A Plethora of Prosecco for the Holiday Season

One of my biggest (wine) pet peeves, is when people use the word Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine. But, while all Champagne is sparkling wine, only those bottles of bubbly that come from the Champagne region in France are entitled to that protected term.

Another well-known sparkler is Prosecco and, as my friend Dan lately noted, Prosecco has become a safe word. Admittedly, he wasn’t referring to the bedroom, but rather, to the bar, where Prosecco’s familiarity offers an easy way to order an effervescent option amidst the hustle and bustle of an overwhelming wine list.

Yet, despite its long history – mention of Prosecco dates as far back as Roman times – this Venetian sparkling wine hasn’t always been as popular as it is today. But, it is precisely this newfound fame that was almost its undoing.

In fact, given its broad name recognition, Prosecco had become a victim of its own success, with fraudulent products flooding the market and its name appropriated much like Champagne as a catch-all for a glass or bottle of bubbles. It was this proliferation of non-Prosecco Prosecco that prompted the consortium to radically revise its rules back in 2009.

Chief among these changes was the introduction of Glera as the name of the grape formerly referred to as Prosecco and the designation of a delimited area as the Prosecco territory: a swath of land that spans nine provinces within two Italian wine regions (Veneto and Friuli), formally codifying the historic and existing production zones and the production procedures themselves. Accordingly, Prosecco DOC is now a protected geographic indication (PGI) and wannabe wines are forbidden from affixing the term Prosecco to their labels. Additionally, a second designation, Prosecco Superiore DOCG was simultaneously created (See Promoting Prosecco, Parlare Prosecco Superiore and Slowing Down in Asolo). These new regulations have helped to protect Prosecco from copycats, but vigilance by the consortium is still required.

The continued growth in demand (and sales) for Prosecco has been met with a steady swell in supply from just under 1.5 million hectoliters in 2011 to just over 3.5 million hectoliters in 2016, with a current volume of over 400 million bottles annually. Three-quarters of these bottles find their way outside of Italy, namely the UK and the U.S.

As a fresh, fruit-driven sparkler, Prosecco gets its aromatic character from the Glera grape, which must make up 85% of the wine and the use of the Charmat, instead of the Traditional, Method of sparkling wine production. Charmat production relies exclusively on stainless steel and omits the lengthy ageing on the lees that Champagne and other similar wines undergo. In addition to preserving fresh and fragrant aromas, this process results in lower costs and speedier sparkles.

Not surprising, Prosecco’s pleasant fruity and floral aromas, low alcohol, lively acidity and persistent effervescence account for its wide appeal. Yet, despite its increased popularity, Prosecco should not be dismissed as merely a cheap and cheerful sparkler. Yes, these are relatively inexpensive ($15-20) compared with their costly ($40 and up) counterparts: Champagne, Franciacorta (page 17) and luxury Cava. But, they still offer complexity and balance on the nose and palate.

In fact, I was reminded of this diversity at a recent comparative tasting of ten Proseccos. While there was a common wine style of peach, pear and/or apple aromas among the selection, they differed in intensity, acidity and sweetness levels.

Admittedly, all of the wines showed well, but I did have a few favorites of the line-up which included: La Jara Prosecco di Treviso Frizzante, Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, La Marca Prosecco, Bianca Vigna Brut Prosecco, Astoria Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, and Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco di Treviso (tasting notes below).

With its crowd-pleasing characteristics, Prosecco is a perfect option for the holiday season, which can easily work as an aperitif, a food-friendly pairing at the table and as a toast to health, happiness and prosperity!

Just don’t call it Champagne. 😉

TASTING NOTES
La Jara NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC Frizzante, Veneto, Italy
While most Prosecco wines are fully sparkling, a small fraction is produced in a lightly fizzy (aka frizzante) style as is this one. Fresh aromas of peach and honeysuckle greet the nose. The dry palate displays bright acidity and a lighter body, with flavors of lemon curd and white flowers. This is a very fresh and pleasant wine with plenty of acidity to pair well with food. Medium+ length.

Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This Vegan wine is a bit shy on the nose, but its dry palate offers up ripe citrus and floral notes, along with medium+ acidity, nice, creamy mousse and long length with a slight fruitiness lingering in the finish coupled with some minerality and salinity. Good complexity.

La Marca NV, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pronounced pear aromas with some peach and floral notes on the nose give way to a dry, yet fruity palate with flavors of honey, honeysuckle and pear plus a hint of lime. There is a lovely richness on the palate, with a creamy mousse and medium+ length.

