Category Archives: Wine 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!

Special Tasting Report

Family Winemakers of California Tasting Review
By Kerry Winslow

Family Winemakers of California Tasting at Fort Mason, San Francisco August 17, 2013
Family Winemakers of California Tasting at Fort Mason, San Francisco August 17, 2013

This year’s Family Winemakers of California tasting event was a good chance to taste some new wines, new vintages and meet some interesting people, plus get a pulse on how the wine business feels to those on the front lines. There seems to be a ways to go in the economic recovery, but there is promising signs and even hope in most people’s eyes that things are getting better and that is a brighter future ahead, though there was a lack of attendance by premier artisan Pinot Noir producers that I found very noticeable and troubling for this event, which is one of my favorite to visit and report on. That said, there was plenty to enjoy, great weather, super location at Fort Mason and many exciting wines to sample, all in all a very worthwhile show.

Here is my list of highlights from the Family Winemakers Tasting, these are the producers and wines that left the biggest impression on me and my palate, and while I tasted lots of very nice wines, and to be honest there was not many duds, I tried to only include those that offered that something unique or special. I wanted to include a good range of new and already established producers and regions. This is a wonderful state, and we have in California a fantastic array of terroirs, styles and the choices are almost endless, there is something for everyone here and this event highlights that to perfection.

Best New Winery: Law Estate Wines
I’m always on the trail of new discoveries and future specialties in the vast wine world, and at this year’s Family Winemakers Tasting in San Francisco, I managed to find an exciting new producer that looks set to compete with Saxum, Booker, Epoch and L’ Aventure for honors in the western hills of Paso Robles, Law Estate. Don and Susie Law have planted a glorious hillside vineyard between 1,600 and 1,900 Feet up on shiny limestone chock soils, mostly to Syrah and Grenache, but with some Cabernet, Mourvedre, Carignan, Tempranillo, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot in black grapes and a few white grapes that include Roussanne, Marsanne and Clairette. The Law’s hired Scott Hawley to be their winemaker and leader, to make the wines and get an ambitious state of the art winery done and up and running, Hawley is known for making some very intriguing wines including his own wines at Torrin, as well as Jada and Alta Colina prior, he is also very much dedicated to sustainable growing practices. This fall Law Estate will releasing their  first four wines from the 2010 vintage, all of which are stunning and all of which will certainly blow a few minds.

2010LawBeguiling2010 Law Estate, Beguiling, Proprietary Red, Paso Robles.
This Grenache cuvee, with a tiny amount of Syrah (94% Grenache & 6% Syrah) is lavish and lush with pure flavors and silky tannins, this is a delightful and throughly enjoyable wine. There is lots of lively layers to explore here with fresh fruit, floral tones and tangy grenadine on the aftertaste, the main drive though is a red fruit core that never stops pushing with loads of raspberry and baked strawberry leading the way. There is a spicy plum and pepper note that add to this fine effort, plus there is a shinning burst of acidity and hints of chalky mineral as well. This deeply colored red is very rich in the mouth and will satisfy most Grenache fiends addictions, this certainly reminds me of elements of Booker and Alban and pays tribute to the wines of the southern Rhone.
($62 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive

2010LawSagacious2010 Law Estate, Sagacious, Proprietary Red, Paso Robles.
I especially liked the 2010 Law Estate Sagacious GSM blend of 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah and 14% Mourvedre, this was pure pleasure in the glass and I wish I could have gone off with a few bottles right there and then! The nose was young and tight, but it turned magical with air, violets, creme de cassis, white pepper and sticky lavender all flowed from bouquet to palate while blackberry, boysenberry, loganberry and blueberry compote exploded in the mouth and layers behind the scenes included sweet herbs, all spice, mineral and game plus a touch of espresso. This full bodied effort is flamboyant and utterly hedonistic, but not in anyway over the top or out of shape, this is well crafted and focused wine, and it should drink fantastic on release plus age well for another decade, this is deserving stuff, not cheap mind you, but after having the Saxum 2010 ($169) recently, and Booker ($89), plus others, this price point is very fair for the quality on offer here, no question.
($62 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

2010LawAudacious2010 Law Estate, Audacious, Proprietary Red, Paso Robles.
While the westside of Paso is home to some of the greatest Rhone inspired wines in California, there are those that get there clues from more than one region and there are a few that combine many ideas, like this almost Aussie meets Priorat influenced cuvee of 44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Petite Sirah which all comes together in a most California fashion. The 2010 Audacious Red from Law Estate is super dark, brooding and full of explosive power, this is a wine to watch and while I quite like it now, it might be good to give this red some time in the cellar as it looks to be very rewarding, a solid investment in future pleasure. Certainly, as L’ Aventure’s Stephan Asseo has proved with his Estate Cuvee blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot, there is great promise in these kinds of blends and they can really show the nature and personality of the region. This wine is massive and forceful on the palate with loads of creme de cassis, blackberry, blueberry and juicy sweet plums along with dried currants, tobacco leaf, licorice and chocolate elements. Ripe tannins and subtle wood frame this wine very nicely, and the is great potential here.
($62 Est.) 93-94+ Points, grapelive

2010LawIntrepid2010 Law Estate, Intrepid, Proprietary Red, Paso Robles.
The 2010 Law Estate Intrepid is an intense 100% Syrah, the only one in their lineup this year to focus on a single varietal, but this wine lacks for nothing and is a very well crafted expression of this grape and place with lots of character and style. This gripping Syrah has eye popping fruit and almost a dry port feel to it, though I’m sure given time the wine will develop more graceful elements, I noticed air did open it up to reveal more complex details and there is plenty to enjoy here with it’s black and blue fruits, hints of peppery, sage and wild game. This wine leaves an impression, no question and I’m amazed by it’s depth coming from such young vines, this is a wine to take note of, I can’t wait to try not only this wine in a few years, but also to try future releases, this was the dark horse in the lineup, it might be a risk in the cellar, but I think it might be a good gamble. The nose has classic heady notes of sweet liqueur, smoke, salted licorice and meat along with loads of extract on the palate with blueberry, plum, kirsch and boysenberry fruit, plus hints of lavender oil, mocha and cracked pepper. For those that enjoy Alban and Saxum, you should be sure to look these guys up.
($62 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive

Best Up and Coming Winery: Donelan Wines
The future looks very bright indeed for Donelan, I was very impressed by the whole lineup of wines on offer by Donelan and the Brothers Tripp and Cushing Donelan that took me through their latest wines and developments, the Donelan family were partners in Pax, and started their own label after their split with Pax Mahle. This year they have added Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to their portfolio of wines, moving away from the Rhone only style, though they will keep making their Syrah based wines, mostly to their loyal mailing list clients as these wines are produced in limited amounts. Both their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offering from the difficult 2011 vintage showed great, in fact the Pinot was utterly delicious and left me wanting more! I also tasted a barrel sample of their 2012 Chardonnay which was not in finished form and was from a single vineyard, but I can tell you it was spectacular and I highly recommend trying these wines and be sure to get on their list.

2011DonelanPN2011 Donelan, Pinot Noir, Two Brothers, North Coast.
The 2011 Pinot Noir is a multi-region cuvee from sites in Sonoma County, Russian River and Mendocino, and while I tend to be a purist when it comes to Pinot Noir preferring single sites, this wine is glorious and is drinking great, I had to put my inner wine snob away and just enjoy this Pinots beauty and charm without prejudice. The nose is full of bright notes of fruit and flowers leading to a transparent, but deep palate of wilted roses, wild strawberry, plum and a rich core of cherry fruit, hints of cinnamon, pepper and fennel add complexity along with a fresh mineral streak. This vibrant and vivid Pinot is one 2011 wine not to fret about and while not cheap, is a lovely wine and very worthy of a splurge. Drinking well now, though should be a fun cork to pull for the next 3 to 5 years. Donelan’s Chards and Pinots are going to be some super wines to look forward to, especially the up coming 2012 vintage, so I’d suggest securing some of their wine sooner versus later. By the way, their Syrah wines are rockstars, be sure to check out 2009 and 2010 vintages as well!
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Best Value Winery: Kaena Wine Company
Mikael and Sally Sigouin’s small Los Olivos winery is making some tasty Rhone wines from select sites in Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez, and all of them are sold at what has to be considered bargain prices for small lot artisan handcrafted wines. I’d had heard quite a few times I needed to check these wines out, but for whatever reason hadn’t had the chance to sample them, and now I really feel stupid for not getting to them earlier, these are wonderful and interesting wines of great quality. Mikael’s day job is crafting the excellent Beckmen wines, so he does know a thing or two, and I was impressed with his humble and laid-back nature, it makes sense as he is from Hawaii, hence the name and all. Mikael has been making Kaena since 2001, he has worked for Beckmen since 1999, but with a short stint at Fess Parker, becoming head winemaker at Beckmen in 2007. His Kaena wines all drink well, better than well, I should just say they all rocked, because they did, I particularly loved the Rose, the Sauvignon Blanc (the only wine in the lineup not a Rhone) and his 2011 Grenache Noir Vie Caprice from the Santa Ynez Valley, though I liked every wine he poured me, Kaena should be on your radar, these are top notch whites and reds.

