Archive for New Discoveries

Monday, August 26, 2019.

We were up early & off to our first stop at Tablas Creek, also located in the Adelaida district.  After a very informative & insightful walk through their estate vineyard by General Manager/Managing Partner Jason Haas, we retired to one of the barrel rooms where Jason led us through a comprehensive tasting of what they thought Paso Robles could be.  It was very enlightening & I must add to that, Jason is a marvelous, engaging, very articulate speaker/presenter & his presentation was truly eye opening.  The tasting consisted of 11 of the Rhone grape varietals they pioneered & grew in the area– WHITE–2018 Picardin; 2018 Clairette, 2018 Picpoul, 2017 Grenache Blanc, 2018 Viognier, 2017 Marsanne, 2015 Roussanne; RED— 2015 Terret Noir, 2017 Counoise, 2017 Grenache, 2017 Mourvedre & 2017 Syrah, PLUS FIVE of their blends–2018 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne & Clairette Blanc), 2016 Espirit de Tablas Blanc (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc), 2017 Patelin de Tablas Rouge (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Counoise);  2016 Espirit de Tablas Rouge ( (Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah & Counoise) & the 2002 Espirit de Beaucstel Rouge (Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache & Counosie), just to show us what can happen with some bottle age.  What a truly memorable experience!  Much Mahalo.

Off we were then whisked to Epoch‘s Paderewski Vineyard & a vineyard walk with winemaker Jordan Fiorentini.  Standing at the top, it truly was a breathtaking, panoramic view of the stark, whitish/gray limestone/siliceous undulating hills they call home.  We ended up in their Block 13 (nicknamed Block B), the home turf of one of their single parcel designated wines.  There, we sampled the 2015 Sensibility (96% Grenache & 4% Syrah)–534 case production–95pts-Jeb Dunnuck & 96pts by Vinous & The Wine Advocate………& their 2015 Block B (100% Syrah)–315 case production–96pts by Vinous, 97pts by Wine Advocate & 98pts by Jeb Dunnuck.  Yup, we got to taste & experience a sense of place in the vineyard, tasting two wines born out of its vines.

Continuing with our very brisk pace in an effort to see & experience all that we could, off we went to Linne Calodo, in the Willow Creek AVA.  After a daunting walk up the center hillside of the estate Trevi Ranch, we were treated to taste a whole slew of their wines with color commentary from winemaker/owner Matt Trevisan–2018 Pale Flowers Rosé (100% Grenache); 2018 Contrarian (Grenache Blanc, Picpoul & Viognier); 2017 Sticks & Stones (Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre);   2016 Overthinker (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre & Carignan); 2016 Perfectionist (Syrah, Mourvedre & Grenache); 2017 Rising Tides (Grenache, Mourvedre & Syrah); 2017 Problem Child (Zinfandel, Syrah, Graciano & Carignan); 2017 Outsider (Zinfandel, Syrah, Mourvedre, Graciano) & 2017 Cherry Red (Zinfandel, Graciano, Syrah, Carignan).  It really was quite evident these were each TOP Shelf wine.  WOW!

After a wonderful lunch at Linne Calodo (thanks Matt & Maureen), we then boarded the vans & headed out to Cass Vineyard in the Geneseo District on the east side of Highway 101.  It was a Paso Robles winegrowing area I had visited only once prior.  I watched the temperature gauge on the van dashboard, as we drove, rise from 97 degrees in the Willow Creek district to 103 by the time we hit the town of Paso Robles to 108 a few miles from Cass Vineyards, back down to 101 degrees when we arrived there.  Keep in mind, this is at 2:00pm in the afternoon.  While it may have read 101 degrees, when we stepped out of the van, it was not blazingly hot.  There was in fact a cooling breeze that mitigated the heat somewhat.  It also helped that we were strategically all standing under a large tree & its shade during our talk & tasting with Steve Cass.  The 2 wines we tasted were the 2018 Cass Rosé (Mourvedre & Grenache) & their 2017 Cass Grenache.  One could readily sense the genuine passion Steve had for the region AND especially for his vineyard.  As my wife duly noted while we drove off, “all of these Paso Robles wine families really try hard at what they do & give it their all“.  Thank you Steve & to your team.

