Archive for Wine Friends

Fred Scherrer Wine Dinner
Tuesday June 4th, 2019 @ 6:00 p.m.

 

APPETIZER
GRILLED LEMON & OREGANO
JUMBO PRAWNS
roasted fennel potato hash,  chive truffle butter

2015 Chardonnay “Scherrer Vineyard”

 

 

 

SECOND TASTE

OVEN ROASTED KUROBUTA PORK BELLY
polenta, haricot verts,
Gouveia’s Portuguese sausage, thyme jus

2017 Scherrer Dry Rosé

 

 

 

 

SALAD COURSE
THYME SCENTED HUDSON VALLEY DUCK BREAST
Mari’s Garden arugula, currant tomatoes, Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms sautéed with pancetta, red wine vinaigrette and
local OK Farms sunny side up egg

2014 Scherrer Pinot Noir “Sonoma County”

 

 

 

 

ENTRÉE
15-DAY, DRY-AGED NATURE’S NATURAL STRIPLOIN STEAK
(All natural without hormones, antibiotics, or steroids)
roasted root vegetables, foie gras peppercorn demi-glaze, fingerling potatoes

2015 Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon “Alexander Valley”

 

 

 

 

DESSERT CREATED BY PASTRY CHEF
CHERIE PASCUA
BANANAS FOSTER “CHEESECAKE”
vanilla cheesecake with Graham cracker crust, “Bananas Foster” topping, almond pralines, candied citrus zest and house made white chocolate ice cream

Kudos to Ivy Nagayama & her team at DK Steakhouse.  What a great showing!  And, thank you to Fred Scherrer for coming to share your wines & your expertise.

 

 

Helen Keplinger

Thursday, April 18, 2019

There is no doubt that Helen Keplinger is one of the New Age winemaking stars of the California wine scene.  Besides consulting for a portfolio of various wine projects, she & her husband DJ have their own label, Keplinger, which is garnering big scores & praise from the media, including a “Winemaker of the Year” recognition from Food & Wine Magazine.  She is making her first trip to Hawaii & doing a special dinner with Ivy Nagayama, Managing Partner/Corporate Director of Operations of DK restaurants & the culinary team of DK Steakhouse.

Here was the menu for the night.

APPETIZER

FENNEL POLLEN SEARED BRISTOL BAY SCALLOPS–with herbed cauliflower puree, confit of Hamakua King Oyster mushrooms, roasted fennel butter

2014 KEPLINGER ELDORADO WHITE–(Viognier, Roussanne & Marsanne)

 

 

INTERMEZZO

TRUFFLED AHI WITH JALAPEÑO AND MICRO CILANTRO

 

 

DEMI ENTREE

KIAWE SMOKED “TAJIMA” AUSTRALIAN WAGYU SHORT RIBS–with roasted kohlrabi, twice cooked fingerling potatoes, thyme jus, and crispy shallots

 2013 KEPLINGER “SUMO” RED–(Petite Sirah, Syrah & Viognier)

 

 

INTERMEZZO

LA GELATERIA LEMONGRASS SORBET WITH MARI’S GARDEN MICRO MINT

 

 

MAIN ENTRÉE

21-DAY DRY AGED KING NATURAL STRIP LOIN–with summer truffle and gruyere cheese gratin, red wine peppercorn jus, bay leaf gremolata, shaved asparagus

 2015 KEPLINGER CALDERA RED–(Mourvedre, Grenache & Counoise)

 

 

DESSERT CREATED BY PASTRY CHEF CHERIE PASCUA

DECADENT CHOCOLATE S’MORES BAR–with layers of graham crackers, brownies, chocolate mousse, toasted marshmallow & strawberry ice cream

Mar
20

A Dinner with Fred Scherrer

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

 

first course

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

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

 

second course

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

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

 

 

entrée

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

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

 

Dessert

Strawberry Tiramisuchocolate gelato

Mar
18

Finding Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, there are many ways to find interesting wines.

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

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

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

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Feb
16

Wine Speak 2019 Part Two

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Wine Speak 2019 included 4 days of vineyard tours, wine & hospitality seminars, a wine & food pairing lunch & evening “walk around” events. 

