Be Careful Trusting the American Palate When It Comes to American Wines

In Alphabet City in the East Village

My earliest memories of drinking wine are filled with gritty pictures of downtown New York City, in the early to mid-1990s; cheap European libations being consumed over long, in-depth conversations revealing the deepest parts of our youthful souls and venting frustrations about being outcasts in our forsaken homes. At the time, among the artsy, international group, wine from Europe was the only option considered to be a safe buy, to avoid judgment from the other creative intellectuals. Years later, I found the majority of my NYC wine trade experience to revolve around a Eurocentric portfolio of wines, and it only a few years ago, perhaps 4 or 5 to be more precise, that I realized the true wealth of varieties and shear elegance and beauty of California wines when a couple of trendy wine buyers from London educated me about my ignorance of my own country.

Napa Valley

It was only fitting that British wine experts would open my eyes to all that I was not appreciating about my home country with regards to wine. Many of you may know of the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris that was arranged by Steven Spurrier, a British well known great taster, wine expert and former wine merchant in Paris, that unintentionally placed Napa Valley on the international map as a great wine making area.  He pitted Napa Wines against some of the greatest French wines in a blind tasting to be judged by eleven judges – nine of them being French wine savvy individuals in the trade, media or education. Two Napa Valley wines won for best red and white… it was the first time that articles written in respectable journals and newspapers considered another country in the same breath as France when it came to quality wine. It was not so much about who was better, but more of a hopeful sign to the US, and especially Napa, that we could hold our heads high with the progress that we had been making in the wine world.

Before that time, wine producers in Napa could not get banks to give them loans, so making quality wine did not have a bright future and really was only taken on by those hopeless dreamers that many thought would eventually end up bankrupt. What would have happened if the Judgment of Paris never happened, or if news of it didn’t leak out to major publications?? We are a country that is a hodgepodge of cultures from around the world, and the fact is that the majority of Americans’ ancestors that arrived during the height of immigration around the turn of the 20th century did not have an impressive pedigree. Often, they were people who were desperate, willing to take a gamble on their lives because the alternative was bleak and dismal… we were not considered a sophisticated, worldly nation that could appreciate premium wine, let alone make it.

Problem with Taking Away One Aspect that makes American Wines Special

Mustard Flowers in Carneros, Napa Valley

For some reason, we are now doing the one thing that our ancestors were trying to escape: placing ourselves in a box. Many of us think that Napa Valley is only ideal for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines because those are the wines that won the Judgment of Paris, that were validated by 10 non-Americans wine experts. Even further is our misconception that all Napa Cabernets and Chardonnay are big, ripe and lush… not that there is anything wrong with that style, but it certainly doesn’t represent all the possibilities of the complex topography of Napa Valley.

White Wines

The Symposium of Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley

Back in February, I attended The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley. I knew I would be drinking lots of great, varied Cabernet Sauvignon (earthy to fruity), as well as delicious Pinot Noir from Carneros, and Chardonnay ranging the gamut from rich and buttery to lean and zesty with a mineral edge… but I didn’t realize I would be the most excited to drink tons of Napa Sauvignon Blanc and other whites such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Grüner Veltliner and artisanal sparkling. The hosts were generous with the wine selection they constantly offered us during our stay, and although I could have drunk whatever I wanted, it was the plethora of white wine assortments that I ran to each day. And so, recently, I had the Napa Valley Vintners Association send me a sampler of their white wines.

We Need to Validate Ourselves

Re-tasting some of these Napa white wines, as well as discovering some new ones, reconfirmed in me that we have reached a level of expertise and diversity in our wine industry that we can stand behind our own wines…we no longer need approval from those with a longer wine history or culture. I love European wines and I will always love them, but I had allowed my need to escape from my own insecurities to cloud my judgments about my own home, my own history, my own wine culture. I had always fantasized about being part of a multi-generation European family that could trace their people to a specific town that goes back 5 or 6 centuries… but in reality, I am a mutt, a mutt that has no real sense of my ancestors or even traditions to follow. But why does that have to be better or worse? Why can’t we embrace that we, as Americans, often have to make up the rules as we go along, and sometimes that creates something not so great… but sometimes it creates a whole new spectacular, interesting thing that shows the world that your destiny is not always based on your birthright.

 

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”-Eleanor Roosevelt

****************************************************

Napa Wines Tasted on May 17th, 2017 

Napa Valley Sparkling Wine:

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, Napa Valley: 100% Chardonnay. Wow! This stunning bottle of sparking wine shows the potential elegance and finesse of Carneros sparklers. Many times when people drink California sparkling, they go to one of Champagne’s California outposts, trusting that if a Champagne brand is behind it, then it must be good… but I would like to plead the case for the smaller, California-born producers such as Frank Family if you want to really experience how great California bubbles can be. Intense minerality with lovely white flowers and lime blossom on the long finish. Only 500 cases made.

A while ago, I worked at one of Manhattan’s top fine wine retailers, and as one can imagine, we sold a lot of famous Napa wines. One customer, who was a die hard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, talked about how one of the best wines he ever had was from Frank Family. At the time, I had not heard of them, so I was fascinated to try their wines one day. This past February, when I was in Napa, I got the chance to try a bunch of Napa wines blind during a Vintage Perspective Tasting during Premiere Napa Valley. There were a series of producers who were showing their 2012, 2013 and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon wines blind. Afterwards, I found out Frank Family made my top three… and so I finally got to try them. I was so excited to see this sparkling in my group of samples.

2011 Schramsberg Brut, Carneros, Napa Valley: 88% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Noir. Years ago, someone put me in my place about California sparkling wine being on the same level as top Champagne, using Schramsberg as an example. Any serious traditional sparkling wine enthusiast (who is open to tasting non-Champagne bubbles) I have met knows Schramsberg wines intimately. Delicious brioche, nutty notes with gold apple and a creamy body with a fine bead. Only 1,130 cases made.

2013 Schramsberg, Crémant Demi-Sec, Napa Valley: 78% Flora, 13% Pinot Noir and 9% Chardonnay. This was so much fun and truly a unique experience with 78% Flora – a cross of Sémillon and Gewürztraminer developed at UC Davis. Off-dry sparkling with playful flavors of lavender and lemon meringue and a zesty, bright finish. Only 1,991 cases made.

Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc Wine:

2016 Honig, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: 95% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Sémillon and 1% Muscat. Honig’s Sauvignon Blanc always has a great energy with linear body and mouthwatering acidity. This 2016 is a wonderful example of what one can always expect with their SB, with lemon zest, dried flowers and a stony minerality.

This is the first Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc I had tried many years ago, and it sells really well here in New York City. The owner, Michael Honig, and his wife Stephanie visit the NYC market often and so they were able to introduce their Sauvignon Blanc personally, which always impresses everyone when they try it… especially considering it is only $15.

2016 Turnbull, Sauvignon Blanc, Estate Grown, Oakville, Napa Valley: A seriously rich, textured Sauvignon Blanc that was fermented in terracotta amphora and aged in French Oak and Acacia barrels. It has all the brightness that one would expect with this variety yet it has bountiful exotic fruit such as papaya… besides being texturally seducing, there is also a unique mineral note that takes the form of crumbly calcareous rock.

Back in November of last year, I was able to hear the winemaker of Turnbull, Peter Heitz, talk at a seminar that highlighted the Oakville AVA in Napa Valley.   It was mainly focused on the dominant Cabernet Sauvignon wines of the area, but he did speak about the diversity of the soil, aspect and microclimates that allows for diversity of grape varieties. Turnbull is known for focusing on their vineyards, understanding them, and it was interesting when Peter briefly addressed the idea of climate change. He said that although the research shows some areas are minutely getting warmer, other pockets of Napa are getting cooler. Again, Napa has a complex topography so depending on changes of air flow, more or less fog, or a myriad of other factors, there may be an increase or even decrease in temperature. It is just another reason why they are able to produce an array of grape varieties with proficiency.

2015 Long Meadow Ranch, Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, Napa Valley: The Sauvignon grapes were harvested at two different times – the first for freshness and acidity, and the second for ripe fruit flavors. A fun, lively wine with lemon drops and apricot preserves with an interesting dusty, sort of volcanic ash note. For those who love the brightness of Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the flavor profile, but find it too lean, or sometimes people say “sour,” I would recommend them to try some of these Napa versions as they will give you more flesh, less severe acidity, wrapped up in all the SB goodness. Screw cap closure.

2015 Provenance Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, Napa Valley: Mostly Sauvignon Blanc with a “splash” of Sémillon. I was so happy that I tried all the wines without looking at the alcohol percentages. Most of the Sauvignon Blanc wines are 13 to 13.5% abv, with the exception of the Grgich Hills at around 14% abv, and this one at 14.8% abv. For those who doubt why a Sauvignon Blanc should be close to 15% abv I would ask them to try this wine, or better yet, I would give it to them without them knowing the alcohol. When a wine is in balance it is in balance. I have to guess that they decided not to pick the grapes early to make sure they got full development of the flavors. This wine stood out as being different, with a more honeysuckle, intense floral quality, pineapple fruit with no herbaceousness. It is a different expression of Sauvignon Blanc that is not better or worse but I think it is wonderful that people are exploring different ways to express it. I did not think this wine was too hot… it was still refreshing yet it had a fleshy body that may be preferred by some people. Screw cap closure.

2014 Grgich Hills, Estate, Fumé Blanc, Dry Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Mike Grgich is a living legend and represents the American dream. Mike was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2008 for his achievements.  Fumé Blanc is a Sauvignon Blanc that has been fermented and aged in oak and it is synonymous with Napa Valley. Baked apple and melon with a hint of honey and spice with a textural body that can be paired with richer dishes.

Napa Valley’s Other Whites Wines:

2015 Etude, Pinot Gris, Carneros, Napa Valley: Majority of their grapes coming from their Estate Vineyard at Grace Benoist Ranch. Their Grace Benoist Ranch Estate vineyard is tucked away in the cooler northwest corner of Carneros. Back in the day, when I used to work for a major wine/spirits distributor in New York City, Etude was one of those wines that sold themselves. Their Pinot Noir wines seemed to always find the balance between having plenty of beautiful fruit while still having restraint and elegance… never too austere, never too fruity. They are able to achieve that same balance with this Pinot Gris with weighty body, peach skin notes while staying bright.

2014 Alpha Omega, Unoaked Chardonnay, Napa Valley: There was a fine wine retailer in Manhattan that I worked for that afforded the opportunity to taste Napa wines, as well as other top regions of the world, at least a couple times a week. It quickly became clear to me that the old stereotype of big, oaky, buttery Chardonnay did not represent the modern full spectrum of Napa Valley. Many producers pull back on the oak, partially blocking MLF or use malo bugs to avoid buttery notes as a byproduct (sorry for the wine nerd talk) and they pick cooler spots for Chardonnay or may use canopy management to lessen ripeness and to encourage acidity. Here’s another example of a balanced Napa Chardonnay that takes it further without any oak influence. It smelled like an apple orchard with plenty of body yet the finesse of white flowers with chalky minerality was beautifully displayed.