2011KaenaGrenacheCaprice2011 Kaena, Grenache, Vie Caprice Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley.
This wine is full of energy, life and soul, it may not be the richest or flamboyant compared with the 2010’s in Kaena’s lineup, and those are excellent, but I really just fell head over heals for the 2011 Vie Caprice Grenache which shows a more delicate nature, but still is wildly enjoyable. Like Sheldon’s lighter style Grenache, this wine is just sexy and pleasing with spice, acidity and layers of silky fruit. While 2011 won’t ever be regarded as a blockbuster, or even a remembered vintage, it did challenge winemaker’s to show their talents and Mikael has some, and this wine is the reward. The nose shows wild flowers, peppery spices and tangy red fruits with hints of earth, chalk and cinnamon stick leading to a palate of raspberry, loganberry, plum and strawberry with sweet fennel and herbs, peppercorn and tart cherry. I recommend buying up the 2009 and 2010 Grenache and Syrah wines from Kaena while you can, no question they deliver the goods, but also, grab a few of these, I really think you’ll be impressed, Drink 2013-2015.
($38-45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Top Three White Wines

2010ChesterWhite2010 Chester’s Anvil, Gewurztraminer, Potter Valley, Mendocino County.
This wine is for all the wine weirdos out there that crave something different, something wild or truly unique, an off dry Gewurztraminer from Lagier Meredith & Pott Wines, this is super fun stuff and at a huge trade tasting, it stood out and I had to include it here in my top white picks! Carole Meredith, Steve Lagier and Claire and Arron Pott, neighbors and friends created a joint project to fuel their collective wine geek, that is Chester’s Anvil and they have made a collection of interesting wines together, their latest offerings include a Malbec, a Sauvignon Blanc and this wonderful Gewurztraminer. This tangy, bright and fresh white has a touch of off dry RS, but you don’t really get sweetness on the palate, so fear not, this is a refreshing table wine that offers an amazing array of flavors. The nose has a floral and tropical bouquet leading to a wild palate of lychee, melon and basil with tangy mango, pineapple and lemon, plus pepper and honeycomb notes. Crisp, but with a slight creamy feel mid palate this Gewurztraminer is great alternative white, and would be a dream with Asian cuisine and or most salads, don’t be afraid, this is groovy stuff.
($26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2011TablasBlanc2011 Tablas Creek, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Proprietary White, Paso Robles.
The Tablas Creek Esprit Blanc is a Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc blend, an ode to Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc and Beaucastel’s glorious Roussanne based wines, and I think of it as one of the great white wines of California, it is a lovely and richly textured wine of utmost class and distinction. The 2011 shows a slightly lighter side than most vintages, but it is not a bad thing at all and I love the vibrancy of the fruit and the creaminess of the texture, it just plays well and makes for a balanced whole. This Roussanne led wine shows the intensity of this varietal with it’s hint of oiliness and that clarified butter note to go along with the citrus and stone fruits, while the acidity of Picpoul and complexity of the Grenache Blanc add mineral elements, fill out a peachy note and add to the life here. Tablas Creek maybe better known for their red, but without question this white rivals anything with loads of character, focus and seductive charms, it would be hard to imagine this wine needs anything more. The nose is subtle with hints of melon, pear, butterscotch and spices leading to a palate of white peach, nectarine, lemony citrus cream, a touch of wet stones. Beautiful and lush in the mouth and with a long clear finish this wine is world class, and it has good grip, but everything flows with smooth gracefulness, drink now through 2016.
($40 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2010RameyPlattChard2010 Ramey, Chardonnay, Platt Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Dave Ramey nailed with this wine, the 2010 Platt is almost dead on perfect, this has to be one of the finest Chards I’ve had this year, and I will find it difficult to put into words just how good this wine is, so you’ll have to trust when I say, just try it yourself! While the Ritchie and Hyde Vineyard wines grab all the attention, it is this Platt that is more impressive, it is seriously fantastic, right up there with a top Puligny or dare I say a Batard, it is that good, it has it all and is a steal when compared to the great white Burgs it rivals, let alone the likes of Aubert, Kongsgaard or Peter Michael Chards. The 2010 Ramey Platt shows what a great vintage and site can do, it has a nose of white flowers, smoke, honeycomb and river rocks with a vivid palate of lemon, apple, pear and a hint of tropical fruit, firm acidity, chalky minerals and hazelnut notes. This Chardonnay is class from nose to finish with plenty of depth, length and laser like focus, without question this is pure class in the bottle, kudos to Ramey and his team, this is compelling juice and a fantastic wine, flirting with total perfection.
($55-60 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive

Top Three Red Wines

2009LambornCS2009 Lamborn Family, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain Estate, Napa Valley.
There are few small wineries that can say they have Heidi Peterson Barrett as their winemaker and ask this kind of price, it may seem odd, but yes this wine is a bargain, a tiny plot of Cabernet Sauvignon on Howell Mountain made by one of the great names in California wine, yup it is a steal. Better still, the Lamborn’s are great people, I’ve known them for a long time now, and they are true special and kind, I admire them greatly, and I have always been a fan. I used to buy a small production Zinfandel call Rocking Horse during the early nineties and one of their wines was from this Lamborn Vineyard on Howell Mountain, it was so different and interesting I just had to find out more, and then I discovered they made their own wine and I was hooked, and between 2001 and 2009 I didn’t miss a vintage of their Zinfandel which I found gave the same pleasure as a fine Chateau du Pape. As of the 2005 vintage, the Lamborn’s got into the Cabernet Sauvignon business, with Heidi calling the shots and developing the vines, with her experience and talents, of which most people know through her efforts at Screaming Eagle and other top estates, she has created a striking Cabernet for the Lamborn Family, a wine with terroir, personality and pedigree, and the 2009 looks set to considered the best yet. The 2009 Lamborn Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is a wonder expression of varietal and place with a nose full of acacia and dark flowers, sweet creme de cassis and spiced cherry leading to a full bodied palate of blackberry, currant and plum fruits with hints of mocha, licorice, lavender, blonde tobacco and smoky vanilla. Richly packed, dense and firm with ripe tannins this a jewell of a wine and the rewards of lots of handwork and commitment, drink from 2015-2022, bravo.
($100 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2009GuilliamsCF2009 Guilliams, Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain Estate, Napa Valley.
Guilliams has long been making quality Cabernet from their estate on Spring Mountain, and while they are known more for their Cabernet Sauvignon, they also craft a fine Cabernet Franc as well, and this 2009 is really lovely and very much worth spotlighting here. Guilliams also poured the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon which was well made and extremely good, but I decided to focus on this 2009 Cabernet Franc, well, because I wanted to and that is was very interesting with lots of character. The nose has hints of violets and dried roses with hints of all spice and peppers plus a tease of creme de cassis before a refined medium weight, Bordeaux like palate of mineral driven fruit including dark cherry, plum and brambleberry with smoke, vanilla and wild herbs. There is a earthy element and touches of cigar, dried currants and cedar that really come into view with air, and the finish, which is lengthy and rich. This pretty Franc is drinking super now and should age another 5-7 years easy with it’s balance of fruit, tannins, wood and acidity, this is a classy mountain wine.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2010LagierMeredithSyrah2010 Lagier Mededith, Syrah, Mount Veeder Estate, Napa Valley.
Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith have been making wine up on Mount Veeder since the mid nineties and while I had heard of them, I only first sampled their Syrah when I tried the 2004, and I was instantly a fan, and the 2005 was a magical wine, it left a mark on me for sure, they certainly produce wonderful wines. This years Family Winemakers tasting in San Francisco was a great chance to revisit their Syrah and the other wines in their lineup as well as get their expert insight into grape origins, with Dr Mededith being one of the world’s foremost researchers in the field, especially in the case of Zinfandel AKA Tribidrag and Syrah. Steve poured his latest samples, a Rose of Syrah with a touch of Mondeuse, the Tribidrag and the 2010 Syrah, but they he also brought out his 2002 Syrah, and wow, this was heaven, it was fresh and youthful with just a few signs of age, great stuff. But it was the new 2010 Lagier Meredith that blew me away, it was maybe my personal favorite of the show, though I must say it took me trying about 50 other really good wines to absolutely know just how remarkable it truly was, sometimes it is like that, putting things into context. The 2010 Syrah shows a deep opaque color, almost black in the middle with garnet edges and a nose of violets, huckleberry, creme de cassis, smoke and espresso bean leading to a full and robust palate of blueberry, boysenberry and mountain wild berry with touches of spiced plum, fig cake and cherry notes with pepper, cinnamon shavings, mint and vanilla. This beautiful and rich wines expands on the palate and the length is remarkable, this is special stuff, and while it drinks great now it should age with lots of style.
($48 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive

More reviews to follow from this event on the main grapelive.com reviews page

A big thank you to Family Winemakers of California for putting on this event, again it was done right and with a warm and profession attitude making it one of my must go to events of the year, plus a special thank you to Dr. Carole Meredith, Steve Lagier for their graciousness in allowing me a thousand and one questions, and a shout out to Kathleen Naughton of Law Estate Wines that pushed through all the white noise and got my attention.