Bianca Vigna Brut NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
This wine is very floral on the nose with an interesting richness and complexity on the palate reminiscent of Riesling – displaying an oily/petrol character – joined by pear and apple flavors and culminating in long length.

Astoria Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
Aromas of pear and apple dominate the nose while the dry palate features apple, citrus and slight minerality, along with medium+ acidity, a very clean finish and medium+ length.

Villa Sandi Il Fresco NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This wine shows floral and peach aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate that is round and creamy, balanced by medium+ acidity. Its ripe peach and floral flavors are joined by honey in the finish, culminating in long length.

Pairing Beyond the Ordinary

Once, at a trade event, a woman advised me that the wine I was tasting went well with food. Well, duh! Wine has always been a beverage meant to be enjoyed with a meal and is among the only ones where both are enhanced by one another. In some cultures, drinking wine without food is anathema.

More recently the trend has been to look well beyond the axiom, “What grows together goes together,” in favor of showcasing the flexibility of a given wine by pairing it with less expected culinary options. Think Alsatian Gewürztraminer with Indian curries or Prosecco with sushi.

At Atla, Michelin-starred Cosme’s younger, more casual sibling, Mexican inspired food was served alongside a selection of New Zealand wines from Kim Crawford. This NZ producer has always been one of my go-tos for Sauvignon Blanc, but it was nice to see that the range seems to have been expanded stateside, as we also had the opportunity to taste the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé and Pinot Noir. Adding a further twist to the evening, dessert was a Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipe below), featuring the Pinot Noir. This was served after I left, so I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but with the cold rain pouring down that evening, I am sure it was a welcome treat.

Image courtesy of Susannah Gold

A few blocks away, I was introduced to the wines of Lugana, a small Italian wine region, which spans both Lombardy and the Veneto. These wines, primarily produced from the Trebbiano di Soave grape variety, may be dry, sparkling or, in the case of late harvest, sweet, dessert style wines. During the dinner at La Pizza Fresca, these beautiful white wines were more traditionally matched with a traditional Italian meal of arugula salad, beets, pizzas and a selection of fish, chicken and meat.

Among the less traditional decisions was choosing to pair these white wines with short ribs, but it worked well due to the richness, depth and full-bodied nature of many of the wines. My tasting notes are a bit spotty, but I was particularly impressed with the light, freshness of the Olivini Lugana DOC 2016, the complexity and richness of the Selva Capuzza Lugana Riserva DOC Menasso 2013 and the beautiful balance of the Margona Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva dessert wine.

Both the Kim Crawford and Lugana events worked well primarily due to the basic pairing principle of ensuring that the wines had sufficient acidity to go well with the various dishes. Accordingly, their crisp, clean nature meant that one’s palate was cleansed between bites and ready for more, while simultaneously they highlighted the flavors in the accompanying food; an overall reminder that simple rules can serve us well even when we think we are breaking them.

The next night found us in Williamsburg at an unusual venue for the launch of Enjoy la Vie from Bordeaux negociant, Cordier. Entering through a loading dock, we were immediately struck by the quirky, high-ceilinged, warehouse-style space of ACME Studios. The space appears to be more regularly used for photo shoots, but it was a fun place to explore these new, entry-level wines.

The focus was on decidedly on France, with the classic pairing of cheeses and charcuterie. Similarly, attendees were invited to don a beret, grab a baguette and pose for a photo, instantly transformed (and immortalized) into cute, French clichés. But, despite the expected match, the event was far from boring and not all things were classically French. Namely, the brass band with its bold and boisterous jazz music meant that this was not a typical Bordeaux tasting.

With regard to the wines themselves, I was more impressed with the Bordeaux Blanc and Bordeaux Rouge wines than the varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Regardless, I had a great time at the event. Most likely because I was paired with my wonderful husband. Which just underscores that context and company are is often just as important as the cuisine.

 

 

 

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE
INGREDIENTS:
4 oz Kim Crawford Pinot Noir
2 oz dairy milk or non-dairy milk (almond is a good option)
3 Tbsp powdered baking cocoa
1 oz coffee liqueur
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch chili powder

DIRECTIONS:
Pre-warm an 8-10 oz coffee mug. In a saucepan, combine chocolate powder and brown sugar with milk to make into a rich syrup. Add coffee liqueur and Kim Crawford Pinot Noir. Stir until ingredients are hot. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Pour into pre-warmed mug and garnish with whole cinnamon stick and pinch of chili powder.

