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Drink

Ancient Peaks, Paso Robles Southernmost Winery

The Paso Robles region’s southernmost winery Ancient Peaks is located at Santa Margarita Ranch which we learned is the size of Manhattan. Its vast (857 acre) Margarita Vineyard is the only vineyard in this region and is distinguished by its centuries-old oyster beds deep in the soils and one of the coolest and longest growing seasons thanks to the winds coming from the surrounding Santa Lucia Mountains. In addition to the vineyards, Santa Margarita is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.

Ancient Peaks has considerable provenance in Paso Robles. The property is owned by three longtime winegrowing and cattle ranching families. Founding Winemaker Mike Sinor is considered top in his trade throughout the Central Coast.

We did not have a chance to tour the ranch this trip and hope to do so on a return visit as we hear it is quite spectacular. However, we stopped by Ancient Peak’s Tasting room and tried a selection of wines paired with cheeses. All wines are made with estate fruit.

The wine selections we tasted at Ancient Peak’s tasting room

Here are some tasting notes:

Rosé 2020 ($24), available only at the tasting room, is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Malbec. It has flavors of raspberry, watermelon and orange zest.

Pearl Chardonnay 2018 ($32) has notes of ripe stone and tropical fruits and vanilla and brown butter notes. A nice option for spicier foods and rich shellfish dishes. The Pearl Collection is all small lot production wines, each under 500 cases, and only available direct through the winery. The name is a reference to the centuries-old oyster beds found throughout the vineyard.

Merlot 2018 ($20). This wine has notes of ripe blueberry, black cherry and touch of spice and creamy vanilla with gravely tannins.

Cabernet Franc Blend 2018 ($50). Made with 71%Cabernet Franc, 24% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine has pleasant peppery notes thanks to the dominant variety combined with red currants, dark plum and leather.

Oyster Ridge 2017 ($60). A Cabernet Sauvignon dominant wine (80%) with small amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Petit Syrah. This is a lush wine, rich with blackberry, black olive, chocolate, mossy, smoky notes and balanced tannins. Ideal for a holiday roast lamb or prime rib.

Ancient Peaks’ Tasting Room is location at 22720 El Camino Real.
Hours 11 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. Phone: 805.365.7045 www.ancientpeaks.com

Come for the wines. Enjoy the cheese pairing!
Come for the wines. Enjoy the cheese pairing!
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A Visit To Tin City and ONX Winery- Paso Robles

Ever heard of Tin City? Not to be confused with “Sin City,” a nickname for Las Vegas, Tin City is a contemporary indie wine trail and artisan food and drink hangout built in an industrial park in Paso Robles. The name refers to the metal industrial warehouses that line this walkable area, now filled with winery tasting rooms and eating spots. Don’t miss the artisan sheep’s milk ice cream at Negranti Creamery!

There are roughly 20 small-lot production wineries with tasting rooms in Tin City which makes it a nice day visit. And that’s where we met up with Jeff Strekas of ONX wines to taste and talk.

ONX vineyards
The vineyards at ONX

Founded in 2005 by Orange County (CA) entrepreneur and real estate developer Steve Olson, ONX (pronounced “onyx”) refers to the onyx calcite deposits discovered in the mineral rich soil. The vineyards are located on a 127-acre property in the Templeton Gap District AVA. ONX cultivates 18 different grape varieties, mainly Bordeaux and Rhone white and reds but also Touriga Nacional and Tempranillo (we liked the Tempranillo “Indie Rosé”).

The lineup of ONX wines we tasted.
The lineup of ONX wines we tasted.

Jeff Strekas’s bio says he is a “general misanthrope and curmudgeonly spectator of the “Theater of Life.” We found him pleasant and deeply knowledgeable about the Paso Robles area. He was born and raised in Connecticut and caught the wine bug after traveling to Napa frequently when he worked as a biochemical engineer. After graduating U.C. Davis, he worked in winemaking in Napa and Australia and eventually in Paso Robles. He’s worked at ONX for more than a decade, originally in winemaking and now as Director of Operations and Wine Growing.

Jeff Strekas
Jeff Strekas

ONX’s winemaker is currently Drew Nenow, who worked at his father’s Robert Nenow Winery and aunt and uncle’s Behrens and Hitchcock Wines. Nenow could also be a body double to actor, Tom Cruise, with his wide grin and shock of dark hair.

Drew Nenow

Our visit to ONX included a two night stay at Briarwood Cottage. Owned by the winery, it’s a cozy, well-appointed place to rest your head, walk among the vineyards and write about the day. Info: Briarwood Cottage Vacation Rental — ONX Wines.

Briarcliff Cottage

Tin City is a must stop for your visit to Paso Robles. We wish we had more time to visit more of the tasting rooms and plan to do so when we schedule our return trip.

Here is a link to our podcast with Jeff Strekas on The Connected Table LIVE! Continue reading to learn what we tasted.

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Drink

Sipping with Sebastian Nasello, Podere le Ripi, Montalcino

 

Founded in the 1990s by Francesco Illy, a member of the renowned Illy Coffee family. Podere le Ripi is a rising star in the world of Brunello di Montalcino wines. With its winery facility located in the desirable Southeastern quadrant of Montalcino, Podere Le Ripi sources grapes from vineyards it owns throughout the appellation.

Sebastian Nasello is the CEO and winemaker here, and crafts his Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino wines with an eye towards biodynamic farming their vineyards and using minimal intervention in the cellar.

“Podere Le Ripi was started on an old sheep farm with the goal of creating a fully sustainable ecosystem for our vineyards and wine,” says Nasello, a Tuscan native who has been making the wines at Podere Le Ripi since 2011, “and all our decisions in the vineyard are made with the utmost care and attention to putting vine health first,” he adds.

