Assessing Our Value

Like so many other boys and girls, when I was a child I thought that I would know my worth and value when I got older. Back then, I had very little self worth and it was a daily struggle functioning in the world feeling that I needed to change myself in order to fit in. Through time, as we go through adulthood, driven by the desperation of loneliness, we find ways to hide seemingly unflattering things about ourselves or subject ourselves to dysfunctional relationships because we feel that we are not special enough to be accepted by the world.  Many of us feel like we are forced to live a false life where we repress the best parts of ourselves so that we can be accepted.

Bulgarian Wines

These thoughts kept running through my head after a wine seminar discussing the wines of Bulgaria. I knew very little about Bulgarian wines except that their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot wines were supposed to be an incredible value for good quality. Back in my wine education days – around a decade ago – I sought out Bulgarian wines in New York City, which, believe it or not, were difficult to find in the city that has everything… and I have to say that the Cabernet Sauvignon over delivered for the price.

So it was interesting to find myself here, many years later, getting to know Bulgaria in a deeper, more detailed way in a master class, and my God, is there a lot to know about Bulgarian wine: the various types of climate, soil, grape varieties (local and international) and the up and down roller coaster they have been a part of since their wine revolution in 1878 – although vine growing and winemaking can be traced back 5000 years in that area. After tasting 25 wines that day, I not only realized the thrilling potential of Bulgarian wines but also how some of their wine regions specialized in aromatic white wines.

Complexity of Bulgaria

I think I can faintly remember a wine teacher once telling me that there was no point in drinking a Bulgarian wine unless it was Cabernet Sauvignon – not to be critical of someone else, because trust me I have made more mistakes than I would care to admit, but it was a statement that shaped my view of this country for many years. There was no other information about Bulgaria, that I knew of at the time, that could have given me a better idea of the reality of their wines, and so I thought they could only make good Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as only the large wineries could be found in the US. It was interesting to learn that part of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot push in export markets had to do with international acclaim being bestowed on a couple of Bulgarian wines made from those varieties that were heralded as “Good Wines At Giveaway Prices” in the Washington Post and that won a New York Wine competition in the early 1980s. Bulgarian wines’ initially slow acceptance into the US market was then brought to a screeching halt, and so, many wine professionals are now stuck in the early 1980s when thinking about Bulgaria.

Despite Bulgaria’s upward trajectory with its winemaking and vineyard practices starting in the early 1900s (after recovery from the devastation of phylloxera) that peaked in the 1980s, in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev carried out an anti-alcohol campaign with partial prohibition, known as the “dry law” until the fall of communism in 1990. After that, Bulgaria needed to spend the next couple of decades stabilizing their economy while their wine industry took on the long and arduous process of trying to find the rightful owners of vineyards that were abandoned once communism took effect in the 1940s. But in the meantime, its wine industry suffered with sub-par quality of under ripe, green wines. In 2005, things started to look up when Bulgaria was able to qualify for two protected geographic indications from the EU (joining the EU in 2007) that pertained to their wine region; since that time they have kicked it up into high gear with improvements to their vineyards and winemaking.

Since that time they’ve realized that they can’t be 100% reliant on the EU because they are added competition in a sense, and Bulgaria has assumed the mantle to further designate smaller quality areas amongst themselves; some agree on 5, 9, 11 or even more but everyone in the Bulgarian wine industry agrees that 2 general regions is not only insulting but is also misrepresentative as it is lumping the mass produced wines together with boutique, specialized producers from a specific area.

Muscat & Other Aromatic White Varieties

During the master class I tasted five aromatic white wines, and at home, one from samples that were sent to me (wine tasting notes below).  There was such a range of aromatics, flavors and overall qualities; a true experience of balanced, complex and simply enchanting whites. Bulgaria has so many unidentified aromatic white grapes that Bulgarian wine producers call many of them Muscat, even though they are probably a completely different biotype that is local to that area. But for now, they have been able to distinguish a few of these varieties that are rare to Bulgaria; Dimyat is a very old Balkan variety possibly originating in Bulgaria, and Misket originates from Bulgaria (with three biotypes – one having pink skin with the other two white varieties being a hybrid); as well as other exotically fun ones such as the Tamianka variety that is a mystery grape perhaps from the Middle East and Traminer thought to have been born in France and goes under many names, one of which being Savagnin –meaning “wild”.

Also, the flight of Pinot Noir wines, that expressed a sense of place from the different quality areas, as well as the flight of indigenous and hybrid reds really showed a colorful tapestry of wines that exists in this one country.

The World Won’t Work Around You

Of course there is still push back from US importers that want to keep with what the people know of Bulgaria, and so, they mainly value Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many of the tiny wine producers, which I was lucky to be able to taste, don’t even harvest their whole vineyard, some leaving as much as 50% of their crop because they feel they will only be able to sell the half to their local market for a fair price and that no one else outside of Bulgaria would be interested in their smaller, artisanal wines. It is estimated that out of the 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of vineyards in Bulgaria that only 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) were harvested with the rest left behind in the 2015 vintage.

I believe that all of us should know the hardcore reality that the world won’t work around you, especially when it comes to paying bills, one has to work around the world… but not at the expense of losing that special treasure that may be unconventional, yet could be a game changer… such as opening our mind to the true potential of dry aromatic white wines.

Much More Than the World Thought You Were

Many of these small Bulgarian wine producers have other jobs in order to support themselves and these wines are passion projects for many of them; I truly feel like they are at a crossroads of how much longer they can continue. All of us have been there, where we were pursuing something on the side and we gave up because we thought there was no point because we didn’t really think we offered any value to the world.

That day of the Bulgarian master class, I knew I was witnessing a revelation of something very special as these small producers were showing me what their land and culture was capable of, and they would not allow the outside world to dictate their worth. Yes, Bulgaria will always have to have big wine companies that will help to support their industry, and the smaller producers will probably have to balance the reality of their lives with other jobs, but these struggling producers who are keeping their heads barely above water, trying to keep their true value as a winemaking country alive just need a little recognition, like all of us, to know that it is worth the struggle and the fight.

Bulgarian wines are so much more than the quick throwaway blurb in a wine book or the snarky comment. I hope they know that, I hope they continue to fight, and most importantly, I hope we listen.

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Tasting of Samples on March 15th, 2018

Bulgarian wine samples were sent to me on another occasion and so I thought it was an ideal post to talk about these wines as well. The master class wines are below these tasting notes.

2016 Domaine Boyar, Traminer, “Selection”, Thracian Valley: Traminer is a variety that has many biotypes that vary in aromatic intensity but this wine has a lovely moderately perfumed nose of lychee and spice with juicy stone fruit flavors that had a fun peach skin hint and a delicately floral finish.

2016 Vini, Chardonnay, Thracian Valley: A light and vibrant Chardonnay with apricot and zesty lemon that had a blanched almond finish.

2015 Vini, Pinot Noir, Danube River PlainsAn aromatic Pinot Noir with cherry blossoms and star anise with vivid fruit along the light bodied palate.

2011 Domaine Boyar, Mavrud, “Reserve”, Thracian Valley: Layers of complex aromas of forest floor, leather and cinnamon with black cherry flavors on a medium, round body that had a mint-y lift.

 2016 Vini, Merlot, Thracian Valley: A Merlot that has a good combination of New World fruit generosity and Old World rustic charm with delicious plums and blueberries laced with graphite and cocoa nibs that were carried by dusty tannins.

2015 Domaine Boyar, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Reserve”, Thracian Valley: An easygoing Cabernet Sauvignon that has gentle tannins, fresh black berry fruit and a pencil lead finish.

Bulgaria Wine Master Class on February 27th, 2018

Many of the below wines are not on the US market yet but I hope they are able to find a place in our market soon.

As discussed above, there are only two EU wine protected geographic indications for Bulgaria, Danubian Plain PGI and Thracian Valley PGI, but within the parentheses written below, the location of the vineyards is more highly specialized.

Also, it is interesting to note that although we would think of moderately priced white wines as being released onto the market as quickly as possible, the small, quality-minded Bulgarian producers will sometimes hold them back because they feel their wines will need a few years to show their potential. Again, many of these wines are undervalued so you can’t gauge their aging potential by price alone.

Short Recent Vintage Overview

2017: Best vintage in recent years with balanced wines

2016: Ripe vintage where the wines are evolving quickly

2015: Okay vintage evolving more slowly than ‘16 yet some areas made very nice wines

 First Flight – White Wines made with International Grape Varieties

-2015 Tsarev Brod, Sauvignon Blanc, Danubian Plain PGI (North Black Sea Coast): The North Black Sea is one of the coolest wine regions in Bulgaria, located in the North-East. This Sauvignon Blanc has a pretty nose with flinty minerality, lemon confit and mango notes (zingy and tropical) with a richness on the body that balances the crisp acidity

-2017 Villa Melnik, Sauvignon Blanc (Orange Wine), Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): An exciting Sauvignon Blanc as an orange wine in one of the warmest wine regions in Struma Valley, in the South-West (although there are more moderate micro-climate vineyards where some producers will make white wines).This orange wine had around 20 days of skin contact and had fun aromas of ginger, bruised apple, roasted nuts and dried pineapple flavors that had some grip. They have no problems selling out of this wine in Bulgaria since the young people love it.

-2016 Burgozone Winery, Chardonnay, “Cote du Danube”, Danubian Plain PGI (North West): An elegantly nimble Chardonnay that had white flowers, wet stones and exotic kaffir lime with a long, expressive finish.

-2016 Tsarev Brod, Sepage, Danubian Plain (North Black Sea Coast): This is a white wine blend that is Sauvignon Blanc dominant with Chardonnay, Traminer and Riesling making up the rest of the blend. Although the North Black Sea is one of the coolest regions, these vineyards come from a warmer micro-climate that is known for its limestone soils – so much limestone that they had to change the regulations for the drinking water that passed through these soils. The rich body (45 days on the lees) balances the multiple layers of dried flowers, honey covered golden apples and lime blossom.

-2015 Villa Yustina, “4 Seasons”, Gewürztraminer, Thracian Valley PGI (West): This wine had such a lovely purity of Gewürztraminer varietal characteristics of pristine lychee flavors that reminded me of the quality Gewürztraminer that is coming out of Chile. Its purity was just a pleasure and the retained fresh acidity just added to the delightful experience. Only 7000 bottles (yes, bottles!) made.

Second Flight – Aromatic Whites (considered local specialties)

-2016 Karabunar Winery, Dimyat, “Bulgarian Heritage”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Made from the Dimyat variety originating in Bulgaria. This wine had a lanolin nose with saline minerality and marked acidity.

-2015 Karabunar Winery, Misket, “Bulgarian Heritage”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Misket is considered the best local white variety in Bulgaria. I really liked the richness of honey flavors combined with the fresh citrus and floral ones.

-2015 Via Verde, Misket & Muscat, “Expressions”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): I walked away really loving these “Expressions” wines from Via Verde, made by a young winemaking couple and has beautiful dragonflies on their labels that vary in their colors to express the qualities of the wine inside. This Misket and Muscat blend had intoxicating aromas of wildflowers with hints of licorice, despite them coming from vineyards in the warmer region of Struma, they have a lovely vitality of acidity due to the vineyards being high in altitude. Only 4000 bottles (yes, I said bottles again) are made.

-2016 Via Verda, Sandanski Misket, “Expressions”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): This Misket had zesty pink grapefruit flavors with a real tangy edge that was electric on the linear body with bright yellow flowers finish. Whimsical wine! Only 4000 bottles made.

-2015 Bratanov Winery, Tamianka, Thracian Valley PGI (Sakar): Tamianka is known as a mystery white grape that is possibly from the Middle East, yet it has found its home in Bulgaria. Exotic spice with rich orange marmalade and a lush finish that has an intense stoney minerality. Fascinating wine.

Third Flight – Pinot Noir

-2016 Vini, Pinot Noir, Danube River Plains: Pretty, floral, light Pinot Noir that had vivid cranberry with a spicy lift.

-2016 Tsarev Brod, Pinot Noir, Danubian Plain PGI (North Black Sea Coast): A Pinot Noir from the cooler North Black Sea region with lilacs, raspberry, sour cherry and chalky minerality.

-2014 Burgozone Winery, Pinot Noir, “Cote du Danube”, Danubian Plain PGI (North – West): It was nice to compare this Pinot Noir with the previous one as this comes from a warmer area. Smoky with hints of mushrooms and black cherries; it was rich and complex on the body.

-2015 Villa Yustina, Pinot Noir, “4 Seasons”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Coming from vineyards 1640 feet (500 meters) above sea level. High-toned nose with candied cherry, pine and Thai basil.

