Luxury Champagne For Valentine’s Day

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes, Sparkling Wine, Special Occasion Wine | Leave a comment

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The Internet is packed to the rafters with gift guides for Valentine’s Day. So here is one more.

Except this one is better than most of the others. Because the benefits of a spa treatment will be completely eradicated by the stress of getting stuck in traffic on the way home. A piece of jewelry is likely to get tossed into a box and forgotten. And some sort of fancy underwear may (or may not) be only mildly appreciated in all its lacy, be-ribboned glory. But champagne knowledge? Inside info on the most luxurious, glamorous, giddily-enjoyable drink on Earth? Now that is truly the gift that keeps on giving. That is a gift that will continue to inform, long after the bottle has been drained and the golden buzz forgotten. And these champagnes, in particular, are intended to be a step forward for most people. These are the next level for those on who are on a continuing journey into the world of wine enjoyment. This is a guide for when you’re ready to put down the Korbel and go for the good stuff.

So, without further ado: 10 Luxury Bubblies For Valentine’s Day (presented without irony, even though this blog mostly talks about wines under $25).

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 1. NV Pierre Gimonnet, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cuis Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs ($30 – $55)

This is a non-vintage champagne, which means several harvests from different years have been blended into the bottle (which is different from several harvests from different vineyards in the same year. If it all comes from the same year, that year is the vintage). This is a fairly standard practice for champagne, unless the year was particularly outstanding and is able to produce a noteworthy wine with only the grapes from that year. Think of it like perfume: Sometimes there is enough of a single flower to produce a true, lasting, bountiful amount of oil, and the resulting fragrance is divine. But other times, there might be more of this or that plant, (and less of another), so the perfumer blends these lovely oils together to create something that is a little different than the single fragrance, but can be just as – if not more! – sublime.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but maybe you get the idea.

Danielle Francoise Fournier of DFF Wine Consulting offered the Gimonnet as one of her top picks. It’s made from 100% Chardonnay, and Danielle describes it as “SUAVE and silky with a bit of creamy richness over clean and fresh minerality. Perfect with a sushi dinner.” It’s got a bit of lemony citrus, some stony mineral and the faintest touch of ginger. The bubbles are fine and delicate.

NV Gosset Brut "Grand Reserve"

2. NV Gosset Brut “Grand Reserve” ($45 – $55)

Here we have another non-vintage sparkler, also in the ~$50 price range (and worth every penny). In 2009, the House of Gosset celebrated their 425th birthday, so they’ve had some time to figure out how to make good juice. The traditional Gosset style is rich, substantial and weighty, making it ideal to pair with your most decadent Valentine’s Day cream sauces and caviars, yet the apple, fresh bread, and orange zest flavors make this something that can be equally enjoyed on its own.

NV Bollinger “Special Cuvée”

3. NV Bollinger “Special Cuvée” ($50 – $65)

James Bond enjoys the best of everything: the finest clothes, the most sophisticated cars, the prettiest women. So there is no way the guy would skimp on his champagne. If you’d like to consider yourself your own James Bond of sorts, you can start with the NV Bollinger “Special Cuvée.” $50 – $65 hardly seems too much to spend to elevate yourself into “International Wo/Man of Mystery” status. Especially when the rewards are so rich: Velvety bead, golden hue, firm structure and gripping acidity. Mostly estate fruit (about 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) produces flavors of ripe apple and pear, white flowers, hints of peach and hazelnut, and a pastry finish that lasts and lasts.

Bollinger keeps a vast library of wines under cork, and these are what go into their non-vintage blends. This means complex layers of reserve wines are in every bottle. For the price, it’s almost like you’re in one of those heists from the movies.

Taittinger "Nocturne" Sec Champagne

4. NV Taittinger Nocturne ($65 – $90)

Champagne Taittinger has been around since 1734 and they’re currently one of world’s most renowned estates. The “Nocturne” is a sec or sweeter champagne, made from 40% Chardonnay and a mixture of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (about 30/30). The blend comes from more than 30 different vintages, and is aged four years before being released. The pale yellow, delicate-beaded nectar makes for a lovely evening treat, as the name suggests. You’ll enjoy a nice balance of tartness, and lovely peach, apricot, and white flowers. On the whole, the wine is smooth and mellow and perfect for those who prefer wines that lean a little toward dessert.

2010 VILMART GRAND CELLIER D OR

5. 2010 Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier d’Or Premier Cru Brut, Rilly-la-Montagne ($70 – $95)

This is another of Danielle Francoise Fournier’s picks. It’s a powerful but medium-bodied champagne, with flavors of nuts and buttered toast and some orchard fruit. Fournier says, “Vilmart is a magnificent producer making complex and rich champagnes. This blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir is aged in oak for 10 months, resulting in a grandiose, yet precise wine that can only be described as SEXY. Perfect with anything fried–from chicken to po’ boy sandwiches.”

 

NV Ruinart Rose

6. NV Ruinart BrutRosé ($70 – $90)

If you haven’t experienced the pleasure of a crisp glass of Ruinart champagne, this Valentine’s Day would be a great time to do yourself a solid and see what all the fuss is about. Ruinart has been making delicious juice since 1729 and call themselves “the first established house of Champagne.” They’ve been making wine longer than the United States has been a thing. I’ll let that sink in for a second. While we’re waiting, you might want to go grab yourself a bottle…

The blend is around 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. This is a slightly orange-colored rosé, with flavors of baking spice and red berries. On the back end, a bit of citrus can be detected, mingled with a wisp of smoke. The bubbles are light, the acidity is firm, and the finish is long and stony.

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7. NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé ($75 – $90)

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé serves as its own clever pneumonic device. The label is salmon-colored, the wine is salmon-colored, the name is, well, Billecart-Salmon

Additionally, Billecart-Salmon is a champagne house built on love! It was founded in 1818 when Nicolas François Billecart married Elisabeth Salmon (and it continues to be family-owned, which is no small feat for a medium-sized Champagne estate, as they’re increasingly coming under the ownership of mega corporations).

So, if you were looking for a sign that this fruity, yeasty, briny, creamy treat should be in your glass this Valentine’s Day, this is it.

Despite the red fruit, you won’t find a lot of sweetness here. The full body and fresh acidity works better without it. The mousse is lacy the finish is long, the experience is even better when paired with food.

 

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8. Laurent-Perrier “Grand Siècle” Brut ($110 – $120)

The best grapes, from 12 of the region’s 17 best vineyards, from the very best years. That’s what you’ll find in the “Grand Siècle,” Laurent-Perrier’s top wine. It’s always been non-vintage, and it continues to be remarkable.

The blend tends toward 50/50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This champagne is quite dry, despite notes of honey and pastry dough. There is unmistakable smoke on the finish. The bubbles are tiny pinpricks in the mouth, but the overall experience is satiny and polished.

As with the other NV wines on the list, don’t let the lack of vintage dissuade you from giving this a try.

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9. 2006 Pierre Peters Cuvee Speciale Les Chetillons Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut ($125 – $145)

Pierre Peters is a small, family-owned and operated champagne house, established in 1919. For six generations, they’ve been growing their own fruit and transforming it into bubbly that should be on everybody’s list.

The 100% Chardonnay grapes used in the 2006 Speciale Les Chetillons come from three Grand Cru vineyards, and have produced a distinctly mineral-imbued, yet lip-smackingly fruity champagne, with enough acid to keep the slight bit of sweetness under control. Lots of bright lemon and green apple, a little stone fruit, and a nice, long finish.

