Archive for Wine

We continue the tasting with a gang of white wines.  White on, bro!

2016 Palmina Pinot Grigio “Santa Barbara”–Palmina is a project featuring Italian grape varieties grown & produced in the Santa Barbara appellation of California by winemaker Steve Clifton.  (Quite candidly, I am not quite sure who else is still involved with Steve).  The 2016 is markedly different from the previous Pinot Grigio bottlings.  It definitely has a more coppery hue to the naked eye, which reminds me of a more ramato (skin contact) style.  The wine is still tasty, refined, seamless–just with a little more flesh & a bitter almond to the finish.  I would also suggest that it is still greatly & thankfully still way underpriced.  Thank you to Warren for sharing this bottle.   2016 Chehalem Pinot Gris “12th Ave Grill”–Here is a wine “designed” for head wine star, Rick Lily, over at 12th Ave Grill.  As one taster noted–“I love it, because it is so pretty & delicious“.   Can’t argue with that kind of endorsement.  Kudos to you Mr. Lily!   2014 Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc “Santa Maria Valley”–This certainly was one of the standout white wines–very classy, elegant, seamless texture AND plenty of mojo in the core.  I also love the superb balance AND mostly what a SENSATIONAL VALUE this truly is considering the price. 

2015 Lieu Dit Sauvignon Blanc “Santa Ynez Valley”–I have been a huge fan of this bottling for a few vintages, as it showcased the very best attributes of what Sauvignon Blanc can be in California–elegance, refinement, class with sublime, earth driven nuances.  Quite candidly, however, I was a little disappointed with this particular wine.  Although it still showed much of the characteristics I had previously admired, it was rather lackluster, disjointed & kind of a “plain Jane” on this night.   I think it was mainly due to following the previously tasted Au Bon Climat wine.  It still was quite good & undoubtedly dwarfed the New Zealander that followed–2015 Petit Clos Sauvignon Blanc “Marlborough” (from Clos Henri) with much rounder edges, seamlessness & a much better finish.

2015 Cambiata Albariño “Monterey”–Such subtle & enticing perfume with seamlessness & wonderful flow on the palate.  We have really been working hard to find such fragrant, aromatic grape varieties, as they provide a very different compatibility when pairing with foods.  This one is from our wine friend Eric Laumann, using vines grown especially for him down in Monterey.  In addition, this wine really does over deliver for the dollar.  The sad news is, there was apparently only 205 cases produced.  I am not so sure what to say about the 2013 Matthiasson White Wine “Napa Valley”.  Winemaker Steve Matthiasson has developed a huge following, especially among the sommelier scene.  We therefore had big expectations for this wine, because the core is Ribolla Gialla, an Italian/Slovenian grape variety (vine cuttings from Josko Gravner) which Steve is especially high on.  It was unexpectedly & unfortunately quite underwhelming on this night (forward, hollow in the middle, no core to it, & oaky/alcoholic & bitter in the finish).  Maybe it was due to shipping or storage, which was undetermined, because no one said they brought it.   It was still a treat to try.  

2013 Melville Viognier “Verna’s Vineyard”–the first commercial Californian grown Viognier I tasted was a 1986 from Bill Smith of La Jota up on Howell Mountain.  The next, shortly thereafter was one from Calera.  Because of its wonderful perfume & aromatics, it seemed to really catch on & lots of people were planting it.  It was en vogue.  The challenge for me, however was finding “good” ones.  I remember trying one in the early 90’s which was organically grown in the Russian River appellation.  It was exotically perfumed, as expected, thick viscous, luscious, BUT flabby, quite hollow, noticeably alcoholic & bitter.  The following year the same winemaker contacted me again, with much eagerness over his new rendition.  The grapes came from the same vineyard, but he noted harvested at way lower brix to retain the acidity & freshness.  In both cases, I just felt, this quite fickle  grape variety really didn’t do too well in his spot.  I have found that this exotically scented grape variety seems to do especially well in the marine soils & cool growing confines of Santa Barbara county.  Here was a stellar example–enticing, uplifting perfume, the weight of a Chardonnay grown in the same vineyard, an interplay of exotic & minerality, seamlessness & lovely, captivating deliciousness.   Thank you Micah for sharing. 

2014 Folk Machine Chenin Blanc–Chenin Blanc did not have such a good reputation over the years in California.  There were far too many that would lacksidasically grown & made.  Along came former skateboarder Kenny Likitprakong who found some very interesting Chenin Blanc sources, the first from down south in the Santa Barbara appellation & more recently from the old vine Norgard Vineyard on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino in 2010.   I believe these vines are more like 36 years in age.  While this wine does not have too much resemblance to the Chenin Blancs of France’s Loire Valley (& so it should be, by the way.  This is California after all!), this particular bottling is a fairly good drink & certainly much better suited for the dinner table than most Californian Sauvignon Blanc bottlings I have tasted.  The 2015 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier–was kindly brought to share by one of Hawaii’s top sommeliers.  He routinely buys this at the wine store for under $13 a bottle & feels he really gets his bang for his buck.  Thank you for sharing!

Categories : White, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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We gathered the gang again to do yet another BYOB BLIND tasting.  The theme was to explore “other” grape varieties in the New World……yes, still in search of what is “good” wine.  We ask, how much would you pay for this wine?  And, what kinds of foods would you pair it with?  Yes, questions pertinent to working the floor…….just another way of learning!

2013 Palmina Dolcetto “Santa Barbara”–we started the tasting with an Italian grape variety grown & produced in the Santa Barbara appellation of California.  I had previously tasted & enjoyed many Italian grown Dolcetto red wines over the years, BUT not too many ever REALLY rang my bell.   What drew me to this bottling, however, is how delicious, juicy & well made this wine is & still with the earthy, savory, masculine, dark fruited qualities one normally would find in Italian versions.  I also feel the price makes since this wine even more compelling, especially when one compares the quality/dollar ratio of other red grape varieties such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Barbera & the sort.  the challenge then for the sommelier is how to sell it on the floor.


2011 Scherrer Zinfandel “Shale Terrace”

1998 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines”

Both of these Zinfandels come from Fred Scherrer’s father’s vineyard in Alexander Valley, located on a bench above the Silver Oak planting.  The Zinfandel was first planted in 1912 & was subsequently supplemented in waves over the years.  As I have mentioned before, the Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” are some of our all time favorite bottlings of this grape variety.  They standout because of how surprisingly elegant, suave, & well textured & balanced they are……quite the contrast to hearty, robust, higher alcohol versions from other wineries.  The 1998, brought & shared by Erica & Jamm was stunning.  The edges were even rounder & the wine much more integrated.  In addition the old vine nuances really sang out with the fruit & spice qualities now much more in the background.   Who says Zinfandel doesn’t get better with bottle age?  In comparison, we tasted the 2011 “Shale Terrace” which from a particular parcel of this vineyard which as the name suggests, much more rocky in make up.  It really does want to say something different, with higher toned, almost nectarine/peach fruit aromas & seemingly much lighter on its feet.  In both cases, I felt the wines were excellent!

