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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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)
“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
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
We’re fans of Virginia wines and the region itself and made our third visit to explore the state in October. The weather was perfect and fall foliage was just starting. We spent three nights staying at the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, located in Central Virginia’s Monticello AVA.
This was our first visit to Barboursville, and we produced a live show with general manager and winemaker, Luca Paschina, who shared the estate’s history over a dinner he prepared for us with a selection on Barboursville’s wines.
Barboursville’s America-Italy Connection
Barboursville was the 19th century estate of Virginia’s Governor, James Barbour, a colleague and good friend of Thomas Jefferson. The two were practically neighbors- in rural Virginia that can mean several miles away which many may still say is “up the road a ways.” Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello, is about a 20- minute drive near Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.
Historically, Barboursville was a farming estate for sheep. Like many centuries-old farms, it changed hands over time. In 1976 Italian vintner, Gianni Zonin, acquired the estate to create Barboursville Vineyards, the only winery for the Zonin family outside Italy. This was a bold move for the Zonins, whose family dates back seven generations, and it marked a major milestone in then-sleepy Virginia wine history. The Zonins happen to be the largest privately family-run wine company in Italy. By selecting Virginia over locales like Napa and New York’s Finger Lakes to start a U.S. winery, the Zonins made quite a splash in the wine news world.
Luca Paschina has served as general manager and winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards since 1990. Paschina is from a Piemontese winemaking family and is doing some amazing things with Italian varietals in this area of Central Virginia, notably Fiano, Vermentino and Nebbiolo. Barboursville’s selections also include Viognier and Cabernet Franc, which both flourish in this area. Most well-known of the estate’s wines is Octagon, Barboursville’s signature Bordeaux style blend.
There is also an onsite grape drying facility to make passito.
The inn itself also offers some smaller houses. When we were there it was quiet aside from two or three other couples staying on-site. However, the tasting rooms, inside and out, were busy with day trippers enjoying wines and a light lunch from the on-site Palladio restaurant. The tasting room team did a great job managing safe social distancing. Throughout our Virginia winery visits, everyone was incredibly careful about this.
Paschina noted that the tasting room is open every day except three holidays, and one can visit the property and the ruins of Barbour’s house, which was designed by Jefferson. Sadly, the house was destroyed in a Christmas Day fire in 1884. The estate also has some stunning gardens and a patio to relax with a glass or two of wine and gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
On our final day at Barboursville, harvest ended as we were saying our goodbyes. Vineyard manager, Fernando Franco made the final “victory lap” through the vineyards and up to the tasting patio in the big blue harvester. Out came the cameras and a bottle of Barboursville sparkling wine which Franco sabered. Glasses were raised in celebration to toast the end of a harvest that, many local vintners admitted to us, has its challenges thanks to a frost in May which had everyone scrambling to protect the buds. Paschina made a speech and thanked his team for their hard work. What a special moment to capture and savor in the vineyards among friends!
The Connected Table Live at Barboursville with Luca Paschina.
Here are the show notes and link. You can also hear it anytime on your favorite podcast platform.
Photos not provided by Barboursville Vineyards were taken by The Connected Table.
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.