Archive for White

Jan
24

A Quartet of Austrian Grüner Veltliner

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What is Grüner Veltliner? It is a top echelon grape variety that is capable of producing world-class white wine and most famously grown and produced in Austria.   We really don’t see too many on the local retail store shelves or on winelists of top restaurants here. Still, when one travels the world and big cities such as New York, top renditions are certainly included and often highlighted on their wine lists. As one top wine writer noted in her blog…

“Today, no self-respecting restaurant wine list, whether in New York or Hong Kong, can afford to be without at least one example of this, Austria’s signature white wine grape. I would submit that this is only partly because of Grüner Veltliner’s undoubted inherent character and quality. Another reason Grüner Veltliner has impinged on the consciousness of the wine world recently is that the quality of all Austrian wines has become so excitingly and consistently high that no fine wine enthusiast can afford to ignore them”.

This is your chance to taste and experience what all of the hoop-la is all about first hand.

In general Grüner Veltliner produces very refreshing, tangy wines with a certain white pepper, dill, even gherkin character. The wines are spicy and interesting and in general this is because of the grape’s own intrinsic qualities because the great majority of them, unlike Chardonnays, see no new oak. They are generally fermented in stainless steel and aged either in tanks or very old, large casks”.

Having said all of that, here are four really worth checking out. Their success certainly has something to do with soils, climate, terroir AND the respective, respectful champion who made it happen. Yes, wines like this just don’t happen. It really takes a champion.

 

2016 Nigl Grüner Veltliner “Freiheit”“Weingut Nigl is tucked deep in the Krems Valley. Martin Nigl’s Freheit is sourced from 4 different vineyards in the hills above the city of Krems. The soils here are primarily löss and the temperature is moderated by its steep elevation. The name Freiheit means “freedom” and is believed to be some of the first privately owned vineyard land in the valley not controlled by the Church or a feudal estate. Fermentation and elevage occur in stainless steel and is bottled at night when the cellars of the coolest has Martin feels this helps preserve the freshness of the wines”.

 

2017 Bründlmayer Grüner Veltliner “Kamptal Terrassen”–One of the most revered wineries out of Austria. “Wine & Spirits Magazine–“the best Austrian winemaker of the last 25 years—says it all. ,” Willi Bründlmayer farms 75 hectares of an impressive collection of grand cru vineyards around Langenlois. Some of the most geologically diverse terroirs in Europe are here, in the heart of the Kamptal. The Danube and Kamp rivers and the wooded hills of the Waldviertel forest create a climate with large diurnal temperature swings, essential to a long growing season. These rocky, terraced vineyards are not the steep, jagged terraces of the Kremstal or the Wachau; these are larger wider terraces, each creating its own micro climate”.

 

 

 

2010 Nikolaihof Grüner Veltliner Federspiel–Another of the most revered wine houses in Austria and actually one of the oldest wine estates in Austria, whose history goes back almost 2000 years to the Roman empire. Their wines epitomize the steep, rocky hillsides of the Wachau. Biodynamically farmed and obsessively fawned over to produce. “In some ways this gentle wonder is the essence of Nikolaihof”. – Terry Theise

 

2013 Hirsch Grüner Veltliner “Niederösterreich“Among my Kamptal producers, ‘Hannes Hirsch is the one with the least fixed identity. Or perhaps his identity is not to have an identity, his wine style is not to have a “style” and he doesn’t wish to be pigeonholed. He falls somewhere in the nexus among Bründlmayer’s and Gobelsburg’s glossy gleam and Hiedler’s juicy sensuality, but there’s no point you can affix him to. I suspect he likes it that way, as my friend is the best kind of lone wolf and contrarian.” writes Terry Theise”.

 

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Until quite recently, the Malvasia grape variety was reputed as the most widely planted white grape in the world. That’s so interesting, as how many eye catching ones have you recalled ever running across? We, at VINO, are and have been intrigued at finding really good ones, as they can work such unique magic and dynamics when paired with the right kind of foods. Yes, it can be quite the experience, which is why we keep searching and will keep on. Here are four that will show you what this much maligned grape variety is capable of. I think these are wines you will remember for a long time, if you attend this tasting. They are that unique.

