A Devil of a Merlot for International Merlot Day

As Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly notes, national and international wine holidays are actually quite unofficial, but they are certainly a great excuse to drink wine and focus on a specific grape variety or wine category.

Consequently, International Merlot Day, which Puckette traces back to 2011, has a designated date of November 7 and is as good a reason as any to drink more Merlot, particularly if this grape isn’t in your usual repertoire!

No longer widely maligned, Merlot has found renewed favor, which it richly deserves and is among the most popular red varieties in the U.S. This great grape originally hails from France and is wonderful on its own or as part of a blend (especially the wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank). Generally, these wines offer up red fruits, coffee and herbal notes, along with good acidity and soft tannins, but the wines will vary depending upon where the grapes are grown.

Merlot adapts well to many climates and has been transported from its ancestral home to almost every wine region across the globe. Within the U.S., the variety does well on Long Island and in Washington State and in California. Worldwide, there are an estimated 660,000 acres of Merlot planted, so there is definitely no shortage of Merlots to try.

To help you get started, here’s one option worth checking out:
Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2015, Washington State, U.S., $12.99 (SRP)
With an intense nose showing plum, coffee and meatiness, this wine is dry with very ripe fruit character, medium+ body, medium acidity and present tannins. Flavors of plum, fresh herbs and dried herbs dominate the palate, along with a hint of earth and spice. These latter notes add to the wine’s complexity and give it a fall-weather feel, which may be why it paired so well with roasted butternut squash.

If you still have friends in the anti-Merlot camp, it might be time to find some new friends or you could simply tell them, the devil made me do it.

 

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.

Channeling Jimmy Buffet with Montes and Kaiken Wines

As Jimmy Buffet crooned, “It’s those changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes [when] nothing remains quite the same.” While he was singing about life in general, Buffet might have been speaking about the differences between Chilean and Argentine wine. OK, not really, but the emphases on latitude and altitude were apparent at a recent tasting of Montes and Kaiken wines. Presided over by Aurelio Montes, Sr. and Aurelio, Montes, Jr., the father and son team shared the fruits of their respective labors as we tasted a collection of their wines from these two countries.

A pioneer in wine, Aurelio Montes, Sr. earned his degree in agronomy and went on to co-found Viña Montes in 1988. This Chilean winery set the bar for Chilean wines and helped introduce them to the world at time when people had never heard of Chile, let alone knew the country produced wine.

This father of five was eager to have his son, Aurelio, Jr., follow in his footsteps and was loathe to leave it to chance. Thus, the two traveled to the Napa Valley when Jr. was only 15 years old. During the trip, he visited UC Davis and met Robert Mondavi and other key figures in the Napa industry, which cemented his interest in wine. Moreover, he encouraged his father to focus exclusively on top quality wines.

Upon their return, Sr. looked to new territories in Chile, finding land in Apalta on which to plant his vineyards and launch the Alpha line of high end wines. Here, he embraced the maritime climate, planting Bordeaux varieties, and concentrating on growing premium grapes and crafting premium wines. This shift proved to be quite successful and the Montes name became well respected in the industry.

However, not content to rest on his laurels, Aurelio, Sr. was lured by the stark contrast of Argentina’s vineyards beckoning just over the steep Andes peaks. Its continental climate, unique soils and elevations were equally well suited to grape growing, but with distinctly different challenges than those he faced at home in Chile. Thus, he eventually established Kaiken in 2001, giving him two wonderful worlds in which to produce wine.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of that first Napa trip, Aurelio, Jr. completed his agronomy studies in 1999 and began building his resumé with stints at Rosemount, Cape Mentelle and Franciscan Estate, before returning to Chile. But, he had to earn his place in the family business, honing his skills at Viña Ventisquero before joining Montes in 2007. He first worked in Apalta and then led the winemaking team at Kaiken from 2011 to 2015. Not surprisingly, Jr. acknowledges that, “Making wine is hard work; we are not magicians.”

More simply, he suggested that, “The job of a winemaker is twofold: half of the job is to make wine and the other half is to understand what the consumer wants.” In this regard, he has worked in five different countries, understanding what is good, learning from other areas and taking that experience and expertise home with him to make better wine.

