Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Sella & Mosca: Simply Sardinia

In my wine journeys I have the opportunity to experience fabulous wines and attend events where I get to taste these wines and meet the winemakers. One such occasion was when I was introduced to Sella & Mosca, the largest winery on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia lies south of France near the island of Corsica and off the west coast of Italy. Sella & Mosca lies on the NW corner of the island, just inland from the historic port of Alghero, which was designated a DOC in 1995.

Sardinia has a 6,000-year winemaking history. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery on the island (550 hectares planted) and almost the oldest. Fun fact: it is the second largest contiguous vineyard in Italy! They use all organic cultivation and participate in other sustainable activities. The vineyards have been planted with alternating rows of oleanders, palms, maritime pines, eucalyptus and other Mediterranean plants. The winery also maintains a 12-acre nature preserve dedicated to Mediterranean vegetation and local wildlife.

Tourism is the main industry on the island with 1.4 million tourists visiting year-round. In the summer, the population of the island doubles. The island provides lots of sun and wind and desirable soils for grapes including: iron-rich limestone, clay and sandy soils. All their wines are made from estate-grown grapes and they grow both native varieties (Vermentino, Torbato, and Cannonau) as well as some international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

Of note about Sardinia is its designation as a “Blue Zone”. Blue Zones are regions of the world where Dan Buettner claims people live much longer than average. Other blue zones in the world include Okinawa, Japan and Costa Rica. Sardinia is said to be on this list partially because Cannonau has one of the highest concentration of resveratrol as any other grape variety. 

Founded over a century ago in 1899, Sella & Mosca was started by two Piemontese businessmen: Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca, who were two very important figures during the Risorgimento. Had to look this one up! According to Wikipedia: the Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.

Today, the head winemaker is Giovanni Pinna who lead us through a tasting of their wines.  A native of Sardinia, Giovanni has devoted his entire career to studying, working and teaching others about the island’s unique viticultural landscape. He joined Sella & Mosca in 2000 and is now chief winemaker over their annual production of 7.6 million bottles!

Most notable about Sella & Mosca is their dedication to the Torbato grape, their flagship variety. Torbato was brought to the island during the Spanish rule. Even though a variety called Turbat is found in Spain today, Sella & Mosca is the only producer in the world to vinify it as a 100% varietal wine. Today they produce four types of Torbato: Torbato D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche D.O.C. Alghero, Terre Bianche Cuvée 161 D.O.C. Alghero, and Torbato Spumante Brut. Giovanni uses no oak in their white wines, as he wants you to experience the grape, not the wood.

Sella & Mosca wines are readily available in Los Angeles at the Wine House, K&L Wines, and Wally’s.

Below I detail the Sella & Mosca wines tasted at this luncheon, as well as the incomparable food pairings courtesy of Celestino Drago at Drago Centro. Note that the menu was created to try different wines with different courses, so it was not a straight one course + one wine per pairing.

Crab Salad Toast, Truffle Arancini, and Tuna Crostini

Torbato Brut 2017 Alghero Torbato Spumante DOC $24.99 (12.5% ABV)
This wine has bright fruit notes of pear and green apple with a delicate whiteflower note on the back end, but not as much florals as you’d get from a Prosecco. This wine has medium + acid and is quite round…not austere. A fabulous pairing for seafood. I feel very honored to try this wine as Sella & Mosca makes the only varietally labeled Turbato in the world! Fun fact: they are working on a traditional method Turbato sparkler that is still sitting on the lees and aging. That would be a treat to try!

First Course
Scallop, Roasted Maitake Mushroom, Truffle Beurre Blanc 

Second Course
Tagiolini, Seabass, Cherry Tomato, Pine Nut, Fish Fumet 

Le Arenaire Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Alghero DOC $17.99 (13% ABV)
A much riper nose (less green) than the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is round, ripe, but with gripping acid, just as you’d expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus (Meyer lemon), green fruit, and a hint of tropical notes (unripe pineapple). A very well-balanced wine…I really love this one. Great acid and great body. Fabulous with both the scallop and the pasta course. And at $17.99, a great QPR compared to other Sauv Blancs out there where the quality can be a bit lacking at that pricepoint.

