Archive for Wine Thoughts


Alto Piemonte–the introduction

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I had dreamed of visiting Alto Piemonte since my first glass of Gattinara back in the late 1970’s.  It was a old crusty bottle, which had only a partial label with no apparent vintage date to be seen.  The cork was also old school looking & weathered as was the bottle.  The wine poured was very brick-ish/orange hued & one could easily see through it & read a written page.  The perfume was glorious, majestic & VERY haunting, which is why I remember it still today so vividly.  Yes, it was an aha moment.

It has taken almost 40 years, but I finally was able to go & visit the area. 

Alto Piemonte is today a relatively “under the radar screen” wine growing area, roughly 100 miles from the Alba, the epi-town of Barolo, Barbaresco & the more famous Piemontese wines.  Historically, however, Alto Piemonte was more famous than Barolo for their red wines back in the old days.  At its peak there were roughly 40,000 hectares planted.  Today, there is maybe only 1,000 hectares of vines & the wines have since fallen into the shadow of both Barolo & Barbaresco.

The sharp decline of planted acreage started with the phylloxera devastation in the mid to late 1800’s, which wiped the slate clean.  Many chose not to continue because of the extremely high costs of replanting the steep hillsides.  Adding to the decimation was the departure of many of the work force who chose to instead work in the growing industrial industry, specifically in nearby city of Milan, where the work was less back breaking, strenuous & paid much more.

The benefit of being 100 miles northeast of Barolo country, means a closer proximity to the Alps & specifically Mount Rosa, the second highest mountain in Europe.  This of course can at least partially explain the myriad of volcanic type soils, BUT, one should also consider the overall much cooler microclimates.  (If you believe the regional old adage–closer to the mountains, generally, the cooler the temperatures).

I was so interested & ready to delve into this very different & unique Nebbiolo world.  (I would have loved to also have explored Valtellina, but will save that for a different trip).  The grape mixings are different, as are the soils & microclimates–all generating a VERY different perspective on what Nebbiolo can be AND at much lower pricing than most Barolo or Barbaresco.

There are 7 main municipalities of Alto Piemonte–Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Sizzano, Fara, Ghemme & Gattinara.  Each have undulating, rolling hills, the highest being around 1650 feet in elevation.  The base of the soils is volcanic with a plentitude of varying porphyric soils. 

The crown jewel native grape variety is Nebbiolo to which there is also lesser amounts of Vespolina, Croatina & Uva Rara planted.  Historically, it was the Nebbiolo of Alto Piemonte which shined, even over the southern neighbors of Barolo & Barbaresco.

Each municipality has by law a different % mix of the permitted grape varieties.

So, off we went, in search of adventure & new wine “finds”.

We left Alba originally wanting to take a slight detour to Carema, an hour & a half or so out of the way hoping to visit Ferrando, but could not get an appointment there.  It was harvest for goodness sake, so totally understandable.  (We had a bottle of their wine later & I was sorry to have missed this opportunity).  Maybe next time.

Though I was somewhat disappointed, nixing Carema off of our travel list meant we could drive directly to Alto Piemonte & thereby saving ourselves at least 3 hours.

Cheryle decided, after much digging around, to make our base in the town of Cureggio at an agriturismo named La Cappucina.  Located in a small field, it seemed more like a farm in locale, with all of the animals & the remote setting.  It was so peaceful, tranquil & it was truly a GREAT place to stay & enjoy the countryside serenity.  Interestingly, it also had, as we soon found out, the finest restaurant of the whole area by chef/owner Gianluca Zanetta & his lovely gracious wife Raffaella (who was the front of the house person).  Such incredible gracious service & attention to detail.  In addition, as we soon found out, Gianluca is also one of the foremost wine experts of the region & its wines.  He kindly gave us hours of insight & advice AND his wine selection was all of the notable wines of the area.  It really turned out to be the perfect place to stay.

I should thank my cousin Mike for his gracious, good fun company, his doing all of the driving & researching & selecting dining experiences.  And, to my wife Cheryle for her incredible searching out & plotting all of the travel courses, hotel reservations & directions.  I am so thankful also because they both have passion for seeing these kinds of vineyards, visiting & talking story with such incredible wine people & braving the vast amount of miles we drive every day in our search.

In Alto Piemonte, I also need to thank–Gianluca & Raffaella Zanetta of La Cappucina; superstar winemaking consultant Cristiano Garella & Marina Olwen Fogarty & Gilberto Boniperti for responding so quickly to our pleas & helping us open the doors to so many fantastic wine artists.  And, to all of the wineries who wholeheartedly welcomed us & took the time, at harvest, to tell us their story & share all of their insights & wisdoms.

It was a truly a most memorable trip.

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Alto Piemonte–Day 1 Bramaterra

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Alto Piemonte can be subdivided into 7 main denominations–a cluster of Lessona, Bramaterra, Boca, Gattinara, Ghemme, Sizzano & Fara–roughly 2 hours drive northeast of Langhe.  (from there, thankfully each destination is only about 15 to 30 minutes or less from each other).

As our planned visit to a producer in Lessona fell through at the last moment, we started our first day in Bramaterra.

One of the serendipitous perks to our pre-trip planning was “hooking” up with Cristiano Garella, who happens to be the top winemaking consultant of the whole region (at least 21 projects).  I believe it was partly because of star winemaker/Tres Bicchieri awardee Gilberto Boniperti of Fara & partly because of Oliver McCrum, a prominent San Francisco based Italian wine importer.  How it really came to be, I am not sure, BUT, Cristiano paid so much attention to us & opened up so many doors & opportunities for us & we are forever thankful.

