I stumbled into the grand opening of the food and wine center, Copia yesterday, in Napa. The property was purchased by the Culinary Arts Institute and it promises to be a great center for wine tastings, food pairing classes, cooking, and food-museum visits. There will be 7 rotating wine tasting tables in the foyer for which you buy tokens, very inexpensively. I hope all my readers take some time to visit. Lots of great food and shopping to do for the foodie in your life next door at Oxbow Public Market as well!
Here in America, it's time to start thinking about what wines to serve with all your favorite Thanksgiving desserts, like pumpkin pie and apple pie. My family usually has some lovely sweet wine accompaniment, and this year it is going to be 20 year Tawny Port. 20 year Tawny is the sweet-spot (pardon the pun) and when you taste with the producers in Porto, it's clear that each house compares itself to others with the quality of their 20. For holiday time, it's the perfect wine if you are looking for something that is sweet and seriously delicious. If you are serving anything that would benefit from a touch of caramel, look past the 10 year Tawnys on the shelf, and grab a 20. If you don't finish it, don't fret, as they last 3-4 weeks in the fridge so you can have a sip on the eve of your next big holiday.
Through the generosity of The Institute of Douro and Port Wines, The Association of Port Wine Companies, and many of their producers, I have tasted a lot of Port Wine in the last 2 months! When I was in Porto in September, it occurred to me that I should publish an overview of the 20s in time for holiday buying. Alas, some of these are very hard to find in the U.S., but may be easier for my European readers to look out for. My favorites are in RED. November 12, 2016 I invited several friends and wine colleagues to taste several of the wines easily available in the US. Top marks went to Dow's, Graham's, Smith-Woodhouse, and Churchill's. In my previous tastings, my favorites included Bulas, Kopke, Blackett, Poças Junior, Barros, Ramos PIntos, and Andresen.
And we're off!
As the starting point of last month's Port Wine Day 2016 festivities, our group of journalists invited from all over the world, were divided up into small groups and sent off with a host from one of the amazing Port houses to their respective Quintas to tour, taste, and lunch. I was scheduled originally to go to another, smaller Quinta, and was secretly hoping I would end up at the Symington Family Estates...and I got the golden ticket! My group's host was Euan Mackay, sales director for Symington Family Estates. We were off to Quinta do Bomfim in the Upper Douro, situated on the bank of the river near the village of Pinhão.
The group took a bus from our hotel in Porto to the Museu do Douro to meet up with our hosts. There is a point where the highway came through the famous 6 km tunnel, the Túnel do Marão, where the mountains suddenly open up to reveal the most beautiful wine country I have ever seen. The Douro Valley is covered with ancient grape terraces, some carved out hundreds of years ago in horizontal, vertical, and honeycomb-like rows in the hillsides.
No museum visits for us! It was all business (on my agenda for next time). We were quickly divided up and were personally driven to our host's Quintas. In Euan's car on our way to Quinta do Bomfim, we were treated to a detailed insider's guide to the history of the Symingtons and their place in the world of Port. Especially interesting was Euan's perspective on the acquisition of Cockburn's in 2006 and the subsequent rebirth of Cockburn's Special Reserve to award winning status in 2011 after years of mishandling. While the actual viticulture feeding the Cockburn's brand remained top-notch during the years Cockburn's was owned by Allied Domecq(owners of such brands as Harvey's Bristol Cream and Maker's Mark) the wine was cold-filtered for stabilization and subsequently lost it's soul. Glad to hear the Symington group was able to give Cockburn's its mojo back.
Go! Visit Porto and the Douro Valley!
Over the last 150 years, there has been a lot of consolidation in the world of Port, and while I can't profess to be an expert after one visit to the region, I can say with confidence that if you have limited time to visit the valley, it's a good idea to visit one of the visitors centers associated with a group of Port producers. The Symington group owns Graham's, Cockburn's, Dow's, Warre's, Quinta do Vesuvio, Altano, and Pratt & Symingon. Their multi-brand tasting room is a great place to learn both a lot about the history of the region as well.
We had a unique opportunity to taste in their stunning new tasting room overlooking the Douro, focusing on gaining an understanding of the "house style" of Dow's, Warre's, and Graham's by comparing their respective 20 Year Tawnys.
Euan MacKay's quote of the day will always stay with me: "10 year Tawny is on the way somewhere. 20 year Tawny is where it's going".
