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

 

Valdivieso and Chile’s land of wine opportunity

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Brett Jackson was born and raised in the north-central area of New Zealand’s North Island, but, as a teenager, had the opportunity to work at Stony Ridge Vineyards on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland. It was there, in the nascent New Zealand wine industry, that he got the desire to pursue a career in wine and subsequently studied horticulture since the local schools didn’t have viticulture programs yet.

Once he was trained, Brett began to get hands on experience, working in the Napa Valley and Stellenbosch before landing a contract to make wine in the South of France for the Lurton brothers. Pleased with his performance, the Lurtons sent him to Chile in 1994 to oversee one of their projects there.

It was in Chile that he finally found his viticultural home and stopped wandering from wine region to wine region. He saw an energy and focus; Chilean wine was just starting to boom and was very open to new ideas. At the time, there were approximately 50,000 hectares of vines planted – inappropriate vines in inappropriate places (as he notes) – but over the next ten years, the industry began to get serious – adding an additional 50,000 hectares and really starting to understand its climate and soils.

At this point in his life, he has a spouse, children and a mortgage, so he isn’t going anywhere, but even if he had the freedom to roam, he doesn’t want to. He says that there is still so much going on. For him, Chile still represents tremendous opportunity and is a great place to make wine in a small area.

More specifically, Brett sees Chile as a mosaic with numerous pieces (places) to craft quality wines. Moving from East to West, the two mountain ranges – the ancient coastal ranges at 1,000 m and the more famous Los Andes at 4,000m – significantly impact the various climates. At the western edges, a cool climate offers an ideal location for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others, while the warmer, eastern areas are good for reds.

His present employer – Valdivieso – was established as early as 1869 and cemented a reputation as a producer of high quality sparkling wines. Today, 50% of their current production still centers around sparkling wines; they produce both Traditional Method and Charmat style wines. The former focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the latter blends in Semillon for a fresher, more aromatic result.

Among the winery’s extensive portfolio, they offer a terroir series – wines made from single vineyards / particular lots in smaller productions (500 to 3,000 cases each). They are bringing two of these wines to the U.S.: a Chardonnay and, refreshingly, a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc. These two wines seem to usher in the next phase of Chilean wines; elegant expressions of grape variety combined with traits of terroir, at reasonable price points (in this case the SRPs are $25.00).

Valdivieso also prides itself on its Caballo Loco range. Named for Jorge Coderch (known by his nickname which translates as Crazy Horse), who was instrumental in expanding the winery’s focus to include still wine production, these wines include Grand Cru blends and an intriguing flagship referred to by its iteration number.

This latter wine was “the first great wine from Chile,” initially produced in 1994 with the aim of showcasing the maximum expression of what a blend can be. And, it is a blend in every sense. Not only does it bring together numerous grape varieties, but it also incorporates a percentage of wine from each of the previous vintages. In this respect, the wine is fractionally blended. The result is a serious wine that is both powerful and elegant.

Tasting Notes

Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs NV, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is a bit shy on the nose, but opens up to a complex palate with citrus, pear and slight yeast notes; creamy and rich, with long length.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
On the nose, this wine offers apple, stone fruit, citrus and smoke. It is full-bodied, yet very elegant, with good acidity, nice fruit and only a subtle hint of oak from its 9 months in barrel. Brett advises that the apricot aromas and flavors will continue to develop with age.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile, $25.00
Made from vines planted in the 1920s, this is one of the first varietal Cab Francs in Chile. Aromas of wet leaves, plum and mulberry greet the nose and persist on the savory palate, with gentle tannins and good freshness.

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $35.00
A blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is rich and ripe, with nice herbal notes. It comes from a warmer climate and is more New World in style than many of the other wines.

Caballo Loco No. 16 Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile, $70.00
Bringing together 50% of No. 15 and 50% from the 2011 vintage, this is a unique, non-vintage wine. This wine displays black and red fruit on both the nose and full-bodied palate, with power and elegance, culminating in long length.

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.

The Power of Pairing: South American-inspired cuisine with Chilean wines

A recent lunch at team-building space Cooking by the Book reminded me how carefully crafted food and wine pairings can truly enhance both the food and the wine. Chef Ruth Van Waerebeek, culinary advisor to Concha y Toro, developed a special menu designed to showcase several of the company’s wide range of wines, echoing the flavors of the wines in the food and vice versa. As a result, both the cuisine and the wines were that much more enjoyable.

