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.
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.
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.
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.”
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. “
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.
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.
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:
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Considered one of the world’s great wine regions, France’s Alsace has long been a player on the international stage with its exceptional still and sparkling wines. With 12 generations at the helm, the Cattin family has been at the center of this region’s wine production since 1720.
France, you say, has many wine regions, so what sets Alsace apart? While France does boast a large number of regions devoted to making wine, most are warm climate areas where red wines dominate. Alsace, with its moderate climate and northerly geographic position next to Germany, is known for its production of white wines, and so holds a special place in the often-complicated world of French winemaking. Let’s take a closer look.
Domaine Joseph Cattin (www.cattin.fr) is the largest independent family-owned winery in Alsace and is located in the small village of Voegtlinshoffen, just South of Colmar. Now run by husband-wife family members, Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin, the winery makes wines across the full spectrum of what Alsace offers, with particular emphasis on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and their self-professed specialty, Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine – all of which are widely available in the U.S.
The family currently owns just over 160 acres of vines throughout the area, and like a majority of Alsace producers, farms their vineyards organically. “We’ve been farming this land for 12 generations,” said Anaïs Cattin, “by farming our vineyards sustainably, we have a better chance to ensure this winery will produce for the next twelve generations.” Cattin’s wines, all certified vegan, by the way, are produced in two separate wineries, one for still wines , the other dedicated exclusively to the production of Crémant d’Alsace.
Cattin’s whites are textbook Alsace wines, with each expression showing true varietal character whether made as AOC classified wine or coming from specific “Cru d’Alsace” vineyards – those next level properties showing unique terroir that are designated as the best vineyards in Alsace. A hallmark of Alsace wines is their beautiful compatibility with food. “While they can be consumed anytime, these are food wines,’ said Jacques Cattin, “their weight, acidity, and depth of flavor all condone pairing with not just the local cuisine of Alsace, like our famous choucroute, but with a variety of other foods, including cheeses, meats, and even fish.”
Crémant d’Alsace, sparkling wines made in the Méthode Traditionelle, are vinified in the same way as Champagne, but utilize the grapes varieties of Alsace in addition to those traditionally used for making champagne. The most popular styles are Brut, usually made with local white grapes but can also include Chardonnay; and Brut Rosé, which can only be made with Pinot Noir.
“Alsace’s dry climate and cool evenings during the growing season create the perfect combination for giving our grapes the acidity needed to make excellent sparkling wines,” said Jacques of his family’s Crémant d’Alsace. “And not having to rely exclusively on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of the industry’s most expensive grape varieties, allows us to make wines of individuality and also keep costs in check, which in turn allows us to provide wines of great value for the price.”
With most Crémant d’Alsace wines priced at under $25, it’s a win-win in our opinion, and helps make Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Rosé some of France’s best sparkling wines.
Cattin wines we tasted; all available in the U.S.A. Imported by T. Edwards Wines.
Riesling AOC Alsace 2018, SRP: $17. Appearance: bright and pale yellow with green reflections. Nose: mineral with citrus flowers. Palate: fresh, dry and mineral, with grapefruit flavors. Pairings: sushi, choucroute, goat cheese.
Gewurztraminer AOC Alsace 2017, SRP: $18. Appearance: clear, pale gold. Nose: perfumed nose with lychee and mango aromas and a delicate touch of rose water. Palate: ripe exotic fruits with floral notes; well-balanced between spiciness and freshness; a long-lasting finish. Pairings: curries, chicken or vegetable chili, strong cheeses (e.g., real Munster cheese from Alsace).
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Brut, SRP: $22. Appearance: bright pale gold; fine bubbles. Nose: fresh; green apple and white flowers. Palate: fresh and dry palate; lively acidity balanced with fruitiness of green apple and lemon; fine and creamy bubbles. Pairings: apertif, fish, white meats.
AOC Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, SRP: $20. Appearance: clear; elegant salmon pink; abundant and dynamic bubbles. Nose: fruity especially red fruits such as cherry and black currants. Palate: refreshing and creamy with fruity aromas such as strawberries and lemon. A clean and long lasting finish. Pairings: spicy Asian dishes, fruit desserts.
Grand Cru wines are the cream of the crop in regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but here’s a tip: Alsace also makes outstanding grand cru wines, and they deliver exceptional quality for value.
