Monday, September 9, 2019

New South Wales: Wine Country

Next month I am traveling to Australia for the second time. My first trip in 2012 was purely for pleasure. I went with two girlfriends and we explored Sydney, the Hunter Valley, Brisbane, Cape Tribulation, and Uluru (Ayers Rock). It truly was the trip of a lifetime. In October I will be there for the Wine Media Conference, formerly the Wine Bloggers Conference, which takes place in the Hunter Valley. This will be a simple trip for me with a few days in Sydney, a few days in the Hunter, and then back home! Q4 is a busy travel season for me, so I opted not to make it an extended vacation.

Back to the Hunter! The Hunter Valley is about 2 hours north of Sydney on the East Coast of Australia in the state of New South Wales. Within the state of NSW, there are 14 distinct wine regions, which I will explore below. The Hunter Valley is really the only one known on a world-scale. The others are more locally focused. 

The most important wine in NSW is arguably Hunter Valley Semillon, which used to be called Hunter River Riseling. Aged Hunter Valley Semillon is divine and I cannot wait to dig into some of that on my trip!

Below is a summary of the 14 wine regions of New South Wales.

Hunter Valley is the oldest and most visited wine country in Australia. Vines were first planted in the area in the early 1820s from cuttings bought by James Busby, considered the father/grandfather of Australian wine. Other wine pioneers here included: George Wyndham (first planting, 1828), Henry Lindeman (first vineyard site, 1843), Joseph Drayton (planted his first vines, late 1850s), Edward Tyrell (first planting, 1861), and John Younie Tulloch (first vineyard, 1895). In modern times, winemakers started flocking here in the 1960’s and 1970’s. There are more than 150 cellar doors in the Hunter, more than any other region.

New England is the newest and most northern region in NSW with 40 vineyards. It was officially registered as a winegrowing region in 2008, but is actually a re-emerging region as vineyards were first planted in the 1850s. New England is topographically diverse, including high-altitude vineyards (over 1,000 meters), cool climate vineyards along the spines of the Great Dividing Range, and warmer vineyards at lower elevation on the western edges of New England. Australia’s highest altitude vineyard lies here: Black Mountain at 1,320 meters above sea level. In fact, this area is the only part of Australia with terra rossa soil at altitude. Varieties grown here include: Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Shiraz.

Hastings River is quite north near the town of Port Macquarie. This is one of the smallest sub-regions with only 200 hectares under vine. The first vines were planted here in 1837 by Henry Fancourt White, but they did not receive their official Geographical Indication (GI) until 1999. John Cassegrain helped in the rebirth of grapegrowing in 1980. He is also the first to produce Chambourcin commercially in Australia. Grapes grown here include Chambourcin, Chardonnay, Verdelho, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The climate here (sub-tropical and humid) is suitable for the Chambourcin grape, which is disease and mildew resistant.

Cowra is more inland and directly west from Sydney, situated in the warm, fertile Lachlan Valley. Half of the regions wine producers are certified for organic and biodynamic production! Vines were not planted here in the area until 1972 and they were granted GI status in 1998. Now there are 40 vineyards in the area with 9 cellar doors.

Orange, an inland area west of Sydney is a wine region defined by altitude. It is NSW’s largest high-altitude cool climate region with 1500 hectares under vine and 80 vineyards, most family-owned. Also, 30 cellar doors.

Mudgee is one of the few NSW regions to retain a continuous link with the vines/vineyards planted by the colonial founders. The first vineyards were planted by three settlers from Germany: Adam Roth, Andreas Kurtz and Frederick Buchholz. The Roth and Kurtz families still have holdings in the area. In fact, vines on the Kurtz property were identified as clones of some of the original Chardonnay vine stock brought to Australia from Europe during the early days of the colony. Most of Australia’s Chardonnay stocks are sourced from these vines and are virus free. However, it is notable that 75% of local production is based on reds, mostly Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Shoalhaven Coast is a newer region with vines first planted in the 1970s. Breathtakingly beautiful coastal vineyards define the area and oysters are a specialty here. This is actually the start of the South Coast Oyster Trail.

Southern Highlands didn’t have vine plantings until 1983. This is a cool climate, high altitude region with a specialty in Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Canberra District is defined by their complicated land laws, which have discouraged vine plantings in the area. Vineyards have been planted within the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) since 1988. They are mostly small-scale growers with 30+ cellar doors. Fun fact, Canberra is one of Australia’s key truffle-growing areas!

Hilltops is an area known for cool-climate reds. Not wine related, but interesting, their two main annual events are: Running of the Sheep and the National Cherry Festival.

Gundagai is a very new region and doesn’t really have a wine identity just yet.