2004 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame

10. 2004 Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” Brut ($150)

Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” is a veritable fixture at some of the world’s most glamorous celebrations. The combination of being an infinitely approachable bubbly, a true French champagne, and – not to be discounted – marketed by geniuses, has helped Veuve become the go-to for many who are ready to dip a toe into spendier waters. But “Yellow Label” is only the start of the story. “La Grande Dame” is named for the widow of François Clicquot, son of the winery’s founder. It’s one of the only champagnes named after a woman, and it’s also Veuve Clicquot’s tête de cuvée (the best wine from a house or producer). The 2004 is a particular stand-out.

This vintage blends fruit from eight Grand Cru vineyards. The result is a complex champagne, with full body, creamy mousse, and lovely fruit-forward flavors. You’ll taste grapefruit and peach, some smoky minerality and salinity, and a bit of biscuit on the long finish. All-in-all, “La Grande Dame” is a departure for those who have only experienced Veuve’s entry-level. No matter the occasion, it’s is sure to make the celebration feel that much more special.

 

50 Years of New Zealand History-Making: Villa Maria Wines

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes, Great Wines Under $20, Wines from the Grocery Store | Leave a comment

Whether you subscribe to the theory that humans have lived on the tiny island of New Zealand for 700 years or for 2,000, one can’t deny that in terms of human history, they haven’t been there for long.

Likewise, by the time the 1800s rolled around, most of the world’s major wine regions weren’t conquering new territory, they were playing large-scale games of Monopoly with land that had been planted for ages. By contrast, the first grape vines were planted in Kiwi country in 1819 – less than two hundred years ago.

In light of this, New Zealand’s own Villa Maria Estate and the current celebration of their 50th vintage, is kind of a big deal.

In 1961, when owner and managing director of Villa Maria, George Fistonich, first started the winery (with second-hand equipment, on land borrowed from his skeptical father), he wasn’t setting out to change New Zealand history, he was choosing a trade. Drinking wine was part of the Croatian culture Fistonich was born into, and it was also the family livelihood. Fistonich’s decision seemed as traditional as can be.

But that’s where doing the expected ended.

Sir George and His Barrels

Sir George and His Barrels

Back when New Zealanders were mostly drinking sherries, Fistonich deemed to drag the country in line with the European tastes of the time. He chose an international name that could be from anywhere, hired professional viticulturalists, identified different regional typicities around the country and encouraged his growers to let the terroir speak through the grapes. He’s also maintained a firm commitment to the planet; 100% of Villa Maria’s vineyards and contract vineyards are sustainable, and 30% are organic. Through these practices, Fistonich has helped guide his small country onto the world wine stage and able to compete with those other countries that started fermenting juice back when New Zealand was mostly uninhabited by humans.

Today, Villa Maria Estate produces close to twenty different wines, in four quality tiers (Villa Maria Reserve, Single Vineyard, Cellar Selection and Private Bin), from vineyards in Gisborne, Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. George also owns three additional wineries – Vidal, Esk Valley and Thornbury – which are much smaller than the 750,000 cases/year operation that is his original project.

Villa Maria’s large-scale production has not only helped New Zealand’s 5th largest winery reach all corners of the global market, it’s also enabled the company to keep a low quality-to-price ratio (QPR). In fact, I was amazed by how good these wines were for the cost – expecting them to be tens of dollars more expensive than the sticker price.

Of the wines I tried at a recent tasting, the “Private Bin” and “Cellar Selection” bottlings really stood out. The 2010 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Pinot Noir is full of ripe cherry and raspberry, with hints of spice and soft tannin. The 2009 Private Bin Hawkes Bay

2008 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Pinot Noir

2008 Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Pinot Noir

Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend leads from blueberry, blackberry, red raspberry and cassis on the nose to red raspberry, plum, blackberry, eucalyptus and chocolate on the palate. Both are less than $20.

The 2008 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir has a nose of black cherry and baking spice, and flavors of big, ripe cherry and delicate tannin. This was my favorite of the day, even at around $25/bottle.

All ofthese wines – in fact, Villa Maria’s entire global production since 2003 – are bottled under screwcap, and they were the first winery of their size to embrace the technology. While stelvin closures are still slightly controversial, Fistonich wasn’t awarded the title of New Zealand’s Most Awarded Winemaker for nothing. In 2009, Fistonich was given knighthood for his contributions to the country’s wine industry. Today, Villa Maria Estate is consistently ranked among the world’s top 50 great wine producers.

I encourage you to join the modern era and taste New Zealand’s history-in-the-making. After all, Villa Maria has been around for a quarter of the country’s wine history. Clearly, that’s something worth toasting to.

2008 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir

2008 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Noir

Drinking Out Of The Box… RED

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

When we last left you, we’d started on an exciting foray into the wonderful world of boxed wine. We’d done this because, while far less sexy, boxed wines (approximately four bottles per 3 liter box) are a better comparative value than their bottled counterparts. And because the plastic bladder inside the box collapses as the wine is emptied, boxed wines are naturally protected against oxygen spoilage, so they are usually good for around four weeks once they’ve been opened. A regular bottle will last for only a week or so with preservation measures taken, under the best circumstances.

We sampled ten wines – five whites and five reds – at a party with friends. Our sampling was extremely unscientific; we ranked our favorites, writing down our impressions on yellow-tipped Post-It Notes for the white wines and red-tipped Post-It Notes for the red wines. These were the results.

The Reds:

Big House, Small Price

2009 Big House The Usual Suspect Cabernet Sauvignon. Winemaker Georgetta Dane earned a Masters in Food Science from Galati University in her native Romania, and began working at a winery right out of school. A few years later, she and her husband moved to Monterey, California, where Ms. Dane eventually worked her way into the role of lead winemaker, or the “Warden.”

This wine blends 90% Cabernet with 10% Grenache, and I picked up notes of blackberry, currant and vanilla on the nose, and tasted vanilla, mocha and tar, blueberry and blackberry fruit in the glass. This is a pretty full-bodied wine with light tannin and a medium finish. Party guests described “Mixed berries, light. Great;” “Dark berry, ain’t too bad. Me like;” “Sweet, strong after taste. I like it. Berry.” ( 13.5% abv, $22 for 3L).

Back In Black

2009 Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon. Ryan Sproule was on a trip across the pond when he noticed how popular boxed wines were over there. When he returned from his trip, he launched Black Box wines – the United States’ first “super-premium, appellation-specific, vintage-dated wines in a box” – the kind he’d experienced in Europe, but wasn’t able to find stateside. Today, Black Box offers eight different boxed wines, with grapes sourced from some of the world’s top wine-growing regions, including California’s Central Coast, which is where Sproule gets the fruit for his Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon.

They said: Sweet…light. Pretty good.” I said: “Scents of oak, currant and vanilla. On the palate, this had medium tannin, and flavors of blackberry, cherry and watermelon. Not a ton of complexity, but great balance. Tied for favorite red of the night.(13.5% abv, $20 for 3L)

Good Tone, Nice Body

Jack Tone Vineyards California Red Wine Bottle Blend. McManis Family Vineyards – the makers of the Jack Tone red and white blends – are well-known in the value market for producing consistent, drinkable wines from the inner Central Coast of California. The Jack Tone Vineyards Red Wine Bottle Blend is a combination of Syrah and Petite Sirah, although the company says they may include Petit Verdot and Zinfandel in future years.

