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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Right Bank Bordeaux’s Legacy of Rebels

My first trip to Saint-Émilion in 2010

If you want to find the storybook of wine romance in Bordeaux, the Right Bank is the place to visit. Don’t get me wrong, I love Left Bank wines and the area of the Left Bank will always be one of my first loves; yet I had no idea how whimsical and exhilarating Bordeaux could be until I seriously got into the Right Bank. Last September, I had the opportunity to dive deeper into this fabled area at a seminar led by Matt Stamp, Master Sommelier, in New York City… and I have to say that I cannot stop thinking of those wines – some of them continue to haunt me with their rebellious spirit– just like the enchanting village of Saint-Émilion haunts those who have visited it – no other place is like it.

SaintÉmilion

Jurade of Saint-Émilion parading around during my 2010 trip

If you could only visit one vineyard area in the Old World, this is the place to go. It was the first wine region to be deemed an UNESCO World Heritage site. It transports one back in time, and the friendly, warm nature of the local people will make you feel like part of the community. There, they still practice ceremonies dating from the 1200s, such as the Jurade of Saint-Émilion, which not only are associated with historical events but also overseeing wine practices in Saint-Émilion.

Unlike the Left Bank which, as many Bordeaux lovers know, was classified in 1855, the great wines of Saint-Émilion were not classified until 1954 (published in 1955).  Also, the Saint-Émilion classification is not set in stone, unlike its Left Bank sibling – it is constantly re-evaluated as producers have to show a panel of judges a decade worth of back vintages, as well as conduct vineyard visits.  During this process, some of the classifications have been challenged resulting in alterations that are different from the first decision. Their ranking system is dynamic, just like their wines – which is funny considering they have a longer history of growing grapes than their Left Bank brothers and sisters.

Even though there is always an underlying quality that will let you know it is a Saint-Émilion beauty, with its accessible charm associated with a cooler climate and limestone dominant soil, it is the passion of the people who really impress me, such as rebel Jean-Luc Thunevin with Château Valandraud helping to start the garagistes (garage wine movement) in the 1990s that defied classification rules of production and ultimately became a cult hit wine among fine wine collectors.

The Right Bank is not the land of aristocracy, it is the land of the church (grape growing dating back 2,000 years to Roman times) yet people nowadays mainly pray and surrender in their vineyards and winery – they are devoted disciples who will not be constrained by the will of bureaucracy but instead follow the will of the divine – call it their passion or their muse leading them – it creates some of the most exhilarating wines in this area of the world.

Pomerol

Château Siaurac in Pomerol during my trip in 2010

Saint-Émilion’s neighbor, Pomerol, is a bigger mystery as they have no classification yet they have one of the most famous fine wines – Pétrus. Pomerol was part of the garagistes movement as well, with Le Pin becoming a superstar by breaking the “rules”. I had a chance to speak to Christian Moueix during a small staff training in New York City back in 2014 and he was not what I expected. You would think that a man who was part of one of the most famous Bordeaux families – owner of Pétrus, other wine super stars, as well as President of his family’s prestigious négociant house – would be formal and reserved. But in fact, he was the complete opposite – gregarious, down to earth and generous – it almost felt like I was visiting with a long time friend. He said that even with the success of his family’s wines and company, he still feels like a poor, struggling person from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak.

Christian Moueix told stories about how his father, who first started their négociant business, had nothing when he was growing up. It was the sort of situation where they worried when they would eat next, could they pay their bills… he even remembers being a young person and having to sneak into châteaux parties on the Left Bank because as a Right Bank person he was considered a peasant. Things have certainly changed for him from that time but he remarked that many of his neighbors are still overlooked on the Right Bank.

Although Pomerol is only a short distance from Saint-Émilion, they typically produce richer, more decadent wines due to a drastic increase in temperature for their vines which are assisted by more gravel in their soil – with the exception of the legendary Pétrus vineyard known for their iron-rich clay.

Fronsac

Map Credit: Saint-Émilion Pomerol Fronsac

Fronsac is the least known but the wines punch above their weight. They are west of Pomerol but have more in common with Saint-Émilion, mainly because it has limestone dominated soils as well. But what is interesting about this area is that it has received an undeservedly lesser reputation that may be associated with the Phylloxera epidemic that destroyed most of the vineyards in France during the late 1800s. Phylloxera, a tiny aphid-like insect, could not be killed, although flooding a vineyard constantly would help. Fronsac had issues with rivers flooding it – and so the flatland vineyards survived (due to flooding killing Phylloxera – or at least managing it) and kept producing wines while the higher elevation vineyards declined. Well, many of us know that the lower quality vineyards in continental climates are commonly the lower quality vineyards while the ones on the slope or on top of the hill are higher quality. Hence why, perhaps, Fronsac built a reputation for quaffable wines that were not taken seriously because the best vineyards for a time were out of commission.