Riverina is the big boy where Yellowtail is based. There are 20,000 hectares planted and they produce 60% of the state’s production and are the state’s largest exporter.

Perricoota is the smallest NSW wine region located along the Murray River. There are only a handful of growers in the region. They all work together (as a co-op) and make the Collexion, a wine made using the fruit from all the growers in the area.

Tumbarumba is a cool climate region known for sparkling wines, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir grapes. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Bibiana & Jeff: All In the Family

Bibiana González Rave and husband Jeff Pisoni are the embodiment of keeping it all in the family. Jeff is a 4th generation farmer in the Salinas Valley. His family grew vegetables, but it was his father Gary, who first planted grapevines in 1982. Gary planted 5 acres that he hand-irrigated. Literally. He drove water up the mountain in his truck for the vines. Jeff now tends to vines in both the Santa Lucia Highlands and Monterey.

Bibiana grew up in Medellin, Columbia and at 14 decided she wanted to make wine. She lived six years in France (Bordeaux and Burgundy) where she worked her first harvests and earned a degree in Enology from the University of Bordeaux. She considers herself a French-trained winemaker with more of a vineyard focus. Jeff handles all of the estate fruit and Bibiana buys all the sourced fruit. All in the family. They have two children, ages two and four and between the two of them, they manage/oversee six different labels/brands.

République hosted us at a press luncheon in March where we tried wines from each of their brands. Below is a brief descriptor of each brand, including my standout wine.

Why am I sharing this story and this family with you? Because I believe there is a level of integrity and authenticity that comes from wine crafted by a family. Crafted by real people with real skin in the game. Bibiana and Jeff have a portfolio of California wines that you should feel good about purchasing. You are supporting a real family, real people, and real dreams.

Cattleya Wines
Started in 2011, Cattleya Wines are terroir driven, small production wines. Cattleya is a type of orchid, the native flower of Columbia, found in the rainforest.

2014 Cattleya Cuvée Number Five Russian River Chardonnay $50 (current vintage 2017)
I find this wine super-duper pleasing. Very primary plus creamy malo notes and an elegant minerality. Ripe, juicy, and yummy. 

Alma de Cattleya
Alma means soul in Spanish. These wines are produced from Napa and Sonoma Vineyards and represent the purity of each varietal from their specific appellation areas. Wine Enthusiast calls Alma de Cattleya Wines “a great taste of the freshness of Sonoma without the sticker shock”.

2018 Alma de Cattleya Sauvignon Blanc $20
A Sauvignon Blanc that is the perfect balance of CA style and NZ style. I get everything from citrus fruit to tropical fruit plus some grassy/green notes. This wine is made from Mostly Russian River fruit. 1000 case total production. 

Shared Notes
This is the collaboration between Bibiana and Jeff. In their 6th vintage, these wines are
inspired by the traditional Sauvignon Blanc wines from France.

2017 Shared Notes Les Leçons des Maîtres $65 (current vintage 2018)
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon inspired by Bordeaux. Whole cluster fruit and a wine made in a reductive style showcasing both rocks (minerality) and fruit. Served in magnum. This wine is unfined and unfiltered. 

Pisoni Estate
Was first planted by Gary Pisoni (Jeff’s dad) in 1982. Pisoni Vineyards consist of small vineyard blocks at 1300 ft altitude with wines made by Jeff. Pisoni makes only one Chardonnay and one Pinot Noir every year.

2017 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir (allocation only)
Really polished. Not much else to say except that this is a stellar wine. 

Lucia Wines
A collection of wines from the three vineyards farmed by the Pisoni family. These are limited production wines that afford the Pisoni family complete control of the farming and winemaking process, ensuring consistently superior quality.

2017 Lucia Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Fruit from the Soberanes, Gary's, and Pisoni Vineyards. This wine is barrel aged and was the creamiest Chardonnay of the bunch, but in a GOOD way.

The charismatic younger sister of Lucia Wines. A limited production rosé produced annually with $1/bottle donated to breast cancer research.

2018 Lucy Rosé of Pinot Noir (allocation only)
100% estate fruit. A stellar rosé. 

And I'd be remiss if I did not mention Margarita's baguette and Normandy butter that was served to us at République. Normandy butter is most certainly liquid gold. The best butter I have ever tasted. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Titus Vineyards: 50 Years in Napa

In 1968, Titus Vineyards was born with the purchase of their property. They have farmed this land continually since 1969, which gives them 50 years in Napa Valley. Today, Titus Vineyards remains family owned. The property consists of a 50-acre vineyard, winery, and tasting room at the base of Howell Mountain in the St. Helena AVA, near Calistoga. I had the pleasure of lunching with Eric Titus who shared with us their current releases as well as some treats from their library.