2014 Palmina Malvasia “Larner Vineyard”–This was one of the first compelling Malvasia driven white wine bottlings we have had out of California, although a much earlier vintage. The grapes come from the highly revered Larner Vineyard located in the Ballard Lane niche of the Santa Barbara wine country and if my memory serves me correctly, I recall there were only two or so rows of this vine planted there. We love this wine’s wonderfully exotic, mesmerizing perfume done with such purity, minerality, seamlessness and uplifting personality. It beckons Mediterranean inspired seafood and vegetable dishes.

 

2017 Birichino Malvasia Bianca “Pétulant Naturel”–As far as I know, this is only the 2nd commercial vintage of this wonderful discovery produced from Monterey grown Malvasia grapes and fermented dry. They add more unfermented juice to the wine causing a refermentation. This is a very unusual take off on an ancient sparkling wine method, which some say pre-dates Champagne. This wine is meant to be enjoyed, especially well chilled–a thirstquencher, completely refreshing fizzy, food friendly quaffer, not some serious trophy wine.

 

 

2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Secco “Salina”–We just wanted to show tasters a completely different slant on what this grape variety can be. This one is grown on the island of Salina, located just north of Sicily. The soils are mostly volcanic in origin, so the wine has a strong sense of stoniness. The vineyards gaze upon the sea, it is so close, which I would say is partially why the finished wine has salinity…..all with the lime blossom and crazy aromatic perfume of the Malvasia grape variety in its core. There are only eight or nine producers of wine on this small island. This family has been doing their thing for over 500 years.

 

2015 Vignai da Duline Malvasia Istriana “Chroma Integral–One of the most profound renditions of this grape variety and grown high up in the hills of Friuli, by an uber-naturally minded couple. Yes, they live au naturale as a lifestyle. This is the most intriguing of their highly sought after, though very limited wine portfolio. AND in 2015 they hit the sweet spot, I am a believer!   Here is your chance to try it.

 

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I was really quite taken by this Spanish white wine because of how different it is from those done in stainless steel with NO malolactic fermentation, resulting in pure, fresh, riveting white wines so commonly seen in the marketplace, especially in the Albariño/Rías Baixas category.  Furthermore, it is also thankfully vey different from other renditions which seek more ripeness levels/longer hang time, BUT are often  quite alcoholic with a bitterness to the finish. Yes, this rendition is thankfully & respectfully very different from the “pack”, on either side.  We love its innate minerality, sublime texture/viscosity, salinity & “quiet” vinosity.  I liked it more & more after each taste, to the point where I thought it was a true standout!  Yes, a whole ‘nother level on what Spanish Albariño (or any other white wine) could be.

Atalier is a project between winemaking phenom Raúl Pérez & his long time friend/collaborator Rodri Méndez of the Forjas del Salnés estate in the Val do Salnés subzone (which is generally regarded as the ancestral Spanish home to Albariño).  Rodri, for this project, garnered grapes from 3 different parcels, each in predominately sandy soils & each less than 1 kilometer from the sea.  These ancient, ungrafted, pre-phylloxera (150 to 160 years old) vines are heirloom treasures & provide the true character & soul of this wine.

A consideration when trying to better understand this wine is how it came to be.  Many Albariño (& white wine grape varieties in general) producers, harvest early (to retain acidity & what they say/think is “minerality” & result in lower alcohol levels in the finished wine).   Unlike their counterparts of the appellation, these grapes are left on the vines for up to 2 to 3 weeks longer, depending on the weather, giving them much more hang time & physiological development without any raisining or over ripeness.  This allows the grapes to have less malic acidity to deal with, gives the juice more complexity, weight & viscosity, while still finishing at roughly around 13% alcohol naturally.

Secondly, in many other cases, a wine’s freshness & refreshingness can be maintained/maximized by long, cool fermentations, especially in stainless steel tanks.  Think about how many fresh, exuberant, vivacious white wines are on the store shelves today.  (Absolutely nothing wrong with that by the way.)

