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Etna Erupts

One of the great things about Italian wines is that so many notable ones, both white and red, fly under the radar.  Everyone’s familiar with the great wines of Tuscany, Chianti Classico and Brunello, to name just two, and from Piedmont, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, but these wines often command triple digit prices, commensurate with their reputations.  My advice is to explore other regions, such as Sicily, and especially Mount Etna.  Though Etna received that island’s first Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1968, it still accounts for only about one percent of the island’s wine production.  And it’s only been in the last couple of decades that more than a few producers have explored and embraced its unique and challenging terroir.  (Most winemakers worry that rain at harvest could ruin a year’s work.  On Etna they worry that an eruption could wipe out a decade or two of work.)  In 2017, none other than Angelo Gaja, arguably Italy’s most well-known producer, purchased about 50 acres on the slopes of the volcano.  To quote Daniele Cernilli (a.k.a. Doctor Wine®), one of Italy’s top wine experts and critics, “The attention from a producer of such great and recognized prestige has confirmed the undisputed value of the volcano’s terroir, strengthening its image and consolidating its position among the most interesting areas in the world for wine production.”  Now, as you’ll see below, Etna’s wines are not inexpensive, but they are amazing for what they deliver.

One of Sicily’s top producers, Donnafugata, has been exploring the different lava-influenced terroirs on Etna.  If you haven’t tried their wines from Etna, or any wines from Etna for that matter, you’re in for a real treat; they’re the kind of wines that make you wonder—why haven’t I heard about these before now?

Donnafugata, still family-owned and one of Sicily’s top producers, has finally made it to Mount Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano.  They had their sights on viticulture on Etna about 20 years ago, but got side-tracked to Pantelleria, an island off Sicily’s southwest coast.  Fortunately, that detour resulted in the birth of Ben Ryé, a wonderful sweet wine (DOC Passito di Pantelleria) made from the Zibibbo (a.k.a. Muscat of Alexandria) grape that has savory undertones and bracing acidity, making it a perfect accompaniment to a cheese course or to act as dessert by itself.  I, for one, am glad they finally made it up the mountain because they are making stellar wines there that erupt with flavor.

Though Donnafugata’s first vintage on Etna was the 2016, they do have old vines because they purchased and rehabilitated vineyards, some of which are 80 years old.  While no one can say for certain why old vines produce better grapes, and hence, better wines, every winemaker I’ve ever spoken to agrees that they do.

Etna’s a hot area, both literally and figuratively, for stellar white and red wines made from the autochthonous grapes, Carricante, Nerello Mascalese, and Nerello Cappuccio.  Though Donnafugata’s historic home is in Marsala on the opposite, western, side of the island from Etna, they’ve established estates all over the island since 1983 when Giacomo Rallo founded the company.  With about 50 acres, their Etna property is the smallest of their four estates.  (For completeness, Donnafugata has just over 700 acres in Contessa Entellina, 90 acres in Vittoria, and about 170 acres on Pantelleria.)

The Etna DOC encompasses about 2,700 acres in a reverse C arc around the volcano’s northern, eastern and southern sides.  The same three basic components that explain the distinctive quality of great wines around the world are present on Etna: a unique climate, a unique soil, and unique grapes.  Despite being in the middle of the Mediterranean, Etna’s elevation gives it a continental climate, characterized by cold winters, wet springs, and hot summers.  Snowy winters and rainy springs provide ground water for the vines during the hot dry summers, while the large day-night temperature changes during July, August, and September maintain acidity in the grapes and hence, the wines.  The volcanic soil from successive lava flows, known locally as sciare (literally, to ski), imparts a distinctive mineral component to the wines.  The grapes, Carricante for the whites, and Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, for the reds, are unique and grown practically nowhere else.

Carricante, an aromatic white grape, typically displays fabulous acidity and a distinct sapidity or saline touch.  Donnafugata’s 2018 Etna Bianco DOC “Sul Vulcano,” made entirely from Carricante, displays an immediately engaging floral component.  A crisp and chiseled wine, it captures the best elements of that grape.  This paradoxically vibrant yet restrained wine starts to blossom after 30 minutes in the glass.  Its refreshing, saline-tinged acidity keeps it fresh, and you coming back for more, throughout the meal.  This mid-weight mineral-laden white is just what you want for the hot and humid months ahead.  (95, $40).

Nerello Mascalese, like Nebbiolo, often lacks color despite substantial tannins.  A high-acid grape, it delivers both fruity and savory elements.  Nerello Cappuccio, in contrast, has great color, soften tannins, and a larger fruit profile, which makes it an excellent choice to blend with Nerello Mascalese.

Donnafugata’s 2017 DOC Etna Rosso “Sul Vulcano,”
 a blend of Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio, is a seductive mid-weight red that marries red fruit flavors with a distinct lava-like minerality.  Not an opulent wine, it has a lovely austerity without being hard or astringent.  Indeed, it’s clean and elegant with an exceptionally long and refreshing finish which makes it perfect for current consumption this summer with grilled meats or seafood in a tomato sauce.  (92, $35)

Donnafugata is exploring how wines differ depending on where the grapes grow.  During a Zoom tasting earlier this month, José Rallo and Antonio Rallo, the sister and brother team running the company now, explained that there are over 100 distinct areas, locally called contradas, which are determined by lava flows.  The contradas, which vary in size from 5 to 10 to over 100 acres, have a distinct and unique microclimate despite their often close proximity, according to Antonio.  He explains that the contrada Montelaguardia, whose soil is a result of a 1614 to 1624 eruption, and the cooler contrada Marquesa, whose soil date from a different eruption, are only a couple of miles apart, but produce different wines.

Donnafugata’s 2017 Etna Rosso “Fragore” from the Contrada Montelaguardia, made entirely from Nerello Mascalese, is denser than Sul Vulcano Rosso, but paradoxically, still displays a wonderful austerity.  This is no fruit bomb.  Indeed, the power and concentration have a lava-tinged savory character.  As expected from a monovarietal Nerello Mascalese, the tannins are more apparent, but are finely honed, not astringent or green.  Good acidity keeps this muscular wine fresh and invigorating.  The name, fragore, which means the sound or the roar of the eruption, is appropriate because of the wine’s energy.  This Fragore just needs time, maybe five years, to blow off steam and settle down.  (95, $85).

Time will tell whether the wine world will know the contrada of Etna as well as the villages of Barolo or the vineyards of Burgundy.

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Email me your thoughts about Sicilian wines in general or those from Etna in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein 

Terroir is Alive and Well in Barolo

With three wines, all made from Nebbiolo grape, the Marchesi di Barolo, a top producer in Piedmont, shows the importance of terroir.  The French, especially the Burgundians, have long insisted that the idea of terroir—where the grapes grow—is fundamental to the character of the wine.  Indeed, the French name many of their wines, and certainly their best ones, by where the grapes grow, not by the grape name.  No Pinot Noir for them.  It’s Gevrey-Chambertin or Pommard.  The Italians take a somewhat broader approach.  Some of the best Italian wines, such as Barolo, are named by location.  Others are named by the grape, such as Barbera, and some are named by both, such as Langhe Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape from the Langhe, a wider area of Piedmont surrounding Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco) or, Barbera d’Alba.

The only way to truly understand terroir is by holding constant the other key element in determining a wine’s character, namely the winemaking.  Here’s the dilemma.  If I’m tasting two wines from grapes grown in two different vineyards made by two different producers, are the differences due to the place (the vineyard) or to the producer? Hence, the key to appreciating terroir is to compare the same producer’s wines made from grapes grown in different sites.  And thanks to the Somm Journal webinar hosted by Italian wine expert Lars Leicht and featuring Valentina and Anna Abbona from the family that owns Marchesi di Barolo, we could do just that.

We tasted a trio of wines, side-by-side, all made by the Marchesi di Barolo: a 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo DOC “Sbirolo,” a 2015 Barolo, Comune di Barolo, and a 2015 Barolo “Sarmassa.”  The vintages were not the same, but both 2015 and 2018 were similar in style, being warm, and thus producing ripe wines.  And though the barrel aging is not the same among these three wines, the aging and winemaking in general is driven by where the grapes are grown.  So, the differences among these three wines essentially reflect the differences in terroir.

Wines labeled Langhe Nebbiolo must contain a minimum of 85 percent Nebbiolo, though most all are entirely Nebbiolo, and can come from vineyards classified as such or from Barolo (or Barbaresco) vineyards that have been de-classified.  Producers might opt to declassify some of their Barolo to Langhe Nebbiolo if, for example, the grapes came from an inferior part of the Barolo vineyard or the wine did measure up to the producer’s standards for Barolo.

The bright and lively 2018 Marchesi di Barolo Langhe Nebbiolo “Sbirolo” displays light floral notes and delicate cherry-like fruitiness.  The tannins, for which Nebbiolo is famous, are apparent, but not hard nor astringent.  Overall, there’s a pleasing austerity to the wine, making it an excellent choice for current consumption with pasta in a meat sauce as opposed to a stand-alone aperitivo.  (90 pts; $20)

The Marchesi di Barolo’s “Barolo del Comune di Barolo,” is a blend from their vineyards within in the municipality of Barolo, one of the 11 villages that comprise the DOCG and the one from which the DOCG takes its name.  The 2015 displays a darker profile, from color to palate, compared to their Langhe Nebbiolo.  Though a gorgeous floral element is present, the wine’s focus moves from cherry-like fruitiness to a tar-like mineral aspect.  It expands over in the glass, gaining layers of flavor.  It has great concentration, yet is not overdone.  A lovely, subtle bitterness in the finish enhances its appeal.  As expected from a Barolo, the tannins are more apparent, yet not intrusive.  It’s surprisingly forward and easy to taste, but its balance and structure suggest that more complexity with evolve over the next decade or two.  (93, $65).

Sarmassa, along with Cannubi, are likely the two top vineyards in the village of Barolo.  Marchesi di Barolo consistently produces a wonderful Sarmassa from their substantial holdings there.  The youthful 2015, denser and darker even than their Barolo del Comune di Barolo, is fabulous.  Despite its more noticeable tannic structure, its charms are readily apparent because the tannins are suave, not harsh or intrusive.  Wonderfully perfumed, this powerhouse retains balance and elegance.  Its grandeur blossoms further in an incredibly long finish.  Barolo-lovers should find a place in their cellar for this wine.  (95, $100)

The venerable Marchesi di Barolo estate has both a royal and saintly history.  Juliette Colbert, the great-grand-daughter (or perhaps great-grand-niece) of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, finance minister to Louis XIV, France’s “Sun King,” became the Marquise of Barolo when she married a nobleman, Marchese Carlo Tancredi Falletti di Barolo in 1806 and moved to his estate in Barolo.  She is credited with changing the style of the local wine from sweet and red, to dry and robust, yet elegant, one that is today’s Barolo, and with labeling it by that place name.  A great advocate for the poor and downtrodden, she was beatified by the Catholic Church and was titled Venerable by Pope Francis in 2015 because of her life of “heroic virtue.”  She died in 1864 without heirs, leaving the entire estate to a charitable foundation, Opera Pia Barolo, which she founded to continue her good works.  Opera Pia Barolo operated the estate until 1929 when charities were required to sell-off property.  Enter the Abbona family whose winery and vineyards were across the road from those of the Marchesi di Barolo.  Though not the best time to be making investments, they, either foolishly or prophetically, seized the opportunity to buy the estate.  Thus, the Abbona family became only the third owners of this jewel and contributed to the fiscal health of Opera Pia Barolo, which is till operational today.

In 1980, Ernesto, the patriarch of the family, again, either foolishly or prophetically, planted Barbera in the Paiagallo vineyard, one of Barolo’s top vineyards for Nebbiolo whose eastern border actually abuts Cannubi.  As Valentina, Ernesto’s daughter, told me several years ago when I visited, her father replaced the more valuable Nebbiolo vines with Barbera, even though he realized it may have been against his economic interest.  Ernesto wanted to return to the Piedmont tradition of having even “humble” varieties planted in the best terroir, according to his daughter.  She explained that he wanted to challenge the general image that Barbera belongs only in sub-par terroir.  She continued that, in this way, her father felt that Barbera could shine, displaying the elegance and power of a great terroir and, simultaneously, be more accessible at a young age.

All of which brings me to Marchesi di Barolo’s 2017 “Peiragal,” their Barbera d’Alba planted in the Paiagallo vineyard.  Suave, and elegant, it is not your “typical” Barbera.  It comes across softer and richer, despite excellent acidity, with far more complexity.  Plushness replaces the briary exuberance that I associate with Barbera and makes it immediately enjoyable.  It’s a lovely choice now for a rich meat sauce-draped pasta.  It does really shine.  (93, $29)

The French have long insisted that the grape is merely a vehicle for the terroir.  The grandeur of this Peiragal supports that theory.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Barolo in general or Marchesi di Barolo in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

2016 Brunello di Montalcino: Don’t Miss Them

The great success of the 2016 vintage throughout Tuscany suggested that the just-released 2016 Brunello would be memorable.  Is it ever! To my mind, it is, by far, the best vintage since 2010.  I certainly prefer the 2016s in general to the more powerful and overdone Brunello from the much-hyped 2015 vintage.  Many experienced critics, such as Kerin O’Keefe (whose book on Brunello remains the benchmark for the region) believe that the vintage ranks with the legendary 2004 and 2001 vintages.  The best 2016 Brunelli are sleek, racy, and, at times, explosive, yet not heavy or overdone.  They are balanced with super fine-grained tannins, which suggests that they should evolve beautifully with proper cellaring, though many are surprisingly easy to enjoy now.

In the past, in normal times, my assessment of the vintage would be based on the annual tasting in Montalcino in February and my discussions there with producers.  This year, Covid-19 prevented that annual trip, so my assessment of the 2016 vintage was limited to what turned out to be a beautifully organized tasting hosted by Gianfranco Sorrentino of Gattopardo, an excellent Italian restaurant in New York City.  Though fully vaccinated, I was still filled with trepidation since it was my first in-public tasting in over a year.  I armed myself with a Solo® cup personal spittoon and extra face masks just in case I forgot to remove it while tasting or spitting.  (I didn’t.)  Sorrentino had thought of everything.  Sixty 2016 Brunelli were available to taste in a socially-distanced setting.  Waitstaff poured the wines, which were on a single table.  Tasters pointed to the wine to taste, received a sample, and retreated to one of the small tables scattered around the large, seemingly well-ventilated room, allowing tasters to sit and taste without crowding.  Only 40 people, all masked, attended and remained masked unless tasting.  No producers were present.  My only insights from a producer came from a tasting with Count Marone Cinzano of Col d’Orcia via Zoom® conducted some weeks earlier.

With a broad smile, Cinzano described 2016 as a “classic year,” in the best sense of that term.  The growing season was perfect—not too hot, not too cold, not too dry, not too wet.  Importantly, he felt that the region was lucky to avoid the severe heat wave in 2016 that plagued them in 2015, adding that “a balanced year leads to a balanced wine.”

Much is rightly made of the diversity of the soil and climate within this small DOCG region, which consists of just over 5,000 acre acres.  Gabriele Gorelli, the newly minted MW (Master of Wine), explained the region’s diversity at a seminar last year.  He described the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG as a four-sided pyramid with the town at the pinnacle.  The vineyards are planted from just above sea-level to about 1,600 feet.  Although the overall climate is Mediterranean—warm summers and cool winters—he emphasized that it is not homogenous.  Each of the four main slopes has its own climate and pattern of precipitation.  Furthermore, the position of a vineyard on the slope plays an important role in the ripeness of the grapes and the character of the wine: the higher the vineyard is on the slope, the cooler the growing condition.  To complicate matters further, vast differences in soils, even over a small area, amplify the heterogeneity of the region.  Typically, the higher elevations represent the oldest soils with the greatest amount of limestone, by contrast to the more sedimentary or sandy soil near the base.  The hypothesis that wine style is affected by site location within the region is supported by my many tastings over the years of two of Silvio Nardi’s consistently alluring single vineyard Brunelli, Vigneto Manachiara—made from grapes grown in the clay-laden northeast sector—and Poggio Doria, from the gravely-northwest sector. These two wines show the wonderful diversity of wines from this DOCG.

Based on this tasting of 2016s, I could not identify a subzone that consistently excelled compared to other subzones in the DOCG.  Indeed, sometimes it is difficult to tell the locale of an individual producer’s grapes, since some producers own vineyards throughout the zone, not just adjacent to their winery, and make a Brunello that they consider representative of the DOCG.  Hence, knowing the location of the winery does not tell the whole story.  I found my favorites came from all over the entire region.  Indeed, two of my favorites, the 2016 Brunello from Col d’Orcia in the extreme southwestern section and from Castiglion del Bosco in the extreme northwest section, come from opposite ends of the DOCG.  Another favorite, the 2016 Brunello from Silvio Nardi, was made from a blend of grapes grown throughout the entire area.  I don’t find that surprising since I believe producers’ styles play as large a role in how the wines taste as does the origin of the grapes.

My advice is to buy as much of the 2016 Brunello as you can afford.  This is a great vintage that should develop beautifully over the next several decades.  Buy from producers you know and have liked in the past.  As with all wine regions, the vintage is important, but it’s still producer, producer, producer that is critical.  Due to Covid-19, my tastings this year and hence, my assessment of the vintage, was limited compared to previous years.  I did not have the opportunity to taste wines from producers that I consistently like, such as Canalicchio di Sopra, Gianni Brunelli, Il Marroneto, Mastrojanni, or Le Ragnaie.  That said, if I found them at reasonable prices, I would buy them without hesitation, even without tasting them.

The explosive yet graceful Le Chiuse (99 pts, $99) sits at the top of my list of 2016 Brunello.  The balanced Col d’Orcia (98, $44), perhaps their finest ever, is likely the bargain of the vintage.  Others I recommend highly are listed below.  The ones in bold represent great value.  Prices are from wine-searcher.com

CastelGiocando (97, $59)

Castiglion del Bosco (96, $63)
Corte Pavone (96, n/a)
Fanti, “Vallocchio” (96, $70)
Fulgini (96, $99)
La Poderina (96, $57)
Il Poggione (96, $79)
Talenti (96, $57)

Argiano (95, $57)
Campogiovanni (95, $55)

Capanna (95, $61)
Carparzo (95, $44)
Col di Lanio (95, n/a)
Donnatella Cinelli Colombini (95, $70)
La Fiorita (95, $85)
Silvio Nardi (95, $53)
Il Palazzone (95, $79)
Val di Suga “Vigna Spuntali” (95, $57)

Castello Banfi, “Poggio alle Mure” (94, $62)

Pian delle Vigne (93, $58)

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Email me your thoughts about Brunello at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

The Joys of Exploring Italian Wines

One of the many things I adore about Italian wine is its seemingly limitless depth.  You can always uncover a wine area or category unbeknownst to you, even if it’s been known to the Italians themselves for decades.  Take, for example, Albana Romagna.  It may be a discovery for me and other Americans, but the Italians have known the potential of the grape grown in this area for decades.  Comparably obscure to most of us is Refosco dal Peduncolo, a red variety usually showing hard-edged tannins, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al., but a grape that a talented producer has turned into a delightful red wine suitable for chilling.  That same producer also makes a dynamite Pinot Grigio (not exactly an obscure grape), that retails for about $12.  And of course, I’d be remiss if I omitted the new category of Prosecco Rosé, a brilliant marketing maneuver combining two of the hottest selling categories in wine today. At least that’s what I thought until I explored the subject a little deeper.

But first, let’s start with Albana Romagna.  In 1967, it was among the first wines to be awarded Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) status.  And then in 1987, it was the first white wine elevated to (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita) DOCG status, Italy’s highest classification.  Although the decision of the wine authorities to name this wine as Italy’s first DOCG white was controversial at the time, I certainly recognize their wisdom after tasting scores of examples four years ago at a tasting in Romagna and, more recently, a stunning one, by Celli, just last month at a Zoom® tasting organized by Michèle Shah.  Mauro Sirri, owner of Celli, and other producers describe Albana Romagna as a white wine masquerading as a red because of its power and a hint of tannic structure.  They also call it a sugar machine, which makes it suitable for sweet wines.  Yet, despite the high sugars, the grapes have incredible acidity, providing balance for both the dry and sweet versions.

The grape does exceptionally well in a specific kind of soil, called spungone romagnolo, a limestone rich sandy soil filled with fossils thanks to its undersea location three and a half million years ago.  The grand cru area for Albana, according to Ian d’Agata, a world authority on Italian wines, in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy, is Bertinoro, one of the twelve subzones of Romagna, exactly where Celli is located.  In addition to Albana Secco, the dry version, producers make a sweet version from late harvest grapes, Albana Dolce, a sweet one from partially dried grapes (passito or passimento), and also a sparkling version.

Celli’s 2019 Romagna Albana Secco, “I Croppi” (DOCG) is outstanding.  It’s a substantial wine, conveying subtle nutty and stone fruit character, similar to a white wine from France’s Rhône Valley, but with vibrant and penetrating acidity.  You feel the underlying mineral component—a captivating salinity—and an ever so slight and welcoming bitter tannic component that results from a short period of skin contact during fermentation.  It’s an elegant and balanced “orange wine,” without emphasis on the “orange.” (Orange wines are white wines fermented like red wines, that is, with extended skin contact.  Some can be unbalanced and overpowering.)  Cutting and clean, Celli’s I Croppi’s power and verve make it an excellent choice for those otherwise hard-to-match tomato-based or other highly-flavored seafood dishes.  But frankly, the wine is so satisfying, I’d be tempted to drink it with most anything.  (95 pts., $20.)

Refosco dal Peduncolo, a red grape named because its stem also turns red as it ripens, is found mainly in Italy’s northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.  Though it’s the region’s best-known red grape, according to d’Agata, it has had little commercial success in the U.S., perhaps because of the potentially tough tannins.  Ai Galli, a small, family-run winery based in the eastern Veneto, very near Friuli Venezia Giulia, takes a slightly different approach with their entry level Refosco dal Peduncolo, which carries the Veneto IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) designation.  They select grapes from younger vines and allow the yield to rise, which results in a lighter wine.  They also age the wine in concrete tanks, eschewing wood that could add more tannins.

Despite its dark red color, Ai Galli’s 2019 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (Veneto IGT), is not a heavy wine.  Fresh and clean, it delivers bright cherry-like fruit flavors wrapped in mild tannins.  Indeed, the tannins are soft, which means that chilling the wine does not amplify them.  The acidity keeps it fresh, making this charming wine an excellent alternative to a rosé, especially for those who are disappointed by the banality of most rosé.  It’s also a good match for hefty seafood as well as pizza or pasta with a Bolognese sauce.  (88, $12.)

Ai Galli also shows their talents with a bargain-priced (“entry-level,” as they call it) Pinot Grigio.  The Ai Gailli 2019 Pinot Grigio, (Delle Venezie DOC), a fresh and floral wine, has a captivating delicacy.  This clean, crisp Pinot Grigio finishes with a welcoming hint of bitterness.  It costs all of about $12 per bottle! (88 pts.).  Most Pinot Grigio bottlings at that price are vapid.  Ai Galli’s is not.  Alberto Piccolo, spokesperson for Ai Galli, told me via Zoom® that he felt it was essential to avoid skin contact entirely during fermentation because the grapes’ skins are grey-ish in color—hence, the Grigio or Gris, in French—and could impart color to the wine.

Starting with the 2019 vintage, Prosecco Rosé is an official DOC.  As noted in the introduction, I thought this was simply a brilliant marketing maneuver combining two of the hottest selling categories in wine today.  But, after speaking at length with Piccolo, whose winery makes an array of Prosecco, including a Prosecco Rosé, I’ve come away with a different impression.  He explains that Prosecco Rosé is a premium product that will inevitably cost more for a few reasons.  Most importantly, it must include 15 percent of Pinot Noir, the grape which gives it its rosé color.  The requirement that the Pinot Noir must be grown within the area will push the price up because that grape is not widely planted there.  Additionally, the Prosecco Rosé must be vintage dated, so blending over multiple years, as is allowed with regular Prosecco, is forbidden.  Thirdly, the secondary fermentation must be twice as long as for regular Prosecco, 60 days versus 30 days, which will also increase production costs.  I’ve not tasted many Prosecco Rosés yet so I’m looking forward to seeing for myself whether Piccolo is correct.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Italian in general or those mentioned here in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

February 24, 2021 

New Bordeaux Varieties

If this keeps up, the French will need to stop complaining about bureaucratic delays.  In just two years, the Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), the regulatory body for French wines, has approved six new grape varieties that can be planted in Bordeaux and included in the blend of the wines.  Two years!  It took the same regulatory body over a decade to codify Premier Cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé.  Mon Dieu, what is going on?

What’s going on is climate change.  These new varieties, four reds (Arinarnoa, Castets, Marselan and Touriga Nacional) and two whites (Alvarinho and Liliorila), can be planted in limited amounts in the less prestigious appellations, such as Bordeaux, Bordeaux Superior, and Entre Deux Mers, starting this year.  An estate can allocate no more than five percent of their vineyards to the new varieties and they cannot comprise more than 10 percent in of the final blend of the wine.  Importantly, as Jane Anson, a world authority on Bordeaux, points out, the new varieties are not allowed in the most prestigious appellations, such as Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Éstephe.

This announcement, first reported in Drinks Business, had me running to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz, the leading reference on that subject since I had never heard of Arinarnoa, Castets, and Liliorila.

According to Wine Grapes, Arinarnoa, a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat, gets its name from the Basque dialect words arin, which means light and arno, which means wine.  How a cross of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat could possibly produce a light wine is beyond me.

Castets is a “very minor western Pyreneen variety clinging on in France,” according to Wine Grapes.  It is native to the south of France and is a component of Château Simone’s “Palette” Rouge.

Wine Grapes tells us that France recorded fewer than 10 acres of Liliorila, a cross of Baroque (another grape I’ve never heard of) and Chardonnay, in 2008 and has the potential to produce powerful aromatic wines.

It’s not surprising that two traditional Portuguese varieties, Touriga Nacional and Alvarinho, would be included since they do well in hot climates.  Marselan, a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, a kind of Bordeaux-Rhône collaboration, already has a following in southwestern France and is becoming popular in China.

These grapes have variable vegetative cycles—that is they bud and ripen at different times—and have resistance to a variety of maladies.  The hope is that they will mitigate the effects of climate change in Bordeaux.  As the French would say, “On verra” (we’ll see).

One thing is clear—the INAO can move when it wants to.

Read more:  Michael Apstein
Connect with him on Twitter:   @MichaelApstein

A Guiltless Way to Enjoy Sauternes

I love Sauternes, but rarely drink that sweet wine.  One reason is that the classic combination of foie gras and Sauternes hardly ever comes up these days.  But the major reason is that a little goes a long way.  One glass as dessert is divine.  Two is overkill.  I relish Sauternes with cheese, most of which go far better with sweet wine than with red wine, but am reluctant to open and then potentially waste the remainder of a 750-ml bottle, or even a 375-ml half-bottle, just to have a glass.  But what if you needn’t discard the rest of the bottle?  What if you could indulge and have that small glass of Sauternes whenever you wanted without having to invest in a Coravin®?  What if just recorking the bottle and refrigerating it would allow you to have another glass a few days later?  There would be no guilt in opening—and not finishing—that half-bottle of 1990 Château Rieussec you’ve been cellaring.  The scientist in me said, “Let’s do an experiment to find out.”

But first, a word or two about Sauternes, a region in Bordeaux that transforms Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon into a sweet yet vibrant wine.  Usually, the blend is about 80 percent Sémillon and the remainder Sauvignon with a few producers using small amounts of a third allowable grape, Muscadelle.  In this part of Bordeaux conditions are perfect for the grapes to be attacked by a fungus, Botrytis cinera, often referred to as the “noble rot.”  The fungus punches tiny holes in the grapes, dehydrating them, which in turn, concentrates the grapes’ sugar and, very importantly, their acids.  Unfortunately, the grapes are infected haphazardly, forcing harvesters to pass through the vineyards several times to collect only the fungus-affected bunches.

The prolonged harvest combined with reduced yields from dehydration increases the cost of producing these wines.  Yet, despite that, Sauternes remain under-priced for their quality, precisely because of lower demand.  The affected grapes are fermented normally.  There is no pre-fermentation drying of grapes as there is in some parts of the world where other sweet wines are made.  Fermentation stops before all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol, typically resulting in wines with around 14 percent alcohol, up to 100 grams/liter of residual sugar, and higher than usual acidity.  Indeed, it’s the acidity that’s key, balancing the wine and preventing it from being cloying.  In my mind, the grandeur of Sauternes rests with its vibrancy, not its sweetness.

Now, the experiment.  Several years ago, I purchased six half-bottles of 2005 Château Coutet, which have rested quietly in my cellar.  Every night for six nights, I opened a new half-bottle.  I poured a small glass for my wife and myself, dated the bottle, but obscured the date with masking tape, re-corked it and placed it in our very cold (34ºF) refrigerator.  On the sixth night my wife and I tasted all six bottles without knowing when each had been opened to see if we could discern any differences among the wines.

In normal times, a group of tasters would have joined us for this blind tasting, but with COVID-19 in full force in Massachusetts, that was not possible.  Instead, I brought the blinded bottles to Fred Ek, another experienced taster, and asked him to rank his preferences.  Fred has more than 50 years in the wine business as a retailer, importer, and broker, having introduced Americans to the wines of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Domaines des Baumard, and Maison Guigal, to name just three.

After un-blinding the bottles, two results stood out.  First, all of the wines—remember these are 15-year old Sauternes in half-bottles—were enjoyable with lovely apricot-y notes and brilliant acidity, and that includes the one opened six days earlier.  I’d happily drink any of them with cheese or as dessert.  Secondly, none of our rankings correlated with how long the bottle had been open.  Though both Fred and I identified correctly the wine that had been opened most recently, it was neither his nor my first choice.

A venerable estate, Château Coutet is one of only 11 properties classified as a Premier Cru in 1855 Classification of Sauternes.  It is located in Barsac, one of the five communes entitled to the Sauternes appellation.  (The other four are Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac.)  Barsac is the only one with its own appellation, which producers can use in place of Sauternes.  Wines from Barsac tend to be livelier than the wines from the other communes, so perhaps that gave Coutet an edge in holding up nicely after being opened and recorked.

Would the same result hold true for a Sauternes from a commune known for more opulent wines?  I purchased six half-bottles of 2010 Château Raymond-Lafon, a non-classified but highly respected property located in the commune of Sauternes itself and repeated the experiment.  This time, to test the limits further, I opened a bottle every two or three days and then, as with the Château Coutet, tasted all six blindly at the end of the two weeks.  Peter Holt, who was wine director for 30 years at the now-closed and much-missed Anthony’s Pier 4, the legendary restaurant that had one of Boston’s greatest wine lists, acted as another judge.  Peter, it hardly needs to be said, has a long and vast experience tasting and evaluating Sauternes.  The results of this tasting were similar to those of the Coutet tasting.  All the wines were uplifting and balanced, even the one that had been opened for twelve days.  They were all lush and fresh, though less racy than Coutet.  Again, each of our rankings—Peter’s, my wife’s and mine—bore no relation to the length of time the bottle had been opened.

There are many potential explanations for the longevity of Sauternes after the bottle has been opened.  An obvious one, for which I could find no evidence, is that sugar acts as an antioxidant.  Alternatively, since these 10- and 15-year-old wines in half-bottles had already undergone the usual and expected oxidation during normal aging, perhaps additional oxidation from being opened for a few days was, as they say, lost in the round-off.  The answer could simply lie with the noble rot.  It is reasonable to think that something the fungus imparts to the wine—or perhaps the fungus itself—acts as an antioxidant, much like lees act as an antioxidant during fermentation and aging of dry wines, and keeps the wine fresh even after the bottle has been opened for two weeks.

We in the scientific community would call the results of this experiment preliminary, meaning that they need to be verified by others.  I suggest that you, the consumer, start the process of verification by opening a bottle—or half-bottle—of Sauternes, having a glass, re-corking it, and discovering how long it remains vibrant in your refrigerator.  My guess is you’ll have finished the bottle long before you would have thrown it out.

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By Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2021

E-mail me your thoughts about Sauternes or anything else at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Changes and Consistency at Merry Edwards

Changes abound at Merry Edwards Winery, one of California’s leading Pinot Noir producers.  In 2019, Louis Roederer, the Champagne house, purchased the winery, adding it to their already impressive group of California properties.  With the 2018 vintage, Heidi von der Mehden took over from Merry Edwards herself as winemaker after working with her since 2015.  What hasn’t changed is the stunning quality of the wines.

Though responsible for the entire lineup of 2018s, Von der Mehden’s talents were clearly apparent earlier with the Bucher Pinot Noir.  She has been responsible for that wine since it was first added to the Merry Edward’s Pinot Noir portfolio with the 2016 vintage.  Though I didn’t taste that initial bottling, I reviewed the 2017 Bucher (93 pts) last year: “The 2017, a large-framed Pinot Noir, combines ripe black fruit notes with fabulous acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  Not overdone, it carries the 14.5 percent stated-alcohol seamlessly.  Underneath the fruit lies an intriguing and balancing mineral-like tarriness.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces that this wine, as juicy as it is, is not solely about fruit.  Refined tannins made it hard to resist now.”

