It’s All Part of the Story

I stared down at the gaping holes between the big, jagged, moss-covered rocks, envisioning myself twisting an ankle or worse, as I jumped precariously from broken bedrock to bedrock. Before I had a chance to think that it couldn’t get any more treacherous, I saw a soaking wet, fallen tree blocking our way – my other ‘fellows’ seemingly leapt across it as if they were graceful gazelles – but my legs froze, paralyzed by intense fear. This city girl is used to dodging crack addicts, pickpockets and the constant pushing and shoving that come with the hustle and bustle of New York City, but I am not used to going off the trail in the forest. So, I took a deep breath and got my motorcycle-style city boots over that disintegrating log with only a few skids, slides and a couple touch downs with my hand. As I looked back at my personal achievement of roughing it in the woods, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines & Vines, observed that we were surrounded by poison oak, which made sense since it had been pouring rain for the past couple days in Napa Valley. Once finally back in my room, I followed his instructions about washing my hands, turning my clothes inside out and separating them, and making sure I didn’t touch my face for a couple of days.

The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley

All of this excitement happened at the luxurious Meadowood resort that provides an amazing amount of privacy to each room (each “room” is actually a little house) on their massive property, with charming trails surrounded by acres and acres of woodland. I was fortunate to receive a fellowship to The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers to not only benefit from the magical surroundings and great professional advice with regards to my writing, but learn from my fellow ‘fellows’ as well.

Jim Gordon, in addition to being a master of spotting poison oak, has had a long lived career as an editor and reporter and he was the executive director of this Symposium from 2008-2015. Although Jim decided to take a step back from organizing this extraordinary event this year, he was still a part of panels and made himself available for counsel.

On the day preceding our jaunt in the timberland, Jim gave an incredibly moving speech prior to a panel discussion regarding ethics in journalism/writing. His words addressed those heroes who are so driven by the truth and finding the unknown side of a story that they risk their lives. As an example, he talked of a colleague who his wife knew personally, who was killed by terrorists in the process of meeting with them for an interview. Even though I do not have it in me to risk my life like those top investigative journalists who help to shine a light on human stories in every pocket of the world, I am obsessed with listening to people’s inner truth – the basis of what motivates and moves them.

The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

The day following Jim’s heartfelt homage of those reporting champions that shape our world for the better, we attended a panel, at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in Napa Valley, of some of those champions in the wine world who have shaped communication for the better. The session was called “Building a Career” and instead of it being about a list of accomplishments that one would place on their resume, it was a very frank, open discussion about the various journeys that take us to a different place than we once anticipated.

Madeline Puckette, co-founder of Wine Folly, talked about her former intense struggles and seedy life of being an artist; how the only thing she had that was worth anything was a wine magazine subscription that her estranged father sent her. Madeline threw herself into wine, learned everything she could and eventually, used her visual gifts to create infographic posters that spoke to the new generation of wine drinkers. Madeline and her partner have built one of the most successful wine brands on social media as well as a best selling book, and it is all due to their hard work… as she says, she answers ever comment, every message, every email and when someone says she got something wrong – she looks into it, always, trying to improve her knowledge.

Then another kick ass woman (sorry but I can’t help but have a bit of female pride) Leslie Sbrocco, well-known wine TV personality and journalist, talked about how her initial plans of becoming a lawyer, eventually leading her to become the first female President of the United States, did not work out because that world was not conducive with her desire to share warmth and joy to the rest of the world… come on Leslie, you can still become POTUS, look at what’s happening now – you don’t need any direct relevant experience, please… a warm, kind, brilliant woman like you… okay, I’ll stop begging… I wouldn’t wish that job on anyone, especially such a bright light as Leslie Sbrocco.

And then there was the living legend Kevin Zraly, author and founder of Windows on the World Wine School. Kevin holds a special place in many New Yorkers’ hearts. Not only is he responsible for inspiring countless current leaders of the New York City wine industry with his school, but he came up with one of the most successful wine lists at the stellar Windows on the World restaurant, which was located on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center since 1976. Well, all of us know what happened on 9/11, and Kevin not only lost many co-workers that day, but he lost his love for wine, and quite frankly, life. All of us living here (I was living in downtown NYC at the time) fell into a deep depression. Just imagine 8 ½ million people in a dark hole of despair – none of us capable of helping the other.

But someone convinced Kevin that he needed to come back to teaching, to keep inspiring and lifting people’s spirits with wine. At first it was tough, but through time, sharing his love for this beautiful libation and connecting with the people in his classes helped to bring him back… it brought many of us back. His Window on the World: Complete Wine Course  book has sold over 3 million copies and everything in the book is inspired by questions his students have asked throughout the years.

This is All Part of the Story

I ended up getting poison oak on a big portion of the inside of my left wrist. It just started going away and all that’s left is a big scab. But, right now, as I look at that hard coating of skin, I smile to myself. Because at one point, as a handful of us had our ‘survivor’ moment out in the woods, Jim said, “This is all part of the story.” And it’s true – the joy, the pain, the regret, and hopefully the letting go of sadness to live another day to share… are all part of our story.

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Master Tasting with Kevin Zraly at CIA at Greystone on February 23rd, 2017:

CIA at Greystone

This tasting represented the pivotal wines that Kevin had over many of his visits to Napa Valley that held significant importance to him.

1974 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection, Napa Valley: A gorgeous silky smooth texture with earthy aromas of dried leaves, forest floor and sweet tobacco. History in a glass!

 

 

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard (BV), Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour, Napa Valley: This 1975 BV Georges de Latour (my birth year) still had lots of freshness when I had it at the CIA a couple weeks ago. Flavors of tea leaves, sour cherries and mint. It was my favorite wine because of its elegance and complexity – we both seem to be doing well at this stage of our lives J

1986 Beringer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Napa Valley: Beringer is one of the largest land owners in Napa Valley and it is said that they supply grapes to some of the top producers in this legendary area. And so, Beringer Private Reserve is a super star Napa wine that costs half the price of many cult wines made from their grapes. This 1986 was at a wonderful stage where it had plenty of blackcurrant fruit with layers of complexity that comes with age – tea leaf, cigar box and dried thyme – moderately firm structure with still a good bit of stuffing left.

1997 Inglenook (formerly Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery), Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubicon, Rutherford: 1997 was a great year for quality as well as quantity and this Niebaum Coppola (Inglenook) Rubicon, with its brooding, dark fruit, balanced with hints of lifting notes of pomegranate and dried oregano with a luscious, silky body that draws one in like a beautiful dancer with silk scarves, is proof of the outstanding quality.

-2003 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 1, Napa Valley: This wine had a youthful sweetness with blackcurrant jam, cinnamon and plush tannins that Kevin Zraly and some others said was more in their style of preference with more fruit…. but he was quick to note that it is all personal taste. I like to taste a wine throughout its life, if given the opportunity, and that is why verticals are so much fun! I will take the sweet and the savory stages and everything in between.

 

2003 Robert Mondavi Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve, Napa Valley: A stunning delicacy to this wine with purple flowers and bright red raspberry fruit, refined tannins… a wine that satisfies the mind as well as the senses.

 

 

 

 

This one 2012, as well as the following five 2013s, are all modern superstars since these were back to back great vintages in Napa Valley. But the 2012 is a lot more approachable with generous aromatics – the 2013s will need a lot more time to reveal themselves yet they are both structurally built to age.

2012 Louis M. Martini Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Lot 1, Napa Valley: Exotic spice with perfumed ripe fruit and a touch of anise that is enhanced by sweet tannins.

2013 Charles Krug, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vintage Selection, Napa Valley: Cocoa powder with crushed rocks and a touch of dried herbs with a firm grip on the finish.

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Georges de Latour, Napa Valley: A sweet spot wine with dried cranberries, a whiff of eucalyptus and interesting hint of graphite … the tannins are elegant and the finish is long and linear.

2013 Beringer Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Private Reserve, Napa Valley: A flavorful, robust wine with stewed plums, a lift of pine and lush fleshiness on the sustained length.

2013 Inglenook, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rubicon, Rutherford: This wine had a nice approachability right off the bat, considering it is a 2013, with round, inviting body, fresh blackberry flavor. Dusty earth and charcoal add a depth of complexity.

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, 50th Anniversary, Reserve, To Kalon Vineyard, Oakville: This outstanding wine is a great homage to the visionary Robert Mondavi with its polished tannins and well-integrated oak. It incrementally increases in flavors on the palate that finishes with a lifted, pristine, breath-taking finish.

