Quality is Sustained Through Collaboration

Collaboration is one of those things that many of us know is beneficial, but in some ways can actually be detrimental. The human mind is complex and through time, it is possible to have experienced so many interactions with others that chip away at our self-worth, making us want to continually prove ourselves which can cause friction within a group dynamic. Toxic competitiveness and the attitude that there can be only one winner can dominate our lives. It is tough to find the balance between working together for the greater good and fulfilling personal goals when we live in a free democracy (and I think the problems of a democracy is worth the freedoms we enjoy) that allows us to choose our own paths, since many times it seems like a binary choice between focusing on individual growth or focusing on the collective good.

Willamette Valley AVA

One of those rare collaborative havens is the AVA (American Viticultural Areas) of Willamette Valley in Oregon. It is no secret that their success with Pinot Noir wines was not only based on having the right climate for this finicky grape, but early in their founding, their decision to work as a community. A collaborative spirit cannot be faked for a significant length of time – after a while, the cracks start to show to the world. I have met so many people who put on the display of a ‘stronger together’ attitude but many times, the act of throwing a proclaimed friend or colleague under the bus when it benefits them makes it clear that the ‘together’ attitude is not heartfelt. As I have gotten older, I have realized that no matter how incredible a person or organization may seem from the start, it takes time to know their real intentions, and that at the end of the day, many of us only have a handful of people who we can depend on.

One of the best and worst things about living in New York City, or any major city I would imagine, is that you meet all types of people. Some have a ruthless attitude that they either hide, or in some cases openly flaunt, others are just trying to make their way in a tough environment with as few cuts and bruises as they can manage, and then there are those whose life is devoted to the community in which they live. I have found myself connecting to my own community as a source of grounding while learning to create strong boundaries in my work life.

Oregon is one of the places where it seems, for many, to be one of collaboration, in both personal and professional lives, as the foundation of their sustainability is forged from this philosophy.  For at least a decade, if not longer, I have been talking to Oregon producers who have done market visits to New York City. They truly do keep to that code of promoting each other, even when they are pushed by their distributor to only brag about themselves. I remember working in distribution many years ago and we represented one of the original founding families of Willamette wine. The producer was considered a ‘tough one’ to bring on appointments with wine buyers because they refused to only speak about their wines and they were insistent on promoting Willamette as a whole. Eventually this producer moved to a smaller distributor that respected their set of values.

Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

I got together with a couple of women who work in the Willamette wine scene back in January to discuss their fourth annual Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction. Shirley Brooks, VP of Sales & Marketing of Elk Cove Vineyards, came to Oregon 25 years ago when she was studying to become a certified dive master and Eugenia Keegan, Oregon General Manager of Jackson Family Wines properties, found her way to the Oregon wine scene after she closed down her own wine brand in Sonoma County’s famed Russian River Valley.

It was an afternoon with refreshingly frank women who have been involved with wine and Oregon for at least a couple of decades – Eugenia started in wine back in 1976. Even bigger wine companies like Jackson Family Wines (Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash, WillaKenzie and Zena Crown Vineyard) or Burgundian négociant Drouhin have to bow to the collaborative will of Willamette; instead of these powerful wine enterprises changing the utopian alliance of the Oregon winemakers, these enterprises have to conform to the Willamette way of life.

At one point, when the Oregon ladies were asked about their inspiration for this auction, Eugenia said without missing a beat, “It is a complete rip-off of Premiere Napa Valley” – an auction only for the wine trade that will allow those in distribution or wine sellers (sommeliers at restaurants or wine store owners) to make special wines available to their customers. Premiere Napa Valley has raised large amounts of money that can be used to help Napa Valley Vintners to promote wines around the world and despite Willamette knowing that they won’t come near to the Napa auction numbers, they realize it is a good way to raise money and awareness.

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association also sees a side benefit to the auction of getting the national wine trade out to Willamette to experience their beautiful way of life, framed by the charming nature of the area that offers adventure at every turn. This experience will be passed on to their customers that will hopefully inspire more wine travel to the area. But both Eugenia and Shirley stated that they are not trying to be Napa Valley, or Sonoma, or Burgundy or any other well-known Pinot Noir wine producing area. They feel that what makes Willamette special is its raw country splendor that no one dares to alter.

Grounded to the Earth

Eugenia made an interesting point that many other well-known new world regions focus on climate, and despite Oregon being great, weather wise, for Pinot Noir (a grape that has a narrow range of ideal temperatures), for them, it is all about the soil. Maybe that devotion to the soil is what grounds everyone to a collaborative mindset. Many of us have our own pockets of our personal community but I think it is rare, in these times, to have a group of businesses, large and small, stay true to the collaborative mission in a painful, slowly recovering economy – which is possibly teetering on another downward slide. But perhaps part of how Willamette producers keep the strength to stick together for the greater good is that they root themselves to the earth knowing that they have everything they need… and they pay less attention to the horizon that promises the false grandeur of self-importance.

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2019 Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

(Tasting Notes of Wines I Tasted with Eugenia and Shirley are Below this Information)

Friday, April 5th, 2019

Morning: Willamette Immersion Seminar

Afternoon: Welcome Tasting Event

Evening: Dinner Series: Winemaker Dinners at Wineries Around the Valley

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

Tasting and Live Auction at the Allison Inn & Spa, Newberg, Oregon

11am-2pm: Concurrent Walk-Around Lot Tasting and Buffet Lunch

2pm: Live Auction

4-5:30pm: After Party

2019 Auction Lots

86 WVWA (Willamette Valley Wineries Association) Members Participating

92 Lots of Wine Produced Exclusively for Event, All 2017– Cooler, Structured Vintage

86 Lots of Pinot Noir

6 Lots of Chardonnay (Auction Chair Lots)

82 Five-Case Lots, 8 Ten-Case Lots, 2 Twenty-Case Lots

21 New Participating Wineries for 2019

Attendees by the Numbers

420 Attendees, Including 258 Trade Professionals, Guests and Sponsors

82 Successful Bidder Accounts from Last Three Auctions

Bidders Represent 37 States and 4 Countries

30% Retailers

42% Restaurateurs/Hoteliers/Private Club Proprietors

28% Wholesalers/Distributors/Brokers/Importers

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Tasting of Willamette Oregon Wines on January 21st, 2019

A brief explanation of a couple of interesting aspects of Willamette Valley soil, broken up into 2 types: Volcanic (Jory Soil) and Sedimentary (Willakenzie Soil); a 3rd soil – glacial sentiment – exist in Chehalem Mountains but was not represented in this tasting. The volcanic soils are said to add a spice and more red fruit character than the sedimentary borne black fruit profile, yet Shirley and Eugenia went further in explaining the structural differences. Eugenia explained their tannins/ overall structure variation in terms of music; wines from volcanic soils were like violins as they are tight, high acid, focused, with lots of energy and tension; wines from sedimentary soils were like the cellos as they are big and broad… they have reverberation. In the below lineup, the Elk Cove Vineyards and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars wines are from sedimentary soils and the Soléna Estate and Argyle Winery are from volcanic soils. Many consumers may not get the soil differences at first, as many of the entry level Willamette Valley wines are a mixtures of the main two discussed.

***Aperitif to get us into the Willamette mood

2015 Big Table Farm, Laughing Pig Rosé: 100% Pinot Noir. Strawberry and cherry blossoms with hints of wild mushroom; finishes with slight structure and white pepper.

I discovered Big Table Farm over the past year and I am very impressed by this tiny producer from Willamette. Brian Marcy and Clare Carver are partners in life and in this winery – Brian is the winemaker and Clare is the artist who designs all their labels for each small lot, but they are both farmers at heart. Their wines are distinctive. Only 480 cases made of this wine.

***First set of wines that would not be available at the auction:

2011 Elk Cove Vineyards, Mt. Richmond, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Smoky, brooding with broad shoulders yet has the restraint of the 2011 cooler vintage. Only 798 cases made.

Founded in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell with their son, Adam Campbell, joining his parents to farm their 380 acres (154 hectares) sustainably across 6 separate estates in northern Willamette.

2012 Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, Hyland Vineyard, Pinot Noir, McMinnville AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Black cherry with a zing that had dried herbs and a rich body that finished with a floral lift. Only 190 cases made.

Founded in 1998 by wife-and-husband team Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash specializing in Pinot Noir, Syrah and Riesling from the northern Willamette Valley.

2013 Soléna Estate, Zena Crown Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Ripe raspberries with smoked paprika that was linear with fierce energy despite having plenty of fleshy fruit from this warm vintage. Only 199 cases made.

Laurent Montalieu is a much beloved character filled with passion that has helped shape the Oregon wine scene. Laurent was raised partly on the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe and partly in Bordeaux, France, and he eventually found his home in Oregon in the late 1980s. Laurent purchased this property to celebrate his marriage to his wife Danielle in 2000. Soléna is the combination of the Spanish and French words Solana and Soleil, and the name that Laurent and Danielle gave to their daughter.

***Second set of wines that would be sold at the auction:

-Lot #36 – 2014 Argyle Winery, ‘Lone Star’, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. High toned fruit that leapt from the glass and it sang with floral enticement and beautiful brambly fruit that was focused until the finish. The lot size is 10 cases.

In 1987, Argyle was founded on the idea that cool-climate Willamette Valley was ideal for producing sparkling wines and they are well-known to Oregon wine lovers for their sparklers, but this wine proves that they can produce elegant still wines as well.

-Lot #9 – 2015 Drouhin Oregon, Roserock, ‘The Auction Cuvée’, Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. Slightly dry tannins that chisel a sculptured texture that gives a textural complexity while being balanced by juicy fruit that finishes with weight and allspice. The lot size is 5 cases.

Maison Joseph Drouhin (Burgundy negociant and producer) established Domaine Drouhin Oregon and family winemaker Véronique Boss-Drouhin is one of the biggest advocates for Willamette Valley wines.

-Lot #66 – 2016 Gran Moraine Winery, ‘Terminal Moraine’, Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton AVA: 100% Pinot Noir. This wine is an ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ with an elegant body that is packed with lots of aromatics and flavors of dried cherries, pressed flowers and crumbled earth that is all at once silky smooth and riveting in its delivery. The lot size is 5 cases.

Grand Moraine’s vineyard is located in the Coast Range foothills at the wild western edge of Willamette Valley. Some of their beliefs include LIVE certification, reducing yields as much as possible, picking fruit at the cusp of ripeness and using native ferments.

-Lot #6 – 2016 ‘The Pioneer and the Punk’ Chardonnay, Ribbon Ridge AVA: 100% Chardonnay. Golden apple and white peach with almond paste and toasted cardamom pods are lightly interwoven within the bright fruit that articulates itself with finesse. The lot size is 5 cases.

This is a joint venture of only 5 cases made of Chardonnay from Willamette’s smallest AVA, Ribbon Ridge. The producers Bergström and Adelsheim teamed up to blend the best of each one’s Ribbon Ridge estates.

Quick Notes about Vintages in Willamette:

2011 and 2017 are cooler, more structured vintages

2012 a moderate vintage with good weight

2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 are warmer vintages that have more ripeness than is typical that just happened to occur back to back

2013 is heralded as one of the greatest Willamette vintages in modern history that has lots of structure (tannins and acid) to make great old bones

2012 has more generosity at this time

Sub-Zones in Willamette:

Willamette Valley Sub-AVAs (American Viticultural Areas)

-Chehalem Mountains AVA

-Dundee Hills AVA

-Eola-Amity Hills AVA

-McMinnville AVA

-Ribbon Ridge AVA (ocean sediment)

-Yamhill-Carlton District AVA

-Van Duzer Corridor AVA: Newest AVA approved is Van Duzer Corridor

 

 

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A Time for Peace and a Time for Progress

The sun shining through the windows illuminated the image of a man and horse deconstructed into squares, triangles and rectangles. Lacking real human and animal lines, the figures seemed to be toy-like in their presentation making my brain process each section separately instead of assuming the whole and skipping the details. The stress that I held in my head melted away as I stood there looking at the nuances of something that was familiar yet foreign at the same time. I was transported out of my reality to a work that was at once calming and mysterious.

Center for Italian Modern Art

I was visiting the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York City where their exhibition “Metaphysical Masterpieces” was featuring various Italian artists’ work from 1916-1920. The metaphysical movement started when Futurist painter Carlo Carrà met Metaphysical artist Giorgio de Chirico in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, when they were both stationed there in 1917 during World War I.  Futurist artists emphasized speed, technology, violence and youth as they enthusiastically anticipated the world fiercely changing. Carlo Carrà’s world was drastically altered but not in the way he intended as he quickly found himself amongst the worst type of violence and change in the form of communities being obliterated; the meditative qualities of metaphysics that would, at one time, have been boring became a salvation for him.

Simple objects were transformed into dreamlike pieces under the Metaphysical philosophy of painting established by Carrà and de Chirico. Their works enabled the observer to escape and find peace in dreamlike images that were extreme contrasts from the brute force tactic of the illustrations of Futurists. As Carrà’s world quickly escalated from industrial aspiration to nightmarish turmoil, so did his focus shift in regards to the type of art he felt compelled to show the world.

Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino

My Metaphysical art experience was combined with the introduction to the 2013 Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino and its Riserva the 2012 Gualto. Brunello has an interesting history because even though it was not officially designated as a DOCG (Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed) until 1980 – the first bearing a specific seal from the Italian government – it had been recognized as a superior wine for more than 100 years before its DOCG status. In 1869, Clemente Santi’s Brunello wine (he was founding father of Brunello di Montalcino) was awarded a silver medal from the Agrarian Committee of Montepulciano and a few years later, a report was released by The Grapevine Classification Board of Siena which stated that Brunello wines that were tasted from the 1843 vintage, which were 32 years old at the time, were “perfectly preserved”.

