Uplifting Our Lives with Special Wines

laurent-perrier-rose A few years ago – perhaps it was more than just a few – I had one of my most heart warming experiences while working in a fine wine retail store in Manhattan. It would become one of the experiences that would inspire me regarding the importance of splurging on special wines.

A Stranger’s Struggle Isn’t Always Apparent

One day, I was working on the sales floor of this fine wine retailer. It was serendipitous that I was on the floor that day as most of the time I worked answering the phones while doing web content for their website. A married couple visiting from Texas came in, the wife with a big smile, and the husband glancing down with a miserable look on his face. She started to talk to me about wanting to buy a special wine for them to enjoy in their hotel room – trying to include her husband in the conversation – yet he did not speak a word and motioned that he wanted to leave.  Eventually, he just wandered to the corner of the store to sulk.

Before I knew it, she moved in closer and whispered to me that her husband had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, so he had problems speaking clearly, felt embarrassed and simply defeated by life. By my rough estimation, they could not have been older than their mid-forties – they were in the prime of their lives. She wanted to take this trip to New York City to help lift his spirits – to show him that their days of making fun memories were not over. But he was complaining the whole trip – he wanted to just go home and resign himself to his fate.

I could see that the wife felt like she was at the end of her rope. She said that she didn’t know what to do and I’m sure the whole experience had been extremely overwhelming for her. She was trying with every ounce of strength she could muster to bring joy back into their lives, but she had her breaking point, like all of us, and she seemed to be reaching it, and so she was asking me for help.

Wine Lovers to the Rescue

At that moment, I walked over to her husband and started to share my love for wine and told them that I would be able to pick the ideal wine that would send them to the moon. His wife said that they had many romantic experiences with Rosé and Champagne wines, yet they had never had a Rosé Champagne. And so I knew that I needed to find the best Rosé Champagne for them. We were able to get her husband to join the conversation and, through time, I realized that they wanted an elegant Rosé Champagne with strong purity of fruit. I immediately thought of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Champagne, with its stunning pristine crunchy red fruit, intoxicating aromatics and overall sense of grace and charm. Also, the bottle is shaped in a sensual way that is indicative of how two love birds will feel, such as this married couple, once they drink this wine together. They started to blush and giggle a bit as I described why I thought this was the ideal wine for them to share during this romantic getaway.

Laurent-Perrier

Re-tasting the current release of the 100% Pinot Noir Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé NV brought back this memory. The newest release is based on the 2008 vintage (90%) with the wine being made from 12 different crus, including grand crus such as Ambonnay and Bouzy as well as others. It has all the complexity that one would expect from a top Rosé Champagne, yet it is able to display pure flavors of Pinot Noir that are breathtaking.

laurent-perrier-siecleAlso, I re-tasted the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle MV (Multi-Vintage), which is legendary among Champagne connoisseurs. It is always a blend of 3 complementary wines which have been declared vintages by Laurent-Perrier. The newest release is a blend of the declared vintages 2002, 1999 and 1998, and is a blend of 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir from exclusively grand cru vineyards. If you love Champagne, it is a must-have at least once in your life. Grand Siècle is truly the epitome of a fine wine that can deliver intense complex flavors with finesse and uplifting freshness.

Beautiful Memory with Laurent-Perrier

As I was brightening the mood of that married couple with the description of the Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, a regular customer must have overheard our conversation because before I knew it, he swung his arm around the husband and brought him around the store to show him all the goodies we had on display. His wife and I followed them and we spent a wonderful time laughing and talking about all of the good times we have had with wine. The husband even became so comfortable he started to talk, and seemed to lose the self-consciousness of his speech impediment as he chuckled and smiled and grabbed and hugged his wife.

As I handed the bag that contained the gorgeous bottle of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé to his wife, she came up and hugged me tightly and said with deep gratitude in her voice, “Thank you so much.” As I looked at her, she seemed to beam and I knew that there were a lot more good times for her and her husband to come. That experience reminded me why I have devoted so much of my life to wine. We all need to be inspired and there is no other beverage, in my mind, more inspirational than wine.

 

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 Laurent-Perrier Samples Tasted on November 18th, 2016

 -Cuvée Rosé Brut NV (Non-Vintage): A beautiful pale pink color with tinges of salmon and fine bubbles that caress the palate. The stunningly pristine wild strawberry aromas seductively invite one into the glass with hints of toast and spice.

SRP $99.99. 100% Pinot Noir from 12 different crus situated mainly in Montagne de Reims, including the grand crus of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois and Tours-sur-Marne. The newest release is based on 2008 vintage (90%).

Grand Siècle MV (Multi-Vintage): This wine dances in one’s head like a slow yet intense tango with aromas of lemon blossom, honeysuckle and fresh tarragon with chalky minerality that carries along the precise expressive finish.

SRP $149.99. 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. Grand Siècle is made 100% from grand cru vineyards in outstanding villages such as Avize, Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for Chardonnay; as well as Ambonnay, Bouzy, and Mailly. Always a blend of 3 complementary declared vintages – the newest release is from 2002, 1999 and 1998.

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Passionate Winemaking in Israel

israel-pic-3-long-table-picHere in the US, it has certainly been an intense week with our Presidential election. Even though my candidate did not win, I respect that we live in a democracy and that citizens have the right to vote for anyone, or to not vote at all. But it can be sad, at times, to know that we are divided – difficult to feel connected to all our countrymen and countrywomen – let alone the rest of the world. I desperately needed to find inspiration, and I quickly found it reviewing my notes (both written and audio) from an Israeli wine lunch I attended a couple of weeks ago.

Passion

Although I understand other writers’ past articles written about Israeli wines wanted to focus on the politics and/or the religious Kosher aspect of the wines, I have felt that these articles were missing the most important facet of wines from Israel – the new wave of passionate grape growers and winemakers. But I do have to give kudos to Wine Spectator for recently writing a thorough report, the cover story even, about Israel as an “emerging region” for wine. If there is one hope that I have for my country, as well as the world, it is the idea that passionate artists, such as high quality wine producers, will continue to elevate our hearts and spirits to lift us beyond superficial labels, so we remember that all of us are part of the same journey of life.

It was the passion of these wine producers that lifted, and continues to lift, my spirit – showing me how we can “come together”. Each of their stories was one connected to not only their love for making great wine but their great desire to share it with everyone around the world.

Domaine du Castel

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Eli Ben Zaken

The founder of Domaine du Castel, Eli Ben Zaken, is considered a pioneer of winemaking in Israel. But I have to quote his feelings about being called a pioneer, “I was not a pioneer because I didn’t have a dream.” In 1988, he was prompted by intuition, or may I use the word passion, to plant a small vineyard with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot by his home in the Judean Hills. Eli taught himself winemaking from Emile Peynaud’s famous book, “Knowing and Making Wine” and he tried, and certainly succeeded, in living up to the highest standards of French winemaking. Some Francophiles may call his small, artisan wine endeavor a “garage wine” but since they originally crushed the grapes in an empty stable next to a chicken coop, he called it a “stable wine”.

Today, Eli, joined by his three children, has moved his family’s winemaking to a more state of the art facility, yet the enthusiasm and excitement of being able to make wine that can move and transcend the drinker is still present and represented in the sparkle in his eyes. During our lunch, he spoke of the first time he fell in love with white wine. He and his wife like to travel and explore different restaurants around the world, since they themselves owned a restaurant at one time. Many years ago, he knew very little about wine, and while at Le Montrachet, in the village of Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy, asked the waiter about the local wine. When the waiter replied, “Puligny-Montrachet”, Eli then followed up with, “What color is it?” Of course, some of you Burgundy lovers will know that the answer is white. Back then, he was not a fan of white wines but thought he should try it – that first sip brought tears to his eyes. This experience led him to make a Chardonnay called ‘C’ Blanc du Castel, noting that to him, “Chardonnay is the reddest of the white wines.”

Even though it was unintentional, and small production, he planted the seed in many Israeli producers’ minds that one could make high quality wines in Israel.

Recanati Winery

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Gil Shatsberg and Lenny Recanati

Earlier this year, I had gone to a wine press lunch in NYC to taste the wines of Recanati Winery, so it was lovely to see the head winemaker, Gil Shatsberg, and owner, Lenny Recanati, again. They are making some exciting wines, ranging from an indigenous white variety called Marawi, grown by a Palestinian farmer, to a dry-farmed Carignan on bush vines, grown by an Arab Christian. These projects are a desire to not only find an identity for Israeli wines, but are symbolic of how various types of people can come together to produce a product filled with passion to share with the world. These stories of people working together in harmony are unfortunately not the stories that make the headlines, but they are the most representative of how many people are living.

Recanati is also a believer in Mediterranean varieties such as Syrah and Petite Sirah, which I tried at their previous tasting. Gil talked about the wine legacy of Israel, as winemaking has been documented as far back as 3,700 years ago, as well as the recent, fast improvement in their techniques in the vineyards and wineries. They believe that Israeli winemakers are just starting to scratch the surface of discovering the true potential of their various terroirs (soils and micro-climates). It is a country with an ancient winemaking tradition that could potentially become an exciting emerging wine region for the world to discover.

