Archived entries for General Wine Info

History, Heritage, Honor and Hard Work: A Conversation with Murrieta’s Well Winery

The latest Snooth tasting focused on the Livermore Valley, a pivotal region in shaping California’s wine industry back in the 1880s when it received America’s first international gold medal for wine in 1889 at the Paris Exposition.  Livermore Valley wineries were the first to label Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Petite Sirah and approximately 80 percent of California’s Chardonnay vines trace roots back to a Livermore valley clone.

It was great to taste with one of the iconic wineries from the region, Murrieta’s Well, which is affiliated with pioneer winemaker, C.H. Wente, who bought the vineyard from the original owner, Louis Mel in 1933.  Snooth’s Chief Taster Mark Angelillo and Murrieta’s Well’s Winemaker Robbie Meyer took us through a portfolio of six diverse wines.

Murrieta’s Well is one of California’s original wineries and has been growing grapes since the vineyard was first planted with cuttings from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux vineyards.  Talk about some aristocratic rootstalk.

The 500-acre vineyard features three different soil types, a range of elevations and microclimates and produces 21 different varietals.  Mark stated, “you can cherry pick based on the different characteristics and terroir to blend diverse and exceptional wines.”

Murrieta’s Well focuses on terroir-driven, limited production wine blends and the original gravity flow winery is the site of the tasting room today.  In 1990, Philip Wente and Sergio Traverso renamed the winery and wine label, Murrieta’s Well.  The name pays homage to Joaquin Murrieta, a gold rush bandit, who discovered the estate in the 1800s.

Murrieta’s Well focuses on all estate, small-batch and small lot wines.  Michael talked about “the art of blending based on the best of the vintage.”  He spoke about being able to make the best blend that ties in with the best aromatics.  This happens by farming each acre by hand because it is unique.

We tried the following line-up:

2015 Murrieta’s Well The Whip – was first released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a white Bordeaux blend.   I tasted melon, peach and floral notes.

2014 Murrieta’s Well The Spur – this wine was also released in honor of the winery’s 20th anniversary in 2010 and is a red Bordeaux blend.  I tasted vanilla, tobacco, cranberry, spice and blue fruit.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Dry Rose – I tasted notes of strawberry, watermelon, berry and floral notes.

2016 Murrieta’s Well Muscat Canelli – this wine had a burst of citrus followed by white stone fruit and flowers.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Cabernet Franc – notes of both red and black fruit, herbs, spice, vanilla and toast.

2014 Murrieta’s Well Merlot – notes of mocha, cassis, red fruit, vanilla and blue fruit.

To follow along with the tasting, click here.

Murrieta’s Well is a winery with a place in history that is working grape by grape to make sure it has a legacy that continues into the next century.


Pedroncelli Celebrates 90 Years: A Legacy of Farming, Fun and Flagships

Ninety years ago, it all started with a goal of three pillars – farming, fun and flagships – with flagships being the Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon wines Pedroncelli is known for producing.  That was recently reinforced on a Twitter virtual tasting.  However, I think one additional pillar needs to be added to the mix – and that is family.

This has been a family business since 1927 when Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli Sr. purchased a vineyard and shuttered winery in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley.  In the beginning, due to Prohibition, they had to sell grapes to home winemakers to stay afloat.  There’s some heritage here.  The Pedroncelli family was the first to put Sonoma County on a wine label when the area was designated in the late 1940s.  The name Pedroncelli is Italian for Summer.

The family has been making wine since 1934, starting with bulk wines and evolving into the legacy wines that continue to get great wine scores from the critics.  Now, the fourth generation of family members continue the family legacy.  With the expansion of the generations, came the decision to expand varietals, replant the vineyards and now the winery has 70 percent female ownership.  And, that’s a trend that I love to see.

The Pedroncelli’s farm more than 100 acres of vineyards in Dry Creek and source grapes from those who have the same farming vision.  We (okay, my husband since I don’t cook) were asked to create the family’s special recipe for Feta and Kalamata Chicken and were given a gift card to cover the cost of the ingredients.  I loved the recipe and as someone that is the last to order a big beef dish on a menu, it was a nice change of pace for a wine pairing.

We tasted three wines, which were fantastic, and I got a glimpse prior to my invitation to the big 90th celebration blowout in July in Sonoma (watch for #Ped90th).

2016 Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc – notes of Meyer lemon, lychee and a nice minerality made this a crowd favorite and a great match with the chicken.

2016 Pedroncelli Rosé of Zinfandel – notes of candied violets and just plucked off the vine berries.  So refreshing.

2015 Pedroncelli Sangiovese – notes of cherry, cranberry, pepper and spice made this incredibly drinkable and food friendly wine disappear quickly.

Ninety years — nine decades strong in a tough business.  The pillars remain true and the family remains focused on tradition, heritage and making amazing wines that reflect a sense of place.  So, looking forward to my celebration at Pedroncelli in late July and I plan to be wearing this amazing hat.


More than Malbec in Mendoza – My #winestudio Journey With Achaval-Ferrer

Courtesy of Achaval-Ferrer

In May (yes, I know I’m behind on many great wines I’ve tasted since Vinitaly), the #winestudio folks brought together a three week virtual journey with Achaval-Ferrer from Mendoza.  There is a misnomer that Malbec is all that comes out of Mendoza, and the Malbec from this vineyard is fabulous, but this journey was about Bordeaux-style wines from the region.  Yes, you heard me right – Bordeaux style wines from Mendoza.  For the record, Torrontes, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon as well as Malbec and the aforementioned Bordeaux blends are definitely a force in Argentinian wines of today.