The 2018 Pinot Noirs are equally impressive.

The 2018 Sonoma Coast bottling displays bright and lively red fruit character with savory nuances and a welcome hint of bitterness in the finish.  It’s a “high-toned,” leaner style of Pinot Noir that superbly reflects the cool coastal influences (91; $54).  It makes a wonderful contrast with the riper and deeper 2018 Russian River Valley bottling, whose fruit comes from a variety of vineyards in that warmer AVA.  A weightier wine with black, rather than red, fruit, the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is juicy and well within bounds despite a 14.5 percent-stated alcohol.  It also has that alluring bitterness in the finish (92; $60).

The three single vineyard bottlings continue to show the importance of site: Same vintage, same grape, same winemaker, but three different wines, all of which are superb.

The floral 2018 Klopp Ranch Pinot Noir displays a gorgeous layered complexity, with minerality and dark fruitiness intertwined.  It conveys far more mineral-like nuances than the Russian River Valley, reflecting the focus of a single vineyard.  Heft and intensity without being over the top, coupled with suave tannins and an engaging bitterness in the finish, make it hard to resist now (94; $73).

The dark and brooding 2018 Olivet Lane is amazingly refined, especially considering its concentration.  Less floral and fragrant than the Klopp Ranch, it expands and explodes as it sits in the glass.  Initially, black fruit flavors predominate, but with air and time, savory notes appear and take over.  Merry Edwards’ signature suaveness amplifies its appeal.  Though plush and powerful, it is not heavy nor overdone (96; $72).

Unlike its two stablemates, the youthful 2018 Meredith Estate displays toasty oak flavors and little else initially.  But, befitting a youthful, tightly wound wine, its considerable charms emerge with time in a glass.  Denser and more concentrated than the other two, it remains balanced and within bounds.  Under the new team, Merry Edwards continues to avoid the overdone, “Pinot Syrah” style.  Similar to their other 2018s, its grandeur is apparent in an intriguing dark cherry-like hint of bitterness in the exceptionally long finish.  The 2018 Meredith Estate needs a few years to come together, as I’m sure it will, judging from previous vintages (96; $80).

Thankfully, it appears that there’s no change in style despite new ownership and a new winemaker at Merry Edwards.  Their Pinot Noirs remain bold, yet balanced, expressions of that grape, not Burgundy wannabes.
Posted by Michael Apstein on January 6, 2021 at 6:46 PM

Gifts for Wine Lovers…or for Those Who Want to be Wine Lovers

At this time of the year, people can be understandably fearful of giving wine to their wine-loving or worse, wine-geek, friends.  So, here are some fail-safe suggestions, both vinous and educational.  Plus, an essential but inexpensive gift item that would be a perfect as a stocking stuffer.

Let’s start with the vinous.

Cognac and Sherry are, perhaps, the two categories that wine lovers know least well.  Even those who consume wine every night with dinner rarely drink Sherry or Cognac regularly.  So, you don’t need to worry about embarrassing yourself by giving a bottle of either.

Cognac is a distillate made from grapes grown in the Cognac region of France.  The three critical pieces of information on a Cognac label are the area from which the grapes came, the amount of aging, and, perhaps, most importantly, the producer.  Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne (no relation to the bubbly wine region) are the top two areas within the greater Cognac region.  On many labels, you’ll see the term Fine Champagne, which means the grapes came from a combination of the two areas, with Grande Champagne contributing more than half the blend.  I find Cognac from a lesser-known area, Borderies, that ranks just below Grande and Petite Champagne in prestige, particularly attractive because the best have a wonderful floral component.  They can be hard to find, but are worth the search.

The longer a Cognac has been aged, the smoother and more complex it is.  Those labeled VS (Very Special) and VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) have been aged for a minimum of two and four years, respectively.  The best for gifts are those labeled Napoléon and XO (Extra Old), which have been aged for a minimum of six and ten years, respectively because there are more refined than the younger Cognacs.  Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 a bottle.  Some prestige Cognacs, XXO (Extra Extra Old), Ancestral, and Hors d’âge (Beyond Aging) receive even greater aging, but are best left to the “one percenters.”

There are many great Cognac producers.  Courvoisier, Hennessey, Martell and Remy-Martin are the four largest and account for 90 percent of the market, by some estimates, which means they are widely available.  All of them make excellent Napoléon and XO Cognac that are easy to recommend.  Camus, a family-owned producer, makes an exceptional Borderies.  Other small producers whose Cognacs I enthusiastically recommend are Delamain, A. E. Dor, Ferraud, Frapin, Geffard, Paul Giraud, Hine, Peyrat, and Voyer.

Even Sherry aficionados have a difficult time explaining Palo Cortado, which makes a bottle from that category an easy choice.  The most useful definition for me comes from Javier Hidalgo, of the eponymous bodega that produces a stellar line of Sherry.   According to him, a Palo Cortado represents the “best barrels in the cellar.”  Originally, the story goes, these were barrels of fino that didn’t develop as anticipated, but were, nonetheless, delicious, unique and reserved for the family.  Think of them as an elegant and complex Amontillado.  After it became apparent that the family could drink only so much, these barrels were bottled and sold as Palo Cortado.  They will run $50 to $100, but, unlike table wine, a Palo Cortado does not need to be consumed in one sitting.  It can last open for weeks.  In addition to Hildago, look for one from Lustau or Williams and Humbert.

The choice of a wine book this year for your wine loving friend is, as the saying goes, a no-brainer.  Jane Anson’s Inside Bordeaux is simply spectacular.  She has the perfect credentials for writing this book: British by birth, Anson has lived in Bordeaux for close to two decades.  She has been the long-time Bordeaux correspondent for Decanter, the world’s more important wine magazine. Plus, she writes beautifully and, most importantly, is unequivocal in her assessments.

There have been plenty of great books about Bordeaux.  Look no further than Stephen Brook’s The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines, The Château, The People.  But Anson’s is different and unique.  In addition to the vast details of the individual properties, she focuses on the terroir of the appellations and on that of each of the château, so the reader has an insight into what makes them unique.  Of course, you learn lots about the now-out-of-my-price-range Classified Growths (who knew Lafite formerly made a white wine?).  But you also get jewels of recommendations of lesser known and affordable properties.

Take these in the section on the Haut-Médoc, “another best bet is the 17ha Ch. Meyre . . . the vines are in two areas with 13ha around the château on limestone with clay and sand, and another section closer to the Gironde river on a gravel outcrop” and further along “In the category of Great Unknown Bordeaux Wines is Ch. les Vimières. . .”

In the chapter on St-Estèphe, she advises that Ch Laffitte-Carcasset is a “good-value Cru Bourgeois.”  Only someone with Anson’s experience can give this kind of valuable and detailed advice about these less well-known estates.  The maps and illustrations are superb.  Turning the pages is a joy.  If you have even a passing interest in Bordeaux, you’re making a mistake by not owning this book. (Published by Berry Bros and Rudd Press and sold by Sotheby’s Wine in the USA, $80.)

I give similar high praise for Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy and his sequel, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs.  You’d never know from his exquisite prose that D’Agata is a physician and molecular biologist by training.  With these books, he has produced two scholarly texts that are a great pleasure to read.  In Native Wine Grapes of Italy, he tells you where specific grapes are grown and, importantly, who are the top producers.  He’s not afraid to give his opinion either, as an excerpt from the section on Lambrusco shows: “After all that [people trashing Lambrusco], you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that Lambruscos were best forgotten, but there are thrilling Lambrusco wines to be had too; and not just lip-smacking delicious dry Lambrusco rosso and rosato, but great sweet ones too.  Wine snobs will sneer at the latter wines, but I don’t see the problem: if some fetishists prize fruitiness and sweetness in their wines above all else, who am I to argue?  And besides, I like those sweet wines too.”

In Native Wine Grape Terroirs, you learn about the differences among Barbera d’Alba, Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato in a succinctly and clearly written single paragraph.  They are essential reference books for anyone interested in Italian wines.  Which book to buy? Frankly, I’d suggest both since they complement each other. (University of California Press, 2014 and 2019, respectively; each about $45).

The above-mentioned books are for the established wine lover.  For the wannabe or those just starting out, the 7th edition of Wine for Dummies by Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW and Ed McCarthy is a good place to start (Wiley Publishing, about $22).  In clear prose without a patronizing tone, the authors unravel what for many is an intimidating subject.  The reader gets an essential understanding of wine—what to expect from a given bottle—which gives them the framework and confidence to expand their knowledge on their own.  The book’s layout allows readers to return to learn more as they explore new categories of wine.  Full disclosure:  the authors are friends and colleagues here at Wine Review Online.  With that acknowledged, it’s a terrific book for anyone with a yearning to learn about wine.

There is no better beginners’ book about wine than Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.  On its 35th edition and with over four million copies sold, it is the world’s best-selling wine book.  And with good reason—it’s fabulous.  Zraly is a superb teacher and his easy going, slightly irreverent at times, style is evident in his writing.  I guess my enthusiasm for his book is summarized best by the fact that I gave a copy to each of my daughters.  A perfect gift for students of finance or law who, sooner or later, will be handed a restaurant wine list when entertaining clients.

After the September 11th tragedy, Zraly moved his widely successful Windows on the World Wine Course to other locales.  With Covid-19, he’s adapted again and gone on-line with Zoom® format.  Regardless of the setting, his teaching is brilliant and entertaining.  In these one-hour classes, he explores a topic with four wines that are delivered in advance so during the class you taste along with him.  I took his one-hour Spanish class, found it entertaining and educational.  He has the rare ability to teach something to everyone, from novice to expert, during the same class, regardless of their level of experience.  The class fee is $50 with the four bottles adding between $100 and $150.  A gift certificate would make a great present. For more information go to kevinzraly.com

And now for the essential stocking stuffer:  A Champagne stopper.

It will transform the way you think of Champagne.  No longer it is a “special occasion” beverage, but rather a nightly aperitif.  You can spread the $50 cost of a bottle of Roederer NV Brut Premier over five nights, with a large, 5-ounce, glass a night.  Alternatively, you and companion can each enjoy a reasonable, 4-ounce, pour over three nights.

A Champagne stopper looks like an oversized bottle cap with short wings that clamp under the rim of any bottle of any kind of bubbly.  It allows you to re-stopper the bottle, maintaining the fizz, for another day.  It’s easy to use—both attaching and removing it from the bottle is a cinch.  It keeps the Champagne or sparkling wine fresh and bubbly for four or five days.   Don’t forget that if, by chance, the fizz is gone on day five, the still wine that remains is still fresh and ideal for deglazing a pan in place of white wine.  (About $10.)

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E-mail me your thoughts about what you’re giving your wine friends this year at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

December 9, 2020

Castello di Fonterutoli, Leading the Way

With the release of a trio of 2017 Gran Selezione wines, Castello di Fonterutoli is leading the way, showing the importance of terroir—site specificity—in Chianti Classico.  Chianti Classico producers have long proclaimed that there are major differences among the wines produced in the region’s nine subzones.  And it’s true that a Chianti Classico from Radda tastes different from a Chianti Classico from neighboring Castellina in Chianti.  But heretofore it’s been almost impossible to know whether the differences were really due to the subzone or to the producer’s style.  After all, when you taste a Chianti Classico made by Cecchi, whose base is in Castellina in Chianti, side-by-side with one made by Castello di Radda, whose vineyards lie in the Radda subzone, are you tasting the difference between producers or subzones?

Castello di Fonterutoli has eliminated that dilemma.  Though situated in the south eastern corner of Castellina in Chianti, Castello di Fonterutoli has vineyards in Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga in addition to their home base.  They produced three wines in 2017, each of which comes from one of those subzones: Badiòla, a single-vineyard wine from Radda; Vicoregio 36, a single-vineyard bottling from Castelnuovo Berardenga; and Castello Fonterutoli, their flagship, a multi-vineyard blend, from Castellina in Chianti.  Thanks to Zoom® and their importer, Taub Family Selections, Giovanni Mazzei, Fonterutoli’s export manager, commented on the wines as a group of us tasted them side-by-side.

Before getting to the wines, here’s a little background.  Chianti Classico is the heart and most important subregion of the greater Chianti area, which extends from Florence to Siena in Tuscany.  “Gran Selezione” is a recently created category that sits at the pinnacle of the Chianti Classico quality pyramid, above Riserva.  It represents about six percent of Chianti Classico’s total production.  To put that into perspective, Burgundy’s Grand and Premier Cru wines account for 11 percent of that region’s production.  No stranger to Chianti Classico, the Mazzei family has owned Castello di Fonterutoli since 1435, which means that Giovanni represents the 25th generation.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, “Badiòla” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  Mazzei believes that the vineyard’s southern exposure and high elevation (almost 1900 feet above sea level) combines great sunlight with large diurnal temperature variation, the combination of which results in ripeness and freshness.  This finesse-filled wine delivers bright fresh red cherry-like notes mingled with mineral nuances.  It has the racy energy of Chianti Classico combined with great elegance supported by suave tannins.  Mazzei calls it a “vertical” wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Castello Fonterutoli” 2017 ($74, 94 pts):  The grapes for Castello, as Mazzei calls it, come from 11 different plots around the hamlet of Fonterutoli.  Each plot is vinified separately, allowing precision in constructing the blend.  The 2017 is the first year the wine was made entirely from Sangiovese.  In the past, they included small amounts of Colorino and Malvasia Nera, but Mazzei noted that after 25 years of research with Sangiovese, they finally decided that was the way forward.  It’s slightly higher alcohol, 13.8% compared to 13.57% for the Badiòla, reflects just a touch more ripeness.  Indeed, the flavor profile tends toward darker cherry notes in this slightly weightier wine.  Suave tannins, a hallmark of all of wines from Castello di Fonterutoli, lend support.  It’s another racy and elegant wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Vicoregio 36” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  The Mazzei family planted 36 biotypes of Sangiovese in their Vicoregio vineyard in Castelnuovo Berardenga. Hence the name of the wine.  This one, the deepest of the trio, conveys black cherry-like flavors, bordering on plumy ones, reflecting the warmth of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Still, it retains incredible freshness and vibrancy.  Mazzei characterizes it as a “wider” wine compared to the “vertical” Badiòla.

Though the winemaking is not identical for the three wines, with oak aging varying slightly, and the age of the vines differing in the three subzones, the wines are all made entirely from Sangiovese and at the same winery.  Most critically, the winemaking philosophy is the same.  So, the differences among the wines reflect their respective subzones of Chianti Classico.

The wines can be purchased as a set of three.  This allows consumers to hold a tasting with a small group of friends, complying, of course, with local regulations regarding size of gatherings, to see for themselves how the wines from Chianti Classico, similar to Burgundy or Barolo, differ according to where the grapes grow.

Michael Apstein
November 26, 2020

In Praise of Regional and Village Burgundy…or, Where to Find Value

Simple economics explains why the wine from Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as the French would now like us to call it, has become expensive.  Really expensive.  French wine regulations limit what can be planted where (a.k.a. the supply) and demand has increased as new markets around the world, such as China, Japan, and Russia, to name just three, discover Burgundy’s allure.  But, in the last year, thanks to the 25 percent Trump tariff, prices for us here in the U.S. are now truly outrageous. (That tariff translates to more like a 35 or 40 percent increase to the consumer by the time the wine traverses the distribution channel and those businesses tack on their margins.)  Zachy’s, a major New York retailer, just announced a “special” price for Jadot’s 2018 Jadot Bonnes-Mares–$512 including local sales tax. Granted, Louis Jadot is a top Burgundy producer in general, and of Bonnes-Mares, a Grand Cru, in particular, and 2018 was an excellent vintage for reds.  But still, over 500 bucks a bottle! Or You could snag a bottle of Domaine Michel Lafarge’s 2017 Volnay Clos des Chênes, one of that village’s top Premier Crus from a stellar producer, for a mere $241 (including tax) at MacArthur Beverages, a leading wine shop in Washington, D.C.

My advice is to forget about Grand and Premier Cru Burgundy until you win the lottery.  (After seeing those prices, that advice will be easy to take.)  For too long, too many consumers have focused only on those exalted wines that come from the crème de la crème vineyard sites, which is another reason why prices for Burgundy are in the stratosphere.  But annual production from Grand Cru vineyards averages only one percent of total Burgundy production.  Throw in the wine from all Premier Cru vineyards, and together they still only account for about 11 percent of Burgundy wines.  So, where are the other 89 percent of Burgundies?  They are at the regional and village level.

Regulations require, with rare exceptions, regional and village wines to be made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, similar to Grand and Premier Cru wines. They transmit the same amazing site-specificity, a major allure of Burgundy, that their more expensive stablemates deliver:  Wines made by the same winemaker using the same techniques from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  A marvel of nature!

The 44 village appellations comprise about 36 percent of all Burgundies, while the seven regional appellations comprise more than half (53 percent) of all Burgundy, according to data provided by the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB – Bourgogne Wine Board).  Wines that are labeled with the village name typically come from grapes grown in vineyards in that village that are not classified as Premier or Grand Cru, although on many occasions producers will “declassify” some Premier Cru wine into their village label.  Sometimes village wines will carry a vineyard name on the label, such as Gevrey-Chambertin “Justice,” but the appellation remains Gevrey-Chambertin.  Regional wines also may be labeled with a vineyard or fantasy name.  With both village and regional wines, the presence of a vineyard name on the label does not guarantee a higher quality.

The single most important piece of information on the label is the producer’s name, not the classification:  Producer, producer, producer.

Here are a dozen examples of regional or village wines, six reds and six whites, under $40 a bottle that I recommend enthusiastically.  Many of these wines have limited distribution, so if you can’t find these specifically, ask your local wine merchant for similar ones:

Maison Louis Latour, Mercurey 2015 ($26, 91 points):  Though Mercurey, a village in the Côte Chalonnaise, is best known for its reds, it’s a treasure trove of affordable Burgundy, both red and white.  Louis Latour, one of Burgundy’s best producers, rarely disappoints. The 2015 vintage is one of the best of the decade. That combination makes this wine a no-brainer.  A firm, mineral edge, characteristic of the reds from Mercurey, balances and amplifies the wine’s bright cherry-like fruitiness.  There’s a case in my cellar.

Domaine Bart, Marsannay “Les Finottes” 2018 ($30, 91): Domaine Bart is a star producer in Marsannay.  This house makes splendid Grand Crus, such as Bonnes-Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze that routinely sell for $200+ a bottle upon release.  Their skill is also found in a bevy of single-vineyard wines from the village of Marsannay, the northern most village of the Côte de Nuits.  There’s been an enormous leap in quality of Marsannay wines over the last decade, so that village is a good place to find wines that deliver more than the price suggests.  Bart’s 2018 Les Finottes, both savory, fruity and finesse-filled, is one of those wines.  It would be a fine choice for Thanksgiving. Bart is a name to remember.  I’d be happy to buy any of their Marsannay.

Domaine Jean et Giles Lafouge, Auxey-Duresses 2017 ($37, 91): One formula for Burgundy bargains is to find a top producer who lives and has vineyards in an out-of-the-way place.  Domaine Lafouge’s Auxey-Duresses (“oh say doo ress”) fits that formula. Auxey-Duresses, like Monthélie, which it abuts, is situated in the prestigious Côte d’Or, but most of its vineyards lie even further west.  Lafouge is a compulsive grower who makes at least four Premier Cru Auxey-Duresses in addition to this village wine.  Their focus is on elegance.  They do not over manipulate the wines to make them “bigger.”  This mid-weight red wine conveys the charm of Burgundy, combining red fruit notes with savory ones.  It would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Maison Louis Jadot, Santenay “Clos de Malte” 2018 ($40, 91): Though Jadot is a major négociant, they also are an important grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards in Burgundy.  This Santenay, from a village in the southern part of the Côte de Beaune, is from one of their vineyards.  Jadot’s Clos de Malte consistently provides excellent value. The 2018 outdoes itself with a hint of extra fleshiness and spice, which enhances its rustic charm.  It would also be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Domaine Dominique Guyon, Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits “Les Dames de Vergy” 2018 ($30, 90): The Hautes Côtes de Nuits, a regional appellation, sits above and behind (to the west) of the Côte de Nuits, a sort of hinterland.  Many of the reds from here have a rustic charm.  Dominique Guyon, the son of another fabulous producer, Antonin Guyon, makes a more refined version than many. It delivers dark ripe juicy fruit, savory spice and fine tannins, making this charmer another good choice at Thanksgiving, or, frankly, anytime.

Château de la Maltroye, Bourgogne Rouge 2017 ($27, 90): Château de la Maltroye, a top producer of both red and white wines from Chassagne-Montrachet, makes this charming Bourgogne Rouge from vineyards in that village that lie outside the boundaries of the village appellation.  Delicate red fruit flavors balance its savory, herbal side.  Bright and forward, it, too would fit nicely on the Thanksgiving table.

Parent, Monthélie Blanc 2017 ($48, 94): Domaine Parent, arguably the best producer of Pommard, also makes this stunning white Monthélie.  It’s a bit of an oddity because ninety percent of Monthélie’s production is red and the vast majority of Parent’s production comes from their own vineyards.  In this case, Parent buys grapes from growers in this nearby and less well-known village and explains why Domaine is not on the label.  But quality is in the bottle.  Though this wine falls above my arbitrary $40 price point, it is so riveting that I had to include it.  Creamy, mineral-y and zesty, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.

Domaine Michel Bouzereau, Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or 2017 ($30, 92): With the 2017 vintage, regulators added a new sub-category, Côte d’Or, to Bourgogne, the very broad regional appellation that allowed grapes to come from anywhere in Burgundy.  Wines labeled Bourgogne Côte d’Or mean that the grapes all come from the famed Côte d’Or, the very heart of Burgundy.  Domaine Michel Bouzereau, one of the leading producers in Meursault has 10 acres of vines, a third of his domaine, that lie just outside the official limits of Puligny-Montrachet and Meursault.  Grapes from these vines go into his stunning Bourgogne Blanc Côte d’Or.  Their focused and mineral-laden 2017 is an impressive white Burgundy.  Though not a village wine, it combines a Puligny-like minerality with a Meursault-like creaminess.   It shows the enormous talent of this grower.  Buy as much of it as you can afford.

Domaine Guilhem et Jean Hugues Goisot, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, Gueules de Loup 2017 ($35, 92): Goisot is a good example of why my mantra is producer, producer, producer.  You can buy any of their wines and be thrilled.  They are located in the far north of Burgundy, near Chablis and make an array of distinctive and captivating wines.  Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre, similar to Bourgogne Côtes d’Or, is a sub-category of Bourgogne.  In this case, the grapes, still Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, come from a delimited area around the town of Auxerre, which lies just west of Chablis.  Goisot’s 2017 Gueules de Loup (literally, mouth of the fox), a single vineyard wine, is flinty, lively and persistent.

Maison Joseph Drouhin, Rully 2018 ($27, 92): Consumers can safely select virtually any wine from Drouhin, another top-tier Burgundy producer.  Indeed, for this article I could have included their Bourgogne Blanc “Laforet,” or their Mâcon-Villages, both of which typically retail for less than $20 a bottle, but I chose their Rully, from a village in the Côte Chalonnaise.  Whites from Rully (“roo-e”) can be angular, but not Drouhin’s 2018 (remember producer, producer, producer).  The ripeness of the vintage added depth to its cutting edginess. It punches far above its weight class.

Domaine Sylvain Langoureau, St. Aubin 2017 ($30, 91): St. Aubin, lying behind the famous white wine villages of Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet with their Grand Cru vineyards, is off the beaten tract, which means consumers can find value.   Prices for Premier Cru St. Aubin have climbed dramatically as consumers have caught on, but bargains still exist for village wines, even from a top producer like Langoureau.  This village St. Aubin displays lovely roundness buttressed by a citrus vigor.

Maison Louis Jadot, Pouilly-Fuissé 2017 ($27, 91): Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, needs no further introduction.  It’s hard to go wrong with any wine carrying the Jadot name. With the 2020 vintage, regulators have designated about 25 percent of the vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, the leading village in the Mâconnais, to have Premier Cru status.  Wines from some of those vineyards is included in Jadot’s 2017 Pouilly-Fuissé, which along with the talents of Jadot’s winemaking team, explains why this wine is so enjoyable, delivering the perfect balance of opulence and elegance.

Not all village wines are inexpensive, nor are they always ready to drink right out of the gate.  Recent releases of a village Chambolle-Musigny from Domaine Ghislaine Barthod, one of the village’s very top producers, run about $100 per bottle.  Her still-youthful 2005 village Chambolle-Musigny, drunk at 15 years of age, was plush and mineral-y, the quintessential expression of that appellation.

However, all of the wines recommended above are delightful to drink now.  But don’t underestimate the ability of modest village or even regional wines to develop with bottle age.  Twenty years ago, I served a bottle of Louis Latour’s 1985 Bourgogne Rouge without revealing its appellation to a group of wine aficionados.  Most thought it came from a Premier Cru vineyard.  Similarly, when I was at Maison Jadot some years ago, they served a 10-year-old white St. Aubin that was glorious.  So, if you buy a case of any of the above wines, put a bottle or two aside to drink in a few years.

Remember: producer, producer, producer.

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November 4, 2020

E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

A Rogue in Oregon

One definition of rogue is “something out of the ordinary.”  It is fitting, then, that the Naumes Family Winery is located in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, because they certainly do something out of the ordinary.  Ordinary, in terms of Oregon wine, is pretty clear: superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and notable Pinot Gris.  While Naumes produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, they also produce out of the ordinary wines, both in varietal composition—Barbera, Grenache, Syrah, Malbec, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Tempranillo—and most importantly, in quality.

The Rogue Valley, located in southern Oregon, bordering California, is named for the river that runs through it.  (French fur traders supposedly named it La Rivière aux Coquin [rogue] because they regarded the native tribes located there as coquins.)  Although the Willamette Valley is currently Oregon’s best-known wine producing region, the Rogue Valley was home to Oregon’s first official winery, Valley View Winery, established in 1873 by Peter Britt, according to the Oregon Wine Board.

The east-west orientation of the river and the surrounding valleys could explain the diversity of plantings because cooling Pacific breezes in the western-most part of the appellation allow varieties that prefer cooler climates, such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to thrive.  The warmer and drier environment in the eastern areas are well-suited for varieties that need warmer conditions to achieve full ripeness.  But that broad generalization doesn’t explain the plethora of varieties of grapes Naumes Family Winery grows and wines it produces.   The varying elevations of the valleys’ hillsides also give growers flexibility for adopting plantings to local climatic conditions.

Corey Schultz, Naumes’ Winery Director, explains that it not as simple as the east-west orientation suggests.  They’ve been able to plant new varieties, Malbec, Barbera, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Viognier, Tempranillo, in addition to their existing ones, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grenache and Pinot Gris, all within a 15-mile radius because of the variation of elevations, temperatures, and wind flow patterns, according to Schultz.  As an example, he told me that one day in August the temperature on the valley floor hit 106ºF while at the same time it was 64ºF in the vineyards on the slopes.

Naumes Family Winery Syrah 2017 ($35):  This big, bold Syrah has beautiful balance and bright acidity that keeps it fresh and lively.  It conveys a splendid combination of savory, almost bacon fat-like nuances, spicy black pepper notes, and dark fruitiness. Though youthful and forceful, it is not overdone or boisterous.  Instead, there’s an appealing elegance to accompany all that muscle.  93

Naumes Family Winery Malbec 2017 ($35):  Full disclosure: Malbec is not my favorite wine because too often it is just a big monotonic red wine.  So, I was shocked when I tasted this one.  There’s lots going on—fruit, to be sure, but smoke-y and earth-y nuances peek out as well.  Uplifting acidity keeps you coming back for more. Glossy tannins are especially appealing and allow you to enjoy it now.  93

Naumes Family Winery Tempranillo 2017 ($30):  As much as I liked their 2016 Tempranillo, their 2017 struck me as even better.  Its firmness and minerality presents a great contrast to the fleshy and fruitier Malbec.  It’s structured without being aggressive or hard.  Its stature is apparent in the long and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  With air, its focus on minerality rather than fruitiness becomes more apparent. You could sip the Malbec by itself.   This serious Tempranillo needs a grilled steak.  94

Naumes Family Winery, “Tanto Manta” 2017 ($40):  This fifty-fifty blend of Tempranillo and Grenache marries the two beautifully.  The Tempranillo provides structure and minerals while the Grenache contributes a floral fruitiness.  More approachable than the straight Tempranillo at this stage, it would be a good choice with a hearty pasta dish tonight.  92

Naumes Family Winery, Pinot Noir, 2017 ($40):  Captivating herbal notes are immediately apparent in the nose and later on the palate. A blend of several clones of Pinot Noir, this is a delicate and airy example of the varietal, displaying a wondrous mixture of savory and fruity flavors. Its focus is on elegance, not power or concentration. A perfect choice for grilled salmon.  92

Naumes Family Winery Pinot Noir “Clone 667” 2017 ($40):  I won’t get into the scientific definition of a clone as it relates to grape varieties.  Suffice it to say that in this case it’s a Pinot Noir with unique qualities.  The wine certainly is very different from their blended Pinot Noir, showing more fruit, more concentration and fewer earthy flavors.  In short, those who prefer more muscular Pinot Noir will embrace it.  90

Naumes Family Winery Pinot Noir “Pommard Clone” 2017 ($40):  If the Pinot Noir Clone 667 was the weight-lifter, this one is the ballerina.  Light in color and on the palate, it dances on the palate. It’s a captivating lighter style of Pinot Noir.  If you prefer the Clone 667, you won’t be enthralled by this one and vice-versa.  I’m enthralled by both because it shows that clones matter.  90

Naumes Family Winery Viognier 2018 ($30):  The Viognier grape is tough to translate properly into a wine.  Ripeness is necessary to release its inherent floral character, but over-ripeness results in a heavy wine.  Naumes strikes the balance. Lovely floral apricot aromas predict the stone fruit flavors that follow.  In a less well-crafter version, those stone fruit flavors would be heavy.  In this one, they’re bright, despite the 14.5% stated alcohol.  92
Posted by Michael Apstein at 6:25 PM

October 7, 2020

Pouilly-Fuissé Vineyards Finally Get Premier Cru Status

The Nazis were responsible for the lack of Premier Cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé.  As Frédéric Burrier, the head of the Pouilly-Fuissé growers’ organization, explains: In the 1940s, in Occupied France, the Germans could requisition village wines, but had to pay for ones, at least theoretically, from a higher classification.  At that time the only higher classification was Grand Cru.  Premier Cru did not exist.  So, growers there formalized the generally accepted classification of the better sites into a Premier Cru category that ranked above the village level.  Pouilly-Fuissé sat in so-called “Free France” (or Vichy France), where the Germans had to pay for all wines, even those with only a village classification.  Hence, there was no impetus for the growers to create a Premier Cru category.  Contrast that with neighboring Montagny in the Côte Chalonnaise, just over the dividing line.  Seventy-five percent of the vineyards became—and still are—Premier Cru.

It’s not as though there were no better situated vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, which was, and still is, the most important appellation in the Mâconnais, in southern Burgundy.  Of course there were.  Everyone agrees that Pouilly-Fuissé has plenty of superior vineyards that long ago should have been classified as Premier Cru.  The problem, as is often the case in parochial Burgundy, was that growers could not agree on where to draw the lines.

Even a cursory look around the iconic cliffs, Roche de Solutré and Roche de Vergisson, reveals the plethora of exposures of the vineyards.  Some must be better locales than others in this broad amphitheater that spreads over four villages, Solutré-Pouilly, Fuissé, Chaintré and Vergisson.  Just as the topography changes abruptly, so does the soil in this part of Burgundy.  Just a mile away over the next ridge, in Beaujolais, schist predominates, which is far better suited to Gamay than Chardonnay.  But in Pouilly-Fuissé the soil, although variable, is primarily limestone and clay, similar to the Côte d’Or, and an ideal environment for Chardonnay, the only grape allowed in the appellation.

Now, 75-plus years later, that glaring mistake has been corrected.  The French wine authority, the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), has recognized 22 vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé appellation that merit Premier Cru status.  The official timeline from submission to approval was lightning-fast by French bureaucratic standards: a decade.  Burrier, who also is the head of Château de Beauregard, one of Pouilly Fuissé’s leading domaines, noted that it took another decade of work prior to the submission to convince his fellow growers of the value of the endeavor.  The long process was necessary to allow the growers to become comfortable with the hierarchy of Premier Cru and to deal with the politics that inevitably arise when drawing boundaries.

The selection and delineation of the vineyards was stringent.  Officials relied on soil analysis and a history of the quality of the wines, including how they developed over time, from candidate sites.  Only about 25 percent of the total vineyard area of Pouilly-Fuissé is now designated as Premier Cru.  Compare this with Premier Cru designation in the Côte d’Or: roughly 33 percent of Chambolle-Musigny is Premier Cru.  Morey-St. Denis’ Premier Cru sites comprise about 40 percent of the vineyard area, and 75 percent of Beaune vineyards carry that designation.

