Winegeeks ArticlesThe articles that have been added most recently on WinegeeksFri, 20 Apr 18 11:29:10 -0700 Time to Smell the Holidays<br /><br />The holidays are all about hustle and bustle. We run, we work, we shop, we eat and then on Christmas Eve we all say "Holy Crap! It’s Christmas Eve! Where did December go?" We have been so busy running around and trying to squeeze in a visit to Best Buy in between the office holiday party and dinner at Uncle Nick’s that we have completely lost the spirit of the season. This year I say we take a little time to relax, unwind with a nice glass of vino, and enjoy our time together with friends and loved ones. Instead of packing in all of our holiday cheer into just a few short hours around the Menorah I say we find a few days to really live in the season. And what better way to do that than with a fine glass of wine?<br /> <br /> Start with a bottle of Champagne. You deserve it. You work too hard all year long just to throw down a glass of cheap sparkly-stuff in some over-crowded restaurant at 12:01 AM on January 1st. Treat yourself to a fine bottle of terroir-driven bubbles a full week before Christmas. This way you can enjoy the wine and there is no pressure to kiss people you barely know or put on one of those uncomfortable pointy hats just to ring in the New Year. A little dedicated time with your carbonated friend a week or two before the big night is an easy reminder of just what an amazing experience a good bottle of Champagne can be.<br /> <br /> And for this special time go with the <a href="">Larmandier-Bernier Extra-Brut Tradition</a>. Priced right around the $50 mark retail this wine offers so much more than the average Champagne. Notice that I said wine. Unlike many of the more well-known name brands in Champagne the Larmandier-Bernier is made by a small family that harvests, ferments, ferments again and bottles their wine. No factories or production in gigantic proportions here. Only really good fruit farmed organically and biodynamically from old vines in really good soils. Extra-Brut means that less sugar was added in the dosage as the Larmandiers believe that ripe fruit should provide all the sweetness a Champagne really needs.<br /> <br /> The initial aromas range from orange peel to chamomile to white lilies and back to a little zesty citrus note. The entry of this wine is intense and fragrant, with lovely tangerine, quince, anise and thyme elements mixed with golden delicious apples and a broad feel. The finish begins with a twang of bright acidity and minerality but proceeds to flesh out across the palate and develop into a harmonious and lovely balance. Find a friend, find some oysters, find some glasses and you will find inner peace.<br /> <br /> Nothing recreates a true Burl Ives moment quite like a big glass of beefy red wine in front of a roaring fire. Who needs snow when you can bust out your reindeer sweater and fill the fine crystal near the rim with a delicious and bold bottle of red? Try a sip or three of the <a href="">2007 Caldwell Rocket Science</a>. The name is a play on words that making wine isn’t rocket science, but this lush and long creation is surprisingly complex given its handle. A mix of estate-grown Syrah, Cabernet and Merlot from John Caldwell’s vineyard to the east of the city of Napa, the Rocket Science begins with a deep nose filled with black cherries and raspberries mixed with earthy notes of wood smoke, sweet spices and a hint of cedar. The palate is gobby and gooey and filled with black fruits and chocolate mixed with spicy notes, but then a delicate balance of acidity and tannins comes weaving its way into the mix to keep the wine from feeling heavy or cloying. The finish goes on and on and is certainly a great way to pass the time not thinking about your itchy sweater.<br /> <br /> Finally if there is one thing we will all do this holiday season it is eat too many sweets. Be it Panettone, sugar cookies, fruit cake, or icing-covered Santas if they are there for the taking then they are there for the grazing. This season I propose that we indulge in a little sweet stuff of the liquid kind if you know what I mean. Take for example the <a href="">2008 Fattori Recioto di Soave</a>. Production of this style of wine dates back to the 5th century (or just about the same time as St. Nicholas of Myra!) and the unctuous goodness stems from the harvest of very ripe grapes and drying said grapes on straw mats until well into the following year. The result is a wine that offers balanced acidity, a pleasing mouth feel and just enough sweetness to keep us from raiding the snack bowl.<br /> <br /> The Fattori Recioto begins with a hue that is closer to gold and polished bronze than any white wine around. The amber nectar almost seems to have been made to be put in a glass and ponder holiday lights through. Aromas of baked apricots, toffee and pecan pie waft from the glass. Once on the palate there is a huge rush of flavorful emotion, and as a tear is shed (well, almost!) a mix of orange marmalade, roasted hazelnuts, dutch apple pie and a splash of lemon zest spring forth across the palate. The finish is long and lush and doesn’t seem to want to leave. But this houseguest can stay as long as it likes!<br /> <br /> " 'Tis always better to give than to receive" is the old saw come holiday season, and while this will always be true, take a few moments this year to give back to the person in the mirror. Because if they aren’t happy how can the holidays be bright?, 01 Dec 10 09:13:19 -0800Turkey Day Extravaganza 2010<br /><br />Thanksgiving is the time of year we give thanks- we give thanks for mountains of delicious foods that we are only lucky enough to be around once per year, we give thanks for Grandmothers that don’t know the meaning of “I’m full,” we give thanks for stretchy pants that don’t press on our tender, overstuffed stomachs. And for many folks it is also a time to give thanks for some really good wines.<br /> <br /> Thanksgiving to me is as much a celebration of life, family and the love of good food as it a day to watch football through half-shuttered eyelids that grow heavy with the weight of tryptophan. And this love of really good food should carry over to the wine as well. Dad spent six hours basting that turkey, the least we can do is crack open a nice bottle of wine to go along with it, right?<br /> <br /> So what to serve on such a glorious culinary occasion? What wines will transcend the square acres of competing flavors and stand out amid Cousin Larry’s bad jokes and Aunt Midge’s peach cobbler?<br /> <br /> For me there are a few easy choices. Any day meant as a celebration of all things food and life should be treated to a fine bottle of Sparkling wine to begin. What better way to thank your mom for not calling as much as you should, or to say you are sorry for forgetting your sister’s birthday, or to just enjoy everyone’s company than with a bottle of silky bubbles?<br /> <br /> One of the best for the money is the <a href="">Raventos I Blanc Cava Brut Reserva</a>. The first man to make Spanish wines sparkle via the Champagne method was a Raventos, and the first man to have Cava recognized as an official D.O. was a Raventos, and today, some 500 years after the first Raventos grew grapes on the chalky soils of Northeastern Spain, the family is recognized as being the leader in quality in all that is Cava.<br /> <br /> The 2007 Brut Reserva offers rich notes of brioche, caramelized apples, fresh peaches and a long and mineral-driven finish. All this is tied to a backbone of fresh acidity that provides balance and verve to this powerhouse of a wine.<br /> <br /> The next step in the line of lovely libations for the feast is a bottle of white wine that can extend itself from the roasted beets through the glazed ham to the grilled zucchini and hit practically everything else in between: the <a href="">2009 Melville Inox Chardonnay</a> is a wine of immense minerals, long and ripe fruit notes and bracing, vibrant acidity. <br /> <br /> Unoaked and prevented from going through malolactic fermentation, the Melville Inox differs from many un-oaked Chards in that it is sourced from the ripest Chardonnay grapes on the estate instead of the least ripe. The result is a wine of precision and focus that offers an underlying current of fruit and weight that is hard to fathom at first, but that with each moment in the glass and trip across the palate seems to become more profound and expressive. Imagine if the Grand Crus of Chablis were airlifted to Santa Barbara and that just begins to give glimpses of the dynamic nature of this wine.<br /> <br /> And finally we need to have a wine that will satisfy the need for something big, red and tasty. While many folks like white wines for their versatility on the Thanksgiving table, I prefer something spicy, rich and Rhone-ish. Case in point is the <a href="">2006 Visan V.V. Cuvee Louise-Amelie</a> from Olivier Cuilleras at Domaine la Guintrandy. This is southern France at its finest. While many of the wines from this region have become one-note fruit bombs, Cuilleras’ wines offer fruit, weight, charm, spice, earth, depth, complexity and above all LIFE!<br /> <br /> Named for his daughter and sourced from the best vines in the warmest parcel on the estate, the Louise-Amelie is primarily Grenache with a splash of co-planted and fermented Syrah. Dark fruit, ample earth and spice, a lovely perfume that switches from the candied red fruits of old-vine Grenache and the campfire and camphor of Syrah, this wine will stand up to the most flavorful of dishes.<br /> <br /> On Turkey Day it can be tough to find wines that will agree with all of the foods and all of the relatives, but these three will make peace across any table. They may not get you out of doing the dishes, but at the very least you will be happier to do them!, 03 Nov 10 09:36:28 -0700Fall Favorites<br /><br />As the weather in the Midwest shifts from the stupidly hot and humid fog that has hung around all summer to bright days, crisp evenings and a more candidly <em>fresh</em> feel I am reminded of all the things I really like: sleeping through the night without waking up in a torrential sweat; pulling on a favorite sweater and taking a walk in the brisk night air; eating hearty foods that remind me just as much of home as they do of the impending winter.<br /> <br /> And the wines that come to mind are no different. My liquid lustings change from vibrant whites and tasty roses to wines of more substance, more style and certainly more body. I feel confident that I can make it all the way through a glass of a big and broad red wine without breaking into a sweat from the tannins. I am drawn towards wines of depth and weight instead of those that are simply light and lively. Ultimately it is this time of year that I want something that is going to wow me, really knock my socks off. I have been enjoying crisp and clean, and now I want rich and powerful.<br /> <br /> So with this in mind I feel it is time to fall into a few Fall Favorites: wines that represent a fermented experience that is second to none, and wines that will leave me feeling sated and satisfied so that I fear not the coming cold and gloom of winter.<br /> <br /> Let’s begin with the <a href="">2008 Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese</a> from the Niederhauser Hermannshohle vineyard in the Nahe region of Germany. That is certainly quite a name, but for many the wines of Donnhoff are every bit as long as the vineyard names they are sourced from. And who said genius should be easy to understand or better yet pronounce? This slate and volcanic masterpiece of a vineyard sits on the North side of the Nahe and provides an excellent home for Riesling. Often Riesling is thought of as an also ran in the world of wine, a wine to obtain cheap sweet thrills from and not a wine to ponder and pursue. Think Jenna Jameson instead of Audrey Hepburn. But true wine fans know differently, they know that a classic bottle of Riesling can be a work of art, and few are more storied than those from Donnhoff.<br /> <br /> This wine begins with a crescendo of fruit, flowers and spice on the nose, the elements drifting in and out of glass as if drawn by a siren song sung by Bacchus himself. The palate begins with intense tropical notes of guava, peaches and papaya before settling back into a more citrus laden mid-palate. The finish is such a beautiful and harmonious mix of the sweet and the tart elements that make a profound Riesling famous that it is hard to say which side of the soul you like better: the good Ash who just wants to bring lots of fruit and play nicely or the bad Ash who blasts your tongue with nervy acidity. Who cares as they all play well together?<br /> <br /> The <a href="">2007 Kongsgaard Chardonnay</a> is further proof that John Kongsgaard is one of the best in the business. This triumph in Napa Valley fruit is not without controversy, as there are quite the multitude of Burgundy lovers who would defend to their dying breath that this monster, this behemoth, this titan of wines couldn’t possibly be Chardonnay! But Chardonnay it is.<br /> <br /> And a masterful performance at that. This is a wine that offers more in the way of honey, white flowers, toast, orange marmalade and peach blossom notes than anything else around. Think “these go to eleven” style of Chardonnay. But unbelievably it is a balanced, sophisticated and elegant expression of the grape, there is just more of it than ever thought possible. You say you like big, buttery, oaky chards? Well this is the biggest. The oak is restrained but present, the butter refined but tactile, the bigness, well, big, but not without a certain dexterity. Remember when Warren Sapp was kicking butt and taking names on <I>Dancing with the Stars?</I> “How can a man that big move so well?” was the general consensus. This wine reminds me of that. Power and weight with dexterity and charm. Booyah.<br /> <br /> And finally the <a href="">2007 Martinelli Vineyards Moonshine Ranch Pinot Noir</a> is juxtaposition in winemaking: concentration and transparency, richness and elegance, tangible and ethereal. The wine moves from fairy-like perfumes of violets, cherry-blossom and blackberries to a palate that is full, fleshy and silky smooth. To me the hallmark of a well-made pinot noir is always the texture, a wine that glides across the palate with the greatest of ease. The Martinelli is certainly no different as even though it reads like a lighter wine in the glass once on the palate it is enveloping, it spreads across everything and lingers for a lasting moment as if to say "I am here, I am not beer, get used to it." The finish seems to go on forever.<br /> <br /> Each of these wines will provide a wonderful experience: at home, with friends, by yourself in a closet because you don’t want to share- it doesn’t seem to matter. Some wines will bring the party no matter where they go. So get out the cool weather gear and grab an opener, because these wines and this season were just made for each other., 24 Sep 10 08:12:41 -0700May the Brunch Brunch<br /><br />Being a breakfast at any time kind of guy, I often think about what wines to pair with the tasty but often rich foods that roll onto the dinner table in the guise of being breakfast. Of course there are the old stand-bys such as a mimosa or perhaps even a Bloody Mary if you really want to spice things up. But wine? Or at least wine without orange juice in it? Now that really is a quandary.<br /> <br /> But the situation calls for on occasion. Easter brunch, entertaining friends or just looking for a great way to start off a Saturday- each of these special moments may call for just a little something extra than a strong cup of coffee or a glass of milk. The possibilities are just as endless as the myriad of tasty early-in-the-day vittles. After experimenting with various different breakfast type-substances and a few wines thrown in for, ahem, educational purposes I have come up with a few wine and breakfast-food pairings that will make you say to yourself “I can’t believe I have been missing this with my Count Chocula for all these years!”<br /> <br /> To ease into things I suggest we start with a classical wine and food combo, that of Champagne and eggs. For centuries the riches of eggs have been cut with all sorts of<br /> sparkling wines, as the creamy and minerally component of a fine Champagne can mix beautifully and harmoniously with the chewy and buttery components of a well-cooked egg. The other bright spot here is that eggs are versatile enough to be mixed with just about anything under the sun, be it leftover chicken in an omelet, smoked bacon in a scramble or topped with caviar for a truly decadent experience. In the case of the recipe below for a simple scramble of eggs with chives and asiago a touch of elegance is brought to the dish with the addition of a crisp and firm bottle of bubbly like the Pierre Peters. This Blanc de Blancs (meaning 100% Chardonnay) is about as crisp, citrusy and linear as it gets, and added to the scramble the wine mellows just a touch to bring out the floral, peach and green tea nuances.<br /> <br /> <a href="">Scrambled Eggs with Chives and Asiago</a><br /> <a href="">Champagne Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Champagne Grand Cru Brut</a><br /> <br /> Stepping up our breakfast options just a notch we move into a delicious version of pancakes done in a heavy cast iron skillet with just a little butter and tossed with sautéed apples. Apples work well with a wide variety of wines, and the creamy elements of butter and pancake mix lead me to think of a wine with some body and some stuffing. At first I sampled a couple of wines that were slightly off-dry, which when combined with the slightly sweet style of the pancakes made the dish feel heavy and plodding. However, a wine of fresh peach, citrus and apple flavors with a medium body, silky feel, balancing acidity and a long finish seemed to be a much more natural fit. In this case the wine turned out to be the 2006 Old Vine Chablis from noted producer<br /> Jean-Marc Brocard. Normally I would think a Chablis too crisp and clean for this style of cuisine, but the warmth of the 2006 vintage and the weight imbued from the older vines<br /> allowed this wine to stand next to a heavy dish and compliment it rather than get lost in the folds.<br /> <br /> <a href="">Apple Pancakes</a><br /> <a href="">Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2006</a><br /> <br /> And when it finally is time to turn on the spice, I can think of nothing better than a big plate of spicy hash with prosciutto and duck confit. With such a rich and flavorful dish, the wine to go with really needs to have some blood running through its veins. Think less Lauren Bacall and more Chuck Norris. For this particular spot a fine bottle of Syrah<br /> from Melville in the Sta. Rita Hills of California’s Central Coast was just the trick. Grown in an exceptionally (for CA in the summer!) cool climate, this wine had all the requisite<br /> fruit, smoke and spice expected from Syrah, but it also had an unexpected vein of white pepper and refreshing acidity which worked nicely with the fatty elements of the duck,<br /> prosciutto, fried egg... oh just about everything in this dish.<br /> <br /> <a href="">Duck Confit Potato Hash with Prosciutto, Scallion and Fried Egg</a><br /> <a href="">Melville Syrah Santa Rita Hills Verna's Vineyard 2008</a><br />, 07 May 10 12:51:58 -0700Crispy White Wines<br /><br />Spring has sprung. The daffodils and tulips have opened their faces to the sun, the birds are hastily building their nests and folks everywhere are tilling, planting and mowing. The smells of spring have reached our nostrils- fresh mulch, hyacinth blossoms, spring rain. The days seem warm no matter what the temperature and the nights feel cool and clean. <br /> <br /> At this time of year our thoughts lean towards wines that reflect and remind us of the vibrancy of nature. Even the coldest of hearts can’t help but be warmed by the bright greens, purples, yellows and snow white colors that assault our senses. And so it is the same with wines, and there is nothing that smells, feels, tastes and mimics spring more than a cool and refreshing glass of white wine. <br /> <br /> The fresh flavors and bright acidity of a crispy white wine pair wonderfully with the warm spring days and the fresh and delicate flavors that grace our first journey to the picnic table. What attributes could possibly make a liquid crispy you ask? It is the nature of a light, lively and above all dry white wine. The tingle of the acidity, the snap of the citrus, the zing of white peaches and green apples, the quintessential crunch that just screams "I am refreshing. Drink me and I will reward your palate," these are elements that go into making a wine crispy. <br /> <br /> As it turns out we just so happen to have a few recommendations for you in terms of crispy wines. The first is the <a href="">Vevi Rueda 2008</a>, a delightful little blend of 80% old vine Verdejo and 20% Viura from Rueda in western Spain. The Vevi starts off with subtle aromas of honeysuckle and lemon zest that suggest a wine of zip and zing and zest and lots of other Z-related stuff. Flavors that run from meyer lemon to fresh cream to almond notes. The finish is light and has lip-smacking acidity and leaves the palate feeling refreshed. <br /> <br /> One of my favorite treats is a dry style of sparkling wine. I mean <i>dry</i>, with just a few grams of sugar added for the <i>dosage</i> if any is used at all. Which leads me to the <a href="">Domaine Bott-Geyl Cremant d’Alsace</a>. This wine is made from the same grapes used in Champagne (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), it is made by a 6th generation winemaker in Jean-Christophe Bott who has trained in Champagne, it is made using the Champagne Method- the time honored tradition that is the hardest, lengthiest, most expensive yet ultimately the best way to make sparkling wines and it is even produced at around the same latitude as the prestigious Vallee de la Marne in the heart of Champagne. Except it has an everyday price point. The wine offers lots of apple and pear fruit, touches of spice and creamy notes in the middle, and a long a lively mousse that provides just enough tickle on the tongue. It is everything you could want in a sparkling wine and nothing you wouldn’t. Oh yea, it is also certified organic and biodynamic. <br /> <br /> One other wine to keep in mind is the <a href="">Bridesmaid Wines Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2008</a>. This project hails from Napa stars Pam Starr and Drew Neiman and is produced from some of the Valley’s finest vineyards. While they will not mention specifically which vineyards, it is widely known throughout the Valley that the owners of such prestigious fruit would not want it known that their grapes make it into such an inexpensive wine. A blend of primarily Sauvignon Blanc with just a kiss of Semillon thrown in to add weight and complexity, the Bridesmaid White is as fragrant as the backyard in May. The nose offers complex notes of white flowers, soft spring grasses, tropical fruits and a touch of gravel. The palate is crisp and fruit-forward, with some of the tropical fruit notes familiar to the Musque clone of Sauvignon Blanc, but also lighter notes that are more green and citrusy in nature. The wine is practically alive with acidic intensity which brings harmony and balance to the lush fruit. <br /> <br /> Each one of these wines on its own would be a perfect complement to the seafood, fresh veggies and appetizers that make me think of spring. Their lighter styles and fresh acidity work to bring out the flavors in the food they are paired with. In the end they are light, lively, fresh and cool, just like a spring day., 13 Apr 10 09:14:16 -0700Easter<br /><br />Families everywhere will be sitting down together to celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday, and what better way to usher in the end of Lent than with a big meal and a great bottle of wine? We would be remiss if we did not also mention the nine-hour feasting event that is the Passover Seder, which already has my mouth watering from thinking about brisket. And though the following wines are not Kosher, maybe if you are really nice you can ask the Rabbi to say a Kiddush. Trust me; the following goodies are worth blessing! <br /> <br /> These two holidays can be a little tricky in terms of selecting wines as there are often strong flavors and competing food philosophies that line the table. The traditional Lamb and the traditional Ham don’t necessarily play nicely together when it comes to wine, and add in yams, stuffing, potatoes, greens, etc. and it can make for a veritable traffic jam of flavors. So the trick is to find wines that will stand up to boldly flavored dishes and that have a little flexibility when it comes to foods that they can pair with. <br /> <br /> The first wine in our lineup is the <a href="">2008 Gilbert Picq Chablis 1er Cru <I>Vaucoupin</I></a>, and this wine is simply stunning. Chablis can run the gamut from the fresh, bright and minerally side of Chardonnay to the fruit-forward, tropical and lush version of the grape, while the best versions tend to stay towards the more chalky and vibrant end of the scale. The Picq I am happy to say hits on all fronts. It is at once bright, clean, crisp and refreshing but also lush, savory, complex and chewy. There is so much packed into this bottle of wine that one cannot help but be blown away. Because of this cavalcade of flavors the Picq Chablis also can run with quite a few dishes- from Dover Sole and seared Sea Scallops to roasted Chicken or Squab. It is broad and juicy enough to handle the spice, but it is light and lively enough to not overpower the fare. <br /> <br /> Another option is the <a href="">2007 Domaine Bott-Geyl Gewurztraminer <I>Les Elements</I></a>. Gewurtz is one of my favorite wines for the holiday table because it can handle just about anything thrown its way. The Bott-Geyl offers up rich lychee, apricot and rose petal notes along with a full body and fresh acidity. Add these elements to Turkey, Stuffing, Yams and other strong flavors and it is a match made in heaven. <br /> <br /> But what to do about Lamb? A wine that I have always found compelling and easy to love is the <a href="">2006 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir <I>La Bauge au Dessus</I></a>. This is a special bottling from ABC and it is year in and year out a delicious, well-balanced and nuanced Pinot. If you like dark fruit and spices- it has it. Want a silky texture to your wine? Bam, it’s in there. Like a little acidity to refresh your palate during a big meal? No problem- the ABC La Bauge can handle it like a pro. A classic food and wine combination is the gamey yet delicate flavors of Lamb matched with the delicate and ethereal nature of Pinot Noir. And the ABC La Bauge is no different, as it is classically-styled Pinot that is neither too heavy nor too light. It is just right. <br /> <br /> And as more than a few of you may have given up something you truly love for Lent it may be time to celebrate with a fine bottle of bubbles. Whether it was chocolate, fried foods or even (gasp!) alcohol, a bottle of bubbly is always a welcome addition to any gathering. Look for Cava from Spain and Prosecco from Italy as affordable alternatives or maybe even a Grower-Producer Champagne if you really want to hit the high notes. Either way your friends, family and neighbors will thank you for it., 10 Mar 10 14:21:14 -0800Signs of Spring<br /><br />As many people across the nation are still digging out from under record snowfalls it hardly seems the time to start thinking about light white, crisp rosé and fruity red wines that tickle the palate and speak of warm days and spring flowers, but we Winegeeks like to stay ahead of the curve. So here are our recommendations wine-wise as soon as you start to see Signs of Spring. <br /> <br /> Starting with the white wines, nothing says "I love you Warm Spring Sunshine" quite like a bottle of Gruner Veltliner. It could be called the perfect spring fling as it is a crisp and dry white with flavors and aromas that range from white pepper, flowers, green apples, cream and many other light and lively notes. Great Gruners are also said to have a slightly green edge to them, similar to fresh spring peas or even fiddlehead ferns, which by the way are only available in the spring. Coincidence? Hmmm. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/3084">Hiedler Gruner <I>Loess</I></a> from the Kamptal region is a crackling lightning bolt of cold and clean intensity, filled with spring floral notes, gobs of juicy fresh fruit and a nervy and high strung style that is making my mouth water just thinking about it. Buy, drink, burp, repeat. <br /> <br /> Other options that work for spring are floral Albariños from Spain, fruity Pinot Gris’ from Oregon, spritzy Vinho Verdes from Portugal and my personal favorite, the sweet/ tart dichotomy that is a great German Kabinett Riesling. Each of these wines are light and lively and work well with the lighter fare that graces the spring dinner table. <br /> <br /> Another option along these lines is the arrival of the yearly allocations of delicious rosés from Europe and California. These are definitely not the sweet Mateus that clogged palates and wine store shelves in years gone by. Dry, fruity, floral and fresh rosés from the world over are released every spring, and Winegeeks everywhere will be lining up to take advantage of their delicate and easy to love qualities. <br /> <br /> One that stands out every year is the <a href="/wines/3085">Chateau Virgile Costieres de Nimes Rosé</a>. From rocky soils in the far southwestern edge of the Rhone Valley in southern France, this is a whimsical yet quality rosé. The bright raspberry, cherry and even orange zest notes are offset by fresh acidity and a light and crisp feel. When you want just a little more red fruit and spice than a white can provide, but want to avoid the heavy qualities of a red this is your answer. <br /> <br /> And finally what would a wine lover’s life be like without a red or two in the rotation? Even on the most gloriously bright and clear and white wine-like of Spring days a light and fruit-forward red can be a welcome addition to the mix. Pinot Noir is always fun if done right, and I am talking <I>real</I> Pinot Noir here, no syrah-like 15% alcohol fruit-bomb from Napa or even Willamette, or even whatever they are putting in the Red Bicyclette these days, no I mean elegant, perfumed, soft, delicate and almost see-through Pinot. And to find this style there is only one place to turn: Burgundy. There is no region on earth more suited to producing transparent styles of Pinot, and the light red and black fruits, lavender perfume, subtle earthen notes and bright acidity of a fine red Burgundy is about as Spring-like as a red can get. They also pair nicely with seafood, poultry and light dishes from the grill, which so happen to be quite fashionable in the Spring months. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/3086">Bourgogne Rouge from Joseph Voillot</a> is what my taste buds mentally picture when discussing this style of wine. Many Bourgogne Rouge come from younger vines, inferior vineyards or are blends from the entire 30km stretch of Burgundy. However the Voillot is sourced from old vines grown entirely within Volnay and Pommard, two of the very best and most storied communes in the Cote d’Or. Volnay in particular is known for creating wonderfully elegant and feminine styles of Pinot Noir, which just so happen to coincide with our sought-after lighter style of Pinot.<br /> <br /> Other red options for Spring include juicy and fragrant Cabernet Francs from California, soft and sweet Dolcettos from Italy and young Tempranillos from Rioja, Spain. <br /> The options are many, but ultimately your wine selection may be dictated by your mood, the weather, and how many days a week you can fire up the grill after its long winter sleep. Either way, with a few warm days and lots of bright green grass around the corner you can’t go wrong with these wines., 02 Mar 10 21:05:52 -0800Wines for your Honey<br /><br />With Valentines Day around the corner, it is time to start looking for something to share with that special someone in your life. Guys- don't be a guy and wait until the day of to find your gift. That last minute scrambling will only result in another Snuggie knock-off and an unhappy wife. Let's not have a repeat of last year.<br /> <br /> Luckily Winegeeks is here to help. When it comes to wine, many Americans are a wee bit confused. We say we don't like sweeter wines, yet Riesling is one of the fastest growing wine categories for American consumers. When presented with a little residual sugar we protest, yet we are the world's largest consumer of sugary sodas. And this fails to mention juices, sweet teas and our fascination with Tony and his Frosted Flakes. Let's face it- we have sweet tooth.<br /> <br /> So in that vein and with the most chocolaty of holidays coming up, I say we embrace our passion for sucrose stylings and wrap ourselves in pleasantly sweet somethings for Valentine's Day.<br /> <br /> With the <a href="/wines/3064" title="Jakob Schneider Riesling Spatlese Neusiedleree Hermannshohle Vineyard 2007 ">Jakob Schneider Spatlese Riesling</a> you'll find a wine that is quintessentially German and absolutely delicious, a wine that delivers everything a good Riesling should- minerals, delicate floral notes, pleasantly balanced acidity and explosive fruit. The Nahe region is sometimes known for drier styles of riesling that sacrifice robust fruit for a crystalline texture and a long life, but as a whole the wines from the Schneider estate are always brimming with ripe fruit goodness and this wine is no exception. Ripe apples, peaches and orange zest notes and buoyed by ample acidity that does not deter from the fresh fruit, and a decadent texture that simply keeps the wine from feeling too heavy.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/3069" title="Champagne Margaine Traditionelle Demi-Sec Champagne NV">Margaine Demi-Sec Champagne</a> is probably the most delicious post-meal sparkler in the world. Instead of a rich and heavy dessert try this instead as it is ripe, soft, easy-drinking and satisfies the sweet tooth without stealing the life from your palate with sticky richness. Imagine a beautiful glass of Champagne- it offers fresh stone fruit, a lively mousse and a texture that literally dances across the palate. Now imagine that instead of fresh apricots that they are lusciously baked or that instead of pears straight from the tree they have been confitured. Just a hint of subtle weight on the palate is the only other indicator to this wine's "half-dry" status. Margaine is what is known as a <em>recoltant manipulant</em> or grower producer, a group of champagne producers on the rise that grow their own fruit and thus place a greater emphasis on quality from beginning to end. They are certainly worth trying.<br /> <br /> And finally the <a href="/wines/3065" title="<br /> Dashe Cellars Late Harvest Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley 2007">Dashe Cellars Late Harvest Zinfandel</a> is certainly an intriguing wine, one that excites the senses with its rich blackberry fruits, scintillatingly spicy notes and decadent dark chocolate waves. Sourced from very old vines in the Dry Creek Valley (long considered the California sweet spot for Zinfandel) and produced by the wife and husband team of Anne and Michael Dashe. Anne's history and education center on the Bordeaux region of France, while Mike is a California boy all the way. Their balance in life provides balance to their wines, and the late harvest Zin is a lovely yet powerful mix of spicy fruit and lush chocolate notes. With or without a box of truffles this wine is a real treat.<br /> <br /> So go out and grab a delicious bottle of something sweet. Grab your special friend and then find a roaring fire to snuggle up next to. Enjoy. Repeat., 23 Jan 10 10:50:09 -0800Warm Reds for Winter<br /><br />The hectic holidays have come and gone and it is time to settle into the doldrums of winter with your honey, some comfort food and a really good bottle of wine. Cold weather and icy conditions practically cry out for a big and robust red, something with the body and structure to stand up to hearty winter fare, but also something with the fruit, weight and richness to warm the bones on the very coldest of evenings. <br /> <br /> Which begs the question- which red wine to choose from? With such a bevy of styles and flavors the options are endless, but since we can’t give you endless options, we have narrowed it down to a few of our favorites: <br /> <br /> <strong>Cabernet Blends</strong><br /> <br /> Let’s face it, just about everyone who likes red wines also likes Cabernets. It is the epitome of non-offensive, with juicy fruit, generally tame tannins and a clean feel no matter where the wine is made. But Cabernet can be boring, and with such a glut of Cab on the market, it is time to strike out in search of variety. It is now common for just about every grape under every sun to be blended in with Cab at some point or another, but if looking for a fine bottle of red to keep old man winter at bay a true Meritage or Bordeaux-styled blend can’t be beat. Cabernet Sauvignon easily adds ripe red fruits and structure to any blend, but like a symphony it is not just the wind section that creates beautiful music, it is the harmony between the ripe fruit of Cabernet, the silky feel of Merlot, the youthful exuberance and delicate perfume of Cabernet Franc and even the broad shoulders and firm structure of Petite Verdot that take a melody and transform it into a work of art. <br /> <br /> The Selene <a href="/wines/3042">Chesler</a> is a fine choice for those looking for depth, body and complexity in a wine. Mostly Cabernet Franc, with 20% or so each Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Chesler is a wine that is rich and broad enough to stand up to full-flavored dishes such as roasts and stews without killing the palate with fiery tannins. Since it has now reached its fifth birthday, the wine has softened and become more round, with a lovely feel that is pure silk. This wine is all about balance, with everything in the correct proportion, and at the end of a long day shoveling snow it is like a delicious and beautiful warm blanket of purple goodness. <br /> <br /> <B>Syrahs</B><br /> <br /> For years Syrah toiled in relative obscurity as the great wines of the Northern Rhone in France where relative unknowns here in the U.S. due to their high prices and low production. In the late 1990s the Yellow Tail phenomenon turned Syrah (or Shiraz!) into a household name, and most of the major winegrowing regions on the planet followed suit with their own versions. But as wine drinkers became bored with thousands of versions of cheap and uninspiring versions of Shiraz the Aussie wine market in the U.S. has collapsed, and Syrah is on the brink of falling back into the wine hinterlands.<br /> <br /> But it should not be so! There are perhaps few more versatile grapes on the planet than Syrah, and due to the soft market it remains an incredible value at all price points, often providing more character, more Complexity and more inky depths of flavor than Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and other more fashionable grapes at the same price. <br /> There is no grape on earth better suited to cold weather than Syrah. By nature it is a tannic and big wine, with gobs of fruit and tons of personality and it often brings a touch of alcoholic warmth as well. The rich fruit and sturdy structure of Syrah works well with many dishes from Pork to Veal to Beef, and the juicy nature of the fruit allow it to provide a fine counterpoint to even the most heavily spiced dishes. <br /> <br /> In this case the <a href="/wines/3043">Rusciano</a> is a fine mix of both old and new world styles, with rich fruit, a broad body, a velvety feel and lots of personality. It is almost as if the wine contains the acid and tannin of Hermitage, the fruit and riches of Australia, and the mid-palate complexity and depth of a fine example from California. A wonderful mix! <br /> <br /> <strong>Malbecs</strong><br /> <br /> Few would argue that Malbec is <I>the</I> hot new grape. Wine lovers and newbies alike across the nation have taken to the full fruit, chewy body and soft style of Malbec with reckless abandon. It has become the grape to ask for if you want a red wine but don’t know what you want. And with good reason, as the high elevations, dry summers and long falls of the foothills of the Andes in Argentina create wines that have everything red wine lovers could want- lots of ripe black and blue fruit, chewy tannins and a tendency to carry oak and earthy complexity. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/3044">Campo Negro</a> is a fine example that hasn’t been colored outside of the lines. The current trend with mass-produced Malbec is to crank the volume up to eleven, with way to much fruit, alcohol and oak, but the Campo Negro offers a lovely perfume that smells of black plums, ripe raspberries and just a touch of cocoa followed by an expansive palate that has not lost its tannic edge. There is plenty of fruit and a silky feel to offset the full body, and the finish lingers and lasts. Look to pair it with roast birds, slow-braised meats and Grandma’s pot roast., 07 Jan 10 22:01:39 -0800Keys to Finding Great Bang for Buck Wines<br /><br />Finding cheap wines is super easy, considering there is a sea of mass-produced wines that populate the shelves of any Costco or Trader Joes. But as many of us have found, when we pay $10, it feels like a good deal when we pay the cashier, but we're often disappointed when we finally taste the wine. <br /> <br /> Now, I'm always looking for a good bottle of wine at a great price. And over the years, I've developed a few keys to finding awesome deals amongst the wine shelves:<br /> <br /> <strong>1. Get to know your wine steward</strong><br /> <br /> Let's face it - there's a lot of wine out there, and every label contains a word or 3 that we don't understand. The wine steward at our local grocery store or wine shop is there to help us find wines that suit our palates, and they're always eager to let us know about the best deals in their store!<br /> <br /> <strong>2. Buy wine by the case</strong><br /> <br /> Here in Portland, Oregon, you get a 20% discount if you buy a case of wine. That means that if you buy 12 bottles of wine at $10 per bottle, instead of paying $120 for 12 bottles, you'll only have to pay $96, meaning you'll save $24! Now that is one deal that does not suck.<br /> <br /> <strong>3. Discover the lesser known appellations</strong><br /> <br /> Bordeaux, Napa Valley and Champagne cost so much because these regions have produced quality wines over the years, and the brands that have been built around their names drive the prices sky high. Look to lesser known wine regions, known as appellations, to find hidden gems at half the price. Here are some of my personal favorite bang-for-buck appellations, which offer wines at my $12 price point:</p><br /> <br /> <h2>Wine Regions</h2><br /> <h3>Prosecco, Italy</h3><p>Hailing from the Veneto region of northern Italy, Prosecco is a grape that is made into a wonderfully affordable sparkling wine that is great for whetting the appetite before your big feast. It is typically made to be a very dry wine, with notes of green apple, pear and white peach, with a nice frizzante. Prosecco also works perfectly for cocktail drinks such as mimosas and bellinis.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Riouolo Prosecco del Veneto</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Charcuterie plate</p><h3>Torrentes from Mendoza, Argentina</h3><p>Torrontes is a white grape that originated from the Ribeiro region of Spain, and is thought to have been brought to Argentina by Basque settlers when they emigrated to the country. It has since found a home in the Mendoza region of Argentina, where it produces high quality white wines at a low price. Torrontes wines show intense floral characteristics on the nose, and typically display yellow apple and lychee on the palate.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Zolo Torrontes 2008</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Sushi</p><h3>Gruner Veltliner from Austria</h3><p>The Gruner Veltliner grape originated from Austria and thrives there because of the grape's hardiness. It creates crisp, refreshing wines that might remind you of a can of Sprite without the corn syrup. It often features lemon, lime and a minerality that glances off the cheek.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Weingut Huber Gruner Veltliner Niederosterreich 2008</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Indian</p><h3>Savoie, France</h3><p>The Savoie is located just south of Geneva, Switzerland. The white wines produced there are under-appreciated, and can be made from a plethora of grapes, including Rousette and Chardonnay. The wines are typically refreshing, with a mid-weight body, and are best consumed young.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Domaine Eugene Carrel Vin de Savoie Jongieux 2007</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Sole meuniere</p><h3>Dão, Portugal</h3><p>The Dão region of Portugal is often overshadowed by its neighboring region Douro (where Port wine is made), but is quickly becoming an important wine region in Portugal. The region produces wines with a smattering of grapes from its granite-based soil, yet the wines are typically elegant with a high acidity, and are often compared in stature to Burgundy.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Grilos Dão Vinho Tinto 2006</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Pork shoulder braised in red wine</p><h3>Langhe, Piedmont, Italy</h3><p>Located in the Piedmont region of Italy, the Langhe appellation often becomes forgotten because of its neighboring regions Barolo and Barbaresco. Langhe is made primarily from Nebbiolo grapes, but can also feature grapes such as Dolcetto and Freisa, and typically shows red cherry and raspberry, with a balance between finesse and power on the palate.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Podere Ruggeri Corsini Langhe Rosso Matot 2008</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Lamb shanks</p><h3>Ribera del Duero, Spain</h3><p>Deriving from the Castille y Leon region of northern Spain, Ribera del Duero is one of the many appellations that can be found along the Duero river. The red wines produced here are made primarily from the Tinto Finto grape, commonly known as Tempranillo. These are typically heftier wines that show tart berry fruits, with noticeable tannins and notes of leather and cigar box.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Fescenino Ribera del Duero 2007</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Grilled pork chops</p><h3>Languedoc-Roussillon, France</h3><p>The Languedoc-Roussillon region of France is one of the most productive wine regions in the world. It runs along the Mediterranean sea, and features most of the popular French grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, as well as most Rhone varietals, such as Syrah and Grenache. So much wine is produced here, that they have no choice but to export it and sell it at low prices.<br /> <br /> Featured Wine:<br /> <a href="">Daumas Gassac Moulin de Gassac Guilhelm Vin de pays de l'Herault 2008</a><br /> <br /> Food Pairing:<br /> Depends on the wine, but stewed meats are typically a safe choice</p>, 19 Dec 09 14:25:56 -0800Vilmart & Cie<br /><br />I have spent numerous hours pouring through Champagnes in an effort to drown myself in the riches of life. Someday when my liver catches up to me and I do go to the other side I want to be buried with a fine bottle of Champagne. No gold, no coins on my eyes for the trip to the afterlife- just give me a bottle of hand-crafted bubbly. For what greater enjoyment is there in life (and perhaps in death!) than the ethereal brilliance that is a well-made Champagne? What other item in life offers such pure sensual enjoyment? What other product can be so heavenly light and yet devilishly decadent? What other man-made item can be described as full, frothy, elegant, suave, sophisticated, vibrant, complex, tactile and spiritual all at once?<br /> <br /> Out of all of my travels down the bubble-lined glass of life, there is one Champagne house that has stood apart from the rest- one producer that has crafted elixir after elixir that stood on the shoulders of giants. This house is Vilmart and Cie. Shortened to just Vilmart for the rest of this article (no need to keep mentioning the "company" part of Vilmart & Cie) this is as good as it gets in Champagne, and since Champagne is generally regarded as to be as good as it gets for bubbles and perhaps even all wine, ergo Vilmart is quite possibly the greatest wine producer in the world.<br /> <br /> Whoa! "Them's fightin' words" is what I am sure more than one of you is thinking. But argue not until you have sampled such greatness, and then we may debate until the cows come home. But the wines must be tried first, because they are just that good.<br /> <br /> Those of you who read our Winery of the Month feature on a regular basis will know that I have a tendency to ascend a soapbox or two, particularly when it comes to <a href="/articles/162">Grower Producer Champagne</a>. So I will leave that fight mostly for another day. But it is worth mentioning that Grower-Producer bubbly is a rapidly growing segment of a rapidly growing market. Champagne sales are up all across the globe, and while the current economic climate may suggest we have little to celebrate there are a million and one reasons as to why great Champagne can be enjoyed on an everyday basis and need not be reserved for weddings, graduations and other festivities.<br /> <br /> Vilmart was created in 1872 by Desire Vilmart in the sleepy Hamlet of Rilly, a town situated in the northern section of Champagne known as the Montagne de Reims. Of all the famous areas within Champagne, it is the Montagne de Reims that has for years been dominated by the Grand Marques, or the major players in the Champagne world. I am sure that in addition to their ties, wallets, pens, ice buckets, leather bottle wraps and other paraphernalia that they distribute to <I>trick</I> you into buying their inferior champagne that you may have heard of the famous white chalk cliffs of Montagne de Reims. This area is blessed with such a perfect example of the silky, silty, chalky soil that has made Champagne famous that the phrase "Champagne Powder" originated here. While this is true that the cliffs of Montagne are indeed that famous and offer the most fertile of fertile crescents in terms of rearing amazing Champagne, it is most definitely not true that the large houses source solely from this region. At 1.5 million cases a year or more for many of the large houses this is a statistical impossibility. But for a small and dedicated winery such as Vilmart this is the ideal location. <br /> <br /> Champagne Vilmart passed from Desire to his son and then eventually to his grandson Renan who's attention to detail and superb blending abilities did much to establish Vilmart as a top notch wine even at that time. But then fate took the house for a turn. Renan's daughter Nicole fell in love and married a vineyard worker by the name of Rene Champs. If that did not set the locals to gossip, Nicole and Rene completely changed the production methods of Vilmart by switching to fermenting and aging the wines in oak barrels, a practice far from the normal cement vats that were popular at the time. In terms of provincial France this was quite the scandal.<br /> <br /> But the change was a success, as the resulting wines offered more depth, clarity and richness than anything that had been seen before. Fast forward about 50 years, and now the estate is run by Rene and Nicole's son Laurent Champs. Laurent has brought Vilmart to its greatest production, a true golden age for this venerable champagne house. <br /> <br /> The results have catapulted the wines and the reputation of Vilmart to the very top of the Champagne hill. Noted Champagne writer Richard Juhlin had this to say in regards to Vilmart in his latest book <a href="">4000 Champagnes</a> "Vilmart has quickly established cult status . . . since young Laurent [Champs] took over from his father in 1991, the company has become one of the true gems with the perfect wine, Coeur de Cuvée, as its most brilliant star. This wine was the best made in Champagne during the "off" years of '91, '92, '93 and '97. Hunt like a demon for the scarce 5000 bottles that were made of this gem!" <br /> <br /> Pretty high praise for a house that most Champagne lovers would be hard pressed to pick out of a lineup of labels. But that is not all. Because of their attention to detail, their full-bodied wines and their use of barrel fermentation Vilmart has been called the "poor man's Krug." Perhaps a more glowing accolade would be that by many accounts Vilmart and Laurent are considered the greatest grape growers in Champagne. In an area that has centuries of fame, hundreds of famous vineyards and thousands of grape growers this is high praise indeed.<br /> <br /> Vilmart sits at the 49th parallel, generally considered to be the most northern of wine growing areas. The cool climate is augmented by the cliffs of pure limestone powder in which the vines grow. All vineyards that Vilmart sources from are of either Grand Cru or 1er Cru status. The vines are very old, with many growing on their own root stocks and dating back to the days before many of the old clones were ripped out in favor of more "productive" versions. All work is and has always been done by hand and organically. <br /> <br /> Yields in the vineyards are less than 2 tons per acre. The grapes are given a strict tirage, and even though they are such a small estate with just 11ha of vines all fruit that is not deemed worthy is immediately sold to the bulk market, often times up to 40% of the total crop. <br /> <br /> Production methods range regarding the different specialty cuvees, but along with just a few other producers (Krug, Bollinger, Pierre Morlet) Vilmart uses a combination of Fouder and Barrique for fermentation and aging purposes. The wines spend an inordinate amount of time on their lees, with even the non-vintage wines receiving at least 36 months or more. Most of the barrels are neutral, but in some cases new barrels are used, but only as a means of adding complexity and depth to the wines, and only if a wine is deemed profound enough to carry the oak.