Friday, February 21, 2020

Swanson’s Is Not a TV Dinner, but, a Napa Valley Vineyard by Philip S. Kampe

I remember eating my first Swanson’s TV dinner with my parents when I was in grade school. It was one of the rare meals my mother didn’t have to cook. She was a great cook, combining Hungarian and Louisiana recipes into unique dishes. Living in New Orleans was a big plus if you are fond of food and the flavors that make the dishes alive.

As one matures, the name SWANSON has taken on a different meaning. To wine worshippers, Swanson now means ‘Swanson Vineyards’ from Napa Valley California.

Since 1985, Merlot has been the core of Swanson Vineyards identity. The newest vintage (2017) was harvested on October 5th (no, I wasn’t at the harvest) and bottled on July16th, 2019. The wine matured for twenty (20) months in 225 liter French oak barrels, of which 35% were new oak. Four thousand (4,000) cases were bottled.

Sometimes I feel terrible when I open a bottle of the most recent vintage of Swanson’s Merlot because I know that if I age the wine 7-10 years, it will improve. That’s the time to buy several bottles so you never run into such a dilemma.

Swanson Vineyards is well known for their quad trellis system which protects the grapes from too much sun exposure. The grapes are hand harvested at night followed by a cold maceration. 2017 was a wet year, allowing ample water for the root system, hence, vigorous growth.

When you open the bottle, a melody of aromas fill the air. Not sure exactly what was in the air, but felt like blueberry pie crust danced in my nostrils. On the palate, heavy flavors of licorice, tin, cassis and ripened dark plums collided with uncanny tannins. After several hours, the tannins woke up and spread their wings creating a full-bodied rich wine that wants steak to show off its stature.

At 14.6% alcohol and $32 a bottle, a breath of fresh air for this young wine is necessary.

The technical sheet on the wine says it’s 100% Merlot, but, the bottle says, “ This delicious Merlot, deepened with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, goes with almost anything,” I’m guessing the deep, dark, garnet hue has extra color due to the skins of these grapes.

No more Swanson’s TV dinners for me- the only Swanson’s I want is the wine!

Philip S. Kampe

Wine For A Good Cause at the Red Lion Inn by Philip S. Kampe

As a true fan of humanity and kind acts of goodness, it was a pleasure to attend a fundraiser, hosted by The Red Lion Inn (Stockbridge, Ma) and Nejaime’s Wine Cellar  (Lenox & Stockbridge). Raffle proceeds went to CATA-Community Access to the Arts, which celebrates the creativity of people with disabilities. Magnums of wine, a night at the Red Lion Inn and tours of Berkshire Mountain Distillery were some of the prizes.
Needless to say, I was a non-prize winner.

As a journalist and wine event promoter for my readers, I urge my readers via FB and blogs to attend events like this one. For $25 admission, you had the opportunity to sample over forty (40) wines plus a half dozen spirits. On top of that, the event was catered by the Red Lion Inn’s catering division.

The room was packed and space was tight at the beginning of this three hour event. As time passed, many of the attendees retired to the cheese and appetizer table for the rest of the afternoon.

There were seven tables set up with wine and spirits. The sales staff from Elevation Wine Company; M,S, Walker; Classic Wine Imports; Ideal Wine; Oz Wine Company; Boston Wine Company; Berkshire Mountain Distillers and the staff from Nejaime’s Wine Cellar were pouring and taking orders for all of the wines poured.

The deals on the wines were incredible. Depending on your order size, bottles that normally retail for $40, like Cascina Ballarin Barolo 2014, could be purchased for $32. You don’t get these wonderful deals too often.

There were too many standout wines to mention all of them, but, the ones I will talk about drank above their retail selling price and were a steal with Nejaime’s discount. You have to thank dedicated wine merchant, Joe Nejaime and his top assistant, Xavier Letteron for that.

The standouts include:
Acquesi, Brachetto (NV) Piedmont, Italy $14.99
Chateau Petra, Graves Blanc, 2016 Bordeaux $21.99
Valdibella, Nerello Mascalase Agape, 2018, Sicily $18.99
Domaine Ilarria, Rose 2018, France $23.99
Fattoria Selvapiana, Chianti Rufina, 2017, Tuscany $18.99
Ferrari-Carson, 2014, California $39.99
Empire Estate, Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes $19.99
Hattingley Valley, Sparkling Cuvée, Great Britain $45.99
Cambria, Chardonnay Katherine’s Vyd, California $17.99
Berkshire Mountain Distillers, Octoberfest American Whiskey, Massachusetts $79.99

I normally end these types of articles with advice.
Try and attend as many local wine tastings as you can. Your wine knowledge will grow, your palate will be pleased and often, your pocketbook will be lessened.
Its basic Wine 101.
Become a student!

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, February 13, 2020

SEA SLOPES: An Elegant and Pure Sonoma Chardonnay by Philip S. Kampe


Some California style Chardonnays leave a lot to be desired. Others, like Sea Slopes Sonoma Coast  2017 Chardonnay are right  on the money. Its faintly, buttery complexity is both balanced and pure on the palate.

Produced in a rugged coastal terrain , by Fort Ross Vineyard, the grapes blossom in the cool maritime breezes of the Pacific Ocean. The Sonoma Coast is one of the largest AVAs in Sonoma,  covering over 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares).

The first taste of the wine revealed minimal oak. The reason was obvious, part of the grapes remained in stainless steel for ten months, while a smaller percentage of the yield swam in neutral used French oak barrels. Together, their marriage was consummated into a lovely child, full of freshness, complexity and whispers of saline from the nearby ocean.

Winemaker, Jeff Pisoni, along with the guidance of owners, Linda and Lester Schwartz, has crafted a very special wine that speaks of the terroir.  Its not your typical buttery, toasty California style Chardonnay, but, one that is velvety on the edges and elegant on the palate.

Its my Valentines wine of choice this year.

If you know me and my New Orleans background, it should be easy to understand that this silky wine loves seafood. I’m cooking catfish as a main course, shucking oysters as our appetizer and slurping gumbo somewhere in-between.

Sea Slopes Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2017 will tie the knot-in essence, intertwine the culinary delicacies with a terroir driven wine that beckons to brighten the palate.

Valentine’s Day is upon us.
This wine should be on your table.
At under $30 a bottle, its hard to resist.

Philip S, Kampe

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

GALIA 2016 A True Masterpiece from Danny Garcia-Pita and Jerome Bougnaud by Philip S. Kampe

Hand harvested, old age Tempranillo (Tintoretto Fino) , Garnacha and Albillo varieties from organic practices make up this overly enticing nineteen (19) month old and new (15%)  oak barrel aged red wine from Vino de Mesa in Castilla y Leon, Spain.

Proprietors Danny Garcia-Pita and Jerome Bougnaud collaborated on the project. Garcia-Pita is the solo winemaker at El Regajal Winery in Madrid, while Jerome Bougnaud, who has ties with El Regajal,  led the reins for this project.

The area in and around the Duero is rich in clay, limestone, sand and gravel. The vines are situated somewhere between 2,700 and 4,000 feet (800-1000 meters) and are hand harvested from more than fifty (50) parcels scattered along the Duero River, which include  the provinces of Galia, Segovia and Valladolid

Galia was the province that Jerome Bougnaud personally rescued. The vines, as explained by Nicola Thornton of the Spanish Palate ( were abandoned  and became a personal project of Bougnaud to rescue the old vines in and around Ribera del Duero. Jerome Bougnaud comes from a family of winemakers. He is the fourth generation, whose roots began in the Cognac region of France.

Bougnaud has established himself in Spain, having worked with Peter Sisseck at Quinta Sardinia, Pingus and El Regajal, where his friendship with Danny Garcia-Pita began.