Monteoro 2016 Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG $26.99 (14% ABV)
Vermentino is a well-known grape to Sardinia. It is found in other regions (such as Liguria and Tuscany) but 75% of Italy’s Vermentino finds its home in Sardinia. In France it is known as Rolle. Here in Sardinia this wine is produced in Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia’s only DOCG, formed in 1996. A lovely almond-skin nose gives this wine a true “Sardinian” feel, as you know instantly this is not one of the international varieties. Typicity reigns with Vermentino in Sardinia. 

Third Course
Lamb Loin, Venere Risotto, Roasted Beets, Bartlett Pears, Lamb Jus 

Fourth Course
Chef’s Assorted Cheeses 

Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC 2015 $17.99 (14.5% ABV)
Cannonau is known elsewhere as Grenache, a thin-skinned red variety. Over 700 years ago the Spanish brought Grenache to Sardinia and over time the grape has changed and now it’s known as Cannonau. This wine gives bright red fruit, floral (violet) notes, graphite/minerality, earth, umami/mushroom, and balsamic notes. No joke, my tasting notes on the palate says: HOLY SHIT. This wine inspires me. For $17.99 you are transported to the Mediterranean. To Sardinia. Italian wines tend to do this……they take you there. Whether it’s through the nose or the taste, or how the wine plays with the food, or how it brings back memories of perhaps a trip you took to Italy. It is quite a special thing and this wine reminds me why I LOVE Italian wines. There is just something about them.

Tanca Farrà Alghero DOC 2014 $26.99 (13.5% ABV)
This guy is 50% Cannonau and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. You can actually smell/taste the structure and backbone that Cab Sauv lends.

Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC 2010 $59.99 (13% ABV)
The grapes for this wine originate in the Villamarina vineyard of the estate. After harvest and fermentation, the wine is matured in small French oak casks for 18 months before transfer to larger oak barrels for a further year. After bottling, it is aged an additional 18 months. A beautiful, well-balance wine. Really nice. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Odfjell Vineyards: The Best of Chile in a Bottle

Disclaimer: These wines were received as samples for review.

It is not often that wine crosses my desk that possesses the holy trifecta: affordable, organic/biodynamic, and delicious. This was the case with the wines of Odfjell Vineyards of Chile. I wanted to speak to the winemaker and learn more about Odfjell and about making wine in Chile. Arnaud Hereu, chief oenologist/winemaker was kind enough to answer a few questions as I explored and tasted their wines.

Odfjell is a good example of sustainable viticulture and winemaking in Chile. When I asked Arnaud, why do you think that Chile is one of the leaders in the world for sustainability when it comes to viticulture and winemaking? He responded: Chile is a country that thinks of the future, a country always a step ahead. Chile is a country really connected to nature: the landscape, the fruit industry, even the mining industry in a way…they know that they have to keep their country in “good shape” for the next generation. Wine is an important aspect of agriculture, it is exposed outside of the country and I think it is important for us to show to the world that yes, we care about the future.

Odfjell was started by Dan Odfjell, a Norweigan shipping owner and avid traveler who was won over by a small corner of the famed Maipo Valley in Chile. Fast forward and today the business is lead by sons, Lawrence and Dan Jr. They now have 284 acres of vines in the Maipo, Lontué, and Maule Valleys and are 100% certified organic and biodynamic, producing 60,000 cases annually.

Lawrence, one of Dan’s sons, designed the gravity flow winery onsite. The system allows for extremely gentle handling of the grapes. The winery is situated on a hill above the vineyards. Carved into the slope, over 60% of the winery is underground. This subterranean environment naturally achieves low and stable temperatures for storage. The design incorporates a number of passive cooling strategies, such as: optimizing solar orientation and using 30cm thick concrete walls as thermal mass. Gravitational wineries ensure that during winemaking, pumping is reduced to an absolute minimum, thus avoiding unnecessary agitation of the wine. This gentle handling allows us to preserve all the subtle fruit characteristics from the vineyards for the final bottle.

