Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Mandeville Vineyards: Extraordinary Wines with Extraordinary Views

Larry Gilman & Donna Mille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Napa Valley Garden Salad

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

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

Skull Island Tiger Prawns

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

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

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

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

Marinated Wagya Skirt Steam

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Exploring New Zealand Through Wine

Cameron Douglas, MS

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

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


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

No. 1 Family Estate

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

The Darling Wines

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

Spinach Salad & Strawberry Shooter

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

Brightwater Vineyards

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

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

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

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

Vidal Estate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Uncovering Uruguay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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