Courtesy of Achaval-Ferrer

Gustavo Rearte, the winemaker at Achaval-Ferrer, led us through a history of the winery, its exploration into Bordeaux varietals including a Cabernet Sauvignon and an out-of-this-world first vintage, Cabernet Franc.  Then we got to put our blind tasting skills to use as we received two bottles of different vintages of Quimera, a meritage with Malbec as the lead grape.  Due to my work travel, I missed one session, so my notes are a reflection of research and the Twitter feed for that particular session.

First a little about Achaval-Ferrer.  Achaval-Ferrer started in 1998 when a group of Italian and Argentine friends brought teamed up to fulfill their dream of making Argentian wine a force in wine culture.  These guys set out on a mission not only to modernize the Argentian wine making process, but also starting work on the image of these wines.  Even though Argentina has fantastic high altitude vineyards, amazing terrior, ideal weather conditions and established vineyards, the recognition for these wines has been pretty recent.

According to the website, the main pillars of production at Achaval-Ferrer focus on the smallest necessary intervention between the earth and what becomes a glass of wine.  Ancient plants that are historical monuments of vine-growing, of extremely low performance, located on hills that are excellently exposed to the sun on the edges of the Tupungato and Mendoza rivers, and of course, privileged natural sites that lead to the most pure and honest of messages that the earth can give to us.  I loved this quote, which was front and center, “When it comes time to describe the cellar´s seal, the analogy of an island between the Old and New Worlds come to mind.”

Achaval-Ferrer uses ungrafted vines, aggressively manages the yields of the vineyard and does not intervene by using sulfites, enzymes or filtration.

We tried several wines over the three-week period – two that were tasted blindly using the WSET Level 3 Wine-Lexicon and tasting sheets.

2015 Achaval- Ferrer Mendoza Malbec  

The grapes were sourced from three distinct parcels within Mendoza. I got notes of violet, blackberry, spice, cherry and lots of herbs.

2015 Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon  

This wine was first produced in 2012.  It was elegant with cassis, currant, red and black fruit, floral, spice and cedar.


2015 Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Cabernet Franc  

This was the inaugural vintage for Achaval-Ferrer’s varietal Cabernet Franc and was absolutely a crowd favorite.  Lots of fig, blackberry, cherry, tar and green pepper (in and good way) and you could tell the volcanic ash of the vineyard made an impact.  In fact, Morton’s quickly snapped up most of the bottles of this fabulous wine, which is only 1,000 cases total.  These grapes grow in the Tupungato zone of Mendoza’s Uco Valley, with higher elevations and cooler climates. Definitely a wine that is meant to age.

Blind Tasting on World Malbec Day

Two packages came completely well wrapped (no peeking allowed) and we used the WSET Level 3 Wine-Lexicon and tasting sheets.  We only knew we had two vintages of Quimera, the Bordeaux blend wine, for 2012 and 2013, one wrapped in triangle packaging and one wrapped in striped packaging.

I guessed correctly on my blind tasting.  The triangle paper packaging was the 2012 vintage.  I tasted blackberry, cherry, spice and a bit of blueberry pie.  There was so greenness in this wine, but I think its evolution is going to be more interesting.

The striped packaging of the 2013 version was softer with vanilla, cherry, raspberry, licorice, pencil lead and herbal notes.  This was more drinkable than the other immediately, but I preferred the 2012 on day two and beyond.

This was an awesome Argentinian exploration and learning for me.  Bordeaux blends from Argentina are currently having their day and will only continue to get better for the taste, quality and value that they yield today.


Snooth Rías Baixas: A Region Exploration of Warm Weather Wines

In May, the weather in Dallas had decidedly turned toward late Spring/early Summer temperatures and I embarked on my annual journey to find the perfect patio wine.  Snooth invited a group of bloggers to gather for a Rías Baixas Virtual tasting where I (and a few lucky neighbors) had the chance to explore the diversity of Albariño, a distinctive white wine from Spain from the Rías Baixas region.

Local legend says that God left traces of his fingers when he rested in Galicia.  Those traces became Rías Baixas, which is Galician for “Lower Rias.”

Rías Baixas is well known for the Albariño grape.  Located in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain, the DO was formally established in 1988.  Throw in coastal temperatures, diverse rainy weather, lots of minerality and you’ll find what is amazing about these wines.  Think high acidity, granite mixed with mineral soils, stone fruit and almond flavors and wines that I assumed would have lots of the same characteristics, but they displayed very different flavors.  We learned that these wines are made in five different sub-areas.

Advanced Sommelier Jill Zimorski led us through the tasting.  You can go back and watch the recording of our discussion at http://www.snooth.com/virtual-tasting/video/rias-baixas.

Our line-up was as follows:

2015 Abadia de San Campio Albariño

2015 Bodegas Altos de Torona Albariño

2014 Condes de Albarei Albariño

2014 Martin Codax Albariño

2015 Pazo de Señorans Albariño

2014 Pazo San Mauro Albariño

2015 Señorio de Rubios Albariño

2015 Santiago Ruiz Albariño

2015 Adegas Valmiñor Albariño

2014 Bodegas Vionta Albariño

These were all perfectly suited for Dallas patio drinking, but as I explored the ten wines, some were much more nuanced than others.  The differences and diversity surprised me – making it another opportunity to learn about a region I thought I had understood.  I tasted these over a period of three days and found that I was consistent with the ones that topped my list.  Here are my favorites:

2015 Abadia de San Campio Albariño – this was crisp and mineral with notes of citrus, green apple and a touch of banana and peach.  Over three days, this wine changed with different fruit being dominant and was a great representation of the grape.

