Archive for Wine Friends

Dec
09

Sardinian Wine–Part 4–Cagliari

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We stayed in southern Sardegna for a couple of days, based in the city of Cagliari.  Eventhough it was quite a surprisingly large city, there were many things to visit & see.  Cheryle & my cousin Mike had planned to take a walking tour to see the sights. 

At dinner one night at a very hip restaurant the server recommended 2 wines to us  for our meal, one of them was the Miniera Nero from Enrico Esu.  He was the same vigneron recommended to us by Giovanni Montisci.  (Yes, another instance where a true vigneron recommending another vigneron to us).  PLUS, his wines were of the Carignano del Sulcis appellation!  (I have been intrigued by this appellation in southwestern Sardegna for some time, because they still have own rooted vines.  How many places in the winegrowing world still have own rooted vines?)

Giovanni Montisci had given me Enrico Esu’s cell number & I tried calling.  It however became apparent he spoke no English.  When we got back to the hotel, I asked the hotel manager to call on my behalf to see if I could get an appointment to see him the next day–again just hoping to see & walk his vineyard with him.  Enrico said yes!

The next morning I went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do an already confirmed & paid for walking tour & let me go anyway).

It was an hour & half drive away.  As I drove, the contour of the countryside was mainly flat & the roads wide & easily navigable.

Enrico told me to meet him at a very highly recognized hotel, just outside the town & things went without a hitch. 

Enrico Esu was a pleasure to meet & hang out with.  He is down to earth, charming & was very patient with me & our language challenges. He is also a true vigneron & I was truly honored & inspired to walk vineyards with him.

His estate vineyard was a 15 minute drive away.  Again, I would never have found this site on my own as there are no signs or markings.  The vineyard is just off a modest street of a perimeter housing area. 

The vineyard is but 12 hectares–very sand dominated, with a coal bedrock 2 meters below the surface.  His vines are own rooted (Franc de Pied)–40 to 60 years in age–95% Carignano, with small amounts of Monica, Cannonau, Carenisca & Bovale. 

His winery is small.  I was quite surprised at how small it really is.  It used to be their family’s house, where his father was raised.

 

His total wine production typically is only between 400 & 500 cases a year!  That’s it!  I was sad to hear for 2018, he lost 70% of his crop due to rain & subsequent mold & mildew issues.  I was astounded & sad at the HUGE amount of affected grapes still hanging on the vines as we walked about.  I wonder how he can survive such a devastating loss.

In 2018, he produced a scant 200 liters of a rosato.  It was still fermenting when I was there.

Nero (mostly 40 to 60 year old vine Carignano)–no stems, 15 months in stainless.  The 2016 had a real wildness in its core–intriguing & rustic–grapey, provocative, structured & quite masculine & savory.  I really liked it.  I found his Carignano reds were so very different from the Cannonau based wines I had been tasting previously on our Sardegna trip.  It seemed to have more acid & a more tannic grip.

Serucci (60 year old vine Carignano)–Serucci is the winery’s crown jewel.  no stems. Fermented in plastic tubs & the 2015 spent 15 months in his old 225 liter Santadi used barrels.  (2016 was only 12 months & 2017 was in 500 liter old, Capichera used barrels for 12 months).  Typically only about 50 to 65 case production.  We tasted the 2015 & it definitely had more mojo, structure, grip & I found a real artisan feel & soulfulness to it.  I loved this wine!  Yes, he is a true vigneron.

Visiting Esu reminded me of my early days when I first visited France’s Rhone Valley for the first time & visiting the likes of Verset, Clape & Gentaz, because of the small, true artisan, one man show operation & its grass roots approach both in the vineyard & the “winery”.  Enrico’s wines are not as noble, but they are artisanal, personal & therefore touching & they certainly moved me.  Thank you so much for the great, inspirational visit Enrico!  Definitely one of the best wine stops for me on this 2 week trip.  I will work hard to get some of these wines to Hawaii.

After the wine tour, Enrico & I went to eat at his childhood friend’s neighborhood restaurant right by the sea.  The food really hit the spot–octopus, sea anemone, fish, tuna, mussels, pasta with bottarga–fresh, well cooked & classically Sardinian.  If you are in the area, you should plan on a stop there. 

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!

Nov
25

Corsican Wine–Part 3–Ajaccio

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

Then why go to Ajaccio?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov
25

Corsican Wines–Part 2–Calvi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep
14

Pictures from Way Back When

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A picture someone sent to me. OMG!!! Look how young we were back then.

