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.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR

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. https://charlesscicolone.wordpress.com/2019/12/23/champagne-for-the-holidays-with-ed-champagne-mc-carthy

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.
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One of the Two Tasting Tables

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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.

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


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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.”

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

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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.”

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

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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.

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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.

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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. https://www.dolcetours.com/LivingLaDolceVita/virginia-wines-youve-come-a-long-way-baby

King Family Vineyards on the Monticello Wine Trail

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),

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

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

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

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.

WMGSpeaker

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).

LucaVA

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.

VermentinoVA

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.

ViognerVa

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.

PVVA

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.

VeritasVa

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!

KFVA

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.

EarlyMtVA

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.

OctagonVa

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.

Cheers!

Campania Panorama

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

https://ubriaco.wordpress.com

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.

Encountering Some of Portugal’s Red Wines

This article was originally published by Tom Maresca on Tom’s Wine Line. https://ubriaco.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/encountering-some-of-portugals-red-wines

In land mass, Portugal is one of the smallest countries in western Europe, but in terms of the number of grape varieties grown and kinds of wine produced, it’s right up there with its larger neighbors. The Wine Media Guild November meeting featured a generous selection of its wines – two dozen, to be precise – organized by WMG member David Ransom.

For a very pleasant and auspicious change from tastings of Portuguese wines I have attended in the past, these wines all had importers and hence are available on these shores, even if not in all stores. That eases my writerly conscience considerably, since I hate to write about wines that my readers can’t get hold of, even if sometimes there is just no avoiding it.

This time, that wasn’t a problem. However, I found the wines a very mixed bag, with most of the whites tasting – to my palate, that day – just ho-hum. So I’m going to focus here on the reds, which my palate that day found much more enjoyable and interesting. With very few exceptions, they were also quite reasonably priced, which is always welcome news.

Among Portugal’s many red varieties, three stand out, as much for their quality as their ubiquity across the country’s multiple wine zones: Touriga nacional, Touriga franca, and Baga. All three are first-rate wine grapes, the latter two most important in the Douro Valley and in north-central Portugal respectively, while Touriga nacional, as its name implies, seems to be grown everywhere. Once it was used only to make Port, but its rich aromas and flavors have long outgrown that restriction.

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These all seem to be truly indigenous varieties, until quite recently planted nowhere outside Portugal, but how little is truly known about them is reflected in the brevity of the comments on them in Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz), where all three are recognized as of very high quality, but awarded only a few paragraphs each. Wine Grapes distinguishes Baga as probably the variety with the greatest drinking and aging potential, though also, because it needs a long ripening season and Portugal’s Atlantic climate does not always allow that, the variety that can make the most disappointing wines – so worth seeking out, but find out all you can about vintages before buying.

There was only one wine at the tasting identified as a Baga (though I suspect Baga was at least a component in several others), and that was from the acknowledged master of the variety, Luis Pato: Luis Pato Bairrhada Tinto Vinhas Velhas 2015.
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Even though young – Baga really needs time – this showed everything I expect of Baga and of Luis Pato. It was dark and brooding and deep, smelling of underbrush and black berries, smooth, almost velvety on the palate, and very long finishing. I’d want to drink this wine when it’s 20, if I could last that long. Not so by-the-way, Pato has a pre-phylloxera Baga vineyard that produces just extraordinary wine: Quinto do Ribeirinho Pé Franco. If you ever see it at anything resembling a reasonable price, by all means try it.

Two other wines really caught my attention that day: Julia Kemper Touriga Nacional 2011 and Chocapalha Castelão 2015.
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The latter wine is vinified from the Castelão grape, which is sort of the Barbera of Portugal. It’s widely grown and yields a medium-bodied wine that in the best examples, of which this bottle is one, is delightfully fruity – berries and underbrush – and well-structured and makes just plain enjoyable drinking. Touriga nacional more resembles Sangiovese or, for Spanish wine fans, Tempranillo: good fruit, often intense and nervous, with fine structure and breed, that rewards cellaring. I found this Julia Kemper example quite classic – still vivacious at seven years of age and promising a much longer lifetime.

