Archive for Wines Revisted

The 1980’s proved to be a whole new frontier of Californian wines for me to explore.  Where the 1970’s consisted of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon based reds, the new, standout wines of the 1980’s, ventured into other grape varieties such as Chardonnay & Pinot Noir.

1980 VINTAGE–The first eye opening wine from the 1980 vintage, was my first taste of a Kistler Chardonnay.  I remember the 1981 was from Dutton Ranch & I am pretty sure so was the 1980.  In either case, both opened a new horizon for artisan, “boutique” wine AND the Russian River Valley growing region.  The 1980 Acacia Pinot Noir (I believe the 1980 was St Clair Vineyard & the 1981 was the Madonna Vineyard) was also the notable wine I had from this fledging winery.  While also received a lot of clamor for their Chardonnays, their single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 1980 & 1981 vintages were their most compelling wines for me.  I was introduced to the Vichon wines by my best friend, Nunzio Alioto.  His family & other Californian restaurateurs & investors founded this winery, which was spearheaded by winemaker George Vierra.  Their 1980 Vichon Cabernet Sauvignon “Nathan Fay Vineyard” was their first vintage of red wine & was in my eyes a standout.  This winery also produced a 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon “Volker Eislese Vineyard”, though also quite good, it just didn’t have the magic of the Fay Vineyard bottling.  (As a side note they also produced a wonderfully delicious Chevrier Blanc–later changed to Chevrignon–both blends of Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc which were also stellar.  Sadly, the winery was soon taken over by the Robert Mondavi family & became an after thought–it’s brilliance faded away into the sunset.

1981 VINTAGE–the 1981 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir was the first wine I had from this true artisan, old school winery.  I believe 1981 was also the first vintage we were introduced to the Tepusquet Vineyard wines from the namesake vineyard down in the Santa Maria Valley.  They produced a lively, crisp & refreshing Vin Blanc & a lighter, tasty Vin Rouge, which we subsequently used as the house wine for the Kahala Hilton.

1982 VINTAGE–The most prominent standout red wine from the vintage was the 1982 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon.  While we had previously tasted a 1978 & a 1979 from this winery, the 1982 was its first shining moment.  1982 was also the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon I had from Spottswoode.  “Insiders” were already ear marking this winery as a “can’t miss”.  The 1982 Calera Pinot Noir “Reed” was the first vintage we had from this now iconic winery.  There was hints of minerality & wonderful acidity/vitality which made it standout from its peers.  Winemaker/owner Robert Stemmler had his moments of brilliance with the fickle Pinot Noir grape variety, especially early on.  The 1982 Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir was the first of his wines we encountered.

1983 VINTAGE–A friend, his wife & I were dining at Le Castel restaurant on Sacramento Street in San Francisco  Joining us was another couple (both considered wine experts) who brought the 1983 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay “Les Pierres”.  Knowing his taste, I found it unusual he would bring a California wine to share.  The wine was so captivating, we were on the phone the very next morning hoping to get an appointment to see & meet with them.  The 1983 Calera Pinot Noir “Selleck”–while I had other bottlings & vintages from this relatively new face, this particular bottling from Calera was the one that captured my fancy & imagination.  It had something to do with the wine’s minerality!

1984 VINTAGE–was the first vintage I tasted of Byron Pinot Noir.   This wine reiterated the potential Santa Maria Valley of the Santa Barbara appellation had.  It was much lighter in weight & had more minerality than those Pinot Noirs I experienced from futher north.  I believe this was also the first vintage we were able to get the Etude Pinot Noir too.

1985 VINTAGE–I was really quite mesmerized by the 1985 Mount Eden Chardonnay.  It was quite the masculine, classy Chardonnay thoroughbred, which was really unique & unlike anything Californian I had previously had.  Upon further investigation, I couldn’t help but think, who had the vision to plant this vineyard 1000 to 2000 feet up in this remote, desolate, rocky, mountainous terrain, back in 1943?  At the time, I thought the Estate Chardonnay was far better than the Pinot Noir & Cabernet bottlings.  Legendary Master Sommelier, Fred Dame introduced me to his friend named Clark, who would in turn introduce me a whole new horizon of California wines.  The first was the 1985 Sarah’s Vineyard Chardonnay, which featured a very classy gold label & really upscale packaging.  The Chardonnay was in turn very classy & majestic, (AND much better than their Merlot).   In subsequent vintages, I recall the fruit coming from the Santa Clara appellation, a whole new scene for wines, at least for me.  A gentleman by the name of Mac McKelvey, who lived on Maui where he started his own Maui based wine distributor introduced me to the 1985 Ventana Chardonnay , which reiterated to me the wonderful potential the Monterey area had for the Chardonnay grape variety.  The 1985 BR Cohn Cabernet Sauvignon, although not spectacular, introduced us to the winemaking magic of then winemaker Helen Turley.

I should mention here, sometime between the mid to late 1980’s, I was introduced to the Draper & Esquin portfolio out of San Francisco.  I was initially searching them out for their Italian wines–Gaja, Jermann, Ca’ Ronesca “Ipplis”, Monsecco & Ca’ Rome wines–but also grew quite fascinated with their Californian wine selections as time went on.  The 1985 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon “Sonoma Mountain” was something special, as was some of the single vineyard Zinfandels from Ravenswood & the Santa Barbaran grown Syrahs from Qupe.

