The Extremes of Wine

Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Around 11pm on October 8th, 2017, Pierre Birebent was abruptly woken up from a deep sleep by his daughter saying that his phone had been ringing several times… in his half-dazed state, Pierre looked at his phone and saw messages that said there was a fire… he quickly woke up and immediately jumped in his truck and started driving down the road with a fierce intensity envisioning the worst case scenario as panic furiously pumped through his veins and heart.

Pierre is the winemaker and vineyard manager for Signorello Estate and the messages on his phone were left by the owner of the estate, Ray Signorello Jr., who was in Canada at the time. Pierre was telling us this story on November 11th, just a little over a month after it happened, at the Wine Bloggers Conference taking place in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, California. The conference had been planned for over a year, but when one of the worst periods of California wildfires (from October 8th until the 30th of October) hit a significant part of wine country (according to Cal Fire: over 245,000 acres were burned, 100,000 people were forced to evacuate, estimated 8,900 structures destroyed, and 43 lives lost), many of us planning on attending the conference thought it would be cancelled. But word got back from the various wine participating counties that they needed us to come to the conference and talk about their wines, their tourism (most of the tourist sections were untouched) and to inspire people around the US to support them.

From my perspective, I had overwhelming anxiety that I felt like I needed to go out to Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, (4,658 homes were destroyed in the wildfires) as soon as possible… I didn’t know how I could help out, but as I saw all the people I knew in the wine industry in California talk about the merciless infernos coming and going, swiftly changing direction, many having to evacuate and re-evacuate many times, some losing everything, watching it all play out on Facebook while the national news barely talked about it, I felt like I needed to be there and be prepared to do whatever they needed me to do. It was the same feeling I had living in downtown Manhattan during 9/11. I did not want to flee, my overwhelming pain made me want me to stay and find some semblance of grounding and peace by being of some use in my home of New York City… of course it took many years to find our grounding as a city.

Pierre Birebent

Photo Credit: Signorello Estate

Pierre is no stranger to devastating events that can alter the rest of a person’s life. Before coming to Napa, he lived with his family, sixth-generation vintners, in Algeria. But when he was only 2 years old, his mother fled with him to Spain when the Algerian War broke out. Pierre’s father, Paul, stayed behind to look after their vineyards until one day he and a worker were attacked; Paul escaped but the worker who had warned him of the attack from the distance never made it out alive. Then the Birebents picked up the pieces of their lives and were able to pool their resources to buy undeveloped land in Corsica; after they built roads and prepped the land for vineyards they were able to rebuild a family winery and legacy for future generations. Pierre, who knew that he would not have much free time after he took on the responsibility of his family farm in Corsica, decided to spend his youth studying at the Montpellier University in France and working in Napa to gain more knowledge and experience to bring his family’s wines to the next level of quality.

Unfortunately, tragedy would hit his family again in Corsica when Pierre’s father, Paul, was attacked by people in masks and bound with rope with his vineyard crew, as his house, his winery and farm equipment were burned in front of him. The toxic emotion of envy had eaten away at Corsican locals who turned to terrorism to take out their rage on those who were successful and not considered real Corsicans. Everyone escaped with their lives but Pierre, who was in Napa at the time, decided to stay in Napa Valley as there was no future with his family winery; he eventually settled at Signorello Estate and lives in St Helena with his wife, Nathalie, and his children, Paul and Isabelle; Pierre’s parents retired to the Riviera.

Signorello Estate

There was Pierre, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, reliving another traumatic event in his life that he hadn’t yet even been given a chance to process. When Pierre arrived at Signorello that night, he saw that there were only a few bushes, a garden and trees on fire so he was hopeful that he could put out the fires himself with a hose that he grabbed. One of his guys was there to assist him with extinguishing the fire with another hose but before they knew it, the fire had jumped to the roof assisted by the high winds. Pierre gave his worker a damp handkerchief to hold over his nose and mouth while Pierre held his t-shirt over his own to combat the brutal smoke that blew in their faces. They stood there and fought the fire as best they could but within 45 minutes, it had consumed the entire building. By that point the police had arrived and forced Pierre and his worker to leave; once the police left, Pierre went back towards the inferno to try to put it out… he tried 3 different times but he had gotten to the point where he was gagging from the black smoke and his assistant physically grabbed him yelling, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!!!”

Pierre was able to make it to his crush pad and stainless steel tanks that were in the midst of fermenting his grapes – there was a mesh top above the tank to give it shade and he hosed them both down, spending 15 minutes soaking the mesh top. It finally got to the point where he had to get back a few hundreds yards away (so the smoke didn’t kill him) and in Pierre’s words he just, “watched what happened”. Pierre’s head slumped down and his voice broke as it lowered into his gut as he sat there on the panel struggling against his intense emotions to get the words out. Pierre then said that he called the owner who was in Canada so he could let him know what was going on “and that was it”… a profound silence hit the room as Pierre took a few breaths. It took 3 days before he was able to visit the property again since there was a police blockade; the vineyards and cellar were untouched, the wine which was tested (by a lab) was not affected by smoke taint, but their main building, tasting room and offices had burnt to the ground.

Good & Bad of Wine

I remembering sitting there, as close as I could to the panelists, each one taking their turn to talk about their own personal experience as Pierre did… there were two sessions back to back, and since I had taken non-stop back to back sessions, I needed to go up to my hotel room to get some work done and call my husband. The stories were heavily weighing on me, and although I have already written a couple of posts about the conference since that time, it has taken me this long to write this post, the most important one, in my opinion, as I was waiting to see how it worked out for Pierre and Signorello.

Wine has been a big part of my life, and I love it deeply because it is intertwined with the human condition, but there are sides of it I can’t stand, such as some people’s obsession with the superficial. As I came back down from my hotel room after getting some work done and talking to my love, still processing the trauma that so many people had shared during the last two sessions, I had a run-in with another conference attendee as I walked through the front lobby. This man asked me where I had been and, since I had already had a previous conversation with this acquaintance about having to go to my room to work, I replied, “I told you, I needed to get some work done.” Well, at that point, he started to say that I was probably off drinking some fancy wines in one of the off-schedule parties because I seemed like the type of person who would do that and then proceeded to give me a hard time for not hanging out to go drinking with him… I’ll remind you, again, this is someone I barely knew.

Funnily enough, I have never been to one of those parties in the hotel rooms, not that I have anything against them, but I was there for the sessions and the one-on-one heart to heart talks I have with people who are kind enough to share their journeys with me. That man I barely knew got ugly with me and I felt like I was verbally punched in the gut… don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of good at the conference, but then there is the bad because it is all part of the world of wine… Looking back, it was interesting how in such a short time of a few hours, I had experienced the extremes of the wine world watching some people coming together as a community during traumatic events and others becoming petty in their narcissistic desires, even in the face of others losing everything.

We Need to Believe

 I have recently read that Signorello Estate opened a modular-unit tasting room so they could resume giving wine tastings to visitors. The owner, Ray Signorello Jr., made a commitment to rebuild 3 days after Signorello burned down, but at the time, it still seemed to those of us on the outside that there was a question mark if they would be able to continue… but luckily, despite being given some fierce blows, they have come back with Pierre at the helm. California is still getting some tough hits by wildfires; the only way they can keep continuing, keeping an important part of American wine culture alive, is if those of us who do believe in them support them with our purchases, with our visits, and with our deep compassion and empathy for the people who are struggling to keep the legacy of great California wines alive. As much as there were times when I wanted to walk away from the wine world because of nasty comments from people who barely knew me, or narcissism that makes one not care that a bunch of people right in front of them just lost their homes and means to support themselves, I sometimes run into a beautiful person that makes me believe that there is still lots of humanity and love in the wine world… and that is all we need, to have someone make us believe when we are losing hope.

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Tearing Down Snobbery & Embracing Generosity

***Disclosure: Avery Books gave me a free review copy of the new Wine Folly book that I talk about in this post.

As some of you may already know, not only was I on the other side of the wine world, working distribution and retail, but I had spent many years studying and learning about wine. Since I have lived in New York City (for 25 years), I have run into every sort of person who falls in love with wine, from my first introduction among artists from all over the world in the early 1990s bringing modest wines with their stories of traveling as backpackers as we sat on the floor of our hole-in-the-wall apartments, to being surrounded by people who made wine a competitive sport, something used to establish a pecking order… the former made me deeply passionate about wine while the latter chipped away at my very being and made me almost walk away from it entirely, throwing away what I had devoted so much of life to…

I first discovered Wine Folly, a website and impactful social media presence of infographics, articles, and videos, sometime around 2013 (Wine Folly started their website in late 2011). I was in a really bad place in my life at the time… I was working insane hours, barely sleeping a couple hours a night, hardcore studying every aspect about wine (which I had been doing non-stop for 5 years at that point) and dealing with some intense personal trauma that was dragged out for many years. What made this tough situation even worse is that I was surrounded by some people who turned wine into an elitist beverage that was used to determine someone’s worth. It seemed that I couldn’t escape this toxic energy and I was getting to the point where I wanted to just walk away from it all, until I found Wine Folly on the internet. Their fun and playful photos, the great infographics and an overall energy that wine was supposed to bring everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, together started to light that passionate fire within me again. Despite being born in 1975 and not considered a millennial, I have really embraced the generosity and joy that many millennials have brought to social media, and Wine Folly was the first to do it on a grand scale.

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine

Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack are partners who are the owners of Wine Folly. Justin Hammack developed the site’s infrastructure so it was a free, open-resource for wine knowledge while Madeline is not only the face of Wine Folly but she is a certified sommelier with a background in design – the combination of both led her to create Wine Folly’s legendary wine infographics. I was thrilled when they released their Wine Folly book that covered the fundamentals, styles of wine and wine regions in a digestible, visual way that was accessible to everyone. It is no surprise that it became a best-seller.

Madeline Puckette

Over the years, I have been given a chance to meet Madeline a couple of times as well as hear her speak. She is so raw and honest about how she came to wine. Her beginnings started out as a beautiful curiosity to learn as much as she could, then she unfortunately found herself surrounded by a crowd that seemed glamorous, but was toxic, to finally finding her own voice and creating a way to take away the mystery of wine while keeping the magic. She is one of the things that helped me find the courage to bring my own voice to wine… to bring my love and my passion, without worrying about those that would mock or criticize.

