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The Wines of Notre Vue and Balverne

This article was originally published on Bob Lipinski by Bob Lipinski.

Notre Vue Vineyards and Winery encompasses 710 acres of land in both the Chalk Hill and Russian River Valley appellations, in Sonoma County, California. Bob & Renée Stein founded Notre Vue Estate in 1992 after discovering the beauty of its natural art; in particular, its breathtaking views of the rolling hills and vineyards of Sonoma County, California.

To ensure that the beauty lives on for future generations, Bob & Renée dedicated 350 acres of the property as a “forever wild” nature preserve in perpetuity. According to Renée, the property was originally established as Balverne Cellars in 1972 and then re-launched as Notre Vue, with the first vintage in 2014.

The Balverne brand was revived in 2014 by Notre Vue using the image of the red-tailed hawks so prevalent on the property. The Notre Vue labeled wines were established as the more opulent expression of the estate grapes.

The winery has 210 acres of vineyards planted with Chardonnay, Chardonnay Musqué, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and other grape varieties.

At a recent press tasting and luncheon hosted by Renée Stein of Notre Vue Estate, we were led through a tasting of their wines by Geoffrey Thompson, estate general manager, and Alex Holman, winemaker (via Zoom), followed by lunch at Il Gattopardo Restaurant in Manhattan, New York.

We tasted well over a dozen red, white, and rosé wines. Below are my tasting notes of some of the wines.

2021 Balverne “Sauvignon Blanc” Chalk Hill. Very aromatic with floral tones of peach, citrus, and green apple. Light and refreshing with flavors of apricot and figs; hints of celery round out this beauty. A Caesar salad with extra dressing works for me!

2019 Notre Vue “Chardonnay Musqué,” Russian River. Chardonnay Musqué is an aromatic mutation of the Chardonnay grape. The word “musqué” is given because of the grape’s heady, musky, Muscat-like perfume. The grape is grown mostly in California, New York’s Finger Lakes, and Canada’s Niagara Peninsula.

The wine did not go through malolactic fermentation and was transferred to neutral barrels after primary fermentation. While in barrel, the wine was stirred constantly sur-lie for 3 months to enhance the mouthfeel. A fresh bouquet of apricot, citrus, and pear is followed by a medium-bodied, rich-tasting wine with a distinctive grapey flavor. Additional flavors of mango and nectarine with subtle hints of cinnamon. Pair the wine with crab cakes containing some curry.

2019 Balverne “Pinot Noir” Russian River. Aged in 100% French, medium and light toasted oak barrels with 25% new barrels for 9 months. Ruby red color with a bouquet bursting with cherries, cranberries, and raspberries. Soft and silky in the mouth, with hints of chocolate, licorice, and plums. Pairing it with eggplant parmigiana with a spicy tomato sauce would do it for me!

2019 Notre Vue “Pinot Noir” Russian River. Aged in 100% French, medium and light toasted oak barrels with 40% new barrels for 12 months. Cherry color with a distinctive aroma and taste of boysenberry, mulberry, and red currants. Medium-bodied with flavors of jam, pomegranate, and sun-dried tomatoes. Serve it with barbecued chicken smothered in a fig, balsamic vinegar glaze for a lazy summer afternoon meal.

2019 Balverne “Malbec” Chalk Hill. (Blend of 85% Malbec, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot grapes.) Aged in 100% French oak for up to 18 months. Deeply colored with a spicy bouquet of blueberry, blackberry, and cocoa. Smooth with flavors of cedar, leather, and vanilla. Subtle tones of violets and nutmeg. Serve this with grilled veal chops covered with extra-virgin olive oil, bits of tomato, and sprigs of rosemary.

2019 Notre Vue “GSM” Red Blend (51% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 29% Mourvèdre blend) Chalk Hill. This classic Rhône-style blend is always one of my favorite “go-to wines.” Densely colored with a complex bouquet and taste with layers of flavor. The wine is brimming with black fruit, cranberries, cola, spice, lavender, and herbs. It has smoky overtones and a dry finish and aftertaste of bitter almonds. Pair this wine with spicy hot Italian pork sausages and a plate of broccoli rabe loaded with garlic and hot pepper.

2019 Notre Vue “Estate Red” Chalk Hill. (Blend of 36% Malbec, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 8% Merlot). Very dark color. Tight bouquet beginning to open. Full-bodied and tannic, but surprisingly subtle in the mouth. There are so many concentrated fruit and berry flavors (blackberry, mulberry), black pepper, cloves, espresso, and exotic perfumes. Mouth-filling with spicy plum. Long, lingering aftertaste. The wine begs for some Cajun, blackened filet mignon with a baked potato and some chive butter.


This article was originally published on Wine Mind It by Michelle Kwan.

The 710-acre, sustainably-farmed, Notre Vue Estate is located within the prestigious California winemaking territories of the Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill. The terroir, marked by microclimates, various soil compositions, and multiple levels of elevation create the optimal conditions for crafting fine wines with both character and complexity.

The Estate has been Sonoma Sustainable grower certified since 2014. Its “Forever Wild” nature preserve is host to a wealth of native plants and wildlife, including those that serve as natural pest deterrents, eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.

The history of Notre Vue Estate dates back to 1869 when relatives of General Vallejo, founder of Sonoma county, first cultivated wine grapes on the property. In 1916, leading California winemaker Antonio Perelli-Minetti initiated commercial winemaking on the Estate. The Estate was acquired by Balverne Cellars in 1972.

In the years that followed, Balverne Cellars developed a reputation for excellence. Its wine have graced the menus of award-winning restaurants throughout the country, and have been served to heads of state at the White House.

Bob and Renee Stein purchased Notre Vue Estate in 1992. For the next two decades, the Steins focused on cultivating grapes for sale and distribution to a number of pre-eminent Sonoma and Napa-based wineries. In 2012, Renee established the Notre Vue wine brand and revamped the Balverne label. The Estate currently produces wine under both the Notre Vue Estate and the Balverne labels.

Between 2014 and 2017, the two labels continued to achieve critical and commercial success, garnering awards and distinctions from the Spectator and James Suckling, to name a few.

Winemaker Alex Holman joined Notre Vue Estate in 2019 and laid the groundwork for artisanal and low intervention wine production. In 2021, Notre Vue Estate debuted 16 new wines under the Notre Vue Estate and Balverne labels.

Bob and Renee featured these selections during a media lunch for the Wine Media Guild at Il Gattopardo Restaurant in New York City. The 3-course meal paired seamlessly with the Notre Vue Estate and Balverne white, rose’, and red wine portfolio.

