location.  The area was flat & each parcel seemed to be acres in size & so very different that what we saw in Corsica.  It reminded me of going out to Waimanalo & seeing all of the farms out there. 

Patriarch Luigi “Gino” Bardino started the winery with the support of his 2 sons & their first harvest was 2012.  They own vineyards in 2 distinctly different areas–“Monte Pedroso, where the winery is located & features sandy, clayey alluvial soils with lots of riverbed stones & quartz; & the sloping Cubalciada site & its clay, limestone & some chalk soils“.

Like Gino, the founder, the wines of Vigne Rada are honest, unpretentious & straightforward” AND are quite food friendly & really deliver quality for the dollar.

Vermentino de Sardegna “Stria” (100% Vermentino)–“fermented & aged for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel on the fine lees which are regularly stirred“.  2016–we really liked the stony undertones & its fresh, pure, liveliness & personality.  He also opened & shared a bottle of their favorite to date–2012–nutty, lanolin nuances with a seamless flow from beginning to end & still had a very vibrant core.  The edges were just seemingly rounder because of the additional bottle age.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Riviera” (100% Cannonau)–“destemmed & lightly crushed.  Fermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 10 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 3 to 4 months“.  2016–Grenache like fruit, graceful, elegant & suave.

Alghero Cagnulari “Arsenale” (100% Cagnulari)–“destemmed & lightly crushedFermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 12 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 4 to 6 months“.  2015–pungent, seemingly wild, savory & more masculine-more like Carignano.

Isola dei Nuraghi Passito “3 Nodi” (Vermentino)–botrytis infected grapes left to dry on the vine until mid October.  Fermentation in stainless for 40 to 50 days.  typically 210 g/l residual sugar.

Nov
28

Corsican Wine–Part 4–Sartène

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Pierre for a wonderful visit!

Nov
25

Corsican Wines–Part 2–Calvi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of our VINO family…….you know what I mean, Vern?…….asked the other night if we would be open to doing a dinner geared for German Riesling. So, I asked VINO Chef Keith, if he would do something out of the box like this, so we can make it happen.   As you will recall, Chef Keith has been with us twenty plus years and used to be the Executive Chef for Sansei Kapalua and Sansei Honolulu. So, this is that night! Chef Keith has created a menu with German Riesling in mind.

I would also like to mention that one of my all time favorite winemakers in the world, Bert Selbach, has retired after the 2015 vintage. So, we took this as an opportunity to showcase three of his last wines, each from a GREAT vineyard.

Owner/winemaker Bert Selbach is a direct descendent of the iconic Prüm family, whose roots go back to the 1600’s.  Bert’s parents, Anna Prüm, the youngest of the Mathias Prüm children and her husband Dr. F. Weins, used her inheritance to establish the Dr. F. Weins-Prüm estate in 1911.  Their vineyard holding included parcels in the some of the finest vineyards of the Mosel River region (& all of Germany)–Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Graacher Domprobst, Ürziger Würzgarten & Erdener Prälat, each with some very old vines.

We loved Bert’s winemaking, as his wines masterfully showcased the pedigree, purity & character of each site in the finished wine, all done with supreme elegance, transparency, precision & deliciousness–young or older.  These were truly one of kind, unforgettable, timeless masterpieces for me.

Sadly, 2015 was Bert’s last vintage (at least that we know of).   He is retiring with no heirs to take over.  We have heard he has sold his parcels to his first cousin, Manfred Prüm (& daughter Katharina) of Joh. Jos. Prüm who live next door.  For wine collector’s around the world, this is a joyous thing as Joh. Jos. Prüm, having been named 1996 “Gault Millau Winemaker of the Year” & produces some of the most collectible white wines in the world.  For me, this is the end of an era.  There has never been wines like those from Bert Selbach & Dr F Weins Prüm.  Aloha my friend.  A toast to you & your future!