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Practical is Beautiful in the Golan Heights

As I passed a wrought iron gate (complete with wrought iron shaped grapes and a golden “CG” adorning the top), walking on a rock covered path surrounded by vines with roses in the front, I found myself facing a remarkable building that had the shape of a bottle carved into the side of it. If that was not enough to draw me into an enchanted world, I then entered the cellar of this winery that had high stone pillars and an elevated area at the end of the room with glowing bottles lined up on an inviting table. Where is this magical world I found myself in, you might ask? I was not in Europe, I was not in Napa… I was in Israel – in one of Israel’s top wine growing regions, the Golan Heights, bordering Lebanon and Syria. I would soon learn that all this beauty had a practical purpose.

Château Golan

I was at Château Golan, a small winery making only 100,000 bottles a year. They own most of their vineyards, which encompass their winery, except for one Sauvignon Blanc plot that they purchase, in the Golan Heights as well, at a higher elevation of 2625 feet (800 meters), as compared to the winery and their estate vineyards being at 1312 feet (400 meters). The Chief Winemaker and partner, Uri Hetz was hosting our visit and fielding some tough questions, I might add. He was trying to explain his beliefs with regards to making wine, making sure we were not misunderstanding his words to be dogma against one type of process or technique or style… he was more interested in the intention of a producer – the intended practical purpose of a wine. Finally, after much back and forth, he talked about a quote that he saw on the wall of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City many years ago as representing his belief.

“Everything beautiful in the world is a result of trying to make something practical; everything ugly in the world is the result of trying to make something beautiful.”

Before going any further, let me just preface this by saying that I cannot find this quote anywhere… so I will not try to make a guess as to who said it or what were the exact words of the original – I am quoting the words that Uri remembers… anyway, it is more important to express what the words meant to him than actually finding the exact wording.

As he says, Uri does not want to make more money, he wants to make a better wine; he doesn’t want to make a beautiful wine, he wants to make one that is tasty and eventually it will become beautiful if he did his job right.

I completely connect with his idea of beauty… as I feel beauty cannot be manufactured or forced, and the most beautiful people and things typically serve a practical purpose…whether they take care of others or simply bring them some joy, they always serve by bringing comfort and happiness to many of the beings in their lives. And the latter part of the quote rings true to me as well, as I think we, as a society, can mistakenly look too much to superficial factors as being beautiful and miss what truly makes someone or something shine – the intention.

Golan Heights Winery

The next stop was the world renowned producer, Golan Heights Winery. If you have ever had any interest in wines from Israel, then you probably know them and recognize their premium Yarden series labels, with the oil lamp decorated with mosaic tile adorning them. They are the third largest winery in Israel, and as we were leaving Château Golan telling Uri that our next stop was Golan Heights, he immediately expressed his great respect for them as a real “professional winery”.

Upon approaching their thoughtfully landscaped visitor’s center, we were immediately greeted by smiling staff with maps of the Golan Heights wine growing area – I quickly realized that Uri’s words about them rang true. They were a great place for visitors from all over the world, there was actually a group from China there at the time, to experience the potential of the Israeli wine industry. Golan Heights Winery served a practical purpose making a great first impression, on behalf of all of the Israeli producers, to many wine drinkers around the world, by the consistency of their wines, as well as how they greet those adventurous world travelers who have the Golan Heights on their bucket list.

 Golan Heights Winery’s commitment to raising the quality of Israeli wine actually goes deeper than what one can taste in their wines and experience at their facility. They were the first ones to come out talking about the leaf roll virus affecting many Israeli vineyards. They admitted that they themselves had vineyards that were afflicted and they took immediate action by grubbing them up, while calling out to other owners of vineyards to do the same in the name of raising the quality of wines in Israel. This is a rare act, as many wine regions around the world keep secrets, or in some cases were in denial, of issues that they were having with their vineyards.

Our Golan Heights Winery experience was co-led by Australian Associate Winemaker Michael Avery, since legendary Chief Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld is said to be a little journalist-shy. But as Michael was taking us to one of their top single vineyards, Bar’on, I had to ask why a non-Jewish Australian would want to work in Israel. His answer was purely the idea of being able to work at the Golan Heights Winery. Their forward thinking, modern facility, coupled with their in-depth study and research involving all aspects of the vineyards and winery could potentially revolutionize the wine world, such as their partnership with French research authority, ENTAV, which is bringing high quality ‘clones’ (aka biotypes) of grape varieties to Israel that are handled in a way to guarantee they are virus free.

Perception Alters Beauty 

Golan Heights, Israel

Even if you take the path to be in the service of others, it does not mean that there is any assurance that others will understand your intention. For example, I knew a kind, sweet woman who would love to dress in neon colors because she loved how it brought smiles to so many people. Another person, who perhaps didn’t know that I knew this woman, made a snide remark about her trying to get attention and showing off. That person was obviously projecting how he/she saw the world, and didn’t consider the idea that bringing joy to others was this person’s intention… and so this kind hearted woman’s beautiful act of wearing something that brought smiles to others was lost on this other person.

Sometimes our practical purpose is not realized by everyone, but it doesn’t mean the purpose is not served. We should not be afraid to give to the world because our gifts might be twisted, or questioned, by those who do not understand gifts without strings attached. Château Golan and Golan Heights Winery both make wines that reflect their beautiful intentions to those wine drinkers who are open to the experience. When we live a life with the intention to serve a practical purpose, we can never fail as there will always be someone who benefits from it, and benefiting others creates a beautiful world.

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Wines Tasted on February 1st, 2017

Château Golan: non-kosher wines

2016 Geshem Rosé: Grapes are grown specifically for rosé, 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah, very light pale onion skin color, short time on skins, fresh strawberries with spice.

-2016 Sauvignon Blanc: (just bottled) Whole cluster pressed, divided in barrel and tanks. Flinty minerality, juicy peach on the palate, yet overall restrained and elegant with mouth watering acidity.

-2015 Syrah: (bottled a month & ½ prior to tasting) Smoke, spice, pepper, floral, red fruit, bright acidity and moderate, linear body with fine tannins. Gorgeous wine! Uri said 2015 turned out to be a much fresher vintage than people thought because it was a warm vintage.

-2008 Syrah: Savory, rosemary and thyme, dusty earth with darker fruit and thicker texture.

-2010 Eliad: Majority Cabernet Sauvignon. They pick one or two top parcels out of their eight of Cabernet Sauvignon and will sometimes blend Petit Verdot, Syrah, Merlot or Touriga Nacional, but not usually exceeding 10% of the blend. This 2010, remarkably, had a pretty, pristine raspberry note with well-knit tannins and an overall refined style. Why is it remarkable? Because 2010 was one of the hottest vintages they have had in 15 years, and typically showed a lot of cooked fruit, but this one plot did not – that is what terroir does… and maybe the right practical intention had something to do with it too.

 

Golan Heights Winery: kosher wines

Yarden series of wines: The premier label and flagship brand. Each year, the finest grapes from the best vineyards are reserved for Yarden wines. Yarden is Hebrew for Jordan River, which separates the Golan Heights from the Galilee.

Mount Hermon series of wines: Offers quality, flavor and accessibility for a highly pleasurable experience

-2009 Yarden Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Brut: 100% Chardonnay. Toasty notes with zingy green apple and lime blossom flavors.

-2010 Yarden Rosé Sparkling Brut: 76% Chardonnay and 24% Pinot Noir. Pale salmon color with wild strawberries and a touch of brioche.

-2016 Mount Hermon White: Blend of Muscat Canelli, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Perfume and tropical fruit with a rich body.

-2016 Yarden Sauvignon Blanc: Herbaceous with juicy peach and lively acidity.

-2016 Yarden Pinot Gris: I was very impressed by this Pinot Gris since I was expecting not to like it, but I loved it. Thai spices, pear, and fleshy body with a long, refreshing finish just makes this a completely satisfying white wine. Interesting side note: 40% was placed in stainless steel, 40% in large barrels and 20% old barriques before bottling.

-2015 Yarden Chardonnay: Sweet spice, vanilla and lemon confit with good backbone of acidity on this wine.

-2014 Yarden Katzrin Chardonnay: A step up in complexity of flavors and texture with nutty aromas, baked apples and a full body with tannic structure supporting its weight.  It was open at this stage but could continue to improve for four more years.

-2015 Mount Hermon Indigo: Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A well balanced, delicious, medium bodied red that can be found on the US market for only USD$15 – not bad at all! Also, the label was drawn by autistic children and a portion of the proceeds go to Alut, an Israeli Society for Autistic Children.

-2013 Yarden Merlot: All the richness that one wants from Merlot, ripe black cherry and chocolate orange peel, yet good freshness gives life to these decadent flavors.

