Tuesday, February 12, 2019

They Make Wine? Maryland Edition

Big Cork tasting room

When you hear "Mid-Atlantic" do you think of wine country? Me neither! But alas, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where the Shenandoah River meets the Potomac, lies Big Cork Vineyards. Big Cork is a family farm in Rohrersville, Maryland started by David Collins, who spent many years making wine in Virginia (see my Virginia wine post HERE). David Collins formed a partnership with Jennifer and Randy Thompson (owners of the land), and Big Cork Vineyards was born. The first 22 acres were planted in May of 2011 and they have now surpassed 5,000 cases in annual production.

Big Cork is in a great getaway for the DC crowd wanting a big, sprawling wine county experience, as it lies only an hour away from the city. And sure, not all of the wines in this area are stellar, with many wineries producing bottle after bottle of semi-sweet/sweet wines for local consumption. If you’re a regular wine drinker who explores wines from other regions/countries, you’re not going to be happy with that. I can assure you, that is not the case at Big Cork! Save for a few semi-sweet wines, they have a whole lineup of dry wines to please many palates.

Vines at Big Cork Vineyards

Thank you to Amy Benton of Big Cork Vineyards for this tasting opportunity. 

2016 Chardonnay The Big Reserve 13% ABV $36
This wine sees 8 months in new French oak barrels. 101 cases produced.
A lovely New World expression of Chardonnay. Green fruit (pear, and green apples), butterscotch, and dairy/butter on the nose. The wine is creamy and luscious on the palate with good acid and a medium + finish.

2015 Petit Verdot 13.9% ABV $38
This wine sees 18 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 229 cases produced.
A solid red with aromatic notes of blueberry, blackberry, and sweet tobacco. This is a full-bodied wine with dark fruit notes on the palate and medium well-integrated tannins.

2015 Cabernet Franc 13.8% ABV $46
This wine sees 16 months in both new and neutral French & American oak. 244 cases produced. This is a wonderfully complex and layered wine. Totally up my alley. Aromas of dark, black fruit (including black currant and raisins), floral (violet) and licorice. On the palate I get the same dark fruit plus vanilla and sweet spice, which carries all the way through to the finish (that seems to carry on forever). LOVE this wine.

Monday, February 4, 2019

San Diego: The OTHER Southern California Wine Region

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

For the San Diego edition of #WineStudio we were joined by Tami Wong, CS. Tami is a Certified Sommelier based out of San Diego and was the perfect fit to guide us through these wines!

Most everyone has heard of Temecula wine country (see my past post HERE). But I can guarantee that post people do not know that grapes are grown in San Diego and that wine is made here as well. Would you believe that there are 115 wineries in San Diego County? As most of California, the area has a mild Mediterranean climate with little rainfall. Outstanding conditions for growing grapes. There are 3 AVAs in San Diego County: the South Coast AVA (Malibu down to the San Diego border), San Pasqual Valley AVA (Escondido area), and the Ramona Valley AVA.

Our first wines come from Charlie & Echo, an urban winery and tasting room in the Miralani Makers’ District started by Eric and Clara Van Drunen. The Miralani Makers’ District is a unique collection of craft beverage producers located in the heart of San Diego’s Miramar district; started in 2013. 

Credit: Charlie & Echo

Eric Van Drunen, winemaker, employs some conventional methods, so the winery is not technically organic, though they do partake in many organic practices. Their goal is minimally processed grapes and wines, and wines purely representative of the vineyard as possible. Since 2015 gapes are sourced solely from throughout San Diego County.

Two wines tasted:

Charlie & Echo 2017 Viognier, Warner Springs, San Diego County 14.4% $23
According to C&E, this wine drinks like the Chablis of Viognier. Good acid and lean with notes of papaya, mango, and lime. The nose is divine: citrus (lime) plus tropical fruit (papaya, mango, pineapple). Medium + acid and medium + body. On the palate I get lots of the same tropical fruits. Every year I go to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico with my girlfriends and we pick up fresh juices from the local market…..we never know exactly what fruits they are, but we grab ‘em anyway (anything tastes good with tequila!). The nose on this wine reminds me of those fresh, tropical juices. in Mexico. The wine really opened up after coming to temperature. 

