Archive for Wine Thoughts
Pairing wines & foods is always fun & challenging. Here are a few we had fun with recently.
Savoy Cabbage Wrapped Shinsato Pork Sausage & San Marzano tomato sauce–this is not a super hearty, robust dish by any means. It is instead a more refined combination of VINO Chef Keith Endo’s savory home-made pork-fennel sausage & the refreshing, fruity-lightly earthy edge created by the tomatoes. This dish therefore, in my opinion, really beckons for a dry, fruity, earthy, more masculine style of PINK wine. The wine which really worked well on this night was the 2012 Corte Gardoni Bardolino “Chiaretto” from the Veneto region of Italy. Produced mainly from the Corvina grape variety (the same one used to produce Valpolicella & Amarone red wines). It has a very red color & features lots of refreshing, earth nuanced fruit with very tamed bitterness & extract levels, especially in the finish. I like to work with rose (& Beaujolais) with sausages. It really does help take the fatty edge off the dish & keeps the palate refreshed between bites.
House Cured Bacon with charred, carmelized red onions, Kahuku corn, BBQ sauce & white beans–the whole key to pairing wine with this dish is finding a wine which can handle the BBQ sauce & its sweetness. The wine we suggest is the 2012 Gunderloch “Jean Baptiste”. This wine has some residual sugar to counter the sweetness, & a pronounced, stony minerality, which will help refreshen the palate & thereby make the pairing seem fresh & alive.
Jicama “pockets” with avocado, Santa Barbara uni & local opihi–the wine we paired with this surprisingly delicate dish was the 2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca. It is yet another example of how wonderfully perfumed, fruit driven, somewhat minerally, crisp white wines deftly produced from an aromatic grape variety can work magic with contemporary, fusion dishes like this. Its lime-like edge worked wonders with the avocado AND also the uni & opihi. The 2013 is plumper with much more fruit than the 2012 & was much better suited. (we tried both). BOTH, FYI, are wines which work with a very wide range of foods, in addition to being delicious, light, & gulpable.
Veggie Crudite with grape tomato, breakfast radish, cucumbers & “buttermilk ranch”–the 2013 Birichino Malvasia Bianca really came in handy & worked with this dish as well, which again showcases the wonderful diveristy this wine has with foods.
Braised Veal Cheeks with fresh, home-made fusili pasta & shaved Oregon Summer truffle–one could easily pair a more rustic style red wine with this dish. The one we really liked was the 2009 Domaine Joncier Lirac “Les Muses”, which had a good dollop of Mourverdre to its blend. Lirac is one of the rising star villages of France’s southern Rhone Valley, largely because of young vignerons such as Marine Roussel, in this case. Her wines are NOT so masculine or brooding or overdone like those of the neighboring, much more famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Much more tempered, suave & classy AND without hard edges or high/noticeable extract/alcohol levels. Plus, this one had a few years of bottle age, which really helped to round out the edges. Another wine one could do with this rich, savory dish is the 2012 Domaine Maxime Francois Laurent “Il Fait Tres Soif” Rose, a masculine, somewhat heady, surpisingly dark hued rose from the northern part of the southern Rhone Valley. This Pink wine certainly has the guts, hutzpah & some apparent tannins in the finish to hold its own here, but with a far more refreshing personality to freshen the palate between bites. This one gets my vote!
Over at our DK Steakhouse, located in Waikiki, we dry age our own steaks. Generally speaking, as the meat dry ages, moisture evaporates from the muscle which concentrates the natural meat flavor & at the same time, helps to tenderize (the natural enzymes help break down the connective tissue) the steak.
The showpiece steak to try here is a 21 day dry aged “bone in” rib-eye. We start with a terrific no growth, no hormone steak. In addition to the qualities listed above, once the steak gets over 20 days of aging, it also develops a nutty, gamey, almost bleu cheese like character which true steak lovers really look for & relish. I bring this up, only because it will be an important consideration when we look to pair a wine. For me, 21 day typically is a good sweet spot for many to enjoy.
DK Steakhouse also has an 1800 degree oven, which essentially sears the steak on 2 sides, keeping the middle tender & juicy when cooked medium rare. In addition, the steak does not get that charred, burnt taste on the outside like charcoal or wood cooking can create. This is again, another factor to consider when pairing wines.
Yes, to me, this is an ideal dish to pair all kinds of red wines with.
For many wine collectors, this is certainly the dish to bust out your treasured bottle of Californian Cabernet/Merlot or red Bordeaux. Since most wine collectors are well versed in this arena, I will only mention the Forman Cabernet Sauvignon. Ric Forman Cabernets are not like anything else from the Napa Valley. They exude a much more gravelly character, which really steps forward in the wine with bottle age. I find the gravel rusticity works very well with this steak’s more rustic character. In addition, the Forman Cabernets are not “fruit bombs” & have really good structure, elegance & wonderful balance. I have been very fortunate to taste many older vintages of these masterpieces recently & would suggest the 2002, if I had a choice. The 2002 still has an amazing, resiliant core AND, the gravelly character is very prominent, both qualities very ideal to create an interesting pairing.
True wine lovers can also use this as an opportunity to be adventurous & try other kinds of wines. Consider, for example, a hearty (for the meat’s full flavor & marbling), more rustic styled (which will work with the nutty/gamey edge) red wine. My first, knee jerk thoughts are from France’s Rhone Valley –Clape (or Allemand) Cornas, a Syrah based red from the north or Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Crau” (or Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras) a Grenache blend from the south. In each case, I would suggest vintages which still feature a virile core of mojo, fruit & structure. For both the Clape & Allemand Cornas, therefore, consider the 2000 vintage. Although not overly heralded, having had both recently, they both still have the hutzpah to handle this wonderfully marbled steak & the wild gaminess to make things interesting. In the case of the Vieux Telegraphe & the Sang des Cailloux, my wish would be the 1998, both still being a real beast with lots of true character, depth & soul.
If you are looking for a Californian red wine, I suggest this can be a wonderful opportunity to explore California Syrah & other “Rhone Varietal” red wines. There are growing number of really interesting, provocative renditions being produced up & down the state. Standouts which immediately come to mind include more worldly styled Syrah based reds, such as the 2001 Ojai Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard” (from the Santa Maria Valley); the 2011 Linne Calodo “Perfectionist”; the 2006 Saxum “Bone Rock” (both from the limestone/siliceous hillsides of Paso Robles); the 2010 Neyers Syrah “Old Lakeville Road” (from the Sonoma Coast, near Petaluma) or the 2007 Autonom Syrah “Law of Proportions” (a blend of Santa Barbara & Arroyo Grande grapes). Somehow these kinds of masculine, rustic, earth driven, peppery reds create a real interesting synergy with dry aged steaks like this.
Here are some other interesting wines/grape varieties, recommended by managing Partner, Ivy Nagayama, to explore–
–Mourvedre (Domaine Tempier or Domaine Gros Nore from Provence, France)
–Nero d’Avola (Riofavara “Sciave” from the southern tip of Italy)
–Malbec (Clos la Coutale Cahors from southwest France or Tritono from Argentina)
–Tannat (2004 Cambiata from Monterey, California)
–Nebbiolo (2005 Barolo or Barbaresco from Piemonte, Italy or the 2004 Palmina”Ranch Sisquoc” from Santa Barbara, California)
“In Pursuit of Balance” Thursday, February 26th 6pm
A few years ago, then Michael Mina Restaurants wine director, Rajat Parr along with Jasmine Hirsch from Hirsch Vineyards, launched a concept they entitled “In Pursuit of Balance”. Here is an excerpt from their website–
“In Pursuit of Balance is a non-profit organization seeking to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.
This growing group of producers is seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir”.
Needless to say, it created much controversy, as wineries lined up taking sides/stances on the issue. There is never just one right answer to these things, AND to me, the issues were, in fact, not as important as the questions being asked.
The IPOB website further asks–
“What is balance in pinot noir and why does it matter?
Balance is the foundation of all fine wine. Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed. The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these
characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole. The purpose of this event is to bring together like-minded growers, winemakers, sommeliers, retailers, journalists and consumers who believe in the potential of California to produce profound and balanced Pinot Noirs.
This isn’t a rebellion, but rather a gathering of believers. This is meant to open a dialogue between producers and consumers about the nature of balanced Pinot Noir, including:
- Whole-picture farming and winemaking. Artisan winemaking techniques are a given at this point. Looking beyond that, let’s consider farming, or even pre-farming decisions, and the thought process behind identifying a great terroir. How do these decisions affect the balance of the ultimate wine?
- Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?
- A question of intention: Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?
- Reconsidering the importance of heritage Pinot Noir clones with respect to the omnipresent Dijon clones.
What do heritage clones contribute to balanced wine?
Pinot Noir grown on the west coast has been the next big thing for a while now, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case. Popularity is an exaggeration, a distortion of Pinot Noir’s defining qualities and a distraction from what makes it truly great. As Pinot Noir lovers, we face a collective challenge in the search for truly expressive, honest wine: What must we do to achieve balance in California Pinot Noir?”
For this tasting, we have chosen wines from 4 members of IPOB (from 4 different vintages) to showcase what can be—
from the cool confines of the Anderson Valley, this vineyard is located in the hills to the east, roughly 1300 to 1500 feet elevation, 30+ year old vines—2A & Pommard heritage selections. Business entrepeneur Peter Knez a few years back purchased both Demuth & the adjacent, well renown, celebrated Cerise Vineyard. Both vineyards feature bear wallow soils on a wind pounded hillside. Knez smartly hired Anthony Filiberti of Anthill Farms to over see this project & the wines have so far been pretty darn good–lighter in color, enticingly fragrant, fresh & snappy with wonderful texture, refinement, balance & only 13.2 alcohol, naturally. This is just the beginning………
Jason Drew is one VERY talented winemaker. We have watched, in fascination, him grow & develop over the years & there is NO doubt, he is in the zone right now. The Valenti Vineyard is perched up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge roughly between 1200 to 1600 feet elevation, planted to 667 & 10% Rochioli cuttings. This 2009 is absolutely gorgeous & well textured. 72 case production. Yes, this boy is on fire right now.
Ojai is the wine project of Adam Tolmach, one of California’s true winemaking masters of all time. Over the years, his wines showcase an Old World sensibility, especially for minerality & balance. This 2008 Clos Pepe Vineyard designate is produced from a Pommard heritage selection harvested at a scant 1.5 ton per acre. This vineyard is continually pounded by a gusting coastal wind, which at least partially accounts for its low vigor. I don’t typically quite understand wines produced from the Clos Pepe vineyard. (Although, I actually prefer the Chardonnay to the Pinot Noir). The wines are often lean, angular & tight fisted. Furthermore, I am not sure this is a Cru quality vineyard, but I would say, Tolmach produced a wonderfully pure, minerally, well balanced, wonderfully textured, classy Pinot which is very tasty, sumptuous & interesting right now. 140 case production.
The Bien Nacido vineyard is very large at over 800 acres. Over the years, the 2 blocks which have really stood out for Pinot Noir are “Q” & “N”. Justin Willett now gets tiny quantities of “N” Block–Martini heritage selection, planted in 1973 on its own roots. (I also believes he gets a tiny bit of Q Block too). As expected, this finished wine displays lots of vinosity & character, much more so than the “G” block fruit he previously worked with, AND much more interesting & provocative. Yes, this is quite a standout & well worth trying to get. Roughly 100 case production.
Although the relatively little known Carignane grape variety is one of the world’s most widely planted, over the years, it has been generally regarded as a “work horse” rather than a noble one. Still thankfully, there is a niche for this unsung grape variety being established by a growing number of young buck winemakers, from different parts of the world. Why? When grown & made by the right hands & minds, athough not showy or grand, it certainly can range from being interesting, delicious & food friendly to provocative & soulful.
Furthermore, since there are many really interesting, old vine parcels & their grapes accessible & at good prices, one can get really good, interesting wine at much more reasonable prices. To show you better what we mean, here are 4 well worth trying. (I was so surprised when overlooking our wine inventory how many more Carignane based red wines we actually have at VINO to choose from!) Just another really good opportunity to learn!
“This barrique-aged, cru Carignano (100%) is a real star: lush, extract-fraught, full-bodied, with ripe, chewy fruit & supple texture, it is also extremely long-living. Bush-trained Carignano is especially rich in noble tannins. Experts believe Sulcis (of Sardegna) is the exclusive Italian home of Carignano. Whatever its beginnings, here the Carignano vine is so ancient and rooted in the Sulcis region it can safely be called one of the island’s native stars”.
A relatively new discovery for us from the Island of Sardegna, in the seafront Valli di Porto, extending to the sea. The core of this wine is produced from 100 year old Carignane with a small amount of Syrah blended in.
“100 year old vine Carignane–natural yeast fermentation in neutral vessels & bottled unfined and unfiltered, with little to no added sulfur. This special bottling has profound concentration and minerality from the clay, limestone, granite, and schist of this corner of the Roussillon”.
an extremely steep 2.5 acre vineyard in Priorat, Spain, full of slate with almost no topsoil. 2007 yielded a scant 4/10’s of a tons per acre of roughly 80% Carignane (Samso) & 20% Grenache Garnatxa) vines that are over 125 years old . A true throwback to another century, the vines really get to know the meaning of struggling.
The Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation can be quite confusing at first to the non-professional avid wine lover. This mountainous AVA covers parts of 3 counties–Santa Clara, Santa Cruz & San Matteo & is much more of an altitude specific (covering the mountain terrain essentially above the fog line, ranging from 400 feet rising to nearly 3000 feet in elevation).
Without a doubt, the most famous of this AVA’s vineyards is the Monte Bello Vineyard, which ranges in elevation from 1300 to 2700 feet. This tract was purchased in 1959 by 4 Stanford Research Institute engineers. Their first commercial release was the 1962, but their rise to superstardom really began when they hired Paul Draper in 1969. The vineyard has a very unique green stone/clay soil with underlying decomposing limestone, which coupled with the cool, windy growing conditions, create a very different character to the wine than those from other Californian appellations. The 1977 I was fortunate to taste again in 2014, is still one of the very finest Cabernet based red wines I have yet to have out of California.
Kathryn Kennedy moved to Saratoga, California in 1949. I often wonder how & why she had the foresight to plant a 7 acre vineyard of essentially Cabernet clone #8 (which she got from David Bruce)in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountain appellation in 1973. When I first tried to contact the winery to get some wine sometime in the 80’s, I remember being told how much they struggled to get even a ton per acre from their vines & in 2 vintages the vines gave them a mere 1/4 of a ton per acre! That doesn’t sound like a very sound financial model to work. In addition because of the value of their land, being in close proximity to the Silicon Valley, I am sure the family has given over the years considerable thought to selling off to the highest bidder, strictly in a real estate sense. Still she perservered & her youngest son, Marty Mathis started in 1981 & eventually took over the reins, including winemaking. Theirs is an earthy, masculine Cabernet, with lots of structure & a unique character, which is VERY different from the fruit bombs one normally encounters from the Napa Valley & is well worth checking out!
Over the years, one of the true iconic Chardonnay & Pinot Noir estate standouts from California is Mount Eden. Located 50 or so miles south of San Francisco, at roughly 2000 feet in elevation overlooking Silicon Valley, this small, historic estate was founded in 1972 (essentially the year, the vineyard founder, Martin Ray, was kicked out by his partners/investors). The original plantings, however, began in 1945 for Chardonnay & Pinot & sometime in the 50’s for Cabernet Sauvignon (by Martin Ray). Theirs is a cool, exposed mountain top, with Montebello perched high above in the distance & the vines are planted in infertile Franciscan shale soils. The 20 acres of Chardonnay is Mount Eden selection; the 7 acres of Pinot is also Mount Eden selection (65 years of being around) & there is 9.75 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.9 acres of Merlot & roughly .4 acres of Cabernet Franc, mostly planted in 1981 & 82. The 2006 Chardonnay was barrel fermented & aged for 9 months in 50% new & 50% one year old barrels. This is big, wonderfully oak laden Chardonnay, broad, grand & full of character & hutzpah.