-2013 Yarden 2T: 59% Touriga Nacional and 41% Tinta Cao. Exciting, wild wine with plum, leather and tar, with firm structure.

-2013 Yarden Syrah: Cigar box and forest floor with brooding, dark fruit flavors that are lush yet lifted quality on the finish.

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackcurrant, sage and basaltic soil with big, manicured tannins that give muscle to the body of this wine.

-2013 Yarden Rom: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah and 20% Merlot. Yarden Rom is a joint undertaking of Zelma Long, the internationally acclaimed winemaker, and Victor Schoenfeld, Head Winemaker of Golan Heights Winery. Intoxicatingly smoky note with tobacco leaf, black tea and a prodigious length of flavor that was delivered with refined expression. Only 54 barrels made.

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

-2013 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon Yonatan Vineyard: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard. Vivid aromas of pine and anise bring a radiant trait to this luscious fruit driven Cab that had a superb length of flavor. Only 29 barrels made.

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

-2012 Yarden Katzrin: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. Yarden Katzrin wines are only made in remarkable vintages. Only 54 barrels made.

-2014 Yarden Heights Wine: A sweet wine made from 100% Gewürztraminer with around 240 g/l residual sugar, but you would never know it since the significantly cool temperatures in the Golan Heights has its trademark bright acidity evident in this wine. Rose bud and lychee syrup flavors made this a fun way to finish this tasting!

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Keeping Vitality in Soil & in Our Soul with Wines from Spain

“I would like to point out the issue of vitality of the soil because usually the person who speaks about terroir does not think about the life of the soil.”

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

This quote got me thinking about how many of us were taught that stress, rough times builds character… just like some of us learn that vines need a certain amount of stress in the vineyards for high quality wine. Well, as countless many of us can attest to, sometimes life can offer too much stress, too much pressure and when the rug is pulled out from under us, if we are already on the borderline of just holding on, we break. It takes time to put back the pieces, and we are never the same, although that is not necessarily a bad thing. We do grow, evolve, and become more complex, interesting creatures from those viciously rough times in our lives. But there comes a time when we get to the point in our journey that we want to stop spending so much time doing damage control and more time just simply enjoying life.

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

The above quote is from consultant winemaker Mario Malafosse. We have been in contact with each other 21 months – just 3 months shy of two years. He wrote to me about one project in particular with Bodegas Barón d’Alba located in the Castellón province of the central section of eastern Spain. Since their wines are not available in the US, it not only took time for them to ship wines from their winery, during ideal climate conditions, but it also took time to hold an interview over exchanged messages. As many of you know, working in the wine world demands long, intense hours with little financial compensation – yet life is enormously enhanced by connecting with people from around the world – we are the artists of the beverage industry. And so when Mario was ready for the interview, I was overwhelmed with work, and when I was ready… well you get the picture… but eventually it worked out.

It is not typical for me to do an interview in such a manner… actually this is the first time I have ever conducted a ‘conversation’ purely over messages. But Mario’s passion and emotional investment in this project was evident from his words… I was intrigued over time and hence I was driven to know more and ultimately to share what I had experienced from our direct messaging conversations.

Bodegas Barón d’Alba

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

The ‘project’ Barón d’Alba started in 2001 with the planting of 37 acres (15 hectares) of vineyards with Macabeo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Merlot, Monastrell, Syrah and Tempranillo, with the idea of finding the greatest expression of these varieties planted in this ancient wine growing area in Spain that had become a neglected and forgotten land. Barón d’Alba built a winery in the middle of their vineyards and called it Clos d’Esgarracordes, meaning ‘the rope broker’ – a name that honors the previous owner of the land who was responsible for sounding the local church bells and broke tons of ropes, due to his strength, in the process of ringing them.  Mario started working as a consultant winemaker with the winery of Clos d’Esgarracordes in 2011 and feels that the work that they are doing to combat the desertification (the process by which fertile land becomes desert) of this land, a significant issue in Spain, is integral to keeping vitality in the soil.

Vitality

When we think of our own body, mind and spirit – keeping the vitality of ourselves going – many times it is the first thing we give up as an adult. As a child we are taught to have discipline, to give to others, to work hard, that life isn’t fair and we experience first hand from those long-lived adults that surround us, who have had the glimmer fade from their eyes, that life can take the best of us. I don’t think it is the hard work, being generous or losing out on the superficial titles and accolades of life that takes its toll… it is the chipping away by unkind words, sour looks and thoughtless acts of others – and as a good person, we mistakenly think that we have to take this intense stress of being stripped of our humanity with an open heart. We lose the nutriment of our inner fire and we start to dry out, the structure of our character alters forming an apathetic being that was once passionate, loving, and filled with joy.

 “I think that desertification of agricultural land would be the next very important issue that humanity has to think about. In general, we observe that a big part of agricultural lands are in process of desertification. It means they are loosing an important part of live organism, loosing structure and they transform themselves in inert and desert land. In a climate dry and with hot temperatures, like Spanish climate, the desertification issue is even more important, the lands are more delicate.” – Mario Malafosse

Fighting Desertification with Vitality Promoting Practices

Photo Credit: Bodegas Barón d’Alba

Mario expressed the idea of finding a balanced water and nutrition regime that encourages grapes to mature slowly, leading to more flavors. They have been experimenting with vegetation between the vineyard rows (cover crops) as well as using sawdust and wood chippings packed around the base of the vines to act as mulch to retain moisture in their arid climate. And most importantly, it keeps the original integrity of the soil intact.

When I asked Mario what the most important aspects he tries to achieve with his wines are, his response was profound, “the quality of the wine is defined by its capacity to teach, to surprise and to bring emotion to the person who drinks it”. It was the same answer I would give if someone asked me the most important aspects I want to experience from those people that I meet. I want to encounter people with vitality, and most importantly, I would like to give them the feeling of vitality when they encounter me. For all of us, it is a journey of finding what adds nourishment to our existence and what takes it away… we can’t change everything in our life yet we can always give ourselves permission to step away from an unnecessarily draining situation to recharge our batteries, so that we may have our vitality sparkle in our eyes until our last breath.

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Wine Samples Tasted of Clos d’Esgarracordes

I had to ask Mario about the labels with the swirl on it. He said the swirl represented a grape bunch, which makes sense… but there was the added association of it looking like a rope that was swirled around so that it would also refer to the previous owner “d’esgarracordes” aka “the rope breaker” who the wines/winery are named after.

Also, I was impressed by the balance of the wines – they had bright acidity and solid structure with ripe, lush fruit.

-2015 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Blanco “Agotado”, Castellón, Spain: A white blend made from Macabeo, Moscatel and Viognier with opulent flavors of quince paste, mango salsa and hints of jasmine. A touch of blanched almonds with stony minerality adds complexity. Fleshy, mouth filling body that is given lift by refreshing acidity.

2013 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Tinto “Barrica”, Castellón, Spain: A red blend made from Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Merlot with vivid blueberry and wild strawberries that has sweet tannins and a hint of spice.

2011 Bodegas Barón d’Alba, Clos d’Esgarracordes, Tinto Crianza, Castellón, Spain: A red blend with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monastrell, Tempranillo and Syrah that has complex flavors of fresh leather, spice, blackcurrant jam and fine dusty earth.

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The Edgy Side of Valpolicella

The classic wines of Valpolicella are often times associated with traditionalist drinkers who are not risk-takers in their wine drinking habits. For the price, Americans would rather pull the trigger on other rich, robust wines, such as Napa Cabernet or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, before buying an Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG. The more value-oriented Ripasso della Valpolicella DOC does better in export markets yet its characterization of being a ‘baby Amarone’ is erroneous since an Amarone will always have qualities that a Ripasso cannot possess. Then there is the easy drinking Valpolicella DOC which has prejudice that it is a “go to quaffer” when one does not want to think too much about what they are drinking.

Besides the fact that there is a wide range of quality within this winemaking DOC that has both good and bad representations, Valpolicella is starting to show some edge to these classic wines. Last September, the Valpolicella Consorzio Tutela Vini provided me the opportunity to visit fourteen wineries and mainly focus on the classic, DOC wines of the area. I must admit that, initially, I was looking forward to seeing the renowned beauty of Valpolicella more than actually tasting the wines of the area, but I was surprised by the experimentation and pure vitality of some of the wines, and walked away feeling that a few producers are edgy enough to thrill even the cool kids in the wine world.

The Rock Star

Anyone who has even the slightest interest in what is hot in Valpolicella knows Zýmē winery. Celestino Gaspari is the well-established rock star of the area. His Harlequin IGT has seen worldwide acclaim with its makeup of a minimum of fifteen grape varieties, ranging from white to red, Garganega to Marzemino, and its stylistic markers of thick extract, long barrique aging and high alcohol – a signature of many of his other big reds.