2015 Pazo de Señorans Albariño – This was compared by some in the tasting as having Viognier qualities.  It evolved into a much more nuanced wine over the days.  I tasted tropical fruit, lime, minerality and some floral notes.

2014 Pazo San Mauro Albariño – This wine as continued to become lusher as days passed.  Lots of flowers, citrus and notes of white peach.  I also tasted banana, jack fruit, white pepper and stone fruit.

2015 Señorio de Rubios Albariño — I tasted stone fruit, citrus, white peach, almost a nuttiness and a touch of banana.  I kept coming back to this wine as it was refreshing and made me want more.

2015 Santiago Ruiz Albariño – This wine is made with a combination of the five grape varieties nature of the region.  I loved the minerality of this wine but there was a great deal of character of white flowers, herbal notes and lots of fruit – stone fruit, bananas and tropical fruits.

Today more than 99% of all wine produced in Rías Baixas is white.  It was fun to experience the differences in microclimates, terroir and grape varieties in the five sub-zones.  If you are looking for a great and well-priced wine for the Summer, look no further than Albariño from Rías Baixas.


Marie-Christine Osselin Reflects on Moët & Chandon’s Grape to Glass Quality

Marie-Christine Osselin

When Marie-Christine Osselin looks at a glass (not champagne flute, mind you) of Moët & Chandon, she thinks about the multitude of steps it took to get from the grower to harvest to the wine making process to the bottle. Marie is the Wine Quality Manager for Moët & Chandon and has the daunting job of making sure what ends up in your glass.  Just one vineyard, for example, involves an effort of 1,500 acres of vineyards, 450 growers, a slew workers under the cellar master’s guidance, cutting-edge technology and a constant fight against nature and oxidation.  And these are big stakes as Moët & Chandon currently has 20 percent of the champagne market with an eye on the number one slot.

The company, which is a French champagne house is also co-owner of Louis Vuitton.  Moët & Chandon has set up its operating model over its 2,800 acres of vineyards where it can select from a wide range of grapes and select the best blends for each champagne.  Marie used terms like “freshness, fruitiness, seductive and sustainable.”  In fact, Moët & Chandon has been making champagne since 1743 and is committed to preserving the land but always using innovation to improve product quality.

That is why Marie had on her other hat – explaining champagne around the world by scheduling technical tastings for the trade in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and New York.  This was her first trip to the US, with a task to evangelize the spirit of fine craftsmanship that is synonymous with the brand.  But her other reason was much more important – Moët & Chandon wants to completely understand the US marketplace as it introduces its array of products to meet the palate of the marketplace.

We started off our Monday morning (technically could have been brunch time) with several champagnes.  The blends vary but the three grapes remain the same – pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Our first was the Moët & Chandon Rose Imperial, a very approachable, lovely wine produced for consumers to enjoy every day.  The wine is a very intense color due to the thermos vinification process.  The wines are aged for 24 months.  I tasted lots of red fruit, floral notes with a little spice.   Marie described it as “an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time, but can instantly pick up with and have the same pleasure and enjoyment.”

We moved to the 2008 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rose described as the “act of freedom of the chef de cave.”  The vintage must express an exceptional year and the chef decides the vintage based on his assessment of what was best for the harvest.  The wine will never be replicable and will always be unique. These wines become part of the Maison’s Grand Vintage Collection, a library of wines that date back to 1842.

So how does one react to a blend of 100 different wines in one glass?  Just savor and enjoy this amazing composition of flavors in your glass.  Mature red fruits, citrus, almonds, a tinge of earthiness and floral notes.   This wine is completely meant to be aged.

Then we moved to the Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperial, a champagne that is the leading seller in the U.S., and is much sweeter than its two counterparts.  I tasted red berry, cream and a bit of raspberry jam.  I understand why it is doing well here, but at that point, the 2008 had captivated my attention.

And back to the champagne flute.  I had to ask why Moët & Chandon was usurping the flute for the white wine glass. Marie answered that there is no way to truly taste the nuances – especially of aged wine in a champagne glass.  I completely concur.


Two Years Later: A Catch Up with Peter Mondavi Jr from Charles Krug

Peter Mondavi Junior, Charles Krug Co-Proprietor

Over two years ago, I had the chance to sit down with Peter Mondavi Junior, the co-proprietor of Charles Krug.  Our conversation focused on family, history, heritage, sustainability, good wine and hard work.  We talked about the strides that his father, Peter Mondavi Senior, and his innovations at Charles Krug ranging from vintage dating varietal wines, cold fermentation of white wines and fermentation in French oak barrels, and many more.

Last month while Peter was en route to the Austin Food and Wine Festival, we had the chance to sit down and visit again.

A lot has changed in two years.  Peter Mondavi Senior passed away the end of last year, but in talking with his son, his legacy will continue.  “All of Peter’s siblings lived until the 90’s and he lived until he was in his 100’s,” Peter said.  “Mark and I have worked underneath him for decades.  He taught us to be meticulous.  We will continue to carry on his philosophy and our foundation as we move the winery forward.”

Charles Krug is the oldest winery in Napa Valley and was founded in 1861 by Prussian immigrant Charles Krug.  Since 1943, and over four generations, the winery has been overseen by the Peter Mondavi Senior family.

