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Sipping with Clay Shannon, Shannon Family Wines

 

After a long career in vineyard management in Napa Valley, Clay Shannon set out to acquire land to make his own wines in 1996. “I wanted a mountain vineyard that had red dirt to grow some rich, well-concentrated red grapes with strong tannins,” he shared with us. Shannon found his land on a remote ridge at 2500 feet elevation in Lake County outside Napa Valley and Mendocino to establish his ranch and Shannon Family Wines which he oversees with his wife, Angie Shannon.

Clay and Angie Shannon
Clay and Angie Shannon, Shannon Family Wines

The Lake Country wine region is home to about two dozen wineries and seven designated American Viticultural Areas (AVA). Grape growing here dates to the 1800s but was replaced by other agricultural products during Prohibition era. Grape growing resumed in the 1960. The area is mountainous with cool winters and volcanic soils. The area’s just still far enough away from the Napa scene to be a “discovery journey.”

Shannon's Sheep
Shannon also herds sheep.

About half of the Shannon’s 2000 acres is dedicated to vines, with a focus on organic regenerative farming The rest is preserved. There’s also a herd of sheep, which inspired the label for Ovis, a premium single vineyard estate red. Shannon cultivates Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhône reds. He is also experimenting with other drought-resistant varieties including Touriga Nacional, Counoise, Nero d’Avola and Alicante Bousche.

Many have referred to Clay Shannon as a “maverick” for settling in Lake County which still has a lower profile than its starry neighbor, Napa. It is a title he eschews. “I’m just cowboy farmer who wanted to the own the best land I could to make the wine I wanted. Sometimes you need to venture a little further to find what you are looking for.”
www.shannonfamilywines.com

What we tasted:

Sauvignon Blanc

Clay Shannon Sauvignon Blanc. Think lime, gooseberry, white peach and a hint of flint. SRP $30

Shannon Cabernet Sauvignon

Clay Shannon Cabernet Sauvignon: Grapes are sourced from the lots to make this red which is has notes of raspberry, cherry and tobacco. SRP: $45

Buck Shack Red

Buck Shack: Shannon’s popular red blend is aged in bourbon barrels to soften the tannins and lend hints of whisky and vanilla. It’s sold in 750L whisky bottle. The name Buck Shack is a nod to the 100-year-old skinning shed located on his ranch known as “Ye Old Buck Shack.” “This is a wine about having fun, Shannon shared. SRP $35

Shannon calls Ovis his “sexy Cabernet Sauvignon. This estate grown single vineyard red is barrel-aged 20 to 24 months and then another year aged in bottle. The name Ovis translates in Latin to sheep, and there are 3000 of these wooly creatures on Shannon’s ranch. Would pairing this rich, dense red wine with roasted lamb feel appropriate? SRP $60

Listen here to our SIPS podcast with Clay Shannon (link). Or click below.

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Commonwealth Wine School: A Leader in Wine Education

Boston is considered one of the nation’s centers for higher learning and is home to many renowned universities. The city is also home to Commonwealth Wine School a leading institution for both avocational and professional wine, spirits, and sake education.

Located in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Commonwealth Wine School offers a range of courses from beginner to advanced levels. For industry professionals, Commonwealth Wine School offers certification level programs from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), the Wine Scholar Guild, and the Society of Wine Educators.

We recently caught up with Kim Simone, Manager of Commonwealth Wine School, and asked her about what you should look for when selecting a wine studies program. Kim has worked in education for many years and has numerous wine certifications including Level 3 WSET and Certified Wine Educator. She served as corporate sommelier for the Legal Food Restaurant Group for many years and is founder of Vinitas Wineworks, a wine consulting company that collaborates with retailers and wineries.

Kim Simone, Manager, Commonwealth Wine School
Kim Simone, Manager, Commonwealth Wine School

TCT: Kim, many people may be considering a wine program to advance their education. What questions should they be asking when looking at schools?

KS: It depends on their priorities and what they want to do with their education. We see people from many backgrounds and with many reasons for enrolling. Some students work in the industry and want professional certifications to advance their careers. Others are enthusiastic wine consumers who want to become familiar about a certain wine region or style. Or they are traveling overseas and want to learn about the wines beforehand. We offer a broad range of studies for both groups.