Here’s the list of wines that were presented at the lunch.

Balverne, Chardonnay, Estate Grown, Forever Wild, 2019

Estate grown and bottled

100% Chardonnay

Aged five months in French oak barrels (20% new)

Ripe citrus and orchard fruit, butterscotch, and marshmallow aromas, followed by lemon, apple, and peach, as well as honeydew and sweet spice notes.

Notre Vue, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2019

100% Chardonnay

Warm day and cool nighttime temperatures, with occasions of fog, as well as loamy soil are perfect conditions for growing full-bodied Chardonnay with a good acidity and a ripe fruit character.

Fermented 3 months sur lie in barrels

Full-bodied with a balanced acidity, and apple, nectarine, and musk melon, as well as jasmine aromas, followed by pear, baked apple, and lemon meringue, as well as honey and marzipan notes.

Notre Vue, Chardonnay Musque, Russian River Valley, 2019

Estate grown and produced

100% Chardonnay Musque

Chardonnay Musque is derived from the French clone 809. This clone has concentrated aromas typically associated with Alsatian Riesling and Muscat.

Transferred to neutral oak barrels immediately after primary fermentation. (No malolactic fermentation). Aged sur lie for 3 months. (The grapes used to make this wine were grown on the same type of soil under the same climate conditions as the previous Chardonnay.) Fresh white flower, lemon juice, and pear aromas, followed by ripe green apple, nectarine, and Asian pear notes.

Notre Vue, Chardonnay Musque, Russian River Valley, 2020

Estate grown and produced

100% Chardonnay Musque

Chardonnay Musque is derived from the French clone 809. This clone has concentrated aromas typically associated with Alsatian Riesling and Muscat.

Transferred to neutral oak barrels immediately after primary fermentation. (No malolactic fermentation). Aged sur lie for 3 months. (The grapes used to make this wine were grown on the same soil under the same climate conditions as the previous Chardonnay.)

Crisp, with a silky texture, a fresh acidity, and clementine, apple, and herb, as well as salt and toast aromas, followed by grapefruit, pear, and dry grass notes.

Balverne, Sonoma County Wines, Sauvignon Blanc, 2019

Estate grown and bottled

Vineyards located in the Chalk Hill AVA are ideally suited for the cultivation of Sauvignon Blanc. This particular block receives plenty of sunlight during the day, while enjoying the benefits of cool nighttime temperatures.

Fermented for 21 days in stainless steel tanks

Fresh and crisp, with lively citrus and tropical fruit, and grass aromas, followed by ripe lemon and grapefruit, and subtle spice notes.

Notre Vue, Rose’ of GSM, Chalk Hill, 2020

Estate grown and produced

Classic Rhone Valley style rose’ blend of 41% Grenache, 31% Syrah, 28% Mourvedre

The grapes were cultivated on volcanic soil that typically drain quickly and produce small berries with concentrated flavors that do not need a lot of canopying. Afternoon temperatures are moderated by cooling Pacific breezes coming out of the Russian River Valley. These grapes are grown on clay-rich soil. Some are harvested from vines cultivated on soil located at a slope of 30 degrees.

Fermented in stainless steel tanks with six hours of skin contact

Low intervention winemaking process produce wines with low sulfite and alcohol content that preserve the purity of the wine’s aromas and flavors.

A light minerality and acidity, and citrus, orchard and tropical fruit aromas, followed by lemon zest, nectarine, and orange blossom, as well as lychee notes.

Notre Vue, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2019

100% Pinot Noir

Aged one year in combination light and medium toasted French oak barrels (40% new oak)

Balanced tannins, ripe strawberry, cherry, and chocolate, along with forest floor, and black tea aromas, followed by pomegranate, cherry, and spiced caramel notes.

Notre Vue, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Chalk Hill, 2019

Estate grown and produced

Classic Rhone-style blend of 51% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 29% Mourvedre

Fermented in stainless steel tanks

Low-intervention, sulfite, and alcohol wine

The grapes were cultivated on volcanic soil that typically drain quickly and produce small berries with concentrated flavors that do not need a lot of canopying. Afternoon temperatures are moderated by cooling Pacific breezes coming out of the Russian River Valley. These grapes are grown on clay-rich soil. Some are harvested from vines cultivated on soil located at a slope of 30 degrees.

Strawberry, cherry, and herb, as well as baked bread and black pepper aromas, followed by cherry, plum, and cardamom, along with dried herb notes.

Balverne, Sonoma County Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2019

Estate grown, bottled, and produced

The grapes for this wine were grown on blocks situated at 1000+ feet above sea level.

Blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc

The processing for this wine was interrupted due to the Kincade Fire in California that began on October 23, 2018. As a result, the wine underwent a prolonged cold soak for sulfite reduction and anthocyanin extraction.

Fragrant and full-bodied, with structured tannins, black cherry, preserved berry, and graphite aromas, followed by violet, mixed berry, and dark chocolate notes.

Balverne, Sonoma County Wines, Malbec, 2019

Estate grown, bottled, and produced

Blend of 85% Malbec (from the French clone 595 that can yield small single-seed berries resulting in richly colored wines with concentrated flavors), 10% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot

Grown on clay-rich soil with marine components

Aged in 100% French oak for 18 months

Round and balanced, with a fresh minerality, elegant and smooth tannins, and a ripe plum, and subtle violet and boysenberry as well as scented wood flavor profile,

Balverne, Sonoma County Wines, Pinot Noir, 2019

Estate grown and bottled

100% Pinot Noir

Aged in light and medium toasted French oak barrels (25% new oak) for 9 months.

Delicate, fresh, and lively, with strawberry, cherry, and earth aromas, followed by pomegranate, mixed berry, and red stone fruit, as well as herb notes.

Balverne, Sonoma County Wines, Zinfandel, 2019

Estate grown, bottled, and produced

Grapes grown on rocky and volcanic soil at a slightly lower elevation than the blocks on Chalk Hill AVA.

Blend of 79% Zinfandel, 9% Petit Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 3% Grenache (Grenache and Mourvedre add spice, and
Petit Syrah, structure).

Full-bodied and smooth, with balanced alcohol, and preserved berry, sweet spice, and scented wood aromas, followed by cranberry, roasted hazelnut, and peppercorn notes.

