Where the Wine Trail Leads…

Where the Wine Trail Leads…

On a grey, drizzly morning I stare out the window, saddened at having just read the rather harsh remarks of a prominent wine critic about Sangiovese in Montalcino, Brunello and its Consorzio.

Is that what it comes to? A search for monochrome perfection? The unbearable boredom of greatness?

wine-trailStill staring outside:

I’ve known the richness of life’s blessings expressed only in a collection of days good and not so good; understood the depth of personal relationships through disappointment and happiness.

Did I boo my favorite tenor from the stage because I think his last year’s performance was better sung?

In a cosmos where everything runs in its own cycle of good and not so good, that we, as wine lovers, would criticize as wine follows the ups and downs of nature’s plan – even when produced year after year in the same place by the same people – seems absurd, contrary to wine appreciation and certainly to what should live in the heart of a wine lover.

Perhaps, when considering wine, we might take a lesson from a popular song artist who sings of loving the “perfect imperfections”*. If, as many have said, Sangiovese is a great communicator of terroir, then it stands to reason that Sangiovese will too be a great communicator of terroir even when conditions are not quite right, a talker of terroir’s perfections and, sometimes, imperfections.

I am not at all suggesting we tolerate badly made wine. Only that we recognize that, just as love demands forgiveness, wine requires tolerance for an acceptable range of quality variation.

You know. The good outweighs the bad.

I’ve often wondered where the wine trail leads. I still don’t know. But … if it leads to a place where days pass with predictably excellent sameness, full of well-behaved lovers and tenors who sing each song as well as the last, well, count me out.

*John Legend, All of Me
Photo borrowed from www.maremma-tuscany.com

Coming to Wine

Coming to Wine

Water, a little wine added.
Water and wine in equal parts.
Wine, a little water added.

That was how you came to wine. What happened along the way was your wine education.

The old timers had their ways of doing things.

grandfatherIt was my grandfather who brought me to wine, taught me how to cook pasta fagioli, and explained why it made sense to travel two towns away for bread if it was there that the best bread was to be found.


When finally you would strike out on your own, your diploma from the University of Old School read:

“Don’t forget where you come from”.

No, sir. Won’t do that.

Highlights from Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival 2013

Highlights from Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival 2013

bonny-doon-vineyards-randallOn the road to producing expressive wines, producers sometimes miss the exit entirely, driving all the way past to some small and awful town in the county of Lacking Originality. Fear not, dear wine lover, a course correction is easily within your reach. You need only set your GPS to arrive in the land of @RandallGrahm (Twitter) of Bonny Doon Vineyards where you will find wines of utter originality.

I loved Grahm’s funky-in-a-good-way Albarinho 2012: lemongrass, lime, stone fruit on the nose, hint of Thai basil, edgy
and crisp on the palate. By hindsight, I am to wish for this wine with the pile of mussels I ate after the festival; in foresight, I lust for it alongside my mother-in-law’s spicy noodle dish with topped with crushed peanuts, briny fish sauce and lime spritz.

If Bonny Doon’s Contra Old Vine Carignane Blend 2010 … were … tobacco, I would smoke it, a big hand-rolled spliff of sublime, exuberant impressions of dark fruit, anise, meat, and eualyptus.

Playing counterpoint to Contra’s somewhat brooding personality is the brighter, red fruit character of Clos de Gilroy Grenache 2010 which is absolutely killer, lip-smacking tart, demonstrating the kind of spot-on balance you wish our national budget could show.

Le Cigare: captivating, a wine of spiritual positivity and complexity, neither of which I am able to completely understand in the few minutes I have at the tasting table. Cherries, dried leaves, savory herb, jam, mint, and a magical earthiness like one might expect to find in a handful of soil from the land of Oz.

Love the tannic structures of these wines, soft, supple, silky with real backbone.

