Thursday, February 27, 2014

The bagging of Lot 215, Oakville East - Exposure 2014 Cabernet Franc #PNV14

In three of the past four years I have traveled to Napa with a group of Orlando friends to participate in Premiere Napa Valley (PNV), the annual, invitation-only, grand tasting and auction targeted at members of the wine trade. In three of those four years, The Wine Barn has acquired one of the auction lots and this year was even more fruitful for our town as (two lots) and The Wine Barn (one lot) kept our flag flying high in Napa. In this, and a subsequent post, I will profile the wineries whose offerings will, in the future, be gracing the tables and cellars of my fellow Orlandoans.

Continuing its four-year winning streak, The Wine Barn Syndicate bought a 5-case lot of 2012 Cabernet Franc produced by Oakville East. I will profile the winery first and then return to the auction lot.

Oakville East, as the name foretells, is located in Napa Valley's Oakville AVA on its eastern border with the Vaca Mountain foothills. I have previously written about the Oakville AVA and described its climate as "Mediterranean-like" (a result of the interaction between the cool San Francisco Bay air and the warmer air from the San Joaquin Valley) and its soil in the east (our area of concern) as being dominated by the volcanic composition of the Vaca Mountains.

The grapes included in Oakville East's wines are sourced from micro-vineyards owned by six families and farmed by their individual staffs as well as by an Oakville East vineyard manager who oversees/consults with them on an ongoing basis. Prior to placing their grapes into the collective, these small-plot owners sold their grapes to their larger, more-famous neighbors. The vineyards are currently farmed organically but are on a path, beginning in 2008, towards biodynamic farming and have enlisted Phillippe Armenier, noted bio-dynamicist and winemaker, to assist them on this journey. The Oakville East vineyards are shown in the table below.

                                    Oakville East Vineyards




Cabernet Sauvignon

On the Rocks


Cabernet Franc

Side Hill Lie


Cabernet Franc

1.5 acres
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Franc Petit Verdot

1 acre (1500 vines)

Cabernet Sauvignon

2 acre

1300 vines

Vertical Trellis
700 vines

New Block
660 vines


3.5 acres

The winery's first release was a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon comprised of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. That wine lives on today as Oakville East - Exposure. The winery also produces a Bordeaux blend which is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with a healthy dose of Cabernet Franc and a smaller Petit Verdot contribution. This wine is called Oakville East - Cold Stone. The winemaker for the initial offering was Sarah Gott of Phelps and Quintessa fame but, with the commencement of the 2010 vintage, Marie-Laure Ammons, a Phillipe Melka protégée, has taken on the role of head winemaker.

Oakville East's 2014 PNV offering was a 5-case lot made from grapes sourced from the Saunders Vineyard. This Cabernet Franc wine was bolstered with tiny amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. It was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged for 22 months in 70% new French oak barrels. The winery describes it as a "huge wine with ... soft, elegant tannins" that make it equally suitable for early drinking or cellaring.

We encountered the wine for the first time at the Women Winemakers' event at the Bardessono Hotel on Thursday, February 20th, and tabbed it as a wine of interest both on the basis of the winemakers enthusiasm and its quality. Andrew's (owner of The Wine Barn) notes: "Pencil lead, violets, currants, and licorice. A dense wine but with a good mineral and acidic core. It shows its Cabernet Franc character very well. An excellent 40-seconds+ finish with the oak presence, although evident, in balance." This wine joined the Mondavi and J. Davies lots on our acquisition-candidates list.

Maurie-Laure Ammons, Oakville East Winemaker
On the day of the auction, we got out early to take a final taste of our acquisition candidates. Our motives were pure but we got sidetracked into tasting Schrader (again and again), Scarecrow (again and again), Shafer (did not want Elias to feel lonely), Arkenstone (they have a great Sauvignon Blanc, by the way), and Memento Mori (Arkenstone winemaker is a partner in this venture; he is a comer).

Wish she would conclude that interview -- Scarecow
Has there ever been a kinder, gentler winemaker
That's wine on Andrew's lips, not blood

The bidding began while we were still at lunch and by the time we got to the auction hall, the madness was in full swing. Everything was twice to three times its highest previous price. We kept waiting for common sense to intrude but there was no stopping the flashing paddles or the frenetic auctioneers. We began to panic. Ron kept yelling for a strategy session (a little late, don't you think). "The boat is leaving the station and we are not gonna be on it," he screamed again and again (he lost his voice, by the way). Finally the auctioneer deigned to look in our direction and pinged our paddle just as we were about to lower it dejectedly for the 45th time. We kept waiting for someone to jump in and steal our thunder. It had happened before. But no one did this time. They were all spent. Or, Boa Constrictor-like, they were stuffed after the "meal"and had to crawl off into their collective corners to digest their commitments. We did not care. We had our lot. The 2014 Oakville East - Exposure Cabernet Franc.

