Monday, November 30, 2015

Hit and miss: Two tales of Barolo and Burgundy

As they sit around the domino table, spinning yarns about the way it used to be, many an old-time, old world wine drinker can be heard to utter the unicorn words "As Barolo and Burgundy age, they tend to converge sensorially." Being a confirmed unicorn and UFO hunter, I have been searching high and low for writings which confirm this position; or at least discuss it in some meaningful way. I thought that I had happened upon two of those articles this year -- based on the titles -- but I can say at this time "mission un-Accomplished."

The first of the two articles was titled The Burgundization of Barolo -- An Imminent Sea Change in the Langhe, posted on the blog On the Wine Trail in Italy on Sunday, January 18, 2015. This post focused on the changes taking place in the broader Barolo region and drew especially on a Levi Dalton podcast with Antonio Galloni to help make the case. This was not exactly what I had been looking for but was a very interesting post, nonetheless, with some piercing insights:
  • The wines and social climate of Barolo and Barbaresco might be shifting to the more "exclusive and limited world in which Burgundy finds itself."
  • Winemakers in Barolo are becoming less accessible a la their peers in Burgundy
  • Barolo may become like Burgundy where winemaking families cannot afford to buy vineyards that come on the market. Those vineyards will instead be bought by investment groups.
This was interesting so I filed it away in Evernote with the sense that I might be able to build a knowledge base of some type that would build on it..

Just a few weeks ago, @Winefamilies tweeted a link to an article by Jay McInerney in titled Can a Barolo Really be as Good as a Top Burgundy? And still be Affordable? This stoked some fires. First, based on the title, I thought that the article would provide arguments as to why -- and why not -- a Barolo was not as good as a Top Burgundy. Secondly, while not defining the term "Top Burgundy," the title implied that all Top Burgundies were good. Further, the article was not asking whether a Top Barolo could be as good as a Top Burgundy. Instead it seemed to be asking that question re Barolo as a class. Seemed somewhat non-competitive to me. Finally, I thought that this article could be the second installment on my knowledge base, which at this time only consisted of the Acevola post above.

Anyway, I continued reading the article. It went on at great length about Chiara Boschis (star of the movie Barolo Boys, according to the article), the battle between the modernists and traditionalists in Barolo, and the Giacomo/Giovanni Conterno Monfortino story. It was not until close to the end of the article that the word Burgundy is mentioned in the text. I will quote you the entirety of its treatment:
Conterno aside, Barolo still represents great value compared with, say, the wines of Burgundy, a region with which it has much in common. Both are small, geographically complex appellations composed mostly of small grower domains (sic).
That's it. On the basis of these two sentences we are supposed to answer the questions posed in the title? Now don't get me wrong. This was an excellent article. I am just not sure, however, that it addressed the burning questions that it asked.

Well, my hunt for the unicorn goes on. As does my hunt for an answer to the question "Can a Barolo Really be as Good as a Top Burgundy? And still be affordable?

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, November 29, 2015

North Greece wine region physical environment vis a vis the W-MEA Model

I recently toured the North Greece wine region at the invitation of Wines of North Greece as part of a 2015 Digital Wine Communications Conference Pre-Conference Press Trip. An overview of the trip itinerary and some aspects of the environment were reported on previously.

Subsequent to the trip I submitted a comprehensive questionnaire to the wineries (through North Greece Wines) in order to collect data that would allow me to assess the wine environment against the Wine -- Mise en abyme (W-MEA) model. I developed this model as part of my assessment of grapevine needs and the best practices for effectively meeting those needs. The model is depicted below.

When complete, the assessment of the North Greece environment will have covered all three of the major components captured in the picture above. Today's post covers the physical (site) environment.

Of the 13 questionnaires submitted, six responses have been received. This is a fairly high rate of response (especially given the level of detail required in the responses) and is, no doubt, a reflection of the great working relationship between Wines of North Greece and its member wineries. I fully expect to continue receiving responses post-publication and will modify the reporting to reflect any new data so gained.

I have aggregated the responses into a regional composite in order to simplify the assessment as well as to protect any data that may be confidential to the responding wineries. The assessment follows with the leftmost column showing the elements, the second column showing the "best-practice" metric, the third column showing the composite North Greece metric, and the final column providing comments where I feel they are merited.