We visited with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation of family-run Domaine Gustave Lorentz and winery president. Established in 1836, Gustave Lorentz is located in the heart of Alsace’s Grand Cru wine country near Altenberg de Bergheim. The winery is the essence of Alsace: historic, decidedly French and welcoming to visitors.
While we were familiar with the fact that 90 percent of Alsace wine production is white, we learned a few key points during our discussion with Lorentz:
Alsace has a unique micro-climate
Located in northeast France bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is a small region with big secret Lorentz shared with us: “Alsace is protected by the Vosges Mountains and has a unique micro-climate that delivers drier and warmer temperatures, ideal growing conditions. In fact, Colmar is considered the second driest town in France.” Most producers practice organic and biodynamic farming. Gustave Lorentz has farmed organically since 2012.
Alsace Grand Cru wines are a rare find
While Alsace produces seven grape varieties, only Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are permitted in the Grand Cru regions of Kanzlerberg and Altenberg de Bergheim near Gustave Lorentz. Here, vineyard plots are small, with concentrated plantings and lower yields in soils that are mainly clay and limestone, producing exceptional grapes. The wines deliver more complexity and can age well. Lorentz told us, “Alsace Grand Cru wines represent only five percent of production, so they are a rare find and exceptional value.” Most average $35/45/bottle.
Alsace Is a top sparkling wine region
Alsace is the oldest and largest producer of crémant, sparkling wines made in the traditional method. One can find crémants made from blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is also permitted to make Crémantd’Alsace. These wines are elegant and refined, delivering great value as well, averaging $30 bottle.
Alsace vs. Germany- Styles
Historically, Alsace has bounced between French and German occupation. However, the heritage, culture, and wines are very much French, as Lorentz explained: “Both Alsace and Germany used the same seven different grape varieties; but Alsace’s vinification style is decidedly French. Germans tend to enjoy drinking wine outside their meals so vinify their wines accordingly, making wines lighter in body, alcohol and style, and also sweeter with less acidity. Conversely, Alsace wines a made to enjoy with food and therefore made with more body, higher alcohol and also drier with better acidity.”
We were impressed with the finesse of the Gustave Lorentz wines we tasted:
Riesling Reserve2017, 100% Riesling with white floral and citrus notes, fresh acidity and a hint of minerality. The finish is dry and fresh. A nice aperitif wine or paired with seafood, white meat chicken or a classic Alsace Choucroute (pork and sauerkraut).
12.3% ABV SRP $21
Pinot Gris 2018, 100% Pinot Gris, that, while white, shows more like a red wine in structure. Creamy texture and underlying yet distinct backbone of acidity, it shows notes of pear and quince with a subdued smokiness in the finish. A beautiful wine that pairs well with roasted chicken, venison, or cheeses like Comté or Parmesan. 13.5% ABV, SRP $24.
Crémant d’Alsace Brut, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc, 33% Pinot Noir. Made in the méthode traditionnelle to bring a refinement to the bubbles. Zesty and crisp with notes of lemon rind and a hint of red berry. Made our mouths water for a plate of smoked gouda and country ham, or a plate of grilled shrimp. 12% ABV, SRP $26
Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the méthode traditionnelle. Pale salmon pink in color, this crémant is lovely to look at as well as to sip. Fresh and fruity with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, softer palate and more roundness. 12 % ABV SRP $25 Enjoy with a heartier dish like roast pork, pasta with tomato sauce or to complement a light fruit dessert. 12% ABV, SRP $25
The Beaujolais region in France has been designated a “Paie d’art et d’histoire,” recognizing its centuries-old heritage, picturesque villages, historic sights and many wine estates. Nearly 200 wineries are open to the public.
The official Beaujolais Wine Route covers roughly 85 miles. To the south are the larger regions of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. Moving north you’ll find the 10 smaller crus. Like the wines themselves, each appellation has a unique character based on its climate, altitude and diversity of soils which include an indigenous pink granite, clay, schist and limestone.
Here’s a snapshot, of the Beaujolais Wine Route:
Comprised of 72 villages, AOC Beaujolais, the southernmost appellation, is three times larger than neighboring Beaujolais-Villages, to the east. While reds made from the Gamay grape dominate, one can experience vibrant rosés and white wines made with Chardonnay. Whites from the Beaujolais appellation can carry hints of peach and apricots ,while Beaujolais Villages whites can have aromas of pear, fresh almond and tropical fruit and a touch of almond and vanilla.