-2014 Villa Melnik, Melnik & Pinot Noir, “Bergulé”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): A red blend of 75% Melnik (a thin skinned red variety) and 25% Pinot Noir. Melnik’s full name is Shiroka Melnishka Loza and it is believed to be a local variety that was originally brought to Bulgaria by the soldiers of Alexander the Great; it is exclusively grown in Sandanski, Melnik and Petrich in the Struma Valley. More black fruit and structure on this wine with lots of energetic acidity that was highlighted by black pepper.

Fourth Flight – Local Red Varieties

-2015 Villa Melnik, Shiroka Melnik, “Aplauze”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): This is the Shiroka Melnishka Loza variety mentioned in the previous note. Plush cassis fruit with mixture of plums and brambly berries. Only 2000 bottles, yes bottles (that joke never gets old), made of this wine.

-2015 Rupel Winery, Melnik 55, “Gramatik”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): Melnik 55 is a crossing: Shiroka Melnishka Loza (aka Melnik) & Valdiguié (red grape variety from Languedoc-Roussillon in France). In 1977 it was approved and recognized as an original variety. Cocoa powder, dried herbs, eucalyptus and toasted coconut flakes (80% American and 20% French oak was used) with a blackberry finish.

-2013 Orbelus, Melnik, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): Made from organic grapes and the first winery in Bulgaria to use natural winemaking practices. A red blend of Melnik (dominant variety) with Grenache and Petit Verdot making up the rest of the blend – although it was said that they no longer want to use the Grenache in this blend. A real decadent wine that was completely hedonistic with espresso and blueberry preserves with chewy tannins. I would love to have this wine with a cheese plate. Only 8,000 bottles made.

-2015 Karabunar Winery, Mavrud, “Bulgarian Heritage”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): Mavrud is one of the oldest Bulgarian indigenous varieties, dating back to ancient times. Expands in the mouth with a broad body with controlled tannins and lots of vigor amongst the generous black fruit with a hint of spice.

-2013 Villa Yustina, Mavrud & Rubin, “Monogram”, Thracian Valley PGI (West): A blend of Mavrud and Rubin – Rubin is a crossing between Nebbiolo and Syrah created in 1944 and recognized as an original variety in 1961. Many great winemakers have come out of the Villa Yustina which was noted with this wine. Seductive truffle note with smoldering cedar and violets and fine tannins. A Bulgarian wine with an international touch.

Fifth Flight – International Reds and Blends

-2015 Orbelus, Hrumki Blend, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): A red blend of 41% Merlot, 25% Melnik, 16% Syrah, 9% Grenache and 9% Marselan made from organic grapes and the first winery in Bulgaria to use natural winemaking practices. Beautiful bouquet of flowers and fresh blueberries with a hint of crumbly rock and well-knit tannins. A knock out! Only 7,400 bottles made.

-2015 Rupel Winery, Merlot, “Gramatik”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): This Merlot has plush-ness and fine structure with blueberry liqueur and gravelly undertones.

-2015 Rupel Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, “Gramatik”, Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): Earth driven with hints of mint and spice box with bright black cherries with harmonious tannins.

-2013 Villa Melnik, Cuvée, “Bergulé” Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): A red blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Syrah and 15% Merlot. The tannins were still evident giving lots of structure with jammy fruit and black pepper. This wine would work well with lamb or any game dish.

-2015 Rupel Winery, Marselan, “Gramatik” Thracian Valley PGI (Struma River Valley): Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that has become an important red variety in Israel. I tasted many Marselan wines when I was in Israel and there was a great disparity in quality, but with yield control this variety can do very well in warm regions such as Struma Valley. Black currants with baking spice and hint of olives with round, well-integrated tannins made this an accessible exotic wine. I would definitely add this on the list of some of the better Marselan wines I have had.

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Sustainability: Meeting the Needs of the People

Faint memories of small police tanks, officers in riot gear and helicopters in the sky circling my neighborhood constantly just seem like a gritty dream that was inspired by an urban apocalyptic movie… but it was real. My first few years in NYC from the age of 18 to 21 years old in the early 1990s in Alphabet City in the East Village were filled with images of squatters being kicked out of abandoned buildings, corporations buying up blocks of tenement apartments and storefronts; rents then went sky high for those that did not have rent stabilization to protect them, and a militant feeling that would transform my old neighborhood into a safer, more expensive area for better in some ways, and considering the latter, worse in other ways. One name would bring me back to those memories – César Chávez.

César Chávez was a man that was often quoted and worshiped as an iconic folk saint back in those days in Alphabet City. He was best known as a Latino American civil rights activist that started an important grass roots movement for the improvement of working conditions for American laborers, especially migrate workers. His name was evoked by Janet Trefethen and her son Lorenzo last month, during their Trefethen Family Vineyards vertical tasting.

Trefethen Family Vineyards

Janet Trefethen said that to her knowledge, Trefethen is the only winery in the United States that is over 25 years old (the Trefethen family has owned their vineyards for 50 years) that has grown every single grape that has gone into every single bottle. Also, the family: Janet, her husband John, and her son Lorenzo and daughter Hailey are owners that live nearby and get their “hands dirty” in the 600 acres of vineyard land that was originally purchased by John’s parents, Gene and Catherine in 1968 (there were fewer than 20 wineries in Napa Valley at the time). John’s wine loving parents intended to sell the grapes but John had other ideas, and once he married Janet, who had been raised on a Northern California rice farm, they became a dynamic duo in taking over the land by revamping the vineyards and building a winery. Janet said they bossed John’s parents around when it came to what they needed to do for quality wine and now their children boss them around taking the respect for land and expression of each plot of land to another level.

Sustainability

Before starting to taste the vertical of wines that ranged from 1977 to 2016 (tasting notes below), Janet and Lorenzo both wanted to emphasize how important sustainability was to their family. They use natural pest control (barn owl and bat boxes), compost the leftover grape skins, seeds and stems, recycled winery wastewater to irrigate vineyards and were influenced by the book One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (originally published in 1975 and known as the “Zen and the Art of Farming”). But one part of their sustainability is the most important to them: employing their vineyard workers year-round, providing them with living wages and comprehensive benefits (healthcare, 401K plan, vacation time, etc.). Janet said they were able to benefit from her father-in-law being the CEO of Kaiser Industries and were able to place all of their employees on the Kaiser Health Plan.

César Chávez

This is when the name César Chávez came up in their discussion. In the late 1960s, César Chávez led a boycott of table and wine grapes in America because of the poor pay and conditions for many of the workers in the fields. This created signs that were placed in stores, especially in NYC, to “Boycott Grapes” and drew great criticism from Robert Kennedy that was focused towards California wineries. Janet Trefethen said although they paid and treated their people well from the beginning, the protesters marched on them using trucks filled with baseball bats. Although it was an extremely painful time for the Trefethen family and their extended family of workers, she said that she applauded the attention the boycott gave to exploited migrant workers but she wished that they had not picked on them since they were, in essence, fighting the good fight with them.

And being a true pioneering woman who supports other women, Janet Trefethen pointed out that Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez and was just as vital a part of that revolution but her name is not as widely known as the charismatic César.

When Revolutions Lose Sight of Individual Businesses and People

It is interesting to think back during my time in the East Village in the 1990s and although it was way past the time of the “Boycott Grapes” movement, many of my neighbors were still wearing César Chávez t-shirts. And considering that he died the same year I came to NYC, in 1993, there were tons of tribute murals that were placed on buildings and sidewalks. His image was always around to remind us that the fight for true equality was a heroic one. At the time, I was young and naïve and so I did not realize the complications of life… many things are not simply black and white.

Lorenzo went on to talk about their employees, some involving multi-generational families such as the Baldini family. Tony Baldini was their first employee, his son Steve helped his father run the vineyards, and today, Tony’s other son Michael works in their tasting room. Janet chimed in, “There has been a Baldini on the payroll from day one.” When another writer in the room asked what they did with their full-time employees during the slow season, Lorenzo said that there was a break in December, which everyone needed after working 6 to 7 day weeks during and after harvest, and there was always winter work to do from rebuilding the hillside to fixing tractors. And a couple of Trefethen employees have their own farms, and so the Trefethen family works out a schedule for these couple of employees to be given time off when they need it. One of them owns an agave farm in Tequila, Mexico, and Lorenzo said that if one thinks wine vineyard owners were cash poor then it is even worse for agave farmers who can only harvest every 7 years.

Putting People First

The older I get and the more people I meet from various walks of life, I find that there are many exceptions on many sides when it comes to generalizations, almost so much so that generalizations no longer work. When we are fighting for the rights of those being marginalized, we can get carried away by emotions and well-intended words and actions gone wrong – sweeping those people who are implementing the positive changes that we are fighting for under the same dirty rug as those who are exploiting people, which is just fighting unjust actions with more unjust actions. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that these revolutions were important for real change and César Chávez and Dolores Huerta created change that improved conditions for over 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. But after each fight, when the smoke clears, we need to reexamine the facts of the multitude of businesses in each sector.

If we are battling for an open minded world then there needs to be a deeper understanding on both sides and a more measured approached when it comes to throwing around inflammatory accusations to whole industries or regions as there may be some very good people caught in the crossfire. I am very happy that the Trefethen family was able to survive those times and continued their philosophy that one cannot have a sustainability program if people don’t come first – a great reminder that one cannot lead a true revolution for people if all of them are not considered.

 

***Top Photo captures scene of one of the East Village, NYC, squatter evictions in 1996 Photo Credit: John Penley via the NYU Tamiment Library

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Trefethen Wines Tasted at Seminar on February 5th, 2018

100% of all grapes are sourced from Trefethen’s vineyards in Oak Knoll District AVA in Napa Valley.

Because Oak Knoll District AVA is in the lower part of Napa Valley, they get the same fog that San Francisco gets, creating a cooler climate. Their wines are known for the incredible vitality and bright acidity that makes them age-worthy as proven by this vertical.

The photo of these two maps of Main Ranch, 1968 on the left and 2018 on the right, shows the major progress that Trefethen has made through the years. Their Director of Viticulture, Jon Ruel, has segmented the vineyard into five dozen different ‘gardens’ delineated by variety, soil type, trellising system and irrigation regimen. As a result, Trefethen now farms 63 distinct vineyard blocks, encompassing nine different grape varieties (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Viognier), 10 different types of rootstock, and 49 different clones (genetic variations of a grape variety), including 13 of Chardonnay and 10 of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Many past vineyard owners in Napa Valley would plant walnut trees where a bunch of vines died, not having the knowledge about viticulture they have today, and so Trefethen has kept some of these walnut trees and shared a bag with each of us.

 

Riesling-

2016 Dry Riesling (tasted before the seminar began): Trefethen has been making Riesling since 1974 and although their cooler area in the Oak Knoll District AVA in Napa Valley retains the bright acidity, they still get enough ripeness to make it a dry style. The 2016 had zingy notes of lemon peel balanced with richer notes of pear drop that finished with chalky minerality.

 

Varietal: 100% Riesling

Harvest: August 25-September 8

Residual Sugar: 5.0 grams/L (Dry)

Alcohol: 12.5%

1988 Dry Riesling: This was the first wine of the seminar tasting. Janet Trefethen and her son Lorenzo wanted to show us how well their Riesling wines age with the 1988 which had more flinty minerality, white flowers and honey covered apple slice notes.

Varietal: 100% Riesling

Harvest: September 1-23

Residual Sugar: 5.5 grams/L (Dry)

Alcohol: 12%

 

-Chardonnay-

Trefethen has always gone light on the MLF and new oak treatment creating Chardonnay wines that are mainly vessels for expressing the vineyards.

1977 Chardonnay: Gold color with hints of caramel, wet stones and a touch of white pepper on the finish that offers lots of vitality and energy along the palate.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Oak: 64% for 3 months

Barrel Fermentation: 0%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13.4%

1985 Chardonnay (Library Selection): More golden in color than the 1977 with rich flavors and body that gave lush sultanas and apple pie that lifts on the finish with cinnamon spice.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: August 28-September 25

Oak: 52% for 8 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 0%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13%

1991 Chardonnay (Library Selection): Exotically enticing with mango and pineapple with a quince-y kick that had an energetic, long finish.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 30-October 18

Oak: 72% for 5 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 1%

MLF: 0%

Alcohol: 13%

2005 Chardonnay: Citrus tang with pretty orange blossoms on a lean body that evolved with dried flowers as time went on.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 8-October 7

Oak: 78% for 9 months in French

Barrel Fermentation: 78%

MLF: 21%

Alcohol: 13.8%

2011 Chardonnay: Grapefruit with lime zest and marked acidity that had an edgy tension.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: September 26-October 12

Oak: 9 months in (19% new) 85% French, 15% Hungarian

Barrel Fermentation: 89% & MLF: 17%

Alcohol: 13.5%

2016 Chardonnay (Released on 50th Anniversary): Lots of perfume with key lime pie flavors with a mouthwatering finish.

Varietal: 100% Chardonnay

Harvest: August 17-September 17

Oak: 9 months in (19% new) French

Barrel Fermentation: 69%

MLF: 8%

Alcohol: 13.4%

 

-Cabernet Sauvignon-

1979 Cabernet Sauvignon (Library Selection): Fresh autumn leaves, dried thyme, violets with still a sense of fresh black fruit that was all wrapped up with fine tannins.