In illustration of their combined knowledge and expertise, we tasted two Chardonnays from the two different “neighborhoods.” Introducing his cool climate wine, Aurelio, Sr. spoke about playing with proximity to the Pacific Ocean, thereby moving along the same latitude to change the character of the resulting grapes. His Chardonnay was very fresh with bright acidity and predominantly citrus notes.

Similarly, Aurelio, Jr. described his manipulation with the height of his vineyards above sea level to slow down ripening and retain acidity, ultimately producing high altitude Chardonnay. While still quite balanced, his Chardonnay was lower in acidity and displayed riper fruit and slightly more oak.

We then focused our attention on Cabernet Sauvignon with the Chilean version being leaner and more elegant whereas the Argentine Cab was fruitier with a richer, rounder style that was more muscular with riper tannins. While Cabernet Sauvignon is not usually associated with Argentina, Aurelio, Jr. argues that the grape can do well there; it simply hasn’t been planted in the right places. He suggested that as an industry, Argentine producers need to do a better job of identifying the best terroirs and planting vines, but also acknowledged that Argentina’s emphasis on quality wine only came about in the past 15 years.

Turning the tables, we next tasted Malbec, which is much more linked to Argentina than to Chile. Aurelio, Sr. jokingly explained that he was jealous of the success that Argentina has had with this grape and decided to produce his own version at home. His Malbec was fresh and lean, with less spice and intensity than the Argentine version. Yet, the Kaiken Ultra Malbec was still an elegant wine with ripe black and blue fruit and herbal notes, thanks to the extreme terroir of his 1500 m vineyard that Jr. calls “wild black horse of the mountain.”

With their long tenure in wine, the two winemakers are not without their desire to experiment. For Sr., it was a Rhone-style blend of Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre (Outer Limits CGM); for Jr., a varietal Cabernet Franc, which he described as being more feminine compared to the “macho wines” Argentina is known for.

Their aspirational wines include the Montes Alpha M, which was Sr.’s attempt to craft a Bordeaux blend as good as one from Bordeaux. By the accolades given in the room, it was clear that he has succeeded with this sophisticated and complex blend. Likewise, the Kaiken Mai is a beautiful Malbec sourced from a heritage vineyard planted in 1910 that has been saved from the encroaching condo development in the Mendoza area. Although 97% of this vineyard is planted to Malbec, a handful of other grapes such as Semillon, Criolla, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are still mixed in among the vines.

Finally, we closed with a mini-vertical of Taita, a visionary wine named for a term of endearment used for a beloved father, denoting respect and devotion. Dry-farmed on a vineyard with calcium-rich soil (thanks to the detritus from a previous glacier), the wine is primarily made up of Cabernet Sauvignon and is aged for a long period of time before release. My favorite was the 2007, which was still quite structured, but displaying some development on its tenth anniversary.

But, in the end, despite discussions of latitude and altitude, it is all about the wines you like. A common note made during the tasting was how each wine was beautifully made in its own right, but would have greater or lesser appeal depending upon one’s palate preferences. Such thoughts underscore Sr.’s statement that, “You get more human than technical about wine as you get older.”

Plus, as Jimmy Buffet also reminded us in his tune, “With all of our running and all of our cunning, If we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”

Thankfully, both gentlemen readily laugh. Aurelio, Sr. shared an anecdote about that fateful trip to Napa during which Aurelio, Jr. proudly purchased an inexpensive pair of shorts that he proceeded to wear throughout the week, only to discover at the end that they were actually a pair of underwear. Apparently, Chileans only wear briefs; it must be a longitudinal thing.

List of Wines Tasted

  • Montes Alpha Chardonnay 2014, Aconcagua Costa, Chile, $20.00
  • Kaiken Ultra Chardonnay 2014, Mendoza, Argentina, $20.00
  • Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $20.00
  • Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Mendoza, Argentina, $20.00
  • Montes Alpha Malbec 2014, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $20.00
  • Kaiken Ultra Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina, $20.00
  • Montes Outer Limits CGM 2015, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $25.00
  • Kaiken Obertura Cabernet Franc 2014, Mendoza, Argentina, $35.00
  • Montes Alpha M 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $98.00
  • Kaiken Mai Malbec 2013, Mendoza, Argentina, $70.00
  • Montes Taita Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $249.00
  • Montes Taita Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $249.00
  • Montes Taita Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $249.00

 

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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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.

