Thursday, September 12, 2019

Zonin 1821 Wine Pairing Dinner at The Old Jailhouse (Sanford, FL)

In its heyday, Journeys (the Longwood location) was one of the top-rated restaurants in the Greater Orlando area. At the recent Zonin 1821 Wine Pairing Dinner, Chef Bram Fowler emphatically demonstrated why that was so, plating course after extraordinary course for appreciative diners.

I am a fan of Zonin 1821 as a result of my interactions with Luca Paschina (GM) and the wines of Barboursville Vineyards. I am a fan of The Old Jailhouse due to a longstanding friendship with Chef Bram and his family. It was a no-brainer that I would attend the Zonin 1821 Italian Dinner at the Old Jailhouse when it was announced. I attended in the company of Parlo and our good friend Saru Walsh.

Parlo, Chef Bram Fowler, and the author
shortly after the opening of The Old Jailhouse

Zonin 1821 is an Italy-based wine producer with nine estates around the world and over 2000 ha under vine. The Zonin 1821 holdings are shown in the map below. I have previously written about Barboursville Vineyards and its wines.

The Old Jailhouse was closed to the public for this event. Upon arrival, we were shown to our seats and presented a glass of Ca Bolani Prosecco Riserva. This wine was not impressive on a stand-alone basis. Sweet cantaloupe and a slight yeastiness on the nose. Weighty on the palate with a little too much residual sugar for my liking. It was a different story when this wine was eventually paired with a meal.

Chef Bram opened the proceedings by welcoming attendees and laying out how things would progress over the course of the evening. He then turned the floor over to the Breakthru Rep who, after a short speech, turned things over to Erin DeMara, Florida District Manager for Zonin's 1821 Fine Wine and Spirits.

As Chef Bram described it, for the first course he had placed a 2 oz Burrata on a bed of Arugula bolstered with a White Balsamic Reduction. The Burrata was topped with Basil Salt and the entire assemblage framed with Heirloom Tomato quarters.

This dish brought the Prosecco to life, revealing a lemongrass character and extending its finish. The dish itself was complex with the interplay of the salt and relative blandness of the Burrata, the crunchiness of the tomatoes versus the smoothness of the arugula. The presentation was not unattractive.

Arugula, Burrata, Hierloom Tomatoes, Basil Salt,
White Balsamic Reduction

The second course was built around Wild Mushrooms -- toned with olive oil -- and Shaved Summer Truffles on a bed of Mascarpone Polenta. This dish was paired with a 2017 Masseria Altemura Fiano.

The mushrooms were little gems with saltiness, acidity, and earthiness contrasting nicely with the creamy, grainy blandness of the polenta and the roughness of the truffles. The wine elevated the mouthfeel before totally cleansing the palate.

Wild Mushrooms, Mascarpone Polenta, Shaved
Summer Truffles

For the third course, Chef Bram poached and chopped lobster and shrimp and encased the product in a House Ravioli. The Ravilio was garnished with Toasted Pine Nuts and Wilted Spinach, all lightly doused with a Chianti Beurre Rouge.

There were two large Ravioli pillows; one might have done quite nicely, thank you. The texture of the pillows was somewhat reminiscent of the polenta that had gone before. I would have preferred a little less chew in my pillow. The filling was amazing; rich, creamy, tasty.

This dish was paired with a 2015 Castello di Albola Chianti Classico. The wine showed blue fruit, mint, and licorice on the nose and was elegant, layered, and complex on the palate, with a lengthy finish. While the beurre rouge struggled manfully to provide context, another wine might have provided a better fit.

Lobster and Shrimp House Ravioli, Toasted
Pine Nuts, Wilted Spinach, Chianti Beurre Rouge

The fourth course had a Pan-Seared Duck Breast sitting atop a Cipollini Onion braised in Agrodolce with Roasted Brussel Sprouts providing sentinel service at the north end of the plate, all within a Basil-Oil reduction ring. This dish was paired with a 2017 Rocca di Montemassi Sassbruna, a Supertuscan that is 80% Sangiovese with the remainder split equally between Merlot and Syrah.

The onion popped -- and took the duck with it. The wine showed dark fruit, tobacco and tea.

