Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Lovely Holiday Present from Mumm

Most Champagne houses, no matter how large or small, produce several different examples of Champagne. From the basic non-vintage (or multi-vintage, if you will) to the ultra premium tete-de-cuvée, producers make a Champagne for various tastes at various price points. I'd like to tell you about a particular bottling from G.H. Mumm, one of the largest and most famous of all Champagne houses.

While Mumm produces a typical house style non-vintage Brut as well as a premium cuvée called René Lalou, they also craft a lovely wine called Mumm de Cramant that is somewhat of an unknown gem. The wine is a Blanc de Blancs, meaning it is 100% Chardonnay; in this instance, all of the grapes are from vineyards owned by Mumm in the village of Cramant. This is a famous village in the Cote des Blancs section of the Champagne area; the vineyards Mumm uses are rated as Grand Cru, the highest-rated plantings in Champagne, so the quality of these grapes is exceptionally high.

The wine is also known as a Cremant - "creaming" - meaning this wine has less pressure than a traditional Brut. Mumm refers to this style of Champagne as a "demi-mousse"; indeed the wine has only 4.5 bars of pressure as compared to 6 bars with most Brut, resulting in a softer, rounder finish. The wine was once known as Cremant de Cramant, but it is now known as Mumm de Cramant, certainly an easier name to remember and one that includes the producer's name.

I've enjoyed this wine on previous occasions, but this was the first time in several years I had tasted this and I was very impressed. My notes focus on aromas of lemon peel, Bosc pear, graham cracker and yellow flowers. Medium-full, with impressive structure, the finish is quite long and features a distinct note of minerality. Above all, I love the complexity of this wine, as well as its delicious fruit and stylish nature. I've liked this wine before, but for me, this particular bottling was the finest I've tasted to date. I would pair this with a number of foods, from shellfish (shrimp or oysters would be ideal) to Asian cuisine to lighter poultry. The price for this limited Grand Cru Champagne is $75, which I think is quite fair.

One other note - the top right hand corner of the label is folded. This symbolizes a French tradition of a special gift which would be delivered in person along with a card or envelope that had its top corner folded down. What a nice tradition, especially at the holidays and what a lovely wine from Mumm!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Solid One-Two Punch from Carmen

I've thoroughly enjoyed the wines of Carmen, Chile's oldest wine producing company, since I was first introduced to them a little more than a decade ago. From the medium-priced riserva line of wines to the premium Gold Label offerings, this winery has always delivered the goods.

I've recently tried the new releases from Carmen, which have seen a new label design for the Gran Riserva wines as well as a new national importer, Trinchero Wine Estates from California. There are six wines in the Gran Riserva line, which represent Carmen's dedication to the various terriors of Chile. Thus the Chardonnay is made from grapes sourced from Casablanca Valley, while the Sauvignon Blanc is from the cool Leyda Valley, only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The Carmenere comes from estate vineyards in Colchagua Valley, a few hours south of Santiago, while the other reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petite Sirah) are all sourced from Carmen's beautiful hillside estate in the Alto Maipo, about a 45-minute drive southeast of Santiago.

My two favorite wines in the Gran Riserva lineup are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot, both from the 2009 vintage. Of course, the Alto Maipo is famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, as the wines here have good richness, lovely varietal character as well as soft tannins, which gives them an immediate drinkability. This Cabernet Sauvignon has good persistence and balance and along with the textbook varietal flavors of blackcurrant and red cherry, there are also notes of tobacco and dark chocolate.

The Merlot is the real surprise, however. Merlot gets a lot of bad publicity these days for various reasons, but if more were made like this, you'd read a lot more positive notices for the grape variety. Black cherry and black plum fruit dominate this wine and the tannins are polished as you might expect. This is very drinkable now and will be a fine partner for most red meats - especially lamb - for the next 2-3 years. Both of these wines are $15 retail (all the Gran Riserva wines sell at the same price) and these two reds in particular are excellent values.

Carmen has also released the 2007 vintage of their top red, the Gold Label Cabernet Sauvignon. I've been enjoying releases of this wine for the past six or seven vintages and have rated this wine as either excellent or outstanding every year. The wine is made from a beautifully sited vineyard that was planted in 1957; thus this 2007 release is from 50-year old fruit! Yields are low, the fruit is deeply concentrated on the palate and there is excellent persistence. As you might imagine, a wine this rich and young needs a bit of time in the bottle; I enjoyed this for dinner the other night at Al Dente restaurant in Chicago with a pork chop with poblano and red peppers, portobello mushroom and chipotle tomato coulis and as you might imagine, it was a heavenly pairing! The wine definitely needs at least 60-90 minutes of breathing time for enjoyment for dinner tonight; however the wine is just an infant and will improve for another 10-12 years, when it will be at its best.

The price on this gorgeous Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Carmen is $50. I can guarantee you that a Cabernet Sauvignon made from 50-year old vineyards in Napa Valley would cost you at least $75 and probably more like $100 or $125 a bottle. This is another excellent value.

Here's to the consistency of Carmen wines, be it at $15 or $50 a bottle. This remains one of Chile's finest producers, I'm quite pleased to say!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A True Classic from Napa Valley

Mayacamas Winery, located 2000 feet above the Napa Valley floor

Throughout Europe, the wine producers that are discussed in great detail are the ones that have been producing their offerings for many years. While you do hear about new estates from time to time, it's the firms that have been around for decades or even centuries that are something of a reference point in Italy, France and other European countries.

Yet in California - especially in Napa Valley, it's the newest of producers that receive most of the headlines, while the wineries that have been around for 30 or 40 years (admittedly, a long time in Napa Valley history), seem to be overlooked. Think about it, you hear about the latest hotshots from Napa all the time, but when's the last time you read an article about a winery such as Joseph Phelps or Sterling? Did their wines suddenly decrease in quality? The answer is no, but these companies are not as fascinating or hip to many of today's wine writers, who are always looking for the newest viticultural temple funded by some multi-millionaire who hires the most expensive - and cult-driven - winemaker available.

So, I'm quite pleased to sing the praises of a real Napa Valley veteran- Mayacamas Vineyards. The winery was established way back in 1968 (talk about ancient history for this part of the viticultural world!) by Bob Travers, who today, is still making the wines. Named for the mountain range that serves as a border between Napa and Sonoma, the winery is situated some 2000 feet above the Napa Valley floor. This is a hidden gem, located in a place where coyotes, cougars and bobcats dwell. The vineyards, located at elevations ranging from 1800 to 2300 feet above sea level naturally yield very small crops, ensuring wines of structure for long-term aging.

Vineyards at Mayacamas

The other night I tried the current release of the winery's signature Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2006 vintage. Blended with 14% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, this is a mouth-filling wine. But lest you think this is a typical blockbuster Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, consider several things. First, the wine is aged for 18 months in large American oak casks and then 12 months in French 60-gallon oak barrels. This is quite different from the standard practice these days in Napa, where many producers use only French barriques (225-liter) for an aging period of 14-20 months. By using larger barrels for his wines, Travers focuses on the special fruit flavors he derives from his vineyards; my notes on the wine focus on perfumes of black currant, eucalyptus and blackberry. 

The wine has a beautifully developed mid-palate with layers of fruit while the finish is quite long with excellent persistence, good acidity and nicely integrated oak. The overall balance is ideal and the complexity is marvelous. My best guess is that the wine will improve dramatically over the next few years and be at its best in 12-15 years. The price is $65 a bottle and when you consider all the $100- $150 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon out there (especially from the new hotshots), this is an excellent value (consider also that less than 1400 cases of this wine were produced). I'd even be tempted to call the $65 price tag for a wine of this breeding and class a real steal!

Bob Travers, here's to you during this holiday season for continuing to produce classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for more than 40 years and for maintaining a sane price point. It's a lesson some of the new kids on the block need to learn.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Meet Mariano Buglioni

Mariano Buglioni (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Traveling to Italy is all about making discoveries. This includes new wines, new ristoranti and trattorie and of course, meeting producers I have never encountered. During my most recent trip to Valpolicella, I met Mariano Buglioni, the owner of the eponymous estate in San Pietro in Cariano, located in Valpolicella Classico; rarely have I met such a generous man.

Buglioni, formerly in the textile industry, produced his first wines from the 2001 vintage. He currently crafts several types of wine, from the famous - Amarone and Valpolicella - to the unique - such as a sparkling Molinara and a 100% Garganega IGT. He has also made a name for himself with his eateries, especially with his osteria located on Corso Porta Borsoni in the heart of the old section of Verona. Mariano took me there early on a Sunday evening in November and we could barely move, finally finding a spot at the end of the bar. Mariano told me that I should see the place during the week, as I wouldn't be able to find a place at all. Given how little room was available that evening, I'd hate to see the place even more crowded!

Mariano also took me to see another osteria of his, this one in the town of Santa Maria de Negrar. This one is larger and thankfully, less crowded, but just as engaging. There is a beautiful bar and display of all the foods, which are all marvelous. One of my favorites is the tartina con paté di olive nere con pancetta (a small paté made of black olives served with pancetta); there are several other lovely comfort foods as well. You can take a look at these at the website link here.

Mariano wanted to show me these places, but first and foremost, he wanted to show off his wines with a special dinner, so we went to his locanda, located in the countryside of Valpolicella just a short walk from his agriturismo in Cariano. This is a warm dining room with rich earth tones with food specialy created for the Buglioni wines. I enjoyed five wines with various courses and each wine was extremely well made with excellent balance and ideal structure. The finest wines for me were the 2007 Valpolicella Ripasso "Il Bugardo" and the 2006 Amarone. The former offers ripe black plum and raspberry aromas with very good depth of fruit and peristence and will drink well for 5-7 years; I gave this wine an excellent rating. The Amarone, from the first-rate 2006 vintage has beautiful black cherry and myrtle aromas is is quite simply, mouthfilling! This is a powerful wine (17% alcohol), but nicely balanced with proper acidity along with excellent persistence. I would expect this outstanding wine to be at its best in 12-15 years. Incidentally, the Amarone was served with a veal medallion- a simple pairing that brought out the best in the wine and the food.

All in all, I had a great evening in the company of my new friend Mariano Buglioni. We spent five hours together; this after he drove that morning from Bern, Switzerland, a seven-hour journey! How he found the energy to do this in one day amazed me, but like many Italians, he is a gracious person who saw an opportunity and was more than happy to spend some time with me. Thank you Mariano for your hospitality and for your beautiful wines. A big thank you also to my friend in Chicago, Aldo Zaninotto, who represents these wines in America.

To learn more about the wines, the agriturismo or the osterie, go to the Buglioni website.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A 30-Year Love Affair with Champagne

Tom Verhey, Proprietor, Pops for Champagne, Chicago (Photo © Tom Hyland)

"Champagne has the ability to change how you perceive life. I think it really does. Champagne is magical." - Tom Verhey

If you want to be the best at something, you have to work at it every day; everyone's heard that before, but it remains as true today as it was hundreds of years ago. Tom Verhey is no doubt a subscriber to this theory and it's been 30 years of dedication that has made his establishment, Pops for Champagne, arguably the finest Champagne bar in America.

I sat down recently to conduct an interview with Verhey; I wanted to pick his brain about why Pops for Champagne has been so successful for so long. I wanted to know about the types of customers that he attracts (skewed towards professionals, females, consumers in their 30s and 40s) and how he continues to draw them in during these economically challenging times. Again, it's a lot of old-fashioned work on his part and that of his staff.

Verhey, who in a former life sold camera equipment, was in Vienna, Austria in 1980 and entered a Champagne bar called Reiss. Intrigued by the outer appearance of the building and the concept in general, he decided then and there to open a Champagne bar back in the Chicago area, where he lived at the time. He opened his inital bar at a northside location in Chicago in March, 1982 and moved to his current location in the River North section of downtown Chicago at State and Ohio in the fall of 2006.

While he was successful at his initial location, Verhey said that was too much of a "destination", while the current spot is perfect for attracting a bigger crowd, be they theater goers, conventioneers or just business people leaving their offices for the day. While his business has taken a "hiccup" as he puts it, given the recent economy, he has been able to keep customers coming in, thanks in no small part to his pricing. "We are able to compete against the dwindling dollars because we actually give value to our customers. People still feel that this is a place they want to spend their money, because when they walk out having spent $50 or $400, they got their money's worth."

Display of Champagne at street-level bar at Pops (Photo by Tom Hyland)

What keeps the customers coming back of course, is the outstanding selection of Champagnes and other sparking wines (the lists can be seen here). The task of assembling such an impressive grouping of wines is the responsibility of Beverage Director Craig Cooper, whom Verhey calls "probably the most Champagne-savvy person in America." Cooper and Verhey definitely prefer the smaller Champagne houses, so while you can order a selection from Mumm, Perrier-Jouet or Veuve Clicquot here, you're much more likely to select from outstanding firms such as Gosset, Ruinart, Bollinger or Krug or from an amazing array of small grower-producers such as Cédric Bouchard, Pierre Moncuit or Agrapart & Fils, to name only a few. The list is handsomely presented and organized into numerous categories, encompassing classics such as Blanc de Blancs and Rosé, but also sub-divided into three styles of non-vintage Brut, a nice touch and one that is extremely helpful to customers looking for a particular style of Champagne.

There are also a few dozen sparkling wines from around the world that are not Champagne; these include Prosecco and Franciacorta from Italy, Cava from Spain as well as some lovely examples from California and Oregon and even some from other wine regions in France, such as Alsace, Burgundy and the Loire Valley. Verhey knows the importance of offering sparkling wines other than Champagne on his list; "You have to have sparklers; sparklers start at $30 a bottle, while Champagne starts at $90 a bottle, so you need that bridge. "You've got to have a bridge with this type of business to carry them (the customers, ed.) from the start of their education and taste and experience into Champagne."

Staff training, conducted by Cooper, has given the employees here a strong foundation in their everyday work routine. "You come in here and ask a question about anything with food and beverage and the staff is going to know the answer," Verhey notes. "That the staff is so well educated reflects the fact that they care enough about the business. It takes time, but it eventually makes the difference."

After 30 years, Verhey is proud of what he's done so far and what he is currently accomplishing at Pops for Champagne. "We're trying to bring people's image of Champagne to a more approachable level, so it doesn't have to be a coat and tie, special occasion type of thing," he remarks.

As for advice to consumers as to why they should drink Champagne more often, here are a few final thoughts from Verhey. "Champagne is all about life and energy and quality and it brings those elements to the glass. People are starting to understand that it's part of their life also.

"There are so many different styles of Champagne, from the ultra-dry to the sweeter to the Chardonnay-infused to the Pinot Noir-infused. It's an everyday wine now."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rosé Champagne and Thai Food

The holidays are upon us, so it's time to celebrate with some special wines. For me, Champagne is the wine for celebration and while I love just about any example, it's Rosé Champagne that is my favorite. There are a few reasons for this; certainly the color, ranging from light copper to bright strawberry, is a festive one. Then there is the richness of the Pinot Noir in the blend, generally giving the wine a fuller, more luxurious feel in the mouth.

To kick off the holidays in style, I tasted out three first-rate Rosé Champagnes with two friends the other night at a Thai restaurant on the north side of Chicago. There are dozens of Thai eateries in Chicago that are BYOB, so the chance to taste some great wines with some beautiful food seemed to be a natural. The restaurant I selected was Siam Country, a typical small dining room with a wide array of selections. This has become comfort food for me over the years and given all the flavors in these dishes, I thought it would be fun - as well as educational - to pair Rosé Champagnes with this cuisine.

So I'm dividing this post into two parts: first, my notes on the wines. Second, notes on how the wines paired with various foodstuffs.

Perrier Jouet Blason Rosé (non-vintage)
Light copper color; aromas of Bosc pear, strawberry and orange rind. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Good but not high acidity, as the finish is quite round and elegant. Quite flavorful with subtle notes of sweet red spice, such as nutmeg. Good persistent stream of bubbles. A very fine introduction to Rosé Champagne for those who are not familiar. A lovely food wine. Excellent (Suggested retail price: $75)

Gosset Grand Rosé (non-vintage)
Light copper color; aromas of strawberry, dried orange, currant and dried pear with a light yeasty note. Beautiful stream of very small bubbles- quite persistent. Full-bodied, this is a powerful rosé with an incredibly delicate feel on the palate - impeccably balanced! Beautifully tuned acidity and a long, rich finish. Wonderful complexity. Outstanding (SRP $80)

Bollinger Rosé (non-vintage)
Deep copper/reddish color; aromas of fresh red cherry, biscuit, currant and dried pear. The house style of Bollinger, which I describe as old-fashioned, with plenty of fruit as well as a toastiness is quite evident in this wine. Very fine bubbles with a persistent stream. Full-bodied, this has a generous mid-palate and a lengthy finish with excellent persistence and vibrant acidity. Plenty of class and breeding on display in this marvelous wine. Outstanding (SRP $100)

The Food

Tomkar soup
Tomkar is a classic Thai soup made with coconut milk, lemon grass and ginger (among other ingredients). We selected chicken for our soup. This was a perfect match with the Perrier-Jouet, as that wine has lower acidity than the others. Thus the round finish of that wine meshed beautifully with the creaminess of the soup.

Appetizers - Spring Rolls and Pot Stickers
The spring rolls, served with a mild plum sauce were best with the Perrier-Jouet, while the pot stickers were a marvelous match with the Gosset, as the earthiness and high acidity of this wine (Gosset Champagnes do not undergo malo-lactic fermentation and thus have a more vibrant acidic note in the finish) picked up on the richness of this appetizer. 

Entrées- Duck breast with ginger and carrots/ Noodles with green and red curry (separate entrées)
I had enjoyed the duck breast on previous visits to Siam Country, but it was never as beautifully prepared as it was this evening (in fact, my colleagues commented on how this was the best meal we had experienced here). I always pair duck with Pinot Noir, so why not a Rosé Champagne with duck? It worked beautifully, as this was a rich duck preparation with a crispy skin that paired superbly with the Bollinger - this was a perfect match. It also tasted out great with the other two wines as well. 

As for the curry dishes, my friend Bob preferred the Bollinger with the red curry, though he also liked the softer Perrier Jouet as well, while he favored the Gosset with the green curry entrée.

I had never brought Rosé Champagne to a Thai restaurant before, but I was confident this evening would be a success. It was, thanks to the lovely richness and balance of these Champagnes, which were complex and flavorful enough to stand up the the spiciness of these dishes. I hope many of you will think about Rosé Champagne with Thai food or perhaps with many other cuisines as well. Experiment and have fun this holiday season!

P.S. My friends and I prefer light to mild spicy Thai food, so these wines were ideal. If you opt for a spicier preparation, you would definitely want a Rosé Champagne with a high level of acidity such as the Gosset. As with all wine and food pairings, it's about marrying similar flavors and textures.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Colori della Valpolicella - My 50th trip to Italy

Vineyards at Masi, Sant'Ambrogio in Valpolicella (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I've just returned from my 50th trip to Italy and enjoyed every day as usual. This time my visits took my to Toscana for an event for Chianti Rufina as well as Valpolicella for one special tasting as well as visits at several other producers. 

Instead of the usual wine recommendations or essays about Italian wine, this post will feature a few of my photos of Valpolicella. For two to three weeks in late October and early to mid-November, the vineyards and forests of Valpolicella are transformed into a sensational pallette of yellows, russets, browns and orange-tinted hues that simply capture your soul. 

Vineyards near Fumane (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

While the visuals are spectacular everywhere, the colors in the eastern reaches of the Valpolicella zone (non-classico) may be the best. At Massimago, proprietor Camilla Rossi Chauvenet calls this area, "the wild Valpolicella," and after seeing the vineyards and olive tree groves at this spectacular estate, you'll most assuredly agree with her.

Massimago Estate, Mezzane (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

This time of year in Valpolicella, grapes are being dried according to the appassimento method for the production of Amarone and Recioto della Valpolicella. I was able to see this technique first-hand, but I came away more impressed by the natural beauty of Valpolicella at this time of the year. This was another way for me to discover la bella Italia - it was unforgettable!

Tenuta Maternigo of Tedeschi, Mezzane di Sopra, Tregnago
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Chardonnay you'll love- taste and pricewise

While I drink a lot of white wine, I'll admit to not enjoying as many Chardonnays as I should. Perhaps I've had so many examples, that I just naturally look for other types, especially the brilliant whites from Friuli and Alto Adige in Italy or Sauvignon Blanc from just about anywhere. Another reason is I never seem to find that many Chardonnays I like; either they're just too simple or they're over the top, with lots of hazelnut, almond and vanilla notes with dominant oak flavors.

Well the other night, I enjoyed a lovely Chardonnay that was a pleasant change from the types I've panned over recent years. The wine was the 2009 Clos du Val from their vineyards in Carneros in Napa Valley. Founded in 1972, Clos du Val is best known for its red wines - especially Cabernet Sauvignon - as it is located in the prime Stags Leap District. But for some time, the winery has been producing a Chardonnay from hillside estate vineyards in Carneros. This AVA (American Viticultural Appellation) is situated at the southern reaches of Napa (it also extends into Sonoma County), just north of the San Pablo Bay. Cool breezes from the bay combined with early morning fog makes this zone ideal for a cool climate variety such as Chardonnay (as well as Pinot Noir) and generally the grapes receive a lot of hang time, assuring ideal ripeness, very good natural acidity and impressive structure.

When everything comes together, as it did with the beautiful 2009 growing season, Chardonnays from Carneros combine a nice richness on the palate with a lengthy finish as well as wonderful balance. This 2009 Clos du Val Chardonnay has all of that; it's a flavorful wine with excellent complexity. So it's not the simple, light white wine that too often bores, nor is it a lush, over-oaked offering that still pops up now and then in California as well as several other regions and countries around the world.

Here are my tasting notes on this wine:

Brilliant light yellow with pleasing aromas of Anjou pear, fresh apple, cinnamon and vanilla. Medium-full with very good concentration. Very good persistence, finely tuned acidity and well-integrated oak. Harmonious finish with a touch of honey and apple pie notes. Elegantly styled wine, lovely with food and an excellent value at $25.

I mentioned this is a lovely food wine; I enjoyed this with tilapia and it was a perfect match. It will also pair beautifully with sea bass as well as many other fish; I think it would also be great with lighter poultry dishes or even a simple chilled chicken salad.

It's also worth noting the $25 price tag that I believe represents a striking bargain. There are just too many overpriced Chardonnays in California - it's that simple. So when I come across a Chardonnay this good for this price tag, I have to note that it's an excellent value- and we certainly need more of these!

One final note- if you're someone stuck on points when it comes to selecting wines or you need a designer name on the label, you'll need to look elsewhere. You'll also have to pay another $15-20 a bottle for one of those 95-point, heavily oaked Chardonnays that overpower almost any food with their big alcohol and dominating wood and spice notes. A few wine publications tend to favor wines such as these, but to me, that style of Chardonnay is an exercise in seeing how far a winemaker can push all the components in the wine. They may impress upon the initial smell and taste, but they are tiring, bloated wines.

As I said, you're welcome to those wines. For me, I'll take the 2009 Clos du Val Carneros Chardonnay- that's becuase it's got everything I'm looking for in a wine such as this and it's beautifully priced!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Terroir-Driven Whites

The principle of terroir is a difficult one to precisely explain, but the main principle in explaining terroir is that wines differ according to where the grapes were grown. Thus two wines made from the same variety (or varieties) grown in sites only a few hundred yards apart, can taste entirely different.

Generally, any discussion of terroir tends to focus on red wines, often some of the world's most famous. These inevitably include the offerings from Burgundy's Cote d'Or (the holy grail of terroir), the Barolo zone in Piemonte or Napa Valley with its Cabernet Sauvignons.

Yet many white wines are also the result of terroir; certainly one can taste the differences in the great Rieslings of the Mosel or Rhine valleys in Germany or with the brilliant whites coming from Montrachet, Meursault or other communes in Burgundy as well as the amazing whites wines of Alsace.

I'd like to add two wine types to the discussion of terroir. These are Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio Valley in Chile and Riesling from Clare Valley in Australia. I enjoyed beautifully made examples of each wine recently and it struck me that these offerings have as much to do with terroir as any of the great reds of the world. Whites rarely get the same lofty treatment many reds wines receive, which is understandable, but at the same time unfair. So I'm doing my part in taking steps to correct this situation.

The San Antonio Valley, a sub-region of the Aconcagua Valley, is located in close proximity to the Pacific Ocean; most plantings are within 8-10 miles of the ocean, while a few are as close as two miles away. This is most definitely a maritime climate as sea breezes help moderate temperatures. It can be very cool during certain growing seasons, meaning this is a also a razor's edge climate, giving a sharp focus to this wine with naturally high acidity.

Several varieties have flourished here including Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir, but to date it is Sauvignon Blanc that San Antonio Valley has become best known for. The wines offer intense aromas, but not as much gooseberry as in the bottlings from Marlborough Valley in New Zealand, nor are these wines as mineral driven as the finest Sancerre from France's Loire Valley.

Thus Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio Valley (Leyda Valley, a sector of San Antonio, has also become an outpost for this variety) has its own signature. Aromas of pink grapefruit, melon and freshly cut hay are often present. Here are my notes on the 2010 EQ Sauvignon Blanc from Matetic. (D.O. San Antonio):

Aromas of green melon, hyacinth, Bosc pear and snow peas; medium-full with a rich entry on the palate. Good length in the finish with very tangy acidity; a sleek, delicious wine that is nicely balanced with very good complexity and balance. 

This would be ideal with most shellfish; I especially love it with sautéed shrimp; the cost is $20 US retail. Other excellent Sauvignon Blanc from San Antonio (and Leyda) include two single vineyard bottlings from Casa Marin (Cipreses and Laurel Vineyards) along with Amayna, who produces both a barrel fermented and tank fermented example of Sauvignon Blanc. These two producers tend to bring out more raciness in their wines, which are often better suited with richer seafood or even certain types of poultry. (The importer of the EQ wine is Quintessential.)

Another great example of terroir in white wines emerges from the Clare Valley, located a bit north of the Barossa Valley in the state of South Australia. While Barossa is known for its excellent Shiraz, it is Riesling that has become the signature variety of the Clare Valley. Unlike San Antonio Valley in Chile, Clare Valley is far from the ocean; this has a moderate continental climate with cool to cold nights, warm to hot summer days and low humidity.

The Rieslings from here are quite dry with distinct minerality and often feature notes of petrol in the nose, which make them very different from the apple, pear and apricot aromas of Rieslings from the Mosel and Rhine Valleys in Germany. The sub-district of Watervale in the Clare Valley is an ideal zone for growing Riesling; this is where the grapes for the Kilakanoon wine is from; the particular spot is called Mort's Block and the vines here have an average age of 40 years.  Here are my notes in the 2010 bottling:

Beautiful aromas of petrol, lemon peel, quince and turmeric; medium-full with very good concentration. Very good acidity and a dry finish with very good persistence. Lovely touch of minerality and stoniness in the finish, which adds to the complexity. Clean as a whistle and so delicious!

The US retail price is $20. I'd expect this wine to drink well over the next 2-3 years, but I may be a bit conservative in that estimate. There's probably no reason this wouldn't be in fine shape in another 5 or 7 years. Still, it's so tasty now that I don't know why you'd wait. This is wonderful with Oriental or Asian cuisine or seared scallops. (The importer is Old Bridge Cellars.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Marketing Italian Wines - Here and Abroad

Stevie Kim

For producers in Italy (or just about anywhere, really), the process of going from initial planting of vineyards to harvest to finally bottling the finished wine is always a challenge. Yet the actual making of any particular wine is rather easy compared to selling it. Most producers, big or small, need help getting their products out in the marketplace and that's where Stevie Kim enters in the equation.

Kim, whose official job description is Senior Advisor to the CEO of VinItaly, is changing the way Italian producers go about getting their wines noticed. For those of you reading this that are not familiar with VinItaly, this is the annual wine fair held each year in late March or early April at the fairgrounds in Verona. More than 5000 wine producers, most of them Italian, are present pouring their wines for the trade and for a day or two, the public. It's easily Italy's biggest wine fair and it's certainly the most influential.

It's been a ritual for 45 years now and as it's grown over the years, there are some producers who will tell you that things have gotten out of hand. It's crowded, noisy and just a little chaotic, especially on the weekend when the public can enter the fair and try all the wine they want for a one-time entrance fee. Kim knows the complaints and is happy to report that changes to the schedule have been made.

The format has always been Thursday to Monday - five days - with Saturday and Sunday available to the public as well as the trade. But for the 2012 edition of the fair, the schedule has been changed from Sunday to Wednesday. The public will still have a day at the fair - this will be Sunday, the official opening day, while Monday thru Wednesday will be exclusively for the trade. 

I asked Kim if she received positive feedback on the change and how she thinks this will improve the business atmosphere for the buyer.

Kim: "We received great feedback. Of course, we had surveyed the producers as well as the attendees prior to making this decision. As you know, the Italians have been doing this for 45 years, so having to make that change was quite arduous. But I think at the end, everyone saw that the advantages were greater than the disadvantages.

"As you know, on Saturday and Sunday, it was very difficult to navigate not only the fairgrounds, but also the urban traffic control. I think this will help a great deal to facilitate more of a B2B atmosphere so that people can do more business.

"I think the focus now will not be quantity, the numbers, but the quality of the people attending the fair."


With this change, the fair is now four days instead of five. However, she noted that there will be an opening event on Saturday that will benefit many Italian producers. 

Kim: "On Saturday, we are organizing seminars dedicated to the producers. Often we have a full program of producer seminars, but they can never attend during VinItaly because they are too busy doing business. So we have decided to dedicate a couple of specialized international focus seminars. This year will be the US market and China and we will dedicate these seminars to the producers.

"On Saturday morning, we have partnered with The Wine Spectator; they will invite top 100 Italian wine producers. There will be a grand tasting event at two moments: in the late afternoon for 500 international VIPs, while the second session will be held with the same producers, but a ticketed event for 500 consumers.

"People are very excited about it, it’s two-fold, because you will have producers that are not necessarily represented at the fair grounds because their strategy is not to participate at a big fair such VinItaly. However, they are very important producers that represent Italian wine production."

Kim also oversees the VinItaly US tour, which just completed its 2011 stops in New York City and Washington. She did not have as many events scheduled around the world this spring and summer, as she "tried to consolidate important points in a few events." Her next event is VinItaly China, which will take place in Hong Kong from the 3rd to the 5th of November. She says this event is a "personal objective," adding, "I want to do something more structured to unite the Italian wine producers in a more sophisticated way."


Kim realizes the vast differences between large and small Italian wine producers and wants to make sure the latter have the right tools for entering the market.

Kim: "Italian producers are divided into two main categories: the large, very structured, well-capitalized producers who have been present in the United States for a very long time. They are organized and have the resources to do their own wine promotion. On the other hand, you have the consorzie, the regions that sponsor these small producers, some of them I’m afraid to say, don’t even speak English. They come to America, participate in the grand tasting events, thinking that on those dates, they will start filling out order forms and filling containers of wine to sell in America.

"Their expectations are not represented. They first have to find the importer, for example. VinItaly is an institution that represents 4500 producers, so we have to embrace the large, well-resourced producers as well as the small ones. So what we’re trying to do with the VinItaly US tour that we’re organizing is – especially for the small producers – is to try and educate them.

"This year, we have dedicated a session to the producers before they start the walk-around tasting. We try to convey to them the ABCs of the American market."

She is also making efforts to promote the women of Italian wine. She organized an opening bell ceremony of the New York Stock Exchange this past spring that featured Marilisa Allegrini and Cristina Mariani-May of Banfi and has scheduled more events. "I'm trying to give some continuity to this."

Kim: "Now we’re asking the women to represent the Italian wine industry. As you know, Italian wine producers are very creative, but also very individualistic. So what we want to do through these women is try to create some harmonious message and give something back also to the society, which matters, for these Italian women in the wine industry. We’ve chosen the American Cancer Society, so we want to continue to work with them."


A few final thoughts from Stevie Kim about her job:

Kim: "What I do in every market where we showcase is try and build the Italian wine education and promotion program. I'm in the market talking to the people who have a vested interest in Italian wine sales, especially the importers. I talk to importers big and small and get immediate we did, if they thought it was useful, how we can improve it and how we can better our promotional outpouring in the name of Italian wine education and promotion in the territory."

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Simply Italian Highlights

The Simply Italian tour hit Chicago this past Monday and it was a huge success, combining four seminars with a walk-around tasting featuring more than 250 wines, representing regions from all over Italy including Piemonte, Friuli, Lombardia, Tuscany, Campania and Sicily.

Here are a few of the best wines from the Monday tasting (note: this tasting was also held in San Francisco on Wednesday and Las Vegas on Thursday).

There were some great wine zones represented at this event; arguably the finest group of wines were from Collio. The 2010 Zuani Collio Bianco "Vigne" is a sumptuous blend of four varieties - Sauvignon (Blanc), Friulano, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio - in equal amounts. This wine is aged solely in stainless steel and has lovely perfumes and balance (the winery also has an oak-aged wine with the same blend called "Zuani" - this is released later, so the current vintage on that wine is the 2009). Whichever wine you prefer, these blends from Collio display a beautiful sense of place as well as outstanding complexity. (The 2010 Zuani "Vigne" was awarded a Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso for their 2012 guide, incidentally.)

Also impressive is the 2009 Gradisciutta "Bratinis", another Collio Bianco, this made from Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Ribolla Gialla. This is an appealing wine with wonderful balance, lively acidity and a rich, flavorful finish. It's been one of my favorite Collio blends (or blends from anywhere in Italy, for that matter), but at a suggested retail price of $22, it's an outstanding value! Robert Princic at 34 years of age is doing a wonderful job at this estate, literally a mile from Slovenia (as well as virtually next door to Zuani).

But the white wine of the tasting for me - and for almost everyone else I spoke with - was the 2008 Primosic "Klin", another Collio blend. This is a cuvée of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Friulano and Ribolla Gialla that was aged in barriques for eight months; the oak adds texture and flavor, but it meshes ideally with the fruit - this is a perfectly balanced wine.

The initial aromas of this wine lend a sense that you will be tasting an extraordinary wine, as there are notes of honey, dried apricot, spiced pear and beeswax that combine to create quite a sensory experience. Full-bodied with tremendous complexity and an extremely long finish, this is a sensational wine! Incidentally, this particular vintage, the 2008, is my favorite example of this wine. While the 2007 and the soon-to-be-released 2009 are actually richer on the palate - and this 2008 is very rich in its own right - the cool temperatures and long hangtime from that growing season meant that the aromatics for the 2008 Collio whites were more intense than usual; when you taste this wine (and do everything you can to find a bottle), you will see what I mean. For me, the Primosic Klin is one of the three or four best white wines in Italy- and that is saying something! A must-buy. (By the way, one of my long-time friends, Bob Rohden, who has been in the business for more than 30 years and who is an admitted Francophile (though he told me that Italy has greatly closed the gap recently), said that this is the "Montrachet of Italy." I'd agree!

Few wine lovers think about rosés in Italy, but if more were made like the Guado al Tasso "Scalabrone," that would change. Produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grown at this excellent Bolgheri estate near the Tuscan coast, this is quite rich with a long, flavorful finish. This is a lovely wine in its own, but I've enjoyed it with prosciutto as well as pork and chicken. The 2010 is the current release and it's delicious!

Of course, there were many impressive reds - how could there not be at an Italian tasting? I'll mention only a few: the 2006 Piccini "Poggio Teo" Chianti Classico is a 100% Sangiovese with impressive depth of fruit, while the 2006 La Togata Brunello di Montalcino is a fine example from this excellent vintage. The 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo displays the lush, forward fruit, round tannins and precise acidity of the 2007 reds from the Langhe, while the 2006 Mastroberardino Taurasi "Radici" is another in a long line of beautifully structured reds from this great Campanian producer.

One other red worth noting - one that is hardly famous, but quite enjoyable. That is the 2008 Kovic Terrano from the Carso zone in southern Friuli. Terrano is an indigenous red variety of Carso and produced a medium-bodied wine with soft, round tannins and fresh red cherry fruit with a light herbal note. This is elegant, tasty and surprisingly ageworthy - expect this to drink well for 3-5 years. This is not a wine that you'll read much about in the famous wine publications, but it's a lovely food wine (isn't that what this is all about?); it would be ideal with everything from prosciutto to risotto or lighter poultry or game birds.

Giovanni Arcari (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally I want to give a shout out to several producers of Franciacorta, several of whom were presenting their wines for the first time in America. Franciacorta is the home of the finest sparkling wines in Italy; this district located south of Lake Iseo in the Lombardia region, has strict regulations on how these wines must be made. Produced in the classic method where the secondary fermentation is in the bottle (a la Champagne), the quality of these wines is very high and is improving every year.

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro poured several of his cuvées, of which my favorite was the 2006 Satén Brut, produced entirely from Chardonnay. Nicely balanced with vibrant acidity, this is a robust sparkling wine; I was also impressed with his flavorful non-vintage Rosé. Incidentally, he just received his first Tre Bicchieri for his 2007 Extra Brut. I've known Riccardo for several years, having visited his estate and also appearing on a seminar panel with him. He is a gentleman and so deserving of this wonderful honor!

I moderated a seminar on Franciacorta in the morning with six artisan producers, all starting the long journey of finding representation in America. After this seminar I can tell you that they are well on their way, at least if the audience reaction is any indication. We had a full-house for this seminar, as wine buyers, journalists and importers from Chicago and the Midwest were there to learn everything they could about these distinctive sparkling wines.

All of the wines were very well made with beautiful balance and notable richness, but the wines from three producers really stood out for me. They were San Cristoforo (San Crees-taw-for-o) with their non-vintage Brut, produced entirely from Chardonnay and Le Marchesine with their Extra Brut as well as their 2007 Rosé Brut (this wine was poured by Andrea Biatta of the winery at the walk-around tasting.) This latter wine displays tremendous aromatics of ripe red cherry, currant and carnations and has a tremendous richness and a very long finish. It is quite simply the finest Franciacorta Rosé I have ever tasted!

The third producer whose wine stood out is Andrea Arici with his 2008 Zerodossagio (the image of this bottle is at the top of this post). This is a special project that export manager Giovanni Arcari (pictured above) explained;  a wine that was made from old terraced vines that had been abandoned, but were refurbished and reworked by the contadini, the farmers of the countryside. A blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Nero, the wine was aged for eight months in large oak casks (botti) and then almost 3 years in bottle. The finished wine is gorgeous, with aged fruit aromas along with notes of toasted bread and almond; in fact it reminded me of a late-disgorged Bollinger. Full-bodied with outstanding persistence, this is a great rendering of Franciacorta!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Memorable Evening of Wine and Food Pairing

Rachael Lowe (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Having spent 30 years in the wine industry and being able to travel to wine regions in Italy, France, New Zealand, Chile, California and several other places, I know a few things about wine. But you soon understand that no matter how long you work at it or how many territories you travel to, you'll never know it all. In fact, the nice thing about being in your 50s (I'm 55), is realizing how little you do know and being able to accept that fact (I've talked about this with several friends my age and they all agree).

Maintaining the belief that you don't know it all will open your eyes to some amazing experiences. This past Wednesday was one of those memorable moments in my life when I enjoyed dinner at 16 Restaurant at the Trump Tower in Chicago. Rachael Lowe, the young, effervescent, engaging wine director here since mid-2010, personally selected wines to accompany my dinner. 

I had asked her not to bring any Italian wines to the table, as those represent much of my work. Other than that, she was free to select any wine she saw fit. I didn't think of it at the time I ordered my meal, but I threw her a curveball, as I started with an appetizer of pork belly, while selecting yellowtail snapper for my entrée, meaning a white would come after the red. As you will read below, Rachael was more than up to the task of finding the right wines for these dishes.

Here is what I enjoyed along with Rachael's wine selections for each dish:

Amuse-bouche: Braised lamb with pumpernickel bread
Wine selection: Krug Grand Cuvée, non-vintage (or "multi-vintage" as Rachael called it)
I know what you're thinking- this outstanding Champagne could go with anything, but it was a perfect opener (how could you not have a smile on your face when the wine director brings you Krug Champagne?). The wine worked beautifully with the pork, which was served in tiny cubes and was remarkably tender.


Appetizer: Crispy pork belly with red cabbage, pumpernickel and cider gelée
Wine selection: Jean Foillard Morgon "Cuvée Corcelette" 2009
Like many wine lovers, I just don't try enough examples of Beaujolais, so I was happy to enjoy this offering. Rachael described this wine in glowing terms and she was spot on, as this was a Beaujolais of great complexity and persistence that displayed a great deal of finesse and elegance as well as varietal character. The fruit aromas of cassis, red raspberry and strawberry were amazing and the weight and texture of this wine was ideal for this marvelous dish, which was again, very tender with subtle spice.


First course: Squab breast with Hunter Valley foie gras
Wine selection: Domaine de la Solitude Chateauneuf-du-Pape 1999
This was clearly the richest course I enjoyed for dinner and it needed a big red; this was plenty big. I remarked to Rachael that I would love to revisit this wine in another 10 or 15 years - it's got that much depth of fruit. The ripeness and spice of this wine were perfect for the squab and the wine more than held its own with this remarkable course.


Main course: Yellowtail snapper with quinoa, ginger curry apple purée, salsify, golden raisin caper relish
Wine selection: Nicolas Joly Savennieres "Clos de la Bergerie" 2005
To say that this unique white, made by the great biodynamic producer Nicolas Joly, was able to stand up to the snapper is an understatement; I think this wine could pair well with shark roe! Made from Chenin Blanc, this is a full-blown, powerful white with plenty of spice and grip; this should be drinking well for another 7 or 8 years. This was my favorite course, by the way, with the fleshiness and tenderness of the fish complemented so well by the sweetness of the apple purée and golden raisin relish.


Dessert: Blackberry tart with buttermilk ice cream
Wine selection: Domaine de la Cure Monbazillac 2009
This dessert wine from southwestern France, made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon was a marvelous finish to my meal. Deep amber in color, the wine is quite rich on the palate with medium sweetness and very good acidity. It added another dimension to this exquisite dessert.

Thank you, Rachael for the education in pairing wine with food - I learned a lot. This was truly a memorable evening!


P.S. I would be remiss not to mention the outstanding work turned in by Chef Joseph Rose. This restaurant was operating at a high level when it first opened in 2009, but since Rose has taken the helm in the kitchen, he has taken this dining room to new heights.

The restaurant has been awarded one Michelin star, but I am still waiting for the local critics to give this restaurant its due. I believe it is on par with the best restaurants in the city, as it combines beautifully creative cuisine with a gorgeous room and extremely friendly and professional service.

P.P.S. There was an insightful article about Rachael in the July 31 issue of Sommelier Journal (read here). Rachael is well on her way to becoming a Master Sommelier; she has one more exam and if all goes well, will earn that title sometime in the summer of 2012.

I certainly wish her well in her quest. She is clearly one of the most knowledgeable wine professionals in Chicago - and easily one of the most charming!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Italian Treasures

Sebastiano Rosa, winemaker, Tenuta San Guido (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Kobrand recently conducted a multi-city tour, tasting out their impressive Italian portfolio. Impressive may be an understatement when the lineup includes such revered names as Tenute Silvio Nardi, Michele Chiarlo, Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari, Tenuta Sette Ponti and Tenuta San Guido (the estate that produces Sassicaia). Here are a few highlights from the tasting in Chicago.

The most impressive white was a wine that has been produced for more than 30 years, but is just now being brought into the US market. It's the Michele Chiarlo Roero Arneis "Le Madri" 2010. Chiarlo has always been known for its beautifully crafted Gavi, but this wine is even better. Though 2010 was somewhat of a problematic vintage in much of northern Italy, you wouldn't know it by this wine. Offering lovely spearmint and pine aromas with excellent richness on the palate, this is a great success, especially at its $22 retail.

