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.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Got Pineau?

Over the summer I had the opportunity to attend a Pineau des Charentes tasting at Lucques in Los Angeles. And I can confirm that I had no idea what Pineau des Charentes was before this MasterClass! But, I am VERY glad I went as I am now looking to integrate Pineau in my cocktailing wheelhouse...and I think you should too! It is an easy, and not to expensive way to “Up Your Cocktail Game”.

Where is AOC Pineau Des Charentes?
It is in the same region as Cognac, on the western coast of France. Pineau des Charentes gained AOC status in 1945, though it has been made there for 400+ years. The AOC gives a strict set of rules including: area of production, varieties to use, vine trimming, yields, and production methods. Also, no additives, sugar, coloring, or caramel are allowed. The climate is maritime (warm summers, cool winters, and close proximity to a large body of water).

What is Pineau des Charentes?

Pineau des Charentes is a French fortified wine with only two ingredients: pressed grape must and cognac eau de vie (3:1 ratio). The grapes from both the must and the eau de vie have to be from the same vineyard and made by the same people in order to express the terroir. The unfermented grape must is prevented from fermenting by shocking it with the eau de vie. Pineau has a low ABV (averaging 17%), much lower than spirits which usually hover around 40%. Therefore it is a great lower alcohol alternative to spirits. All Pineau must have a minimum 12 months oak aging, according to AOC rules.

The Pineau Story

The first Pineau was an accident, as many great stories start! A Cognac producer had some unfermented grape must that needed to be stored. It was put in a barrel thought to be empty, but there was some Cognac in it…..voila! Over time the liquid turned into what we now know as Pineau! There are many types of Pineau. The Blanc style is usually made with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, while the Red is made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. From there, the wines are classified by age: Young is < 5 years old, Vieux (Old) > 5 years old, and Tres Vieux (Very Old) > 10 years old.

How to enjoy Pineau des Charentes?

A little over 10,000 bottles were sold worldwide in 2017. It is best enjoyed as an aperitif or in a cocktail and it pairs well with: goat cheese, blue cheese, Roquefort, and any aged cheese. Below are some of the cocktails we enjoyed at the event:

Ingredients: Pineau des Charentes (young blanc) with tonic, and a thyme sprig/grapefruit peel for garnish. 

This is a great spring/summer pre-dinner drink.

Ingredients: Pineau des Charentes (vieux blanc), Plymouth Gin, Génépy des Alpes (génépy is the primary alpine herb in Chartreuse), a dash of absinthe, and orange bitters.

This is a super complex cocktail with layered bitter flavors. The bitters are cleansing and make your mouth water. I also think they’re good for calibration and a great palate cleanser before wine tasting. This would go great with a funky grilled cheese.

Ciel Rouge
Ingredients: Pineau de Charentes Jeune Rouge, fresh lime juice, toasted orgeat, China China, and 8-year-old dark rum. 

This drink was full of bitter flavors. Not for the faint of heart!

We also tasted the following Pineau des Charentes on their own:

Pineau Park Tessendier Park (White Young $20)
Fresh fig, stewed apricot preserves, dried grapes, and walnut. This was a very interesting wine. The sweetness registers first, then subsides, then acid/floral, then heat. It finishes almost dry with a savory note. Brilliant.

Pierre Ferrand (White Young)
Peaches, plums, prunes, and toasted nuts. I can almost smell the sea/brine. A candied, honeyed note with a warm toastiness.

Reviseur (White Old $29.99)
Walnuts, dried raisins, and a faint acid lift. Light rancio on the palate. Savory and sweet, almost medicinal (pine?). So many layered, complex rancio notes: caramelization, toasted nuts, coffee beans, and raisins/prunes.
Château de Beaulon (White Old)
Fresh, fruity with notes of white flower, honey, and vanilla. Flavors of mandarin and dried apricot. More rancio notes.

Château de Beaulon (Red Old $32)
Fruity notes of black cherry and black currant. Floral notes of red rose. 

Normandin-Mercier (Red Young $26.99)
Aromas of hibiscus, earl grey tea, and dried cherry. Smells like a still red wine though rancio and chocolate notes are not too far behind.  Lots of spice (cinnamon).

Bache Gabrielsen (Blanc Very Old $50)
Flovor of nuts, dried apricots, and well-matured Cognac. Soooo many nuts. Would be good with fresh toasted Marcona almonds.

Thank you to The SOMM Journal for an invite to this lovely event! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Zinfandel Capital of the World?

*These wines were received as samples for review

If you have read this blog before, then you know I am a BIG fan of the Lodi wine region. Lodi wines are quality, terroir-driven, and the value is unmatched! Your dollar certainly goes far when visiting and buying wine in Lodi.

Did you know that Lodi is the Zinfandel capital of the world? Over 40% of the state’s Zinfandel comes from the Lodi AVA. There are over 125 winegrape varieties grown here, but Zinfandel is the true stand out. Zinfandel thrives in Lodi’s mediterranean climate. The warm, sunny days, and cool evenings (in other words, a wide diurnal range) help the grapes to ripen fully, yet not get too ripe, as can happen in places where the temps don’t cool down at night.

Lodi is most commonly known for their Old Vine Zinfandel. In fact, Lodi has more acres of old vines than any region in California. While there is no exact definition of “Old Vine”, many vines are 50 years old, or more. When I visited for the Wine Bloggers Conference in 2016, I visited vineyards that had 100+ year old vines. Gnarly, old vines are fascinating to look at. There’s lots of twists and dark, old-looking wood. The yields tend to shrink the older the vines are, so each vine is precious, as more vines are needed to make a single bottle of wine.