The Premier Cru designation will appear on Pouilly-Fuissé labels starting with the 2020 vintage.  Paradoxically, despite adding 22 names to the lexicon, the new designation eliminates confusion.  Heretofore, a consumer would not know whether the name on the label was from a revered vineyard site, an ordinary piece of land, or a fantasy or brand name.  Now they will—because all of the top sites will carry the Premier Cru moniker.  A complete listing of new Premier Cru vineyards appears at the end of this article.

The new designation adds prestige to Pouilly-Fuissé in general because now, after all these years, it will share the same hierarchy as the rest of Burgundy.  The upgrade, the first addition of Premier Cru vineyards in Burgundy since 1943, marks the beginning of a new era for the entire Mâconnais region, according to Burrier.  Growers in neighboring St-Véran, for example, have already started the process of applying for Premier Cru status for some of that village’s vineyards.  Super-star producers from the Côte d’Or, such as Dominique Lafon, Domaine Leflaive and Maison Louis Jadot, have invested heavily in the Mâconnais.  More are sure to follow, especially as prices for vineyard land in the Côte d’Or remain in the stratosphere.

Audrey Braccini, winemaker and director at Domaine J. A. Ferret, another top domaine, believes that the new classification recognizes the quality of the wines from Pouilly-Fuissé and puts them on the same rank as other white wine appellations in Burgundy.  At Ferret, they are deciding how their labeling will evolve.  Traditionally, Domaine Ferret has always focused on individual climats (vineyards) using a time-honored, but somewhat confusing hierarchical ladder of “hors classé” and “tête de cuvée.”  Those terms may disappear and their Tournant de Pouilly bottling, for example, currently an “hors classé,” could be labeled a Premier Cru, Les Reisses, because the grapes come from that vineyard.

Beaune-based négociants, who are responsible for roughly 70 percent of the wine produced in Pouilly-Fuissé, will also need to adjust to the new classification.  Bernard Retournaz, head of Louis Latour, USA, told me that Maison Louis Latour, a top négociant, has contracts with two growers, each of whom has holdings in one of the newly designated Premier Cru vineyards, and will likely bottle those wines separately.  Conversely, Frédéric Barnier, winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, which also owns Domaine Ferret, will not bottle any Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé under the Jadot label, at least at this time, though he held out the possibility that they may do so in the future.

How exactly the new classification will change the quality and price of village Pouilly-Fuissé in the future remains to be determined because there are so many factors affecting the market today.  Certainly, Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus will be more expensive than the village wines.  Though prices have not yet been set, consumers should expect to pay at least 20 percent more for Premier Cru Pouilly-Fuissé from top growers or négociants.  In many cases, though, consumers may see little or no increase because Pouilly-Fuissé from top sites, such as Le Clos or Les Perrières, already cost more, even without the official Premier Cru designation.

Theoretically, the quality of village Pouilly-Fuissé could fall as wine from Premier Cru vineyards that previously went into the village bottling is now bottled separately.  Retournaz thinks that’s unlikely because climate change has helped previously marginal sites in Pouilly-Fuissé, so that overall quality is up.  Both Burrier and Braccini are adamant that they would still include Premier Cru wines in their village cuvées to maintain the quality of their village Pouilly-Fuissé.  They think their village wines could outshine some Premier Crus made by some of their neighbors.  Barnier insists that Jadot will maintain the quality of what he describes as their “premium” Pouilly-Fuissé.

Pricing of village Pouilly-Fuissé will be a different matter and impossible to predict.  Estimates indicate that about 70 percent of the overall production of Pouilly-Fuissé goes to the United States, and as such, it is almost a brand.  The large importers and distributors exert enormous pressure to keep the price constant and reasonable.  The 25 percent Trump tariff and the closure of restaurants due to Covid-19 have reduced demand, at least temporarily.  As a result, the prices négociants are paying growers for bulk wine is down, according to Burrier.  However, upward pressure on prices may be on the horizon if growers decide to bottle more Premier Cru, removing it from the bulk market.  As the French would say, on verra (we’ll see).

The new Premier Cru stratification is a splendid opportunity for consumers to experience the magic of Burgundian terroir at reasonable prices.  Burgundy so fascinates me because wines made using the same winemaking techniques from the same grape variety grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  It’s the magic of nature.  That discovery has become impossibly expensive using wines from the Côte d’Or.  However, the same magic exists in Pouilly-Fuissé.  So, I urge consumers to taste two or three Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Crus from the same producer to discover for yourself the stunning effect of nature.

Despite the plethora of new vineyard names to learn, my advice for Pouilly-Fuissé remains that for Burgundy in general: producer, producer, producer.  Here’s my short list of favorite domaines: Château de Beauregard, Château de Fuissé, Domaine Auvigue, Domaine Ferret, Domaine Jacques Saumaize, Domaine La Soufrandière, Domaine Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, and Domaine Roger Lassarat.  If the domaine wines are not available in your market, do not overlook those from the following négociants, whose wines are consistently good, well-priced and widely available: Maison Bouchard Père et Fils, Bret Brothers, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Louis Latour, and J. J. Vincent.

Under Vichy, and for the past 75 years, you couldn’t tell which were the best sites in Pouilly-Fuissé.  Now you can.

*         *         *

The new Pouilly-Fuissé Premier Cru Vineyards, by village:

Chaintré:

Le Clos de Monsieur Noly
Les Chevrières
Aux Quarts
Le Clos Reyssier

Fuissé:

Le Clos
Les Brulés
Les Ménétrières
Les Reisses
Les Vignes Blanches
Les Perrières
Vers Cras

Solutré-Pouilly:

La Frérie
Le Clos de Solutré
Au Vignerais
En Sevry
Aux Bouthières
Aux Chailloux
Pouilly
Vers Cras (the vineyard spans Solutré-Pouilly and Fuissé)

Vergisson:

Les Crays
La Maréchaude
Sur La Roche
En France

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E-mail me your thoughts about Pouilly-Fuissé at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein and on Instagram.

September 30, 2020

Site Trumps Everything

Tasting a line-up of the 2016 Gary Farrell Pinot Noirs shows why Theresa Heredia, the winemaker for wines, is adamant about the importance of site.  Same grape variety, same vintage, same winemaking, so how else to explain the wonderful difference between the Pinot Noir she made from grapes grown in the Fort Ross Vineyard in the Fort Ross—Seaview AVA and the one made from those in the Toboni Vineyard, located in the Russian River Valley?  These wines reinforce the idea that site (a.k.a. terroir) is alive and well in California.  American wine consumers are finally starting to come around to the idea of terroir, a concept vehemently articulated by the French.  Perhaps if we just talked about the importance of site instead of using a French word, Americans would embrace the concept.

Terroir, or place of origin, is important whether we speak of wine or any other food product.  Though we Americans do not have the legalized appellation system the Europeans have for food and wine, there’s no question that the character of the product varies depending on its place of origin.  Idaho potatoes, Copper River Salmon, Washington State apples all command premium prices because of their origins.  Door County (Wisconsin) cherries are prized above those grown elsewhere.  In the broadest concept, briny East Coast oysters are vastly different from their creamier West Coast cousins.  Yes, they are different species, so maybe it’s not just locale, but even the same species of oysters harvested in adjoining towns on Cape Cod taste different.

It’s no different when it comes to wine.  Place is critical.  Two impediments have led to our reluctance to accept the concept of terroir when it comes to wine.  First, in the 1970s, the early days of the modern American winemaking industry, the winemaker was all important.  When the 1973 Montelena Chardonnay bested prestigious white Burgundies at Steven Spurrier’s now famous 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting, no one asked the origin of the grapes.  It was Mike Grgich, the winemaker, who received the acclaim.

Secondly, California wineries rarely focused on specific vineyard sites.  In the past, and in large measure today, wineries would obtain their grapes from various parts of Napa or Sonoma, to use those two areas as examples, and blend them to make a finished wine.  Winemakers rightly would speak about the differences between Cabernet Sauvignon grown in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, or within sub-regions of Napa, but consumers rarely had opportunities to taste the differences between the wines because very few producers bottled them separately.  So, if a consumer tasted a Jordan Cabernet made from Sonoma grapes side-by-side with one from Beaulieu Vineyards whose grapes came from Napa Valley, were you tasting the difference between origin of the grapes or producers’ style?  In the past, Robert Mondavi made separate bottlings of wines that highlighted the vast differences between the Oakville and Stags Leap districts of Napa Valley, but few other producers did so.  My point is that unless you taste wines made by the same producer, the average consumer will never be able to separate the impact of site from the impact of producer.

Compare this practice to the tradition in Burgundy, recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status because of the patchwork of vineyards that makes Burgundy the classic case in point for the concept of terroir.  There, traditional and current marketing was and is done via négociants.  In Burgundy, the individual estates are small and fragmented, with farmers owning portions of vineyards scattered over several villages.  Production from each plot is small, which means it is impractical for individual growers to make, bottle and market their wines themselves.

The négociant, or wine merchant, system evolved in the 19th century to solve this problem.  Growers from throughout Burgundy would sell their grapes or newly pressed juice to large merchant houses, such as Maison Louis Jadot or Maison Louis Latour to name two of the best.  In turn, these houses would blend the grapes or juice purchased from several growers, each of whom owned plots in the same vineyard or village.  The négociant would then make, bottle and market the wines under his name.  Although the system started for economic reasons, a consequence was that it allowed the general consumer to taste wines from different villages made using the same winemaking techniques.  Since the winemaking was the same, the only differences among the wines were where the grapes were grown.  The uniqueness of terroir—the importance of site—became easy for the entire world to see, understand and appreciate.

Which brings me back to Gary Farrell’s array of 2016 Pinot Noirs.  It certainly helps that Theresa Heredia is an excellent winemaker and avoids the temptation to put her imprint on the wines at the expense of individual sites.  I’m certain that winemaking techniques, including oak aging, could have made all seven of the Pinot Noirs that I sampled recently taste the same.  But, because she let the various sites speak, the wines did, in fact, speak clearly—and differently.  The range of Pinot Noirs provides something for everyone, from more delicate and savory wines to those that are robust and powerful.

Gary Farrell was a pioneer in single-vineyard Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.  Though I sampled seven of Gary Farrell’s 2016 Pinot Noir recently via a Zoom® tasting along with several colleagues, Heredia told us that they make between 12 and 14 different ones depending on the year.  In addition to buying grapes from well-respected growers throughout the Russians River Valley, they buy grapes from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley and from vineyards in the Sonoma Coast AVA.

The wines were all very good, although dramatically different stylistically, reflecting their origins.  They are all easy to recommend.  Those who prefer bolder Pinot Noirs that focuses on fruitier flavors will gravitate towards the Russian River bottlings because the warmer climate there—compared to Bien Nacido and Fort Ross—produces riper grapes.  The Bien Nacido and Fort Ross bottlings, in contrast, will be more appealing to those who prefer a lighter expression of Pinot Noir with an emphasis on its savory aspect.  The flavors dance across the palate.  The Gap’s Crown Vineyard bottling, from Sonoma Coast, delivered a nicely balanced combination.  It also taught two lessons: first, it weighed in at the same 14.1 percent stated alcohol as two from the Russian River Valley, the Toboni and Martaella Vineyard, yet handled it far better, showing you cannot judge a wine by the numbers.  And, second, the Gap’s Crown and the Fort Ross couldn’t be more different, yet both reside in the Sonoma Coast AVA.  I guess the Sonoma Coast AVA could use more sub-divisions.

Gary Farrell (Fort Ross Seaview, Sonoma Coast) Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($75):  Review copy:  The Fort Ross Vineyard is a cold site, lying less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean and roughly 1,500 feet above sea level.  The temperature rarely exceeds 85º, all of which explains the wine’s profile: a fabulous combination of beguiling fruitiness and smoke-y savory nuances.  Lively acidity gives it brightness and amplifies its charms.  Beautifully balanced, it’s long and refined, with suave tannins.  It conveys what I think of as a Burgundian sensibility, namely, one of flavor without weight.  All of 13.2 percent stated-alcohol shows you don’t need super ripe grapes to make a super wine.  96

Gary Farrell (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir Dijon Clones 2016 ($60):  Review copy: The warmer Russian River Valley compared to Farrell’s Fort Ross bottling explains the riper style of this Pinot Noir.  Black fruit flavors mingle with savory earthy components in this juicy, bright, and long wine.  Though slightly bigger and bolder than their Fort Ross Pinot Noir, it remains impeccably balanced.  Again, a modest-–by today’s standards—13.7 percent stated-alcohol reinforces the notion that riper grapes don’t necessarily make better wine, especially when dealing with Pinot Noir.  95

Gary Farrell (Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County) Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($80):  Site matters.  A skeptic of that statement just needs to taste this Pinot Noir made from grapes grown in a vineyard located in the windy Petaluma Gap of Sonoma next to the Gary Farrell Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley.  This one has the power and robust nature of the Toboni and Martaella, but with layers of savory nuances that add complexity.  Though it displays a muscular style, it is not overdone.  Bright acidity keeps it from falling into the “Pinot-Syrah” category.  More tightly wound than Farrell’s other Pinot Noir, this wine could use further bottle age.  It should develop beautifully because of its wonderful balance.  If you can’t wait—and that’s understandable—open it a couple of hours before dinner.  94

Gary Farrell (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($55):  This wine presents a fascinating comparison with the Farrell’s Dijon Clones Pinot Noir from the same vineyard.  The winemaker says it’s a blend of five clones of Pinot Noir instead of two Dijon clones.  It has the same power as the Dijon Clones bottling, but reveals less complexity at this stage.  In my mind, it suffers by comparison to its stablemate.  As a stand-alone wine, I’d be thrilled to drink it with grilled salmon.  The lesson for me is that clones matter, but that subject is far too geek-y for this review, so I’ll leave it at that.  92

Gary Farrell (Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County) Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($70):   Santa Maria Valley’s east-west orientation is unusual in California where most of the valleys run north-south.  Its orientation, which allows cooling Pacific Ocean breezes, explains its cooler climate despite its southern California location.  The bright red fruit-like profile reflects the coolness of the site.  Though this Pinot Noir has fewer savory notes, touches of spice season it nicely and add complexity. Its raspberry-like flavors dance on the palate.  It’s a lighter and brighter Pinot Noir, which Theresa Heredia, the winemaker, calls, “sexy and spicy.”  92

Gary Farrell (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($65):  Those who love a more robust style of Pinot Noir will embrace the Martaella Vineyard bottling from Gary Farrell, in relation to the rest of this producer’s lineup.  The focus here is on the ripe, plum-like fruitiness.  As with all of Farrell’s Pinot Noirs, the tannins are fine and the textured refined, which makes it easy to enjoy now.  The sunny Santa Rosa plain where the vineyard is located helps explain the opulence in the wine.  91

Gary Farrell (Russian River Valley, Sonoma County) Toboni Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016 ($55):  The warmth of the Russian River Valley compared to the Sonoma Coast or Santa Maria Valley accounts for riper raw material for this Pinot Noir, which is translated into a more robust wine.  Similar to the one from Martaella Vineyard, it delivers power at the expense of subtlety.  But, showing that site is critical, its fruit and spice profile differs from the Martaella even though the vineyards are a stone’s throw apart. It’s not the style of Pinot Noir I personally look for, but it is well made and certainly will have an audience.  The glossy tannins, a hallmark of Farrell’s Pinot Noir, make it a good choice now with grilled beef.  90

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August 26, 2020

E-mail me your thoughts about the importance of site in general or Gary Farrell’s wines in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein.

A Winery in…L.A.?

California red wine selling for $150+ a bottle is not a rarity anymore.  But who’s heard of a Los Angeles winery selling one for that price?  For that matter, who’s heard of Los Angeles wineries at all?  If you haven’t, you’re not alone.  I asked two well-respected California-based wine writers if they had ever heard of this winery and was met with a deafening silence.

So, let me introduce you to Moraga Winery, located in the tony Bel Air section of Los Angeles.  Visible from Interstate 405 and a quick 15 minutes from LAX, Moraga Bel Air sits in an upscale—to say the least—residential neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

First, a little background.

Though California “Wine Country” today is centered north of San Francisco in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the original Wine Country was actually centered in Los Angeles.  In 1836, a couple decades before Hungarian Agoston Haraszthy imported European vines to Sonoma County, Frenchman Jean-Louis Vignes (what an appropriate name) brought French vines and planted them on the east bank of the Los Angeles River, in what is now downtown Los Angeles.  There were over 100 wineries in Los Angeles County in the early 19th century, sending wine to the thirsty 49ers mining for gold up north.  Los Angeles-based wineries never survived following prohibition, but Vine Street reminds us of the city’s wine legacy.

Fast forward to 1959, when Tom Jones, CEO of Northrup Aviation, and his wife, Ruth, purchased this jewel of a property located on the edge of the Santa Monica Mountains that had been owned by famed film director Victor Fleming, who won an Oscar for Gone with the Wind.  In 1980, Jones started planting vines and after several experiments, finally settled on Bordeaux varieties.  Though their first commercial vintage was 1989, it wasn’t until 2005 when they built a winery that they established themselves as an estate winery—meaning they use only their own grapes and vinify them on-site.  Prior to 2005, the wine was made entirely from their grapes, but in a Napa Valley winery.

In 2013, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp owns, among others, Fox News and Dow Jones Company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal, purchased the 14-acre estate, which includes an 8,000 square foot house, gardens, winery and vineyards, for $28.8 million.

Currently, Moraga Bel Air has just under 7 acres of vines, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (4.3 acres), Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc (each 1.2 acres), Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (each 0.1 acre).  They make two wines, a red and a white, simply labeled as such with a California appellation.  Scott Rich, the winemaker who has been with them since the mid-1990s, explains that the composition of the red wine usually contains more than 75 percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and could be labeled as such, but since the blend varies each year depending on how each of the individual varieties do, they don’t want to constrain themselves with varietal labeling.  Though the white is always 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, they still label it simply as white wine, to keep the labeling consistent.  Rich explains that since Moraga Bel Air does not sit within a recognized AVA, they had the option of either using the county or state appellation.  They opted for California over Los Angeles County, since consumers might not take a wine from Los Angeles seriously.  Hint, they should.

Rich emphasizes that their site is unique.  Just five miles from the ocean, the soil and bedrock of this section of the mountains is uplifted seabed and marine in composition, specifically known as Santa Monica shale.  He notes it is not limestone, but rather a limestone precursor.  Additionally, situated on a fault line, the vineyard is very well drained.  Located at the mouth of a canyon that faces Santa Monica Bay, the vines benefit from consistent afternoon sea breezes that keep the vineyards much cooler compared to the surrounding area.  Rich remarks that prior to 2018, a very hot year, temperatures rarely exceeded 100ºF at their vineyard whereas just a few miles away triple digit temperatures were common during each the summer.

It took a lot of work and experimentation—and money—to get Moraga where it is today.  Early on, Rich recounts how they opted to declassify and not bottle half of the wine because it failed to meet their standards.  The learning-curve was steep.  They wound up replanting extensively as they learned what grew best where.  They discovered that the conventional wisdom of planting Cabernet Sauvignon in south-facing vineyards, which should be warmer and better suited for that variety, didn’t work because that slope was too cold as a result of the cooling Pacific breezes.  North-facing sites made horrible Sauvignon Blanc, according to Rich, because they were too hot for that grape.  So, they converted those vineyards to Cabernet Sauvignon, which thrived in the warmer site.  They even had to remove areas that had been carefully terraced previously when it turned out that that was not the best system for vines.

Rich describes the winemaking of the white as “super simple.”  The juice settles over-night.  He racks it off the gross lees and adds a little sulfur and then, using only native yeast, ferments twenty percent of the juice in new small French oak barrels where it remains for only a few weeks.  He ferments and ages the remainder in stainless steel tanks and blends the two batches before bottling.  They produce roughly 300 cases a year.  The wine retails for $115 a bottle.

Rich’s decision to age the red wine entirely in new, small, French oak barrels was serendipitous.  Reluctant to age the wine in used barrels for fear of introducing organisms not indigenous to their estate, Rich opted to age the initial vintage entirely in new French oak barrels.  The wine turned out just fine, according to him, and he has continued the practice ever since.  The variable, depending on the vintage, is the length of time the wine spends in barrel, anywhere from 18 to 22 months.

Moraga’s 2016 Red Wine (91 pts, $175), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (78 percent), Merlot (21 percent), with the remaining one percent split between Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, is, like the Bel Air neighborhood, plush and suave.  Nicely balanced, it delivers both spice and a plethora of fruit flavors enrobed in silky tannins.  Most importantly, the wine is not overdone.  You feel the effect of oak aging without it intruding.  Its 14.7 percent stated alcohol is noticeable only by a hint of heat in the finish.  Bright acidity keeps this refined wine lively.

Moraga’s production of red wine has been variable, between 200 and 700 cases, because of yields and overall quality.  Rich relates how he thinks they should be producing between 600 and 700 cases of the red a year, “as long as Mother Nature cooperates.”

Here’s hoping She does.

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E-mail me at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com if you’ve ever heard of Moraga and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein and on Instagram.

July 22, 2020

Bichot is Back

If I needed any convincing—and I did not—that Bichot, the venerable Beaune-based Burgundy négoçiant, is back, it was after tasting a line-up of their 2018s.  That vintage was precarious for winegrowers because the weather provided the potential for both fabulous wines or over-ripe ones with high alcohol levels depending on harvest date, location of the vineyards, and viticulture practices.  Bichot avoided the potential pitfalls and hit the bullseye with both their reds and whites in 2018.

Matthieu Mangenot, formerly the estate manager at Bichot’s Chablis property, Domaine Long-Depaquit, and recently promoted to Assistant Technical Director to Alain Serveau, Bichot’s Technical Director, summed up the growing season succinctly, in four words: wet, drought, hot and sunny.  The winter was wet with twice as much water as usual, which turned out to be beneficial because it kept the vines from stress during the drought that occurred from April through September.  The summer was hot and sunny, with the thermometer breaking 100º some days in September.  The overall result was the potential for alcoholic wines with low acidity.  Mangenot echoed what I had heard from many other growers, namely, that the key to success was an early harvest.  Bichot started theirs about two weeks earlier than usual, at the end of August.  In the cellar, Bichot opted on shorter aging with less time in barrel to preserve the vibrant fruitiness of the wines.  Like many other growers to whom I spoke, they were anxious about the wines at harvest, but thrilled with how they turned out by the time of bottling.

Although I have tasted at Bichot many times over the years, I did not have the time to taste their wines during my annual trip to Burgundy in November, and due to COVID-19, the usual spring press tastings are not occurring.  That did not stop the Bichot team from showing me their 2018s.  They put together an inventive tasting by pouring small, two-ounce, samples of finished, ready-to-be bottled wines—not barrel samples—into small screw-top jars and then rapidly distributed them to tasters (and, indeed, right on schedule they appeared on my porch).  We could taste them simultaneously, via Zoom, with the Bichot team in France, who had assembled in the cellar of their famous Nuits-St.  Georges-based property, Domaine du Clos Frantin.  In addition to Mangenot, Christophe Chauvel, who is in charge of viticulture for all their domaines, and Albéric Bichot, who runs the family-owned business, guided us through the wines.

Before getting to the wines, some background about Albert Bichot is helpful.  Albert Bichot, the grandson of Bernard Bichot, who founded the company in Monthélie in 1831, expanded it and moved its headquarters to Beaune, where it remains, in 1912.  Since 1996, Albéric Bichot, representing the 6th generation of the family, has been running the company and has been responsible for its meteoric rise in joining the other top-tier Burgundy négoçiants.  Under his direction, Bichot has expanded, adding domaines to their portfolio and acquiring other négoçiants, such as Nuits St. Georges-based Lupé-Cholet.

The most critical change that Albéric instituted was a conversion from a “quantity” to a “quality” mentality.  A major part of that change occurred in the vineyard.  Enter Chauvel, a revered viticulturist.  (I’ve heard so much praise from many respected sources about Chauvel that I think “revered” is appropriate.)  Chauvel joined Bichot in 1999 after working for seven years with Pierre Morey, one of Burgundy’s top winemakers, who currently makes wine at his eponymous domaine and was winemaker at Domaine Leflaive for years.  Chauvel told me during a visit in 2008 that his toughest decision was when he and the Bichot team decided to decrease yields by 10 to 15 percent.  He noted it was far more important for the reds than the whites because Chardonnay can handle a higher yield better than Pinot Noir.  But the major hurdle was a mental one.  As a farmer, decreasing yields voluntarily—without a guarantee that the price will increase—is a big challenge and an even bigger risk.

Like the other well-regarded négoçiants, Bichot is an important grower, owning six individual domaines, comprising about 250 acres of vines, from Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south.  Unlike other négoçiants who own vineyards, and therefore are growers as well, the Bichot properties, Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis, Domaine du Clos Frantin and Château-Gris, both in Nuits St. Georges, Domaine du Pavillon in Pommard, Domaine Adélie in Mercurey, and Domaine de Rochegrès in Moulin-a-Vent, each have their own winery and dedicated team, all, of course, under the supervision of Chauvel and Serveau.  The advantage of this organization, according to Albéric, is that the grapes have only a short distance to travel from vineyard to winery and there is a certain amount of friendly—one hopes—competition among the domaines each year.

Bichot’s total annual production is about two million bottles, with 25 percent of that total sourced from their six domaines.  The remainder comes from their négoçiant business, which is, as Albéric describes it, non-traditional.  He explains that they buy grapes or must, not wines, from growers who control roughly 1,000 acres throughout Burgundy.

The Wines

Domaine Long-Depaquit, Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos” 2018 ($112):  With holdings totalling 150 acres of vines, almost half of which are located in Premier or Grand Cru vineyards, Long-Depaquit is one of the most notable estates in Chablis.  They own roughly ten percent of all Grand Cru acreage in Chablis, including the entirety of La Moutonne, an anomalous site of almost 6-acres spanning two Grand Cru vineyards, Vaudésir and Preuses.  In Les Clos alone, Long-Depaquit owns two parcels totaling almost 4 acres, which they blend together for this wine.  The full-bodied and mineral-y 2018 is forward and easy to appreciate now, but should develop beautifully over the next several years because of its impeccable balance.  The long and graceful finish makes it particularly attractive.  93

Domaine Adélie, Mercurey “Les Champs-Michaux” 2018 ($55):  Albéric purchased this almost 20-acre estate in Mercurey in 2003, the year of his first daughter’s birth.  Hence the name of the domaine.  Mercurey is known for its red wines, but with more whites like this one, the reputation of its whites might well outdistance the reds.  Chauvel explains that the soil at Les Champs-Michaux is better suited for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and believes that the clay in the soil imparts roundness to the wine.  Punching far above its weight, this exceptional village Mercurey is sensational.  Floral, with hints of ripe stone fruits, it has extraordinary elegance for a white Mercurey.  Delicious now.  92

Domaine du Pavillon, Meursault 2018 ($100): This village Meursault, a blend of five plots from the northern end of the appellation, is vinified at the Domaine du Pavillon, just down the road in Pommard.  One taste shows the dramatic textural difference between this white from the Côte d’Or and the Les Champs-Michaux from the Côte Chalonnaise.  Creamy, as opposed to stone-y, this Meursault has good weight on the palate.  Fine acidity keeps it lively.  89

Domaine du Pavillon, Corton-Charlemagne 2018 ($260): Bichot owns about three acres in the Les Languettes lieu-dit, a sunny southeast facing part of the Corton-Charlemagne vineyard.  From it, they have made a glorious wine in 2018, showing nuances of spiced pineapple offset by a crispy edginess.  Its stature is not in overall weight or power, rather in its layered complexity and elegance.  Very tight at this stage, it starts to show is stature with air.  A Grand Cru white that will need years to show itself.  94

Domaine de Rochegrès, Moulin-a-Vent 2018 ($28):  Bichot purchased this 12.5-acre estate in the heart of Moulin-a-Vent, arguably the top Beaujolais cru, in 2014.  The grapes come from three lieux-dits within Moulin-a-Vent, La Rochelle, Au Mont, and the young vines from Rochegrès itself.  It is ripe, spice-y and suave, combining richness, minerality and bright acidity.  A triumph.  93

Domaine du Pavillon, Pommard “Clos des Ursulines” 2018 ($55):  Unlike Bordeaux, most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners, which explains why the consumer can see multiple bottlings of Pommard Epenots, for example.  By contrast, Clos des Ursulines, a nearly 10-acre vineyard located in the southeast part of the village, is owned entirely by the Domaine du Pavillon.  It’s what the Burgundians call a monopole.  The 2018 is muscular with remarkable suaveness for a wine from Pommard, which gives real elegance to its burly frame.  An excellent village wine—and bargain-priced for what it is.  90

Château Gris, Nuits-St. Georges 1er Cru “Château Gris” 2018 ($130):  The 1er cru vineyard, Château Gris, takes its name from the 19th century castle the Earl of Lupé-Cholet built on the site after phylloxera destroyed the vines.  Instead of the usual multi-colored tiles of Burgundian roofs, it had only slate tiles, giving arise to the nickname of Gris (grey).  This monopole, owned by Bichot since 1978, covers 8.5 acres and is planted with both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but only the red wine from the site is classified as 1er cru.  The 2018 is positively stunning.  Far more elegant than you’d expect from Nuits-St. Georges, it still conveys a touch of wildness for which the appellation is known.  Long and finesse-filled, it dances on the palate.  Chauvel believes that the terraced rows at different elevations in the vineyard allows for varying levels of ripeness of the grapes, imparting freshness to the wine.  That likely explains its bright finish, which amplifies the wine’s charms.  95

Domaine du Clos Frantin, Echézeaux 2018 ($360):  Bichot’s Domaine du Clos Frantin owns two and a third acres in the lieu-dit of Champs Traversin from which they make a consistently spectacular Echézeaux.  The 2018 is no exception.  It is explosive, yet not weighty.  It delivers a touch of spice along with a plethora of subtle fruit flavors.  Its understated power and suaveness are captivating.  It’s my definition of Burgundy—flavor without weight.  96

A word about the prices.  They all reflect the 25 percent tariff imposed on most European wines under 14 percent alcohol by the U.S. government in retaliation for subsidies European governments give to Airbus.  The tariff money goes to the U.S.  government, not the Burgundy producers, although that’s no consolation to the consumer who ultimately pays what is, in reality, a new tax.

In summary, Bichot’s 2018 whites reflect their sites.  The Meursault is creamy, while, in contrast, the Mercurey is stone-y.  Those who criticize négoçiants by claiming a “house style” obliterates site specificity are just plain wrong, at least in this case.  The whites are charming and forward with surprisingly good acidity.  While most of them, the Corton-Charlemagne aside, lack the verve for long aging, like the 2010 or 2014 whites, they are beautifully proportioned and, most importantly, delicious.

The reds, like the whites, speak of their origins.  They are all wonderfully balanced, showing no signs of the over-ripeness that one might have expected given the growing conditions.  They are stylish, balanced, and should evolve beautifully over the decade with proper cellaring.  These wines convey the charm of Burgundy, no easy feat with such heat during the growing season.  Clearly, careful and thoughtful minds were at work here, all the better for us who will drink and admire these fine wines in the years to come.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Burgundy in general or Bichot in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

Focusing on Terroir, Following Burgundy’s Lead

If terroir—that French concept that where the grapes grow determines the character of the wine—is so important, why haven’t American consumers embraced it?  Maybe wine appellations, which should define terroir, are just not all that important.  That could be, but I doubt it. Wine appellations should help the consumer know what to expect: Is the wine sweet or is it dry?  Full-bodied or more delicate?  I think Americans haven’t embraced terroir because our focus has always been—and still is—on the importance of grape varieties, brands and winemakers.  But that may be changing as evidenced by a recent release of a trio Pinot Noirs by Siduri Wines, one of the properties owned by Jackson Family Wines.

Wine appellations should allow a consumer to predict, more or less, what’s in the bottle.  Wines from particular areas should have unique characteristics that reflect the locale.  European laws governing the various appellations mandate what grapes are allowed within the defined geographic area, further narrowing the range from a particular appellation.  Consumers, especially those just learning about wine, can confuse the appellation of Pouilly Fumé with that of Pouilly Fuissé, but quickly discern the difference between the herbal bite of the former with the gentler minerality and fruitiness of the latter.  Certainly, there will be differences among the styles of Pouilly-Fuissé depending on the producer, just as different chefs prepare different tomato sauces.  But overall Pouilly-Fuissé should be identifiably different from Pouilly-Fumé just as a plain tomato sauce is different from a tomato-based meat sauce.

Some U.S. producers have focused on terroir with single-vineyard bottlings.  Merry Edwards, Siduri Wines, and Dutton-Goldfield with their single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Nickel and Nickel with their single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons are superb examples of terroir in California.  These producers have shown the importance of site and that where grapes grow make a difference.  Edwards’ Meredith Estate Pinot Noir is consistently different from her Klopp Ranch bottling despite both vineyards being in the Russian River Valley.  Similarly, Nickel and Nickel’s Cabernet Sauvignon from the Sullenger Vineyard in Oakville differs from their State Ranch bottling in neighboring Yountville.  Site matters.

By and large, the U.S. wine industry has focused on individual producers, less so on differences between regions.  But despite our focus on American wine brands and their winemakers, terroir does exist on these shores. It’s not some French philosophic fantasy.  It exists outside of France, but is difficult to isolate unless—and this is critical—a single producer bottles wines from different American Viticultural Area (AVAs), our equivalence of European appellations.  Consumers can taste Domaine Drouhin Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and compare it to Merry Edwards’ Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, but are the differences due to terroir or to winemaking style?  One just doesn’t know.