Well, today, the wines are a great value – some serious producers are carving out delicious, intriguing wines at great prices.

 Our Roots are Always a Part of Us

Roots can mean different things to different people. Personally, I can’t tell you much about the people who are genetically related to me, but I can tell you about the people who have influenced me during my formative years – and their families’ stories have been passed along to me. Also, I remember having nothing and feeling free because I had nothing to lose, nothing to live up to… I think that the super star Right Bank wines feel like they have that same freedom. France has some of the strictest rules when it comes to making wine. I’m not criticizing – it helps to promise quality to its customers within a particular stylistic framework.  But not the Right Bank of Bordeaux – their roots – their legacy has proven that they thrive when they are given room to experiment, to rebel… all the while being grateful for each opportunity to spend another day to pray at their alter – their vineyards.

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Wines Tasted at this Saint-Émilion-Pomerol-Fronsac Seminar

September 26th, 2016

General note – the percentages of varieties may not be exactly what is in the wine since many times it refers to what is planted, so please use them as a guideline of general percentages.

The following flight was a great example of some of the producers in Fronsac over-delivering. Fronsac has a reputation for modern winemaking practices that highlight the fruit and may be appealing to those who like New World wines.

Tasting Flight 1: Fronsac

-2012 Vrai Canon Bouché, Canon-Fronsac (SRP $25): 83% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. This wine had a surprising amount of generous blue and black fruit, yet it was understated with an overall elegant quality.  In general, 2012 is considered a better vintage for the Right than Left Bank.

-2004 Château Canon, Canon-Fronsac (SRP $24): 100% Merlot. The most savory wine of this flight that has hints of black raspberry notes. A gentle wine hitting its peak, so I would drink within the next couple of years.

-2012 Château Dalem, Fronsac (SRP $26): 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. A delicious wine with an intense floral nose, a hint of wet stone minerality and a rich, opulent body with soft tannins.

 Tasting Flight 2: Satellites

This flight had the Old World charm of Saint-Émilion. These satellites may not have the polish of their Grand Cru siblings but they still offer the Saint-Émilion goods at a much more affordable price.

-2011 Château Lyonnat, Lussac-Saint-Émilion (SRP $24): 100% Merlot. I loved this old school Bordeaux, which I think is a style that can bring back the glory of Merlot with its dusty earth, cigar box and fresh black currant with lots of energy on the finish.

-2012 Château de Môle, Puisseguin-Saint-Émilion (SRP $24): 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This was my favorite of the flight. It had an attractive nose of spice and floral notes, tannins evident yet fine in quality and so had plenty of shape and structure.

-2012 Château de Parsac, Montagne-Saint-Émilion (SRP $22): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Loamy earth, crushed rock with a nice amount of muscle and weight with flavors of stewed plums.

-2006 Château Maison Blanche, Montagne-Saint-Émilion (SRP $35): 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Franc. This showed what Old World wildness can taste like in a wine with roasted meats, singed sage and blueberry preserves all wrapped up with a lush body. This wine is at peak so drink this wild child now.

-2013 Château StAndré Corbin, St-Georges-St-Émilion (SRP $25): 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc. The 2013 has been compared to the 1992 – cool and wet with rot problems – some consider the 2013 vintage a wash but I thought this estate did a good job considering the circumstances. Lots of sweet oak and tannins dominated yet there was plenty of sweet red cherry and mouth watering acidity that makes me wonder if this wine just needs more time. It stood out being vastly different than any of the others. It would be interesting to stash a bottle away even for a couple of years.

 Tasting Flight 3: St-Émilion

 

-2011 Château de Fonbel. Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion (SRP $26): 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 5% Carménère. Very open wine that had no problems showing all of its goods from the first sip with cherry and spice. For the price, this is a wine that can easily become a weekly favorite.