Looking back, I wonder if our trip would have been nearly as insightful & fulfilling without Cristiano & Gianluca?

Bramaterra is the largest denomination of the cluster with at least 7 municipalities/towns within.  The aspects, microclimates & soils therefore can differ greatly.  Our first stop was Colombera & Garella, located in Masserone, & a joint project between Giacomo Colombera & Cristiano Garella.   This estate has 2 hectares in Masserano, 1 hectare in Lessona & 5 hectares in Roasio.  What immediately caught our attention was the dark, reddish, iron rich soils of their Masserano vineyard–1 hectare of 70 year old vines & the other 1 hectare was more like 25 year old vines, at our first stop.  This is quite different from many of the other Bramaterra vineyards & their porphyry-sand mixed soils we saw & walked.  The Colombera & Garella 2016 Bramaterra (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) has more dark, base notes with a “blood” like nuance to its core & aroma.  Their wines were very impressive–more civil, balanced, well textured & sultry.  I would also say, this estate will be producing wines worth seeking out as they will only be getting better & better moving forward with the inclusion of Cristiano Garella’s expertise.  Their special soil is a GREAT start.   

Cristiano made a quick stop, still in Bramaterra to show us how different the soils can be in the DOC.







Our next stop was to Le Pianelle, yet another Cristiano Garella project.  There are actually 5 partners–Dieter Heuskel, Peter Dipoli, working partners–Fabio, Andrea & Cristiano.  They vineyards are mostly in Bramaterra, one in the town of Brusnengo–porphyry-sand soils, replanted in 2007 & one in Roasio–50 year old vines in the vertically remote hills (closer to the mountains & therefore much cooler) at 1600 feet in elevation & red porphyry & gravel soils.  Their 2016 Bramaterra red (80% Nebbiolo, 10% each of Vespolina & Croatina) was so intriguingly savory–more base notes of earth, roasted chestnuts, worn saddle leather, with a light touch of smoke & musk.  It was very masculine, virile yet still so well balanced & surprisingly polished.  This is certainly another estate on the rise & worth keeping an eye out for.  It was a terrific, memorable opportunity to be there at harvest, so we could try grapes still on the vine, different grape juice as they were fermenting & some from other vintages.


Our next stop, thanks again in kind, to Cristiano, was at Antoniotti, also in Bramaterra.  It was not originally on our pre-trip radar screen, but with HUGE endorsements from Cristiano Garella & Gianluca Zanetta at La Cappucina, we were so thankful Cristiano made a visit possible, eventhough it was harvest.  This truly iconic estate was founded in 1861 & is currently run by Odilio (father), & his son Mattia who has recently joined his father full time..  They own but 5.5 hectares of vines, including Martinazzi Cru” a breathtaking, steep, rocky (volcanic porphyry–low organic matter) Bramaterra hillside plus 1 hectare of another steep hillside of 70 year old vines across the way.  (His latest vineyard addition is 1 hectare planted above on the steepest, rockiest site.  The vines are only 2 years old & I am really anxious to taste what this parcel will produce).  Odilio, now 77 years young in age, is undeniably from the old school of the region–its grass roots thoughts, philosophies & traditional minded ways, both in the vineyard & the winery.  I was totally taken by this wise, very thoughtful wine “yoda” & his young, energetic, uplifting son Mattia.  (It thankfully seems, we always seem to run across such a wine maestro/vigneron like this in every Old World wine region we visit).  Although he prudently uses stainless steel in his winemaking, he seems to prefer old concrete (1901) totally underground & older, large oak (1250 liters, & 1700 liters) for his aging.  (His Bramaterra, for instance, is typically 70% Nebbiolo, 7% Vespolina, 20% Croatina & 3% Uva Rara, aged for 30 months in such vessels!).  Odilio Antoniotti produces glorious Bramaterra–something truly special, personal & soulful.  Stylistically, this wine reminds me of those from but a small handful of Barolo-meisters back in the 1960’s & 1970’s.  This is definitely a wine to search out!  I left Odilio with a most touching memory.  While I asked Mattia all of these questions about the vineyards, the vines, the winemaking, while we were in the vineyard, Odilio was off to the side, trying to break open one of the rocks in his vineyard.  He finally succeeded after 20 minutes or so of working it.  He then proudly showed us the core of the rock, which showed some kind of red quartz & smatterings of limestone, which was unlike anything else I saw in Alto Piemonte.  He beamed as a father would when showing his newborn baby.  I will always remember this special moment, as it will remind me how it was this soil, HIS soil, which this 77 year old true wine master treasured & proudly showed us.  Incredible!

Yes, what an incredible day this really was.

In the planning of our latest trip to Italy we set our sights on two specific & unique winegrowing niches of the country’s western coast–Dolceacqua on the northwestern extreme of Liguria & Alto Piemonte to the northeast of Alba.  Just a short time previously, I was really taken, bordering entranced with several of the Rossese di Dolceacqua wines I tasted from this DOC (officially recognized in 1972), including bottlings from Tenuta Anfosso single parcel designated–Poggio Pini & Luvaira and the single parcel bottlings–Beragna & Galeae–from Ka’ Manciné.  They were a far cry from Rossese based red wines I had had from other parts of Liguria AND VERY different from the Tibouren (supposedly the same grape variety or somehow related) from Provence, right around the corner in southern France.  In short, they were like NO other red wine I had previously encountered.

