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

Better To Stay with the DAO, if you have Long Term Goals by Philip S. Kampe

Several years ago on a European jaunt I had the possibility to visit the DAO region in Portugal. The memories of that visit linger today and were heightened by a recent dinner and wine tasting I attended at the ‘chic’ private dining room at the Crown Shy restaurant in the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan.

The way the stock has been reacting to the Coronavirus only makes it more certain to put your money into the wines from the DAO region.  Where is the DAO? Think central Portugal. It is a mountainous region with lots of rainfall in the winter and warm, dry summers. Vineyards are planted on mostly sandy, well drained soil on top of granite.

The DAO region became a DOC in 1990.  Originally the region produced bulk wine, hence the switch over to focused wines took several years, resulting in the DOC (Denominacao of Origem Controlada).

With the prestigious DOC as a backbone to growth, the region has elevated its winemaking status to ‘elite’ status. Some of the recent wines that have I have samples and has brought the DAO, with its indigenous grapes, many used as blends, into contention with wines from France, Spain and Italy include:

Quinta das Maia’s Tintoretto Jean DOC 2018 (100% Jane) 13.4%

Jaime de Almeida Barron’s Quinta das Camelias Tintoretto Reserva DOC 2015 (Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Touriga-National 13.3%

Borges Touriga National DOC 2017. (100%Touriga-Nacionel) 12.5%

Julia Kemper Wines Blanc des Noirs ‘Vinhas Selecionadas’ DOC 2018  (100% Touriga-Nacional) 12.7%

Pedra Cancela Selecao do Enologo Tinto DOC 2016. (Touriga-Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz) 13%

Pedra Cancela Reserva Tinto DOC 2016 (Touriga-Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz) 13.5%

Casa da Passarella ‘O Fugitivo Vinhas Centenarias’ Tinto DOC 2015. (Touriga-Nacional, Baga, Avarelhao, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Tinta Carvalha) 13.5%

Quinta dos Roques Encruzado DOC 2018. (100% Encruzado) 13%

Pedra Cancela ‘Vinha da Fidaiga’ Encruzado DOC 2018. (100% Encruzado) 13%

Soliton Encruzado DOC 2017. (90% Encruzado and 10% Malvasia-Fina) 13.5%

Quinta do Mondego Mondeco Branco DOC 2018  (60% Encruzado and 40% Gouveio) 13.2%

What strikes me about these wines, which are a very small representation from the DAO, is the high quality of the wines paired with reasonable price points.

Stylistically, many of the whites, as stated earlier, were similar in taste to the wines from Burgundy, while the reds can be compared to the soft, tannic reds from Burgundy. Native grapes, especially the white grape, Encruzado, and the classic red grape, Touriga-Nacional, have helped put this region on alert to the wine lovers and sommeliers of the world.

Both traditional and modern wine making techniques exist in the DAO, thus making the region the perfect alternative for style and value.

Philip S. Kampe

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

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 ...