“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” Premieres at The Sonoma International Film Festival

Grapelive Extra: The Sonoma International Film Festival 2013

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“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” Makes World Premiere at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival

By Bradley Gray

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Grapelive’s Bradley Gray gets insight from Writer/Director James Orr (Photo: Vance T. Petrunoff)

Passion. That’s the one element that attracts us to the great wines of the world. Our passion is shared over great meals, with friends and family, and in adventurous travels to fantastic wine regions. This passion is reignited each time we pop, dissect, romance and sip every bottle we encounter.

Our planet is dotted with great wines from every corner of the map. We discover them through ratings from critics, suggestions from wine retailers or dinners with friends. We assimilate our impressions by reading, researching and enjoying — one sip at a time.

It was a rare treat to discover the film “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. The Cannubi vineyard is the gem of Barolo, and this short film gives one a true sense of place and romance.  “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” beautifully illustrates the history of the land, the magic of the vines, the passion of the producers and the enjoyment of the enthusiasts.  No good story is complete without controversy, and Cannubi (and this film) has plenty of that, too, as neighboring vineyards are also trying to cash in on the coveted designation, “Cannubi.”

“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” was written, directed and filmed by James Orr, who was present at the screening to introduce the film. Orr has achieved Hollywood acclaim as the writer/director/producer of such films as Mr. Destiny, Father of the Bride, Sister Act 2, Three Men and a Baby, Man of the House and others. He has been a collector of world-class wines for three decades.

The film was narrated and produced by James Suckling, one of the most influential wine critics in the world, spending 29 years as an editor for Wine Spectator. He estimates that he has tasted around 150,000 wines in his career.

Cannubi is the central and most-coveted vineyard in Barolo. Adjacent vineyards include Cannubi Boschi, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Cannubi Muscatel and Cannubi Valletta. These neighboring vineyards make up an additional 60 acres, and they all want a piece of the original Cannubi, or at least the price that it commands.

In the film, Suckling takes us on a romantic journey through this magical Cannubi vineyard. Two-dozen producers create wines from this miniscule 35-acre plot, and (as mentioned above) there are plenty of others who want in on it. We learn of Cannubi’s struggle for identity, we meet the winemakers and experience passionate tensions between producers. We often hear that great wines are all about place, and this vineyard was the first in Barolo, dating back to the early 1,700s. The title suggests some intervention from God, and nearly every Cannubi producer interviewed makes reference to God or the heavens.

Grapelive’s Bradley Gray spent some time with James Orr at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival, and got some additional insight on this magical wine film.

Bradley Gray: How did the film come about?

James Orr: We initially went there to make a promotional film for some Barolo producers, promoting Barolo wines, etcetera. When we got there, we found this whole situation going on with Cannubi and the surrounding vineyards, so we thought we should do this story too, as it’s a really engaging story of what’s going on in the wine world.

BG: There are merits on both sides of the controversy. How do you see it being resolved?

JO: You are right! There are merits on both sides of the story. I think it’s ultimately going to be resolved in Italian High Court, but it’s complicated in many ways, because (as one of the producer in the movie said), all of the wines from this area, including the surrounding Cannubis, are good wines, even if they don’t have the single Cannubi designation. Historically, Cannubi has always been the heart of the Cannubi vineyards. There are more people interested in keeping it that way rather than not keeping it that way.

BG: It was clearly illustrated in the film that this is a small piece of land, and everybody wants a piece of it, but they can’t all have a piece. Do you feel this argument is being driven by price and salability? Is it all about money? Or is there passion and history involved?

JO: It’s about money to some degree. The price difference between a Cannubi single-designate and a Cannubi Boschi or any of the other Cannubi designates is significant. A bottle of designate, say Damilano Cannubi may cost $80-125, depending on where in the world you get it. A Cannubi Boschi may be $75 at the high end. A Boschi is not quite as desired within the community, because these are people who know Barolos, love Barolos. The collectors really go for the single-vineyard designates, and they are willing to pay a little bit more. I’d estimate that this is 75% about money and 25% about passion.

BG: In the film, you and James Suckling brought together all of the Cannubi producers for a dinner.  James Suckling comments that it was a tense beginning, that the mood was chilly, and he even said; “What a disaster!” Can you elaborate on this?

JO: These are all great wine producers in their own right, and they probably would have never gotten together for a dinner like this if it weren’t for James and for us doing this movie. So James took advantage of that, and invited them all. It wasn’t that easy to get them all together for one night. It took some seducing, but we did get them all there. In the beginning, it wasn’t going well at all! It wasn’t very warm. With the wine, they became what they are – brothers, sisters, the Cannubi! By the end of the evening, there was nothing but warmth in the room.

BG: The climax of the film was a toast given by James Suckling. Was that moment truly as magical as it came across in the film?

JO: Here’s an interesting sidebar. He initially did that toast in Italian, and yes, it was magical. But it was a fairly long speech in Italian that was going to require a lot of subtitles. So, I asked him to do it again in English, and that’s what we used for the movie. I felt that it was better to see it than to be distracted by reading along with subtitles.

BG: Did you have any preconceived notions about Cannubi that changed during the making of this film?

JO: Yeah, in fact I did! I was certainly aware of Cannubi before, but in doing the movie and tasting so many Cannubis from so many different producers – I now have an enormous regard for Cannubi and Cannubi wines than I didn’t have before. For me, as a collector and a lover of Italian wine for years, I always thought Barolos to be elegant, feminine and kind of the Burgundy of Italy. But on top of all of that, they were powerful!

 

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Grapelive’s Bradley Gray introduces “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” to a full house audience at the Sonoma International Film Festival. (Photo Vance T. Petrunoff)

“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” made its world premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival, which was quite fitting. In the heart of California wine country, the festival showcases not only great films, but also the finest wines from the Sonoma Valley. If you like wine and film, this is one festival not to miss!

This film is really Cannubi 101. It would have taken months of reading, tasting, chatting and researching to learn what one absorbs by thoroughly enjoying a half-hour movie.

This movie has been carefully created to suit television, and Orr and Suckling are optimistic that Food Channel or Discovery Channel may pick it up. If you can wait a month (estimated May or June), you can download it from www.JamesSuckling.com.

“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” is delightful, but there is a downside that will cost you about $100 — you won’t be able to resist that Cannubi on your favorite wine shop’s shelf! Treat yourself and enjoy it while watching “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God.” You’ll be glad you did.

 

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Bradley Gray Grapelive Guest Columnist

 

Bradley Gray is a freelance journalist based in Sonoma, California. His weekly wine columns have appeared in The Sonoma Valley Sun and Marin Scope Newspapers. He was the Sonoma Valley Regional Correspondent for Appellation America. In addition, his work has appeared in The Wine Spectator, Grapevine Magazine, Vogue, Grapelive.com, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine, Sonoma Magazine, Vintage Guitar Magazine, Dot.Direct Magazine, FineLife Magazine, The Sonoma Index-Tribune, Weekender Magazine, Leeds Guide Weekly (U.K.), Patchwork Tsushin Magazine (Japan) and others. He may be reached at bradley@vom.com

Grapelive Riesling Tasting Report

German Riesling Report Part One 2010 & 2011 Vintage Highlights

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com

Johannes Leitz, Rheingau

Here is a quick recap and look at some wonderful wines from the 2010 and 2011 vintages from Germany, with more notes to follow in Part 2 next month.