Since the subject of women and wine and the lack of parity has been such a prevalent subject with the women winemakers I have talked to lately, I asked him about the opportunity for women and wine.  He talked about Stacy Clark, Charles Krug’s winemaker, and how he wanted to hire the best winemaker, who happened to be a women winemaker.  “It was all about carrying on the Peter Mondavi Family vision, but giving a talented winemaker the leeway needed to make great wines while still keeping alive the essence of the vineyards.”

He gave me an overview of the success of the hospitality center that was just opening during our last conversation.  The center was the final element of a $9.5 million restoration and beautification of the Redwood Cellar Building designed by noted architect Howard Backen.  It was named after the winery’s matriarch, Rosa Mondavi, and launched to celebrate Peter Senior’s 100th birthday.   They are working on putting together a culinary program as the next step as well as a vertical program to bring the extensive wine library to consumers.

There has also been an evolution in narrowing the portfolio to focus on the single vineyard, upscale, estate wines from eight vineyards over 850 acres located in St. Helena, Howell Mountain, Yountville and Carneros.

We tried several wines and Peter was still as passionate as ever in describing them and the stories associated with each one.  Each of these was delicious, but the Howell Mountain Cabernet is off the charts.

2015 Charles Krug Chardonnay – had an old-world style full of lots of citrus, tropical fruit and minerality.  This is the only wine made from non-estate vineyards from Los Carneros since they are replanting the chardonnay vineyards.

2013 Charles Krug Generations – this wine was designed to celebrate four generations of the Mondavi family.  Peter described it as a wine with “one foot in France, one foot in California.”  It was balanced with lots of licorice, anise, blueberry, blackberry and spice.   The first vintage of this was in 1991 and came about when Duckhorn had extra grapes that Mark used as an experiment when Mondavi Senior was on a sales trip.  It was their first Bordeaux blend and has evolved ever since.

2014 Charles Krug Vintage Selection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – lots of black fruit, red fruit, mocha and cassis flavors.

2013 Charles Krug Family Reserve Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this was the third vintage of this wine and I loved the cranberry, cassis, spice, chocolate and black fruit.

The winery has a quote that seems to still bear true from its founder, Cesare Mondavi – “Treat the land with respect, and it will show in the wine.”  It is clear the tradition, heritage and commitment to family are still important tenants at Charles Krug Winery.


An Oregon State of Mind with Jackson Family Winemakers and Julia Jackson

Photo Credit: Susie Drinks Dallas

Jackson Family Wines came through Dallas this month with its Oregon:  A State of Mind – The Rocks, the People and the Vines tour.  The event featured Gilian Handelman, a wine educator and moderator, as well as Winemakers Eugenia Keegan from Gran Moraine; Erik Kramer from WillaKenzie Estate; Craig McAllister from La Crema Winery; Lynn Penner-Ash from Penner-Ash; Tony Rynders from Zena Crown and Ryan Zepaltas from Siduri as well as Julia Jackson, a proprietor of Jackson Family Wines.

For the multitude of folks that filled my social feeds when Jackson Family Wines announced its aggressive push of acquiring Oregon wineries, take heed that in the words of the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime Song, “things are the same as it ever was.”  One of my favorite quotes during that time was a friend who said, “I feel like Jackson Family came to my house, peered into my cellar and acquired every boutique Oregon Pinot Noir that I have stored.”  However, like many larger company acquisitions where these become part of a bigger portfolio and cost cutting and consolidation occur, this does not seem to be the case.  Julia talked about the autonomy the wineries have and how they speak for themselves, but they now have the deeper pockets of Jackson Family.

The diversity of the winemakers was as evident as the diverse Oregon terroir. You had old school pioneers who saw the vision of Oregon years ago to those who came from places like Napa because they wanted the camaraderie and spirit of helping grow the region, working closely with other winemakers and making the best wine possible that reflects a sense of place.

Photo Credit: Susie Drinks Dallas

Just hearing the winemakers talk, it is evident that they thrive on the dirt and its characteristics.  Gillian Handelman said, “that this panel is not afraid to lick a rock or two…”  And she wasn’t kidding.  Oregon wine country is formed by a few influences — the ocean that once covered the region which is now considered the Coastal Range, the volcano that erupted and formed the Cascade Mountains and the aftermath of the Missoula Floods that occurred around the last ice age.  Approximately 75 percent of the grapes are in Willamette (it’s said like dammit) Valley.

Photo Credit: Susie Drinks Dallas

The winemakers talked about the vintage-to-vintage variations and the farmer first “all in” mentality that exists in Oregon.  I loved Lynn Penner Ash’s encapsulation of being a winemaker in Oregon, “I do it all.  I make wine, I fix the toilet.  It’s the reality of making wine in Oregon.” These are the folks that don’t just attend winemaker dinners and press the flesh.  These guys roll up their sleeves and do the work.

Naturally Pinot Noir was a focus of the conversation as that is such a focus of Oregon Wines – and the discussion was about place and restraint in letting the grapes express themselves naturally.  Erik Kramer from WillaKenzie Estate summed it up – “When I first had an Oregon Strawberry, that taught me what fresh strawberries should taste like.  I’ve carried that through in my winemaking.”  Of course, there was a “Send in the Clones” discussion since there has been such an evolution in climate, clones and the evolution of wines being produced today vs 30 years ago.  Eugenia Keegan from Gran Moraine underscored that the site is imperatively more important than the clones.  Tony Rynders from Zena Crown jokingly mentioned that the only thing separating terror from terroir is an “i.”

