Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Wine Connoisseur's Pet Peeve with a Soupçon of Self-Promotion

I recently had the good fortune to be profiled in the Chestnut Hill Local, with a cover story on the arts and entertainment section of this esteemed community weekly paper.  The focus is mostly on my background and interest in wine education, including the wine tasting classes I've been conducting at the Mt Airy Learning Tree for over 10 years now.  I also took the opportunity - since I was asked in the interview - to vent over the high mark-up on bottles of wine in restaurants.

In any case, I'm indebted to the good people at the CHL, especially Len Lear, the author of the article, for the honor and privilege to be featured in such a positive light in their paper.  A tip of the hat also to my friend Stephanie, whose lovely image graces the cover page with poise and panache.

Please see the following link for the article:

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Bordeaux Tasting - Celebrating 10 Years of Wine Tasting Classes!

To celebrate my 10th anniversary of conducting wine tasting classes at the Mt Airy Learning Tree (MALT) in Philadelphia, we returned to the region featured in my very first class in 2009 - Bordeaux!  Many fine vintages have made their mark in this world-renowned region in the past ten years, and we had the opportunity to sample a select cross-section of both reds and whites.  Although the price points are noticeably higher than most selections in my classes, they are definitely worth the investment, especially for the reds that may be cellared for many years to come.  In fact, they will continue to improve over time, mellowing out the tannins and melding the flavors together into a cornucopia of sensations for the nose and palate.

We necessarily sampled the red wines at an early stage (2014/2015 vintages), but already the complexity, depth and expressiveness are very apparent and showed the promise of the greatness to come several years down the road. My personal favorites were the Château d'Aguillhe,  Château Kirwan and Château Haut-Batailley (The whites are fully enjoyable at this point in time.)

If you truly want to experience what all the fuss is about with regard to Bordeaux wines, I highly recommend splurging a little on one of these fine reds, and sock it away for at least 5-10 years in a cool, dark environment, and then share it with someone special.  You'll be glad you did!  

And here's some info on how to store a wine for a long period of time:

A votre santé!

Château Tour de Bonnet Blanc 2016


Appellation : Appellation Entre Deux Mers Contrôlée
Varietals : Sauvignon Blanc ; Semillon ; Muscadelle
Production/Tasting Notes : Crisp, fruity (citrus, pear), tangy with lemon-rind and crushed stone character; medium bodied;  bright acidity; lively finish. (91 point James Suckling)
Food Pairing: light hors d’oeuvres; apéritif
Alcohol: 12%

Château Doisy Daene Blanc 2016

Appellation: Appellation Bordeaux Contrôlée
Varietals: Sauvignon Blanc; Semillon
Production/Tasting Notes:  Bouquet of white peach, orange pith and citrus notes seamlessly integrated with the oak; extremely well-balanced palate with nice touch of  acidity;  precise, razor-sharp finish. (93 points, Wine Advocate)
Food  Pairing: light seafood, dessert, or on its own as an apéritif
Alcohol: 12%

 Château Garraud Lalande de Pomerol 2015

Appellation: Appellation Lalande de Pomerol Contrôlée
Varietals: 93% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc,3% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Production/Tasting Notes: Aging:25% in new oak barrels, 33% in 1 and 2 year-old barrels, 42% in vats.  Intense walnut, plum and blackberry character; full-bodied, velvety. (93 points, James Suckling)
Food Pairing: beer tenderloin; grilled duck breast; roast leg of lamb; entrecote steak
Alcohol: 13.5%

Château Grand Corbin Manuel 2015


Appellation: Saint Emilion AOC
Varietals: 80% Merlot - 15 % Cabernet Franc - 5 % Cabernet Sauvignon
Production/Tasting Notes: Hand-picked; grapes are sorted out in the vineyard then in the cellar thanks to a vibrating sorting table; destemming by hand; winemaking in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks (tank capacity from 60 to 70hl); cold maceration for 3 days; malolactic fermentation in barrels; vatting time 20 days; maturing in new French oak barrels ( 50 %) and one-wine French oak barrels ( 50 %).   
Plum pastries with violets and spiced blueberry fruits; impressive plushness on the palate with a rich, fleshy appeal; round, ample mouth feel; well-built structure; long finish.
Food pairing: beer tenderloin; grilled duck breast; roast leg of lamb; entrecote steak
Alcohol:  13.5%

