Category Archives: Fermented Travel

Grapelive: Germany 2016 Wine Travel Notes

A Very Serious German Wine Adventure with Scenes from the Rheingau and Nahe at Harvest 2016.
By Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

Germany 2016 Nahe Meets the Rhein, photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Nahe Meets the Rhein, photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

In October of 2016 I went to Germany on a mini vacation, staying five days in total, it was a busy time with harvest having already started, but I did manage to visit four wineries, Leitz, Kruger-Rumpf, Schlossgut Diel and Spreitzer, all welcomed me with warm and graciousness beyond all expectations, especially considering my timing. Being in the right place at the right time never seems to describe me, but I was lucky this week and a glimpse of the beauty and stress of harvest in some of the world’s most beautiful regions, the Rheingau and the Nahe, two of the best for Riesling you can find. While I adore the Mosel and the Pfalz, I happened to focus my limited time to mainly to the Rheingau around Rudesheim and the Nahe closer to the Bingen side as I was mostly on foot, train and ferry while staying in Rudesheim on the Rhein. The hiking here is thrilling and includes dramatic vistas of the river, forest and steep vineyards, and since this was mostly a vacation get away I didn’t make all that many arrangements or appointments, I certainly wished I could have seen and met up with more people, for that I’m sorry to those I couldn’t get to, but still I got to see some old friends and a few new ones, and I got unequaled access to the whole harvest experience at Weingut Leitz, toured their vines with Markus Roll, Leitz’s dynamic young vineyard manager, as well as have a few wonderful diners with my friend Johannes Leitz, one of the world’s best vignerons and all around fantastic person.

Germany 2016 Rudesheim photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Rudesheim photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

It was also great to visit Andreas Spreitzer and family at Weingut Spreitzer in the upper Rheingau in Oestrich-Winkler, who in 2015 turned out some of the old wineries best wines ever and is a winery on the rise. Crossing the Rhein, to Bingen and on the Dorsheim, I got to see Georg and Stefan Rumpf bring grapes in and tour their very old cellar as well as getting a are chance to taste at Schlossgut Diel as they brought gorgeous Pinot Noir into their cellar! Even with all the craziness and stress, everything went smooth as silk and I am grateful for all the warm and kindness I felt from everyone. 2016 didn’t look good in July when they all had a deluge of rain and cold weather, but a miracle came in late August when the sun returned and gave real salvation and bright days, and through September things came back on course so much so that now in October the Riesling grapes look and taste fantastic, and with the cool weather as I write they will be able to pick at a more leisurely pace and give the grapes a longer hang time for the more serious bottlings, and even the Pinot Noir came in beautiful, though careful sorting and de-stemming was employed.

The Rheingau is a Region Re-discovering it’s Historical Greatness and Finding it’s Place in the Modern World!

Germany 2016 Rudesheim A view from Leitz's Hinterhaus photo by KerryWinslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Rudesheim A view from Leitz’s Hinterhaus photo by KerryWinslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Rudesheimer Berg "Magic Mountain" photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Rudesheimer Berg “Magic Mountain” photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

Rudesheimer Berg “Magic Mountain” I love this place, it is one of my favorite spots in the world, I first came here in 2009 and hiked these vineyards, and I am still in awe of Rudesheimer Berg, from Hinterhaus below Rottland, and Roseneck to the top of Kaisersteinfels, as well as Drachenstein and Ehrenfels castle, Schlossberg, this is a breathtaking experience, with every labored step up through these vines a cherished moment in time, beautiful and historic. This should be a world heritage site no question. Hundreds of years as the world’s most treasured wine center, the Rheingau has a long history of trade, from the Romans to the church, this was the spot and Riesling was (and is now) the shinning star! If you really love wine, historical sites and the outdoors, and especially if you are fit and don’t mind a little exercise, you’ll need to visit Rudesheim… Weingut Leitz enjoys some of the very best plots in these Crus, and his team is keeping them in, from what could see, the best shape, in fact they are spectacular! Johannes Leitz makes some of the most drinkable and pleasing wines in the world, he is a great producer, a great and tireless ambassador for the Rheingau and a most serious and thoughtful winemaker that continues to reach for new heights. Every time I see him I learn volumes of new information, see a whole new world and feel even more passionate about these wines and especially this very special place, it’s funny we all know the Rheingau, or think we do, but is has many surprises and in fact it is one of the smaller wine regions in Germany, almost twice as small as the Nahe by comparison, which is small too!

Germany 2016 Riesling at harvest photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Riesling at harvest photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

I look at the Rheingau, rightly or wrongly in three area, Rudesheimer Berg, the upper Rheingau at the widest part of the Rhein River, that includes many terroirs, and Assmannshausen, a shrine to Pinot Noir. Rudesheimer’s main crus, Roseneck, Rottland, Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels are mostly slate influenced with some red quart, while the Drachenstein a long thin band above has a quartzite influence with some loam and slate, each is unique, this is home to Grosses Gewachs or Grand Cru and in the case of Drachenstein, Erste Lage or Premier Cru Trockens the most serious and dry of German wine overseen by the VDP control, but also you’ll find some of the world’s greatest off dry and or semi sweet wines too, while the world is screaming for the dry wines, you must not dismiss the fine Kabinett and Spatlese, as well as the non classified QbA’s that can have various levels of sugar, these are not dessert wines that can be just as monumental as the Trockens, when balanced and full of acidity they are mind-blowing.

Germany 2016 Leitz's Schlossberg vines overlooking the Rhein photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Leitz’s Schlossberg vines overlooking the Rhein photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Johannes Leitz of Weingut Leitz Sharing an old Riesling photo by Markus Roll, Rudesheim
Germany 2016 Johannes Leitz of Weingut Leitz Sharing an old Riesling photo by Markus Roll, Rudesheim

The Leitz Kabinett and Spatlese wines are especially intriguing with detail, clarity and length, in fact they are in some cases more rewarding than GG’s, don’t get blinded by the false sugar issue, these are very sexy wines with terroir personalities to cherish, in particular the 2015 Weingut Leitz Riesling Spatlese Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck stands out, it is simply an awesome white wine of intensity and class with a lavish mouth feel rater than sweetness, search it out and enjoy it’s purity and opulence! The Leitz 2015 GG’s remind me of very young Grand Cru Chablis, tight and un-evolved, without question these are superior examples, but will exceptional with more age! Mind you, they aren’t bad now, especially as I was able to enjoy/drink them in their individual vineyards and terroir! Of the three 2015 GG’s I tried, Roseneck, Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels, it’s the Schlossberg Ehrenfels that at this early stage stole my heart, plus the view wasn’t bad! Other notable Leitz wines include, the fruit driven 2015 Dragonstone, which is noticeably drier this vintage with it’s lowest RS to date, the steely Drachenstein Erste Lage Trocken and the absolute best value 2015 Rudesheimer Berg “Magic Mountain” a cuvee that comes from only top GG sites and sells for under twenty bucks! Leitz sets a high bar in the Rheingau with a tremendous set of wines that range from playfully fun to ultra serious, but all of the wines set standards for quality in level and offer stylish fun, seeing behind the scenes at Leitz was an insight few ever get the chance to experience, I found the commitment, ethics and dedication a thrill to witness and a joy to be part of. Attention to detail,from packaging, marketing, vineyard work and winemaking is second to none at Leitz, and while they use some high tech processes and innovate, these are wines of soul and a true love of place. Watch this space, the future is bright and full of excitement here!

spreitzer
Germany 2016 Andreas Spreitzer at Weingut Speitzer photo by tasting room staff

Andreas Spreitzer of Weingut Spreitzer picked me up in his Land Rover and took me on a tour of his vines near Geisenheim, Hattenheim and Eltville, but mostly his prized sites in Oestrich-Winkel above where the Rhein reaches it’s widest point. Spreitzer explained to me the almost lake effect his region gets and showed me the many micro climate and soils here in the upper Rheingau, it was like being exposed to a whole new world, vastly different than my experience in Rudesheim and my limited time in the Nahe. It was amazing to see each of these terrors translated through each different wine at Spreitzer, especially with the glorious 2015 vintage providing the perfect path to enlightenment on this area. Andreas and Bernd have really in recent vintages especially have fine tuned their lineup and crafted some excellent wines. The 2015 Grosses Gewachs from Spreitzer are decedent, opulent and engaging wines which have blossomed into glorious Rieslings since being bottled, I had found them closed and extremely tight as barrel samples when Andreas first sampled me on them at an early Terry Theise tasting, but now they are some of the best yet from this estate and rival some big names! There are many gems and wonderful wines in the latest set of releases here, in particular was the amazing old vine 2015 Hallgartener Hendelberg Alte Reben Trocken, only slightly less dense than the three GG’s, the Hallgartener Hendelberg shows a delicacy and mineral clarity that is truly exceptional, this might be my dark horse or sleeper wine of the vintage in the Rheingau! The mix of loess and loam, clay, red quartz and light slate of these vineyards makes for a head spinning mix of complex flavors! Other Spreitzer wines that need mentioning are without question include the lovely and over delivering 2015 Ostrich Lenchen Riesling Kabinett, the vigorous and thrilling 2015 Ostricher Doosberg Alte Reben Riesling Trocken and the beautifully perfumed and seductive 2015 Winkeler Jesuitengarten Alte Reben Riesling Feinherb, as well as the succulent Spatlese from the same vineyard, all of these stood out and deserve your attention, this is an area that needs a serious re-discovery!

The Nahe’s Glorious Future is Here Now!

Germany 2016 The Goldloch A Grand Cru of the Nahe photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 The Goldloch A Grand Cru of the Nahe photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

A visit to the Nahe at harvest is special, getting to meet up with two of the regions emerging talents, in a region full of very busy winemakers, is even more special! I followed by a day, a visit to the region by one of Germany’s most famous wine critics, and who reviews for Robert Parker, Stephan Reinhardt, so I guess in many ways I’m grateful, as both Kruger-Rumpf and Schlossgut Diel, the two brilliant family wineries I was lucky enough to see, had a extra rare bottles open, so Thanks Stefan! Getting to the Nahe, in my case from Ruedesheim without wheels, I took the ferry boat to Bingen, where Georg Rumpf picked me up with a big smile and a convertible Saab, borrowed from his mom, as his more workman and family like car was out in the vineyards with his crew, and off we went, into the heart of Bingen, a small old town across the Rhein from Ruedesheim, and the gateway to both the Nahe and the Rheinhessen, first stop was a brand new vineyard that Rumpf has acquired and have made one vintage from in 2015, the Abtei. The Abtei is an intense site, super steep and with great south facing slopes, it is set in mixed quartz and has some slate underneath it’s thin top soil, Georg jokingly calls it a hobby vineyard, because the cost of farming and adapting the vines here is and will be costly, but there is real potential here for beautiful wines, in fact I loved the 2015, the first try at wines from here, it’s vital and lively with great extract and full flavors. After this we stopped in at the winery where the crew was bringing in some Sauvignon Blanc, Georg was needed and jumped back into winemaker mode, as I passed on the man behind Kruger-Rumpf’s modern success, Stefan Rumpf, Georg’s dad and semi retired grandpa, he showed me most of wines, while Georg worked feverishly in the cellar.

Germany 2016 Georg Rumpf at Weingut Kruger-Rumpf photo by Stefan Rumpf in Bingen
Germany 2016 Georg Rumpf at Weingut Kruger-Rumpf photo by Stefan Rumpf in Bingen

It was quite a cascade of wine that was presented to me with a few vintage items that shined including the 2001 Dorsheimer Burgberg, gorgeously full bodied dry and length, the 2006 Pittersberg GG from Munsterer’s Grand Cru vines, a delicate and refined effort that got more interesting and lengthy in the glass, even though it was opened the day prior, and the nervy and intense 2010 Pittersberg GG which is just hitting it’s stride and shows of the house style very well. Kruger-Rumpf is smaller than I had thought and is a really tight family affair, everyone is involved and the love of place is in the air, it’s all hard work, but with laughter and passion. I was impressed with all things Kruger-Rumpf, especially the current set of 2015’s, of course, they are stand out wines even in a region full of stars! Looking across the Nahe to the southeast is Scharlachberg, a Grand Cru site that is part of Bingen, but somehow within the Rheinhessen, the Rumpf’s have vines there to, and tasting the GG Scharlachberg was very memorable, it’s a massive wine with great detail, density and depth, it was one of my favorites of the lineup, even if it wasn’t strictly a Nahe offering, wink wink.

