Oct 122015
 

Michigan Wine - Chateau Chantal

This summer, my family and I took a trip to Traverse City, Michigan to spend some R&R and check out Michigan wine country. Not many folks outside of the state ever consider Michigan wine, but they should. The mitten state has some very dedicated and talented winemakers, and it shows in the quality of the wines they craft.

There are several winegrowing AVAs within the state. The best, in my opinion, are the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, which is where we spent our time on this trip. I’ve been to the area before, but before I could legally drink. So, needless to say, it had been a while. As we drove from winery to winery, I was struck by the beauty of the area. I’ve been wine tasting in a lot of regions, including California (all over), Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Texas, New York, Maryland, Missouri, Colorado, Ohio, Spain, Italy, and France. Hands down, the most beautiful region has to be the Old Mission Peninsula. It was absolutely stunning! I highly recommend a visit.

Not only are the views tremendous, but the people are friendly, helpful, and hospitable. It reminded me a bit of Napa Valley in the old days. There was an obvious love of the area and its wine in everyone we met.

Michigan is known for producing great Rieslings. And they are. While I don’t pretend to know all the nuances of the growing conditions, I’d wager it’s a combination of latitude, lake effect, and soil type. In addition to Riesling, however, the area produces a number of other Vitus Vinifera and hybrid varietals. We tasted some great Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc, and Gewurztraminer. I think the region has some room for improvement with their Pinot Noir.

In addition to grape wines, the state is the country’s leader in the production of fruit wine such as cherry wine. We tried a few of these, and they were quite good.

During our time, we visited Chateau Chantal, 2 Lads Winery, Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and Black Star Farms, and had a wonderful experience at each. I also recommend wines from Left Foot Charley, L. Mawby, and Chateau Grand Traverse.

Oct 132014
 

It’s Drink Local Wine Week 2014, and we kicked it off with a trip to TasteCamp in Hudson Valley, New York. For those in the know, New York is one of the top five wine producing states in the nation. When most people think of New York wine, however, they would most likely choose the Finger Lakes and maybe Long Island. Hudson Valley wine wouldn’t be high on their list. Well, I’m here to tell you that they make some pretty damned decent wine in Hudson Valley.

Is it the caliber of Napa Valley or Willamette Valley? Well, no, probably not. They still have some growing up to do; ironically, since they claim the oldest continually operating winery and oldest planted vineyard in the country.  They haven’t quite found their identity like the Finger Lakes has with cold climate varieties such as Riesling and Long Island has with Bordeaux varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Cold climate varieties show a lot of promise, as do several hybrid varieties. Cabernet Franc could also be a contender.

That said, they have all the right ingredients. First, they are in the backyard of the biggest wine market in the country. By far, New York City is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to the wine business. But, because they are so close, Hudson Valley wine has two major advantages: access and price.  Second, they have enthusiastic winemakers who work together to promote the overall Hudson Valley wine community. I was told by Yancey Stanforth-Migliore at Whitecliff Vineyard that they frequently meet with other winemakers to taste and critique their own wines. Third, they’re not afraid to ask for help. Several wineries we visited use outside consultants from the Finger Lakes, Long Island, and beyond. Ben and Kimberly Peacock of Tousey Winery regularly consult with Peter Bell at Fox Run Winery, arguably one of the best producers in the Finger Lakes area. And finally, they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. Unlike many wine regions who emulate Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Napa, by planting Chardonnay and Cabernet everywhere and try to produce “international-style” wine, Hudson Valley wines seem to embrace their uniqueness, whether intentional or not.

The attendees to TasteCamp had the opportunity to taste dozens of wines. The following are some of the standouts.

Millbrook - Hudson Valley Wine

The converted barn at Millbrook Vineyards & Winery.

Millbrook Vineyards & Winery

In 1979, John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner of Agriculture, purchased the old Wing Dairy Farm and converts it to wine production. A few years later, in 1985, Dyson hires winemaker John Graziano and Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is established as a commercial winery. Today, the winery farms roughly 140 acres, which probably places it among the largest in the Hudson River Region.  The winery is a converted barn and is really something to behold. It’s rustic, yet it really works for the area. I liked their Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 ($30) and Proprietor’s Special Reserve Hudson River Region Chardonnay 2012 ($25).