 

After a really brief stop back at the hotel to freshen up some, we again boarded the vans & headed to Epoch Winery up on York Mountain to the south.  I have been an avid fan since early on of this winery & its vineyards.  I, in fact, went to visit the land as they were clearing it. It also helps greatly that Paso Robles superstar Justin Smith was the founding consultant & one could see things were being set up well thought out.  I found it so interesting, for instance, that as I was shown, the slant of limestone/siliceous layers is much more diagonal & therefore is much easier for the vines’ roots to burrow down in search of water & nutrients.    We were met at the door & escorted down to the barrel/winemaking cellar, where winemaker Jordan Fiorentini led us through a tasting of THREE vintages of their Epoch white wine (typically a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier & Roussanne).  What an incredibly eye opening opportunity.  It certainly shed light on what can be in Paso Robles AND from avery different perspective.  Thank you VERY much to Jordan & her team.

After that, we were then led to yet another room, where we tasted wines at a “White Rhone Mixer” with other guest winemakers.  The wines poured–2018 Adelaida Picpoul Blanc; 2017 Alta Colina Viognier “12 O’Clock High”; 2017 Booker White; 2017 Brecon Conviction (Grenache Blanc & Viognier); 2018 Brecon Viognier;  2018 Caliza “Kissin’ Cousins” (Viognier, Roussanne & Grenache Blanc); 2018 Cass “Mr Blanc” (Roussanne, Marsanne & Viognier); 2017 Cass “Rockin’ One” Blanc (Viognier, Roussanne & Marsanne); 2018 Cass Marsanne; 2018 Cass Roussanne; 2018 Cass Viognier; 2018 Clos Solène Hommage Blanc (Roussanne & Viognier); 2017 Denner “Theresa” (Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Picpoul & Vermentino); 2018 Eberle Viognier “Mill Road Vineyard”; 2018 Eberle Côtes-du-Rôbles Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne & Viognier); 2018 Epoch White (Grenache Blanc, Viognier & Roussanne); 2018 Jada “88” (Grenache Blanc & Viognier); 2017 Law “Soph” (Roussanne, Marsanne & Clairette Blanc); 2017 Lone Madrone “Oveja” (Picpoul & Grenache Blanc);  2018 Paix sur Terre Clairette Blanc; 2018 Paix sur Terre Picpoul Blanc; 2017 Tablas Creek Côte de Tablas Blanc (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne & Marsanne);  2017 Thacher Viognier; 2016 Villa Creek “Bone White” (Clairette & Fiano); 2018 Vina Robles Viognier “Huerhuero Vineyard”.

Then dinner was a very lovely evening out on the patio of their new building–really good food, a bevy of wines & great conversations.  Thank you to all.

The SOMM Journal is a publication specifically created for wine professionals.  The articles, specifically written by Randy Caparoso & Jessie “Jabs” Birschbach are very informative & quite illuminating.  I find myself waiting for the next issue to see what new topics/perspectives will be featured.

Owner/publisher, Meredith May & her team also create a SOMM Camp once or twice a year, which brings together an impressive list of wine professionals from throughout the country to take a comprehensive “field trip” to a selected winegrowing region.  For August 2019, the selected region was Paso Robles, California.

Having never been to one of these Camps before, I tagged along for this one in support.  (Since The SOMM Journal is such a big supporter of our Wine Speak event in January, also in Paso Robles, I thought to support their efforts & hopefully color commentate some along the way).

Yes, Paso Robles is meteorically growing in popularity, especially over the last 5 years.  The timing for SOMM Camp was right, as these attending wine professionals from all around the U.S., could see, walk vineyards, taste wines & talk story with a noteworthy selection of the region’s finest winemakers…..all BEFORE the mounting wave in popularity actually breaks.

I should also mention here, that host/editor at large Randy Caparoso did a superb job on selecting vineyards, people & wines to be showcased, as only he can.  I also hope all of the visiting somms & wine professionals understand how detailed & organized the 4 days were AND how much depth of knowledge Caparoso has.  It was all so amazing.  Kudos to you, young man!

Randy Caparoso

Paso Robles has recently been split into 11 different AVA’s.  This trip showed all, there is good wines to be had from each.

