DENVER – A curious thing happened last week during the Colorado Governor’s Wine Competition: The judges argued amongst themselves.
What makes this remarkable is that one, this was a regional wine competition, something not often host to strong opinions, and second, among those people stating their cases was renowned Napa winemaker Warren Winiarski, famous as the California winemaker whose Stag’s Leap Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon bested the best French wines at the 1976 Judgment of Paris, turning the wine world on its head.
What Winiarski was asserting last weekend was not whether the Colorado wines were any good – that fact already having been established in earlier rounds – but whether a certain white wine deserved a Double Gold.
“I think the wine shows great balance and wonderful winemaking skills,” Winiarski said, turning in his seat to face the 14 other judges perched around the sensory lab at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center. “This is the kind of winemaking we should be encouraging in Colorado.”
Winiarski, not surprisingly, won that particular battle and several others during the daylong judging of 190 Colorado wines (a separate judging was held a week earlier for meads, ciders and fruit wines).
The judging was to pick the best of Colorado wines and among those standouts a final 12 wines to include in the Governor’s Case, a collection of top wines used for marketing purposes.
A complete list of the medal winners will appear here when the list is released by the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board. (You can read Wine Curmudgeon Jeff Siegel’s view of the competition here.)
Winiarski was impressed enough by the wines presented during the recent tasting to push for several Double-Gold wines and a fat handful of gold medals to other wines.
“The Colorado wine industry continues to grow and improve and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted this year,” he said during a break in the judging. “The wines have come a long way, even since last year, and I think show a completeness that comes when the winemakers are figuring it out.”
Winiarski, 84, perhaps is best known in Colorado for being the winemaker behind the Ivancie Cellars label, which nearly 50 years ago became the first post-Prohibition commercial winery in Colorado.
Winiarski was working for Robert Mondavi in Napa and thinking he needed a change when he was approached by Ivancie in his quest to bring wine to middle America.
Winiarski turned out several vintages of Ivancie Cellars wine but returned to California in 1970 when he realized the demand for Colorado wine was not as strong as Ivancie’s desire to make it and Winiarski sensed the future wasn’t long for the winery, which closed in 1974.
The wines were good, he said, but “the idea just never caught fire.
“We underestimated how difficult making wine in Colorado was going to be,” a sentiment echoed even today by every winemaker in Colorado.
One of the weekend’s highlights came during dinner the second night when three of Ivancie’s children – Molly, Tom and Steve – made an unexpected appearance (Gerald Ivancie lives in Denver but wasn’t able to attend). Winiarski clearly was delighted and touched to see the threesome and they shared many poignant memories about those early days of Colorado winemaking.
At one point, the three Ivancies presented Winiarski with a precious bottle of the 1968 Ivancie Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and he cuddled the still-dark wine like a newborn baby.
“This is wonderful, marvelous,” he said. “Gerald (Ivancie) had such a great love of wine and I think he would be pleased to see where his dream has gone.”
In the world of big-time winemaking it’s rare for a winemaker to be offered the opportunity to develop her own line of wines.
It’s especially rare when a well-established name in the wine business – one that is world famous for sparkling wines – listens when a winemaker says the best to grow the brand is with a still wine.
But so it is with Gloria Collell, the bright and energetic winemaker for Mia Wines, her new line of still wines under the Friexenet umbrella.
Gloria Collell is from the small Catalan town of Sant Sadurní d´Anoia near Barcelona in the Penedes region of Spain, and for more than 20 years she has been with the Ferrer Wine Estates, part of whose portfolio includes Freixenet, the world’s biggest-selling Cava, in the distinctive black bottle.
In 2010, she was invited to sit in during one of the company’s international marketing meetings and to her surprise, the table turned to her for advice.
“They invited me because I have this knowledge about wines so we started brainstorming where the company should go,” Gloria said in a recent interview. “To me, it was evident we should develop a still wine.
“But I was quite honest with them: If we wanted to do it with the Freixenet name, we have to be consistent in quality and honest with the consumer.
If it has the Freixenet name on it, it has to be good.”
That means consistent with the level of quality consumers already know and expect from Freixenet and honest with the traditions of Spanish winemaking.
Freixenet Cava is the sparkling wine opened every day by millions of people across the globe who expect it to be consistently good and consistently affordable, and Gloria deemed it vital any still wine from Freixenet had to be the same.
“Freixenet has been opening the door to many people to the consumption of sparkling wine,” she said. “I told them we should do the same with a still wine. Be honest, easy drinking and focus on good grapes.”
The marketing department liked what it heard and went Gloria one better, offering her the chance to develop this new concept of Freixenet wines.
“And everything started from that point,” she said with a laugh. “For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the consumer and to make good wine for them and to open the door for them into a wine culture.”
“Our objective is the new wine drinker and to make approachable, fruity, easy-drinking wines,” Gloria said.
That means foregoing the long-standing D.O. [Denomination of Origin] regulations and make wine with the best Spanish grapes available.
“I wanted to make good wine and I wanted Mia to be an ambassador for Spain and Spanish grapes,” Gloria said. “So I decided we would do something with Spanish grape varieties from all over Spain.”
The Mia label (mia means mine in Spanish) appeared in 2011 and today the wines are opening doors in nearly 50 countries.
The Mia red is 100-percent Tempanillo, unoaked and spicy, with a fruit-forward style for people wanting a lighter, easy to drink red.
In keeping with the goal of using traditional Spanish grapes, Gloria makes the Mia rosé with the little-known Bobal grapes from Utiel-Requena in Valencia.
She says the Bobal is winning over consumers more familiar with the Provence style of dry rosés.
There also are two sparkling Moscatos, light and refreshing on the palate and, like most of the Mia wines, targeted for women and younger wine drinkers.
The Mia wines aren’t the first line of wines Gloria helped introduce. In 2009, the Tapeñas line of wines was introduced and while popular, Gloria felt they weren’t “unique enough.”
Instead, she said that when making Mia, “it was a relief for us not to be limited to one appellation.”
She said developing the different Mia wines took a lot of trial and error, trying new blends on her friends.
“I was bringing home (the new wines) without labels and sharing them with my friends, and some of them are really snobs,” she said, laughing. “Soon, I had the reputation of always bringing home all these obscure wines.”
And once in a while, someone would say, “You finally brought a wine I like.”
“We don’t realize that 95% of the consumers drink wine for joy,” she said. “They don’t want to know about the terroir and the climate and the soil and all those things. All they want is something pleasing to drink and good conversation.”
The Mia conversation will continue at Prowein in Dusseldorf when Mia introduces a Sangria.
“The plan is to launch three styles of Sangria, a white, red and one flavored with mojito,” Gloria said. “Sangria is something you drink when you want to relax. The Sangria moment prepares you for lunch and more serious wines.”
VERONA – With a rush, VinItaly arrived, flourished and left. In its wake are memories of great wines and some so-so wines, wonderful people (and at times too many not-so-wonderful people) and the serendipity of enjoying yourself even more that you expected.
Great wines? Almost too many to remember but here goes a shot at recalling a few: Susanna Crociani’s delightful and quite drinkable Riserva 2010 Vino Nobile de Montepulciano; Graziano Merotto’s Cuvee del Fondatore Prosecco DOCG (tre bicchieri from Gambero Rosso four years running, even though Merotto isn’t one to shout about it); Antonio Bonottto’s Raboso del Piave; Ornella Molon’s Raboso and her 2009 Merlot from 15-year old vines in Piave; Luigi Peruzetto of Casa Roma and his 2009 Malanotte, 100-percent Raboso with 15 percent of passito; Cinzia Canzian of Alice and her A Fondo Prosecco DOCG.
And many more (Ambra Teraboschi at Ca’ Lojera, Bortolomiol, Cantina Salute, Nani Rizzi, most of Franciacorta, Sorrella Branca), many of which we will discuss as the month continues. Special thanks to Silvia Loriga, the knowledgeable and extremely hospitable Event Manager for the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Sylvia walked me through a mini-history of the wine and its makers and showed me how the wine comes alive in different ways in the hands of different winemakers.
Not surprisingly there were some of the usual frustrations with the crowded VinItaly scene but this year some of those frustrations boiled over and made it into print, at least cyber-print on the Internet. Alfonso Cevola (Italian Wine Guy) had some scathing remarks and his years of VinItaly experience and vast knowledge of the Italian wine scene certainly make him someone whose opinions and comments should be honored.
And yes, the Wifi was bad, the crowds were full of young (under 25) drunks staggering around at closing time and a couple of winemakers complained about the general lack of manners. But there also were many delightful and cordial winemakers and their supporters who were willing to answer my questions, not laugh too hard at my stumbling Italian and make sure this VinItaly was a unforgettable as the previous seven.
Next time I promise to focus on the wines. But where do I start???
There really is nothing quite like VinItaly 2015, which is a blessing and a curse. It would be great (or groovy, as Dr. J would say, over @dobianchi) if there were more opportunities where states and countries brought together their best wineries and winemakers for an intense show-and-tell weekend.
But it’s a blessing they don’t – not sure I could survive more than one VinItaly or ProWein (the German version) per every 6 months.
- Today was Day 2, and my friend and ad man numero uno Patrick Casely and his talented and lovely wife Gloria Giovara let me tag along as they made the rounds of every wine region at the fair. There were many highlights, not the least of which were Patrick and Gloria and the patient winemakers and helpers who gave this visitor leeway in the foreign language area.
– Morisfarms and its delicious “Morellino di Scansano” Riserva. 90% Sangiovese, 10 each Cab Sauv and Merlot; ripe, spicy, dark red fruits, well-made and perfect balance. Only 16,000 bottles, get your order in soon.
About the name, which sounds like a corn field in Iowa: the founders of Morisfarms (originally Moorish invaders) came to Maremma from Spain more than 200 years ago and turned the undeveloped land into an extensive operation which continues to be family operated.
Verona – VinItaly came early this years, and while rain isn’t unexpected during this spring four-day gathering, the transition from late winter to early spring weather seems a bit cooler than normal.
That’s certainly not a complaint, since it’s always a thrill to arrive in this bustling north-Italy city, to see the coliseum and Castel Vecchio and stumble on fine restaurants hidden down narrow cobbly streets.
However, a comment on the weather is a suitable way to start as one of the laments heard from winemakers in northern Italy is that last year was one of the wettest vintages in memory, with rain until late August.
The sun returned in late summer but didn’t leave some winemakers with enough time to have their grapes reach the desired level of ripeness.
On the morning of Day 1 I first made a quick run through the Franciacorta region, which is one of my favorite places to start this fair, and several people remarked how their 2014 wines were a little “sharper” than normal, even in their young state.
That gave a bit more acidity to the wines, a characteristic I found pleasing and certainly makes the wines more food-friendly. Apparently a lot of people agree; by mid-morning this always popular area had people three and four deep at some of the booths.
Another oft-heard remark was the early start to VinItaly (last year’s fair was two weeks later) gave winemakers a short time between finishing and bottling their wines for presentation here in Verona.
“It’s a little young” or “It’s not ready ” was heard at many booths although there was no lack of enthusiasm for the wines from either winemakers or fairgoers.
My first day normally is a whirlwind as I get my bearings and seek out old friends and try their latest vintages. As customary, I spent most of the day on sparkling wines, from the metodo classico of Franciacorta to the tre bicchiere Prosecci of Graziano Merotto in Valdobbiadene.
I also stopped to see Ambra Tiraboschi from Ca’Lojera in Lugana, of whom I’ll write more after my visit there Saturday.
And that’s enough from Day One.
As do most people with a computer that’s turned on more than a few hours a day, I collect a lot of emails from people I don’t know.
There are bankers from Nigeria seeking my account number, lonely widows from Siberia pleading for a plane ticket to the United States, even some bookies from everywhere promising me the win of a lifetime if I only send them my Social Security number.
But I also get some emails from places and people I can’t wait to meet.
Wineries and public relations people from Italy to California send me greetings and news about the latest releases, and sometimes the FedEx guy shows up at the office with an unexpected bottle of wine. Sweet!
Mostly, though, it’s news about the wine biz, and one recent email reminded me how much I miss on the national scene by living in fly-over country.
Earlier this month, Raymond Vineyards of St. Helena, California, deep in the heart of the Napa Valley wine country, hosted Marnie Old, author, sommelier and all-around terrific wine personality, for a one-day book-signing. I couldn’t make the signing but the notice reminded me of how much I enjoy listening to Marnie Old talk about wine.
I’ve seen and listened to Old several times at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen (yes, she’s scheduled to return this year) and to me she is one of the most-talented, bouyant and unpretentious wine talkers you’ll listen to.
Her latest book is titled “Wine: A Tasting Course” and subtitled “A Class in Every Glass” (DK Penguin Random House, 2013, $25 hardcover, $15.99 ebook, 2013, 256 pages.) Old’s premise is that the best way to learn about wine is by tasting it and in this book she takes you on a visual tour of the world’s wine styles while challenging wine myths and standard orthodoxies.
The book is organized by wine styles and flavors, not grape varieties, which allows readers to learn by what’s pleasing to their palate.
This is a “learn at your own pace” book and as I moved through the book I found myself jumping ahead to future chapters with appealing topics and subjects.
The chapters cover most of the expected and necessary wine-basic topics, such as identifying wine smells and tastes, interpreting the confusing world of wine labels, proper storing and pouring of wine and more.
But Old, who formerly was director of wine studies for the well-known French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, also delves ably into the deeper stuff, such as interpreting wine styles, finding the styles that resonate with you and even tackling the daunting subject of the world’s major wine regions (alas, Colorado isn’t among those on the list).
Reading this book is almost as much fun as meeting Marnie Old in person. This may not be the only wine book you’ll ever need, but if it’s the only one you have, you won’t be sorry.
Midwinter, and while this season has been particularly mild (regrets going to all my East Coast friends), this week we honestly can say “winter” with its recent return of cold and snow finds us wandering past brown, leafless vines and waiting for the return of spring, or spring as we know it.
While there isn’t much happening in the vineyards – except the occasional pruning in preparation for the warm weather to come – the wine industry itself never sleeps.
The biggest news nationally might be the tentative resolution of the nine-month labor dispute that paralyzed 29 shipyards in California, Washington and Oregon.
This goes beyond that case of wine you’ve been expecting, the one that’s been baking in the California sun all this time; the disruption affected many agriculture groups concerned the U.S. was losing market share due to its inability to serve export markets.
It’s estimated 80 percent of waterborne U.S. red meat exports move through West Coast ports. The leader of the Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, said it would take three months “to get back a sense of normalcy.”
As you know, there’s been some talk in recent years about corks, or at least what some writers refer to as “cork taint,” a disagreeable order imparted to wood corks and then to the wine from the chemical 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, more commonly known as TCA.
TCA is a natural compound that ‘s been been described as musty, earthy or “moldy newspaper,” which as a long-time newspaper hack I may know something about.
In many cases TCA is transferred to the wine from the cork but evidently it also can be transferred through the cork rather than from it.
While it takes only nanograms of TCA to ruin a wine’s aroma and flavors, the human threshold for detecting TCA varies by several orders of magnitude depending on an individual’s sensitivity.
Some of the best wine “super-tasters” may be able to pick up TCA in the single-digit parts per trillion.
About 20 years ago, when wine producers and consumers became aware of a growing perception of TCA taint (it one time was estimated as many as three to even five out of 10 bottles were TCA tainted), the natural cork industry saw its share of the $2 billion market slip from almost 95 percent in the 1990s to currently about two-thirds of the U.S. market.
Plastic corks and screwcaps have taken over the majority of the new portion.
Recent news, however, indicates the natural cork industry is fighting back.
The industry implemented a massive quality control and testing system in response to cork taint and last year the Cork Quality Council ran over 25 thousand tests, according to a council report.
The results reportedly showed an 81-percent reduction in TCA presence compared to eight years ago.
“We live in the shadow of a lot of problems that existed 15 or 20 years ago,” Neil Foster, president of wine-closure manufacturer M.A. Silva USA, said in a recent interview with the Press-Democrat of Santa, Rosa, Cal.
M.A. Silva sells more than 100 million closures annually, ranging from 7 cents to $3 a piece.
“The reality is today’s cork is light years ahead of where it used to be based on the technology we use to test our cork,” Foster said.
Now, if someone can come up with a solution to wine ruined from sitting nine months on a freighter in the middle of the Port of Los Angeles.