Here is the menu–

KOJI CURED TAKO–mizuna salad, ginger sesame vinaigrette and house made tsukemono 

wine:  2014 Dr F Weins Prüm Kabinett Feinherb “Graacher Himmelreich”

What a fantastic, seemingly simple dish!  Curing the tako with koji gave it terrific taste & umami with a slightly salty edge.  the mizuna innately has a burst of heat & bitterness, which was tempered from the slightly sweet, sour, tangy ginger sesame vinaigrette & the vinegary crunch of the house made tsukemono.  This Riesling, at 9 degrees alcohol was slightly sweeter than medium dry, which helped calm done the sweet-sour-slight heat of the Asian components, while the riveting minerality & crisp acidity kept the palate fresh & alive between bites.

 

MISO CHILEAN SEA BASS–smoked wilted tatsoi, choi sum, squid ink pasta, fukujinsuke & roasted garlic butter

wine:  2011 Dr F Weins Prüm Kabinett “Ürziger Würzgarten”

I remember some time back, my uncle proudly served us his miso butterfish specialty, which he took great pains to prepare for us.  After the dish was served, he halted the show, jumped up & told us to wait while he scurried off to pick some of his very unique/unusual limes off of the tree on the side of his house.  These limes looked much more like green-yellow oranges, especially in size.  After he sliced them, he proceeded to squeeze the wonderfully aromatic, unusually, slightly sweet juice with its surprisingly subdued though high pitched, ‘lime” acidity onto each of our miso butterfish.  He then said, now try it.  In short, it was electric!!!  A pairing unlike anything I had had before AND the his squeezed unique lime juice made the miso taste like something so very different & completely wow-za.  This was a HUGE, eye opening experience for me & was the inspiration for this pairing.  The Chilean sea bass was marinated with the different misos for 30 hours, baked & then torched at the last minute, making it somewhat sweet, salty, slightly charred/caramelized with lots of umami & interesting.  Interestingly the 2011 Dr F Weins Prüm Kabinett “Ürziger Würzgarten”, amongst all of its riveting minerality, rather lean focus (compared to other vintages I had been fortunate to taste) also had very citrus-y acidity with a lime like lift to the finish.  Hence the pairing.

SAKE BRAISED PORK BELLY NITSUKE–grilled bok choy, roasted Japanese taro, Chinese five spice demi & house-made kim chee daikon

wine: 2015 Dr F Weins Prüm Spätlese “Wehlener Sonnenuhr”

While nitsuke is usually a preparation for fish, Chef Keith chose to instead use the sake, shoyu, sugar to braise his pork belly, to soften the meat, while at the same time making it slightly sweet & lightly salty.  In addition, he sprinkled a little shichimi on the meat to give a slight edge of heat, which would heighten & accent it some.  We therefore chose to pair with a Spätlese from one of Germany’s finest single vineyards & its profoundly slate driven soils & therefore resulting minerality in the finished wine.  This wine also helped balance out the slight heat from the kim chee daikon.  Quite interesting.

DESSERT

Green Macha Tiramisu–sweet azuke beans with shichimi & vanilla ice cream

 

 

 

I also included pictures of each of these incredible vineyards to add dimension towards a better understanding & appreciation of the wines presented tonight.  After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.  From left to right–Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten & Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

 

 

May
03

A Look At Paso Robles

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What makes Paso Robles special & unique? The soil is at least part of the reason.

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some of their top vineyard sites.

 

 

 

Paderewski Vineyard 

 

 

 

 

James Berry Vineyard (LEFT–Bone Rock; RIGHT—Rocket Block)

 

 

 

 

Denner Vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

Heaton Ranch (notice the 2 very distinctively different parcels—(Poppy) in the foreground & (Whalebone Hill) in the background)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glen Rose Vineyard

 

 

 

 

Cherry Vineyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margarita Ranch (fossilized oyster shells)

 

 

 

 

 

AND…..this is just the tip of the iceberg! There is so much more to see! Amazing!

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Aug
13

MauiWines “Ulupalakua Ranch”

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One of the big, happening banners being waved in our local food and wine industry is to BUY LOCAL and rightfully so.  A profound question/statement once asked by a friend is how can we buy 10% more local food product.  He noted that could translate into 100’s of millions of dollars that stay in our State economy.  If we do it well, he further added this could also help move us towards self-sustainability as a State.  It could also help a farmer actually make it, financially.   All, good things.