I would add that 30 and 40 year Tawny shows deeper and deeper into the past, with sometimes ancient vintages being added to the 30 and 40 year offerings.
We started in the museum, which traces the history of both the Quinta and the Symington family back 14 generations, then off to see where Dow's is made. Lots of Portuguese grapes are still crushed by foot in wide concrete lagars, including some of the best Symington wines like Quinto do Vesuvio, but finding enough experienced grape trodders is getting more and more difficult, and like all wine, timing is everything. So at Dow's Quinta do Bomfim, they use a mechanical robotic lagar made of stainless steel, with neoprene "feet" that squash the grapes with the same pace and pressure as human feet. Fermentation is calculated to the minute, and at the right time, the side of the steel lagar lifts up and pours the must over the side of the lagar to awaiting containers below --truly an engineering marvel. In traditional lagars, the must has to be removed by hand --backbreaking work. Several of the Symington houses use these awesome mechanical lagars.
Another great step forward is that the Symington group has 126 hectacres of organic vineyards, primarily at Quinta do Ataide. On land where the schist is so dense, organic farming is challenging, but they are committed to the practice where it's practical.
Our tasting started with some un-fortified wines from the Doruro, all of which are worth seeking out.
2012 Altano from Quinta do Ataide
Has a bit of American oak. Dusty tannins are tamed a bit by black pluminess. '12 was not a super-ripe year so though the wine has a plush style, it's still has a lovely lift to it. Lots of fresh red fruits(cherries/currants).
2014 Post Scriptum
'14 is also lighter than '11 or '13. Post Scriptum is the second label of the famous Chryseia label and is a great thing to look out for in restaurants around Portugal for about 25 euros. This has a bit of salinity to it but lovely fruit to compliment.
2012 Quinta do Vesuvio
Clearly the most serious wine of the bunch, Vesuvio was bought in 1989 and home to some great Port as well. Euan's description of this was "Tweed, but not Herringbone." Serious, but not precious. Round and full of amazing cocoa scents. Screaming for a nice piece of beef.
On to the Tawny Ports
20 Year Tawny is the perfect way to compare styles. And think about what it must be like as the Symington Family, trying to maintain many different historical styles and marketing to different audiences, it is a real study in brand management. Each brand needs to carry with it a marketing personality which fits the wine.
Warre's Otima 20
(Profile: Feminine), elegant, floral.Picked later. Fresh herbs, delicate pear, apricot jam, more red wine freshness.
Dow's 20 year Tawny
(Profile: Powerful) Drier, more complex, Serious. Fermented 30 minutes longer, more complex than the Warre's. A bit hotter on the palate and more concentrated.
Graham's 20 year Tawny
(Profile: High roller. Note the new scotch whiskey bottle shape (no accident)
Lush and citrusy. Very elegant. My favorite of the three.
Next came single Qunita Ports, which may be new to most readers. These wines are treated like vintage ports, held only briefly in cask before bottling, in mostly non-declared years. These wines are meant to drink a bit earlier usually, and give you a sense of the single property where the grapes were grown. Keep your eyes out for all of these special ports! They are terrific values.
2005 Quinta do Bomfim Vintage Port
Racy freshness on the nose, lots of black fruit, menthol/camphor, fresh tannins.
2004 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port
Clean red fruits, more fresh grapes come through on this and it feels a little sweeter than the Bomfim. Balanced and rich.
2001 Warre's Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port
Delicate floral aromas, great texture, plums and blackberries. A steal at less than $40US if you can find it.
The Good Life
When it was time to retire to lunch in the Victorian-era family house's lovely terrace, we had delicious Porto Tonicos made with Dow's White Port. We then spent the rest of the afternoon slowly dining on delicious Portuguese dishes of rice and pork with a fine salad paired first with Altana White Douro wine, then more Graham's 20 with superb Portuguese farm cheeses. Taking in the spectacular view, snacking on cheese, sipping Port, I was reminding myself how fortunate I am to have these kinds of experiences. I hope you readers make the effort to get to Portugal, get out to the Douro Valley, and take it all in yourself.
Huge thanks to Euan Mackay of Symington Family Estates and of course, the I.V.D.P. for the opportunity to attend this excellent weekend celebrating the 260th anniversary of the region's demarcation.
Started my evening the other night by stopping by Yield Wine Bar for a taste of something and found a treat, the Vitivínicola Lafken, Casablanca, Chilean Riesling 2013. This is worth seeking out. It's fresh, clean, crisp --like a new world wine, but has an old-world heart. There are hints of petrol along with the lime and apricot scents with bracing acidity.