Rediscovering botanical libations for Spring

Spring has finally sprung in the northeast, bringing the season’s first flowers – cherry blossoms and tulips – and reminding me of our connection to the earth and its bounty. While regular wines are certainly among this bounty, aromatized wines might be an even better reflection of this bond, with their unique blend of botanicals. Fortified wines like Vermouth and Chinato, which are infused with local plants, both of which originated in Italy’s Piedmont region, were initially used for medicinal purposes before becoming an aperitif and digestif, respectively.

Although such wines had fallen out of fashion, they are re-emerging as hand-crafted products, bringing a fresh perspective to an old beverage category. On Long Island, Channing Daughters now produces six, different seasonally-centered Vermouth variations with herbs foraged from area farms. And, closer to their point of origin, these wines are being rediscovered as well, as evidenced by the duo launched in New York by Pio Cesare this week.

As one of the older producers in Alba, Pio Cesare has been making Barolos and Barbarescos since 1881. Today, the winery is in the capable hands of Pio Boffa, a member of the fourth generation, who is also joined by his nephew, Cesare Benvenuto, and daughter, Federica Boffa.

Like many traditional producers, the founders of Pio Cesare used to produce their own Vermouth and Chinato. However, by the 1950s, the market was flooded with poor quality Vermouth and Chinato making it a challenge for the Pio Cesare products to succeed, given their artisanal quality and thus, higher price. Not willing to compromise the quality of their product, Cesare’s great grandfather chose to stop production of them altogether.

But, now, as a demonstration of the winery’s flexibility and talent, Cesare and his cousin, Federica, have decided to relaunch these two classic wines. They have returned to their grandmother’s original recipe, faithfully following her directions in crafting them. They worked closely with a nearby grower friend to find the necessary ingredients. The Vermouth has Chardonnay as its base, sourced from their Piodilei vineyard. The wine is then flavored with 26 varieties of herbs, including Vermouth’s hallmark, wormwood, all of which have been macerated in alcohol for 15 days.

Similarly, the Chinato is based on Barolo from the 2012 vintage and is also made from grandma’s recipe. While it, too, is flavored with aromatic herbs, it’s primary flavor component is chinchona bark, from which quinine is derived, giving it its digestive properties.

These limited production (1,000 bottles each) wines hit the New York market this week, with the arrival of Cesare and Federica and their bottles, which sport updated versions of the historic labels.

The Vermouth, naturally colored with burnt sugar (as is traditional), is amber in hue, with a pronounced nose of orange, anise, dried herbs and spices. The medium-sweet palate is beautifully balanced by the lively acidity, resulting in a complex wine with good depth and long length. As an aperitif, it is a lovely alternative to a pre-dinner cocktail or one’s usual glass of wine given the bright acidity, which wakes up your palate. Moreover, the complexity of aromas and flavors presents a wonderful reminder to slow down and savor what’s in the glass, as you prepare yourself for the meal to come.

As a bookend to the same meal, the Chinato is a perfect after-dinner-drink and would pair well with chocolate desserts, but, of course, can be enjoyed on its own. With aromas and flavors of cocoa, berries, blood orange and dried spices, the Chinato is also medium sweet on the palate, with good acidity and long length.

Should you be in need of a good wine to drink with the meal, the Pio Cesare Barolo 2012, with grapes sourced from five single vineyards, is an excellent choice, given the vintage’s approachability and the wine’s beautiful cherry, mushroom and floral notes.

With its association as a key ingredient in Martinis and Manhattans, there is a tendency to want to use the Vermouth (and the Chinato) as a mixer, but I think that is a bit of a mistake. We had the opportunity to taste two cocktails using the newly launched wines, but their complexity and elegance got lost in translation as they competed against the other ingredients in the glass.

Yes, for many, the pleasures of Vermouth and Chinato are unknown and untried, but they are worthy of discovery (or rediscovery) as we welcome the warmer weather and its promise of abundance in the months ahead.

 

Fullerton Wines, from Scandinavia to Portlandia

Admittedly, when I first received the invitation, I was hesitant. I had never heard of the winery before and the idea of schlepping out to Brooklyn on a cold winter’s night was not very appealing…until I Googled the restaurant. With its two Michelin stars and stellar reviews, Aska was very intriguing and seemed well worth the trip to the outer borough.

As we would discover, this Scandinavian restaurant is run by Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius, who truly redefined our notions of a Swedish chef (especially if the Muppet Show is firmly ensconced in one’s brains) and instilled a wonderful appreciation for this cuisine in us.

Getting off the M train at Marcy Street, we walked toward Manhattan, in the shadows of the Williamsburg bridge. After several blocks, we wondered if we were indeed walking all the way back to Manhattan, but finally we arrived at our destination and were ushered to a private room, which was immaculately set for our group.