Wine Folly: Magnum Edition

I was sent a free copy of the new Wine Folly: Magnum Edition: The Master Guide, by their publishing company Avery Books which was released today, September 25th. It is an expanded version with 100 pages more than their original book with a food and wine section as well as a deeper look into previous subjects that they have covered with a greater ability now to verify the accuracy of the information in the book; those who know anything about trying to verify information in the wine world know that it is a tremendous task that seems impossible at times. It will absolutely become one of my new wine resource books, as well as a wonderful book to share with those at all different stages of acquiring wine knowledge.

Gratitude

Madeline makes no bones about not being perfect or the mistakes she has made in the past, but she works fiercely everyday with her partner to provide wine information to all in a way that is generous and approachable, creating an environment that brings people together… which goes back to the original purpose of wine. I don’t write book reviews but it means so much to write about how much her work has meant to me, how I feel this is exactly what the wine world needs, and how I may not be doing what I am doing now if it wasn’t for her example of empowering yourself, no matter your background. Thank you Madeline and thank you Wine Folly.

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Our Existence Shaping the World

As I sat on top of a limestone escarpment towering up from the ground up to 1617 feet (493 meters) in the sky, I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy about the thoughts that flooded my head… if my life was erased, like someone blowing dust off a piece of paper, what would have changed in the world? Would it be for the worse? Would it be the same? Seeing the fierce force of nature such as the prehistoric site of the Rock of Solutré was not only a marvel to behold as I approached it, but it was even more powerful to hike to the summit. There I sat with a glass of beautiful white Burgundy wine, a Pouilly-Fuissé (as we were in the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé itself, specifically in the commune of Solutré-Pouilly) and since we were in France, we were allowed to drink from wine glasses and of course drink a lovely French wine despite being at a public government protected site.

There was a frenzy of activity as we made our way to the slick marble top as other travelers were enthusiastically taking photos, as we did, but once I was able to sit still with my wine, by the edge of the escarpment, overlooking the endless view of vineyards, I could not help but have my peripheral vision go out of focus and feel all my attention become a laser going straight to my gut… how impossible it felt for a little being like myself to be able to shape the world in that moment.

Duboeuf

I was in Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, because I was visiting the place where it all started for the man who brought Beaujolais to the world. In 1933, Georges Duboeuf was born into a winemaking family in the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. But his path was not meant to be of an average winemaker, as by the age of 25 he had already invented the modern bottling line for estate bottled wines as well as beginning his long relationships with wine growers in Beaujolais. He did everything from bringing wine samples to the great culinary city of Lyon, to introducing legendary chefs such as Paul Bocuse to the idea that wonderful wines came from Burgundy’s southern neighbor, and bringing these wines around the world, starting with the initial relationship with importer Alexis Lichine.

At one time, French wines were very different than they are today, mainly because of issues with transporting and storage of the wines. Georges Duboeuf realized that wine consumers living in major French cities, let alone in various areas around the world, were not experiencing the true beauty of Beaujolais even if it was to be found in their market; part of what makes many Beaujolais wines irresistible is the lovely fresh fruit and until Georges came along, many wine drinkers never really knew the special qualities of Beaujolais wine.

Promoting the Producers

When Georges Duboeuf first started to visit the wine producers of Beaujolais, he was taken aback by the idea that the wines were not only so much better having not left the cellars, but that the frivolity and celebration that was part of the mainly agricultural region was part of the truly joyous experience of having these wines. Georges’ engineering mind was able to come up with ways to bottle these producers’ wines; previously, many had been selling their wine in bulk, but the inventions in the process of bottling and the actual construction of the bottle itself allowed the intrinsic charm of the Beaujolais Gamay grapes to be captured and retained. He first started making “domaine bottlings” that promoted that particular wine producer and their history. Through time, as the true beauty of Beaujolais wines won many wine lovers over, there was a bigger demand for the Cru wines, such as Morgon or Fleurie, and so Georges came up with the “flower” Duboeuf label wines that would give producers the chance to keep their higher quality selection in their domaine bottling while Duboeuf sold the second selection in their own label offering a broader view of each Cru at an affordable price.

During my recent time in Beaujolais, I visited many of the wine producers who worked with Georges Duboeuf, and all spoke about how the Duboeuf family would pay the highest market price for their wines and/or grapes and in return demands high quality while keeping within their appellation style. One such producer was Château des Capitans from one of the ten crus, Juliénas, which offered wines that had elegant structure, pristine red fruit, smoldering earth and silky tannins as I tasted their 2009, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages. The Château des Capitans founders had Burgundian roots, which was evident by one of the roofs of their castle where their cellar was located… just like Georges, despite being of Burgundy origin, they fell in love with the wines and way of life of Beaujolais.

At Château des Capitans, we discussed how the next step for Beaujolais was to indicate superior vineyards, or as they would call them, lieu-dit (small geographical area bearing a traditional name), such as the Les Capitans, La Bottiere and Vayolette – plots that have been historically known as quality sites in Juliénas; all of the aforementioned plots go into the domaine bottling of Château des Capitans and the other vineyards found around the Juliénas cru go into the Duboeuf Juliénas “flower” bottling. The Duboeuf family wants each producer to keep their identity while balancing the demand for more value driven wines such as their “flower” label, as well as their newly released Pays d’Oc varietals from Southern France (whose grape growers have been struggling to survive for decades now) and of course, the epitome of the joyous Beaujolais life of friendship and fun represented by the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau.

It’s a Wonderful Life

As I sat at the top of the Rock of Solutré, after a packed week of visiting all of the wine producers and grape growers of Georges Duboeuf in Beaujolais, I could not help but think of the old black and white film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George Bailey is at the end of his rope on a bridge contemplating ending it all because he felt like a failure in life. But he was given the gift by an angel to see what his world would have been like if he hadn’t existed… it is a bleak world and he sees so many people within his community suffering because he wasn’t there. I started to think what would have happened if Georges had never have gone to Beaujolais, or invented the modern bottling line, or decided to bring these wines to the world. Beaujolais does not have the proximity to Paris as Burgundy does and so the road to bringing these wines to the world was not only a feat that many could not handle but it is still a struggle that the Duboeuf family fights for everyday.

Many of us know in life that we get support when we struggle, but once there is any perceived sense of us succeeding in any way, shape or form, we are then left out for the world to criticize and pick apart. Also, many of us realize that when we achieve any type of success that it takes even more energy to not only keep growing in our intention to make a difference in the world but to even sustain what we have already achieved. No matter how many knocks Georges has received, and there have been many over the 60 years, he keeps going because he knows there is so much more at stake than just him, and with his son Franck by his side for many years and grandchildren getting involved with the company, it is a legacy that will live on for many more decades to come.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Georges Duboeuf is probably known best around the world as the man who introduced Beaujolais Nouveau – the wine that is annually released on the 3rd Thursday of November. It represents the young, fun, vital wine that comes from the harvest that year. When I sat with Georges while I visited him in his home, he was insistent that it was not some great marketing plan that he came up with, but it was a practice among those in Beaujolais for centuries. Georges loved the party and celebratory atmosphere these first wines of the vintage brought to the whole area of Beaujolais… it was a matter of how to share this already existing wonderful way of life with the world.

As I visited the largest supplier for the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, Vignerons des Pierres Dorées, meaning “The Golden Stone” as it was in the golden stone area of Beaujolais, I realized how impactful this wine was for so many grape growers. The president of this co-op winery, Sylvain Flache, said that Vignerons des Pierres Dorées was a merger of 3 co-ops (2 of which have worked with Duboeuf for 50 years) and that they had a total of 180 members that represented 1236 acres of vineyards (500 hectares). The vineyard sizes range from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 1.2 acres (1/2 hectare) and the co-op worked with each farmer to help them manage the vineyards in the best way depending on the challenges of each vintage. The co-op also does a maturity test of the various vineyards by asking for grape bunches from different sections to see when each vineyard should be picked. And it behooves the farmers to listen to the co-op as they will be paid based on the quality of the grapes as each farmer will have their grapes inspected upon delivery to the co-op, and so, those who take the most pride in their work will be rewarded. Sylvain said that Georges and his son, Franck, taste samples every day as each vineyard is vinified, making sure to select the best parcels that represent the ideal expression of the vintage. It becomes a badge of honor to be selected for the Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and it is a mark of success that gives quality minded grape growers a reason to strive for growing the best grapes.

How many lives does Georges Duboeuf affect? Whether it is the farmers of the grapes, or the people whose livelihood is dependent in some aspect to the success that Duboeuf has brought to the region, or even all of the parties, celebrations, all of the American Thanksgiving meals or international parties that are inspired by the release of Beaujolais Nouveau. How would the world be shaped differently… honestly I wouldn’t want to know.

PouillyFuissé

After our trip to the Rock of Solutré, we visited one of the Duboeuf producers in the Mâcon-Villages area of Burgundy called Domaine des Chenevières. A small family-run producer, the son was the winemaker with his parents there helping while they were awaiting their grandchild to be born soon… you can’t get more family-run than that… and I felt that this is where it all started for Georges in this area. I imaged him as a young man coming up with all these ideas, as many of us do when we are young and filled with hope, but the difference is that he made it happen… he made so many things happen for so many people that would never have the means or resources to keep going on their own… to keep the celebration and love for Gamay going in an area that was, in many ways, isolated from the rest of the world.

I think that is the biggest lie we tell ourselves… that we can’t shape the world, make a difference or be part of something greater than ourselves. The opportunities are there every day… the choices we make lead us closer… yes, we will be given those hits, those nasty comments, those unfair judgmental stings that distract us from trying to improve the world around us… from living our dreams and lifting others around us… but when you see someone like Georges Duboeuf, his humble beginnings, all he has tackled in life, you know that all of us have the power. When we feel we are at the edge of an impossible cliff… when we feel that we are hopeless and helpless… let each of us remind ourselves that the power lives in all of us to make sure the world we value does not come crumbling down like what Georges Duboeuf did for Beaujolais. Let none of us know what the world would be like if we give up.

 

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2017 Vintage Wines Tasted with Georges Duboeuf on September 4th, 2018

Beaujolais Wines

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Beaujolais: 100% Gamay. Blackberries, dried flowers, lots of zing.

-2017  ‘Flower Label’, Beaujolais-Villages: 100% Gamay. Aromatically impressive, brambly with violets; it evolves from sweet fruit to gravelly earth.

 -2017 ‘Domaine de la Fayette’, Brouilly Cru: 100% Gamay. Very spicy with a multi-layered complexity that brings depth to flavors and texture.

 -2017 ‘Flower Label’, Chiroubles Cru: 100% Gamay. Juicy red fruit and cinnamon spice with bright acidity.

 -2017 ‘Flower Label’, Morgon Cru: 100% Gamay. Fresh black raspberry with a richer body and overall earthy quality.