Raúl Pérez, in comparison, ferments & ages this wine in large, neutral oak foudres, which in my opinion, frames the wine & gives it more texture, roundness & mouthfeel amongst other sought after attributes….WITHOUT the wine being oaky to the smell or taste.

While many others do similar approaches, somehow, there is a special magic to this wine, one I find so compelling.  It really is an example of what can be–physiological maturity, minerality, vinosity, balance, texture, character all at roughly 13 degrees alcohol.  It is one of those wines that makes me think of what it possible & hopefully others will be inspired too & use it as a springboard moving forward.

Furthermore, I was also really amazed after tasting it, & seeing the price tag, which I find even more utterly remarkable!  Bravo!!!!!

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Oct
06

Sandy soils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct
05

Not all Italian Wines are Created Equal

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Sep
06

Duroc Pork Tomahawk 09-05-19

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One of tonight’s VINO specials was a Duroc Pork Tomahawk, which everyone seemed to really love.

Earlier this afternoon, he & I were speaking about an upcoming dinner we will be doing in early November with Greek wines.   We spoke of flavor components that would pair with the selected wines.  He then tried a glass of Skouras Moschofilero & quietly went to work on creating a marinate for the pork tomahawk he intended to feature this evening.

VINO Chef Keith marinated the pork in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onions, dried oregano, fresh parsley, salt & pepper……& then grilled it with a dash of freshly squeezed lemon.  He then plated it with vegetable-harissa couscous, Kalamata olives, pepperoncinis & baby arugula lightly tossed with a lemon vinaigrette & fresh cracked pepper.  I thought it was excellent & exactly what we were looking for.

Along with this creation, we also offered the 2017 Skouras Moschofilero as a wine special tonight as well.  The wine’s innate, exotic aromatics totally connected with the oregano & harissa, the innate, elevated viscosity held its own to the pork & the very upbeat acidity blended in well & actually synergized with the fresh squeezed lemon & lemon vinaigrette.  All modesty aside, this really was a VERY interesting, quite memorable pairing.  Plus, it was a combination that most would not even consider.

For me, this is really a fun part of working in a restaurant.

Thanks Keith for the evening’s magical moment.

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Image result for weingut von buhl

Reichsrat von Buhl Winery

MONDAY, JULY 8, 2019 – 6:00 p.m.

With the emergence of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s here in Hawaii, the local food scene greatly changed.  Furthermore with specific chefs like Roy Yamaguchi & Alan Wong (just to name 2) their foods created a very exciting, “out of the box”, dynamic fusion of Asian inspired with more classical European techniques & preparations.  As this was unfolding, Hawaii was truly the vanguard in pairing wines with more Asian influenced foods & German Riesling was a major component of the “revolution”.

It really was about understanding, appreciating & embracing that this style of cooking was VERY different from the richer, more savory recipes & approaches of classical fare.  Far more frequently, now, one encounters more saltiness.  (Hoisin, oyster sauce, sesame oil & soy sauce were overtly salty).  Far more frequently Euro-Asian foods had a fair amount of sweetness (hoisin, oyster sauce, sesame oil are sweet).  We also would encounter heat in dishes/recipes (from ginger, chili pepper, wasabi, curry & the like).

What these components clashed with in wines, was overt oakiness, high alcohol & bitterness (which were components that earlier had worked well with fat rich cream & butter sauces).  This was therefore a BIG change.  Would diners embrace such a big change?

Thirty or so years later, the sommelier community for the most part has swung in to better understanding & appreciating the needed change.  The general public, however, is slowly adjusting, but most still have a hankering for oak laden, smooth Chardonnay & ultra-ripe, opulent, deeply flavored Cabernet Sauvignon.   Furthermore, the popularity of these wines are fueled frequently & continuously by high ratings & accolades by the major media, so tasters think they must be good & collectible.  Even when they are offered at such exorbitant prices, the demand is still high & the waiting lists long.

