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.

Encountering Some of Portugal’s Red Wines

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Kopke’s Miraculous White Port

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

Kopke White Colheita 2007

“You just haven’t met the right one.” That’s what I used to tell myself every time I tried a white port. I was eager, willing, and always disappointed.

Until I tasted a Kopke White Colheita 2007.

Boy, what a revelation. I had become habituated to bland, characterless white ports, the kind routinely served to the thousands of tourists who flock to the quayside port lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia, across the river from Porto, Portugal.

(Granted, the rubies and tawnies served at the conclusion of these mass-tourism tours are pretty insipid as well, being the Port houses’ entry-level products. You have to make private appointments to get the good stuff, which we routinely do on our DOURO VALLEY tour.)

Instead, Kopke’s amber-hued version is layered and seductive, an aromatic bundle of brown sugar, crème brulee, hazelnut, and lemon peel, with just the right balance of sweetness and acidic lift. Nothing cloying here. Nor is this a white port you’d ever want to mix with tonic water, the way the Brits do with lesser versions.

Funny enough, this revelation happened not in Portugal, but in New York City, at a tasting of Portuguese wine organized by food & wine writer David Ransom for the Wine Media Guild.

I was happy to see some old friends there, like Quinta do PassadouroWine & Soul, and Quinta de Chocapalha, all linked in one way or another to the Douro power couple Sandra Tavares da Silva and Jorge Borges, superb winemakers both. I also made some new acquaintances, like the Alentejo winery Alexandre Relvas, whose amphora-aged Art.Terre Amphora Red jumped out with its unique flavor profile, an explosion of blueberry fruit.

Among the handful of Ports, I fawned over Quinta do Vallados 20-Year Tawny—as good as it gets—and nearly fainted when I spotted the 1986 Vintage Port from Taylor Fladgate’s Quinta de Vargellas, which was aged to perfection.


But the revelation was Kopke’s White Colheita. (The term colheita—pronounced col-YAY-ta—simply means ‘harvest’ and is used when a type of Port that’s normally a blend of years is instead a single vintage, and—with tawnies at least—is aged for at least seven years in wooden barrels.)

Kopke, established in 1638 by a German entrepreneur, is one of Port’s oldest firms. It’s known for its tawnies and colheitas (with stocks going back to 1938). And it’s always such a treat to visit their tasting room in Vila Nova da Gaia, where you can sample a deep library of older vintages by the glass. So I shouldn’t have been surprised that they also work their wood-aging magic on white port.

Most white ports sit in cement or stainless steel vats for 18 months before release. Instead Kopke’s white colheita stays seven years in wood, just like a tawny colheita. Inside the barrel it takes on a nutty, oxidized character that give it a kinship to tawnies, but with a base of white grapes rather than red.

According to Richard Mayson’s Port and the Douro—essential reading for any Port lover—there aren’t too many firms that bother to make a wood-aged white port, in part because most believe the Douro’s native white grapes don’t have as much personality as the reds. In addition to Kopke, the echelon who make this rare category include Churchill’s (aging it 10 years in barrel), Niepoort (also 10 years), Quinta de la Rosa (2–3 years), and C. da Silva, a firm known for its coheitas, offering a family of age-designated white ports ranging from 7 years to 40 years in oak.

Bottom line: I have yet another good incentive to return to the Douro.

But you can find the Kopke 2007 stateside as well. It retails for about $65 and is distributed by Wine in Motion [contact; their new website will be live in January].



Wine Media Guild Explores Portugal

by Christopher Matthews

During its long history, especially during the Age of DiscoveryPortugal has been known as a nation of explorers, something that allowed the (then) small kingdom to punch far above its weight for centuries as a colonial power.

Times have changed, and the tables have turned, as Portugal itself, sans colonies and King, has become a hot tourist destination and a country to explore, not least for its vibrant and rapidly evolving wine sector, a big success story of the last few decades, but one the US market should know more about.WMG Logo


This was the point of departure for the Wine Media Guild’s (WMG) most recent tasting/lunch — “Exploring the Wines of Portugal” — hosted by WMG Member David Ransom, and featuring Ivan Escalante, a sales rep for Iberian wines for the distributor Wine in Motion USA, at the Restaurant at La Nacional (The Spanish Benevolent Society).