Gravity-flow winery onsite at Odfjell

On a (sort of) unrelated to wine note, they also breed Norweigan fjord horses on their estate. Dan brought them to Chile over two decades ago. These horses control weeds, provide better soil drainage, and transport grapes during harvest without compacting the soil. And they're cute!

I asked Arnaud: Is there something special that you feel you can do/accomplish at Odfjell versus at another winery? He replied: Odfjell is paradise for a winemaker. The owners are really open to try new things. They trust the winemaking team. The vision of the Odfjell family is long term.

And now, let’s explore the wines of Odfjell Vineyards. I am not including my personal notes as I had a bit of a stuffy nose upon tasting and my palate was not up to snuff. But I can say that I did enjoy what I tried and even shared these wines with friends who were all impressed, especially with the Armador Cabernet Sauvignon at $15. Try getting something of that quality from California for 15 bucks?!?!?

2016 Odfjell Armador Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
Winey Notes: Ruby color with hints of violets. Red fruit such as strawberries and plums, as well as licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla, chocolate, and mushroom.

2017 Odfjell Ordaza Carignan ($23)
Winery Notes: Ruby red in color with a hint of violet. Red fruit aromas of strawberries and plums appear on the nose along with licorice, anise, and a touch of vanilla. Perfectly balanced on the palate with ripe tannins and a long, refreshing finish.

2013 Odfjell Aliara ($44)
Winery Notes: Concentrated deep violet in color. The nose is attractive with a range of aromas from the different varieties in the blend, including hazelnuts, dates, and fried figs as well as floral notes (jasmine and roses). The palate is sophisticated, intense, and juicy; complemented by chocolate, coffee, and tobacco leaves. The finish is long with ripe and velvety tannins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Chatting with Somm Cristie Norman

If you are into the social media wine scene and follow all the hip and cool somms, then chances are that you know Cristie Norman. Cristie is a bikini athlete, a sommelier at the world-renowned Spago in Beverly Hills, and today is launching her Online Wine Course. One thing about Cristie is that she ain’t your daddy’s somm. She’s young, energetic, entertaining, AND knows her wine shit. I mean, working at Spago you HAVE to. Across her Instagram feed she’s opening things such as: Guigal (the LaLa wines), Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and Krug Champagne. If that doesn’t give you street cred, I don’t know what does.

The road was not always easy for Cristie. When she first got started (and even still today!), she would get responses like “Can you send your boss over to help?” or “Are you a real somm?”. There were times she cried in the cellar. She has since grown more confident and is more comfortable in her own skin. Cristie now sees herself as a sommelier/leader first, and a woman second. And she demands that others look at her the same.

Let’s talk about her current venture the Online Wine Course, which launches TODAY. Cristie wanted to help people build a foundation of knowledge when it comes to wine. In her experience, people try to taste and learn about wines sort of “ad hoc” and are missing some of the fundamental building blocks of wine, which will allow them to understand wine better and taste more effectively. Her goal with the Online Wine Course is to give them the building blocks to start with and that they can build from.

You may have seen her fun “Adulting with Alcohol” YouTube web series. Lets’ call the Online Wine Course the more “adult” version of that. Minus the swearing! It’s hilarious….you should seriously check it out.

How does the Online Wine Course work? Well, it launches today! The program is $149.99 OR she has a lifetime access option for $299.99. I have a 50% off promo code (SOMMSPIRATIONS). The course is broken down into 2 modules/sections and gives you over 2 hours of solid content, including quizzes in each “mini-section” and an exam at the end. And once you pass the final exam…you get a pin!

After sitting with Cristie, it is clear that his is HER BABY. She spent her own money on this (she even turned down sponsors as she wanted the content to be unbiased and all her own). She enlisted the help of a WSET educator to write all the questions. Each section/module has a learning objective. The background music (including music during the exams) was created all original for her by friend, Gosh Father. The music used is intended to keep you focused.