Also in the mid to late 1980’s–I was introduced to the Chardonnays & Pinot Noirs from Au Bon Climat, Ojai & Whitcraft & these wineries changed the game what these grape varieties could be out of California.  It took us a while to get these wines to Hawaii.  In the case of the Au Bon Climat wines & winemaker Jim Clendenen, because of looming governmental potential restriction on Italian wine imports, I was actually trying to get some of Clendenen’s Italian look-a-like wines which were mostly grown in the Santa Barbara appellation which he marketed under the Il Podere dell’Olivos label.  As it turned out, superstar Hawaii chef, Roy Yamaguchi, worked his magic at a Los Angeles high end food event to help make the connection to get the Au Bon Climat wines first.

Around the same time or perhaps a short while later, Fred Dame also recommended I check out the wines from then youngster, Bryan Babcock, specifically his “Grand Cuvee” Chardonnay.  The Babcock estate vineyard is located in what is now called the west side of the Santa Rita Hills appellation.  Back then, it was considered in the middle of nowhere between the towns of Buellton & Lompoc.  (I asked myself, who had the sense/vision to plant this vineyard in such an isolated, undiscovered spot which had meager soils & a continuous, gusting ocean generated wind?  I guess I could ask the same question about the iconic Sanford & Benedict vineyard of the same general area.)  As it turned out, I ended up first buying the Babcock Gewurztraminer, then the Riesling, then a short time later the Sauvignon Blanc “11 Oaks”.  I thought each were special, especially for California, as was the Chardonnay “Grand Cuvee”.

Also in the mid to late 1980’s, I was quite taken by the Howell Mountain grown Chardonnays of Chateau Woltner–3 single parcels–“Frederique”, “Titus” & “St Thomas”–which at the time were under the direction, both in the vineyard & the winery, of Ted Lemon, freshly back from a stint as winemaker at Domaine Roulot in Meursault, France.   Though quite pricey & somewhat hard to get because of limited production, these “mountain grown”, non-malolactic Chardonnays were quite special & unique.

1986 VINTAGE–the most memorable “label” we purchased from the 1986 vintage was the 1986 Bonny Doon “Les Cigare Volant”.  I had previously heard all kinds of stories of this winery phenomenon from Fred Dame (who was a good friend of winemaker/owner Randall Grahm) & later was fortunate to taste a Roussanne bottling of theirs, named  “Le Sophiste” & an earlier vintage of “Le Cigare Volant”.  While the wines were tasty & good, the packaging & schtick/stories were incredible!  Wow!  What a unique niche & a fabulous cache.

1987 VINTAGE–1987 was quite the vintage for California & there were many really good wine produced.  The wine I most remember, however, was the 1987 Georis Merlot from Carmel Valley.  I don’t recall who recommended this winery (though probably Fred Dame).  While I had thought the 1985 & 1986 were good, the 1987 was something very special!  Owner Walter Georis also owned Casanova’s restaurant in Carmel & I later had to chance to meet with him & tour his estate vineyard.  On the white wine side, the 1987 La Jota Viognier was really the first wine I tasted from Bill Smith & his La Jota label that caught our attention, being so lush & extravagantly tropical.

1988 VINTAGE–the most unique wines we tasted from the 1988 vintage was the 1988 Kalin Cellars Chardonnay “LD”.  Owner/winemaker Terry Leighton really was far ahead of his time.  His Chardonnays featured heirloom./heritage vines, from then relatively little known growing areas such as the cooler confines of the Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast & even Livermore.  His Chardonnays were wild yeast fermented & bottled unfiltered & most of the time unfined too.  Plus, he released them years AFTER the vintage, so they had a chance to resolve themselves & therefore be much more in harmony.  In most cases the wines, especially the Chardonnays, were terrific.  The 1988 Talbott Chardonnay was also quite a discovery.  Again based upon the recommendation of Fred Dame, we were mesmerized by their Chardonnay’s lavish richness, decadent opulence, lushness & base note stoniness.   At a Trade tasting at the Mauna Lani Resort on the Big Island, Donald Patz came up to me & asked if I wanted to taste his new 1988 Patz & Hall Chardonnay “Napa Valley”.  It was a unapologetically brash, bold, “game changing” Chardonnay, to say the least.  Interestingly, I stumbled upon the 1988 Justin “Isosceles” at a tasting in San Francisco.  What really caught my attention was the wine’s underlying high toned minerality, a quality I did not experience from the Cabernet based red wines out of the Napa & Sonoma valleys.  It was the minerality in this wine that opened my eyes to the potential the Paso Robles appellation had.

1989 VINTAGE–Although this vintage was generally maligned by the wine media, I tasted a few wines that caught our fancy.  The 1989 Talbott Chardonnay “Diamond T” was from their small estate vineyard adjacent to Rob Talbott’s home on a top of a windy hill in Carmel Valley.  While their other bottling of Chardonnay featured mainly decomposed granitic soils, “Diamond T” featured limestone.  Because this vineyard regularly yielded a scant 1 ton per acre, the bottle cost of the “Diamond T” Chardonnay was higher, almost like being a Reserve bottling.  It was a standout at the time nonetheless.  I was fortunate to also taste the 1989 Williams & Selyem Pinot Noir “Rochioli Vineyard”.  It was evident, even with the 1989 vintage, this vineyard had something special going on.  The 1989 Viader was also quite a unique wine.  The hillside vineyard was steep, spectacular & the planting scheme quite the sensation but later turned out to be quite controversial.  The wine was fascinating because of its Cabernet Franc dominance in the blend, its extreme hillside home & the winemaking prowess of Tony Soter.  In this less than heralded vintage, I also tasted the 1989 Alban Syrah “Reva” based upon the recommendation of Bob Lindquist of Qupe.  Although Alban also produced some Viognier based white wines, it really was the provocative, surly Syrah that stood out.

