Wines from The Dead Land

Sometimes I just stop in the middle of New York City, take a step back and take it all in… I look all around… the buildings, the cars, the people, all types of technology, all types of people, living a life that is built on the foundation of human curiosity. Relatively, we have not been on this planet that long but we have created, invented and constructed things that are beyond comprehension when considering the environment at the time of the beginning of our species. And that curiosity is far from satisfied as we go beyond this planet as well or explore the depths of the oceans… some of us don’t even get swayed by others telling us that a particular path to knowledge and experience is a dead end… some of us cannot simply take the word of others… we need to experience it for ourselves.

Baglio Sorìa Estate

During my trip to Sicily back in May, I had the good fortune to end up at the Baglio Sorìa Estate. It was not so much good fortune because it is an incredible resort with a fine restaurant, or panoramic views, or Valli Trapanesi DOP olive trees on their property, or the idea that they became completely organic even before the organic certification existed in Italy, but I felt I was fortunate because I learned about the wines from the dead land.

Baglio Sorìa Estate is part of the Di Gaetano family’s estate group called Firriato and it is their first estate which started their passion for vineyards and winemaking; Baglio Sorìa being the estate closest to the Mediterranean Sea in Western Sicily. Firriato has a total of 6 estates with 4 being on the West side of the island and 1 being in the East, Cavanera Etnea on the slope of the volcano Etna, and the last estate is on the tiny island of Favignana off the Western coast of Sicily – or affectionately called The Dead Land.

Calamoni di Favignana

Firriato’s Calamoni  estate on Favignana has many notable aspects such as ancient fossils and calcarenite limestone formed over millions of years but none more interesting than the fact that it has been considered by many agronomists, people who study the science and technology of producing and using plants, as an area not suitable to grow much of anything, furthermore, one agronomist stated that a wine producer could place all the money and resources to accomplish the ideal viticultural practices on the Favignana island and that producer would still never be guaranteed of any results.

Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, COO and family member of the Firriato estate group, was telling us about their Favignana project, started in 2007, as we tasted their white wine Favinia ‘La Muciara’ from this unique place; also they have a red wine and a sweet wine made from dried grapes. As Federico talked about the severely rocky ground, the fierce winds, the intense sun and most of all the toxic soil due to the chlorine which is caused by excess salt (sodium chloride) I could not help but jump in and ask, “Why are you planting vineyards on Favignana if growing vines is so difficult there?” and his answer was simply that they wanted to know what was possible… despite not finding proof of any plant being cultivated on the island of Faviganan, their wonderful human curiosity got the best of them.

One of Firriato’s favorite grape varieties to grow on the Favignana island is the classic aromatic Sicilian white Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) because Federico said that it develops aromas that they had never experienced; further research they have conducted point to Zibibbo producing significantly more terpenes (terpenes are organic compounds produced by a variety of plants that can result in an array of aromatics in a finished wine) when grown on Favignana compared to when grown anywhere on the island of Sicily; also Federico said that the wines seem to have great ageability. Despite at times seeming like  Firriato was getting way over their heads when taking on the Favignana island project, once they realized the unique beauty within this “dead land” they knew they had to keep placing their energies into it…. and they hope that other wine producers will join them on Favignana.

Curiosity

Curiosity may kill the cat but it helps keep the human spirit alive and open… once we allow our knowledge to be limited by what we have been told rather than what we have directly experienced, we become part of a narrow-minded world that keeps everything, and everyone, in a superficial compartment. We can never really experience the potential of the world we live in, or the people who surround us, if we are always coming to the table thinking we know what to expect considering that each of us live in our own bubble.… How many dead lands are out there, I wonder? How many people in our community do we consider to be a dead end when it comes to investing our time and money? How many benefactors are curious enough to want to invest in these people and places to see if there is something deeper that goes beyond the numbers reported and what the outside world tells us what is logical to consider? The Favignana project is a lesson that actions don’t always need to make complete sense because we do not know all the precious gems out there in the world… and without curiosity we never will.

 

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Firriato Tasting on May 4th, 2018

We tasted a lineup of Firriato wines; again, they have 6 estates with 5 located in Western Sicily, including the island of Favignana, and 1 in Eastern Sicily, Cavanera Etnea, on a slope of the Etna volcano.

The estates are as follows:
Baglio Sorìa

-Calamoni di Favignana

Dagala Booromeo

Borgo Guarini

Pianoro Cuddia

Cavanera Etnea

NV Gaudensius, Blanc de Noir, Metodo Classico Brut Etna DOC: 100% Nerello Marcalese. The Metodo Classio Brut Etna DOC only allows 100% Nerello Marcalese. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 650 meters (2100 feet) above sea level. This is a traditional method sparkling wine that had crunchy red fruit, smoke and orange peel with fine, creamy bubbles. 1st year production was in 2009.

-2017 Le Sabbie dell’Etna, Etna Bianco DOC: White blend of Carricante and Catarratto, from the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 720 meters (2400 feet) above sea level. White flowers, peach skin, almonds and a saline finish that had marked acidity and a long length of aromatics.

2016 Favinia, ‘La Muciara’, Terre Siciliane IGT: White blend of majority Zibibbo with Grillo and Catarratto. From the Island of Favignana – Calamoni di Favignana Estate. Seashell, lime blossom, hint of perfume, elderberries with hint of ginger that was rich in fruit yet vibrant in acidity.

-2017 Cavanera, ‘Ripa di Scorciavacca’, Etna Bianco DOC: White blend of Carricante and Catarratto from Cru of Etna. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 750 to 850 meters (2500 to 2800 feet) above sea level. Honeysuckle, flinty minerality with linear, energetic body that had pretty lemon confit notes on the finish.

2017 Qu4ter Vitis, Sicilia IGT: White blend of Catarratto, Inzolia, Zibibbo, and Carricante from the Etna volcano – the 4 in the middle of “quarter” is a hint to the fact that there are 4 varieties in this blend. This wine is called “Sicily in a glass”. A blend of grapes from Pianoro Cuddìa Estate in the Western Trapani countryside and from their Etna estate, Cavanera Etnea. Pressed flowers, citrus pith, green almond and stony rocks that had a broad body.

-2017 Jasmin, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria). Dry aromatic white wine from Borgo Guarini Estate. Jasmine flowers, rainforest and ripe peaches make this a delicious wine that is beautifully kissed by the sun of the Italian Trapani countryside.

-2016 Le Sabbie dell’Etna, Etna Rosso DOC: Red blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 700 (2300 feet) above sea level. Fantastic old world charm with bacon bits, dusty earth with new world sophistication of manicured tannins and fresh black fruit.

2013 Santagostino, ‘Baglio Soria’, Sicilia IGT: Red blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah from the Baglio Sorìa Estate. This is a fantastic, super-star wine that shows the power of when the king of Sicilian grape varieties, Nero d’Avola, is blended with the international grape variety that does the best in Sicily, Syrah. Enticing aromatics of a forest floor right after the rain, sweet tobacco left with lifted rhubarb notes and cloves on the expressive finish all wrapped together by muscular tannins.

-2013 Cavanera, ‘Rovo delle Coturnie’, Etna Rosso DOC: Red blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from Cru of Etna. From the Cavanera Etnea Estate on the Northeastern slope of Mt. Etna 750 (2500) above sea level. Wafting notes of rose oil draws you in with hints of wet stones and finely laced tannins that had a bright finish – elegant.

2013 Ribeca, Perricone, Sicilia DOC: 100% Perricone from the Pianoro Cuddìa Estate. Perricone used to only be a blending component in Sicilian reds but some producers are taking it more seriously, such as this mono-varietal bottling. This wine has Mediterranean generosity with ripe black and red fruit with layers of complex savory notes of dried herbs and fresh bay leaf. It is lush yet had plenty of structure to give it shape and drive. Firriato has been researching Perricone since 1985 and they have isolated their own biotype (clone).

2013 Harmonium, Nero d’Avola, Sicilia DOC: 100% Nero d’Avola from the Borgo Guarini Estate. This is a blend of 3 different single estates and 2 different biotypes (clones) of Nero d’Avola to create a wine with more consistency year in and year out. This wine had a lovely harmony with mulberry fruit, baking spices and cocoa powder with sculpted tannins that was balanced by a fleshy body.

2014 L’Ecrù, Passito Naturale, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Zibibbo sweet wine from Borgo Guarini Estate made by harvesting a mixture of fresh and late harvested grapes that are dried on the vine. Rich sultana with honey and fresh sage with invigorating orange peel on the finish that begs for another sip.

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A Life of Intention

“It is a visit of intention” said Nicole Carter, Director of Winemaking at Hess Family Wine Estates. She was talking about their mother ship winery founded by the living legend Donald Hess that was perched on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley – with very few other wineries that had the facilities to accept guests on the mountain, Nicole said if you visited their winery it really had to be a visit of intention.

Living with Intention

The idea of living with intention is a powerful one that is actually simple for most of us. It is an exercise of the mind that those who practice mediation, yoga or Buddhism may know very well or perhaps you may even know it without being involved in any of the aforementioned practices. Our intention can be as simple as focusing on our breath, trying to be more empathetic or firm with our dealings with people, or forcing ourselves to take on the challenges we avoid. It is a decision that we can make each day to notice something that we would like to either work on or simply just be aware of. Instead of sleep walking through life, we actively engage and take responsibility. It can be transformational to get us out of ruts where we stop caring, stop feeling, or stop wanting to participate.

Donald Hess

Swiss-born Donald Hess is a very successful business man who has been involved in making beer, mineral water, and wine. He is best known here in the US for having one of the most impressive contemporary art collections in the world and being one of the largest land owners of vineyards in Napa Valley that was started with his first purchases in 1978 and almost 1000 acres (400 hectares) accumulated today; he has furthered that legacy by producing some of the top mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with an interesting spin of adding a significant amount of Malbec to certain blends. Donald has a deep understanding of the Malbec grape as he has 2 estates in Argentina specializing in Malbec, and one of the wineries, Colomé, has one of the highest vineyards in the world – and so high altitude vineyards are in his blood.

When a person gains a certain amount of money and resources, there is a greater responsibility to live up to stronger intentions than the average person that not only impact communities but also the world. Since 1978, Donald has been a leader in long-term sustainability with the attitude, “nurture the land and return what you take” at a time when the word sustainability did not have the value that it has today; he has even had a talent in finding usable water in areas of Argentina where it was unheard of; his contemporary art collection – a small portion is housed in a three story museum that was built on the property of their Mount Veeder Estate – has helped to support many artists as he buys from those he has developed a relationship with and continues to purchase their works throughout the span of their careers while refusing to buy their works after they have passed away; his intention is to support artists long term while they are living and not to give in to trends or buy based on investment purposes.

The World We Create

Donald Hess did not want to just make mountain wines in Napa, he wanted to show others that it was possible to make excellent wines out of mountain fruit that at one time no one wanted anything to do with… and he has never given up on always striving for a higher standard with constantly examining if they are making the best wines they can and the answer is always no, and so, the intention is always renewed. Nowadays you cannot throw a stick in New York City without someone trying to talk about mountain wines, as they have only recently become trendy, actually sometimes over-exaggerating the idea of what a mountain constitutes depending on the producer… but Donald always knew and he had the intention that he needed to show the world that what they thought was impossible was possible. Donald has now officially handed over his winery to his daughter Sabrina and son-in-law Tim Persson as it is time for him to sit back in his home in Switzerland and have the warmth of memories of a life well lived – for shaping the world into a better place – wash over him with a deep contentment.

