I was dreaming in Spanish, at least I was dreaming I was dreaming Spanish. As I slowly woke and came back into reality it occured to me I could not be dreaming in Spanish for obvious reasons. Then the lyrical strains of the harmonious Spanish language again floated through my bedroom window. The vineyard outside my bedroom window was alive with pickers in the pre-dawn glow and their happy chatter filled the air. How anybody can be that happy before dawn and facing hours of backbreaking work always amazes me.
That was about ten days ago and those crews were the first wave, picking grapes bound for sparkling wine. However, now those first ripples are getting ready to turn into a tsunami of harvesting as the Napa Valley gets ready for the main event: the Cabernet Sauvignon harvest. There has been scattered activity around the valley as first the grapes for sparkling wine and then some of the white varieties were harvested. We picked the grapes for our Cornerstone Sauvignon Blanc early last week, in perfect conditions. This was our first harvest of Sauvignon Blanc from the Talcott Vineyard just outside of St. Helena (not too far from Taylor’s Refresher), so I was out there at first light to watch the pick. It never ceases to stun me how hard the picking crews work. None of what we do could be possible without them. Every time I watch a harvest crew in action I want to punch Lou Dobbs in the mouth. I’d like to see him survive even a half-hour, while these crews work at breakneck speed hour after hour until the mid-day sun forces the picking to a merciful end.
Tonight our new Sauvignon Blanc is slowly bubbling away in a cold stainless steel fermemter, while the pickers themselves sleep the sleep that only exhaustion can bring as they prepare to hit the vineyards tomorrow before the morning light illuminates the seemingly endless rows of vines waiting for them. Today we scheduled the pick of our Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon for this coming Tuesday and our Oakville blocks will be right behind. It’s going to be a busy two weeks for us, but it’s nothing compared to the ultra-marathon our pickers have already embarked on.
This is a wine outside of your (and almost everyone’s) comfort zone. Slightly oxidized and dry-as-a-bone, you’d be hard pressed to find a white wine more outside today’s popular profile. First of all it’s from the eastern part of France in the Jura region, home to wines loved by only the geeky-ist of wine geeks, on top of that it’s an oxidized style of wine like the great Fino and Manzanilla wines of Spain’s woefully under-appreciated Sherry region. Unlike those great wines, it is not fortified, which makes it even more confusing as it just does not fit into any easy marketing category.
The 2006 Domaine de la Tournelle Fleur de Savagnin Arbois from vignerons Evelyne et Pascal Clariet is an extraordinary white wine. It is such an interesting and compelling wine that almost everyone you let taste this wine will hate it. However, if like Steve Martin in LA Story you, “let your mind go and your body will follow” - or in this case let your palate go and your body will follow, you will be treated to a wonderful glass of wine. Nutty and layered with endless layers of complexity, the firm dryness of this wine is almost jarring to palates numbed and dumbed by extremely fruity wines or those that claim dryness, but actually have significant residual sugar.
Just in case this wine needed something to confuse the drinker even more it’s made from the Savagnin variety, which as nothing to do with Sauvignon Blanc and may (or may not) be related to the traminer variety, more recently of Gewurz fame.
None of that matters for this is wine at its best: compelling, interesting, delicious and, most of all, unique and distinct to its variety, vineyard and tradition. What else matters?
I’m trying to remember the first year I visited this estate - 82? 83? In those days Einaudi was ultra-traditional and in the 80’s that meant erratic. While those days are often a bit over romanticized, there is no debate that great wines have always been produced by the Einaudi estate - most of the time. Rustic would have been an over-polite way to describe the old Einaudi winery of the early eighties, but today’s Einaudi wines are produced in a sparkling clean modern winery. While some may debate the plusses and minuses of that, you cannot debate the pleasures of their wonderful dolcetto wines and the fact that the ups-and-downs of previous decades are no more. The Dogliani region of Piemonte is well established as a premier dolcetto region and Einaudi’s are among the very best wines from this region. The 2006 Einaudi Dolcetto di Dogliani is as brilliant and brightly fruity as you could hope for, but offers a lot more than that. Under the dense black fruit is a hard edge that comes not only from the electric acidity, but from a delicious warm earthiness that makes this wine reach beyond the simple fruity offered by so many of its siblings. Drink this wine up now before it dries out.
SwiftPageEmail Subject: Wine Enthusiast’s Wine Star Awards Nominees Announced! Let’s think about The Wine Enthusiast’s previous Wine Star Awards and what it means about The Wine Enthusiast:
The 2008 Winners
- The winemaker of the year is from Chateau St. Jean.
- The American winery of the year is Korbel Champagne Cellars
- The Man of the year is from Constellation Brands
- The Importer of the year is Shaw-Ross
I am sure you’re dying to pack wine from these companies into your cellar. I think no further comment is required.
While Julie and Julia may be more a puff pastry than a plat principal, it is a light pleasure that no foodie should deprive themselves of indulging in. The main beauty of the movie is that people are actually cooking in it -- thinking about cooking, dreaming about cooking, really cooking and most of all, really eating and eating with gusto. That's a good feeling in an era where people are more likely to spend time watching competitive cooking than actually cooking themselves. I left the movie feeling good and, best of all, hungry. A wonderful feeling that television shows like Iron Chef and its ilk do not leave me with. If the one good thing that comes out of this movie is that a few people actually pick up those copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that are sitting, clean as they day they were purchased, on their bookshelves and actually cook something then it's a great movie.
Never trust someone who calls themselves a foodie whose cookbooks are not stained and worn.
