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Sunday, June 21, 2009

My best from 2009's Hospice du Rhône

This past spring I attended two massive tasting events: the Hospice du Rhône (May 1-2) in Paso Robles, and World of Pinot Noir (March 6-7) in Shell Beach.


As much for myself as for your possible interest, here are some of the highlights from the Hospice du Rhône – all exceptional wines, worthy of a place in any wine list or cellar – out of about 100 wines tasted, listed in order of my personal favorites:

HOSPICE DU RHÔNE - REDS

2005 Alban Vineyards, Reva Syrah (Alban Estate, Edna Valley)
Holy cow, can Syrah can any more intense, sleek and balanced as this? Black-purplish ruby, followed by nose of smoked bacon and oak, and sweetly scented, concentrated, violet and framboise/berry aromas. Thick, full, unctuous impact; the luscious flavors unfolding in textured layers across the palate.

2007 Paul Lato, Il Padrino Syrah (Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley)
(Proprietor/winemaker Paul Lato pictured below). Stunningly intense nose of sweet berries, violets, brown (cinnamon), black (peppercorn), and exotic (ginger) spices; the spiced fruit of immense concentration on the palate; big body and tannin smoothed over by silken, sweet sensations.


2007 Baker Lane, Sonoma Coast Estate Vineyard Syrah
Shiny new star producer; the wines made by Steven Canter (who also works full-time for Quivira), and this wine co-fermented with 5% Viognier. Nose is violet/floral scented, with backdrop of smoked meats and crushed berries; juicy, round, thick and full-bodied on the palate; the crushed berry flavors mingling with dark roasted coffee and charred oak underpinnings.

2006 Stolpman Vineyards, Estate Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley)
Ultra-rich, bright and perfumed sweet berry nose tinged by vivid, exotic spices (dried herbs, black and red pepper); super-full, dense, muscular feel, encasing fleshy fruit with finely smoothed textures.

2005 Beckmen Vineyards, Purisima (Santa Ynez Valley)
Beckmen's top-of-the-line Purisima (60% Grenache/40% Syrah) is produced only once every two or three years, when vintage conditions are optimal; and you can see why the ’05 made the cut: it’s massive – a burly yet round, sleek, fleshy concentration of red berries and pomegranate, spiked with smoke and peppercorn. Despite a monumental structure of meat and tannin, the dominant note in the middle and finish is as sweet and fresh as black chocolate covered strawberries… consumed with supple, black leather gloves.

2006 Skylark, Rodgers Creek Vineyard Syrah (Sonoma Coast)
By the sommelier/winemaker team of John Lancaster and Robert Perkins (both still active at Boulevard in San Francisco). Black/purplish ruby; sweetly intense perfumes of crushed berries, dark roasted coffee, cracked pepper and pine needles. Big, thick, plush qualities of the same on the palate; an aggressive, let-it-all-hang-out approach to Syrah.

2007 Paul Lato, Cinematique Syrah (Larner Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley)
Compared to Lato’s Il Padrino, even more fragrant (violet, lavender and musk spices) and earthy (rosemary/raw meat) in the nose, specked with blackpepper; rounder, more finely finished, silken mouth-feel, with moderate tannin running beneath the sweet/spicy flavors.


2006 Beckmen Vineyards, Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah (Santa Ynez Valley)
Ripe, sweet blackberry nose with raw cacao complexity and sprigs of herby mint; thick, dense, full body, buttressed by muscular tannin overlain with the sweet, chocolaty fruit sensations.

2005 Torbreck, Run Rig Shiraz-Viognier (Barossa Valley, South Australia
Thick, balsamic notes of VA only seem to intensify the big, ripe, sweetly concentrated black fruit nose, filled out with dried Provençal herbs; dense, muscular tannins buoy the sweet, concentrated sensations, finishing with a sense of fatted flesh.

2007 Mollydooker, The Boxer Shiraz (McLaren Vale, South Australia)
Dense purple; exuberantly fruit-forward black fruit aromas tinged with smoky oak and mint; thick, layered, round feel, the luscious fruit qualities completely engulfing medium tannins and sweet oak.

2006 Justin Vineyards, Paso Robles Savant
59% Syrah/41% Cabernet Sauvignon. Multi-faceted nose of sweet herbs (rosemary and pine needles), violets, hard spices (clove and star anise), and roasted meats; velvety entry leading to big, round, fleshy body, filled with the sweetly spiced flavors.


HOSPICE DU RHÔNE - WHITES

2007 Domaine François Villard, Deponcins Condrieu (Rhône Valley, France)
As pretty as it gets for white Rhône; nose bursting with apricot and wildflowers; fine, silken entry into medium-full, finesseful body barely containing the drippy, mouth-watering, juicy apricot flavors.

2007 E. Guigal, Condrieu La Doriane (Rhône Valley, France)
Fragrant, super-fresh, juicy peach nose with white pepper and lychee-like spices; full, lush, silky textured feel, the fruit flavors lingering sweetly in round, glycerol textured layers.

2007 Alban Vineyards, Alban Estate Vineyard Viognier (Edna Valley)
Intensely fragrant, flowery nose studded with white pepper spice, honeysuckle, fresh citrus and orange peel; big and fleshy feel, yet the spiced, floral flavors lively enough to dance across the palate.

More great Pinots than you can shake a stick at (World of Pinot Noir 2009)

This past spring I attended two massive tasting events: the Hospice du Rhône (May 1-2) in Paso Robles, and World of Pinot Noir (March 6-7) in Shell Beach.


The upshot: there are now more great Pinot Noirs being made than you can shake a stick at. Pinot lovers these days feel like kids in a candy shop at venues like World of Pinot Noir. So as much for myself as for your possible interest, here are some of the highlights from that weekend in Shell Beach – all exceptional wines, worthy of a place in any wine list or cellar – out of some 150 total wines tasted, listed in rough order of my personal favorites (although I loved them all!):

2006 Failla, Vivien Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Brick red color gives little warning of the huge, sweetly intense, pure, red berry perfume in the nose, and the compact yet gentle, silken, feminine feel positively bursting at the seams with lush, viscous berry flavors, lingering endless on the palate.

2006 Pey-Marin, Trois Filles Pinot Noir (Marin County)
Extraordinary rendering of the newly explored, ultra-cold climate, coastal region between the Bay and Sonoma Coast. Color is pale, transluscent ruby, but the nose is huge – fragrant Pinot perfume laced with smoky-spicy sensations. On the palate, long, lively and silky; the bright, luscious fruit vibrant with mouth-watering acidity and restrained tannin and oak.

2007 Lane Tanner, Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
The product of a mature, intuitive winemaker who has mastered her sources. Brilliant crimsom red leading to a sweet, wild berry nose charged up with multiple, pronounced, organic spices (cinnamon, anise and fennel) against a backdrop of smoky oak. Medium-full, meaty quality to the rich, wild berry fruit on the palate, supported by firm, rounded tannin.