But Brunello wine producers’ ambition to show the quality of 100% Sangiovese made in Montalcino, Tuscany, had to be placed on hold. World War I and II took its toll and it would take Italy decades to recover – some areas never being completely repaired. Just like Carrà’s initial desire to bring Italy into the future with his works of art, that passion was replaced by the yearning to bring tranquility to the bleak reality of war.

Purpose Influenced by Our Times

Sometimes our personal ambition is superseded by the greater good for all depending on the state of our times. Whether it is those pillars of society that keep our communities going or those who are simply peaceful forces during tumultuous periods, it is often the people who ground us that eventually make future progress possible. Brunello di Montalcino was able to become one of the greatest red wines in the world because they were built on the backs of winemakers who were happy to do the work knowing that it would not be appreciated until after they were long gone.

 

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Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino Tasted on December 6th, 2018

2013 Camigliano, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. Difficult vintage. A beautifully classic Brunello from a cooler vintage with layers of complex aromatics of cherry blossoms, rosehip oil and a stony minerality that is highlighted by a linear body with finely integrated tannins.

2012 Camigliano, “Gualto”, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: 100% Sangiovese. Considered a top vintage by many wine critics, the 2012s won me over even from their first release. This Camigliano Riserva lives up to this enchanting vintage with a stunning nose of espresso, dusty earth, fresh leather and fennel fronds with juicy black cherry and those mind-blowing silky tannins! Yes tannins that caress the palate with taffeta goodness. Camigliano’s elegant style is showcased well in this vintage.

The name Camigliano “the camel” comes from a seal that was found in a local castle that had a symbol of a camel on it. The seal is thought to date back to the 13th century and perhaps was connected to the influence of the papacy during those times.

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When to Hold On and When to Let Go

I felt like I was following the pied piper walking up a country road in the region of Veneto in Italy as one spaniel dog after another appeared to faithfully trail after their master. Then, before I knew it, the dirt road opened up to a magnificent estate with a villa that was reminiscent of the White House back home in the USA, except it was more extraordinary in its artistic expressions. The legendary Venetian architect Andrea Palladio designed this villa in the 1500s and he has inspired building designs around the world with his creations. The leader of our band of spaniels was Count Vittorio dalle Ore, and despite being a very soft-spoken man with a quiet demeanor, his presence had a powerful effect on the pack of dogs that followed him everywhere.

Asolo

We were visiting the Villa di Maser (also known as Villa Barbaro) in the Asolo comune (Italian for township) within the region of Veneto to explore the “other” top quality Prosecco DOCG area that is much lesser known than the famous Conegliano Valdobbiadene. We had just tasted their “Il Maserino” Montello Rosso DOCG, which is a red wine coming from the Montello zone of Asolo, and since Asolo has varying degrees of factors that influence its topography and micro-climates, some zones can actually produce top level DOCG reds as well.

Vittorio (Count Vittorio dalle Ore introduced himself simply by his first name) knew that we had been drinking sparkling Asolo DOCG Prosecco for most of the day, and therefore he made sure that we were supplied with a bottle of his top red during lunch, so we would have something to drink with our richer dishes. Vittorio helps to pay for the upkeep of Villa di Maser, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, by making wine from the vineyards that came with the estate purchased by his wife’s family back in the 1930s.

One of the many things I kept hearing over and over from the Asolo locals was their strong desire to preserve the history of the past, many times taking the form of rebuilding what was destroyed in WWI, and working hard towards the progress of the future for a good economy for all.

Montelvini

Montelvini was one of the Asolo Prosecco producers that I was already familiar with, although I didn’t know that their roots were specifically in Asolo. Like any other inhabitants living in a major wine loving city around the world, New Yorkers try to go deeper to find the best examples of styles that are popular. Since Prosecco has become a big trend with it deliciously floral and juicy fruit flavors that tickle the palate with gentle bubbles, many in NYC want to find higher quality versions as Prosecco can range from being ‘drinking on the porch wines’ to those sparklers that intrigue and delight with complex yet generous qualities, and consequently, I was originally introduced to Montelvini by a Prosecco loving wine nerd from Brooklyn.

It was surprising to learn during my visit that the president of the Asolo wine producers group (Consorzio Vini Asolo Montello) was also the president of the Montelvini winery. During a couple of our morning tastings that displayed wines made by an array of Asolo winemakers that he led, there was no indication of which one was his wine. Armando Serena, president of Montelvini, with his son and daughter helping him to run the business, made it clear that he would not note which wine was his during the tastings as he didn’t want any favoritism. Armando kept to his intention of only discussing the factors and qualities that made Asolo a noteworthy territory for Prosecco (intense aromatics, increase in structure and weight, and ability to age) while never referring specifically to his own wines. As Armando spoke passionately about the Asolo people and all that they have survived, especially the winemakers, it was not surprising to eventually learn that his family had been making wine for over 130 years since his passion is deeply rooted in his ancestry.

The Montelvini winery was an ideal example of a company preserving some wine traditions such as making low-cost, easy drinking wine available for locals to fill up a glass jug at one of the spouts in their stores. This is balanced with Montelvini’s realization of Asolo’s great potential to make higher end Asolo Prosecco sparkling wines and Montello red wines. Furthermore, Montelvini is letting go of an outdated perception by making a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by exporting wine in steel kegs. Despite their sparkling wine not being able to be labeled as Prosecco when sold in the kegs, this initiative has become very popular with younger drinkers, especially in places such as Brooklyn in NYC where young people want something fun, eco-friendly and quality driven.

Bedin

Another producer called Bedin also illustrated a lovely harmony between keeping true to their roots – this was illustrated by them honoring the first Asolo hillside vineyard purchased by their grandfather in 1948 by noting “Collina 48” on the label (collina meaning ‘hill’ in Italian). But Enrico Bedin, the grandson of the founder as well as owner with his brothers Luigi, Denis and Damiano, smiled when he brought out a playfully pink bottle after our tasting of their Asolo Prosecco wines. This festive looking wine was called “Il Lieve” (a reference to being aged on lees) because it was a non-disgorged sparkling wine from his family vineyards in the hills of Colli Asolani.

Il Lieve is a wink to the traditional times when the second fermentation, which creates the bubbles, would happen in each individual bottle and then the lees (the deposits from the yeasts) are left for further enrichment. Enrico called it a funky wine that the youth in the area couldn’t get enough of… and I myself find these wines enticing with their fresh baked bread notes that, in this case, was balanced by juicy peach flavors and a dry palate with a mouth-watering finish.

The Choice is Not Always Clear

Before we met Vittorio, the owner of Villa di Maser, we were told that he was going through the mourning process of losing his wife a few months earlier. I could sense his deep sadness and struggle to have to talk to writers during such a trying time. I wondered if his noticeable grief was part of the reason his dogs were so vigilant about staying close to him. Then I noticed that he was still wearing his wedding ring and it made me think that it is not always clear when we should hold on and when we should let go. But the Asolo producers are constantly working to sustain such a balancing act for the harmony of their community that seamlessly expresses itself with the elegance of their wines.

 

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Tastings during my Asolo Trip in October 2018

-Tasting Notes Focusing on Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG-

Montelvini, “Il Brutto”, Col Fondo: 100% Glera. Low sugar (2 g/l residual sugar) so bone dry, unfiltered and a miniscule amount of sulfites in the wine since it has never been removed from its lees that resulted from second fermentation. A lower pressure (2.5 atmospheres – aka frizzante style) creates a sensation of creamy bubbles. Sweet stone fruit on the nose with toasted notes that became very mineral driven on the palate.

**As of 2019, the term Col Fondo, meaning “with the bottom” (sediment or lees are present) will no longer be allowed on the label since one producer has trademarked it – “ui lieviti” meaning aged on lees (sur lie) will have to be used instead.

Montelvini, Millesimato, Extra Brut: 100% Glera. Extra Brut indicates that it is on the drier side of Brut with only 5 g/l residual sugar. This Asolo Prosecco had a great salinity to it with the trademark full body and nectarine flavor that had a bright lime blossom finish.

Bedin, “Collina 48”, Brut: 85% Glera and 15% native varieties Perea and Boschera. The grapes are from their first 1948 vineyard in the Asolo area and this Brut has 10 g/l residual sugar which is still considered on the lower side for sparkling wine with evident acidity. Zingy citrus peel on the nose that was accompanied by white flowers with white peach skin.

Bedin, “Collina 48”, Millesimato, Dry: 85% Glera and 15% native varieties Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera and Boschera. The grapes are from their first 1948 vineyard in the Asolo area. This Dry style was amazingly 22 g/l residual sugar and it is a real favorite with the local drinkers – it was delicious and pairs dangerously too well with cured meats and cheeses. Flavor of quince paste enriched the palate with an intense aroma of wild flowers lifting the finish.

-Tasting Notes Focusing on Montello DOCG Rosso-

2011 Villa di Maser, “Il Maserino”: Red blend of 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. The DOCG vineyard in Montello has a well-deserved reputation for Bordeaux blends such as this Il Maserino. This 2011 had a bright red currant heady aroma that had crumbly earth and pencil lead bring complexity in the background with a lean, energetic body.

2012 Montelvini, “Zuitèr”: Red blend of 60% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. Only made in the best years for Montello DOCG and so there was no 2014 and 2015 but the next vintages will be 2013 and 2016. Smoldering earth and fresh leather on the nose with restrained dark berried fruit and spice on the palate that had fine tannins creating a structure that was like intricate lace.

-Rest of Wines Outside the DOCG Areas of Asolo-

 –Bedin, Prosecco DOC Treviso, Brut: 100% Glera and 10 g/l residual sugar. Very aromatic with flowers and orchard fruits that is lighter on the palate and more straightforward than the Asolo Prosecco wines.

Bedin, “Il Lieve”, Vino Frizzante:85% Glera and 15% native varieties Bianchetta Trevigiana, Boschera and Perera. Unfiltered with a miniscule amount of sulfites in this “Il Lieve” since it has never been removed from its lees (acting as a preservative) that resulted from second fermentation. A lower pressure (2.5 atmospheres – aka frizzante style) creates a sensation of creamy bubbles as discussed above. A bone-dry palate had an enticing note of freshly baked bread on the nose with peach cobbler and a stony minerality intermixed within the full body that had a fun grated ginger finish.

A Couple of Interesting Points about Asolo Prosecco DOCG:

**There are only 2 DOCGs in the Prosecco designated area in Veneto, Italy: Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo

**Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines are shown in research to have a longer shelf life compared to many other Prosecco designated areas due to the higher amount of dry extract in the wines as well as give an impression of more weight in the body of these wines.

Different Sugar Levels in Prosecco:

Extra Brut (0-6 g/l residual sugar)
Brut (0-12 g/l residual sugar)
Extra Dry (12-17 g/l residual sugar)
Dry (17-32 g/l residual sugar)

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Carrying the Torch of the Golden Gifts

There always seemed to be overcast skies with a greyish hue that placed a gritty film over everything in sight. The drug dealers selling crack and other drugs on the street corners would wear dark colored camouflage, despite police officers seemingly never being around, as they didn’t want to take the chance of being too in the cops’ faces as they shouted out, “crack, crack, smoke, smoke”. Although everything seemed gloom and doom, there was very little time to get noticeably depressed as there was an electricity in the air that was rooted in many things: fear of getting attacked while walking down the street, fear of not making enough money for rent and ending up on the street, and oddly, the elation that came from witnessing a rare piece of music, art, or performance that was not there to charm tourists out of their money as no one but the poor residents, and visitors who wanted to score drugs, would hang around such a place… these artistic expressions were created by lost, broken humans whose souls cried out to connect.

Lower East Side (LES)

The place I’m talking about is Alphabet City in the East Village of New York City -specifically B & C Avenues in the 1990s – my home from 1993 until 2004. I still live within walking distance and find myself there a couple times a week, yet many times when I am in my old neighborhood, I am furiously running around trying to get everything done with all that I juggle as a freelancer, so there is never much time for nostalgia… until a little over a month ago. I felt a pull to wander farther east, into the heart of my old ‘hood that still has many of the run-down tenement apartments (slums originally created for the poor immigrants flooding into NYC back in the early 1900s), and my heart started to ache for my previous home… I ached for all the creativity that surrounded me back in those times… witnessing some of the most amazing performances from people, like myself, who didn’t have enough money to eat on a daily basis let alone buy materials. Scavenging the streets and garbage cans was where many of us found the items to work with… many times what we gathered from the street was not ideal but it would not stop us from creating and performing… in many ways, it made us even more inventive.

A couple weeks after allowing myself to walk down memory lane, I watched the last episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which was filmed in the Lower East Side (LES), my old neighborhood being showcased at certain points. It is interesting to note that although the LES does not technically include the East Village, the Alphabet City section of it that was part of the whole artist scene from the 70s until the 90s was connected to part of the Lower East Side; actually one can draw a completely different map that takes parts of the East Village and parts of the LES to create the area where artists, drug addicts, murderers, and solid blue-collar people all struggled together in this lower income neighborhood. I ended up there by chance as an 18 year old with no family, no home, no sense of how to navigate my life, except that I loved to read and I loved to create and NYC gave me the ability to do both… initially I lived in the YMCA and then I found my way to Alphabet City.