Pfalz

2011 Muller-Catoir, Riesling Trocken, Pfalz, Germany.
Muller-Catoir’s 2011 lineup is an all-star lineup of wines and across the board offers some of the best Rieslings of the vintage, but certainly this entry offering should not be missed as it looks like a lock to be the value wine of the year from the Pfalz. As people come around to dry German wines, we are seeing better and better Trocken available and this 2011 Trocken Riesling is a stunning example with chalky minerals, zesty lime and a brisk crispness that is tingling and refreshing. This Riesling starts with bitter green apple, lime flowers, tangerine and wet stones before a palate of white peach, saline, slate, tangy citrus and hints of tropical essences. This dry Riesling is delicate in detail and has lots of vivid acidity, making it better for lighter cuisine and not spicy Asian faire, but it is so good you’ll find almost any reason to open a bottle, I know I’ll be enjoying this wine when it arrives in the fall of 2012, it should drink nicely for 3-5 years.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Muller-Catoir, Riesling “Haardt” Kabinett Trocken, Pfalz, Germany.
One of the best dry Rieslings around, and a very exciting wine with plenty of stuffing and vigor, this 2011 Muller-Catoir is a keeper! As a long time fan of Muller-Catoir it is great to see the latest wines have not lost any of their elegance or energy, in fact this 2011 set is stunningly attractive and have made me fall in love with this wonderful winery all over again. The 2011 Haardt Kabinett Trocken just begs to to be enjoyed and while strictly dry and zippy it feels round and lengthy with lovely white flowers, peach and tangerine while hints of lime, passionfruit and chalky minerals add complexity. There is a salty and citrus burst mid palate with orange and white tea notes along with a slate/flinty briny touch, and the finish is firm, crisp and zesty, but again the tropical notes linger on. This pleasure filled Riesling grips you like a great Burgundy and keeps you entranced in it’s spell.
($34 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2011 von Winning, Riesling, Diedesheim, Pfalz, Germany.
This is a great introduction to dry Germany Riesling that strive to be the showcase for the modern style, and will give you an idea of what “Grosses Gewachs” are all about. Von Winning’s intense pursuit of Grand Cru class Riesling has created a major buzz in the wine world and their efforts are turning heads for many reasons, like the fact they are making extremely dry wines that are barrel fermented and aged on the lees, much the same way White Burgundy is crafted, all of which differs dramatically from common practice and from what consumers have come to expect. That said, the German domestic market is all about dry wines and these new drier Rieslings are just what the home market want, and are willing it seems to pay for, in fact some of von Winning’s top Grosses Gewachs sell for close to $100 a bottle. So it was great to see this new offering from von Winning that will give insight to new customers about this style of wine, and I can tell you it is a steal at this price and I recommend grabbing as many as you cab find when it is released later this year. Terry Theise, the importer, convinced von Winning to produce this cuvee for the American market, and bless him for doing so as this is truly a stunning wine that shows all we love in Riesling, but delivers it in a dry and intriguing fashion. The 2011 vintage is much more friendly and lush than the severe 2010, and this beautiful and charming wine gives fresh detailed layers and lush fruit, while still being brisk and lively in the glass. Von Winning’s 2011 Riesling starts with lime and tropical notes with hints of mango and peach pit while a core of green apple and grapefruit burst through on the palate with vibrant force while lemon/lime and spicy mineral essences add to the complexity with a touch of slate like smokiness and brioche as well. While not as lessy and full as their top wines, this Riesling still shows pure class and vivid flavors and should not be missed.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2010 von Winning, Riesling “Langenmorgen” Grosses Gewachs, Pfalz.
($85 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2010 von Winning, Riesling “Kieselberg” Grosses Gewachs, Pfalz.
The Deinhard family’s von Winning wines are severe and extreme examples of dry Cru Riesling from their “Grosses Gewachs” sites in the Pfalz which are intensely dry and firm, but not with out some charm and intrigue. The Kieselberg is dramatic and is full of tangy crisp grapefruit, lime and orange rind which hits you like a blast of citrus while hints of green apple and stone fruit hide behind at this stage. With coaxing and a touch of air you’ll find chalky minerals and tropical fruit, but this wine is tight and wound up, so it will be interesting to see where it goes in a few years. I have the feeling the acidity will give way to a prettier and more complete wine over time, though who knows and while there is a huge market for drier wines, these wines can be a shock to the system. There is plenty of natural extract and depth in this unique Riesling and the finish does hold lots of interest, so while I’m torn on what will come, I’m sure this style has it’s place.
($85 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Mosel-Saar

2011 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Incline” Mosel QbA.
($14 Est.) 88-90 Points, grapelive

2011 Selbach, Riesling, Spatlese, Saar, Germany.
This beautifully balanced Riesling has bright fruit intensity and pretty floral tones with a slight refreshing sweetness. The nose has hints of yellow roses, citrus blossoms and tropical essences while the palate has candied pineapple, peach and green apple layers with a touch of honey, saline, mineral spice and slate. The vintage gives a lightness and lift that makes this charming wine a playful friend and a super summer wine. The tangy/sweet balance and the hint of apricot on the finish make for a pure and interesting Riesling on it’s own, but this wine will go with lots of foods from smoked ham to seafoods, as well as many Asian foods and styles.
($20 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2010 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Himmelreich” Kabinett Halbtrocken, Mosel.
($24 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive

2010 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Schlossberg” Kabinett, Mosel.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2010 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Zeltinger Schlossberg” Spatlese, Mosel.
Almost every vintage Johannes Selbach makes better wine or comes up with a new expression, it truly is amazing the attention to detail and heart goes into every wine at this fine estate on the Mosel. While 2010 has proved a difficult vintage, it is also a collectors year to put away as the wine are full of natural extract and intensely flavored with gripping acidity and they will need patience and time in the cellar to show their best. While the Kabinett and QbA’s were not quite as pleasing in their youth, the Spatlese and Auslese are beyond sublime and should age many decades, so if you loved aged Riesling, well who doesn’t? You need to grab 2010 Spatlese and Auslese, and I suggest you take a look at Selbach-Oster, especially this 2010 Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese. This beautiful and crystalline Riesling opens with white flowers, mineral tones and zesty citrus before revealing green apple, tropical notes and a hint of apricot stone. The heighten vibrant acidity hides the weight and sweetness keeping everything alive and balanced, you can just tell this wine will age majestically for many a year. As alluring as it is now and the richness that comes through in the glass it will only get better and better, so lock a few bottles away if you can keep your hands off them. Trust me, as someone that has drank all of his Riesling like a heroine addict, hide it good… Mosel wines tend to be fresher and brighter with more exotic and subtle flavors and this one has all that and more, note to self: Buy and save.
($30 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2010 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Zeltinger Sonnenuhr” Spatlese (Auslese Must Weight) Mosel.
($38 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

2010 Selbach-Oster, Riesling “Wehlener Sonnenuhr” Auslese (TBA Must Weight) Mosel.
($44 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

