Archived entries for Red Wine 

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.


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 Conversation with Merry Edwards: Icon, Trailblazer, Philanthropist and Winemaker

Merry and Ken, Courtesy of Merry Edwards Winery 

This week, I had the pleasure of talking with Merry Edwards, an icon, a trailblazer, a philanthropist and a winemaker who has single-handedly shattered the glass ceiling for women in wine in California and at UC Davis in the 70s.  Merry is being honored next weekend in Dallas with the Tête du Cuvée award, the highest award given at the Côtes du Coeur, the annual fine wine auction and celebrity chef dinner benefitting the American Heart Association (AHA).

Merry’s passion for cardiovascular research was first related to love.  Her husband, Ken Coopersmith, had a history of heart disease in the family, but wasn’t aware of how serious his condition was.  Shortly after they were married, his heart started to fail and he had a heart valve replacement.  Ten years later, he kept putting off the doctor because he knew he had gained some weight with the Sonoma food and wine lifestyle.  That decision literally almost killed him.  He went into congestive heart failure and was a two of 100 statistic that lived through the operation. At that point, Merry knew that this was a cause that has a direct meaning and impact for her and millions of others.

“The AHA has a hard-core benefit.  This is a cause that I am passionate about, I believe in this charity and I will continue to be supportive.” she said.  “I believe in giving more.  It’s my job to do my day job, but to be a leader and inspire others to give.”  Merry focuses on charities that have directly impacted her family, which also include the disabled and children’s health.  Merry lives her life facing challenges head on – from raising a disabled child to becoming an advocate for women in any industry.

Several years ago, I attended a wine dinner at Lakewood Country Club where Merry told her story.  After a storied career in wine working for others it was time for Merry to do her own thing, to found Merry Edwards Winery.  She did that in 1997 with a focus on producing Pinot Noirs with a true sense of place from Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast.

We spent some time talking about her breaking ground and being one of the first women winemakers and the work to be done to recruit more women to the industry.  After 44 harvests, she told me that very little progress has been made.

“If you look at the current studies done on the subject by UC Davis, the statistics are not that encouraging as female winemakers have increased to ten percent today from six percent in the 70’s,” she said.  We talked about the rampant problem in science, in technology and in farming.

“Even my own father thought I should be in a supportive role so I went to Berkeley to be an RN.  Then my career morphed to nutrition and then to food science and finally to wine making,” she said.

She talked about approaching life to try to fix what wasn’t right – not only as a woman, but as a human.  When she was first at UC Davis, affirmative action had just been implemented.  She wasn’t invited to interview on recruiting day because she was a women and marched to the chancellor’s office to help reverse that decision.

She still feels that way today.  “Most people respect me for being here.  I am a role model to prove this can be done,” she said.  “I’m not just talking about women in wine, but for other women in other professions that love wine.”

She left me with the words – “Be an inspiration to others.”  And through her commitment to helping prevent cardiovascular disease in a place where one of every three deaths in the US are from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, she continues to live those words.

My personal affiliation with the American Heart Association is also due to family.  When my younger brother was 17, we discovered a heart condition that took way to long to diagnose that resulted in an emergency open heart surgery.  Because of the life-saving research that was conducted by the AHA, his life was saved.  My husband and I were chairing the Dallas Heart Ball at the time and found out later that the surgeon who saved his life was in the audience.

Proceeds from Côtes du Coeur go directly to the AHA for cardiovascular research and heart health educational programs both locally and nationwide. During its 25-year history, Côtes du Coeur has attracted more than 22,000 attendees and has raised more than $30 million.  The event is scheduled this Saturday, April 22 at the Omni Hotel Dallas.  For more information, click here.


History, Family, Evolution and Building a Legacy: A Conversation with Jose Moro

It was a story of family.  A story of evolution.  A story of balancing the heritage of the past but balancing that tradition with innovation to take the wines forward.  It was also the story of what happens when a generation decides to put a stake in the ground, plant an exclusive clone of Tinto Fino, evolve it in every wine they make and become singularly focused on the terroir and what the land can do.  Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Jose Moro, President of Bodegas Emilio Moro Winery, to hear the story, taste the wines and experience the legacy of the family.

We gathered at Pappa Bros. Steakhouse for a specially paired, four course wine dinner matched with five wines that showcased evolution in a glass.  Moro was so excited about the beauty of the new 2015 wines and called it out as “the best vintage ever.”  “The size of the berries, the rich aromatics of the wines and the ideal conditions in the vineyards makes this year an optimal year,” he said.