Charlie & Echo 2017 Darkstar (47% Syrah, 53% Zin), Warner Springs, SD County $24
This wine was cray cray and amazing at the same time. Is it a Pet Nat? Yes and no. Wild yeasts are used for fermentation. I’m not going to be able to accurately describe the vineyard/winery process here, so here are the tech notes directly from them: Clusters de-stemmed into small open-top bins. Whole berry, wild yeast and malolactic fermentation. Twice daily punch downs. Pressed after five days for the Syrah, and four days for the Zinfandel – only free-run and early press fractions used. Wines combined at press, and fermentation finished in Charmat tank without addition of sugar or yeast – all carbonation comes from the natural, primary fermentation. No acidulation or other “corrections”. Cold settled, and bottled unfiltered off gross lees. In the #WineStudio discussion it was described as a combination of Metodo Italiano and Metode Ancestrale. The wine is super duper pale ruby. A delicate nose of all primary red fruit. An interesting palate. Everything about this wine is hard to describe, but I like it. 

The second winery we explored was Koi Zen Cellars, located in the Carmel Business District. The urban winery is owned by Darius & Lisa Miller. The name came from Darius’s koi pond. Their goal was to create a calming and relaxing environment in an urban winery setting. They do not own any vineyards and source grapes from all over California.

Koi Zen Cellars 2016 Paso Syrah $33
This wine is deep garnet in color. The nose…oh yeah…we’re in Paso: warm, spicy fruit. This is gonna be a big boy. Makes my nose hair stand up on end! The palate gives me a juicy fruit bomb (but in a good way!). I’m talking Bing cherries and candied red fruit. Plus, a blueberry reduction. Also, warm fall baking spices (cinnamon) and black pepper. Is there a skosh of RS here, or am I hallucinating? Not quite sure. It could just be the fruit is super ripe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Mandeville Vineyards: Extraordinary Wines with Extraordinary Views

Larry Gilman & Donna Mille

It’s not very often you’re invited to a luncheon with a soap opera legend to drink wines unreleased to the public, made from grapes grown on a private property in Malibu. The luncheon, held at Napa Valley Grille, featured the wines of Mandeville Vineyards, a project from actress Donna Mills and partner, Larry Gilman.

These are handcrafted wines. Every step of the process is literally done by hand, from one set of hands to another. And we are talking about small scale. The grapes on their property were planted in 2013 on 12,000 sq ft of land.  We are talking about less than an acre of vines here. 431 plants in total: 287 Malbec and 134 Cabernet. All fruit is hand-harvested (out of necessity because of the steep grades). And to continue with the hand-holding, when the vines were planted, Donna and Larry hosted a planting party and guests wrote notes to the vines and tied them to the plants!

The vineyard site started as an overgrown, hard to reach mess on a very steep grade. They had a crazy idea and brought in a geologist who did soil samples. The guy had a bad leg and Larry LITERALLY had to carry him. The geologist told him: you’re f*ing crazy. So what did Larry do? He started creating access to the site. They had to use a chainsaw to cut through rocks. The area is now terraced with extremely high grades (most is 20-30% but some areas it goes up to 45-50%). The area gets a lot of sunlight. In fact, they are toying with the idea of adding a shade structure to cover the plants. Speaking of pampered plants: classical music is played in the vineyard at times. These are some coddled Malibu vines!

The property is located in the Mandeville Canyon area of Malibu. Initially they named the project: Ethereal Wines, but after that didn’t work out, they landed on Mandeville Vineyards.

Larry himself had no wine experience, but he is learning. Winemaking has been outsourced to The Village Winery, a custom crush facility based out of Westlake Village. The 2016 harvest was tough as it was too hot. That year logged 30+ hours of 112-degree heat. They lost 70% of the Malbec and 25% of the Cabernet. The vintage only yielded 12 cases. In 2017 they grew to a whopping 60 cases.

