Daily Wine News: Revolutionaries

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-09-2012

Frank J. Prial (Photo: New York Times)

Chinese police found 10,000 bottles of fake Bordeaux in an empty house. Interestingly, it was not the high-end Château Lafite Rothschild, but rather the entry-level wines from the DBR collection.

Speaking of forgeries, more photos of Rudy Kurniawan’s house emerged in court filings, as revealed by Don Cornwell in the still-going strong thread on the Wine Berserkers message board.

Tom Wark takes note of Liquor Library, a new store at the Las Vegas airport: “[W]ine lovers can now feel at ease knowing that they don’t have to wait the ten minutes it takes to go from the airport to the nearest liquor store to get their hands on a good bottle of Sparkling Wine for their ride over to The Strip.”

“Helmut König’s team and the enologists of the working group of Ulrich Fischer in Neustadt have developed ‘Practicable Milestones’ in order to enable wine-makers to lower the risk of the production of biogenic amines.” What does that mean? Scientists are trying to prevent headaches!

In Businessweek, Donna Abu-Nasr has the remarkable story of two Syrian winemakers who are still making wine while their country is in the midst of a violent conflict that has killed more than 35,000 people.

In Palate Press, Remy Charest issues a spirited defense of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year (and offers his own guess for #1!).

Meanwhile, in the Spectator, Matt Kramer argues that a country’s drinking culture can end up holding back the success of its wine industry.

“[The 100-point system] has homogenised the American palate, and people have relinquished their own decision-making abilities and personal preferences in favor of someone else’s.” An enlightening interview with Dustin Wilson, Wine Director of New York’s four-star Eleven Madison Park.

Wilson is one of the four sommeliers featured in the new wine documentary, “SOMM.” The film’s director, Jason Wise, was interviewed by Wine Spectator.

“The 2012 California wine grape harvest yielded generous amounts of high quality fruit, and winemakers across the state are describing this year’s vintage as ‘excellent,’ ‘outstanding’ and ‘ideal.'” The Wine Institute provides a harvest report.

At Drinkhacker, Christopher Null participates in a vertical tasting of Le Rêve by Domaine Carneros, the sparking wine house I profiled here in September.

On a sad note, “Frank J. Prial, whose Wine Talk column in The New York Times introduced many Americans to the world of wine in the 1970s, when a new passion for fine food and drink was taking hold in the country, died on Tuesday in West Orange, N.J. He was 82.” Eric Asimov penned the obituary for the Times.

Daily Wine News: Loosening Up

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-08-2012

The ancient vines of Carlisle Vineyard

“Sylvie Cazes, president of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux and co-owner of Chateau Lynch Bages, will be stepping down from her role as director of Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande,” reports Decanter.

Is it too early to start thinking about wines for Thanksgiving? (Yes.) In Forbes, Katie Bell bucks the trend of recommending American wine with your turkey; instead, she suggests uncorking something “playful, intelligent, and good at loosening up a crowd” — Italian wine!

Speaking of Turkey, Alder Yarrow heads to the European Wine Bloggers Conference, “keen to get an inside look into Turkey’s burgeoning wine scene, which, despite leaning on thousands of years of history, has really only gotten going in the last 10 years.” 

Stephen Tanzer seeks out the best new values in New Zealand Pinot Noir, for those who are “starved for fresher, cheaper alternatives to Burgundy.”

Did you know that today is International Tempranillo Day? Neither did I. Chris Macias of the Sacramento Bee brings word of the effort to raise awareness of the noble Rioja grape, and mentions a couple of good California examples of the varietal.

In Wine Spectator, Tim Fish sits down for a long lunch with two Terroirist faves, Adam Lee of Siduri and Mike Officer of Carlisle, to discuss the 2012 vintage. Officer calls it “the most difficult easy vintage I ever had.”

In addition to the end of harvest, Officer has much more to celebrate: Carlisle has been named Winery of the Year by Snooth’s Gregory Dal Piaz!

Weygandt Wines profiles Yannick Amirault, one of the top vignerons of Bourgueil and St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil.

In sad news, Alsace’s Domaine Lucien Albrecht has filed for bankruptcy. I am a big fan of Albrecht’s Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé as an affordable sparkler. Indeed, there’s a glass of it in my profile picture.

Yesterday we brought you news of Charlie Trotter’s million-dollar wine auction. Well, the auction just got a bit smaller, as Eater reports that 60 cases of wine have gone missing on their way to the auction house!

Daily Wine News: Mad, Destructive, Unnecessary

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-07-2012

The Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard, with construction cranes in the background. (Uploaded to Flickr by Vincisive)

Amazon.com isn’t the only large online retailer planning to allow wineries to sell directly to consumers. As CNBC reports, Wine.com is setting up a marketplace to make it easy for small wineries to sell through its website.

In the Washington Post, Dave McIntyre profiles Lawrence Meinert, “a wine-loving geologist who has made a career out of analyzing and defining the most indefinable concept of wine: terroir.” 

Chicago chef Charlie Trotter is auctioning off his million-dollar wine collection. Count me in for the Nebuchadnezzar of Trockenbeerenauslese. I only wish there was more than one!

The San Francisco Chronicle provides a guide to Sonoma tasting rooms. I can vouch for Iron Horse, and fellow Terroirist Robby Schrum has enjoyed visits with Porter Creek and Joseph Swan.

In a piece that praises California vintners like Steve Matthiasson and Steve Lagier for making wine from “oddball” grapes, Elin McCoy reviews Jancis Robinson’s just released book, Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours.

Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka tastes through a range of Chardonnays from Oregon and California. Make sure you click on the comic!

Ever wonder where NYC bartenders go to drink on their time off?  Serious eats reveals that Terroir Wine Bar, among others, is a popular choice.

The Los Angeles Times reviews the latest English-language volume of the Japanese manga, “Drops of God.” Terroirist Sarah Hexter reviewed the first volume last year. Like many others who have been following the series from the start, I am extremely disappointed at the publisher’s puzzling decision to skip ahead in the story with the “New World” episode.

Talia Baiocchi’s latest post for Wine Spectator asks why people end up falling for wine. Her journey began in college: “[T]iring of the endless stream of Bud Light forties and vodka sodas, I started stocking up on cheap wine at a shop on Broadway in New York City that was, and still is, a sort of Filene’s Basement of wine retail.”

Finally, Decanter reports that “Work on the hugely controversial Mosel bridge has re-started, to the dismay of a vocal band of dedicated protesters” like Katharina Prüm, with whom I had the pleasure of visiting in August. It will be a shame if any of the legendary vineyards in the bridge’s path are harmed in any way.

Daily Wine News: Election Day!

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-06-2012

(via Slashfood.com)

It’s Election Day! Michele Borboa offers wine pairing advice for Democrats and Republicans looking to party.

On Boston Public Radio, Jonathan Alsop has recommendations from swing-state wineries like Linden in Virgina.

Tom Wark reflects on the arguments people make when alcohol is on the ballot.

In non-election news, The New York Times’ Eric Asimov explains how to get the most out of your interactions with “your new best friend” — the sommelier!

Speaking of sommeliers, elsewhere in the Times Kenan Christiansen reviews “Somm,” the new documentary that “follows four promising young sommeliers as they mount an all-out effort to attain the highest distinction in their field: the title of master sommelier.”

And speaking of Asimov, fellow wine scribe Jon Bonné recommends his new book, “How to Love Wine: A Memoir and Manifesto,” in which Asimov advises readers to “seek[] pleasure in wines simple and great – and wav[e] off a didactic army of acronymed wine experts and their overly firm ways to appreciate wine.”

“[Shafer’s Hillside Select] is a benchmark for what Napa Cabernet can be, incredibly rich and powerful but with soft, silky tannins that seem to be a signature of the Stags Leap appellation.” In the Wall Street Journal, Jay McInerney writes about “The Near-Accidental Brilliance of Shafer Vineyards.”

“I’m tempted to go regress to the quiet and cold zone, remove myself from connectivity.” From Alice Feiring, a remarkable piece on the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

On California’s north coast, this year’s harvest “could be the region’s largest crop in five years.”

Dan Fredman reports on a fascinating tasting of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar, “some of the planet’s most interesting (and controversial) wines.”

Caroline Henry tackles the delicate relationships between large Champagne houses and grower producers in a thought-provoking post at Palate Press.

Finally, if you are a fan of Champagne, go check out this great post by Pamela Heiligenthal at Enobytes on post-disgrogement maturation, which includes the best graphical representation of Champagne evolution I’ve ever seen.

German Riesling Adventure: Introduction

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 11-05-2012

This really was the “Summer of Riesling” for Terroirist.com. David started exploring the grape, sampling some excellent examples. Salil enjoyed some brilliant older vintages, and reported on the Theise/Skurnik 2011s from the Nahe, Rheingau and Mosel. Me? I decided to go straight to the source for my education: my wife and I set out for Germany in late August.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on my trip, the wines we tasted, the producers we visited, and the vineyards upon which we gazed. But first, a few themes emerged during the trip and upon further reflection at home.

Germany's Mosel Valley

German Winemakers are True Terroirists. Other than perhaps Burgundy, Germany might be the epicenter of “terroirism.” Jancis Robinson thinks Riesling is “the greatest white wine grape in the world,” in part because it is so good at expressing terroir.  In my opinion, no other wine is able to showcase a truer sense of place than German Riesling. Visit after visit, the winemakers were proud to show off the different soil types from which they farmed their grapes – trays filled with gray, red and blue slate are almost as ubiquitous in German tasting rooms as Schnitzel is on the village menus. But handling a piece of slate at a table is nothing like standing in a vineyard and seeing for yourself just how rocky the terrain really is. In the Mosel Valley in particular, there are vineyards planted on hillsides where giant slate rock formations interrupt the perfectly parallel rows of vines – and others where winemakers actually had to blast through rock with dynamite to make use of their land. In Germany, minerality is reality – not just a marketing slogan.

The German Wine Industry is in Good Hands. At a great majority of the wine estates we visited, the next generation has taken over from their parents, and the future is bright. Young winemakers across the country are banding together to make quality wines, modernize winemaking techniques and raise the profile of the German wine industry. Many of them attended school together at Geisenheim – the premier oenology program in Germany. In addition to sharing tips and tricks, this group travels together, parties together, and shares a camaraderie and passion for wine that is refreshing. Some, like Stefan Steinmetz, were thrust into huge responsibility through tragedy. Others, like Florian Lauer and Christoph Schaefer, work side by side with their fathers, learning to preserve tradition while still pursuing innovation to improve the product.

The Dryness Craze is For Real. Many articles have been written recently about the trend toward dry Riesling in Germany, primarily for their domestic market, but also creeping into their exports. This is readily apparent when visiting winemakers. Almost every tasting included a pronounced emphasis on the trocken end of the range, especially if the vintner has holdings that include an Erste Lage or Grosse Lage (top sites from which Grosses Gewächs wines are made) or vineyards of similar quality for those wineries who aren’t in the VDP. (Joh. Jos. Prüm was a notable exception – it continues to make beloved off-dry Rieslings, trends be damned, and its wine remains some of the best in the world.) So, get ready to see more and more dry wine in your local shops. Unfortunately, not everyone who is making wines on the drier side should actually be doing so, because not everyone has the terroir to do it successfully. Thankfully, most of the estates we visited, and that you’ll be hearing about in the coming weeks, are not in that category. We drank very well in Germany, and I look forward to sharing our experience with all of you.

Daily Wine News: Weathering the Storm

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 11-05-2012

(via grapefriend.com)

A week after Hurricane Sandy, the bad news continues to roll in.  The Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn may have suffered “a total loss.”

Meanwhile, retailers may see a storm-related spike in October sales as people stockpiled beer and wine in advance of the Superstorm.

Those wine merchants in the storm’s path, however, suffered substantial damage.

Wall Street investment managers weathered the storm by baby-killing First Growth Bordeaux.  How uplifting!

In news that’s easier to stomach, Will Lyons attempts to offer advice on wine-and-pizza pairing in the Wall Street Journal Europe: “The best way to enjoy pizza is at a little local pizzeria overlooking the Bay of Naples, washed down with whatever the restaurant serves, in all likelihood a local Aglianico, a dark-red wine with high acidity and high tannins.”

Jon Bonné suggests shopping early for your holiday wines, and recommends looking to Rhone-style whites.

Stéphane Vivier overcame an early rejection for an internship with DRC to start his own winery in Napa; Alder Yarrow tells the story.

From Wines & Vines, a fascinating piece on the efforts of “well-known vineyard and winery investor Richard Wollack” to raise $100 million from Chinese investors to purchase and manage high-end California vineyards.

In Wine Spectator, Mitch Frank remembers Serge Renaud, “Father of the French Paradox.”

“Were it not for Grgich’s deft hand and refined palate for chardonnay, who knows how and when Napa Valley winemaking would have achieved its rightful place in wine world’s hierarchy?” In the Napa Valley Register, L. Pierce Carson writes about “Like the Old Vine,” a new documentary about Mike Grgich.

Melissa Sutherland Amado writes about Kerners, one of the “wines that made [her] life forever different.”

Finally, Tim McNally asks if wine labels like “If You See Kay,” “Sassy Bitch,” and “Fat Bastard” cross the line?

Bogus Bubbles: The Untold Story of Counterfeit Champagne

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 09-26-2012

A Counterfeit Champagne Workshop.

Richard Juhlin, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on Champagne, has tasted literally thousands of bottles of the sparkling golden liquid over his prodigious career. Indeed, his book — 4000 Champagnes — is regarded as the definitive tome on the subject. But he thought he never had encountered a counterfeit bottle until one weekend this past spring. At a large Dom Pérignon tasting in Denmark, he was caught off guard.

“Two bottles of really old DP Oenotheque were really good looking fakes, at least at first sight. But the wine was not even close to Champagne, nor wine,” Juhlin recounted over email. “By taste it was undrinkable – just a bubbly chemical mix smelling of coffee and vanilla extracts in an awful way.”

How could an expert like Juhlin taste so much Champagne without ever encountering a fake? Is it because counterfeit Champagne is so rare, or because those who practice such dark arts are so proficient at fooling people? If it’s because there aren’t many fakes in the market, why?

Another noted Champagne expert, Peter Liem of ChampagneGuide.net, also tells me that he has never to his knowledge tasted counterfeit Champagne. As Liem explains, “the logistics of faking Champagne seem daunting: it requires much more complicated machinery for re-corking, including affixing the cages and foils. Anyone who’s ever opened an old bottle of Dom Pérignon knows how maddeningly stubborn those foils can be.”

In the wake of the Rudy Kurniawan scandal, counterfeit wine has come to the forefront of the wine world’s consciousness. Countless articles have been written, movies have been pitched, and record web traffic has been achieved. But nowhere has Champagne been mentioned. Perhaps this is because Rudy K. himself was not involved. On that, the evidence is inconclusive. Champagne labels were not mentioned among the materials seized from Rudy’s house. However, Don Cornwell, the Los Angeles attorney credited in part with blowing open the scandal, has said that his understanding is that Rudy “was also alleged to sell counterfeit Champagne” and that “this was accomplished by means of label switches.”

Wine critic Brad Baker, known as “The Champagne Warrior,” is a bit more diplomatic at first. “Rudy was definitely a Champagne geek, though, to me, he seemed far more interested in talking Burgundy,” he says in an email. Baker later admits that he’s starting to believe there may be a fake Champagne “problem in a certain circle” and he “would make an educated guess that somehow Rudy is in the chain.”

If Rudy didn’t produce counterfeit Champagne to the same extent as his infamous older Burgundy and Bordeaux, it likely is because of the difficulty inherent in the sparkling wine product. In addition to the difficulties Liem mentioned with respect to corks, cages and foils, there’s the simple problem of faking what’s in the bottle – sparkling wine, especially in its maturity, just isn’t that easy to reproduce authentically. Read the rest of this entry »

An American “Grower Champagne”

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-24-2012

Donnelly Creek Vineyard

Elke's Donnelly Creek Vineyard.

If you have any interest in wine, by now you have heard of “Grower Champagne,” a relatively recent trend of independent grape growers in the Champagne region of France producing their own wine from grapes they cultivate rather than selling them off to the large houses. “Farmer Fizz,” as it also is known, accounts for less than 3% of the Champagne market, but is revered by wine geeks for the artisanal, terroir-driven nature of the product.