The winemaking region of Montalcino is made up of four vineyard areas all surrounding the central hill upon which the village Montalcino sits, and each has its own unique terroir that it brings to the grapes. When Speaking of their vineyards locations, most producers narrow it down to East and West.

Overview of Podere Le Ripi
Overview of Podere Le Ripi

Vineyards of the Eastern slope are generally warmer and more dry with primarily sedimentary clay soils, while the vineyards of the Western side, which is more wild and untamed by agriculture over the centuries, tends to be slightly cooler with stony alluvial soils. “Sangiovese is a very shy variety with a great sense of place,” says Nasello, “so in order to understand Brunello, we must first understand where the Sangiovese that it is made with grows, as different vineyards present different flavor profiles when the wine is made.”

Podere Le Ripi makes wines across the spectrum of defined allowable wines as specified by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, Brunello’s governing body, including IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello and Riserva Brunello wines.

Podere Le Ripi team

When growing seasons are exceptional, Nasello and his team also make a small production single vineyard-designated Brunello called Ciello d’Ulisse. Cielo d’Ulisse, is a 100% Sangiovese (as is all Brunello di Montalcino) from a vineyard of the same name carved from the heavily forested far Western side of Montalcino’s designated growing area. “Afternoon sun, poor soils and the dry climate of the Ciello d’Ulisse site create the perfect terroir in which to cultivate Sangiovese of top quality,” says Nasello, “and the Ciello d’Ulisse Brunello is made from a small percentage of the best hand-picked grapes from that vineyard,” he adds.

For more on Podere Le Ripi and its wines visit www.podereleripi.com

What we tasted:

Cielo d'Ulisse

Podere Le Ripi offers guided tours and tastings at the winery.Ciello d’Ulisse Brunello di Montalcino 2016: This 100% Sangiovese stunner is Podere Le Ripi’s flagship bottling from the 5-Star rated 2016 vintage, arguably the best vintage in Montalcino since the legendary 1997. Fermented in open-top containers and aged in oak for 33 months in oak followed by an additional 12 months in Cement tanks prior to bottling, this wine was then bottle-aged 2 years before release. Black and red fruit wrapped in savory and floral notes typical of Sangiovese. Deeply colored and full bodied with great acidity on the palate, this wine is well structured, lively and fresh. A wine to cellar and cherish down the road. U.S. Importer: Dark Star Imports.

Listen to our conversation with Sebastian Nasello on The Connected Table SIPS.

 

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media The Connected Table SIPS

Jacqueline Strum: Niche Media Is Going Strong

As digital media has soared in popularity many print newspapers and magazines have taken a financial hit.

But not all.

“Niche publications are the healthiest in the media industry, and aspirational lifestyle categories like wine are performing particularly well,” said Jacqueline Strum, President and Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Media, during an interview on The Connected Table SIPS.
So, what’s driving the interest in niche media?

Niche, a.k.a. special interest media, with its focused content, attracts an engaged, loyal audience of enthusiasts, whether the subject is wine, gardening, quilting or yoga. It’s a blend of aspirational meets recreational.

“Consumers want a break from staring at their screens all day working remotely during the past 18 months of the pandemic. They just want to focus on something they enjoy that is not work-related,” said Strum.

How to select, collect and store wine are also big topics. “People want to learn more about the wines they are drinking, and they are purchasing more wine to enjoy at home. In addition to the growth of virtual wine talks and seminars, we’ve seen considerable interest in new design concepts for at-home wine storage and wine accessories through our Wine Enthusiast catalog,” noted Strum.

Making the Wine Lifestyle Accessible

In 1979, when newlyweds Adam and Sybil Strum decided to launch a wine accessories catalog out of their suburban New York home, America’s wine drinking culture was in its nascent stages. Many Americans knew very little about wine unless they traveled to Europe or had an expense account to dine at restaurants known for their wine lists. California wines were just starting to gain acclaim, thanks to the 1976 Paris Wine Competition- the Judgment of Paris -organized by the late Stephen Spurrier, a juried blind tasting of California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon against their French counterpart from Burgundy and Bordeaux. In an upset that gained international attention, the California wines won the competition.

The Strums sought to make the wine lifestyle accessible through their Wine Enthusiast catalog selling wine accessories, and in 1988 the launch of Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

In 2021, the elder Strums named Jacqueline (Jacki), President and Publisher of Wine Enthusiast Media, and her sister, Erika Strum Silverstein, President of Wine Enthusiast Commerce.

Jacqueline Strum and her sister Erika Strum Silverstein
Jacqueline Strum and Erika Strum Silverstein

The company has been a family run business since the beginning, and both sisters have been active running different divisions. Jacqueline Strum emphasized that both of their parents remain very much involved and are not stepping back.

“I work closely with our father on the business side of the magazine; he has built a large network of connections since the days when he worked in wine sales. Our mother is a design and product guru which is important for the Wine Enthusiast catalog.”

While advertising is the bread and butter for Wine Enthusiast magazine, Strum acknowledged the powerful impact of ecommerce. Wine Enthusiast’s ecommerce business alone has grown 50% in 2021.

The Strums look at marketing and promotion with a comprehensive eye towards making wine as accessible as possible. “With niche media, there are no wasted impressions. Every person reading Wine Enthusiast is a possible customer for your brand or business. You are speaking directly to your readers,” Strum said.

You could say Strum sees the glass half full…both of opportunity and fine wine.