Here are some fun facts about these two areas: In AOC Beaujolais, Les Pierres Dorées, which translates to “golden stones,” refers to a cluster of picturesque villages dotted with large golden stones that can be quite spectacular in the sunlight. In fact, this area has earned the nickname “Little Tuscany,” thanks to its steep hills and gorgeous landscape. One example is the hilltop town of Oingt ( oh-engt), which is named one of the most beautiful villages in France.
For a nice introduction to the region, visit the historical capital of Beaujeu (BO-JU), located in Beaujolais-Villages. The Beaujolais Museum has information on the region’s viticultural history.
Venturing northward lie the 10 Beaujolais crus. Cru wine styles change thanks to geology and climate. One can try Beaujolais wines that are softer like Brouilly, Fleurie and Chenas to more supple and structured like Julienas, Morgon and Moulin A Vent.
Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly are the southernmost crus. Brouilly wines are more fruity- plummy with some minerality. Côte de Brouilly wines are slightly fuller bodied. This is due to soils and elevation. This area has a mixture of four soil types: pink granite (unique to Beaujolais), limestone marl, river rocks and clay.
Mount Brouilly straddles the two AOCs -Brouilly at the base and Côte-de-Brouilly on the mountain slopes where vineyards grow in rocky, volcanic soils, some dating to Roman time. At the summit of Mt Brouilly is Notre- Dame- aux Rayzin (The Chapel of Our Lady of the Grapes). It was built in 1857 to protect the vineyards.
Venturing north, Régnié is a small cru spread over just one square mile with pink granite, mineral-rich terrain. Grapes are grown on hillside around 1,150 feet above sea level. Régnié produces aromatic wines with notes of raspberry, red currant, blackberry and a touch of spice.
Morgon is the second largest Cru after Brouilly with 250 producers in 4.5 square miles. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon. The soil in Morgon is rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese and volcanic rock. Morgon wines are fuller-bodied with a deep garnet color and favors of ripe cherry, peach, apricot and plum.
Chiroubles has been called “the most Beaujolais of all the crus.” This region has a higher altitude, 1,475 above sea level and cooler temperatures Wines are ruby red with light floral votes of violet and peony.
Fleurie, a northern cru, covers just three-square miles. The soil here is almost entirely made up of the pinkish granite unique to this part of Beaujolais. Fleurie produces softer, aromatic wines with floral and fruity essences of iris, violet, rose, red fruit and peach.
The highest rated of all the Beaujolais crus, Moulin-à-Vent is ruby to dark garnet in color with lush floral and fruit aromas. It’s a wine that evolves and becomes more complex with age, delivering more earthiness and spice. Moulin a Vent means windmill, a nod to the giant windmill located in the town of Romaneche-Thorins
Chenas in a small cru located in a mountainous area that was once a dense forest before King Phillippe V ordered the trees be repaved with vines. Chenas is considered one of the finest crus, whose garnet-ruby red wines can be aged for a few years. Chenas wines were a favorite of King Louis XIII.
Moving northwest in Beaujolais, Juliénas produces earthier wines with a deep ruby red color and strawberry, violet, red currant and peony characteristics. Juliénas are powerful wines with essences of vanilla and cinnamon laced into the red fruits. The name, Julienas is taken from Julius Caesar; many vines here date to the Gallo-Roman period.
Beaujolais’s northernmost cru is called Saint-Amour. Wines can range from soft, fruit and floral to spicier, with notes of cherry kirsch. Saint-Amour is known as the most romantic Beaujolais. In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Saint-Amour sales occur in February around Valentine’s Day.
Now that we took you on a snapshot tour, we hope you are ready to taste. For more information on Beaujolais and its wines visit www.beaujolais.com
If you follow a vegan diet, be aware that some vintners may use animal byproducts such as egg white fish bladder (isinglass) and animal milk protein (casein) to clarify the wines, a process known as fining. To be 100 percent vegan, no animal products may be used anywhere, and the wines must be filtered using vegan methods.
But do how you know a wine is truly vegan?
Since there is no official certification for vegan wines at this time, knowing the vintner’s wine making methods and the supplier of the wines are both important. One example is Vegan Wines founded by Frances Gonzalez, a longtime vegan. Frances personally visits and inspects vineyards, from soil to bottling, to select wines for her portfolio and vegan wine club. All are 100 percent vegan.www.veganwines.com
Are Vegan Wines Organic?