You can learn more about Notre Vue and purchase these wines directly at:

Notre Vue Estate

11010 Estate Lane

Windsor, California

1 (707) 433-4050

Brunello 2016 Outshines Even the 5-Star 2015 Vintage

Originally published on Living La Dolce Vita Wine Tours by Pat Thomson

Brunello 2016 outshines even the 5-star 2015 vintage

Last year, wine writers raved about the 2015 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino, including me. This year, we’re all shouting hosannas about 2016.

Both vintages were rated 5 stars by the Brunello Consortium. That’s exceedingly rare. Since 1945, it happened only once before: in 2006 and 2007. But the frequency of 5-star vintages is increasing, no doubt due to climate change. In the 40 years from 1945 to 1994, there were just nine vintages rated 5 stars. That compares to ten in the 25 years between 1995 to 2019 (the last vintage rated). Great for today’s Brunello drinkers, but not so great for the planet.

I can attest to the excellence of both vintages, thanks to a Wine Media Guild tasting of the 2016 Brunellos and 2015 Reserves. We had more or less 45 wines (a few bottles got stuck in transit).

Montalcino’s winemakers consider 2016 a “classic” vintage, whereas 2015 was a hot one. It’s a bit like the duel between 2000 and 2001, when the American press drooled over the hotter 2000 vintage, but winemakers back in Italy felt that 2001 was better — more classic and definitely more age-worthy. They proved right in the end.

When comparing the 2015 and 2016 vintages, Italian wine writer Daniele Cernilli called us Americans out on our tastes: “2015 has different characteristics that derive from weather conditions which make it more akin to Anglo-Saxon tastes [his emphasis], which include a more evolved bouquet, warmer fruit, and tends to privilege tannic opulence as a venue for complexity.

I think we can dismiss Cernilli’s comment, since American wine critics were united in praising the 2016 Brunellos. Across the board, these wines show a finesse and vibrancy that was pretty darned thrilling. The year’s exceptional weather — a mild winter with early budbreak, just enough rain in a cool spring, a warm but not excessively hot summer, and a picture-perfect September with low humidity and large diurnal temperature swings — created grapes that were fragrant, ripe, and in perfect balance. You can feel that in the wines.

I came prepared with a list of critics’ top picks, plus some wineries I know and love from our tours. Happily, they often intersect.

I first made a beeline for Le Chiuse’s 2016 Brunello di Montalcino, since Wine Enthusiast gave it a perfect 100 points. (I didn’t want to find the bottle drained dry by my fellow WMG members.) Plus, I like the owners, having visited the winery on our hikes down the north side of Montalcino’s towering hill. The Magnelli family is related to Ferruccio Biondi Santi, considered the father of Brunello, on the wife’s side, Simonetta Valiani. Their property used to grow grapes for Biondi Santi’s Brunello Reserves, but at a certain point, the two farms split up. The Magnellis first started making their own wine in 1993.

This 2016 was a beauty. It opened with aromas of violet typical of Le Chiuse, followed by crushed wild berries with savory undertones. The refined tannins and bright acidity will allow this one to be a keeper.

Close by is La Mannella, also in the north subzone towards the top of the hill. (For more on subzones in Montalcino, see my article “Brunello Basics.”) I haven’t been there in years, and that’s shame, because I was quite impressed with their Brunello 2016. That high altitude brings cooler temperatures, especially at night, which allows the vines to rest. That gives a brighter acidity to the wines compared to the lower, hotter subzones, and greater finesse. Owner Tommaso Cortonesi sticks with a traditional approach, using large Slavonian oak casks. I need get back to this estate ASAP.

La Gerla was new to me. Still in the north subzone, it too was once a Biondi Santi property. Businessman Sergio Rossi bought the land in 1976, then created the brand in 1978. Following his death in 2011, wife Donatella Monforte took over. La Gerla Brunello 2016 comes largely from vines planted in 1976, and it shows. The wine is packed with ripe blackberry fruit and shows whiffs of baking spice and worked leather. The texture is velvety, the acidity present but not sharp, and the finish long and mesmerizing.

Another favorite of mine came from Castello Tricerchi, located just below the DOCG’s northern border. I first discovered this winery in 2016 at a Benvenuto Brunello tasting. Though new to me, the Tricerchi family is old, dating back to the 1200s when it was part of the medieval oligarchy in Siena. Their fortified castle is every bit as impressive as the Montalcino fortress itself. In 1800, the property passed to an ancestor of the current owner, Tommaso Squarcia. In 2013, he and his uncle stopped selling grapes to the cooperative and kickstarted the winery under its present guise.

Whatever they’re doing, they should keep on doing it. I loved their 2016 Brunello A.D. 1441, a special selection from two vineyards. (Its name comes from the founding date of their castle.) It had plush, concentrated blackberry fruit; hints of spice; and a warm, enveloping nature. Unfortunately, they make only 2,000 bottles of this special Brunello.

I always find Castello Romitorio’s wines top notch, and their 2016 Brunello di Montalcino was no exception. Again, this vintage showed concentrated flavors (cherry compote, dried flower, leather), firm tannins that will grant long life, and an endless finish.

Here we’re west of town, in the Bosco subzone. This is another visually spectacular winery, not just because the main building was once a 12th century hermitage, then a 15th century fortress. It’s also because it belongs to Sandro Chia, a famous and idiosyncratic artist who has his sculptures, artwork, and personal objets d’art strewn about the winery like a living museum. His son, Filippo Chia, works with him in the winery and is a talented photographer to boot, as his photos hanging in the winery demonstrate. Visit this winery if you can.

Other exceptional 2016 Brunellos came from Carpineto, Col d’Orcia, Il Poggione, La Magia, and Poggio Antico. But this vintage was excellent in all four corners of the Brunello DOCG zone. So snap it up before it disappears.

Wine and Cheese: Virginia’s wines are mighty fine

This article was originally published on TBR Newsmedia by Bob Lipinski.

Wine and Cheese: Virginia’s wines are mighty fine

Stock photo


Bob Lipinski

With just over 275 wineries within seven grape-growing areas, Virginia ranks fifth in the nation for wine grape production.

The first recorded wine production in the United States took place in Virginia soon after the British established a colony there in 1607. However, it wasn’t until 1807, when Thomas Jefferson planted grapes of European descent on his Monticello estate that the industry began. Sadly, Jefferson’s experiment failed because of rot and phylloxera (small root insects).

For a while Virginia was the most important grape-growing state, but Prohibition annihilated the flourishing industry and only in the beginning of the 1970s did local producers make wine again.

At a private tasting/seminar there were over 20 wines to taste and evaluate. Overall, the wines very good with a few excellent ones. Space prevents me from providing tasting notes on all the wines. Here are some highlights:

2017 Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve: Aroma and flavor of apples, pear, citrus and hazelnuts. Tastes likes it’s from Liguria, Italy.