2006 Nevis Bluff, Central Otago Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
An intense Pinot fragrance literally jumps from the glass with beautiful sweet berry perfume, harmonized with suggestions of rose petals and charred, spiced meats. Fresh, lively, fluid yet zippy feel on the palate, framing a voluminous fruitiness wrapping around the palate like a velvet glove, underscored by moderate tannin before tapering off into a mouth-watering finish.

2007 Roessler Cellars, Griffin’s Lair Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Sourced from a colder pocket of the Sonoma Coast, centered in the Petaluma Gap, giving a juicy concentration of dried red berries beneath pure, unfettered Pinot perfumes. Velvet glove feel on the palate, accentuated by a glycerol fleshiness and moderate, compacted tannin, giving a dense, solid feel to the concentrated fruit qualities.


2007 Small Vines, MK Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Another bright, new star producer, fashioning fresh, lovely, pristine Pinots, fragrant with lush fruit and peppery, clove-like spices. On the palate, the intense, focused fruitiness is balanced on a pin – moderated body and tannin filled with deep, concentrated, velvet textured sensations, amplified by a glycerol viscosity.

2007 Small Vines, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
The “big brother” bottling of Small Vines’ MK bottling is deep, luscious, concentrated red and black berry; the perfumes enhanced by multiple spice qualities (peppermint, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger). Thick, juicy fruit qualities on the palate, undiminished by strong, youthful tannin and toasty oak, finishing with a sinewy, tobacco-like sweetness.

2006 Hitching Post, Perfect Set Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
100% from Kathy Joseph’s Fiddlestix Vineyard, Gorgeous, lacy, pure, almost ethereal Pinot and ginger spice perfumes; sweet, velvety entry, beefed up by young, blustery tannin and lively acidic snap, pumping up the juicy fruit sensations nearly wall-to-wall on the palate, and into a long, electrical finish.

2006, Alma Rosa, La Encantada Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
By Richard Sanford, the original owner of the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, the first historical planting of Pinot Noir in the Sta. Rita Hills. La Encantada was planted in 2000, and was the first CCOF certified organic vineyard in Santa Barbara County. Gorgeous, multi-faceted black and blueberry tart-like perfumes with dark forest, underbrushy, humus-like undertones; a dense, broad yet svelte mouth-feel held together by sturdy tannin, fleshed out by luscious, almost sweet, floral, crushed berry flavors.

2006 Badge, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
By Bruno D’Alfonso (formerly of Sanford); brilliant Pinot red; deep, luscious, multi-faceted nose boasting cherry cola fruit and super-spices (smoke and Pinot pepper and mint); and on the palate, plump with glycerol textured fruit, yet broad, meaty, gripping on the palate, flashing sexy, silken fine layers over dense tannin.


2006 d’Alfonso-Curran, Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
The new collaborative label by spouses Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran (pictured above -- formerly of Sea Smoke, and now full-time with Foley Family Wines). Intensely fragrant varietal perfume layered with lightly toasted oak and suggestions of dried herb stalks; finesseful and toasty on the palate, the fruit riding on muscled tannin into a long, sweet finish.

2006 Failla, Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
Flowery fresh and airy, wild berry/rose petal perfume; rich, lively, plush with velvet layers of red berry flavors, finishing long, sweet, gently on the palate.

2007 Costa de Oro, Dijon Selection Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Tight yet floral, mildly spiced rosebud of a nose, brimming with juicy red fruit; rounded, fleshy quality on the palate, the plump flavors silky and juicy on the palate.

2005 MacPhail, Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
Another new name fashioning a stable of big-time Pinots with apparent ease. Fleshy black fruit and big, beefy qualities hit both high and low, vibrant notes in the nose. On the palate, a buoyant balance of intense, silky, fragrant fruit layered with broader strokes of a slightly feral meatiness and muscular tannin; yet all wrapped up with the grape’s natural inclination towards levity and finesse.

2007 MacPhail Family, Goodin Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)
The nose in this cuvée is deep and intriguing; mixing dark berries and cherry with smoky spices and earthy, truffle-lish complexities. Dense and sinewy medium sized body, filled to the top with velvet textured fruit and strong fisted tannin.


2005 Fiddlehead Cellars, Lollapalooza Pinot Noir (Fiddlestix, Sta. Rita Hills)
The crème de la crème of Kathy Joseph’s estate (Fiddlestix, where winemaker pictured above) vineyard. Brick ruby red; the nose is both floral and beef-brothy, touched by sweet, toasty oak; sinewy, medium body with a sense of feminine delicacy, yet brimming with sweet cherry/cola-like fruit and subtle sensations of roasted meat.

2006 Fiddlehead Cellars, Seven-Twenty-Eight Pinot Noir (Fiddlestix, Sta. Rita Hills)
From select blocks of the Fiddlestix Vineyard; tight, yet pure, fragrant, black cherry-like Pinot perfume, merged with peppery and smoky oak spices; fine, medium-full body, perfectly rounded tannin and glycerol adding to a plush, sculpted feel.

2006 Soter Vineyards, Mineral Springs Pinot Noir (Yamhill-Carlton District, Oregon)
The second vintage from the master winemaker’s (Tony Soter) home ranch. Violet tinged ruby giving fair warning of fairly concentrated, tight, compact wild cherry fruitiness in the nose, harmonized with vanillin oak. Even better on the palate; plump and juicy in the middle, packed with well muscled tannin, and strong enough to fashion a long, sweet and intricate finish.

2006 Etude Wines, Temblor Carneros Estate Pinot Noir
Rich, bright, sweet, multi-faceted nose of wild cherry and red berries tinged with light toast and cinnamon sticks; intense, densely packed, fleshy fruit sensations on the palate, solidified by medium tannin and zippy acidity.

2006 Campion, Sarmento Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands)
A densely textured, yet pronounced, curvaceous style of Pinot; the fruit, lush and fragrant in the nose, round and easy in the entry, thickened by firm tannin in the middle, yet fine and delicate in the finish.

2007 Nick Goldschmidt, Boulder Bank Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Juicy, lush, fragrant nose of red and blue berries mixed with blackcurrant cake; on the palate, the culinary feel continues with soft, round, plump, supple fruit sensations, the spices turning towards ginger and cardamom.


2006 J. Wilkes, Hillside Pinot Noir (Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley)
Very floral, pretty red fruit (cherry/raspberry) with exotic ginger/peppery spice and vanillin/minty oak; big, zesty, exuberant fruit in the entry, becoming very soft, fine and silky, finishing with a lovely, feminine, balanced feel.

2006 Sinor-La Vallee, Talley-Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir (Arroyo Grande Valley)
Deep, smoky, aggressive style, punctuated by luscious, bright, intense red berry fruitiness, folded into a medium body fleshed out by snappy acidity and moderate yet sinewy tannin.

2007 Muddy Water, Slowhand Pinot Noir (Waipara, New Zealand)
Very pretty, pure, sweet and airy Pinot perfume harmonized with low-key oak and slightly feral, wild, earthy notes, with a light layering of evergreenish underbrush. On the palate, round and luscious; the fruit manifested in red and blue berry sensations, zipped by lively, snappy acidity. Very varietal, and very “New Zealand” at the same time.

