Saturday, July 11, 2020

How Hungarian Cabernet Franc Changed My Life by Philip S. Kampe

My Dad was known to his friends as ‘Cab Franc.’

You see, his name was really Joseph and all of his social time with visiting friends was spent talking about his favorite wine and grape from Hungary, Cabernet Franc.

My mother’s side of the family is Hungarian, her sister was born near Villany. Her mother’s last name was Grosz and her father’s given name was Erdelyi. That was the Hungarian connection.

My father was an inventor and was very private about his patents. What he was not private about was Cabernet Franc. He tooted his horn about Cabernet Franc wherever he went. His business trips included several to Hungary.

Whenever he went to Hungary for business, he took two extra, empty suitcases, filling them up, upon return, with bottles of Cabernet Franc.

When my parents had their bi-monthly parties at our house in New Orleans, in the 70’s and 80’s, wine spritzers were popular. A wine spritzer is made from equal parts of chilled wine mixed with either club soda or ginger ale.

Following the trend, my father made wine coolers using Cabernet Franc.

Eventually, the guests said, forget the club soda and ginger ale and pour the wine Cab Franc only.

That is when they started calling my father, ‘Cab Franc’, instead of Joseph.

On some business trips he would bring back bottles of Cabernet Franc from France, and other trips, Cab Franc from Italy. When he poured these bottles from France and Italy, his band of friends would say the wine doesn’t taste right. It’s not the usual Cab Franc that you pour for us from Hungary. We don’t want an imposter, they would say. My dad’s  loyal friends would say, just bring back the right stuff, the Cab Franc from Hungary.

I remember my dad telling stories to our relatives, Raymond and Roger Weill, who were Americas foremost stamp collectors. They are both wine connoisseurs, and big consumers of high end Burgundies and Bordeaux’s. When the Weill brothers came to our house for a Sunday meal (my mom was their favorite cook), they would bring a case of Hungarian Cabernet Franc for my father, as a gift.  They knew my dad’s supply of Cabernet Franc from Hungary ran out.

In a panicked moment, my dad called the Weills and asked if they could suggest to Martin’s Wine Cellar, the premier wine shop in New Orleans, to carry Cabernet Franc from Hungary The Weill brothers were influential and Martin’s Wine Cellar purchased a palate to keep on hand. It didn’t take long for Martins Wine Cellar to sell the wine, due in part because my dad was the self appointed Hungarian Cabernet Franc ambassador in New Orleans.

In fact, my father said to the staff at Martins Wine Cellar, if you can’t educate your customers on how great this grape from Hungry is, I would be happy to buy all of the bottles you can’t sell.

My father was a man of his word.

As the years went by, my interest in wine grew.

I was out of the house and married, living in Nuremberg, Germany, teaching journalism, photography and movie-making at Nuremberg American High School. We owned a Volkswagen  camper and had three months every summer to travel. This was in the 90’s.

My summer goal was to camp in Hungary and visit Villany and learn about my fathers favorite grape, Cabernet Franc.

My dad passed away in 1989, so, I took it on as my duty to him to visit Villany and learn, first hand about Cabernet Franc for both. ‘Cab Franc’ and my mothers Hungarian roots.

The visit was a success.

I learned that Cabernet Franc was a relatively new variety in Hungary, having been planted in the early 1900’s. It took until the 60’s before the variety began to thrive in Hungary, specifically, Villany. Cab Franc was used mostly in the 90’s in Bordeaux blends. The winemakers realized that in their land of rolling hills and valleys that just maybe, Villany should be the home of Cabernet Franc. Siklos, to the west of Villany has cooler limeston hills, producing Cab Franc with more acidity and ripe for blending with Villany’s grapes.

Villany has a Mediterranean climate, with long, hot summers and mild winters. Cabernet Franc is planted mostly everywhere in the region. The end result encompasses a fruit forward wine that is balanced, velvety and has old word earthiness. It’s a clean wine that rolls off your palate and continues to grow and takes minutes to end, due to its long finish.

My Hungarian wine friends taught a Hungarian phrase to me,’Ha Villany, akkor Cabernet Franc! Ha Cabernet Franc, akkor Villany,’ The translation is simple, ‘If you think of Villany, think of Cabernet Franc. If you think of Cabernet Franc, think of Villany.’

Cabernet Franc is a fascinating grape.

Historically, I was taught, it’s the father of both Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. If that is the case, its juiciness, spice and even structure make this variety a superstar. With high alcoholic content (15% is normal), the tannins do exist in younger vintages, but, disappear with aging, turning this wine into an elegant, fruit driven, fresh wine, worthy of international acclaim.

If it weren’t for my fathers passion about Cabernet Franc, chances are I would never had entered the wine world and my passion to alert the world that Hungarian Cabernet Franc is a ‘World Class’ wine.

Isn’t it time to try my Dad’s favorite Hungarian export, Cabernet Franc?

Philip S. Kampe

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Barone Montalto Pinot Grigio and Baked Scallops with Shrimp by Philip S. Kampe

With the pandemic forcing us inside, there is little doubt that our cooking skills and wine drinking abilities should reach new heights. I’m from New Orleans, needless to say, my cooking skills have been useful for years. I used to help my mother cook, at age five, for my parents bi-monthly social gatherings at our house. My dad loved French wine- Burgundy’s  and Bordeaux’s. He was at the cusp of the wine world-way before it was fashionable.

Cooking secured my life, as my Italian (Capri), soon to be mother-in-law, had me cook for her before saying that I could marry her daughter. Fortunately, I passed the test (I cooked Italian) and the rest is history.

During the pandemic, at least in our household, meals are very important.

Matching wines with food is essential.

The best way to do that is to choose the wine first, and then build a meal around the wine. That is what was done in this case.

With warm weather lingering, it was apparent a white wine was the way to go. And Italy’s most famous white wine export is Pinot Grigio. With a search online, I found an interesting Pinot Grigio from western Sicily- a wine that can handle shellfish, in this case, sea scallops and shrimp.