<br /> <br /> While it would be remiss to ignore the fact that these are still Champagnes, and Vilmart makes several specialty cuvees that test the boundaries of both the highest quality and also high prices. But like many things in life it is not about the price, but the value, and the Champagnes of Vilmart offer enough quality that they remain a value at any price. Besides, over 50,000 cases of Dom Perrignon are produced per year, and a scant 57 cases of the Vilmart Couer de Cuvee were brought into the United States last year. So for all you collectors out there, would you prefer a one of a kind product that is the epitome of family-made champagne, or something that 620,000 other people got to enjoy last year?<br /> <br /> The <B>Brut NV 1er Cru <I>Grand Cellier</I></B> is the first in a line of specialty and Tete de Cuvees is the Vilmart line up. The most basic of all Vilmart Champagnes is not even imported into the U.S. So for domestic Bubbleheads, we get to start halfway up the ladder. A blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir that is sourced primarily from the 2005 vintage and then aged 3.5 years on the lees before digorgement. This is simply the greatest NV champagne in the market, with incredible length, sophistication and mineral strength that is not usually found in a non-vintage champagne. The high percentage of Chardonnay provides a fresh apple and light tropical fruit note that is a beautiful and harmonious balance between crisp and full.<br /> <br /> Another stunning non vintage wine is the <B>Brut Rose NV <I>Cuvee Rubis</I></B>. Crafted from 90% Pinot Noir and just a splash of Chardonnay, the Cuvee Rubis is a fresh and fragrant version of rose that has all the perfume of a finely crafted Burgundy mixed with a tart palate that melds the finest raspberry sorbet with lemon zest, fresh cream and a tingling and lengthy mousse. Rose champagne is all the rage right now, but this wine has so much more to it than being part of a fad. Non-vintage Champagne is often best consumed immediately upon its release from the winery, but the Rubis still is tightly wound and has a touch of tannin, which hints at a future to come.<br /> <br /> The <B>2002 Brut Rose <I>Grand Cellier Rubis</I></B> is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay that is fermented in Barrique and then given a further five years on the lees before release. This is a wild and seductive style of rose, with a floral note on the nose that ranges from orange zest to orange-colored roses. The palate is spicy and sweet-tart, with gobs of red apple, wild berry notes, a roasted chestnut creaminess in the center and then a finish that goes on and on with a dark and earthy umame note underneath. It is wrapped in tight acidity and a firm feel that will undoubtedly soften will cellar time.<br /> <br /> A truly unique wine is the <B>1998 Brut <I>Cuvee Creation</I></B>, a specialty cuvee that is fermented and aged in Barrique as well as given five years on the lees in an effort to promote depth and complexity. The blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir is still incredibly youthful after over a decade. It is culled from the oldest vines on the estate and represents a mix of old and new for Vilmart- the old of the vineyards and the new of the barrique barrels that it is fermented in. Fresh and fragrant, but with a firm core of minerality and citrus fruit that sings all the way from the attack to the very long finish. This wine also brings a note of creamy brioche to the mid-palate, and steps in a touch of smoke and coffee beans.<br /> <br /> The <B>2000 Brut <I>Couer de Cuvee</I></B> is the greatest bottling from Vilmart and represents the greatest and truest expression of the terroir, skill and family history of the estate. A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir that is fermented in barrique and then given a ridiculous six years on the lees before release, this is a profound and sublime confluence of wonderful raw materials and inherently brilliant winemaking skill. It is produced from only the "heart" of the pressed juice in which the first and last portions of the barrel are bled off to allow only the greatest elements of the wine to remain. Silky smooth, yet crisp and vibrant, this is a wine that is has every base covered yet each facet of the wine melds harmoniously with the next. The floral perfume goes on and on, the lemon curd, fresh baked bread, sweet toasty oak and chalky minerality seem to jump out of the glass before the long, complex and expressive finish really kicks into gear. This wine lingered on the palate long after swallow, yet never felt cloying or heavy. Truly a magical wine. Dom Perignon, eat your heart out!<br /> <br /> So many champagnes are purchased because of name recognition, which is why so many of the big houses work so hard on their branding. But which would you prefer? A wine that has been made in the finest way possible with no expense spared in an effort to craft a fine work of art, or a wine that costs ten dollars more than it should because of the company's gigantic marketing arm. Next fall when you absolutely have to buy your boss/ secretary/ wife/ father-in-law/ etc. a bottle of Champagne, make it one that they will truly enjoy such as these amazing wines from Vilmart., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Bodegas Montebaco<br /><br />Let face it, to sell wine we have to bring the new. Cork Dorks get excited about famous vineyards and dusty old bottles and centuries of tradition, but customers get excited about what is new, hot and on the cutting edge. Put a wine on a stack out front with a big sign that says "Just Released" and you are bound to attract more attention than the same stack with a sign that reads "Still Really Good."<br /> <br /> But new does not always translate to tasty, and the trick is to know the difference. Wine, just like life, is about balance. Fruit, tannin and acidity in the correct amounts will create a wine that has the quality for a great first impression and the depth to keep them coming back for more. Wine sales are the exact same way. While the customer may seek out a new label, it is the duty of restaurants and retailers to remind them of all the beautiful wines and fantastic values that are already offered. It is important to mix the traditional treasure with the flavor of the week. <br /> <br /> But what about a wine that offers both? Who would not enjoy a wine that seamlessly molds tradition and innovation into the same delicious juice? We can think of no winery that better exemplifies this challenging philosophy than Bodegas Montebaco.<br /> <br /> Located on the banks of the Duero River in central Spain, Montebaco is the epitome of old world technique and modern day technology. The winery was started in 1982 by Manuel Esteban with the intent of presenting the high quality of the local vineyards on an international stage. Manuel's family had grown grapes on this land for generations, but like many families they had sold their gapes to the local co-op in order to make a living. But as Ribera del Duero became internationally renown for plush and velvety versions of Tempranillo, the opportunity to showcase their unique <em>terroir</em> overcame any fears of limited success. Manuel's son, also a Manuel, decided to leave school early to direct the family estate after the elder Manuel tragically passed and he continues to run the estate to this day.<br /> <br /> The vines at Montebaco sit at about 3,000 feet above sea level, high on the dusty plains above the river. The high altitude provides a natural buffer against the heat of the long and hot continental summer, allowing the grapes to hang on the vine well into October and yet retain a bright acid structure and a fresh feel. The gravel base of the alluvial soil provides excellent drainage for the old vines planted there. The local clone of Tempranillo, called Tinto Fino, crafts wines that have more weight, depth and perfume than their cousins from Rioja to the west. Chemicals have never been used on these soils, and all harvesting is done by hand.<br /> <br /> It is in the sparkling, state-of-the-art winery where the modern world catches up to the old, dry-farmed vineyards. No expense was spared in the creation of a world-class winemaking facility. The grapes are gently de-stemmed and pressed by pneumatic presses that are more common to Burgundy than to Iberia. The wines are fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks before they are transferred to French and American oak barrels. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered with only a minimal sulphur treatment for stabilization.<br /> <br /> The wines are crafted under the watchful eye of César Muñoz, one of Spain's hottest winemakers. In addition to stints at Vega Sicilia and many of the other luminaries of Spanish wine, César has consulted on projects all across the Southern Hemisphere. César's style is like that of a middle-weight prize fighter: his wines are bold, beautiful and balanced, neither too heavy and plodding like a ham-handed heavyweight nor too light and thin like a skin-and-bones flyweight.<br /> <br /> The results are wines that reach to all segments of wine lovers. They are agile enough for those that crave soft Euro-styled wines and yet rich and spicy enough to satisfy the American palate.<br /> <br /> The <strong>2007 Montebaco Verdejo</strong> is crafted from old bush vines of Verdejo grown in the sandy soils of Rueda. It is fermented in stainless steel at cool temperatures and sees no oak in the <I>elevage.</I> Often Rueda is thin and sharp and simple with notes of citrus and perhaps a floral note if you are lucky, but this version is elegant and fresh and yet full through the mid-palate before a wave of cream and apples play out on a very long finish. An interesting mix of floral, tree fruit and cream notes that was seamless and timeless.<br /> <br /> What followed was the <strong>2005 Montebaco Ribera del Duero Crianza</strong> which spent 15 months in French Oak after being fermented in stainless steel. Rich, seductive and inviting like a cashmere sweater on a cold Winter's day, the 2005 Crianza is plush, fruit forward and full-bodied with a fine earthy edge that is reminiscent of scorched earth and leather. The high elevation of the vines also provides a fresh feel and balancing acidity without sacrificing any weight or fruit along the way. There is much conjecture as to what is "traditional" Tempranillo and what is considered more modern, and while I would not suggest that this falls into the old ways of making dried out and thin styles of the grape by imprisoning the wine in oak for extended sentences, it can not be called a fruit bomb either. Perhaps the best of both worlds?<br /> <br /> Last but certainly not least was the <strong>2004 Montebaco Ribera del Duero <em>Vendemmia Seleccionada</em></strong> a wine culled from 60+ year-old vines on the Montebaco estate. It is only made in the very best of vintages when Mother Nature is cooperative and the grapes have reached their peak levels of maturity. After 16 months in new French Oak the wine spends a further 22 months in bottle before being released from the winery. The nose is at once delicate yet powerful, expressive yet demure, floral and fruity and earthy and a whole bunch of other things! But it is not until this wine hits your lips that the true magic happens: layered, intense, rich and rewarding, with hints of chewy dark fruit, cocoa, and floral elements the mid-palate is plush and full. The finish seems to go on forever, all with an element of dark earth, leather and a faint note of ashes from a campfire. A delicious and approachable wine that has nothing but room to grow into it's brawny frame.<br /> <br /> Spain is considered a hotbed for great values, and during these tough economic times wine lovers everywhere are searching for the next great $11 bottle of wine. But don't forget that value can be found in all price points if one only know where to look. The wines of Bodegas Montebaco offer a mix of quality and consistency that far outpaces many wines from California in the same price range. And at the end of the day, if we must spend our money somewhere, isn't it always best to get more than what you paid for?, 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Soter Vineyards<br /><br />Change is a good thing. In life, if we are not constantly seeking out new challenges we become complacent and bored. In love, if we do not continue to surprise and impress our significant other we lose the spark in our relationships. In business, if we do not strive for the highest achievements possible we lose our drive and determination. It is important to try something new each and every day because without something new the every day turns into the every month and eventually the every year and then our lives are gone in the blink of an eye.<br /> <br /> The same can be said about wine. Many people seek out not the <I>best</I> wine, but the <I>newest</I> wine. Wine lovers are bombarded each and every day with a new wine, or a new region, or perhaps even a new varietal with which to tempt our senses. But change need not come at the expense of quality as evidenced by the wonderful wines of Tony Soter and <B>Soter Vineyards.</B> Tony has proven time and again that it is possible to change and adapt and to find new challenges and yet still retain the high level of quality that his wines are famous for. He has also proven that you <I>can</I> go home again. <br /> <br /> Tony Soter was a fixture in Napa Valley from almost three decades. A native of Oregon, Tony settled in Napa in 1975 and worked for numerous wineries and vineyard management companies in an effort to learn as much as possible about the science of making wine. In 1982 Tony started a winery called Etude (which means 'study' in French) in an effort to create balanced and harmonious wines from some of the premier vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties. In addition Tony acted as a consulting winemaker to some of the true luminaries of California wine: Spottswoode, Chappellet, Araujo and many others. <br /> <br /> Life in Napa was good. Etude was known throughout the wine world for elegant and balanced Cabernets, Chardonnays and most especially Pinot Noir. Tony's love affair with this particular grape was already in full bloom. "Pinot Noir is the most appropriate vehicle with which to study wine growing," explains Tony, "precisely because of its demanding nature but also because of its delicacy and transparency." He had even met and married a fellow Oregonian named Michelle. He had hit a home run in winemaking terms- a winery that was well known and had a huge following but still small enough to ensure that quality was the number one priority.<br /> <br /> But the siren song of the hills of Oregon rang true in Tony's soul, and in 1997 he purchased a spot of land near the town of Yamhill on the north end of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Willamette sits in a rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Coast Range Mountains to the west. It also lays at the 45th parallel of latitude, just about on par with Burgundy some 6,000 miles to the east. The result is a region that has long summers of moderate temperatures, very little rain before October, and a stable growing environment. Each of these elements on its own would be good for growing quality Pinot Noir, but add them all together and the result is almost a perfect environment for the fickle grape. <br /> <br /> Crafting great Pinot Noir is not without its challenges in terms of production. "The thin skin of Pinot makes it prone to sun burn when hot and rot when wet," says Tony. But it certainly helps to have a half of a lifetime in experience and expertise, an area where Tony feels that knowledge can separate the good grapes from the bad: "I always think the hardest challenges are in the field growing the finest grapes possible given the seasonal variable that mother nature throws at you. We are always trying to balance the conflicting goals of stress management. Smaller, somewhat stressed vines make the best wines. On the other hand a vine that experiences premature or excessive stress will abandon the role of maturing fruit in an attempt to protect its permanent parts for survival. The keys are recognizing signs of stress and its degree and timing. Footsteps in the vineyard are the essentials of success."<br /> <br /> And so Soter Vineyards was born, always with crafting the greatest Pinot Noir possible as the primary goal. The first vineyard was a piece of land called Beacon Hill, so named for the lighthouse that sits at the head of the vineyard. The quick draining alluvial soil lead to less leaf and shoot production from the vine, thus forcing the plant to focus all of its energies on fruit production. Though the results from the Beacon Hill vineyard were quite impressive, Tony knew that he could do better, so in 2001 he purchased a property just to the north of Beacon Hill called Mineral Springs. This site is both the present and future of Soter Vineyards, as in 2005 Tony sold the Beacon Hill property to focus on the vast potential that is Mineral Springs.<br /> <br /> The first order of business after acquiring Mineral Springs was to set the winery in order. A barn dating back to 1943 which sat on the property was given a complete transformation into a modern winemaking facility, all to Tony's exacting specifications. No expense (for a barn, at least!) was spared in the rehabilitation. State of the art equipment including a mechanized bottling line as well as a small lab for wine analysis were installed in the old barn. Two caves were dug into the hillside nearby to house the barrels of wine after harvest. Only the finest barrels of French Oak and stainless steel were brought to the property. <br /> <br /> The quality control spills over into the vineyards as well, as Tony believes in strict control over the grapes, the leaf canopy and ultimately the yields. Less than two tons of grapes per acre are harvested by hand before given a strict sorting on the <I>tirage</I> table. The Mineral Springs vineyard is almost unique in the world of winemaking: Instead of many dips and valleys Mineral Springs consists of one gentle slope that stretches along a ridge from east to west. The vines face due south to catch the optimum amount of sun throughout the course of the day. The soil is a pale sedimentary and alluvial wash which allows for adequate drainage.<br /> <br /> Tony also is committed to matching the appropriate vineyard with the correct clone of Pinot Noir. The Pinot family of gapes mutates very easily, and there are now over 200 different clones of Pinot Noir, and each brings a different quality to the table. Some grow with the great vigor, others provide more perfume to the resultant wine, and a skillful vineyard manager can ensure that she or he receives exactly what they want from the vines. As Tony describes it "There are not many clones that I would ever consider as magic bullets...which is to say that they are always successful in yielding complete wines vintage after vintage. That would stretch credibility. Having an array of clones is more than hedging bets on variables each season, however. The various clones have distinct personalities or voices and can bring a dimension to a blend that another clone is incapable of offering."<br /> <br /> The overall health of the vineyard plays a big role as well. The Mineral Springs vineyard is L.I.V.E. (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology) certified, a process in which certain practices are outlawed and certain others are mandatory, all in an effort to create the healthiest vines possible. No pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are used within the vineyard. Tony plants beans, peas and other legumes in between the rows of vines as a means to "fix" the nitrogen content in the soil. Tony and Michelle's children have been known to wander through the rows of vines sampling the ripe grapes straight off of the shoots. This is not a place for chemicals.<br /> <br /> In addition to fantastic Pinot Noirs Tony also crafts a dry rosé and an unbelievable Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Noir that we affectionately call <I>Soter Pop.</I> Don't let the name fool you- this is a serious and dry sparkling wine that would give many Champagne's a run for their money. The grapes used hail from some of the best blocks of the Beacon Hill vineyard. The wine spends at least three years on the lees gaining in richness and complexity before an incredibly low <I>dosage</I> of only 7 grams of residual sugar per liter is added to jump start the secondary fermentation.<br /> <br /> Ultimately, all wines are judged by the company they keep, and the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in which Soter Vineyards sits is a hotbed of exciting Pinot producers: Lynne Penner Ash, Patricia Green and Ken Wright all craft great Pinots from these rolling hills at the north end of the Willamette. But what exactly is it that sets Tony's wines apart from the rest? Perhaps we should let Tony answer that question: "These other producers do not make wines from Beacon Hill or Mineral Springs. So what most sets them apart are their specific origins and the distinctiveness of character of our estate grown vines. The same could be said for the many single vineyard wines represented by these other producers. I count these three as friends and I admire their work yet I make many decisions along the way that distinguish our wines from theirs. These are my convictions expressed as acts of creation. Some people would judge that some of these wines are "better or worse".... while this may be true in some eyes the opposite is likely held by someone else. What all can agree upon is that the wines are distinct and not likely to be confused... both because of the land they come from and the hands they are made from.<br /> <br /> "People say our wines have a finely crafted quality.... like a good piece of woodwork with a finely fitted finish. To do so little to the wines and have them seem well finished might sound like a challenge but it is mostly about a few good actions and a lot of patience."<br /> <br /> The <B>2003 Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir</B> is a beautiful example of domestic sparkling wine. Made in the <I>Methode Champenoise</I> and given a very modest dosage of 7 grams per liter, this is a dry and lithe wine with lots of fruit and spice. Aromas that range from peach blossom to fragrant raspberries linger above the glass like the first whiff of the lilac tree in my backyard come springtime. The palate is fresh and vibrant, with a clean feel of red fruits and a certain spicy note. Bracing acidity washes through on the finish. Overall this wine has just a touch more weight than your average sparkler, more Morlet than Chiquet, but a delicious wine nonetheless.<br /> <br /> In addition to his single-vineyard wines Tony also crafts a Pinot called the North Valley. The <B>2006 Soter Vineyards North Valley Pinot</B> is a blend of Pinots from both Estate-grown fruit and also grapes purchased from some of Tony's esteemed neighbors. All vineyard management is conducted to Tony's exacting specifications including green harvests, hand selection of berries and very low yields. The result is a wine that is light to medium in body but full of bright red fruit and a long note of spice on the finish. The mid-palate holds considerable weight and a pleasant creamy note before a wash of bright acidity starts the mouth to water. The finish is fresh and clean.<br /> <br /> The <B>2006 Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir <I>Mineral Springs Vineyard</I></B> is just a lovely expression of Pinot Noir. The nose is absolutely beautiful, with wave after wave of perfume, cola, spice, earth, woodsmoke and rich black fruit go drifting in and out of my sense memory. Soft and silky on the tongue, this wine holds that ethereal quality that is the calling card of a great Pinot Noir- it is neither heavy nor light, neither thin nor fat, but instead a little of everything, with an unmistakable richness dancing hand in hand with a spirited grace. The dexterity of Fred Astaire mixed with the beauty of Audrey Hepburn and doused with a generous dose of J-Lo-like passion. Rich dark fruits, mouthwatering acidity, tongue-coating glycerin- you name it, this wine has it all!<br /> <br /> Pinot is not easy, but neither is leaving the home you know for a new challenge. Like many things, the reward for success is far greater than the pain of failure. In that spirit I hope you try a bottle of Tony's wines. You owe it to yourself to try something new., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Gaston Chiquet<br /><br />This article could also be titled "How Veuve Clicquot and Moët and Chandon almost ruined Champagne," by One Very Biased Individual. In the 1970s and 1980s Champagne had reached its lowest point- sales were sluggish, the name of Champagne no longer held the same respect or admiration that it had carried since the 1600s when a certain monk put bubbles into a certain wine. Even the <I>Grand Marques</I> or Great Houses of Champagne were struggling. But they had no one to blame but themselves. There was no competition in Champagne other than the big houses, and thus no desire or reason to produce quality wines. Grapes were harvested from all over the region and transported to gigantic factories for processing. Wines were blended in big vats and thrown into bottle with hardly a care towards individuality or vintage variation. The treatment of the soil bordered on inhumane. The wines were made with only one attribute in mind: profitability. <br /> <br /> Fast forward a few decades, and even though very little has changed in the production methods of the big houses Champagne is a celebrity again. Much of this is due to the very clever marketing of the Champagne brand by the Grand Marques as a product of the affluent, to be enjoyed by famous people in famous situations. An elixir of the rich, something to be cherished and envied. Women want him and men want to be him. <br /> <br /> But what does this have to do with wine?<br /> <br /> Vueve Clicquot produces 1.4 million cases per year of their yellow label Champagne. Feuillate, Moët, Duval-Leroy and Perrier-Jouët have tanker trucks to transport their, ahem, product from one place to another. It is impossible for a wine to be produced in such large quantities from a sleepy little vineyard on a hill next to the winery. The result is that grapes are brought in from all over the Champagne region. Some companies even use finished wines which they blend to create their "house style," a term used to denote a blended wine which they very proudly claim tastes the way that they intended it.