2010 Barboursville Vineyards Octagon: A blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot; dark colored with a powerful, concentrated flavor of blackberry, black currants and cedar; hints of vanilla and smoke.

2017 Linden Vineyards Boisseau Viognier: Light-bodied with a full bouquet of melon, lime, lychee and bitter orange.

2017 Glen Manor Vineyards Petit Manseng: The perfume of orange abounds along with melon, tropical fruit, nutmeg and citrus.

2018 Williamsburg Winery Petit Manseng: Tropical notes of papaya, pineapple and mango with an aftertaste of cinnamon and peaches.

2017 Veritas Vineyard Cabernet Franc Reserve: Enormous wine with black fruit, blueberry, bittersweet chocolate and smoky oak.

2016 Michael Shaps Wineworks Tannat: Flavor of blackberry, black raspberry, cherry, espresso and brown spices. A huge wine that will age another decade.

2016 King Family Vineyards Mountain Plains: A blend of merlot, cabernet franc and, petit verdot; full flavor of dark berries, fig, prunes, blueberry and toasted almonds.

2015 Boxwood Estate Winery Reserve: A blend of cabernet franc, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot; closed nose but rich flavors of blackberry, black tea, licorice, spicy vanilla and hazelnuts.

2012 Paradise Spring Vineyards PVT (blend of petit verdot, tannat): I enjoy the flavor of petit verdot and tannat but have never tasted them blended together. Almost black-colored and tannic with flavors of black cherry, blueberry, mint, plums and sage. Worth searching out!

2017 Early Mountain Vineyards Eluvium: A blend of merlot, petit verdot and cabernet sauvignon; elegant, perfumed, dark fruit, plums, jam, anise and smoky oak.

Prestige Cuvées: Special Champagne for the New Year

This article was originally published on Charles Scicolone on Wine by Charles Scicolone.

Prestige Cuvées: Special Champagne for the New Year

Last Monday I wrote about the first 10 Champagnes Ed Mc Carthy (Champagne for Dummies) spoke about for the Wine Media Guild’s tasting and lunch at Il Gattopardo in NYC. The next ten Champagnes were all Prestige Cuvees and it was a very impressive collection.

Prestige Cuvees

Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007 The grapes are pressed immediately in presses located in the vineyards. The first pressing, known as the “cuvee” is followed by two more pressings known as the first and second “tallies.” Only the juice from the cuvee goes into this wine. Temperature controlled fermentation takes place and about 5% of the wine is matured for a few months in 225-liter new oak casks. Prior to disgorgement the wine is aged for 9 or 10 years. This is their flagship Champagne. Ed described it as being full and rich.  It was toasty with hints of white fruit, good acidity and a long lingering finish. This has always been a favorite of mine and at $150 it is still a good buy.

Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004 made from 100% Chardonnay-63% from Cote des Blancs and 37% from Montagne de Reims. This is the 23rd vintage of the Blanc de Blancs. It has been aged on the lees for nine years; its slight sweetness comes from a low dosage. This is an elegant Champagne with citrus flavors and aromas, a touch of brioche and a hint of hazelnuts. In magnum $150

Champagne Moet & Chandon Dom Pérignon Rose 2006 made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Harvest began on September 11 and continued for nearly three weeks. The wine is released 10 years after the vintage. May be the best Rose it has been my pleasure to drink. $335

Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle #24 NV made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from 3 different vintages 2007, 2006 & 2004). 12 of the most prestigious villages supply the grapes and only the best plots are selected, as are the finest musts from the pressings. The blended wine is aged during the second fermentation on the yeast for about five years. It has tiny bubbles and complex aromas and flavors that make it go very well with food. $150

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004 made from 100% Chardonnay. First vintage was 1983; only four vintages have been made since then 1985,1990,1995 and 2004. The grapes come from 5 major Crus from the Cöte des Blancs: Oger, Mesnil-su Oger, Avize, Cramant and Vertus. This is an elegant wine with hints of lemon, almonds, citrus, toast and a touch of salted butter. Ed said that it was an excellent champagne with surprising weight and power for a Blanc de Blancs $185

Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Cristal 2008 made from  55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay with grapes from Roederer’s own vineyards, almost all of which are Grand Cru. Ed said it needs 15 years from the vintage date before it is really ready to drink and I agree with him $250

Champagne Veuve Clicquot “La Grande Dame” 2008 made from 62% Pinot Noir and 38% Chardonnay. Verzenay/Avize are the two dominant crus in the blend of eight grand crus from Clicquot’s own 100% rated Grand Cru Vineyards on the Còte des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims. It has hints of white peaches, apricots and brioche. It needs two or three years from release in order be at its best. $150

Champagne Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2006 Chardonnay from their Grand Cru vineyards. The remuage (riddling) is done by hand, a rarity in Champagne today. Ed felt it still needs at least 4 or 5 more years to be ready. He described it as being rich, firm and austere but also with finesse and complexity. Ed said that it was created in homage to Sir Winston Churchill mindful of the qualities he sought in his Champagne: robustness, a full-bodied character and relative maturity. $200

Champagne Bollinger Grande Annee 2008 made from 63% Pinot Noir and 37% Chardonnay. This was one of my top wines. Both Ed and I felt that it would age very well. It is intense, concentrated, rich Champagne with aromas and flavors of toasted brioche..$140

Champagne Krug Grand Cuvée 168th ed  NV made from 45/55% Pinot Noir, 15/20 Pinot Meunier and 25/35 Chardonnay–the percent depends upon the vintage. They blend about 120 wines from 10 or more different vintages and it is aged for at least 6 years in the cellars. All of their Champagnes are aged in used small oak barrels. They are all prestige cuvees made from Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages and are aged longer before release. The overall rating for the vineyards is 98% with Krug’s own vineyards rating 100%. As Ed said, obviously this is not just another NV Champagne. It is Michele’s favorite Champagne. $175

The following were at the event with the Champagnes they represent

Bethany Burke: Senior Vice President Public Relations & Corporate Communications, Taub Family Companies

Améile Derrieux -Sable, Director of Marketing for Maisons & Domaines Henriot

Pamela Wittman: Founder of Millissime

All prices are approximate

To go with the Champagne we had: Fagottini Pasta filled with eggplant and butter ricotta in a Piennolo Tomato sauce for the Appetizer

and for the Entrée Hailbut in a “Guazzetto” broth with fresh water vegetables and scented with wild “Finocchiella.”