Tzora Vineyards

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Me and Eran Pick

Eran Pick is not only the first Israeli Master of Wine and winemaker and general manager of Tzora Vineyards, but he is also a friend. He contacted me about setting up this lunch in New York City for himself and other producers representing three other wineries. It was the first time, inside or outside of Israel, that they had come together. Eran is someone who is open to seeing things from different points of view, and even though he has his own opinions about his style of winemaking, he has a desire to showcase all of the quality producers in Israel. His goal is to not only see his own wines in a prime place on the shelf in a respected retailer, but he has a more inclusive dream of having an Israeli wine section in retail stores as well as top restaurants. He has a passionate, noble vision of Israeli producers working together to reach a wider audience of wine lovers.

I have tasted Eran’s wines a few times and I have always been a fan. Sometimes I wish he was not so modest about his skills as he is an incredibly talented winemaker. He is a big believer in red blends, and it was interesting to learn that he never blends based on knowing the grape varieties. Each year he blends by taste, sometimes almost having a monovarietal wine in some years, or more of a blend in others. He doesn’t know which varieties or percentages of those varieties until he writes the analysis that is required for US paperwork to export the wines.

Tabor Winery

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Michal Akerman and Or Nidbach (Tabor team)

Michal Akerman, the Agronomist (Viticulturalist), was the last to tell her story. At first she said that she didn’t think it would be of much interest, but we pushed her to tell it anyway. After she served her time in the Israeli army, she decided to travel, and since her family is originally from Peru, she thought South America would be a great choice to not only get the chance to meet her grandparents, but to experience other cultures as she traveled around the continent. She needed money, so she decided to work for a winery in Chile – this led to her falling in love with vineyards and wanting to know more about them.

Michal would eventually wind up getting a Masters Degree (six years studying rootstocks) and attempting a PhD while also working with vineyards in South Africa and Cyprus, as well as Chile and Israel. She said that fifteen years ago, she convinced one of the largest wineries in Israel to hire her as their Viticulturalist – becoming the first one in the country. She said that up until that time, the work in the vineyards was never connected to the final product of the wine. Her work would help to grow vines in a way that would improve wine quality. She left this winery to pursue her PhD, but was quickly given an offer to work for Tabor Winery which would give her the opportunity to discover new vineyards in Israel. She left her PhD to devote herself to the task at hand with Tabor, and has now been there for a decade.  Over those 10 years, she has found through her discoveries that Israel has more to offer, in terms of terroir, than she could have ever dreamt.

Michal’s passion and love for Tabor Winery’s vineyards were evident in her telling us about their Malkiya Cabernet Sauvignon wine. They bought and planted this vineyard in 2006, and from the first vintage in 2009, she knew it was special. The topsoil is terra rossa (a red clay that is commonly associated with the Cabernet Sauvignon fine wines of Coonawarra, Australia) but underneath, only 8 inches (20 centimeters) down, is one of the most unique soils she has ever seen in Israel. In English, it is called “a lot of stars” since there are limestone rocks throughout the soil that gives the visual impression of this name. She said that it was a piece of land that many of the local people thought to be undesirable for any type of crop, but that she somehow, to their amazement, was able to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon she has ever seen, which, considering she has had 20 years of experience with this grape around the world is a pretty impressive statement. She gets tiny berries from this plot that taste like the wine when she tastes the grapes in the vineyard – concentrated blackberry, complex flavors – she goes to this vineyard once or twice a week because she is so amazed by it. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone talk about a piece of land with so much passion.

Tabor is a large winery with a big portfolio, yet as one can see, by having someone like Michal Akerman overlooking their vineyards, they produce some pretty spectacular wines in their lineup.

How Do We Come Together?

This is the big question that all of us in the US are asking ourselves, and considering other recent events in the Western World, I think many people in other countries are asking themselves this same question. We need to stop blinding ourselves to those things that divide us. We need to stop making assumptions of the politics or attitudes of someone just because of where they live. We need to meet people with open hearts to experience what they are passionate about so that we have a better sense of who they are that goes beyond the sound bites on social media and tv that tend to focus on the worst of humanity.

The questions we should be asking Israeli winemakers do not deal with the Kosher issue, because it has nothing to do with quality, or what they think of some Middle Eastern event that has been blown out of proportion by the media… We should be asking them about their wine, about their story, and about what they hope to share with the world through their wines.

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Wines Tasted on
October 20th 2016

White Wines

It was interesting to taste the first two whites, both Sauvignon Blanc wines, together as the first was more of a fruit driven wine and the second was a more textural wine. Both were nice expressions of Sauvignon Blanc. Also, it was interesting to learn that Sauvignon Blanc does well in certain areas in Israel, not only because of higher altitudes creating cooler micro-climates, but also the ability to pick Sauvignon Blanc early and not having to worry about phenolic ripeness since they do not ferment the wines on the skins. Also, it is possible to pick Sauvignon Blanc early and still have good development of aromas and flavors.

israel-sauvignion-blanc-2015 Tabor Winery Sauvignon Blanc Adama: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from 40 year old vines and deep roots in limestone soil. Bright and crisp with zingy flavors of grapefruit and fresh thyme.

 -2015 Tzora Vineyards Shoresh Blanc: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented and aged in neutral barrels with lees aging create a wine with weight, white peach flavors and herbaceous hints on the finish.

israel-recanati-winery-marawi-pic

 

-2015 Recanati Winery Marawi: 100% Marawi. This vineyard is grown on pergola trellises and dry-farmed. A truly interesting white that had an intense, smoky minerality that comes from this indigenous variety with a rich, textural body.

 

israel-pic-blanc-du-castel

 

 

-2014 Domaine du Castel “C” Blanc du Castel: 100% Chardonnay. I must admit, I have never been a huge fan of Israeli Chardonnay wines, but this was quite impressive. Fermented and aged on its lees in French oak barrels (1/3 new). Spicy, nutty aromas with nectarine flavors and hints of caramel on the finish. A lovely example that proves that fine Chardonnay can be made in Israel.

 

 

Red Wines

israel-malkiya-pic-2013 Tabor Winery Malkiya: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Michal Akerman’s description of the unique qualities of her vineyard certainly showed itself in this wine. A fiercely concentrated wine that had a generous quality with silky tannins and fresh black cherry flavors. A remarkable sense of minerality gave this wine a backbone of elegance that carries through the persistent finish.

 

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-2014 Tzora Vineyards Shoresh: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Syrah and 4% Petit Verdot. A charming wine that showed harmony of its multi-layer fruit flavors that presented itself with a graceful texture and a pure, expressive finish.

 

 

israel-recanati-old-vine-carignan

 

-2014 Recanati Winery Reserve Wild Carignan: 100% Carignan. In the 1880s, Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s first growers in the region planted Carignan, and it remained the most planted variety in Israel up until 9 years ago. Also, since it is a grape variety originating from Southern France, it tends to do well in warm climates. Its popularity was due to its capacity to produce large yields, yet when grown under stressful, high quality conditions, it can produce exotically intoxicating wines such as this one. Grown on bush vines that are dry-farmed on chalky, limestone soil producing low yields. An explosion of brambly berries that had good structure and plenty of tannins and acidity that settled down with some aeration. This wine had complex notes of star anise, violet and crushed rocks.

israel-pic-castel-2014 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin: The blend is always a majority of Cabernet Sauvignon, with the balance, in order of importance, being Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. This wine had serious muscle yet it was approachable with good flesh on the body and simply delicious cassis flavors and a fine, flavorful finish. Although drinking well now, I have a feeling this wine will only improve with time.

 

 

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What Qualities make a Great Older Wine?

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-all-the-bottlesThere are various research companies that have estimated that up to 90% of wine purchased in the US is consumed within 24 hours. Of course this could range between 70-90% depending on many different factors – many people may purchase a significant amount of wine in advance for special events such as New Year’s Eve. But it stands to reason that most wine drinkers are not holding on to wine for aging purposes, and that makes sense, since there are very few wines that are meant for aging.

Yet the aging of wine is something, which I think, even by consumers who don’t experience it often that intrigues wine drinkers.

We think of the great Cabernet Sauvignon dominated red wines of the world, Bordeaux and Napa Valley just being a couple of examples, as the most age-worthy wines. Yet there are various types of wines that have what it takes to be long distant marathon runners, and great Riesling, a white wine no less, is known to make magnificent old bones.

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion Vertical Tasting

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-leading-seminarA few weeks ago I went to a wine trade event in New York City that would showcase 8 different decades of a fine wine Riesling from Alsace made by Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion. It was a chance to illustrate how well this particular Riesling, from a vineyard designated by the owner as Les Murailles, would fair over the years.

Qualities Depend on Taste

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-pic-1945I naturally thought that each wine would show its age more and more as we tasted from youngest to oldest but that was not the case. Some of the oldest wines 1945 and 1953 seemed younger than 1976 or even the 1992. This discrepancy between my expectation and reality may have had to do with various issues of wine closure and/or amount of SO2, (sulfur dioxide) nevertheless, it is interesting to think that perhaps the differences had to do with the distinctive characteristics of each vintage.

The room was filled with sommeliers and journalists who each had their own favorite, and actually the winner seemed to be the 1953 with its shocking still intact vigor and bright spirit. It seemed like an enthusiastic child that was a little more colorful than its classmates noted by minty aromatics – the tiny hint that suggested an evolved Riesling. Honestly, if someone gave me that wine, without letting me know the vintage, I may have guessed that it was no more than a decade old.