Winemaker Cristop - Hudson valley Wine

Winemaker Kristop Brown with a little intro for TasteCamp attendees.

Robibero Family Vineyards

Harry and Carole Robibero purchased their 42 acre estate in 2003, and began making their own wines in 2007. Today, their winemaker, Kristop Brown, is pushing the Robibero family to grow and improve. They are small now, but have plans for gradual grown, and will be planting a new vineyard soon. I liked the New York State Cabernet Franc 2012 ($40) and the New York State Traminette 2013 ($19).

Benmarl Winery

Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, it’s 37 acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. The winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1. Matthew Spaccarelli is Winemaker and General Manager, and he makes arguably the best Cabernet Franc I tasted all weekend. I liked the Seneca Lake Semi-Dry Riesling 2012 ($17.99) and the Ridge Road Estate Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2012 (N/A).

Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery

Michael Migliore and Yancey Stanforth-Migliore literally built Whitecliff Vineyard & Winery from the ground up in what was an empty field thirty years ago. They built the winery, they planted the vineyards, and they made the wine. They have a sweet story. They are both avid rock climbers and met each other while climbing the nearby Shawangunk Ridge. The ridge can be seen from the winery, and is the inspiration for the name of the winery. I liked the Estate Bottled Hudson River Region Cabernet Franc 2013 ($22.95) and New York Riesling 2013 ($16.95).

Tousey Winery - Hudson valley Wine

Tousey Winery may be humble, but they make damn good wine.

Tousey Vineyard

Tousey Vineyard began as a family-run enterprise (and still is today) by Ray Tousey. The winery is now run by Ben and Kimberly Peacock – Ray’s daughter.  They are kind of the new kids on the block, but as such they bring a more modern sensability to a pretty traditional area. Kimberly and Ben are young and enthusiastic, and it shows in their wines. Their strong suit is their Rieslings, but they are make reds under a second label. I liked the Estate Grown Hudson River Dry Riesling 2013, Estate Grown Hudson River Riesling 2013, and Estate Grown Hudson River Reserve Riesling 2013. I don’t think the 2013 wines are officially released, hence no prices listed.

Hudson-Chatham Winery

I’ve known owner Carlo Devito for years. He was largely responsible for organizing TasteCamp this year. Quite frankly, he has a screw loose, but you’ll never meet a nicer guy. He’d give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it. But, he’s also a brilliant marketer and built Hudson-Chatham Winery into a powerhouse. His signature grape? Single Vineyard Baco Noir. I kid you not. And it’s good! I’ve had the priviledge of tasting through several vintages and several vineyards. they are really unique and something to seek out.

There were also several creamery visits, a distillery tour and tasting, and some sightseeing around the Hudson Valley, but that is a tale for another post and perhaps another blog.

Aug 282014
 

Homersapien: Evolution of the palate

“A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age …”

Shakespeare from Twelfth Night

Last year I sat down to interview Yosh Han, internationally known custom perfumer. Like previous interviews with wine industry colleagues I wanted to deconstruct Yosh’s internal strategies for olfactory memory especially given that the range of possible aromas for perfume is exponentially far greater than wine. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Yosh’s strategies for remembering aromas were entirely based on visual very similar to most of the wine professionals I’ve interviewed. In a second session I met with Yosh and Amanda Holt, her assistant, (website) to create my own personal scent. We started with more than 50 vials of different aromas. The process was simple: she passed me the vials of an aromas one by one without telling me of the contents and I said either “yes,” “no,” “love it” or “hate it.” I then handed vials to Amanda who grouped them in said categories keeping aside the ones from the liked and loved categories. We went through several rounds finally narrowing down my favorites to seven: peppermint, rosemary, violet, waves (marine note), aloe, night queen (jasmine), teak, and something called washed suede. Yosh then blended them and tweaked the percentages until we both liked the results. The final scent, at least according to my wife Carla who knows infinitely more about perfumes and essential oils than I ever will, is a unisex scent that could be worn by either men or women. For the record, she likes it—a lot.