<br /> <br /> The result of all this artful muddling is a wine that lacks individuality, or character, or any semblance of variation due to atmosphere, terroir or style. In essence they have removed all possibility of individual expression in an effort to create a product that tastes exactly the same from one year to the next.<br /> <br /> I know of another product made in this fashion: Budweiser. Now, don't get me wrong- I like Budweiser. I can drink a Bud now or ten years from now and know that it will taste exactly the same. It tastes <I>fine.</I> I don't have to think about it. It is cold comfort after a long hot day. But is it the greatest product of its kind in the world, a beer to be touted by the elite and envied by the masses? Hardly.<br /> <br /> Noted wine guru Terry Thiesse had a great analogy: Imagine if one of the greatest and most famous winemakers in the world presented you with a new wine (in this case he used Marcel Guigal- one of the world's finest and certainly a master of wine from the Rhône Valley). Now imagine Mr. Guigal told you that this new wine was a blend from all over the Rhône Valley, and that it did not matter if the wine hailed from the famous regions of Hermitage and the Côte Rôtie, or from the scrublands and scree-covered hills that produced more paint thinner than wine. Now imagine that Mr. Guigal wanted to convince you that neither the vintage nor the grape varieties involved made any difference in the final product whatsoever, and that through his skill he would produce a wine that tasted the same every year, regardless of quality of vineyard or vine. Scary, huh?<br /> <br /> Thankfully there is a growing movement in the world of Champagne- that of the <I>Recoltant Manipulant</I> or the Grower-Producer. These are small, family-run estates that believe in the qualities of the grape, and of the soil, and of making the finest <I>wine</I> possible instead of a Champagne that lives on the virtues of its name and nothing else. They own their land, they tend their grapes, they lovingly care for them and coax them into their greatest expressions just as many of the finest winemakers do all over the world. They want their wines to taste of the land and of the soil from whence they came, to sing of their home in loving terms instead of having their voices muted by blending, complacency and indifference. They are in essence <I>hand-made</I>, and they come from a farmer and not a factory.<br /> <br /> One of the greatest of the Grower-Producers is the house of <B>Gaston Chiquet</B>. The Chiquet family first planted grapes in the Champagne region in 1746, though it wasn't until 1935 that Gaston Chiquet crafted his own wine. Today the estate stretches over 22 hectares of vines in the villages of Dizy, Aÿ and Maureil in the Vallee de la Marne area of central Champagne. Aÿ is home to Grand Cru vines of both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and was the favored wine of King Henry IV, while Maureil is known for producing some of the finest Pinot Noir in France. These villages boast some of the most famous vineyards in all of the Champagne region, and it would be just as blasphemous to blend away the virtues of their soils as it would to mix grapes from Oakville with those grown in Oklahoma. <br /> <br /> Though considered large by Grower-Producer standards, Gaston Chiquet produces just over 10,000 cases a year total of several different cuvées. Today the house is headed by Nicolas Chiquet, and though they have modernized the facilities, there is always an eye on the past. "Our essential goal is to maintain the quality requirements we have inherited," proclaims their website. "The techniques improved, the tradition remains."<br /> <br /> After numerous green harvests the grapes are collected by hand. They undergo a rigorous inspection on the <I>tirage</I> table so that only the finest grapes make it into the vats where they are pressed very slowly and gently. At least 90% of each wine produced by the Chiquets is sourced from free-run juice. Once in barrel the wines are kept in small lots to preserve a larger selection for the final wines. Malolactic fermentation is controlled by temperature and used only when deemed strategically necessary. The wines undergo a long, slow rest on the lees in order to add richness and complexity. In short, they are crafted to be the finest <I>wines</I> in the world, and it just so happens that they also are some of the finest <I>Champagnes</I> in the world.<br /> <br /> The <B>Gaston Chiquet Brut N.V. <I>Tradition</I></B> is a fine expression of what a "basic" Champagne should be: linear and detailed yet suave and sophisticated. There is no one part that stands out so far as to overshadow any other. A gentle fruitiness flows forth from the Meunier while high-toned acidity swings in from the Chardonnay before a long and sturdy finish swings into high gear from the Pinot Noir. The wine is silky and smooth, yet the mousse seems as crisp and clean as a fresh morning in early March.<br /> <br /> A word about the term "Brut" and its use in the world of Champagne: Many of the Grower-Producers tend to use less sugar in their <I>dossage</I> (if they use any!) and in general their wines will always seem a little more crisp and vibrant than those of the big houses. Though this is not always the case, one will often find more bright acidity in these wines, so lower dossage or not the resulting Champagnes will seem "dry." Generalizations are hard, but bear in mind that up to 15 grams/liter of residual sugar is permitted in the dossage, so that a wine with 10 grams of r.s. and low acidity will always seem sweeter and fruitier than one with 9 grams but brighter acidity. However, many wines from the small growers will seem just as full and flush with fruit and in better balance due to the use of healthier grapes, better vineyards and longer stays on the lees.<br /> <br /> Another real treat was the <B>Gaston Chiquet Brut N.V. Blanc de Blancs d'Aÿ</B>. Sourced entirely from Grand Cru vineyards planted in 1935 by Nicolas' Grandfather Gaston, and though it is a Non Vintage all of the fruit is sourced from the much-heralded summer of 2004. If colors turned to wine this would be a palette of light greens and silver dotted with the whites and purples of spring flowers. Just a well-made expression of what fine Chardonnay can taste like if you get all the oak and butter out of the way. Fresh and fragrant, the wine positively danced on the palate with hints of fresh citrus, chamomile and racy green apples. The finish was long and lovely, and though I would like to see where this wine ends up in a couple of years, it is drinking wonderfully right now. Bring me some oysters, stat!<br /> <br /> The <B>2000 Gaston Chiquet Vintage Brut</B> was a lesson in what fine Champagne tastes like when it is on the way up. This wine will do nothing but get better in bottle for years to come, but as it stands now it is a rich and broad wine with a fine mix of young Champagne notes (citrus zest, fine herbs and white flowers mixed with fresh acidity that tingles and refreshes the palate) along with heavier notes that speak to the length of time on the lees. Notes of smoke, roasted almonds and a touch of caramel suggest this will someday bring an amazing array of secondary and tertiary notes along with zippy acidity and long finish. <br /> <br /> Finally there was the <B>1999 Gaston Chiquet Brut <I>Special Club</I></B>. Ahh, what can one say about perfection? In my years of drinking Champagne there is only one other wine that I can say bested this beauty, and that was a bottle of Krug 1988, a wine that had ten years more age and required $200 more retail than the Chiquet. Dom, La Grande Dame, Sir Winston Churchill and Cristal- put them all in a blind tasting with this wine and they will be blown away. It was just <I>that</I> good. A blend of 70% Chardonnay from the Grand Crus of Aÿ and 30% Pinot Noir from the should be Grand Crus of Maureil, this boasted a haunting perfume of rose and iris mixed with aromas of ripe apricots, spicy quince and orange marmelade. The palate was clear and focused and offered incredible grace, charm and beauty considering the seemingly endless amount of flavors that drifted in and out of my sense memory. Very little of the Special Club wines make it to U.S. soil, but if you can find this wine you will be amazed, I promise!<br /> <br /> The Special Club is a consortium of Grower-Producers which was created in the 1970's to show to the world that the small houses could make wines every bit as good as the top of the line cuvées from the Grand Marques. Only the best wines from each Grower is submitted to the tasting panel, which is by no means a rubber stamp of approval. If you make it past their rigorous selection the wine will be given the Special Club packaging in which a more rotund bottle is adorned with the name and label of the Special Club, all of which resides in a green box. Only on the center of the label will the name of the Grower and vintage be listed. After trying several of these wines I can attest to the quality of these wines, and I recommend them in the strongest terms possible as they are amazing examples of Champagne at a fraction of the cost of their more famous brethren from the Grand Marques.<br /> <br /> Though the word is out about Grower-Producer Champagnes they are still fighting an uphill battle. Though their market share in the U.S. has risen from just 0.62% in 1997 to almost 7% of all Champagne sales now, too many people purchase the large brands because they <I>know</I> the name and are familiar with the label. Too often cases of Dom Perignon are sold during the holidays to be given away as gifts because the recipient will know how much the gift giver spent on that bottle of wine. I say hogwash! Would you rather eat Chef Boyardee because you <I>know</I> the name? Would you rather give your boss or a trusted client a gift that says that you foolishly spent a lot of money on something, or would you rather give them a profound and beautiful bottle of wine at one half the price?, 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Jean-Marc Brocard<br /><br />There are a lot of things that go into being a great winemaker: skill, determination, hard work, luck... the list goes on and on. But what is the one thing that is more important than any other when it comes to being a successful vigneron and crafting fine wines? Give up? How about grapes? Certainly you can't make a great wine without a few ripe grapes to begin with. While this may seem silly since we can now find wines from all fifty states in the union as well as from the four corners of the globe, for <B>Jean-Marc Brocard</B> grapes weren't always easy to come by.<br /> <br /> Jean-Marc was born into a very modest existence in a small village called Chaudenay-le-Château in the famed Côte d'Or of Burgundy, perhaps the most famous and best wine growing region in the world. Jean-Marc's father was a farmer, and at that time just as it is today, the land was very expensive and grapes were very difficult to come by. Only the famed families of Burgundy who had done so for generations were able to craft wines from the gentle slopes and chalky soils that made Burgundy such a perfect spot for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A sort of economic caste system kept the fortune with the fortunate and the farmers in the fields. <br /> <br /> But as we all know there are a few things in life that operate outside of boundaries and are free from restrictions such as age, race, religion, sex and social status, and one of those is the human heart. Jean-Marc had fallen in love with a girl from a little town in Chablis, the most northerly wine-growing area of Burgundy. His childhood sweetheart Claudine happened to be the daughter of a vigneron in Chablis by the name of Emile Petit. As a wedding present to the young couple, Emile bestowed upon them one hectare of vines (about 2.5 acres) near the Church of Sainte Clair, and in 1972 Domaine Brocard was born.<br /> <br /> From the very first vintage in 1973 Jean-Marc set out to create a wine that was true to the unique qualities, history and tradition of Chablis. Jean-Marc spent countless hours with the old vignerons of Chablis in an effort to master his new craft, and to learn the nuances of the vine. These men, the <I>old guard</I> as it were, gave Jean-Marc a unique perspective on how to approach the vine. He learned that he needed to respect the old traditions as well as the natural world in which they were implemented. He learned that great winemaking could be achieved only through the balance of the old and the new, the natural and the mechanical, and the physical and the spiritual.<br /> <br /> In the time since Domaine Brocard has grown from one hectare of vines to over one hundred. Jean-Marc sources from some of the very oldest and most famous vineyards in Chablis, an area long known to be the favorite of French Kings and aristocrats as well as the everyday public alike. His connection to the land and to nature have always been at the forefront of his winemaking style, perhaps as a tribute to the farming heritage in his blood. Through this Jean-Marc uses no pesticides, herbicides or fungicides in his vineyards. They have been certified organic since 2004 and most are farmed using biodynamic principals as well.<br /> <br /> "Our policy is to encourage the natural auto-immune system of the vine," says Jean-Marc in reference to the lack of chemicals in the vineyards. "Ploughing replaces herbicides and a good dose of well-rotted cow manure encourages the natural microbial activity of the soil." Contrary to popular belief the vines have actually become healthier <I>and</I> more disease resistant in the time that they have been farmed organically. <br /> <br /> The land that the grapes are sourced from is heavy with chalk, limestone and fossilized oyster shells, a type of soil called <I>Kimmeridgian.</I> This unique soil condition is named for a stage of the late Jurassic period some 150 million years ago. During the last ice age a glacier came barreling (at least in geologic terms) through this area, and the weight of the glacier forced to the surface an ancient sea floor from the Kimmeridgian era that had long been covered by soil and rock. This unique soil is what has made Burgundy the world famous wine region that it is today, a fact that is not lost on the Brocard family.<br /> <br /> "The truth of wine lies in the soil where it has grown," says Jean-Marc's son Julien who is now the vineyard manager for the Domaine. "The technique is an important factor in the wine growing but it is only an aid, the wine is essentially a product of its soil." <br /> <br /> It is through this philosophy that Jean-Marc chooses to harvest and vinify separately each parcel of vines with which he works so that the true expression of the soil and its affect on the vines may be put on display. He also uses no oak whatsoever either in the fermentation or aging periods of the winemaking process. Again, the intent is to put the amazing fruit and soil of Chablis on a pedestal for all the world to see the clarity, nuance and complexity found within. <br /> <br /> This is not to say that Jean-Marc is afraid of technology or modernization, as he was the first winemaker in Chablis to use mechanical harvesting as a means to bring the fruit into the winery as fast as possible to preserve their fresh qualities. In 1980 a sparkling new winery was built near the little church of Sainte Claire and since then only the most cutting edge of technologies have been implemented in the facility.<br /> <br /> Today the name Jean-Marc Brocard graces several offerings from various regions in Burgundy, from the bright and fresh Sauvignon Blancs from the town of Saint-Bris to the heavy and rich Chardonnays from the Côte d'Or. But it is in his bottlings from Chablis that I find the true spirit and tradition of his wines. There are many offerings to choose from, as Jean-Marc now owns a wide range of vineyards from Grand Cru to Village wines. He even has bottled wines according to the sign of the Zodiac at their time of harvest, as well as a line of wines named <I>Extreme, Sensual and Mineral</I> to denote the style of Chablis that those vineyards produce. While we certainly do not have space or the resources here to review every wine, I recommend the wines from Jean-Marc at any time that you may be looking for a quality example of Burgundy that is true to the style of wines that have made the name <I>Chablis</I> famous for centuries.<br /> <br /> The <B>2007 Sauvignon de St. Bris</B> was a classic example of what high-toned and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc can taste like if it is not killed by New Zealand-style herbaceousness or California-esque tropical fruit. Lemony and fresh, with a light floral note on the nose and a richer than expected mouth feel.<br /> <br /> Another wine that fits squarely into the value category is the <B>2006 Kimmeridgian Chardonnay</B> which may be labeled for the American market, but this is a wine that certainly has kept its old-world charm. Lemons, peaches and spices race through a concentrated mid-palate. A very nice bottle of white burgundy, and a great introduction to this style of wine.<br /> <br /> The <B>2005 Petite Chablis</B> was a rich and round example of the grape, with just enough minerality to keep it from feeling too modern. The lack of oak used in the Brocard wines really allows the essence of the Chardonnay to flow through. The fruit is rich and open, and provides enough weight for any Chardonnay lover without the feeling that oak and butter are the only attributes of the wine. Another well-made wine that is not expensive by Burgundian standards.<br /> <br /> More of a challenging and interesting wine was the <B>2006 Chablis Vieilles Vignes</B>, a selection from some of the oldest vines on the Brocard estate. Aromas that ranged from orange peel to subtle white flowers to white peach and spices led to a palate that was at once bold, racy, rich and harmonious. The wine seemed to have an ethereal weight to it that defied description, almost as if it were feathery light and dense at the same time. A backbone of high acidity ran through the wine from beginning to the very long finish, and I cannot imagine anything better than a bottle of this and a plate of raw oysters. Except maybe Champagne, but what would one expect from Chablis which is closer to Reims than Dijon?<br /> <br /> Less than 25 cases of the <B>2003 Chablis Grand Cru <I>Bougros</I></B> made it to U.S. soil, but what a wine indeed. Obviously the weight in this wine is a product of the vintage, but also from the old vines and low pH soil from which this wine was sourced. Quince, Meyer lemon and honeydew aromas lead to a palate that had clover honey, orange marmalade and baked apples riding a wave of creamy fruit in the mid-palate before the long and gloriously ripe finish began to manifest itself. One would swear this were oaked if you didn't know that Brocard doesn't use any, but since he doesn't I am amazed at the richness and complexity that this wine provides.<br /> <br /> Another wine to keep an sharp eye out for was the <B>2003 Chablis Grand Cru <I>Les Clos</I></B> which carried all the weight of the 2003 Bougros but remained a little more racy and citrusy in the mid-palate. An obvious choice with more full-bodied dishes such as Dover sole or even roast chicken, this wine could probably hold its own against just about any fare. Minerals and apples were the most prevalent notes, but also touches of pears, cream, mango and a little herbal essence added depth and complexity to this wonderful wine. I believe it to be far from its peak now, as some of the acidity is only barely starting to fade, but with a wine this flavorful why wait?<br /> <br /> Finally the <B>2006 Chablis Grand Cru <I>Les Clos</I></B> was big and rich, but 100% Chablis with racy minerality and acidity and a touch of high-octane saltiness that just begs for shellfish. An unbelievable blend of texture, weight and balance, this to me is Chardonnay at its finest.<br /> <br /> There are few values in Burgundy, a region that has been famous for wine since the Roman times, but every once in a while we find a producer whose wines far outshine their price point. I believe Jean-Marc Brocard to be one such producer, and through his hard work and his desire to remain true to the traditions and soil of Burgundy he has crafted wines that are worthy of the title Grand Cru. And with these and many other great wines at your disposal, finding one should be a heck of a lot easier than saying <I>kimmeridgian.</I>, 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Orin Swift Cellars<br /><br /><I>"He's the man, the man with the Midas touch."</I> With apologies to Shirley Brassey for the lyrics and Ian Flemming for the inspiration, Dave Phinney of <B>Orin Swift Cellars</B> is the new Goldfinger. Not in the creepy, German-accented, trying to take over the world sort of way, but in the sense that everything he touches turns to gold. Take for instance the latest Orin Swift creation <B>Papillon</B>, a Bordeaux-styled blend sourced from Vince Tofanelli's famous vineyard on the north end of Napa Valley. Perhaps never before have we seen such a perfect storm of quality grapes, expert winemaking and slick packaging. <br /> <br /> <I>Packaging</I> you ask? Yeah, that's right I said packaging. Now before all of you wine purists out there start slamming your mouse in disgust for the mere mention that something as trivial as packaging could play a role in the overall popularity of a wine, remember that 27% of all wine is purchased without knowing a single thing about the contents inside the bottle. Be it on the recommendation of the server, a wine dude or a friend we often grab wines that we are unfamiliar with. Even more often we reach for a wine based solely on the <I><B>gasp</I></B> label art. It is a common fact that in the last ten years there has been an explosion in the research and development budgets of wineries, but not just for developing better wines, or for researching more suitable vineyard locations, but in the R & D of label art.<br /> <br /> Wine consumers today are faced with a vast array of wines from hundreds of grape varieties grown from all over the planet. They may be sold by country, region, town, grape variety, style or even a fictitious proprietary name. Some wine stores have grown to the size of Wal-Marts, with thousands of choices lining what seem like endless rows of vino. So the consumer is naturally drawn to the label that stands out, one that catches the eye or grabs the attention like a great bottle of burgundy. Here Phinney is at the top of his game.<br /> <br /> But as they say, the proof is in the pudding, and a great label may reel you in for a sample, but only a truly superb bottle of wine will have you hooked for a lifetime. Sure the packaging of the Orin Swift wines is awesome, with incredible labels adorning heavy-gauge glass bottles that just scream of quality, but it is the profound nature of the wines that continues to draw fans back like a moth to the flame.<br /> <br /> Papillon may not be a wine that you are familiar with, in part because production was low and demand through the roof. However, Orin Swift Cellars also makes a little wine called <I>The Prisoner.</I> You may have heard of it. Just in case you haven't, and you simply aren't <I>anyone</I> if you haven't, it is a hedonistic blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, a Kitchen Sink, Grenache and a steering wheel from a '68 'Cuda. Just kidding with the "anyone" comment, but I must say in all my years in the wine industry I have never come across a wine that has developed such a buzz about it so quickly, so completely and so justifiably at the mid-$30's price point that The Prisoner commands. $37 wines just don't have customers lining up to buy cases of them. People buy cases of Two Buck Chuck and Black Cat Riesling, not a $37 red blend from Napa that was practically unknown until a couple of years ago.<br /> <br /> But what else would you expect from a guy that convinced his professor to let him grow grapes in Tuscon? Phinney got his start in the wine industry after spending a semester studying abroad in Florence. His roommate at the time suggested he try his hand at wine since the unseemly side of politics didn't appeal to Phinney's laid back nature. When he returned from Florence to the University of Arizona where he was studying Political Science at the time, he immediately began working in a wine shop, and spent the next year growing grapes in the desert.<br /> <br /> After graduation came a stint at Robert Mondavi Winery, where Phinney gladly started at the bottom staining barrels, cleaning bins, and proudly working "as the only white guy on an all-Mexican night shift crew. It was hard work, but we had a blast," says Phinney. Stints at Whitehall Lane and Bennett Lane followed, but during all this Phinney had quietly started making wine on his own under the moniker Orin Swift, combining his Grandfather's first name with his Mother's maiden name. <br /> <br /> The first two vintages, 1998 and 1999 he made Zinfandel and Cabernet, but it was not until 2000 that his claim to fame was born. As many know, 2000 was not the greatest vintage in California. Cool and rainy weather took away some of the weight and ripeness that Phinney looked for in his wines. He found, however, that he could still find quality fruit from some of the more esoteric varietals such as Syrah, Petite Sirah and Charbono. Phinney knew he did not want to make several mediocre wines from each variety, so instead he used only the best fruit to create the first <I>Prisoner.</I> Success came quickly, but production remained low since Phinney was committed to only creating wine from the best possible vines he could. "The demand was there," he explained. "But if we can't find that quality of fruit we just won't make it."<br /> <br /> Over the years The Prisoner has gone from small-batch cult wine to a nationwide phenomenon. Production is still relatively low and demand high, so it is never available year round. Thankfully, Phinney dutifully releases the next vintage of The Prisoner each year on Halloween, and the latest vintage had fans of Orin Swift wines whipped into a veritable frenzy searching for the reproduction of Francisco Goya's <I>The Little Prisoner</I> which adorns the label. <br /> <br /> Orin Swift Cellars is hardly a one trick pony, and over the years Phinney has also created a rich and robust Cabernet called <I>Mercury Head</I>, the aforementioned <I>Papillon</I> and a Sauvignon Blanc called <I>Veladora</I>. Through it all he has remained focused more on the quality of his fruit than on any one specific place in Napa Valley. This is not to say that Phinney doesn't completely believe in California terroir, a subject he jokingly calls "hokey," but he believes that the true quality of a vineyard can to a certain extent be controlled. "There are lots of subtle differences in making wine," explains Phinney. "But it is finding the vineyards, making sure that they are farmed properly, and knowing when to pick."