We should also mention that while we look to the German wine category when pairing wines with Euro-Asian foods, NOT all German wines are created equal.  Each one should in fact be different based upon the vineyard of origin, the climate of that particular vintages & of course the skill of the winemaker.

Like so many other winegrowing/producing regions, there are vineyards in Germany which truly standout head & heels over others in terms of quality and/or having something truly special & unique.  There also seems to one winemaker who emerges in an appellation who is also head over heels above his peers in terms of an “out of the box” vision, mastery of skills & the passion & drive to make it all happen.

Reichsrat von Buhl is one of those historic, iconic estates that have quite an impressive stable of iconic vineyard holdings, today all organically farmed.  Located in the Pfalz region of Germany, Von Buhl is one of the serious minded wineries who helped usher Germany onto the world class wine stage…..AND has been doing so for over 150 years.  “Reichsrat von Buhl has belonged to the circle of the most prestigious wineries in Germany.  Since it was founded in 1849, Reichsrat von Buhl has made its wines in a terroir-dominated, timeless style that has never been oriented to fashion, but always to the grapes’ origins in the best soils of Deidesheimer and Forster“.  We are honored that Von Buhl winemaker Richard Grosche is coming to Hawaii to share his wines & his insights into each wine.

This night is a culinary orchestration by Managing Partner Ivy Nagayama of top level talent–winemaker Richard Grosche & a selection of Reichsrat von Buhl wines paired with the foods of Albert Balbas (Executive Chef DK Steakhouse); Masa Hattori (Corporate Sushi Chef, DK Restaurants); Cherie Pascal (Corporate Pastry Chef, DK Restaurants).

Here is the menu & pairings.

Appetizer (by Sansei Corporate Head Sushi Chef Masa Hattori) 

NEW ZEALAND ORA KING SALMON CARPACCIO– with Upcountry Maui kale, sweet Maui Onions and harusame noodle salad, Asian mustard vinaigrette, ogo, pickled red cabbage, and Mari’s Garden micro greens

WINE:   2017 Von Buhl Riesling Medium-dry “Jazz”–German Riesling can come in many different styles.  This particular wine is halbtrocken (medium dry)–rich enough to handle the King salmon…….lush & crisp enough to handle the salmon’s oiliness & ever so slight hint of sweetness, in fact just enough to counter the mustard vinaigrette & pickled red cabbage.


Second Course (by d.k Steak House Executive Chef Albert Balbas)

AIR CURED WAGYU BRESAOLAwith Mari’s Garden baby arugula pesto, toasted pine nuts, EVOO & chili pepper water

WINE:   2017 Von Buhl Dry Rosé–yes, a PINK wine–Pinot Noir–tasty, remarkably light, weightless that freshens the palate between bites of the salty, savory bresaola & the tangy accompanying refreshing salad.

 

Third Course (by Sansei Corporate Head Sushi Chef Masa Hattori) 

EAST-ASIAN CREAMY SESAME CHAZUKE RISOTTO–Kaua‘i shrimp, edamame and shiitake shinjo fish cake, wasabi furikake crusted Hokkaido scallop, salmon roe, takikomi multigrain rice, shiso leaf, and cilantro

WINE:  2016 Von Buhl “Armand” Riesling Kabinett–ever so slightly sweet with a crisp refreshing acidity which works wonders with Sushi Chef Masa’s incredible subtle, yet complex creation.

 

Entree (by d.k Steak House Executive Chef Albert Balbas) 

KALAMATA BUTTER ROASTED FRESH ISLAND OPAKAPAKA–with saffron clam jus and vine ripened tomato concasse

WINE: 2016 Von Buhl Deidesheimer Dry Riesling–Deidesheim is historically the home turf to some of Germany’s brilliant Rieslings.  This rendition is dry, minerally & palate cleansing which totally accents this dish accordingly.  It will show why Rieslings are sommelier’s favorites across the country when pairing with contemporary fusion foods.   Real magic.