“Talk Story–wine from a different perspective–seeing wonderment on the audience’s faces in 2018, inspired this seminar.  Headed by Wine Speak co-founder/Ancient Peaks VP Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, this incredible thought provoking, inspiring panel featured Meredith May (owner/publisher of The SOMM Journal, The Tasting Panel & The Clever Root publications); Jordan Fiorentini (VP of Winemaking at Epoch, Paso Robles)’ Helen Keplinger (winemaking consultant & owner/winemaker of Keplinger wines, Napa Valley) & Shelley Lindgren (owner/wine director of A16 & SPQR restaurants in San Francisco).  They received a standing ovation for their incredible words, thoughts & sharing of their experiences.  Thank you ladies.

Grenache & Mourvedre Panels–this was actually two different sets of speakers, one set for each grape.  Grenache-featured Richard Betts MS (Sucette wines from Vine Vale, Australia) & Justin Smith (Saxum, Paso Robles, California).   The 2 Grenache based red wines served were the 2015 Sucette Grenache (produced from own rooted wines planted in 1860 & 1880 in the predominately sand soils of Vine Vale, Australia (an enclave of the Barossa Valley) & the 2013 Saxum “Rocket Block” (predominately Grenache from the Rocket Block of the iconic James Berry Vineyard of westside Paso Robles, which is produced in only certain vintages).  The Mourvedre panel featured Cris Cherry (Villa Creek, Paso Robles, California) & Brandon Moss (Gramercy Cellars, Washington state).  The 2 wines poured were the 2013 Villa Creek “Damas Noir” (100% Mourvedre from the revered Luna Matta vineyard, done with 100% whole clusters) & the 2014 Gramercy Cellars “L’Idiot du Village” (Mourvedre from the revered Olsen & Alder Vineyards of Washington state, done with 58% whole cluster).  As Justin Smith asked me, after last year’s event, “when will we start delving into how the soil/climate/terroir affects a wine rather than just the grape variety?”  Each pair of winemakers therefore offered very different perspectives accordingly, as we tasted through the wines.  This certainly inspired all kinds of questions & thoughts.  Thank you guys.

“Paso Wine Paired Lunch”–Amanda’s brainchild.  She wanted to include some kind of wine & food pairing event for participants to experience, so she solicited the help of Chef Cheyne Jackson of The Range restaurant in the town of Santa Margarita.  She then asked long time wine guru, Randy Caparoso to help flesh out interesting & thought provoking pairings with Chef Jackson.  Randy had a long, illustrious career running the very progressive wine (& wine & food pairing) programs for the highly innovative Roy’s Restaurant group, when he was a founding managing partner.  In addition, as a current Editor at Large for The SOMM Journal, his presence & awareness of what’s happening in the field keeps him still on the edge.  Randy would drive down from his home in Lodi up further north & meet & taste with Amanda & Chef Jackson just to make sure they would hit the mark.

First CourseDiver Sea Scallop, crispy pork belly, criollo hollandaise, black cherry reduction & watercress (2016 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles”–yes, you read that right!)

 

Second CourseSalad of Smoked Duck Breast, baby greens, fennel, toasted hazelnuts, Chioggia beets, pomegranate seeds, Farmgirl Creamery chevre & plum vinaigrette (2015 L’Aventure “Optimus”.  Yes, you read that right!).

EntréeVeal Stroganoff, Etto organic reginette, confit of wild mushroom & smoked grana parmesan (2017 Epoch “Estate” White–yes, you read that right!).

DessertGrenache Decadence Cake, cactus fruit reduction & Champurrado crème chantilly (2016 Tablas Creek Grenache “Paso Robles”–yes, you read that right!). 

 

 

This proved to be another daring, adventurous, dynamic, completely “out of the box”, truly memorable, standing ovation experience.  AND, done with expertise & substance by two real professionals.  How can we affect change?  Color commentating was done by the key note speaker & legendary wine guru Fred Dame MS.  Such a great time! 

 

 

 

“The State of Zinfandel” Panel–readily hailed as America’s grape, Zinfandel has really evolved over the years, which accounts for the many “takes” on what can be.  We invited two standout Zin makers from 2 very different terroirs–Matt Trevisan (Linne Calodo, Paso Robles) & Fred Scherrer (Scherrer wines, Alexander Valley)–just to come share their insights, thoughts & experiences which would shed some light on what Zinfandel can be.  The wines tasted–the lavish, bold, intriguing, sultry 2014 Linne Calodo “Problem Child” & the elegant, suave, classy 2007 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”–seemingly polar opposites stylistically, but BOTH really superb & wonderfully crafted in their own right.  Thanks guys!