When I think about when I am old and tired and all I have is the energy to examine my past intentions in life, I wonder what I will take pride in… to live with honor, to live with passion, to live a life where I felt I made one person’s life better each day I lived… that is what takes The Hess Collection to the next level… the intention… some thought it could never be done, and some would question even after success if Hess had peaked, and each time the Hess family comes back with the ferocity of a lion, the symbol of their Hess family for many generations, with a more committed intention than before to continue to be a beacon of inspiration … our life only lacks meaning if we do not stay true to our intention.

 

***Cover Photo Credited to The Hess Collection

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 The Hess Collection Wines Tasted on April 24th, 2018

Although Hess is fortunate enough to have many vineyards on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley that can express a vibrancy and complex aromatic profile that only mountain fruit can produce, they have, over the years, realized that their management of tannins needed to be drastically improved, and so through many innovative techniques such as shade cloth in their vineyard that helps with phenolic ripeness, they have drastically improved the mouthfeel of their wines. Their intention for improvement still lives on and I am excited to see what the future holds.

2016 Hess Collection, Chardonnay, Napa Valley: 100% Chardonnay with 9 different clones (biotypes) used such as the unique Musqué clone. This wine leapt from the glass with pretty honeysuckle and pear notes with rich peach and spice on the palate and had energetic drive with a hint of seashell on the finish. 2016 was a balanced vintage that saw ideal conditions.

This Chardonnay comes from one of their Napa estates that is around 175 acres (70 hectares) in the southern portion of Napa; surprisingly enough this Napa property is south of Carneros and really only Chardonnay is planted there because of its proclivity for producing elegant Chardonnay. One of the 9 clones (biotypes) they use is Musqué which is not that commonly planted in Napa – it is an aromatic clone that has an overall delicate quality to it and does not take well to oak or MLF and so the wine is lightly oaked and only partial MLF – 70% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, 30% in oak (only 9% in new French oak) and that 30% is the only wine that goes through MLF. It is aged 9 months in neutral barrels.

2015 Hess Collection, ‘Lion Tamer’, Red Blend, Napa Valley: 50% Malbec, 23% Zinfandel, 11% Petite Sirah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Merlot and 2% Mourvèdre. This wine stood out as a real favorite of mine because there is nothing like it that I have tasted and love the name: Lion Tamer. It is a real generous wine with lush fruit (plum tarts and blueberry pie) with a round inviting texture and pretty hints of violets and vanilla bean. 2015 had one of the earliest harvests on record and so the grapes varied in size and ripeness level and makes for some interesting drinking with ripeness and freshness present in these beauties.

The name Lion Tamer is a nickname that Hess uses for Malbec since they use it as their tannin tamer – also, Hess has 2 wineries in Argentina that focus on Malbec and so they understand its great potential when grown at higher altitudes. This is the only wine that uses American oak but it goes so well… and as I like to remind those who may not know that not all American oak is created equal and actually some can have a lovely subtlety to them, such as this one.

2015 Hess Collection, ‘Allomi’, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Sirah and 2% Petit Verdot. This wine had an intriguing earthiness to it with cracked clay and forest floor that had a touch of firmness in its structure. Black currant leaf with dark brooding fruit that was linear in its shape.

Their Allomi Vineyard lies in the gently rolling hills of northeastern Napa Valley where the combination of a typically long, warm growing season and well-drained soils create optimal ripening conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon. The 210 acres (84 hectares) vineyard is focused into 35 unique growing blocks with 6 different Cabernet clones (biotypes) that add diversity of flavors and complexity to wine. In each vintage, their winemakers and viticulturists evaluate each block and select only the finest components for the final blend. Aged in 40% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

2013 Hess Collection, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder in Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon and 18% Malbec. This wine has a wild, brambly quality that is cloaked in refined tannins and overall charm that really shows the beauty of Cabernet from the mountains. A dominant cassis note has layers of complexity with caramel, underbrush and enticing smoke with an elegant exit on the palate that shows the incredible skill of tannin management that Hess has acquired over the years dealing with cooler climate Cabernet. 2013 is simply described as “Early, even & excellent”.

This is the Hess Collection’s signature Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon which comes from their Veeder Hills Vineyard estate that Donald Hess bought in 1978. The elevation of this vineyard ranges from 600-1,120 feet (183-340 meters), and its steep slopes and sedimentary clay and shale soils restrict root growth, resulting in Mount Veeder’s hallmark small berries with intense fruit flavors. Aged in 80% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

2013 Hess Collection, ‘The Lion’, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mount Veeder in Napa Valley: 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec and 1% Petit Verdot. From the first sip, this wine has a sensational depth of flavor with intense blue and black fruit that is multifaceted and multi-dimensional with a new delightful note revealing itself with each sip: cigar box, smoldering earth, cumin seeds, and cocoa. Powerful structure that is at the same time supportive to the fruit as well as welcoming with its fine laced quality and the finish is vibrant and lingers with exotic spice. This wine will probably be approachable in a few years but man does it have all the stuffing in the right places to continue to improve for 15 more years.

The Lion has been the emblem of the Hess family for many generations. It has come to symbolize the bold and preserving nature of founder Donald Hess and their winery home on Mount Veeder. “Live Each Day with the Heart and Courage of The Lion” is the Hess family credo and The Lion Cabernet Sauvignon represents the very best Cabernet they produce from their estate vineyards on Mount Veeder in the very best vintages. The 2014 marks the second vintage that is a winemaking collaboration between consulting winemaker Celia Welch and Hess winemaker Dave Guffy. Aged in 65% new French oak barrels for 22 months.

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Our Purpose in the World

The glow from the sun lit the colorful tables covered in cheeses, cured meats and delicious wine as people exuded the “joie de vivre” energy as upbeat French music played in the background. For a second, I thought I was in Beaujolais, France, as all my cares melted away but I was in the concrete jungle of New York City (NYC), tucked away in the back courtyard of a restaurant… that was the power of the Beaujolais wine that was free flowing that day, with its light body, bright fruit and spice, and a silky texture… one minute I have my warrior shield on maneuvering my way through the mean streets of NYC… the next minute I had a big smile on my face ready to dance in the sunlight while I drank Beaujolais.

I had stopped by a wine event where Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, was introducing people to their property in Beaujolais: Château de Poncié. I had just seen Frédéric a couple months earlier during a preview of their 2016 Burgundy wines and it piqued my interest to find out more about their vineyards in the wine region just south of Burgundy.

Beaujolais vs Burgundy

Let me first start out by stating that there is NOTHING like Burgundy when it comes to wine; but with that been said there are a few connections between Burgundy and Beaujolais. At one time when someone spoke of the Burgundy wine region, he/she would be including the Beaujolais area, even though it is around 70 miles south of the other Burgundy districts and their flagship red grape variety is Gamay instead of Pinot Noir. Today it would be considered wrong by many to officially include Beaujolais wines within the Burgundy wine region and you may have some hardcore Burgundian nerds bite your head off if you try.

Yet there are still many wine producers, especially the ones who have been around for a long time, who will talk about the connection between the two areas; winemakers influence each other, family trees will have a mix of those from Beaujolais and those from Burgundy, and Beaujolais becomes a much needed reminder to the Burgundians of their fun side – which is not so easy since there is intense stress of the hefty responsibility of carrying the Burgundy flag.

A long time ago, Beaujolais realized that their place in this world was to make people, all people, happy and joyous with their easy charm and playful approach. In regards to quality, there are a range of wines in Beaujolais such as Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais-Villages, and the top Beaujolais Cru wines – there are 10 Crus of Beaujolais with Fleurie being one such Cru known for its intoxicating aromatics, distinctive floral note (hence the name) and its overall elegance; but even with the top wines there is a whimsical nature that makes these wines delightful to so many.

Since I was admiring the map that was spread out on one of the tables at this Beaujolais event, I had to ask Frédéric about it and I came to find out that it was a duplicate of a map made of linen that was found at Château de Poncié that at least a couple of thousand years old. The Château de Poncié, with its heritage dating back to 949 AD, is sectioned into several plots due to the distinctive varied expressions each plot gives that this ancient map alluded to, as well as it being a very Burgundian way of thinking about vineyards – each plot is a unique terroir. Frédéric started to beam ear to ear as he talked about each section of the vineyards and all the fascinating nuances each brings to the wine; that is why they have three different Fleurie Cru wines because certain plots go better with others. I was given the chance to taste two of their Fleurie Cru, Le Pré Roi and La Salomine, that day as well as the 3 vintages we tasted. Despite all the wines revealing diverse qualities, they all had the ability to make my heart dance.

But it really made me think hearing Frédéric talk about the intricacies of the soil and seeing the famous pink granitic crystalline rock in the soils of top Fleurie sites with my own eyes as Frédéric brought samples with him to NYC; Beaujolais could have been part of the fine wine world but they realized that their place in life was to bring joy to so many around the world.

The Choices We Make

All of us around the world need to make choices because, unfortunately, there are some who are not willing, or simply do not have the time to look deeper within a person, or even a wine area. We can walk through the world with fierce formality that commands respect or we can wear our hearts on our sleeves with friendly smiles that automatically sets others at ease. There is no right or wrong way to walk through the world as both are needed… but although Beaujolais is so much more than just a joyous drink, I am happy that they realized that giving joy to all wine drinkers is a pretty fine purpose for a wine to serve in this world.

 

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Château de Poncié Wines Tasted on April 23rd, 2018

The Le Pré Roi plots are situated on the knoll of Poncié and the hill of Montgénas, terroir on slopes of crystalline rock.

2016 Le Pré Roi: Bright, juicy red cherries with sweet spice and pressed flowers with a lifted peppery finish.

-2015 Le Pré Roi: The 2015 vintage was called one of the best of the past 100 years in Beaujolais because of lots of concentration yet plenty of acidity. This Le Pré Roi had rich blueberry and black cherry flavors, hints of violets and a spicy finish… rich, expressive and delicious yet lots of structure so this baby could last!

-2010 Le Pré Roi: A lovely finesse and complexity to this wine with its notes of rainforest, a saline minerality and subtle hints of Jasmine tea on the finish.

The La Salomine sloping hillsides with its southeast exposure and good drainage has pink granitic crystalline rock, quartz and some clay.

-2015 La Salomine: Deeply layered dark fruit with licorice root and a plush body with a fierce backbone of minerality; a superb length of flavor on the finish.

 

 

 

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Conscious Custodians Bring Back the Beauty that was Lost

Every time I see a grand limestone French château, it is always a heart stopping moment. I remember imagining them when I was a young adult reading up on French history in a tiny, dingy library in my unsavory NYC neighborhood over 20 years ago. It was my only way to escape the grit during those times. It seemed like an impossibility to actually witness such a place with my own eyes but life can be funny, and through the twists and turns, some good and some bad, one can end up in the most interesting places. One such exquisite château that I experienced recently is Château Fonplégade, a Grand Cru Classé in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Saint-Émilion, in Bordeaux, and interestingly enough, it was bought by an American couple, Denise and Stephen Adams.