Pan-Seared Duck Breast, Cipollini Onion
Agrodolce, Roasted Brussel Sprouts

The final meat course was an Ossobuco (cooked in white wine) on a bed of Risotto Milanese and topped with a Gremolata. This was decadent and rich with the meat literally falling off the bone. My portion size was perfect, especially given the food that had gone before. This dish was paired with another Supertuscan, the 2014 Castello di Albola Acciaiolo.

Ossobuco, Risotto Milanese, Gremolata

The dessert course was a Gorgonzola Dulce on a Chocolate Brownie, paired with a 2016 Masseria Altemura Sasseo. I found the Gorgonzola Dulce too salty for my liking but loved the Brownie. The Sasseo, from the Primitivo variety, was an eye-opener for a Zinfandel-averse person.

Gorgonzola Dulce, Chocolate Brownie

This was the first wine-pairing dinner that had been held at The Old Jailhouse since its opening and I think that they did a fantastic job. Chef Bram took us outside of the constraints of his day-to-day menu and showed his wide-ranging capabilities and the tastiness of his creations.

The staff was excellent in this their first rodeo. Table space was managed effectively in that the wines were poured centrally and then brought to the table. Used glasses, dishes, and silverware were cleared in a timely fashion and water glasses were continuously topped up.

One of the attractive features of the Old Jailhouse as a restaurant is the nook-and-cranny dining spaces. This structural advantage becomes a bit of a challenge, however, in conducting a restaurant-wide wine tasting. Chef Bram's voice has a stentorian quality and, as such, is unyielding in its search for auditory receptors. The Zonin representative addressed this issue by constantly circulating among the tables after his presentation of each wine.

It would have been nice to have had some Barboursville Vineyards wines included in the tasting given it is Zonin's only US property and given that the winery does produce some Italian varietal wines.

I will be on the lookout for future tasting dinners The Old Jailhouse.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Contratto: A high-potential sparkling wine estate in Alta Langa DOCG

Alta Langa DOCG will need to ride the coattails of one or two highly successful producers to attain the prominence coveted by current industry participants  and to act as a magnet to potential market entrants. Contratto, with its lengthy history, savvy ownership, high-quality products, and the marketing muscle provided by its Unesco Heritage Cellars, is in a pretty position to play that leadership role.

I was introduced to Contratto wines by Giampiero Cordero, Sommelier at Ristorante Il Centro (Prioca d'Alba), and he was also instrumental in arranging my visit to its cantina. I used my Apple map for the drive between Alba and Canelli -- home of the Contratto cantina -- which turned out to be a white-knuckle ride up and down the steep hillsides which popped up early in the trip and did not end until a few minutes before its conclusion. I was dreading the ride back.

At the cantina we were welcomed by Luca Cigliuti who is currently responsible for sales to Asia and Latin America. Luca showed us around the cellar as he described the history of the establishment.

Contratta was founded by Giuseppe Contratto in 1867 with the express intent of making an Italian spumante metodo classico and, according to Luca, its 1919 Extra Brut was the first vintage sparkling wine made in Italy.

The Contratto cathedral cellars are absolutely stunning; so much so that they are designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Work on the cellars began in 1872 and was completed after 3 years of labor by 200 workers. The cellars are more than 5000 m² and is built into the heart of the hill that protects Canelli. It is excavated to a depth of 32 m in the tuff limestone.

The estate was in decline when it was bought by Carlo Bocchini in 1993. Bocchini restored the cellars before selling to the Rivetti's in 2011. Prior to buying the property, Giorgio Rivetti had been providing winemaking counsel and had been using the facility to make a metodo classico sparkling wine using grapes sourced from the Oltrepo Pavese region.

At the time of the purchase Contratto produced sparkling wines under the Metodo Classico - Vini Spumante di Qualita, Piemonte DOC, Asti Spumante DOCG, and Asti Spumante Metodo Classico appellations with fruit sourced from vineyards in Oltrepo Pavese, Lozzola, Costigliole d'Asti, and Canelli.

This lineup of fruit sources did not align with the Rivetti vision. This vision was to be a player in the Alta Langa appellation using fruit sourced from its own estate. Vision-realization was a two-step process, the first accomplished in relatively short order, the second unfolding over a longer timeframe. The first step (2014) was to transfer the source of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Oltrepo Pavese to Alta Langa. The second step was the purchase of 45 ha of land in Bossolasco to serve as the estate-fruit-source for its Alta Langa DOCG wines.