 

Casual BYOB Dinner–Yet another opportunity to hang out as a group, share wine, continue to talk story & get to know each other better.  I was amazed at how many hundreds of wines there were to try on this night! In addition to the BYOB wines, we asked a few, select of our wine friends to come share their wines too–Tadeo Borchardt (Neyers/Camino); Jason Drew (Drew wines); Scott Evans (Henry Wine Group–Italian, grower Champagne & Provencal Rose); James Ontiveros (Native9); Eric Railsback (Lieu Dit wines); Matt Reilly (Diamond Wine Importer–Greek wines); Fred Scherrer (Scherrer wines); Adam Tolmach (Ojai).  Just another fabulous night.  Thank you all for sharing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hospitality Day–This was day dedicated to those in the wine/hospitality profession.  The line up again featured speakers whose insights, wisdom & experiences could help others–2 legendary Master Sommeliers–Fred Dame & Nunzio Alioto & their thoughts/insights on tasting wines from 2 very different perspectives; Alisa Onishi (Brand Director, Hawaiian Airlines) & her thoughts/insights into their ALOHA style of service &

Cameron Ingalls (Acacia Productions) & Amber Karson (Karson Butler Events) for their talk on the importance of social media today & how it can make a difference in today’s world.  How can we affect change?  Thank you all.

Feb
16

Wine Speak 2019 Part One

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The second annual Wine Speak event was held on January 7th thru the 10th, 2019.  On behalf of all of the attendees & participants, I want to thank co-founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins.  She (& her team) is the engine, mojo & the soul of Wine Speak.

As was the case with the 2018 event, Wine Speak was an opportunity to gather New World wine professionals to come share their insights, wisdom & experiences so all participants could learn & better create camaraderie & collaboration moving forward.  “How can we affect change?”

The 2019 list of panelists included (in alphabetical order by last name)–Nunzio Alioto MS; Richard Betts MS (owner/winemaker Scucette wines); Stewart Cameron (winemaker, Ancient Peaks); Randy Caparoso (editor at large, SOMM Journal); Cris Cherry (owner/winemaker Villa Creek); Fred Dame MS (Global Ambassador for Daou); Jason Drew (owner/winemaker Drew Wines); Jordan Fiorentini (winemaker, Epoch); Cameron Ingalls (superstar photographer, Acacia Productions); Eric Jensen (owner/winemaker Booker/My Favorite Neighbor); Amber Karson (Karson Butler Events); Helen Keplinger (owner/winemaker Keplinger); Matt Kettmann (noted wine writer); Shelley Lindgren (co-owner/wine director A16/SPQR restaurants); Bob Lindquist (winemaker Qupe wines); Pax Mahle (owner/winemaker Pax Wines); Meredith May (owner/publisher of The SOMM Journal/The Tasting Panel/Clever Root); Brandon Moss (co-winemaker Gramercy Cellars); Peter Neptune MS; Alisa Onishi (Brand Director, Hawaiian Airlines) Fred Scherrer (owner/winemaker Scherrer wines); Justin Smith (owner/winemaker Saxum wines); Matt Trevisan (owner/winemaker Linne Calodo).

Also participating for 2019 were–Tadeo Borchardt (winemaker Neyers/Camino); Scott Evans (Henry Wine Group); James Ontiveros (Native9); Eric Railsback MS (Lieu Dit wines); Matt Reilly (Diamond Wine Importers–Greek wines); Tyler Thomas (winemaker Star Lane/Dierberg–2018 panelist); Adam Tolmach (owner/winemaker Ojai) & a whole slew–36 strong–from the Paso Robles appellation (the list will be shown below).  Yes, it takes an army to make this event happen.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are some highlights–

VENUES–The various seminars, luncheons & gatherings were held at the Carlton Hotel, The Pavillon & the Atascadero City Hall, as the community again welcomed all in their gracious, embracing way.

 

VINEYARDS–There were vineyard tours on the first day to give participants a chance to see various sites up close & first hand.  The list of vineyards included–Bordeaux varietals (left to right–Austin Hope Vineyard, Niner Wine Estate & Daou Mountain);

 

Rhone varietals (right to left–Caliza Winery, Epoch Estate Vineyards & TH Estate Wines). 