 

Back row–left to right–Fred Dame, Wayne Belding, Richard Dean, Emanuel Kemiji, Ronn Wiegand

Front row–left to right–CF; Ed Osterland; Evan Goldstein; Barrie Larvin; Brian Julyan; Larry Stone & Nunzio Alioto.

Wow!

 

Then, how about this one?

Back row–left to right–Fred Dame, Steve Morey, Nunzio Alioto, CF, Richard Dean, Steve Geddes

Second Row–left to right–Scott Carney, Bob Bath, Wayne Belding, Ira Harmon, Angelo Tavernaro

Front Row–left to right–Barrie Larvin, Brian Julyan, Sally Mohr, Madeline Triffon, Evan Goldstein

 

Finally, how about this one?  Taken at the Sardine factory in Monterey, the day Fran & I passed!

Left to right–Fred Dame, Brian Julyan, Fran Kysela, Barrie Larvin & CF

 

 

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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.

 

 

A Dinner with Bruce and Barbara Neyers of Neyers Winery in Napa Valley

Bruce Neyers is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant, knowledgeable wine “minds” I have ever run across.  He was part of the wine evolution in the Napa Valley during the 1970’s/80’s/90’s till the present.  In addition, in 1992, he became the National Sales Manager for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, one of the real “game changing” wine importers of small, artisan wineries from France (& now Italy as well).  Barbara Neyers was the right hand person for Alice Waters & her game changing Chez Panisse restaurant the first 20 or so years.  With the 1992 vintage, this incredible couple bought & relaunched their Neyers label, some of our very favorite wines out of California.  This are just some of the highlights of TWO illustrious, game changing careers, just so you better understand what level these 2 play on.

The behind the scenes workings of this couple, let me say that Bruce, because of his 40 plus years of experience in California has a very long time & comprehensive view & understanding of where we came from, what worked & what didn’t & launched this project accordingly.  In addition, with his workings with some of the most esteemed wine maestros from the Old World, he could include that to his methodology both in the vineyard & winemaking.  This would be quite a difference maker in their resulting wines.  (NO “fruit” bombs).

Furthermore, because of Barbara’s intimate knowledge of cooking (& Bruce’s for that matter) I could readily see, over the years, their move to more & more balanced wines, which were thankfully much more food friendly in style.

Lastly & most importantly, the Neyers winery is very uber-sustainable, in their approach to farming & making their wines.  It is the way they live.

Yes, they are quite the couple & I am so honored & thankful to have met them.

Here is the menu–

APPETIZER (d.k Steak House Executive Chef  Albert Balbas

 SLOW ROASTED KUROBUTA PORK BELLY–with a crispy “Small Kine Farms” cremini mushroom risotto cake, Swiss chard, and red wine rosemary jus

WINE:  2016 Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”–a celebration of the 139 year old vines! Foot stomped, wild yeast fermented and bottled unfiltered. I think of this wine as a homage to the great Maxime Magnon of Southern France.

 

INTERMEZZO  (d.k Steak House Executive Chef Albert Balbas )

TRUFFLE CAJUN SEARED HAWAIIAN AHI— with cilantro pesto, ponzu, crispy garlic chips, and lemon garlic aioli

 

2ND COURSE (Sansei Waikīkī Executive Chef Adrian Solorzano) 

SEARED SCALLOP WITH SQUID INK PASTA–with Mari’s Gardens mixed greens, Limoncello vinaigrette, roasted garlic-almond butter, shaved beets & fennel

WINE:  2016 Neyers Chardonnay “304”–Bruce Neyers–“A few years ago Tadeo Borchardt accompanied me on one of my regular trips to France, and we arranged a visit in Chablis with my favorite winemaker there, Roland Lavantureux. The tasting was a career turner for both of us, as we moved through wine after wine, each bursting with bright flavors, crisp acidity, and an aftertaste of refreshing minerality. Later that day, we made our plan to produce a bottling of Chardonnay with no oak contact.  First we needed a source for the grapes. Paul Larson’s family has been growing grapes in the Carneros District of Sonoma County for over a century, and Paul has a parcel that is thought to be the southern-most Chardonnay vineyard in Sonoma County. That proximity to the Bay makes it one of the coldest grape-growing spots in northern California. Moreover, many of the vines are in the bed of what used to be a large creek, so the soil is rocky, with a deep gravel deposit. Those two factors – cold climate and rocky soil – make the vineyard particularly attractive for a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as the combination of high natural acidity with strong minerality are two elements we look for in classic Chablis. We were delighted that the weather at Larson’s vineyard was so chilly that these were the last grapes we harvested.”  Shot Wente Chardonnay vine, wild yeast fermented in stainless steel (& 15% concrete), no ML, circulating lees contact.  A real favorite!