In the vineyard, they prefer a “light touch”, including no mechanization. Stephen Cruzan has been their winemaker since 2015, which is the year their onsite winery was completed. Before that, Philip, Eric’s brother, headed up winemaking at a custom crush facility. Philip now makes wine at Chappellet, but he is still involved with Titus. They built the winery to be able to be more nimble, reactive, and agile and so that they could make decisions with more flexibility. They are now holding at 14,000-15,000 cases annually.

I asked the question: what is next for Titus? What do the next 50 years bring? Eric’s response is that they always like to keep their options open. This could mean the next generation of the Titus family taking over. Or perhaps, maybe there is a sale in their future? Only time will tell.

Titus Wines Tasted:

2016 Andronicus Red Wine $32
Andronicus is Eric and Philip’s ode to the blend. This wine is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (66%) with some Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A classic Bordeaux blend. A generous red that is both hyper balanced and precise with a combination of red and black fruit, spicebox, vanilla, and smoke. 

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon $57
A youthful purple color. A balanced wine with well-integrated tannins. I want this wine on a Friday night: in front of the fire, cozying on the couch with my husband, my dog, and a cushy blanket.

2016 Zinfandel $37
An unabashed Zin, not afraid of its raisin quality. Juicy red fruit plus prunes on the nose.

2016 Cabernet Franc $54
A beautiful, ethereal wine. Underbrush and graphite on the nose. Licorice on the back palate. 

2017 Sauvignon Blanc $28
Small production with only 1,000 cases. A splash of Viognier softens this wine and helps knit the fruit together. A totally different perspective on Sauvignon Blanc. The acidity and greenness are in check. In fact, this wine is all tangerine, all the time.

2006 Cabernet Sauvignon $177
Red, black, and blue fruit on both the nose, and the palate. A bit of heat on the nose. Good tannic structure plus licorice/anise on the back palate. 

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $137
Chocolate and cocoa on the nose. Even more of a tannic structure than the ‘06. 

2012 Petit Verdot
This wine screams that it wants a pork tenderloin to go with it! The predominant fruit here is blueberries. A basket of tiny, ripe blueberries. 

2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
A deep purple core with a watery rim. SO much fruit still here for being a 10 year old wine. 

2012 Lot 1 Red Wine $129

A blend of Malbec, Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot, and Zinfandel. A big ‘ol wine with lots ‘o tannins. This is the biggest, and juiciest of the bunch. According to Eric, this wine is about hedonism.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Discovering Italy: The Wines of Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna is known as the stomach of Italy. Why? Because so many famous foods are from the region including Proscuitto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Grana Padano. I had the opportunity to attend a seminar on the wines of Emilia-Romagna, presented by Giammario Villa, as part of the Gambero Rosso event. His company, Vinomatica, consists of a team of wine educators, master tasters, communication and marketing experts with the goal of communicating the business and culture of the wine industry worldwide through wine publishing, wine education, wine scouting, and wine marketing.

As of late, there has been a dramatic improvement in wine quality coming out of Emilia-Romagna. It is a common theme, as the wines of Sicily, Puglia, and other Italian regions are also increasing in quality. This is partly due to the modernization of wine production facilities throughout Italy and the increased popularity in international styles of wine, which forces winemakers to stay on their toes and produce wines that can compete in the global marketplace. Most of the production coming out of Emilia-Romagna is Lambrusco (a sparkling red), but there is also a full range of still wines being produced.

As far as the production side, wine cooperatives (or co-ops) are very important in Emilia-Romagna. A co-op is a facility with shared winemaking equipment. Cost savings is the main benefit, as winemaking facilities are quite expensive!

Overall, exceptional values can be found in Emilia Romagna. As I frequently say, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. The wines of Emilia-Romagna are a perfect way to do that!

Below are some interesting wines from Emilia-Romagna. The first line is always the producer name or the co-op name with a link to their website. The second line includes details of the wine, such as: name of the wine, grape, sub-region, vintage, etc. Here I also included a link to each wine on Wine-Searcher so that you can see where to find these wines on store shelves. Many of them are not readily available, but depending on what state you live in, shipping could be an option. And if none of these wines are available in your area, don’t fret! You’ve learned something new about a wine region in Italy you would otherwise not be familiar with. Just remember the name of the region (Emilia-Romagna) and next time you are in a wine shop or at a restaurant, ask if they have any wines from that area. And if they do not, perhaps they can steer you in the direction of wines that might be similar. With wine it is DEFINITELY about the journey and not just the destination. Be open-minded, try new things, and your favorite bottle of wine might be just around the corner!