Model Element
North Greece Wines Metric
Marine west coast; Mediterranean
Mediteranean; Continental; 
Variety of climate modifiers to include lakes, mountains, and seas
Average Temp (℃)
15 - 19
12.4 - 21.33

Degree days

> 1750

2114 (average)

500 m/yr for cool region; 750 m/yr for hotter region
519 m
Deficits made up by irrigation


At or near 
highest feasible point; within thermal belt

90 - 720 m

-moderate incline

0 - 70%

Southern for cool regions; north, east, northeastern for continental climes

South; north; southeast

Convex; concave
Concave slopes can become cold pools with potential negative effects for fruit and vine
> 5.08 cm/hr drainage; 
0 - 25.4 cm/cm of soil of water-holding capacity

Well-drained; medium water-holding capability

Soil texture
sandy loam
Sandy clay loam, sandy loam, loam, sandy, sandy clay, limestone

Soil color
Primarily red-brown; some limited white

Soil effective rooting depth

> 1 m
< 2m; one case of 3 - 4 m

Nutrient availability
Medium; monitor with soil and leaf analysis

Soil pH
6 - 6.8
5 - 8

Soil organic matter

1 - 3%
0.8 - 2.5%

Soil toxic material


Pests/ Diseases
Phylloxera and nematodes 
assumed in 
most soils
Plasmopara viticola, downy mildew, powdery mildew, botrytis cinera, Esca syndrome, lobesia botrana, Grapevine fanleaf virus, leafroll, flavescence doree (Chardonnay)

There are no "show-stoppers" in the siting of the North Greece vineyards. As a matter of fact, all the base ingredients are present for the production of high-quality fruit.

Soil pH below 6 and above 7 is not preferred as those soils tend to have less-than-optimal levels of nutrients and micro-organisms. Soils falling outside of those ranges will require treatment to rectify shortcomings.

Elevation and slope are both important for air and water drainage with the potential for cold air pockets to develop during late spring in concave-shaped vineyards.

Subsequent posts will cover the built environment and vineyard management practices.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dinner at Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs (Orlando, FL)

It is not often that you get a restaurant which so effectively combines amazing environment with equally amazing, high-quality dishes. Morimoto Asia does. I hate to say it, because I have a number of personal faves in town, but the food at this establishment is pretty hard to beat. We ordered a wide range of dishes and were blown away by each one. This is one of the rare meals I have had where the wine was of secondary importance. The flavors were were so pleasing that I wanted them to linger and be unimpeded by other influences.

The dining menu is a two-page foldout with an insert containing raw bar items. The drinks menu is presented on an additional page. The main dining menu is shown here.

While we were perusing the menu, I had the server pop open a bottle of La Closerie Extra Brut. Our first order was slightly extensive and I was concerned about the staging. But not to worry. They staged the items perfectly and brought items out when they fit into the pattern rather than based on who had placed the order.

The items ordered on this first pass were: the hamachi tartare (dashi soy with crispy shallots, chives, and fresh wasabi; edamami; hot and sour soup (egg, tofu, and vegetables in a spicy broth); from the dim sum menu, kakuni pork bao (steamed buns, braised pork belly, lettuce, spicy mayo); and five spice chicken wings (with chopped jalapeno and crispy garlic). Every single one of these items was heavenly.

The hamachi tartare was not exactly as I had pictured it (it was a little more disembodied and tower-like than I had imagined) but after a couple of tentative tastes, I dug into this gold mine of flavor. And this was the most linear of the flavor profiles presented that evening. The hot and sour soup had a thickness to its texture and was perfectly balanced between the two components. Heavenly. I split the dim sum with my friend Paul (the ladies wanted no part of it) and it was a meal in itself. The bun was tender and juicy and, in texture and flavor, was the perfect contrast to the flavor bomb wrapped within its fold. The chicken wings (not pictured here) were perfectly cooked and was spicy without being overbearing. Lovely garlic note. By this time we knew that we were in the midst of a stellar dining experience.

Hot and Sour Soup
Hamachi Tartare
Kakuni Pork Bao

The main courses are presented on the right side of the menu where the peking duck and spare ribs have pride of place with standalone boxes (according to the server they are considered signature dishes of the establishment) so, of course, we ordered both.  In addition, Parlo ordered the sweet and sour crispy bronzino (boneless Mediterranean sea bass with signature sweet and sour sauce) and spicy thai basil fried rice (egg, bell pepper, scallions, bean sprouts, and spicy basil sauce) while Debbie ordered the Morimoto buri-bop (korean-style yellowtail rice bowl served in a hot clay pot, finished on an egg yolk and prepared tableside). 

We shared the plates between us. It was a gastronomic bacchanal. The spare ribs were a handful and should only be ordered as a shared plate (or if you want to eat leftover ribs for the remainder of the week). Bountiful but also bounteous flavor-wise.

Sweet and Sour Crispy Bronzino (sic?)
Peking Duck
Spare ribs
Spicy Basil Fried Rice
Buri-Bop -- before
Buri-Bop after tableside preparation

I was shot after this. I could not eat another morsel. But my wife insisted on dessert and ordered a Mochi-Mochi (annin tofu, coconut mango soup, fruit boba, frozen mago, and lemon yogurt powder). I was a non-participant.