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-pic-glassMy favorite was the 1976 (actually only one year younger than me) as I thought it openly wore its age with pride. Obviously it was a several decade evolved wine with nutty, smoky aromatics that were the first to say hello, and although it still had enough verve to keep it fresh, it had a softer, rounder body. There were a few others in the room that expressed a lack of interest in it. It did not have the tension or taut body of the others. It seemed to be more confident as a wine that sat back with nothing to prove – this wine did not need to jump out of the glass like it did in its young – it had more valuable things to offer in its more evolved state. This quality of being significantly more different than its youthful counterparts was exactly what some did not like… while that was the very reason it was my favorite.

There are some basic qualities that all wines need to have, whether young or old, to be considered a great wine. There has to be balance, long length and enjoyable aromas and flavors – albeit it is difficult to be objective about the last point. Some may also add if it has the capacity for long term aging depending on the style of wine. The consensus of the room that day was that the vertical showed that this producer was a high quality one that could make wines that were age-worthy. But I found it fascinating that some found the older wines, which seemed the most like their youthful versions, to be the most appealing.

Appreciation for Older Wines

I remember when I first started to drink older wines, delving into those that were a decade, a couple of decades and eventually drinking the oldest wine I have had which was a 1875 Madeira, fortified wine. My first experiences were a little jarring. It took time to get use to the different types of positive evolved aromatics that came with ageing. But through time I started to fall in love with older wines to the point I would crave them.

If I were to give a general, and I mean general description of high quality aged wines in their prime I would say the following: The fruit is in the background and/or is altered into deeper, darker flavors, savory notes would dominate and there is typically a more supple quality that needs time and focus to appreciate. The wines don’t sing commonly, if anything they are “over” singing, they have done their song and dance earlier in their life to gain attention, and now, they don’t need attention. But don’t get them wrong, they are happy to have a long, intimate conversation.

To me the greatest old wines show their age – they are survivors and that should be celebrated. As long as an older wine can pass on the tough savory lessons of a life long lived with still flickers of the sweet fruit of hope then it can be a truly special experience that no other adolescence wine can emulate with all the decanting in the world. Some results only come from age, and the best come from a long life believing in the promise of a better tomorrow.

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October 13th, 2016

Vertical Tasting of Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion, Riesling, Les Murailles:

Château de Riquewihr, located in the town of fortified city wall of Riquewihr in Alsace, France, was constructed in 1549. The Dopff and Irion families, having a vineyard lineage going back to the 16th century, purchased Château de Riquewihr in 1945 with René Dopff leading the way to update the winery, labeling, as well as matching grape varieties to the appropriate terroir. Hence, how one of their top wines, Riesling from their personally designated Les Murailles, does not have a Grand Cru status because in his eyes some of the best vineyards fell outside the boundaries, as well as some mediocre vineyards he did not want to use, were considered within the Grand Cru. But the wines below certainly show a nobility of being fine wines, and hence, the proof is in the pudding.

Some of the below bottles were recorked to keep the integrity of the seal.

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-pic-1(Initially greeted with a Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which showed their modern labeling as well as being delightful with 50% Pinot Blanc and 50% Pinot Auxerrois with notes of honey covered apples and blanched almonds.)

 

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion, Riesling, Les Murailles

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-bunch-of-glasses

-2010: Tight wine with marked acidity and citrus zest as the main characteristics that are prevalent in this wine, more layers hidden, hints of white flower and lime blossom, but needs a lot more time to show its potential.

-2001: Intensely smoky, flinty minerality notes dominated this wine with a touch of honeysuckle.

-1992: Surprisingly this wine had the most oxidative notes which could be in part due to bottle variations with this vintage, but I personally liked it, being a fan of Sherry-like wines, bruised apple, roasted cashews with ashy aromas in the background.

-1989: Lovely purity of fruit with white peach and nectarine that had an added layer of complexity with white stones, good flesh and ripeness on the body but the wine still had an overall quality of being taut and concise.

-1976: Toasted almonds, smoky minerality, broader and richer than the other vintages yet still balanced beautifully, softer acidity…peach and lemon confit flavors carried along the sustained finish.

-1969: Very different wine than the rest with pronounced perfume nose, spice on the palate, a hint of mushroom on the finish.

-1953: Touch of mint, more herbaceous notes than fruit flavor, linear in shape, still had lots of fierce energy.

-1945: (“wine survived 5 years of war” – World War II) Minty, bright, fresh, crumbly stone notes.

Château de Riquewihr Dopff & Irion Tasting during Press Lunch after Vertical:

what-qualities-make-a-great-older-wine-lunch-table-Crémant d”Alsace Brut Rosé NV: A refreshing traditional method sparkling wine with pristine red fruit and orange blossoms.

-2015 Riesling Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought by 200 selected wine grape growers) Lots of juicy stone fruit flavors with a broad body and richer texture than typical for Riesling – a good wine/vintage to try for those who like a richer style.

-2014 Crustacés: (grapes bought by 200 selected wine grape growers) 90% Sylvaner and 10% Pinot Blanc. Chamomile tea, pear and melon and clean finish made this a fun choice to have with seafood.

-2014 Pinot Blanc Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought by 200 selected wine grape growers) This wine was a nice example of a good Alsace Pinot Blanc that had apricot and wood smoked aromas and soft acidity.

-2011 Riesling Grand Cru Schoenenbourg Château de Riquewihr: An exhilarating wine with a great back bone of acidity that gives it a kick of verve throughout the long finish with floral, sweet peach and anise aromatics that finish with an intense minerality.

-2009 Pinot Gris Grand Cru Vorbourg: Anyone who questions if Pinot Gris can be aromatic should try this wine. Pretty honey notes with exotic tropical flavors and a full body.

-2014 Gewurztraminer Cuvée René Dopff: (grapes bought by 200 selected wine grape growers) Perfumed with classic lychee flavors and a tinge of clove with a lush body.

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Recovering from Life with Champagne

paillard-pic-2It was truly a wonderful experience to meet Alice Paillard, daughter of Bruno Paillard – the founder of Bruno Paillard Champagnes. I have always admired the Paillard Champagnes for their tendency to over-deliver in quality, as well as Paillard himself as being a living legend making Champagnes that are sought after by serious connoisseurs even though he faced strong competition from larger, more well-established Champagne houses. Alice had the same passion that I imagined her father possessed. I had a thrilling lunch, often times forgetting to eat my food, as I was drawn into her exuberant explanations of their philosophies with regards to making these lovely Champagnes. One philosophy, in particular, stood out to me – their philosophy of disgorgement.

Disgorgement

I want to give a brief explanation of disgorgement for those of you who may not be used to this term. Champagne is a wine that is not only about a specific place, aka terroir, but it is also about a particular process of winemaking that needs to be executed with great skill. After a second fermentation in individual bottles, which helps to create the bubbles, there is a time when the bottles are left to age so autolysis, aka lees aging (wine lees are the sediment from the dead yeast cells), can add more complexity to the Champagne. This process may take anywhere from 15 months to up to a decade.

Disgorgement is when the producer removes all the sediment from the bottle. After disgorgement, the wines are given a dosage (wine that equals the quality of what is in the bottle plus very pure cane sugar) which not only helps to make up for the volume of wine that was lost during disgorgement, but also balances out the fierce acidity that is typical in Champagne. Hence, when someone asks what the “dosage” is for a given Champagne, they are asking how much residual sugar is in that bottle.

Life is like an Operation

paillard-pic-1 Let us get back to the word disgorgement. During my lunch with Alice Paillard, she explained to me that cellar workers used to use the French word meaning “to operate” when they were talking about disgorging bottles. This is the first time that I had heard this term, which seemed odd figuring how long I have been involved in the wine industry, and certainly meeting Champagne producers, that I had to have heard this story sometime in the past.

But I must admit it was the first time I had consciously heard it. Maybe it was the passionate way that Alice expressed the importance of seeing it as an operation – the trauma, the shock, the recovery needed for the wines. Maybe it was the idea that I was in a place in my life where I was open to hearing this idea. Or probably it was both.

When I look back on my life, especially during my 20s and 30s, there was so much running around trying to pay bills and take care of people; trying to be everything to everyone – it takes its toll. That inner sparkle started to diminish – not overnight – but slowly, and one day I woke up and said to myself, “What happened to me?!”

Life is like a series of operations, disgorgements, where we have been through some type of intense stress, shock to our system, and we need the time for recovery – even though we may have pressure from the outside world to never stop.

The Maillard Reaction

paillard-pic-8Alice Paillard said that it was vital for them to allow their bottles to recover after their operation. This recovery time is dependent on how long they were aged on lees, and so, their general practice of recovery is as follows: minimum of 5 months for Première Cuvée and Rosé Première Cuvée, 8 months for Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, 8 to 12 months for vintage wines, and up to 18 months for N.P.U. (Nec Plus Ultra).

I have read in the past that aging after post-disgorgement was necessary for the Maillard reaction (in Champagne terminology, Reaction Maillard) to happen. I know I’m dropping a lot of crazy terms in this post but this is simply a reaction of sugars and amino acids in the wine that, some believe, create the toasty and roasted goodness present in Champagne wines, as well as other complex aromatics that have not been exactly pinpointed.

Recovery from Life

paillard-pic-3

Alice Paillard and me

And so the concept of Champagne needing a little rest before being consumed was not foreign to me, but using the language of “operation” and “recovery” hit me in that moment as truly understanding the importance of this practice.