My son, Jesse Mack, who has spent some time in the wine biz and certainly tasted his share of good vino, astutely notes that Grahm’s wines may reference Rhone as a touchpoint, yet one would never mistake them for Rhone.

Yes. O-R-I-G-I-N-A-L-I-T-Y 🙂

cantine-barbera-menfi-marilenaShould ever you have the pleasure to chat one-on-one with vintner @MarilenaBarbera (Twitter), if you listen, and listen deeply, you will hear it. It rolls into the conversation one wave at a time. Swells breaking onto shore. Sucking, pulling, pebble and sand backwash from beneath your feet. Wind. You are on her wavelength now. Connected to the sea. There is no other way to understand the wines, no separating one from the other.

Marilena’s Cantine Barbera Menfi Inzolia 2012 is deliciously mineral with an appealing saline carnality. If you have ever kissed your lover after a sea swim you know what I mean.

I adore Marilena’s unique Nero D’Avola rose La Bambina 2012 which charmed me to pieces with its dry spritz of sea spray, impressions of berry-scented marine air, superb focus and supple body.

The wonderfully old-school Cantine Barbera Nero D’Avola 2011 intoxicates with an arousing, light perfume like raspberry-scented rain if rain actually fell smelling of raspberries. Communicates good power derived in part from its clay origins, yet remains chewy and light on the palate.

Magnificent, distinctive, born of the rare Perricone – aka Pignatello – and blended with 10% Nerello Mascalese, Microcosmo 2010 takes my breath away with gorgeous red fruit, earth, herb, sea pine and an energetic mineral finish. Not to be missed.

Massively appealing is the clean, absolutely vibrant freshness running through each of the Cantine Barbera wines I tasted.

I would be remiss not to get on your radar the wine importer known as MATCH. I have rarely tasted so many genuine, good bottles on a single trade show table: Vigne Surrau Juannisolu, Vermentino 2012 and Cannonau 2010; Cantina Bolzano, Muller Thurgau 2011 and Santa Magdelena Classico 2011; Pierpaolo Pecorari, Friulano 2011 and Refosco 2011. Every one of these wines showed real quality at a very fair pricepoint.(MATCH is also the distributor for Cantine Barbera Menfi.)

Of note is Loosen Bros. Blue Slate Riesling 2011, stone fruit, flinty minerality, great acidity makes me feel big time love for this wine. Applause for J. Christopher Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and that label’s “Lumieres” Pinot Noir, too, both apparently part of the Loosen catologue, two massively harmonious wines with a memorable silky texture in the mouth.

Tasting Douro reds Contos da Terra and Quinta dos Pocos Colheita solidly convinces me that we are not looking closely enough at the quality and great value Portugal has to offer.

From Spain, Montebuena Rioja 2010 is an insane value at ~ $13.00 and drinks better than many at double that price tag!

A shout out to my Twitter Pal @GianPadano (left, in the photo above) for getting Burlington, VT Wine & Food Festival on my radar!!!

A Visit to Munich Wine Company

There are few things one needs to feel happy on a sunny Munich morning beyond a good Butterbretzel and heiße Schokolade. But, today I am excited and extra happy to be heading out to Deisenhofen to attend a live wine auction at Munich Wine Company.

I have written ahead to Sommelier & Auctioneer Stefan Sedlmeyr asking if I might attend the auction (especially since I am not planning to bid), who pleasantly agrees to have me in house.

munich-wine-company-2aI am absolutely charmed by the shop’s intimate, cordial, professional atmosphere. Shop staff is immediately welcoming and arriving attendees are friendly and open to conversation.