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I was a young lad of 23 when I landed a server job at the soon to open Alioto’s Restaurant, which was then located at the corner of Kaheka & Makaloa streets across from the old Holiday Mart location.  Alioto’s was & still is an iconic, family owned San Francisco restaurant located on Fisherman’s Wharf.  This was to be their Hawaii “branch”.

By that time, I was already into wines & even had in fact taken wine courses through the Grape Escape wine school, taught by Master Sommelier Eddie Osterland & his partner Ronn Wiegand.

My first BIG wine purchase up to that point was a bottle of 1970 Chateau Lafite Rothschild ($36 a bottle at the time) & a bottle of 1971 Chateau Margaux ($25), both from Hi-Ho Liquors in Aina Haina Shopping Center.

I was quite taken back, however, when looking over the initial, opening wine list for Alioto’s, because it featured only California wineries.  Made sense–San Francisco based restaurant & Californian wines.  My only real experience with high quality Californian wines up to this point though were those from Robert Mondavi, so, I was somewhat apprehensive to say the least.

The list was put together by the on sight, owning family representative, Nunzio Alioto, who I soon discovered had incredible knowledge of Italian, French, German AND California wines.  This was to be one of the most impactful wine educational experiences for me in my entire professional life.  (Nunzio & I eventually became fast & best friends & our relationship has now spanned 40 or so years.  I will be forever grateful to him for all of the knowledge & wines he shared with me over the years.)

While, at the time, I was enamored by the Chardonnay based white wines of Meursault, France, I now had to instead understand, appreciate & learn how to recommend Californian Chardonnays, from small, then unheard of wineries such as Chateau Montelena (1973), Freemark Abbey (1975), Burgess Cellars “Winery Lake” (1975) & Cuvaison (1974 from then winemaker Philip Togni).  And, instead of Dr Thanisch Riesling Spatlese “Bernkastler Doktor”, I now had to embrace Joseph Phelps Johannisberg Riesling.  And instead of French Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), I now had to get behind Chappellet Dry Chenin Blanc.  And, instead of the red wines of Bordeaux, I now had to get used to recommending the Cabernet Sauvignons from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (1973), Clos du Val (1974), Beaulieu “Private Reserve Georges de Latour” (’73 & ’74), Sterling (1973 & ’74 “Reserve”) & Heitz Martha’s Vineyard” (1973).  Then, it was quite the challenge & transition, but today looking back, it helped provide quite the foundation for me understanding the California wine scene0 as an emerging world class wine growing region & the players which helped it get to where it is today!

Our “house” wines–listed as Alioto’s Selection–were from the little known Foppiano winery!

It is quite remarkable how back then Californian wines were a hard sell here in the Islands.   Local wine drinkers wanted European wines.  Quite the flip flop nowadays.

As time went on & my getting used to what the Californian wines had to offer, I really started to get into them.

While the Chateau Montelena Chardonnays were truly heads over heels for those in the know, I had a hankering for the 1975 & 1976 Burgess Cellars Chardonnay “Winery Lake” AND the 1972 Mayacamas Chardonnay (out of magnum).  OMG, these were epic in my eyes.

And, on the red wine side, while Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars & Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” were the headliners, I really enjoyed the Beaulieu “Private Reserve” (1968, 1970, 1974); the Ridge “Monte Bello” (1968, 1970) & the Robert Mondavi “Reserve” (1971) bottlings.  I would also like to mention the 1974 Clos du Val & some of the early bottlings of both Mayacamas (1968 & 1970); Inglenook Cask (1967 & 1968); the 1966 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon & some 1967, ’68, ’70 Special Selection Cabernet & Pinot Noir bottling froms Louis Martini..

As time went on, the list of notable wines grew.

From the 1970 vintage–although the 1970 Beaulieu “Private Reserve” (which legendary Beaulieu winemaker André Tchelistcheff nicknamed his “Shining Star”); the 1970 Ridge “Monte Bello” & the 1970 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon were the real stars of the vintage, I also, however, took a fancy for the 1970 Chappellet Cabernet Sauvignon from what is now known as Pritchard Hill.  (I had subsequently later tasted the 1968 & 1969, but much preferred the ’70).

1972 was the first vintage I had tasted from the newest Napa Valley star–Clos du Val.  While it was wasn’t necessarily great, we loved his elegant, stylish approach.  The true star of the vintage for me, however, was the previously mentioned 1972 Mayacamas Chardonnay, which was served out of magnum on 2 different occasions.  It was a wine which truly exhibited the potential California had.

From the much ballyhoo-ed 1974 vintage–the 3 stars were–the 1974 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon; 1974 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” & 1974 Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon “Private Reserve”.  There was also much hoop-la about the 1974 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”.  It came with a new look–a tailored bottle shape AND in a wooden case–almost as to say, I am of Grand Cru in stature.  Well, it was eye catching right out of the gates, BUT turned out to be quite controversial shortly thereafter.  We were later told there were four batches made–3 had a microbial issue & 1 didn’t.  This, along with the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars “Cask 23” bottlings, really brought to the forefront discussions of brettanomyces/dekkera bruxellensis.

From the 1976 vintage–the 1976 Ridge Zinfandel “Lytton Springs” was truly something special & the most memorable Californian wine of the vintage for me.  This was also the first vintage I tasted from Jordan winery & our first real inkling of the Joseph Phelps “Insignia”, although we had tasted at least a couple of vintages prior.

From the 1977 vintage, I was especially taken by the 1977 Ridge “Monte Bello” & the 1977 Beaulieu “Private Reserve”, although it would take decades for both to show their true potential.  This was also the first vintage I had from Diamond Creek winery, the fabulous, iconic Stony Hill Chardonnay, Hanzell Pinot Noir AND was the vintage, Mike Grgich released his first wine under his own label–1977 Grgich Hills Chardonnay, which was quite a stunning, captivating wine!

From the 1978 vintage, 2 standouts upon release –1978 Clos du Val “Reserve” & the 1978 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon “Private Reserve” come to mind.  (There were however, subsequent question marks on both since, as to whether they got any better with additional bottle age).  ZD winery, with the 1978 vintage, released 2 different Chardonnays–1 with a “Napa Valley” designation & the other with a “Santa Barbara” label designation.  I much preferred the latter & this really help open a new box of wine thought for me to explore–the Santa Barbara appellation.   (I had had an earlier experience with an “Alexander Valley” Chardonnay bottling by Chateau Montelena, which also enticed me to look out of the “Napa Valley” box, just as the Ridge “Monte Bello” bottlings previously had).

For the 1979 vintage, while we were really taken by the 1979 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon “Reserve”, we were later really enamored by two very “out of norm” red wines even more–the 1979 Chalone Pinot Noir & the 1979 Opus One.  Elegance is the first word that comes to mind for both.

I should also mention here, the workings of Francis Mahoney of Carneros Creek winery.  I went to visit him, although I can’t remember the exact year, just to check out his Pinot Noir experimental farm & listen to his take on clones & vine selections & how they fit into California.  He opened the door for me to the concept of clones, something I really didn’t think too much about, at least up to this point.

We should also mention some of the standout, “other” grape varieties which stood out in the 1970’s.  For Riesling the highlights were from Joseph Phelps & Chateau St Jean.  For Chenin Blanc–Chappellet.  For Sauvignon Blanc–Dry Creek, Robert Mondavi & Chateau St Jean “La Petite Etoile”, which in each of these cases, labeled their wines as Fume Blanc.

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It’s remarkably been over 40 years of my being involved with wines.  My, my, how time has just sped by, AND so quickly.  I recently received an email invitation from one of my longest time wine friends, John Brincko, to have lunch, catch up, taste some wines & talk story.  I was elated.

I first met John, while I was the Wine Cellarmaster at the Kahala Hilton in the late 1970’s, perhaps the early 1980’s.  (sorry, my memory can not pinpoint a more precise, accurate time).  He would come to stay at the hotel once a year, & over the years, I relished hearing his stories of & his vast insight into the wine world.  He definitely played on a  different level, being then one of the most prominent wine collectors in the country, & way before it was fashionable.  John was therefore on a first name basis with France’s elite wine echelon, including Aubert de Villaine, Jean Francois Coche, Madam Leroy-Bize & Remy Krug, just to name a few.

For me, he also was one of those important teachers I was fortunate to run across.

I distinctly remember one instance in particular.  I was thrilled to acquire another “artisan” white Burgundy–the 1976 Robert Ampeau Meursault Charmes for the hotel’s winelist.  (Up till this point, the majority of  white Burgundy offerings in Hawaii were from larger houses such as Bouchard, Drouhin, Louis Latour & Louis Jadot.)  I was therefore thrilled & quite proud to recommend this Ampeau Meursault to John when he next came to dine.

5 minutes after I had served the wine to him, John asked to see me again, at which time, he let me know that this wine was “heat stressed”.  I immediately thought, ‘but we take pride in having a temperature controlled cellar & floor units, how can this be?”

He then asked “how about the shipping from France to Hawaii“?

Booiiinnnnngggg!

Lesson learned.

In addition, over the years, John was kind enough to share many fine bottles of esteemed wines, many of which I could not fathom of acquiring, much less tasting, to further my wine knowledge.  Yes, John Brincko definitely got me out of my comfort box & to imagine the possibilities.

So, on this wonderfully sunny, breezy Sunday, we met for lunch with local wine collector, Gene Wong.  We spoke of many things–some from the past, some about the wine scene today & some just about the pure enjoyment of some favorite wines.  What a great afternoon!  Thank you to you both.

Here are the wines we tried—

1996 Philipponat “Clos des Goisses”–a truly iconic bottling–65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay from the Premier Cru village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ & its oldest vines & steepest parcels.  I was immediately quite taken how complex & grand the nose was right out of the gates.  It, in fact, smelled of aged CRU white Burgundy–mesmerizing, powerful, very sophisticated & full of grandeur.  The palate was much tighter, firm, surprisingly fresh, youthful & uplifting with a fine bead & a very long, long finish.  This certainly was a standout!  I haven’t had a Champagne this good in a very long time!  WOW! 

2008 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru “Clavoillons”–I must say upfront, I don’t sample this domaine’s wines as often as I did before.  When asked, though, I told the pair, I have found this domaine’s whites rather up & down in quality for some time, which is why I don’t buy them too often anymore, especially given their prices.  AND, I have found them to be often over oaked (to the point where the oak overshadows the minerality & pedigree).  I bought this wine, without tasting it, based upon a recommendation & because it was 2008.  I have generally liked the transparency many of the 2008’s I have tasted.  The nose & color was far more advanced than I would have imagined.  And, while, it did open up after an hour or so, I found it to be too oaky for my tastes, as I felt it curtained the wine’s underlying minerality & pedigree.  Furthermore, I found the palate less interesting & rather dull than the nose.  Still, I was thankful to have tried it. 