All of us go through periods in our life where it is impossible to properly take care of ourselves. We experience times like this more and more as we get older. But I think we can get into such a habit of sacrificing our own well-being for so many reasons, that when we do have time to take care of ourselves, we feel guilty about taking that precious time to allow ourselves to be happy. A few months ago, for the first time, I sat for 15 minutes in a little park that I have lived by for over 12 years. I had to force myself to relax and enjoy but once I allowed myself to just sit there, looking at the birds and deeply breathing, I felt new again.

Maybe I had heard the terms “operation” and “recovery” with regards to Champagne before this lunch, but I was in a place in my life where taking care of myself, or at least in my mind, was not an option.

We have to actively give ourselves the time to recover just like Champagne Bruno Paillard gives their wines the rest that they need. And so, I thought, what better way to celebrate having the strength and courage to take care of myself than by drinking a Bruno Paillard Champagne while sitting on my couch with my partner in crime, being grateful for a moment of recovery.

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Tasting of Champagne Bruno Paillard with Alice Paillard on October 7th, 2016

Multi-Vintage Champagnes

Bruno Paillard prefers to use the term “multi-vintage” instead of “non-vintage” because they have been using “reserve wines” (wines placed aside from other vintages) since 1985, as well as using a large amount ranging from 20 to 50% in the blend. The large amount of various vintages used truly makes these wines “multi-vintage” Champagnes.

The three following Multi-Vintage Champagnes have a blend of 25 different vintages.

paillard-pic-4-Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru: 100% Chardonnay, as indicated by the term “Blanc de Blancs” on a Champagne bottle. The grapes are sourced from grand crus vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, an area of vineyards in Champagne that is highly prized for great Chardonnay. A linear body with lots of energy, a hint of lime blossom yet the very fine bubbles create a creamy texture that balances well with the marked acidity.

paillard-pic-5-Première Cuvée:                                    45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier (20% spent first fermentation in barrel). Extra Brut dosage with less than 6 g/l residual sugar. Lots of generous fruit with cranberry and golden apple that has a hint of purple flowers and broader on the palate than the Blanc de Blancs.

paillard-pic-6-Rosé Première Cuvée:  Majority Pinot Noir with a small amount of Chardonnay (amount remains a secret). A simply pretty Rosé Champagne with a stunning pale salmon color that hinted to the beautiful yet delicate wild strawberry fruit on the palate, with a touch of sweet spice on the finish.

Art and Vintage Champagnes                                                                                           It can be difficult to express the experience of drinking a particular wine. We try with language using words that people can relate to with regards to aromas, flavors and texture. But I was thrilled to talk to Alice Paillard about their Art series for their Vintage Champagnes. Once they have tasted the Vintage Champagnes, once ready to access, they work with an artist to design the label to help express the main character of the wine.

paillard-pic-7-2006 Vintage Voluptous: Swedish artist Jockum Nordström created a collage/painting for this wine under the title Voluptous, a theme the Paillard family decided on because of the wine’s generous and round character. Smooth and silky in the mouth with flavors of peach pastries and marzipan, with a long, flavorful finish.

paillard-pic-8-2008 Vintage Energy: Korean artist Bang Hai Ja designed this powerful label using the theme Energy. This vintage is completely different from the 2006 with its intense vitality, a dominance of chalky minerality notes and incredible precision.

paillard-pic-9-2003 N.P.U: N.P.U. stands for “Nec Plus Ultra” and represents the most exceptional vintages. 2003 is only the 5th vintage to be released on the market that has been given the prestigious title of N.P.U., as well as 1990, 1995, 1996 and 1999. The 2003 first seemed like an odd vintage with shockingly high temperatures in France during the summer, and so it remains a unique vintage in Champagne that many disagree on with regards to quality. But this 2003 N.P.U. had delicious flavors of honeysuckle, roasted hazelnuts and a rich, creamy texture, yet still had great tension and energy; zesty acidity and an underlying note of minerality came across on the superb, refined finish.

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Do Scores Matter in the Wine World?

chadwick-pic-3This is an old topic that will really never go out of fashion. I think there should be constant discussion regarding wine scores since those factors that influence wine purchases are starting to change as Millennials, ages 21-34 become more influential. Stories about the producers, region, history and culture seem to be of greater importance to this group, and hence, scores may not be the only factor that younger drinkers are considering. But wines need to get on their radar first before they even attempt to research them. And that is where scores, whether they are taken at face value or not, can make someone at any age take the time to seek out particular wines.

Scores

Although there have been many notable great British (as well as many other great wine minds around the world ) critics who have helped to convey quality through scores, as an American, no one has had the impact that Robert Parker has had in establishing this system. It seems that either people love him or hate him, but no matter one’s personal opinion, I hope we can all agree that he was a game changer. He was a consumer, self taught, who decided to empower others while empowering himself. He created the 100 point system which helped consumers of all economic backgrounds make their own choices at retail stores and restaurants. This system became so popular and powerful because it was a system that was desperately needed in America, and eventually encouraged the US to become the vibrant wine drinking country it is today, but I know the system is not perfect and we are still evolving as a wine drinking country.

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to try various wines from Chile and Argentina, as famous wine critic James Suckling brought the event “Great Wines of the Andes” to NYC, as well as to other major cities around the US. This event showcased wines that Suckling considered as the best out of the over 2000 wines he had tasted in Chile. This is where we get into controversial tropics with wine critics because some may rightly argue that certain amazing wines were left off this list, and bring up the valid point that this list is just one person’s opinion. But these are valid points for any list, or any critic or any recommendations for that matter. I try to think of these events/lists as an opportunity to discover new wines, or bring greater attention to wines that I know, instead of focusing on the wines that were missed if I were to make my own list.

Errazuriz

chadwick-pic-1Because there were many producers in town, I had the chance to sit down with a few of them, taste their wines, and talk to them about what was currently exciting in their world. One great encounter, historical I would even say, was with the owner of Viña Errázuriz, Eduardo Chadwick. Chilean wine lovers will be very well acquainted with his winery which is credited with giving Chile some validity in the fine wine world.

100 Points

It would have already been a pleasure to meet him and taste current releases because I have admired his family winery, their accomplishments and wines for many years. But I was even more intrigued because one of his wines, the 2014 iconic Viñedo Chadwick, was given 100 points by James Suckling – the first 100 point Chilean wine. Again, going back to the main issue of points being one person’s opinion, even though it is a well experienced and educated opinion, but yes, I give it to you, it is still one person’s opinion. And so, if you are not a fan of Suckling’s taste, maybe the 100 points does not mean as much as a wine critic you do follow. But I would argue, in this case, that it is significant. It is significant because it will garner the attention for Chile that they so rightly deserve. Those who know their wines, their diversity, the elegance and intoxicating complexity that is possible from their top wines will say, “It is about damn time that we have a 100 point Chilean wine!”

I only had one hour to talk to Eduardo Chadwick and he spent 15 minutes talking about his family and their wines, while he spent the other 45 minutes talking about Chile and all the reasons why it is a great wine making country. He gave us a book called “The Berlin Tasting – Uncorking the Potential of Chile’s Terroir” that documented this famous tasting that placed not only his 2000 Viñedo Chadwick wine in first place but also went into detail about the glory of Chile.  He also expressed pride that many Chilean wines, from other producers, have high rankings in various blind tasting that have taken place around the world.

The Judgment of Paris

Hearing Chadwick’s pride in the Chilean contingent doing well in these blind tastings reminded me of how important The Judgment of Paris was to California producers. It was a blind tasting in 1976, in Paris, involving top wine critics – nine out of the eleven judges were French. Two Napa Valley wines received top marks for both white and red categories, beating out top producers from Bordeaux and Burgundy. The importance of this tasting was not to give the US bragging rights over France with regards to wine, but rather, it helped to legitimize a struggling region that had been considered a joke to the rest of the world. It still gives me chills when I talk to the old time producers from Napa Valley, who started in the 1970s, and they tell me that once the news broke out, about The Judgment of Paris, they were then able to get approvals for loans that were once denied. Napa Valley may have never become a world class wine area if it wasn’t for that one event.

Caballo Loco

caballo-loco-pic-1In the spirit of shining a light on the world class wines that Chile is producing, I would like to mention an unknown wine, certainly a lesser known one in the US: Caballo Loco, which means “Crazy Horse” in English. I met with their humble winemaker Brett Jackson – originally from New Zealand, who moved to Chile over 20 years ago – to taste his wild Caballo Loco wines. In the past, I have always thought of Chilean wines as being the reserved “safe” wines from South America, due to their restraint compared to wines from other South American countries, but the Caballo Loco wines were some of the most “savage” wines I have had from Chile.

The Caballo Loco wines had wild flavors while still having a backbone of the elegance one expects from the great wines of Chile. The wines are named after one of the owners whose nickname is Crazy Horse. Since Chileans are typically reserved people, evidently due to the idea that they are an isolated country because of the ocean on one side and the Andes Mountains on the other side, it is atypical to have such a free spirit. But he was the inspiration for their incredibly unique Caballo Loco Nº 16, which is described below, and it is the first time I have experienced such a wine. They are currently trying to get better distribution in the US and I hope Suckling’s “Great Wines of the Andes” events have helped them in this task.