I was by myself, so I didn't have the whole menu...but I did try all the wines, of course. Started with a salad of garden greens, shallot, herbs, radish, flowers, and a red wine vinagrette. Followed that with an excellent braised pork rotolo with local moro beans and roasted purple potatoes.
Favorite #1: 2012 "Chianta" Etna Bianco - This golden colored, slightly sherried white from Carricante, Cataratto, and Minnella grapes, may not be for everyone, but it spoke strongly to me. It's toasty and bready, like a beautiful flat champagne with a nice grip of acid.
Favorite #2: 2010 Cisterna Fuori Etna Rosso - I hoarded this during the meal as it kept my interest both as a great pairing to the pork, and a great sipping wine on its own. It's medium bodied, has a lightly aged Nebbiolo nose to it and was in perfect shape. I would expect this wine has a few more peak years in it as well. Made from Nerello Mascalese & Nerello Cappuccio grapes.
The 2014 "Outis" Etna Bianco was a lovely light white, with an unusually strong white peach scent. Very appealing for a summer drink.
The 2012 Cisterna Fuori Etna Rosso was very ripe and fruity, deep in cherry fruit. This was a crowd pleaser in the room.
The 2013 "San Niccolo" Etna Rosso had a cru-Beajoulais nose, bright but deep. Very nice now at this young age, but will be stunning in a few years. I'll be looking out for this one.
For the last few decades (!) my family has been spending New Year's Eve with our dearest friends and we do lots of fancy cooking and drink some sumptuous wines. This year, we made the call to make a fancy Mexican feast and the gauntlet was thrown for wine. I can recommend two wines for your next Mexican Food pairing as they were great compliments to our menu.
There are few big challenges with paring with Mexican food. Chiles (heat), Tomatillos (acid), Cilantro (herbal) all demand careful selection. First and foremost with any spicy food, keep the alcohol level down as low as you can. Alcohol makes all hot food taste hotter, so leave your 15% Zinfandel and your 14.5% Carneros Chardonnay in the cellar. Reach instead for wines that are in the 13% or lower range if you can.
The menu was Sopas de Albondigos (Mexican Meatball soup) and 3 kinds of tamales: Puero con Chile Rojo, Pollo con salsa verde, and Queso con Chile.
For the white paring, I chose the 2012 Gramona Gessami (Penedes, Spain), from my favorite Cava producer, Gramona. I knew this would be very round in the mouth, low alcohol (11.5%) and low acid from the blend of 54% Muscat de Alejandría de grano gordo, 20% Muscat de Frontignan de grano menudo and 26% Sauvignon Blanc. I highly recommend this for pairing with chicken and tomatillos, or enchilladas suisas and it's both pretty easy to find and inexpensive. I paid around $17.
To pair with red chile dishes, I chose the wonderful 2010 Pithon-Paille Chinon “Vieilles Vignes” (France) This is all biodynamic Cabernet Franc from 80 year old vines in the Loire from an excellent producer, and around 20 dollars. Clocks in at 13% alcohol and it has both dark fruit and balanced tannins after a few years in the bottle. The cocoa powder notes of this wine paired would also pair very well with any red chile-based Mexican food. Look for great Chinon, Bourgueil, or Samur-Champigny rather than Cab Franc from the New World to keep the alcohol and ripness levels in check.
Jack Stuart, one of the early Sangiovese producers, took issue with my too-off-the-cuff remarks about his first Sangiovese treatment when he was the winemaker at Silverado. There is such good infomation in this note, that with his permission, I'm posting his comments:
Thanks for your recent post that included comments about Benessere Sangiovese. I mostly agree with your style preferences. In fact, it’s not possible to make “syrupy” Sangiovese unless you add a lot of a sweet, rich wine to it.
And having tasted Biondi Santi Brunellos back to 1945 at Il Greppo some years back, those wines struck me as extraordinarily complex and perfumey, firmly structured, and ageworthy, but certainly not “big” in the unfortunate way some California winemakers are making their wines these days.
