The People You Want to be Around

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

Disunity

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

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

Tyler Thomas

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

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

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

Dierberg & Star Lane Vineyards

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

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

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

Harmony

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

 

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

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

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

Dierberg Vineyard

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

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

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

 

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

Star Lane Vineyard

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

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

 

 

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

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Do We Truly Know Any Wine Grape Variety?

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

Lesser Respected Grape Varieties

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

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

Cabernet Franc

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

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

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

Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Living in Exciting Times

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

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

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

Alsace Pinot Gris

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

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

Our Tastes Being Recognized

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

 

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

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

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

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

SRP means Suggested Retail Price

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Embracing the World while Being True to Our Beliefs

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

2017 Sommelier Exhibition in Tel Aviv

David Silverman /DPSimages

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

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

Reflecting on my Israeli Wine Trip

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

Kosher Wines

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

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

Ya’acov Oryah

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

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

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

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

Proof is in the Pudding

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

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

Enriching, Peaceful Life

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

 

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

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

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

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

Location of vineyards sourced below:

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

Orange

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

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

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

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

White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red

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

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

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

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

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

 Sweet

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

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

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

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Nothing Worth Having Belongs to Just a Few

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

Ca’ Marcanda

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

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

Gaja and the House of Endless Negotiations

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

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

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

The More We Hold On the Unhappier We Become

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Sometimes Our Grandparents Knew Better

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

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

Valpolicella

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

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

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

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

Amarone

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

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

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

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

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

Being in the Right State of Mind

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

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

 

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

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Amarone della Valpolicella Vertical Tasted on October 23rd, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is “Authentic” Wine?

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

The Wine Game in Manhattan

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

Getting my Head Out of My Butt

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

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

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

Fetzer Vineyards & Bonterra Vineyards

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

Composting

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

Kissed By Mother Nature

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

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

A Company that Amplifies Kindness of Others

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Wines Tasted during this Mendocino County Wine Excursion:

Tasted on November 8th, 2017

Fetzer

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

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

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

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

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

Campovida

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tasted on November 9th, 2017

Bonterra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small Mendocino Wine Producers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pride Does Not Equal Prejudice

There are some vineyard visits that stand out in my mind. I can close my eyes and still feel the cool winter breeze on my face as I was standing in a newly planted plot that would eventually become biodynamic vines. The piles of beige stones that varied from small to humongous with patches of green growth here and there all painted an exotically wild vision. At one point, standing quietly near the edge of a cliff tempering my fear of heights, I looked out onto the valley that was at least 1480 feet (450 meters) below and saw lots of wildlife and sections of various flora amongst the rocky ranges. In the distance, on the left, was Lebanon… and as I turned my head to the right I could see Syria. It was stunning in its raw beauty.

I was in northern Israel, in the Upper Galilee, visiting Recanati winery’s newest vineyard for their Carignan and Marawi (a Middle Eastern indigenous variety) that will each have their first vintage in 2019. It was such a peaceful place; various communities of Jews, Muslims and Christians were tucked away in clusters due to the rocky terrain. The Upper Galilee is a sort of Middle Eastern paradise with streams, waterfalls, and bursts of wildflowers and native plants such as prickly juniper and Lebanese cedar. After spending the week hearing many Israeli wine producers apologize to me that their landscape was not like Europe, I could not help thinking in that moment that they were doing themselves a disservice by doing so… Israel has a wealth of beauty, richness and diversity that is unique to their part of the world; it is a compelling place that interweaves a variety of cultures and landscapes so seamlessly that one takes for granted that it is so much more than the headlines that dominate our internet based lives.

Recanati Winery

Recanati is an Israeli wine producer that has decided to spearhead the production of wines made from Mediterranean grape varieties such as Syrah and Carignan. In New York City, they are known as a top quality producer trying to challenge the (wrong) preconceptions of wines made in Israel. Instead of trying to deny what is innately special about their sense of place out of fear of rejection, they have decided that the only way they can show their world class wines is by highlighting the best of what naturally thrives in their area.

Recanati’s recent research into indigenous varieties has allowed them to discover Marawi, a white grape variety that was found growing on pergola (trellis canopy management) in a Palestinian vineyard, as well as Marawi’s “little brother” Bittuni – a red grape variety; both have been identified as having unique DNA at the University of Milan. There has already been tons of research finding unidentifiable, seemingly local grape varieties in the Middle East, but most of them do not seem to be ideal for winemaking purposes with the exception of a few, such as the Marawi and Bittuni which, ironically, were found growing in a country, Palestine, where making wine is outlawed in some areas (the production or sale of alcohol is not outlawed everywhere in Palestine).

