Arrivederci e grazie, VinItaly.

March 28, 2015 Leave a comment


The ground-level view of VinItaly is a Taste of Excellence in every pavilion, although Venezia Giulia make the most of it here.

 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???

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Surviving the fair, booth by booth

March 25, 2015 Leave a comment


 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.
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Rainy start to an early VinItaly

March 24, 2015 Leave a comment


 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.

Other stops included the newest Bandarossa from Bortolomiol and the bright-cherry Raboso Spumante from Corvezzo.

 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.

Marnie Old tackles the matter of wine with taste, style

March 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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.

Marnie Old is a popular and entertaining speaker and presenter at the Food&Wine Classic in Aspen and her latest book is reflection of her ability to entertain and educate. audiences at  and

Marnie Old is a popular and entertaining speaker and presenter at the Food&Wine Classic in Aspen and her latest book is reflection of her ability to entertain and educate.

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.

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Ports are open and corks are closures – the world returns to normal

February 23, 2015 Leave a comment
Your wine is here. Someplace. The announcement of a tentative settlement to the nine-month strike affecting 29 West Coast ports may means a return to normal commerce soon. Photo courtesy Port of Los Angeles

Your wine is here. Someplace. The announcement of a tentative settlement to the nine-month strike affecting 29 West Coast ports may means a return to normal commerce soon. Photo courtesy Port of Los Angeles

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.

Old-vine Grenache dominates in McLaren Vale

February 1, 2015 Leave a comment
Grenache bush vines in McLaren Vale. These low-growing, head-pruned vines produce smaller, intense berries reflecting the history of wine-making in the region.

Grenache bush vines in McLaren Vale. These low-growing, head-pruned vines produce smaller, intense berries reflecting the history of wine-making in the region.

Here are some of the things I like about Australia: The vast distances between here and the horizon, the wide-open beaches and wave-pounding surf, native artists such as Stephen Hogarth of the Kamilaroi Tribe and, of course, given the scope of this blog, the wines.

My most-recent favorite is the Yangarra 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache ($24).

McLaren Vale officially is about 35 km (21 miles) south of Adelaide but you might not notice the distance because of the continuing encroachment on the area by Adelaide’s expanding suburbs.

In spite of increasing citification, the area is considered by many as the most-important wine-producing area in the Fleurieu Peninsula and certainly the Grenache stronghold of Australia.

Vines were first planted in the area in the early 1800s, shortly after Captain Arthur Phillip dropped anchor in 1788 in Sydney Cove with a ship carrying Australia’s first grape vines from Brazil and the Cape of Good Hope.

But while many wine regions around the world had an initial spurt of production but then saw the vines ripped out or starved by Prohibition, some of the McLaren Vale Grenache vines survived and today there are wines being made from vines more than 100 years old.

The Yangarra 2012 McLaren Vale Old Vine Grenache comes from vines almost 70 years old, originally planted by Frederick Arthur Smart after returning from World War II.

On the surface, little has changed since Smart, who still lives in the area, first planted his early vineyards, with dry-farmed vines thriving on the deep sandy soils and Mediterranean climate at the foot of the Southern Mount Lofty Range.

To understand what has changed calls for a deeper look.

In 2000, Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke (proprietors of Jackson Family Wines) purchased Yangarra Estate and soon appointed Peter Fraser as the winemaker and Michael Lane as viticulturist.

In 2008, the Yangarra team began farming the estate organically and in 2012 the property, according to the Yangarra press information, was certified A-grade organic as well as biodynamic.

What difference did this make in the wine?

One of the precepts behind biodynamic farming is to enliven the soil and make the organic nutrients in the soil available to the plants living there.

A press release explains that in order to further that transfer of a sense of the land to his wines, winemaker Peter Fraser incorporates traditional and time-consuming winemaking methods in his wine-making.

These including pre-soaks, indigenous yeast, open-top fermentation, hand punch downs, barrel fermentations, and the two-stage rack-and-return process, all key to Fraser’s drive to create balanced wines reflecting the terroir of McLaren Vale.

“I’m not interested in numbers on a piece of laboratory paper,” Fraser is quoted on the Yangarra website. “I’m interested in flavor.”

The 2012 Old Vine Grenache easily delivers all the flavor you might want, this brightly elegant wine brimming with dried red cherries, leather, black fruit and hints of white pepper.

In addition to Grenache, Yangarra produces other southern Rhone varietals including Shiraz, Mataro, Cinsault, and Carignan among the reds; Roussanne and Viognier are the major whites.

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Maggy Hawk’s Pinot Noir keeps Anderson Valley on right track

December 26, 2014 Leave a comment
The view of Northern California's  Anderson Valley shows the coastal influence of cool, foggy mornings, perfect for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals.

This view of Northern California’s Anderson Valley shows the coastal influence of cool, foggy mornings, perfect for producing world-class Pinot Noir and Alsatian varietals. Photo: Anderson Vally Winery Assoc.

It must have been the mid-60s when I first saw the Anderson Valley, tucked into a remote corner of California’s Mendocino County, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco.

We were on our annual family vacation, kids packed into the back half of the black-and-white Nash Rambler station wagon while my ever-westering parents kept an eye out for the promised land.

Not that they were looking for a new homestead – Colorado had everything they really wanted – but rather simply in search of America and all that it offered.

I faintly remember stopping along Highway 128 where it headed northwest into the valley after leaving U.S. Highway 101, amidst towering forests of redwoods and Douglas fir, perhaps the same view pioneer Walter Anderson enjoyed when he first saw the valley in 1851.

I don’t remember seeing any vineyards during that summer trip but I do remember my father shivering in the cool breeze, even though the ocean was about 15 miles off, and hurrying back to the car.

Today’s tourists are not so quick to dismiss the Anderson Valley, which has earned its reputation for sterling Alsatian varietals (Gewurstztraminer, Pinto Grigio and Chardonnay) and the purity of its Pinot Noir.

I recently received samples of two Anderson Valley wines, the 2011 Jolie Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Maggy Hawk Winery and the Wind Racer 2011 Anderson Valley Chardonnay.

In recent years Pinot Noir has become a major focus in the Anderson Valley, where a 2011 vineyard census showed 1,453 acres out of the 2,244 total planted acres in the valley.

Those 76 different properties produce a range of Pinot Noirs, some of a distinctly opulent but hard-edged Russian River Valley style with its out-sized flavors.

But the latter still are the outsiders, because the true Anderson Valley style of Pinot Noir is modest and restrained, bright with red fruit flavors.

The highly allocated Maggy Hawk 2011 Jolie (242 cases, $66 SRP) is one of a line of wines named for the progeny of Maggy Hawk, a race horse owned by proprietor Barbara Banke.

Banke also is the head of Jackson Family Wines and the widow of famed California winemaker Jess Jackson, who died in 2011.

The Jolie was floral and tightly wound, showing plum, cherry and cranberry with a minerally acidity and soft tannins, a tribute to the skills of winemaker Elizabeth Grant-Douglas in dealing with the problematic 2011 growing season.

And while I know how much the Hosemaster hates to read this sort of thing, this was one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve had the privilege of tasting.

Grant-Douglas also is director of winemaking at La Crema Winery, also owned by Jackson Family Wines.

The Wind Racer 2011 Anderson Valley Chardonnay (463 cses, $40 SRP) – This precise and well-focused wine is another effort from Barbara Banke (along with co-proprietor Peggy Furth) and shows a light touch of oak highlighting vibrant apple, spice and pear flavors. The delicate fruit is buoyed by more of the Anderson Valley bright minerality and acidity.

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