New to me, Barone Montalto makes a Pinot Grigio that is exactly what a Pinot Grigio profile entails: a wine that is refreshing, crisp, full of fruit (apple, pear, dried flowers) and is clean. Sampling the 2019 wine, while cooking, I found good minerality, with additional flavors of lemon, grapefruit, papaya and peach. There were undertones of sage, lemon grass, pineapple and hay. A heavy dose of green apple and lime surrounded my palate, as well.

Using this wine in cooking the scallops and shrimp added the extra special necessary dimension.

The Wine: 2019 Barone Montalto Pinot Grigio from Sicily. 12% alcohol

The dish: Baked Sea Scallops and Shrimp

8 xl Sea Scallops
12 16-20size Shrimp
1/4 cup Pinot Grigio
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 stick of melted butter
Quarter squeezed lemon
olive oil
kosher salt
ground pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400F
Cook 16-20 minutes
Use a baking dish or divide into two ceramic bowls
Put a drop of olive oil in each dish, pat dry the scallops and peeled .shrimp. Put salt and pepper on both sides of the scallops and shrimp. Arrange them in the baking dish. In a bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients. Spoon them on top of the scallops and shrimp. On top of the scallops and shrimp, pour the melted butter, wine and lemon juice. Put in the oven on a middle shelf and cook til brown (16-29 minutes). Take out of the oven and serve immediately.

Remember to sample the 2019 Barone Montalto wine while cooking the dish. That is part of the fun during preparation.

I’m happy to say that this Pinot Grigio from Sicily held up to the dish. It is a wine, I will order again.

Philip S. Kampe

Friday, June 26, 2020

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms with Natural Origins Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon by Philip S. Kampe

The pandemic has changed my shopping patterns. It seems that hoarding groceries and libations is now common place. Unfortunately, refrigerators only hold so much-whether its fresh and cold or stored in the freezer.

Dry goods are different. If you have a basement, which most New Englanders have, storing dry goods like pasta, jars of artichoke hearts or boxes of Oreos is no problem. The same holds true for wine. It seems that the three liter (4x750ml) boxed wine that was once looked down upon, has emerged as a pandemic star. Sales, according to Nielsen data are up 53% since COVID-19.

As a wine writer and wine lover, it made sense to stock up on boxed wine- storage wise, each box was a drop larger, spatially versus a bottle of wine.

There are so many advantages to boxed wine. Space, price and most importantly, the wine doesn’t go bad in a day or two, thanks to innovative packaging. Once opened, the wine has a 30 day window. What could be better?

After sampling several boxed wines, I found an organic Argentine wine with 14.1% alcohol, made by the owners of Domaine Bosquet, Anne Bosquet and Labid Al Ameri. The three liter boxed wine is marketed under the name, Natural Origins and is a segway for the owners to enter the natural wine industry.

Originally, I sampled the Malbec and was curious enough to try the Cabernet Sauvignon. The fruit used in both wines is from Argentina’s TupungatoValley, known for its extreme daily temperature variations. The differential produces grapes that are overly fresh, with an abundance of aroma.

One night I cooked stuffed portobello mushrooms and paired it with the Malbec. The pairing worked perfectly and now it will be a meal I can make for others, once, we can socialize.

I’m originally from New Orleans and seem to make up my own recipes.

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

1/2 lb Chorizo (I use ground chorizo versus the sausages)
4 Portobello mushrooms
1 Yellow or Red Bell Pepper
1 medium Red Onion
2 Celery Ribs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup Breadcrumbs (pancko is fine)
2 eggs
1/4 cup Mozzarella
Olive oil

Chop all the vegetables and put them in a medium hot sauté pan after the olive oil and butter bubble.
Add the chorizo separately. After ten minutes the vegetables and chorizo should be cooked. Put all ingredients in a mixing bowl until cooled. Add the sage, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs and cheese to the mixture. Break two eggs, mix them and add to the bowl. Mix well and put into a blender.

Heat oven to 400F
On a baking sheet, put the four portobello mushrooms. Rub oil on top and bottom of each mushroom.
Fill each cap with the mixture and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20 minutes.

Pour a glass of Natural Origins Malbec while cooking and with your meal.

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The Botanical Drink of the Summer made with L’Apertivo Nonino by Philip S. Kampe

Since the pandemic has taken over our daily lives, cooking and drinking wine and spirits, daily, has become a ritual in our household.

I have been the sole cook in our family for the past 26 plus years. Since work is a thing of the past, my wife has started to join me in the kitchen. She has been using cher Caprese mother’s recipes to create several main courses. And has found a knack for creating desserts.

Having been in the candy and ice cream (Fabulous Phil’s Gourmet Ice Cream) business for several years, my yearning for sweets diminished because I over consumed during those years. My appetite for sweets had changed since my wife, Maria started making pastries.

My position of house sommelier has an added change, I am now the house bartender. What that means is, I can make up drinks and the two of us can enjoy the fruit of the labor. Negroni style drinks have been big hits, as we both love vermouth and Campari.

Maria’s mother, Anna, was known for her devotion to sweet vermouth and martinis at dinner time. We, now, call that ‘Happy Hour.’

One of the drinks that has taken our ‘Happy Hour’ by fancy is a cocktail made with botanicals from the famous Italian Nonino sisters (Elizabetta, Antonella & Cristina) 1940 recipe from their grandmother, Silvea Milocco.

Their grandmother was a pioneer in the spirits world, as she was the first woman in Italy to produce Grappa. Her recipe for the apertivo was lost during the war and recently surfaced. The sisters followed the recipe which includes sixteen vegan friendly, all natural botanicals. The infusion of berries, herbs, roots and flowers helped create a fruity, somewhat bitter, citrus product, full of white peach, lemon, rhubarb and gentian root, appropriately named L’Apertivo Nonino.

Distillation took place in a copper steam still with the head and tail removed. In layman’s terms, it was a modified copper still.