During the pre-auction tasting several stunning wines catch my attention: ’76 Knyphausen Erbacher Michelmark Riesling TBA, ripe and powerful with impressions of caramel, still shows plenty of life, while that producer’s ’83 Erbacher Steinmorgen Riesling Eiswein seems generally lighter in comparison and displays less density, as might be expected. The ’99 vintage of that same wine reveals lively notes of citrus. A wonderfully evolved Chateau Pichon Comtesse, Pauillac 2eme Cru Classe ’84 blows me away with its magnificent, intoxicating nose and sublime tannins.

munich-wine-company-5aDuring the afternoon tasting break, of the white Burgundies I taste, it is the complex and enigmatic ’79 Laurent, Dominique Meursault 1er Cru Les Charmes, full of petrol, honey, butterscotch and gorgeous bitter almond which wins my heart. I appreciate, too, the ’00 Alzania Crianza that feels to me in style to be suspended somewhere between Bordeaux and California. But, it is again a Baron Knyphausen wine, the ’92 Kiedricher Sandgrub Riesling BA, which leaves me starry-eyed and happy.

Since the auction goes on for the better part of this still sunny Saturday, Munich Wine Company thoughtfully prepares a very tasty lunch opportunity, serving attendees during the afternoon tasting break some exceedingly delicious ravioli and antipasti.

I find Munich Wine Company staff to be exceptionally knowledgeable about the wines and vintages, and notice the great care taken to store onsite wines properly in EuroCave, Gaggenau and Leibherb. I would not hesitate to entrust my wines or personal purchase/sale activities to this fine house of wine.

Sincere thanks to Stefan and the Munich Wine Company for their generous, gracious, hospitality. It feels good to be around people who care so deeply about wine. If you happen to be in the Munich area, I recommend a trip out to Deisenhofen – easy via S-Bahn – to visit Munich Wine Company and say “hi” to Stefan and his excellent crew.

Tre Bicchieri NYC 2013

Tre Bicchieri NYC 2013

tre-bicchieri-2013Standing on line waiting to enter the Tre Bicchieri 2013 tasting in New York City might have been a bore if not for the dubious entertainment of overhearing a pair queue-dwellers trumpeting their opinionated blather, their take on what it is that Tre Bicchieri is and is not “all about” (which I won’t reflect here since it is indeed blather of the first rate).

I do have the inclination to interject that Tre Bicchieri is still one of the year’s most important Italian wine tastings, providing a tasting opportunity of incredible depth and breadth. But, I quickly surmise that these characters are interested less about tasting wine than inhaling the scent of their own egos. So, I leave them to continue their conversational equivalent of that rear quarters sniffing thing that dogs do when they meet.

Entering Tre Bicchieri, things are well organized and efficient. Handed a printed program and a clean wine glass, I am, to my palate’s delight, turned loose into a very large room filled with Italy’s top producers and their wines. A kid in the proverbial candy shop am I.

As always, Tre Bicchieri this day presents a well-edited group of Italian wines. Here are several that I especially enjoyed and which deserve special mention:

Tramin Nussbaumer Gewurztraminer 2011
Flowers, mango, papaya and honey, spritz of citrus. Amazing in the mouth, the wine has a rich, rolling palate and gorgeous finish. Irresistable.

Mastroberardino Radici 2008
Athletic, graceful, elegant – think Muhammad Ali in his prime – delivering a combination punch of delicious dark fruit, fragant violets and silky tannins.

Livon Collio Friulano Manditocai 2010
I am just blown away by the intensity and craftsmanship of this Friulano. Glorious perfume of peach and brown spice with a rich, stone fruit palate against a background note of bitter almond.

Cesarini Sforza Trentino Aquila Reale Ris. 2005
Spectacular golden color, notes of fruitcake, breadcrust and amaretto cookie. Sublimely fresh, creamy palate.

Lvnae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino 2011
Flowers and fruit in astounding harmony made savory by a spray of seasalt. Massively refreshing.

Lvnae Bosoni Colli di Luni Vermentino Cavagino 2011
This single vineyard Vermentino takes it up a click, showing harmonic greatness. Floral, fruity, a luscious, broad honeyed palate and a delicious aftertaste with serious staying power.

Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva
Frrom Amalfi’s rocky coast, this wine is a seductive siren calling of whiteflowers, apricots, with hints of citrus and fig. Stunning.

Marziano Abbona Barolo Terlo Ravera 2008
Approachable, feminine, with tons elegance and finesse. Berries, violets, roses, tobacco, good minerality, subtle spice.

Rainoldi Sfursat di Valtellina 2008
Intense, aromatic, complex. Plum, raisin, hints of mocha and smokey lapsong suchong tea. Full, round and warm in the mouth. Barolo lovers: attention 🙂

Ermete Medici Reggiano Lambrusco Concerto 2011
If you think the somewhat bubbly, purplish character of Lambrusco to be off-putting, think again: this is one of the most deliciously refreshing wines I have tasted all day ! Fragrance of berries and violets, a round, fresh, fruity, nicely dry palate and appetite-raising level of acidity. Bring on the grilled sausages !

Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso Feudo 2010
I love this wine for its clear-as-a-bell raspberry palate, lively personality, hint of smoke and good grip.

La Montina Franciacorta Extra Brut Vintage Ris. 2005
Complex and expressive with the graceful power of a world class athlete, this Franciacorta impresses with tons of classic Franciacorta style. Make no mistake, this is a very special bottle.

Sardinian Passion: Carignano Del Sulcis

Sardinian Passion: Carignano Del Sulcis

At the recent wine event Sardinian Passion, held 14 February at Eataly New York, Consorzio di Tutela del Carignano del Sulcis presented wines from their region of Sardegna.

Thanks to a thoughtful tasting program allowing for each wine to be tasted with every food course, the pure and unique beauties of five Carignano del Sulcis wines from producers Mesa, Calasetta, 6Mura, Sardus Pater and Santadi, vividly revealed themselves at table.

img_0526bWines from the region showed the craftsmanship of Burgundy, aromatics and flavors that recall southern France, the intensity of Super Tuscans and the power of California Cab, yet remained uniquely, deliciously, Sardinian in character.

Indeed, Carignan grows all over the Mediterranean including Tunisia and Morocco, but nowhere does it find as hospitable a home as in Sardegna’s Sulcis region on the island’s southwestern corner. A home so hospitable, in fact, that vines here remain ungrafted and vineyards can reach 100-150 years old.

The Sulcis, geologically speaking, is Sardegna’s oldest area. Mild winters, hot summers, and strong winds make it perfect for growing Carignano grapes in the region’s sandy soil. At the presentation, I had the good fortune to sit next to Raffaele De Matteis of Sardus Pater who helped me to understand that, in spite of Sardegna’s natural blessings, working Carignano vines in the Sulcis also has its challenges: the vineyards are spaced very closely and so must be worked by hand as quarters are too tight for machinery. But this too has its upside: the temptation to use pesticides is de facto impractical.

img_0532aWith all that Carignano del Sulcis has going for it, the potential for some very obvious market cross-sells – think Rhone, Cali or Tuscany lovers looking for that different something – and what I detect as a growing interest in South Italian wines, why aren’t we drinking more it? When I asked the question during the wine presentation, one importer offered that marketing, budget and promotion will all play a role in getting Carignano del Sulcis wines on the consumer radar. Certainly today’s presentation by the Consorzio of the region’s wines is a great start, and if the wines I tasted today are any measure at all, I should say that we in the US market will be drinking a lot more Carignano del Sulcis very soon.

Kudos to Eataly chef Alicia Walters for an impressive food day 🙂

Massive applause to Vigneto Communications / Susannah Gold for a very organized, well-thought out media event.

Appreciation to both Raffaele De Matteis for entertaining my questions and to Isabelle Bailet (above) who assisted with translation.

And, of course, deepest thanks to Consorzio di Tutela del Carignano del Sulcis for the opportunity to learn more about the region’s exciting wines.