 

 

Dessert  (DK Restaurants Pastry Chef Cherie Pascua) 

BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE TART —with whipped cream, housemade Kona Coffee Ice cream, shortbread crust, almond praline, and dark rum Crème Anglaise

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Jul
07

“Cru” level Santa Barbaran Chardonnay

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It’s hard to believe that I have been doing wines professionally for over forty years. Yup. Back in the 70’s, here in Hawaii, we had a really hard time convincing people to give “boutique” California wines a chance. Thankfully, the Paris Wine Exhibition helped change that challenge and made it somewhat easier. Subsequently, I recall the 1978 ZD Chardonnay “Santa Barbara” bottling which really caught my fancy and started the intrigue of what this more southern appellation had to offer.

Now fast forward to today, we have to really encourage guests to try Old World wines! It flip flopped somewhere along the way and for my palate, the Santa Barbara appellation is home to TWO of the finest Chardonnay vineyards in all of California.  

Bien Nacido is quite a large vineyard, located in the sandy loam soils of the Santa Maria Valley. Over the years, I have really taken a liking to four of its blocks for Chardonnay— I block, J block, K block & W block. All were first planted in 1973 and on its own roots.

The Sanford & Benedict vineyard is located in the Santa Rita Hills appellation further south and the old vine parcels were planted somewhere between 1971 & 1973, again on its own roots in calcium rich clay soils with fracture shale and chert. While many other vineyard designated Chardonnays may get higher scores and more accolades, I am still steadfast in believing these two would be considered Grand Cru, if there was ever such a thing in California. And, they certainly have stood the test of time.

On this night, we will try two sets of wine, one set from each of these iconic vineyards and featuring four Top Gun winemakers. We will serve the wines BLIND just for fun!  Here is your chance to see for yourself, first hand, if there is something special in the dirt. How often do opportunities like this come around?

2017 Ojai Chardonnay “Bien Nacido Vineyard” —I could honestly say, this bottling from this winemaker is one of the very best Chardonnays produced in all of California.  It is certainly NOT showy, snazzy or flamboyant.  In fact, because of this stylistic winemaking preference, on this night, some of the tasters noted this wine was rather simple in smell & to their taste.  For me, I relish that this wine is very much about mineral character & vinosity.  I also loved how seamless, well textured & well balanced it really is & how wonderfully long the finish is.  Interestingly, when owner/winemaker Adam Tolmach split from his founding partnership at Au Bon Climat & started his Ojai project, he used to seemingly use at least 33% new oak when aging his Chardonnays.  In comparison, this bottling comes from I block—planted in 1973 on its own roots & spends 11 months in old oak.  This is a very youthful bottling, in fact, just released.  Still I think this wine is superb & is yet another standout wine from a venerable winemaking master.

2015 Tyler ChardonnayW Block-Bien Nacido Vineyard–owner/winemaker Justin Willett has meteorically risen to the top echelon of the Californian wine scene.  His wines are precise, wonderfully transparent, seamless & remarkably textured & balanced.  Along the way, the Tyler fast momentum was further fueled by his ability to get better & better grapes from such iconic regional vineyards such as “Sanford & Benedict” & W Block Chardonnay, Q Block & N Block Pinot Noir from the Bien Nacido vineyard.  While many others have waited in a long line, & for a long time, Willett somehow rose through the ranks & now gets such top drawer grapes.  His parcel in W block, was planted in 1973 & on its own roots. This parcel uniquely is on a dried up riverbed, more rock/shale than sandy loam & I have been an avid fan for quite sometime.  This was a standout & one of the real favorites of this group. The wine is aged for 10 months in oak, 18% new oak.

2016 Au Bon Climat Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” –I have been a HUGE fan of the wines from Au Bon Climat since way back when.  Their wines have always been thankfully done with Old World sensibilities & the resulting wines showcase elegance, minerality, superb texture & balance.  For me, the crown jewel of their portfolio is their Sanford & Benedict bottling–typically with Chardonnay & sometimes with Pinot Noir.  Over the years, winemaker/owner Jim Clendenen would get grapes from different parcels from the vineyard as politics seemed to always affect who gets what in different vintages.  Still, while this is truly one of the most revered single vineyards, I would also say that Au Bon Climat produces the most stirring & memorable of what this site wants to say.  His current parcel is old vine—planted in 1971/73 on its own roots. The wine is aged in barrel for 18 months in oak, 80% of which is new.  While 80% is a lot of brand new oak to use, this wine somehow magically does NOT seem so oaky.  In fact, the Tyler (18% new oak) & the Chanin (25% new oak) seem WAY oakier!!!  This is another absolutely stellar bottling!