Lodi Zin thrives in the deep sandy loam soils common to the Mokelumne and Clements Hills appellations, and most of the older plantings are own-rooted. Below are a couple of Old Vine Zinfandels I was sent for review:

Mettler 2014 Epicenter Old Vine Zinfandel 15.5% ABV ($25)
This wine is 85% Zinfandel with some Petit Sirah, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in for good measure. The Mettler family has been farming in Lodi for six generations. Their vineyard lies in the “Epicenter” of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel district, hence the name. The grapes are organically grown. This wine is delightfully purple in color. The nose shows red plus black fruit (plums and prunes), black pepper, cedar, sweet vanilla, and molasses. There is an interesting earthy, smokey note. The palate: WOAH! Chocolate and coffee reign here. So much so that it almost feels like you are eating some sort of mocha dessert. Speaking of dessert, sometimes I opt to drink my dessert rather than eat it. I am not a huge dessert wine fan, so my dessert sometimes ends up being a nice, full, ripe dry red. This would be my “dessert” wine of choice. Oh and the finish on this wine….it never ends. A stellar showing for Old Vine Lodi Zin.

Vintage tasted was 2014

Fields Family Wines 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel 14.5% ABV ($28)
The grapes for this wine are from 60-70 year old vines in the Family Vineyard in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi. This wine is medium garnet in color. So. Many. Raisins. Both on the nose and on the palate. Raisins almost always bring me to Old Vine Zin. Also, spice box (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg), vanilla, leather/saddle, plus cocoa/mocha. This is a special wine to be enjoyed slowly. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Kiona Vineyards & Winery: Small But Mighty

Sunset over the Red Mountain AVA

In 1970 John Williams was said to have proclaimed “this just might be a pretty damned good place to grow wine grapes” when speaking of the area that is now known as the Red Mountain AVA in South Central Washington. Because of his proclamation and the subsequent formation of the Red Mountain AVA, I found myself at Kiona Vineyards & Winery in early October at the Red Mountain AVA pre-conference excursion as a part of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. John Williams and his family are what I consider "the OGs" of Red Mountain. The original “first” family.

Our first stop in Red Mountain was at Kiona Vineyards & Winery where we met with JJ Williams, grandson of Kiona founder, John Williams. JJ met us casually in a baseball hat, jeans, and plaid shirt. Fine wine country fashion! The highlight of the conference for me was our time with JJ as he spoke so passionately and eloquently about Kiona and the Red Mountain AVA. He was unapologetically honest, which you don’t always get when people are speaking to the media/press. 

JJ Williams of Kiona Vineyards & Winery
Where the heck is Red Mountain, you ask? Red Mountain is a sub-AVA of the Yakima Valley in South Central Washington. It is the smallest and warmest grape growing AVA in Washington with about 65% of vines planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Source: washington

And what do Red Mountain wines taste like? Instead of giving you my impressions after spending a mere 24 hours in the AVA, I will give you word for word, what JJ Williams has to say. While with JJ, he led us through a tasting of 4 Red Mountain wines alongside 4 red wines from classical wine regions throughout the world: Bordeaux, Napa, Italy, and Australia. It was a fascinating exercise, and one that JJ refers to below:

Red wines from Washington tend to show the following characteristics: Strong fruit characteristic, vibrant acidity, and strong varietal typicity. Cabernet tastes like Cabernet, Merlot tastes like Merlot, etc. Remember back to our tasting: the Washington wines were described by fresh fruit descriptors: blackberry, cherry, cassis, plum, etc. The first descriptor used on the wines from other areas were often not fruit; but words like savory, herbal, leather, wood, and oak. The fruit in Washington takes a front seat. Okay, so if all of that is true about Washington/Columbia Valley wines in general, Red Mountain wines take that up a notch. Within Washington, winemakers will use Red Mountain fruit if they need more color, more tannin, or more structure… basically, more “oomph.” It can almost be viewed as a Petit Verdot type of addition in a blend. Deep color, stout tannins, and strong fruit character are Red Mountain calling cards.

John Williams (JJ’s grandfather) and Jim Holmes met working together in the 60’s at General Electric. In 1972 they bought the first plot of land destined to be grapevines in what is now the Red Mountain AVA. In 1975 the first vines were planted: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling. In fact, below is a picture of 4 of the original Cabernet Sauvignon vines. The first vintage of their wine was produced in 1980 under the Kiona name. Kiona then became one of the founding members of the Yakima Valley AVA in 1982. And in 1994 the Holmes family sold their share to the Williams family, giving them full ownership. And that is how it is to this day. No investors. No banks. Only family. It is no surprise that in 2018, Kiona Vineyards & Winery was named Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest.

4 original vines in the Red Mountain AVA

Scott, John’s son and JJ’s father, is now the vineyard manager and winemaker (no rest for the weary!) at Kiona. JJ tells us that he remembers when Red Mountain and the Kiona property was a sea of brown and a little bit of green (now with so many vines planted, it’s the opposite). He said that the importance of his father in the Kiona and Red Mountain story is sometimes lost in the narrative. His father made it his life’s work to turn 10 acres on a dusty slope into a grape-growing area that was worthy of attention. And now Kiona (who own/farm over 200 acres) grow grapes for 60+ producers in the area, therefore they have a vested interest in making sure Red Mountain succeeds. If that is not motivation to do good work in the vineyard, I don’t know what is! JJ says “it’s a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to stand on the shoulders of two generations of greatness, and it’s not something my brother and I take lightly.”

