Is Bitterness IN?

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My wife & I dined at a hot, newer restaurant recently.  The rosé Cheryle ordered by the glass was from a rather obscure appellation & a hip producer.  While it was tasty, we both found it somewhat bitter & inadvertantly clashed with the foods we were eating, which is at least partly why I believe she only had the one glass.  It was not something we discussed or thought much about while dining, but it was something I certainly thought about later.

The question I then asked–is bitterness now IN?

It seems we encounter wines by the glass at restaurants more & more which have a bitter finish.  In addition, many of the cocktails we taste also have a bitter edge, especially those made from whiskies.  The same can be said about many of the hotshot craft beers we taste, especially in the IPA & Double IPA categories.

So in addition to climbing alcohol levels more frequently found in wines today, one can also add the increase & seeming acceptance of bitterness levels.

Furthermore, I am also quite amazed to see how many people don’t seem to notice or mind how the higher alcohol & bitterness really affects pairing with foods.

Yes, tastes have certainly changed.

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Henri Perrusset Mâcon Villages

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We are very fortunate at VINO to taste many different styles of wines.  There are times when we sample a bevy of “trophy” wines, each world class, grand and truly memorable.  This is especially most enjoyable when we revisit a particular wine which we previously had had 20 to 30 years prior and can see first hand how the wine had changed with the years of bottle age.

Another real joy of tasting wines is to run across a wine which stands out because of how honest, unpretentious, artisanal and personal it is.  It would be like hearing a singer sing a song their own way, and from the heart.  The especially endearing ones are, not of the “trophy” or highly acclaimed genre and for me and greatly over deliver for the dollar.

The Henri Perrusset Mâcon Villages (roughly $20 a bottle) is a prime example.   This is a “country” styled Chardonnay based white wine from the limestone soils of the Mâcon region  of southern Burgundy.  (There is in fact a limestone quarry a couple of kilometers further down the road.)   A very flowery, ethereal, some say seashell character somehow gets transmitted from the limestone-marine soils, through the vine and into the grape itself.  While some will argue that this is just a romantic notion, I don’t find those kinds of character in grapes from vines grown in clay soils.  If you want to check this out yourself, buy a bottle of a New World Chardonnay—California, Oregon, New Zealand or Australia, for instance, and sample it side by side with this Perrusset.

Then, also consider which one seems more refreshing and thirstquenching.  Given the weather we have been experiencing lately, this is the kind of wine that hits the spot for sipping on those especially warm, often muggy days.

Interestingly, over the 40 plus years of tasting wine, I have never run across a Mâcon Villages which hits the spot like the one from Perrusset.   It is beyond correctness and scientifically sound.  Furthermore, this bottling is certainly not grand or highly acclaimed and I would actually be surprised if it ever scores more than 85 points on any writer’s 100 point scale.  It does, however, standout and is memorable.  One could say this wine has the “it” factor and I am continually reminded of this by how my wife smiles every time a bottle is cracked open.  Honest, unpretentious, artisanal and personal is its schtick.

As one would imagine, wines like this are far and few in between.

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Marisa Cuomo

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aa1-cuomo-viewA couple of friends, Warren & Erin, went on a trip to Italy 4 or so years ago.  One of their stops was the breathtaking Amalfi Coast.  Smartly, they hired a driver to show them the area, which included a stop at his friend’s winery–Marisa Cuomo.  Warren was so impressed with the wines he thoughtfully brought a bottle back for me to try.  I thought the wine was very interesting to say the least.

In researching the wines further, their estate vineyards are comprised of Dolomitic limestone on steep, rocky & terraced hillsides overlooking the sea–in Ravello & in Furore.  aa1-cuomo-hillsThe winery itself is located in the small town of Furore, which is located at roughly 2500 feet in elevation between the more famous towns of Amalfi & Positano.  The panoramic view of the sea below is truly breathtaking.  The very steep hillsides are terraced & the roads traverse the spectacular, formidable aspect.  I was further intrigued because they championed heritage/heirloom vines–mainly Falanghina & Biancolella for the white wines & Pedirosso & Aglianico for the reds.

aa1-cuomo-vinesAs we walked the terraces, I was astounded to see how the vines (averaging 60 to 100 years in age) grew out horizontally from the limestone walls!  It was the craziest thing.    aa1-cuomo-pergolasaa1-cuomo-pergola2

The vines are then trained on pergolas, which I imagine facilitates air circulation of cool ocean breezes at night to offset the heat of the day.  As a side note, since we were there as they started to harvest, I was really shocked at how extremely low their yields naturally were, especially for the red wine grapes.  I mean some bunches only had 6 to 10 grapes.  When I asked, I was told this is normal–a combination of the really old vines grown on such extreme soils & conditions.