Listen to our conversation with Jacqueline Strum on The Connected Table SIPS

This podcast can be heard on #iheartradio  #spotify   #applepodcasts or your favorite podcast platform anytime, anywhere. Please Like and Share #theconnectedtablesips

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Drink The Connected Table SIPS

Exploring Terroir in Spirits with Mark Reynier, Waterford Whisky

The term “terroir is used to describe how climate, soil, topography, elevation and other environmental factors help create the unique expression in a bottle of wine. But “terroir’ is also applied to other products, including wine and coffee.

Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO of Waterford Whisky, is addressing “terroir” head-on in his new Irish single malt whiskies with a focus on single farm origin barley. After 20 years working in wine and another 20 in spirits, Reynier has a nose for what we likes and the knowledge to make it happen.

Mark Reynier
Mark Reynier, Founder and CEO, Waterford Whisky

The Entrepreneur Spirit

Reynier was raised in the wine industry. His grandfather started a wine importing company and owned retail shops in London; his father began selling wine wholesale after World War II. Reynier launched one of London’s premier wine and spirits shops, La Reserve. His love affair with whisky started after he won a ₤1,000 bottle of whisky at a London Wine Fair. In 2000, Mark resurrected the defunct Bruichladdich distillery in Islay, Scotland and later sold it to Remy Martin. He then launched a new venture, purchasing the former Guinness brewery in Waterford, Ireland, in 2014, and turned it into a state-of-the-art distillery with the mission to make a terroir-driven whisky.

In Burgundy, they talk about terroir all the time in relation to their wines,” say Reynier, “I was convinced that the same could be done for whisky, and Waterford is the result of that effort.”

Coolander Farm
Coolander Farm, one of the 97 farms where Waterford Whisky sources its barley

Follow the Barley

Reynier  chose Ireland to make whisky so he could “follow the barley” as he feels Irish barley is among the best in the world. To make Waterford, he’s sourcing from 97 farmers across the country, all of whom work to meet his exacting standards. Once harvested, Waterford stores, malts and distills each farm’s grain separately to capture the distinctive character of each site. Each bottle of Waterford Whisky identifies the farm and shares a numbered terroir code so the curious can learn more about the source on the Waterford website www.waterfordwhisky.com. “We’re offering full transparency,” says Reynier.

Currently, three Waterford Irish Whiskies are available in the U.S. market. Coincidentally, each is named after a different fort in Ireland – Dunmore (“big fort”) Dunbell (“hillside fort”) and Rathclogh (“stone fort”). Each presents a single farm origin for its barley, differentiated by the unique soils, climate conditions, topography and elevation – EG: terroir – specific to that farm. “

waterford whisky bottles
Waterford Whisky currently has three selections available in the USA (more coming!). Each has a suggested retail price of $90 (750 ml.)

Here is a brief description of each:

Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunbell sources its barley from farmer, Ned Murphy, east of the River Nore.  The whisky was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It is a light The palate is bright with lemon zest, dried orange peel, and ginger.

Waterford Single Farm Origin Dunmore sources its barley from John Tynan in County Laois .was aged just under four years in four different cask types. It has notes of graham cracker, granola, and ginger. There was a delicate and pleasing creaminess on the palate with spiced pear and apple.

Waterford Single Farm Origin Rathclogh  sources its barley from Richard Raftice in Kilkenny, whose farm has  glacier meltwater gravel soils in Kilkenny. Also aged in four different casks, this whisky has earthier notes with a touch of toffee brittle, but not cloying. It delivers a pleasant richness.

www.waterfordwhisky.com

Listen to our conversation with Waterford Whisky Founder and CEO Mark Reynier on The Connected Table SIPS

 

 

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Drink

Italian Rosés: Ancient Winemaking Traditions Delivering Modern Appeal

We’ve been fans of Italian dry rosé for many years and feel they need more shelf space and attention. But France, being the “motherland” of dry roses, tends to overshadow its Italian neighbor. Rosé is the second most consumed wine in France after red, and French rosés account for 31 percent of the global market.

In comparison, Italian rosés, which have been made for millennia, account for 10 percent of global production. That may seem small but it’s getting mightier, thanks more awareness of styles, availability and the introduction in August 2020 of rosé Prosecco, an entirely new category that is making waves.

Classic vs. Modern Styles

Almost every region of Italy produces still rosé, locally referred to as “rosato.” Styles differ from north to south based on climate, topography, and method of production. The variety rosés throughout Italy offer a wonderful range to taste.

In times past, northern Italy was influenced by Roman and French traditions using a wine press to elicit the desired lighter pink color. Southern Italy was influenced by Greece where grapes were pressed and placed in large stone urns to macerate, resulting in a darker style.

While many vintners are adapting their methods to create lighter styles of rose to appeal to a broader audience, we find the darker rosés, notably Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, and Puglia’s Negroamaro Rosatos (they also make red with this ancient variety), lend themselves to more food pairings. These wines, in particular, often have some aging potential.

Selection of Italian roses
Photo: David Ransom

Veneto

Chiaretto means “pink,” and this region in northern Italy around Lake Garda is known for its rosés with 10 million bottles produced annually.  The main town is Bardolino at the foothills of the Dolomites.

Producers in this area frequently reference the “lake effect,” the cool breezes that blow through the vineyards, resulting from wind tunnels created by the Dolomites, resulting in very pure air. Another ‘effect’ from the mountains and the lake is the mineral rich soil and thermal waters which create a whiff of salinity to Chiaretto wines, much like those made in southern France. In fact, the Garda climate is often compared to Provence, making it a very popular vacation destination, especially among German tourists.