While the region has been historically thought of as hot (it is!  106 to 108 on some of the days we were there), the night time temperatures were often in the 50’s & 60’s.

The most compelling aspect however, touring the region for 5 days this go around, is the soils.  Yes, there is so much marine based soils seemingly everywhere, which can innately create minerality in the finished wine AND buoyancy (where the wine though ripe, opulent & lavish, seemed lighter than it actually was).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also must add that this event nurtured tremendous camaraderie–between sommeliers from around the country, many whom may have known each other by reputation, but these 4 days created a much stronger bond with each other.  This memorable time also created the sharing of knowledge, insights & experiences, which is not common normally, simply because of how busy each are in their life & their real jobs.

Furthermore, we as a group were able to discuss & better understand all of the incredible amount of information & insights presented by the winemakers & the walking of vineyards.  Wow!  For this, a BIG mahalo to Meredith May (of the host–The SOMM Journal),  Randy Caparoso, Ryan Pease, the winemakers, the vineyard-ists, the Paso Robles community & the whole team who made this happen.  This truly was a very special opportunity.

 

Opening Night was Sunday, August 25, 2019.  We left the hotel & headed to Law Estate.  We jumped out of the vans, after what seemed like an eternity of perversely winding, narrow roads & walked the breathtaking high elevation (1400 ascending to 1900 feet), steep hillside estate vineyard in the Adelaida district with winemaker Philipp Pfunder.  To bring what we saw in the vineyard to what’s in the bottle, Philipp tasted us on a 2018 Roussanne from their estate.  We found it to be a classy, mineral driven, elegant, suave & refined belle, & at least one of the true standouts we have had of this grape grown & produced in California.   Philipp then popped a bottle (or 2) of the Law Estate Sagacious, a very classy red wine blend of Grenache, Syrah & Mourvedre, again all from the estate we had just walked.  As one of the attendees noted, “there is GOLD (as in Gold Medal) to be found in them hills”.

After being officially welcomed by Paso Robles RHÔNE Camp organizers Randy Caparoso (The SOMM Journal) and Ryan Pease (Paix Sur Terre), Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Paso Robles Rhône Rangers & Travel Paso, we then moved inside to partake in a walk around rosé wine tasting featuring a who’s who list of region’s top winemakers.  Here is what was poured–

2018 Adelaida (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Carignan/Cinsaut/Counoise); 2018 Booker, Pink (Grenache blend); 2018 Caliza, Pink (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Syrah); 2018 Cass, Oasis Rosé; (Mourvèdre/Grenache); 2018 Clos Solène, La Rosé (Grenache/Cinsaut/Mourvèdre); 2018 Denner (Cinsaut/Grenache/Carignan/Mourvèdre); 2018 Eberle, Côtes-du-Rôbles; Grenache/Syrah/Viognier); 2018 Epoch (Mourvèdre/Grenache/Syrah); 2018 Jada, 1149 (Grenache/Graciano); 2018 Law (Grenache/Graciano/Syrah); 2018 Lone Madrone, Paso Robles Willow Creek District (Mourvèdre); 2018 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Rosé (Grenache/Mourvèdre/Counoise); 2018 Tablas Creek, Dianthus (Mourvèdre/Grenache/Counoise); 2018 Thacher, Cinsaut Rosé & 2018 Vina Robles, Huerhuero Vineyard (68% Syrah/Grenache/Viognier).

Then a sit down dinner was served.  Yes, an opportunity to talk story & create more camaraderie.  Thank you all for making this happen.

Mar
18

Finding Wines

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, there are many ways to find interesting wines.

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

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

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

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Mar
08

A Quartet of Portuguese Wines

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We have been digging around for some time in search of tasty, interesting wines from Portugal.  We literally stumbled upon a Santa Monica wine importer named D’Ouro Vino Selections.  Here is your opportunity to try four of their selections–each from a different appellation and their finest resident producer. Each well represents a very different slant on wines and they should show tasters the vast potential of what this relatively undiscovered wine niche is capable of producing……way beyond fortified Port wines and large commercial wineries. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon now and beat the crowds, the inevitable long wait lists and escalating prices.

