A Visit with Corey Beck of Francis Ford Coppola Winery

That the list of celebrity winemakers grows ever longer rattles the cages of many wine folks I know, causing skeptics to wonder if the trend is one born more of marketing than serious wine.

If my recent visit with Corey Beck, Director of Winemaking and General Manager at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, California (Sonoma) is any barometer, I can assure you: No cause for alarm.

director-of-winemaking-and-general-manager-corey-beckChatting with Corey about the winery and its programs, I came to understand that 5-time Oscar winning director / writer / producer Coppola maintains a high level of involvement with the winery and wines, from vision to detail. In fact, from what I can determine, Coppola approaches wine with the same passion and artistic creativity as he would a feature film.

Listening to Corey, it became clear to me that to create an environment where family members of all ages can enjoy a celebration of life is as important to the winery as the wines themselves. As a destination, Francis Ford Coppola Winery is a family-friendly facility remarkably featuring wine tasting bars, two restaurants, a full bar, a swimming pool, a movie gallery, a performing arts Pavilion and a park area with game tables and bocce courts.

I liked what I was hearing from Corey. But, the wines would still need to speak for themselves. And speak they did. In the tasting segment of our get-together, Corey presented three wines, impressive, French inspired, yet distinctly Californian in character:

entrance_-photo-chad-keigCoppola Director’s Cut Chardonnay 2010
Produced from 100% Chardonnay aged in French oak, the wine shows floral aromas wound around scents of pear, honey and citrus. Grace notes of caramel–vanilla. Delicious key lime pie on the palate delivered with cleansing acidity that shouts “bring on the appetizers!” Super as an aperitif. A great crossover wine for lovers of Italian whites.

Coppola Diamond Claret 2010
This flagship wine of Coppola’s Diamond Collection is a sophisticated Bordeaux blend that drinks with both elegance and intensity. Layers of dark fruit are brightened by licks of raspberry; hints of baker’s chocolate. Luscious in the mouth, the wine finishes with trails of chocolate and raisin. Right up the alley of Bordeaux or Maremma fans.

Coppola “Eleanor” 2009
Named in honor of Coppola’s wife, this Syrah / Cabernet blend is still young with plenty of time ahead of it for cellaring. The wine emerges from 2 years in French oak with a personality intense, deep and complex like so many artists I’ve known. Dense in the mouth with great initial attack and a mid-palate full of delicious, raisin-y dark fruit. Assertive, nicely integrated tannins and a big mineral finish. Lovers of big Bordeaux, muscular Cabs, or massive Super Tuscans will totally appreciate this one.

The gauntlet has been thrown down! IMHO, if other celebrity winemakers can meet the bar set by Coppola … things are gonna be real fine 🙂

PS Learn more about Francis Ford Coppola Winery or Corey Beck

PSS Find a rather good and interesting list of celebrity winemakers here on Wikipedia

Sant’Elena Merlot 2000

Sant’Elena Merlot 2000

I’ve written before that one of the best pieces of advice given to me about wine amounts to three simple words: Taste Taste Taste.

That maxim has served me well over the years. I’ve passed it on to others. In fact, within my own family, the axiom Taste Taste Taste has become something approaching family law with reference to food and wine.

santelena-merlot-2000When a bottle of Sant’Elena Merlot 2000 on the retail shelf caught my eye, I considered passing by since I had tasted the wine sometime before. But, well … taste, taste, taste, right ?

Wow. Glad I did. This less-than-$20.00 bottle is right now drinking like expensive Bordeaux. Just to qualify that a bit, I mean like Bordeaux that is 5 – 10 times more expensive.

The Sant’Elena estate holds approximately 40 hectares in Italy’s Friuli. In the vineyard, high density – low yield and green harvest techniques are favored, a production average of about one bottle per plant.

Sant’Elena Merlot is produced from 100% Merlot grown in alluvial soil. Fermentation is carried out in stainless steel. The wine is aged in 20 hectolitre barrels for 18 months.

Tasting Notes:

I was floored when I poured this wine: incredible old-wine aromatics showing integrated red and black berries, dried roses, forest floor, tobacco. The palate is all elegance and depth, full of vibrant fruit and “alive” acidity. Smooth tannins roll out like an antique oriental silk carpet. Gorgeous round finish with tons of nuance. The wine is drinking so well right now that I don’t see how it could improve any more, and I do think it’ll hold well for a couple of more years.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Generally speaking, meats, fatty fish and medium ripe cheeses will be superb with this wine. Keep in mind that the wine is so beautifully nuanced that to avoid overly “noisy” or complicated preparations will be a good idea.