One can travel to the east and west sides of Lake Garda to discover very distinct styles, thanks to different microclimates and grapes. On the south and east banks of the lake, the dominant indigenous red grapes are Corvina and Rondinella, both naturally low in pigment. these are used to make Chiaretto di Bardolino, a nod to the main town. Chiaretto di Valtènesi is made on the western shore. Here, rosés are made with indigenous Groppello and usually blended Sangiovese and Barbera, resulting in deeper berry and spice notes.

We both have visited the Garda region to learn about Chiaretto and find these rosés to be undiscovered gems. Two wines we recently tasted:

Valetti Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: A blend of Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Sangiovese www.valetti.it (Krewe di Bizou Wines).

Corte Gardoni “Nichesole” Chiaretto:  A blend of Corvina 80% and Rondinella 20%. www.cortegardoni.it    (Kermit Lynch)

Another Veneto producer we recommend is Bertani Bertarose, whose rosé is a blend of 75% Molinara and 25% Merlot.  www.bertani.net  (Taub Family Wines)

Chiaretto
Chiaretto Italian Dry Rosé   Photo: Studio Cru

Abruzzo

This wine region is located between the Apennine Mountains and Adriatic Sea. We had the pleasure of visiting in July 2019 on a trip hosted by Umani Ronchi, one of the region’s leading producers (Vineyard Brands). Lucky for us it was sunflower season. The fields were awash in a blaze of vibrant yellow, and the weather was warm and dry.

Lighter colored roses tend to come from coastal areas. But here, it’s a darker style of rose that earns a DOC designation: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. The variety is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a red grape that results in wines with a rich garnet color and pleasant red berry and balsamic notes. The darker hue earned these wines their name; Cerassa means “cherry.”

Wines to try:

Torre Zambra Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (Frederico de Cerchio Family Estates) This wine has a lighter (for Cerasuolo) garnet color. www.federicocherchio.com.  (The Wine House)

Barone di Valforte Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. This wine is a deeper ruby, almost a light red. www.baronedivalforte.it/en (More Than Grapes)

Calabria

Often referred to as the toe of the Italian boot, Calabria is one of Italy’s southernmost regions. Historically influenced by Greece, Calabrian wines may seem new to those who have not visited the area or tasted the wines. The local variety is Gaglioppo, known for producing softer, spicy reds.

Librandi Rosato, Cirò DOC: 100% Gaglioppo. The color of this wine is a deep blush with a hint of gold. www.librandi.it/en (Winebow)

Sicily

No doubt a rising star in Italian wine production thanks to its food friendly reds made from Nero d’Avola and fascinating indigenous whites like Grillo and Insolia

Planeta Sicilia DOC Rosé:  A blend of 50% Nero d’Avola and 50% Syrah. A lighter style or rosé for an aperitif or boiled seafood. www.planeta.it/en (Taub Family Wines).

 

About Rosé Prosecco

Rosé spumantes (sparkling wines) are made throughout Italy, but it wasn’t until August 11, 2020, that production of DOC Rosé Prosecco was allowed. Almost immediately rose Prosecco became a global superstar. Now suppliers are working hard to keep up with the demand with production is increasing from 17 million bottles to 60 million bottles in 2021, according to the region’s Consorzio.

The base grape for all Prosecco is the white Glera. The grapes undergo primary and secondary fermentation in a pressurized tank, a process known as “charmat” or the Martinotto method. To make rosé Prosecco, a red grape, usually Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero) at about 10-15%, is co-blended with the Glera prior to secondary fermentation for around 60 days.

For those familiar with the white peach and green apple essences in many traditional Proseccos, tasting a rose Prosecco will delivery slightly creamy strawberry notes.

We are just sinking our teeth (and lips) into tasting rosé Proseccos. The category really deserves a separate post of its own.

Try:  Valdo Prosecco DOC Rosé  www. valdo.com/en (Taub Family Wines)

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books Eat

Summer Reads to Whet Your Appetit For Food and Travel

Sunny- Sultry- Stormy- Scintillating

Sounds like a good book or film, right? Actually, it’s New Orleans in the summer, where we are now (with a pre-determined hurricane evacuation plan we hope we don’t need to use!)

As our 11th month on the #TheConnectedTableROADTRIP turns a corner, and the year we allowed to travel comes closer to its anniversary, we are taking July and August to unwind, unpack our suitcases and car for a while, and settle into one of our favorite cities. This allows us more time to write, read, look for more paid partnerships, and taste and savor the summer without the hustle.

And what better time than summer to tuck into a few books that transport us elsewhere? Here are two we recommend. Both authors were recent guests on The Connected Table LIVE.

Restaurant Critic Alexander Lobrano: “My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris”

How did a shy kid from suburban Connecticut become one of the leading restaurant critics in Paris? Many have asked Alexander (Alec) Lobrano that question with admiration.  Lobrano shares some juicy highlights  in his memoir, “My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris” ( Harper Collins).

My Place at the Table - Alec Lobrano
Photo of Alex Lobrano by Stephen Rothfield. Purchase book here.

A gifted storyteller with a curious palate, Lobrano had to fight the usual skeptics about his chosen profession, from his parents who questioned why he wanted to write about food to Parisians who doubted he knew anything about French food.

As a young boy, Lobrano preferred to write in his diaries over playing contact sports. He writes about being sent away on a cross-country camping trip, carefully documenting what he experienced and ate. Later, after graduating Amherst, he worked in publishing in New York City and then in London as a writer until Paris came calling.

