Tuesday, February 27, 2007
One perk in operating a wine blog is we occasionally receive free items to review. Last week we received a new book written by Carolyn Hammond, "1000 Best Wine Secrets". Ms. Hammond's wine writing credentials are impressive. She has written for Decanter Magazine, The Times newspaper, and Wine & Spirit International magazine in London England, as well as Maclean’s magazine, The Toronto Star and The Province in Canada. She also holds a Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.
"1000 Best Wine Secrets" consists of, you guessed it, 1,000 facts, broken into several chapters plus an Appendix containing a list of recommended wines that cost less than $20 and a compendium of resources. The printing style displaying 1,000 numbered facts makes it easy to skim the selections looking for topics of interest. But don't just skim this book. It contains valuable information for both the novice and more experienced wine drinker.
In the first two sections, Ms. Hammond gives advice on selecting wine to purchase or ordering at a restaurant and the proper etiquette on tasting and serving the wine. She supplies valuable material such as describing different grape varieties, explaining the differences between Old World and New World wine or American and French Oak barrels, and the value of decanting wine. However the most important advice she gives is #14: trust your own palate.
Section three is the best section of the book and the reason we recommend purchasing it. In these 17 chapters she "Reveals the Flavors of the World", by describing major wine regions in different countries and the grapes and wine that flourish in these regions. The Chapter on French Wine is a must read; Ms. Hammond describes the wines of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, Rhone, and more. I now know the definition of growth wines in Medoc and the Grand Clu classifications in St. Emilion. From France, she weaves her way through Italian wine regions, then Spain Portugal, Germany and Austria. She finishes European wine by discussing Swiss wine as well as Central and Eastern Europe wine and Mediterranean wines. If you've never heard of the puttonyos level in Hungarian Tokaji Aszu or what makes Greek Restsina very interesting, read these latter chapters.
From Europe she discusses American and Canadian wines, then wines from South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Whereas I thought the information devoted to these regions were interesting, I was a little disappointed with her treatment of American wines. She started by describing California wines, then on to Oregon and Washington wines. She then mentions Idaho briefly, provides an overview of New York wines and then notes two wineries in Virginia. I would have like to see her give a more in depth treatment of Virginia wines (a little bias on our part) and other American wine regions. Her readers are left uninformed of the good wines produced in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, and elsewhere.
Finally, Ms. Hammond concludes with very interesting wine myths and storing techniques, such as, "if its popular, it must be good". Overall, this is a nice handbook for your wine library. I learned a lot, not only about different wine regions but also why uncorking is insufficient for decanting, what makes Madeira unique, some white wines improve with age, and ..........
Monday, February 26, 2007
Many people are surprised to learn that the third most planted grape in terms of hectare grown is the ancient vinifera, Rkatsiteli. Thought to have originated in the Caucasus Mountains bordering Armenia and Turkey, this grape is popular in the former USSR countries of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldavia, Ukraine as well as Bulgaria and Rumania. Wine historians believe that this varietal was growing in Georgia over 5,000 years ago and Georgia’s most famous wine is Tsinandali, a blend of Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grapes. One manufacturer, Vaziani, has been producing this wine since 1886. You can learn more about Georgian Rkatsiteli wine at the Georgian Wine House. In Russia, the total acreage of the varietal declined during Gorbachev’s reign, but is starting to rebound. This grape is also popular in China, where it is called Baiyu.
Rkatsiteli is high in acidity with pleasant floral and spicy characteristics, similar to a Gewurztraminer or Johannisberg Riesling. It can be vinified into different type of wines: from dry to very sweet, to sparkling wines, and even to Sherry-like wines.