Champagne for the Holidays with Ed “Champagne” McCarthy

Champagne for the Holidays with Ed “Champagne” McCarthy

This article was originally published on Charles Scicolone on Wine by Charles Scicolone.

Ed McCarthy, author of Champagne for Dummies, is an old friend.  For many years, I have had the pleasure of drinking a variety of wonderful Champagnes with him. Ed has become the Champagne expert for the Wine Media Guild and this year Ed reached new heights in his selection of Prestige Cuvees for the Wine Media Guild Champagne Lunch at Il Gattopardo Restaurant in NYC.

There were 20 Champagnes and after tasting them, Ed said he liked them all. I had to agree with him.  He added that most of them were too young to drink though some went back to the 2000 vintage.  Here are my notes on the first 10 and will do 10 more in another blog.

The Champagne

Champagne Pol Roger “Valentin Leflaive NV Blanc de Blancs (Extra Brut; 4.5 dosage. Made from 100% Chardonnay from the Cote des Blancs. Grapes from each plot of vines are vinified separately, and then the wine is delicately blended with reserve wines before being bottled and placed in the cellars in Avize to mature. The base wine is from 2010 vintage and is aged for 10 months in stainless steel (70%) and oak barrels (30%). This is an elegant wine with hints of apple, pears, brioche and citrus. Ed said this is the first release of the wine in the USA. It is a bargain at $57

Champagne G.H. Mumm RS NV Blanc de Blancs There are almost 218 hectares of vineyards rated 98%, which are mainly on the eight most renowned Grand Crus: Aÿ, Biuzy, Ambonnay, Verzy, Cramant, and Mailly-Champagne. 25% of the production comes from here, 75% is from independent growers. The grapes are picked between the end of September and mid October about 100 days after the vines have flowered. As required by champagne appellation rules, picking is by hand. After pressing, the must is stored in vats for two weeks between 18°C and 20°C before alcoholic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation always takes place but is not required by the appellation rules. In the cellars, the liqueur de triage triggers a second alcoholic fermentation and the bubbles gradually form. As the bubbles form, the pressure inside the bottle increases, reaching as much as 6 bars. Ed said that in this wine there was less pressure so the bubbles were not as forceful.  It is fresh, crisp, dry, and light-bodied with nice fruit aromas and flavors and a touch of white peach. $55 This one was ready to drink.

Champagne Collet “Collection Privée” 2006 made from 75% Chardonnay from Premiers and Grands Crus villages, 20% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier. Over 60% of the wine is aged in oak barrels from Champagne for 8 years in century old limestone cellars in Ay. Made from 50% Chardonnay from the grands crus of Cramant and Avize, 45% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims and 5% Pinot Meuniers from Dizy. The dosage is 9 g/l and the wine is aged for over 6 years in the cellars. This is an elegant Champagne with hints of walnuts, brioche and citrus fruit. $65

Champagne Perrier- Joulët Belle Epoque 2012 Made from 50% Chardonnay from the grands crus of Cramant and Avize, 45% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims and 5% Pinot Meuniers from Dizy. The dosage is 9 g/l and the wine is aged for over 6 years in the cellars. The wine has citrus aromas with hints of orange and lemon peel. On the palate there were white fruit flavors and a touch of almonds. $175

Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2009 Produced from 65% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir and 17% Pinot Meunier. This is a small house and their wines are very difficult to find in this country. The wine is fermented in 228 liter oak barrels for 6 months and spends 6 years in bottle. This is a non-vintage prestige cuvée and Ed found it to be elegant and more sophisticated and classier than some of the very good, but heavier Vintage Bruts. It has aromas and flavors of white fruit, honey and nuts. Ed described it as elegant and having intensely concentrated and complex flavors with hints of white fruit, toast and gingerbread, and a long aftertaste.$125 Ed said it was ready to drink.

Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV made from Grand Cru Chardonnay from Cramant, Le Mesnil-su-Oger, Avize and Oger all in the Côtes des Blancs grown in pure chalk soil. Vinification is in stainless steel. Maturation is on the lees longer than the 15 months required by law before it is disgorged. It has hints of toast, pear and honey, citrus with nice minerality. $65 Ed said this was the second label of Salon and ready to drink.

Champagne Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” 2006 made from 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay from twelve 100% rated Grand Cru Villages. This needs at least 15 years from the vintage date to develop fully. It was interesting because I found aromas and flavors of spice and ginger with citrus fruit and good acidity. $165. Ed said this was  a special Champagne.

Champagne Boizel Joyau de France 2000 Made from 65% Pinot Noir 35% Chardonnay from Grands and Pemiers Cru Grapes. The wine is aged 8 months in small 3-to 8-year old barrels after primary fermentation. Aged for 15 years on its lees, this mature Champagne is toasty, with hints of yellow peach, pastry, almonds and hazelnuts. $130 Even though the wine was almost 20 yeas old Ed said it was too young.

Champagne Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2005 made only in exceptional years from a blend of Grands Crus Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in equal parts. The Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, from Chouilly, Avize and Mesnil-su-Oger. The Pinot Noir from the north of the Montagne de Reims, from Mailly Champagne, Verzy and Verzenay. The wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of 12 years. The Dosage is 5g/l. This is a full flavored wine with hints of apricot and citrus fruit. There are toasted notes and a touch of honey. Ed said it was drinking well now. $185

Champagne Palmer & Co Grands Terroirs 2003 (magnum)  Made from 54% tPino Noir: Grands Crus 63% from Mailly and Verzenay, Premies Crus 37% from Ludes, Rilly and Chigny. 46% Chardonnay Premiers Crus 100% Trépail, Villers and Marmery. Aged on the lees for 12 years. Dosage 7.5. Disgorgement Nov 2017. This is an elegant and balanced Champagne with hints of citrus, pear, apricot, a note of hazelnut and a touch of brioche. $180 for the magnum.