There were other red wines I enjoyed – Quinto do ValladoTouriga Nacional 2015, Quinto do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2014, Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella 2015, Joao Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva 2013 – but the other real stand-out of the day for me was a lovely Madeira, Broadbent 10 Year Old Boal.
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Madeira is a sadly underappreciated wine these days, and no matter how often publicists cite Thomas Jefferson’s love for it, it just never seems to catch on in this country. I’ll simply say this: If I were restricted to only one dessert wine for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Madeira. This Boal was perfect: the color a brilliant tawny amber, the nose big and rich, redolent of dried figs and apples, the palate balanced and harmonious, with the same flavors riding an undercurrent of tea and cacao, the finish long, long, long. It was a perfect way to end the tasting and the lunch.

I’m about to commit the biggest sin of omission available to wine journalists at this time of year: I’m not going to write about Champagne or sparkling wine. There are good reasons for this – the exalted price of so many of them, for one – but the compelling reason is that I’m bored with the endlessly repeated insistence that sparklers are an indispensable accompaniment to holiday festivities. Nonsense: There are plenty of fine, celebratory wines out there that will make your holidays just as enjoyable as any sparkler.

So, with that little bit of Bah Humbug! out of the way, let me wish you all a very Merry – and still – Christmas!

Tasting Prestige Cuvèe & Vintage Champagne with Ed Mc Carthy

 

Once again Ed Mc Carthy, author of “ Champagne for Dummies,” organized a fantastic Champagne tasting for the Wine Media Guild at Il Gattopardo restaurant in NYC. All of the wines he presented were Prestige Cuvèe and Vintage Champagnes.

Champagne Ed Mc Carthy

Ed began by speaking about the vintages in Champagne. He said 2002, 2008 and 2012 were the great vintages in this century so far. He added that every one in Champagne is raving about the 2018 but they will not be released for some time.

The Champagne

Ayala Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2012 made from 100% Chardonnay from 100% Cote des Blancs Grand Crus: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly and Cramant. The average time the wine spends on the lees is 6 years. Dosage is 6 grams/liter and the alcohol is 12%. It is produced in small quantizes and only in exceptional years. This is expressive Champagne with hints of lemon, white fruit, yellow plums and chalky minerality. $ 70

Kristin Calmes, Public Relations Manager, Palm Bay, with the Boizel

Boizel Champagne Grand Vintage 2007. Made from 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. 3% of the wine is aged in oak casks. The wine spends 7 years on the lees. This is elegant champagne with hints of ripe fruit, a touch of almonds and apricots and a note of licorice. $80

Ed liked this Champagne and said it should be better known.

Pamela Wittmann with the “Bensionensi” from Eric Taille

Champagne Eric Taillet “Bensionensi Extra Brut 100% Pinot Meunier-Blanc de Meunier. Grapes are from the Marne Valley, Bensionensi terroir and the average age of the vines is 25 years. The soil is clay and limestone. Sustainable viniculture, with grass growing between the rows, no chemical weed killer is used. Application on foliage is of pure algae and certified organic oligo elements. Traditional Dollat type wood press is used. There is an extraction and fractioning of press juices and natural must settling. Thermoregulation fermentation is at 65F. Malolactic fermentation does not take place. The wine matures on the fine lees. The wine is aged for 36 months. Dosage is 4g/l, with 2004 vintage base wine and cane sugar. $80

G.H. Mumm RS Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 2012 Made from 100% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru Village of Cramant. It is a single vintage release 2 years after the harvest. The dosage is 6g/l. Alcohol is 12.5. It has hints of fresh fruit with notes of lemon and grapefruit. Ed said this was a lighter style Champagne. $70

Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Natural made from 2/3 Pinot Noir and Meunier and 1/3 Chardonnay.The grapes are grown in the Coteaux de Cumieres exclusively. 25% of the wine is vinified in oak casks. Malolactic fermentation does not take place. The wine is aged for 5 years in the cellars and left for a minimum of 6 months after disgorging. There is no dosage. The wine has hints of peach, hazelnuts with citrus notes and a touch of pepper. $70