2013 Ancient Peaks Petite Verdot “Santa Margarita Vineyard”–The Santa Margarita Vineyard is located at 1,000 feet in elevation down in southern Paso Robles.  I had tasted a Petite Verdot (blended with Merlot) bottling from this vineyard produced by another winery a few years back & was so impressed I started working on actually visiting the ranch.  After much effort, we were finally able to get in & 4 wheeled our way through all of the nooks & crannies of this remote, 900 plus acre “mountain”  site.  There are actually at least 5 distinct soil types here, & the most compelling were the fossilized oyster bed & the more common shale parcels.  When I was later asked to help find wines for the First Class service of Hawaiian Airlines, I instantaneously knew this was the vineyard I wanted to work with AND I had a notion there would be a good portion of Petite Verdot used in the blending. Yes siree!   As it turned out, however, on the first go around, I realized that this vineyard’s Petite Verdot was much better as a blending component rather than being a stand alone.  This 2013 reconfirmed that.  While I think the wine was good, it actually got unintentionally dwarfed by the 2012 Cambiata Tannat “Monterey” it was paired with.  This was truly a black beast–black as old fashion shoe polish, mega-intense, dense, seemingly just packed as packed could be, hearty, robust, masculine though surprisingly well textured & well balanced.  How does one corral such a wild, full on monster like this?  How does one manage the searing tannins & acidity?   Other winemakers, first of all, would probably not even take on such a project.  And, if they did, many today, I would guess, certainly would explore what micro-oxygenation could do.  Winemaker/owner Eric Laumann instead chose the virtue of patience.  The first vintage of this wine, 2004,  I had tasted was aged for I believe an astounding 40 plus months in oak barrels.  The 2012 was a mere 28 months.  In both cases, the time in oak helped to round out hard edges & helped frame an otherwise uncontrollable beast.  I am not necessarily looking for such esoteric wines, BUT when it is this good, especially when one considers the price tag, how can you not go all in?

2013 Linne Calodo “Nemesis”–we have been huge fans of the wines from Linne Calodo for quite some time.  We shared this bottle of 2013 Nemesis (82% Syrah, 14% Mourvèdre, 4% Grenache) to show tasters an example of well grown & crafted Syrah based red from the westside of the Paso Robles appellation.  Despite this being a lavish, opulent, luscious, higher alcohol wine with lots of bravado & mojo, the wine’s innate minerality from the limestone/siliceous clay soils it was grown in, made it so provocative & surprisingly more buoyant.  It certainly had the wow factor & was quite impressive.  Because of its density, showiness & mouthfilling richness, we feel this wine could be a segue for many Cabernet fans into a whole new world of wines to experience, once again helping to fill that puka between Californian Pinot & Cabernet (closer to the Cabernet end of the spectrum).  The 2015 Stolpman Syrah “Estate” on the other hand, shared by Rick, was a much more elegant, suave, more transparent style of Syrah & therefore lied closer to the Pinot end of the spectrum.  What a fabulous comparison!

2013 Gramercy Cabernet Sauvignon “Columbia Valley”–there is little doubt it is becoming Washington state’s “time in the spotlight” more & more.  The wines have gotten much better, partly because the vine material & plantings have gotten much more interesting AND there is quite a growing number of winemakers (& grape growers) changing the game.  One of those leading the charge is Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars.  A Master Sommelier & former wine director for both the Wolfgang Puck & Emeril Lagasse restaurant groups Greg intuitively grows & makes wines in pursuit of balance.  While his Syrah & Mourvedre based red wines are at the head of the class, we wanted to showcase one of his Cabernets just to show tasters, Washington state has arrived!  we were so fortunate that Brent & Helen brought & shared a bottle of the 1997 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain”.  It was a very fine example of where we came from, in terms of Cabernet Sauvignon in California.  Back in the 80’s & 90’s, this bottling was one of the very best California had to offer.  Grown in a very spiritual felt vineyard on top of Sonoma Mountain, this was one of those vineyards that offered something special & unique & this wine really showcased that.  These Laurel Glen Cabernets were always something more than fruit, ripe fruit & oak.  They had mojo, spirit & heart.  This one was spectacular on this evening AND soooo remarkably youthful still.  I wish more people would make & appreciate wines like this today!  AND, if my memory serves me correctly, the 1997 was the first Cabernet, winemaker/owner Patrick Campbell produced up to this point that was over 14 degrees alcohol.

2015 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Santa Barbara”–Au Bon Climat is one of the true leaders (AND for quite a long time) out of California for producing more elegant, highly refined, very transparent & worldly Pinot Noirs.  This is an example of his work, although there was a surprising rustic edge to the wine showing (perhaps from some Mondeuse he typically blends into this bottling).   Still there is a fine-ness on the palate with wonderful texture & balance.   I believe he has never really gotten enough credit for all he & his wines have done for the Californian wine industry.  Thank you John for sharing.  I was glad Ann kindly shared a bottle of the 2015 Maison L’Envoye Pinot Noir “Tasmania” on this day.  When I was growing up in this industry I would frequently hear about the terrific potential the Island of Tasmania had for growing & producing sparkling, Riesling AND Pinot Noir wines.  This bottling is by far the best example I have to date, 30 years later.  I would not even think this was Cru quality by any means, BUT it is elegant, fine, classy, well textured & balanced…all at quite a remarkable price.

2012 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir “Bien Nacido Vineyard”–I just loved this wine for its intoxicating perfume–musk, earth & funk AND its wonderful transparency, refinement, remarkable texture & balance.  It was the wine of the day for me, which is saying a lot.  PLUS, when one considers the quality for dollar ratio, it’s an absolute NO-brainer,” on the list” wine for me.  Done deal!  I also greatly appreciate Rick bringing to share his wine, the 2015 Tyler Pinot Noir “12th Ave Grill” with all of us.  Tyler winemaker/owner Justin Willett masterfully crafts Pinot Noirs like this (& a bevy of Chardonnays) all about precision, refinement, transparency, texture, balance & class, as this wine clearly showcased.  Kudos to Rick & Justin!!!!! I just wished I had poured it before the Au Bon Climat.

Categories : Red, Wine, Wine Thoughts
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Tasting Syrah –final thoughts 05-13-17

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As I had mentioned, when Jason Drew, one of our favorite California winemakers, first emailed me about the inklings of a Syrah tasting & get together I was quite hyped.  I really enjoy well grown & well made Syrah.

Prior to the actual event, I had very little information as to what would happen or who would be attending, but figured if Jason invited me, it would be my kind of tasting AND a wonderful opportunity/forum for discussion & learning.

Therefore, after giving considerable thought as to what I wanted to bring to such a tasting, I settled on 2 wines.  I was hoping these 2 wines would help shed some kind of light on what Syrah could be & therefore provide kindling to provoke thought.