I never got into drugs – not even marijuana (but that may be reconsidered once cannabis becomes legal in New York) – and there was a time that I didn’t even drink alcohol. It wasn’t because I had a holier-than-thou attitude but it is because I came from parents, who luckily wanted very little to do with me, that were a combination of alcoholics and drug addicts. When you come from such a background, typically one of two things happens: you either become an addict yourself, or you never touch any type of drug (for many years, I was even against taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin). But through time, I fell in love with wine before I even started to consume it… for a geek like me, it had everything: science, history, geography, culture and most importantly, a sense of connecting to a community, to many communities around the world as I was surrounded by poor artists who came from around the globe and they shared the wines from their homelands.

There was a group of us who decided to save up during the week to be able to splurge on a bottle to share with different people from around the world, with everyone taking turns. Many times I only ate potatoes during the week, a habit that I still continue to this day funnily enough, so I could save enough money to pay my fair share. I would dream about the bottle, reading as much as I could about the area of production in books at the library in anticipation of what I was going to drink with my struggling artistic wine group that week… and I will never forget the week that I first tasted gold.

Golden Bordeaux

I was one of those weird kids who was not a big fan of sweets… I mainly went crazy for salty, fatty, umami qualities – I think that is why I loved Chinese food with lots of MSG. And so I was certainly skeptical of my pauper-ish band of artisans spending our hard-earned money on a sweet wine named Barsac – the area that encompasses one of the most famous sweet wine areas, Sauternes in Bordeaux, France (side note: all Sauternes are Barsac but not all Barsac are Sauternes). Well, I was amazed by its complexity of spice, umami represented by mushrooms and truffles, array of sweetness from coconut to marmalade, a bouquet of mixed flowers and a range of minerality that I had not yet learned the words to express. Then, over the next few weeks, we really sacrificed to be able to get a bottle of Sauternes, which blew our minds to another level. After that, I started the process of reading about other sweet wine areas near Sauternes and Barsac and even though it would take many years before entering the wine business when I would be given a chance to taste a parade of these golden delights, I dreamt of them all the time and those dreams helped me to get through many tough times.

Back in November, I was sent 8 samples of golden sweet Bordeaux wines from Snooth as they were promoting these wines, many from tiny wine producers that never had the means, before social media, to get the word out, to be tasted alongside a video seminar they launched on their site. Not only did the Snooth video about these golden beauties address the extreme nature of farming and making these wines that involves several harvest passes (picking grape by grape) and the minuscule yield that comes from grapes that are blessed by noble rot, but they addressed the idea that these wines were not only meant to be drunk with fine food but paired very well with everyday salty, fatty and crispy delights such as fried chicken – a fantastic recommendation from Mary Gorman-McAdams MW, who co-hosted the video with Snooth.

Treasures for the Downtrodden 

Tasting through the snack pack sent by Snooth to pair with the wines, I found that the spicy beef jerky and Calabrese salami were my favorites and the whole experience made me flash back to some of my more precious wine working times in Bordeaux… going to visit a tiny sweet wine producer for dinner where a ham that was cooked buried in the ground was served to us, a lunch that paired Sauternes sweet wines with spicy Szechuan food where the producer of a small winery nervously sat at my table wringing her hands not knowing what to expect as she had never previously eaten Szechuan food (at the end it shocked us all how well these foods went with each other) and all the times that my former group of artists gathered on the floor of someone’s apartment with potato chips, Doritos and cheap cheeses and meats – anything we could afford that would create a poor person’s feast to go with these wines.

We may have been downtrodden back then but we did, in many ways, get so much out of life… no one was there to compete, show off knowledge, make anyone else jealous, or even knew the words “trophy wines.” We were there to share, to learn, to be enlightened, to be part of something special. Just like all the downtown theater that was prevalent during my time, it was not about being a star – you went to midtown in NYC or LA for that – it was about finally belonging, about finding other broken beings who just wanted to do something good with the volcano of emotions and images that plagued their minds, hearts and souls.

It was a little painful to watch Tony Bourdain revisit the Lower East Side because you could see in his eyes that he desperately wanted to go back to the old days and that too much had changed… just like for myself and for so many others, that time no longer exists… only bits and pieces of that creativity can be found there now. But change is a part of life and it sure as hell is a part of New York City; you need to find a way to keep moving and evolving with it. And let’s not kid ourselves, there was a lot of bad going on back in those days… I do not miss fearing for my life every time I walked down the street or seeing prostitutes every damn day or drug addicts shooting up. Yes, it is still there, but not so much in your face.

Making Gold

At the heart of many of these golden sweet wines is the process of botrytis that is common in certain wine growing areas in Bordeaux because of the confluence of two bodies of water, one warm and one cold, that creates a mist in the morning that is ideally balanced by the sun coming out during the day to dry the damp grapes. While some of the grapes can quickly turn into bad rot that cannot be used for the golden wine, others slowly shrivel to perfection as microscopic spores find their way through the skins of the grapes without breaking them, concentrating the sugars and altering flavors, bringing complexity.

I am grateful that I came to wine and discovered the artist within myself in Alphabet City back in the 90s – especially storytelling – although I must admit that I was probably one of the least creative people in my old neighborhood.  I think my desire to learn, as well as being surrounded by those who amazed me at every turn helped me to see the world in a different way. But many of those people paid a price, whether it was damage from expanding their minds with major drugs or ending up on the street because of insane amounts of debt that was incurred by making spaces available to artists such as myself… it was a constant balancing act of being part of a beautiful, yet in some ways, toxic community, just like how producers need to find balance grape by grape, sorting between the ones destined for a divine sweet wine and those that are simply rotten and are to be thrown away – each of us has the capacity for noble or bad rot and each day our choices lead us to one or the other.

The Art that Lives within Us

To me, the most precious moment of Bourdain’s LES episode was finding out who was the person(s) who made captivating mosaic art on lamp posts all over the East Village – it was one man named Jim Power, who was mainly unknown, because his intention, as he explained, was to bring beauty to the struggling
residents, and I have to say that on many an occasion while walking home from balancing working a couple of jobs in order to survive, while sadly witnessing the depravity on the streets, I would turn and see one of his mosaics (not knowing if it was one or many people doing them) and smile with hope reignited in my heart. It was the most precious part because it represented everything that was good about that time that not only still remains on some old lamp posts they reinstalled but that still resides inside of me.

My challenges are different these days but can be just as overwhelming at times. Some people want to suck you into their world of jealousy, competition and elitism with wine and that really has very little to do with the good parts of it and has nothing to do with why I got into it. Many of these small Bordeaux producers making sweet wine are artistic farmers committed to an extreme practice of making liquid gold because they have been given a gift and a curse at the same time. They take on all the challenges because the grapes’ souls cry out, just like so many of those people I have known in the past, to express a wine that is deeper, richer and much more complicated than the easier route of not making noble rot wine. They continue the fight and struggle to find a place for these wines in an ever changing world just like I am trying to carry the torch of all those who introduced me to wine – people who were so much more brilliant and talented than I, yet for some reason, I am one of the few still standing, and because of that I have a responsibility, just like these golden wine producers. I was given a gift that may not have seemed like one at the time, and instead of mourning its loss, I now need to find a way to keep the essence of it alive.

 

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#GoGoldenBordeaux Sweet Wines Tasted on November 7th, 2018

 ***Quick Helpful Note: The below sweet wines can be placed in the fridge for about a week with either the cork back in, or better yet, a bottle vacuum sealer, and in some cases these wines may last up to a couple weeks. All the sugar makes them much more durable than dry wines. Also, it is best to place these wines in the fridge from the beginning as the best serving temperature ranges between 48-53F (9-12C).

 2016 Château Manos, Cadillac AOC, Bordeaux ($10 for half bottle 375ml): 98% Sémillon, 1% Sauvignon Blanc and 1% Muscadelle. Cadillac is a great area for value and typically they get less noble rot on their grapes and so the wines are not as rich. This 2016 was a fresh, more moderately bodied sweet goldie with lemon curd, cardamom and anise seed spices with only a hint of the mushrooms that one gets from noble rot. But also, 2016 was a fresher, less concentrated year for the sweet wines.

-2016 Château Loupiac-Gaudiet, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($16 for a half bottle 375ml):  90% Sémillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Again another fresher style sweet wine from the 2016 vintage with apricots and grilled pineapple that had hints of honey and only a touch of forest floor.

-2015 Château La Rame Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for a half bottle 375ml): 100% Sémillon. This is actually a well-known small producer among sommeliers in NYC, and probably other cities in the US that appreciate these wines. 2015 was a lusher, richer year which brings a real creaminess to this wine that would go great with avocado, as Mary Gorman-McAdams MW suggested, for perhaps those who want to stay away from meat. Also, crispy bacon in a BLT sounded amazing as well. Candied oranges seemed to dominate this wine for me with a lovely aroma of pressed flowers that had a sweet, mouth coating length that was lifted by mineral notes expressed on the finish.

2014 Château du Cros, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for a full size bottle 750ml): 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle. 2014 was a year of high acidity and lots of savory notes that works out well for sweet wines. Yes, fierce acidity with smoky minerality and ripe peaches that had a flavorful yet zingy finish.

2011 Château Dauphiné-Rondillon, Loupiac AOC, Bordeaux ($16 for half bottle 375ml): 70% Sémillon and 30% Sauvignon Blanc. This is considered a great year for sweet Bordeaux wines so start grabbing them up. 2011 had high acidity and it was ideal for noble rot so they had tons of good, clean botrytis and these wines are meant for long-term aging although they taste great now! Preserved exotic oranges on honey drilled vanilla ice cream and grilled peaches with citrus zest on the finish.

-2016 Château Lapinesse, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($22 for half bottle 375ml): 100% Sémillon. Viscous texture that went so well with the beef jerky, with flavors of peach pie and roasted coconut with a long decadent finish that still had zing with orange zest. Despite it being a less concentrated year, the richness of the Sauternes AOC comes through.

2015 Château Filhot, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($25 for half bottle 375ml): 60% Sémillon, 36% Sauvignon Blanc and 4% Muscadelle. Marmalade and piña colada with cloves and a long textural finish.

2006 Castelnau de Suduiraut, Sauternes AOC, Bordeaux ($20 for half bottle 375ml): 99% Sémillon and 1% Sauvignon Blanc. 2006 was a higher acidity year and quite difficult for producers yet the best pulled off some beautiful wines that will make wonderful old bones, especially for the sweet wines. This is the second wine of 1er Cru Classé Suduiraut and shows its evolution well with freshly dug truffles, dried porcini and coconut cream pie and orange blossom water on the expressive finish.

 

Snacks Provided by Snooth to Pair with Wines:

 My Favorites

-Jack Link’s Sweet & Hot Jerky

-Olli Calabrese Spicy Salami

Others

-Sweet Potato Crackers & Beet Crackers from Trader Joe’s

-Emerald Sriracha Cashews

-Wilde Jalapeño Chicken Chips

Sauternes AOC is the most famous of these golden Bordeaux but there are other AOCs we explored located either right across the river or literally next door to this legendary sweet wine area and benefit from the same noble rot creating factors such as Cadillac, Loupiac, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont which were all explored in this tasting. Many of you may wonder why Barsac was not included but since the AOC is as well known as Sauternes as well as many Barsac wines can be labeled Sauternes (since Sauternes is in the commune of Barsac) it seems like there was more of a focus on lesser known AOCs being compared with a couple of Sauternes producers.

These sweet golden wines are a blend of white grapes such as Sémillon (typically the majority or sometimes 100% varietal wine), Sauvignon Blanc and sometimes Muscadelle. Sémillon is ideal for noble rot (botrytis) as it is thin-skinned, develops a lush, waxy texture, expresses a wide range of complex aromas and flavors; Sauvignon Blanc gives fresh aromatics as well as high acidity; and the inconsistently used Muscadelle can add interesting spice to the wine.

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Appreciating Those Who Make Things Possible

As the white stoned Madonna shone in the sun, it seemed her open arms were welcoming us to the delicious bounty of food and wine that was waiting. It was like a dream to be surrounded by so many tasty bites, pretty rosé wine being poured into everyone’s glass, the scent of freshly picked flowers wafting through the air and all the little details that adorned the round picnic tables… for a moment, I had to take it in… the weather was perfect, the view of vineyards down below gently sloping as far as the eye could see during a perfect day in September, and most importantly, the enthusiastic energy of my group that at one time was being challenged by the mockery of harvesters behind us as we took pictures to capture the precious moments. Those same harvesters were met with the kindness and generosity of one Anne Duboeuf, who walked over to the strangers with an authentic smile to offer them some of our food and wine with open arms like the Madonna statue I had first witnessed.

Georges Duboeuf Rosé

Back in September, I visited the vineyards of Georges Duboeuf, mainly focusing on the Cru wines featuring the family names of the well-regarded wine producers in various Cru communes, as that is what many of us wine writers (aka wine nerds) wanted to see, but I was taken aback by the positive economic impact that Beaujolais Nouveau, the harvest wine released on the 3rd Thursday of November, brought to the region of Beaujolais in France. It is a pretty, light red wine with red fruit, spice and a floral aroma that is ideal for a day of conviviality such as the gathering we had at the top of the hill of the La Madone de Fleurie in the Fleurie Cru of Beaujolais, France.