Palmer & Co Vintage Brut. 2009 . Made from 50/55% Chardonnay, Pinot Noir 30/35% and reserve wine 30/35%. The grapes come from the best vineyards in the Champagne region: from Premiers and Grand Crus of Montagne de Reims. The wine ages on the lees. It remains in the bottle for 4 rears before release and 6 years for the magnum. Dosage is 8 g/l. It has hints of citrus, pear, apricot a note of hazelnut and a touch of brioche. Ed said this is not a new Champagne but it is just coming into the US market now. Ed liked it. $50

Collet Champagne “Esprit Couture” NV made from 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier from only 10 villages and composed of Premier and Grand Crus. The wine is aged for a minimum of 5 years in their chalk cellars. Dosage is 7.5 grams of sugar is added per liter. This is an elegant Champagne with floral notes, hints of stone fruit and citrus with an intense finish. This was a favorite of every one I spoke to including Ed. I liked it a lot $99

Alfred Gratien Champagne “Cuvee Paradis” Rose NV made from 63% Chardonnay and 37% Pinot Noir. Traditional vinification and maturation in 228 liter oak casks, with self-imposed limits on production levels. To ensure that it maintains its original character they make a conscious decision not to use malolactic fermentation in the production of this Champagne. This was the only Rosè at the tasting and it was showing very well. The wine has hints of orange blossoms and red berries with a touch of toast, nice minerality and a long dry finish. It is an excellent rose $100. Suzie Kukaj-Curovic, Associate Director Public Relations for Mionetto USA, presented this Champagne.

Bollinger “ La Grande Anneë” Brut 2007 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. Champagne. $125 

 Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Brut 2011 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. $150

Ruinart, Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc 2007 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. Ed liked it $130

Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs 2006. 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 “tailles.” 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 has always been one of my favorites.  It was toasty with hints of white fruit, good acidity and a long lingering finish. $130

 Moet & Chandon Champagne Dom Pérignon Plenitude Deuxieme P2 2000 made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.
This Champagne spent 16 years in the cellars. After 7 years the P2 Bottles are turned upside down, sur pointe, to slow down the oxidation process. The wine is regularly tasted by the Dom Pérignon oenologist to determine the perfect time for release. Each bottle is disgorged by hand prior to release.
This is elegant, intense and complex Champagne with notes of honey, orange fruit, ginger and a touch of almond. It was not showing any signs of age and would be  perfect with caviar. $350. This was the most expensive Champagne but worth the money.

Camila Xavier, Associate Marketing Manager, Henriot

 

Henriot Champagne “Cuvee Hemera” Brut 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 Maill 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. This Champagne will age. $200

Piper-Heidsieck “Rare” Brut 2002 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. 2002 was an excellent year in Champagne, $155

Diego Del Pino, Business Development Manager for Krug

Krug Brut Grande Cuvé Brut 166th 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. $150

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

All prices are an approximation.

 

Tasting Port and Madeira

I have always enjoyed Port wine in its different forms as well as Madeira but until recently,  I have not had the opportunity to drink them.  Michele and I decided to go to Lisbon and I was looking forward to enjoying Port and Madeira there, but by coincidence, just before we left I attended a friend’s birthday dinner were they were served Then a few days after we returned, the Wine Media Guild held a tasting of Portuguese wine.

At a special dinner at Gramercy Tavern

D’ Oliveira Reserva Verdelho 1966 Madeira The grapes are harvested, crushed, pressed and then fermented in stainless steel or oak. With the Verdelho grapes the skins are removed to produce this dryer style of Madeira. The winemaking process involves heating the wine. Fermentation is stopped with brandy and the time of adding the brandy depends on the grape variety. Verdelho gets the brandy on the fourth day of fermentation. The wine is put into large wooden casks which stand in a heated room. The cellar master tries to keep the characteristic taste of the shipper when blending different wines together. The age given on the label indicates the youngest wine in the blend. Blended wine with the name of the grape on the label must contain at least 85% of this grape. The other 15% can be other varieties, usually Tinta Negra Mole.