Château D’Aiguilhe Côtes de Castillon 2015


Appellation: Côtes de Castillon AOC
Varietal: 80% Merlot; 20% Cabernet Franc
Production/Tasting Notes  Harvesting: By hand, into small crates to avoid bruising. Sorting before and after destemming; no crushing. The grapes are put into vats by gravity flow. Fermentation: In temperature-controlled wooden and concrete vats for 25-30 days depending on the vintage. Extraction by pneumatic pigeage (punching down the cap). Malolactic fermentation and ageing: In new oak barrels (up to 50%) on fine lees .Fining and filtering as necessary, depending on the vintage. Duration of barrel aging:15-18 months. Average vine age: 28 years.
a swath of toasty, singed vanilla starts off, quickly backed by waves of currant and plum preserves. As the flavors knit, a graphite spine emerges and drives the anise- and apple wood-tinged finish. Let this settle in with a little cellaring. Very solid. Best from 2020 through 2027 (92 points, Wine Spectator, “Smart Buy”
Alcohol: 13.5%

Château Lagrange  2014

Appellation: Appellation Saint Julien Contrôlée
Varietals: 76% Cabernet Sauvignon; 18% Merlot; 6% Petit Verdot
Production/Tasting Notes: Troisème Cru (3rd Growth); Traditional Bordeaux vinification is carried out in 92 temperature-controlled stainless steel vats of varying capacities, thus allowing a separate vinification to respect the character of each plot and soil-type, each terroir; vatting time between 16-28 days depending on the tannic development in the fermenting wines ; firm, dry with solid tannins; black currant and berry fruits with crisp , juicy acidity. (94 points, Wine Enthusiast)
Alcohol: 13.5%

Chateau Kirwan  2014

Appellation: Appellation Margaux Contrôlée
Production/Tasting Notes: Troisème Cru (3rd Growth)  
Mainly gravel soils, but some are also clay; fruit is picked and sorted twice by hand, then vinified in separate batches corresponding to individual vineyard parcels; half the oak barrels used to age the wine for 18 months are renewed every year.   Deep brilliant ruby red color reflects a nose fo black and red berries - cherry, black currant, blueberry, enhanced by aromas of spices (cinammon), pink peppercorns and vanilla; this vintage has a strikingly tactile quality; it starts out mellow, then offers the taste buds a rich body, with nearly imperceptible, velvety tannins and an acidity that perfectly balances out its silky texture; cocoa and coffee complement a broad aromatic palette; extended finish blends hints of perfectly ripened cherry and subtle roasted notes that continue to carress the palate. (96 points, Wines Enthusiast, Editor's Choice)
Alcohol: 13.5%

Château Haut-Batailley 2015

Appellation: Appellation Pauillac Contrôlée
Varietals: 72% Cabernet Sauvignon; 28% Merlot
Production/Tasting Notes: Cinquième Cru (5th Growth); matured in 60% new oak; nose and palate bathed in blackberries and dark plum; blackberry, boysenberry, tobacco and cedar aromas; long, fresh tannins; oak is highlighted with spicy flavors and bolsters plush grape tannins in a harmonious finish; aging potential: 25-30 years(94 points, James Suckling; 94 points Wine Advocate)
Alcohol: 13.5%

What separates a $20 Bordeaux from a $300 (or $3,000) Bordeaux:
- Place where grapes are grown
-Age of Vine
-Yield of the Vine
- Winemaking technique
- Demand: Blame the Chinese!
Factoids about Bordeaux
·         Left Bank (Pauillac, St Julien, Pessac, Graves, Medoc, etc.) – Cabernet-based wines
·         Right Bank (St Emilion, Pomerol, etc.) – Merlot-based wines
·         French law dictates that a château may appear on a wine label only if the château really exists.
·         Major red varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc (also, Petit Verdot, Malbec as blending grapes)
·         Major white varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscadelle
·         57 Appellations: Major Bordeaux classifications: Médoc, Haut Médoc, Graves, Pomerol, St Emilion, Sauternes
·         10,000 Châteaux
·         13,000 Grape Growers
·         5 Premiers  Crus (First Growths) according to 1855 Classification
1. Château Lafite-Rothschild
2. Château LaTour
3. Château Margaux
4. Château Haut-Brion
5. Château Mouton-Rothschild

Notes on a few of the Châteaux

A place of great agricultural activity even back in Gallo-Roman times : from the Gallo-Roman VILLA RUSTICA to the « GRANGIA » in the Middle Ages which was to give the estate its name.