My only quibble with the piece is your remark that the early Silverado Sangioveses got “the normal Cabernet treatment all the way...extracted, fussy, lots of pump-overs and punch downs to bring out more body and color.” Absolutely not the case! First of all, there’s no way to give Sangiovese “the Cabernet treatment”—it would be like trying to do that with Pinot Noir. Our aim was to make a wine characteristic of the variety, unlike most of the mostly orange, herbaceous, thin, bitter, and overpriced Sangioveses that were being made here at the time. We used very little new oak, aged much of the wine in upright oak tanks, and did everything we could to develop classic color, flavors, and aromas. Power and weight were not our goals at all. If you could taste the 1994, for example, you’d see what I mean.
Our major project at Silverado was tuning the vineyard: learning how to train and prune it, how much crop thinning to do, how much leaf pulling, how ripe to pick (balancing acid, pH, and sugar), which selections had the characteristics we were looking for, and simply waiting for the vines to mature and become more reliable. By the late nineties John and I were getting most of what we wanted from the vines. I know he has adapted cap management in recent years, and I agree that those are good steps. I still taste the wines every year, and they are very good, though not as varietally distinct as I would like.
Here at Benessere, I’m using fewer barrels, NO American oak, trying French and Hungarian puncheons, and also using the seasoned uprights that have been here for years. We’ve got six different clones of SG, with different growth habit, berry size, crop loads, ripening and so on. It gives me a lot of tools to work with. As for fermentation, cap management and extraction, I’m trying to achieve red color and suppleness (not “richness” or “bigness”), along with varietal flavor and aroma, without the drying, edgy tannins Sangioveses often have when they’re young. That means destemming but not crushing, good sorting for leaves, stems and jacks, gentle punchdowns or fewer pumpovers, and pressing lightly. We press SG only to 0.2 bar, so all the wine is free-run.
My blends are usually 90 to 95 percent Sangiovese, with the rest Zinfandel or Cabernet or both. Might throw in a percent of Petite Sirah for color. Any bottling that has only 75 percent of is likely to lose its varietal character. The Luna you refer to may have gotten its cedar and green olive characteristics from Merlot.
I went out last weekend with an amazing winemaker from Boca in Piemonte and I was trying to explain to him why I spent a recent day in the Napa Valley tasting nothing but California Sangiovese. I was met with a blank stare as if I was from Mars. Yes, I like Brunello as much as the next guy, but there are times where I simply crave the lighter weight, scent and juicyness of Napa Sangiovese for simple drinking with food. Italian Sangiovese, I feel like I wait forever for. It's a sublime wine when it's perfect, but most young Italian Sangioveses leave me wanting to leave them alone for another 5 years. Napa Sangiovese brings me instant gratification.
The first thing I love is the body. Most vintners seem to have a pretty light touch with Sangiovese and don't try to push it to the heights ripeness and alcohold, and the body doesn't usually push past medium - rarely syrupy. With a simple pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce, the fruitiness in the wine balances the acid in the sauce. There is often a touch of the herbal which in some wines are considered flaws, but can also accentuate food.
This was kind of a last minute tour, so I could only visit Luna, Benessere, Flora Springs, and Silverado. I did manage, because it was a Monday, to hang out with Jonathan Emmerich, winemaker at Silverado for a nice tasting. Gino Camozzi at Flora Springs and Jo Dayoan at Benessere were also very helpful in my Sangio-quest.
It's at Benessere where my cravings begin. I was first turned on to their wines through the great Black Glass Zinfandel, grown in soil with obsidian popping out of it. Their Cal-Itals are now being made by Jack Stuart, who was the winemaker at Silverado for 20+ years. It has only been 2 since he took over, so I was unable to taste any of his finished wines, but I have high hopes, as I have always loved the Benessere Sangioveses and their Super Tuscan blend, Phenomenon. These wines once again did not disappoint, and I brought back several for my stash.
The best wine of the day undoubtedly went to the 1997 Luna Reserve Sangiovese which was graciously opened by the folks at Luna. They only had 8 left after the one we opened and they are available for $75 at the winery. This was the first vintage of reserve at Luna and is showing well with leather, cedar, and green olive overtones. I also really enjoyed the 2009 Reserve Sangiovese, with its white pepper, currant, and lavender scents. At $40 it's a treat that is worthwhile. Even the 2008 Sangiovese with 75% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot, and 5% Petite Sirah was tasty and this is a very affordable wine, easily available at Safeway. A great bargain. (As is their Pinot Grigio).