Used with permission of Andrew Montoya, The Wine Barn

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oxidative notes and wine faults: Continuation of my response to Tom Stevenson's comments

I recently addressed a portion of the Tom Stevenson comments on my post juxtaposing his critiques of the Selosse Champagnes with the so-called "Galloni Doctrine." In this post I address the portion of his comments regarding oxidative Champagnes and wine faults.

Stevenson clearly sees oxidative Champagnes as a fault. He finds it "odd that the younger generations like oxidative aromas, as they are so old-fashioned, so seventies, but if that is what they like and they have the money to pay Selosse prices and actually enjoy the sort of thing that winemakers and consultants of my generation spent their life trying to rectify."

From his comments, one can infer three types of Champagne drinkers: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Good are the ones who drink Champagnes that conform to the traditional style; the Bad are the ones who drink oxidative-style Champagnes but for them it is a "stylistic" thing (They are given a hall-pass because they also drink other oxidative-style wines); and the Ugly are those who would not accept an oxidative wine of any other type but is willing to drink a Selosse Champagne. "If ... you (are) not happy with oxidative versions of other wines ..., then I have yet to hear a clear valid and rational reason why you (or anyone else) can make an exception for Champagne, especially as it is  by method,a deliberately reductive wine." Before we go any further, let us examine what is meant by oxidative wines.

Wine oxidizes when exposed to air via two primary mechanisms: enzymic and non-enzymic oxidation. Enzymic oxidation primarily afflicts wine must and requires the presence of the enzyme Tyrosinase (or Lacasse, in the case of botrytized must), phenolic compounds (flavonols, anthocyanins, tannins, etc.), oxygen, and metallic co-factors (iron, copper, etc.). Non-enzymic oxidation, also known as chemical oxidation, occurs in two steps: (i) Oxygen in the air reacts with wine phenols to create hydrogen peroxide and (ii) hydrogen peroxide reacts with ethanol to form acetaldehyde.

The effects of oxidation on wine are browning, loss of fruity aromas, and aldehydic aromas. Because of these characteristics, oxidization is widely viewed as a wine fault. But there are strong attempts to differentiate between oxidized wines (fault) and oxidative wines (style). For example, The Wine Doctor defines oxidative wines as "having been made in a fashion which allows oxygen to influence the style of the wine" while an oxidized wine occurs when the "aromatic profile of the wine has succumbed to the aldehydes created by the oxidation of ethanol by reactive oxygen derivatives." Dr. Vino describes oxidative wines as having just enough oxygen while, conversely, oxidized wines have been exposed to too much oxygen during the winemaking process.

Oxidized flavors do have some adherents but their appeal is not across-the-board. According to Joe Campanale, co-owner of NYC restaurant L'Artesi (as quoted in P. Govinda, Deep Breathing, Imbibe Magazine), "Oxidized flavors can be difficult if you are not familiar with them. All the fresh fruit aromas and taste diminish, making way for cooked or candied fruit, nutty, yeasty flavors, and a loss of complexity. Fans of these wines find their individuality and character unsurpassed and, because of that, they are some of the most fascinating and compelling wines in the world." According to Govinda, "... when it is an intentional part of winemaking, some winemakers believe you can end up with a bottle of such complexity that it borders on the taste ... of umami."

The first table below shows the characteristics gained and lost in oxidative winemaking while the one immediately following shows a sampling of deliberate oxidative winemaking around the world.

                                                                      Oxidative Wines
Characteristics Lost
Characteristics Gained
Original Color
Vibrant tones
Dried fruits
Umamai savoriness

Sampling of Oxidative Wines

Jerez (Sherry)
Vin Jaune
Red and white
Chateau Musar
Lopez de Heredia
Patrick Javillier
St. Aubain
Dominique Derain
Summer in sun in glass demi-johns
Domaine du Pech
Sauvignon Blanc
Patrice Lescaret
Hervé Villemade
*Beneath the veil – not filled up initially and not topped up during aging
**Some not topped up and bottled after a year; noticeable oxidative qualities
Sources: Sue Dyson and Roger McShane, Just add oxygen – Reflections on the allure of oxidation,; P. Govinda, Deep Breathing, Imbibe Magazine.