It was a treat to taste the special wines of Mandeville Vineyards. The passion and excitement of Larry is palpable. He can’t wait to tell you more. Every little detail about the vines, the grapes, the wines, etc. As Larry said: watching this thing is extraordinary. This is something he and Donna birthed from literally nothing. It will be very exciting to see where things go from here.

We enjoyed Mandeville’s two fine wines with food courses impeccably paired from Napa Valley Grille. To round out the pairings, we were also served a couple wines from Tavistock, which are the private label wines for Napa Valley Grille and the restaurant group Tavistock Restaurant Collection (TRC). This is because Mandeville does not currently have any white wines. 


Aperitif: Tavistock NV Prosecco, Veneto
A dry bubbly. Yellow apple, pear, white peach, apricot, and floral notes.

First Course
Napa Valley Garden Salad
Sugar Snap Peas, Asparagus, White Balsamic Vinaigrette, Feta, Fried Prosciutto
A delicious fresh salad. Perfect for summer.

Pairing: 2017 Tavistock Pinot Grigio, Delle Venezie
A light and easy drinker that works well with this simple salad. Light bodied, crisp, with balanced acidity. Citrus and tropical fruit notes. 

Napa Valley Garden Salad

Second Course
Skull Island Tiger Prawns
Torched Carmelized Lemon, Herb Oil
Only three ingredients: simple, clean, delicious.

Pairing: 2016 Tavistock Sauvignon Blanc
A nice pairing. Shrimp and Sauvignon Blanc is generally a winner. Green fruit, stone fruit, and tropical fruit. 

Skull Island Tiger Prawns

Third Course
Mushroom Broth Pappardelle Pasta
Spinach, Goat Cheese, Walnuts, Truffle Oil
This pasta was insane. Out of this world.

Pairing: 2016 Mandeville Vineyards Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Wow. I’m impressed. Clearly New World. I like when I wine tells me where it’s from. Extremely layered and complex. It was a gift to taste this wine. 10 months in bottle. 12 cases produced and only 4 cases left. The wine aged in a breathable container for 10 mos with oak sleeves. Not a super-premium treatment, but they’re just getting started. I have a feeling this will be refined as time goes 

Fourth Course
Marinated Wagyu Skirt Steak
Red Bell Pepper Tomato Coulis, Fried Peewee Potatoes, Upland Crest, Pesto
Unbelievable. One of the most tender pieces of meat I’ve ever had.

Pairing: 2016 Mandeville Vineyards Reserve Malbec & Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Tight, but quite delicious. This wine will only get better. Aged for 20 mos in New French Oak. 24 cases. Blackberry, rose/violet, black pepper, vanilla, earth, tobacco. 

Marinated Wagya Skirt Steam

The pricing for Mandeville Vineyards is yet to be determined, but it will fall in the super premium category.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Exploring New Zealand Through Wine

Cameron Douglas, MS

There is a lot more to New Zealand wine than Sauvignon Blanc. Nothing wrong with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, there is just a lot of it! The style can be homogenous, but there is some good juice coming out of New Zealand. I attended a fascinating luncheon and wine tasting in which Cameron Douglas, MS guided us through quite a flight of wines, paired expertly with a menu courtesy of Napa Valley Grille. This luncheon and tasting reminded me of the wide range of wines from New Zealand. Yes, there is plenty of basic and uninteresting Sauvignon Blanc, but there is also a wide selection of honest, regional wines available at many different price points.

Below is my journey through the wines of New Zealand as expertly paired with a delectable meal.


No 1 Family Estate: Cuvee Blanc de Blancs, NV, Marlborough
A lovely sparkling made by 12th generation Champenois, Daniel Le Brun. This 100% Chardonnay sparkler from all Marlborough vines gives all the lees and toast a girl could want! A fine starter.

No. 1 Family Estate

2017 The Darling Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough
And we have firmly landed in Marlborough; specifically, the Wairau Valley. This wine delivers great acid and jumps out of the glass with its “Marlborough Lift”. Approximately 10% of the blend is barrel fermented with wild natural yeast to give texture and body.