Mochi-Mochi -- before
Mochi-Mochi after tableside preparation

This had been an extended and extensive meal and the service was an excellent complement. At no time did we feel rushed or hurried and the server opened and poured our wine as though it was his own.

I will be a frequent visitor to this establishment.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Morimoto Asia at Disney Springs: A Crystal Palace of Food

It took less time than it did for Odysseus to travel back home to Ithaca after the Battle of Troy, but I am sure that it was similarly arduous. I am speaking about the effort required last night to get from my home to Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs (the new, upscale name for the old Downtown Disney). That journey is the reason why locals thank their lucky stars every day for the wealth of fine eating establishments that have sprung up closer to home, negating the need to drive to Disney, which, for a long time, was the only quality show in town. But, all the griping aside, the trip was worth it.

Back in the day, Downtown Disney was comprised of a mix of specialty shops, once-shining restaurants, and a number of night clubs, but it had grown stale in comparison to newer venues such as Universal's City Walk. To address this issue, Disney has undertaken a massive revamp and rebranding of the area to include major infrastructure improvements and the addition of new shops, restaurants, and themed entertainment areas.

One of the new restaurants is Morimoto Asia, an offering from celebrity Chef Masaharu Morimoto which features cuisine from across Asia. The restaurant is located in the Landings section of Disney Springs and opened for business at the end of September. We had received very positive reviews regarding the food from Adam and Gigi Chilvers, our friends (and proprietors of after their visit so we decided to go experience it for ourselves.

I have alluded to the difficulty of fighting through Orlando rush-hour traffic and then the masses seeking to get into the Disney properties for their evening's entertainment. Disney has constructed large parking garages just north of the movie theaters and Cirque de Soleil and has also built a flyover that funnels I-4 traffic directly into the garage. You can choose to park within the structure or utilize an available valet parking service.

The restaurant is about five or six minutes (walking time) away from the parking area. Beware of high heels and fully loaded wine bags. I think I hyper-extended my elbow.

As you make your way from the parking area, you are almost not walking. It is as though you are being carried along on this wave of humanity that is moving from the parking area, all with no specific place to go and no specific time to get there. And then you happen on a quiet side street -- an island of calm in this roiling sea of humanity -- and at the end of the street you see the magic words on a vertically oriented sign -- Morimoto Asia.

You have to continue down that side street and make a right turn in order to access the Morimoto entrance. And it immediately hits you. This is Disney. These guys had to put on a show. And they did. It was stunning. This place is worth a visit just to see the type of structures developed and deployed and the use of light and incredibly beautiful light fixtures throughout the space.

The restaurant is spread out over two levels with bars and dining areas on each. The top floor is only partially built out leaving a large central "hole" through which ceiling-hung material can drape as well as through which to view the activities of the diners below.

On the top floor there are enclosed "quiet space" dining areas which are set up for four guests per table. There are larger tables set up outside of these quiet zones.

There are outside patio dining areas on each level.

A word to the wise. The restaurant is very crowded now in this early phase so make a reservation before you go. While we were standing at the reception desk they were turning people away left and right. There are a few first-come, first-served areas adjacent to both bars but you have to be lucky. Second, try to get a table on the second floor. It makes for a much more spectacular dining experience.

Well, my time is up. I will tell you about the food at another time.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blending terroirs during wine production

With the scope of blending and a definition of terroir under our belts, we are now in a position to explore the issue of blending terroirs. And the question that needs to be answered right out of the box is "Why would a winemaker want to construct a wine that is a blend of multiple terroirs?" In my view, terroir blends are the manifestation of a pursuit of greater complexity/quality. And that position is supported by Winemaker Matt writing on the Kendall-Jackson Blog.

According to Matt, "Blending different vineyard sites with different characteristics from different growing regions allow winemakers to create a wine that is 'greater than the sum of its parts.'" He points to the Kendall-Jackson Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (assuredly not one of the world's great wines; but the principle holds) which is built from a small percentage of the 400 lots which the winery vinifies and ages separately post-harvest. He creates a core blend and then experiments with different lots to add complexity and seamlessness. According to Matt, "Often the results are truly surprising. A wine that might seem simple, but having one or two interesting features, can provide an incredible enhancement to a new blend."

There are a number of different types of terroir blends and we explore a few below.