That’s where Burgundy has led the way.

UNESCO has inscribed Burgundy’s vineyards—its terroir—on their list of World Heritage Sites, recognizing its importance as ground zero for terroir.  Two reasons explain Burgundy’s unique status.  Firstly, for 800 years, monks who planted the vineyards, with little else on which to focus (among worldly matters, at least), were able to study which sites did best year after year, decade after decade, and century after century.  Equally critical, in my opinion, has been the unique marketing system of the wines—based on the centrality of négociants.

The fragmented ownership of vineyards in Burgundy with most farmers owning portions of vineyards scattered over several villages, meant it was impractical for individual growers to make, bottle and market their wines themselves.  The négociant, or wine merchant, system evolved in the 19th century from this patchwork of vineyards and growers.  Growers from throughout Burgundy would sell their grapes or newly pressed juice to larger merchant houses, such as Albert Bichot, Bouchard Père et Fils, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Joseph Faiveley, Maison Louis Jadot, and Maison Louis Latour to name just a few.  In turn, these houses would make, bottle and market the wines under their name.  Although the system started for economic reasons, the unanticipated consequence was the introduction of the concept of terroir to the general consumer.

Customers could—thanks to the efforts of the négociants—taste wines from the various villages and vineyards made using the same winemaking techniques.  The differences between wines from the villages (soon-to-be appellations beginning in the 1930s) of Gevrey-Chambertin and Chambolle-Musigny could be appreciated because winemaking practices were the same.  The only differences among the wines was where the grapes were grown. Unexpectedly, the uniqueness of terroir became easy for the entire world to see, understand and appreciate.  The négociants made the transparency of site apparent to everyday consumers.

Today, though the distinction between négociant and grower has blurred, the concept of terroir remains clear.  Négociants have purchased more and more vineyards.  Growers, seizing on their rock star-like reputations, are becoming “micro-négociants” by buying grapes from other farmers and expanding their range.  With the growth of more micro-négociant model, the practice of a single producer bottling wines from a plethora of individual appellations has expanded and is stronger than ever.   A mini-version of this fragmentation exists in Piedmont, but with the exception of the Produttori del Barbaresco, a co-operative that bottles up to nine site-specific wines, and Sordo in Barolo, which bottles eight single-vineyard wines, most producers bottle no more than two or three separate wines.  Burgundy is the only place in the world where a single producer bottles 50+ individual appellation wines made from the same grape.

Unsurprisingly, Oregon, with its focus on Pinot Noir, a variety that has the potential to express terroir beautifully, has taken a lead in focusing on AVA.  The Drouhin family led the way when they established Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987.  Now they produce two distinctive and different Pinot Noirs from two AVAs there, Dundee Hills and Eola-Amity Hills.  Jadot followed suit in 2013 when they established their Oregon outpost, Résonance, in the Yamhill Carlton AVA and within a few years expanded by making Pinot Noir from another AVA, the Dundee Hills.  As with Drouhin’s Oregon bottlings, Jadot’s reflect the different growing areas.  Árdíri, based in Oregon, and Siduri based in California, have taken it a step further by crossing state lines.  Árdíri makes a Pinot Noir from Chehalem Mountains AVA in Oregon and from the Carneros AVA in California. Siduri has expanded the idea by producing multi-vineyard blends of Pinot Noir from three of America’s best AVAs for Pinot Noir: Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Russian River Valley and Santa Barbara County in California.  Paradoxically, by being less focused on specific vineyards, these wines allow consumers to see—taste, really—the broad differences among these three prime areas or appellations.

Siduri, named for the Babylonian goddess of wine, has always specialized in Pinot Noir, especially single vineyard bottlings.  According to their website they make single vineyard wines from a total of 20 vineyards throughout California and Oregon.  These multi-vineyard single AVA additions to their portfolio are a boon for consumers because each of the wines is easy to recommend and is reasonably priced—at least for Pinot Noir.  Plus, if you taste the three side-by-side, you can easily discern the differences among the AVAs.  Everything except the where the grapes are grown is the same: same vintage, same grape, same winemaking team.  So, the only difference is the origin of the grapes.

Siduri’s Willamette Valley bottling ($35) comes from grapes grown in three AVAs within that valley: Yamhill-Carlton, Chehalem Mountains, and Eola-Amity. Racy and juicy, it delivers far more that bright fruitiness.  Indeed, savory notes are clear and balance the red raspberry-like quality.  A welcome hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal and shows the understated charm that Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley delivers.

Compared to the Willamette Valley bottling, their Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($40), which comes from several vineyards throughout the valley, is broader and riper, with dark fruit flavors.  There’s no bitterness in the finish in this plush, suavely textured wine.  The slight increase in stated-alcohol (14.5 vs 14.3%) is noticeable in the hint of heat in the finish.  Overall, the greater power reflects the warmer Russian River Valley sites compared to those in the Willamette.

The grapes for the Santa Barbara bottling ($30) come primarily from the Sta. Rita Valley, whose east-west orientation is rare in California, where most of the valleys run north-south.  Sta. Rita’s orientation allows cool Pacific Ocean influences to reduce temperatures, especially close to the coast, making it an ideal locale for growing Pinot Noir, a grape that prefers lower temperatures to higher ones.  Siduri’s Sta. Rita bottling is a fine contrast to their other two, falling somewhere in the middle. Slightly riper and more full-bodied that their Willamette offering, it is more restrained compared to the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, reflecting the cooler environment.

Finally, consumers can learn for themselves the wonderful differences between Pinot Noir from the Willamette, the Russian River Valley, and Sta. Rita Hills without wondering whether they are tasting terroir or the producer’s signature.  Thanks to Siduri for reminding us that France does not have a monopoly on terroir. It’s alive and well in the USA.

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Email me your thoughts about terroir at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

May 13, 2020

How To Send Direct Message Instagram On PC

I work faster and more efficiently from my computer, I like my full screen and full keyboard. This is just a million times more powerful than mobile devices are right now. So naturally, in my Instagram pursuit of 5000 followers and beyond, I needed to find a way to send and receive direct messages from within the Instagram app.

Although Instagram has its official website, it only allows you to check your news feed, profile and explore page. Instagram has disabled some services including the Direct Message (DM) on its web version. You are also not allowed to post any photos and videos from the Instagram website directly.

Luckily, there are some other methods you can use to check your direct messages or dm on Instagram from pc (computer or Mac). Here we have discussed all those methods in detail. You can use any of them based on your preference. Well, without further ado, let’s get started.

Mark Zuckerberg had already announced his plans to allow you to communicate between Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp down the road, so it’s not surprising the apps would share a similar UI. What’s left now is wondering when IG will actually roll it out.

However back in February Wong had tweeted screenshots of the Direct Messages for desktop claiming that Instagram was working on the feature. But shortly after she uploaded the screenshots, access to the feature was blocked by Instagram.

Sоmе bеnеfіtѕ оf DM feature?

1. Gеt involved wіth уоur followers

It іѕ nесеѕѕаrу tо knоw уоur аudіеnсе tо separate уоurѕеlf frоm thе сrоwd. It gіvеѕ уоu thе opportunity tо еѕtаblіѕh relationships аnd mоrе wіth уоur followers, аѕ іf ѕоmеоnе contacted уоu, іt іѕ bесаuѕе thеу аrе іntеrеѕtеd іn whаt уоu hаvе tо оffеr. Eасh tіmе ѕоmеоnе ѕеndѕ a message іn thе іnbоx, a bluе dоt арреаrѕ nеxt tо thе nаmе.

Yоu ѕhоuld аlwауѕ increase уоur commitment tо fоllоwеrѕ аnd strive tо rеѕроnd bесаuѕе уоu nеvеr knоw hоw a follower саn positively іmрасt уоur brаnd. Wіthоut соmmіtmеnt аnd асtіvе fоllоwеrѕ, аn Instagram wіth a mіllіоn followers, wоuld bе uѕеlеѕѕ.

Yоu саn аlwауѕ іnсrеаѕе commitment, trust, аnd brаnd bу sending a simple message tо уоur followers, thаnkіng thеm fоr fоllоw uр. Thіѕ рrосеѕѕ ѕhоwѕ thаt уоu саrе аnd ѕhоw thе реrѕоnаlіtу оf уоur brаnd, whісh mаnу іnfluеnсеrѕ аnd uѕеrѕ dо nоt tаkе аdvаntаgе оf.

All consumers wаnt tо fееl іmроrtаnt аnd wаnt tо fееl vаluеd. I knоw whаt уоu’rе thinking. “It wоuld tаkе mе fоrеvеr!” Truе, thаt’ѕ whу ѕресіаl apps wеrе created tо аutоmаtе nеw Inѕtаgrаm dіrесt mеѕѕаgе followers ѕо уоu саn participate whіlе maintaining уоur rеаl lіfе.

2. Fіnd nеtwоrkіng opportunities

Thе Instagram DM ѕуѕtеm іѕ thе grеаtеѕt business орроrtunіtу оr nеtwоrk dеvеlорmеnt оf оur еrа. Mаnу people аrе trуіng tо ѕеll, sell аnd tаkе advantage оf people, but thеу аrе nоt ѕоlvіng thеіr nееdѕ. Yоu ѕhоuld аѕk “Hоw саn I solve уоur рrоblеm?” Or “How саn I mаkе thіѕ easier fоr уоu аnd gіvе уоu value?”

Thе ѕоlutіоn іѕ tо соnnесt fіrѕt оn a mutual lеvеl, рrоvіdе vаluе аnd whеn thе tіmе соmеѕ, уоu саn аѕk whаt уоu саn dо fоr thеm. Mаnу companies, individuals аnd іnfluеnсеrѕ саn gіvе уоu many орроrtunіtіеѕ tо vаluе уоu. Thаt ѕаіd, mоѕt іndіvіduаlѕ аrе wеll соnnесtеd аnd mаnу саn bе friends оr еmрlоуееѕ оf thе реrѕоn уоu аrе trуіng tо rеасh.

Case for Quarantine 2.0

Times like this remind us of the things that are really important in life.  In the big picture, wine, though it plays a significant part in my life, is not among them.  Compared to the death and disease around us and the prospect of a looming economic recession, and maybe a depression, writing about wine seems trivial.  Just a month ago, I was in Florence at the Antiprime di Toscana, the annual tasting of the new vintage of Tuscan wines, including Chianti Classico.  Based on those tastings, I had planned an update about Gran Selezione, the new category of Chianti Classico that sits at the top of the region’s quality pyramid.  There’s no doubt Gran Selezione is an exciting new classification within Chianti Classico.  Yes, there are problems with the classification, but what classification is problem-free?  At this point in time, however, Gran Selezione and its problems seems trivial at best.  So, that column will wait.

Although wine may pale in comparison in importance to the darkness around us and what’s likely to come, it still does provide enormous joy and relief, especially during the shelter-at-home period.  So, this column will be a continuation of previous advice, stimulated in large measure by the people—ok, a person—who wrote to me, suggesting I continue recommending wines for quarantine.

I started my last column on this subject by saying that—though I am an MD—I’ll  leave the medical advice concerning the need to quarantine to your personal physician and public health experts.  I’ve changed my mind.  Everyone should shelter-in-place, adhere to social distancing, wear a mask or face covering when outside, and wash hands every time you touch something outside of your house.

A word about drinking alone.  Your liver is really remarkable.  It makes a bunch of proteins important for health, it gets rid of cholesterol and removes toxic material, and it can regenerate itself.  But it doesn’t have eyes.  It doesn’t know whether you’re drinking alone or with friends.  It certainly can tell how much you drink, just not with whom.  So, if you’re sheltering-in-place by yourself, don’t feel guilty about drinking wine with your meal.  Importantly, don’t feel the need to finish the bottle because you don’t want to waste it.  As always, think of moderate consumption.  And remember that most wines are still fine after being opened for a day or two.  It is critical to keep them in the refrigerator, even the reds, after you’ve opened them because the lower the temperature, the slower the wine deteriorates.  Recorking is a good idea to keep the smells of your refrigerator out of the wine and to prevent spillage.  You could say that screwcap closures were seemingly made for quarantine.

Now, with that out of the way, here’s my advice for another case for the next two weeks of sheltering in place.  Of course, as I’ve said before, depending on how many other adults are with you in quarantine, you may need more than a case.

One thing I’ve learned since my last column of this subject is the diversity of wine that people drink during these times.  W. Blake Gray, who writes for Wine-Searcher among other publications, reported that he and his wife were drinking Cain Five, a hearty Bordeaux-style blend, with dim sum.  According to Blake’s report, it was a success.  The broad message is to think outside of the box.  Don’t be constrained by any preconceived ideas of what wines go with what food.

That said, I restate the obvious: Champagne or other sparkling wine is perfect both because the “pop” of the cork brightens any day and the wine itself goes well with a broad selection of food, from take-out Asian to pan-seared steaks.

And don’t forget the Champagne stopper, which allows you to enjoy a glass, re-stopper the bottle to conserve the bubbles, and have another glass the following night.  Charles Heidsieck’s NV Brut Réserve ($69) is both powerful and elegant.  Ok, it may not be what you want with a recession/depression in the future, so turn to Prosecco.  Though Prosecco lacks the glorious rich complexity and depth of Champagne, it is refreshing and has the ability to elevate one’s mood.  Mionetto makes of bevy of fine Prosecco bottlings that are widely available.  Their DOC Treviso Brut ($13) is friendly, well suited for an aperitif or with food, while their Extra-Dry ($15), made from organic grapes, is broader and, paradoxically, has a more edgy backbone.  Let me remind readers of Paul Chollet’s beautifully balanced rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne Brut “Oeil de Perdrix” ($16), one of the best French non-Champagne sparkling wine bargains.

I touted Riesling last month because of its ability to pair with a plethora of foods.  That’s why I would definitely put a bottle or two in this case.  Try Penner-Ash’s 2017 Hyland Vineyard Riesling ($31) from McMinnville, Oregon.  Riveting acidity balances its hint of sweetness.  Out of your budgetary range?  Turn to Hugel, one of Alsace’s venerable houses and grab a bottle of their 2017 Classic Riesling ($20), which is energetic and delicately fruity.

Almost all (95 percent) of Chinon is red, but there is some white, made from Chenin Blanc, which is, rather like Riesling, a versatile wine.  And like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is available in a range of sweetness levels.  Every year, Couly-Dutheil’s white Chinon is always among the best.  Couly-Dutheil gets the balance right with their 2017 Chinon “Les Chanteaux” ($24), marrying the fruitiness of the grape, a hint of sweetness, with uplifting vibrancy.  Speaking of Chenin Blanc, if you have access to Long Island wines, look for Paumanok’s 2018 racy Chenin Blanc ($26) and those who do not, pick up Dry Creek Vineyard’s harmonious 2018 Dry Chenin Blanc ($16) from Clarksburg, California.  These three Chenin Blanc will do double duty as a sipper while you’re making dinner or waiting for the Chinese take-out to arrive.

I’m a big fan of Soave because the good producers, such as Inama, consistently over-deliver for the price.  Mineral-y, bright and long, Inama’s single-vineyard 2017 Soave Classico, “Vigneti di Foscarino” Vecchie Vigne ($23) is a perfect example.  It has remarkable weight.

It’s hard not to include a Chardonnay and a rosé in the quarantine case.  A 2019 Chardonnay from Los Vacos ($10), a Domaines Barons de (Lafite) Rothschild property in Chile, fits the bill nicely.  Spicy and understated, it is nicely balanced and…has a screwcap.  At ten bucks you can’t beat it.

Regular readers know that I’m not swept away by rosé, but Minuty’s 2019 “Prestige” Côtes de Provence Rosé ($27) makes even the most skeptical sit up and take notice.  Very pale pink, you’d be forgiven to think it would turn out to be bland.  Not at all.  Lively wild strawberry-like flavors leap from the glass.  This dry and invigorating rosé can hold up to some serious sushi.

You could fill your entire quarantine case with Chianti Classico from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, two spectacular vintages that are currently widely available.  The 2015s are slightly riper compared to the sleeker and racier 2016s.  Here are a half dozen from each vintage that I can recommend enthusiastically:

2016 Chianti Classico: Castello della Paneretta ($20), Casaloste ($20), San Fabiano Calcinaia ($21), Pincipe Corsini “Le Corti” ($24), Isole e Olena ($26), and Querciabella ($32).

2015s: Chianti Classico: Badia a Coltibuono ($20), Castellare di Castellina ($22), Tenuta di Nozzole ($22), Castello di Volpaia ($23), Isole e Olena ($26), and Fèlsina ($27).

Watch your distance and wash your hands—that’s my version of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

*         *         *

E-mail me your choices for your case for quarantine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

April 8, 2020

Case for Quarantine 2.0

Times like this remind us of the things that are really important in life.  In the big picture, wine, though it plays a significant part in my life, is not among them.  Compared to the death and disease around us and the prospect of a looming economic recession, and maybe a depression, writing about wine seems trivial.  Just a month ago, I was in Florence at the Antiprime di Toscana, the annual tasting of the new vintage of Tuscan wines, including Chianti Classico.  Based on those tastings, I had planned an update about Gran Selezione, the new category of Chianti Classico that sits at the top of the region’s quality pyramid.  There’s no doubt Gran Selezione is an exciting new classification within Chianti Classico.  Yes, there are problems with the classification, but what classification is problem-free?  At this point in time, however, Gran Selezione and its problems seems trivial at best.  So, that column will wait.

Although wine may pale in comparison in importance to the darkness around us and what’s likely to come, it still does provide enormous joy and relief, especially during the shelter-at-home period.  So, this column will be a continuation of previous advice, stimulated in large measure by the people—ok, a person—who wrote to me, suggesting I continue recommending wines for quarantine.

I started my last column on this subject by saying that—though I am an MD—I’ll  leave the medical advice concerning the need to quarantine to your personal physician and public health experts.  I’ve changed my mind.  Everyone should shelter-in-place, adhere to social distancing, wear a mask or face covering when outside, and wash hands every time you touch something outside of your house.

A word about drinking alone.  Your liver is really remarkable.  It makes a bunch of proteins important for health, it gets rid of cholesterol and removes toxic material, and it can regenerate itself.  But it doesn’t have eyes.  It doesn’t know whether you’re drinking alone or with friends.  It certainly can tell how much you drink, just not with whom.  So, if you’re sheltering-in-place by yourself, don’t feel guilty about drinking wine with your meal.  Importantly, don’t feel the need to finish the bottle because you don’t want to waste it.  As always, think of moderate consumption.  And remember that most wines are still fine after being opened for a day or two.  It is critical to keep them in the refrigerator, even the reds, after you’ve opened them because the lower the temperature, the slower the wine deteriorates.  Recorking is a good idea to keep the smells of your refrigerator out of the wine and to prevent spillage.  You could say that screwcap closures were seemingly made for quarantine.

Now, with that out of the way, here’s my advice for another case for the next two weeks of sheltering in place.  Of course, as I’ve said before, depending on how many other adults are with you in quarantine, you may need more than a case.

One thing I’ve learned since my last column of this subject is the diversity of wine that people drink during these times.  W. Blake Gray, who writes for Wine-Searcher among other publications, reported that he and his wife were drinking Cain Five, a hearty Bordeaux-style blend, with dim sum.  According to Blake’s report, it was a success.  The broad message is to think outside of the box.  Don’t be constrained by any preconceived ideas of what wines go with what food.

That said, I restate the obvious: Champagne or other sparkling wine is perfect both because the “pop” of the cork brightens any day and the wine itself goes well with a broad selection of food, from take-out Asian to pan-seared steaks.

And don’t forget the Champagne stopper, which allows you to enjoy a glass, re-stopper the bottle to conserve the bubbles, and have another glass the following night.  Charles Heidsieck’s NV Brut Réserve ($69) is both powerful and elegant.  Ok, it may not be what you want with a recession/depression in the future, so turn to Prosecco.  Though Prosecco lacks the glorious rich complexity and depth of Champagne, it is refreshing and has the ability to elevate one’s mood.  Mionetto makes of bevy of fine Prosecco bottlings that are widely available.  Their DOC Treviso Brut ($13) is friendly, well suited for an aperitif or with food, while their Extra-Dry ($15), made from organic grapes, is broader and, paradoxically, has a more edgy backbone.  Let me remind readers of Paul Chollet’s beautifully balanced rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne Brut “Oeil de Perdrix” ($16), one of the best French non-Champagne sparkling wine bargains.

I touted Riesling last month because of its ability to pair with a plethora of foods.  That’s why I would definitely put a bottle or two in this case.  Try Penner-Ash’s 2017 Hyland Vineyard Riesling ($31) from McMinnville, Oregon.  Riveting acidity balances its hint of sweetness.  Out of your budgetary range?  Turn to Hugel, one of Alsace’s venerable houses and grab a bottle of their 2017 Classic Riesling ($20), which is energetic and delicately fruity.

Almost all (95 percent) of Chinon is red, but there is some white, made from Chenin Blanc, which is, rather like Riesling, a versatile wine.  And like Riesling, Chenin Blanc is available in a range of sweetness levels.  Every year, Couly-Dutheil’s white Chinon is always among the best.  Couly-Dutheil gets the balance right with their 2017 Chinon “Les Chanteaux” ($24), marrying the fruitiness of the grape, a hint of sweetness, with uplifting vibrancy.  Speaking of Chenin Blanc, if you have access to Long Island wines, look for Paumanok’s 2018 racy Chenin Blanc ($26) and those who do not, pick up Dry Creek Vineyard’s harmonious 2018 Dry Chenin Blanc ($16) from Clarksburg, California.  These three Chenin Blanc will do double duty as a sipper while you’re making dinner or waiting for the Chinese take-out to arrive.

I’m a big fan of Soave because the good producers, such as Inama, consistently over-deliver for the price.  Mineral-y, bright and long, Inama’s single-vineyard 2017 Soave Classico, “Vigneti di Foscarino” Vecchie Vigne ($23) is a perfect example.  It has remarkable weight.

It’s hard not to include a Chardonnay and a rosé in the quarantine case.  A 2019 Chardonnay from Los Vacos ($10), a Domaines Barons de (Lafite) Rothschild property in Chile, fits the bill nicely.  Spicy and understated, it is nicely balanced and…has a screwcap.  At ten bucks you can’t beat it.

Regular readers know that I’m not swept away by rosé, but Minuty’s 2019 “Prestige” Côtes de Provence Rosé ($27) makes even the most skeptical sit up and take notice.  Very pale pink, you’d be forgiven to think it would turn out to be bland.  Not at all.  Lively wild strawberry-like flavors leap from the glass.  This dry and invigorating rosé can hold up to some serious sushi.

You could fill your entire quarantine case with Chianti Classico from the 2015 and 2016 vintages, two spectacular vintages that are currently widely available.  The 2015s are slightly riper compared to the sleeker and racier 2016s.  Here are a half dozen from each vintage that I can recommend enthusiastically:

2016 Chianti Classico: Castello della Paneretta ($20), Casaloste ($20), San Fabiano Calcinaia ($21), Pincipe Corsini “Le Corti” ($24), Isole e Olena ($26), and Querciabella ($32).

2015s: Chianti Classico: Badia a Coltibuono ($20), Castellare di Castellina ($22), Tenuta di Nozzole ($22), Castello di Volpaia ($23), Isole e Olena ($26), and Fèlsina ($27).

Watch your distance and wash your hands—that’s my version of “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

*         *         *

E-mail me your choices for your case for quarantine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

April 8, 2020

Dr. Apstein’s Case for Quarantine

I’ll leave the medical advice concerning the need to quarantine to your personal physician and public health experts.  My advice is for a case of wine you’ll need for those two weeks.  Of course, depending on how many other adults are with you in quarantine, you may need more than a case.

For many, planning dinner two nights in advance is a task.  I know of no one who could plan meals two weeks in advance.  So, you need flexibility in the wine you select.  You’ll need reds and whites that go with a variety of dishes, since you may not know exactly what you’ll be eating each day.

Let’s start with the obvious: Champagne or other sparkling wine.  You’ve heard the statement about Champagne, attributed to Napoleon or Churchill, or maybe both, “In victory, you deserve it.  In defeat, you need it.”  At this stage of the pandemic it’s premature to declare victory, just as it’s not appropriate to throw in the towel.  Regardless, you still need Champagne.  And a Champagne stopper, which allows you to enjoy a glass, re-stopper the bottle to conserve the bubbles, and have another glass the following night.  I recommend the graceful Chardonnay-laden Laurent Perrier NV Brut ($47) or the more powerful and equally seductive Louis Roederer NV Brut ($55).  Champagne’s too pricey with economic disaster looming in the near future?  Try Roederer Estate Brut from California’s Anderson Valley ($25) or Ferrari’s Metodo Classico from Trento in Northern Italy ($24).  Less expensive still, but still worth putting in the case, is Bisol’s Prosecco, “Jeio” ($15).  One of the best French non-Champagne sparkling wine bargains is Paul Chollet’s beautifully balanced rosé, Crémant de Bourgogne Brut “Oeil de Perdrix” ($16).

Undoubtedly during a two-week spell you’ll have pasta, maybe linguine and clam sauce (using canned clams), macaroni and cheese, a robust spaghetti putanesca, or a subtler rigatoni and Bolognese ragú.  With all the time on your hands, this would be a good time to make risotto.  And chicken breasts, thighs or whole a roasted chicken will find their way to the menu, along with steaks or lamb chops that you’ve thought to freeze.  Hearty beef stews or lamb shanks always improve after a day or two.  With that array of flavors, you’ll need an equally diverse group of wines.

Let’s start with whites.  Riesling is always a favorite of mine because it really can go with most foods—even steak—because of its mouth-cleansing acidity.  Trimbach, one of the great names in Alsace, makes consistently excellent Riesling.  Their 2017 ($19) has enough body to offset the acidity and be a good match for that spaghetti putanesca.  I go off the beaten track and suggest William Fevre’s 2017 St. Bris ($24).  St. Bris is a tiny appellation near Chablis that requires the use of Sauvignon Blanc.  Fevre’s combines the bite of that variety with minerality imparted by the limestone of the region.

Moving to southern Burgundy, pick up a bottle of Louis Latour’s 2018 Viré-Clessé from a small appellation in the Mâconnais.  The backbone of acidity in Latour’s whites is well-suited to ripeness imparted by the warmth of the vintage.  This is a great introduction to white Burgundy.  Pieropan’s single vineyard Soaves are consistent winners, but so too is their regular one.  The 2018 ($23), which just won a double gold medal at 2020 Toast of Coast International Wine Competition, should certainly be in your case.  It has good stuffing and a piercing acidity that keeps it fresh.  Cerulli Spinozzi, a top producer in Abruzzo, makes a fabulous Pecorino (a wine, not the cheese).  Their 2016, with a pepper-like bite and saline stoniness, is lively, refreshing and a bargain to boot ($15).

Turning to the reds.  I’ll state the obvious.  You want wines that are ready to drink, so avoid those that would benefit from even a year of bottle age.  The 2016 Chianti Classicos are perfect for drinking now with those hearty pasta dishes.  Try Machiavelli’s savory and racy 2016 “Solatìo del Tani ($25),” or Fontodi’s ripe and racy 2016 ($45), or Frescobaldi’s graceful 2016 Tenuta Perano ($23).  Similarly, save your Brunello di Montalcino for another time and embrace the 2016 Rosso di Montalcino, such as the finesse-filled one from Col d’Orcia ($22).

In Beaujolais, Château Thivin’s Côte de Brouilly never fail to impress, so look for their mid-weight and savory 2016 or 2017 (each about $29).  For the steak that will likely be on the table once during the two-week period, try Jed Steele’s 2016 Stymie Vineyard Merlot ($38) from Lake County in California.  Though it’s a big wine, it’s not over the top and the fine tannins and suave texture allow immediate enjoyment.  For those of you, like myself, who could not stand the thought of being away from red Burgundy for two weeks, I suggest Jadot’s 2017 fleshy and charming Pernand-Vergelesses Clos de la Croix de Pierre ($49), a premier cru that the family has owned for decades, and delivers a balanced mix of fruity and savory notes.  This is a 2017 red Burgundy that’s enjoyable now.

Cheese won’t spoil over two weeks, so you can look forward to the occasional cheese course, which, means a sweet wine, in my opinion.  Sauternes will keep beautifully after being opened for a few days, so this is the time to find a bottle of it.  Château Coutet (from the famous Sauternes sub-section Barsac) is one of my favorites.  The beautifully balanced 2005 is still widely available ($68).  Equally good with cheese, is Port.  I favor a well-aged Tawny over a Vintage Port because there’s no need to decant and the wine will stay fresh after opening for at least two weeks.  Look for Taylor’s or Fonseca’s 20-year old Tawny (each $52).  Those wines might seem pricey, but remember, you’re drinking them over a week.

So, there’s Dr. Apstein’s recipe: a bottle of bubbles, a sweet wine, five whites and five reds.  Adjust as necessary.  Consider doubling the quantities just in case you get a recurrence and need to re-quarantine.

*         *         *

E-mail me your choices for your case for quarantine at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

March 16, 2020

What is the new Bourgogne Côte d’Or ‘appellation’?

 

Why does the Bourgogne Côte d’Or appellation exist?

It is technically a new geographical denomination within the regional ‘Bourgogne’ appellation.

Its aim is to highlight the greater potential of the Côte d’Or, in the heart of Burgundy, to produce unique wines.

Therefore, regulations require the exclusive use of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown there.

Since it’s designed to be a cut above the regional Bourgogne appellation, the yields must be lower compared to wines labelled simply Bourgogne, which may contain grapes grown anywhere in the wider Burgundy area.

Anyone who has been disappointed by a thin Bourgogne Rouge, which turned out to be made entirely from grapes grown in the less prestigious parts of Burgundy, will appreciate the new appellation.

Where does it sit in the Burgundy hierarchy?

It is one of the 14 geographical denominations that sit within the regional Bourgogne appellation.

It sits above regional Bourgogne appellation wines and just below village-level wines, a spokesperson for Burgundy’s wine council, the BIVB, told Decanter in 2017.

The area covered includes Côte d’Or vineyards spread across 40 villages along a 65km stretch from Dijon to Maranges, spanning the Côte de Beaune in the south and Côte de Nuits in the north.

Who is using Bourgogne Côte d’Or on wine labels?

Some critics and producers have questioned whether a new appellation could confuse consumers, given the already-complex nature of Burgundy’s climats.

Yet, several winemakers and merchant houses have embraced the Burgundy Côte d’Or tag.

Around 1.6m bottles of Bourgogne Côte d’Or red wines were produced from the 2018 vintage, up by 20% on the inaugural 2017 crop, according to the BIVB.

Around 920,000 bottles of white wine were made from the 2018 harvest, up by 55% on 2017, it said.

Much of this volume comes from top négociants.

Maison Latour is now making both a red and white Bourgogne Côte d’Or, while Louis Jadot is making a red.

Bichot has changed the label of its Secret de Famille from Bourgogne Rouge to Bourgogne Côte d’Or, since the grapes traditionally have come from that part of Burgundy.

Some top growers are also on board. Pommard’s Domaine Parent has started using the new appellation for its Cuvée Pomone, and Meursault-based Michel Bouzereau has begun labelling its Clos du Moulin as Bourgogne Côte d’Or.

These wines were formerly labelled Bourgogne Rouge and Bourgogne Blanc respectively, but have always met the requirements of the new appellation.

Jean-Nicolas Méo, of Méo-Camuzet, has taken the concept a step further by bottling three different wines under the new appellation: Hémisphère Sud, using grapes from Côte de Beaune; Hémisphère Nord, using grapes from the Côte de Nuits; and Cuvée Etienne Camuzet, using grapes exclusively from the estate.

Will prices rise for Bourgogne Côte d’Or wines?

It’s still early days, but there has been an assumption that ‘Côte d’Or’ wines would generally cost more than those labelled simply as Bourgogne.

One trade figure told Decanter in 2017 that prices could be around 20% higher on average.

However, many factors affect price, from policies of individual growers and harvest size to currency swings and also international trading conditions; witness the recent 25% import tariffs placed on certain European still wines entering the US.

Additional copy by Chris Mercer

March 14, 2020

Brunello 2015: Less is More

The 2015 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino is being heralded as a 5-star vintage (the top rating) by the notoriously easy-grading Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group that represents producers in Montalcino.  Retailers around the country have jumped onto the bandwagon with enthusiastic praise for the 2015 vintage.  And though the wines are pricey—after all, Brunello is one of Italy’s grandest wines—they are not subject to the 25 percent tariff that has made many French wines even more expensive.  I tasted many great wines when the Consorzio showed the 2015 vintage in New York City last month, and again this month in Montalcino.  Nevertheless, and while I don’t want to rain on the parade, I would urge caution in selecting these wines.  Unlike the spectacular and consistent 2010 vintage, which also received 5 stars from the Consorzio, 2015 is not a point and shoot vintage.  The hot and dry growing season presented challenges.