This was a guest favorite (“The red box!”). Some of the descriptions of it were, “Very dark and delicious. Hint of fruitiness. Very warm and full bodied aftertaste. WONDERFUL;” “Hints of tobacco, vanilla, a bit acidic, strong;” “Deep notes, charcoal, red notes – redwood;” “Bold flavor, Roquefort, aftertaste;” “Dark berry flavor. Tad sour. Yummy;” “Strong kick. Very good;” “Full, acid;” “Blueberry. Little Strong;” “Way too thick.”I picked up notes of tobacco, vanilla, mocha, plum and black fruit; with a rich, round mouthfeel. (13.5% abc, $20 for 3L)

Double Ohh! Seven

2010 Bodegas Osborne Seven Red Table Wine. Winemaker Jose Maria Nieto starts with tradition but then takes a “Nuevo Vino” approach with the rest of his winemaking technique for this easy drinker from Octavin Home Wine Bar. Nieto says his goal is, “To create a very distinctive, flavorful, modern Spanish wine that still reflects the traditional characteristics of our Spanish roots.” One way he’s accomplishing this is to blend traditional Spanish grapes in with other, international favorites, in this blend of seven varieties: 25% cabernet sauvignon, 25% merlot, 18% syrah, 8% petit verdot, 8% tempranillo, 8% grenache and 8% graciano.

There was a lot of feedback about this wine: “I like this one. Merlot. Light. Simple;” “Tastes like every wine you’ve ever had before;” “Very balanced basic wine. Good;” “Smooth. Very nice. Reminds me of berries and oak.” My impressions were: Blackberry, plum and raspberry on the nose, with a bit of earth and a little graham cracker and oak and alcoholic heat. This wine is thin but fruity, with flavors of mushroom, cherry, blueberry, vanilla, and chocolate, with a splash of heat on the back-end. This also tied for my favorite red. (13.6% abv, $22 for 3L)

Rock Around The Block

Trader Joe’s Block Red Shiraz. This Australian Shiraz from Trader Joe’s is sort of like a slightly more grown-up version of the grocery store’s famous “Two Buck Chuck.” At $10 for 3 liters, the math works out to about $2.50 per bottle. They’ve done an amazing job at getting 3 liters of wine into a very small package, and it’s definitely a budget option (I’ve never seen another boxed wine priced for less). At that price it’s certainly not bad, but I’ve gotta say, in this case you get what you pay for.

Them: “Full, fruity;” “Shiraz was not too sweet, which normally makes Shiraz terrible;” “Light, sour, ooh;” “Acidic, blasé, popcorn, cherry/plum, candy cane.” Me: Cherry, vanilla, oak. Very sweet. (13% abv, $10 for 3L)

 

Winners: Jack Tone, Seven

 

 

Pop! Go The Bubbles: What To Pour For Your Most Sparkly Occasions

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

Whether it’s New Years Eve, Valentine’s Day, Easter brunch – or any festive holiday – sparkling wines are a wonderful way to celebrate. In fact, a good bubbly can turn even a regular ol’ Wednesday night into a special occasion.

So go on, indulge a little! This list features fizzies from $15 and up, so no matter what your budget, you’re sure to find something to sip.

La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco: ($15) Prosecco is to Italy as Crémant is to France. Except not exactly. But kinda. Sound confusing? I’ll make it easy: Just pick up a bottle of these bubbles – soft mousse, a little sweeter than traditional Champagne, with flavors of apple and honeysuckle and maybe the slightest bit of brioche. In fact, pick up two bottles, especially if you’re lucky enough to find this stuff for $11 or $12 (which you can, and I have). The pretty blue label makes it perfect for bridal and baby showers. The price makes it perfect for all of those little life celebrations, like birthdays, anniversaries, Saturday night… (100% Glera)

 

 

Von Buhl Riesling Sekt Brut

Von Buhl Riesling Sekt Brut: ($22) In case it isn’t immediately obvious, this sparkler hails from Germany. Wait, what? Yep. Deutschland is actually known for more than beer and clunky, communist architecture; in fact, there was a time when the country rivaled France as producers of the world’s most wonderful wein. If that comes as a shock, you might be equally surprised to learn that its most famous grape – Riesling – is responsible for far more than syrupy sweet Blue Nun. There are Riesling wines across the entire spectrum of sweetness levels. The one I reference here is actually bone-dry, with lots of bright, mouth-watering acidity. Although this is a vintage bubbly, it’s standard to find lots of stony minerality in the Rieslings from this region, as well as varying levels of apricot and citrus and right-out-of-the-oven baked bread. In general, this sparkler presents as light, lively and should be pretty much guaranteed to start conversations with less wine-savvy neophytes and to win major points with your more geeky companions. (100% Riesling)

 

J Brut Rose, Russian River Valley

NV J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley: ($28) This soft pink bubbly out of Sonoma starts with an essence of strawberry seed and fizzes over the tongue with candied strawberry fruit, a bit of mineral and some citrus. The mousse is firm and frothy, there’s a peppy acidity, and the whole thing ends in a slow finish that almost seems too elegant for something so fun. (56% Pinot Noir, 44% Chardonnay)

 

 

 

 

 

Lanson Brut Black Label

Lanson Black Label Brut NV: ($30) My first experience with Lanson was at a super swanky wine tasting, where they were pouring over twenty Grand Marques Champagnes (that’s French for really fancy sparkling wine). I’d sipped Krug and Cristal, Pommery, Perrier-Jouet, Piper Heidsieck and Pol Roger, but I have a very clear memory of stopping dead in my tracks when I tasted the Lanson. The house style at Lanson Pere et Fils is tight, and I don’t mean that in the same way the kids today do. Unlike most bubblies, Lanson does not put their wines through malolactic fermentation, which means, simply, they’re very high in acid. These are great Champagnes to cellar, but the fresh green apple and citrus is so vibrant and refreshing, the bubbles so festive, the yeasty finish so long, that – provided you enjoy the style – there’s plenty of reason to just pop and pour. (35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier)

 

Champagne Thienot Brut

NV Champagne Thienot Brut:($40) From a very old wine-producing region comes a very new Champagne house – Champagne Thienot. Yet despite being the new kid on the block at just 25 years young, their non-vintage blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier gives many of the competing, established sparklers a run for the money, especially in terms of QPR. Creamy and elegant with consistent, a delicate bead, this has flavors of peach and apple and a touch of toast. While the finish doesn’t go on forever, at that price, what you sacrifice in terms of length, you make up for in ability to actually afford a bottle (or two) in the first place (quite rare for quality Champagne). Group Thienot also owns the Grand Marques Champagne houses Laurent-Perrier (another personal favorite) and Canard-Duchêne.

 

NV Pierre Peters, Champagne Cuveé de Réserve Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs

NV Pierre Peters, Cuveé de Réserve Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru: ($50) Mineral and grapefruit and apples and yeasty biscuits and a million tiny bubbles that go on forever. Pierre Peters is a “grower Champagne” estate, which means they grow and make their own juice, unlike many of the region’s bigger houses, which sometimes source fruit from all over the area. They’re a family-run production from the early 1900s, and as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a bad bottle since they started. OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but these Champagnes – made with Grand Cru grapes – are light and crisp, focused and bursting with bright acidity. Every wine geek I know is mad for them. $50 is an indulgence, but these chalky, light-golden sparklers, with slight hints of mushroom and a dry, elegant finish, are just the thing when you’re looking to take it to the next level. (100% Chardonnay)

 

NV Camille Savès Champagne Brut Grand Cru Rosé

NV Camille Savès Champagne Brut Grand Cru Rosé: ($60) I recently read a review that said this Camille Savès is the perfect thing to pour for non-Champagne drinkers, because it’s such a universal crowd pleaser. That’s probably true, but this robust, red-fruit-and-sour-cherry delight, with soft bead and hints of mineral and zesty acid, is so fruity and so fun to drink, it almost seems like a shame to share it with anyone but your closest, most Champagne-loving friends. (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir)