-2010 Château Monbousquet, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $67): 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. I have been a fan of Monbousquet for year. Yes, big and burly at this point from this blockbuster of a vintage yet it still has a lovely transparency of purity of fruit (raspberry) that I always find it simply stunning. This wine is already starting to open up now with notes of truffle and cardamom spice, yet you know it is barely showing you what it’s capable of. I can imagine it will be a super star in a few more years! Not the most expensive of the flight but I will go out on a limb and honestly say it is the wine I found the most exciting.

-2012 Château Lusseau, Grand Cru, Saint-Émilion (SRP $25): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. I’m into this affordable and generous Saint-Émilion, like the first wine from this flight. Lilacs and cinnamon with sweet red fruit and a delightfully plush palate.

-2010 Château Pavie-Macquin, Premier Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $131): 85% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon. A big, massive wine with lots of extraction that is pretty closed and tight at this point in its life. I would not open for at least another 5-6 years, but I think it will easily develop with great improvement over the next two decades. Dark, brooding fruit with an underlying chalky minerality. Still a mystery at this point but when I took the time to go back you could sense that this wine had so much to give – when it was ready. Can’t wait to see the future for this great wine from one of my favorite vintages in modern times.

-2012 Château de Pressac, Grand Cru Classé, Saint-Émilion (SRP $38): 69% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Franc, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Malbec and 1.5% Carménère. If I had to buy any of the wines in this flight to drink tonight, it would be this wine. It was singing in the glass with an alluring nose of star anise, wild flowers and licorice with well-knit tannins that carry its plumy goodness on the palate across the sustained finish.

Tasting Flight 4: Pomerol

From my visit of Château Siaurac back in 2010

-2010 Château Siaurac, Lalande-de-Pomerol (SRP $22): 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. Lalande-de-Pomerol is the way to go when you want the Pomerol experience at a fraction of the price. Also, they are much more approachable at a younger age. Round and inviting with black berry fruit and a soft, lush texture.

-2009 Château Bourgneuf, Pomerol (SRP $43): 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. This wine was formally known as Bourgneuf-Vayron. It is dense with chocolate and purple fruit. A much more serious Pomerol for those who are up for the challenge. I would suggest decanting this wine for a couple hours if you can’t wait the couple more years it will need – and it screams for steak!

-2008 Vieux Château Certan, Pomerol (SRP $151): 65% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine caught me off-guard because Vieux Château Certan (VCC) can have a reputation for needing a long time before it can be approached, and while that may be true in certain vintages, this 2008 was remarkably friendly. Also, 2008 was a vintage that was not given that much notice during En Primeur but it became a lot better than many expected. Seductive aromas of dried thyme, spice box and tobacco leaf make this wine irresistible, and with the fine tannins and beautiful ripe fruit I could have drank this whole bottle and I wouldn’t have thought twice about the infanticide I just committed – so be careful –this gorgeous knockout is a real temptress… and it will just get better over the next decade.

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Oakville Wrote Their Future By Defining Themselves

I found it incredibly fascinating to learn more about the AVA system (American Viticultural Area) at the Oakville Master Class in New York City on November 16th. It was not only a lesson on the why, how and what in regards to areas of production that are noted on the label of American wines, especially focusing on Napa Valley, but the deeper meaning of how all of us need to define ourselves if we want to have any say in our future.

AVA vs AOC

Let me just touch on what an AOC is since it is a system that was developed long before our American Viticultural System. AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée or sometimes people just call it AC… it was superseded by the Appellation d’Origine Protegée (AOP) so this designation of origin would have more validity in court. So, even though some French producers may be a little peeved at me, let’s use the term AOC since that is the one many French wine drinkers are most familiar with…

Okay, what does the AOC do? Good question. It is a system that defines areas of wine production and regulates the parameters of the wines made, such as grape variety, in that specific AOC. For example, various red Burgundy AOCs define the grape variety to be Pinot Noir and the whites defined to be Chardonnay.  Of course there are exceptions – can I offer you a glass of Saint-Bris?

Since France began making wine way before America, it was France that helped to inspire many great American wine producers to set up a structure for their different wine regions, with Napa Valley being one of the most famous to follow their lead. Richard Mendelson, one of America’s preeminent wine lawyers, talked during this seminar about an apprenticeship, during his early days of post-graduate work, at a winery in Burgundy guiding him in how he assisted shaping the American system of appellations. Also, he expressed how France inspired many of the key figures that made Napa Valley what it is today.

