Washington Wine and the World

2016-11-01-11-09-20Bob Betz, MW of Betz Family Winery has been a fixture in Washington State wine for 40 years. He recalls a time when people would ask him where in the DC Metro area he made his Washington wine and is gratified that times have since changed. Yet, while Washington State has gained significant recognition for its wines, there is still much work to do in increasing awareness for them for both industry members and consumers alike.

With an aim toward positioning Washington wine within the global industry, Betz led a comparative seminar for members of the press and trade, which included a blind tasting along with participation from a panel of winemakers: Thomas Pastuszak (Empire Estate wines*), Michael Savage (Savage Grace) and Peter Devison (EFESTE).

Betz framed the conversation with the assertion that every global appellation is based on a cause and effect stemming from its respective growing conditions and physical reality that ultimately result in sensory consequences in the glass.

As Betz explained, Washington – or rather, more specifically – the Columbia Valley’s physical reality is impacted by the collision between the mountain ranges and Pacific air; poor soils that are deeply fractured with low fertility and a low moisture capacity; and a modified continental climate with hot, dry summers and very cold winters. Such existence at the margin of ripeness, combined with the ability to control water — thanks to deep aquifers and mountain snow pack — influences the resulting wines.

Looking at what he called the “chameleon-esque varieties” of Riesling, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, each flight within the tasting started with a known Washington wine example, followed by three or four other blind examples of the same grape. Collectively, the participants made guesses as to the origin of each blind wine (and were correct on a few occasions), but such guessing games were beside the point.

Rather, we began to see how Washington wines fit within the context of a given grape variety and how their sensory consequences compared and contrasted with their global peers. Thus, while one’s palate might prefer the Mosel Riesling to the Columbia Gorge Riesling (or the reverse), it was evident that the quality of the two were equivalent.

Furthermore, the tasting underscored the overarching characteristics of Washington wines: their purity of fruit and their structural integrity, this latter element translating into tension and freshness in the wines.

Admittedly, most consumers’ experience with Washington wines has been limited to large brands because 10% of the 900 wineries are responsible for producing 70% of the state’s volume. However, wines produced by the smaller wineries are available direct-to-consumer and may also be found at higher-end restaurants, if you look for them. Yes, finding them may pose a challenge, but, after tasting the range of wines presented during this seminar, I would highly recommend that you seek them out.

My favorite Washington Wines from this tasting were:

  • Savage Grace Riesling 2015, Columbia Gorge AVA $22
  • EFESTE Evergreen Riesling 2014, Ancient Lakes AVA  $20
  • Betz Family Winery La Serenne Syrah 2014, Yakima Valley AVA $57
  • EFESTE Big Papa Old Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Columbia Valley AVA $60

*NB: Mr. Pastuszak is also the sommelier at The NoMad and a big proponent of Washington wines, although his Empire Estate wines are made in New York State.

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Getting ready for Morocco with an introduction to Domaine Ouled Thaleb

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

The AOGs and AOCs of Morocco, courtesy of Nomadic Distribution

Morocco has a long and storied history, which includes being divvied up among France, Spain and the British until its independence in 1956. During France’s occupation, land was planted to wine grapes, which helped to quench the palates of thirsty Frenchmen. After their departure, many of the vineyards were abandoned, but today, the Moslem country still grows grapes and makes wine, although many Moroccans don’t indulge in alcohol.

Established in 1923, Domaine Ouled Thaleb is among the oldest Moroccan wineries in existence and helped lead the country’s renaissance in the 1990s. During this period, new vines were planted, with a continued emphasis on French grapes. Domaine Ouled Thaled currently practices organic farming and produces a range of wines, most of which are red, reflective of the country’s Mediterranean climate.

On the (relative) eve of our own departure for Morocco, we had the opportunity to taste two of their wines: Ouled Thaleb Signature 2013 (SRP $28.00) and Aït Souala 2012 (SRP $24.00). Both of these wines are blends, which bring together grapes from the AOG (Appellation of Origin Guaranteed) of Zenata, a coastal region that spans between the northeastern cities of Casablanca and Rabat.