It was an instructive, eye-opening tasting of quality, value…and lesser known, indigenous grape varieties.


Portugal, the home of Port and Madeira, is no newcomer to the world wine stage. It is only in the last few decades, however, that many Portuguese wineries and estates (Quintas) have moved significantly into production of dry, unfortified wines (particularly in the Douro region), looking to diversify and to capture new markets, and to capitalize on Portugal’s climatic, viticultural and cost advantages. But unlike some other modern wine successes, like Chile or New Zealand, whose models have been based on well-known international grape varieties (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot), Portugal has a treasure trove of native, quality grapes, like Touriga Nacional (red), that were once used solely in Port wine production, and are creating (or contributing to) unique and exciting wines made nowhere else.

The hosts put together an impressive tasting of some 30 wines that are available in the US/New York market, with over half under $20.

Portugal is not renown here in the US for sparkling wine, but it produces quality Method Champenois wines, like Caves Transmontanas Rose Sparkling 2014 (Douro region – $17), a bright, energetic bargain, with pretty red fruit and nice minerality, made 100% from the indigenous Touriga Franca grape.

In the US, Portuguese whites are, for many, defined by fizzy, cheap Vinho Verde wines. These certainly have their place, and have wide distribution, but Vinho Verde produces compelling quality wines, too, as do many other Portuguese appellations (DOCs), using diverse, native grape varieties, for just a few dollars more than the lower-end offerings. Here are a few white gems from the tasting (all prices approximate):

Conde Villar Alvarinho 2017 (Vinho Verde) — aromatic and floral, with tropical and stone fruit notes and nice energy, all for only $11! (Alvarinho is the Portuguese version of the Spanish Albariño).

Chocapalha Arinto 2017 (Lisboa region) — attractive peach aromas with a lean, citrusy and mineral-laced palate (Arinto is a native Portuguese grape). [$14]


Torre de Vila Nova 2016 (Vinho Verde) — a blend of the indigenous LoureiroAzaland Arinto grapes, it has stone fruit and pineapple aromas, and a clean, zesty and citrusy (grapefruit/lime) palate. [$19]

Portugal truly excites when it comes to reds, as this WMG tasting confirmed in spades. And the overall quality of the reds was outstanding. Here are some highlights:

Luis Pato Tinto Vinhas Velhas 2013 (Bairrada) — the Bairrada DO is tied to the native Baga grape for reds, which can yield long-lived, complex wines similar to Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir, depending on age. This one is still youthful, with an expressive, brambly nose, juicy blackberry fruit, nice acidity and a long finish. [$20]

Quinta do Passadouro Passadouro Tinto 2013 (Douro) — possibly the best value of the tasting. Made of 50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca and 25% Tinta Roriz, this has a fresh, dark berry nose, along with lip-smacking black fruit, silky tannins, impressive structure and exceptional length. [$18]



João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva 2013 (Alentejo) — a slightly smoky, deep black fruit nose, followed by lean, brambly fruit, good balance, medium body and nice length. [$15]

Alexandre Relvas Art.Terre Amphora Red 2016 (Alentejo) — A pretty (and unique) blueberry nose is reflected back on a zesty palate with a clean, long finish. Great as a table companion, and a true bargain. [$15]


Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2015 (Douro) — on the higher end, and my best-in-show, this 100% Touriga Nacional wine shows it class: a focused nose of violets and black fruit, with energetic, juicy blackberry fruit, smooth tannins and compelling structure and balance, reminiscent of a Grand Cru Bordeaux.  [$64]


All of the wines mentioned above — both the whites and the reds — worked beautifully with the Spanish repast over lunch, especially with the wonderful Valencian seafood paella served as the  main course.