The result is a relatively new (2019 release) botanical apertivo called L’Apertivo Nonino.

As you can see in the photos, the bottle is quite elegant. The design includes the three sisters incorporated into a botanical design.

On the backside of the bottle is a recipe for a cocktail, which has become our favorite drink of the pandemic. It is simple to make and doesn’t seem to have a name. So, we call it L’Apertivo Nonino.

2 parts L’Apertivo Nonino
1 part Sparkling wine
A splash of lemon juice

Add ice cubes to a bourbon glass, mix the ingredients above in the glass and add a lemon wheel to the glass and serve.

Its a hit in our home, thanks to this lost recipe of 80 years ago.

Philip S. Kampe

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Ignore the Name and Try this Wine: “B I T C H,” the Wine by Philip S. Kampe

You can’t help noticing the bottle on the shelf.

With a pink neck and bold black label emphasizing  the word, “BITCH,” it’s had to pass up this affordable wine ($14),

Its a wine to show off to a crowd or one to bring to an event where social distancing is practiced. Or even, serve it along with the other Bitch wines, Grateful Palate imports.

As founder Dan Philips might say: we have a Bitch for each course. Grateful Palate imports Bitch Bubbly, Bitch White, Bitch Vodka, Bitch Power and Bitch Chocolate Truffles.

Yes, the name is catchy, but, what’s in the bottle of this Spanish (Aragon) wine?

The 2016 Bitch Grenache exploded with obvious aromas of raspberry, upper Michigan cherries and Australian style, black licorice. The bouquet enticed my plates curiosity. Which was awakened and even startled with juicy fruit-especially blackberry, raspberry, red plum and pronounced cherry. That’s where the flavors began to open on my palate, followed by a healthy dose of baking spice, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and milk chocolate dipped glazed apricots.

The tannins were soft,
I’m guessing the extra aging of this 2016 un-oaked Grenache contributed to its exceptional acidic balance, holding off the ripe fruit and 14.5% alcohol. Its structured, soft and truly enjoyable.

If the name of the wine is offensive to you, ignore it and try this wine. Its affordable, available and delicious.

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Komarna7-“High Quality” Plavac Mali, a Croatian Red Wine Made by Seven Wineries by Philip S. Kampe

Croatia is a beautiful country.

Years ago I spent four months on the Dalmatian coast, traveling in a VW camper. Split to Dubrovnik was one of the many drives where the seaside and somewhat dangerous coast roads, with memorials and monuments to those who perished in freak accidents, adorned the road.

The beauty of Croatia was the lure.

 Since those days, my curiosity of food and wine from Croatia has been very high on my list of what to learn more about. I have a great Croatian friend, who has been an inspiration for the past twenty years. He has opened my eyes with observations about Croatian food and wine. I’m seafood oriented, he’s meat oriented.

We both agree on wines.

So, when we both were about to taste this “High Quality” Dry Red Wine, as the label expressed, we were doubters, simply because who in their right mind would prejudice you with the words “ HIGH QUALITY”  That means that the wine has to, 100% of the time, turn into a “ High Quality” wine on your palate a hundred per cent of the time.

We all know that’s impossible.

So, after definitive advice from Brendan David Edwards of 21st Century Wines, regarding decanting the 2016 Plavac Mali, I followed his direction for the wine to breathe. In fact, two hours was necessary for this “High Quality” wine to reach its peak.

Seems like I sampled its growth, every fifteen minutes.

Like a new born horse, it takes a little while to get on your feet.

Once this 2016 Komarna Plavac Mali woke up, (2 hours), the super “High Quality” of the complex wine kicked in. My Croatian friend would say it’s definitely a “meat wine,” and I would agree. Its dry with medium tannins, rich, but needs to age, rounded with medium acidity, has concentrated fruits, a long finish and has lots of spice and chocolate.

At under $24 a bottle, paired with aging capabilities, this is the wine to buy.

Komarna 7, actually is a serious name for the wine.

Seven vineyards blend their Plavac Mali wines together as a collaborative experience, market only one Plavac Mali together, the Komarna7, and market it to America through Croatian Premium Wine Imports (Boston, Ma).

If you like wines like Sagrantino from Umbria and Primotivo from Puglia, you will love this wine. Its big, bold, with 14.5% abv and complex.

Why not put a case in your basement and age this underpriced beauty.
It won’t be here very long!

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Three Quarantine Russian River Valley Wines from Ron Rubin You Should Be Drinking by Philip S. Kampe

The more time we have at home means the more time we have to learn about wines. Its a big wine world out there.

 With well over ten thousand vineyards in America and 89% in California, its obvious what states wines to try extensively, until I begin dreaming  about the wines from Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.

A lot of my ‘workaholic friends’ who are home bound ask for wine suggestions-each one with different price points. Most prefer wines in the $15, $20 and $25 range.

It seems $10 bottles of wine are out of favor or they are embarrassed to ask.

I believe a good way to learn about regions and wines is to find wines that are from the same vineyard and various locations on their property. Sampling the same variety, whether, oaked or un-oaked is a mind opener, as well as sampling a single variety from  a single plot versus the same variety from several plots in the vineyard.

Recently, I was introduced to the wines of Ron Rubin. He is an entrepreneur and founder of the Republic of Tea. His story is interesting and on his website, if you have interest. What interests me are his wines, their quality and affordability.

The Pam’s Un-Oaked 2018 Chardonnay was made specifically for his wife, Pam, who is obviously not a lover of California style, buttery and toasty Chardonnays. Her husband took care of that and made this wine especially for her. Winemaker, Joe Freeman modeled the Chardonnay after a Riesling-low alcohol, lots of sunny fruit and off dry. Its a wine that should be poured quite cold and served festively like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Its under $14 a bottle.