<br /> <br /> "I just want the vineyards to make good wine." <br /> <br /> And good wines they do! The <B>2007 Veladora Sauvignon Blanc</B> is also sourced from Tofanelli's famous old-vine, dry-farmed vineyards located just a mile south of Calistoga on the north end of the Valley. This wine makes no apologies for its richness and unctuous feel, yet still offers harmony and fresh acidity along with the tropical fruit flavors and mineral nuance. The label features Our Lady of Guadalupe, better known as the Virgin Mary who appeared to a humble villager in 1531 just outside of what is now Mexico City. The proceeds for this wine go to an organization called Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors) which provides dental and health care services to the many migrant workers who toil away in the vineyards of California.<br /> <br /> The <B>2007 The Prisoner</B> is up to its usual standards, as wave after wave of rich, dark fruit mingles with notes of spice and dark chocolate. This is what I would call a "full-throttle" wine as it seems to hit the palate at break-neck speed, races around and around your mouth for what seems like 500 miles after you have swallowed, and leaves your taste buds in a wash of power, intensity and excitement. There are few wines that I have come across that are as crowd-pleasing as this one on such a grand scale. Young men like it, old ladies like it, even my Mom who only drinks Riesling likes it, though it is much closer in style to a dry and spicy Zin than anything with residual sugar.<br /> <br /> If you can find it <B>The 2006 Prisoner</B> was perhaps even bigger and bolder than this year's version. The chains on the Goya print that graces the front of the bottle could barely restrain the fruit and decadence of this chewy and savory red. Blackberry and Hershey's syrup run through the mid-palate, before a spice and herb-laden finish swings into the picture and hangs out for like a week.<br /> <br /> Another wine to keep an eye out for is the <B>2005 Papillon</B>, a bordeaux-styled blend that is out-of-control good. Primarily Cabernet, but all sourced from some of the oldest and grarliest vines on the Tofanelli estate, it is all the balance, structure and complexity one would expect from a deftly constructed blend of grapes grown by one of Napa's master craftsman. But there is one slight difference- better make that a huge difference- it is as if some one cranked the volume knob on this wine to well past ten. To like 27. It is just that big and jammy and juicy and enjoyable. It is also packaged in probably the heaviest glass bottle I have ever seen. If I were walking down a dark alley and someone tried to mug me I could simply drop this bottle on the would-be robber's foot. The label consists of a black and white photo of Vince Tofanelli's grape and mud smeared hands with the word Papillon written across his knuckles. There is nothing else to denote the wine or grape breakdown on the front of the bottle. The photo was taken by photographer of the stars Greg Gorman who has made his name by snapping black and whites of everyone from Al Pacino to Iggy Pop. Über-cool indeed.<br /> <br /> Last but not least is the <B>2005 Mercury Head Cabernet Sauvignon</B>. Made from 100% Cabernet sourced from two of the best vineyards in all of Napa (the Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford and the Taplin/Lewelling Vineyard in St. Helena) this is California Cab at its best. Big, rich and round, with gobs of red and black fruit, currant, cedar and complex notes that range from earthy (pencil lead and scorched earth) to leathery to smoky. Just a well made wine, and one that will stand the test of time. While the tannins are rich and luxurious now, a little time in the cellar will certainly only add detail to what is already a masterpiece. Another heavy bottle, the front is graced with a solitary Mercury Head dime as the only indicator to the riches that lay within. <br /> <br /> When asked what his secret was to winemaking, his response was as simple as his wines are delicious: "Spend more time in the vineyards." If it were only that easy everyone would make wines this good. Unfortunately they don't so grab these wines while you can., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Raventós i Blanc<br /><br />What a crazy thing that family is. Family is there for you when the highs are high and when the lows are unbearable. Family knows when you make a joke, or when you are not feeling well, or when you need either a swift kick or a broad shoulder to cry on, or perhaps both at the same time. Family is what allows us to shed our inhibitions and reach for the stars for we know that its loving embrace will be there to catch us should we falter. It is what drives us further, and faster, and batty-er than anything else out there, and without it we would be lost.<br /> <br /> Josep Pepé Raventós knows a thing or two about Family. He is the <I>L'Hereu</I> of the Raventós clan, a term that has many meanings: Inheritor, provider, proprietor. He is the captain of the Raventós ship, so to speak. As the eldest son of the Raventós family he is resposible for the direction of his family's winery. The quality of the wines, the success of the brand and the financial viability of the entire operation all rest on his shoulders. But it doesn't stop with just the day to day operations of the greatest Cava house in all of Spain. Pepé is also responsible for the finances of those in his family who are unable to work and for the children who have not yet found their way in the world. Quite a lot of responsibility for a man in his mid-thirties.<br /> <br /> Pepé would not have it any other way.<br /> <br /> Such is the determination and the drive, and ultimately the success of the Family Raventós. It all started in the early 1500s when Llorenc Codorniu settled on a particular patch of land in Sant Sadurní, an area located in Catalunya just to the west of Barcelona. This land was handed down generation to generation for centuries, first to those who carried the name Codorniu, and then to those who carried the name Raventós after Marie Anna Codorniu married Miguel Raventós in 1681. Seven generations later in 1872 a gentleman by the name of Josep Maria Raventós created the world's first Cava, and a dynasty was born.<br /> <br /> The success of Codorniu was fast and furious. The winery grew and fame and fortune followed, and through it all the Raventós name carried much weight in the region. Josep Raventós Blanc, grandfather to Pepé, was instrumental in the establishment of Cava as a D.O. as well as Catalunya as a quality wine-growing region. At last Cava was taken seriously. The region was famous, the wines were selling like hotcakes, and production at Codorniu grew to the point of straining the family winery. <br /> <br /> But through it all Josep Raventós Blanc was not satisfied. He longed for a small facility where he could craft wines of the highest distinction instead of on the large scale that Codorniu had become. And so in 1984 Josep Raventós Blanc and his son Manuel took the daring step to sell off their portion of the winery and the Codorniu empire, keeping only for themselves what they knew to be the very best vineyards on the estate. They then set about creating the finest winery that Spain had ever seen, with no expenses spared in terms of modern winemaking innovations.<br /> <br /> Just twenty days after the creation of the Raventós brand Josep Raventós Blanc died from a heart attack after wrestling with a large Marlin while fishing off of the coast of New Zealand. A sad but fitting end for a man who had fought all his life to do things his way. In the end it was not the fight with the Marlin but his exuberance and excitement after which proved his undoing. He merely wanted to run down the deck to tell his wife of his great triumph.<br /> <br /> His son Manuel continued on with the project in honor of his father's vision. The winery was completed, and what followed was the greatest Cava ever produced, and indeed some of the greatest sparkling wines in the world.<br /> <br /> Fast forward a generation. Manuel made very fine wines for two decades, but the winery was in financial ruin. It had been run like a corporation instead of like a family, and the result were delicious wines that were well known within Spain, but that were not ultimately profitable nor known on a world stage. In one of his first few acts as caretaker of the Raventós estate Manuel's son Pepé was forced to remove much of the management of the winery. A difficult decision to be sure, but Pepé knew that to be ultimately successful they needed to refocus their energies and to close ranks. Each member involved in the estate had to truly love and care about the wines produced, and once that moment arrived the world would know what wonders they could produce.<br /> <br /> What follows is a true success story. Raventós became a household name in Spain, and one synonymous with great sparkling wines throughout the world. In a recent ranking of the Top 50 restaurants in the world by <I>Restaurant Magazine</I> the wines of Raventós i Blanc were served at four of the top eight on the list, including Ferran Adriá's prestigious <I>El Bulli</I> in Spain, voted as the best restaurant in the world on numerous occasions. The wines can be found in 20 countries from as far away as Tokyo and Hong Kong to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station. <br /> <br /> There are only two wines in the world that have a long history of sparkling wine production by the Champagne Method using indigenous grape varieties grown in rocky, chalky soil high in limestone content- Champagne and Cava. It is through this exclusivity that serious Cava can be coaxed from the mix of climates found in Catalunya. The warm but moderate climate of the Mediterranean mixes with the hot but turbulent weather of the continent and a perfect harmony for grape production occurs.<br /> <br /> However, sometimes too much of a good thing turns into not such a good thing, as of the 20 million cases of Cava produced just a few hundred thousand cases are born from the smaller houses instead of the large Cava conglomerates. It is common for grape growers to sell their grapes to the big houses instead of producing their own wines. It is also common for the large houses to buy up grapes from all over the Cava-production region, thus ensuring a product devoid of <I>terroir, character</I> or <I>soul.</I><br /> <br /> But not at Raventós i Blanc. All the grapes are tended and harvested by hand. Yields are kept ridiculously low through green harvests and the use of native cereals and grains as cover crops to reduce the vigor of the soils. Raventós i Blanc does not chapitalize or acidify their wines, preferring instead to allow nature to create the wines and their resulting nuance instead of crafting wines to suit their needs. Raventós i Blanc is the only Cava house that grows, tends and harvests their grapes from their own property, ferments and vinifies their wines, and then sells them under their label. Think of them as a <I>Château</I> in the rolling hills of Catalunya, or better yet, the only <I>Recoltant Manipulant</I> of Cava to borrow a phrase from Champagne.<br /> <br /> And <I>Grower Producer</I> is not the only terminology lifted from Champagne. To hear Pepé speak of their Cavas is to hear of Champagne know how and innovation imbued with Spanish spirit and determination. One could close his eyes and listen and imagine that it is a farmer in Cuis or Mesnil that is doing the talking instead of a Spaniard from several leagues to the south. Only cane sugar is used in the liquer de tirage. A pneumatic press is used to gently extract the juice instead of the bitter tannins. The wines spend a disproportionate amount of time on the lees to add richness and complexity. Each of these techniques can be found in the very best of Champagne, but only the very few in Cava.<br /> <br /> In a testament to the quality of their soil and of their vines, Raventós i Blanc was the first winery in Catalunya to be certified by the Spanish government as wholly sustainable. Care is given to preserving the life force of the vineyard at every step along the way right down to using pheromones to confuse the bugs into not procreating as a means to control their population instead of using harmful pesticides and chemicals. <br /> <br /> In the end the result are wines of substance, of character, of charm, of grace and of spirit. Wines of uncommon richness, depth and complexity. They stand apart as wines that will challenge the best of Champagne, though with a spin all their own that the Macabeu, Xarel-lo and Parellada grapes provide. Raventós i Blanc only produces vintage wines, as they desire to present the subtle differences that each harvest brings to highlight the diversity of Mother Nature instead of masking it through blending. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2679">Raventós i Blanc Brut Cava Reserva L'Hereu 2005</a> spent over 20 months on the fine lees, evident in the richness and round feel that this wine possesses. By contrast a certain Champagne that sells at 3x the price and has an awful orange label only spends about 12 months on the lees. The aromas range from bright green apples to white flowers to hints of toffee and brulee. On the palate this wine is round and inviting with notes of lemon curd, refreshing apples and bright acidity above a creamy and incredibly long finish. At under $25 retail this wine qualifies as an absolute steal and is a great alternative to Champagnes that offer less quality at double or triple the price.<br /> <br /> An incredible wine, the <a href="/wines/2680">Raventós i Blanc Brut Cava Gran Reserva de la Finca 2003</a> seemed to have everything that one could want to have from a sparkling wine of any style or price point. This wine spends thirty-six months on the lees, an eternity in the world of sparkling wine. High end <I>Methode Champenoise</I> beware, the Gran Reserva was rich, broad and wonderful, with all the balance that one could hope for in such a full-bodied sparkling wine. Aromas of baked brioche, apple tart and espresso roast mingle with lighter notes of clover honey and wildflowers. The palate is expansive, but with pleasant splashes of acidity and a crisp feel before the long finish kicks into high gear. Truly a well-made sparkling wine.<br /> <br /> Though no tasting notes are provided hear, keep an eye out for the <B>Elisabet Raventós</B> named for Pepé's sister, and the <B>Reserva Personal Manuel Raventós</B> named for Pepé's father.<br /> <br /> The Raventós i Blanc logo is an oak tree surrounded by parentheses and topped with an accent mark. The oak signifies the 500 year-old oak tree that quietly guards the winery courtyard. The parentheses stand for the protection and care from the family, as one member or another of the Raventós clan has tended this tree since it was merely an acorn some five centuries past. And the accent reflects the action that is brought by each successive generation in their quest to take the family and the wines to even greater heights. It is in this quest that we find the true nature and desire of the Raventós family: To remember the past while honoring the present, all the while keeping both feet in front towards the future. Oh, and producing some profound bubblies along the way., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Kamen Estate Wines<br /><br />Robert Kamen is a pretty good storyteller. He can make you laugh, he can make you cry. Chances are he has done both at some point or another. Kamen, or Robert <I>Mark</I> Kamen as his name is displayed in the opening credits of many a famous movie, is a talented and accomplished screenwriter. You may have heard of one or two of his movies: <I>Taps, Lethal Weapon 3, The Fifth Element, </I> and a little project known as <I>The Karate Kid</I>. <br /> <br /> What does this have to do with wine, you ask? Kamen also is the proprietor of Kamen Estate Wines in the Sonoma Mountain AVA of eastern Sonoma County. He produces incredible Cabernets and Syrahs that will make you laugh with joy over their depth and richness or weep over their sheer beauty. And while his movies may be more famous his wines have created their own group of rabid fans. Perhaps a few Oscars from the wine world are sure to follow?<br /> <br /> Ok, that is the last bad movie pun, I promise. But it is impossible to disconnect the movies from the man from the wine, as each are a part of Robert and of each other.<br /> <br /> Robert grew up in humble surroundings in a housing project in Brooklyn. A track scholarship to NYU allowed him to explore a portion of life that he had never experienced, the importance of which has never been lost on Robert. "I was the fastest white guy in New York City, which means I was like the 400th fastest guy in New York City," recalls Robert. "But the scholarship allowed me to read and write and learn about life."<br /> <br /> A grant after college allowed Robert to see the world, well at least a certain portion of the world. "I received a grant to follow and record the daily activities of the Bedouin people who lived on the border of Afghanistan and Russia. I found out later that the grant was funded by the U.S. government in an effort to learn how the Bedouins were making their way across the border during the Russian occupation. So I was basically a spy and didn't know it."<br /> <br /> Shortly after Robert wrote a screenplay called <I>Crossings</I> about a group of college students and their experiences in Afghanistan. He received a check for $135,000, a huge sum of money to a poor kid from the city. Just a week or two later Kamen was hiking with a friend in the Mayacamas Mountains just to the north of San Pablo Bay and just west of the Napa County line. They came across a piece of property for sale that seemed like heaven itself had slipped from the sky and crash landed on the side of Mount Veeder. Robert was hooked instantly, and the sellers were willing to accept his still warm check from <I>Crossings</I> as a down payment on the property. He didn't even bother to open a bank account.<br /> <br /> Robert had a new life, a new career and a new place that he would soon call home. There were just a couple of problems standing in the way of his dream home in this rugged yet breathtaking landscape... namely that of no water, roads or electricity. "There wasn't even an easement," Robert says of the time. Fortunately Robert was a better screenwriter than planner, and the success of the Karate Kid and Taps brought fortune along with fame.<br /> <br /> A friend who made wine pointed out the unique nature of the site that Robert now called home and a dream was born. Robert wanted to create the best wine he possibly could from this landscape that was so perfectly suited to the vine, so from the word go he hired Phil Coturri, a noted viticulturalist whose family had been at the forefront of grape growing in California for years. Phil set about moving the many rocks and boulders on the property out of the way just enough to be able to plant vines, no easy task considering that the entire property was a mixture of hard volcanic soils and rocky outcroppings.<br /> <br /> Phil and Robert shared a philosophy that the impact of nature should be nurtured, not negated, so they focused their energies on working with the conditions they were given in as natural a way as possible. Chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have never touched the soils at Kamen Vineyards. A wholly organic approach has been employed since the first vine was planted in 1981.<br /> <br /> The 40% grade of the sloping vineyards has always made the land here difficult to work, as does the porous and rocky soil. But the diversity of the soil conditions insures a wide array of complex aromas and flavors in the resulting wines. Several different growing conditions can be found within a single row of vines. At least four different lava flows had occured in the vineyards over the years, resulting in numerous soil types and exposure angles. The weather on this little corner of a mountain in Sonoma results in a long growing season with cool, often foggy mornings followed by hot and sunny afternoons, an environment that grapes seem to thrive in.<br /> <br /> So it was of no surprise that after the first grapes were harvested in 1984 that much of the fruit was sold to the top wineries in Sonoma, even though a profit at this point was still hard to come by. But the movies and their success continued to roll on, leading to the 1995 flick <I>A walk in the clouds</I> starring Keanu Reeves and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón as star-crossed lovers who find a small moment of happiness at Sánchez-Gijón's family's winery. The climax ends in a heart-breaking scene where the centuries-old vineyard catches fire and the family's lively hood is lost.<br /> <br /> "'But Robert, vines don't burn,' Phil told me," says Robert. "I didn't care. I liked how painful that would be." But as we all know, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and fate is not without a certain sense of irony. As it turns out not one year later the vines on Kamen's property did indeed catch fire. In fact, one third of the vines were lost along with Robert's beautiful home. So as it turns out a screenwriter who owned a vineyard who wrote a movie about something that could not possibly happen to a vineyard did indeed have that very same thing happen to his vineyard. Irony, indeed.<br /> <br /> As it turns out the vines themselves did not burn, but the rubber pipeline that carried the nutrients to the vines in this incredibly low vigor soil burned instead, thus cutting off the flow of life to the top of the vines. A slow, agonizing death followed. But through this loss an opportunity presented itself for Phil and Robert to create even better vines through more thoughtful clonal selection, the use of different rootstock and employing different planting techniques and spacing within the vines.<br /> <br /> In 1999 the first release of Kamen Cabernet received rave reviews. The wines were excellent, full of vigor and life and complexity. But never satisfied, Robert hired winemaker Mark Herold to take his wines from <I>great</I> to <I>really f***ing great</I> as Robert would put it. Mark received a doctorate in Nutritional Biochemistry from U.C. Davis and has received long reaching admiration and respect for his commitment to creating the best wines possible no matter what the expense or labor involved. Herold's success at his own winery Merus along with the many other projects he consults for is well-documented. A partnership between a genius grape-grower, a fanatical winemaker and an owner who was committed 100% was born.<br /> <br /> Since then the wines from Kamen Estates have indeed gone from great to really blanking great. Though the Cabernet Sauvignon is still the flagship of the winery, small amounts of Syrah and even a Cabernet Rosé are produced under the Kamen label as well. The wines are truly amazing, and with each passing vintage seem to get even better.<br /> <br /> The <B>2004 Kamen Estate Cabernet Sauvignon</B> is a haunting mix of ripe currents, subtle yet complex earthen notes, blackberry blossom perfume and notes of mocha and vanilla from the French Oak barrels employed at the winery. A hallmark of Kamen's wines are silky textures and chewy tannins found throughout, and the '04 Cab is not short on either. Big enough to toss in the cellar, but integrated enough that the potential is easy to recognize, yet there is the potential to even consume it right this second. This is a delicious bottle of wine.<br /> <br /> Just as impressive was the <B>2005 Kamen Estates Cabernet Sauvignon</B>. More spicy and robust on the nose than the 2004, this wine just seemed to go on and on with aromas of ripe black fruits, baking spices, touches of warm earth and a woodsy note that smelled of a cedar chest with a little incense sitting inside. The palate was rich, chewy and intense with great concentration and a plush feel. The tannins were integrated, but this wine could certainly benefit from short to long term cellaring at this point. The finish lasted a full minute, and I didn't want to put any other flavors in my mouth except for more of this incredible wine.<br /> <br /> A real surprise was the <B>2007 Kamen Estate Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon</B>, not that I expected it to be bad, just that I have had too many Cabernet rosés that taste as if the winemaker didn't know what to do with the left over juice instead of actually crafting a quality product. But in this case we had a wine that tasted like the best cranberry juice you have ever had in your life. Rich and intense, with an abundant amount of flavor, nuance and spice that seemed to go on forever. Hints of vanilla cream and just a touch of tannin alluded to the full-bodied nature of the grapes grown on Mount Veeder, but the wine did not feel fat or overblown. A real head-turner.<br /> <br /> Last but not least was the <B>2005 Kamen Estate Syrah</B>, which was a well-integrated and seamless wine that started with aromas that ranged from violets and blackberry perfume and finished with flavors of ripe dark fruit, woodsmoke, cassis and a long finish that just seemed to linger on and on. Rich and robust, but balanced with ample tannins and just enough acidity, I am curious to see how this effort will evolve over the next ten years or so. California Syrah continues to get overlooked by the "Any Pinot in a storm" crowd, but with wines such as this, maybe the pendulum will swing back around.<br /> <br /> Though Robert may end up best known for his movies, his wines continue to astound. They have just a much smaller release than the big-budget projects that Robert continues to crank out for the big screen. But I urge you seek these wines out at your local store, as they will not disappoint. I can think of nothing better to curl up to when watching The Karate Kid for like the 607th time., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Andrea Franchetti<br /><br />There are a lot of instances in the wine industry where innovation and perspiration collide. A little sweat, a little creativity and a little confidence and <I>boom</I> a wine is created that is so profound, so unique and so magical that we are blown away by its sheer brilliance. An instance occurs where the wines are born instead of crafted, when the mold is set instead of followed. The wines of Andrea Franchetti fit this description to a tee. <br /> <br /> Mr. Franchetti has created two unique properties, <I>Tenuta di Trinoro</I>, located in the confluence of southern Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria, and <I>Passopisciaro</I> which sits on the volatile volcanic slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna. The wines of each are astounding examples of why the desire to reach for one more bottle of Chianti should be resisted, and the urge to experience something new should be indulged.