The Bossolasco vineyard, acquired in 2015, is located just outside of the village of the same name. It sits at 750 m and has a southern exposure. The land was initially used to grow Dolcetto vines and, more recently, medicinal herbs. The vineyard is being farmed organically and, by 2021, will provide the fruit for all Contratto Alta Langa wines.

The winery poduces a couple of Moscato-based wines (De Miranda label) for its Asti Spumante offerings and three non-Alta-Langa metodo classico wines (Millesmate, Cuvée Novicento pas Dosé, Riserva Special Cuvée pas Dosé). The Alta Langa wines are For England Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé (100% Pinot Noir, 48 months on lees, zero dosage), For England Rosé Pas Dosé (100% Pinot Noir, 48 months on lees, zero dosage), and Blanc de Blanc Pas Dosé (100% Chardonnay, 48 months on lees, zero dosage).

With the exception of the Asti Spumantes, all Contratta wines share the same production process:

  1. Grapes are handpicked
  2. Selection in the cellar
  3. In the cellar, staged separately based on vineyard location
  4. Cooled down prior to crushing
  5. Gentle pressing (1 hour pre-press skin contact for grapes destined for the Rosé)
  6. First-run juice used for fermentation
  7. Indigenous-yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks
  8. 8 months in tanks post-fermentation
  9. Bottled with liqueur de tirage for second fermentation (4 weeks)
  10. Minimum 36 months on lees
  11. Riddling
  12. Disgorgement (glace method)
  13. Aged in bottle 6 months post-disgorgement.

Parlo and Luca

At the end of our cellar tour Luca ushered us into a tasting room. Giorgio Rivetti was on premises because one of his relatives was getting married on the grounds later in the day so Luca invited him in to join us.

Giorgio Rivetti joins us for the tasting

The For England Blanc de Noir Pas Dosé 2011 showed white fruit, yeast and white bread. Tart apple and lemony character on the palate. Small bubbles. Sour finish.

The For England Rosé 2011 had a clean, unyielding nose with a subdued mousse, strawberry flavor, and a bitter finish. Bitter rose water on the palate with limited persistence.

The Blanc de Blanc 2011 was elegant on the nose with biscuit, citrus and yeast on the nose.  Mineral and saline on the palate along with citrus flavors. Persistence on the palate and tight finish.

The Rivetti purchase was consequential for both Contratto and the future of sparkling wines in Piedmont. First, the Rivettis know sparkling wine -- they are the largest Champagne importers in the area. Second, Giorgio is well respected as a winemaker in his own right. Robert Parker, Jr has described him as "One of Italy's most formidable winemaker/proprietors ..." who "displays a masterful touch." Third, the Rivettis have the vision and resources needed to make the estate a powerhouse in the region and the region a powerhouse in the sparkling wine world.

The Rivetti's will need to concentrate all of these positives in order to realize the full potential of this estate.

The ride back was even more harrowing than the inbound journey.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Alta Langa DOCG: Piemonte's burgeoning answer to Franciacorta?

During the Labor of Love pre-launch dinner party, Giampiero Cordero, the Sommelier at Ristorante Il Centro (Prioca d'Alba), introduced me to a sparkling wine -- Contratto Metodo Classico -- with which I was unfamiliar. The wine was intriguing so I sought out Giampiero later on in the evening, seeking additional information. He indicated that the wine was from a new sparkling wine DOCG called Alta Langa and promised to make arrangements for me to visit the winery on the Saturday post the dinner. He did make the arrangements and Parlo and I did make the visit. Before discussing the winery and its wines, I provide some background on the region.

The leading lights of Italian sparkling wine are Prosecco, Franciacorta, and Asti. If you confine your horizon to Piemonte, Asti and Moscato d'Asti are the most prominent. Alta Langa -- DOC in 2002, DOCG in 2011 -- is the new kid on the sparkling-wine block but the combination of its terroir, traditional Champagne varieties, traditional production method, skilled growers, and savvy producers bode well for the future.


Growers in the region have looked enviously at Champagne since the early 1800s. So much so that the Counts of Sumbay planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vines with an eye to making a Champagne-like sparkling wine. The chart below summarizes the history of the effort to make a Metodo Classico wine in Piemonte.

The Alta Langa DOCG is spread over 142 communes in the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, and Cuneo. Given the geographic scope of the region, one encounters a variety of climates, exposures, elevations and soil types. In general, the soil is a mildly fertile calcareous clay marl.