I next had the wine in Carmel, California a couple of years later at Casanova Restaurant.  The wine sommelier there was kind enough to give me a contact name & information of the company who brings the Marisa Cuomo wines into the U.S..  To make a long story short the wines finally arrived here in the Islands 3 weeks ago.  Here are 2 of their standouts.

aa1 Fiorduva2013 Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva–to date I was quite taken by their “Ravello” & “Furore” white wine bottlings.  aa1-cuomo-white-grapesBoth are comprised of the Falanghina & Biancolella grown in the Dolomitic limestone soils of the 2 sites.  Ravello is at higher elevation (300 to 400 meters) & Furore at 250 meters.  In 2014 Ravello is much more aromatic & perfumed with more refinement & an uplifting personality.  Furore, on the other hand, is like a block of rock–liquid rock, with some sea spray qualities.  This bottling, Fiorduva, in comparison, sheds a completely different light on what the vineyards want to say.  The 2013 is a blend of 3 “below the radar screen” indigenous white grape varieties–30% Fenile, 30% Ginestra, 40% Ripoli & is vinified with soft pressing and fermentation at 12°C for about three months.  This wine has much more viscosity than the other 2, seemingly produced from much riper grapes, probably hand selected grape by grape.  The perfumed is very unique, but still one readily detects the rocky & saline nuances nonetheless.  I have not had a white wine like this before, that’s for sure.  aa1-cuomo-red-grapesaa1 furore riserva

2011 Marisa Cuomo Furore Rosso Riserva–although I really enjoy the regular Furore Rosso bottling–so good, we just had to offer it by the glass at our VINO restaurant–their Riserva bottling is a real eye catcher.  I would, in fact, picture this wine as a thoroughbred.  A stallion, with lots of underlying strength & power, but effortlessly so.  The 2011 is  50% Piedirosso (locally known as per ‘e palummo) and 50% Aglianico. The grapes are harvested when fully ripe and are destemmed and crushed before undergoing fermentation with intense maceration for 30 days, followed by malo-lactic fermentation and development 12 months in new French oak barriques.  I get quite apprehensive whenever I hear NEW French.  In this case, however, the oak is very well integrated & does not take away from the Italian-ness of this wine.

Their wines are definitely well worth seeking out!  aa1-cuomo-signaa1-cuomo-cave





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It is still Summertime & it has been hot!  Translation–a very we bottle of delicious rosé please.

2014 Ravaille Ermitage du Pic St Loup Rosé–Not that long ago, the Languedoc winegrowing region of southern France was considered by many to be a sea of mediocre wine.  Over the past aa1 Ravaille25 or so years, however, very determined wine importers, such as the iconic Kermit Lynch, have been searching out & finding a growing number of small family wine estates who own & farm some very interesting parcels & produce some very interesting wines.  Such is the case here. The Ravaille family, for example, have resided in this nook for well over 1,000 years & it was by no accident therefore that they selected their specific parcels to start their wine adventure.  “The unique soils from the Ravaille’s higher-altitude vineyard slopes on the Pic St Loup is a collision of soils between the dominant marly limestone and dolomite; red and white clay, sand, schist, and round galets, which has happened over the eons”.  Although I had been a fan of their fascinating red “country” wines for quite some time, it really is their rosé which recently really caught our full attention.  The 2014 is 30% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Cinsault. All making for a very unique, yet wonderfully delicious pink wine.

