The Road Less Traveled

Some people are just so truly creative that even though they have been raised in a seemingly average life, they are able to be innovators in certain fields that go against the grain of normal convention. Others, who were perhaps unknowingly innovators earlier in their life, are thrust into a tragic situation that challenges their mind, body and spirit, and with their back to the wall, they discover that they were meant for greater things.

Champagne Duval-Leroy

A few weeks ago, I went to a low key Champagne tasting in a charming Champagne parlor called Air’s in the West Village of Manhattan in New York City. I was exhausted and overwhelmed that week (I was just getting back from two separate wine press trips) but didn’t want to miss out on tasting some Champagne with other ladies in the local wine and media business. I had no idea that I was about to learn a story of a remarkable woman.

Carol Duval-Leroy

Carol Duval-Leroy, originally born in Belgium, lost her husband Jean Charles Duval-Leroy in 1991 to cancer – he was in the prime of his life at 39 years old; she was only 35. Many would assume that she would just sell the family Champagne house, Duval-Leroy, to a much larger Champagne corporation, but she made a promise to her husband that she would run the company until she could pass it on to their sons, Julien, Charles and Louis – who were only 8, 6, and 4 when they lost their father.

Femme de Champagne

This event was for invited females only since we were drinking Carol’s Femme de Champagne, launched in 1991 after her husband’s death with the 1990 vintage – a Champagne that was originally conceived by her husband. The wine is made from grapes exclusively grown in Grand Cru areas, yet she decided to name it “Femme de Champagne” (Woman of Champagne) since it was up to her to keep the family business running. The Femme de Champagne project was a great way for Carol to get past one of the most difficult times in her life; it was also the time she decided to hire 23 year old Sandrine Logette-Jardin as her Quality Manager. Hiring Sandrine paid off as Duval-Leroy became the first Champagne house to be granted ISO 9000s certification – an inventory procedure that helps to ensure high standards. In 2005, Sandrine became Chef de Caves of Champagne Duval-Leroy – the first female head winemaker of a Champagne house.

Duval-Leroy was the first Champagne house to produce a certified organic Brut Champagne, which is still made today (wine made from grapes grown organically and Ecocert FR-BIO-01 certified), and Carol Duval-Leroy was the first and currently only female to be appointed President of the Association Viticole Champenoise. Duval-Leroy Champagne is served at many of the top Michelin-starred restaurants around the world; when Carol was young she dreamt of becoming a chef, and so, she has a great admiration for the top chefs around the world.

It was not only wonderful to taste such special wines from an extraordinary lady, but it was also nice to see women who I have known in the business for many years… some of them had given me much needed encouraging words about my work at one time, and I have been happy to pay it forward by emboldening other women. Sometimes it is very difficult to see our own worth or value when there is no one to validate our contributions in life…such as having someone like Carol hiring a young woman like Sandrine and entrusting her to bring her family company to another level.

There were a couple of men at this Champagne tasting that I certainly hoped were enjoying being surrounded by women. One of them, who simply introduced himself as someone working for Champagne Duval-Leroy, came over to me as I was tasting the vertical of their Femme de Champagne wines. He was curious to know what I thought… well, the Champagnes, which I was previously unfamiliar with, were even better than I could have imagined… yes, elegant with lots of finesse, yet an intense richness and complexity that is not often associated with “female” styled wines. He immediately said, “Yes, they have a lot more to them than people think.” I found out later that he was one of Carol’s sons, Julien Duval-Leroy, as all three of them work for their family Champagne house. It made me smile to know that he knew the true power of women.

Sometimes There is No Reason

I like to believe that many times, there is a reason for things to happen unexpectedly, but honestly, there have been certain events that have happened in my life and those close to me that I know had no reason – unfortunately, bad things happen to good people and some are given a lot more knocks in life than anyone could deserve. But when these tragedies happen, I find the best thing to do is to think about the people around you… how it is not good enough to just survive; you have to be the force that goes beyond the cards you were dealt in order to find meaning in life. That is what Carol did… and I think her sons are so lucky to have her as their mother… and we are all lucky to have a great example of a woman who took the road less traveled.


Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne Tasting on Sept 28th, 2017

Champagne Duval-Leroy owns 494 acres (200 hectares) of the Champagne vineyards they use which makes up 1/3 of their production – 40% of the grapes are from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Duval-Leroy is located in the Côte des Blancs, an area in Champagne where some of the best Chardonnnay is sourced, and hence many of their Champagnes are Chardonnay dominant.

Femme de Champagne is a blend of Duval-Leroy’s best Grand Cru vineyards that is made only during years that they deem to be exceptional as well as having a lower than average dosage compared to other Champagne houses.

-1990 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 89% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Noir with 4 g/l residual sugar at dosage. The vintage that started the Femme de Champagne is one that is tied with bittersweet memories of pain and finding the strength to go on and take on the world alone. As harvest approached, this vintage saw an extremely rapid rise in temperatures and so those who could be selective produced some richly enticing vintage Champagnes. Big and bold with honey and candied-ginger although the mousse is fine as it gallops across your palate. May 16th, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

1995 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 76% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir with 4 g/l residual sugar. Generous and inviting with almond paste, lemon meringue and a broad palate – it was creamy and decadent in texture. May 16th, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

1996 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 79% Chardonnay and 21% Pinot Noir with 4.5 g/l residual sugar. The 1996 Champagnes, as well as Burgundies, are known for their fierce acidity, linear body and in the best cases, pristine fruit… this one lives up to the legend of this vintage while I certainly can’t say that about all the 1996 vintage Champagnes I have tasted. Lots of energy and vitality with quince and an aromatically floral nose… could continue to be cellared for many more years as it seems still a baby. And may I say it had a “holy crap” long finish. Wow! March 21st, 2017 is the disgorgement date.

2000 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne: 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir with 6g/l residual sugar added with dosage.  Ripe peach with toasted brioche and a hint of orange blossom – fine bubbles and a very long, expressive finish.


–1997 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne, Rosé de Saignée: 100% Pinot Noir from Grand Cru vineyards. One of the very few houses in Champagne that make a Rosé by “leeching” during maceration of Pinot Noir rather than blending red wine into the assemblage (final blend) before the secondary fermentation. This 1997 Rosé de Saignée has structured elegance with intoxicating aromatics of sweet spice, crushed cranberries and a textured body that has a flavorful finish. It would be perfect to have with game bird!

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Like Minded Hearts Find a Way

As I sat by the edge of the sailboat gazing at the turquoise water of Lake Garda, in Trento, Italy, I could hear the Captain talking about what made this boat different from the others. It was open in the back to allow people with physical disabilities, such as being confined to a wheelchair, to have access to the boat (also, an elevator could take people to the bathroom below). As serendipitous as I thought it was to be on this sailboat instead of the others – our 30 person group was broken into several smaller groups for the boat rides – the Captain then talked about how they mainly use the boat to help children and adults with autism. There was research that pointed to being on the calming water assisting with them finding a way to relate to other people on the boat, and our boat further assisted the idea of creating a calm world by having a heavier bottom. As my eyes moved up to the Dolomites, a special UNESCO Heritage section of the Italian Alps, I thought about this place that made thrilling, elegant sparkling wines and how it was imbued with many kind hearts.


I was in Trento to explore Trentodoc wines, specifically, the leading producer of this wine area – Ferrari Trento. Trentodoc is the designated high quality wine area in Trentino, Italy, that can be used by wine producers who make these traditional wines from a particular mountainous area that are assessed to be to at the approval level for Trentodoc certification. Although the history of these sparkling wines did not start until 1902 with the legendary Giulio Ferrari, it is believed that Trentino has ancient roots going back over 5000 years. But Trentino, with 77% of the land being above 3280 feet (1000 meters) in altitude and the highest vineyards going up to 2953 feet (900 meters), presents some intense challenges, and hence why it took a real lion’s heart such as Giulio’s to make into reality the dream of producing some of the greatest sparkling wines in the world made mainly from Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) – as well as Pinot Meunier and Pinot Bianco (Blanc).

Ferrari Trento

A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be part of the #FerrariCamp2017, led by Ferrari Trento in their home of Trento, Italy. It is owned by the Lunelli family whose grandfather, Bruno Lunelli, a wine shop owner in Trento, started a partnership with the brilliant Giulio Ferrari. Giulio himself did not have heirs to carry on his legacy, including study in Champagne as well as his knowledge developed as an enologist at the San Michele all’Adige Agrarian Institute. Today, with the third generation taking the reins, Ferrari Trento has become one of the most well-respected sparkling wines in Italy – always part of any special event that holds major significance in the hearts of Italians. Yet still, to this day, they pay homage to the man who laid down the foundation, Giulio Ferrari.

It was not only remarkable to hike through the Ferrari vineyards and tasting several wines, but it was also an uplifting experience to spend time with the Lunelli family and their Ferrari team. We were a group of around 30 people from around the world, mainly Wine Directors and Sommeliers, with a couple of us media people in tow. They invited the group to pose tough questions to the Lunelli family about any misgivings they had about their wines, and there were a couple of tough critics who mainly focused on how difficult it was to go up against Champagne in other markets – although everyone did admit when it came to quality that Ferrari delivered.