According to JJ: Kiona operates with roles that are less traditionally-defined than most. Even though they have their titles, both Scott and JJ operate as Co-General Managers, with his (Scott's) focus being primarily production, and JJ's focus being the business side of things. JJ’s younger brother, Tyler, has dedicated his education and career thus far to being a world-class winemaker, with stints in Bordeaux, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Sicily, and more. He is also finishing up a masters degree in enology. Succession plan? They’ve already thought of it. According to JJ: Tyler (my brother) and I needed to specialize in areas that would affect the company in the most dramatic ways, and assume positions that would be difficult/impossible to hire an outside person to do as well as we were, given our backgrounds, experience, and last name. I do a lot of things that would—traditionally—fall under the “winemaker” umbrella, including blending, product/portfolio composition and execution, as well as broader decisions such as barrel/aging philosophies, vineyard/grape allocations, etc. But in terms of wearing galoshes and hooking up hoses/pumps in the winery, that’s not my day-to-day experience.

The Red Mountain AVA is over 4,000 acres with 2,600 planted under vine. And according to JJ, all the good, plantable land is taken, so this is pretty much it for the AVA. What is planted now is what the region will be in 20-30 years. Pretty cool.

What defines Red Mountain and makes the wines what they are? These are the 5 pillars that those in the area count as their competitive advantage to make good wines.

Slope: The area has a good slope and SW aspect, which is beneficial for prolonged sun exposure and warmth. This helps to create ripe tannins, which is a characteristic of Red Mountain fruit.

Low Rainfall: The region is relatively dry with an average of less than 5” of rain annually. Irrigation is necessary. Low rainfall helps to mitigate disease/pest pressure.

Breezes: Which come out of the SW. This air drainage keeps clusters small and concentrates fruit, which is also a hallmark of Red Mountain.

Soils: In Pre-Historic times, Ice Age flooding made the land barren, left only with basalt soils. Winds deposited fine granite-based silt and dust (aka loess) on top of the rock. The resulting soils are fine grained, well-drained, and perfect for growing grapes because of minimal disease/pest pressure

Heat: The vines receive 16-17 hours of sun daily. This creates ripe and concentrated fruit. Plus, cool evenings help the grapes retain their acidity, which aids in maintaining balance and structure.

While with JJ we also had an interesting conversation about oak use. Most wineries are not going to be so honest and we all appreciated JJ’s candor on the topic. He shared that it is his belief that as a general rule, winemakers want to use less oak. But the issue is that consumers demand it (in the sense that they want a certain style of wine; one that generally sees oak treatment) and on the same token, if you seek to receive ratings/scores, those critics generally demand oak use (even if it a subtle demand in that the styles of wine that receive the good score have generally seen more oak). JJ left us with this thought: If you’re a winery with a wine club, you have allocated wines, and/or seek ratings and’re going to use oak. It’s an interesting lever to pull and a very complex topic with many opinions on the table.

Lastly, as part of the Red Mountain tastings, JJ never poured his own wines. Now that is humility. 

Kiona vines

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Lenné Experience

Walk into some wineries and you can tell that they’ve read the studies: millennials are drinking wine at increasing rates and the way to get to their hearts (and wallets) is through an experience. These wineries have crafted Instagrammable moments onsite, they sell wine tchotchkes (including t-shirts that say “rosé all day”), and there is bus/shuttle parking out back for the birthday and bachelorette parties coming through. Those wineries are (generally) fun to visit and have a convivial atmosphere, but the wine isn’t always so great. Sooner or later the bachelorette party starts getting loud and you realize the people behind the counter at the tasting room don’t really know much about wine or have any connection to what they’re pouring, other than to regurgitate tasting notes that appear on the tasting sheets.

Now imagine the complete 180 of that. That would be Lenné Estate in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. To say that Lenné doesn’t have as much “atmosphere” would be completely inaccurate. For those wanting a more authentic and less gimmicky experience, Lenné Estate is the answer. The focus is the wines. Period. And don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a super serious experience only for wine connoisseurs. You still have Scarlet, the requisite winery dog who I could NOT get enough of. The tasting room is beautiful with sweeping views of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. And they’re looking to add a winery house onsite. Something tells me it wouldn’t be a bachelorette type destination, but more of an escape for those seeking a quiet haven in wine country. Lenné is the winery to visit if you want a wine-focused tasting experience; minus the wine charms and key chains for sale on the tasting counter.


Lenné Estate resides in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Owners Steve and Karen Lutz bought the property and planted their first vines in 2001. Six long years later the vines produced their first vintage and the tasting room opened. Steve is notorious for proclaiming that his 20-acre vineyard has the poorest soils in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Their Peavine soils are nutrient deficient, low vigor, and depleted. Perfect for growing grapes! The vineyard lies on a steep hillside. So steep that one year a tractor tipped in the vineyard. There have also been many “almost” tipped stories. Steve likes to say they grow “death-defying Pinot Noir vines”.

Death-defying slopes at Lenné Estate

Stepping out of the vineyard and into the bottle, we have minimalist wines at Lenné made from both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In all, approximately 1500-2000 cases are produced each year, and they have no intention of expanding. Steve likes to make single-block wines so the customer can understand and study terroir. The tasting room is comfortable with ample seating, which is important to Steve. This isn’t a drive-by tasting kind of experience. He wants you to get comfortable, get to know the wines, and maybe enjoy one of his epic charcuterie plates.