2007 Dierberg Vineyard, Steven’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
Unusual (for Pinot), purplish ruby cast, signaling a big, thick, dense house style. Nose of sweet, concentrated fruit and oak, pepper, cinnamon and even celery spices; aggressive fruit and tannin, still nicely tucked into round, fleshy, smooth textures

2006 Dierberg Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir
Glistening, dark ruby red leading to slightly toasty, kitchen spice inundated nose enveloping sweet, crushed berry aromas; the rich, spicy, smoky qualities continuing on the palate, hitting it full-on with a rich, luscious, brimming, hedonistic feel.

2006 Mount Eden Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir
Brick ruby, understating a pure, pungent, smoky, generously spiced Pinot fruitiness that follows; medium-full, plump and pliant on the palate; the fruit, fleshy, silken, and balanced, before finishing soft and easy.

2006 Le Fenêtre, Le Bon Climat Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley)
This Pinot does not take a gentle approach, but rather a big, broad, aggressive tannin laden style. Yet the solidity lends a fine contrast to a ripe, lush, bright, fragrant fruitiness, with smoky spices extracted from both fruit and oak.

2006 Chehalem, Oregon Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley)
This cuvée formerly called Rion Reserve; bright, clear ruby and fine, lush mix of red and black berry aromas; fleshy feel supported by firm, well muscled tannin, sporting fresh, brambly wild berry flavors, long and velvety on the palate.


2007 MacPhail Family, Toulouse Vineyard Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley)
(Winemaker/proprietor James MacPhail pictured above). Pale burgundy red followed by lush, ripe varietal fruit spiced with black pepper, clove and sweet oak. Big (for Pinot), brawny, chewy, rather rough hewn on the palate; these untamed qualities (pretty much the story of Anderson Valley style Pinots) more than compensated by the aggressively spiced, ripe, sweet varietal fruitiness.

2007 Foley Family, Barrel Select Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
Shy but sweet strawberry fragrance with smoky oak and tea-like nuances; velvet textured, mouth-watering red berry flavors , finishing long, sweet, gentle.

2007 Cargasacchi, Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noir
Deep ruby color, and even deeper, plummy, smoky, spicy nose, exuding cherry cola-like Sta. Rita Hills style fruitiness; fat, round qualities on the palate, the fruit lush and juicy, supported by firm yet unobtrusive tannin.

2007 Belle Glos, Las Alturas Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Intense, perfumed nose of red berry and cherry, touched up with light toast; long, silky, fine, medium-full sensations with a light acidic smack.

2007 Pali Wine Co., Keefer Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley)
Smoky, aggressive style – woodsy, roasted, meaty sensations complimenting plummy red berryish Pinot fruit. Broad, full, rounded feel; sturdy tannin and aggressive oak wrapped around a plump, generous fruitiness.

2006 Flying Goat, Rio Vista Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills)
Sweet, ripe, spiced (like cinnamon dusting) strawberry/raspberry nose; the fresh, flowery, red berry qualities following up in a fine, silky/lacy feel perked up by zippy acidity, sticking to the palate in a long, lively finish.

2006 Jim Ball, Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Seemingly typical of the Anderson Valley Pinots, an emphatic, aggressive nose, exuding black and red berries mingling with smoky oak spices; energetic acidity pushing up luscious fruit wrapped in toasty/smoky oak, underpinned by firming tannin.

2007 Chamisal, Edna Valley Pinot Noir
From the winery formerly known as Domaine Alfred (re photo of winemaker Fintan du Fresne below) -- bright, focused perfume of red berry/cherry cola, tight grained vanillin oak, and flowery, almost Syrah-like violet notes. Soft, velvety entry into medium weight body; the plush qualities spiced with chocolate and roasted coffee beans, overriding young, narrowing tannins.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New York Times questions wine health studies


Alcohol’s Good for You? Some Scientists Doubt It.

By now, it is a familiar litany. Study after study suggests that alcohol in moderation may promote heart health and even ward off diabetes and dementia. The evidence is so plentiful that some experts consider moderate drinking — about one drink a day for women, about two for men — a central component of a healthy lifestyle.

But what if it’s all a big mistake?
For some scientists, the question will not go away. No study, these critics say, has ever proved a causal relationship between moderate drinking and lower risk of death — only that the two often go together. It may be that moderate drinking is just something healthy people tend to do, not something that makes people healthy.

See the entire story at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/16/health/16alco.html?_r=3&ref=science

Wine Bloggers' Conference


Wine Bloggers' Conference at Lisbon in October after Sonoma and Napa next July will be also a meeting for natural cork producers.

You are welcome at Douro's Valley.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009














JOSE ORDONEZ SELECTIONS
Recently, I attended a tremendous wine tasting in Manhattan, hosted by America's number one SPANISH wine importer, TEMPRANILLO. The tasting was comprised of JORGE ORDONEZ SELECTIONS.
Jose Ordonez introduced Spanish wines to America in 1987. He is the true pioneer. Presently he imports 130 different wines from 40 wineries, mostly boutique. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to sample 76 Spanish wines from his portfolio. It is very hard for me to choose my favorites from the Jose Ordonez selections, but, I will do my best.
If you have the opportunity to purchase any of these wines and can't find them at your local wine shop, please make them aware that TEMPRANILLO, Inc. from New Rochelle, N.Y. is the distributor.
The wines ranged from most of the Spanish D.O's and were heavy weighted from four areas: Rioja;Ribera del Duero; Navarra and Campo de Borja.
My favorites were many. The first wine that was exceptional was from the most traditional Rioja producer in the world, MUGA, who still use only oak barrels (50% French 50% American) 100% of the time to store their wine.

My favorite MUGA wine at the tasting was:

PRADO ENEA GRAN RESERVA 2001. (80% Tempranillo 20% Garnacha, Mazuelo & Graciano)
This wine is aged one year in oak vats, three years in Bordeaux barriques and a minimum of three years in a bottle.
++Only 1200 are in the U.S. market

A second Rioja that stood out was:

SIERRA CANTABRIA COLECCION PRIVADA 2006
from the vineyard: BODEGAS SIERRA CANTRABRIA
This lush wine is 100% Tempranillo, unfiltered and estate bottled for eighteen months in French and American oak. The wine is from 60 year old vines.
Only 250 cases in the U.S.
93 points from Josh Reynolds International Wine Cellar

The third Rioja that was exceptional was:

FINCA de GANUZA RESERVA 2003
from the vineyard BODEGAS FERNANDO REMIERZ de GANUZA
This dense wine consists of 85% Old Vine Tempranillo, 10% Old Vine Graciano, 3% Old Vine Garnacha and 2% mixed grapes. This unfilytered wine comes from old vines, which range in age anywhere from 33 to 73 years. The grapes are divided into 'shoulders' and 'bottoms'. Only the 'shoulders or tops' are used in this wine. The must is fermented for 30 days, then rests for one year before being moved to the barrels, which are made of 70% French oak and 30% American oak. The wine ages for 25 months in the oak, then is estate bottled by Fernando Remierz de Ganuza.
Only 600 cases in the U.S.
91 points by T.M. Wine Specttator

The fourth wine I enjoyed is from the D.O. TORO:

ALMIERZ 2007
from TESO la MONJA
This estate bottled wine is grown on sandy soil in Toro and is from 30 year old ungrafted Tinta de Toro vines. The wine is racked every four months and is stored for 12 months on Bordelaise French oak barrels.
Only 1,000 cases in the U.S. market.