 

The Land of Limoux: It’s Not Just for Sparklers Anymore

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The Languedoc-based Limoux region claims the distinction of being the first to produce a sparkling wine back in 1531. In fact, famed monk Dom Perignon is credited with visiting the area and bringing back the knowledge to Champagne. Unfortunately for Limoux, the Champenoise have been more assertive in their public relations campaign over the past several centuries, which is why Méthode Champenoise is much more familiar to the average consumer than Limoux’s Méthode Ancestrale.

However, despite Champagne’s better brand recognition, Limoux is now dialing up the volume on its message to market its wines. In this regard, a rooftop tasting held this month provided an opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends.

The event kicked off with Limoux’s bubbles. For centuries, it was the Blanquette de Limoux and its Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale that dominated local production. These two wines earned appellation status in 1938 and harness the Mauzac grape’s floral and apple aromas. The Méthode Ancestrale wines undergo only partial fermentation and thus retain some sweetness on the palate.

Much more recently (1990s), the region added a Crémant de Limoux to its sparkling line up, which favors Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc over the indigenous Mauzac and requires a minimum of nine months of lees aging. In spite of its late arrival to the scene, this newer sparkler accounts for 40% of sparkling wine production in Limoux.

Priced below $20.00, the Limoux sparklers offer up great value for every day drinking with several different styles from which to choose, including drier, sweeter and rosé options.

Even more au courant, Limoux has diversified its portfolio with still whites and reds. While the whites focus on oaked versions of the same varieties as those employed for sparkling wines, the reds (which must include at least three different grapes) bring together an unusual mix of Bordeaux (Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and/or Cabernet Sauvignon) and the Rhone Valley (Syrah and Grenache). The still wines are a relatively small percentage of total production and are priced accordingly.

TASTING NOTES

Delmas Blanquette de Limoux Cuvée Memoire Brut Nature 2010, $16.00
This wine is vinified in old oak barrels and sees 8 months of aging on the lees, with fresh citrus and apple aromas and flavors.

Saint Hilaire Blanquette de Limoux Brut 2014, $13.00
Thanks to a chance discovery many years ago, St. Hilaire was our house sparkler for a long time, providing us with affordable bubbles on a regular basis. Notes of Apple and apple peel greet the nose; fresh and lively with medium+ length on the palate.

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Rosé NV, $15.00
This wine spends 12 months on the lees, showing aromas of berries and herbs. It is dry, yet slightly fruity and slightly yeasty on the palate with long length.

Antech Crémant de Limoux ‘Heritage 1860’ 2013, $19.00
A more serious sparkler, this wine is dry with citrus and yeast aromas and flavors; fresh and clean on the palate.

Sieur d’Arques Toques et Clochers Limoux Blanc Terroir Autan 2014, $17.00
This 100% Chardonnay offers up floral aromas with a rich palate of pear, apple and a balanced use of oak; long length.

Château-Rives Blanques Dédicace Limoux Blanc 2012, $21.00
Produced from 100% Chenin Blanc, this wine displays yeast and floral notes on the nose with a lovely richness and roundness on the palate.

Domaine de Baron’arques Limoux Rouge 2012, $39.00
Barrel aged in a combination of 50% new barrels and 50% first and second use, this Merlot-dominant wine blend provides berries, black fruit and herbal notes joined by earthy and oaky flavors on the palate.

Michel Capdepon Limoux Méthode Ancestrale Fruité NV, $16.00
Even though the wine’s residual sugar level is at 95 g/l, this wine is beautifully balanced with floral and apple notes on the off-dry palate and finishes cleanly.

Velenosi: Wines of Poise and Passion

VelenosiWhen I was first invited to meet with Angela Velenosi, owner of Velenosi Winery in Le Marche, I was intrigued by her name. Having studied Italian, the word velenosi struck an immediate cord; we had read stories in class about a character named Valentino Valentini who had first gone on a walk through the forest collecting mushrooms and making a tasty risotto with them. Unfortunately, as the tale went, “Ma…spesso i funghi sono velenosi” – but…often mushrooms are poisonous – so Valentino was brought to the Emergency Room. After leaving the hospital a few days later, our dear friend Valentino was treated to a dinner of oysters, but, as was pointed out: “Ma…spesso le ostriche sono velenose” (but…often oysters are poisonous), so Valentino was again rushed off for emergency care.