-2017 ‘Jean-Ernest Descombes’, Morgon Cru: 100% Gamay. Big wine with broad shoulders and fierce intensity of fruit. It is exciting to think of how it will evolve with time.

-2017 ‘Domaine des Quatre Vents’, Fleurie Cru: 100% Gamay. Plum pie with a dark, brooding feeling that was energetic with a linear body.

-2017 ‘Château des Capitans’, Juliénas Cru: 100% Gamay. Deeply concentrated fruit that was tightly wound with firm structure… needs more time to age, but there is a depth of complexity that is very intriguing.

-2017 ‘Château de Saint-Amour’, Saint-Amour Cru: 100% Gamay. Pretty rose oil on the nose with fine tannins that created a lace-like structure.

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Moulin-à-Vent Cru: 100% Gamay. Marked acidity with a regal body that was firm yet fine in its quality with pomegranate and dusty earth on the sustained finish.

Burgundy Wines

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Mâcon-Villages: 100% Chardonnay. Golden apple with peach skin and a round, fresh finish.

-2017 ‘Flower Label’, Pouilly-Fuissé: 100% Chardonnay. Nectarine flesh with chalky minerality and a hint of spice, and a sensational purity of fruit on the fine finish.

 

 

Note: 2018 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Vintage

The 2018 vintage was just picked as I was visiting Beaujolais a little over a week ago so I didn’t get to taste it in its final stage, but 2018 is a great harvest and I did get to taste many grapes from various vineyards. I could tell that it is a vintage with rich concentration and layers of complexity. And there is thrilling news that Duboeuf will release a Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé this November as well. I’m surprised that they waited until now as it makes perfect sense – I’m excited to try it. It was fun to get a sneak peak at the labels for the 2018 that is the result of a contest that Duboeuf ran giving artists a chance to design their latest Nouveau label.

 

Georges Duboeuf Pays d’Oc Wines Tasted September 15th, 2018

2017 Chardonnay: 100% Chardonnay. Juicy white peach, lemon confit and a hint of the wild Yellow Gentian flower that graces its label finishing with a bright and balanced length.

2017 Pinot Noir: 100% Pinot Noir. Wild strawberries that give rich red fruit flavors and has baking spices interwoven with the lush body with a fresh finish.

2017 Merlot: (cornflower on label) 100% Merlot. The Merlot has soft cassis flavors with baking spices and a sweet blueberry pie finish.

2017 Cabernet Sauvignon: (scabiosa flower on the label) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It hits the palate with black cherry preserve deliciousness and a hint of vanilla bean and toasted oak with dark cocoa powder on the gently structured finish.

 

 

Château des Capitans Vertical Tasted on September 5th, 2018

-2017: 100% Gamay. Deeply concentrated fruit with firm structure and is tightly wound… needs more time but there is a depth of complexity that is very intriguing.

2016: 100% Gamay. Fresh raspberry and strawberries with juicy, mouth watering fruit and lovely dried herbs on the nose. Classic.

2015: 100% Gamay. A great vintage (often compared to 2009) with licorice and tar that had hints of smoldering earth and a shapely body with  a long, expressive finish.

2011: 100% Gamay. Easy going structure with round body, aromas of freshly fallen autumn leaves and fresh berries.

-2009: (from magnum bottle) 100% Gamay. Incredible weight, elegance and generosity all wrapped up with immense complexity with forest floor and tobacco leaf and a fantastically superb length of flavor.

 

 

Domaine de la Colletière Tasted on September 6th, 2018

-2015 Domaine de la Colletière, Beaujolais, France: 100% Gamay. A wine producer who we visited that makes Beaujolais AOC wines for Duboeuf who converted to organic in 2005. It was a wonderful experience to have a lunch made from their gardens and animals from their farm while enjoying the company of the harvesters that were picking the 2018 vintage. This 2015 that was served with lunch was fruit forward, easy drinking, round, spicy and finished with concentrated cherries. A perfect wine to share with the Perol family (producers of Domaine de la Colletière) and the harvesters that loyally come back every year mainly because of their great meals filled with tons of food that satisfy the soul.

 

Domaine des Chenevières (MâconVillages) Tasted September 7th, 2018

-2017 Domaine des Chenevières, Mâcon-Villages: 100% Chardonnay. Zingy quince with lemon confit and a powerful white stony minerality that belied Mâcon-Villages but it was explained that it came from a superior site.

 

 

 

Le Clos Devoluet-Durand (PouillyFuissé) Tasted September 7th, 2018

-2017 Le Clos Devoluet-Durand ‘Les Verchères’, PouillyFuissé: 100% Chardonnay. Exotic fruit such as green mango, papaya and citrus flower with a thrilling amount of tension from mouth-watering acidity and a lime zest finish.

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You Can’t have a Rainbow without Rain

Once we get to a certain place in our lives we sometimes find ourselves revisiting places we had once thought we would never see again. This was my experience going back to one of the most beautiful coastlines in the US, and some might say the world, Big Sur, in the Central Coast of California.

I was first there around 20 years ago…I find it odd to say 20 years ago, but I guess that is what starts happening when you hit your 40s. I was newly married, us only knowing each other a couple months before we tied the knot at City Hall. Not the best decision to make, but what can I say? I was a romantic and I had a lot of issues I was not dealing with at the time. Since I was working a couple of jobs since my first day of living in New York City, I hadn’t had the chance to visit a lot of places – actually, I barely went on a day field trip to somewhere local like the Bronx Zoo, and I didn’t grow up with a family in the traditional sense, so I didn’t have many experiences traveling as a kid. So it was a big deal for me to go out to California, to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, to be part of something, finally, with a marriage; but when we don’t look at the hard issues that plague us from our childhood, we will most certainly make choices based on our dysfunction and not on the healthy future we are trying to build. A few years later, the marriage ended when my then husband had an affair and my world came crumbling down… a ton of bricks hit me and it took a long time to process what had happened, why it had happened, and just to do damage control.

In many ways I felt I never experienced Big Sur during my initial visit because I had so much pain, anger and complete lack of self worth that I was trying to bury deep inside of myself that it was difficult to feel the beauty of the place.

Edna Valley Vineyard

My recent chance to go back out to see Big Sur involved a trip to Edna Valley Vineyard winery – I had actually sold these wines back in the day when I worked on the distribution side of the wine business in New York City and they were always wines that could sell themselves (balanced, elegant, and over-delivering on price). Edna Valley is a bewitching place with gorgeous farmland that has volcanic mountains throughout giving it a dramatic look; it is over 2 hours away from Big Sur and just south of the charming city of San Luis Obispo.

Kamee Knutson

I was able to spend a lot of quality time with Kamee Knutson, winemaker of Edna Valley Vineyard, and despite it being a great opportunity to gain deeper knowledge about the wines that I had already admired (and it didn’t hurt that they had one of the most stunning tasting rooms I have ever seen) it was just an amazing experience to connect with someone who was always present and giving… from the first moment I met her, she insisted on taking off her sunglasses, even though the sun was directly in her eyes and she hadn’t slept that much due to the fact that they had just started harvest, so she could “connect” – and I was thrilled to know she was a yoga teacher on the side.

Kamee is a flame… I was drawn to her warmth and light… I could tell she had a brilliant mind and a hell of a lot of experience but her main priority was to be open and to make those around her feel good. I can see why many people think she is much younger than her actual age because she has a large amount of enthusiasm and approachability that many of us lose as time takes its toll on us.

In one moment, during lunch, I was talking to her about vintages and asked her about when she goes back and re-tastes different years if she relives what she went through? Kamee immediately talked about the intense emotion tasting past vintages can evoke and she recalled recently tasting the 2011. It was one of those hellish years where many producers had to make the decision between salvaging what they could save by picking early or taking the gamble to let the grapes hang and possibly improve through time – she picked the latter and was rewarded with balanced wines from a ferociously tough year. But Kamee said she learned a lot through such an extremely stressful experience… she mainly learned that she had what it took to make such tough decisions, especially when she was surrounded by the opposing pull of colleagues who were playing it safe.

“If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” -Dolly Parton

After our discussion, I realized what makes Kamee such a bright light is that she takes each moment for what it is and she opens herself up to it – and when she makes that decision every day, she takes in the good and the bad with the benefit of making the soundest choices at the time. I could not help but think as she vividly described the 2011 vintage as she was telling her story that her present nature made it possible for her to make the best choice, and how I could not really remember Big Sur during my first visit because I was not allowing myself to be present in life at that time. I think 20 years ago I was disconnected from so many experiences because I was terrified of all of the darkness that could come up; I was denying myself of getting to the point where I could enjoy the simple joys that had surrounded me everyday.

Despite my daily struggle to live a life that is ever present, I do have my moments when I feel like I don’t have the strength to keep that intention… but when I meet someone like Kamee, I am given a real life reminder that a flame needs to be exposed to oxygen to thrive and if you try to protect it too much from the elements, it will be extinguished.

 

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Edna Valley Vineyard Wines Tasted on August 8th & 9th 2018

 The Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast wines sources their grapes from Monterey County to Santa Barbara County.

2017 Central Coast, Rosé, California: Blend of Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre. This rosé had brambly fruit with fresh acidity and spice on the energetic finish. A fun rosé!

-2017 Central Coast, Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. An ideal pairing is a seafood bake feast (we had one on the beach) and this bright Sauvignon Blanc. It had a mouthwatering lemon peel flavor and hints of green mango with a nice amount of flesh on the body along the refreshing finish.

 –2016 Central Coast, Chardonnay, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. A balanced Chardonnay that had juicy peach notes with only a touch of spice that had a moderate body and baked apple on the finish. This is one of their most popular wines and I can see why!

2016 Central Coast, Pinot Noir, Central Coast AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. Black cherry and dried flowers made this wine delicious from first sniff and it had an intense energy that carried through to give it a bright lift.

 2016 Central Coast, Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast AVA, California: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petite Sirah, 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Syrah. This wine had everything with boysenberry tart flavors, spice cake and shapely tannins that gave it a structure that balanced the generous fruit.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Winemaker Series Wines are only available in their tasting room and express the unique characteristics of specific appellations within the Central Coast.

2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Rosé, Edna Valley AVA, California: Blend of Syrah, Pinot Noir & Grenache. This rosé definitely kicked it up to the next level with wild strawberries, salty minerality and orange blossoms making the view of the volcanic mountains of Edna Valley even that much more enchanting. A velvety texture with a zing of tart cherry on the finish made this rosé a food-friendly companion.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. Sourced from their “Heritage Block” of Chardonnay planted on its own roots in 1973 (not grafted), the combination of the Tepesque clone, climate and vine age results in lower yields with more concentrated flavors. Ripe nectarines with a touch of crème brûlée and nutmeg with a fleshy, sultry body that had a long, flavorful finish.