And so, a system like the AOC, that would designate areas based on commonality of history, community identity, topography and sense of place, was created, although the American version, the AVA, does not have a “playbook” as Mendelson called it, so it does not set parameters that restrict the producer. For example, the AVA does not force a producer to grow a certain variety(ies). Mendelson explained that since we were such a young winemaking country, we needed time to sort out what worked best in particular vineyard sites – and he said that we are still figuring that out.

Napa Valley AVA

Napa Valley was the second designated AVA in the US, only second to the Missouri AVA, and that’s only because it took Napa a lot longer to figure out where the boundaries would be drawn.

It was an incredible experience to hear Richard Mendelson talk, since he himself not only witnessed some of the most significant events in the history of American wine but he was a part of it. That experience was enhanced by his book, which we were given, Appellation Napa Valley: Building and Protecting an American Treasure.  It is a big, hard covered book, deservedly so, since it not only documents the intricacies of setting up the Napa Valley AVA and its subsequent sub-AVAs, but there needed to be room for all the maps that truly give one a deep understanding of why boundaries were drawn the way they were and the impact of these final decisions. Mendelson creates a picture and journey that is so vivid that I could imagine being in those rooms when these passionate discussions between the legends of the Napa wine community were taking place.

During the seminar, Mendelson was always careful to make sure he was explaining the legalities of certain statements but it was always colored with his obvious gratitude that his life was enriched by the wine community. He said that as a lawyer he has worked with many commodities, and by comparison, nothing was as wonderful as working with “growers and vintners” as he felt that their proceedings were like no other. The people involved understand “that these boundaries may last forever”, and so they are happy to take their time to make sure they are doing the right thing, not only in regards to what is fair to everyone involved, but what is ultimately right for a distinctive AVA labeled area.

Impetus for Defining

Oakville and Rutherford are both sub-AVAs that are famous today, but at one time they were not officially designated. The impetus to designate these specific places came from the 1985 version of Hugh Johnson book, Atlas of Wine (the most updated version is one of my favorite wine books today). Now let me first preface this by saying that not only did Mendelson express his high admiration for Johnson, but I have always looked up to him and I am always immensely blown away by his skill and insane amount of talent when it comes to writing about wine. But back to the 1985 Atlas of Wine – in this edition, there was a defined area called the Rutherford Bench that was partly in Rutherford and party in Oakville. It became apparent to producers in both areas that they needed to legally define their own area or the press and outsiders would have no choice but to sort it out for themselves.

And so, the main leaders on both the Oakville and Rutherford sides decided that they needed to come together to figure out for themselves the following questions: Where was Oakville? Where was Rutherford? Where was the Rutherford Bench? Where was the Oakville Bench? Mendelson was a member of the team establishing the Oakville boundaries from the very beginning until the end and he said it took four years. Again, this illustrates the seriousness of which everyone took this decision.

Since many questioned where the “Bench” really existed, and some even questioned if it existed at all, it was decided that there would not be an official AVA for either the Rutherford or Oakville Bench. And just a further example of the community sticking together, they were afraid that designating a “Bench” would make those from the regular AVAs, who are not part of the “Bench”, second class citizens. Some used the example of the 1855 classification in Bordeaux and how some Châteaux felt they were given an unwarranted lower classification. For example today, a 5th growth like Pontet-Canet has had some of their vintages considered on par with 1st growths, but they are still considered a 5th growth, and cannot command a 1st growth’s price.

And so, in 1993, they defined the exact boundaries of Oakville and Rutherford as separate AVAs with the “Bench” idea left off the table. Even though it is interesting to note that although some producers will refer to vineyards being in the “Bench” in their marketing material, it is not a legally defined term.

What Happens If We Don’t Define Ourselves?

This seminar was already filled with a wealth of tantalizing information and experiences but there was something that happened that I think many people in that room had never experienced. It is worth noting that this seminar was held in the Carnegie Hall building, where some of the greatest musicians in the world have played.  It was serendipitous that a Sommelier present at the seminar was also an opera singer, and so he sang Danny Boy… it was simply exquisitely sung with such depth and emotion.