It was touching to see some of their long time employees, seemingly part of the family at this point, jump up to emotionally and ferociously defend all the energy they placed into improving their Ferrari wines and the environment and those that live among them in Trento, when it was questioned that it didn’t make any business sense since their prices would always be limited due to lack of international recognition.

What We Value in Life

When I think back to that sailboat ride with the Captain sharing his beautiful philosophy of life… how people make themselves miserable because they only focus on how the world benefits them instead of valuing our achievements by how we make the world a better place… I could see what was the purpose for the Lunelli family – constantly striving, whether it was to help improve the practices of the 500 wine growers (each owning an average of 1 hectare/ 2.5 acres) they work with, or making sure people far and wide could experience their extraordinary way of life surrounded by the Dolomite mountains, as they seemed to value their lives based on how it changed the world for the better.

It was fitting that I had an encounter with Camilla Lunelli, granddaughter of Bruno Lunelli and now Communication Director for her family’s winery. We talked about our deep desire to promote a positive, uplifting energy to the world… I was fascinated to know more about her so, later, I did some research and found out that she had spent some time doing volunteer work in Uganda before she decided to come back to Trento to work with her family. Just like I realized that I was meant to be on that boat, I realized why I was on that Ferrari Trento trip… like minded hearts just have a way of finding each other.



Tasting at Ferrari Trento on September 21st, 2017

Side Note: Although Trentodoc wines can use Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc) and Pinot Meunier as well, Ferrari only uses Chardonnay and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) in their wines.

Ferrari Brut: 100% Chardonnay. They could call this a Blanc de Blancs since it is 100% Chardonnay, but the Lunelli family said it was important to keep it as simply Brut since it does ideally represent their house style – fiercely elegant with a linear shape and complex minerality that finished with white peach and mouth watering acidity. If you love traditional sparkling Blanc de Blancs wines, and you have never had Ferrari Brut, you are missing out! At around $23 in the US, it will quickly become your weekly sparkling treat.


Ferrari Rosé: 60% Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) and 40% Chardonnay. A pale pink color with a copper hue that gave enticing aromatics of rose petals and cranberry… this sparkling Rosé, with marked acidity, would be ideally paired with prosciutto and a glorious day spent at Villa Margon in Trento, Italy.

-2010 Ferrari Perlé: Strict selection of 100% Chardonnay from top-quality zones in Trento. Rich, with spiced toast notes, marzipan and candied lemon and velvety texture on the finish. 

Ferrari Perlé Rosé Riserva: 80% Pinot Nero and 20% Chardonnay from vineyards owned by the Lunelli family. Orange blossom, wild strawberries and a hint of marmalade fills one’s palate with flavorful delights. Despite being opulent in flavor, this wine still had a freshness and great vitality on the finish.

-2009 Ferrari Perlé Nero: Strict selection of 100% Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) grapes made into a Blanc de Noirs aka white sparkling. Vineyards owned by the Lunelli family, such as the highest sites of Villa Margon. This wine really stood out for its multi-structural quality – having a firm tactile presence in the mouth with a great weight – it could be paired with game or heavier dishes.  Acacia and honeysuckle danced in my head as I enjoyed this lusciously bodied wine.

-2008 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli: 100% Chardonnay from the slope section of the Lunelli mountainous vineyards – a minimum of 7 years of lees aging. Creamy texture with alluring flavors of golden apple – and when I came back to it after it sat for a while, it opened up with lemon custard and roasted nuts… it had fine bubbles that gently caressed the palate.

-2006 Giulio Ferrari, Riserva del Fondatore: 100% Chardonnay from up to 1970 feet (600 meter) high slopes on the mountains of Trento that are owned by the Lunelli family. This sparkling wine is only made in the best years, and has at least 10 years of lees aging. When their namesake, Giulio Ferrari, fled Trento during World War II, he decided to build a wall in front of the cellar to protect his bottles from being stolen. When he came back after the war, after being gone for 7 years, he tasted some of these wines and realized how well they could age. This is why they named this wine – one of the longest lived Ferrari Trento wines – after him. This wine truly represents an impressive history in traditional sparkling wine and it is one of the greatest ways to pay respect to Giulio Ferrari. Toasted coconut flakes with brown sugar and an extra exotic layer of mangosteen flesh on the long finish that had a profound sense of finesse. A special, special wine in so many ways.


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A Personal Victory with a Glass of 10 Year Old Moscato d’Asti

It was a gorgeous day, one of the hot ones as the weather swung from hot to cool to hot again, when I was visiting wine producers in the land of Moscato – Asti, Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy. I was in the tiny eastern village of Strevi, known for its much higher acidity in its Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines as well as a delicious honeyed note. I was in front of the Marenco steep vineyard “Scrapona” which meant “to hike” in the local dialect. The challenge was placed before my group – we could either try to take on the challenge of climbing to the top or we could take the bus to meet up with those who dared to take on the seemingly almost vertical trek. I took one look up the never ending upward-climbing trail and immediately said, “Oh heck no… I’m taking the bus”. But then many people in the group started skipping up the Scrapona vineyard, some even shouted back to me that they were old enough to be my parents and I was silly to not take on this minor task. And so, damn it, I was not going to look back with regret; I gave a fierce yell of joy before I started up the hike.


Scrapona is considered one of the best vineyards in Strevi’s prestigious Bagnario Valley – Strevi being one of the first three villages of Moscato d’Asti. This is the first time I really got to dive into the Strevi terroir. It is a shame that their Moscato d’Asti wines are not as well known as Canelli  located in the most eastern part of Asti and they offer a very different interpretation of the Moscato Bianco variety. Their crisp acidity, intense energy and distinctive honey note makes them stand apart from all the other Moscato d’Asti wines I tasted during my visit, and Scrapona was the ideal expression of Strevi’s great potential.

Marenco Vini

The Marenco family can trace their farming roots in Strevi back to 1261. Currently, three Marenco sisters run the winery and vineyards:  Michaela, with her husband Dr. Giovanni Costa and brilliant son Andrea Costa, and her sisters Patrizia and Doretta. Patrizia is the first woman to graduate from the School of Enology in Alba and she talked us through our tasting as her nephew, Andrea Costa, translated for her. Earlier that day, I learned from Andrea’s contemporaries that he was nicknamed “The Professor”, because he is always trying to educate the younger generation of producers, and so he is obviously following in his aunt’s footsteps of trying to raise the quality of Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines, as well as sparkling Brachetto, which Strevi is known for as well.

After we finished our winery and vineyard tour, we came back to their lovely Marenco home that had a remarkable view and lots of wines that were matched with a thoughtful dinner awaiting us. As Patrizia and Andrea talked us through our first flight of their 2016, 2012 and 2007 Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines, they touched upon the recent research of how well their wines could age. Not only is the Scrapona site unique for Moscato d’Asti, but it is planted with 5 different clones, one of them being a Marenco clone from their original family vines which they believe give it even more distinctiveness. They felt that their high acidity as well as the residual sugar helped to preserve the wine, and, ideally, aging in bottle would express more captivating facets of their wines since recent research shows that Moscato Bianco may need aging to fully express itself.

As we dove into tasting the 2007, I could hear sounds of pure delight fill the room and saw a previously nervous looking Patrizia start to relax with a big smile on her face. She said she was nervous since she was tasting this 10 year old Moscato d’Asti wine for the first time herself, none-the-less with a group of wine buyers and journalists from the US; it turns out that even she was thrilled, surprisingly, with the result.

Enchanting End to a Victorious Day

As we continued that evening to taste their wines over dinner, an accordion player serenaded us with his music, Andrea Costa danced with his wife and baby, and I gazed out over the horizon to see a grand painting by Mother Nature. Somewhere out there was that insurmountable Scrapona vineyard that I ended up conquering by reaching the top… don’t get me wrong, I stopped quite a few times while questioning the wisdom of my choice… but I did it and ultimately it was not as bad as my mind first thought it would be… then I looked back at Patrizia Marenco, the first woman to graduate from the School of Enology in Alba. Initially, it must have seemed impossible to her to be that first woman, an impossible task, yet here she is continually pushing the envelope by tasting us on a 2007 Moscato d’Asti… it was certainly a personal victory, but even more importantly, it is a victory that can inspire us all in times of doubt.


Wine Tasting Dinner at Marenco Vini on September 2nd, 2017

2016, 2012 and 2007 Moscato d’Asti wines were tasted side by side: all have low alcohol (5.5% abv) with around 120-130 g/l residual sugar and semi-sparkling (frizzante) by the Asti method. All considered warm vintages and they illustrated how Marenco wines could still have potential to age even from warmer conditions.

2016 Marenco, Scrapona, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Luxurious flavors of honeysuckle and peach pie with bright acidity and lots of energy.

2012 Marenco, Scrapona, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Intense, flinty minerality which I loved with flavors of acacia honey in the background.