 2017 Winemaker Series Heritage, Fleur de Edna Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Wente Chardonnay clone was used which retains its acidity and gives the wine a delicate floral note. Although this wine is “Chablis-like” in its style, it is 100% Edna Valley cool climate Chardonnay and shows the diversity of the various micro-climates in the area. Lemon zest, green melon and an intoxicating perfume that had a fierce, linear body that was taut and exciting.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Pinot Noir, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Pinot Noir. The Central Coast is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir country and this ‘Winemaker Series’ Pinot Noir from Edna Valley is proof of that. This wine is a special beauty that gives layers of stunning aromatics such as lilacs and cardamom with restrained fruit of wild cherries that has a long, linear finish that was impressive with its delicate nature.

2015 Winemaker Series Heritage, Meritage, Paso Robles AVA, California: 43% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 9% other select varieties. Lush plum pie and cinnamon notes with gravelly earth that finished with tannins that were as smooth as silk.

 

Edna Valley Vineyard Reserve wines are made from the top selection of their grapes of the Central Coast.

2015 Reserve, Chardonnay, Edna Valley AVA, California: 100% Chardonnay. The Reserve Edna Valley is their richest Chardonnay, keeping in mind that their overall style is fresh and restrained. Kamee Knutson, winemaker for Edna Valley, called this the “Dolly Parton” of her Chardonnay wines and I thought that was the ideal descriptor. Dolly Parton may have been mostly known for her superficial outside appearance but she is a brilliant, extremely talented woman (writing many hits for other singers) who has quietly given large amounts of money to charities over many decades; so there is a lot more than meets the eye. The same can be said for this wine with its immediately satisfying notes of caramelized pineapple, salt water taffy and an underlying wet stone note that makes this wine regally decadent with an inner core that is elegant and all about being a class act.

2014 Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles AVA, California: 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 2% Viognier. Dark cocoa powder, fresh violets, smoky cedar embers and beautiful cassis made this wine hard to resist just by the nose and delivered plenty of acidity, elegant structure and character to the intensely concentrated fruit along the expressively delightful finish.

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The Road that will Last

Rambunctious laughter along with the faint smell of Pringles snack chips drifted around the huge bus that was speeding down the main roads from Venice to Bologna in Italy. One would think we were a bunch of long-time friends as we chuckled at the idea of the bus driver pulling over because the lower hatch, which kept our luggage in the lower compartment area, wasn’t completely shut, imagining our baggage sprawled along the highway. But we weren’t friends, or colleagues; we weren’t even acquaintances… we were complete strangers who all shared one thing in common: our plans to travel home that day got completely derailed.

Vin Natur

I had just finished a trip to Veneto, Italy to take workshops with Vin Natur (an organization that defines the parameters of making natural wines), started by one of the founding fathers of natural wine Angiolino Maule. While there, I delved into their research and work to deliver consistently high quality across the board while making wines naturally. I ended up blind tasting over 150 natural wines, mainly from Italy, while surrounded by the beautiful carvings in the monastery where the events were held, in the charming town of Vicenza, which was a reflection of the grand ideals these wines lived up to… it was an incredible experience with global wine experts from around the world in attendance.

Traveling Home

At the end of these work trips, I am always exhausted because I give every ounce of energy I have to the task at hand; also, being away from my husband takes its toll and I start to get homesick so I was looking forward to getting home at soon as I could. I arrived early at the Marco Polo airport in Venice (an international airport I have flown in and out of many times) because it is notorious for being a relatively small airport that is consistently overwhelmed by the number of travelers that pass through it. I have heard of many people missing flights out of Venice, despite their early arrival, because of the copious, seemingly endless lines that one needs to navigate just to get anywhere near their gate. But on this particular morning, it was not that bad and I actually got to the gate quite early, only to find out shortly afterwards that there was going to be an hour delay.

Although I did not look forward to staying an extra hour in the cramped Venice airport, it should have still been possible to catch my connecting flight in Dublin, Ireland… then came the dreaded news that there was going to be a 2 hour delay which unsettled my stomach – I would not be able to make my connection to New York City. I scrambled to look for later flight options out of Dublin, but before I knew it, people around me were saying, “The flight is canceled!” What made this particular situation even more stressful was the idea that there were no representatives from our airline, Aer Lingus, in the Venice airport and to make matters even more complicated, there was a language barrier that made it difficult for us to understand the situation from the Italian airport employees. When my fellow passengers and I approached the desk in a desperate plea to get answers to our fate, we were met with such perplexing replies as, “You need to figure it out with them” to which a few of my fellow passengers shouted “Aren’t YOU them!?!” All of us on that canceled flight quickly realized that we could only rely on each other… we needed to get to know each other quickly, look out for each other, share information, and most importantly, make sure that no one was left behind.

Strength in Like Minded People

Angiolino Maule and his colleagues got to a similar point when they realized that the only way they could improve and promote natural wines was to depend on each other. Angiolino is a legend with a loyal following but his legacy is not just about his own family winery, but he is passionately trying to bring integrity back to the world. He has gathered a diverse group of people to sit on the executive committee of Vin Natur, ranging from other natural winemakers to scientists to former commercial winemakers, which oversees a membership of over 200 who benefit from the research and resources of the collective group. Vin Natur expects their members to not only keep their production methods within their guidelines to be considered a natural wine, but they also expect the wines to be fault free. They believe both of these ideals can live in harmony when like minded people combine their energies.

It was interesting to learn that in 2016, 4 of their members’ wines were found to have pesticides when they analyzed 150 samples from their group, as the producers were genuinely shocked. Later on it was found that a couple of producers were buying “organic” treatments from a company that did indeed include pesticides in these treatments and so those producers stopped working with that company. A year later, none of the samples contained any of the 188 different pesticides that Vin Natur has identified, and as a group they were happy to give the producers that had tested positive for pesticides in 2016 another chance, which in 2017 they passed the analyses with flying colors having no pesticides. Despite the group taking any sort of misstep against their rules seriously, with possible revocation of membership, they give their members a chance to redeem themselves the next year as many of these small producers simply need help and guidance, and in the above case, they need to be protected from unscrupulous companies trying to make a quick buck.

Back in the Venice airport, I was shoving a caprese sandwich and a large can of Pringles (I was not limiting myself to the travel size this time!) down my throat because we were given a “one hour” lunch break before we had to return to board a bus that would take us to Bologna to catch a flight that would get us to Dublin around 10pm, to connect with hopefully other flights to get us home the next morning… but within the first 15 minutes of our hour long break, one of the other passengers grabbed my arm and said, “The bus is leaving now!” I was on the phone with my husband, who I was catching up with at the time while trying to eat the fastest meal of my life, so I told him, “I gotta go!” and hung up the phone as I raced outside. I couldn’t blame the Venice airport staff for wanting to get rid of us as soon as possible, albeit with a “f@(k you” look on their face as we loaded the bus; earlier, a couple of the passengers understandably flipped out on that same staff who were really just trying to relay the limited information they were given at the time. It was simply a bad situation for all parties involved. But if it wasn’t for my fellow passengers having my back, I would have been stranded in a very tough position.

All of Us Would Have Had Each Other

Once we got to Dublin, the staff at the Aer Lingus desk more than made up for what had happened and we ended up spending a free night at a nearby hotel, and before any of us knew it, it was the next morning and we were running to our gates to go back home, but not without having a moment to say goodbye to each other. One of the things that most of us had major anxieties about was the thought of having to spend the night in the airport and all of us expressed our relief that it was not the case in our farewell. But one of the women said, “It would have been fine because all of us would have had each other.” And I found out that many of us had envisioned all of us sleeping in a circle with our bags piled up in the middle, protected by our collective tribe. It was bittersweet to say goodbye in that moment, as I knew we would never see each other again, but it renewed my faith that there are people who wholeheartedly believe in the power of community – even if it is only for a 24-hour span while trying to get back home.

That is why Vin Natur will succeed where individual producers have failed in the long term. They are not taking the easy road, but by gathering and preserving a group that is trying to accomplish a lofty goal, it is the road that will last.

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Vin Natur Wines Tasted on June 14th & 15th, 2018

It is always complicated to taste a large amount of wines blind within a short amount of time, and so, the following wines weren’t the best of the lot per se, but just stood out in that moment as some may have needed more decanting than others. Of course, considering that the majority of the Vin Natur members are located in Italy, the below list should not indicate that a particular country is better at making natural wines than others.

The following list is only in the order of how the wines were presented in the blind tasting.

-2016 Vini Conestabile della Staffa, “Il Brioso”, Umbria, Italy: Blend of Grechetto & Trebbianco Toscano. This frizzante white wine was absolutely delicious with a mineral drive, mouthwatering acidity and zesty finish.

2016 Tenuta Belvedere, “Wai”, Lombardy, Italy: 70% Pinot Nero and 30% Riesling Italiaco. Another frizzante knock-out with fierce minerality that had a tart, lively edge and a lifted finish.

2016 Il Cavallino di Maule Sauro, “Pri”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Sauro Maule, no relation to Angiolino Maule, is one of Angiolino’s students who made him proud by being one of the top wines, scored highly by all the judges. This white wine was generous and complex with pure fruit and bright acidity.

2016 Marina Palusci Az. Agr., “Senzaniente”, Abruzzo, Italy: 100% Montepulciano. Elegant wine (I know it is strange to say this with the Montepulciano variety) that gives pretty fruit, minerality and good energy.

2017 Lamoresca di Rizzo Filippo, “Nerocapitano”, Sicily, Italy: 100% Frappato. Nimble yet concentrated with red and black fruit and a touch of earth, good structure and shape along the long length.

2014 Tenuta Canto alla Moraia, “San Sereno”, Tuscany, Italy: 40% Sangiovese, 20% Colorino, 20% Malvasia Nera and 20% Foglia Tonda. The nose was fantastic, complex and elegant, with bright fruit and floral notes with a round body.

-2016 Cantina Margò, “Bianco Regio”, Umbria, Italy: 100% Trebbiano. This wine would not be for everyone but I really liked the oxidative quality as it was done well. Rich nutty and spicy notes and lovely minerality on the finish.

2016 La Biancara Soc. Agr., “Pico”, Veneto, Italy: 100% Garganega. Serious natural wine fans will know this wine… from the man himself, Angiolino Maule, and his top wine “Pico”. I scored this wine high on “authentic character” and said “great sense of minerality” which was evident from first sip to finish. Orange peel and beautiful fruit expression made this wine a pleasure to taste and it had a great zing throughout.