The tasting room is open Wednesday-Sunday weekly. Steve also holds wine seminars throughout the year, including blind tastings of his Lenné wines alongside top Pinots from around the world. This is a gutsy move to put your wines alongside Pinots from Burgundy, for example. However, this fact alone shows how transparent Steve is. His wines are not meant to replace or compete with Pinots from Burgundy, New Zealand, or anywhere. The goal is to showcase the unique attributes of each wine and where they came from. 

Steve Lutz, Owner & Winemaker

I asked Steve if Lenné has any plans for growth. Any desires to make wine elsewhere? Nope. This site here. This is Steve’s story.

“This site is ingrained in my DNA” says Steve.

“I didn’t choose Lenné. It chose me”.

Wines Tasted

2016 Chardonnay $45
My notes: Bright fruit aromatics. Does not smell like a Chardonnay. Great green fruit on the palate with medium acid.
Their notes: Asian pear and green apple with lively acidity and creamy texture.

2014 Lenné Pinot Noir $40
My Notes: Oh yeah. Big nose here: bright red fruit plus pepper and smoke. I also get a minerality on the palate. This is their largest production wine.

2015 Jill’s 115 Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Tighter grained, smaller tannins give a silkiness to the wine. Currant, mocha, and Bing cherry aromatics and a long, elegant finish.

2015 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $40
My notes: A very balanced combination of red and black fruit. Great mouthfeel (texture) plus a clean, medium plus finish.
Their notes: Black cherry, black raspberry, and mocha aromatics surround a soft mouthfeel and long finish.

2015 Eleanor’s 114 Pinot Noir $55
My notes: Cherry on the forefront of the nose and palate. A good chunk of dirt/earthiness that I expect from a Pinot Noir.
Their notes: Black raspberry fruit, mocha, and truffle aromatics and a rich mouthfeel.

2015 cinq élus Pinot Noir $72
My notes: No words. Wow. This is my favorite wine of the group.
Their notes: This is their five-barrel blend of the best barrel from each of their clonal blocks. Mixed black and red fruit, mocha, and earth aromatic frame a dense wine with layered, and rich finish.

2015 South Slope Select Pinot Noir $55
Their notes: Seeing nearly 80% new oak, this wine has plenty of tannins an should be our longest-lived wine of the vintage. Dark Bing cherry, red fruits, smoke, and mocha aromatics and a long finish.

2008 Lenné Estate Pinot Noir $100
Their notes: 600 cases of this wine was made and 200 cases were held back. It was re-released in 2015. This wine still hasn’t peaked but is delicious, with black and red fruits, forest floor, truffle and the longest finish of any wine we have ever produced.

Monday, October 22, 2018

South America: It’s Not All Malbec

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

My family is from Argentina. I spent many summers and school breaks there as a child/teenager and one thing I remember is how there were always tumblers of wine on the table for lunch and dinner. Soda water and “cubitos” (ice) are generally added to red wines, especially at lunchtime. Argentina has a very European culture/mentality towards wine. It’s free flowing, it’s inexpensive, and it’s to be enjoyed daily. Such a healthy way to think about alcohol, versus in the US how we view alcohol as a bad thing (a vice), something to be controlled, and less of a daily enjoyment. We moderate most of the time, yet when we get our hands on it, we tend to drink more at one sitting (binge) and suffer the effects later. I propose we all enjoy 1 glass of wine a day and get in tune with the “healthy” Europeans/Argentines!

When people think of wine in South America, they think of Malbec from Argentina. In South America, Malbec is as ubiquitous as water, generally inexpensive, and flows freely at most lunches and dinners. In the Mendoza wine region of Argentina, Malbec is KING. But did you know that many other grapes are grown there? The major wine producing countries in South America are Argentina and Chile. Uruguay is making a name for itself. And we can even find wines from both Brazil and Bolivia.

With the diversity of wine producing countries and their respective regions with different altitudes, climates, and soils, we have some very diverse grape growing in South America.

One grape that you can find in many wine producing regions of South America is Cabernet Sauvignon: the king of all red grapes. With a grape like Cabernet Sauvignon comes marketability and consumer familiarity. If you’re a wine drinker you have probably heard of Cabernet Sauvignon and feel comfortable ordering it at a restaurant or picking it up in bottle at a wine shop. Cabernet Sauvignon is also known to command higher prices than regional grapes. It is the most well-known international red variety, and for that reason more is planted and prices skew higher.

One of the most well-known winemaking families in South America is the Montes family. In 1987 Aurelio Montes Sr. (and partners) started Viña Montes with the goal of producing wines of a quality far superior to what was coming out of Chile. Their Montes Alpha “M” Cabernet Sauvignon became that first super premium wine to come out of Chile.

Aurelio Montes founded Kaiken in 2002 in the Uco Valley of Mendoza. The name comes from the “caiquén” which is a Patagonian wild goose that is found in both Chile and Argentina. A nod to Montes’ Chilean heritage. The vineyards are biodynamically farmed with over 3 million cases produced annually.

We will now taste three very different expressions of South American Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Montes Alpha M Red Wine 2012 $90 (current vintage: 2015)
Directly from the website: Production of Montes Alpha M is extremely limited and vintages are only released if our head winemaker, Aurelio Montes considers that the quality of the wine is up to demanding standards. Production starts by selecting individual grapes at harvest time. This wine, from Colchagua Valley, it´s one of the best and most awarded wine from Chile.

My notes: This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend (80% Cab Sauv, 10% Cab Franc, 5% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot). I get red fruit (plum and raspberry), black fruit (black currant), and vanilla. On the palate I also get licorice and caramel/toast. A beautifully made, balanced wine.