Perspective

When it comes to scores it is important to keep them in perspective. Scores are great opportunities to discover a new producer, whether it creates an impetus to try their highly scored wine or their other more affordable options, or just wines from the region, or in this case just premium wines from another country, such as Chile. In this way, 100 points can be valuable to everyone, if we also realize that those who haven’t achieved a high score can still be interesting wines to try as well.

chadwick-pic-4Eduardo Chadwick was understandably excited for his family’s wines. It was bittersweet because his late father is the one who allowed him to plant vineyards in 1992, over his beloved polo fields, since his father, a famous polo player, was retired from playing polo at the time – that vineyard would end up making this 100 point wine. Eduardo has not only honored his father’s memory through his determination and accomplishments of making fine wine using his family’s names, Errazuriz and Chadwick, but he brings great honor to all the forefathers, as well as foremothers, of Chile.

And if this particular 100 points get significantly more people to taste and read about Chilean wines, then yes, it does matter in my eyes.

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Errazuriz Wines Tasted on September 27th, 2016

chadwick-pic-2-2014 Viñedo Chadwick, Puente Alto, Maipo Valley, Chile: Puente Alto in Maipo. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Only available in a case of three vertical wines: 1 each 2014, 2012, 2010. Previous vintage 2013 is available on the market for $212 according to wine-searcher.com. Maipo Valley has one of the best reputations for big red wines in Chile with the Puento Alto region having the highest reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon. Many describe it as the ‘Bordeaux of South America’. The name of this wine honors Eduardo Chadwick’s father. The pure elegance of this wine was stunning with pretty notes of cassis, lilacs and a whiff of cigar box. From the first sip, the silky texture is simply breathtaking, as well as the long, pure and expressive finish.

-2013 Viña Errázuriz Don Maximiano, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($62): 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 6% Carménère and 5% Petit Verdot. At one time, Errazuriz winery was mocked for planting vines in the Aconcagua Valley for the purpose of making fine wine due to the preconceived notion that it was too hot. Many of those critics did not take into account the moderating affects of the Andes Mountains, Pacific Ocean and Humboldt Current. They succeeded by becoming one of the most celebrated producers in Chile. Errazuriz is the family name from Eduardo Chadwick’s paternal grandmother’s side of the family – she was the grand niece of the founder.  A bigger wine than the Chadwick with muscular tannins and flavors of dried plums, black berries and a touch of rosemary. After a few hours of decanting, it showed more nuanced minerality and rounder tannins.

-2013 Viña Errázuriz Max Reserva Chardonnay, Aconcagua Valley, Chile ($14): 100% Chardonnay. 60% Malolatic fermentation. Wild yeasts. 10% New oak. I had this wine after the reds and I was happy I tried it. I used to have a prejudice against South American Chardonnay, but this one was a nice surprise, especially considering the price. Ripe white peach with sweet spice and nutty oak. It had a rich quality many Chardonnay lovers like yet it still had plenty of acidity to keep it lively.

Caballo Loco Wines Tasted on September 28th, 2016

-2013 Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta, Colchagua Valley, Chile (SRP $35): Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Carménère. Apalta is identified as a Grand Cru vineyard in the Colchagua Valley for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère and Cabernet Franc due to a longer growing season that helps to develop more aromatics. Deep color with ripe black currant fruit, a hint of thyme and firm yet fine tannins that give a nice structure to this wine.

 caballo-loco-pic-2-Caballo Loco Nº 16, Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile (SRP $70): 50% Nº 15 and 50% 2011. This wine does not have a vintage because it is fractionally blended with the best barrels from various vintages. Because every year they use 50% of previously fractionally blended wines, they figure that there is still tiny portions from their first vintages of 1992 and 1994, as well as all the ones in between, in this blend.   Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Carménère are all the varieties in this blend. A multi-layered and dimensional wine with cedar infused plums, dried blackberries and fresh blood oranges that had an underlayer of coffee notes. A powerful wine with volume and tension that had a prolonged and flavorful finish. 

 

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Can’t We All Just Get Along – in the Wine World

locationsThere is so much turmoil in the Western World right now. Friends, family members, co-workers, etc. are fighting, insulting and breaking relationships possibly forever… and for what? A difference of opinion about what would make the world, France, UK or my home country, the US, a better place? All of us want the same thing, right? We just see things differently. I’m hopeful that once tempers cool down, all of us will realize that the best way to make things better is by compromising and coming together… and that insulting people will never make them compassionate to your situation.

But I understand… things are a little heated right now… I have certainly said things I wished I had never said… but that is the process of growing as a human being. All of us can only be hopeful that we will do better tomorrow.

Brand vs Family Winery

Talking about debating, how about that long, sometimes heated, debate of which is better, brands or family wineries? I am a wine geek and so many people think I would be against an obvious “brand”. Some may think that geeks are only attracted to obscure wines that have a complicated label, which few others can understand.

On the contrary, while I may geek out with the best of them and I certainly love well-established family wineries, I also love anything in the wine world that makes this beverage more accessible and fun for everyone. Nothing thrills me more than when I hear a long time beer or spirit drinker say that they found a wine that made them think that they could be a “wine drinker” too – and usually it is a well known brand that brings them to the wine side. I want the whole, appropriately aged, drinking world to connect to a libation that has truly changed my life a hundred times for the better. The only way to do that, on a large scale, is through a strong brand.

Dave Phinney

Dave Phinney is a man that understands the concept of a successful brand. Even though, at one time, he was just a lone wolf in Napa Valley, California, who decided to take the leap of starting his own wine company, Orin Swift Cellars in 1998, he eventually became a master branding genius. His main wine brand, The Prisoner, won many Americans over to be ultra premium wine drinkers. It is atypical to have a very talented winemaker be extremely talented at branding as well. But somehow he was able to channel that same creativity which gave him the talent to blend over 80 top vineyards and several grape varieties to create The Prisoner, to conceive of labels and a concept that would immediately connect and inspire people to seek out his wines.

Tearing Down Fear

This is probably one of the most consistent rants I go on… Since I was in the wine trade for over a decade, compounded with the fact that I have lived in Manhattan for over 22 years, I have unfortunately seen a lot of fear with regards to wine. People are afraid of being judged…afraid of being embarrassed…simply afraid of wine. This is not good for the wine business or anyone who loves wine.

The artisanal spirit and craft beer companies are winning when it comes to making libations fun and accessible by inspiring confidence with drinkers. Okay, to be fair, they have bigger budgets since they are higher margin businesses, but even when it comes to the people selling them, in restaurants and retail stores, the image and branding of spirits and beers encourage those people hand-selling them to have more leeway to be playful with those products. I have witnessed too many awkward, painful encounters with those selling wine as well as with those buying it. I have devoted myself to tearing down elitism in the wine world and sharing my love for it that I hope is infectious to everyone.

Locations

I am happy to see that with Phinney’s new project, Locations, that he is not only using his creative talents to offer value wines that have great generosity, but that he will be able to  introduce other winemaking countries to a large US population.

The Locations wines are an innovative way that Phinney felt he could bring the wines of the world to the US audience. The story goes that after his 2010 harvest, Phinney was at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France and he saw a distinctive “F” sticker on a license plate, and it lit an idea for the labels that would lead him to making wines that expressed a country in a playful and easy to understand way.

These wines give some of the hints of that country, wrapped up in a comfortable US friendly package. They are blends from vineyards across each country, some of the vineyards coming from old vines, and that way he is able to sell wines with consistently good quality at an affordable price.

Sometimes, as wine geeks, we forget what wine is like for the rest of the non-geek world. It is a scary place when someone is forced to go outside of their comfort zone. That is where I hope we can all get along. Successful brands do not need to be the enemy of struggling family wineries. In fact, they could help to win more people to my favorite team – the wine team. Although each of us may disagree with the type of wine we want in our glass, I’m hopeful that all of us can sit back and enjoy drinking our wines together.

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Tasting Notes for Locations wines from October 14th, 2016

locations-3-AR5 – Argentinian Red Wine (SRP $17.99): Blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoky, big and brooding red with lots of juicy cassis and manicured tannins.

locations-1-E4 – Spanish Red Wine (SRP $18.99): Blend of Garnacha (Grenache), Tempranillo, Monastrell and Cariñena (Carignan). Opaque color with an explosion of black fruit, fresh leather and dried thyme on the finish. Savory, dusty Old World flavors with New World assurance.

locations-2-F4 – French Red Wine (SRP $18.99): Blend of Grenache, Syrah and assorted Bordeaux varietals. France is my “boo” wine country in a sense. I may love many wines from around the world, and I certainly have been obsessed with Italy lately, but I have traveled to France the most amount of times and it is a special place for me. This wine has inviting, fresh brambly fruit that could please conservatives and liberals alike, and a whisper of cedar with an under-layer of pencil shavings that has enough diversity to let everyone know they are invited to the party.

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Finding the Balance between Science and Sense of Place with Wine

fattoria-petrioloI like to spend one day a week going over all the wine samples I’ve been sent -and during this time of year, it is a lot of samples – in the hope that some will fill me with excitement and joy – over-delivering the goods so to speak.

A couple of wines from a producer that I never heard of until this time, Fattoria Petriolo, really struck me with sheer delight. The intense vitality of the couple of bottles I tried had generous, complex aromatics, delicious and intriguing flavors dancing on my palate. One was a 2013 Chianti DOCG Riserva and one a non-vintage Rosso Toscano… the wines were so impressive I immediately searched for them on wine-searcher.com. Well, they are not on the US market, as far as I can see, and yes, lo and behold, the back labels are only in Italian.

Why did I allow them to send these samples to me?

I was curious about them because an email was sent to me by one of the winemakers explaining how the wines were made by two young winemakers (29 and 20 years old) – their website was fun and playful and I was initially slightly curious if their wines would display the same spirit. But what really made me pull the trigger and say, “Yeah, I need to try those wines!” was the idea that they were the only Italian winery chosen, along with five others, for the INNOYEAST project.