2007 Marenco, Scrapona, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Honeycomb with a hint of lanolin and sage with a bright, expressive finish. Wow!

2013 Marenco, Albarossa, Piemonte DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Albarossa. In 1938, Giovanni Dalmasso thought he crossed Nebbiolo and Barbera, but in fact, crossed Barbera with Chatus (also known as Nebbiolo di Dronero). Albarossa is known for its small berries and thick skins that produce wine with delicate spicy and fruity aromas and a creamy texture. Typically it is used as a blending partner for its color but a few producers have realized its potential as a single varietal wine. Only 5 producers currently make a 100% Albarossa wine. This was a dark, brooding wine with rosemary and charred ember notes and juicy fruit on the palate.

The following two Passito wines used grape bunches that were “naturally” dried, according to their DOC regulations, and mechanical fans and such are not allowed. It is tradition for the local people in Strevi to buy a Passito wine on the year that their baby is born.

2012 Marenco, Scrapona Passri, Moscato Passito, Strevi DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. A viscous sweet wine that was balanced with tons of vitality: grapefruit, orange peel, candied ginger and smoky black tea.

2012 Marenco, Passri’, Brachetto Passito, , Piedmont, Italy:  100% Brachetto. Only 5 producers among 7 acres (3 hectares) of this Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG exists. It is not made every year. Stewed red cherries with cinnamon and gingerbread that danced upon the palate with all its glorious lushness.

Tasting of Marenco White Barbera at Consorzio dell’Asti Greetings Dinner on August 30th, 2017

2016 Marenco, Carialoso, Monferrato Bianco DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Caricalasino (aka White Barbera). When I first heard about this wine, I thought it was the red grape Barbera vinified as a white wine. But no, it is a rare, white native grape of Piedmont which was in danger of disappearing. Patrizia Marenco discovered some old vines in Strevi, and in 1990 decided to start experimenting with them. About 3000 plants of this mysterious variety were reproduced. Toasted almonds with golden apples and fresh tarragon that is well-structured with extract and marked acidity.







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The Madman of Moscato d’Asti

For almost a year, I have been delving deeper into the world of Moscato d’Asti DOCG from Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy. I’ve found it fascinating to research this style that inspired a worldwide trend of making semi-sparkling, sweet Moscato wines. As much of a compliment it is to the Asti area that other parts of the world want to emulate this style, it has been a detriment to its reputation as many mediocre wines have flooded the market bearing the Moscato name, but from areas that do not have the same sense of place, tradition, and most importantly, quality of Asti. This has made the producers who make Moscato d’Asti DOCG even more vigilant to strive for only the best in farming their particular clone of the Moscato Bianco grape on their steep vineyards, coupled with ideal winemaking procedures, enhanced by their intense research and investment. This commitment to excellence is being led by none other than Romano Dogliotti, whom some say is crazy because of the extreme practices he employs to bring a distinctive sense of place to his Moscato d’Asti wines.

Romano Dogliotti

Romano Dogliotti came from a grape growing family that specialized in the Moscato Bianco grape. His father sold the must (freshly pressed grape juice) to larger companies who made the semi-sparkling Moscato d’Asti and the sparkling Asti wines. But, in the late 1970s, when Romano got involved in their small family grower business, Azienda Agricola Caudrina, he decided to reserve the best grape bunches from his vineyards, painfully experimented with inventive winery practices that would express the purity of the fruit, bottled it, and sold it directly to wine consumers. Word started to travel about his enticing Moscato d’Asti wine that was named “La Caudrina” and the increasing demand from his local restaurants and wine bars started to cement his reputation with those who sought out the best Moscato. This led to the famous “La Galeisa” Moscato d’Asti, which is his strictest selection from his vineyards, and the delightfully playful “La Selvatica” Asti Spumante which bears a label drawn by the legendary grappa distiller Romano Levi.

Today, Romano Dogliotti is still an innovator, a passionate zealot that some have deemed a madman in the greatest sense of the word. Although many of the top producers of Moscato d’Asti DOCG wines produce low yields in their vineyards, for quality and concentration, Romano still makes 1/3 less than even the most high quality minded producers. A madman that many of his fellow producers admire, and sigh at the very thought of his efforts and how his standards seems impossible to obtain by mere mortals.

Consorzio dell’Asti DOCG

Consorzio dell’Asti Presentation: Director Giorgio Bosticco (left) and Chairman Romano Dogliotti (center)

It was fitting that before we visited Caudrina, we spent time at the Conzorsio Asti Laboratories to participate in a seminar conducted by the Consorzio dell’Asti DOCG – a group that protects the Moscato d’Asti DOCG and Asti DOCG wines as well as conducts research and development. Romano Dogliotti is the Consortium’s Chairman, and when it comes to safeguarding the integrity and prominence of these wines, there is no other person that is better suited.

As it seems that the news is constantly filled with everyone trying to fight for the largest piece of the pie, it is great to see that there are still those madmen whose focus vigilantly stays fixed on improving themselves instead of wasting time looking for what others possess that they lack. We need more of Romano’s spirit in the world – a spirit that not only never wavers on its extreme standards but also a spirit that spends each day believing that there is always a higher bar to set.


Wine Tasting Lunch at Caudrina on September 1st, 2017

 2016 Romano Dogliotti, La Caudrina, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco planted in 1979 – 35 acres (14 hectares). Low alcohol (5.5% abv) with 120-130 g/l residual sugar and semi-sparkling (frizzante) by the Asti method. Pristine stone fruit and white flowers with an overall finesse that is absolutely lovely.

 2016 Romano Dogliotti, La Galeisa, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco planted in 1970 – 9 acres (3.5 hectares). Low alcohol (5.5% abv) with 120-130 g/l residual sugar and semi-sparkling (frizzante) by the Asti method. Intense chalky minerality with sweet spice and a velvety texture that has a long finish.

2016 Romano Dogliotti, La Selvatica, Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco planted in 1975 – 6 acres (2.5 hectares). Low alcohol, 7% abv, yet slightly higher than above, and 80-90 g/l residual sugar, made in a fully sparkling way (spumante). Light and agile on the palate with wild flowers and a hint of brown sugar – so much fun!

2015 Romano Dogliotti, MEJ, Piemonte Chardonnay DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Chardonnay planted in 1980 – only 2.5 acres (1 hectare). Hedonistically tropical on the nose with elegant stone fruit on the palate and a touch of wet stones on the finish.

2016 Romano Dogliotti, Lunatics, Piedmont, Italy: A dry, white sparkling wine made from the local red grape variety Albarossa planted in 2004 – only 2.5 acres (1 hectare). Albarossa is one of the few successful crossings. In 1938, Giovanni Dalmasso thought he crossed Nebbiolo and Barbera, but in fact, crossed Barbera with Chatus (also known as Nebbiolo di Dronero). It is known for its small berries and thick skins that produce wine with delicately spicy and fruity aromas and a creamy texture. Typically it is used as a blending partner, yet a couple producers in Piedmont do make a 100% Albarossa red wine – but this was the first white sparkling wine I have every heard of… let alone taste. It had a gracefully alluring nose with a richly textured body.

2016 Romano Dogliotti, La Guerriera, Piemonte Barbera DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera planted in 1975 – only 2.5 acres (1 hectare). Another fun innovation with a slightly sparkling Barbera red wine that expressed violets and ripe cherries, ideal with the homemade veal tartare they served us at lunch.

2015 Romano Dogliotti, La Solista, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera planted in 1975 – 5 acres (2 hectares). Lots of energy and bright wild berry fruit was beautiful expressed in this Barbera without any maturation in oak.

 2013 Romano Dogliotti, Redento, Piemonte Moscato Passito DOC, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco planted in 1968 that have been dried to intensify the concentration and sweetness – 5 acres (2 hectares). An exquisitely lush and complex sweet wine made from the dried bunches of Moscato Bianco. This wine “Redento” is named after Romano Dogliotti’s father who wisely handed over their family wine business to Romano in 1997 – a fitting tribute.





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The Birthplace of Moscato d’Asti: Wandering the Underground “Cathedrals”

As we descended further and further into the cavernous dwellings, it felt as if we entered another universe, an underworld of serenity that majestically displayed an untold number of  bottles and barrels of wine. Further along, I felt the temperature drop – I started to put my light jacket on as I gazed up at the arches in the ceiling, formed by bricks. I wandered off from our tour here and there, and followed the glow of lights that led me to wondrously large format bottles that were comfortably evolving in this heavenly subterranean dwelling… all of the various tunnels beckoned me to discover the delightful libations aging at the end of each path. I was in the land of Canelli, a place were Moscato grapes have been grown since the 13th century, and explored the Coppo cellars that carry the prestigious subzone “Canelli” on their Moscato d’Asti DOCG wine.