Vegan wines can be made with organic or non-organic grapes and they may or may not contain added sulfites. Organic wines may contain other organic additives or animal byproducts.
Wine labeled “certified organic” in the United States must abide by criteria established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); no non-organic products may be used in any area of the winemaking process. The use of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals in the vineyards is forbidden, so is adding sulfites.
Organic certification regulations vary by country. Many European vintners we’ve met follow organic farming practices. Some producers apply for organic certification believing the designation helps sell their wines in the international market. Others producers feel the time and expense to undergo certification is not worth it.
We recommend reading- up on the wines you are interested in tasting by vising their website and attending tastings for vegans. A few sources include Vegnews and Barnivore
Vegan Wines offers a wine club that allow participants to try different selections. Frances conducts free virtual tastings and is active on the speaking circuit to educate consumers about vegan wines. We had the chance to sit down with her to discuss her mission and a few wines on The Connected Table SIPS.
Listen to Frances Gonzalez discuss choosing vegan wines
Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardia is a region of rolling hills, medieval villages, majestic and vast stretches of vineyards earning it the moniker, the “Tuscany of the North.” Oltrepò means “beyond the Po,” a reference to the region’s location on the southern shore of the Po River in the province of Pavia. Oltrepò Pavese benefits from cool breeze from the north and a location on the 45th degree parallel, where some of the world’s great wines are produced. The appellations was granted DOCG status in 2007. Pinot Nero (aka Pinot Noir) is the key grape variety cultivated, and region is recognized for its outstanding Blanc de Noir sparkling wines.
Castello di Cigognola, a 12th century castle with landscaped gardens surrounded by vineyards, is one of the most stunning and historical properties in Oltrepò Pavese. Decorated by master architect, Renzo Mongiardino, Castello di Cigognola been designated an Italian National Trust World Heritage site.
Castello di Cigognola is owned by the renowned Moratti family. Gianmarco Moratti is a successful entrepreneur; his wife and Letizia Moratti, is a businesswoman who has served as the mayor of Milan. Their son, Gabriele Moratti oversees vineyard management with Gian Matteo Baldi, Castello di Cignonola’s CEO.
We visited with Gian Matteo Baldi to a record aSIPS podcastfor The Connected Table (stream it below) and taste three expressions of the Moratti metodo classico blanc de noir cuvées. We were impressed by how fresh and clean they tasted on our palates and the finesse of the bubbles. While we have had the chance to taste metodo classico sparkling wines from other well-known regions in northern Italy, notably Franciacorta and Trentodoc, we were struck by the exceptional character of these Oltrepò Pavese blanc de noir wines.
Here is what we tasted:
Moratti Blanc de Noir Pas Dosè. For no dosage sparkling wine lovers, this selection will delight. The wine remains 18 to 24 months on the lees and has a clean, crisp
Moratti Cuvée More Blanc de Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir with a touch of Pinot Meunier. The wine is aged 18 to 24 months on the lees, depending on the vintage
Moratti Cuvée Dell’Angelo 2012 was the only vintage sparkling wine in the trio we tasted. Grapes are sourced from select vineyard plots, and the wine remains 72 months on the lees. This is a gastronomic blanc de noir that we enjoyed with our salmon and roasted vegetables.
Château Climens’ Bérénice Lurton is recognized for making stunning Sauternes wines from the Sémillon variety. Her Château Climens Cyprès de Climens Barsac is one of the classic sweet wines of Bordeaux- liquid gold! This year, she released her first Bordeaux Blanc dry wine, Asphodèle 2018, a 100 percent Sémillon 2018, ideal for sultry summer nights.
Named after a delicate white flower that also is a symbol a rebirth. Bérénice collaborated with renowned Loire Valley Sancerre producer, Pascal Jolivet to conceive Asphodèle. Lurton has also converted her vineyards to biodynamic farming to embrace a more holistic way of making wine. Asphodèle is now available in the U.S. (SRP: $41.99). Importer is Vineyard Brands www.vineyardsbrands.com www.chateau-climens.fr
We sat down with Bérénice to taste her latest releases and record a SIPS podcast, we asked her why she decided to launch a dry white wine and collaborate with Pascal Jolivet.