INNOYEAST

The INNOYEAST project lasted for two years (2009-2011) and was funded by the European Commission. It had such famous wineries such as Marqués de Riscal and Château La Pointe participating in it. This project helped to encourage producers, in various countries, to use the local yeasts living on their grapes in the vineyards and the walls of their winery to help their fermentations so that their wines may express a deeper meaning of sense of place.

Cultured Yeasts vs Indigenous Yeasts

I know all of you are so excited to have this debate, but don’t worry, I will keep this short for now and go into this very wine geeky discussion, in more detail, at a later time. But I’m sure many of you know that even though the general idea of indigenous, local, autochthonous yeasts (or whatever term floats your boat) would seem like a “natural” choice, there are many issues associated with using indigenous yeasts such as the increased possibility of a stuck fermentation. When a stuck fermentation happens there is a greater chance for microbiological spoilage, which may not be dangerous to drink, but it sure can be nasty to taste.

Cultured yeasts, aka inoculated yeasts, have a higher guarantee of completing fermentation decreasing the likelihood of stuck ferments. Also, different yeasts can add different aromatics and flavors, enhancing or diminishing certain qualities. Some people are afraid of GMO (genetically modified) yeasts because they think it will allow producers to make all wines taste the same.

“Terroir to me is a wild ferment”

This sort of conundrum, damned if you do use indigenous yeasts, damned if you don’t, is one that is debated and argued with vigor with extreme opinions one way or the other. Personally, I am not a dogmatic kind of person – I am always trying to find balance with the force.

I like to think back to my lunch with Ana Diogo-Draper, Director of Winemaking at Artesa Winery in Napa Valley, and her proclamation, “Terroir to me is a wild ferment”. She had just started experimenting with indigenous yeasts, and even though she has always been terrified, as any winemaker should be, of a stuck fermentation, her indigenous yeasts’ trials were so impressive, with incredible flavors and aromatics that she has never had before experienced, that she decided to take the risk of using indigenous yeasts (some call it a wild ferment) more and more. But she also explained that the key with this research project in the future, in which she will involve the University of California, Davis, is to find the “strong” yeasts that will avoid a stuck fermentation but add desired aromatics.

This is where the INNOYEAST project was important, as they helped wineries to isolate and select yeasts that were reliable during fermentation but also expressed the inherent character of the vineyards.

Taking a Risk

There are some risks not worth taking and quite frankly, some companies are able to take more risks than others due to their situation. Diogo-Draper emphasized that it would have been a real shame if she had never known the true potential of her wines. Also, it was great that this INNOYEAST project decided to take a risk on a lesser known winery, Fattoria Petriolo, because I don’t know if they could have done it on their own. Finally, I was happy that I took a risk in accepting wines that were not widely distributed in the US market because these Fattoria Petriolo wines were very exciting – it would have been a shame if I had missed out on this special experience.

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Tasting Notes for Fattoria Petriolo from October 14th, 2016

-2013 Fattoria Petriolo Chianti Riserva DOCG, Tuscany, Italy: 90% Sangiovese , 5% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Intense nose with aromas that grabbed me with purple flowers, mashed blackberry and wet clay that had a long, refined finish with more nuanced notes. Chewy tannins with an overall vibrancy to this wine that made my heart beat a little faster.

-Fattoria Petriolo, Venato, Rosso Toscano IGT: 50% Sangiovese and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This wine had more evident structure with grip on the palate, yet it was nicely balanced with ripe blueberry pie fruit and hints of some complexity with granite and earthy flavors. A bigger, more robust wine but still had a great vitality that makes it easy to drink another glass.

 

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Quality from All Points of View with Cecchi Wines

cecchi-pic-1I learned a new expression in Italian during my intimate lunch with the immensely charming Andrea Cecchi: “A Tutto Tondo”. While he was explaining his family’s philosophy of their wine business in Tuscany, first started in 1893 by Andrea’s great-grandfather, he said the best way to explain it was this phrase. He then drew a circle on a piece of paper and said it meant “quality from all points of view”.

Valuing Tradition While Seeing the Benefits of Newer Technology

Cecchi Winery is like many other well-established, quality minded producers, with their respect for keeping a style that was created by generations before them, yet they also understand the importance of modernization so they can keep a consistent quality year in and year out, which was impossible for previous generations.

It was fitting to have our discussion take place during the 300th Anniversary of Chianti Classico, since Cecchi has been one of the producers at the forefront of research to improve quality in this historic area. In collaboration with the University of Pisa Faculty of Agriculture and the University of Florence, Cecchi was one of the five estates that donated an acre of its own vineyards to the study of Sangiovese clones, and dedicated a portion of its winery in Castellina, Chianti to the producing of test wines.

Only as Strong as Its Community

One of the best ways Cecchi displays its commitment to old fashioned values with modern sensibilities is their idea of keeping water clean for the community. Wastewater is a big issue for wineries, with many dumping water used at the winery with a BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) of 2,000 mg/l and up to 10,000 mg/l in some cases.  As a point of reference, a human sewage registers around 150 to 300 mg/l. But what is BOD? BOD accounts for microbes living in waterways that will deprive other life of oxygen. This has become a great concern for California wineries over the past few years, yet Cecchi has had a longtime presence of innovative systems to treat this water and create healthy wetlands that benefit the already existing life.

Andrea said that his family business and the community is one, and one cannot prosper without the other. The saying “quality from all points of view” aka “A Tutto Tondo”  not only means that they are taking care of everything that influences the wine: vineyards, winery, etc… but in the true meaning, Andrea said that from everyone’s perspective it is quality because everyone benefits.

The World is a Smaller Place

cecchiEven though Andrea Cecchi was grounded in good old values, it was also nice to see him earnestly into social media, being a social media junkie myself. He believes in the internet as a way to impart the “A Tutto Tondo” philosophy, connecting with various people around the world in a positive way. At one time it was just the local community, or tourists, connected to a winery, but today, everyone can make a positive impact on other people’s lives through social media.

As we sat there with our conversation ranging from the early 1200s, to Facebook and Instagram, we were both so thrilled to learn from each other and to connect and grow as human beings. He told me how much he loved social media, even though he just started getting into it a few years ago, because he believes it keeps him young. And isn’t that the idea? To have centuries of experience while still feeling the excitement and enthusiasm that the best is yet to come.

While I walked down the streets of Manhattan, beaming from my energizing experience with Andrea Cecchi, I was filled with a great feeling that although we are currently on a bumpy ride as the world becomes a smaller place, the wealth of opportunities for everyone around the world to connect, improve and grow will make the turbulent ride of social media well worth it.

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Tasting Notes for Cecchi Wines from September 21st, 2016

cecchi-pic-2Maremma is in the southwestern part of Tuscany, bordering the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas. The labels of the following two wines have a picture of a horse on it. Wild horses are common in this area and so it is an homage to these beautiful, free creatures. These horses also play a vital part in the culture of Tuscany with the Palio di Siena, an historical horse race held twice a year that has been celebrated for centuries. Siena, at one time, rivaled Florence’s claim to being Tuscany’s capital city; even though Florence eventually won that title, it is still a very special place that has preserved the wonderful history of this area with a walled city that does not allow cars within the center of town. It is a “must see” tourist’s stop if you are in the area. Even though Cecchi makes wines in various areas in Tuscany, their home is located in Siena, and so another reason the horses are significant.

-2014 La Mora Vermentino, Maremma Toscana DOC ($19): Majority Vermentino. Vermentino is the signature white grape of the island of Sardinia and it has a distinct white, stony minerality. It still has that mineral note in this Cecchi wine from Maremma but it has more fleshy peach which gives it more weight.

-2013 La Mora, Morellino di Scansano DOCG ($23): 90% Sangiovese with 10% other red grape varieties. If someone wants a wine that has a little bit of Old World charm with New World friendliness, that won’t break the bank, then you can’t go wrong with Morellino, and this is a delicious example with cassis and floral notes that are very generous.

Andrea Cecchi was touring the USA for various celebrations of the 300th Anniversary of Chianti Classico. In 1716 the Medici Grand Duke, Cosimo III, declared the boundaries of the Chianti wine growing region and established an organization to control wine production and to guard against fraud. Actually the trademark black rooster on the neck of Chianti Classico goes back to the rivalry between Siena and Florence. At one time, the area between these once separate republics was called “Chianti”. In the early 1200s, they decided to establish boundaries by releasing two roosters to meet in the middle of the Chianti area, and so the rooster has a long established connection to Chianti, as well as being part of the historical importance of that region.

The Cecchi winery is located in Castellino in Chianti, one of four municipalities entirely within the historical boundaries of the Black Rooster area – the black rooster being the one that won.

-2014 Chianti Classico “Storia di Famiglia”, Chianti Classico DOCG ($21): 90% Sangiovese with 10% other red grape varieties.  This wine was light and lively on the palate with a stronger floral note (violets) than the Morellino, and a touch a spice. A pretty wine.

Cecchi considers their Riserva di Famiglia to be their flagship wine.

-2013 Riserva di Famiglia, Chianti Classico DOCG ($41): 90% Sangiovese with 10% other red grape varieties. A more powerful wine that has rich flavors of plums and sweet fruit with an overall more complex nose – hints of fresh leather and cardamom spice. The tannins are more evident giving the wine a solid structure and drive. Even though it is drinking nicely now, with food, it will only get better over the next few years.