Coppo winery has been around since 1892, and the Coppo family has remained sole owners since that time, making them one of the oldest family-run wineries in all of Italy. We were guided by the founder’s great-grandson, Luigi Coppo, who spoke with great reverence of the historical accomplishments of the previous generations. One of the many Coppo achievements is their “Underground Cathedrals”… cellars that have such distinct architectural allure that they have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Although we were there to delve into the special qualities of Moscato d’Asti from Canelli, in the area of Asti, Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy, we could not visit Coppo without tasting their famous Barbera d’Asti wines. Luigi’s father and three uncles run the winery and were truly visionaries when it came to taking the grape variety Barbera more seriously; they sought out single vineyards that expressed the different facets of the Asti area as well as employed modern vinification techniques that displayed the structure and intricacy of this famous Piemontese grape. Their work was ultimately expressed in their outstanding Barbera d’Asti Pomorosso, in 1984, which ushered in a new era of high quality Barbera production in the area.

Moscato d’Asti in Canelli

Because of the focus on their well-heralded Barbera d’Asti wines, it is easy to forget Coppo’s importance when it comes to shaping the Moscato d’Asti and Italian sparkling world. It was in Canelli in the 1800s when Coppo made the first Italian sparkling (spumante) wines that were made with secondary bottle fermentation. Although Moscato d’Asti is made in its own unique way that highlights its varietal characteristics, it illustrates Coppo’s long experience and devotion to finding the right sparkling techniques for different styles of wines. Their Moscato d’Asti semi-sparkling (frizzante) has that creamy texture that is ideally sought from a Canelli Moscato.

After walking through their extensive “Underground Cathedrals” – 16,400 square feet (5000 square meters), reaching a depth of 130 feet (40 meters) – we ended up emerging into their enchanting courtyard, greeted with a bottle of their Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti. It was the perfect drink to have after such a celestial experience. As I sat there thinking about Luigi’s role within his family winery, a family that already has four strong-minded men running it, I could not help but be impressed by his emotional intelligence. He had a way of making each person, no matter their personality, feel at home and valued. Despite the intense pressure he felt being the spokesperson for his family’s astounding wine legacy, he still kept things fun and playful. Like their Moscato d’Asti, Luigi is complex and has many layers, yet he never loses sight that the most important thing about wine is that it connects people from all over the world and creates experiences that we will never forget.


Tasting at Coppo on August 31st, 2017

2016 Coppo, “Moncalvina”, Moscato d’Asti DOCG, subzone Canelli, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Low alcohol (4.8% abv) with 136 g/l residual sugar and semi-sparkling (frizzante) by the Asti method. Peach jam with a touch of rose water and a lush body with a slight hint of white stones on the finish.

2016 Coppo, “L’Avvocata”, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera. This wine offers great value (around $13) and expresses Barbera in its fun and easy form as it only sees stainless steel vessels in the winery. It has a pretty cherry blossom nose with fresh strawberries and mouthwatering acidity on the finish.

2015 Coppo, “Camp du Rouss”, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera. For only a couple dollars more, this Camp du Rouss offers more complexity, with stricter grape selection and 12 months aging in French oak barrels. The bright red fruit is still evident, yet enhanced by cinnamon spice and tobacco leaf with more weight on the palate.

2014 Coppo, “Pomorosso”, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera. This label celebrates the 20th anniversary of the creation of this wine that was instrumental in changing the perception of Barbera. Extremely strict selection of grapes from one of their top vineyards, where an apple tree grows (hence the name), with 14 months aging in French oak barrels, although it is the profound sense of place that makes this wine stand apart from the rest. Sweet blackberry jam and floral notes are dominated by a fierce minerality that gives this wine an elegant drive.

 2000 Coppo, “Pomorosso”, Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Barbera. It was a nice treat to see a Pomorosso with a lot more age to exhibit its ability to improve with time. Truffle-y goodness was the first aroma to waft into my head, followed by cigar box and roasted nuts. It still had plenty of fruit, with more noted on the palate, and a vigorous finish.




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A Mosaic of Vineyards Make Up an Outstanding Wine Region

After many years of loving the wines of Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy, I recently had the opportunity to travel there to delve into the wines of Moscato d’Asti DOCG . But, of course, how can one visit a land that produces so many different outstanding wines and not touch upon the variety of wines in the area, and ultimately marvel at the multitude of outstanding libations this land yields? And so, we first started at Ceretto Winery talking about the Langhe, a particular area in Piedmont, where some of the great names such as Gaja, Prunotto, Giacosa, as well as Ceretto, bought vineyards to make their wines. It was interesting to hear how that came about from the always charismatic Federico Ceretto; how “the miserable land” became one of the top wine growing areas in the world.

Ceretto Winery

Ceretto is a third generation winery with Federico’s grandfather and great-uncle founding Ceretto Casa Vinicola in Alba, part of the Langhe area, in the 1930s. Back then, although the major cities like Turin in Italy were booming, the farming areas were economically hurting. Langhe people were placed in the difficult position of either giving up their land and everything they have known to move to Turin, or to continue to stay languishing in poverty… and so, for a time, it was known as “the miserable land” because no one could make a decent living there. Things started to change when the Ferrero family turned a small pastry store in Alba into a factory. They would go on to make the now world famous Ferrero Rocher chocolate and hazelnut delights in the golden wrapper, and the chocolate and hazelnut spread Nutella.

The Ferrero family told the people of Alba to stay in the Langhe and keep their land; they would provide shuttles, painted with the distinctive Nutella colored stripes, to bring them back and forth to their factory – eventually employing 9000 workers. The workers would work five days a week at Ferrero, work their hazelnut farm on the sixth day, on Saturday, and then they got to rest on Sunday. Ferrero helped the Langhe people keep their land, stay in their ancestral home and bring in two incomes. It also created an opportunity for families such as Ceretto to come in and buy vineyards, as a hazelnut farm can only be tended to once a week, but grapes meant for superior wine is a seven days a week job. The “miserable land” became a thriving one that would become one of the greatest places for food and wine on the planet.

Federico’s father and uncle, Bruno and Marcello, respectively, as the second generation, would take their winery to the next level. Inspired by Burgundy, they decided to select vineyards that were historically the best for different grape varieties. Albeit a marketing nightmare, they decided that staying true to the spirit of each vineyard by planting the best variety for each plot, with micro-terroir vinifications, was the ideal way to be one of the Langhe standard-bearers for fine wines. And today, we can thank Ceretto for introducing the elegant white grape Arneis to the US, with their Langhe Arneis DOC, as well as an ideal point of reference for La Morra Barolo with their Brunate vineyard.

Piazza Duomo

Ceretto’s idea of excellence doesn’t just encompass wine, it touches on food – growing vegetables and herbs, too. Their three star Michelin restaurant, Piazza Duomo, in Alba, has a unique experimental garden and greenhouse. The chef, Enrico Crippa, seeks out plants from around the world… one tasted like oysters, another like salt, and another like Camembert cheese. We were treated to a cooking class led by the sous chef of Piazza Duomo showing us how they use these herbs, as well other ingredients, to create dishes that show the best of the world while still keeping the soul of the Langhe. The sous chef said that his conversations with the chef were never about a list of ingredients for a dish, but rather, deep discussions about their childhood and those memories that have shaped them, and then they try to figure out which ingredients and methods do they need to employ to convey these deep thoughts to their patrons.

Vignaioli Santo Stefano

Our visit wound up at Vignaioli Santo Stefano, one of the original three villages of Moscato d’Asti in Santo Stefano Belbo in Asti. As a side note, it is way up in the hills and one has to drive along toe-curling twists and turns to reach the top… yet it was exciting to see the extreme farming that took place on such steep vineyards.

In 1976, Ceretto and the Scavino families helped to establish the I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano “The Winegrowers of Santo Stefano” to produce a Moscato d’Asti DOCG and Asti spumante DOCG that would have a strong sense of place and of spirit, supporting the farmers that grow some of the best Moscato Bianco in the world. Their unmistakably unique bottle with the high quality wine inside shows the wonderful symbiotic relationship between Ceretto and these growers. Also, Federico’s grandfather, the first generation of Ceretto Winery, came from the village of Santo Stefano Belbo, and so, it is only fitting that they would want to support the winery in that area as well as to show the world the Moscato Bianco of their ancestors.

This visit was a great lesson of how enterprising people can work with the land, have a worldwide vision for sales, and yet not force their workers to compromise their way of life. At one point, Federico Ceretto said that the Langhe people pride themselves on being very hard working – that they can do anything. They can grow hazelnuts, they can make world class wines, and if they are really crazy, “they do a three star Michelin restaurant”. It is all part of the mosaic of creativity that exists in Piedmont, and an important reminder that we can lift ourselves out of miserable times if we remind ourselves to respect the value and importance of those around us.


Tasting of Ceretto Moscato Wines at Vignaioli Santo Stefano on August 31st. 2017

2016 Vignaioli Santo Stefano (Ceretto), Moscato d’Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Low alcohol (5.5% abv) with 120-130 g/l residual sugar and semi-sparkling (frizzante) by the Asti method. Rich body with dried pineapple and peach cobbler flavors with a hint of dried herbs on the long and flavorful finish.

2016 Vignaioli Santo Stefano (Ceretto), Asti DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Moscato Bianco. Low alcohol, yet slightly higher than above, with 7% abv, and 80-90 g/l residual sugar, made in a fully sparkling way (spumante). Light perfume of purple flowers and fresh pears with fine bubbles that danced on my palate.


Tasting of Ceretto Barolo “Brunate Vineyard” Vertical at their Monsordo Bernardina Winery on August 31st, 2017

2011 Ceretto, “Brunate Vineyard”, La Morra, Barolo DOCG, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. This series of Brunate vineyards bottling from Barolo are perfect examples of Ceretto’s dedication to sense of place (terroir) by highlighting well-known crus within particular areas. My goodness was this a delicious wine! So young, with round tannins that would melt in ones mouth, ripe blackberry fruit, and lots of complexity with smoky earth and fresh leather. It is shocking how well this Barolo is drinking at such a youthful age. Ceretto handled this warmer vintage very well.

2012 Ceretto, Barolo DOCG, “Brunate Vineyard”, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. This was characterized as a difficult vintage and shows more muscular structure with intense earthy flavors. But I was just as big of a fan, perhaps even more, as I love the savory, rough side of Barolo. The chewy tannins allowed me to dig into this wine and I can’t wait to revisit this wine in 5 and again in 10 more years.

-2013 Ceretto, Barolo DOCG, “Brunate Vineyard”, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. It is said that the Brunate cru (top vineyard) is supposed to have an austere, intense quality that shows a deeper side of Nebbiolo – it’s interesting that the “difficult” vintage of 2012 illustrated this best, as if to say “we show our true character under the worst of times.”  This 2013 could not have more finesse or elegance with its pristine fruit, fleshy tannins and an elegant spice on the pretty finish. All of the vintages tasted showed so many faces of this highly regarded vineyard, and so perhaps, this plot is so multifaceted that it takes a vertical to truly appreciate all that it can offer.


Tasting at Ceretto Lunch on August 31st, 2017

-2016 Ceretto, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, “Rossana”, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Dolcetto. A lovely Dolcetto with a bright ruby color and stewed cherry flavors, with a hint of blueberry, all wrapped up in a generous, velvety body.

2015 Ceretto, Langhe DOC Rosso, “Monsordo Rosso”, Piedmont, Italy: Red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. An example of how Ceretto is the leader in combining innovation with tradition. A firmly structured wine that is balanced by lots of fleshy black currant fruit, white pepper and a hint of mint on the finish. A robust red wine that delivers grit with class, which resembles the gracefully strong Langhe people who helped make Piedmont a world class region.


Tasting of Ceretto Arneis at La Curia Restaurant on September 2nd, 2017

2016 Ceretto, Langhe Arneis DOC, “Blangé”, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Arneis. One of the best white wine buys from Italy, and shows the spirit of the Langhe people. This is the wine that introduced Arneis to the US. Exotic perfume of green mango and Vietnamese coriander with a soft acidity that is balanced by finishing notes of citrus.

Tasting of Ceretto 2006 Barolo at Consorzio dell’Asti Greetings Dinner on August 30th, 2017

2006 Ceretto, Barolo DOCG, “Brunate Vineyard”, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. Okay, I don’t need to tell the Barolo lovers how much of a real treat this was! The texture was sublime… that’s right, I used the word SUBLIME!!! It was nimble yet fine with well-integrated tannins that broaden on the finish with dried violets and licorice. It had a mouthfeel that only comes from older Barolo from superior vineyards of a great year, even though this wine is just starting to open and I expect it to keep evolving for 15 more years.







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All We Need Is A Little Hope

Bordeaux City at Night PHOTO CREDIT: Christophe-Bouthe

Our first encounters with wine can shape how we see the wine world, even after a couple of decades of avid wine tasting and learning. We cannot help but have those old assumptions sit on our shoulder and whisper in our ear. Some wines can never get past the preconceived prejudice of being too low in quality… and some… such as Bordeaux… are assumed to be too expensive – too elite – just too damn exclusive. The top Bordeaux wines with their soaring, astronomical pricing and domination of the wine news as being some of the most costly libations in the world (while only accounting for a meager percentage of Bordeaux’s total wine production) actually have hindered the multitude of small, hardworking producers in the region – the backbone of Bordeaux wine in many ways.


Bordeaux, as well as many French wine regions, had been the leaders of the world when it came to wines to emulate. Then many of the “new world” wine regions started to find their own style and research, and France, especially Bordeaux, started to open themselves to evolving by learning from those same new world regions that first looked up to them. A great symbiotic relationship started to form between, for example, California and the top Bordeaux producers. In 2010, I heard Paul Draper, retired CEO & Winemaker of the famous Ridge winery in California, and Paul Pontallier, former Managing Director of legendary Château Margaux in Bordeaux (who sadly passed away too young last year), get into a lively discussion about how each wine region has been extremely influential to the other. Draper said he always dreamt of making wines that lived up to Bordeaux and Pontallier reciprocated by saying that he was constantly aiming to be on par with iconic California wines such as the ones Draper had produced for years.

But the hesitation for Americans to purchase less-known Bordeaux does not come from the concern that these wines will lack in quality, it is the out right fear of the cost, as well as the notion that we, as wine drinkers, may not be sophisticated or worldly enough to enjoy these wines. Well, the reality could not be further from the truth. In my early years in the East Village in New York City, I was fortunate to be given my daily lessons of the reality of people from various countries around the world. Many Europeans, on a shoestring budget like myself, would show me around hole in the wall Mom-and-Pop wine stores… they would point out the value wines from various European countries and, surprisingly, they were able to find a couple from Bordeaux. Unfortunately, many of the small Bordeaux producers had issues exporting their wines, so I never got to try many of the lovely Bordeaux wines that were very affordable that my friends often talked about as they reminisced about their previous life in Europe.

Château de Fontenille

Now, fast forward 20 years later – I am sitting in a Manhattan restaurant with Stéphane Defraine, owner and winemaker of Château de Fontenille in Bordeaux. Stéphane owned his own winery, Château de Fontenille since 1989, and he previously had worked for other Châteaux in Bordeaux for many years. He had a huge smile – beaming with excitement – during our entire lunch as we tasted his wines and discussed his winery. I was so taken aback by his enthusiasm, especially since he had been in the business for so long. Then when I mentioned that I was so happy to see Bordelaise wines with so much spirit and beauty at such an accessible price, around $15, coming into the US, he said that yes, he was just as thrilled if not more… many like himself who decided to have their own winery could never even be considered for the US export market. There were Bordeaux négociants, aka merchants, who would only consider the top Châteaux for export, and at one time, if the merchants didn’t want to deal with a producer then that producer had no chance.

But he said that nowadays a producer can find an importer directly, and with social media get their name out there. Eventually, it came out that this was his first trip to New York City; he didn’t want it to be known, but I thought it just made everything about him that much more refreshing. I could see a spark in his eye because he had hope that there was a chance… for him… for all the little guys… and at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all just ask for… a little hope?


Tasting Notes of Château de Fontenille Wines Tasted on August 7th, 2017

2016 Château de Fontenille, Entre-Deux-Mers, White Bordeaux: This impressive $13 White Bordeaux really made my day! A blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Gris, 20% Muscadelle, and 20% Semillon really stands out from many of the other Sauvignon Blanc wines… juicy white peach, good body on the mid-palate with hints of spicy, floral and chalky notes.

2016 Château de Fontenille, Bordeaux Rosé: A textural, mineral driven rosé from Bordeaux made from a blend of 70% Cabernet Franc, 20% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with a fun, tactile impression on the palate and hints of raspberry fruit and lemon blossom…. and for only $14.

2014 Château de Fontenille, Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux, Red Bordeaux: Some of you Bordeaux wine lovers may know Cadillac as a tiny sweet wine producing area close to Sauternes, that makes wines that are relatively lighter and not as expensive as its more famous neighbor. But Cadillac Côtes de Bordeaux encompasses a larger area, still relatively small compared to the entirety of Bordeaux as a region, and produces supple reds with pretty fruit for everyday drinking. This Château de Fontenille is a nice example of a $14 medium-bodied, approachable red Bordeaux with red cherries and only a subtle hint of toast that had plenty of body and texture to hold up to the fried chicken spicy sandwich I had during lunch.

*PHOTO CREDIT of top photo (Bordeaux City at Night): Christophe-Bouthe on



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Seizing the Opportunity to Live a Life with Passion

The chatter on the bus came to a screeching halt as we were enveloped by astonishing views in Catalonia, Spain… we had entered a very special designated-wine Catalan wine area… some of you may be thinking that I am talking about Priorat… yes, I visited Priorat during this same trip, and of course, it lived up to its hype as a fine wine region, and I will openly admit that during the whole trip I was thinking when are we going to get to Priorat…. but no, right now, I am talking about entering Terra Alta territory. If you have never heard of it, well, you are not alone, and those who have previously delved into some serious Spanish wine books may had been misled that this area lacks quality wine – far from it, as Ramon Roqueta Segalés, manager and family owner of Lafou Celler, showed us the heart-stopping landscape of his beloved Terra Alta and tasted us on his gracefully expressive wines, it became profoundly confusing to me as to why they were not known as a super star wine region.

Lafou Celler

We first arrived at a little village called Batea, in Terra Alta.  It has only a few buildings, with a couple of streets – actually our lunch came from the only restaurant in town, which looked like a truck stop, yet their food tasted like we were in paradise. The Lafou Celler winery and tasting room, a formerly abandoned 16th-century house, was a grand structure that made me feel as if I had somehow been transported back in time… the only thing that grounded me in reality was that the Roqueta family has renovated it with all the goodies of a first-rate producer, with the latest temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, cement “eggs”, and top quality control procedures from transportation of the grapes to the final libation of the liquid expression of their glorious place. One of the issues in this area has been the lack of modernization of cellars due to little or no investment, and so the wines have had a reputation for being rustic.

Terra Alta

As Ramon was driving us around, it was obvious that Terra Alta had many special aspects to it. We saw the “panal” soil – chalk and sand topsoil over entrenched, clay-limestone with limestone bedrock. The low-nutrient panal soil has an enormous capacity for storing water, which comes in handy during the warm, dry summers. Terra Alta has the highest altitude in the Catalonia region, with mountains reaching 3117 feet (950 meters) which makes sense once I realized that Terra Alta means “high land” in Catalan. This region is so picturesque that famous artist Pablo Picasso spent many summers here – I had no idea!

The other Terra Alta wine producer we visited, Herència Altés, further illustrated the point of the insane beauty of the area. It made my heart ache seeing this property as these types of views should have been experienced with my husband and not on a work wine trip. We walked around this magnificent land drinking a fun “Experimental” White Garnatxa (aka Garnacha/Grenache) skin contact, oxidative wine. This wine may seem like a style for a younger generation of cool, urban wine drinkers but Terra Alta was once  known for its white wines, especially the oxidative  whites called amber blanc. As we walked along the Herència Altés vineyards with owner Rafael De Haan, sipping this multi-textural, complex white, it was remarkable to see so much untouched beauty… Why were there not more people visiting? Why were there not more people drinking these wines?

Herència Altés

Unfortunately, in the late 1800s, the pest phylloxera, devastated this area and ever since then it has been overshadowed by its neighbor, Priorat. Rafael’s wife, Núria Altés, came from a poor local Terra Alta family who were wine grape growers. Núria’s grandparents, if alive today, would be awestricken to see the massive project that she and her husband have undertaken, since their life was one where they often didn’t know if they would have enough to eat… and now, their granddaughter has a massive, state-of-the-art winery with the capacity to create its own electricity (since they are off the grid), brought in one of the top wine consultants, Claude Gros, to make wines that can go toe to toe with any other premium wine region in the world, and is gearing to become certified organic in 2018 – doable since Terra Alta has the assistance of intense winds which create a low-disease pressure environment, as well as helping them generate their own electricity with windmills.

As a semi-outsider, Rafael De Haan, born in England to a British father and Spanish mother, sees the potential of the wines and land of Terra Alta as many of the younger locals have decided that the only decent option for a better life would be to move to an area with more opportunities. But Rafael sees the opportunities in Terra Alta… he envisioned it as a glamping (glamorous camping) wonderland, spas and trails for tourists, and of course, the potential for great wines. He talked about how Terra Alta was a special place where, in the local town of Batea, the older people would still siesta in the middle of the day and dance until the wee hours of the night… it was typical for his children to not come home until 1AM from a summer night of dancing with their elders.

Now or Never

When I think of that car ride with Ramon when we visited his Lafou Celler winery, I was surprised to learn that he had lived a decent amount of his life in a bigger city, traveled the world, already had success with other businesses, and then he decided to come back a few years ago to the land of his ancestry – 32 generations of winemakers in his blood – most of them struggling at this profession. Why would he come back? He pointed to the unique Garnacha Peluda, aka “hairy” Garnacha, a special clone of Grenache local to Terra Alta, with its higher acidity and extraction, that was being grown in tiny bush vines that would give minuscule yields; he said that he believes that there is a small window of opportunity to save these rare quality vines… the world is starting to crave more honest wines that express special qualities of various places… hence another reason why he is experimenting with a 100% Morenillo wine – only around 15 acres (6 hectares) of this local variety currently exist in Terra Alta.

Then he pointed to the olive trees and said that there is a risk that Terra Alta will one day only make olive oil if they do not seize the opportunity to save what is left of their superior vineyards. “It is now or never”, Ramon said with fierce determination. And I realized in that moment that Ramon was faced with a realization that so many of us face when we hit a certain age… for so long we feel we have to change ourselves to be accepted by the larger world… but then one day we realize that we have denied what was extraordinary about ourselves for fear of rejection.

A life lived in fear is not much of a life… but someone who has the courage of conviction of his/her passion will be guaranteed an inner fire that will burn brighter than any success that can be witnessed by the superficial eye.


Terra Alta Wines Tasted on April 27th, 2017

Side note: White Garnacha will be specified for the white wines since it is not as common to taste a wine from this variety but Garnacha Tinta, dark skinned version for red wines, will be referred to as simply Garnacha due to its more prevalent availability in the market.

Lafou Celler

-2015 Els Amelers: 100% White Garnacha. White Garnacha (Garnacha Blanca) was born in Terra Alta as a mutation of Garnacha. Intense chalky minerality that is not typically common among other White Garnacha wines I have tasted, with lots of peachy flavors on the weighty body… it has a lovely saline finish.

-2016 Els Amelers: 100% White Garnacha. I found this vintage to be completely different than the ’15, with dried herbs, grilled asparagus, citrus pith… more linear and energetic on the body.

-2014 El Sender: 60% Garnacha, 30% Syrah and 10% Morenillo. A lovely perfume of dried flowers with sweet mulberry jam flavors that are balanced by a marked acidity which gives this a lift on the sustained length.

-2015 El Sender: Not sure of the blend but guessing it is similar to the 2014. This vintage is earthier and brooding with dark fruit and savory notes.

-2013 De Batea: 85% Garnacha and 15% Cariñena. Only 3,500 bottles made. A complex wine that needs more time in bottle, with the punch of primary fruit – black cherry evident although it was still incredibly enjoyable, with olive, fresh coffee grounds and a wafting hint of wood smoke that I could have smelled all day. It is still primal in some ways but it delivers lots of layers and so I would be excited to revisit it in a couple more years.

-2014 De Batea: Again, not sure of the blend, but guessing it is similar to the 2013 as well as quantity of bottles produced. The 2014 was significantly tighter with a fierce focus of acidity and tannin with hints of gingerbread spice, singed rosemary and blackcurrant… this wine needs a lot more time but the very long finish and fine quality of the tannins suggest that one will be rewarded for their patience.

 Herència Altés

-2016 Experimental Garnatxa Blanca: 100% White Garnacha. A skin contact, oxidative white wine with the aroma of blanched almonds and butterscotch and a lush body that had grip and nerve. Mysterious yet approachable… an experiment as stated by the name but I hope they decide to keep it and ship it to the US!

2015 Benufet: 90% White Garnacha and 10% Viognier. Benufet is one of the vineyards that belong to Núria’s parents. Right from the first taste I got this saline quality with a flinty minerality… there is something really special about the high quality White Garnacha wines in Terra Alta that have such elegance and backbone of a salty, mineral edge that I have not experienced with this variety in other places. Terra Alta is the home of White Garnacha, aka Garnacha Blanca, and the clones (aka biotypes) that are grown in other areas are different, they must of mutated with their different environment, which would explain why the wines in Terra Alta are so distinctive.

-2015 La Serra Blanc: 100% White Garnacha. Smoky minerality with green figs and a saline finish. Again, that intense saline mineral note as found in the other premium White Garnacha wines is here, but still, this wine brought those exhilarating aromas to the next level with white lilies and fennel fronds. Fermented in 1,500-liter oak foudres and then aged for a further ten months… the oak is in the background and would not be noticeable if it wasn’t pointed out, nevertheless, it gives a lovely structure to this wine.

2015 L’Estel: 60% Garnacha, 20% Syrah and 20% Samsó (Cariñena). Lush with sweet black fruit and a slight impression of cumin and blackcurrant leaf, finishing with sweet spice.

2015 La Peluda: 100% Garnacha Peluda. Wild brambly fruit with mouth watering acidity… a Garnacha of a different animal… jumps out of the glass with an aromatically sassy character.

2015 La Serra Negre: 80% Samsó (Cariñena) and 20% Garnacha. Herència Altés did not make a 2014 of this wine because they were not happy with the Samsó (Cariñena). For those who think Samsó (Cariñena) shouldn’t dominate a blend in a wine intended to be high quality, they should try this La Serra Negre. Well-judged oak on this wine with ripe, pristine, red and black fruit that gave underbrush undertones with a touch a truffle and a nice amount of grip on the tannins that allowed me to really chew on all its multi-layered deliciousness.

2015 Lo Grau de L’Inquisidor: 90% Syrah and 10% Garnacha. Only 2075 bottles made. Before tasting this wine, I would have questioned why anyone would make a fine wine in Spain made largely from Syrah when there are so many other great local varieties they can focus on… well, this wine WOWed all the wine professionals tasting that day. A mixture of freshly cracked black pepper and lilacs, with opulent, fragrant black fruit, suave tannins and an overall polished quality with a sense that there is a ferocious animal trying to get out.



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Finding Our Value by Realizing We are Never Alone

I remember sitting in one of my first few yoga classes, a young lady of 22 years old, and getting ready for a spiritual (or inspirational for those who are not feeling the word spiritual or its kind) talk, and getting ready to “testify”. Okay, so you are now asking, what do I mean by the word testify? Especially being an atheist this may seem odd, but to testify is to exclaim in such a way that it lets the person giving the inspirational talk know that you passionately agree with what they are saying. So I shout out things like “Yes!”, or “Thank you!”… Now, I am from New Orleans and so such exclamations were common growing up… lucky enough, New York City embraces such fervent displays of approval… But during this one yoga talk, there was something that was addressed that I did not care for… did not care for one bit. The topic was based on the Sanskrit word vaśīkāra:  the state of dispassion, in which an aspirant is no longer interested in even the charms of heaven and is no longer afraid of hell. Or in more real world terms, one should not dwell within criticism or praise, within horrific times or great times, feeling bad or great about oneself. One should always try to bring themselves back to a balanced, contented state.

As a young lady sitting there with very low self-confidence, trying to deal with some anger and pain, I all of the sudden said out loud, “Why wouldn’t we want to allow ourselves to feel praise, to feel that we have value, to feel an overwhelming warmth of happiness?” Well, I think I was taking this lesson too literally, especially for someone who was living in the world as opposed to living a monastic life which is necessary to be in constant vaśīkāra.

Grounding Ourselves in What is Constant

At that young of an age, my main goal was just to find a way to let go of those negative feelings that were weighing me down, to find a way to live a life of joy and happiness, to get away from my constant focus of trying to prove my worth… and in my mind, the way to do that was by achieving as much as I could, thereby gaining respect and approval from others…. then my existence would mean something; there would be a purpose for my life. And so I shrugged off this teaching thinking that I was not going to think about anything that made me uncomfortable or was not part of making me feel good about myself.

Well, quickly enough, through time, my plan to only take in what made me feel good was not working out for me. I know all of you are shocked! I felt that I was going into a deep hole because my sense of self was dependent on endorsements from others. And so my journey was constantly rocky, uneven, and fraught with highs and lows.

And then, one day, when I had gone as low in my esteem as I could go, I thought about that teaching… about vaśīkāra and that it was not so much based on not feeling anything and being devoid of exuberance when there is fanfare around you, or it was about not dealing with sadness or anger when you have felt cheated or hurt.  You allow yourself to surrender to those feelings but then you should quickly force yourself back to your daily rituals of life – cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, or giving back to one’s “family” and community, realizing that my worth should be associated with how I make the world a better place in tiny ways.

Victor Schoenfeld

I was really excited to sit down for a press lunch with Victor Schoenfeld a couple months ago. Victor is the head winemaker at Golan Heights Winery and is credited with starting the wine quality revolution in Israel. Earlier this year, I had been on a wine press trip in Israel and visited Golan Heights Winery, but at that time, he was out of the country with the important responsibility of promoting and educating people about his wines as well as about the Golan Heights sub-region of the Galilee region of Israel. I was disappointed to miss him and so I was thrilled to be given an opportunity to pick his brain during this lunch in New York City.

Victor is a warm and instantly likeable sort of person. He is at ease in his own skin and obviously likes talking to people and connecting. Some of us remarked that although he is a living legend in shaping the Israel wine world, he was very humble. He then noted that he ended up in this position, starting in 1992 as head winemaker, because of luck. Born and raised in California, going to one of the top schools for winemakers – UC Davis – coming to Israel at a young age and being inspired to become a farmer – farming food for people to eat (Israel has many communities that share the cost of farming, and in some communities they share the profits). Through time and the influence of being a young man at one of the top enology schools in the world, he changed his focus to becoming a farmer of wine grapes. He said timing and working for a producer that was happy to invest in resources and research, such as Golan Heights Winery, were key to his success.

Getting Beaten Down

Also, he said that it is easy to keep humble because every farmer gets beaten down by Mother Nature. Although Golan Heights Winery is in a highly regarded wine area in Israel with cooler temperatures at night (and sometimes during the day as I experienced 32F (0C) during my trip in January), higher altitudes, as well as having humidity which is important for vines not to transpire too fast (aka sweating water vapor) and so less likely to shut down, Mother Nature will still slap him and others who devote themselves to the land a harsh reality of what they can control and their overall importance when it comes to the bigger picture.

What is Our Value?

Personally, I think it was more than luck that has built Victor’s reputation, but what makes him even more approachable is that he realizes that no matter how many awards and titles he receives, he will still need to go out and face those vineyards everyday and they will not always deliver what he expects, no matter how much of his blood, sweat and tears he gives them. But he recognizes that his faith is not any worse or fairer than anyone else’s and everyone has their peaks and valleys…. so no feeling sorry for oneself, let alone better than anyone else… and in that way, he is never alone.

When I think back to that yoga lesson, I realize it is fine to shout out to the world, “Yes, I did this! Isn’t this awesome?” but it must be tempered by the realization that we were perhaps given a little bit more luck than others in that moment and we should ground ourselves in the idea that we are just part of contributing to something that is greater than ourselves – some call it God, or the universe; I’m more comfortable calling it my local, and even broader, global community. Because if we get attached to being too much about only oneself – my title, my award, my glory – then we imprison ourselves to live a very lonely life, a life where we face all our ups and downs alone. But if we immediately bring ourselves back to what it means to truly have value – to better other lives around us – then we will never be alone, …and when we fall from that high place of glory, as people do several times in their lives, our fall will not be that big, or make that much of a personal impact because we knew the whole entire time that we were already a worthy being who deserves love freely because we give it freely.


Golan Heights Winery Tasting on June 22nd, 2017

My visit to the Golan Heights with Mount Hermon in the background and a wild horse enjoying the open land.

All Golan Heights Winery wines are kosher although I hesitate to even mention it because some interpret this as having a negative effect on quality or meaning it is intended for only religious Jewish people. Please note that it means neither of the aforementioned concerns as it does not alter quality, and the wines are for everyone – actually they sell quite well in Japan. Being kosher only indicates that the wines were made in a safe environment for those who follow kosher law. I hope these wines will be shown a little more love with proper placements on wine store shelves and in online wine stores as being quality wines, not just lumped into the kosher section.

The Golan Heights is in northern Israel, a sub-region of Galilee, and has very different geographical aspects than the regions surrounding it. It is a volcanic plateau with basalt and tuff soil, rising to 3937 feet (1200 meters) above sea level. The area benefits from moderating influences such as the snow covered Mount Hermon, which I saw with my own eyes during my trip there. Also, a fun side note, there are wild horses that gallop freely in the Golan Heights.

Yarden series of wines: Each year, the finest grapes from the best vineyards are reserved for Yarden wines.

-2009 Yarden Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Brut: 100% Chardonnay. A traditional sparkling Blanc de Blancs with toasty notes, zingy green apple and lime blossom flavors.

2011 Yarden Rosé Sparkling Brut: 72% Chardonnay and 28% Pinot Noir. A traditional sparkling rosé with delicate, fresh strawberry notes, surprisingly intense minerality and hint of spice.

2016 Yarden Gewürztraminer: Majority Gewürztraminer. This is a delicious, rich white wine with ripe mango, lychee syrup and a lift of rose water flavor on the finish. This would be perfect with Middle Eastern food… which is fitting because it was made in the Middle East!

2016 Gilgal Rosé: 100% Syrah. This rosé made from Syrah grown on volcanic soil in the cooler Golan Heights, is a must for any rosé lover who wants to try something different. I really got this smoky, crumbly earth character on it, with black fruit dominating and a noticeable structure that would make this a great rosé to pair with food. (The Gilgal Series of wines offer great value yet still take pride in expressing the ancient soils of the Golan Heights by noting the Gilgal Refaim – an arrangement of 42,000 stones that date back to prebiblical times – on the label.)

-2014 Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay: This wine proves that you can be big with finesse… the oak was so well integrated that no one at the table could guess that it was made with 100% new French oak. Victor just smiled at our surprise and said that he tasted many MWs, MSs, wine experts, etc. on this wine and no one had ever suspected. It all comes down to the quality of the oak and selecting his best Chardonnay grapes. This wine is complex, yet balanced by vigor and brightness. Nutty aromas, baked apples and a full body with tannic structure supporting its weight makes this wine a pleasure in every way.  It was open at this stage but could continue to improve for at least four more years.

2013 Yarden Malbec: Malbec from the single vineyard Yonatan Springs at 700 meters (2,300 feet). The nose was exciting with violets and dried tobacco notes; the body was elegant with fine tannins and fresh blue fruit.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon: This is Golan Heights Winery’s flagship wine – it offers so much for only 35 bucks! Blackcurrant leaf, sage and basaltic soil with big, manicured tannins that give muscle to the body of this wine.

My visit to the Bar’on Vineyard


-2013 Yarden Bar’on Vineyard: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Syrah and 11% Petit Verdot. The 2013 Yarden Bar’on Vineyard is the first ever release of a single vineyard blended wine from this vineyard. Opaque color with fresh notes of mint, gravelly earth and graphite with majestic laced shaped structure. Only 20 barrels made.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Bar’on Vineyard: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the single vineyard of Bar’on – blended wine previously tasted. Love the precision on this wine – lots of energy – and tons of structure with fine tannins – crushed rocks and wild flowers – pure and expressive with strong sense of place. Only 30 barrels made.





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Keeping Core Values While Staying Open to the World

There I was, having lunch in Tribeca, New York, with a woman talking about the cultural diversity of the place she comes from… Roman, Arabian, Spanish, Greek, and so on.  We connected over our mutual love of traveling, connecting with people around the world… she recounted a trip to Cuba with her family – she said it was wonderful for her to see her young son run around Havana and at one point exclaim, “Mama I love Cuba”. For a moment, I thought that perhaps I was talking to someone else from a big, metropolitan city the size of New York City… but no, it was someone from an Italian Mediterranean island, Sardinia. An island that has the largest population of people over 100 years old, where people know that food and wine should be savored slowly, teaches its young to take care of its old, and has charmingly interwoven the cultural influences from various invaders, over several centuries, that came from far and wide.


Photo Credit: @argiolaswinery on Instagram

I actually knew about Argiolas before I knew much about Sardinia itself – it was introduced to me around ten years ago by another wine nerd. Their wines have all the polished markings of modernized winemaking, yet the aromas, flavors and textures of their wines were like no other I had experienced. When I worked in wine retail, it became the producer that I would recommend for those who wanted something different yet well-made, and every time I would get rave reviews for recommending such an unknown gem.


Sardinia is an Italian island in the Mediterranean, the second largest after Sicily, and like another Italian region, Campania, it has a large wealth of indigenous grape varieties on which they place their focus. They have not caved into the pressure to plant significant amounts of international varieties. Actually, in 2012, during the Fourth National Congress on Viticulture, held in Asti, Italy, it was noted that there were 250 different grape varieties living on Sardinia, although only 24 were listed in the National Registry. One grape, called Cannonau, or known in Spain as Garnacha, or in France as Grenache, was mentioned by Bernardino Conti in 1549 as existing on Sardinia as Canonat, and so, some Italian experts say that the grape originated on Sardinian soil and not on the soil of Spain as many others believe. Of course this is completely disputed by Spanish experts with solid evidence backing up their claims as well. And so, the origin may never be known but Cannonau has certainly been present on Sardinia long enough, showing its own characteristics, that it is uniquely Sardinian.

Photo Credit: @argiolaswinery on Instagram

What is also widely known about Sardinia is that it has one of the largest populations of centenarians, people who live to or past the age of 100, as noted above. There have been many studies as to why people live so long, but I was excited to ask Valentina Argiolas why she thought her famous grandfather, Antonio Argiolas, the father of Sardinian modern winemaking, lived to the ripe age of 102.

Valentina Argiolas

Valentina and myself

When I first met Valentina for lunch in downtown Manhattan, I was immediately taken with her golden Mediterranean glow. I was able to learn so much about her family’s wines, wines that I had admired for so long, as well as getting a taste of what it might be like to be a Sardinian – especially the granddaughter of Antonio Argiolas. She was bright, worldly and grounded in her beliefs while also surrendering to the moment to take in a wonderful experience. She talked about the long life of her grandfather, how he lived a good life filled with exercise and conviviality until his last breath. She noted that he had a daily glass of Sardinian red wine and a whole fish for dinner… but I have known many people who kept an excellent diet, combined with moderate wine consumption and did not live such a high quality life for so long. To me, there had to be more…

Then she talked about her love for travel… how she and her husband travel everywhere with their small children, saying that it was not a big deal as her kids actually love it. And when I heard her story of visiting Cuba and her connection with the people, her remembering with a smile her children running on the streets of Havana, that although she is a sharp woman who knew how to help take care of her family’s business, she was also a woman who knew how to place business and stress to the side to live those precious moments that fill us with the magical dreams that all of us need to get through those less-than-magical times.

Enrich Yourself with Biodiversity while Keeping Core Values

I find it interesting how people see biodiversity… especially that which we find to be difficult to integrate. I spent all of my young adult life in a poor, artsy New York City neighborhood filled with people of various cultures, religions, and races that were happy to give their last dollar to someone else who needed it… and so, that is the most natural biodiversity to me. But I must admit, that since, most of the time, I was around artists who were proud of being unknown and poor, I didn’t really have any idea about the competitive ruthlessness of the world until I was in my 30s. I was an open vessel giving all without any consideration that I could have been used or taken advantage of. Through time, I have learned to be more careful, even though it is still hard to fight the impulse to want to open my heart to everyone in my path. I realized that I can’t live in my little bubble if I wanted to grow professionally and personally. But I never wanted to lose those core values of generosity, openness, and simply, pure surrender to moments that are rejuvenating to believing in humanity again. And so, I deeply admire how Valentina is able to live in the moment, appreciating the connections with people around the world without any noticeable fear or doubt while being very aware of the many realities of the world.

Maybe that is Sardinians’ secret to a long and, most importantly, good life. That no matter how many times they had been invaded, or they themselves travel beyond their captivating island, they know how to integrate the things that enrich the heart and spirit and avoid those things that tarnish their soul.


Tasting of Argiolas, Sardinian wines, on June 13th, 2017

It is worth noting that Argiolas has carried out an ambitious project for the selection and conservation of native Sardinian grape varieties. They work with 11 local varieties (Vermentino, Cannonau, Monica, Bovale Sardo, Malvasia, Carignano, Nuragus, Nebbiolo, Moscato, Caricagiola and Nasco) and have researched 5000 different clones (or biotypes) for each variety to find the healthiest and highest quality vines. Their collection vineyard has around 5000 plants total, from 499 selected mother vines to help propagate the best replanting.

2016 Argiolas, Is Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna DOC: 100% Vermentino from the oldest vineyards of Argiolas. Vermentino is another variety that has enjoyed a long history in Sardinia, but like Cannonau, the origin of Vermentino is still a mystery. This variety does best on poorly fertile soils and it has a good tolerance for the salty Mediterranean winds. This Sardinian Vermentino really shows a sensational saline minerality that no other Vermentino winemaking area can replicate, with lemon zest and marked acidity while maintaining good flesh on the body. Its salty, stony finishing note is really out of this world.

2016 Argiolas, Serra Lori, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT: Dry rosato (rosé) blended from Cannonau, Monica, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo, four red grape varietals that typify Sardinian viticulture. What a fun, juicy, vibrant rosato, aka rosé, wine. I still got that hint of salinity, with wild strawberries and white pepper. Have you ever had strawberries with pepper on them? It may sound odd but when you have it you will ask, “where has this combination been all my life?!?” Also, the back label said to pair with pasta with sea urchin roe…. oh my God… yes, yes! And the idea that it is only $14 makes it my new summer wine of choice.

2013 Argiolas, Perdera, Monica di Sardegna DOC: Perdera is 90% Monica, 5% Carignano, and 5% Bovale Sardo. There are many vines on Sardinia that are supposedly incorrectly labeled as Monica, but Perdera from Argiolas is one of the wines that a wine lover can drink to know what real Monica tastes like… this 2013 was light and nimble with floral and sweet spices on the nose that evolved into an extra sweet tobacco note as I went back to my glass at the end of lunch. A perfect light red for those who want a bit more complexity than your average everyday wine… and at $13, it could very well be an everyday drinking wine.

2012 Argiolas, Turriga, Isola dei Nuraghi IGT: 85% Cannonau, 5% Carignano, 5% Bovale Sardo and 5% Malvasia Nera. Turriga is what placed Agriolas on the map of many fine wine drinkers. It is their benchmark wine for excellence and how that excellence can be achieved by only using indigenous, local varieties. This gorgeous wine had luxurious dark fruit that invites you in with exciting tension and precision that had never ending layers of intricacy… mocha, crushed rocks, balsam herb and espresso… it was loving and nurturing but there was always a feeling that you will never completely figure out this intricate wine. It is like the statue of the “Mediterranean Mother”, “Venus”, or “Turriga” that graces this label (an archaeological piece found by Valentina’s grandfather in 1935, possibly dating back to 400BC)  – open to nurturing the world yet she does not compromise her core characteristics or lose her individuality. This wine is a great example that a life filled with excellence does not have to come at the expense of what is native within us; in other words – they trusted that their top selection of native varieties could make a wine that rivaled the great wines of the world without the addition of international grapes. It was an honor to taste it.


***** Top Photo Credit: @argiolaswinery on Instagram

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