Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Tour and Tasting at Oddero Poderi e Cantine



One of my favorite stops on my Piemonte journey was at Oddero Poderi e Cantine which is located in the Santa Maria area of La Morra. Seventh generation family member, Isabella Boffa Oddero, led the tour and tasting for me. Isabella’s grandfather, Giacomo Oddero, is the fifth generation to make wine here and her aunt, Mariacristina, currently oversees the production. After five generations of the family men building the business, this is the first time that women are in charge.

The family’s Piemonte wine grape growing roots go back to at least the end of the 18th century though 1878 was the first year that they bottled wine under their own name. A church with its own vineyard called Bricco Chiesa was their closest neighbor. The family tended the vines for years before eventually buying the vineyard a few rows at a time and eventually adding it their estate in the 1800s. The family now has about 86 acres located throughout the region and they only use their own fruit for production, they do not buy from other growers.

Giacomo was instrumental in helping the area gain first DOC and then DOCG status. He has been devoted to maintaining the region's traditions from wine to truffles to hazelnut production. Isabella shared her concerns about losing some of the biodiversity around their estate as more of the area is developed. Some sites have experienced landslides from deforestation. Isabella shared that more of the region's truffles are coming from Roero now because of this as well. 

The farmhouse and surrounding vineyard have always belonged to or been tended by the Oddero family. The Bricco Chiesa vineyard is the historical production center of the winery and is now certified organic. As we walked back through the vineyard, the vines were heavy with grapes which were expected to be harvested within the week. Isabella explained that their vineyards went partially organic starting in 2008 and they plan to convert even more. She shared that organic vine growing is becoming more common in Barolo as the families that live there note more environmental changes. She stated, "I believe in organic, I believe its our future, but consumers who want organic products need to understand that it is a different way of doing things and it is more expensive. When problems occur, it can result in tremendous losses. It takes incredible commitment to be certified, it is quite complicated but it is important for our employees, the environment, and our own health." She shared that they have an interest in biodynamics but are not ready to pursue that certification yet though they have added some of the principles to their vineyard care like beehives from which they make organic honey.

We headed back toward the winery where they have a small museum on the property. Isabella was quick to demonstrate some of the equipment used in the earlier days of production like an old hand pump from the 1800s and we picked up heavy chestnut carriers which workers used to carry 50 liters of wine. Inside the winery, they keep an ancient press which is also no longer used. It is positioned next to some groovy looking cement vats, painted by family members, that are in use. The concrete vats are for both vinification of the wine and they are also used as a temporary holding container for wine that is being transferred from the oak casks before bottling. They engage in some experimental winemaking because being open to new ideas is important to them but tradition is crucial, they prefer to age their wines in large oak casks because as Isabella stated it was important to the family to "respect the identity of the territory."

The original cellar was built at the same time as the farmhouse. The only change that has been made to it is the addition of new flooring that is easier to clean. It is full of different sized oak barrels, most quite large. The different containers are used for different wines though there is no formula, it can change every year. They do put Barbera in their new oak to season it, typically for 2 years, before using it for Nebbiolo wines.  They make Barolo from five different single vineyards, all historical sites for vine growing with the best sun exposure. Isabella shared, "We feel so lucky to get to work with some of the best soils in Barolo." Her grandfather began purchasing the sites after WWII, when many families left the region for jobs in the city. "We feel so fortunate for his vision. With our recent addition, I finally know how he felt to obtain the lands and to know this is now mine." Last year, the family purchased a small plot of old vines in the Monvigliero Vineyard. They have not produced wine from it yet. They are in the process of converting it to organic and replacing some Barbera vines with Nebbiolo.

It was wonderful to see a family business that is full of love and respect for the members and their community and to know the passion for the region and the wines will continue through the upcoming generations.

The tasting: 
Oddero Langhe Bianco 2017Fresh and citrusy with a mineral finish. This wine is made from 100% Riesling for the first time, it is a small production and is very difficult to find in the U.S. It is also the first year that the family has used a screw cap closure.

Oddero Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza 2015 - Fresh, fragrant and spicy with rich, red fruit aromas and flavors and a juicy finish. This vintage came from a warmer and drier year than is typical but underground water from a rainy, snowy winter kept the vines healthy and balanced. Isabella shared her concerns about the new labeling requirement coming in two years when producers must choose between having Barbera d'Asti on the label or Nizza, they will not be able to do both. She is concerned about consumer's lack of recognition for what the Nizza designation means, beautiful location with great soils producing excellent quality grapes. She would like to be able to continue with both on the label.

Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo 2016 - A bright, pure expression of Nebbiolo with red cherry, floral violet, dried herbs, and a hint of tobacco with noticeable yet not obtrusive tannins. Isabella feels this wine gives a nice look at what the vintage will offer when the Barolo wines are released. This wine is actually sourced from the same Barolo vineyard area but comes from much younger vines, it is a true "Baby Barolo."

Oderro Barbaresco Gallina 2015 - Firmly structured yet still refined with a silky texture, very elegant and approachable with classic aromas and flavors of red cherry fruit, violet notes and a long, spicy finish. The Gallina Vineyard is located in Neive on sandy soils which receive full sun in the hotter hours of the day.

Oderro Barolo 2014 - Less red fruit nuance, more forest floor and truffles with a long licorice-laced finish, a firm structure balanced with fresh acidity. This classic Barolo is a blend of four vineyard areas this year. In addition to the usual Bricco Chiesa, Capalot, and Fiasco vineyards, grapes were also sourced from the Villero vineyard as they chose not to produce a single vineyard wine from that area this year. While many critics have said this wasn't a good vintage for the region due a rainy summer and hail storms, quality is present in this wine. Isabella stated, "I love this vintage a lot, I think its very classic, they did a great job in the vineyards bringing in only the best fruit, I think it is well-balanced and elegant."

Oddero Barolo Brunate 2009 - Forest floor and red rose aromas dominate the nose with softer than expected tannins and a rounder feel flavored with red berries and dried herbs in a soft, lingering finish. The grapes for this wine are sourced from the Brunate vineyard, an organically grown historic vineyard in La Morra with 11,000,000 year old Tortonian soil composed of clay, sand and limestone, the production is small with only 1,800 bottles produced. 

Oddero Barolo Bussia Vigna Mondoca Riserva 5 Anni 2012 - Bigger and more powerful with grippier tannins, flavored with dried herbs and spice, this wine had a long, juicy, mineral-laced finish. The Mondoca vineyard in Bussia is located in Monforte d’Alba. The vineyard has 50 year old vines that naturally produce less fruit due to the stress created by the ancient calcareous limestone soil, only 3,000 bottles produced.

Oddero Barolo Vignarionda Riserva 10 Anni 2008Even at ten years old, this wine was very austere and tannic, it is less fruity with intense aromas of truffles, forest floor and a bit of tar with a lengthy licorice-filled finish. It comes from one of the most historical vineyards in the hills of Langhe. The big structure, pronounced aromas and complex flavors suggest that this wine can be aged for a very long time. The winery chose to hold it for 10 years before releasing it because of this intensity. A huge treat to try, with only 2,000 bottles produced.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Iron Sommelier 2018

Iron Somm Julie Dalton

Iron Sommelier 2018 was held last night at The Houstonian Hotel, Club, and Spa. Iron Sommelier is Houston's most important competition for local beverage gurus with some of the city's best sommeliers competing for the title. There was great excitement in the room when Julie Dalton of Mastro's was named this year's Iron Sommelier. 

Dalton is the first female to ever win the title. Her theme of "Drink Gneiss Schist" was a clever play on words with all of the wines she chose coming from grapes sourced from metamorphic soil types. "The wines that have made me take pause or cry or have a come to Jesus moment have all been wines from metamorphic soils," she shared. She explained that gneiss and schist are both metamorphoses of shale and slate created from pressure and heat. "I just find the wines to be so expressive, there is electricity on the palate." She said that she was not anticipating to win as a newcomer to the city, " I was honored to even be invited to be a participant and I chose something really geeky, I wasn't expecting that at all."

Each contestant selects three wines within a theme of their choice that may focus on a wine region, grape or style. Each sommelier presents the wines they are pouring while chatting with guests out on the floor. Underwriters are also invited to VIP Tasting Rooms where each sommelier does a presentation on one of their selected wines in a small group setting and additional awards are bestowed. Professional judges award the title of Iron Sommelier at the end of the event while guests vote for the People’s Choice Award.

This year's recipients of the Underwriter Tasting Room, Best presentations went to Adele Corrigan from 13 Celsius and Justin Vann of Theodore Rex and Public Services Wine & Whisky Bar. Vann was also named 1st Runner Up by the judges. Matt Crawford of State of Grace and La Lucha earned both the People's Choice award and was named 2nd Runner Up.


The event benefits the Periwinkle Foundation which develops and provides programs to add positive change in the lives of children, young adults and families that are facing challenges from cancer and other life-threatening illnesses while being cared for at Texas Children’s Hospital.



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Tasting at l'armangia

On my recent trip to Piemonte, everything I thought I knew about how long you can hold Moscato d’Asti was challenged at a tasting at l’armangia. The translator for our Grappa group in Asti gave us the option of touring the city or going to her brother's family winery and doing a tasting there. The group voted unanimously for more wine. 

We arrived in the municipality of Canelli for our tasting. We had previously learned that the family has a winemaking history that began in 1850 though they had been grape growers for at least a hundred years before. They now have approximately 25 acres of vineyards in Canelli, Moasca, and San Marzano Oliveto located between Langhe and Monferrato.

Winemaker and owner, Ignazio Giovine, greeted us. He shared that he farms with respect for the environment. He encourages biodiversity in the vineyards with indigenous plants. He explained that he prefers to use low levels of sulfites and minimal intervention in his production. He has wine featured in the upcoming Slow Wine 2019 Guide as well. 

What we weren't expecting was a vertical tasting of Moscato d’Asti wines from several vintages ranging from 2017-1995 but first, we started with a dry red. 

Vignali Nizza DOCG Riserva 2015 - This Barbera wine is sourced from old vineyards in Nizza and aged in new oak barrels for 12 months followed by additional aging for 10 months in large oak casks. Full bodied with great depth and freshness with fruity aromas and flavors of red berries and plum with notes of tobacco and coffee and a hint of almond in the lingering finish.

Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2017 - Classic aromas and flavors of citrus blossom, lemon zest, peach, sage, and honey, fresh and effervescent.Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2015 - Still fresh and sparkling with aromas and flavors of citrus blossom, pear, kumquat, sage, and honey.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2008 - Alive and well, but lighter, with hints of lemongrass and ginger with a tropical fruit flavor, and a fresh, sweet citrus finish.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 2007 - Cork issue. Slightly flat with light notes of peach and lemongrass. 
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 1997 - Baked peach aromas and flavors but the bubbles and floral aromas had disappeared over its 21 years. This was the last bottle left of this vintage.
Moscato d'Asti DOCG Canelli 1995 - Caramelized pineapple aromas and flavors but also lacking any spritz or floral notes, very similar to the '97. This vintage was a cool year and the first that he had bottled under the L'Armangia label.

Mesicaseu Vendemmia Tardiva 2016 - This wine is a blend of 75% Moscato Bianco Canelli and 25% Chardonnay. Very floral with perfumed aromas and sweet tropical fruit flavors.

This was a very interesting tasting for me. In wine classes, I had always been told to drink Moscato d'Asti wines when they are young and I had never deviated from that advice. I assumed the wines would either fall apart or have off-flavors if aged. This was not true in this retrospective line up. Before we started the tasting, Giovine confirmed the wines do change after two and a half to three years and may not display typical Moscato aromas and flavors, but, as time goes on, the wines will evolve again into the more pleasant profiles that we enjoyed here.
All the wines are highly recommended.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Tasting with Stefano Ricagno of Cuvage in Asti


I recently went on a Grappa tour that ended in the town of Asti which is located in the Piemonte region in northern Italy. The area is famous for Asti Spumante, a sweet, aromatic sparkler, that is often enjoyed at celebrations due to its easy drinking characteristics. Our group set out to enjoy a sparkling finish to our tour with 5th generation winemaker, Stefano Ricagno at Cuvage.  

He led us through the winemaking area where they are producing both Asti DOCG wines as well as Metodo Classico wines. Traditionally, the sparkling wines of the region have been made in the Martinotti method which is also known as Charmat. Federico Martinotti was a native of Piemonte so the local winemakers prefer to acknowledge and pay respect to him. He actually invented the method for making sparkling wine in a closed vat in 1895 while French winemaker, Eugene Charmat, would apply the concept on a more industrial level a little over a decade later and his name would become more well known. Metodo Classico means making wines sparkling in the same way they are made in Champagne with a second fermentation in the bottle. 

As we walked through the winery, we stopped at a tank and Stefano Ricagno served up samples of the Canelli Bianco Moscato juice. This type of white Moscato is indigenous to the town of Canelli in the Asti province. He shared that linalool is the name of the distinct aroma. Linalool is a naturally occuring terpene alcohol that can be found in some flowers and spice plants, it gives the wines a white flower or citrus blossom character. The juice was deliciously drinkable but we saved some of it to take back into the tasting room where three wines awaited us. All were from the Acquesi line and all were made from the same Canelli juice.

In the tasting room:
Acquesi Moscato d'Asti CasaritoIntensely aromatic and fresh, it differs from other Asti DOCG wines in that the fermentation process is halted when the alcohol content reaches about 5% by volume. Moscato d’Asti is not a true Spumante though it still has a lively sparkle. It has a sweet taste, but is not cloying, it tastes more like a ripe peach, than candy. This wine showed notes of honeysuckle, white peach and mint, with a fresh, juicy finish.

Acquesi Asti SpumanteAsti Spumante is often seen at celebrations due to its easy drinking characteristics. With moderate alcohol, a distinctive aroma and a well-balanced, natural sweetness, this wine has a lot to offer. Crisp, aromatic, lightly sweet and juicy, this off-dry wine is fully sparkling with a persistent mousse and fresh, lightly fruity flavors, with a slight savoriness and a bit of white pepper over honeyed peach flavors.

Acquesi Asti Secco - Light, crisp, and dry with a persistent mousse and more delicate aromas of apricot and citrus blossom with flavors of pear, mint and a slight nuttiness in the lingering finish.

Following our tasting room experience, we headed out into the neighboring vineyard in Strevi where Stefano Ricagno showed examples of some of the local grapevines, Moscato, Barbera, and Brachetto. We had the opportunity to taste some grapes off the vine and take in some beautiful views. After our vineyard tour, we went to lunch in Acqui Terme at Ristorante La Curia. Stefano ordered an antipasti array to enjoy while we continued our tasting which included a sampling of three local dishes: rabbit salad, Russian salad, and calamari on creamy basil. My entree of truffled risotto arrived in time to enjoy with the second Cuvage wine.

At the table:
Acquesi Rosé Brut - Dry and crisp with a delicate mousse and cranberry flavors with a slight salinity to the finish.
Cuvage Brut Rosé - This wine is made from 100% Nebbiolo in the same way as Champagne, called Metodo Classico in Italy, this wine had a persistent mouse with red fruit notes and hints of bread.
Cuvage Cuvage Pas Dosage - No dosage sparkling wine also made Metodo Classico from 60% Pinot Nero, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Nebbiolo. This wine spent 36 months on its lees giving it freshness and a fuller body. With bakery notes and baking spices, this crisp, dry, sparkler has a distinct mineral finish from the limestone soils where the vines are grown.

An assortment of local cheese arrived to the table to enjoy with a sweet Asti Spumante. This wine is made by Stefano's family. The wine is made from 100% white Canelli Moscato from Alto Monferrato.
Ca’ dei Mandorli - Sweet and sparkling with notes of honey and sage.
The decandent lunch would end with a final course of a simple dessert similar to peanut brittle, but made from hazelnuts, Torrone di Nocciole . This was served with a local sweet Piemonte Moscato Passito wine from Pizzorni. No notes on this wine, but it was a delicious finale to our visit.

Monday, October 1, 2018

EX TERRA Wines from Fall Creek Vineyards

Last week, I had the opportunity to taste some current releases from Fall Creek Vineyards at a media event in Houston with owners, Ed and Susan Auler, Director of Winemaking, Sergio Cuadra, and Director of Operations, Ame Brewster.

The big news they wanted to share is the release of a new premium line called Ex Terra which translates to "From the Earth". The three single varietal, single vineyard wines will be sold primarily through their tasting rooms but will also have some placement on higher end restaurant lists. All three wines in the line are sourced from the Salt Lick Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country in Driftwood. Ed Auler was quick to comment, "We have to give so much credit to Salt Lick for growing these grapes and so much credit to Sergio for making these wines."

Salt Creek Vineyards was originally planted in 2005. It is a unique growing area due to the fact that it sits at a bend near Onion Creek. This creek meanders all around the Hill Country before emptying into the Colorado River. The creek tends to catch a lot of different soils from the region and during floods they get deposited down into the valley below. The mix of soils contributes to the high quality of the grapes that are grown there.


Cuadra discussed the potential of the Hill Country which not only includes this great diversity of soil types but also the different hillside exposures and unique pockets of special micro-climates that haven't been fully explored yet. Recent years have seen tremendous growth throughout the area with greater knowledge leading to better variety and terroir pairings. Ed made the point that it has taken time to figure out which variety should go where. "What if people had showed up and drilled a hundred holes in Texas looking for oil and come up empty? They could have easily believed there was no oil here and what a wrong assumption that would have been. I think that is a great comparison to early grape plantings. It has taken a lot of trial and error but Texas can do it and can be competitive with the world's important wine regions."

All three of the new wines are from the 2016 vintage which Cuadra describes as a low yield but very high quality year. "We had envisioned a project like this,' he shared, "the concept was to revamp what we have done until now. The wines were carefully aged in the winery over 18 months in different types of barrels and these three wines are the best wines we have ever made."

Cuadra joined Fall Creek Vineyards in 2013. After working with the grapes from Salt Lick Vineyards, he had noticed the good consistency despite the weather. Then came 2016 which was an almost perfect year with under an inch of rain per rain event happening at almost regular ten day intervals, this continued for almost all of spring and through midsummer. The vineyard area remained fairly dry from midsummer through harvest. He believed the even higher quality of the 2016 vintage had a lot to do with water intake and he now believes that it can be recreated in dry years. "Unlike in Europe, irrigation is a tool that we can use to maintain this type of quality from year to year."

The Wines

All three wines are 100% of the named grape and were sourced from the Salt Lick Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country off of clay and loam that sits above weathered limestone, the top soils are deep and nutrient rich from past flooding of Onion Creek. They are each priced at $100 per bottle.
EX TERRA Syrah 2016 - This wine was aged 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Fresh, fruity, and lively with mixed berries and a smoky note, this medium+ bodied dry red has ripe tannins that are already well integrated with a persistent peppery finish. Ed Auler stated, "This was our first time to bottle single varietal Syrah but it sure won't be our last." Cuadra added, "I know this wine will evolve beautifully over the next ten years. Only 44 cases were produced.
EX TERRA Mourvèdre 2016 - Cuadra shared that this wine project began with no agenda as far as the wood aging. They did a lot of experimenting with both new and used barrels in both French and American Oak. After tasting each and blending different amounts to make several different samples, they determined the best was a blend of everything they had done. No matter how many ways they tried it, "Blending everything was always better," Cuadra proclaimed. Brewster added, "This is a Mourvèdre with finesse that I haven't really seen before, it's livelier, not as dense, dark and brooding as many that I've had. It's less rustic and more refined." This full-bodied, dry red displayed a mix of plum and berry aromas and flavors with freshly turned earth and what I had written down as hints of root beer that Brewster noted as sarsaparilla in the winery's tasting note, also fresh and smooth with polished tannins and a lingering finish. 134 cases were produced.
EX TERRA Tempranillo - This wine was confined to just three barrels, all American oak, two new and one used. Brewster noted, "After several years of making single varietal Tempranillo, this wine stands out as a distinctive wine worthy of this higher tier." Aromatically complex with cherry and plum fruit, black tea, and dried leaves, this full-bodied dry red has a distinctive tannic structure with a lengthy smoky yet still fruit-filled finish. Only 72 cases were produced.

This new line of premium wines also received a packaging upgrade with heavier bottles, longer corks and a new label featuring a topographical map to showcase the vineyard's terroir. After receiving more accolades from Ed and Susan Auler, Cuadra wrapped up the tasting modestly noting, "Modern winemaking with accurate analysis is crucial in winemaking today yet they had none of those things in the past and they could still make great wines. It's important to not let all that control take away from how good the wine can just be."

Undoubtedly, the EX TERRA wines from Fall Creek showcase what a skilled winemaker can do with high quality grapes from exceptional terroir, all are fresh and elegant examples and all are highly recommended.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Celebrating 50 Years with Vini d'Abruzzo


The 50th anniversary of the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC is this year and select winemakers went on a tasting tour in Houston, Toronto, and Boston. They kicked the celebration off with a seminar in Houston featuring local Italian wine expert and blogger, Jeremy Parzen, and Texas-based but Italian born sommelier and geologist, Osvaldo Pascolini.

Pascolini, a Master of Terroir, first led the group through the geologic features that make the Abruzzo region ideal for wine production. Abruzzo is located between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso and Majella massifs. This short distance between the coast and the mountains create the unique conditions that help to produce high quality grapes. The diurnal swing, or change in temperature from day to night, helps the grapes to fully ripen while still maintaining their natural acidity. The good ventilation and ideal amount of rainfall also contribute to the quality of the fruit produced. The region has more environmentally protected land than anywhere else in Italy with three National Parks and over ten nature preserves. This concern for the land is translated into the wines with most being sustainably produced and many being fully organic or biodynamic.

Though there are a substantial number of younger or next generation producers, their hearts remain with their land's history and their focus is on their indigenous grapes. The Montepulciano grape variety is the most important and most widely planted in Abruzzo and was the star of the guided tasting. Also important, is Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo, a deeply colored rosé made from the same Montepulciano grapes along with fresh white wines made from Trebbiano, Pecorino, Passerina, Cococciola, and Montonico. While some of these grapes are not well known, the wines produced from them are definitely worth exploring.

After the seminar, Parzen invited James DeLeon to join him onstage for the guided tasting. Deleon is a favorite on the Houston wine scene, he has achieved level 3 status in the Court of Master Sommeliers and is instrumental in leading other sommeliers to success through the notoriously difficult testing process.

The Tasting:

Il Feuduccio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 1999 - Always a treat to taste older wines, this nineteen year old beauty showed the attendees the exceptional aging potential of these wines. From a hillside vineyard located over 1400 feet above sea level on a mix of clay and calcareous soils, this unfiltered red was fermented in stainless steel vats followed by 12 months of barrel aging in French oak before bottle aging. Parzen stated that he put this first in the lineup because he felt "It is time to stop thinking of Montepulciano only as a by the glass wine, they can be collectible." The wine was fresh and vibrant with black cherry and floral notes of rose and violet, with hints of dried apricot and leather in the lingering silky finish.
While this vintage is not available for sale, I also tasted the 2014 at the walk around tasting afterwards. Knowing its aging potential and that it is priced around $24, it is one to purchase multiple bottles to both drink now and also to try to hold. The younger version was loaded with dark fruit, tobacco and a bit of truffle, it was velvety and absolutely delicious as well.

Dora Sarchese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva "Rosso di Macchia" 2005 - This is the top wine of this small producer. Fresh and aromatic on the nose with violet, cherry and licorice, the bright cherry flavors matched through the persistent spicy finish. DeLeon enjoyed the well-integrated tannic structure and stated the aroma profile was "like walking into a spice shop". Parzen commented on the crowd pleasing nature of the 13 year old wine.

Collefrisio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Semis" 2012 - This winery is the collaboration of two friends whose intent was to stretch the limits and show the great potential of Montepulciano. It was loaded with blackberry and cherry with notes of clove and black pepper with velvety tannins and a lengthy finish. This wine was more concentrated due to its lengthy maceration period. Parzen commented on its youthfulness stating "it's on fire right now."

Cascina del Colle Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Mammut" 2014 - This winery is centered between the sea and the mountains, they practice organic grape growing and are working towards certification. Rich and beautifully textured with aromas and flavors of mixed berries and a bit of chocolate. Deleon described it as "an interesting combination of chewy fruit and a soft plummy finish."
I also enjoyed their Terre di Chieti Pecorino "La Canale" 2017, it was fresh and intense.

Tenuta Arabona Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Manus Plere" 2014 - Also located between the coast and the mountains, this winery is certified organic since 1991. Fresh and fruit driven with aromas and flavors of sweet ripe cherries with a touch of dried herbs. It had a grippier tannic structure and a bit of salinity in the lingering finish.


Tenuta I Fauri Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Ottobre Rosso" 2017 - This wine comes from the thirdgeneration of a wine making family located in Chieti. The grapes were fermented and aged in cement vats which is a very traditional production method in Abruzzo. Fresh and fruity with pomegranate and cherry, a bit more rustic with a big structure and a crisp, dry finish.
I also tasted both the Pecorino and Cerasuolo from Tenuta I Fauri, both are fresh, delicious, and very easy drinking. Parzen stated the Tenuta I Fauri Cerasuelo "Baldovino" 2017 was one of his standouts from the walk around tasting.


Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva "Caroso" 2013 - The grapes for this wine were hand selected from the top properties of this cooperative. Mulberry, licorice and balsamic aromas and flavors mingled through the velvety tannins through the persistent finish. Deleon commented on the wine, "Value is key here, high quality at a great price."

Cantina Frentana Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva "60 Anni" 2015 - Also from a cooperative, this group is celebrating their 60th anniversary together and this bottle is named for that purpose. Though fully dry, it had a sweet fruit concentration of mixed berries with a touch of chocolate and spice through the smooth, lingering finish.

After the tasting, DeLeon noted, "Montepulciano is a grape not everyone knows but it deserves recognition. The wines it creates are so expressive and well structured." While Parzen concluded, "I love these wines, its what my wife, Tracie, and I drink regularly. All of these wines are confident and happy to be what they are, very Italian."

Unfortunately, I did not get to taste everything offered at the walk around afterward.
Other Abruzzo wines of note that I did try were:
Frentana Pecorino Costa del Mulino 2017 - Crisp and fresh with citrus and peach notes.
Tenuta Terraviva Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo "Giusi" 2017 - Aromatic and juicy with a pomegranate flavor.
Di Sipio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 - Elegant and intense with cherry/berry and licorice. DeLeon shared that he was also a big fan of all of the Di Sipio wines.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Rediscover: Grenache - A Wine Tasting at Pappas Bros



As I get to go to a lot of professional wine tastings, I tend to not really enjoy many consumer wine events, they are often loud and rowdy. An exception to the rule is the events held by Pappas Bros. Steakhouse. They always draw a good wine loving crowd and they are always top quality in regards to the selected wines they serve, and even more importantly, the sommeliers that pour at the events are incredibly knowledgeable. The wine dinners are some of the best that are offered in Houston and are always worth the splurge.

My daughter and I attended the Rediscover: Grenache wine tasting at the original location on Westheimer last week. The event showcased a wide variety of Grenache-based wines from around the world with the added bonus of delicious hors d'oeuvres throughout the tasting. Some of our favorite passed snacks on this evening were the morel and parmesan foam risotto with black truffles and the dry-aged Colorado lamb with lentils and braised Napa Cabbage on pomme gaufrette.

Table 1 was manned by Lindsay Thomas, she was pouring wines from Spain.
Comando G "La Bruja de Pozas" 2016 - Lively and aromatic with a fresh strawberry character, Thomas shared that this wine hails from bio-dynamically farmed high elevation vineyards outside of Madrid in Castilla y Leon. The 50-80 year old vines sit on sandy granitic soil which adds to the elegant nature of the wine.
Envínate "Albahra Almansa 2016 - With notes of mixed berries, cloves and freshly turned earth, this wine is one of a collection of wines from four friends that studied enology together. The wine is a blend of 70% Garnacha Tintorera and 30% Moravia Agria, a rare Spanish grape used for blending that adds acidity. The 30-50 year old vines are grown organically on a mix of limestone, clay and sand in high elevation vineyards, resulting in a spicy, mineral laced wine.
Sara and René Viticultors "Partida Bellvisos" Priorat 2010 - Showing black raspberry, balsamic, and slate, this wine is produced by a husband and wife team who work the land organically. The wine is a blend of Carignan and Garnacha made in what Thomas
describes as a more classic style for the area, it was richer and more powerful than the previous wines. The grapes were sourced from a steeply sloped vineyard that had been abandoned for forty years due to the difficulty in working the land. While other winemakers saw the area as too arduous to consider, this couple viewed it as an opportunity to gain a pristine growing area which has no neighbors and where chemicals have never been used.

Table 2 had Robert Smith pouring wines frôm France's Rhone Valley.
Domaine des Tours Vins de Pays de Vaucluse 2011 - With black cherry, tobacco, and black pepper notes, Smith said, "This wine is aromatic and flavorful, it reminds me a lot of Burgundy in style, it's just an incredible wine." He shared that it was a blend of mostly Grenache with Syrah, Counoise, and a bit of Merlot. Fresh, silky, and peppery, it was a delight to taste.
Domaine Gramenon "La Sagesse" Côtes du Rhône 2014 - Showing mixed berries, dried flowers, and a touch of barnyard, Smith shared that this 100% Grenache wine has a sad story behind it. Owner Michèle Aubèry-Laurent started to produce wine with her winemaker husband in 1990, a tragic accident less than a decade later, left her not only in charge of their three children but also heading up a winery and vineyards. She quickly proved that she was more than up to the task. Currently, she works with their now grown son using organic and biodynamic methods in their old vine
vineyard with low intervention methods in the cellar. Smooth, concentrated, ripe and spicy, only happiness is found in the glass.
Domaine de Mourchon "Family Reserve" Côtes du Rhône Villages-Séguret 2012 - Full of ripe cherry character with some vanilla and spice, this 100% Grenache wine comes from the most important estate in the village. The vines are grown on sandstone soils on a steep, terraced vineyard. Full bodied, supple and complex, the wine lingers with a stony minerality.

Table 3 featured Houston's newest Master Sommelier, Steven McDonald, pouring wines from the prestigious Grenache region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Domaine de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2016 - A buoyant wine with roasted plums and Asian spices, McDonald shared that he believed 2016 to be "an amazing vintage for the region." He shared that the winery is run by two sisters, their family being some of the first to introduce biodynamic farming practices to the area. McDonald described the wine as "a very pretty wine, very Burgundian in style." Full bodied, fresh, and rich with a light floral note, it was quite beautiful, indeed.
Domaine du Caillou "Les Quartz" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2015 - Aromatic with ripe black fruit and notes of incense, this domaine is also run by two sisters. It is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah that is grown on sandy soils with quartzite. McDonald explained that the winery is located at the site of an old hunting lodge that was built in the 1930's by a gentleman with far more interest in hunting than in wine. As the designated boundaries for the wine region were being drawn, he chased off the officials with a shotgun. Today, if you look at a map of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, there is a missing chunk and that is where the property sits. While the vineyard for this wine is located in the legally designated area, McDonald shared that the domaine also makes wines under the Côte du Rhone label that are also of amazing quality. Velvety and rich but also with an elegant freshness, it was a wine to linger over.
Henri Bonneau "Réserve des Célestins" Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2011 - With smoked black fruit, licorice, and hints of barnyard, McDonald shared this wine's first vintage had been in 1956 by a man who many consider to be one of the master blenders of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Henri Bonneau. Bonneau died just two years ago, he was deemed a legend in the area. McDonald explained that 2011 was considered "a very tricky vintage for the region" but that Bonneau was considered a genius at making the most of the more difficult years. With ripe berry aromas and flavors, the wine had great depth through the smoky, mineral finish, a splurge purchase on a great year now seems like a very good idea.


Table 4 was overseen by Morgan Gray who was pouring Australian Grenache.
Sucette Barossa Valley 2015 - With bright strawberry, orange spice, and white pepper nuances, Gray enthusiasticly shared, "I love this one." She described it as concentrated, spicy, yet very easy drinking. The wine is sourced from 80-100 year old vines grown in sandy soil and spends about 10 months aging in neutral oak. Floral, feminine, and elegant, the wine was easy to consume, indeed.
Cirillo "The Vincent - Survivor Vine" Barossa Valley 2015 - With red currant, hibiscus, and sweet cinnamon notes, Gray explained that this wine came from a self-sustained biodynamic estate which has a very small production, she stated, "In my opinion, they are making very premium wines." We agreed with her assessment of this fresh and energetic wine.
Twelftree Wines "Schuller-Blewitt Springs" McLaren Vale 2013 - Roasted meat, rhubarb, and menthol were present in this offering from Michael Twelftree, one of the partners of Two Hands. Smooth and juicy with a bigger structure, it sent us in search of one of the meatier hors d'oeuvres.


Table 5 was the final stop on the Grenache tour where Chris Havens poured two from California and one from South Africa.
Habit "Demetria Vineyard" Santa Ynez Valley 2017 - Fruit forward with raspberry, cherry, and spice, Havens shared that this was a small production wine that was fermented in vats with 20% whole clusters used. He said he enjoyed the "bright red, crunchy fruit character and the beautiful aromatics." The nose was bursting with red fruit notes from cranberry to pomegranate to raspberry and cherry though the flavor profile was a bit lighter than expected.
Eben Sadie "Soldaat" Swartland 2015 - An interesting profile of brambly red fruit, wilted rose petal and a granitic minerality was delivered in a lighter, elegant style. Havens described the winemaker and vineyards as "a very well respected producer whose vines are grown on granitic soils which is everything Grenache loves." A bit of a smoky meat nuance lingered through the finish.
Saxum Vineyards "James Berry Vineyard" Willow Creek District 2015 - Showing notes of black currant, mulberry, baking spice, and pepper, this complex wine hails from a small district in Paso Robles that sits at a higher elevation with a cooler climate on the western side of the region. Havens credits the blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, and Counoise which are all vinified separately with the Grenache in concrete while the others are in small French oak barrels for the intricateness of the wine.

It was, as expected, a top notch evening of food and wine with excellent service.

Don't miss out on these upcoming Pappas Bros wine events scheduled in Houston.
September 28 - Pinot for the People at the Downtown location.
October 2 - Master's Wine Tasting at the Galleria location on Westheimer.
November 7 - Heitz Cellar Wine Dinner also at the Galleria location on Westheimer.
Book online at PappasBros.com

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Winemaker, Andrés Sánchez of Alcance


I was invited to a media and trade tasting lunch at Backstreet Cafe with Andrés Sánchez, the winemaker for Alcance, a Jackson Family winery. As guests arrived, we were greeted with a glass of lightly chilled Alcance Chardonnay 2016, a perfect start for a hot summer day in Houston.
This rich and elegant Chardonnay is grown on granitic soils in a coastal mountain vineyard in the Valle de Itata. Despite my multiple wine classes, this was a growing area with which I was not familiar. This vineyard is located between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean about 12 miles from the coast which as Sánchez pointed out adds a nice sea influence to the wine. The Chardonnay was pleasantly fresh with light citrus notes and a touch of butterscotch with a distinct saline mineralty throughout the slightly creamy finish. 

A mixed appetizer platter with Gulf Coast Beignets, duck spring rolss, asparagus and zuchini flatbread, and lump crab cakes on red pepper beurre blanc were brought out to the group as Sánchez continued. The Alcance story begins in 1988 when Jess Jackson and son-in-law, Don Hartford came down to Chile in search of land. Jackson, who had founded Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in 1982 was seeking a new project. Sánchez recalls Jackson telling him to "forget everything you think you know about grape growing for wine in Chile," and more importantly, "don't listen to others, go out and taste the land." After a thorough search of the country and tasting wines from everywhere, the group rented a winery and made their first wine in 1993. Sánchez said the wines in today's lineup were the reflection of that search. 

Our next pour was the Alcance Merlot 2015 from the El Maitén vineyard in the Valle del Maule. This vineyard area lies west of Talca, the region's largest city. Sánchez stated that this growing area has clay-rich soils that Merlot loves. The wine itself is gently treated with only 10% seeing 18 months in new French Oak resulting in a lighter, fresher style of Merlot bursting with dark plum character with a soft, lush finish. As we tasted, burrata with grilled peppers, eggplant, olives, and tomatoes on pesto with pita bread arrived to the table. 

Next up was the Alcance Carmenère 2014. Sánchez started by questioning how the grape could have been confused with Merlot in Chile for so long. His own experience has shown how very different the two grapes actually are from both the appearance of the leaves and the grapes and even more telling the difference in the ripening schedule. He mentioned that the Merlot is typically harvested in mid to late March while the Carmenère is picked in the middle of May, over a month and a half difference. He discussed how he finds the grape somewhat difficult to work with as picking too early can create a wine with heavy green notes and despite his best efforts it can also have a bit of a hollow feeling mid-palate that requires an added bit of Cabernet Sauvignon for more substance. I found the wine to be nicely spicy with no green notes, primarily aromas and flavors of ripe blackberries with a black pepper note through the lengthy finish. This wine was also sourced from the El Maitén Estate Vineyard.


My red pear salad with red lettuce, bleu cheese, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, and pomegranate in balsamic vinaigrette arrived as the Alcance Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 was poured. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from their El Principal Vineyard in the Maipo Valle. This wine exhibited classic Cabernet aromas and flavors and was definitely ready to drink now. The gentleman across the table from me had ordered the red corn chicken enchiladas, a Backstreet Cafe favorite, which comes with corn pudding and green beans, which he was kind enough to share with me as he was enjoying it so much with the wine.

The next pour was the Bravura 2013. This proprietary red blend's name means courage in Spanish though it takes no bravery to enjoy this wine.The label was inspired by a Chilean dance. Though the nose was a bit austere, the wine had good structure with a a nice freshness and dense tannins with a persistent mixed berry finish. The wine is a Bordeaux blend that is sourced from the highest quality areas of the Maipo Valley Estate, it is only produced in the best years and always in limited quantities.

As the final wine, the Alcance Vigno Carignan 2014, was poured, seared lamb chops with sautéed arugula and savory bread pudding arrived for the entire group to taste alongside. Sánchez shared that Carignan was commonly grown in the Valle Del Maule in the 1940s. He stated that the variety is even mentioned in historical Chilean wine books from over a hundred years ago though no one is sure who originally brought the vines over. He founded an organization that includes fourteen high quality growers called the VIGNO Association of Chile with the goal of promoting old vine Carignon that has been head pruned and dry-farmed. Sánchez oversees fourteen acres of Carignan that are approximately 50-70 years old. The wine was definitely a welcome surprise for the table with its light floral nose with juicy red berry flavors, refined tannins, fresh acidity, and a lingering finish. It was a perfect pairing with the lamb chops.

It was a great pleasure to meet Andrés Sánchez and to learn more about Chile. Sánchez was born in Santiago but now lives in the city of Talca. He has watched the country change and grow and enjoys life in the less populated area in which he now lives. The stories he shared and the wines we tasted were as he said, "A neat way to understand Chile from a different perspective."