Varietal: 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot

Harvest: Mid October

Oak: 12 months in American

Alcohol: 13.3%

 

 1986 Cabernet Sauvignon: BBQ, grilled vegetables and black currant jam that had a broad body with a volcanic ash finish.

Varietal: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot

Harvest: September 4-October 1

Oak: 12 months in 59% American, 41% French

Alcohol: 13%

1999 Cabernet Sauvignon: Complex beauty with cumin seeds, sweet tobacco leaf and black raspberry that is harmonious with well-integrated tannins that gave a silky texture.

Varietal: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot

Harvest: October 12-23

Oak: 16 months in (55% new) 88% French, 12% American

Alcohol: 14%

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon: Bright red cherries give this wine an immediate freshness and on the nose it was singing with baking spice and intense minerality. Although full-bodied and loaded with fruit, there was a graceful quality that was created by the aromatically pristine fruit.

Varietal: 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot

Harvest: September 26-Novemeber 1

Oak: 17 months in (64% new) 50% French, 50% American & Alcohol: 14.1%

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: This wine was like a ballet dancer that was delicate in its refined delivery of fresh plum and black currant fruit yet had an inner strength that drove throughout the wine that finished with incredible precision.

Varietal: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec, 3% Petit Verdot

Harvest: September 30-Novemeber 2

Oak: 18 months in (64% new) 54% French, 29% American, 17% Hungarian

Alcohol: 14%

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Released on 50th Anniversary): A weightier body and a multidimensional wine that had seductive cassis fruit with underlying notes of graphite and asphalt. The seamless integration of tannin and oak plus the added brilliance of marked acidity makes this wine a stunner.

Varietal: 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 5% Merlot, 4% Malbec,

Harvest: September 5-October 3

 

Oak: 18 months in (49% new) 52% French, 24% American, 24% Hungarian

Alcohol: 14.1%

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Our True Worth Typically Presents Itself in Our Toughest Times

If someone had told me that one of the events I was most grateful for was the one where my life came crumbling down around me, I would have thought they were crazy. When we are kids and think of a “successful adult life,” it usually include a person having all the boxes checked with a professional job, a nice house, pressed clothes and respect from one’s community; I knew that a “successful life” in the traditional sense was not possible for me, but one thing that always held a deep importance was to be in a monogamous relationship with someone to share my life. The house, kids, nice clothes and professional job meant very little to me as I was happy just getting by while pursuing my passions and tapping into my maternal feelings by taking care of those around me. But for some reason, I couldn’t feel completely fulfilled without experiencing the love of sharing my life with someone. Then, at the age of 23, I married someone I had only known for a couple months, believing in the power of love guiding us through our lives, but it ended only a few years later when he told me that he had had an affair.

The Pain of Revelation 

Since we barely knew each other to begin with, I understand that many would not consider my “first marriage” as a real one. But I took it very seriously and devoted myself to being the best wife/partner that I could be… perhaps going too far because I deeply felt within my heart that I was not worthy of love. I have to guess that that is one of the reasons why I chose someone who was obviously selfish, detached and only interested in his own satisfaction. Looking back, I remember him telling me such things about himself when we first met but, because of my issues that I was fully unaware of at the time, I did not want to believe him. The pain of having to face my mistakes and feeling like I was a broken human being was unbearable for a time… the only way I got through it was to focus on other people and try to think very little about myself.

2014 Amarone della Valpolicella

In many ways, my pain during that time in my life was based on the idea that I thought I was a failure and that I had very little hope for a happy future. But once I started to talk to kind-hearted, wise people about what had happened (which I didn’t do until many years later because I was so overcome with shame) I realized that I had an opportunity to learn and grow from that dark time in my life and gain skills that have helped me with many intense challenges since then.

It is the same with certain wine vintages, such as the 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella that caused a great deal of grief and stress for the producers in Valpolicella, Italy. It was an atypical season with ill-timed, heavy rain that caused problems with downy and powdery mildew, and Botrytis (rot) – some areas more affected than others. The extreme swings in temperature and lack of sun caused a slowdown in ripening that created wines that are generally intensely aromatic, lighter on the palate, and have firmer tannins and higher acidity.

Amarone della Valpolicella wines are known for their lush body, ripe fruit and softer acidity, and so, this vintage has come as a shock to many and some were dooming the wines before they even tasted them. It is also difficult for producers to place tons of enthusiasm behind their 2014 Amarone wines since it was a vintage that took years off their life and forced many to make smaller quantities than normal since strict selection of the bunches was of paramount importance.

Vintages that make a Better Future

At Anteprima Amarone, also the celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the Valpolicella appellation, in Verona, Italy, my head was filled with so much negative gossip from others about the 2014 vintage, which would be showcased with a silent tasting of 43 different producers, that I felt these wines were doomed before anyone would give them a chance. And it made me think of that time when I thought I was worthless, broken, humiliated, and although some people were filled with kind words after finding out what I had been through, there were others who have been very judgmental of my past of being married once before, cheated on and divorced, even though I did not take a penny and I just wanted to be given the opportunity for another shot at a happy life, still the stigma is still there.

I know now that going through such a traumatic experience made me stronger, kinder and a much better person all around… I knew what I needed to do for the 2014 vintage, what those compassionate people did for me in my time of need… have an open mind.

Despite some of the wines still needing time to allow the tannins to mellow and the flavors to open, I was utterly surprised that there were many wines showing so well early in their development. It seemed that Amarone producers either decided to employ less days of drying the grape bunches (drying can range from 90 to 120 days), shorter maceration to create an ethereal Amarone that was aromatically enticing and leaner on the palate, or others added more weight, fruit and structure by allowing the grape bunches to dry longer and macerate longer, producing a rich wine that had firmer tannins, more body yet the aromatic complexity was still in many of these versions as well.

When I think back to that 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella tasting, sitting there tasting in silence from 9am-12pm, I could not believe how much I was enjoying those wines. There are a few that sent me to the moon because, although they were fragile and delicate, they were still powerfully aromatic and had a long, uplifting finish. These wines were like me at my darkest times… fragile with a bright heart… and these wines showed that Amarone is so much more than just the richness in its body and the overabundance of fruit. In a tough year, Amarone showed the depth of its soul and that there is so much more within its aromatic profile than many tasters could appreciate in riper years. It seems this vintage has informed the producers of how they can illustrate the pretty aspects of 2014 in warmer years.

I am happy that there were a few people who did not give up on me many years ago, and showed me that I was much more worthy than I had thought; and I am happy that the lesson of waiting to experience something first, before laying down judgment, has continually filled my life with joy and never ending excitement.

 

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Forty-Three Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG wines from 2014 Vintage Tasted February 3rd, 2018 at Anteprima Amarone 50° Palazzo della Gran Guardia in Verona, Italy:

The following two wines were really singing in the moment. The Bertani, Valpantena, showed that it was possible to add some body and flavor by either picking the ripest fruit and/or allowing the grapes to dry longer before fermentation; the Scriani, a producer I was unfamiliar with, was just breathtaking in its power of aromatics and elegance that showed how Amarone can still be intensely complex while being delicate. The Scriani seemed to have less ripeness and/or grapes that were less concentrated perhaps by a short drying period – I don’t know at this point, but it was a real pleasure and shows how Amarone della Valpolicella is so much more than its lush body and higher alcohol, it is a wine that has such complexity, that if you take the high alcohol and lush body away, it will still knock you off your feet when done well.

-Bertani, Valpantena: The nose was a knockout with cherry blossom, crumbly limestone and a juicy body with fine tannic structure and lots of flesh along the flavorful finish.

-Scriani, Classico: This wine simply blew me away with its incredible finesse and elegance. Cherry blossoms and sweet spice laced with limestone minerality; seamless integration of tannins, not so easy for the 2014 vintage, which had stunning precision on the long, expressive finish. It was exciting to see a small producer in the traditional “Classico” area of Valpolicella do so well in such a tough vintage. Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to this producer in the past, but I will be on the lookout for Scriani wines in the future.

 These next producers were also singing and I was pleasantly surprised to see wines already giving so much pleasure.

-Bennati: Another beauty that showed great expression of floral bouquets – lots of floral notes in 2014s – and strawberry preserves with good mid-palate weight and sustained finish.

-Bottega (Il Vino degli Del): Chalky rocks on the nose with tart cranberry fruit on the palate that had an energetic yet warming quality.

-Ca’ Rugate (Punta Tolotti): A playful nose of toasted cardamom seeds, Madagascar vanilla, cocoa dusted cherries with a well balanced, full body with bright acidity and salinity on the finish.

-Giuseppe Campagnola (Vigneti Vallata di Marano), Classico: This wine had lots of structure but I thought those firm tannins were offset by juicy fruit and off the charts complexity, with cigar smoke and smoldering earth.

-F.lli Degani, Classico: Pretty, pretty nose with a bouquet of flowers, nice amount of flesh and fruit on the palate with delicious bbq spice hints on the finish.

 -I Tamasotti: Smoky, smoky wine… and I have to admit I have a weakness for smoky wines. Cigar box, sweet tobacco leaf with black raspberries and charred oak on the finish.

-Le Bignele – Aldrighetti Luigi Angelo e Nicola, Classic: Only a slightly high-toned quality with very lovely and lifted flavors of orange rind, wet stones and raspberry sorbet and had good length.

-Massimago (Conte Gastone): Fruitcake with cedar box, roasted cashews with a nice energy from the acidity and long length that had a smoky minerality.

-Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine (Villa Borghetti), Classico: Vanilla bean with candied cherries and cloves with a sustained length of flavor.

-Recchia (Masua di Jago), Classico: Chocolate dusted ripe strawberries with lemon confit and a long, impressive finish that was bright while still remaining juicy and concentrated.

-Sartori: Savory at first with Mediterranean herbs and wild scrub that evolved into sweeter herbs like tarragon and jam fruit flavors on the palate that had a flavorful, warming finish.

 -Vigneti di Ettore, Classico: This wine had an overall finesse and elegance that I immediately loved and it just seemed to be singing in that moment with cumin seeds, lily of the valley, rose water and raspberry scone. Its aromas wafted around my head for several minutes after my first taste.

-Zonin: Nose was enticing with espresso, mint and pristine fruit with a long floral finish. A wine that is lighter on the palate than typical Amarone yet it is aromatically powerful with saline minerality.

-Montresor, Capitel della Crosara,Classico: This wine was added to the roster at the last minute since one of the other producers pulled out. I’m happy this one had the opportunity because I really enjoyed it. This wine was just completely balanced, and at this youthful age, that is saying a lot… aromatically enticing nose with rose petals and cherry liqueur with a generously round palate that had fun hints of asphalt and rosemary oil.

The following wines I think either needed more time and/or decanting. But there was exciting promise when it came to the fascinating aromas and flavors some of these beauties were already showing.

-Accordini Stefano (Acinatico) Classico: A very savory nose with dusty earth, dried herbs, slight grip on palate, good acidity, light in mid-palate.

-Albino Armani, Classico: I really liked the mineral edge to this wine, fresh blackberries, still seemed tight and needed more time to evolve.

-Antiche Terre Venete: Round on the palate yet some extraction on the finish with an interesting nose of intermixed volcanic ash and wild flowers.

-Cantina di Soave (Rocca Sveva), Riserva: Intense chocolate and vanilla notes with stewed fruit and finished with fierce structure.

-Cantina Valpantena Verona (Torre del Falasco): Bright crunchy red fruit with fresh sage and lit cedar embers with lift of marked acidity at the end.

-Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Classico: A heightened minty quality with grilled thyme and balsamic notes were intriguing on the nose but body needs more time.

-Cesari, Classico: A wild nose of forest floor and new leather but needs time for the grippy tannins to resolve themselves.

-Collis-Riondo (Castelforte): Sweet and savory, the overall quality had a moderate amount of weight, integrated tannins, and I felt would need more time to show its full potential.

-Collis-Riondo (Calesan): I really like the consistent floral and volcanic ash quality I was getting on many of these wines when I smelled them and this one was a good example… actually the body was juicy and I thought the structure was seamless as this young age but I feel it will give a lot more in time.