I brought the 2013 Château Fontanès “La Petite Sérine” to show tasters a specific Syrah vine not commonly seen outside of the Northern Rhone Valley of France.   Over the years, I was told it was at least part of the “secret” to the wines of Chave in Hermitage, Gentaz in Côte Rôtie, Clape & Verset in Cornas, 4 of the greatest Syrah producers & wines of all time.  While there is much variation & therefore controversy about this vine selection both in California & even in France, this particular cutting, I was told by this domaine’s owner/winemaker Cyriaque Rozier, came from 3 of the top proponents of this vine in the Northern Rhone.  He planted (& subsequently organically & biodynamically farmed) them in his vineyard down in the Pic St Loup of southern France & its limestone influenced soils.  When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was really taken by its intricacies, etherealness & incredible transparency.  In short, it was NOT fruit driven!  There was a time not that long ago when I would taste en vogue, acclaimed French “country” red wines from that neck of the woods & more often than not, found them to be markedly too much about Syrah…..whose grape varietal print really dominated the resulting wine, thus obliterating other nuances.  This was certainly not the case here.  Although one could tell it was Syrah, it was NOT blatantly so & it did not over shadow the “sense of place” qualities & nuances.  Secondly, this wine offered a much more classy edge to it in comparison to its neighboring peers, again, without being too much.  Lastly, this wine is just a fraction of the cost of the Grander bottlings listed above.  

Interestingly, when one tastes through the Syrah based line-up from a producer such as Clape, one could readily sense the difference between those grown in their flatter parcels & those grown & produced from the Cornas hillside.  California, in my opinion, has not yet worked through all of that yet.  So, my thought was to taste a Syrah, produced from a top quality vine, which is organically & biodynamically farmed, in a “less than Grand” terroir.  I was hoping this would bring a different slant on what Syrah could be & thereby provoke very different thoughts & questions of possibilities from a different angle.

The second wine I brought, a 2009 Côte Rôtie “Les Roses”, is from a joint project of iconic Rhone Valley winemaker Louis Barruol & superstar importer/Rhone master, Kermit Lynch.  The previous year, I had received a note from the Kermit Lynch team which stated–“Louis had barrels from seven vineyard parcels on the roasted slope. I finished by blending  four  of  them  together,  40% of it from the vineyard Champin. The result has me sailing high, thinking back to the glory days when Marius Gentaz, René Rostaing, and Robert Jasmin were producing classics; classics that hopefully made me very demanding when it comes to Côte Rôtie“.  The 2009 “Les Roses” is a blend of the lieux-dits Fongeant and Rozier from the Côte Rôtie , again featuring the Petite Serine vine.  Here, in my mind was yet another example of how the Petite Serine vine could manifest itself.  I didn’t know exactly what wines would be shown at this tasting since it was BLIND, but wanted to make sure tasters had a chance to taste this old heritage vine, grown in a “Grand” site (s) nonetheless.

In essence, I would suggest one focus should be on finding better vine material, other than or in addition to ENTAV & Tablas Creek clones.

I was clearly reminded on a visit to the Cornas hillside with Olivier Clape one year, when asked about vine selection, he confided they had replanted one of their Cornas parcels with a new, hot fandango clone, which everyone gaga-ed over.   Judging by his facial expression & body language as the conversation continued, however, I don’t think the family was too thrilled over the results from that planting.  I also would surmise, this parcel does not make it into their “pride & joy” Cornas bottling.  Plus, they also knew & understood it would cost too much to redo.  If I were in their shoes, I would therefore not put all my eggs in one basket, unless it was a massale selection that is happy & has proven itself for a long, long time in the area.  Or perhaps finding an offspring of a massale selection, which shows great promise & planting it in a small area at first to see how it does.

The second important focus would be finding better sites to work with.

As a reminder, there are vineyards in France, which are designated as Cotes du Rhone & there are those designated as Cornas, eventhough they are not that far apart as the crow flies.  It just took time, often multiple generations, sometimes centuries to fully uncover & validate those differences.  I get it.

Still, in the meantime, one can make a pretty “good” Syrah, from a lesser than Grand site like what the Château Fontanès, is, using a very highly regarded, proven vine selection, as the first stepping stone.

I was hoping tasting these 2 wines would encourage more discussions & questions on those two fronts.

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Tasting Syrah 05-13-17

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Two or so years ago, a small group of top echelon Californian Syrah producers visited France’s Rhone Valley, which included a talk story session with some the valley’s top, artisan producers.  Yes, California meets France, looking to discuss how to grow & craft top caliber Syrah.  I would have loved to be a fly on the wall observing & listening to all of that! 

Fast forward to May 11, 2017, the core of the Californian group met again in San Francisco to continue the conversation & moving the sharing of thoughts & information forward.  The centerpiece of the night was a BLIND tasting of 12 Syrah red wines–6 from California & 6 from France’s northern Rhone Valley.  The event was held at the Hillside Supper Club in San Francisco.

The list of attendees included–

winemakers–Adam Tolmach (Ojai); Bob Lindquist (Qupe); Pax Mahle (Wind Gap); Paul Gordon (Halcon); Bradley Brown (Big Basin); Michael (assistant winemaker of Drew, since Jason was in Europe at the time).

media–included–William Kelley (Decanter); Esther (Chronicle); Jim Gordon (Enthusiast); Mike Dunne (Sac Bee); Patrick Comiskey (author of “American Rhone: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink“); Cyrus Limon & Alan Rath (WineBerserkers).

and me. 

I didn’t even know what wines were actually there!  Some French names had been mentioned in passing prior to the event & I would expect there would be wines from the Californian winemakers present, but all speculation, at least for me.   I believe Paul Gordon (in the middle of the picture) was the true mastermind in putting this event together.  (Thank you Paul!)  Orchestrating & pouring of wines blind was the host restaurant’s “wine guy”, Austin Ferrari, apparently quite the rising star in the city.  (standing up & serving in the picture).  Thank you Austin!

The 12 wines were served in 2 flights of 6…….BLIND.  The tasters were then asked to rate the wines, 1 thru 12.


Here was the group’s compilation of the top 5–

#1 2013 Wind Gap “Nellison”

#2 2013 Halcon “Alturas”

#3 2012 Jamet Cote Rotie

#4 2013 Gonon St Joseph

#5 2013 Drew “Perli”

Here was my list (complete with the tasting notes I had taken)—

#1 2012 Clusel Roch Cote Rotie “Vialliere”–captivating, feral nose–really good pedigree with sandalwood, smoke,roasted green peppercorn, gamey, pepper, bay leaf, savory, musky, classy.  vinous, higher in acidity, less glycerine, lower alcohol.  When asked, I thought this was French.

Tied for #1 2013 Ojai “Solomon Hills”–earthy, savory & classy, though quite masculine in style, dense, immense & quite formidably structured.  raspberry, smoke, earth, pepper, green peppercorn.  moderate plus in alcohol & glycerine. 

#3 2012 Jamet Cote Rotieclosed nose, but more ethereal, feral/rustic, rank andouille sausage, smoke  musk & earth.  Also had pedigree & lots of class.  leaner, more acidity, lighter in color, lower alcohol & glycerin.  When asked, I thought this was French–perhaps Cornas.  