After meeting Angela Velenosi in person, I am pleased to note that, while Valentino Valentini was quite unlucky, Angela has had a much better track record with her life. This poised and passionate Italian woman has been the driving force behind her family’s wine label, which she founded in 1984 with then husband, Ercole, when she was only 20 years old. The two saw the opportunity, had a good relationship with the local wine community and, perhaps most importantly, a passion for wine. Angela admits that she had very limited knowledge and experience, but clearly had an abundance of conviction, confidence and courage.

Thirty-plus years later, it is evident that her gamble and dedication has paid off. An award winning winery (listed among Wine Spectator’s top 100 wineries in both 2012 and 2013), Velenosi is firmly established in the region today and is the second largest, family-owned estate, with 100 hectares planted in the south of the region and another 48 hectares located closer to the sea in the province of Ancona.

This same fearlessness seems to pervade everything she does. During dinner she revealed that she has run a total of 11 marathons – three of them in New York. Unfortunately, her knees have kept her from continuing this particular passion, but while, marathons are not a part of her life anymore she is still extremely active.

In addition to being a staunch supporter for her own brand, Angela is equally heartfelt about the region and currently serves as President of the Consorzio di Tutela Vini Piceni, a post she has held since 2014.

Admittedly, among Italian wines, at least in the U.S., Le Marche is much less well known, but this region, situated along Italy’s Eastern coast along the Adriatic Sea, has a lengthy history. The only plural among Italy’s 20 regions, Le Marche got its name in 1105 when three border regions were joined by the Roman Emperor Henry IV. (And, perhaps it’s a bit like New York City’s The Bronx in that it is the only region to possess an article.) Within Le Marche, the town of Ascoli dates back to 1000 BCE and was established by the Piceni tribe of warriors. It pre-dates the Romans’ rise to prominence and was known for its iron works and jewels.

Today, Le Marche is home to 5 DOCGs and 16 DOCs, featuring a diverse range of climates, depending upon topography and distance from the coast. The area features various hills and mountains; there are no flat lands to be found. The relatively small region is primarily known for its crisp, refreshing whites and its Montepulciano-based reds. Although Sangiovese features heavily in many of Le Marche’s wines, the Sangiovese in the Le Marche is a different clone than that found in Tuscany. Consequently, these wines share more similarity to those produced in Abruzzo than in Tuscany.

Velenosi produces 20 different wines, from a combination of indigenous varieties (such as Pecorino, Passerina, Verdicchio, Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Lacrima) and international grapes. In general, Angela likes wines that are both ready to drink, but also have good aging potential, a philosophy she applies to all of the wines she produces. With this mind, many of her wines are bottled in dark, heavy glass to keep the light out during the lengthy aging process. Additionally, Angela looks for clarity and purity in all of her wines. As a result, Angela’s wines are anything but poisonous. – they are elegant, well made expressions of the Le Marche terroir.

Eight of the Velenosi wines are exported to the U.S., covering a range of styles and providing an excellent introduction to the wines of Le Marche!

TASTING NOTES
Passerina Brut NV, Marche, Italy
A Charmat Method sparkling wine produced from 100% Passerina grapes, this slightly off-dry sparkler presents light aromas of peach and pear on the nose and palate. It has nice acidity, with a lovely mousse, finishing cleanly and pairing well with food.

Pecorino Villa Angela Falerio DOC Pecorino 2014, Marche, Italy
Named for the tradition of grazing sheep in the mountains, this variety stems from the Italian word pecora, which translates as sheep. The wine has notes of anise, citrus and apple on the nose. The light to medium-bodied palate offers up savory, herbal and vegetal flavors with high acidity and a slight, textural grip.

Verdicchio Querciantica Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico 2014, Marche, Italy
This wine has fresh fruit aromas of peach and almond and is more fruit-forward than the Pecorino, although it is still dry and balanced. There is bright acidity on the medium to full-bodied palate, with flavors of pear, peach and almond.

Lacrima Querciantica Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC 2014, Marche, Italy
An aromatic red variety, Lacrima has thins skins, resulting in a lighter-bodied red, with little to no tannins. The grape’s freshness is deliberately preserved through the use of stainless steel and no wood contact. This wine expresses its fresh raspberry, cherry and plum fruit so vibrantly with bright acidity and beautiful balance.

Brecciarolo Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore 2013, Marche, Italy
Falling within the Rosso Piceno DOC rules, the specific blend is up to the producer, with this wine being a blend of 70% Montepulciano/ 30% Sangiovese, aged in older oak for 10-12 months. The heavy reliance on Montepulciano produces a stronger, darker wine than other Rosso Piceno wines.