 

INTERMEZZO  ( Sansei Waikīkī Executive Chef Adrian Solorzano) 

SHRIMP CEVICHE–with fried quinoa, cilantro, sweet Maui onions, & yuzu juice

 

MAIN ENTRÉE  (d.k Steak House Executive Chef Albert Balbas) 

“ANDREW’S MEAT” TAJIMA WAGYU STRIP LOIN–with pancetta haricot verts, au poivre sauce, grilled Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms & smashed fingerling potatoes

WINES–2014 Neyers Cabernet Sauvignon  “Neyers Ranch”–We have watched with joy the journey of this couple & their estate vineyard over the years.  Today, without a doubt their Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings are some of the VERY best out of California because their experiences (both from Napa Valley & the Old World), ever growing expertise, vision & worldliness, their passion & their grass roots driven hard work, gritty determination & perseverance.  “When we were ready to plant Cabernet Sauvignon on our Conn Valley Ranch in 1984, we dug more than 20 test holes on the property. The exposed 8’ depth of soil from each of them was analyzed by the best soil chemist in the area. He directed us to plant Merlot on all of the land below 600 feet elevation. Why? Because above 600 feet the soil changed dramatically, and became much more suitable for Cabernet Sauvignon. Once onto higher ground, the clay/loam/gravel soil was given over to rocky land rich with Basalt. Cabernet Sauvignon is a vigorous grape variety, and the rocky hillside soil retards its vigor, which is much better for the wine.  The Neyers Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the hills of Conn Valley is one of the rare 10% in the Napa Valley capable of producing great Cabernet Sauvignon. This happened through careful planning, though, not simply the good fortune of being in the Napa Valley. The project that we began in 1984 with the purchase of our home ranch, has now exceeded our wildest expectations. It only took 30 years“. Bruce Neyers

2010 Neyers Merlot  “Napa Valley”–(A library selection from the winery, served out of magnum).  It was the 1992 Neyers Merlot that initially caught my attention, it was that special. I would further add this bottling is the finest out of California year in and year out. What a wine this truly is!   WOW!  Organically farmed, this is vanguard wine for the cellar and definitely worth checking out. They sadly don’t produce an estate Merlot bottling any more.

 

DESSERT  (DK Restaurants Pastry Chef Cherrie Pascua) 

MAUI GOLD PINEAPPLE BREAD PUDDING–with housemade haupia squares, candied macadamia nuts, and crème Anglaise

Great job & much mahalos to the Chefs & the Management team!  Thank you to Managing Partner Ivy Nagayama for always doing unreal things, “out of the box” to make us all think differently & continue growing.  Kudos & much respect!

Apr
20

JoMani & Girasole Wines

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Nunzio Alioto has been my best friend & true wine mentor since the late 1970’s.  We met here in Hawaii & our friendship has continued for 40 years since.

During that time, we have done, seen & experienced a lot, including taking the Master Sommelier examination together back in the 80’s.

One of our many adventures included creating wines under the JoMani label, starting with the 2000 vintage.  It involved acquiring 1, 2 or 3 tons of grapes from some very interesting vineyard sites & asking winemaker friends to craft the wines for us.

By chance, in 2000, we heard 1 ton of Pinot Noir grapes would be auctioned at a charity event down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  The vine selection was “Pommard”, planted in 1973 on its own roots, specifically in the “Q Block” of Bien Nacido Vineyard of Santa Maria Valley, California.  While that was news in those days, it would be HUGE news today, because of the clamor & acclaim that truly iconic vineyard parcel has received since & the huge waiting list of winemaking stars hoping to get some fruit.

Who should we get to make the wine was the next big question.

We settled on Chris Whitcraft, a then little known winemaker of, in my opinion, extraordinary single vineyard Pinot Noirs, most notably both “Q” & “N” blocks of Bien Nacido Vineyard.  The Whitcraft Pinots, from the 1990’s through 2006, were really like no other.  Unlike many of the fruit driven renditions making a name for themselves, the Whitcrafts were earthy, masculine, resoundingly savory, some would say flawed, robust, somewhat alcoholic & VERY idiosyncratic.  To me, they represented someone singing a song, maybe not completely pitch perfect, but certainly from the heart & therefore moved me.

The 2000 Chris made for us was very much along these lines, even quite oaky right out of the gates.

But, with time in the bottle, this wine turned out to be quite provocative, wonderfully savory & a fabulous drink.  When he passed, we sadly lost a true artist.

With the 2001 vintage, we changed the name of the label to “Girasole”, which Nunzio says means sunflower.  Joining the team was long time friend Jeff Figone & we broadened our grape sources & resulting wines.

