Monthly Archives: April 2019

Traditional sparkling wines from the shadows of the Dolomites

 

We often mistakingly define all Italian sparkling wine as prosecco.  It’s popularity is unmistakable.  Data has shown that nearly one-fifth of all global wine sales in 2017 were prosecco, a 21 percent increase from 2016.

However, prosecco is only one Italian sparkling wine, made from the glera grape and grown exclusively in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia regions.  The name of the grape was changed from prosecco to glera in 2009 to protect the brand from outsiders.  

Terrific sparkling wines also originate from Lambrusco, Franciacorta, Asti Spumante and Trentodoc, a little known region in the Dolomites that produces sparkling wine using the same grapes and “metodo classico” (traditional method) as those from the Champagne region of France.

Trentodoc is a series of sparkling wines that actually originates from vineyards near Trento in the Trentino Alta Adige region, north of those where prosecco (glera) is grown.  The Dolomites mountain range serve as a majestic backdrop for many of the vineyards. The names of these wines, Trentodoc, is a combination of the city and the DOC ((Denominazione di origine controllata), a designation that instills strict requirements designed to protect the integrity of the region.

The Trentino region is the second largest producer of Italian sparkling wines that espouse the Champagne method (méthode champenoise) of allowing the second fermentation to occur in each bottle, when sugar and yeast is added to the wine (tirage), before the bottles are temporarily capped.  The interaction of the sugar and yeast culminates in carbon dioxide being trapped in the bottle.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are also made from many of the same grapes used in wines from Champagne.  Aside from “metodo classico,” the DOC regulations restrict the varietals to chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier and pinot blanc, requiring that the vines are grown in pergola (canopy) style and that irrigation be used only in emergency situations.

All non-vintage Trentodoc wines must rest on their less for a minimum of 15 months, 24 months for vintage and 36 months to be called riserva.

Little known in the United States, Trentodoc sparkling wines have a personality that is not “bone dry” nor overly sweet.  Their bouquet is floral and somewhat delicate and the flavors are rounder and richer than most.  Another reason for the heightened awareness is their availability and cost, mostly within the $20-$35 range.

With warm daily breezes and cool evening winds, vines in the upper Cembra Valley, within shadows of the Dolomites, enjoy great terroir for the chardonnay grapes used in the 2010 Cesarini Sforza Riserva 1673 ($30).  The juice rests on its lees for a minimum of 60 months which adds to its delicate, rich texture that exceeds other sparkling wines at a similar price.

Founded in 1902, Ferrari Trento is one of the largest and oldest producers of several sparkling wine using the traditional method.  In 2017, they were awarded the title of “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” at the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships

Grown at high mountain altitudes, a blend of pinot nero and chardonnay grapes, vinified as a rose’, comprised the non-vintage Ferrari Rose’ ($27), a beautiful light wine, but with deeper color than most.  Of all the Trentodoc wines that I tasted, this had the most complex and elegant nose and flavor profile with fresh hints of currants and berries

Certified organic, Maso Martis Trentodoc produces several releases including the non-vintage Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc ($40), made for chardonnay (70%) and pinot noir ($30) grapes. The aromas are floral and fruity while the flavors are full, but delicate.  I found

Maso Martis Brut Trentodoc

the wine to be food friendly, having paired it with pesto-crusted orange roughy. 

From 100% chardonnay vines high above sea level in the hills above Trento, the 2014 Altemasi Millesimato Trentodoc ($30) is a vegan, gluten free wine that goes through weekly battonage during the first fermentation, before tirage.  Battonage is the process of stirring the lees (dead yeast) into the juice, adding a softer, rich texture.  During the second fermentation, this wine is aged on its lees (not stirred) for 36 months.

The Altemasi Millesimato is dry, but fruity with well-integrated aromas and flavors of citrus and peach.  It is a perfect pair with scallops.

Trentodoc sparkling wines are the best option for those with a desire to explore beyond prosecco or simply seeking a flavorful, reasonably priced sparkler for the next occasion.


The Limerick Lane Cellars story is one of stewardship

 

Jake Bilbro is only the third owner in Limerick Lane Cellars’ 106-year history.  After the 2012 Limerick Lane Zinfandel Russian River Valley (94-pt/$32) was named the #12 wine among Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of 2015, the winery, under his direction, has become synonymous, vintage to vintage, with extraordinary zinfandel and syrah blends. 

The history of Limerick Lane is defined by people who believed in its potential and became stewards of the land that sits in a small

Limerick Lane Estate Vineyard

unique microclimate, south of the town of Healdsburg.

The Del Fava family were the original owners and planted the first vineyards in 1910. They farmed and managed the vines for over sixty years before selling, in the mid-1970s, to the Collins brothers, Michael and Tom.

For the next thirty-five years, they assumed stewardship of the property, adding new vineyards and investing in the existing ones.  In 2009, determined to not let the land fall into uncaring corporate hands, Collins sought out a new caretaker and found Jake, who was raised among his family’s vineyards.  His father, Chris, started Marietta Cellars in 1978.

The Limerick Lane Estate totals thirty acres of vines, separated into fourteen blocks, extending from the hillside vineyard due west of the winery to the Chalk Hill appellation that begins a few hundred yards to the east.

These old vines that produce high quality fruit are planted to southern and eastern exposure in soil that has layers of clay and rock.  

Winery and tasting room

During the growing season, the nights are still cold in this part of the Russian River Valley appellation and the vines sit within the fogline. While the cold and fog preserves that vibrant acidity in the wines, the consistently warm afternoons add a restrained intensity to the flavors. 

I appreciate that the vines are field blended, with zinfandel planted side by side with old world varietals like mourvedre, syrah, alicante bouschet and petite sirah. They are together from the first budding, through fermentation, barrel and bottle aging and on the palate

Starting with the 2011 vintage, Jake, his wife Alexa and brother Scott have taken Limerick Lane to a higher level.  Since the 2015 Wine Spectator recognition of their 2012 zinfandel, they have produced, with each vintage, about 4,000 cases of critically acclaimed  blends.

Host Andy Tester guided me through some of Limerick Lanes’s current releases and library wines beginning with the 2018 Rosé ($28), a purposeful blend of three traditional Rhone varietals:  syrah, grenache and mourvedre  Recently bottled, it is still tight but expressing floral notes in the bouquet, flavors that were both austere and fully present with a mineral element on the finish. Highly recommended

2018 Limerick Lane Rose’

In 2011, the stress of dealing simultaneously with a closing escrow, an overwhelming harvest and a broken destemmer resulted in Bilbro throwing caution to the wind with a new blend, a Hail Mary if you will.  As with earlier vintages, I was drawn to the rich texture and soft mouthful of the 2015 Hail Mary ($60), a luscious blend of 98% syrah and 2% grenache, from Limerick Lanes’ Rhone program. 

A descendant of the renown 2012 vintage, the flagship 2016 Estate Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($42), awarded 93-pts by Wine Spectator, is actually a field blend of zinfandel, peloursin, négrette, syrah, petite sirah and carignan.  Acid driven and opulent, this vintage seamlessly adds spice and mineral notes to balance the dark berry flavors.

The 2014 1910 Block Zinfandel ($68) pays homage to the first planting and is yet another wine that is field blended, harvested together and co-fermented. This vintage is robust and concentrated, layered with the flavors of stone fruits, blueberries and spice.

The zinfandel grape seems to strive when stressed in poor, rocky soil and the 2014 Rocky Knoll Zinfandel ($60), at the fogline, survives the worst soil and develops the smallest clusters.  The lush zinfandel is blended with mourvedre and petite sirah, giving it solid structure.

The varietals can vary each vintage with their cuvee, determined only by the most compelling fruit. The 2016 1023 Zinfandel ($72) boasting many ratings in the mid-nineties, blends 52% zinfandel, 45% syrah and 3% grenache to achieve concerted rich berry flavors and herbal notes throughout a long, soft finish. 

Limerick Lane wines are primarily distributed through a direct allocation list that can be accessed on their website.


Pinot noir comes of age as a pink wine

 

While it is now something we enjoy year-round, good rose’ is still associated with the arrival of Spring.  In recent years, many of its stereotypes have been put aside as rose’ has become more of a pink designer wine and not an afterthought use for the remaining, less desirable juice.

Statistics show that women drink more rose’ but the gender pendulum is shifting as the complex flavors casts an image that is less threatening to men.  Many are adopting a “real men drink pink” attitude. 

Although rose’ has its own identity, it reflects the characteristics of the grape varietals used.  While pinot noir is one of my favorite

2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton, 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir, 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’

wines, it has taken some time for me to warm up to rose’ of pinot noir, especially when it is too dry and the acidity overpowers the true flavors and aromas. 

The pinot noir grape is thin-skinned and temperamental, but proper care before and after harvest can result in unmatched finesse and elegance.  In rose’, pinot noir is crisp and dry with a firm acidity, but with time I have found releases that also express a true flavor profile of the grape with limited skin contact.

One such wine, the readily available 2018 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose’ ($25) from Monterey County expresses balanced flavors of watermelon, strawberry and grapefruit with mineral elements and a vibrant acidity.

Aside from the brief maceration (contact with the skins), most rose’ of pinot noir come from grapes that are generally picked early, then slow-pressed and cold fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Some are pressed whole-cluster and others fermented on the lees.  Old stereotypes are diminished by this new diversity in style.

Most of the finest rose’ of pinot noir comes from the same appellations in California, Oregon and France’s Burgundy region that produces pinot noir.  Two acclaimed exceptions originate from South America and the Pfalz region in Germany.

Vineyards in the Pfalz region of Germany

Rising temperatures have enabled Pfalz a region in western Germany to successfully produce spätburgunder (pinot noir), known as the “heartbreak grape” because of its delicate temperament. Founded in 1849, Reichsrat von Buhl is one of the oldest and largest wine estates in Germany, specializing in Riesling, sekt (sparkling wine) and now, spätburgunder.  The 2016 Reichsrat von Buhl “Bone Dry” Spätburgunder Rosé Pfalz($17), available online and at various local outlets, has distinguished, subtle cherry aromas and spice on the palate.

Well-balance with intense aromas define the Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose 2018 ($18) from South America’s fourth largest wine region. While awarding this pink wine 91-points, James Suckling described “Rose petals, watermelon, strawberries

Bodega Garzon Uruguay Reserve Pinot Noir Rose’ 2018

and cream.  Bright and fresh on the palate with razor-sharp acidity and a fresh finish.”

Made from a variety of estate-grown fruit in Burgundy, France, the 2005 Bourgogne Pinot Noir Rosé, Chateau de Puligny Montrachet ($17)is a good value, available locally, and provides an opportunity to enjoy a true wine from the region that gave birth to pinot noir.

Warmer temperatures in Oregon’s Willamette Valley allowed the grapes to fully ripen, resulting in a nice balance of brix (sugar) and acidity in the whole-cluster pressed 2018 Gran Moraine Rose’ of Pinot Noir Yamhill-Carlton ($28). Very pale salmon in color with floral and pineapple aromas, the flavors are well-integrated and the mouthfeel is both dry and creamy.

The Tous Ensemble is a series of approachable, everyday releases from Sonoma County’s Copain Wines.  A cooler growing season in Mendocino County to the north allowed the harvest to occur over a time, resulting in a diversity of ripeness and flavor development in the 2018 Copain Tous Ensemble Rose’ of Pinot Noir

($20). I found a vibrant nose combining floral notes with hints of grapefruit.  The crisp, dry mouthfeel delivered flavors of melon and cherry with a spice element on the finish.

Eugenia Rose’ of Pinot Noir “The Motley” 2018 from Ernest Vineyards

Utilizing fruit from five vineyards within the cooler Sonoma Coast appellation, Ernest Vineyards produced the Rose’ of Pinot Noir 2018 “The Motley” ($18) in the saignée method that, after limited skin contact, “bleeds off” some juice before the rest goes through complete maceration and fermentation.  Released under their Eugenia label, this rose’ has herbal notes that go with traditional flavors and a vibrant acidity.

When the rain stops and the sun emerges, rose’ of pinot noir belongs on your patio table aside those made from Rhone varietals like syrah and grenache.  


Paso Robles is ripe with good quality sauvignon

 

The Paso Robles wine region was built on zinfandel and, in the last decade, has secured it standing as one of the world’s premier producers of Rhone-style blends with the likes of Saxum, TH Cellars, Denner, Tablas Creek and others.

However, somewhat overshadowed is the production of fine, reasonably priced cabernet sauvignon has been engrained in the region since the 1970s when Dr. Stanley Hoffman first planted the varietal in the Adelaida Hills, west of town. 

Similar to appellations in Napa Valley and northern Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley, Paso Robles experiences major temperature shifts most days of up to fifty degrees.  During the growing season, hot days and nights cooled by the Pacific Ocean provides the ideal terroir for fruit-forward Bordeaux-style wines, succulent with typically softer tannins than their northern neighbors.

Good quality cabernet sauvignon releases from Paso Robles are available within a broad cost range.  I recently tasted the 2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($20), sourced from east side vineyards and found full-bodied flavors of

2016 Four Vines “The Kinker” Cabernet Sauvignon

ripened fruit and spice with a spirited finish indicative of a more expensive wine.

Gary Eberle is considered a pioneer in the Paso Robles wine region.  After college football and some advanced science degrees, he landed in Paso Robles in the late-1970s with a mindset to produce cabernet sauvignon. Settling on sixty-four acres in the east side, he released his first cabernet sauvignon in 1979 and continues through today, along with syrah, zinfandel and various Rhone varietals, to produce fine cabs that exceed expectations associated with the price.

The Eberle 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Vineyard Selection’ ($25) consists of 100% cabernet sauvignon sourced from multiple vineyards within the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area). The juice is blended before eighteen months barrel aging so the nuances of each are well-integrated with rich flavors and mouthfeel.

The Eberle 2016 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45), as with earlier vintages, is an elegant wine that remains one of the best of the varietal in the $50 range.  Great stock and twenty-two month aging in 30% new French oak results in complex, layered flavors of dark fruit, herbs and spice.

The Hoffman Mountain Ranch vineyard, set at 2,200 feet elevation, is where it all started after winemaking icon André Tchelistcheff convinced Dr. Hoffman that the Adelaida Hills site was “a jewel of ecological elements” destined to produce great Bordeaux varietals.

Daou Estate Vineyard

Today, the Daou brothers, Georges and Daniel, are stewards of the historic land intent on sustaining its legacy.  Amid production of Bordeaux, Rhone Valley and Burgundian-style wines is the highly rated and elegantly described 2016 Daou Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($85).  Of note, I have found the 2017 vintage of this wine, with equally high ratings, at K&L Wines in San Francisco under $25.

Ever since the 1997 Justin “Isosceles” was served with lemon garlic-crusted lamb by the Clintons at a White House event hosting the King of Morocco, the full-bodied cabernet sauvignon-dominant Bordeaux blend has maintained consistently high acclaim.  The 2016 Justin “Isosceles” ($76) showcases the high regional fruit-driven standard with herb and spice notes.  

The 2016 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($27) and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($58) are two fine wines that originate from local

Eberle Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

limestone-laden soil and, once again, have a high quality/cost ratio.

The Just Inn, located in the Justin Estate vineyards offers a few stylish rooms that can accommodate from two to ten guests who can also enjoy brunch, lunch and wine-paired dinners at the on-site Restaurant at Justin. I spent an anniversary there years ago and loved it.

Among a large palate of wines produced by Adelaida Cellars winemaker Jeremy Weintrab, each vintage of his Viking Estate Vineyard Signature Cabernet Sauvignon ($90-100) stands among the best in the entire region.

When discussing good value cabernet sauvignon, the Le P’tit Paysan 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast, with small amounts of petit verdot added, deserves a mention, boasting ratings in the nineties and available for under $20.

Le P’tit Paysan Cabernet Sauvignon

Despite that cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley and north Sonoma County is world-class, the Paso Robles region tenders extraordinary releases, many at a lower fare. Known for zinfandel and Rhone-style blends, lovers of Bordeaux wines will also be impressed with what’s available there.