We were very impressed with the Aït Souala, an interesting blend of Arinornoa, Tannat and Malbec. I had initially presumed that Arinornoa was Moroccan, but in fact, it is the result of a 1956 crossing of Merlot with Petit Verdot. So, not Moroccan, but created the same year as Moroccan independence and thus a fitting grape for its production there. This wine displayed aromas of candied cherry, slight herbs and slight wood notes, with the flavors of smoke and smoked meats – almost Syrah in nature – on the medium-bodied palate. It has low tannins, medium acidity and long length.

The Ouled Thaleb Signature brought together Carmenere, Marselan and Petit Verdot, aged for 14 months in barrel along with another 10 months aging in bottle. It has a pronounced nose with spices and dried herbs that persisted on the palate, along with medicinal and earthy notes, which we attributed to brett*. I don’t know if our displeasure with this wine was specific to this bottle or indicative of the wine and I was unable to find alternate reviews to see if our opinion had been shared.

In general, this winery garners praise for its wines, so if you come across them in your local store, I would suggest giving them a try. I was pleasantly surprised how well balanced and elegant the wines were; I expected a much more fruit-forward style given my pre-travel impressions of the country. It will be interesting to see what I think of the other Moroccan wines we encounter on our travels this month.

*Brett (or more correctly, brettanomyces) is a naturally occurring yeast that can add a complexity to the wines, but is controversial as to whether or not it is a flaw in the wine or not.

NB: These wines are distributed by Nomadic Distribution in California and also appear to be available through VOS Selections.

Cave de Tain coming soon to a shelf or list near you

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The Rhône Valley is well known as a distinguished wine region, but perhaps less well known is the fact that the region actually lumps together the Northern Rhône and the Southern Rhône. More importantly, there is a big distinction between the two, not exclusively, but especially, in terms of volume. The Northern Rhône represents only 5% of all Rhône Valley production, with all eight of its crus being equal in size to the production of the Southern Rhône’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But, in spite of its small size, it manages to produce big, bold, beautiful wines.

Within the Northern Rhône, leading producers, such as Jaboulet, Chapoutier, Chave and Delas Freres, have made their mark on the American market, but Cave de Tain is only now turning its full attention to external markets. Established in 1933, the Cave de Tain cooperative currently has 359 members and is ready to hit the ground running now that they have signed with the U.S.-based Hand Picked Selections.

The winery is situated within Tain Hermitage, capital of the Northern Rhone and home to only 6,000 people. They produce wines within five of the crus along with a small production of IGP wines. All of the vineyards are intentionally no more than 15 km from the winery since the winery is Certified Sustainable, which means that everything they do is based on observation rather than according to a set plan. In this regard, they can carefully monitor the vineyards and only do things, such as spraying for mildew, when necessary.

Here, in the birthplace of Syrah, all of the reds they produce are 100% Syrah. Similarly, they have a mono-varietal focus when it comes to whites, championing Marsanne as their signature white grape. Both grapes play respective starring roles in Cave de Tain’s IGP Colline Rhodaniennes wines, which they hope will serve as an introduction to the Northern Rhône varieties. The company’s further philosophy is to use older and larger barrels, which accounts for the subtler oak influence in the resulting wines.

We tasted through a selection of seven wines beautifully paired with a family-style lunch at Rotisserie Georgette. Many of the wines hailed from 2015, which was a great vintage, one with balanced maturity and acidity, which is relatively rare to have high levels of both. The 2010 vintage was similar in nature, but 2015 is felt to be the better year. Today, the 2015s are drinking well now, but have sufficient fruit, acidity and tannins for aging. Of note, 2015 was a good vintage for both reds and whites. Admittedly, due to climate change, the last truly difficult vintage was 2008.

The IGP wines were very nice expressions of their respective grapes, displaying good fruit character and balance. The Marsanne 2015 (~$12.00) showed some complexity, with salty and nutty notes, along with pear and almond, while the Syrah 2015 (~$12.00) offered up blackberries, bright acidity and soft tannins.

Moving up the range to the Grand Classique wines from Crozes-Hermitage, the increased quality was immediately evident, while the price point remained reasonable. Presenting more noticeable fruit than its IGP counterpart, the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc 2015 was beautifully rich, with aromas of peach and apricot, along with elegance and long length. Similarly, the Crozes-Hermitage Rouge 2015 had lush black fruit notes, with medium+ acidity and only a hint of oak influence.