TCT: Château Climens makes some amazing sweet white wines made from 100% Semillon. But you’ve also branched out and introduced a dry white Asphodèle, also 100% Semillon. Tell us about the genesis of this wine and why you decided to introduce it.
We had been thinking about making a dry white wine for a few years, driven by curiosity, longing for innovation, and because we have a few hectares of younger vines which can produce nice but not overwhelming sweet wine. It took a few years to bring this project to life because it needed investments and certainly a point of view from outside Bordeaux. After all that hard work, I am very pleased with the result and proud to now be able to launch it in the US.
TCT: You worked with Pascal Jolivet. Why did you decide to collaborate with him and what did he bring to the process?
The first thing Pascal Jolivet brought, at first, was his confidence we really could make a fantastic dry white from the terroir of Climens, and specifically from the young vines. And really, the result is beyond my hopes, we’ve made the wine I really was dreaming of!! In terms of harvest and vinification, he brought a very different approach from the classic tradition in Bordeaux: earlier picking, cold fermentation, no added yeasts, no wood, in order to preserve the purity and minerality. We’ve stopped working with him after the 2018v, but we’ve kept the philosophy and are very grateful to Pascal.
TCT: Asphodèle has a lyrical sound to it. What does this name symbolize and does it has a special meaning for you personally?
Asphodèle is a name which has been an evidence to me for this specific wine, it was pure inspiration. I like the elegant sound of it, which matches perfectly the wine’s personality, starting by this open and assertive vowel, following with soft and round syllables and ending fresh and long ones. I was seduced by this name yet I hardly knew it was a white flower. When I found more elements about it, I was amazed: this lily is both wild and very refined, and is also a symbol of rebirth, being the first plant to grow again after a fire. Like the Cyprès, which is the name of our other sweet wine, it’s considered as a link between the earth and the sky. And the terroir at Climens has a potential of vibrancy and energy that you can really feel in the wines, which are at the same time seductive and transcendent.
Asphodèle was also the first wine we’ve made after the frost had destroyed all the crop in the spring of 2017. This project and this new-born wine have really been a blessing in the difficult period we have gone through. It’s a real creation, we’re proud and …we’re really excited and proud about it, it’s our baby!
In Peru, “Pacha mama” (Earth Mother) is the powerful life force. We are taught to respect and honor Her. We are constantly reminded of this force of nature every time there is hail, frost, drought, tornadoes and now a pandemic. As a biodynamic vintner, what is your philosophy on respecting and protecting the Earth and working in harmony with nature?
Of course, biodynamic is an approach which is totally in this idea: it’s not only avoiding to use polluting inputs, but it’s a way to re-create and develop the relationship with Nature, the Earth and the Cosmos. The farm is considered as a living organism, which all parts are connected and interdependent, as well as to all the different elements of life. It’s a vision you can find in all the traditional societies, maybe especially in Asia, and I often compare it to Traditional Chinese Medicine
It is a preventive approach, based on observation and the use of natural elements, may they be plants, minerals or animal manure in order to help the vines to be well-balanced and sane in harmony within its environment. It is thus very flexible: we do adapt our approach to the terroir, the growing phases, the issues of each plot, the weather conditions, the positions of the moon (as they have an impact on tides, they have one on water in the soil and plants), etc. We are facing more and more weather brutal phenomenon, and biodynamic really helps by its research of balance.
Biodynamic is not protecting the Earth, it’s being part of it, by respecting and restoring the harmony between all its elements, at our level. It’s not a list of recipes but a vision, a philosophy, a way of life.
I have read that Bordeaux has permitted some additional white grapes to be cultivated. Can you share a little more about this? Will any be applicable to your appellation?
This is just experimental. I’d love to make experiments, but I’m not sure these grapes are adapted to our specific soil. I’m fond of Albarino, but it seems to be more comfortable in acidic soils, and we are limestone dominant… I don’t exclude to try other varieties but it’s not our priority for the next future.
For those who have never visited Barsac (including us) and are traveling their dreams for the time being, what are 3 -5 things you recommend doing/seeing or eating when visiting?
First of all let me tell you what people can discover when visiting Climens:
The “classical” visit is already different from what you can see elsewhere, Climens being a different planet in the galaxy of sauternes. We also offer a “slow tasting”, for wine lovers to take time to appreciate all the sensations that the wines do provide.
Of course, you know we are fond of food and wine pairings, so we do organize meals with a wonderful chef; I’ve been experimenting (and enjoying!!) the unlimited possibilities of delight for 25 years, and let me tell you again these wines are far from being only dessert wines: they are wonderfully versatile, and it’s an experiment not to be missed! We’ve been working for many years with Florence Camaly, a chef who’s as precise as sensitive and inspired. Her cuisine has a resemblance with Climens in the fact that it’s natural, fresh and refined. It’s based on traditional French cuisine but with a personal and oriental inspiration. I am so fond of her gambas in Thaï style, her sea bass “en croûte de sel , her lamb tajine, her heavenly fruit desserts…
We also organize yoga sessions in the unique tisanerie (the attic where we dry and store the plants for biodynamy) .
Apart from Climens, the surroundings are beautiful to discover by car or bicycle. The landscapes are superb, and the Sauternes and Barsac area is a very historical region where Heritage buildings are abundant: baroque churches like the gorgeous one of Barsac, magnificent chateaux from the Middle Ages, XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, and the rural architecture is very nice too.
I also strongly recommend to go rowing on the Ciron, it’s not only the origin of the Botrytis microclimate, but also a very preserved and beautiful little river which flows inside gorges.
As for restaurants, you’ve got the choice, from very typical regional food like an “entrecôte aux sarments” (rib steak cooked on dried vine shoots) at L’auberge des Vignes in Sauternes, to the top of French gastronomy like at the new Restaurant Lalique at Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey.
Show notes: Bérénice Lurton is a fourth-generation winegrower of Bordeaux’s renowned Lurton family. Her father, Lucien Lurton, acquired a collection of famous estates that he shared among his ten children. In 1992, Bérénice assumed stewardship of Château Climens at age 22. Considered a jewel of the Sauternes region, the 16th century Château Climens is a premier cru First Classified Growth of 1855 known as the “Lord of Barsac.” www.chateau-climens.fr U.S. importer: Vineyard Brands www.vineyardbrands.com
We have a soft spot for South Africa after a visit to the wine country and the bushlands in late 2006. So, it was a pleasure to visit with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, proprietors of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer of estate-grown wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near the fishing village of Hermanus in Walker Bay. It’s one of the southernmost wine estates in Africa and benefits from a cooler maritime climate, ideal for producing their Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. (listen The Connected Table Sips)
Now, after producing 40 vintages in South Africa, the Hamilton Russells have spread their wings and have invested in making wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Their first two releases, vintage 2018 deliver classic Pinot Noirs with opulent fruit and spice balanced with masterful restraint and purity. The wines are available through Vineyards Brands in the U.S.A.
The couple had looked into investing in Burgundy but decided the Willamette Valley offered a better opportunity to work with some of the region’s best AVAs, Eola-Amity Hills and Ribbon Ridge.
The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is recognized for its iron- rich volcanic soils formed by ancient lava flows combined with marine sediments and alluvial deposits. The maritime climate allows for a steady cooling sea breeze during the long, warm growing season Ribbon Ridge is a sub-appellation within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Here, the soil is uniformly marine sediments with fine silt, sand, and mud.
“After sanctions (in South Africa) were lifted in 1992, we knew we wanted to expand long-term. We visited the U.S. often and saw an extraordinary opportunity in Oregon with Pinot Noir. While Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa exhibits a bit more austerity, the Oregon wines capture the more purity of fruit. Interestingly, the alcohol levels, acidity and PH balance are almost the same,” said Anthony Hamilton Russell.
Hamilton Russell Oregon wines, both 2018, are like fraternal twins. They share a similar DNA – Willamette Valley Pinot Noir -but exhibit different character, due to terroir. Olive Hamilton Russell has a culinary background and is a passionate forager. She shared some pairing tips for each wine.
Established in 2016, AOC Cairanne is the newest of the Côtes du Rhône’s 17 crus. Located on the left bank of the Rhône River thirty minutes from Avignon, the village of Cairanne is perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by vineyards. In the distance one can see the craggy peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Considered a gateway to the southern Rhône Valley, Cairanne’s climate is Mediterranean- dry and sunny with frequent gusts from the mistral winds which cool and purify the air, an ideal setting to cultivate healthy vines. Many vines in this region are more than 50 years old.
Red wines make up 96 percent of Cairanne’s production. AOC guidelines require that the reds be a minimum of 40 percent Grenache, blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan, but no variety can exceed 30 percent of the total blend. The end result are red wines that display sultry spice, fresh red fruits, smooth tannins, and elegant finesse.
Though only four percent of total production, Cairanne whites, also follow stringent AOC guidelines, comprised mainly of Clairette, Grenache Blanc or Roussanne. Bourboulenc, Picpoul. Viognier or Marsanne may be used in smaller amounts. The whites are all aromatic with a bright balance of floral, fruit and spice.
Conservation is important in Cairanne where 26 percent of planted areas are organically farmed, and sulfites are kept to extremely low levels. Most of the vines are gobelet-trained to safeguard against the wind and to preserve the freshness of the fruit. Cairanne is divided into three growing areas. To the west near the Aygues River, vineyards are planted on steep terraces with extremely stony topsoil over calcareous clay. The hilly slopes just north of the village are alluvial clay and silt with limestone. In the flat southern region, the vegetation is shallow scrubland, known in the Rhône Valley as les garrigues. Each contribute to the consistent style and character of Cairanne wines which producers unanimously refer to as more “refreshing and elegant.”
Cairanne is a winemaking community consisting of 50 independent vignerons, 35 négociants and seven cooperatives. Locals talk about a youthful vitality in Cairanne; after all, it is the newest Cru in the Côtes du Rhône. The reference is also a nod to the region’s younger winemakers who are working together with an eye on preservation, sustainability, and recognition for AOC Cairanne in the global wine market.
Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers:
Domaine Alary. Jean-Etienne Alary is one of Cairanne’s young winemakers whose families have been producing wine in the region for many years. Domaine Alary has existed since 1692. Jean-Etienne represents the 11th generation. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)
Domaine André Berthet-Rayne. André Berthet-Rayne’s great grandfather started with 15 acres; his father, Paul expanded it substantially. Today the winery is run by André with daughter, Alexandra, taking on winemaking duties. (Santa Armosa NY)
Domaine Boisson. Sixth generation winemaker, Bruno Boisson, studied and worked in Burgundy for several years, which is why the wines have a Burgundian flare to them, notably the barrel-aged white, L’Exigence (Verity Wines)
Domaine Le Grand Bois. An estate founded in 1920 by Albert Farjon now run by his descendent, Mireille Farjon, and her husband, Marc Besnaudeau, who worked as a sommelier in Paris before joining his wife’s family business. (Weygandt-Metzler Importing)
Learn more about AOC Cairanne. Listen to The Connected Table SIPS. Each podcast is 12 minute.
Cairanne, a pretty hill town in the Côtes du Rhone, has a winemaking community committed to producing elegant wines with an eye on sustainability and authenticity. A cru appellation since 2016, AOC Cairanne requires vines to be hand-harvested and sulfite levels kept to a minimum. 26% of all vineyards are organic. Jean-Etienne Alary, 11th generation family member at Domaine Alary, discusses Cairanne’s different soils and how young winemakers are working to support each other. www.vins-rhone.com
AOC Cairanne, the youngest of the Côtes du Rhone’s 17 crus, is located on the left bank of the Rhône River in the Vaucluse. Cairanne’s dry, sunny climate, cooling mistral winds and three distinct soil types provide the perfect setting for producing the region’s complex, lush grenache-based red wines and “rising star” aromatic whites blended from local grapes. Producer and negociant, Jean-Marie Amadieu, discusses Cairanne’s setting and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.
Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.
During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.
These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.
Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés
Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!
We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.
Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.
Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).
Château de Montfaucon. The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)
Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure. Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old! (Elixir Wine Group)
Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race. (Skurnik Wines)
Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac. (F. Wildman)
La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859. Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)
Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!
AOC Lirac on the Rhône River’s right bank is a small cru appellation producing lush reds and aromatic whites. Lirac has an ideal terroir: over 200 days of sun, purifying mistral winds and three different soils: rocky galets, calcareous and sandy, with most vineyards organically farmed. AOC Lirac Co-President Rodolphe de Pins is owner of Château de Montfaucon, where some vineyards date back 140 years. He discusses how Lirac’s different soils shape the character of its wines. www.vins-rhone.com
One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations since 1947, AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s rare gem, just northwest of Avignon. Lirac wines were prized among Europe’s nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th century. Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white and smaller amounts of rosé wines made from blends of mainly indigenous varieties. Château de Montfaucon’s Rodolphe de Pins, AOC Lirac Co-President, discusses the region and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com