Kaiken Terroir Series Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $17
Boy has this wine got bang for your buck. At $17 this wine feels and tastes much more expensive. The wine is deep ruby in color with garnet hues. Aromatic notes include: red fruit (plum, raspberry), black fruit (blackberry), fresh cracked black pepper, spice box (cinnamon, clove), vanilla, and cedar closet. On the palate I get a stronger presence of black fruit, including blackberry and cassis. Mocha fo sho (that perfect combination of chocolate and coffee). As the wine opens up the black fruit softens and spice comes to the forefront, particularly black pepper.

Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 $20
This wine is medium ruby in color with a perfumed/floral nose. There is a full bouquet of aromas and flavors on this wine: red berries, vanilla (from the French oak), tobacco, spice, and bitter dark chocolate. The tannins are soft and well-integrated.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Artesa: Barcelona Born, Napa Raised

Ana Diogo-Draper, Winemaker

Imagine a career where you have about 30 chances to prove yourself. Each year you get to make one decision and that decision stays with you your entire life. This is the life of a winemaker, according to Ana Diogo-Draper of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Every year she works hard to craft a wine she is proud of. As she says: You’ve got 30 chances to make it right. And once that wine is in bottle it starts all over again. At the end of her career she will have about 30 vintages of wine that have her touch on it.

I recently attended a press luncheon featuring the wines of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. We were lucky enough to meet winemaker, Ana Diogo-Draper, who tasted us through a flight of Artesa wines. THIS is one of the perks of working in the wine business. I have virtually unlimited access to great wines and get to meet the people who are very close to the wines. The stories behind the bottle never cease to amaze me. There is so much life in a bottle of wine, and I love to share this with all of you. I firmly believe that understanding the backstory of a bottle (the vineyards, the region, the grapes, the winemakers, etc) will help you to better enjoy your wine. It’s a beautiful thing!

From the Artesa website:

In the 1980s, the historic Spanish winemaking family Codorníu Raventós began to acquire and develop vineyard land in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Opened in 1991 as Codorníu Napa, a sparkling wine house, the winery ultimately transitioned to producing still wines as successive vintages revealed the quality and potential of the family’s vineyard holdings. The winery was renamed Artesa – Catalan for “handcrafted” – in 1997, and has since become a leading producer of artisan wines from the varietals for which Carneros and Napa Valley are best known: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Codorníu Raventós is still family owned and is the oldest company in Spain with a winemaking legacy in the Penedès region near Barcelona that dates back to 1551.

The 150 acres of sustainably farmed Artesa estate vines are on a former goat farm with a cool and coastal climate and sea-facing vines. Soils are rocky (sandstone, limestone, and loam). The estate vines straddle the Carneros and Mt. Veeder AVAs and are all at 100-500 feet elevation. Pinot Noir is the most planted with Chardonnay coming in at number two and a bit of Albariño. There is a small amount of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon in the Mt. Veeder vines. All grapes are handpicked because of the steepness of the vineyards.

Artesa produces 25 distinct wines for a total of 40K-50K cases annually. Ana has been at the helm of winemaking since 2015. She strives for more neutral inputs to let the grapes and the terroir speak for themselves. 100% native fermentation is used, as there is a healthy native yeast population onsite. Researchers were actually brought in and determined that the native yeast onsite does not exist elsewhere; it is unique to Artesa.

For this special tasting, Artesa bottled the component pieces of their wines for educational purposes. Note that these wines were very roughly filtered, bottled by hand, and are not available for sale.

2016 Chardonnay Component #1
This component comes from Blocks 4, 6, & 7 in their estate vineyard. Both Dijon 96 and Robert Young clones are used. In terms of winemaking, puncheon fermentation and basket press is used, the wines go through 100% malo. With this wine, you smell the winemaking (toast, dairy, and texture). On the nose I get green apple, pear, a light toast, and a dairy/cream note. The wine has a bracing medium + acid. The palate is quite textured (perhaps from bâttonage)? And there is a distinct note of toasty macadamia nuts.

2016 Chardonnay Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 15 of the estate vineyard. A pneumatic press and stainless steel fermentation are both used. The wine does not go through malo. Here, I think, you smell a combination of the fruit and the vineyard. This wine is bright with no shortage of fruity, primary notes. It is a bit cloudy, due to the minimal filtering. Green fruit is quite prominent because of the lack of malo.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Chardonnay $38
This finished wine has 20 components parts from 10 different clones. Out of the 20, we only got to taste two (above). This wine feels warm on the nose (it is 14.5% ABV after all!). It is quite layered, almost contemplative. I find many California Chardonnay’s reveal themselves when you first meet. With this wine I had to get to know her a little better before I could make an accurate assessment. There are certainly primary notes present (green fruit and citrus), along with the requisite secondary notes common to Chardonnay: cream and dairy. There is even a faint nuttiness on the finish.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #1
This Martini clone component comes from Block 24 of the estate vineyard, which is the first Pinot Noir pick in the vineyard. Open top fermentation in puncheon for 20-25 days, then basket press. This wine gives red fruit (cherry, cranberry), blueberry, vanilla, spice/toast, and earth (a twiggy note) on the nose. The palate is warm and comforting with immature acid that is not yet integrated.

2016 Pinot Noir Component #2
This Martini clone component comes from Block 14 of the estate vineyard. Stainless steel open top fermentation. The wine is a touch cloudy as it is not finished. This is a very primary wine, compared to the first component piece that had oak influence.