Once we were all seated, our winery hosts immediately poured us a glass of their rosé and then provided us with an introduction to themselves: The Fullerton’s. It turned out that there was a method to the madness; the Fullerton’s have a direct connection to Scandinavia, which was why they had chosen this vaunted restaurant for the event, coincident with the winery’s debut in the New York and New Jersey markets.

Patriarch of the family, Eric Fullerton was raised in a Danish family and married a Swedish woman. The couple lived in Scandinavia with son, Alex, born in Denmark. A few years later, the Fullerton’s returned to the U.S. and settled in Oregon. Eric held C-level positions within the communications and security industries, but always had a passion for quality wine.

As a young child, Alex watched his parents enjoying wine at home and carried these observations to school – swirling and spitting out his milk, much to the chagrin of his kindergarten teacher – eventually developing his own vinous interest, which was cemented on a father-son trip to Champagne and Burgundy when Alex graduated high school.

In 2010, Alex was graduating from college with a degree in economics, but with no specific plan for a career or his future. He and dad visited Penner-Ash Wine Cellars together and discussed the idea of Alex entering the wine industry. Alex was keen on the idea and before the day was out, he had secured a harvest intern position at Penner-Ash. Dad sweetened the deal, offering to back Alex’s personal wine venture, if he pursued a degree in viticulture and enology, to which he readily agreed.

Alex followed his time at Penner-Ash with a harvest in New Zealand, before returning to the Willamette Valley and Penner-Ash and, later, a position at Bergstrom Wines. During this time, the two Fullerton men began making wine in the garage and scouting for vineyard blocks throughout the Valley. They also planted 400 vines in their backyard.

In 2012, Fullerton Wines was launched as a commercial venture with two separate lines: Three Otters and Fullerton. The Three Otters brand owes its origins to the three otters depicted in the Fullerton family coat of arms and a portion of the proceeds from each bottle helps to support the return of sea otters to the Oregon coast. The Fullerton brand includes its Five FACES line, named for all members of the Fullerton family: Filip, Alex, Caroline, Eric and Suzanne, as well as several single vineyard Pinot Noirs. To date, the winery produces 4,500 cases annually, but the goal is to reach 20,000 cases in the future.

Alex currently sources Pinot Noir fruit from several vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Both the Three Otters and Five FACES Pinots are the products of blending grapes from various vineyards (and appellations) to craft a consistent wine that marries the favorable characteristics from throughout the region. However, he has also identified a number of distinct vineyards that appeal to him as single vineyard wines. These wines are more expressive of an individual terroir and provide nice diversity within the Fullerton portfolio. As the family seeks to expand its production, they will need to identify other vineyards. Looking ahead, Alex noted that he hopes to focus on Eola-Amity Hills in sourcing additional fruit as he is particularly enamored with this micro-climate and the quality of grapes it produces.

As the meal progressed, we got to know Eric and Alex better, both their histories and their philosophies. There was a genuine warmth to this father and son’s relationship as they bantered back and forth, making jokes and good-naturedly teasing one another. In the end, it was clear that Eric has made a huge investment in his son, not just for their mutual love of wine, but because he is extremely proud of him.

While the wine was understandably the focal point of the evening, the 10-course meal was not to be overlooked. Each course was a stunning presentation of food, plate and flatware. Despite the lengthy evening, the food was engaging and not too heavy; only one course included meat and many were vegetarian. Among the more unique offerings were a crunchy snack of bladderwrack seaweed with a blue mussel emulsion; an earthy bowl of lichen served with chanterelles and a mushroom broth; and an intense pig’s blood pancake with rose petals and rosehip jam.

With the wonderful selection of Willamette Valley wines and the expertise of Aska’s kitchen, it was the perfect way to spend a New York night and definitely merited the journey to Brooklyn. It was certainly much easier to get to than Noma!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NB: Food images courtesy of Jared Skolnick.

TASTING NOTES

Three Otters Rosé 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $18.00
First conceived in 2012, the Three Otters rosé began as a friendly competition between dad and son over which method to use to produce the wine. Afterward, they decided that a blend of the two methods was best and they have continued to follow this format ever since. The wine is refreshing and dry with bright strawberry aromas and flavors along with a hint of fresh herbs, culminating in long length.

Three Otters Chardonnay 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
An all stainless-steel Chard, this wine lets the fruit shine through unimpeded by oak. The wine is high in acidity, with citrus and yellow apple notes, as well as a nice richness on the palate due to extended lees contact.

Fullerton Five FACES Chardonnay 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This barrel-fermented wine has only a small (9%) percentage of oak and thus the oak is very integrated, resulting in an elegant and beautiful Chardonnay with good acidity and long length.