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The Elegant Side of Wines from Argentina

Many of us probably think of Argentina wines as being fruit forward, easy going wines that appeal to a wide range of wine drinkers. Argentina wine connoisseurs, however, know there is a lot more to this wine producing country than these types of wines. They know there are some seriously talented people, as well as high altitude vineyards, that can produce compelling wines that are stunning with their combination of concentration and overall elegance.

Pascual Toso

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One of Pascual Toso most iconic wines: Magdalena

Since 1890, Bodegas y Viñedos Pascual Toso has been a leader in producing some of the best Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon wines in Argentina. Their distinctive labels conjure feelings and thoughts of Argentinian fine wine with those who are familiar with their top selection. I was very intrigued to talk to the relatively new Chief Winemaker, since 2015, Felipe Stahlschmidt. Felipe had already spent a decade working at the world famous Catena Zapata Winery in Argentina before his appointment at Pascual Toso.

When I met Felipe for lunch I was not surprised by his warmth, as many Argentinians have a reputation for being very open people, but I was certainly pleasantly surprised by his obsession for balance and a linear quality for all of the Pascual Toso wines. Of course, these wines are already known for their balance and elegance, but he felt strongly that one should never rest on their laurels and he was constantly working to maintain that elegance. He not only addressed climate change but also how each vintage could be different – true elegance was only kept by constant adjustments in reaction to the ever changing world around us.

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Felipe Stahlschmidt

Felipe was originally the Vineyard Manager at Catena and he decided to go back to school to get a Master’s degree in Viticulture and Enology which allowed him to join the winemaking team. The importance of the vineyards has obviously never left him as he talked in detail about finding balance with the canopy of each vine – finding the ideal amount of leaves for the grapes and each year that formula would change. Also, he did not believe in a stagnant oak regime – oak treatment was determined by the various characteristics of each wine from each vintage. His philosophy of the maintenance of elegance was aligned with the Pascual Toso philosophy and so it made sense very quickly in our conversation why he was the ideal choice for them. Elegance was not something that was achieved and then automatically retained, it was a continual process that needed to be agile to unexpected occurrences year in and year out.

Ruca Malen

argentina-wine-pic-1This sense of elegance in wines from Argentina actually first popped into my head over six weeks ago. I attended a winemaker lunch with Bodega Ruca Malen that had the dual focus of not only dispelling the perception that Argentinian wines were only in the fruit forward, soft style but they also presented the idea that some of the elegant versions could pair with a diversity of cuisines. That day I took a journey with Winemaker Pablo Cuneo and Chef Lucas Bustos that was called The Andes Kitchen. Yes, there is the classic pairing of an Argentinian Malbec with beef dishes, but an eye opening tasting featuring squash, rabbit and osso buco was a fantastic way to show the pairing potential for these more restrained, graceful wines.

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Chef Lucas Bustos and Winemaker Pablo Cuneo

Founded in 1998, Ruca Malen is a relatively new kid on the block. They have a more modern, youthful way of talking about Argentina with regards to them matching terroir driven wines with their terroir driven food which is served at their restaurant at the Ruca Malen winery. To them, food and wine, as well as a sense of origin, cannot be separated. There cannot be balance or elegance without always going back to the source of these wines. I can see that Ruca Malen is breathing new life in the food and wine scene in Argentina.

Salentein

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Salentein wines

And just when I thought I had gotten enough elegant surprises from Argentina, a few days ago I tasted a couple wines from Bodegas Salentein. This winery is a new kid as well being established in the late 1990s, yet it has a wealth of experience behind it. Jose “Pepe” Galante is the Chief Winemaker and considered the father of modern wine making in Argentina. Paul Hobbs is a Wine Consultant for Salentein, as well as for certain wines from Pascual Toso, and he recognized early on, despite the skeptics, the high quality wine potential in Argentina.

Jose Galante is known as a thoughtful, driven man that has never relaxed his constant focus on making fine wines that can compete with the top wines of the world. It is always a healthy attitude to be open to the new, ever-evolving world, but not at the sake of losing the core values that has helped create some of the iconic wines known among those who love wines from Argentina.

Struggle for Elegance

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Stellar lineup of Pascual Toso wines

The struggle for elegance is a constant battle that one never wins. This idea brings me back to my conversation with Felipe Stahlschmidt, Chief Winemaker at Pascual Toso. He said that one of the things he loves most about his wife is that she is always brutally honest, and he would not have it any other way because he never wants to stop struggling for elegance – once you stop fighting the good fight then that glorious tension and linear shape that transcends an average Argentinian wine to a world class wine will cease to exist.

A Time for Discipline, A Time for Surrender

A couple decades ago, I had a conversation with a movement teacher who taught actors how to be graceful and elegant. The key was to practice over and over again to let go of those things that seemed awkward in one’s face and body while reinforcing those attributes that gave a feeling of grace – most people who have taken ballet probably know a thing or two about this type of physical work. But you do that work in advance so you can surrender to what happens in the moment allowing something authentic, real and exciting to happen.

There is no formula for elegance – it is a different type of struggle for each region, for each person. Elegance is not gifted to someone or something, it is a tremendous amount of work to achieve a sense of elegance, work that never ends. But within that work there are those moments where we just need to surrender to what life and mother nature has given us – being humble that there are greater forces out there. That is what I find most inspirational about quality minded winemakers – even though they know mother nature is greater than they, they never stop on the quest of trying to make a libation that helps to transform our life into something special and remarkable. And for that I thank them.

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Ruca Malen Tasting Notes from August 22nd, 2016

Ruca Malen is located in Lujan de Cuyo which is situated in the upper Mendoza valley, and some of their vineyards are located in Luján de Cuyo which sits at altitudes of around 3280 ft. (1000 m) above sea level. Malbec in particular is successful in Luján de Cuyo as well as, shockingly, Petit Verdot.

-Ruca Malen Brut Sparkling Wine NV, Tupangato and Uco Valley, Mendoza ($27.99): 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  Bright cranberry fruit with lemon zest and a touch of roasted almonds.

-2015 Yauquen Torrontés, Salta ($12.99): 100% Torrontés. When you have blind tasted a lot of wines you are hopeful to be given certain hints which can lead you to a particular variety or place. I would always get Torrontés if it had a pronounced floral note on the nose yet lack of flavor with bitter finish on the palate. I would have not gotten this wine blind because the palate lived up to the pretty floral nose with juicy stone fruit and no bitterness on the finish. The winemaker Pablo Cuneo acknowledged that Torrontés was a difficult grape to grow and handle – great care was needed for a balanced wine.

-2014 Yauquen Malbec, Agrelo (Luján  de  Cuyo) and Uco Valley ($12.99): 100% Malbec. This wine had an easy going quality with lightly spiced notes and lively purple fruit and paired nicely with the carob dough stuffed with Malbec-braised rabbit from Chef Bustos. 

 argentina-wine-pic-1-2014 Ruca Malen Reserva Malbec, Agrelo (Luján  de  Cuyo) and Uco Valley ($18.99): 100% Malbec with 55% sourced from cooler, high-altitude sites in Uco Valley and 45% from Lujan de Cuyo. The Reserva was a significant step up in complexity and grace with violet aromas and a fine tannic structure. This wine showed its elegance paired with the subtle flavors of cured Angus beef.

-2013 Ruca Malen Reserva Petit Verdot, Agrelo, Luján  de  Cuyo ($18.99): 100% Petit Verdot. This was a lovely surprise as I had never had a Petit Verdot from Argentina. Dense blackcurrant flavors with a whiff of rose and well-knit tannins with a flavorful finish.

-2011 Kinien de Don Raúl ($75.00): 64% Malbec (Uco Valley), 15% Petit Verdot (Agrelo, Luján de Cuyo), 11% Cabernet Sauvignon (Uco Valley) and 10% Syrah (Anchoris, Luján de Cuyo). From the Mapuche language meaning “unique”, Kinien is produced from 100% estate-grown fruit. The final blend is aged in 90% new French oak and 10% American oak. A highly concentrated wine yet the fresh acidity keeps this wine charming. This wine has only a hint of vanilla and cinnamon with fresh blackberry and black pepper on the finish.

 

Pascual Toso Tasting Notes from September 16th, 2016 (pic of all the bottles)

Pascual Toso vineyards are located in Maipú, Mendoza in Argentina which is dominated by flat vineyards at high attitudes around 2600ft (800m) above sea level. This altitude sees intense sunlight during the day followed by cold nights that are cooled by alpine winds from the Andes Mountains.

 -Toso Brut NV ($12.99): 100% Chardonnay. Lots of marked acidity with a gentle apple flavor and noticeable minerality with a slightly creamy texture. Over delivers for price.

-2015 Estate Chardonnay ($13.99): 100% Chardonnay. These grapes are harvested twice, early harvest for acidity and later harvest for riper, more tropical fruit flavors. Enticing tropical flavors of pineapple with touch of spice yet backbone of acidity. A colorful lady who is sassy but never doubt for one minute that she is a class act.

 -2014 Estate Malbec ($13.99): 100% Malbec. This Malbec is all about the fruit expression with vibrant plum flavors and licorice pizzazz.

-2014 Reserva Malbec ($24.99): 100% Malbec. 80% American oak and 20% French oak. A step up in complexity and structure with hints of roasted coconut and vanilla bean with plenty of structure from discerning tannins.