Germany 2016 old vine Scheurebe at Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 old vine Scheurebe at Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

It was fun to lunch with the family and cellar crew, simple food and Kruger-Rumpf’s Sauvignon Blanc really hit the spot. Getting back to the wines, I must mention the Rumpf’s Scheurebe, one of the best examples of this varietal on the planet! Along with Muller-Catoir in the Pfalz, Kruger-Rumpf does stunning Scheurebe, it’s a must try wine, in particular look for the exotic and sexy 2015 Scheurebe Spatlese, again please, please forget seeing the Spatlese at all, this wine is decedent, opulent and lush, but it isn’t overtly sweet, it is deserving of your time and respect as a table wine, forget must weight and sugar levels and reap the rewards of an open mind and happy palate! I was able to taste almost ready to pick Scheurebe off the vine with Stefan and wow, it had a burst of tropical fruit like I’ve never experienced from grapes of the vine, pineapple, guava and kiwi exploded in my mouth, now I can’t wait for their 2016! One other wine that stood out for class and value was the remarkable Munsterer Kapellenberg Kabinett 2015, this is a stupidly good Riesling that feels balanced, pure and drier than expected on the palate, if you are a Riesling fan or bargain hunter this is a wine to look for! If you want authentic wine, made by hardworking and warm people, get Kruger-Rumpf, you can taste love of family and terroir in all of their wines, do not miss the 2015’s.

Germany 2016 Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel, Nahe photo by Sylvain Taurisson
Germany 2016 Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel, Nahe photo by Sylvain Taurisson

In a great bonus to my Kruger-Rumpf visit, as Georg got busy, he called over to Sylvain Taurisson, Caroline Diel’s husband at Schlossgut Diel, and he agree to take me at the winery, even though he was busy cooking for the vineyard and cellar crew! It’s nice to have connections, and Stefan drove me over to near Dorsheim and the Berg Layen castle that is Schlossgut Diel’s home, checking in on a few vineyards on the way. I was surprised to run into Armin Diel himself, though he quickly passed me on to Sylvain after a brief hello, but that was all good, as I really enjoy Sylvain’s French humor and joy of life addictive, and even though he was juggling many chores he made my day that much the better for his charm and class, it didn’t hurt either when he opened a fresh bottle of Diel sparkling wine! And what a treat that was, the Schlossgut Diel Sekt Goldloch is one of the world’s best bubbly wines, with something crazy like 96 months on the lees, this one was from the 2008 vintage, it’s mind-blowing full of brioche, mineral intensity and with insane length with an ultra fine mousse, can you say better than Champagne? Maybe, but it’s a unique effort and a unicorn sparkler!

diellineup
Germany 2016 Schlossgut Diel 2015 Rieslings photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

Caroline Diel is making some elite wines, and everything is so detailed and poised, and while never easy to find, there are some values in the lineup that merit note, especially the Terry Theise inspired Riesling Von Der Nahe Feinherb at about $24 is a great entry or gateway to the drier wines at Schlossgut Diel and the Dorsheimer Goldloch Kabinett with a touch more RS, but with succulent layers and immediate pleasures. But, of course, when you think of Diel you think of their top Trockens, the Goldloch GG in particular, and the Pittersmannchen GG, these Grosses Gewachs or Grand Crus really are the soul of Diel and rate as some of Germany’s greatest wines, and the 2015’s certainly are that. Trust me when I say, you cannot go wrong with all and all things Schlossgut Diel in the 2015 vintage! From Caroline’s glorious dry Rieslings to her Auslese sweeties, everything is beyond great, but don’t overlook the amazing Pittermannchen Spatlese if you want the best of both worlds, it’s a rich, layered and mineral driven beauty with near perfect balance, don’t let the sugar or must weight scare you, this is pure class with amazing cellar potential as well!

Germany 2016 Pinot Noir at Schlossgut Diel photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Pinot Noir at Schlossgut Diel photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

Caroline Diel the winemaker, is worldly and studied in her craft, her talent is on display in each and every wine at Schlossgut Diel, as well as her heart, the wines have her perfectionist focus and energy, this is especially true in her signature Pinot Noir, the “C” or her Cuvee Caroline, it is a gorgeous wine of elegance, graceful subtlety and is skillfully crafted with amazing attention to detail, some of her thoughts and methods might have come from when she did a spell at Romanee-Conti in Burgundy, even from a difficult vintage, such as 2014 was, the wine is truly captivating and seductive, it’s an awe inspiring effort that is worth every penny! Caroline Diel joins an elite group of Spatbugunder producers like Becker and Mayer-Nakel in making world beating Pinots from Germany, and I was able to see the magic happen here, as the Pinot Noir fruit was coming into the cellar, the 2016 is looking awesome, at least in the bins ready to be sorted the grapes looked fantastic, it will be good to take a mental note to get some in 4 years! Plus I can’t wait to see what she did with the 2015, which I sadly missed when visiting this time.

History Lessons and the Rise and Fall of Kabinett!

Germany 2016 Markus Roll of Weingut Leitz-History Lessons & Touring the Vines photo by Leitz staff
Germany 2016 Markus Roll of Weingut Leitz-History Lessons & Touring the Vines photo by Leitz staff

Kabinett was once the most prized wine of all, no I’m not kidding, and it still should be taken more seriously now, I am often mystified by peoples fear or dismissal of these lightly sweet Rieslings, and while I am an advocate for the dry or trocken wines the shear pleasure, flexibility and generous charm of Kabinett should not be forgotten. Kabinett Riesling with fresh crab is one of the best Food and wine pairings ever, but I like Kabinett with everything from smoked meats to tacos! The modern wine drinker needs to better understand these wines that offer so much for such a value price and find a place for them, they go with multi-ethnic and fusion cuisines, are refreshing and low in alcohol, perfect for summer and more complexity and charm than most other white wines in their class, plus if we are honest, and we are not, this fear of RS (read sugar levels) is pretty much bullshit anyway, most Chardonnay and modern Sauvignon Blancs from the new world most likely have as much sweetness or more than Kabinett level Rieslings! Really, and Riesling at least has less oaky/buttery character with bright zesty acids and true mineral tones. I’d rather have a Kabinett Riesling over a bland Pinot Grigio or oak chipped sickly cloying Chardonnay any day, but that’s just me it seems! This is a great time to re-discover Kabinett, especially these 2015 wines, which feel drier and have an array of complex flavors.

Germany 2016 Kloster Eberbach and the Kabinett Cellar photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Germany 2016 Kloster Eberbach and the Kabinett Cellar photo by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

The monks at Kloster Eberbach had their own Kabinett cellar, it was where their most prized wines were kept, you can visit the old monastery today and see it, I was lucky enough to make my own pilgrimage this year with an excellent tour guide, Markus Roll of Weingut Leitz, this was a bit of Riesling lore I had not heard about or known. German wine law is strict and tricky, and it is in flux, so traditional Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese are losing some of their prestige and appeal, as the wine industry tries to classify and regulate itself. The best and most useful English language explanation of German wine law and labelling is by Tim Gaiser, MS and can be reviewed on his blog at http://www.timgaiser.com/blog/understanding-german-wine, but for my purpose I’ll explain that Kabinett Riesling is classified by must weight or sugar in the grapes at harvest, the local term for this measuring is the Ochsle Scale, it is way of telling the amount of solids and sugar in the grapes compared similarly to the amount of water, and before your eyes glaze over, it is translated into a number, in the case of Kabinett that is 67-82 Oechsle (148–188 g/L sugar). What that means is that Kabinett level wines, yes do have sugar, but are usually high in acid and lighter in style giving them a delicately fruity taste. Interestingly Kabinett lost it’s prestigious place on top of the wine world, due to a fluke and a bishop with a sweet tooth! There is a statue at Schloss Johannisberg of a horseman, it is historic and cruel that Kabinett lost out, because of a lazy horseman, but it’s true that a couple hundred years ago, the monks sent a horseman to the Bishop to bless the approaching harvest so they could begin picking the grapes, well, the horseman come back as expected and the monks waited and waited as the grapes got riper and riper, it was thought maybe the horseman had spent his time with a lover, though eventually he did show up, but it was too late to make the traditional Kabinett style wine, hence the term Spatlese or late picked gaining favor, as when the Bishop tried this sweeter wine he hailed it as the best wine he’d ever tasted, much to the chagrin of the monks at Kloster Eberbach, though celebrated by sweeter wine producers, such as Schloss Johannisberg who still make celebrated Spatlese and honor the lazy horseman. I know I butchered Markus’ telling of the story, but I hope you can forgive me.

leitzkabinett
Germany 2016 Leitz’s lovely Kirchenpfad Kabinett one of my favorites photo Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

If you are curious about Kabinett Rieslings and want to try them, here are a few top producer recommendations for you: Selbach-Oster, Mosel, JJ Prum, Mosel, JJ Christoffel, Mosel, Willi Schafer, Mosel, Leitz, Rheingau, Spreitzer, Rheingau, Kruger-Rumpf, Nahe, Hexamer, Nahe, Schlossgut Diel, Nahe and especially Donnhoff, Nahe.

One of my favorites is the Leitz Rudesheimer Kirchenpfad Kabinett (pictured) this 2015 shines brightly with impressive detail and richness with lots of mineral and orchard fruits with plenty of brisk acidity to balance the sweetness.

My visit to Germany this October of 2016 was one of my career’s best and most eye opening wine travels, a much too short trip that with time and reflection has given me a wealth of new knowledge and respect for the terrors of the Rheingau, including the famed Rudesheimer, Assmannshausen and the upper Rheingau as well as part of the Nahe and a tiny piece of the Rheinhessen that touches Bingen. A grateful thanks to the wonderful and authentic people I saw and met on this trip, including my friends Johannes Leitz, Caroline Diel, Andreas Spreitzer, Stefan and Georg Rumpf as well as Markus Roll, Leitz’s vineyard and general manager that patiently toured me through almost every section of vines in the Rheingau and took me on a tour of Kloster Eberbach and taught me a brief history lesson of the region! This was my second visit to the Rhein, my first was in 2009, and I can promise you I’ll be going back repeatedly if life gives me that opportunity, it is one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, let alone the wine world, my few pictures here hardly due justice to this glorious place, I suggest you visit yourselves, after a five minute hike up the hill from Rudesheim was all it took to hook me in and make me a fan for life!

Gambero Rosso Gala

Gambero Rosso’s “Gala del Vino Campano” event in Naples.
By Brandy Falconer, Grapelive Guest Columnist
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Halloween in my eyes is pumpkins and costumes and candy, and although Italy is a little behind the times when it comes to this creative and fun celebration, this past week I was happy to see Naples come alive with overgrown fuzzy spiders and kids in costumes and spooky window displays.  I got much more than I bargained for when I extended my recent stay in Naples, because I was able to participate in what I consider a delightfully Italian spin on Halloween:  trick-or-treating with a wine glass!
On October 31, Gambero Rosso, producer of Italy’s most renowned wine and food guide “Vini d’Italia”, held a tasting event in Naples celebrating the Southern Italian region’s top-awarded wines and wineries.  The event location, Citta’ del Gusto Napoli, is a purpose-built food and wine event center complete with a test kitchen/professional tasting room, two-level expo area and beautiful outdoor seating area.  Home to monthly wine seminars, tastings and cooking classes, this location signifies a great shift in locals’ interest in wine as a part of their culture and cuisine, a delicious adventure we Californians have enjoyed for years. The event itself was a way for the wineries to showcase their award-winning wines for journalists and enthusiasts alike, and for the participants to discover the region’s treasures and compare them side-by-side in one evening.