With the Champagne we had:

Fagottini pasta filled with eggplant and buffalo ricotta in a Piennolo Tomato sauce

Halibut in a “Guazzetto” broth with fresh winter vegetables and scented with wild “Finocchiella”

All Champagne prices are approximate. Next time Prestige Cuvees for the New Year

Champagne Extravaganza

Champagne Extravaganza

December 19, 2019

Once again, as he has for the past 20-some-odd years, friend and colleague Ed McCarthy organized the Wine Media Guild’s annual Champagne luncheon, this year held in the special-event space at restaurant Il Gattopardo. Ed, the author of Champagne for Dummies, has the finest Champagne palate and deepest store of Champagne knowledge of anyone I’ve met in wine journalism, and the lineup of wines he collected for this occasion exceeded impressive: 20 specimens of the best bubblies around. Here is the whole festive list:

Pol Roger Valentine Leflaive NV Blanc de Blancs
H. Mumm NV Blanc de Blancs
Collet “Collection Privée” 2006
Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2012
Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2009
Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV
Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” 2006
Boizel Joyau de France 2000
Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2005
Palmer & Co. 2003 (magnum)
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004
Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon Rosé 2007
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 2004
Louis Roederer Cristal 2008
Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2006
Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2008
Bollinger La Grande Année 2008
Krug Grande Cuvée 168ème édition

Lists like that are what make Wine Media Guild events important. The chance to taste a battery of wines of this caliber (and cost!) happens only rarely, and for a wine professional the opportunity to taste so many such wines side by side, both by themselves and then with a good lunch, in congenial company and comfortable circumstances – that’s simply incomparable.

One of the Two Tasting Tables

It hardly counts as a spoiler alert to say at the outset that there wasn’t a single bottle of those 20 Champagnes that I would not happily drink for Christmas or New Year’s Eve or my birthday – or tomorrow’s breakfast, for that matter.

The Champagne guru did have a reservation, however: Ed thought that almost all the wines were too young. For example: of Champagne Collet’s 2006 Collection Privée, he said “it still needs time”; of Boizel’s 2000 Joyau de France, he said it was “still quite young” at almost 20 years of age; of Champagne Palmer & Co’s 2003, poured from magnum, he said it was “a bit young still – amazing”; and of Louis Roederer’s 2008 Cristal, he said it was “a great Champagne that needs 20 years to develop.”  Do you sense a theme?

Ed likes his Champagne mature, and I can fully sympathize with that. That this Cristal can develop fascinatingly over the next 20 years, and then stay at a beautiful plateau for 20 more, I have no doubt – but I would certainly want to dispel any notion that it wasn’t pleasurable drinking any time before then. Ditto for all the other “too young” wines in this lineup. Yes, they will all get better, more complex, more nuanced, with more age, but none of them was in any way not enjoyable right now.

They may give you more later in their life, but then as now, whether they show their best or not will depend on what food you pair them with. It is true of all wines, but, I think, especially of Champagnes, that the food pairing can make or break the wines. “Buy on apples, sell on cheese” is a universal wine maxim. For example: Our lunch ended with a lovely, light, refreshing dessert, an orange and Grand Marnier custard on pan di Spagna, with which not a single one of these fine Champagnes matched well – not even the lightest entry in the field, Pol Roger’s Valentine Leflaive NV Blanc de Blancs. The light sweetness of the custard made all the Champagnes taste too big, too austere, even bordering on harsh; whereas simple dry chocolate biscotti matched with most of the Champagnes quite decently, and certainly more pleasurably.

So the lesson is, if you’re going to invest in any of these fine and costly specimens, think very carefully about what to serve them with, lest you just throw your money away – or worse yet, decide that you just don’t understand Champagne and give up on the whole genre, which would be a terrible triumph for the Christmas Grinch.

For the sake of those who always ask such questions, I tried to come up with my five favorite Champagnes of the day, but I couldn’t do it. By the most rigorous process of elimination, I came up with eight favorites – and I hasten to stress, favorites on this day, in these circumstances. Here they are, in the order in which I tasted them.


Pol Roger Valentine Leflaive NV Blanc de Blancs: New in the US, light-bodied and charming. Ed called it a “fresh, vibrant baby.”


Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2009: As I am, Ed is a fan of Gratien, a Champagne house not as well known in the US as it deserves to be. My quick note on this wine says simply “meaty and very, very good.”


Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2006: “Something special – outstanding,” Ed said of this wine, and I agree completely.


Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2005: Another Champagne house better known and more esteemed in France than here, and another long-time favorite of both mine and Ed’s. I found it very elegant; he said it was “drinking beautifully.”


Louis Roederer Cristal 2008: What more can one say of Cristal?  This is a great wine that deserves all the praise it gets.


Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2006
:  Yet one more of my long-time favorites, always big and elegant. Ed called it “outstanding,” and I agree.


Bollinger La Grande Année 2008
: One of the biggest, deepest wines in the whole lineup. Classic Bollinger, structured and complex, this is definitely a wine that will last for decades.


Krug Grande Cuvée 168ème édition:  Krug achieves with its NV the kind of distinction that other houses match only with their tête de cuvée, and it does it year after year, here for the 168th time. How’s that for consistency?


So there you have it, in all its sparkling splendor. The only thing I can add is to wish you all a joyous Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Yule, or all of the above, as suits your seasonal inclination: May your days be merry and bright, and only half of your wines be white.


Mortes pour la France


Virginia Wines? You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.

This article was originally published by Pat Thomson on La Dolce Vita Wine Tours.

King Family Vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail


The first time I visited Virginia wine country, I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. That was the late ’70s – long before I knew anything about wine; I was an aspiring Italian Renaissance art historian. It would be decades before I’d become a wine writer and write about the Italian trader Philip Mazzei, who sailed from Europe in 1773 with 10,000 vines —  America’s first vitis vinifera— destined for Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate nearby. In 1979, I didn’t yet know that Jefferson, George Washington, and other colonial leaders were investors in America’s very first commercial wine outfit, the Virginia Wine Company.

Philip Mazzei, who brought in the first vitis vinifera to the U.S. Portrait by Jacques-Louis David (1790),


Nor did I know that a century earlier, Jamestown settlers had arrived to find native vines “in great abundance…that climbe the toppes of the highest trees,” as Captain John Smith wrote when recounting his 1606 expedition up the Chesapeake. To avoid drinking the muddy tidal waters, those settlers made wine with such native grapes as scuppernong, muscadine, and catawba. In 1619, to encourage this more healthful form of drink, the colony’s first house of representatives, the Virginia House of Burgesses, passed one of its first bills, Acte 12, which required every male colonist to plant and tend at least 10 grape vines.

Back in 1979, all I knew was that a day visiting the half-dozen wineries around Charlottesville was a very pleasant diversion from my studies. The wine, however…let’s just say it was not as alluring as the rural scenery.  I remember some wineries bottling literally dozens of grape varieties, regardless of whether they were appropriate to Virginia’s humid, subtropical climate or not. (The state gets twice the rainfall of Bordeaux.) No matter how iffy, those wines would get snapped up during UVA’s Parents’ Weekend nonetheless.