La Biancara Angiolino Maule Sassaia 2009

La Biancara Angiolino Maule Sassaia 2009

I’d click along some evenings, shoe heels over cobblestones, to hear trumpeter Tiger Okoshi blowing in some Boston club the coolest sounds ever to escape the end of a horn.

< If you were around Boston during the early ‘80s you may perhaps remember Tiger’s Baku? >

maule-sassaia-2009Today, clicking along less with shoe heels, more with Norton software and an internet browser, I research Italian wine producer Angelino Maule, a man responsible for some of the most original juice ever pressed from a grape and put into bottle.

I have tasted several Maule wines and, like what comes out the end of Okoshi’s trumpet, they can come only from some soulful place of authentic character and emotional honesty.

Somewhere around the time I would have been hearing Tiger play live at Pooh’s Pub, Maule and his wife invested in their lifelong passion of viticulture and purchased land in Italy’s Gambellara territory. Today, nestled amid hills of volcanic origin, Maule’s estate La Biancara has 9 hectares under vine, rents another 3, and enlists the help of Maule’s sons.

La Biancara Sassaia is produced from 80% Garganega and 20% Trebbiano grown in the volcanic soil of vineyards Monte Sorio and Contrá Biancara. Fermentation is carried out in wood and stainless steel. A portion of the grapes macerate on the skins for 12-24 hours in order to facilitate the start of fermentation, extracting more protein and fat from the skins into the must. The wine undergoes no clarifying or fining treatments, no sulpher is added during winemaking.

Tasting Notes:

Concentrated gold-brass color (reminding me, coincidently enough, of a brass-lacquered trumpet!). Aromatically complex impressions of apricots, minerals, flowers, herbs, honey and stones. Unctuous and supple in the mouth, nicely balanced by good acidity. Finishes in a tenor register with liqueur-like overtones of fig and ginger. Deep and thought-provoking. An incredible, special bottle of wine.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Try soft shell crab, fried and plated, or served on buttered toast. Intuition tells me this wine paired with my wife’s home made Chinese chive dumplings will be super. The wine is big enough for chicken and pork, so don’t be shy about pairing it with dishes like oven-roasted herbed chicken or breaded, pan-fried pork cutlets.


Vinhos Norte Vinho Verde Cruzeiro Branco NV

Note: Vinhos Norte Vinho Verde Cruzeiro Branco was provided to me as a tasting sample. If interested, see Vintrospective policy about wine samples here.

I am upside down. Well, more accurately, I am bent over at the waist, nose to toe. Blood rushes to my head. Again I push my weeding tool into the ground – improving the blister now forming on my hand – against an invading army of dandelions.

As I stand straight, the Allman Brothers Band “One Way Out” pumps through my headphones while my hamstrings remind me that I am now too old to stay bent over for longer than a shoe tie.

One way out, indeed.

It’s quittin’ time 🙂

vino-verdeInside the house, I uncork a bottle of Vinhos Norte Vinho Verde Cruzeiro Branco NV and fix a few small plates: pan fried eggplant; Cyprus olives; potato gratin; mashed fava beans with garlic oil; homemade bread.

The company Vinhos Norte was established in 1971 bearing the name of founder Manuel da Costa Carvalho Lima (& Filho) and operates today from northern Portugal under 3rd generation guidance.

Vinhos Norte Vinho Verde Cruzeiro Branco is produced from grape varietals Loureiro, Arinto, and Trajadura.

Tasting Notes:

Pale yellow straw color. Grassy and fresh with delicious acidity, a touch of residual sugar and spritz, this wine is absolutely thirst-quenching. Lemon-lime palate shows clean and simple-chic. Subtle notes of green apple and ginger. 9 degrees of alcohol make for easy drinking. Lovers of Riesling will dig this one.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

If there were ever a wine for almost “any occasion”, this is it (think Prosecco). The wine does super well as an aperitif or with fish and vegetable plates: try baby shrimp with garlic and lemon, a spicy tuna dish, or perhaps marinated fresh anchovy or similar small fish; a bowl of mussel soup or wash down some barbecued pork served on a roll.