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Stories of Passion and Pinot: Erik Kramer of WillaKenzie

February 2, 2023 Leave a comment

Source: WillaKenzie Estate

The first LIVE Certified Sustainable winery in the Pacific Northwest, LIVE member 0001. Wines worthy of serving at the White House gala, state dinners, and even to the French President and British First lady. One of the first Direct to Consumer wine programs in Willamette valley. The list of accolades of the WillaKenzie Estate can go on and on.

Founded a little more than 30 years ago, WillaKenzie Estate takes its name from the eponymous sedimentary soils of Willamette Valley in Oregon where the winery is located. The name is also a tribute to the Willamette Valley’s two major rivers, the Willamette and McKenzie which are also displayed on the winery’s crest.

WilleKenzie Estate was founded in 1991 by Bernard and Ronni Lacroute who purchased 420 acres of farmland near the town of Yamhill, Oregon. Bernard and Ronni brought their Burgundian heritage to the newly planted vineyards, and with the help of another Frenchman, Laurent Montalieu, the first winemaker at WillaKanzie, produced its first vintage in 1995. The rest is history, as they say (if you are interested in more historical details, here is the link). In 2016, Lacroutes entrusted their legacy to the Jackson Family Wines.

In 2017, Erik Kramer became WillaKenzie’s third winemaker. I had an opportunity to sit down with Erik (yes, virtually), and ask him a few questions. Here is what transpired in our conversation:

[TaV]: Before making wines in Willamette Valley, you were working in New Zealand. New Zealand is also world-famous for its Pinot Noirs. How would you compare New Zealand and Oregon Pinot Noirs?
[EK]: That’s a broad question. With the Willamette Valley, we’re generally talking about one region with a few sub-appellations (e.g. Yamhill Carlton, Dundee Hills, etc.). When speaking about Pinot from the Willamette, it’s tough for me to do so without speaking about the climate, which moves between Mediterranean and Maritime. The result is a balanced expression of Pinot anchored in freshness and clarity of fruit. With New Zealand, there are quite a few different regions within the country where Pinot is being grown and each is a bit different. The region in New Zealand that often seems to garner the most attention is Central Otago, which has a climate that is much more continental than the Willamette Valley and it’s reflected in the wines that are grown there (dark, savory, and energetic). For me, the region in New Zealand that most resembles the Willamette Valley in terms of Pinot expression is Martinborough (complex Pinots with great energy and complexity). I believe Martinborough leans toward Mediterranean in terms of climate with similar levels of heat accumulation to the Willamette. It may just be a little drier on a year-round basis.

[TaV]: This conversation series is about “Passion for Pinot Noir”. What drives your passion for this grape commonly identified as a “finicky grape”?
[EK]: One of the things I love about Pinot is the level of complexity and cellaring potential it can offer in such a graceful and balanced package. It really can be the proverbial ‘iron fist in the velvet glove.’ One of my favorite Pinot memories dates to a conversation I had one evening at the home of a famous consulting oenologist named Andrea Paoletti. He’d consulted with many of the world’s best producers on viticulture, what to plant and where, clones, etc. We were sitting on his patio, overlooking his olive tree grove on a hillside just outside Chianti (it was a great evening!). I remember him saying to me over a glass of wine, “when Pinot Noir is good, I think it’s the best one.” He was speaking about the grape compared to all the others he’d worked with. That stuck with me, and I tend to agree.

[TaV]: It seems that you grow all the components of the sparkling wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, even Pinot Meunier), and yet I don’t see a sparkling wine as part of WillaKenzie’s offerings. Will this change in the future, or do you have a particular reason not to produce Sparkling wines?
[EK]: Funny you ask this question! We tirage bottled our first WillaKenzie Estate Brut from the 2019 vintage in the summer of 2020 and have been bottling sparkling wines ever since then (made from the grapes you asked about). We just haven’t released anything yet. Our club members will be the first to get a glimpse of our first-ever Brut later this year.

[TaV]: Outside of the sparkling wines, any plans to plant new grapes? How about new types of wines, maybe Pinot Noir Blanco?
[EK]: On the new planting front, Chardonnay has become a much more important role player in our portfolio. We added about 4 acres of Chardonnay a few years ago and have an additional 3 acres planned for this spring (and more a few years down the road). We produce several terroir specific Pinot Noirs from several parts of the Estate and are moving in the same direction with Chardonnay (blanc and rouges from the same location). As far as new wines go, we bottled our first vintage of Tourdion (named after a 14th century Burgundian dance meant to signify a play on grape varieties). It’s a barrel fermented white blend that is made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier.

[TaV]: Today you make single vineyard wines. Any plans to produce “single block” wines?
[EK]: WillaKenzie Estate is a large, contiguous farm from which we produce several terroir specific wines that tell a story about the place. In essence, they are all single block wines from one Estate.

[TaV]: WillaKenzie was the first winery in Oregon to receive LIVE certification back in 2008. How do you see sustainability evolving at WillaKenzie today? Are there things you would like to change to further advance sustainability?
[EK]: Sustainability has always been an important part of the WillaKenzie identity. The farm has been managed sustainably since it was established in 1992. Maintaining a healthy, biologically diverse landscape is part of our holistic approach to land management. More recently, we established a bee colony on the Estate as well as experimented with different wildflower species. We also have several initiatives in place aimed at lowering our carbon footprint. We already have a solar array that provides between 40% and 50% of our power and we are looking at increasing the size of our array to provide up to 100% of our power. With that, we’re transitioning heavily to an all-electric model to move away from greenhouse gases and become more carbon neutral. We have a brand-new Ford F150 Lightning pickup truck that just rolled up last week. We already have one electric forklift and next year, we’ll replace the remaining gas-powered forklift with another electric unit. So yeah, we have a lot going on here.

[TaV]: Other than WKE, if you would have an opportunity to make wine at any winery in the world, what winery would you choose and why?
[EK]: This is a tough one. So many choices! I’ve already been very fortunate to work at some great places in and outside of the US. I guess if push comes to shove, I’d go with Ata Rangi in Martinborough, New Zealand right now. Those Pinots are so delicious, and I’ve not worked in Martinborough, but love the area. The bonus would be that I’d be able to visit my son on weekends (he’ll be studying at the University of Auckland for the next few years, which is only a few hours drive from there). Ask me again in 4 years and I’ll have a different answer. Probably something more obscure like living and working at Boutari in Santorini making delicious Asyrtiko and enjoying the view after work and on the weekend.

[TaV]: Where do you see yourself, and also WillaKenzie in 10 years?
[EK]: Me? I honestly don’t know and am not looking that far ahead right now, which is unusual since I’m a goal-oriented planner. Perhaps I’m still involved with WillaKenzie in some capacity? Perhaps I’m working on some exciting new wine project outside of the U.S.? Perhaps I’m teaching wine production or viticulture classes at some community college? As Eddie Vetter sings in the song ‘Release’ off Pearl Jam’s first album (Ten) – I’ll ride the wave where it takes me!

WillaKenzie in ten years? That’s easier. It’s regarded as one of the great estates of the Willamette Valley. The winery’s Estate Cuvee Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are on important wine lists around the country. Our club members have been enjoying WillaKenzie’s Brut and Blanc de Blanc in their club shipments. We are not just growing terroir specific Pinot Noirs from places on the Estate like Aliette and Emery, but also Chardonnays. Tourdion (that exciting white blend) is available nationally. The winery’s solar array now provides 100% of the Estate’s power supply. Our HVAC systems have been modified from LPG to electric. We have not just one bee colony, but several and our club members are taking WillaKenzie Estate honey home as gifts at club events. The list goes on and the future is very bright.

Okay, it is time to taste some wines:

2018 WillaKenzie Estate Chardonnay Yamhill-Carlton (13.8% ABV)
Straw pale
Apples, vanilla, a touch of honey, hint of fresh herbs
Granny Smith apple, tart lemon and lemon zest, good structure, crisp, good body, well integrated tannins on the finish
8, excellent by itself, but will work well with a range of dishes.

2019 WillaKenzie Estate Cuvée Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton (13.9% ABV)
Dark garnet
Cherries, sage, violets
Cherries, a hint of dark chocolate, cut-through, lip-smacking acidity supported by well-integrated tannins on the back end. Good structure, good balance. Succulent dark cherries on the medium+ finish.
8-/8, very nice.

Here you, my friends. Another story of passion for the finicky grape. When it’s good, it is really good. Until the next time – cheers!

P.S.  For more stories of Passion and Pinot please visit the series’ main page.

Stories of Passion and Pinot: David Adelsheim

January 19, 2023 3 comments

For those of us, eternal optimists and romanticists, who also happen to be wine lovers, wine always has a story. A glass of good wine always solicits an emotional response, and we truly believe that passion trumpets the world of wine. To create a wine that can move emotions, passion must be one of the key ingredients.

In the wine world, passion alone will not get you very far. It needs to be supported by hard labor. Unwavering resolve. Gumption and belief that you can not fail. Or so I learned by talking with winemakers in Oregon who made Pinot Noir their passion, growing it sometimes in places where nothing is supposed to grow. These conversations became the series that I called Stories of Passion and Pinot – in these stories you can see for yourself what that passion means.

Among winemakers, there are those who rightly deserve to be called pioneers. They come first, building the road that others can follow. David and Ginny Adelsheim were such pioneers, planting some of the first Pinot Noir vines in Willamette Valley in 1971, starting Adelsheim Vineyard, and never looking back. I had the pleasure of briefly meeting David about 10 years ago at a trade wine tasting in Connecticut and tasting some of his wines. A few months ago, Carl Giavanti helped me to actually have a conversation with David and ask him a few questions albeit virtually. David’s achievements over the 50 years and his role in promoting Oregon wines and bringing them to the world stage are nothing short of legendary and very hard to capture in a short interview format – but I believe it still will be well worth a few minutes of your time.

[TaV]: You learned a lot over the 50 years. If you would start the winery again, would you do something differently?
[DA]: Probably, I’d try to focus more attention on the quality of wines we produced and the fiscal stability of the winery. Or hire a winemaking consultant and a CFO, who could do those things, since my time is probably better spent helping the industry and selling wine.

[TaV]: Over the course of your winemaking career, what were your favorite vintages and why?
[DA]: I don’t really have favorite vintages because it was my job to be excited about every vintage. There are vintages, like 2021, where the weather cooperated, and the vineyard and winery logistics were easy. There are vintages, like 1983, 1988, 1990, 1999, 2005, 2012, and 2019, where the wines received great scores from the critics. There are vintages, like 1986, 1991, 1997, 2007, 2013, where the wines got so-so scores, but with time became glorious. There have been a couple of disastrous vintages like 1984 that, with time in bottle, became better than I would have expected. And then there are a few vintages, like 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2015, that ended up being very ripe.

[TaV]: Not to go too far on this tangent, but what is your opinion of biodynamic winemaking?
[DA]: Our vineyards are not biodynamically farmed, and our winery does not follow biodynamic principles. All our vineyards are LIVE-certified as is our winery. In addition, we use no herbicides in our vineyards.

Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard. Source: Adelsheim Vineyard

[TaV]: Adelsheim Vineyard farms about 200 acres in Chehalem Mountains AVA with a large variety of soil types and microclimates. Based on your experience, is this the time to think about establishing additional sub-AVAs?
[DA]: The 1979 regulations establishing the system of American Viticultural Areas is not rigorous enough. The word “wine” does not appear, no expertise is required to submit a petition, and there is no top-down guidance to ensure a logical, helpful system of AVAs. It is time to help everyone, from consumers to our own winemakers, understand the connection between where grapes come from and how a wine smells and tastes. In the Chehalem Mountains, we have undertaken a project to define distinct neighborhoods of wine, using a winemaker tasting panel working under the guidance of a researcher in Burgundy. If we are able to define such neighborhoods, just by tasting single vineyard wines, the wineries in the Chehalem Mountains area will have to decide whether to petition for additional nested, nested-AVAs (like Ribbon Ridge and Laurelwood District) or devise a better way to communicate with the public.

[TaV]: What are the oldest Adelsheim wines in the winery’s cellar?
[DA]: We have an extensive library that is supposed to contain examples of every wine we’ve ever produced, included from 1978, our first vintage.

[TaV]: How are they holding up?
[DA]: I haven’t tasted the 1978s in a pretty long time. The estate Pinot noir was served at our 40th anniversary in 2011. I was surprised that had held up. The whites – an estate Chardonnay and a WA Sémillon – are, of course, pretty oxidized but both still have fruit. And I bet that the two WA Merlots are pretty stunning – I can’t remember when I last tried one.

[TaV]: Over the last 4-5 years, significant efforts were made to protect the origins of Willamette Valley wines, such as the case against Copper Cane from California. How widespread is this problem, and what more needs to be done to better protect the Oregon wine industry?
[DA]: The Copper Cane case is getting resolved, I believe. But it illustrates that there are people, who would like to take advantage of the geographic brands we created – like Oregon and Willamette Valley. We saw a Chilean Pinot noir, bottled by a company with “Oregon” in their brand name. That’s illegal under TTB rules, but where’s the enforcement? Of course, I believe that the Willamette Valley AVA should have stricter rules – a 100% requirement to use the varietal name and 100% to use the Willamette Valley AVA or its nested AVAs. But proposing that to the 2019 legislature ended up splitting the industry so there’s little appetite for a second round any time soon.

[TaV]: Last year, the EU awarded Protected Geographical Indication status to Willamette Valley. Is that sufficient to protect the Oregon wine industry as a whole, or more needs to be done?
[DA]: We probably should figure out how to protect the name “Willamette Valley” in China and, perhaps, other parts of the world. Napa isn’t going through the work of protecting the names of their nested AVAs with the EU, so we probably don’t have to do that either.

Calkins Lane Vineyard. Source: Adelsheim Vineyard

[TaV]: Should Oregon also receive a PGI status?
[DA]: Probably, yes. But someone will need to volunteer to complete the incredibly long application and the revisions required. It took Harry Peterson-Nedry ten years to get the EU to grant Willamette Valley TGI status. The Oregon Wine Board should do that application. But probably doesn’t have the bandwidth.

[TaV]: You are often referred to as an ambassador of Oregon wines to the world. Are Oregon wines well recognized worldwide?
[DA]: Well, the top wines from the Willamette Valley (mostly Pinot noirs) are starting to be recognized in markets that can afford them. The problem is that they are being called “Oregon,” which leads to confusion of consumers. We need to stop using “Oregon” when we’re referring only to the wines of the Willamette Valley.

[TaV]: What are the main exporting countries for Willamette Valley Pinot noir?
[DA]: Number 1 is Canada, followed by the UK and Japan, followed by Sweden and Denmark. Other Asia markets (Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, the Philippines) are growing as are Caribbean markets. In the EU, there are countries that can afford WV PNs – Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium in particular. But they continue to focus primarily on French, German, and Mediterranean wines.

[TaV]: What needs to be done to make Willamette Valley wines better known internationally?
[DA]: Education of the importers about our region and the brands available in the particular country. Once enough wineries have representation, then we can start educating the media and the trade. Finally, once the wines are available in stores and restaurants, with stories appearing in wine and lifestyle media, then we can start education consumers.

[TaV]: What are the main problems facing the Willamette Valley wine industry, now, and say, over the next 20 years?
[DA]: You mean besides global climates change, which threatens all of today’s top wine regions. Well, beyond that, we need to ensure that Oregonians are buying the State’s successful wineries, not just wine companies from outside the State and, often, outside the country. You can’t talk about Avis being the best rental car company if it’s owned by Hertz.

[TaV]: What would be your advice to the young winemakers who are just getting started?
[DA]: They don’t seem to need my advice. They have figured out the pathway to starting their own brand – start at the bottom, working for others. Buy grapes and rent space to make tiny amounts of amazing wine. Grow slowly, never making enough wine, always over-delivering on quality. Don’t borrow capital. Once they have a strong reputation and a successful brand, they can start thinking about their own vineyards, and way down the road, their own bricks-and-mortar winery.

[TaV]: If you could select just “one thing” you’d like to be remembered for, let’s call it your legacy trademark, what would that one thing be?
[DA]: Heck if I know; you pick one:
1973 – Worked with Bill Blosser, Dick Erath and others to map where grapes could be grown in Yamhill County, which led to the saving of YC hillsides for agriculture; and adoption of a similar approach in other counties
1973-1977 – Drafted the strict Oregon Labeling Regulations, lobbied the industry to support and the OLCC to adopt them
1974 – Realized the importance of PN & CH clones in Burgundy while an intern at the Lycée Viticole in Beaune
1974-1983 – Helped establish the clonal importation & evaluation programs at OSU
1975 – Coordinated the importation of clones from Alsace, including first Pinot blanc in the U.S.
1976 – Coordinated the importation of clones from ANTAV, including first Gamay noir in the U.S.
1977 – Participated in the effort to pass legislation to establish the TWRAB
1982 – Wrote petitions to establish the Willamette Valley and Umpqua Valley AVAs
1983-1993 – Led the discussion program at the Steamboat PN Conference each summer
1987 – Requested Raymond Bernard send clones of Chardonnay (incl 95) and Pinot noir (incl 667 and 777) to OSU
1987 – Helping Robert Drouhin find and buy land for DDO
1987/8 – Responsible for the Burgundians attending first and second IPNC
2000 – Cofounded OPC with Pat Dudley
2002 – Wrote the petition to establish the Chehalem Mountains AVA
2003 – Led the lobbying effort to change OWAB to OWB
2005 – Drafted extensive amendments to the labeling regulations
2005 – Helped lead the effort to rebuild the WVWA into one of the U.S.’s most important wine marketing organizations
2014 – Founded Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers
2015 – Proposed and led the creation of the first Chardonnay Technical Tasting that has elevated the style of WV Chardonnay
2015 – Leader in the effort to pass legislation to limit the number of non-sales-related events at wineries
2016 – Helped envision Willamette Valley: the Pinot Noir Auction
2019 – Leader in the lobbying effort for stricter regulations for varietal content and origin for WV wines, which failed
2020-202? – Envisioned and played a leadership role in the Neighborhoods Project for the region of the Ribbon Ridge, Laurelwood District and Chehalem Mountains AVAs
2021 – Conducted and edited the Founders’ Stories for Adelsheim’s 50th anniversary
2022/3 – Working with Josh Bergstöm on a technical winemaker event for Pinot noir

[TaV]: It seems that your motto is “never stop”, and for sure when it is necessary to advocate for and advance the Willamette Valley wine industry. What special Willamette Valley wine projects are you involved in now?
[DA]: I mentioned the Neighborhoods Project, focused on Pinot noirs from the Ribbon Ridge, Laurelwood District and the Chehalem Mountains AVAs back under question #5. I’m finishing up video interviews of the Founders of the first ten wineries in the Willamette Valley. Short versions are on our winery’s website (“Founders’ Stories.”) Videos of the entire interviews are in the Linfield University Wine History Archive. I’m working with other winemakers to create a way to come together and taste each other’s wines, so that the Pinot noirs of the Willamette Valley can evolve in a thoughtful way. Yeah, and the book… everyone says I need to write a book, and maybe I will.

Here you are – another addition to the Stories of Passion and Pinot. I hope you enjoyed this encounter with the winemaker’s passion and maybe even learned something new.

Until the next time…

P.S.  For more stories of Passion and Pinot please visit the series’ main page.

Neyen, The Spirit Of Apalta

December 23, 2022 Leave a comment

What do you think of Chilean wines? Have you had Chilean wines which took your breath away?

While you ponder that, let’s talk about Chilean wines.

Nobody can question today’s grandstanding of the Chilean wines in the world. According to Wikipedia, Chile is 7th largest wine producer in the world and 5th largest exporter – the ranking positions change every year, but there is a clear growth trend for Chilean wines, both in terms of volume and value. And Chile is one of the worldwide leaders in sustainable and organic viticulture, setting a clear example for the rest of the wine-producing world.

Not changing the subject, but what do you think of organic wines? I remember that 10-12 years ago, organic wines were few far and between, and those proudly displaying “organic” on the labels were largely undrinkable. The situation changed, mostly unnoticeably, and I can say that today at least 25% of the wines I get to drink during a year are made with organic grapes, and this number is definitely higher if we are talking about the samples I receive for the reviews.

If we are touching memory lane, who remembers Chilean flagships, Fronterra and Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay available for around $10 in 1.5L size? Those were the stars of any party, taste being much less important than the price. And again, slowly but surely this all changed, and Chilean wines now commend the full respect of wine lovers around the world, on the level of prized Bordeaux, Napa Cabs, and Brunellos.

Now, the reason behind this little Chilean wine excerpt is my recent encounter with pure pleasure – you know how much I value that element of wine drinking – the wine should give pleasure, otherwise, what is the point of drinking it. The wine I want to share with you today is the 2017 Neyen Apalta Estate Chile (13.5% ABV, $64.99, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Carmenere, 14 months in 225L French oak barrels, 6 months in 3,000L foudres).

Neyen is a unique estate, a parcel of land situated between the Andes Mountains and the Coastal Range. Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted there in 1889, joined by Carmenere in 1936. Soils at this organically farmed, low-intervention vineyard provide good drainage, and the semi-arid climate allows for the slow ripening of the grapes, maybe with the assistance of the Neyen, the Spirit of Apalta. Grapes are harvested by hand at the first light, sorted, destemmed, and subjected to the magic of winemaking. In most of the years, the blend stays at a consistent 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and 50% Carmenere, even though in some of the years different proportions are used.

When I opened the bottle and poured the first glass, I was really unconvinced. The wine was drinkable but didn’t incite any “oh my god” reactions which I expected at least based on the price. I pumped the air out and put the bottle aside for the evening.

The next day, I pulled the stopper out, poured a glass and the very first whiff brought the sacred “oh wow”. The cassis and eucalyptus were enveloping the senses, making it impossible to put the glass down and promising a lot more to come with the sip. Wine requires time to be enjoyed, you can’t hurry it. Finally, after a minute or so of just enjoying the aroma, I went for a sip. To my delight, the aromatic experience continued in full force on the palate. More cassis, more eucalyptus, layers of dark fruit, and silky, soft tannins were making the taste buds dance. The experience was taking me precisely between the worlds – the precision and structure of the old world Bordeaux was perfectly coupled with the youthful exuberance of the new world Napa Cab. Don’t get me wrong – this wine doesn’t need Bordeaux or Napa references, this wine perfectly exists in a class of its own, a perfect combination of ungrafted French Cabernet Sauvignon from 130 years old vines and Chile’s own Carmenere. (Drinkability 9-)

Here you are, my friends.  A superb Chilean wine that is sure to bring a smile to your face. With holidays or without, winter or summer – this wine has a lot to give. Magic of the Neyen, the Spirit of Apalta? I will let you find the bottle and decide on your own.

By the way, how about the question I asked you at the beginning? Can you name some Chilean wines that took your breath away?

Daily Glass: Unexpectedly Stunning

December 16, 2022 3 comments

Expect the unexpected.

When people hear that beaten up “expect the unexpected”, I’m sure in at least 80% of the cases, the expectations are negative. “Expect the unexpected” generally implies that one should always be prepared to deal with seemingly unexpected and often hostile circumstances.

In the wine world, we might want to adjust the “expect the unexpected” ever so slightly. By its nature, wine is always unexpected. Bottle variations, spoiled wine (think corked, for example), serving temperature, ambiance, food, company – everything affects the taste of wine – and I’m not even talking about root and flower days. Every bottle is a mystery – even if you had that same wine from the same producer and the same vintage 100 times before, when you are looking for pleasure you should open the bottle with trepidation. Every bottle is a mystery, and you never know what you will find inside.

I already had this exact wine before. 1998 d’Arenberg Cabernet Sauvignon High Trellis McLaren Vale was number 16 on my top 20 wines of 2020 list. 1998 is one of the special years in my book, so I’m always on the lookout for affordable 1998 wines. I came across this specific wine at the Benchmark Wine Group wine store, and at $19 per bottle, it was well worth the risk. Of course, d’Arenberg is an excellent producer and I trust their wines – but aging the wine changes a lot of things and nobody can truly predict what would happen with wine as the result of the aging.

When it comes to aged wines, when everything works well, the expectations are resembling the bell curve. In the optimal case, we expect the wine to gradually improve, then stay at its peak, and then gradually decline. But every bottle has its own bell curve associated with it – how long will it take for the wine to reach the top of the peak, for how long the wine will stay at the peak, when the wine will start declining – every bottle has its own story, and nobody can predict how a particular bottle of wine would behave. This makes drinking aged wines great fun – you never know what you will find behind the cork. This also makes drinking the aged wines a source of frustration – until you successfully pull the cork out, take a sip, and smile happily, the frustration lingers.

You are unquestionably doubling this frustration when you are opening the aged wine you already enjoyed before. In general, before you open the wine, you base your expectations on the reputation of the producer, the region, the winery, and maybe on the vintage. Once you tasted the wine, you acquire the frame of reference, so when you will be opening the bottle of the same wine as you already had, your expectations are based on your prior experience – “ahh, I liked it before, I hope the wine will be as good as it was the last time”.