2016 Artesa Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir $45
This finished wine has 25 components, of which we got to try two. Now THIS is a finished Pinot Noir. The requisite fruit + spice/earth lead to a good, all-around red that won’t overpower food and is quality enough to enjoy on your own.

Thank you to Matt Kaner & Good Measure, Zach Groth and Colangelo & Partners, and Artesa Vineyards & Winery.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Oh Sherry Baby

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review 

Sherry is an adult beverages that is a victim of the past. The word “sherry” conjures up images of elderly ladies sitting in a living room (doilies on the tables!) drinking a sweet cream sherry. Harvey’s Bristol Cream anyone? What people do not know about sherry is that it is made in a wide variety of styles. Sweet and dessert wines are less popular these days, which has made sherry naturally fall out of style. However, today we will talk about two DRY styles of sherry that may be more up your alley.

This week is International Sherry Week! I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try something new! What a perfect time to jump in. Let’s first cover the basics of sherry, so you know what you’re getting yourself into!

There are three white grapes allowed for use in Sherry: Palomino, Pedro Ximénez, and Moscatel. The main environmental influences for the grapes used in sherry are the unique white chalky albariza soils (which help retain moisture) and the warm, dry weather.

Sherry is a fortified wine made only in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. The main styles of sherry are: Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, and PX. The best way to explain what sherry is, is to explain how it is made. The two ways to age sherry are biologically (under flor, which is a blanket of yeast) or oxidatively. All the styles listed above fall into these two categories, or somewhere in the middle. But we’ll explain that in a minute!

Sherry wine aging under "flor"

First, a neutral base wine is made and fermented to a low alcohol (11-12%). The wine is then fortified, in which a neutral base spirit is added to increase the alcohol (15-18% depending on the style). The wine is then placed into oak barrels that are not completely filled to the top and is now ready to enter the “solera” for aging. A solera is a process for aging the wines in barrel. See the picture below from the SherryNotes website (which I highly recommend you visit if you want to learn more about sherry!). The bottom barrels are the oldest and the top barrels are the newest. There are different barrels for each year/vintage. Every year some sherry is pulled from the solera and bottled and every year more sherry is added into the system and it is fractionally blended with the older vintages.

Photo from:

A description of the styles of these samples lie below within the tasting notes.

Tasting Notes

Gonzalez Byass Vina AB Amontillado Sherry $24.99
An amontillado sherry starts out being aged biologically under the flor yeast. It is then moved to an oxidative solera. This is why the main markers for amontillado sherry are oxidative and nutty notes. This wine is a pale amber color, has bracing acid and is super duper nutty. There are also savory/umami notes as well as a woody note. This wine has a veryyyyyyy long finish.

Gonzalez Byass Leonor Palo Cortado Sherry $24.99
Palo cortado is a rare style of sherry. The wine starts biologically aging under the flor yeast, but sometimes the flor does not develop properly, so it is moved to an oxidative aging system. For this reason, the wine has a combination of aromas/flavors from both systems. It is a more complex wine and perceived to be of a higher quality. This wine is a medium/deep amber color, very strong acid and is richer than the amontillado. The nuts are a bit toastier, almost like garrapiñadas roasting on the street. I also get dried orange peel, caramel, candied ginger, and baking spices (cinnamon and cardamom). There is also a lactic note, which is typical of a Palo Cortado.

Good food pairings for this wine include: cured meats, nuts(!), and cheese. It is a lovely companion to a charcuterie plate to get the party started! These wines are both perfect as we move into fall and look for something other than simple whites and the ubiquitous rosè. These wines have character, a savory note, and are quite warming.

Thank you both to Donna White PR and Gonzalez Byass USA for these samples!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Grenache Day: What's in Your Glass?

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review

Did you know that today is Miniature Golf Day, National Chai Day, World Peace Day, AND International Grenache Day?

I didn't think so.

Just about every day of the year has some sort of "holiday" attached to it. You can Google the date and find out what random and obscure holiday is celebrated that day. Most of these "holidays" are no more than a ploy to get people to consume and buy stuff. The same goes for wine days. Throughout the year we celebrate different wine grapes, regions, and styles by giving the day a name. Yes, these holidays are created by regional marketing associations and PR firms. BUT, I will say that it does give consumers a chance to step outside of their wine comfort zone and try something new!

Being that today is International Grenache Day, why not go to your local wine shop after work and pick up a bottle of Grenache/Garnacha to enjoy this Friday night? It's a perfect excuse to jazz up your Friday night and "Up Your Wine Game".

Have you tried a Grenache before?  Here are some basic facts about Grenache that you may not know.

Grenache is a red grape that makes a wine that (as a general rule) is on the lighter side in terms of body, tannins, and acidity. Grenache can be used to make both red wines and rosé wines. There is also a variety called Grenache/Garnacha Blanca that is used to make a white wine. Don’t think of this wine as “wimpy”. Grenache can be bold and spicy and is a fabulous wine to go with grilled meats. Common aromas and flavors found in Grenache include red, sometimes candied, fruit such as strawberry and raspberry; also spice such as clove, white pepper, and cinnamon. Grenache grows well in warm climates and can be found in places like: Spain (Cariñena, Priorat, Rioja), France (Languedoc-Roussillon, the Rhone, Provence), California, and Australia. It is even called Cannonau in Sardinia. Grenache is originally from Spain where it is known as Garnacha. It is the predominant grape in DOP Cariñena, in the northern Aragón region.