Ravenna IGT Famoso-Rambela Bianca 2017 $18

Yowzas, this is #funAF as the kids say! In case you weren't sure, Famoso is the name of the (white) grape.  Floral notes abound. In fact, this wine smells like a field of flowers. I also get citrus (orange), stone fruit (peach), tropical fruit (pineapple), white flowers and a honeyed nose. This wine is easy to drink, but has character; a backbone. This wine was one of my favorites tasted.

Romagna Albana DOCG Secco Croppi 2018 $18

Albana, a white grape,  is the considered the queen of Emilia-Romagna.  On the nose I get, a medium aromatic intensity with delicate citrus notes of lemon and tangelo. Medium + acid plus major citrus (lemon) on the palate.

Cantina Sociale di Carpie e Sorbara
Lambrusco di Sorbara DOP Omaggio a Gino Friedmann $18

Our first sparkling! A very pretty wine with a medium pink, almost salmon, color. Clean, juicy, bright red fruit (strawberry and cranberry). Very effervescent, good acid. The same red fruit notes on the palate. Fully dry.

Cantina Sociale Formigne Pedemontana
Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOP Semisecco Rosso Fosco $16

This wine is that classic Lambrusco color of deep purple. On the nose, I get deep red/black fruit plus some floral/violet notes. On the palate, semi-dry, but the acid balances it out. This wine has 18g/L of RS (residual sugar).

San Valentino
Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOP Bacaia 2017 $18

The grapes for this wine are all organic and biodynamically farmed on ocean-facing vines. On the nose I get sour cherry, cranberry, violets, cedar, and light spice box. The palate shows medium tannins and the same fruit notes. All structural elements are well-integrated. Overall a solid red.

Poderi Dal Nespoli
Romagna Sangiovese Superiore DOP Prugneto 2017 $14

Another one of my favorites here. Very deep red fruit on both the nose and the palate. Soft tannins plus delicate violet notes.

Romagna Sangiovese San Vicinio DOP 2015 $13

The beginning stages of bricking are beginning to show on the color. Soft, delicate red fruit. This reminds me of a delicate Old World Pinot.

Romagna Sangiovese Superiore Riserva DOP Romio 2015 $14

Deep red plus black fruit, moving into brambly territory. Plus vanilla and a faint cedar note. On the palate: black currant, black pepper/spice, vanilla, and drying tannins. This is a deep, brooding wine, but it can stand on its own. Food is not necessary.

Torre San Martino
Romagna Sangiovese DOC Modigliana Riserva Vigna 1922/2015 $40

The vines here were planted in 1922, hence the name. Dark fruit (both red and black) plus notes of vanilla and toast.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Vintastic Voyage: Napa Valley

Barrel room at Artesa

Disclaimer: These tasting experiences were provided to me free of cost as a member of the media.

There is no shortage of articles/blog posts related to the Napa Valley. BUT, I wanted to share a tested and approved Napa itinerary that I’d recommend to the wine novice and the wine geek alike. This itinerary has something for everyone. I visited the region in early Spring with my friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, and found this itinerary to be relaxed and easy to follow.

As an aside, may I recommend that when you plan your wine country getaway, remember that the goal is to have fun, enjoy yourself, and perhaps learn something new about wine. Because of this, I recommend you take a somewhat leisurely approach to things and not try to squeeze in too many winery visits in one day. Generally, 2-3 wineries per day is the max for most people to be able to enjoy the wines, not feel rushed, and not get too drunk! I only recommend 4 wineries in one day for professionals or if you are going to spit out all tastes. Even then, it is still an ambitious schedule.

Here is my suggestion for a full, fun day in the Napa Valley.

Charles Krug
Noon-1:30pm Long Meadow Ranch
1:30pm-2:30pm Gott’s Roadside
3:30pm-5pm Artesa
5:30pm-7:30pm Oxbow Public Market

Charles Krug 

Charles Krug in St. Helena is a great place to start. Come here for Napa Valley history, as they are a winery of firsts being situated in St. Helena AVA, one of Napa Valley’s first AVAs. Charles Krug is the oldest bonded winery in Napa (since 1861) and also is the first tasting room open in California in 1882. In 1963 they became the first Napa winery to import French Oak barrels and were also one of the first California wineries to varietally label wines. Since 1943 the Mondavi family operates Charles Krug with a respect and understanding of how important they are to Napa Valley’s history. Today they produce 90,000 cases annually and it is all sold on-site.

Upon visiting Charles Krug, you have two choices for your visit. They offer a $45 tasting flight and a $75 tasting flight that also includes a tour of the property. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30am-5pm. And a gorgeous tasting room it is. Up until 2006, it was the old barrel room. The space is expansive and stunning. Such a classy, upscale, yet not stuffy atmosphere.