Certainly a worthy exploration, with plenty of discovery (even rediscovery!), especially the qualitative excellence of these Portuguese wines, at extremely reasonable prices.



This article originally appeared in the Virtual Gourmet  and was written by Geoff Kalish.

Guido Bellucchi Estate, Franciacorta

About 20 years ago on a visit to northern Italy’s little known Franciacorta area, I was unimpressed by the quality and value of most of the sparklers tasted, especially when compared with that of the Prosecco region, only 100 miles away.

In fact, while Franciacorta sparklers are made by the same process as used in Champagne (i.e., making a base wine, then adding additional yeast and sugar to the bottle to produce carbon dioxide bubbles), our visit revealed many with a strange, somewhat oxidized bouquet and a too sweet taste. Moreover, at that time one could hardly find a bottle of Franciacorta bubbly at more than a handful of U.S. retail outlets.

That’s all changed. Now I’ve found that the bouquet and taste of a number of sparklers from Franciacorta not only outdo those of Prosecco but rival the likes of many bottles of Champagne —and at a very modest price when compared with that of most bottles of Champagne. Today many more shops nationwide are carrying more than a token brand or two of Franciacorta sparklers.

What’s accounted for this change is multifactored: Since the late 1990s the region has witnessed an emphasis on enhanced quality of viticultural and vinicultural practices —especially a movement in the region to produce the wines organically, with the great majority now “certified” organic, as well as an effort to determine the best growing area for different clones of the Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes (the predominant varietals used in these wines); decreased sweetness, or even elimination of the dosage (the liquid that’s added to Franciacorta sparklers when, as in the process in Champagne, the wasted yeast from the second fermentation is removed, a process known as “disgorgement”); and of course some savvy marketing — the combination of which has led to the export of over 12% of the annual production.

To evaluate the result of the effort to enhance the quality of these wines a tasting of 15 currently available for consumers to purchase was conducted at New York City’s The Leopard des Artistes by the Wine Media Guild (a U.S.-based organization of professional wine communicators). To be honest, I didn’t love every one of those tasted, finding a few too sweet and others not rising above the quality of good Prosecco. On the other hand, I found a number of the wines outstanding, and the following are my notes on these with my top choice in each of 7 categories.


Castel Faglia, Dosaggio Zero, Millesimato 2012 ($23)

This sparkler is made of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero grapes and, as the name implies, no additional sugar is added to the wine when it’s disgorged. It shows a straw yellow color, a steady stream of rapidly rising bubbles and a delicate, fruity taste with hints of almonds and cinnamon in its dry finish.


Il Mosnel, Extra Brut. Vintage 2013 ($52)

Made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, this wine was fermented in small oak casks over five months with the second fermentation taking place over 3 years. It has a pale yellow color, very fine bubbles and a refreshing bouquet and taste, with hints of vanilla in its finish. One might be hard pressed to distinguish this wine from a top-tier Champagne.


Ca Del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige, Brut NV ($32)

This bubbly is made from 75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero grapes. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks over five months. In making the final blend, a small amount of “reserve” wine from other vintages was added, with the second fermentation taking place over 25 months. Of note, disgorgement takes place in an oxygen-free atmosphere, so that very little sulfur dioxide needs to be added. It shows a bouquet and taste of peaches and brioche and has a very fruity finish with a bit of vibrant acidity.


Franciacorta, Bellavista, Millesimato, Brut Vintage 2012 ($45)

Made from 73% Chardonnay and 27% Pinot Nero, this outstanding sparkler underwent primarily stainless-steel tank fermentation, with 30% of the grapes barrel fermented. The second fermentation was conducted over 36 months. It shows a pale straw color and a fine stream of bubbles, with aromas and an elegant taste of ripe apples and brioche, with a long memorable finish, that has notes of almonds and vanilla.

SATĖN (A classification unique to the area in which the blend must be made from only white grapes and have a bottle pressure so as to produce a very “foamy” wine.)

