Thursday, May 9, 2019

Aged Spanish Wine Dinner in Jacksonville, FL

North and Central Florida are underserved when it comes to serious wine tastings; and the paucity increases when one strays from the "Napa Cab" lane. So I treated a WJ invitation to an aged-Rioja wine tasting at his home in Jacksonville with the respect that it warranted: immediate acceptance followed by regular email reviews to ensure that he had not changed the date, time, beverages, or my attendance.


The home is in a gated community, set a ways back from the guard gate. I rather enjoyed the scenery as I took the twists and turns until the GPS told me I had arrived and (I swear) that my destination was on the right.

I pulled into the driveway, parked, and reached into the back to retrieve my jacket and the bottle of wine that I had brought. Another car pulled up in the meanwhile and a lovely young couple exited and made their way towards the front door. I followed closely on their heels and shook their hands in the foyer. I raised my head and looked out into the the space beyond this couple and saw between six and eight perfectly (casually) coiffed couples. I walked in deeper and began shaking hands. I was becoming a little concerned though, because (i) this was supposed to have been a stag dinner and (ii) I was expecting a more mature group (not that there is anything wrong with successful, well-groomed young people).

I asked, hesitantly, "Am I at the right place?" One of the burnished young faces asked "Who are you looking for?" "WJ," I said. "Oh, he lives across the street." I was mortified. Luckily I had not grabbed a drink so I could slink out without having to look for a place to rest my glass. I drove across the street and was relieved when I saw WJ coming out of the house to welcome me. I did not mention a word as to what had happened until much later in the evening when the alcohol flowing through my veins loosened my tongue. We all had a hearty laugh. WJs daughter Elizabeth (the official photographer for the night's event) reassured me that the people whose party I had inadvertently crashed "are nice people."

I was among the early arrivals and one of the first things I noted upon entry was the large number of empty glasses on a couple of tables in a hallway off the sitting room. As only eight of us would be dining, it was clear that each attendee would have a dedicated glass for each wine of each flight. That is great because it provides the opportunity to continually revisit wines after the initial flurry. This was serious stuff.


We were all aware of the architecture of the tasting as WJ had kept us updated by email as things evolved. There was to be a "Cava Pop" at 6:30 pm, followed by a five-course dinner paired with wines from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, in turn followed by a cheese course paired with Madeiras. The food would be prepared by Chefs Herman Muller (Executive Chef, Ponte Vedra Inn and Club) and Erik Osol (Resort Chef de Cuisine and Head Chef of both the Seafoom Room and Seahorse Grill at the resort.

At 6:30 our Sommelier Brandon Boudreau began pouring the 2007 Mas Del Serral. I have posted on this wine, motivated partly by the impression it made on me and partly based on Brandon's encyclopedic knowledge of the wine. The hor d'oeuvres shown below accompanied the wine. Their freshness and fullness of flavor were the opening salvos in what would prove to be an epic night.



Brandon Boudreau was our Sommelier for the
night. His full-time job is Sommelier in the
Georgian Room at Sea Island Resort

Seared Scallop Ceviche

Razor Clams 

Blinis with Smoked Cobia

At the conclusion of our "Cava Hour," we were ushered into the dining room to commence our dinner.



The first course was a Sauteed Escargot (shown in the second picture below) and it was accompanied by the 1981 and 1985 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonio Tintos.

The 1981 was perfumed and floral with red fruit, bramble, baking spices, and coconut on the nose. Smooth and elegant on the palate with strawberry, citrus, burnt orange, and leather. The 1985 was broader on the nose with coconut and red fruits apparent. Bright red fruit on the palate and higher acid levels. Coal tar. Lead pencil finish.


Parsnip Parsley Veloute, Sauteed Escargot,
Oven-Fried Morel Mushrooms

Chef Erik Osol, Chef de Cuisine at Ponte Vedra
Inn and Club as well as Head Chef at both its
Seafoam Room and Seahorse Grill

1981 and 1985 Tondonias

The second course was a Seared Black Bass accompanied by the 1962 and 1964 Vega Sicilia Unicos.