2010 Jean Marie Pillot Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru (MAGNUM)–I haven’t had the Pillot wines in quite a while & was really looking forward to trying the 2010, especially out of magnum.  The first thing I immediately noticed was how fresh & alive this wine seemed right out of the gates.  In addition, it was resoundingly Grand Cru–full of complexity, intricacy & pedigree.  I also loved how elegant, well balanced & transparent this wine is.  And, it seemed, every time I dived back in, over the 3 1/2 hours, the more it had to say.  I tried the wine again later in the night & it had really opened up in all its glory.  Thank you John for sharing. 

1999 Domaine Maume Mazis Chambertin Grand Cru–I have always had a soft spot for Maume red Burgundies.  It’s not that they are the grandest of Burgundy, but I liked how personal, masculine, idiosyncratic they can be.  The 1999, for me, was gorgeous.  I loved its earthy, forest floor, musk/pheromone scented nose & its wonderful Grand Cru character.  On the palate, it had ripe, gorgeous fruit, wonderful structure & balance in a rustic, masculine old style.  I would say, it’s definitely not for everyone, but I loved it.  It really offers a very different, personal perspective on what Grand Cru Burgundy can be. 

1991 Comte de Georges Vogüé Musigny–with first whiff, one could immediately tell this was Grand Cru Burgundy in all its glory.  Oh my goodness!  (It initially had some ‘funk” to the nose, but that blew off soon there after.)  It didn’t mask the incredible, underlying, supreme nobility & pedigree this wine profoundly showcased.  This is a standout aristocrat.  Although I have been fortunate to taste various vintages of Vogüé Musigny over the years, I found myself somewhat underwhelmed more often than not, especially considering the upper tier price point.  I can easily say, though, this 1991 was the finest bottle I have had from this venerable, iconic estate.  It was having Grand Cru red Burgundy in all its glory & a truly unforgettable experience.  Thank you John for sharing!

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Dec
09

French White Wine “Collectibles”

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2005 Coche Dury Puligny Montrachet “Les Enseignères”–there is no doubt that Coche Dury is at the very top of the “A” list of white Burgundies today.  While this domaine is based in Meursault, they also own 1/2 hectare of Les Enseignères vineyard in Puligny MontrachetWhen I first tasted the 1986 Coche Dury Corton Charlemagne, I was absolutely floored by its boldness, grandeur & magnificence.  It had presence, personality & mojo that was previously only seen from the Montrachet from Domiane de la Romanee-Conti.  Their style was certainly game changing & would inspire others to follow & emulate.  The 2005 is still surprisingly closed.  It certainly & almost vainly has the stuffing, but, even at 12 years in age, still has a LONG way to go in resolving itself.

2010 Château Haut Brion Blanc–one of our regular VINO guests likes to come in & blind taste me on one of his wines now & then.  On this night, it was this wine!  I was very thankful he shared such a wine.  The point of this exercise for him I am sure is to stump me or watch me struggle.  Ha! Ha!  For me, however, the exercise is to see if the wine was good or not…..how much would I pay….& think about what kind of foods I would consider pairing with it.  After all, how many times would someone have an opportunity like this, with such a wine?  This wine tasted VERY sophisticated, refined & high quality with a dollop of very expensive oak to it & I thought a distinct salinity.  Upon a quick 2 minute assessment (this is during service after all), Burgundy came to mind.  I would have paid, $125 to $150 a bottle online, but not $335 as is quoted today.  The wine as it turns out is 46% Semillon, 54% Sauvignon Blanc (not sure if there was a % of Sauvignon Vert in this vintage)….9 to 12 months in oak, 50% new.  The parcel is but 7.09 acres in size.  Yes, I was very thankful to try this wine.  The last Château Haut Brion Blanc I tried & purchased was I believe the 1986 for a winelist I was working with at the time.  I remembered being so inspired by a bottle of 1966 Laville Haut Brion in the early to mid 1980’s that we went on a Château Haut Brion Blanc buying binge of 5 vintages in pursuit of the wonderful perfume & regality I had experienced from that Laville Haut Brion.  It unfortunately never came even close.

2014 “Y”–another rarely seen white wine from Bordeaux.  The question is was this wine brought to assess quality or to stump fellow tasters in a blind tasting?  Again, my thought is always, I am so thankful for tasting such a wine, as opportunities like this don’t around too often.  Here is something I recently read “The dry white wine of d’Yquem. The chateau produces this wine in certain years when conditions permit. ‘Y’ comes from the same exceptional terroir and vines as Yquem’s famous sweet wines. It benefits from identical strict vinegrowing methods, but is harvested and produced differently. ‘Y’ is produced when the deliberate decision is made to pick certain plots of sauvignon blanc grapes at the beginning of the vintage and overripe Semillon grapes later on. This accounts for the small quantities and irregular production. There have been only 23 vintages of ‘Y’ since the first one in 1959!”  The 2014 is 75% Sauvignon Blanc & 25% Semillon, 7 g/l, residual sugar. 

2005 Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos”–despite being so VERY youthful, this wine on this night was really strutting its stuff that’s for sure.  This is without a doubt a real thoroughbred.  In the past, the Valmur grand cru vineyard was typically the Raveneau bottling I gravitated to each vintage.  I guess it is because of the remarkable ethereal, sophisticated, high pitched minerality & pedigree the wine typically offers.  This wine in comparison had more bass than treble….more stony & about grandeur.  Furthermore, this wine is WAY more open than my previous encounter, eventhough that was only 3 or so months ago.  What a wine, to say the least!