2017 Domaine de Courbissac, “L’Orange”, Languedoc, France: 70% Marsanne with a blend of Muscat, Terret and Grenache Gris. This orange wine was just so enjoyable to drink with notes of orange blossom and chalk with an overall elegant, pristine quality.

-2015 Klabjan, “Malvazija”, Istria, Slovenia: 100% Malvasia. This orange wine scored third to highest when I tasted it blind and it was my favorite orange wine. I have no experience with Slovenian wines and considering two other Slovenian producers scored highly for me as well, Reia and Kmetija Štekar, I’m thinking I better seek more out. This wine was multifaceted with flowers, stone fruit, minerality and it was vibrant with an extraordinarily long finish. It was a WOW wine!

-2014 Barale, “Castellero” Barolo, Piedmont, Italy: 100% Nebbiolo. Pristine fruit with red cherry, rose oil and smoldering earth with a long finish shaped by well etched tannins.

-2011 Podere Giocoli, “Alione” Chianti, Tuscany, Italy: 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo. A lovely nuanced wine that showed the beauty when Sangiovese and Canaiolo work together with overall finesse that finished with an intoxicating smell of wild flowers.

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Co-Fermentation – Being Our Best Selves Together

America is a crazy experiment when it comes to mixing a diversity of races and ancestries without one distinctive culture uniting all of us. It is messy, chaotic and just plain scary at times… the fierce, in your face, clashes we have and the constant debate over ‘where does freedom of expression end and the safeguard of a society begin’ seems to never resolve itself. These thoughts were intensified by a documentary I saw recently that addressed the last years of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – a beloved American civil rights leader who, according to his closest friends and colleagues, was a great man who had his own moments of doubt and conflict.

Talbott Vineyards

It was serendipitous that I would find myself in the Talbott Vineyards cellar with winemaker David Coventry talking about the brighter future of Talbott based on a new Pinot Noir which co-ferments 3 different types of clones instead of fermenting each different clone separately and then blending them together… this wine was the only one that could be co-fermented successfully, in David’s opinion, because it was from the best grapes that were all ready at the same time.

Co-Fermentation

Co-fermenting grapes, not only from different clones but from different varieties, is not a new practice; actually it is an ancient one. It was common for small producers in traditional winemaking countries, such as Italy, to have a “field blend” of varieties that were drastically different – even with red and white varieties – and wine producers would pick them all together and toss them all into a vessel to ferment together. As one can imagine, this was more for practical purposes for struggling producers who were just working with the hodgepodge of grape vines that were planted by the previous generations – many of them not even identified. Also, another reason for co-fermentation was due to the idea that one variety seemed to help out a weakness of another while it went through the process.

It was interesting to hear David talk about the idea of co-fermentation as the ideal way of making a Pinot Noir when dealing with high quality grapes that reached a balanced state all at the same time. As some of you California wine lovers may already know, Talbott Vineyards is known for raising the identity of the Monterey area as a high quality winemaking AVA (American Viticultural Area) and so its reputation is set, but bringing on David Coventry as the head winemaker, a man who believes in upping the bar for excellence everyday, a couple years ago is a signal that Talbott has many more achievements in the wine world to come… it is exciting to think what the future holds.

I was lucky enough to get a tiny preview of their future with David as he tasted us on various barrels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in their cellar. When it was Pinot Noir time, he saved the most thrilling for last and that was a wine, the name of it not determined yet, that had the 3 different clones co–fermented as discussed above. As we tasted it, I was blown away… it had everything… intense aromatics, fleshy fruit, lush body, elegant structure and fresh acidity, and then as the finish wafted around in my head, I could hear David explain that it was on another level from the other samples because of the “unified flavor set”.

Better Ability to Co-Ferment

David went on to discuss that what made this 3 clone co-fermented wine possible was Talbott’s project to replant old vines with better clones that were appropriate for each plot. His response to people who are horrified that they are taking out the old vines: “What is important is the piece of ground and how you respect it and focus its power.”

It is interesting when I travel to other countries, and I love to travel, that some people I meet express how terrifying the US seems from the various news clips of the innumerable clashes and they feel sorry for me to be living in such a place. But honestly, I would not want to have been born in any other country because, despite knowing all the tough issues we face on a daily basis, I would never have had the opportunity to be exposed to a multitude of ways of life, mindsets, or expressions of being if I had not been born and continued to live my 43 years here. There is a price for everything and the hard road of trying to create a world where everyone freely expresses their true inner self is the road that I will choose every time. But I do think we can have our own successful co-fermented moments… when we are surrounded by people who decide to be their best and we are all at that ideal, balanced place in our life. Those are the moments that kept Dr. King going and those moments will keep hope alive for all of us.

As younger generations evolve to the next stage, like the old vines getting replanted by newer vines that have a better ability to co-ferment, our diverse society will have more of those ideal moments of co-fermentation.

 

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 Tasting of Talbott Vineyards Wines on August 6th & 7th, 2018

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The ‘Kali Hart’ wines are Talbott’s most fruit-forward expression of their Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. This wine was everything that one wants from their weekly Chardonnay with lush exotic fruit that was balanced by bright citrus peel with a sense of place on the finish. A truly delightful wine that hits the spot every time.

 

2016 ‘Kali Hart’, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. Sometimes it can seem impossible to find a very nice Pinot Noir at a reasonable price… but this ‘Kali Hart’ will not break the bank to buy a bottle. Talbott winemaker David Coventry said that all of us have a section in our brain marked “yum” and this wine “pushes that button”. Ripe raspberry with baking spice and hint of Tahitian vanilla bean with a texture that felt like ribbons of silk.

 

2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Sleepy Hollow vineyard brought attention to well-made wine from Monterey, especially from the sub-appellation Santa Lucia Highlands and Talbott is the producer who started it all. This Chardonnay was laced with intense minerality that had lemon curd flavors that brought a creamy quality balanced by vigor that finished with a touch of marzipan.

-2016 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. I love, love this wine and I must admit I have a weakness for great Pinot Noir. Multi-layered wild red berries with a lush body that had a firmer structure than the 2015 below. It had an incredible depth of flavor and complexity with plum pie and nutmeg flavors that had hints of gravelly earthiness and it was stunning in its superb length of flavor.

-2015 Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. The 2015 had higher toned wild berry notes than the 2016 that were delicate and pretty in a more ethereal experience. A light and nimble wine that caught me off guard having power in its staying power as it danced in my head all night long.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Chardonnay, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Chardonnay. The Diamond T 14-acre (6 hectares) vineyard was planted with the Corton-Charlemagne Chardonnay clone in 1982 by Robb Talbott in a virtually soil-free chalky shale on a 1,200-foot mountaintop (366 meters). A lovely citrus blossom nose with hints of acacia and chalky soil that had lots of finesse and energy on the palate with marked acidity and fresh lemon flavors that were balanced with a creamy body along the long, pure finish.

2014 Diamond T Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Monterey AVA, California: 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. From the Diamond T vineyard as well from a selection of Dijon clone grapes. This is a cool climate, producing aromatically complex Pinot Noir that is balanced by low yields for deeper concentration. At first, this wine was brooding with black cherries and scorched earth notes but it transformed in the glass with cinnamon bark, fresh cranberries and a stony minerality that danced on the top of the darker, more sultry, flavors. The velvety texture combined with the complex, dense and bright notes made this a world class show stopper that continued all its delights along an extremely long and expressive finish.

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Refusing the Only Two Choices We were Given in Life

Many people migrate from one area to another for various reasons. Perhaps they have a dire situation, or it is a chance for a better life for one’s children, or sometimes someone just wants their voice to be heard… to be valued beyond the stereotypes that have been given. We are living in times where women from all over the world are pleading for a seat at the table and they don’t want to have to move to a far off land just to be given a chance to have their opinion recognized. There are some women able to leave their homes never looking back, depending on their situations, and others that yearn for the places and people of their childhood and wished that they weren’t essentially forced to leave.

Syrah in Sicily

Sicily is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world when it comes to native grape varieties (with already 76 in production) yet wine producers are discovering more and more each day and they believe the final number will surpass over 100. Despite there being a handful of international varieties still being made by some Sicilian producers, as there is a big demand for them on the Sicilian domestic market, there is one that stands out as doing extremely well in certain vineyard areas in Sicily: Syrah. The best Sicilian Syrah wines are generous and approachable with refined structure and fresh acidity that has layers of flavors and aromas.

Sallier de La Tour

I was able to sit down and have a lunch with Costanza Chirivino to taste her Sallier de La Tour wines from Western Sicily which has been in her family since 1756, located only 40 minutes outside of the multi-cultural city of Palermo. Her family estate became part of the legendary winemaking group, Tasca d’Almerita, and so there are more resources to help bring these wines, with a long history, to other wine consumers beyond her home country.

Although Costanza has known the Tasca d’Almerita family for many years and is excited to learn from their experience (as a more internationally established wine producer) she is not afraid to express her own opinion and bring her own personality to the wines as is most noted in the top wine, ‘La Monaca’, from the designated quality area Monreale DOC, and comes from a strict selection of their Syrah picked from the best vineyards. The label interestingly enough depicts a very determined looking nun holding a wine grape bunch as a crown has been lifted from her head. It was the first thing that jumped out at me when I saw the bottles and I was utterly drawn into its possible meaning just like how the ‘La Monaca” Syrah drew me in with its deep complexity.

Many of the other wine labels (which have been recently changed) from Sallier de La Tour honors her ancestral past balanced by a modern, playful creativity, such as having clothing from centuries past adorn bodies that have plants as their heads which represent the herbs that surround Costanza’s wine estate. But ‘La Monaca’ stood out, and it was an especially important design created by Costanza as it takes the idea of a Sicilian aristocratic daughter who only has two choices: to be a wife living according to her future husband’s whim, or to devote herself to the convent. But this nun has a determined look in her eyes, one that I could see flicker in Costanza. It reminded me of an old lesson that is based on avoiding the feeling of being trapped in a life of duality (only given two options, neither of which are good) that benefits no one… but the duality exists for so many of us.

Progress Leading to a Balanced World

We are living in tumultuous times, and that is because some people, no matter if it is about sex, race, or status holding them back, don’t want their only two options to involve leaving their home or having no voice. Recently I have seen with my own eyes women in Italy standing up to be heard, and the results sometimes, unfortunately, have had a violent outcome… but there are many Italian men listening and wanting to grow.

