Tasting Group 75 Selections for March

2012 Poggio al Tesoro Vermentino “Solosole”           

Bolgheri, Italy

100% Vermentino.  “Solosole” means “just sunshine” and aptly so, because Vermentino truly is one of the sunniest grapes known to man. And we could certainly use it right now to usher ourselves out of the grip of winter at long last…!  Vermentino is a white grape that’s seen mainly in Italy & Southern France, where it is called Rolle.  In Italy, the central region of Tuscany is a stronghold, along with the island of Sardinia & craggy Liguria on the northwestern coast.  Vermentino typically produces light, attractively aromatic & refreshing wines and Solosole is no exception.  Enjoy it on its own and it will complement fresh sushi or seafood prepared in any manner – grilled, fried, poached or on the half-shell.  Solosole is grown & made in sunny Bolgheri by the Allegrini family.  This is a relatively new project for the Allegrinis who are already well established in the Veneto for crafting high-quality Amarone & Valpolicella.


2011 Falesco Ferentano Lazio IGT

Lazio, Italy  

100% Roscetto.   The lovely Roscetto is an ancient indigenous Roman variety from the Montefiascone region that was rescued from extinction almost single-handedly by superstar oenologist Ricardo Cotarella. It isn’t grown anywhere else in the world!  It is certainly interesting to see such a fringe grape being made in what must be considered an international style.  Cryomaceration techniques (using dry ice) are implemented in the wine-making to preserve aromatic freshness, and the wine later sees four months of oak for a bigger mouthfeel.  Golden-hued, it has enticing, lush tropical aromas.  Ripe & full-bodied with a good deal of complexity, Ferentano will stand up to anything that can handle a big Chardonnay, so pair it with substantial dishes like risotto or anything with a cream or béchamel sauce.              


2012 Cascina delle Rose Dolcetto d’Alba A Elizabeth

Piedmont, Italy

100% Dolcetto.  Cascina delle Rose is located in the Rio Sordo Valley in Barbaresco and roses are indeed omnipresent on the farm and in the vineyards.  Organic viticulture is practiced.  The translation of Dolcetto is “little sweet one” which is a little misleading, as most Dolcetto coming out of Piedmont Italy is neither.  While versatile, these wines tend to be high in tannin and low in acidity.  Dolcetto, like Barbera is an everyday wine meant to be drunk young in the area known for well-structured Barolo & Barbaresco that one must wait for.  Winemaking techniques can drive different styles.  The more “old-school” Dolcettos will present firm tannin, blueberries, leather & tea, making them good to drink with hard cheeses and rich meats.  Softer, fruitier versions such as this one will be a bit more approachable and pair well with appetizers, pasta dishes with light sauces & fresh cheeses.


Tasting Group 150 Selections for February

2011 Maison Benjamin Leroux Volnay                                                     Burgundy, France  

100% Pinot Noir.  Benjamin Leroux is the Régisseur at Domaine Comte Armand, Clos des Epeneaux in Pommard.  In his role as director, he is in sole charge not only of the vineyards and winemaking, but also the sales and accounts.  Remaining in his position, Leroux launched his own label with the 2007 vintage.  Leroux is considered to be one of the most gifted and knowledgeable winegrowers in all of the Cote d’Or, a potential heir apparent to the great Henri Jayer.  He is clearly one to watch.  This Volnay contains a significant portion of 1er Cru grapes, so is a great value.  2011 is a fine vintage and the wines will be more approachable in early stages than the 2010s.  Volnay, situated in the middle of the Cote de Beaune sub-region, is renowned for making some of the smoothest, most delicate, most elegant wines of the southern Cote d’Or, the Chambolle of the south.

2005 Pecchenino Barolo “Le Coste”                                                         Piedmont, Italy       

100% Nebbiolo. The commune of Monforte d’Alba produces the most structured wines of the Barolo region. Big, bold, deeply concentrated wines are the norm, with great potential for aging – a necessity for their more slowly maturing tannins.  2005 was an excellent vintage, producing quite tannic wines.  Pecchenino’s aims for extremely low yields – just 1kg per vine for the Le Coste, from the San Giuseppe vineyard, and long macerations – 30 days for this cru.