Homeland of Arabic & Hebrew

Recanati puts both the Arabic and Hebrew names for the Marawi and Bittuni on the labels in homage to the shared homeland of these grapes. Recanati has more recently planted their own Marawi in the vineyard where I was standing to take in the majestic view of the Upper Galilee. As much as they have enjoyed working with the Palestinian farmer who grows their Marawi, the vines were originally planted for growing grapes for eating, so Recanati decided that they needed to set up their own vineyard that will produce high quality vines for wine… also, since the farmer is afraid of possible retaliation from terrorist groups for selling wine grapes to an Israeli producer, it is unknown how long this farmer, who remains protected by anonymity, will be able to do business with Recanati.

Blocking Out the Chatter to Get to the Heart

Since I live in New York City, a city that has the largest population of Jewish people outside of Israel, Jewish culture is part of my life. I am a mixed mutt of various influences – some people might think that I would stand, politically speaking, against Palestinians – but they would be mistaken, having not realized that I have spent a lot of time with Palestinian people here in New York City. A few months after 9/11, I actually spent all day in a Muslim mosque during an event when many families from a Jewish temple came to support the Muslim families by forming relationships with them… and such gatherings are still prevalent in NYC. And so, except for a few extremists, people just want to be able to live in peace in a way that is meaningful to them and to give other people that right as well.

Unfortunately the world is a dangerous place, some areas more so than others, and precautions need to be taken… and although Muslim and Jewish people in the Middle East deal with each other in personal and business situations all the time, it is still complicated by the fact that a certain amount of vigilance for safety needs to be maintained. No one wants it this way but it is the reality that both try to navigate in their daily lives. I have to say it has been Israelis that have encouraged me the most to travel across the Middle East to other countries, Muslim countries, and to not be so afraid. Their love for that area of the world extends past their own borders.

I think the world is going through a transition where all of us want to be able to wave our various flags of pride, whether we are Israeli, Palestinian or an American mutt like myself, and not have a barrage of misnomers thrown our way. Just because we show pride in who we are and where we are from doesn’t mean we are against anywhere or anyone else. I am hopeful that these open hearted, indigenous wines of Recanati will remind us that although our political leaders are constantly engaged in ridiculous amounts of saber rattling, the people are constantly trying to find ways to connect. Trust me, there is much more beauty than ugliness in how people live in Israel… I saw it with my own eyes and felt it within my bones… but you have to block out all of the gossip, all the chatter, all the click bait titles from unscrupulous content creators… you need to open your heart to know the heart of this part of the world.

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Tasting of Recanati wines on October 19th, 2017 as a lunch guest at Nur restaurant, in Manhattan, NYC, which specializes in modern Middle Eastern dishes

2015 Marawi, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine: 100% Marawi.  The 2015 had more of a flinty minerality with hints of lanolin and restrained fruit than the 2016 – reminds me of a Savennières but with more approachable acidity.

2016 Marawi, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine: 100% Marawi. 2016 had more fruit, as Recanati is still experimenting with this variety and is finding the best way to work with it… white peach, Bartlett pear, honeysuckle and only a hint of crushed stones with more weight on the body. Very exciting white wine! Also, it was fun to have it with the Palestinian Tartare at Nur… the wine and dish originated in the same place.

-2016 Bittuni, Bethlehem, Judean Hills, West Bank, Palestine:: 100% Bittuni – the little brother of Marawi that makes a red wine instead of a white one, an indigenous variety of the Middle East that could be most similar to Pinot Noir… with red berry delights (strawberry and raspberry), the soft texture of Pinot Noir, the spicy, peppery quality of Blaufränkisch and an interesting hint of wild, dried herbs. Nice to serve cooler than room temperature (about 10 minutes in the fridge) to truly appreciate the exotic delicacy of this red wine.

-2014 Special Reserve White, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel: 60% Roussane and 40% Marsanne. 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 – not flabby at all like lower quality versions of these varieties. 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, next to the Upper Galilee, in the overall encompassing wine region of Galilee. It is a cooler wine region compared to other areas in Israel that is known for its volcanic soils.

2014 Reserve Wild Carignan Old Vines Dry-Farmed Single Vineyard, Judean Hills, Israel: 100% Carignan. Grapes from some of the oldest vines in Israel, grown in little gnarly bushes that produce intoxicatingly exotic aromas & flavors with savory animal notes and spicy black berries that give a savage edge while retaining fresh finesse.