Three Otters Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
A really nice entry-level Pinot Noir, this has no new oak, with the wine spending time in tanks and neutral barrels. Sourced and blended from eight different area vineyards, this wine offers up cherry and berry aromas and flavors with a slightly earthy undercurrent. Overall, it is light-bodied, fresh and approachable.

Fullerton Five FACES Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This is the winery’s flagship wine with fruit sourced from several key vineyards. A beautiful wine with an intense and concentrated fruit nose of dark cherry, which persists on the palate and is joined by a hint of herbaceousness. It is rich, yet elegant with long length. Among the diners at our table, this seemed to be a fan favorite given the complexity of the wine and its reasonable price point.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
The organically certified Croft Vineyard generates less of a diurnal shift yielding ripe grapes, with slightly less acidity than cooler sites. The result is a plushy, sensual Pinot with good black cherry and spice notes as well as some wet leaves in the long finish.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
While sourced from the same grapes as the 2014 wine, 2013 was a more challenging vintage, marked with rains during harvest. Consequently, this wine has higher acidity than usual and more herbal character than the 2014.

Fullerton Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $60.00
The Momtazi Vineyard is situated within the McMinnville AVA. With its bright acidity, ripe red cherry fruit, lush herbs and spice, and lovely long length, this was my favorite single vineyard wine of the evening.

Fullerton Fir Crest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill-Carlton, OR, $75.00
Hailing from the old vines in the Fir Crest Vineyard, this wine possesses an extremely intense, heavy and concentrated nose and palate. It displayed some volatile acidity, along with dark red fruit and firm tannins; a steak-eater’s Pinot Noir. This wine provoked an interesting discussion among Alex and Eric since it is a style that Alex doesn’t enjoy, but that Eric would like to replicate for market purposes.

A Dark Knight on a Dark Night: Castello di Gabbiano

It might sound ominous, but meeting Tuscan winemaker, Federico Cerelli of Castelli di Gabbiano, on a cold winter’s night to taste his new wine was actually quite a warm and welcoming experience.

Its vinous heritage spreads back as far as the Etruscans, but Castello di Gabbiano’s physical history dates to 1124 when its castle was built in San Casciano Val de Pesa. This medieval fortress was among many that were established to fortify the area between Siena and Florence as the two kingdoms fought for control of a region widely known for its wine and olive oil.

With its castle still standing tall nearly 900 centuries later, it is not surprising that the winery takes such pride in its noble estate and has adopted Il Cavaliere – the knight who protected the castle from invaders – as its mascot.

Firmly ensconced within the Chianti Classico wine region, the estate boasts 360 acres of vineyard, planted predominantly to Sangiovese, supplemented with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and several local varieties such as Colorino and Canaiolo. The castle itself has now been converted into a beautiful hotel with 11 traditional guest rooms and five apartments. Adding to the estate’s hospitality, an upscale restaurant featuring local cuisine opened a few years ago.

Although Castello di Gabbiano is presently managed by Treasury Wine Estates, the winery’s previous owner was responsible for making Gabbiano’s American debut in the early 1980s with its Chianti wine.

The winery’s current winemaker, Federico Cerelli, joined Castello di Gabbiano in early 2011. Prior to coming on board, the Tuscan native served as a consultant winemaker to numerous local wineries building a decade of experience. Federico maintains a distinct philosophy when approaching his wines, placing an emphasis on elegance, drinkability and the ability to pair with food over power and polyphenols. Accordingly, the wines spend less time aging in wood and more time in the bottle before release, with the conviction that wines in the past were overly rustic with their tannins and over-extracted.

Moreover, Federico enjoys experimenting with wood and uses a mix of French and Hungarian oak to season his wines. More recently, he conducted some trials with local oak from forests near Florence and has been pleased with the results: more pepper and floral notes. Consequently, he hopes to increase its use in the future.

As the second largest winery in the Chianti Clssico region, Castello di Gabbiano has significant resources to invest in the latest technology and apply it to producing great wines. For example, Federico notes that it is better to pick by machine on time (thanks to sophisticated mechanical harvesters) than to wait and harvest manually, especially with Sangiovese, which could develop rot or mold during a delay. Additionally, he relies on a vibration sorting system to maintain more whole berries and has adopted a more gentle approach to winemaking.

Among its portfolio, Castello di Gabbiano produces a Pinot Grigio with grapes sourced from northeastern Italy. The Promessa Pinot Grigio 2015, IGT delle Venezie (SRP $10.00) sprinkles in a small percentage of Chardonnay to overcome some of the bitterness associated with Pinot Grigio and also adds body and weight to the palate. Yet, it is still fresh with citrus and apple notes, culminating in medium+ length.