<br /> <br /> In addition to owning a restaurant in Rome, Mr. Franchetti also worked as a wine distributor in New York City in the 1980's. He made many friends in the industry, chief among them were Jean-Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud in Saint-Emilion and Peter Sisseck of Domino de Pingus in Ribera del Duero. Each were visionaries in their own right, and their wines are some of the most respected in all of the world, so there was no shortage of great advice for Andrea to fall back on. But ultimately it was Mr. Franchetti's genius that has led the way. <br /> <br /> Tenuta di Trinoro was Mr. Franchetti's first creation. It was and is a departure from the normal way of doing things. For starters Mr. Franchetti selected a spot in a sleepy corner of southern Tuscany to plant his vines, a place where sheep and wild roses were more common than vines. A place where new grapes had not been planted in over a century. Then he decided to plant his vines high on the slopes of Mount Amiata in a place where the eroded rock of the mountain gave way to the limestone and clay of an ancient sea floor. And to top it all off he planted Bordeaux varietals instead of the ubiquitous Sangiovese. He even planted Petite Verdot- a grape notorious for its fickle nature and the long growing season necessary to bring it to full ripeness. <br /> <br /> From the beginning Mr. Franchetti set out to make the greatest wine possible. The vines were created from grafts of some of the best vines in the Graves and St.-Emilion. Crop thinning is mandatory, with up to 60% of the grapes cast to the ground in order to protect only the healthiest bunches. The growing season in this very hot corner of Tuscany extends often into November, but the high elevations at which the vines are planted ensures that they remain balanced. Each parcel is harvested and vinified separately in small fermentation tanks, only indigenous yeasts are used, and only the free run juice makes it into tank. Mr. Franchetti only uses French Oak to age his wines. <br /> <br /> Mr. Franchetti's other estate, Passopisciaro, sits on an old volcanic flow at a very high elevation on the slopes of Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano. <I>Active?</I> Absolutely, in fact just a couple of years ago a ski lift that sits above one of Etna's best vineyards was destroyed by a lava flow. Only a man of Mr. Franchetti's daring and vision would have attempted to produce wines of such quality from an untested region. The vineyards sit at about 3,300 feet in elevation, and the warm days and cool evenings provide an incredibly long growing season for the vines, often stretching into November and beyond. Petite Verdot again here plays an integral role, particularly in Mr. Franchetti's top wine, an outstanding elixir simply called Franchetti.<br /> <br /> I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Erika Ribaldi, a beautiful and vivacious women who not only runs much of the day to day operations of both estates but she also is responsible for representing the wines worldwide. Her passion and respect for the wines of Mr. Franchetti are infectious, as is her zeal and lust for life. But in the end the wines speak for themselves. I will share with you below a conversation that we had recently:<br /> <br /> <B></B> What drew Mr. Franchetti to plant vines in such a remote region in Tuscany where no new vines had been planted for so long?<br /> <br /> <B>Erika Ribaldi</B> When Mr. Franchetti choose to retire from Rome to Val d'Orcia he was moved from the magnetic beauty of the location, he spent the winter of 1990 growing vegetables, taking care of the refurbishing of his 16th century home and finding the mental peace he needed after years of travelling in the USA and around the world. When spring came and the family demanded him back to Rome, he needed an excuse to remain in his private corner of the world, and decided to plant vines. As all he has done in his life, he decided to aim to the best and looked at Bordeaux as a model for his own property. He went to Bordeaux looking for inspiration and information and never looked back. This was the first year of his journey.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Petite Verdot is a difficult grape to work with. Was there ever any concern that Petite Verdot would not work at such a high elevation or in the low vigor soils on Mt. Amiata?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> As one of the Bordueax varieties, Mr. Franchetti planted some, to give nerve and colour to his wines, of course being the pioneer of winemaking in Val d'Orcia, he didn't know what would be the results, but this was never a limit for him. Petit Verdot is a late ripening variety and not every year we can produce the same quality, but when the rain delays PV adds elegancy and acidity that is needed to balance the ripeness of Merlot and Cab Franc.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Twice now Mr. Franchetti has introduced "foreign" grapes to very traditional areas. The results are amazing, but has he made any enemies along the way with his unconventional practices?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> The Italian wine world is quite provincial, so it is normal that the controversial way of Mr. Franchetti made rumour. But Mr. Franchetti is a man of Charisma, and he maintains a very low profile and this has always helped him to smooth the edges of any fight that others want to pick. I would say that in all occasions Mr. Franchetti has treated people living in his environment with great respect, bringing not only notoriety, but jobs and wealth in very abandoned areas and this has helped him to be not only accepted but respected. People can be moved by envy to criticize what we do, but no matter what someone can say we will always have our respect and politeness.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Tenuta di Trinoro was a big leap of faith. Mr. Franchetti used grapes not normally found in Tuscany, in an area where modern wines had never been produced, and at an altitude that seemed crazy. Was there ever any doubt that it would be such a success?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> Mr, Franchetti once told me that he could not sleep during his first harvest, he told me that he had doubts but he found the confidence to pursue when in 1998 he went to Bordeaux and received the applause of the greatest Garagiste of Bordueux. Still now after 10 years every vintage is different, we face problems and we learn from mistakes, but there is no more doubts that we have achieved the Olympus and that we have to be grounded to our feet to look and aim only to the best possible results. The vines are getting older and wiser, and along with our passion and enthusiasm we can only improve. But as we are the new kids on the block we don't have the luxury to disappoint whomever pops a bottle of our wine, and to achieve this we can not fall into the compromise to bottle "no matter what." Some years we will produce more, some less and always a different bland. Mr. Franchetti is the solely owner and winemaker of Tenuta di Trinoro and my job is the one of making his life easier to make great wines, But without Andrea Franchetti nothing of what you have tasted will be possible. We are only accessory to his greatness.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Are there any plans for Mr. Franchetti, Jean-Luc Thunevin and Peter Sisseck to make a wine together? They could call it "The Three Wise Men."<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B>Passopisciaro was a project involving peter and Mr. Franchetti, but as they all are men of great personality it was not easy to work as an ensemble. I think that the possibility of the three making the wnes together is quite remote, but you can trust me when I say that Both Jean Luc and Peter are among the few producers that Mr. Franchetti unlimitedly respects and admires.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> New winemakers are pouring onto the slopes of Mt. Etna everyday. In the future when there will be several to choose from in the U.S. market, what will set Mr. Franchetti's wines apart from the rest?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> Mr. Franchetti has been the first one to look at Mt. Etna without the myopic view of whom is seating on a gold mine and can not see it. Mr. Franchetti's not only is the first one to dare to late harvest Nerello Mascalese, but he is first and foremost the admirer of Sicilian culture. His appreciation for Sicily made him the benchmark for this new renaissance of Sicilian winemaker.<br /> <br /> Trust me when I say that whatever will land in USA from the Vulcano can only be a wine of quality, (as you need to be an idiot to make bad wines on the volcano) so if more wines from this region will arrive, this will benefit all. Passopisciaro is the first one and this is priceless, people will not forget it, and I hope that consumer will never expect less than Passopisciaro to come to their tables.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> You stay really busy with such a high demand for the wines. How many countries do you represent, and how do you have any free time for yourself?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> I am the very proud representative of a man not only I respect but I first and formost admire. Because I am the interface between the kingdom of Trinoro and the real world people always welcome me with great respect and this make it easier to travel the 48 countries in which we offer Mr. Franchetti's wines. For me to travel the world on behalf of Mr. Franchetti is a source of motivations, of growing gratitude for a man that has molded me into the professional I am today.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> How did you and Mr. Franchetti meet?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> At the time when I met Mr. Franchetti I was the young wife of a fantastic, wealthy man, living like a queen in Cambodia and volunteering for an NGO training young adults of the dump site of Phnom Phen about wines to become wine stewards in five-star hotels around south east Asia.<br /> <br /> Unfortunately the poverty of this country hit me mostly for the lack of dignity that this slice of human kind was treated with. I decided that was unfair to me and to them to keep leaving a luxury I didn't earn for my self and I must go back to work to make sure I was doing my share to make a living. So I sent Mr. Franchetti my resume, hoping to make an impression to the only wine producer that I never could effort to try. Few minutes later I sent my resume he called me asking me for an interview and few days later I was in Europe ready to meet such a person.<br /> <br /> The very first moment I entered Val d'Orcia I was hit by the same amazement that led Andrea Franchetti to remain there and when I met him, it was love at first sight and decided that I could only work for him. Since then (three years ago now) I became the very first fan of Tenuta di Trinoro!<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> How lucky are you to have such an amazing project to work with?<br /> <br /> <B>EB</B> I think I deserve what I have achieved and I think Mr. Franchetti deserves only the best from me and my team, by the way I can do what I do because I am backed up by fantastic young people that share the same enthusiasm I have and I have never taken for granted their talent.<br /> <br /> Now, let's explore these fantastics wines, starting with the <B>2005 Tenuta di Trinoro <I>Le Cupole</I></B>, which is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot with splashes of Cesanese, Petite Verdot and Uva de Troia. Though technically the second wine of Trinoro, this is a first-rate Tuscan red. The Cabernet Franc provides a haunting perfume on the nose that swings from blackberry essence to violets and finishes with hints of mocha and dark earth. The palate is rich, round, plush and more concentrated than most anything else hailing from Tuscany, but it stays light on the tongue with a balance of natural acidity on the finish.<br /> <br /> I was lucky enough to sample the 2005 Tenuta di Trinoro about a year ago and I found it to be amazing. The <B>2006 Tenuta di Trinoro</B> may be even better! A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon, this is as close as heaven and Bordeaux can get to southern Tuscany. A rich frame of power, tannin and grace was given flesh by a sea of dark fruits, earthen spices and a touch of mineral nuance. The aromas positively leapt from the glass, and the finish went on for what seemed like an eternity. Truly an extraordinary wine.<br /> <br /> From Mr. Franchetti's estate in Sicily the <B>2007 Passopisciaro <I>Guardiola</I></B> was a Chardonnay unlike any other I have ever sampled. Incredible waves of pineapple, peaches and mandarin orange crashed against my palate with a richness that begged for attention. At first I feared the wine might be too much show and not enough substance, but nuances of white flowers, salty minerality and a crisp finish proved that this is a wine of immense quality and depth, and not just another Chardonnay show-pony. It helps that it is truly a unique wine grown on a volcano out of ancient lava. Pretty cool, indeed.<br /> <br /> When pressed about the Guardiola, Erika offered this in reply: "Guardiola is a working in progress. Next vintage we will start to work with cement instead of stainless still tanks, next vintage few acres of vine will enter production and we will finally produce a wine can be more visible and more people will asses the state of the potential of the volcano for white wines, especially Chardonnay, so in my opinion the greatness of Guardiola has still to come, and will be up to the consumer to define it."<br /> <br /> The <B>2005 Passopisciaro</B> was crafted from 60-100 year-old Nerello Mascalese vines that are grown at very high elevations. This indigenous grape variety is like an uncut gem just waiting for the masterful hand of Mr. Franchetti to hone it and reveal its true brilliance. The wine and the estate derive their name from local town, which in turn received its name for the local fish-monger's road Similar in weight to a Pinot Noir, the wine opened with a rush of red cherry and orange blossom on the nose followed by deeper more ethereal notes of dry earth and a gamey, animal note. The palate was as smooth as silk and seemed to caress my cheeks with gentle tannins not unlike the sort found in a well-aged Bordeaux. Full and present, but not obtrusive, this is is an amazing and thought-provoking wine.<br /> <br /> Last but not least was the <B>2005 Passopisciaro <I>Franchetti</I></B>. A blend of Petite Verdot and Cesanese, as far as I am concerned this is the benchmark for Sicilian wines. Too often wine lovers think of Sicily and immediately think Nero d'Avola, but here is proof that incredible things can be created from this jewel of an isle. Dark and brooding, yet lithe and elegant, this wine seemed to provide a new sensation at every turn. Aromas of smoke, blueberries and blackberry jam wafted from the glass with ease and determination. The palate was rich and complex, with notes of fresh black raspberries, an earthen grip and a little barrel spice on the finish. There were plenty of tannins on the very long finish, but already they were well-integrated and chewy despite the very young age of this masterpiece. <br /> <br /> Andrea Franchetti has proven with these wines that there is life outside of the normal Tuscan conventions, and that Bordeaux is not the only region that can craft world-class Bordeaux-inspired wines. If you are lucky enough to find the wines of Andrea Franchetti I urge you to grab them while you can. Demand is high and production low, but the riches that await will take your breath away., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Susana Balbo<br /><br />Staring down the dirt path between rows and rows of vines, Susana Balbo's winery seems the size of a snowflake beneath the sublime backdrop of the snow-covered Andes mountains of Argentina. And although it would be easy to become forgotten in the mountain's shadow, and amidst the sea of the other 1,200 Mendoza wineries, Balbo's diligence to making beautiful wines allows her to stand out above the rest. <br /> <br /> Balbo received her enology degree in 1981 and worked her way around the wine industry, first in administration with Sucesión Michel Torino, then as a regional wine consultant, then as the General Manager of Bodegas Martins... Finally, after spearheading the creation of Argentina's most famous winemaking facility at the illustrious Bodega Catena Zapata, she decided to embark upon her own winemaking journey. In 1999, she collaborated with Italian winemaker Alberto Antonini to create wines for export and to build her winemaking chops. And in June of 2001, Balbo's dreams finally came to fruition.<br /> <br /> Balbo designed and constructed the Dominio del Plata Winery with her husband Pedro Marchevsky in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza, to house her winemaking venture. Mendoza is 1 of the 23 provinces in Argentina, and it accounts for 70% of the nation's wine production. It features a long growing season of warm summer days and cold nights, where the predominant predators are the fierce hail storms pummel the vines when the grapes are plump and nearly ready for picking. The sandy, alluvial soil allows great water drainage, making a near pefect bed for the vines that line the landscape. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay and Torrontès are widely grown here, but the its Bordeaux-originated Malbec that almost single-handedly lifted the region to a noble winemaking status.<br /> <br /> The Dominio del Plata winery is smack-dab in the middle of a 21-hectare vineyard planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The vineyards are planted with a high trellising system that provides the vines with stability during the warm days and frigid nights through the long growing season. This allows the grapes to produce high levels of anthocyanins, which creates the vibrant colors found in Balbo's Malbecs, and enhances the aromatic essence of each of the varietals - just stick your nose in any glass of Balbo's Torrontès and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about!<br /> <br /> Balbo created her brand using her full name, Susana Balbo, and has found great success in marketing her namesake wines in foreign markets. The Balbo lineup is intended to feature complex wines that are intended to be aged before being consumed. The label for each wine in the Balbo lineup features the figurines prominent in the culture of the Huarpes, one of the primary native tribes of the Mendoza region. The figurines represent the women's reproductive role in society, and cherishes the woman as being the sacred link between the past, present and future. Balbo connects with this idea, and as a winemaker finds this same connection to be represented in the vineyards (the past), the winemaking (the present) and the finished wines (the future). <br /> <br /> Her role as a mother has also led her to create a "child" brand, titled "Crios de Susana Balbo". Literally translated as "offspring", the Crios brand features wines of a more lively profile that are fruit forward and designed to be consumed at a younger age than her namesake wines. The Crios label depicts a Mayan-inspired rendering of three connected and overlapping hands, designed to represent Balbo and her two children.<br /> <br /> I've heard many a writer champion Balbo's wines, declaring that she makes great wines... for a woman. But I whole-heartedly disagree with the clarification found within that statement. Balbo makes great wines - period. Her wines are very much true expressions of the grapes and the terrain from which they are derived. <br /> <br /> I can still remember the first time I encountered one of Balbo's wines... it was the Torrontès labeled under her Crios brand. It took only a moment to inhale the first scent when I placed my nose within the glass, but it took nearly a minute to comprehend and register the floral, honey and peach aromatics that when combined together smelled like... love.<br /> <br /> No, I'm not going to turn this article into a silly little cheeseball romance about a winemaker's love for grapes. Instead, I want you, dear reader, to understand that Balbo's desire is to create something beautiful, an artistic expression that dances across the olfactory senses, across the palate, that brings people to the dinner table to commune together and to do so in a sustainable manner. And with each look, each sniff, and each sip of her wines, from the Torrontès to the Rosè, and from the Malbec to the Cabernet Sauvignon, you will undoubtedly know that each wine has been crafted diligently with her nurturing love.<br /> <br /> Attesting to this fact are the following 3 principles to which she abides throughout the winemaking process:<br /> <br /> 1. Precision Viticulture - Attend to every detail of grape-growing, no matter how minute the detail, from the planting of the vineyard to varietal selections, to water and canopy management, and to harvesting decisions.<br /> <br /> 2. Sustainable Agriculture - Provide leadership in conserving natural resources and maintaining the long-term viability of agricultural lands, and at all times enhance and support the local community.<br /> <br /> 3. Love and Passion - While knowledge and passion provide the fundamental basics for making a good wine, it is takes love and nurturing to make a great wine.<br /> <br /> As my old wine tasting buddy Doctor D would say as I rambled on and on about a particular winery, "That's great, but what about the wine?" Let me start by describing the <a href="/wines/2410">Balbo Torrontes 2006</a>, which is a feminine wine that delicately walks the line between being a dry wine and being a sweet wine. It shows notes of white peach, canned pear, and nectarine with a smattering of flowers that tickle the nose.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2411">Crios Rosè of Malbec 2007</a> smells like a full-blown Cabernet Sauvignon, and the first whiff will make you look at the glass once again, just to be sure your eyes weren't deceived by its cranberry color. On the palate, it displays a very forward flavor profile, meaning that it is much more flavorful than I had expected. Notes of stewed cherries, jammy raspberries and freshly rolled cigars make this a very rich rosè.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2413">Crios Syrah-Bonarda 2005</a> is a 50% blend of each grape. Dark and murky within the glass, it features deep earthy notes of potting soil, char and hummus, with prominent black cherry and stewed black raspberries that imbue the wine with a definite liveliness. This Syrah-Bonarda would love to be paired with a grilled pork tenderloin. <br /> <br /> A youthful wine was on display when I tasted the <a href="/wines/2412">Balbo Cabernet Sauvignon 2007</a>, which displays a fruit-forward flavor profile of black cherry, black raspberry and blueberry with a bright acidity. Oak and barrel spices lead the finish, but give this a few years of time to mature in the bottle, perhaps 2010.<br /> <br /> Finally, the <a href="/wines/2414">Crios Cabernet Sauvignon 2005</a> shows amazing flavors of fresh blueberry, loganberry and pomegranate on the very front of the palate. All I needed was one sip to know this is a wine I would happily drink until the last drops are gone. Hints of chocolate and espresso on the smooth finish made this wine seem as much a dessert wine as a dinner wine., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Ramey Wine Cellars<br /><br />David Ramey is a sharp guy. He knows more about the process of fermenting wine than anyone I have ever met. He can spend hours on the intricacies of fining versus filtration, or sulfites over sulfides, or even which soil composition provides the best fruit for the Clone 4 Chardonnay. To some these may seem like hardly the great paradoxes of our time, but it is a good thing he knows so much, because when you work with some of the very best vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties, as Ramey does, you had better know your craft.<br /> <br /> Ramey received a graduate degree from the prestigious U.C. Davis in 1979. Unlike many of his colleagues and classmates Ramey didn't immediately land a high-paying gig as an <I>enologist,</I> instead he traveled first to France to work as a cellar rat for the Moueix family of Chateau Pétrus. His next stint was at Lindemans of Australia where tens of thousands of cases of wine were produced not only yearly, but daily. "My main project was Bag in a Box Rhine Riesling," says Ramey. "Except it didn't have a drop of Riesling in it."<br /> <br /> "My first real job came as assistant winemaker at Simi. I knew I didn't know how to make wine, so I learned production management instead." Oh, how times have changed. As David's knowledge base grew, so did the quality of his winemaking positions: He replaced Merry Edwards at Mantanzas Creek. He spent a little time back in Bordeaux with the Moueix family, this time as consulting winemaker instead of "Kid who cleans out the barrels," as his unofficial title went before. <br /> <br /> But it was a job at a little known winery named Chalk Hill that really got the ball rolling for Ramey. "When I started at Chalk Hill we were selling thin Chardonnay to chain stores for $7.59 a bottle," muses Ramey. When Ramey left Chalk Hill in the mid 1990s the winery was a household name and selling for four times its previous price. David then went back to work for Christian Moueix, this time as winemaker and director of Dominus, the prestigious Napa Valley estate owned by Chateau Pétrus.<br /> <br /> But the desire to make wines in his own fashion was always in the back of David's mind. He also realized that "Working for a Frenchman wasn't as much fun as being friends with a Frenchman," so in 1996 Ramey Wine Cellars was born. From the word go David took advantage of his great relationships with grape growers throughout Sonoma, starting with the very first Ramey wine- a Chardonnay from the now famous vineyard of Larry Hyde. Back then the vineyard wasn't quite as famous, and Ramey's ideas on winemaking didn't quite bring the fruit flying in the door. The first vintage of Ramey Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was a scant 260 cases. <br /> <br /> "We put $90,000 into Ramey Wine Cellars the first two years to get the first wine out of the door. The net from the first 260 cases was only $67,000."<br /> <br /> But the word on the quality was out, and opportunities began to present themselves, first in the form of a job at Leslie Rudd's Vineyard in Oakville, and then the discovery of two blocks of twenty-five year-old Wente clone Chardonnay that originally were sold under the Rudd label. David moved his winemaking to the brand-new and state-of-the-art Rudd facility and took the Chardonnay for himself when Rudd no longer was interested in making fine, if expensive, Chardonnay.<br /> <br /> The rest, as they say, is history. Today Ramey Wine Cellars produces six different Chardonnays, five Cabernets and Bordeaux-styled blends and even two Syrahs from some of the best and most famous vineyards in all of California. Demand has gone through the roof, and the Ramey wines continue to be some of the most highly sought after wines from the Golden State, something that David classifies as "stupid growth." There is now a 10,000 square foot facility in downtown Healdsburg to ferment, bottle and store the wines. Ever the scientist, Ramey has stocked this gleaming new facility with only the most modern of technology. <br /> <br /> Ramey often looks to the fine wines of both Burgundy and Bordeaux as models for his creations. In the end he crafts wines that have all of the fruit and concentration of California's more moderate climate but they are mixed with the finesse, charm, complexity, subtlety and texture that are the hallmarks of the greatest Domaines and Chateau from across the pond.