TCT:  We see more people using initials like WSET, CWE and CSW after their names. Tell us about the certification programs offered.

KS: Commonwealth Wine School offers the full course of wine studies and certification levels for WSET as well as for spirits and sake. That is something that sets us apart. We also offer certification programs for the Wine Scholar Guild and the Society of Wine Educators.

Commonwealth Wine School offers all levels of WSET certification for wine, spirits and sake

TCT: Tell us about your instructors.

KS: We work with many fantastic teachers in the Boston who are respected for their knowledge. Many are published authors or who have worked in the restaurant and hospitality management industry – just to mention a few: Erika Frey, Adam Centamore, Jo-Ann Ross , Ashley Broshious.

TCT: How large are your classes?

KS: Our classes on average range from 12-to 20 people. Especially for the professional studies programs, we want to keep classes small to encourage communication. Of course, we also host winemaker dinners and tastings that are larger, and we also offer virtual classes. So anyone can join us from outside Boston throughout online platform.

Trade classes at Commonwealth Wine School are kept small to encourage more interaction with students.

TCT: Have you noticed any changes in what students are enrolling in?

KS: We are seeing more students enrolling from our restaurant partners. We see them sent by their beverage group or manager. Many enroll to advance their education and improve their standing in the industry, or they may work retail and want to improve their knowledge to better serve their customers.

TCT: Anything else you want to share with us?

KS: Yes, it is important to note that Commonwealth Wine School is about building community, whether you are joining us for avocational or professional reasons. We offer a diverse range of workshops, wine camps and tasting events that are affordable for those individuals who enjoy learning with like-minded people, and we aim to be the leading center for higher wine education in the greater Boston/New England area for industry professionals.

Check out the current class schedule at this link:  www.commonwealthwineschool.com/calendar

Follow on Instagram@commonwealthwineschool

Listen to our SIPS podcast with Kim Simone here

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Sipping Aged Albariños with Bodegas Fillaboa

 

Albariño wines from Rías Baixas in Spain are aromatic wines with zesty tropical and citrus notes and zippy acidity that tap dance on your palate as you savor them, perhaps with with a plate of fresh-caught Galician seafood.

But, as we learned tasting aged albariños from Bodegas Fillaboa, that time spent on fine lees with the steady stir of bâtonnage creates wines more like a graceful pas de deux of flavors and complexity.

We tasted three different selections from Bodegas Fillaboa, a family-owned estate in Galicia. Located in a 15th century Romanesque castle near the border between Spain and Portugal, Fillaboa produces some of the finest and rarest estate-grown wines in D.O Rías Baixas.

Bodega's Fillaboa's name translates in the Galician dialect to “the good daughter” and references a local story that a Count left his best lands to his youngest daughter. Since, 2000 Fillaboa has been owned by the Masaveu family.
Bodega’s Fillaboa’s name translates in the Galician dialect to “the good daughter” and references a local story that a Count left his best lands to his youngest daughter. Since, 2000 Fillaboa has been owned by the Masaveu family.

Estate grown wines in Rías Baixas are still uncommon, according to Isabel Salgado, winemaker at Bodegas Fillaboa since 1998. “We feel having estate grown fruit is important for maintaining full quality control.”

Fillaboa is located near the Portuguese border (150 feet) and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean (22 miles) and the Tea and Miño Rivers. “This is a very windy and rainy part of Spain with granite-rich soil and round rocks from the river. Here we use “en parra” (pergola) system to elevate vines six to seven feet to protect the fruit from the damp soil and increase wind flow through the plantings,” Salgado noted.

Isabel Salgado, winemaker for Bodegas Fillaboa

Salgado believes albariños have great aging potential. “At the beginning of my career, everyone wanted fresh albariños to drink. Over time, I researched the aging potential of white wines in bâtonnage. I was inspired to keep some albariños on fine lees to see how they would evolve. No one in the region had made wine like this in the past. In 2000 we released our first Seleccion Finca, and it showed how well albariño can age.”