 

 

 

 

Bollinger Brut Rose

NV Bollinger Brut Rosé: ($90) At a recent tasting, I sniffed this and immediately thought of French toast with strawberry jam. The brioche and berry carry across the palate, with the addition of cherry and raspberry and a hint of nuttiness on the back end. This is a full, round rosé, with good acidity, soft mousse and a wonderfully long, dry finish. It’s unbelievably precise for a non-vintage Champagne. The Bolli Rosé is a treat, and goes down almost too easily – a $90 decadence, gone in an instant. But carpe diem, as they say…

 

 

 

Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Rosé

Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Rosé: ($100) One of the magical properties of wine is that it can transform itself to fit the environment in which it’s being enjoyed. For example, if you ask Miles about the ~ $3000 1961 Château Cheval Blanc he gulped (along with his pride), out of a paper cup at a burger joint, the swigging, sullen Sideways character probably wouldn’t give it a very high score. But I have personal memories of sitting on a dorm room floor, drinking the finest bottle of $5 plonk in my price range, basking in the love of good friends and laughing ’til dawn. I challenge any bottle on earth to taste as good. My first experience with Egly-Ouriet happened under similar cicumstances: It was my birthday, and my best friend and I had finished an incredible dinner at one of Chicago’s top restaurants. We were ending the evening at a Champagne bar, and as a fire popped and hissed in the fireplace behind us, we gossiped and giggled our way through an entire bottle of this. Is this sparkler, with flavors of rose and red fruit and bits of spice and mineral, really that good – or was it the experience that was so delicious? Treat yourself to this distinctive grower Champagne, and see for yourself… (60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and Ambonnay Rouge)

 

Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc

Dom Ruinart Blanc De Blanc: ($150+) Ruinart is the “first established Champagne house.” And although no one was intentionally producing sparkling wines way back in 1729, rumor has it that this is where the cork started to pop, so to speak. These vintage Champagnes, produced with 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes, are delicious young, but have the potential to get even better with age. Typically, these wines show amazing depth, with unfolding flavors of honey and orchard fruit, cashew nuts and brioche (although each vintage shows its own colors). The mousse is typically soft and creamy, with firm acid and the kind of finish that leaves you smiling for days.

No matter what you pour to celebrate your sweetest occasions, here’s a toast to many, many more…

Cheers!

A Pause And A Chat With Pali Winemaker, Aaron Walker

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

I’m overscheduled. This should be obvious to everyone who knows me, but for some reason, I seem to keep missing the memo.

“Hey Arianna, can you meet the winemaker for Pali Wine Company, Aaron Walker, at Delphine, at 6:30, after you get off work at 6:00, before your dinner with Dalla Terra importer Brian Larky, at Hatfield’s, at 7:30?”

“Oh sure. I don’t see why not.”

Because I live in a magical land where I can fly through the sky, up above streetlights and LA gridlock.

And because I have holes in my head.

I screeched into the valet in front of the W Hollywood Hotel, (late, of course), where Delphine – a chic French-Med bistro, in glimmering white tile and retro-cool accents – serves hotel guests, Hollywood pre-show diners, and – this evening – Aaron and his wife, Emily.

“I am so sorry,” I told them, a plea for forgiveness amid my tempest of chair sitting, purse-shifting, notebook finding, pen preparing and shoulder-slumping. They both smiled and assured me that they were happy as clams, munching on small plates of creamy/zesty hummus and warm pita, olives, and glasses of beer (what it takes to make great wine, dontcha know). Our waiter was beside the table in an instant, setting several glasses in front of me (God bless him).

Aaron has had kind of a whirlwind, too. He never intended to be a winemaker. He was on a different journey – studying early education, at San Diego State – when he was steered toward a deep appreciation for good food, by working in restaurants. He even considered a detour to culinary school. But in 2006 he found himself working the harvest at Bonaccorsi Wine Company – interning, in order to learn more about the business and the craft. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.

He joined Pali Wine Co. in 2007, as Assistant Winemaker under Brian Loring. The next year – 2008 – Walker took the helm. And all of this, without any formal winemaking education. He’s apprenticed with some impressive people: Joe Davis of Arcadian, Stephen Dooley of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines and Gray Hartley of Hitching Post; but most of Aaron’s training has been on the job, with a few extension classes here-and-there. Score one for drive and determination – the skills Aaron considers the cornerstones of his success.

I was there to taste Pali’s two newest endeavors, at two different price points. First, a value-priced Pinot out of Sonoma, the 2009 Pali Wine Co. “Riviera” Pinot Noir. The nose was full of cherry, mixed with a little herbaceousness. On the palate, the fruit-forward, cherry sweetness was braced with zesty acidity. It had a nice balance, a “user-friendly” medium body, and was quite smooth. At $19/bottle, it was $10 less than the next wine I tried: The 2010 Pali Wine Co. “Summit” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills. This Pinot, with fruit from Fiddlestix and Rancho La Viña vineyards, had a bit more finesse. There was some minerality on the nose, a little cola, a lot of berry. There were flavors of blueberries, raspberries and a touch of chocolate. The finish had an irony metallic-ness. The “Summit” wines are made from fruit sourced from slightly more prestigious vineyards, while still maintaining a high quality-to-price ratio (QPR).

A few bites of hummus, an olive, a couple of anecdotes back-and-forth, and a deep breath, and I was on to the next thing. Aaron and Emily said they were going to hang out for a little longer to finish their drinks and enjoy the laid-back, swanky, vacation-feel of the restaurant, and would be back on the road soon. Headed in different directions – me, south; them, north – after pausing for a moment in each others’ company.

It’s a mad world. Thank goodness for the opportunities to stop and enjoy good wine with good people.

 

 

Photo Credit: Palm Beach Enterprise

 

 

Photo Credit: Ryan WombacherI’m overscheduled. This should be obvious to everyone who knows me, but for some reason, I seem to keep missing the memo.
“Hey Arianna, can you meet the winemaker for Pali Wine Company, Aaron Walker, at Delphine, at 6:30, after you get off work at 6:00, before your dinner with Dalla Terra importer Brian Larky, at Hatfield’s, at 7:30?”
“Oh sure. I don’t see why not.”
Because I live in a magical land where I can fly through the sky, up above streetlights and LA gridlock.
And because I have holes in my head.
I screeched into the valet in front of the W Hollywood Hotel, (late, of course), where Delphine – a chic French-Med bistro, in glimmering white tile and retro-cool accents – serves hotel guests, Hollywood pre-show diners, and – this evening – Aaron and his wife, Emily.
“I am so sorry,” I told them, a plea for forgiveness amid my tempest of chair sitting, purse-shifting, notebook finding, pen preparing and shoulder-slumping. They both smiled and assured me that they were happy as clams, munching on small plates of creamy/zesty hummus and warm pita, olives, and glasses of beer (what it takes to make great wine, dontcha know). Our waiter was beside the table in an instant, setting several glasses in front of me (God bless him).
Aaron has had kind of a whirlwind, too. He never intended to be a winemaker. He was on a different journey – studying early education, at San Diego State – when he was steered toward a deep appreciation for good food, by working in restaurants. He even considered a detour to culinary school. But in 2006 he found himself working the harvest at Bonaccorsi Wine Company – interning, in order to learn more about the business and the craft. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
He joined Pali Wine Co. in 2007, as Assistant Winemaker under Brian Loring. The next year – 2008 – Walker took the helm. And all of this, without any formal winemaking education. He’s apprenticed with some impressive people: Joe Davis of Arcadian, Stephen Dooley of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, Seth Kunin of Kunin Wines and Gray Hartley of Hitching Post; but most of Aaron’s training has been on the job, with a few extension classes here-and-there. Score one for drive and determination – the skills Aaron considers the cornerstones of his success.
I was there to taste Pali’s two newest endeavors, at two different price points. First, a value-priced Pinot out of Sonoma, the 2009 Pali Wine Co. “Riviera” Pinot Noir. The nose was full of cherry, mixed with a little herbaceousness. On the palate, the fruit-forward, cherry sweetness was braced with zesty acidity. It had a nice balance, a “user-friendly” medium body, and was quite smooth. At $19/bottle, it was $10 less than the next wine I tried: The 2010 Pali Wine Co. “Summit” Pinot Noir, Sta Rita Hills. This Pinot, with fruit from Fiddlestix and Rancho La Viña vineyards, had a bit more finesse. There was some minerality on the nose, a little cola, a lot of berry. There were flavors of blueberries, raspberries and a touch of chocolate. The finish had an irony metallic-ness. The “Summit” wines are made from fruit sourced from slightly more prestigious vineyards, while still maintaining a high quality-to-price ratio (QPR).
A few bites of hummus, an olive, a couple of anecdotes back-and-forth, and a deep breath, and I was on to the next thing. Aaron and Emily said they were going to hang out for a little longer to finish their drinks and enjoy the laid-back, swanky, vacation-feel of the restaurant, and would be back on the road soon. Headed in different directions – me, south; them, north – after pausing for a moment in each others’ company.
It’s a mad world. Thank goodness for the opportunities to stop and enjoy good wine with good people.