-2013 Alta Malbec ($49.99): 100% Malbec. 100% French oak. Only 2000 cases made. Vines average around 60 years old and come from a single vineyard that is 10 acres (4 hectares) in size. A beautifully polished wine with tobacco leaf, violet and fine tannins that have a persistent and graceful finish.

-2014 Barrancas ($19.99): 60% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% American oak. Firm structure and sweet spice, chocolate flavors yet the oak is seamlessly integrated. There is often confusion that all American oak is the same with regards to producing coarse tannins, but that is an incorrect general statement as some American oak, depending on place of origin and cooperage, will yield finer more sophisticated oak tannins.

-2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($24.99): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 80% American and 20% French oak. Grapes come from Pascual Toso’s own vineyards, located in Las Barrancas, Maipú. Cassis and roasted cashews with an energetic finish.

-2014 Alta Cabernet Sauvignon ($49.99): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% French oak. Only 2000 cases. A rich wine with boysenberry and vanilla flower with a linear shape that helps it to keep its nobility.

-2013 Magdalena ($129.99): 80% Malbec and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. 100% French oak. Only 300 cases. This wine incorporates Paul Hobbs’ (consultant for Pascual Toso) best 23 Oak Barrels selection of Malbec and is considered “his baby”. Nuanced raspberry and blueberry fruit with smoky espresso and dark chocolate notes that are held together with dignified tannins with a prodigious finish.

-2014 Alta Syrah ($49.99): 100% Syrah. 100% American oak. I thought Petit Verdot was my new favorite Argentinean wine but add Syrah to that list. Only 500 cases. Black cherry, Asian spice with a heady perfume that is still rolling around in my head as I write this…more muscular structure but still a gentleman.

-2014 Finca Pedregal ($73.99): 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Malbec. Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in American oak and Malbec aged in French oak. Only 300 cases. A wine with a pedigree as Pedegral is a single vineyard located in the highly regarded Barrancas sub-region. It is truly extraordinary and thrilling to taste a wine that can be highly dense and concentrated while balanced with bright flavors, distinctive minerality and a structure that has drive that carries along the long and expressive length.

 

Bodegas Salentein Tasting Notes from September 29th, 2016

This winery is located in the Uco Valley, as well as all of the grapes for the below wines came from this area. The Uco Valley is a well known wine-growing region of Mendoza, Argentina which is located an hour’s drive south from the city of Mendoza. Some of the altitudes for these vineyards exceed 3500 ft (1066 meters) above sea level.

 -2015 Reserve Chardonnay ($18.99): 100% Chardonnay. I have always had a slight prejudice against Chardonnay from Argentina, but the tasting that I had with these three producers offering this variety in a blend or as a varietal wine, sparkling or still, has really won me over with the idea that wonderful Chardonnay can be produced in Argentina. Also, this wine proves the idea that a really good wine, that offers complexity of flavors and sense of place, can be had once one goes beyond the $15 price point. This wine was showed best around 60 F (16 C) serving temperature. It had lemon blossom notes, a sense of chalky minerality, seemingly judicious oak and a zingy finish.

-2014 Reserve Malbec ($18.99): 100% Malbec. My favorite thing about this wine is the harmony that is created by the stewed plum fruit and smoky charred aromatics with a graceful texture and refreshing, sustained finish.

-2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.99): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rosemary, cassis, cigar box and graphite makes this an intriguing wine. Great value.

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Alsace Challenges Our Ideas about Riesling

alsace-all-winesMany years ago, when I was first learning about Alsace (region in North East corner of France), I learned three things: there are lots of different soil types, various grape varieties and mainly produce single variety wines. And I learned, generally, that each variety was meant to be planted in a particular soil. As many of us find out through time (with any topic), it takes a long time to gain a true understanding of a subject. In the beginning, we learn the sort of “CliffsNotes” of a topic – an abridged version. But in reality, well, not every variety needs to be coupled to one particular type of land.

Riesling

It is great that Riesling has been getting some love lately, yet the love is still too little considering the pure awesomeness of this variety. It is a white grape variety, and so it is already fighting an uphill battle for prestige. Riesling can be many things, but it will never be a big, alcoholic wine – even though weight, body and type of acidity will certainly vary depending on vineyard, producer and vintage. Riesling typically makes racy, exhilarating wines that pair nicely with a diversity of cuisines. That is why Paul Grieco, former wine director/partner of Hearth restaurant in NYC, made 40% of the wine list there Riesling (even though it is an Italian restaurant) when he was still associated with it. He even started the now infamous “Summer of Riesling” campaign at his chain of Terroir wine bars. But he himself is still frustrated with the lack of popularity of this noble grape variety. Last year, at a wine seminar, he exclaimed, “Is this not the time for Riesling? Why is this still so g*ddamn hard?”

Alsace Riesling

But I have just as much frustration with not only the struggle to take Riesling more main stream, but also the still constant struggle for notoriety for Alsace Riesling wines even among Riesling enthusiasts. Of course, Germany and Austria are great classic Riesling producing countries, but somehow Alsace always gets tucked away in the corner, and in the end, it is the wine consumer, as well as the Riesling winelover, who ends up missing out. Well, to paraphrase Patrick Swayze, no one puts Alsace in the corner!

What makes Alsace Riesling special?

Even through Alsace is pretty far north, it receives a significant amount of sunshine as well as having the Vosges Mountains protect it from intense winds and rains – and so the wines get a lovely ripeness while keeping their zingy acidity. Also, going back to the idea of the assortment of soil types, another great point about Alsace is that they are not afraid to grow Riesling on what might be considered unorthodox soils in other areas. Alsace Rieslings are capable of expressing extraordinary notes that I would never associate with Riesling wines from other countries. Their wines keep me guessing and coming back for more.

Granite Soil

alsace-weinbachI was taught many, many years ago in wine class that the epitome of great Riesling wine was associated to slate soil. Now I love the Mosel as much as the next wine nerd, but there is not only one way to express greatness. I realized that the first time I had an Alsace Riesling from granite soil, such as the one I had recently, a 2013 Domaine Weinbach Riesling from the Grand Cru site “Schlossberg”. This site tends to have poor soils with low water retention which produces highly aromatic Rieslings. This was certainly true with this wine, with an intense floral nose, a touch of spice and exotic pineapple note.

Limestone Soil

alsace-agapeWell, even though granite and Riesling were always a well respected combination in the wine world, many may not know the magical combination of Riesling and limestone. Earlier this year, I went to a seminar led by John Winthrop Haeger, who wrote the book Riesling Rediscovered (a great reference book by the way), who not only told us why the combination is a fantastic one, but showed us through tasting us on sixteen Rieslings wines grown on predominately limestone soil. There have been studies that link high amounts of calcium, as present in limestone soil, to help retain acidity even late in the season; that means a producer can keep the grapes on the vine longer gaining more flavor. The 2011 Domaine Agapé Riesling from the limestone dominant Grand Cru site “Rosacker” had an incredible flinty minerality and crisp acidity while still having juicy lemon confit flavors on the palate and dried wild flowers on the finish.

Marl-Limestone-Sandstone Soil

alsace-kientzler2010 Domaine André Kientzler Riesling from the Grand Cru site “Osterberg”, which yes, has marl-limestone-sandstone soil, had an intense linear minerality – like a blade. This wine had a remarkable backbone of fierce acidity that made my mouth water and exhilarating flavors of lemon zest and wet stones on the finish. I did not want to look up the info on the particular vineyards until after I tasted it because I did not want to be influenced by what I read. Well, funny enough, in Riesling Rediscovered, Haeger said that the Osterberg site was, “powerful, with iron-fisted minerality”. Yeah, that definitely describes what I got from this Riesling that was grown in marl-limestone-sandstone soil.

Volcanic Soil 

alsace-zind-humbrechtI honestly have to admit that I have never thought of Riesling grown on volcanic soil, but it makes sense. The wines from the volcanic soil of Mount Etna, Sicily are hot! If you want to see a bunch of wine geeks in New York City lose it, just bring out some Mount Etna wines. But their recent popularity is well-deserved with their alluring aromatics that make one feel they could get lost for hours in those wines. Well, the same can be said for Riesling grown on volcanic soil. I was able to get that smoky, volcanic quality out of the 2014 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Clos St Urbain Grand Cru site “Rangen de Thann”. This wine had a great precision with pristine white peach fruit and again that incredible intoxicating smoky note. Wow! This should be the next wine that wine geeks lose their sh*t over.

Sometimes being Uncomfortable is Good

Riesling has an affinity for terroir, a specific type of place, and sometimes in our own dogma we forget that we cannot truly know it until we experience its transformation from a diversified selection of vineyards. The same can be said of Alsace – if you have had a couple of Alsace wines and you feel that they are not exciting, then I’m afraid that a couple of examples can never let you know how thrilling a wine region it can be.

All of us have our dogma to a certain degree, whether we like to admit it or not, and we do not want to be forced out of a certain mind set because it makes us uncomfortable. But if we are not willing to become uncomfortable then we became jaded, only mildly content with life. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be that way. I want to shake up my life, question everything I know all the time, and feel like each day is an adventure. And so, I invite you to drink Riesling from various soils and taste them side by side. Go out and try a wine region that you have given up on in the past. Have someone blind taste you on a combination of your favorite and least favorite wines – the results may surprise you… make you feel silly at first… but ultimately it will ideally make you wake up the next day giggling at the fact that life still has a lot more fun surprises in store for you.

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