From the D. O. of Valdeorras comes a new wine:

AVANTHIA GODELLO 2008
from BODEGAS AVANTHIA
This wine has been created as a new project between the Gil family and Jorge Ordonez. The garpes are from 35 year old Godello vines, located on mountain slopes and terraces. The land is slate. 2008 is the first release of this wine. It is sure, in time, to become one of Spain's most famous new world wines.
Only 400 cases were released, worldwide.

From Malaga comes a great dessert wine:

JORGE ORDONEZ & COMPANY-VICTORIA 2006
Harvested at 2,250 feet above sea level, this 100% Old Vine Moscatel de Alejandria is an exceptional wine. The 375ml bottle is full of harmony, finesse and concentration. It is a great wine to end a meal.
Only 300 cases of six bottles each were shipped to the U.S.
93 points by Dr. Jay Miller of the Wine Advocate.

It was a real pleasure and eye-opening experience to taste the wines from the JORGE ORDONEZ Selections. I hope that you have the opportunity to try these wines I have suggested.
They will make you realize that he is the true 'father of Spanish wines'.

Philip S. Kampe
philip.kampe@thewinehub.com
Posted by Philip S. Kampe 'Cheesy Concepts' at 4:29 AM 0 comments

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This is no social crisis: Beckman Purisima & summer grills

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

I could see for miles and miles at the top of the Purisima Mountain Vineyard, owned and farmed by Steve Beckman of Santa Barbara’s Beckman Vineyards. But the “truth,” according to Beckman, is not “out there,” but in the soil, the grapes, and in the resulting wine; no matter what you may think of the Biodynamic® practices they have been practicing full-on since 2006.

The Beckmans (Steve the vigneron, with his parents Tom and Judy) purchased their 365 acre mountain estate in the mid-section (unofficially called Ballard Canyon) of Santa Ynez Valley in 1996, just a couple of years after establishing their winery on a 20 acre vineyard parcel just over the hill, a couple of hairpin turns away. Vintages from the late ‘90s, produced from grapes from neighboring properties (like the prestigious Stolpman Vineyards) convinced the Beckmans that Syrah and Grenache – yielding ultra-deep and concentrated wines when grown in the shallow, sandy clay layered over mounds of calcareous rock, surfacing towards the tops of these hillsides -- were the way to go with their own plantings.

Steve was first exposed to biodynamics by a college friend and backyard gardener in 1995, but it would be another four years, after meeting a Frenchman named Philippe Armenier (of Domaine de Marcoux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), before his own skepticism turned the corner to healthy curiosity. The initial decision, according to Beckman, “was the hardest.” But with Armenier’s advisory, 17 trial acres of 100% biodynamically farmed Syrah, planted on Purisima in 2001, turned up “immediate results.” Beckman saw “plants that wanted to grow straight up to the sun instead of in all directions,” and “when we brought in the fruit, we saw increased nutrients in our musts and healthier fermentations.”

But above all, when comparing their Biodynamic® vs. conventionally grown wines, Beckman discovered “wines that I loved… wines that I thought expressed what the terroir of Purisima was about: rich, ripe wines that are balanced and elegant.” Thereafter, the decision was easy; and the Beckmans converted all 125 of their planted acres on Purisima to Biodynamic®.

As we drove by his home in the middle of vineyard, Beckman stopped to give his four year old son a hug, and related this story: “No question, our soils our richer, our roots are growing vertically, and earthworms are a lot happier with what we’re doing. But what really reinforced our conviction that we’re doing the right thing is when my son recently saw some workers in a nearby vineyard wearing chemical suits, and he turned to me and asked, ‘Dad, why are they spraying poison on their grapes?’ So you see why, to me, it’s not biodynamics that are out of whack. It’s the industrial, chemical-based concepts that make no sense at all.”

The Rhône inspired wines of Beckman Vineyards have always been top-notch; and with the recent return of Hawai`i born winemaker Mikael Sigouin (who also produces his own outstanding Rhône style blends under the Kaena label) after a brief hiatus with another winery, this brand is now truly rocking and rolling; as evidenced by a tasting of their top-of-the-line Grenache/Syrah (60%/40%) blend, the 2005 Beckman Santa Ynez Valley Purisima (about $75). Purisima is produced only once every two or three years, when vintage conditions are optimal; and I can see why the ’05 made the cut: it’s massive – a burly yet round, sleek, fleshy concentration of red berries and pomegranate, spiked with smoke and peppercorn; and despite a monumental structure of meat and tannin, the sweet sensation in the middle and finish is very much of dark chocolate covered strawberries, consumed with long, supple, black leather gloves. Capisci?

Doesn’t take a culinary genius to know what food matches this kind of sick bruiser: grilled meats, especially strewn with cracked pepper and sweet/spicy seasonings or rubs. But don’t limit yourself. I like what William Lengeman III says in this intro to Grilling 101: summer grilling often conjures images of testosterone-addled men wrestling slabs of meat, but let’s consider another eminently grillable foodstuff… the vegetable. That’s pronounced VEJ-ti-bal, boys (“veggies” always sounded prissy to me); and when you apply marinades and foils, even pedestrian mushrooms and root vegetables can be hot.

… or in the immortal words of The Who: this is no social crisis, this is you having fun.

An Amazing Afternoon in Madeira

Until yesterday, I did not realize that June 10th is Portugal’s National Holiday but shortly after sitting down for a Madeira luncheon, the assembled dignitaries filled us in that, normally, on that day they are kicking back on their decks and patios with family and friends. This year they chose to celebrate with us – a room of wine writers, fellow dignitaries and lovers of their favourite wine…Madeira. Now, Madeira is sweet stuff – it is essentially Ports made on the island of Madeira – so it is a wine that would not normally be associated with food. Like Eiswein, Sherry, Port or Icewine, Madeira is normally associated with dessert or on its own as an after dinner drink so pairing Madeira with food is an adventure unto itself.
When we arrived, our host for the afternoon, Mr. William Delgado, showed us into the cocktail reception area where we were offered Henriques & Henriques 10 YO Sercial. The island of Madeira is extremely small and Henriques & Henriques is the oldest producer of Madeira still operating on the island today.