Of the 1,019 entries from 200 wineries submitted from Campania’s five areas, Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli and Salerno, 53 were chosen for the final tasting, and 43 received either the top award, the “tre bicchieri” or 3-glasses, or the “due bicchieri colorati” or two-colored-glasses.  Gambero Rosso is proud to highlight the wines from Campania because, as Daniele Cernilli, Director and co-Founder of Gambero Rosso believes, the region is one of the few dedicated to producing quality wines from ancient indigenous grapes, the major percentage of wineries producing 100% varietal wines without blending, even the 15% that is allowed by law.  In addition to the 24 stands showcasing the wines, seminars held during the event in the beautiful tasting room highlighted different groupings of the wines like “top wines under 15 euros” and “the Veterans, classics of excellence.”
Upon entering the event, my friend Kim and I were handed a press kit and a little fabric bag with a long strap.  Our candy sack?  No, the ingenious item invented to hold a wine glass around your neck, leaving your hands free for writing or grabbing delicious bites of taralli or mini fried ricotta pizzas between visits to the tasting stands.  Is there a better adult version of trick-or-treating?  Heck, we can buy candy any time we want, but going from stand to stand where eager sommeliers in full costume (ok, uniform) were offering exceedingly generous pours of the region’s top wines was a great treat!  The only trick was remembering to spit out the wine or at least pour out the remainder after the first sip.  Now, when it comes to Halloween, I am normally the first to decree costumes a must, but there was no need this year because what’s creepier than glossy eyes and a smile full of purple-stained teeth?!
We started our tasting with the whites and simply went stand to stand, which allowed us to really get a feel for the expression of the grapes from the 5 areas of the region, then doubled back for the reds, which were mainly Taurasis.  Among the featured wines, 19 of which were Tre Bicchieri award winners, the classic Campania grape varietals were on show: Fiano, Greco di Tufo, Falanghina, Aglianico, represented by the Taurasis, and Piedirosso.  Various awards were being announced throughout the evening, including one for sustainability, going to Contrade di Taurasi, and the Grand Mention going to a delicious Taurasi Principe Lagonessa DOCG 2006 by Amarano in Avellino.  Top honors went to Mastroberardino’s Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004, which in today’s news was just declared the top wine in Italy by the foremost guides.  An excellent example of comments by Vini d’Italia’s Gianni Fabrizio who has said that in recent years the benchmark of Italian wines has been placed farther south; first in Sicily and now in Campania, where wineries who have seen a slower growth process have in fact matured with a solid base of winemaking, gaining notoriety not “at once” as their counterparts to the north, but notably “at last.”
One thing about this event and about Naples in general was the expression of personalities, not only of the wines, but of the people who make and represent them.  This was an awards party, more for celebrating, rather than promoting, and the relaxed atmosphere added to the fun.  Notable whites for me were the San Francesco Costa d’Amalfi Bianco Pereva 2009 with its freshness and balanced flavors, perfect for seafood.  While the wine’s finish was adequate, the winemaker’s was rather lingering, as he recounted at length Jessica Biel’s recent excursion to the vineyard…  Another favorite white was the I Favati Greco di Tufo Terrantica Etichetta Bianca 2009 which expressed the typical complex, subtle honey and vanilla flavors which come from the grape, rather than from oak barrels.  This sharp contrast with American winemaking, white wines aged only in stainless, is something I love.
My favorite reds were the Taurasi Riserva 2005 by Contrade di Taurasi, wonderfully balanced between body and flavor and, with great enthusiasm, the Taurasi Radici Riserva 2004 from Mastroberardino-silky smooth, yet complex and elegant.  The only thing better than tasting this wine was sipping a glass at the end of the event with Mastroberardino’s winemaker, Massimo di Renzo and agronomo, Antonio Dente, who, along with Dario Pennino, Director of Sales, make up the team that produces these incredible wines.  As a group they are a great example of the concept of family, whether by blood or by choice, as being a strong and lasting foundation for success.
Like a great wine, the Gala’ del Vino Campano event had all the characteristics of excellence: personality, elegance, expression of the local area and the ability to bring people together to enjoy each-other’s company.  Next time you’re looking for a new wine, don’t be shy about picking up a guide from another country, like Vini d’Italia.  Having a look at how another country sees itself and rates its own wines will give you more of an insight into what’s in the bottle.  Salute!

Grapelive Special Report

Down by the River
By Kerry Winslow

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Russian River-April 18, 2010

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rrfarm.jpgThe Russian River Valley never ceases to amaze me and I find new hidden corners and gems each time I visit, plus I have habits that need feeding, so I swing by some of my usual suspects almost each time I get up that way. Now that I live in the backyard basically, it was an easy drive on a wondrous and warm spring day, and my mood for adventure has just that much brighter. Off Highway 101 at Healdsburg, resisting to strong pull to slip into town and hang out on the plaza, I lefted and headed into the wine country on Westside Road that is the line between Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley regions. Westside veers left about a mile down and you fast approach the fancy of my heart, Rochioli and the gateway to the wineries in the area though a series of twists and turns down the river itself at certain points along the way. For me, a long time fan of Rochioli, I just can’t pass the place, even to just stop and taste the current releases and see the winery cat, but alas Sweetpea wasn’t hanging around the busy tasting room on this day. Rochioli had only wines that I have reviewed and talked about at length just recently, so it was on to something new.

rocsign.jpgWith early green leaves sprouting and a hot and brilliant sun shining through the vines, it was truly a magical drive and still without the slowpoke summer travelers to hold me back. The vineyards are beautiful all year for me, but spring is a special time to see them, especially when they are framed by so much green, in the hills and trees and everything thing takes on a sharper dimension, bluer sky and greener leaves come more vibrantly into focus at this time. Passing these scenes just gives you a bigger smile, a feeling of well being, and may even make the wine taste that much better. I pulling off at the old Davis Bynum property, now called Thomas George Estates, these guys are new and I’ve not heard a word about them yet, so here was the chance to get my first impressions. I must say, they have done massive upgrading to the place and I was awed by the commitment they are putting into a small family winery, everything is new and well planned out, and they even dug a cave into the hillside, very rare for the Russian River, and no detail has been overlooked. They are new here and are still filling the cave up with their red wines, from the 2008 and 2009 vintages, while the 2009 whites are under the winery keeping cool. I got a great tour from Eric Demuth, an up and coming wine maker in his own right, who is helping out at Thomas George Estates. Eric’s dad used to have an Anderson Valley winery name Demuth, but has since sold out and retired, though still selling his older vintages out of his Mini Cooper. Eric’s label is Demuth Kemos, and has some limited Cabernets and a Chard available, and I will get back to you on them when I get chance to visit his own winery at a future date.

thomasgeorgepn.jpgBack to Thomas George, and their wines all of which are well made and the whiles were especially refreshing. I enjoyed their stainless steel fermented and aged Viognier and Chardonnay, then Eric showed me the 2007 Pinots, one from estate vineyards and a special bottling of an “Allen Vineyard”, those who know the famed Williams-Selyem and Gary Farrell would have heard of this top vineyard, similar to Rochioli “West Block”, and finally a tasty Dry Creek Zinfandel. The Pinot Noir selection was the highlight, and both showed great on this day, but that “Allen” really got my attention. I am looking forward to coming back here regularly to see how things progress, and hike up to the vineyards again, they put a path in that leads up a steep forest grade to a vineyard that overlooks much of the valley and helped give me my exercise for the day.

Pushing on South in direction I made my way to one of the long time old school wineries of the region, after leaving Westside Road, twisting east on River Road, I exited up Laguna Road and tucked away about a mile is Joseph Swan Vineyards, close to Forestville and one of the pioneers of the region. I used to have Swan often by in the eighties and nineties, though have not followed them that closely in recent years, so it was fun to go here and see how the wines taste now. Joseph Swan is still very old school, and the wines are packed with tannins and acidity, making drinking young wines next to impossible, except for the Chardonnay.

jspn061.jpgThese wines take me back, though I must say, they seem very had and out of date when compared to what is available of great quality on the market from the region. The contrast is dramatic, but I’m sure those who put a few bottles away, or like to cellar their wines will be rewarded by stocking away some of the 2007 Joseph Swan Pinots, especial the powerful and tight “Great Oak Vineyard” wine. The Chard was very clean and ripe, the 2006 Cuvee de Trois Pinot was almost ready to drink and quite enjoyable, the monster Hermitage like 2005 “Great Oak Vineyard” almost ripped my palate to shreds, you might give this one another decade, then there was an odd ball, the 2006 Tannat “Matthew’s Station Vineyard” that was very raisiny and had a Port like character, not to my taste at all, but it seems to sell well and have homes to go home to, though it is nothing like a good Madiran (a Tannat wine from South West France). Swan also does lots of Zinfandel, and I tried the 2005 “Mancini Ranch” and again thought it would be best to give it more time as it was too tight and spicy still. No question, if you want to taste some throwback wines, that really are for the cellar, Joseph Swan is your must visit place when you get up here, they continue to produce wines in their iconic and classic style, true to their heart.

After Swan, I was interested in seeing the most modern and extreme example of Russian River wines would taste, so I continued East now on River Road to Martinelli Winery, a modern classic if you like. Under the guidance of the famed Helen Turley, Martinelli has become the stuff of legends, making big fruit driven wines that go down well with all the critics. These ripe high alcohol wines sometimes are too much for me, especially the Zinfandels and Syrahs, but as mentioned they have an almost cult like following and get big scores. I must admit, I really do like the Pinot Noirs and even covet their Chardonnay at times, and I must say the Martinelli’s are great people, down to earth and very friendly, so it would be hard not to love their wines.

kwgeorgemartinelli1.jpgToday was made even better than I could even imagine, it was their private customer wine pick up day, and they had a special event going where they were pouring some very rare releases and even some 2009 Pinot and Syrah from the barrel! Of course, they would let me in off the street, right? Well, they didn’t call the cops and in fact everyone was amazingly friendly and I got to taste all the wines, both in the tasting room and at the special pouring near the crush pad out back. I must be lucky sometimes, this I know and am grateful, and today was working out perfectly with no problems or even a wrinkle, so I even was able to taste through the Martinelli line up with George Martinelli, a tall charming man that heads up the farming side for the family winery. He took me through all the wine and even pulled wine from barrels for me, again I must thank my lucky stars and thank George as well, as he made an all ready good day great and it was great to hear about the vineyards and vines from someone that is so close to them and knows them all. I was sadly only a taste and spit guy today, which caused some interesting looks from the faithful, though the Martinelli’s understood perfectly, though spitting into a drain on the floor doesn’t look pretty! But, we are professionals here and some of these wines were pushing 17% alcohol, so regardless of not looking cool, it had to be done. That all said, and in good humor, these wines had wonderful depth and flavors that did make me wish I had brought that designated driver everyone talks about.

Martinelli is losing Helen Turley after this year, but don’t worry about a thing the same guy that was making the wine under her is staying, Bryan Kvamme, and he is the real deal and will keep Martinelli at the top of their game for years to come. Bryan was there today as well, holding down the Zinfandel table and pouring the fabled “Jackass Vineyard” to great fanfare I must add, that was a very popular spot today. martinellipn.jpgThe wines that really stood out for me, as good as all of them were, had to be the 2006 Three Sisters Chardonnay, the 2007 Bondi Pinot, the really amazing 2007 Moonshine Ranch, the 2008 Bondi Pinot and the 2009 Zio Tony Pinot from barrel. Before everyone screams at me, I will say the Jackass Zin and Giuseppe & Luisa Zin both showed very well too, though the only Syrah that jumped out to me was the 2009 barrel sample. It was interesting to hear that they plan to expand the Syrah line up and that they are looking to it to be their driving force red in the future. Certainly, they know what their customers want and even if they are not to my taste, these wines are very well made and receive lots of great press. And as I said, I really liked the 2009 from barrel, so be your own judge and try them yourselves. There is no doubt about it Martinelli Winery and the Martinelli family, starting here in Sonoma back in 1860, are a class act and it was with great respect and even greater pleasure to see them and taste their wonderful wines.

It is hard to beat the wine county in springtime, and the Russian River Valley is one of my very favorite places to be, and days like today will keep me coming back even more. The people and the region are special treasures and it is an honor for me to call them neighbors now and get to know them on a new and more personal level. It is a joy to have guys like Eric Demuth and George Martinelli enlightening me to the insider ways of the Russian River and to learn about what is next for the areas wines. This place is special and I have high expectations for the future up here, with old and modern ways, old and new clone vines, and good stewards of the land, you can have it all and it tastes sublime.

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Rochioli Vineyards & Winery
www.rochioliwinery.com
6192 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448-8319
(707) 433-2305

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Thomas George Estates (Winery)

www.thomasgeorgeestates.com
8075 Westside Rd., Healdsburg, Sonoma County, CA 95448
1(707)431-8031

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Joseph Swan Vineyards (Winery)
www.swanwinery.com
2916 Laguna Road
Forestville, CA 95436-3729
(707) 573-3747

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Martinelli Winery
www.martinelliwinery.com
3360 River Road.
Windsor, CA 95492
(800) 346-1627

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Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton Release Lunch

Grapelive Latest: Brewer-Clifton 2008 Releases
By Kerry Winslow

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Brewer-Clifton Wine Lunch at Spruce, in San Francisco, April 12, 2010

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bc4.jpgIt doesn’t get much better than this, sitting next to Steve Clifton of Brewer-Clifton Winery, the hot and highly prized Santa Rita Hills Pinot and Chard producers, and having his wines with an amazing lunch at Spruce Restaurant in the City, I mean these are the kind of food and wine events you dream about. I had never been to Spruce, though I had heard great things, and it lived up and surpassed the high praise it receives, no question. As for the wines, well, let’s just say they were near perfect and the word fantastic comes to mind. Plus, the bonus was that the staff at Spruce was warm and professional, they deserve to be mentioned in the highest regard for their quality and manner. The food was beautiful and tasted out of this world, so if you haven’t been to Spruce in San Francisco, go, and there is no doubt in my mind you’ll love the food, the place and the people. Sometimes we get jaded, I mean, I get to a lot of wine lunches, tasting and dinners, more than my fair share I’m sure, it though sometimes gets to be all the same and it is hard to not get burnt out on them once in a while, but I am so glad I braved the pouring rain and traffic to attend this lunch. Not only was it a lovely and interesting selection of wine and terrific food pairings, I really learned a lot and time just flew by.