Originally recruited to cover men’s fashion in Paris for Women’s Wear Daily, Lobrano continued to follow his passion, seeking out little-known restaurants with as much enthusiasm as booking a meal at Michelin-starred food temple. Frustrated with his requisite reporting on designers and socialites for Fairchild publications, he continued to pound the pavement to generate freelance articles on dining for other outlets to support his appetite for great food and his writer’s income. When an editor suggests Lobrano accept free restaurant meals, he demurs choosing to maintain his journalistic independence.

Reading Lobrano’s book makes us hungry for Paris and also humble about the chosen profession of journalism. As media outlets come and go, it’s always a hustle.  And when you schedule that visit to the Eternal City, make sure to check out Lobrano’s “insider list” of restaurants to try in the back of his book.

Paris Eiffel Tower - anthony-delanoix-QAwciFlS1g4-unsplash
Paris Eiffel Tower – anthony-delanoix-QAwciFlS1g4-unsplash

Television Producer David Page, “Food Americana: The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories behind America’s Favorite Dishes”

If you are a fan of Food Network’s hit series, “Diners Drive-ins and Dives,” you have David Page to thank as the originator of the show and executive producer for eleven seasons. A two-time Emmy Award recipient, Page spent many years working in network news at NBC where he developed and-co-produced “The Today Show Weekend Edition.” He also worked at ABC as a senior producer/line producer for “Good Morning America” and as a senior investigative producer for “20/20.” Page’s career in television news comes with fascinating stories about covering world news.

On the home front, Page is author of a new book, “Food Americana: The Remarkable People and Incredible Stories behind America’s Favorite Dishes.” (Mango Media). If you are a fan of food pop culture, you will glide through this book, savoring the tidbits of information, colorful characters and notable chefs who helped shape some of the foods we enjoy today. Importantly, “Food Americana” sheds a light on the valuable contribution immigrants to our country have made on the foods we enjoy today from Chinese dumplings to sushi to Italian pizza.

David Page- Food Americana
                    Hungry for American food pop culture? Purchase the book here.  

In addition to “Triple D,” Page’s Minnesota-based company, Page Productions, has produced many food shows including “Outrageous Food,” “Hungry Men at Work” and- currently in production, ”Beer Geeks,” which takes viewers inside the world of craft brewing.

Listen to our show with Alec Lobrano and David Page on The Connected Table LIVE! here:

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Virginia Wines on Our Mind!

There’s more to discover in Virginia than stunning mountain scenery, historic landmarks, expansive horse farms and miles of coastal Atlantic beaches. This beautiful state also has an impressive diversity of wines; many wineries are family owned. We recommend putting Virginia on your U.S.A. wine itinerary

A Little Virginia Wine History

Virginia’s wine history dates to the Jamestown Settlement in 1607. The Virginia Company of London made it mandatory for each male settler to plant at least ten grapevines as an economic venture. In the 1700s Thomas Jefferson, an oenophile after serving as Ambassador to France, tried without success to cultivate European grape varietals at his home, Monticello in Virginia’s central Piedmont region.

Good wine is a necessity of life for me. - Thomas Jefferson

In the nineteenth century, Virginia’s native Norton grape, the oldest American varietal, was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna World Fair. In the twentieth century, Virginia’s wine industry stalled thanks to Prohibition, two World Wars, and the Great Depression. However, modern farmers and visionary entrepreneurs from the late twentieth century to current times have remained committed to making quality wine in the region and have made the necessary investments to make it happen. A turning point was 1976 when Italy’s Zonin wine family invested in Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.

Virginia Wines Today

Today, Virginia has over 300 wine producers in eight designated AVAs. The most concentrated areas are Central Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia. While Bordeaux varietals dominate, notably Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, one can also find Tannat, and some Rhone varietals (red and white). Notable whites include Chardonnay, Viognier and Petite Manseng, a grape better known in the southwest of France, and Vidal Blanc, a white hybrid. To be called a “Virginia wine,” the grapes must be primarily sourced from within the commonwealth.

Virginia wine country is an easy getaway for east coasters or visitors to Washington DC. Here are three regions to get you started based on our visits:

Monticello AVA

While Thomas Jefferson never managed to make quality wines at his home, Monticello, the AVA is a center for production, thanks to the region’s fertile, clay and granite-based soils. Base yourself in  Charlottesville to explore the dining scene as well as numerous historical sites.

Bottle of Octogan
Octagon is Barboursville’s iconic Bordeaux Blend

Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville. Established in 1976, by Italy’s Zonin family, Italian varieties such as Vermentino, Fiano and Nebbiolo flourish under the watchful eye of Luca Paschina, the respected estate general manager/winemaker.  Barboursville’s Paxxito took top honors at Virginia’s 2021 Governor’s Cup Awards. Its signature wine is the sublime Bordeaux blend, Octagon.

Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison. Owned by former AOL executives, Steve and Jean Case, this winery features a large tasting room and small café where visitors can sample a curated selection of Virginia’s “best of the best” wines as well as Early Mountain’s selections made under the guidance of winemaker Ben Jordan. Try: Eluvium 2016, a Merlot-dominant (56%) blend with Petit Verdot (44%).  Here is a link to our interview with Ben Jordan (link to podcast)

Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville. (Pictured at top of article. Photo: Megan L. Coppage). The late founder, Dennis Horton was inspired by Rhone varietals he discovered while traveling in France, and this winery plants several as well as ancient varietals such as Georgian Rkatsiteli and the native Norton red.  We tasted nearly 20 wines when we visited! Try: Horton Petite Manseng, a fragrant white with a tad (5 %) Viognier and Rkatsiteli, named “Best in Show” at the 2019 Virginia Governor’s Cup Awards in February. the estate is now run by Horton’s wife, Sharon, and daughter, Shannon, whom we interviewed on The Connected Table in November 2020 (link to podcast)

Shenandoah AVA

The Shenandoah Valley stretches from Winchester to Roanoke. Driving the rural roads, one can’t help but pull over to take Instagram-worthy photos of historic farmhouses and pastures of grazing cows and sheep. In the distance, the Blue Ridge Mountains stretch to the east and the Appalachians and Allegheny Plateau to the west.