This grape is starting to catch hold in the United States, where a handful of wineries are producing Rkatsiteli wine. The first American winery to grow and cultivate Rkatsiteli was Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport, New York. The winery’s founder, Dr. Konstantin Frank, earned a PhD degree in viticulture at the University of Odessa in the Ukraine. After immigrating to the United States and settling in New York's Finger Lakes region, Dr. Frank's fundamental goal was to introduce the world's best Vitis Vinifera varieties to this region. Rkatsiteli was at the top of this list based on his experience producing the varietal in his native Ukraine. The winery is now run by his Dr. Frank’s son, Willy and grandson Frederick. According to Frederick Frank, Dr. Frank's Rkatsiteli has become somewhat of a cult wine – with a loyal group of wine consumers who love its unique qualities. Their version starts out tasting something like a Riesling, but lingers longer on the palate, and has spiciness reminiscent of, but different from, Gewürztraminer, evoking herbs, strawberries, and fresh ground pepper. Dr. Frank’s Rkatsiteli also receives numerous awards each year. In 2005, the 2004 vintage won double gold at the Great Lakes Wine Competition and gold at the New York Wine & Food Classic and International Eastern Wine Competition. While growing Rkatsiteli is very labor intensive and must be planted on east facing slopes, the winery believes that the final product and growing consumer demand justifies the work involved.
In New Jersey, Tomasello Winery has been growing Rkatsiteli since the early 90's, producing a vintage Rkatsiteli and a Sparkling Rkatsiteli. According to Jack Tomasello, it is one of his favorite wine grapes to grow and one of his favorite grapes to talk about. The grape grows well in New Jersey, remains healthy during the winter, and displays characteristics of a Riesling with pronounced hints of pear. Tomasello Winery educates their customers about this unique grape and has found that unique wines sell in New York and New Jersey. Their distributors have also found a demand for the product in local fine wine shops. Mr. Tomasello also foresees more interest on the West Coast. Recently a California nursery contacted him to request bud wood to graft some vines for next year.
Our first taste of Rkatsiteli occurred while visiting Horton Vineyards. This wine displayed characteristics much like a good dry Riesling: fruity aromas, citrus flavors and a long, crisp finish. We were immediately hooked and have always kept a bottle in our cellar. Located in Gordonsville, Virginia, Horton Vineyards started growing Rkatsiteli because it is a late bud breaking white grape and is extremely winter hardy. They cultivate the grape in the 5 acres directly in front of their winery. Marketed as R-Kats (so that consumers can pronounce its name) this wine is only sold where the buyer can taste the product: at the winery or festivals. In these environments, Horton has found that buyers are more than willing to experiment with new wines and it sells nicely. Eventually, as demand increases, they hope to sell the product in local wine shops.
Wine consumers in many countries are enjoying this ancient wine on a daily basis and it is very unfortunate that it is virtually unknown in the United States. As more wineries such as Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, Tomasello Winery, and Horton Vineyards start to experiment with unique grapes, we hope this situation will change and that one day, Rkatsiteli will be a household name within the American wine community. To learn more about Rkatsiteli and other grape varietals, visit our Wine 101 section at Wine Compass.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
Norton or Vitis Aestivalis is a native North American grape officially discovered in 1823 by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton (1794-1842), a physician from Richmond. Dr. Norton cultivated and nurtured this new species in a small plot of land known as Magnolia Farm, just northwest of the city of Richmond, along with 26 other varieties. Modestly named after himself, Norton was not created intentionally, but resulted as a chance of nature through open pollination, possibly between Pinot Meunier and a now extinct hybrid known as Bland.
Shortly after his discovery, Norton was quickly adopted by many growers as a hearty varietal able to yield quality fruit for wine making. Based on sale documents, Norton is one of the oldest native grape varieties commercially used to make wine in North America. In fact, it was sold and used to make wines since 1830 as an inexpensive alternative to importing well-known European vinifera grapes, vines, and wines.
Norton exhibits hints of tart plums, sour cherries, or elderberries and has a spicy nose similar to Syrah. It is stronger in the front and mid-palette and has a velvety finish somewhere between a Merlot and Pinot Noir. Norton is often blended with other grapes like Tannat, Merlot, Syrah, and Petit Verdot to provide a more balanced wine. These blends are still referred to as “Norton” since, by law, as long at 75% of the wine is made from a single grape, you can still label it with the varietal name.
The largest producer of Norton in its home state of Virginia, as well as the Eastern U.S., is Chrysalis Vineyards. The vineyard’s owner, Jennifer McCloud, has made growing quality Norton grapes a personal crusade. Two of their better releases are 2002 Norton - Estate Bottled and 2002 Norton - Locksley Reserve. These wines were awarded an 89 and 88 rating respectively by the Virginia Wine Guide. Another successful Norton producer in Virginia is Horton Vineyards. Horton was the first Virginian winery to produce Norton after prohibition and their last release, 2002 Norton, was awarded a rating of 89 by the Virginia Wine Guide.