Brewer-Clifton started in 1996, Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, friends, winemakers and partners found a way on a shoestring budget to form a new winery and craft some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot on the Central Coast. From the start they shared a vision and made a plan to focus on the region, which would become known as the Santa Rita Hills, or Sta. Rita hills if you want to obey copyright laws! With the help of the Santa Barbara Futures program through the famed Wine Cask Restaurant and Wine Shop in Santa Barbara, Greg and Steve were able to showcase their talents and build their brand, and getting the money up front helped secure them as a viable operation, in fact as Steve tells it, they had to sell their wine on futures from the barrel, because they had no money for labels, corks or for grapes! And that is why they did the wax capsules and still do, they couldn’t afford the set up costs.

bc3.jpgVery quickly, word of mouth and restaurants had Brewer-Clifton rolling and these two stars were born and the area soon was the rage and everyone was buzzing about the Santa Barbara and especially the new Santa Rita Hills region. Before these guys, there was a few names that got press and nice reviews, these included Sanford, Byron and Ojai, now only Ojai is in the quality league as both Byron and Sanford got taken over by big wine companies that just wanted them as labels. This was before the movie “Sideways” made the Santa Rita Hills the most sought after wine area in the world, but of course the extra hype after “Sideways” was icing on the cake for Brewer-Clifton and they have never looked back.

Greg Brewer also is the head winemaker at Melville Winery and Vineyards where his talents again have made them almost as famous, and maybe even more, While Steve and his wife Crystal have their own project making some of the best Italian style wines in the States under their Palmina label. But it is the Brewer-Clifton wines that is the core of their passions and the region that holds them true, they now source only from the top sites in the area and have a bigger say in the farming, which really shows in the latest wines and gives them more security for the future.
I met Steve and Crystal about ten years ago, and have been luck to have had most every vintage of Brewer-Clifton since 2000, when they were able to release enough, wine not bought in futures, to get them out on the market. They as people, Greg, Steve and Crystal, and as winemakers have always impressed me, with the Brewer-Clifton label ranking right up there with Rochioli in my personal favorite wines.

bcpic1.jpgAround the 2000 vintage, they got the stunning endorsement of famed wine critic Robert Parker and have regularly seen 90-95 Point rating from him, making them very exclusive wines to find and help push them to the top of their field. None of their overwhelming success has gone to their head(s), in fact they all seem even more down to earth and playful than ever, and are very easy to talk to and eager to learn about their own wines and how everyone sees them. Steve and Greg have changed next to nothing about how they make the Brewer-Clifton in the last 10 years or so, except a tweak of yeast and going from 25% new oak to zero new oak in the barrel regime, it has really been focus on the vineyard that has been where they have done the most. I guess you’d call them traditional in their approach, and certainly it is far from modern to not use new oak, and in most cases the kiss of death in the ratings game where lots of sweet toasty new oak gets more attention and better reviews. But, sticking to their core values and wanting to show the fruit over oak and terroir over the latest craze has worked for these guys. Now they have been modern in terms of high alcohol, in fact they have had Chardonnays topping out in port like range, at well over 16%, though with their new found control of the growing side of these the percentage of alcohol has been dropping by a big margin, with the latest wines closer to 14%, and I am loving the wines even more. This crop management has done wonders, allowing better overall ripeness of the grapes and stems, plus balancing the naturally high acidity from this very cool climate region, and I believe this will take Brewer-Clifton to the next level and lead them to even greater things in the future.

bcpic2.jpgBrewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel vineyard is the ace up their sleeve, it is a top site and it is all their own, they are the only ones that get fruit from here and they control the whole thing. This “Monopole” is the wineries showcase, like Kistler Vineyard, Maracassin Vineyard, or Pisoni Vineyard (even though Pisoni sells some of his fruit of course), these vineyards are like the American Grand Cru super sites, producing top Chardonnay and Pinot Noir together. In Burgundy, there are only two Grand Cru vineyards that give both Grand Cru white and red, Musigny and Corton, so it is rare for a single vineyard to produce such high quality of both the grapes, even though Pinot Noir and Chardonnay enjoy the same climate and soils, and most often grown close to each other, but we are talking about the best of the best here. Mount Carmel is a challenging place for growing grapes and gives a few hair-pulling moments, according to Clifton, but it really gives fantastic fruit and I can attest to the sublime and deep flavors the wine shows year after year. I can say I have tasted many Mount Carmel Chardonnays that rivaled or reminded me of Batard-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay vineyards on earth. This for sure is a special vineyard, and I find the Pinot Noir almost as exciting as I do the Chardonnay from Brewer-Clifton’s Mount Carmel. The combination of exposure, soils, which include limestone and botella clay, steep slopes and unique clones all play a part in making Mount Carmel the magical spot it is.

bcduck.gifThe 2008 vintage seems to be somewhat overlooked so far and underrated, but in most cases, in the best areas, I am finding them even better than the stellar 2007’s with more perfume, deeper complexities and more vibrant flavors. This goes especially true in the case of Chardonnay, as the 2007 seem fat or sweet, somewhat dull when compared to the 2008 vintage. Maybe the 2008’s didn’t show well in the barrel? I can only tell you they are coming on strong now and the Brewer-Clifton wines across the board are all, in my opinion, much more interesting than the last two or three vintages and I firmly believe will just get better over time. Both Steve and Greg (who was not present at Spruce) echo this on their own and Steve thinks 2008 was his best year and line up to date, even though he is sentimental for his early efforts, as anyone can well understand. Overall 2007 was excellent with big rich wines, I’m not knocking it, I have plenty stored away myself, but I am a big fan of the 2008 vintage for Pinot Noir on the Central Coast, from the Santa Lucia Highlands to the Santa Rita Hills, while their was some fire problems in the North and customers will have to really be careful of some areas like Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, no such worries for Brewer-Clifton that is for sure.

bcspuce.gifBrewer-Clifton also has two sublime value wines available, a cuvee of selected vineyards for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, both were taken from their finished single vineyard selections and blended, these coming from the best lots, nothing from seconds or barrels that didn’t go into the single vineyard wines. These under $40 wines are as good as anything they do, though they maybe lack a bit of the unique quality of the single site terroir, but that said I bet most people would like these as well if not more in most cases. So far Brewer-Clifton has released a select few of their 2008’s, and what I tried today (April 12, 2010) were the spring release: 2008 Santa Rita Hills Chard & Pinot, 2008 Sea Smoke Chard, 2008 Sweeney Canyon Chard, 2008 Mount Carmel Chard, 2008 Ampelos Pinot, 2008 Mount Carmel Pinot and the 2008 Melville Pinot. All of which topped 90 Points in my notes. It was hard to pick a favorite wine of the day, but I narrowed it down to three wines from the 2008 vintage: The Sweeney Canyon Chardonnay, the Mount Carmel Pinot and the Melville Pinot. That was tough, as all the wines were amazing and who knows, I may end up rating them different the next time I try them! When all is said and done, the vintage was a huge success for Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, with stunning and pure wines and an even better future to look forward to in the coming years, these guys aren’t going anywhere but up.

Quick Wine Notes

2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills.
White flowers, lemon curd, fig and kiwi all going nicely with core peach and pear fruit. Bright, perfumed, tangy with citrus notes, subtle oak and mineral. I was quick to rate this wine, and after going back to it, I might be well served to raise the score, this is a very pretty and complex wine that is only going to fill out in the next year…. Note to self, revisit soon…
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sea Smoke” Sta. Rita Hills.
smoky, with nice oak notes, hazelnuts, rich apple and pear fruits, lemon cream, full-bodied, nice mineral edge and some fig. Needs time to show all that is here…. Maybe I should give it a better score?
($53 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.

Lemon, verbena, lime tree, white peach, pear and apple with touches of clove, spice, mineral. Rich and full, but vibrant and racy. I can’t wait to try this beauty in the years to come, it should get lots better still, but it is so good now…

($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay “Sweeney Canyon” Sta. Rita Hills.
steely with honeysuckle, jasmine, apricot, pear, mineral spices. Edgy and bright though opens up with time to reveal apple and lemon, with brioche and quince. I love this wine, might just be my personal favorite, I could easily rate it a few points higher..

($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills.
whole cluster spicy with grenadine and rose petals, black cherry, red plum and berry fruit, silky and round with long finish. Will great potential to get better!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Ampelos” Sta. Rita Hills.
Biodynamic, sweet and funky to start, but opens up nicely with lovely texture with pomegranate, currant, plum and raspberry plus a red cherry fruit core. Some Asian spices, and a long lingering finish. 828 clone, unique and intriguing.
($53 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Mount Carmel” Sta. Rita Hills.
A perfected mix of clones gives real depth and complexities, floral perfume, rich body, pretty color, hints at violets, roses, black cherry, plum with bright lively flavors, all vibrant with hints of apple skin, spices. Long fruit sweet finish.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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2008 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir “Melville” Sta. Rita Hills.
bold, intense, young and layered with black and dark fruit all through, rich palate, great depth, plum, cherry, currant, black fig, firm structure, but very long on the finish. Wind swept site planted to 114 and 115 clones, long hang-time adds complexities and the wine seems darker in color.
($57 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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*On a side note, I want to thank Spruce and its staff for the extra care and personal service, it just added to the wonderful food that dazzled us at the tasting, and a thank you to Steve and Crystal Clifton for their time and effort in presenting the Brewer-Clifton wines. They also opened three library wines from their own stash, a 2000 Marcella’s Chardonnay (93-94), a 2002 Mount Carmel Chardonnay (94) and a 2004 Cargasschi Pinot Noir (95), all showed well, great in fact. I am most grateful.

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 Brewer-Clifton

www.brewerclifton.com

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Spruce
www.sprucesf.com
3640 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 931-5100

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Full notes and ratings to follow

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

 Grapelive Special Report From Vinitaly 2010

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“What’s old is new again!” (A View of Southern Italy)
By Brandy Falconer, grapelive guest columnist

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mastro_grecov.jpgThis year marks the 44th edition of Vinitaly, the largest wine expo in the world with over 4,200 exhibitors here to present their wines. Here in Verona, the weather is beautiful and sunny, a welcome change from the typical rainy 5-day event. Perhaps the change in weather is a symbol for the change in attitude of the winemakers from “how to survive the crisis” to “looking toward the future.” Yes, there are a lot of smaller wineries up for sale here and around the world at the moment, but others with their eyes forward are planning their futures, strategically.

With a more precise plan of attack this year, and armed with a newly acquired press pass, the event from the outside looked much more manageable this year.  That was, until I left the blue sky and sunshine and stepped through the door of the first pavilion.  The instant change left me feeling like Alice in Wonderland, so I got my bearings and quickly made my way to the stand of Iris Vignetti where I was met with the friendliest of greetings and a glass of bubbly from my friend Isabella Spagnolo. Her beautifully presented line of Prosecco is the perfect start to fun and adventure.  Let the tastings begin!