Wine Advocate: “Pecchenino remains a reference point producer for wines from Dogliani. More recently, the estate’s Barolos have shown much promise as well.  The 2005 Le Coste is a big, sleek Barolo loaded with black cherries, minerals, flowers and graphite. The Le Coste shows the telltale imposing Monforte tannins, but here there is more than enough fruit to provide balance. The finish is long and harmonious…clearly needs time to come together, but it is a highly promising Barolo. 24 months in oak barrels of various sizes. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2022.”

Tasting Group 75 Selections for January

2012 Bodegas Viñátigo Tinto Joven                                                            Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain 

100% Listan Negro.  The Canary Island chain, off the north coast of Africa (Morocco) has a diverse group of microclimates. As in much of Sicily, its striking landscape is host to entirely volcanic soils which impart a unique minerality to its wines.  Viñátigo considers themselves to be an example of symbiosis between wine and volcano.  Due to the geographical isolation of the Canary Islands, varietals that are obsolete on mainland Spain are still being planted as they have remained unexposed to Phylloxera, the deadly louse that destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century. Tenerife is one of the islands in the chain, situated between tiny La Gomera & Gran Canaria.  The vineyards here reach an elevation of 3000 feet and are terraced into the steep hillsides. On Tenerife, red wines are more common and are mostly made from Listan Negro.  This wine is a sleeper!  It is squeaky clean, bright & juicy and tastes of earthy ripe raspberries.  Listan Negro is distantly related to the Mission grape, one of the earliest varieties planted in California.

2010 Bodegas Perez Pascuas “El Pedrosal”                                                  Ribera Del duero, Spain        

100% Tempranillo.  Tempranillo goes by many names in Spain; in Ribera it is known as Tinto Fino.  Ribera del Duero holds many benefits for its native grape of Tempranillo. In particular, the high altitude of 2600 – 2700 ft above sea level allows the grapes to maintain higher acid levels, important for a warmer climate.  This acidity allows for the freshness found in this young vine Tempranillo, despite its 14% alcohol level.  Aging for 12 months, six months in American and six months in French barrels, gives it a pleasant whiff of vanilla.  It is very straightforward, a well-made example of what the region has to offer, with flavors of dried fruit, coffee and cherry laced with mocha.

Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla Oloroso Sherry                                         Jerez,  Spain             

100% Palomino.  Sherry is Spain’s treasure but is woefully under-appreciated, perhaps because it is misunderstood.  The common perception of Sherry likely involves a distant cobwebby memory of grandmother sipping a sweet brown mystery elixir from a cut crystal glass, or worse, the “cooking sherry” sold in supermarkets that is loaded with salt and who knows what else!  The truth is that sherry is truly is a magic elixir.  It starts life as a dry wine that is fortified with neutral spirit and then is guided to its eventual style (Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, etc.) depending on its character in youth.  Finos are yellow, dry, tangy, light and delicate.  Also dry, Olorosos are the winter sherries – the color of mahogany with deep, rich, warm, nutty flavor.  Their complexity is a result of long aging in the unique fractional-blending Solera systems the region is known for.  Enjoy a nip in the evening before bed.  Have it alone to contemplate its wonderful complexity or with a bit of dried fig & walnut cake…

Tasting Group 150 Selections for December

2001 Cune Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva                                                           Rioja, Spain 

The Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España, or CVNE, was born in Haro, La Rioja, Spain, in 1879. CVNE is one of the most renowned and historic bodegas in all of Spain & consists of 3 wineries: Cune, Vina Real & Vinedos del Contino (single vineyard). Each of the three estates produces a distinct style of wine from a distinct terroir, and each of their flagship bottlings occupies a well-deserved place in the pantheon of great Spanish wine. This Imperial is comprised of Tempranillo: 85%, Mazuelo: 5% & Graciano 10%. The wine is sourced almost exclusively from elegant Rioja Alta fruit. 2001 was an epic vintage in Rioja with the promise of years of development ahead.  We chose this wine this month because of the recent attention Spain has gotten – with 9 wines on the Wine Spectator’s 2013 Top 100, including the top spot, it appears that Spain is finally getting the recognition it so rightly deserves.  In fact, this is the wine that took the #1 spot, albeit an older but equally fine vintage. No matter… we’re  splitting hairs… tremendous value here.

