Tasting time in Beijing: Cedar Creek wines from Australia

By Brian Yao The Kerry Center Hotel branch of Top Cellar recently hosted a tasting of Cedar Creek wines from Australia. Guests in Beijing joined the wine maker Graham Cranswick from Cedar Creek to try three reds and three whites, including the winner in the red wine category of last March’s Grape Wall of China Challenge, [...]

Stirring of the lees. Unstirred.

ah26-250-5057

Detail of a barrel with wine where one of the sides has been replaced by plexiglass so that you can see the deposit in the barrel, dead yeast cells fall down to the bottom of the barrel. Bodega Familia Schroeder Winery, also called Saurus, Neuquen, Patagonia, Argentina, South America.

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What wine to pair with Short Ribs?

San-vito-valpclsup"What wine should I have with short ribs?" As a food and wine pairing expert, I am often asked about what to drink with what one eats. Recently I was offered a glass of wine "blind" (meaning I did not know its country of origin or varietal) and found it intensely flavorful and delicious.

My first thought was that it was an Amarone, yet it did not have the characteristic nose of an Amarone. Still the rich, succulent, luxurious flavors of chocolate, mocha, and dried fig led me in that direction. "Hmmm," I asked myself, still not knowing much about the wine other than that it was Italian and very Amarone-like in presentation. "What would I eat with this?"

The answer was short ribs. Why? Short ribs are savory, and have a hint of sweetness to them, as does this wine. Ribs are also dense and meaty, another characteristic of this medium plus bodied wine. Uncovering the bottle, I saw it was 2004 Campo San Vito Valpolicella Ripasso from the Valpoliella AOC region in Northern Italy. These are the same grapes that make up the more expensive Amarone. The grapes are Corvina, Molinara, and Rondinella. Ripasso is an Italian term meaning repassed. The unpressed grape skins used to make Amarone are added to the already blended and fermented Valpolicella, which adds body, transforming it entirely, This is a wine with a personality. Great value for $25.

Vino-Lok

The other night we opened a bottle of the 2007 Weinhof Scheu Grauer Burgunder Kabinett Trocken, $16, Savio Soares Selections, a wine made from grapes perhaps better known to most of us as Pinot Gris. Imagine my surprise when there was no cork, no Stelvin (screw cap) closure either, no synthetic cork, but a little glass top that was vacuum sealed on the bottle. A little jiggling and it came out easily enough. And unlike a synthetic cork, I could easily re-seal the bottle using the same glass top.This thing is great, I think. Easy to open, easy to re-seal, much classier than a screw-cap, in my opinion. I wonder if allows a bit more oxygen than a screw-cap does to penetrate the seal? Anyway, I have never seen this kind of seal before. A little bit of searching the interwebs reveals that this alternative closure is called a Vino-Seal or a Vino-Lok. I prefer Vino-Lok, as it reminds me of a 1980's rapper's nom de guerre. In fact, I think that some one like Lyle Fass should seriously consider changing his name to Vino-Lok. That aside, I had never even heard of this. Apparently it's made by Alcoa, the aluminum production giant. And it costs more than other alternative seals.Like the screw cap, I'm sure this is meant for young-drinking wines, not the cellar-worthy stuff. I really liked it - the feel of opening and closing it, the look of it, the weight of it in my hand. And the wine was excellent too, which I'm attributing purely to the closure. Anyone else out there run into Vino-Lok? I don't mean the MC, I mean the alternative wine closure. Thoughts?

RK by Giaconda Chardonnay 2008

Beechworth, Victoria, Australia. Chardonnay. 13.5%. Screwcap. Approx $A40

Like its red twin this is only available at Vintage Cellars. It's quite convincing. Flinty and fleshy and smelling of struck match, grilled pineapple and peaches. Plump and almond meal like in the mouth with notable and lovely butterscotch and a trace of bitterness to conclude. Perhaps a touch short and round for more positive praise, but still, this seems true to the esteemed maker's house and is worth seeking out.

Very good.
90.
Now - 2012.

Visits and tastings

Last Wednesday evening, a dinner and visit was organized at La Dominique for 6 Americans connoisseurs, wine-lovers and happy bankers!
We tasted: La Dominique 2006 -2007 -2008 (incredible wine !)
For dinner, we drank Blanc de Valandraud N°2 2007, Domaine Fayat-Thunevin Pomerol

Thursday, I spent the morning in the office and from noon to 2:30 pm, work lunch at Fleur Cardinale, following a tasting.
At 4pm, interview with the German TV station ARD, then RTL radio at L’essentiel for a quick piece (the crisis, prices and the classification).
6:30 pm at Clément Pichon with Barbara to host “VIPs” guests of Clément and Jean-Claude Fayat.

Then, hurrah for a quiet evening watching TV.

Fleur Cardinale

Every year, Florence and Dominique Decoster organize a meeting to review the up coming vintage (we already know that the yields will be low) as well as past ones. The guests, which includes all he consultants, Richard, Jean Philippe, Bob and I, tasted the 2006 blind.

The same wines tasted 2 hours before were very different and even 2004, 2005 and 2006 opened the day before for a group of young Swedish sommeliers, friends of Andreas Larsson, were very different than the ones drank and tasted immediately. Especially 2005 which showed the immense potential of this great vintage.

In any case, it is getting much harder to find the smallest detail which would improve Fleur Cardinale, except in the vineyards where the Jaguar, recently purchased (a machine which seems to be in the habit to burn – as it happened twice in the area), with its 3 wheels, compresses less the soil and is faster and more efficient in case of emergency.

What’s certain is that the property has already past 3 levels of quality and that the 4th is much harder to reach: increase the yields while increasing the quality!

Shenandoah Vineyards

Nestled among farms and cattle ranches are the dozen or so wineries comprising the Shenandoah Valley Wine Growers Association.The oldest of these, which makes it the third oldest in the state, is Shenandoah Vineyards, located just off Interstate 81 in Edinburg Virginia. Known as the "breadbasket of the confederacy", the valley's fertile soil is home to thousands of small farms. One of these started in 1976, when Jim and Emma Randel planted 5000 vines of several French Hybrid varieties that they believed were well suited for the valley. In particular they were the first to champion Chambourcin as a suitable alternative to vinifera reds, at a time when the technological knowledge on how to successful grow vinifera grapes was lacking. These original vines are still producing fruit right behind the winery. In total, Shenandoah Vineyards now has 26 acres of vines planted of eleven varieties of grapes.

The first surprise we noticed when viewing the tasting sheet was the number of dry wines in the portfolio. Many wineries in similar locations must produce primarily sweet wines in order to fill the needs of the local market, but Shenandoah Vineyards had a nice 50/50 split. For instance they produce two versions of dry Chardonnay; the Founder's Reserve, a dry and buttery wine a result of aging two years in French Oak and a stainless steel fermented vintage Chardonnay. Of the two, we preferred the later, mostly because that's the style we like - let the flavor of the grape speak for itself. The also produce a dry Sauvignon Blanc that is fermented and aged in American oak - it was nice - but we still preferred the vintage Chardonnay. Getting sweeter they offer a semi-dry Johannisberg Riesling and their proprietary Shenandoah Blanc - the winery's best seller. In fact, we added to this trend, thinking this wine would be adopted by the National Guard members we were visiting that night. Its a nice everyday wine - fruity but not overly sweet. Plus, priced under $11 - why not.

Turning to reds, we started with the Founder's Reserve Pinot Noir, which is a light dry wine - but with a nice flavor. We decided that we would be different in chill this wine and serve as an alternative to a dry rose. Up next was the Founder's Reserve Chambourcin, the grape the couple first championed, and they have produced an impressive red wine. It is full bodied - but smooth; a very nice wine. We liked this more than their vintage Cabernet Sauvignon which just didn't have the same full bodied fruit flavor as the Chambourcin. The winery also produces a couple off dry to semi dry red wines, the Shenandoah Ruby and Rebel Red. The later is actually served chilled - although don't confuse this with a rose style wine. Both of these wines are designed for people who are a little skittish about drinking red wine. Shenandoah Vineyards does offer a few sweet wines such as the Sweet Serenade, Fiesta, and Raspberry Serenade. Because of time limitations we didn't sample these wines, but were told they were quite popular.

Now in her 80's, Emma Randel still operates the winery. She is a valuable source of knowledge for the Virginia wine industry since most wineries lack historical knowledge of how grapes react over time. She has witnessed cyclical variations in weather; pests; disease; and many other issues that most infant wineries in the state have not experienced. She is a valuable source that the industry needs. To see for yourself - take a break from driving and pull off Interstate 81 - and enjoy nice wines with clear views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

RTL reunited with one of her poopies

We had a lovely afternoon, heading over to Brockham in Surrey to meet with Tim and Claire, whose dog, Barney, is one of RTL's poopies. He's a beautiful labradoodle - much better looking than RTL. It was great to see the two dogs playing together. They seemed immediately to have some sort of bond, although Barney is a young dog with some drive, and...

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Leave Me out of your Tail Wagging, Finger Pointing Ego Contest

I am glad major wine critics are denouncing wine bloggers.  That means we have their attention.  Let every one of them come out and dismiss the hack work of junior wannabes.  But, they should at least do it with specificity and call their shots instead of offering neutered general opinions that take everybody down to mud level, wallowing in their hyped morass.

By way of background, in the editorial column of the July issue of the trade magazine Tasting Panel, Anthony Dias Blue came out against wine bloggers and defended Robert Parker in the controversy that occurred between Parker and wine blogger Tyler Colman (also known as Dr. Vino), in April and May of this year. 

image

If I have this conflict (in its entirety) correct: Tyler makes a legitimate ethical consistency inquiry to Robert Parker, kicking up some significant dust in the process.  Parker attacks back, but not at the specific situation through which the inquiry was made, not going after Dr. Vino, no.  Instead, Parker goes after all wine bloggers while Dr. Vino remains silent.  Two months later, Anthony Dias Blue, in an editorial in his trade magazine, defends Parker, while also indicting all wine bloggers.  Dr. Vino still remains silent. 

You can get caught up on the source material here here and here.

Simply, Parker and Anthony Dias Blue need to grow a pair of, er, courage enhancers.  Now, that I think about it, Dr. Vino needs to grow his own set, too and take ownership for the flap that he started instead of letting wine bloggers blunt the frontal assault that is rightfully his. 

Instead of attacking their inquisitor, Robert Parker and subsequently Anthony Dias Blue are throwing out generalized blanket statements, couched in smugness, that significantly neutralize their point and let Dr. Vino off scot-free.  And, unfortunately, Parker’s inquisitor, Dr. Vino, seems all too willing to let his brethren to take the brunt of the attacks caused by his, albeit effective, but nonetheless sensationalist-oriented, carpet bombs.

There are no winners here.

In fact, Tyler Colman’s silence is made more dubious by the fact that he attended the Symposium for Professional Wine Writer’s, but is not and has not attended either edition of the Wine Blogger’s Conference.  It’s not hard to extrapolate how he considers himself and his work.

Generally speaking, I believe in a few fundamental aspects of writing opinion-oriented material:

1) Discretion is the better part of valor

2) Nobody should be above reproach

3) Decency and civility shouldn’t inhibit somebody from giving reasoned analysis and a contrary point of view to prevailing wisdom

4) Mandated hierarchical respect is quaint and outdated. 

5)  If you’re going to dish it, you better be able to take it.

6) Broadsides and categorical indictments are irresponsible particularly when you can give a specific, to the point, reasoned opinion just as easily.

Item #6 might be the most important because opinion is only valuable in its specificity, not generalization. 

The responses from Parker and Blue have been a categorical rebuke that amounts to xenophobic name-calling and an indictment against all wine bloggers.  It’s a cowardly response from both of them. 

If either one of them had any stones whatsoever, instead of painting all bloggers with the same brush, they’d give a reasoned rebuttal specific to the conflict to Dr. Vino.  But, they didn’t and haven’t.

Yet, ultimately, the net result of the inquiry is that Parker amended his writing ethics and standards document and Anthony Dias Blue, whose magazine sells an “Exposure Package” that includes a full page magazine ad, feature story and sponsorship package on a radio program, doesn’t have any room to talk anyway.

If you look at this from a 100,000 feet, what Dr. Vino did was a legitimate question that resulted in a response, even if the inquiry was more sensationalized watchdog than legitimate news reporting, and the response ultimately came in the form of Robert Parker re-writing his ethics and standards.

However, in the ensuing melee, the three principal parties in this equation – Robert Parker, Tyler Colman, and Anthony Dias Blue need to fight their own fights and leave wine bloggers as a category out of it.  Wine bloggers have been called the equivalent of being “losers.” I would argue the only losers in this fracas are the three people that have chosen not to fight their fight mano y mano, instead letting “wine bloggers” be a catch-all distractor for grievances.

A nice evening with friends and good wine

We had some friends over last night, new and old, which was a good excuse to open some bottles. James and Vicky have been chums for some time - Fiona worked with Vicky years back, and we've kept in contact since. Heather and Mathieu are long-term friends of theirs, but by a bizarre twist of coincidence, they've moved back from France and their son...

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A Tiramisu recipe and a party courtesy of V. Sattui Winery

The folks at V. Sattui Winery got in touch to let us know about an upcoming party and to share an interesting Tiramisu recipe from Chef Gerardo Sainato.

V Sattui Winery

Next Saturday, July 25th, V. Sattui will host its 15th Annual Festa Italiana from 6:30pm – 9:30pm. For $75 per person ($65 per Cellar Club member), you’ll be treated to a whole slew of wine tasting options. Here’s just a small portion of the Futures Tasting that will be available at the event:

  • 2008 Carneros Chardonnay
  • 2008 Napa Valley Syrah
  • 2008 Crow Ridge (Russian River Valley) Zinfandel
  • 2008 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2008 Vittorio’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

To go along with the wine, you’ll be able to enjoy a menu consisting of antipasti, roasted wild boar, grilled tri-tip, fresh salmon, pastas, salads, tiramisu and Knickerbockers’ ‘famous’ double chocolate biscotti. Tickets are available only in advance and details can be sorted by calling 707-963-7774.

And finally, here’s a Tiramisu recipe that should keep you busy.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of espresso coffee, freshly brewed, room temperature
  • Madeira
  • 38 ladyfingers
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 8 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Two 8 ounce containers mascarpone cheese
  • Cocoa

Directions

Filling

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 8 tablespoons sugar

Beat together in electric mixer for approximately 4-5 minutes or until thick & creamy. When thick & creamy, add 2 tablespoons Madeira and the 2 8 ounce containers mascarpone cheese. Gently but thoroughly mix together. Set aside.

Mix together:

  • 1 ½ cup espresso coffee
  • 1/3 cup Madeira

Line a serving dish with half of the ladyfingers. Pour half of the coffee-Madeira mixture over the ladyfingers, going slowly, so it soaks in and covers the surface. Gently smooth half of the filling mixture over the ladyfingers. Dust with cocoa.

Make another layer with the remaining ladyfingers, dipping each one in the remaining coffee-madeira mixture before placing it in the dish. Cover with the remaining filling. Dust with cocoa. Chill before serving for at least an hour.

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Spy This!


Lots of Spy Valley wines being consumed around the Wannabe Wino house these last couple of weeks. After this one, I still have a Gewurztraminer and a Pinot Noir to taste and tell you about.  Overall, I’m really enjoying the Spy Valley line, the stand out for me so far has been the Sauvignon Blanc, but I would buy any of the ones I’ve tasted.  Tonight we tried the 2007 Spy Valley Pinot Gris. It had a screw cap closure, looks to retail for around $15, and clocked in at 13% alcohol by volume. That’s another nice thing about the Spy Valley line–relatively low alcohol levels overall compared to the wines I usually drink.

On the nose I found lemon zest, lemon grass, white flowers, very faint golden delicious apple, faint pear, melon, and some tropical notes.  In the mouth I got spice, white pepper, tropical fruit, star fruit, melon, a crisper apple, and a spicy kick on the end.  The fruit in the mouth showed bigger than I expected based on the nose, but it also had a spice characteristic throughout that lent the wine some depth.  We enjoyed this bottle.

Posted in New Zealand, Pinot Gris, White, Wine

Leave Me out of your Tail Wagging, Finger Pointing, Ego Contest

I’m glad major wine critics are denouncing wine bloggers.  That means we have their attention.  Let every one of them come out and dismiss the hack work of junior wannabes.  But, they should at least do it with specificity and call their shots instead of offering neutered general opinions that take everybody down to mud level, wallowing in their hyped morass.

By way of background, last week, in his Tasting Panel magazine, Anthony Dias Blue came out against wine bloggers, defending Robert Parker from the previous controversy that occurred between Parker and a blogger, Tyler Colman (known as Dr. Vino), in May of this year.  If I have this conflict (in its entirety) correct: Tyler makes a legitimate inquiry to Robert Parker, kicking up some significant dust in the process.  Parker attacks back, but not at the specific situation through which the inquiry was made, not going after Dr. Vino, instead he goes after all wine bloggers.  Dr. Vino remains silent.  Two months later, Anthony Dias Blue, in an editorial in his trade magazine, defends Parker, while also indicting all wine bloggers.  Dr. Vino remains silent. 

image

I think that about sums it up at a high-level.  I don’t think anybody in this situation excelled at high school debate.

You can get caught up on the source material here and here.

Simply, Parker and Anthony Dias Blue need to grow a pair of, er, courage enhancers.  Now, that I think about it, Dr. Vino needs to grow his own set, too and take ownership for the flap that he started instead of letting wine bloggers blunt the frontal assault that is rightfully his. 

Instead of attacking their inquisitor, Robert Parker and subsequently Anthony Dias Blue are throwing out generalized blanket statements, couched in smugness, that significantly neutralize their point and let Dr. Vino off scot-free.  And, unfortunately, Parker’s inquisitor, Dr. Vino, seems all too willing to let his brethren to take the brunt of the attacks caused by his, albeit effective, but nonetheless sensationalist-oriented, carpet bombs.

There are no winners here.

In fact, Tyler Colman’s silence is made more dubious by the fact that he attended the Symposium for Professional Wine Writer’s, but is not and has not attended either edition of the Wine Blogger’s Conference.  It’s not hard to extrapolate how he considers himself and his work.

Generally speaking, I believe in a few fundamental aspects of writing opinion-oriented material :

1) Discretion is the better part of valor

2) Nobody should be above reproach

3) Decency and civility shouldn’t inhibit somebody from giving reasoned analysis and a contrary point of view to prevailing wisdom

4) Mandated hierarchical respect is quaint and outdated. 

5)  If you’re going to dish it, you better be able to take it.

6) Broadsides and categorical indictments are irresponsible particularly when you can give a specific, to the point, reasoned opinion just as easily.

Item #6 might be the most important because opinion is only valuable in its specificity, not generalization.  The responses from Parker and Blue have been a categorical rebuke that amounts to xenophobic name-calling and an indictment against all wine bloggers.

It’s a cowardly response from both Parker and Blue. 

If either one of them had any balls whatsoever instead of painting all bloggers with the same brush they’d give a reasoned rebuttal specific to the conflict to Dr. Vino.  But, they’re not doing that.

Yet, ultimately, the net result of the inquiry is that Parker amended his writing ethics and standards document and Anthony Dias Blue, whose magazine sells an “Exposure Package” that includes a full page magazine ad, feature story and sponsorship package on a radio program, doesn’t have any room to talk anyway.

If you look at this from a 100,000 feet, what Dr. Vino did was a legitimate question that resulted in a response – a response in the form of Robert Parker re-writing his ethics and standards.  Everything else is immaterial.

However, in the ensuing melee, the three principal parties in this equation – Robert Parker, Tyler Colman, and Anthony Dias Blue need to fight their own fights and leave wine bloggers as a category out of it.  Wine bloggers have been called the equivalent of being “losers.” I would argue the only losers in this fracas are the three people that are too cowardly to fight their fights mano y mano.

A Wine Story 2009-07-19 08:30:14

Ch_campugetOkay, so you read the book A Year in Provence and are very excited to become a winemaker in the south of France. Yes, by all appearances it is a glamorous life. Gorgeous sunny weather, long leisurely lunches by the pool, sipping rose by the Mediterranean sea …

Wait! This is the fantasy. If you really want to make good wine, prepare for 20-hour days – even if you are the owner. Perhaps ‘especially if you are the owner’ is a better phrase since your reputation – and that of your wine - is all you really have. Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to meet and spend some time with handsome, broad-shouldered Franck-Lin Dalle at his Chateau Du Campuget winery in the sun-kissed Costieres de Nimes area of southern France. I had first tasted Mr. Dalle’s wine this past spring in Manhattan, at a formal luncheon tasting with his distributor. Tasting notes reflect my favorable impressions of the rose and prestige Viognier, as well as the very elegant Syrah, both the slightly oaked Le Sommeliere and the top offering simply called “1753.”

So you can imagine my excitement when offered the opportunity to meet Mr. Dalle at his estate in Nimes and see how the vines are grown and the wine is produced. Geography is very important in this region which is largely referred to as the Languedoc-Roussillon as the terroir is extremely varied over this vast expanse of land extending from the Spanish border in the Southwest to nearly Marseilles. For those of us in the wine world, this region is viewed as an up and coming area where younger winemakers such as Mr. Dalle strive to make quality wine.

“Let us be clear on this one point,” says Mr. Dalle, when I ask if he considers his Chateau in the Languedoc Roussillon area. “We offer Rhone style wines. We have the same soil as the Rhone Valley, the same pebbles.” As an example, Mr. Dalle picks up one of the rock-sized ‘pebbles’ that are a signature of the world-famous vineyards in Chateauneuf du-Pape. By all accounts, this association with the Rhone Valley is correct, especially in terms of terroir.

The Languedoc-Roussillion area is as large as many small countries put together, and driving two hours to visit an ancient ruin or have lunch in a Michelin-starred restaurant is common practice. Furthermore, each AOC of the region has its own soil and thus its own characteristic style of wine.

Mr. Dalle’s mention of the Rhone soil and pebbles (washed into Nimes a million years ago during the ice age) is very important, since one of Chateau du Campuget’s most important wines is Syrah, a varietal that has its best expression in the Northern Rhone. The pebbles he mentions (galets roules) also have the added protective advantage of preventing the sub-soils from drying out in summer, and enabling vine-roots to plunge deep into the ground.

One morning, Mr. Dalle took me into the vineyard in his little car to see the Syrah vines. It was mid-June and even at seven in the morning, the sun was fierce overhead. “These vineyards are named for family members,” Mr. Dalle told me, helping me onto a concrete slab in the middle of the vineyard so I could see the expanse of vines all around me — quite an impressive sight.

Stepping down, Mr. Dalle took me into the vineyards and explained that Chateau du Campuget does not believe in green harvesting, a technique whereby unripe grapes are cut from the vines, so that the vines can focus its energy on the healthy ripening of the existing grapes. “We believe a vine is a living thing,” he tells me. “Our goal is to nurture the vine and bring it to its fullest expression.”

Toward that end, canopy management is extremely important to Mr. Dalle, and on the morning of my visit he showed me the tractor that drove through the vineyard, with the mission of making sure the canopy of the vines was trained at the correct level to allow the right mix of sun, shade, and air flow. You have probably heard of the Mistral, the wind that comes down from the Rhone valley and can blow quite hard, yet the upside is that it dries the vines after summer storms, preventing rot.

Franck-Lin Dalle is understandably proud of Chateau du Campuget’s terroir, and of the gorgeous property which his grandfather purchased in 1941after a physician urged him to move south after a WWII injury. Mr. Dalle’s grandfather had owned breweries and thus understood the basics of fermentation, while his botanist partner (and brother-in-law) knew how to grow healthy vines. Though the pair had never made wine before, they quickly mastered the process. Now, over a half century later, Mr. Dalle wants to kick it up a notch and produce wine that will make the world take notice. Already their Prestige Viognier is offered by the glass at the prestigious Café Boulud in Manhatan and other fine restaurants around the world. Japan, Belgium, and many EU countries as well as the U.S. are big markets.

After the vineyards, we visit the cellar – which in the way of many ancient wineries has epoxy fermentation tanks from a hundred years ago standing nearly side by side with shiny new stainless steel. Though this is not a formal tasting visit, I can’t resist the temptation to taste and contrast the difference between the subtly oaked Le Sommelier Syrah and the unoaked prestige 1753, with grapes taken and selected from the best vineyards. Mr. Dalle indulges me by finding two glasses, opening two barrels, and taking a sample of each into the glass. Both wines are elegant and well balanced, yet it takes real finesse to create a wine as graceful as 1753 without oak. It is almost like a woman with the right bone structure and/or underlying personality has no need for makeup to appear soignée at a cocktail party. And if the 1753 is that good fresh from the barrel, I think to myself, what would it be like with some bottle age? So far, I have just spoken about the wine of Chateau du Campuget, and not of the gorgeous, fairy tale estate which was first built in the 17th century and includes many buildings in addition to the main Chateau where Mr. Dalles was born and grew up. Now that his father has retired, he runs the winery on his own, with the help of a vineyard manager and other key employees. Though Mr. Dalle lives on the property with his elegant wife Sandra and two adorable young daughters, the main Chateau in which he grew up is vacant. “I want to see this place full of life,” Mr. Dalle tells me, saying he has many ideas, including turning it into an exclusive bed and breakfast, or even a little restaurant.

If Mr. Dalle moves forward with these plans, guests will be the lucky ones. The expansive property offers a pool, pink and purple flowering trees, and even roaming peacocks with their vibrant plumes. Chateau du Campuget is a way of life, not merely a winery. In addition to the high quality of the wine, my strongest impressions was the hospitality of the entire Dalle family and Mr. Dalle’s passion for fulfilling his grandfather’s dream of making Chateau du Campuget a globally known brand through a combination of the latest technology and genuine husbandry of the vine.

Diversity Day in Rheinhessen

Once we left St. Antony and Heyl zu Herrnsheim, Thursday (July 9) in Rheinhessen turned into a day of contrasts, not that contrast is a bad thing; often one learns the most through the process of give-and-take. The bus took us south from Nierstein, through back roads, to Ludwigshöher, a village about the size of a baseball diamond, where we were scheduled to have lunch and taste the wines of Weingut Brüder Dr. Becker — this is the estate and winery of Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller — and also wines made by their friend Christine Bernhard, of Weingut Janson Bernhard in Zellertal-Harxheim, in the Pfalz region, a sort of preview for our next day’s exploration. Lotte Pfeffer-Müller is chairwoman of the board of ECOVIN. She and Bernhard prepared a spectacular lunch for us, which we’ll get to in a few minutes.

It’s easy to perceive the sensibility of a winery after a few minutes walking around and talking with the owner or winemaker. Brüder Dr. Becker has roots in the late 19th Century, and the facility has accreted gradually over the decades. Even the newer buildings, apparently from the 1960s, seem well-used, practical and rustic. Vines grow abundantly over arbors and trellises, moss furs the paving stones, and close by a rooster protests the presence of strangers in his precincts. Müller took us around the back, into an open shed where old machinery is stored, or simply waits for mechanical eternity, to talk about crop cover in the vineyards. What he showed us was a long table on which stood wide shallow bowls filled with the seeds of the plants — yellow, white and red clover, buckwheat, caraway, wild carrot, black lentils and some kind of pea plant — each type of seed remarkably different from the others, some fine enough that they almost felt like fine meal in the hand, others rough and pitted.

He took us into the winery, down two flights of stairs to the cellars where large oval barrels slumbered in the dim light. I promise, My Readers, that once you have seen a thousand steel tanks and 10,000 barriques, you never want to see another, but oddly shaped, venerable casks — some of these were from the 1930s and ’40s — silently hunkered down in a cellar carved from stone, highlighted by the unforgettable aroma of young wine and old wood, make for an experience of which I never tire.