Just like discovering the centuries-old treasures of Italian cities, like the famous Roman arena at the heart of Verona, Southern Italian wineries are presenting and releasing some treasures that many would believe had been lost to time. The news that peaked my interest first about this year’s Vinitaly is the presentation of older wines from Sicily and Campania. Reading this in California, you may wonder why it is such a big deal to talk about, say, 10 year old wines. Well, it’s not if you are talking about a barrique-aged Taurasi from Campania, commonly referred to as the Barolo of the South. But when you are talking about 10-year-old white wines, or when you are talking about the much hotter climate in Sicily for example, this is big news. What it means is that the wineries are making great wine, with healthy grapes, properly using and expressing the terroir, or territorio as they call it here. This is a great sign for those who are tired of the all-too-common comments of wine critics who think southern Italian wineries do not produce with enough consistency yet to be competitors in the worldwide market. It is also great news for those looking to discover a new favorite in an agreeable price bracket.

treehugger.jpgMy first official stop was Mastroberardino, where they are excitedly launching their newest line, “Vintage” and an Aglianico Cru made from clones of 100+ year-old vines. The new Vintage line is a very exciting project for many reasons. The wines being presented are a 2002 Greco di Tufo DOC, one of Campania’s great whites, and a 1998 Aglianico IGT. Before even tasting the wines it is important to recognize that only a winery which takes great interest in the territorio, and takes great care of the grapes, both on and off the vine can produce a wine that is fresh and enjoyable after eight or ten years in the bottle, especially when made with the intention of drinking as opposed to ageing. The 2002 Greco di Tufo is an eyebrow-raiser when mentioned to restaurateurs, and the first sip brings a smile of amazement. That is because this eight-year-old white wine, aged only in stainless steel, not oak, is still fresh, layered, and with a complexity that reveals everything about the land where the grapes are grown. The presence of minerality and a balance of acidity make this wine one to enjoy with complex and savory fish dishes where a simple white might get lost or fall flat.
Coming from California, I wondered what was really the big deal about a 12-year-old Aglianico, but what I learned is that this wine was made as an every-day wine, as opposed to a Taurasi; simply as an aglianico, not aged for years in barriques, but only 12 months in larger barrels. The result is a complex, flavorful wine with aromas of tobacco and cherries soaked in spirits. Not an aged wine that needs excuses, this vintage Aglianico is ready to drink and enjoy; the flavor is still fresh with ripe cherries and I can imagine enjoying it sip by sip with roast lamb and rosemary potatoes on a long cold evening.

vinredimore.jpgSwitching from older wines to older vines, I am introduced to the new Aglianico Cru crafted from a new biotype of Campania’s flagship red grape. What’s old is the biotype: vines that survived the phylloxera attack in the late 1800’s because the soil and locality were not ideal environments for the pest to thrive, as agronomist Antonio Dente explained. It is important to know that the wine is produced not from the ancient vines themselves, but from the clone of this older biotype, planted in idyllic Aglianico territorio at the estate in Mirabella Eclano. This is where history meets innovation: the result is the 2008 Redimore Irpinia Aglianico DOC, with its playful label showing a king on a horse with a chalice in hand. I was surprised taking my first sip of this wine because I am used to the strong tannins of the Taurasis, but Massimo Di Renzo, the winemaker at Mastroberardino explained that this particular type of Aglianico was used 100 years ago by the local population to make an every-day drinking wine. This explains the lovely roundness of the wine, balanced and flavorful, which I found to be a very enjoyable expression of the grape. For those of you who have shied away from bold Taurasi in the past, this single-vineyard cru is worth trying.

degust2.jpgFrom Mastroberardino, I headed off to the conference rooms for a much-anticipated tasting, “Sicilian Wines Challenging Time, Vintage 2000.” The organizer, Chronache di Gusto, was very enthusiastic about the top producers of Sicily presenting their 10-year-old vintages and shared his hopes of the wines becoming ambassadors of the beauty of Sicily. As mentioned previously, these wines were not necessarily produced for ageing, so it is big news to share them with press and critics. Most of the 180 tasting stations were filled which is a good sign that more people are watching the work being done in Southern Italy, as I believe they should be. Of the twelve wines, one was white, eight were red and three were Marsala and passito dessert wines.

We started off with Planeta’s Chardonnay, and the winemaker Alessio Planeta commented about the need to make durable wines, and in fact had written in his notes that this wine would age for six to eight years, so he was pleased to see it drink so well at ten. With aromas of tobacco and cooked pineapple, the optimum pairing for a wine like this would be a rich saffron or truffle risotto. My two favorites of the reds were the Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC from Ragusa, an area called the “Mesopotamia of the Romans” and the Bordeaux-style Ceuso Custera from Trapani.  Avide’s Barocco Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from 60% Nero d’Avola, the flagship red grape of Sicily, and 40% Frapatto for structure, with its deep blood red color is normally sold 6 years after harvest, so it was probably the most prepared for this tasting. With earthy-woody aromas and flavors of pomegranate and blackberry, this wine will best complement tasty, savory courses.

degust1a.jpgThe Ceuso Custera, presented by Ceuso Azienda Agricola is made from an international blend of 50% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon for structure and 20% Merlot for smoothness. This was the freshest tasting of all the wines presented, which wasn’t surprising considering the use of Cabernet and the ageing that takes place before the bottle leaves the winery; first in cement casks, then wood, then in the bottle. The aroma and taste is of ripe cherries and black currants and maybe I have been away from California for too long because I am longing for steak.

Though there are opposing views about looking to the past to see the future, I believe the Sicily and Mastroberardino tastings proved that if we look at what these southern Italian wineries were doing ten years ago, we can be sure of a bright and delicious future and more treasures to come. These wineries have definite plans and are crafting wines for the competitive international market. My definite plan after the tasting was to find a quick panino which to me can never be considered simply fast food because the bread is so artisan-delicious and the prosciutto is always just-cut fresh. Then to the Foreign Trade VIP lounge to discretely brush my teeth and lose that purple tinge. The secret? Brushing with baking soda leaves your mouth clean and with the mineral-salt finish, ready to enjoy the next wine. I should send that one in to Martha…tips for the all-day wine taster.

Salute! From Verona.

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Brandy lives and teaches in Italy, writing and studying about wine along the way. Based in Naples, she covers the Southern Italian wine scene and has been interviewed many times in the Italian media and presented stories to selected publications and TV.

Grapelive Travel

Grapelive Day Trip: Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast
By Kerry Winslow

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andersonvalley.jpgAfter moving to Sonoma County about a month ago now, I decided it was time to explore further and headed north and the drive to Mendocino to take in the sights and a few wines in Anderson Valley. The beautiful spring day encouraged me and I found the long drive very pleasant and inspiring as I flashed by green hills, rolling vineyard landscapes, redwood groves, rock strewn meadows, babbling creeks and much, much later the intensely blue Pacific Ocean, I mean this is why I live on Northern California’s rugged coast now. I had been out this way only once before, in the pouring rain and in the middle of a dark winter, so this was pure heaven, and even better was the lack of traffic as I twisted and turned my way to Boonville and Philo in the Yorkville Highlands AVA in the Anderson Valley.

Finding friendly and easy going wineries with picturesque settings is not too difficult here and I recommend getting up this way, especially if you like mostly organic and cool climate wines, with Pinot Noir leading the way for reds and Chardonnay for the whites, though I always find the Gewurztraminer to my favorite from the region. This trip found me at Yorkville Cellars, in a slightly warmer area of the valley, where they do elegantly styled Bordeaux varietal wines. I enjoyed their Semillon, Cabernet Franc and a special meritage that included the original six Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and the rare Carmenere that is now mainly found in Chile. Yorkville Cellars offers a peaceful place to stop and the wines are solid and easy to drink, defiantly worth the stop and free tasting.

yorkvilleview.jpgMoving on down the winding road, I ended up at Londer Vineyards tasting room and was lucky to find Shirley Londer herself running the tasting bar and pouring some of the wineries finest wines. I had met the Londer’s while visiting Pisoni Vineyards many years ago, and had remembered their enthusiasm and warm nature. Londer started producing wines in 2001 with the help of ex-Flowers wine guru Greg La Follette and they have been rolling ever since with outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and the aforementioned Gewurztraminer. Shirley and Larry Londer still have a talented winemaker in Rick Davis, and were thrilled when Wine Spectator gave them the highest score they have ever given for an Anderson Valley last year for their “Corby Vineyard” Chardonnay, which got an impressive 95 Points. I must say, for me, it was the dry Gewurz that made me smile most! That said, I was very happy with the Ritchie Chard, and the stylish 2007 Pinots, the Ferrington and the Parabol, of which I rated the Parabol the highest for the potential it shows and the long silky finish.

navarro.jpgNo trip to Anderson Valley or Mendocino can be done without dropping in on Navarro Vineyards, a tiny winery that normally only sells direct or at selected restaurants. Navarro does a nice selection of small production wines that are of great quality and sell them at equally great prices! This place is beautiful with lots of charm and friendly staff, as well as a small herd of sheep to keep the weeds down near the vineyard that make for good photo ops and give small children something to take in while the grown ups taste the wines and or picnic on the scenic deck area. This time I tried a couple of wines that I hadn’t tried here before, a crisp and surprising Chenin Blanc and a bright and fresh Mourvedre that tasted like a cross between Zinfandel and Pinot Noir, and I mean that in a good way. I also enjoyed their Alsace white blend called Edelzwicker, a cuvee of Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris that on this warm sunny day really hit the spot, plus I had to try the famous “Methode A L’Ancienne” Pinot Noir from the 2007 vintage, another fine and elegant example of this grape. Navarro also sells some of the area’s cheeses and munchies to be sampled there or taken on the road, but I suggest carrying away as much wine as you!

sonomacoast1.jpgLeaving Anderson Valley and hitting the rugged Sonoma Coast takes you through old growth redwoods and amazing vistas along West 128 to Highway 1, and from there you can quickly get to Mendocino or Fort Bragg. I did a quick spin around the parts, before taking the long way home down the coast, hitting small coastal hamlets and State Parks along the way. If you’ve been to Big Sur then you’d get an idea of this stretch of coastline, though it is more varied and in some areas even more dramatic, if a bit lonely and more remote. I was blessed with a lack of RV’s and only a slight breeze to deal with as I stopped many times to marvel at the majestic and breathtaking scenes. High cliffs, cypress and redwoods on steep hillsides, windswept coastal meadows, old seaside farms and ranches, some long abandoned others still in use, and rocky coast vistas that words could never due justice in describing here. I did this 250 trek in an afternoon, but it was a crime not to take a bit more time and explore the area much more in depth, and I suggest a full weekend or a week even, as there is some much to see and experience here. I can’t wait to take my someone special up this way and really share it all and soak it all in again.

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Yorkville Cellars
Highway 128 between Cloverdale and Boonville
www.yorkvillecellars.com

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Londer Vineyards
14051 Highway 128,
located in downtown Boonville across from the Boonville Hotel
(open Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
www.londervineyards.com

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Navarro Vineyards
5601 Hwy 128 · Philo, CA
www.navarrowine.com

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Plus don’t miss:

Breggo Cellars, Roederer Estate and Goldeneye while in Anderson Valley!

Grapelive Special Report

Casa Nuestra Winery: Another Side of Napa Valley

By Kerry Winslow

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Sometimes you want to just get away from the crowds, the sameness and find something completely different, peaceful and down to earth, in Napa Valley. And recently I did just that by visiting Casa Nuestra, located in the eastern part of historic St. Helena on the Silverado Trail. Now, I have wondered in here a few times in the past, though this spring day in March was quite special as not only did they have their fabled Chenin Blanc in stock and were pouring it, but they had the owner himself tipping the bottle and even manning the cash register, this time I got to meet the man behind this small unique winery, Gene Kirkham. Gene is a real down to earth guy with a big grin and humble as can be, and he’s been on the Napa scene with Casa Nuestra since 1979, and is celebrating 30 years of his dry Chenin Blanc, one of the best Chenin’s in the states and a white wine that has an intense following. It seems every time I drop in it is sold out, though I was in luck on this day and my mouth was watering just thinking about it, a real dry, Vouvray or Loire style wine that also has its own terroir and stamp as well.
Before getting to the Chenin, I tried to get a picture of the whole place that is Casa Nuestra, and listened to Gene tell his happy customers and fanatic wine club members a little of the history.

oldfieldblendvines.gifWhile Casa Nuestra was formed into a winery in 1979, the Kirkham family bought a vineyard in Oakville, one of the first hillside plots there in 1956, an old style vineyard that was planted the “blacks” or know as a field blend site, it had Charbono, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Pinot Noir and more all mixed through out the vineyard and these red grapes were all blended in a Tinto wine. These wines went out of fashion and most growers ended up ripping up most of their vines and replanted to a single varietal, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Merlot, but the Kirkham’s understood the old style field blend was going to be lost here in California, so they kept them and then in 1994 grafted many of their original vine cuttings to the St. Helena property to keep the heritage going. All the vines the winery uses are organic and farmed to low natural yields to give the truest sense of the terroir and the grapes, and the winemaking as reflects a kinder and more gentle approach as well, as they take great care in the handling of the grapes and use traditional methods, like basket presses and special low impact pumps, then use the best suited oak from both France and America to age the wine.

nuestrawines.gifCasa Nuestra has had lots of critical acclaim, it is not like I was the first one to sing their praises, but you’d never know that by seeing the smile on Gene’s face when I was cooing over the beautiful Chenin, and impressed by the reds as well, he is all enthusiasm and the was a sparkle in his eyes that shows he loves to make people happy and enjoys his wines and the direction he has taken. Now, Casa Nuestra does make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc too, and they are very worthy wines, so don’t think they only do the geeky stuff, even if that is what I was really interested in on this given day. I made note of some stars in their line up other than the Chenin and the Tinto (field blend) those being the dark and thick Charbono, one of the nicest I’ve tried in fact, the Petit Sirah, a black/purple monster that really delivers vibrant fruit and almost a chocolate like feel, and I liked the estate semi-dry Riesling that was bright and fresh with just a hint of sweetness. Even though the Rosado, Cabernet Franc Rose was not quite to my taste it was good and all the wines were very well made and of high quality, making Casa Nuestra a great place to visit and take friends as there will be something for everyone here. It is great to see a winery like this doing so well, especial in these tough times, and I’ll be heading back again soon to refill on that amazing Chenin Blanc!