 

 

 

 

 

I also ran around separately the day before just to touch bases with some of the 2019 panelists/speakers before the wine seminars began.  (from left to right–James Berry Vineyard, Daou Mountain, Denner Vineyard & Booker Vineyard).

 

 

 

 

 

Inside, Outside–“Different Perspectives on Cabernet Sauvignon” Panel–Wine Speak 2018 featured TWO different panels discussing this noble grape variety–“New World Cabernet Sauvignon”–Serge Carlei (Carlei wines, Australia); Matt Dees (Jonata, Ballard Canyon); Guillaume Fabre (Clos Solène, Paso Robles); Greg Harrington MS, Gramercy Cellars, Washington state); Bruce Neyers (Neyers wines, Napa Valley); Michael Sinor (Ancient Peaks, Paso Robles) & Tyler Thomas (Star Lane, Happy Canyon).  We continue the discussions & add more insight into what Cabernet can be in the New World at Wine Speak 2019 with 4 different perspectives–Fred Dame MS (Daou, Paso Robles); Eric Jensen (Booker/My Favorite Neighbor, Paso Robles); Helen Keplinger (Keplinger/Carte Blanche, Napa Valley) & Fred Scherrer (Scherrer wines, Alexander Valley).  The wines served–2016 Daou “Soul of a Lion”; 2016 My Favorite Neighbor Cabernet Sauvignon; 2014 Carte Blanche Cabernet Sauvignon “Napa Valley” & 2003 Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon “Scherrer Vineyard”.  What a panel!  Thank you all for sharing!

 

Dream Big Darling–Dream Big Darling was created by founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Ancient Peaks), who serves as its President. The mission statement is to “foster the success of women in the wine and spirits industry through mentorship, education, life enhancement and professional retreats.”  Empowered Women, empower women.   It follows along with the Wine Speak thought–“How can we affect change?  For 2019, Dream Big Darling sponsored scholarships to Wine Speak to 8 deserving young women wine professionals from different parts of the country!  Besides attending events, they had their own luncheon, along side top wine professionals , took vineyard tours & alternately worked as event sommeliers. What a real inspiration, to say the least!  BIG kudos!

 

Wine Blending Seminar–Another of Amanda’s brain childs. She & her Ancient Peaks team put together wine samples of different Bordelais grape varieties, each from their Santa Margarita Ranch vineyard.  The panel included Amanda, Matt Kettmann (noted wine writer); Peter Neptune MS & Stewart Cameron (winemaker, Ancient Peaks).  Unfortunately, Michael Sinor (Director of Winemaking Ancient Peaks) had a medical emergency & could not attend.  The seminar was divided into tables of 10, each table included at least 1 winemaker/Master Sommelier.  Their task was to come up with their own blend, which was then bottled, corked & wax dipped for each to take home with them.  It was so wonderfully interactive, inclusive, fun AND was a learning experience from a whole ‘nother slant.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KAWASAKI VINEYARD TOUR of Santa Margarita Ranch–the Santa Margarita Ranch is a remote, 900 acre estate vineyard located at roughly 1000 feet in elevation in southern Paso Robles.  It was great to witness all of the undulations, different soils, nooks & crannies, as the Kawasaki team drove us throughout the site.  Thank you Amanda & Kawasaki for creating yet another magical, memorable experience!

 

“What Syrah Can Be “The Next Chapter”–At Wine Speak 2018, we featured TWO different panels on New World Syrah.  The discussions & tastings were quite insightful, especially since there were 7 championing winemakers of this, up till now, elusive grape variety–Serge Carlei, Australia); Matt Dees (Jonata, Ballard Canyon); Greg Harrington MS (Gramercy Cellars, Washington state); Bruce Neyers (Neyers wines, Napa Valley); Any Peay (Peay, western Sonoma Coast); Justin Smith (Saxum, Paso Robles); Adam Tolmach (Ojai wines, Santa Barbara).  Yes, Wine Speak 2018 was quite a gathering of winemaking talent & knowledge, each who had something profound to share.  For the 2019 Wine Speak event, we continue the discussions & tastings with 3 different speakers/winemakers–Bob Lindquist (Qupe, Santa Maria Valley); Pax Mahle (Pax wines, Sonoma County) & Jason Drew (Drew wines, Mendocino Ridge)–each who also have something profound to share.  The wines tasted–2008 Qupe Syrah “Bien Nacido Estate”; 2017 Pax Syrah “Sonoma Hillsides” & the 2015 Drew Syrah “Valenti Vineyard”.  What a learning opportunity this really turned out to be!  Top quality Syrah from 3 different appellations in California & 3 Syrah maestros.  Thanks guys.