Lagrange discovers an early winegrowing vocation thanks to the Templars who join together two domains :
– The « maison noble de Lagrange de Monteil » to the West joins the « Tenure of Pellecalhus » (meaning « peeled stone ») to the East. In the present-day vineyard, the names of two vine plots bear witness to this era, « l’Hôpital » and « La Chapelle »;
– Lagrange becomes the largest wine producing estate in the Médoc.

But the history of the different owners cannot be reconstructed until after 1631.
The 18th century brings renown to Lagrange
Baron de Brane, a Bordeaux parliament member, and owner of Mouton, acquires the property and its renown thus becomes more widespread.
In 1790, Jean-Valère Cabarrus, an influential merchant known to be very active in the shipping business, invests in the property and establishes his own sales network. In 1820, he commissions Visconti to build the Tuscan-style tower that is to become the emblem of Château Lagrange.
From Jefferson to Duchâtel, the story of a classification
During a trip to Bordeaux In 1785, Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, judges Lagrange second among the Third Classified Growths. In 1855, Lagrange ranks among Third Classified Growths. This is thanks to the work of Count Duchâtel, owner from 1842 to 1874. In 1842, Count Charles Tenneguy Duchâtel and the Countess bring change to Lagrange :
– Innovation with a pottery drainage pipe factory.
– Château Lagrange now stretches over 300 hectares of which 120 are under vine.
– The Count is a politician, Home Secretary to King Louis-Philippe.
– Passion for the arts, Member of the Académie des Beaux Arts.

The Japanese group, Suntory, acquired the domain when the purchase was signed by the company president, Mr Keizo Saji, in1983.
Marcel Ducasse was then recruited along with Kenji Suzuta to undertake the complete restructuring of the vineyard and a spectacular renovation of the whole estate. This first step was to mark the rebirth of CHÂTEAU LAGRANGE.
After twenty years of dedicated work, as well as human and technical investments, Lagrange had once again found recognition amidst its peers and had achieved a certain sense of fulfilment.
Today a new tandem, Matthieu Bordes and Keiichi Shiina, have taken over this quest for excellence. A second phase of investments began with the 2008 vintage, offering Lagrange the technical means to follow its ambitions: The production of refined, elegant and expressive wines, in the best Saint-Julien style. There has also been an evolution of production methods towards a greater awareness of the environment and a reduction of ecological impact on the property.
This philosophy is reflected not only in the respect shown for the domain’s History, and the nurturing of its truly exceptional Terroir, but also in the unique experiences shared all over the world around a glass of one of Lagrange’s wines.

Haut Batailley

The Cazes family, which heads Château Lynch-Bages, are the proud new owners of Château Haut-Batailley, an 1855 Grand Cru Classé in Pauillac owned previously by the Des Brest-Borie family. Both families have had strong roots in the Pauillac and Médoc landscape for generations. Château Haut-Batailley, acquired by the Brest-Borie family in the 1930s, was until now managed by FrançoisXavier Borie. “We are delighted that Château Haut-Batailley has been accepted into the fold of the Cazes family, who are committed to continuing the work undertaken at the estate. We're confident that they will maintain the identity and character of the property,” said François-Xavier Borie. Château Haut-Batailley today comprises some 40 hectares, 22 hectares of which are already planted. In terms of grape variety, the property has 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. Its vines are on average 35 years old. The property also has its own technical facilities, in perfect working order. “Château Haut-Batailley is a magnificent property that has always produced great wines. We're particularly happy that it has passed between two families who have friendly relations and know each other well,” said Jean-Charles Cazes, general manager of the family-owned group. “This acquisition will strengthen our presence in Pauillac with the aim of undertaking a project distinct from Lynch-Bages. In order to respect the estate’s identity and the integrity of its vineyard, the property will be managed independently and have its own dedicated team of technical experts.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Black & White: Pinot Noir & Chenin Blanc

Recently, a group of wine aficionados gathered together to enjoy an evening of "Black and White" - Pinot Noirs from around the world, and a couple of "Blancs" - Chenin Blanc.  Although these varietals originate in France, they have found suitable, nay flourishing, terroirs in New World wine regions that offer an even wider array of taste profiles and structures.  In fact, South Africa has become a major world source and exporter of Chenin Blanc, and New Zealand has become the new frontier for Pinot Noir.  