The Chianti Classico line-up includes a basic Chianti Classico and a Riserva-level wine as well as the latest addition to the Chianti Classico pyramid – Gran Selezione – with a wine called Bellezza, which was my favorite of the three. Moving up the hierarchy, the wines are aged for longer periods of time, generally with more time in oak, but also time in bottle.

From a cool vintage, the Chianti Classico 2014 (SRP $10.00) was bright and fresh with light tannins, along with an undercurrent of wet leaves and a slight hint of oak. The flagship Riserva 2013 (SRP $25.00) hailed from a warm and dry vintage and displayed darker cherry fruit, firmer tannins as well as woody and leafy notes with long length. The second Gran Selezione vintage is the Bellezza 2012 (SRP $40.00), so called for the beautiful view afforded by the small (less than 20 acres), high elevation vineyard block from which the grapes are sourced. The resulting wine is fuller bodied, with more concentrated fruit and more structure, but is still fresh and lively even though it is five years old.

And, of course, there is the “hero” of our story. The winery’s newest offering is its Dark Knight 2015, IGT Toscana (SRP $17.00), featuring its beloved Il Cavaliere on horseback on the striking label. With the belief that traditional Sangiovese is a difficult wine for nascent drinkers, this red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese was crafted as an introductory wine for these newer consumers. Taking a modern approach and style, the wine is partially produced with some carbonic maceration with the aim of creating a soft and easy-drinking wine that can be enjoyed with food or on its own.

While it is clearly targeted at a less experienced wine drinker, it is not a fruit bomb or overly high in residual sugar. Rather, it was still elegant and offered up black fruit, vanilla and a hint of floral on the nose, with light tannins, slight vanilla and spice on the medium+-bodied palate.

We concluded with the Alleanza 2010, another IGT Toscana (SRP $35.00), this time a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Of all the wines tasted, this had the most noticeable oak, along with lush red and black fruit, intensity and power.

France and India, A Marriage Made in the Kitchen

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In an interesting twist to the typical press lunch, wine brand Vinadeis presented a subset of its portfolio alongside Indian cuisine at New York City’s Junoon restaurant.  Named for the Hindi word for passion, the Michelin-starred, fine dining establishment fuses together India’s culinary history and the Chef’s modern sensibility. Wine Director, Michael Dolinski carefully curated the restaurant’s existing menu to identify the best pairings to show off the selection of whites, rosés and reds.

Formerly known as Val d’Orbieu, Vinadeis was founded in Corbières back in 1967. The company has now expanded its purview beyond the borders of Languedoc and includes activities in the Rhone Valley as well as in Bordeaux. Today, there are approximately 20,000 hectares of vineyards under its management.

While many of its projects involve bulk wine, large brands and cooperatives, Vinadeis is especially proud of the estates and chateaux under its umbrella. Benoit Roussillon, Head of North America for Vinadeis (pictured above), was quick to point out that behind each estate, there is a family and a story. And, moreover, their aim is to respect the story of those families in pursuit of crafting the highest quality wines.

Held just the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when many consumers panic about the best wine(s) to serve with the cacophony of food on the bountiful table, the Vinadeis event was a unique illustration of how well the French wines lent themselves to an unlikely pairing of the diverse flavors and textures of Indian food. Presented family-style, attendees had the opportunity to sample several dishes with each course, matched with two or three wines.

The luncheon first kicked off with Butter Garlic Shrimp and Saloni Macchi, a salmon dish, served with pickled cucumber, onion relish. These two dishes were paired with the rosé and white.

The dry and fresh Château de Jonquières Rosé Cuvée Cersius 2015 AOP Languedoc, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, matched nicely with the shrimp with its cherry and herb aromas and flavors. Situated near Narbonne, the Château de Jonquières property was previously a Cistercian granary, which belonged to the Abbey of Fontfroide.

The 100% Chardonnay Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc, was unusually aged in Acacia wood, given it a woody and spicy, yet not oaky, flavor with lots of cloves, and married beautifully with the salmon. Owned by the Verdier family since 1713, Domaine de Cazelle Verdier is known for its chalky soils.

The Murg Roulade Korma – minced chicken with a purée of nuts – was served with two reds: Château Notre Dame du Quatourze Rouge Nautica 2014, AOP Languedoc and Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2014, AOP Minervois. Both wines are Rhone-style blends with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan.

Presently owned by Georges and Suzanne Ortola, the name Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze refers to a tax paid to the castle (formerly owned by the archdiocese) by the local farmers. This unoaked red is organic and biodynamic, with nice, bright red fruit.