Rheingau

2010 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling “Wisselbrunnen” Erstes Gewachs, Rheingau.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling “101” QbA, Rheingau.
Spreitzer’s 101 is a little entry level Riesling somewhat geared for beginners, but even so it is a fine and lovely wine with plenty to admire. Bright and tangy fresh the 2011 Weingut Spreitzer Riesling “101” is a pretty white with lime, apricot, peach and honeydew flavors along with some white flowers and mineral tones. This zesty Riesling has just a touch of sweetness, but is balanced with citrusy acidity and hints of savory saline with only a whiff of petrol. This fun wine is not overly complex, but it drinks great and offers some good value for the asking price, drink over the next 2 years.
($17 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2010 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling “Oestricher Lenchen” Kabinett, Rheingau.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Eins Zwei Dry “3” Rheingau.
($17 Est.) 87-89 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels” Terrassen, Rheingau.
($55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2009 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Leitz Out” Rheingau, QbA, Germany.
I decided to re-visit this 2009 Leitz Out to see how it was doing, and to tell you the truth I have a favorite restaurant, Burma Superstar in San Francisco on Clement Street, that pours this by the glass and I have it every time I go. This 2009 is still fresh and full of flavor, and has filled out a touch making it a joy with the spicy Burmese food, though it is wonderful on it’s own as well with just a hint of sweetness. The vintage 2009 was pretty awesome across the board, but fairly ripe, so it is great to see this entry level Riesling showing so well, so well I opted for a whole carafe. The nose starts with tropical fruits, white flowers, slate and a whiff of petrol before a flowing palate of green apple, peach, nectarine, dried/candy pineapple and tangy stone fruits with hints of honey and lime. This is pure and refreshing Riesling that is simply delicious and should be for another few years yet.
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Leitz Out” QbA, Rheingau.
Joannes “Josi” Leitz’s fun “Leitz Out” Riesling is more serious than the playful label would suggest and gives a whole lot of pleasure for a great price. After years of hearing his last name pronounced incorrectly, he decided to turn a phrase on his label to help people say Leitz as it should be, as in “Lights” and the Leitz Out was born, so for about $14 you get a great fresh Riesling and a touch of language help. Not that my German is Nicht Sehr Gut, I do know how to pronounce both Riesling and Leitz, now I hope more people will too, plus they will enjoy the wine. The 2011 Leitz Out is bright and citrusy with hints of lime, orange zest, green apple and stone fruit while hints of mineral, pineapple and white flowers linger in the background. With air you get a touch of sweetness, fuller mouth feel and a whiff of petrol. While mostly zippy and dry this Riesling has some good depth and will go great with lots of different foods and is perfect for some fun on a warm summer day.
($14 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Dragonstone” QbA, Drackenstein Rudesheimer, Rheingau.
This yellow fruited Riesling from the Drackenstein, or Dragonstone is a wonderful expression of the unique quartzite, clay and slate soils that these grapes are grown on above the Rhein between Rudesheim and Assmannhausen. Leitz has his own block to farm and source from this terroir that are on steep well drained slopes facing southeast which allows plenty of sunlight giving good ripeness to the wine. I have been luck enough to have walked these breathtaking vineyards that overlook the Rhein and Rhein Islands and back up to a hilltop forrest that is popular with hikers and wildlife. The 2011 Dragonstone is fruity and fresh with loads of acidity and bright flavors that include mango, yellow peaches, tangerine and spiced apple while hints of lime flowers, honeydew and mineral essence linger. With a touch of sweetness and a nice round body this wine is drinking great now, but should develop more complexity and character over the next few years. I enjoyed this beauty with a spicy Korean BBQ meal and it was near perfect and it is an enjoyable summer sipping wine with low alcohol which makes for a good lunch or picnic quaffer too.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Rudesheimer Klosterlay” Kabinett, Rheingau.
The Leitz Klosterlay Kabinett 2011 is flat out a dynamite wine with lots of energy, terroir and transparency plus it is a steal for the quality that Weingut Leitz, Johannes Leitz and Eve Fricke put into the bottle. Rudesheim has many Cru sites, like Berg, Schlossberg, Rotland, and others and many soils such as red, grey and brown schist which all play dramatic roles in the wines of the region and especially Leitz where you can really taste, feel and smell each site. The Rudesheimer Klosterlay for me has a peachy note and vivid citrus with a softer slate mineral tone that sets it apart. The nose is lively white flowers, lemon/lime and a touch of flinty rocks white the palate has white peach, apple skin, pineapple and hint of verbena. I tasted this beauty very young and I look for lots of secondary complexities to show more fully over the next few years and it should drink fantastic for a decade. I love the fresh delicacy it shows and the vibrant zesty acidity which makes me think I’ll be hard pressed to save many bottles, as it is so pure and delightful now. It is no surprise at all that Leitz is so critically acclaimed, and fresh of garbing a winemaker of the year award, these wines are stunning.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling “Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz” Spatlese, Rheingau.
($24 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

 

Cornelius Donnhoff, Nahe

Nahe

2011 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling “Dorsheim Goldloch” Kabinett, Nahe, Germany.
Diel makes an array of fantastic wines from the Nahe region and has been a leader in making a modern dry Riesling for a few years now, but I found this lush Kabinett to be one of my favorites of their impressive lineup of 2011 Rieslings. Schlossgut Diel also makes a stunning Rose of Pinot Noir as well, which I also sampled recently and the delicacy in the winemaking shows throughout the collection of fine and pretty wines made by Armin and Caroline Diel. I must admit my first impressions of Diel wines were of severe wines, but now I have come to see the artisan craft and style they are, Riesling is a continuing educational journey for me and these 2011 Diel wines are pure heaven in the glass. The 2011 Dorsheim Goldloch shows bright floral tones, candied citrus, mineral spice and peachy fruit with tasty lime and apricot gaining momentum on the fresh palate. This wine has refined acidity that keeps this tense, but allows the fruit shine and a touch of sweetness feels just right and heightens the whole experience. Hints of white tea, slate and passionfruit add to the complexity and at 8.5% Alcohol it can be really enjoyed liberally.
($37 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Trocken” QbA, Nahe.
Donnhoff’s dry QbA is a little gem with bright fruit and vivid layers making for a very versatile wine. This fresh Riesling starts with citrus flowers, hints of yellow stone fruits and apple skin leading to a zingy tense palate of lime, grapefruit, green apple and a core of peach fruit while tropical elements, mineral tones and orange zest play in the background. Donnhoff is without question one of the stars of the vintage in 2011 and at every level their Rieslings are excellent and well crafted, so there is no going wrong in picking a wine rom this estate in the Nahe region, especially this lively and crisp white that delivers pure Riesling goodness and in the modern dry fashion. 2010 was very hard on the estate QbA and Kabinett wines with harsh acidity, but 2011 is great and makes these same wines fantastic and super values, so matter what style you prefer 2011 is a vintage to buy up.
($26 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Estate” QbA, Nahe.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Oberhauser Leistenberg” Kabinett, Nahe.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Kreuzenacher Krotenpfuhl” Kabinett, Nahe.
Being a huge fan of Donnhoff, it was great to see the 2011 wines were up to the highest standards, per normal for this Nahe estate and that especially the drier Trocken and Kabinett Rieslings were even more impressive than the 2010 wines. The Kreuzenacher Krotenpfuhl was totally new to me and while I loved all Donnhoff offerings I tried, of the 2011 vintage, it was this amazing Riesling that stood out and I hope you secure a few bottles when released here in California this month. Cornelius Donnhoff’s wines are magic, glorious and world class putting Donnhoff in the top echelon of German wineries and a leader in his Nahe region. The 2011 Donnhoff Kabinett Kreuzenacher Krotenpfuhl is rich without being heavy or sweet and has elegant perfume of citrus blossoms and a mouthful of tangerine, apricot, lime and green apple with liquid mineral pureness and hints of honey, pineapple and wet slate essence. While peachy and fruit driven the acidity is zesty crisp and keeps things vivid and tension filled, and this Riesling thrills through out.
($26 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2011 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Dellchen” Gross Gewachs” Nahe, Germany.
I doubt if many people will see this wine, but I just have to mention it, because it might be one of the finest dry white wines I have ever had from Germany, and it certainly rates merit here. This wine is almost perfect and should see even more gains in depth and beauty over the next dozen years, and while I adore Donnhoff’s sweeter wines and will cherish their Spatlese, this wine is something extraordinary that transcends questions of grape and terroir, it is on par with anything from anywhere in the world, be it Burgundy or the Sonoma Coast. Of course it is true and reflective of it’s sense of place, and without question it screams Riesling with brilliant and vivid layers of intense flavors and acidity. The nose is smoky with rocky mineral essences and zesty citrus flowers and fruit before a spine tingling palate of pure energy driven by lime, mango, green apple and tangy stone fruits while white tea, nectarine, orange and grapefruit add to the unfolding force that comes through throughout this magical wine. Secondary notes of peach pit, apricot and melon linger on and on here with some savory elements. This wine walks the tightrope between power and delicacy to near perfection and is fantastically entertaining in everyday.
($67 Est) 95 Points, grapelive

 

To be continued….

The Rise of the Jura

Special Quick Tasting Report of New Jura Wines

By Kerry Winslow

***

2009 Domaine Labet Cotes du Jura “Fleur de Savagnin” French White.
The grape Savagnin looks to be either the great grandfather of Gewurtztraminer or more likely a mutation of Traminer, the less aromatic varietal, but regardless of it’s true history the Savagnin is the main grape of the Jura region of France and makes for a fine array of wines from dry to sweet, sherry like to sparkling. While I personal have not developed a taste for the more oxidized styles from the Jura, I am a big fan of the fresh whites from the region and this wine is a lovely and vibrant expression. Domaine Labet is rather old school, but the wines all show loads of terroir and character making them a great reference point for those just getting started with the Jura, and they are amazing food wines. This 2009 Labet Savagnin is brisk and dry with only a hint of straw going with vigorous citrus, melon, minerals and light pear notes. This crisp white has bright layers that make it perfect for seafood, though it really shines with soft creamy cheeses. Thanks to Charles Neal and his Charles Neal Selections for showing me this wine to me and importing them to the US.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

***

2010 Julien Labet “Metis” Les Vins de Julien, Poulsard, Pinot Noir & Trousseau, Jura Red Blend, France.
Could the Jura be the next big thing? Well, maybe, and if so it just might be the younger generation vigerons like Julien Labet that are pushing the envelope and in his case going for “Natural Wines” with organic farming, small yields, and almost no sulfur while of course using native yeasts and wild fermentations. Like Arianna Occhipinti in Sicily and many other young winemakers, it looks like Julien has hit on something special with this approach and I look forward to see where it goes, especially after trying his 2010 Metis. This beautiful and layered red is a blend of Poulsard, Pinot Noir and Trousseau with delicate details and sublime balance, this wine shows a deft touch and while it is really cliche to say, it has a wonderful Burgundy like feel and focus. The nose has spring flowers and violets with a touch of game, truffle and spicy dried rose petals before a silky palate of cherry, raspberry, plum and wild strawberry plus a touch of blueberry. This is a seductive and very sexy wine, and without question a star to watch in the future too. The color is what you’d imagine of a wine of such elegance, with a soft ruby hue and the wine has pretty acidity and lift while still being lush and round with a nice lengthy finish that has just the right amount of fruit, spice and mineral tones that linger on. Charles Neal, again, deserve thanks and credit for finding such fun and interesting wines, though he said he was so far only able to persuade Julien Labet to let 30 cases make the trip to the US to date.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

A Special Thank You to Charles Neal of Charles Neal Selections for his time and for showing me these wines, and for his patience for explaining the details of them to me, I’m very grateful!