Although many wine lovers may never be able to afford a bottle of Harlequin, its legend helps to propel the rest of the Zýmē portfolio. I was certainly excited to visit this winery, taste their full range of wines, especially the big reds, and at the end, to have an opportunity to meet Gaspari himself.

Surprisingly, it was not the Harlequin that kept me thinking… don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to drink a USD$400 bottle of wine for free (as well as the too cool for school 100% Oseleta wine), but it was his Valpolicella DOC “Rêverie” that I kept obsessing over. In the past, I had always taken pride in being a true wine geek, especially a female one, who preferred a more “serious” red wine, and so it was quite odd that I was at Zýmē thinking about their Valpolicella, and their “junior” one at that!

But the “Rêverie” was impressive, with wild strawberry, savory spice, floral notes and mouthwatering acidity that was balanced with fleshy goodness on the palate. The aromatics rolled around in my head for the rest of the day and I found myself missing it when it was no longer there.

A Young Entrepreneur

When visiting wineries in Europe, many times, as an American, I expect to find producers that have a story including a multi-generational wine history. Of course, that has been changing, and it was great to see one such exception in historical Valpolicella, with a young woman no less.

Massimago was started by Camilla Rossi Chauvenet in 2003. She had an infectious excitement that touched every aspect of her business, from the construction of her drying room on top of a steep hill that was inspired by Japanese construction (the architect eventually became her husband, but she had wished they were betrothed before they negotiated the price for the construction) to the “ironic” idea of the name Massimago, an old time magician and cultural icon that has the right amount of kitschy feeling that young people gravitate to these days. Then there was her reverse feminist idea that Amarone was only for men and Ripasso only for women, which was illustrated by pictures of different “types” of men on the label of their 2011 Conte Gastone Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, and the female version on their 2013 Marchesa Maria Bella Valpolicella Ripasso. Again, the irony continues because being a cultured youth today means that one does not believe in stereotypes or separate men/women’s versions, and so these classic wines have a touch of youthful paradox. But there was nothing ironic about the taste of these wines, both expressing more stewed fruit notes rather than desiccated ones, and bright flavors with touches of sweet spice. It was fitting to have the tasting/lunch outside, picnic style, as they were fresh wines that had a fresh approach made by an owner with a fresh face.

Grandma

Who would have ever guessed that one of the most cutting edge producers would look like the quintessential Italian grandmother? Well, in Valpolicella, Corte Sant’Alda is one of only a few certified biodynamic wineries, and it is led by the outspokenly direct Marinella Camerani. When asked about the reasons for becoming organic, and then eventually biodynamic, she simply said that she is the kind of person who likes to take care of people around her, henceforth, it was a natural progression into these practices. Also, in an unusual statement, she said that she didn’t think the wines have benefited since becoming biodynamic – although someone else (who was very familiar with the history of these wines) quickly chimed in that she thought that there was a big difference.

Corte Sant’Alda is not only rare because of their biodynamic certification but they also use a small amount of cherry wood that was said to give a lifting “mint” note to the wines. The 2011 Amarone della Valpolicella was unique, in my experience, with wild cherry and tropical notes that had a bewildering hint of sage that did not make sense from my experiences with Amarone, yet I was intrigued and wanted more. It was a fitting end to our visit when she told one of my media colleagues that she was not happy with the 2011, while being interviewed on video. My colleague hastily tried to change the subject (we enjoyed that wine) but to no avail, she was going to talk about her disappointment in the 2011 whether he liked it or not!

Finding the Edge While Keeping the Warmth

Valpolicella finds itself in an interesting conundrum. Although the Consorzio wants to encourage innovation, they, rightfully so, don’t want the producers to completely abandon the classic wines that originally brought success and prestige to Valpolicella, simply because they have currently fallen out of fashion. Vice versa, they don’t want to give up on finding innovative methods that improve the classic wines simply because they are afraid of change.  In a way, it’s like the political situations currently happening in countries such as the UK, and yes, my home, the US. There has been so much frustration over slow economic growth that there are groups on both sides that want to either completely throw out the traditional mindset, or throw out recent progress made in their respective societies – turning back the clock. It may bring some type of immediate change but at what cost? I just hope that Valpolicella finds a better way to balance their two sides, edgy modernization versus traditional comfort, than the current state of our politics.

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From Uruguay, With Gratitude

Photo Credit: WINES OF URUGUAY

My first experience tasting a wine from Uruguay was over 7 years ago, while studying for the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) Diploma. I must sheepishly admit that up until that point, I did not even know Uruguay (the country!) existed, as I did not really learn world geography until I started to formally study wine. As a previously Europe-centric wine professional in New York City, I knew all about Madiran Tannat from the South West of France and its importance in the development of a winemaking technique called micro-oxygenation, but outside of that I did not pay the Tannat grape variety much attention.

During the WSET courses, it was not only interesting to learn a bit about Uruguay, but it was also surprising to know that the ever harsh, tannic, astringent and rustic Tannat grape variety is their national variety. This was remarkable considering the few wines that I tried, as a wine student, stirred an endless barrage of jokes that entailed the enamel being peeled from one’s teeth. Although my exposure to Uruguayan Tannat was memorable, it was short lived.

Wines of Uruguay

This past September, I had the opportunity to attend the “Taste of Tannat” tour of the Wines of Uruguay, led by the informative and entertaining Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein. To be honest, I probably would not have bothered to attend this seminar were it not for Goldstein’s name attached to the invitation. But I thought there must be a lot more to these wines than I had previously thought, if he was to extend his name to this lesser known winemaking country.

Why have European wines had such a long popularity with top wine consuming countries? Yes, European countries have a well established wine making and wine drinking culture, but I believe it is the positive images that we relate to Europe that has sustained their reputation. Whether it is the image of relaxing in the beautiful countryside, living in a Metropolitan city among sophisticated, cultured people, or sitting around a big table with a large, loving family – many of these images may not be entirely true, but no matter, that is our association. We want that idyllic “European” life for ourselves and so we support it.

What do we think of when we hear Uruguay? Well if you know it is in South America then you are already ahead of the game. But even the most worldly of people may have a backwards idea about Uruguay – that is it a patriarchal society stuck in the dark ages with little regard for women. Well, this is far from the truth, as some of their laws show an open minded, liberal society (same-sex marriage and marijuana are both legal), and there are impressive, strong women – some of whom were representing their families’ wineries at this tasting.

Tannat

Happily, I can say that the wines tasted at this seminar were significantly better compared to my first encounter years ago. I will also admit that I was completely shocked with the well-managed tannins and a wide array of styles of their Tannat wines. Some had more grip and structure than others, but none of the wines showcased in the seminar were too ‘polyphenolically driven’. Did I just make up a new wine term? Yes, yes I did.

Map of Uruguay

Not only did I not have any issues swooshing nine wines that were comprised predominantly of Tannat, I actually found some of them outright enjoyable and exciting. The 2014 Bodega Garzón Tannat Reserva from Garzón in Maldonado (currently the hottest wine area in Uruguay) had a wonderful balance with a touch of sweet, desiccated fruit, moderately firm tannins and good flesh on the body that just made this wine incredibly generous and approachable. Conversely, the 2013 Marichal Tannat Reserva from Echevarria, Canelones (where the majority of vineyards are planted) had a more restrained, earthy style with an intense gravelly rock note and fresh black fruit that had overall more finesse with fine tannins.

Why such a big change in quality since my first experience with Uruguayan Tannat?

This seminar addressed some of the previous issues which made these wines more rustic than charming, including limited access to quality clones as well as a lack of knowledge and resources when it came to practices in the vineyards and wineries. Better clonal selection and utilizing a deeper understanding of this variety with yield management, pre/post-fermentation, and, surprisingly, minimal micro-oxygenation, has paid off with more balanced wines. Most of these changes were momentously implemented in the mid-2000s, so only recently has a significant impact on their “fine wine” industry been perceived.

Gratitude

It was nice to learn more about Uruguay’s socially liberal attitudes and to experience, first hand, a tremendous increase in their national grape variety’s quality that once was considered a lost cause for a single varietal wine. But more than anything, as I think back to that seminar, what touched me most was the authentic and deep sense of gratitude. Each producer who presented their wine gave a heartfelt thanks to Goldstein. They thanked him for the opportunity to tell their story, show their wines and inform key export markets of their commitment to quality winemaking. Many expressed that, prior to his attention, they felt that no one knew of their existence let alone all the hard work they have placed into their wines.