-Corte Archi, Classico: High-toned that is mainly giving bright red fruit and balsamic flavors that is still tight in its expression.

-Corte Lonardi, Classico: Peppermint and blackberry with chewy tannins.

 -Corte Sant’ Alda (Adalia): Adalia is the much more approachable wine from the certified biodynamic Corte Sant’ Alda which is still evident in this vintage. They did not make one under their Corte Sant’ Alda label since it is already a structured wine with savory qualities and so they thought its style would not do well this year. This 2014 Adalia has sweet lingonberry compote that has that great Corte Sant’ Alda vitality with fresh acidity on the palate. I still feel like it has so much more to give.

-Corte Scaletta: High-toned nose with spearmint and cilantro with a tight body that needs more time.

-Fasoli Gino (Alteo): High-toned nose that was balanced by cherry pie flavors.

-Gamba (Le Quare), Classico: This wine seemed a little closed on the nose with notes of tar and earth but was more open on the broad palate with rich blackberry fruit.

-Ilatium (Campo Leon): High-toned nose with sour cherries, tar, ash and black pepper with a lean body.

-Le Guaite di Noemi: High-toned nose with eucalyptus and mesquite with some firm tannins on a linear palate.

-Monteci, Classico: Wild brambly quality that I did like, that seemed to be still closed on the body and needs time. I did sense an underlying mineral quality but want more.

-Montezovo: Grilled figs and dried red currants with a clean finish.

-San Cassiano: High-toned with stewed red cherries and violets that had a nimble, light body with lots of energy.

-Santa Sofia (Antichello) Classico: High-toned nose with pine, moss and wild raspberry with a very firm palate that needs more time to open.

-Secondo Marco, Classico: High-toned nose with freshly picked white cherries, cinnamon spice and fennel seeds that were tight on the palate.

-Tenute Falezza: Slightly high-toned nose with black cherry, balsamic herbs and hint of licorice.

-Villa Canestrari (1888), Riserva: High-toned nose with basil and dried oregano that had big shoulders on the palate that still needed time to open.

-Villa San Carlo: Dried flowers, Morello cherry and warming alcohol.

-Villa Spinosa, Classico: Tightly wound with some blackberry, spice and textual complexity showing at this time but needs to evolve to show its full potential.

-Zanoni Pietro (Zovo): I could tell this wine had a nice freshness and energy yet it seemed closed at this stage… I could sense some black fruit, licorice, baking spice and feel the pop of energy on the palate, but I think it needs more time to really sing.

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The People You Want to be Around

Like anything else, the best and worse thing about the wine world is the people. I remember many years ago when I was in a meditation class… trying so hard to let go of the agitation in my mind… and then hearing the teacher say that the number one thing that causes discord in our thoughts are our past interactions with other people. It is a lesson that I still struggle with at times – some group dynamics take so much energy just to find a sense of peace.

Disunity

On its surface, the wine world is one where we see many pictures of people drinking together, laughing, smiling, having fun… and yes, that is definitely a big part of it. But there is another side… a darker, more competitive side where some have made it a beverage of the elite – a drink that differentiates the educated, sophisticated people from the “others.” Personally, this is something that I have never believed, and as time goes on, I can confirm that this is an illusion. As someone who has worked with wine for a long time, I have run into those who got into wine because it is a true passion and those who are into wine to prove something. I always find that the people, no matter their income, background or ancestry, who are constantly making things all about them, or use superficial, divisive labels, to be the kind of people who will drain your energy.

A while ago, a winemaker told me that he believed that one should pair wines with the quality of the people… when you are with nice, generous people you break out your favorite wines; when you don’t have a group such as the aforementioned, then you certainly don’t pour libations precious to you. It is easy to find a small group of people that you feel are truly cut from the same cloth in one’s personal life, but when you work with wine, such as I do, a business that requires a certain amount of social interaction, you can’t always pick who you share wines with. Sometimes I find I have to expend a lot of energy to not allow a negative presence to ruin a tasting of wines that deserve a better atmosphere.

Tyler Thomas

Luckily, my last wine lunch of 2017 was with an ideal group of wine people. They were people who were there to learn from each other, to share their experiences while being open to others, who were filled with gratitude, warmth and a zest for learning and growing. At the head of this table was the winemaker for Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, Tyler Thomas, who had an inspiring curiosity and openness to life. Tyler loves to learn as his background, which includes doing graduate work for UC Davis in vine physiology, would indicate. His university work gave his wife and him a chance to travel around Europe where he took advantage of picking the brains of various winemakers, as well as tasted as much as he could. He would return back to California to Hyde de Villaine (HdV) where he held his first wine job and continued to learn from the winemaker there.

Since Tyler was a “plant guy,” his focus has been on vineyard driven wines. After his time spent at HdV as the assistant winemaker, he was able to become the winemaker at Donelan Family Wines, in Sonoma, helping to achieve more expression of the land with less winemaking intervention; evoking site became his trademark.

Throughout his time in California, Tyler has always had an affinity for the Central Coast as his first full-time harvest internship was there, and the desire to find the “sense of place” in this recently emerging wine area never left him. In 2013, he was given the opportunity to help create the legacy that Jim and Mary Dierberg wanted to start with their Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards, in Santa Barbara’s cool coastal valleys.

Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards

Jim and Mary Dierberg’s deep passion for wine was evident starting in 1974, when they purchased Missouri’s Hermannhof Winery, originally built in 1852, and began to restore it. This winery was important to them because they originally hail from Missouri (coincidentally, Tyler is from Missouri as well). Then they spent over a decade searching for wine regions around the world – from Napa Valley to Bordeaux – to find the dream property that could express a unique characteristic of place. Once they stepped onto the Star Lane estate in the Happy Canyon region of Santa Barbara County, they knew that they needed to be the stewards that would righteously protect and nourish that special land.

Jim and Mary’s commitment to investing in a site that they knew could convey greatness went beyond the vineyards… they bought state-of-the-art equipment that would be used to experiment with assorted lots to narrow down those techniques that hindered, or enhanced, a particular site. They have even designed a 250-year plan for the winery, which includes holding back a library where there are 250 different vintage slots already built for these future wines.

Learning about Tyler and spending some time with him made it clear why he was the ideal person to become their winemaker, and visa versa – why he was drawn to devote his work to this winery. At one point, he talked about Aubert de Villaine, co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (considered by some as the greatest wines in the world), who is also involved in HdV where Tyler use to work, and the continuing deep philosophical conversations he has with him. Sometimes when someone mentions a famous person in the wine world at a wine work function, there can be weirdness… there are those that will just be obsessed with jealousy that someone got the chance to meet someone that they are dying to meet… but not at this lunch. All of us were fascinated to deepen our own understanding about wine from his story because that was precisely the reason he was telling it; his teachings were beautifully illustrated in the Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards wines.

Harmony

It was such a nice experience to be at that lunch with Tyler and to taste his wines; not only because these beauties truly showed why everyone should be paying some serious attention to the Central Coast in California, but because it seemed that everyone felt welcomed and uplifted, and so the best came out in all of us. When I saw how enchanting the wines were, I said to myself that they were the perfect wines to have with such a group. This wine lunch, on the cusp of 2018, cemented in me the idea that I needed to try to make sure that I’m around more people in the wine world like I experienced that day… those who are there to share and learn while drinking the wines that pair so perfectly with such company.

 

**Photo Credit of above picture with Jim and Mary Dierberg: Star Lane Vineyard website

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Tasting of Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards on December 7th, 2017

 Side Notes: Santa Barbara County has east-west orientation of the coastal mountains that form valleys that open directly to the Pacific Ocean. This aspect of Santa Barbara helps the flow of fog and ocean breezes which creates cooler microclimates. There are six official appellations: Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, and the Sta. Rita Hills.

Dierberg Vineyard

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley (SRP $32): 100% Chardonnay. 14 months in 15% new French oak (400L casks). Interestingly, the 2014 has 0% MLF (it did not go through any malolactic fermentation) since Tyler wanted to maintain the acidity since it was a warmer vintage. There is a zesty quality of citrus peel with fennel fronds on the nose with richer tropical fruits on the palate, and Tyler’s much wanted tension and minerality is displayed on the finish. 2,837 cases produced.

-2015 Dierberg Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley (SPR $35): 100% Chardonnay. 14 months in 20% new French oak (400L casks). 2014 and 2015 show an underlying similarity of sense of place with a character of lush fruit and a backbone of freshness and acidity. The 2015 went through 70% MLF because the acidity was so high that it distracted from the balance and expression of site. Juicy peach flavors with sweet spice.

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley (SRP $44): 100% Pinot Noir. 14 months in 20% new French oak barrels. Tyler included 25% of the stems, and less new oak than normal, to give the wine more texture and bring out the dark cherry qualities which he is starting to associate with this property. The cherry definitely jumped out with spice and enticing floral notes… the structured body helps to carry the wine along its sustained finish. 1,998 cases produced.

 

2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Pinot Noir from the Drum Canyon Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills (SRP $52): 100% Pinot Noir. 14 months in 20% new French oak barrels. This is one of the rare properties where it redefines a grape for you, and I will not be forgetting about the Drum Canyon Vineyard Pinot Noir, known for its steep hills, anytime soon. A complex body that had lush fruit and fantastic weight with noticeable tannins that were bold yet finely textured; sensational nose with perfume, truffles and lily of the valley wrapping themselves around me as if we were in a tango of aromatics. This wine requires a lot more decanting time than the Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. 772 cases produced.

Star Lane Vineyard

Planted to 200 acres (81 hectares) of Bordelaise varieties, the Star Lane vineyard (link) differentiates itself from other parts of Santa Barbara County by being able to retain more warmth. The vineyard elevation ranges from 750 to 1550 feet (229 to 472 meters) above sea level.

2014 Star Lane Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (SRP $50): 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petite Verdot and 1% Malbec. 22 months in 35% new oak barrels. A California Cab that has concentration and fleshy fruit on the palate yet it has a wonderful tension and structure from acidity and well-manicured tannins that give it energy and an overall uplifting quality. Sweet herbs such as sage and elegant dark fruit.

 

 

2013 Star Lane “Star”, Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (SRP $200): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. 34 months in 100% new French oak. This is a special block of their Cabernet in Happy Canyon known as the “home block” from their steepest slopes. This particular block jumped out at Tyler and so they have decided, starting with the 2013, to start bottling this wine separately to give it extra love and care in the cellar. I would have never guessed that this wine was made with 100% new French oak as it seamlessly presented itself in the wine, – Tyler saying that it “soaks it up” because it is an outstanding plot was certainly proven that day. This wine displayed a touch of opulence with cassis flavors that were kept in check with an intense energetic acidity and muscular body that included layers of bay leaves, lavender and smoldering cigar. Tyler said it will have a cellar life of between 18 and 25 years and that it has so much more to give … this wine is not Bordeaux, it is not Napa, it is its own wine, its own place. 60 cases produced.

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Do We Truly Know Any Wine Grape Variety?

There has been a lot of social discussion with regards to the #MeToo movement involving women not only being sexually harassed, but also demeaned in the work place; in some cases, women aren’t given the same opportunities as their male counterparts since they have a lower perceived value. My friend and colleague Julia Coney took this issue to another level by addressing the difficulties of being an African-American woman in the wine appreciation world. It makes me think that perhaps we can never know some people’s full potential because society has never given them that chance.

Lesser Respected Grape Varieties

It is always fascinating to me how our own societal issues reflect themselves in wine. There is no doubt that those noble grape varieties known around the world, such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, are capable of greatness, but there are so many that are under the radar. Some varieties have had the good fortune to be recognized by being at the right place at the right time creating a legendary status that others will never reach. As the costs of making wine, as well as the property taxes in certain wine areas, have dramatically increased, placing any serious focus on a variety that will not at least break even monetarily just doesn’t make sense. The fact that most wine consumers are only comfortable paying a high price for a “legitimately sanctioned” variety has already set the destiny for many of the unknown grapes that are capable of making fantastic wines.

A little over a year ago, Kathleen Heitz Myers, President and CEO of Heitz Cellars, said in a Napa Valley wine seminar that they had to decrease the plantings of their Grignolino; although it has a small cult following, they can only charge so much and the property taxes in Napa, as one can imagine, just keep getting higher and higher.

Cabernet Franc

This leads me to Cabernet Franc and the importance of a Cabernet Franc Day, created by Dracaena Wines. Cab Franc is a grape variety that is an important part of many great Bordeaux wines, especially from the Right Bank; for example, it makes up between 50-60% of the blend of Cheval Blanc. It is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, the other parent being Sauvignon Blanc. But, ironically, there are countless people who have never heard of Cabernet Franc, despite its famous child bearing its name Cabernet.