Thank you to Tash for pouring! My highlight from the tasting was their 2016 Malbec at $65 a bottle. The wine showed characters of plum (red and black), vanilla, and spice box. It’s a velvety, smooth wine that you can really melt into. Would be a fantastic BBQ wine. 

Tasting Room at Charles Krug

Proof of their wine history!!

Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch 

Two miles SE of Charles Krug and you land at Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch. You come here for a culinary and wine sensory experience. We participated in the Chef’s Food & Wine Tasting (regularly priced at $70) and it was impeccable. A really elevated, yet comfortable experience. True wine country hospitality. We enjoyed 5 mini-food courses paired with wines. They also have a regular wine flight for $30 and a library wine flight for $40. The general store/tasting room is open from 11am-6pm.

Colin (who was a delight) lead us through our tasting. Anyone who says that Pinot Noir is their spirit grape, is good people in my book! Long Meadow Ranch employs a full-circle organic farming system. Each part of the ranch contributes to the health of the whole, including vineyards, olive groves, Highland cattle, heirloom vegetables, and livestock. They have three properties: 650-acre Mayacamas Estate (home ranch located in the Mayacamas Mountains above Rutherford), 90-acre Rutherford Estate (located on the Rutherford Bench), and 145-acre Anderson Valley Estate (Mendocino County). Everything we ate that day was local to the Rutherford Estate and all their wines are estate. 

Wines + Small Bites

Let the Tasting Begin!

Chef Aaron getting things ready!

Neal & Alyse of Winery Wanderings

Dungeness Crab (avocado, citrus)
Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford, 2017 ($22)
This is clearly not the ubiquitous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Cooler climates here. I get green fruit (apples), citrus, and some tropical notes.

Swordfish (cabbage, horseradish)
Pairing: Chardonnay, Anderson Valley, 2016 ($40)
This pairing sang. This wine starts in French oak, then moves to stainless steel. I got an initial waft of a stick of butter on the nose, but it blew off as I swirled and make my way through the tasting. Quite a balanced and structured Chardonnay.

Cauliflower Soup (camembert beignet)

Pairing: Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, 2015 ($40)
This has to be the silkiest soup I have ever tried. Delicious!

Sunchoke (prune)
Pairing: Merlot, Napa Valley, 2014 ($35)
This wine has everything I want in a Merlot: a plumminess plus silky smooth tannins. A bit velvety overall. Really nice.

Grass-Fed Lamb (chickpea fritter, beet barbeque)
Pairing: Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2014 ($55)
A big boy red that really worked well with this dish. The wine benefits from a bit of Petit Verdot and Petit Syrah. 

Long Meadow Ranch

After the food and wine pairings at Long Meadow Ranch, it’s time for LUNCH. And what better lunch than a roadside burger stand. I recommend Gott’s Roadside for some “sticking food” to sop up all the wine.


After lunch it’s a 40-minute drive down south to Artesa Vineyards & Winery. If you saw the movie Wine Country, then you’ve seen Artesa, as it was the winery tasting room featured. I had met head winemaker Ana Diogo-Draper at a tasting in Los Angeles. I fell in love with Artesa’s wines, so when the opportunity to visit presented itself, I jumped at the chance. With Artesa, you come for the exceptional wines and stunning, modern tasting room.

Our tasting was a superb experience. The tasting room is bright, inviting, and quite a sight. It is open from 10am-5pm and there are various wine flight options, starting at $35. Anne expertly lead us through the flight, which was exceptional. A highlight for me was tasting their sparkling. We tried the 2014 Codorníu Napa Grand Reserve Brut, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros ($45). 

Bubbles to start!

Let the tasting begin (again)!

The grounds at Artesa

One of the Artesa tasting rooms

Other wines tasted:

2017 Albariño, Los Carneros ($28)
Stone fruit, tropical fruit, and delicate little white flowers. Medium + acid.

2016 Chardonnay, Los Carneros ($23)
This is their largest production wine that is distributed widely. A fresh and primary Chardonnay. Valley floor fruit that has been through malo and saw some oak treatment.

2016 Chardonnay, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($38)
Made in the Burgundian style. All hillside fruit. Toasty, nutty, and warming.

2016 Pinot Noir, Los Carneros ($28)

Beautiful, bright red fruit on the nose. More floral and spice on the palate. A lovely entry-level Pinot and at an unbeatable price.

2016 Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Los Carneros, Napa Valley ($45)
Compared to the above, this wine goes deeper and has more intensity of fruit. Quality with a capital Q.

2014 Galatea Cabernet Sauvignon & Tempranillo ($90)
Deep, deep, deep purple in color. Hellooooooooo tannins, but don’t worry, they’re integrated AF. A deep and expressive wine. Definitely a standout among the flight.

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Foss Valley Ranch Vineyard, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley ($90)
Medium ruby color. Tannins dominate.