2016 Kale Somerston Vineyard, Grenache Blanc, Napa Valley: This Grenache Blanc comes from the Priest Ranch Block 6 at 1,250 feet (381 meters) in elevation and is rare to see since only 30 tons of Grenache Blanc are harvested each year in Napa. The grapes see little skin contact with gentle pressing of whole clusters and so the fruit can shine. Juicy nectarine with a hint of white pepper on the flavorful finish. Only 201 cases made.

2016 Lang & Reed, Chenin Blanc, “Oak Knoll District”, Napa Valley: I sort of got a little sad when I saw that this wine came from Chenin Blanc grapes from the cool Oak Knoll District known as one of the very few “remaining stands” of Chenin Blanc, just like the previous Grenache Blanc. It was lovely and interesting, and to think that because we have somehow associated only a couple of varieties with Napa, a lot of fascinating varieties are being pulled out because growers cannot afford to grow them. I love the Loire Valley, and yes, it is the rightful home of Chenin Blanc… but just like all the past immigrants who have come to this country, it is interesting to see how someone, or in this case a variety, can flourish in another environment and the different qualities that can be discovered. Quince paste and lanolin that were illuminated by encompassing acidity. Only 280 cases made.

2015 Galerie Terracea, Riesling, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley: 100% Spring Mountain Riesling. This bottling is a combination of wines that spent some time in concrete egg and new French oak. Kaffir lime leaves, rose petal and acacia flower with a flinty minerality and my mouth watered for several seconds after the finish.  Screw cap closure. Only 340 classes made.

2015 Nichelini Family Winery, Roman Press White, Napa Valley: 70% Muscadelle and 30% Sémillon. The Muscadelle was planted in 1946 while the Sémillon was planted in 2007. A fun experiment that shows how older and younger vines of complementary grape varieties can enhance the qualities of each other. Orange blossom, marmalade with exotic spice. Only 214 cases made.

2015 Stags’ Leap, Viognier, Napa Valley: Stags’ Leap has a long wine history that dates as far back as 1893. Viognier is not an easy variety to deal with and so only those who are truly passionate about it have kept their commitment to making it. This is a graceful expression of the Viognier variety which can have pronounced aromatics and a tendency towards low acidity if not managed correctly. I saved this wine for last because I thought it was going to be a little overbearing, but it was anything but… subtle perfume, meyer lemon and thyme with a full, round body, yet it had a bright lift on the finish and never lacked acidity or freshness.

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Better Sense of Community Over a Glass of Ribera del Duero Wine

Many people ask me why I am so obsessed with wine. How can I spend so much time researching it, talking about it, dreaming about it? Well, everything that drives us in our lives is usually connected to some unresolved childhood issue. When I was growing up, I had problems connecting with people… even on the most basic level. I didn’t know how to have a conversation… or even how to approach someone. This was due to my having a dysfunctional home – biological parents who really didn’t want kids and were detached -they couldn’t even have a simple relationship with a friend, let alone a parent-child relationship. And so I spent a lot of time alone, reading books, dreaming of having a family, being part of a community, connecting with people around the world. Through many years of working on myself and getting involved in the highly social world of wine, I have connected with more people around the globe than I could have imagined.

In my opinion, wine, more than any other product, is intertwined with the various facets of issues that greatly affect the human condition. I highly recommend the book, Hungry for Wine as an ideal example of a collection of wine stories that touch on economy, equality, sociology and most of all how this special libation helps to stir conversations that touch our innermost desires. I’m still not good at small talk, but with wine that never seems to be an issue… many times, whether it is with a friend or colleague or winemaker, our conversations always run towards deeper, more substantial topics. No one gets into the wine business to make money… there are not only other businesses that are more lucrative, but there are other alcoholic drinks that bring in a better profit. But many are still drawn to wine… maybe because of its ties to family, history, culture and how this drink forces us to take the time to get to know the heart of someone beyond their superficial shell.

Emilio Moro Bodegas

And so goes a lunch spent with José Moro, winemaker and president of his family winery Emilio Moro Bodegas, tasting his wines, infused with an exchange of thoughts of how to make the world a better place.

Let me just touch upon some important points about the Ribera del Duero region in Spain, and specifically the initiatives in the vineyards and winery employed by Emilio Moro Bodegas, before I go into my conversation with José about social responsibility.

Ribera del Duero

Ribera del Duero started to get international acclaim in the 1980s for producing Spanish reds with great concentration and structure, that were built to be long-lived wines. Their main grape variety, Tinto Fino, a local variant (or some may call clone or biotype) of Rioja’s Tempranillo. Tinto Fino has smaller grapes with looser bunches, hence why it produces wines with extraordinary depth and intensity. Ribera del Duero is the DO (demarcated area) in Spain with the highest average altitude, between 750 and 1,000 meters (2460-3280 feet) above sea level. This creates extremes in the climate with long, harsh winters and hot, dry summers, and plenty of rainfall during the spring. These are just a few factors why this area of Spain has been heralded as producing some of the greatest red wines in the world.

Emilio Moro started with José’s grandfather, Emilio, and is named after this patriarch that not only started the family’s wine business, but also laid down the pillars which would serve to inspire future generations: tradition, innovation and social responsibility.

José remembers learning these lessons very early as a young child looking up to his father, also named Emilio like his grandfather, and going to work at an early age. He remembers climbing into the small opening of the big casks with a brush and candle to clean the inside of these barrels. Of course, he said that you would not do that to a child nowadays but back then, adults had the attitude that those experiences that didn’t kill their children just made them stronger; similarly, how many of us remember ourselves as children, in a public playground swinging on metal monkey bars and cutting ourselves on rusty nails that were sticking out… how times have changed.

Wine Saves Water

José has a huge feeling of gratitude for his family’s previous struggles and the legacy they have built that he has inherited with his brother and sisters. He continued to  innovate by building a state-of-the-art winery called Cepa 21, as well as with working with Universities to isolate the Tinto Fino clone and the best indigenous yeasts to ferment it. But the project that he seemed the most proud of was his Wine Saves Water foundation.

José was greatly distressed to see data that showed that while 71% of the earth surface is water, only 3% is fresh water and only a 0.5% is fit for human consumption. He has worked with communities in Spain, as well as other countries such as Sri Lanka and Nicaragua, to implement programs to make potable water available to impoverished people. If you have ever suffered from extreme dehydration, or even have had a pet that didn’t drink enough water, you have probably realized that we can live a while without food but getting enough water on a regular basis is key to health and survival.

These programs have extended to offering meals, as well as training to disadvantaged children to learn valuable skills so they will have better opportunities for more meaningful employment with wineries and restaurants.

Wine’s Relationship to Social Responsibility

I’m not saying that all wine producers hold social responsibility as a high priority. If you were to Google this topic, I’m sure you would read a lot of horror stories of workers being mistreated and marginalized, especially in the vineyards. But don’t be dishearten by such stories, as there are plenty of families and producers like Emilio Moro. And to me, that is the whole reason why the world of wine is so special – because you can’t be truly a part of the world of wine unless you like people, all kinds of people, and you are willing to fight for them when they need you the most… that is the true dream of owning a winery… it’s not just the glamour of having a fantastic looking property and getting high scores for your wines, it is the fact that you are shaping the world to find a better sense of community over a lovely glass of wine.

***************************************************

Emilio Moro Wines Tasted on April 13th, 2017

There is braille lettering on all of the Emilio Moro labels. All of the Emilio Moro Bodegas wines were fermented with yeasts selected from their own vineyard.

2016 Cepa 21, Hito Rosado: 100% Tempraillo grapes from young vineyards at altitudes ranging from 750 to 800 meters (2460-2625 feet). A lovely, aromatic rosé with floral notes and wild, tiny strawberry flavors with a zesty citrus finish.

-2016 Emilio Moro Bodegas, Finca Resalso: 100% Tinto Fino sourced from their younger vines, as their range is set according to vine age. Silky texture and fresh acidity make this a pleasure to drink without food or with lighter dishes. Bright blackberry and spice with a touch of dusty earthy notes giving old world charm.

-2015 Emilio Moro Bodegas, Emilio Moro: 100% Tinto Fino from vineyards ranging between 12 and 25 years old. 2015 was the hottest and driest vintage Ribera del Duero has seen in decades, but it is a testament to the care that Emilio Moro takes in their vineyards that this wine shows no notes of desiccated fruit. A rich, fruit forward wine with flavors of creme de cassis, lush texture with lots of round tannins. Simply delicious.

2014 Emilo Moro Bodegas, Malleolus: 100% Tinto Fino from vineyards ranging between 25 and 75 years years old. The 2014 vintage had a combination of power and freshness that was displayed nicely in this Malleolus. The word “Malleolus” comes from the Latin word “majuelo” (small vineyard) and it refers to the vineyards in Pesquera de Duero. Still has the generosity that one expects from Emilio Moro yet it has a lightness to it with fresh leather and hints of balsamic vinegar and exotic spice all wrapped up in a firm structure.

2011 Emilo Moro Bodegas, Malleolus de Valderramiro: 100% Tinto Fino. The Malleolus de Valderramiro comes from a single vineyard, 10 acre (4 hectare) plot in Pesquera de Duero, planted in 1924. An aristocratic, opulent wine that is like a King or Queen who gives his/her whole heart and soul to their people. Dark chocolate covered cherries, orange peel and garrigue with chewy tannins, with hints of sweet tobacco. A wine that envelopes the palate with richness yet has a solid structure to give it a lot of backbone. A long, flavorful finish and pairs amazingly with grass fed rib eye. Only 7,000 bottles made.

2011 Emilio Moro Bodegas, Malleolus de Sanchomartin: 100% Tint Fino. The Malleolus de Valderramiro comes from a single vineyard, 2.1 acre (0.84 hectare) plot located in Pesquera de Duero. The vines were planted in 1964 by using cuttings from the oldest family vineyards. This wine slowly reveals itself through time with chalky minerality, brambly fruit and cardamom notes that playful dance about and never fully settles on the palate. A completely different experience of power and elegance than the Valderramiro, and so, shows the real difference of terroir with each vineyard. While the Valderramiro gives one everything all at once with a firm grip this Sanchomartin holds back and releases a little more with each sip as one contemplates on the finish. Only 2,500 bottles made.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living Life on Your Own Terms with Cava Sparkling Wine

As I sat in an exquisite room with beautiful vineyards in the backdrop, in Penedès, Catalonia, Spain, eating the heaven sent Jamón Ibérico de Bellota and drinking some of the best, long-lived Cava sparkling wines, I found myself drawn into a conversation about… meditation. Xavier Gramona, an elegant, white haired gentleman who helps run his family’s vineyards and winery, Gramona, was speaking about his belief that the reason not all wines age well doesn’t necessarily have to do with only the type of variety… but has to do with the condition of the grapes and the potential traumas they have endured on the vine and in the winery. When Xavier was around 12 years old, sometime during the 1960s, he took up meditation. For many years he was plagued with horrible migraines and he hated taking medication all the time and he would fight his family trying to give it to him to relieve his pain. One day, he was stressing out so much about the medication that he went into cardiac arrest – they were able to save his life but he knew that he needed to try a more holistic way of dealing with these intense headaches. Through meditation and natural herbs, the headaches stopped.