First, a little background about Brunello di Montalcino.  The wine comes exclusively from Sangiovese grown in the hilly area around Montalcino, a tiny mountaintop Tuscan village about two hours by car south of Florence.  Regulations require a minimum of two years of barrel aging, followed by bottle aging to soften what can be aggressive tannins of Sangiovese grown in this area.  The wine cannot be released for sale until January 1 of the fifth year following the harvest.  Hence, the 2015 is the current vintage.

As grand wine areas go, Brunello is a “Johnny-come-lately,” being practically unknown even within Italy until the 1960s when there were only six families producing Brunello, according to Tom Maresca, a world authority on Italian wines.  (To be fair, Biondi-Santi, considered the pioneer of Brunello and still the region’s top producer, at least judging from the prices of their wines, released their first wine in the late 19th century.)  The uniqueness and quality of the wines became apparent quickly and the area received DOC recognition in 1968 and was among the first to receive DOCG recognition, Italy’s highest ranking, in 1980.  Even until the mid-1990s Brunello was a challenge to sell in the U.S., and was familiar to only a small percentage of connoisseurs, according to Lars Leicht, a veteran Brunello expert.  Leicht believes that the stellar 1990 vintage along with marketing efforts by large producers, such as Banfi, brought it into the mainstream.  Now the Consorzio lists 208 wineries that bottle Brunello.

In this small area of about 5,000 acres (one-tenth the size of Napa Valley) most producers are small, bottling fewer than 4,000 12-bottle cases of Brunello annually.  Indeed, I counted only 10 producers who made more than 12,000 cases in 2015 (e-mail me for a list).  For comparison, the first growth Bordeaux chateau bottle about 20,000 cases annually, on average.  As a result, many Brunello producers fail to have national distribution in the U.S., and consumers could have difficulty finding their wines.  Nonetheless, the best of the 2015 Brunello are worth the needed search.

The character of the 2015 Brunello can be explained by the weather during the growing season.  It was a hot and dry year.  As a result, the wines are ripe, powerful and in many cases, approachable now because of their plushness.  Although conventional wisdom would predict 2015 would produce flabby wines because of corresponding low acidity in very ripe grapes (as all fruit ripens, acidity falls), many of the 2015 Brunello are surprisingly fresh.  That’s because many producers could not perform the usual malolactic fermentation since there was so little malic acid in the grapes.  (In normal years, malolactic fermentation converts harsher malic acid to creamier lactic acid and softens the acidity.)  What little malic acid was left in the grapes at harvest remained in the wine, imparting a tang to them.  Though too much malic acid makes a wine undrinkable, the small amounts found in many of the 2015 Brunello actually helped impart liveliness to many wines.

Producers told me that the potential danger in 2015 was over-ripeness of the grapes resulting in high alcohol wines.  Though most of the 2015 Brunello weighed in with a 14 or 14.5 percent stated alcohol, which is about average for Brunello these days, more than a few tipped the scales at 15 percent and above.  Producers also cautioned that extraction during fermentation needed to be performed gently to prevent over the top wines.  Not all adhered to that advice.

Much like other great wine growing areas, Brunello di Montalcino is not homogeneous, but has geologic and climatic variation, which means a potential for wonderful diversity among the wines.  Gabriele Gorelli, a Master of Wine candidate from Montalcino and a spokesperson for the Consorzio, explains that the Montalcino DOCG is roughly a pyramid, with the village itself at its pinnacle of 1850 feet (564 meters) above sea level.  There are dramatic variations in climate, soil and exposure among these four major subzones.  And even within an individual slope, substantial differences in terroir exist.  The vineyards of two excellent producers, Col d’Orcia and Castello Banfi, are near each other in the same zone, but their wines differ dramatically—Col d’Orcia’s being lighter and more elegant while Banfi’s are riper and more robust—reflecting either producer style, terroir differences within a zone, or a little bit of both.

In a hot dry year like 2015, sites in the northern (cooler) segment of the DOCG and at higher elevations had a distinct advantage.  Sadly, it can be difficult to tell from the label the precise location of the vines.  Many producers have plots in different areas but opt to make one wine by blending grapes from different sites.  Even if consumers knew the location of the winery, there’s no assurance that all the grapes came from the same locale.

Many producers do produce site-specific bottlings.  Monty Waldin, another world expert on Italian wines, estimated in 2015 that about 15 percent of Brunello were labeled with specific sites.  Col d’Orcia’s spectacular Poggio al Vento (always one of my favorite wines, year in and year out) comes from a high-elevation single 17-acre vineyard.  Mastrojanni’s Vigna Loreta is also consistently a winner, as is Caparzo’s Vigna La Casa, located in the cooler northern Montosoli area.  And the practice is spreading.  Donatello Cinelli Colombini, who already produces top-notch Brunello, is adding a single vineyard Brunello, Adita, to their portfolio.

What’s really exciting to me is the practice by some producers to make single vineyard bottlings from the different sectors of the DOCG.  That way, consumers can see and taste the diversity of the site because the producers’ style and philosophy remain constant.  In contrast, if you taste the Brunello from Baricci, all of whose vines are located in Montosoli, side by side with, for example, the Brunello from Talenti, whose vineyards are located in the south, maybe you’re tasting the difference between the two zones but just as easily you could be tasting the difference between producers’ styles.  There’s no way to know.  That’s why I find the single vineyard bottlings from producers like Nardi and Val di Suga so enticing and appealing—the producer’s hand is constant and you are tasting the difference among the areas.

Andrea Lonardi, the director of Val di Suga, explains that even a cursory look at the landscape gives an insight into the differences in terroir.  In the north with its more continental climate, cypress trees reign, whereas in the southwest, olive trees and herbs like rosemary and thyme predominate in the more Mediterranean-like climate.  It should come as no surprise given these vast differences in vegetation that Val di Suga’s three single vineyard Brunellos, which lie in different parts of the DOCG, are different and distinctive.  Though all three show an elegance and persistence without being massive, reflecting the Val di Suga’s style, the wines are markedly different.  The difference between Nardi’s broad-shouldered Manichiara, from a vineyard in the northeastern sector, and their finely chiseled Poggio Doria bottling, coming from a vineyard in the southwestern part of the DOCG is similarly staggering.

Many produces bottle a selezione, or selection, not from a single vineyard, but rather from what they consider their best batches.  Donatello Cinelli Colombini has one called Prime Donne, which is selected by a group of experienced female tasters.  I Cipressi calls theirs Zebra.  Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a selezione from a single vineyard bottling.  For example, Fanti and Banfi, have what sounds like vineyard names on the label, Valocchio, or Poggio alle Mure, respectively, but in fact, represent a selection of wines from various vineyards.  In reality, for the average consumer it probably makes less difference since the most important piece on the label is the name of the producer.

Still, I—for one—would like to see more specific bottles reflecting the locale of the vineyards, such as is the practice in Barolo or Burgundy.  One of the reasons acclaimed wine areas, like those two, are truly great is because of the uniqueness of the wines that comes from areas that revere site specificity.  Brunello would benefit from more focus on place and show consumers that Brunello di Montalcino is no different from Barolo or Burgundy in that regard.

Back to the specifics of the 2015s Brunello.  There’s a lot to like with this vintage, but consumers need to be selective because not all producers dealt equally well with the difficult conditions the climate produced.  Some handled the ripeness beautifully, but others did not, falling into the trap of too much extraction and too much oak aging especially for their selezione or even their single vineyard bottling.  For example, Talenti’s regular 2015 Brunello bottling was spectacular, one of my favorites.  In contrast, I found their Piero bottling to be overly extracted and out of balance with oaky flavors dominating.  To be fair, another critic (with whom I rarely agree) awarded Talenti’s 2015 Piero 100 points, showing there is variability among critics and well as among wines.  Similarly, I found the regular 2015 Brunello from I Cipressi to be better balanced than their 2015 Zebra.  Though there were exceptions, as you’ll see below, time and time again, producers’ special bottlings seemed out of balance at this stage and over the top with too much alcohol, ripeness and oak influences.  I believe that in 2015, less is more in Brunello.

My favorites are listed below.  Within each grouping, wines are listed alphabetically.  (All prices are taken from wine-searcher.com.  NYA = price not yet available):

Gianni Brunelli 96 ($61)
Mastrojanni “Vigna Loreto” 96 points (NYA)
Silvio Nardi “Vigneto Poggio Doria” 96 ($110)

Barbi “Vigna del Fiore” 95 ($70)
Le Macioche 95 ($99)
Silvio Nardi “Vigneto Manachiara” 95 ($110)
Val di Suga “Vigna Spuntali” 95 (NYA)
Talenti 95 ($46)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini “Prime Donne” 94 (NYA)
Fulgini 94 ($99)
Val di Suga, “Poggio al Granchio” 94 ($74)

Castello Romitorio “Filo di Seta” 93    ($108)
Le Ragnaie, “Casanovina Montosoli” 93 (NYA)
San Polo “Podernovi” 93 (NYA)
Val di Suga, “Vigna del Lago” 93 (NYA)

Castelgiocando 92 ($68)
Col d’Orcia: 92 ($52)
Donatella Cinelli Colombini 92 (NYA)
Mastrojanni 92 ($52)
Silvio Nardi 92 ($55)
Sesta di Sopra 92 ($76)
Val di Suga 92 (NYA)

Barbi 91 ($50)
Carpineto 91 (NYA)
Casisano 91 (NYA)
Castello Romitorio 91 ($60)
I Cipressi 91 (NYA)
Il Poggione 91 ($84)
Le Potazzine 91 (NYA)

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E-mail me your thoughts about Brunello at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein and on Instagram.

March 4, 2020

Burgundy’s 2018 Vintage: The Importance of Harvest Date

During the annual press conference in November, 2018 at which various Burgundy luminaries discussed the recent vintage, Françoise Labet, President of the organization that represents Burgundy wine, proclaimed that the recently completed vintage was, “Close to 1947,” which was a legendary year.  He voiced no concerns about finesse or elegance of the reds, and was pleased with the quality, quantity and consistency of the harvest.  He noted that it was the second full crop in a row, a welcome relief after five years of reduced yields due to frost and hail.

Tasting the 2018 vintage a year later, the standing of the wines seems notably different.  A final verdict can’t yet be stated, since most of the wines are still in barrel.  However, an assessment at this point is in order, as the wines are now being offered for sale as “futures.”  After tasting wines from throughout Burgundy at négociant houses, such as Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Louis Jadot, as well as many small growers, I found that some of the wines, especially the reds, are truly spectacular, but the consistency is variable.  Unlike 2010 or 2015, 2018 is not a “point and shoot” vintage for the reds, though there will be some outstanding and memorable wines.

To address the growing season concisely, suffice it to say that 2018 was hot and dry. Twice as much rain as normal during the previous winter provided adequate ground water, which saved the crop from what otherwise might have been desiccating summer weather, according to Frédéric Weber, winemaker at Bouchard Père et Fils.  Though not as blistering as 2003, the heat meant that sugars rose rapidly and sometimes unpredictably just prior to harvest.  Waiting even a day to harvest resulted in over-ripe grapes in many instances.  Every grower with whom I spoke emphasized that the timing of the harvest was the most critical element in making balanced wines in 2018.  But there is no one date after which grapes were too ripe. The optimal timing of harvest is distinct for each vineyard and to each plot within a vineyard.

Following Labet at the podium last November 18, Ludivine Griveau, the winemaker of the Hospices de Beaune, emphasized the importance of harvest date.  She explained that it was the first time in her nearly two decades of winemaking that she had to “wrack my brain to decide the harvest date.  One plot was ripe but, 100 meters away, the grapes were not quite ready.  It was a very complicated puzzle.  We had the pieces, but [it was] hard to put [them] together.”  In the end, she was satisfied that they succeeded in harvesting ripe grapes—not overripe ones¬—but it took 13 days instead of the usual eight days to complete the harvest of their 117 plots.

Overall, the reds are more exciting than the whites.  That said, the whites will provide great pleasure for early consumption, especially those from the Mâconnais, while some from more exalted sites in the Côte d’Or are truly stunning at this stage and will likely benefit from significant bottle age.  Barrel samples of Corton-Charlemagne from Bouchard Père et Fils, Drouhin, Jadot and Latour, for example, were all superb, leading me to believe that that appellation did exceptionally well in 2018.  Similarly, barrel samples of Drouhin’s Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot Marquis de Laguiche, Bouchard’s Chevalier-Montrachet, Jadot’s Chevalier-Montrachet “Les Demoiselles” and Alex Gambal’s were all exceptionally energetic, supporting the idea that the best sites produce great wines even under difficult circumstances.

(As an aside, I should note that I do not review individual wines tasted as barrel samples; see http://winereviewonline.com/Michael_Apstein_Against_Barrel_Tastings.cfm)

Before harvest, growers were anxious about the quality of the whites, fearing the warmth of the vintage would produce flabby, low-acid wines. That turned out to be an unjustified fear.  Though lacking the energy of the 2014 or even the 2017 whites, the whites from 2018 that I tasted at Maison Bouchard Père et Fils, Maison Joseph Drouhin and Maison Louis Jadot were, across the board, charming—with surprisingly good acidity.  In general, wines from the better sites, premier and grand cru vineyards, held their acidity much better.  Though a tank sample of 2018 Bourgogne Blanc from Michel Bouzereau, a top grower in Meursault, that was just days away from bottling was riveting and could easily be mistaken for a village wine (92 pts, NYA; 2017 is $33).  In the same vein, Drouhin’s 2018 white Rully (already bottled) was stone-y, ripe and fresh and should be a good buy (91 pts, NYA; 2017 is $27).  The vast majority of village and regional whites are forward in flavor profile and should be excellent for immediate consumption as soon as they hit retailers’ shelves.

Consumers should keep an eye out for the 2018 Bourgogne Aligoté because the grape’s natural acidity buttressed the ripeness of the vintage.  For example, a soon-to-be-bottled tank sample of Bourgogne Aligoté from Domaine Lafouge, an outstanding grower in Auxey-Duresses who does not receive the recognition he deserves, was spice-y and concentrated, yet vibrant.  (91 pts, NYA; 2017 is $18.)

Consumers should also look for the whites from Pernot Belicard, a small grower based in Puligny-Montrachet.  Emphasizing the importance of harvest date, Philippe Pernot told me that, in addition to the usual analysis, he tasted the grapes at least every two days before harvest to help him decide when to pick.  It paid off.  Tank samples of his 2018 whites, just days away from bottling, captured the ripeness of the vintage without losing acidity.

Frédéric Barnier, the winemaker at Louis Jadot, described in his usual thoughtful way the dilemma unique to Pinot Noir of when to harvest.  He believes that climate change has disrupted the usual simultaneous ripening of the sugar and ripening of the tannins, the so-called physiologic ripeness.  The window between sugar and physiologic ripening has changed.  Now, grapes with sugar levels that would give a potential alcohol of 13 percent still have unripe green skins.  He emphasized that the trick is to find the right balance, which changes depending on the yield and the ratio of juice to skin.  Too early a harvest in 2018 gave wines with lower alcohol, better acidity, but greener tannins.  Too late a harvest gives alcoholic, heavy wines though with plusher tannins.  The potential problem with the reds of 2018 in his view is that the wines could be over-ripe, which obscures their sense of place.  “The biggest risk in 2018 was to lose the identity of each wine.”

Though Maison Jadot is a négociant, they also are a grower, farming over 300 acres of vineyards, which made the timing of the harvest difficult. Barnier explained that there was “no magic.  You needed to taste the grapes to be sure the skins were not green.”  Similar to the harvest at the Hospices de Beaune, Jadot’s picking was spread over an unusually long period.  Barnier is confident that they got it right.  He exclaims with a broad smile, “we have not made beasts.”  After tasting Jadot’s lineup, I agree.

Barnier explains that once a decade, the wines of the Côte de Beaune are more exciting than those from the Côte de Nuits… and that 2018 was such a year.  His enthusiasm was apparent:  “In 2018, the Côte de Beaune is really great, even better than the Côte de Nuits.  Compared to the usual year the Côte de Beaune is great, especially in under-rated appellations.”  An earlier harvest resulted in better balanced wines overall, in Barnier’s opinion.

Barnier emphasized what everyone to whom I spoke told me:  The trick for the reds in 2018 was to capture their finesse and not try to enhance their inherent richness and power with more extraction or oak aging.  After tasting a lineup of more than 30 of Jadot’s reds, it’s clear they hit a home run in 2018.  Without exception, Jadot’s 2018 reds have concentration, elegance and freshness.  And, indeed, looking back at my notes, I have more three-star wines (my top category) from the Côte de Beaune than from the Côte de Nuits, though there were plenty of outstanding ones from there as well.

Like the reds from Jadot, those from Bouchard Père et Fils were consistently outstanding, showing restraint, balance and what I consider the quintessential quality of Burgundy—flavor without weight.  Frédéric Weber attributed their unqualified success to the date of harvest and their attention to detail during the winemaking.  He explained, “We let things go gently.  We didn’t need a big extraction because colors came out immediately.  We needed to limit the extraction because the raw material had lots of power.”

Drouhin’s emblematic lacey, finesse-filled style suits this vintage very nicely.  I urge consumers to look for the lesser (and more affordable) appellations from Bouchard Père et Fils, Drouhin, and Jadot when the 2018s hit the market.

Domaine Bart in Marsannay is another grower, like Lafouge, whose wines fail to get the accolades they deserve.  The Domaine expanded in the mid 1980s, when the venerable Domaine Clair Daü broke apart because of family squabbles.  Bruno Clair wound up with half the estate.  Louis Jadot smartly purchased half of the remaining half.  The remaining quarter was added to Domaine Bart, where Pierre Bart, who runs the estate with his uncle, Martin Bart, are descended from another part of the Clair family. Though Bart owns parcels in Bonnes Mares and Chambertin Clos de Bèze, the estate is best known for its exemplary wines from Marsannay.  The Barts made eight lieux-dits in 2018, all of which were sublime and reflected their sites.  Pierre ascribed the suave texture and freshness of these wines to their caution against extracting too much during fermentation.  The Bart Marsannays usually represent fantastic value.  I strongly suspect that the ‘18s will as well.

Though generalizations are difficult, especially in Burgundy, here are my 2018 vintage take-aways at this stage of their evolution:

1) Though this is a big crop, the second in a row, prices will not fall because of world-wide demand.

2) The heat helped wines, both red and white, in areas where ripeness is sometimes a problem.

3) The whites from the Mâconnais and the regional or village wines from the Côte d’Or have an attractive fleshiness, which will make them a delight to drink upon release.

4) Many of the reds will be spectacular, but I would urge you to wait and taste them from the bottle before taking a plunge because a lot can happen between now and then, both in evolution of the wines and in politics—the tariffs.

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Email me your thoughts about Burgundy at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 1, 2020

How to Download Spotify Premium Free Account

Spotify has a platform to provide control on moreover 50 million tracks. But why not availing this premium account profitability for free? The first-ever question which hits an individual’s mind. How can we get a premium for free for which we have to charge monthly? Is it possible to do so? So the answer is yes we can get Spotify premium for free but not from the Spotify application directly. We have to block it or make use for free of it by our self.

People love to listen to music. People listen to music daily and according to their moods. If you are a music lover, then hopefully you are enjoying it legally. There are several websites that provide downloading and streaming websites to listen to music nowadays. If you are a music freak, then you are known with Spotify. And you are interested to know how to get a free Spotify account. This website provides every type of music. You can listen to the music of your choice and mood from here.

You can effortlessly download and listen to your favorite music online by using appropriate applications. Spotify is one of the popular websites for music If you are an active user of a Spotify, then you must be very curious about how to get Spotify premium accounts for free.

How to Download Spotify Premium Free Account

Now comes the part of the article which you have been waiting for, read this article to understand how to download Spotify premium free application in your device. You can use the below-given methods to install the premium app in your device and use it for free without paying even a single penny. Have a look at the below-given points and use them to get your premium version for free.

Using the 3 Month Fee Trial Period: The free trial for the application earlier was only for 30 days i.e. a month, now it has been extended for up to 3 months. So, now you can use the premium application for free for 3 months trial period. If you want to continue to use it afterward, you can pay for the same amount for which is not very much and you also get a discount if you get the combined subscription for 6 months or a year. To get the free trial to follow the steps given below:

1. Login to your free Spotify account.
2. When the app is opened and you’ve logged into your account, you will see four buttons below, click on the last button named ‘Premium’.
3. Click on the Get Premium button on the screen, and you will be transferred to the next window.
4. There below the subscribe panel, you can pick your premium. Select the 3-month free trial and then click on ‘Get Premium’.
5. Enter your card details and click on the ‘Start my Spotify Premium’ button.
6. Your premium account will be activated and you can enjoy your premium subscription then. Make sure that you unsubscribe and cancel your card a day before the 3-month trial expires if you don’t want your money to get deducted.

Downloading the APK App of Spotify Premium Account: You can download the apk app available on the internet and then use it to access the premium Spotify account for free. Just install the apk app and use the username and password given below to access it for free:

1. Search for Spotify premium account apk and download it from the internet.
2. Install the apk in your device by clicking on the downloaded apk file and start the process of installation.
3. Once the app is installed you can launch it and use the premium features of the app for free.

With plenty of music streaming platforms available online, the competition is only getting fierce. And making a decision to settle on a music streaming service is harder than you expect. Hence, here’s the comparison that covers everything you need to know about Spotify vs amazon music unlimited.

Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers

The obvious choice for gifts for your wine loving friends this holiday season is a bottle—or two—of wine.  Sadly, too many are intimidated to give wine to a so-called wine expert.  We’ve all heard the excuses: I don’t know anything about wine; I don’t want to embarrass myself by giving an ordinary wine; I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a prestigious one.  Well, I have lots of non-wine suggestions that would make perfect gifts that I’ll get to in a minute.  But first, let me remind you:  You can safely give a bottle of wine.  Just give something that you’ve enjoyed and, if possible, is a little off the beaten track.  If you’ve liked it, then it’s a safe bet that your wine-loving friend will at least find it interesting.  After all, you’re friends for a reason.  But if that argument doesn’t convince you, here are other options.

There are a handful of books that every wine lover would love to have.

As a Harvard-trained molecular biologist and gastroenterologist, Ian D’Agata writes about wine with the same scholarly approach as he did when he was doing scientific research and practicing medicine.  His latest book, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs, is a fabulous sequel to his first one, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (both, University of California Press, each $50).  Both now represent THE authoritative texts on Italian wine and should be on the shelves of anyone with even a passing interest in Italian wine. Despite his scientific background, which might make some think that the writing will be dense, it is not.  His prose is a pleasure to read.  He is wonderfully opinionated in both books, listing his favorite producers, benchmark wines and the best cru.  I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

Hugh Johnson & Janis Robinson (are there two more luminous wine writers in the world?) have just released the 8th edition of their venerable The World Atlas of Wine (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus Publishing Group, $65).  Even if you have a previous edition of this Atlas, you need this one.  Here’s a summary of some of what’s new:  Maps for Israel and British Columbia, two important wine producing areas; expanded maps for Chile, Marlborough and China; a soil map of Beaujolais that shows how the crus differ. The writing, as in past editions, is refreshingly succinct but conveys a wealth of information.  In only about 50 words they described Morgon and Brouilly accurately: “Morgon, the birthplace of natural wine (see p. 35) is the second-largest cru associated with its famous, volcanic Côte du Py, whose wines are particularly strong, warm and spicy.  Les Charmes, Les Grands Cras, Corcellette, and Château Gaillard vineyards give lighter and rounder wines.  South of Morgon, the big cru of Brouilly is unpredictable.”

While The World Atlas of Wine and D’Agata’s books will certainly appeal to wine geeks, I recommend two books enthusiastically for those starting to learn about wine.  Both are so well-written and clear that even those who know a fair amount about wine will learn something from them.

Wine for Dummies ($25, Wiley Publishing, 7th edition) is the book to buy if you have a friend or a child interested in learning about wine.  In an easy to follow, but not patronizing tone, Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW demystify the seemingly complicated morass of wine.  (Full disclosure: the authors are friends and colleagues here at WRO, but even if I didn’t like them, I’d be forced to recommend their book very highly because it’s just so useful.)

The other so-called introductory book is Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (Sterling Publishing, $28), who is a superb teacher, both in person and with the written word.  Again, although those relatively new to wine will learn an enormous amount quickly because of the format and Zraly’s style, even those more knowledgeable about wine will enjoy this book.

With much wine writing moving to the web, there are two particularly good sites I can recommend. Decanter Premium (Decanter.com) give you access to thousands of their tasting notes and articles otherwise unavailable.  ($100 for a yearly subscription.)

Every Burgundy lover should subscribe to Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy.com (95£ a year).  Morris, an MW since 1985, was for many years the principal Burgundy buyer for the famed British merchant, Berry Brothers and Rudd.  He has forgotten more about Burgundy than most people know.  His recommendations and insight are essential for navigating the mine fields of Burgundy.

Though I’ve written about the Champagne stopper previously, it bears repeating, especially at this time of the year.  It makes a fabulous gift.  The Champagne stopper, which costs about ten bucks, will transform the way you think of Champagne.  No longer is Champagne a “special occasion” beverage.  With a Champagne stopper it can be a nightly pleasure.  The stopper looks like an oversized bottle cap with short wings that clamp under the rim of any bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine.  It allows you to have a glass of Champagne and stopper the bottle, maintaining the fizz, for another day.  Easy to use—both attaching and removing it from the bottle is a cinch—it keeps the Champagne or sparkling wine fresh and bubbly for up to five days.  Don’t forget that if, by chance, the fizz is gone on day five, the still wine that remains is still fresh and ideal for deglazing a pan in place of white wine.

It allows you to spread the cost of, for example, a bottle of Pol Roger NV Brut, which is widely available for about $40, over five nights, with a large, 5-ounce, glass a night.  Alternatively, you and your spouse or significant other can each enjoy a reasonable 4-ounce pour over three nights.  And, if you chose a less expensive sparkling wine, such as the fruity and lively Roederer Estate Brut from Anderson Valley or crisp and edgy Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé, each which can easily be found at about $20 a bottle, you can halve those expenses and still “celebrate” on a nightly basis.

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Comments, questions or other gift suggestions?  E-mail me at Michael.apstein1@gmail.com

December 4, 2019

Mixed Vintage News from Burgundy

BEAUNE, Burgundy, November 19, 2019:  First the good news.  The 2018 vintage produced large quantities of high-quality wines, both red and white.  It’s unusual to see good yields of high-quality wines in Burgundy, but that’s what happened in 2018.  Unlike the 2015 vintage, which I characterized as a “point and shot” vintage for the reds because the quality was so consistently high that you practically couldn’t miss picking a fine wine, there is considerable variability among the 2018s that I’ve tasted.  No surprise there because, after all, this is Burgundy.  Look for more detailed reporting in future after the wines are bottled.

The just completed 2019 vintage looks to be of high quality as well, though yields were down by 50%.  Indeed, at the just completed 159th Hospices de Beaune auction, known locally as Le Vente des Vins, prices were up by about 20% overall.  Enthusiasm for the vintage was high at this early stage among critics.  In the 50 wines shown in the pre-auction tasting, I found an incredible consistency and raciness that balanced their richness.

The bad news is the mixed economic picture.  Both Gilles de Larouzière (the head of the organization that represents the major négociants in Burgundy) and Louis Fabrice Latour (the President of the BIVB, the professional organization that represents all of Burgundy) explained that the current economic picture was mixed.  On the positive side, both the volume and value of exports of Burgundy so far in 2019 reached record numbers.  On the other hand, there is considerable economic uncertainty for producers stemming from multiple sources:  Unrest in Hong Kong that perturbs that important market; continuing confusion about Brexit and possible peril for the British market, and protests by the the Gilets Jaunes (“Yellow Vests”) throughout France that have hurt the supermarket business (where much of regional Burgundy is sold) while also discouraging sales to restaurants and bars as customers avoid areas hit by violence.

For us Americans, the 25% tariff on French wine under 14% alcohol by volume will likely chill the otherwise hot Burgundy market.  Though the tariff is 25%, the final increase to the consumer will likely be more as those in the distribution chain take their mark ups on prices that now include the 25% tariff.  Gilles de Larouzière, CEO of Bouchard Pere et Fils, says they cannot afford to reduce their prices to offset the tariffs, because their margins are already very thin.  Louis Fabrice Latour, who also heads that eponymous producer, thinks shipping in bulk to avoid tariffs is a terrible idea because the wine could be adversely affected in transport or even adulterated before bottling, and risks losing the Burgundian identity.  That said, the prospect of tariffs did not impede U.S. buyers at the auction.  Jeanne-Marie de Champs, one the very best brokers in the regions, noted that she had a similar number of American clients for whom she was bidding this year as last.
Posted by Michael Apstein at 8:57 AM

Tuscany’s Maremma: Italy’s Wild West, in More Ways Than One

Despite being home to Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Grattamacco, and Masseto, some of Italy’s most expensive and sought-after wines, the Maremma remains obscure to most wine lovers. Though none of the above-mentioned wines carry the word Maremma on their labels, geographically their home is in that region.  Maremma is also home to Vermentino, which is a leading candidate to become Tuscany’s signature white wine.  In addition, with excellent wines being made from Alicante, Syrah, and Ciliegiolo, the Maremma is not likely to stay under the radar for long.

Where, you might ask, is the Maremma?  This stunning, off-the-beaten-track region is Tuscany’s southwestern corner on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea, just an hour and a half north of Rome. Since most people identify Tuscan wine with the Sangiovese-based Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, you could be excused for not recognizing this vinously diverse Denominazione di Origine (Maremma Toscana DOC) as a wine growing area.  Judging from its history though, the area clearly has potential. Just look at Bolgheri, the DOC that is home to now famous Bordeaux blends, including those mentioned above.  Vermentino thrives in Bolgheri as well, at least in Grattamacco’s hands.

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Bolgheri was, and still is, in the Maremma geographically.  It split off vinously, gaining its own DOC in 1983, and was further subdivided in 2013 when the Italian wine authorities awarded Bolgheri Sassicaia its own DOC in 2013.  Maremma claims other DOCs, such as Bianco di Pitigliano or Sovana, to name just two and two DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine e Garantita), Morellino di Scansano and Montecucco Sangiovese.  Expect to see more parcelization of the Maremma Toscana DOC in the future as growers figure out what grapes do best in each of the area’s diverse locales.

The classic imagery of the Maremma is as different from the rest of Tuscany as its wines are.  You won’t see tourist posters sporting the tall Tuscan cypress trees, though those certainly do dot the landscape.  Rather, it’s cowboys riding atop horses outfitted with specially designed saddles and carrying frassinello (whips made from a local bush).  These cowboys, butteri as they are known in Italian, still herd long-horn cattle in the Maremma.

As recently as a hundred years ago, part of the Maremma was still malaria-infested marsh.  In the 18th century Leonardo Ximenes, an Italian of Spanish descent and a hydraulic engineer, figured out how to drain the vast marshland.  The work was continued in the 19th century under Leopold II, Duke of Tuscany, and finally finished in the 20th century under Mussolini.  Vestiges of the area’s history is still apparent with its perched villages, which were built, not for usual medieval defensive advantage of resisting attacks from neighboring regions, but rather to keep the residents safe from a different enemy—malaria lurking below.

Sangiovese, not surprisingly since Maremma is part of Tuscany, accounts for just under half of the plantings in the vineyards with Cabernet Sauvignon and Vermentino following and accounting for 10 and 9 percent, respectively, according to the Maremma Toscana Consorzio Tutela Vini.  But growers are experimenting with lots of different grapes.  The Consorzio reports 26 “main” varieties, including, for example, Alicante (known as Grenache or Garnacha elsewhere), Ciliegiolo and Pugnitello.  This being Italy, who knows how many other varieties are planted in the region, reflecting the enormous diversity of the area.  Sassotondo, one of the region’s best producers, for example, is experimenting with Nocchianello Nero, a variety that’s not yet registered with the authorities.

More telling is what’s happened in the last decade.  The plantings of Vermentino have increased more than 500 percent (from 350 to 1,900 acres) from 2006 until 2018, compared to plantings of Sangiovese, which increased only 10 percent over the same time period, according to data supplied by the Consorzio.  More striking, in 2018, the amount of Vermentino harvested nearly equaled that of Sangiovese for DOC Maremma Toscana.  Over a similar period, the plantings of all of the so-called “international varieties” (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay and Viognier) has also increased anywhere from 50 percent (Cabernet Sauvignon) to 300 percent (Chardonnay) to over 1,000 percent (Viognier, which, to be fair, started with only 25 acres and increased to still only 300 acres).  These statistics confirm that, over the last decade, growers have been investigating what works.

Luca Pollini, the manager of the Maremma Toscana Consorzio Tutela Vini, explains, “there is a vast range of properties with lots of small producers working hard to improve their wines.”  In addition, there has been enormous “outside” (of Maremma) investment in the region.  Leading Italian producers who have estates in other parts of Tuscany, such as Antinori, Castello di Volpaia, Cecchi, Frescobaldi, Mazzei, and Zonin, to name just a few, have purchased vineyards and established wineries in the area.  The Bordelais have seen the area’s potential, with Eric de Rothschild of Lafite-Rothschild collaborating with Paolo Panerai of Castellare di Castellina, another leading Chianti Classico estate, to form Rocca di Frassinello, an architectural gem of a winery whose wines are as impressive as the building.  They’re already try to challenge Masseto with their Merlot-based wine, Baffonero.  I, for one, can’t wait to see how that competition turns out.