Some of that indiscriminate planting was still going on when I returned for a visit in 2008, but much else had changed. The half-dozen Charlottesville wineries had grown to 16, organized along a Monticello Wine Trail. Serious quality wine was coming out of new properties like King Family VineyardsPollak Vineyards, and Veritas Winery, as well as old stalwarts like Barboursville Vineyards. As a region, they’d found their voice, above all in viognier and cabernet franc.

Boxwood Winery, in the newly established Middleburg AVA


A recent tasting by the Wine Media Guild brought me up to speed on Virginia winemaking as a whole. I can safely say it’s come a long way, baby! Across the state, there are now 276 wineries, with 85% of vineyards planted to vitus vinifera. The sampling we tasted — 21 wines from 10 wineries — showed a new maturity of approach. The wineries had reaped knowledge from the school of hard knocks about what grows best where. In addition to viognier and cab franc, Virginia’s wineries have homed in on an obscure white grape from France’s Jurançon region, petit manseng, and have simultaneously taken their red blends to new heights. They’d also cast aside last decade’s obsession with extraction for a new, refined balance.

veritas’s flagship petit verdot, a grape that does well in its adopted home


The four petit mansengs presented to the Wine Media Guild were done in completely different styles — a testimony to the grape’s versatility. Glen Manor Vineyards’ was off-dry, in the typical Jurançon style. Michael Shaps Wineworks was golden-hued and nutty, with a strong impression of oak. Williamsburg Winery — whose property includes land once owned by colonist John Johnson, who planted a vineyard there after Acte 12’s passage — took a dry, lean approach. My personal favorite came from Paradise Springs Vineyard. It too was on the dry side, but at the same time effectively underscored petit manseng’s lovely peach and tropical fruit.

King family’s MERITAGE, a bordeaux-style blend of merlot, petit verdot, cabernet franc and malbec


The consensus among this group of wine writers was that the red blends were more successful than the pure varietals. I’d agree, though I found Veritas’ flagship petit verdot absolutely scrumptious: smooth in texture and bursting with blueberry, blackberry, and chocolate flavors. (I remember liking it in 2008, too.)

But yes, the red blends were the standouts. All tended to stick with the classic Bordeaux varieties, though ringers could also be found, such as Paradise Springs’ PVT, a juicy petit verdot/tannat 50/50 blend. Boxwood Estate Winery, from the new Middleburgh AVA (one of seven in the state), brought two blends that I starred in my tasting notes — Topiary and Trellis — and my old friend King Family Vineyards brought two other favorites, called Meritage and Mountain Plains. All possessed elegance, polish, and an appealing balance of ripe fruit with velvety tannins.

Something tells me I’m overdue for a return visit.

For more about Virginia wines, see the Virginia Wine website.

Jefferson Vindicated: Virginia Wines Wow Wine Media Guild

This article was originally published on Upstate-Downtown by Christopher Matthews.

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson is smiling.

The Founding Father, third US President and first oenophile-in-chief tried mightily to establish European (vinifera) grape varieties in his gardens and vineyards around Monticello, but encountered only failure, for reasons he mainly could not see in the early 19th century, like the American root louse (Phylloxera), and the many East Coast mildews and fungal diseases.

Autumnal Petit Verdot in Afton Mountain Vineyards. Afton, Virginia, USA. [Monticello AVA]

Virginia’s Monticello AVA

Fast forward to last week, when the Wine Media Guild (WMG) held a “Wines of Virginia” tasting and lunch at Il Gattopardo in Manhattan.  Not only is the leap from 19th century failure to today’s thriving Virginia wine scene breathtaking, but also the strides made in the last three decades in the Commonwealth, which has transformed into a world class wine region, attracting some of the best wine talent from around the globe. Jefferson would have been stunned by the excellence; I certainly was.

Over the years, I’ve tasted some impressive Virginia wines, not least from Barboursville Vineyards, which is an East Coast gem in the portfolio of the Italian Zonin Family Estates group. DC-based wine writer Dave McIntyre and others from the Capital region have also long sung the praises of  Virginia wines, and have consistently urged colleagues to visit the region’s wineries (which now number 276!). But this in no way prepared me for last week’s jaw-dropping WMG tasting, sponsored by WMG member Pat Savoie and curated by Master of Wine Jay Youmans, Managing Director of the Capital Wine School.  The quality of the selection was, to a wine, outstanding; the diversity — and combinations — of grape varieties surprising and compelling; and the Virginia wine sector continues to grow and to evolve in exciting ways, with information sharing among wineries and winemakers as the coin of the realm.


Jay Youmans, MW

As it happens, Barboursville’s winemaker and general manager since the early 1990s, Luca  Paschina, also attended our tasting. From his perspective, he said that one can make a “good wine” in Virginia in two out of 10 vintages. But if winemakers can embrace and take advantage of Virginia’s inherent climate variability — which has twice the rainfall of Bordeaux on average, and is warmer to boot — then they can make “excellent to outstanding wine” in eight years out of ten. Pretty good odds…for those with the talent and skill (and resources).


Barboursville Vineyard’s Luca Paschina

And Luca’s great skill showed from the very start: his Barboursville 2017 Vermentino Reserve ($23), my first wine of the day, was a knockout, sporting a floral, orange blossom nose, bright acidity and pretty orchard fruit. Not too many great Vermentino wines are found outside of Italy, but this is certainly one.


Virginia has had a Viognier thing going way back, and the Linden Vineyards 2017 Boisseau Viognier ($36) shows that it hasn’t been a bad idea: A ripe, floral and stone fruit nose leads into bright, plummy and stone fruit palate, with a gorgeous, slightly almondine finish.


Experimentation with grape varieties is an ongoing hallmark among Virginia wineries, according to Youmans. This was underlined by four white wines (from four different producers) made from the relatively obscure southwestern French grape Petit Manseng. Not unlike Chenin Blanc, which can produce a wide range of styles depending on the weather conditions in a given vintage, Petit Manseng offers great flexibility in Virginia’s highly variable climate. Sure enough, the four wines (covering three different vintages) differed stylistically, but for my palate, I preferred the Williamsburg Winery 2018  Petit Manseng ($22), a zesty, peppery  wine with nice body and focused orchard fruit.

For the reds, Youmans divided them into two groups: single variety wines, and Meritage-style blends (with a few local twists).

While Cab Franc is a common red vinifera grape on the East Coast (not least in the Hudson Valley, where I reside), and often made into a varietal wine, Petit Verdot and Tannat (another grape from southwest France!) are not. Virginia clearly does all three well, with interesting results.