The complete contrast to Pam’s Un-Oaked Chardonnay is Ron Rubin’s 2018 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Its a barrel fermented wine, using a mix of both American and French oak. Its buttery, oaky, toasty profile opens up to lively acidity, full of hints of butterscotch, cream cake icing, burnt pineapple and vanilla. If you like California style of buttery Chardonnay, at $19 a bottle, this wine should fulfill your desire.

Ron Rubin Winery makes an affordable Pinot Noir , at $24 a bottle. Pinots under $40 a bottle are rarely enjoyable. This one is. Its dry, smooth with a medium body, full of cherry, strawberry, vanilla, oak, dark chocolate, plum and blackberry. Its dark ruby color and long finish with red berries and smoke make this a wine to buy over and over, again.

Philip S. Kampe

Monday, May 11, 2020

EXCLUSIVE: How the Coronavirus Affected Two Wine Shops in Massachusetts by Philip S. Kampe

Life in western Massachusetts has been tourist oriented for as many years as one can remember. With an abundant amount of ski slopes to choose from in the winter and the seasonal likes of Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow, The Clark Museum, The Mount, Mass MoCA, Berkshire Theater Festival, Hancock Shaker Village and a handful of year round spas, including Canyon Ranch and Miraval, there is little doubt that the area is hopping with locals, tourists and second home owners much of the year.

The second home owners comprise families from the New York City area (under three hours by car) and Boston (under two and a half hours). The demographics and deep pockets help keep Berkshire county alive.

My observation for this second home owner economic infusion started many years ago when my first business, The Candy People, opened in downtown Pittsfield in 1982. Jack Welch and Gene Shallot were among my weekly customers.

When I expanded and opened my second  ice cream shop, Fabulous Phil's, in 1989 at the ill fated Berkshire Mall, three quarters of sales on weekends were attributed to the second home owners. Add the buying power of the locals and transplants to the area and Berkshire county is sound, business wise.

At least, this is what it was like, pre-coronavirus.

What are these people doing during quarantine? Apparently, the second home owners have found their homes as havens and are working from home-in the Berkshires. Since these coronavirus transplants are here for awhile, maybe forever, their buying power has helped our community.

My interest is solely on how the local wine and spirit establishments are doing, sales wise. Are customers in the stores? Do they pick-up curbside or are their products delivered?

With no sales tax on wine and spirits, the customer is already ahead of the game.

Joe Nejaime is the proprietor of  two stores, named Nejaime's, one in downtown Lenox and the the other in the center of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His brother, Jim Nejaime, owns Spirited, a shop in Lenox, on busy Route 7. These are the two shop owners I interviewed and these are their responses.

1) Is your store open for business the same hours as before the pandemic?
Jim from Spirited-Before 9am-9pm Monday through Saturday. Now: 9am-7pm Monday through Saturday.
Joe from Nejaime's-Hours changed to 9am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and 11am o 6pm Sunday. Normal hours, 9am to 9pm Monday to Saturday will gradually resume.

2) Do you do curbside pickup? If so, what percentage of your business is curbside?
Jim-Yes, we immediately began curbside pick-up. About 60% of our business is curbside.
Joe-Yes, curbside pick-up +/-20%

3) Since your shop is open, do you have more or less sales then a year ago at the same time from from February to now?
Jim-Yes, our sales are higher than comparable months.
Significantly increased during the lead up to and is continuing during the pandemic.

4) Have buying trends changed? If so, how?
Jim-Clients are much more trusting to allow us to select for them. They want higher quality products than before. And they are very explorative, and willing to try new, recommended products. They are also using, exploring and placing curbside, shipping and delivery orders through our website much more than before. Exponential growth in web sales.
Joe-Customers are often ordering in case quantities as well as large sizes. Quicker transactions and higher quality products.

5) Are brand names outselling specialized wines?
Jim-No, both are selling well.
Joe-Brands always have outpaced specialized wines. But, unique wines are still selling due toour customer service and the selections available through

6) Have beer sales increased? What are customers buying?
Jim-Beer sales have increased-primarily craft beers. Sales of spiked seltzers have increased similarly.
Joe-Beer sales are up. Craft beer sales are up and commercial brands like Bud and Coors are brisk.

7) Have spirit sales surged?
Jim-Yes, spirit sales have surged. People are buying higher quality spirits-primarily, Bourbon, Whiskeys, Scotch, Vodka and Gin. Many are buying Tequila and Mezcal also, as well as aperitifs and digestives.
Joe-Yes, top shelf is very active. Customers are very discerning.

8) You sell charcuterie. Have sales increased or decreased?
Jim-Our cheese, charcuterie and panini sales have all increased dramatically.
Joe-Our large selection of cheese and charcuterie and all of our specialty groceries are selling well. Fresh deliveries arrive weekly. 

9) Are you able to receive deliveries from your vendors, as easily as prior to the pandemic?
Jim-There are minor interruptions in product flow to us-but, for the most part, we are able to re-stock and get deliveries.
Joe-No interruption in deliveries by suppliers.

10) Do you have new customers? Or mostly the same from pre-pandemic?
Jim-We do have a very significant increase in new clients shopping with us, and they have been very appreciative about being able to be provided with our products to enjoy while they are quarantined.
Joe-Long standing patrons and new ones too.

11) Do you deliver wine? What percentage of customers prefer delivery?
Jim-We do deliver to every corner of Berkshire county. I'd estimate about 5% of clients aew utilizing our delivery service. More are using and enjoying Curbside service.
Joe-Yes, we deliver 10-15%, as an estimate.

12) Have you reduced or increased staff?
Jim-We have added staff, especially in the areas of answering call in orders and deliveries. We have some staff working from home, due to concern of exposure.
Joe-Same staffing levels.

My first take from the answers suggests that the wine and spirits world is as active as ever. Business is booming. Curbside pick-up has a new life. Hand selling wine via suggestions has reached a new high. With the cannabis shops closed during the pandemic, it should be obvious that the wine and spirit shops should emerge as the only legal choice for consumers.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A Rich, Deep 2015 Reserva Rioja from Beronia Meets It’s Perfect Food Pairing by Philip #. Kampe

At this most crucial time of separation from the ones you love, thanks to the Coronavirus, for some of us, it creates the opportunity to cook. In my case, for the past 26 years, I have been the sole cook in our household. So, the pandemic is only a stretch from reality.