Vineyards are required to be planted at 250 m and above on the region's steep, terraced hillsides. Allowed varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and other non-aromatic grapes. Planting density is a minimum of 4000 vines/ha with the vines trained using the low espalier system and pruned traditional Guyot and spurred cordon. The maximum allowed yield is 11,000 kg/ha.

As is the case in Champagne, the Alta Langa producers -- 27 currently -- do not grow enough fruit to meet their needs. That gap is bridged with fruit from 80 growers who own their land and are guaranteed producer-payment for their grapes and labor.

Alta Langa DOCG covers a Spumante and Spumante Rosata, each built from a minimum of 90% Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and a maximum of 10% non-aromatic grape(s), fermented in the traditional method, and aged for a minimum of 30 months on the lees. A Riserva has to spend 36 months on the lees. An Alta Langa Rosso DOC has the same varietal requirements but no stated aging requirement.

Using Avezza Paolo's (one of the producers) practices as an example, the grapes are hand-harvested (a requirement) and taken to the cellar where they are crushed whole. Only the free-run juice is fermented.

Most of the producers ferment in stainless steel tanks but Bera Valter uses a mix of stainless steel and wood, with the majority done in steel. The base wine is placed under crown seal with the liqueur de tirage for the second fermentation (Bretta Rossa blends in a small amount of cuvée from the prior year's production.). The wine rests on its lees for a minimum of 30 months prior to disgorgement and dosage. The aforementioned Contratto always produces a vintage wine with zero dosage and a minimum of 48 months on the lees.

Franciacorta is the most significant Metodo Classico wine in Italy so some comparisons are in order.

Category Franciacorta Alta Langa
First Sparkling wine
Size (ha)
Grape sources Estates (104) Estates and Growers (107)
Soils Glacial morainic (4 types) Calcareous clay marl
Elevation “Gentle hills” Minimum 250 m

One of the things that I find disconcerting about Franciacorta is its richness. This stems from fruit ripening afforded by its relatively southerly location and acidity-robbing, low elevation vineyards. Alta Langa has the potential to produce a crisper sparkling wine given its more northerly provenance and its relatively high elevation.

The Piemonte region has a good track record in handling the Chardonnay grape. While not in the same geographic region, Gaja's Chardonnays take a back seat to no one and I am personally enamored with Aldo Conterno's Bussiador.

In most of the cases, the Alta Langa product is one component of a red-wine centric portfolio for both the growers and the producers. Contratto is one of the exceptions in that it is a standalone sparkling wine establishment within the broader Rivetti portfolio. The challenge for the region will be its relatively small size in a red-wine centric region where there will always be competition for attention and vineyard space vis a vis the the region's red wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, August 4, 2019

An exploration of selected Alto Adige wines

Orlando is a dyed-in-the-wool Napa Cab town but a small number of wine bars, retailers, and wine-services providers (Tim's Wine Market, Digress, Wine Bar George, and Slate Wine & Spirits Academy (SL&SA), for example) from time to time host tasting events aimed at the acid hounds among us. One such recent event was a SL&SA-hosted event titled Explore Alto Adige - Sudtirol Wine Region: Italy's Brightest Gem.

This is the fourth or fifth high-value, no-cost tasting that I am aware of that Jeanne K. Reilly MW has organized for her community of interest. Her modus operandi is to opportunistically engage a visiting winemaker, or other wine-aware personnage, and gaining a commitment from them to present their wines to her group. The "volunteer" in this case was May Matta-Aliah, DWS, CWE, the Alto Adige US Brand Ambassador. May led us in an informative lecture on the region and a tasting of six of its wines. I have previously reported on the region and will thus focus on the tasting in this post.

May Matta-Aliah, DWS, CWE

The wines included in the tasting were as follows (all wines were Alto Adige DOC):

White Wines
1. Nals Margreid Pinot Bianco Sirmian 2014
2. Elena Walch Sauvignon Castel Ringberg 2016
3. Castelfeder Gewürztraminer Vom Lehm 2018

Red Wines
1. Colterenzio Winery Lago di Caldaro 2016
2. Produttori San Michele Appiano Pinot Nero 2015
3. Cantina Andriano Lagrein Rubeno 2015.

White Wines
Nals Margreid Pinot Bianco Sirmian 2014
The current Nals Margreid is the end-product of the Kellerei Nals Cooperative, founded in 1932, and subsequent combinations with Magreid-Entikler (1985) and the remnants of the Schramsberg Coop (2007). The Coop is owned by 138 winegrowers farming a total of 145 ha (359 acres).