Although Norton, was "discovered" in Virginia, it is more popular in the American Midwest, where the grape is sometimes known as Cynthiana. Missouri has a proud wine producing history and was the first federally-approved American viticulture. In the late 19th century, the state was the second largest wine producing state in the United States. Norton has gained wide customer acceptance in Missouri and in 2004-2005, Norton wines won the Governor's Cup for the Best Missouri Wine: Augusta Winery’s 2002 Estate Bottled Norton in 2004 and Mount Pleasant Winery’s 2003 Norton in 2005. Mark Baehmann ofChrysalis Vineyards attributed Norton’s success in Missouri to its ability to produce quality wine while remaining disease resistant and hardy through winter. Another celebrated Missouri Norton is produced by Stone Hill Winery. Park Lukacs designated this wine as one of America's 40 greatest wines. In neighboring Kansas, Holy-Field Vineyard & Winery's Cynthiana won the 2004 Jefferson's Cup as the best wine made in the Midwest. And two of our favorites are produced nearby by Davenport Winery and Kugler's Vineyard.
Norton appears to be gaining popularity elsewhere in the United States. In New Jersey, Valenzano Winery’s Cynthiana won their 2005 Governor's Cup. Approximately 70 wineries in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiania, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsyvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia are making Norton or Cynthiana wine. These numbers should expand as more consumers discover Norton wine. To view some of these wineries visit our Wine 101 section at Wine Compass.
Resources: “Red, White, and Norton” by Tolga Baki of Hillsborough Vineyards (http://www.hillsboroughwine.com) and the Virginia Wine Guide (http://www.virginiawineguide.com).
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Friday, February 16, 2007
Wine was first produced commercially in the Lodi region in the mid 1850’s with the opening of the El Pinal Winery. At the time, grape growing was a smaller industry as compared to the farming of melons and grains. However, in the 1880’s the prices for grains and melons fell dramatically and farmers looked to grapes as an alternative source of revenue. Although many varietals prospered, Zinfandel and Tokay flourished in the Lodi environment, with its sandy soils and warm summer days followed by cooling night-time breezes. At the turn of the century, grape growers in Lodi were thriving and some even prospered during prohibition by selling grapes to home wine makers which was still legal) instead of making their own wine. With the rise of the seedless table grape, the farming of Tokay disappeared and more vines were allocated to Zinfandel and other wine-making varietals. In 1986, the stature of the Lodi wine grapes were elevated with the designation of the Lodi Appellation (American Viticulture Area). Winemakers in Lodi could now label their wines: "Lodi" labeled wine. Today close two dozen wineries produce hundreds of "Lodi" labeled wines from thousands of acres of premium wine grapes.
In the early 1920’s Gasparé Indelicato immigrated to California from the small village of Campobello in Italy. He planted the first grapes for Delicato Family Vineyards in 1924, just as his father, grandfather and several generations did before him. Within a few years, winemakers across the country knew of the quality of Gasparé's California grapes. After Prohibition Mr. Indelicato allocated a portion of his grapes to wine production and “in the old hay barn by the vineyard, Gasparé, his brother-in-law, and their twin wives took turns with a hand driven press to produce their first vintage consisting of 3,451 gallons of wine (that's just under 1,500 cases of wine).” Over time, his winemaking reputation grew and “other producers in the budding California wine industry approached Gasparé and his family for custom-made wines. To meet the demand, the family acquired additional vineyard land. Gasparé's three sons, Vincent, Frank and Anthony, joined the family winery as the business grew. Today, Chris and Jay Indelicato, third generation family members and Anthony's sons, are leading the business into the future under the name DFV Wines.”