My visit with Jonathan at Silverado shed some light on how the techniques for making Sangiovese in Napa have evolved over the years, from the mid-80s when Jack Stuart and the Millers (owners of Silverado) first went to Tuscany and decided to plant Sangiovese back home in Napa. Back then, it was the normal Cabernet treatment all the way...extracted, fussy, lots of pump-overs and punch downs to bring out more body and color. Now, at least at Silverado (and I taste this in others as well) the treatment is much more gentle, with careful in-frequent pump-overs and super-light pressings. Oak treatment is in a combination of normal 60 gal. barrels and large 500 ltr. barrels to give gentle oakiness. The 2007 Sangiovese is estate grown and is delicious. Their Super-Tuscan-style wine is called Fantasia and is a great example Napa Cal-Ital blending. It's 60/40 Sangiovese/Cabernet and it does have a real Cab character to it, but don't hold that against it. It's a lovely wine and recommended if you're looking for something different than your average Cab.
Flora Springs has massive holdings, at 650 acres, but only makes about 400 cases of Sangiovese, mostly going to their wine-club members and tasting room visitors. It's 20090 is juicy, classic, light-bodied Sangiovese with a good hit of acid. Lots of cranberry flavors to it. Their Poggio Del Papa is their Super-Tuscan blend of 60/20/20 Sangiovese/Cab/Merlot. Another nice blend, and I brought one of those back for my collection as well.
Tonight I opened the Venge 2009 Sangiovese from the Penny Lane Vineyard in Oakville. This wine has a slightly bigger body than most of the other Sangioveses I tasted, and more than a small hint herbacousness. It was an excellent foil for a Hunter's Style Chicken. I found this and many of the producers below's wares at Dean and Deluca in St. Helena - right next door to Flora Springs, of course. Dean and Deluca has an excellent wine selection and the prices are just fine. When you run out of time, as I did, it's a quick stop to pick up some awesome wines you can't find near home.
An incomplete list of Sangiovese producers and thier links:
...and oh, what a riesling.
Mrs. Corkdork (oh, forgive me for that moniker) is feeling under the weather, and I've cooked up a huge pot of Chicken Soup with fresh dill clipped from the garden. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to open a good Riesling, the one wine that she hasn't really taken a shine to. I however, am addicted to the wonder of it. So, this seems a good time to crack open a nice one for myself! I usually taste at least a hundred or so Rieslings at big tastings around the City, and I am in constant wonder how one grape can have so many personailites and manifestations. It can be bone dry or teeth-achingly sweet, clean or sauvage, floral or flinty.
One of my favorite producers is Willie Schaefer and while this is one of his more humble offerings, the 2009 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel district is perfection. It has perfectly balanced acidity, has a big hit of mineral salinity and a completely pleasurable touch of sweetness. Seek this out - and look for the 2009, especially. Highly recommended.
Terry Theise's (the importer and author of my favorite wine book) notes for this wine are:
Oh, class here! Boy oh boy oh boy – what a Domprobst. And Kabinett?? Fuhgeddaboutit.Massively salty, lavishly juicy and yet with tautly stretched fruit; as energetic and laughingas I ever recall.
Thanks for all who participated in Wine Blogging Wednesday #73 this month. We had a pretty small but empassioned turnout on my theme, "Spark". The intent was to bring our readers back to the time we decided we needed to blog about wine, and write about a wine that inspired you. Most of us are juggling the exponential rise in wine data running past our eyes and ears --pouring in from Twitter, Facebook and traditional media, while trying to find the time to blog. I hope this did spark people's writing fuse and get us all back writing!
Roddy at Sentir le Bouchon (Smell the Cork) wrote about a wild one!
Bob at 2001 Bottles took the opportunity to recount some of his favorite wine moments that keep him going, including an '82 Grange!
Tim at Winecast was taken in by Mike Grgitch's Zinfandel. Hooked.
Gwendolyn at Wine Predator got Sparked by one of our own, blogger and vintner, Jeff Stai at Twisted Oak.
Mike at Undertaking Wine was grabbed by an aromatic Gewürztraminer.
David at Cooking Chat was also sparked by Zinfandel. His choice for WBW was a wonder!
Colin at Grape Fan went back. Way back. To the rosé that started it all.
Chrissie at Awaken Your Senses found the one spot in Argentina that did it.
My Entry at the Corkdork (below) rekindled my love for Zinfandel.
Lisa at The Wine Muse hit the theme right on the head. She shows that wine passion can be sparked by a good affordable quaff. It may even keep the passion going on another front!
Let's all keep those Wednesdays free to blog once a month, shall we?