My wife, Maria, just started cooking her Caprese mother’s recipes. Its a first since we have been married.  She uses her mother’s recipes and has cooked soups, primarily. lentil,  chicken and Pasta Fasul. All have been winners. Her mother, Anna, was an exceptional cook.

I realize that writing only about wine is fine, but, why not pair the wine with selected food. And why not share the recipe? I am one of the types of cooks who doesn’t use a recipe. I don’t measure amounts, but, take a pinch of this and a pinch of that. I grew up in New Orleans and learned the basics from my mother.

In Italy, where food is so important, most households choose the wine first, then cook a meal around it. That’s been the mantra in our house for years.

Today is no exception.

The wine we chose is from the Rioja region in Spain. It is the largest wine producing area in Spain, located in north central Spain, about a two drive from Bilbao. Red wines shine in Rioja and Tempranillo is the star.

The wine we chose to pair a meal with is a 2015 Beronia Reserva. It is 95% Tempranillo, 4% Graciano and 1% Mazuelo.  Spain, as like most wine producing countries has countless indigenous varieties. Wines that retail under $20 a bottle is my usual ‘go to’ price range. Big wines like this one at 14.5% alcohol pair best with beef, lamb, veal and poultry. I’m not much of a meat eater, but, I do love lamb.

Fortunately, I had a three pound lamb in the freezer, left over from Easter. It was intended for our 91 year old friends who spend the holidays with us. Due to the Coronavirus, Easter didn’t happen this year.

Cooking lamb is quite simple. The Greeks do it so well. I’ve adopted their style. I marinate the boneless lamb in olive oil, rub anchovies on the outside and make holes in the flesh and stuff them with sliced garlic and rosemary. I marinate the lamb for several hours or even days, After marinating the lamb, put it in your fridge. Take it out and hour before cooking it in the oven. Preheat your oven for thirty minutes at 300F. Put your lamb on an upper shelf and cook for an hour- if you like it medium rare. The Greeks eat lamb well done. If that’s the case factor in another thirty minutes in the oven. My wife eats lamb with mint jelly.

Pairing lamb with this Rioja wine was perfect. The gamey lamb needs a big wine. The 2015 Beronia Reserva is bold, dry, tannic and acidic. The wine evolved into another wine once it paired with the lamb. It became velvety and soft.  The lamb balanced the wine. It was rather magical. The leather and spice and oak in the wine appeared before the plummy fruit took over and lingered on the palate.

The 2015 Beronia Reserva was aged for five years. The aging developed notes of vanilla, cherry, spicy plum, chocolate, dates and leather on the palate. Frankly, all of these nuances appeared while it was paired with the lamb. Does that mean that this is a food wine.? Absolutely, yes.

Beronia Vineyards sources their grapes from two-hundred growers. Vines range from thirty to sixty years old. Winemaker Matias Calleja selects the grapes, parcel by parcel. Its as if the vineyards are his. He has complete knowledge of Beronia’s 70 acres of vineyards and the 2000 acres Beronia sources in Rioja Alta. All of the growers are within a six mile radius from Beronia’s vineyard.

Philip S. Kampe

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Its May and I’m ready for my First Rose of the Season-Vina Real 2018 Rioja Crianza LaGuardia by Philip S. Kampe

Imagine waiting for Cinco de Mayo to wake up your senses and your desire for Rose wine. Today’s weather of 72F (22C) was an oddity during this perpetual spring season in western Massachusetts. Snow is expected next weekend, while temperatures dip in the 30’s at night.

The Coronavirus has kept us at home, so, when it is time to open the daily bottle or two of wine, anticipation grows. With more then a dozen bottles of rose in my wine cellar, it was difficult to choose the first one of the season.

I looked at all of the bottles available, thought about opening the traditional bottle from Provence and knew that my heart was still in Spain, having returned from five weeks in Spain on 10 March, barely in time to escape the pandemic.

Having visited Rioja and the winery that produces Vina Real, the choice was easy. C.V.N.E., (Campania Vincola del Norte de Espana), the producer, also known as Cuna is located in a group of 19th century buildings surrounding a courtyard in Haro (not too far from Bilbao).

Rioja is well known for its red wines and their phenomenal aging characteristics. There are three different regions in Rioja: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alvesa and Rioja Oriental, each producing varieties that grow best at various elevations.

Rioja Alta, the highest area is known for bright, elegant varieties, while Rioja Oriental, which has conditions like the southwest in America, hot and dry. Varieties produced there are higher in alcohol, deeper n color and add body to blends.

Tempranillo adds backbone to wines, while Viura, a white variety, adds crispness, complexity and  life to wines.

The 2018 Vina Real Rosado is made from 30% Tempranillo and 70% Viura. Its truly salmon pink in color-the desirable color in the U.S. Europe likes darker rose wines. The bouquet is intoxicating, strawberry, lime, tangerine, white peach and rotten apricot. On the palate, the wine is seamless, well balanced and reminiscent of a fruity, light, acidic Southern Hemisphere white wine. Its a young Crianza aged for five months in oak and only 12.5% alcohol.

I paired it with a ‘Ramp Pasta,’ but know that’s seasonal. It certainly would pair with fish, chicken, ceviche and light cheese.

Try this wonderful Rose if you can find it. At under $15 a bottle, its a true bargain.

Philip S. Kampe

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Famiglia Pasqua 2015 Amarone Della Valpolicella Ranks Highly in a Difficult Year for Winemakers by Philip S. Kampe

Having attended three Anteprima Amarone tastings of Valpolicella wines in Verona (Italy), I was primed for judging the new vintages, normally 100=150 producers. 2014 was an exceptional year, yet, according to the vineyards, 2015 would not be the same. I was told that the winemakers who produced a 2015 vintage with poor weather and farming would shine, just because of their perseverance.