***

Grapelive Latest

Grapelive Pacific Northwest Wines Update: Wines to Look For

By Kerry Winslow

***


2008 Patton Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir “Lorna-Marie” Estate Grown, Willamette Valley, Oregon.

Sadly this beauty is wildly priced, otherwise it would be an Oregon classic, but for that kind of money Beaux Freres would be a better choice I think, even though only a tiny amount was made. With my pricing gripes, this is a stunning Pinot Noir with nice depth and clear focus that is a step up from their regular bottling. I have admired Patton Valley for a good many vintages and am always impressed with the pureness and lovely texture they get in their Pinot Noir. The 2008 Lorna-Marie is darker and sexier than the others in the line up with smoky blackberry, mineral spice, crushed flowers and a full plummy palate of sweet cherries and tea notes. The subtle backdrop of forest floor, strawberry compote and vanilla add just the right amounts of each to the mix and the acidity lifts everything without any bitter trace. There is not much doubt that this wine is nothing short of excellent, just that touch of envy that I can’t afford it., but I am none the less grateful for the effort and will enjoy a few bottles of their very delish Willamette Valley and be as happy as a clam.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Retour Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.
Even though I don’t believe the bottle I tasted was a perfect one, there was so much to enjoy in this Eric Hamacher made Pinot I have high hopes that the next one I try will rate even higher. I have only tasted Retour once before, but I have sampled Hamacher’s wines many times in the past and must say, not only is he a great person he is a fine artisan that produces wonderful Pinot Noirs, and even some fine Chardonnay as well. The 2008 Retour is subtle and a wine of great finesse with intriguing delicate flavors that remind me of some Spatburgunders or classic Cortons from Burgundy with hidden intensity and silky richness that lingers on and on with red fruits, toffee, slate like mineral essence and truffle. *Like I mentioned this bottle was maybe slightly bruised or heat affected, so I have a gut feeling the next one will show more heightened fruit, but even if it was a solid example, I was left wanting for nothing and would very much recommend it for it’s class and unique restraint.
($50 Est.) *93-94 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Gramercy Cellars Syrah Columbia Valley, Washington State.
This lush chocolate and blueberry pie of a wine has hedonistic written all over it, but the is a certain grace about it and a spicy kick in the pants that is refreshing and charming too. The nose lets you know it is a Washington Syrah, it won’t fool you at all, not that I wanted to be tricked, it just is what it is and is just great the way it is. This 2008 has some nice acidity to hold the mocha and vanilla cream in check and will a few years it should be something even more special. There is boysenberry, cassis, espresso and creamy cherry layers, hints of fennel, pepper and vanilla in this full-bodied red and the finish is long and mouth coating. I really like Gramercy Cellars, they do really fun and serious stuff, so I recommend trying a few bottles if you get the chance!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

***

2008 Gramercy Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley, Washington State.
This juicy rich Cabernet is very nice now, but I would suggest giving it some time in the cellar to fill out and deepen, it is round and has some baby fat at the moment and loads of red fruitiness that kind of hides the true nature and Cabernet character at the moment, even though it is a really enjoyable wine. The 2008 has a spicy edge and smooth tannins behind round up front raspberry, currant and cherry fruit with a mix of cedar, tobacco leaf, mocha and sweet oak vanilla. Just a bit young yet, but shows wonderful promise if you are willing to put it away for a few years. On a side note, Gramercy also makes one of the best Tempranillo wines in the States and the 2008 is a rockstar version, check that out as well, it is really amazing.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

***

2009 White Rose Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Another knockout from this winery, honestly I was thrilled by their 2008, but this 2009 vintage looks even more interesting! There is a sweet and savory Burgundy like quality that sings in this well made Pinot Noir from the heart of the Willamette Valley. This is made from a selection of barrels from prized vineyard sources that adhere to mostly organic practices and are cropped for balance and intensity, and it really shows in the finished product. This is a star winery that deserves attention and gives a remarkable bang for the buck! White Rose’s 2009 Willamette Valley cuvee as plenty of interest and depth with fresh cherries, mineral, tea spices, lavender and plum leading the way, with some rose petal perfume and subtle oak notes. There is lots of vivid life in this wine, but everything is balanced, focused and silky. If you want a super wine from Oregon, this is the real deal, I highly recommend it.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

***

2009 White Rose Estate Pinot Noir “Dundee Hills A.V.A” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
If you are looking for a true “Terroir” wine, well here you go, not only is this pure Oregon Pinot at it’s best, and it translates the Dundee Hills in perfect fashion. The Red Hills of Dundee shine through in this cuvee with loads of soft red fruits, edgy mineral, red soils and truffle. The Dundee A.V.A gives an extra red spicy, almost rocky cayenne pepper note along with a strawberry and lavender tone and this Pinot highlights those and remains true to them right through, start to finish. The nose has rose petals and plum and the mouth is rich with silky fruit, raspberry, tangy cherry and wild strawberry. The earthy and stone mineral streak is subtle and adds complexity while fresh acidity keeps this feeling light, even though there is plenty of rich layers. White Rose is making some amazing wines and this one stands out, so if you can find it, pick up a few it will blown you away.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

***

Gambero Rosso Gala

Gambero Rosso’s “Gala del Vino Campano” event in Naples.
By Brandy Falconer, Grapelive Guest Columnist
***

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 Latest: Wineries to Watch

Napa Valley Refocused With Some New Faces to Look For

By Kerry Winslow, grapelive

***

kwimage615.jpgOver the past couple of years, with this deep recession, there has been a big refocus on what is Napa Valley and where it should go in the future. Many labels and wineries have disappeared and many more with do so soon, it is the times and the reality now. The boom years and the era of easy money are gone and it is time for the real wine guys to shine again, a time for the passionate winemakers to move out of the shadows of the wannabes and take their place as the face of Napa Valley. Now, I will admit that those that still have their fortunes continue and most of the big names still draw attention, but I am seeing some new faces making it even in these difficult economic conditions, and that is a great thing to see.

I will always root for the “I’m doing it because I love it, and because it is in my heart” crowd and want to give them my loyal support when I can. During the last few months I’ve traveled the wine country, especially Napa Valley and met these kinds of souls and was struck by how down to earth and enthusiastic they were, and tasted their wines, and was left in awe, being impressed greatly by the quality and complexity of these handcrafted wines. For the purist, Napa Valley is all about Cabernet Sauvignon so that is what I’ll stick with here for this article, though I have seen the quality of everything from Chenin Blanc to Zinfandel rise in this fabled Valley.

One of my friends, who makes wine, and once said he’d never do a Napa Cabernet, is now doing exactly that, though he is mixing it with a healthy dose of Petite Sirah that is growing in the same vineyard. I just tried he barrel from this last harvest, and it was a true unique terroir wine with life and vibrancy, proving that Napa Cabernets don’t have to be formula flavored generic to be admired. What I mean is, over the last ten years most Napa wineries tried to make what everyone else was making, a dumbing down of the wines, making for a dark, low acid, almost sweet wine with lots of oak. They were all hoping to gather big scores in the wine press and make lots of money, and many did for a long while. Not that there was anything wrong with the wines, it was that for a period of time most tasted very much the same. They almost took out the natural flavors of the vineyard, by means of picking very late with super high sugars and using all high toast new oak barrels. On the good side, this made the wines with smoother tannins and less acidity, making the wines much easier to drink young, unlike the “Old School” Napa guys, Diamond Creek and older Dunn Vineyards which always had powerful tannins and were difficult or near impossible to drink young.

There seems to be a happy middle ground that has come to the fore, and some experienced and some new winemakers that have taken a bit of old and bit of new and have dialed in a more interesting wine in the process, the would call it letting the vineyard, or the place speak for itself. While we’ve seen a trend to bring the sugars down, as well as the alcohol level, but not sacrificing true ripening of the grapes. This is a more intensive method and makes for higher costs in the vineyard, as the vines need to be much more closely catered to and coddled. Making sure the grapes are fully ripe, but not lacking in acid is tough in hot vintages, though with great management and care it can be done, and I’m seeing it in these new Napa Cabernets.