According to Paul Lukacs Inventing Wine, wine drinkers throughout history have had to contend with oxidized wines because of a lack of understanding of wine chemistry and unsatisfactory fermentation and aging vessels. These shortcomings have been addressed over the years and, with the advent of technologies such as temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, and the use of chemical aids such as sulfur dioxide, the winemaker can provide a product which has had very little exposure to oxygen in the journey from berry to wine. If oxidative flavors were a result of a lack of relevant technologies and techniques, and those technologies and techniques are available today, then oxidative flavors in a wine -- those throwbacks to the bad old days -- must be a fault. Or, at least, so goes the argument.

But, as I have shown in the table above, there are a number of winemakers who are actively pursuing this style of wine. And consumers must be purchasing these wines or these businesses would fail. So if a winemaker deliberately sets out to make a wine according to a certain set of goals, and he/she accomp[lishes those goals, and consumers favor that product, why is that not a "style?" Why is that a fault? Why is Selosse's oxidative Champagne a fault if one accepts this logic?

Further, the oxidative notes in wine may be a genetically tuned flavor element for some consumers. According to Dyson and McShane, "It is not possible to understand why winemakers deliberately try to develop oxidative notes in wine unless you also understand umami." Umamai is the savory taste which "results from the presence of L-glutamate and other related amino acids found in foods" and there is "individual variation to the perceived intensity of this taste." Exposing grape juice to oxygen increases the level of glutamates -- and umami qualities -- and the pleasure of those who find it appealing and the displeasure of those who don't.

As it relates to Selosse's wine, he is making wine in the oxidative style; and his customers are buying those wines. Whether because of a persistent pursuit of umami, or prestige, or whatever, they are buying it. And, in the face of declining wine consumption among old-world youth, wine lovers should embrace whatever it takes to get young people drinking wine. When the bubbles first appeared in the wine we now call Champagne, it was derided as a fault. The Dom tried everything he could to get rid of the bubbles. Now they are Champagne. Maybe one day Selosse will get his due also.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scratch (Winter Park, FL) knocks it out of the park

We threw Scratch a curve ball last Wednesday night and they absolutely hit it out of the park. You remember Scratch. The new restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue specializing in small plates and honchoed by a group of young out-of-towners. I spoke glowingly of the atmosphere and food and people in an earlier post but in this one I would like to address their adaptability, creativity, and downright fabulous cooking. Am I gushing? Mission accomplished.

We had had Ron's pre-birthday bash in Tampa but that still left the problem of where to have his actual birthday celebration. I had taken him to Scratch after one of our lengthy Wednesday lunches and he had been impressed by the atmosphere and the people. He asked them to host his birthday party -- remember that they do not take reservations and, further, they only have capacity for 40 patrons -- and, after some deliberation, they agreed. They would support a party of 14 people and would close the restaurant seating to the public between 5:00 and 10:00 pm (the bar would remain open to patrons) and attendees would be served from a prix fixe menu. We would supply the wines. This was totally outside the Scratch business model but they plunged in nonetheless. Kudos.

The party was scheduled to begin at 5:00 pm (we start early to ensure that there are enough hours available to accommodate our needs) and, when I arrived, the first indication that something was different, was the missing Advertising Board that was generally placed on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, beckoning at passers-by. There was also a notice on the door informing would-be patrons that the restaurant would be closed until 10:00 pm and apologizing for any inconvenience caused.

Inside, the tables had been set up to support a fine-dining event. The setup was appealing and welcoming. Ron and Bev were already there and Ron had two Champagne mags (1990 Pol Roget and 1989 Jose Michelle) on ice so we began the festivities forthwith.

Ron and Bev (pre-wine)

Within a short time, the other guests began to arrive: The Alcorns first, as is their wont, and Carson bringing up the rear. During this "cocktail hour", we vigorously attacked the appetizers that had been placed on the bar for our benefit and opened a number of high-quality bottles of wine. The conversation flowed as freely as the wine. Scratch had its full complement of staff on hand to ensure that our every need was met along the way and they moved smoothly between us, bringing a little something here, taking a little something away there. They were contributing significantly to what, even at this early point, was shaping up to be an excellent night. And then they gave us the news that they were not going to open the restaurant to the public after all. We had it to ourselves for the entire evening. Pump up the volume.

Eventually we were called to take our seats for the table service to begin. And what a service it was. I present the courses below in the order in which they were served.