No matter a person’s situation, one will never find lasting happiness presuming their superiority of others; it can only come by acknowledging that all of us need each other at our best. In a world that suffers with the population either being overwhelmed, or being underwhelmed, we need to spread out the responsibilities, and ultimately, ground ourselves in the idea that progress will not rip away the past but just make the future more balanced.

 

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Tasting of Sallier de La Tour Wines with Costanza Chirivino on July 23rd, 2018

***All photos of Sallier de La Tour estate (above 1st & 3rd photos with the below photo are all credit to Sallier de La Tour)

Sallier de La Tour may be confusing because it sounds French but it is a family name that goes way back to ancestors that came from Piedmont which is a region that borders France. Also, the name ‘La Monaca’ which they us for their top selection of Syrah is the original name of the winery, which is now Costanza’s home, and pays hommage to her ancestors – again a lovely gesture that illustrates that moving forward doesn’t mean forgetting the past.

2017 Inzolia, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Inzolia. This local white grape variety was very expressive on the nose with orange blossoms and ripe peach with a hint of green almond on the finish.

2017 Grillo, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Grillo. A man made cross of Catarratto and Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) that was created in Agrigento, Sicily in 1869. In my mind, it is one of the most successful crossings and it has become a popular white variety among quality producers. Zingy acidity with lemon confit and nectarine peel with rosemary on the mouthwatering finish.

2015 Nero d’Avola, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Nero d’Avola. This is considered as the king of Sicilian local red varieties. An enticing nose with lilacs, allspice and fresh cherries with round tannins and a nice lift on the sustained length.

2015 Syrah, Sicilia DOC, Italy: 100% Syrah. Black pepper with brooding fruit that has a linear body with lots of drive and hints of toast on the finish.

2015 ‘La Monaca’, Syrah, Monreale DOC, Sicily, Italy: 100% Syrah. This is an incredible Syrah and a great example of why Sicily deserves to be on the list of top places that grow this variety. A multi-textural body that had an incredible sense of place with river rocks with Mediterranean herbs, wild blackberries and a hint of sweet tobacco, all wrapped up with finely etched tannins. This wine is shockingly good since the suggested retail price is around $35 (as well as the other wines being only $14-$15) but that is the reality when an unknown winery is trying to find their place in a competitive market.

Also, the ‘La Monaca’ comes from the Jato Valley within the Monreale DOC which produces the best Syrah for Sallier de La Tour.

 2016 ‘La Monaca’, Syrah, Monreale DOC, Sicily, Italy: 100% Syrah. This 2016 was just bottled but my goodness was it showing well and not displaying any type of shock. A smoldering earth note with richer, darker fruit than the 2015 that still has plenty of acidity and elegant shape to the tannins. This wine had an overall harmony to it that really impresses being so young in its life that displayed alternating layers of savory and sweet fruit with a delightful balance that continued across the long expressive finish.

 

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Telling Our Vintage Story

The most beautiful women I have known during my 43 years on Earth have all had one thing in common: at any given time, they showed their vintage. Race, background, nationality, social and economic standing, education, sense of style were all different, and nothing else was a commonality except that during the time I knew them they were completely transparent when it came to where they were in their life. The idea of avoiding humiliation or seeking outside approval did not stop them from leading with an open heart… they talk openly about their faults, let every wrinkle and blemish shine to the sky, proudly walk in a body that had more problems some years than others yet it was all part of their vintage story, and they knew that if they spent their time trying to hide every little flaw then they couldn’t give joy and love to the world. A person in their presence would feel what they had survived, what they had sacrificed to take care of others; it was a beauty so deep that no photo or description could do it justice.

 Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP)

In the beginning of June, I attended a Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) seminar where five legendary Zin producers poured wines from single vineyards coming from 4 different areas, aka American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Paso Robles, Napa Valley, Russian River Valley, and Dry Creek Valley.

It was one of those riveting conversations where I knew that this was a living history of one of the most misunderstood grape varieties which the US made their own. Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood, and Doug Beckett, owner of Peachy Canyon Winery, kicked it off with the colorful history of the Zinfandel clone and the many decades of research that it took to match it to an ancient variety called Tribidrag, as well as other names, that records suggest was a wine enjoyed by Venetian nobility as early as the 1400s. Evidence pointed to its origins in Kaštela, Croatia – although those from the Balkan country Montenegro make a good case as its homeland; but geneticist Dr. Carole Meredith, the American who helped connect Tribidrag to Zinfandel with two Croatian colleagues, said that despite not knowing the grape’s exact origins, it seems most probable to come from somewhere along the Adriatic coast, and that some top grape geneticists believe it may be one of the 13 founder grapes from which all other grapes can be traced back.

As if that wouldn’t already have been a thrilling enough piece of information to learn, Randle Johnson, winemaker for Artezin Wines, who produced top Cabernet Sauvignon with The Hess Collection for 20 years and now mainly focuses on Zinfandel with their Artezin winery, said that one of the biggest misconceptions is that Zinfandel lacks versatility – if anything, it is one of the most versatile red grapes out there. Randle thought its multifaceted nature was one of its greatest strengths as well as one of its greatest weaknesses… he exclaimed, “it can be so many different things, and it has done such, and many people will still say they are not sure what it is supposed to be.”

Every Zinfandel Tells the Vintage Story

Then, despite having 20 inspirational points I thought I could walk away with as a writer, Julie Pedroncelli St. John, owner of Pedroncelli Winery, closed out the seminar – literally and figuratively. Julie spoke about her family’s long history of growing Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley that went back as far as 90 years and Pedroncelli has only had 3 winemakers: Julie’s grandfather, her uncle (from 1948 until 2013), and a woman from Catalonia, Spain, Montse Reece, who had worked with Julie’s uncle, John Pedroncelli, from 2007 until he passed in 2015. As the seminar was wrapping up, Julie said there was something very important she needed to share with us before they ended; when Julie asked Montse Reece recently what Zinfandel meant to her, Montse replied, “Every Zinfandel tells the vintage story” and Julie further explained that Zinfandel has the capacity to show everything it went through in a given year… drought, cooler or warmer weather, etc… Julie said, “Every time you have a bottle of our Zinfandel, it is telling a story.”

Taking In the Stages of Life 

Many of us are told that if we live a certain life and go about it in a particular way we will be happy, fulfilled, without serious bumps in the road… that is not true for many of us… there are things others never tell us (as they are hiding their own humiliation or pain) as the rug can be pulled out from under us in a multitude of ways. Life doesn’t go the way we plan, no matter if we were given a good start in life or not. Our first reaction is to cling to our youth for a chance to restart again – I think that is why there are so many products sold to make us look or feel young, so we can feel like we are reliving our life; but at the end of the day, it just creates more of an empty void of chasing an impossible goal that gets farther and farther with each year.

I think the secret to life is not making sure to check off certain boxes, because it will never turn out exactly the way we wanted it to… but it is the surrender to where we are right here and now. We do not shy away from our wrinkles, our bodies that have racked up miles, an overwhelmed mind that has witnessed lots of pain, anger, sadness as well as joy… we don’t try to be the outstanding vintage year after year, as that just gets too exhausting – life is really thrilling on its own, we just need to surrender to it.

This really hit home when Joel Peterson talked about the vineyard history of the wine he was pouring… it was called Dickerson because, for many years, it was owned by Bill Dickerson, a man Joel had known since he was 13 years old, who was regular at his father’s wine tasting group, who unexpectedly died in the tsunami caused by the Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 while Bill and his wife were vacationing in Phuket, an island in Thailand. In that moment I flashed back to 2006 on my honeymoon in Thailand, two years after the tsunami, walking on the beach in Phuket with a local talking to us about how quickly the huge tidal wave came without warning and how it destroyed many lives… and then it went back into the ocean just as quickly as it had appeared. The devastation was still obvious and the sense of shock among those who still lived in the area was evident.

Life is precious and when it will come to be our turn to pass, it will not be the polished moments that people who are close to us will remember… it will be the messy, complicated, vulnerable moments that were not about making ourselves look good, but were about connecting with those around us.

 

***The first photo was taken by my husband during our Honeymoon of the south west of Thailand near Phuket.

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ZAP Tasting on June 6th, 2018

“ZAP exists to preserve and celebrate an important part of our heritage. We highlight the unique and wonderful characteristics of the grape—Zinfandel —that helped settle the West. Today, Zinfandel is recognized as a world class wine, grown in virtually every winegrape growing region of California. ZAP’s programs and outreach activities showcase the legacy and potential of Zinfandel’s unique contributions to the world of wine.”

2016 Peachy Canyon Winery, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles AVA, California: 100% Zinfandel. Owner Doug Beckett briefly talked about the 3 districts in Paso Robles that has significance in his mind: Adelaida, Templeton Gap, and Willow Creek – although the grapes for this wine are bought from another long standing vineyard, he is in the process of buying a vineyard in Willow Creek so Peachy Canyon Winery will have vineyards in each of these AVAs and they can expand their single vineyard program. Doug said that Willow Creek (with more mountains, higher rainfall) gives a more restrained, fresher wine that he prefers in their youth and in general he said he liked drinking Zinfandel young – but Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson jumped in and said he was drinking various Zinfandels from 1990-1997 and that they were delicious. Doug is a big believer in dry-farming (non-irrigated vineyards) and many of his vineyards follow that practice.

This wine had juicy black cherry and spice with hints of scorched earth and a touch of white pepper with round tannins and plenty of acidity to make it a good pairing with a diverse array of foods. Only 400 cases made.

2015 Ravenswood Winery, Dickerson Vineyard, Napa Valley AVA, California: 100% Zinfandel. Founder Joel Peterson passionately spoke about his strong belief in the ageability of Zinfandel, and again, he was currently drinking many from the 1990s and finding them in fantastic shape. He said that if Zinfandel is made to age, not too ripe or watered back and it gets to the point where you can ferment it dry, it will have energy and vibrancy left, but if the energy has been taken out, it will have problems aging. This vineyard, once owned by his late friend Bill Dickerson, was passed on to Bill’s daughters but eventually sold to owners of Pinterest, which was fine with him as it would take someone with major resources to keep a vineyard in Napa with old vine Zinfandel (originally planted in 1920) as Cabernet Sauvignon growers are getting 3x, up to 4x, more for their grapes grown just up the street.

The vitality jumped out of this wine with high-toned red raspberries and vibrant floral notes, very aromatic, with some dried herbs and good structure with drive that gave it a long finish and indicates that this beauty will age with grace in the long term. Only 800 cases made.