Ricci Curbastro, Saten Millesimato NV, Dossagio Zero ($49)

This 100% Chardonnay wine was fermented in oak and underwent its second fermentation over 48 months. It has a straw yellow color, a bouquet and creamy taste of apples and peaches with hints of fennel and lemon in its smooth finish. This wine makes an excellent mate for grilled salmon, veal or smoky cheeses.


Guido Berlucchi, Rosé NV ($29)

Made from 60% Pinot Nero and 40% Chardonnay, this great value from the producer who first made sparkling wines in the area shows a fragrant bouquet and taste of ripe cherries and strawberries, with hints of lemons and limes in its finish. More than just an aperitif wine, it makes great accompaniment to pasta with red sauce as well as grilled branzino or shrimps.


Majolini, Blanc de Noir, Brut NV ($56)

While a bit pricey, this 100% Pinot Noir wine, from grapes hand harvested from a vineyard on a hilltop loaded with calcareous soil, represents Pinot Noir bubbly at its best, with fragrant flavors of ripe berries and a taste of berries and hints of dried apricots in its long smooth finish. This is an ideal wine to mate with a wide range of food from scallops to grilled chicken or veal.

Bordeaux Producers Shine at NYC Wine Media Lunch

This article was originally published on A Wine Story
by Marisa D’Vari.

What a great presentation of fabulous vintages of Bordeaux wine. You will see in the picture the four representatives from the very top estates in Bordeaux who came to New York to showcase several of their vintages. It was an amazing event as you can imagine.

In the picture to the extreme right, let’s start with the only table with both dry white wine and red wine represented by Wilfrid Groizard (wearing a black sports jacket, who is the commercial and marketing director of Chateau LaTour-Martillac in Graves. M. Groizard brought three FABULOUS white wines, the 2011, 2013, and 2015 vintages. Of course he had me at the 2011, a great blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. I will write more about the new Semillion massal selection in another article.

Wilfrid Croizard Ch Latour Martillac

And it goes without saying that the reds of Chateau LaTour-Martillac are also fabulous. We had the precious 2000, 2010 and 2015 vintages and I will not reveal my favorite. Oh yes, one of the most interesting tidbits of the visit was his showcasing this tasting diary of the original owner from the 1930s — one of the drawings became the label still used on the wine today.

Phillip Blanc, Ch Beychevelle

Wearing a black suit in the photo is M. Phillippe Blanc, Managing Director of Chateau Beychevelle. I have known M. Blanc for a few years now and have stayed at the fabulous chateau which is now open to guests (more later in another article). M. Blanc brought several vintages including 2000 (oh yes!), 2005 (more, please) 2009, 2014, 2015 (all excellent) and also the new second wine Admiral de Beychevelle 2015. What is interesting about the estate is the ever shifting percentage of Merlot, which in some vintages is just a small amount less that the Cabernet Sauvignon. I will investigate this trend further and report back.

Didier Galhaud Ch Guiraud

The fashionable and charming woman is Sophie Schyler Theirry, family owner and Development Director of Chateau Kirwan. Just a few weeks back I was lucky enough to attend the opening dinner for the En Primeur evening for journalists in their new Chai. Madame brought several vintages including the memorable 2000, 2008, fabulous 2009 and 2010, and the highly rated 2015. What was super interesting at the Chateau was the new “tulip shaped” fermentation vessel – more on that later!

Sophie Schyler Thierry Ch Kirwan

Wearing tan slacks and a sports jacket is Didier Galhaud, export manager of Chateau Guiraud. M. Galhaud brought several vintages, all so incredibly great …. I am a huge supporter of enjoying Sauternes at the beginning of the meal as an aperitif instead of waiting until the end. I wrote extensively about this for the World of Fine Wine a few years back. My favorite of his offerings today was the 1998 of course, then the 2009, 2010, and 2015. And here is an interesting thing. He also brought the Petit Guiraud 2015, which is made from younger vines with less oak and sugar.

A great afternoon of Bordeaux here in Manhattan, with special thanks to the WMG organizers and the producers who showed their wines so beautifully.