The last Sunday, we had a good reason to open a bottle from the 1998 vintage, so this was the bottle I decided on – for no particular reason, the decision formed in the head by itself. I used the ah-so to gently extract the cork, only to find out that I had no reason to worry, and the regular corkscrew would do just fine – the cork was in very good shape.

Once in the glass, the color increased the hopes for the enjoyable experience – dark ruby, not a hint of brickish color which old reds might acquire. And the first whiff from the glass put absolutely all the worries away. Ripe cassis, eucalyptus, a touch of sweet oak – the aroma was beautifully enticing, seducing you only as the Cabernet Sauvignon can. And the palate… The palate completed this mesmerizing experience, offering ripe dark fruit, cassis, still fresh and firm structure, a beautiful herbal bouquet, and a perfect balance. Not to try to take anything from the Australian wines, this was a Napa Cab-like experience. (Drinkability: 8+/9-).

I pumped the air out and couldn’t get to the wine for the next two days. On the third day, I poured a glass, this time expecting that the wine is gone. To my total surprise, the wine closed up, now more resembling the young Brunello, perfectly firm, dense, and cherry-forward. The fact that the wine was perfectly fine 3 days after being opened gives me hope that the wine will be good at least for another 15 years – and this time around yes, I have another bottle.

Here is my story of the sudden pleasure. Do you like aged wines? Are you intimidated by aged wines? Do you also expect the unexpected? Let me know what you think.

Until the next time – cheers!

Study in Sustainability: Lugana DOC

November 5, 2022 4 comments

If you like wine and read about it from time to time, I’m sure you can easily identify all the buzzwords – organic, biodynamic, sustainable, clean, natural, and there are probably a few more I’m missing. Some of these terms are well defined and well understood, such as organic (even though the meaning of “organic wine” differs in Europe and the USA). Some of those terms are unquestionably controversial, such as “natural”, and don’t even think about discussing “clean” wines. And while I like the “organic” concept, and “biodynamic” sounds whimsical, I believe sustainability is the most important word here.

If we will check the Oxford Languages definition, sustainability is defined as “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”. The second definition is a bit closer to our subject of farming (growing grapes is just one of the farming applications, of course) – “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance” – I’m stressing the word “balance” here, Balance is the name of the game. We get what we want (grapes and wine) without destroying the source, so those who will come after us will have enough left for them, and once they are gone, there will be enough left for yet the others. Primitive drawing skills I have, no doubt, but I’m sure you got the picture I’m trying to paint.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Lugana is one of the oldest designated wine-growing areas in Italy, after obtaining its DOC status in 1967, the first in Lombardy, with about 1,000 acres under the vines. Lugana is also one of the few unique DOCs in Italy, spanning two regions and two provinces – the province of Brescia in Lombardy and the province of Verona in Veneto. Most of Lugana’s 5,500 acres of vineyards are adjacent to Lake Garda, which creates a unique, mild microclimate, atypical for Northern Italy. Most of the wine produced in Lugana is white, made out of a local indigenous grape called Turbiana. For a long time, Turbiana was erroneously considered to be Trebbiano di Lugana, until DNA analyses had shown that Turbiana is its own, unique variety.

As in most of Italy, the history of winemaking in Lugana goes back to Roman times, with the wines from the area praised on multiple occasions throughout the times. Lugana managed to stay a best-kept secret for a long time in the 20th century, with its wines being best known to the tourists flocking to the picturesque villages surrounding the lake. Slowly, the quality of the wines prevailed and the wines became thought after around the world, in part due to their excellent aging ability. In 2018, there were 17.5 million bottles produced in Lugana, 70% of which were exported around the world, with the US being Lugana’s 4th largest market.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Sustainability is definitely a trend among the wineries in Lugana. The winemakers want to preserve their land, their farms, and their vineyards for many generations to come and do everything in their power to make this happen. I wanted to give you a first-hand account of sustainability and virtually sat down with the kind folks at 6 wineries, who answered the same group of questions. Grab a glass of wine (or two), and hear it for yourself.

Source: CITARI

Source: CITARI

CITARI:

CITARI winery was founded in 1975, and today is farming about 90 acres of vineyards, producing about 300,000 bottles of wine annually. CITARI takes advantage of the close proximity of the winery to the vineyards, ensuring that the grapes are processed in the shortest time after the harvest, preserving aromatics and minimizing oxidative processes. CITARI had been recognized as a “Low Environmental Impact Farm” and won the “Verallia Ecofriendly Company” award over a number of years.

Here is our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Wine producers, as farmers, are the guardians and keepers of a territory. Sustainability is necessary.
It also helps to obtain a superior quality product, and to maintain this high quality over time.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Sustainability helps us to preserve the soil, the area, the quality.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations?
About 6 years ago

– How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We are still working on improving the best practices

– Was it worth it?
Of course!

– Would you do it again?
Yes, but better planning first all the costs, even in terms of time spent and bureaucracy.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after?
The sustainable agricultural method we use (reductions of treatments and products used, regular controls on soil and plants) respects the soil, the plants and give us a healthier product. We do not have direct feedback from customers about it, but customers are increasing and they like our wines very much!

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
We are thinking about adding green manure to preserve bees and other “good” insects.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
It is not easy, but it is necessary, be prepared!

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Le Morette:

Azienda Agricola Valerio Zenato Le Morette was founded in 1955, and today farms about 75 acres of vineyards. Sustainability is at the core of operations at Le Morette, and here is how the winery describes this work: “In the vineyard, Le Morette Agricultural Company has chosen precise working methods aimed at a sustainable agriculture, favoring those natural processes that allow to preserve the “environmental resource”, with great attention to the use of water, favoring blooms and proliferation of numerous species of insects useful for the vineyard ecosystem, maintaining the biodiversity of flora and fauna.

Here is what transpired in our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
To respect the environment is the key factor for us and means to deeply know every single aspect of it: sustainability, habitat and knowledge represents the focus to carry on a conscious development in the vineyard and in the winery. For us to produce “healthier wine” is a choice, not a constriction.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
To be Sustainable we follow the “Three E” rules:
1. ECONOMICS: Sustainable means to salvaguard the Companies’ income via the use of techniques with a low environmental impact and measures to avoid wasting water and other natural resources. Costs have to be affordable to be sustainable on a long term basis. Only when the winemaker is earning properly, he’s able to think and develop a proper Environmental and Social Sustainability.
2. ENVIRONMENT: Sustainable winegrowing conserves natural resources, improves air and water quality, and protects ecosystems and wildlife habitat. Sustainability is good for grapes and wine, as well: winegrowing requires in-depth attention to detail and continuous improvement resulting in high quality wine grapes and wine.
3. EQUITY (SOCIAL): Sustainable winegrowing promotes stewardship of natural and human resources, as per eg. supporting internships and education programs for young employees or carrying on healthcare classes and social charity events, contributing to our community culturally and socially.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We’ve always been following sustainable principles since 1960, when our business started with the first few hectares along the Frassino Lake bank in San Benedetto di Lugana, a natural protected site recognized by the European Community. We began as vinenursers and still we are after three generations. Our roots and knowledge of the indigenous variety Turbiana design our path.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Sure, when you have an inner green soul you have to stay stuck with it. It’s a heritage we’ve received from our grandfather Gino Zenato and is part of our identity. It’s inevitable to be in tune with Nature for us and we are proud to respect our environment every day with a set of concrete approaches and practices to preserve and improve this legacy.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
We received the official Biodiversity Certificate in 2020 from the WBA (World Biodiversity Association) but we’ve always applied sustainable principles since the beginning. We don’t have any difference, then: it belongs to our philosophy.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
Our next step is to improve and protect biodiversity in our ecosystem. We already do it but we want to do more, with the belief that a Biodiversity is the key choice for a healthier process whole based on sustainable principles.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
To set up some virtuous practices, essential to advocate biodiversity in the vineyard. Biodiversity is the first pillar for sustainability and whoever wants to start this journey, has to be conscious that being sustainable is not only an ideal choice, but a set of concrete actions that you have to put into practice on a daily basis.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Famiglia Olivini

Famiglia Olivini was founded in 1970, and today is farming 80 acres of vineyards. With the utmost focus on sustainability, Famiglia Olivini registered a brand called Agricoultura Regionata. In the words of the winery, “Agricoltura Ragionata identifies our working method during the entire vinification process: starting from the seed, soil, vine ending with bottled product. Our main goal is to act in a reasonable (ragionata) and thoughtful way, starting from the work we do in our fields, into the winery and then reflected with how our staff treats the product. We take all these actions in order to insure we avoid any invasive and harmful practices to agriculture (agricoltura).”

Here is what transpired in our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Sustainability for us is not just a philosophy, a way of thinking and talk about our daily taking care of the land but is truly a way of working passed down for generations by our founder it is an approach that preserves the territory, the lands, and ultimately shows in all of our products

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Being sustainable is our working method starting from the seed, soil, vine ending with the bottled product and in every process of the business. The essence of sustainability for us on each of this aspect is ‘keep everything in balance’.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
We have conceived our sustainable viticulture in our own registered brand which is Agricoltura Ragionata (Reasonable Agriculture). Before that, our vineyard were already sustainable certified. It did not take much because since ever our ‘best practices’ were naturally considered sustainable.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Even after the certification, we did not ‘spent’ any logo on the label. Talking about sustainability and Agricoltura Ragionata brand is part of our storytelling. But we have noticed that more and more people are interested to this and like to know that the wines they are drinking are coming from a sustainable viticulture

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
Once again, for us the sustainable certification was not a ‘conversion’ but just a certification of our everyday practice in the field. So, we did not see any impact in the quality of the wine. We think people likes to know and be informed about sustainability but not really interested in looking for a difference in the products.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
For us it will be nice to make Agricoltura Ragionata a shared brand about sustainability, involving other producers in the use of this brand and practices

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Find your real way before finding a protocol. Sustainability can’t be just a set of rules, must be your way of thinking your land, winery, wines.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Marangona

Maragonia was founded in 1970, and today farming about 75 acres of land. Some of the vines are 50 years old. Today Marangona is an Organic Farm and uses cement tanks and amphorae in production.

Here is what transpired during our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
None of us have zero impact on the environment. We all have to do our best to minimize that impact. A careful farm has a big difference compared to a not careful one.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
Commit day by day to try to make the best decisions to make environment and profit coexist

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
My sister and I are the new management of the family business, since 2007. Initially in low environmental impact, since 2012 in organic conversion, since 2017 fully certified, both vineyards and cellar.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
Of course,

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that true sustainability can be achieved.
I believe more about limiting the impact to the minimum possible.
For me the difference is a lot.
For some customers too, for others nothing changes.
So there are no contraindications

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
At the moment we are certified organic and from a bureaucratic point of view it suits us well, We don’t think we want to increase the amount of paper and documents.
I find the next step of the Biodynamics to be a very remote possibility in our production area. Not all areas and varieties are predisposed to such a strict philosophy.
So for now the goal is to continue learning new things about our vineyards to reduce the environmental impact to a minimum while keeping the qualitative objective we want to have very clear.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Advice none.
Comparisons on how to deal with different problems certainly as often as possible.

Source: Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C

Montonale

Motonale is the oldest winery we are discussing today, founded in 1911. The winery went through a turbulent history, starting from cleaning 3+ acres of land only with a shovel. In the 60s, the winery expanded to more than 150 acres, only to shrink to harvesting 10 rows in 1998. Two years later, a great-uncle got involved and that became a second birth for the winery. which is now solely focused on sustainability, using manual harvest and local indigenous yeast among many other things.

Here is our conversation:

– Why sustainability is important to you?
Sustainability is important to us because our wines are Mother Earth’s products. We owe her respect, because we do not have to think only about us, but also about the future generations.

– How do you define sustainability for your winery, vineyards, and business?
At Montonale, sustainability is understood as an all-round attitude, all aspects of the production chain are involved. I bring a very topical practical example, considering the critical issues we are experiencing in Europe in terms of energy: the roof of our cellar is entirely covered with photovoltaic panels and to make the most of them we concentrate consumption during the day. A winning choice, because once again this year we will close the winery’s energy consumption balance.

– When did you start the conversion to sustainable viticulture and operations? How long did it take to achieve your goals?
The conversion began 10 years ago with the fourth generation. Our main goal for the next 10 years is to reach a zero-carbon footprint.

– Was it worth it? Would you do it again?
It was obviously worth it and we would do it again. We must preserve our heritage which is connected to the Earth, to the weather and to the environment.

– When did you achieve sustainability? Do you see a difference in the wines before you used sustainable viticulture and after? Do you think your regular customers can also tell the difference?
We have seen and also perceived the difference in tasting our wines, since the process of their production was respectful to the environment where they were born.

– What is next – organic, biodynamic, or are you happy with where you are right now?
As previously mentioned, our main goal is to reach zero CO2 emissions.

– What advice would you offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now?
Do it before it is too late, there is no planet B.

Sguardi di Terra

Societa Agricola Sguardi di Terra is the youngest and smallest in our group, founded in 2015 and having around 17 acres under vine. From the moment the winery was formed, the focus was on sustainability and organic viticulture.

In lieu of Q&A, Sguardi di Terra offered the following sustainability information:

Our winery is organically certificated since we bought the vineyards in 2016. This also means that every year deducted audit bodies check that we respect the rules for organic viticulture and every year renew our certificate.

Our company does not have a cellar, we cooperate with Giovanni Pasini winery which is organic too and reflects our values. So we bring them our grapes and then we follow each step of vinification in their cellar.

The decision to buy organic vineyards wasn’t accidental. We truly believe in respect for the environment, by limiting the exploitation of natural resources and contributing to the preservation of biodiversity. Moreover, drinking organic wines is a way to prevent the accumulation of harmful residues in the body. Drinking organic wines = respecting nature + your body.

The advice that we would offer to those who are starting a sustainability journey right now is:

Believe in an ethical approach at every stage of the wine production chain. This is something you must feel inside, not because of the trend. Organic farming is not regarding only the present. It’s about the future too. We should choose organic farming to leave better soil for posterity than we have found.

Are you still here? This is definitely the longest post ever at Talk-a-Vino, and we didn’t even get yet to the wines.

I had an opportunity to try the wines from these 6 wineries (provided as samples), so here are my notes:

2021 Marangona Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV, organic grapes)
Brilliant straw pale
Beautiful, inviting, a touch of lemon, very fresh
Clean, crips, mellow and round. Mayer lemon, perfect acidity, delicious.
8, outstanding

2021 Famiglia Olivini Lugana DOC (13% ABV)
Straw pale, almost clear
A touch of honey, tropical fruit, lemon undertones
Clean, crisp, a hint of honey presence without the sweetness, round, delicious
8-

2021 Citari Conchiglia Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV)
Light straw pale, practically clear
Herbaceous nose, restrained
A hint of tropical fruit, good acidity, clean, refreshing, short to medium finish
8-

2021 Valerio Zenato Le Morette Mandolara Lugana DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale
Hint of Whitestone fruit, very restrained
Peach, herbal undertones, round, plump. Short finish.
8-

2021 Sguardi di Terra Scapüscia Lugana DOC (13% ABV)
Very light golden
Complex nose, honey, spices, open and inviting
A touch of honey, herbs, freshly cut grass.
8-

2021 Montonale Montunal Lugana DOC (13.5% ABV)
Straw pale
Complex, Whitestone fruit, precise
white stone fruit, a touch of honey, good acidity, round, fresh, plump
8, excellent

Here you are, my friends – the story of sustainable viticulture in Lugana.

Hey, and there is more!

Starting on November 7th, Destination Lugana will be celebrated in New York City:

Destination Lugana is a full week of celebration of Lugana DOC wines, during which 28 producers will offer their latest vintages to 13 restaurants in Manhattan. Each location will create a special menu to enhance the qualities and main characteristics of these wines. The project is made possible by the Consorzio Tutela Lugana D.O.C, which has been monitoring, defending, and promoting Lugana D.O.C. wines since 1990.

You will find more information at the official website: https://www.destinationlugana.com/, Here you will also find the list of 13 restaurants in Manhattan that will create special menus.

And we are done. Now it is your chance to discover the beautiful wines of Lugana. Cheers!

I Still Don’t Understand…

October 29, 2022 6 comments

This is not really a rant. I guess this can classify as rambling. Or “asking for a friend” might be the best way to classify this post.

Nevertheless, let me share my frustration.

The question is as simple as it is proverbial. When you take a sip of wine (you can make it a glass, doesn’t matter), do you judge the wine at that moment?

Hold on, while you ponder this, let me add a few layers.

You read the description of the wine. The wine sounds great. The wine sounds like something you want to buy and you want to drink, so you buy it.

Some time later (let’s say, 10 months later), you open a bottle. You remember it came with the recommendation, so you are full of anticipation – or not, maybe you even forgot the raving review. But this bottle is in your cellar, as you had a reason to buy it. So it is rightfully expected to be a good bottle of wine.