Among the Petit Verdot wines, I really liked the Paradise Springs Vineyards 2016 Petit Verdot ($38), and earthy beauty, with coffee roast aroma and deep, blackberry fruit. Bordeaux would be impressed.


The Cab Franc wines also showed well, too, especially the Veritas Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($27), a classic example with clean herbal and berry aromas, bright briar fruit on the palate and a long, mineral finish.


Make no mistake, however: the red blends were the knockouts in this tasting. These Bordeaux-ish blends have their own Virginia character, somehow (oversimplifying, of course) falling between upper-tier California Meritage and Grand Cru Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon takes a subsidiary (or no) role in these blends (compared with California), while Petit Verdot takes on a bigger role (compared with both California and Bordeaux).  Tannat joins some of the blends as well.

Perhaps my overall favorite red blend was the King Family Vineyards 2014 Meritage ($35; Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec), a deep ruby wine with ripe briar and raspberry fruit, nice energy, medium body, perfect balance and a clean, long finish. A pretty wine that works well at the table — a Thanksgiving wine!


At a higher price point, the Early Mountain Vineyards 2017 Eluvium ($55; Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon) was impressive: a high-tone, floral nose with blueberry aromas that playback on the palate, a good spine of acidity and medium body, with a nice tannic bite on the finish.


If Virginia has a cult wine, then it is Barboursville Vineyards 2010 Octagon ($100-140; Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot). With earthy black fruit and herbal/menthol aromas, Octagon exhibits deep black fruit on the palate, brimming with energy and beautiful structure from start to finish. Simply stunning, with many miles to go yet. While not many folks would pay three figures for a Virginia wine, the indisputable quality of this one actually makes it a relative bargain when compared with California cult wines or Classified Bordeaux.


So, a fascinating snapshot of the Virginia wine scene, one that continues to evolve and is clearly dynamic. With a shortage of local grapes, and growing demand for the wines, it is a (still) expanding universe in terms of acreage, where proper site selection is key. Much of this growth is now farther afield from the “home market” of the District of Columbia, focused particularly up and down the Shenandoah Valley and hills. Grape experimentation continues, with varieties such as Pinot Gris, Fiano, Albariño, Corvina, even Pinotage (!) being planted. In the cellars, wineries are turning out increased production of sparkling wines, capitalizing on that growing consumer trend, and trying out “Pet-Nats” and Orange wines, too, according to Youmans.

Tom would be proud.


Campania Panorama

This article was originally published on Tom’s Wine Line by Tom Maresca.

Campania Panorama

The Wine Media Guild opened this season’s series of tasting lunches with a fine survey of the varied output of the Campania region of south-central Italy, probably the most exciting region of Italy for winemaking today. I’ve long been a major fan of Campania because of the richness of its viticultural traditions and the amazing variety of its fine indigenous grapes.

Several years back, in Decanter, I predicted that wine lovers would someday speak of Campania with the same reverence they now reserve for Burgundy. That hasn’t happened yet, but the extremely high level of the Media Guild’s array of wines – 31 wines, of at least 8 indigenous red and white varieties, from several different Campanian regions – showed why to my mind that conversion is still inevitable.

Ilaria Petitto, the head of the Donnachiara winery, was the event’s guest of honor. Five of Donnachiara’s wines were represented: the whites Resilienza 2017 (Falanghina), Empatia 2018 (Fiano di Avellino), and Alethia 2017 (Greco di Tufo), and the reds Aglianico 2017 and Taurasi 2015. All were fine and in themselves a fair example of Campania’s variety and quality, but I was particularly impressed by the reds.

Donnachiara’s white wines have always been textbook examples of the great Irpinian varieties, but in the past, the estate’s red wines lagged them. A few years back, Signora Petitto engaged the famed enologist Riccardo Cotarella, and the reds have been getting better and better ever since. Donnachiara is a small estate by the standards of the region’s largest, like Mastroberardino and Feudi di San Gregorio, but it is rapidly joining them in prestige.

Because of the diversity of their grape varieties and vinicultural zones, I can’t generalize about the other 26 wines, except to say that all were fine – which is in itself pretty remarkable.

  • The stand-out among the Falanghina and Falanghina-based wines was Marisa Cuomo’s Furore Bianco 2018 (Costa d’Amalfi), a great wine of complexity, depth, and suavity.
  • Among the Fiano di Avellino wines, I particularly liked Tenuta Sarno 1860’s two bottles (2016 and 2017), both of which displayed an admirable varietal character.
  • Among the Greco di Tufo, Benito Ferraro’s Terra d’Uva 2018 just shone – but then Ferraro’s Grecos always do: This is a top-flight Greco producer.
  • Among the reds, I loved Villa Raiano’s Aglianico Costa Baiano 2015 and the Contrade di Taurasi (aka Cantine Lonardo) Taurasi 2013: Both were really fine, elegant and fresh, complex and totally enjoyable.

Teresa Bruno, co-owner of the Petilia winery with her brother Roberto, who is the winemaker, had gotten caught in New York traffic, arrived late during lunch, and dashed from table to table tirelessly pouring samples from two very welcome bottles: Petilia’s 2017 Ape, a Fiano di Avellino fermented on the skins, and 2015 Quattro Venti, a Greco di Tufo. The Fiano was lovely, with its almondy perfumes and nut and wildflower flavors enhanced by the long skin contact, and the Greco was what I think of as classic Petilia – big and fruity and balanced, just great Greco.

Except to Italian wine nuts like me, none of these wines has the name recognition of the famous Bordeaux or Burgundy estates. It’s useful to remind ourselves that the Romans of the Empire regarded Campanian wines as the best of the best. The Romans weren’t stupid: They recognized and exploited the variety of Campania’s soils and exposures to produce their versions of Chateau Lafite and Richebourg.

Obviously, we have no way of knowing whether the grapes being grown in Campania today are the same varieties the Romans cultivated, but we do know that all of them are natives – international varieties have made almost no headway in Campania – and many of them are very old indeed. And more and more indigenes are being rescued all the time. Not two decades back, Falanghina was endangered. Even more recently, Pallagrella bianco and Pallagrello rosso and Casavecchia have been brought back from the brink of extinction and are now producing award-winning wines.

A few years ago I met a winemaker who told me that on his roughly 30 hectares near Naples he grows 30 or more grape varieties, half of which, he said – and I believe him – “are not in the catalog.”  This is why, for me, Campania is endlessly fascinating: It’s going to be presenting us with new old wines for years to come. To paraphrase an old Roman line: Ex Campania, semper aliquid novum.