Exactly twelve days after this seminar, I witnessed an interesting exchange when attending a wine dinner for completely different wines from a different country. At the end, the importer asked an attendee, “Was everything to your liking?”  The person replied, “Yes. I am grateful for the opportunity to come”, to which the importer said, “That is a great word to hear. Grateful. People do not say that enough.”

Grateful for the Lesson

Those of us who live in big urban jungles, where the pace never stops and we yearn for peace, sometimes forget what it is like to be tucked away in an area of the world where there is almost little hope of being noticed. A place that is invisible to the rest of the world. The Uruguayan producers’ gratitude was no act or PR stunt because I could feel that it came from their guts, it came from a place within them that almost gave up hope… and so it was a great reminder that I have so many things to be grateful for… and I am grateful that I was given a chance to challenge my own ignorance about Uruguay and their wines.

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Individuals Give a Large Wine Company Passion

The special vineyard is found off in the distance in this photo that makes the remarkable Tabor Malkiya in the Upper Galilee

Last October, over a wine lunch in New York City, I heard a viticulturalist talk about a piece of land – a vineyard – with such an intense feeling of excitement, intrigue, and just pure unbridled passion that it was contagiously electric. And was it about a vineyard in Europe, California or even some of the dramatically planted areas in South Africa or Chile?  No, it was in Israel; the words came from Michal Akerman, viticulturalist for Tabor Winery.

I recently found myself in Israel, sitting in Tabor’s beautiful visitor’s center near their winery in the village of Kfar Tabor in the Galilee wine region. At the time of that lunch in NYC, I never would have guessed that I would ever get the chance to go to the Tabor Winery, a place whose wines and stories had fascinated and enthralled me with pure wonderment, let alone be there merely three months later.

When I signed up for this in-depth excursion to check out one of the top emerging wine producing countries in the world, I didn’t know if I would get the opportunity to visit Tabor, but luckily it was in the cards for me to experience what they had to offer, not only as a large company with huge amounts of resources, but the bright, committed individuals with an inner spark who work behind the scenes.

Tabor Winery

Tabor Winery: Or Nidbach and Michal Akerman Photo Credit: Yiannis Karakasis MW http://www.karakasis.mw/

Tabor is known as one of Israel’s largest wineries that feature many premium wines in their portfolio (it is the 5th largest but should be noted that there’s a big difference in volume between Tabor and the 4th largest winery). I was already well acquainted with their reputation before I visited, but the wines and people live up to this distinguished title. The winery was started in 1999 by four growers in the Tabor Village (Kfar Tabor), in the Lower Galilee, and the current CEO is grower Oren Sella, of one of the founding families. Over the years, they have been able to grow from producing 30,000 bottles a year to close to two million.

Tabor Winery does not own any of their vineyards, which is common in Israel, yet they have long relationships and contracts with their growers that are typically between 17 to 18 years with stipulations added from both sides to protect the interests of each party. Tabor is known for their impressive Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and it is no surprise noting that they work with 30 different individual Cabernet Sauvignon plots from an array of vineyards across Israel.

Michal Akerman

Michal Akerman, the viticulturalist for Tabor Winery, was Israel’s first viticulturalist. She oversees all the contracted vineyards that they work with and she talks about many of the plots as if they were her children; how she checks on them, is constantly amazed by them and how they are always in her thoughts. I gained even more admiration for her as I learned during this visit that she is pioneering a program to make all Tabor vineyards self-sustainable; the first Israeli winery to make such a commitment.

Or Nidbach

Tabor’s long established winemaker Arieh Nesher was not able to join us but it was great to see his partner winemaker, Or Nidbach, again as he is part of the younger generation of Israeli vintners that have received degrees from some of the top enology Universities in the world (Nidbach received his degree from one of the most esteemed, UC Davis). Although he and Akerman are not related, they seem as if they are both ‘cut from the same cloth’ having a brilliant light in both their eyes that is only matched by their strong work ethic. It makes sense once I learned that they were raised on the same kibbutz – a collective community in Israel that is traditionally based on agriculture.

Malkiya

Photo Credit: Yiannis Karakasis MW http://www.karakasis.mw/

The exceptional Tabor Malkiya, single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, is the perfect representation of how these extraordinary individuals are the perfect match for a winery such as Tabor, with its vast resources. This wine is unique, complex, generous and polished. From their value level wines up to their fine wine Malkiya, Tabor delivers a multi-layered experience that over delivers and never disappoints.

Tabor Winery is a great example of a big, successful company finding ideal employees to elevate their creations, and vice versa, when hardworking, talented people are appreciated and properly challenged by their company. This winning combination makes those obstacles that once seemed insurmountable eventually conquerable – such as making an Israeli Cabernet Sauvignon that can challenge any other Cab from one of the top terroirs around the world – they did it with Malkiya.

***Also, special thanks to Greek Master of Wine Yiannis Karakasis for the use of his photos since I was trying to get my phone fixed in Israel at the time.
His website: http://www.karakasis.mw/

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 Tasting at Tabor Winery on January 29th, 2017

Adama I Series

The Mt. Tabor area of the Galilee is a meeting point of four different types of soils. The Adama series matches a single variety with the best small single plot in this area that make wines that give a pure expression of that variety, consistently, year in and year out.

-Adama Roussanne, Golan Heights, Israel: 100% Roussanne. Tabor was the first winery to plant Roussanne and to make a single varietal Roussanne. Rich, full-bodied white with tropical fruit.

Adama Sauvignon Blanc, Kfar Tabor, Galilee, Israel: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Old vines in limestone soil that make a wine with a pretty, fresh quality of lime blossom, bright acidity and hint of passion fruit finish.

-Adama Barbera Rose, Sirin Heights, Galilee, Israel: 100% Barbera. They specifically grow these grapes for rosé wine, as opposed to some wineries using under-ripe grapes that were not suitable for a red wine. Delicious dry rosé with red cherry and floral notes and a mouth watering finish.

Adama II Series

Blends that give an added layer of complexity – made in small quantities.

2013 Adama II Sufa – Storm, Kedesh Valley, Upper Galilee, Israel: 50% Cabernet Sauvignon & 50% Petite Sirah. Soil is terra rossa. A dark, brooding wine that is seductive with plum pie and spicy, smoky notes. Lush yet structured.

Single Vineyard Series

These wines represent the best single vineyards from Tabor’s array of plots sourced from all over Israel.

Photo Credit: Yiannis Karakasis MW http://www.karakasis.mw/

-2013 Tabor Tannat, Shifon Vineyard, northern Golan Heights, Israel: 100% Tannat. Tabor was the first winery to plant and to make a varietal Tannat. Low yields, no irrigation. Savory and sweet with dried blackberries and tobacco leaf with firm structure, yet the quality of the tannins are well managed, and so a great wine for those who like structure, such as myself.

 

Photo Credit: Yiannis Karakasis MW http://www.karakasis.mw/

-2013 Tabor Marselan, Revadim Vineyard, Judean Hills, Israel: 100% Marselan. Marselan is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache that has become an important red variety in Israel. I tasted many Marselan wines when I was in Israel and there was a great disparity in quality. I learned at Tabor that it is a high yielder and so yields need to be severely controlled, hence why they do not allow irrigation in this vineyard. Dusty earth, dried thyme with fresh black currant and good grip on the sustained finish.

Picture is from the first time I tasted the 2013 Tabor Malkiya

-2013 Tabor Malkiya, Single Vineyard from Upper Galilee, Israel: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. At our lunch in NYC, Michal Akerman’s description of the unique qualities of this vineyard certainly showed itself in this wine. The topsoil is terra rossa (a red clay that is commonly associated with the Cabernet Sauvignon fine wines of Coonawarra, Australia) but underneath, only 8 inches (20 centimeters) down, is one of the most unique soils she has ever seen in Israel. In English, it is called “a lot of stars” since there are limestone rocks throughout the soil that gives the visual impression of this name. She said that it was a piece of land that many of the local people thought to be undesirable for any type of crop, but that she somehow, to their amazement, was able to produce the best Cabernet Sauvignon she has ever seen, which, considering she has had 20 years of experience with this grape around the world is a pretty impressive statement. She gets tiny berries from this plot that taste like the wine when she tastes the grapes in the vineyard – concentrated blackberry, complex flavors – she goes to this vineyard once or twice a week because she is so amazed by it.

This is the second time I got to taste the 2013 Tabor Malkiya. It had an opaque color with cassis, exotic spice and a stunning backbone of elegance that carried through the persistent finish. Malkiya has become Tabor’s flagship wine. This was selected as one of the leading wines of the world by Wine Spectator and Tabor Winery recently represented Israel a second year in a row at the illustrious New York Wine Experience.