2015 Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Rosé–Cassis is a seaport village located on the coast of Provence, France.  Clos Ste. Magdeleine.  Founded in 1860, aa1 cassisthe Sack-Zafiropulos family have been running this estate for 4 generations.  This winery first came on my radar screen because of its iconic white wine, which many insiders would say is the quintessential pairing with bouillabaisse, the world renown regional fish stew/soup of Cassis & elsewhere throughout southern France.  On at least 2 separate visits to the domaine, while we did taste the white & the rosé, we would only buy the white.  Only in the past few years has the family really stepped up their game to produce a standout rosé, so much so, the wine is now apparently quite allocated.  In fact, in just a short time, I now think this has become one of our absolute favorites PINK wines from anywhere in the world–because of its deliciousness & remarkable ethereal-ness, which creates interesting, mesmerizing minerality & buoyancy in the resulting wine.  I also like how despite its limestone crispness, this wine additionally has a roundness & interesting viscosity that I love. Yes, this is a wine well worth seeking out!  By the way, the 2015 is 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault, 20% Mourvèdre, fermented & aged in stainless steel with NO ML whatsoever.   Here is one of the best quotes aptly coined for this estate & its wines–“Clos Sainte Magdeleine’s success lies in an uncanny ability to capture a dichotomous nerve and sun-kissed unctuousness in their wines, making them both incredibly food-friendly and delicious entirely on their own“.

2013 Yves Leccia Rosé “Ile de Beaute”–Here is a VERY masculine style of Corsican rosé , produced from a heritage massale selection of Niellucciu, direct pressed & sees NO ML.  Throughout aa1 lecciathe Corsican challenging, rugged terrain, we have seen & tasted quite a few really good, hearty, rugged Niellucciu based red wines.  It is therefore quite understandable then that a Niellucciu based rosé would be masculine in its profile.  While that may true, thankfully the combination of chalk & schist bedrock soils the vines grown in gives the wine a mesmerizing minerality & Yves Leccia’s masterful winemaking results in a wine that has surprising elegance, class & refinement.  As the importer recently noted–“Yves Leccia has a certain presence and noble bearing to him, much like his wines, which are often referred to as the “Rolls-Royce” of Corsican wines, a reputation earned after nearly 30 years of making consistently elegant and sophisticated wines. Yves decided to branch off on his own in 2004 and focus on the single terroir he felt was the top in Patrimonio. This terroir, “E Croce,” sits on a thin chalk soil above a thick bedrock of pure schist, facing the gulf of St. Florent”.

2014 Chateau d”Esclans Rosé “Rock Angel”–One of the world’s true superstar PINK wine producers, under the direction of Sasha Lichine & long time superstar Bordeaux enologist Patrick Leon with a almost rock star kind of status & therefore following.   Imagine, for instance, a rosé getting a 98 point rating?  Yes, this rosé project has certainly created quite a splash on to the world wine scene with their multiple bottlings of Provencal pink wines.   I thought the first few vintages I tasted of their “go to wine”, “Whispering Angel”, was much better than the current bottlings.  I also thought their crown jewel bottling, “Garrus”, was just too much for me, both in amplification & in price ($80 a bottle).  The “Rock Angel” bottling has settled into quite a sweet spot, although still seemingly quite pricey at $38 or so a bottle).  When one considers however, top level Californian Chardonnays sell for even more dollars, then this wine certainly over delivers for the dollar.   Mainly Grenache with some Rolle blended in (although I think there is some Cinsault too)—just the free run juice with some slight first press is used—then aged in demi muids (600 liter) & stainless steel

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Here is yet another quartet of interesting red wines from Italy…..

La Basia–here is a small, interesting, family owned winery whose vineyards are located up to 900 feet elevation in the hills on the western shores of Lake Garda in Lombardy.  These wines are not aa1 valtenesiaa1 morenegrand, nor do they have any aspirations of grandeur.  They are instead, thankfully, more about regionality, authenticity & typicity created by a very hard working family.  We tasted 2 of their red wines, which are now proudly featured at our VINO restaurant, 1 by the glass & the other on the bottle list.  The core of the Valtenesi “La Botte Piena” bottling is the indigenous Gropello grape variety to which some Barbera, Sangiovese & Marzemino is added.  Eventhough it is heralded as a light, fruity wine, I think most every day palates would find the wine has a dark, masculine, hearty character, deceivingly intense & structured with a surprising grip & mojo & quite a bit of tannins/astringency, albeit fine, in the finish.  I find this wine even more intriguing & compelling the more I smell & taste this wine.  It has red fruit, blueberry, mulberry nuances with German licorice, bay leaf & some kind of Indian spice intricasies.  There is also an underlying earthy component which is so very different from limestone or schist in nature……& very well integrated.  Where there are so many “correct” wines out there, this one has much more to offer & is therefore worth seeking out to try!  We readily serve this wine with our Roasted Organic Chicken with a Tuscan bean stew.  This is really an interesting drink with or without food.  The Marzemino “Le Morene” bottling, on the other hand, is 100% Marzemino (grape variety) & “Le Moraine” refers to the glacial soils the vines grow in.  This wine is much darker in color, has more body & more viscosity.  There is both red & black fruit, as well as a stoniness prevalent.  I think it has a wider appeal than the previous wine, just because of its richness, wonderful texture which also hides the tannins more.