What we tasted

Bodegas Fillaboa Albariño, 2020 (SRP $20) This wine spends at least four months on fine lees. This is an aromatic wine with refreshing notes of pineapple, lemon, mango and apple with bright acidity. Consider pairing with boiled seafood, lightly grilled or poached fish with citrus sauce, mussels in garlic and white wine. Salgado feels this wine has three-year aging potential.

Fillaboa Seleccion Monte Alto

Selección Finca Monte Alto, 2018 (SRP $26) This is a single vineyard wine from Fillabao’s Monte Alto plot of just seven hectares with 28-year-old vines. The wine is aged on fine lees for one year. Annual production is limited to 10,000 bottles, depending on the vintage. This wine has fuller flavors of tropical fruit, apple and light toast with a smooth finish. Consider pairing with blackened redfish, Spanish tortas with jamón and queso, fish stew. Salgado sees its aging potential for five years.

Fillaboa 1898Fillaboa 1898, 2010 ($58) This is a complex wine made only in the best vintages. Albariño grapes are sourced from eight estate plots; the wine is six years on lees with regular bâtonnage. This wine delivers unctuous notes of ripe tropical fruits, baked apples and brioche toast with a long finish. Savor with roast pork, coq au vin, butter-poached lobster.

Tasting through these three albariño selections gave us a greater appreciation for these wines and the complexity they can develop with age. Bodegas Fillaboa wines are imported in the U.S. by Folio Fine Wine Partners.  www.BodegasFillaboa.com

Follow and connect  @masaveubodegas

In addition to the winery and vineyards, the Fillaboa estate features a Roman bridge, a stone chapel built in 1909, and a Romanesque palace that houses works of art by Spanish painters from the fifteenth to twentieth century.

Listen here to our conversation with Bodegas Fillaboa Winemaker Isabel Salgado on The Connected Table SIPS.

 

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Sipping w/ Pablo Cunéo, Bodegas Luigi Bosca, Argentina

World Malbec Day, April 17, is an annual observance that celebrates this noble red grape. Malbec’s roots are from southwest France, but it has achieved superstar status in Argentina where it has flourished.  In fact, Argentina now produces seventy-five percent of Malbec, and its wines have become world-renowned.

One example is Bodegas Luigi Bosca. Established in 1901 by the Arizu family, Luigi Bosca is one of Argentina’s few continually owned and operated family wineries. Its main winery is in Lujàn de Cuyo, a sub-appellation of Mendoza. The Arizu family was instrumental in helping establish Lujàn de Cuyo as an official CDO in 1989. The winery also vineyards in Maipú and and the Uco Valley, also in Mendoza.

Head winemaker, Pablo Cunéo, has worked with Luigi Bosca since 2017. If anyone is an “ambassador” for Mendoza, it is Cunéo, who praises its climactic conditions for making exceptional wines.

“We are fortunate to have very stable growing conditions year after year,” he noted. “Mendoza has a continental climate bordered by the Andes and high elevation vineyards. Its poor alluvial soils help to produce a high concentration of fruit. The cool winds from the Andes, low humidity and ample sunlight are ideal for ripening the fruit with exceptional vibrance and color, especially as you go higher in altitude in the Uco Valley.”

Bodega Luigi Bosca’s De Sangre collection of reserve wines was introduced in October 2021. (Importer: Frederick Wildman)
“De Sangre means ‘of the bloodlines,’ and these wines are close to the Arizu family, special reserve wines usually brought out to serve for special occasions. Now, they want to offer them to the world,” said Cuñeo.“The wines are made from grapes sourced from select parcels to show the characteristic of each variety.”

We tasted three selections:

De Sangre White is a blend of Chardonnay (50%), Semillon (35%) and Sauvignon Blanc (15%). “The Chardonnay is fermented for eight months in French oak to attain toasty, caramel notes. The Semillon has herbal and chamomile characteristics, and the Sauvignon Blanc adds citrus and acidity. We thought this wine would well with a variety of dishes, from a light creamy pasta to spanakopita to pan-roasted trout almondine or Florida grouper in a tropical sauce. So many ideas came to mind!

The De Sangre Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) is blended from grapes from four different parcels in Mendoza. “Each adds something special to the wines,” said Cuñeo. After 12 months aging in oak with malolactic fermentation, this wine delivers pleasing black fruit and peppery notes and ripe, balanced- not overly agressive- tannins which we appreciated. Consider this wine for a for grilled meats, game, or roasts. We enjoyed it with a savory roast chicken.

De Sangre Malbec is one of three Malbecs produced in the collection. The Malbec DOC Lujàn de Cuyo is aged 12 months in oak with malolactic fermentation, which imparts soft elegance and a ripe roundness to the fruit laced with notes of cacao and coffee. This Malbec is silky and plush. We discussed grilled meat, steak and barbecue and tasted at home with David’s “vegetarian” meat loaf.

Cuñeo feels Lujàn de Cuyo produces the most representative of European Malbecs made in the 19th century- very classic. “I call it [Lujan de Cuyo] the Malbec that conquered the world,” he said.

Hear more of our conversation with Pablo Cuñeo on The Connected Table SIPS podcast on iHeart Radio (ir your favorite podcast platform). www.luigibosca.com

 

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This Young South African Wine Producer is Breaking Down Barriers

There was a time in South Africa, when a woman of color would not have the opportunity to run a winery. Berene Sauls represents a new generation breaking down barriers as owner of Tesselaarsdal Winery, located in the Overberg. Opened in 2015, Tesselaarsdal produces cool climate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with grapes sourced from nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. The name Tesselaarsdal is an homage to Sauls’ ancestors who were freed slaves and farmers in the area.

Berene Sauls, owner, Tesselaarsdal

Believe in a Dream: A Former Au Par Turns Vintner

Much of Sauls’ hands-on training has been under the mentorship of Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell, whose namesake winery is among the finest in South Africa’s Overberg region. Sauls began working as an au par to the Hamilton Russell’s four daughters. She expressed an interest in learning the wine business, and the couple encouraged her, giving her more hands-own work at their winery and serving as her mentor.

Sauls says the learning experience of working every department of Hamilton Russell Vineyards was invaluable. Eventually this led to the Hamilton Russells offering to help Sauls start her own winery in 2014. They have provided her a production facility at their winery and seed money to build a winemaking facility.

tessalarsdall vineyards
Tesselaarsdall vineyards

Tesselaarsdal – A Symbol of Freedom and Heritage

Located in the Overberg, Tesselaarsdal is a rural village with historical significance. The widow of its namesake settler, Johannes Tesselaar, left his farmland to his freed slaves upon his death in 1810, a bold move at the time.

Sauls glows with excitement talking about her future as a winery owner, something she knows would have made her mother and grandmother proud. “I named my winery Tesselaarsdal to honor my roots and legacy, and the women on wine’s label represent my mother and grandmother who both loved the land,” she shared.

Eventually Sauls plans to grow her own estate fruit. For now, she sources her grapes from nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge whose higher elevation and cool winds provide ideal growing conditions.

We tasted Tesselaarsdal’s two wines.

Tesselaarsdal Chardonnay 2020

Sauls second vintage, is aged in both amphora and six months in oak, giving it a light toast blended with soft tropical and citrus notes and a nice minerality. As we tasted, visions of Asian curry, Cajun blackened redfish and fresh grilled trout crossed our minds.

Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir 2019

This wine is aged just over nine months in French oak, imparting notes of allspice, wild strawberries, and fresh cherries on our palate. In South Africa this would be the perfect wine for a classic braai. Here stateside, we call that a cookout on the grill with sausages, lamb, chicken skewers and grilled vegetable. The night we tasted this wine we had cauliflower pizza with bitter greens, anchovies, and caramelized onions.

Tesselaarsdal means “heaven on earth” in Old Dutch and Afrikaans. And for Berene Sauls it is a place to honor her heritage and plant her own piece of heaven, writing an exciting next chapter for this vibrant young woman.

Importer: www.vineyardbrands.com     www.tesselaarsdalwines.co.za

Meet Berene Sauls and hear her story on The Connected Table SIPS

 

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New Zealand’s Villa Maria Celebrates Sixty Years and a Fruitful Future

Sixty years is a milestone for any business and especially when it is a winery. Even more interesting is when the winery is located in New Zealand, which is still considered a “new world” wine region. Many of the country’s earliest grape growers were immigrants from Croatia with the biggest wave arriving between 1890 and 1914. This included the Fistonich family. That is where the story of Sir George Fistonich and the birth of Villa Maria begins.