While tasting the Duboeuf rosé, that was only sold locally, I was interested to learn that the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau release would, for the first time, include a rosé that would be imbued with the same spirit as its charming red sibling. I would not be able to taste it until the rosé was released onto the market on the 15th of November of this year but I was thrilled to hear that they finally decided to make a pink Nouveau. Duboeuf didn’t make that much this year as they didn’t know how the market would receive it but they heard the world loud and clear when it was sold out to retailers before they had a chance to finish making the wine.

Franck Duboeuf, who seems to be transitioning in taking over the family’s company as his father starts to take a slower pace at 85 years old (despite Franck himself insisting his father is still involved in every aspect from vineyards, to winemaking, designing labels and writing the vintage report), felt like now was the right time for the leap into Nouveau rosé. Although nothing makes more sense than making a rosé out of Gamay grapes that are made in a fresh style highlighting the fruit while keeping a dry palate to add to the fun of Beaujolais Nouveau Day, there were concerns; those concerns focused on the possible damage to the reputation of the red Beaujolais Nouveau that not only made Duboeuf’s name but allows Beaujolais grape growers to sustain a living.

Trouble When There is No Middle Ground

The Duboeuf family works with over 300 grape growers, which not only accounts for a lot of people alone, there are many more jobs created by the co-op wineries that work with Duboeuf as well as the Duboeuf winery itself that are all mainly sustained by Beaujolais Nouveau. There is nothing romantic about the idea of giving many local people the chance to pay their bills without having to leave the place where they grew up. And the idea that Beaujolais Nouveau is an accessible wine that makes no bones about being a wine for everyone to celebrate together without any pretense, or lacks complicated lingo that we wine nerds love to decode, has made it a target for those who want to go off on a rant on why more people are not drinking “more interesting” wine. And I point the finger at myself and my own rants in the past.

But as we see information coming back showing that we are moving into a wine market where there is no real loyalty in wine purchases and the younger generation seems to want to buy what they haven’t had or what is different (don’t get me wrong I am happy that this is happening), we are moving into an unforeseeable future within the wine world, and if we are not careful it will only be the tiny, obscure and the conglomerate companies that will exist while the medium sized companies, many times the ones bolstering communities, fall by the wayside. But it is just so easy to go after medium companies because there are real people running them that don’t have the manpower or team of lawyers to go after ever defamation of character like the conglomerates.

The most interesting thing about meeting Georges Duboeuf, as well as his son Franck, was the fact that both men had a quiet intelligence as well as a deep connection to the many people in the Beaujolais area where they both lived and raised their families. When someone bashes Nouveau in front of Georges he gets very serious, and in a way hurt, as it is the wine that he not only loves for its pure expression, and its connection to the history of celebrating harvest in the region, but it has made so many things possible for a long list of neighbors he can name within a heartbeat.

Sometimes It Is Too Late

As we wake up and look at the news everyday in the US, in the UK, in France, we see worlds that are being torn apart because too many people on the extreme sides of a multitude of topics are tearing down the companies and way of life that so many depend on. I do believe in progress, and am happy to see it in so many ways, but when we start to chip away at those companies, or organizations, that are creating something that brings joy to a lot of people while giving a means of steady income to those who live outside the cities, we really start to become part of why so many are feeling left behind. Not everyone can be a superstar with a cult following nor can everyone work for a big corporation; businesses like the ones owned by the Duboeuf family make it possible for many to keep their own business as vineyard owners while guaranteeing a certain amount of income every year.

I am happy to see that the Duboeuf family is standing behind their Nouveau in the wake of sometimes snarky criticism and that they will not allow those critics to keep them from the most logical of choices, which is the rosé.

Recently, I saw Franck Duboeuf and his lovely wife Anne again for a lunch to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau, on November 15th, with other media people in New York City. As I tasted their pretty Nouveau wines, I could not help but think how my own actions and words have contributed to an unyielding viewpoint that is in part creating this divisive world we are living in; where none of us respect an experience or opinion that is different from our own and there is simply no middle ground.

I was fortunate to sit right next to Anne Duboeuf who has such an open heart and nurturing personality, and I remember how well she took care of all of us during that picnic back in September… even those harvesters that were making fun of our festive setup. I was not surprised when Anne talked about her priority for many years of having a close relationship with her three kids (who she encourages to see and experience the world while currently in their college years) and how they still do not want to be too far from her comforting presence. She was a little fearful that they won’t have a chance to find themselves, but I’m sure through time they will come into their own… but at least they acknowledge all that she does to create such a loving, accepting environment for them. Anne’s kids appreciate the special world she has created for them with her beautiful heart while they still have it… and with that thought I lifted my glass to toast Anne and the others around me with a wine that not only brings many people from all walks of life together but it gives an area of the world a means of support and purpose that would otherwise have been forgotten.

 

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Tasting of George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé on November 15th, 2018

2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé: 100% Gamay. Sweeter on the nose than in the mouth, with strawberry shortcake and dried rose buds that becomes bright and fresh on the palate with zingy red cranberries and a dry finish. This is the first vintage of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé and it is about time. Since this is the first year the Duboeuf family made this wine, they decided to err on the side of caution and not make that much so this rosé may be harder to find than the red. I’m guessing next year they will be making more. Suggested Retail Price: $13.99

2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau: 100% Gamay. Deep, dark cherry and blackberry fruit with exotic spice and a distinctive crumbly rock aspect on the palate with a lush mid-palate balanced by round tannins that gave the wine shape across the sustained finish. A longer finish than Beaujolais Nouveau wines I have had in the past because this year there was plenty of concentration early so they were able to pick early, retaining acidity, while having grapes that reached optimum ripeness levels… so good that I was eating the grapes like crazy when I was there in September. Suggested Retail Price $12.99

2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau: 100% Gamay. This Beaujolais Nouveau comes from villages within Beaujolais that have more granite and schist in the soils and so it is typically more concentrated with a step up in quality. Since 2018 was such a great year, this Villages Nouveau really over-delivered with cassis and raspberry preserves that had hints of spice cake and silky tannins that were carried by marked acidity that had quite a long finish – I couldn’t believe this was a Nouveau wine but it really shows the vintage variation in these wines. Suggested Retail Price: $13.99

Click on this link to go to post that gives tasting notes for the Duboeuf wines I tasted from the 2017 vintage.

Click on this link to go to post that gives tasting notes for the Brouilly and Moulin-à-Vent Cru producers I visited in September.

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The Soundtrack to Our Lives

I am a strong believer in the idea that life does not work around us, we need to work around life, in the sense that there are many things we will have to take on that will be drudge work, so to speak, for us to survive and to be contributing members of society. Not only will the grind be a part of our daily lives but there are people that will come in and out of our personal and professional lives that will challenge us, maybe even trod on our souls a little bit. There is no way to completely avoid any of these unpleasantries but there are choices that we can make to help shape the soundtrack of our lives, but often times, these choices come at a price.

Fatalone

I was invited by a well-respected American journalist, author and famous natural wine advocate, Alice Feiring, to a Puglia Primitivo tasting. At first, I was completely taken aback as Puglia Primitivo wines are viewed, in general, as big, alcoholic, manipulated wines, and Alice only promotes wines that have very little or no intervention and have an overall finesse and sense of place that usually equates to lower alcohol levels. Now I am a wine generalist obsessed with the story aspect of wines so I like big Primitivo wines as long as they are well-done, and I am open to commercial wine practices, as well as natural practices, and everything in between. But I was shocked to see Alice send an invite for Puglia Primitivo and I knew there had to be something special about this producer called Fatalone.

 Gioia del Colle DOC

Fatalone (Azienda Agricola Petrera Pasquale) represents 5 generations of winemakers in the Gioia del Colle DOC area of the region in Puglia of Italy – Puglia is the heel of the boot at the southeast corner of the country. Puglia is the Italian home of the red grape variety Primitivo which is related to US Zinfandel and both can be traced back to a Croatian grape variety that found its way to Italy centuries ago. Pasquale Petrera, the family owner and winemaker of Fatalone, said the Primitivo was the father and son of Zinfandel because after the louse Phylloxera devastated many European vineyards, Puglia needed to replant with Primitivo clones that were from the US (aka Zinfandel) that originally came from Puglia.

But like any set of twins that were raised apart from each other, each evolved differently and so not only is Puglia Primitivo its own thing but the two most famous communes in Puglia (Primitivo di Manduria and Gioia del Colle) can diverge in their styles; generally Gioia del Colle are lighter wines with more finesse… again, I have no personal issue with the richer Manduria style and like to get my Manduria Primitivo on from time to time.

You may be more familiar with Primitivo di Manduria as it has enjoyed success longer as Gioia del Colle didn’t start bottling their own wines until 1987 – Fatalone being the first – and there are only 15 wine producers in the consorzio (a group safeguarding the Gioia del Colle DOC) and only 3 of them make more than 50,000 bottles (yes, I said bottles not cases) which is just over 4,000 cases. Fatalone (the 3rd largest producer) makes 60,000 bottles just around 5,000 cases. Many US wine producers have told me that a winery needs to make 10,000 cases to even become profitable and so this is a DOC of tiny producers and their wines are not going to be widely available on export markets.

Gioia del Colle is higher in elevation than Primitivo di Manduria and near the Adriatic Sea; Pasquale said that his vineyards were almost 1312 feet (400 meters) above sea level and 28 miles (45 kilometers) from the sea.

Natural Enough

A big part of why Alice Feiring liked this producer, besides the simple fact that their wines were fantastic, was their commitment to natural winemaking. I asked Alice if Fatalone was considered a natural winemaker and she simply said, “They were natural enough.” Temperature control during fermentation in stainless steel and pumping over during their spontaneous fermentation, to avoid stuck ferments, are the only controls that take place by Pasquale, that may not be followed by other hardcore natural winemakers especially if they are in cooler climates… but the warmer temperatures almost make it mandatory that Pasquale takes a couple precautions, at least in my mind. Fatalone vineyards are 100% certified organic (no irrigation – dominant clay soils absorb water), using grapes from only their own vineyards, they have zero CO2 emissions (100% of their energy comes from their solar panels), aging takes place in old Slovenian oak, low SO2 with less than 40 mg/L and they employ “music therapy” during the aging of the wines.

Music Therapy

While the wines are aging in oak, Pasquale plays new age music with the sounds of storms, rivers, and such, at a low level, near the barrels, and he says that it seems to help with micro-oxygenation of the wines in oak. Since Pasquale has a strong scientific background (he studied physics) he felt obligated to say that there was no evidence of effects on the micro-organisms living in the wine, and that not only did each vintage react differently but each barrel has varied results, yet he can say that some barrels will show more desired tertiary notes (aromas associated to the wine evolving). He said he needs to keep the volume just right… too loud, it becomes too disruptive to the barrels and if there is no music at all, then there is nothing instigating the development of deeper complexity.

Sincere Choices Leading Us Down an Unsettling Path

There are so many variables and obstacles on every permutation of a path we could take that it is impossible to be completely prepared for what we will face when trying to find fulfillment, success and peace. Like the thin skinned Primitivo that is transparent in telling its vintage story, we cannot help, even against all our efforts, to show our inner lives that are constantly molded and shaped by our own soundtrack that surrounds us on a daily basis… the words that are spoken around us, the acts that touch our lives, the looks, the intentions, the ethics of those around us forming a crystal lattice structure that seep into our very being… this is the music, the vibration that chisels into us our sense of worth, our sense of purpose, our inner contentment that encourages the evolution of what we will become, in time.

Sometimes we are placed into positions where what we are expected to say, or actions we are expected to perform, that are crimes against our own personal sense of humanity… many times being told that this is what everyone does, and so we feel that again, this is one of those things in the world that we need to work around to become productive members of society. We are faced with the decision to sacrifice outward success for inner peace and the hard reality is that choosing character over a sense of outward prosperity will typically not be rewarded… except for the soulful dance of our inner light that only grows strongly when the right soundtrack, at the right level, surrounds us.

And I think that is the best reason that someone would take the path of a natural winemaker, especially one in a tricky region such as Puglia. It is not easy, it is not hugely profitable, it will most probably not get you fame, and may get you some odd side looks from people, but it is a choice deciding the soundtrack that plays through our lives, one that is not always easy yet allows us to age knowing that the things we sacrificed were fleeting and those we chose represented the music that evolved us into the person we knew we could be.

 

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Tasting of Fatalone Primitivo Riserva Vertical on November 2nd, 2018

Thank you to Astor Wines in New York City for providing the space for this vertical tasting and seminar. Also, they carry many of the Fatalone wines.

Side Notes:

Primitivo is the only grape variety in the Mediterranean area that supplies a second harvest that they call the Racemi of the Primitivo. Some producers blend the Racemi as it is lighter and more acidic, but Fatalone harvests the Primitivo and Racemi separately (Racemi one month after Primitivo) and only uses the 1st harvest for all their Primivito Riserva and regular Primitivo wines and then uses the Racemi for their ‘Teres’ wine. They like leaving the Racemi on the vines as it helps to arrest the development of the Primitivo, a thin skinned grape that goes from perfectly ripe to over-ripe very quickly, and helps arrest development towards the end of the growing cycle to keep the Primitivo’s ripeness at an ideal level.

Photo Credit: Fatalone

Pasquale says that they have been altering their traditional Alberello Pugliese trellising system to raise the grape bunches further up from the ground to keep them from getting over-ripe as average temperatures slightly rise due to climate change.

In regards to the below tasting, all of the Riserva wines had an incredible lightness of being to them while still achieving an intensely vibrant complexity that would tingle down to my toes. So when I refer to some vintages being richer than others, please keep in mind that all of these wines had finesse and that lightness of being quality but of different degrees.