The Loire Valley, in France, has become one of the classic places for Cabernet Franc, but it was not an area that was able to gain prominence when “classic wine regions” for reds were being dictated. Also, the style, which is generally a lighter, less extracted, more aromatically packed, than palate filled one, doesn’t hit you over the head with power and there have been few champions of it that can reach a large audience.

But with social media frenzies like Cabernet Franc Day and struggling wine regions in New York State, such as Finger Lakes and Hudson Valley (yes, I actually said Hudson Valley!), and El Dorado County in California, the variety is starting to be respected by a small group of people, whose number grows each year… as I have researched Cabernet Franc wines globally, I realize that there are all these small pockets around the world growing it.

Potential

Figuring out the potential for an unfamiliar grape variety which has been historically given little investment or support can be extremely tricky, akin to when we think of our own potential, it becomes a question that, for some, never fully gets answered. If we imagine that we were born in a different set of circumstances, whether better off financially, emotionally or culturally, would we have become different people? And would one of those lives have had more opportunities for a successful life?

For me, I think every life has its ups and downs, unfortunately some have more downs than ups, and I don’t think success hits you one day and then you coast for the rest of your life in happiness. One can never take for granted that once their turn has come, it will be up, so as to make room for someone else. And as long as you are rooted in finding joy in doing the work itself as well as staying close to your loved ones and people who share the same ethics, then your path will always have joyful moments during the roller coaster times.

I just hope all of us have at least one fortuitous moment where our great potential is evident… every one deserves to have that chance… and every great Cabernet Franc wine deserves to have its day.

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Wines Tasted on Cabernet Franc Day, December 4th , 2017

2015 Benmarl Winery, Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes, New York: This wine displays everything I love about top quality Cabernet Franc from the Finger Lakes: a delicately beautiful nose of raspberry fruit, wildflowers and autumn leaves with mouthwatering acidity that gives nice vitality to the body. After being so impressed with this wine and the below Hudson Valley Cabernet Franc (made by the same winemaker Matt Spaccarelli) I looked them up and realized that they have been winning awards and knockin’ peoples’ socks off. Read more about them here on the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess website.

2015 Fjord Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Region, New York: I HAD NO IDEA THAT HUDSON WINES COULD BE THIS AMAZING! An incredible concentration of aromas and flavors with sweet cherries, violets and cinnamon with supple tannins – MY GOODNESS IS THIS DELICIOUS!

 

2013 Vinum Cellars, “The Scrapper”, Cabernet Franc, El Dorado County, California: Kudos to Vinum Cellars, located in Napa, sourcing Cabernet Franc fruit from low yielding vines in the Mountains of El Dorado – only a few hours from Napa Valley. A big, bold wine with a deep ruby color and seductive cassis, hints of dark chocolate and lots of muscle that makes it a serious knockout! I recently discovered El Dorado County during the last Wine Bloggers conference.

 

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Living in Exciting Times

As the world slowly recovers from having been turned upside down by a plummeted economy, there have been some nasty side effects but some exciting developments as well, such as the world demanding more diversity and authentic quality. At one time, a person’s future was predetermined by their childhood circumstances – if you didn’t fit into a particular box, then certain industries wouldn’t take you seriously. The same could be said for wine. But the times, they are a changin’!

There was a time when companies would solely hire people, or move people up to privileged positions, who fit into the “work culture” and were seamlessly part of the “club”… not worrying too much if they added to the productivity of their workplace or bottom line. In the past, I have even heard some brag that all they did was blow off work while bullying the honest, hard working people to cover them because they were “legacies” in one way or another and were part of the elite. But now, this seems to be less and less the case as many companies are not able to afford having people who don’t contribute in a significant way; even with recent US news articles claiming that the economy is on the rise, I think there has been a fundamental shift in the mindset of many that they do not want to go back to the days when only a few were given lofty opportunities.

This is exactly what is starting to happen in the wine world… as consumers empower themselves with information they are questioning wine norms… they are not so reticent to surrender to the idea that their tastes have to be altered to adhere to the classic wine profiles that are popular in their markets; wine drinkers are now discovering that there are numerous quality wine.

Alsace Pinot Gris

A great example of a wine that has been off the radar for a long time, but could quench many a serious wine drinker’s desire, is Alsace Pinot Gris. There is a legend that it could have existed in Alsace since 1565 when brought by Baron Lazare de Schwendi from Tokaj, Hungary. Pinot Gris is a mutation from the Pinot Noir variety, originating in Burgundy, and despite it making white wines, the grape bunches themselves have a bluish-gray color accounting for the word “gris” (meaning “gray”) in its name. Pinot Gris white wines may sometimes have a copper hue to them, indicating the interesting color of their grape skins.

Many know the “Pinot Grigio” style, although Italian Pinot Grigio covers the gamut with regards to quality, and wine drinkers tend to associate it with a style that is light and refreshing. The “Alsatian” Pinot Gris is completely different, with a richer body and more smoky/earthy flavors. I was reminded of it while attending the Wines of Alsace seminar at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Alsace has had a long, complicated history going back and forth as either a region of France or one of Germany, and so it did not fit neatly in a box when it came to promoting it. Also, there has been some confusion with regards to naming this grape in Alsace; before 1970 it was called Grauer Tokayer, then Tokay Gris, then Tokay d’Alsace, then Tokay Pinot Gris, and finally, on April 1st, 2007, it was officially recognized as Pinot Gris! No wonder this long established, noble grape variety of Alsace has had its issues getting its name out.

Our Tastes Being Recognized

There is a revolution happening; wine drinkers are demanding that the wine market appeals to their taste and not the other way around, and so there is more opportunity for those wine regions who where once hidden away in obscurity. This same opportunity extends to all of us to validate our own personal tastes… to say to the world that fine wines come in many different forms, just like people, and that fact can no longer be ignored. I look forward to continuing this journey that involves creating a fairer world for us all, and toasting each other (even if there is a different wine in each of our glasses).

 

**Photo Credit: Zind-Humbrecht’s website showing their Clos St. Urbain plot in the Grand Cru Rangen de Thann vineyard.

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Alsace Pinot Gris tasted on November 11th, 2017 at Wine Bloggers Conference

Although the second and third wines in our lineup were remarkable Alsace Pinot Gris priced at $90 and $115 respectively, lovely Alsace Pinot Gris can be found from $15 and up, with some of their fine wines hitting around the $50 mark. But it was wonderful to be able to try the best of the best, with Zind-Humbrecht’s extraordinary site Clos St. Urbain in the Rangen de Thann Grand Cru, known for volcanic soil, and the special sweet wine of Albert Mann from the single vineyard Altenbourg, whose soil is marl-limestone dominant, only made in the best vintages.

Side note: Although there are general stylistic qualities that most Alsace Pinot Gris wines share, there is also a lot of individualistic expression as Alsace has around seven distinct soil types that highlight different characteristics of this grape.

SRP means Suggested Retail Price

-2014 Trimbach, Pinot Gris, Reserve (SRP $26):  A seemingly dry wine (5.4 g/l residual sugar balanced with 6.3 g/l acid) with flinty minerality, floral notes and peachy flavors with a sustained finish that has nice precision.

 

-2012 Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris, Grand Cru Rangen de Thann, Clos St. Urbain (SRP $90): Organic and Biodynamic producer. Enticingly spicy with brown sugar and grilled pineapple notes and a rich body, with only moderately sweet flavor at 38 g/l residual sugar and an intoxicatingly smoky note that danced in my head. A Knockout!

 

 

-2007  Domaine Albert Mann, Pinot Gris, Altenbourg, Le Tri Sélection des Grains Nobles SGN (SRP $115): Organic and Biodynamic producer. Only made in the best years from grapes affected by noble rot which desiccates the grapes and concentrates sugars and flavors. This wine did not taste as sweet as the 237 g/l residual sugar would imply but when a wine has great balance and complexity, I find the sweetness takes a backseat … this was killer with an exquisite golden color and orange marmalade, honeycomb and toasted almonds flavors all wrapped up in a lusciously sexy texture that was perfectly balanced by a zesty citrus peel note! Yeah baby!!!

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Embracing the World while Being True to Our Beliefs

At the end of January last year, I went to the 2017 Sommelier Exhibition in Tel Aviv, Israel, on a wine press trip. I spent a couple of days tasting a wide range of wines made from various vineyards across the country which differed in altitude, humidity, temperatures, soil, etc. It ended up being a fascinating, and at times, thrilling wine tasting experience as there are so many small passionate winemakers creating wines that we never get to see in New York City, let alone the rest of the world. But there is one person who stood out… who kept coming to my mind… someone I would later find out had a much more inspirational story than I could have ever hoped or dreamt up.

2017 Sommelier Exhibition in Tel Aviv

David Silverman /DPSimages

As my group and I were running around to all of our tasting appointments at this exhibition, one person stopped me in my tracks – Ya’acov Oryah. But what is funny is that, at the time, I wasn’t looking forward to tasting the wines he was representing in that moment because they were from a medium-sized commercial winery called Ella Valley Vineyards. Although they make quality wines, I was already familiar with them, and I was looking to meet people from small, unknown wineries.

Ya’acov was there with one of the EVV executives who did most of the talking, but when Ya’acov did get the chance to talk it was immediately apparent that I was not dealing with a run-of-the-mill winemaker. He had a soft, humble personality yet his warm smile and palpable desire to connect with others made him seem like a bright candle in a cynical world. When he started to talk about white wines, I could see an explosion of joy in his eyes; he then proceeded to talk about his obvious obsession with producing white wines in Israel that have lots of complexity as well as bright acidity. Even though Ya’acov himself had strong ideas about wine, he would constantly discuss his Israeli colleagues’ counter arguments which dispute his opinions. And beneath his intellect, generosity of spirit, warmth, and words filled with curiosity, I sensed a touch of sadness which only later would I realize why. Ya’acov had a profound transparency that is rare. Unfortunately our time was too short with him, and we were shuttled off to visit the next wine producer.

Reflecting on my Israeli Wine Trip

When I came back from my wine press trip to Israel, I tried to organize my notes while catching up on work and life. There were many exciting stories to tell, and unfortunately, I did not have time to tell them all. But Ya’acov Oryah kept popping up in my mind. I wanted to know his journey and hear more about his thoughts, so I connected with him on Facebook. Through time I realized that he juggled a couple of winemaking jobs with two medium sized wineries – the other being Psagot. Since that time he is no longer with Ella Valley Vineyards and only works for Psagot which seems to be working out… his presence at this winery has drawn attention from some kosher wine experts and connoisseurs as Ya’acov has a cult following… a fact that I did not know until I started to do my research on him.

Kosher Wines

Although Ya’acov Oryah was raised in an ultra-Orthodox family, and walked the walk of a religiously devout Jewish winemaker, his touch was temporarily deemed to automatically make wine un-kosher. Ya’acov had spent a great deal of time and effort delving into religious studies and so when he researched the rule that only a religious person could be the only one to touch the wine in the winery, or turn on winery equipment, he wrote an article in 2010 that questioned kosher “law” regarding this matter. Despite Ya’acov not being personally affected by this requirement for kosher wines, he saw how unfair it was to many smaller Israeli producers who could not afford to hire a religious employee if they themselves where non-religious Jews. When an Israeli winery is deemed non-kosher it makes it difficult commercially to sell enough wines to stay in business. After this article came out, he was punished by a local rabbinate that took away his ability to qualify for officially kosher labeled wines. But some religious Jewish wine connoisseurs still continued to drink his wines because they knew him and trusted him as a person.

How did I come to find out the aforementioned information? I saw a post from an Israeli wine teacher and guide, David Perlmutter, who talked about tasting an amazing Hunter Valley style Sémillon that was made in Israel… the only one of its kind… and it was made in small quantities by none other than Ya’acov Oryah himself. I was shocked and I couldn’t believe it. Ya’acov made his own wines and not only that he made a Hunter Valley style… and then I found out he made orange wines too!!! I immediately started to search for articles that talked about him of which I found many… and through time I would learn that I did indeed meet a very special human being that day at the exhibition.

Ya’acov Oryah

The more I started to learn about Ya’acov the more it became apparent why he made such a great first impression. Again, he was raised in a very religious family yet he always had the desire to reach out to the broader and more diverse world. When he was young he worked in construction while getting a degree in engineering and he was always committed to his religious studies that mainly focused on Kabbalah – an esoteric school of thought that originated in Judaism. But he was always drawn to wine – in 2004, he went from a thoughtful wine enthusiast to taking his first winery course… and now, currently makes wines that have a strong cult following within the Israeli wine connoisseur community.