Through Van Williamson then winemaker of Edmeades, we met Casey Hartlip, who managed Eaglepoint Ranch, located in Mendocino, roughly 1400 & higher feet above the town of Ukiah.  We committed to some of the vineyard’s Syrah, in rows adjacent to what both Van & Copain winemaker/owner Wells Gutherie were sourcing.  Being “mountain grow”, surly & thick skinned, we then asked Sebastopol Pinot Noir maestro, Fred Scherrer to craft the wine.  We felt Fred’s more “gentle”, masterful touch would result in something very unique & memorable.  (The resulting wine completely exceeded our expectations!)  As a side note, this wine is still drinking beautifully today.

In addition, we went up to the cool confines of the Anderson Valley to meet with Rich Savoy, another of the truly iconic Pinot Noir growers of the day & secured some fruit from his “Upper” Savoy vineyard, roughly 800 to 1000 feet in elevation on bear wallow soils.  For this wine, we asked Ken Bernards of Ancien down in southern Napa Valley to work his magic.  To this day, I can clearly remember the wonderful perfume & lovely texture this wine displayed.

Through superstar Master Sommelier Fred Dame, we were able to secure a visit with Gary Pisoni of the Santa Lucia Highlands.  He is quite a “larger than life”, colorful character with a big, kind heart.  He was kind enough to allocate us some Pinot fruit from his oldest vines up on top of the vineyard.  What a score!  We then asked Bryan Babcock to craft the wine, which turned out to be red colored with a browner edge (reminiscent of old style Burgundy), surly, masculine, savory Pinot beast!  OMG.

Lastly we also asked Bryan to craft a Chardonnay for us, which as it turned out was 2/3’s from Mount Carmel vineyard & 1/3 of his estate vineyard on the west side of what is today called Santa Rita Hills.  I still feel that these two single vineyards are two of California’s best for Chardonnay!  Yes, this was quite a wine.

With the 2002 vintage, we again purchased some Syrah from Eaglepoint Ranch.  For this vintage, we first asked Gary Burk of Costa de Oro, another of our favorite Pinot Noir makers to craft one of the Syrah based reds.  The resulting wine was very elegant, high toned, refined, suave & captivatingly delicious.  What a difference!  This wine just gave us another glimpse of what Syrah can be in California.

We also were able to purchased some Cabernet Sauvignon from Tournahou Vineyard in the Napa Valley, which is adjacent to both the Shibumi Knoll & Panek vineyards, just above St. Helena.  (Located next to a creek & therefore an abundance of gravel/small, river rocks, today, all 3 vineyards are considered to be “A” quality vineyards & each produced under the masterful, winemaking genius of superstar winemaker, Thomas Brown).   Since at the time we were really inspired by the Cabernet-Syrah-Mourvedre red wine of Domaine Grange des Peres of southern France, we decided to have Bryan Babcock blend the Cabernet with the remainder of the Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah.  As it turned out, based upon our trial tastings at Babcock, it ended up being 50-50.  We were so proud of this wine–50% prime Napa Valley Cabernet, 50% Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah crafted by a Santa Barbara Pinot Noir specialist.  We loved how it turned out!

The 2003 proved to be our last vintage & we decided on just working with Eaglepoint Ranch Syrah & winemaker Gary Burk.  (At least, part of the reason was the meteoric success & resulting fame & therefore price increases of the other vineyards we had previously worked with.)  We also loved this “last hurrah” bottling, as it was so delicious, elegant & classy.

Thank you to all, who helped us live the dream!

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Feb
15

a must try wine store in Athens, Greece

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We found a terrific, small wine store in Athens, Greece–named Fine Wine

run by husband & wife–Dimitri & Sofia Anthanassopoulou.

If you love wine and happen to be in Athens, Greece, this is the store you should go to. They have a small, very well selected list, reasonable prices,  

 

and this couple is adorable and really passionate about their wine

 

What a real find!!!!!!

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It’s remarkably been over 40 years of my being involved with wines.  My, my, how time has just sped by, AND so quickly.  I recently received an email invitation from one of my longest time wine friends, John Brincko, to have lunch, catch up, taste some wines & talk story.  I was elated.

I first met John, while I was the Wine Cellarmaster at the Kahala Hilton in the late 1970’s, perhaps the early 1980’s.  (sorry, my memory can not pinpoint a more precise, accurate time).  He would come to stay at the hotel once a year, & over the years, I relished hearing his stories of & his vast insight into the wine world.  He definitely played on a  different level, being then one of the most prominent wine collectors in the country, & way before it was fashionable.  John was therefore on a first name basis with France’s elite wine echelon, including Aubert de Villaine, Jean Francois Coche, Madam Leroy-Bize & Remy Krug, just to name a few.