After your day of wine tasting, a visit to Oxbow Public Market is a great option for a casual dinner. This is Napa Valley’s version of a food hall and there are options to please every palate. And more wine, should you need that! The general hours range form 7:30am-9:30pm (each merchant may have slightly different hours).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

New Zealand Standouts

I taste a lot of wines day in and day out. Recently, I seem to have lots of New Zealand in my glass. Here is a round-up of some standouts that I highly recommend. Cheers!

Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc 2017 $26 
This wine has a spicy and vegetal note on the nose that carries through on the palate. I get a tomato leaf and olive note. Quite lovely, and unique for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc! 

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough 2016 $29
In the style of a white Bordeaux, specifically Pessac-Leognan. On the nose, a savory petrol note; flint. Exquisite. This is, hands down, one of my favorite whites from New Zealand. I have tried it many times and am never disappointed. 

Dog Point Chardonnay Marlborough 2015 $42
Aromas of tree fruit, cream and butter/dairy. Less malo notes on the palate. Really clean, pure fruit with a slight savory note that makes it really interesting. 

Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, Burn Cottage Vineyard Bannockburn, Central Otago $65
A bowl ‘o red fruit on the nose. On the palate: wow, complex with a medium + lingering finish. Super savory. A heady wine that makes you think. 

Neudorf Pinot Noir Tom’s Block 2014 $28 
This wine has juicy red fruit on the nose, plus a nice spiciness. A true, classic Pinot that is more structured than one would expect. Layered….more interesting as you get into it. 

Mills Reef, Elspeth Syrah Hawke’s Bay 2016 $46
Aromas of red & black fruit, black pepper, baking spices and black licorice. Plus a woody note. Varietal character on the palate: deep fruit + meatiness. Feels very honest, true….simple. 

Vidal Syrah “El Legado” Hawke’s Bay/Gimblett Gravels 2014 $60
The first vines on this property were planted in the 1900s. This wine gives classic Syrah markers including red fruit, pepper, and a faint animal aroma. Quite lovely.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

In Wine, Is Sugar Bad?

There is sugar in any bottle of wine. Period. The question is, how much sugar?

In the wine world, we talk about “gateway” wines that people tend to start with in the beginning of their wine journeys. When people start drinking wine, they tend to start with sweet wines. Things like: Port, Moscato, and sweet Rieslings. Generally, as a person’s palate progresses, they learn to appreciate things besides sweetness, such as tannins, acid, and complexity.

As wine drinkers learn more, they tend to eschew what are perceived as “beginner” wines, such as those mentioned above. When I am working with a group in a tasting or a class setting, those who have some wine knowledge under their belt tend to make blanket statements such as “I only like dry wines...nothing sweet”. This, I find, is the perfect time to drop some wine knowledge.

What I have learned is that when a beginner/novice wine consumer says “sweet”, they generally mean fruity. And when they say “dry”, they generally mean tannic. I have tested this time and time again. As a general rule, most wines that I pour in my classes are dry. Occasionally there might be a sweet wine, or a dessert wine, but generally I am pouring a flight of dry wines. People frequently exclaim that a CA or a NZ Sauvignon Blanc is sweet…..when what they are actually smelling and tasting is the fruit forward characteristic of the grape, and perhaps the ripeness of the fruit from the generally warmer climate. People are astounded to realize that this wine is dry. It is, by far, the #1 most common takeaway that people walk away with in my classes. The same goes with red wines.

“Fruitier” grapes are commonly thought to be “sweet”. An Argentinian Malbec is a perfect example. In contrast when I pour a tannic wine (say a Cabernet Sauvignon), they think THIS is the dry wine. When I tell them they are both dry, they get a bit confused. This is another perfect time to drop some wine knowledge. I explain to students that tannins are naturally occurring in the skins, stems, and seeds of grapes. And that tannins give a drying sensation in your mouth. How can a beginner truly understand the feeling of tannins? Steep a cup of tea with a tea bag. Wring out the tea bag. Stick the tea bag in your mouth and bite down. THIS, my friends, is tannins. Then when they go back to the red wines, they can understand and feel that same drying sensation with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Back to sugar. So how do some wines have more sugar than others? It’s all about residual sugar (RS). Here is my elementary explanation about how grape juice becomes wine:

1. Insert grapes/grape juice in tank
2. Add yeast (what I call Pac-Mans) to the juice
3. The Pac-Mans eat sugar (in the grape juice) and multiply, creating CO2 and alcohol
4. Once the Pac-Mans eat all the sugar, the fermentation is done and the Pac-Mans die
5. IF you want to create a wine with RS, you stop the fermentation BEFORE the Pac-Mans finish eating all of the sugar, thus leaving some sugar in the wine.
6. You do this by cooling the temperature of the tank. Alcohol will not ferment if the liquid is too cool.