The Darling Wines

First Course
Spinach Salad & Strawberry Shooter
Humboldt Fog, Roasted Almonds, Dragon Apples, Balsamic Drizzle. Strawberry Shooter (Cucumber, Serrano, Mint, Micro Peppercress)

Spinach Salad & Strawberry Shooter

2016 Brightwater Sophie’s Kiss Rosé of Pinot Noir, Nelson
This deep salmon color is darker than many rosés. A beautiful Pinot Noir rosé with a floral nose with red berries. On the palate, this wine has heft. Not all rosés have to be light and fluffy…..this one is not. Spicy, zesty, fresh, and fruity that really holds up to the shooter.

Brightwater Vineyards

2015 Ceres, Swansong Vineyard, Pinot Gris, Bannockburn, Central Otago
This Pinot Gris is from Central Otago, which is the southernmost wine region in the world. A faint aromatic intensity with green fruit (pear, green apple), tropical fruit, stone fruit (apricot), and white pepper on the palate. A textured wine with slight RS (residual sugar).

Second Course
Skuna Bay Salmon
“Farrotto”, Frisee and Mizuna Salad, White Wine Beurre Blanc

2015 Clearview Estate Reserve, Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay
A California style Chardonnay with texture and body. It almost has a chewiness to it. Lovely notes of toast, cream, and oak, as the wine is fermented and aged partially in new French oak. This wine has great structure which will aid in its ageability.

2016 Vidal Estate ”El Legado” Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay 
A Burgundian style Chardonnay. With oak (vanilla, toast), butter/cream, and smokiness on the nose. The palate is crisp and clean with citrus (lemon) and tart little green apples. This wine worked well with the salmon dish with the creaminess of the wine matching the fattiness of the fish. 2016 produced a beautiful Chardonnay here. The cooler than normal start to the season delayed ripening, which allowed the slow accumulation of flavor and retention of natural acidity in what was a relatively warm year. Vidal Estate is owned by Villa Maria Group.

Vidal Estate

Third Course
Duck Confit Pasta
Strozzapreti Pasta, Port Jus, Mirepoix, Baby Kale, Pecorino Romano

2014 Big Sky, Te Muna Road, Pinot Noir, Marlborough
This is definitely a Pinot Noir with classic bright red fruit (strawberry) on the nose plus forest floor, earth, and pepper. Lots and lots of pepper! Good acid on the palate, plus red fruit (Bing cherry, plum) and DIRT. I love me a dirt-y wine.

2015 Ceres Composition Pinot Noir, Bannockburn, Central Otago
A much more floral (rose) nose than the Big Sky. Plus dried herbs/thyme, which I am told is a Central Otago hallmark. A juicy and fruity palate with ripe red berry fruit (raspberry, plum, and cherry). Also, spice and mineral notes. Fine tannins and moderate acid on this wine. Youthful. I dig it.

Fourth Course
Lamb Two Ways
Braised Colorado Lamb (thyme and apricots) and New Zealand Lamb Rack (with Peppercorn Jus)

2013 Mills Reef, Elspeth, Syrah, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
A lovely fruit basket of red plus black fruit, including: blackberry, boysenberry, and bramble. Continuing on with black pepper and black licorice. A deeply concentrated, intense, and warming wine. Barrel aged in 46% new French oak for 17 months. Great structure and suitable for cellaring.

2013 SQM Squawking Magpie, Big Red, Hawkes Bay
Hello Cab Sauv! Pyrazines up the yin yang! All Gimblett Gravels fruit made up of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc. A complex wine showing: blueberry plus black fruit, black peppercorns, cedar, cigar box, and dried herbs.

Dessert Course
Apricot Tart
Frangipane, Honey Yogurt, Orange Tuile, Berry Coulis

2012 Ostler, Riesling, Lake Waitake
The requisite Riesling petrol nose plus citrus and floral notes. The palate serves: citrus, petrol, plus a briny saltiness. These vines are on alluvial greywacke soil in Central Otago.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Uncovering Uruguay

When I think of wine from South America, I think of Malbec from Argentina. Argentinian Malbec is quite ubiquitous, but what you may never have heard of is Tannat from Uruguay. Uruguay is a small country in South America (about the size of Washington state) that borders Argentina to the North/East. Like Argentina, Uruguay is a huge beef and wine consuming country. Uruguayos (in Spanish what we call one from Uruguay) on average consume 124 lbs of beef annually. They are also the biggest consumer of wine outside of Europe. For this single reason, wines from Uruguay are tough to find in the export market. There is just not enough to go around. Uruguay struggles because they want to world to see what they do in regards to wine, BUT they want to (and can!) drink just about all of it domestically! Only about 10-15% of production is exported. This push and pull is the “rub” of Uruguayan wine. 