The Grand Classique Hermitage wines are much pricier, which is to be expected given Hermitage’s reputation for long-lived wines of character and strength, but they deliver for the money and are worth the occasional splurge. The Grand Classique Hermitage Blanc 2010 was stunning! Rich and complex, it displayed a pronounced nuttiness, along with baking spices and dried stone fruit. Interestingly, we were advised that Marsanne takes only a few years to develop in bottle, but then will hold that development for some time. The Grand Classique Hermitage Rouge 2011 (~$76.00) is a gorgeous wine with spice, blackberry and dried herbs, silky tannins and lovely richness on the palate.

At the top of the range, the Gambert de Loche Hermitage Rouge 2011 – a plot selection named for the founder of the cooperative – offered more body and power than the straight Hermitage Rouge.

 

NB: Retail prices are noted when the wine appeared available in the U.S. market as per Wine Searcher. Since these wines are just hitting the U.S. trade now, it will take some time before they become widely available. We were advised that the wines were being priced fairly, yet assertively, so they will represent great value for the quality.

 

Chili with a side of Chile and SW France

2016-09-14-14-21-40With Labor Day behind us and Columbus Day still several weeks away, we are in the last days of summer as we count down to the Autumnal Equinox. With shorter days, cooler temperatures and busier schedules, dragging out the slow cooker is the perfect way to welcome guests for a relatively easy home-cooked meal.

Accordingly, my husband crafted a New York Beef Chili (from a friend’s award-winning chili recipe) for his cycling race team to gather everyone together to talk about this recently completed season and begin planning for next year. Of course, he turned to me for some wine to share with his teammates and I was happy to oblige.

Such a meal cries out for robust reds, the kind I had been avoiding all summer, but am now ready to relish in my glass. I chose two Chilean wines to accompany his one dish dinner, both of which were red blends.

Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile, $13.00
Owned by the Olivier family group, Mayu stems from an ancient Inca name for the Milky Way, literally translating as creek of stars. Mauro Olivier Alcayaga was among the pioneers to plant Carmenere and Syrah in the Elqui Valley, first for other ventures and now for his own Mayu project. There are leather, animal, earthy and musk notes on the nose, which give way to bright, ripe red and black fruit, with a hint of iron on the fruity, medium bodied palate.

Erasmo 2010 Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, $20.00
This organic farm is named for a local farmer, Don Erasmo, who shared his wisdom with the current owner and is situated in the oldest wine region of Chile. The wine itself is a dry-farmed blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 5% Syrah from a single vineyard on the ancient estate of la Reserva de Caliboro. Blackberry, dried herbs, slight spice and wood greet the nose and persist on the elegant, yet full-bodied palate.

For good measure, I also opened up a wine from southwest France.
Chateau Peyros, Vieilles Vignes, 2011, Madiran, $16.00
This blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc comes from an organic vineyard that is home to a herd of 300 sheep. Situated on a property that dates from the 17th century, Peyros means “stony place” in Gascon and was acquired by current owner, Jean Jacques Lesgourgues, in 1999. This wine is dark and brooding with baking spice, black fruit and bramble fruit aromas and flavors and an undercurrent of earth and smoke. The full-bodied palate is dry with medium acidity and tight tannins, needing more time in bottle to soften. Buy now, but hold.

The two Chilean wines are among the nine being featured at Whole Foods Market stores in conjunction with Wines of Chile USA. Through this unique retail partnership, the wines will be available at 300+ Wholes Foods stores throughout the U.S. The specific wines were chosen to represent the diversity of Chilean wines – regionally and varietally – and were vetted by Whole Foods Market global wine experts Doug Bell and Devon Broglie MS.

The full list of Whole Foods Market’s featured wines includes:

  • Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile
  • Vina Errazuriz MAX Chardonnay 2015, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
  • Autoritas Pinot Noir 2014, Valle Central, Chile
  • Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile
  • Criterion Carmenere 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Erasmo Reserva de Caliboro 2010, Maule Valley, Chile
  • De Martino 2014 Estate Organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley
  • Casa Silva 2014 Los Lingues Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

On a previous occasion, I had the opportunity to taste two other of these wines:
Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $13.00
This winery was established over 25 years ago by Norwegian ship owner Dan Odfjell who fell in love with Chile. The business is presently run by his two sons: Laurence and Dan Jr. With a pronounced nose of grassy notes and tropical fruit, this wine displays ripe citrus and peach fruit on its palate, culminating in a very clean finish.

Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile, $15.00
Created by the Garcés Silva family, Boya is the Spanish word for “buoy” which makes sense given that the Ledya Valley-based vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean. This is a very nice Pinot Noir for the price, with notes of earth, cherry, mulberry and dried herbs, along with vibrant acidity on the medium-bodied palate.

Both Chile and Southwest France offer up good quality wines for their respective prices and are generally food friendly options worth seeking out.

And now for some GOOD News! True and Daring Riesling Returns to U.S. Market

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In other New Zealand news (see previous post), Hennie & Celia Bosman have returned to the U.S. market with their True & Daring Riesling.

Recently, my friend Cheri texted me a photo with the question: Did you bring us this wine? When I looked at the photo, I recognized the True & Daring label (I had given her the wine as a gift several months earlier).

Well, apparently she and her husband had finally gotten around to opening it with their friends and the next text from her, after I confirmed that it was indeed from me was: “We are with Michael and Magdalena and we are freaking out with how good it is! I mean it blew everyone away. Stunning.”

The following day, I shared this story via email with Hennie, who noted that it must have been cosmically ordained since he and Celia had just been talking about me (and their previous visit to New York) the day before!

Hennie further advised that they had recently conducted a vertical tasting of their Riesling from 2015 (still in tank) back to 2004, which underscored how much they enjoy older Rieslings. He added that, “It is so difficult to judge when wines have reached their peak but we’ve come to the conclusion that the changes in older Riesling are what make the varietal so unique. I don’t think older, secondary characteristics are to everyone’s tastes but we both love the extra layers that come with time.”

If you are among those who enjoy aged Rieslings, I strongly recommend that you check out their wines, now available direct to consumer via Vinoshipper.

Time in a Bottle: The Pleasures and Treasures of Old Liquors

2016-04-12 20.47.39If we are lucky, we live in the present moment, enjoying and savoring the here and now, rather than constantly worrying about the future still to come. Yet, the opportunity to virtually travel back in time, uniting us with the past, can be a special experience. It is why, at least in part, we visit historic places and hold onto souvenirs imbued with memories from time gone by. Most mementos are a tangible, but fleeting glimpse, crumbling with the passage of years. For most things, we rely on museums to carefully preserve the past under lock and key and precise storage conditions.

While a stroll through an ancient site or viewing an antique document can bring the past to life, there is something inherently unique in partaking in a gustatory experience asynchronously shared with those who lived long ago. Much more than simply opening up a bottle of wine from a previous vacation destination (which momentarily brings us back to that seaside table in sleepy coastal town), older wines and spirits from decades — even centuries ago — can transport us to another era. In this way, an extremely rare tasting of 19th century Cognac, Armagnac, Port and Madeira provided the sensory time machine to visit the more distant past.

Held in connection with an auction at Christie’s featuring 39 bottles of Cognac and Armagnac, each dating to a presidential term of office, from 1789 to 1977, the tasting was presented by Old Liquors, a wine shop specializing in vintage wines and spirits.

The tasting event was hosted by Old Liquors’ CEO, Bart Laming at New York’s Brandy Library. Interestingly, Brandy Library owner, Flavien Desoblin, a specialist in Cognac, noted that, “The U.S. palate has matured to appreciate older brandies, but is still whisky focused.”

Also present that evening was Christie’s Head of Wine, Edwin Vos, who painstakingly opened each bottle and shared tips for cellaring such treasures such as the admonition to store Madeira upright due to its high alcohol and high acidity content, which would damage the cork if left horizontally.

Admittedly, indulging in such wines is an expensive and limited proposition – there are scant bottles remaining. However, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience to taste these rare wines and recall the world as it once was even if none of us had been there ourselves.

For those with the means and interest in pursuing their own sensory experiences, Old Liquors bills itself as the “World’s largest Old Liquors Store,” with a robust website that accepts orders from around the world.
By Phone: +31 76 5416227
By Email: info@oldliquors.com

TASTING NOTES
Madeira 1865 Café Anglais Madere Vieux, Bual
Aromas of candied ginger, honey and spice; medium sweet palate with high acidity, flavors of coconut, yeast, rancio, ginger bread and orange peel; long length.