2017 Quinta de Linhares Loueiro “Vinho Verde”–A light, fizzy, crisp Portuguese “country” white wine—Vinho Verde–predominant grape varieties are Loureiro, Avesso, Azal and Arinto—fresh and alive as can be. Toast!!

2011 Herdade do Mouchão Alentejo Tinto–predominantly Alicante Bouschet (red colored grape juice), 80% or more, the rest being Trincadeira, perhaps more famously known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro, where it is used in Port production. It is aged for 24 months in large oak vats (foudres) and then aged for a further 24 to 36 months in the bottle prior to release.  The gang really loved this wine, largely because of its wonderful savoriness.

2004 Rio Bom Douro Grande Reserva “Mario Braga”–30% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinto Roriz and 10% each of Tinto Amarela and Barroca. These are some of the mainstay grape varieties for the fortified Port wines, but this is one, however, is a standout still RED Grande Reserva, which was fascinating to try!  This is a very intense, dense, packed, vinous, vehemently structured, macho stud with lots of oak framing. And, it was still remarkably youthful, eventhough it was 14 years old.   If you have the patience, I would suggest cellaring this wine for 20 more years before opening.  I think you will be quite thankful you did!

1991 Luis Pato Bairrada “Vinho Branco”–yes, you read the vintage correct…..1991….in all its glory…produced from the indigenous Bical, Maria Gomes and Cerceal grape varieties, grown and crafted by superstar winemaker Luis Pato.  We all agreed, this wine was “otherworldly”.  I’ve never had anything like before AND it was seamless, complete, wonderfully nuanced & VERY captivating.  What a terrific ‘find”.

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Dec
10

A Carignan Tasting at SommCon (San Diego)

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SommCon is an en masse gathering of sommeliers & other wine professionals.  The one held this past November was in San Diego, California & featured 3 days worth of panel discussions, presentations & educational seminars.  One of the most interesting presentations I attended was– “Carignan–it’s just not for blending any more“–by Geoff Labitzke, Master of Wine & Brian Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.

My fascination for the Carignan grape variety has really grown over the years.  As the title of the seminar suggests it was typically used as a blending component rather than a featured, stand alone bottling.

The first Carignan based red wine that caught my fancy was from Domaine de Fontsainte & their Corbières red in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  I found it to be so delicious, tasty, food friendly & gulpable.  Shortly thereafter, when tasting other Corbieres red wines from their neighbors, I was rather put off by the over use of Syrah to their blends & I was thankful to have experienced the Fontsainte rendition first.  Subsequently I also took a fancy to their “Réserve La Demoiselle” bottling (the Carignane planted in 1904).  These 2 wines opened a whole new thought for me on what Carignane could offer.

A short time later, my next Carignan experience was produced by the Pellegrini family (California) back in the early 1990’s.  I found it to be tasty, interesting & quite food friendly though very unique, rambunctious & virile.  It was also quite a great value for what one got in the bottle.  This wine showed me what was possible in California, especially from the Sonoma & Mendocino wine growing areas.  (I have since found 2 other interesting Carignane based red wines out of California worth checking out–Folk Machine “Parts & Labor” & the Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”)

In both cases, I found Carignan not to be showy or as outgoing as those wines produced from Syrah, Grenache or Mourvedre grape varieties.  It had its own set of characteristics.  I especially liked old vine renditions as Carignan seemed to be quite a conduit of character & vinosity from the old vines to the wine in the bottle, at least in certain cases.  It really was those cases that greatly peaked my interest.  After Fontsainte, I discovered that importer Kermit Lynch added other Carignan driven wines to his fabulous portfolio, including old vine Carignan dominated bottlings from Sylvain Fadat at D’Aupilhac, Maxime Magnon, Leon Barral, Vinci & Les Milles Vignes.  Each offer something special & compelling.

With Carignan, there were also some to be found out of Spain’s Priorat region that are also interesting.

So, I was quite anxious to see what Geoff & Brian would offer at this tasting seminar.  They did NOT disappoint.  Geoff sought after & collected some interesting renditions from Mexico, Sonoma, San Diego, Chile, Spain AND Tunisia of all places!  Brian brought & shared 4 true Carignane superstars from his portfolio–Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”; Domaine D’Aupilhac “Le Carignan”; Vinci “Rafalot” &  Les Milles Vignes “Dennis Royal”–each wine featuring 80 to 100 year old Carignane vines, their fruit & very masterful grape growing & winemaking. It was quite an insightful gathering of wines & tasting & I was overjoyed.  Thank you guys for this fabulous opportunity! 