Bodegas Emilio Moro is all about Ribera del Duero’s wine but also about the fourth generation of family members who will keep the legacy going.  “Every year as we harvest the wines, we live in these incredible moments, said Moro.”  “Wine is the one basic element and driving force that I know.”

A little history about the Moro family.  In 1932, Emilio Moro was born in Penafiel, the wine center of Ribera del Duero.  Moro developed vineyards and went down the path of producing bulk wine.  In 1959, Moro’s son was born – also named Emilio – and was readily eager to follow in the footsteps of his family.  In the 80s’, there was a concerted decision to change from quality over quantity and focus on the Tinto Fino clone.

Spain is the third largest wine producing region, has world’s largest compilation of the extension of vines and Ribera del Duero has almost 2,000 hours of sun per year.  The Ribera del Duero was named a wine denomination of origin in 1925 and today Spain has more than 70 of them.  The terroir is very high and a mix of chalk, clay and stone.  “History generates the quality of wines that come from great wines combined with a selection of environment, history and location.”  And the critics agree with the Wine Enthusiast naming the region as the best in 2012.

Many of these vines have quite the impressive resume and the family is dedicated to three core values – tradition, innovation and corporate social responsibility.  Moro talked about how, “history guarantees the quality of the wines and how great wines come out of its environment, location and history.”

Speaking of innovation, Moro was one of the first to test out drones in the vineyard.  This technology provides him with specific information for every single clone.  You also see his passion for helping others.  The family’s Emilio Moro Foundation focuses on a wide variety of projects that give back to several communities and uses the need for clean water as its common denominator.

We started with a delightful rose as an aperitif that I adored.  It was made of tempranillo grapes and it is delightful.  Crisp, mineral, balanced, fruit forward and delicious.

The tasting menu and notes are here so you can what happened:

First Course – Truffled Beef Carpaccio over truffled potato with roasted garlic aioli with the 2016 Finca Resalso.  It comes from the family’s youngest vineyards and is a very nice young wine with lots of berry that is drinkable today.

We also got to sample the 2015 Emilio Moro Tempranillo.  This is where we began to see the evolution of complexity, depth and fruit.  It was delicious.

Second Course – Grilled Lamb Chops marinated with olive oil, garlic and herbs served with roasted wild mushrooms combined with the 2014 Malleolus.  These vineyards were 25 to 75 years old and the complexity of the wines continued to evolve.  In this, I tasted balsamic, berry, cigar and spice.  It rocked with the lamb chops.

Third Course – Dry Aged Strip Loin with au gratin potatoes with the 2011 Malleolus de Sanchomartin, a single vintage wine that was so layered and had so much depth, elegance and structure.  I loved this wine with its big flavors of balsamic, spice and berry.  It was a match made in heaven with the aged steak and I found myself continuing to find nuances as the wine opened.

Our dessert finale was a Chocolate Turtle Pie (one could have fed the entire table) paired with 2011 Malleolus de Valderramiro.  I tasted black fruit, licorice and this wine also had a power to it along with a nice structure.  It’s dense but drinkable with lots of structure.

After our dinner and a few slide shows, Jose told us that 80 percent of the wine produced stays in Spain.  We are missing out in America – actively seek these out when you can and experience the evolution and promise of Tempranillo and Tinta Fino.


Jesse Rodriguez: Sommelier and Renaissance Man Committed to Change the Lives of Others

The Women of EWR

The story of wine is often unpredictable.  This weekend I attended a Leadership Retreat with 40 plus women who are a part of the Dallas Chamber’s Executive Women’s Roundtable.  This is a group of C-level women who are usually the only females sitting in a leadership role in some of the biggest companies in the world.  We come together for this retreat once a year to learn, laugh, network and reconnect with the other women in the room and ourselves.  This year it was at the Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina.

Naturally, wine is a part of this process.  On Friday, we gathered at the River House in the private wine cellar for an amazing dinner.  There I met a true Renaissance man.  Jesse Rodriguez is the Director of Wine and took me for a tour of the cellar, which was amazing and full of hand-selected bottles of boutique and very special wines from around the world.

Because this is a leadership retreat, one of the women asked him a very pointed question about legacy that we had been discussing during the conference.  At that point, we found out the many nuances of Jesse.  He builds the best wine lists in America with a list of coveted awards from the Wine Spectator Grand Award as well as Forbes.com’s “America’s Best Spots for Wine” as well as the first ever nomination for the James Beard Awards Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Wine Service and one of Wine Enthusiast’s “100 Best Wine Restaurants” for two years and the list goes on. He was the Head Sommelier at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, helping the restaurant become the only dining venue in California to receive a Three Michelin Star rating.