Along those lines, I was recently reminded of yet another opportunity to support local.  The Kauai/Oahu Chapter of the Chaine des Rottiseurs (a very celebrated international food and wine society) held a dinner at VINO recently spearheaded by current Bailli, Kathryn Nicholson who requested to pair our foods with the wines from MauiWine, Ulupalakua Vineyards.  The group had apparently visited the Maui based winery & vineyard late last year & decided to do a dinner featuring their wines.

I was astounded to find that this Maui based winery has been around for 42 years!  And, despite the challenges of so many obstacles seemingly endlessly popping up, this winery has strongly and almost stubbornly persevered.  When one considers, for example, that their estate grown vines do not typically have a true dormancy period (sleep time in vine language) that would be like me staying up 24 hours a day.  I need sleep and rest and so do the vines.  That is just one of the countless challenges MauiWine and its unbelievable leader, Paula Hegele have worked through for 42 years!    

They currently have 6 grape varieties planted—Syrah, Malbec & Grenache for red wine & Viognier, Chenin Blanc & Gewürztraminer for white wine.

Each of the first five wines listed were featured at this group’s VINO dinner.  I watched in fascination as these connoisseurs ooo-ed, awed and nodded their heads in approval with each taste of wine.  We knew that if any of these wines were not good, we certainly would have heard about it & quickly.  Winery spokesperson, Joe Hegele was there to color commentate the experience & answer any & all questions.  I would readily say, people left appreciating & enjoying a whole new niche of wine they had not considered before.

A couple of weeks later, I and two other VINO teammates were on Maui visiting our newly opened, sister restaurant, Shearwater Tavern, in Kihei.  In the late morning, the Tavern chef team took us up to visit one of their core farms who supply their produce—Maui Nui Farms up in Kula.  It was a very insightful experience to say the least & we were clearly reminded how hard these farmers work & we walked away with an even greater respect for what & how they do & of course their product.

We decided to then go to Maui Wine because we were so close to the vineyard & winery.  

Their 23 acre vineyard of various parcels is located roughly at 1800 feet elevation with rich volcanic soils and an absolutely breathtaking, panoramic view of Maui’s southwest shore, including Molokini Island.  One gets a strong sense of place while visiting the vineyard that’s for sure. 

On this visit, the wine which caught the eye of VINO General Manager, Ann Taketa, was the very pretty, delicious, uplifting, pink sparkling wine, which they label as “Lokelani”.  The grapes come from California, but the wine is aged on the lees (part of the process of how the French make Champagne) and then bottled right there on their Ulupalakua site.  We were all so mesmerized looking through the green colored bottles and its floating lees, as it would slowly mature and increase its complexity during the lengthy process.

Ann was so impressed, she is looking to feature Lokelani by the glass at VINO, just as Managing Partner, Ivy Nagayama is looking to also do at both Sansei Waikiki and DK Steakhouse.

Yes, just another way to support local!  You can help too, by checking out their wines.

 

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Sep
12

A Trio of Old World Syrah 09-11-14

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Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time.  Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why.  I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them.  I would be rich!

I am saddened to hear of this plight.

Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world.  Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness.  The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon.  Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.

Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.

0aa11Cote Rotie2001 Michel & Stephane Ogier Cote Rotie

The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label.  At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie.  Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000.  Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new).  In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak).  This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out.  This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture.  It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge.  I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!

1995 Noel Verset Cornas  0aa16

Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be.  His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional.  I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind.  They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue  with lots of herbal notes.  His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year.  Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring.  (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991).  Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet.  It was the end of an era.  Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset.  I was completely enthralled with the 1995.  It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage.  It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.

AAA1Hermitage rocksHermitage white stones2000 Chave Hermitage

For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah.  The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481.  The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed.  “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.”  The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west.  Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality  with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish.  His parcels have very old vines.  I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black  cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel.  Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic.  Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance.  Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge.  Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement.  L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates.  The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section.  Chave is the best at that!  and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!

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The Bien Nacido Vineyard is located midway in the Santa Maria Valley.