Yosh frequently blends custom scents for clients, not an inexpensive endeavor. I asked her about it and she said her client sessions were often like scent therapy where a client would often overload on a certain category like sweet smells (chocolate) or musk smells or floral smells and leave everything else out completely resulting in a completely skewed blend. At that point she would gently suggest to the client that a balance of different scents was needed for the best result and slowly guide them to include other categories of aromas. In a way she was expanding their olfactory universe and their appreciation for completely different and for them probably previously unnoticed scents and sensory experiences. I then asked Yosh was she liked best; what were her favorite aromas. I really wasn’t surprised to hear her say that she liked practically everything as long as it was high quality and done well. She immediately asked me what kinds of wines I liked best and I had to give the same answer; I like practically any style of wine as long as it’s balanced and made well. But it hasn’t always been that way and that got me thinking to how my tastes in wine —my likes and dislikes—have changed over the last 30+ years. It also made me ponder how one’s palate undergoes an evolution of sorts over time. With that in mind here’s a completely un-researched, undocumented, and otherwise reckless account of the evolution of a palate.

Warning: the following may contain elements of sarcasm, droll humor, parody, and otherwise snarky commentary.

Phase I

Phase I: Katy Perry

Wine as liquid sweet confection. If Starbucks really gets into the wine game this will be style numero uno to map across from the shockingly schlocky and uber sweet concoctions they shamelessly market as “coffee.” I will say no more. The wines from Phase I are usually pink or white in color and slightly-to-moderately sweet in style. Today we not only have Muscat in all its various forms but a new category of sweet red wines both of which have once again has left the industry scratching its collective head while scrambling to get the tanks filled, the wines sweet enough, and the labels catchy enough to be commercially appealing. It seems as if every generation finds a way to give itself permission to drink fruity and slightly sweet wines and the Moscato/sweet red thing is no exception. That’s simply because most of us, self-included, started in the way back machine of our wine careers by initially drinking wines that were off-dry to quite sweet and hopefully balanced by enough acidity so as not to resemble, well … Katy Perry. For me that was ‘70’ incarnations in the form of Lancer’s and Mateus rosés, odd vinous creatures packaged in cans called “wine coolers,” and the likes of Blue Nun, Reunite Lambrusco, and White Zinfandel. Not surprisingly, most were mass market brands with the mega-funds to promote on TV and in print media. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has to start somewhere and remember that anyone drinking any kind of wine is good for the industry. At this juncture it’s only fitting that I quote my Mom who once said, “It takes all types to fill up the freeway.” And of course, she was right. Ultimately one hopes that the Katy Perry crowd moves on to at least Phase II. But if they don’t it’s all good; no harm no foul.

Phase II

Phase II: Rombauer

Editorial note: I am NOT bashing Rombauer Chardonnay or the good people at the Rombauer winery in any way, shape or form here. They make good wine and they do a good job. Everyone should be as successful. Everyone got it? Good. Moving on. What Rombauer Chardonnay has to do with Phase II of the evolution of a palate? Simple: it’s all about novice drinkers graduating from innocuous, sweet mono-chromatic wines to a full-bodied and lush single varietal wine with layers of intense fruit flavors and the first taste of new oak—the latter of which will likely become the crack of their wine drinking world. Inhabitants of Phase II also usually become very interested in what they’re eating in terms of quality; this despite the fact that they will consume mass quantities of Chardonnay with any and everything including red meat. Eventually many in the Phase II club will crave for even more intensity and discover red wines. And like every toddler boy who first learns to walk, they won’t walk but will instead race full-bore, pell-mell directly into …. Cabernet Sauvignon!

Phase III

Phase III: Monster Truck Pull

Having developed a serious oak habit wine now becomes a full contact sport for newly minted members of Phase III. More often than not it’s a guy thing–no make that a group of guys thing—as in a group of guys in the backyard having just consumed half a grilled steer and the better part of case of very expensive California Cabernet. Now they’re moving on to cigars, Port and the inevitable and awkwardly emotional “I love you, man” moment. For denizens of Phase III, if it doesn’t have 15+% alcohol it’s not wine. They tend to eat lots of red meat and also develop a serious fortified wine habit because after all, Port is really loud wine too! Acquiring a whiskey (y) habit also may also happen at this point in the evolutionary phase which can actually be a good thing in terms of quality, style and terroir of the best malt whiskies and Bourbons. Needless to say, the hangovers experienced by Phase III members can be legendary. The discovery of amaro is therefore common in this phase and a medical necessity. I discovered Fernet Branca while in Phase III and it saved my life on just such an occasion. Alas, parenthood and advancing age can take their toll on members of Phase III. But a certain percentage of them at some point experience a life-altering vinous moment and move quietly into Phase IV.