2003 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon                                                            Napa, California     

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc & Merlot.  Here is a chance to own a little bit of history! Mayacamas Vineyards is a wine estate located in the Mayacamas Mountains that divide the Napa and Sonoma valleys.  Perched high (2,300 feet high!) on craggy Mt. Veeder, Mayacamas is one of the pioneering wineries of the Napa Valley.  It was first built in 1889 and has been long-recognized for making a classically-structured style of wine very close to the long-lived Cabernets of Bordeaux.  Earlier this year, Charles Banks, former owner of Napa cult wine Screaming Eagle purchased the property, taking over the property from Bob Travers, who had not deviated from his methods since he and his wife, Elinor, bought Mayacamas in 1968.  Banks promised to be a resource, rather than a re-inventor, as he has been a fan of the wines as they are for many years.  Indeed, there is re-planting to be done and the winery equipment could use updating.  Although 2003 was on the warmer side, high elevation offers some protection to the mountain fruit from which Mayacamas is sourced, retaining acidity that is typically lost to heat.  Drink now.

B.C. Banquets – Sweet Wine & Goat Meat

Recently discovered ruins of a 3,700 year old palace in Northern Israel have given the world a view into the life of an ancient wine collector. Who was the mysterious Canaanite owner of the private and “palatial” Bronze Age wine cellar? While that question may never be answered, the discovery and analysis of the cellar itself will provide plenty of interesting data on ancient wine. The cellar, a 15-by-25 foot storage room, contained 40 3-foot tall jars capable of holding up to 500 gallons of wine, a capacity equal 3,000 bottles.

All of the jars were found broken and covered in debris as a result of what researchers are calling a “violent event,” such as an earthquake. Analysis of the residue on the broken jar fragments showed remnants of tartaric and syringic acids as well as other substances known to be used in the making of “medicinal wine,” once popular in ancient Egypt and still available in ancient wine-making strongholds such as Greece, producer of the infamous resinated Retsina wines. Additionally, comparative research between the 40 jars shows that additives such as honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resin were blended with red and white wines in a formulaic and consistent way, indicating that recipes were used and executed with precision, producing the large amounts of homogeneous wine.

The existence of such a collection of wine, “largely unmatched in age and size,” indicates the power and wealth of the owner. The consistent quality of the wine indicates a professional wine-making touch and, again, the significant financial freedom of the owner. In a time when such wealth was truly unique and most wine was, by modern standards, unhygienic and unpalatable, guests of the mystery collector were treated to what may have been the DRC or Lafite of the era.







Pay Attention to the State of Burgundy

Sunday was the annual Hospices de Beaune charity auction, if you love Burgundy pay attention. This year a basic economic principle was responsible for two records, the least amount of wine ever brought to auction sold through for the highest total amount ever achieved. Supply and demand. The most recent vintages in Burgundy have been well documented for their inconsistent/destructive weather and resulting low yields. While ’09, ’10 & ’11 have thrived despite the obstacles the jury is still out on ’12 and more so ’13. Variable would perhaps be the best way to describe the two most recent vintages, years in which quality will depend more than ever on the foresight, skill and luck of each producer. Some producers will make great wine, others not, the only certainty is the miniscule quantity that will be available.

The results of the 2013 Hospices de Beaune are considered to be a worthy measure of value for Burgundy in the year ahead and this year can perhaps, more than any other year, be considered accurately prophetic solely on the strength of its adherence to supply and demand. “In all, 443 barrels (each 228 liters) were on offer, compared to 518 last year, which was also a small harvest. In 2011, 761 barrels were sold.” This year the 443 barrels (43 different cuvees) raised a record 6.9 million euros ($9.3m), which includes the buyer’s premium. “The average price per 228-liter barrel increased by 26.6 percent to 13,013 euros ($17,560) against 10,278 euros ($13,870) in 2012.” Red wines experienced the biggest rise, up 28 percent, while whites recorded a 20 percent increase.