Ya’acov has had more than his share of challenges… from experiencing financial problems when he had issues selling wine, as well as getting hired by a commercial winery to pay his bills after his touch would make a wine un-kosher, to his previous wife being greatly ill, and finally passing away, when he was supposed to launch his personal wines in November 2015.

No matter how many knocks Ya’acov has been given in life, it seems he finds a way to the light with his never ending curiosity and passion to connect to the world. He believes in a “culture of pluralism” – an economic boycott of wines coming from controversial areas in the West Bank does no one any good as it only harms small business owners and it does not add to progress. A better way is for people from different religions, or lack of religions, and cultures to reach out to each other. At one time, he applied for a winemaker job at the Palestinian Taybeh Winery, and although he never got it, he was open to a new experience. One of the main reasons he was drawn to wine is that it can be a vehicle to bring people together.

Obviously, Ya’acov is not afraid to question everything in life, and this extends to his winemaking beliefs; before he even knew about others making orange wines, he wanted to use the skins in white wine making – he thought it didn’t make sense to throw away something that could give the wine so much more complexity. Then he happily found out that he was not alone in this mindset and that other areas, and winemakers, had been making orange wines as well.

Proof is in the Pudding

When I had read all this research about Ya’acov, I decided to reach out to him on Facebook and asked for him to email me if he ever came to New York City with his own personal wines. My wine writer’s heart ached that I missed such a remarkable winemaker while in Israel and I did not want to miss another opportunity. Just like how Ya’acov came to the conclusion that he needed to work for a more commercially viable winery to support himself and his family so he could continue to be true to his own wines, a wine writer has to find other ways to support himself/herself to finance their uncensored “true” writing that represents what authentically inspires him/her in the wine world. So meeting someone like him makes it all worthwhile.

Ya’acov did write back to me to say that he didn’t think he would be able to get his personal wines to New York City anytime in the near future because of the tiny quantities he makes. But then he shipped some samples to me over a couple months ago during ideal conditions! I could not wait to try them and I made sure to give them a couple months to settle. My husband warned me that I needed to be careful of my high expectations for the wines because of the chance the wines could not live up to such a lofty ideal. Well, Ya’acov’s wines were even more than I could have imagined, and hands down topped the list of the most exciting ones I have had in a long time.

Enriching, Peaceful Life

It is easy to get down and feel like things are getting worse in the world instead of better. We look around for examples of kindness, generosity, real beauty and things that will bring us together… and many times we are so inundated by negativity, divisive superficial labels, fear mongering, and just petty disagreements that we miss those people quietly living in the world, making profound, positive changes. Albeit small and at times unnoticeable, these changes do add up and it is the only way that people will come together. To be able to be true to ourselves and know others living in another way is not a threat to our way of life, as well as ours not being a threat to theirs, is the only way we can balance peace with enrichment from others. I am most grateful to know that Ya’acov exists and I really think he is the example of hope that all of us need right here, right now.

 

***Photo Credit of top picture: Avi-Yotham

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I tasted Ya’acov Oryah’s wines from December 20th , 2017 until January 1st, 2018  and I noted which dates I tasted different wines before the different category of tasting notes.

Also, Ya’acov makes his wines in very small quantities so right now they are only available in Israeli restaurants in the cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Currently, Ya’acov doesn’t know if he will ever make quantities in the amount where they can be exported. But if you are planning a trip to Israel and if you would like to know which restaurants are pouring them I would be happy to reach out to Ya’acov and get back to you. My email is damewine @ damewine . com

I just thought his story was so inspirational that it had to be shared.

Location of vineyards sourced below:

Some of the grapes for the below wines came from vineyards in the Negev wine region in Israel and points to Ya’acov’s belief in desert wines.  Actually some of the vineyards are in Mitzpe Ramon aka Makhtesh Ramon, a place with a very unique microclimate due to the Ramon Crater – the world’s largest erosion crater, or makhtesh, unique to Israel’s Negev and Egypt’s Sinai desert.  So, the extreme diurnal temperature swings, from hot to cold, which is found in the Mitzpe Ramon is moderated by strong winds all year round because of its location above the crater. Ya’acov has also sourced grapes from as far north as the Galilee, a classic wine growing area for Israel, and closer proximity Judean Hills, the Israeli wine area known for the current wine rock stars.

Orange

Both orange wines were first tasted on December 20th, 2017 over the course of 5 hours and then re-tasted two days later on December 22nd, 2017

-2014 Alpha Omega:  A blend of white grape varieties, Roussanne, Viognier and Sémillon that were left in contact with their skins for 72 days or so. The name refers to the whole grape being used. It had a more golden color than orange or amber. My attitude is that orange wines should be treated like great red wines – decanted for at least 30 minutes before opening and ideally left open for the rest of the day/evening (I tasted over 5 hours) and left it in the fridge to check back with it two days later. The wine evolved into delightfully different qualities throughout this time.

After the first 30 minutes, notes of honeysuckle and candied orange rind appear with an intense chalky minerality that has a tart, fierce finish with lots of structure – which is a quality I love in a lot of orange wines that makes them so good with food. After 1 hour, the wine became more floral and after 3 hours, notes of blanched almonds and lapsang black tea revealed themselves while the palate started to round out and have more of a gentle tangy quality on the finish. Then after 5 hours it surprisingly became more brightly tropical with mango and pineapple and the body seemed to have more weight and viscosity… then after two days of having it in the fridge under a vacuum sealer, it gave quince paste and candied ginger flavors and wet stones aromas with a full body that was layered with textural complexity that felt like strands of fine silk.

-2015 Jemma Brut: 100% Sémillon. This wine is named after Brut Wine Bar co-founder Jemma Naveh and available only at their restaurant. First of all, the color is a stunning copper color! Not as structural as the Alpha Omega, more plush on the body with a broader shape. It gives flavors right off the bat with dried kumquats and smoky minerality. After 1 hour it displayed enticing sherry and nutmeg notes; this wine in its 3rd hour exhibited opulent crème brûlée, smoldering mesquite wood, forest floor and wild morels, and finally the 5th hour went back to sweeter notes of candied covered almonds. After a couple of days under a vacuum sealer in the fridge it showed a heavenly toffee note with a seemingly richer body although the marked acidity still gave it an incredible lift on the end. The pairing possibilities with this wine are endless as you can imagine.

White

The Valley of the Hunters was first tasted on December 21st, 2017 for over 4 hours and re-tasted again 9 days after, placed in the fridge under vacuum sealer, on December 30th, 2017

-2009 Valley of the Hunters (Emek Ha’Tzayadim): 100% Sémillon. Unoaked. Grapes picked early giving a final alcohol of 11% abv. Initially, this wine was released earlier than intended in tiny quantities when Ya’acov had partners under another winery name, but he left due to creative differences and bought back the remaining stock of this wine to cellar it and release it when he thought it was ready.

LOVED THIS WINE AND IT BLEW ME AWAY after 9 days of being open under a vacuum sealer in the fridge… it was bursting with lots of flavors: peach cobbler, lychee syrup, dried sliced mango and an intense smoky note almost like it was aged in charred oak, although there is no oak in this wine, and on the finish a real limestone quality.

Since this is a Hunter Valley style Sémillon, picked very early with fierce acidity, I knew I would need to taste it over several hours… also, it will age beautifully and this is why Ya’acov feels this wine is just starting to come into its own. My first taste of this wine, after 30 minutes of being opened showed flinty minerality, lime blossom, waxy body, sharp acidity with a hint of tar on the finish; 2nd taste was 1 hour later with richer citrus, key lime pie, lemon custard; 3rd taste was 2 hours later with dried grapefruit, lanolin, golden apple, fresh hay, salty finish; 4th taste was 3 hours later with more spicy, white pepper notes; 5th taste 4 hours later with cinnamon, gun smoke, and intense slate across very long finish.

The Light from Darkness was tasted on December 30th, 2017

-2016 Light from Darkness (Or m’Ofel): A white wine made from using Rhône red grape varieties: Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre. These grapes were harvested early for lower alcohol (11.5% abv) and red grapes where chosen for a fuller body. The grapes were pressed off their skins and so there is very little skin contact like a white wine. The lemon color had a slight pinkish hue to the rim which was part of its charm. A rich body yet that exhibited thrilling acidity with fresh red raspberries, white cherries and wild flowers.

A general impression of Ya’aov’s wines is that they all seem to have such generosity in weight or texture, as well as complexity of flavors, but they are just so alive with acidity… everything is lifted and so you have a decadent experience but instead of it being heavy, it is refreshing with new subtle complexities always revealing themselves on the next sip. His wines are certainly unique… they have a lot of great Old World charm but that title seems to not do his wines justice as they are unique.

Red

All of the below Reds were tasted over the course of two hours on December 31st, 2017

-2011 Iberian Dream Reserva (Chalom B’Aspamia Reserva): A blend of Tempranillo, Grenache and Carignan with 1 year in oak barrels. This Reserva and the Gran Reserva (note below) is Ya’acov’s homage to Rioja and a study in barrel aging. I like the slight grip from the fine tannins as it gives this wine a lovely shape on the palate. The layers of dark fruit beckon you into the glass revealing riveting notes of Herbes de Provence, incense, iron with nice weight on the body that makes this wine an intriguing pleasure. Despite having cult status in Israel for his orange and white wines, his reds do not disappoint – they have that same elegant complexity with electric zing.

-2011 Iberian Dream Gran Reserva (Chalom B’Aspamia Gran Reserva): This Gran Reserva is the same wine as above but it has been aging in oak barrels for 3 years. This wine has an addictive truffle and exotic spice nose with well-integrated tannins that have become more velvety… the palate is both round and crisp with hints of cigar box and fresh leather on the finish making your heart ache for more.

-2014 Eye of the Storm (Ein Ha’Se’ara): This wine is a GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) single vineyard field blend. A beguiling bouquet of violets, charcoal BBQ with layers of black and blue fruits that has gravelly rocks along the long length… it is rounder and warmer than the Iberian Dream and has much more of a Mediterranean soul to it yet, there is still an underlying linearity and brightness that gives an energetic edge to this wine.

-2014 Pandora’s Riddle (Chidat Pandora): 50% Pinot Noir with 50% of Eye of the Storm (Ein Ha’Se’ara) see above. This wine transformed with more smoky cedar with sautéed cardamom seeds, deeper purple fruits, dried thyme and a fuller body that had a mint-y note that gave more vitality to the wine as it evolved.

 Sweet

The Old Musketeer was first tasted throughout the day on December 31st, 2017 and again on January 1st, 2018  

-2008 The Old Musketeer: Fortified Muscat of Alexandria and Chardonnay at 15.9% abv and aged for 8 years in barrel. The base wine was blended with Chardonnay to add balance as well as acidity. This is Ya’acov’s study in oxidation – after 8 years in barrels, he only bottled two barrels, and he left the rest to continue in their oxidative environment. The nose is amazing with salt water taffy, burnt sugar, caramel, apricot preserves and dried rose petals. The body is viscous and lush yet it has that wall of acidity that gives this sweet wine so much vitality… initially tasted at refrigerator temperatures and as it warmed up it displayed aromas of golden raisins and toasted coconut. The next day of tasting it, there was this enticing grilled fig note that came out and it was smokier in character. The complexity of flavors in combination with the overall zeal and enthusiasm created by the acid makes it one of my favorite sweet wines… and it is from Israel. Who would have ever guessed?!

The idea that he is able to keep the acidity well integrated throughout all of these wines is extremely impressive.

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Nothing Worth Having Belongs to Just a Few

The quest for happiness affects us all throughout our life. It comes and goes like an old friend from our childhood, who gives us a not so gentle reminder that we cannot find peace within our existence by just accumulating stuff and clicking off personal and professional achievements from a list. We start to feel a dull ache over time… an inner voice that whispers inside our deepest consciousness that there is something missing… many times we do not know what it is, so we act out by trying to tightly cling to those things in our life that define us, that seemingly give us worth but really create a false sense of self. Such is the story of the original “Ca’ Marcanda” owners who would drag out several exhausting meetings when it came to holding on to a piece of land that was meant for so much more.

Ca’ Marcanda

When the great Angelo Gaja, the legendary Piedmontese wine producer, decided to make “Super Tuscan” wines in Tuscany, he knew two things; he needed to go to the prestigious area of Bolgheri, and he needed to consult with a soil expert in the area.  As he looked over a soil map indicating the different soil types by various colors, he saw there were four isolated areas that shared a similar color – and so Angelo pointed to one of them. “What is this area?” to which the soil expert replied, “Ornellaia.” And then, he asked about a second one and the answer was “Sassicaia,” and the third was “Guado al Tasso”… it was obvious that there was a theme, a theme of vineyards that created the greatest Super Tuscans wines. And so, finally, he got to the last plot and pointed to it… he waited in anticipation… trying to guess what other wine could be made from this remarkable soil… and then the soil expert said it was owned by wealthy Italian people who used it as a summer home and that it was well-known that they would never sell it. They did not need the money and had no interest in parting ways with their precious haven.