Bluestone Vineyards. The Hartman family makes small-batch wines from estate-grown grapes Try: Bluestone Chardonnay (100%), aged on lees and in French oak and Acacia barrels for perfect balance and texture and Bluestone Petite Manseng. We visited with family winemaker, Lee Hartman, in this edition of The Connected Table Live (link to podcast)

We recommend Bluestone’s 2019 Petit Manseng which is among the 2021 Virginia Governor’s Cup Case top 12 highest ranking red and white wines. Petite Manseng does well in Virginia, and this is one of our favorites.  Fermented in oak and aged on the lees for 10 months, this wine’s is a more citrusy versus creamy style of Petit Manseng with a nice, long finish and great minerality. SRP: $24.50.

Bluestone Vineuard
Bluestone Vineyards Manor House and Vineyards: Bessie Black Photography

CrossKeys Vineyard, Mt. Crawford. The Bakhtiar family named this palatial winery with an on-site café after the historic Cross Keys Tavern which served as a community gathering place in the 1800s and housed wounded soldiers during the infamous Battle of Cross Keys. Try: Fiore, a refreshing rosé made from Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc- a Silver Finalist for Virginia’s 2019 Governor’s Cup.

Middleburg AVA

Dotted with palatial estates and horse farms, it’s hard to believe the bustle of Washington DC is only an hour’s drive away.  Middleburg is truly a country retreat for the city weary and country squires.

Linden Vineyards, Linden. Owner Jim Law is one of the most respected vintners in the state. Located in the Blue Ride Mountains 60 miles west of Washington, D.C., The off-the-beaten path drive is well worth it the destination! Law produces stunning, limited edition Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux blend reds. We chatted with Jim Law in this edition of The Connected Table Live (2nd guest). (link to podcast).

We recommend trying the Hardscrabble Chardonnay.  Produced from estate grown grapes from Linden’s signature vineyard, this wine offers aromas of ripe pear and grilled peach with vanilla toast and nutmeg with a creamy texture combined with balanced acidity. SRP $48.

Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards
Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards

Boxwood Estate Winery, Middleburg. One of Virginia’s earliest horse farms, this eighteenth century estate focuses on premium estate-grown wines in the Bordeaux style.

Slater Run Vineyards, Upperville. This 300-year-old family-run farm along Goose Creek focuses on making classic wines using French varietals under the guidance of French winemaker Katell Griaud.

Places to stay:

The Berkley Hotel, Richmond An upscale hotel centrally located.

The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, Middleburg. This luxury inn dates to 1728 and is in the heart of Hunt Country. Try the Virginia peanut soup!

Inn at Little Washington, Washington. This is a tiny town with a big reputation thanks to Chef/Owner Patrick O’Connell, who runs this luxury inn with a Michelin three-star restaurant.

The 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards: The historic inn located on the expansive winery property is the perfect place to unwind after a day of tasting and sumptuous dinner at Palladio, Barboursville’s excellent Italian restaurant.

1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards
1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards

Planning a Trip The Virginia Wine Marketing Board has a helpful website listing wineries as well as producers of local ciders and mead. www.virginiawine.org

Learn more…..

In this episode of The Connected Table SIPS, Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat and Drink What You Like, discusses Virginia’s different appellations and a few standout grapes, including Petit Manseng, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. We taste selections from three Virginia producers that we have visited: Bluestone Vineyards, Linden Vineyards and Barboursville Vineyards.

Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat
Frank Morgan, Host of Virginia Wine Chat

 

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Women Command the Kitchen at Commander’s Palace

Commander’s Palace has been a breeding ground for many leading New Orleans chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, Tory McPhail and the late Paul Prud’homme and Jamie Shannon. For the first time in the restaurant’s 128-year-old history, a woman is leading the kitchen.

Chef Megan “Meg” Bickford is no stranger to Commander’s Palace. She worked closely with former executive chef, Tory McPhail who decided last year to move to Montana. McPhail was born in Bozeman and accepted a position working with a restaurant group there. Many were surprised and saddened to see him depart. He had served as both a de facto culinary ambassador for New Orleans and had earned many awards during his long tenure at Commander’s Palace.

Chef Megan Bickford (Photo by Chris Granger)

Everyone was equally delighted to see Chef Meg assume her new role. The Louisiana native has family in Bayou Lafourche and attended the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux. After graduation, she joined Commander’s Palace, advancing through the ranks over the years. For a time, she was executive chef at family’s restaurant, Café Adelaide until it closed in 2018.

Since taking over Commander’s kitchen, Chef Meg has upheld the restaurant’s award-winning haute Creole menu and “dirt- to- plate within 100 miles” philosophy, as in 90% of ingredients come from within 100 miles of the restaurant. And she’s added her personal flair.

Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce
Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce

Dishes we tried included Wild Louisiana White Shrimp Curry, ancho-citrus glazed Gulf shrimp with crispy artichokes, fire-roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes and spiced coconut curry broth; Corn-Fried Louisiana Catfish with tomatillo, grilled corn and salsa over Bibb lettuce and Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.

Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.
Griddle Seared Gulf Fishcakes, smoked redfish over Louisiana soybeans, local mushrooms, roasted squash and truffled cauliflower cream.
Pecan crusted Drum with Crabmeat, Kale and Corn
Pecan crusted Drum with Crabmeat, Kale and Corn

Hospitality is in Lally Brennan’s DNA. Both she and her cousin Tí Adelaide Martin grew up in the family restaurant business and now serve as co-proprietors of Commander’s Palace and Sobou, a stylish restaurant in at the W hotel in the French Quarter. They also co-authored In The Land of Cocktails from the Cocktail Chicks. After all, New Orleans is the origination of some classic cocktails, including the Sazerac, French 75 and Ramos Gin Fizz, among others.

Lally Brennan and Ti Adelaide Martin
Lally Brennan, Tí Adelaide Martin

Both Lally and Tí are longtime friends who make us feel like family every time we pay a visit to Commander’s Palace. But we’re really not alone. Everyone who dines at Commander’s Palace feels extra welcome. On any given day or night, one or both will be working the floor saying hello to every table of guests. And how lucky you are if you on hand for Sunday Jazz Brunch or twenty-five cent martinis at lunch. We’ve done both and celebrated a birthday and an anniversary.

In December 2016, we had the pleasure and honor of having both Tí and her legendary mother, Miss Ella Brennan, join us on The Connected Table Live! Ella was 91 and had co-authored a memoir with Ti entitled Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace: I Don’t Want a Restaurant Where a Jazz Band Can’t Come Marching Through. A film called “Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table” had been released. Both can be ordered at www.commanderspalace.com

In this edition of Link to podcast“>The Connected Table Live, we visit with Lally Brennan and Chef Megan Bickford.

Lally Brennan, Tí Adelaide Martin, Chef Megan Bickford outside Commander’s Palace (masked in 2020 due to COVID-19)
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A Must -Visit Museum For Southern Food & Beverage

For anyone curious about southern food and beverage culture, a visit to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (a.k.a. SoFAB) is a must-stop when you visit New Orleans. Located at 1504 Oretha C. Haley Boulevard, the museum is chock full of culinary culture and ephemera, ranging from the history of Popeye’s Fried Chicken and traditional New Orleans foods to the many foods, products and culinary curiosities native to each southern state. There is a demonstration kitchen; cooking classes and other educational programs are offered regularly. www.southernfood.org

Inside SOFAB. Museum hours are Thursday to Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

SoFAB also houses the Museum of American Cocktail (MOTAC), a fascinating history of America’s cocktail culture, and the John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library, containing over 11,000 volumes of culinary books, food and cocktail menus, pamphlets, archival documents and a growing number of important collections, other literature and ephemera, collected by and donated to SoFAB. It’s also home to the Nitty Grits Podcast Network, a selection of audio and video podcasts addressing food and drink topics.

The museum may appear small at first but, trust us when we tell you to take your time walking through the exhibits. There is much to digest, especially if you enjoy learning about the history of food and drink. The exhibits on New Orleans’ culinary history alone, ranging from the impact of Hurricane Katrina to the history of cooking with beans and a tribute to the late Leah Chase, offer much to reflect on.

Learn the history of New Orleans' famous Popeye's fried chicken and its dynamic founder, Al Copeland.
Learn the history of New Orleans’ famous Popeye’s fried chicken and its dynamic founder, Al Copeland.

Meet SoFAB’s Founder

The Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB) was founded in 2004 by Elizabeth Williams, who wanted a place where the intersection between culture and food could be studied. The museum began with pop-up exhibits and was the first official exhibit for what is now the Museum of American Cocktail. Over time, individuals began donating family artifacts to the museum, requiring the need for more space. SoFAB has been at its current location since 2014.

Williams, who joined us as our guest on The Connected Table LIVE May 5th, was born and raised in New Orleans to a family with Sicilian heritage. She notes in her bio that she was “always fascinated by the way the lure of nutmeg and peppercorns motivated the exploration of the world.”

Elizabeth Williams, President of the National Food & Beverage Foundation
Elizabeth Williams, President of the National Food & Beverage Foundation

A lawyer by training, Williams has had a long career working with foundations and museums. She served as President & CEO of the University of New Orleans Foundation and UNO Research and Technology Foundation, Inc. working in foundation budget management and financing, development and fundraising and management for properties including UNO Studio Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the D-Day Museum, now the National World War II Museum.

Since 2004 she has served as founding President of the National Food & Beverage Foundation and established the Southern Food & Beverage Museum. She has researched and written on the subject of food policy and is coauthor with Stephanie Jane Carter of The Encyclopedia of Law and Food (Greenwood Publishing, 2011).

Over lunch at Café Reconcile, a nonprofit restaurant and hospitality training ground for at-risk youth ages 16 to 24, Williams shared some of her projects for the National Food & Beverage Foundation, which includes the cookbook library and culinary archives, the SoFAB Meat Lab, a state-of-the-art facility offering classes and demonstrations on everything meat-related, from butchering to grilling, and the Nitty Grits podcast studio and other programs around culinary history and education.

SoFAB’s repository library includes The John & Bonnie Boyd Hospitality & Culinary Library  which contains over 11,000 volumes of culinary books, food and cocktail menus, pamphlets, archival documents and a growing number of important collections, other literature and ephemera, collected by and donated to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.  The collection is non-circulating but available for reference. The library also contains a collection of books written by members of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a nonprofit organization of leading women in food fine beverage and hospitality.