For me, he also was one of those important teachers I was fortunate to run across.

I distinctly remember one instance in particular.  I was thrilled to acquire another “artisan” white Burgundy–the 1976 Robert Ampeau Meursault Charmes for the hotel’s winelist.  (Up till this point, the majority of  white Burgundy offerings in Hawaii were from larger houses such as Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour & Louis Jadot.)  I was therefore thrilled & quite proud to recommend this Ampeau Meursault to John when he next came to dine.

5 minutes after I had served the wine to him, John asked to see me again, at which time, he let me know that this wine was “heat stressed”.  I immediately thought, ‘but we take pride in having a temperature controlled cellar & floor units, how can this be?”

He then asked “how about the shipping from France to Hawaii“?

Booiiinnnnngggg!

Lesson learned.

In addition, over the years, John was kind enough to share many fine bottles of esteemed wines, many of which I could not fathom of acquiring, much less tasting, to further my wine knowledge.  Yes, John Brincko definitely got me out of my comfort box & to imagine the possibilities.

So, on this wonderfully sunny, breezy Sunday, we met for lunch with local wine collector, Gene Wong.  We spoke of many things–some from the past, some about the wine scene today & some just about the pure enjoyment of some favorite wines.  What a great afternoon!  Thank you to you both.

Here are the wines we tried—

1996 Philipponat “Clos des Goisses”–a truly iconic bottling–65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay from the Premier Cru village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ & its oldest vines & steepest parcels.  I was immediately quite taken how complex & grand the nose was right out of the gates.  It, in fact, smelled of aged CRU white Burgundy–mesmerizing, powerful, very sophisticated & full of grandeur.  The palate was much tighter, firm, surprisingly fresh, youthful & uplifting with a fine bead & a very long, long finish.  This certainly was a standout!  I haven’t had a Champagne this good in a very long time!  WOW! 

2008 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru “Clavoillons”–I must say upfront, I don’t sample this domaine’s wines as often as I did before.  When asked, though, I told the pair, I have found this domaine’s whites rather up & down in quality for some time, which is why I don’t buy them too often anymore, especially given their prices.  AND, I have found them to be often over oaked (to the point where the oak overshadows the minerality & pedigree).  I bought this wine, without tasting it, based upon a recommendation & because it was 2008.  I have generally liked the transparency many of the 2008’s I have tasted.  The nose & color was far more advanced than I would have imagined.  And, while, it did open up after an hour or so, I found it to be too oaky for my tastes, as I felt it curtained the wine’s underlying minerality & pedigree.  Furthermore, I found the palate less interesting & rather dull than the nose.  Still, I was thankful to have tried it. 

2010 Jean Marie Pillot Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru (MAGNUM)–I haven’t had the Pillot wines in quite a while & was really looking forward to trying the 2010, especially out of magnum.  The first thing I immediately noticed was how fresh & alive this wine seemed right out of the gates.  In addition, it was resoundingly Grand Cru–full of complexity, intricacy & pedigree.  I also loved how elegant, well balanced & transparent this wine is.  And, it seemed, every time I dived back in, over the 3 1/2 hours, the more it had to say.  I tried the wine again later in the night & it had really opened up in all its glory.  Thank you John for sharing. 

1999 Domaine Maume Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru–I have always had a soft spot for Maume red Burgundies.  It’s not that they are the grandest of Burgundy, but I liked how personal, masculine, idiosyncratic they can be.  The 1999, for me, was gorgeous.  I loved its earthy, forest floor, musk/pheromone scented nose & its wonderful Grand Cru character.  On the palate, it had ripe, gorgeous fruit, wonderful structure & balance in a rustic, masculine old style.  I would say, it’s definitely not for everyone, but I loved it.  It really offers a very different, personal perspective on what Grand Cru Burgundy can be. 

1991 Comte de Georges Vogüé Musigny–with first whiff, one could immediately tell this was Grand Cru Burgundy in all its glory.  Oh my goodness!  (It initially had some ‘funk” to the nose, but that blew off soon there after.)  It didn’t mask the incredible, underlying, supreme nobility & pedigree this wine profoundly showcased.  This is a standout aristocrat.  Although I have been fortunate to taste various vintages of Vogüé Musigny over the years, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed more often than not, especially considering the upper tier price point.  I can easily say, though, this 1991 was the finest bottle I have had from this venerable, iconic estate.  It was having Grand Cru red Burgundy in all its glory & a truly unforgettable experience.  Thank you John for sharing!

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