I then started researching more into this appellation & its wines.  Dolceacqua is located in the far reaches of northwest Liguria, only 10 to 15 kilometers or so away from Monaco & a bit farther from southern France.  It was tucked away in the hills & valleys 15 kilometers or so away from the coastline, but still greatly influenced by the cool ocean winds, because of the channeling running hills configuration.  I read once there were roughly 3000 hectares planted pre-phylloxera & today only 70 to 90 hectares remain.  The steep, labor intensive hillsides, the vertically remote locations, the imposing lack of water & the shocking, increasing plight of wild animal issues (eating of plants, vine leaves & grapes), bordering maniacal, have made many give up on their vineyards.  Who, after all, would want to work so hard with so little return in the end.  Still, pictures of the almost mythically steep vineyards, then convinced me that this is where we needed to go, in lieu of our originally thought of Bierzo & Ribera Sacre of northwestern Spain.


Off we went on our next wine adventure with my cousin Mike & my wife Cheryle. 

The first stop was to Ka’ Manciné & his Beragna vineyard.  We met down in one of the small towns below in a parking lot.  As we soon discovered, there was NO way, we would ever find these remote vineyards up in the mountains ourselves.  It was a pleasure to finally shake hands with Ka’ Manciné owner/winemaker Maurizio Anfosso.  Joining him, in an effort to make our Dolceacqua visit more convenient for us, was his cousin Alessandro Anfosso of Tenuta Anfosso, our next scheduled visit.

Maurizio is the 3rd generation of his family to run this small 3 hectare estate.  His 1.5 hectare, single parcel, Beragna was planted in 1864 & many of the vines still on their own roots.  Breathtaking steep, this venerable site is unusually north facing.   While so many of other sites we could see were south to southwest facing to capture a more full sun exposure, I think Beragna’s seems to be better suited for today’s increasing sun warming & allows a more necessary, longer hang time. Seeing the flysch/schist influenced soils & from the 400 meter elevation, feeling the continual cooling coastal breezes AND tasting the grapes as we walked the site gave us a much more complete understanding of the resulting wines AND what its takes to grow & produce these wines. 

The 1 1/2 hectare Galeae parcel, on the other hand, was planted in 1905, with significant replanting done in 1998.  Equally high in elevation, southeast facing & with some limestone to the flysch soil mix resulted in wines more ethereal in the nose & more structure & masculinity on the palate.

Here in Hawaii, I was really taken with the Ka’ Manciné wines, especially their Beragna & Galeae single parcel wines.  Each were so wonderfully & intoxicatingly savory in their core with a faintly similar kind of earthy pungency one experiences with porcini mushrooms & even truffle, at least to a certain degree.  On this visit, interestingly, I discovered that Ka’ Manciné, in comparison to the others, stylistically produces red wines (roughly 20% whole cluster) with more transparency, refinement & delicate nuance than the others we visited & tasted during the 2 days, as well as the wines we purchased at the local restaurants & town wine store.

We were also quite taken with Maurizio Anfosso.  He was jovial, good fun & had a very outgoing, welcoming charm & was very & seemingly unassuming passionate about his vineyards & his wines. One could also readily see the respect that both his cousin Alessandro Anfosso & later Erica of Perrino Testa Longa reverently had for him.  It was a great & truly memorable visit! 

The next stop was the at Tenuta Anfosso.  This 6 generation run estate is currently operated by Alessandro Anfosso.  Alessandro is much more reserved than Maurizio but quite charming & welcoming nonetheless.  He was the straight man & Maurizio the character of the duo.  He owns & farms 5.5 hectares of incredible, steep, hillside parcels–Luvaira–2.5 hectares planted in 1905 & some in 2004, Poggio Pini–2 hectares planted in 1888 & Fulavin–1 hectare planted in 1977 & 1998.  The vineyards also feature flysch soils (“flysch is a sedimentary rock consisting of alternating strata of marl and sandstone; proportions of clay and sand vary between each vineyard, and within each vineyard“).  The common practice here is roughly 50% whole cluster with fermentation & aging in stainless steel & bottle–Fulavin–12 to 13 months in stainless & 4 to 5 months in bottle & for Poggio Pini & Luvaira–more like 17 to 18 months in stainless steel & 7 to 8 months in bottle before release.   The wines in comparison to Ka’ Manciné are much more masculine with more “flesh on the bone” & more vehement structure.  The Poggio Pini was wonderfully savory & gloriously vinous–impressive to say the least.  The Luvaira bottling was much more showy–Burgundian/compost like funk, mega savory, rounder, fuller with a pillowy middle.  Alessandro also produces a small amount of Rossese Blanc (150 to 170 years old, own rooted, intermittently scattered throughout the Poggio Pini vineyard).  He insists that the Blanc is not directly related to the red Rossese–showing us how the leaves, stems & grapes differ in sight & taste. 

We were so thankful for all of the time these two generously gave us & patiently they explained & shared all of their knowledge.  It was so immediately evident they are entirely all about the vineyard & how they cultivate what these special, unique vineyards want to say.


Both of these vignerons highly recommended that we go to visit Perrino Testa Longa, another standout producer of the DOC founded in 1961.  Run by (uncle) Nino & (niece) Erica, this is a truly garagiste with 2 hectares of vineyards (60% Rossese & 40% Vermentino) & a typical production of 300 cases of wine.  The soils are also flysch with every small parcel having some slightly different.  The vines are grouped–70 to 75 years; 40 to 45 years; 20 years & the newest parcel, but 3 years in age.  They produce but 2 wines–a Rossese di Dolceacqua & a Vermentino–foot pressed, 100% whole clusters for the red, fermented & aged in 6 to 7 year old barrels using native yeasts, with NO temperature control & fermented dry.  There is a small amount of SO2 used from November to June to stabilize the wines AND none used at harvest or bottling.  Upon first whiff, one can immediately identify, these are done in the more natural minded genre, really growing in popularity amongst the world’s sommelier community. 