From the same producer as the Chardonnay, the Domaine de Cazelles Verdier Minervois offers up intense, concentrated red and black fruit.

The third course consisted of Awadhi Raan, a leg of lamb with saffron and nuts; Nadru Matar Makhana with lotus root, English peas, and roasted tomato sauce; and Daal Makhni, black lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas in a tomato cream sauce, as well as sides of Pulao Rice and Butter Naan.

With this last set of savory dishes, we headed to Bordeaux for a trio of reds: Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012, AOP Saint-Émilion Grand Cru; Château Brown 2012, AOP Pessac-Léognan; and Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010, AOP Saint-Estèphe.

The Merlot-dominant (90%) Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012 was bright with red fruit and slight spice notes. The property has been in the family since 1878, with the current generation Paul and Lorette Valade at the helm for more than 30 years.

With an almost equal proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Château Brown 2012 displayed darker red fruit, with a plush texture and firmer tannins. The chateau dates to the medieval period but was named for the Scottish merchant John Lewis Brown, in the late 18th century.

Given its blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Petit Verdot, the Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010 was the most full-bodied and tannic of the three, with lots of black fruit, herbal, spice and cedar aromas and flavors. Originally built as a convent, the Château de Meyney property dates to 1662, placing it among the oldest in the Médoc.

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Moscato d’Asti: A sparkling wine for the times

2016-11-15-11-20-05Back in the day (1966), Dionne Warwick sang that, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” Such words are particularly true today. While not quite love in a bottle, Moscato d’Asti isn’t too far from it with its floral and fruit notes, effervescence and beautifully balanced sweetness. Plus, the Moscato grape has high levels of terpenes, including linalool, a naturally occurring chemical, which is widely used in aromatherapy to reduce stress.

The Moscato (aka Muscat) grape has become quite popular recently, but the denomination of Moscato d’Asti is more than just a grape name and has a history that significantly precedes the current craze. Produced exclusively from the Moscato Bianco de Canelli variety, this grape arrived in the region over 800 years ago. Here, in Piedmont, the same region known for Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, 52 municipalities are granted the right to craft these special wines.

First designated in 1932, the denomination is carefully controlled with only the best sites planted; planting on damp or shaded slopes is forbidden. Specifically, this means that the vines are grown on steep vineyards and picked by hand. Moreover, the area itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

High in terpenes, the Moscato Bianco grape results in wines with distinct floral and fruit aromas and flavors of apricot, peach and white flowers, tasting nearly the same on the vine as it does in the glass. Thanks to its low alcohol (~5% abv) and softer pressure (2 bars of pressure compared to 5 to 6 atmospheres of many other sparklers), its frothy creaminess lends itself to food pairing and second (and third) glasses.

Lightly sweet, these are the perfect companion to a wedding toast, especially when wedding cake is involved. Yet, due to the diurnal shift and fog, the grapes keep their acidity and freshness, resulting in balanced wines that pair equally well with savory and salty foods.

A recent seminar and tasting included representation from Michele Chiarlo, Saracco, Coppo, Marenco, Ceretto and Caudrina to highlight the characteristics of these wines. At retail, consumers should expect to pay $13.00-$25.00 per bottle for high quality Moscato d’Asti.

While all of the wines showed well, my favorite were:
Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
Pronounced apricot on the nose, with pear, apricot and slightly candied note on the palate, yet finishing cleanly

Coppo, Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
With distinct floral aromas, this wine displays great acidity, a creamy mousse and lovely flavors of apricot and white flowers. It culminates with a zingy sweetness throughout its long length.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy Intense floral, pear and cotton candy aromas greet the nose, giving way to citrus and lemon candy on the medium sweet palate. Good acidity and a nice mousse, with long length.

A Celebration of Love, Life & Bordeaux

It was time. The older Bordeaux wines we had collected were coming into their own and it was time to taste them.

We selected ten wines from the cellar and assembled an equally stellar group of friends for a multi-course dinner at our home in September.

The line-up was impressive, but perhaps the piece de resistance was the Carruades de Lafite 2000, Château Lafite Rothschild’s second wine. Purchased through Sherry-Lehmann back in 2001 through a Future’s campaign*, the wine represented our first major foray into the wine world and marked the occasion of our fifth year of marriage.

The traditional gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood and I racked my brain for months on what to get hubby. Finally, I discovered the concept of wine futures: buying wine before it has been bottled and released (and, generally, still aging in oak barrels at the time). Consequently, it was an appropriate gift and one that we would both appreciate as we were just getting our bearings in wine.