All of the Wines in the 2015 to 1988 Vertical are Fatalone, Primitivo Riserva, Gioia del Colle DOC:

1st set of wines: 2015, 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2006

-2015: Warm vintage that was not too hot with right amount of balance. Pretty, vibrant red & black fruit with cinnamon note and a bright finish. Textural wine with elegant structure.

-2012: Dried black currant and bay leaf with zingy cranberry on the finish with hints of smoke.

-2011: This vintage is similar to 2015 yet it is not as concentrated. At first, juicy black berry then black tea, bruised cherry, savory herbs with power on the body.

-2009: A vintage that had less ripeness. Dusty earth dominant on the nose with dark fruit in the background, yet it had good flesh with smoky, dried leaves.

-2007: Perfect ripening. This was a favorite of mine with tight structure and broken earth with dried basil and thyme with lots of spice.

-2006: Slightly more ripe than 2007. Exotic spice of cumin and cardamom that had electric, fun flavors of pomegranate and a long, vibrant finish… couldn’t believe that this was a riper vintage

2nd set of wines: 2005, 2003, 2001, 2000, 1997, 1996

-2005: Lots of rain during this vintage and so lighter color as less phenolic maturity. Marked acidity with dried herbs. Pasquale was quite hard on himself in regards to this bottle and said it is not at the same quality level of the other vintages. Someone else in the room asked if he had tasted this vintage recently and he said he did in March and it was more expressive. So perhaps bottle variation is the issue in this case since it was such a difficult vintage.

-2003: A very hot vintage and Primitivo is very sensitive to climatic changes. Lots of earthy, sweet tobacco and sour cherries on the bright finish.

-2001: This had real old world charm with black cherry skin and a touch of tar with moderate body and gravelly finish.

-2000: Smoldering cedar, sweet fruit in mid-palate with a rich body. A great vintage that is celebrated by a limited edition of magnums in hand signed wooden boxes.

-1997: Wild boar sausage, fresh rosemary and mulberries with a linear body.

-1996: Plums with a noticeable texture to the body with zingy cranberries on the finish.

3rd set of wines: 1995, 1994, 1992, 1990, 1989, 1988

-1995: Wild and stony with hints of brambly fruit along the delicate texture.

-1994: Carob powder, wild rose and subtle black berry fruit with silky tannins across the long finish.

-1992: Smoked meats, ripe strawberry and basil with an expressively long length.

The last 3 wines were the last bottles Pasquale had left in his cellar and he decided to share it with us that day in New York City.

-1990:  Crumbly rock, granite and a hit of passion fruit in the background.

-1989: Balsamic with stewed cherries that was surprisingly rich and sustained on the finish.

-1988: Fresh black cherry, grilled herbs, smoldering earth with a lift of sour red cherries on the end.

A treat of two wines over 40 years old made by Pasquale father’s father in 1977 (fermented in concrete) and his mother’s father in 1969 (fermented in chestnut) showed how there is a different tradition for winemaking on both sides of the family. Both of these wines were made without any modern controls in the winery.

-1977: Copper color with intense walnut and a hint of bruised golden apple.

-1969: Ginger, quince with toasted pine nuts… tangy finish.

 

Current Releases of Fatalone (some may not have hit the market yet):

-2017 Spinomarino Bianco, Puglia IGT: 100% Greco. Green mango and hints of honeysuckle with intense minerality on the finish.

-2017 ‘Teres’ Primitivo, Puglia IGT: 100% Primitivo Racemi (2nd harvest) of the vines. The wine looked like a dark rosé (aka Rosado) that had cherry blossom and sweet spice along the light body. A great new find for a light red wine that is fun and playful. This wine would probably be best served on the cooler side. Right now this wine is available for $13 at Astor Wines.

-2016 Primitivo, Gioia del Colle DOC: A dark, brooding nose with black berries and plums that had wildflowers start to slowly reveal themselves with a bright, sour cherry finish.

-2015 Primitivo Riserva, Gioia del Colle DOC: This was the first wine in the Riserva vertical. Pretty, vibrant red & black fruit with cinnamon note and a bright finish. Textural wine with elegant structure.

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Flying Towards the Sun

As the candlelight flickered over the white marble figures, I could feel the emotions in the well-chiseled features pulsate through my heart and gut as I relived some of the most famous stories from Greek mythology. That evening, I was visiting the Gypsotheca (means ‘collection of plasters’) of Antonio Canova during my trip to Asolo (the only other designated wine area in Prosecco given the highest quality status DOCG, other than Conegliano Valdobbiadene) to view the original Canova cast plaster molds that have created some of the most famous marble statues in the world. These molds are best seen when lit by the warm hue of candles as the delicate lines seemingly cascade into movement before one’s eyes. Canova was one of the most celebrated sculptors as well as one of the most renowned artists during the time he lived (1757-1822) but these facts are only amplified by the knowledge that intense tragedy came crashing down on his life twice: when he was 4, he lost his father and his grandfather took over his upbringing for the first part of his childhood, passing on to him the family’s trade as stone-cutters and sculptors, and a serious injury that he sustained while chiseling a slab of marble at the age of 23 that would force him to adhere to an exclusively liquid diet for the rest of his life.

Martignago

Sometimes life does not work out the way we would have liked and it shapes our world in a deep way. One of the small producers we visited in the Asolo DOCG Prosecco area was Martignago, who also produces refined reds, a white and rosé we tasted that were made from diverse varieties as the Asolo area has had a long history of growing a multitude of grapes. This diversity is why other classifications such as Montello DOCG and Montello-Colli Asolani DOC exist, but talking about these other classifications may make things confusing, the most important thing to note is that Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG is the main wine that many of these producers focus on. As he showed us around the winery and vineyards, the winemaker and owner, Simone Morlin, talked about how his plan in life was to work for his father-in-law (who had the last name Martignago), but his life did not work out the way he wanted when his father-in-law suddenly passed away.

Simone was placed in a position where he had to find a way to go on, just like Canova did for most of his life, and Simone was guided by the history of the Martignago family as well as the legacy of his step-father. Simone proudly showed us his mound of compost and their organic practices – his wines will be officially certified organic starting with the 2018 vintage – and I noted a sweet message on their website in regards to them undergoing the organic process, “hearts could heal as they no longer used pesticides that were a detriment to human health”. As I walked away from his wonderful tasting of truly exciting wines, I saw another commitment to his quality and sustainability: a FIVI (Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers) poster on the wall, an organization that only allows members that follow some of the strictest practices from vineyards to bottling into their group, and looking back, considering that sweet message on their website, I cannot help but think that part of Simone’s fierce passion for sustainability is rooted in the sudden loss of his mentor/father-in-law.

Bele Casel

Another producer that is part of the FIVI group is Bele Casel. Paola Ferraro showed us around her family’s winery, as well as her home, to talk about how her father started out selling supplies to large wineries making Prosecco, and hence, he was able to buy used equipment from these other wineries when the time came for him to start his tiny family production. Bele Casel’s advantage of being able to bottle their own wines, instead of hiring an outside company to bottle them, was key to their top quality status in the Prosecco world. Every corner of the Bele Casel winery reflected the idea that its heart was rooted in the family as there are chalk drawings from Paola’s nephew on the walls, who played in their steep Monfumo vineyards (known as one of the top communes in Asolo, like Cartizze in Conegliano Valdobbiadene) that I visited later that day, and the old shell from a tank during WWI, serving as a reminder that the Asolo area was one of the places devastated during “the war to end all wars”, was placed on a table at the front of the winery… Paola said that it was important to remember the stories of her family and neighbors’ suffering during that time, and hence the shell was there to remind them of the price that had to be paid for freedom every day.

The idea that Bele Casel could bottle their own wines made it possible for them to produce high quality “Col Fondo” Asolo Prosecco (leaving the lees from the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles in bottles) which has become a niche Prosecco that is much more complex in flavors and texture. Col Fondo is the traditional way that producers made Prosecco in the area and Bele Casel has brought that tradition back, yet improved upon it with modern advances in the cellar as well in the vineyards.

Ancient Principals with Modern Details

Antonio Canova was an important part of the Neoclassical movement that went back to Greco-Roman ideals that were, many times, rooted in the Greek mythology that many of us learned about when we were children. But instead of building enormous, towering statues, he created more life sized carvings that had shockingly natural lines; one could see himself/herself in Canova’s creation. At one point we were able to see a recreation of Canova’s studio and his arduous process: from drawings, to tiny clay model, to the many layers of terracotta and plasters to create the life sized plaster mold, to hammering brass nails every few inches, to measuring each section between the brass nails, to chiseling those measurements into the marble slab, to polishing the statues by candlelight which would bring these figures to life. Canova brought a fresh outlook to these ancient characters of times past, just like what Bele Casel is doing for Col Fondo… also the devastation of WWI was evident during our visit to Canova’s Gypsotheca as part of the roof was being repaired from bombing during that time and it took a few decades to recover from a bleak economy so that there would be funds to do the construction.

Case Paolin

Case Paolin is also a small winery keeping the Asolo Prosecco Col Fondo tradition alive, and both Bele Casel and Case Paolin have a niche following for their wines here in the US. Mirco Pozzobon , one of the sons of the founder, showed us around his family’s organic vineyards and winery that makes Asolo Prosecco DOCG as well as some outstanding reds. Mirco’s father, Emilio, started to use sustainable practices in the 1980s, before it became fashionable, and then they became certified organic with the 2012 vintage. History surrounded us at Case Paolin as their winery was in a 300 year old building and their home/tasting room was a 90 year old house that used to house 20 families after WWII. Mirco talked about going back to the traditional practices of farming but doing it with more knowledge and resources, such as trying to avoid copper, which is allowed in organic farming, and making sure that the main grape for Prosecco, Glera, is only hand picked as the skins are delicate; most Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines come from hand harvested grapes. Mirco explained his theory of organic viticulture the best by saying, “You rent for your son,” noting that we have a responsibility for future generations.

The Asolo area went into an economic depression after suffering such destruction during the two World Wars and a focus on factories to help the local people emerged. Many of these factory workers lived in homes that were divided into several rooms for each family to accommodate the massive amount of people left homeless by the wars. Through the decades, Asolo has come back from as early as the 1980s as being one of the poorest areas in Italy to having one of the top economies. It is said that the Asolo people are not afraid of hard work and their fierce work ethic, combined with their evident creativity, which is noted from all the great artists and writers that have been inspired by this special place, creates wines that are solidly well-made yet exciting in their expression… such as the respected wines of Case Paolin.

Pat del Colmèl

Asolo is nicknamed the city of a hundred horizons and I witnessed dozens of golden views during my trip there that reached their pinnacle once I viewed the astonishing vineyards at Pat del Colmèl in an ancient rural village called Colmèl dei Pat. The Forner family was the custodian of this land where they had deep roots as noted by the fact that their ancestors were given the nickname “Pat”. Lino Forner is not only the leader of this company but also the passionate champion for the protection of rare local varieties such as the glistening Rabbiosa and the deeply purplish-blue Recantina grapes. These grape varieties had fallen out of favor as they were not as easy to sell as Glera, or Cabernet Sauvignon for that matter. It is interesting to note that many of these old varieties are resistant to powdery mildew and downy mildew which plague the Asolo and Montello areas in difficult years. Glera is also seen as a cherished indigenous variety that unfortunately has been made into simple quaffing wines by other producers around the world due to its popularity, yet it can make elegant wines that articulate a sense of place and a palette of flavors evident by the Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines I tasted throughout a myriad of tastings.

 A theme for many of these Asolo Prosecco producers was their commitment to excellence and expressing the fine nuances of Glera, whether that is what the market was looking for or not. In a way, it is part of who Asolo is as a people that not only strives to survive, and they were put to that test in the worst way during the World Wars, but to never stop reaching for something greater, to go beyond the mundane even at the risk of one’s personal comfort.

Gratitude for Wings

One of the plaster molds in the Canova Gypsotheca, Daedalus and Icarus, expressed a deeper story that went beyond the Greek myth of the father, Daedalus, who made wings for his son, Icarus, and himself out of wax so they could escape danger. Daedalus ended up seeing his son, Icarus, fly too close to the sun thereby melting his wings and causing him to perish by falling into the sea, now called the Icarian Sea. A couple of details were pointed out about this plaster mold that made it an autobiographical piece: Daedalus was sculptured as a significantly older man that looked to be the grandfather of Icarus (a young boy), and a hammer and a chisel, typical instruments of the sculptor, laid by the foot of Daedalus, which was odd as he was an inventor and architect, not an artist. But Antonio Canova was reflecting his own life of how his grandfather taught him the skills he would need that would begin his journey to become one of the greatest sculptors in the world… he gave Canova his wings and Canova was thanking his grandfather, who had passed away by the time he made this statue. Also, it is interesting to note that Canova was 20 years old when he made Daedalus and Icarus before his serious injury at 23 that was caused by his obsession of trying to create the fine nuanced lines in his marble that make them astonishing even today… in a way, Canova flew too close to the sun but survived it.

The spirit of Antonio Canova pumps through the blood of these small Asolo Prosecco DOCG producers. They are wired to reach for the sun that shows itself to them as an exquisitely golden light as they look from their Asolo vineyards. I like to think that all of us have that passion within us, and I’m sure we have felt it at least once in our life, to reach for the impossible… yet the reality is we get burned a few times and then choose the safe path out of fear… but not Canova… not the small Asolo producers whose ancestors had survived the most hellish of circumstances having their world destroyed by war. They will not deny their soul which can be found in their soil and native grapes that demand to be in the hands of people who will try to fly towards the sun.