What’s next for Cristie? Well, she’s crossing her fingers with the Online Wine Course. So far, pre-sales have been strong. A natural progression would be to create a new “201 Level” course to follow this initial one. Perhaps something more focused on how to taste wine. Speaking of tasting wine, she’s also in talks with VineBox about creating an at-home wine tasting kit featuring wine in test tubes. Stay tuned. She’d love to stay at Spago as long as Wolfgang will have her, as that has been an incredible experience. Looking to the future, she wants to create more job opportunities for those with an MS/MW. Enrichment trips for somms, scholarships, etc. She hopes to grow the Online Wine Course and one day be a big player in the wine certification arena.

Cristie seems to be expertly clearing her own path in this industry. Is she a respected sommelier at Spago in Beverly Hills? YES. Is she also a millennial wine influence? YES. And she’s confident and unabashed in both of those roles.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Wine Tasting in the Columbia Gorge

In the vineyards at Cathedral Ridge Winery

As the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington came to a close, my post-conference excursion was just beginning! We headed off to the beautiful Columbia Gorge to visit Maryhill Winery and Cathedral Ridge Winery. The Columbia Gorge, 60 miles east of Portland is part of two AVAs, the Columbia Valley AVA and the Columbia Gorge AVA. The unique climate of the Columbia River Gorge earns it the title “Mediterranean of the Northwest”. I will say that we visited in October and it was sunny and the weather was beautiful. Insert gratuitous scenery shots!

Our first stop was to Maryhill Winery, which opened in 2001. The winery lies on the northern side of the Columbia River and in the southern tip of the Columbia Valley with Mt. Hood as its backdrop. Family owned by Craig and Vicki Leuthold, Maryhill is one of Washington’s largest and most visited wineries, with over 80,000 visitors annually.  They also have a tasting room in Spokane.

On our visit we met Kiwi winemaker Richard Batchelor who joined Maryhill in 2009. Visiting in October, there was A LOT going on. Fall is a great time to visit a winery if you want to see all the hustle and bustle up close! 

Look at those skins!

Richard Batchelor tapping one of the stainless steel tanks

“Great wines are our inspiration. For us, winemaking isn’t about lifted noses or highbrow personalities. It is about sourcing the best grapes and treating them with passion, patience, and balance. “ -Maryhill Winery

After 5 solid days of wine tasting for 10+ hours, by the time this post-conference excursion came up, I was in NO mood to write more tasting notes. With that being said, almost all tasting notes below came directly from the winery. Wine tasting fatigue is a real thing!

Maryhill Wines Tasted

Chardonnay 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Vibrant aromas of melon, pear, and apricot with traces of pineapple and grapefruit, continuing into a sensational and crisp fruit finish.

Pinot Gris 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Rich nectarine and pear notes mingled with honey. Crisp fruit flavor is delivered at the front of the palate, while a slight cream texture fills in the finish.

Sangiovese 2015 $26
Bri Note: A true New World Sangio but with a nod to the Old World.
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate red fruit notes are framed by warm cedar. The palate has a richness of fruit accompanied by mild tannins and huckleberry, allowing this wine a smooth jammy finish.

Marvell (GSM) Hattrup Farms 2013 $44
Winery Tasting Notes: A sound and savory wine featuring an aroma of wood (New French) and spice and an herbaceous and lingering toasty finish with smooth tannins.

Zinfandel Proprietor’s Reserve 2014 $44
This is a new release (no tasting notes online). I got spice box on the nose and jammy fruit on the palate.

Petite Sirah Art Den Hoed 2014 $40
Winery Tasting Notes: Aromas of cherry, berry, graphite and a hint of sandalwood are met with tart cranberry on the palate.

Riesling 2016 $16
Winery Tasting Notes: Lively citrus flavors frame the palate with honey and pear, with lemongrass aromas complemented by lilac.

Our next visit was to Cathedral Ridge Winery founded in 2003 by Robb Bell. Their wines are self-described as big, bold, and sensuous...and boy were they! Here are a few shots from our visit to Cathedral Ridge.