So what constitutes a dry wine vs a sweet wine? See my chart below. Note that most all table wine falls in the bone dry/dry categories. The main exception is domestic, commercially produced wines in which sub-par fruit is used. To make up for that, they tend to increase the RS (12-15 g/L as a loose range) to mask the shitty grapes.

Bone Dry <1g/L RS
Dry 1-10 g/L RS
Off-Dry 10-35 g/L RS
Sweet 35-120 g/L RS
Very Sweet/Luscious > 120g/l RS
*I pulled these numbers from WineFolly and they seem to be in line with the levels I recall from my WSET studies.

Ok, so what does the term “low sugar” mean? In my opinion, this is mostly a marketing term. It gives an indication to the consumer that this wine falls in the low range of dry, or might even sit in the bone dry category.  Personally I don’t count my calories or sugar intake when it comes to wine. I’m in the biz, I taste (and generally spit) a lot of wine, and the level of sugar (from a nutritional standpoint) doesn’t appeal or apply to me. However, someone watching what they eat/drink or counting sugar intake, might be interested in that term and might seek it out in a wine. The key piece to remember is that a term like “low sugar” is not regulated. Someone at 1g/L might say their wine is “low sugar” whereas someone who makes a wine at 9g/L might call their wine “low sugar”. And the consumer won’t know the difference unless they seek out the tech sheet to get the details.

I recently interviewed Amanda Scott, who is the founder of Thomson & Scott, a line of Champagne and Prosecco that bills itself as ultra low sugar, vegan, and organic. Amanda is leading the “transparency in wine” movement by creating a company that asks consumers to demand what's in their bottles. In fact, she is the (self-proclaimed) first person in the industry to publicly call out for it. Amanda thinks it is a no-brainer and is shocking that in 2019 we have no idea what is in our wine bottle. I tend to agree!

Thomson & Scott produces top quality Champagne and Prosecco with as little intervention as possible in the production process and highlights its vegan and organic credentials. According to Amanda, wine labelling is sparse in its detail and misleading in its description. Currently, the wine industry doesn’t have to say what goes into making the products we drink. Amanda wants to change that. She was raised on a vegetarian, no sugar diet by her health-conscious mother, and has always had a keen interest in what’s in her food.

Amanda feels that because her organic Prosecco is of such beautiful quality to begin with, less sugar is needed to balance off the acidity. It is possible to make a zero-dosage (no added sugar) Prosecco; but, since Prosecco traditionally has a certain fruit-forward, easy-drinking quality that fans have come to expect in its flavor profile, 7g/L felt like exactly the right amount. This is roughly half of what many Proseccos come in at. In their Champagne portfolio, they do have a zero-dosage option.

I also asked Amanda a tough question about her use of the word “skinny” in her branding:

Brianne: Talk to me about the use of the word "skinny" in marketing and on the label. Bethenny Frankel has been very successful with that word being central to her Skinnygirl brand. However, our society is moving to a place of more inclusivity and body positivity, and the use of words like "skinny" can sometimes be frowned upon. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you think marketing this product to the US market will be different than marketing it to the UK market?

Amanda: “Skinny” was used in our case in the same way as Skinny Cappuccino or Skinny jeans - in a fashion sense about the item in question, not about any individual. To help amplify our message in a hugely male dominated, often old-fashioned, financially-focused industry, I knew I needed to be provocative. Using the term “skinny” has been a vehicle for me to put the spotlight on sugar added to wine. Pure and simple. Our brand is Thomson & Scott. Marketing in each respective country will always be different and deeply nuanced. That said, London brands have a history of trend-building internationally, and so our core values remain regardless. The US market in many ways is culturally ahead on understanding that wine can be high quality and yet also fun. That’s certainly part of our broader mission, and something we in the old wine world can take inspiration from.

There you have it! In conclusion, I do not frown upon the use of terms such as “skinny” and “low sugar”. The terms are not regulated and companies/brands are able to use them as they see fit in order to reach their target consumer. Two words such as “low sugar” can help a consumer make a decision quickly and efficiently. I also appreciate the ability to use language that helps reach your target market and that helps connect your brand to the product at hand. The key here is that people not abuse this freedom. What we don’t want is to end up with mass produced, commercial wines claiming all sorts of health benefits and what not. As an industry, we have to hold ourselves to higher standards and call out when our peers are using language to manipulate the consumer's perception of what exactly is in the bottle.

I did have the opportunity to try the Thomson & Scott wines at a press event in Los Angeles in March. The Prosecco retails for $24.99, while the Champagne comes in at $49.99. Both lovely wines and I did notice a marked dryness, especially with the Prosecco, which is generally too sweet for my taste. Bravo Amanda. May the “transparency in wine” movement progress far and wide!