Also, a couple of fun side notes… this vineyard is head-pruned (as well as dry-farmed), as the previous Willow Creek, because Zinfandel has larger clusters that sit on each other so trellising takes a lot of work and that is why many high-quality Zinfandel producers in California prefer head-pruned. The Dickerson vineyard was planted on leafroll affected rootstocks – and so the leafroll rootstock affects the metabolic character of the vine so it gets less photosynthetic capacity (processes light less efficiently) and so takes a lot longer to ripen – the acid stays up and the fruit stays within the red raspberry spectrum as opposed to many of the other Napa Zinfandel vineyards having more of a plummy note. And finally, in 1960, the most grown grape in Napa was Petite Sirah but Zinfandel was a close second so it was well-liked in Napa – but today Zinfandel only makes up 2% of the vineyards in Napa Valley.

2015 Artezin, Collins Vineyard, Russian River Valley AVA, California: 96% Zinfandel and 4% Carignane (Carignan). Winemaker Randle Johnson talked about the Collins family and their illustrious history with their Limerick Lane Winery and although the vineyards were sold off Michael Collins kept 8 acres (3.2 hectares), planted in 1934, and Artezin is fortunate enough to get half of those grapes to make this wine. Randle calls this a “tangent” wine as it does not have the “classic Zinfandel” characteristics such as the black pepper but it does have the red fruit, boysenberry deliciousness going on. He makes another Zin from Dry Creek which he said is classic. His Collins Vineyard in RRV and his Dry Creek just showed the sliver of the broad breadth of versatility that Zinfandel is capable of.

Crunchy red fruit with lilacs and bay leaf with fine tannins and an overall lightness of being while being concentrated at the same time. Only 400 cases.

2015 Pedroncelli, Bushnell Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley AVA, California: 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petite Sirah. Again, owner Julie Pedroncelli St. John’s family has been growing Zinfandel in Dry Creek for 90 years – going back 4 generations. Julie said the Pedroncelli wine style has always been Old World in style with a California twist. They grow hillside Zinfandel, both at their original 25 acres (10.1 hectares) of vineyards around their home ranch and this Bushnell vineyard is in the middle of Dry Creek Valley up on a hill, and it is considered an extension of the original vineyards; it was owned by her grandfather in the 1940s (they think it was planted around 1919 and re-planted in the 1990s), sold to his son-in-law and daughter in the 1950s, and they farmed it until 1990s and then Julie’s cousin Carol and her husband Jim Bushnell have tended the vineyard ever since.

Wild strawberries with baking spice and a hint of cocoa dust with deep concentration and textural complexity finishing with a note of black pepper. Only 1000 cases.

Also, interesting side notes… since Julie’s grandparents grew wine grapes 90 years ago they did have to suffer through Prohibition but found a way to survive by selling grapes to the head of households so they could make their own wine and it is still one of the few things not taxed in the US – up to 200 gallons. An the current winemaker, Montse Reece, likes to use yeast commonly used in Barolo because it is nice and slow and so pulls out a lot of nuances from the Zinfandel variety.

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When You Forget About the Human Aspect

Jean-Christophe Mau’s voice was filled with shock and sadness, yet determination to find a way to survive. It was during my lunch with him back in May, a lunch that included having him talk through a cell phone, on speaker, raised up above our table at a famous seafood place in Manhattan, New York City, called Docks. Just a few days earlier, one of the worst hailstorms in Bordeaux’s recent history came down fiercely, as only Mother Nature can do, with golf ball sized ice that decimated everything in their path. The lucky, and the unlucky, were decided within a matter of 15 minutes and when it was all over, Jean-Christophe, owner and manager of Château Brown, said that 50% to 70% of his vines were damaged.

As one can imagine, in that instance, Jean-Christophe had the weight of the world on his shoulders, and despite all of the New York City wine buyers and writers at that table understanding the gravity of the situation when we heard the news, he was still insistent on calling us and apologized profusely… he said that there were few things that could keep him from his NYC visit and unfortunately one of those unfathomable things happened.

Wine Knowledge

I have been around wine, talking and learning about it seriously, for almost 25 years… starting when I was a naïve 18 year old fresh “off the boat”, or my case a cheap plane flight, in NYC surrounded by people who knew a lot more than myself. Through the years I have learned a lot, as well as un-learned some things that have led me astray, as facts not only have a way of evolving and altering, but also, many of these facts were lacking a perspective in humanity.

Over the years, my frustrations at finding the same sort of prejudices and unfair generalizations that plague societies seep into wine as well made me get to the point where I no longer enjoyed wine… either I was going to leave it or I was going to start bringing the humanity back to it. I have to admit that I, shamefully, have said many ignorant things about wine in the past while trying to impress those who were more well-traveled, educated, and sophisticated than I was. Something deep down inside me, though, knew that it was not right to make similar sweeping statements about people – once we start to pick and chose who gets a fair shake at humanity, such as those who succeed get the negative sensational slant and those that are the downtrodden get an positive in-depth character analysis, we become no better than those strangers who throw unkind, biased words our way. In turn, we become part of the problem of deciding to take the humanity out of the discussion when it fits our purpose.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux has been the latest casualty of the unfair generalities in the world of wine. It is a warm, inviting place filled with many quality wine producers trying to create the best wine within a fair price point, but the flood of articles, year in year out, focusing on 1% of the most expensive wines – whether to praise them or demonize them – get placed into a group message about a pretentious Bordeaux. I understand that writing quality fair and balanced work is becoming an endangered species: unless there is an angle to it that is click bait, no one is going to see it; publications are facing the dire choice between writing well-balanced articles and potentially going out of business and writing something a bit more controversial and surviving – hoping that readers will be able to keep it in perspective on their own. So Bordeaux wines have become one of those easy, controversial tropics – accusations about their greed and lack of excitement are over-exaggerated while the producers making soulful wines at an attainable price have to spend too much time trying to defend themselves in export markets.

Château Brown

Jean-Christophe Mau

Château Brown is one of those wine producers… located in the heart of Bordeaux white wine country, Pessac-Léognan in Graves. The name may seem odd for a French wine producer but “Brown” pays respect to the Scottish wine trader, John Lewis Brown, who settled in Bordeaux shortly after the Revolution, in 1795, and bought a wine estate that was dated to have vines there since the 12th century. The Mau family has owned Château Brown since 2004, and despite not being part of the Brown lineage, they share the founder’s passion for placing a great amount of resources, time and energy into their vineyards as well as the winery. Their top white Château Brown sells out almost every year because of their fair pricing in combination with the reputation of the area; their often times overlooked reds and second wines have a beautiful finesse, generosity of fruit with good precision which illustrates how these wines have come a long way in their quality while staying true to the heartbeat of this château – managing vines that ultimately create elegant wines. In a 2013 interview with The Drinks Business, Jean-Christophe Mau said his most treasured possession was, “the land of Château Brown” which hits home the fact that not only was there a physical devastation caused by that ferocious hail storm but also emotional trauma.

Speaking the Language of the Heart

Through time, I decided that I would speak my wine truth as I spoke my truth in life, not tolerating any form of character assassinations on a person, or group of people, based on their nationality, or any other exterior factor, that was influenced by the past or present gossip circulating. If I was going to be a person that truly fought the good fight in the world, I needed to start holding myself accountable in the wine world. And so I started to write stories that were based on the humanity of the people involved, mainly to remind myself so I didn’t lose hope. I thought no one would be interested, and happily I was wrong… many of us are stepping up to demand a more balanced story – to me that is where being a knowledgeable wine lover truly lies… in the constant reminder that it is impossible to know everything and you don’t need to speak someone’s language to understand them… you just need to remember that he/she is just as human as you.

***2nd, 3rd and 4th photo are all credit to Château Brown

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Château Brown Tasting on May 30th, 2018

2015 La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc is the second wine of  Château Brown and comes from the same vineyard yet are grapes that are more ideal for a fruitier, lighter style of a Pessac-Léognan white wine. Notes of lemon confit and nectarine with hints of spice and hazelnut make this wine delicious now although the nice backbone of acidity indicates that it could evolve nicely with more time.

2015 Château Brown Blanc, La Pommeraie de Brown Blanc, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Sémillon. I must admit that, at first, I thought I incorrectly heard the blend… the second wine has majority Sémillon and the first wine has a majority of Sauvignon Blanc. I may be incorrect, but during the time when my life mainly focused on selling Bordeaux wines in the NYC area, I was always told that, traditionally, top white Bordeaux was meant to be majority Sémillon – but Château Brown quickly sells out their top wine year after year so they are doing something right and the wine is damn good – also, Sauvignon Blanc brings that high acidity that makes wine built for longevity. Lovely notes of honeysuckle and white peach skin with hints of vanilla bean and marked acidity that gives a mouthwatering finish.

2014 La Pommeraie de Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot. This is the second wine to Château Brown’s red and although it is the whites that are legendary in the Pessac-Léognan area, in Graves, for those who like reds with more finesse and less extraction there are some real deals in this area of Bordeaux. A bright, moderate bodied wine with notes of red cherry and allspice that had gentle tannins that gave shape without rigidity.

2015 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: Blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 2%  Petit Verdot. But the complexity level was really kicked up a notch with this first selection… intoxicating bouquet of licorice, blueberry tart and tapenade with more evident tannins that were structured like fine lace.

2012 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: Blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 46% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot. It may sound odd because this was not a top vintage but I was really loving this wine… perhaps that bottle just happened to be singing, or it was the pairing with the octopus that accompanied my Surf and Turf dish, or maybe, just maybe, its pure finesse and harmonious overall quality took me off-guard on a vintage that was not that popular. This wine seemed to have it all with a quiet elegance; richness of black berried fruit, complexity of smoldering earth, fine tannins that were completely integrated with bright acidity that lifted it on the long, expressive finish.

2009 Château Brown Rouge, Pessac-Léognan AOC, Graves, Bordeaux, France: 56% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot. Of course I was not shocked at all with this beauty that had velvety tannins, dusty earth, sweet tobacco leaf with a smoky finish that stayed in my head for several minutes.

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In a Little Snapshot in Time

On July 27, 1990, Debbie Baigrie thought she was just going to have a night out with her friends in Tampa, Florida – the first time doing so since the birth of her second child… it ended up with her getting shot in the mouth when some men harassed her for money as she walked to go back to her car alone … although she went through 40 dental procedures to rebuild her gums and teeth, the mental healing was a much more arduous task. Later, she would find out that her assailant was a young man named Ian Manuel, hanging out with an older crowd, who shot her in panic… he was the only one who was caught. 3 days after the incident, he confessed to the crime and he was subsequently sentenced to life in jail… shockingly, he was only 13 years old.

