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!