Château Fonplégade

During our visit to Château Fonplégade, we were greeted by Denise and her director and technical manager, Eloi Jacob, for a tour of the vineyards, winery and the château. There was so much thought put in every aspect of Château Fonplégade – from the warm and inviting gift shop and sitting area, to their cellars using partial Austrian oak to express their limestone plateau vineyards, to their dedication for every single vine on their land with their commitment to organic, certified with Ecocert in 2013, and to biodynamic practices, fully biodynamic in 2017 and waiting for the certification.

The Vineyard is the Heartbeat

Denise said that they like to think of themselves more as stewards of this special piece of land than simply just property owners. She grew up on a farm in the Midwest and so she finds herself happily spending the majority of her time in the vineyards and lives at Fonplégade most of the year. Denise and her husband always loved traveling to Bordeaux and dreamt of owning a château with vineyards which seemed impossible for so many years since the opportunity was never there… until one day when they visited Château Fonplégade. Although this château needed lots of work to restore the buildings as well as the vineyards, Denise could see the potential and she spent many years, since first purchasing this estate in 2004, with her head down trying to bring back its former glory.

Denise found out that Jean-Michel Comme, technical director of the famous Grand Cru Classé Château Pontet-Canet, had a special connection to this property. Jean-Michel and his wife Corinne have been leaders of the biodynamic movement in Bordeaux, making international news converting Pontet-Canet to biodynamic, and they have their own biodynamic vineyards that are within driving distance of Fonplégade. Denise said that she was taken aback by the connection that Jean-Michel has to the Fonplégade vineyards as she said, “There is a place in his heart for this vineyard. It moves him in a special way. So when I invited him over he couldn’t stop thinking about it and he has been working in this way (biodynamic) for many years and he and his wife said they were happy to help out in any way.”

When Outsiders Become Part of the Tribe

Sometimes I think there is an unfair prejudice to “outsiders” buying estates in places like Bordeaux, as the judgment is already passed down before they have been given a fair chance. But I do understand the community itself having a wait and see attitude – because it takes time to truly know someone’s intention. Denise said that at first they didn’t feel completely accepted, and she understood that the people of Saint-Émilion needed to know if Denise and her husband were there for the long haul. She said the turning point where the community opened their arms to them was when they rebuilt the East tower of the château that was burnt down during WW II. Denise is not only a person of the land but, with a degree in art history, she had a profound respect for the importance of restoring the tower as a cultural symbol of the area. Now there is an outpouring of invitations sent to Denise and her husband and their social calendar is booked with Saint-Émilion community gatherings. On the day I visited, Denise had to excuse herself early as she was being inducted into the Jurade of Saint-Émilion, the appellation’s vinous brotherhood, which now includes non-French as well as female members.

I’m not saying that it always works out for the community when an outsider buys a beloved wine estate, but if we pride ourselves on being open-minded people, then we need to fight that impulse of throwing stereotypes around, no matter the situation. It warms my heart to see Saint-Émilion opening their heart to Denise and Stephen Adams as well as them being truly ideal examples of conscious custodians that are bringing back the beauty of an estate that at one time seemed lost.

 

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Château Fonplégade Tasting on March 28th, 2018

Side Note: 9 native yeasts from the Château Fonplégade’s vineyards are used in the below wines that were based on blind tasting each native yeast they found and selecting the ideal expression of their terroir.

2015: 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Rich body with firm, elegant structure that had notes of red currants, wild flowers, tobacco leaf and a saline minerality on the long finish. Harmonious with supple fruit that fleshed out the finely etched tannins.

2016: 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Muscular structure with incredible balance of fresh acidity, juicy fruit and layers of complex notes of exotic spice and chalky limestone note that expanded on the finish and wafted in my head as I remembered it for the rest of the day. This will be stunning with some cellaring.

2017: 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Pristine, lifted fruit was really breathtaking with added layers of star anise and dried rose petals with a pure and energetically sustained fruit that was touching with its unbridled expression of pretty fruit quality. The tannins were well-integrated and more of a linear shape drove this wine keeping it refreshingly addictive after every sip.

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Real Leaders Know to Fortify All Boats to Ride the Tides

I’ve always liked the aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” which is associated with the idea that if a group focuses more on the whole rather than the individual then all will benefit. Although placing a general focus on trying to improve an economy as a whole, considering all the various levels of social stratification and whether thinking of a region or country, is certainly a good mindset, it does have its issues with many still falling through the cracks of the system. And so it takes real leaders to help strengthen, or fortify, those individuals who have been given very little chance in life to eventually help themselves; leaders who have the courage and desire to take on the challenges that come from taking responsibility for everyone in their community.

When I was young, in my early years in New York City (NYC), I originally had no support system… no family, no resources, and no guidance. I was an 18 year old that knew nothing of how to navigate through life and found myself in a lower income NYC neighborhood surrounded by strangers. When I first came to the city I felt like I had so much adrenaline stemming from the pure excitement of being in one of the greatest cities in the world that I was able to get past many of the challenging obstacles initially… but through time, that energy starts to fade and the barrage of various difficulties, amplified by living a life without any support system or direct leadership, became almost unbearable at times.

Yet there were moments when I was at the end of my rope when my community helped me… the times they waved my fees at my local health clinic, the times my neighbors in my tenement apartment (who had a lot more responsibilities than I did and barely got by themselves) shared their food, and the multitude of times that someone with a great education, incredible mind and fierce talent was willing to teach me a myriad of things that have allowed me to be where I am today. I realized during that time the importance of community and despite not everyone having the wiliness to help themselves, many of us who were lost kids benefited from those “leaders” who helped to fortify us so we could pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

Fazio Wines

When I visited Fazio Winery in the North-West of Sicily, Italy, I had a feeling right off the bat that they were leaders in their Trapani province and were key in building the Erice DOC reputation to receive such a respected wine quality designation. Erice is not only known for its historical significance and culture as being an ancient town that was  once a key medieval citadel in the Trapani province, it has also become a center for scientific research and Fazio has certainly assumed the mantle for advancement in viticulture and winemaking.

As a family business, Fazio has transitioned as the second generation focused on improving wine quality not only at their own winery and vineyards but working with other grape growers in the area. Lilly Ferro, our guide for the day, said that her parents-in-law started the company 60 years ago. In the 1980s, her husband along with brother-in-law and winemaker Giacomo Ansaldi made the commitment to focus on quality in every aspect. They have around 247 acres (100 hectares) of their own vineyards and they work with other growers that add another 741 acres (300 hectares). They don’t just buy the grapes from the growers but they come in and analyze the soil, aspect and topography and determine the best vines and management for each vineyard.

As we walked through their extremely modern and updated winery that handled every step in the process, including the vitally important bottling procedures, I was impressed by their experimentation vineyards dedicated to trying out recently discovered indigenous (autochthonous) varieties of various clones (biotypes) that would be a benefit to the area as a whole. When we had our tasting of the Fazio lineup, I happened to sit next to the woman,Valentina Console, who designed the labels and she said that the wines inspired the various labels. Her thoughtful creativity was evident and it was wonderful that she was given the support by Fazio to allow her artistic gifts to shine.

Throughout this trip I kept thinking about this winery, how the language was always pointing towards not only Erice DOC’s potential, but Sicily’s potential as well.

Lilly Ferro

Lilly Ferro (left) of Fazio Wines & José Rallo (right) of Donnafugata Wines

My last couple of days in Sicily were spent at the 2018 Sicilia en Primeur in Palermo – the newly anointed “Italian Capital of Culture.” My days were spent attending various Sicilian master classes and tasting a plethora of wines, as well as interviewing producers coming from all over Sicily. Throughout my time there, I kept seeing Lilly Ferro and I was always impressed by her passion to help the entirety of the Sicilian wine producers. Whether it was her talking about other producers she was impressed by during the master classes or her intense focus during the discussions of how the Assovini Sicilia (a group of small to large size wine producers) can improve the situations for all wine producers in Sicily, she was there with an obvious passion for strengthening the community; by the way, she is on the Assovini Sicilia board of directors.

At one point, we were standing by the espresso bar at the Sicilia en Primeur and Lilly said that I should try a biscotti-like square because it was made by boys who had behavioral problems – she said it was important to give them some sort of skill, some sort of chance. In that moment I had an intense vision of the series of points in time where people gave me a chance – a chance to survive and thrive… that I found myself many years later in Sicily on a wine press trip writing about wine and living a life more fulfilling than I could have imagined seemed liked a “pinch me moment” of joyous disbelief. Sooner or later, all of us need to be able to handle the tides that life will throw at us, but we do not come into this world already fortified for the severe impact that some of those tides will carry… that is where leaders like Lilly Ferro and her family’s winery Fazio become essential to help us to strengthen our own boats, so everyone will have that opportunity to build a life with a few pinch me moments of joyous disbelief.

 

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Fazio Wines Tasted on May 3rd 2018

NV Spumante Brut, Grillo, Sicilia DOC: 100% Grillo. Dry Charmat Method sparkling wine. Lemon confit, creamy bubbles, and saline minerality – only 4g/l residual sugar.

Grillo is a crossing between Catarratto Bianco and Zibbibo (Muscat of Alexandria) in Agrigento, Sicily in 1869 by Baron Antonio Mendola and has become one of the most important white grape varieties showing incredible potential as a variety that can display a range of aromatics as well as body weight with always fresh acidity present.

2017 ‘Calebianche’, Catarratto, Erice DOC: 100% Catarratto. Blanched almonds with lots of salinity and chalky minerality that had a long citrus-y finish.

This Calebianche label, as well as the wine below, Aegades, is to give the feeling of island life in Sicily: the sun and the sea with the waves.

2017 ‘Aegades’, Grillo, Erice DOC: 100% Grillo. Zingy, wet stones, orange zest and lime blossom with a mouth watering finish.

NV Vino Spumante Brut, Müller-Thurgau: 100% Müller-Thurgau. Dry Charmat Method sparkling wine. This 2017 had an enticing smoky minerality note with peach skin and lemon rind that had a linear, saline finish. Fantastic wine!

Fazio has received a lot of acclaim for this wine which comes from a single vineyard grown on top of a hill (around 1640 feet (500 meters) above sea level) and these are the first vines harvested around the end of July, beginning of August; there are also swings of temperatures that can be as great as 20-25 degrees difference between day and night during the summer… this creates a wine with ripe fruit, fresh acidity and a sense of minerality and place. Although it is not an indigenous variety of Sicily (Müller-Thurgau is a crossing created in Germany) Müller-Thurgau has certainly found a home in Erice DOC.

2017 Müller-Thurgau, Erice DOC: 100% Müller-Thurgau. Flinty minerality with orange blossom and marked acidity that had lots of energy on the finish.

2017 ‘Castelmedio’, Nerello Mascalese, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Nerello Mascalese. This is Nerello Mascalese from calcareous soils as opposed to the volcanic soils of Etna. Rich black cherry and blueberry pastry notes with a pretty floral hint that had a round, soft plush palate. I really liked experiencing another expression of place from Nerello Mascalese.

2017 ‘Torre dei Venti’, Nero d’Avola, Erice DOC: 100% Nero d’Avola. Deep ruby color with dusty earth, rich and round with blackberry notes.

2016 ‘Cartesiano’, Rosso, Terre Siciliane IGT: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 20% Nero d’Avola and 10% Cabernet Franc. Hint of mint with dried blackcurrants with textural contrast of firm tannins that are fleshed out with lush fruit.