Muted Multi-Terroir Blend
The poster child for this approach is Penfolds. We have already established that the use of multi-terror blends is in pursuit of increased complexity. Penfolds, in the case of its Grange label, sources fruit from a wide array of vineyards across multiple districts but then mutes these terroir effects, in favor of a "house style," by implementing controlled fermentation and aging in new American oak.
    Single-Vineyard, Multi-Terroir, Single-Variety Blend
    The Masseto vineyard is sub-divided into three distinct sections based on soil characteristics and resultant wines.  The lowest section of the vineyard is called Masseto Junior and its soils are characteristically a clay-sand mix.  According to the winery the wines produced frrom grapes grown in this section are lighter and serve to smooth out the tannic roughness associated with the wines from the other sections as well as contributing to the overall delicacy of the final product.  The middle portion of the vineyard is called Masseto Centrale and has the highest levels of Pliocene clays. Wines produced from these grapes are powerful, concentrated, and tannic.  The top portion of the vineyard is located 120 meters above sea level and the soil here consists of loose clays and sand along with pebbles.  The soil here is the shallowest in the overall vineyard and the grapes tend to ripen earliest. The wines produced from this section of the vineyard are dense and linear.

    Fermentation is conducted in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and oak vats with each block fermented separately.  Blocks are aged in wooden barriques for one year prior to being blended into the final wine by the winemaker. After blending, the wines are returned to the barriques for an additional year of aging. Axel Heinz, the winemaker, in a Decanter interview (Ornellaia, May 2013) said "When young, Masseto can seem monolithic, but it often shows much more complexity with age."

    Multi-Terroir, Multi-Variety Blend with Terroir-Specificity per Variety
    The Ornellaia vineyards at Bellaria are planted at elevations ranging between 50 and 120 meters above sea level on slopes ranging between 5 and 20 degrees.  The hills above the vineyards protect the vines from cold winds while the sea moderates the temperature and reflects sunlight, a boon to grape ripening.  The soil composition changes every 500 meters or so and dictates the estate's planting strategy: Petit Verdot on sandy soils; Cabernet Sauvignon on clay-limestone soils; and Merlot on clay soils.  The average age of the vines at Bellaria is 8 years.

    Grapes are hand-harvested and subjected to a three-part selection process which ensures that only the best berries make it to the fermentation tanks.  Grapes from the estate's 60 parcels (37 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon, 38 hectares of Merlot, 12 hectares of Cabernet Franc, 10 hectares of Petit Verdot) are vinified and stored separately prior to the construction of the final blend.

    The estate's first wine is Ornellaia, a Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (25%), Cabernet Franc (12%), and Petit Verdot (3%) blend. The second wine is Le Serre Nuove, a Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Merlot (50%), Cabernet Franc (10%), and Petit Verdot blend. Le Volte is a 50% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 30% Merlot blend, with the Sangiovese fruit sourced externally.

    The complexity here will primarily be about the blend but what I find interesting is that the blend components are grown on the terroir to which they are deemed best suited. Hence some terroir attributes are introduced.

    Multi-Terroir, Multi-Variety Blend
    This contrasts with the approach described immediately above in that the terroirs differ and all of the varieties grow across multiple terroirs.  A case in point. Bodegas RODA grows Tempranillo, Graciano, and Garnacha varieties on old vines in Rioja vineyards that range over 28 separate ecosystems (each characterized by RODA-established altitude, soils, and climate-condition parameters) primarily sited in Rioja Alta but also encompassing portions of Rioja Baja.

    Vineyard altitudes range between 380 and 650 meters.

    Soils are inclusive of sand, clay-limestone, clay, and gravel. According to the Managing Director of the estate, the soils in Rioja Alta are primarily limestone, clay, and sandstone while the old terraces formed by the river has a top layer of sand and a deep layer of argillaceous soil. Rioja Baja has sandy soils over a limestone pan.

    To the extent that different varieties may have different characteristics in different terroirs, this approach provides the most significant opportunity for blending complexity.

    Multi-Vineyard Blend
    Poderi Aldo Conterno is located in Bussia, a village in Monforte d'Alba.  It is surrounded by 25 ha of vineyards at 400 meters altitude and with a south southwest aspect.  The soil is comprised of alternating layers of compact gray sand and white and blueish calcareous marls.

    In addition to the vineyard surrounding the Cantina, the Conterno family own three cru vineyards in Bussia: Romirasco, Cicala, and Colonello.  Romirasco -- located at 410 meters altitude on Soprano Hill -- has a SSW exposure and a clayey calcareous soil which is rich in calcium carbonate and iron. The Nebbiolo vines in this vineyard are 50- to 55-years old.  The Cicala vineyard is located on concave slopes with southeast exposures. The soil profile is similar to Romirasco's except that it is browner in color.  The vines here are 50-years old.  The vines at the Colonello Vineyard are 35- to 40-years old.  All of these vineyards are farmed organically.