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Riesling: The Things that Rock Our World are Beyond Our Imagination

KARTHÄUSERHOFBERG © Weingut Karthäuserhof.jpg

Around a month ago, I participated in a virtual tasting on Twitter with #winestudio revolving around German Rieslings. I had heard from other bloggers, wine writers and wine lovers about these virtual tastings, that are usually every Tuesday between 9-10pm EST, and how informative and fun these #winestudio sessions tended to be. And so, I was able to join in on one… I would like to participate more often, but travel and trying to keep up with work and life has prevented me from doing so… but I’m hopeful that I will join in on the #winestudio fun again soon.

Karthäuserhof

The topic of this tasting was the wines of Karthäuserhof , located in the Mosel region of Germany. I was sent the 2009 Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs (GG) (their top-level dry ‘trocken’ Riesling) as well as the 2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling Ruwer, to taste and to discuss during this #winestudio session. Karthäuserhof is an interesting producer not only because of its sustainable practices of avoiding pesticides in its vineyards and focusing on finding natural harmony with their vines, but they have a great reputation among hard core German Riesling wine experts as producing the best dry Rieslings in the Mosel.

Riesling

Although there are some Riesling wine lovers, such as expert John Winthrop Haeger, who know the pure joy of dry Riesling, many think of it as a sweet wine. This causes issues on both sides, either for those who do not like any amount of sweetness in their wine – despite many of these ‘sweet’ wines seeming dry due to large amounts of acidity, or the others who love sweet Riesling and may be taken aback by the dry version which gives a different expression of this noble white variety.

Germany

No one will argue, okay maybe some will, that Germany is Riesling’s classic home. This does not mean there are not wonderful expressions of this variety around the world, but it simply implies that Riesling originated in this country, and yes, it was the first to be given international acclaim for their premium wines.

Mosel

The Mosel (aka Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) is the most well-known wine region in Germany, and interestingly enough, considering Karthäuserhof’s strength with dry wines, has made a reputation as a wine region that makes lower alcohol (typically ranging from 8 to 10% abv), off-dry wines with a substantial amount of residual sugar. They were really the first off-dry wines in the world (not dry nor sweet) to be revered as premium and fine wines. Whereas the Rheingau region of Germany has, in modern times, carved a name for itself with great dry Rieslings, some Mosel producers have been criticized for making a dry style. I feel this is not only due to their being traditionally associated with the legendary off-dry Riesling wines, but because many of the vineyards in the Mosel could not achieve the ripeness needed to make an outstanding dry wine.

This is where Karthäuserhof impresses. Yes, they make lovely off-dry libations such as the 2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling Ruwer, but if you want to know a side of Riesling that very few have experienced, I would try to hunt down their seemingly dry Grosses Gewächs (top growth) wines such as the 2009 Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs that I previously mentioned. It had that intense slate minerality that is a signature note of the best wines from the region, as well as being elegant and delicate yet decadent and provokingly mysterious.

A Grosses Gewächs of this stunning quality could easily evolve for over 20 years, and in some cases, these beauties can last a lot longer as Riesling is known as one of the longest lived wines that make liquid gold old bones.

Don’t Know What You Need Until You’ve Had It

It is a natural tendency to want to move towards the things that seem to suit us and move away from those things that fall outside our comfort zone. It is like falling in love, or even better, finding someone to share our life with… sometimes that person who doesn’t have any of our “check boxes” filled is exactly the person who will challenge us in the ways we need to be challenged and help us to live a much more fulfilling life.

It is the same for wine. If we don’t realize that Riesling is just a general title that is not capable of truly expressing the complete range of flavors, textures, weights and dimensional qualities it encompasses then we miss out on something that could have been pretty special. If we get stuck in the mind set that the Mosel should only produce off-dry wines, leaving the dry styles to regions like the Rheingau, then we miss out big time, and possibly miss out of one of the most memorable wines of our lives.

***To learn more about this #winestudio session, as well as the subsequent German sessions that I missed, here’s a link to a post by fellow blogger Dallas Wine Chick, ‘Deciphering the German Riesling Puzzle and Why You Should’

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2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling Ruwer, Mosel, Germany: 10% abv and 41.5g/l residual sugar. This off-dry wine is so pretty that it hurts. Pristine nose of white lilies and acacia with juicy white peach on the palate and a hint of stony minerality on the finish. Why does it hurt? Because it is so damn pretty the bottle won’t last long!

2009 Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs, Mosel, Germany: 12.5% abv and 7.4g/l residual sugar. I refer to this wine as ‘seemingly dry’ because although it does have a tiny amount of residual sugar, the high amount of acidity makes it a dry wine because it tastes dry. Actually, if there were no residual sugar, the wine would have been off balanced instead of perfectly exquisite. A single vineyard Grosses Gewächs (top-level dry ‘trocken’ Riesling) from the Mosel region of Germany. An excellent vintage for richness which is shown in the broad, rich body yet it is nimble and energetic with mouthwatering acidity that is lifted by the exhilarating flavors of lemon peel, blood orange and slate-y goodness throughout the long, laser-like finish.

Legend of the labels: Even though unconfirmed, the legend goes that a previous steward of the estate had an affair with a woman who lived near by. They would frolic around the river by both their homes and he would place the bottles in the water to keep cool. As one would guess, the river would wash away the labels. After the gentleman’s wife asked him why she found some of their labels in the river, he decided to change the location of the labels to the neck of the bottles, which allowed them to stay put as they were cooling in the river. And so, since tradition is tradition, the family kept it that way. Well, I must say, it is very convenient to chill these bottles in an ice bucket as the labels stay intact. This is especially true considering the fact that I used my Coravin to sample the 2009 Grosses Gewächs as I know it will only get more amazing with time.

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Finding Our Identity by Reconnecting with the Past

On a recent trip to Israel, I visited some newly planted biodynamic vineyards –the new vineyards of Recanati Winery. I had been familiar with Recanati’s wines for a long time. They were previously written about and recommended by the New York Times and they were always considered to be a great choice when looking for high quality kosher wines. But what is interesting is that they are wonderful wines aside from the kosher factor – as some of you know, being kosher just means there is an observant Jew overseeing the winery. And they have exciting projects that bring out the exotic, alluring side of Israeli wines that give an inkling that Israel may be the next up and coming wine country to hit the shelves.

Galilee Region

The newly planted vineyard is in the Upper Galilee wine region, northern Israel near the Lebanese border, and is considered to be one of Israel’s finest quality wine growing areas. Also, since I visited during winter, I got to experience their lowest temperatures that hit 32F (0C) while we were in the vineyards. If I had previously doubted for one second that they could get cool temperatures like that in the northern Israeli vineyards, let me tell you, that doubt is completely gone.

Having a selection of cooler vineyard sites to choose from, as well as picking early, helps to make Recanati’s signature style which is restrained fruit with an overall elegant quality – which exists from their entry level to their top single vineyard selection. Although Recanati is known for leading the way with wines made from Mediterranean varieties – Carignan, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Roussanne and Marsanne – the best is yet to come as they research indigenous varieties such as the Marawi variety that they just planted in this biodynamic vineyard.

Marawi

Marawi is a white grape variety that was found growing on pergola in a Palestinian vineyard. The exact spot, or name of the grower, cannot be divulged as it is illegal for them to grow and/or sell grapes for the production of alcohol. This ancient variety was able to survive living so long under Islamic rule since the grapes are tasty to eat and so they were grown as a food source. I first tried their Marawi wine last November, during an Israeli wine press lunch in NYC. It instantly hit me with its flinty minerality and a smoky quality that does not come from oak as it is fermented and aged in neutral barrels, but from this unique variety itself.

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

As I stood there in this biodynamic Marawi vineyard, at an altitude of 2395 feet (730 meters) looking across to Lebanon,  seeing wild flowers naturally growing and talking to Recanati about their desire to find balance with their vines, their surrounding, their community… I knew that this was the new, hopeful future for the wines of Israel.

Evolution Does Not Mean Complete Disregard

We should always be looking forward and try to let go of toxic things from the past, but not at the expense of sacrificing those precious aspects that were uniquely suited to a certain place, a certain terroir of our ancestry. I have a feeling this is just the beginning for this almost lost grape variety Marawi… the biodynamic practice may not only unlock the true potential to this variety but also a deeper expression of terroir in Israel.