What are your thoughts on low sugar wines? And on transparency in wine labeling?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Picks for National Rosé Day

Disclaimer: these wines were all received as samples.

I’m not normally one to celebrate and capitalize on any National _______ Day. BUT, today is National Rosé Day and if ever there is a day to celebrate, today it is! I won’t open this piece by boring you with statistics about how much rosé is now being consumed in the US. Let’s just say that it is A LOT. It’s almost as if 2-3 years ago everyone woke up from their White Zinfandel/Blush PTSD haze and decided that pink wine was cool again. That, and the fact that a new generation of wine consumers in their early 20s are looking for light, easy, and affordable ways to drink and be sophisticated. Rosé provides just that. Today I tasted seven rosés (tough job) that I find to be tasty and affordable. Enjoy!

Jean-Luc Colombo 2018 Cape Bleue Rosé ($12.99)
Crafted in the classic Provençal style, Cape Bleue is a blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre. This wine is made in the Méditerranée IGP region of southern France that covers part of Provence and the Rhone Valley. Use of the Méditerranée IGP allows for less stringent winemaking rules and grape usage. This wine is like a rosé fruit basket of strawberries, watermelon, and grapefruit with a little bubble gum thrown in. Plus a hint of garrigue (dried herbs) that the area is known for. At $12.99, it’s also quite wallet-friendly. And no residual sugar, which makes me happy, as I prefer my rosés dry AF! 

Portillo 2018 Rosé ($10.99)
This guy wins for the best price in the bunch at $10.99 a bottle. My family is from Argentina, so Malbec sits near and dear to my heart. Portillo, located in the heart of Argentina’s Uco Valley, in Mendoza, is home to some of the highest elevations on the planet. Made from 100% Malbec, this rosé is versatile and food-friendly. I get a tad bit darker fruit on this wine….mainly plums and cherries. Also, I think there is a SLIGHT residual sugar to this wine, that really suits it. Good acid, super refreshing, and a steal of a deal. 

Bertani 2018 Bertarose ($15.99)
Created by an Amarone producer, Bertarose is a unique blend of 75% Molinara and 25% Merlot. Molinara is one of the classic grapes used in Valpolicella wines. The other 2 main Valpo grapes include Corvina and Rodinella. Bertani (the winemaker) discovered the delicate character of the Molinara grape was well-suited to rosé and the addition of Merlot rounds the wine out. A much more floral nose on this rosé. I get notes of whiteflowers (i.e. elderflower) plus bright, juicy strawberries and tangerine notes. This is a quaffable “pool friendly” wine to enjoy on a hot summer day. 

Peter Yealands 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Rosé Marlborough ($14.99)
The lightest color of the bunch, this New Zealand rosé is produced from the country’s signature Sauvignon Blanc grape with just an added splash of Merlot for color. This is an interesting one. I can’t say that I have ever had a rosé that was predominantly Sauvignon Blanc. For the Sauv Blanc drinker, this would be a home run if you wanted to try something new. 

Mas de la dame La Gourmande Rosé ($19.99)
Mas de la Dame translates to “farm of the lady”, a nod to owners Anne Poniatowski and Caroline Missoffe, the dynamic female duo behind the winery. Certified organic by ECOCERT, Mas de la Dame’s La Gourmand Rosé is a blend of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 10% Cinsault. I get loads of citrus fruit on this wine, such as tangerine and ruby red grapefruit. Also, strawberries and raspberries and a faint floral note to really round it out. This is a pleasing and quite feminine wine, ironically made by female winemakers. 

Sosie Wines 2017 Rosé of Syrah ($25)
This wine comes from Sonoma’s Bennett Valley, a fog shrouded valley that draws cool breezes from three directions, trapping cool air for most of the day. A nice deep pink color with a copper/orange hue, and notes of tart cherries, strawberries, and nectarines This wine is the most structured of the bunch. 

Champagne Pommery Brut Rosé Royal ($50)
If you want to splurge on some pink bubbles, here you go. This Champagne is the classic Champagne blend of Chardonnay (34%), Pinot Meunier (33%), and Pinot Noir (33%). A beautiful pale pink color with persistent bubbles sets the tone. Fresh red fruit leads (strawberries, raspberries) as well as some stone fruit (peach/nectarine). A delightful, balanced rosé Champagne that would make even the most discerning wine lover happy. Not all rosé is built for the #roséalldaycrowd. This is a fine example. 

Thank you to Taub Family Selections, Calhoun & Company, and IT-PR for these samples. Enjoy the rest of your National Rosé Day!