Photo Credit: Palm Beach Enterprise

Path:

Montecillo Rioja: Great Value. Great Vino (Not Virginian)

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

I’ve been writing about Rioja a lot these days. Maybe that’s what inspired the good folks at Bodegas Montecillo to send me two bottles from their winery in Rioja Alta, Spain. I received a 2007 Montecillo Crianza ($12) and a 2003 Reserva ($18). I’m glad I did; these were great wines, and the QPR can’t be beat.

PS – Different Montecillo

The 2007 Montecillo Crianza, made from 100% Tempranillo, is aged in French oak (which is a bit unusual; most Spanish wines are aged in American wood), for twelve months. The remainder of its aging takes place in bottle. The 2007 had a nose of blueberry, blackberry and plum. Medium-bodied, with a smooth mouthfeel and nice balance, and flavors of tobacco, dark chocolate, blackberry and a bit of forest floor. If, in your shopping travels, you happen to stumble upon this one, at $12/bottle, there should really be no hesitation in picking it up.

Older and Wiser

The 2003 Montecillo Reserva – a step up from the Crianza but also made from 100% Tempranillo – is aged for 18 months in untoasted French barriques (again, a twist on traditional Spanish Rioja winemaking). I picked up aromas of tobacco, cigar, clove, allspice and blackberry; and flavors fresh, wet loam, blackberry, some tertiary components like forest floor, and even a bit of oregano. Although I sensed more heat on this than the Crianza, the overall presentation was smoother and richer, with a long, lingering finish. If you’re willing to part with a few extra dollars, this one is definitely worth the money, as well.

 

In fact, this review has made me a bit thirsty. Good thing the Bodegas Montecillo Riojas are pretty easy to find

 

 

 

I’ve been writing about Rioja a lot these days. Maybe that’s what inspired the good folks at Bodegas Montecillo to send me two bottles from their winery in Rioja Alta, Spain. I received a 2007 Montecillo Crianza ($12) and a 2003 Reserva ($18). I’m glad I did; these were great wines, and the QPR can’t be beat.

PS – Different MontecilloThe 2007 Montecillo Crianza, made from 100% Tempranillo, is aged in French oak (which is a bit unusual; most Spanish wines are aged in American wood), for twelve months. The remainder of its aging takes place in bottle. The 2007 had a nose of blueberry, blackberry and plum. Medium-bodied, with a smooth mouthfeel and nice balance, and flavors of tobacco, dark chocolate, blackberry and a bit of forest floor. If, in your shopping travels, you happen to stumble upon this one, at $12/bottle, there should really be no hesitation in picking it up.

Older and WiserThe 2003 Montecillo Reserva – a step up from the Crianza but also made from 100% Tempranillo – is aged for 18 months in untoasted French barriques (again, a twist on traditional Spanish Rioja winemaking). I picked up aromas of tobacco, cigar, clove, allspice and blackberry; and flavors fresh, wet loam, blackberry, some tertiary components like forest floor, and even a bit of oregano. Although I sensed more heat on this than the Crianza, the overall presentation was smoother and richer, with a long, lingering finish. If you’re willing to part with a few extra dollars, this one is definitely worth the money, as well.

In fact, this review has made me a bit thirsty. Good thing the Bodegas Montecillo Riojas are pretty easy to find…

Domodimonti: Italian for "Natural Wine"

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

Imagine if you were from Italy, but couldn’t enjoy your country’s renowned wines. That was the case with Dr. Francesco Bellini – internationally acclaimed bio-chemist and sufferer of wine allergies.

 

But in 2003, Dr. Bellini and his wife, Marisa, were back in their native country, visiting from their adopted homeland of French Canada. During their trip to Le Marche, Italy, where they had grown up, the opportunity arose for them to purchase a little run-down vineyard and olive orchard. They jumped at the chance.

 

It took seven years to build the Domodimonti winery , but the Bellinis built their retirement dream project exactly the way they’d envisioned: State-of-the-art, with a small environmental footprint, sustainable vine growth, water conservation, and natural winemaking practices that eschew additives (including sugar), acid adjustments, etc. These are organic wines – wines clean enough for Dr. Bellini to drink; as they say at the winery: “If he can’t drink it, they don’t make it.”

 

I was recently invited to try several of the Domodimonti wines at Drago Centro, in downtown LA. The first wine I tried was the 2006 Picens, a blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Celestino Drago paired it with Garganelli pasta, pork sausage, Parmesan and fennel seeds. The wine was surprisingly light in body for a blend of such big varietals. The nose of white pepper and earthy black fruit led to flavors of earthy cherry against light tannin. The pasta was all buttery richness, with layers of slightly sharp Parmesan and rich umami. I had three bowls.

 

The 2009 Domodimonti Monte Fiore is 100% Sangiovese. It had a nose of raw beef and plum with flavors of iron and strawberry, which turned into cherry on the finish. This wine was paired with roasted venison saddle, soft polenta and red currant gastrique. The venison – with its sweet, cool center and additively salty, browned crust – was a perfect pairing. The super-sweet gastrique was balanced nicely by the soft pillows of polenta, and helped to accentuate the wine’s cherry notes.

 

My favorite wine of the evening was the 2006 Il Messia, a blend of Montepulciano and Merlot. It was all irony-earth, cherry and plum tart – although an odd pairing with Drago’s scallop agnolatti, lemon zest, chile and herbs. The wine felt a little overbearing against the oceany scallops, with their spray of crisp lemon.

 

I quickly abandoned the food to focus exclusively on the wine.

 

At $25/bottle, it pushes the upper limits of what I’d consider a value, but for those who are looking for a natural wine, with minimal interference from the winemaker, and a small environmental footprint – and especially for those who normally suffer from wine-related allergies – $25 doesn’t seem like a large price to pay.

 

 

Hard Name, Good Wine Imagine if you were from Italy, but couldn’t enjoy your country’s renowned wines. That was the case with Dr. Francesco Bellini – internationally acclaimed bio-chemist and sufferer of wine allergies.