What makes Grenache such a unique wine is its versatility. It is a great varietal wine (meaning a wine that is named after the dominant grape variety), but also is a good partner in blends to add spice or to soften the acid or tannins of the partner variety. The other great thing about Grenache is that there are so many value priced Grenaches of incredible quality. You don’t have to spend a ton to get good wine.

Fun fact: All that #roséallday #rosébae you’ve been drinking is predominantly Grenache. That’s right: Grenache is one of the most popular grapes vinified as a rosé. See, you’ve been drinking Grenache, loving it, and you didn’t even know it! Do me this favor: walk into your local wine shop and ask the salesperson to help you find a good Grenache for under $20/bottle. You will thank me later! Here are a couple Spanish Grenache wines I'm drinking today for International Grenache Day.

Corona de Aragòn White Garnacha 2017 (12.5% ABV)
This wine is from the Cariñena appellation in Spain. There is also 13% Chardonnay blended in. The wine is pale lemon in color. On the nose I get citrus (lemon), green fruit (pear). Very primary and fresh. A youthful wine. On the palate I get a marked salinity, as well as the same primary fruit notes. The wine has medium -acid, medium body, medium + flavor intensity, and a medium + finish that lingers. This wine is vibrant. It's fun and lively and is a GREAT alternative to the usual white wine suspects: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio.

Origium Garnacha Rosé 2016 (12.5% ABV)
This wine is a medium, bright pink color. The notes here are wholly primary, both on the nose and on the palate. Red fruit abounds: cherry, strawberry, and raspberry. There is a faint floral note: perhaps rose petals? This wine is bright and juicy. Everything you want in a rosé. And this ain't no delicate, pale rosé from Provence. This wine is BRIGHT pink and can really stand up to food. Think grilled seafood, or a salad with grilled chicken. I would be a nice companion to most summer fare.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Rocket Science & Wine at Vidon Vineyard

At Vidon Vineyard, there is a perceivable push/pull between science and romance. According to David Bellows, the Vidon winemaker with a PhD in molecular biology, the artistic side is overrated. But I’m going to have to disagree with him. Even here, at a science filled laboratory/winery, there is some romance. A lot of heart goes into the wine here, and contrary to popular belief, it’s not all science.

Vidon Vineyard gets its name from the combination of the names of the owners: Vi-Don (Vicki and Don Hagge). Vidon is a family-owned estate vineyard (14.5 acres) in the Chehalem Mountains AVA of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Don and Vicki purchased the property in 1999 when Don was 69 years old and “retired”. In order to prepare the land for vines, he had to clear an ungodly amount of rocks and stumps (over 1,000 of them!). The soils here are varied, with predominantly sedimentary and volcanic elements. A “dog’s breakfast” David called them. “Gemisch” in German. “Mish mosh” in Yiddish. When you are with Don and David, you get a lot of facts thrown at you. It’s the scientist within each of them. David says “We are educators, so we like to educate.”

L: David Bellows. R: Don Hagge

Don holds a PhD in Physics and worked at NASA as the Chief of the Physics branch for the Apollo 7 through the Apollo 13 missions. Which begs the question: Is it more difficult to make wine or to send a man to space? Not sure if there is a straight answer, but we can certainly ponder. In addition to being the owner, Don is also vineyard manager and tractor operator. Retirement has not slowed him down one bit. Sidenote: He also jumped out of airplanes in the Korean War. Is there anything this man has not done?

Both Don and David are constantly tinkering and inventing. During our visit they showed us a few of their inventions: a glass stopper bottling line, a makeshift wine preservation system, and a wine storage system. They both like to develop new skills and create things from scratch. And their modest winery does function as a sort of laboratory. Decisions are made pragmatically with cost and efficiency in mind. According to Don “Part of what you learn as a scientist is to be systematic. I always try to figure out how to do things better and more efficiently.” Don is even working on creating a new wine club, called VinAlliance that is more like a loyalty club, with multiple wineries participating. No rest for the weary at Vidon Vineyard.

The world according to David Bellows

Their style is minimal intervention winemaking with indigenous yeasts and thoughtful oak use. According to Don “We keep the use of SO2 down, and we don’t use enzymes or additives. And we don’t mess with the wines, but let nature take its course.” With that being said, I had to ask the scientists their thoughts on biodynamics. Their exact words: there’s no singing or naked dancing here!

Vidon produces Pinot Noir (three different clones: 777, 115, and Pommard) and small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo. They have a 2,100 case production that all takes place in an 800-square-foot facility. All Vidon wines are 100% estate grown.

Wines Tasted

2016 Apollo Chardonnay $60
Fun fact: The Apollo 11 spacecraft carried man to the moon on July 20, 1969, which Don observed from NASA headquarters along with the rest of the team.

2014 Three Clones Pinot Noir $45
They liken this wine to a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums) all playing together. This wine has all BRIGHT red fruit; very primary.

2014 Brigita Clone 777 $50
This wine was the most aromatic of the Pinots. The piano of the jazz trio. A surprising palate of complex fresh and juicy fruit with a slightly candied note. Also, fresh rose petals and white pepper. Each of the component Pinots are named after Don’s grandchildren.

2014 Mirabelle Clone 115 $50

This component adds the acidic backbone to the Three Clones Pinot. On its own, I’d describe it as feminine and Burgundian in style. The vines for these grapes are on red Jory volcanic soil. This wine has a perfumed nose with a touch of vanilla.

2014 Hans Clone Pommard $50

This component was described as the shoulder of the wine, or the bass line. The whole structure of the Three Clones is sitting on this. I felt more phenolics on this wine than the others, yet it really softened up upon drinking. Beautiful vanilla note both on the nose and palate.