The vineyard traces its roots back to the year 1837 when a Spanish land grant of some two square leagues was made to Tomas Olivera by Juan Bautista Alvarado, then Gobernador of Alta California. This grant covered nearly 9,000 acres ranging upward to the San Rafael Mountains from the Santa Maria Mesa, which bordered the Sisquoc and Cuyama Rivers. The ranch was generously watered by Tepusquet Creek, so called by the Chumash Indians to whom it meant “fishing for trout.” Thomas Olivera sold Rancho Tepusquet in 1855 to his son-in-law Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros and daughter Martina. Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros started construction on an adobe in 1857 and moved to the ranch the following year. He and his wife raised horses, cattle, sheep, several grain crops, and grapes for the production of wine“.

The current owners, Miller family, purchased this tract in 1969 & soon thereafter renamed the vineyard “Bien Nacido”.

Today, Bien Nacido covers roughly 800 acres of vines & is still quite breathtaking in scope.  There is a myriad of designated blocks & soils, each “farmed to order” to the leaser.  A good portion is sandy loam with tiny bits of seashells & sees morning fog & is cooled by afternoon sea breezes.

What is most tantalizing to winemakers is that several of the blocks still have the vines, which were planted in 1973 AND on their own roots.  Of course, there is a pecking order to who gets what grapes.  First in line for the prime parcels, includes those who worked with the grapes since nearly the beginning such as Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, Adam Tolmach of Ojai & Bob Lindquist of Qupe.  We are also seeing a transition, as some of the Old Guard who helped bring this vineyard to the forefront, such as Chris Whitcraft & Bryan Babcock, no longer work with the fruit.  In their place, we today see a whole slew of young bucks such as Justin Willett of Tyler & Gavin Chanin of Chanin wines just to name 2.

Just the other night, two of our really good wine friends, Gail & Vern Isono, put together a BYOB tasting themed “Bien Nacido Vineyard wines” at our VINO restaurant.  It really turned out to be a VERY memorable tasting, to say the least, as the participants brought an interesting selection of true standouts from this iconic vineyard to share with the gang.

0bb110bb31995 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “La Bouge”

There is no doubt that Jim Clendenen has over the years crafted some of the most compelling Bien Nacido Vineyard wines.  I also would say, he was one of the biggest believers/advocates who helped bring the Santa Barbara appellation onto the world stage of quality wines.  This specific bottling, which was previous named simply “Bien nacido Vineyard” was his signature wine.  The grapes came from “K” Block (Chardonnay planted in 1973 on its own roots in sandy loam soils). I have always been amazed at how Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido” Chardonnay always showcased real physiological ripeness, innate compelxities & class with remarkably lightness, 13 plus alcohol, well integrated oak (despite being barrel fermented & with roughly 75% to 100% new oak) AND ageworthiness.  Here is the living proof!!!!!!!  The wine was all about mineral out of the gates…high toned, highly refined with fresh peach skin & layers of marzipan, which acvhnged to more of a creamsicle note with more air.  This 1995 was so pure, seamless & complete with fabulous texture & balance (2 of Clendenen’s signature winemaking traits) with a long, citrusy finish.  AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still!  Crazy good!

1998 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Nuits-Blanches–Why Not

Though Au Bon Climat’s more ethereal, highly refined, higher acid, lower alcohol Chardonnays had quite a following with the wine professionals, the wines were only lukewarmly received by the major media.  BIG, oaky, lavish Chardonnays were in style & the emerging new age of wine drinkers readily jumped on the band wagon.  Where there was once a waiting list of customers, times were changing.  With the 1997 vintage, Clendenen decided to add another Chardonnay to his portfolio, one which tasters later would playfully say was more of a homage to the newer, IN style of wine.  The “White Knight” was also produced from Bien Nacido’s “K” Block, but was picked a week or 2 later AND aged in a considerable amount of new oak.  The bottle was more fancy & heavy in weight with a newly designed “look”, with the designation “Nuits-Blanches”…& his statement–“Why?”…front & center.  This wine, of course, was ABC’s highest scoring wine in quite some time.  Depressing?????  Maybe for an artist, but Clendenen followed that wave of success in 1998 with his third “Nuits-Blanches”, this time with his simple statement–“Why Not“.  Even though this Chardonnay comes from the same “K” Block, the resulting wine is so VERY different!  The wine is more stony than minerally, with marzipan, orange blossom, fennel, creamsicle, apricot pit nuances.  Dry, still quite oaky up front & quite youthful & resoundingly structured in its core with a long, grandiose finish.  (FYI–starting with the 2000 vintage, Clendenen again adjusted this bottling by blending in some earlier harvest K Block & later some Chardonnay from his own Le Bon Climat vineyard across the river….& renamed this wine Nuits Blanches au Bouge).0bb40bb