Vintage Port 1963 Graham Declared by all major Port houses, 1963 was a monumental vintage against which others are now judged. This is a classic vintage port, which will still last for a number of years.

In Lisbon

Niepoort Vintage 1978 Vintage Port This was not a generally declared vintage but it was a year in which many Single Quinta Vintage Ports were produced. This was a great way to end a meal as the finish and aftertaste of the Port went on and on.

Quinta do Noval unfiltered single vineyard port 2012. Made exactly like a Vintage Port with only noble grapes from the Quinta. The grapes are crushed by foot and the wine is unfiltered. It is aged in casks for 4 or 5 years instead of the 2-year aging for Classic Vintage Port. The wine has nice flavors and aromas of black fruit and a touch of prune. It can be drunk now but will improve with age.

Dalav Colheita Port 1985 Port from a single year harvest. Instead of an indicator of age like blended tawny (10,20,30, 40…) the year is always on the label. It should not be mistaken for a Vintage Port because the Colheita must age for a minimum of seven years in oak casks. This is an elegant wine with a lot of aroma and flavor of dry fruit, spice, honey, nuts, cinnamon and a very pleasing finish and aftertaste. I really liked this wine and a brought back a few bottles. The wine does not develop significantly in the bottle.

Kopke 20 years Old Tawny Port matured in wood. Grapes are hand picked, destemmed and crushed and made into wine by a careful maceration to extract the color, tannins and aromas, enhanced by constant churning during fermentation. Fermentation takes place in vats (lagares) at a controlled temperature (29 to 30 C )until the right degree of sweetness (balumè) is achieved. Grape brandy is added to create the final fortified wine made by blending different vintage to achieve the typical characteristics of aged Tawny Port. The wine is then matured in casks.

Valriz Porto 20 years old Tawny Port made from Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Tounga Franca. Aged in large chestnut casks. The wine has hints dried fruits, almonds, hazelnuts and spice. We had the 10 year old and the 20 year old side by side.  The 20 year old was well worth the extra money.

Wine Media Guild tasting of Portuguese Winw

The speaker was David Ransom WMG member and co-host with his wife Melanie Young of the “Connected Table”

Quinta do Vallado 20 year Old Tawny This is a fortified wine made mainly from Touriga National, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cä from old vines plus 5 other indigenous grapes. The grapes are handpicked from the estate vineyards. Because port wines are intended to be sweet, fermentation is arrested half way through the process, before all the residual sugar has been fermented. Fermentation is halted through the addition of grape spirits, thus producing a fortified wine. The wine is aged in 600-liter old oak casks and other oak vats for years during which time the complex aromas and flavors can develop. It is a rich, nutty wine with aromas of dried fruit and a touch of smoke. The alcohol is 20%.

C.N. Kopke Porto Colheita 2007 (White Port) Fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats where the grapes macerate and are churned with their skins on at temperature between 16 to 18 C. This produces a wine with color and structure that can sustain a prolonged aging in oak. The fermentation is halted by adding grape brand and thus creating a fortified wine. A Colheita wine matures in oak barrels for a period of time that can vary but never less than 7 years. It is bottled and sold according to the demands of the market. The wood aging is a perfect combination with the stone yellow fruit and the hints of citrus. There is mingling of the acidity and sweetness, which gives the wine an elegant and delicate finish. This was the first time I had a white Colheita Port and I will drink more.

Taylor Fladgate Quinta de Vargellas 1986 Single- quinta (single vineyard) vintage port is produced only in exceptional years in which a general vintage is not declared. Quinta de Vargellas has the highest percentage of old vines of any quinta in the Duro, with 60% over 75 years old. All of the grapes undergo the traditional foot treading method. Fermentation is halted by the addition of grape spirits before all the sugar has been fermented producing a sweet fortified wine. The wine is aged for two years in wood and then bottled unfiltered and will continue to age in the bottle for years. This is a wine with black fruit aromas and flavors and a hint of prune. 1986 was not a generally declared vintage.

Broadbent Boal Madeira 10 year old made from a white grape. The alcohol is 19%. This wine is about $30 and it was so smooth and velvet-like that it was almost too much!