Indulgence: An Evening of Wine & Chocolate

Indulgence: An Evening of Wine & Chocolate

Note: Two passes to Indulgence: An Evening of Wine & Chocolate were provided to me. If interested, see Vintrospective policy around Ethics, Privacy, Legal here.

I have a soft spot in my heart for wine events that educate and broaden the palate of attendees. And I love it even more when the sponsoring organization makes that event convenient and entertaining as well.

At the recent gathering of Indulgence: An Evening of Wine & Chocolate, sponsored by Whole Foods, Hadley, MA., they just knocked it out of the park on both counts.

On that very cold evening, I can tell you that everyone appreciated arrangements for convenient and free parking. And holding this affair in Springfield’s D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts where individual tasting stations were set up in the museum’s lovely galleries while live music played in the background, lent an air of sophisticated elegance to the event.

img_0511aI tasted the interesting Hardys Whiskers Blake Classic Tawny Port paired with a pretzel dipped in chocolate. The wine’s caramel and vanilla notes were sensational against the pretzel salt and unctuous taste of chocolate. I momentarily search for two words that are relevant here: Wow and Sexy both seem to apply. Taking this wine down another possible pairing road, I imagine a cheese plate that includes some good gorgonzola would be a delicious experience as well.

Ricossa Casorzo 2011, a sparkling red response to Moscato d’Asti, full of carnival candy apple and strawberry flavors, commanded a lot of interest at the tasting station. Sweet, yes, but with the right amount of acidity in balance. Bound to be tasty alongside desserts such as dry cakes, cookies, and of course, chocolate.

img_0514bSpeaker of the evening Don Williams from Whole Foods Market, Hadley, MA., was both informative and entertaining as his presentation touched on topics as far ranging as Vin Santo, the wine blight phylloxera, wine history, Hungarian Tokai, port and sherry. Don also provided good advice on wine buys and encouraged folks to seek him out when at the store.

I was thrilled to hear of Whole Foods Hadley’s “Curious Palate” seminars which, I believe, are held twice monthly and feature 3 whites / 3 reds per session. As Don pointed out, if one were to attend all of them, the seminars would provide the grand opportunity to taste 144 different wines per year!

Bravo, to Whole Foods, Hadley, MA ! And to Don – I will try not to pester you too much when I am in the store 😉

Wine Bullies

Wine Bullies

Yes, there are plenty of wines which I don’t particularly like and a wine-world of behaviors, politics and opinions that challenge my personal viewpoints. I simply choose to not write about them.

wine-bulliesNot everyone plays it like that. Many writers and bloggers covering wine offer counter-opinion with grace and style. I respect, read and follow many of them, in fact. To be clear, these are not wine bullies.

Wine bullies use the power of their pen or keyboard to intimidate. You can taste it right away, like sour wine.

For me, the decision is a personal energy thing: I prefer to move in the positive. But, when I look closer, I can see it’s also an influence of my roots and early training as a musician. There is something very un-artist-like about trashing the work of another because you don’t appreciate it, disagree with it or, worse still, because you don’t understand it. The work of another might not be your thing, but you can’t say it is wrong, bad or not relevant. Very uncool.

I think of it rather like listening to a music album: when you don’t like the current tune: next track. Simple. It’s all part of the listening experience.

Weird thing about it is that I apply the rules to everyone, wine bullies included. So, even though the bully-press has been recently active, I won’t say that they are wrong or that their work is bad or irrelevant. I am perfectly happy, though, to note that intimidation is just not my thing and that anonymity is a better place for such writers than on this page IMHO.

But, let’s end with a bit of a flourish, a guiding suggestion for all about directing one’s wine-related behaviors: if you’re an evolving wine lover, strive for good wine karma. If you are an old hand at the wine game, well, try hard to set a good example for the young ‘uns. At the end of the day, there will be more good bottles and more people enjoying them.

Over n’ out.

THANKS to dictionary.reference.com for the inset definition.