Francesco Mazzei, President of the Consorzio, thinks the area’s potential is limitless.  He believes the white wines will be driven by Vermentino plus a few others, but the reds have no leading grape at this point.  Though there is focus on the international varieties, he believes that the lesser known indigenous varieties will not disappear because the area is vast, much larger than Montalcino or even Chianti, with many different microclimates.  Alison Jane Hodder, a transplanted Australian winemaker who married an Italian mining engineer and now runs De Vinosalvo, notes succinctly, “Maremma Toscana stands for openness.”  She compares the experimentation that is going on there to what happens in New World wine areas.  She and others say that with fewer rules they can see what works.  She envisions more DOCs to emerge, perhaps a coastal strip for Bordeaux varieties, mimicking Bolgheri.  Mazzei thinks it’s possible that there will be a future DOC focusing on Vermentino.

Small growers echo these sentiments.  Iacopo Becherini of La Chimera d’Albegna plans to pull out Sangiovese and replace it with Merlot or other varieties.  He explains, “there is already too much Sangiovese.  Why do I want to compete with Brunello or other Sangiovese-based wines?”

Pepi Lignana, owner of Fattoria Casalone, whose talents are apparent in his excellent Cabernet from the different 2014 vintage and an even better one from 2016, plans on expanding his 40-acre estate with another 7 acres of Vermentino and Cabernet Franc, two varieties he believes are well suited to his area.

Will Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or other international ones, either by themselves, or in a blend, be the way to go in the Maremma?  Maybe single varietal Ciliegiolo or Alicante.  How about Vermentino by itself or with a touch of Viognier in the blend?  The possibilities are nearly endless.  Likely, when the dust settles in another decade or two, it will turn out that one size does not fit all.

I’ll report on the individual producers, who are as varied as the grape varieties, in a future column.

So, the next time you drink a Vermentino, a Ciliegiolo or a Bordeaux-blend from the Maremma Toscana DOC, raise a glass and toast an Italian/Spanish engineer who is responsible for some of Italy’s most exciting wines.

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November 6, 2019

E-mail me your thoughts about Maremma at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

Age Matters

Winegrowers around the world speak lovingly of old vines. Though the definition is never official, nor even clear, many bottles still carry the moniker, Vieilles Vignes, Vecchie Viti or Viñas Viejas, depending on whether you’re talking about French, Italian or Spanish wines.  A tasting of Travaglini’s Gattinara in New York recently drove home the value of old vines.

Cinzia Travaglini and her daughter, Alessia, who represent the 4th and 5th generation of the Travaglini family, presented the wines, not intending to show the importance of old vines.  But, for me, the tasting did just that.

First, a little background about Gattinara, a small DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) in northern Piedmont, and the family.  Only 25 miles from the Alps, this part of Piedmont is also known as Alto (literally, high) Piemonte.  Though small, covering only about 250 acres, Gattinara has long been known for its high-quality wines.  In 1967, it was among the first to being awarded DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) status.  Then, in 1990, it became only the 6th area in Italy to receive coveted DOCG status, joining Brunello di Montalcino, Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The soil and climate are unique and accounts for Nebbiolo’s expression in their wines, according to Cinzia.  The soil is old volcanic, with lots of granite and minerals.  The proximity to the mountains means the area is cool and well-ventilated thanks to ever-present breezes.  Cinzia explains that the elevation accounts for the dramatic 30+ degree diurnal variation — from 77 to 79-degree daytime temperature to 43 to 45 degrees at night — and keeps the wines elegant and fresh.

As with Barolo and Barbaresco, its cousins further to the south, Gattinara relies primarily on the Nebbiolo grape (locally known as Spanna), but, unlike its cousins, allows small amounts of Bonarda and Vespolina to be included in the blend.  Bonarda is included in the blend by many producers (but not Travaglini) to soften what can be the rather angular Nebbiolo, according to Cinzia.  Vespolina adds color, but detracts from the aging potential in Cinzia’s mind, so Travaglini opts not to include it, either, preferring to use Nebbiolo exclusively for their Gattinara.

Cinzia explains that the grape growing and winemaking tradition of the Travaglini family date to the 19th century, but it was Giancarlo, her father, who transformed the business in 1958 by building a winery, modernizing the vineyards, and selling wine outside of the local area, even exporting it to the U.S. as early as 1960.  He was the first to use French barriques (small 225-liter barrel) for aging and to focus on quality instead of quantity. Other producers followed, upgrading the entire DOC, according to Cinzia.  Travaglini owns more than half of the vineyard acreage of the DOCG and accounts for roughly half of the production of the entire DOCG.  They buy no grapes or wine, using only their grapes, the vast majority of which are Nebbiolo, with a tiny amount of Vespolina and Bonarda for a locally consumed wine.

It’s impossible to speak of Travaglini’s wines without mentioning their unique, now trademarked bottle, which looks like someone sat on it while it was being made.  Giancarlo designed the flat-sided bottle in 1958 to catch the sediment, like a decanter.  As a marketing experiment, they bottled half of their 1982 production in normal bottles and half in their traditional bottle.  The half bottled in normal bottles remained unsold for some time, according to Cinzia.  The rest is history.

Travaglini bottles three DOCG Gattinara, a Nebbiolo Coste della Sesia DOC, which is the second appellation of Gattinara and made from young, seven to ten-year old, Nebbiolo vines, plus two unique and absolutely stunning wines, both from Nebbiolo: Nebolè, a metodo classico sparkling wine, and Il Sogno, a sweet one.  As much as I adored Nebolè (not yet available in the U.S.) and Il Sogno, I will focus on two of Travaglini’s Gattinara, one labeled Tre Vigne and the other, Riserva, both from the 2013 vintage, because they highlight the dramatic influence of old vines.

The grapes for their Gattinara Tre Vigne come from what Alessia describes as three historic vineyards.   Each vineyard brings a different component to the finished wine thanks to differing microclimates and soils.  One provides Nebbiolo that delivers better color, while another provides complexity, and the third imparts a perfume and freshness from its higher elevation.

The Riserva, in contrast, comes from their oldest vines, 45 to 78 years old, in the estate, none of which are located in the three vineyards that provide fruit for the Tre Vigne bottling.

The winemaking is slightly different, with about 20 percent of the Tre Vigne aging in a combination of new and old barriques, compared to about 10 percent for the Riserva.  The remainder of both wines ages in old large Slavonian oak casks.  The production levels are similar.  Of Travaglini’s average annual 250,000 bottles, the Tre Vigne represents about 10 or 11 percent, while the Riserva accounts for 13 to 14 percent.  Both are made only in what they consider excellent vintages.  The big difference in their character comes from the age of the vines.

Mind you, both of these wines are delicious.  They’re just very different.

The Travaglini 2013 Tre Vigne Gattinara transmits a lovely austerity, with a youthful Barolo-like sturdiness.  It grows in the glass, expressing a floral component and the barest hint of tarry minerality.  Its structure and acidity remind you that it is the product of Nebbiolo.  Firm, not aggressive, tannins appear in the finish and reinforce its austerity.  Judging from how the 2006 Tre Vigne showed at the same tasting, I suspect the 2103 will blossom after another 5 to 10 years of bottle age.  ($50, 92 points)

The still youthful Travaglini 2013 Riserva is expansive and deep with a seemingly never-ending finish.  It is the epitome of power and elegance.  While the Tre Vigne has an appealing firmness and austerity, the Riserva is firm, yet paradoxically, opulent with more minerality.  In brief, it’s better balanced at this stage because all of the components harmonize.  I bet that, if measured, the tannins and acidity of the two wines would be similar.  But on the palate, the Riserva feels more complete.  That’s old vines speaking.  ($60, 95 points)

OK, why?  Ask three winemakers why old vines deliver better wines and you get four answers.  They include, the roots go deeper and extract more from the earth.  The lower yields that aging vines can muster mean that the wines are more concentrated.  Old vines are better adapted to the environment.  Old vines are like, people, somehow, “wiser.”  Whenever there are multiple answers to a question, the odds are that no one of them is entirely correct.  I cannot explain why old vines produce better, more complex, wines, but they do.  And the lack of an explanation is one of the wonders of nature.

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October 9, 2019

E-mail me your thoughts about old vine wines in general or Gattinara in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

A Star on Long Island

Recently, I happened to mention to my friend, Howard Goldberg, the longtime The New York Times wine writer, that I was writing a column about Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc.  Howard suggested that I visit Paumanok on Long Island’s North Fork because, he said, they made great Chenin Blanc.  So, I arranged a visit, insisting that I wouldn’t take more than 45 minutes of their time because I was just interested in their Chenin Blanc.  Well, not surprisingly, Goldberg was correct about their Chenin Blanc.  What was surprising was how a scheduled 45-minute visit morphed into a two and half hour tasting due to the discovery that Paumanok’s entire line-up is stellar.

Charles Massoud, Paumanok’s founder, clearly takes risks.  Charles’ son, Kareem, who now makes the wine at Paumanok, explains that his father, who was born in Lebanon and studied in Paris was, and is, a confirmed wine-loving Francophile.  When he, Charles, was stationed in Kuwait working for IBM, he found it impossible to buy wine since Kuwait was dry, due to its Islamic-focused government.   Since the country was dry climatically as well, growing grapes was out of the question.  So his father, always inventive, purchased table grapes and baker’s yeast in the supermarket, and voilà, according to Kareem, he made “wine.”  I can only imagine what would have happened to him had his winemaking been discovered by the Kuwaiti authorities.  I guess the risk of starting a winery on Long Island in the 1980s paled by comparison.

Back in the New York area with IBM, and having read about the Hargraves, who were the first to start a winery on Long Island, Charles took the plunge and purchased what was to become Paumanok Vineyards in 1983.   Already sensing potential xenophobia and potential for anti-Arab antipathy, Charles opted not to use the family name for the winery, instead choosing Paumanok, the Indian name for Long Island.  Kareem, who was in business school at the time, recounts his feelings about the name with his newly-minted business school knowledge: “Awful, three syllables, impossible to pronounce…a terrible brand name.”  Now, he admits that it has turned out just fine and, indeed, is appropriate because, as Kareem emphasizes, their wines are not a brand, but rather a reflection of place.

Paumanok remains an estate winery, that is, they buy no grapes.  All the wines they make come exclusively from their roughly 100 acres of vineyards.  About two years ago, they purchased neighboring Palmer Vineyards, adding another 49 acres.

Paumanok produces three levels of wine, giving them enormous flexibility in deciding what grapes go into which tier.  This stratification allows them to use only the best grapes for their top wines, maintaining quality.  In addition, in a tough vintage, such as 2018, they can make more rosé and less red wine.  Their white label is the most recognizable and the one under which most of their wine is bottled.  Next on the scale is the “Grand Vintage” line, which is mostly for reds, but has occasionally included a Chardonnay, and then, at the top, is the “Minimalist” range, which they bottle in only the best years.  Kareem describes the Minimalist wines as a “minimalist approach.”  He does not use commercial yeast for fermentation, relying on only those present on the grapes or in the ambient air in the winery.  He deliberately avoids the use of the term, natural, and says he is willing to interfere, if necessary, to avoid making flawed wine.  The grapes for the Minimalist line must be pristine and immaculate because he uses only a trace of sulfur during wine making and bottling.  His aversion to sulfur is both a matter of marketing–the public seems to think it’s bad–and also an issue of taste. He maintains that sulfites accentuate the tannins in red wines and account for an unpleasant burnt match-like aroma in whites.

Kareem insists that it is critically important to be selective in the vineyard, noting that sometimes you must “take a loss to preserve quality.”

Paumanok’s focus on Chenin Blanc–inexplicably, no other winery on Long Island makes one–was serendipitous.  Soon after buying Paumanok, the older Massoud purchased a nearby vineyard that had been planted with a variety of grapes, but abandoned.  They kept the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and uprooted the Zinfandel.  Kareem explains that Zinfandel is a late ripening, thin-skinned variety that will rot if the harvest, which coincides with hurricane season, is marred by rain.  They started to rip out the Chenin Blanc, but Uve Michelfelder, the then-vineyard manager who was on-site (the Massouds were living in Connecticut at the time), suggested retaining the last two acres.  Kareem implied that Charles’ response was the equivalent of today’s “whatever,” and the vines stayed.  They are the oldest Chenin Blanc vineyards on Long Island and the grapes from them go into Paumanok’s Minimalist bottling of that wine.

A quartet of Chenin Blanc releases shows why it’s Paumanok’s most popular wine.  The 2018 ($25, 92 pts), similar to its predecessors, is dry, crisp and clean with a hint of flintiness.  Beautiful acidity amplifies its charms.  The 2015, from a riper year, delivers more tropical and floral notes, imparting a richer, but not sweeter, impression.  Again, enlivening acidity in the finish enhances the pleasure.  The 2011, from what Kareem calls “a lousy vintage,” is a resounding success in his mind–and mine too.  Rain during harvest resulted in rot in the vineyard.  Selection of grapes had to be severe, reinforcing Massoud’s philosophy that sometimes you take a loss to preserve quality.  The 2011 Chenin Blanc may lack the verve and precision of the 2018, but it is remarkably good at seven years of age, especially considering the conditions under which the grapes were harvested.  I’d be happy to drink it with spicy Asian fare.

Kareem describes Paumanok’s 2015 Minimalist Chenin Blanc as “drinking a cloud.”  With a broader array of flavors than their regular bottling, it delivers an intriguing subtle nuttiness.  It expands in the glass and shows the heights this grape can achieve in the right hands.

Their Riesling dances on the palate and is stylistic similar to their Chenin Blanc, meaning, graceful.  The 2018 Dry Riesling ($22, 90 pts), from vines planted in 2005, is delicate with enlivening, almost tingling, flintiness.

As good as Paumanok’s whites are–and they are very good–the reds are even more astounding.  The quality is unexpected given their reputation for Chenin Blanc.  The mid-weight 2016 Cabernet Franc ($29, 92 pts), a perfect balance of red fruit and savory herbs, is a joy to drink now.  The 2014 Grand Vintage Cabernet Franc ($55, 95 pts) is simply sensational.  The vines are 20 years old, which explains, in part, the wine’s grandeur.  Kareem’s decision to select only the top barrels and only wine made from free-run juice, which avoids bitter tannins, clearly adds to the wine’s elegance.  It is weighty, but not heavy.  Paumanok’s 2013 Grand Vintage Merlot ($40, 95 pts) shows that Kareem knows how to handle that grape, the most widely planted one today on Long Island.  Kareem describes 2013 as an amazing vintage, breezy and cool.  I describe the wine as a marvelous Merlot, fresh, dense and silky, combining earthy savory notes with dark fruit elements.

My advice: Buy Paumanok’s Chenin Blanc whenever you can, but be sure to try their reds as well.  Oh, and don’t forget the Riesling, either.

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E-mail me your thoughts about the wines of New York in general or Long Island wines in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

September 11, 2019

An Amber Standout from Georgia

Mosmieri (Kakheti, Georgia) “Kakhuri” 2017 ($20, Corus Imports):  Georgian wines seem to be the rage these days, and there are plenty of possible reasons for that.  Consumers are intrigued that archeologists have figured out that wine has been made in that Caucasus-region country for 8,000 years, putting it among the oldest wine producing areas in the world.  The country’s relatively recent liberation from Soviet domination has resulted in a new-found focus on quality wine production, and its re-emergence is likewise a source of interest.

Additionally, much of Georgian winemaking is closely aligned with the wine world’s current emphasis on minimal-intervention techniques, a point made persuasively by Christine Deussen (of Deussen Global Communications, which represents Georgian wines in the U.S.A.).  Few objects embody this emphasis as dramatically as Georgia’s widely used qvevri, large, egg-shaped earthenware pots sunk into the ground for the fermentation and storing of wine (a practice that has received placement on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists).  As Ms. Deussen also observes, the use of indigenous or autochthonous grapes rather than ubiquitous ones such as Chardonnay also makes Georgia’s white wines unique and fascinating.  (More on the reds in a future posting.)

Impediments to consumers’ enjoyment of Georgian wines include lack of familiarity with Georgian names and geography.  Many potential customers, myself included, experience difficulty distinguishing the name of the grape from the name of the place, and then distinguishing between the name of the wine and the name of the producer.  However, though traditionally produced Georgian wines won’t be to everyone’s liking, dedicated wine lovers need to try them anyway because some–like the one profiled here–can be superb with food.

Let’s start by trying to unravel the label.  Kakheti, a legally recognized and delimited area, is the major wine-producing region of Georgia, accounting for about 70 percent of the country’s vineyards.  Kakhuri, which means in the Kakhetian style and is the name of the wine, is confusing because other Georgian grapes use Kakhuri in their name–Kakhuri Mtsvani, for example, but usually called just Mtsvani.  (Mosmieri’s wine, however, is made entirely from Rkatsiteli, hence the potential for confusion.)  The label describes the wine as a “fine amber” wine.

The wine, though not made in a qvevri, is definitely a qvevri-style wine because the pressed grapes, skins and seeds are all fermented together for several months.  In typical white wine fermentation, the grapes are pressed, with the seeds and stems then being removed and discarded.  The juice undergoes fermentation for a week or two, not for months.  The grape, Rkatsiteli, indeed, should be less foreign to us than most Georgian grapes because Dr. Konstantin Frank makes a fabulous Rkatsiteli in upstate New York and labels it with the grape name.

True to its label, Mosmieri’s Kakhuri is amber colored and truly fine.  (Ms. Deussen says that many Georgians prefer “amber” as opposed to “orange” to describe the character of wine because of confusion with the fruit and the style of some orange wines.)  Mosmieri’s version is effectively a red wine masquerading as white because of the immediately apparent tannic impression on the palate.  Perfectly dry and clean, there’s not a hint of unpleasant oxidation despite the prolonged period of fermentation, which is what accounts for the subtle tannic feel and its amber color.

Its lack of annoying oxidative character differentiates it from many orange wines.  If you’ve been turned off by the orange wine category, here’s a good place to start again.  A substantial wine, Mosmieri’s Kakhuri cries for food.  This is not an aperitif-type sipper for use before dinner.  Powerful because the prolonged fermentation pulls flavors–and tannins and color–from the skins and seeds, it still weighs in only at a stated 13 percent alcohol.  Its acidity and concentration make it a great choice for–believe it or not–a hearty spiced lamb dish.  You’ve heard of red wine with fish.  Here’s white wine…or rather amber wine…with lamb.

90 Points

Posted by Michael Apstein on August 21, 2019 at 1:45 PM

Saumur: Home to Fabulous Dry Chenin Blanc

The Chenin Blanc grape can be transformed into fabulous wine.  It makes sensationally riveting dry wines and lusciously sweet ones.  In this column, I want to focus on the dry ones.  They are exceptionally versatile, equally well suited to stand-alone as an aperitif or with a meal, especially with those foods that can pose a challenge for matching with wine, such as sushi, spicy Asian fare or roast pork.  Flavorful, yet lightweight and refreshing, they are perfect in the summer.  In truth, they are wonderful regardless of the season.

Indeed, often when in doubt as to what to serve with a meal, choosing a dry Chenin Blanc is the answer.  (Remember this advice at Thanksgiving.)  So, if this is such a wonderful wine that has been embraced by wine geeks and sommeliers, why hasn’t it captured the attention of the usual, dare I say, normal, wine drinker?  Because, like Riesling, when you see the grape name on the label, you often can’t tell whether the wine will be one of those riveting dry ones or a sweet one.

All wines made from Riesling, even in France with its chauvinism regarding appellation, are labeled with the grape name.  (In Germany, it is assumed the wine is made from Riesling unless otherwise noted.)  In the U.S. and South Africa, the latter with more Chenin Blanc planted than anywhere else in the world, the wines are labeled with the grape name, so there is plenty of potential for confusion.  As a result, the consumer rarely knows from the label whether the Chenin Blanc will be dry or sweet.

Thankfully, not all Chenin Blanc-based wines are labeled by the grape name, so consumers can know in advance what they are getting.  In France, the appellation system focuses on geography, not the grape name and the appellation indicates which ones are the enlivening and dry Chenin Blanc-based wines and which ones are sweet.  In France’s Loire Valley, where the greatest amount of Chenin Blanc is grown, there can be clarity.  Wines from Savennières, Jasnières and the white wines from the Saumur and Chinon appellations will be dry.  Wines from Côteaux du Layon and its subzones will be sweet.  Vouvray, sadly, remains a conundrum because they can be either dry or sweet and often times without a clear indication on the label, although recently I’ve seen more and more of them labeled as “dry” or “doux” (sweet) to help the consumer.

In the past, Saumur Blanc was not a particularly noteworthy or memorable appellation.  Most Chenin Blanc planted there went into bubbly wines, which, by the way, can be very good.  There was hardly any focus on quality dry still white wines.  Over the last decade that has changed and now some positively thrilling dry whites come from the chalky limestone soil of the appellation.  Just from a brief drive through Saumur, a village on the southern border of the Loire about equidistance from Angers and Tours, you can predict the soil of the surrounding vineyards just by looking at the surrounding architecture.  All the structures, buildings, castles, and bridges, are made from white limestone, which was quarried locally.

Theirry Germain, the enthusiastic and passionate owner of Domaine Roche Neuves, makes whites that are both rich and mineral-y, with gorgeous acidity and penetrating length.  One, Clos Romans, comes from a walled vineyard that dates from the 11th century that had been neglected.  He resurrected it by using the modern high-density formula (4,000 vines per acre) for planting, which he and other growers tell me produces better fruit.  He farms it biodynamically and although the vines are only 15 years old, the wines are stunning and sought after.  (The current release, 2017, vintage sells for $88).  So far, he produces only about 600 bottles annually.  He told me when I visited him in 2015 that Jean-Claude Ramonet traded him one-for-one:  His 2014 Clos Romans for Ramonet’s Le Montrachet.

Germain is not the only one shinning a bright light on the potential of Saumur Blanc.  There’s also Philippe Porché’s Domaine de Rocheville, where they make two versions of Saumur Blanc that highlight the diversity even within the appellation.  Their Le Clos de la Thibaudière, from Brézé, the most renowned village in the appellation, makes your mouth water with its striking saline minerality and contrasts beautifully with the riper and rounder Saumur Blanc, La Dame, from Parnay, the home base of the domaine.  Though the oak treatment is slightly different, Porché attributes the dramatic difference between the wines to the differences in the soil between the villages. I predict that in another decade the names of seemingly obscure villages in Saumur will be familiar to wine lovers as the villages of the Côte de Beaune.

Other top-notch producers whose wines I can recommend are Domaine Guiberteau and Domaine Arnaud Lambert, both of whom bottle wines from Brézé, Domaine du Collier, Domaine Filliatreau, and Chateau Yvonne.

Domaine Guiberteau, another family domaine, has roughly half of their organically farmed 24 acres planted to Chenin Blanc, 70 percent of it in Brézé.   Clos des Carmes is their top Chenin Blanc cuvée, but my advice is to buy any of their wines–reds included.

With almost 100 acres, Domaine Arnaud Lambert is large by comparison.  They, too, like all the forward-thinking producers in this area, farm organically.  The domaine bottles three Chenin Blanc-based cuvées from Brézé, Clos David, Clos de la Rue, and Clos de Midi, but frankly all of the wines–white and red–are exceptional.

Antoine Foucault, son of legendary Loire producer, Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard, almost certainly the most famous red wine Loire producer, started Domaine Collier with Caroline Boireau.  Breaking from his father’s tradition, two-thirds of their roughly 17-acre estate is planted to Chenin Blanc. They make two whites, one blended from their vineyards and one, called La Charpentrie, from the vineyard of the same name, many of whose vines are over 100 years old. Their whites are tight when young and, like great wines everywhere, need time in the bottle of evolve.

Though Domaine Filliatreau, a family domaine started in 1967 by Maurice Filliatreau, focuses on red wine, which, by the way, are consistently excellent, they make a small amount of superb white Saumur called L’Imago that can stand with the best of them.

Château Yvonne, with just over a quarter of their roughly 28 acres devoted to Chenin Blanc, farm using a biodynamic philosophy, the current trend among forward thinking vignerons. Their 2017 Saumur Blanc is tightly wound, but mineral-y and balanced with an underlying creaminess.

These are consistently superb producers who, unfortunately, make only small quantities of various cuvées, so, I suggest you snatch up whichever of their wines you find.

Saumur is an area where young producers see an opportunity to make unique wine, and a name for themselves, because the raw materials–the soil, the weather, and grape variety fit together perfectly here–so expect to see many new names.  And rush to try them before the wines command triple digit price tags.

Of course, you can find excellent dry Chenin Blanc closer to home.  Two I recommend heartily are from Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma and from Paumanok Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island.  The crisp 2018 Paumanok Chenin Blanc ($25) delivers flinty hints.  It finishes dry and refreshing because of its vibrant acidity.

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Email me your thoughts about Chenin Blanc in general or ones from Saumur in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

August 14, 2019

Beaujolais: A Versatile Wine

One of the many things I love about Beaujolais is its variety and versatility.  There’s Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage that’s almost closer to alcoholic grape juice than to wine, and which many in the American wine press deride regularly.  Released on the third Thursday of November, it can be a refreshing, all-purpose wine for the Thanksgiving table.  In France, its arrival is celebrated in cafes and bars all over Paris and Beaune with signs and banners reading, “Beaujolais est arrivé!”  (Beaujolais has arrived.) Each establishment proudly offers one of two from their favorite producers.  I’ve often overheard animated discussions among customers regarding the quality of one over the other.

Then there’s juicy Beaujolais that are fresh and fruity wines perfect for chilling and drinking at this time of the year.  A step up is Beaujolais-Villages, wines coming from any of the 38 villages in this area just north of Lyon that have the potential for better wine.  They, too, provide mid-weight wines that are perfect for drinking chilled in the summer.  However, Beaujolais-Villages from top producers–Château du Basty springs to mind–can have a depth and complexity that makes you realize that this category, often relegated to lower shelves in the supermarket, can provide amazing value. Look out, in particular, for old vine–“vieilles vignes”–bottlings of Beaujolais-Villages.  Some of these plantings date back to pre-World War II and even pre-Great War.

Finally, there’s the serious side of Beaujolais.  The Gamay grape can reflect its origins or, in modern terminology, be transparent, just as the Pinot Noir in the Côte d’Or.  Locals have known this for decades, bottling special cuvées from prized sites separately.  But it has taken six centuries after Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, exiled the “vile and noxious” Gamay grape from Burgundy in favor of the “elegant” Pinot Noir for the rest of the world to notice.

This transparency is most apparent in the crus of Beaujolais, the ten villages in the northern part of the appellation whose soils are rich in granite and that are capable of producing such distinctive wines that only the name of the village in required on the label.  From north to south they are St. Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.  Reference to Beaujolais on the label is optional.

Jeanne-Marie Deschamps, one of Burgundy’s smartest brokers and a woman who knows the area well, describes the region as a series of several “volcanic eggs” jutting from the countryside, with vines on all sides of these outcroppings.  The topography differs from that of the Côte d’Or, which primarily faces southeast, and is more like Italy’s Chianti Classico where vineyards seemingly spread in every direction, leading to very different exposures.

Audrey Charton, whose family owns Domaine du Clos des Garands, a superb estate in Fleurie, told me that one reason Beaujolais’ soil is unique is that the region was never hit by an ice age that brought soil and debris from elsewhere.  The topography and variation in soil explains why the wines from these villages are very different one from another.  Moulin-à-Vent and Morgon are considered the sturdiest, followed by Côte de Brouilly, while Chiroubles is the least structured.

One thing that is particularly exciting is how producers are focusing on the vineyards (what the Burgundians call climats) within these crus.  Though Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy’s top producers, was not the first to bottle a Beaujolais cru with a vineyard name, I nonetheless credit them with popularizing the concept when they purchased the Château des Jacques estate in Moulin-à-Vent in 1996.  Depending on the vintage, Château des Jacques produces up to five distinct wines from individual climats within Moulin-à-Vent (Clos de Rochegrès, Clos du Grand Carquelin, Clos de Champ de Cour, Clos de la Roche and Clos des Thorins) in addition to their Moulin-à-Vent cru.

Jadot is not the only major Beaune-based négociant to expand the Burgundian philosophy to Beaujolais, meaning, each vineyard is intended to portray a unique terroir.  Bouchard Père et Fils owns Château de Poncié in Fleurie and makes wines from two individual climats, while Albert Bichot at Domaine de Rochegrès prominently labels their wine from their 5-acre plot in the Rochegrès climat as Rochegrès, subordinating even Moulin-à-Vent to small letters.

Maison Louis Latour, another top producer, acting as a négociant, has bottlings from the climats in five of the 10 crus.  And, of course, Beaujolais producers who concentrate solely on the crus, such as the excellent Chateau Moulin-à-Vent in Moulin-à-Vent and Mee Goddard’s superb domaine in Morgon bottle climat by climat.  With some of these vineyard bottlings, the name Beaujolais does not appear on the label.

Vineyard by vineyard bottling in Beaujolais is, to me, an exciting concept.  Here’s another area where wines using the same winemaking technique and made from the same grape grown in adjacent vineyards taste different.  It’s another marvel of Nature.  And fortunately, unlike in Côte d’Or, the epicenter of terroir, the wines from the climats of Beaujolais are affordable.

Tasting Jean Foillard’s 2017s wines from three different climats in Morgon–Corcelette, Côte de Py and Charmes–is instructive.  Since Foillard is emphatic that the winemaking and élévage (aging) are identical, tasting his wines side by side show that dramatic differences among the terroirs.  The same is true with Château Thivin’s wines from the Côte de Brouilly. Wines from three different parcels (Godefoy, which faces east, La Chapelle, a south facing site on a 55-degree slope near the top, and Les Griottes de Brulhié, south facing at mid-slope) are all gorgeous and suave but delightfully different. Claude Geoffroy, whose family owns Château Thivin, told me that it’s the terroir speaking because the winemaking is the same for each parcel.

Despite the point this approach makes, there is enormous potential for confusion.  The number of proposed climats is impressive and for non-wine geeks who might not even be familiar with the names of the 10 crus, adding scores of more seemingly obscure names is daunting.  In addition to the many–officials are still identifying sites–in Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie has 13 climats, and Morgon six, perhaps the best known of which is Côte de Py, basically a hill of schist. (For completeness, the other five are Grand Cras, Les Charmes, Corcelette, Les Micouds and Douby.)

But as Cyril Chirouze, the very talented winemaker at Château des Jacques, commented, “not all of the Côte de Py is not the same.”  Much like the famed Clos Vougeot in the Côte d’Or, where location in that vast vineyard is key, the location of the vines on the Côte de Py also matters.  Indeed, some producers are already identifying a subplot there, Jarvenières, towards its base, that produces slightly less firm wines and labeling them with that name.

To make matters worse, some producers use proprietary names in addition to, or instead of, place names.

Still, it’s an exciting time for Beaujolais.  Changes in grape-growing, winemaking, and site specificity are on the way.  Guillaume Striffling, another talented Beaujolais producer, says that he has specific plots in Regnié, which produce distinctive wine but cannot use their names because they are not recognized officially.  To be recognized, the climat must be approved by the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine), the French governing agency that regulates wine, which he notes is a long bureaucratic process. His Gallic philosophic streak is apparent when he remarked, “often in the wine business when you are planting a vine, you think to yourself ‘this is not for me, this is for my children because everything in the French (wine) industry takes a long time.’”

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Email me your thoughts about Beaujolais at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

July 17, 2019

Update from Burgundy: Hot, But Not 2003…At Least Not Yet

Record-breaking temperatures hit France and elsewhere in Europe recently with Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, recording temperatures of over 100 degrees.  While those kinds of temperatures are common in California wine country, they are rare in Burgundy and immediately raise the question:  How the vines and grapes faring?

Burgundy has seen warm vintages recently; 2015 and 2009 spring to mind.  Both of those years produced sensational reds and very good, but perhaps early-drinking whites.  Still, the temperatures in those years were not close to what Burgundy experienced this June.  The heat in June reminded people to whom I spoke about the canicule (dog days of summer, or heat wave) that occurred in August of 2003.

The persistently high temperatures during the day–and even more importantly at night–in 2003 altered the character of the wines.  High nocturnal temperatures draw down malic acid levels in the grapes, resulting in lower-than-usual acidity, which, in turn, especially for the whites, translated into flabby wines.  Compounding the problem in 2003 was that the heat came toward the end of the growing season, when it was dry, accelerating ripening.  Sugar levels in the grapes jumped unexpectedly and caught vintners off guard while they were away on their traditional August vacation.  As a result, many grapes stayed on the vines too long and the many of the resulting wines tasted cooked or over-ripe.

Such outcomes were not uniformly the case, thankfully.  Showing how hard it is to predict how wines will develop, two 2003 red Burgundies that I tasted in 2016, both from Jadot–their Beaune Clos des Ursules and the Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques–I drank in 2016 were superb, fresh and still youthful.  There are exceptions to almost everything in the world of wine, but still…extreme heat certainly imperils the potential quality of fine wine.