Although Fazio has a focus on indigenous, single varietal expression, this bottling shows the sense of place of the Erice area with a mainly Bordeaux blend that is Sicilian style with the Nero d’Avola added. The Cartesiano label shows the old vines that are prevalent in the Erice DOC area.

The fabulous woman, Valentina Console, who designs all the wine labels for Fazio holding the PietraSacra.

2010 ‘PietraSacra’, Rosso Riserva, Erice DOC: 100% Nero d’Avola. Fazio’s “Elegant Reserve” of one of the most important Sicilian varieties – the king – Nero d’Avola. Sour cherry, lots of fun tang with a hint of spice and added complex notes of chestnut and juniper along the well-structured body and long, expressive finish.

The grapes come from their “premier cru of Erice DOC”. This wine sees French oak but the winemaker Giacomo Ansaldi constantly checks on the barrels to make sure that the oak is only helping to express more of the variety and sense of place and not overpowering the wine itself.

Tasted during Dinner Later that Night:

2016 ‘Trenta-Salmi’, Catarratto, Terre Siciliane IGT: 100% Catarratto. From old bush vines that are over 60-year old that give a low yield. This is the only dry white wine that uses oaks – fermented in barriques. A stunning wine with nutty, crumbly rock notes on the nose and becomes wide and rich with tropical fruits on the palate that finish with a lifting hint of sea breeze.

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Winemakers Pray to the Soil

The opaque, sapphire sky was partially lit up in our little piece of nirvana. The bare branches on the trees slightly drooped down to help create a canopy of light that was shone from the Perigord-style building in the distance. As I slowly walked along the pebbled path, I was overwhelmed by the whole scene: little flowers highlighted in the ambient light combined with our divine natural awning; I felt how precious it was to experience their beauty in an amplified way. It made me think of all of those people, who were not necessarily religious, but who prayed to nature everyday, many of them winemakers, many of them lived in France.

Château RauzanSégla

I was finishing my evening at the Second Growth, Château Rauzan-Ségla, in Margaux, Bordeaux – a special wine growing area in France. A second growth that has always had the great terroir of clay-gravel, encompassing the much sought after 4th terrace with fine, deep gravel underlying a significant portion of their plots – near the legendary Palmer. In the past, Château Rauzan-Ségla sat in the shadow of its acclaimed neighbor Château Palmer, but since 1983 there has been an influx of investment from owners, such as the current proprietors, the Wertheimer brothers (owners of Chanel), that wanted to bring this estate to its original glory with the 2016 vintage already showing some outstanding characteristics out of the gate; and although I haven’t tried the 2015, many wine colleagues have been raving about that vintage as well. It is certainly impressive that their 2017 was a top wine as well since it is a vintage with varying quality levels, but Rauzan-Ségla is on the up side of that curve.

During a work trip to Bordeaux to mainly focus on the 2016 vintage, I was invited, along with other wine writers, to visit the Rauzan-Ségla estates with a tour of the cellars, tasting, and a gala dinner that was elegant yet relaxed as we lounged on big, comfortable couches (designed in fantastical patterns) sipping our 1986 Rauzan-Ségla.

Nicolas Audebert, the managing director, was our tour guide, who emphasized that their focus in the cellar was to enhance what was in the vineyards, and Rauzan-Ségla has some impressive soils that date back to 1661. They have around 185 acres (75 hectares) with 173 acres (70 hectares) in production. There are over 200 different plots that have been designed for various reasons: variety, clone of that variety, small change in composition of soil, and age of vines. Actually, they do over 200 individual vinfications and have that many pieces of any particular vintage orchestra to compose a symphony; hoping one day it will be talked about with cherished memories for decades to come.

The Miracle is in the Moment

I had one of those moments while the words of Nicolas Audebert landed deep within my consciousness as I tasted their 2016 and 2017 samples; the powerful silky textures, the beguiling aromas, the enticing flavors… the energy, the spirit, the life.

Before I knew it, I was outside walking away from the château and seeing the same picturesque setting as the one that I first encountered just a handful of hours earlier, but this time in a blanket of darkness with the few up lights helping to guide our way. I found myself lagging behind the group, kneeling on the ground, thinking about these winemakers and how they prayed everyday to their soil; I picked up a few pieces of dusty earth and thought about how so many living things are brought into this world, as well as taken, from what I was holding in my hand in that very moment. It is truly a miracle anytime we or anything else are living, such as the little flowers I could see around, thriving in the cold, damp air, or the leafless trees that would soon enough be covered with multicolored foliage; so many miracles that surround us everyday but we are just a prisoner to the grind of our life that often times we are not able to appreciate it… except for those few moments, such as walking away from a night of great wines, when we are grateful to still be alive.

 

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Disclosure: Millésima paid for my travel and first two nights stay in Bordeaux.

Château RauzanSégla Tasting in the Cellar on March 26th, 2018

2017: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. The wines in 2017 vary greatly and so one needs to do their homework and choose wisely. This Rauzan-Ségla is a rock star for the vintage and is already lush with ripe blackberry fruit and intoxicating smoky minerality and floral notes with a long, bright finish. It had already gone through MLF and Nicolas Audebert noted that their wines typically go through malolactic fermentation early.

 

 

2016: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. Blueberry pie, spice and fresh sage with finely knitted tannins. I was completely seduced by the generosity of juicy fruit and spice with this 2016 Rauzan-Ségla…. already singing at this stage; a winner out of the gates!

 

 

Château RauzanSégla Tasting during Dinner on March 26th, 2018

 2006: 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine was a pleasure, with well-integrated tannins (not all 2006s are overly tannic) and good amount of concentration with cassis, black plums and smoldering earth.

1996: This wine offered a lot on the nose with a bouquet of lilacs, rose water, orange blossom and raspberries. It was more restrained on the palate with etched tannins and an expressive finish.

 

1986: This was the wine of the night and a great example of one of those dangerous libations that can start an addictive habit of wanting to only drink older Bordeaux. It’s not so easy to still find wines from the 80s that are still performing this well. So Bravo! Enticing notes of truffle with forest floor, saline minerality and sweet tobacco with plenty of dried red cherries to flesh it all out. It has a graceful presence with finely-sculpted tannins along an extraordinarily long finish. I have a feeling it’s towards the end of its peak, but what a way to go out. I would like to leave this life with such grace.

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French Tradition & US Entrepreneurial Spirit Produce Holistic Wines

A lie that so many of us tell ourselves is that we are all alone, that our actions have little effect on the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has little effect on us. We take that idea even further thinking that somehow, the only way to succeed is to be in direct competition with other countries instead of realizing that all of us are affected by the same global tide that brings us up at times, and unfortunately, at others brings us down.

Ehlers Estate

Ehlers Estate is a 100% estate grown winery tucked away between Howell Mountains and the Mayacamas in Napa Valley; interestingly enough, this winery is an ideal example of bringing the French wine tradition together with the spirit of American entrepreneurship. Ehlers Estate was established during the times of the Wild West when Bernard Ehlers, a Sacramento grocer who made his fortune by selling prospecting tools to those in search of gold, built the stone barn winery in 1886 and replanted the vineyards surrounding it. Ehlers Estate would go through a few owners before they found their true custodians in Jean and Sylviane Leducq.

Jean and Sylviane were a French couple that married at the end of World War II whose love for food and wine was at the center of their mutual passion for life. Although they were proud of all things French, their lives were enhanced by expanding their various businesses into the US where Jean’s entrepreneurial spirit thrived.

Jean’s love for America was cemented in the mid-1970s when he suffered from a suspected heart attack and was later treated at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was the beneficiary of the then-revolutionary technology of coronary artery bypass surgery. His heart may have been born in France but it was saved in the US.

The Leducq’s love for Bordeaux wine and Jean’s feeling that anything was possible in America led them to buy Ehlers Estates in Saint Helena, Napa Valley. At first, in 1987, it started with few acres until they were able to purchase the stone winery, built in 1886, and reunite the original 42 acres (17 hectares) together. They only have the highest standards as they believed that their piece of Napa heaven could be as good as the top Bordeaux wines they had enjoyed throughout their life.

Kevin Morrisey

What better person to become the winemaker for Ehlers Estate, the Leducq’s baby, than someone like American Kevin Morrisey, with whom I was able to have lunch a little over a week ago. As a cameraman in his previous profession, he found himself many times in France, especially Paris, and was raised going on VW camper trips across Europe with his parents. At the age of 35, after a decade-long career in film, he would find his true destiny on the winemaker path. After studying at the top enology school in the US, UC Davis, he was determined to have an internship with one of the best producers in France, and some may argue the world, Château Pétrus, and yes, they finally accepted him after he bombarded them with calls, emails and faxes. Then, after working at a couple of the top wineries in California, he finally completed the circle by bringing his French and American sides together becoming the winemaker of Ehlers Estate in 2009.

Ehlers Estate was already 100% organic and farmed using biodynamic practices before Kevin arrived which made it that much more of the right fit since both of his daughters were raised in Waldorf schools – based on Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy (he was also the founder of biodynamic agriculture). In Ehlers Estate, Kevin had found a company that embraced the same values and high standards that he set for himself everyday with a holistic philosophy that brought everything together.

Holistic Remains

Jean Leducq passed away in 2002; his wife, Sylviane, led their Leducq Foundation for cardiovascular research, founded in 1996, until her death in 2013. The Leducqs had sold all of their companies so they could place them in a trust to support their Foundation, but it was their wish that Ehlers Estate still continue to make the finest wines. It is a unique ownership situation where the winemaker, Kevin Morrisey, is free to run the winery without compromising its original ethical intentions that are aligned with his own, that involves the holistic viewpoint that humans and the environment are a single system, and a deeper view that living in our isolated bubble on the globe so we may prosper is an illusion – the only way to truly thrive is to open ourselves up so we can gain knowledge and support from each other.

“There’s no better expression of who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, my experience, passions and practice than what goes into our bottles.” –Kevin Morrisey

All of us wonder, more and more as time goes on, what will we leave this earth when we are gone? What will be our legacy? It fascinates me that the Leducqs wanted this winery to surpass them more than any other venture… it must have represented everything they found to be the best in the world. They were lucky enough to find the right person to pick up the baton to carry on the idea that we are only as good as the world that surrounds us.

Now what baton will each of us pick up and carry, and ultimately which one do we want to remain long after we are gone?

***Top cover photo and first two photos in post are credited to Ehlers Estate.

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Ehlers Estate Wines Tasted on April 17th, 2018

Kevin Morrisey’s goal is to make vineyard-driven wines with elegance and finesse that speaks of his values and high standards.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. No intense green notes but plenty of zesty citrus peel with mango and orange blossoms yet still a nice amount of weight on the mid-palate. Impressive richness in body considering no oak and no MLF.

2015 Cabernet Franc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Franc. This Cabernet Franc is DANGEROUS! Complex, elegantly structured, generous and juicy, it is a wine that delivers on so many levels. The 2015 gives black raspberry fruit with toasted spices and fresh thyme on a fleshy body that has a nice backbone of acidity.

2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 1886, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. A great example of opulence and grace existing together with lush black cherry fruit and sculpted tannins that brought a stunning elegance to the feel of this wine with hints of espresso and smoky minerality that had a nice backbone of acidity carried through the long finish.