Xavier learned very early in life that it is not in everyone’s best interest to conform to society, to ignore what seems right in one’s own heart and mind. He started to believe in the longevity of well made Cava, as well as focusing on Xarel·lo (or Xarel-lo, Xarello) – a local variety that contributes structure and freshness for longevity. He believes in aging his Cava wines for many years – for example, the ones we tasted at dinner with Xavier ranged in vintage from 2012 to 2001. Initially, top wine critics of Spain, as well as his friends and family, said that he was crazy to try to make fine wine Cava – there was no market for it and it was best if he made Cava like everyone else.

Juvé & Camps

Old Bush Vine of Xarel·lo at Juvé & Camps

Prior to my visit to the small, artisanal Gramona, I visited a larger producer (but still medium sized relative to all Cava producers) Juvé & Camps, which is known in my NYC world as the premier Cava wine of choice. Many of the Cava producers talked about their own belief in the Xarel·lo grape variety. Once accused of causing rubber-y aromas (anyone blind tasting sparkling wines looked for this note to spot the Cava) but they have realized that with lower yields and better practices in the vineyards and winery, they can grow Xarel·lo that has a flinty minerality with delightful fennel and dried herb notes. It is the one variety that is traditionally used in Cava Brut (the other two being Macabeo and Parellada) that has a distinct character that is not so easily found in other sparkling wines.

Juvé & Camps talked about the shift in attitude about Xarel-lo of some Cava producers, which is evident by its growth in plantings.  Over 30 years ago, it only made up 20% of the plantings and now it makes up around 40 to 50% of grapes used for Cava. They said it is the simple idea of not trying to compete with Champagne by tasting like it, but instead finding what is unique about Cava and highlighting those traits… many of us know this concept may sound easy but is not so easy in practice to believe that each of us are enough and do not need to emulate others.

Youthful Attitude with Respect for Roots

Cava is an interesting sparkling wine. The bottle prices can range from $6 to over $200… unlike Champagne which you would typically never see a “real” Champagne on the shelf below a premium price. We associate Champagne as being purely a premium product, while some actually view Cava as a “value” sparkling wine and not always a “quality” sparkling wine because there are many priced for entry level to mid-market.

Why are so many Cava wines inexpensive?

Cava, unlike other Spanish DO, do not have one single delimited area, but instead is restricted to many municipalities in various areas across Spain. Yet it is said that around 95% of all Cava are made in Catalonia, most of it in and around the town of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The Cava DO allows higher yields than one would find in Champagne, yet the larger producers will have different quality ranges in their portfolio of wines that come from various vineyards, some producing grapes for quantity and others for quality, and price accordingly. One may argue that this freedom allows them to make large amounts of tasty Cava that is affordable for most people while also producing others that reach the same pinnacle of excellence of Champagne. Alternatively, the other side of this argument is that their lack of severe regulations is a detriment, creating the misguided perception that Cava is only easy drinking and playful, and so people do not take serious Cava wines seriously… But as all the producers told me over and over again, the Spanish are not good at marketing.

Segura Viudas

Segura Viudas is a nice example of a Cava one would find in most areas of the US, and perhaps a decent section of the world, that gives lots of bang for the buck. They are part of the larger company, Freixenet, which is the number one Cava exporter. I was instantly enchanted when we drove up in our little bus and I saw two distinguished looking gentlemen in front of a beautiful stone building, riding bikes with wicker baskets. Before I knew it, we were all riding these electric-assisted bikes… you could set the bike depending on how much help you needed… let’s just say I was kicking it up to level 8 and 9 a lot (too bad it didn’t go to 11). We rode through the vineyards and stopped here and there to see a stream, wild orchids growing, and finally, to stand in front of a breath taking view as we drank a couple of their Cava sparkling wines.

I am a Nervous Nellie, as they would say, when it comes to anything athletic as I am the least coordinated person I know, but the playful energy that is apparent in Cava just carried me away with the idea that I could ride through all sorts of terrain that the Segura Viudas’ vineyards offered. If you ever want to be the life of the party, find a magnum bottle of their ornate Segura Viudas Reserva Heredad. Not only is it a crowd pleaser with a creamy texture and intense chalky mineral backbone, it is a stunning bottle that is ridiculously grandiose in bigger format and can be found for only $40 dollars.

Mistinguett

Uncoordinated me on a Segway! I love technology… anyone can ride these things!!!

 The adventures did not end with Segura Viudas… it continued through the end of the week with Mistinguett Cava wines (of the larger parent company Vallformosa – giving them the resources to produce delicious bubbles at a remarkably good price). We rode all over on a Segway – though the main streets, villages, up and down steep hills, vineyards and hidden tucked away places within the forests. It was terrifying at first, but by the end, empowering. I felt as if I had just jumped out of a plane. Also, it was nice to see such a big, modern winery have strong beliefs in investing in local varieties such as Trepat. This red grape is wonderfully displayed in their Mistinguett Cava Brut Rosé, which is 100% Trepat. It had all the delicious red fruit one would expect yet it had a touch of complexity, with dried flowers and red pepper, with more acid than those Cava Rosés (aka Rosado) made with Pinot Noir or Garnacha (Grenache). Trepat is a dark skinned variety that was not always taken seriously and so it was commonly neglected in the vineyard. But thankfully, Cava producers are realizing its potential and starting to use it more and more. They think it will retail in the US for around $12 bucks! I’ll easily take a couple of cases.

Believing in the Potential of Cava   

It was certainly surprising to taste a gorgeous 2000 Cava from Gramona, and although I had always heard that their Cava wines were transcendent, I had to taste it to believe it. But I visited another Cava producer who is focused on long-lived Cava wines – one that I had not heard of, since their main export market is Japan, but they will hopefully be entering the US soon with an importer with good logistics:

Roger Goulart

Giving the guys at Roger Goulart a hard time about sending more of their Cava wines to the US market instead of the Japanese market – all in good fun!

We entered the historic farmhouse of Roger Goulart, named Can Goulart, which dates back to the 19th century. They produce their Cava in the same style as they did when they were first established in 1882 – long lees aging ranging from 3-4 years up to over 10 years – as we tried their Gran Reserva 2005 later that day at an epic lunch at El Celler de Can Roca; but their winery and bottling line could have not been more modern with them receiving the lowest percentage of faults with rejected wine bottles imported into Japan – a market that expects perfection in every aspect of a product.

Gramona

Thinking back with my dinner with Xavier Gramona, tasting his outstanding 2001 Enoteca Brut Nature, it was interesting to hear Xavier say that the same famous critic who once told him, many years ago, to make simpler Cava, recently gave Gramona’s 2000 Enoteca Brut Nature the title of the 2017 Best Wine in Spain in the La Guia Peñin wine guide. Xavier smiled at the irony but I think even if there was no way he could have ever succeeded, he would still go down the course of trying to make the best sparkling wine in the world… and he hasn’t let up one bit on continually improving as he is now in the process of converting his vineyards from organic to biodynamic, taking great measures of using poop from pregnant cows, burying 300 cow horns, and hiring superstar soil experts Lydia and Claude Bourguignon to help bring their soils back to life.

But after seeing all of Gramona’s impressive cellars, vineyards and winery practices and animals roaming about, there was nothing that struck me more as being a true reflection of Gramona’s commitment to keeping a holistic balance than their bottling room… we were passing it as we left and I was just about to walk by the opening of the doorway when I got a glimpse of a beautiful view: the room has a big, arched window giving an uplifting visual of the vineyards, with a colorful tiled ceiling to match, for those working in that room.

It was pointed out that the most boring job was there – wrapping each bottle by hand in plastic – yet they were given a picturesque view. It was not a room for tourists, press or guests, it was a room that we were going to pass on our way out… a room that was designed for the workers who would spend many hours in there. Actually, I got the feeling that people thought it was odd that I would even want to go in that room… not the first or last time people think I’m odd!

All of us in this world are driven by different things… some may think Xavier Gramona is mad…but he is living the only life he can bear to live… and that was the same with all the Cava producers I visited. They do not have strict regulations to help market a brand that only sells one style of Cava… they have allowed open rules so that the creative people of Catalonia can express all the different facets of this surprisingly diverse style of wine – I had no idea how excitingly different Cava could be! And in this world, that guarantees very little to anyone, being authentic to oneself is the only way to succeed, whether one owns a big empire or a tiny tattered place, because then everything surrounding you is imbued with meaning as it is a reflection of the balance you have found within yourself – a scenario that is a win, win for all involved.

*****************************

*All of the below wines are dry unless noted.

Cava Tastings on April 24th, 2017:

Juvé & Camps

2013 Reserva de la Familia: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo, 20% Parellada and 10% Chardonnay. Smoky, flinty with quince jam and pastries with gentle bubbles.

2012 Gran Juvé & Camps: 40% Xarel·lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Chardonnay and 10% Parellada. An overall steely quality with intense, mouthwatering acidity and a touch of golden apple with lemon zest on the finish.

Essential: 100% Xarel·lo. The Xarel·lo variety has a tendency towards reduction and that is where that rubber note may come in… so they are very careful in the winery to make sure that the flinty minerality and fennel, dried herb notes are enhanced over the undesired rubber notes. This was a delicious sparkling wine that really shows how Cava is on the right track of showing the world what is special about them… also, great mouthfeel with creamy body.

Brut Rosé: 100% Pinot Noir. Although they are a company committed to the local Xarel·lo variety for their regular Brut they are fans of Pinot Noir for their Rosé. Bright cherry and cinnamon stick with lilacs on the finish.

-2015 Gregal d’Espiells: 77.5% Muscat de Alejandria and 22.5% Gewürztraminer. This is not part of the Cava DO but it was interesting to try this still, aromatic white wine from the Penedès DO. Green mango with a hint of perfume and spicy finish.

 

Segura Viudas

Brut: 85% Macabeo and Parellada with 15% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They said although they are the defenders of indigenous, local, varieties their customers in Belgium and Holland demand the use of some international varieties. A brioche-y nose with toasted hazelnuts.

Reserva Heredad: 67% Macabeo and 33% Parellada. This bottle is awesome for a party – especially as I said before if you can get the Magnum size. Ornate bottle with subtle fruit flavors and tiny bubbles that gently caress the palate. From older vineyards and 60% free run juice.

Rosé: 90% Trepat and 10% Garnacha (Grenache). It was nice to see Segura Viudas using a significant amount of the Trepat as well. When you look at their blends you can see their commitment to using a majority of Spanish varieties. A pale pink color which seems to be just a trendy in Spain as it is in the US. Zingy cranberries with chalky minerality

Extra Dry: 50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada and 15% Xarel·lo. This is the only wine in this whole tasting list that has any perceptible sweetness with 15-17 g/l residual sugar added at dosage and the sweetness is balanced by the bubbles and acidity so it is seemingly off-dry. Found in the North American market. Fuller body with almond paste and peace pie flavors.

 

Gramona

Gramona – well known as an artisanal Cava producer making sparkling on a fine wine level – uses a solera for their dosage that contains wine going back to 1881.

 

 

2012 La Cuvee Gran Reserva: 70% Xarel·lo and 30% Macabeo. Blanched almonds, spiced toast with crush rocks and an overall finesse and elegant that is stunning for a sparkling wine that is only 5 years old.

2011 Imperial: 50% Xarel·lo, 40% Macabeo and 10% Chardonnay. Higher acidity gives this Cava more of a linear, taut body that is intertwined with lemon confit, lime leaves and a wet stone finish.