Here in the States, most sparkling wine is made by large corporate producers – you see them on the bottom shelf of your local grocery store or pharmacy: Cook’s, Andre, Tott’s, Korbel, etc. There are a few better regarded large producers, like Gruet in New Mexico and Gloria Ferrer in California, and a slew of Franco-American partnerships, like Domaine Carneros by Taittinger. While some of these producers grow almost all of their own grapes, most need to purchase some from other sources.

Enter the American grower.

Mary Elke has been farming vineyards and selling grapes for 30 years in both the Napa and Anderson Valleys. Her clients include a who’s who list of sparkling wine producers, such as Roederer Estate and Mumm Napa. But, until a few years ago, she had never produced her own sparkling wine. (Elke Vineyards has made a still Pinot Noir since 1997 under various guest winemakers.)

“[We’re] a very small winery,” Elke explained to me over email. “I neither have the space nor winemaking equipment required to produce sparkling wine in the méthode champenoise.” So when a custom crush facility called Rack & Riddle opened up nearby in Mendocino County employing the winemaking team from J Vineyards, Elke sampled their Brut cuvée and got inspired. Read the rest of this entry »

Winery Profile: Domaine Carneros

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 09-11-2012

My wife says Le Rêve tastes “almost French,” and you could say the same for the château building.

There are only a few places in California wine country where you can completely forget that you are in the United States.

Turning off Route 121, the highway that connects the Sonoma and Napa Valleys at their southern tips in Carneros, you encounter one of those places. Sitting atop a hill surrounded by rows and rows of vines is the château of Domaine Carneros, a 25-year-old American estate, straight out of 18th century France.

The elegant manor is a fitting home for Domaine Carneros, founded by France’s Champagne Taittinger to produce new world sparkling wine in the traditional old world method. Taittinger plucked Eileen Crane from nearby Gloria Ferrer to oversee the planting of the estate and establish the sparkling wine program, and she remains to this day.

Taittinger conducted a lengthy search for the proper site before settling on Carneros, a region with average temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler than Napa, although still warmer than Champagne. Domaine Carneros owns four estate vineyards (all certified organic), planted only to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, for which the area’s long, cool growing season is close to ideal. Theoretically, the soil and climate should combine to allow Crane and her team to achieve a balance of ripeness and acidity – essential for any good sparkling wine, no matter where it is from.

As a fan of Taittinger, and its rich, toasty style, I was excited to visit Domaine Carneros on a trip to California a few years ago, and I was not disappointed. While the architecture of the château is more French-styled than the wines, on their own merits the sparkling wines of Domaine Carneros are consistently good, and my favorite of the trans-Atlantic bubbly partnerships (such as Roederer Estate, Mumm Napa, and Domaine Chandon, to name a few). I was equally excited to check in on the lineup thanks to a sampler pack that recently arrived at Terroirist HQ.

Tasting notes follow below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Ferrari: Racy, Stylish, Classic

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 07-25-2012

No, the title does not refer to a car.* It refers to the best sparkling wine you’ve probably never heard of.

Vintage posters courtesy of Weimax Wines & Spirits

Matteo Bruno Lunelli is on a mission. The charismatic Chairman of Ferrari Metodo Classico wants us to know that Italian sparkling wine is not limited to Prosecco, the ubiquitous dry sparkler that makes a mean mimosa, or Asti Spumante, the syrupy-sweet fizzy Moscato that you may have stolen from your parents’ cabinet in high school.

In fact, Italy makes some world-class sparkling wine, utilizing the same process and grapes as the Champenois.

Lunelli’s company has been producing such wine – with great success – for over 100 years. It is known as “the toast of Italy,” having been served at the President’s house, to celebrate the country’s anniversary, and its soccer World Cup victory, among many other celebrations.

So then why haven’t I had it before this week? (And why are there only 400 or so bottles currently logged in CellarTracker?)

That’s the question that brought me to Ristorante Tosca, the chic Italian dining spot in downtown Washington, D.C., on a hot July afternoon, to dine with Lunelli and several other wine journalists and professionals. Lunelli was in town to meet the new Italian Ambassador to the United States and for an event with the Congressional Wine Caucus. In between these higher-profile engagements, Lunelli is trying to teach Americans what Italians have long known: that an Alpine province that was part of Austria until the last century happens to be one the world’s best spots for growing Chardonnay for sparkling wine. Read the rest of this entry »