Galia.s claim to fame and consistent high ratings have come from the complexity of the wine, in part, due, to the soil profile and the old age of the vines. The abandoned vines were close to, but, outside of the Ribera del Duero region. It seems that location doesn’t matter, as the wine truly represents what the Duero Valley is all about.

The three grapes used were from different areas and from different soils. They were fermented separately with indigenous yeasts in French barrigue. Unparalleled balance, mid-palate seduction and summers freshness describe the end result of this project of Jerome Bougnaud and Danny Garcia-Pita.

GALIA 2016 is age-worthy and can be cellared for years to come.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

El Regajal Winery Is Madrid’s Finest And Its Home To 77 Butterfly Species by Philip S: Kampe

Winemaker Danny Garcia-Pita Excels at El Regajal Winery in Madrid!

Its fun for innovative sustainable winemaker Danny Garcia-Pita of El Regajal Winery to take a much needed rest between tasks and sit in the garden of the winery, have a glass of wine and count the number of  butterfly species that fly overhead.

If you visit this winery, also home for many weddings, the attraction is not only the wine, but, the butterflies, which obviously inspired the vineyard to choose tasteful butterfly focused wine labels for their bottles.

Since nature has always been the goal and philosophy of the winery, the winemaking facilities are underground, so as not to interfere with the landscape of the property, which houses olive trees, fruit trees and plants.

The bodega has been home, since the 1800.s , to butterflies.
 Presently, there are seventy-seven (77) species.
Many are rare.

On a recent visit to the vineyard, this February,  I had the opportunity to spend much of the day with winemaker Garcia-Pita.

My outcome of the day was obvious, He is a man with a vision who makes exceptional wines that consistently receive high ratings..An old friend of mine, Nicola Thornton , founder of the Spanish Palate ( arranged the visit and afternoon meal at a local eatery.

We tasted several wines in the back room of the restaurant from Nicola’s ‘Spanish Palate portfolio. I’ll mention them at a later date on FB. What the day was about was Danny and his wines.

What I learned from the winemaker was that his blends proportions were different each year.

 His winemaking techniques include biodynamic practices, controlled fermentation, malolactic fermentation and up to date berry selection. Both oak and stainless steel are used for aging.

New vines were planted in 1998 through 2001.

The varieties planted focused on Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Merlot. The 2,000 foot altitude property houses the 40 acres of vineyard, which produce close to 100,000 bottles annually, The elevated location, with hot summers with cool nights. A microclimate is the end result,

Walking through the vineyards, it was not hard to notice the chalky top soil, which gave way to a sandy base that had clay characteristics seeping through the middle layer.

The biodynamic philosophy incorporates the idea that ‘soil is a living being,’ which winemaker Danny Garcia-Pita observes.

With all this in mind and a quality vineyard miles from the Prado, it was hard to comprehend what my reaction would be to the wines. The story was enticing, but, would the wines match-up to the foreplay?

I’m happy to say the two wines (several vintages) from the vineyard that I tasted threw me off the edge. Not only did all of the wines taste well above their price point, all of the wines had the same above average quality that made your palate ask for more.

In a project with Jerome Bougnaud, Regajal produces a wine that uses grapes from in and around the Ribera del Duero region.  Higher altitude, along with old vines paired with microclimates insure the grapes used in the wine, Galia,, success. Tempranillo (87%) Ganacha (9%) Albillo (4%) make up this wine from Castilla y Leon.

Look for any vintage of:El Regajal wines and you will find terroir driven wines that are medium to full bodied, fruit driven and food friendly.with a long finish.

I am fully impressed and satisfied with all the wines I sampled. Try any vintage of the ‘Butterfly Wines’ and see if you agree with me.

El REGAJAL Seleccion Especial
Las Retamas del REGAJAL (French oak)

Also, GALIA (Castilla y Leon)

Philip S, Kampe

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...