2006 Foxen Pinot Noir “Block 8-Bien Nacido Vineyard”

2006 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “this is the “n” my only friend the “n””

The Foxen gang are really good people who helped bring Santa Barbara along wine wise.  Bill Wathen studied under the legendary Pinot maestro, Dick Graff, at Chalone & along with his partner Dick Dore founded Foxen in the 1980’s.  Their wine, unfortunately, did not show so well on this night.  We’re not sure if it was shipping, storage or what.  The 2006 Whitcraft was also in a dumb stage….but showed MUCH better than the Foxen & was so much more vinous, balanced  & complete.  As the night wore on, one could readily tell this wine has the stuffing & all the right fixings….just needs time.  Chris Whitcraft, for me, was one of the “larger than life”, REAL characters of the wine industry.  His wines were like him, in that one never knew what to expect, not only with each vintage, but when opening any of his wines at any given time.  In short, they were all idiosyncractic & I have found over the years, either people really liked them or they really hated them.  Chris was a protege/friend to the iconic Burt Williams, the namesake, founding winemaker of the old Williams & Selyem.   He defined his winemaking as artisan & done without electricity.  From early on, his 3 prized parcels were “Q” & “N” Blocks from the Bien Nacido Vineyard….as well as the Hirsch Vineyard of the true Sonoma Coast.  When he hit it, he hit a home run.  In 2006, Chris produced a terrific “N” Block Pinot Noir.  He felt, however, after tasting through the barrels with Burt, there was one barrel, which had to be singled out & bottled on its own.  This is that wine!!!  ONE barrel.  Sadly, either the 2006 or perhaps 2007 vintage , Whitcraft decided to say aloha to Bien Nacido.  It really was the end of an era.  On this night, the wine had a surinam cherry kind of pungency, with much earth, spice–rustic, totaly vinous, great core, mineral, showy….much more showy than his normal “N” Block bottlings (Martini selection–planted in 1973 & own rooted).  I remembered how proud Chris was of this wine, when I first tasted it with him.  I too agreed this was one of his finest, which is saying alot, considering all of the giants he made during his career.  I was sad to hear of Chris’ passing earlier this year.  He & his wines were like no other.  Aloha, my friend.  RIP.

0bb12001 Ojai Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Adam Tolmach is another one of Santa Barbara’s (if not all of California) REAL superstar winemakers!  His wines are THAT GOOD!  He was once co-founding winemaker at Au Bon Climat, but eventually packed up his bags to found his own winery, which he named Ojai.  His wines thankfully also have Old World sensibility.   Where his Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, & especially his Syrahs used to get HUGE scores from the major publications, especially Robert Parker, one could see over the years his decision to trim the oak usage appealed to the scorers less.  How crazy is that?  For me these same wines are better than ever.  In fact, let me just say, when touring Californian wine country, our last visit is typically Ojai.  It really is hard to follow his wines with any others.  His top Bien Nacido Pinot parcel is “N” Block (planted in 1973, on its own roots).  Unfortunately, on this night, the 2001’s nose was completely & utterly shutdown….despite us trying to agressively decant it back & forth for 25 minutes.  On the palate, the wine, however,  showed hard mineral, immense structure, HUGE vinosity, intensity with great texture & flow…..just so damned tight.  I think this will be quite a wine, though, once it comes out of hibernation.