    The estate produces Colonello, Cicala, and Romirasco wines but the Granbussia Riserva DOCG is the flagship wine of the estate.  The 4950-bottle production is made from grapes drawn from the Cicala (15%), Colonello (15%), and Romirasco (70%) vineyards.  These grapes are co-fermented in wood with 60 days of skin contact and spend another 32 months maturing prior to bottling.  The wine is stored for another 12 to 18 months after bottling.  This wine was first introduced in 2005.


    I like to say that every wine is a blend. If you vinify and age by lot, then you have to blend at some time. And, to a greater or lesser degree, you are doing a terroir blend at that time. As global warming increases the challenges that it will force on winemakers in the future, terroir-blending will become even more fundamental in wine production.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Every wine is a terroir wine

    An informed discussion on terroir and blending requires a clear understanding of the scope and definition of those two elements. In seeking to provide the prerequisite information, I have written a framing blog post on the scope of the blending decision and directed the reader to a prior post on the historical roots of the concept of terroir. In this post I present my thoughts on the concept of terroir.

    What is terroir? That is a question that is asked and answered, I am sure, an excruciating number of times on a daily basis. And the answers are as numerous as the number of times the question is asked. To me, the predominant terroir driver is the physical environment within which the wine grapes are grown.

    Grapevines have a set of needs, and the wines that are produced from the grapes provide insight as to how the physical environment went about meeting those needs. First I begin with the needs.

    Next, as an example, we look at how those grapevine needs are met in the Masseto vineyard.

    The Ornellaia estate encompasses 180 hectares -- 97 of which are planted to vine -- divided between two properties: the 37 hectares of vineyards and the winery on Via Bolgherese and a 60-hectare property called Bellaria which is located to the north of Bolgheri.  The Via Bolgherese property is divided into a 30.37-hectare vineyard dedicated to fruit for non-Masseto Ornellaia wines and a 6.63 hectare vineyard dedicated to the growth of Merlot grapes for the fabled Masseto wine.

    The Masseto vineyard is sub-divided into three distinct sections based on soil characteristics and resultant wines.  The lowest section of the vineyard is called Masseto Junior and its soils are characteristically a clay-sand mix.  According to the winery the wines produced from grapes grown in this section are lighter and serve to smooth out the tannic roughness associated with the wines from the other sections as well as contributing to the overall delicacy of the final product.  The middle portion of the vineyard is called Masseto Centrale and has the highest levels of Pliocene clays. Wines produced from these grapes are powerful, concentrated, and tannic.  The top portion of the vineyard is located 120 meters above sea level and the soil here consists of loose clays and sand along with pebbles.  The soil here is the shallowest in the overall vineyard and the grapes tend to ripen earliest. The wines produced from this section of the vineyard are dense and linear.

    This is what the physical environment offers in three separate parts of the Masseto vineyard as it strives to fulfill the needs of grapevine. These wines manifest terroir effects, driven by the physical environment in which the grapes were grown.

    Added to the foregoing, and of recent vintage, is the role of microbial populations in terroir. As reported in a recent Wine Spectator article, scientists from the UK and NZ have found that yeasts play a large role in wine regional identity. These scientists isolated Saccharomyces cerevisae strains from six NZ regions and found that post-fermentation levels of 29 chemical aroma and flavor compounds varied according to the regional strain used. In a post on Bodegas Catena wines, Just Grapes reports on a mold -- occurring in only one section of the Adrianna vineyard -- that enhances the efficiency of vine nutrient absorption. Catena makes a wine with grapes sourced only from that section of the vineyard and that wine -- mundus bacillus terrae -- is, according to Just Grapes, "remarkably distinctive and expressive." The key here is that the microbial differences are tied to location and so are correlated to the physical environment in which the grapes are grown.

    After a lot of thought and struggle, I have decided not to include the winemaker in my definition of terroir because the final product is so dependent on winemaker style. And that style is variant from winemaker to winemaker and from period to period. For example, in Rioja, and Montalcino, and Barolo, a traditional style came under attack from modernists. In all three of those environments you now have folks who have stuck to the traditional path, ones who have gone fully modern, and others who have struck a middle ground. The one thing that has remained constant (except for the warming) is the physical environment.  If the winemaker picks at the wrong time, the terroir characteristics are modified. If too much residual sugar is left post-fermentation, terroir characteristics can be muted. The winemaker can also use techniques to dampen terroir effects and produce a "house-style." And the jury is still out on the terroir effects of postmodern winemaking.

    Terroir is about uniqueness and distinctiveness and can be extremely granular. That is to say, a specific portion of a vineyard can be identified as a terroir (the basis for cru wines).

    I differentiate between terroir and appellation requirements. While appellation requirements may drive a sense of place, the "sameness" may highlight or dampen the terroir effects depending on the similarity of the physical environment within which the estates are operating.