Williams is encyclopedic on food and drink culture, especially when it comes to New Orleans. Listen to our conversation on everything from Mississippi tamales and Alabama white sauce to New Orleans Krewe of Red Beans on this edition of The Connected Table. Click below or this link

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A Story of Family & Fortitude: Delia Viader

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Delia Viader has a Ph.D in Philosophy from the Sorbonne, studied business at M.I.T., enology at U.C. Davis and speaks six languages. Her parents ran in global business and diplomatic circles. Her late father, Walter, was her inspiration and staunchest supporter when she decided to establish Viader Vineyards & Winery in Napa Valley in 1986.

Determined to find a home, build a business and establish a secure future for her family of four children as a single mother, she invested in remote, rocky land on Howell Mountain to build Viader Vineyards & Winery to produce small lot Bordeaux red blends. She consulted with leading oenologists and viticultural specialists Michell Rolland and Tony Soter. Viader’s first bottled vintage was 1989 with just 1200 cases. In 2000, Viader’s 1997 vintage was named #2 in The Wine Spectator Top 100 wines. The following year, Viader’s 1998 red blend was ranked #3.

View from Viader Vineyards
Viader Winery & Vineyards is located on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley.

The national recognition for her limited production wines created significant demand and offered a bright future for Viader. But in 2005, an offsite wine warehouse fire set by an arsonist wiped out Viader’s entire 2003 vintage and caused irreparable damage. Viader, along with many other wineries who warehoused their wines in the same facility were dealt a devastating blow.

Determined not to give up, Delia and her family dug in their heels and worked hard to salvage their losses and pivot (we know that word well these days). To help finance the recovery, Viader had to sell Il Masseto, her property in Bolgheri that she had acquired in 1999 to produce Super Tuscan wines and eventually retire to.

Many have shared that Delia is a fearless force of nature who is loyal to the core. The words, “Nevertheless, She Persisted” have never been truer. Now celebrating 35 years with a focus on maintaining standards of quality, sustainability and legacy. www.viader.com

Recommended:

Viader Proprietary Red Blend 2016, Napa. 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Cabernet Franc. Aged 23 months in 100% French oak (60% new). Delia calls this wine her “Liquid Cashmere.”- Voluptuous blackberry, black cherry, plum, shaved cocoa and spice. SRP $195

Viader Black Label 2017, Napa. 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Syrah, 12% Malbec, 9% Cabernet Franc. Aged 17 months in French barrel (17% new).  This wine is Alan Viader’s project. It delivers concentrated black fruit juiciness laced with cocoa and spice. SRP $150

Delia and Alan Viadar

Listen to our show with Delia Viader and son and fellow winemaker, Alan Viader on The Connected Table Live to share their inspiring story and vision.

 

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A Real Deal Big Mack: Vintner & Sommelier André Hueston Mack

Sommelier, Winemaker, Designer, Entrepreneur: André Hueston Mack has always had a flair for success. Recognized as one of the country’s top sommeliers and owner of his successful wine brand, Maison Noir, Mack has made his mark in the world of wine in a way few have: encyclopedic knowledge paired with an unbridled passion for championing quality wines through creative presentations.

Mack took the plunge in the world of wine in the early 2000s, leaving behind a career at Citicorp. He become a passionate student of wine, studying and seizing every opportunity to learn and taste. He spent his formative days in San Antonio, Texas, working as a sommelier at The Palm and head sommelier at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood.

Andre
Photo by Stash Photography (www.maisonnoirwines.com)

At age 30 Mack was awarded the prestigious title of Best Young Sommelier in America by La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. He was the first African American sommelier to earn this honor. This recognition led his to a job as sommelier for Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. He went to be become head sommelier at Per Se in New York City, where he oversaw a 1500-selection wine list and consulted with Chef Keller on menu and pairings.

Mack always had a dream to produce wines under his own label. In 2007 that dream became reality with the launch of Maison Noir Wines. Created in cooperation with select growers and winemakers in Oregon handpicked by Mack, the wines of Maison Noir are the end-product of Mack’s dedication to bring joy – and a bit of whimsy – to the world of wine. To that end, he oversees the production and also designs the labels and packaging with eye-popping black and white imagery and names like Oregogne Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot), P-Oui Pinot Noir, Bottoms Up White, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades, a red blend. Wines are available in both stores and restaurants and on his website at www.maisonnoirwines.com

 Horseshoes & Handgrenades is a fruit-driven, full-bodied complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon (Syrah) and Red Mountain Washington State (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

Horseshoes & Handgrenades is a fruit-driven, full-bodied complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon (Syrah) and Red Mountain Washington State (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

Mack also owns & Sons Ham Bar in In Brooklyn, NY. The intimate neighborhood ham bar celebrates the culture of American charcuterie, from cured sausages and country ham to pâtes, and features a small wine list of celebrated vintages from the 1960s-1990s. There is an adjacent retail outlet selling assorted hams and cheeses. www.andsonsnyc.com

A talented graphic designer, his line of tee shirts are inspired by -his description- “Wine Lifestyle/Street Culture” of the punk and hip-hop scenes, while reminiscent of independent skateboard company apparel of the 1990s.” He is author and designer of Small Thyme Cooks, a culinary activity coloring book whose sales benefit the Charlie Trotter Foundation, and the thoroughly enjoyable Mack memoir by bottle, 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines (Harry Abrams)

99 bottles
Buy book here on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3dg9hBa

“Black Sheep” is the nickname Mack’s Per Se colleagues gave him when he was still one of a few African American sommeliers in the industry. As we researched different meaning for this reference, we came to this conclusion: Mack is, indeed, a renegade and a rare breed: a man of integrity and individuality who has made an indelible mark in the world of wine despite all odds.

Listen here to our conversation with André Hueston Mack’s story on The Connected Table LIVE