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Harmony: Part of the World Yet Not Being Compromised by It

When I was a child, one statement that I heard over and over again in various ways was, “The world won’t work around you so you have to work around the world”. A great piece of advice, or perhaps “reality check” is a better descriptor, that has helped me to grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined. It is important to keep in mind that there are many unpleasant realities in any given situation and that becoming a fully functioning part of our community means that we can’t always demand that things are within our comfort zones. But as time goes on and we face many challenges, one has to decide where the line is between opening ourselves to growth as opposed to changing key characteristics that define us as a person.

Bordeaux 2016 Panorama Primeurs

As many of you know, I was recently invited to be a guest of Millésima in Bordeaux to taste over 150 red Bordeaux wines from various appellations (protected geographic areas) of the 2016 vintage. En Primeur is an event that happens every year in Bordeaux after the spring of the previous vintage while the wines are still in barrel. The purpose was to give professional wine buyers and media a chance to try these wines at an early stage so they could place orders, or speak to the characteristics of the vintage to help guide consumers’ decisions of buying futures (pre-buying Bordeaux wines typically at a discount a couple years before they are shipped). In some years this has significantly paid off such as with the legendary 1982 vintage, but, in general, it typically just gives a nice discount for those who love to drink Bordeaux while helping to provide much needed cash flow to producers.

En Primeur took a hit during the 2009 and 2010 vintages (both extraordinary) due to the jump in prices at a time when the world was in a financial crisis after 2008. But as the slow economic recovery is starting to surface, so is the demand for En Primeur which was evident during the 2014 that delivered savings for those that pre-purchased the wines.

But there are some drawbacks, as one can imagine, to En Primeur – the biggest is that, many times, one does not taste the final blend of the wine. It takes time for the wines to reveal themselves while in the aging process and the French use a term that explains it perfectly: élevage – aka raising – like raising a child into an adult that will eventually be ready to take on the world himself/herself; and so the blend often times changes after En Primeur. That is where the Millésima Panorama plays an important part, allowing the trade and writers, such as myself, to taste the wines with their final blend and an additional year of aging – sometimes the differences between the En Primeur and Panorama can be drastic, and other times not much difference, it depends on each producer and what happened within the year of élevage.

Examining Our Journey

As I was in the Millésima cellars in Bordeaux tasting these wines, a flood of memories from over the years of drinking a multitude of vintages started to fill my mind and gained intensity with each Château I tasted. And I saw my own journey as it was intertwined with those of the Bordeaux wines.

Just like Bordeaux, personally I felt that there were many things I needed to work on… Bordeaux producers were always trying to attain ripeness and manage structure – mainly tannins; I needed to take on the rough and tumble world, get thicker skin, learn to work long hours while keeping my passion alive and stay calm when life got rocky. In a way, Bordeaux’s decision, decades ago, to try to significantly improve the ripeness of their wines, inspired by New World winemaking countries such as the US and Australia, was like the one that I made a long time ago to not hide from the world, taking the easy way out, but to put myself out there and accept all the responsibilities that go along with it.

Where Do We Draw the Line When It Comes to Compromise?

Bordeaux wines have seen a consistency in the ripeness of their fruit over the past couple of decades, although some years are still tough. It is understandable from producers’ perspective in Bordeaux who remember their fathers’ and grandfathers’ struggles with trying to deal with under-ripe fruit to rejoice in being given knowledge as well as a tide of a string of warm vintages to produce the wines their ancestors could only dream of.

It was the same for me when after years of having my head down working every day of the week and dealing with a continuous onslaught of challenging events in my life that I one day realized that I had some freedom and opportunity to embrace the world – and I embraced it with an open heart and zeal for life wanting to connect with everyone I encountered. But through time I realized that some people equated “connecting” with getting together to trash others or only giving someone time if one can use that person for something, or finding cliques where the purpose was to criticize everything that wasn’t in that circle… all of the aforementioned go against my character and the traits I deeply valued in myself: compassion, empathy and kindness. And so, although it took me a while to figure the whole thing out, I took a step back and grounded myself in the fundamentals of those things I valued most in the world, realizing that the world cannot be embraced wholeheartedly at all times if one doesn’t want to be diminished by the unsavory aspects of it.

Such is the story of Bordeaux that is now finding ways to deal with opportunities for riper, generous wines while retaining the freshness and regal structure that have made these wines some of the most imitated in the world. It just took time to find that harmony of advancing and moving with the outside world while not losing the best parts of themselves. It takes us all a while to find that harmony, and perhaps it will not last forever but when we find it, we need to celebrate it –the 2016 red Bordeaux wines are lovely examples of the beauty one can achieve when he/she works with the world without compromising what made one special in the first place.

 

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Tasting of 2016 Bordeaux Red Wines at Millésima Panorama En Primeurs on March 27th, 2018

Disclosure: Millésima paid for my travel and first two nights stay in Bordeaux. I tasted over 150 wines in their cellars and I have listed my favorites below that I felt stood out in the moment. Please keep in mind that there were many producers not available to taste in this lineup, and also the below list includes wines that I either found extraordinary or that punched way above their price point – so it is not a list that only includes the best of 2016. Also, I tried to mention varying wines that would appeal to different palates, as well as wallet sizes.

 Side Note:

A quick side note about Millésima. They have been a fine wine retailer since 1983, selling to various countries and opened up their first New York City (NYC) store in 2006. Some of you may already know that we have had a few fine wine stores established in NYC since the 1930s and I actually worked at one of those stores for a time where our main focus was Bordeaux and selling En Primeur. When I first heard about Millésima coming to NYC, I didn’t think they would survive since I thought they were a little too late to the game… but I was wrong. They have a few things in their favor – no matter the state of the economy, they are always able to buy wines En Primeur in large quantities and hold on to them – such as the 2.5 million bottles they currently have in stock (of course carrying fine wines other than Bordeaux); their cellared wines have only known two homes, the winery’s cellar and Millésima cellar; and Millésima has built solid relationships with fine wine producers by continuingly buying year in year out due to the successful mail order business they have built in Europe while still having a modern approach to social media, helping to expose traditional brands to a younger generation.

Furthermore, I understand why they spent the time and money to send some of us to Bordeaux – besides being able to taste the 2016s, it was extremely impressive to see their cellar with the wide array of producers and vintages that surrounded us – and they were all directly from the Châteaux (producers) themselves! As someone who used to sell Bordeaux, and various fine wines, it has become almost impossible to guarantee provenance for older wines, and surprisingly difficult to guarantee decent quantity of En Primeur wines since many US retailers pulled back on buying after our economy collapsed in 2008. As one can imagine, the Bordelais, or any set of producers, give preference to those that have supported them by buying year in and year out. And as a final note, someone who worked with me at one of the top Bordeaux retailers here in NYC decided, after many years, to move to Millésima 6 years ago, and not only does he feel more appreciated as a hardworking, knowledgeable employee but says it is a relief to be able to offer a wider range of Bordeaux wine and vintages that were lacking at our previous employer – and no, I will not mention the name of my previous employer 🙂  

Okay, here are the tasting notes which I have broken up by appellation:

2016 Tasting Notes

Bordeaux Supérieur

Château Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes: A value red  Bordeaux wine that was giving rich black fruit and hints of complexity with tar and dusty earth. I still can’t believe the price at $14.

Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux

Château Joanin Bécot: Soft tannins with juicy red cherry flavors with a bright freshness and right amount of grip.

Fronsac

Château Carlmagnus: This wine had a seductive fleshiness of black raspberry jam highlighted with hints of citrus peel.

Puisseguin SaintÉmilion

Château Clarisse ‘Vieilles Vignes’A fun mix of spices with hints of kaffir lime leaves and a stunning balance for a value wine such as this one – a long concentrated finish really over-delivers for this price point.

Lalande de Pomerol

Château des Annereaux: I have never had or even knew about this producer and I wanted to say to this wine, “Where have you been all my life?!” I remember when I first discovered Lalande de Pomerol and I realized that I didn’t have to pay a fortune to drink Pomerol wines – the heavenly home of Merlot. An uplifted mint-y quality that had notes of plum pie with shape and structure and so decadent yet energetic leaving me wanting more.

Château Siaurac: I wasn’t surprised how good this Siaurac was… I actually visited them back in 2010 and I remember tasting their 2007 Lalande de Pomerol – known as a mediocre year in Bordeaux. But it was fresh and bright with ripeness and fruit – ideal to drink at the time and a few years after. This Lalande was quite a bit better than the 2007 with complex aromas and flavors such as wet earth, purple flowers and black fruit.

Moulis

Château Chasse-Spleen: My goodness was this a pretty Moulis with aromas that evoked images of fields covered with flowers, smoldering cedar and high-quality firm tannins that carried along the elegant finish.

Médoc

Château Potensac: I have long been a fan of Potensac and it has been my go to Bordeaux wine over the years. The 2016 had a fun seashell quality with lots of black berry that had an intense energy in the mid-palate.

Château Belgrave: The balance is already there for this wine with a lush body of generous fruit with hints of herbs and cardamom pods with plenty of vitality.

Château Cantemerle: This wine had the expressive fruit, integrated tannins and brightness that was a mark of my previous favorites yet already had some delicious savory tobacco and fresh leather and a touch of tautness that makes it punch above its weight.

Château La Lagune: The incredible nose did it for me when it came to the La Lagune – fresh wild berries, lit cigar and pressed flowers that carried across a linear, persistent finish.  

Château Sénéjac: Pretty, pretty, oh so pretty, Sénéjac with an explosion of ripe strawberries and lilacs that seemed to be carried on breezes in the middle of a forest (an $18 wine that transports you to another world) – judicious amount of oak and overall harmony to this wine.

PessacLéognan

Château Carbonnieux: Although there were other superstars in this Pessac-Léognan I was really impressed by the purity of fruit expression of this Carbonnieux – another go to Bordeaux favorite of mine that won’t cost a fortune and always delivers. Also, it seemed a lot more complex (underbrush and orange blossom) and fine tuned (lovely texture and shape) than ones I have had in the recent past and this 2016 is happily over-delivering. I couldn’t stop thinking about this wine.

Domaine de Chevalier: One of the things I kept finding myself say over and over again in my mind while tasting the 2016s, “The noses of these Bordeaux wines, so alive, so vibrant, just singing!” – which is something one thinks they would say for Burgundy, not Bordeaux. The Chevalier has a saline minerality that was highlighted by black raspberry, sweet tobacco and tea leaves. It has a stunning finesse on the palate just gliding across which is mind-boggling at this stage.

Château Haut-Bailly: A subtle yet extraordinary Haut-Bailly. I must admit I was trying to blast through this tasting (I only had so much time to taste over 150 wines) and so sometimes you miss the ones that are exquisitely quiet in their excellence. And so I went back to the Haut-Bailly when I felt I was not getting what I expected from such a wine, and I am glad I did. The 2016 slowly reveals itself like a lotus that transforms into a flower… hints of lapsang souchong, freshly shaved nutmeg and loganberries with gravel and exotic spice on the expressively long finish.

Château Larrivet Haut-Brion: This wine has a plush-ness on the nose and palate that just makes it immediately satisfying with hints of smoky delights that intrigues one to know what other hedonistic desires this wine will express… the finish has a surprising precision that makes one want to go back for more and all for only $38 as a future.