#4 2012 Allemand Cornas “Challiot”–andouille sausage/feral smells–wildly rustic, bay leaf, smoke, lavender, savory, musk, sandalwood, masculine, leaner, higher acidity, lower alcohol & glycerine.  Definitely had a soulfulness.  When asked, I thought this was Cornas.

#5 2013 Wind Gap “Nellison”–ripe red fruit, bordering jammy, smokey, earthy, savory, ripe, forward, power, well structured,  well balanced……stewed raspberry nuances.  Well made Californian, so I thought this might be Ojai Syrah.

Other notes–

While I was tasting the wines, I did not think about whether the wine was from France or California.  My focus was instead on whether it was good or not, why or why not.  I noted my thoughts on place of origin, only because my neighbors had asked.

One of the real missing bits of information I would have liked was how much did each wine cost.  As a wine buyer, one, I believe, also needs to consider quality for the dollar when purchasing.  I believe the Ojai & perhaps the Wind Gap bottlings, for example, was the least expensive of my top 5 list & that certainly would have been a strong consideration for me when looking which of these wines to buy for the restaurant.

Another clarification I need to comment on, is top 5 for consumption when?  I really believed the French trio of my top 5 list–Clusel Roch, Jamet & the Allemand because of the higher acidity levels & mojo would greatly benefit from some additional bottle age & would therefore have really affected my subsequent scoring of each.  While the Ojai & Wind Gap would have also benefitted from additional bottle age, I’m not so  sure if it would have been as much.  All conjecture however.

Also, as promised, I started reading Patrick Comiskey’s newly released book–“American Rhone: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink” on the plane back to Hawaii.  Although I have read only just a bit, I like it & had a hard time putting it down.  It certainly (at least so far) does a good job of documenting the Rhone varietal based wines history in a very clear, understandable style–from Kermit Lynch to Joseph Phelps to Gary Eberle to Jim Clendenen, Adam Tolmach & Bob Lindquist to Randall Grahm to what I am currently reading–Steve Edmunds.  Since this all unfolded in the early part of my wine career, it really was so fascinating for me the way Patrick connected the dots & made transitions from one to another, as he moved forward.  Thank you Patrick for your work!

(As a side note, I would absolutely love it if Kermit Lynch would some day do the same kind of writing documenting his journey with the producers from France’s northern Rhone Valley such as Chave, August Clape, Marius Gentaz, Noel Verset, Thierry Allemand, Gonon, Faury AND with Monier, Joseph Panel, Trollat, Rostaing & Robert Jasmin!  Wouldn’t that be something to read!)

I must also thank Paul Gordon of Halcon for putting together this tasting.  It took, I am sure, a lot work, time & energy.  Thank you also to Jason Drew of Drew wines for getting me invited.  I, for one, got a lot out of this experience.

I truly believe there is a huge opportunity for these kinds of wines on our winelists.  Well grown & crafted renditions, for one, can help fill a puka which lies between Pinot & Cabernet.  Yes, we can create a step ladder which will better bridge that gap on the restaurant floors.

Furthermore, Syrah is undisputedly a noble grape variety.  I clearly remembered how floored I was tasting my first Chave Hermitage & later Gentaz Dervieux Cote Rotie & Noel Verset Cornas back in the late 80’s.  Each completely astounded me in terms of pedigree, transparency & soulfulness.  They really helped open a whole new horizon of wines & possibilities for me.  Imagine 28 years later at this tasting, a Californian born Syrah was a favorite on the compiled tasters’ list, as well as on mine.  My, my, we have come a long ways.

Lastly, it was great to see some long time friends–Bob Lindquist (on the left),  Adam Tolmach (on the right) & Pax Mahle.  And, it was also great to meet a bunch of new wine friends.  Thank you to all!!!

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All modesty aside, I thought this tasting/get together was a fabulous experience.  I saw & learned a lot & sincerely hope all of the young wine minds who attended did too.

As a side note, I would like to add a thought or 2.

A few days after the tasting, a long time fellow co-worker, now turned level 3 sommelier, stopped by VINO.  He had worked at VINO for a few years some time ago & therefore understood our continual search for “good” wine.  He also remembered how we look to “tell their story” in an effort to serve our guests wines we are proud to serve.  Since leaving VINO, he has worked at some real top wine destination restaurants in California & now in Las Vegas.

He mentioned that although he loved the wines from Au Bon Climat, Costa de Oro & Scherrer, they were, in his experience, a real “hard sell” on the restaurant floor, even in San Francisco & Las Vegas.   That really floored me & was actually quite depressing.  It took me a few days, to sort & sift through that bit of insight & ponder how to address that.  (I am an admitted addresser).

As this tasting clearly reiterated to me, all 3 of the wineries he mentioned, in my opinion, produce really good wines.  AND, they have done so, for many, many years.

In addition, each of these producers also, in my opinion, under charge us for their wines, not that I am complaining.

So, top quality (good enough to REALLY standout at this tasting & its top caliber line-up)………offering BIG quality for the dollar………hmmmm……

Isn’t part of my job as a sommelier to find wines like this, even if they are not recognizable?

AND, even if they are not lavish, opulent 95 to 100 point rated or are not colored orange or from Mt Etna, isn’t it part of my job as a sommelier to be able to find suitable opportunities to turn people on to such wonderful valued discoveries?

Furthermore, because of having delivered these kinds of traits for quite some time, shouldn’t these kinds of wines actually be considered core staples for their respective categories in one’s wine program?

There are many more questions I would like to ask, but at least, that’s a start.

I absolutely love challenges like this!

At VINO, we have been recently getting a special egg.  This Japanese couple took over a farm in Waimanalo.  They changed the diet & water of the chickens.  Now, the egg is much more orange to the yellow.  They harvest 5 mornings & we get the eggs in the afternoon.

Our VINO Chef Keith Endo has chosen to support this farm & champion this egg.  He therefore uses them wherever & whenever he can.  So, all of floor staff now tell our guests a story about this egg in an effort to help promote it.    We now sell quite a bit of eggs AND this farm’s eggs are now on allocation, which thankfully means the demand is higher than the supply.  They now thankfully have a better chance of making it!

The point here is, one CAN make a difference, which is really cool, especially when it is the right thing to do.

Categories : Wine, Wine Thoughts
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A Tasting for Young Sommeliers Part 2

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We continued this gathering & tasting of young sommeliers with wines produced from grape varieties they are more familiar working with–Cabernet, Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.  Again, the goal of this blind tasting was to reiterate the search for what is “good” wine.  Tasting all of the wines BLIND would help better understand & appreciate the wines from a different perspective, with the influences of labels, pricing & media scores/hoop-la.

SIXTH FLIGHT–Cabernet Sauvignon

We started this flight with a 2001 Forman Cabernet Sauvignon, which was kindly brought & shared by Brent.  As VINO regulars well know by now, we are HUGE fans of Ric Forman’s Cabernets & have been for quite sometime.  The first wine I tasted from this venerable winemaking icon/master is the 1969, when he was still a young turk at Sterling vineyards. As good as wines were back then (the 1974 Sterling “Reserve” in particular), the quantum leap in quality happened when the vines from his very own estate vineyard came to fruition.  The vineyard has 2 distinct parcels–one on the “floor” on a small amphitheater surrounded by solid rock.  The soil is whiter-gray gravel, which he had once told me was a pushed river bed.  This was the source for this particular bottling.  I watched in amazement how tasters could readily smell the gravel/crushed rock character this wine showed, which by the way, was WAY different from most of the Napa Valley Cabernets they were used to.  This wine was a real, intense, mesmerizing thoroughbred, which offered lots of character, mojo, texture & fabulous balance, which is a very different experience than the dried fruit, autumn leaves, cedar, cigar box nuances would get from similarly aged peers.  AND, it was so surprisingly youthful still in its core.  What a wonderful bottle of wine, which I felt we were drinking at an ideal time of its life!  In comparison, Ann kindly brought & shared the 2011 Arnot Roberts Cabernet Sauvignon “Bugay Vineyard”.  This was an ideal wine for a comparison, as Arnot Roberts is certainly so highly regarded by the sommelier community, because of their vineyard sourcing & how they chase the concept of “In Pursuit of Balance” in all of the various grape varieties & single vineyards they work with.  As expected, it was very elegant & classy in style.  Having said that, in all fairness, we should have poured this wine after the 2001 Forman, especially since the Forman is riper, blacker Napa Valley fruit AND the very fact it was 10 years older & has had a chance to resolve itself.  I certainly applaud Arnot Roberts for looking to produce more transparent, balanced wines.  For me in this case, however, I just wanted more.   Theirs was like a wine chasing winemaking & specifically the “In Pursuit of Balance” concept, rather showcasing character or really moving me.  I just think they haven’t hit their stride quite yet…at least consistantly.  (Still, although I didn’t say so at this tasting, I wish one could taste the 2012 Camino “Montecillo Vineyard” produced from a similar hillside on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas to better understand what I am trying to say.  Another example worth checking out, although from a different sub-region of Sonoma–Alexander Valley–is the Scherrer Cabernet Sauvignon “Scherrer Vineyard”.  Both of these wines still exhibit the concept of “In Pursuit of Balance” but with more mojo & character, AND at 60% of the cost.)


This actually was the category I was most excited to taste & discuss, when originally putting together this tasting.  The concept, for example, of “In Pursuit of Balance”, was originally started by Rajat Parr & Jasmine Hirsch, which has in my opinion provoked a lot of really interesting thoughts & conversations.  While it may have sadly created a polarization & controversy amongst parts of the Californian wine community , it did raise a lot of questions.  Questions which I don’t think can ever be fully answered, as everyone has their own opinions, thoughts & beliefs.  Still, I cherish the fact that questions were & are being asked.  Thank you for that.  And, thank you to all of the winemakers who voice an opinion.  It really is a way for me to continue to learn.  I therefore headed into this flight looking for wines of balance–forward or elegant, oaky or not, Dijon clone or heritage–balance was for me the key.  We started this flight with 2013 Hilt Pinot Noir “Old Guard”.  This was a project that really caught my eye on a trip up & down California wine country a couple of years ago.  Spearheaded by winemaker Matt Dees (of Jonata fame), the project features fruit from a matrix of most interesting vineyard sites–old vine Sanford & Benedict (Mt Eden vine selection with some Martini, planted in 1971, own rooted & their 30 acre parcel is organically farmed); Bentrock & Radian vineyards (2 extreme vineyards located in the western most areas of the Santa Rita Hills) & Puerta del Mar (5 acres of extreme conditions actually outside of the Santa Rita Hills boundaries).  In addition, Matt has some older vine fruit from Solomon Hills & G Block (planted in 1973 on its own roots) of Bien Nacido to work with if needed.  The “Old Guard” is the bottling that wow-ed me the most.  Produced mostly from the old vine Sanford & Benedict parcel (25% stems, 10% new oak), I loved the masculine, vinous, savory, musky, classy character this wine shows.  In looking over my notes, I did not see any fruit nuances listed.  In addition, though quite masculine & full of mojo in style, this wine still displays fabulous texture & balance.  Yes, this certainly was a treat.  Thank you Cheryle for sharing.  The next wine of the flight was the 2012 Rhys Pinot Noir “Horseshoe Vineyard” a 94 point (by both Parker & Galloni) Santa Cruz phenom really exploding onto the wine scene.  The classy, gracious, seductive style certainly is quite alluring, charismatic & captivating.  I can better understand all of the hype & hoop-la for the Rhys wines. I surmise the only thing really holding it back is the roughly online $100 per bottle price tag, especially when one considers the roughly online $70 a bottle tag of the Hilt listed above!  Thank you to Keith for sharing this bottle!  The next blind wine, the 2006 Costa de Oro Pinot Noir “Gold Coast Vineyard” was the mind blower of the day for me.  It REALLY caught me off guard, because how sheer, ethereal, superbly light, airy & transparent it was truly was after 11 years of bottle age.  Now, this was definitely my kind of Pinot!  I never, however, dreamed this bottling of wine could evolve into something this special!  Talk about having a wine at the perfect time of its life!  And, thinking about it further, this was the perfect vintage to reward us in such a way.  Thank you Brent for sharing.  (By the way, the price tag of the current release, in case you are interested, is roughly $29 a bottle Hawaii retail.  Isn’t part of a floor sommelier job is to find wines that greatly over deliver quality for the dollar like this?)  The last Pinot of the flight AND actually the centerpiece wine that prompted me to do this tasting, was the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, a wine shared by Nicholas Miller of Bien Nacido Vineyard.  As VINO regulars well know, I have been a huge fan of the early on Whitcraft Pinot Noirs from the 1990’s & on until the 2006 vintage from then owner/winemaker Chris Whitcraft.  His were VERY masculine, heady, rambunctious, wild & wooly Pinots, not always correct, but certainly well worth enjoying & provoking thought.  He was a devout disciple of world renown Pinot icon, Burt Williams (co-founder of Williams & Selyem, which they sold I believe in 1997) & was in fact best friends until Chris passed away a few years ago.  My anticipation to taste & savor this wine was so longing.  I was shocked, however, how belligerent, coarse, oaky & alcoholic this wine showed after following the 2006 Costa de Oro.  Such a big disappointment.  When I went back to the wine later, however, it tasted like a Whitcraft–masculine, savory, vinous & wild & wooly.  I should have poured the Whitcraft BEFORE the Costa de Oro.  Wow, what a lesson!


A few weeks back at a trade wine tasting, I was blown away at the truly superb quality offered by the 2014 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”.  My notes simply said–“tastes like liquid rock…..mega-intense, but elegant, refined, majestic & superbly balanced“.  I also remember saying…at less than $30 a bottle Hawaii retail!  OMG, are you kidding me?  The next day, I called the winery to see if I could buy an older vintage to showcase side by side at this tasting.  They thankfully sent the 2008, as a gift to this Young Sommelier tasting.  Thank you Jim & Jim.  The 2008 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” still showcased glorious minerality, structure & superb balance, but was so visceral, bordering somewhat creamy & so much more layered because of the additional bottle age.  In short, for my palate, these 2 wines were excellent……worldly….& truly memorable, all at quite the reasonable price, especially considering the quality.  Interestingly, someone kindly brought a highly acclaimed (94 & 95 point rated) Sonoma Coast Chardonnay to share.  I will leave it as unnamed for reasons which will soon be more apparent.  The website noted, words like minerality, seductive, formidably structured & grand.   I thought the wine to instead be–brazen, frantic, over oaked, hollow, VERY bitter & highly alcoholic.  Not only was I really turned off by this wine, but was even more so when I found out the online price tag to be $84.99 a bottle (not including shipping)!  Not only was the 2014 Au Bon Climat WAY better mano e mano….but then dwell on the fact that you can get 2 2/3’s bottles for 1 bottle of this wine!  NO brainer.

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Keplinger Wines

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One of the true, New Age winemaking phenoms is Helen Keplinger, 2012 Food & Wine magazine “Winemaker of the Year”.  Although for some, she seemed to have come out of nowhere, she has worked at some very considerable wine projects–“Since 2004, I have been the winemaker for some exciting projects, including Cellers Melis (Priorat), Kenzo Estate, Fort Ross, Sarocka, Scullly, Arrow & Branch, & Bryant Family Vineyards”.

Keplinger is her sole focus now.

Here are the two wines which has arrived to the Islands.

Keplinger “Sumo” Red 2014–a lavish, rich, deeply flavored red with near decadent opulence & a dense, hedonistic mouthfeel. Still, despite its heft, the 2014 is still wonderfully delicious, juicy & well textured with a stoniness in its core.  “Sumo is a Cote Rotie twist on Petite Sirah – Petite Sirah co-fermented with Viognier, and blended with a small amount of Syrah. The 2014 Sumo is a blend of 84% Petite Sirah, 13% Syrah, and 3% Viognier, all from Shake Ridge Vineyard. The Petite comes from three blocks, one is 80% rock and produces small, thick-skinned berries with intense aromatics and dense structure. The second Petite block also has very rocky soil with a western exposure – the berries are ever so slightly larger and the skins slightly thinner (remember this is still Petite!), bringing a juicy elegance to the blend. The third Petite block is at the bottom of a north-facing block, and is all about vibrant, fresh fruit – the lifter of the trio. The 2014 Sumo was aged in a mix of barriques, Muids d’Oc, and Demi Muids – all French Burgundian cooperage – 75% of which was new.   290 cases produced“.

Keplinger “Lythic” Red 2014–another intriguing, deeply flavored red–in 2014–a blend of 32% Grenache, 36% Mourvedre, and 32% Syrah – all coming from Ann Kraemer’s incredible Shake Ridge Vineyard, 1700’ in the Sierra Foothills of Amador County. Farmed to perfection, the extraordinary Sierra uplift soils, loaded with quartz, basalt, soapstone, and shale always combine to create wines of great purity, richness, and minerality. The Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah blocks are all on rock-filled slopes with excellent exposure and drainage. The blocks were harvested for optimal ripeness on five different dates, and combined into small co-fermented wine lots, each with a different percentage of whole cluster grapes. The wine was aged in once-used and neutral French Demi Muids for 16 months before being bottled without fining or filtration. 250 cases produced“.

I could spend a very long time speaking of the merits of Ann Kraemer’s Shake Ridge Vineyard up in the Sierra Foothills.  The soils are mesmerizing & seemingly everchanging from parcel to parcel & from hill to hill.  And, Ann is one heck’uv a farmer, that’s for sure.  That is also a big reason why these wines are so darn good!

And, just to give you history, here is what Antonio Galloni wrote about last year’s collection from this winery.

VINOUS: 2014 Sonoma and Points North: New Releases, Parts 1 & 2 (Feb 2016)    by Antonio Galloni

These are without question the finest wines I have tasted from Helen Keplinger. The 2013s and 2014s are simply captivating across the board. Over the years, Keplinger has refined her approach, which includes a greater reliance on large format oak as well as important investments in equipment. The result of those significant sacrifices are very much in evidence. Readers will find a few new wines in the range, all of them welcome additions. As good as the 2013s are, the 2014s have the potential to be even more compelling. I can’ t say enough good things about these wines and the daring spirit they embody.  Full Review

2013 Hangman’s | 95+

2013 Diamond Bar | 95

2013 Sumo | 95

2013 Lithic | 94

2013 Fuego y Mar | 93+

2013 Caldera | 93

2013 Basilisk | 93

2013 Mars | 93

2013 El Diablo | 92

2014 Eldorado | 90



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Here is another tasting we put on for “Young Sommeliers” at VINO today.  In our continuing search for “good” wine, the wines were served BLIND, so everyone could taste & assess the wines more objectively, rather than based upon any label, cost or ratings.  I told everyone, I would be opening 8 to 10 bottles of wine, as starters & serving them blind.  Participants could either bring a blind wine or chip in $20.  We served the wines by grape variety.

The goal was to assess if the wine was good or not.  Why or why not.  How much would you pay for the bottle.  And, finally, what kind of foods would one serve with each.  These facets, after all, are in my opinion, more important than identifying the grape variety, soil, vintage, producer, etc.  I truly believe this is sommelier “homework” & how blind tasting could help.


I purposely chose 2 specific, quality Zins to showcase–the 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Shamrock Vineyard” & the 2013 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” for different reasons.   The 2013 Edmeades Zinfandel “Shamrock Vineyard” is from a 2.1 acre parcel, planted in 2001, 2800 feet in elevation in the hills of Mendocino.  It really is quite macho, masculine, hearty, wonderfully savory with lots of “mountain grown” character & structure.  I also chose this wine because it features the “Primitivo clone”, “a vine which is different from the more typical Californian Zinfandel vines.  The resulting grape bunches are denser & more tightly packed, often thicker skinned, more evenly ripening & more disease resistant“.  In comparison, the 2013 Scherrer Zinfandel “Old & Mature Vines” is a very unique style of Zinfandel, which I refer to as–“an old vine Zin crafted by a Pinot Noir master–& therefore much more elegant refined, suave & refined.”  The “Old” vines were planted in 1912 on a bench in Alexander Valley just above the Silver Oak planting.  This wine offered lots of vinosity.  Two really good Zins–1 macho, savory, “mountain grown” & quite savory & the other–more red fruit, vinous, elegant, more refined & so well textured.  Hopefully, these 2 will give young tasters benchmarks to work from.

SECOND FLIGHT–Rhone Varietals

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone in the profession mentioned how American grown & made Syrah, Grenache & Rhone varietal based red wines do not sell in their restaurant.  I would be rich.  Well, as someone who buys wines for restaurants & also works the floor at night, if this happens to us, I believe this it really is my fault.  If carrying these kinds of wines is the right call for the restaurant, then I should continuously tinker with ways to market, promote & encourage more sales.  Yes, this would include training the staff, but I also have to work on better ways of marketing & promoting the concept to increase demand at the same time.  Frequent winetastings, food & wine pairings, including in newsletters, provocative & interest generating winelist verbiage, offering a rotating selection of one of two by the glass every week as a special (& the staff also will then get to try the wine as well) are some ideas to help the cause.

We have found that many of the well farmed, superbly crafted renditions, after all, can help fill the big hole which lies between Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon on the winelist, in terms of drama, weight & mojo.  Think about it.  If 2 of the people in a party of 4 want a Pinot & the other 2 want Cabernet, here is your opportunity!

In addition, with the growth in popularity of Mediterranean inspired foods, more rustic styled of these kinds of wines can add to pairing options, especially to those who prefer New World wines to those of the Old World.

With those thoughts in mind, we included several wines from this category.  AND, thankfully some of the participants also contributed some as well.

We first started with the 2014 Neyers Carignane “Evangelho Vineyard”, which Rick had kindly brought to share. At VINO, we have had quite the fascination with this grape variety, because of it potential for deliciousness, high toned aromatics, its vivid, lively acidity & its wonderful pliability, all of which can greatly enhance a meal.  While our attention with this grape has been mainly focused in the Old World–southern France, Italy & Spain–we instantly fell in love with this Californian rendition.  The vines were planted in 1886 thru 1891), own rooted & planted in sandy soils out in Contra Costa.  Yes, sommeliers across the country have a real fascination & appreciation for old, heritage vines & the vinosity it can innate provide.  We also really relish how these kinds of more rustic edged wines work with our kinds of foods.  The next wine, the 2014 Turley Cinsault “Bechthold Vineyard”, also features fruit from own rooted, old vines, (planted in 1886) but in this case, from Lodi, California.  Winemaker Tegan Passlacqua is one of those, thankfully, looking to champion these old souls. This wine is very different than the previous stylistically.  Though very pretty & VERY vinous, it has a richer, lusher, more viscous mouthfeel & seemingly higher alcohol than the label states & therefore probably has more appeal to a wider audience. Thank you Sean for sharing.  In any case, both quite delicious, fascinating red wines well worth seeking out.  (As a side note, Neyers also produces a “Sage Canyon” bottling as well, which blends the Evangelho Carignae with some Syrah, Grenache & Mourvedre & crafted ala Maxime Magnon in winemaking style, which I also GREATLY appreciate & love).


The next duo started with the 2105 Sucette Grenache from superstar Master Sommelier & brilliant wine mind Richard Betts.  This undoubtedly was one of the true shining stars of the day & I must add, one of the best Grenache based red wines from the New World I have encountered to date.  The fruit comes from 90 plus year old, own rooted vines in Vine Vale, located in the Barossa Valley, of Australia & its sandy soils.  The wine exuded wonderful vinosity (old vine-ness), savoriness & character, was VERY seamless, well textured & still quite a remarkably good drink.  It really does show what this grape variety is innately capable of.  Thank you to Warren for sharing this special bottle.   In comparison, one of tasters, Keith, kindly brought a 2014 a tribute to Grace Grenache “Besson Vineyard”.  This is a wine project dedicated to Grenache, spearheaded by New Zealand born winemaker Angela Osborne.  It is more typical of what one would expect from California in style–loads of ripe, more forward fruit with spice, & some earthiness.  Furthermore this particular bottling, which hails from the Besson Vineyard down in Monterey & its 100 year old vines, did have some vinosity & character as well.  These kinds of Grenache based reds, although somewhat pricey, can be quite the “cross over” opportunity to get more New World drinkers to try something “out of their box” & therefore opening new wine horizons.


We started the next duo with the 2013 Evening Land Gamay Noir “Celebration”.  Sommeliers across the U.S. are going gaga over true artisan, passionately farmed & produced French (Gamay Noir) Beaujolais.  They’ve genetically proven this grape variety is a descendent of Pinot Noir & in the mostly granitic soils of Beaujolais, it can produce some superbly delicious, incredibly food friendly, gulpable red wines WHICH greatly over deliver for the price tag.  Well, with that theme in mind, here is one from the much heralded Seven Springs Vineyard up in Oregon.  This small parcel was planted in 1983 & is fermented in concrete (via wild yeast & carbonic maceration) & then aged in OLD oak for 8 months.  The surprisingly gamey/rustic nose was bordering off-putting for some, but the wine’s wonderful deliciousness, refreshing edge soon dispelled any apprehensions.  One could have a lot of fun on the restaurant floor pairing a wine like this to food, that’s for sure.  Though slightly out of place, we then served the 2011 Selene Merlot “Frediani Vineyard”, which Jamm & Erica brought to share.  This wine certainly wow-ed a lot of tasters because its savory, deeply scented, earthy character, its core of solid, well structured core & mojo & how well balanced it really was.  This wine was really good!  Who says 2011 red wines from the Napa Valley are not worth cellaring?  Kudos to Mia Klein for such a truly superb wine!


The final trio of this flight started with the 2010 Ojai Syrah “Bien Nacido Vineyard”.   I have been a very avid fan of this winemaker, winery & their wines for quite some time, especially their Bien Nacido vineyard wines–Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & this bottling of Syrah.  Knowing this tasting was coming up, I had contacted the winery & they were kind enough to sell me this winery from their library & send it to us in time.  Thank you Fabien Castel.  For me, this is undoubtedly one of the VERY finest Syrah bottlings out of California, year in & year out….& as Fabien noted the 2010 was not only one of their best ever, but it was also really singing right now.  And, so it was!  The 2010 was profound, masculine, majestic with mega intensity, structure & mojo, yet very masterly crafted with great balance, texture & class.  It was initially quite closed, but certainly opened up to strut its stuff with time.  This is definitely a real thoroughbred stud.  In comparison, Heather was kind enough to share the 2011 K Syrah “The Hidden” from Washington state.  It was really an idea contrast to the Ojai for young tasters, as it clearly showed much riper, lavish, much more forward fruit, a healthy dollop of new oak–& was loud & up front.  This is typically a style of wine which would garner highly scores & many accolades (95 points in this case by Robert Parker–we just looked it up).  Still, the Ojai was a significantly better wine for my palate, by far, AND at a much lower cost.  The final wine of the flight was the 2001 Girasole Syrah “Eaglepoint Ranch”.  In this vintage my best friend, Nunzio Alioto & Jeff Figone & I brought some Syrah grapes from Eaglepoint Ranch, a mountain top vineyard above the town of Ukiah in Mendocino.  We asked dear friend & Pinot maestro, Fred Scherrer to make the wine.  Well, here it is 16 years later, a bottle Fred recently sent to me from a stash he found in his cellar.  The intent of sharing it on this day was to remind tasters of how transparent, elegant, refined & majestic Syrah can be.  Even one that is “mountain grown”.  Thank you Fred.  Mission accomplished!