Port 1887 Brand unknown, Unknown shipper
A slight rancio note gives way to floral, cherries and bacon on the nose; medium sweet palate, with dried red fruit dominating; much fruitier than the Madeira; long length.

Cognac 1928 Croizet B. Léon Grande Réserve
Greeted by orange peel, spice and slight honey aromas; dry palate with high alcohol, displaying spices, oak and vanilla with elegance and long length.

Cognac 1914 Maxim’s, Caves du Restaurant, Fine Champagne, Réserve
This has an intense nose with woody and vanilla aromas and flavors; it is fuller-bodied on the palate than the above Cognac.

Armagnac 1893 Jacques Marou, Vieil, Handwritten label
This spirit offers concentrated dried fruit, most notably prunes and dates, along with oak and vanilla; simply lovely.

Cognac 1811 Napoléon, Grand Réserve, Imperial glass shoulder, button ‘N’
Aromas of bruised banana, vanilla, dried fruit and orange rind; dry on the palate with high alcohol, offering up spice and floral notes.

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Looking at the world through rosé-colored glasses

2015-mathilde-rose-backMy family and I visited Provence back in 2001. We didn’t know a lot about wine at the time; we just knew that we liked it.

On our first night in Provence, we stumbled across a lovely little restaurant with outdoor dining and knew that we had to join in the fun. We requested a table, sat down and gave the server our simple request: we want what the table next to us is having! A short while later our table was filled with incredible-looking, large grilled shrimp and glasses of rosé wine.

I don’t remember the name of that restaurant or even which town it was in, nor do I have any idea who produced that rosé, but that evening remains perfectly etched in our minds – a rosé moment! It is precisely for such moments that Mathilde Chapoutier crafted her wine (although admittedly, she hopes you will remember that she made it).

Accordingly, I don’t think she took much offense, if any, when I spent more time catching up with my colleague as we gorged on towers of seafood and several bottles of her wine on a summer Friday, rather than peppering her with questions about her background and winemaking philosophy. We were creating yet another rosé memory.

When your last name is so synonymous with wine, it is challenging to stay away from the wine industry. Mathilde Chapoutier tried it for a while, contemplating a career as a shooter (after many years as a successful competitor), but the 24-year old eventually gave in and joined the family business.

Today, as a member of the 8th generation of her family to make wine, she serves as Chief of Strategy and Business Development, a position, which has been quite rewarding. However, she was drawn to the idea of creating something uniquely hers – she wanted to make her own wine.

Her approach has been to create a wine that would appeal to her friends and other similar-minded folks who are afraid of wine or find it elitist. Overall, she wanted, “something simple, elegant and easy to drink.” She has succeeded in spades.

Although her family had previously produced what she refers to as food rosés – such as the hearty, deep pink Tavels – her father, Michel Chapoutier, was decidedly not a fan of Provençal rosé. In his opinion, there really weren’t many good ones in the market.

But, Mathilde was determined to prove him wrong and fought for this project despite his objections, eventually finding the Grand Ferrage estate, situated in the foothills of the Saint-Victoire Mountain. For her first vintage (2014), she purchased the juice, ultimately fermenting and blending the wine to her exacting standards.

Dad saw how receptive everyone was to the wine and relaxed his view. For her next vintage, she purchased the entire domaine, giving her full autonomy over the grapes and harvest as well as production. The wine is now available in the U.S. and ready for you to create your own rosé moments.

Mathilde Chapoutier Grand Ferrage Rosé 2015, Côtes de Provence, France, $24.99 (SRP)

untitledVery light in color, thanks to only a few hours of skin contact, this wine offers up floral and citrus aromas, with a dry and delicate palate with peach and floral notes, culminating in long length.

Domaine Katsaros and Ricossa offer up modern wines for modern times

Although the world of wine has a long and storied history, two recent events – dinner with Evripidis Katsaros of Domaine Katsaros and lunch with Andrea Marazia of Ricossa winery – underscored the ever-evolving nature of the industry.

Domaine Katsaros, modernity in ancient Greece

KatsarosThinking about Greece, images of the Acropolis and other ancient temples might spring to mind –  crumbling pillars as a testament to a bygone civilization. But, despite this legacy of antiquity, there is a very modern bent to the winemaking currently taking place in Greece and Italy.