But in 2003, Dr. Bellini and his wife, Marisa, were back in their native country, visiting from their adopted homeland of French Canada. During their trip to Le Marche, Italy, where they had grown up, the opportunity arose for them to purchase a little run-down vineyard and olive orchard. They jumped at the chance.

It took seven years to build the Domodimonti winery , but the Bellinis built their retirement dream project exactly the way they’d envisioned: State-of-the-art, with a small environmental footprint, sustainable vine growth, water conservation, and natural winemaking practices that eschew additives (including sugar), acid adjustments, etc. These are organic wines – wines clean enough for Dr. Bellini to drink; as they say at the winery: “If he can’t drink it, they don’t make it.”

I was recently invited to try several of the Domodimonti wines at Drago Centro, in downtown LA. The first wine I tried was the 2006 Picens, a blend of Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Celestino Drago paired it with Garganelli pasta, pork sausage, Parmesan and fennel seeds. The wine was surprisingly light in body for a blend of such big varietals. The nose of white pepper and earthy black fruit led to flavors of earthy cherry against light tannin. The pasta was all buttery richness, with layers of slightly sharp Parmesan and rich umami. I had three bowls.

The 2009 Domodimonti Monte Fiore is 100% Sangiovese. It had a nose of raw beef and plum with flavors of iron and strawberry, which turned into cherry on the finish. This wine was paired with roasted venison saddle, soft polenta and red currant gastrique. The venison – with its sweet, cool center and additively salty, browned crust – was a perfect pairing. The super-sweet gastrique was balanced nicely by the soft pillows of polenta, and helped to accentuate the wine’s cherry notes.

My favorite wine of the evening was the 2006 Il Messia, a blend of Montepulciano and Merlot. It was all irony-earth, cherry and plum tart – although an odd pairing with Drago’s scallop agnolatti, lemon zest, chile and herbs. The wine felt a little overbearing against the oceany scallops, with their spray of crisp lemon.

I quickly abandoned the food to focus exclusively on the wine.

At $25/bottle, it pushes the upper limits of what I’d consider a value, but for those who are looking for a natural wine, with minimal interference from the winemaker, and a small environmental footprint – and especially for those who normally suffer from wine-related allergies – $25 doesn’t seem like a large price to pay.

Viva Veneto

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment
Viva Veneto image from Jarvis Communications

Viva Veneto image credit: Jarvis Communications

For all of its culinary popularity, Italy’s wines seem to struggle to enjoy the same kind of international obsession. It’s not that they aren’t loved – quite the contrary; after several thousand years of fermenting grape juice, the Italians have learned a thing or two. That’s as evident on the shelves of collectors as it is in the glass.

But for every Barolo or Brunello enthusiast, there are scores of ordinary wine lovers who seem reluctant to go there. Maybe it’s overwhelm at the thought of learning a fraction of the country’s 3,000 or so varietals. Maybe it’s too much bad Chianti in college, or maybe it’s a general lack of awareness, combined with the country’s complicated viticultural designation system or DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) – similar to France’s, but with way more vowels.

Conegliano_-Scuola-Enologica-Treviso1

To tackle this last challenge, a number of Italian consortiums (consorzi) and organizations have hit the road, educating the wine drinking public on what their regions/wines are all about. One of these groups – Centro Estero Veneto, along with five Chambers of Commerce of the Veneto region – have embarked on a US tour, to teach us Americans a thing or two about the wines of Veneto, in Northern Italy.

Home to some of the country’s best-known destinations, like Venice (canals), Padua and Verona (Romeo and Juliet), and the splendor (and skiing) of the Dolomites in the Alps, Veneto is also home to some of Italy’s best-known wines. Prosecco, Soave, Bardolino and Amarone all hail from here. In fact, this region is Italy’s leading producer of DOC-grade wines; it’s Italy’s third largest region in terms of wine production; and wines from Veneto make up 20% of national output.

The Veneto consortium recently landed in Los Angeles and put its top sommeliers, wines and recipes on display at tastings, dinners and seminars. The opening gala, held at 31 Ten Lounge, in Venice, was attended by representatives from the LA Mayor’s office and Italian dignitaries. There were tastings at Upstairs 2 at The Wine House and Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar, and an all-day educational event at the Skirball Cultural Center, where tables – loaded with imported wine and food – kept both professionals and enthusiasts munching and sipping and smiling for hours. A select few were also treated to a late-night dinner at Terroni restaurant, where owner Max Stefanelli cooked regional dishes and used the area’s wines in both the recipes and the pairings.

The Veneto events revealed layers of a culture that’s rich in food and wine, but was more a celebratory springboard than a complete course. Luckily, there are rumors that the consortium will be back again next year. In the meantime, if you’re craving polenta or risotto, or maybe a non-Veneto Italian treat, consider braving those vowels or varietals and drinking an Italian education.

Colbertaldo_-Strada-del-vino-bianco1

image credit: Jarvis Communications

Viva Veneto image credit: Jarvis CommunicationsFor all of its culinary popularity, Italy’s wines seem to struggle to enjoy the same kind of international obsession. It’s not that they aren’t loved – quite the contrary; after several thousand years of fermenting grape juice, the Italians have learned a thing or two. That’s as evident on the shelves of collectors as it is in the glass.
But for every Barolo or Brunello enthusiast, there are scores of ordinary wine lovers who seem reluctant to go there. Maybe it’s overwhelm at the thought of learning a fraction of the country’s 3,000 or so varietals. Maybe it’s too much bad Chianti in college, or maybe it’s a general lack of awareness, combined with the country’s complicated viticultural designation system or DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) – similar to France’s, but with way more vowels.

To tackle this last challenge, a number of Italian consortiums (consorzi) and organizations have hit the road, educating the wine drinking public on what their regions/wines are all about. One of these groups – Centro Estero Veneto, along with five Chambers of Commerce of the Veneto region – have embarked on a US tour, to teach us Americans a thing or two about the wines of Veneto, in Northern Italy.
Home to some of the country’s best-known destinations, like Venice (canals), Padua and Verona (Romeo and Juliet), and the splendor (and skiing) of the Dolomites in the Alps, Veneto is also home to some of Italy’s best-known wines. Prosecco, Soave, Bardolino and Amarone all hail from here. In fact, this region is Italy’s leading producer of DOC-grade wines; it’s Italy’s third largest region in terms of wine production; and wines from Veneto make up 20% of national output.
The Veneto consortium recently landed in Los Angeles and put its top sommeliers, wines and recipes on display at tastings, dinners and seminars. The opening gala, held at 31 Ten Lounge, in Venice, was attended by representatives from the LA Mayor’s office and Italian dignitaries. There were tastings at Upstairs 2 at The Wine House and Pourtal Wine Tasting Bar, and an all-day educational event at the Skirball Cultural Center, where tables – loaded with imported wine and food – kept both professionals and enthusiasts munching and sipping and smiling for hours. A select few were also treated to a late-night dinner at Terroni restaurant, where owner Max Stefanelli cooked regional dishes and used the area’s wines in both the recipes and the pairings.

The Veneto events revealed layers of a culture that’s rich in food and wine, but was more a celebratory springboard than a complete course. Luckily, there are rumors that the consortium will be back again next year. In the meantime, if you’re craving polenta or risotto, or maybe a non-Veneto Italian treat, consider braving those vowels or varietals and drinking an Italian education.

image credit: Jarvis Communications

Exploring Italy: Soave

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | Leave a comment

This summer, I’m all about the Italians.

I recently wrote a post about Gavi, that you may or may not have seen on Palate Press. In it, I asked readers to think about moving away from their more familiar Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, to explore that other Old World wine-producing country (the one that isn’t known for Riesling and beer).