Back upstairs, we walked into a room set for lunch in a manner that would have made the editors and stylists at Food & Wine and Gourmet magazines weep with envy. Out came the cameras to record this sight: a long, long table, overflowing with bright, colorful flowers and set with platters and bowls of the most gorgeous food imaginable, everything artistic yet artless, beautiful and carefree. There were slices of quiche with nettles; baby carrots wrapped in mint and thin slices of ham; lamb meatballs with feta cheese; pancake-like wraps of tomato pesto and feta cheese; bales of herb salads; home-made herb butters and dipping sauces, all made from organic ingredients and as locally-grown as possible. As delightful as this feast was, it didn’t make the best setting for tasting wine; there was too much going on, too much to eat and talk about, but, being the professionals that we were alleged to be, we forged professionally ahead.

While we ate and tasted, Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Christine Bernhard provided commentary, each weighing in with a zinger. “If you don’t produce ecological wines,” said Pfeffer-Müller, in her motherly yet uncompromising way, “then you don’t make real wines. If you don’t grow ecologically, then you cannot talk about terroir. It’s a kind of lifestyle.” And when we were trying Bernhard’s irresistible Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007, she said, “Riesling is unforgiving, but he’s adorable, too.” She always referred to the riesling grape in masculine terms. Both women asserted that since changing to organic methods in the vineyards, the grapes are “healthier” and the wines “better,” but, again, we had no standards of comparison. The wines we tasted, as these briefs notes should convey, ranged from appealing and delightful to profound. (Sorry, I only recorded prices for a few of these wines.)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Silvaner trocken 2008. Clean, fresh and spicy; vigorous acidity and minerality; lemon and yellow plums; thirst-quenching, delightful. 9 euros. ($12.70)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Silvaner trocker 2008. More substance to this sylvaner, a little fatter, spicier. 5.80 euros. ($8.20)

>Janson Bernhard Zellertaler Schwarzer Herrgott Riesling & Traminer trocken 2008. Another delightful wine, a blend of 50 percent riesling and 50 percent gewurztraminer; lively and spicy, very floral.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Dienheimer Riesling trocken 2008. Fresh, clean, bright, floral; very dry, tremendous minerality. 6.90 euros. ($9.75)

>Brüder Dr. Becker Tafelstein Riesling 2007, Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru). Gunflint and lilac, very pure and intense, very dry; profound minerality (limestone & shale), scintillating acid; awesome.

>Janson Bernhard Zeller Klosterstuck Riesling Spätlese 2007. this is beautiful; pure and intense and concentrated; great balance among ripeness and acid and minerality; peaches and apricots, touch of apple and pear; rigorous acidity, yet lovely, delicate; very dry finish. A lesson in the balance of delicacy with power.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Scheurebe Spätlese 2008. Deep, earthy and spicy; lime and grapefruit, very floral; poised between spareness and opulence; towering minerality, a sense of balance that’s actually exciting, electrifying. Wow.

>Brüder Dr. Becker Ludwigshöher Traminer Beerenauslese 2005. Close to angelic yet years to go, as in 2015 to ‘18.

We also tasted a red wine from each estate, which I’ll save for a post on red wine in Germany.

After leaving Brüder Dr. Becker — late, of course — we wended our way through fields and lanes and minuscule towns to the southern fringe of the Rheinhessen and a broad windswept hill in Hohen- Sülzen, home to Weingut BattenfeldSpanier and Weingut Kühling-Gillot and the forward-thinking and purposeful couple Carolin Spanier-Gillot and Oliver Spanier, whose marriage in 2006 united two old wine families. If Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller look like farmers, a sort of “Pleasant Peasant” version of American Gothic, Gillot and Spanier look like young gods, poised, elegant, modern. Their tasting room resembles one of Philip Johnson’s Glass Houses; their website could be a series of still photos from a film by Wong Kar-Wai, all poetry and shadows and evocation — and not very helpful.

Oliver Spanier, we discovered, takes self-confidence to steroidal levels, and as he poured wines for us, he delivered his opinions in rapid-fire and authoritative fashion, and in impeccable English.

On winemaking: “I don’t cool wines, I don’t heat wines. I do nothing. It’s all about fantastic sites and fantastic grapes.”

On biodynamic practices: “I don’t like to talk about bio-dy. I need minimum 20 years to see the results. Many young winemakers are doing biody and maybe it makes a great job to show the wines, but bio-dy is only part of the picture. I don’t believe in the moon and the constellations. The oceans go up and down whether there’s a full moon or not. When I do something, I must show it in science. I hate teas, teas do nothing. [Spanier is referring to some of Rudolph Steiner's root, plant and herbal teas that are sprayed at intervals on the vines.] We do spray the horn manure. This definitely works. You can see it in the grapes.”

On Rudolph Steiner (inventor of the biodynamic method of agriculture): “Steiner was a sick man. That says it all for me.”

On fruit in wine: “I hate all this discussion about fruit. All this makes me crazy. These writers are writing that a wine tastes like strawberries picked when the dew is still on them! [And I'm thinking, 'Hmmm, where can I use that?'] I like wines that are spicy and interesting. With this kind of wine, you can’t talk about flavors and boring things.”

On Bordeaux red wines: “I hate Bordeaux! Latour tastes like Coca-Cola!”

The wines, though, I thought were pretty damned wonderful, but they were controversial in our group. One of my colleagues acknowledged that they were well-made but “soulless.” That was not my impression. Brief notes:

>BattenfeldSpanier Weisburgunder trocken 2008. At about 7.50 euros ($10.57), this charming pinot blanc comes from the estate’s basic level of wines, bottled with screw-caps. This is pretty and appealing, spicy, a little fat and sassy, with good depth and dimension for the price — and then there’s a gangbuster finish of intense minerality.

>BattenfeldSpanier Hohen-Sülzen Weissburgunder 2008. The addition of the regional name indicates that this pinot blanc should offers more character than the previous entry, and it does. This is more intense and concentrated, with roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon balm, profound depths of limestone and slate and a dense, almost chewy texture. The wine spends six months in 1,200-liter barrels. 12.50 euros. ($17.62)

>BattenfeldSpanier Hohen-Sulzen Riesling trocken 2008. Piercing minerality, earthy, a little cheesey and mushroomy, tremendous body, heft and vibrancy, very spicy, very dry. 12.90 euros. ($18.19)

>BattenfeldSpanier Mölsheim Riesling trocken 2008. Big, rich and spicy, gets almost deliriously fragrant, powerful vitality, huge minerality. 12.90 euros. ($18.19)

>Kühling-Gillot Ölberg Riesling 2007, Grosses Gewächs. Ölberg is the same vineyard, near Nierstein, from which Felix Peters (St. Antony and Heyl zu Herrnstein) makes riesling; Spanier said, “We prefer, against Felix, to make a powerful style of wine from the red hills,” referring to the color and composition of the soil. No kidding. The Kuhling-Gillot version is lithe, tense, taut, almost muscular, endowed with staggering intimations of limestone and shale and, whimsically, hints of camellia. Amazing quality. Best from 2011 or ‘12 through 2017 to ‘19. 25 euros. ($35.25)

>BattenfeldSpanier CO Riesling 2008 (which won’t be released until 2013). CO — the initials stand for Carolin and Oliver — is an attempt, said Spanier, “to build the perfect wine, without residual sugar, without G.G. [Grosses Gewächs, "Grand Cru"], without the site — just the best grapes. Every vineyard has a stony spot, and we pick that and let the grapes hang the longest on the vines.” He may be correct; this might be perfect riesling, or close. Rich, slightly honeyed yet dauntlessly dry, tremendous body, tremendous presence, tremendous minerality. Packed with vitality and resonance yet clearly needing the bottle time until it is released. 78 euros. ($110)

The wines of BattenfeldSpanier and Kühling-Gillot are imported to the U.S. by Domaine Select Wine Estates.

Image of Lotte Pfeffer-Müller and Hans Müller from brueder-dr-becker.de. Image of Oliver Spanier and Carolin Spanier-Gillot from battenfeld-spanier.de.

Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch from Plunkett Fowles

ladies who shoot their lunch

I'm hoping Naked Wines is expecting further stocks; seldom do Australian wines get the excitement levels rising as these have. Currently three wines from the Blackwood Ridge are showing up on the Naked Wines wine search; they are good too but the 'Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch' range is, for me, simply superb.

Created as a 'home drinking' range for the owners, who have a penchant for locally shot game, they are perfectly designed to accompany food. And the marvellous packaging matches the quality of the liquid inside the bottle. Annoyingly I've lost the original photos of the wines and have had to steal the image used here from the internet; just don't tell on me!

The Strathbogie Range of hills, on which the Plunkett Fowels vineyards are planted, is classed as a cool climate area; helping the formation of tight tannins in the reds, again helping those food-matching aspects.



Red Wine Review/Tasting NoteWine Tasting Note: Plunkett Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz, 2006, Victoria, Australia
Price: £13.99 [More on Adegga / Snooth]
Great concentration and depth but also balanced with a lovely black fruit intensity on the finish. "not overly ripe, aiming for a more refined perfume and aromatics, allowing the flavours of the region to shine through". Juicy, food-loving palate with hints of mint and underlying spice. Alcohol 14%.
Scribblings Rating - 94/100 [4.25 out of 5]




White Wine Review/Tasting NoteWine Tasting Note: Plunkett Fowles Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Wild Ferment Chardonnay, 2008, Victoria, Australia.
Stockist: Naked Wines Price: £13.99 [More: Adegga / Snooth]
Clean and fresh aroma, lovely textural quality to the palate. Not overly oaked. Again aromatics are important. A softness to the palate. A spicy note adds interest. Alcohol 13%.
Scribblings Rating - 90/100 [3.75 out of 5]