2009 III Lustros: 75% Xarel·lo and 25% Macabeo. 100% Artisanal process with hand riddling and disgorgement. Creamier on the body with star anise and smoky wood embers with a long, aromatic finish.

2006 Celler Batlle: 75% Xarel·lo and 25% Macabeo. 100% Artisanal process with hand riddling and disgorgement. This Cava still seems so young with lively acidity and an intense minerality that overshadows the white peach and tangerine flavors in the background. Still tight… it has a lot more to give… I would cellar this gorgeous bottle for a few more years as I have a feeling it is right on the cusp of being a bottle that will transcend. Only 7,000 bottles made.

2000 Enoteca Brut Nature Gran Reserva: 75% Xarel·lo and 25% Macabeo. The 2001 just was rated by the top critic in Spain – Guia Peñin – Best Wine of Spain…the first time a sparkling wine was picked. The bubbles have a fine bead with aromas of toasted pine nuts with orange rind, ripe golden apple and a hint of morrells on the long, acid laced, mineral driven finish. Only 2,000 bottles made.

Cava Tastings on April 26h, 2017:

We only had one winery visit this day as the rest of the day was devoted to our remarkable lunch at El Celler de Can Roca.

Roger Goulart

For its top Gran Cuvée sparkling Cava Roger Goulart will take a future step in the autolysis process of adding complexity to wines by actually moving the bottle and stacking them up again in another area during their time aging on the lees. They may do this up to 4 different times. It is called déplacé technique.

2011 Brut Nature Reserva: 40% Xarel·lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Parellada and 5% Chardonnay. This Cava is a big favorite with local Catalan people with no sugar added at dosage. The yeasts added for the second fermentation was selected to not impart flavor but to only create finer bubbles after aging on the lees for 30 months. Pristine flavors of honeysuckle and apricots balance out the dry finish.

2014 Brut Reserva: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada. Rounder body with juicy white peach and floral aromatics.

2011 Gran Cuvée: 35% Chardonnay, 30% Xarel·lo, 20% Macabeo and 15% Parellada. This wine went through the déplacé technique and so it has rich autolytic flavors of butted biscuit and wild flowers. Delicious.

2014 Brut Rosé: 60% Garnacha (Grenache), 35% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) and 5% Pinot Noir. Cherry blossom and raspberry sorbet with a hint of gravelly rock.

2014 Demi Sec Reserva: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada. This semi-sweet Demi Sec Cava with 35 g/l residual sugar added at dosage is a local Catalan favorite like the Brut Nature. It makes sense since this is a refreshing dessert for those who like lots of rich stone fruit flavors but still want the bubbles and acidity to keep it light and bright. Dangerous bottle since it has such a drinkable quality to it one could easily finish the whole bottle.

Gran Reserva 2005: (This wine was tasted at our lunch at El Celler de Can Roca ) 40% Xarel·lo, 20% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 20% Parellada. Fine bubbles that had a long persistence, with lime blossom and brioche notes dancing about in the aromatics with a serious structure and overall elegance. Only 948 bottles made.

 

 

 

Cava Tastings on April 28h, 2017:

Our last Cava visit and it was bitter sweet because honestly I had no idea how exciting Cava could be until I actually visited all these wineries.

Mistinguett

-Brut Nature: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada. They said they have a local joke when it comes to Cava, “People say they like the Brut Nature but they drink the Brut.” Hehehe… I think we do that to a certain degree in the US as well. Roasted almonds with peach pit and gentle bubbles.

Brut: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada. Softer, rounder body with riper peach and hint of green mango.

Brut Rosé: 100% Trepat. Mouth watering acidity with raspberry, dried flowers and red pepper. They said this is a lighter color than traditionalist Cava drinkers are use to for their rosé.

-2015 Brut Reserva: 40% Xarel·lo, 30% Macabeo and 30% Parellada. Sesame seeds, lime oil and flinty minerality with a sustained, flavorful finish.

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing a Song in Our Heart & Wine in Our Glass

On a cold, rainy day, I found myself eating upscale comfort food at The Dutch in the trendy area of Soho, Manhattan, while drinking wines from Napa Valley and Anderson Valley… just a typical day in the world of wine. But although I have been connected with this world for over 12 years, I still cannot help but have moments of thinking “How the hell did I end up here?” On this particular day, I traced my journey with Remi Cohen, the Vice President and General Manager of Lede Family Wines, and she reciprocated with an interesting early twist to her journey.

 

Remi Cohen

Me and Remi

Although Remi ended up in Napa, she originates from the East Coast, born and raised in East Brunswick, New Jersey. She was planning to become a doctor and was all set to go to medical school, but right before she enlisted in a summer internship to work in a hospital, she decided to spend her summer interning at a fruit farm. During her internship she learned that one could get a master’s degree in making wine and she ended up going to one of the top programs in the world at UC Davis. I loved how her eyes lit up as she said, “Who knew you could get a graduate degree in wine?!?” Since then she has never looked back and has covered every aspect of the wine trade, from the vineyard, winery, bottle to sales around the world… she ended up getting an MBA as well. But like so many of the top wine people, she has warmth and an ability to immediately connect and share.

Cliff Lede

Our conversation extended to Cliff Lede (pronounced lay-dee) the owner of Lede Family Wines… a man who grew up in his family’s construction business in Canada and fell in love with Napa Valley in the 1990s. His wines are interwoven with the very essence of his heart, naming certain plots of his Napa vineyards after his favorite rock songs such as the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”; he even named his new set of wines, that are made from his purchase of vineyards in the cooler climate Anderson Valley, FEL after his mother – Florence Elsie Lede.

Cliff Lede Vineyards and Poetry

Cliff’s adventure as a wine owner began in 2002 when he purchased 60 acres (24 hectares) in the infamous Stags Leap District in Napa Valley and founded Cliff Lede Vineyards. He is a man who seems to be always inspired by the land, illustrated by naming one vineyard “Poetry” because it yields grapes that produce a wine that is the epitome of finesse and purity due to the stressful conditions of the site, reaching one of the highest elevations in Stags Leap District.

Napa Valley

On the outside, Napa and New York City couldn’t be more different from each other; New York is gritty and loud while Napa is picturesque and serene; but there is the interesting connection: people from the around the world come to live in both places and there is a communal feeling of people sharing their stories. I’m not 100% sure of the exact moment that I was hooked by the desire to be a part of the wine world, but it seemed to always come in and out of my life, and each time I found myself tasting wines with people from around the world, I felt less alone and that the wine, food and even my surroundings seemed so much better due to the conversations. It is the sharing that has hooked most of us in… it is not just Remi’s bottle of wine for her to drink, or my story to keep to myself, or even Cliff Lede’s vineyards for him to only view – it is for the enjoyment of anyone who feels a song in their heart when they drink a lovely wine among good people.

**************************************************

Tasting with Remi Cohen on April 4th, 2017

2016 Cliff Lede, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley: Cliff Lede Napa Sauvignon Blanc is already known as a top wine in the category and proved it with delicious fruit and an overall precision. 82% Sauvignon Blanc, 14% Sémillon, 3% Sauvignon Vert (Muscadelle) and 1% Muscat Canelli… I wonder if it is the only US white Bordeaux blend that has all three varieties (Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon & Muscadelle)… honeysuckle, gingerbread and lilac with creamy yet bright, juicy stone fruit flavors on the palate.

Also, a side note about the Sauvignon Vert (Muscadelle): European producers will say it is either another old clone of Sauvignon Blanc (such as in France also called Sauvignonasse) or in Friuli they say it is called Friulano ….but Sauvignon Vert in California is Muscadelle (it even states it in the current Oxford). The vineyard that has it was originally planted in the 1940s. I just wanted to make sure this didn’t cause any confusion with people who are used to the European Sauvignon Vert.

2015 FEL, Chardonnay, Anderson Valley: No MLF or new oak and so this wine is lively with lemon confit and white peach flavors – still good fleshiness on the body and beautiful, pure grapefruit finish.

 

2012 FEL, Pinot Noir, Savoy Vineyard, Anderson Valley: The Savoy Vineyard is recognized as one of the benchmark vineyards in Anderson Valley for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was nice to taste one with some age and it was singing! A velvety texture with burst of ripe strawberries and cassis that had hints of forest floor and thyme – complex and refined.

2014 Cliff Lede, Scarlet Love, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. The Scarlet Love is one of their superstar blends that include two special plots: Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” in their Twin Peaks vineyard and from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in their Poetry vineyard. This wine is a knockout with a lush, concentrated body that has an explosion of cream de cassis and lavender, and has an underlining tapenade note that opens even further on the finish with visceral pleasing aromas of truffles and fresh leather. A profoundly full-bodied wine that had invitingly manicured tannins across the long, flavorful finish. Drink now or cellar for up to the next 20 years.

2014 Cliff Lede, Cabernet Sauvignon, Stags Leap District, Napa Valley: 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 2% Merlot. This wine is composed of small lots from their best blocks, representing a diverse range of carefully selected clones and rootstocks. An intoxicating nose of lilacs and exotic spice, with intense gravelly minerality that is enhanced by a firm structured body with a good amount of acidity that gives it a sense of graceful purpose with an outstanding precise length. Drink now or keep for the next 15 years.

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Enjoying Wine and Food from Alsace, with a Side of Philosophy

With a beautiful golden guinea fowl in front of me and drinking wines that were inviting yet never over-zealous, I sat there taking it all in… the charming bistro of Le Coq Rico and the enchanting sounds of conversations in French. For a second, I thought I was in France, specifically the region of Alsace, as I was, at one point, surrounded by Owner/Chef Antoine Westermann, who is a legend from that region, and Alsace wine producer Rémy Gresser while sipping his delightful Alsace wines. But we were in New York City having an Alsace experience with conversations that meandered from food to wine to deeper philosophies of life.

Rémy Gresser

Rémy has a big, imposing frame yet he could not be more gentle and sensitive in his demeanor. He was very keen to talk about the increase in female ownership of Alsace wine estates, but he also noted that although his father was the one who technically ran their family winery and vineyards, Domaine Gresser , it was his mother who tasted the wines and shaped the stylistic choices as a producer. Rémy said his own palate was shaped by his mother and always leans towards wines that are refined and elegant as she would always prefer. When we were tasting his 2015s, he even remarked that he preferred the cooler 2014 vintage because it was more subtle…although many people seemed be more drawn to the wealth of fruit flavors in the ‘15s.

Gender Roles in Wine

We ended up discussing women’s roles in the past compared to the present. Centuries ago it was thought that women were the weaker sex not capable of being able to do anything beyond running the household; perhaps this came down to the practical fact that many women did not survive child birth and so you needed someone else who had a probability of living longer to support the family. As time went on it became the norm for men to go out to the world to carve out a career or run the family business. Interestingly, in China, since people are relatively new to owning their own businesses, that around 50% of them are owned by women. This was explained to me by a Chinese friend as being contributed to the lack of having a history of entrepreneurship and so there were no previous barriers created for women in the first place.

Rémy had a wonderfully simple idea that people should take the roles they are best suited for, no matter their gender or any other superficial factor. From his perspective, his mother was always in charge but he whole heartedly agrees that living in a world where female leadership is openly recognized is the best for a balanced society.