Cathedral Ridge Wines Tasted

2017 Necessity White $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Delicate aromas of pink grapefruit and rose. Notes of crisp green apple, dried apricot, and honey.

2015 Necessity Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Our Pinot Noir (60%), Zinfandel (27%), and Barbera (13%) blend. Currants and raspberry with a touch of spice. 

2015 Bordheauxd Red $30
Winery Tasting Notes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah. A local favorite. Perfectly balanced, notes of deep black fruit, and cherry with a kick of pepper.

2014 Cabernet Sauvignon $34
Winery Tasting Notes: Earthy, dark fruit on the palate with a touch of pepper and robust tannin finish.

2015 Rhett’s Red Reserve $44
Winery Tasting Notes: 50% Barbera 50% mystery? Bright and boisterous just like Rhett (the dog!). Fresh orchard on the nose, raspberry, and vanilla. 

2015 Winemakers Reserve $58
Winery Tasting Notes: A premier Bordeaux-inspired blend bursting with Oregon blueberry pie, toffee, and vanilla.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Spotlight: Salice Salentino

Within Puglia (the heel of the boot) lies Salice Salentino, the very bottom tip of the heel. Founded in 2003, the Consorzio di Tutela Vini D.O.P. Salice Salentino is dedicated for the protection of PDO Salice Salentino wines. Salice Salentino, which was granted DOC status in 1976, has just over 2,000 hectares of vineyards and the name refers to both the village and the name of the wine.

Puglia is a workhorse region in Italy. 50% of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Puglia and 40% of Italy’s wine is produced here. Known as “the California of Italy”, because of the plethora of sunshine here (over 300 days of sunshine per year), many other regions bring in Puglian grapes for blending because the grapes can easily hit desired alcohol levels (partially due to the sunshine levels). The Mediterranean climate is hot and dry and the region lies between two seas, giving good winds which help prevent rot, mold, and insect problems.

Historically, as in much of the south of Italy, the wines here were not known for quality. Vines give high yields and the wines carried a baked character. Now, many producers are switching their focus to more quality wines. And here in Puglia, the prices are deceptive. Many, many quality wines can be found around $20/bottle, which in many other wine regions (outside of Italy) wouldn’t get you much. The new generation of producers are focused on modern winemaking techniques and also in “rescuing” and maintaining the use of indigenous varieties. There are over 546 indigenous varieties registered in Puglia, with many more unregistered.

The Negroamaro grape is king here. It is usually blended with Malvasia Nera di Lecce to soften tannins. Negroamaro has a super dark, almost black, color. The grape gives high yields and gives notes of black fruit, tobacco, and shoe polish. Primitivo is also very important here, though it is prone to uneven ripening, difficult to grow, and is not easy to handle in the cellar. It does accumulate sugar easily (which can lead to wines with higher alcohol levels). Primitivo gives ripe cherries, plums, underbrush, and herbs/tar. White grapes in Puglia include: Malvasia Blanco and Fiano (which is originally from Campania). The red Aleatico is used for a passito-style wine.

Wine styles include Salice Salentino Rosato DOC, the flagship wine of Puglia, made from the Negroamaro grape. Markers include white peach and passion fruit. These rosatos are made in the press method, not saignée. Next in importance is Salice Salentino Rosso DOC, a red wine made from a minimum of 75% Negroamaro. This wine generally gives blackberry, spice, black licorice, and pepper notes. If Negroamaro is on the label, it is a minimum of 90% Negroamaro. Riserva signifies it’s had at least 24 months minimum aging, with at least 6 months in barrel. Time agrees with Salice Salentino Rosso, and it can age like a mofo. Lastly, we have Salice Salentino Biano DOC made from either Chardonnay or Fiano.

Wines Tasted

Anticaia Rosato Salice Salentino DOP

Pale salmon color. This wine sees all stainless steel (no oak) and gives red fruit on the nose (strawberry), citrus (grapefruit), and herbs (dill, tarragon, oregano), floral, and minerality/brine. On the palate, bracing acidity with a savory/tart quality. Good structure with a licorice/rhubarb finish. 