Phase IV

Phase IV: Oh Blinding Light …

In Phase IV the wine drinker moves from full contact to nuance the result of a beautiful sadness of life moment usually at the hands of a great bottle of Burgundy. Instantly wine goes from collision to filigree and along with this blinding light moment often comes the realization that the “where” of a wine can be more important than anything else. Such mystical moments sometimes occur while traveling to so-called sacred home turf environs such as Burgundy, Jerez and the like. Initiates of Phase IV also cross an invisible line from “eat to live” to “live to eat” and planning dinner while having lunch is a common affliction. Potential downsides to Phase IV often involve becoming a hopeless and equally insufferable Francophile snob with the victim never returning to a balanced vinous state. Extreme cases involve joining various wine societies or clubs that require secret handshakes, wearing pastel sashes with medals and ribbons, and even—god forbid—the donning of long Obi Wan-like robes. With their recent spiritual conversion Phase IV rangers are notorious for demeaning big-ass Cabernets—the same big-ass Cabernets they were only recently hoovering at an alarming rate. Further, they may take to slamming any wine for having too much alcohol or for not being authentic–whatever the hell that means. Ahem.

Phase V

Phase V: It’s a Small World …

Phase V is really an extension of Phase IV; here the individual has their first great Riesling experience and with it the blinding realization that wines with residual sugar can be cosmic—as great as any wines on the planet. Moreover, these same delicate, slightly sweet and acid-crazy wines are among the most versatile food wines that exist. Phase V regulars often drink more white wines than red and crave what is in reality insane levels of minerality and acidity regardless of what’s in their glass. But they also “get” simply made country wines with the right intensity of fruit and a good acid balance (that acid word again). And if they haven’t rediscovered Champagne and top quality sparkling wines (think Franciacorta) in Phase IV they do so with a vengeance in Phase V. Italy looms large for red wines in Phase V again for the acid/minerality thing and Phase V’ers will put up with various amounts of VA and brett to get their fix.

Phase VI

Phase VI: “Even the Irish …”

The above short quote from the brilliant Mel Brooks movie (soon to be a blog post unto itself) Blazing Saddles. Those who make it to Phase VI have traveled full circle in that they have no problem drinking slightly sweet wines. In fact, someone who gets to this point in palate evolution LOVES slightly sweet wine but with a huge caveat: it HAS to be good as in top Vouvray Demi-Sec or Spätlese/Auslese Riesling. But more importantly they like—no make that love—practically every kind of wine as long as it’s well made; from shockingly acidic Brut Zero Champagnes to bone dry and austere VORS Palo Cortado Sherries to top Cabernets from Coonawarra to VA-laced old school Piedmontese Barolo to decadently succulent TBA’s from Austria or Germany. As Mayor Olson Johnson of Rock Ridge said, “Aw, prairie sh*t… Everybody!”

Reprinted by permission from TimGaiser.com.

Jul 172014
 

2014-06-30 20.23.43No one can accuse John Geber of lacking imagination or lacking enthusiasm. He exudes enthusiasm from the moment you meet him and, as for his imagination, well, it runs rampant.

Most people riding their bicycles past an abandoned building would keep on riding, but not John. Instead, while cycling through the Barossa Valley one day, he chanced upon a chateau for sale and decided to buy it on the spot. After the deal had been made, John called his wife to share the news. The couple are clearly made for each other since she first asked him how many bedrooms the chateau contained rather than the more rational question: “Are you insane?”

John’s new purchase was originally built in 1890, and as the largest chateau in Australia it is the size of three football fields and three stories high. After the deal closed, the chateau was eventually fully renovated and its vineyards restored, giving birth to the Chateau Tanunda brand of wines.

