Thursday, May 21, 2015

Chablis Class & Tasting with Guy Stout MS

Guy Stout M.S. taught an informative and delicious class on Chablis to a full house of Houston wine professionals earlier this month. The focus was the terroir of the region and how the wines are influenced by it. 

Grapevines have been cultivated and wines have been made in the area since the first century when the Romans came through France. Vineyards improved in the 11th century when Cistercian monks arrived from the Loire Valley. They planted the first Chardonnay vines that would eventually spread as the white grape of choice throughout Burgundy. The region as we know it now was officially established in 1938 with the birth of the Chablis AOC.

Currently, there are about 7,500 acres under vine in Burgundy's northernmost region. The current generation of winemakers has improved their production methods to bring the quality standard up from a quality slump in the mid-20th century. The goal is to create a pure expression of Chardonnay through the use of concrete or fiberglass vats and stainless steel tanks for fermentation. There is limited use of barrels which are predominantly neutral.

Climate changes are raising grape ripeness levels and bringing fruitier nuances to the wines across the board though frost remains the main concern during the early growing season. The still cool climate gives the wines the racy acidity for which the region is known.

The famous limestone soils of the region are known for giving a mineral edge to the wines. There are two types of soils in the vineyard areas. The more highly regarded Kimmeridgian with its mix of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells tends to create a more distinct mineral or flint character to the wines while the younger Portlandian soils, though similar, allow for a fruitier aspect to the wines. The Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards all sit on Kimmeridgian soil.

Fun fact- Chardonnay is also known as Beaunois is the region.

The Tasting:

2013 Louis Michel & Fils Petit Chablis- Sourced from areas with more sandy silt in the soil, this more affordable offering was fresh and easy drinking with citrus aromas and flavors and a stony note smoothed out with a slight autolytic character which added a bit of creaminess to the wine. Serve as an aperitif  or with  goat cheese or puff pastry appetizers.

2012 Maison Simonnet-Febvre Chablis- Dry, crisp, accessible with a ripe grapefruit character and a bit of nuttiness and minerality in the fresh finish. Serve with grilled fish or Asian  cuisine.

2011 Louis Michel & Fils ‘Butteaux’ Premier Cru Chablis- Dry, fresh and lively, a bit more angular; aromas and flavors of apple pastry with a mineral edged finish. Serve with grilled oysters or escargot.

2011 Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fevre ‘Vaulorent’ Premier Cru Chablis- Dry, richer with floral notes with sweet citrus aromas and tropical fruit flavors and a long distinct mineral finish. Serve with poultry or fish with heavier sauce.

2012 Domaine Vocoret et Fils ‘Blanchot’ Grand Cru Chablis- Dry, rich and creamy with aromas of citrus blossom and aromas and flavors of baked pear with a long, distinct mineral finish. Serve with lobster or foie gras. Guy Stout pronounced it, "Big, rich and delicious." I thoroughly agree.

All the wines were dry with a clean, refreshing acidity and pureness of flavor; each one is highly recommended. 



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Lady of the House - Margrit Mondavi

One of the highlights of this trip to Napa Valley was the opportunity to meet Mrs. Robert Mondavi, the Vice President of Cultural Affairs at the winery that bears her husband's name. I was introduced to her at the dedication of their newest art addition. The piece was placed in front of the main entrance to honor the mind that had originally imagined and then overseen all that each visitor views upon their approach.

Margrit Biever Mondavi was instrumental in the selection of this bust of Robert Mondavi, a fittingly larger-than-life rendition of the head of the man whose mind had long ago envisioned the Napa that we see today. She discussed with me the initial difficulty in choosing the right piece of art to honor her husband as the founder of the winery.

She had originally considered a life-sized depiction of him standing with a glass of wine in his hand welcoming all who came, a memory that all who knew him would have certainly cherished. She ultimately decided that his vision, his ideas, were the greater statement on who Robert Mondavi was so she commissioned the bust to be created by artist Len Urso.

Keeping the spirit of Robert Mondavi alive and well is Margrit Biever Mondavi's greatest passion. He is still seemingly overseeing much at the winery today. His hospitality is displayed when servers bring out Moscato d'Oro slushies with dessert and quickly explain that this is purposefully done, this is how Mr. Mondavi preferred it. This well-placed faith in his decision making continues throughout. You hear it from the head winemaker as well when she discusses both grape growing and wine making decisions originally made by Mr. Mondavi that are still followed today to always ensure his preferred style.

Many that were in attendance at the dedication remembered the man that they called Bob. He was seen as a friend and neighbor throughout the region. His ideas about Napa Valley and the wines that would come to be made here were visionary. Margrit Mondavi's choice to have this thought-full man's visage oversee the comings and goings of the guests arriving to the winery while at the same ensuring their view is of the man who had the idea is a truly fitting tribute.

Together the couple supported the arts in the community at every level and you can see their devotion on display throughout the buildings and across the beautiful grounds. Margrit Mondavi created the concert programs that benefitted the Napa Valley Symphony and Opera. She brought chefs in from France and from across America to showcase the magic of food and wine pairing. The couple wanted to give their winery guests an opportunity to build a greater appreciation of both the wine and the culinary arts.

Many of the Food and Wine Experiences that are available today were born of her endeavors. Her sketches adorn the tops of the menus for these events. She continues her support of the arts across Napa Valley while continuing to oversee that the vision of both her husband and herself remains realized. The lady of the house was definitely in and she was a pleasure to meet.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quicktake Tour of To Kalon Vineyard

I was fortunate to be able to tour the famous To Kalon Vineyard by bike with Peter Alig, Wine Education Coordinator at Robert Mondavi Winery, along with some other journalists, during my most recent stay in Napa Valley. 

I had a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the vineyard and the wines that come from this special place along the way. 

That is the bike tour guide in my photo on the left.  Peter is on the video. You can set up your own bike tour through the same group that we used, Napa Valley Bike Tours during your next trip to Napa Valley. 

Here is a quicktake tour of what I saw along our ride. 

Edit- Video is no longer available.

Notes from "A Taste of Oakville" Master Class

"A Taste of Oakville" Master Class was held last Monday at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Wine professionals came from around the country to learn more about the terroir of the Oakville AVA and to taste how that environment affects the wines which come the vines that grow here.

Giles De Chambure, M.S. began the introduction of the 5,275 acre region where Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape. It shares space with all the Bordeaux varieties and numerous others as well. Oakville was granted its appellation status in 1993 though grapes were grown here long before then. The region's mid-valley location is the home to many of Napa Valley's most distinguished brands.

Graeme MacDonald, 4th generation grower, took to the floor to discuss the history of the region with a focus on the long growing vineyard area, To Kalon. The name is of Greek origin and translates to "highest beauty". Hamilton Crabb, known as the "wine king of the Pacific Slope" planted 400 different grape varieties in the Napa area in the mid 1800's to try to determine which were best suited to the climate and soil. He created the first successful American wine brand using the To Kalon Vineyard name. The history lesson continued through the area's rise of cult wines beginning in the 1960's on up to the present.

David Howell, co-author of The Winemaker's Dance, was up next for a class on Oakville geology. He discussed the varying elevations ranging from 130-825 feet and how the surrounding mountains affect the rainfall. He talked about the 20 different soil types and how they are dispersed through the Oakville growing area. He took the history lesson back millions of years and brought us forward to today discussing how the fault line is still creating change.

Matt Ashby, Robert Mondavi's vineyard manager, discussed Oakville viticulture starting with the more uniform area 4 portion of Oakville where controlling vigor by draining water is the first concern. Other vineyard managers and winemakers stood up to continue our education throughout the tasting.



The Wine - each one, fantastic and highly recommended!

  • 2012 Franciscan Estate Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon- Structured, balanced by mid-palate, dark berry/cherry fruit, minty.
  • 2012 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - 100% To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monastery Vineyard which is dry farmed and has a higher gravel content with 2,700 vines planted per acre on St George rootstock. 100% aged in new French oak. Powerful, balanced, fruity, dark berries with a graphite/mineral finish.
  • 2012 Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from a single vineyard area with mixed alluvial fans, 45-60% aged in new French oak. Deep, balanced, beautiful, very smooth; mixed berries.
  • 2012 Far Niente Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- pure, perfumed cassis, black berry fruit.
  • 2012 Futo Oakville Estate Red Wine - From a volcanic soil site with sub-marine sediments contains 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot; more acid-driven with a mix of black and red fruit
  • 2012 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from 30 acre vineyard area with same soil which was replanted in 2005; black fruit, softer tannins
  • 2012 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Aaron Miller, head wine maker, introduced this wine. It was sourced from the estate vineyards which contain 3 different soil types all within 400 yards creating different vineyard management needs. More elegant aroma, more red fruit with sage and minerality, a concentrated dark berry finish.
  • 2012 Dalla Valle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - Winemaker Andy Erickson discussed how stressed the vines become in the rocky, red volcanic soil and how that iron gives the wine the unique mineral character. He discussed the importance of controlling the temperature and the level of extraction. Two-thirds of this wine aged in new French oak. He prefers as little racking as possible with no fining or filtering. Big, intense, tannic, black fruits, cedar, mineral finish.
After the Master Class, attendees enjoyed a luncheon prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher and then attended the full walk around tasting in Robert Mondavi's barrel room featuring all of Oakville's best wines. Get a a quicktake of the day in the video below.