Le Pozzelle Rosato Salice Salentino
Medium pink/salmon color. According to Laura, this wine smells like a ladies setting powder (spoken like a true Italian!). On the nose: ripe strawberry and peaches, plus floral notes (rose petals), and pink peppercorns. On the palate, so many primary fruit and floral notes. 

Apollonio Terragnolo Primitivo Salento Rosso IGP 2013
Deep ruby color. Red and black fruit on the nose (cherry, plum), spice (black pepper and cinnamon). A rustic and Italian feeling wine. Medium rustic tannins and good acid.

Vigneti Reale Rudiae Primitivo Salento IGP
Medium ruby in color. This wine sees all stainless steel, no oak, and gives red fruit plus floral on the nose, with a muted spice character. 

Pietra Salice Salentino DOC 2015
Pale ruby in color. On the nose: soft, delicate red fruit, spice, plus toast/oak. This wine is super smooth on the palate, with good acid. A bit more sophisticated than the first two reds. This wine is in the modern style and can compete on the international marketplace. Organic and sustainable vines. 

Vigneti Reale Santa Croce Salice Salentino DOP Riserva
This wine definitely smells like a Riserva due to the longer oak aging. It gives me the holy trinity of what I want in a red wine: red fruit, spice, and oak/toasty notes. A blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia.

Cosimo Taurino Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva 2010
This wine sees 6 mos French oak aging. With notes of red fruit, pepper/spice, plus dates/prunes. A very savory nose with an herbaceous note. Super spicy on the palate. 

Thank you Laura Donadoni for leading us through the wines of Salice Salentino!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bodegas LAN: Rioja in Three Letters

At the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla last October, I attended a seminar about the wines of Bodegas LAN, led by Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world with both the MW and the MS certification. The thought of that seriously makes my head hurt. I digress......

Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms. Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines in the international style. This helps the international market understand what they do and helps move bottles…the ultimate goal!!

In Rioja there is a good number of women winemakers and oenologists. According to Doug, women are making more “exciting” wines in the Rioja, such as María Barua at the helm of winemaking at Bodegas LAN. Though we all know that good winemaking actually begins in the vineyard. The 72-hectare (178 acre) estate vineyard is named Viña Lanciano and is situated between the sub-regions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bodegas LAN subscribes to sustainable viticulture with no mineral or chemical fertilizer (only organic solutions, as needed) use. And no herbicides or pesticides.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

At the vineyard, the continental climate is moderated by the Cierzo and Solano winds. The vineyard is nestled between the Cantabrian mountain range and a loop of the River Ebro, which both shield the vines from extreme frosts and summers. Many think that Rioja is just HOT. It can be, but it is not a one-trick pony. It is close to the Atlantic and also has Mediterranean influences.

Viña Lanciano offers well-drained soils of sandy loam (including pebbles, gravel, and sand). Consequently, the vines dig their roots deep into the soil for nutrients. The vines (planted to: Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha) are old, low-yielding and between 40-60 years of age.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

LAN Classic Range
Grapes sourced from long-standing suppliers in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.

LAN Crianza 2014 $14
(95% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo)
Young, fresh fruit on this value-priced, everyday red wine. Bright, juicy red fruit plus black cherries. Medium, well-integrated tannins plus a whisper of tertiary notes (coffee and chocolate).

LAN Reserva 2011 $20 (92% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano)
A nice interplay of lovely fruit plus some savory notes. The oak influence is starting to show here. This wine tells a beautiful Old World story in the glass…..and that whole story is a bargain at $20. Compare that to the sea of shitty, commercial $20 wines out there. The best wine tip (as far as finding a good value), is to go to the Old World!