The Menu and Wines from the Dinner

He is relentless in his own learning.  Jesse is an Advanced Sommelier by the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, is credentialed as a Certified Wine Educator by the Society of Wine Educators, and has completed the Diploma level through The Wine and Spirits Educational Trust (WSET) and is in his second year of his Masters of Wine certification. Rodriguez was named one of “America’s Best New Sommeliers” by Wine & Spirits magazine in 2007 and one of StarChefs.com’s 2010 “Los Angeles-San Diego Rising Stars.”  He was also named “Best Sommelier” by the readers, editors and critics of San Diego Magazine and Ranch & Coast: San Diego’s luxury lifestyle magazine for four consecutive years.

He’s a teacher – he holds a Master’s in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, where he also received his undergraduate degree.

And most importantly, he is a kind family man with a passion to give back to the community.  He grew up in Beaumont, California, a Southern California blue collar desert town, the grandson of a Mexican farm worker.  He discovered his passion for wine when waiting tables at the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale.  Jesse launched a six-month campaign to get a job on the wine team and quickly rose through the ranks.

Once he was making “real money,” he created Figueroa Family Scholarship as a tribute to his grandfather 11 years ago for Mexican American students at Beaumont High.  “I was able to put aside $1,000 and that’s where it all began,” he said.  He personally goes back to Beaumont every year to award the grant.  He also serves as a career-long mentor to those recipients.

He’s a wine maker.  He and his good friend and fellow sommelier, Michael Scafiddi, make pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon under the label Kaizen.

And most importantly, he’s one heck of a nice man with a passion for lifelong learning, the artistry of wine and making the customer feel special.


A #winestudio Family Discussion with Meeker Vineyards and a Flashback to My Wine Journey

My experience with #winestudio, to date, has been discovering new winemakers and small production wines.  The latest shipment contained Meeker Vineyard wines, which brought back fond memories of the beginning of my journey with wine when I would take classes (as many as I could afford) at the now defunct Marty’s just to learn.  I remember sitting in one of those classes and the Meeker Merlot (I cannot recall which vintage) was brought out and I remember being struck how visually appealing the packaging was.  This was followed up by a one-two punch when I tasted the contents in my glass and loved the wine.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I had the opportunity to revisit my Meeker experience, but with Lucas and Kelly Meeker at the helm.  It felt like a conversation with old friends combined with the comradery that comes with bloggers that have become friends long ago discussing a subject we all love.

Meeker is truly a family operation.  Charlie and Molly Meeker purchased their first vineyard in the Dry Creek Valley in 1977 with the understanding it was easy to grow different varietals effectively.  It was a labor of love as Charlie was still employed full time at MGM Studios and would travel from Los Angeles to make wine and work the vineyard.  Charlie handled the wine and Molly everything else.  In 1984, Meeker Wines was born.  This was followed by the tasting room, a historic bank in Healdsburg that was even robbed back in the day to add to the story.

They talked about their philosophy – we don’t take anything seriously but the wine itself.  Lucas talked about each wine having a unique personality and the need to express that personality through packaging.  “We’re not trying to look fancy,” Lucas said.  “We’re trying to look like us.”

The first Tuesday of #winestudio, we tried the 2013 Hoskins Ranch Grenache, which is 100 percent Grenache and delicious.  I tasted cherry, cranberry and strawberry.  It was an elegant wine that was very food friendly, but easily drinkable on its own.

The 2013 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Franc came from Bob Pedroni’s vineyard that was described as “red dusty earth on Russian River.”  I tasted black cherry, blackberry, green pepper, herbs and violets.

We then revisited the wine that introduced me to Meeker wines many years ago.  This time it was the 2013 Winemaker’s Handprint Merlot, which is a gorgeous bottle.  This time I was on a Spring Break trip with my family in Punta Mita and we enjoyed this at Casa Teresa, a fantastic Italian family restaurant that is outdoors with food to die for.  It was then that I learned that the gorgeous bottle begins to melt when you combine a cellar temperature bottle and outdoor weather – lesson learned.  Now back to the wine.  It had notes of blueberry pie, plum, cassis, mocha and a touch of vanilla.  It was as nuanced, elegant and stunning as it was the first time I tried it.

Lucas and Kelly summed it up for us, “what you have tried the last two weeks reflects our family, who we are and what we stand for.”  Wine is more than a product – every wine has a story and deserves a unique presentation reflecting that personality.  The Meeker family has figured out how each wine is part of the family’s mosaic and reflects authenticity and artistry in every bottle made.




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