As I was sitting there listening to Angelo’s son, Giovanni Gaja, tell this story about Ca’ Marcanda, I could see the smile on his face as Giovanni knew all too well that his father never backed down from a challenge.

Gaja and the House of Endless Negotiations

Angelo started his relentless pursuit of that special plot of land. The property was owned by two brothers and one sister, aged 75 to 82, who were adamant that outright selling the property would never be an option, but perhaps a lease of 5 or 10 years would be possible. Angelo could not accept the property on such a short term, considering he would be investing so much money into planting vineyards intended for the highest quality wine. And so he went back and forth trying to convince them… telling them what was involved in making wines of such stellar quality and how he needed a much longer lease. It got to the point where Angelo’s wife told him that he was dealing with “Ca’ Marcanda” people… a Piedmontese term meaning “house of endless negotiations”… and it was best to just walk away from a situation that was not going anywhere.

But Angelo would not give up, and he went back again and again and again… until finally, the owners realized that at such an advanced age, it did not make sense to hold onto this estate that was obviously meant for so much more.

Angelo was able to buy the estate, build the winery and began planting vines in 1996.

The More We Hold On the Unhappier We Become

The roller coaster of life can be tough at times because, many times, we compare our journey to others’… focus too much on what others have or what they had been given. The idea that as long as we get to the next notch on our belt of envious desires we will become happy is an unhealthy one, creating a cycle of highs and lows that will never result in true happiness that is lasting.

One person is only able to accomplish so much, one only has so many resources, only so many talents, so much time. When panic sets in with those dreadful feelings that we have barely accomplished anything by midlife, we should fight that urge to try to fiercely grab onto as much as we can and never let go because our greatest achievements are those we pass on to others… in the form of kindness, knowledge, experience… or in this case, land. Because anything worth having gives joy to many and does not only belong to just a few.

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Tasting of Ca’ Marcanda wines with Giovanni Gaja on November 15th, 2017

2016 Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare: 60% Vermentino and 40% Viognier. It took Angelo Gaja a while to find the right partner for Vementino, and this is the blend that he has found works best and I have to agree it is a nice match… Marked acidity, medium body, floral and stone fruit notes and a long flavorful, expressive finish.

 

2015 Ca’ Marcanda Promis: 55% Merlot, 35% Syrah and 10% Sangiovese. A generous and seductively inviting wine with blueberry compote, black pepper and a bright black cherry finish with manicured tannins and a lovely overall freshness. The 2015s have a lot more flesh on their bones than the 2014s. Comes from the dark clay based soils on the estate.

The Promis is the most open in its youthful state out of all the red Ca’ Marcanda wines.

 

2015 Ca’ Marcanda Magari: 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot from dark clay based and light limestone soils… so it is nimble with finesse, as well as richly decadent with sweet raspberries and violets… the fine tannins and supple body make this wine irresistible but it will only improve over the next decade.

Magari is generous when young yet it still has powerful structural components that give it the opportunity to improve with cellaring.

 

2013 Ca’ Marcanda Camarcanda: 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. Side note: The blend will change to 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc in 2015 as Giovanni Gaja said that they are planning to keep the blend Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. This 2013 showed an enticing mixture of autumn leaves, baking spice and fresh leather with deep brooding undertones. An elegantly firm structure displayed well-managed tannins that had a silky quality balanced by juicy fruit. It needs to be decanted for several hours or hold onto this beauty for a few more years – this wine should be long-lived.

Camarcanda is the longest lived of all the wines, 100% coming from the terre bianche (white soils) of the Ca’ Marcanda estate.

2014 Magari tasted at Wine Advocate’s Matter of Taste on Dec 3rd, 2017

2014 Ca’ Marcanda Magari: The 2015s have a lot more flesh on their bones than the 2014s yet the lovely bright fruit and energetic body makes this wine enjoyable in a completely different way than its successor. Fresh damson plums and sweet spice are prevalent on the long, linear finish.

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Sometimes Our Grandparents Knew Better

As many of you know, my wine drinking experiences started at the (illegal) age of 18 as a bright eyed, scrubbed face kid hanging out in my newly found, artsy home in the East Village in New York City. I was lucky enough to spend time with many Europeans who were happy to share their heritage and family memories with the likes of a lonely, lost American girl such as myself. We first explored the wines of Italy, then France, with Spain thrown in here and there… but Italian wines seemed to always find their way into most of our gatherings. When winter would near, there was always a question as to which wines would be special for the holidays, as well as satisfying enough to get us through the bleak months of January and February here in the Northern Hemisphere… the answer I was given was one word: Amarone.

My first encounter with Amarone was over 20 years ago, the winter of 1993-94, so it’s difficult to remember specific details… it seems fuzzy except for my immediate exclamation of dislike because it reminded me of raisins (it’s a wine made, in part, from dried grapes) and it was too big and bold of a libation. An Austrian friend who had an Italian mother insisted that I needed to try it again… slowly smell it, take time to sip it, sit with the glass and allow myself to see the depth and complexity of this special wine called the “King of Valpolicella”. This is the way his maternal grandparents taught him to drink Amarone. I sighed at his insistence since I felt I was being pushed past my comfort zone but I wanted to open myself up to as many experiences as I could, so I tasted the wine again… I tried to smell it, taste it, allow the aromas to fill my head, but again, all I got was raisins, and it was making me very uncomfortable spending so much time with one wine… I immediately placed the glass away from me after my first taste and pronounced that it was not a wine for me.

Valpolicella

I have had over two decades to give Amarone another try… but until recently I spent very little time exploring the wines. I would think to myself that it was a drink for more “traditional” wine drinkers and it was not something a wine thrill-seeker like myself would be interested in … yes, I had tasted Amarone a handful of times during my wine career but it was always during a time when I had to taste 50 wines in one sitting at a trade tasting… and so you blast through the wines, a lot of times having to use your previous knowledge and experience to “pre-assess” them. In my mind, Amarone was a seemingly dry, heavy red wine that only sang of intense, desiccated fruit.

In September of 2016, I was given the opportunity to go to Valpolicella to try the DOC wines in the area which included Amarone – now a DOCG wine. I had been in Verona earlier that year for Vinitaly, which is in the same region as Valpolicella, and while there in North East Italy, I ran into many colleagues that talked about the stunning landscape of the land that made Amarone. And so, although I don’t like to take too many wine press trips a year (as a writer who already works 6 days a week it can be pretty taxing on the mind and body to do these trips) I felt that Valpolicella needed to be part of the handful of wine visits I would take that year.

I must admit that I was mainly looking forward to drinking the Ripasso wines, which use the skins from the dried Amarone grapes to add complexity as they are not as robust, and I was stressed out about being too overwhelmed by the larger-than-life Amarones. At the outset, I was sure that my destined Amarone re-encounter was doomed as a heat wave hit Valpolicella during our time there… other media people and I deemed it the #SummerOfAmarone because we spent most of our time feeling like we were trapped in a large sauna which is not typical September weather in an area that has temperatures moderated by the majestic Lake Garda.

But just like my long-ago-Austrian-friend-with-the-Italian-grandparents had advised about simply giving myself time to see what is there, it started to happen. While tasting several Amarones over 16 winery visits, these wines started to reveal the glorious mosaic of flavors – from sage to tobacco to black cherry to spices that were bright and lifted on the finish … I found that I did not have too much Amarone, actually I couldn’t get enough! And they were all different – some with more fresh fruit, others dried, some textured, others lush, but the best all had in common the ability to make time stop because of their multitude of complexity… they took all of my attention and I was happy to give it to them… everything around me faded out as if I changed a setting on a camera.

Amarone

Since that time I have enjoyed buying Amarone myself as a tool to help me into a wine meditation. When it is time to step out of the grind, and yes, there is a grind with writing and working with wine, I would have my glass of Amarone and just allow myself to be taken away.

It was interesting to recently attend an Amarone Seminar, tasting from the 2003-2010 vintages, in my new altered state with regards to this wine. The seminar was led by Andrea Sartori, the new President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella, as well as President and great-grandson of one of the most well-known Amarone producers Sartori; and New York City Sommelier, Michelle Erland, who heads a wine list that includes many Amarone wines at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Restaurant.

Andrea took us through the improvements that Valpolicella producers have implemented over the years: organically minded vineyards, hygienic practices in the winery, and putting forth more experimentation for refining the appassimento process (drying the grapes) which is key for Amarone. Some of you may know that Amarone, such as the other wines in Valpolicella, are a blend of red grape varieties, but through University research they are realizing that the Corvina variety is the best for the drying process, and therefore, the best for this super star wine.

It was noted many times how there has been a shift of focus for Valpolicella producers to find a balance with freshness as well as expressing transparency with fruit and terroir (sense of place). Michelle said, that as a sommelier, Amarone was a great wine to transition California wine drinkers to Italian wines as they did not disappoint such customers with their weighty body. Amarone’s recent focus on making sure to express more pristine aspects of the wines, giving an overall lift, made these Veronese show stoppers more appealing when pairing them with food.

Andrea Sartori furthered this discussion by confirming there is a new focus to improve the aspects of Amarone that caused imbalances in some vintages while recognizing that in some ways, their grandparents did get it right. One of the fairytale facets of the Valpolicella wine area, besides the enchanting hills, is the Pergola trellising system for the vines. This whimsical system lifts the vines high off the ground so an open canopy of its leaves can shade the grapes. It was first recorded as existing in the area during the sixth century, since trees were used as supports for grape vines leading to the eventual devising of this practice. It is extremely time consuming and costly and so another, more popular, trellising practice – Guyot – was being heralded by the famous Valpolicella producer Masi to take over Valpolicella. But shockingly, Amarone’s favorite grape Corvina, with its thick skins, showed in recent University studies to suffer from sunburn when not placed in the Pergola trellising system – causing tougher tannins and overripe grapes. The current 25% of Guyot planted vines are expected to be replanted again in Pergola trellises matching the rest of the Valpolicella DOC designated vineyards. In this instance, Andrea admitted, their grandparents had made a better choice.

Being in the Right State of Mind

It makes me laugh to myself how adverse to Amarone I used to be since it is a wine that gives so much in terms of complexity and textural pleasure – two traits that I treasure in wines. When I was blissfully drinking it morning, noon and night during my Valpolicella heat-spell infused trip, it was proof that there was never anything wrong with the wine, but maybe it took me a while to get to the right place in my mind to be able to appreciate it. Amarone is a wine that demands the drinker to sit, quieting him/herself to truly know all the secrets it wants to share. I think, even more than its weight, Amarone’s quality to make the drinker reflect while drinking it makes it ideal for shorter days that are filled with longer stretches of darkness, such as the winter months. Yet I do have to admit to drinking Amarone over the past summer when I felt that I needed to take time to go into the abyss of my own being.

When I first experienced Amarone, I certainly was not comfortable sitting still in my own mind, and it took a long time to get past all of my issues and the chatter of years and years of wine professional gossip and tastings to finally really taste Amarone… I had to eventually go all the way to Valpolicella so I could finally get into a comfortable state within my own mind so I could really appreciate this wine… and to realize that my friend’s grandparents, all those years ago, knew better… they knew how to drink Amarone.

 

***First & last photo in this post is credited to Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella

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Amarone della Valpolicella Vertical Tasted on October 23rd, 2017

Amarone della Valpolicella was elevated to DOCG (the highest wine designation in Italy) in 2010 and so all vintages prior to 2010 are only given DOC status.

2010 Sartori di Verona, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Classico “Corte Brà”: 50% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and 5% Oseleta. The Corte Brà vineyard is in the northern hills of Verona. Fresh blackberry with tar and dried thyme with a nimble body that gives an overall elegance to this wine. I have drunk a lot of Sartori Amarone wines and they seem to always find the balance between power and finesse.

-2009 Cantina Valpantena Verona, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC, Torre del Falasco: 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Corvinone. Another brighter and more finessed style, with exotic spice and red fruit in this case… again the body is livelier than traditionally one would think of Amarone and the tannins have a lovely velvety quality.