<br /> <br /> Each of the six Chardonnays in the Ramey line up are given the same treatment in both the vineyard and the winery: all the grapes are grown organically and then given the same regimen of whole cluster fermentation in barrel with a little stirring of the fine lees. Only native yeasts are used, as well as all the wines undergo a full malolactic fermentation before aging for twelve months in barrel and four months in bottle without filtration. The result is a study in the <I>terroir</I> of Northern California as each nuance and difference in flavor from one wine to the next can only be attributed to the soil, the sun, the wind and the rain.<br /> <br /> Yet different they are. The <a href="/wines/2350" title="Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2006">2006 Ramey Sonoma Coast Chardonnay</a> was a lovely mixture of fresh pears and apples on the nose followed by a palate that was big and fruit forward, with a soft butter and butterscotch note on the finish. The texture was silky, mouth-coating and wonderful.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2351" title="Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Russian River Valley 2006">2006 Ramey Russian River Chardonnay</a> was more floral on the nose and palate than the Sonoma Coast, with hints of jasmine and honeysuckle mixing with a bright peach essence. Flavors of tropical fruits, ripe pears and a little lemon zest roll together on a silky frame layered with cream. Elegant and full of charm, this wine was in perfect balance.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2352" title="Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Los Carneros 2006">2006 Ramey Carneros Chardonnay</a> was an interesting mix of big and bold and fresh and crisp. Floral and tropical on the nose, the palate was a unique blend of crisp lime-tinged fruit with higher acidity followed by a big, broad mouth feel that hinted at an over-the-top style of Chardonnay. Everything was in incredible balance, with a long velvety-smooth finish to tie the wine together.<br /> <br /> The first wine ever produced by David was from the heavy clay soil of Larry Hyde's vineyard located along highway 12 just to the southwest of the city of Napa. To this day Ramey still sources Wente-clone Chardonnay grapes from this prestigious vineyard. The <a href="/wines/2353" title=" Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Carneros Hyde Vineyard 2005">2005 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard</a> was an incredible treat in California Chardonnay. Too often it is assumed that great Chardonnay from CA needs to be a fruit bomb and have no guile, subtlety or complexity. This has all of those and much more. Fragrant, floral and lovely on the nose with peach blossom perfume and a little clover honey. The body has crisp acidity, a delicate balance, a wonderfully soft and beautiful feel and a very long finish. Burgundy fans look no further than Carneros, everything you need can be found in this wonderful wine.<br /> <br /> Another beauty was the <a href="/wines/2354" title="Ramey Wine Cellars Chardonnay Carneros Hudson Vineyard 2005">2005 Ramey Hudson Vineyard Chardonnay.</a> A little bigger and broader than the Hyde Vineyard Chard, this wine offered a nice mix of fresh pears, some floral complexity and even a little minerality on the nose, while the palate followed with hints of white pepper, milk chocolate, creme brulee and a long and rich finish. A wonderfully rich feel coated the mouth, but ample acidity provided finesse and balance to what would have otherwise been an overtly rich wine.<br /> <br /> David's Chardonnays also age tremendously well, so if you have patience to throw a bottle of Hyde or Hudson into the cellars for a few years you will be supremely rewarded!<br /> <br /> Ramey has given just as much care to the red wines in his line up and their vineyard sourcing as the whites, and it was my pleasure to taste through them and focus on the noticeable differences that each vineyard provided to the resulting wines. They are some of the best Cabernet-based wines that anyone has produced in Napa, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to try them if you have the chance.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2355" title="Ramey Wine Cellars Claret Napa Valley 2005">2005 Ramey Napa Valley Claret</a> is a blend of primarily Cabernet with a quarter Merlot and also splashes of Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec and even a little Syrah- an homage to the wines of Bordeaux that were once "improved" by adding a little Hermitage to the mix. Aromas of cocoa, soft red fruits, a little dry-earth dustiness and hints of French Oak harmonize with a palate that has incredible texture, silkiness and weight. Black cherry and currant notes mix with mouth filling tannins, touches of white pepper and earth. <br /> <br /> The <b>2005 Ramey Napa Valley Cabernet</b> is the first such bottling from David, and it is comprised of fruit from each of his single-vineyard Cabernets. Dark on the nose, with some sweet raspberry fruit but also touches of cedar, dry earth and blackberry jam. The palate has great richness and body, with a long finish of sweet red fruit mixed with firm tannins and ample acidity. Sturdy and structured, this could use a few more years in the cellar.<br /> <br /> The <B>2005 Ramey Cabernet Larkmead Vineyard</B> hails from a vineyard in Calistoga on the valley floor, but the high gravel content of the low-vigor soil provides a wine of considerable body and weight. Cherry-blossom perfume mixes with aromas of cassis, kirsch and dry earth before a full-throttle palate of sweet cassis and luscious black fruit kicks in. This wine has wonderful length, a velvety-smooth feel and some of the most well-formed and integrated tannins I have ever had in a young CA Cabernet. You can feel them, and almost chew on them, and they coat the inside of your cheeks, but they never seem to get in the way or feel hard in any way. Overall, a soft, supple, plush and thoroughly enjoyable wine.<br /> <br /> My favorite of the line was the <B>2005 Ramey Cabernet Pedregal Vineyard.</B> Sourced from a vineyard that sits in the heart of Oakville and counts its neighbors as Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle, this is as good as California Cab can get. The nose seemed to go on for days, with incredibly pronounced fruit, a haunting perfume and amazing depth. A new aroma awaited my nose with each sniff. The palate had everything you could possibly want in a Cabernet: length, body, richness, depth, fruit, tannins, earthy complexity, balance and weight. Complex, smooth and incredibly long, the wine was a seamless journey across the palate from beginning to end. Amazing. <br /> <br /> The newest members of the Ramey line of wines were two Syrahs from Sonoma. Though not reviewed here keep an eye out for the supple and delicious Sonoma Coast Syrah which hails from the S.E. side of Sonoma Mountain.<br /> <br /> I did get a chance however to try the <B>2005 Ramey Syrah Rodger's Creek Vineyard</B> and it was dark, earthy, rich, spicy and delicious. Sourced from a vineyard on the west side of Sonoma Mountain, it was big, bold and wonderful. Sweet blackberry and smoke aromas wafted from the glass above a perfume that was a mix of lavender and plum blossom. The palate was packed with gobs of sweet black fruit, a silky texture, and a wonderful weight in the mid-palate that only a well-made Syrah can bring. Fleshy, rich and full of chewy tannins this wine will certainly stick around for a while, so be patient and give it time to grow into something magical.<br /> <br /> Today Ramey Wine Cellars is wholly owned and operated by David and his wife Carla. David handles the fruit sourcing and viticultural aspects while Carla tackles the financials, compliance and marketing end of the winery. It is not often that we get to sample the creations of a true superstar of wine when he is at the height of his craft, so grab the next bottle of Ramey that you see, for with one more hack writer such as myself touting his wares, who knows how long they will be around!, 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Vinum Cellars<br /><br />Like a lot of things in life, we often tend to take wine for granted. We assume that there will always be lots of great wine at many different price points from the four corners of the globe. It is very easy to get passé about the thousands of bottles lining the shelves of our local inebri-ist. That one has an animal on the front. <I>Cool</I>. This wine hails from the snow-capped peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. <I>Right on</I>. But sometimes we forget how hard it is to make great wine that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there is a mountain of boring wine out there that has about as much individuality as a Snickers bar.<br /> <br /> But every once in a while we find a wine that makes us want to stop and smell the rose-scented Viognier. Every once in a while we find a winery that is doing things the <I>right</I> way, as opposed to the <I>easy</I> way. And it makes us want to know that winery. We want to know their wines. We want to know their story, and why they chose to do what they do, and what the hell is up with them making such great wine and selling it for such an affordable price. Vinum Cellars is one such winery.<br /> <br /> Vinum is the great American success story. A couple of guys by the names of Chris Condos and Richard Bruno became friends while in college. They each went their separate ways after graduation in search of gainful employment, but the dream, the dream man! The dream was always alive. A few years later they got together and came up with a plan to make the best Chenin Blanc ever in the state of California. They maxed out all their credit cards, purchased the best fruit that they could find, and made a wine called Pointe Blanc. Twelve years later Vinum Cellars produces nine wines from nine different varietals and creates some of the best wine in California not named Chardonnay or Merlot.<br /> <br /> Never content to take the easy route, Chris and Richard could have continued with their day jobs instead of rolling the dice with Vinum. Chris was the lead enologist for Pine Ridge Winery. Richard the master distiller at Bonny Doon Vineyards. But it seems the desire to make great wine, and more specifically great Chenin Blanc, was in their blood. Chris is a third generation wine dude- his grandfathers made wine and his father sells wine, so the industry seemed a very natural fit. Richard spent years in the restaurant industry honing his palate and his love for esoteric goodies such as the fabled Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley in France. Put the two of them in a room together at UC Davis and the rest as they say is history.<br /> <br /> Today Chris and Richard share the winemaking duties and produce a multitude of fine wines from grape varieties that many US wine drinkers have a hard time wrapping their minds around: Petite Sirah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and of course Chenin Blanc. The underlying current through this river of deliciousness is that the wines are consistently affordable and undeniably great. The big sellers in the Vinum line are all priced at around $12 per bottle. You can barely get that much gas nowadays for $12!<br /> <br /> Vinum is also committed to finding the best fruit sources they can from small grape growers that value quality and sustainability above profit and margin. They often are located outside of the more heralded spots of Napa, Sonoma and Carneros, but in the end their soil, weather conditions and hard work are what sets their sites apart from the rest.<br /> <br /> One other source of quality that is getting harder and harder to find nowadays is the barrel program at Vinum. Only French Oak barrels are used in the winery as a means to age the wines. French oak was already ridiculously expensive before the U. S. Dollar took a nose dive against the Euro, so you can imagine what they cost now! The white wines are barrel fermented slowly and aged <I>sur lie</I> in small barrels to add complexity and richness to the wines. The reds are given judicious oak treatments in an effort to accentuate the wines, not kill them with coconut and vanilla flavors. <br /> <br /> I was lucky enough to spend the day with Richard recently. Our topics of conversation ranged from Vinum's past to their very bright future. Sometimes it is best for the author to get out of the way of the inspiration, so in that spirit here is a little Q & A with Richard Bruno, winemaker at Vinum Cellars:<br /> <br /> <B></B> How do you decide which growers to work with?<br /> <br /> <B>Richard Bruno</B> We have always looked for the best quality growers in every appellation based on reputation, varietal mix (do they grow the appropriate varietals in their region?) and, yes they MUST be good, honest and trustworthy. These are qualities that show in the quality of the grapes believe it or not.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Vinum has been committed since the get-go to Chenin, Cab Franc, Petite Sirah and a host of other grapes that are considered to be "obscure" by CA standards. Why not just grow the usual suspects that have the track record for an easy sale?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> We make wines that we like to drink; period. I do not buy Merlot or Chardonnay when I go out as I find them too often boring and there is a sea of beautiful and interesting wines from all over the world: Austrian Blaufrankish, Argentinian Malbec, Chilean Carmenere, Grüner Veltliner, German Rieslings, Vouvray, Spanish wines, oh don't get me started. Why would you drink Chardonnay? Because most people are preprogrammed by societal gradient. We are sheep by nature.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> What was the original intent with Pointe Blanc?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> We wanted to make the best white wine utilizing the best Chenin Blanc from California: POINT BLANK... well, as it was going to be a white wine, we decided to name it POINTE BLANC. In an attempt to make an old-world style Loire inspired Chenin, we felt the need to look at both Roussanne and Viognier to give a sense of old world terrior; something difficult to find expressed in any Californian appellation, in my opinion. We learned several years later that another winery had the trade mark (Pointe Blanc), so we changed the name of the blend to it's current White Elephant... I think the new name is more appropriate on many levels.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> What were you and Chris drinking when you decided to go into business together?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> Peet's coffee…we love Peet's coffee. We assembled two independent lists of our desired grape varietals. Each of us produced a list of 9-10 grape varietals. When we compared them, they were identical sans two varietals the other had forgotten to write down. If you are curious, the list included all the varieties we work with (9), but there are two that were listed that as yet we have never produced: Barbera and Malbec.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Why French oak?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> We believe that the French oak flavor profile is most appropriate and appealing to the varietals and old world style of wine that we make. We believe in seasoning our wines with oak and not killing them with too much new oak; therefore, most of our wines use a selection of 2, 3 and 4 year old barrels. We like our wines balanced, harmonious and food friendly.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> What advice would you give to aspiring winemakers who are just starting from scratch?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> Do what you love and work your ass off. Don't expect the business to pay you for at least 7 years. No bank will give you money until you don't need it, but I only recommend maxing out credit cards like we did if you are so mentally committed to what you are doing that failure is not an option. Have one financial partner and one winemaker, but both should learn how and be required to sell.<br /> <br /> <B>WG</B> Anything you would have done differently in hindsight?<br /> <br /> <B>RB</B> Not make and market a varietal Roussanne. The wine was good, but wow, it flowed like concrete. One vintage only in 2001.<br /> <br /> As for the wines, in addition to their unique nature on the CA wine scene, they just taste good. And they are affordable. And they are from a couple of guys who have followed their dream. And they... oh, what's not to like?<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2293">2006 Chard No Way Chenin Blanc</a> is a delightful summertime white, with all the honeysuckle and peach blossom you would expect on the nose of a good Chenin Blanc, but also a fine and crisp palate that accentuates the wildflower honey, almond oil and fresh ginger notes. A great value and as the name suggests, why drink boring Chardonnay when you can have this baby instead?<br /> <br /> Another charming wine was the <a href="/wines/2294">2006 VIO Viognier</a> which hails from the Vista Verde Vineyard in San Benito County just to the east of a town named appropriately <I>Aromas.</I> Bright, fragrant and very expressive, the nose practically jumped out of the glass with elegant rose and cherry blossom notes, along with a little quince and tropical fruits. The palate was dry and delicious, with elements of white peach, tangerines, tree fruit and a little spicy note on the finish. Weight, richness and complexity, all on a dry and balanced frame. Very nice.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2295">2005 Vinum White Elephant</a> is a blend of primarily Chenin Blanc with Roussanne and Viognier added to the mix. Just what exactly is this wine anyway? It is at once dry, fruit forward, complex, yet easy to love. A haunting perfume mixes the best elements of white flowers, lime zest and pears along with a little exotic spice. The palate is rich yet lively on the tongue, with a harmonious blend of peaches, lemon oil and a slatey mix of minerals on the finish. If you are looking for another run of the mill wine with no character or personality, this isn't your wine. But if you want something that has spice, nuance and flavor, look no further.<br /> <br /> As we are just heading into the summertime months, a wine to look for is the <a href="/wines/2296">2006 It's OK Rosé</a> made from dry-farmed Cabernet Sauvignon from the Frediani Vineyard in Calistoga. Fruity and fresh, with notes of raspberry, orange blossom and strawberries on the nose, followed by a palate that is refreshingly dry and crisp. Black cherry and golden raspberry flavors seem to jump out of the glass.<br /> <br /> One of the most popular wines in the Vinum line is the <a href="/wines/2297">2006 PETS Petite Sirah.</a> For years a dog named Tanker graced the label for this affordable yet lovable wine. Tanker was the family friend of grape grower Ken Wilson, and a portion of the proceeds from this wine are donated to the Tanker Memorial Fund at the San Francisco SPCA. Chewy and rich, yet balanced and nuanced. the '06 PETS is yet another home run in the Petite Sirah category. Too many Petite Sirah's come off as either fruity yet thin or beefy yet tannic as hell, while the PETS manages to capture the fruit and fragrance up front and the richness and body on the back end without knocking your teeth out with tannins. Always a great bargain!<br /> <br /> My favorite wine in the line-up was the <a href="/wines/2298">2005 The Scrapper Cabernet Franc</a>. It won't be hard to find this wine as there is a black and white super-imposed image of Jack Dempsey as the label. 22 months in French Oak have given this wine a personality all its own. The nose is perfumed and deep, with hints of lavender, black fruits and espresso roast. The palate is big, broad and expansive, with ripe black fruits, a little rich topsoil nuance and a blend of spices that range from roasted herb to a little tobacco and tea leaf. Very well balanced, yet big enough to take on all comers. <br /> <br /> And what does the future hold for Vinum Cellars? "We will release a new luxury Cabernet Sauvignon from a new vineyard for us in the 2006 vintage," says Richard. "We haven't named it yet, but we are really looking forward to it; the wine really kicks ass."<br /> <br /> So there you have it- just a couple of guys who wanted to make wine their own way. They dropped the conventional ideas and married themselves to the thought that if they started with great fruit and gave it a gentle touch in the winery, who cares that the wines come from grapes that we may not be as familiar with- they still taste great!<br /> <br /> But this was no surprise to Richard. When I asked him if he always knew that Vinum was going to be a great success his answer was: "Yes. Absolutely.", 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Schloss Gobelsburg<br /><br />So exactly what is it about Austrian wines that we Americans just don't get? Why is it that they are not the fastest selling imports around instead of the things named <I>Some Colored Tail</I> or <I>Some Colored Bicycle.</I> In fact it seems that we like just about anything that has both a noun and a primary color in the name, so I will give Austria a strike when it comes to not having enough wines named after colored items.<br /> <br /> Is it the shape of the bottle? The tall, slender <I>Rhein</I>-styled bottles make us immediately think of Germany and of super-sweet Rieslings. Okay, another strike. Then there is the proximity to Germany, which leads us back to the association with sweetness. Never mind the fact that Austrian wines as a whole are very dry compared to their northwestern counterparts. <br /> <br /> Then there are the funky names. <I>Blauburgunder, St. Laurent, Grüner Veltliner.</I> "Holy crap! There is no way I am drinking something with those freaking dots over the U!" There lays the mindset. Austrian wine certainly has it share of hurdles for the American wine buyer to overcome, which is why despite a dramatic increase in exports to the U.S. over the last ten years most Americans still aren't familiar with Austrian wines.<br /> <br /> But you should be. No, wait, let me rephrase - you need to be! As noted Austrian wine writer Peter Schleimer put it, "We have stuff other countries just don't have. We have grape varieties that are unique, yet delicious too." <br /> <br /> Which leads me to one of the greatest wineries in all of Austria- Schloss Gobelsburg. Schloss means 'castle' in German though the winery with its Baroque styling is closer to a French Château than a moat-ringed throwback to the days of catapults and sieges. There is one exception to this: History. The castle Gobelsburg dates back almost 1,000 years and wine has been produced there since 1171, or not too long after the first discovery of America.<br /> <br /> After changing hands many times the Castle Gobelsburg was purchased by a Cistercian Abbey in 1740. The Monks produced the wine and tended the vineyards continuously until 1992, save for a brief interruption while it was occupied by both French prisoners and the Russian army in World War II. The promise and quality of the wines of Schloss Gobelsburg rose and fell with the interest and talents of the monks over the centuries, but two things were always of the highest quality- the soil and the climate.<br /> <br /> And so in 1992 when the Cistercian monks felt they could no longer effectively manage the vineyards they turned to the unquestioned superstar of Austrian wine Willie Brundlmayer. Brundlemayer brought along a young man by the name of Michael Moosbrugger and tutored him in all things wine for the first five years. In the time since, Moosbrugger and Schloss Gobelsburg have won countless awards in Europe and beyond. The wines are generally regarded as some of the greatest examples of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner not only in the Kamptal region of northern Austria, but in the entire world.<br /> <br /> There is that name again: Grüner Veltliner. Pronounced GROO-ner velt-LEAN-ehr it is only the most widely grown grape in Austria. The wines are crisp and deliciously dry and fragrant like a spring rain or wildflowers. It is a grape that every couple of years major trade publications proclaim to be <em>the</em> next big thing. And while sales of Grüner as it is often called are up, it has never quite lived up to the rocketship ride it was destined for.<br /> <br /> But why is that? It certainly isn't because of quality. Some of the best white wines in the world are made from Grüner Veltliner. As noted wine freak and Austrian importer Terry Theisse put it, "If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be Grüner Veltliner." So is it the name? Thiese and many others in the wine industry much more hip than yours truly have taken to calling it GrüVe. Like <I>groovy</I> baby. I can dig it. So it isn't the name.<br /> <br /> Maybe it is the immense diversity found in the styles of fine GrüVe, which can range from Granny Smith apple-inspired quaffs that are best at home on the back deck, to rich, robust and profound whites that can age for decades or longer. Wow. Have we become so jaded that too much quality and diversity have become a bad thing? "Think for a second of Chardonnay," says Theisse in his Manifesto/Catalog on Austrian wines. "It makes everything from tingly little Petite Chablis to great whomping Montrachet and nobody kvetches they can't 'get a handle' on Chardonnay. GrüVe does the same thing; it can be as sleek as a mink or as big as Babe the Blue Ox." <br /> <br /> In fact in blind wine tastings some of the best old Chardonnays of Burgundy have been matched by some of the best old Grüners of Austria with surprising results. The Grüners have more than held their own and even been voted the better of the two wines. And among Grüner Veltliners there are none greater than those of Schloss Gobelsburg.<br /> <br /> Though Moosbrugger started in the family hotel business, he soon realized that of he and his two siblings only one could take over the family's 5-star chalais located in the Swiss Alps. So in 1992 he traveled to the Danube to learn winemaking from "scratch" as Moosbrugger put it. "I did everything in the vineyards, and in the cellar and on the tractor."<br /> <br /> But to develop his own winemaking style he would need raw materials to work with, so when Brundlemayer and Schloss Gobelsburg came calling a short time later his true life began.