 

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Tastings during my Asolo Trip in October 2018

-1st Listing of Tasting Notes Focusing on Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG-

Martignago (October 16th, 2018) – You may see some changes to their labels compared to those bottles in my photos to those you see on their website.

Martignago, Xero (Sugar-Free), Extra Brut: 100% Glera. Xero means dry in Greek or zero in Venetian. Normally I dislike things that are fat-free or sugar-free, but in this case I was really impressed; Prosecco wines are naturally dry and usually have a bit of sugar added (dosage) to balance them out but this wine did not need it. Intense minerality, which I found in many Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines, with lemon zest and a linear, vigorous palate.

Martignago, Brut: 100% Glera. Much more perfume with juicy white peach and broader body.

Martignago, Extra Dry: 100% Glera. Much more sweet fruit with a hint of wet stones on the finish.

Martignago, Vino Spumante, Col Fondo (this wine seems to not be technically an Asolo Prosecco DOCG but I added it as it is high quality and in same style): As I mentioned before, Col Fondo is when Prosecco has the secondary fermentation in bottle to create the bubbles, like Champagne, yet it is not disgorged and so it still has the lees creating a much more complex style – this is the traditional way they did it, out of necessity, and some producers are bringing it back but making the wines more refined by using modern technology. I was really impressed with this Col Fondo (some skin contact during 1st fermentation) as it had a creamy texture, lots of minerality, roasted nuts, bruised apples and a spicy finish. It was like a fine white wine.

Bele Casel (October 14th, 2018) – Bele Casel gave a vertical of their Col Fondo. All of their Col Fondo wines are majority Glera, at least 85%, with other ancient, native white varieties Bianchetta and Perera. Also, they said there may be minuscule amounts of Marzemina Bianca and Rabbiosa native white varieties as they work with old vineyards that were co-planted with these other varieties at one time.

2017 Bele Casel, Col Fondo: Intriguing notes of ginger, anise seed and marked acidity that had hints of rose oil on the finish. A low-yielding vintage due to spring frost.

 2016 Bele Casel, Col Fondo: More bread-y, baking spice notes (cinnamon) with a creamy body.

-2015 Bele Casel, Col Fondo: Citrus blossom and cardamom tea with lean body and sharp-edged acidity. One of the driest vintages in modern history and they used a little bit of irrigation because they were losing too many leaves on the vines.

-2014 Bele Casel, Col Fondo: Stewed peaches with caramelized figs and flinty minerality. Lush body yet the fierce acidity jump starts your mid-palate.

 -2013 Bele Casel, Col Fondo: Candied lilacs, golden apples and lemon-lime Jolly Ranchers candy (in the good way because I love Jolly Ranchers) with seashell.

Two of their Asolo Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines that were not Col Fondo:

Bele Casel, Extra Brut: Majority Glera with Bianchetta and Perera. Green mango with pineapple and mouth watering acidity.

Bele Casel, Extra Dry: Mostly Glera. Peach syrup with dried pineapple and wildflowers with a floral finish.

Case Paolin (October 15th, 2018)

Case Paolin Brut: 100% Glera. Bright and vigorous with lots of tension with peach skin, citrus pith and a chalky minerality – long length, very energetic.

Case Paolin 2017 Col Fondo: 100% Glera. Fennel fronds and ripe apricots with richness on the palate.

Case Paolin 2015 Col Fondo: 100% Glera. Smoky minerality and kaffir lime leaves with linear body and sharp acidity.

Pat del Colmèl (October 16th, 2018)

Pat del Colmèl, Duse, Brut: 100% Glera. Named after one of the most famous Italian actresses, Eleonora Duse, known simply as Duse, who was admired for her complete immersion into a role. Also, Pat del Colmèl wines have the logo of a bee on their wines noting their commitment to biodiversity. Intense stony minerality (a sense of minerality is a marker for Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines) with citrus peel and mouth watering finish.

Pat del Colmèl, Extra Dry: 100% Glera. Fleshier than the Brut with more floral aromatics.

Pat del Colmèl, Duse, Millesimato Dry: 100% Glera. Deeply concentrated balanced by fresh acidity and bright fruit that had a sustained finish.

 

 

-2nd Listing of All the Others Wines Tasted-

Martignago (October 16th, 2018)

2017 Martignago, Vino Bianco: A white still blend of Manzoni Bianco, Chardonnay, Muscat, Glera and Bianchetta. It is nicknamed “el Teribie” because it is always changing with each sip but it is so interesting that you forgive its terrible nature. A beautiful perfume with dried apricots, lush body balanced by some zest-y notes.

Martignago, Rosato Brut: 50% Schiava and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. Sparkling rosato (rosé) wine with wild strawberries and floral notes that had textural, slightly grippy tannins that made this wine really food friendly. The pink, orange-hued color was stunning.

2016 Martignago, Bon Ben: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. Bon Ben means very good. Blueberry and plum flavors that had restraint and moderate body with well-manicured tannins.

2016 Martignago, Montello Rosso: 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot. The Montello area has a great reputation for red wines and this one really illustrated that with elegant structure, gravelly notes and overall finesse.

 

Case Paolin (October 15th, 2018)

-2017 Case Paolin, Costa Degli Angeli, Manzoni Bianco: 100% Manzoni Bianco. Tart lemon curd with hints of chamomile tea and spice with intense acidity. I like tart, acidic wines and so if that is your thing too, this is definitely up your alley.

Manzoni Bianco is a man-made crossing created by Professor Manzoni in the Prosecco area in the 1930s. Manzoni was a brilliant man who created many crossings but the Manzoni Bianco, a crossing between Pinot Bianco with Italian Riesling, is his most successful as it balances the body and fruit of Pinot Bianco with the sense of minerality and high acidity of Riesling.

-2014 Case Paolin, Costa Deglia Angeli, Manzoni Bianco: 100% Manzoni Bianco. Flinty minerality with white flowers and softer acidity.

-2015 Case Paolin, San Carlo: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. San Carlo comes from their vineyard at the top of the Montello hills and it is made only in the best years for that particular vineyard – there is no 2018, 2014 or 2010. Montello is well-reputed for their Bordeaux red blends and this wine has received high praise from some wine critics around the world. Nutmeg spice with blackberry preserves and a hint of vanilla bean that are given shape by the muscular tannins.

-2011 Case Paolin, San Carlo: 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Sweet tobacco with smoldering earth and blueberry compote that dances across the well-integrated, silk-like tannins.

Pat del Colmèl (October 16th, 2018)

Pat del Colmèl, Vecchio Vitigno Rabbiosa: 100% Rabbiosa sparkling wine. The white grape variety Rabbiosa (means “angry” because the acidity is so high), might be related to Durello a local variety (from Vicenza) with insanely high acidity, but DNA testing hasn’t been done. They make 1000 magnum bottles of traditional method sparkling Rabbiosa that ages on the lees for 50-60 months. Creamy body with saline minerality, lime and edgy acidity.

2015 Pat del Colmèl, Recantina: 100% Recantina. The family has their own Recantina clone registered as “Forner” in the Montello area of Asolo. Recantina typically has very round tannins yet there was structure to this wine created by oak aging and the significant acidity. A real old world charm of dusty earth and cigar box with fresh plum fruit.

2015 Pat del Colmèl, Cabernet Sauvignon: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh leather, blackcurrant leaf and paprika that had a firm structure that gave lift to the aromatics on the finish.

A Couple of Interesting Points about Asolo Prosecco DOCG:

**There are only 2 DOCGs in the Prosecco designated area in Veneto, Italy: Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo

**Asolo Prosecco DOCG wines are shown in research to have a longer shelf life compared to many other Prosecco designated areas due to the higher amount of dry extract in the wines as well as giving an impression of more weight in the body of these wines.

**The term Col Fondo, meaning “with the bottom” (sediment or lees are present), as of 2019, will no longer be allowed on the label since one producer has trademarked it – “ui lieviti” meaning aged on lees (sur lie) will have to be used instead.

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Happiness is Picking Community Over Competitive Edge

Around a month ago, just before the Paso Robles masterclass kicked off here in New York City, I was able to hear the story of renowned importer Robert Haas, who passed away earlier this year, as told by Robert’s son, Jason Haas. We had a small group discussion about how Jason’s grandfather owned Lehmann Bros., one of the first Manhattan retail shops to receive an alcohol sales license after Prohibition, and which eventually became Sherry-Lehmann; when Jason’s father graduated from college in 1950, he was sent to France to seek out producers that could be sold in the family’s retail store. In 1966, Robert Haas, who became an advocate for the wines from Alsace, Burgundy, and the Rhône Valley, started a relationship with the Perrin family, owners of Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf du Pape (in France’s southern Rhône Valley) that would become an important partnership with Tablas Creek Vineyard, in Paso Robles, and directly increase the quality of US wines made from Rhône grape varieties.

Paso Robles

Winemaking and wine grape growing actually started in the Santa Margarita Ranch area (today part of the Paso Robles AVA) in 1790 by Franciscan Friars. Eventually, in 1983, Paso Robles became an AVA (American Viticultural Area) and it was one of the largest un-subdivided AVAs in California, over 600,000 acres (243,000 hectares) with 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares) planted with vines, until 2014 when it was officially declared to have 11 sub-AVAs. The declaration of these already locally known sub-AVAs was a big step in regards to publicly acknowledging the diversity of sense of place (aka terroir) as well as brought to the forefront that there were a multitude of wine specialists in Paso Robles excelling in various types of varieties and styles.

I have to admit that from my own perspective, I knew very little about Paso Robles, and I was more familiar with the nuanced differences of Burgundy villages and Barolo communes as my past New York City wine experiences had a major focus on European wines. But Paso Robles, which is dead center in between San Francisco and Los Angeles, not only has a range of soils (over 30 parent soil series) with it having the most amount of calcareous and siliceous soils in California but it also has some of the most extreme swings in temperatures, with a 60 degree swing happening just a week before the masterclass, 104 F (40 C) to 42 F (5 C); these factors ripen the grapes to the point where one can “taste the sun and fruit” yet retains the acids for freshness and allows for longer hang times that helps with phenolic ripeness of the skins and seeds. The Paso soils (majority calcareous, siliceous and clay) contribute to a high pH that helps to produce quality wine, in some instances, such as Giornata’s Nebbiolo growing smaller grape bunches that are like the ones produced in Piedmont. The top Paso Robles wines express an aromatic and textural complexity that are breathtakingly enticing in their generosity and overall sense of finesse.

Despite only having 6% of vineyards planted with old Zinfandel, Paso Robles is still seen by many wine drinkers as a place for big, lush Zins. But there is so much more to Paso, such as Italian wine specialist winemakers like the producer Giornata. 49% of the area is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and offers bang for buck value when it comes to well-balanced Cab wines (example Ancient Peaks Winery Cabernet Sauvignon retailing for $22), and it is the heartland of American Rhône varieties due to the great investment that Tablas Creek Vineyard placed into the area.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Tablas Creek Vineyard was established in 1989 (included in the Paso Robles AVA in 1993) by the father of Jason Haas, Robert, and the Perrin family, the owners of Château de Beaucastel, as stated above. As one can imagine, many people in the wine world wondered where the eminent importer Robert Haas and the iconic Perrin family would lay down roots in California when their search became known. Jason said that even though the world was shocked when they picked Paso Robles, no one was more shocked with the outcome than the Haas and Perrin families. At first this dynamic partnership thought Sonoma would be the ideal place for their New World wine endeavor but when they discovered the calcareous soils of Paso (also found in the sub-soils of Châteauneuf du Pape), as well as the opportunity for dry farming (Paso soils absorb winter rainfall for distribution during the growing season), and Paso’s extreme swings in temperatures which are ideal for late ripening Rhône varieties such as Roussanne and Mourvèdre, they knew Paso was the idea place for them. And despite having hotter days than Châteauneuf du Pape, Paso Robles has cooler nights and so the overall average temperature in Paso is slighter lower.

Raw Material at the Heart of Quality

As the seminar progressed and I kept hearing other Paso Robles wine producers talking about using cuttings from Tablas Creek to start their vineyards, I had to ask Jason Haas how many producers used cuttings that were originally brought over by his family’s winery. Jason first started off, this slight detour in the conversation created by myself, by saying that his father and the Perrin family members knew that the biggest thing holding back quality wines based on Rhône varieties in California was the raw material. And so Tablas Creek first started a grape vine nursery before they started to actually make wine. They brought in 6 cuttings of each type of clone (as that is what the US government allowed for mandated quarantine reasons) and then they reproduced these clones to plant for themselves. Well, once US producers heard about their superior clones from the motherland, they wanted to purchase them. A conscious decision was made by Jason’s father and his partners that they should not make these clones proprietary, despite potentially giving them a huge competitive edge in the marketplace, as they wanted the quality bar of US Rhône wines to significantly improve across the board. Over the last 20 years, the Tablas Creek nursery has sold 5 million grape vines to more than 600 vineyards up and down the West Coast, from Paso Robles to Washington State.

Competitive Edge Over Community

When we choose to have a competitive edge over community, despite being able to superficially thrive as an individual, we betray our inner life, as the inner life of a person’s spirit cannot continue to exist if there in no connection to community.