The 1962 had a slight green character with coconut, leather, baking spices and red fruit on the nose. Concentrated but less alive than I would have hoped. This wine still has a long life ahead. The 1964 showed some funk on the nose along with spice, mint, and red fruits. More open than its compatriot. Full round mouthfeel with a cherry liqueur note. Balanced. Lengthy finish.

Seared Black Bass, White Gazpacho, Summer
Truffle

1962 and 1964 Vega Sicilia Unicos

A Roasted Duck Breast was the core of the third course and it was paired with a 1978 CVNE Imperial Reserva and a 1982 Marquès de Murietta Ygay.

The CVNE showed rose petals tobacco, baking spices, vanilla, and a metallic note. Layered on the palate with tobacco and a cupric character coming through from the nose. Engages the entire palate. An excellent wine. The Ygay showed spice, faded rose petals and strawberry, and a nuttiness on the nose. Flat and unyielding on the palate.

Roasted Duck Breast, Buttered Radish, Currant
Poultry Nage, Fava Beans, Pickled Blueberries,
Baby Turnips, Pickled Ramp

1978 CVNE and 1982 Marquès de Murietta Ygay

The Venison course was accompanied by the Lopez de Heredia Bosconia 1954, 1961, and 1968.

The Bosconia wines were all darker than any of the wines that had gone before. The 1954 showed waxy dark fruit, spice, nutmeg, leather truffles, and licorice. On the palate medium-bodied with sweet dark fruit. Lengthy finish. The 1961 displayed stewed dark fruit, wax, coconut, and spice. Bright on the palate. The 1968 was elegant. Earth, bramble, and dark fruit on the nose. Lengthy, bitter finish.

Seared Venison Loin, Burnt Sweet Onions,
Pickled Juniper Berry,
Hand-Shucked Garbanzo Beans, Demi-Glace

1954, 1961, and 1968 Lopez de Heredia
 Bosconia Tintos

We did a very European thing and closed out with a salad. The salad was paired with the 1964 and 1973 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonio Blanco.

The 1964 was a beautiful wine. Notes of honey and burnt orange. Nutty with massive minerality. Palate cleansing and palate pleasing with a never-ending finish. The 1973 was disappointingly slow out of the gate. It was less lively, and appeared older, than the 1964. It was also lighter-bodied. With some residence in the glass it lifted its head off the floor but it was truly outclassed.

Marigold, Pea Shoots, Lemon Palm, Red Oak,
Herb Greens, Yellow Beet Puree,
Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette

1964 and 1973 Tondonia Blancos


We had three separate Madeiras accompany the cheeses and a fairly lengthy and in-depth presentation on the wines by the owner.

The 1851 Leacock Boal Solera was rich with orange, dried herbs, oxidative note, and nuttiness on the nose. Dried fruits, orange, figs, caramel and nuttiness on the palate. Acidity balances out the sweetness. Persistent finish. The 1877 Camara de Lobos Torre Bella showed caramel, beeswax, nuttiness. Hazelnuts and caramel on the palate. The 1891 Barbeito Ribiero Real Bual was rich with spice, orange, and cherry liqueur. Great acid level. Long, tangy finish.

Local and Imported Cheeses to include:
Wainright Cheeses, Magnolia Ash Blue,
Parmesan, Rabiola

1851 Leacock Boal Solera, 1877 Camara de
Lobos Torre Bella, 1891 Barbeito Ribiero
Real Bual

The full lineup of dinner wines is shown below.


At the conclusion of the formal dinner we sought to cleanse the palates with a few bottles of Champagne.




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This was an excellent tasting. It was well architected, curated, and staged. I must first of all thank WJ for putting this together and providing the wines that formed the core of the tasting.

Brandon Boudreau, our Sommelier, did a phenomenal job. He opened, tasted, and served each and every bottle of wine, working alone for the most part. His staging of the glasses allowed him to pour the wines away from the table and deliver ready-to-drink portions to the table in a just-in-time manner.

The chefs outdid themselves. Resort chefs are not known for delivering this level of inventiveness and innovation in this custom setting but these guys came through with flying colors. Each dish was on point.

I really enjoyed tasting with the group. I was the newbie but these guys are all wine lovers and foodies and the quality of the food and wines provided fertile ground for some truly interesting dialogue.

The wines showed well with my favorites being the Tondonia Tintos, the 1964 Vega Sicilia, the 1978 CVNE, and the 1964 Tondonia Blanco. Of course I also liked the 2007 Mas Del Serral.

A night to remember.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The 2007 Mas Del Serral from Raventós i Blanc

On Saturday last I tasted the 2007 Mas Del Serral, easily the best Cava I have had to date and, but for want of a little more freshness, would be numbered among the best zero dosage champagnes I have had.

2007 Mas Del Serral
Mas Del Serral is a project of Raventós i Blanc (Raventos), the estate which I have identified as being the first to leave DO Cava because of quality and branding concerns. Raventos has been farming the same 97 ha since 1497 (between Christopher Columbus' second and third voyages to the New World) and is currently managed by Pepe Raventos, the 21st generation to have done so.

The farm is located in the municipality of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia in an unofficial region that the estate calls Conca del Riu Anoia: "a small geographic area centered around the Riu Anoia Basin between the Catalan Pre-Coastal and Coastal Ranges."


The climate in the region is characterized by mild winters and hot, dry summers and is modified by the Anoia River, Lake Can Codorniu, two streams, and a hill known as Turó del Serral. Further (raventos.com):
  • The proximity to the sea reduces thermal variation
  • The Catalan Coastal Range protects the area from excess humidity
  • The Serra d'en Compte and Montserrat mountain ranges protect the region from the cold wind blowing down from the Pyrenees.
Tectonic activity 20 million years ago dislodged Corsica and Sardinia from Europe and created the Vallès-Penedes depression which lay beneath the Mediterranean Sea until approximately 16 million years ago. During its subterranean period the skeletal remains of sea life built up in layers in the depression, forming a limestone bedrock. Rivers poured into this estuary, depositing continental detritus onto this formation. Five million years ago, The Messinian Salinity Crisis caused a drop in the level of the Mediterranean Sea and the Anoia River went from depositing material into an estuary to scouring away layers of the exposed bedrock. A number of these depository and "destructive" periods are visible in the fossil record.

Raventos i Blanc operates as a self-sufficient estate wherein both agriculture and livestock rearing are key business components and wooded areas contribute to the biodiversity that the estate seeks and promotes. Grapes are grown in seven named vineyards which are, in turn subdivided into a total of 44 distinct plots.

The vineyards are planted to indigenous varieties only (Xarel-lo, Macabeu, Parellada, Monastrell, Bastard Negre, and Xarel-lo Vermell) and are farmed according to biodynamic principles (Demeter-certified since 2014). The soils composition and variety distribution by vineyard are shown in the figure below.


Raventos practices biodynamic farming because of a "strong desire to maintain a sustainable and self-sufficient estate, with a wide-ranging biodiversity of flora and fauna and a rich underground life that gives a living and structured soil." A key component of the biodynamics program is compost which, in Raventos' case is secured from the pigs cows, donkey, horses, sheep and hens on the farm. The vineyard activities underpinning the biodynamic farming are shown in the figure below.


Mas del Serral is made from grapes grown on a 1.92 ha plot within the Clos del Serral vineyard. This plot was inter-planted in 1954 to Xarel-lo and Bastard Negre at 3500 vines/ha. The plot faces north/northwest at elevations ranging between 170 and 185 m elevation. Vines are Gobelet-trained and experience a cool and moist microclimate.

Growing conditions for the 2007 vintage included a relatively warm winter, rain in the spring, and a mild summer. Hydric stress, brought on by the lack of water during the summer, shortened the growing cycle by one week. Late August rain provided some late-season relief.

The grapes were hand-picked into 15 kilo baskets and transported to the cellar where they were subjected to secondary selection. They were whole-bunch pressed (pneumatic press at low pressure) and then fermented with indigenous yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and concrete tanks. The wines were aged in the tanks for 9 months prior to bottling. They were aged on lees for 100 months prior to disgorgement. Zero dosage. All grapes used in the construction of this wine were from the 2007 growing season.

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This was the first time that any of us had had this wine and we were all looking at each other, seeking affirmation. The dedicated Champagne drinkers were not jumping up and down; and I got why. But this wine was, as I stated in the opening, so close. It had flecks of gold in the color. The nose showed yeast and dried toast along with dried apricots. Slightly austere on both the nose and palate. Loved the lack of sugar on the palate but would have appeared leaner and finish would have been lengthier if the acid level was higher. That acid deficiency was most likely the result of the 2007 growing season, with hydric stress being visited on the grapes.

I will continue to seek out this vintage because of its classiness and the drinking pleasure that it brought. And will keep my eye open for future vintages to see the effects of different growing conditions on the wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A proposal for forestalling the Balkanization of Cava

DO Cava and "renegade" producers seeking to disassociate from a wounded brand are at the beginning of a journey that potentially leads to disaster for all involved. I propose an approach for disaster-avoidance.

There are two models for producer success in the wine world: (i) be a producer in a well-known wine region (not a guarantee for success but gets your feet in the door) or (ii) build a product brand (of course one can build a brand in an established region -- DRC in Burgundy, for example).

In the first instance, I can point to famous regions such as Burgundy and Piedmont (known for their terroir-based, varietal wines), Bordeaux (known for its stellar Cab- and Merlot-based blends), Tokaj (kingly sweet wines), and Champagne (the pinnacle of sparkling wines). In the second instance, I can point to wineries such as Sassaica, Ornellaia, and Grattamacco which downgraded to a regional classification so that they could make the quality and style of wine that they wanted to. They ultimately were successful and built their individual brands. But, also, because they were located in Bolgheri, they were eventually able to elevate that region also.

For the most part, recent producer activity has revolved around branding your terroir/style first and then using that as a lever with which to lift all boats. In the sparkling wine space we see the region-promotion efforts of the Franciacorta Consorzio; we see the Piedmont sparkling wine producers coming together under the Alta Langa banner; and we see the British sparkling wine producers casting about for an umbrella name under which they can launch their assault on Champagne.

Within the context of the foregoing discussion, then, the fractured approach being undertaken by the various Cava factions will only lead to Balkanization of the region. The Corpinnet group, for example, will be focused on building a brand, an exercise which has to first tie that brand to a territory then, subsequently, tie that construct to quality. That would take a lot of time and money; and with no guarantee of success.

Balkanization of Cava
I propose herein a more holistic approach. First, it is crazy to have a single brand named Cava covering sparkling wine made all over the country. The regional variation in quality, grapes used, etc., are not a recipe for customer retention. Rather, I propose that Spanish sparkling wine made outside of a core zone be associated with the region wherein it is made. This occurs in France where sparkling wine made outside of Champagne is called Crémant (Crémant de Bordeaux, for example). There are a fixed set of quality requirements under which these wines are made but grape variet(ies)y are not uniform. I propose that the word Cava remain associated with these non-core sparkling wines (Cava del Rioja, for example).


I then look at Champagne for the model for the organization of the central sparkling wine area. In that the name Cava would now be associated with the non-core zones, a new name would have to be surfaced; and it probably should be a known geographic area.

There would be sub-zones within the defined area and named vineyards within those sub-zones. Sub-zones would be demarcated based on soil and/or climate characteristics but the production characteristics would be similar across the region. Further, the production requirements within the core zone would be stricter than would be the case for the outlying areas.

If a single producer -- or a group of producers -- wanted to establish higher standards, they would be free to do so; and could tout that in their marketing materials. They would not, however, be allowed to place any group-specific material on the label.

DO Cava and the producers are playing "small ball" here. The problem confronting them requires a "big-picture" solution before everyone gets locked into intractable positions. The solution I have proposed here may mean decentralization of the sparkling wine authority down to the regional DOs -- loss of power for DO Cava -- but it would be in furtherance of a good cause.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The great producer search for quality Cava

Producers in the Penedès wine region began deserting the Cava appellation, beginning in 2012, because of concerns that the brand had a poor image, with low prices baked-in in many markets. Further, these producers felt that the appellation was too large to be managed or regulated effectively.  First, some background on Cava.

Prior to Spain's entry into the EU, its sparkling wine was called Champán or Champaña. With the EU regulation that all sparkling wines called Champagne has to originate from the Champagne region of France, the Spanish sparkling was renamed Cava, a reference to the place -- caves-- where the early wines were stored for aging.  Cava was granted DO designation in 1986 on Spain's entry into the EU.

Cava is produced in 159 municipalities spread across Catalonia, Aragon, Navarra, Rioja, and Valencia but fully 95% of that production originates in Catalonia's Penedès, a wine region located about 40 kilometers southwest of Barcelona.

Penedès is surrounded by the Monserrat range which provides a protective barrier from the heat and humidity of the Mediterranean as well as the cold winds -- levanter -- from the north and east. The climate is Mediterranean with annual temperatures averaging 15.5℃ (60℉) across the region but with slightly differing micro-climates within its three sub-zones. In Baix Penedès, the area closest to the coastline, elevation ranges between 0 and 250 meters and the temperature is milder, thanks to its proximity to the sea. In Penedès Superior -- 500 - 800 meters elevation -- there is greater rainfall than in the companion zones and a greater differential between maximum and minimum temperatures. Penedès Central (250 - 500 meters) experiences a mix of the Superior and Baix microclimates.

The soil in the Penedès region is a mix of limestone, sand, and clay with a chalky top layer atop a layer of clay which in turn overlays a rocky base.

While the Méthode Champenoise is utilized in the production of Cava, the traditional Champagne grapes, if used at all, are bit players in this drama.  The prime varieties used in Cava are Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parelleda but small amounts of Chardonnay, Malvasia, Pinot Noir, Trepat, Red Grenache, or Monastrell can be used in the blend. Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada are grown in both Baix and Central Penedès but the highest-quality Parellada grapes are grown in Penedès Superior.

In order to be called Cava, the sparkling wine made in the region has to be aged a minimum of 9 months before being taken to market.  Many producers age their wines for 2 to 4 years in order to provide wines with more character.  To be classified as Gran Reserva, a Cava has to be aged for at least 30 months.

The first producer to leave was Raventós i Blanc in 2012.


Conca Del Riu Anoia
Raventós i Blanc was especially concerned about the lack of Cava quality, which to its mind, resulted from unfocused geographic and production specifications. It lobbied for the creation of a DO called Conca Del Riu Anoia in a small geographic area surrounding the Anoia River Valley between the Anoia and Foix Rivers in eastern Penedès.

In addition to narrowing down the geographic requirements for this proposed DO, Raventós i Blanc sought to tighten up the Cava production rules:
  • Only indigenous varieties would be used in the production of this sparkling wine
  • Vineyards must be organically farmed (biodynamic would be even better) and be at least 10 years old
  • At least 50% of the wine must be made from estate-grown grapes
  • For grapes bought off the estate, the producer must pay a minimum of 1€/kg versus the average of 0.40€ that was the norm
  • All grapes should be sourced from the River Anoia area
  • Yield from the vineyards had a ceiling of 10,000 kg/ha
  • Hand-picked grapes
  • Wines must be 100% estate produced and bottled
  • Wines must be vintage and aged on their lees for a minimum of 18 months.
Raventós i Blanc did not get much traction on its proposal but is making its sparkling wines according to these specifications and is placing this unofficial designation on its labels.

Classic Penedès
For those unwilling -- or unable -- to fit into the Conca Del Riu Anoia framework, were still dissatisfied with the Cava DO, but wanted the comfort of a large DO, the Penedès DO created a support vehicle called Classic Penedès.