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Dec
09

Sardinian Wine–Part 4–Cagliari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dec
08

Sardinian Wine–Part 3–Mamoiada

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To be candid, the winery I was most anxious to visit during our 2 week trip was Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada, Sardegna.  I had tasted 3 of his wines previously & was astounded at how “otherworldly” each was.  It was like when I first tasted the Luigi Clos Nicrosi from Corsica back in the 80’s.

Mamoiada is located “in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior“, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive through very winding, often narrow roads through the rugged countryside.  Because of the wines & the drive I had visions of visiting somewhere reminiscent of the old days, just like back in the 80’s visiting Clape, Verset & Gentaz in the Rhone Valley of France for the first time–old wood, very rustic, converted garage-like wineries with earthen floors handed down from the generations before each, & all stuck in time. 

Upon arrival to Mamoiada, I was instead very surprised at how settled & westernized it looked.  It still was small & very neighbor-ish, but much more modern than what we had experienced in Corsica.  Giovanni’s home (with his winery located below in his what would be for most, the 2 car garage & the small downstairs apartment) featured a modern fountain (seemingly from an upscale garden shop) with a small front yard of artificial turf AND a remote opened & closed gate.  This was WAY different from what I day dreamed about. 

His winery was meticulously clean & very well organized.  I was just amazed at how small it was & understood there can’t be too much wine available, especially for us out here in Hawaii.

Montisci ferments some wines in large plastic tubs which reminded me of Chris Whitcraft & his plastic bins back in the day.  Giovanni’s were just covered with plastic sheets. 

Giovanni owns & farms but 3.5 hectares of vines, most of it 60 year old vine Moscato & Cannonau up in the hills just above his town (2200 feet in elevation), all organically farmed. The chilly nights encourage slow, ripening times.  The soil is sandy, granitic clay & the vineyard somehow has a very special feel to it.  (I got similar vibes from Laurel Glen’s Sonoma Mountain estate vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s on my first visit).  It is much more than just vines & soil & I could understand the wines much differently.  (This is really not just a romantic notion).  I tasted the grapes still on the vine & they were so different than any of our other stops on this trip.

The grapes are harvested by hand & sorted in the vineyard.  All of the fermentations are spontaneous (wild yeasts) & done in 1000 liter tanks.

Biancu “Modestu” (100% Moscato–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for 5 days, wild yeast fermented then aged in 225 liter OLD oak for roughly 6 months, vinified dry, 100% malolactic.  Every time I taste this bottling, now, 4 vintages worth, I scratch my head in wonderment, because it is so unique & interesting–lemon verbena, lemon, lime, star fruit nuances with a honey backdrop.  Full flavored with a unique lush, unctuality/thickness/viscosity–masculine, savory & stony, expansive.

Rosato “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for several hours, wild yeast fermented & then aged in 225 liter OLD barrels for 6 months, vinified dry & 100% malolactic.  This is a very heady, masculine, savory, stony, BIG rose with almost an earthy-oxidative-“orange” style & an old oak mouthfeel.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–I would say, this is a beast–masculine, rustic, surly, savory with much bravado & structure, but still very juicy, pliable (not hard) with lots of depth, layering, virility, vinosity & resounding character.  It certainly catches my attention every time I have tried it.  Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 1 year in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva “Franzisca” (100% Cannonau–90 year old vines–200 to 250 case production).  I believe 2010 was the first vintage the word “Franzisca” (in homage to Giovanni’s wife) appeared on the label.  It was previously labeled as Riserva.  This is something totally “otherworldly”–profoundly lavish, wildly rustic, vinous, totally about character & savoriness with a pine needle nuance intermittently present.  I have never had a wine like this before that’s for sure.   Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 2 years in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.   We tried the 2018, 2016, 2015 & the 2007 (labeled as Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva) which was the finest wine we had on this trip, by far! 

Afterwards, we had lunch together at his childhood friend’s restaurant, right in the center of town.  REALLY good Coriscan “country” styled foods.