About 90% of Uruguayos are of European descent (that would explain the copious wine consumption). The domestic wine industry is quite fragmented with 90% of wineries being family-owned and boutique in size. There is an old tradition of hand harvesting in Uruguay, which is common because of the low labor costs.

Tannat vines were first planted in Uruguay by the Basque and Italian settlers in the 1870s. Pascal Harriague first introduced the grape to Uruguay and to this day “Harriague” is still used for varietal labeling on wines meant for domestic consumption. The rest of the world knows it as Tannat.

Tannat is a thick skin, hardy red grape that is good for a challenging (wet) climate. The grapes has high tannins and moderate/strong acid plus good color. The grape needs a long growing season and produces generally low yields. Classic Tannat notes include black fruit, spice, cocoa, tobacco, and licorice. Overall savory notes. Compared to Tannat from Madiran in SW France, the Uruguay expression has much more approachable tannins. The wines are generally dry, fruity, and meant to be drunk young. Essentially, they are two very different wines.

Can Uruguay compete in the international wine market? They are surely trying to make a case! Most exports make their way to Brazil. Also there are joint ventures with wineries in other countries such as Argentina Brazil, and the US. Lastly, flying winemakers such as Michel Rolland and Paul Hobbs have come to make wine here and the younger generation of domestic winemakers (i.e. Gabriel Pizano) are gaining overseas experience to reinvest in Uruguay.

At the Wine Media Conference in Walla Walla, Washington this year, I attended a Uruguay wine seminar taught by Amanda Barnes of Around the World in 80 Harvests. Below are the wines she selected for this tasting presentation. 

Bodega Bouza Albariño $24.99
Winemaker Eduardo Boido works with 90% stainless steel and 10% barrel for fermentation. The wine spends 3 months on the lees. This is a bold, assertive very New World wine with lots of salinity and stone fruit.

Pisano Rio de los Pajaros Tannat $16
Winemaker Gustavo Pisano gives us the purest expression of the Tannat grape with this wine. And my personal favorite of the bunch. A beautiful medium ruby color. This wine is soft, silky, and sexy with a combination of red and black fruit plus sweet baking spices, pepper, and smokiness. They make a sparkling Tannat that I’d LOVE to try.

Marichal Reserve Tannat $18
Winemaker Juan Andres Marichal gives us a lovely oak aged Tannat (70% is aged in oak for 12 months). I can definitely sense the oak on the nose, but it integrates as you move to the palate. Marichal also makes a Pinot Noir, which could be an interesting foil to this wine.

Artesana Zinfandel-Merlot-Tannat $18
Artesana is the first producer to make a Zinfandel in Uruguay. Winemakers Analia Lazaneo and Valentina Gatti give this wine a 20-day cool maceration in stainless steel. It is aged 12 months in both American and French oak. This is an interesting blend. Would be impossible to pinpoint the varieties in a blind tasting. I vote this one most interesting of the bunch.

Traversa Noble Alianza Marselan-Merlot-Tannat $12
Another interesting blend to explore. First off: Marselan? That is a new one for me! It is a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache and is found mostly in the Rhone and Languedoc regions of France. The wine has a medium body, fine tannins, and an intense color. I get mostly black fruit, particularly cassis. This is a really nice wine that can stand alone and does not require food. A solid wine that would make both the novice drinker and the wine geek happy.

Familia Deicas Valle de los Manantiales $40
Now we move into the more “premium” selections tasted. And this is no surprise, as this wine is made by the legendary Paul Hobbs. 50% of the wine is aged in barrel for 9 months. This is the most polished wine we tasted. No rusticity at all. I get fruit plus herbs and earth.