Who must do the hard things? He (She) who can.

My conversation with Rémy reminded me of a line from Trevanian’s book Street of Four Winds about the Paris revolution of 1848, “Who must do the hard things? He who can.” Through the years I always tried to interpret what that line meant on a more universal level – at first I thought it meant that only a few people who had what it takes, whether they were men or women, could take on the fierce challenges of fighting the good fight in the world. But through time I have altered that viewpoint. Who is to say what the “hard things” in life are? Is not staying home with small children just a difficult as running a business? Recenly, I met one woman who said that her husband stayed home with their baby while she worked… they didn’t plan it that way but it just made sense since she liked working more than being home and he liked staying home with the baby more than working.

Or sometimes life presents us with a path that we thought we would never follow, we never envisioned ourselves living, because it never occurred to us that it was an option. Simply the act of getting up everyday and trying to live an honest life filled with decent acts makes us capable of doing the hard things in life.

As I sat there with Rémy and a couple of colleagues, it was wonderful to be able to enjoy an exquisitely golden bird and taste wines that begged for another sip as we openly talked about our various opinions with smiles, laughs and pausing here and there to allow the opinions of other people to expand our own minds. These are the moments in life that I cherish, that I depend on to grow… these are the moments that will mend a broken world.

********************************

Wines Tasted at Lunch with Rémy Gresser on March 31st, 2017

All of the wines are from Rémy’s Kritt vineyard in Alsace, France, which comes from predominantly gravelly soil that produces wines with a great purity and expression of varietal characteristics. Alsace is a wine region with various types of soils that are capable of showing the ranges of complexity for different grape varieties.

2013 Domaine Gresser, Kritt Pinot Blanc: 100% Pinot Blanc. If you are like me, perhaps you have had your share of Pinot Blancs that have very little distinctive varietal characteristics, and I was nervous that this one was going to be the same. Thank goodness I was wrong – it was brimming with apple-y deliciousness and peach flavored cream with a spicy finish. 12.5% abv & 3g/l residual sugar

-2015 Domaine Gresser, Kritt Riesling: 100% Riesling. The 2015 was a warmer vintage for Alsace and a good contrast to the cooler 2014 vintage (side note: 2014 is a great vintage for sparkling Crémant) and so this wine had good generosity of quince paste and honey suckle flavors that had a nice lift of citrus peel on the finish. It was absolutely dreamy with the guinea fowl at lunch. 13% abv & 4g/l residual sugar

2015 Domaine Gresser, Gewürztraminer: 100% Gewürztraminer. Typically, I find the Gewürztraminer fruit a bit muted when they are made in Alsace (its noted home) as compared to Chile…not saying one is better or worse – just different. But the pristine lychee flavor on this wine really made this wine jump out of the glass, the floral aromatics taking a backseat to the fruit flavor. I thought leaving it at 12.5% abv with 10g/l residual sugar was a good choice as there was never a sense of it being too sweet and there was none of the heat that one can get on the finish of a Gewürz… it was so tasty that I forgot to take a picture of this bottle.

Martine’s Wines is the exclusive importer for Rémy Gresser in the United States.

 

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Dragonfly Invites Us to Reflect Our Light in Powerful Ways

I remember being a small child, spending a lot of time in my backyard staring at all the little insects flying around…wondering to myself what it would be like to lightly bounce about, seemingly giving such wonderment to observers like myself. One day, I was taken aback by a beautiful butterfly that landed on my t-shirt. It was remarkable with intricate black laced shaped trim on the edges of its wings that contrasted with a light purple color dominating the inside. It was delicate and fragile, and I wanted to keep it in my room, thinking that it would be safe there, protected from the harshness of the outside world, so I brought it to some fake flowers on the windowsill in my bedroom. The next day, I woke up to find it dead…

I was horrified and distraught because I thought I had killed it, not knowing at such a young age (around 8 years old) that butterflies don’t live very long. But a lesson stuck with me that I would learn over and over again… a lesson that was recently reinforced by another magical creature, a dragonfly of sorts, in the form of a superstar winemaker, Pam Starr.

Pam Starr

A few weeks ago, I met Pam Starr, owner and winemaker for Crocker & Starr in Saint Helena, Napa Valley, for the opportunity to taste her wines and to learn more about her story. Our lunch was held in midtown Manhattan at an upscale Greek restaurant called Avra Madison Estiatorio; the room was filled with professionals looking polished in their well-tailored suits. As I approached our table, there was Pam beaming with excitement, and we wound up talking about everything under the sun, with 4 ½ hours passing too quickly and finding myself outside hugging her and not wanting to say goodbye.

Pam Starr has an impressive resume, while entering the wine world without any connections. She worked a part time job while finishing a degree in Fermentation Science from the prestigious UC Davis and followed with an internship at a winery where she stacked barrels. Some questioned her decision in starting a career that seemed to be a one-way ticket to a life confined to manual labor. But she was hooked on winemaking and explained it by saying, “I was simply smitten – the way one is when falling madly in love. Winemaking is mysterious, it’s sexy, and it’s magical.”

Crocker & Starr Winery

Eventually Pam ended up becoming the winemaker for Spottswoode Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley, where she started to conceptualize her ideal expression of Sauvignon Blanc way before it became an accepted variety in Napa. Then, in 1997, a meeting with a San Francisco businessman, Charlie Crocker, who owned a 100-acre estate (40 hectares) in Saint Helena, Napa Valley, would introduce the idea of them partnering to start a winery. Without Pam knowing that this opportunity would present itself, she knew exactly the way she wanted to tend the land and the vision for her wine: to find natural balance and harmony. Pam left Spottswoode to start Crocker & Starr with Charlie, who liked the picture she painted for their future winery and he certainly knew she had the skills and experience to back it up.

But Pam did not want to be just a winemaker, she wanted to be part owner while never compromising on any aspect of Crocker & Starr, so she needed to first find income from other avenues and juggled consulting jobs for many years. In Napa, it is easy to assume that people just have money thrown at them and all they have to do is show up and play, but that is not the case with Pam. She was not going to take the safe and measured path. She was going to place all her sweat, blood and tears into creating something that transcended our mundane lives; to not only create magic for herself but to share it with others.

Dragonflies

One of Pam’s wines, Casali (Italian for Farmhouse, or as they have adapted it to mean House of Celebration) has a label with a court jester and a dragonfly. By the time we tasted this wine we had already talked for a few hours and gotten a sense of each other, so she brought up the symbolism of the dragonfly. She said that, typically, she doesn’t like to bring it up but she thought I would appreciate it. Pam talked about the power of dragonflies. They carry the wisdom of transformation and adaptability in life. They represent joy, lightness of being and invite us to dive deeper into our feelings. They are magical creatures that are part of the fairy realm.

Pam was aware of how odd it must seem for someone who has spent her life grounded in science, who could happily talk in detail about soil analysis and fermentation techniques, to have not lost that connection with seeing the magic in everyday life. Pam is like a dragonfly… she lives gently on the earth spreading joy to all, yet she is powerful and agile, capable of migrating across oceans, moving in any direction, and changing direction suddenly if needed.

Joy and Lightness of Being

As a child, I wanted to keep that butterfly safe from the world… so it would stay beautiful and gentle… I could find some solace from the rest of the big, scary world outside with this tiny, gentle creature. But trying to keep anything joyous from the world only diminishes its light – whether it is our self or others. It is only through the testing of our strength do we know real beauty, real joy and a real sense of living in this life with a lightness that uplifts and never overwhelms.

When I left my lunch with Pam, I felt as if I was walking on a cloud. That is what dragonflies do with their presence, and in this case, it was Pam’s very being, coupled with her wines. Dragonflies take you on a magical journey that finishes with the revelation that the magic was within you all along.

*******************************

Crocker & Starr Winery Tasting with Pam Starr on March 30th 2017

2015 Sauvignon Blanc, 87% from Saint Helena & 13% from Oak Knoll, Napa Valley: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. 12% of this wine was concrete egg fermented, which adds an incredible texture to the wine. Pam’s eyes lit up when she talked about her concrete egg and she said that she felt like a kid when it arrived. Fresh, zingy flavors of lime blossom and Guava with a sexy viscosity (who knew Sauvignon Blanc could be sexy?) finishing with a hint of minerality.  It will even win over red wine drinkers. The Wine Director of the restaurant came over and said she had to meet Pam because this was one of her favorite wines. 1200 cases made.

2014 Cabernet Franc, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 99% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. I have said this before and I will say it again, you do not know the full potential of Cabernet Franc until you have it from Napa. Charming aromas of violets and spice with juicy raspberries and a bright finish… this could bring some of those devoted Cabernet Sauvignon lovers to the Franc Side. Only 548 cases made.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place, Saint Helena, Napa Valley: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the oldest plantings on their property, 40 year old vines, called Block 3. This plot produces grapes with small, concentrated clusters. Black cherry, truffles and crumbled rocks gives this surprisingly accessible wine layers of complexity with great vitality that carries through the superb length. Only 572 cases made.

2014 ‘Casali 7’, Saint Helena, Crocker Estate, Napa Valley: 92% Malbec, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. This wine is inspired by Pam’s desire to bring great friends together to celebrate exceptional wine experiences. The 7 represents their 7th edition of making this wine. A full body with silky tannins, exciting layers of flavors that slowly unraveled with exotic spice, espresso bean and star anise.  To me, this wine really represented an extraordinary quality that Pam possessed: an authentic transparency that takes one on a journey of beauty, elegant generosity and pure magic that allows one to fly. Only 553 cases made.

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Southern Portugal’s Wines Will Not Allow History to Define Them

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

Two categories stick out when we think of wines from Portugal, Port and Vinho Verde. Funnily enough, these two styles of wines could not be more different. Port is a fortified sweet wine made from red grapes (there is a small quantity of White Port made from white grapes) and Vinho Verde is typically a high acid, fizzy, light white wine made from white grapes (although there are some red and rosé versions). Many think the popularity of these styles were due to the British, a couple centuries ago, starting to ship Port to the UK during one of the times when they were on bad terms with the French, and Vinho Verde’s close proximity to the Douro Valley, where the Port was made and exported, helped with their international recognition.

But that left Southern Portugal wine regions to languish in obscurity. A dictatorship, military coup and process of unraveling existing systems brought tough times especially to the southern wine region of Alentejo, since there was little global awareness of their area. Esporão has taken on that great challenge with an open heart and generous spirit to protect and preserve their culture while building a better future.

Herdade do Esporão

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

Herdade do Esporão is one of the oldest estates in Europe, having its boundaries demarcated in 1267. José Roquette purchased the estate in 1973 with a dream to produce exceptional wines while they were living in oppressive times as the authoritarian dictatorship, Estado Novo, was running Portugal. Then, on April 25, 1974, there was a military coup that overthrew the regime, remembered today as the Carnation Revolution. Although this event would help Portugal in the long run, it created a tremendous amount of turmoil for many years. But José’s dream did not die, only deferred, and so Esporão was able to produce their first wine when they were finally separated from the mandatory co-ops, for the 1985 vintage. They were able to have this opportunity to produce their own wines when Portugal joined the European Economic Community – later becoming the European Union.