In my last post I criticized the 2002 Paolo Scavino Bricco Ambrigio Barolo. I didn't like the wine, but it is my hope that they never change the way they make it. By that I don't mean the barrels or yeasts they use, but that they never change the fact that they make their wines with passion and vision. It matters not one bit that I do not share their vision for what makes Barolo great. The only thing that matters is that in their soul they believe in the wine they make. If I don't like it I don't have to drink it.
There is an important difference between wines cynically manipulated to get points and those made by winemakers that feel in their gut that they are making the greatest expression of variety and vineyard they can attain. That sometimes those are the same characteristics that get points does not diminish their vision.
As wine critics tear apart the passion play that is winemaking it is important for them to remember that it matters not one bit if you like the wine, but only if it is made with great care and, most of all passion and vision. A critic does not need to share that vision to appreciate that wine. Such is the case here with the Scavino Barolo, the fact that I don't enjoy it does not mean that it is not great wine. It only means it is not great wine for me.
Everyone seems to love this wine, but me. Huge points always seem to accompany Paolo Scavino’s Baroli, yet to me they have very serious problems - they don’t taste like they were produced in Barolo or produced from the nebbiolo variety. This time the wine was being served by the glass so, while expensive, it was not as big a of hit as buying a whole bottle of pricy wine I was unlikely to enjoy. Being by the glass it gave me a chance to give the wine another chance. I was also hopeful as it was from the lighter 2002 vintage, so I hoped it would have escaped the extremes of the Scavino style. No go. The first glass was clearly oxidized. I just thought it had been opened too long, but the bartender insisted that it had only been opened three or four hours before. A second glass, from a newly opened bottle, was fresher, but the fact that a Barolo that had been opened for only a short period was already shot shows you what happens when you put the wrong variety in new barrels. This newly opened wine showed lots of new oak flavors over a pruney, simple vague overripe fruity flavor. You can buy the same thing for a lot less money, done a lot better if you like that style, from Australia and California. Paolo Scavino is clearly a passionate winemaker, but for me, his choices simply do not work. I just cannot give up the idea that Barolo should taste like Barolo. These wines could come from anywhere.
While tasting through barrels of our 2008 cabernet sauvignon today, I kept thinking as good as they were they needed a little lift - a little cabernet franc. I love the minty brightness with a vegetal punch that the mouth watering cabernet franc wines of the Loire deliver - often at bargain prices. I think just of touch of that cabernet franc lift would be perfect in our powerful Napa cabernet.
Like soy sauce, Parmigiano and truffles, cabernet franc is packed with umami, that distinctive savory essence that that makes flavors just explode in your mouth. Certainly cabernet franc can be delicious on its own, as in the wonderful reds of the Loire Valley, but its "umami" effect on cabernet sauvignon cannot be overstated. A dollop of cabernet franc "lifts" the nose and expands the finish on many a cabernet and, in my opinion, this variety is under-utilized in Napa where power is easy, but high tones are not.
An absolutely seductive example of California cabernet franc at its best is the 2005 Keenan Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District. Rich and powerful without being overwhelming, this is one of the finest American cabernet francs I've tasted. Deep in color, with an expansive, bright nose and a fresh, salivating finish, a telling point about this wine is that while I drank this bottle over three days, the wine never got tired. This very fine cabernet franc is a great education on what is possible from this variety in California.
No shy blushing wine this one. Not at all embarrassed by its pinkness, this is a explosively fruity, but dry wine with wonderful depth. The 2008 Mas Amiel “Le Plaisir” Côtes du Roussillon Rosé, if not a serious wine, is seriously delicious. Born from old vine grenache, syrah and carignane in the sunny Mediterranean vineyards of southwestern France, wines like this can only make you shake your head in wonder that so few outstanding rosé wines come from the similarly blessed vineyards of California. I suppose part of the reason for that is that so many consumers think sweet when they see pink that dry pink wines like this aren’t that easy to sell. It’s amazing that that misconception about rosé has hung on so many years after the white zinfandel craze. A great value and under $20 this is a wine I’d gladly gulp the rest of the summer.
The Loire is the region that the new wave point-driven winemaking tsunami washed around. Today it holds the high ground when it comes to brilliant clean refreshing wines with alcohol levels that seem almost unthinkably low. They are often unbelievably delicious bargains.Cabernet Franc is an unappreciated variety in the New World, often for good reason, but in the right hands from the right vineyards it makes a wonderful wine. The 2006 Anjou Domaine de la Soucherie is one of those wines. Just thinking about this wine makes me salivate as its zesty, acid driven freshness carries a delicious ripe fresh wild cherry fruitiness enticingly spiced with fresh herbs and a savory minty freshness. Best served with a light chill, this is a perfect summer red. At under $15, the gulps instead of sips this wine will inspire are very affordable. I love what I call the forceful delicacy of wines like this. Light and lively with an almost haunting personality, they are in no way simple as, despite their subtle svelte character, they rivet the attention of thoughtful palates.
Gray Pinot (pinot gris) sounds pretty drab and 9 times out of 10 the name fits the wine. Yet in the hands of some winemakers this variety can sing. Joining the ranks of delicious and interesting wines from this variety, including wines like Jermann, Chehalem, Albert Mann among others, is the Horse and Plow 2008 Pinot Gris,, Filigreen Farm, Anderson Valley. Crisp, refreshing, but in no way light and simple, it is loaded with creamy fresh pear and white peach flavors all accented by a tangy minerality and firm acidity. This wine was barrel fermented in neutral oak, which shows in the lovely texture and a yeasty whisper on the nose. A whopping 350 cases were produced so Santa Margharita Pinot Grigio has as much to worry about as it has flavor.