I now can attest to that fact-the 2015 Valpolicella from Famiglia Pasqua reaches heights for a year of uncertainty. If I didn’t know about the setbacks, I would have scored the wine differently, but, knowing the obstacles, there is no doubt that Famiglia Pasqua’s 2015 Amarone would have stood out in any given year.

Several years ago I visited Famiglia Pasqua. No invitation, just my desire to meet the winemaker and see the facility. They obliged, showed me their operation and actually brought me to a local restaurant for lunch, where we sampled more wines after tasting twenty or so at their facility.

Obviously, they won me over.

During this pandemic, with exchange rates in our favor, wouldn’t it be nice to purchase a special bottle of wine? At under $40 a bottle, this should be a possibility.

The wine is deep in color, with an intense bouquet of fennel, white pepper, dark cocoa and blackcurrant. The palate is overwhelmed with a contrast of serrano chiles and raspberry jelly. Soft tannins exist, but, paired with the appropriate food, balance out.

Famiglia Pasqua sources their grapes for the Valpolicella blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Corvinone and Negrara. The grapes dry in wooden crates for five months, where their concentration increases by a third. The grapes are then pressed and fermented for a month, then are racked before being placed in oak barrels for up to twenty months.

The result is a wine that is full bodied, savory and rich, with silky tannins that leads to a long lasting finish. Its doubtful that anyone would complain about the 15% alcohol in this stellar, bargain priced Amarone.

Its destined for your Coronavirus dinner table, and if not, mine.

Wines like this Amarone aren’t released until four years after the vintage date. These wines age very well and can be drunk immediately, but, in many cases aging is desirable. With the Coronavirus as part of our reality, I opt to drink this wine as soon as possible.

Philip S. Kampe

Friday, March 20, 2020

A Virtual Toast of Sagrantino on Sunday, March 22nd. Its a Way to Stay Together by Philip S. Kampe

On Sunday, March 22nd, at 2:30pm EST (7:30pm Italian time) a Virtual Toast, in order to enjoy a moment of unity between the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco and the complicated world we are encountering, will take place online.

Together, we will be able to uncork a bottle of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG with the Mayor of Montefalco, the honorable, Luigi Titta and the President of Umbria, Donatella  Tesei.

Filippo Antonelli, President of the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco, said, “Conviviality, union, meetings, are the words which better characterize the real strength of our wines.”

The Virtual Tasting was created in order to recreate, even though only virtually, a real union, a real convivial moment among people hoping that real life will be established, again, as soon as possible. The Consorzio agrees that we have been forced to change our way of living. With a Virtual Toast, we want to give hope to the wine sector, its producers, its importers, its distributors and to the consumers around the world.

To join in the Virtual Toast, join the Facebook page that was highlighted in the photos above. The ‘Splash Mob’ is a splash of Sagrantino online. The Consorzio link is:

Also, you can post photos of you and your bottles of Sagrantino by using the hashtag- #sagrantinosplashbomb

It seems like a good idea to link people internationally, even though distant, by uncorking a bottle of Sagrantino DOCG.

I plan to uncork a bottle of Montefalco DOCG and will toast the Consorzio and our wonderful friends from Umbria, Fausto Proietti and Patricia Falasca, who introduced me to Sagrantino in 1998.

We are all in this together!

Philip S. Kampe

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Select ‘Hess Select’ For Variety and Value by Philip S. Kampe

When a neighbor gives you $60 to buy American wines, what do you do.

First, you must understand their palate. Secondly, you must learn about their favorite grape varieties. And thirdly, you must learn what wine regions of the world they prefer. Of course, there are so many more questions to ask, but, with the Coronavirus and lack of supplies at retail shops, the choices will be less. I thought three questions were enough, on this occasion.

My neighbor is in his 90’s and does not have a wine lovers palate. So, with his instructions for U.S. wines and whatever you think I would like, the task became quite easy.

In the past, we did sample Hess Select wines at a local wine tasting event. He liked everything he sampled and bought some bottles afterwards. That was twelve years ago, when he was still in his 70’s. At 90, his memory is not as sharp as it was years ago.

In essence, my task May be easier if I could recreate the wine tasting of years ago.

On Saturday afternoon, I went to my local wine shop, the best one in the Berkshires, and was surprised and a bit alarmed that they were conducting their weekly wine and cheese tastings. Guess the Coronavirus news hasn’t reached western Massachusetts, yet?

Anyway, I wanted to get in and out quickly.
With $60 in hand, I picked up four bottles of wine for my neighbor. All four were Hess Select. With another $60, this time, my money, I bought the same four bottles. ($61.95 total plus no sales tax on alcohol in Massachusetts)

This is what I bought:
Hess Select Rose 2019 ($13)
Hess Select Pinot Gris 2019 ($13)
Hess Select Pinot Noir 2018 ($18)
Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($18)

I delivered the wines. My neighbor was happy and I was curious to sample the wines on my own.
The 2019 Rose was 100% Pinot Noir. It was a really vibrant pink. The color lured you in. The first thing I noticed was its crisp, bright acidity that lit up the raspberry, red cherry and stone fruit balanced layers that made up this wine.

Contrast the Rose, made from Pinot Noir to the 2018 Pinot Noir from Hess Select. Its an impossible task. The Pinot Noir was very earthy, dry and spicy. Pinots are hard to master, as illustrated in the movie, ‘Sideways.’ Hess Select did a masterful job with this 2018.

The Hess Select Pinot Gris 2019 was full of pineapple, orange, lemon peel, peach, green apple and pear. The light mineral finish supported its freshness and dryness. Its a fair value for its price.

Finally, I saved the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon for my final bottle to sample. If you like oak, vanilla, tobacco, blackberry, dark plum, cherry, raspberry and spice, then this is your wine. The 2019 is a great value. Its velvety texture , firm tannins and deep flavors are worth the price of admission.