Esporão is now overseen by José’s son, João Roquette, and their mission is not just to survive or make decent wine; they have placed all of their energies and resources to preserving the local varieties, as well as international favorites, with an experimental vineyard with over 180 grape varieties. Their grand estate employs many of the local people as well as brings tourism to the region. Their sustainable commitment includes going 100% organic in 2021 while already achieving a reduction in water waste (11 million liters) and a conservation of thousands of acres of land as a wildlife refuge. They are even experimenting with bats in the vineyard and they have hired someone to check their guano (aka poop) to make sure they are eating the ‘right’ insects that are the ones causing problems for the vines.

One of Esporão’s mantras: “To make the best products from what nature provides in a responsible and inspiring way.”

And under the heading of “Who We Are” on their website, they note a preference for non-conformity stating: “We want a better world with opportunities and dreams to pursue. We are bold regarding what we propose to do, believing that the effort and persistence to achieve this will help us find new ways forward.”

Fight to Soar Not Just Survive

Photo Credit: https://www.esporao.com/

It was such a pleasure to not only taste these wines – that are an insane, jaw dropping value – but to see a family that had every reason to walk away from a dream decide to hold on to it, and continue to do so, to the betterment of the larger community. When I think of the many times that I thought I could not get beyond the hurdles life gave me, I would think of others that had inspired me to take responsibility for my own happiness, and I pulled myself up through the darkness, until eventually, I could see the light. Sometimes, at times, I think if I didn’t fight for a better existence, where would I be today? I pose that same question in regards to Esporão. What would have happened to the local community if the Roquette family decided to walk away from a seemingly impossible situation?

Esporão is a beacon that lets us know that our past or even current path doesn’t have to define who we are as a person, as a group, as a region or even wine producer. The fight for excellence in every aspect that touches them as a producer is a fight they proudly take on every day. And the next time I’m having a tough day and I feel I don’t have the energy to shine my inner light to the world, I will pick up a bottle of Esporão and remind myself to fight the fight beyond surviving, SOAR!

**********************************

My Esporão tasting on March 23rd, 2017

2015 Herdade do Esporão, Duas Castas, Alentejo: A white blend of 65% Roupeiro & 35% Alvarinho (the blend changes ever year as they like to experiment with the over 180 grape varieties they have planted in their sustainable research vineyard). Lime blossom, flowers and white stone notes with a crisp finish.

2015 Esporão, Reserva White, Alentejo: Another white blend, this one of 40% Arinto, 40% Roupeiro and 20% Antão Vaz with the majority vinified in stainless steel and a small portion in oak. Juicy mango, honeysuckle; rich body with zingy acidity.

2015 Herdade do Esporão, Trincadeira, Alentejo: A single varietal red wine: 100% Trincadeira (small, thinned skinned berries) with silky texture (yes, they can make silky textured red wines in Portugal!), black raspberry and a touch of herbs.

2013 Esporão, Reserva Red, Alentejo: A red blend with 40% Aragonés (another name for Tempranillo), 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was interesting to learn that Alicante Bouschet, an atypical red grape that has red skins and flesh (typically, red grapes only have red/dark colored skins and a clear flesh) has been adopted by Portugal as a local variety – living there around 70 years. Originally, it came from southern France, in the Languedoc. I loved the earthy, savory quality with this wine – granite, fresh leather with solid structure and firm tannins finishing with dark brooding fruit. Its suggested pairing with beef cheeks sounds like heaven.

Esporão’s commitment to preserving Portuguese culture and improving its future now extends to the Douro Valley with their purchase of Quinta dos Murças, which dates back to 1714.

2014 Quinta dos Murças Assobio Red, Douro: A great value red table wine. This wine represents three of the top varieties in the area with 40% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), 40% Touriga Franca and 20% Touriga Nacional. Fresh red and black berries and mint that has lots of flesh and friendly tannins.
2011 Quinta Dos Murças Reserva, Douro: The grapes for this wine come from the oldest vertically planted vineyard in the Douro Valley. For those of you who know the Douro, most of the vineyards are terraced, but this one was planted by a man who was inspired by vineyards in the Mosel and he planted this vineyard at the very top – that way if it didn’t work out, no one would know about it. Well, the concentration is incredible and after this vintage, 2011, a portion of this vineyard will no longer be blended into the Reserva since they will make a separate 100% single vineyard from it in 2012. But this Reserva is already extraordinarily concentrated with ripe black fruits, lavender and gravelly rock with muscular tannins and a rich, flavorful finish. Another tasting after it had been opened for a couple days and it was still going strong… I would hold on to this for at least another decade. Also, grab whatever is left on the market because this is the last Reserva from the vertical vineyard… and the single vineyard will be made in tiny quantities and fiercely allocated.

Quinta dos Murças 10 Year Tawny Port, Douro: This 10 Tawny Year Port is unique as it has a significant number of barrels that were discovered after the purchase in 2008 that seem to be around 30 to 40 years old (adding younger Port to give it more of a 10 Tawny stylish profile to get the demarcation) but it has a complexity beyond its stated years. The lush flavors of butterscotch are balanced by orange zest and a chalky minerality. The superb length of flavor finishes with roasted almonds and sea salt.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Australian Wine Gives Me Courage to Withhold Judgment

I think all of us battle fighting judgments, preconceptions… whether it is assuming qualities of an acquaintance based simply on appearance or background, or about a wine from a certain region. I can’t blame anyone for trying to sum up people or things as quickly as we can because it may be a way to connect, or protect ourselves, or live in the denial that we are in control. But what does our anticipation of a person, situation or even wine cost us? Do we wind up never living in the moment? Never really get a good sense of a person or a wine because our experience is always filtered through our own baggage?  It is always nice when someone or something shows us that the world is a lot more wondrous than we could have ever imagined…life offers surprises until our last breath.

 Connecting Through Our Struggles

It typically takes a while to get comfortable with a stranger, but sometimes a bad start to the day could potentially give two people a chance to connect past the formalities and measured tendencies of a first encounter. This was true for my encounter with Kim Longbottom, the owner of Henry’s Drive, who had the nearly impossible task of trying to go from uptown Manhattan, in New York City, to downtown, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  (A side note, in NYC, many firemen/women and police officers have Irish ancestry, and so, a big section of the city is blocked off for all the precincts to march.) Kim was certainly overwhelmed when I met her for lunch at Benjamin Steak House, as she was coming from a nightmare Uber ride, dragging her suitcases with her as she was heading directly to the airport immediately following our meeting.

What struck me about Kim was that although she certainly could have allowed herself to indulge in some self pity regarding her horrible day, she instantly showed concern for me and all those around her.  Later, she spoke about her daughter, who was a college student, as well as her friends.  This thoughtfulness and her innate attention for detail was woven throughout each of her wines. Kim’s wines have a subtlety, elegance and sophistication that was nurturing and gave just the right amount of generosity – not too overbearing, not too austere.

Henry’s Drive

Kim and her third-generation pastoralist husband, Mark Longbottom, planted their vineyards in Padthaway, Australia, in 1992. Although she originates from the famed wine region of Marlborough, New Zealand, her wine style is distinctively her own. With the unfortunate passing of her husband in 2010, she was left with taking over Henry’s Drive on her own. She is one of the few women who is the sole owner of a winery of significant size in Australia.

It was also interesting to learn that she recently hired a new winemaker, Andrew Miller. A few years ago, via email, I had reached out to Andrew for help in understanding the process of winemaking, and he was a great help. Andrew has an impressive resume, as he previously worked for a top wine corporation, flying around the world giving his expert opinion on various wineries in different regions – but when I contacted him, he couldn’t be more down to earth and just seemed to be a compassionate type of person. When I mentioned to Kim that I had that connection with him, she admitted that she was initially a little concerned that he would not be happy working for a single winery after working for such a huge conglomerate. But when she talked to people who knew him, they said they could see him wanting a change, which ended up being true as he now gets the chance to focus his energies and astute nature on directly making wines himself, as well as the added benefit of spending more time with his family.

Getting the Most Out of Living

It is natural, through time, to get bogged down by the daily rat race of life…perhaps we start to feel that everyone around us just wants to use us, compete with us, or in this case, that many of the wines we taste seem the same. We get to a point where there is nothing interesting, or exciting about life anymore. But it is good to keep in mind that there are people who are authentic around us, with opportunities to connect on a deeper level. Just as there are Australian wines that are surprisingly refined in their elegance, we just need the courage to open ourselves to the experience so we may recognize them and shout about their existence to the world.

********************

Henry’s Drive wines tasted on March 17th, 2017

All of the wines are from Padthaway, which is part of the Limestone Coast in the South East area of South Australia. It is considered to be a moderately cool grape-growing area that is known to produce long-lived wines of high quality. There are less than a dozen wine producers in Padthaway. Their soils are predominantly limestone with a top soil of red loam “terra rossa”.

The Pillar Box line, which was unveiled in the 2005 vintage, is named for the red Pillar Boxes (mailboxes) that first appeared in the Padthaway region in the 1850s. This line was designed in 2005 to make affordable, accessible wines that expressed the elegance and freshness of the Henry’s Drive style.

2015 Pillar Box Red (10th Vintage):  70% Shiraz and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The X on the label celebrates the 10th vintage. Fresh black currant with mint and hints of cinnamon that has round tannins and a bright finish. Fruit was sourced from Henry’s Drive’s Padthaway vineyards.

2015 Pillar Box Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. This wine, just like the one before, has great restraint. Lovely notes of espresso, dried herbs and spice that were delivered with fleshy goodness, yet it was fresh with a good structure that was simply delightful. Fruit was sourced from various sites across the Longbottom family vineyards.

In 2014 Kim started the “H” line of wines that were created to show an even more subtle version of varieties paying homage to the French origins of these wines.

2014 Henry’s Drive “H” Chardonnay: 100% Chardonnay. I had this Chardonnay first but wanted to place it in my notes after the Pillar Box so I could keep all the Henry’s Drive wines together. A long time ago, I was turned off of New World Chardonnays, but there are some that I have been having lately that are re-igniting my love for them. This is one of them! Kim talked about how she loved a more graceful, fresh style and this certainly was the epitome of grace and charm. Golden apple with delicate layers of almond paste, spice and marked acidity with beautifully integrated oak. Fruit harvested from Henry’s Drive’s hillside vineyards. Only 383 cases made.

2014 Henry’s Drive “H” Syrah: 100% Syrah. Vivid flavors of rhubarb, with rosemary and sweet tobacco, carried by fine tannins and a great energy that gives this wine a nice lift. Fruit harvested from the Henry’s Drive hillside vineyards that have deep, sandy loam over thick limestone terroir. Only 272 cases made.

The Henry’s Drive is their premium line from some of their top plots. The postal theme is carried throughout with the label showing a depiction of a postage stamp created in the 1950s. Henry’s Drive’s name honors Henry John Hill, proprietor of the 19th century mail coach service that once ran through a piece of property that is currently owned by the Longbottom family.

2012 Henry’s Drive Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon: 65% Shiraz and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is one of Kim’s favorite wines and I can see why. It has decadence with a flavor of cocoa nib that is balanced by dusty earth and a body that envelopes you with a big, warm hug, yet it is secure with its firm grip. It was nice to see two heavy hitters like Shiraz and Cabernet dance so seamlessly together – neither dominating the other. Fruit sourced from vineyards with soils that have red loam over limestone in Henry’s Drive’s vineyards in Padthaway. Only 735 cases made.