Château Lespault-Martillac: For $32 as a future, this wine is certainly worth the price with a mixed array of fruit flavors that was inviting and simply delicious with round texture and well-knit tannins.

Château Pape Clément: One always expects Pape Clément to be excellent but I must say that I really was taken by the fine tannins that were reminiscent of embroidered lace that gave an elegant shape while still seeming generous with juicy blackberry fruit and hints of gravel and sea spray that had a beautifully graceful finish. Lovely.

Château Smith Haut Lafitte: Château Smith Haut Lafitte stopped me in my tracks with its complex subtleties… so much there that slowly reveals itself and enchants with each taste… smoldering cigar with fresh blackberry, rain forest and seashell with an overall precision that was breathtaking with fine tannins and elegant structure… a wine that you could spend the whole day with and never tire of… a mentally exhilarating wine.

Saint-Émilion

Château Canon: Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow! Okay, this wine takes time to experience the heavenly divinity of it. It expands with such depth of expression that seems of another world that it is hard to do justice to it by using mere words; a mix of elderberries and blueberries with wet stones and the ocean air that has a great amount of tension that made my heart beat faster when I tasted this wine.

Château Canon La Gaffelière: Intense minerality with blackcurrant leaves and volcanic ash with a linear body that had a sharp edge to the long finish. I have a feeling this wine will be a rock star in a few more years.

Couvent des Jacobins: One of the unfortunate things about being a wine professional who tastes 100 to 200 wines during the same day is that often you don’t have much time to give to those wines that are not on your list of favorites. I hate to admit it but it is true. So it was nice to take time with this wine during that 150+ tasting of 2016s because I knew I was going to visit this estate. It had good flesh on the body and was aromatically stunning with autumn leaves, raspberry sorbet and spice with shape and energy that lifted the wine on the long finish. But also, many people who I respect in the Bordeaux world said they have really upped their quality on the 2015 and 2016.

Château Faugères: An expressive wine with rich fruit, elegant structure and layers of complexities. I found the Right Bank wines were extra exciting this year with fresh acidity and evident structure prevalent across the wines.

Château Figeac: This Figeac was not as big in style as the Faugères but it was breathtaking in its ethereal expression and delineated precision with a tension that made it exhilarating. Interesting that this property has used the services of Michel Rolland since 2013 and that this wine was matured in 100% new oak. It just goes to show that we must always be careful of the generalizations we make as the misnomer that Rolland only makes big, over-ripe wines – not true, he is the top in his field because he finds the ideal expression for various properties. And sometimes 100% new oak makes sense depending on the wine and the selections of oak, a multitude exists within France itself, because it can imbue the wine with various qualities. This wine had superbly chiseled tannins giving it an unforgettable, gorgeous shape.

Château Pavie Macquin: Although lush and fruit forward, this wine still had a vitality intermixing fresh and ripe flavors of vivid plums, vanilla bean and spice with a hint of forest floor.

Château Soutard: I tasted this wine after some outstanding Saint-Émilion and it really held its own standing out with sweet red fruit, silky texture and the right amount of weight balanced by brightness.

 Château Troplong Mondot: The complexity of aromatics was addictive with leather, smoldering earth and wild berries and were only outdone by the muscular tannins and robust body – it will be interesting to see if this becomes an epic Troplong Mondot.

Pomerol

Château La Conseillante: This La Conseillante was extraordinary from the first sip… really just shows how some Pomerol wines in certain vintages can be delicately beautiful while still having that Pomerol concentration. It slowly unveiled itself with soft scents of freshly cut flowers, pretty black fruit and an underlying limestone minerality… one of those wines that brings tears to your eyes because it gently gives everything to you.

Château La Croix de Gay: Immediate fan of savory and sweet combination of wild morels and tobacco with blueberry pie.

Château Gazin: Château Gazin has always been a Pomerol favorite of mine and it is one of my top after the 2016 preview tasting. Yes, it has the seductive concentration one would expect from Pomerol, yet it is exceptionally balanced with bright acidity and overall finesse.

Château La Pointe: Oh yeah, precision right off the bat baby… also, just a general note about the Pomerol wines… I can’t remember where I tasted a bunch of Pomerols and never felt tired by tasting so many… loving the focus and energy on them in 2016. Lilacs and cherries danced in my head with layers of complexity – cigar box and gravel.

Margaux

Château Cantenac Brown: Loving the perfume-y nose… so pretty… moderate body had a lovely harmony and the soft tannins gave a round finish.

Château Giscours: Giscours had more structure than the Cantenac Brown with earthier notes that was fleshed out with some boysenberry flavors.

Château d’Issan: A tad tight but I would expect that at this stage; notes of tobacco and hints of blackberry with a saline finish.

Château Palmer: Okay, I must admit that I have had a long love affair with Palmer so I am a little biased. But I dare anyone to say this wine doesn’t knock them on their a$$. Intoxicating notes of truffles, minerality and brambly fruit with a textural body that was like fine linen and a superbly long, pure finish. And I have a feeling it will just get better with a significant amount of time.  

Château Prieuré-Lichine: A pretty wine with plums and perfume that had smoldering earth in the background. Just the right amount of firmness and flesh as well.

Château Rauzan-Ségla: I was completely seduced by the generosity of juicy fruit and spice with this 2016 Rauzan-Ségla…. already singing at this stage; a winner out of the gates!

Château du Tertre: I really liked the purity of red and black fruits that was first to hit the nose and then its firm structure balanced by medium richness on the palate.

Saint-Julien

Château Beychevelle: This wine seems shy at first but really builds on the finish with cassis, spice and gravelly rock that had well-knit tannins and seemed to expand in the mouth.

Château Gloria: This Gloria is a lot more restrained than previous vintages yet I enjoyed its brightness and overall sense of finesse… can’t wait to see what it will reveal with time.

Château Lagrange: It was really a thrilling experience to taste so many wines that had great amounts of expression and energy during the 2016 Panorama Primeurs in Bordeaux. This 2016 Château Lagrange was an ideal example with citrus peel, black raspberry and orange blossom that had a zesty punch on the finish.

Château Langoa-Barton: This 2016 Langoa Barton was tighter than the other Saint-Julien but that is what one expects as this wine typically takes time and is about quiet grace over showboating.

Château Léoville Barton: 2016 Leoville Barton had a firm structure with plenty of fleshy fruit and brightness that had a lovely intense mineral finish… but I have a feeling it has a lot more to give in time.

Château Léoville Poyferré: One of the top Château Léoville Poyferré I have had at such a youthful stage. This 2016 is shockingly balanced with incredible energy that makes this wine nimble and vibrantly expressive with rich aromas and flavors of cassis and pressed flowers.

Château Saint-Pierre: I was really impressed with this Saint-Pierre with a great amount of focus and a touch of tension… many times Saint Julien gets overlooked when it comes to being placed side by side with Pauillac super-stars but I felt the Saint Julien wines in 2016 had more definition than is typical that really kicked them up to another notch. Marked acidity and sculpted tannins really lifted this wine that had plenty of black fruit to balance it out.

Pauillac

Château d’Armailhac: Richly decadent wine that had a lot of nuance and structure to give it grandiose poise.

Château Batailley: Classic in style with defiant tannins and gravel-y, dried tobacco, and pencil lead notes which finds a nice balance of ripe fruit and it has an elegant finish. This wine will take some time but it shows good potential.

Château Clerc Milon: A thrilling vitality with marked acidity with a luxurious body of manicured tannins and a velvety finish.

Château Duhart-Milon: This wine takes attention at this stage as it needs time to unravel with spice, freshly washed black currant leaves and damp earth. The fine tannins and bright flavors makes this wine a pleasure to taste several times as it methodically reveals itself.

Château Grand-Puy Ducasse: The intense bouquet and pristine flavors makes this a great example of this charming 2016 vintage with delicate polish tannins that draws in the taster.

Château Lynch-Bages: I have always been a fan of Lynch-Bages and it is a producer that I haven’t gotten to taste many times as it is a very popular château here in the US but this is the best I have had in my recent memory. Yes, the richness, intense concentration and generous fruit is there but there is a delicacy and haunting aromas such as flowers, a saline minerality and orange blossoms – best of both worlds. The tannins were like fine lace that melted seamlessly into the background. Breathtaking!

Château Pédesclaux: This is a sophisticated Pauillac that has a fierce linearity and long mineral finish. Lots of energetic power.

Château Pichon Baron: Fills my heart with warmth knowing that this 2016 Pichon-Longueville Baron has a traditional structure of firm yet not over-extracted tannins with all the Pauillac regalities of freshly split cedar, tobacco and black currant that had a fierce stony minerality. Energy, shape, and precision…. all the qualities that made me fall in love with Bordeaux in the first place.

Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: An enticing overall sense of harmony with this 2016 Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande with the right amount of weight, structure and precision to appease all the sweet spots of a Pauillac lover. Plenty of Bordeaux charm with a mix of red and black berries, freshly picked mint and graphite that had just a touch of spice. This wine really had the two key components that I really loved about the 2016s – balance and purity of expression.

Château Pontet-Canet: In recent years, Pontet-Canet has always been a favorite – they have been really hitting it out of the park since their 2005, and it makes it just that much better their commitment to biodynamics, even with all the climatic difficulties one faces in Bordeaux. They have produced another stunner with this 2016 that has lots of rich black fruit that had a fair amount of weight with layers and layers of aromas and flavors that were thrilling with exotic spice, wild mushrooms, and an intense backbone of minerality and fine tannins with bright acidity that brought it all together. When I think it is impossible for them to find more nuances in their wines, they find a way to always reveal more from their terroir. Wow!

SaintEstèphe

Château Calon-Ségur: So nice to see such beautiful fruit on this Calon-Ségur with notes of star anise and coriander seeds that had a floral finish – really happy to see a distinctive floral note carry through in many of the appellations. Well-knit tannins help to keep the ripe fruit in check.

Château Cos d’Estournel: When it comes to Saint- Estèphe, usually there is a clear favorite in any given vintage between Cos d’Estournel and Montrose… but this one was a toss up. Both devastatingly gorgeous! A real overall feeling of grace of how this Cos d’Estournel opened in the mouth with a smoky minerality and cassis that had multilayer texture that gave complexity to it on many levels. Tasting a Cos d’Estournel and Montrose such as the 2016s really shows how Saint- Estèphe can give Pauillac a run for its money when it comes to the best appellation in Bordeaux.

Château Laffitte Carcasset: For a wine that is going as a future for around $25, this offers great value. Juicy fruit with freshness and round tannins that has well-integrated oak.

Château Lafon-Rochet: Brawny tannins, but I expect nothing less from Lafon-Rochet and it is my go to wine when I want to have a nice steak. Traditional style of structure and savory dominant with pretty fruit notes balancing it out.

Château Meyney: Gives opulent fruit at first and then a strong backbone of acidity and firm tannins give it shape and focus on the prolonged finish.

Château Montrose: I really loved how this 2016 Montrose slowly revealed itself with a lovely shape and energy that gave hints of gravel and graphite, then flowers and blueberries, and on and on… through time it seemed to expand in the mouth leaving a devastatingly long, insanely gorgeous finish. There were other Saint-Estèphe wines that were more upfront, but if you stayed with this wine it impressed. I kept thinking about it, wanting to go back to it… it was beautiful, which is odd to use the word “beautiful” about Saint-Estèphe because I typically think of it being too big and stern for such a descriptor, but my heart kept aching for it. Well-done Montrose!

Château Phélan-Ségur: This is quite an outstanding Phélan-Ségur that is incredibly complex with crushed flowers, exotic spice and oyster shell that had a beautiful expression of fruit and a stunning delineation that was carried throughout its strikingly persistent finish.

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Broken Beings Brighten the World

If I had tasted the Bouchard Père & Fils 2016 preview wines before I knew about the vintage I would have never guessed that those vines went through such a tough time. The wines were singing… singing as if they had an easy and fun filled life as opposed to the catastrophic beginning that Mother Nature gave them. It really makes one reexamine the old way of thinking: if someone wasn’t given the ideal start in life then the rest of it was predestined to be a failure… one just surrendered to the very idea that their life was doomed; but these 2016s tell another story…

Broken Beings  

It seems that even to this day, people wonder why I came to NYC at 18 years old, back in 1993, with no prospects, knowing no one, with no resources, no family support (I didn’t have a family), and very little money in my pockets. At the time I didn’t completely understand it myself, except that I just wanted to find my home.

Many people come to New York City for a great education, or to make more money, or to find fame in a particular field, but obviously that was not the case for me. I felt that I was a broken, undesirable person that was rejected from the place where I was raised and so I just wanted to find where I belonged in the world. Quickly, I found immediate joy in connecting with lots of other broken young people living in the artsy and low income neighborhood of the East Village. During that time, it was an explosion of creativity, filled with people from all over trying to find their place as well. But it became apparent that many were on a dark path of resentment towards the “outside” world, and through time, I saw many of these broken beings who I cared for become twisted and hateful, and I was afraid that my fate would be the same.

One day, in my early 20s, I went to a meditation workshop at a yoga center I attended to try to get myself into better shape physically, but more importantly, mentally. There I sat in front of one of the most beautiful, bright beings I had ever experienced. Sharon Salzberg was that being, a teacher and author of a book called Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and I was overwhelmed with the deep desire that I wanted to be as bright as she was that day. But the beginning of her talk was unexpected as she discussed her troubled childhood. Her mother died when she was a child, her father was hospitalized for mental illness and so she lived with various different families throughout her childhood. In that moment I could not believe it… here she was, a being that was broken in every way you could imagine, but yet how could she radiate such joy?!

She had made a choice to not repress her past or pretend that she was someone she wasn’t, but to find the lesson, the continual lesson of finding true happiness in every moment, working hard for many years to find balance, and knowing that it would always be hard work to sustain it. My journey to find that brightness within myself was ignited that day.

2016 Bouchard Père & Fils

Tasting the 2016 Bouchard Père & Fils reminded me of that profound moment in my life. Despite it being an extraordinarily difficult vintage, it turned out to be a stunningly beautiful one. The damage was created around the time the vines were budding, April 26th and 27th, when the freezing temperatures in combination with humid conditions created ice over the buds, acting as a magnifying glass that amplified the sun, and consequently, many were burned. Bouchard Père & Fils lost 50% of their production because many of the buds did not survive; it is the largest loss in their history.

The Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, told us that although they were helped by the sunny, warmer months of July, August and September, and a little rain right before the harvest that refreshed the vines, it was still a grueling vintage in regards to the amount of work that they had to put into the vineyards. But when Frédéric started to vinify the wines, he became very excited due to the clear expression of terroir, sense of place, that each wine was displaying. And tasting these wines, I must say that they were intensely compelling to a Burgundy nerd such as myself… years ago I used to be obsessed with Burgundy to the point where it was detrimental because it formed blinders for the rest of the wine world. But these wines… this vintage started to kindle those intense visceral feelings of why I was so bewitched by this one wine region.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen

The 2016 Bouchard Père & Fils wines were not big and in your face, and generally Bouchard likes to keep their wines more towards elegance and finesse, but they had an energetic precision; a sense of grace and a lasting power that made my heart cry when I had to leave them.

It was surprising to everyone how open these wines were at such a young age, how expressive, how compelling, how bright. I started to think that perhaps part of the factors that made it such a disastrous vintage also made it a remarkable one for those vines that were able to survive. And I have to give it to Bouchard for embracing such a broken vintage so they could discover the beautiful light within these wines… for embracing every aspect of our journey is the only way to lead us to where we need to be.

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Vintage 2016 Preview Tasting of Bouchard Père & Fils on February 28th 2018

The Cellar Master of Bouchard Père & Fils, Frédéric Weber, said that he places the 2016 vintage between the 2014 and 2015 – ‘15 was high maturity (naturally 13 to 14% potential alcohol for the whites and reds) and the ’14 had high acidity and vivid fruit expression, and so the combination of high acidity and good concentration makes Frédéric think that the 2016 wines will have a great aging potential such as the 1991s. Side note: Bouchard Père & Fils changes corks on their bottles every 20 or so years.

Frédéric likes doing a small amount, only 15-20%, whole cluster fermentation as it adds aromatic complexity since the wines ferment longer and he is able to do more punch downs for aromas and flavors without too much extraction of tannin. He doesn’t like to use too much of whole cluster as he doesn’t want the winemaking to show but only the terroir to be highlighted.

Domaine noted at the end of a wine’s name indicates that all the grapes used were sourced from vineyards that Bouchard Père & Fils own.

Red Wines – Pinot Noir

Nuits-Saint-Georges Village (Côte de Nuits): A beautiful nose with brambly fruit and floral notes and fine tannins (unlike some of the more brawnily structured ones that are typical for NSG) and bright acidity.

Soils: Limestone and clay with stones

Harvest Date: September 29th, 2016

Vinification: 20% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 11 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: September 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Gevrey-Chambertin Village (Côte de Nuits): Black cherry flavors and hints of cocoa with structure yet none of the greenness or austerity that Gevrey can get.

Soils: Triassic limestone, marls, crumbled stone, clay potassium, phosphorus and iron

Harvest Date: October 1st, 2016

Vinification: 30% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 12 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: October 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Pommard Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune): Plush, juicy, finely structured – not too burly, dark fruit – already nice nuances in this wine with hints of smoldering earth.

Soils: Limestone with some iron deposits

Harvest Date: September 27th and 28th, 2016

Vinification: 20% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 12 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: January 2018

Bouchard Père & Fils uses three 1er Cru sites for their 1er Cru Pommard. They own Les Combes 1er Cru and Les Chanlins 1er Cru – and their Les Combes plot is rich in clay at the bottom of the 1er Cru sites and so it is a really powerful Pommard – full expression, a masculine wine; Les Chanlins is high in altitude and it is close to the village of Volnay and it is more elegant with beautiful fruit and the tannins are nicely round. The 3rd 1er Cru is purchased grapes from the Chaponnières 1er Cru which adds dark, concentrated fruit.

Beaune, Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune) –Monopole- Domaine : Pristine raspberry, lilacs, generosity with freshness – Frédéric said this 1er Cru (Clos de la Mousse Premier Cru) was known for the purity of the fruit that it displayed while we tasted it.

Soils: Limestone and clay on clayey sub-soils

Harvest Date: September 21st, 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

This 1er Cru has been a monopole (a monopole is an area controlled by a single winery) of the Bouchard family since 1872. The large amount of clay in the soil makes sure this vineyard never suffers from drought so the wines are always vibrant. In 2016 the yields were 12 hectoliters (hl) per hectare (ha). Just to give you an idea, 35-37 hl/ha is the maximum for Grand Cru and 40-45 for Premium Cru for vineyards in the Côte d’Or in Burgundy – so yeah, that is some small a$$ yields!

Volnay, Les Caillerets Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine: Complex aromas laced with clove spice, forest floor and chalky minerality – a compelling nose with a voluminous body – Caillerets is not like a Volnay on the nose (intense minerality) yet it does seem like one on the palate with juicy fruit.

Soils: Thin layers of limestone and clay on a cracked rock tabled-land

Harvest Date: September 28th, 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 13 days

Aging: Matured for 13 days in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

“Caillerets” comes from an old French word that means “chalky soil” and there is a lot of limestone (chalk) in this 1er Cru and it produces elegant Pinot Noir. Also, it is a very sunny place and so the maturity arrives early.

Beaune Grèves Premier Cru (1er Cru) ‘Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus’ (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine – Exclusivity: This wine is nicknamed the “baby Jesus wine” and it has become a favorite for many a Burgundy lover. This 2016 has an incredible perfumed nose with layers of exciting notes of licorice, rainforest, and fresh and stewed fruits on the palate with a tangy cranberry finish all wrapped up in silky tannins. The ageability is insane with this wine – 3 years ago Frédéric Weber tasted a bottle of 1891 and said it was still alive and doing great – a benchmark Pinot Noir for him.

Soils: Limestone and clay, sandy and gravelly

Harvest Date: September 24th, 2016

Vinification: 10% whole clusters

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

The name Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus (Vine of Baby Jesus) refers to an old story which said that a Carmelite nun predicted the birth of Louis XIV, although his mother, Anne of Austria, was sterile. On the birth of the future King, this exceptional vineyard was offered to the Carmelites as an expression of gratitude, taking on the name Vigne de L’Enfant Jésus.

In 1791, after the French Revolution, when the Church properties were sold, Bouchard Père & Fils won the bid for this vineyard of 9.68 acres (3.9 hectares), situated in the heart of the Beaune Grèves appellation. Bouchard Père & Fils still holds the exclusivity for this specific plot today.

Le Corton Grand Cru (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine: Graceful nose of truffles and rose garden with a broadly rich body and long, expressive finish.

Soils: Limestone and clay with stones

Harvest Date: September 29th 2016

Vinification: 15% whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 35%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

Corton is the only red Grand Cru in the Côte de Beaune. Le Corton is the historic vineyard, which gave name to the Corton appellation. 820 feet (250 meters) above sea level with East orientation with low vigor soils, so it is naturally a very low yield plot.

Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Cailles Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Nuits) – Domaine:

Blueberry, crunchy black fruit, very, very expressive nose – pops and sings unlike any NSG I have had before with lots of energy, and well integrated tannins on the palate.

Soils: Oolite limestone

Harvest Date: September 26th, 2016

Vinification: 20% of whole cluster

Length of Vatting: 14 days

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 30%

Racking Date: December 2017

Bottling Date: February/March 2018

Situated on the South side of the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, this 1er Cru, Les Cailles, is different from its neighbors, producing an elegant, feminine wine. Cailles is another French word for chalky soil. Weber loves Cailles every year because it is a “true expression of Pinot Noir with a lot of energy”.

White Wines – Chardonnay

Meursault Les Clous Village (Côte de Beaune) –Domaine: 920 feet (280 meters) above sea level – the top of Meursault – white marl soil, and so, it is not a classic nose for Meursault with citrus peel, flowers and very stony with linear body, lots of focus.

Soils: Table of calcareous marls on a hard platform

Harvest Date: September 28th, 2016

New Oak: 15%

Racking Date: September 2016

Bottling Date: November 2016

According to Bouchard, regarding the terroir of Meursault, many of the vineyards classified as a village appellation are situated on marly ground identical to the Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (only the topography and altitude differ). These vineyards of a quality equivalent to that of a Premier Cru deserve to be vinified separately, which is the case for vines from the terroir of Les Clous.

Puligny-Montrachet Village (Côte de Beaune): White flowers with green mango and peach skin with a light and nimble body.

Soils: Limestone and clay on marly sub-soil

Harvest Date: September 29th, 2016

Aging: Matured for 11 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 5%

Racking Date: September 2017

Bottling Date: November 2017

Beaune Clos Saint-Landry Premier Cru (1er Cru) (Côte de Beaune) – Monopole – Domaine: Rich, creamy, juicy tangerine fruit, broad body –yummy yummy, yummy.

Soils: Limestone and clay with marls

Harvest Date: September 23rd, 2016

Aging: Matured for 11 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: September 2017

Bottling Date: November 2017

Clos Saint-Landry was owned by a monk order where there was Chardonnay planted there going back to the 13th century. This wine comes from yellow-marl soil which is good for Chardonnay, and there is clay all around the outside of this plot which is good for Pinot Noir. The monks knew even back then that the yellow-marl was better for the Chardonnay –“history is part of the terroir” Frédéric Weber said, and he talked about how brilliant the monks were back then during those times, to which I said, “That was the time to be a monk.” Hehehe…

Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Côte de Beaune) – Domaine: Stony, seashell, saline minerality, exotic spice, pine nuts, and apricot… extremely vibrant – a focused yet powerful wine.

Soils: Limestone and clay, predominantly limestone

Harvest Date: September 30th, 2016

Aging: Matured for 13 months in oak barrels

New Oak: 20%

Racking Date: November 2017

Bottling Date: December 2017

In 1909, Bouchard Père & Fils acquired 60% of the prestigious vineyard at Le Corton, which has the rare particularity of being planted with either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Today, Bouchard Père & Fils is the third most important owner at Corton-Charlemagne.

This wine is from the top of the block of the Corton Grand Cru (same Grand Cru vineyard as for the previous Corton red tasted) and there is a stone wall that is 10 feet (3 meters) high that was built exactly on the location where the geological change happens within the soil, and so, divides the Chardonnay plot from the Pinot Noir plot.

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The Beauty of a Woman

It has been a tough winter for many of us in the continental climate areas – New York City is no exception. A mutant flu and cold season brought many people down for the count, allergies have been more prevalent this winter for some reason, and less sunlight than normal. I have known many who were taken down hard… I, myself, seemed to be constantly fighting a cold or allergies (I know, it’s weird to have allergies in winter) and finally had to break my rule of avoiding antibiotics when I realized I had developed a sinus infection. And all the while having to travel, running to various appointments, meeting deadlines and everything else we humans have to check off our daily list. It has been a rough December and January for myself, and from what I see on Facebook, it has been even more brutal for others. But in the middle of February – when I felt like I was ready to pass out and sleep for two days straight – I had my spirit recharged by a beautiful woman.

A Beautiful Woman

It is interesting to think of the idea of women and beauty. There have been countless books, poems, and certainly, advertisements devoted to it; billon dollar companies make their profits from the very idea of it; and every woman has had something thrown at her regarding beauty, and where she lies on that beauty scale, more times than anyone should be subjected to… but all of that has nothing to do with the beauty that I am talking about… the beauty that truly transcends the ills and hardships of life. The beauty I speak of is not so easily found, or bought, or even described.

That day in mid-February I was set to have a meeting with the chief winemaker of the innovative Chilean winery Viña LeydaViviana Navarrete. Mentally, I felt like I wasn’t in the best shape because I was beyond exhausted but I could not miss this opportunity. A couple years back, I had the opportunity to hear Viviana speak at the Women in Wine Leadership Symposium and I was taken by her beautiful mind and spirit that were reflected in her wines.

Viña Leyda

Viña Leyda, founded in 1997, takes its name from the coastal town Leyda since it is located in the center of its valley.  They are truly pioneers of this now much sought after cooler, tiny wine growing area in Chile that includes a total of 4940 acres of vineyards (2000 hectares), one of the closest vineyard areas to the Pacific Ocean in Chile.

Credit: Viña Leyda

Viña Leyda not only helped establish the appellation (protected geographic quality area) with the new designation of origin, D.O. Leyda in 2001, but they also invested in infrastructure that would allow water to be brought from the Maipo River using an eight kilometer pipeline that was financed by a combination of themselves, the Chilean government, and a couple other private investors. Before that time there was no viticulture in Leyda since it was a dry area (only 250mm a year of rain), but as Viviana Navarrete said, “Despite being pioneers in this area we knew our work wasn’t done”. So they have put a significant investment into studying their soil, increasing the density of vines in their vineyards, decreasing the size of their trellising, canopy management of finding ideal balance for their vines, and working with the “terroir doctor” – Pedro Parra – a terroir specialist that has dug over 2000 pits around the world analyzing (electroconductivity and geo-mapping) a plethora of soils for the best research that will help wine producers match the right plants (variety/clone) with the right plots, as well as the best winemaking techniques to highlight each section of land. Right now Viviana said they have 13 clones of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc (7 clones for Pinot Noir and 6 clones for Sauvignon Blanc) and they are obsessed with Pinot Noir and its affinity for terroir, as well as work with a tiny amount of Sauvignon Gris, Riesling and Syrah.

Viviana Navarrete

Me (left) and Viviana (right)

Both of the times I have seen Viviana, she was generous, nurturing and really empowered those around her. She was one of those women who showed the power that women could have – by giving others wings to soar – and her beauty was reflected by the beauty that she saw in others. Everything else – her intelligence, her experience (11 years as chief winemaker at Viña Leyda), her attention to detail which was displayed while talking about every aspect of each of her wines, was nothing compared to her enormous capacity for compassion that fueled her passion for the Leyda Valley itself. She noted that there were only 10 vineyard owners in Leyda and every single one was driven by producing the best grapes in the vineyards they could get from an area that only gave them low-yielding, tiny grapes because of the cold fog that came in from the Pacific; only quality minded people would want to deal with such a low quantity of fruit.

Viviana proudly said, “Buy any bottle that has the D.O. Leyda on it and you know it will be very good wine.”

From the minute I met Viviana I felt relieved because it was as if her eyes gave me a warm hug and placed me immediately at ease; after we finished our 90 minute conversation, I felt like I could fly down the street… that is what a beautiful woman does to the world around her.

“No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

There are so many times when I felt dragged around by life that a beautiful woman was sent to me like an angel… whether it was my next door neighbor when I was a child telling me how much I was loved, the woman on the subway who soothingly placed her hand on my shoulder when I was overwhelmed and crying during my first couple years in New York, or a co-worker telling me that I deserved better when I felt completely rejected and humiliated. These beautiful women seem to be the fabric that holds our society together.

Beautiful women come in many outward forms – they can be dressed to the nines or dressed like a nun, they can be conventionally picture perfect or alternative and edgy; but they are always open, honest and have surrendered to the truth that they are only as good as they make the people around them feel… and so they always see the truth of someone who is in need.

It just seemed fitting when I found out that the drawing on the Viña Leyda labels was of an old train station that used to exist in the town of Leyda; it was common for people to ask the way to the train since Leyda was a town that one used to get from one place to another. Travelers would ask the locals “la ida”, meaning “the way”, which turned into sounding like “leyda” in the local jargon, and so, the town was named after this common saying. It was fitting because when we are lost, beautiful women show us the way… the way into believing in ourselves.

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Viña Leyda Tasting with Chief Winemaker Viviana Navarrete on Feb 16th, 2018

2016 Classic Sauvignon Blanc: Citrus, green mango and dried thyme with a vivid, linear palate.

100% stainless steel tanks at low temperatures. Half of the vinification is macerated and half whole bunch press.  The more aromatic clones need maceration because many of the aromatics are in the skin, and they blend it with clones that have a purity of fruit that are whole bunch pressed.

2017 Sauvignon Blanc, Single Vineyard Garuma: Creamy texture with saline minerality and white flowers with a delicate yet powerful finish.

This wine is made from the best Sauvignon Blanc plot that has a cooler micro-climate and is limestone dominant. Clone Davis 1 is used and it is known to give a wine more weight on the body. The winemaking is the same so it is just the selection of this one clone (instead of a few clones) and the expression of this specific vineyard with even lower yields.

2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Lot 4: Spicy with white pepper, stony minerality, white peach, rich body yet plenty of verve and an extremely long, elegant length.

Made from a selected block of 3.7 acres (1.5 hectares) that faces East and so receives the morning sun. Clone 317, from Sancerre, is used – this clone does not exist anywhere else in Chile and it is known for its ability to age in the bottle. Also, they matched this clone to a plot that could produce an ageworthy wine with lots of concentration. 100% whole bunch press. 20% of this wine was fermented in 400 liters sized used barrels to build structure for the body and the rest, 80%, was fermented in stainless steel barrels. They are separated for 9 months for lees stirring (battonage) and then blended together after that time.

2016 Classic Chardonnay: Orange blossom with juicy tangerine, broad body and zing on the finish.

Viviana said she wanted an honest, pure expression of Chardonnay from Leyda with no oak and no MLF. They protect the clusters from sunburn with canopy management. Although Chardonnay is thought of as a neutral variety Viviana wanted to show the “nice face” of it with no oak and building a creamy texture with lees stirring giving a round texture but she was careful not to do too much so as to keep the vitality.

2016 Leyda Rosé, Pinot Noir: Freshly picked raspberry with freshly cut flowers and a round body.

This rosé was made from 3 different blocks using different clones. All of the grapes were whole cluster pressed, fermenting in 100% stainless steel at low temperatures.

2016 Classic Pinot Noir: A delectable mixture of smoke, sweet spice and wild lilies with a bright cherry finish.

Fermented in closed vats with very little movement, aka pump overs, for less extraction. Only 20% age in used French barrels and rest in stainless steel.  Viviana wanted the fruit to express itself with brightness and generosity on the palate. Clones selected: Clone 115 for more spicy and smoky notes with a nice entrance for the palate; Clone 777 for red berry fruit and very long and vibrant in the palate; Clone 9 for floral notes; Clone 16 for leafy notes and long in the palate.

2015 Pinot Noir, Single Vineyard Las Brisas: Intense minerality and stunning purity of fruit with a lovely perfume that wafted in one’s head  for several minutes as the marked acidity in this wine created a mouthwatering finish.

Called “Las Brisas” because it is near the ocean, facing South-West, and it is the last Pinot Noir that they harvest. Soil is mainly granite soil with iron and quartz, so they try to transmit those qualities within the wine. Strict selection of grapes, de-stemmed, everything placed in closed vats, little pump over (extraction), 30% in used French barrels and 70% stainless steel.

2014 Pinot Noir, Lot 21: This wine had that addictive hint of truffles and forest floor that was exquisitely balanced by flavors of ripe strawberries and anise cookies with gingerbread spice that finished with a crumbly, chalky prolonged flavorful finish.

Two small plots were chosen for Lot 21: One facing North with red clay on the top section and limestone on the lower section. The sections were fermented separately and punched down regularly; the second plot was granite dominant with iron and quartz which she fermented in a combination of closed vats and cement. The grape bunches had little berries and clusters from the French clones selected such as 82. 15% of whole bunch pressed, and the tanks were filled with alternating layers of whole berries and then whole clusters and so on and so on … sort of like lasagna. Natural yeasts were used for this wine to enhance the natural qualities. Aged in a combination of used French oak barrels, egg shaped concrete and 2000 liter casks. Only 5000 bottles made.

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