Garzón Single Vineyard Tannat $30
This is the largest winery investment in South America ($100 million) whose owner is a wealthy Argentine man. This wine sees fermentation in cement tanks and spends 12-18 months on the lees in French barrels/casks. Winamakers Alberto Antonini and Germán Bruzzone love the energy that the granitic soils give this wine. This one is my favorite of the two premium wines tasted. 

Overall I was quite satisfied with the selection of wines from Uruguay. Incredible values are to be had as many wines fall under $16-$18. While you won't find wine from Uruguay just anywhere, consider it a treat if it comes across your hands and give it a try!

Also, take a look at Amanda Barnes' blog post HERE regarding this wonderful event!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Temecula: Exceeding Expectations

The People. The Passion. The Perseverance. 

This is the motto of the 50th Anniversary of the Temecula Valley Wine Country. This year, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of Temecula Valley Wine Country. Press and writers were invited to attend a 10-course wine pairing dinner called “Behind the Wine Bottle” to celebrate this anniversary. The food was courtesy of Executive Chef Leah di Bernardo of E.A.T. Extraordinary Artisan Table, a local restaurant and marketplace in Temecula. Wine pairings were courtesy of Leoness Cellars, Robert Renzoni Vineyards, and Doffo Winery. From the layout, to the execution, wine, and food; everything was TOP NOTCH. It was a very impressive event and one that I was very grateful to be able to attend.

The wine history of the Temecula Valley actually goes back more than 50 years. Wine grapes were first planted by Spanish missionaries in 1820. 50 years ago in 1968 is when the first commercial vineyard was planted by Vincenzo and Audrey Culurzo. The first commercial wine (from Temecula Valley grapes) was not produced until 1971 by Brookside Winery. And in 1984, the Temecula Valley was officially recognized as an AVA. Trouble struck in the 90’s when Pierce’s Disease (which comes from the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter) wiped out 40% of vineyards in the Temecula Valley. Vines were re-planted in the latter part of the 90s to more diversity, including grapes of Italian, Rhône, and Iberian heritage.

Temecula has a thriving wine scene with over 2,500 acres planted and over 40 wineries operating. 23 million people live in Temecula and the surrounding areas, which gives the region a “built in” audience. It is the perfect day or weekend trip for many in southern California. So much so, that over 91% of Temecula wine is consumed locally. Not leaving much for “export” out of the area. Temecula has suffered from a not so stellar reputation over the last couple of decades, but I can authoritatively say that quality here has skyrocketed and Temecula can stand confidently next to many classic wine regions in the world.

And now, for the food and wine details!

Chef Leah prepping the first course

Aperitif: Carter Estate Brut (approx $35)
Chardonnay grapes from the South Coast. This wine is dry, yeasty, and toasty. Everything you could want in a sparkling! Quite respectable and enjoyable.

Grilled Peach Toast (Almond Ricotta, Seeded Bread, Pistachio Dust)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2017 “Melange d’Été"

This wine is light, crisp, and off-dry with 1.5% RS. It is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and a few other. Melange d’Été means “blend of summer” which is quite fitting. A perfect name for this aromatic white. This wine gives me citrus, green fruit, and an abundance of tropical fruit (peach, apricot).  “Like with like” is a great wine pairing rule that rings true here. I also had the pleasure of sitting with Tim Kramer, winemaker at Leoness. Quite fun to enjoy wines with the winemaker at your side!

Tim Kramer of Leoness Cellars

Grilled Peach Toast

Local Halibut (Smoked Créme Fraiche and Forged Greens)
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2017 Vermentino

First off, the smoked créme fraiche on this dish was to die for. We could not get enough. And fun fact, Robert Renzoni was my first and only wine club many years ago. Now that I am intimately involved with wine, I like to pick it all out myself, so a wine club doesn’t work for me. I digress! Vermentino is an Italian variety. The Italian expression would generally be more nutty and have more minerality. This guy is more fruit-forward. The wine sees a super cold fermentation for 30 days. The cool helps to preserve the fresh fruit aromas. On the nose I get citrus (lime), green fruit (pear), and tropical fruit (melon). On the palate, lots of stone fruit plus tropical fruit (pineapple and lychee).