I know that to be true because even though I had no resources, family, or anyone to teach  me survival skills when I first came to New York City when I was 18, I immediately realized that the diverse, lower income community that I lived in would have my back – just like I would have theirs. And please don’t get me wrong – I would never recommend any 18 year old to do what I did, but in my case I had no choice, but it was an incredible lesson in the idea that life is so much more fulfilling when you realize that you will not end up on the streets because of your neighbors, and most importantly, that most of us need very little to make us happy when we have a community to support us.

Now, 25 years later, I find myself as a struggling middle class person running into too many people who seem depressed because they are desperately trying to find validation through an outward success of being in the top of their field while at the same time feel disconnected to those around them. Please don’t take these statements as judgment because I can see how the world around us forces the aspirational middle class to base their worth on achievements, and what we own in comparison to others; that has little to do with inner values and ethics, and all of us fight every day to find a sense of worth in a world that subliminally tells us that we are worthless.

“Alone, we can do so little, together, we can do so much.” –Helen Keller

Amongst the fierce turmoil in the US, I still feel proud of certain aspects of our society. We certainly take the idea of freedom to the ultimate level… it can be wondrous at times… and horrifying at others. But I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today, especially considering my lack of family background, if I wasn’t in the US. But where the United States of America is failing many of its citizens is in its lack of community in pockets throughout the country… community allows us to trust that no one, or no company, will cross boundaries in their desire for success where it becomes detrimental to the society as a whole… but ideally this is done by the free will of others knowing there is only one type of success – uplifting the community.

This is something that Tablas Creek knew from the beginning and still continues to place their energies into… there is a reason why the blog on their website has won many awards (I have been an avid reader for years) – because they openly share their knowledge, and passionately wave the flag for Paso Robles. When we try to climb every mountain ourselves we set ourselves up for disaster… but when we realize that there are many mountains we cannot climb, and if we can at least assist others in those achievements, we will always be successful.

 

***Top Photo Credit: Tablas Creek Vineyard

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Wines Tasted at Paso Robles Seminar on October 2nd, 2018

SRP means Suggested Retail Price

2017 Giornata, Fiano: (SRP $30) 80% Fiano, 13% Trebbiano, and 7% Falanghina. This wine was zesty from first sniff with citrus peel and intensely wet stones that had peach pit on the palate with lots of bright energy and a slightly bitter finish, as one always expects with Italian whites.

Co-owner Brian Terrizzi was there to talk about his winery and he said that once they got some publicity for producing wines made from Italian varieties, many Paso Robles grape growers who grew Italian grape varieties started coming out of the woodwork to approach Brian and his wife Stephanie (who manages some properties that have Italian grape varieties) about purchasing vineyards. This lost Fiano vineyard wasn’t really being farmed as it was part of a divorce settlement. Brian said he wants the variety and place to speak for itself so he does very little to the wine with minimal amounts of SO2.  A small percentage of Trebbiano and Falanghina are added to top it up because the Fiano is a small property. They sell out of this wine really quickly – only 70 cases are currently made and they are hoping to increase production by a couple hundred cases.

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Tablas Blanc: (SRP $45) 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc and 17% Picpoul Blanc. I have tasted the Esprit de Tablas wines many times as they are the iconic wines from this area that are stylistically like the great Château de Beaucastel wine, yet with more of a Paso edge. This white blend was multidimensional with honey covered juicy stone fruits, white flowers and nutmeg with a fleshy body that had a shock of electric energy on the finish.

Based on Château de Beaucastel Roussanne wine (honeyed, rich) yet with more acid and brightness added by the Picpoul. This wine is treated like a red wine and fermented in 1200 gallon size fermenters (foudres aka large wooden vats), then bottled for a time, and then it goes back to barrels to age. Tablas Creek is certified biodynamic and organic and Château de Beaucastel has been organic since the 1960s.

-2015 Thacher Winery, Cinsault: (SRP $42) 100% Cinsault. Such a treat to taste a 100% Cinsault, especially when it is fermented as whole grape clusters because it illustrates how this grape can be the “Pinot of the Desert”. The nose was so alive with sweet red cherries and perfume with a sharp, linear body that made it fierce and fun at the same time.

This wine is from the Glenrose Vineyard in Adelaida District, a cooler, higher elevation sub-AVA in Paso Robles (Tablas Creek is located there). Hand harvested, foot trodden, native fermentation, bottled after 12 months un-fined and un-filtered, minimal SO2, no additives, no enzymes or no nutrients added. Recently Thacher has changed direction into a more natural direction – they sell 95% of this wine direct to consumer as there is a cult following for it.

Glenrose is a crazy vineyard where the owner terraced it because it was too steep and it now looks like a ziggurat. Unfortunately, the owner of the vineyard didn’t realize he would need to take off the topsoil when terracing, and so the vines are chiseled into the limestone bedrock and the pH was too high for the vines, and so then he had to run sulfuric acid through his irrigation lines so his vines would take up nutrients. Now if that is not commitment and passion I don’t know what is! Most of this vineyard is planted with cuttings from Tablas Creek.

2014 Giornata, Nebbiolo: (SRP $45) 100% Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo from Paso Robles! Say WHAT?! But you better believe this baby from Giornata delivered with rose oil, mushroom, dried herbs and hints of cherry with marked acidity and tannins that formed an intricate lace in the body of the wine. Nebbiolo loves the higher pH in the soils that Giornata has selected.

Brian and Stephanie Terrizzi started with a barrel of Nebbiolo in 2005 as Stephanie was managing a vineyard of Nebbiolo at the time. This wine comes from the Luna Matta Vineyard which is 1,750 feet (533 meters) high and Brian said that they believe the climate and soil conditions are similar to those of Piedmont. No manipulation in the winery as Brian said that he wants the drinker to identify it as Nebbiolo.

2016 Ancient Peaks Winery, Merlot: (SRP $20) 100% Merlot. Cocoa dust intermingled with espresso with an interesting smoky note that had fresh plums on the finish, and all for only $20.

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, VP of Operations for Ancient Peaks Winery, is a 4th generation Paso Robles resident, and as well as working for Ancient Peaks (2nd generation winery) for 12 years, is part of the family of one of the owners. The families that own this winery are proprietors of 14,000 acres (5700 hectares) in Santa Margarita Ranch AVA (takes up 50% of this sub-AVA) which is in the southern most part of Paso Robles, near the Pacific. There are just under 1000 acres (405 hectares) planted (the rest is cattle ranch) and Amanda said that when you are in the vineyards the only thing you see is vineyards and the Santa Lucia Range. Their vineyard is mainly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as those are their biggest sellers, but they have 70 different blocks delineated with 17 different varieties and they plant vines for smaller producers such as the Sangiovese and Nebbiolo vines they are planting for Brian Terrizzi (Giornata) who will use these grapes for his new project called Broadside.

Also, Amanda talked about the importance of Tablas Creek helping to bring quality grape growing to the Paso area with their research, investing, spreading the word, and how much it has meant to their community. As she said, there was not a lot of hope for development of an economy with the generations that came before her.

2015 Villa Creek Cellars, Avenger: (SRP $55) 70% Syrah, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre. As a Syrah lover, I really liked the chewy tannins that had broad shoulders with BBQ smoke notes that were balanced by a juicy finish.

Most of the fruit for this wine is sustainable based in the Willow Creek District which is also a higher and cooler area in Paso Robles and is known for super star cult Rhône producers.

2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit de Tablas: (SRP $55) 49% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 5% Counoise. Overall breathtaking balance, savory and sweet with truffles and sweet red cherries, and an underlying intense minerality that was lifted by the bright finish. I can’t remember the last time I had a Rhône blend, especially Mourvèdre dominant, that had such finesse within its decadent deliciousness! The winery practices are similar to their white Esprit de Tablas.

2016 Ancient Peaks Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon: (SRP $22) 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot and 3% Petite Sirah.  I noticed the cooling influences during the night with dried thyme that had black berries with a gravelly finish. The noticeable structural shape on this Cab brought this mid-level wine to another dimension of enjoyment. Again, Ancient Peaks price is astonishing at $22.   

Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety planted the most at Ancient Peaks with just under 300 acres (121 hectares) and they are looking to plant more Cab with Petit Verdot being an important variety to blend that helps to give structure.

2016 Booker Vineyard, My Favorite Neighbor: (SRP $80) 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah, and 11% Petit Verdot. Peppery nose with a plush body that evolved with layers of complexity that included sweet tobacco leaf and pencil shavings that were fleshed out with ripe blackcurrant flavors that had brawny tannins that had just enough give to make it a wine that begs for another sip.

Booker Vineyard is owned by Eric and Lisa Jensen and their fine wine selection of “My Favorite Neighbor” pays tribute to those people in their community who have meant a lot to them. The 2016 is a label that depicts Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Wines – the Jensens worked for Stephan right before they decided to start their own winery. It may seem unconventional to place a rival wine producer on one’s label but that seems to be the beautiful Paso way.

Some quick tidbits of information about Paso Robles AVA:

-Like Napa, there is a conjunctive labeling law that states if a winery uses one of the AVAs that are entirely enclosed within Paso Robles that they also need to note on the label Paso Robles AVA (Example: Tablas Creek Vineyard wines will say “Adelaida District” and “Paso Robles”).

-The coolest part of Paso Robles is in the south and it becomes warmer in the north but all of the areas get drastic swings in temperatures.

-The Paso Robles soil will absorb water during the winter, gaining up to 50% more weight per unit volume, and gives the water back to the vines when they need it during the growing season.

-Paso Robles spans 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean to 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean – so there is a fair amount of range east to west and there is almost as much distance north to south, 30-ish miles (around 48 kilometers).

-The calcareous and siliceous soils in Paso Robles were created by the old Pacific seabed being pushed up when the Santa Lucia Mountains were created.

-One of the wettest vintages in Paso Robles was 2015 when a Hurricane got lost and dropped a significant amount of water over the Paso area in July of that year.

 -Desert conditions in the summer and wet in the winter, especially on the western side.

-Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area) was established in 1983 with 17 wineries and 5,000 acres (2023 hectares) of vineyards and today has over 200 wineries and 40,000 acres (16,200 hectares) of planted vines.

 

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Curiosity is the Most Powerful Thing You Own

The dark purplish-blue sky seemed to drape over the mixture of stone carved buildings contrasting with metal and glass skyscrapers looming above me in midtown Manhattan. It seemed like, overnight, we were losing more daylight as the mystic night came in fierce and fast, taking with it the frivolity of summer to replace it with a sense of wonderment of the mysteries that wait for us to discover them.

The People make the Dinner

I was going to Le Bernardin for a wine dinner celebrating the 30 year friendship of Alain Dominique Perrin (who is famous in the luxury world for spearheading the renaissance and international development of Cartier) and Michel Rolland (who is one of the preeminent wine consultants around the world) and their collaboration of Château Lagrézette. I practically never go to evening events while I am home in New York City as I like to keep farmers’ hours when I can and there is nothing more important than having dinner with my husband. Additionally, I like to have deeply personal and intimate conversations with wine producers, as my focus is on the human condition; a large celebration, and especially an evening event at a formal restaurant, is usually not conducive to such an intention.

Around three years ago, I received an invitation to a small dinner with Alain, my first meeting with him, as well as only a couple other media people, at Le Bernardin. Despite my rule of not going out for dinners and fear that the formal atmosphere wouldn’t be conducive to soulful conversation, I could not help but be tempted, as a wine nerd, by the idea that Château Lagrézette, an estate in Cahors, made Viognier wines. Anyone who had the guts to make Viognier in Cahors I had to meet. It ended up being a night I will not forget, filled with deep conversations as Alain was a man who liked to cut through the BS and get to the heart of the matter, and the people he surrounded himself with were real, thoughtful and approachable. And so I knew that I wanted to be a part of this celebration as I admired the man. It was also a great opportunity to get to know more about the friendship he had with Michel Rolland, as well as meet the human being behind the “famous wine consultant” label who has seen more than his fair share of unfair caricature-like portrayals.

The Past Never Completely Leaves Us 

The celebration dinner had around 20 people in attendance and included such luminaries of the wine world such as Kevin Zraly. As I was enjoying a bubbly aperitif while talking to Mike Colameco (a 45-year veteran of the restaurant industry and today is the host and producer for ‘Mike Colameco’s Real Food’ television show on PBS) about the importance of gratitude, an exchange of chance that clutched at my heart happened… Mike approached Kevin Zraly and said that many years ago he worked in the kitchen of Windows on the World restaurant, which was located on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and as many of us know, was destroyed, along with many of Kevin’s former colleagues. From 1976 to 2001, Kevin Zraly was the wine director at that legendary restaurant that helped to shape the American wine scene as we know it today. After 9/11, he struggled with deep depression and left the wine world for a time. Thankfully for us, he came back and devoted most of his time to teaching and inspiring others about wine, while he himself was renewed by learning and being inspired by others… still to this day finding excitement in the various ways people communicate about wine. It was a special moment that harkened to a time that none of us will forget, remembering those that will never be forgotten, and the knowledge that it is always important to never get stuck in one place, to keep moving towards the next unknown that will ignite our fire in different ways.

Château Lagrézette

Before we started dinner, Alain introduced himself saying, “I am Alain Perrin and I am the owner of Château Lagrézette and that is all I am. The hero is Michel.” Alain spoke a little bit about the history of Château Lagrézette, it being one of the oldest wineries in France, going back to the 15th century with Malbec vines planted. Alain said he possessed a document that suggests that the first vintage of Château Lagrézette was in 1503, and although there were other artifacts found in the château that link it to being around since the 13th or 14th century, the oldest official document Alain could find that points to the winemaking of Château Lagrézette was the aforementioned.