DFV Wines recognized the excellence of Lodi grown Zinfandel and began forming partnerships with local growers in order to add a Zinfandel to their offerings. DFV hand-selects their grapes from some of the oldest and most respected vineyards in the region. The vines are 35-80 years old and produce fewer grape clusters, but the small berries yield intense, concentrated fruit. The result: a full bodied red wine with plum, pepper and chocolate flavors and a lingering and spicy finish. And why the name, Gnarly Head? According to the DFV, “the old Zinfandel vines were grown as free standing “head trained” vines. They resemble wild bushes with twisted old trunks and branches that spread out in all directions sprouting leaves like unruly umbrellas – truly gnarly heads. “
Thanks to the efforts of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) and the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, wine consumers are beginning to recognize and appreciate Zinfandel wines. And for those for believe that many high-alcoholic cabs are beginning to taste the same, Zinfandel is a great alternative. Today, Gnarly Head Zinfandel is the fastest-growing zinfandel in its price category, wine selling for under $15. But what makes Gnarly Head unique? It is the only Zinfandel wine in this price range that is made from 100% Lodi-appellation Zinfandel grapes. The other big name Zinfandel wines are all California appellation. Even if you can not attend the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, we strongly recommend trying a Lodi produced Zinfandel, and in particular the Gnarly Head. And in the future, look out for a Dry Creek reserve wine called Gnarlier Head.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Many American wine consumers are surprised to learn about the vibrant wine industry operating in our northern neighbors. Some may have tried an occasional Canadian Ice Wine, but few have discovered the vinifera wine produced in Canada’s wine “breadbasket”, the Okanagan Valley. This appellation is the northern extension of the Pacific Northwest wine region, nestled between the Coast Mountains to the west and the Monashee Mountains to the east. The valley is approximately 200 miles east of Vancouver, in south central British Columbia, about the same distance as Walla Walla is from Seattle and receives less than 10 inches of annual precipitation. Thus the environment that enables Washington wineries to produce excellent wines also exists in British Columbia.
In the early 1980’s Anthony von Mandl recognized the wine-making potential of this area and purchased a small winery producing hard apple cider. He transformed the new winery in the mold of Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley winery and all the while increasing the quality of the vines and wines. In 1992 Mr. von Mandl hired John Simes, a person that shared his vision of producing quality wine, as the new winemaker. According to Ingo Grady, Mission Hill’s Director of Wine Education, Mr. Simes has “has increased the winery's estate holdings to take advantage of the valley's diverse growing conditions. And he has assembled an enviable arsenal of state-of-the-art wine making equipment to ensure gentle handling of grapes and optimum conditions for young, evolving wines.” In total, Mission Hill Family Estate farms about 900 acres in five distinct growing regions throughout the Okanagan Valley. This is about 15% of the total acreage of vinifera plantings in the valley. While the region’s vine planting is increasing, it is still less than 20% of Washington State's grape production.
Mr. von Mandl also encouraged the creation of the Vintners' Quality Alliance (VQA) to boost the quality and prestige of all wines produced in British Columbia. On January 1st, 1989 wine tariffs were eliminated on wine produced in the United States and Canada as a result of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement. Vintners in British Columbia recognized that their wine was not competitive in the Canadian market because of its pooper quality as compared to wines produced in the United States. They painstaking agreed to a set of guidelines that wineries must follow in order to be classified with the Vintners’ Quality Alliance (VQA) designation. In essence a in order to be designated VQA a wine must be made from 100% British Columbia-grown grapes using optimum growing standards and a VQA tasting panel tests and approves each wine, twice (on in the tank or barrel, then again when the wine is bottled, but before it is sold).
The success of the VQA can be measured by the growth of the wine industry in British Columbia. When the designation was first implemented, only 14 wineries were operating in the Okanagan valley. Today there are more than 100 “quality-minded“ wineries operating in the valley, with Mission Hill Family Estate Winery at the forefront. Besides conforming to the VQA, Mission Hill wines are frequently recognized in international wine competitions. Specifically, the winery has won trophies or medals at the International Eastern Wine Competition, Selections Mondials, L.A. County Fair, Canada Wine Awards, San Francisco International Wine Summit, Northwest Wine Summit, and Vinitaly.
At the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, consumers will have the chance to taste the large selection of Mission Hill wines. The most famous is the Oculus, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. They also produce vintage or reserve versions of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz. For white wines, the winery offers Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, as well as Riesling and Vidal Ice Wine. If you are unable to attend the festival, the Mission Hill Select Lot Collection (S.L.C.) wines, Oculus, and Riesling Ice wines are available in Washington, Alaska, California, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Monday, February 12, 2007
While in his surgical residency, Mauricio Collada, Jr., trained with a French-Lebanese colleague who was raised in a wine producing family. This association expanded his initial interest in wine and according to Mr. Collada, “from that point on my reading, and tasting of wines further developed my palate.” In the early 1980s, now, Dr. Collada settled in Oregon at the same time that the Oregon Pinto Noir industry erupted. At that point his “love affair” with Pinot Noir started and “evolved into a lasting affair”.
For many wine consumers Pinot Noir is mysterious and perhaps too “sophisticated” for their palate. Dr. Collada strongly disagrees; “Pinot Noir is indeed an elegant, complex wine that expresses itself variably, but it has a gentle balance of fruit flavors, acidity, and modest tannins that make it a great, if not the best food wine. I promote it as a wonderful food wine, and encourage people to understand their own tastes in food, and to match the wines accordingly.” Furthermore he encourages people to drink wine because of the health benefits and believes that Pinot Noir is the best wine varietal to “enhance their overall life experience”. I’m sold.
In 1991, Dr. Collada quickly acted on an opportunity to purchase a 21-acre vineyard in the Eola Hills. Over the next ten years he sold the pinot noir fruit to King Estate Winery, Erath, Bishop Cellars, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Eveshamwood Winery, all the time gaining more experience in the vineyard. Over this time span he received “physical help, wine making advice, and general assistance from different wineries and wine makers”. Apparently the wineries in Oregon enjoy a very collegial relationship. Dr. Collada also received assistance from the Oregon Wine Growers Association as well as its successor, the Oregon Wine Board. In 2003, he decided to withhold half of their production for internal use and by 2005; all wholesale contract obligations were terminated. Cubanisimo Vineyards was now entirely dedicated to produce Cubanisimo Pinot Noir.
Their initial offering was the CUBANISIMO 2003 Pinot Noir, which was soon followed by the CUBANISIMO 2004 Pinot Noir. The wine’s tasting notes state, “Cubanisimo is especially proud to release our 2004 pinot noir, a vintage we believe has all the qualities and flavors of our 2003 pinot, but with a more intense expression; a fuller, more sensual feel in the mouth and a silkier, more delightful after taste. Medium bodied, our wine displays enticing flavors of cranberry, blackberry and cherry, which will perfectly compliment cuisine commonly enjoyed in Cuban and American cuisines. We hope you will enjoy and share our pinot noir on many occasions.”
The winery also produces a rose’ style Rosado de Pinot Noir. According to its tasting notes, the wine is dry, light with cranberry-raspberry flavor and should be served chilled. Dr. Collada reiterates that “it is a wonderful summer wine, and in Florida it probably would make a great everyday wine. I consider it an excellent and elegant picnic wine. ”
After finding success in the Oregon wine market, this Havana native is returning as close to his native Cuba as legally possible to introduce his Pinot Noir to the East Coast. Cubanisimo Vineyards will be participating at several events at the Food & Wine Festival. On Friday February 23rd, they will be pouring wine at the Trade Day and Wine Spectator Grand Tasting from 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm at the Publix Grand Tasting Village, Ocean Drive & 13th Street, Miami Beach. On Saturday and Sunday they will be participating at the Publix Grand Tasting from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm at Ocean Drive & 13th Street, Miami Beach.
If you are unable to attend the South Beach Wine & Food festival, Cubanisimo Vineyards Pinot Noir is available through their online store and through distributors in Arizona and Florida. Better yet, use Wine-Compass.com to plan a trip to Salem, Oregon to visit the winery’s tasting facilities.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Illinois: Owl Creek Vineyard Bald Knob 2005
Maryland: Frederick Cellars 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon
Michigan: Peninsula Cellars 2005 Gewurztraminer - Manigold Vineyard
Missouri: Augusta Winery 2004 Vignoles
New Jersey: Tomasello Atlantic County Vidal Blanc Ice Wine 2005
New York: Hermann J. Wiemer 2005 Reserve Riesling
North Carolina: Childress Vineyards Syrah
Pennsylvania: Pinnacle Ridge Winery 2004 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine
Virginia: Rappahannock Cellars 2005 Reserve Viognier