The Belgium-born chef has been captivated by the culinary flavors of South America for quite some time and brings these flavors together with her classic cooking techniques. Her first course married a Peruvian ceviche with an Asian twist. The cured salmon, coupled with a layer of cucumber rolls, matched beautifully with the citrus-centric Sauvignon Blanc. Chef Ruth suggested that the ceviche would also pair well with the aperitif wine, a coastal white blend of Chardonnay and Moscato.

Next, a creamy parmesan cheese budini with a small herb salad and orange segments was joined by the rich, creamy and elegant Chardonnay from a single vineyard in Limari Valley, Chile.

As the luncheon shifted from white wines to red, the cuisine remained relatively light, yet still worked well with the wines. A savory tart made with puff pastry and flavored with gorgonzola, walnut and fig was an unusual, but effective, foil for the Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah blend, proving that you can pair vegetarian entrees with red wine.

While all of the food was absolutely delicious, the final course was my favorite. Grilled lamb with merquen adobo and a Chilean-style mint salsa was served on a bed of quinoa and accompanied by a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Puente Alto Vineyard in Chile’s Maipo Valley.

Overall, the meal reinforced how a deliberate emphasis on matching specific wines to very specific dishes can create a truly magical experience.

If you want to experience Chef Ruth’s talents firsthand, you can stay at her beautiful adobe-style home, Mapuyampay, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. At this “Land of Resplendence,” guests can engage in hands-on cooking classes as well as make visits to wineries in the Curicó Valley. Mapuyampay Hostal Gastronomico & Cooking School

Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Coastal White 2011, Limari Valley, Chile, $12.00
A new addition to Concha y Toro’s portfolio, this floral and tropical fruit-focused wine is slightly off-dry and very easy drinking.

Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas (Riverbank Series) Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $18.00
Herbal and citrus aromas. Dry with crisp acidity, white grapefruit, slight pith in finish, long length.

Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay 2011, Limari Valley, Chile, $23.00
Produced in a Meursault style, this barrel-fermented and oak aged Chardonnay is very restrained and elegant with crisp acidity, red apple, toothpick/woody notes and good length.

Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada 2009, Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, Maipo Valley, Chile, $15.00
This 85% Cabernet Sauvignon-15% Syrah blend offered black cherry, black berry, earth and light herbal notes on both the nose and palate with firm, but ripe, tannins, medium acidity and full body.

Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Puente Alto, Chile, $26.00
A varietally-correct Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is restrained, elegant and beautifully balanced.

A Meeting of the (Winemakers’) Minds

While it is great to hear from winemakers about their wines, it isn’t exactly a unique experience. However, listening to a panel of winemakers from around the globe talk about key issues in the wine world is a special treat. And, one perhaps made even better when that panel is moderated by Kevin Zraly.

In July 2010, amidst a torrential downpour, I arrived at Moet-Hennessy’s Chelsea offices damp, but not downtrodden. Welcoming the cup of coffee that was offered, I spent some time viewing various displays for Moet-Hennessy products. Once everyone had arrived and was assembled in the conference room, the Winemakers’ Forum began.

The panel included Leone Contini Bonacossi, Owner of Capezzana; Marc Sorrel, Estate Director for Chateau de Sancerre; Nicolas Audebert, Cheval des Andes’ winemaker; Ian Morden, Estate Director for Cloudy Bay; Joel Burt, Assistant Winemaker at Domaine Chandon; Andrea Leon, Winemaker for Casa Lapostolle; Andrea Felluga, Livio Felluga’s winemaker; Laura Bianchi, owner of Monsanto; Chris Millard, executive winemaker at Newton Vineyard; Winemaker Manuel Louzada from Numanthia; and Terrazas’ senior winemaker, Adrian Meyer.

Kevin kicked off the session by asking the winemakers to share their favorite wine memories, especially those that cemented their interest in, and love for, wine. For some, it was a single wine – perhaps a 1996 Bandol (Adrian), Krug 1928 (Nicolas) or a Bonne Mares from one’s birth year (Marc). For others, it was a particular experience – tasting sparkling wine in the winery with one’s grandfather (Manuel) or stealing down into the cellar at 13 (Andrea L.) or 5 (Leone) and drinking from either the bottle or barrel, respectively. And, as Ian reminded everyone, context is everything; “You can’t divorce wine from the occasion.”