The heat of 2019 is not that of 2003.  At least not yet.  Frédéric Barnier, Maison Louis Jadot’s very smart and talented winemaker, told me that he envisioned no damage so far, explaining that canicule is not a problem if the vines have water and leaves, which they do now because of lots of rain during the spring.  Indeed, he thought the extra heat helped, because the vines were behind schedule because of this year’s cool, rainy spring, and the heat allowed them to catch up.  However, he notes that more heat later in the growing season could be a big problem because now the ground is “dry, very dry.”  He felt bad for the growers who, unluckily, had performed rognage (leaf removal to expose the newly formed grapes to more sunshine and to help dry the bunches) just before the heatwave hit.

Megan McClune, the Managing Director at Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay, agreed that the dryness could be a problem because there has been little rain–and none is forecast for the next several weeks.

It’s impossible to assess a vintage until the grapes are in the winery and the wine has been made.  Even then, as those two 2003s from Jadot showed, early assessments of the wines can be faulty.  But at this point, Burgundy is on guard….

Posted by Michael Apstein on July 10 at 12:48 PM

A New Designation for an Established Star

Ruffino, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Riserva Ducale Oro” 2014 ($41):  Gran Selezione is a new category of Chianti Classico that is supposed to represent the pinnacle of a producer’s bottling.  Whether it does is a matter of debate because some producers’ top wine from Chianti Classico region is not a Gran Selezione.

What’s not a debate is that the Gran Selezione designation means it is superb wine.  Indeed, Ruffino has been making Riserva Ducale Oro for decades, since 1947. It has always been a monumental achievement in Chianti Classico, a wine that ages and develops gracefully and beautifully over the decades.  Calling it Gran Selezione, which they started with the 2010 vintage, does not, in my mind, change its already exalted stature.

2014 Riserva Ducale Oro shows why it’s important not to be a slave to vintage charts.  The 2014 vintage in Tuscany was, to put it diplomatically, difficult.  Read:  Not so good.  But talented and conscientious producers, such as Ruffino make excellent wine in bad (excuse me, “difficult”) vintages.  They just make less of it–in this case, about 15 percent less than average–by performing a severe selection and selling off what’s not up to snuff.

Enough background.  The wine, a blend chiefly of Sangiovese (85%), Merlot (10%) and Colorino, is delicious with the classic melding of fruit, earth and acidity for which great Chianti Classico is known.  It’s a savory and ripe combination with lip-smacking Tuscan acidity, which is just what you want to keep it fresh during a meal.

The vintage speaks in the approachability of this wine.  It’s a fine choice for drinking now, but having had many Riserva Ducale Oro, even from “difficult” vintages, I know that they evolve beautifully, so there’s probably no rush with this one either.  I scored it at 93 Points, and recommend it enthusiastically.

Posted by Michael Apstein on July 7, 2019 at 5:04 PM

Surprising Whites for the Rosé Season

It’s well known that the red wines from the south of France can provide great pleasure, especially for the price.  The whites, in contrast, have received far less attention, in part, because they can be a touch heavy.  That may be changing, at least judging from my experience earlier this year.  I found that the 2017 whites from disparate areas in the south of French had an engaging vibrancy that make them an easy choice for the summer.  Surprisingly, the all-too-prevalent frosts may be responsible, at least in part.

The warmth of the region that accounts for some appealing, hearty, heady reds that are found in appellations along the southern Rhône River valley (such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cairanne, or Rasteau, and further west in the Languedoc-Roussillon area) can, ironically, be a problem for the whites.  As temperatures rise (climate change hasn’t helped) and grapes ripen, sugar levels increase and sour acidity, the hallmark of unripe fruit, falls.  While that pattern might be good for producing apricots, peaches, and other fruits for eating, grapes with high sugar and low acidity result in wines that are alcoholic and flabby, lacking the invigorating energy so essential for consumption with a meal.  Although certainly a potential problem for red wines, it’s even more of a problem for white wines, which need to be refreshing and lively, especially in the summer.

I’ve always tried to embrace the whites of the south of France, especially while traveling there in the summer, because so many of the rosés, which seemingly would be an obvious choice, are insipid and flavorless.  Indeed, as the popularity of rosés soars and producers want a part of that gravy train, many of these wines have become more diluted and uninteresting.  That’s not to say that intriguing rosés don’t exist, but I estimate they represent less than ten percent of the category.  Tavel, an appellation in the southern Rhône that makes only rosé, can be excellent.  The rosés from Bandol, where the Mourvèdre grape imparts heft to the wine, can be particularly noteworthy, though in many cases I would characterize them as light red wines since they have a subtle and pleasant tannic bitterness in the finish.  Although I find that chilled lightweight reds, such as Beaujolais, light reds from Provence or from Bardolino, for example, are superb alternatives to rosés, it’s hard to find an alternative to a lively, invigorating white wine to help dissipate summer’s heat.

Megan McClune, Managing Director of the Burgundian Domaine Jessiaume in Santenay, notes that frost years seem to do something to the character of the fruit, reduced yields aside.  As was explained to me by a winemaker at Château Ragotière, a top producer in Muscadet, frost kills the primary buds, which results in a lower yield. Frequently, a secondary bud appears a week or two later, which produces a bunch of grapes.  Although these grapes mature more quickly than those from a primary bud, they still lag behind the primary grapes in their ripening cycle.  Winemakers can’t afford the luxury of separating grapes from secondary buds from those that originated from primary buds, so they all wind up being harvest at the same time.  The resulting harvest contains a small portion of less ripe grapes that are higher in acidity.  Hence, the wines from a frost year could be fresher and livelier because of their increased levels of acidity.  This less well-recognized result of a frost might explain the vibrancy I found in the 2017 whites from the south of France, where frost was a major problem. Indeed, it may seem surprising that frost should be a problem in what is viewed as the warm and sunny south of France.  Certainly, the risk of frost there is nowhere near the risk further north in Burgundy.  Still, in the Languedoc and neighboring regions, frost remains a threat through April.

In a very unscientific, random sampling of white wines while in the south of France last month, their vibrancy stood out.  It caught my attention because it was a characteristic that spanned appellations, from prestigious Châteauneuf-du-Pape to lowly IGPs (Indication Géographique Protégé).

At Château de Nalys, the property in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, recently acquired by Guigal, the star producer in the northern Rhône, their 2017 Saintes Pierres de Nalys, a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape was simply stunning in its brightness, spice, and verve. Somewhat paradoxically, the primary grape is Clairette (36%), generally described as a low-acid grape.  However, noted wine authority Jancis Robinson indicates that wines from Clairette “can hang on to their acidity quite impressively.”  Perhaps it’s the inclusion of a nearly equal amount of Bourboulenc (29%), a high acid grape that accounts for the wine’s lovely lift.  Maybe it’s just Guigal’s talents.

Just northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, lies Vacqueyras, another well-known appellation for sturdy reds.  Unbeknownst to me, the appellation makes a small amount of white wine from the usual Mediterranean suspects for white wine, Viognier, Bourboulenc Roussanne and Marsanne.  The 2017 from Domaine Vallis Petra, “Ô Pré de Juliette” was a revelation, delivering an energetic bundle of stone fruit flavors.

Further north in Sablet, one of the name villages of the Côtes du Rhône, Château Cohola makes a fine trio of organic wines–including a stunning rosé–and a lively 2017 Côtes du Rhône Villages white that cleansed the palate despite the Provençal sun.

In the Les Baux de Provence appellation, near St. Remy, lies the Château Romanin, a biodynamically farmed domaine now owned by Anne-Marie and Jean-Louis Charmolue, former owners of Château Montrose.  Their 2017 white has verve that belies its southern origins and balances its suave texture.

Going west and crossing the Rhône River, Virgile Joly is a rising star in the Languedoc and a poster-boy for organic viticulture there.  His 2017 Joly Blanc, a blend of equal parts Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, delivers stone fruit nuances and a gorgeous texture amplified by a citrus zing.

An appellation whose wines don’t need frost or anything else to maintain acidity is Picpoul de Pinet.  (Curiously, the grape is spelled Picquepoul.)  With its 3,500 acres, it is the largest white wine appellation in the Languedoc.  Although late ripening, the grape has enormous inherent acidity, so the resulting wines are zesty, clean and refreshing.  The best of them have good body and are reminiscent of Muscadet because of their liveliness and affinity for seafood. An added boon–they’re inexpensive, rarely over $15 a bottle, with many under $10.

The frost doesn’t entirely explain the brightness in these wines since not all the areas were affected.  Perhaps winemakers are harvesting earlier, capturing acidity, perhaps they’re using higher acid grapes in the blend, or perhaps the organic and biodynamic practices so common in the Languedoc and southern Rhône allow the grapes to hold onto acidity.  Whatever the explanation, the verve is a welcome addition to these southern French whites.  Let’s hope it’s here to stay.

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June 19, 2019

Email me your thoughts about white wines from the south of France at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

 

Terroir in Bordeaux

Part of my enthusiasm for wine, and I’m sure other’s as well, is that the character of the wine is, or at least should be, a reflection of where the grapes were grown.  For me, this is a fabulous expression of Nature and an almost magical one at that.  Wines made from the same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards, separated sometimes by only a narrow dirt path, can often taste very different.  This concept can be difficult to appreciate because the producer’s winemaking technique can overwhelm the influence of place.  When tasting two wines from different locales made by different producers, the question becomes, is it the producer’s hand or the locale that is speaking?  So, for consumers to appreciate and understand the potential of what is known as terroir, or what noted wine writer Matt Kramer called, “a sense of place,” it is essential to compare wines from different places made by the same producer.

The concept of terroir is universal, and not just for grapes.  The Europeans have hundreds of appellations for a variety of foods because they know that certain areas excel in growing certain products.  We in the U.S. have fewer legal, geographically-determined appellations for foods, but still recognize the concept, as with Florida oranges, Vidalia onions, or Washington State apples.  We all know that some people’s homegrown tomatoes taste better than those of others.  Maybe they were better “farmers,” but maybe their backyard was better suited, for some reason, for growing tomatoes.

For wine, Burgundy is ground zero for this phenomenon for historical reasons.  French inheritance laws stemming from the Napoleonic era mandated an equal distribution of land among the heirs, which meant that, over time, many people wound up owning small patches of vineyards.  For many of these farmers, it made little economic sense to make and market wines from such small holdings, so they sold their grapes or newly made wine to firms, known as négociants, that finished the winemaking process and marketed the wines.  As a result, these producers, such as Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Louis Latour or Maison Joseph Drouhin, wound up making and selling wines from many different sites within Burgundy.  Since the winemaking of each négociant is the same or at least similar for all their wines, one can easier discern the incredible differences between two wines whose grapes might have come from vineyards separated by that dirt path.

This phenomenon is not restricted to Burgundy.  Bruno Borie, President of Ducru-Beaucaillou and related properties, showed me during a recent trip to Boston that it is alive and well–and very important–in Bordeaux.

Of course, terroir is alive and well in Bordeaux.  Everyone knows that the wines from the commune of St. Éstephe are very different from those of neighboring Pauillac or from Margaux.  But how about within an individual commune?  I’ve heard many times from the Bordelais themselves and have read reliable authors who have said that the best wines in St. Julien come from those properties that can “see the estuary,” that is, those châteaux that are the furthest east, bordering the Gironde River.  And indeed, though there are exceptions, those properties closest to the water, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and the Léovilles (Poyferré, Las Cases, and Barton), to name a few, make wines that are generally more elegant than ones located further to the west, the inland St. Julien, such as Château Gruaud Larose, Château Talbot, or Château Lagrange.  So, is it the winemaking or the location, i.e., “the hand or the land,” that is responsible?  With an exceptional and unique tasting, Bruno Borie gave us the answer by showing three wines from the 2015 vintage made by the same team.

A little history puts this tasting into perspective.  The Borie family, who have had a presence in the Médoc since 1870, have been making wine at Ducru-Beaucaillou since Bruno’s grandfather started leasing the vineyards in 1941–what a time to embark on a new project in France!  Bruno’s father, Jean-Eugène, eventually purchased the property in the 1960s and ran it until Bruno took the reins in 2003.  Bruno recounts how in 1970, his father lamented after church services to the patriarch of the Cendoya family, the owner of Château Lagrange at the time, that he (Borie) was surprised by the recent sale of a piece of Lagrange, hinting that he would have been interested in purchasing it.  Cendoya responded by saying that they had more to sell.  Bingo!  Quickly thereafter, Jean-Eugène had purchased what is now Château Lalande-Borie, located in the western part of the commune, quite a distance from the Gironde, relatively speaking.  Then in 1995, as part of his upgrading of Ducru, Jean-Eugène introduced a “second” wine, La Croix Beaucaillou, which since 2005 has been a separate wine made from a separate vineyard that lies half-way between Lalande-Borie and Ducru-Beaucaillou itself.  La Croix is still technically a second wine because some of the lesser lots from Ducru find their way into La Croix, but Bruno emphasizes that 90 percent of La Croix comes from its own discrete vineyard.

We had in front of us the three wines from three different areas of St. Julien.  Going from west to east–inland to the estuary–was Château Lalande-Borie, La Croix Beaucaillou, and Ducru-Beaucaillou from the 2015 vintage.  Although the blends of the three wines were slightly different, with more Merlot and less Cabernet Sauvignon in Château Lalande-Borie (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon) compared to 60% Cabernet Sauvignon in La Croix and 90% in Ducru, the fundamental difference among the wines was elegance.  The texture of the wines became finer and finer moving from the west towards the river.  It was like the difference between wool, lambswool and cashmere.  Moreover, there was less apparent fruitiness and more savory and mineral-like flavors moving from west to east.

Borie explained that “the ecosystem”–he avoided the term, terroir–of each vineyard determined the character and finesse of the wine.  Near the estuary lies a collection of stones and gravel that came originally from both the center of France and the Pyrenees Mountains.  He insists it’s this mix of deposits combined with perfect exposure and drainage that provides the elegance and mineral-like component of Ducru.  He explains that in the middle of St. Julien, there are little streams that cut through the Médoc, which dictate the climate.  The soil contains a bit more clay which imparts more body–at the expense of elegance–to the wines.  In the inland or western part of the appellation, the soil is newer, geologically speaking, with more sand, which for him explains why the wines have less complexity.

The message was clear to me.  The conventional wisdom is true:  The finest wines from St. Julien come from vines that can see the estuary.  A large thank you to Bruno Borie for the chance to learn this for myself.

My advice for consumers is to buy as much of these 2015s as your budget will allow. The Ducru-Beaucaillou (97, $200) showed its Cru Classé stature with its extraordinary silky texture and a broad palate of flavors without a trace of heaviness. I’d leave this beauty in the cellar for another decade to let it develop as I know the wines of Ducru-Beaucaillou do.  The Lalande-Borie (91, $38) is enjoyable now, but I suspect it will continue to evolve over the next decade.  I’d give the La Croix Beaucaillou (93, $60), another five years before pulling the cork.

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Email me your thoughts about terroir or Ducru-Beaucaillou at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

May 22, 2019

Guigal: The Birth of a Star in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

It’s rare for a winery to go from nothing to the top in its category quickly.  Bordeaux’s premier châteaux, such as Château Lafite-Rothschild, Château Latour, and Château Haut-Brion, to name just three, were founded centuries ago.  Similarly, in Burgundy, leading producers such as Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Louis Latour, and Maison Joseph Drouhin, date back to the 19th century.  Compare that to the rocket-like trajectory of E. Guigal in Côte Rôtie, an appellation in France’s northern Rhône Valley, where they are the undisputed star of the entire appellation and beyond.

Etienne Guigal left Vidal-Fleury, where he had worked for many years, in 1946 to establish his own eponymous estate, E. Guigal.  He was either crazy or a visionary.  Starting a new winery anywhere in France immediately after World War II was a risky business.  It was especially so in the Côte Rôtie, whose steep slopes and terraced-vineyards made it a labor-intensive (read, expensive) place to grow grapes and make wine.  Moreover, Etienne’s goal was to make high-quality wines instead of the “quantity” wines Côte Rôtie was known for at that time.

Etienne’s reported abrupt blindness in 1961 brought Marcel, his son, home from university shortly after he had started, to assume control of the business when he was just 17 years old.  Even at his young age and long before “terroir” became a buzz-word in the wine world, Marcel Guigal knew that the vineyard site was critical and the single most important factor in determining the wine’s character and distinctiveness.  Five years later, in 1966, under Marcel’s leadership, Guigal released their first site-specific Côte Rôtie from their 2.5-acre vineyard, La Mouline, a field blend of Syrah (90%) and the white grape, Viognier.  Wines from the 5.8-acre La Landonne (100% Syrah) and 2.1-acre La Turque vineyards (a blend of 93% Syrah and Viognier) followed in 1978 and 1985, respectively.  Barely two decades later, in 2007, when the 2003 vintage of the “La La’s,” as they are now known, hit the retail market, they set the record for most expensive Rhône wines ever released, according to The Wine Spectator.  (La Mouline sold for $17 a bottle in the early 1970s.)

Guigal, both as grower and as a négociant, continues to expand his reach. In the mid-1980s, in what must have been an extremely self-satisfying acquisition, Marcel purchased Vidal-Fleury, his father’s former employer.  Then in 2001, Guigal expanded as a grower from his base in Côte Rôtie to other Northern Rhône appellations, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, and St. Joseph, when they purchased the two estates, Jean-Louis Grippat and de Vallouit. Unsurprisingly, they soon started producing site-specified wines in Hermitage called Ex-Voto, and in St. Joseph, Vignes de L’Hospice.

Although Guigal has had an enormous presence in the southern Rhône as a négociant, producing more than 500,000 cases annually of their value-packed Côtes du Rhône, red, white, and rosé, as well as Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they did not own vineyards there until 2017.  Philippe Guigal, Marcel’s son and current General Manager and winemaker, relates that they had been looking to buy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for years.  He remarked that they had been making Châteauneuf-du-Pape and selling it via their négociant business since the 1940s.  As a result, they had a close relationship with scores of growers.  They knew the appellation well and knew what they wanted.  More importantly, he added, “We knew what we didn’t want.”  He added that it probably would have been easier to buy there if they did not have so much experience in the appellation, “if we were outsiders just looking to focus on the famous name, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”  But, as in the northern Rhône, they were fixated on site.

Over the years, they had been offered many opportunities, but something was always wrong.  Philippe admitted that they were “fussy.” It was especially difficult to find a large enough property, 75+ acres, to support an independent team and winery.  The person in charge of the southern France division of Groupama, the insurance giant that insures 90 percent of France’s agricultural land, asked Marcel to be an independent appraiser for one of their properties, Château de Nalys in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, because he knew that Marcel was an expert on terroir and wineries.  Philippe relates that he was reluctant to visit, but his father urged him to accompany him because otherwise it would be rude.  They met the president of Groupama at Nalys, who, according to Philippe, immediately announced, “Nalys is not for sale.  It is the jewel in our crown.”  Philippe responded, “Good because we have no intention of buying it.”  It’s not hard to guess the rest. The appraisal complete, a little discussion back and forth, and, voilà, the deal was done. Château de Nalys was theirs.  Philippe exclaims with a broad smile, “It was a dream come true.”

Philippe described it with almost a child-like enthusiasm as a “top, top terroir.” What he couldn’t understand was how Château de Nalys had made such unremarkable wine from such well-endowed sites.  The property is comprised of historic cellars that date from the 17th century and about 125 acres of contiguous vineyards divided among three equally-sized blocks or lieux-dits in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, La Crau, Bois Senéchal, and Grand Pierre, also known as Nalys.  All 13 grape varieties permitted in the blend of red Châteauneuf-du-Pape are planted on all three plots. They vinify them separately.  Philippe insists that “none should be forgotten, especially with climate change.”

The piece of La Crau that is a part of Château de Nalys, in the northern section, was not favored 30 years ago.  But, as Philippe explains, with climate change, it has become preferable because grapes there now reach phenolic or physiologic ripeness (the tannins are ripe) at a sugar level that corresponds to 14.5% alcohol instead of 16%, resulting in more balanced wines.  Philippe explains that the grapes from La Crau contribute structure and power to the finished blend.  The mix of sand and clay in the Grand Pierre or Nalys lieu-dit, in contrast, provides grapes that lend elegance to the wine.  Philippe believes that big stones sitting atop clay subsoil in the Bois Senéchal lieu-dit acts as a great water reservoir, imparting freshness to the wines.

Guigal quickly made substantial changes to Chateau de Nalys’s cellar and vineyards.  In the cellar, they extended the time the wines spend in barrel and adjusted the size and age of the barrels. In essence, they fine-tuned barrel aging, adjusting it to the grape variety. Importantly, they made a severe selection creating a true second red wine.  In 2017 and 2018, both great vintages in Philippe’s experience, they plan on still using only about half of their production for the Grand Vin.  There’s lots of work still to be done in the vineyard.  Guigal started by increasing the vineyard crew from two to 12 workers and hiring a vineyard manager to work with the winemaker.

While Guigal vinified and had total control over the 2017s, the previous owners vinified the 2016s.  Luckily, Guigal finalized the purchase before the component wines had been blended, so they left their mark on the wines by blending and aging them.  There are no white grapes included in the 2016 reds, but Guigal did incorporate them in the blends of the 2017 and 2018 reds.

Château de Nalys currently produces four wines, two whites and two reds.  Both colors carry the same names and prices, Saintes Pierres de Nalys ($50) and Château de Nalys ($100).  Each, in its own way, is delicious, as you’d expect from this star producer.  Whether the market will support the prices remains to be seen.

Château de Nalys produces three times as much white wine as their neighbors–18 percent of their production versus an appellation-wide average of 6 percent. The 2017 Saintes Pierres de Nalys Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (93 pts) is bright, floral and mineral-y with a hint of spice.  It’s freshness and bite may be out of character for a white Châteauneuf, but it’s a delight to drink now.  Philippe attributes its energy to hefty amount of Clairette in the blend. It’s hard to call this white a second wine because its character is so different from the Grand Vin.

The 2017 Château de Nalys, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (92 pts) is entirely different–weightier, with a more viscous texture and more extract.  Indeed, it’s a more typical white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, showing power, depth and even a hint of bitterness in the finish.  The grapes come from all of the three lieux-dits, with Roussanne comprising the largest component (43%), followed by Grenache Blanc (33%), Clairette (15%), Bourboulenc (6%) and Picquepoul.

The 2016 Saintes Pierres de Nalys Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (91 pts) conveys freshness and raciness, much like its white counterpart.  Fruity and forward, with a touch of minerality, it represents a more modern style of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  Balanced, with suave tannins, it would be a good choice for current consumption.

The 2016 Château de Nalys, Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (94 pts) is dense and powerful, yet also elegant and fresh, without a trace of heaviness.  There’s an appealing, subtle tarry aspect.  Tightly wound, with substantial structure, it needs years to blossom.  If Guigal’s hand is evident only with the blending and aging of this wine, I can’t wait to try the 2017 and 2018, which they vinified.  Philippe believes that a parcel of Grenache planted at the beginning of the 20th century helps explain the wine’s power.

Whether Guigal will make single wines from the individual lieux-ditsat Château de Nalys remains to be seen.  My guess is that they won’t.  I suspect they will continue to blend the wines from the various parcels, emulating the approach they took with their Château d’Ampuis, a consistently superb Côte Rôtie that falls qualitatively and in price between the La La’s and their Côte Rôtie labeled “Brune et Blonde,” that they introduced with the 1995 vintage. Château d’Ampuis is made from grapes grown in what Guigal believes are six exceptionally well-suited vineyards, three each in the Côte Brune and Côte Blonde, the two subdivisions of Côte Rôtie.  If Château de Nalys turns out wines of the stature of Château d’Ampuis, it will be another shining star in the Guigal constellation.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Guigal, Châteauneuf-du-Pape or the Rhône in general at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

April 24, 2019

Chianti Classico: The Tale of Two Vintages

Consumers are lucky and should be thrilled that there are two stunning vintages, the 2015 and 2016, of Chianti Classico on retailers’ shelves now.  Although both vintages are outstanding, the character of the wines is very different.  In a word, so to speak, the 2015s are riper and fleshy while the 2016s are racier.  So, there’s something for everyone, whether you prefer the richer Chianti Classico, the 2015s, or the more traditionally framed ones, the 2016s.

The differences in the character of the wines can be explained easily by the weather.  At the risk of over simplification, but with the benefit of not getting too geeky, the weather in 2015 was generally warmer, which meant that the grapes were riper at harvest.  With riper grapes comes lower acidity–as all fruits ripen, sugar levels go up and tartness decreases–which translated into bolder wines with less acidity.  The 2016 growing season, by contrast, was cooler, which meant that grapes were slightly less ripe and the levels of acidity slightly higher, which translated into racier wines.

Consumers can find many well-priced examples from both vintages in the retail market.  Daniel Posner of The Grapes Wine Company, a major retailer in Westchester County, the northern suburbs of New York City, estimates that he carries 20 or so Chianti Classico bottlings, up from just two or three two decades ago.  He is enthusiastic about the category, “I’m happy to buy more, the quality is so high.  Compared to 15 years ago, it is hard to find a bad bottle of Chianti Classico in the $15 to $20 per bottle range.”

Bob Harkey of Harkey’s Fine Wines, a superb wine shop in Millis, Massachusetts just west of Boston, loves the 2016 vintage.  He, however, believes that many consumers will prefer the “more modern” 2015s.  He adds, “There’s nothing better than a well-aged Chianti Classico,” and thinks the 2016s will be better suited for the cellar than the 2015s.

Chianti Classico is the best known of the eight sub-regions of the greater Chianti area, which stretches from Pistoia, north of Florence to Montalcino, south of Siena, in central Tuscany.  Not only is it the best known, it also produces the best wines overall of the sub-regions and is the only one to have been awarded DOCG status, Italy’s highest wine classification.

The greater Chianti region itself is also a DOCG, but none of the other sub-regions, Chianti Colli Senesi (the hills around Siena), Chianti Colli Fiorentini (the hills of around Florence), Chianti Rufina (northeast of Florence), Chianti Montalbano (northwest of Florence), Chianti Montespertoli (southwest of Florence), Chianti Colli Aretini (hills around Arezzo), and Chianti Colline Pisane (around Pisa), have that distinction.  Although that’s not to say that excellent wines are not produced in those sub-regions, because they are.  One taste of Chianti Rufina from Selvapiana or Frescobaldi will convince you of that.  It’s just that the wines from Chianti Classico are more consistently noteworthy and reliable.

Although Chianti is usually a blend, with Sangiovese as the primary grape, regulations now allow a pure Sangiovese-based wine as well.  Regulations for Chianti Classico, as opposed to Chianti, prohibit the use the white grapes, which were included in the historical blend, and require a minimum of 80 percent Sangiovese and a maximum of 20 percent of the autochthonous grapes, Canaiolo and Colorino, and the so-called “international” ones, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in any combination.

The geography, soil, elevation, and exposure of the vineyards in Chianti Classico is extremely varied.  Add to that mix, winemaking preferences–which blend of grapes, how much extraction, how much oak aging–and you get a multiplicity of wine styles. That said, there should be a common theme of fresh fruit flavors intermingled, to a greater or lesser extent, with herbal and earthy ones, buttressed by vigorous uplifting acidity.

There is a movement among some Chianti Classico producers to try to identify wine style according to the various villages within Chianti Classico, such as Greve, Gaiole, Panzano, Radda, and Castellina in Chianti, Castelnuovo Berardenga to name just six, as is common in Burgundy and Barolo.  No doubt, these villages with their different terroir produce wines identifiably unique to the particular locale.  Unfortunately for the consumer, identifying these unique characteristics is difficult because few producers make wines from the different villages.  Hence, separating terroir from the producer’s style is impossible.  Tasting Fontodi’s Chianti Classico from Panzano and Ricasoli’s Chianti Classico from Gaiole raises a legitimate question:  Are the differences between the two wines–and the wines are very different–due to the different terroir of Panzano and Gaiole…or due to the winemaking techniques of the individual producers?  Until the same producer makes wines from different villages, it will be impossible for the usual consumer to identify the unique influence of terroir in Chianti Classico.

The Chianti Classico Consorzio, the Galo Nero or iconic Black Rooster, has proposed a quality pyramid to guide the consumer.  At its base are the normale or annata, as the locals call them.  These wines are generally ready to be consumed upon release.  The next level up is Chianti Classico Riserva.  By regulation, Riservas must be aged an extra year in barrel as compared with the normale.   In practice, the Riserva should be a better wine, sufficiently concentrated and powerful to stand up to an extra year of barrel aging.  Chianti Classico Riservas are generally deeper, more complex wines with more tannic structure that need a few years of bottle age before pulling the cork.  At the pinnacle of the quality pyramid is the newly established category, Gran Selezione.  These wines must be aged for an additional six months compared to the Riservas–30 months overall–and are meant to be the estate’s best Chianti Classico.  Like the Riservas, Gran Selezione need more bottle age to show their grandeur.  In my experience, which echoes Harkey’s, one of the beauties of Chianti Classico Riservas, and presumably the Gran Selezione, though that category is still too young to know for sure, is how beautifully these wines develop with a decade or two of bottle age.

Are Riservas always “better” than the normale Chianti Classico, and do the Gran Selezione always out-distance everything else?  The answer is a resounding no.  The pyramid is broadly helpful, but in my opinion, the best guide to choosing Chianti Classico remains producer, producer, producer.  Find producers whose wines you like and stick with them. Importantly, if you want to drink the wine tonight, then reach for a 2015 or 2016 annata, rather than a Riserva from those years.

Here are a half-dozen Chianti Classico normale from 2015 and 2016 that I enthusiastically recommend:

San Fabiano Calcinaia, Chianti Classico 2016 ($25):  Mouth-cleansing acidity enlivens this long and layered beauty.  Beautifully balanced, nothing is out of place. It’s a delight to drink now.  95

Fontodi, Chianti Classico “Filetta di Lamole” 2016 ($44):  The Filetta vineyard, though only a few miles from Fontodi’s home base near Panzano, produces a very different Chianti Classico because of the extreme elevation of the vineyard.  Lacey and sleek compared to their usual Chianti Classico, the pair clearly demonstrates the importance of terroir because both wines are made entirely from Sangiovese by the same winemaking team.  You can’t go wrong with either.  95

Tenuta di Nozzole, Chianti Classico “Nozzole” 2015 ($22):  Reflecting the ripeness of the vintage, the Nozzole even delivers hints of olives and chocolate.  But its energy is unmistakable.  The tannins are suave, lending support, but not astringency.  A long and succulent wine, it would be a perfect choice for a grilled steak.  94

Fèlsina, Chianti Classico “Berardenga” 2015 ($25):  Castelnuovo Berardenga is the southern-most subzone of the Chianti Classico area and typically is home to the densest and ripest wines.  Even with their location and the character of the 2015 vintage, Fèlsina imbues its Chianti Classico with energy and life that balances its concentrated flavors.  Herbal notes add to its allure.  A robust rendition of Chianti Classico, it nonetheless is bright and lively.  94

Fontodi, Chianti Classico 2016 ($44):  Fontodi, one of the great names in Chianti Classico, is located in the heart of that region, in what’s known as the Conca d’Oro (golden shell) because of the amphitheater-like exposure.  The wine is ripe, yet racy, refreshing and bright.  Its floral component tantalizes, while the deep, dark, bitter cherry-like flavors satisfy.  Ready to enjoy now, this bold, but balanced, wine will develop additional complexity with bottle age, so there’s no rush.  94

Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico 2015 ($20):  This 2015 Chianti Classico is a gracious mix of bright red cherry-like flavors accented by earthy notes.  Mild tannins lend support without intrusion.  Its complexity becomes apparent with successive sips.  This long and bright wine is ideal for current consumption.  93

Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico “Terre di Prenzano” 2016 ($21): Gorgeous aromatics draw you in and the panoply of red fruit and herbal flavors keep you returning for more.  Bright and balanced, this mid-weight wine is a fine accompaniment to a grilled veal chop.  93

Istine, Chianti Classico 2015 ($22): Though packed, Istine’s 2015 is racy and elegant, so there’s not a trace of heaviness.  Still a mid-weight wine, pure and bright cherry-like flavors sing. Its length is impressive.  93

Principe Corsini, Villa Le Corti Chianti Classico “Le Corti” 2016 $24):  Made from organically grown grapes, Principe Corsini’s Chianti Classic are consistently satisfying.  The 2016 is ripe, yet racy with hints of tart cherries and balancing savory nuances.  Classically structured, it’s a delight to drink now.  93 

Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico 2015 ($26):  The always inquisitive Paolo de Marchi consistently makes brilliant wines.  He refuses to make a Chianti Classico Reserva because he feels it would detract either from Cepparello, his spectacular Super Tuscan, or his annata, which probably explains why his Chianti Classico is so good.  His 2015 Chianti Classico, a mid-weight wine, delivers brightness and energy that balances the ripe red fruit notes.  93

Querciabella, Chianti Classico 2016 ($30):  Deep and concentrated, Querciabella’s 2016 is nonetheless, lively and invigorating.  Savory, “not just fruit,” nuances complement and balance the dark cherry-like flavors.  A hint of oak aging works well here.  93

Castello di Radda, Chianti Classico 2015 ($15): Though it shows the ripeness of the vintage, bright acidity lends a gracefulness and amplifies the mixture of cherry-like and savory flavors.  91

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Email me your thoughts about Chianti Classico at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

March 28, 2019

Brunello di Montalcino 2014: Not as Bad as it Sounds

Despite the sour mood in Montalcino caused by the “difficult” 2014 vintage for Brunello (vintages are never poor, they’re just difficult), it is definitely a vintage that consumers should investigate closely because some producers made very good wine.  To be sure, the talk is all gloom and doom regarding the 2014 vintage in Tuscany, including Montalcino.  Even the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino’s rating–self-serving and among the most lenient in the world–awarded the vintage just three out of five stars.  In the last 40 years, only four vintages received a lower rating from them.  Objective evidence of the producers’ unhappiness with the vintage is easy to find.  Biondi-Santi, the most exalted producer in the area, made no 2014 Brunello.  Other leading producers made no “Selezione,” single vineyard, or Riserva bottlings, opting to include those better grapes into the regular bottling.  For example, Col d’Orcia decided against producing Poggio Al Vento Riserva, their flagship Brunello, in 2014.  Similarly, Caparzo did not bottle a Riserva or their famed single-vineyard La Casa.  Donatello Cinelli Colombini, another leading producer, used all the grapes that would have gone into making their Selezione, called “Prime Donna,” or their Riserva, for their normal Brunello, which, by the way, could be the wine of the vintage.