Julia Jackson, Jackson Family Wines

Julia talked about how her dad, Jess, talked about how mountains, hillsides, benches and ridges were the key to making great wines and this holds true in Oregon.  We also had a chance to sample through the wines from the different AVAs – Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Eola-Amity Hills and the Chehalem Mountains areas.  The diversity of the wines was pronounced and it was clear the terroir, the AVA and the winemaking style played a big role.

I also had a chance to spend some one-on-one time after the tasting with Julia and she talked about the influence her mom, Barbara Banke, today’s Chairman of Jackson Family Wine, had on her.  The theme of male domination in the wine industry is still alive and well, but Barbara has always marched to her own beat, investing in Oregon and other countries outside of the US like Chile, South Africa, France, Italy and Australia while breaking stereotypes along the way.

Julia said, “Our families mission is to invest in quality.  We are privately held and have no shareholders.”  Jackson Family Wines owns 44 wineries and produces a total of five million cases.  But the important thing to note is that this is a family that immerses itself in the wine business.  There are not figureheads and task masters.  When a winery enters the Jackson Family, it truly becomes an extension of that family.  And, that is why I must address my friends who feel any trepidation that the wines in their cellars are going to change.  That will only happen if the winemakers in charge choose to make that decision or nature charts a new course.


Vinitaly: A Glimpse of Verona, Varietals, Vineyards and Vinology

How do you create stories about an event where more than 4,000 wineries were present, each serving an average of 6 to 10 wines over a three-day period?  Some you plan, some you experience, some are pre-arranged … and some stories are just meant to be told.  The ITA had several pre-arranged tastings – some were fantastic and I walked away with an understanding of the region and the wines offered.  One was challenging … a neighboring booth had its sound system going and only one wine was poured to the lucky folks that stayed behind to hear more.

Here’s the recap on the tastings:

Our first tasting was with the Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Irpinia, an association of growers and producers from a place known for its terroir and diverse microclimates including volcanic soil.  Irpinia is known for bringing back grapes on the edge of extinction like Aglianico (we got to taste in the Nativ Blu Onice), Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe and Falanghina.  Wineries represented included Greco di Tuto, Nativ, La Molara, Tenuta Cavalier Pepe, De Lisio and Manimurci Zagreo.

Our second tasting was with the Consorzio Alto Adige, a consortium of 155 members made up of cooperative wineries, estate wineries and independent grape growers who cultivate more than 99 percent of this DOC.  This is a small wine growing region with about twenty different grapes grown on 5,300 hectares.  Approximately 60 percent of the region is dedicated to white wines made up of Pinot Grigio, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner, Riesling, and Veltliner.  Reds are focused on Schiava and Lagrein primarily but Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc also are grown.

We tried some really interesting, diverse and tasty wines including a sparkling (Arunda Metodo Classico Brut) and some classic whites (Muri-Gries Wine Estate/Monastery Cellar 2016 Pinot Bianco, Cantina Kurtatsch 2015 Pinot Grigio Penoner, 2015 Manincor Terlan Sauvignon Tannenberg, 2015 Castelfeder Gewürztraminer Vom Lehm) and a delicious red, the 2014 Hans Rottensteiner Lagrein Grieser Riserva Select.  This was one of my top region discoveries and I loved the diversity, the German and Austrian influences and the wines were fabulous.

 

 

Our third tasting was hosted by the Associazione Puglia in Rose.  The association is focused on promoting the regional wine industry including rosé from Apulia, the easternmost region of Italy surrounded by water – the Adriatic Sea in the east and north, and by the Ionian Sea in the south.   The climate is Mediterranean in nature with variances in the Summer and Winter.  We tried a white wine, several roses and reds from Cantine Teanum, Cantina La Marchesa and Tenuta Zicari. I kept coming back to the Cantine Teanum ‘Alta’ Falanghina white with its notes of tropical fruit, green apple and a nice minerality.  I also enjoyed the primitivo reds with lots of black fruit that were easy to drink.

 

Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin

Our fourth tasting was focused on the delicious wines of Piedmont with the Associazione Nuovo Radici.  The region has 58 DOC and DOCG zones, is the sixth largest producer in volume and has the highest percentage of Italian classified wines. And wow – these were stunners.  Piedmont is known for its variety of wines from Asti Spumante to Barbera to the swoon worthy wines made with Nebbiolo like Barolo and Barbaresco as well as Gattinara, Gemme and Roero.  What struck me was the approachability of these wines, which traditionally need time to age and open.

We tasted wines from Cantino del Pino, Comm. G.B. Burlotto, Cascina Bongiovanni, Villa Giada and Cascina Luisin.  I was so happy I had the chance to talk and taste with Renato Vezza, the winemaker at Cascina Luisin.  There are so many gems to discover at this winery with a focus on Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Arneis grapes.

Our final tasting was by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Colli Berici E Vicenza, an organization bringing together the 34 wineries of the region.  The Colli Berici refers to the hills between the cities of Vicenza and Padua.  The area is known for its clay, volcanic and limestone soils with varying degrees of rain through the region.

 

We tried five wines from the Colli Berici region – the 2016 Collis Decanto Sauvignon Colli Berici, the 2015 Pegoraro Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2015 Vitevis Tai Rosso Colli Berici, the 2013 Piovene Porto Godi Tai Rosso Thovara Colli Berici and the 2013 Gianne Tessari Pianalto Rosso Colli Berici.  And then we got to try some local delicacies, which were amazing.