You pour a glass. You take a sip. The wine is perfectly fine, no faults, all is good, but the wine gives you nothing. Forget pleasure – the wine is flat and pedestrian, it doesn’t deliver anything, doesn’t cause any emotion. Just flat and boring. You let it breathe for an hour or even two, and still, there is nothing. Does this story sound familiar? Can you picture yourself in this situation?

So here is the first part of the question. How do they do it? The people who reviewed the wine and called it “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” – how come you can’t see an eye to eye with them? I get it when the wine solicits emotion and it is not your wine – this I understand. I remember Robert Parker raving about Ball Buster Shiraz, and the wine was incredibly overdone to my taste, I couldn’t enjoy it at all, but at least that wine didn’t leave me indifferent. But this is not my point. Let’s continue.

While I was not happy  – I rarely get to drink Burgundy, so I really want every Burgundy experience to be special – I still did what I always do. Pumped the air out and left the bottle on the counter.

The next evening, I poured another glass to decide on the fate of the half bottle which was left. I took a sip, and couldn’t believe that I’m drinking the same wine that was flat and boring the day before. The wine opened up, it had depth, the fruit, minerality, forest underfloor, hint of smoke, acidity  – all were at a beautiful interplay. The wine instantly went into the “delicious” category, and that half a bottle didn’t last for too long.

This brings us to the second part of the question. How do they do it? The wine critics and professional reviewers – are their palates so much more sophisticated than mine? There is no way they wait for the wine for a day or two to open up. Where I see “flat”, they can really see the full beauty? Or is there something I miss?

Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure is one of the oldest in Burgundy, tracing its roots back to 1552. The property spreads over 3 appellations – Pommard, Volnay, and Beaune, allowing wines to be produced in each one of those applications. The domain practices sustainable viticulture; the grapes are harvested by hand, and the wines are aged in 17th-century cellars in partially new oak for 14-18 months.

The wine I’m talking about here was 2019 Domaine Rebourgeon-Mure Cuvée de Maison Dieu Bourgogne (13.5% ABV, $26.98 at Wine Exchange), and after giving this wine time to open, I have to fully agree with “Killer Bourgogne Rouge” definition. Yet I know that I couldn’t enjoy this wine from the get-go.

So what can you tell me? Is this simply my personal handicap, or is there something fundamental I’m missing?

Whatever you want to say, I’m all ears…

Celebrate Champagne Day With Champagne Lanson

October 28, 2022 1 comment

Ooh, another wine holiday I almost missed – Champagne Day, celebrated on the 4th Friday in October. Not that I need a reason to open a bottle of wine, but a wine holiday offers an opportunity to reflect on a specific wine subject, which is always a fun exercise.

My personal Champagne journey was long and rocky (still going). Growing up on a sweet concoction called “sovertskoe shampanskoe” (still have no idea if it is made out of grapes), the profound acidity with no sweetness is not something that one can quickly and gleefully embrace. And the price… And then the French obnoxiously insisting that Champagne can only come from Champagne, phew… Lots of things to get over…

I had a few key learning experiences along the way. First, about 20 years ago, there was a blind tasting of the Champagnes during Windows on the World wine classes, where I learned that liking Dom Perignon, or any other vintage Champagne when you are not influenced by the label is not obvious. Then about 12 years ago, there was PJ Wine Grand tasting in New York, where the first taste of vintage (and even non-vintage) Krug became a proverbial nail on the head and a pivotal moment of discovering the true pleasure of Champagne. And I have to mention an encounter with 2002 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Champagne about 6 years ago (the wine ended up being my 2016 wine of the year) – I spent about 10 minutes simply enjoying the aroma of the wine before even daring to take a sip. Yes, I can safely say that I love Champagne.

Okay, let me be careful here. I love Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I love Rioja. Yes, I love Champagne. However, this is not a blanket statement. I love the category but within the category, the “love” concept is very particular. There are 10-12 specific Rioja producers and brands that I love, and the rest of the Riojas don’t excite me even for a second. It is the same story with Champagne – there are a few producers that I love and respect, and then there are quite a few I don’t care for. But I’m always willing to learn, taste, and discover something new.

Talking about discovery, I need to share with you my latest Champagne discovery – Champagne Lanson.

Founded in 1760, Champagne Lanson is one of the oldest Champagne Houses. From the moment it was created, Lanson’s focus was always on foreign markets. By the late 19th century, Lanson was supplying champagne by royal appointment to the courts of the United Kingdom, Sweden, and Japan. It still remains the main Champagne supplier to the British royal family. It is also official champagne of Wimbledon tennis tournaments since 2001. Today, Lanson Champagne is exported to 80 countries.

Lanson has close relationships with the growers, having access to more than 100 vineyards throughout Champagne, 50% of which are Grand Crus and Premier Crus. Lanson also cultivates more than 140 acres of its own vineyards, out of which 40 acres are farmed organically and biodynamically.

What I’m looking for in Champagne is precision. My ideal champagne has perfectly persistent energetic bubbles, toasted bread aromas on the nose maybe with a touch of yeast and even gunflint, the same toasted bread notes on the palate, maybe a hint of an apple, and a perfect balance of fruit, acidity, and structure on the palate. Balance is a king for any wine, Champagne not excluded.

I had an opportunity to try 3 of the Lanson Champagnes, and they all didn’t disappoint.

NV Lanson Le Black Label Brut Champagne (12.5% ABV, $50, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) had perfectly persistent fine mousse, toasted bread aromas on the nose, and crisp, precise and refreshing palate. Some of the best bubbles have this captivating effect – once you take a sip, you can’t wait to take another – this was this Champagne Lanson.

NV Lanson Le Rosé Champagne (12.5% ABV, $70, 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier) showed very similarly on the nose, with toasted notes and a hint of floral undertones. On the palate, it was a bit more feminine than the previous wine, still crispy, but softer and more round, with the addition of a touch of strawberry. Absolutely delightful.

And yet NV Lanson Le Green Label Organic Champagne (12.5% ABV, $75, 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay) was my favorite of the 3. Precision and energy. Vibrant and raw, this Champagne simply over-delivered – ultra-precise bubbles, energy, finesse and balance. Superb.

Talking about precision – Champagne Lanson eliminates the need for you to guess. Take a look at these back labels:

Harvest year, disgorgement date, all the technical details if you care to know them – everything is presented, simply and clearly. You don’t need to guess for how long that bottle of Champagne had been waiting for you on the shelf? With Lanson, just take a look at the back label, and you already know.

Here is my offering to you – beautiful Lanson champagne which now will join my “favorites” ranks. The Champagne that will make any celebration seem brighter.

Have you had Champagne Lanson before? What are your favorite Champagnes? Happy Champagne Day! Cheers!

Pure Pleasure, And How To Express It

September 5, 2022 1 comment

Does this glass give you pleasure?

You take a sip of wine. The wine is sublime. It is beautiful. It is complex. The wine solicits emotion – it makes you happy. It makes you moan quietly inside your head, you might extort an “OMG” or a “Wow”, and after a pause, you take another sip. You are not in a hurry. You want to extend this pleasure for as long as possible.

Wine is art. Wine doesn’t leave you indifferent. Wine solicits emotion.

Painting is art. Painting doesn’t leave you indifferent. Painting solicits emotion.

Music is art. Music doesn’t leave you indifferent. Music solicits emotion.

We can consider wine to be a form of art, the same as painting, music, poetry, architecture, and many other human creations which invite an emotional reaction. Do you know what makes wine a unique form of art? Your utter desire to share it.

You can quietly stare at a beautiful painting for a long time, slowly uncovering little details and being in the moment. Even if you stand next to someone else looking at the same painting, 99 out of 100 you are simply focused on your own personal moment.

When listening to the music, even if you are in the concert hall surrounded by thousands, the music is being played only for you and this is how you want to keep it. You can buy a recording and listen to it 100 times. Just by yourself, and you are happy about it.

Have you seen an oenophile get excited about wine? The excited oenophile grabs the total stranger by the sleeve, shoves the glass into their face and says “here, here, you must try this!!!” It is very important for an oenophile to be able to share the joy of the experience with others. There is an ultimate pleasure in sharing your excitement with others, as wine is an art that needs to be shared.

Sharing pleasure is easy in person. Have you tasted magnificent, life-altering wines in the group? If you had, you probably noticed the collective “ohh”, rolling the eyes, unprompted nodding, maybe a muttered “oh my god”, and then silence. The silence of the greatness of the moment, slowly settling in.