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 Tasting in Recanati’s new vineyard on February 2nd, 2017

-2015 Marawi, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine: 100% Marawi. Okay, so this is the star of the show. I actually had this same vintage back in October and it was a pleasure to have it again since this is made in tiny quantities and is so difficult to find on the market. This is from the original Palestinian vineyard they found that is trellised in a pergola (lots of shade to protect from intense sun and heat) and dry-farmed. It has a white chalky minerality with linear body when served cold, yet as it warms up, you get more weight in the body and a smoky character that I am very fond of… also, this time I got a saline finish which I missed before (that’s why it is always good to taste the same wines many times under different circumstances). As I said before, Recanati’s newly planted biodynamic Marawi vineyard may show even more potential for this variety.

-2014 Special Reserve White, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel: 60% Roussane and 40% Marsanne. Love this wine. I had the 2012 back in January 2016 and it blew me away. This wine may not be for everyone but for those who love a great white Châteauneuf-du-Pape this will be your jam – as we like to say in the US. Juicy peach flavors, with floral and nutty notes. Rich texture, as one would expect from these varieties, yet plenty of acidity to balance it. I’m not usually a fan when there is too much Marsanne in a blend but this wine has changed my mind. Perhaps it just needed to be grown under the right conditions. Golan Heights is considered one of Israel’s highest quality wine regions as well, next to the Upper Galilee, in the overall encompassing wine region of Galilee.

-2016 Marselan Reserve, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel: Marselan is a cross between Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon and first originated in the South of France in the 1960s. It is a variety that you see a lot in Israel with many producers making it, and it can range in quality. It was nice to have a better example with fleshy black cherry and black raspberry flavors and good grip that gave it structure and lift on the finish.

-2015 Petite Sirah Reserve, Jezreel Valley, Lower Galilee, Israel: 100% Petite Sirah. First off, I have to say I was impressed by the management and quality of tannins of this Petite Sirah, as it can be a monster of a wine with regards to structure. Old vines give it deep complexity of flavor, with hints of achiote paste, dark chocolate and blackberry.

-2016 Wild Carignan Reserve, Old Vines Dry-Farmed Single Vineyard, Judean Hills, Israel: 100% Carignan. Carignan is a big part of Israel’s wine past as it was brought in by Edmond de Rothschild, and until 9 or 10 years ago was the most planted variety in Israel. As one can imagine, it was mainly used for bulk, entry level wines, but some producers, such as Recanati, have sought out low yielding, higher quality vineyards such as this dry-farmed one grown by an Arab Christian grower. Another wine made in small quantity, and so hard to find, yet it will be interesting to see the future production of Recanati’s own dry-farmed, bush vine, BIODYNAMIC vineyard that is not yet planted but highly anticipated. There is a fierce white stony minerality hinting towards the limestone soils of this vineyard, and the brambly berry and wild sage flavors with hints of anise and texturally complex body makes this wine a super cool kid!

2013 Recanati Special Reserve Red Blend, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel: If the Wild Carignan is the hipster in the group, this Reserve Red Blend is the well-suited gentleman that brings old world charm, but with a twist. This blend changes every year, and some years they do not even make it, such as 2002 and 2010, due to the fact that they select the best barrels from their top plots. This 2013 is around 70% Syrah, Petite Sirah, Carignan and Marselan & 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. 30 to 40% new French barrels, aged 14 months separately and then aged 4 months together as a blend. It is big, concentrated yet reserved, and elegant with an outstanding quality of giving power but with refined subtlety. Dried thyme, violets and espresso wafted into my head while the body delivered manicured tannins and a long, expressive finish.

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The Beauty of Surrendering to Burgundy

It is not easy to plan out our lives. Sometimes we don’t realize the realities of certain things involving choosing a particular path, or other times, we don’t realize that we are capable of handling extraordinary challenges. Many US expats reveal to me that there was never a strong need or desire to live in a foreign land but it was more of their personal journey guiding them over time in a direction and place where they never envisioned their future to be.

Megan McClune

Megan McClune (left) and I (right) discussing her life and wines

Last week, I was able to have lunch in New York City with Megan McClune, director of Domaine Jessiaume in Burgundy. I knew from the first moment I met her that it was going to be a relaxed and enjoyable wine lunch simply by her energy. She had the ease and grace of someone who was grounded and happy with her life – no need to prove or compete – just joyfully embracing the journey and those who find themselves in her presence.

I was extremely curious to know how an American woman ended up being the director of a Domaine in Burgundy, France – certainly unique. Megan had always had a love for wine and that was consistant through her time as being a finance director for restaurants. A chance meeting in Boston with Alex Gambal, winemaker/owner of Maison Alex Gambal, charted her life in another direction. In 2004, she and her husband, abstract artist Matt McClune, together decided that they should move to Burgundy on a stint as a financial consultant for a project with Gambal, just for 6 to 12 months. Although initially struggling with the language and finding a place in the community was tough, they started to form roots. They were able to prove to the locals that they respected the history and culture, and over time, many started to embrace her, her husband and their two children.

 Domaine Jessiaume

Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/DomaineJessiaume/?fref=ts

Domaine Jessiaume is in the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy and includes 9 hectares (22 acres), mainly in the village of Santenay, as well as premier cru and village parcels in the villages of Beaune, Pommard, Volnay and Auxey-Duresses.

Domaine Jessiaume was bought by Sir David Murray in 2007 – a remarkable man that was born in Ayr, Scotland, and formed the company Murray International Metals Limited by the age of 23. A tragic event, losing both his legs in a car crash at the age of 25, did not dampen his spirit as his company became the leading distributor of structural steel in the world. A man known to be passionate about wine has stated that it is a “personal privilege” to own Domaine Jessiaume and he has invested so much of his resources to bring back its former glory. His son, Keith Murray, who has a specific interest in agriculture, now oversees Domaine Jessiaume.

Megan McClune ended up working for Alex Gambal as his director of finance and sales for 10 years. As she became more curious and involved with knowing about the viticulture and winemaking aspects, she felt she was ready to be part of shaping Burgundy and that’s when she saw an ad for director at Domaine Jessiaume. She sent her resume – yes, the old fashioned way still works – and ended up talking to Sir David Murray in Scotland. He was impressed with what he saw on paper but he wanted to know what kind of person she was… and that was the beginning of a beautiful working relationship.

Megan and William in the vineyards

Megan was simply glowing when she talked about their vineyards and bringing back biodiversity with organic treatments – they will be certified in 2019. She works closely with their young winemaker, William Waterkeyn, to constantly push him to use indigenous yeasts, less sulfur and experiment with oak regimes depending on the vintage. Because he is rooted with a strong science background, sometimes he is afraid but Megan is able to inspire him to believe that he is capable of excelling outside of the conventional structure he was taught within.

Megan says she would never have imagined that she would be running a winery in Burgundy, but now, she can’t imagine herself living any other kind of life. None of us know where our life will bring us, or what hidden talents are hiding within us – like a caterpillar that has not yet become a butterfly. But that caterpillar will never be given a chance to become a butterfly unless it surrenders to those astonishingly, magnificent colors that are within all of us.

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Tasting of Domaine Jessiaume on January 19th, 2017

Domaine Jessiaume wine lunch at Union Square Cafe

 -2014 Maison Jessiaume, Bourgogne Blanc, Chardonnay ($22):

100% Chardonnay & 390 cases produced. I have to say for a Bourgogne this had a nice sense of minerality with a keen acidity that lifted the lemon peel and floral notes.

This white ‘regional’ Burgundy wine is called Maison Jessiaume since the Chardonnay is sourced from one of their tiny plots in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy as well as from neighboring growers who share their philosophy. “Bourgogne” level burgundies are the only wines allowed to note the grape variety on the label, yet for the most part, it is usually easy to guess the variety in Burgundy since the whites are typically Chardonnay (exceptions such as Sauvignon Blanc and Aligoté do exist) and for the most part Pinot Noir for the reds (even though there are a few wines that have some Gamay blended). But Burgundy is the epitome of showing how wine reflects a place – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the ideal vessels to show site since they have such an affinity for expressing terroir.

The following wines all come from vineyards that are owned by Domaine Jessiaume:

-2014 Domaine Jessiaume, Auxey-Duresses Les Ecussaux, 1er Cru Blanc ($42): 100% Chardonnay & 72 cases produced. From .31 hectare (.77 acre) in the premium cru Les Ecussaux vineyard in the village of Auxey-Duresses from vines that are 26 to 30 years old. Only 15% new oak. Aromas of roasted almonds and white peach invite one into the glass. Good weight and flesh that it delivered with elegance with marked acidity and a distinctive chalky hint on the finish.

-2014 Domaine Jessiaume, Santenay, Clos du Clos Genet Rouge ($30): 100% Pinot Noir & 196 cases produced. From .53 hectare (1.3 acres) in a vineyard named Clos du Clos Genet in the village of Santenay from vines that are 35 to 55 years old. Sweet cherries and spice has a touch of grip on the palate that produces a structured wine that gives one a chance to really get into those delicious flavors.