2015 Saturn Syrah $40
Saturn was the powerful booster that launched the Apollo 11 spacecraft into orbit on its way to the moon in 1969. This wine has a deep purple color with dark red and black fruit both on the nose and palate.

If Don and David don’t feel any romance for the wine, then why don’t we find them in a laboratory? Or plugging away at a desk in a library with their heads in a book? Something drew them to this world. Either the juice in the bottle? The story behind the bottle? Or maybe getting to meet people day in and day out who come visit the tasting room? In the end Don “Just wants to make a good product, charge fair prices, and give folks a nice experience.” So while it may look like these guys are all science, they do have a heart. A logical, scientific heart. And according to Don “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make good wine, but it doesn’t hurt if you are.”

As we were wrapping up our visit, we also got to meet Mr. Studley, the rooster who prances around the property like he owns the place. I asked Don if he’d ever get a vineyard dog. “When I get old, I’ll get a vineyard dog”. He’s 86.

Mr. Studley to the right

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

An Italian Afternoon with Doctor Wine & Drago Centro

Daniele Cernilli aka “Doctor Wine” recently came to Los Angeles for a stellar wine tasting and pairing with the food of Drago Centro, in downtown Los Angeles, as part of his California Tour 2018. The occasion was the launch of his 4th Edition to The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine. There are 25 contributors to the book, which is not an Italian wine encyclopedia, but rather a curated list of wines from the best producers including winery information, tasting notes, etc.

Some have called Daniele the “Robert Parker of Italy”. Depending on your thoughts of Parker, that comparison can be a compliment or not! Suffice it to say that Daniele Cernilli is an important voice in the Italian wine space. Case in point, he was one of the founders of Gambero Rosso some 24 years ago and remains an important wine critic and educator.

Below is a recap of this amazing lunch, including the wines! Note that two to three wines were paired with each course.

First Course
Cecaluccoli Lobster Carbonara, Egg Yolk
I don’t have many tasting notes for the food except for “OMG”. This lunch was to die for. Each course better than the next. And now I am craving carbonara:)

Pairing #1 (my fav)
Contadi Castaldi Lombardy Brut Rose NV Franciacorta DOCG
According to Daniele, this wine is the color of a Vidalia onion. It is younger and approachable with a beautiful, clean primary nose and a lovely crisp palate. This wine has a slight yeastiness and medium +/high acid, which really cuts through the fat of the carbonara. Lees aging of 24-30 months, which is not too detectable on the nose, but is detectable on the palate. 10g/L of liqueur de disgorgement. Contadi Castaldi also owns Bellavista, a famous Franciacorta producer.

Pairing #2
Vigne Surrau Branu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG 2017 Sardinia
One the nose, this wine brings citrus, green fruit, and a hint of stone fruit. Also, almond skin, and a floral (honeysuckle) note. On the palate, I get citrus (lime peel), stone fruit (apricot, peach), tropical fruit (pineapple), and a floral note. This wine is chewy with great texture. A bold wine with medium + body. This wine is all stainless steel and sees no oak.

Second Course
Tortellini, Ricotta Pecorino, Parmesan, Basil, Pine Nuts
I have never had a dish like this before. Soft, pillowy tortellini stuffed with cheese, basil, and pine nuts. When the tortellini broke in your mouth, an unexpected rush of warm soup came out. Delish!

Pairing #1 (my fav)
Colosi Piero Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia 2017
These vineyards are on a tiny island (of 300 people!) just off of Sicily. This wine is a purple/violet color and smells a bit more sophisticated than most Southern Italian wines, which tend to be more rustic. The nose has the perfect combination of red fruit (plum and cherry), floral (violet), and earth (cedar) notes. There is also a slight graphite note. Daniele also got a caper/vegetal note. On the palate this wine had a strong acid backbone and was very rustic. Very Italian.

Pairing #2
Vinchio Vaglio Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 2015
This is their flagship wine. Very versatile. The nose smells like a pile of dirt and that makes me happy. Dirt is exactly what I want to smell in an Italian wine. The fruit is delicate and I also get a hint of violet petals. Refreshing acidity on the palate, plus some oak tannins that I think will mellow with time.

Pairing #3
Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi e Figli Srl Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia 2014
This wine is a medium garnet color (possibly due to age?). On the nose I get sour red cherry (which is a Sangiovese marker) plus floral notes. Very rustic. The palate also brings me sour cherry, good acid, and demands food.

Third Course
Colorado Wagyu NY Steak, Celery Root Puree, Au Jus
The marbling on this steak…..oh boyyyy!!!! So good.

Pairing #1
Statti Arvino IGP Calabria 2015
This producer also grows olives on their property and is the largest producer of olives in all of Calabria, with over 55,000 trees! This wine has a lovely rusticity on the nose with lots of red fruit. It spends 12 months in French oak (which is not super evident on the palate; perhaps neutral oak was used?). On the palate I get medium + tannins and medium + acid (enough to make you salivate). This wine is balanced and great alone. It does not need food.

Pairing #2
Velenosi Vini Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013
This wine gives me black fruit, dried cherries, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. It reminds me of an Old Vine Zinfandel.. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. Juicy. This wine is like a beautiful Italian woman. You can’t stop looking at her. She appears effortless. 

Pairing #3 (my fav)
Tenuta Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte DOC 2011
This is the most iconic wine of the tasting. It really held up to the food. Major structure. A step up from everything we have tasted toda thus far. The nose was spectacular: fruit and tons of herbaceous notes such as dried sage and tarragon). #thatnosethough. Only 200 cases produced.