2012 Henry’s Drive Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. An intoxicating smoky minerality with blueberry compote and allspice. The acidity is simply stunning on such a generous wine and gives it an invigorating shape that brings you back for more. This wine comes from red loam and limestone soils in the Henry’s Drive vineyards. Only 785 cases made.

Magnus Shiraz is sourced from a unique site situated on the hillside within the Longbottom family vineyards in Padthaway. The vineyard was planted by Kim’s late husband in 1996 and he uniquely planted the vines in pairs – their trunks twisting around each other. Only 496 cases made (six-bottle cases).

2012 Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. Kim said they started picking the fruit earlier, as well as aging it longer in fine grained French oak, giving it more overall poise and refinement that gives a real sense of definition to this opulent wine. They sold off the fruit for the 2011 since it did not reach Kim’s extremely high standards, and hence, why we tasted the 2012 and 2010. The 2012 had a much more lively impression with evident acidity, with hints of eucalyptus, lavender and star anise dancing about… a wine that offers some serious muscle as well as great intellectual contemplation… such as Sherlock Holmes. A true renaissance wine!

2010 Henry’s Drive Magnus Shiraz: 100% Shiraz. The 2010 is a richer, more textured wine that is grounded with dark wild berries intermingled with toasted coriander seeds and thai basil. Although this wine is more concentrated with broader shoulders, it still has a linear energy that gives this wine class and style on its prolonged finish.

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

One of the Truths that Renews our Humanity with Bordeaux

My fondest memories involving Bordeaux wines are not so much connected to my visits at their insanely beautiful châteaux, or that I was drinking a particular vintage that was part of fine wine history… it is the conversations from the heart with some of the prominent people in Bordeaux that I remember as being the most precious. These revealing discussions show that many of the key influencers in the fine wine Bordeaux region have become more and more aware of their actions having consequences. Bordeaux wants a greater legacy that goes beyond their legendary 1855 classification or even greater than being the fine wine capital of the world…and my recent experience, reassuring me of the progressive consciousness of Bordeaux, happened in the capital of the US – a Montrose wine vertical in DC earlier this year.

Château Montrose Vertical

Every January, Panos Kakaviatos, wine educator, wine writer and founder of Wine-Chronicles, holds a Bordeaux vertical of one of the great châteaux on the Left Bank with Bordeaux collectors, experts and journalists/writers in attendance. It always takes the form of a wine dinner with courses paired with a flight of wines, with breaks in between the courses for an opportunity to discuss the vintages, and perceptions before and after tasting of the wines at this stage of their lives.

Hervé Berland (left) and Panos Kakaviatos (right)

Deliberation of each flight was led by Panos and Hervé Berland, Managing Director of super second Château Montrose, as well as being a long established important figure in Bordeaux. There were various aspects discussed of the Montrose of the present, as well as the past, that were explained and examined… but one question started a little bit of a heated debate: Why are they becoming organic?

Over the past decade, Château Montrose has been making significant changes – a complete renovation of the cellar room and all existing buildings, reduced sulfur levels in their wines, drones that take infrared photos of the vines, and the conversion to organic in their 90 hectare (222 acres) vineyards. Some people present at the dinner were skeptical of whether organic was necessary or would benefit the wine consumer.

Bring Back Balance, Bring Back Humanity

Hervé said that it was essential to first taste the wine made from the 15 hectares that have been farmed organic since 2015 before deciding on committing to organic farming for the rest of the vineyards. The wine had to be just as good as before, and in his experience he thinks that it has gotten better through time. But he mainly emphasized that there is a growing “international concern” in France of the “use of chemicals in the vineyards” and he confidently stated that organic “is the future”.

Early last year, in the center of Bordeaux, there was a protest march against the use of pesticides after a controversial documentary aired on French national TV regarding the high use of pesticides – the figures were leaked from a database listing agricultural pesticides purchased between 2008-2013; it was revealed that the Bordeaux region was at the top of the list. Although there has been no direct link to the higher national rates of cancer in Bordeaux and this report, it does make one think, especially since some high profile Bordeaux legends have passed recently from a private fight with some form of cancer.

When we are children, we are shown though advertising, and perhaps by the examples of those adults in our lives, that a successful life involves a particular type of car, size of house or fine clothes; hopefully we realize that although there is nothing wrong with buying desired luxury treats with our hard earned money, we know those things are not what makes us who we are or show our worth as a human being.

I have loved every visit to Bordeaux and it is a region and city that has become more aware of making things nice for all their inhabitants no matter their level of status; from greatly improving the once unsavory city of Bordeaux, as well as the top Grand Cru Classés, such as Montrose, taking a more serious look at how their vineyards are affecting their employees and community.

Despite Montrose’s gravelly vineyards being categorized as a “terrace 4”, on the same level as Château Latour’s vineyards, they are evolving to the next stage of achieving success and prestige – by living a life of service with compassion for the world around them. This is the final truth of how to renew humanity… and at the end of the day that is the one hope we have for a better world.

“Teach this triple truth to all:
A generous heart,
kind speech,
and a life of service and compassion
are the things which renew humanity.”
-Buddha

*************************

Wine Dinner with Château Montrose vertical on January 24th, 2017

I’ve done something different with my tasting notes this time. Instead of giving full, individual notes, I thought it would be more interesting to give brief comparisons of the wines in each flight. The flights were arranged by Panos Kakaviatos and the Executive Chef, Ryan Ratino, with the consideration of pairing it with each dish as well as making an interesting flight by grouping newer and older wines. All bottles came directly from Château Montrose with the exception of 1989.

 

 

Flight: 2012, 2008, 1995 with Wild Hare Terrine (elderberry-frisee-shallot)

The 2012 was tight and firm yet had an attractive underlying sense of minerality, 2008 was gorgeous and simply breathtakingly balanced (originally, this vintage was underrated but later many Bordeaux lovers had come to sing its praises) and the 1995 was showing its age with intense savory notes, yet its supple body made it simply enjoyable for those who like lots of earth and little fruit – a vintage that does not make a pronouncement of sophistication but rather gives a warm handshake of enjoyment.

Flight: 2010, 2009, 2003 with Quail Egg (truffle-grits-cured yolk)

Of course, 2010 and 2009 were stunning and showed the greatness of each vintage while highlighting the different qualities, such as the ‘10 having lots of structure and ‘09 having lots of flesh. The 2003, a hot vintage, and many think the wines are over the hill at this point, was in a tough lineup with some outstanding vintages yet it was still fresh with a plusher body.

Flight: 2005, 1990, 1989, 1976 with Octopus (coco beans-oxtail-fennel)

The 2005 has a New World glycerol, lush quality with sweet cherries and many of the traditionalist wine drinkers in the room said they liked it but it wasn’t Bordeaux to them, and certainly not a St. Estèphe super-second like Montrose, but although I prefer more structure I found its uniqueness refreshing. The 1990 was pretty with a pure raspberry note (surprising considering its age), 1989 was more savory and tight although seemed a bit closed still (89 was the only vintage that didn’t come directly from the Château and was generously donated by Panos and a couple other collectors so there might have been bottle variation), and the 1976 was my favorite – biggest shock of the night. ‘76 was known as a hot year and many wines from that vintage are now considered past their prime (dried out), but this one was bright with beautiful blackberry notes with hints of tar and leather that added to its complexity – Hervé said Montrose picked their grapes early that year and it certainly is still paying off.

Flight: 2000, 1986, 1985 with American Bison Strip Loin (root vegetable-hay smoked potatoes-jus)

2000 was singing and generous with a great sense of place displayed by hints of crushed gravel, 1986 was tight and austere – Hervé noted that he actually preferred not decanting this vintage (all bottles where double decanted at least a couple hours before tasting), 1985 gave animalistic notes of seared meat balanced with stewed plum notes and  paired well with the Bison.

Flight 1998, 1982, 1970 with Meadow Creek Dairy “Mountaineer” (apple butter-levain-hazelnuts)

1998 had manicured tannins and complex aromatics of forest floor and pencil lead, 1982 had rougher tannins with a hint of herbaceous quality on the finish that was best with the cheese and the 1970 (a vintage that is known for bottle variation) showed nicely with real charm, expressed by floral and spicy aromas and fine tannins dancing across the light bodied palate.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Success is Living a Life with a Purpose

Photo by David Silverman Copyright © 2017 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved. www.dpsimages.com

Two Riesling wines from the same producer sat before me – a 2014 and a 2015 – yet they had two different bottle shapes. I was told by the producer that the reason for the difference is because Israel is perceived to be surrounded by “enemies” so everything is extremely expensive to import, especially if one needs it within a couple of days. I was talking to one of the most fascinating wine producers I have ever met – Rami Bar-Maor, owner and winemaker for Bar-Maor, a winery in the Shomron, southern Mount Carmel area (although Rami takes issue with these names as a regional wine designation). Rami actually disagrees with this perception and does not believe in the concept of enemies – he expressed his discontent at even the notion of such an idea.

Rami is a man who deeply thinks about every nuance of everything, who was forced to accept a different bottle for his 2015 Riesling because he could not get the bottle he wanted, and he talked about his uneasiness of such a predicament saying, “I can’t do anything without any context… everything needs a reason and doing something without meaning is very bad.”

Before we arrived at his facility, I was told that Rami wanted us to excuse its outside appearance – his winery is not a beautiful château-style building, but is located in an industrial park. But as I walked through an alley between the metal clad buildings, a twinge of excitement shot up my back… I had a feeling that I was about to experience a winery visit like no other. The first thing I saw when I walked into the winery was a huge table with various meats, cheeses, breads, and lots of bottles lined up in multiple verticals; information about the winery lined up on a perfect angle with metals clips that were each exactly the same distance from the top and bottom. Everything on that table was placed in a certain way and organized according to an overall concept. At that moment, I knew I was about to meet a very unique individual.

Bikat-Hanadiv

It took no time to figure out that Rami was meticulous, with everything having an intention – a purpose. He was constantly striving to improve, to reach an ideal… even if he was limited in resources and opportunity, he was not giving up. He has not only given careful attention to his vineyards and cellar, but he has also brought his knowledge and experience to other wineries in the area and strongly believes that they can come together to raise the quality and image of their region overall.

There are many issues that Rami has to contend with… one being a name for the region. Many refer to the area as Mount Carmel, although many vineyards have nothing to do with that mountain. The three largest commercial producers in the area cannot agree on a name for their area and Rami believes that the little guys, like himself, should leave the quarreling between the big companies and that they should decide a name for themselves.

Bikat-Hanadiv (translates into “Generous Valley” and said to be one of the oldest wine growing areas in Israel) is the name that he gave his area. He examined the areas that had the same sense of place, aka terroir, and drew lines based on that idea – leaving out historical or political persuasion. Only a couple of months ago, he delineated this wine growing area calling it Bikat-Hanadiv, and gathered 13 wineries – all of them having at least 85% of their land in this designated area – although 4 of these wineries do not have their production facilities there but they have at least 85% of their vineyards within the boundaries.