Also noteworthy is the winning bidder for the the “piece du President,”  456 liters of 2012 premier cru Meursault-Genevrières. While the wine and price were relatively unremarkable compared to past “pieces du President,” often wines of grand cru quality, it is worth knowing that winning bid was placed for the first time by a Chinese buyer. Worth knowing because the ever-growing number of Chinese in the fine wine market means ever-increasing buying power from the East. Buying power that was once firmly focused on Bordeaux is now refocusing on Burgundy. While this is not news, what is news is the enhanced effect that the growing demand will have on the already small annual production of Burgundy as the supply dwindles due to unfavorable weather. Established collectors need to face the reality the Burgundy pie is shrinking, historically low yields and the growing Asian market mean that there will not be nearly enough of the good stuff to go around. This is an irreversible trend that will soon see the casual drinker of Burgundy priced out of the market as the miniscule supply concentrates in the hands of the world’s financial elite.






Tasting Group 75 Selections for November

2007 Domaine Olga Raffault Chinon “Les Picasses”       

Loire Valley, France     

100% Cabernet Franc.  The commune of Chinon in France’s beautiful Val de Loire is home to a spectacular medieval castle, the Château de Chinon, and likely the finest Cabernet Franc in the world.  Chinon is the largest of the 4 red wine appellations in the area.  Early-ripening Cab Franc thrives here and turns out fresh, light to medium bodied, food-friendly red wines with silky tannins & aromas of raspberry, lead pencil, tobacco, dill & other herbs.  Alcohol levels are always reasonable in the Loire, where it seldom gets extremely hot.  Since Olga’s death a few years ago, the Domaine is run by her granddaughter Sylvie and Sylvie’s husband Eric de la Vigerie.  The Chinon of Les Picasses tends to be of a dark cherry profile, rustic & earthy, reflecting the traditional methods used to make the wine.  The ‘Picasses’ spends two to three years in oak, to reduce the wine and soften the tannins, and is usually released about 4 years after the vintage.

2010 Weingut Friedrich Becker Estate Pinot Noir              

Pfalz, Germany           

100% Pinot Noir.  This is a rare treat.  Those crafty Germans tend to keep their reds for themselves, as relatively little of it is made in that country’s marginal cool climate.  The Pfalz is one of the more southerly & mild of Germany’s 13 distinct wine zones and is the country’s largest producer of red wines.  It is a 9-mile wide stretch of land situated near the French border and in fact, many of Friedrich Becker’s vineyards lie in an area that has been variously Alsace or Germany over the years and through the wars.  The vineyards were grandfathered in under a 1955 accord between Germany & France.  Becker is widely considered to be the finest producer of Pinot Noir in the country & this is only the estate’s entry-level wine. This light-bodied Pinot shows a lovely balance between gentle tart, red fruits, acidity and some minerally character. It’s made in traditional 2,400 liter (i.e. big) wood casks.  It is a perfect expression of German Pinot Noir.

2012 Ransom Vineyards Pinot Gris                               

Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon  

100% Pinot Gris.  Here is the basic philosophy of Ransom Vineyards: “It is the function of wine to enhance fellowship, discussion, and the exchange of ideas. So visit the market, invite over friends and family, and raise a toast to health and happiness through good meals, conversation and socializing!”  We agree & we suggest that you save this for Thanksgiving.  The star of the Oregon wine scene is indisputably Pinot Noir but sisters Pinot Gris & Pinot Blanc have charms of their own & are shaping up to be great companion whites.  It’s about time – after nearly 50 years of being grown in Oregon, Pinot Gris is finally getting its due & is now the second-most planted variety (red or white) in the state.   Ransom Vineyards makes a tiny amount of organically farmed Pinot Gris – just 232 cases.  The 2012 vintage was outstanding.  Look for aromas of apple, brioche & wildflower.  The palate is creamy and mineral-tinged and juicy acidity dominates.