Local Halibut

Cook’s Pig Heritage Pork (Strawberry Variation, Confit Belly, “Bone Marrow”)
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2015 “Lyric Rose” Rosé of Syrah

This wine is named after Lyric, Robert’s daughter. It is made in the Provence style with lower brix, sugar, and alcohol. The wine is totally dry though it has a candied/confected red fruit (watermelon and raspberry) note. In regards to the food, this dish is divine. On another level. Chef Leah somehow managed to make a chimichurri with strawberries. And the pairing is stellar. The red fruit notes in the wine bring out the strawberry in the chimichurri. And the meatiness of the Syrah works well with the pork belly.

Cook's Pig Heritage Pork

Palate Cleanser: Fermented Beets and Sauerkraut
I love fermented/pickled anything and they did a good job with the execution of this course. See picture below: it was passed on a tray with small forks. A nice way to switch gears and give everyone a break from another plate dropped in front of them. 

Fermented Beets and Sauerkraut

Cheese Course (Triple Cream Brie, Oak Cracker, Honeycomb)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2017 Viognier

The Doffo family is from Argentina, where my people come from! This wine sees concrete egg fermentation, which is said to add minerality. We dined with Damian Doffo, winemaker, as well as his father. This low-acid Viognier with a delicately perfumed nose is their only white wine. I find many aromatic wines a bit “in your face”. This one is not. The palate is also delicately perfumed, floral, and feminine. Plus, the pairing works well: fat with fat. Public Service Announcement: For god’s sake, don’t buy grocery store strawberries. 

Cheese Course

Beets & Berries (Beets, Local Berries, Whipped Chévre, Walnuts)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2014 Cellar Selection Meritage

This wine definitely has some power on the nose. Predominantly Merlot based with some Cabernet Franc. It’s a masculine, strong, and assertive red. The Cabernet Franc lends green, vegetal notes. A well-balanced wine with integrated oak use. I get red plus black fruit, black pepper, earthiness, and a slight funk. This is also a nice pairing. 

Beets and Berries

Braised Lentils (Spiced Beluga Lentils, Pimentón, Soft-Cooked Quail Egg)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2015 Motodoffo “Gran Tinto”

Why I have never put a soft-cooked egg on top of lentils, I will never know. On to the wine! This wine is 85% Zinfandel plus 15% Petit Syrah. A big boy. Hellooooooooo New World (both on the nose and the palate). I get fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Plus some chocolate and Raisinets (I have never used that descriptor before!), but it’s a good way to convey a raised note with chocolate.

Grilled Octopus (Sous-Vide; Tomato Emulsion, Shell, Celery)
Pairing: Robert Renzoni Vineyards 2014 Estate “Sonata”

A lovely wine with some heat on the nose (it makes my sicilia stand on end!) and a very approachable palate. This wine is a blend of Brunello plus Cabernet Sauvignon. All estate fruit. A solid, good wine. 

Grilled Octopus

King Trumpet (Seared, Sprouted Grains, “Steak Sauce”)
Pairing: Doffo Winery 2015 “Mistura”

This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A lovely nose with a fruity, juicy palate. Some of the fruit is ripe, almost raisined but I like it. Structured. A very appealing and approachable wine. Fantastic pairing. 

“Coffee” (Iced Granita, Toasted Hazelnut, Vanilla)

Vanilla Bean Gelato (Braised Figs, Port, Armagnac)
Pairing: Leoness Cellars 2014 Signature Selection “Grande Mélange"

This is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape style blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvédre. This wine has grace, elegance, soft tannins and can stand to age a bit. A delightful red to finish off dinner. 

Vanilla Bean Gelato

Temecula has everything a successful winegrowing region should have: history, land, people, passion, and the tools.  With this event, my expectations of Temecula have been exceeded. And I am confident that I am not the only one. People's view of Temecula and Temecula's wines will only go up from here!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Crocus: Elegance in Cahors

Not too long ago, I was delighted to attend a tasting of Crocus wines at A.O.C. restaurant in Los Angeles with special guests: internationally renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs and 4th generation Cahors vintner Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux. His family has been making wine in Cahors since 1887. And in 2011, he and Hobbs started Crocus. Crocus is named after the crocus sativus flower which produces saffron. It has been grown and harvested in the Cahors region since the 14th century and fitting that at the event we all received a small vial of saffron to take home!