Instead of meeting Katsaros’ winemaker at a Greek establishment, the invitation promised pizza at Marta, the resident restaurant at the Martha Washington Hotel. Part of Danny Meyer’s empire (aka Union Square Hospitality Group), Marta is known for its wood-burning ovens, which turn out beautiful thin-crust pizzas and tempting grilled meats.

But, before the food was served, the journalists were given the opportunity to blind taste two wines and guess which one was the Katsaros 2015 Xinomavro barrel sample and which… was a Barolo. Like Nebbiolo — the grape responsible for Barolo (among others) — Xinomavro needs a lengthy time to fully ripen and has similarly high acidity and firm tannins. Evripidis further described Xinomavro wines as showing aromas of black fruit, rose petals, olive and tomato.

Interestingly, while the blind comparison didn’t seem to stump the participants, it did illustrate the shared characteristics of the two varieties. Yet, in the end, the Barolo’s significantly more tannic structure and less overt fruit aromas gave itself away. Meanwhile, despite its youth, the Xinomavro was rather enjoyable with its pronounced floral nose, brighter acidity and softer tannins.

For many of the guests, this was a first introduction to both Xinomavro and to Domaine Katsaros. The Domaine got its start in the early 1980s, when Evripidis’ father, Dr. Dimitrios Katsaros, purchased a small estate on the slopes of Mount Olympus. The property was initially intended as a family vacation home, but the area beckoned to him and soon he was buying additional land and planting grapevines on the 2500-foot elevation plots.

At the time, technical information on Greek grapes was non-existent, so Dimitrios looked to a grape with a proven track record: Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet was followed by Merlot, which was originally intended solely as a blending partner for the estate blend. However, they quickly discovered that the grapes were of significant quality to be crafted into a single variety Merlot.

In the early days, Dimitrios made wine only for friends and family, but, by 1985, the winery became official, coinciding with Evripidis’ childhood and adolescence. Having spent his summers watching his father build up the estate, it was a natural fit for him to study bio-chemistry at Bordeaux University, followed by a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from Burgundy University.

Consequently, Evripidis knows his way around French grapes and his contribution in this regard has been the addition of Chardonnay, thanks to his belief that they would get good results from this variety. While many areas of Greece would be too hot for a grape that thrives in Burgundy’s cool climate, the northerly position of Domaine Katsaros’ provides a suitable home with a latitude and weather akin to that of Tuscany. In true French fashion, the Chardonnay is aged in French oak for several months, although Evripidis, who took over as head winemaker in 2008, admits that he prefers less wood than his father, especially in white wines.

However, despite the heavy reliance on French varieties, a subtle shift seems to be taking place, with a new interest in indigenous grapes, as evidenced by the planting of Xinomavro grapes in 2010. And, soon, they will add Robola Kefalonia, a white grape that originated on the island of Cephalonia.

Today, the family-owned winery is still the only one within Thessally’s PGI Krania, and maintains its dedication to using only estate grown fruit even though the vineyards are dispersed among 21 separate parcels. In recognition of their good stewardship of the land, the vineyards received organic certification in 1998.

Overall, the wines were very well made and showed off Evripidis’ skill as a French-trained winemaker. In this regard, although the Xinomavro/Barolo comparison was quite fun, it would be equally fascinating to taste his Merlot beside a glass of Right Bank Bordeaux.

Unfortunately, not only do people really like the Domaine Katsaros’ wines, but they (or at least the grapes that go into them) are a big hit with wild boars; nearly all of the 2014 crop was eaten by the pigs. Thus, it was with some sense of poetic justice that we eagerly devoured the meat-heavy Macellaio pizza (Sopressata, Guanciale, Pork Sausage, Mozzarella and Grana Padano) and the grilled pork loin with the wines. Thankfully, the boar were less destructive in 2015, ensuring that there will be more wine to go around for this latest vintage.

Ricossa wine, co-opting old traditions to create new trends

RicossaAlthough not nearly as ancient as ancient Greece, winemaking in Italy’s Piedmont region – home to the aforementioned Nebbiolo and hence, Barolo – dates back several centuries. Here, traditional winemaking has primarily centered on producing powerful, long-lived reds that take decades to reach their full potential. And, it seemed that such traditions were firmly entrenched.

But, even here, things are shifting. For one, classic wine styles have been evolving since the 1980s as a decidedly different view of Barolo winemaking came to the fore, splitting producers into one of two camps — Traditionalist vs. Modernist.