This in-person sharing of the pleasure is simple, and kind of just happens on its own. The real challenge comes when you decide to share that ultimate pleasure with the rest of the world.

So how can one express pure pleasure?

A typical way to describe the wine is via so-called tasting notes. Such tasting notes are often called “technical notes” as they usually describe the wine in terms of appearance, aroma, bouquet, and finish – using analogies such as “brickish color”, “smell of mushrooms”, or “taste of dark cherries”. The wine is described in the terms which the wine drinker is supposed to relate to – and it is a great review if you can relate to all of the terms used without trying to figure out what is Cascarilla and how it actually smells, or how Jabuticaba tastes like. What is usually not found in the tasting notes is the emotion – how this wine might make you feel; will you scream with joy when you will take a sip? Yes, I get it. Even the aromas and flavors are subjective. The emotion which you will experience while drinking the wine is yours and yours only – the person next to you might not experience the same enlightenment – and nevertheless, even the hope for greatness is worth sharing.

Can wine pleasure be expressed in the words by professional wine critics? You be the judge of it. Here is the collection of tatsing notes for the 1966 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche Grand Cru. At this link, you will find the reviews from Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, John Gilman, and others. Here is the best excerpt in my opinion. John Gilman: “La Tâche ‘66 is deep, full and opulent on the palate, with a grandiose delivery of thick, perfumed fruit, excellent balance, plenty of power, great focus and finesse, and an incredibly long, softly-tannic and astoundingly complex finish.” This might be the best description out of the six present, but does it convey the emotion?

Does this wine give you pleasure?

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of drinking two wines from the 1997 vintage (1997 is a special year for our family). These two wines really prompted this post. First, I opened the 1997 Château Haut-Piquat Lussac Saint-Émilion (12.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc). The wine was somewhat of a recent find at the Wine Exchange – after getting an email offer to buy 1997 Bordeaux for $19.99, I had no option but to get a few bottles. I was happy to see the cork coming out in its entirety with no issues. I was ready with the decanter, but the wine in the glass was quite approachable. After the initial grippy tannins dissipated in 20-30 minutes, what was left in the glass was an absolutely sublime beauty. You see, this is where the challenge lies. Here is the technical description from the Wine Exchange: “a wine that still possesses a youthful charm as there is something to be said for ex-chateau. A beautiful plum/garnet color with very little lightening for its age. This 1997 is full to medium-bodied, showing lots of forest floor, roasted herbs, cedar, tobacco, black cherry, blackcurrant, and new saddle leather. It is opulent and is just entering its plateau of full maturity. The tannins are soft and subtle with an elegant seamless finish. ”

The description is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t help me to express my emotion. The mind singing with every sip. Pure joy in each and every sip. Enough pleasure in every sip to have the nerve enough to tell my wife, who was enjoying the wine with me “this is almost as good as sex”. A personal perspective for sure, but yes, this was the wine.

I didn’t have many expectations for 1997 Chateau Montelena Saint Vincent Red Wine Napa Valley (13.5% ABV, blend of Zinfandel, Primitivo, Sangiovese). Chateau Montelena is absolutely legendary with its role in the Judgement of Paris, especially if you had an opportunity to see the movie Bottle Shock. But Saint Vincent is an eclectic blend, produced only for 5 years from 1995 till 1999, and it is not given that this type of wine can age for 25 years. While very different from the previous Bordeaux in its profile of cherries, eucalyptus, and herbs, it had such a lip-smacking, savory and satisfying bouquet, that every sip was demanding to be followed by another sip.

Do you want a second glass?

I have no idea how to convey the pure pleasure the wine can bring. Maybe emotion is the key. There are lots of good wines out there. The wines you are happy to drink any day every day. Maybe it is the excitement that needs to be measured. Or maybe this is simply in the unyielding desire to share this pleasure with the world. The act of telling the world how amazing the wine was, and hoping that everybody will see it that way too.

Let’s share our little joys with one another. And if you know how to convey this pure wine pleasure, please let me in on that secret.

 

Daily Glass: Winning and Learning

August 29, 2022 1 comment

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.

You never lose – learning is the opposite of winning – I think this is a better approach to life, would you agree?

I love aging my wines. The popular wine press tells people that 95% of the wines in this world are meant to be consumed shortly after purchasing. “Absolute majority of the wine is not meant to be aged,” the message says. I don’t want to obnoxiously invalidate all the expert opinions, but the subject of wine aging is a lot more complicated than the simple statement portrays.

Lots of factors play a role. The wine itself is probably the most critical factor. White wines generally don’t age too well. To be more precise, percentage-wise, a lesser number of white wines can age well compared to red wines. But this doesn’t mean that all red wines age well. For example, red Cotes du Rhone typically don’t age for longer than 4-5 years.

I wish there was an easy method to tell us, wine lovers, that “this wine will age for 30 years”, but “this one got only 10 more left”. There is no such method, however, so we need to rely primarily on our experiences. I’m not trying to disqualify all of the wonderful advice we receive from the wine critic and publications – but it would be rare to receive an aging recommendation there unless the wine is deemed of a “collector” level – which pretty much means that it will not be really affordable.

At this point, you might wonder why is all this commotion with the aging of the wines. Simple. Wine is a living thing. The evolution of the wine continues in the bottle. It is a general hope that wine can improve with time, evolve, become more complex and multidimensional.But the wine can’t evolve forever – at some point it starts “turning”, losing its delicious, attractive qualities.

It is important that the wine drinker can appreciate the beauty of the aged wine – it is not for everyone. I don’t mean it in any disrespectful way – this is simply a matter of taste. One of my most favorite examples is the blind tasting of a few Champagnes which took place during Windows on the World wine classes. After blind tasting 4 Champagnes, the group was asked to vote for their favorite Champagne. Champagne #4 got almost no votes, it was clearly the least favorite of the group of 100+ people. While revealing the wines, Kevin Zraly, our wine teacher, said “and this is why, people, you should not drink vintage Champagne”. Bottle #4 was Dom Perignon – if people would see the label before voting, you know how that would work (”drink up, honey, it is French”). And Vintage Champagne is nothing more than just an aged wine. It is just a matter of taste. The same story goes for food. For example – I love fresh oysters, and I have friends who wouldn’t put an oyster into their mouth even if this will be required to save their own life. Just a matter of taste.

But for those of us who like aged wines, that elusive quest becomes an obsession. I love the Italian term “vino da meditazione”, which applies to the wines which make conversation stop upon the first sip, and puts the whole group of oenophiles into a quiet, self-reflective state. The silence at the table becomes not deafening, but instead a very comfortable one. The silence nobody wants to break.

Okay, such amazing encounters are possible but truly rare. But the pleasure of drinking the well-aged wine is real, and this is what we are seeking. And as we don’t have the scientific method of predicting the peak of enjoyment for a given wine, we have to rely on our own experience. Which takes us back to winning and learning. When we experienced well-aged wine, we clearly won. And when the wine with age doesn’t deliver the pleasure, this is where we learn.

It is not so binary, of course. The point is that no matter what happened, we learn something. When you taste a random but amazing $10 bottle of California red blend (Toasted Head) with 15 years of age on, you learn that inexpensive wines can age too. When you taste 2002 Barolo (Fontanafredda) 10 years after release, and you see that the vintage chart declares this vintage as literally horrible, but the wine tastes good, you learn that the producer matters more than the vintage. When you taste two bottles from the same producer and the same vintage, but you love one of them and can’t stand another, you learn that bottle variation is real and that you have to always manage your expectations.

This whole rambling about winning, learning and aging was prompted by a few wines I opened last week.

First, the learning part. 12 years ago we did the Pinot Noir blind tasting with friends, with a very unexpected outcome – 2008 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa was the best wine in that blind tasting. I loved the wine so much that I went and got a bottle to keep. Over the years, I made many attempts on the life of this bottle, until the last weekend I decided to share it with a friend. Upon opening the wine was reminiscent of the good Burgundy, with the nose offering some plums, iodine, and smoke. But the wine quickly succumbed to the tertiary aromas of dry herbs and maybe a hint of dried fruit, and while my friend really loved it, this was a complete loss learning in my book.

Then another friend was stopping shortly after his birthday. He always liked the wines, but recently started getting really “more into it”. He was stopping by for the dinner, and when we were talking about wines a few days prior, he mentioned that he started liking the Brunello and Amarone wines. There is no happier moment for the oenophile than to learn what the guest desires to drink – the cellar is instantly paraded in the search for the best and the most appropriate bottle.