Also impressive from Chiarlo is the 2009 Barbera d'Asti "Le Orme". This is a well made wine every year, but the 2009 contains more depth of fruit and offers greater complexity than most recent bottlings, thank to the addition of more fruit from their famous La Court vineyard. I don't know of another Barbera d'Asti for $15 that can stand with this one.

From the Il Cabreo estate of the Folonaris, the 2008 Il Borgo, is a marvelous Super Tuscan with an emphasis on elegance and not on power. Loads of cherry and currant fruit, delicate spice, polished tannins and beautiful acidity make for a gorgeous wine with ideal structure. This is certainly approachable now, but should drink at is best in 7-10 years.

 Emilia Nardi, Tenute Silvio Nardi (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I've loved the wines from Silvio Nardi of Montalcino for years, as this is one of the most consistent estates of the area. The wines at this event were appropriately lovely, including the fruit-driven 2009 Rosso di Montalcino as well as two bottlings of Brunello di Montalcino from 2005- the normale and the Manachiara. While 2005 was not the most powerful year for Brunello, the wines from that harvest do display lovely balance; these examples from Nardi also display the precise bing cherry fruit and subtle herbal notes I always look for in these wines. Emilia Nardi has done a wonderful job at this estate over the past decade and is constantly looking to upgrade quality - she also has plans for another single vineyard Brunello to be released very soon. She's a lovely woman and a wonderful spokesperson for this district.

From Tenuta Sette Ponti, located in eastern Toscana, comes a Super Tuscan from the western reaches of Tuscany, namely the Maremma, located not far from the sea. The wine is the 2009 Poggio al Lupo, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante and Petit Verdot. You would imagine that a wine such as that would be a powerhouse, but you'd only be partly right. The wine is quite rich on the palate, but this is elegant with very good acidity and beautifully integrated oak. This is a sexy Italian red wine that is so appealing right now, but will display greater complexities in another 10-12 years - sort of like a beautiful woman!

Finally there is the matter of the 2008 Sassicaia. After all the transcendent press this wine has received over the years, how much can I - or anyone - add to the discussion? Well the 2008 is one of my all-time favorite bottlings of this wine and it's because it is one of the best balanced of any Sassicaia I've ever tasted. It's not like the wine isn't balanced in other years - the wine always offers great harmony of all its components. But the 2008 offer impeccable balance and structure that is rare even for this wine. Admittedly, this is not as powerful a wine as the 2006 or 2007, so if you favor intensity and power over finesse, you may prefer those years to the 2008. But I am a lover of balance and structure in just about any wine, especially when we're talking about Sassicaia. The 2008 is plenty big, but this year, I find a few extra layers of complexity in this wine, thanks to the ideal structure and backbone of this wine. I hope I have the opportunity to taste this wine in another 25 years (I do plan on being around that long).

All in all, a great day celebrating a superb collection of Italian wines!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Best of Italy Wine Class

It's that time again, as I'm putting together a very special Best of Italy wine class in my hometown of Chicago. I've selected ten very special wines that will give everyone attending a great overview of today's Italian wine landscape. We will taste various styles of wine, from Franciacorta, the great sparkling wine of Lombardia to Barolo, Brunello and Amarone.

Among the specific wines to be tasted in this class on Friday, Oct. 21 will be:

2005 Bellavista Gran Cuvée Franciacorta
2009 Edi Keber Collio
2006 Silvio Nardi "Manachiara" Brunello di Montalcino
2007 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico "Vigneto Sant'Urbano"
2007 Marcarini Barolo "Brunate"

The class will be held at Perman Wine Selections, 802 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago at 6:30 on Fiday, Oct. 21. Craig Perman operates this beautiful small wine retail shop in the West Loop, providing an excellent selection of artisan estate wines from around the world. 

Note that many of the wines in this special class will be bottles that I have acquired over the past year from several trips to Italy. Some of the wines will be from the shelves of Perman Wine Selections as well. 

Seating is quite limited and will be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. There will also be some food served with the wines. This is a very special event that will cover the amazing Italian wine industry! The price is $55 per person.

If you would like to enroll in this class, please email me at for information on how to sign up. This will fill early, so don't delay!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Singular Wines from Anakena

Impressive new releases from Chile that I've tasted recently include two wines from the Single Vineyard line from Anakena Winery. Located in the Rapel Valley, the winery has vineyards in several areas of the country, including Cachapoal, Leyda and Colchagua Valleys.

There are several lines of Anakena wines from the basic Varietal wines to the premium Ona wines, small lot bottlings that include Pinot Noir, Syrah and blends including Riesling/Viognier/Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon/Carmenere/Syrah.

Here are notes on two bottlings from the Single Vineyard series- both are suggested retail price of $14 on US retail shelves:

2010 Anakena Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard "Yunco Plot" (Casablanca Valley)
Located west of Santiago, Casablanca Valley is a cool climate zone not far from the Pacific Ocean; first planted in the 1980s, it is an ideal spot for varieties such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Pleasing varietal aromas of spearmint, gooseberry and freshly cut hay. Medium-bodied, this has an elegant entry on the palate along with good acidity and subtle herbal notes in the finish. This is a nicely made cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoy over the next year with shellfish or lighter chicken dishes.

2010 Anakena Carmenere Single Vineyard "Malva Plot" (D.O. Peumo)
The Peumo appellation is located in the western reaches of the Cachapoal Valley in western central Chile. Bright purple with inviting aromas of black raspberry, mocha, nutmeg and vanilla. Medium-bodied with very good concentration. Fresh and quite tasty, this is a delicious wine with well-defined varietal character, good acidity, round tannins and a distinct spiciness in the finish with notes of black pepper and cumin. Very appealing now and over the next 1-2 years. Very good value.

A few additional words on this wine. If you like Malbec from Argentina, with its spicy, peppery qualities, you'll love this wine. At $14, this delivers a lot of character and pleasure and is better than most examples of Malbec at this price. If I was purchasing wine for a steak house, I'd buy multiple cases of this wine, pour it by the glass and then watch the patrons enjoy themselves, especially as they order a second glass. It's that good! (This would also make for a wonderful everyday red for many consumers - pair it with barbecued ribs, pork chops, steaks or roasts.)