“Sercial is one of the four recognized grapes in making Madeira and this 10 year old version was great paired with appetizers like Cod Fritters, Lobster Spring Rolls, Beef Tartar and Goat Cheese appetizers. Mostly caramel and spice on the nose, the flavours were light and smooth with a slight lingering finish.”
Once lunch was ready to be served, we were brought back into the main dining room to enjoy a lunch of:

Beef Consumme

Selection of Jacobs & Co dry-aged beef:
USDA Prime Whole Roasted Tenderloin
Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin
Alberta Wagyu Bavette
With
Sauté Mixed Mushrooms
Potato Gratin
Baby Carrots
Duck fat French Fried Potatoes

Selection of local & Portuguese Cheeses

Devils Food Chocolate Cake

The wine pairings with each of these courses were experimental they told us and some of them worked exceptionally well while others were not quite perfect. It would have been interesting to try the 10 YO Sercial that was served with the appetizers with the Beef Consumme because the Blandy’s 10 YO Verdelho was a little too heavy for this extremely lightly flavoured Consommé. Both the Madeira and the Consumme were delicious but the match did not quite work.

With the second course – the trio of beef – we were asked to pair it with the Henriques & Henriques 15 YO Verdelho and see which cut of beef the wine went best with. “The Verdelho 15 YO has a lovely rich, amber colour and has mostly citrus notes on the aromas. It is silky smooth, with very deep flavours of caramel, honey and nuts with a hint of tartness and a slightly long finish.” Although the third cut of beef - the Alberto Wagyu Bavette – was my favourite cut of beef on the plate due to the extra flavor it exhibited as compared to the other two cuts the 15 YO Verdelho seemed to pair best with the second cut of beef – the Oakleigh Ranch Wagyu Striploin

After the main course was cleared, we went into the “flight of wines” paired with local and Portuguese cheeses, fruit and honey. They had another task for us to decide upon – which of these two wines went best with the cheeses. Our two choices were the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual and Justino’s 10 YO Bual and they gave us two white cheeses, one blue cheese, an apple slice, a dollop of honey and some bread.

“The Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual had a light brown colour and a distinctive sour cherry aroma with a slight nutty undertone. The flavours were a combination of raisins and currants and it went particularly well with the two white cheeses and the honey.”

“The Justino’s 10 YO Bual had this very interesting, almost cherry colour to it while the aromas were distinctively green and medicinal. It had an extremely complex palate of green apple, raisins and cooked fruit which paired wonderfully with the green apple slice and the blue cheese.”

Both of these wines brought different things to the table – and the cheese plate. Although the aromas associated with the Justino’s 10 YO Bual were not the most pleasant, it was kind of like a Pinotage – if you can get past the aromas normally associated with Pinotage you are rewarded with an amazingly tasty wine. The same could be said for the Justino’s 10 YO Bual so if you ever have a chance to try this particular Madeira, remember to forget what you are smelling and taste it anyway – you will be richly rewarded. The consensus at our table on the Cossart Gordon 5 YO Bual was that it was a typical Madeira and one that could be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

Our final course of the luncheon – the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake – was paired with another flight of Madeira’s: the Justino’s Fine Rich Colheita 1996 and the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978. Now, along with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake, which had a Chocolate Ganache Frosting, there was also Chocolate ice cream and a rolled chocolate cigar.

“The Justino’s Colheita 1996 has an orange red colour with the aromas of nuts and cream – which is not typical for Madeira’s. The flavours were honey, spice and a slight amount of citrus. Essentially, this is very far from a typical Madeira but so interesting you just have to try it. The unique pairing that I found was that the chocolate ice cream brought out a major spicy undertone in this Madeira…imagine what this would be like with a pint of Haagen Dazs Chocolate.”

“Now the Justino’s Broadbent Bual 1978 was a real treat. It had a dark cherry colour and a complex set of aromas – smoke, honey, nutty, caramel, cherry, toast (which was almost an afterthought) were the key players but if you really wanted to analyze all of the aromas, you could easily have come up with a list as long as your arm. The flavours were mostly chocolate and toffee but there was also a hint of honey, figs and citrus to round it out. It was the most harmonious, the most perfect pairing of the afternoon because it went seamlessly with the Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake.

After the delicious luncheon was complete, we were welcomed back into another room to try some other Madeira’s that were not featured in the luncheon. Although there were many lovely ones to choose from, two in particular stood out for me.

Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich
Blandy’s Terrantez 1976

“The Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Full Rich showed an extremely powerful nose right up front. It actually reminded me of my Grandma’s Plum Pudding that we always have with Christmas dinner. The flavours are spicy and full bodied – mostly cooked fruit but with a kick of tartness on the finish. This could be paired with just about any cake or pudding recipe out there but would also be great on its own.”

“The colour on Blandy’s Terrantez 1976 is really quite amazing – it is a bright amber colour but with a greenish rim which actually is a sign of high quality Madeira. Although the aromas do not seem as powerful as the Duke of Clarence Full Rich, the Terrantez 1976 is just as complex. Raisins, currants, cooked fruit, citrus with even a distinctive hint of orange peel at the end are the major aromas coming into play here. You can find more of those aromas developing into the flavours combined with tangy freshness, a hint of tartness and a long lingering finish. The interesting thing is that the winery actually says it can hold until 2076 if you wanted to wait that long…but why would we do that when it is drinking so well right now. I would rather wait until 2016 or 2026 to see what it is like for my 40th or 50th birthday.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Tres Sabores Perspective and gnocchi with pig's feet & chanterelles

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

I spent more time with Julie Johnson at her CCOF certified Tres Sabores than any other single winemaker during a recent three week swing through the West Coast this past spring. Why? Admittedly, because I can drink her wines all day or night, everyday. Also, because everything she does, as a grower and winemaker, just seems to make sense. My vinous sensibility is simpático with Tres Sabores.

Johnson farms a 32 year-old vineyard in the heart of the Napa Valley’s famed Rutherford AVA; originally planted to Zinfandel (making killer reds), but to which she added two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon (yielding no more than a couple hundred cases a year) after first acquiring the property in 1987. As a former partner at Frog’s Leap, her instincts were, and still are, organic, but for all the right reasons: this vineyard is also her home, her refuge, her sustenance, and an extension of herself – everything in its place, but in the opposite of a contrived, unnatural fashion.

“The essence of sustainability,” she says, “is that no part of what you do is wholly separate from the other.” So, through Johnson’s windows, you see old, gnarly trunked vines, but also stands of walnut and 150 year old olive trees, zinnias and cosmos among the buckwheat and wild grasses between the rows, tangled blackberry patches around the edges, hummingbirds, bees, sheep, and furtive jackrabbits and noisy, wild guinea hens nesting or scrambling hither and yon.

The active wildlife, according to Johnson, “makes us laugh,” but they also play their part. “Organic farming is not just about not using chemicals… spiders and ladybugs keep pests at bay, cover crops keep weeds in check, but without the wild olives on the hill and the guinea hens and rabbits making their homes, the owls and hawks would have little incentive to stick around and help out when the swarms of starlings come around in the fall.”