The problem, as is always the case in determining the quality of the wine, is the weather during the growing season.  In short, the growing season in 2014 was cold and rainy.  The ensuing humidity wreaked havoc on the vines, causing widespread rot and disease.  The lack of sun meant that the Sangiovese, the only grape allowed in Brunello di Montalcino, struggled to ripen.

Despite the overall poor rating of the 2014 vintage for Brunello, consumers should be interested in at least some of the wines because, as is always the case with “difficult” vintages, talented producers defy the odds.  Indeed, it’s better to rely on and follow producers than it is to have a blind allegiance to a vintage.

Those who succeeded when many failed followed the standard procedures for rescuing a harvest:  A severe selection and hard work in the vineyard.  Violante Gardini, from Donatella Cinelli Colombini, noted that, “You needed to respect the nature of the vintage.”  She felt that those who failed to adjust the amount of oak aging in response to the lighter wines Mother Nature delivered produced ones that were out of balance.  Gardini stressed that their team of harvesters was careful to discard diseased bunches of grapes and leave them in the vineyard.  To further eliminate less than perfect fruit, the team used a sorting table at the winery to be sure only healthy grapes made it to the fermenting vats.  As a result, Donatella Cinelli Colombini produced only half of their usual production in 2014.

According to Lorenzo Barzanti, assistant export manager for Caparzo, their production was down by only about 15 percent, but they bottled no Riserva or Vigna La Casa, which helps explain why their 2014 Brunello was successful.  Barzanti observed that Caparzo has their 225 acres of vineyards spread over the entire region of Montalcino, the southern portion of which, always drier, escaped some of Mother Nature’s ravages.

Col d’Orcia, one the region’s best producers, made an easy-to-recommend Brunello in 2014 in part because of their location in the southwest sector of the region, where the weather was drier.  Still, they needed to do two passes through the vineyards during harvest, selecting only the healthiest bunches, avoiding ones harmed by the humidity, according to Santiago Marone, whose family owns the property.  Marone noted that many producers, including themselves, declassified what legally could have been bottled as Brunello to Rosso di Montalcino to maintain the quality of the Brunello.  Wine not fit for Rosso was further declassified to table wine or sold off in bulk.

Dottore Maurizio Saettini, who consults for a variety of Montalcino producers, explained that leaf removal and cutting away parts of grape bunches during the summer promoted air circulation among the vines.  He felt that these labor-intensive techniques in the vineyard limited disease and helped those producers who made excellent Brunello in 2014.

The 2014 vintage for Brunello is definitely not a “point and shoot” vintage, like 2010, in which it would be difficult for consumers to find a loser.  The 2014 vintage is what I call a “wine writer’s” vintage, because consumers need to read assessments of the wines from critics or retailers they trust before buying.

It’s a vintage that produced lighter Brunello.  W. Blake Gray, a serious critic from San Francisco, called the wines “dainty,” not an adjective normally associated with Brunello, but a good description of the vintage.  Still, the best wines have the firmness and mineral aspect characteristic of Brunello, just without the tannic structure.  They still convey the lovely austerity of Sangiovese planted in this unique area.  Although the best of the 2014 Brunello are easy to drink and approachable, they are not Rosso di Montalcino because they still have the Brunello core.  They simply lack the usual tannic underpinning.  Some of the wines actually already show a hint of evolution, with a transition from fresh to dried cherry-like flavors.

Although I have a prejudice against high alcohol wines because the elevated alcohol can be a marker for over ripeness and impart a hot finish, I always taste the wines and avoid judging by the numbers.  It may have just been coincidence, but I found that, after tasting the 2014 Brunello last month in Montalcino, my favorites, with rare exceptions, weighed in with a stated alcohol of 13.5 percent, which is low in the current context of climate change.

The recommended 2014 Brunello below are especially well-suited for restaurants because they are approachable and will provide enjoyment over the next several years.  Consumers new to Brunello or those curious about the category should embrace the recommended wines for the same reasons.  They lack the usual substantial tannins and are ready to drink, in most cases by the time these wines will hit retailers’ shelves over the coming year.

A major question is whether the wines will be priced to entice consumers and restaurant owners to give Brunello from an “off” vintage a try.  Of the recommended wines below, I could find only two available at the retail level in the U.S.  Both are priced at, or above prices for previous vintages, according to wine-searcher.com, which may present a problem in the marketplace.

Although your personal preferences may be for bigger wines from other vintages, I found wines from the year that I can recommend with strong enthusiasm based on my own critical criteria

Highly Recommended 2014 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG:

Donatella Cinelli Colombini:  Gorgeous, plush Brunello flavors without hard tannins.  Good introduction to the beauty of Brunello.  A candidate for wine of the vintage (94).

Gianni Brunelli:  A balance of fruit and minerals.  Firm, not hard, and fresh.  Charming and restrained ($65, 93).  They always succeed!

Mastrojanni:  Lovely balance, delicacy and elegance.  Forward yet firm, with a core that reminds you it’s Brunello (93).

Caparzo:  Floral, mineral-y and refined.  Firm, not hard tannins. Fresh, lively finish (93).

Col d’Orcia:  Delicate, restrained, but no question it’s Brunello–the core speaks.  Long, clean and refined (92).

Tenute Silvio Nardi:  Still restrained and balanced despite the 14 percent stated-alcohol. Brunello firmness and core, but floral and delicate.  Lovely (92).

Campogiovanni:  Good concentration and structure.  Engaging sweet/bitter finish.  Balanced! (92).

La Fornace:  Great floral, fruity engaging nose that sucks you in.  Ripe and clean with lovely balance and structure.  Nearly ready.  Brunello firmness and minerality without aggressive tannins (92).

Villa I Cipressi:  Minerals and fruit combined.  Firm structure, not hard or tannic.  Drink now.  Brunello without harsh tannin.  Long and fresh (92).

Franco Pacenti “Canalicchio:”  Long and fresh showing hints of maturity already.  Refined and approachable (91).

Castiglion del Bosco:  Evolution already in the nose.  Lovely purity and refinement.  Long.  Balanced (91).

Recommended:

Tenuta Le Potazzine Gorelli:  Delicate Brunello mineral nose; hint of dark cherries and minerals; lovely restraint; forward, eminently drinkable now.  Mild tannins.  Balanced; not overdone or overworked ($83, 90).

Tiezzi, “Poggio Cerrino:”  Gorgeous floral, mineral-infused nose; delicate, with firmness of Brunello, but approachable.  Sweet cherry-like fruit and firm minerals.  Drink now. long refreshing finish (90).

Argiano:  Light in concentration, but good character.  Delicate, firm and floral.  Drink now (90).

Bellaria:  Already slightly evolved.  Firm, not hard tannins.  Balanced (90).

Fanti:  Great combination of ripe fruit with firm structure.  Not hard.  Delicate.  Balanced (90).

Fulgini: Charming, but with the firmness of Brunello.  Fruity, minerals, and earth; nicely balanced (90).

Il Marroneto:  More fruit-focused than mineral-y, but still conveys enough dark Brunello quality.  Firm, not hard, tannins.  Lovely now.  Fresh, fruity, fine finish (90).

*         *         *

E-mail me your thoughts about Brunello di Montalcino at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

February 27, 2019

A unique way to learn about sake

By Michael Apstein – Globe correspondent  | February 25, 2019

When I taught the introductory wine course at The Boston Center for Adult Education, I suggested, as “homework,” for the students that they drink one type of wine exclusively for a month. It made no difference which kind of wine — California Chardonnay, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Bordeaux, or Muscadet — they just needed to immerse themselves in it to see the theme and variations. For extra credit they could read about the grapes, the region, critics thoughts about the category in general, or the individual producers. It was homework that the students enjoyed. I also employed that exercise during a recent 18-day visit to Japan with my wife and two adult daughters to learn about sake, a beverage I had always wanted to explore, but never had the in-depth opportunity until now.

Over the two-plus weeks, we drank a broad range of about 30 different sakes. Some were poured from what appeared to be a milk carton, while others came from small jars with pop-tops. Many were poured with great ceremony into cutting-edge designer ceramic ware. I even sampled sake from an open barrel positioned outside a sushi restaurant where patrons were enduring the two-hour wait, unsurprisingly, without complaint. I selected many of the sakes randomly, since the Japanese-only drink menu was incomprehensible to me. Others were recommended by a restaurant staff member, and some were selected because it was the only one offered. (At an upscale Tokyo steakhouse there was a choice among four beers, but only one sake.)

The most important take-away message for me was that the quality level of sake and expense didn’t always provide maximum enjoyment. Still, it is important to understand the broad categories of sake (premium versus regular) and the levels of quality within the premium range, if for no other reason than you can be sure that you will see these terms on labels and on restaurant sake lists in the United States. The more refined sake, made from more highly polished rice, will always be of higher quality and more expensive. But surprisingly, it may not be the one you prefer.

What you drink with ramen or udon noodles is not necessarily the same as with sushi or sashimi, both of which may call for a more delicate or refined sake. But frankly, sake is versatile, so I would not obsess with “food and sake pairing.” All types of sake turn out to be a surprisingly good match for a wide variety of food, from robust ramen dishes to velvety and meaty Wagyu beef. Get The Weekender in your inbox: The Globe’s top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.

Sake in restaurants will be served either from a large (1.8-liter) or standard-size (720-milliliter) bottle poured by the staff into either a fancy or utilitarian ceramic bowl or from a small decanter and then poured by one of the diners into a small glass. Sometimes the server will pour directly into a small glass, invariably filling it to the brim to demonstrate abundance and generosity, but also making it impossible to pick up without spilling it. Sometimes the small glass is seated in a small box which catches the overflow and prevents it from flooding the table. Alternatively, the sake might arrive at the table in a small (180-milliliter) bottle, to be poured directly into the small glass. Though the overall atmosphere of the restaurant — casual or highly refined — determines how the sake is served, one rule prevails regardless of the elegance of the meal. You never pour sake for yourself. When your glass is empty, an alert companion should refill it. So be observant regarding your companions’ glasses. When pouring for a guest, you do not need to fill it to the brim.

Many restaurants or izakaya (what we might call a gastropub) offer sake to be served either warm or chilled. Although warm sake helps take the chill out of the winter, I found it also removed subtle nuances and so preferred to drink it slightly chilled.

Sake and Japanese culture are intertwined and have been so for centuries. Indeed, the Japanese word for alcohol is sake. During important holidays, sake producers (known as brewers) send colorful and elaborately decorated barrels to major shrines and temples.

Sake is a unique alcoholic beverage made from rice. Though sake has some similarities to wine and is sometimes referred to, erroneously, as “rice wine,” it is not wine, even though fermentation generates the alcohol. It also bears no resemblance to vodka — even though rice, like potatoes, is a complex starch — because sake is not distilled. Sake’s alcoholic content varies between 15 percent and 17 percent (30 proof to 34 proof), comparable or only slightly higher than many New World wines.

Like wine, sake has many nuances, levels of quality, and differences based on the quality of the rice, the water, and the talent, dedication, and compulsiveness of the producer or brewer.

The top level, known as premium sake, is defined by the Japanese government and represents only about 25 percent of sake produced. It is the one most commonly found in the United States. Premium sake contains only rice, koji (the mold added to the rice that converts the rice’s starch to sugar so the latter can be fermented by yeast), and sometimes a small amount (less than 10 percent) of distilled alcohol. The remainder, or regular sake, can be made with additives and a large amount of added alcohol. Although I had many regular sakes in Japan — I’m certain the one sitting in the barrel outside that sushi restaurant was in that category — I suggest you stick to the premium category.

Premium sake can be stratified according to how much the rice is purified by “polishing.” The grains of sake rice, of which there are hundreds of different varieties, are typically larger than those of table (eating) rice with more starch in their centers. The outside part of the rice, containing impurities, is removed carefully by a process known as milling or polishing. The koji breaks down the inner kernel of starch, containing fewer impurities, into sugar that the yeast can then ferment to alcohol.

The amount of polishing is critical to the style, quality, and price of the sake. The more external portion of the grain that is removed, the purer and more precise will be the flavor of the sake. Rice that has been polished leaving 70 percent of the kernel can be labeled honjozo. A small amount of alcohol is always added to honjozo sake. Although it sounds like adding alcohol is “cheating” because it dilutes it, in reality, a little added alcohol can make sake more aromatic and drier. From a practical point of view, little honjozo sake is imported into the United States because the US government taxes it at a higher level since it is considered a fortified beverage. Rice that has been polished leaving 60 percent of the kernel is labeled ginjo. When only 50 percent is left, it is labeled daiginjo. The amount of polishing will always be on the label, even if everything else is in Japanese. The lower the number, the higher the quality — and the price — of the sake. But remember, trust your palate because drinking a daiginjo won’t necessarily give you more pleasure than drinking a ginjo. Brewers can opt to add a small amount of alcohol to ginjo and daiginjo sake for stylistic reasons. If brewers add no alcohol to the sake, it will also carry the word junmai on the label — junmai ginjo or junmai daiginjo, for example. Most sake imported into the United States will be junmai because of the added tax burden when even a little alcohol is added.

Another term seen on labels of premium sake is tokubetsu, which literally means special, but has no legal definition. Brewers use it if they have polished the rice more highly — so only 40 percent is left, if they have used special brewing techniques or special rice.

Though I am not recommending particular sake in this article, I do recommend trying several made by the same producer to see and taste for yourself the difference in quality. For example, tasting a ginjo and a daiginjo made by the same brewer (i.e., the same brand) allows you to see the difference polishing the rice to a greater degree makes. In contrast, if you compare a ginjo and daiginjo from different producers, you’ll not know whether the differences you are tasting are related to the amount of polishing or the talent and style of the producer. Similarly, if you can find them, try a junmai ginjo or daiginjo and a non-junmai ginjo or daiginjo made by the same brewer to see how a little added alcohol alters the taste and texture of the sake.

All types of sake turn out to be a surprisingly good match for a wide variety of food, from robust ramen dishes to velvety and meaty Wagyu beef.

An impediment to learning about sake, in contrast to wine, is the obvious one. Most of us will have far fewer opportunities to taste or drink it. And while sake is the obvious beverage when eating at a Japanese restaurant, few Americans frequent them more than a couple of times a month. Sake is an especially fine choice for Japanese food because it complements and cuts through the plethora of flavors — from pickles to grilled fish — that are frequently on the table at the same time. It’s the clear choice for sushi since it goes equally well with robustly flavored uni (sea urchin) as with more delicately flavored hotate (scallop). But, in addition, it works well with Western fare. Glenn Tsunekawa, an American who has lived in Japan for decades, recommends sake as the perfect accompaniment for grilled salmon or grilled tuna as well as a mixture of sautéed vegetables. W. Blake Gray, a San Francisco-based wine writer and sake expert who lived in Japan for years and is married to a Japanese woman, finds it the perfect drink for the sashimi that he and his wife prepare at home. He realizes, of course, that not everyone has access to high-grade raw fish, and notes that they find that it also goes very well with take-out rotisserie chicken.

When first learning about sake, I suggest buying it in as small a bottle as possible so you can try many types. Often, you’ll find sake sold in a 180-milliliter bottle, about 6 ounces, the typical portion for one person, but the range of sake in that size bottle will be limited. You’ll have a broader choice buying the a 720-milliliter bottle — the standard size sold in the United States — which contains enough for a couple to enjoy over two nights. An open bottle of sake will keep its freshness and flavor for up to a week as long as you put the screw cap back on and keep it in the refrigerator.

So, if you want to learn about sake, try my one-wine-a-month exercise.Michael Apstein can be reached at michael.apstein1@gmail.com.

Léoville-Poyferré: Another Super Second?

A vertical tasting of 15 vintages of Château Léoville Poyferré paired with food at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month was proof that this venerable St. Julien property is on the rise. And while Cru Classé Bordeaux is never inexpensive, recent vintages of Léoville Poyferré are well-priced, especially compared to neighboring Château Léoville Las Cases. This is a property whose wines are worth following, not only for their intrinsic worth, but because it is a “super second” selling for less than super seconds’ prices.

One virtue of a vertical tasting is that it allows you to see how the wines develop over time, which, in turn, helps us determine when they are ready to drink, though that also depends to a certain degree on individual taste. For me, the wines from Poyferré, like any of the top Cru Classé, need at least 10 to 15 years to show their glorious complexity and make the transformation from fruitiness to those magical non-fruit (leathery, cedar-y coffee-like, describe-them-as-you-like) flavors. A vertical tasting also allows you to discern changes in style, which, in this case, were easy to see, starting with the 2010 vintage. The disadvantage of a vertical tasting is that some delicious wines, such as the 2002 Poyferré, while delightful on their own, get overshadowed in comparison to others, such as the 2001, which was, itself, overshadowed by the simply glorious 2000 Poyferré.

The takeaway message for me from the tasting was how much more elegant the wines have become, beginning with the 2010. They seem less extracted and therefore convey more finesse. The 2010 Poyferré, which to me was one of the stars of the night, had an impressive elegance along with the opulence for which Poyferré has become known. Far more expressive and refined than the ripe and intense 2009, the 2010 had an exciting sleekness (97 pts; $212*). Several other participants told me they noticed the same change. And subsequently, a winemaker at another prominent property in St. Julien told me he had perceived the same stylistic enhancement after tasting recent vintages of Poyferré.

In the 17th century, the three current Léoville estates–Léoville Las Cases, Léoville Poyferré and Léoville Barton–were one property. Over the years, through revolution, inheritance, and sales, the original estate was divided into the properties as we know them today. Although all three estates were classified as Second Growths in the Médoc Classification of 1855, the market classification as measured by current retail price puts Léoville Las Cases significantly above the other two. According to wine-searcher.com, the average price for the 15 vintages we tasted for Léoville Las Cases was $257 compared to $155 for Léoville Poyferré and $134 for Léoville Barton.

That ranking wasn’t always the case. The 1929 Léoville Poyferré was considered the wine of the vintage, according to Clive Coates, M.W., in his book, Grands Vins: The Finest Château of Bordeaux and Their Wine (University of California Press, 1995). Coates goes on to note that Léoville Poyferré’s wines from the 1920s were superb. Coates is not alone is reporting this either. Fellow British M.W. David Peppercorn, in his classic study Bordeaux (Mitchell Beazley, 2003), writes that “It is interesting to find Morton Shand (a famous early 20th Century English wine writer), always a lover of old wines, still echoing the nineteenth-century view of Poyferré in 1920 in finding Poyferré the best of the Léovilles.” Stephen Brook, a Bordeaux expert, echoes that sentiment in The Complete Bordeaux: The Wines-The Châteaux-The People (Mitchell Beazley 2007), “Poyferré was hugely admired in the 19th century and made classic wines in . . .1928 and 1929.”

The Cuvelier family, who also run a successful wine-merchant business established in 1804, purchased Château Léoville Poyferré and a neighboring St. Julien property, Château Moulin Riche, in 1920. But the transformation of the estate started with the arrival of Didier Cuvelier to manage it and Moulin Riche in 1979. Sara Lecompte Cuvelier, the current General Manager who replaced her cousin, Didier, after he retired in August 2018, summarized Didier’s accomplishments succinctly by saying, “He did everything. He modernized the winery and upgraded the vineyards at both Léoville Poyferré and Moulin Riche.” Cuvelier hired Michel Rolland as a consultant in 1994, which was revolutionary because it represented the first time that Rolland, a renowned Right Bank consultant, would consult on the Left Bank. He continues to consult, visiting several times a year to help decide on the harvest dates and the blend.

Lecompte Cuvelier, who presided over the recent Washington tasting, described the changes Didier made in 2010 that, to me, explained the dramatic difference in style of the wines. They replaced ten 216-hectoliter (hl) vats with 22 smaller (30 to 160 hl) vats, which allows them to vinify the best plots separately. She emphasized that parcel-by-parcel vinification gives them far more control over creating the final blend, deciding which wines will make the cut for the grand vin, which comprises only about half of Léoville Poyferré’s production. These double walled-stainless steel vats also allow them to perform pre-fermentation cold maceration, which allows them to extract flavor without astringent tannins, as well as to control temperature perfectly during fermentation. I believe it’s this precision in vinification, which leads to fine-tuning the blend, that explains the leap in elegance in the wines staring with the 2010 vintage.

The other half of Léoville Poyferré’s production–those less elegant batches–goes into Moulin Riche or into Pavillon de Poyferré, which, starting in 2009, is the true second wine of both properties. Moulin Riche was the second wine of Léoville Poyferré until 2009, by which time the vines Didier had replanted in the 1980s were mature enough to produce fruit worthy of the property and reflective of its terroir. That’s when Didier decided that Moulin Riche could finally stand alone again. It had been classified as a Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel in 1932, but no longer carried that classification since it is vinified at Léoville Poyferré and the regulations for Cru Bourgeois require the wine be vinified at its own château.

Léoville Poyferré’s 145 acres of vineyards sit on gravely well-drained soil near the Gironde River and are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (65%), Merlot (25%), Petit Verdot (8%) and Cabernet Franc (2%). The blend of the grand vin changes every year depending on how the different varieties do during the growing season, but it is always Cabernet Sauvignon dominant (55 to 65%) with Merlot representing 25 to 35%. Poyferré has a relatively large amount of Petit Verdot, which they are replacing with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, according to Lecompte Cuvelier. She explains that Petit Verdot has a very short window for harvest–one day it’s under ripe and two days later it’s over ripe–which makes it a challenge to harvest all of theirs at precisely the right moment. She says they are not planting more Merlot because they find it is getting too ripe as climate change continues to have an impact.

In addition to the 2010 Léoville Poyferré, which Lecompte Cuvelier felt was a “baby wine, with great potential,” there were many other stars shining at the tasting.

The 2015 was opulent, yet precise, elegant, and structured. To me, it was like the 2009 only with better structure (96; $117). If I were buying young Bordeaux to cellar, this would be one of them, especially since Zachy’s in Scarsdale, NY is selling it for $85, according to wine-searcher.com.

From a “forgotten vintage,” since it was eclipsed by the 2015, the 2014 was more delicate. Elegance and purity balanced its plumy profile. Although lighter in style, it still needs years for its complexity to show (90, $81).

Lecompte Cuvelier described the 2012 as a “pleasure vintage, easy to drink while you are waiting for the 2009, 2010, and 2011 to mature.” I found it ripe and forward, perhaps a touch simpler than the others, but only in comparison. It would have shown better by itself rather than in this company (90, $90).

The 2011 was another overlooked vintage, falling after 2009 and 2010, two highly acclaimed ones. The elegance and purity first apparent in the 2010 is equally apparent in the 2011, the first year they used an optical sorting device to select only the very best grapes for the grand vin. I think it will develop beautifully and surprise us all in another decade. (92, $87). This is another one I’d buy for the cellar.

The opulent, almost massive, 2009 (93, $296) will be embraced by those who love that style while the 2008 was more classically framed and still youthful (90, $107). The trio of 2006 (91, $100), 2005 (92, $148) and 2004 (90, $108) were all robust wines, with the 2005 showing the most sleekness. Similar to the 2009, those who look for power will gravitate to this wine. All three need a few more years to show more complexity and finesse.

With lovely acidity and verve to balance its ripeness, the 2003 (92, $182), from a very hot vintage, was a surprise of the night. As noted at the beginning of this article, the 2002 (92, $103), with subtle herbal notes and delicious by itself, was overshadowed in comparison to the superb 2001 (93, $99). Those looking for a mature Bordeaux for tonight, should run out and snap up any remaining 2001 they can find. The expansive-on-the-palate 2000 (96, $235), as marvelous as it is now, still needs a few more years to unfold.

The 1990 (96, $364) showed the importance of vintage. Made at a time when there was little or no parcel-by-parcel vinification and little temperature-control during fermentation, the 1990, from a highly acclaimed vintage, has turned out to be a great wine showing both power and elegance.

Though Lecompte Cuvelier is now fully in charge, she plans no substantial changes to the viticulture, the winemaking or the wine, opting to continue the work her cousin started, always trying to achieve the highest quality possible. This tasting tells me they’re on the right tract and well on their way to regaining their lost status.

*All prices are derived from wine-searcher.com.

E-mail me your thoughts about Bordeaux wines in general or Léoville Poyferré in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter @MichaelApstein

January 30, 2019

It’s not a Gambal…It Works

The newly established Gambal-Work partnership in the Sta. Rita Hills of California has just released their first wines, a pair of exquisitely exciting Chardonnays–some of the best I’ve had from California.  The enterprise draws on Alex Gambal’s 25 years of experience in Burgundy, where he is still making wines under the Alex Gambal label and that of Peter Work, a Dane who has considerable experience with vineyards in the Sta. Rita Hills.  They are joined by Jeff Newton, who has 30 years of experience with the viticulture of Santa Barbara County, and Michael Mayfield, who is in charge of the operation’s finances.

The wines are from two vineyards, Bentrock and Francesca, which lie on the western part of the Sta. Rita Hills appellation.  Although the vineyards are separated by approximately 7 miles, as the crow flies, the wines are far more different than the proximity of the vineyards suggests.  Since the winemaking and grape variety is the same, the differences can be explained only by the different locales of the vineyards.  It is a stunning example of how terroir–the French word for a sense of place–exists and is thriving in California.  Gambal explains that the soils and exposure of the vineyards are, indeed, very different.

The Gambal-Work Francesca Vineyard Chardonnay (95 points, $65) is breath-takingly alive and vibrant. A stone-y mineral quality dominates and enlivens the palate. Pure and linear, the focus is definitely on the mineral aspect, not on the fruitiness of the grape.  It’s a long and refined wine that tingles the palate with each sip.

A chalk-y mineral component in the Bentrock Vineyard Chardonnay (95 points, $65) grabs your attention and nicely offsets the wine’s restrained fruitiness. It’s a touch riper and rounder than their Francesca Vineyard bottling, but all the elements are beautifully integrated in this wine, whose charms explode in the finish.

If forced to make a comparison with Burgundy (and after all, that’s Gambal’s breeding ground), the Francesca bottling speaks of Puligny Montrachet while the Bentrock evokes Chassagne-Montrachet.

For Gambal-Work, vineyard designation is definitely not a marketing tool–it’s the real thing.  Invite friends over and try them side by side.  As of now, the wines are available only at winery or via shipment within California or to Colorado, North Carolina, Washington, D.C. and Wyoming.  They’re worth a search.

Full disclosure, I’m a friend of Gambal and am likely underscoring the wines.
Posted by Michael Apstein on January 11, 2019 at 10:51 AM

The Mother of All Wine Auctions

All hospitals have a Director.  But only one–Les Hospices de Beaune–has a Director of Winemaking.  (As a physician, I am especially interested in seeing that organizational chart.)  The hospital needs a director of winemaking because it owns vineyards–over 150 acres of them, 85 percent of which are classified as Premier and Grand Cru, making it one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy.  It, or rather Ludivine Griveau, the current winemaker and the first woman to hold that position, makes wine from these vineyards every year.  She supervises the 23 vignerons (wine growers) each of whom is responsible for about 6.5-acres of vines. This year she made, and the Hospices sold at auction, 50 different wines (cuvées), 33 reds and 17 whites.  

The auction is unlike any other wine auction, charity or otherwise.  There are no old vintages, no giant bottles, no cases for sale.  And unlike other charity auctions, there are no gourmet dinners with famous chefs, no winemaker dinners, no spectacular vacation retreats on the block.  At the Hospices de Beaune auction, wine from the current vintage, barely three months after harvest, is sold exclusively by the traditional Burgundian wine measure, une pièce, a 228-liter barrel, so it’s not even ready to be bottled, let alone consumed.  In addition to what will eventually be 300 bottles or 25 cases of wine, the winning bidder also gets the barrel.

Although the French government, through its medical system, covers the operating expenses of the Beaune hospital, all capital improvements, such as the just-complete ambulatory center, come from money raised at what the Burgundians themselves call simply “La vente des vins” (the sale of wine).  Most everybody else calls it Les Hospices de Beaune.  (The official name is La Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune.)  By whatever name it’s called, it remains the most important event on the Burgundy wine calendar.  

Thousands of visitors transform the usually sleepy town of Beaune into an overflowing in-the-streets weekend party whose penultimate event is the auction, which takes place on the third Sunday in November.  The final event of the weekend, held on Monday, is the Paulée de Meursault, sometimes referred to as the longest lunch in the world, where more than 1,000 Burgundy enthusiasts–including prominent producers–bring bottles of Burgundy to share generously and liberally with tablemates.

At the recently completed 158th annual auction, a total of 828 barrels (631 of red and 197 of white) were sold during the 7-hour event, raising $16.2 million, an all-time record.  Prices, unsurprisingly since it is Burgundy, were up compared to 2017 and 2016, 19 and 29 percent, respectively, and foretell retail prices when the 2018 wines final arrive on our shores in two years’ time.

The Hospices de Beaune, founded by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, in 1443, has acquired its vineyards over the centuries, staring with its first bequest in 1457 by Guillemette Levenier.  Donors continue to add parcels.  In 2010, William Friedberg, formerly a Boston-based wine importer, donated just over 1.5-acres of a vineyard located in the village of Santenay in honor of his recently deceased wife, Christine.  That wine, like all the wines auctioned at the Hospices de Beaune, is sold as, and will be labeled with, both the appellation and name of the honoree, such as Beaune 1er Cru, Cuvée Nicolas Rolin or Santenay, Cuvée Christine Friedberg.

In the past, the only people allowed to bid at the auction were the important Burgundy wine producers or négociants, such as Maison Joseph Drouhin, Maison Louis Jadot, or Maison Louis Latour.  After acquiring the newly made wine, they would perform the élevage (literally, raising the wine) by completing the winemaking and offering it for sale via the usual commercial channels.  In 2005, to expand the reach of the auction, the Hospices de Beaune partnered with Christie’s, the prestigious London-based auction house.  Christie’s encourages ordinary consumers to bid by introducing Christie’s Live™, on-line real-time bidding by anyone via a computer, and now, a smartphone, anywhere in the world.  They also reduced the size of each lot to a single barrel to make it easier for consumers to buy.  

Christie’s involvement has clearly worked.  This year about 70 percent of the barrels went to traditional Beaune-based négociants, while the remained were snapped up by private buyers, with Asians accounting for 55 percent by value.  Private buyers from the U.S. accounted for only about 7 percent of the purchases, while Europeans accounted for the rest, according to Christie’s.

Although now open to the public, the auction still poses hurdles for the ordinary consumer.  Off-site bidders have no opportunity to taste the wines before the auction so are forced to bid solely on the reputation of the cuvée and the vintage.  The winning bidder must arrange for and pay a négociant to perform the élevage.  “Christie’s will be delighted to advise you if you are not already in contact with a local négociant,” according to the auction catalogue.  But it might be difficult to convince a négociant to raise a single barrel (those in the trade typically buy multiple barrels of the same wine), especially a wine they didn’t think enough of to bid on themselves.  After all, the name of the négociant still appears on the label along with the buyer.

The role of the négociant performing the élevage is critical.   Since the négociants buy the wine in barrel, which by tradition has always been made of new French oak, they must decide whether and when to transfer (rack) the wine into older oak barrels.  (Over the last several years, the Hospices has experimented by fermenting and selling several of the cuvées in one-year old oak barrels, but the practice remains selling the wine in new oak barrels).  Négociants must make other winemaking decisions to achieve the style of wine they want, including how long to age the wine in barrel, whether and how to control the malolactic transformation and whether to fine and filter the wine prior to bottling.  Indeed, the same wine, made by Ludivine Griveau, a barrel of which is sold to two different négociants, will taste entirely different once bottled, ultimately reflecting the style and talent of the négociant as well as the vintage.

Despite these hurdles, there are more and more individuals who want to see their name on the Hospices de Beaune label and will continue to drive up the prices.  Those interested in buying wines next year should contact Christie’s (bbueninck@christies.com) for details and instructions.

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January 2, 2019