2013 Chanin Chardonnay “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard”–winemaker/owner Gavin Chanin is another of the New Age winemaking phenoms rising in the industry & supported by quite a slew of high scores & recognition.  Gavin worked for several vintages under the tutelage of winemakers Jim Adelman, Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) & Bob Lindquist (Qupe).  Because their joint winemaking facility is located in the Bien Nacido vineyard itself, Gavin would understand which of that vineyard parcels of their home turf have something interesting to say.  It’s then no surprised he worked diligently to get some grapes from the old vines of the iconic W Block to work with.  In addition, because of Au Bon Climat’s “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” (& the “Los Alamos Vineyard”)bottling, Chanin would also have gained a lot of insight into these vineyards as well.  The 2013 comes from the old vines—planted in 1971/73 on its own roots & is aged for 15 months in oak, 25% new. The Chanin rendition seems much more apparently oaky & forward than that from Au Bon Climat right upon release.  Given this particular wine is now 6 years old & therefore has had time to harmonize & round out, the wine has acquired some grandeur & swag, since we last had it.  Still, very masculine & quite showy in style with slight tannins in the finished, it has come a long ways & one just has to be patient to see how it will evolve to.  Some of the tasters really loved this wine!

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Jun
15

Italian Aromatic White Wines

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We have had a real fascination with aromatic wines which combine aromatics with minerality. They offer such dynamic, mesmerizing pairings with foods, on a very different level/dimension than other wines. This concept is much more than a trend. With the way fusion foods and cooking styles are changing in so many different directions, we have to continually search out and find appropriate wines for pairings. Aromatic white wines is a niche well worth checking out. The main challenge is finding GOOD ones. Yes, they are really surprisingly hard to come by. Here are four really worth trying which should show you what they can be. How often do opportunities like this come around!

 

2015 Château Feuillet Moscato Bianco “Valle D’Aosta”–A dry, quite masculine, sturdy “mountain grown” white wine, fragrant of stony soils and the Moscato grape variety. Yes, quite unique and mesmerizing.  “The vines sit in a very shallow sandy soil, but their feet wriggle into crevices in the solid granite bedrock. Any rain is quickly dried out by cleansing winds. And the vineyards are planted on an ancient riverbed, roughly 3000 feet in elevation, where over the millennia the Dora Baltea River has cut through the mountain, creating the current river valley and leaving behind mineral deposits that the wines happily lap up. The trump card, however, may be the exposition of the vineyards, which in combination with the chilly climate, high altitude, and drastic diurnal temperature shifts provides the magic charm sought by vignerons everywhere: extremely long hours of gentle sunlight”.

2015 Vignai da Duline Malvasia Istriana Chioma Integrale–Planted in limestone-red clay soils back in 1960. Wild yeast fermented, this wine is then aged for 7 to 8 months in 50% 11HL barrels (5 years old) & 50% in 2.5HL barrels (5 to 15 years old).  Kermit Lynch—“I found gold from those beautiful Friuli hills—finesse, touch, and class. Delicious AND interesting”.

 

2013 Kante Malvasia–Kante was an early proponent of “orange” wines, but today is in a “zone” of producing wines of great purity, precision and sophistication. Pure genius and a true vigneron. There is no doubt he is considered one of the true, contemporary winemaking stars of Italy. This wine remains on the lees for six months then aged for twelve months in OLD barrels.  “In this near-perfect combination of climate and terreno, Edi Kante produces wines that are poised, solid, fresh, and brimming with the character of both the chosen grape and the stark limestone soil of Carso at nearly 3000 feet in elevation”.