Ludi, Offida DOCG Rosso 2011, Marche, Italy
One of Angela’s top wines, Ludi was first produced in 1998, named for the Latin root for play – ludo – a reminder that wine is meant to be enjoyed. It is a blend of 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, which is aged in new French oak for 24 months. This wine offers up ripe, yet elegant, black fruit with cedar, vanilla and a hint of anise, with finely grained tannins and long length.

Roggio del Filare 2010, Rosso Piceno DOC Superiore, Marche, Italy
Velenosi’s flagship is the Roggio del Filare, literally “fire in the vineyard,” whose name stems from a poem by the Italian poet Carducci, recalling the way that the sun looks on the vines as it sets in the vineyards. This 70% Montepulciano – 30% Sangiovese blend is produced from 50+ year old vines with a long maceration on the skins and then aged in new French oak for 18 months. It is intense, powerful and structured, with beautiful, concentrated black fruit, wood and minerality on the full-bodied palate with very long length.

Visciole Selezione Cherry Wine NV, Marche, Italy
This fresh and delicate dessert wine is produced from a combination of fully-fermented Lacrima grapes to which a wild cherry syrup, known as visciole, is added, causing a second fermentation and ultimately resulting in a wine with remaining sweetness. Redolent of ripe cherries on the nose and palate, the wine is nicely balanced, with enough sugar to marry well with dessert without being cloying.

Marche

The DOCGs and DOCs of Le Marche

Miner Family Winery: The Cool Miners’ Water

Miner
With their name proudly displayed on every bottle of wine they produce, the Miner family has made a name for themselves in Napa Valley wine. Founder Dave Miner initially launched his career in the software industry, following in the footsteps of his uncle, Robert Miner, who was among the co-founders of Oracle Corporation.

Dave continued to pursue his uncle’s passions when he took over as President of Oakville Ranch Vineyards, which Robert had established in 1989. While Oakville Ranch continues to remain in the hands of Robert’s widow, Mary Miner, Dave went on to found his own winery, Miner Family Winery in 1996, after meeting his future wife, Emily, who served as Tasting Room Manager at Oakville.

Ten years later, Dave and Emily’s efforts were duly rewarded when Miner Family Winery was honored as a Top 100 “Winery of the Year” by Wine & Spirits Magazine.

The Miner Family wines were initially crafted at a custom crush facility, but, by 1997, the pair had hired Gary Brookman on as winemaker and spent the following two years buying a building, excavating caves and releasing their first wine. In 2008, the winery was able to become energy-independent, running exclusively on self-generated solar power.

Interestingly, while they have spent considerable time and effort focused on their facility, the fruit for their wines is generally sourced from other people’s vineyards, some of which, like Hyde, Stagecoach and Garys’ Vineyard, have become extremely well known.

A wide range of wines are produced, including those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone varieties. In a fitting tribute to uncle Robert, the winery’s flagship Bordeaux-style blend, Oracle, was launched in 2004. Today, Miner Family Winery wines continue to earn critical acclaim and have been served at several White House dinners. Yet, the wines remain reasonably priced and accessible.

Miner Family Winery Chardonnay 2013, Napa Valley (CA), US, $30.00
As a high quality, well-made wine, this is an oaked Chardonnay for the haters out there. Aromas of apples, spice and pear greet the nose and persist on the dry palate; overall, it is really enjoyable with complexity and elegance.

Miner Family Winery Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2011, Napa Valley (CA), US, $50.00 Produced with only indigenous yeast cultures, this wine offers up yeasty, nutty characteristics on both the nose and palate. Despite spending 16 months in 70% new French barrels, it is well balanced with integrated oak, showing slight development and culminating in long length.

Miner Family Winery Garys’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Santa Lucia Highlands (CA), US, $60.00
Beautiful aromas of floral, cherries and a hint of herbs are displayed on the nose while rich, concentrated, ripe cherry flavors are joined by wet leaves and a kiss of oak on the palate.

Miner Family Winery Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley (CA), US, $75.00
From the Krupp Family’s famed Stagecoach Vineyard, this wine is redolent of red and black fruits, coupled with spice notes.  The full-bodied palate delivers firm tannins, with rich blackberry and spice along with long length.