Their one white wine was quite “orange” in style–full of orange character but still quite standout in quality.  The 2018 Rossese di Dolceacqua red was quite macho/masculine, wild & wooly reminiscent in style of Giovanni Montisci of Sardegna (quite the compliment) though with more funk & VA.  We were really taken.  The 2011 was more about roasted/savory character with chocolate, humus & spice nuances.  At 8 years old, it was still so youthful in the core, along with the remarkable development in the nose.  The 1983 was quite the adventure–still VERY fresh & alive in the core with a resounding savory, stony base–lean in the fruit department ( as opposed to juicy in the younger versions), a firm acid structure & moderate, intricate tannins in the finish.  I loved the wine & was quite surprised it was 36 years in age.

During our 2 day visit to the area, we were able to taste several “other” wines from the area as well.  One, which we purchased from a small, very good wine store in the newer part of town, had a production was but roughly 360 bottles (30 cases) & yet another which we thought was quite delicious & charming Terre Bianche (at a restaurant in the old medieval, hillside town of Aprecale) was very delightful.  It was undeniable however, to me that Ka’ Manciné, Tenuta Anfosso & Perrino Testa Longa were the real standouts.

Our visit to Dolceacqua though brief, provided us with much more insight than I could have ever wished.  The wines were solid, so very unique, interesting, savory & truly unlike anything else I have experienced.  I was really taken with their grass roots authenticity & character. The vineyards & vertically remote countryside, as well as the people is something I will treasure remembering forever.

What a visit!!!!!!

Varigotti is a small town located in a niche of Liguria, not far from Finale Liguria.  It essentially has one main thoroughfare which runs through with narrow streets which turn off now & then & head towards the hills away from the picturesque beach which fronts the ocean there.  The sea air fills the air.

Punta Crena is a small family owned & operated winery just a few hundred feet off of the main road as one heads towards the hills.  This is where the family dwelling AND the winery is located.  Four siblings now run this venerable 500 year old estate–the eldest as winemaker ((Tommaso); one in charge of sales (Paolo), a sister in charge of admin (Anna) & one who helps all of the above (Nicola).  I found this family & their values as being seemingly timeless in how they go about their business.   It is truly a family run endeavor. 

We first took a short walk down the road fronting their winery complex.  Paolo showed us the 4 distinct soils which permeate their vineyards–quartzite, dolomitic limestone,a dark gray soil with a greenish edge & red clay.

Being they were harvesting & load after load of fruit continuously started rolling in, Paolo’s son, Filippo took us up into the hills to walk their vertically remote vineyards.  The vineyards were truly breathtaking & at high altitudes with some having incredible panoramic views of the coastline & others hidden in various nooks & crannies high up.  In each case, I felt like I was in a time warp & day dreamed of this family doing many of their tasks just as their forefathers had. 

I was also quite taken by the scents of the plethora of wild herbs & shrub which surround each of the small parcels of vines scattered here & there. 

The soils varied with each site as did the selected grape vines that were planted.  I was amazed at their plantings of different heritage grapes–Mataòssu, Lumassina (a cousin to Mataòssu); Vermentino & Pigato (which are somehow directly related to each other) for white wines.  On the red side, their focus on 3 indigenous grape varieties–Crovino, Rossese & a small amount of Barbarossa, each planted in various nooks & crannies scattered here & there in the hills directly above the winery & home.  During this family’s 500 year tenure here, they acquired various parcels as they became available, which at least partially explains how spread out their plantings are throughout the hillside.  I am & have been an avid fan of their Mataòssu bottlings, something they specialize in.  It combines the minerality from the soils with a perk of salinity, I imagine comes from the sea down below & merely 1200 meters away.

Visually, the Pigato grape variety is quite striking in its coloring.  They say the name derives from the word pighe, which means freckles in their dialect.  Tasting the ripen grape provided me with much insight into their finished wine.  The juice itself has very assertive flavors, a thicker viscosity & very pungent, piquant bitterness to the finish.  In comparison, Vermentino seems much rounder & juicy—somewhat more tame.  Lumassina seems almost neutral in comparison.  I find the finished wine to be the most pliable in terms of its affinity to foods, especially creating magic with the deep fried seafood fritti of the area. The spumante (sparkling) rendition is especially lively, completely refreshing for warm weather sipping & the lunch dining table.  Fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel, these wines are so tasty & vivacious right out of gates.  I would add to that, however, with 2 or 3 years of bottle age, the wines seem rounder & the terroir shines through more clearly.

On the red wine side, interestingly in the vineyards, the Crovino grape tasted the most structured, unyielding & tannic, in comparison to the Rossese & Barbarossa grapes.  Paolo was kind enough to open & share a magnum of his 2011 Cruvin “Colline Savonesi” (produced from the Corvino grape variety) at dinner on the first night.  I was quite taken with it, that’s for sure.  It was masculine,, earth laden, musky, with wild character of its wild birthplace  & so intriguingly savory in its core.   It certainly was a totally unexpected treat & gave me a completely new perspective on what this grape AND this wine could be.  Plus, I couldn’t believe this wine was fermented & aged in stainless (on its lees). 

This a great, truly memorable visit, one I had dreamed about for a long time.  Having said that, it turned out to be way more inspirational & invigorating than I could ever have imagined or hope for.  It really is about a family, their 500 year old home turf, their appreciation & respect for their land (we could readily see the disdain on Filippo’s face to bikers traversing the hills AND the homes of wealthier people starting to invade the area & build more elaborately) & how the family all jump in to do their “chores” in the running of this estate.  I love how they do so with such pride, appreciation & respect, even the young children.  It was something special to experience.  Thank you all.