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Limestone & Wine

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We did a small wine tasting the other night at VINO, which hopefully shed some light on the topic of wines produced from vines grown in limestone.  There is apparently much controversy & subsequent discussions on minerality in wines.  I will leave the conclusions of the hows & whys to the scientists/experts.  I would say, though, each of these five wines displayed minerality in my humble opinion.  Each were in fact grown in limestone based soils & I wanted to see what a side by side tasting of this five some would show. 

2014 Denis Jamain Reuilly “Les Pierres Plates”–Reuilly is an appellation is France’s Loire Valley, in what is referred to as the Central Vineyards.  Unlike those of neighboring Sancerre & Pouilly Fume, where I once read is a collision of different soils types, Jamain’s vineyard is pure Kimmeridgian limestone, complete with an abundance of fossilized sea critters.  To better contemplate what this could mean, we poured a 2015 Regis Minet Pouilly Fume “Vieilles Vignes” side by side, since Minet mentioned to me, while dining at VINO recently, that his soil was a mix of clay, marl & Kimmeridgian limestone that was quite different from Jamain’s property’s soil.  The resulting 2015 has an amazing core with a resounding mojo & wonderful, though not hard, structure.  In comparison, the Reuilly was much higher toned, more floral, lime blossom, saline kinds of nuances, lighter on its feet & much more high toned & seemingly more taut.  I am sure there is much more to the whys of the differences, but it sure help set the table for the next wine.

2014 Roland Lavantureux Chablis–while growing up in this industry, whenever someone mentioned Kimmeridgian limestone, I would immediately chirp–Chablis.  Yes, I had been programmed at a very early age.  I have long been really mesmerized & fascinated by the incredible purity, transparent & riveting minerality I would find in mid to top level Chablis wines. Some of my absolute favorites, since the 1980’s, came from the house of Roland Lavantureux.  His always had a real artisan feel, rather than just a long, cool, tank fermented profile.  I was also always quite taken by its very touching & personal expression of minerality.  Remarkably, the increasing frequency of warm vintages has greatly changed the richness/apparent ripeness of the wines & certainly turned up the “volume” of what they want to say.  In addition, Roland’s two sons have now taken over running the estate, & one can see the inevitable difference in the winemaking & resulting style changes.  While that is all true, this is still artisan, pure, soil driven Chardonnay from the one & only Chablis region & its long association with the Kimmeridgian limestone the vines are planted in.  AND, one can also see how the Chardonnay grape variety has quite distinctive differences than what the Sauvignon offers in the two previous wines, soil aside.

2012 De Villaine Rully “Gresigny”–here was the next wine that was poured–an absolutely pure & breathtaking Chardonnay from the grossly under rated Côte Chalonaise in southern Burgundy & the home/wine domaine of Aubert deVillaine, one of the all time “Hall of Fame” legends.  “However high profile his day job, Aubert still considers himself a vigneron like any other, and Bouzeron’s off-the-beaten-path location left him alone to make his own wines without the demands of upholding an international reputation. The domaine was horribly rundown when the de Villaines took over, but years of studying this unique terroir have made them pioneers in one of the last forgotten enclaves of Burgundy“.  While I have been a huge fan of this estate’s wines since the 1980’s, because of how pure, elegant & masterfully done their wines are, this 2012 Rully “Gresigny” really took my breath away.  I was told the soil, though limestone, has more clay/silt to it. The resulting wine is soooo different than the Chablis when tasted side by side.  It is not as floral/seashell-y.  On the palate, this wine somehow seems less angular & therefore rounder, with more viscosity & texture, which could at least be partially from oak (albeit old) influence.

2014 Guillemot Savigny-Lès-Beaune “Vieilles Vignes”–The last wine of the line-up is a Pinot Noir from Savigny-lès-Beaune, where “the Guillemot family has worked their vines for 8 generations to produce a more classic style featuring finesse & balance, all while leaving us a reminder of Savigny’s rustic character. Yes, these are wines that epitomize the local terroir and emphasize grace & elegance over power & structure“.   The grapes for this bottling come from 3 different parcels–Planchots de la Champagne, Dessus les Gollardes, Vermots— which they say has more marl & gravel components to the clay-limestone base.  As light colored as this wine looked, it certainly was still quite masculine & noticeably structured (someone might say austere) on the palate.  Still, I was quite taken how sheer, ethereal & wonderfully pure & transparent this wine truly is, & where the soils is much more prominent than fruit or grape variety.  It just needs some time aging in the bottle.  I would love to try this wine in 15 to 20 years, that’s for sure!

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It has taken me a VERY long time to even begin to understand Tuscany & the Sangiovese grape variety. Was I waiting for wines which could stand on the same level of pedestal as Bordeaux? I hope not. I have since discovered that I believe the true nobility of Tuscan Sangiovese is not really about showiness or bravado, but rather more about how wonderfully food friendly it really can be. That’s what inspired this particular tasting. 4 Sangiovese based Tuscans….each should shed a different light on what this grape variety is capable of. How often do opportunities like this come about?

2013 Casa alle Vacche Chianti “Colli Senesi”–we absolutely love this style of “country” styled Tuscan red wines.  We thankfully finally understand how incredibly food friendly they really are. The 2013 is 85 % Sangiovese – 15 % Canaiolo & Colorino blend of varying percentages….from mid slope–up to 1100 feet elevation in the Colli Senesi appellation.  A wonderful example of Tuscan Sangiovese reminiscent of the Old Days in deliciousness, food friendliness & gulpability BUT, with some oak qualities in smell & taste.  

2012 Tua Rita “Rosso di Notri”–in comparison, here is a superb, contemporary Tuscan thoroughbred– 50% Sangiovese & 50% (Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah) , grown in pebbly soils in the foothills of Suvereto out towards the Tuscan Coast.  What a considerable splash Tua Rita has made on the world wine stage with their contemporary crafted Sangiovese based red wines!

 2006 Melini Chianti Classico Riserva “La Selvanella”–La Selvanella was the first wine made from a single vineyard in Chianti and among the first in Italy. Gambero Rosso has declared La Selvanella a “crowning glory” and “standard-bearer of the zone’s most traditional style.”  Yes, a 2006 in all its glory! 

2006 Sesti Brunello di Montalcino–I don’t really know what to make of all of the different bottling I now see of Brunello di Montalcino.  I remember for the longest time in the old days, the standout was Biondi Santi, a winery whose first vintage was in the 1880’s.  Then back in the early 1980’s, maybe late 1970’s, Poggio Antico made quite the splash for their rendition.  The under dog for me around then was the Carpazo bottling, only because it was spearheaded by superstar consultant, Vittorio Fiore, who introduced me to the wine while on a wine visit to him in Italy sometime in the early 1980’s.  Since then, it is like the flood gates have opened for this wine appellation & I have since tried a considerable bunch.  Here is one of the standouts for me–a truly superb, majestic, 11 year old Tuscan aristocrat, which was aged for 39 months in 30hl botti & bottled unfiltered, unfined.

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