Rami has been working with his neighbors, as well as his own vineyards, to produce fruit that is complex, naturally high in acid and moderate in alcohol, with structure. They have a high water table in Bikat-Hanadiv and so he does not believe in irrigation. Also, he is a proponent of early “harsh” pruning and stopping other “procedures” (more pruning, tipping the ends, green harvesting) later in the season to find more balance in their area. There are many other concepts that he has implemented in the vineyards, I can’t share them all in one post, but the idea is to stop using what everyone else is doing in Israel and focus on their specific area and make adjustments and alterations accordingly.

Rami said that for his first three years as a producer, he bought a small percentage of grapes from the Golan Heights, a well-known wine producing area in northern Israel, but he realized that he needed to completely invest his time, study and energy into Bikat-Hanadiv and he is “working like hell” to show the “true potential here” by no longer using grapes from any other region than his own. He further added that they had a long way to go, but they have to start somewhere to talk about the region; from this time forward he is adding the name “Bikat-Hanadiv” to his label although it is not a legally defined term so it is illegal to do so.

Rami Bar-Maor

Photo by David Silverman Copyright © 2017 dpsimages. All Rights Reserved. www.dpsimages.com

Orignally, Rami Bar-Maor was an architect who became frustrated by the compromises he was forced to make – so the end result never lived up to his concept and ideal. He was involved in designing a section of Habima Square, a famous public space in the center of Tel Aviv, but the end result did not meet his standards and, today, is still painful for him to look at. Rami, a soft-spoken man, has a great inner intensity with a conscientious desire to improve the world in which he lives.

As a frustrated architect obsessed with creating excellence, he ended up getting into winemaking, interning at the renowned Margalit Winery – many consider Dr. Yair Margalit a genius who wrote one of the preeminent books on wine chemistry. Others in the wine industry told Rami to work at a bigger winery where he could learn more, but once he learned that Margalit made wines in a “primitive way,” he knew that it would fit his minimalist ideal of allowing the grapes to show their true nature.

Rami believes in primitive ways, using knowledge and research to back it up, to express the nature and sense of place of his vineyards.  He does not allow acid corrections, uses free run juice only, with no pressing at all for his reds (he only has one white – Riesling), no filtration, no clarification, and relies on winter rains rather than the use of irrigation. Many think he is mad for trying such practices in a climate that has such high amounts of heat and sunlight, yet he is making it work.

Transparency of Purpose

Rami openly admits that not everything is ideal in his winery, but at least has the intention to improve, to express a true sense of place, and he is working everyday with his neighbors to bring a deep meaning and high quality to his region’s wines. At one point I was overwhelmed with an incredible sense of honor to sit in the presence of someone who had everything against him, yet was not going to stop doing what he thought was right.

I know that many years from now, this will be one of the encounters that I will look back on and say to myself, “Wow, I got to meet someone who planted seeds to change the wine world into a more thoughtful, transparent place.” The only thing that is unknown to me is if he will ever get the adulation that he so rightly deserves, or will he be one of the unsung heroes that helped to bring a real sense of place to the Israeli wine industry that no one in the international community ever hears of. I have a feeling that Rami’s purpose will be served simply if Bikat-Hanadiv is recognized for their unique place and high quality wines… he has very little need for personal celebrity. Either way, I am profoundly grateful to have met someone who truly lives by his elevated ethical principles.

***********************

Bar-Maor Wines Tasted on February 2nd, 2017

***Bar-Maor wines are not, as of yet, imported into the US and they are non-kosher, but I hope to see them in New York City someday soon.

Production is around 15,000 bottles a year.

I have added a lot of side information before the tasting notes of each vertical because Rami thinks about every little thing that is involved in all aspects of being a wine producer and loves to share his mindset and process… I have only shared a small portion of what I have learned from him. Feel free to read everything or jump to the tasting notes.

On most of the labels of the current vintages, Rami uses the word “Rendzina” – the name of the free, eroded white chalky soil –  a Polish word that means “to chat”. When a person walks through the Bikat-Hanadiv vineyards, it sounds like there is someone else there. Rami says the free, decomposed chalky soil has a different chemical reaction with the vegetation than the bounded chalk that looks like crystals.

===========================================

Rami believes that whites need a lot more caring than reds, and although they are not in Germany where Riesling originates, he wanted to try it in his area of Bikat-Hanadiv to see if it was possible to create an elegant Riesling. He had problems in 2015: I found the wine tasty, but it is not to his ideal, but he accepts that he doesn’t have control over vintage variation. Also, Rami notes that Riesling will get into stress very early in the season, and so, avoiding tropical fruit flavors is a challenge for him.

The last note about the Riesling, before the tasting notes – he leaves a block of oak in the tank to provide oxygen to the yeast because it is fermenting in very low temperatures and may create hydrogen sulfide – the odor of rotten eggs.

-2014 Riesling: Flinty minerality, lime blossom, smoky with nice backbone of acidity with a linear edge.

 -2015 Riesling: Key limes and juicy peach with riper flavors due to the hotter year but still has a fresh quality.

==========================================

The next wine is Tammuz (Summer Blend, aka a wine to drink during the hot Israeli summers) and the label represents the forces of nature: red blend around 60% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Marselan – based on 2014. Rami believes that the flavors in this wine should not last too long… they should come and leave quickly – which, in his mind, is perfect for summer.

Since Rami has an architect’s background, he has a concept for each wine in his head. The Tammuz should be very lovely, the drinker should watch it move up in the air, watch it move along and then, all of the sudden, look up at it again and it is no longer there – it has vanished completely… like star dust. It should not stay in the mouth too long. He says he is not there yet, but is almost there with this wine.

-2013 Tammuz: This was the first attempt at this concept with firm texture yet is still playful with bursts of blackberry, a touch of cinnamon and a clean finish.

-2014 Tammuz: The ‘14 is rounder and closer to what Rami wants as it dances across one’s palate – youthful and expressive and hasn’t been weighed down by life.

============================================

The woman on this label is Lilith. Some think of her as the black demon, who had 1000 baby demons with the devil. The story goes that she was Adam’s first wife but she was complete on her own because she was human born and did not come from his rib like Eve. She was born for her own enjoyment. Others consider her to be the first feminist… and that’s perhaps why some may find her dark. Rami loves Syrah and he is a big believer of growing it in his area – Bikat-Hanadiv. He says it is dark and “dirty” but dirty in a way that people enjoy – it is the siren that people know they should avoid but cannot deny.

Lilith is a red blend of about 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Syrah – based on 2014. Rami says Lilith has “too much” of everything inside.

-2012 Lilith: There is this dark earthiness with lush texture that sucks one into this wine, yet it has a good backbone of structure and acidity with tannins that keeps one guessing.

-2013 Lilith: I felt this vintage had more pretty fruit notes like cassis in the beginning but then there were animalistic tendencies on the finish, and the tannins hook you at the end.

-2014 Lilith: Meaty, charming and funky notes made this wine so much fun, plenty of fruit to keep you hooked with the intense savory, wild qualities. The big, round tannins seems to first gently invite one in, then they become unexpectedly rough and beat you up… but there is always the urge to go back for more.

===========================================

The label for Bar-Maor’s Cabernet Franc is based on a 1920s German graphic that shows the idea of humans being in control –we think we are in control, but we are not. Rami believes the same is true of vineyards – he surrenders to the fact that he doesn’t have control over them.

His Cabernet Franc gets the highest amount of new oak because he feels it can absorb it and naturally integrates it without losing its own distinct characteristics.

Rami feels Cabernet Franc divides Israeli customers into two groups: Those that hate Cabernet Franc or those that die for Cabernet Franc.

The Cabernet Franc is a blend of around 94% Cabernet Franc and 6% Merlot – based on 2014.

-2012 Cabernet Franc: Mingles a touch of dried herbs with spicy oak, fresh black raspberry fruit with fine, firm tannins that have a regal presence.

-2013 Cabernet Franc: Pretty, intense nose of raspberry with hint of blackcurrant leaves and more velvety tannins.

-2014 Cabernet Franc: Crushed stones and gravel with an intoxicating note of wild flowers and a good balance between structure and accessibility.

=====================================

 The Red Moon is Merlot dominant with 2014 being the only one that is 100% Merlot. According to Rami the other vintages needed a little bit of green, and so that is why he added Cabernet Franc.

Originally, he had a single restaurant buy all of his Red Moon, but they kept telling him that they wanted it more subtle to pair with their antipasta, tomato based food. Rami told them that they needed to leave the Red Moon open, without a cork, for 4 days to have it settle down. They listened to him and the wine became more subtle and now goes perfectly with the food.

-2011 Red Moon: 2011 was the coolest season in several years. Sage and black raspberry with soft body. It was the first year he made Red Moon but it is very different from subsequent vintages since it was such a cool year in Israel.

-2012 Red Moon: Bright, expressive fruit with sour cherry (never got that on a Merlot dominant wine), lots of verve…invigorating!

-2013 Red Moon: Plums, dried leaves and wafting aromas of truffles on the finish.

-2014 Red Moon: 100% Merlot. This is an excellent effort, reminding me of some Pomerol wines such as Gazin…Supple and rich yet firm and elegant… opulent while remaining fresh and thrilling. I thought this wine, considering it is 100% Merlot, really showed that Rami is on the right track in his vineyards.

===========================================

Rami said that the nature of Syrah is to become reductive… so he does not fight it. It took him time to figure out how to work with this variety. In order to reach complexity without jammy qualities, and seemingly high alcohol, he has to go to the “dark side” of the winery – placing a percentage of the wine in a reductive state in stainless steel. I have to say that I am really in love with his Syrah wines and can’t wait to see where he goes with them.

-2012 Syrah: Although the 2012 and 2013 did not meet Rami’s standards, I found them quite charming with all of the classic gamy, earthy notes that Northern Rhône wine lovers go orgasmic over, yet it had others qualities making it distinctly Bikat-Hanadiv. Hints of black tea and an intense backbone made this a heart-beat-faster sort of wine.

-2013 Syrah: I found this wine very “dark” with lots of brooding fruit and wet earth that was sensual in a rough sort of way.

-2014 Syrah: This was Rami’s favorite – he feels he is starting to understand how to grow and handle Syrah from Bikat-Hanadiv. This vintage had an exceptional balance of the dark and elegant qualities… wet stones, layers of dried and fresh currants and a hint of rosemary, lots of dry extract giving it shape and marked acidity that gave it an exciting finish… a wine that draws the drinker in again and again.

=====================================

Archetype Reserve, a red blend of Syrah, Carignan and Marselan, captures the quintessential essence of Bikat-Hanadiv.

The Archetype (prototype of how wine should be made in Rami’s area: not leaning on oak, alcohol or fruit). Red blend of 55% Syrah, 35% Carignan (placed in stainless steel for one year then added to the blend) and 10% Marselan (brings a rim of black fruit to the blend).

Only 1000 bottles produced.

-2014 Archetype Reserve: The first example of his ideal of not leaning on Bordeaux varieties has lower alcohol (13.5% abv) and spends less time in barrels – showing the potential of Bikat-Hanadiv. A deep ruby color that has that notes of dried meats, black cherries and black mulberries, coalescing with hints of tar and a stunning under-note of chalky minerality – juicy mid-palate with a superb length of flavor that finishes with star anise and wild herbs.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments