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!