Thank you Giovanni for a great visit.  I am a total believer!

Our wine & food adventure traveling up, down & traversing through Corsica sadly came to an end.  It was a great trip to say the least.

Our next adventure was explore the island of Sardegna just south.  We caught a ferry, leaving Bonifacio, Corisca & arriving to the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north part of Sardegna.  After renting a car in Olbia, we drove to our hotel in Castelsardo, an hour & 40 minutes away.

It was immediately apparent Sardegna was very different–much flatter, warmer & we now drove on highways.

After a brief stay & a very good dinner in Castelsardo, we headed the next morning to see 2 wineries. 

The first was Vigne Rada.  Vigne Rada is located less than an hour outside the city of Alghero on the north end of the island. There really wasn’t a lot of road signs & GPS got us to the general area, but we eventually had to call for someone from Vigne Rada to meet us & take us to the winery.  As we followed, it became real apparent we would not have found the winery otherwise.  Even stops to stores in the area to ask for directions didn’t help.  We quickly learned this winery is just too small & even the immediate area locals were not familiar with it or its location.  The area was flat & each parcel seemed to be acres in size & so very different that what we saw in Corsica.  It reminded me of going out to Waimanalo & seeing all of the farms out there. 

Patriarch Luigi “Gino” Bardino started the winery with the support of his 2 sons & their first harvest was 2012.  They own vineyards in 2 distinctly different areas–“Monte Pedroso, where the winery is located & features sandy, clayey alluvial soils with lots of riverbed stones & quartz; & the sloping Cubalciada site & its clay, limestone & some chalk soils“.

Like Gino, the founder, the wines of Vigne Rada are honest, unpretentious & straightforward” AND are quite food friendly & really deliver quality for the dollar.

Vermentino de Sardegna “Stria” (100% Vermentino)–“fermented & aged for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel on the fine lees which are regularly stirred“.  2016–we really liked the stony undertones & its fresh, pure, liveliness & personality.  He also opened & shared a bottle of their favorite to date–2012–nutty, lanolin nuances with a seamless flow from beginning to end & still had a very vibrant core.  The edges were just seemingly rounder because of the additional bottle age.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Riviera” (100% Cannonau)–“destemmed & lightly crushed.  Fermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 10 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 3 to 4 months“.  2016–Grenache like fruit, graceful, elegant & suave.

Alghero Cagnulari “Arsenale” (100% Cagnulari)–“destemmed & lightly crushedFermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 12 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 4 to 6 months“.  2015–pungent, seemingly wild, savory & more masculine-more like Carignano.

Isola dei Nuraghi Passito “3 Nodi” (Vermentino)–botrytis infected grapes left to dry on the vine until mid October.  Fermentation in stainless for 40 to 50 days.  typically 210 g/l residual sugar.

Dec
03

Corsican Wines–Part 6–Bonifacio

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Our visit to Corsica ended in Bonifacio, a city located in the southern tip of the island.

Bonifacio sits right on the sea & represented a very different look & feel to our Corsican experience. 

I was blown away on the drive into the city, as the surrounding cliffs are laden with limestone.  This was a very stark difference to all of the darker, granite based soils we witnessed throughout much of the drive traversing through the wild countryside & mountainous terrain prior.

The 2 main gathering areas of the city is down by the sea & its boat docks & the other up on the hill surrounding the citadel.

In the center, up on the hill, we walked around during the day, to check out all of the recommended restaurants & their menus, as we needed to plan dinners for our 2 nights there.  On our first night we ate at a cute, cozy, highly recommended eatery, but I must say, the over all experience was underwhelming.  As we walked back to our hotel, I would look in at the other restaurants of the area & then looked at their menu postings on their boards.  I can’t say, I was too excited.

The next morning, we headed out early to see Clos Canarelli, as theirs was by far the best wines of the area that we had tasted.  It was quite the visit. 

On the way home, we took a slight detour to Porto Vecchio, a seaport along the eastern coast.  There, we found a small, terrific, out of the way restaurant named A Cantinetta & had a terrific lunch.  It was memorable because it was good Corsican food–unpretentious, well prepared & definitely hit the spot.

Driving back to our hotel, I was quite full, since we seemingly ordered & try everything on the menu.

I remember thinking, in comparison, I didn’t relish eating at any of the restaurants we walked by up on the hill the night before.  The menus pretty much looked the same & geared more to the tourists.

We all agreed to instead eat in our hotel that night.  Hotel food?  On the last night?  We recalled that Yves Canarelli mentioned that our hotel served really good pasta.  He said the chef was really good, so we stayed in & went down to eat pasta that night. 

Well, Yves was right.  The was pasta was really good & well cooked.  It wasn’t Corsican by any means, but the food really hit the spot nonetheless.

The winelist was VERY small & was comprised of familiar, “standard” names we saw on many winelists during our visit.  I asked the manager what would he drink if he was eating dinner & he pointed to a wine—one that was the most expensive on the list….& by far.  (of course, I thought).  I was not familiar with the winery, but ordered it nonetheless.

It turned out to be a really solid, interesting, eye opening red wine, which was REALLY different from anything we had had during our visit to Corsica.  Amongst the ripe, dense fruit, there was uplifting minerality….I thought limestone!  The label said Buzzo Bunifazziu & it was from Bonifacio!

I asked the manager if he could look up the wine online to find out what grape variety was used to make this wine.  He couldn’t find too many details, but he did get an email address.  So, here we were sitting in a restaurant at 9:00pm at night & me emailing the winery to see what the grape variety was.  Not even 10 minutes went by & I got a reply…..Minestellu.  I got up & went to the front desk to ask the night manager to contact them & ask where the winery was located.  We had to catch a ferry to Sardegna the next day around 12:30pm & I was hoping there might be a chance to stop by & see them.

Thierry Buzzo replied & said he would swing by the hotel around 8:30am the next morning, take me to his vineyard & drop me back off at the hotel, all within the time restraints.  Are you kidding me, I thought?  Ok, I am game!, the wine was that good.

The next morning Thierry was right on time & off we went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do some last minute shopping & walking around the town).

The vineyard & winery was but 15 minutes away.  I realized while driving there, I would never have found it driving alone.  There are no street addresses or signs & their place is really down a pretty low keyed road & area.

I was greeted by Vincent Buzzo (Thierry’s father) & Angelica Santori (I believe the associate winemaker & a graduate of the wine school in Montpellier.  She also thankfully spoke English quite well).

 

Their winery was quite small & their estate vineyards was but 10 hectares in size.  Portions of their vineyards were hard argilo-calcaire bedrock with a thin layer of clay topsoil & other parts the topsoil was black (I surmise of volcanic origin).  Although this project was 3 generations old, they really started upping their game by planting 7 hectares in 2010 & some in 2017 to a handful of native, heirloom grapes vines–Vermentino, Barbarossa for white & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minestellu for red wines.

I was really taken by their wines.  They were not as standout-ish as those of Arena, Abbatucci or Canarelli, but they were solid, well crafted & really showcased the calcareous soils they were grown in.  I think this winery has a lot of potential & can’t wait to see what happens as their vines get older & they better understand what their vineyards want to say.  I would also add that the key to how they progress will largely be based upon the involvement of Angelica Santori & her development.  While the Buzzo’s may own the land, it was obvious Angelica was the main cog here in making things happen & their wines’ quality. 

We quickly tasted through several of their wines–

Vermentino1/2 fermented in stainless, 1/2 in 228liter barrel (1, 2 & 3 years old), 100% malolactic & 6 to 7 months on the lees.

Barbarossafermented in stainless, 5 months on the lees.

RoséSciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Vermentino–direct press, NO ML.

Niellucciu100% Niellucciu, NO stems, stainless

Minestellu100% Minestellu, NO stems, stainless

This is a winery to keep an eye on.

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Dec
02

Corsican Wines–Part 5–Figari

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Corsica proved to be a very amazing food & wine adventure.  Driving from north to south & traversing the very mountainous island & navigating the perversely winding, narrow roads was harrowing & tiring, BUT, seeing hours upon hours of remote, seemingly untouched countryside reminded us that Corsica is thankfully not yet completely westernized, especially in the northern parts..

As we headed through the southern half, everything seemed to slowly change & the towns became bigger & more developed, the terrain flatter & the weather warmer.

After our stop at Pero Longo in Sartène, we headed to the city of Bonifacio, which would be our home base for the last 2 days on the island. 

The first morning there we headed east towards Figari (actually just outside the village of Tarabucetta) to visit another highly revered vigneron–Yves Canarelli.  Yves is another champion of native, indigenous vines–Vermentinu, Bianco Gentile, Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu, Minustellu, Genovese, Carcaghjolu Neru (& Biancu), Paga Debiti, Barbarossa, just to name a few.  (He also has small amounts of Grenache, Cinsault & Syrah planted–which may have been there before his arrival in 1993).

Interestingly, Yves grows his vines in 3 separate areas–33 hectares in Figari (granite based with red alluvial soils); Sartène (REALLY old vines grown in granitic soils) & has 5 hectares in Bonifacio (limestone base).

Canarelli is also vehemently about organic & biodynamic farming & this style of farming is greatly aided by the constant, relentless coastal winds that comes in from the Gulf of Figari. 

Upon arrival, we were blown away at how “state of the art” his winery looked.  There were many kinds of oak vessels, concrete vessels & 2 kinds of amphorae.  Yves, although very much into wild yeast fermentation & using whole cluster, is nonetheless very deliberate & precise in his winemaking & is continually tinkering with what to ferment in & how to make his wines more interesting, while still showcasing Corsican character & integrity.

Wine wise, Clos Canarelli has three main, differentiating sub-labels–

Corse FigariBlanc (Vermentino)–partial malolactic & aged in large foudres/older neutral barrels; Rosé (Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Grenache–for finesse)–whole cluster fermentation, direct press, partial malolactic & 100% stainless steel; & a Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah & 5% Sciaccarellu)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 monthsRouge “Alta Rocca” (Sciaccarellu, single parcel planted in 1997)–typically 4 week fermentation in stainless & then aged in foudres for 24 months.

Vine de France (wines not fully adhering to the government restrictions.  I call it Yves doing his thing to make the best wines he can)–Rouge “Costa Nera” (Carcaghjolu Neru)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Rouge “Tarra d’Orasi” typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single vineyard–field blend–Sciaccarellu, Minustellu & Cinsault–vines, 140 years in age in Sartène )–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Blanc “Tarra d’Orasi”–typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single parcel–typically 70% Vermentinu, 30% field blend–Genovese, Carcaghjolu Biancu, Paga Debiti & Barbarossa–vines 140 years in age in Sartène )–fermented in stainless & aged 24 months on the lees.  100% malolactic; Blanc “BG” (Biancu Gentile)–fermented on lees in concrete eggs. Blanc “Tara di Sognu” (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 100% Vermentino–barrel fermented & aged for 6 months in new, 600 liter barrels, 100% ML, 6 months on the lees (no stirring); 2017–80% Vermentino, 20% other native grape varieties–Genovese, Riminese, Biancu Gentile, 100% malolactic, 6 to 8 months on the lees (no stirring & aged in 600 liter new barrels for 6 months. Rouge “Tarra di Sognu”  (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 (50% Carcaghjolu Neru, 40% Sciaccarellu & 10% Minustellu)–NO stems, aged for 16 months  foudres & large ovals.

Corse Figari “Amphora” (wines done is amphora–one specifically for white wine & a different one for reds)–Blanc (Vermentino, planted in 1997)–2/3’s must & 1/3 whole cluster, fermented & aged in amphora for 3 months & 3 months in old barrels with no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling.  100% malolactic; Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 10% Sciaccarellu & 10% native vines)–100% destemmed, fermentation in amphora for 4 to 7 weeks (no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling), aged in stainless & old oak barrels for 7 to 9 months.

Vin de France Muscat MPG–Clos Canarelli also has .7 hectares of Muscat a Petit Grains (planted in 1997)–& produces a vendange tardive, non muted sweet wine, harvested at roughly 18% potential alcohol, fermented in barrel to 15% alcohol & aged for 2 years in older oak barrels.  typically 45 grams per liter residual sugar.

The Clos Canarelli wines deliver in the “sweet” spot–they have impact & appeal, they have integrity, they are intellectual & they have class–& are therefore the rage in mainland France & also is meteorically growing in popularity amongst the sommeliers of America.

Thank you Yves for an incredible visit.

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