-2009 Massimago, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC: 70% Corvina, 15% Corvinone and 15% Rondinella. Massimago is a new winery in Valpolicella from a first generation woman, Camilla Rossi Chauvenet. I loved visiting Camilla during my press trip and found her enthusiasm and desire to be playful with these wines refreshing and exciting. I was so happy to see her recently in New York City at the Amarone seminar since she is becoming one of my favorite producers in the area. Although the wine has everything one wants in an Amarone – rich flavors of licorice and ripe fruit balanced by lifting notes of mint and good acidity – there is an underlying wild quality that really makes this wine a stand out.

-2008 Cantina Valpolicella Negrar, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Classico, Domini Veneti “Vigneti di Jago”: 60% Corvina, 15% Corvinone, 15% Rondinella and the rest of the 10% are a mixture of auxiliary varieties that are allowed. The zone of Jago has always been valued for its ability to produce structured high quality wines. This 2008 is big and broad with its structure yet luminous with its aromatics of cherry blossom and cloves. A warming wine that is satisfyingly robust; through time it opens on the finish with cinnamon and balsamic drizzled herbs.

2006 Pasqua Vigneti E Cantine, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Riserva, Famiglia Pasqua: 60% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Oseleta and 5% Corvinone. The 2006 Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva Famiglia Pasqua celebrates the 90th anniversary of this family-run winery (1925-2015). From the hilly terrain of the Valpantena – clay mixed with limestone. I like the firm structure of this wine that allows one to chew into the dark and seductive flavors of dark chocolate and blackberry jam made more engaging by nutmeg and smoldering cedar along the sustained finish.

-2006 Rocca Sveva, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC Riserva, Collezione Speciale: A blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Riserva Collezione Speciale wines are produced only in exceptional years. This wine became a favorite among a couple of the local sommeliers in the room because of a distinctive green note of capers that they thought would pair well with a variety of dishes. Also, the evolved notes of leather and more complex fruit are ideal for those that appreciate wines with some age on it. The tannins are well-integrated allowing the lush fruit a chance to expand with a delightful succulent finish.

-2003 Santi, Amarone della Valpolicella DOC “Proemio”: 50% Corvino, 30% Corvinone and 20% Rondinella. An impressive effort in a challenging vintage – 2003 will go down as one of the hottest and driest vintages for many European regions. But Santi, with careful attention and strict selection, were able to produce an Amarone that is still alive today. This is the one wine that had intense desiccated fruit in this line up with prunes and dried black cherries, yet it was still able to find balance within its opulence with mint oil and violets… a subtle note of vanilla shows the nice integration of oak aging.

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What is “Authentic” Wine?

It is interesting how things can come back around in life; something that you were told when you were younger, or just less wise, can have more meaning when you have experienced those lessons first hand. This has been my relationship with the Fetzer and Bonterra “brands”. For a time, “authentic” wine meant there was a human being that I knew who owned the winery; wines that were made in relatively small quantities; wines that had a story of people barely getting by. As I get older and more experienced, I have less dogma about the “A” word and have been taking it case by case, and hence, I posed the question to myself, “Do Fetzer and Bonterra represent “authentic” wines?”

The Wine Game in Manhattan

Many of you probably know that I worked in the wine business, here in Manhattan in New York City, for many years in both retail and distribution. At one time, I was working for one of the largest wine distribution companies in New York, had over 100 restaurant accounts in Manhattan, and I juggled a huge portfolio. During that time, the Fetzer/Bonterra company was trying to take a stronger hold in the on-premise (wine trade term for restaurants – not retail stores) world in my beloved city… but the issue was that they were seen as a big brand and not “authentic” enough. I must admit that I was not too inspired to go out and talk about them because beside it causing more challenges in my already overwhelming sales job that demanded impossible sales numbers every day of the year, I was just not feeling the “authentic” love for a brand that could be found in most major retailers around the US.

Getting my Head Out of My Butt

Although we can think of ourselves as do-gooders, we can sometimes get so narrowly focused on our passions, such as supporting smaller businesses, that we lose sight of those that have grown into a larger entity and hence can have a bigger impact. So it took a much more experienced colleague to take me to the side and tell me the story about the Fetzer family.

The founder, Barney Fetzer, moved his family from Oregon to Ukiah, in Mendocino County, California, in 1955 since he thought it was a good place to raise his family. They bought a ranch that was around 720 acres (291 hectares) and a few years later, after growing grapes to sell to other wineries, he converted an old sheep barn into a winery with the help of his 12 year old son, John. They made their first wine in 1968 when “sustainability” was an unknown word in agriculture. Through time Barney and his kids built a strong, trusted brand that would offer a line of delicious wines at a reasonable price that would eventually run the gamut from environmentally friendly to soulfully biodynamic.

I realized during this conversation that all the small, tiny wineries that had mindful vineyard practices, especially in the US, could all be traced back to what Fetzer was able to do – mainly because they were an example of a financially sound business venture… as many do not want to be the first to take that risk.

Fetzer Vineyards & Bonterra Vineyards

During the Wine Bloggers Conference, I had to take advantage of an excursion to visit Fetzer and their Bonterra Vineyards, started in 1990 representing their move into making wines from organically grown grapes, because as someone who is in favor of sustainability on many levels, Fetzer was the alter where I needed to pay tribute. There were some other wine lovers that I talked to at the Conference who thought it was odd that my first choice was the Fetzer/Bonterra trip because, in their opinion, I was not going to be drinking “good wines”… I guess that was based on the fact we wouldn’t be tasting $100 bottles, and again, they are wines that are not exclusive and are widely available to everyone around the country.

Composting

Our first day was spent in “The Barn” where it all started for Barney Fetzer. It was a cold and rainy day that was a great illustration of the power of Mother Nature – She Who Will Not Be Ignored. There we sat, listening to a panel on composting (organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment) and it was such a passionately expressed discussion between Fetzer employees and a local beer company called North Coast Brewing Company, that for the first time in my life I actually considered making composting a part of my life.

Kissed By Mother Nature

Typically, I never like walking through the rain in NYC because, as one can imagine, it can get messy since one has to spend a lot of their transportation time from place to place outside. But in this instance, it felt like I was kissed by Mother Nature… that I was a part of the land… She felt replenished and so She was able to give back. Later that night, it was perfect to still feel the misty reminder of our stormy day as I walked into the old Fetzer Valley Oaks wine center for dinner and saw a light shining a Fetzer 50th Anniversary sign. This wine center was now owned by a married couple with two small children who started making wines called Campovida.

The owners of Campovida, Gary and Anna, welcomed us into their “home” with a local musical band playing to honor Fetzer and to discuss how they are honored to continue their legacy. “We never planned to be in business together” said Anna, and continued saying that starting this winery with her husband did achieve their ultimate goal of creating, “A life that we could be proud of, that our children would be proud of and that would leave a legacy of beauty and kindness.”

A Company that Amplifies Kindness of Others

As I was transported into the Mendocino County wine world for a couple of days, finishing at the Bonterra Biodynamic McNab Ranch it was amazing how everything was in harmony with each other; the mountains, the streams, the manure we placed in cow horns that would eventually go into the vineyards, the mud that completely covered my shoes, the other local wine producers who shared their wines and told their stories, and that never-ending rain… it was all part of the harmony and ease of living for the betterment of all. At one point, we found ourselves outside with our wine glasses toasting the rain and surrendering to everything that was “authentic” in that moment.

It is no secret that Fetzer/Bonterra is owned by a huge Chilean wine company called Concha y Toro (that shares the same environmentally friendly values) or that Fetzer makes more than 2 million cases of wine per year and Bonterra makes over 300,000 cases. Of course it should be considered that they make special, small production single vineyard wines as well. It is easy to get caught up in the numbers and just see a brand, BUT how else do we make significant change but on a large scale? What I saw in front of me that day was the Fetzer legacy taken to another level… all these people who worked there, neighboring farmers and/or producers, were dependent, one way or another, on this huge company to make it possible to have a roof over their heads and food on the table without compromising their desire to be kind to Mother Nature.

If giving a whole county the chance to maintain an ideal sustainability involving species of all kinds is not “authentic” then, my God, what is?

As we finished our toast in the rain, one of the wine producers went up to one of the women he knew who was pregnant and said, “I’m happy you are bringing a child into this world… because it means you have hope.” And in Mendocino County there was plenty of hope to be had.

 

***To Learn More about the Sustainability Achieves of Fetzer Click on the Below Links:

https://www.sustainablewinegrowing.org/certifiedparticipant/5/Fetzer_Vineyards_Bonterra_Vineyards.html

https://www.wineindustryadvisor.com/2017/11/08/fetzer-releases-first-sustainability-report

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Wines Tasted during this Mendocino County Wine Excursion:

Tasted on November 8th, 2017

Fetzer

2014 Fetzer, Goosefoot Road Riesling, Monterey: Pristine flavors of pears and apricots

2016 Fetzer, Echo Ridge Sauvignon Blanc, California: Crisp green apple and citrus blossom

2016 Fetzer, Sundial Chardonnay, California: Tropical fruits and loamy soils with only a moderate body

2015 Fetzer, Eagle Peak Merlot, California: Licorice, toffee and black cherries

2015 Fetzer, Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon, California: Black berry, dried thyme. Mocha and hint of vanilla with a round body yet some structure to give it definition

Campovida

-2015 Campovida, Tocai Friulano, Mendocino: Wildflowers, lemon zest, medium body with marked acidity

-2015 Campovida, Rosé di Grenache, Mendocino: Cherries and baking spice with crumbly rocks that is overall nimble in quality

-2016 Campovida, Arneis, Mendocino: Fennel fronds with cumin seeds and blanched almonds

2013 Campovida, Nebbiolo, Mendocino: Rose petal, tar and rich black cherries that have firm yet high quality tannins

-2014 Campovida, Syrah, Mendocino: A real star of the night with deep, dark flavors of smoky espresso, black pepper and cocoa powder that was bold with its brawny structure and generous with big explosive flavors that were always kept in check with a backbone of lively acidity

 

Tasted on November 9th, 2017

Bonterra

2016 Bonterra, Sauvignon Blanc, Mendocino County, Lake County & Sonoma County: Grapefruit and peach flavors that were rich and lively

2016 Bonterra, Chardonnay, Mendocino: Golden apple with cinnamon spice that had only a touch of creaminess on the palate to give it weight

2015 The Roost, Blue Heron Vineyard Chardonnay, Mendocino: More concentration and finesse which may seem like a contradiction but there seemed to be more lift while having richer and longer lasting flavors

2015 Bonterra, Zinfandel, Mendocino: Stewed black cherries, broad body that had a pop of spice on the end

2015 Bonterra, Merlot, California: Fresh blueberries, wild sage and some plush-ness on the body without being too heavy

2013 The Butler, Butler Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino: Predominately Syrah with the addition of Mourvedre, Grenache and Zinfandel that had an intensely delicious smoky note, like BBQ, and black pepper with some volcanic ash on the long, powerful finish… part of our lunch after this tasting included a cherry cobbler that was made from cherries picked from old cherry trees on the Butler Ranch Vineyard

2013 The McNab, Red Blend, Mendocino: Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Old Vine Petite Sirah; muscular tannins and complex aromatics of pencil lead and granite balanced by lots of black fruit

Small Mendocino Wine Producers:

2016 Two Shepherds, Grenache Rosé: Bright, wild strawberries and wet stones

2016 Idlewild Arneis: Stony, lemon zest, richer texture than Piedmont

2014 Idlewild Nebbiolo: Pale ruby color, floral, surprising fine tannins and hint of fresh leather with red cherries

2016 Rootdown Rosé of Sangiovese: Fierce acidity, cranberry with mouthwatering finish

2016 Rootdown Sangiovese: Tart cherry, baking spice and hint of earth

-2015 Reeve Riesling: White flowers, flinty minerality and spicy finish

2016 Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir: Bright brambly berries with white chalky finish

2016 LIOCO Sauvignon Blanc: Lemon confit, dried thyme and crumbly rock

-2014 LIOCO Carignan: Jasmine tea, black cherry, underbrush with good flesh for a Carignan and manicured tannins

-2013 Trinafour Colombard: These vines were found among 10 acres of 70 year old red field blend varieties – total of 230 French Colombard vines – and had aromatics of peach, white pepper and an energetic linear body

-2014 Trinafour Rosso Misto: A blend of Carignan, Grenache, Durif and unknown red variety in a field blend with flavors of black currants, red clay and a rich body

2015 Nelson Family Vineyards Petit Verdot: Opaque color, brooding dark flavors, plum pie and black berry jam with a firm structure… ripe tannins give this wine an elegant quality among the opulence…

2015 Campovida Viognier: Moderately aromatic with perfume and lots of mouthfeel with real viscosity to the body from lees stirring

-2014 Campovida Grenache: An inviting wine with warm fruit flavors and round body that has the right amount of acidity

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