The Day the Police Came

Despite Alain being a man who has probably seen it all, he is still filled with great enthusiasm and Château Lagrézette seems to offer an endless number of revelations to encourage his curiosity even more, as every nook and corner offer a new ancient object that has a story that Alain seeks out. He proudly publicly proclaims that his estate has been making wine “since 1503”, which he knew would ruffle some feathers as he is a relatively new winery owner. “One day,” Alain said, “the full brigade of the wine police (around 5 or 6) came to my door and I knew why they were coming.” The brigade told Alain that there was a complaint of him committing false advertising by saying that Château Lagrézette has been making wine since 1503. So Alain asked the head of the brigade, “Do you read old French?” As the man was perplexed by his question, Alain proceeded to show him the official document that said Château Lagrézette had indeed been making wine since 1503. “The man became white,” Alain said with a warm and playful laugh, and he told the officer, “Next time Mr. So and So complains, call me first.”

Alain and Michel

It was wonderful to witness the interplay between Alain and Michel, long-time friends and partners in resurrecting Château Lagrézette, both amazed at how this historic estate, tucked away 31 miles (50 kilometers) north of Cahors, has given them more surprises in its diversity of soil that creates Malbec wines that express different terroirs, as well as some sections being ideal for premium Viognier wine which is only traditionally seen in Northern Rhône, France. One of the things that was so refreshing about Michel Rolland was his excitement to find the new frontier of wine, joking that he would love to go in one of Elon Musk’s shuttles to plant vines on a new planet, so he could experience and learn something completely new; Château Lagrézette was, in a way, a new frontier for a man born and raised around 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Cahors in Pomerol, Bordeaux… a legendary wine commune now, but back when Michel was young, it was quite an unknown wine appellation. He has been completely taken aback by the sophisticatedly complex wines that each parcel is capable of and while he never really thought that he would be making Viognier, when he had seen the results from particular plots of Château Lagrézette, it made him a fan of this variety. It was thrilling to be around two men who have lived a pretty full life be more excited by the prospects of the future than they have ever been.

“Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own.” –Anonymous

Lack of curiosity can smother us in ignorance, such as the little misunderstanding in regards to Château Lagrézette’s rightful place as one of France’s oldest wineries, and in a more detrimental way, can keep segments of society from ever seeing an argument from another’s point of view. Encouraging curiosity can keep the glimmer in the eyes of one of the world’s most famous and prolific wine consultants, and can show someone a way to go on when their whole world has literally come crashing down.

 

***Some contribute the quote “Curiosity is the most powerful thing you own” to James Cameron but others question whether he was the originator of this quote.

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Château Lagrézette Wines Tasted on September 27th, 2018

2015 Le Pigeonnier Blanc: 100% Viognier. Intoxicating on the nose with clove and rose oil with juicy peach flavors on the rich palate with smoky minerality on the expressive finish.

The Le Pigeonnier Viognier comes from a 2.5 acre (1 hectare) single vineyard within the 49 acre (20 hectare) Rocamadouor vineyard. Vines are 14 years of age and the yields are low at 25 hectoliters per hectare. The vineyard soil is alternating layers of dense chalk and a soft, permeable clay encrusted with marine fossils (Oestra Virgula). This wine was aged for 9 months in 40% new French oak and 60% in 2 year old French oak.

2012 Paragon Massaut: 100% Malbec. Rich, sweet blueberry fruit with notes of violets and crumbly earth interlaced with the decadent fruit. A full bodied wine that had an elegant shape with firm yet polished tannins.

This 2012 Paragon comes from the Landiech vineyard – from 5 year old vines on the 3rd terrace; yields are extremely low at 25 hectoliters per hectare from gravelly soil. The wine was aged in new French oak barrels for 20 months.

-2015 Mon Vin: 100% Malbec. An outstanding wine that had layers of complexity with cocoa dust and a hint of crème brûlée with forest floor, that had plenty of lush blackberry fruit… generous yet profound, rich yet dignified, and powerful yet nurturing, finished with an elegant decadence.

The vines for the Mon Vin come from a miniscule plot of clay and gravel in their Caillac vineyard that are 35 years in age; extremely low yields ranging between 15 to 20 hectoliters per hectare. This wine was aged for 30 months in 100% new French oak barrels: alcoholic fermentation was conducted in 500-liter new oak barrels, then aged in 225-liter new French oak barrels for 30 months.

Mon Vin was a wine made in secrecy from Alain by Michel Rolland and Alain’s winemaker Claude Boudamani that would represent his intrinsic qualities that nourishes and firmly supports those around him. Michel decided on a unique bottle for this special wine but could not come up with a name, so when they told Alain about the wine made in secret and that it was supposed to be a wine that represented Alain himself… well, of course this revelation surprised Alain, who started to ask, “Mon Vin?” and so they decided that that would be the name.

-1998 Le Pigonnier: 100% Malbec. This wine certainly made wonderful old bones with chiseled tannins and fresh acidity that was balanced by flavors of cardamom poached plums and baking spice that had lots of old world charm on the finish with a note of dusty earth.

The 1997 was the first vintage of Le Pigeonnier Malbec, with Michel Rolland creating this wine with Alain Dominique Perrin. Michel recognized the distinctiveness of the soils and location of the vines that surrounded “le Pigeonnier”, a dovecote that is a structure that housed pigeons or doves, built in the 1600s. The Pigeonnier is a 6.7 acre (2.7 hectare) single vineyard adjacent to their Caillac vineyard near the 3rd terrace.

The 1998 Le Pigeonnier Malbec was the first vintage of this wine to be vinified in a wooden tank. The yield was extremely low at 15 hectoliters per hectare. Grapes were harvested and destemmed by hand. The wine was aged 30 months in 100% new French oak from the Saury cooperage that has a great reputation making wide grain wood barrels that give soft tannins, respecting the wine’s fruit characteristic.

2015 Merveille de Lilas, Noble Rot Sweet Wine: 100% Viognier. A sweet wine that was absolutely delicious and a rare treat with aromas of peach cobbler, baking spice and mandarin orange peel, with only a hint of enticing perfume on the finish. It has a viscous body that offered a bright acidity at the end.

Merveille de Lilas is sourced from the oldest vines of the Rocamadour vineyard (limestone and clay soils) on Alain’s estate (14 years old). The dry days and humid nights allowed for the development of Botrytis (noble rot that concentrates the flavors and sugars) during September 2015; harvested the following October, the wine spent 12 months in new French oak.

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Accepting Challenges

It was unbelievable to realize that not only was the exquisitely grand château I stood in front of actually, at one time, was only a hunting lodge to a more expansive estate in the Brouilly Cru of Beaujolais, in France, but that it was acquired as a result of someone’s weakness for gambling. I stood there slack-jawed taking in the magnificence of Château de Nervers with the family owner Jean-Benoît de Chabannes, with dirt under his nails, hiking shoes on, looking every bit like a wine producer in the midst of the back-breaking work required during harvest time. It was a direct contrast to the fantasy picture that such an estate would evoke – the reality of the work it took to keep it going, especially if one placed winemaking first, and everything else needed taking a backseat to that priority.

Château de Nervers

“It was not that we were gamblers”, Jean-Benoît quickly corrected our initial thinking after he stated that this original “hunting lodge”, Château de Nervers, came to his family to cover a gambling debt. Jean-Benoît’s ancestors had a neighbor that owned a cluster of houses, châteaux, and acres upon acres of land that would be referred to as more of a compound today, called La Chaize. That neighbor had a serious gambling problem and needed to get a loan from Jean-Benoît’s family to cover his loses but eventually this man ended up gambling everything away and he gave Jean-Benoît’s family the hunting lodge I saw before my eyes, 10 houses and 124 acres (50 hectares) of wheat to cover a massive debt he had acquired with them. When Jean-Benoît was a child, he once visited the main castle of the La Chaize compound and he remembers distinctly going up the main stairs, where many portraits of the ancestors hung, and there was one facing the wall… the portrait of the gambler.

Jean-Benoît said in the 1800s, one didn’t have people come over to his or her place for gatherings and so well-to-do families would have a different château all together (called their hunting lodge) for such social obligations. Of course, this was another time when people in the area had much more money. Jean-Benoît’s family were winemakers and so it made sense to replant much of the 124 acres (50 hectares) of wheat with vines – around 116 acres (47 acres) of vines are planted today. His family took over the estate in 1830, during the time when a pest called phylloxera was devastating vineyards in Europe; some of the earliest post-phylloxera vine plantings surround the château, ranging from 130 to 140 years old; these Gamay vines looked a lot younger (trunks were not as thick as you would think) because the soil is poor so the vines have a slower metabolism.

Challenges

Many times it is easy to look at the outside and think someone has it made in the shade, or that they have been given so much luck and life is a breeze. But the more that someone has, whether it is notoriety, a business, or a château, the more daily responsibilities and stresses that accompany such things. There are various challenges that one has to accept and manage in order to continue… one’s life is perhaps more fulfilled but it is certainly more complicated, and if one adds limited resources and cash flow, which would include most family wineries around the world, there are mountains to climb every day for such people that take on certain challenges of life.

When I think about myself and others who have told me their stories… there seems to always be a fine line between making sure there is not too much stress but having enough challenges to give one purpose. That line will change as we go through different stages in our lives and the challenges we feel drawn to will alter in type and scope. For many years, I was content working behind the scenes – studying, researching, doing more than my fair share and many times taking over the obligations of others, and I was at peace that I did not want the greater responsibly of being the person in charge, or going off on my own. But as others took credit for my work while chipping away at my self-esteem, I guess to make sure to keep me down, I saw how I was enabling such a dysfunctional environment that harmed many others caught in the same repressive situation. In a way, I was forced to go off on my own, and there were many things that came with such a move that I really didn’t care for, but I wouldn’t change a thing because I could no longer be a part of a toxic world that I would help to sustain, day in and day out.

Jean-Benoît and his family could have taken the easy way out by selling the estate but then what would happen to the area of Brouilly? Or on a larger scale, the region of Beaujolais? Families like Jean-Benoît’s invested in the community (Jean-Benoît is on the council at his local city hall) and are preserving a heritage, a way of life, protecting other residences, and are key in sustaining this tranquil place. Georges Duboeuf, who has been distributing Château de Nervers since 1976, is a big part of making it possible for this family wine producer to continue to survive, as well as others such as Domaine des Rosiers, in the more northern part of the Beaujolais Crus, Moulin-à-Vent.

Domaine des Rosiers

Domaine des Rosiers has been a long time favorite Beaujolais Cru of mine within the Moulin-à-Vent area; having legendary status as making some of the most long-lived wines with their high acidity. I was thrilled to meet the owner, Gérard Charvet, whose family has lived for a century in the surrounding area. He was in the middle of harvest, like Jean-Benoît, but showed us around; I saw the charming house that was featured on his wine label – it was magic. But Gérard, who emanated kindness, was taken aback by the idea that I wanted a photo with him and that I was jumping for joy in front of his home. At the end of the day, he was a farmer that took up the challenge of keeping his family’s home, vineyards and winery alive with their spirits through his unending hard work and commitment. He had no idea how much of an effect he had on me, a wine drinker of Beaujolais Cru in the far off, contrasting world of New York City.

Inner Void

In many ways, it is wonderful to have a life where we have the freedom to choose our paths – modern conveniences are making life easier, so we can step away from the challenges that scare us… because if we do not have the type of ego that needs to be in charge, then why do it? Well, that is probably one of the greatest reasons TO do it. Because when you have people who are running things for the right reasons, who are there for the benefit of all, taking consequences and accountability seriously, then that is when the world gets better.

I think that is why some of us start to feel that deep inner void. We are first surprised because we were just the kinds of people who wanted to live our lives in peace… love, be loved, and cover the simple things in life. But then we see so many injustices, we see those precious things from our world disappear, and human decency slowly disappear.

We feel like we have no control yet we know, deep inside, that we can be more active, we can be a part of putting ourselves out there for the world we are yearning to keep. That is what Georges Duboeuf has been doing for 60 years with the Beaujolais wine producers who have all taken on the same challenges to fight for what they value… willing to sacrifice an easier life to do so.

 

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Tasting of Château de Nervers on September 6th, 2018

-2016 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. I really love how well the 2016 Beaujolais Cru wines are tasting right now. A more classic vintage with lovely aromatics that was expressed in this Château de Nervers. Sweet red fruit with a perfume-y nose that danced in my head as the beautifully shaped palate made my mouth water.

-2015 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. The 2015 is a great vintage that seems to need time at this stage to integrate the tannins and for the wines to open. This 2015 had grip to the tannins with deep concentration that had hints of dried herbs and a long lasting kirsch flavor.

-2011 Château de Nervers, Brouilly Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Jean-Benoît wanted to show us how his Brouilly wines could age with this 2011. Pressed lilacs with ripe strawberries and overall finesse with fresh acidity and a long expressive finish.

 Tasting of Domaine des Rosiers on September 5th, 2018

2017 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Juicy fruit with firm yet lacy structured tannins that had a purity of black cherries that danced across the linear body.

-2016 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. Smoky minerality made this an enticing wine with exciting energy on the palate that finished with dried autumn leaves and freshly picked red cherries.

-2015 Domaine des Rosiers, Moulin-à-Vent Cru, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. This 2015 surprisingly had velvety tannins that were generous and inviting, unlike so many 2015s from this great vintage. It was quite enjoyable right now but will probably still make great bones with marked acidity, intense richness of flavors and complexity.

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