Slightly Aged Standout French White Wines

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Because of the considerable improvements in plant selection, & innovation in grape growing & winemaking, there is today, more good wine available to the wine consumer than ever.  I should actually replace the word good in the previous sentence with the word correct.  Yes, lots of correct wine.

Over the years we search & explore the wine world to find those wines which, instead, have something very unique to say.  Something more than & beyond correct.  It certainly has something with the climate, the soils, the terroir.   That is what inspired this night’s tasting.

This is one of the most interesting tastings we have put together and has the makings of something truly special. Four standout white wines from four truly standout, world class winemakers. Each wine has some slight bottle age, which adds another dimension to explore. Opportunities like this don’t come around too often.

2013 Ostertag Sylvaner “Vieilles Vignes”–Cheryle and I clearly experienced how incredibly food friendly Alsatian Sylvaner can be on one of our trips to the region. We had lunch at a well known local brasserie and while many of the wines we were sampling were interesting on their own, the three Sylvaners we sampled were so remarkably more pliable and compatible with the regional foods we were relishing. This was quite the revelation, as previously I had thought Sylvaner to be an after thought grape and found many renditions previously tasted as forgettable. In the world of Sylvaner, one of the true highlights is from Andre Ostertag—55 year old vines grown in clay, granite and gravel—done with purity and considerable refinement and class. Here is that wine, six years in age. We love how sleek, elegant, well textured & refined this bottling can be.  Let’s see what age does.

2013 Brégeon “Gorges”–In the old days, Muscadet was quaffing white wine, a beverage typically used to wash down the food–in most cases raw oysters on the half shell. They went hand in hand. Furthermore, it really was hard to get fresh Muscadet here in Hawaii, so after a while it became more of an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. Then we had our first taste of a Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine from Michel Brégeon, a game changing, “full blown terroir-ist” whose wines were truly like no other. I found his white wines spellbinding and so mesmerizing because of their profound purity. His chosen “spot” has gabbro soils—a blue-green metamorphic rock—which create a very different character in his wines, an attribute he continually looks to highlight through his finished wines. Along the way, he created his “Gorges” bottling—50 plus year vines—which he ages in underground glass lined cuvees on its fine lees for at least two years. While this certainly adds complexity and texture to the wines, it doesn’t take away from the terroir of his special piece of land. Here is the 2013…..six years in age.

2015 Thierry Germain Saumur “L’ Insolite”–Let this be an introduction to Thierry Germain, a New Age winemaking phenom taking the wine world by storm. He rethinks and does everything differently than most and is changing the game by example. This is his deluxe white cuvee—90 year old Chenin Blanc (grown on two parcels)—silex, clay, red limestone and sandstone, fermented in 1200 liter foudres for two months and then aged for an additional 12 months on its fine lees. Now, this is a white to check out because of its cerebral complexities while thankfully NOT being over done or heavy handed. This wine will really wow those trying his wine for the first time.

2012 A et P De Villaine Rully PREMIER CRU “Grésigny”–Founder Aubert de Villaine is one of the most prolific wine icons we have witnessed in our lifetime. I can’t readily think of too many others on his level. While he certainly has made quite the reputation and deserved reverence through his Domaine de la Romanée-Conti   wines, I would add to that this specific white wine is yet another of his crowning, big time achievements. While many of his Côte Chalonnaise grown wines under his A et P De Villaine label are really so pure, minerally, pretty & graceful, I was absolutely blown away with my first sip of this wine. BLOWN away. Yes, probably at first because it was so unexpected, but I have to say, this wine is memorable. It truly has something extra and I will remember it forever. Here is your chance to try it.

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“A Chefs’ Dinner”

Saturday, October 5

     Chef Keith Endo

Chef Lyndon Honda


amuse bouche

Chef Lyndon …     Roasted Ulu

roasted ulu foie gras butter, coconut gastrique & smoked Malden sea salt



Chef Lyndon …     Uni + Chicharrons

capellini pasta, tomatillo morninga “dashi”, mint, shaved parmesan,

wasabi tobiko & porcini powder

WINE: Birichino Malvasia Bianca

For this dish, we needed a remarkably light bodied white wine with crisp, refreshing acidity. In addition, this rendition has exotic perfume with lift the food just as fresh herbs would do.



Chef Keith …          Red Wine Braised Short Rib Tortellini

charred Ali’i mushrooms, Swiss chard & roasted bone marrow brood

WINE: Poderi di Lucignano Chianti “Colli Senesi”

We selected this authentic, wonderfully earthy & savory Italian red wine from Tuscany.



Chef Lyndon …     Duck Confit

roasted carrot curry, Spanish chorizo, broccolini, fondant potato,

chermoula, crema & lemon zest

WINE: Hooked Riesling

Because of the exquisite roasted carrot curry sauce, we chose an ever so slightly sweet German

white wine, which freshens the palate between bites.



Chef Keith …               Pan Seared Tajima Wagyu

espelette pepper, ginger scented kabocha & parsnip puree

WINE: Raul Perez Bierzo “Ultreia-St Jacques”

This is a wildly rustic, resoundingly savory Spanish old vine red from one of the

country’s New Age game changing winemakers.



Pastry Chef Cherie Pascua

Caramel Panna Cotta

warm caramel sauce, marinated strawberries & chocolate gelato


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Sandy soils

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My fascination with how sandy soils can affect a wine is continually growing.

Yesterday we tasted 2 white wines side by side, which created even more questions & discussions about this topic.  While I completely understand & embrace there is never just one answer to any question or topic of discussion, tasting these 2 wines did provide an additional perspective on the subject.

The 2 wines tasted were both from the Cheverny area of France’s Loire Valley & a small family owned producer named Domaine du Salvard. 

Domaine du Salvard has been a working domaine since 1898, through five hardworking generations of the Delaille family. Today, all forty-two hectares of vineyards are farmed by the capable brother team of Emmanuel and Thierry Delaille, with help from their father Gilbert. To our delight, they have carried on the traditions established by their ancestors, producing a true, classic Cheverny that is both simple and elegant. The Delaille brothers have focused their attention on growing fresh, lively Sauvignon Blanc, deeply rooted in the sand, clay, and limestone plains of northeastern Touraine“.

“Until finally achieving A.O.C. status in 1993, Cheverny was widely regarded as one of the best V.D.Q.S. (Vin de Qualité Superieur) of the Loire.  Iconic French (& now Italian) wine importer, Kermit Lynch started importing their wines into the U.S. with the 1992 vintage.  I believe I have been following & buying the wines since, because of the tremendous value (quality for dollar) that their wines innately offer.

In the early stages of understanding this wine, I recall Kermit noting that this Sauvignon Blanc was grown in more Vouvray like soils than those commonly found in Loire’s Central Vineyards (Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, Quincy, Reuilly & Menetou Salon).  I thought, how curious.  Vouvray excels with Chenin Blanc & Sauvignon Blanc excels in the Central Vineyards?

I have since more completely shown that the Central Vineyards is a collision of many different soil types–gravel, marl,/flint, limestone, sandstone, clay & sand, just to name a few, & every vineyard seems to have a different combination.  Salvard’s Cheverny parcels, in comparison, is predominately an interplay of varying percentages of sand, clay & limestone, so is quite different in character from those of the Central Vineyards.

Today, Domaine du Salvard produces at least 2 different Sauvignon Blanc based white wines which are available in the U.S. through importer Kermit Lynch–Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc “Unique” AND a Cheverny Blanc.  These were the 2 bottlings we tried yesterday.

The 2017 Salvard Vin de Pays du Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc “Unique”–is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, 22 year old vines grown in clay-sand soils & at a lower price point.  (In fact, a truly SENSATIONAL VALUE price point).  It was faintly colored.  (If one glanced quickly, they might have thought it was a glass of water.)  The nose, however, contrastingly just explodes out of the glass–obviously though delicately minerally with a little “green” thing going on in the backdrop.  It was wonderfully dry, pure & remarkably light & ethereal on the palate.  I found it to be deliciously compelling & wonderfully gulpable because of its weightlessness, airiness & softer, more pliable structure.  Then when I looked at the price tag, I was blown away at how cheap it was.  (I guess having a name like it has does not exude images of grandeur or trophy mindedness).  In any case, I’ll still take value every time.

The 2018 Salvard Cheverny , by comparison, is Sauvignon Blanc with up to 15% Chardonnay permitted to be blended in & is grown in chalk, limestone, sand soils.  It too, is light colored & the nose is even more striking in perfume with the mineral scents more assertive, more rocky & more profound.  Yes, this wine, even in the taste was more obviously character driven, but still with acidity & a finish much more gentle & rounder than one normally gets from other cool climate renditions such as those from New Zealand.  The VERY reasonable price tag also makes this is no brainer for wine lovers to run to the store & buy all that you can, it is such a terrific value!

Just to be clear, I can’t really say for certain that sand was the difference maker between these 2 wines, I can only speculate.

And, I am also reminded of what I have experienced with the 2015 Sucette Grenache, very old vines grown in very dominately sandy soils down in Vine Vale, Australia……the legendary Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines of Château Rayas of France’s southern Rhone Valley…….& even the differences that can be found with sand or more clay soil grown Frappato in Sicily’s Vittoria region.

Makes me appreciate & want to explore more the sand oriented vineyards of the California’s Santa Maria Valley, westside Santa Rita Hills, Contra Costa, Lodi, to name just a few; the Carignano del Sulcis appellation of southern Sardegna & even the more sandy vineyards near Dijon, just north of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits.

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Not all Italian Wines are Created Equal

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The other night a guest in VINO, asked if I would recommend and serve a bottle of Italian white wine for their dinner and I had to think about it for some time.   Italy offers very diverse soils, vineyard aspects and micro climates from the north down to Sicily AND with each region having their own selection of indigenous vines. As you can imagine, this can create quite a comprehensive matrix of potential selections to choose from. So, to start you down the road of discovering and better understanding the diversity of Italian white wines, we will serve TWO sets of white wines—one from an island in south Italy just above Sicily and the other set from the high altitudes of the mountainous northeast corner of Italy. Yes, this will be quite the contrast AND quite the learning opportunity. 

Salina is part of the Aeolian Islands, just north of Sicily. As with Sicily, the climate is warm, which is thankfully cooled by the strong sea breezes. The soils are volcanic in origin and the sea very nearby, which influence the smell and taste of each wine significantly.

2017 Virgona Salina Bianco–Mostly produced from the Inzolia and Cataratto grape varieties (indigenous to Sicily).  I would also say, there is a dollop of Malvasia, too.  This rendition is really about minerality, salinity & more delicate aromatics. 

2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Secco “Salina Bianco”–This Salina Bianco is produced mainly from the Malvasia grape variety & showcases a much more aromatic, uplifting character, alongside the innate stoniness and salinity with a bitter almond finish.


Alto Adige is located in the northeast mountains of Italy, bordered by Switzerland and Austria, with Germany just north. There are all kinds of vineyard aspects/altitudes to be found within this winegrowing region, but the finest white wines seem to come from the heart of Bolzano. The high altitudes and crazy collection of volcanic and glacieral soils, which is then compounded by the wide diversity of different vines planted, potentially create a myriad of very different, dazzling, riveting white wines. 

2017 Cantina Terlan Pinot BiancoAlto Adige–An absolutely riveting, uplifting white wine, which provides an unforgettable wine experience. Once you have a sip, you will remember it forever.

2017 Valle Isarco Kerner “Eisacktal Südtirol–Kerner is a more aromatic grape variety which is a much more aromatic white wine, uplifting because of its perfume/minerality collaboration.

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Gang of Four Revisited

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Today, there are so many controversies & discussions on the topic of au naturale wines.  And for some wine professionals, the more naturale the venue, the better the appreciation.  I intend to stay out of all of the discussions.  There is, after all, never just one answer to any topic or discussion.

I bring the subject up because, I am seeing more & more references how the main modern day instigator of the natural minded movement is said to be Jules Chauvet.

This is the same Jules Chauvet, who back in the late 1980’s inspired a band of four like minded winemakers in the Morgon Cru of Beaujolais.  It was his principles & teachings which prompted the later dubbed “Gang of Four”–leader-Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Jean-Paul Thévenet & Guy Breton–to forge an upstart, soon to be “revolution” & approach to more sustainable practices in both the vineyard & the winery, which essentially started the ball rolling & subsequently spread throughout their region, then throughout France & then throughout the world.  Yes, game changers.

Just to be clear, they were not the only ones heading in that direction & approach.  The timing for them was right on.  World renowned chefs & farmers were forging down the path of organic more & more.  A growing number of diners thought organic was much more healthy & of better quality.  The concept would just keep snowballing & gaining in momentum.

Certainly one of the U.S. culinary epicenters  which championed this “quiet” movement was Berkeley, California, which was also the home for superstar chef Alice Waters & her Chez Panisse restaurant.  She vehemently sought after heirloom varieties, whether it was tomatoes, greens or fruit AND sustainable/organic farming & championed many of the small farmers of her area.  Her contemporary, though on the wine side was Kermit Lynch, also working out of Berkeley, who sought after & imported small, artisan wineries from France (& later from Italy).

He was a champion of the “little” guys–those who did not have large marketing dollars & resources or fancy packaging.  He gave the small, true artisan wineries a voice & a growing presence in the U.S. market.

In doing so, he too was championing family owned, indigenous, heirloom/heirloom vines & the concept of sustainable farming.

We were quite taken with his selections from the northern Rhone Valley (August Clape & Noel Verset of Cornas; Jean Louis Chave of Hermitage; Gentaz Dervieux & Robert Jasmin of Cote Rotie; Raymond Trollat of St Joseph).  The wines from these iconic estates were also supported with high praise & scores from the wine media, most notably Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate.  Kermit’s portfolio also included other artisan producers from Burgundy (Robert Chevillon, Maume, Raveneau, Coche Dury, Michel Colin, Francois Jobard & of course Henri Jayer)….& continued with the first inkling of “grower” Champagnes imported to the U.S,  with the likes of J. Lassalle, Paul Bara & Batiste-Pertois.  And, these were just the tip of the iceberg.

Early on Kermit also had a real liking to similar minded wineries from the Beaujolais region & started importing producers such as Michel Chignard, Bernard Diochon & Damien Dupeuble.  Lynch would add to the stable of superb artisan producers with four vignerons from the Cru of Morgon, who would later become known as “The Gang of Four”.  The rest is history.

Recently I had a chance to taste 2 wines from the “Gang” at a tasting–2017 Jean Foillard Beaujolais Villages & the 2016 Jean-Paul Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes”.  While the 2017 Foillard was wonderfully delicious, mesmerizingly textured & so intriguing, it really was the 2016 Morgon from Jean-Paul Thévenet that really caught our attention.  I loved how naked & pure it really was–NO make up–& therefore all about vinosity (old vine-ness) & stony character–done in a very handcrafted, timeless, minimal sulfur use style.  It vividly reminded me of the old days, when I first had their wines.  While Foillard was the king of hill then, I have to say Jean-Paul Thévenet is certainly there alongside.  I thought his 2015 & 2016 Morgon “Vieilles Vignes were the best I tasted from the whole group in recent times.  Wow!

Categories : General, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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After a quick lunch at El Palmar restaurant in Lompoc (highly recommended by several winemakers), we jumped in our cars & headed back north to the Santa Maria Valley.  I just wanted to make sure the Hawaii gang had a chance to see first hand & walk the iconic Bien Nacido Vineyard.

We met long time Au Bon Climat associate winemaker Jim Adelman at their winemaking facility, which is located in the Bien Nacido vineyard.   (By the way, I was happy to hear that Frank Ostini & Gray Hartley of Hitching Post have moved their winemaking operation back to this winemaking facility).  Who better to show us?  I believe this can give a very & different perspective on the hows & whys of a wine, especially if you do so with the right kind of winemaker.

After tasting a few wines just to whet the palate (note: their wines truly are some of the very finest out of California AND the winemaking has never been better.  They are in the zone!), we jumped in the cars & headed to different parts of this nearly 900 acre vineyard. 

The first stop was the iconic K Block, which has been the source to Au Bon Climat’s Bien Nacido Chardonnay for decades.  The vines were planted in 1973 & are still on their own roots.  The resulting wine has mesmerizing minerality & dazzling dynamics in its youth with incredible, though seemingly effortlessly focused intensity, concentration & vivid, riveting acidity.  I am not sure how many people really understand what an outstanding a wine this bottling typically is, especially since it is frequently only rated 88 to 92 points by the wine media.  I would however say to that, we had a bottle of the 1991 BLIND recently & most of the tasters thought it to be French white Burgundy of Cru quality.  While many Californian wines may age, this one definitely gets better with age & is truly worth the wait.  (I should mention here that the Au Bon Climat Chardonnay from the Sanford Benedict vineyard is also one of the very top Chardonnays out of California too & well worth seeking out!)

We jumped back in the car to check out the world renown Q & N Pinot Noir Blocks (mostly planted in 1973 & own rooted; although the inter-row plantings were planted in the mid 90’s with Dijon clones).  Slightly & gradually ascending from the floor vineyards reminiscent to the Crus of Burgundy, there is a VERY long waiting list of winemakers who can only up to this point dream of getting grapes from these two parcels.  I was absolutely shocked to see that roughly 5 acres of each parcel had been uprooted & now lay fallow.  What?  How can this be?  My questions were answered when seeing the large amounts of red/orange colored vine leaves, caused by the malady known as Red Blotch, spreading in the blocks below.  Sadly, in the next few years these 2 truly historic, iconic parcels & its old, own rooted, noteworthy vines, will all have to be replanted.  I was totally shocked at this thought & greatly saddened.  I have had many REALLY terrific wines from these old vines & I felt like I was saying goodbye to them for the last time.  Tragic to say the least.  (sorry, my pictures for these didn’t turn out so good).

Lying right above Q & N Blocks across the dirt vineyard road is Block 2, a parcel planted for Au Bon Climat in the mid-1990’s.  Slightly more elevated & more naked to the coastal winds, this parcel has a bunch of different Pinot vines planted, including a small amount of Pinot Meunier.  The wines I have tasted from Au Bon Climat using these grapes are also very intriguing & even more beguiling than those from Q & N Block, though certainly not as rich & vinous.  With the fading of N & Q, however, I am sure there will be a long waiting list for these grapes too.

Off in the distance, we could see W Block, another one of the very noteworthy vineyard sources of California for Chardonnay.  In fact, many more winemakers today are clamoring for this fruit over all of the others to produce Chardonnay.  The vines were also planted in 1973 on its own roots, in soils that once was a river bed–therefore much more gravelly/shale than the sandy loam commonly found in the other renown Chardonnay parcels of Bien Nacido. 

We then took a trek to the newer (late 90’s early to mid 2000’s) plantings on top of the hill–most notably X & Z Blocks, the Nebbiolo block & Block 11.  This is a really different grape growing zone & it normally shows in the quality of the fruit they bear.  Quite dramatic to say the least.  Tasting the ripening grapes was a terrific learning opportunity, especially in contrast to what we tasted up in Paso Robles.

In ALL cases, the ambient temperatures were MUCH cooler (higher 70’s to mid 80’s, not considering the wind chill factor) during the day than what we experienced anywhere else during this trip.  Coupled with the various soils, this made for a lot of insight into what can be in the wines.

Thank you Jim Adelman for a terrific visit & vineyard tour. 

Before driving back to our hotel in Buellton (45 minutes south), on the way out & back to catch the highway, I just had to show the Hawaii gang, the Gold Coast Vineyard, a 5 minute drive from Bien Nacido & closer to the ocean.  (one can clearly see Bien Nacido Vineyard in the distance in the picture to the right).  This is the home vineyard for the Costa de Oro wines AND the CF Pinot Noir.  The soils are also quite sandy loam there.  The main core of vines (old California heritage clone 4 for Chardonnay & the Martini heritage vine for Pinot Noir), were planted in 1989, 90 & 91.  Located up on a mesa, the vines get continually pounded by the cool ocean winds which, along with the more meager soils, greatly affects the vigor of the vines.  I really love how transparent, elegant, well textured, pretty AND personal the resulting wines can be.  I also wanted to reiterate what truly remarkable values they are given their reasonable pricing.


We then made a dinner stop at Industrial Eats in Buellton, a restaurant highly recommended to us by many people.



After dinner, since it was still light outside, I took the gang for a drive to see the other side of the Santa Rita Hills “horseshoe configuration”, which included driving by Melville, Babcock, Clos Pepe, Huber, Hapgood (we had seen wine renown winemaker Greg Brewer earlier as we were leaving lunch.  Wish we had the time to stop by for a quick taste.), Zotovich, Ampelos & Hilliard Bruce in the distance.  We stopped a couple of times, so everyone could see the soils & feel the gusting wind, both integral influences to the vine of this area. 

We then took a drive out so everyone could see Happy Canyon farther east just to get a feel of that region too.

The next morning, as we headed down to LA, we made one last stop down in Ojai, home to winemaking maestro Adam Tolmach & his Ojai wines.  Here was a chance for all to spend some time listening to one of the legendary wine “yodas” of all time, while tasting some of his wines out of barrel.  Adam was one of the 2 founding winemakers/owners of Au Bon Climat, whom both Gary Burk of Costa de Oro & Jim Adelman worked for, along with equally legendary Jim Clendenen.  When they decided to split up, Clendenen kept Au Bon Climat & Tolmach concentrated on his Ojai label.  How often does one get to talk story with an icon like this?  Plus, to view our Santa Barbara trip from another perspective, we tasted a bunch of barrel samples, including wines from the Puerta del Mar AND various blocks of Bien Nacido, Adam has been working with since the early to mid 1990’s–I Block for Chardonnay (planted in 1973 & own rooted); Q Block for Pinot Noir (also planted in 1973 & own rooted) & the Syrah from Z Block (planted in the mid 90’s) up on the top of the hill, which we had walked & tasted the grapes off the vine.  Amazing wines!!!!!!!  I really would say it was very clear to me that Adam Tolmach is making better wines than ever before AND they are still some of the very best out of California .  Kudos young man & thank you!  Also much mahalo to Fabien Castel too!

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