<br /> <br /> Unlike many of their contemporaries that are packing as much new technology as possible into their cellars, Schloss Gobelsburg is not in a rush to forget their past. The vineyards are farmed organically. Many of the vines are very old and link their heritage to clones that were selected because they produced the <I>best</I> fruit, as opposed to the <I>most</I> fruit. According to the winery "In times when many large international cellars are attempting to produce uniform wines which cater to the widest range of tastes possible, Moosbrugger is convinced that the future of wineries like Schloss Gobelsburg lies in individuality and character."<br /> <br /> "As a high level of technology is necessary to warrant uniformity, a maximum of individuality can only be achieved through a reduction of it." <br /> <br /> This is not to say that innovation is scarce at Castle Gobelsburg. Moosbrugger developed what they call the "Dynamic Cellar Concept," a method in which the wine is transported gently through the winery in "barrels on wheels" instead of pumping it from one place to another which many winemakers feel dulls the wine. But each innovation is employed with a sense of place and tradition in mind. Even the barrels used at Castle Gobelsburg are hewed from the local forests instead of using French or American oak in a desire to achieve an "authentic personality from symbiosis between the trees that are grown under the same climatic conditions as the resulting grapes." <br /> <br /> But at Schloss Gobelsburg it is all about the soil. The mix of volcanic rock, sandstone, broken granite and loess (a fine dust that is a mix of alluvial deposits left from the runoff of melting glaciers) is perfect for not only white grape varieties such as GrüVe and Riesling, but also red varietals such as St. Laurent, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Over centuries of trial and error the Cistercian monks determined which vineyards where perfect for which grapes, and that tradition holds firm today. <br /> <br /> Schloss Gobelsburg is committed to producing outstanding wines of individual character and quality, and wines that truly represent the vineyard that the grapes hail from.<br /> <br /> In tasting the wines I found three common themes: 1) The wines taste of tradition and location. They exude character and fragrance and nuance that speak of the grape varieties that they are crafted from and from the vineyards from whence they came. Call it <I>terroir</I> on steroids. 2) The wines of Schloss Gobelsburg are finely balanced. Fruit, minerals, depth, weight and richness are always kept in line by ample acidity, a rare treat in today's world of fruit punch wines. And 3) They are so freaking good that I had a hard time putting them down. On more than one occasion I found myself doing more "drinking" than tasting. A good problem to have.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2269">Brut Reserve Sekt Kamptal NV</a> is comprised of about 70% GrüVe with Riesling and Pinot Noir making up the rest. It is sourced from only the best vineyard for each grape and is disgorged by hand after three years on the lees. A more fashionable bubbly with a bright orange label only spends 12 months on the lees, and frankly isn't as good either! Elegant floral aromas intertwine with notes of toast and spice. The mousse is long and the bubbles are tiny. Crisp and refreshing, but with considerable weight and concentration, this wine is the definition of both ethereal and elegant. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2270">2006 Grüner Veltliner <I>Gobelsburger</I></a> is a blend from the single vineyard sites as well as a splash of fruit from outside of the property. This is the "entry level" wine of Castle Gobelsburg, though I think there are few better examples of dry and crisp GrüVe anywhere. A slight floral note on the nose is augmented by a big Granny Smith apple tartness in the mid-palate, which is then followed by a wave of cream and then finally a long, minerally finish. Medium-bodied, it is a wine of immense enjoyment and I can think of nothing better for a warm spring evening.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2271">2006 Grüner Veltliner <I>Steinsetz</I></a> hails from a single vineyard located on an elevated plain south of the Castle. The soil is a unique mix of black loam, sand and alpine pebbles. It is also without a doubt in my top five GrüVes all time, and indeed one of the best white wines I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Aromas of wild mint, white pepper and a field of alpine flowers on a warm spring day lead to a palate that is juicy, crisp, linear and fruit-forward. Honeysuckle, spring peas, pink lady apples and a hint of cream in the center drag on and on. The finish just doesn't seem to want to quit. What an amazing wine! <br /> <br /> The Steinsetz also travels in a Burgundy-shaped bottle instead of the usual Rhein-style of GrüVe. According to Moosbrugger this is because the bottle should represent its content. Light and lean styles of wines get the tall and slender bottles, while the broad feel and expansive palate of a wine such as the Steinsetz can only be contained in a more robust Burgundy bottle.<br /> <br /> Moosbrugger also produces a line of wines called "tradition." This inspiration for this line came when he was tasting through the Gobelsburg catalog of wines, a cellar of Rieslings and Grüners that dated back some forty vintages. The question was raised as to what those wines tasted like when young since the winemaking process is so very different nowadays. And so Moosbrugger crafts the Tradition line in an homage to that previous style of wine. The wines are made in the same way that they were in the 19th century as opposed to the twenty-first. The grapes are given a long, slow pressing and then fermented without temperature control. After they are placed in large oak barrels and racked every four months for a total of eighteen months before bottling. The subtle exposure to warmer temperatures and more oxygen creates a wine that is more rich, expansive and yes, even a little oxidative upon release. <br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2272">2005 Grüner Veltliner <I>Tradition</I></a> is broad and open, with a big, voluptuous mouthfeel and an abundance of clover, truffle honey and even a touch of caramel. Veins of bright acidity shoot through the weight to refresh the palate. This is what Montrachet tasted like before it new it was Montrachet. A long and lusty finish seems to linger on the tongue for an eternity.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2273">2006 Riesling <I>Gobelsburger</I></a> is exactly what a great dry Riesling should be- Refreshing, crisp, medium-bodied and full of spice, vigor and flavor. Fresh citrus, peach notes and even a touch of quince in the mid-palate lead to a fresh finish that cleanses the palate and draws the taster in for another sip. Always one of the truly great values in white wine.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2274">2006 Riesling <I>Vom Urgestein</I></a>, whose name literally translates as "from primary rock," is a study in Riesling complexity and minerality. Fresh raspberry and tree fruits mingle with a little honeysuckle on the nose, while the palate has richness, depth and length without feeling heavy. That is the true nature of a well-made Riesling. You feel the weight of the wine on your tongue, but it never feels <I>heavy.</I> A long stone-laden finish hints at the nature of the vineyards.<br /> <br /> One of the great dichotomies in wine, Schloss Gobelsburg continues to produce fantastic wines from one year to the next, and gain fame and acclaim from hack wine writers like myself from one year to the next, and even win an award or two in the process, but the wines remain extremely affordable despite the tough European wine market. I wholeheartedly encourage you to seek these wines out because of their quality, tradition and unique nature. <br /> <br /> As Terry Theisse always does he says it best: "Gradually, one step at a time, Moosbrugger has added new categories of excellence to his roster, until it seems everything he touches blazes into brilliance.", 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Terres Dorées<br /><br />Beaujolais has always been the red-headed stepchild of Burgundy. Located just to the south of Mâcon at Burgundy's southern tip, the 34-mile region has always suffered because it doesn't produce elegant Pinot Noir like its northern brethren. Wine snobs the world over constantly bash the appellation as if they only produced plonk instead of wine. For example, once I asked a sommelier if he was planning to serve Beaujolais Nouveau at his restaurant on the third Thursday of November, to which he responded, "Why would I even think about celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau? I wouldn't put that swill to my lips if you paid me."<br /> <br /> Most wine regions carry a stereotype that they find difficult to shake. California Chardonnays will always be thought of as oaky and buttery, even though some wineries are now aging the grapes in stainless steel vats to shed the stereotype. Similarly, Beaujolais may always be thought of as Welch's grape juice with just a dab of alcohol added. And the wine does come by it honestly, as any consumer who has purchased a DeBouef or Latour entry-level Beaujolais can attest. But there is one winemaker who has dedicated his life's work to shedding all stereotypes of the region, and to restore the traditions that made his beloved Beaujolais a household name around the world. That winemaker is Jean-Paul Brun of Terres Dorées.<br /> <br /> Terres Dorées can be found near the quaint town of <a href=",+france&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=37.410045,103.359375&ie=UTF8&ll=47.115,5.778809&spn=8.04576,25.839844&z=6&iwloc=addr">Charnay</a>, in an area known as the "Region of Golden Stones". Charnay is near the southern tip of Beaujolais, about a 30 minute drive from Lyon to the south. The heart of the estate is a 25 hectare tract of land that is situated upon a bed of permeable clay and limestone, and is where most of the Gamay grapes for Brun's wines are grown. Terres Dorées also owns small parcels of land in the granite-based soils of Moulin-à-Vent, Morgon and Côte-de-Brouilly. Brun is also experimenting with plots of Chardonnay (3 ha) and Pinot Noir (2 ha) near his estate.<br /> <br /> With little more than 4 hectares of land to his name and a belly full of passion, Brun started his winemaking venture back in 1979. The first decade or so of his career marked a time when Beaujolais production was skyrocketing, and many winemakers were money hungry for the mass influx of cash that arrived in November after the first batches of <a href="/articles/61">Beaujolais Nouveau</a> left the winery. Wineries began moving away from barreling and cellaring their wines, and instead were pouring the leftover Beaujolais Nouveau into bottles falsely labeled as Beaujolais AOC or even worse as Cru Beaujolais, the best wines of Beaujolais which carry the name of the villages, or <I>Crus</I>.<br /> <br /> But Brun never fell under the spell of the almighty Franc, and instead grew his business slowly and deliberately all the while ensuring that he crafted his wines the way his ancestors had intended. One of his first detours away from the ways of his neighbors was to refuse to use the yeast known as 71B, a tomato-based yeast from Holland that helps the wine to ferment, and in doing so imparts banana and candy flavors and aromas on the wine. Today, unlike many of the larger wineries, Brun uses only yeasts that are found naturally within the grape and the vineyard, which allows the truer flavor of the Gamay grape to shine through.<br /> <br /> Almost all Beaujolais winemakers <a href="/glossary/6">chaptalize</a>, or add sugar to their wines in order to raise the alcohol level. But Brun believes that raising the alcohol level of his wines above 13% does not create a true Beaujolais wine, nor does it necessarily make the wine taste better, and instead chaptalizes his wines only when absolutely necessary. Finally, Brun uses the smallest amount of <a href="/glossary/207">sulfites</a> that he can get away with during wine production. Sulfites are a natural preservative that are added to wines to encourage a cleaner fermentation process, but Brun recognizes the fact that enough carbon dioxide, which also acts as a preservative, is created naturally during the fermentation process that there is minimal need for sulfites in his wines and as such uses them sparingly.<br /> <br /> But what is it about their wines that makes Winegeeks want to feature Terres Dorées as a winery of the month? Folks, these are wines with personality, wines that are a representation of the multi-faceted personality of Jean-Paul Brun and a fantastic representation of the true personality of Beaujolais. These are wines that are determined and serious, yet at the same time are witty and playful. These are wines that demonstrate the über-fruity goodness of the Gamay grape, as well as the granite, limestone and clay atop which the vines are grown. These are wines that will make you completely forget about the Côte d'Or for an evening. Simply put, these are wines that make us geek out.<br /> <br /> Let's start with the <a href="/wines/856">L'Ancien Beaujolais Nouveau Vielles Vignes</a>. This wine is made in the typical tradition of Beaujolais Nouveau, but I had to look at the label numerous times while consuming this wine to make sure my eyes weren't deceiving me -- I couldn't believe this was a Nouveau. This isn't your typical Nouveau, this is Nouveau on steroids. It is structured and complex with a flavor pallette that almost reminded me more of Syrah than the typical Beaujolais I was used to consuming, and a roasted game aroma that nicely complemented the black cherry, blueberry and spice notes. Year in and year out, this is perhaps the best Nouveau available on the market.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2099">L'Ancien Beaujolais Vielles Vignes</a> is also a step above the standard Beaujolais. Rather than being one dimensional, a granitey goodness coats the cheeks with each sip and brings complexity to the black cherry and blueberry flavors found in the wine. If you were to try this in a blind tasting, you'd guess correctly that this wine was a Beaujolais, but because of its structure and elegance you'd be much more likely to pin this as a Cru Beaujolais from Morgon or Moulin-à-Vent.<br /> <br /> At $13, the <a href="/wines/2208">Beaujolais Blanc</a> offers a refreshing change of pace for the Chardonnay grape. On the palate, it features a bracing acidity, with flavors of honeydew melon, grapefruit, lemon and gooseberry, a hint of flowers and a subtle limestone in the mid-back palate.<br /> <br /> Light up your barbecue to pair some roasted chicken and veggie skewers with the <a href="/wines/1070">Brun d'Folie Beaujolais Rosé</a>. This Rosé is a gorgeous cranberry color, made so by removing the wine skins (which contain the color pigments) after the first 24 hours of pressing the grapes. True to its color, it features cranberry on the palate, with red raspberry, roasted almonds and a little barbecued bok choy to boot.<br /> <br /> And last but not least is the <a href="/wines/1063">FRV 100 Sparkling Gamay de Jean Paul Brun</a>. To demonstrate his light-hearted nature, Brun named this sparkling wine, FRV 100, which when you say it out loud you hear "Eff-err-vay" and then the French word for 100, "cent", to make the name "Effervescent". True to its name, this sparkling Gamay is a jovial wine, which starts with a peppy frizzante, shows an array of strawberry, cranberry, figs and minerals mid-palate, and ends with an off-dry strawberry finish. You can drink this with either appetizers or desserts, and I guarantee you'll see smiles around your dinner table., 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800Au Bon Climat<br /><br />Jim Clendenen is a funny dude. He is also responsible for some of the most balanced and delicious wines this side of Burgundy. He mixes a quick wit with winemaking talent and adds in a liberal <I>dossage</I> of loud shirts, and the result has been twenty-five years of great wines from just about every grape variety under the sun.<br /> <br /> In true oenologist-ADHD fashion he has worked with Italian varietals under the labels Bricco Buon Natale and Clendenen Family Vineyards. His Vita Nova label is reserved for Bordeaux grapes. He has made wines in Oregon under the Ici La Bas brand, and crafted Pinot Noir in Carneros with the handle Barham Mendelsohn. But through it all he has had one winery that has been his baby, one winery that has risen above the rest and garnered fame, fortune and fans everywhere. This is Au Bon Climat. <br /> <br /> In just under three decades Jim has taken Au Bon Climat winery from a tiny outpost of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Santa Maria Valley area of Santa Barbara County to one of the most respected and beloved labels around. He was voted the Winemaker of the Year by <I>Food and Wine Magazine</I> as well as one of the "Fifty Most Influential Winemakers" by <I>Wine and Spirits</I>. Au Bon Climat has been on Robert Parker's list of best wineries of the world and Jim was recently inducted into the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who in Food and Wine." He even has his own Wikipedia page.<br /> <br /> But the true genius of Jim and his many projects is that all of the wines taste good. They are closer to Burgundy in style than Napa. He crafts Pinots and Chardonnays that are refined, balanced and complex. Never will one find a syrupy, syrahy, slobbish excuse for a Pinot in this line up. Very apropos since Jim's inspiration for a foray into the world of wine began with a trip to the birthplace of wines that are refined, balanced and complex- Burgundy. <br /> <br /> It all started on a trip to France his junior year in college. A couple of bottles of great Burgundy, a little Champagne, and a passion was born. Though he graduated with a degree from UC Santa Barbara in pre-law, Jim went into the world of wine as an assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa. Short stints in Australia and France followed and in 1981 Au Bon Climat winery was born.<br /> <br /> From the beginning Jim knew that the cooler climate and proximity to the Pacific Ocean set Santa Barbara apart from its more heralded neighbors to the north. Even the name of the winery which means "a well-exposed vineyard" in French is a testament to the long growing season and temperate climate of the Santa Maria Valley. <br /> <br /> The philosophy at Au Bon Climat has always been to emphasize the wonderful fruit and terroir of Santa Barbara. Extensive research is done in the vineyards in regards to planting, clonal selection and canopy management. The grapes are given the utmost care both out in the fields and on the sorting table. Only the best French Oak is used. Minimal fining and filtration is the norm. Fermentation often takes place in smaller open-topped tanks, just as many once did in Burgundy. <br /> <br /> The grapes have come from some of the best vineyards south of San Francisco Bay: Talley, Sanford & Benedict, and of course the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard in which the winery sits. In 1998 Jim purchased 100 acres of land across the Santa Maria Valley from Bien Nacido and named the vineyard Le Bon Climat. It has been certified organic since 2003.<br /> <br /> While I could blather on for days about this award and that recognition that Jim and Au Bon Climat have received over the years, I would prefer to just make with the funny so what follows is a little Q & A with some kid from Akron, Ohio who turned into one of the world's best winemakers.<br /> <br /> <B></B> How did growing up in Akron prepare you for a life in wine? <br /> <br /> <B>Jim Clendenen:</B> Mostly it gave me an extraordinary education, but the long winter nights taught me to imitate well and to bullshit.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> Making wine has been compared to making music. Do you think your wines come off as being like a concerto or closer to hair metal? (I would say concerto since some times hair metal is all glitz and no substance!)<br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> My wines are laconic 60's and 70's message music (Kinks, CSN, David Bowie) and never out-of-style to the cognoscenti, open to multiple listenings and interpretations, far more complex than at first look, and just a little bent.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> Drew Neiman of Neiman Cellars likes to call you "the bad boy of CA wine." Is pioneer of Santa Barbara more accurate? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> In 60's culture bad is good. Back then I was bad and good. In the 80's and 90's, I might have been only bad. Now I'm a fully responsible adult in every way.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> How has the county changed since you first arrived in Santa Barbara? How's the traffic since "Sideways"?<br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> Lots of new wineries making overripe wine. Traffic's busy. Alexander Payne rules!<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> You have so many wines and projects going on, how do you keep track of them all? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> I have a great group working with me, an uncanny memory, and the ability to forget completely if I screw up.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> Your wines have always been favorably called "Burgundian" in style. Do you credit this to the climate, or your winemaking style, or to a little of both? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> It is definitely both. A long cool dry growing season, and the common sense to harvest grapes in balance.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> You work with so many varietals from Italian to Bordeaux and of course Burgundian, which ones give you the most satisfaction? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> The Burgundian ones. I try to dance the most with the girl who brung me.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> Was there one particular bottle of Burgundy that propelled you into the wine industry? Or was the entire trip an "aha" moment? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> My entire trip to Burgundy in 1977, and specifically a 1972 Beaune Vigne de L'Enfant Jesus from Bouchard of all people at La Pyramide in Vienne.<br /> <br /> <B>WG:</B> Do you have any new projects in the works? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> The Clendenen Family Vineyard project with three-year barrel-aged Petit Verdot, four-year aged Nebbiolo in neutral barrel, and other wacky wine styles. Also, dry (I mean bone dry) Gewurtz which cannot be sold, and thus is my pious statement for a belief in afterlife.<br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> Twenty five years of great wines is a long time. To what do you attest your longevity when so many others have closed up, sold out or just moved on? <br /> <br /> <B>JC:</B> We never changed our style, kept our prices in line, built our customer base, and I couldn't find anything I liked to do better.<br /> <br /> To include notes for all of the wines from Jim Clendenen would require a marathon session from both author and reader, so instead I offer a sampling from Jim's extensive line-up. However, I wholeheartedly recommend trying anything from Jim that you can get your hands on so please do not limit yourself to the wines you see here!<br /> <br /> One of the best values in California Chardonnay from one year to the next is the <a href="/wines/2174">2006 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay</a>. Juicy, crisp, clean and refreshing, adjectives not normally associated with CA Chard! Notes of citrus, ripe pear and lemon cream shine through on both the nose and the palate. The wine is fermented and aged sur-lie in neutral barrels to add a creamy note of complexity.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2175">2005 Pinot Blanc / Pinot Gris Santa Barbara County</a> is a fresh and fruity wine with citrus, apple and spice notes along with hints of white flowers and marzipan. Crisp acidity on the finish says this wine belongs on the dinner table. <br /> <br /> From an estate vineyard planted in 1994 comes the <a href="/wines/2176">2003 Hildegard Santa Maria Valley</a>. A blend of Pinot Gris developed from old Burgundian clones mixed in with Pinot Blanc and a little Aligote, the Hildegard is a intensely-flavored, complex and thought-provoking white. Supple and rich, the nose is awash with spices, floral undertones, baked apples and even a hint of anise. The palate follows through with weight and richness but also a superb balance of acidity on the finish that keeps this full-bodied wine from feeling flabby or fat.<br /> <br /> The <a href="/wines/2173">2005 Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley <I>La Bauge au-dessus</I></a> hails from a block of vines that Jim Clendenen planted in '94. This is consistently one of my favorite wines and a testament to what true Pinot should taste like: Balanced, finessed, complex and with more acidity than you will ever find in a 15.5% ABV monster "Pinot" from Napa. Violet perfume and bright fruit aromas lead to a palate that is silky and easy to like with notes of black cherries, blueberries and a touch of mocha. Delicious. If Nuits St.-Georges had an American cousin, the <I>La Bauge</I> would be it. <br /> <br /> Among the many Pinot Noir bottlings from Au Bon Climat are two named for Jim and Morgan Clendenen's two children: The Isabelle Morgan and the Knox Alexander. The <a href="/wines/2177">2004 Knox Alexander Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley</a> is from some of the best fruit in the Bien Nacido Vineyard. Big, broad and more tannic and structured than the other Pinots in this line-up, the Knox Alexander is one to wait for. Black cherries, subtle spice notes, cherry-cola and roasted herb nuances waft from the glass in an endless stream of aromas. Flavors of blackberries, dried cherries and a touch of earthy forest floor notes are tied to fresh acidity and ample tannins. Give this bottling a little quiet time in the cellar.<br /> <br /> As for the <a href="/wines/2178">2005 Isabelle Morgan Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley</a> it is crafted from the best barrels of the single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Au Bon Climat. Ripe, round, complex and big, with a broad swath of cherry and black-berry fruit, but also a hauntingly expressive nose of fruit, perfume, spice, earthiness, elegance....the list goes on and on. Another full-bodied Pinot that could use a little time in the cellar, but this comes as no surprise since Jim is known for trying to produce wines that are "better now than when they were made."<br /> <br /> Winemaking is a family affair in the Clendenen household as Morgan Clendenen has become known for her Viogniers under her Cold Heaven label as well as a joint project with Condrieu producer Yves Cuilleron. <br /> <br /> With all of these great wines, it is lucky for us that Jim "couldn't find anything that he liked better.", 31 Dec 69 16:00:01 -0800 Winegeeks