Nanni Cope Terre del Volturno “Sabbie di Sopra Il Bosco” 2012–from Castel Campagnano, in the upper region of Caserta of CampaniaThe roughly 6.2 acre aa1 nanni copeSopra Il Bosco vineyard is located at approximately 700 feet in elevation.  The grape mix for this bottling is mainly Pallagrello Nero with some Aglianico & a dollop of very old vine, ungrafted Casavecchia.  The 2012 is dark, black chocolate color with some browning on the rim.  Chinese preserved plums, licorice, saddle leather nuances with a dark abyss core.  A friend who specializes in plants once gave me what he called a “curry” plant.  It smelled somewhat of curry but with a more vegetal edge.  This wine has that same kind of scent.  On the palate, this wine is masculine, mega concentrated & well structured with astringent, puckering though surprisingly refined rather than coarse tannins.  This wine definitely has mojo & certainly needs some time to resolve itself.  Still, it is an interesting drink nonetheless.

aa1 KurniOasi Degli Angeli “Kurni” 2009–this is a very fascinating red from Marche, Italy, one that took a bit to understand & appreciate.  The main challenge for me intially was the noticeably sweet, ripe fruit, which reminded me of Amarone from the Veneto in style, but instead produced from 100% Montepulciano (grape variety)–50 or so year old vines.  Still, the wine has balance, superb flow on the palate & lots to say, just in a VERY different way.  The Oasi Degli Angeli estate dates back three generations, starting with a small farm in the Marche Cupra Marittima (Ascoli Piceno), 24 acres in size, 330-820 feet in elevation, southfacing, soils–loose, pebbly, sandy, silty, with chalk.  The family does NOT use any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.  the wine is fermented in 60% vertical barriques & 40% stainless steel (without temperature control) & then aged in French barriques (20% of which is new) for 20-22 months & then bottled unfiltered, unfined.

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A Pair of 2006 Red Burgundies

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Last night a friend came into VINO & had two 2006 red Burgundies–2006 DeVillaine Bourgogne “La Digoine” & the 2006 Robert Chevillon Nuits St Georges.  Both wines were stunning in a very transparent, ethereal style.  I remember when they were first released, the 2006’s were quite overshadowed by the hype & high acclaim of the 2005’s.  Still, I chose to buy more 2006 than 2005, partly because of the price difference, but also because I thought the ’06’s would be so glorious & more “classic” with some bottle age.  (The 2005’s, in comparison, would take considerable amount of bottle age to come out of its cocoon).  aa1 digoine

The 2006 La Digoine was so sheer (like lace), pure & pretty.  The color was lighter hued & very transparent.  The perfume was enticing, alluring & so refined…..qualities I could have only hopedaa1 NSG would evolve.  I was so mesmerized with each whiff as the wine opened up with air.  I wish I had bought more.

The 2006 Chevillon Nuits St Georges had a much more meaty, musky, autumn humus smell to it, more masculine with more pedigree & “meat on the bones”.  The muskiness was compelling, quite beguiling & I kept wanting to dive back in for more.  (This wine also made it clearer to me, how so remarkably sheer & ethereal the “La Digoine” was.)

Yes, these 2006 wines were something to behold & are just now opening up again.

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Interesting read from one point of view…………….

