Weekly Interview: Chris Phelps

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 11-30-2012

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Chris Phelps, the owner and winemaker of Ad Vivum Cellars in St. Helena, California.

Chris grew up just east of San Francisco in a family that loved wine. In fact, his parents made a barrel or two most years, purchasing Zinfandel or Cabernet grapes to make wine for family and friends.

Like many winemakers, Chris attended UC Davis — but his original plan was to become a doctor. As he fell in love with wine, however, his plans changed, so he instead studied enology and viticulture and started interning at Louis M. Martini.

Upon graduation, Chris headed to France to study at Bordeaux University’s Institute of Oenology. While there, he met Christian Moueix, who asked him to stick around and manage the 1982 harvest at Château des Laurets.

During this harvest, Chris met legendary vintner Jean-Claude Berrouet, who served as the winemaker at Chateau Pétrus for 44 years. Berrouet quickly became a mentor to Chris, and would continue to advise him for years.

Chris soon returned to Napa Valley, where he worked as the winemaker at Dominus Estate for 12 years. He then headed to Caymus Vineyards, where he spent seven years. Ten years ago, Chris joined the team at Swanson Vineyards, where he still works.

Check out our interview with Chris below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Wine News: Chapoutier’s Riesling

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-30-2012

“In terms of philosophy and style, the Schieferkopf Riesling is very much at home in the Chapoutier stable, a portfolio that now stretches out of the Rhône Valley, to include Alsace, Australia and the Roussillon.” Will Lyons catches up with Michael Chapoutier.

On WineBusiness.com, Dr. Liz Thach, MW, explores whether male and female wine drinkers are really that different?

From CBS News, “seven ways to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.”

Steve Heimoff wonders “if the recovering economy hurt negociants like Cameron Hughes.”

In Palate Press, Remy Charest reviews Wine Grapes, the just-released guide to a whopping 1,368 grape varieties from Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz.

“It turns out that while there was a chance I would have made money, I most likely would have lost a boatload in the process.” Alder Yarrow responds to a September column in a “remarkably candid and cogent article by a millionaire wine investor in Barron’s.”

“I’d like to see more local restaurants feature these local wines.” So writes Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. (Of course, that’s easy for a San Francisco-based writer to say!)

In the Los Angeles Times, S. Irene Virbila has the scoop on the upcoming auction of elBulli’s wine cellar.

“True greatness cannot be expressed by a high price tag or a critic’s score but rather must be based on our own experience and the impression the wine exhibits in our glass.” In the Napa Valley Register, a really nice column from Allen Balik.

Daily Wine News: Promoting Balance

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-29-2012

“Grgich Hills is a Napa Valley favorite of ordinary people, but not critics. In the last decade that has come to mean something unexpected: it’s a winery that promotes balance.” W. Blake Gray writes a great profile of Grgich Hills and interviews the chief winemaker, Ivo Jeramaz.

CBS This Morning invites Cameron Hughes to the set to chat about his wine. Meanwhile, Hughes sits down for an interview with Katie Kelly Bell of Forbes.com.

Paul Gregutt retires from blogging. Steve Heimoff comments on the move.

“One wine, two scores.” Dr. Vino has the scoop.

Jon Bonné previews his Top 100 List — this year, the “little guy” triumphs.

“In Italy, there are still those experimental plates, but more and more… people are looking for comfort and meaning, not abstract expressionism and attitude.” From Alfonso Cevola, “10 Dining and Plate Trends You Won’t Find in Italy.”

From Great Fermentations, a quick, useful Champagne primer.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka tours Dry Creek Valley.

Tom Wark writes a holiday gift guide.

“[NV Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley] is the best sparkling wine available for $20. End of discussion.” So proclaims Isaac James Baker.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 2009 Rubicon will use the Inglenook name.

“There’s liquid gold in them thar bottles of Pappy Van Winkle’s Bourbon. And New Yorkers are battling to buy it before it’s gone.” In the New York Post, a great article on the phenomenon of Pappy Van Winkle.

Luxury Wines from a Land of Value

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 11-28-2012

Vinos de Terroir Chilean Wine Tasting

Last weekend at my sister’s wedding, my family served a lot of wine to a lot of people. Our vino of choice was an everyday Concha y Toro from Chile, poured out of magnums, helpfully plastered with American-friendly varietal names like Cabernet-Merlot, Malbec, and Chardonnay. The wines were undemanding, easy drinking accompaniments to the party.

Many people view Chilean wines as an inexpensive, approachable budget alternative. However, the industry as a whole has been trying to shake this image and stand on equal footing to some of the world’s other high-quality, luxury wine labels. (Mike Veseth wrote about this challenge on Tuesday.) It’s a difficult journey, as most people who are going to spend $100+ on a bottle don’t want to take a gamble on an unfamiliar producer from a region that has historically billed itself on bulk wine.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the high end of Chile at a fantastic tasting and lunch hosted by Wines of Chile at New York’s Colicchio and Sons. It was a really special, well executed event featuring ten equally special Chilean wines. I left with three main takeaways.

First, I’d rather have a one bottle of $70 high quality Chilean wine than 7 bottles of $10 good quality Chilean wine. For me, the jump in quality is exponential relative to the jump in price.

Second, Chile, unsurprisingly, is a land of tremendous diversity, both geographically and with its wines. It is a joy to explore, even with the chance that you’ll come across those crazy green Carmeneres sometimes.

And finally, while Chilean cuisine hasn’t quite come into its own, Chilean wine is worth inclusion on wine lists at fine restaurants. The high-end treasures are worth exploring and worth sitting next to the plate of a great meal.

Below the fold are my tasting notes and highlights. I encourage you to seek them out. Read the rest of this entry »

Sponsored: How to Pair Wine with Raw Food vs. Cooked Food

Posted by | Posted in Sponsored | Posted on 11-28-2012

Please note that this post, authored by sommelier Marnie Old, is sponsored by Wine Simplified, an interactive wine book for iPad, iPhone, PC & Mac.

Tired of trying to coach friends and family in wine? Having trouble training inexperienced employees? Well, now there’s an app for that.

Wine Simplified is a highly-effective crash course for the wine curious provides useful tools for real-world tasks, like shopping and pairing, as well as explaining the organizing principles and short cuts professionals use to make educated guesses about wines before they pull the cork.

The following is an excerpt from Wine Simplified by author and sommelier Marnie Old.

How to Pair Wine with Raw Food vs. Cooked Food

As we all know, foods taste differently depending on whether they are raw or cooked. The application of heat changes a food’s texture and breaks down nutrients to make it more digestible. But of greatest importance to wine pairing is the change of flavor that occurs when a food is heated and browned. Whether browning is a result of caramelization (as with fruits and vegetables) or of Maillard reactions (as with meats and starches), it adds a distinctive nutty, “cooked” flavor.

Generally speaking, the more prominent the flavor of browning is in a dish, the more likely it is to pair harmoniously with wines that are aged or oaked, since cooking and barrel-aging impart similar toasty flavors. Think of it this way — fermenting or aging wine in oak barrels is a form of browning, too. The toasting of the barrels and the slow, controlled oxidation of the wine inside as it breathes have a subtle impact on the color of the wine, and change its flavor. Like leaving a sliced apple on the counter, barrel-aging wines exposes them to oxygen that browns them in both flavor and color. It adds a golden hue to whites like Chardonnay and gives red wines like Rioja the russet tinge of maturity. Just as raw foods feature a vibrant freshness, so, too, do young, unoaked wines — which are protected from oxidation by non-porous stainless steel and glass.

Some cooking methods, such as boiling or steaming, impart no browning to food at all. But many of our favorite ways to cook, from toasting to roasting, add the flavor of browning. When we turn up the heat by frying or grilling, browning has even more impact flavor-wise.

Tips and Tricks of the Trade

  • Match fresh foods served raw — like salad and sushi — to the youngest, freshest-tasting wines, i.e., unoaked wines. Save oak-aged wines for foods that have been cooked and in which the flavor of browning is present.
  • Match the degree of browning in the dish to the impact of oak in the wine’s flavor. The oakiest wines fare best with foods that are grilled, sautéed, or fried, or accented with toasty or smoky elements. When the browning is less noticeable, as with roasted or baked dishes, a more balanced oak presence is more suitable.
  • The flavors that emerge in food with low-and-slow cooking methods like braising share some of the complexities of flavor found in wines that are bottle-aged. Cooking methods that rely on a quick sear to preserve some of the freshness of the food flavor find more harmony with younger, fresher wines.

Daily Wine News: Pagani Ranch

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-28-2012

Paul Draper. From Ridge Wine.

“The decisions they make today at Ridge are all aimed towards turning these first 50 years of the company’s success into the next 50.” Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka writes a wonderful profile of Paul Draper and Ridge Vineyards.

Thanks to Bedrock Wines, James Beard Award winning author David Darlington has written a profile of Dino Amantite, who has cared for his family’s vineyard, Pagani Ranch, since he was a child.

“Don’t rule out white wines with your cold-weather fare. Instead, look for weightier examples with the heft to match the season’s cuisine. In other words, think Alsace.” Some good advice from Dave McIntyre.

The HoseMaster (almost) takes a break from comedy to pen a thoughtful piece about wine writing.

“[Jefford] doesn’t really believe the wine writer is dead. If he did, he wouldn’t have devoted most of his talk to cogent advice about how his audience of aspiring writers could develop both livelihood and following.” Mike Dunne comments on Andrew Jefford’s recent speech to the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference.

On Palate Press, Meg Houston Maker details the “Best Wines for Comfort Food.”

“An emphasis on distinctive terroir is just what Chile… needs to attract wine enthusiast consumers and clearly differentiate [itself] from the bulk wine pack.” Mike Veseth wonders if Chile can break out of the “value wine’ trap.

Bill Foley has acquired yet another vineyard and winery.

The Electric White Wines of Italy

Posted by | Posted in White's Wines | Posted on 11-27-2012

From Wikipedia.

As regular readers know, I write a free, twice monthly wine column that’s distributed to newspapers across the country.

These columns have a new home! They’re being hosted by Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine. If you don’t see my column in your local newspaper, please send an email to your paper’s editor and CC me (David – at – Terroirist.com).

My latest column, which urges consumers to explore Italy’s exciting white wines, went out this morning.

The Electric White Wines of Italy

Legend has it that a renowned British wine taster was once presented with a flight of wines while wearing a blindfold. He nailed each wine, correctly identifying the grape and the region in which it was grown.

Toward the end of the challenge was a glass of water. Upon smelling and sampling it, the taster expressed bewilderment.

“I have no idea what this is,” he exclaimed, “but I can assure you it’s something I’ve never had before!”

Traditionally, this story has been used to spark a conversation about the futility of blind tasting. The wine world’s smart alecks, however, have taken to replying back with a joke: “Why didn’t he peg it as Pinot Grigio?”

Sadly, there’s some truth to this retort. All too often, Pinot Grigio is simply a substitute for water. Mass-market bottlings are refreshing and fruity — and deliver a buzz — but they’re never very compelling.

This reality has tarred the reputation of all Italian white wines. That’s a shame, because Italy produces the most exciting whites in the world. Even Pinot Grigio can be spectacular.

Check out the rest of the piece on Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine.

Daily Wine News: Nowhere Else

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-27-2012

The team at Cornerstone Cellars.

“By far the most interesting wines were also the most distinct, those that could come from nowhere else but Mediterranean France.” Eric Asimov pens a fantastic column on the Languedoc.

“When I asked Craig about the thinking behind Cornerstone’s evolution, he had this to say: ‘I cannot think of wine in any other context than at the table.’” Rick Bakas writes about the new direction at Cornerstone Cellars.

Alder Yarrow tastes some legendary wines from Napa, makes his readers jealous.

From Jon Bonné, “Bubbly beverages for the holidays.”

“I can’t help but feeling that the whole process is set up to be an obstacle course where every advance seems to be followed by a strategic retreat. Unfortunately, alcohol is probably most regulated industry there is, apart from things like nuclear reactor waste disposal.” Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines writes about the “bureaucratic morass” he has to navigate.

In Bloomberg, John Mariani explains why “White Burgundies From Cote d’Or Set [the] Gold Standard.”

In the Financial Times, Jancis Robinson shares her favorite gifts for wine lovers.

“‘The Drops of God’ is a lyrical and captivating romp through the wine world.” In Wine-Searcher, Tyler Colman reviews the latest adventure in the influential Japanese wine comic series.

“Currently, around 6,000 cases of Grange are produced each year, but this could be increased to 25,000 cases without destroying the brand’s scarcity value.” In the WSJ’s Deal Journal Australia blog, David Winning details the advice that some investment analysts have for Penfolds. It starts with breaking away Treasury Wine Estates.

“If you can’t mechanize, you will be out of business sooner or later.” In the Sacramento Bee, Kate Moser looks at the move by more and more farmers to hand harvests to machines.

Terroirist.com Launches Wine Club!

Posted by | Posted in Terroirist | Posted on 11-26-2012

Big News! To celebrate Cyber Monday, Terroirist.com has teamed up with Weygandt Wines to launch a unique wine-of-the-month club.

All the selections are handpicked by me and the team at Weygandt. All the wines will expand your palate by introducing you to new regions and producers. And all will be delivered directly to your doorstep.

Members will receive two bottles of wine each month for just $59.99, plus shipping. We’re kicking things off with a bang:

2010 Domaine Albert Mann Cremant d’Alsace
List price: $21.99
While not yet reviewed, David Schildknecht of the Wine Advocate has praised all of Mann’s sparklers, and said they’re worth adding “to that short list of traditional-method sparklers from around the world genuinely worth seeking out and appreciating.”

2009 Le Ferme du Mont Chateauneuf du Pape Vendange
List price: $49.99
This wine was awarded 91 points by Jeb Dunnuck of The Rhone Report, who described it as follows: “Concentrated, layered, and beautifully balanced, with sweet fruit, solid freshness, and chewy tannin, this outstanding Châteauneuf-du-Pape benefits from a decant, and has upwards of two decades of longevity.”

Our selections aren’t narrowly defined (e.g., there will never be a “red-only” option). But we pledge to offer distinct, compelling wines that represent great value and quality. Everyone from full-fledged oenophiles to aspiring wine aficionados will want to join the Terroirist.com wine club.

It also makes for a great gift!

To join, call our wine club staff at 202-362-9463 or contact me.

Daily Wine News: Speculative Interest

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-26-2012

From Wikipedia.

“Burgundy drinkers everywhere do have reason to fear a surge of speculative interest in the region and its wines.” In the International Herald Tribune, Eric Pfanner writes about Asia’s growing interest in Burgundy.

Alice Feiring comments on the natural wine “debate” that took place during the European Wine Blogger’s Conference in Turkey.

“Being a sommelier has some similarities to being a therapist: Good listening skills are a must.” In the Wall Street Journal, Julie Flynn Siler writes a great profile master sommelier Larry Stone.

Elsewhere in the Journal, Lettie Teague “finds that following a few simple guidelines” can lead to great food-and-wine matches.

“Why limit it [to Champagne and sparkling wine from here at home]? With all the choices of bubbles, it’s amazing we don’t all drink more of it — especially considering that nearly every wine region in the world is having a quality sparkling renaissance, from Austria and Slovenia to Portugal and Chile.” Jon Bonné welcomes the season for writing about sparkling wine!

“A few Bay Area craft brewers are determined to make the holidays more fun. They’re creating a new style of beer that’s fermented with Champagne yeast, and straddles the line between wine and beer just enough for you to bring it to a holiday gathering and coerce non-beer types into liking it.” In the San Francisco Chronicle, Lessley Anderson writes about the efforts of some brewers who “view each glass of Champagne as a wasted opportunity.”

In Eater, Talia Baiocchi chats with Dustin Wilson of Eleven Madison Park.

This week, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History unveils its new exhibit, “Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.” In the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre previews the exhibit’s coverage of American wine.

David Taub, co-founder of wine-importing behemouth Palm Bay International, died on Nov. 8 at 72. In the New York Times, a great obituary.

Rich Frank, the owner of Frank Family Vineyardshas purchased “the little-known but well-positioned Wood Ranch Vineyard in Rutherford. The sale includes the 87-acre property, several houses on the land, and 70 acres planted to vines.”