Here are some wineries and winemakers to search out or watch over the next few years as their stars are rising, or have been even more so lately. Without any order of significance I’ll put some of my thoughts and reflections of whom I was really impressed by in this last year or so and think that will be more highly regarded in the future. Of course many will be missed or overlooked, as I can’t visit everyone in this time frame, but I’ll follow up later with others as I have opportunity in following articles.

rudiuswines.jpgA few years back, I met a winemaker Jeff Ames, from America’s great south, that was just starting his own label in his spare time, as he was a full time assistant winemaker to Thomas Brown, at Schrader, Tor (Jeff took over as head winemaker in 2003), Outpost and Maybach, one of the elite winemakers at the moment, and tried his wine. It was a Syrah and it was almost mind-blowing glorious, and I knew I had to keep an eye on this guy, and now his winery Rudius is a huge hit and he is specializing in Cabernet Sauvignon now with tiny lots being made from small plots from unique corners and hills around Napa Valley. Jeff Ames, the winemaker, has with almost no budget or huge dollars backing him has turned out to be a star and I can’t even get a bottle of his wine it is so sought after! I can say I tasted his first Rudius wine, but now he is in with Robert Parker, the world’s most famous wine critic, which is like getting the golden ticket. I suggest you search him out and get on his mailing list as soon as you can, I can tell you that you will not be disappointed.

Rudius Cabernet Sauvignon is sold only on the mailing list and as a futures pre-order, the current vintage has sold out, meaning I can’t write any tasting notes even. The Rudius Syrah and Grenache are worth checking out in the meantime.

sheldons.jpgAnother young guy that has turned from Rhone style wines to Cabernet Sauvignon is Dylan Sheldon, of Sheldon Wines a “Micro-Winery” who found an old vine vineyard in St. Helena that has a field blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and with a good chunk of Petite Sirah mixed in the site. Instead of separating the grapes he has chosen to craft a cuvee from them as they are and the result is very impressive in the barrel, though you’ll have to wait another couple of years before release. Dylan and his partner and wife Tobe, have won praise for their signature Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, the Vinolocity, and have had 90 Point scores in Wine Enthusiast for their Pinot Noir, but have now turned their attention to Cabernet and will be doing more of it in the future. The Napa wine they call “Weatherly Cuvee” might be offered to their list early, so again I’d check them out, and drink some of their other wines while you wait.

I was lucky enough to run into Dylan recently, and got to taste some of his wine in barrel, including his Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Blend (with Petite Sirah) to be called the Sheldon”Weatherly Cuvee” Napa Valley,  from the vineyard in St. Helena. This wine is about 2 years away from release and just a baby in barrel, but is all ready showing elegance and delicate flavors, though it with really bulk up as it ages and develop a thick texture. It has a bright purple hue and lots of blackberry fruit, it is wine to look forward to….

fairchild2.jpgOne of the top wines I’ve had out of Napa in the last couple of years comes from a new winery called Fairchild Estate, and if you are a regular reader of my articles you’ll have heard me comparing it to Chateau Latour and heaping praise on these Cabernets. Lawrence Fairchild’s estate vineyard and wine Sigaro is an amazing wine, both the 2006 and 2007 releases are magical. Fairchild employs the talented team of winemaker Paul Hobbs and one of the top gurus of vineyard management Jim Barbour to tend to his baby, a very smart and successful move. Fairchild also has a cuvee from top vineyards that Paul Hobbs makes for him, and it too is remarkable, with the 2006 mostly coming from Beckstoffer’s To-Kalon Vineyard and the 2007 mostly from grapes off Beckstoffer’s George III Vineyard, both some of the best fruit available.

2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley.

This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. Only 100 cases made. ($150 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive.

doslagos.gifThen there is a tiny estate on the eastern side of the Napa Valley that should get some mention, Dos Lagos Vineyards, this really small vineyard and label has been brought from total obscurity to almost breakthrough status by the talented Robert Foley, for winemaker at Pride Mountain Vineyards, and famous for his own Robert Foley label as well. Bob fell in love with the grapes here and uses them in his own wine and also makes a small lot of single vineyard Cabernet for Tom Dinkel. Dinkel bought the property around ten years ago with a small vineyard and has planted a bit more since, and has been rewarded with great fruit, but the yields are so low there is not much wine at the end of the day. Foley has certainly played a huge role and been a great guide to Dinkel, and has made a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon that is both expressive of the vineyard and full flavored and explosively rich, maybe taking it to the extreme with going over the edge is the best way to describe it, but is great non the less.

2007 Dos Lagos Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
The 2007 Dos Lagos is a deep and thickly concentrated Cab with solid structure and fruit intensity with a black/purple hue that coats the glass. The palate is ripe, but focused showing massive black fruits and pure Cabernet character, leading with blackberry, dark currant, plum and blueberries before array of background flavors unfold. Interesting crème de cassis, mocha, cedar spice, cigar tobacco and violet like perfume all come across in layer after layer with powerful tannins holding things together, though thankfully they are not harsh or distracting from the wine and I’m sure as it is still a very young wine will fade in time to allow much pleasure over the following 5-10 years. Bob Foley, ex Pride, and maker of top Napa Cabernet like his own Claret, Switchback Ridge and Hourglass seems to have fallen in love with the terroir at this rugged Atlas Peak location, and after tasting this vintage, I think he is on to something big here.($125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

cimarossarivadiponente.jpgLastly, I am excited to be visiting soon Cimarossa winery on Howell Mountain, a winery I fell in love with a few years back. This vineyard and estate is all ready a top level producer, though still not well known, with the perfect location, steep terraced vines and with Mia Klein making the wine they have too much going for them not to succeed! Mia, famed for her past and present roles as winemaker to Della Valle, Araujo and Spottswoode, just to name a few as well as her own Selene label, continues to grab headlines and press for her elegant and layered wines that rival or better all comers. Ex-Peter Michael man, Sean Capiaux made the Cimarossa Cabernets until this last harvest, and the current wines are drinking great! Cimarossa (Red Hill) with it’s Italian owner Dino Dina of Genoa also makes an estate olive oil from trees on the property, that also give the place an exotic flair, not that it needed more with such great wine and being on the famous slopes of Howell Mountain, Cimarossa is a must have Cabernet Sauvignon. You would be well served to get on their mailing list soon and watch for their new releases coming soon.

Of course there are many others I should talk about and I will, but this is a tight little list of some very interesting people and wines that are just now being recognized and that offer wines that are distinct in character and have soul, that also showcase their individual terroirs and styles. Napa Valley has its Opus Ones, Caymus, Silver Oak and Joseph Phelps that produce tens of thousands of cases of very good, if not great Cabernet, but is nice to see the small guys take the stage too, and especially as they produce their Cabernets in the hundreds of cases, making it just that much more special and rare.

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Cimarossa Winery
www.cimarossa.com
1185 Friesen Dr, Angwin, CA, 94508-9670. Phone: (707) 965-2143

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Fairchild Estate Vineyards
www.fairchildwines.com
P.O. Box 807 St. Helena, CA. 94574 Telephone (866) 725-7503. Fax (707) 581-7393

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Sheldon Wines
www.sheldonwine.com
6761 Sebastopol Avenue #500 Sebastopol, CA. 95472 Phone: (707) 829-8100 Fax: (707)824-2676

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Dos Lagos Vineyards
www.doslagosvineyards.com
Phone (415) 279-9227 

Fax (415) 358-4534

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Rudius Wines
www.rudiuswine.com
P.O. Box 552 Napa, CA. 94559 Phone: (707) 287-2986

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report

Grapelive Latest: Vinitaly Report
By Brandy Falconer, Guest Columnist, Grapelive

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itbluchips.jpg

Vinitaly Report-April, 2010

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bchips2.jpgIf someone says, “wine is for everyone,” I’ll bet the first thing most people think of is this wonderful new wine culture of enthusiasts and accessible tastings to discover new wines, and more importantly, new favorites.  At the same time, most wineries are embracing that sentiment with enjoyable and well-made “entry-level” wines.  Not to be confused (in most cases) with cheaply made wines, these diplomats travel the world and introduce indigenous grape varietals and wineries to enthusiasts via their value price in supermarkets and wine lists alike, which is great.
What I discovered at Vinitaly, though, is that “for everyone” has a flip side, and actually means for every kind of person–from the casual drinker to the connoisseur, from the weekly budget shopper to the big budget collector.  Think about it, it is the fine wines, ambassadors if you will, crafted by the top producers, which gain notoriety through scores and reviews in big magazines and are usually what create interest in the wineries in the first place.  This “two sides of the coin” approach applies to most everything in life, and I can also relate it to my other passion, auto racing.  There are many levels of competition, from amateur to elite professional; heck, even I have raced in an SCCA club race.  But, it is the premier events that really build the interest in fans and participants.  If there was no Indianapolis 500 or Monaco Grand Prix, would as many people have such passion and dreams to pursue the sport (Would I have belted myself in, scared out of my wits, just to experience what it’s like for myself) So let’s look at the other side of the coin this time, and celebrate the wines that put the wineries on the map and continue to inspire the public…and celebrate the people who are giving a little part of themselves in the crafting of their wines, no matter what their background.

bchips.jpgEach year at Vinitaly, there is an exclusive tasting event that happens exactly 24 hours after the expo opens.  This year, I was invited to attend this event, the “Blue Chips of Italian Wine”, hosted by Civilta’ del bere, one of Italy’s leading wine magazines (www.civiltadelbere.com) which for me was like being invited to attend a UN conference.  Representing over 40 countries, the 200 participants were journalists and “authorities of the international public of wine tasting” invited to experience how 12 top wineries in Italy are able to create wines of excellence in quantities large enough to support worldwide demand.
Borrowing from the stock exchange term for the companies who have the highest value based on the number of shares times price per share, the Blue Chips of Italy are those wines sold at a premium price while being produced in appreciable quantities.  Qualifying factors were: being sold in all major markets in the world, and having won at least two awards of excellence from the five main national guides including Duemilavini, Gambero Rosso and L’Espresso, as well as nods from international critics such as Robert Parker and Wine Spectator.

Armed with my headphones, ready to receive live translation (my Italian skills were no match for the speaking velocity and different accents) I again felt like I was sitting in at the UN, and I couldn’t help but think that maybe if the UN had glasses of wine at the table instead of water there would be a lot less arguing…

The first wine to be poured was Planta’s Cometa, IGT Sicilia Bianco 2008, and the parade of suited-up sommeliers from the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) with bottles in-hand was magnificent as they came streaming into the room.  This 100% Fiano varietal wine, with a ‘juicy’ balance of acidity and complexity was an appropriate representation of the winery’s research into indigenous varietals. In the mid range of production at 88,000 bottles, this wine has a retail price of € 22, or $32.

Moving through the lineup, the first wine I had experience tasting was Mastroberardino’s Radici Taurasi DOCG 2005.  CEO of sales and marketing, Dario Pennino recounted a 2007 vertical tasting of this wine where the 1934 vintage was awarded 99 points by Gambero Rosso. This elegant and delicious 100% Aglianico wine which has won numerous awards and scores over 90 points, has a production of 80,000 bottles and a retail price of €25 or $37.

Allegrini’s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2005 was the next wine to grab my attention because, as an Amarone lover, I was impressed by the freshness and layered flavors of this wine made from partially dried grapes–a result of Allegrini’s preference for a more modern style than conventional taste.  Retailing at €60 or $90, the production is 125,000 bottles.

The Tuscan wine that left me wanting more was the Flaccianello della Pieve, IGT Colli della Toscana Centrale 2006 from Fontodi.  It is This Wine Spectator 99-pointer made from 100% Sangiovese has enveloping aromas of ripe berries, spices and leather with distinct yet balanced tannins.  A production of 50,000 bottles, this super Tuscan retails for about €60 or $90.

Finally, the one I had been hearing about, the red giant, with the second-highest production at 180,000 bottles, San Guido’s Sassicaia, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC 2006, made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  From its intense ruby color to the elegant aromas to the beautifully balanced silky cherry mouthful, I enjoyed every moment of my epiphany as I realized why some wines really do merit their high price tag, in this case, €130 or $195.

I will never again roll my eyes at someone extolling the virtues of a wine like this, and learned that the flip side of the “wine for everyone” coin can be just as interesting and exciting.  Though I am typically an advocate for indigenous varietals, this wine is without a doubt special.
Though all merit comment and exaltation, the following wines, not previously mentioned, completed the tasting:

Cantina Tramin–Nussbaumer, Gewürztraminer Alto Adige DOC 2008.  55,000 bottles.

Falesco–Montiano, IGT Lazio 2007.  55,000 bottles.

Firriato–Harmonium, Nero d’Avola IGT Sicily 2007.  120,000 bottles.

Lungarotti–Rubesco Vigna Monticchio, Torgiano Rosso Riserva DOCG 2005.
 50,000 bottles.

Cantina Santadi–Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Superiore DOC 2005.  80,000 bottles.

Ornellaia–Ornellaia, Bolgheri Rosso Superiore DOC 2006.
 140,000 bottles.

Antinori–Tignanello, IGT Toscana Rosso 2006.  350,000 bottles.

vintrullia.jpgThis particular day, I concentrated more on the organized tastings than going from stand to stand (with 4,200 to choose from, you can end up in wine oblivion!).  One I was particularly excited about attending was that of Podere Castorani winery in Abruzzo, owned by Formula 1 driver, Jarno Trulli.  Racing season has started with its usual changes in rules, drivers and helmet designs, and while searching for news on the internet, I took a minute to check out Podere Castorani’s website (www.poderecastorani.it).  When I saw that Jarno would be at Vinitaly to present his wines at a special tasting, I quickly called the winery to reserve a spot.  Abruzzo is best known for it’s flagship grape, Montepulciano, and the region, amidst rebuilding after the earthquake last year, is determinedly moving forward in many aspects, including showcasing their other varietal gems, and showing how well their wines are aging.  The Abruzzo pavilion, with the slogan “pleasing notes” referring to the wines as well as the region’s devotion to music, was spacious and full of large and small stands alike, with a beautiful tasting area and even a restaurant.

As one tasting was finishing, crowds of people were gathering for the Podere Castorani presentation and I could see Jarno Trulli talking with whom I assumed to be some of his associates.  The first thing I noticed was how low-key he seemed to be.  I could see that this event was entirely about the family winery, no matter that he had just flown in from Malaysia, and in a few days would be returning to China for the next Grand Prix.  I admit, this surprised me, and it made me even more interested to finally taste the wines and learn about their philosophy.  For those of you who have witnessed other celebrity figures venturing into wine, take this into account:  the family farm in Abruzzo was already established in 1793, and the 32 hectares of current estate vines are part of that original land.  Fifteen years ago, the family and business associates decided to build a modern winemaking facility and 2000 was their first year of modern vinification.  With this new facility, Jarno, coming from the world of Formula 1, wants to express the right balance between tradition and technology.  We began the tasting with the 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Coste delle Plaie, with fresh and balanced acidity and minerality and flavors of citrus and exotic fruits.  Next was the Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT from 100% Pecorino grapes, which delivered a silky fruitiness with some herbal notes, which made me think of enjoying it with a baked herb and cheese dish.  I am a big fan of Montepulciano, and the next two selections, the Coste delle Plaie and the Amorino were both true to the grape and terroir, and I found the Amorina Casauria Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC with its deep ruby-purple color and balanced tannins to be the most delicious, like a mouthful of ripe cherry and plum.

2_castorani.jpgAfter the organized tasting, I spoke with the winemaker, Angelo Molisani to learn a bit more about the wines at their impressive stand complete with a vintage Formula 1 car at the entrance.  While he poured and explained a few more wines from their lineup, Jarno joined us with one of the winery’s associates and I learned about their philosophy for the international market.  The winery produces both estate wines and wines representative of other regions of Italy, like Barbera, Prosecco and international varieties like Syrah all grown in various regions, then vinified at the estate, allowing this smaller winery to offer a variety of wines representative of Abruzzo and all of Italy to international importers.  Needless to say, the winemaker is extremely busy, but loves the work they are doing.

While pouring the Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2009 Rosato, Angelo was explaining a typical dish that might be enjoyed with this wine, the Abruzzese specialty, “Brodetto”, a stew made with tomato, peppers and different kinds of fish.  Angelo explained that Jarno’s father Enzo, who loves to prepare this dish, is an excellent cook and is planning to open a restaurant, much to the delight of those who enjoy his talents.  As for me, I can’t wait to try the Brodetto and happily accepted an invitation from Enzo to visit the winery and try this local delicacy with their wines.

The “wow” wine of the day was the Podere Castorani Montepulciano DOC 2004, the original wine produced by the estate, and what they call “the beginning of the story.”  If “comfort wine” was an acceptable description, I would use it here.  Well-balanced body and tannins, with beautiful color and flavors of spices and berries make this a wine for a meal that you wish would never end. And though I didn’t really want my experience to end at Podere Castorani, it was time for me to move on, and for them to share these great wines with other enthusiastic visitors. I look forward to visiting the winery soon and seeing the beautiful terrain of Abruzzo, with its mountains, coastline and devotion to nature.

As for my impressions of Jarno, for someone who would be justified in safeguarding his privacy, as one of only a handful of elite drivers in the sport’s highest echelon, his availability and genuine interest in this event was impressive. If his hope is to achieve a balance between tradition and the fast-paced world of Formula 1, I’d say he has achieved that in his winemaking and in his lifestyle. Bravo.

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