Among Chateau Tanunda’s previous marketing efforts, John used to bring 20 people down to Australia each year to visit his property. But, he recognized that such an approach was inefficient and changed tactics. John decided to do what any reasonable person (oh right, we already decided he was insane), he bought a yacht; now, he brings Australia to the U.S.

The Grand Barossa Cru yacht has kept John “on the road” quite a bit in past several months. Setting sail from Boca Raton, FL on May 6th of this year, the yacht has traveled the eastern seaboard, during which time it visited 18 different ports of call and held 65 events over the course of 60 days. The boat and crew arrived in New York City in late June, entertaining wine and lifestyle writers with Australian cuisine, a brief jaunt in the harbor and, of course, the Grand Barossa wines.

Additionally, John shared his three key messages with us:

  • “Australia is not a brand called Yellow Tail
  • The Barossa Valley is one of the five most important valleys in the world of wine and the only one located in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The Barossa Valley is the “Napa Valley” of Australia, at a third of the price, and it has more varieties than just Shiraz.”

During the voyage, we had the pleasure of tasting several wines including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Among my favorite was the Chardonnay, which despite having a small portion fermented in French oak, is surprisingly fresh and elegant. As John noted, “We are not carpenters.” All of wines had great, vibrant acidity and were well suited to enjoy with food, whether at home or on a sea cruise.

May 302014
 

Artisan tableEntertaining seems to have come full circle. While intricately formal dinner parties are no longer de rigeur, the renewed focus on cocktail and dinner parties seems to imply that hosts have abandoned an haphazard approach in favor of paying attention to details and ensuring that their guests are well cared for.

This renewed emphasis on creating the perfect environment in which to entertain now extends beyond the home and into restaurants, where white plates have been banished in many establishments, which is fortunate for Jono Pandolfi. This ceramics designer has now become well-known for his dinnerware collaborations with notable chefs at high-profile restaurants such as 11 Madison Park and Nomad. You can dress your table with equally impressive style, thanks to Pandolfi’s joint project with Crate & Barrel.

Once the table has been beautifully set, adorning it with delicious food and fabulous wine is the obvious next step. At a recent event held at the Scott Conant Culinary Suite, a test kitchen space in New York’s Soho neighborhood for the noted restaurateur, the artful table brought a trusted name to the bottle and glass.

Known for its Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the #1 Italian Brand in the U.S.), the Colavita family has entered the world of wine production in partnership with Terlato Wines. In recognition that “Italy’s two most important food products are olive oil and wine,” the co-founders of Colavita USA (Enrico Colavita and John J. Profaci) were prompted to create their own brand of wine and looked to Terlato to help them realize their dream.

As explained by Giovanni Colavita, CEO of Colavita, the family approached winemaking the same way they approach olive oil production – identifying and working with the best producers throughout Italy. In this regard, the grapes for each wine are sourced from a specific region and are iconic of that region.

The collaboration and approach are certainly novel, but the selection of wines proved worthy of such an elegantly set table.

The current Colavita-Terlato portfolio includes four wines:

ColavitaColavita Pinot Grigio 2012, Trentino, Italy, $15.00
From northeastern Italy, this wine is fermented in stainless steel and is a young, fresh wine with bright acidity and nice citrus aromas and flavors.

Colavita Verdicchio di Matelica 2012, Marche, Italy, $15.00
Located in central Italy, the Marche region is known for the Verdicchio grape, which shows off the mineral characteristics of the calcareous soils, especially in the Matelica zone.

Colavita Pinot Nero 2012, Provincia di Pavia, Lombardy, Italy, $15.00
Lombardy is known for growing Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) for the production of Franciacorta, a Traditional Method sparkling wine. Here the grapes are used for crafting a well-made still wine with vibrant cherry and herbal notes. A truly fabulous Pinot Noir at this price!

Colavita Valpolicella Ripasso 2011, Veneto, Italy, $23.00
A blend primarily of Corvina (70%), with Rondinella (20%) and Corvinone (10%), this wine is made using partially-dried grapes – the ripasso in Valpolicella Ripasso – which adds richness and body to the resulting wine.