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chenin09.gif2009 Casa Nuestra Chenin Blanc (Dry) Napa Valley.
This hard to get white is crisp and bright with lovely citrus, peach and apricot nectar fruit and a real stony, mineral character that gives this wine its balance and depth. The nose is steely and has hints of white flowers and green apple, and then the peachy fruit takes over on the palate before a chalky, earthy rocky side comes across in the background. The finish is tangy with lemon/lime and very dry, though some white peach lingers on. When Chardonnay is too heavy and Sauvignon Blanc is too sharp and herbal, then this wine will be just right, and it will go with most everything, especial a warm spring or summer day. I hope to try it out with Hog Island Oysters soon, but it is great with creamy cheeses and fruit too. This wine offers a great value too, and that is why it sells out so fast, so visit Casa Nuestra soon, before it is gone. ($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

www.casanuestra.com

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tinto.gif2007 Casa Nuestra Tinto, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
This dark and full red has lots of sweet intense fruit and savory spices with thick texture and ripe tannins, making it a really interesting and layered wine, much like if you crossed Zinfandel with a classic Rhone blend. The blackish hue and perfumed nose will entice you, and the lush and robust palate will intrigue you, and the long finish with seduce you and make you want more. This fun field blend has the kitchen sink in it, Carignane, Petit Sirah, Mourvedre, Pinot Noir and Charbono just to name a few of the grapes, and nothing feels out of place and it flows smoothly in balanced harmony. While this type of wine is not common these days, it is a very welcome addition to my cellar and I hope you get a chance to try it yourself. ($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

www.casanuestra.com

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Grapelive ZAP Zinfandel Tasting

“ZAP leaves a Purple Haze Over the City”

Grapelive Special Report on ZAP Zinfandel Tasting, Fort  Mason, San Francisco, CA. Jan. 30, 2010

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Zap Zinfandel Fest 2010 “Purple Haze” Recap
By Kerry Winslow

This year was the 19th annual ZAP festival, a Zinfandel celebration like no other and an event for fanatics and professionals alike. Long lines and over indulging seems to be one of the main features, both cherished and loathed, for better or worse, but no one can it is not a fun tradition to gather at Fort Mason, in San Francisco, in January and stain your teeth purple. This year was harder than most to get up for with the economy what it is and the thought of fighting the crowds less appealing with each passing year, though in the end Zap won me over, and I found some new and interesting Zinfandels that wowed me and that gave me that loving feeling again. I arrived at Zap early, when only trade and media types are allowed in, about 3 hours before the massive crowds descend on the unprepared winery owners and winemakers pouring their latest Zinfandel creations, still even at that private time and being it was closer to 10am the place was rocking and buzzing with excitement. I even found it hard to fight my way to certain tables to chat with the winemakers, but then I remembered there was a quiet media only room where we could go to taste and write notes in relative peace and feel like we were being productive, and this proved to be the best way to find some new wines.

brown08.gifBecause the event is packed with hundreds and hundreds of new release Zin and because, lets be honest here, the are many that are not so interesting, you really have to be ultra picky to get much done in terms of real reviewing, so I must admit I always miss a couple great wines each year. That said, I did find some awesome Zinfandel this year, and I’m going to focus on those here, and let others go into greater detail overall. I will also note that the “old guard” Zin producers have staged a comeback, I found that both Ravenswood and Ridge Vineyards to have found that magic again and both showed fantastic wines that deserve high praise and critical acclaim, though I tend to search out new small producers these days. Regardless it was nice to see and I must give them kudos for their efforts, especially the Ridge Lytton Springs and the Ravenswood Old Hill, as they were both inspiring and dynamic wines that showed off their terroir and the zinfandel grape to good effect.

baldwin08.gifWhile tucked away in the media sanctuary, with other wine writer types, no be left nameless, I was introduced to some unheard of wineries and new producers, some by word of mouth, a little eavesdropping never hurt anyone, or by just shear luck and adventurism. By pure chance I picked up a bottle without a real label that had a photocopy stuck to it that send it was a barrel sample of 2008 Zinfandel, and wow, it was an amazing wine that had it all class, texture and pure Zinfandel charm and flavors. What was this nectar? Who makes it and where are the vines, I had to know, I needed to know, I wasn’t going to be denied. Well, at first, I was, but after plugging in and doing the Google, I slowly learned more, but it took a few days to get all the details. The wine, the 2008 Baldwin Vineyards Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge Vineyard” (Glen Ellen) Sonoma Valley, a barrel sample, not a finished bottle. What I found out later made it all the more impressive; in fact this was the premier release of this wine and from the very first crop of the vineyard! Okay, yeah, are most great Zinfandels from old vines, I mean older than your Grandfather’s father old, well, yes there are, but this wine seems to be the exception from any common wisdom, and it was from a new winery and an equally young winemaker! Beginners luck, maybe, but I think it is the start of a long and bright future for this vineyard and winery, that comes from tasting the wine first and foremost, though I will tell you the owner has a long career of success, so I won’t have any doubt that he’ll make great things happen here too. Gerald Baldwin is the owner and it is his vineyard where he resides, in case the name doesn’t ring any bells, he was one of the original founders of Starbucks and the owner of Peete’s Coffee, as well as many other highly successful projects! I won’t bore you with the list, as it would take up the whole page! Back to the wine, it is coming out later this year and there was only enough juice to make some 60 cases, so even though it might seem pricy at $50 a bottle, it is worth it and I think it would be good to get on his list as soon as possible. He even emailed me to fill in the details on this wine himself, and that was before I know who he was, and I can tell you, he was humble and enthusiastic when talking about this wine and the second Zinfandel his is doing and I was left with a very good impression and excited to taste this wine when it is released. (www.baldwinwines.com)

tofanelli071.gifThe best of show was a tough pick between five great wines that for me spoke of what real Zinfandel can be and is, the classic California drinking wine, not for collectors or people that buy luxury label, but an honest wine that you just love to drink with out pretense or fanfare. While many Zinfandels age well and are super editions to any home or restaurant cellar, most of us love the grape and wine because we can drink it now and love it for its fruity and spicy sexy goodness when it is young. So, for me these were the best of show and my top picks of the 2010 ZAP tasting, and I’m sure I am leaving out plenty of Zins that merit attention, please forgive me if I didn’t get around to mentioning your favorite, but these were mine. First up, was the stunning and complex 2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley, which showed richness and elegance that put it at another level than 95% of all the other Zins I tried, it was easily number one in my notes, though a few others were not far behind, like the 2008 Baldwin described above. So at number two, I have the 2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley, always one of my guilty pleasures and a wine that has always stood out for me with intense fruit and a long zesty finish with a thick texture to savor, another fine vintage from this quality winery. At number three I had another barrel sample to go on, but again I trust myself that the finished wine will blow you away, it is the 2008 Biale Vineyards Zinfandel “Black Chicken” Napa Valley, another winery that always impresses me and Bob Biale is a talented guy, no question this is world class wine and a hedonistic Zinfandel with gobs of black fruit and vibrant flavors and superb depth. So then the 2008 Baldwin Zinfandel “Rattlesnake Ridge” Sonoma Valley, number four. Now it is down to my final selection from this years Zap Zin Fest, and this was a tough call, because there were two other wines that were very close to breaking into the top five, the two Sandler 2008 Zins, made by Ed Kurtzman, the talent that also crafts Roar and August West Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay, all of which are great wines, including his two new Zinfandels and the other runner up to number five was the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley, another wine I had not heard of before and one of the wines I was turned on to by those selfless other wine writers in the media area, that instead of quietly getting their own scoop, happily pushed me in the right direction, thanks guys, that was classy of them. The Talty 2006 was the best of that vintage I found at the show, and a very lovely wine, it would be good to check in on these guys if you get to Dry Creek, I know I will. Also, I must add one more to highlight before getting to final pick, and that would be the J. Dusi Zinfandel Dusi Ranch, Paso Robles, I was lucky enough to get a chance last summer to tour and taste their wine at the Dusi Vineyard and I loved their 2007 at the time, and I gave the 2008 at Zap my top Paso Zin nod. Okay here it is, the last wine and word from the 2010 Zap, at number five, I have to go with the near perfect California Zinfandel and one of my all time weaknesses, the Ridge Vineyards 2008 Lytton Springs Estate, Dry Creek, Sonoma County. There you have it, my top five wines, with out a doubt, all wonderful picks no matter the order and all wines that I will buy this year no question. The Ridge Lytton Springs especially with come home with me many a night or BBQ when it is released this summer, with loads of red and black fruit and peppery spices it really speaks to me and I like the briar and fresh berry tanginess.

Sometimes we in the industry get jaded or burnt out on crowded events and sometimes high volume, rock concert like groupies can put you off, but somehow Zap can overcome theses petty pains and put huge smiles on everyone’s face and give us all lots of fun and pleasure. While Zap makes for a long day and leaves a ringing in your ears, it also leaves you with sense of pride in our grape, the Zinfandel, and it is always a very, very happy place with the most enthusiastic wine fanatics in the world.

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Top Five Zins from this years ZAP:

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tofanelli07.gif2007 Tofanelli Zinfandel Napa Valley
Most Zin lovers will know that some of the best Turley wines in the past have used fruit from the famed Tofanelli Vineyard and that this small production Zinfandel is one of the most interesting wines made from this grape. This vintage of Tofanelli is near perfect and this Zin shows off all its talents with rich and flavorful layers of dark fruit and polished balance and class, not always found in modern Zinfandels. This wine is everything that Zin can be without crossing that line and being over the top or bloated, it has lush sweet fruit and smooth texture, but still is lively and fresh. The nose is crushed berries and spicy leading to a blackberry, plum, raspberry and currant filled palate that flows in waves in the mouth. There is some tangy boysenberry, briar and wild spices that pop into the mix that adds to the whole and the finish is long and savory. ($36 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

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2008 Baldwin Zinfandel Rattlesnake Ridge (Barrel Sample)

2008 Brown Estate Zinfandel Napa Valley

2008 Ridge Lytton Springs Dry Creek Valley

2008 Biale Zinfandel Black Chicken Napa Valley (Barrel Sample)

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Others to watch:

Ed Kurtzman, Sandler Zinfandel, and “The Industrial” Zinfandel tasted very good in 2008 barrel samples and should get even better closer to release later this summer. I also enjoyed the 2006 Talty Zinfandel Dry Creek, and will look forward to trying more of their wines in the future. Old favorites from Ridge and even the old vine Ravenswood showed very well in barrel samples from the 2008 vintage, and Four Vines had their very rich and focused 2007 Biker Zin in the press room and it was a go to wine with snacks. I want to mention J. Dusi as well as this was a chance to try their third release, the 2008 and it was very good and looks to develop further, so be sure to check it out when it is on the shelf, which should be soon.

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Grapelive Report From Italy


Antinori’s Tormaresca –  At the Bocca di Lupo Estate in Puglia

By Brandy Falconer, grapelive.com guest columnist

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tormaresca1.jpgLast week I had the pleasure of traveling to Puglia (Apulia) in Southern Italy to visit one of Antinori’s two estates under the Tormaresca label.  We left Naples, driving southeast on the A16 toward the heel of Italy’s boot, and about two and a half hours later, encountering sun, snow and rain along the way, we arrived at the Bocca di Lupo estate.  Directly translated as “Mouth of the Wolf,” it should also be noted that a common expression of “Good Luck!” is translated as “In bocca al lupo!”
My first thoughts when we arrived were of (my) home, the Salinas Valley, with its beautiful flat rows of agriculture, surrounded by green rolling hills in the distance. Even the weather was the same this time of year, a cloud-filled grey sky with a bit of rain and wind…which kept changing every minute. I appreciated the signage that guided us to the winery, something that doesn’t exist everywhere in Italy, and though the building was new and a bit stark on the outside, there was nothing sterile or overly modern about it. It fit in beautifully with the landscape, as if it was simply a renovated farmhouse and barn, reflecting the movement from grape-growing to winemaking at the facility. Grapes have been grown here for centuries, as in most of the south, and in the last decades there has been a noticeable movement from growers to producers.

tormaresca5.jpgWalking through the front door of the winery was like being welcomed into a home or small resort. Offices occupy the downstairs, then a spiral stone staircase brings visitors to a window-lined upstairs where there are meeting rooms, a salon and dining room, all looking out on the vineyards and across to the hills. The interior and exterior are represented in pale colors with sand-colored stone block, which is not only beautiful and serene, but also the result of a desire to use only indigenous materials in the construction. The furnishings also reflect the history of the area, equally inviting and functional; it is easy to feel comfortable here. Their guest rooms (sorry wine pilgrims, for business associates only) are cozy and relaxed, and above all quiet; something I really appreciate after living in downtown Naples for the last several months.