The new classification scheme addressed members' concerns about geographic scope by limiting the grapes to the Penedès region and addressed wine quality by insisting upon 100% organic farming practices and residence on the lees for at least 15 months. Interested producers were given until 2017 (a 5-year transition period) to become fully compliant with the organic farmimg requirement.

The producers who left at this time includeAlbert i Noya, Mas Comptal, Loxarel, Colet, and Mas Bertram.

Cava de Paraje Calificado
It was not like Cava DO officials were unaware that they had a problem; but they had a broad group of members and it took time to get them on board with a politically viable solution to what was a real problem. A problem which was a limiting factor in terms of product growth  on the international market and which was also tearing the organization apart internally.

After much discourse with the members, Cava introduced Cava de Paraje Calificado in 2016 but did not certify it until 2017. This mechanism allows for the production of single-vineyard Cavas based on the following requirements:
  • The vineyards needed to be at least 10 years old and must be wholly owned by the estate
  • The vineyard must have been separately vinified for a minimum of three harvests
  • Maximum yield of 48 hl/ha
  • Grapes must be hand-harvested
  • Fermentation on the estate
  • At least 85% of the wine must be from estate-grown fruit
  • Unlike Cava, cannot be acidified
  • Normal acid level of 5.5 g/l.
One author has characterized this schema as having the Burgundy classification without the Village and Premier Cru levels. In this mechanism, the top vineyards have been raised to the top classification level (with everyone else at the "Regional" level), but with no discernible path between the two.

Corpinnat
A number of Cava producers had been having discussions among themselves as to how to solve the perceived problem (they were not sure that the DO solution would address the problem adequately). After the Cava DO provided its solution it tried to play hardball with this subset of producers saying that they would not be allowed to use Cava and their proposed marketing name on the same label (This was an attempt to force them into ceasing their cooperation discussions and come on board with the DO solution). One day before the expiration of the deadline that Cava DO set, this group broke away and formed an organization called Corpinnat.

Corpinnat was a geographically limited construct -- 22,000 ha, all within the interior pocket of Penedès. This location is characterized by significant diurnal temperature variation (great  for acidity retention) and protection from Mediterranean humidity by a large chain of mountains. Allowed grape varieties are Xarel-lo, Macabeu, Parellada, and Malvasia for whites and Grenache, Monastrel, Sumoll, and Xarel-lo Vermel for reds.

Production requirements are as follows:
  • Organic farming
  • Hand-harvesting
  • A minimum of 75% of the grapes have to be grown in the producer's vineyard
  • Outside grapes have to be purchased at a set minimum price (0.70€/kg)
  • Native varieties must be a minimum of 90% of the blend
  • All wine should be produced at the winery
  • Wines must age a minimum of 18 months on the lees.
The first-movers in this organization are Gramona, Recaredo, Torelló, Llopart, Nadal, Sabaté i Coca, Mas Camdí, Huget-Can Feixes, and Júlia Vernet. While these producers represent only 1% of the total Cava DO output, their quality standing is reflecetd by the fact that they represent 30% of the Gran Reserva Cava production.

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The problem confronting Cava DO is that it does not currently have a true mechanism for identifying quality. Cava is a mechanism for producing sparkling wine rather than a geographic or terroir-based schema. And it seems that the name Cava is irretrievably broken. The producers intuitively have the right ideas as to how to solve the problem but the DO is afraid of sinking into irrelevance.

It is extremely important that the DO work with these innovative producers so that, as a group, they can work towards a number of sub-appellations which can produce terroir-based, high-quality wines under a Cava umbrella (or some other less-offensive nomenclature). If they choose, instead, to fight along the way, the ensuing complexity of offerings will turn the consumer off and end in great damage to the Spanish sparkling wine industry.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tasting the wines of Arkenstone with Jake Krausz, Estate Director

One of the treats of my previously annual jaunt to Premiere Napa Vally was tasting the wines of Arkenstone with Susan Krausz (estate co-owner) and Sam Kaplan (its highly accomplished winemaker). I was especially drawn to the Sauvignon Blancs which, in my humble opinion, are among the best produced in the United States.

Author with Arkenstone Winemaker
Sam Kaplan at Premiere Napa Valley 2017
I had an opportunity to revisit these memories on Tuesday last when Jake Krausz, the Estate Director, brought the key wines to Wine on the Way for a consumer tasting. The tasting was held in a "Happy Hour" format with Jake mingling among patrons on "this side" of the "bar" and Robert Zaun (Terroir Selections) and Connor Barbaree (Arkenstone) doing the pouring.

Jake Krausz, Arkenstone Estate Director
Arkenstone sits on the western ridge of Howell Mountain on land -- ranging between 1400 and 1650 feet elevation -- purchased by Ron and Susan Krausz back in 1988. After gaining the insight that the property was capable of producing high-quality wines, the Krausz's began a methodical and studied journey which has resulted in an estate and wines that have garnered attention and acclaim from consumers and critics alike.

Howell Mountain appellation with
Arkenstone indicated by red oval.
(Map sourced from howellmountain.org).
The Arkenstone vineyard is 13 acres in size and is planted mostly to red and white Bordeaux cultivars -- along with a small amount of Syrah. The vineyard is divided into 22 blocks and I could see a look of pain descend onto Jake's face as he told of digging rocks out of those blocks in his teenage years in order to expose the soil for reception of the vines. The Sauvignon Blanc vines were planted in 1997 and the red varieties in 1998.

Arkenstone Blocks
As is the case for most of Napa, a wide variety of soils underlie the Arkenstone vines. Grades range between 2% on the flattest portions of the vineyard to as much as 50% on the steepest portions.

Howell Mountain provides a favorable climatic environment for those fortunate enough to grow grapes on its surface. The AVA sits above the fog line during the growing season and, as such, is able to deliver more extensive sunshine to its vines than can its neighbors in the valley below. The combination of altitude, nutrient-poor volcanic soils, and an abundance of rock yield stressed vines and smaller clusters with smaller berries. The lower juice-to-skin ratio results in concentrated wines with robust tannins and great acidity.

In addition to the estate fruit, Arkenstone produces 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines from grapes procured from high-elevation vineyards in the Eastern Napa Mountains. Sam Kaplan oversees the grape-growing in both the estate and grower vineyards, ably assisted by a Vineyard Manager who has been with the enterprise since day one. Arkestone farms organically, using cover crops and compost as integral parts of its strategy.

Yields are further managed by pruning and leaf-thinning. Harvesting is done in pre-dawn hours to preserve freshness of fruit. After sorting and destemming on the crushpad, the berries are moved by gravity-flow into the lower level of the winery for fermentation and aging.

We tasted the Estate and NVD Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernets on Tuesday night.


Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2014
The Sauvignon Blanc grapes for this wine are grown on six very steep, very rocky vineyard blocks distinguished by nutrient-poor, well-drained, white volcanic soils. The Semillon grapes are grown in a single, small block that is located in the lower portion of the vineyard.

After fermentation, the wines are distributed 1/3 each into concrete egg, new French oak barrels, and used French oak barrels where they reside for 11 months on their lees. They are then bottled and spend 18 months aging before release on the market.

This wine has 6% Semillon by volume and showed hints of tropical fruit, to include pineapple, as well as citrus notes and lime skin. Salinity, spice, and minerality on the palate. Great texture and acidity. Lengthy finish.

Robert Zaun waxing poetic
about the wines on show.

Sauvignon Blanc NVD 2015
Austere on the nose when compared to the Estate. Elegant. Hint of tropical fruit. Riper fruit on the palate and broader than the nose implied. Citrus skin and minerality. Lengthy mineral finish.

Connor Barbaree reaching for the star(s)

Estate Cabernet Blend 2015 (formerly Obsidian)
This wine is generally made from Cabernet Sauvignon (67%), Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec grapes drawn from the top 16 of the 22 blocks dedicated to the Estate Blend. The lots are fermented and aged (90% new oak) separately, with the blending process beginning 11 months post-fermentation. After blending the wines are placed back into barrels so they can integrate fully while aging. The wines are aged in bottle for an additional year before being placed on the market.

Sweet, dark fruit on the nose along with spices, olives, and smoke. Very smooth on the palate.

Cabernet Sauvignon NVD 2015
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon made from grapes sourced from Pritchard Hill, Soda Canyon, Calistoga, and Howell Mountain. Rich, creamy nose with blue/black fruit and chocolate note. Ripe fruit. Textured. Lengthy finish.

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A unique and, ultimately, successfully approach to showcasing the wines. Attendees had access to Jake's perspective in an unhurried fashion but also had access to the expertise of Robert and Connor behind the "bar." The wines showed well but my personal bias still trends to the Sauvignon Blancs.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Estiatorio Milos: Fine Mediterranean cuisine at New York City's Hudson Yards

Whenever Ron, Bev, Parlo, or I go into New York City, we generally launch our expedition with lunch at the Midtown location (125 E 55th Street) of the famed Greek restaurant Estiatorio Milos. This restaurant was Chef Spilades entry point into the US and its signature open kitchen, fish market, fresh ingredients, and esthetically pleasing environment rendered it one of the standard bearers for Mediterranean food in NYC.

Our level of satisfaction with this restaurant has always been very high so when I heard that a second NYC location would be opened at the Hudson Yards development, I promised myself that I would check it out as soon after opening as possible. That occasion presented itself last Saturday.


I came in by Uber from Queens and decamped at the 11th Avenue entrance to the development. Hudson Yards is a "28-acre development built over an active rail yard and serves as home to more than 100 diverse shops and culinary experiences, offices ..., public art and cultural institutions including The Shed, modern residences, 14 acres of public plazas, gardens and groves, and the world's first Equinox Hotel."

Entering the plaza, we were immediately transfixed by The Vessel, the otherworldly structure that is the centerpiece of the Yard. "Comprised of 154 intricately interconnected flights of stairs -- almost 2500 individual steps and 80 landings -- the nearly one mile of vertical climb offers remarkable views of the city, the river, and beyond."

The Vessel



The Shed in the background

Stepping out of the car we were greeted by this bronze-gold, honeycomb structure rising out of the ground, narrowing as it reached for the skies. And there were people traversing its multiple bands, the center of attention of the throngs massed in the plaza below. This was a made-for-Instagram structure and one got the sense immediately that this place will grow to become an iconic New York City structure; a gathering place for locals and visitors alike. A mini-Eiffel Tower on the Hudson.

We crossed the plaza (after viewing The Vessel from every conceivable angle and taking a ton of pictures) and entered the 5-story, high-end shopping plaza that is an integral part of the complex. A security guard directed us to the express elevator to the 5th floor where Milos is located.

As expected, the layout and appointments of the enterprise are pleasing to the eye. The Wine Bar is located on the 5th floor while the restaurant is located one level up.The Wine Bar serves a large selection of by-the-glass wines and small plates while the restaurant has a similar wine list and food offerings as does the Midtown location. The fish market is a welcoming sign to Milos regulars.









What sets this restaurant apart from the Midtown one, is the possibilities afforded by the location: a sixth floor location with sweeping views of the rail yard, the Hudson River, and New Jersey beyond, as well as an in-your-face view of The Vessel. There is an inner bank of seats and then a step-down to another set of seats that hug the large glass walls. There is a balcony on the outside of the dining room which will be available for dining once it warms up.



Parlo, Greg, author, and Chris




There has been some discussion in the press regarding the high price of Milos' meals being obscured by the Market price designation but let not your hear be troubled. The prix fixe menu offers three course (each course selected from a healthy list of options) at a very fair price. We took this route and were very pleased.







The staff is young and eager but not as knowledgeable as the stalwarts of yore. But they will grow into it with the management team looking over their shoulders. Our server was excellent; our original Somm not so much. I had him switched out and things ran smoothly after that.


Ambience, great food, great wine, great views. It does not get any better than this.

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