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Nov
19

Douloufakis Wines Crete, Greece

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We have been fortunate to carry the Douloufakis Vidiano here in the Islands.  Being only an hour drive away from our hotel in Elounda, we therefore, decided one day to go see the winery & vineyard.  The family owns roughly 20 hectares in Dafnes, in the center of Crete, near the larger city of Iraklio (where we would eventually catch a ferry to the Island of Santorini in a few days).  The vineyards are quite breathtaking–mostly on various, undulating hillsides of very white calcareous soils.  Being at higher altitudes (up to roughly 1500 feet) there is constant, strong, gusting, cool ocean winds.  The vineyard tour really was an eye opening & breathtaking!  

What we tasted were the 2016 Vidiano (indigenous grape–white grape variety) & their Liatiko (indigenous red grape variety).  (They also produce a little Malvasia di Candida Aromatico, which they label as Femina & another Liatiko, this one sun dried, & 5 years in barrel–resulting in a sweet, viscous wine named Helios).

The Vidiano is produced from 40 year old vines, fermented in stainless steel with NO malolactic & 4 to 5 days on the lees.  This grape variety grown in these hillside calcareous soils, though not about grandeur, does produce very pure, scintillating white wines with star fruit/quince like fruit, heightened by riveting minerality & a wonderfully crisp & refreshing edge, ideal for seafood & lighter pasta dishes. 

The Liatiko is also produced from 40 plus year old vines, which are de-stemmed & aged for at least 1 year in old oak (barrique, 1.5 & 3.0 foudres).  The resulting wine has a roasted chestnut, savory, bay leaf character with acidity & astringency that reminds of Italy’s Galioppo based red wines.

I should add, that both of these wines are surprisingly reasonable in price & therefore offer GREAT VALUE.  I would further add, the Vidiano is probably more applicable to most restaurants.  If you can sell a Sauvignon Blanc, then one should also readily be able to suggest this wine in place.

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Aug
22

Unico

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It is amazing how every few years, a new superstar winery seems to emerge.  Today, it happens so quickly, the velocity largely due to the media, specifically the writings of Robert Parker, Stephen Tanzer & of course the Wine Spectator.

In contrast, when I was growing up in this industry, I had a bucket list of wines I would hope to taste one day.  The list included several vintages each of Chateaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Petrus, Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, DRC Romanee Conti, La Tache & Montrachet, Chave Hermitage, Bollinger “Vieilles Vignes Francaise” & Egon Mueller Scharzhofberger Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese, just to name a few.

Outside of that classic realm, my list list also included a few iconic “other” wines, which I had only heard about–such as Penfold’s Grange Hermitage (as it was called way back when), Giacomo Conterno Barolo “Monfortino”, Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino, AND, of course Vegas Sicilia Unico.

I was absolutely thrilled, for instance, to taste the 1971 Grange Hermitage in the early 1980’s.  The Food & Beverage Director I was working with at that time was from Australia & therefore had quite a stash of Grange Hermitage wines, I believe dating back to 1955.  I remember having to trade a 1966 Chateau Haut Brion and a bottle of 1971 Krug to get it.  (quite the cost for a young, aspiring sommelier back then).  I don’t even want to try & remember what it took for me to get some of the even older vintages.  But the experience was worth it nonetheless.

Likewise, I was absolutely thrilled to taste my first Unico, the 1962, sometime in the mid 1980’s.  unico2I must admit I remember being underwhelmed at first.  How could after all, an iconic wine, one only dreamed of one day tasting, ever live up to its almost mythological reputation?

With my second taste, however, I came to the realization that the pinnacle of wine for me at that time came from either Bordeaux and Burgundy and I was therefore comparing/judging “other” red wines based upon those 2 models.  Oh, the 1971 Grange was much bigger & more resoundingly deeper & opulent than the 19XX Chateau Latour……or the 1962 Unico was more rugged, hearty & coarser than the 1962 Chateau Margaux.

I instead now had to adjust my thinking to….the 1962 Unico was indeed a very interesting, unique red wine, which tasted like NO other.  Furthermore, it deftly showed the potential the Tempranillo grape variety has…..AND therefore set a standard for other Spanish reds to be measured by in the future.

I can still say the same today.

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Aug
01

Look what I found!

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I was over on Maui sometime in June to visit with my best friends & their family.  In the hotel complex we were staying at, closer to the beach & near the pool is a small, unpretentious “watering hole”/eatery named Castaway Cafe.  I have known the owner, Gary Bush, for some years & can readily say he is a true wine fanatic.

Sadly, I had not previously been to his spot in the 20 plus years it has been opened.  On this trip, my wife & I finally stopped by there to finally check it out, have a cocktail & enjoy the ocean, its smells & of course the setting sun & its colors.

As expected, I was amazed at the wine list.  It wasn’t large but it is well selected & with reasonable prices.  Unfortunately, we did not have the time to enjoy one of their bottles, at least on this go around.