 

2016 Caravaglio Malvasia Bianco “Salina”–we poured this last wine BLIND.  As one taster surprisingly noted–this wine had a riper, more sundrenched mouthfeel.  Yet another noted, that this wine had a salinity to its taste (& smell).  This was the intent–to show how different an aromatic Italian white can be from a warmer growing area.  In this case the home turf is the island of Salina, which is located just north of Sicily.  This site is warmer & more sundrenched than the other 3 wines & therefore has a different mouthfeel.  In addition, this wine also has a salinity character both in the nose as well as on the palate.  Is it because the vineyards overlook the sea?  In any case. this wine would work best with a whole different set of dishes & styles of cooking.

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I attended a tasting of Grenache based red wines the other night.  Tasting a wine on its own is one perspective.  Tasting side by side with others I found provides much more & different perspectives.  I in fact found it quite enlightening.  I could say the same about this night’s tasting, as we continue to explore indigenous grape varieties and wines from around the Mediterranean basin.  Yes, still quite a fascinating and enlightening journey. 

2016 Azienda Santa Barbara Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi–When I was growing up in this industry, Verdicchio was considered one of Italy’s finest indigenous white wine grape varieties, especially those from the Marches region & its Castelli di Jesi sub appellation.  We start off with a café styled rendition–dry, crisp, vividly fresh and invigorating white wine served in cafés of the fishing villages along Italy’s eastern coast and its Adriatic Sea. Yes, a “country” styled white wine to be enjoyed with food, which gives us all a glimpse of what typicity offers in this region, its rolling light grey, sandy tufo soils and its most respected grape variety.

2016 Maestracci Calvi “E Prove”–Since early on, I was also taught that the Vermentino (which the French sometimes refer to as Rolle) grape variety was capable of producing top flight white wines.  This was later buttressed when I tasted the Clos Nicrosi bottling from Corsica, sometime in the 1980’s.  I remember thinking, how the heck could man & God grow & create something otherworldly like this.  Sadly he passed away & I have not had a wine like that since.  It was also the inspiration for my obsession to visit Corsica. After thirty plus years of being at the very top of my bucket list of wine destinations, Cheryle and I now plan to visit Corsica. In digging around for advice, my wine yoda, Bruce Neyers, commented we should for sure hook up with Camille-Anaïs Raoust of Maestracci, “must see”, he emphasized. “Maestracci is located high in the foothills of Monte Grossu mountain, inland from Calvi & the granite plateau of Reginu.” This wine smells of the sun baked rocks and wild countryside which I am hoping to see, walk and smell first hand. Thanks Yoda!

2016 Casale del Giglio Biancolella “Faro della Guardia”–I have had a real fascination for the Biancolella grape variety since my first taste of a rendition from the island of Ischia (off the Amalfi coast) back in the early 1990’s. Biancolella is found primarily in Italy’s Campania region, but was introduced to the Island of Ponza during the 18th century. Cultivation of the grape in the Lazio region is authorized exclusively on the Island of Ponza, where it grows at the base of a sheer sea cliff surmounted by the imposing lighthouse which rises 400 or so feet above sea level. The deepest part of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the trench known as ‘La Fossa del Tirreno’, lies some eleven miles to the southwest of the lighthouse rock”.  I think Biancolella grown in limestone/marine soils can create oenological synergy & magic.

2016 Vigneti Vecchio Sicilia Bianco “Sciare Vive”–There is a real fascination, bordering obsession with the wines and potential of the Etna appellation down in Sicily. Here is the latest—small family run operation on the north facing slope–1.5 hectares at 1600 to 2800 on the slopes of Mt Etna—volcanic-clay-limestone soils, forty to one hundred year old vines. 90% Carricante, 10% indigenous varieties (Minnella, Inzolia, Grecanico, Catarratto)—fermented in old 500 liters barrels with seven months on the lees.  This white wine has a coppery hue, quite masculine & muscular with exotic (not tropical) fruit–persimmon for instance, dried pit fruit, a distinct pungency–stones, smoked spice, base & leesy notes to its core, with a unique viscosity & a stony finish.

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