I tasted hundreds of wines and had a few sit-down meetings with some wine folks that I wanted to highlight.

La Salette – Rossella Scamperie

My college friend who now resides in Veneto saw on Facebook that I was going to be attending Vinitaly.  He reached out to give me a recommendation on his favorite winery and introduced me to Rossella Scamperle, a member of the winery family and his Italian language teacher.

Me and Rossella Scamperle

La Salette was built as a sanctuary and tribute to the Madonna when she freed the vineyards from phylloxera.  The sanctuary is a church that overlooks the hills and vineyards.  One of those vineyards is owned by the Scamperle family, a historical winemaking family of Valpolicella who have the same name as the church.  For the past four generations, La Salette has been dedicated to producing classic Valpolicella and has 49 dedicated wine growing acres for grapes like Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, Oseleta and a little bit of Molinara, and Croatina.

We went through the portfolio of Valpolicella from the entry wines that were fresh and easy to drink to the reserve Valpolicella, Vernose and Amarone wines, that were nuanced and delicious.

Consorzio Tutela Roero

My friend Constance Chamberlain, the CEO of Wine & Co, asked me to a tasting of Roero, another new region to me.  Roero is north of Alba (Piedmont), on the left bank of the River Tanaro, between the plain of Carmagnola and the low hills of Astigiano.  It used to be part of the Goldo Padano, a sea that dates back 130 million years.  The terroir is known for its sandy soils, limestone, clay, fossil rock and sedimentary materials from the old sea.  The Roero hills are very dry in nature and get the least amount of rain in all of Piedmont.

The area is known for arneis and nebbiolo grapes.  The designation “Roero” is for red wines made from at least 95 percent nebbiolo grapes.  In most cases, Roero DOCG is 100 percent nebbiolo.  Roero Arneis is a term for white wines that are made from 95 percent arneis grapes and those that are designated Roero Arneis DOCG contain 100 percent arneis.  Other Roero DOCG wines include Roero Riserva and Roero Arneis Spumante.

Francesco Monchiero, President of the Roero Consortia and of Monchiero Carbone

I had the chance to talk to the President of the Roero Consorzio, Francesco Monchiero of Monchiero Carbone, one of the biggest and oldest estates in Roero.  It seems like this region is all about family and people that have worked together for generations.   Monchiero Carbone is in Canale, and was established in the 90’s to reunite two families with winemaking ties back to 1918.  Today, Francesco and his wife, Lucrezia, focus on Arneis. When I asked him about the phrase, “Ogni uss a l’ha so tanbuss” and the crest on every bottle, he responded that it stood for “Every door has its knocker.”  He added, “if you knock on our door, you’ll find our style of wines.”

 

We tasted a variety of red and white wines and I learned that Arneis can age like Riesling.  These are very drinkable, approachable and fresh wines that can be opened today, but some of them should have “riserva” status as they were more nuanced and elegant.  One sidenote: the Arneis Reserve classification will come into effect in 2017 and requires 16 months of aging prior to bottling.

We tried Roero wines from Giovani Armando, Monchiero Carbone, Marco Porello, Azienda Agricola Malvirà, Cornarea, Careglio, Matteo Correggla, Montriggio, Nino Costa, Azienda Agricola Cascina Ca’Rossa and Deltetto.

Ruche: Luca Ferraris

Luca Ferraris of Roche Ferrari Winery

Luca Ferraris from Roche Ferrari Winery is the second largest ruche producer – a varietal that I had never heard of.  When Joe Roberts asked me if I wanted to completely “geek out over a region,” the answer was absolutely.  He took me to meet Luca, whose family has been involved in making wine since 1921.   Luca’s great-grandfather Luigi Ferraris emigrated to American and was one of the lucky folks to strike gold.  He sent the money back to his wife, Bruno Teresa, and that led to the purchase of the house that later became the first winery location.

The family began to acquire additional land, vines and bought barrels to make wines. His dad grew grapes and sold them to a cooperative until 2001 when the family started making wine. He had a big commitment to high-quality production and considered it his job to evangelize the varietal.  Today the Ferraris estate produces about 130,000 bottles of wine (about 50,000 of Ruchè) from 18 vineyards covering 25 hectares. Luca Ferraris Agricola is the largest family owned agricultural company in the seven municipalities of the Ruchè-growing region.

Ruchè is a relatively scarce, low production red varietal grown almost exclusively hillside around Castagnole Monferrato in the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  It’s also a fickle grape with its many leaves to prune that is a labor of love for those who helped it earn its DOC designation in 1987.  Overall, the wine has a bright ruby color with delicate floral and red berry aromas.

We tried three Ruchè wines – a classic good, better and best offering from the winery.  Our first was the entry level and very easy to drink 2015 Ruchè Clasic.  I got notes of black and sour cherry, rose petals and bright fruit with some earthiness.

Our next wine was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Bric d’Bianc is the name of the hill most suited for the cultivation of Ruchè.

The next Ruchè was the 2015 Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato Opera Prima, which was a single vineyard wine.  It was delicious and elegant with notes of the cherry and flowers, but depth and complexity.  Luca dedicated this wine in memory of his grandfather and it’s very special.

We also tried the 2016 Vigna del Parroco, which had the same floral notes but with red raspberry and almost a nuttiness.