-2014 Special Reserve, Red Blend, Vineyards in Kidmat Reserve, Golan Heights, Israel:  An exotic show stopper with 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, 17% Petite Sirah, 13% Carignan and 10% Marselan. I have known about this wine for a long time since it has received plenty of critical acclaim here in New York City, and it was always considered the standard-bearer for Israeli fine wine. At one time, this wine had more Cabernet Sauvignon, and even though their intention was not to change that, they could not help but notice that the Mediterranean varieties were doing very well, and so, to reflect their best red blend, it has naturally through time become more Mediterranean dominant. Dark and delicious with blackberry preserves, silky tannins and black currant leaf and smoky tea that has an extraordinary length.

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Strong Pillars in the Wine World Sustain Communities

It is always interesting to see how we handle unimaginable events in our lives. I lived in downtown Manhattan during 9/11 and if someone would have presented that scenario as a hypothetical situation to me, I would have instantly replied that after that disaster, I would have gotten my butt out of there… Sadly enough, that situation did happen, and not that far away from me. Yes, I was in a state of panic and pain, but something funny and unexpected happened… I chose to stay, to be close to where the attacks happened… close to the World Trade Towers… to mourn and to eventually find a way to get past this horrible tragedy as part of a community, together. I couldn’t help but have some of those feelings of panic and pain flashbacks during the destructive wildfires in Northern California recently… I knew many people in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino that were at risk of losing their homes, jobs, businesses and potentially their lives. Yes, California is used to wildfires but these recent fires, that raged for weeks, were on a whole different level of devastation; some areas in California will take many years to fully recover… it was horrible to have to sit here on the other side of the country feeling helpless as I watched so many people I knew lose so much in a matter of hours.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to talk over lunch to a winery owner from Sonoma who was visiting New York City. I was anxious to hear how things were out in her neck of the woods. I ended up walking away from that lunch feeling a lot more empowered and hopeful than I could have anticipated.

Debra Mathy, owner of Dutcher Crossing Winery, told me that her winery and vineyards, like many others’ did survive, and the biggest issues were helping people who lost their homes, like in the suburbs in Santa Rosa, and many of the wineries were providing shelter and food to the victims of the fires (her small winery was providing 100 meals a week).  During these tough times, the local wine producers really shone as important pillars of the community.

Debra Mathy

It was interesting to learn more about Debra and how an “outsider” like herself became such an important part of helping the Sonoma wine community survive. She is originally from Wisconsin, moved to Arizona and Colorado at different points in her life, and made a career as a teacher, focusing on nutrition. But it was an early experience, at 15 years old, of a field trip to Paris with her French class that would plant the seeds of wanting to live a life in the wine world. While she was living a “safe” life of a proper profession that offered security, she could not help but to still have that wine dream, which would just deepen with each of her visits to Napa and Sonoma over the years.

Over eleven years ago, Debra was hit with the fact that her father had stage four melanoma cancer (now, each year she has a tribute wine to benefit melanoma cancer research). Her father, a man who spent his whole life working to provide for his family, told her on his death bed that she should live her dream now. Three months after his death, she bought a tiny, charming winery – Dutcher Crossing – that sits in the junction of two creeks, Dry Creek and Dutcher Creek, in Sonoma County.

Her first vintage was the great 2007, and, naively, she though that all vintages would be that easy. But the hard core reality of being at the mercy of Mother Nature was not the only tough challenge she faced. She was the first single female winery owner in Sonoma County, which is an area that is used to many of the winery owners typically being male as well as being established there for generations. Debra remembers a first encounter of an elderly woman coming up to her, shaking her hand, while asking her where she was born… when she replied with “Wisconsin” the woman stopped shaking her hand, quickly walked away, and never spoke to her again… that was her first inclination that it was going to take a lot of grit and tenacity for her to establish herself within the Sonoma community. This was not a problem for her as a Midwesterner with a father that made sure she wasn’t afraid of hard work.