Read Part I of the series: The Rise of The Hipster Sommelier

Read Part II: The Rise of the Hipster Sommelier Part II

Read Part III: Rise of the Hipster Sommerlier Part III

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The Lion Roars

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Just the other night our friends shared a bottle of 2004 Domaine Maume Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru “Lavaux St Jacques” while dining at VINO.  The wine was way aa2 maume 2too cold when first served & decanted, but one could still tell this was certainly a wine I really needed to pay attention to.  After it warmed up some, the nose was WOW–earthy, exotically spiced, sandalwood, intriguing musk scented–dramatic & provocative.

The ’04 vintage was lukewarmly received by the wine media.  And, I still see wine collectors dumping their ’04’s through various on line wine retailers.  Some say, “green stems”.  Others say “too lean & unripe tannins”.

I really like this wine, especially at this time of its life.  Why?  Someone just asked me the same question the other night, which I couldn’t answer fully then.

Imagine…..the MGM lion…..roaring….in all its glory.

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If you look back in our “archives”, I once wrote a piece on Harens Old Tree Estate Kona Coffee.  (please revisit to refresh your memory, as this is a standout, artisan, handcrafted, single estate, old tree coffee from Honaunau on the Big Island, well worth checking out!).

I just received this note from owner Duane Harens, (long time friend & former long time sommelier), which I think you might find interesting.  At least, I did.


Aloha Everybody,

Just a follow up on my last communication – burr grinders and brewing into a thermos.

I was just on the mainland and brewed / tasted my coffee with two different water sources. Every time I taste my coffee using a different water source other than my own I am always amazed at the difference!! One of the mainland sources was county water and the other was water from a well. I was amazed at how “flat” both were. No brightness like I am used to with my water on the Big Island. I bought “spring water” to brew my coffee (I hate buying water for anything!). It had that brightness needed. Another thing – I had to brew into a glass pot on a burner. I couldn’t believe how fast the burner “burnt” the coffee!!! The really sad thing is that nobody else noticed it!! I’m not saying everybody should go out and buy a new coffee maker. Just go to Ace hardware and buy a Stanley thermos. brew it and pour it into the thermos. Don’t let it set on the burner!!  

I don’t know how this will effect all of you – just thought I’d pass it on.

Duane Harens

Harens Old Tree Estate 


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Most wine lovers would overlook tastings which feature German wines.  It’s actually quite sad, as I think they will really be missing out on an incredible learning opportunity! Because Germany is one of the most northerly wine growing regions of the world with very marginal growing conditions, the top wines wines amazingly showcase supreme physiological ripeness without any sense of heaviness whatsoever, because of how long the grapes hang on the vines in order to get ripe. In addition, this particular quartet features some of the VERY best winemakers in the world! Come on, be adventuresome and taste something totally out of the box.

Jul-Echter2013 Hans Wirsching Scheurebe Kabinett Dry “Iphofer”  

From the Franconia region—mainly white-gray soils with gypsum bits and vinified DRY. There is no wine like this in the world….especially its delicate fragrance and remarkably light, airy, ethereal profile.

2012 Gunderloch Kabinett “Jean Baptiste”    1_rothenberg

From the Rheinhessen region of Germany on a red slate hillside (Nackenheimer Rothenberg) rising from the Rhine River. The red slate (pictured to the right) creates a very different–more stony–bass versus treble–kinds of nuances in the finished wine.  Plus the warmer (at least in comparison to the Mosel region) manifests more tropical/pineapple kinds of fruittiness.  This is a wine ideal for Hawaii’s warm climate and local foods, PLUS, this estate WAY OVER DELIVERS quality for the dollar.

Leistenberg2012 Donnhoff Kabinett “Oberhauser Leistenberg”

From the Nahe region, Helmut Donnhoff is one of the true icons of quality in Germany!  He masterfully crafts wines of such power, depth, vinosity, yet with such refinement, grandeur & sophistication.  Yes, he is definitely a force!  BUT, it starts in the vineyard.

2013 Dr F Weins Prum Kabinett “Graacher Domprobst”  domprobst

From the Mosel region, Bert Selbach is truly an unsung hero for me. He crafts such sheer, supremely light, airy & ethereal Rieslings done with such purity, style, finesse & class.  His wines truly are like no other.  Furthermore, because he is a direct descendent of the Prum family, he has holdings in some of the finest vineyard sites in the country, including this one, a personal favorite & only 2 or so “doors” down the river from Wehlener Sonnenuhr, which I think most people would agree is “Grand Cru”, if Germany had such a thing.

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