All the wines  tasted were purchased at Total Wine in Delaware, except for the Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc, available in Pennsylvania's wine stores.  The Chenin Blancs were $15 or less, and the Pinot Noirs were about $20 and above.  Which brings me to my pet peeve regarding wines from Burgundy (both red and white).   It is virtually impossible in my experience to find a high quality Burgundy for less than $30 retail, whereas the moderately priced options for New World Pinot are much greater.  The limited production and excessive world market demand for Burgundy are such that even "medium range" wines are out of reach for the average consumer.  Indeed, a casual scanning of Burgundies reviewed in Wine Spectator shows that the majority go for at least $70 and often extend into the hundreds of dollars.  So if you are a Pinot lover, your best bet is to seek out the wide variety of New World versions, and perhaps occasionally splurge on a Burgundy (or find a rich uncle with a passion for it!)
Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc 2018  ($12.29)

Varietal: 100% Chenin Blanc
Appellation: Western Cape, South Africa
Production/Tasting Notes: hand harvested; soil: decomposed granite, fine sandy loam on clay base; quince and pear drop flavors; earlier picked freshness shows on palate with crunchy green apple and grapefruit flavors; tangy finish.
Food pairings: light al fresco summertime meals
Alcohol 13 %

The Petit Range is mainly from contracted vineyards that Forrester manages from pruning to harvest, specifically sourced to suit a fruit forward profile, to offer soft, market ready, instantly pleasing easy, everyday drinking wines.

Vinum Cellars Chenin Blanc 2015 ($15)


Varietal: 100% Chenin Blanc
Region: Clarksburg, California
Production/Tasting Notes: vibrant, pale yellow wine; on the nose tropical fruits such as kiwi and casaba melon notes and a touch of linalool and blood orange notes;  balanced acidity on the palate revealing flavors of citrus lemon, key lime, Pipin apple, fig, Meyer lemon zest; finish with honeysuckle, mango, passion fruit, kumquat.
Alcohol 13.5 %

Clarksburg is a special North Sacramento Delta wine grape appellation. Although the soils are generally clay loam, the location of these vineyards is situated near the Sierra Mountains where it receives cool afternoon breezes that moderate the warm daytime temperatures.  The chenin blanc is grown by maximizing sunlight into the canopy, while this cooling trend helps to preserve natural acidity. 

Château Philippe-Le-Hardi Pinot Noir « Vieilles Vignes » 2015 ($30)


Varietal : 100% Pinot Noir
Appellation : Bourgogne AOC
Production/Tasting Notes : Notes of cherry, earth, spice; rich palate of fresh fruit, with hints of truffle and spice, adding complexity to the lingering supple finish; medium-bodied
Food pairing: BeefVealGame (deer, venison)Poultry

Alcohol 13%

Château de Santenay is one of the largest wine-producing estates in Burgundy. This prestigious property, consisting of the Château with its remarkable glazed tile roof and a 98 hectare vineyard, is the fruit of an ancient heritage intimately linked to the history of wine production in Burgundy.
Philippe le Hardi (1342-1404) son of King Jean le Bon of France was the most illustrious owner of Château de Santenay.
A brilliant politician, Philippe le Hardi began a magnificent chapter in the history of Burgundy, founding the Valois of Burgundy dynasty, which would reign for over a century. Assembled over the course of the twentieth century, through various purchases and inheritances, the estate consists of a mosaic of plots on the Côte d’Or and the Côte Chalonnaise.

Thanks to this diversity of “climats”(small plots of vines) the château produces a wide variety of wines whose nuances and subtlety result from the unique geology.

Coelho Atracao Pinot Noir 2016 ($25)

Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Classification: Willamette Valley (AVA), Oregon
 Production/Tasting Notes: Non-irrigated, sustainably farmed; volcanic & sedimentary soil; aromas of spice, cherries and toasty cedar; velvety texture enhanced by flavors of cherry, cranberry, chocolate; vibrant; supple, smooth finish; medium-bodied
Alcohol 14.1%

Coelho Vineyard, Willamette Valley AVA  

27.5 ac. Pinot Noir (Pommard & Dijon 777 clone on 101-14 rootstock)
1 ac. Pinot Gris (Pinot gris 152 on 101-14 rootstock)
1.5 ac. Chardonnay (Chardonnay 76 graft to Dijon clone on 101-14 rootstock)
Non-irrigated, sustainably farmed (Salmon Safe & LIVE certified)
225-255 feet elevation
968 plants per acre
North South row alignment
Woodburn soil: young, volcanic and sedimentary
Vineyard located 3 miles south of winery
Willamette Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA) (in the soon to be approved Van Duzer Corridor AVA)
Single curtain and vertical shoot position trellis system
Southern slope

Cottesbrook Pinot Noir 2014 ($19)


Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Region: Canterbury, New Zealand
 Production/Tasting Notes: Vibrant bouquet of fruit and earthy aromas, exuding flavors of raspberry, plum, clove, oak with a smooth lingering finish; dense, rich, oaky
Food pairing: roast poultry, wild game, New Zealand lamb
Alcohol 13%

The Canterbury wine region spans nearly 200km of the South Island’s eastern coastline, with the magnificent Alps to the west and the sweeping Pacific Ocean to the east.
The region has an excellent reputation for elegant and expressive Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatics, with other varieties achieving outstanding results.
The cool, dry climate with high sunshine and a long growing season promotes full varietal expression.
Vineyards were first established on the Canterbury Plains in 1978, with plantings to the south-west of Christchurch and North Canterbury following close behind.
Today vines are planted from Waimate in the south, to Cheviot in the north, and include the micro-climates of Banks Peninsula and Waipara Valley. The latter has drawn critical acclaim for its sub-regional expression.

River Road Russian River Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 ($20)


Varietal: 100% Pinot Noir
Region: Russian River Valley, Sonoma Country, California
Production/Tasting Notes: barrel aromas of anise, molasses, dusty earth, sweet smoke, wisp of cardamom;  ripe (sweet) cherry, plum  flavors on the palate; layers of mulling spice, smooth tannins; blackberry jam lingers on the long finish; medium-bodied
Food pairings: roasted duck; swordfish
Alcohol 13.7%

River Road Family Vineyards and Winery is a small-production winery located in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley American Viticulture Area of Sonoma County, California. The cool climates of Green Valley of Russian River Valley and Sonoma County are ideal for producing vibrant, fruit-forward wines that capture the unique personalities of varietals.
Early history of Green Valley of Russian River Valley includes a bit of Russian History. Russians immigrants arrived in Green Valley of Russian River Valley in 1812 to settle the Sonoma coastline between Bodega Bay and Fort Ross. It wasn’t until 1836 that Yegor Chernykh, a Russian agronomist, developed food supplies for their Alaskan settlements. He established a farm just west of what is now called Graton. His wines were intended for sacramental purposes. These vineyards were among the first cultivated fields in what is now the Russian River Valley appellation.
The current history of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation begins in 1983, when it was established as Sonoma County Green Valley. The American Viticultural Area (AVA) of Green Valley then underwent a name change. In 2008, the Tax and Trade Bureau approved a name change from Sonoma County Green Valley to its official name today of Green Valley of Russian River Valley.
Green Valley is located in the middle of Sonoma County and in the south-central area of Russian River Valley. Its terroir is considered by many to be the crème de la crème grape growing region for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The climate in the Green Valley, with its close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, makes it one of the coolest appellations within Sonoma County, favoring the cultivation of these cool climate varieties.
Green Valley of Russian River Valley begins its landscape from just north of Petaluma and Forestville, and reaches northward to Sebastopol. According to Jim Pratt, “When the Pacific receded, it left great soil: sandstone, down anywhere from about five to nine feet, with a sandy loam soil on top. So what we have is a moderate clay layer that’s permeable to water. This gives us outstanding drainage, with the sandy loam on top. This is good nutrient content, but not so much that it dictates the vigor of the vine. This way the winemaker and grape grower can actually work together with the soil, take what it gives, and then add this Green Valley area’s climate.”

The fruit in Green Valley of Russian River Valley ripens slowly, which produces wines with lower alcohol and more evenly balanced acidity, a hallmark for perfect, food friendly wines. 

Factoids about Pinot Noir

      - One of the 7 noble grape varietals
      - The only red grape permitted in the Cote d'Or region of  Burgundy
      - Cultivated in Cote d'Or for over a thousand years
      - Thrives in cooler climates, such as Willamette Valley (Oregon), Russian River 
          Valley (California), Carnos (California), Marlborough (New Zealand)
      - Styles range from fresh fruit/easy drinking to intense fruit/ripe tannins, to 
         elegant/medium-to-full bodied with succulent fruit flavors, complexity
          and refined tannins
       - Thin-skinned, late ripening, prone to rot and easily damaged by rough handling
       - Notoriously difficult to make into premium wine
       - One of the primary varietals used to make Champagne
       - Gained increased popularity following the movie "Sideways" in 2004

The Five “S’s” of Tasting:

1) Seeing; 2) Swirling; 3) Sniffing; 4) Sipping; 5) Savoring

What Does “Well-Balanced” Mean? F-A-T-A:

                     Fruit, Acidity, Tannins, Alcohol