Now is a particularly good time to do it, too, especially if you’re ready to experiment with a wine called Soave. The 2009s are here, and it was one of the best vintages they’ve had in a long time.

Pra-bably one of the best Soaves on the market

Pra-bably one of the best Soaves on the market

Soave is a town in the Veneto region of Italy, in the province of Verona. The wine is named for the region, but it’s made of 70% – 100% Garganega grapes. When the wine is a blend, the remainder is often Trebbiano di Soave for the good ones, and Chardonnay and/or Trebbiano Toscano for the not-as-good ones. Traditionally, the wine is fermented in steel tanks, although it isn’t unheard of to use a bit of oak. Usually the wines are then aged for about two years before release (“Riserva”), although wines with less aging are also available.

The wine is known for its soft, fresh, waxy/floral/honey flavors, but due to overproduction and industrialization in the past decade or so, Soave developed a new reputation as jug wine plonk. The pendulum has since swung back the other way, however, and there are now a host of dedicated producers who are focused on bringing high quality, quaffable Soaves back to the market (helped, in part, by the Soave Consortium). In fact, volume andvalue of Soave were up by 20% in 2010 over 2009, and Mario Batali’s New York eatery, Eataly, hosted “Soave Month” the entire month of May 2011. So clearly the situation is well on its way to being righted.

Soave, without the Ricco

Soave, without the Ricco

The Soave Consortium recently sent me a few bottles of Soave: 2009 Re Midas Cantina di Soave and 2009 Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico (both about $12). Knowing these were value-priced bottles, I decided to taste them against two pricier wines to see how they’d stand-up. For those wines, I chose 2009 Gini Soave Classico ($15) and 2007 Pra Staforte Soave Classico ($20).

2009 Re Midas Cantina di Soave: The Re Midas was very promising at first, with its nose of green apple, pear, honey and grass. On the palate, there was beautiful acid, with flavors of peach, apple and pear. I even wrote in my notes that it, “Tastes like a summer afternoon.” But despite the great attack, it sort of fell apart on the finish. Not bad by any means, but it was my least favorite in the line-up. (100% Garganega)

2009 Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico: Even before my nose came near the glass, I could smell big fruit carried on a hot tradewind from the land of Alcoholia. Apple, apple and more apple with a bit of dried honey. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hot on the palate as I expected; there was great acid and some tropical notes – especially pineapple – skimming around the edges. My second favorite of the group. (100% Garganega)

2007 Pra Staforte Soave Classico: This wine was absolutely delicious. Honey and honeyed fruits on the nose and in the mouth. Notes of crisp Fiji apple and Asian pear. Bright acidity (very bright), that kept going and going and going on the finish. This was my favorite of the day. (100% Garganega)

2009 Gini Soave Classico: The Gini tied for second place with the Fattori. Out of the gate, it was all oak. The oakiness is apparent on the nose and contributes to a caramel apple finish; in-between, there is honey, delivered in a soft-bodied wine with a creamy, smooth texture. (100% Garganega)

Whether you hunt down one of these or try another of the other delicious choices on the market (look for the 2009s – for serious), Soave is a super choice for summer sipping.

Soave, in the Veneto region of Italy

This summer, I’m all about the Italians.
I recently wrote a post about Gavi, that you may or may not have seen on Palate Press. In it, I asked readers to think about moving away from their more familiar Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, to explore that other Old World wine-producing country (the one that isn’t known for Riesling and beer).
Now is a particularly good time to do it, too, especially if you’re ready to experiment with a wine called Soave. The 2009s are here, and it was one of the best vintages they’ve had in a long time.

Pra-bably one of the best Soaves on the marketSoave is a town in the Veneto region of Italy, in the province of Verona. The wine is named for the region, but it’s made of 70% – 100% Garganega grapes. When the wine is a blend, the remainder is often Trebbiano di Soave for the good ones, and Chardonnay and/or Trebbiano Toscano for the not-as-good ones. Traditionally, the wine is fermented in steel tanks, although it isn’t unheard of to use a bit of oak. Usually the wines are then aged for about two years before release (“Riserva”), although wines with less aging are also available.
The wine is known for its soft, fresh, waxy/floral/honey flavors, but due to overproduction and industrialization in the past decade or so, Soave developed a new reputation as jug wine plonk. The pendulum has since swung back the other way, however, and there are now a host of dedicated producers who are focused on bringing high quality, quaffable Soaves back to the market (helped, in part, by the Soave Consortium). In fact, volume andvalue of Soave were up by 20% in 2010 over 2009, and Mario Batali’s New York eatery, Eataly, hosted “Soave Month” the entire month of May 2011. So clearly the situation is well on its way to being righted.

Soave, without the RiccoThe Soave Consortium recently sent me a few bottles of Soave: 2009 Re Midas Cantina di Soave and 2009 Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico (both about $12). Knowing these were value-priced bottles, I decided to taste them against two pricier wines to see how they’d stand-up. For those wines, I chose 2009 Gini Soave Classico ($15) and 2007 Pra Staforte Soave Classico ($20).
2009 Re Midas Cantina di Soave: The Re Midas was very promising at first, with its nose of green apple, pear, honey and grass. On the palate, there was beautiful acid, with flavors of peach, apple and pear. I even wrote in my notes that it, “Tastes like a summer afternoon.” But despite the great attack, it sort of fell apart on the finish. Not bad by any means, but it was my least favorite in the line-up. (100% Garganega)
2009 Fattori Runcaris Soave Classico: Even before my nose came near the glass, I could smell big fruit carried on a hot tradewind from the land of Alcoholia. Apple, apple and more apple with a bit of dried honey. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hot on the palate as I expected; there was great acid and some tropical notes – especially pineapple – skimming around the edges. My second favorite of the group. (100% Garganega)
2007 Pra Staforte Soave Classico: This wine was absolutely delicious. Honey and honeyed fruits on the nose and in the mouth. Notes of crisp Fiji apple and Asian pear. Bright acidity (very bright), that kept going and going and going on the finish. This was my favorite of the day. (100% Garganega)
2009 Gini Soave Classico: The Gini tied for second place with the Fattori. Out of the gate, it was all oak. The oakiness is apparent on the nose and contributes to a caramel apple finish; in-between, there is honey, delivered in a soft-bodied wine with a creamy, smooth texture. (100% Garganega)
Whether you hunt down one of these or try another of the other delicious choices on the market (look for the 2009s – for serious), Soave is a super choice for summer sipping.

Move Over, Manischewitz! Kosher Wine For Grown-Ups

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Arianna's Wine Tasting Notes | 6 Comments
Chai, everyone!

Chai, everyone!

For years, kosher wine has been synonymous with syrupy sweet – almost grape jam-like – wine. Some people love it and some people force the stuff down their gullet for the sake of tradition, religion or making grandma’s dry potato kugel palatable.

But wine lovers no longer have to hope Elijah downs their glasses before they get to the gefilte fish. Vintners the world over are producing stand-alone kosher wines that any wine aficionado will really want to drink – any time of year.

I’ve highlighted a few of them below, but this post is – by no means – exhaustive. Perhaps all of these great kosher wines give us reason to be thankful that Passover lasts eight nights. Kosher wine tasting, anyone?

– Departing from our regular focus, this piece does not concentrate specifically on value wines, although some are included in this list –

* Bartenura: Italy ($10-$25). Admittedly, I am the last person who would ever expect to see an Italian kosher wine. But I’m certainly not complaining! From the land of the Blackshirts, we have Bartenura – makers of mostly whites, astis and spumantis. So bring some bubbly to Bubbe! She’ll positively plotz.