IN REPLY (from Fabien Castel of Ojai Vineyard)–“Incidentally I read the note about your recent tasting of the 2001 Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.The wine does need a lot more time and I can give some background as to why it tasted the way it did. It was my first year working with Adam. The 2001-2002 vintages ended being the densest and most angular for  Pinot Noir. Part was extraction levels (punch downs), inclusion of a new cooper, occasional saignee and other finer details in the cellar. Ultimately it prompted Adam to rethink the way he was dealing with those wines and not repeat that level of texture that was drawing praises but not satisfying his sense of what the varietal had to offer. The wines had been softer in prior years (1996 to 2000) and would return to gentler textures in 2005, 2006. By 2007 Bien Nacido was less extracted with grapes picked earlier, now showing on an ideal course, 7 years later. Today he is adding again some extraction since he moved in a different realm of physiological maturation of the grapes. He has found delicacy and is ready to reintroduce power“.

1991 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”0bb60bb10

1993 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”

Chris Whitcraft excelled at producing real provocative, HUGELY vinous, masculine, savory, rustic Pinot Noir from both the “Q” & “N” blocks of the Bien Nacido Vineyard.  He was lucky to be there in the early days & was therefore able to garner getting the Old Vine fruit from each, which came from the vines planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Sometime in the 90’s, since the rows between the vines were so wide, they went through & planted another row in between (referred to as interplantings).  In the case of “Q” Block, I believe it was clone 667.  & for “N” Block I believe they planted clone 115.  So, every now & then, when Chris felt some of the juice did not reflect a “Q” or “N” Block designation, he would produce a “Bien Nacido Vineyard” designated bottling.  AND, in some of the cases, he would also add some interplanting grapes in as well, just to add dimension.  In any case, the Bien Nacido designated wines were VERY different from either Q or N Block & spoke of the vineyard rather than either parcel.  On this night, the 1991 showed more of that pungent, rustic surinam cherry fruit, a peach tang in the middle with sandalwood, sap, funk/shoe polish/leather.  It definitely had more vinosity than the 1993 poured along side.  The 1993, on the other hand, seemed much more Californian.  It was lighter in color, much more perfumed–light funk, peach/apricot middle, roasted coffee grinds, a more ethereal middle with a more fruity finish.  We were all so surprised how youthful these 2 wines were.

0bb91993 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge Au-dessus”

What an intriguing contrast to the any of the other wines, that’s for sure!  Much more elegant, feminine, refined….so seamless, impeccably balanced & so wonderfully textured.  The fruit is sweet, ripe & surprisingly forward, but I believe that is part of the intention of this bottling.  I also loved the vinosity & surprising vigor of this 19 year old wine!!!

1996 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”  0bb50bb8

1997 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”

I have been an avid fan of Chris Whitcraft’s Pinot Noirs for many years.  I would be hard pressed to think of too many Pinots in the 90’s which had as much character & vinosity (old vine-ness) than his Q & N Block bottlings. ( Certainly nothing tooty fruity there!)  Where his Hirsch single vineyard designated Pinots (1994 being the first) were much more masculine, sultry, darker, intriguing & harder edged, his Q & N were so much more vinous, rounder & more open.  Chris worked with a Pommard selection in Q Block (planted in 1973 & own rooted).  The resulting wine was typically the most open upon release.  His N Block was Martini selection & was typically more earthy, reticent & shy upon release.    The 1996 had a strong roasted coffee grinds/cocoa quality, with a very earthy tone.  It was totally vinous on the palate, seamless, complete & long. The 1997, on the other hand, had a stemmy, spiced edge with a more ethereal middle & a long finish.  It was much more refined & elegant than the 1996.  Interestingly, I found this to be opposite when they were released.  Both are still surprisingly youthful.

0bb72000 Jomani Pinot Noir “Q Block”

In 2000, my best friend, Nunzio Alioto, & I bought some Q Block grapes at a charity auction. ( He & I in those days typically bought small amounts of grapes from some storybook vineyards like Pisoni, Savoy, Mt Carmel & Eaglepoint Ranch & asked some friends to make it for us.)  So, for the 2000, we asked Chris Whitcraft to make this wine.  I believe it was 1 barrel’s worth.  On this night, this seemed to be grandest of the night!  Or, maybe because it was biggest, a beast with lots of hutzpah, chocolate, coffee & oak nuances.  It also had, by far, the most vigor in the core.  I found it way more interesting than a 2000 Whitcraft Q Block & a 2000 Hirsch I recently had tasted.   Sorry, my last bottle.  Thank you Chris!!!!!

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