Then wherefore the amusing flora and fauna? From our perspective, it’s what comes out in the wine that counts. Indeed, the newly released 2006 Tres Sabores Rutherford Perspective (about $65) is not only an unmitigated masterpiece of a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is tres Tres Sabores: powerful yet with a natural, organic sense of balance and buoyancy. The fruit expression: black purplish; dusty blackberry and dried plum aromas tinged with cedar and red rose/star anise-like spice; medium-full (not gigantic), dense, chocolaty rich on the palate, with a plush velvet feel rounding out wild, ferocious tannins.

Diving further in, it’s the sense of restraint, significant layering of velvet over tannic muscle, and the sweet plum and almost Chinese-y spice that identify the Perspective as a classic Rutherford style (as opposed to that of, say, Napa Valley’s Oakville or mountain AVAs) Cabernet Sauvignon; and it’s probably the slightly wild, bucolic edge that specifically makes it “Tres Sabores.”

Ah, perfection. Wait a sec, why not make a meal of it? If you’re up to a challenge, an equally perfect combination of earthy, fatty and creamy sensations that a wine like Perspective can sink its teeth into, here’s a recipe recently shared by Chef John Broening of restaurants duo and Olivea in Denver for

Gnocchi with Pig’s Feet Ragout and Chanterelles (serves 4)
Advisory: best to do this dish in three stages, starting with the pig’s feet, as they need to soak overnight. The next day, make the gnocchi and set them aside. Then bring it on home with the chanterelle laced ragout.

Pig’s Feet
4 pig’s feet, soaked in water
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 cups white wine
4 cups chicken stock

Remove pig’s feet from the water and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Brown thoroughly in ½ the canola oil and remove to a baking dish. Preheat oven to 300 F. Sweat the onion and carrot in the remaining canola oil. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour the chicken stock mixture over the pig’s feet. Cover with foil and bake about 3 hours, or until the meat starts to fall away from the bone. Remove the pig’s feet from the liquid. Strain and degrease liquid. Pick the meat off the pig’s feet (you should get about ¾ cup of meat). Return the meat to the liquid and refrigerate.

Gnocchi
4 Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned, unpeeled
1 cup (about) kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 350 F. Spread about 1-3/4 cups kosher salt on a small baking sheet. Place the potatoes on top of the salt. Bake about 2 hours, or until the potatoes are soft and cooked through. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk 2 cups of the flour with 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper and the nutmeg. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a wire pasta basket in the water, and add about 4 tablespoons of salt to the boiling water. Cover the pot until ready to use.

Working while the potatoes are still hot, peel them with a paring knife (holding the potato in a kitchen towel makes this a little easier.). Using a food mill with a fine disc or a potato ricer, pass the potato onto a work surface that is at least 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep (wood and marble are the best for this).

Make a well in the potato and break 4 eggs into the well. Place the mixture in a circle surrounding the potato mixture. With a fork, whisk the eggs together. Using a bench scraper, cut the egg mixture into the potato and flour and gentle knead the mixture until it comes together. Using a little additional flour, knead the mixture an additional 20 seconds.

Cut off a few ounces of the gnocchi dough with the bench scraper and with lightly floured hands roll into a rope about 12" long and 1/2" around. Cut off into equal sized pieces about 1/2 square, pinching each piece at the same time. Roll each gnocchi off a floured gnocchi board (or the back of a fork), and using an offset spatula carefully transfer to a floured baking sheet.

Cook the gnocchi in several batches: using the spatula, carefully lower the gnocchi into the boiling water and cover. When the water comes back up to a boil, cook the gnocchi about 2 minutes, until they puff slightly, and immediately shock in ice water. Repeat the process for the remaining gnocchi. Drain the gnocchi well (make sure they are completely cool in the center before you remove them from the ice water). Place the olive oil in a mixing bowl, toss the gnocchi in the oil, then transfer to baking dish (they should be in a single layer), cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Ragout
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms (other wild mushrooms okay), cleaned
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
1 cup dried sherry
3 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a large sauté pan, heat half the olive oil to smoking and add the chanterelles. Toss well and add half the butter. Cook until lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper and add the shallots. Sweat 30 seconds. Add the sherry and reduce until thick. Add the pig’s broth and meat and reduce by half. Check for seasoning and set aside.

To assemble dish: In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil. Brown the gnocchi on one side, in batches when necessary. Add the pig’s feet ragout and bring to boil. Whisk in the remaining butter. Garnish with grated Parmigiano and parsley, and serve immediately.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Great Wines of New Zealand

Every year the best that New Zealand has to offer comes to Canada and embarks on the New Zealand Wine Fair. They reach Toronto by about mid May and it is a day of great Sauvignon Blanc, great Pinot Noir and a lot of other really interesting surprises from this island nation in the South Pacific. Almost fifty wineries set up at The Design Exchange in downtown Toronto and we spend the next 3 hours sampling wines from both islands in a variety of styles. Below are just a select few that really stood out this particular day and – for anyone who enjoys New Zealand wines – are a must buy for their cellars.

Gibbston Highgate Estate
2006 Soulgate Pinot Noir

Amethyst Wine Agency – the importer in Canada – brought not only the 2006 vintage of this great wine but also had a sneak preview for us of the 2007 vintage which gave us the opportunity to see what a difference a year can make. The 2006 vintage showed great complexity and finesse on the nose and palate with aromas of plums, cherries, herbs and spices. Due to the oak aging this wine went through, you could also smell cedar and toasty notes which helped subdue the palate, making it silky smooth.

The 2007 vintage was very similar but was even more powerful than its predecessor. There was even more complexity in the tastes and aromas and just a small amount of tannins. Both of these wines are ready to drink now but it would be very interesting to see how they develop over the next couple of years.

Gibbston Highgate Estate Wines are available through Vintages Online Exclusives.

Summerhouse Wines
2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Really great Sauvignon Blanc is a complex range of aromas and flavours and this one definitely does not disappoint. The aromas are tropical fruit, floral and a slight hint of lime while the flavours are fresh, juicy and vibrant. Citrus and tropical fruit flavours with an excellent balance of fruit and acidity make this wine one of those really easy drinking – almost “dangerous” – wines that works great on its own or paired with seafood, asparagus, goat’s cheese or tomato based dishes.

Summerhouse Wines are available only through private order in Canada and their agent is Amethyst Wine Company. Be sure to pick up this yummy wine from Laura Higgins (laura.higgins@sympatico.ca, 416-750-9994)

Summerhouse Wines
2007 Marlborough Pinot Noir

Classic Pinot Noir from New Zealand – this is it in a bottle. An amazing colour of bright red with this slight purple hue, great aromas of cherries and toast and a spicy, silky flavour with red berry fruit mid way through. This wine is young and vibrant, is more than ready to drink now, and will pair beautifully with a wide variety of dishes. Some of my favourites with this wine – BBQ, Spicy dishes, Chocolate cake and for something different, how about you try this with grilled Salmon.

Summerhouse Wines are available only through private order in Canada and their agent is Amethyst Wine Company. Be sure to pick up this yummy wine from Laura Higgins (laura.higgins@sympatico.ca, 416-750-9994)

Hawkshead Wine
2008 Central Otago Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris is not one of the better known grapes from this area of the world but the wineries of New Zealand are experimenting and coming out with some amazing versions of wines with non-typical grapes. The aromas are typical Pinot Gris – tropical fruit, pears, honeysuckle and, in the case of this wine, a hint of almonds and marzipan.