Dutcher Crossing Winery

Debra kept the winemaker and staff from the previous owner at the winery and credits them for helping her along her mission to learn as much as she could about the Dutcher Crossing wines. Also, she knew that having a winery was about relationships and she went out of her way to consistently stop by vineyard owners’ homes to say hello or to lend a helping hand while making herself a fixture at Sonoma wine producer meetings. As the years passed, the community realized she was not there with an unrealistic dream without the backbone to make it work… hell, yes she had a backbone, and through time, proved herself a pillar of the community that would give advice to other producers about how she had become so successful. Debra has established a loyal wine club, selling out of her wines each year, and took the winery from only making a few different wines to making 30 different wines that represented the specific plots of the various grape growers she has gotten to know over the years… there was even one grower who passed away recently and one of his wife’s first phone calls was to Debra… she takes pride that her growers trust that she has their backs.

During our lunch, Debra did admit that she was not terribly comfortable talking about herself and she seemed to want to spend more time talking about her incredible employees, for whom she opened her wine cellar when the fires were going on, and her neighbors, fellow producers and those special relationships with her growers. When I asked her about her wine labels, she said that the drawing on them came about because the artist creating them started to dig within her personal life and found out about the story of her father telling her to live her dream… and his last gift to her was a high-wheel bicycle, which the drawing depicts. Because her father encouraged her to live her dream, Sonoma is so much stronger for it. Pillars of the community do not need an ancestral tree for deep roots… they just need to understand the spirit of a place, and Debra, no doubt, understands what it means to be Sonoma Strong.

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Tasting of Dutcher Crossing Winery at Lunch on October 24th, 2017

2016 Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County: 97.25% Sauvignon Blanc from Bevill “Hall Road” Vineyard in Russian River Valley, and 1.5% Semillon, 1% Roussanne and .25% Chardonnay “Clone 809” from Estate Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Nice fleshy mouthfeel with good weight and long finish that had a lovely balance of sweet peach pie and zingy lemon zest.

2015 Pinot Noir, Chenoweth Vineyard, Russian River Valley: 100% Pinot Noir from the Chenoweth Vineyard in Russian River Valley (Clones 23, 115 and Calera). This Russian River Pinot Noir has lots of black berry and smoky notes that have savory underlying flavors of dried bark and wild mushrooms that was rich yet electric with bright acidity; a powerfully elegant red.

 2015 Zinfandel, Maple Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley: 91% Zinfandel and 9% Petite Sirah from the Maple Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. Lush, brambly berries with spice and dried Provencal herbs and a hint of pepper on the finish. The Petite Sirah gives structure and drive to this sexy, lusciously robust red wine.

Sample of Dutcher Crossing Winery Tasted on November 6th 2017

-2015 Proprietor’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley: 97% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel and 1% Syrah from Estate Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley. Opaque color, and surprisingly inviting as Petite Sirah can be fiercely tannic… the flavors of boysenberry and plum pastry tarts with multi-layered, complex notes of fresh tobacco and leather made this wine irresistible; selfishly, I am happy that I have it as a sample at home. It is a great wine to decant for hours – while it opens with granite and exotic spice, the muscular yet managed tannins start to mellow throughout the day, as I kept it open while I wrote… it could continue to age for 15 years or go great with a steak tonight!

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When Generosity Is Undervalued

The wine world can be contradictory at times. Although we are supposed to promote a product that reduces stress, shares accessible human stories from various areas around the world and, ideally, brings people together, it has sometimes been promoted as a drink that sets up boundaries between economic classes, sophistication levels and educational backgrounds. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the elitism and false presentation of knowledge, both from past colleagues and wine connoisseurs, and I am sad to say that one time, I was told from a long time employee of a well-respected wine retailer in Manhattan that it was better to “seem like you know what you are talking about” instead of actually passing along solid facts.

The “old school” way of talking about wines was to look seriously imposing, while pronouncing a bunch of foreign words (that were indiscernible to many wine consumers), and proclaiming that the wine experts’ personal taste, especially in regards to high quality wines, was the one of choice. If someone in the wine world was smiley, warmly generous, and he/she was transparent about what they knew and didn’t know about wine, then his/her opinion was not taken as seriously in the fine wine world.

Throughout my career in the wine industry, I have met all kinds of people and have been given all sorts of advice. I have spent many, many years trying to learn as much as I can while always being open to the idea that it is impossible to know everything; most importantly, I wanted to serve my customer – whether it was the wine buyer for restaurants and retail stores (when I worked in distribution) or wine consumers (when I worked for a retail store). The idea of trying to figure out what was best for the people whom I was serving while conveying accessible, inspiring wine stories that were relevant to their desires and needs was always the priority. But it would be sometimes pointed out by others in the wine trade, or wine communication world, that trying to be in service of the customer with such a generosity of spirit would just devalue my presence as a knowledgeable and experienced wine voice. Warm, fuzzy feelings did not equal high quality wine expertise.

Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

 I spent many of my Tuesday nights in October participating in a Twitter virtual tasting (using hashtag #winestudio and #ConValDOCG) talking about Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG. I know, I was just starting to talk about generosity in terms of being accessible to others and here I go throwing some seemingly intimidating words around… but these words are important to a specific place and culture, and they are actually very easy to understand. Many of us know Prosecco as a fun and delicious sparkling wine… the name Prosecco is based on a winemaking zone in North-East Italy, in the region of Veneto. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is an area in Prosecco that has a reputation for being one of the top places for outstanding wines… the Superiore DOCG (DOCG indicating the highest quality designation) which is noted on the bottle lets a Prosecco lover know that this wine has been subjected to the strict standards.

Prosecco

I think it is fair to say that many of us think of Prosecco as a quaffing wine… and I do not mean that in a derogatory way. No matter how much artisanally made, complex, fine wine I drink and love, I will always want my “drinking on the porch” wine. And few other wines have been as successful in that regard as Prosecco, since its generosity of flavors and textures invite all wine drinkers to enjoy these wines. Prosecco became so popular that wines made in different areas across the globe started to use that term on their label calling it a ‘Prosecco style’ wine with the “Prosecco” grape… the producers who actually lived in the designated Prosecco area knew that they needed to protect their name, a place that points to a particular area, and part of that campaign was to bring back the proper name of the grape, Glera, and to educate people that Prosecco wines that had DOC or DOCG superseding the name on wine labels were the only true Prosecco sparkling delights on the market.

But just like I was told that being too friendly, down to earth, warm and generous would diminish my professional presence in the wine world, the same has happened to Prosecco. Because they have become so successful with a generously tasty style that has a welcoming presence on the wine shelves, it has made many people underestimate their quality potential for more serious wines… there are even some who like to snicker at its evident accessibility because the old idea that top wines need to be austere or only appeal to a small section of the population unfortunately still prevails with some fine wine connoisseurs.

I remember a woman coming into a fine wine retail store that I worked in, asking for the most expensive Prosecco we had…. at the time, we only carried some of the moderately priced Prosecco wines, and I told her that expensive, fine wine Prosecco didn’t exist. She was frustrated as I tried to point her towards the Champagne section, because she loved Prosecco and she said that there had to be a higher quality version… I felt that day that I failed that woman because of my own ignorance. She made a great point – just because Prosecco is a delicious sparkling wine that many people love doesn’t mean it can’t be made into great wine.

Generosity Takes Different Forms

During our Twitter #winestudio chat about these superior Prosecco wines, it was interesting to learn that although there were different styles and sub-zones (Rive highlighting different villages, Cartizze being a famous sub-zone for quality, contrasting  winemaking styles – all explained below with tasting notes) that all the wines shared an inviting generosity of ripe fruit and floral notes. Even the top wines, which blew me away with their elegance, complexity and distinct sense of place, had a giving quality that I thought anyone could enjoy… and I respected that they didn’t sacrifice the generosity of their top wines, even if it was not completely appreciated by some “serious” wine drinkers.

Every Day We Have a Choice

All of us have our different personal issues. I understand that those who feel the need to put on a stern, judgmental tone when talking about wine are, many times, battling their own insecurities, and thus have a strong desire to prove their worth to others. But I decided a long time ago that I did not want to go down that road, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities because it was more important for me to promote a more generous approach to talking about wine. My attitude was that I didn’t want to be part of a workplace or group of people that did not make generosity one of the main priorities of their wine mission. And just like people, generous wines are also judged, but I am hopeful that times are changing. Now, as many voices have a chance to speak up through the power of social media, we will discover the hidden gems of wines that are stunningly gorgeous yet are generous enough to be shared with ALL our friends as well.

 **All of the above photos are credited to Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG

***If you want to know more about Twitter “virtual tasting” programs such as the above go to the #Winestudio website.

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Tasting Notes of All Four #Winestudio Twitter Chats:

October 3rd, 2017 (1st Week) – Focus on Introducing Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is a DOCG sparkling wine produced exclusively in the hills of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone; it is made from the Glera grape variety. The denomination is made up of 15 communes (municipal areas), and takes its name from the zone’s twin capitals: Conegliano, the cultural capital, which was responsible for the creation of the Prosecco phenomenon thanks to being the site of Italy’s first School of Winemaking, where this wine’s production method was perfected; and Valdobbiadene, the heart of production in the zone: it is surrounded by vineyards of extraordinary beauty, with a special vocation for producing high-quality grapes.

SIDE NOTE: Vineyards located in Conegliano Valdobbiadene can use either Conegliano Valdobbiadene, only Conegliano or only Valdobbiadene regardless if they are located in one capital or the other.

-2016 Bortolomiol, Extra Dry, ‘Banda Rossa’, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Juicy peach fruit with hints of citrus sorbet and a creamy body – Lusciously Divine.

Conte Collalto, Brut, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: Linear with lots of vitality and lots of chalky minerality – a true lady that doesn’t give it up all in the beginning.

 

October 10th, 2017 (2nd Week) – Focus on Rive Sub-Category

The term “Rive” indicates, in the local way of speaking, the slopes of the steep hills that are characteristic of the zone. This category of wine highlights the diverse expressions of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Rive wines are often obtained from the most high-quality vineyards, from grapes grown in a single commune or area, and so, it expresses the underlying characteristics that a particular terroir gives to a wine. Within the denomination, there are 43 Rive and each one expresses a different and distinctive combination of soil, exposure and microclimate.

Val d’Oca, Brut Nature, Rive di Santo Stefano, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: An elegant beauty with intense chalky minerality, lots of tension and energy – THRILLING!

Masottina, Extra Dry, Rive di Ogliano, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: This luscious lady had a fine mineral edge with rich, tangy fruit flavors such as lemon confit and peach cobbler and a lovely edgy, long, oyster shell finish!

Tenuta degli Ultimi, Brut, Rive di Collalto, “Biancariva”, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG: This 2013 showed that great Prosecco can age. YES, YOU HEARD ME RIGHT, 2013!!! Pristine, exotic fruit such as lychee, with wild flowers and an elegant saline finish.

October 17th, 2017 (3rd Week) – The Secondary Fermentation: Bottle vs Autoclave

95% of Prosecco uses the autoclave for their secondary fermentation that makes the wine sparkling. The technique of the autoclave was invented by Martinotti (1895), was immediately adopted by the Conegliano Enology school (Italy’s oldest) and perfected for use with the local wines by the beginning of the 20th century (though it did not become widely used throughout the area until after WWII). Some may know the autoclave method by the name “tank method” or “charmat method” (secondary fermentation in stainless steel tank), but the autoclave is the preferred term for high quality wines such as Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, since it is used for the preservation of the beautiful aromatics and flavors that come from high quality Prosecco and should not be equated to bulk made “Prosecco-style” wine.

Secondary Fermentation in bottle usually implies that a wine will have more “yeasty” “leesy” qualities such as toast and brioche-like notes and creaminess to the body. But sometimes the wine is left on the lees longer in the autoclave method, so those notes can be achieved in the previously mentioned technique as well.

-2015 Bellenda, Brut, “Sei Uno”, Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, RE-FERMENTED IN BOTTLE: Richness with spiced toast and lemon custard yet good tension on the body. It evolves in the glass eventually giving notes of wet stones.

-2015 Malibràn, “Credamora” Rifermentato in Bottiglia, Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG RE-FERMENTED IN BOTTLE- NO DISGORGE: SUPER WINE NERDY & DELICIOUS – sugar covered almonds, violets, creamy body, hints of brioche with high notes of citrus blossom on the finish. These types of Prosecco wines are called “Col Fondo” which means “with sediment”.

October 24th, 2017 (4th Week) – Cartizze – The Most Respected Sub-Zone

The Cartizze is a legendary sub-zone that is a highly fractured area, with 140 different owners of around 265 acres (107 hectares) that is said to have the ideal combination of mild microclimate, ancient soils and steep vineyards that produce deep concentration and complexity in their wines. Many times, their wines are considered “Extra Dry” and have more  residual sugar than the “Brut” style due to the ripeness in the grapes, but the high acidity makes the wines seem dry on the palate. The first wine, drier version (Colesel), and the second wine, the sweeter one (Le Colture), both excel and the sweeter wine (with 23 g/l residual sugar) is seemingly dry yet richly delectable.

Colesel, Brut, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, Prosecco: Enchantingly ethereal quality with crumbly silty-stone and juicy stone fruit in the background – a wine with sense of place that offers engaging silky texture with fine bubbles.

Le Colture, Dry Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Prosecco: A deliriously delicious dream with intense perfume of orange blossom, white pebbles and a hint of lilacs, with lemon drops on the palate – intoxicatingly dangerous with a rich body.

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