 

A TASTE OF PASO ROBLES–The 36 top Paso Robles wineries came out to showcase their wines, local restaurants their food….AND Adam & Jeremy of “The Krush” radio doing live interviews throughout the event.  What a night!

 

 

 

Au Bon Climat Winery

Jim Clendenen is, without a doubt, one of the true winemaking icons out of California and has been for over thirty plus years. He was the spotlight champion of bringing the Santa Barbara appellation and its wines to the forefront. His incredible mastery in the vineyards and in the winery is very worldly and done with much more Old World sensibility. His resulting wines are always so elegant, refined, classy, well textured, balanced and some of the very best out of California. NO foo-foo, bells and whistles or fanfare from him or his wines! He is, in fact, very out spoken and quite the character. I seem to learn something new and fascinating from him with every run in. He is a wine “yoda”. We are so honored he is coming to VINO. This is your chance to taste his wines and to meet him in person. This will be a night to remember.

FIRST COURSE

Homemade Seafood Sausagefresh cauliflower puree & fresh dill

WINE: 2016 Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc

Au Bon Climat is Jim Clendenen’s label for Burgundian grape varieties, mostly grown & produced in the Santa Maria Valley of California, hence Chardonnay, Pinot Noir AND Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc.  They are crafted with Old World sensibilities & are therefore much more elegant, minerally, lighter on their feet & generally lower (under 14 degrees) in alcohol.

SECOND COURSE

Shredded Organic Chicken & Mushroom Bruschettacelery, onions, red peppers & light red wine sauce

WINE: 2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge Au-dessus” AND the 2001 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “La Bauge Au-dessus”

There are many different bottlings of ABC Pinot Noir produced.  We typically start with the “La Bauge Au-dessus” bottling because it is crisp, ethereal, snappy & lively with wonderful transparency & texture.  It was quite the surprise that Clendenen dug some of the 2001 out of his cellar to share & compare to the 2015.  I would say, many of the diners probably would not have thought of age-ability when tasting 2015, because of its sheer elegance & I am quite sure they were therefore quite shocked & mesmerized at how glorious the 2001 really showed.  VINO regulars well know how remarkable the ABC Pinots regularly get with additional bottle age, as we get to thankfully taste them quite frequently at our BYOB get togethers.

ENTRÉE

Seared Fennel Pollen Mahimahifresh linguine, braised fennel, white wine-lemon-clam jus, truffle butter, finished with fresh cracked pepper

WINE: 2014 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” AND the 2010 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard”

Jim Clendenen is one of those wine minds, myself included, who believe the white Burgundies of old were not produced exclusively from Chardonnay.  I don’t think they kept track of the genetics of grape vines too much back then & I am sure there were therefore some mutations of Pinot Noir intermixed here & there.  So, the “Hildegard” bottling is in homage to that thought–a Grand, very sophisticated white wine produced from Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc (descendants of Pinot Noir) with a dash of Burgundy’s “other” white grape variety–Aligote–featuring the finest grapes, made more in a grand cru like style, which includes 20 months in 100% new oak & 100% malolactic.  (For the sommelier readers, another way to look at the profile of this wine, would be like comparing a classical Champagne grape mix (2/3’s Pinot & 1/3 Chardonnay) versus a Blanc de Blancs produced from 100% Chardonnay).  In any case, this wine is truly a standout, noteworthy, memorable white wine, well worth seeking out!

INTERMEZZO–2005 Clendenen Family Nebbiolo

There was a time with Clendenen was really into growing & producing Italian grape varieties in the Santa Barbara appellation.  (He was really good friends with many Italian winemakers like Elio Altare & Giorgio Rivetti, just to name 2 from Piemonte & quite a slew from Friuli as well).  As I once ran a small family wine distributor back in the late 80’s to the early 2000’s, I had actually FIRST contacted Clendenen to try & get his Italian look-a-like wines, then produced under his Il Podere dell’Olivos label–which included–Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Barbera, Tocai Fiulano & Malvasia.  I was therefore quite anxious to try his 2005 Nebbiolo, now 13 years old.  Thank you Jim for sharing this wine!