I don’t know how I came into possession of the 2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Montosoli, I can only guess I got it as a present. This single vineyard Brunello di Montalcino was absolutely spectacular – beautiful cherries on the palate – not the fresh and crunchy ones, but more subdued, more elegant, eloped in the sage and other herbal aromatics. The wine was spectacular when we opened it, and when I finished the last drop 2 days later (wine was kept in the bottle with the air pumped out), I had a clear feeling of regret as the wine was not gone, but instead was still fresh and even more complex, with a promise of becoming the Vini da meditations in 10 years, same the 1999 Soldera had become for us – alas, I don’t have another bottle…

And then my pet peeve – you know how much I love Amarone. I got a few bottles of the 2006 Trabucchi d’Illasi Amarone della Valpolicella from WTSO 7 years ago. This was my last bottle, and boy it didn’t disappoint. It was absolutely beautiful in its finesse and impeccable balance all the way through. Dried fruit on the nose, powerful, well-structured wine on the palate, with more of the dried fruit, cherries, plums and herbs, and with good acidity, perfect balance and delicious bitter finish. It is not for nothing Amarone means Great Bitter – and there was this pleasant bitterness on the finish, something hard to find in most of the Amarone wines.

Here you are, my friends, my story of winning and learning. Three aged wines, two of them delicious, two that could age for far longer (learning!). One learning experience – but who knows, maybe it was only that particular bottle. Moving on.

What did you win and learn lately?

Anatomy of Flavor

July 22, 2022 4 comments

Anatomy of Flavor???

The author clearly goes on a tangent here. Everyone knows what anatomy means, and it has nothing to do with the wine. And nevertheless, let’s take a look at some definitions and see if we can actually analyze the anatomy of flavor.

Webster’s dictionary defines anatomy in a few different ways:

 

Definition number five describes anatomy as

structural makeup especially of an organism or any of its parts

Anatomy explains to us how living things are constructed. How do they move, jump, roll, smile, and cry.

Of course, the flavor is not a living being – but it is amorous, it changes, it morphs, it is perceived, and it is perceived differently every time, depending on many, many, many factors that we can spend days and days discussing.

I like definition number three more, as it is more appropriate for our purposes:

the art of separating the parts of an organism in order to ascertain their position, relations, structure, and function

Anatomy offers a firm structure – can we apply the same to flavor and understand how our perception of it works? Mostly, and luckily, no – we can’t. We have no idea how we will perceive the flavor of the particular wine once it is open – of course, we have expectations, but this is only one of the subjective factors in our perception of flavor, one of many. Instead, I can offer you to look at how the flavor is being built.

There is also definition number six:

a separating or dividing into parts for detailed examination

Anatomy explains to us how our muscles work and how they grow. Let’s see if we can take a similar look at the flavor of the wine.

We can’t do this with any random wine – if someone makes single-grape Syrah, Grenache, and Pinot Noir wines, all those wines are not connected to each other, they are unique and different – we can not taste Syrah and make expectations about Pinot Noir (assuming these are good quality wines) – as they have nothing in common. Most importantly, they better taste differently. But – there are wines which are perfectly suitable for our exercise. Do I have an example? Of course, glad you asked, but before we talk about particular wines, let’s take a look at the region they are coming from. Let’s go to Northern Italy, to the region called Valpolicella.

Valpolicella is a winemaking region east of Lake Garda, in the province of Verona, which is in turn located in Veneto. The region is influenced by the Alps to the north, Lake Garda to the west, and the Adriatic Sea to the east. Valpolicella received its DOC status in 1968, and Amarone and Recioto received the DOCG status in 2009. In terms of DOC wine production volume, Valpolicella is the second region in Italy after Chianti.

There are a few types of wines produced in the region – Valpolicella DOC, light wines considered to be similar in style to Beaujolais, Valpolicella Superiore, which should be aged at least one year, Valpolicella Ripasso, and, the most coveted wines, Amarone and Recioto.

It is not exactly known when winemaking started in Valpolicella. Still, it is typically associated with the ancient Greeks who were famous for making sweet wines made from partially dried grapes. That tradition of drying grapes before pressing is also a requirement for both Recioto and Amarone wines – this converts grapes to almost raisins and concentrates flavors. A lot of attention is also paid to preventing any sort of rot setting on the grapes as this imparts undesirable flavors.

Talking about red grapes, Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara are considered the main winemaking grapes, even though many winemakers are trying to avoid Molinara as of late. Corvina should constitute between 45% and 95% of the blend – but up to 50% of Corvina can be substituted with Corvionone, which was identified as a distinct variety and not a clone of Corvina only in 1993. Out of all Val[policella wines, Ripasso stands aside as quite unique – it is made by macerating the Valpolicella wine with the pomace (grape skins) left after making Amarone and Recioto wines, which enriches the flavor of the wine – Valpolicella Ripasso is often referred to as “baby Amarone” (or “poor man Amarone” – you take your pick).

Of all wines made in Valpolicella (most of them are red), Amarone stands apart as the most sought-after. The grapes have to dry for anywhere between 3 and 4 months before they can be pressed to make Amarone. Those dried fruit flavors are retained by the final wine, assuming it is well made. The combination of the dried fruit aromas and powerful, dry, usually high-alcohol wine creates really a unique experience – if you have not had Amarone before, this is something that needs to be experienced by any wine lover.

Also going back to our “premise” with this post – to take a deeper look at the build-up, the anatomy of the flavor, Valpolicella wines offer an almost unique opportunity. Most of the Valpolicella wines are made from the same set of grapes, sometimes even used in the same proportions. The winemaking process is what creates the difference. Base Valpolicella wine can be aged for a year to get to Superiore designation. The same base wine can be macerated with Amarone pomace to become the Ripasso. The same grapes that are used for basic Valpolicella can also dry for 3-4 months, and then become an Amarone.

Let’s go one level deeper and look at some practical examples, shall we?

Tedeschi family ancestors purchased vineyards in Valpolicella four centuries ago, in 1630. The modern history of the Tedeschi winemaking family started 200 years ago, in 1824 when the family winery was established by Niccolò Tedeschi. Today the winery is operated by the fifth generation of the family, continuing the winemaking traditions.

Tedeschi estate is located in the village of Pedemonte di Valpolicella, with 75 acres of vineyards planted on the 200 acres estate. Tedeschi firmly believe that good wines are made in the vineyard, and they focus not only on showcasing the terroir but also conduct studies to understand the soil composition in the vineyard. Another important winemaking element is the use of not only the main 3 Valpolicella grapes (Corvine, Covinone, Rondinella) but the full range of grapes including Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, and Forselina. They also produce all types of Valpolicella wines – Valpolicella, Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, Amarone, and Recioto.

For our “anatomy” exercise, I had an opportunity to taste 3 of the Tedeschi wines – Valpolicella Superiore, Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone della Valpolicela. All three wines are made from the identical set of grapes, used in the same proportions, so the difference is only in the winemaking techniques. Below are my notes with some additional information about the wines.

2019 Capitel Nicalò Valpolicella Superiore DOC (13.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 1 month, 1-1.5 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark ruby
Captivating nose of earthy dark fruit, tobacco, rocks
Beautiful fruit, blackberries, cherries, cherry pit, tart, focused, perfectly structured, perfectly balanced – lots of pleasure.
8/8+. Delicious.

2018 Capitel San Rocco Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC (14.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, alcoholic fermentation on the marc of Amarone and Recioto for 8-10 days, 1/2 years in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Garnet
A hint of dried fruit, toasted nuts
Round fruit, cherries, soft, approachable, earthy undertones, well-integrated tannins, a hint of tobacco on the finish.
8/8+, delicious.

The name Marne 180 is a nod to the marl soils where the vineyard is located and 180 is degrees of exposure, from south-east to south-west. Source: Tedeschi

2018 Marne 180 Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (16.5% ABV, 14.5% ABV, 35% Corvina, 35% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 10% Rossignola, Oseleta, Negrara, Dindarella, grapes drying for 4 months, 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels, 6 months in the bottle)
Dark garnet
Dark, concentrated, forest underbrush
Dried fruit, cherries, intermingled layers, powerful, well structured, delicious.
8+

Can we conclude anything from our flavor research? The wines share some similarities, but this is probably all I can say. I don’t see a clear progression from one wine to another, they are simply tasty wines, each one in its own right. Does it mean that we can’t talk about the anatomy of the flavor? I think we still can, but it is definitely more complicated than it seems.

The important outcome of this research project is three tasty wines from Tedeschi which I’m happy to recommend to you for your daily drinking pleasure. And this is the best conclusion we can make. Cheers!

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