* Abarbanel: France ($10-$30). Produced by one the world’s oldest Jewish families, the Abarbanel clan can trace its lineage all the way back to ancient Israel. I guess you could call them the OGs of Oenology. They offer a wide variety of wines (including Cremant) at an assortment of price points. Doesn’t that get you ready to take a tikn?

Backsberg wines

 

* Backsberg: S. Africa ($10-$30). No badkhan! Although it might be surprising to some folks, South Africa has been making wine for centuries and has developed a reputation as one of the impresarios of the New World regions. Backsberg, specifically, has been named one of Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Wineries of the Year, they have won awards for their mentsh-tastic sustainable business practices and strive to produce highly “drinkable” wines.

* Five Stones: Australia ($15-$25). From the Beckett’s Flat folks in the Margaret River region of Australia, we have Five Stones wines. Offering a wide selection – certified by Kosher Australia, Kashrut Authority of Western Australia and the Orthodox Union USA, these wines are kosher, Mevushal – and guaranteed geshmak!

Baron Herzog: California ($10-$50). Good ol’ Baron Herzog. When Kadem was the only alternative to Manischewitz – and just as sugary – Herzog came on the scene and gave us grown-ups something different to wash down dry brisket. This is a solid, reliable and tasty choice,with a nicely varied selection of varietals and prices. If given as a gift, your hostess will think you’re haimesh.

Dalton: Israel ($12-$50). From the site: “The Dalton Winery is set in the beautiful green, mountainous country of the Upper Galilee, five kilometres from the Lebanese border, overlooking the Hermon Mountain.” These wines have been heavily influenced by Australian winemakers, although they are beginning to dabble in Old World styles for their premium selections. This is a relatively new winery, but they are already renowned for an excellent product.

Yarden wines

Yarden wines

Yarden: Israel ($10-$75+). For the sustainability-conscious seder we have Yarden Wines, from Golan Heights. Both kosher and organic, these wines offer something to please the most rabid rebbe to your shtetle’s strictest shicker. They’ll please your eco-fanatical friends, too!

Golan Heights: Israel ($15-$70). Bordeaux-inspired and gold-medal winning, these are weighty wines for real wine drinkers. No shlock here. Looking for a truly yummy way to celebrate your yontef? Get a few bottles for the whole mishpocha. You’ll come across like a macher, but everyone will be so busy drinking, they really won’t care.

Hagafen Cellars: Napa Valley, CA ($15-$150). Napa Valley and Jew-friendly, too? Oy! I could kvell. With bottles up to $150 or so, this is serious stuff; Manischewitz is to Hagafen what spoons are to the iPod. This ain’t your daddy’s syrupy shmaltz. Established in 1979, this is a gold-medal winning, family-run winery – and highly recommended.

Covenant wines

Covenant wines

Covenant: Napa Valley, CA ($25-$100+). According to Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, Covenant makes the “finest kosher wines money can buy.” They employ both Old and New World techniques to create wines that consistently win awards and acclaim. The vintners, Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd, are bacchanalian balmalochas, for sure. And while their wines may cost a lot of gelt – gloib mir – they will be a delicious part of your celebration.

Zei gesund, dear drinkers! Hope your holidays – all of them, no matter what you’re celebrating – are joyous and delicious. L’Chaim!

* good wines at great value

Chai, everyone!For years, kosher wine has been synonymous with syrupy sweet – almost grape jam-like – wine. Some people love it and some people force the stuff down their gullet for the sake of tradition, religion or making grandma’s dry potato kugel palatable.
But wine lovers no longer have to hope Elijah downs their glasses before they get to the gefilte fish. Vintners the world over are producing stand-alone kosher wines that any wine aficionado will really want to drink – any time of year.
I’ve highlighted a few of them below, but this post is – by no means – exhaustive. Perhaps all of these great kosher wines give us reason to be thankful that Passover lasts eight nights. Kosher wine tasting, anyone?
– Departing from our regular focus, this piece does not concentrate specifically on value wines, although some are included in this list –
* Bartenura: Italy ($10-$25). Admittedly, I am the last person who would ever expect to see an Italian kosher wine. But I’m certainly not complaining! From the land of the Blackshirts, we have Bartenura – makers of mostly whites, astis and spumantis. So bring some bubbly to Bubbe! She’ll positively plotz.
* Abarbanel: France ($10-$30). Produced by one the world’s oldest Jewish families, the Abarbanel clan can trace its lineage all the way back to ancient Israel. I guess you could call them the OGs of Oenology. They offer a wide variety of wines (including Cremant) at an assortment of price points. Doesn’t that get you ready to take a tikn?

* Backsberg: S. Africa ($10-$30). No badkhan! Although it might be surprising to some folks, South Africa has been making wine for centuries and has developed a reputation as one of the impresarios of the New World regions. Backsberg, specifically, has been named one of Wine & Spirits’ Top 100 Wineries of the Year, they have won awards for their mentsh-tastic sustainable business practices and strive to produce highly “drinkable” wines.
* Five Stones: Australia ($15-$25). From the Beckett’s Flat folks in the Margaret River region of Australia, we have Five Stones wines. Offering a wide selection – certified by Kosher Australia, Kashrut Authority of Western Australia and the Orthodox Union USA, these wines are kosher, Mevushal – and guaranteed geshmak!
Baron Herzog: California ($10-$50). Good ol’ Baron Herzog. When Kadem was the only alternative to Manischewitz – and just as sugary – Herzog came on the scene and gave us grown-ups something different to wash down dry brisket. This is a solid, reliable and tasty choice,with a nicely varied selection of varietals and prices. If given as a gift, your hostess will think you’re haimesh.
Dalton: Israel ($12-$50). From the site: “The Dalton Winery is set in the beautiful green, mountainous country of the Upper Galilee, five kilometres from the Lebanese border, overlooking the Hermon Mountain.” These wines have been heavily influenced by Australian winemakers, although they are beginning to dabble in Old World styles for their premium selections. This is a relatively new winery, but they are already renowned for an excellent product.

Yarden winesYarden: Israel ($10-$75+). For the sustainability-conscious seder we have Yarden Wines, from Golan Heights. Both kosher and organic, these wines offer something to please the most rabid rebbe to your shtetle’s strictest shicker. They’ll please your eco-fanatical friends, too!
Golan Heights: Israel ($15-$70). Bordeaux-inspired and gold-medal winning, these are weighty wines for real wine drinkers. No shlock here. Looking for a truly yummy way to celebrate your yontef? Get a few bottles for the whole mishpocha. You’ll come across like a macher, but everyone will be so busy drinking, they really won’t care.
Hagafen Cellars: Napa Valley, CA ($15-$150). Napa Valley and Jew-friendly, too? Oy! I could kvell. With bottles up to $150 or so, this is serious stuff; Manischewitz is to Hagafen what spoons are to the iPod. This ain’t your daddy’s syrupy shmaltz. Established in 1979, this is a gold-medal winning, family-run winery – and highly recommended.

Covenant winesCovenant: Napa Valley, CA ($25-$100+). According to Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate, Covenant makes the “finest kosher wines money can buy.” They employ both Old and New World techniques to create wines that consistently win awards and acclaim. The vintners, Jeff Morgan and Leslie Rudd, are bacchanalian balmalochas, for sure. And while their wines may cost a lot of gelt – gloib mir – they will be a delicious part of your celebration.
Zei gesund, dear drinkers! Hope your holidays – all of them, no matter what you’re celebrating – are joyous and delicious. L’Chaim!
* good wines at great value