Maria Teresa from the Marketing and Sales department arrived to guide me through the winemaking facilties, which are spacious, modern and practical in a beautiful setting. Rather than looking dormant for the winter, the super-clean presses and tanks seem to be just taking a work break before spring. While one small cellar for the white wines is set up to easily move the barrels after a brief aging period, the main cellar has long, low rows of red stained barrels.  Not at all a “warehouse” cellar, this deep, square chamber is so quiet and visually pleasing  that it resembles a spa. It was so cold outside, the cellar actually seemed warm, and there was even a bit of fog hanging in the room which added to the atmosphere.

tormaresca3.jpgAdjacent to the cellar, we entered the tasting room. With its low arched ceiling and stone walls, it was much like being in a traditional cave cellar, but a large arch window at one end, looking out on the quiet cellar below created a charming ambiance. The long wooden table was set with glasses and bottles, and the tasting began. We started with the 2008 Chardonnay, considered their “base wine”. Not to be confused with “bottom of the line,” this un-oaked Chardonnay (music to my ears), with its fresh, well-balanced acidity and minerality is a wine that you can enjoy with your entire meal. The more complex 2008 Pietrabianca Chardonnay, made with a small amount of Fiano grapes and aged 4-5 months in oak barrels, has a richer, more tropical fruit flavor with hints of caramel. Tasting this wine again after 10 minutes in the glass, I immediately thought of my mom’s famous cheesecake and how delicious the combination would be. This isn’t your mother’s Chardonnay!

Something worth mentioning now is that although we did not have the chance to taste the Calafuria Negroamaro Rosato (Rose) this time, I did sample it at Vinitaly this Spring, and was impressed. Though it is not exported yet in the US because of limited quantities, I believe we will be seeing it, and many more beautiful Rosato wines from southern Italy soon, so prepare your palates and set aside your preconceived notions.  Now, on to the reds. The first poured was the “base red,” called Neprica with its beautiful ruby color. Satisfying many palates in the US, this wine and its name, is a harmonious blend of Negro Amaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence, NePriCa. The concentrated flavors and dry finish of this wine bring to mind a dish of lean meat stewed with tomatoes, like pepper steak. As I began asking about the winemaking philosophy at the estate, it was a pleasant surprise to be joined by the estate winemaker, Laura Minioa, who comes from a family of winemakers and agronomists. With her guidance, we moved on to the 2006 Negroamaro Salento IGT from Tormaresca’s other estate in Puglia, Masseria Maime. Laura explained that this estate’s proximity to the ocean offers a variation in terrior and results in a distinctive expression of the grapes grown there. The Negroamaro’s dense ruby color prepares you for the blueberry and deep forest aromas and earthy flavors. Next in the glass was the Primitivo Torcicoda  Salento. An even darker, purple-ruby color with aromas of prunes and straw gave way to a nice, smooth mouthful, with flavors of dark fruit jam and aged meats. This is an enjoyable wine, and my favorite of the lineup.

tormaresca6.jpgIt would have been a shame to come all this way and not be able to enjoy these wines in their native environment…at the dining table.  Luckily, there was another group visiting the winery and I was invited to enjoy lunch along with the other guests.  To start, the Chardonnay was the perfect palate cleanser in between bites of delicately fried artichokes and  bruschetta with melted cheese and black olives individually wrapped in parchment bags. The more substantial Pietrabianca Chardonnay complimented the full flavored home-made pasta with mushrooms and tomato-caper sauce. The surprise was the 2006 Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte Aglianico DOC which was silky on the tongue with a tannic bite finish. Aromas of apple spice cake and chocolate covered cherries made my mouth water as much as the rosemary beef loin with which it was served. The wine enhanced the dish beautifully and the herb and salted flavors in turn harmonized with and softened the wine, which is what I believe is an exquisite pairing.  In contrast, the last sips of Aglianico in my glass acted as a palate cleanser between bites of the decadent chocolate lava cake. As if we needed another dessert (am I complaining?) traditional almond cookies were served with the Kaloro Moscato dessert wine. Though I am not traditionally a fan of the Moscato grape, I enjoyed the orange flower aroma and flavor of this wine, especially with the cookies. Yes, I had more than one…for the sake of research of course!

Something to be said about this winery and estate is that there is a refreshing consistency among the aspects of the business, I think due to the strong sense of history and culture of Puglia, and the generations of experience of the Antinori family.  The facilities, wine and food are all well thought-out, traditional, and simple without being plain – good representations of this little-known part of Italy.  Puglia is a region to which I will always be glad to return, and Tormaresca offers wines that will be a pleasure to enjoy again and again.

Grapelive Studies: Bordeaux

A Bordeaux 101 Outline Study Guide
By Kerry Winslow

(Bordeaux Seminar Summary Notes for a special Bordeaux tasting)

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Bordeaux at a Glance:
Bordeaux is not beautiful or heavenly scenic in by any stretch of the imagination and it is not a glamorous travel destination, but it does have vines and noble Chateaux to at least give you something to envy. (With the exception of St. Emilion, which is both historic and graceful) Not too convincing for a region that is known as the world’s greatest with some of the most prized wine on the planet. Also, Bordeaux is not a small area either, with some 900 million bottles produced in any given vintage and maybe some 20,000 growers. But, in the world of fine wine, Bordeaux is more known for about 200 estates that make about 100,000 bottles each, which is much more of what you’d expect from a super premium wine region. The “Chateau” name on the label has always added value, though it is largely a meaningless term, much like “Reserve” or such on labels from California and other areas, but there has been a loose guide and rule that if there is a picture of a Chateau on the label it should exist on the property in real life as well.

Another archaic example of Bordeaux hierarchy is the fabled Classification of 1855 by which most all Bordeaux wines and estates have been judged by ever since. (Though it must said, it still works!)
The Classification of 1855 was originally conceived by Exposition Universelle in Paris as a simple guide to Bordeaux wines, both red and white, though it really ended up as an enduring order for the red wines of the Medoc, except for the one Pessac-Leognan or Graves estate Chateau Haut-Brion which was included. Funny enough this class structure was only compiled in a matter of days and was based on prices that estates were getting for their wines on the current market at the time and was never ever meant to be set in stone and was in fact done just for the one single event. Even though the Classification was never intended as a permanent guide it has in fact become one that still holds on today, and only one real change has ever taken place to the original placements, that was when Chateau Mouton-Rothschild was given First Growth status in 1973! The original guide placed the main estates into echelons that were and are known by the old term Growths in five classified levels of prestige. This has given us First Growths (top) through Fifth Growths (lowest) of the best quality winegrowers. It is remarkable how notable and accurate this system has been and still is today.
White wines and sweet wines had separate classifications and these while useful at the time do not have the same meaning at present. The other top wines not from the Haut-Medoc did get some recognition, with Saint-Emilion being the most progressive, as it is updated and re-rated every ten years, but Pomerol still does not have a real classification in place!

Pessac-Leognan:
When you think of Pessac-Leognan or Graves red, you almost always and only think of Chateau Haut-Brion the First Growth of the appellation and one of the very first premier estates in the Bordeaux region and a Chateau favored by Thomas Jefferson, as well as collectors near and far. Besides Haut-Brion there is La Mission Haut-Brion and Chateau Haut-Bailly that impress from this area and a many others that have fans the world over. Pessac-Leognan is almost perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon with lots of well-drained soils and a touch of limestone as well to add character, and the appellation is well known to produce good wines even in terrible vintages. In fact some of the best vintages in the region have come in slightly cooler vintages like 1988 rather than 1982 or more recently 2003. This may be the first area planted to serious vine in all of Bordeaux in the early 1300’s and continues to produce great wines.

Margaux:
While for years, the only Margaux was Chateau Margaux; there are now a select few top Margaux wines to choose from including Chateau Palmer and Brane-Cantenac. Margaux is a unique Appellation and always seems the most perfumed and elegant while still having power and structure. That said, Margaux has some questionable properties and may have a bit too much sand and clay in some areas to deliver quality. It seems best to stay with the sloping vineyards more to the north for the best results, even from unclassified estates, though you can’t go wrong with the aforementioned Chateaux. Again Cabernet Sauvignon is the main grape here, though there seems to be more combinations of grapes used here.

Pauillac:
Pauillac is the king of Bordeaux Appellations with the most First Growths and is considered the most powerful of the region with top estates Latour, Lafite-Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild you see the wisdom there. This is one of the top Cabernet Sauvignon sites in the Haut-Medoc and Bordeaux, and with its deep gravelly soils that makes sense. The darker and more powerful wines of Pauillac have always been in favor and still demand the most attention from critics and collectors the world over; in fact China and the Asian market are going nuts for Lafite right now. Apart from the three First Growths Pauillac still has some amazing wines, and Parker is raving about the rise of Chateau Pontet-Canet, who are right across the street from Mouton and rates them close to the First Growths here. I will not forget my first taste of Chateau Latour and I am a real Pauillac fan.

Saint-Estephe:
This area just north of Pauillac has only five classified growths within the commune, but still garners good respect with the top estates being Chateau Montrose, Cos D’ Estournel and Calon-Segur. Saint-Estephe has lots of charm and style and depends on a higher percentage of Merlot, as the soil is much more clay influenced and the earlier ripening Merlot and Cabernet Franc do a bit better, though Cabernet Sauvignon still plays a powerful role. There is about 2,822 acres planted to vine in the appellation with Merlot being the most widely planted.

Saint-Emilion:
Saint-Emilion is perhaps the most historic and pretty place in the whole of Bordeaux with its walled medieval city and fortress still an amazing site to see. The two main Chateaux are Cheval-Blanc and L’Angelus these days, though lots of people will remember Chateau Figeac as well. This is a unique and the most progressive of all the Bordeaux appellations with an ever changing rating system and a new judging for classification every ten years with very strict rules and attention to quality. Saint-Emilion also is known as the Cabernet Franc place and in some vintages it will be the grape of choice, and Cheval-Blanc relies on Franc as the main grape more often than not, making for rich and freshly wines that offer more perfume and tannin than a Merlot based wine in general here.

Pomerol:
With no classification or unity Pomerol still has real interest in Bordeaux with powerful and maybe the most expensive wine in the region on release Chateau Petrus, and almost exclusively planted to Merlot! The clay soils here almost beg for Merlot, but there is some Cabernet Sauvignon also planted here as well. Most estates here report that their vineyards are planted to 90-95 percent Merlot and most often use 100% Merlot in their wines. Pomerol succeeds regardless of its grape and classification, in fact Pomerol was allowed an AC only in 1928 and has been snubbed from many historic publications over the years, yet it producing wines that more often than not release at prices that would make Pauillac turn green with envy! This area is known for Merlot with attitude and a track record of success, best not to bad mouth Merlot in this region.