Task completed.

Philip S. Kampe

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Lo Corb Wine on the Doorstep by Philip S. Kampe

My WhatsAp pings three times. There is a message with photos.

Its from our landlord of our AitB&B in Tarragona, Spain.

Its a message, then two photos. One photo shows a bottle of wine on the doorstep-our doorstep.The other photo is a plot where grapes grow.

I reply to the message, only learning that our landlord, Albert, is also a winemaker and has land in the Corb Valley. He says he has a hectare, about two and a half acres. He focuses on the Grenache variety, with a small area for Samso.

The wine he left for me is 85% Grenache and 15% Samso. It is a 2011, aged 12 months in French oak. The winery only makes 2000 bottles. And one is for us to sample.

It didn’t take too long for me to chill the bottle for a short time to 16C (59F). In the meantime, I learned about the Corb Valley. This is what I learned.

The Corb Valley, where the vineyard is, is a valley that has the river Corb flowing through it. Winds, known as the Marinada flow freely. It is an agricultural hotbed with olive and almond trees, grains , thyme and St. John’s wort.

The terrain, at least at the vineyard is slate. Castles, old churches and dry stone walls abound. It is an area where hiking is the best way to explore.

The vineyard is nestled in-between the landscape. Other crafts people exist in this environment. Besides wine, craft beer, artisanal cheese and honey are just a few of the spotlights.

Back to the 2011 Lo Corb DOC.
The wine has 14.5% abv, is aged for 12 months,  as I mentioned previously in French oak. The color is deep red, The bouquet is of the forest, with pine and dark fruit present. On the palate, which was a bit dry, soft tannins abound. I found it smooth, lush and rich with a lingering eucalyptus finish.

Albert and his wife, the owners of Lo Corb should be proud of their contribution to the wine world.  Its a World Class wine, one that should get Decanters sign of approval.

Philip S. Kampe

Friday, March 6, 2020

Joan Ignasi Domenech, Spain’s “Father of Grenache “ by Philip S. Kampe

                               The Domenech Family-Joan Ignasi, Edgar and Rita

Its no wonder that at my last visit to Vinyes Domenech, located close to Capcanes, Priorat (DO Montsant), nearly ten years ago, was one of the most memorable vineyard visits in my lifetime.

During that visit, Joan Ignasi Domenech poured a glass of  White Grenache  for me, The wine, RIta, was named in honor of his lovely wife, Rita, who is the backbone of the family operation.

Today, he poured a glass of Rita, which we consumed with Rita and son, Edgar. We discussed how far he has come during the past ten years. In a true philosophical manner, Joan Ignasi Domenech said, ‘ I know less now, then when we started this vineyard in 2002..’We smiled, knowing his progress from  an environmental guru to winemaker was on the fast track.

Domenech wines are out of the ordinary. Each wine-especially the Grenache focused wines are like a Broadway production. Each one is a hit, starring Grenache Peluda (hairy Grenache), Grenache and White Grenache  as headliners and Carignan and Samso as understudies.

Vinyes Domenech is located in the middle of a protected natural forest,  about 1500 feet (450 meters) high, in-between the mountains, La Serra de Llaberia and Montalt and only six miles (10km) from the Mediterranean Sea.

The drive to the vineyard, which has 90 parcels, spread out in 150 acres (60 hectares) was through forests of pine trees, holly bushes and herbaceous undergrowth. With nature and the environment as priorities, Vinyes Domenech embodies biodiversity with organic, sustainable farming.

Grenache is Joan Ignasi Domenech’s obsession.

Joan and son, Edgar, boasted about the diversity of soil types on each parcel- the result of diversity  is our objective- Grenache that expresses what each parcel represents, its microclimate, its herbaceous landscape, the altitude and its topography.

To achieve these goals, which is scientific in nature, the vinification process comes at the end of the winemaking process. With this in mind, we try to achieve wines that mirror the landscape.

After a long dissertation on the soils that make up the 90 parcels, Edgar explained that some soils are limestone with carbon build-up following periods of glacial meltdown, other soils have undergone a process of de-carbonation, while other parcels are rich in clay and chalk and others are made of eroded material from mountain slopes.

With its soil complexity and hard work, Joan Ignasi Domenech talks about Grenache in these words: “There is no greater praise for Grenache than to allow it to express its elegance, its landscape and its origins, ultimately, its geography.” It’s easy to acknowledge  that Grenache is his life.

The Domenech family comes from nearby Falset.

As mentioned earlier, they purchased the vineyard in 2002. The vineyard is one of the oldest in Capcanes, supporting old Grenache vines that thrive in the diverse soil that benefits from the unique microclimates that surround the vineyard.

The vineyard is away from civilization.

Its this peaceful, natural environment, sustainable, organic practices matter.

The Grenache wines from Vinyes Domenech and its various shades of red clay are richer, deeper in color and extremely aromatic than other Grenache producers. Many natural herbs that grow in the vineyard, transfer their flavors to the wines, adding complexity to both the aroma and to the palate.

Joan explained that the temperature variations accounted for the soft, juicy, velvety tannins that make up his Grenache varieties. The juice is gravity fed and when irrigation is necessary during the hot summers, stored rainwater is used. Its stored in something that looks like a swimming pool. Rainfall is scarce. The microclimate favors slower ripening (October harvest) and maximum expression for the Grenache variety.  Deep roots attract the flavors and aromas of the wild herbs that grow freely and are mulched  on the property, as well as the numerous olive and almond trees that dot the property.

The vineyard follows the lunar calendar. Organic viticulture prevails. Natural resources reduce environmental impact.  Vinyes Domenech is in tune with nature and the environment. The wines are the proof of Joan Ignasi Domenech’s obsession.