Trekkies know that space is the final frontier, but Kevin next queried where in the world was the next wine frontier. There was a diversity of responses ranging from the need to explore higher altitudes due to climate change and the shift in wine styles to up-and-coming grape varieties and regions. There was no one grape variety identified, but rather, certain varieties were associated with new areas such as Syrah in New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay; Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch, South Africa; Petit Verdot in Maipu, Chile; and the  rediscovery of Trebbiano, Malvasia and Friulano.

Building on the topic of change and innovation, the discussion then centered on changes in winemaking. On this, there was more consensus among panel members. Many spoke about the return to more traditional winemaking and a less is more approach. Another theme was an increased emphasis on the vineyard and terroir.

Viticultural advances were further noted such as drip irrigation and the development of rootstocks. A focus on balance was also mentioned, whether through canopy management, matching grape varieties with the right climate or achieving balance in the wine itself.

Here, Mary Ewing-Mulligan asked the panel to address the fact that the alcohol is not in balance even though winemakers say it’s not about alcohol. In response, Nicolas explained that sometimes waiting for full maturity in the grapes results in high alcohol levels. He added that while “[the alcohol level] could be high and be too much, it could [also] be high and you don’t feel it.” “I feel it,” said Mary.

With regard to wine in the market, both Laura and Marc lamented that consumption habits had declined in Europe, especially with the younger generation which drinks less wine and more beer and cocktails. While others agreed, Ian countered that new markets, especially China and Brazil, were becoming increasingly sophisticated with regard to wine.

More specific to the American market, Leone expressed pleasant surprise at the level of knowledge displayed by the people at her hotel’s reception desk. She was impressed with the broad picture they had on wine compared with young Italians whom, she said, have a more regional palate.

When Kevin mused about the outlook for the U.S. – Is it generally getting better? There was a resounding yes from the group. However, this sentiment needs to be tempered in light of recent economic issues.

And, what was their opinion of American wines? A number of people mentioned the quality of Oregon wines, naming its Pinot Noirs and sparkling wines in particular. However, Laura confessed that she had tasted American Sangiovese, but wasn’t worried about the competition (she produces Chianti, which is primarily made from Sangiovese).

Questioned about wine critics, the feeling was that critics play an important role, helping to narrow the field for the consumer. However, it was also admitted that, like any system, it has some good and bad elements associated with it. While Andrea L. stated that it was rewarding as a winemaker to receive high scores, Nicolas emphasized that, “if you are making wine as a passion, you are not making wine for critics.” Joel also suggested that the power of big critics is waning due to blogs, an opinion that Chris shared.

As a final topic, the conversation turned to biodynamics and organics. A few, such as Nicolas and Adrian, admitted that being organic was easy for them due to climatic conditions. Yet, Andrea F. and others pointed to high rainfall and humidity as impediments to such practices. However, the overall feeling was that such viticultural practices were crucial in and of themselves, not as marketing efforts. Consequently, many winemakers don’t indicate their practices on the label. In this regard, Joel proposed that, “It’s important to be stewards of the land,” an emotion echoed by Andrea F., who noted that, “We have to take care of the planet.”

Grand Cru Grapevine: Where the Bargains Are…Revisited (November 2009)

Wow, Fall seems to be literally flying by as Grand Cru Classes completes a whirlwind of projects in October and November. Among our many endeavors, we are thrilled to be providing staff training to the esteemed Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan and for Park Place Wines in tony East Hampton.

In between preparing custom training materials and introducing dozens of people to the world of wine, Tracy has had her nose in the books as she studied for Year 1 (of 3) of the American Wine Society’s Wine Judging Certification program. An educational session and Year 1 exam were presented at the annual conference held in Destin, Florida earlier this month. She also “appeared” on Heritage Radio Network’s At the Root of It with Erin Fitzpatrick for the October 27 episode.

November marks the end of our public class sessions in Mattituck for 2009, so if you wish to take a class with us this season, please check our schedule and sign up. Public classes will resume in May. However, private events may be booked with us all year.

In fact, as the allure of the holiday season comes upon us, why not consider a special wine tasting or wine and cheese event in place of your usual holiday party? With years of event planning experience, we can provide you with an elegant affair that your guests will fondly remember.

Beyond entertaining, Grand Cru Classes offers beautifully-packaged gift certificates. Give the gift of a public wine class, a private wine event or consultation services for wine shopping or developing a wine cellar. To make your gift even more special, all gift certificates purchased between now and December 31 will be sent with a set of handmade wine charms.