It is impossible to hear that song without thinking of my step-father. He loved that song. It was one of the songs he wanted played at his funeral. It always made him sad, but when I would asked him why he had tears in his eyes when he heard it he simply could not express exactly why. He thought it was a song about a father saying goodbye to his son… possibly never seeing him again. He had kids young and he thought he was not the best father, provider and he did express guilt about wishing he could have relived it. Even though his kids tried to reach out to him as they became adults and form a close relationship he allowed his own regret to hold him back. He allowed that early part of his life to define him and so his low self esteem made him settle for certain things he should have never settled for…

In that moment, listening, it was incredible to see this sommelier, Haksoo Kim, spread his wings and fly… he took us along for the ride showing us that we were a lot more than we have allowed ourselves to dream.

Oakville AVA

Oakville was a community that decided to stand up and define themselves as being a special place that was worth noting… and they talk as if there is still a lot more growth for them on the horizon… they see their future potential problems as opportunities to dig deeper into what their magnificent vineyards have to offer. They know the work has only just begun and they look foreword to another chapter in their lives and their children’s lives.

Defining Ourselves

How we define ourselves is always a work in process… just like the wine world – we evolve with the different experiences and challenges that are presented to us. But if we are going to live through all the trials that life has to offer, then we might as well define who we are and not allow others to place us in a box. Whether good times or bad, leaps or falls, we can always ground ourselves in the idea that our greatness never alters, it is sometimes just forgotten – or in my step-father’s case, buried in a deep, dark hole that he never realized was there.

It is not too late to define ourselves to the world. Some may not like it, some may have no interest, but in the end we will never know the life that we are supposed to live unless we stand up and be counted.

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The following are all Cabernet Sauvignon wines from Oakville that were tasted during the Master Class:

 1997 Heitz Martha’s Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (winery located in St. Helena but vineyard located in Oakville): 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich, lots of blackberry fruit, round tannins with a full body and long bright finish that had a lift of mint. A lush wine that still has that Heitz elegance.

Kathleen Heitz Myers

This wine is a special commemorative cuvee honoring the late Joe Heitz and his relationship with Tom and Martha May. Kathleen Heitz Myers, daughter of the founders as well as President and CEO of Heitz Cellars, told the story of Martha’s vineyard – the first single vineyard in the US for Cabernet Sauvignon. But before she told the story, she pointed out Tom and Martha’s daughter in the audience, Laura May Everett, and prefaced her story with “Laura and I are like sisters. We’ve known each other through good and bad, growing up together. We know each other’s secrets. Our company takes the long view. We stand by each other through tears and happiness.”

Laura May Everett

She then told the story of Martha’s vineyard as a property that Tom and Martha May bought in 1963 – right after they were married – and at the time, had no idea that this was “the vineyard”. In 1965, the Mays paid Joe and Alice Heitz a visit to see if they wanted to buy their grapes – and history was made. Joe Heitz thought the wine was so special because of the vineyard that he thought he should label it to give the Mays credit somehow. So Joe talked to Tom about what he would like to call the vineyard… one day Tom was driving behind a boat that had the name of a woman on it, and so, he named the vineyard after his wife, Martha – who was embarrassed by the gesture but the name stuck. And so for the 1966 vintage, Martha’s Vineyards was placed on the label.  Since then, the grape variety has naturally morphed and evolved and has become its own proprietary clone (or biotype) called Martha’s Cabernet Sauvignon – which features small berries, long, loose bunches, intense color and aromatics and is known for a minty note.

Left to Right: Peter Heitz, Larry Maguire, Kathleen Heitz Myers and Richard Mendelson

2002 Far Niente Estate Bottled: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Petit Verdot. Deep ruby color, floral, soft tannins, juicy creme de cassis with flavorful finish.

Larry Maguire, President and CEO of Far Niente, said that when they write a comprehensive book about Napa Valley, there should be a whole chapter devoted to Richard Mendelson. He said that anytime he is sent some random “cease and desist” letter he immediately calls Mendelson who quickly works to help him out.

2010 Turnbull Cellars, Black Label: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stewed plums, blueberry pie, sweet, big and plush tannins.

This wine comes from two areas in the Oakville Bench (Leopoldina and Fortuna) and Western rolling hills of Calistoga (Amoenus)

Peter Heitz, Winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars, no relation to Kathleen Heitz Myers but they have been friends for many years, said that part of Oakville’s success was due to the fact that people share their experiences and knowledge gathering together for meetings at the UC Davis station, located in Oakville.  He said this idea of cooperation for the greater good across Napa Valley as a whole accomplished the feat of eradicating the European Grape Moth within 5 years of working together.