The grapes for the wine are grown in the Sirmian area, "... an authentic grand cru area ... within the Terlano sub-region where Italy's best Pinot Bianco are grown." The vines are, on avearge, 13 years old and reside on soils comprised of moraine debris and porphyry bedrock plus gneiss, mica, and marble inclusions. The vineyards are found at elevations ranging between 550 and 680 m.

The Pinot Bianco Sirmian was first produced in 1971. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks after which they undergo malolactic fermentation and 8 months aging in 20 - 30Hl oak barrels.

Notes: A green floral note , sweet white flower, pineapple and pepper spice. On the palate, bright acidity, lemon lime, tartness, minerality. Persistence on palate and lengthy finish. Alcohol burn.

Elena Walch Sauvignon Castel Ringberg 2016
Elena Walch is a leading Alto Adige wine estate farming 60 ha in, among others, top cru vineyards Vigna Castel Ringberg (Caldaro) and Vigna Kastelaz (Tramin). Castel Ringberg, at 20 ha, is Alto Adige's largest cru. Its modestly steep slopes are mostly chalky moraine with loamy and sandy soils.

The Sauvignon is fermented 85% in stainless steel (with extended yeast contact) and 15 % in barrique with assemblage just prior to bottling.

Notes: This wine exhibited a nuanced complexity. Florality, pungency, rust, green papaya, green bark, green herbs. Broad on the palate. Not as bright as the Pinot Bianco. Spicy. long, hot finish.

Castelfeder Gewürztraminer Vons Lehm 2018
Castelfeder is a 60-ha estate located in the middle of South Tyrol's southeast vineyards. The vineyards are planted on medium-heavy clay and loam soils at 300 - 500 m elevation.

Grapes are handpicked and cold-macerated for 12 hours before being gently pressed and fermented in stainless steel. The wine spends 6 months on lees.

Notes: Gewurtz nose. Sweet barley, sweet sop, lychee and lifted aromatics. Light on the attack but weighty on the mid-palate. Slight pricking of effervescence. Juicy. Mineral. Bitterness. Long, hot finish.

Red Wines
Colterenzio Lago di Caldaro 2018
Colterenzio Winery was founded in 1960 when 28 winemakers left the historical Cornarono wines to found a new venture. Today the Coop has 300 winegrowers farming 300 ha at elevatioins ranging between 230 and 650 m. The estate's Schiava vines are planted on hillside vineyards sited on morainal soils mixed with sand and eroded porphyry deposits.

Grapers are gravity-fed from the receiving area to the destemmer-crusher area. Red grapes are destemmed, crushed, and transferred to stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and four months of refinement in those tanks.

Notes: Floral. Faded rose, strawberry, and sweet red fruit on the nose. A lot more power than indicated by the color. Not a lot going on in terms of flavor complexity. Mineral. Metallic finish.

Cantina Produttori San Michele Appiano Pinot Nero 2015
Cantina San Michele was founded in 1907 in the land surrounding the town on the outskirts of Bolzano. A total of 340 families are involved in the cooperative.

The growing area experiences over 2000 hours of sunshine per year and significant diurnal temperature variation enabled by wartm ventilation from the south during the day and fresh breezes from the Mendola Massif during the evening hours.

Soils are moraine debris and limestone gravel at altitudes ranging between 400 and 550 m.

Notes: Darkest of the three red wines. Faded rose, dried herbs, spice, and elegance. Restrained on the attack but intensity increases as the wine makes its way to the back of the palate. Salinity. Thick and creamy. Gentle, late-arriving tannins. Rich, lengthy finish.

Cantina Andriano Lagrein Rubeno 2015
This estate was founded in 1893, the first of its kind in the area. It was absorbed into Cantina Terlano in 2008 but its operation and wines have been kept separate from the larger enterprise.

The estate's 70 ha of vineyards experience cooler growing conditions due to being in the sjadow of Mount Gantkafel and only being exposed to direct sunlight from early morning to mid-afternoon. Soils are eroded sedimentary rock of dolomitic rock and calcareous stone at altitudes ranging between 260 and 340 m.

Lagrein in this area dates back to the 17th century, one of the oldest in the South Tyrol region. The northeast-southeast exposed vineyards sit on red clay soil with gravel and stones at 250 m.