Finally, if you need to stock up on break-resistant, crystal stemware, now is the time. These glasses also make great gifts. Our next order with Schott-Zweisel will be placed by November 30th. Please contact us directly to receive a catalog of style choices and pricing.

Drink wisely and well,

Tracy Ellen Kamens, Ed.D., DWS, CWE
CEO: Chief Education Officer

and

Jared Michael Skolnick
COO: Cork Opening Officer

WHERE THE BUYS ARE…REVISITED

A recent study, commissioned by Italian wine producer Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, revealed interesting differences between Italian and U.S. wine consumers. It seems that Italian wine drinkers are more focused on quality and thus, continue to buy wine at the same quality levels as previously during this economic downturn. However, they are buying fewer bottles. Conversely, according to a Nielsen Group study, during this recession, Americans are drinking in the same quantities, but have adjusted the price point of their purchases. Accordingly, if one used to buy wine in the $15-$20 range, that same consumer is likely now buying wines in the $10-$15 price bracket. With this in mind, we turn our attention to tips and tricks for finding where the bargains are.

Lesser-known Neighbors
In wine, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. With the popularity of key grape varieties, wine regions or both, the price of these wines escalates. Meanwhile, wines that hail from “the wrong side of the tracks” can offer consumers great value. More specifically, if you enjoy the crisp acidity, citrus aromas and flavors and minerality of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé from France’s Loire Valley, look to the villages of Quincy, Reuilly and Menetou-Salon for similarly styled wines at lower price points. The vaunted Sauternes of Bordeaux is prized for its botrytis-affected dessert wines, but the favorable conditions that exist to create these wines are not confined to this single area. Wines from satellite communes Loupiac, Cadillac, Cerons and Ste. Croix du Mont may not have the same longevity, but will provide better bang for your buck for early consumption.

Know thy Vintage and/or Producer
Scaling back on your Burgundy purchases? Generic appellations (AC Bourgogne vs. AC Gevry-Chambertin) from well-regarded négociants (such as Latour, Drouhin and Jadot) will provide good quality wines less expensively. Other Burgundian options are to seek out wines from districts other than the famed Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Beaune (collectively known as the Côte d’Or) – Côte Chalonnaise offers good Pinot Noirs while Macon, especially Pouilly-Fuissé) is regarded for its Chardonnays. Bordeaux is all about vintage, so choose lesser known producers in great years (2000, 2003, 2005) or search out better producers in “shadow vintages,” those years that got lost in the hoopla of better rated vintages (i.e., 2001 and 2004), for more reasonable options.

Where the Buys Are 2009
Still considered up and coming, Chilean wines are seeing significant improvement in their quality while still being available at the lower end of the market. In particular, Sauvignon Blanc from Leyda and Carmenere from the Maule Valley are terrific choices. Finally, don’t overlook Long Island. While often thought to be expensive wines, a recent blind tasting of Long Island wines pitted against their international peers found that not only did the wines compare favorably on the palate, they usually much less expensive than the competition.

Tasting Notes

Cascina Ca’Rossa, Roero Arneis «Merica» 2008, Piedmont, Italy, $14.95
This wine is made from the Arneis grape, which is indigenous to the Piedmont region, located in northwestern Italy. On the nose, there are aromas of floral, almond and honey. On the palate, flavors of lime, almond, straw and honey linger throughout the long length. 

Pierre Sparr, Selection Series Riesling 2008, Alsace, France, $14.00
As with most Alsatian wines, this one is varietally correct, truly showing off Riesling’s peach and citrus aromas and flavors. The palate is dry with high acidity and medium length. 

Channing Daughters, Scuttlehole Chardonnay 2008, The Hamptons, $16.00
This unoaked Chardonnay held its own when blind tasted amidst wines from Chablis and Pouilly-Fuissé. Youthful aromas of floral, mineral and lime persist on the palate and are joined by lemon and stone. Crisp acidity and concentrated fruit are balanced by its full body.

Château Teyssier, St. Emilion Grand Cru 2006, Bordeaux, France, $12.00
Aromas of black fruit and molasses greet the nose. The palate is dry with medium acidty and medium tannins, along with flavors of blackberry, coffee, and spice. 

Casas Patronales, Carmenere Reserva 2008, Maule Valley, Chile, $10.00
This producer’s Reserva wines spend 6 months aged in oak, but the wines are not overly oaky. The Carmenere is dry with medium body and medium acidity. Its palate is spicy with red fruits/raspberry and slight earth flavors culminating in medium+ length.