The aromas translate smoothly and easily onto the palate – tropical fruit, pears, stone fruit (mostly peaches) and this gentle balance of fruit and acidity. Possibly the best part of this wine – the rich creamy texture that keeps you coming back for more.

Hawkshead Wines are available through a variety of importers around the world. In Ontario, contact Eurovintage International at csr@eurovintage.com or 416-494-2881. For other locations, please visit http://www.hawksheadwine.com/purchase.html for more information.

Hawkshead Wine
2006 Central Otago Pinot Noir

The Gibbston region – where Hawkshead Wine is produced – is one of the coolest regions in New Zealand. Located inland at the bottom of the south island, the grapes from this region tend to require a late harvesting which equates into distinctive wines found no where else in New Zealand.

This Pinot Noir, instead of being bright red with hints of purple, is almost a garnet shade and has powerful aromas of dark berry fruit and ripe plums with floral and herbal hints. The flavours are restrained initially and you only get hints of fruit with balanced acidity. As it opens up, you can pick out flavours of dark cherries, berries, chocolate and spice making it a perfect wine to pair with a wide range of foods.
Hawkshead Wines are available through a variety of importers around the world. In Ontario, contact Eurovintage International at csr@eurovintage.com or 416-494-2881. For other locations, please visit http://www.hawksheadwine.com/purchase.html for more information.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2008 Wairarapa Riesling

Before we get into the specifics on any of these wines, let me just start by saying there were six wines on this table and every one of them were amazing. The best thing about all of these wines is that every single one of them was under $30 and most were under $20 making them incredible values for what is in the bottle and – hopefully very soon – your glass.

The Riesling is another one of those grapes that we do not normally associate with New Zealand but this one definitely makes you stand up and notice it. The aromas were very fruit forward showing lime, ginger and honey. The palate is equally amazing showing hints of apricot and other stone fruits and incredible balance. Although this wine is ready to drink now, if you can stand to do so, try cellaring it for a couple of years to see this wine turn into something mind blowing.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – michaelgainer@yahoo.ca or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2008 Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc

A typical Sauvignon Blanc but one of the better examples I have had in a while. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is generally very fruit forward and aromatic the whole way around. This particular version is filled with both aromas and flavours of peaches, apricots, gooseberry, melon, guava and pineapple.

The next time you are having friends over for Sunday Brunch, instead of having Mimosas, try a bottle or two of this wine instead. Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – michaelgainer@yahoo.ca or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard
2007 Wairarapa Chardonnay

Normally, it is difficult to pick out which kind of oak was used on a Chardonnay based on the aromas alone but with this particular wine it was easy to pick out that there was a combination of French and American Oak in play here. It created an aroma that was mostly nectarines and pineapple but you could detect the creaminess and the nutty characters that French and American Oak bring to a wine respectively.

The flavours were of cream, fruit and minerals showing it had great diversity with food – I suggest Roasted Chicken in particular – but also great age ability. This wine would be amazing to see in the next 7-10 years. Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – michaelgainer@yahoo.ca or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyards
2007 Wairarapa Pinot Noir

Produced in a typical Burgundian style – as opposed to New World styles – this particular wine experienced minimal human influence and handling and shows intense aromas of cherries and plums. The flavours are rich and complex – mostly tobacco, spice and fruit – with great structure and fine tannins. Consequently, this wine is both a great wine to drink now and a perfect wine to cellar for years to come.

Paddy Borthwick Vineyard wines are currently available through their importer only. Please contact Mr. Michael Gainer at Conoval Importing Services – michaelgainer@yahoo.ca or 416-907-8513 – for details.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Robert Sinskey Marcien & Maria Helm's braised veal shanks

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

When Biodynamic® guru Alan York began consulting with winegrower/proprietor Rob Sinskey of Robert Sinskey Vineyards (a.k.a. RSV), the first thing he advised was to “get over the voodoo doo-doo” and find the “practical ways to get it done.” “I was never that heavy into Rudolph Steiner’s spiritual philosophy anyway,” confesses Sinskey, “but what makes sense are the steps that give your vineyard a distinctive personality… if it means planting according to the rhythms of the earth and employing sheep herders to mow the grass, so be it.”

Although Biodynamic® certification didn’t come to RSV until 2007, the original “tipping point” for Sinskey goes back to1990; when he observed one of his Chardonnay blocks in Carneros shutting down and phylloxera strangling the vines. “At that time we were spraying and constantly sterilizing the soil to the point which it had basically become a ‘dead zone,’ showing little sign of life, almost no birds or earthworms to be found. It was our winemaker, Jeff Virnig, who originally brought up the subject one day by asking, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we were organic?’”

So throughout the ‘90s Sinskey’s goal was to jump-start microbial activity in the soils of his property – 5 acres around the RSV winery in Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap District, and another 200 or so in the Los Carneros AVA – by ceasing the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and the like; and by 2001, when RSV received its CCOF certification, the earthworms and birds were back in multitudes.

Sinskey’s vineyard manager, Debby Zygielbaum, is both meticulous and obsessive in her aversion to, in her words, “better living through chemicals.” “It’s not like we have it easy,” she tells us, while driving us through her “shaggy” vineyards – bespoke with varieties of grass, poppies, ponds, fruit and olive trees, and even a pristine pasture for a bourgeoning flock of sheep – up and down the Carneros hillsides.

“One of our biggest barriers,” according to Zygielbaum, “is powdery mildew, for which 508 (the anti-fungal Biodynamic® tea spray prepared from horsetail) is not enough” – and so she finds it necessary to supplement with some sulphur. “Gophers, mealy bugs, nematodes, you name it, we got it, and we take organic measures to keep things in balance. But at the end of the day, the pay-off for what we do in the vineyard is in the wine: in this day and age of Robert Parker and wines that taste all the same, there’s something beautiful about something that tastes of a place, and I think we’ve got that.”

Which brings us to RSV’s top-of-the-line blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, which Sinskey affectionately calls Marcien – French for “from Mars” (or, “you must be crazy”). Says Sinskey, “we call it Marcien because when we first started planting Bordeaux grapes in Carneros (a cold region with shallow clay soils rather than the deep gravel and moderate climate associated with Bordeaux), some people thought we were nuts. But you taste the wine and tell us what you think.”

What do I think? If you’re a wine lover who prizes the elegance and deep, compact intensity of red Bordeaux, the 2005 Robert Sinskey Vineyards Los Carneros Marcien (about $50) will blow you away! No, it’s not “Bordeaux,” it’s Carneros grown Merlot – luscious, velvety, seamlessly textured – knit to the black, wild, plummy, licorice, gnarly tobacco, and smoky room qualities associated with the Cabernet grapes. Since Sinskey also happens to be married to Maria Helm – a great chef, formerly of the San Francisco’s recently shuttered Plumpjack Café –the Marcien’s ideal food context is also key to maximum consumption. The Sinskeys recommend this recipe for braised veal shanks with olives and bay leavesdouble-wow!