Some Points of Interest, History and Tidbits:
Bordeaux’s history is long and has many eras, but it seems to be that the region started not as a wine-producing region, but as a trading post for selling and transporting wines. The Roman outpost there in the first century BC even had a wine negotiant the specialized in supplying the British isles, which has Roman garrisons controlling the local population, both of which enjoyed wine. At that time Bordeaux was named Burdigala and perfectly located as it is today on the estuary of the Gironde River, we know this from the Greek geographer Strabo, who also related in his texts that is was during the reign of Augustus that Burdigala was first known as a store or “emporium” for wine and that it had no vines of its own at that time.  Then as vines started to show up and things looked bright for the region everything was thrown into chaos for the next 400 years as the Romans lost control and many tribes and invaders all crashed through the area, destroying and rebuilding the whole time. When the dust settled there was the Gascon era, which at the time used Bordeaux as a the main depot for its then famous Cahors High Country wine, but this didn’t last long as then the Vikings showed up and devastated the town, leaving nothing more than rumble after the Gascon leader Sanche Sanchez decided to fight to the last man.
By the middle ages Bordeaux and England basically were married and the region has been connected at the hip to England ever since, this would be the era known for the rise of Claret, the very English term for red Bordeaux wines. Though it should be noted that even up until the 1200’s Bordeaux still was not producing that much wine if any and that Gascony was still the big supplier to England, as well as to Germany, Flanders and the Baltics. It seems the Graves area was really the first premium vineyard site in the Bordeaux region, which makes sense, as it was firm ground and close to the city. England finally gave up total rule of Bordeaux in 1453 to France after a 300-year rule. During this time England imported about 50,000 barrels of wine from the merchants in Bordeaux, at the time that worked out to be 6 bottles of Claret for every single man, woman and child in England, a year. Though it must be remembered that the British bought equal amounts from the Rhine producers and may even have favored those sweet Rieslings and also they gobbled up Loire wines as well, but we must also remember this was in the early 1300’s and what was maybe Bordeaux’s first great Chateau and vineyard was planted in 1300 or there about. It is recorded that Bertrant de Goth, later known as Pope Clement V who moved the papacy to Avignon, had an estate in Pessac that was planted to vine in 1300, this same property is now called Chateau Pape Clement. Some 350 years later the real Bordeaux boom and golden age began, and it started maybe less that a mile away from old’ Bertrand’s small estate in a place called Haut-Brion.
In the “Dutch” era, the Bordeaux region grew and flourished, with most of the wines going to Holland instead of England, while the Britons bought Spanish, Portuguese and Italian wines to make up for not getting their Claret from France. It was during this time that the locals saw the full potential of the region and were thrilled when the Dutch engineers drained most of the swamp in the Medoc, which made way for neatly trained rows of vines of certain blocks of single types of grapes, a concept that was not really known in France until then. Also, even better still, this newly claimed ground ended up great growing sites; in fact many of the “First Growths” are in this area. Later, with England taking turns fighting, Holland, France and Spain in war after war, there was lots of smuggling by all sides including the growers and merchants themselves to England where there was a great thirst for Claret. In this time, the mid to late 1600’s, Chateau Haut-Brion it seems became the world great wine, though there was a lot of funny math regarding the wine that really came from the estate itself, as some records show that while maybe 50 barrels a year was being made on the vineyard, there was sales receipts showing lots of up to 230 barrels of Haut-Brion listed as sold or as cargo to England… The intrigue continues to this day with many scandals and fraud over the years.
Bordeaux has suffered war, plague, many rulers, and two devastating natural disasters that destroyed almost every vine in the region. The first of these was the winter of 1709, one of the coldest on record that froze and killed almost every last vine, all of which had to replanted from scratch, and the second was the phylloxera out break in the 1860’s which again caused almost a total loss of vines for the region, this was solved by the use of American rootstock, though many argue that the wines have never been as good as they were before the replanting and that the vineyards were not re-planted with the same combination or make up of grapes. This also led winemakers to leave in droves to other areas around the world, this may have changed the winemaking both at home and abroad, and certainly those that returned brought new ideas back to Bordeaux.

The modern era in Bordeaux started with the Classification of 1855 and more recently by rating of the 1982 vintage by an American lawyer from Maryland! While the Classification helped elevate Bordeaux is still took close to a hundred years before the main Chateau even started blending and bottling their own wine! That had been done by the merchants, shippers and in some cases by the buyers themselves in far away countries. This of course led to much fraud and corruption, in fact Thomas Jefferson, while in France before returning home to Virginia and later becoming the third President of the United States, was very concerned about the process and tried very hard to deal directly with the Chateaux when he was buying wine for himself. Jefferson even went to the source, spending time in each main region of France at the time, but especially in Bordeaux to make sure he got the wine he was paying for. He was fond of Haut-Brion and tried his best to secure great vintages from them, but he also searched out and tasted with many growers, which at the time was way ahead of its time, as most bought the best wines through and blended by the Negociants, who were the so called real wine experts at the time.
Some of the grand Chateau started bottling wines at the estate in the 1920’s, but it really didn’t take off until after World War Two. Since then Bordeaux has maintain it’s place as the most renown growing region in the world and maintaining its noble and exclusive image. That said, Bordeaux had a tough decade in the 1970’s and it was losing market and prestige, as the raise of Napa Valley started to challenge common wisdom and terrible weather and vintages didn’t help. The notable Judgment at Paris where American wines by far outshone the French added insult to injury! By the eighties things still looked bleak, bad economies, battered reputation and lack of modernization had taken its toll on Bordeaux, but there was a bright side, good vintages and Robert Parker!
I think it is safe to say that Robert Parker helped secure Bordeaux’s future and helped the region recover as well as brought a bonanza of new customers and wealth. Parker’s rating guide the Wine Advocate became the collectors bible and his notes and scores on the 1982 vintage sparked a buying frenzy that was to influence the whole wine industry and make Bordeaux sales viability forever linked with Robert Parker. There is no question that the world waits with baited breath for Parker’s thoughts on a Bordeaux vintage before buying any, and while many argue on the merits of his power over the market, none can say it doesn’t have huge reach or that Bordeaux has not thrived because of Robert Parker. Bordeaux adores him and fears him and France has basically given him a knighthood for his efforts! The Parker effect is real and continues today, and it why when we talk about Bordeaux we must give credit where credit is due.

Red Grapes:
Cabernet Sauvignon: There is no question that Cabernet is the most celebrated red grape in the world with its full body and powerful tannins it is the king. Cabernet Sauvignon is thick skinned and develops a dark color also it makes for a great aging wine with deep flavors of black fruits.
Merlot: This grape can make great wines on its own, just like Petrus, but is also a famous blending grape that goes well and adds fruity and freshy elements to the wine. Merlot has the benefit of getting ripe earlier, which winemakers in Bordeaux count on, while giving red berry and cedar flavors that are full, but smoother in tannins.
Cabernet Franc: This is a grape that is gaining in use and popularity adding many exciting flavors and spice to the wines. Cabernet Franc is used on its own in the Loire Valley, but is most often blended in Bordeaux and in California to get the best out of it, though it can be a blockbuster in great years and been the secret in Cheval Blanc and other Saint-Emilion estates.
Petit Verdot: This is a tough grape, it can add color even in tiny amounts and has a beautiful perfume, the problem is that it is high in raw tannins and is very late to ripen making it a tricky devil in most vintages and has lost vineyard space in recent years.
Mabec: Like Petit Verdot, Malbec has become a less planted or replanted grape in Bordeaux in the last decade as it is also tricky to get right there, but it is gaining support and fans worldwide with Argentina and Cahors selling well and making lush cherry flavored wines that are great values.

*Carmenere: While many experts only list the five Bordeaux varietals, there is really a sixth and that grape, which was thought to be extinct at one point in the region, but it was found alive and well in Chile! In Chile it has done very well making for a full and spicy red that does great on its own. It has made a tiny comeback in Bordeaux, but none of the top Chateaux use it at present.

Regional Terroir:
Left Bank soils of the Medoc are gravelly marl with some sand that allows for good drainage, this especially helps Cabernet Sauvignon, while the Right Bank like in Pomerol, has mostly clay and lacks drainage making it better suited to Merlot and in some areas like Saint-Emilion a good home to Cabernet Franc there is also limestone slopes, plus in the far south and in tiny places in Pessac-Leognan there is some limestone, though it is not thought to have much influence overall on the regions red wines. The weather typically is a maritime mild climate with a good amount of rain and storms, though it has hot summers and while there can be disasters, it has had a slight benefit from global warming in recent years.

Featured Chateaux:

Chateau Haut-Bailly, Pessac-Leognan
This small Cru Classe estate, Haut-Bailly, is making wines that according to Parker put it at least at Third Growth level and more recently seen great improvement. The production is pretty small at around 12,000 cases from vines that are close to 40 years old on average with 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. Haut-Bailly has a long history even if they are considered a newcomer, and the second owner in 1872 thought that adding cognac added dimension to his wines, but quality has really been much on the rise since 1979, though Parker notes that both the ’61 and ’64 vintages were fabulous.
*First Growth, Chateau Haut-Brion, owned by Dillon family, makes 12,000 to 18,000 per vintage from vines of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc that are on average 30 years old. Haut-Brion is the only First Growth not in the Medoc and the only American owned one, when the Dillon bought the estate in 1935, and Haut-Brion was the first Bordeaux wine to be internationally known and sought after starting back in the seventeenth century.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
This Second Growth has had an up and down long history, but has been improving since 1982, owned by Lucien Lurton, producing between 30,000 to 35,000 cases from vines that average around 25 years with a combination of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This estate was once connected to Mouton, before the Rothschild family and was very highly rated in the nineteenth century.
*First Growth, Chateau Margaux, makes about 30,000 cases from vineyards that are on average 30 years old and made up of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc, while still run by the famed Mentzelopoulos family.

Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac
A Fifth Growth estate, across the street from Mouton and owned by the Tesseron family, Pontet-Canet is a still rising star and is a Parker favorite for quality and value with a case production of 25,000 to 40,000 depending on vintage. The vineyards are made up of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Franc with an average age of 27 years old.
*First Growth neighbor Chateau Mouton-Rothschild has almost the same size vineyard, planted to 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc and 8% Merlot with vines that average 45 years producing about the same amount of wine in total, close to 30,000 cases.

Chateau Cos D’ Estournel, Saint-Estephe
A Second Growth, and the top estate in the appellation Cos D’ Estournel is owned by the Prats family making between 28,000 to 32,000 cases, with a vineyard make up of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot that average 35 years of age. Parker has called this estate “Outstanding” and says the quality, since 1982, is equivalent to the First Growths.

Chateau Petit Village, Pomerol
Rated by Parker as Excellent and on par with Third Growths, Petit Village is now considered an estate on the rise in Pomerol with ownership, since 1971, in the hands of Bruno Prats, the owner of Cos D’ Estournel, then later AXA Insurance Group. This estate has about 27 acres of vines, 70% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 12% Cabernet Franc with a small case production of only 5,000 from vines that average close to 30 years old. (Pomerol does not have a classification system.)
* Chateau Petrus, the top estate in Pomerol, which now fetches over $1,000 a bottle on release, if you can get it, makes somewhere over 4,000 cases and is owned by the famed Moueix family, who also control Dominus Estate in Napa Valley. Petrus is regularly close to 100% Merlot, with vines planted to 95% Merlot and some 5% of Cabernet Franc that are about 35 years on average.

Chateau L’ Angelus, Saint-Emilion
A top Premier Grand Cru Classe L’ Angelus has been long known as a great wine, even though it didn’t make it to Premier Grand Cru Classe until 1995, which it certainly deserves, even Parker noted that he thought they should have got there in 1985, and without a doubt is an estate that ranks with the superstars. Owned by the de Bouard de Laforest family, L’ Angelus sits on perfectly facing south slopes with vineyards made up of 50% Cabernet Franc, 45% Merlot and just 5% of Cabernet Sauvignon, which turn out close to 15,000 cases.
*The historic and heroic Premier Grand Cru Classe estate of Chateau Cheval Blanc which is the standard bearer of prestige and quality in Saint-Emilion makes some 12,000 cases from their 89 acres, with vines that are comprised of 66% Cabernet Franc, 33% Merlot and 1% Malbec and that have an average age of 34 years.

Fin
This information is supposed to give the reader an idea of Bordeaux, an introduction to the wines and the place, and will doubt have a few errors and for that, I’ll apologize here and now, but I hope it will also inspire the reader to investigate this region much, much deeper and find their own paths of enjoyment in this subject matter. We in the wine business are learning all the time and everything is ever changing and challenging, which keeps it always interesting and fresh, even as we agonize over the details. In the end it is all about the wine, the people and the place that matter, and that is what we hope to celebrate. Cheers.

(For a special Bordeaux 2000 Vintage Tasting at Rancho Cellars in Carmel, CA For Details Call 831-625-5646 or www.ranchocellars.com)
*My Tasting Notes to follow after the event (Jan. 22, 2010) at grapelive.com
**I would recommend reading Benjamin Wallace’s “Billionaire’s Vinegar”, Robert Parker’s “Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines” Fourth Edition and Hugh Johnson’s “Vintage: The Story of Wine”
***This article was helped greatly by the work of Oz Clark, Hugh Johnson, Robert Parker, Benjamin Wallace, Jacques Melac and many others that dropped me details over the years, plus my own notes from many tastings over the last tens years in the wine business. I do not claim to be a Bordeaux expert by any means, so please follow your own guidance and passion to go further and enjoy the wines from this special region.
Thank you,

Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com