Chablis & Oyster Pairing

Around a month ago, I went to a seminar pairing William Fèvre Chablis wines with oysters led by William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier and author & oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen at Seamore’s in NYC. At one point, Rowan said in regards to an oyster, “always catching it in a little snapshot in time” when the first oyster, paired with an every day drinking Chablis, had a lot more richness than expected. Rowan pointed out that the oyster had a purple edge and said that it was probably an indication that it was feeding like crazy during the spring, and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat, which sometimes happens. He then said that if he knew that it would be at this stage, he would have paired it with a richer wine in the lineup, such as one of the Grand Cru.

Like so many other wine nerds, I have of course been obsessed with Burgundy for most of my wine loving existence, over a couple of decades now, and despite loving oysters and enthusiastically eating them by the dozens when given the opportunity, I really didn’t think about them being like Burgundy wines. Since oysters are filter feeders, they are one of the ideal foods to express terroir, or in this case “merrior” as Rowan said. Also, there are 5 different species of oysters and they are affected by human influence, such as with wine and winemakers, as there are a few different ways to handle them; so pairing a different type of oyster with each wine that each had a distinctive expression of place and style, especially with the Premier Cru and Grand Cru single vineyard wines, made perfect sense. Chablis and oysters are generally a classic pairing, as you can imagine, but this seminar showed that one could take this pairing to a deeper level.

2009 vs 2016

It was a great experience to taste the 2009 and 2016 Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ in the same lineup and to experience the very different oysters that accompanied them. The 2009 was paired with an extreme oyster that usually wouldn’t be paired with any wine because it would overwhelm it, but in this case, the big, rich and multi-faceted 2009 had evolved to a place where it could take on such an oyster, unlike the 2016 version… not only was 2009 older, but it was given more opportunities to thrive in a contrasting vintage.

After his first year in jail, a 14 year old Ian Manuel ended up calling his victim Debbie Baigrie after seeing her phone number on his paperwork. He apologized and asked if he could write to her… she said yes and so their correspondence started and continued during his many years in jail – much of his sentence carried out in solitary confinement. Debbie was taken aback by his ability to express himself through language and the deep thoughts he conveyed through his written words. She encouraged him to educate himself as much as he could while in jail, and since his mother passed away while he was incarcerated, Debbie ended up becoming his adopted mother.

In 2006, after spending 16 years in jail, Ian was given the chance to challenge his sentence 6 years after a Supreme Court decision prohibited life sentences for juveniles charged with anything less than murder, with Debbie by his side. He was released that day and since then Debbie has been his biggest supporter to help him to adjust to society… to continue his education… to live up to his potential.

Mind Stays Frozen in a Snapshot

I first heard about Ian and Debbie’s story last year and it has stayed with me ever since. It made me think that if she had decided to keep her opinions about him frozen in that one snapshot in time, his life would have turned out differently and many of us wouldn’t have had the chance to be inspired by their story… if things had worked out differently, he may have been rotting away in solitary confinement, going slowly mad with no real human interaction. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have the strength that Debbie had to first start the correspondence. I hope I would… but as she said in an interview, she makes no bones about him being responsible for what he did, but he was only 13 years old.

What are the snapshots in time of ourselves we would like to forget and those that we would like to be remembered for? What are the snapshots of others that we hold on to? What world does our mind see? The one of the past? The one of the future? Maybe we are missing more than we know, right in front of us. We don’t see the potential. We don’t see the possibilities.

I was extremely impressed with the knowledge of oyster guru Rowan Jacobsen, but I was most impressed to see him acknowledge something that surprised him in the moment. I know how one can have blinders when having spent so much time preparing for a seminar (that was being officially recorded for a learning tool no less) and it takes so much strength to stay in the moment itself, many times fighting our nerves and/or insecurities. Not only was he aware that things did not go according to plan, but he admitted it as well, becoming a learning moment for all of us in the room.

The great Chablis wines, such as the Grand Cru, can be very deceptive in their youth… from a classic, cooler year they can be tight and hard with fierce acidity – none of the beautiful complex notes ready to reveal themselves. It is not always fair to judge their quality in that fledgling stage. It was like that moment when Debbie read Ian’s first letter… she was willing to look past a moment that actually caused her a tremendous amount of mental and physical pain… and decided she could take a tragic moment and make it an opportunity to do a lot more good in her life. When we are looking for our purpose, sometimes it comes in the most unlikely places but we have to be awake in that moment to allow what we thought we knew to pass so we can open our eyes to the beauty of the world in front of us.

 

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I participated in two Chablis tastings on May 22nd, 2018: the first was the above mentioned Chablis and Oyster pairing and the second was a Twitter Chat/Tasting later that night.

All Chablis is 100% Chardonnay which is interesting to note as many people who think they don’t like Chardonnay like Chablis; it is its own wine connected to a specific place with its ancient Kimmeridgean soil that is estimated to be around 150 million years old. Also, the Chablis district’s close proximity to Champagne provides a cooler climate than the rest of Burgundy and their wines are known for their high acidity and expression of a chalky minerality that can also be found in Champagne.

William Fèvre cellar master Didier Séguier said that they never use new oak for their Chablis wines because he noted that when you use new oak, you make Chardonnay; when you don’t, you make Chablis; expression of place, terroir, is their main goal.

Tasting of William Fèvre Chablis Wines on May 22nd, 2018

2017 William Fèvre, ‘Champs Royaux’, Chablis AOC, Limited Edition Sea: Pale color with citrus peel, grapefruit and bright acidity was matched by Rowan Jacobsen with a classic oyster since he saw this as a white bistro wine, and so, he chose a West Coast, Pacific, Hama Hama oyster that was from Hood Canal, Washington. The Hama Hama is also commonly found in France, giving notes of cucumber and watermelon rind, but this one threw Rowan off as I mentioned above as it was much fattier than expected. This Hama Hama had a purple edge that Rowan pointed out and said was an indication that it was probably feeding like crazy during the spring and because the waters were warming up recently, it started to convert all that it was feeding on into fat which sometimes happens – he actually said that if he knew that it was at this stage he would have paired it with the richer wines in the lineup, such as the Grand Cru. Rowan said that in regards to an oyster, you’re “…always catching it in a little snapshot in time.”

The new Limited Edition Sea Label will be released on August 5th, National Oyster Day, and the label depicts the oyster fossil soil (Kimmeridgian) which is credited for the mineral notes observed in Chablis wines. 2017 was a tough vintage as Chablis suffered from frost 15 nights in a row, but although it was a low yield they were able to produce classic wines with high acidity and intense energy.

2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montmains, Domaine: This Montmains 1er Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality and so Rowan said that he was thrilled to pair it with an East Coast, Eastern, oyster from Duxbury, Massachusetts (an area that is known for oysters) because of its intense saline minerality. He warned against adding too much lemon or any other condiment because it could cover the saline minerality or other complexities of high quality oysters.

2016 was noted as having the ripeness of 2015 (a warm year) and acidity of 2014 (a cooler vintage) and it will be remembered as suffering from a succession of climatic incidents that would make it one of the most trying in modern history; in 2016, William Fèvre’s yield was 1/3 of their typical average.

2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Montée de Tonnerre, Domaine: White peach skin with crumbled chalk that had a rich, creamy body, paired with an oyster called Sea Cow that is considered the “foie gras of the ocean”.

Sea Cow is a Pacific oyster that is placed in tumble bags because they are located in a watershed in Washington State that encourages fast growth – they use the tumble bags to slow down the growth, so their shells don’t get too thin, and the oysters freak out because they think a predator is throwing them around so they open and shut constantly – lots of exercise that builds a muscle that gives them firmness and sweetness – tumbling is all the rage now on the West Coast. Also a fun side note: Generally East Coast oysters are 2-3 years old and West Coast oysters are around 18 months old.

-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: An incredible wine that had fierce, steely acidity and intense richness of fruit that was laced with saline minerality with a long flavorful finish; matched with the equally intense Eastern oyster called Bluepoint from Mystic, Connecticut, that had intriguing metallic notes like iron and an overall wild quality.

This wine is a blend of separate vinifications of different plots in the same Grand Cru Bougros; one on a 45 degree slope that produces grapes with high concentration of ripeness and the other is on a less steep slope producing grapes with intense freshness.  

-2016 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos, Domaine: An exotically spiced wine that had juicy nectarine fruit and perfumed flowers with a mineral edge that was most noted on the finish; broad, bright and bada$$. This is the same oyster as paired with the first wine, Hama Hama, from Washington State’s Hood Canal but the human influence is different as it is placed in tumble bags unlike the 1st Hama Hama. These oysters are called Blue Pools and it had the same herbaceous quality as the first yet it was plumper with a sweet finish.

Les Clos is the largest and most famous Grand Cru; its fame is based on being one of Chablis’ first named vineyards.

2009 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Bougros, ‘Côte Bouguerots’, Domaine: Yellow pear with hints of mango that had pressed flowers and sea shells intertwined within the generous fruit… lots of delicious fleshy fruit still with enticing smoke and sensual texture on the finish. This wine is singing right now. Rowan decided to pair this decadent wine with an oyster with a fierce salinity that normally doesn’t pair well with most wines: Wellfleet from Cape Cod in Massachusetts that comes from a section that has no fresh water areas and so this oyster was influenced by the ocean.

2009 was a warm vintage like 2005 – Didier said they harvested early to keep freshness and acidity.

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#PureChablis Twitter Chat/Tasting on the Evening of May 22nd, 2018

-2016 Isabelle et Denis Pommier, Petit Chablis AOC: It had pristine fruit with juicy peach and nectarine with a refined wet stone finish… lovely.

2015 Julien Brocard, ‘Vigne De La Boissonneuse’, Chablis AOC: A single vineyard of biodynamically treated vines; it immediately impressed with a thick waxy top and a fine piece of paper that covered the bottle. A wine crafted with love showing volcanic smoky notes with rich lemon curd on the palate.

-2014 Romain Collet, Chablis Premier Cru AOC Butteaux: An intense limestone backbone that slapped me in my face with ‘get your attention’ acidity – I don’t mind this kind of slap in the face at all! Orange zest. seashell and briny goodness with a long, linear, fierce finish – OH YEAH BABY HURT ME!

-2015 Domaine Gerard Duplessis, Chablis Grand Cru AOC Les Clos: Complex notes of chalky, crumbly rocks with lime blossom and white peach with a rich and expressive overall quality on the extraordinarily long finish. OH MY, THIS WAS DAMN GOOD!

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