Well, last week, we made it a point to get there, looking to enjoy some0012 wine.  After much deliberation, we chose the 2004 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Morning Dew Ranch”, which was only $75 on the list!  Chris Whitcraft was a rambunctious, quick witted & wildly colorful character, who for my palate produced some of the finest Pinot Noirs out of California. He worked with some very prestigious vineyards including Hirsch from the true Sonoma Coast (1994 to 2000 vintages), old vine Q & N Blocks from Bien Nacido (both planted in 1973 on their own roots) and Melville, I believe beginning with the 2001.  They certainly weren’t for everyone’s palate, but the good ones really rang my bell.   His mentor was Burt Williams, the iconic, founding winemaker/owner of Williams & Selyem, when that meant something special.  During his tenure there, Burt brought such iconic vineyards such as Rochioli, Allen, Hirsch, Coastlands, Summa to the forefront & therefore truly championed the Russian River & Sonoma Coast appellations, back before it was en vogue.  In addition, he started to really get into the Anderson Valley as well.  It was therefore no surprise that when he & Ed Selyem sold Williams & Selyem sometime after the 1997 vintage, Burt purchased a spot there to plant his own vineyard, which he named Morning Dew.  The core of this vineyard is planted to old DRC, the old Rochioli selection & 2A, each heritage/heirloom Californian vines.  It also was NO surprise that Chris Whitcraft was one of the first to get some of this vineyard’s fruit.  In this day & age of snazzy, tooty fruity Pinot noses, I adore the muskiness, earthy, forest floor nuances & masculinity of this wine, which is much more pronounced now than when it was released.  That pheromone/muskiness core is very reminscent of smells I get from red Burgundy, specifically from more rustic Gevrey Chambertin renditions such as those of Domaine Maume.

I know there are many tasters who will pick this wine apart, pointing out flaws & less than squeaky clean technical skills.  That’s okay, cause that means there will be more around for me to buy & drink.  Why?  Cause I enjoy it, plain & simple.  11 years old, $75….even more so.  Thanks Gary!!!!

So, that bottle didn’t last very long!  The night was young & the conversation, fun & lively.  Ok, let’s order bottle #2.  00132005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “N Block”.  This time, I asked the manager if he could stick the bottle in some ice for 7 or 8 minutes, as it was a VERY hot & muggy night.  Bien Nacido is a VERY large vineyard located in the Santa Maria Valley, down in the Santa Barbara appellation.  This parcel, N Block, was planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Chris typically got the Martini selection, & the resulting Pinot was typically the most reticent of his Pinots, requiring considerable coaxing/bottle aging for it to open up.  It is the bottling of his which shows the most vinosity, intricacies & character, & this certainly reaffirmed that.  Eventhough this wine was 10 years old, it was still a baby, surprisingly closed, deep & well structured.  I suggest you don’t open this wine at this time.  Be patient.  It will be worth the wait, believe me.

That bottle was also emptied far too quickly.  Ok, one last bottle.  We decided on the 2005 Whitcraft Pinot Noir “Q Block”, 0014also $62.50!!!!  Q Block is adjacent to N Block & was also planted in 1973 on its own roots.  Whitcraft used to get the Pommard selection & the resulting Pinot was typically more forward, more masculine with rounder, deep flavors & more base note character.  As I would suspect & as I find normally the case, this was the favorite of the night for most of the tasters.

I found all 3 Pinots to be so enjoyable & heart warming.  Each was like a heart tugging song, sung by a truly soulful singer & in his own way.  There was only 1 Chris Whitcraft & this trio clearly reminded me why.

If you are in the Kaanapali area of Maui & looking for some good wine, make sure you visit Castaway Cafe!

Dal Forno Romano & Quintarelli are the 2 iconic winemaking legends of Italy’s Veneto region, up in the northeast.  As I once read somewhere, they produce “monster” Amarone red wines, which are not only very hard to get, but they are also quite pricey.

Interestingly, both producers also produce small amounts of insanely unctuous dessert styled passito wines when the conditions are right, which are even harder to get!

1997 Dal Forno Romano Nettare  0402

While Dal Forno produces a RED passito wine, named Vigna Seré (produced from mainly Corvina with some Rondinella, Coatina & Oseleta blended in & then aged for 36 months in new barrique), which he refers to as his crowning jewel…every now & then he also produces a white passito from mainly Gargenega with smaller amounts of Turbiana & Trebbiano Toscano blended in & then aged in barrique for 30 to 40 months.  The 1997 is a decadently unctuous, thick elixir with all kinds of crazy, idiosyncratic nuances from white chocolate, vanilla bean creme brulee to marzipan, honey & beeswax.  It really is as decadent as can be, & still so amazingly youthful.  I cannot even begin to think what this wine will be like when it has a chance to resolve itself, not only in the residual sugar/sweetness front, but also what is preserved & hidden underneath, just waiting to emerge once the sweetness resolves.

2003 Quintarelli Amabile del Cerè  0401

The rarest of all the Quintarelli wines—the current vintage is 2003 and the previous vintage was the 1990. It is named after a lost barrel that was hidden under food stores and undiscovered during a Nazi raid of the property during WWII. The barrel was discovered years later and the wine had aged beautifully“.

Just as Dal Forno & Quintarelli go head to head with their Amarone & Valpolicella wines, the battle continues with their passito wines. Amabile del Cerè is also mainly Gargenega with some Trebbiano Toscano & a smidgeon of Sauvignon Bianco, Chardonnay & Saorin.  Typically, there is 30 to 40% noble rot & the wine spends 5 to 6 years in French oak.  Yes, this is another amazing, completely decadent, rich, unctuous white wine.

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May
19

Slightly Aged Gaja Reds

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Angelo Gaja certainly has been quite the controversial figure in his neck of the woods & for many reasons.  Still, he certainly has brought Italian nebbiolo to the world-class stage (with a huge cross over potential for Cabernet & Bordeaux drinkers) AND set the pace for top echelon prices & therefore a completely new standard for quality.  The wine media have, for the most part, enthusiastically jumped on to the fast moving Gaja train, which is reflected by the perennial big scores & high praise.  One would have thought with such a high profile meteoric rise to superstardom, there would have been a hitch, stall, or some kind of decline along the way.  No such thing.  The Gaja Piemontese train seems to be running at full steam & these 3 wines showed why.