In 1961 at the age of 21, George Fistonich leased land in from his father and planted his first acre of vines in Auckland with the goal of making quality wine, accessible to many. From those humble beginnings, Villa Maria expanded to three wineries throughout the country. It is New Zealand’s most awarded winery with more than 2000 accolades. In 2009, Sir George Fistonich was knighted in recognition of his service to the New Zealand wine industry, a first in that nation.

George Fistonich being knighted
George Fistonich being knighted

Villa Maria’s winemaker, Tom Dixon started as a cellar hand in 2013. “Villa Maria one of the few wineries making wines in every production region of New Zealand. We are based in Auckland on the North Island. On the east coast in Gisborne, we grow Chardonnay and Pinot Gris; just south in Hawkes Bay we produce Bordeaux style reds and Chardonnay. The South Island in Marlborough is where we make out Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir,” he explained.

Tom Dixon
Tom Dixon

Villa Maria’s Sauvignon Blancs take center stage. We tasted the Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon 2021, Marlborough (SRP $16.99). The wine’s flavor notes blend citrus and tropical fruits with lemongrass, fresh herbs and a whiff of bell pepper. Dixon explained that Villa Maria sources its Sauvignon Blanc grapes from two vineyards to achieve this balance of flavor.

“The Wairau Valley in Marlborough has a warmer climate and more fertile soils which bring out the tropical fruit character. In the Awatere Valley the climate is cooler, drier, windier and the soils are poor, resulting in wines with more vegetal character such as snow peas and grass. With the Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, we aim for a 50-50 split so you can taste a lovely intermingling of both tropical and herbal notes,” he noted.

Villa Maria Seddon Vineyard (Marlborough)
Villa Maria Marlborough – Seddon Vineyard

Villa Maria is also recognized for its sustainability platform based on four pillars: Respect the land. Tread lightly. Invest in people. Inspire conscious consumers. “By caring for the land and focusing on preservation, we benefit by making better wine. By investing in people, we have a committed team who shares our mission. Our passion and desire to be sustainable and responsible we want to inspire others to do the same,” he said.

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc

We recommend pairing Villa Maria with plant-based dishes, salads, grilled fish, mussels frites,  papaya salad or pad Thai.

The wines are imported in the U.S.A. by Winebow. Connect: www.villamariawines.com IG: @villamariawines

Listen to our SIPS podcast with Tom Dixon here:

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Ancient Peaks, Paso Robles Southernmost Winery

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

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

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

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

Here are some tasting notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come for the wines. Enjoy the cheese pairing!
Come for the wines. Enjoy the cheese pairing!
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Sipping with Sebastian Nasello, Podere le Ripi, Montalcino

 

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

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

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

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

Overview of Podere Le Ripi
Overview of Podere Le Ripi

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

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

Podere Le Ripi team

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

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

What we tasted:

Cielo d'Ulisse

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

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

 

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Jacqueline Strum: Niche Media Is Going Strong

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

But not all.

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

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

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

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

Making the Wine Lifestyle Accessible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italian Rosés: Ancient Winemaking Traditions Delivering Modern Appeal

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

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

Classic vs. Modern Styles

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

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

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

Selection of Italian roses
Photo: David Ransom

Veneto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiaretto
Chiaretto Italian Dry Rosé   Photo: Studio Cru

Abruzzo

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

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

Wines to try:

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

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

Calabria

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

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

Sicily

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

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

 

About Rosé Prosecco

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

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

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

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

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

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Virginia Wines on Our Mind!

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

A Little Virginia Wine History

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

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

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

Virginia Wines Today

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

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

Monticello AVA

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

Bottle of Octogan
Octagon is Barboursville’s iconic Bordeaux Blend

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

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

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

Shenandoah AVA

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

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

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

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

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

Middleburg AVA

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

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

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

Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards
Hardscrabble Vineyard at Linden Vineyards

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

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

Places to stay:

The Berkley Hotel, Richmond An upscale hotel centrally located.

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

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

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

1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards
1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards

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

Learn more…..

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

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

 

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A Story of Family & Fortitude: Delia Viader

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended:

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

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

Delia and Alan Viadar

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