More recently, in another blending of old and new, the region has co-opted the age-old tradition of drying grapes in service of a new, modern style of Barbera. The newly minted Barbera Appassimento DOC owes a debt of gratitude to Ricossa Winery, which was the brainchild behind the creation of this wine.

The company, part of the MGM Mondo del Vino group, felt that there was something missing from the Piedmontese winescape – wines made in the appasimento style – and specifically targeted the Barbera grape as the beneficiary of this process. And, after only a year of discussions with the Consorzio, this new wine was approved as of the 2014 vintage.

The appasimento style is most closely associated with Italy’s Veneto region – think Amarone della Valpolicella, but, essentially, these wines are produced from grapes that are dried in humidity-controlled, ventilated room, thereby reducing water content and concentrating aromas and flavors in the grape.

Moreover, the specific rules for the Barbera Appassimento DOC are vastly different than those of Amarone. Of note, the drying process for this new wine is limited to four to six weeks, a much shorter time frame than the four months required for Amarone production. Further, there is no wood aging permitted compared to the minimum two years of oak aging for Amarone.

Yet, despite the obvious comparison to the Veneto, the true intent was to express the Barbera grape in a alternate way rather than mimic Amarone, as evidenced by the resulting style of wine. The group was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and light the wine was, finding it to be a great expression of the grape with softer acidity and fuller body than more traditional Barbera wines. Lunch guests also tasted Ricossa’s Gavi as well as its Barbaresco 2011 and Barolo Riserva 2008, which provided a broader introduction to the winery’s portfolio.

Rose dreaming on a winter’s day

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Certainly, a bottle of bubbly makes any occasion special – an instant upgrade from blah to ta-dah! It can brighten days and elevate moods as evidenced on a recent vacation.

Specifically, on said vacation, we were asked to wait in the restaurant’s lounge while they found us a table for dinner. About 15 minutes later, the manager brought over two complimentary glasses of Cava for us, immediately ensuring happy guests, made even happier when we were ushered to the best table in the house only a short while later.

And, every evening at 6:00 PM, the St. Regis Bahia Beach continues the tradition of sabering a bottle of sparkling wine to mark the transition from day to night, as the sun sinks below the horizon and the coqui frogs begin their song.

Moreover, if looking at the world through rose-colored glasses brings a change in attitude, just imagine what a glass of pink-hued, sparkling wine can do for you in the middle of a dreary winter!

Thinking pink, a recent tasting brought together a beautiful range of salmons, pinks and pale reds, all bursting with bubbles and imbuing the day with beauty and brightness.

Thankfully, while a winter vacation might be just a dream, enjoying a glass of sparkling rosé wine just requires an easy trip to your local retailer. Here are a few options to get you in the mood.

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Mionetto Prestige Gran Rosé (SRP: $14.00)
While not technically a Prosecco, since it is both a rosé and a blend of Raboso and Lagrein, this wine hails from the same area where Prosecco is produced. Medium salmon in color, this fresh and fruity wine offered up berry, floral and cotton candy aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate (fittingly, since it is labeled Extra Dry).

Mionetto Luxury Cuvée Sergio Rosé (SRP: $19.00)
Much darker hued than its fellow rosé from Mionetto, this deep pink wine displayed aromas of roses, cherries and strawberries on the nose, all of which persisted on the off-dry palate.

Ruffino Sparkling Rosé (SRP: $15.00)
Ruffino is a well known Tuscan producer, but they have begun to branch out to other Italian regions and recently released this sparkling wine made from the Glera grape of Prosecco fame. It has a pronounced nose of floral and red fruit (raspberry and strawberry) notes, joined by a hint of cotton candy on the slightly off-dry palate.

Cavas Hill 1877 Rosado Cava (SRP: $13.00)
A blend of Garnacha and Monastrell, this Traditional Method sparkler hails from Spain and was deep salmon in color.  Notes of ripe, dark berries and a hint of earthiness dominate both the nose and palate.

Alfred Gratien Brut Classique Rosé Champagne (SRP: $65.00)
Light and ethereal, this pale hued rosé Champagne presented classic yeasty, bready/brioche notes with a touch of strawberry and minerality on the brightly acidic palate, culminating in long length.