Grapes are handpicked and fermented in stainless steel tanks, then transferred to large oak casks for malolactic fermentation.

Notes: Deep, dark, brooding nose with earth and pruned dark fruit. Weighty, minty and licorice on the palate. Dark fruit with great acidity. lack of mid-palate. Sweet finish. Barkiness. Unfulfilling.

In general, the white wines were more appealing than the reds, not unexpected in that the region's whites are highly regarded. In the case of the reds, the Pinot Nero was attractive. In general these wines are high in alcohol but the diurnal variability ensures balancing acidity retention.

In terms of pricing, these wines represent good value for money with the highest priced (the Pinot Nero) coming in at $46. The whites average $23. I would purchase the Pinot Nero and any of the whites if the opportunity presented itself.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Penfolds 1987 Magill Estate Shiraz and NV Great Grandfather Rare Tawny at the Wine Watch Collectors Wine Dinner

Attendees were in high spirits as we concluded the Penfolds Vertical phase of the Collectors tasting and transitioned to dinner. Penfolds 1987 Magill Estate Shiraz and NV Penfolds Great Grandfather Rare Tawny were two of the intriguing wines accompanying the dinner. I cover these wines in this post.

1987 Penfolds Magill Estate
Magill Estate is a 5.24 ha monopole located in the foothills of the Mounty Lofty Ranges, a 15-minute drive from the Adelaide City Business District. This is the original Penfolds vineyard, in continuous operation since 1844.

The vineyard is dedicated to Shiraz vines, providing fruit to its namesake Shiraz label and, in selected vintages, to Penfolds Grange.

The Magill Estate Shiraz was first produced in 1983. The fruit is hand-harvested, basket-pressed, and then vinified in open, wax-lined, concrete tanks. The wine is aged between 12 and 15 months in a combination of new French and seasoned French and American oak

According to Decanter, 1987 was a challenging vintage in Australia for red wines produced in regions not named Hunter Valley or Margaret River. Most South Australia regions experienced difficulty in achieving full ripeness in the reds and "most of the top Penfolds reds were leaner and meaner than their usual standard."

The 1987 Magill Estate Shiraz that we tasted did not set off any fireworks. Granny's attic, dried plums, leather, and baking spices on the nose. Plum, tobacco, tea, spice, and forest floor on the palate. Lacking intensity. Uninspiring finish. Its best years have come and gone.

NV Penfolds Great Grandfather Rare Tawny
Port is buried deep with the Penfolds DNA. Doctor Christopher Ransom Penfold, a firm believer in the medicinal value of wine, planted some French vines around his home in Magill in 1844 and used the harvested fruit to produce port and sherry for dispensation to his patients.

The NV Penfolds Great Grandfather Port was introduced in 1994 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Penfolds. The port is a multi-vineyard blend of 13 varieties, with Mataro, Shiraz, Cabernet, and Grenache forming the core. The wine is fortified with a low-strength spirit which "accentuates primary fruit character" as well as facilitating "additional complexity and seamless integration."

The production process for this port is illustrated in the figure below.

On the nose this wine showed honey, toffee, fruitcake, burnt orange, menthol, and spice. Full-bodied on the palate with raisins, caramel, stewed apricots, and fruitcake. Good acid levels. Thick mouthfeel with a long finish. This wine paired extremely well with the Dark Chocolate Cremè Brulée.


Dark Chocolate Crème Brulée

Andrew Lampasone's wife prepares the dishes for these tastings and I have generally found the meals acceptable. She hit it out of the park for this event. One of the issues that I have had with her dishes is the serving sizes, falling more into the comfort range. For this tasting the dishes were reasonably sized, pleasing to the eye, and flavor-packed.

Baby Carpaccio with Grilled Shallot and
Elderflower Aioli

Venison Shu Mai with Porcini Veal
demi reduction

Australian Lamb Chops with Jalapeno Mint Jam
and Crème Fraiche Mash

I attended a number of Penfolds tastings during Dlynn Proctor's tenure as Penfolds Wine Ambassador and admired his detailed discussion of each of the wines; before, during, and after we tasted it. Dlynn had done this particular Wine Watch event for eight successive years prior to moving on to his new position and he left big shoes for the guys down south to fill.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Penfolds Grange vertical tasting at Wine Watch

Wine Watch (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) consistently offers interesting wine tasting events to its customer base and the recent Penfolds Grange Collectors Tasting was in keeping with that tradition. The event was divided into two components:
  1. A Penfolds Grange vertical tasting
  2. A five-course dinner accompanied by non-Grange Penfolds wines
This was a limited-attendee event with the wines on offer sourced from the cellars of the attendees, no duplicate vintages allowed. The vintages included in the tasting were 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2013, and 2014.