Paul Hobbs

Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux
Hobbs first visited Argentina in 1988. At that point in time Malbec was primarily used as a blending grape. Challenging that notion, in 1989 he made a small lot of Malbec that was praised by the US press. He then launched Viña Cobos, making varietal Malbec. In 1999 the wines were introduced to the US and received the highest score to date for an Argentine wine.

How did Crocus start?

Bertrand visited Argentina for the first time in 2007 as he wanted to better understand the global success of Malbec and see it for himself. He had heard of Paul Hobbs and his success, so during the trip he invited Paul to visit the Cahors. Hobbs visited and found wines from Cahors to be traditional and not very suited for modern tastes. He decided to consult with Bertrand to bring innovation and a modern touch to the region. In 2011 Crocus was born. 

The goal was to present a new interpretation of the Malbec of Cahors. To meld modernity and tradition. Many people historically had a negative opinion of Cahors wines. Unclean winemaking practices are sometimes used and wines can be very tannic and over-extracted. Overall, the wines are generally basic and most of it is consumed domestically. Crocus aimed to clean up winemaking using temperature control and cold maceration. They also sought to minimize cap management, which in turn would minimize extraction. Ultimately they were on a quest to define Malbec in its birthplace.

The Cahors region lies east of Bordeaux and the AOC was formed in 1971, though vines have existed there since the Roman times. The AOC rules state that wines must be 70% Malbec (the balance must be Tannat and/or Merlot). Over 4,000 hectares are planted in the Cahors. The climate is continental (it gets warm in the summer but cools down quickly in early fall) and soils are varied.

Aside from the fabulous served food by the A.O.C. staff, we tried 3 Crocus wines. All three wines are 100% Malbec, employing Crocus standards of low pesticide use, low tech, and low intervention winemaking. According to Paul: our wines are a different take on Malbec, reflecting terroir.

2014 Crocus, Malbec de Cahors, L’Atelier $20

This is their entry-level wine with little to no oak used. It is a Malbec of structure and elegance. This is a very well-made wine with extreme balance: no child’s play here. It is rustic though well-structured. On the nose I get ripe red and black fruit (plum, cherry), black pepper, faint spice box, and smoke. On the palate I get medium acid, medium smooth tannins, medium body, and medium flavor intensity with both red and black fruit (raspberry, red currant, fig) and black pepper.

2014 Crocus, Malbec de Cahors, Le Calcifére $45

This wines sees 18 mos in 50% new, 50% single-use French oak. “Le Calcifére” means “the one who contains lime” and takes its name from the high limestone content in the soils. This is a very precise wine that is polished, almost in the New World style. The oak is well-integrated and, according to Paul, will integrate even more with age. On the nose I get a more earthy note, and a tad less black pepper. The fruit on this wine is darker (cherries) plus a strong minerality while the palate is more concentrated and has a stronger flavor intensity. This wine is elegant, grown up. A lovely earthy, spicy (nutmeg), and chocolate feel.

2014 Crocus, Malbec de Cahors, La Roche Mére $125

This wine employs stainless steel fermentation, malolactic fermentation in barrel and 24 mos in 100% new French oak barrels. The wine is complex, modern, and bold. “La Roche Mére” means mother or parent rock, which refers to the Kimmeridgian limestone soils. A layered and complex wine that is quite beautiful. It evolves in the glass and even in your mouth. Very drinkable and balanced. The wine is deep purple in color with concentrated, deep aromas on the nose of black cherry, dark plum, fresh cracked black pepper, and oak (vanillin/cedar). The palate has concentrated, piercing flavors of black and red fruit (raspberry, blackberry), black pepper. There is also an herbal sage note, chocolate, spice (clove, vanilla), and cedar/smoke

According to Hobbs, the wines here are significantly different than other Cahors wines. I tend to agree.