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 $25 (90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo)
In order to meet the “Gran Reserva” category in Rioja, the wine must have a minimum of 5 years aging: at least 24 months in oak plus at least 24 months in bottle. This wine sees 24 months in barrel plus 36 months in bottle before release. If this wine was a music style, it would be an R&B slow jam…..some baby makin’ music! It’s slow…..smooth……and warm. Notes of cigar box (smoke) plus spice box moves into licorice and coffee bean on the back palate. Also some garrigue notes (fennel/cumin). Will continue to age for 20+ years.

LAN D-12 2014 $20
(100% Tempranillo)
The winemaker’s favorite tank (#12). Produced with select wines from small parcels in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Vignerons choosing their favorite tank to keep and drink themselves is a tradition in Rioja.

LAN Estate Range
Reflects the unique identity of Viña Lanciano, the estate vineyard.

Viña Lanciano Reserva $30 (87% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo)
Named in homage to the vineyard, and is the flagship wine. Oh yeah……big ass tannins. But very well-integrated. Give me some food here, and I’m a happy girl!

LAN Edición Limitada $50 (87% Tempranillo, 9% Mazuelo, 4% Graciano)
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard.

Culmen Reserva $65 (88% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano)
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard. This wine is only produced in excellent vintages. A perfumed note makes this wine very special. Especially tannic plus a savory/garrigue note.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Planeta: An Exploration of Nero d’Avola

More and more people are talking about Italian wine. Italy’s rustic and interesting wines appear to be on an increasing number of wine lists, beyond the requisite Prosecco and Tuscan wines. And while Italy has always been a major tourist destination, people seem to be diverting to some of the lesser traveled regions not normally on the international traveler’s radar. Sicily is leading the way. I can’t flip through a travel or food magazine without reading about how Sicily is an “undiscovered gem” and how the volcanic wines from Mount Etna are “dark, smoky, and brooding". Sicily has stepped up their wine game, tourism game, and food game. Or maybe it’s been there all along and their only now getting noticed for it? In fact, there are now 4 restaurants with Michelin stars in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean. 

I recently attended a "Masterglass” seminar at Eataly Los Angeles focusing on the Nero d’Avola grape, native to Sicily. Our seminar was led by Alessio Planeta, of Planeta Wine, a Sicilian producer. Alessio is co-owner and lead winemaker at Planeta. "MasterGlass" comes in to play because the tasting was conducted using glasses designed by Riedel specifically for Planeta and Nero d’Avola.

“Nero” means black and “Avola” is a small village near Noto, on the island of Sicily. Nero d’Avola grapes have vigorous vines and give wines with moderate alcohol and good acid. Classic Nero d’Avola notes include: black currant, carob, and balsamic.

In 2012, traces of 6,000-year-old wine was discovered in clay amphorae pots a Sicilian cave! As every region of Italy, there are grapes native to Sicily. The main red grape is Nero d’Avola, while the supporting actor for red wine making is Frappato. Frappato is best used as a blending grape, while you will see many varietally labeled Nero d’Avola wines. Surprisingly, Catarratto, a white grape, is the #1 grape grown in Sicily, with 32% of vineyards planted to Catarratto*. Mainly because it is the main grape used for Marsala, a huge export of the island.

*source: Winesearcher.com

The Planeta family has been in agriculture for over 400 years (18 generations)! Planeta Wine was born about 20 years ago and they now have 400 hectares across 6 sites in Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna, Sambuca di Sicilia, and Capo Milazzo. The Planeta estate holdings now include a B&B as well as Casa Planeta, a restaurant run by Alessio’s father and his five siblings. 

Alessio Planeta

Wines Tasted

2016 La Segreta Grillo Sicilia DOC $14.99
A crisp, clean wine with lots of primary notes, including citrus (orange blossom, lemon peel, grapefruit), green fruit (pear, green apple). Also a nuttiness on the palate (bitter almond skin) that gives a nice medium + finish. Marked salinity. 

2017 Planeta Rosé Sicilia DOC $20.99

This was a nice, spicy rosé made from 50% Nero d’Avola and 50% Syrah. A change of pace from some of the wimpy, watery rosés on the market.