A Collection of Wine Reviews

Every now and then I try to look back over past wine reviews, pick out some of my favourites and repost them in a collective blog entry. This particular entry will focus on my favourite Ontario wines – some from Prince Edward County, some from Niagara and some from Lake Erie North Shore. If you happen to be a winery owner and would like to get in on these or other blog entries that I post, feel free to get in touch with me and I will give you the details on how to get wine to me so I can review them. In the case where these wines are older vintages, due to the consistency of these wineries, I highly recommend that you seek them out and try them – you will not be disappointed.

33 Vines Winery 2007 Cabernet Franc

Wines are few and far between where I can say “I Love that colour” – this particular wine is inky purple and you could easily just sit there admiring the shade and nuances but then you would be missing something much more spectacular.

The aromas scream blackberry jam, violets, currants with a slight herbal quality to the end. It begs for chocolate before we even taste the wine. Without the chocolate there is a hint of spice at the tip of the tongue. The flavours are mostly jammy but with currants and black fruit sharing the palate.

We tried to pair it with 65 percent chocolate which was a little too light. The conclusion was that it was a better pair with the 99 percent. If you are not a chocolate fan (I understand that some people are not) you could try pairing it with goat cheese. We had a cheese from Georgia called Drunken Goat that it paired with rather well.

33 Vines Winery currently does not sell their wines in the LCBO so if you would like to get your hands on this particular wine – and I highly recommend that you do – please contact the winery directly at:

Telephone: 613-373-1133
Email: Info@33vines.com

Bergeron Estate Winery 2007 Gamay Noir

Gamay is one of those grapes that is very light and a lot of people turn their noses down at. If you are not a light red wine drinker, 30 minutes or so open will change this wine immensely.
In the beginning (of the glass) there were aromas of currant, red berry and the palate had a bit of spice and hints of leather but it is predominately red fruit. At the very bottom of the glass, on the very last sip, something very earthy comes through - mushroom. If you let the wine air even longer there is a distinctive Chinese Gunpowder Tea present in the flavours.

This is one of those wines that works well with a variety of dishes - light goat cheeses, pasta with meat sauce, white fish. The list is endless so be creative and find your perfect pairing. Bergeron Estate Winery is another winery that is not available in the LCBO – which is something I appreciate about the smaller wineries – but you can pick up their wines at their retail store outside of Adolphustown. Free delivery is available to Kingston or contact the winery to place an order:

To order by phone please call 613.373.0181 or wines@bergeronestatewinery.com.

Featherstone Estate Winery 2005 Estate Bottled Canadian Oak Chardonnay

The oak has been coming from the same farm outside of Brantford for the past four vintages but the cooperage house initially used to craft the barrels was not a perfect match. David Johnson, Winemaker, reworked the formula and ended up switching to a California based cooperage house which has resulted in a far superior Chardonnay using oak that comes from our fair lands.

The aromas are mostly pear with toasty undertones but every now and then you get a faint whiff of apples. The palate, although David admitted to the wine being over chilled at the time he served it to me, was extremely powerful with a lot of caramel and buttery notes. Equally predominant was the crème fraiche flavours which I am sure would have been even more powerful had this been served a few degrees warmer.

Featherstone Estate Winery does not sell any of their wines in the LCBO and there are no current plans to do so. To pick up any of their wines (please note the minimum bottle amounts and shipping costs), go to the following link and print out the order form:

http://www.featherstonewinery.ca/orderforms.html

Joseph's Estate Wines 2001 Cabernet Franc Icewine

Amazing light brown colour - like that of a Tawny Port.
Nose is strawberry, a bit of raspberry and some honey.
Palate is lots of honey with a slight hint of lemon on the finish. Has great balance and, despite this particular vintage, it shows no sign of Ladybug taint.
We have a theory that this would be great in an Icewine Martini. If you have a chance to try it out, let me know. To purchase wines from Joseph's Estate Wines, go to the following link for ordering information:

http://www.josephsestatewines.com/april2009b.pdf

Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery 2007 Chardonnay

Have you ever encountered someone who likes to eat steak but insists on drinking only white wine? I have and let me tell you - this is THE WINE for them.

Chardonnay is the most full bodied of white wines and this one more than delivers. Just enough creaminess to perfectly compliment the green apple and stone fruit flavours and aromas. It has this wonderful, slightly lingering finish that leaves you wanting more and more.

Aside from being a perfect partner to steak done on a summer BBQ, try mixing this up with Veal or Pork Tenderloin as well. Lacey Estates Vineyard & Winery just opened this past May so to get you hands on their amazing wines, contact the winery directly at:

laceyestates@laceyestates.com
613-399-2598

Rosehall Run Vineyards 2006 Sullyzwicker VQA

An interesting blend of three grapes with an equally interesting name – 49% Ehrenfelser, 46% Riesling and 5% Gewurztraminer. Ehrenfelser was developed at the Geisenheim Research Station in Germany in 1929 and is, essentially, a frost resistant substitute for the Riesling grape. Due to the fact that it is a winter hardy version, it makes it a perfect grape to grow in the cold winters that Prince Edward County receive every year. The Riesling came from vineyards in both Prince Edward County and Niagara while the Gewurztraminer comes solely from grape growers in Niagara. All three grapes were fermented separately and than blended just before bottling giving this particular vintage a sugar code of 1 (or off-dry) and alcohol at 10%.

That 10% alcohol translates into a lighter, easy drinking white that is perfect by the patio or with light food dishes including seafood (I keep picturing grilled shrimp fresh off the BBQ) and grilled vegetables. As I carried my glass of wine upstairs with me tonight I kept getting magnificently strong aromas of flowers but with undertones of apple and peach. The flowery aromas carried over onto the palate where they mixed with a lot of mineral qualities that seemed to keep going on forever and ever.

Rosehall Run Vineyards is not available at this point in the LCBO so to get your hands on this wonderful wine, you can make a trip out to Prince Edward County between May and November, phone 1-888-399-1183 or e-mail Lynn Sullivan at info@rosehallrun.com.

Smith & Wilson Estate Wines 2004 Frambuesa

The Spanish word for Raspberry is Frambuesa and that is exactly what this wine is! There are some wines out there that can only be described using one word – WOW! This is definitely one of them – a dessert style raspberry wine that will pair amazingly well with most kinds of desserts. Anything chocolate is highly recommended to pair with this wine but my favourite pairing is a glass of this with classic crème brulee. Available directly through the winery, in 500 mL bottles, this is one wine that should be bought and enjoyed frequently.

http://www.smithandwilsonestatewines.ca
1.888.676.5867
smith.wilson@southkent.net

Friday, June 5, 2009

FRANCE: Laurent-Perrier defends price rises amid sales slide














Laurent-Perrier, which this week reported full-year sales down 27%, has defended its decision to raise prices for its Champagne as many of its key markets faced recession.