DESSERT

Pistacchio Olive Oil Cakewith raspberry sorbet

There is always so much to say about a Clendenen event.  Let’s just say, it was some kind of night!

From Wine Speak co-founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Ancient Peaks winery).

It was a brisk Sunday morning when I headed over to the small town of Santa Margarita to meet Chef Cheyne Jackson and Randy Caparoso. Both are highly recommended in their fields. Chef Cheyne a young and energetic Chef who graduated from the CIA in NY then trained in SF and Napa before returning to his hometown to lead the charge at his families legendary restaurant. Randy on the other hand is somewhat of a legend in the industry as a previous partner in Roy’s Restaurant, avid traveler, wine writer and legendary at food and wine pairing.  We were warmly greeted by Chef Cheyne in his small and well respected restaurant, the Range. There was a table set for us and we had the restaurant to ourselves.

What happened next will likely go down as one of the funnest, most interesting and eye opening experiences I’ve had in a long while!

Our goal was to create a lunch menu which showcased a few of the best wine of Paso Robles: Daou Cabernet Sauvignon, L’ Aventure Optimus, Epoch White, and Tablas Creeks Grenache.  Since our audience as is heavily trade we knew it needed to be something a little different than the normal pairing menu.

We wanted something daring, exciting and innovative!  We needed a menu that would delicately highlight the strengths of the producers.

The previous month we tasted all the wines as a group and brainstormed ideas for the menu.

Chef cheerfully led us to the kitchen excited to talk about the first course. This was a scallop with pork belly paired with the Daou Cabernet. I watched in awe as chef sprinkled the scallop with salt and the frying pan screamed. Chef gently pinched the scallops from time to time ensuring they were cooked to perfection. We each carried a plate back to the table and pouring the 2017 Adelaide Cabernet Sauvignon from Daou. I have to admit I was slightly concerned… first wine of a meal is a Cab? Not just any Cab but one you might normally pair with beef or wild game and now there is a scallop on the plate. I hope these guys know what they are doing!  As we started eating Randy and Cheyne bantered back and forth about the dish and the wine… chef commented he will smoke the pork belly himself next time and Randy commented it needed a little crunch. To my amazement the power of the pork belly was perfect and the rich flavor balanced what some might think is a softer course. It was incredible.

As we continued to taste each course with each wine I was totally in awe of the care and attention in every ingredient. For example the duck breast salad needed its own blend of lettuce with arugula and endive instead of a spring mix. The stroganoff garnished with a different cheese and the dessert needed less chocolate and switch to a bitter Mexican.

The meal and all the ingredients were chosen to highlight the wines. Whether it was higher acid, oak, weight, richness, or spice. All things were taken into consideration and Chef and Randy excitedly discussed all elements and how it would work together! ***It felt like my kids working in a “play doe” palace together creating a piece of art that would likely go to the Luv. The excitement and wonder of a child.

I walked away from the experience with a true appreciation of their craft!!! All I thought was, I hope that attendees to our lunch take time to appreciate just how much energy and thought that has gone into this meal“.  

Randy Caparoso–longtime award-winning restaurateur and Editor-at-Large of The SOMM Journal

Chef Cheyne Jackson–The Range Restaurant in the town of Santa Margarita

Key note speaker–Fred Dame–MS, Global Wine Ambassador of Daou Vineyards & Winery.

Pairings

2017 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon “Paso Robles–Pan Seared Diver Scallop, with crispy pork belly, criollo hollandaise, black cherry reduction & watercress 

2016 L’Aventure “Optimus” – Salad of House Smoked Duck Breast, baby greens, fennel, toasted hazelnuts, Chioggia beets, pomegranate seeds, Farmgirl Creamery chèvre, plum vinaigrette.

2017 Epoch “Estate” White– Veal Stroganoff, Etto organic reginette, confit of wild mushroom, smoked grana parmesan.

2016 Tablas Creek Grenache–Grenache Decadence Cake, cactus fruit reduction, Champurrado Crème Chantilly.

“Other than the fact that this will be a 4-course affair, we can promise you this: There will be culinary fireworks, involving unexpected, yet edifying, combinations. Prepare to have your senses wowed!”

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!

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