2015 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG (60% Nero, 40% Frappato) $23.99
A wine medium ruby in color. Juicy cherries on the nose with a marked rusticity or earthiness. Soft, well-integrated tannins on the palate, plus cherry and strawberry nose. This feels like an “island red”. I’m not exactly sure what that means except that this is a smooth, relatively light, easy to drink red that makes me happy. And islands make me happy. I heard a rumor this pairs well with seared tuna.

2015 Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG (70% Nero, 30% Frappato) $32.99
Medium ruby color with purple hues. On the nose, the fruit is a bit more complex than the previous reds. Riper strawberry (almost jammy) moving into black pepper, cedar, and a basement feel. More acid as well. This wine feels a bit more “Italian”.

2015 Mamertino DOC (60% Nero, 40% Nocera) $32.99
Medium ruby in color. On the nose I get beautiful fruit plus floral (violets). This is a perfumed wine. Medium – acid, and soft/velvety on the palate.

2013 Santa Cecilia Noto DOC $40.99
This wine is deep ruby in color. On the nose, this wine has much more aromatic intensity than the other reds. Primary red fruit and spice (cinnamon/clove) mostly, plus secondary notes of earth, dirt and rusticity. Moving into tertiary (leather) notes. This wine has medium + drying tannins and a combination of red and black fruit plus balsamic notes.

Library Wines Tasted

2007 Santa Cecilia IGT Sicilia (now Noto DOC)
A dark ruby color with an orange rim. On the nose, black fruit and blueberry, plus some savory notes. On the palate, a clear note of tomato leaf.

2005 Santa Cecilia IGT Sicilia (now Noto DOC)
The age of this wine really shows. And it’s lovely. A deep ruby color with a garnet core. So many lovely aged/savory notes on both the nose and palate, including: cola, dried mint, toasted nuts, and black olive.

Gratuitous Italian lunch spread

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Celebrating Puglia: Land of Eternal Sunshine

Taste of Italy is LA’s premiere food and wine event with authentic Italian food, wine, and entertainment to benefit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA). The event celebrates the cultural richness of the Italian peninsula. Last year, Taste of Italy highlighted the Italian region of Puglia, known as the “heel of the boot”. Puglia is known for its quintessential Mediterranean climate: short mild winters and long, hot, dry summers with LOTS of sunshine. The wines from Puglia are known for their great values. Specifically, the region is known for the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.

I was not able to attend the main event, but I did attend the “Taste of Italy” preview dinner for press at Luigi al Teatro featuring a Puglia inspired menu. Luigi Fineo, executive chef at Luigi al Teatro, is the nation’s youngest chef to earn the Michelin Star. We enjoyed a LOVELY evening that started with a wine tasting and passed hors d’oeuvres on the patio. We then moved into the restaurant for a beautiful coursed meal that left me in shock that I had never visited this restaurant before. It was easily one of the best meals I have ever had in Los Angeles. 

Chef Luigi Fineo & I

Enjoy the food and wine porn about to hit your eyeballs!

Aperitif Wines
Kumia Fiano
Selezione Nicola Chiaromonte Gioia Del Colle Primitivo 2011 

Duo Starter
Polipo alla Griglia
Grilled Spanish Octopus, Cireale Chickpea, Green Olives, Toy Box Tomato
Carpaccio di Orata
Sea Bream, Orange, Basil Seeds, Lemon, Olive Oil 

Dinner Wine
Muro Sant’Angelo Gioia del Colle Primitivo 2014 

Ari Vecchia
Cavatelli, Potato, Mussels, Bottarga, Pachino 

Duo Entree
Filleto di San Pietro
Baked John Dory, Tomato-Spinach Acciugata
Australian Wagyu New York Steak
Grilled Australian Wagyu, Seasonal Vegetables, Black Winter Truffle 

Chocolate, Crème Fraiche, Maldon Salt 

This year the Taste of Italy event will take place on October 12, 2019 at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Thank you to Marianna Gatto, Executive Director of IAMLA for the invitation to this impeccable event.