One of the relatively new standouts of the appellation is actually 2 labels–Varner & Neely. I group them together only because they overlap in many ways, starting with the fact their wines both come from the Spring Ridge Vineyard (which is actually located above the Stanford University golf course in the hills). Jim & Bob Varner oversee the farming & winemaking & Neely owns the vineyard. There are 3 distinct blocks for Chardonnay–“Home Block” (2 acres, east facing, 805 to 840 feet in elevation, of own rooted clone 4 which was planted in 1980); “Ampitheater Block” (2 acres, south facing, 735 to 780 feet in elevation, of own rooted Wente selection, which was planted in 1981); & “Bee Block” (3.5 acres, northeast facing, 670 to 735 feet in elevation, masale selection from Home Block, which was planted in 1987). Under the Varner label, there are then typically 3 single parcel Chardonnays produced in any given vintage. There is also a 4th Chardonnay produced, under the Neely label, which is a blend of the 3 parcels & the percentages different every year.
There are also 3 Pinot Noir parcels–“Upper Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 645 to 660 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was grafted over to Pinot in 2003 from own rooted vines planted in 1981); “Picnic Block” (2 acres, east facing, 600 to 645 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 777, which was planted in 2000); & “Hidden Block” (3 acres, northeast facing, 650 to 730 feet in elevation, Dijon clone 115, which was planted in 1997). 3 single parcel Pinot Noirs are produced under the Neely label & a 4th Pinot, under the Varner label, is produced from a blend of the 3 parcels.
As you can imagine, the quantities of each are small & the media praise is high–& therefore availability limited.
Yes, we have been tasting quite a slew of aged wines lately. Thank you to all who come by to share!
Although quite modern in style, I find Elio Altare’s Barolo wines are much more elegant & refined than those from other contemporaries such as Paolo Scavino or Domenico Clerico & certainly Angelo Gaja & some tasters (even knowledgeable/experienced ones) may be underwhelmed at first because of Altare’s style. This 1998 was quite a stylish, classy, highly refined, majestic red with superb elegance & balance. Having said that, I would also say the pedigree of this bottling was surprisingly muted, even after considerable time of being open. Let it sit in your cellar. I really think with 25 or so more years, this will be a glorious, wonderfully perfumed aristocrat, which tasters will wish they had put away more bottles.
I remember being wow-ed when the 1998 was released, by its immensity, sun drenched depth & prolific structure & tannins. Yes, it was a monster. It’s really nice to see now, however, the breed & stoniness of the La Crau vineyard making its way back to the forefront, both in the nose & the taste & all of the parts are starting to resolve & harmonize. Make no mistake, this is an infant with quite a ways to go, but one can now get a better feel for where it is headed.
There is no doubt that Alvaro Palacios is one of Spain’s true game changers in the wine arena. His is a fascinating story, as he left his family’s domaine in Rioja to first study abroad, including an eye opening, imagination stirring stint with Christian Mouiex at Chateau Petrus, before founding his own winery in Priorat, Spain. Although his first major acquisition was Finca Dofi in 1990, it really was the later acquisition of L’Ermita, a higly revered, steep, northfacing 4 acre parcel of well drained schist soils, which would position him to shoot for the stars. L’Ermita (planted in 1900 to 1940) is not only one of Spain’s most iconic superstar wines, its meteoric rating, accolades & considerable pricing would create, along with Pingus, a whole new niche for wines in his country, similar to what Sassicaia & Angelo Gaja had done in Italy. And, like what Sassicaia has done for Bolgheri & the Tuscan coast, L’Ermita (& Pingus) has inspired a boom of vineyard & winery growth in the Priorat appellation. I must say, however, I think it is too early to make a true qualitative call on this phenomenon & specifically L’ Ermita, given that 1993, or so I was told, was the first vintage. My quandry? Although the winemaking is top notch, I wonder if that is what the hoopla is more about. Granted, L’Ermita is mainly old vine Grenache with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon & perhaps Carignane blended in, BUT I don’t seem to get the depth of character, vinosity or breed of other red wines in this upper echelon. Since I have such limited experience tasting L’Ermita, having had only the 1995, 1998, 2001 (3 times) & this 1999 (4 times), I guess only time will tell.
Subject: World’s Top 50 Most Expensive Wines?
Again, one of our goals for 2014 is feature more & more good wines……those which others can be compared to. This will help, tasters create a solid base to work from as their tasting adventures continue. It is not as easy as one would think. Here are 4 standouts from the Mediterranean basin. These are some of the most interesting & provocative rustic reds we have run across. I think soulful is a really good word to use here. If you want to better understand what we mean when we say soulful, then you should come & try these wines. Yes, just another really good opportunity to learn! Wines like this just don’t happen along!
Corsica’s star is rising on the American wine scene. Sommeliers & wine professionals across the country are jumping onto the Corsican bandwagon on the fast track. The rugged & very remote countryside produces some equally rugged, masculine red wines, of which the very finest are crafted from indigenous grape varieties. Certainly leading the charge is Abbatucci. Genius!!!! AND, a true champion of tradition & authenticity—in their wines & especially their environment.. Here is their Ajaccio (southwestern Corsica) which is produced from the Sciaccarellu & Niellucciu grape varieties, which are biodynamically farmed. A must to try!!!!
2007 D’Aupilhac “Le Carignan”
The family has been working this special tract in Montpeyroux down in southern France since the 1800’s, although the vineyard itself dates back to Roman times. (The Romans were true experts on where to plant their vines!) The neighbors across the way include Daumas Gassac & Grange des Peres (talk about an unreal neighborhood!!!). The ancient Carignane vines were planted on severe terraced hillsides with all kinds of crazy, extreme soils, which, at least partially, explains the completely wild & rustic character of this standout French “country” red. You never had something like this before!
2008 Guido Porro Barolo “Santa Caterina”
Here is our chance to show tasters a Barolo as it was made BEFORE roto fermenters & all of the other modern technology which is used to make modern/contemporary renditions. Yes, this is a winery who is dedicated to traditional methods both in the vineyards & in the cellar. The Caterina monopole vineyard is located at roughly 1200 feet elevation in the limestone heavy soils of Serralunga d’Alba. The region is most noted for producing long lived, full bodied Barolo. I therefore smile that the Porro version is much more elegant & refined, yet masculine, traditional & truly authentic in its core!!!!
2008 Tempier Bandol “La Tourtine”
Tempier has to be the most storybook wine of all. Their wines & estate is iconic, steeped in tradition, history & regional culture. It is hard for me to separate the wine from the family & its history. There is really nothing else like Domaine Tempier. The La Tourtine bottling usually is dominately Mourvedre, with some Grenache & Cinsault for finer details. I find the resulting wine has wonderful structure, more refinement & needs bottle age to really strut its stuff. Here is your chance to taste one of their treasures yourself & experience the magic of Domaine Tempier & its wines.
The other night, our friend, Dr Chris, surprised us all by bringing in a selection of some interesting wines from the Isle of Corsica. As VINO regulars well know, I have a real hankering for Corsica, as I have wanted to visit there for well over 25 years, ever since I tasted my first glass of Luigi Clos Nicrosi. The wine had such interesting flavors, viscosity & unique character. I am sad the wine is no longer produced. Well, the importer, Kermit Lynch, has uncovered several other interesting producers over the past few years & is now importing them into the U.S.. Thank you Chris for a wonderful tasting AND including the map, pictured to the right, which gave everyone a better picture of where each of the wines come from.
Michel Angeli is the man behind this winery, which is located in Cap Corse at the northern tip of the Island. As the map will show you, this region actually looks like a finger pointing north. The soil is mainly schist-clay & Michel had first planted Vermentinu & Codivarta & later Niellucciu (he got from Patrimonio) & Aleatico he got from Elba. 1952 was his first harvest. This particular bottling is typically around 50% Niellucciu, 25% each of Aleatico & Merlot, which he ferments in 100% stainless steel. Yes, it is rustic in smell & taste, is quite masculine in character, but flows on the palate surprisingly well from beginning to end. Merlot makes a surprising appearance, given Michel’s appreciation of native grape varieties, but as expected, it really seems to round out the edges in this case. (By the way, we have also purchased some of his rare Rappu wine, which is Aleatico, dried out on straw mats for 10 days, pressed, fermented in concrete (a touch of residual sugar, 16% alcohol) & then aged in old oak barrels for 7 years.
2011 Canarelli “Corse Figari”
Canarelli comes from the southern tip of Corsica. The vineyards lie inland from the sea, along a plateau, on granitic-alluvial soils rich in minerals & is both organically & biodynamically farmed. The climate is greatly moderated by the winds gusting off the Gulf of Figari. The 2011 Rouge is 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah & 5% Sciaccarellu, 100% destemmed & aged in large foudres for 14 to 18 months. One could readily detect the Syrah in the nose & taste. Eventhough people say this is a rustic style, I think it would be an easier wean into Corsican red wines for the Californian palate than any of the other reds we tasted on this night. (On another note, they also have indigenous grape varieties such as Carcahjolu Nera, Biancu Gentile, Paga Debiti, Barbarosa & Minustellu planted & featured in some of their other bottlings).
Yves left his family domaine to create his own, which specialized in a single terroir–“E Croce” E Croce faces the Gulf of St Florent & features a chalky soil, which lies upon a thick bedrock of pure schist. This is essentially another 1 man show. This bottling is 90% Niellucciu & 10% Grenache, which was fermented in stainless steel & aged for 12 months before release. One could detect on first smell & taste there is some Grenache in the blend. (We tasted the wines with NO knowledge of the soils the vines grew in nor the grape varieties used). Leccia’s wines are more refined, elegant & quite classy. They are really a pleasure to drink.
Antoine Arena Patrimonio
Arena is certainly one of the most revered producers of the Island. His vineyards are located in the Patrimonio appellation. Within Patrimonio he organically farms several parcels. Carco (2 hectares, planted in 1987) is mainly Niellucciu in chalky-clay-limestone soils. Morta Maio (2 hectares, planted in 2001) on clay-limestone soils. Of the 3 tasted on this night, I much preferred the 2010 Carco, which had a complete-ness, balance & soul. This wine surprised me, as I usually find Arena wines too much for my palate. Yes, it was rustic, perhaps too much so for many tasters, but it really had something to say, in a VERY unique way.
Although, this wine was NOT tasted on this night (mainly because we have not been able to get for the past couple of vintages), I just have to mention it here, because it is so damn good! I remember Kermit Lynch once saying–“Drinking her rose is like drinking a cloud. There is an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume“. Marquiliani is located on the island’s eastern coast (Costa Serena)….in the village of Aghione, high altitude, & therefore, cooler nights. The terraced vineyards are a mix of schist, granite & gravel with silt. The rose is typically 90% Sciaccarellu & 10% Syrah, direct pressed, fermented in stainless steel with NO malolactic.
Syrah is undoubtedly one of the true “noble” grape varieties of the world & has been for a long, long time. Unfortunately, Syrah is not in fashion right now & I am not sure exactly why. I, in fact, wish I had a dollar for every time a wine professional/wine buyer/server has told me in the past 5 years, how Syrah based wines, (especially New World versions) do not sell so well for them. I would be rich!
I am saddened to hear of this plight.
Well grown & crafted Syrah deserves a niche in the wine world. Not only does this grape variety have world class potential, it also can fill the big puka between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon in terms of weight, drama & profoundness. The very best can have intricacy, pedigree, UN-heaviness & texture a notch or 2 away from Pinot Noir, with the depth, masculinity & regality a notch or 2 away from Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah can be an ideal “tweener”.
Here are 3 examples which reminded me of this thought.
The Ogier family had been farming their vineyards & selling off to their grapes for many years (more recently to prominent producers such as Chapoutier & Guigal), until 1987 when they decided to grow & produce their own wine under their own label. At that time, they owned roughly 6 acres in Cote Rotie. Son, Stephane, started working alongside his father in 1998 & took over the domaine in 2000. Where previously, the winemaking was much more traditional with NO stems & NO new oak, Stephane changed his style to 100% Syrah, 80% de-stalked, 3 to 4 week stainless steel fermentation & 18 month barrel aging (30% new). In addition to their Cote Rotie, Ogier also began producing special bottlings–Embruns (2001) from purchased fruit & 50% new barrels; Lancement “Terroir de Blonde” & Belle Helene (a cask selection from their Cote Rozier parcel–30 months in 100% new oak). This is a producer of northern Rhone Valley Syrah well worth checking out. This 2001 Cote Rotie (13 years old), for example, was elegant, classy, refined, masculine, majestic with a surprising velvety texture. It had a gamey, rustic core with garrigue character & a sandalwood edge. I can imagine all kinds of meats & rustic meat preparations which one can have a field day with!
Noel Verset, for me, was one of the iconic stalwarths of the tiny Cornas appellation, who not only helped define an appellation, but shed a very different light on what the Syrah grape variety could be. His vines were old, his highly revered Sabarottes parcel yielded grapes like no other on the hillside & his winemaking was very traditional. I have to say, the resulting wines were truly one of a kind. They had a wild-ness–green & black peppercorns, true andouille sausage, raw meat, lots of red fruit, crushed rocks, garrigue with lots of herbal notes. His was a small winery, perhaps 800 case production in any given year. Rumors started circulating around the 2000 vintage, that he was retiring. (He even mentioned his thoughts on retirement on a visit I made in 1991). Subsequent vintages would pop up every now & then–I saw a smidgeon fo the 2003 & a tiny bit of 2006….& then quiet. It was the end of an era. Yes, there are other Cornas (Thierry Allemand & August Clape) which deftly carry on the appellation on the world class stage, BUT there was only 1 Noel Verset. I was completely enthralled with the 1995. It was quintessential Verset Cornas–wildly rustic, rock, peppercorns, wild herbs, with the rank smells of real French andouille sausage. It really sang out & was a thrill to savor.
For many, the Chave Hermitage is the pinnacle of northern Rhone Syrah. The family has been growing grapes & making wines on Hermitage hill since 1481. The vines today are organically & biodynamically farmed. “Every year, we start from zero in assembling the wine.” The core & backbone comes from the Bessards parcel, their largest parcel, located furthest west. Tasting out of barrel once with Gerard Chave, I found the Bessards to have a smokiness, a strong minerality with a certain elegance, velvety middle & lots of tannins in the finish. His parcels have very old vines. I found Le Meal was also smokey, but had distinct floral (violets, jasmine), ripe, jammy black cherry, green olive, spice & pepper with more of a middle, a riper, higher glycerine mouthfeel. Rocoules was fresher fruit, yet not as showy, with licorice, smoke, cassis, green notes & much more tannic. Peleat–more acid/structure with green olive, smoke & even an apple nuance. Diognieres had ripe cherries, jammy, bordering cassis like qualities with a funky/earthy edge. Baume–licorice, cherry, more austere, structured & refinement. L’Ermite–smokey, earthy, barnyard funk, green peppercrons, jammy–the most outgoing right out of the gates. The Chaves are master blenders, using all of the pieces to create a complete Hermitage–or as I used to say about the old Barolo masters—create an orchestra sound rather than just the horn section. Chave is the best at that! and HAS BEEN SINCE 1481!