Our final wine was the 2015 Castello Monaci Primitivo Salento Artas.  This was a treat – I got tons of dark cherry, raspberry jam and black fruit with notes of rosemary, mocha and cedar.  It was elegant and continued to open during our discussion.

And here my whirlwind discussion of wines comes to an end.  It was an life-changing journey with amazing people and I feel like I have much more of an understanding of Italian wines.  I am so ready to continue to experience the wines, culture and evolution of what I learned at Vinitaly.  I consider myself a proud advocate of continuing letting you, my readers know, how my journey progresses.

 


Vinitaly: A Lone Wine Blogger’s Novice Navigation of 128,000 people, 4,000 exhibitors, 400 seminars and the quest for a story

After our trip to the Trento DOC region, I had some quality bus time with Gioia Morena Gatti, the Head of the Food and Wine Section for the ICE-Italian Trade Promotion Agency.  The agency is a government organization that promotes Italian companies globally in conjunction with the Ministry of Economic Development and provides ground cover and support to Italian companies looking to expand internationally in 86 cities around the world.  Keep your eyes open for a big focus on U.S. consumers showcasing Italian wines.  While the U.S. is the biggest market for Italian exports, increasing that market share, especially against French wines, is a key focus.

 A Group of Strangers Who Quickly Became Longtime Friends

 

 

Ornellaia Estate Director Axel Heinz and me

Finally, we arrived in Verona and were ready to begin our Opera Wine Experience.  Veronafiere, Vinitaly and the Wine Spectator host an exclusive invitation only “OperaWine, Finest Italian Wines: 100 Great Producers” event showcasing the best of the best Italian wines.  This was the sixth annual event and focused on the best wines presented by the 100 greatest Italian producers selected by “Wine Spectator.”  It was quite the adventure and copious amounts of Italian high-end dream wines were freely poured and talked about by the estate owners and winemakers.  Each room was segmented by region and you either had to have an advance game plan (note to self) or you found yourself glomming on to others that were not “experiencing their first rodeo.”

And now to Vinitaly, I’ll have some follow-up stories on the wineries that I met and a fraction of the wines that I got to taste in next week’s blog.  As a technology marketing gal, I am no stranger to large trade shows and earned my stripes at the Consumer Electronics Show, the National Retail Foundation Show, the Mobile Congress Show, etc.  I have balanced a box of 50 press kits on my head walking for miles to a booth because it was a union town (Las Vegas) and my client didn’t have union folks on call.  I’ve danced well into the late hours in a club with the Samsung dancers who were hired to drive traffic to the booth.  I’ve been in massive two-story booths where I’ve been involved with the biggest client meetings trying to get a deal done.  What I haven’t done is to be on the other side as a journalist trying to make sense of it all with copious amounts of wine.

Let me put this into perspective for you.  According to Vinitaly, the show netted out like this:

  • 128,000 visitors from 142 countries.
  • 30,000 international wine buyers, up 8% on 2016.
  • The show attracted 4,270 exhibiting companies from 30 countries, up 4%.
  • There were also a series of 400 seminars and debates looking at issues such as increased US protectionism and the implications of Brexit.
  • There were also key business deals done including China’s 1919 distribution business signing a deal with the Vinitaly International Academy to increase Italian wine sales in China by more than 2 million bottles by 2020, worth €68 million euros.

And you can’t throw a huge show like this without a little controversy.  Through no fault of Vinitaly, Italian police removed wines from the Crimea region due to be exhibited by Russian companies.

Imagine trying to navigate over 4,000 exhibitors with a large percentage of them pouring multiple wines in different exhibit halls and pavilions.  Now imagine doing it for an average of eight hours (at least) a day.   Massive.  Crazy.  Incredible.  Amazing.  Overwhelming.  Awesome.  Life Experience.  The list goes on.

Vinitaly’s Stevie Kim and me

This is what we did until our last night together where we were hosted by The Italian Trade Agency, the Economic Ministry of Italy, Vinitaly and Veronafiere for a lovely dinner at the Palazzo Gran Guardia.  Also, I had the chance to see one of my favorite power CEOs, Stevie Kim, who seemed completely put together for having just pulled off such a massive event.

Our table was filled with many of my favorites from the trip and we had this amazing dinner that showcased the brilliance of Italian food.

The first course was pasta with cherry tomatoes, basil and Campania buffalo mozzarella.


The second course was risotto with Monte Veronese cheese and diced pears with a mountain butter.

We moved on to sliced beef, chicory and parmesan cheese in balsamic vinegar, Hollandaise potatoes and celeriac gratin.

And then the grand finale, a “Millefoglie Strachin”, by the renowned Pasticceria Perbellini.  No words.  One of the best desserts that I ever had and I still regret leaving two thirds of it behind.

Joe Roberts, Zoolander Style…

Vinitaly was an incredible, bucket-list experience that is so hard to describe accurately as it is the world’s largest wine trade show.  After 14 hours of sleep in 7 days, I prepared for my 3 am wakeup call (okay, you never prepare for that) for my 4 am car pickup… There’s always time for sleep on the other side…


A Tale of Two Cities: Trento to Verona

Charles Dickens started “A Tale of Two Cities” with the famous line, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  I had my own two city experience with a focus on the best of times where I was hosted by the Italian Trade Commission on a promotional tour with importers, restauranteurs and other supporters of Italian wines.  The Italian Trade Commission has a mission to promote Italian wines with US consumers, drive market share (more than 350 varieties of Italian wine are exported) and conduct trade education events.