My offering was the 2004. As advised by Wine Watch, I took the bottle out of the rack on the evening before the tasting and stood it up to allow the sediment to go to the bottom. I had to travel from Orlando to Ft Lauderdale, so I double-decanted the wine prior to the start of my journey.

Unlike recent tastings that I have attended at Wine Watch, this one was held in the retail space rather than the wine bar. Pre-tasting socializing was facilitated bottles of 2015 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling and the 2017 Penfolds Chardonnay Max's Cuvée South Australia.

The Bin 51 was originally introduced in 1990 and is made from fruit sourced from Eden Valley. I was so taken by this wine that I brought some home with me that night. This wine was all about lemon, lime, and minerality to begin with. With residence in the glass, petrol and green herb notes began to emerge. Dry and weighty with citrus flavors and a long mineral finish.

The Chardonnay is a tribute to Max Schubert, the "legendary" Penfolds wine maker, and is made with fruit sourced from Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Herby funk on the nose along with mint. Bright on the palate with lime and dried herb flavors and minerality. Weighty. Drying finish.

Suitably lubricated, we were shown to our seats where Andrew introduced the event, the wines, and the Penfolds Brand Ambassador.

The 1997 Grange was 96% Shiraz and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, made with fruit drawn from Kalimna, Barossa Valley, McLaren-Vale, and Bordertown. This wine was aged for 20 months in new French oak. A somewhat challenging vintage combining a cool start to the season with high heat in the summer.

A elegant nose with dark fruit, baking spices,  and rust. Open on the palate with tar, orange liqueur, herbs and spices. Long creamy finish. Great acid level in this wine. This turned out to be my WOTN.

The 1999 Grange was made from Shiraz grapes grown in Kalimna, Barossa, Magill Estate, Mclaren-Vale, and Padthaway. This was the first 100% Shiraz Grange since 1963. This wine was aged for 17 months in new French oak.

Elegant and restrained. Baking spices, herbs and red fruit on the nose. Broader-based on the palate with red fruit, licorice, dried herbs, and a long, creamy finish.

The 2000 Grange was another 100% Shiraz and, together with the 2001, the only vintages made with grapes only from Kalimna and the Barossa Valley. Some rain between Christmas and New Years but very dry and very hot until March.

Eucalyptus, green herbs, black fruit, baking spices, leather and licorice on the nose. Black fruit, black olives, mint, chocolate on the palate. Smooth tannins. Finish not as long as the preceding wines.

The 2001 Grange was 99% Shiraz and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon from Kalimna and Barossa Valley. Aged for 17 months in New American oak. Good red wine vintage conditions.

Core of black fruit surrounded by eucalyptus, mint, tobacco, and cassis. Rich on the palate with sweet fruit, tobacco, and dark chocolate. Great acidity. I liked this wine.

The 2003 vintage was initially warm and dry, becoming milder later in the season. The wine was 97% Shiraz with the remainder Cabernet Sauvignon. Matured for 15 months in new American oak.

Florality accompanying dark fruit, herbs, mint and baking spices. Mint, black cherries, cassis, and black olives on the palate. Medium-bodied with medium acid levels.

Two thousand and four was an almost perfect growing season and, as such, delivered near-perfect fruit from Kalimna, Barossa Valley, McLaren-Vale, and Magill Estate. 96% Shiraz matured for 16 months in 100% new American oak .

Hint of oxidative character, orange skin, anise, black cherries, black tea, tar, herbs, and spices on the nose. Nose carries through to the palate. Balanced with long finish. One of the classic Grange's in my estimation.

The 2013 and 2014 were still way too young for my style and for this wine. These wines were 96% and 98% Shiraz, respectively, and spent 20 months in new American oak. Massive powerful, primary with Eucalyptus and dark fruit. Thick, rich with bright, fruity finishes.

The wines on offer showed well but it would have been nice to have seen some older vintages. My favorite Granges of the night were the 1997, 1999 and 2004. I will cover the dinner phase of the evening in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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

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.

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