Cartograph Wines map a path to your palate

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker

 

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker had interesting backstories before 2009, when they became partners in Cartograph Wines and, more recently, partners in life.

Serena grew up in a bicultural household, splitting time between France and the US, with college and the beginning of her career in the Washington DC area.  Her calling as a mental health professional led her to San Francisco where she later worked in the tech industry while developing a passion for wine.

In 2005, Alan left a successful public broadcasting career in St. Paul and came to San Francisco to learn the wine business from bottom to top.  He met Serena at the start-up urban winery, Crushpad in San Francisco where he was a person of many tasks and launched his first commercial brand, Cellar Rat Cellars, that featured pinot noir.

In 2009, the map of their lives made a stop in Healdsburg and they began the process of creating Cartograph Wines, currently producing about 2,300 cases with a business plan that takes it to a comfortable 5,000-5,500 per year. 

Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg

While continuing to source from established vineyards in the region, Cartograph recently purchased their estate vineyard in Cotati near the Petaluma Gap in the southern Russian River Valley appellation and are now releasing the first vintages from that site.

The Cartograph Estate Vineyard falls within the Russian River Valley Neighborhood Initiative, a project that will explore the vast diversity within the prodigious appellation to determine if the distinctions between the various microclimates are worthy of official designation.

Cartograph Wines modern tasting room on Main Street in Healdsburg literally shares a wall with Valette, one of the finest restaurants in town.  Starting at Cartograph, we began with a glass of 2013 Cartograph Brut Zero ($68), their first sparkling wine.  Self-described “acid freaks,” Alan and Serena like their wines bone dry and this crisp sparkler has no additions or dosage(the addition of sugar before

2013 Cartograph Bret Zero and Brut Rose’

corking).

We then moved next door and assembled around a large, beautifully set table in Valette Healdsburg to pair new Cartograph releases with dishes curated by Chef Dustin Valette. 

Valette, the restaurant and the person were raised in Healdsburg and enjoy showcasing local farmers and winemakers through a variety of collaborative efforts. Today, he was challenged with creating perfect food pairings with six new Cartograph releases. 

The first course paired the 2018 Cartograph Rose’ of Pinot Noir and Hawaiian Ahi Poke’ with partially roasted strawberries and young estate onions, garnished with dried strawberry chips, borrowed from Dustin’s daughter snack drawer.

The crisp, dry pink wine, from the estate vineyard and aged in 100% stainless steel, was the right choice for the melded flavor profile of the visually stunning poke’.

Hawaiian Poke with Mi Cuit Strawberries, estate onions and strawberry chips by Chef Dustin Valette

The next course matched two Cartograph dry whites, the 2017 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($26) and the 2016 Green Ranch Riesling ($29) from the Mendocino Ridge appellation with a Diver Scallop & American Caviar Duo featuring one seared with passion fruit and fennel and another formed into a “ravioli” with pickled watermelon rind and seaweed.

Cooler vineyards tend to make dry fruit and these wines are fermented in Alsace yeast with no malolactic fermentation (higher acid) and controlled brix (sugar) of 22.5%.

The third course featured two new red Cartograph releases, the 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir($68) and 2016 Starscape Vineyard ($54)Pinot Noir, paired with a Liberty Farms Duck Confit “Candy Bar,” a coriander crusted breast with toasted oats and Goji berries, full and in a purée.

While both wines had luscious mouthfeel, the 2016 Estate Vineyard exuded intense but elegant aromas balanced by more subtle savory flavors that lingered.

The pairing concluded with the 2013 Brut Rose ($68), their other sparkling wine served with roasted quince jam, toasted brioche and salted brown butter ice cream. Dustin called the dish “Bread, Butter and Jam” and I renamed it “Heaven of Earth.”

Similar to the Brut Zero, the Brut Rose’ is made from chardonnay, but some pinot noir and dosage (sugar)is added at gorging to give it an arresting floral quality.

For Alan, it was a 1998 Alsace Riesling in Wisconsin, for Serena, a Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet in Washington DC and for Dustin it was a love for bountiful Sonoma County.  A confluence of journeys that were fueled by guts, passion and a desire to share their gifts. Fortunately, they landed in Healdsburg.