Why not try these recommended wines from Vinyes Domenech:

Teixar (100% Grenache Peluda) 70 year old vines,15% abv, Calcareous soil
Furvus (90% Grenache, 10% Merlot) 40 year old vines, 15% abv, Calcerous soil
Boig Per Tu  (Grenache Tinta, Grenache Peluda, Samso) 15% abv, Calcerous-Claygilos
Ban all Del Bosc (La Grenache, Grenache Peluda, Carignan) 14.5% abv, Four different soils
Rita (White Grenache) 14.5% abv, (100% small grain White Grenache) Three different soils
Ban all Del Bosc Blanc (100% White Grenache) Clay-Calcareous
Vinyes Velles De Samso (100% Samso) 14% abv, Calcareous clay and red clay
Vi D’Amfora Natura (100% Grenache) 15% abv, Calcareous clay
Empelts (100% Grenache Peluda) 15% abv, Calciferous clay
Vinyes Velles De Macabeu (100% Macabeu)
Roast De Mitjanit (100% Grenache Peluda) 14.5% abv,  Calcareous clay
Vi Dolc Natural De Garnatxa (100% Grenache)

If you are as intrigued about the Grenache grape as Joan Ignasi Domenech, schedule a visit to the vineyard. It will be a memorable visit, one to remember for a lifetime, like I did. You can contact them at:
Telephone +34 932 118 893
Address: Cami del Collet, 1
43776 Capcanes

Its easy to see from  this photograph, the soil composition and the old Grenache vines that make up the parcels at Vines Domenech.

Philip S. Kampe

Monday, March 2, 2020

A Catalonian Pic Nic at Finca Viladellops with Marcello Desvalls by Philip S. Kampe


Its funny how life is.

My wife, Maria, and I are on holiday in Catalonia (Spain). We came specifically to partake in the Carnival Celebration at the seaside resort town of Sitges, an hour plus from Barcelona.

On our first night in town, we watched the colorful floats of revelers for hours. With jet lag and an appetite, we’ve decided  to take a break from the action and find a restaurant.

Tapas and wine was on our mind. We walked along the beachfront and spotted a restaurant named ‘Pic Nic.’

We entered.

On the menu at ‘Pic Nic’ were both tapas and wine.

The wine list contained many wines and grape varieties we were unfamiliar with. Our curiosity and love of indigenous varieties brought us to the Xarel-lo grape. The wine we chose, Finca Vildellops Xarel-lo was produced by a Catalonian vineyard that we were unfamiliar with, Viladellops,

After a small discussion with our server, we chose the pricier aged (2016) bottle of finca Viladellops Xarel-lo ($26) and bypassed  the first level Viladellops Xarel-lo at $16. A few minutes later, our tapas reached the table at the same time as the white wine.

When poured, the wine had a golden color, similar to an aged wine of ten to twenty years. On the palate, the wine was fresh, crisp and balanced with perfect acidity. The presence of saline on the palate and the nose  attracted my attention. Was the vineyard on the sea or just miles away? The dominance of the saline made me curious.

We finished the bottle and the tapas, knowing that we would come back the next day to try another selection of of finca Viladellops at the ‘Pic Nic’ restaurant.

Needless to say, we returned to ‘Pic Nic,’ ordered a bottle of finca Viladellops red wine, a mix of Grenache, Carignan, Syrah and Merlot ($17). The first taste found saline alive  on my mid-palate and in my nose.  That was very unusual for a red blend.

Next stop, research this vineyard, finca Viladellops and try to schedule a visit.

Fast forward three days.
We visited their website: and scheduled a visit with owner Marcello Desvalls. The Premium visit is 40euro and an intensive visit, for 150euro, is with the owner. I had to learn about the saline and a visit with Mr. Desvalls would solve my worries.

As luck would have it, one of our Catalonian wine friends volunteered to drive us to the vineyard, which is located, by the way, only ten miles (15km) from the Mediterranean Sea (clue #1).

We arrived, met Marcello Desvalls and immediately got into his Jeep and drove to one of the vineyard plots,  where he stopped, we got out of the car and he said, ‘look at the soil.’ We did and within a few seconds, I found a half dozen oyster shells. He smiled and said, ‘here is your saline.’
The clay is full of high levels of carbon and sediment from the sea that once existed where the vineyard is today.

Problem solved.

Marcello went on to say the vineyards hills are made of calcareous soil that is full of marine fossils. And that’s when he began to tell us about the history of the vineyard and why his wines character begins with the terroir paired with local grape varieties,.

Viladellops focuses on Grenache (red) and Xarel-lo (white). All the wines are organic.

The winery is located in the natural park, Massis del Garraf, within a short distance of the Olerdola Castle in Penedes, Catalonia.

Historically, the vineyard of 150 acres (60 hectares) has been in the family since 1877. The estate is 1000 acres (400 hectares) in size.

Marcello took over the vineyard in 1999. He is passionate about the property and his family’s place in history, ‘The Desvalls and Catalonia,’ is an exhibit on the property that follows the history of Catalonia through a family archive that consists of 4,529 parchments dating back to 981 A.D.

Marcello Desvalls respects the land and sustainability. His legacy is Finca Viladellops. He shared
the wines from finca Viladellops with us and without doubt, his wines show the passion and sustainability that is his creed. Yes, saline exists in his wines, as well as terroir.

Search out his wines, like I did.
Close to a 100,000 bottles are produced yearly.
Seven wines are in the market or can be purchased directly online.
The wines that were sampled were:
Turo de les abelles
L.D. Ancestral
Finca Viladellops Xarel lo XXX
Finca Viladellops Negre
Viladellops Xarel-lo
Viladellops Garnatxa

After spending five hours with Marcello Desvalls, we could spend a week detailing his stories about wine, his family history and why he chose this path. Instead, I’ll leave it to up to you to meet him and learn about his passion.

You never know what happens when you order a bottle of wine in a restaurant. This is what happened to us when we visited the ‘Pic Nic’ restaurant in Sitges, Spain.

Finca Viladellops-Cellar Gran. Viladellops
08734 Olerdola
(+34) 93 81 8188371

                                                    Marine fossils create saline
                                                       Marcello Desvalls

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