1997 Gaja “Sori San Lorenzo” 012

Gaja produced some interesting red wines in the 90’s. I was, however, apprehensive about how his showy, flambouyant style would do in a big, ripe vintage like 1997. I knew the press would certainly love the wines, I just wondered if I would. Furthermore, I had recently had the 1998 & found it to be quite closed down & a shame to have opened the bottle at this atge of its life. It is so intense with a massive structure & quite a tannic grip. The 1997 in comparison, although also quite closed, is decidedly riper, with much more lavish, opulent fruit (MUCH rounder) & darker base notes than the 1998. A very powerful, mega-concentrated red which, in this case, can be quite the cross over wine for avid Bordeaux & California Cabernet collectors. You will be thrilled with this one, that’s for sure!

0131997 Gaja “Conteisa”

Gaja’s Conteisa, although the grapes are grown in the Barolo appellation, is classified as Langhe DOC due to the 8% Barbera that is added to the Nebbiolo. Much to the chagrin of the local cognoscenti, Angelo believes the Barbera addition adds acidity and freshness to the wine. He also firmly states that this is no indication of a trend towards making Super Piemonte wines and his relatively new approach is used only in vintages that merit the addition. The wine is named for the medieval ‘conteisa,’ or quarrel, between the zones of La Morra and Barolo over the prime vineyard land of Cerequio“.  Quite a different take on Nebbiolo than what I had previously experienced through his Barbaresco–seemingly more masculine, muskier & leaner.  I have not had many Conteisa, so cannot make any broader statements, but will say I don’t think this 1997, as resounding as it is, is of Grand Cru kind of quality, at least in its youth.

1993 Gaja Barbaresco  b9

I liked this wine alot.  I remember thinking upon release how tight fisted, seemingly lean & mouth puckering this wine was.  It has really started to open up again, even in comparison to 5 years ago when I last had it.  It is pretty, has enticing perfume, wonderful fruit, structure & balance, done with class & superb craftsmanship.

Categories : General, Red, Wine, Wines Revisted
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May
03

The Wine World has changed

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022Tasting this wine the other night in VINO really made me think & reminisce.  The wine world is changing so much & seemingly at a much faster pace than just 10 years ago.

I remember, for instance, a group of us, back in the 1970’s tasting lots of German wines–Rauenthaler Baiken; Rauenthaler Gehren, Erbacher Marcobrunn, Steinberger & Bernkastler Doktor, just to name a few.  Yes, these were some of the standout German vineyards of the time & tasting the 1971, 1975 & 1976 was truly awe inspiring.  & me being the youngster I had to write down the names phonetically, so I could try  to remember each & its pronounciation.  Today, I wonder how many here in the Islands know what each of these names represent?  It has, in fact, been a while since I have even seen a bottle of any of these locally.

Back then, I think many insiders would say each of the above sites could be considered Grand Cru, if there ever was such a thing in Germany.

I was also reminded how much the climate has changed since then.  At least on the top echelon of producers, a Kabinett back then was VERY different from a Kabinett today in terms of weight, extract, physiological ripeness & potential alcohol.  Part of this is due to the generous sunshine, but something can also be said about top producers looking to make much more impactful styles of wine.  I just tasted, for instance, through a line-up of Kabinett from the 2012 & 2013 vintage.  I was astounded to see that most of these were harvested somewhere around 90 to 93 degrees Oechsle, which in the old days would have been labeled as an auslese.  For me, then, the window of suitable food pairings changes significantly.  Not better or worse…..just different.

And what has happened to the Syrah grape variety? It seems to have fallen off in popularity. What a sad state of decline. Syrah was once at the top of the quality pyramid.

The Chave family, as an example, was & still is, one of the world’s all time iconic wine families, mostly because of their grand Syrah based Hermitage red wine. Yes, the family has been working their magic on this legendary hillside since the late 1400’s. We just tasted a 1987 tonight & it was truly majestic & full of pedigree. 6 nights ago, we tasted another standout Syrah based red wine, the 1996 Noel Verset Cornas, & it too was an unforgettable experience we will treasure forever. So, what’s up? Why aren’t more people getting it?

It probably has, at least partially, something to do with deliciousness. The same can be said about Italian Nebbiolo based red wines–Barolo, Barbaresco & Gattinara. I would have also readily said the same kinds of things for St Emilion red wines several years back, but the garage-ists, Christian Mouiex & Michel Rolland has helped changed all of that, just as Angelo Gaja has done in Piemonte & Guigal has done with Cote Rotie.

Hopefully, Syrah based wines will not become an “endangered species” kind of thing, where wine lovers report rare sightings of the nearly extinct–rustic, typical, authentic wines of the world such as traditional styled Hermitage, Cote Rotie, Cornas, Barolo & Barbaresco, just to name a few.  I am hoping we as an industry look to appreciate, celebrate & sell BOTH the traditional & more modern styles of each.  In the field of music, after all, isn’t there a niche, appreciation & occasion for Bach, Mozart, Frank Sinatra & the Beatles still, in addition to the new tunes?

Lastly, we have also seen a whole generation of winemakers change……maybe even 2 0222generations.  Who keeps track?  Marius Gentaz, Gerard Chave, Wilhelm Haag, Noel Verset, Aldo Conterno, Giovanni Conterno, Bartolo Mascarello…the list goes on & on.  The remembrance of a young boy creating a chalk drawing….& many years later…. 3 months before his passing…..scribbled his name below.  This picture sits above our hostess stand at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas & I am reminded daily of those game changers who have brought us here.

Today, who will represent the new generation in the Hall of Fame?

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