-2014 Domaine Jessiaume, Santenay, Les Gravières 1er Cru Rouge ($40): 100% Pinot Noir & 570 cases produced. Domaine Jessiaume owns the largest vineyard holdings in the Les Gravières 1er Cru. From 4.76 hectares (11.76 acres) in the premium cru Les Gravières vineyard in the village of Santenay from vines that are 19 to 89 years old. Darker, more introspective fruit with black raspberry, a lush body with silky tannins and a refined mineral laced finish. This is a type of wine that draws one in to get lost in a fantastical wine mediation.

 

-2014 Domaine Jessiaume, Beaune, Les Cent Vignes 1er Cru Rouge ($45): 100% Pinot Noir & 300 cases produced. From 1.16 hectares (2.87 acres) in the Les Cent Vignes premium cru vineyard in the village of Beaune from vines that are 35 to 70 years old. Wild flowers and cherry blossom dance in one’s head with a powerful body and rich concentration that is carried throughout the long finish.

 -2014 Domaine Jessiaume, Volnay, Les Brouillards 1er Cru Rouge ($48): 100% Pinot Noir & 50 cases produced. From .26 hectare (.64 acre) in the Les Brouillards premium cru vineyard in the village of Beaune from vines that are 49 to 55 years old. Seductive smoky minerality with violets and wild strawberries on a light, playful body.

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Brunello’s Hard Fight for Pure Sangiovese Pays Off

Caught you looking at my Brunello(s)!!!

A while back ago I wrote a post about Sangiovese called “Can Sangiovese Stand Alone?” It was my own personal journey with this grape variety, mixed with experiences that I have had with producers of Sangiovese over the years, grappling with the idea of whether it can work as a single varietal wine. Whether it was initial experiences of simple, quaffable wines or the stunningly sublime, it was always interesting to me that some producers were insistent on Sangiovese being blended, be it with their classic or international siblings. Well, one woman with whom I had never had any interaction on Facebook (or elsewhere) saw my post, exclaimed that she was not going to read it, called me, the writer of the post, some nasty names and was horrified that I would write such a title.

The title was not meant to be controversial. I was actually taken aback by her reaction since it seemed that she loved Sangiovese wines, and many traditional Tuscan producers, outside of Brunello di Montalcino, are strong believers that Sangiovese’s greatness can only be expressed by blending a small amount of other varieties – similar to how some believe this for Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. I think, without her even looking at my post, she completely misunderstood that I was not questioning the nobility of this variety but wondering how to best display its noble characteristics.

Well, considering the language she used, I decided it was best not to engage and so I will never know her reasoning, but in my opinion, Sangiovese is certainly a grand grape variety that has no problems under the right circumstances producing fine wines completely solo; there is no greater proof then Brunello di Montalcino and their determination to stick to their 100% Sangiovese commitment.

Benvenuto Brunello

Last week I went to the highly anticipated Benvenuto Brunello which showcased the much talked about 2012 vintage. Recently, Brunello had a stellar 2010 vintage and so many were skeptical that they could have another outstanding five star vintage so soon after. As I sat there just prior to the 2012 Brunello seminar, I started to feel the energy of the room – the feeling of everyone trying to contain their excitement because they thought they would be disappointed if they didn’t.

2012 Vintage

Photo Credit: Vincent Roazzi jr. www.vincentroazzijr.com

The 2012 vintage was not only jaw dropping in its purity, beauty and ability to give power with ultra refinement, but it, in my opinion, was obviously a different being all together than the 2010. It was unbelievable how silky, round and inviting the tannins were in all the wines. Alternatively, the 2010s are big, bold and firmly structured with plenty of flesh to fill them out – great examples of extremely tannic wines that are balanced with all the right stuff. But those 2010 big daddies will not be ready to drink for a long time. The 2012s had pristine, lifted fruit quality that was ethereal in a way that I had only known top Chambolle Musigny to be – but don’t make any mistake, it wasn’t like Pinot Noir, it was its own expression of celestial nirvana. Since I have never experienced anything like this, and may I say there were some well known Brunello experts who were baffled by it as well in the room, I think it is is safe to say that there is no comparison, or another Brunello vintage that it is like it… it was unique.

2012 was a year of extremes with lots of snow in February that was needed to fill the water table to combat drought issues, but it also shut down the vines. A wet spring lowered yields by as much as 40 percent, followed by a long, hot summer. It was a nail biter of a vintage that ended up producing across the board exquisite wines. They were like Audrey Hepburn, in the sense that they did not have the classic markers for conventional beauty yet, regardless, lit up the room.

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.” 

-E.E. Cummings

Greatness in Its Own Right

It has been a continued battle for Brunello producers to justify their unyielding commitment to Sangiovese. It was thought that these Sangiovese idealists would eventually get slapped in the face with stone cold realities as they faced many mediocre vintages due to their refusal to allow the blending with other varieties. There was even the “Brunellopoli”, the scandal revealed in 2008 that some Brunello producers may have been adding other varieties to lesser years, but that has long since blown over after conducting analysis of anthocyanins used in the wines which undoubtedly prove that they were 100% Sangiovese.

But even in the face of some of their own producers arguing for the allowance of other noble varieties being blended into the weaker vintages of Brunello, they still came together as a group and agreed that they needed to believe in what they do, believe that Sangiovese from Montalcino can stand alone, that it is enough. If they allowed doubt to take them off their course from their pure Sangiovese mission, not only would they never know the full potential of the variety, the world would never know it either.

I am grateful for the diligence of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino. They, themselves, are an outstanding five star example that you can never win trying to make yourself something that you are not – even if the road is easier- the only way to fight the good fight is by believing that what is uniquely beautiful about oneself is the only way to light up the world.

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Tasting Notes from Brunello di Montalcino on January 17th, 2017

From the first wine I could tell the 2012 was a very special vintage. It had such a purity of fruit that was lifted, sweet yet fresh, elegant enough to be pleasing to the savory lovers in the room while those who loved fruit and ripe tannins were having a wine orgasm.

2012 Castelgiocondo, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (SRP $70): The Castelgiocondo distinctively showed the undeniably beautiful Sangiovese grape front and center with red cherry, jasmine tea and I finally got that seashell note that everyone talks about with Brunello.

2012 Collosorbo, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (SRP $50): I found the Collosorbo to be more of a structural wine yet it was just as approachable with lots of fleshy goodness, not one hint of rough tannins and had a pretty rose petal finish.

-2012 La Magia, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (SRP $40-50): There was more black fruit on the nose – black cherry – with delightful cassis and spice on the palate.

-2012 Le Macioche, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: This winery is practicing organic. A vibrant nose that jumped out of the glass with lavender oil and rose water. A light yet nimble body that has a super star nose that can be enjoyed all day.

-2012 Loacker Corte Pavone, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG (SRP $75): This winery is biodynamic. The haze in the color is intentional and is a sign that minimum filtering that was employed. Earl Grey tea, powdered chocolate and blackberry preserves with mouthwatering acidity that gave great vitality to these rich flavors. I am extremely impressed by this winery. It is noted that they are 100% biodynamic: all vineyards are actually screened by NDVI sensors (normalized density vegetation index) to check vine vitality, vintage characteristics and grape quality.

-2012 Pian Delle Querci, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: This wine showed the most “classic” Brunello qualities with savory dried herbs and a touch of tomato leaf although it still had that spirited ripe red cherry dominating its profile.

2012 Talenti, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG: The Talenti had an intense energy that I found exhilarating; it found harmony with black raspberry jam, graham crackers and a hint of gravelly earth in the background.

-2011 Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Riserva, Poggio Alle Mura ($149.99): There was a New York City representative that talked about this wine since the producer was too busy pouring in the walk around tasting downstairs in the main room. And just like any solid New Yorker, he summed up pouring a 2011 Riserva alongside the 2012 non-Riserva wines by saying, “I feel like I have either been asked to bring a knife to a gun fight or a gun to a knife fight”. But at the end of the day, the 2011 Poggio Alle Mura is everything you want in a Brunello Riserva. Big, bold, firmly structured with tobacco, black tea, rose water and lots of dried red cherry. This wine has never let me down.

It was sad to hear that Harry Mariani passed away last year. He and his brother John introduced Americans to Italian wines with their company Banfi Vintners. My husband and I got to spend the day and evening with John Mariani a couple years back at their property Castello Banfi, in Montalcino, and he seemed very grateful for having such a great, long-lasting partnership with his brother. It was evident that family was everything to him.

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