    So, those are my thoughts on terroir. Next I will look at blending terroirs.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015

    Wines of North Greece: The physical environment

    Greece for me has historically been confined to the beaches of Mykonos and Vouliagmeni; the sheer cliffs, sunsets, and Assyrtiko of Santorini; and the timeless cultural artifacts of Athens. But no more. My horizons have been expanded significantly to now include the wine, foods, and people of Northern Greece thanks to a Wines-of-North-Greece-sponsored Pre-Conference Press Trip designed to introduce nine bloggers, and their readers, to the region's offerings. I will share my experiences and learnings in a number of posts on this blog over the coming weeks.

    Bloggers with Vasilis Ioannou of Alpha Estate at front left.
    Alpha Estate visit.
    In this post I will describe the physical environment within which the wineries operate. That will be followed by a post on the built environment and cultural practices. The third post in the series will cover the winemaking practices in the region while the fourth will delve into the actual wines produced. I will present my observations, learnings, and recommendations in the fifth and final post of the series.

    The Press Trip, as mentioned previously, was sponsored by Wines of North Greece. The map immediately below shows the distribution of wineries visited by region while the second map shows the specific locations of the wineries visited, the day on which each winery was visited, and the agenda at each winery.

    Distribution of wineries visited, by region
    Route of North Greece Wine Trail Press Trip

    Macedonia is the largest geographic region of the Greek territories with its 34,000+ km² accounting for 25.7% of the country's land mass. The region is mountainous, with 29.4% being mountainous, 25.9% hilly, and 34.7% flat land. The climate is Mediterranean at the coast and more continental inland.

    The table below summarizes the physical environment of the regions within which the wineries we visited are resident.

    Table1. Physical environments of wine regions visited
    Cold Mediterranean
    150 - 450 m
    • Limestone, loam, sand, clay
    • Low levels of organic matter
    • Coldest winemaking region in Greece
    • Great diurnal temperature variation
    • Constant north winds from adjacent mountains
    570 - 750 m
    Poor sandy soils
    150 - 250 m; gentle southeast-facing slopes
    Free-draining soils with high limestone content

    Slopes of Meliton

    Mediterranean; moderated by ocean influences; strong diurnal effect; 500 m annual rainfall

    200 - 400 m

    Finely broken schist
    Temperate Mediterranean; modified by oceans and mountains to the north
    250 - 750 m
    Iron-rich schist
    • Fertile loams at lower altitude
    • Rocky, low fertility soils at higher altitudes
    • Transitional

    High levels of sand and clay


    • Mediterranean


    For the most part, the climate is Mediterranean, in some cases moderated by oceans and/or mountains. The highest vineyard altitudes can be found at Amyndeon, where altitudes range between 570 and 750 meters. Rapsani tops out at similar altitudes as does Amyndeon but starts out at much lower levels. Schist, sand, and clay are the predominant soils.

    The built environment will be covered in the next post in this series.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Thursday, November 5, 2015

    Book Review: hungry for wine

    In the concluding chapter of her book hungry for wine (Provisions Press, 2015), author Cathy Huyghe struggles with the question as to whether she had lost the simple pleasure of wine. If the persistent act of drinking wine “in context” had caused a disassociation from the pure pleasure of drinking and enjoying wine just because it was there. And that self-reflection on the author’s part got me thinking that I had fallen victim to the same malady; except the object, in my case, was books – and reading.


    I read extensively – primarily non-fiction – for what I can learn, what I can extract for use in my blog, or as a subject for a book review; all sources of content for my blog. And it was with this mindset that I approached Cathy’s book as I settled back into my extra-leg-room seat on an early morning Jetblue flight  from Orlando to New York’s La Guardia Airport.

    With my academic approach to reading and writing, this book did not fare well in my reading of the early chapters. I fretted about the lack of continuity between chapters, the internet/newspaper-sized paragraphs (and the associated plentitude of white space on the pages), and a perceived preference for observation over analysis. It was not until page 56, and the story of winemaking in Santorini, that it hit me like a ton of bricks. It had been slowly building in my subconscious and then parted the curtains and begun to impose itself upon my consciousness. First, gentle probing. Then the bricks.

    I was reading the book “wrong.” Put another way, I was reading the wrong book. I was not reading the book in front of me, instead I was reading at a framework and seeking to hang this book up on that skeleton. And it was not working. Because it shouldn’t.  As I allowed this book to occupy its own space, it grew on me. In the chapter on Greece – my Road to Damascus experience – Cathy provided phenomenal insights and raised pertinent questions as to the future impact on the Greek wine industry of the return of the “educated ones” to the land, a direct result of the jobs crisis currently gripping the nation (This was especially pertinent to me as I had seen it first hand in a recent visit to North Greece as part of DWCC Pre-Conference Press Trip.).
    As I continued reading, my initial concern about continuity waned as it became clear that each chapter was a standalone story with its own context. And these stories were insightful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. Cathy has a knack for putting the right words together in the right order and at the right time to convey a fulsome story to her audience. And I love her tasting notes. They are unpretentious, original, and contextual, each one different from the other. There are hints of literature within some of these notes. For example, I have never seen a Parker note that read thusly:
    This wine gets to me, maybe because Friuli gets to me. I feel it when I stand at the low wall of the Abbey of Rosazzo, near to where Terre Alte's vineyards are located, looking out to the hills in front of me. My eyes scan the landscape, and I feel like I am returning. I sense that I know the curve of the road there, the rise of the hill over here, and the rush of the waterfall as an echo of what's come before.
    In architecture and methodology the book is somewhat reminiscent of George Taber’s In Search Of Bacchus with tasting notes at the end of each chapter (In Cathy’s case) subbing for the end-of-chapter unique experience in Taber’s book. Taber also focused on identifying wine regions from a tourism perspective while Cathy speaks more about the experiences of the people operating in the wine business in those regions.

    As stated in the About the Author section of the book (as well as in the Introduction) it is revealed that Cathy is a wine columnist at and Food52 and has written for a number of periodicals and television enterprises to include Decanter, the BBC, and WGBH. That pedigree is on full display in the way that the 12 stories which form the heart of the book are crafted and relayed.

    This is a book worth your time. You will come away from it with an enhanced perspective of how that wine got into your glass. Reading this book, and especially the author’s struggle with getting back to enjoying wine for what it is, brought me back to a place of reading for the pleasure of reading and enjoying the storytellers tale. As Susan Hoffman (@winefamilies) would say, “Get this book.”

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    Monday, November 2, 2015

    Blending and wine complexity

    One of the DWCC15 sessions that I was excited to attend was titled Terroir in the Blend and was hosted by my good friend Simon Woolf and soon-to-be good friend Charles Metcalfe. I will further frame the issues that they raised in the session by elaborating on the issues of blending and complexity (this post; a concatenation of earleir works) plus terroir (and the multiplicity of discussions circulating around today as to exactly what it is and whether it even exists).

    Wines have normally been classified as varietal or blends with the best old world representations of the former originating in Burgundy (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), Rheingau/Mosel (Riesling), Langhe (Nebbiolo), and the Loire Valley (Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc) and the latter from Bordeaux, Rioja, Chianti, and Chateauneuf de Pape. Eben Sadie, a South African wine producer, sees climate as a key differentiator between the mono-varietals and blends (Jancis Robinson, The virtues of blending, Grapes grown in cool, continental climates hang longer on the vine and "there is time to build up interesting, terroir-derived" characteristics which are on display in the mono-vatrietal wines of the region. Warmer and maritime regions have shorter growing seasons and varietal wines from these regions tend to be "less interesting and nuanced" than wines made from blends.

    There are a number of blending drivers, as indicated below. While varietal blends tend to dominate, blending can occur down to the single-variety, single-plot level where free-run and press juice are kept separate and then blended in a winemaker-determined proportion at a later date.

    According to, complexity in wine is demonstrated by "multiple layers and nuances of bouquet and flavors that are formed mostly in mature wines because aging contributes to this attribute." Further, "complexity creates interest and often unfolds layer upon layer on the nose and in the mouth if the wine is at its peak. Compared to complex wines, other wines seem shallow or one-dimensional."

    Benjamin Lewin MW illustrates this difference in his discussion of mono-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon versus Cab-dominated Bordeaux blends (Cabernet Sauvignon and its blending partners, Tong #15). According to Lewin, the mono-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon shows greater purity of fruit in its youth but is linear compared to the blend which exhibits a broader flavor spectrum.  A mono-varietal with two blending characteristics (free-run and pressed juice, let's say) will have less complexity potential than a two-variety blend which will exhibit dual-variety characteristics plus terroir characteristics associated with each. For a Bordeaux blend the potential is magnified.

    But, according to Lewin, it is with age that the differences between the wines really appear. The mono-varietal Cabernet Sauvignon matures but the purity of fruit of its youth yields to austerity while the blend produces the "savory notes of tertiary development."

    Eben Sadie views the New World's obsession with varietals as detrimental to progress on the complexity front as producers flit from varietal wine to varietal wine based on "fashion." Lewin sees a New World attitude typified by "blending is what you do only when the pure varietal wine wouldn't be good enough." They both view complexity as high on the desirability list and tightly (but not exclusively) linked to variety blends.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme

    DWCC15 Masterclass -- Swiss Wine Booster Shot

    Last year's DWCC final-day, after-lunch sessions were the antithesis of final-day, post-lunch sessions which are normally characterized by somnambulance and eminently forgettable content. Not so last year at DWCC. It began at the Grand Tasting with Jancis Robinson transparently tasting and discovering the elements of the wine along with the audience. Her halting steps of discovery in the Chasselas tasting were bolstered by incredibly sophisticated input from obviously knowledgeable members of the audience. This was a blast. We had to be dragged out of there -- late -- to attend the penultimate sessions.