We had visited Bordeaux on our belated honeymoon trip in 1999 and very much enjoyed these wines, but still didn’t know a lot about wine in general. Accordingly, we associated much of our love of wine with Bordeaux.

As luck would have it, the object of the Futures were the much vaunted 2000s, which meant high praise and high prices. Getting over my initial sticker shock, I pulled out my copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (who incidentally teaches his 40th and last class this fall) and read up on the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. I couldn’t afford the top growths; instead, I selected seven different bottles of wine, choosing third growths, a fifth growth, several second wines from top producers and a St. Emilion Grand Cru for a total expenditure of $236.00 – quite pricey for us at the time.

With only a single bottle of each, we had been reluctant to open any of these special wines previously, but with over 40 bottles of Bordeaux in our cellar, the impending arrival of our 20th wedding anniversary was as good as an excuse as any to justify their consumption.

We carefully crafted a menu to highlight the wines and chose pairings from the Left and Right Banks to provide the opportunity to compare Cabernet-dominant and Merlot-dominant wines, respectively.

And, of course, we ended the meal with a lovely aged Sauternes, giving guests the option of finishing off on a sweet or savory note, or both!

Overall, the dinner was a perfect marriage of good food, good wines and good company as well as a wonderful celebration of our continued partnership both in the kitchen and out.

Dinner
Hamachi Crudo
Marinated Yellowtail Tuna with Jicama & Greens
Château La Louvière Blanc 2011, Pessac-Léognan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rack of Lamb
Herb & Mustard-Crusted Islandic Lamb with Zucchini and Carrot Purée
Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2010, Pauillac
Château La Tour Figeac 2008, St. Emilion Grand Cru

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magret de Canard
Roasted Duck Breast with Blackberries and a side of Duck Fat Potatoes
Château d’Armailhac 2005, Pauillac
Château Les Hauts-Conseillants 2005, Lalande de Pomerol

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Course
Fort Saint Antoine Comté (Aged 36 mos), Burgundy, France
~and~
Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar (Aged 24 mos), Devonshire, England
Château Giscours 2001, Margaux
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2001, St. Emilion Grand Cru
Carruades de Lafite 2000, Pauillac
Château Certan de May 1998, Pomerol

Dessert
Bloc de Foie Gras
Served with Roasted Figs and Toast Points
~and~
Crème Brûlée
Caramel Custard with Burnt Sugar Crust
Château Doisy-Védrines 1998, Sauternes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NB: When buying wine futures, it is imperative that you work with a trusted agent or retailer since the company will take your money now, but you won’t receive the wines for two years.

 

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Champagne Fleury is a name to know

2016-09-20-12-59-20Representing the four generation of her family in the wine business, Morgane Fleury stopped by Racine’s to showcase her family’s portfolio of Champagnes for the wine press. Champagne Fleury’s market visit provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with this winery, which was new to me, despite its long history in the region

The boutique producer has racked up a lengthy list of noteworthy firsts: the first to graft Pinot Noir vines in the Côte des Bar area in 1894; the first Recolant-Manipulant (RM) in the Aube in 1929; and the first biodynamic producer in 1989 (presently certified by Demeter and Biodyvin). Situated in the village of Courteron, Champagne Fleury’s 15 hectares of vineyards are within the southernmost point of the Côte des Bar. Although this area is lesser known than others within Champagne, Fleury is showing that the microclimate and soils are very suitable for producing high quality Champagne.

Building on their ancestors’ pioneering spirit, the company is currently run by Jean-Sebastien Fleury in the cellar, Benoit Fleury in the vineyard and Morgane Fleury in Paris, who owns a wine shop in addition to establishing relationships with local restaurants and promoting the brand worldwide.

2016-09-20-12-08-15I was most impressed with the Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, which is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, a grape variety that does especially well in this area of Champagne. The wine offers up a pronounced nose of floral notes and bright, red fruit, with a lovely intensity on the palate.

The Notes Blanches Brut Nature was also quite interesting. This 100% Pinot Blanc, which has had some wood contact during the fermentation process, is very clean and bright, with high acidity, yeasty, bready, creamy notes and hints of citrus and floral on the palate.2016-09-20-12-56-15

Meanwhile, the Cepages Blancs 2006 Extra Brut, produced with 100% Chardonnay, was weightier with woody, yeasty and brioche aromas and flavors, culminating in long length.

Finally, the 100% Pinot Noir-based Bolero 2005 Extra Brut was essentially sex in a glass with its yeasty, sweaty and earthy aromas and flavors.

Not surprisingly, the Champagnes provided a nice range of food pairing possibilities during the seated lunch.