The stars aligned for me and I upgraded my flight to London so the 18-total hour trip ending in Venice with the transfer to Trento was a little less hard on the body than I anticipated.

Trento is located in the Adige River Valley in Trentino-Alta Adige/Südtirol in Italy.  The landscape in Trentino includes Lake Garda to the Cevedale Mountain range and includes the Dolomites.  The Trento Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is an appellation for white and rosé sparkling wine made in Trentino, Italy.  Our exclusive focus was on sparkling, which focused on varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier all grown in the Province of Trento.  France, the leading provider of champagne and sparkling wines in the world, has a strong connection to the area.  When the chardonnay grapes were brought to the country in 1900 by Giulio Ferrari, Trento was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  After graduating from the Forschungsanstalt für Garten- und Weinbau in Geisenheim/Rheingau, Germany, Ferrari made champagne in Épernay.

Fast forward to 1984 and the region started a commitment to be recognized with the founding of the Trento DOC Institute.  Nine years later, it was given the DOC status.  Trento DOC produces its sparkling wines in the méthode champenoise style, which means the second fermentation for sparkling must occur in the bottle with old school riddling required along with disgorgement where you freeze a small amount of wine in the neck of the bottle and removie the plug of ice containing the lees.

Our welcome gathering was at the Sartori’s Hotel with a four course menu paired with wine from 12 producers – Abate Nero, Bellaveder, Cantine Ferrari, Cesarino Sforza Spumanti, Letari, Maso Nero, Cantina D’Isera, Cantina Aldeno, Cantina Rovere Della Luna Aichholz, Cesarini Sforza Spumanti, Pisoni and Revi.

We gathered mostly jetlagged – some with lost luggage, some sporting credentials, some with more complex delays than others – all with the end goal of immersing in our experience.  I’m going to talk about our “Breakfast Club group” in a future column – but it was an amazing group of passionate wine folks that covered all stereotypes and defied them all by week end.

 

 

The next day we started at Palazzo Roccabruna, the Chamber of Commerce of Trento’s location, that houses the Enoteca Provinciale del Trentino (the Provincial Wine Promotion Board of Trentino) and is dedicated to the development and promotion of culture, tradition and products of Trentino showcasing the storied wine history of the region.

 

Roberto Anesi, a local wine expert, led us in a master class on eight Trento DOC wines including 2012 Revi Brut Millesimato, 2012 Tananai Brut Borgo dei Posseri, 2011 Maso Martis Dosaggio Zero Riserva, 2010 Cantine Ferrari Perle, 2010 Letrari Brut Riserva, 2009 Cavit Altemasi Riserva Graal, 2008 Cantina Rotaliana di Mezzolombardo Redor Riserva and 2008 Rotari Flavio Riserva.  The region has more than 45 producers and 100 labels.  The terroir is very diverse in climate, soil, weather and temperature.  There were lots of references throughout the two days of the “towering palisades” that are also known as the Dolomites, a mountain range that has a material impact on the region’s weather, grape growing, and how wines are made.

 

 

We then moved to our lunch at Scrigno del Duomo Restaurant, which was located near the historic and original wine cellar and 2,000-year-old door in the old City that came from a column from a Roman church.

 

Our Gracious Tourguide, Daughter Alessandra Stelzer

Our first winery stop was Maso Martis where we got to walk through the vineyards of this second-generation vineyard.  Maso Martis has been making wines since 1986 and is known for its terroir – calcareous soil and Trentino red rock.  Since 2013, the winery has been organically certified and makes 60,000 bottles per year with 45,000 of them dedicated to Trento DOC.  We had a chance to taste four other wineries – Maso Martis, Revi, Borgo del Posseri e Cantina Rotaliana.

Rotari Winemaker Matteo Covazzi

 

Our second winery stop was Rotari – Mezzocorona, which has been making wine since 1987 – with a very different business model of sourcing from more than 1,500 member farmers – many who do this as a second job.  This is a much bigger operation with more than 500,000 bottles hand-picked with a mix of NV and vintage affiliations.  We tried a combination of these wines and I adored the 2008 Rotari Flavio Brut, which has been made since 1998 with an average production of 5,000 to 10,000 bottles.

We returned that night to Palazzo Roccabruna where we were hosted at a dinner showcasing all things Trento DOC including more sparkling wines.

Our morning stop was at Altemasi, which is part of CAVIT’s premium range of sparkling wines focusing on the Methodo Classico winemaking procedure made from grapes from Trento hillsides, the Brentonico plateau and Valle dei Lahi Valley.  The CAVIT winery is quite the production – a four level, highly functioning, high producing and high technology facility.

Export Manager Massimiliano Giacomini

Our last stop before we hit the road to Verona was Ferrari which was led by Brand Ambassador, Jamie Stewart, who was quite the quotable and passionate host for all things Ferrari and the region.  My favorite, “the discovery of champagne was like man discovering fire for the second time.”

Ferrari started with the dream of Guilio Ferrari after working in Champagne France to create a sparkling wine in Trentino with the ability to compete with top French champagnes, which was a vision as none of the champagne grapes were grown in Italy.  He planted Chardonnay in the region and started to produce a few selected bottles with success.  Ferrari did not have an heir for the business so we started a search for the right owner to continue his dream.

He chose Bruno Lunelli, who owned a wine shop and shared the same passion.  The winery has continued to be run by family members and they kept Guilio at the winery until his death in the late 60s.  Today the winery has a large production 4.5 million bottles and are known for its brands — Ferrari Rosé, Ferrari Perlé and Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore.




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