    Mine was a tasting of rare Swiss varietals with the aforementioned Dr. Jose Vouillamoz who had shared the previous stage with Jancis Robinson. The session started late so he ran into the the time allotted for my final session, a tasting of Iconic Swiss Varietals with Paolo Basso, multiple winner of the Best Sommelier in the World title. Both of these sessions were eye-popping and palate-pleasing.

    Given the high note on which last year's session ended, it is no surprise that the organizers opted to employ a Swiss Wine masterclass as one of the first sessions of this year's conference to both stimulate the juices and provide a sense of continuity to returning attendees. The sense of continuity was further confirmed by having this session led by Dr. Vouillamoz.

    Dr. Vouillamoz began by making a few remarks on last year's event and then launched into his presentation. He began with a few key facts regarding the Swiss and wine, facts which are summarized in the graphic below.

    He then introduced the wines we would be tasting to include vintage, producers, variety, and region of origin. That information is summarized below.

    The tasting portion of the Masterclass centered around eight wines -- four reds and four whites -- with the whites being the first group tasted. The first two whites were both Chasselas from the Vaud region. The leftmost one in the picture above is the 2012 Calamin Grand Cru from Jean-Francois Neyroud Fonjallaz. The wine had a lemony-lime character, white fruit, and gunflint on the nose. On the palate white fruit, peppery spice, a broad-based citrus-rind acidity, and a long white fruit finish with some residual bitterness. The second Chasselas -- 2014 Domaine La Colombe Bayel -- was markedly different with more floral notes and brighter acidity, the latter reminiscent of an Assyrtiko. Greater intensity and lacking the bitterness of the Calamin. A white peach finish. Dr. Vouillamoz felt that the second wine was also rounder in the mouth and well balanced.

    The third white was a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc from Cave de Geneve/Phillippe Chevrier in Geneva. According to Dr. Vouillamoz, there are 157 ha of sauvignon Blanc planted in Switzerland with the majority in Geneva but some can also be found in Valais. This was a flush, fat Sauvigmnon Blanc, grassy and rich with hay and ripe tropical fruits. Good levels of acidity but appendage-like. Salinity and a metallic note on the palate. Long finish.

    The final white was a 2013 Adrian and Diego Mathier Petite Arvin de Molignon from the Valais region. Arvin is a "typical" variety in Valais (166 ha planted) and does not grow well outside of its native zone. On the nose, grapefruit, rhubarb, and melon. Full-bodied with high acidity and a phenolic note on the palate. A drying, bitter finish.

    As was the case for the whites, the first two reds were the same variety -- Pinot Noir in this case -- but they differed in origin -- Neuchatel and Three Lakes versus Eastern Switzerland. The 2012 Domaine de La Maison Caree Pinot Noir Auvernier presented strawberries, stemminess, smoke, and a tomato character on the nose. Austere Pinot fruit on the palate along with spice and an earthiness. Dr. Vouillamoz noted the tannins as young but smooth. The second Pinot Noir -- 2012 Wein and Gemuse Umbricht Pinot Noir Enora -- showed ripe strawberries paired with barrel notes. A bigger, rounder mouthfeel than for the first Pinot with a long, smoky, earthy finish. Our fearless leader saw it as full-bodied and probably late-harvested with the evident sweetness a combination of late-harvesting and barrel effects.

    There are about 12 ha of Bondola planted in Switzerland with Ticino being the variety's region of choice. The Bondola entrant in the tasting was a 2012 Azienda Mondo Bondola del Nonu Mario. This wine showed intense red fruit on the nose along with herbs, blood, medicine, and charcoal. On the palate high acidity, rustic tannins, and bitterness. A bitter finish.

    The final wine was a Cornalin, of which 122 ha are planted in Switzerland. The 2014 Cave Maurice Zufferey Cornalin de Sierre "Rouge du Pays" presented sweet red fruit and a richness on the nose. Full round mouthfeel along with a silky character. Not lacking in character and personality. Balanced and persistent. Cherry and bitterness on the finish.


    This session accomplished its goals. The precise, deliberate tasting style of Dr. Voulliamoz, the wealth of information that he shared with us, and the quality of the wines presented, put me in a very positive frame of mind re what I would get out of the conference This was launchpad realized.

    ©Wine -- Mise en abyme