2010 Detert Family Winery: Big, broad structure that has pure black currant flavor and a refined finish.

The Detert vineyard is surrounded by the famous To Kalon vineyard, but it cannot call themselves To Kalon on the label since Robert Mondavi owns the trademark to To Kalon and has an agreement to share that name with Beckstoffer but Detert is not part of that agreement.

2010 Heitz Martha’s Vineyards: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Focused and elegant, not as lush or jammy as the 1997… stunning violet notes with incredible energy.

2012 Far Niente Estate Bottled: 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc. Exotic spice, a great backbone of structure with hints of vanilla on the finish will make this a long lived wine.

2012 Paradigm Winery: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. They said that 2012 was a great vintage where they made their ideal wine… lots of black fruit, mid-weight on the palate and richness… this wine has a flavor of lush, ripe black cherries with sweet spice and nice fleshy body that makes it very appealing now.

2014 Turnbull Cellars, Black Label: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Smoky ash, dark brooding fruit with a beautiful, lifted nose of wild flowers that really made it stand out.

Peter Heitz, Winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars, said that even though the 2014 is not ready to drink he still wanted to show it since he thinks the wine is exciting. When asked about vintages he said that he originally thought the 2014 was only going to be a mediocre vintage but he thinks that it may end up being one of the greatest vintages in modern times.

The following wines were tasted after the Master Class during lunch:

2013 Hoopes Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon: Black currant preserves, cinnamon and velvety tannins.

2013 Franciscan Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon: Dusty, opulent, rich, blackberry, spice and tobacco leaf.

 

2014 Robert Mondavi Winery, Fumé Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, To Kalon Vineyard: Lots of textural complexity with delicious notes of honeysuckle and white peach.  Many people agree that very few did as much for the prestige of Napa Valley than Robert Mondavi.

2014 Tor Kenward Family Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tierra Roja Vineyard: A sexy, extremely attractive wine that grabs you from the first taste with sensual flavors of sweet black berry that is balanced by a undertone of earth.

 2013 Oakville Ranch, Cabernet Sauvignon: An opulent wine with silky tannins that has well-integrated oak and a refined aromatic finish.

 

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Cabernet Franc: The Forgotten Father

Dracaena Wines

Recently, I greatly enjoyed participating in #CabFrancDay on Twitter.  This day was founded by Lori Budd of Dracaena Wines and it takes place on the same day each year, December 4th, for reasons that Lori illustrates in one of her posts. In the well-regarded book, Wine Grapes , Cabernet Franc is said to be “undoubtedly one of the most important and ancient varieties in the Bordeaux region”, yet it has been extremely underappreciated for a variety that has such a noble history. How did it become the forgotten father of its superstar son, Cabernet Sauvignon?

Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc is one of the parents of Cabernet Sauvignon (the other progenitor being Sauvignon Blanc) which makes sense simply considering their names. The parentage of Cabernet Sauvignon was discovered at the University of Davis in 1996 and came as a shock to many people in the wine world considering that Cabernet Sauvignon was a variety held in the highest regards yet Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc were taken less seriously.

It can be argued that Sauvignon Blanc suffers from the prejudice that red wines are of inherently higher quality than white wines – although it is interesting to note that the one quality that has given Cabernet Sauvignon such acclaim is also a marker for its white mother: “What is remarkable about Cabernet Sauvignon is that it imprints its identity so firmly on any wine that includes it…” –Wine Grapes

Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, is a red variety that is part of the esteemed legacy of Bordeaux. Even though it plays a small part in the blends of Left Bank Bordeaux, it certainly found its home in Saint-Émilion (Right Bank Bordeaux) although it does play second fiddle to Merlot in blends. Château Cheval Blanc is the best example of what Cabernet Franc can bring to a blend since, for most vintages, it is the dominant variety. Clive Coats, wine writer and Master of Wine, described Cheval Blanc as “the only great wine in the world made predominantly from Cabernet Franc.” It is one of only four producers that have the highest ranking in the Saint-Émilion classification with the status Premier Grand Cru Classé (A).

But what about single variety Cabernet Franc? Or at least a blend that is made with a significant amount of Cabernet Franc, as it seems Cheval Blanc uses, at most, 60% Cab Franc.

Glorie Farm Winery

The cooler area of the Loire Valley, France, has been making single variety/Cab Franc dominant wines for ages. I have certainly had some lovely examples from Chinon and Bourgueil yet a variety cannot become a global success unless other areas around the world are growing it. And so, its long established association with cooler weather, as well as it being a mid ripening variety (Cabernet Sauvignon ripens later) and its less tannic nature, makes it a nice variety to grow in other cool climates such as the Finger Lakes in New York and the much lesser known Hudson Valley. I was excited to try my first Hudson Valley, New York, wine for #CabFrancDay, Glorie Farm Winery’s 2014 Cabernet Franc. It showed a nice balance between Old World fresh autumn leaves, and New World fresh black currant fruit.

Chateau Niagara

But the tendency to plant it in cooler climates may be an issue for Cabernet Franc since, in these conditions, it makes lighter, less “show stopper” type wines that can verge on being austere and unpleasantly green. Actually, the first red wine I tasted in my #CabFrancDay lineup was a wine from Niagara called Chateau Niagara. I have to admit that I knew it was going to have a pretty nose (well made Cab Franc can produce stunning aromas) due to the good things I had read while researching this producer but I was afraid that the palate was going to be lacking with a thin body. Well, happily I was wrong… about the palate that is… the wine had a pristine raspberry nose that was perfectly balanced with a juicy body and a hint of wet stones on the finish. The owner, Jim Baker, who joined us on Twitter for our discussion, said Niagara gets “less tannic, more medium bodied wines with substantial red fruit.” He also emphasized that Cabernet Franc can range in character depending on how it is treated in the vineyard.

The Son: Cabernet Sauvignon

All of us know the importance of Cabernet Sauvignon. When a New World winemaking country wants to be taken seriously, they plant this noble red grape variety. When its parentage was revealed, it seemed to turn the wine world on its head… almost on the same level as when Darth Vader revealed to Luke Skywalker that he was his father in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. It will certainly go down as one of the greatest cinematic reveals of all time. I can remember feeling stunned… I was a very young child who, for the first time, consciously realized that the world was a lot more complicated than I once thought.

There is no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon has the right to be considered a great variety but its own father seems to be considered nowhere near its greatness. There are many factors that could have contributed to the modern day impression of these varieties. First, it is easier to make more structured and darker colored wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, which automatically gives a serious profile to its wines. The typically high acid and significant amount of tannins assist in making the high quality versions ideal for ageing – giving it more validity for its greatness. And, it was fortunate enough to be taken seriously hundreds of years ago, in Bordeaux, and hence has had a large amount of time devoted to the best practices for its growth in various types of vineyards and its handling in the winery.

Ehlers Estate

 

Napa Valley, California, is one of those New World areas that has spent a large amount of resources and time on the production of Cabernet Sauvignon. But it is nice to see them placing some of that focus on Caberent Franc. My lineup for #CabFrancDay had two wines from Napa Valley. One was a 2013 organic 100% Cab Franc from St. Helena in Napa by Ehlers Estate that had silky tannins, rich black cherries and a nice sense of place.

 

St. Supéry

 

And to show the diversity of Cabernet Franc, the other Napa wine, 2012 St. Supéry in Rutherford, had more cassis and chocolate notes yet the cooler 2012 vintage was evident with marked acidity. Both wines showed brilliantly and made it obvious why, during a Master Class I attended recently about Oakville wines in Napa Valley, one of the winemakers, Peter Heitz – winemaker for Turnbull Wine Cellars – said he thought Cabernet Franc was the future for Napa Valley.

 

Parentage

As people, we seem to have a need to concern ourselves with the stories of our parents. Whether they are our biological, adoptive, or in some cases step-parents or grandparents raising us, it becomes a mission to understand ourselves better, to either live up to or to avoid certain values, and to either succeed by becoming even 1/10th of the person they were or to learn from their mistakes and to evolve to a better path. Sometimes it is all of those things or sometimes it is not so clear at all what we need to resolve.

That is one of the reasons why I love Star Wars. Yes, it can seem like a simple, childish movie that has mediocre dialogue, acting, and, in the original films, sub-par special effects (by today’s standards). But it is the arc of Luke Skywalker that gets me every time. He is an inherently good young man that is faced with the fact that his father is one of the worst villains of all time. This knowledge makes him question himself and his own tendencies to lean towards the dark side… and through time, his strong feelings to protect his friends are used to inflame anger that brings out his worse fear… he is capable of going to the dark side by committing an unbridled act of violence.

But Luke never gives up hope that there is good in his father, and Darth Vader, with his last breaths, redeems himself and proves to Luke that he was right – there was still good in him. Of course, this is a movie, a fantasy that does not always play out in real life. But it makes one wonder, when you see the flash of goodness in Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) before he dies, that if he could have avoided certain horrific tragedies so early in his life, then perhaps he would have become a great force for good – the greatest Jedi of all time.

I think many of us can’t help but think the same thing about certain people in our own lives…often times we think of parents, not that they are villains but that they had unreached potential, if they would have taken a different path then perhaps they would have been capable of greatness. The same can be said for Cabernet Franc.

A Chance for Redemption

Leah Jørgensen Cellars

Unlike human beings, noble varieties such as Cabernet Franc can be given many chances, so long as there are quality wine producers singing its praises.  There are such producers as Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles, California, whose Cabernet Franc gives new definition to the phrase “sexy beauty”, or Leah Jørgensen Cellars in Oregon who produces both red and white Cabernet Franc wines that could each be described as being devastatingly gorgeous. The redemption of Cabernet Franc is coming as producers are finally giving the forgotten father of the most well-respected variety in the world the adoration that it has deserved for way too long.

Credit: boards.theforce.net

One of the most powerful scenes in the Star Wars original trilogy is when Luke Skywalker takes Darth Vader’s lifeless body to a deserted place in the woods where he gives him the funeral rites of a Jedi – burning his body. It is fitting that Luke alone looks at his father’s outer shell, Darth Vader, being turned to ashes while Luke’s thematic melody, which represents his journey, plays in the background. To me it represents many things… destroying the twisted villain Darth Vader, freeing the once good Anakin Skywalker from his prison… bringing balance to the Force… allowing Luke to find peace within himself so he may move forward… all the while wondering about the man that Anakin Skywalker should have been.

In a way, it is impossible to know the nuanced layers that Cabernet Sauvignon can offer if we do not intimately get to know its father – Cabernet Franc. Fortunately, we have what our forefathers and foremothers did not have, the opportunity to drink an exciting array of amazing Cabernet Franc wines from around the world.

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Samples of Cabernet Franc wines tasted on December 4th, 2016

Me and my Cabernet Franc wines! Yee-haa!!

I was only given samples to taste from the US, but in the past, have been extremely impressed by some of the quality producers coming from the Loire Valley and so those are certainly worth checking out as well. Also, the Finger Lakes, New York, is also missing from my samples but they are well-known for their amazing Cabernet Francs and so it was fun to try other areas of the US that are not as known for their Cab Franc wines.

I tasted the following wines in the morning of Decemeber 4th, as I prefer tasting early in the day, and participated in the Twitter virtual tasting later that night. The wines are in the order in which I tasted them.

2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Blanc de Cabernet Franc, Mae’s Vineyard, Applegate Valley, Oregon ($30): 100% Cabernet Franc white wine. Golden color with kumquat and lemon confit flavors and hint of orange blossom, with creamy, medium body and saline finish. This is just simply a wine nerd’s dream come true.

2015 Chateau Niagara Cabernet Franc, Niagara, New York ($29.99): 100% Cabernet Franc. Pristine raspberry nose with juicy, fleshy fruit (pleasantly surprised) and a hint of wet stones on the finish. I definitely want to try more Cabernet Francs from Niagara.

2014 Glorie Farm Winery Cabernet Franc, Hudson River Region, New York ($19): 100% Cabernet Franc. Balance of Old World fresh autumn leaves, and New World bright black currant fruit.

2015 Leah Jørgensen Cellars Cabernet Franc, Southern Oregon ($25): 100% Cabernet Franc. A moderate bodied red wine with lovely rose petal aromas and rich cherry flavors that have fascinating layers of tree bark and star anise adding to its complexity.

2013 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California ($60): 100% Cabernet Franc. Loamy, earthy undertones gives this a great sense of place with silky tannins, rich black cherries and a flavorful finish.

2012 St. Supéry Estate Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California ($65): 94% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was full bodied, like the Ehlers, but with more cassis and chocolate notes, yet the cooler 2012 vintage was evident with marked acidity.

2014 Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc, Paso Robles, California ($32):  90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petite Sirah. A sexy, lush wine that really opened my eyes to the fact that I did not know Cabernet Franc as well as I thought. Who knew that it could make such a hedonistic wine with raspberry jam, spice, black pepper and hints of rosemary on the finish? It has textural complexity with well-knit tannins that gave shape to the luscious body. I don’t smoke, but if I did, I would have smoked a cigarette after drinking this wine.

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