Shrimp Ceviche: Lime-cured white shrimp,
avocado pureé, pickled rutabags, red onions,
radishes, micro cilantro, chiles, pineapple oranges
Coq au Vin: Wine-braised Lake Meadows hen,
royal trumpet mushrooms, shallot jam, wine
geleé, parisian carrots, bacon jus
Black Truffle Polenta: Stone-ground polenta,
black truffles, celery-root cream, crispy oyster
mushrooms, truffle jus, arugula, pecorino
Seared Sea Scallop: Seared sea scallop, squid ink
tortellini, sunchoke froth, trout caviar, green pea
puree, house-made ricotta, herbs
Bone-in Ribeye: Grilled filet of spinals (Medium rare),
roasted marrow bones, brioche, bordelaise
Creme brûlée 
Every course was absolutely fabulous. The creativity of the presentation was fair but the flavors were absolutely stunning. The consistency of quality across courses was the kind of experience that you dream about: there were no gaps or "falls-off." As a matter of fact, every course seemed to build on the one that preceded it and was a natural next chapter in the book that was the entire meal.  Steve's perspective was: "Every course was great, but my favorite was the ribeye, which was unlike any I'd had. It was served with bone marrow, which I'd never had like this. A bit of the bone marrow on each bite of the ribeye was amazing. Easily the best beef I've ever tasted."

Even the Creme Brûlée, which seemed rather pedestrian when presented as the capper to this fabulous lineup, was other-worldly. This chef can cook. This meal demonstrated his fine-dining capability, a capability which is restrained by the Scratch business model as well as the size of its kitchen. The meal presented to this group on that night places him firmly in the ranks of Orlando's best chefs (for that type of cuisine). The current Scratch business model does not allow the team to fully display its creativity and skills. But that is another story to be explored at another time with another venture. In the meantime, keep Scratching.

Well it would not be a Ron party without a lot of great wines. Our lineup is shown below.

Remember that the restaurant was closed down for the night? Well they pumped the music up and we danced until the wee hours of the morning. We want to thank the management and staff of Scratch for making the evening so enjoyable for us. We will be eternally grateful. Well, for a long time anyway.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Epicurean Hotel accentuates the Bern's Steak House (Tampa, FL) experience

After Ron's pre-birthday bash concluded at 3:15 am, they rolled back down I-4 to Orlando while we rolled across the street and climbed into our bed at the Epicurean. The Epicurean is a Marriott-managed, Bern's-owned (in partnership with others) 137-room hotel that is situated obliquely opposite the restaurant and is perfectly situated to meet the accommodation needs of the individuals traveling from out of town to partake in the "Bern's experience." The hotel, which has been on the drawing board for well nigh 10-years, is situated on vacant land that was bought expressly for that purpose plus land that was previously occupied by the old Bern's wine warehouse. The hotel opened for business to the public 1 month ago.

Epicurean, as seen from Bern's Steak House

As you step into the hotel, the reception area is located to the right-hand side of the lobby. The one theme hits you smack in the face as the reception desks sit atop wine coolers and the entire area is "tiled" with wooden wine boxes. At the reception area you are greeted by a smiling employee who asks your name and then offers to show you to your room.

Wine- or food-themed room indicators
Once in the room, the employee proceeded to show us the amenities (mini-bar with artisinal pastries and savory treats, in-room coffee maker with complimentary water, wine bar with six varietals and associated wine glasses) and, upon completion of the room tour, proceeded to check us in on the spot using an iPad. Room keys were issued on the spot.

Wine-barrel-themed bathroom sliding door

The hotel has four floors and a rooftop bar called Edge is located  on the top floor. Both guests and non-guests have access to the bar, the latter via a dedicated elevator and the former from the guest rooms with keys required for re-entry.

The Epicurean Theater is an area in the lobby that is dedicated to teaching food, wine, art, and culture. The day that we were there a class on Tea and Chocolate pairing was being taught by Abigail St. Clair.

Wine shop on the first floor
Wine bar on the first floor
The hotel has its own restaurant -- Elevage --that is separate and distinct from Bern's. We had brunch there on Sunday morning and I enjoyed my Boudoin Noir omelette.

The living wall. Order an Epicurean Salad and this is the source.

Bern's Steak House, as seen from the Epicurean
This hotel stands on its own. This is not a hotel that you stay at because you are going to Bern's. This is a hotel that you would consider staying at. Period. Its proximity to Bern's makes the decision to run over to Bern's for dinner a lot easier.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme