The week started off with a dinner featruing the wines of an old friend - Il Poggione from Montalcino. I had the pleasure to visit this estate a number of years back, and the wine were impressive then, as they are today.
I also had the pleasure to revisit with Alessandro Bindocci, the current winemaker at Il Poggione and out guest for the evening. Alessandro makes wines that are very easy to get to know. Basically a Sangiovese specialist, Il Poggione is perfectly situated on the southern facing side or the 'back' of Montalcino, a perfect home for this grape. Il Poggione has been in production for more than a century, and as such they have the good fortune of vines that are old, with many revisions done in the early 1960s - these are 50+ year old vines at the core pf production. What does this mean to the average drinker, like you and me? Very well balanced and concentrated fruit in the glass - just like silk. You do not have to be a wine geek to like these wines - they are perfect for those of us who like a little more round and supple feel to the tannins in our wines.
The dinner had a number of current releases, including a Toscana Rosso, Rosso di Montalcino, and the 2014 Brunelo di Montalcino, but the wine that may have been my secret favorite was the Rosato, 2018. Also made from Sangiovese, and done in a very dry style - it is light and delicate with beautiful freshness and balance between the fruit aromas and flavors and the acidity.
Sancerre has been a bit of quandary for wine-buyers the past few years. There is a significant consumer demand for this wine style, but the region has had its ups and downs with weather, which has created a situation with lower production for many producers. Why is it so popular?
Sancerre is made from Sauvignon Blanc - and people like to drink Sauvignon Blanc. Sancerre is a region that has a lot of limestone in the ground. This limestone helps to really focus the acidity and freshness in the wines, while the Sauvignon Blanc grapes deliver what they are made to deliver: fruit and chalky flavors. Usually not terribly pungent and tropical like a Sauvignon from New Zealand might be, the Sancerre style is built around balance and elegance, but also richness and drinkability. Which is how we get to Tabordet Sancerre, 2018.
In a nutshell - its a pounder. Almost silky smooth, the feel on the palate is rich but smooth and light, all at the same time. Not overly fruity, but in check with great citrus and pear notes that are carried to the finish with some chalk and mineral notes. It goes down easy on a Wednesday night.
Sancerre is also a classic pairing for the other great food of the region - Chevre or goat-cheese. There is no better food and wine pairing perhaps than Sancerre and goat-cheese, in my opinion. The acids in each are perfectly suited to compliment the other and when you have them together something magical happens in your mouth. Get some Sancerre. Make a salad or other dish with goat-cheese. Drink together. Enjoy.
I am told I was the first person to taste the first sample bottle of the Jameson Cold Brew Whiskey & Coffee to hit the CT market. While I feel honored by that occasion, this will probably be the only mention of that event. Not that there is anything wrong with this product - in fact it was tasty - it's just that I am a not a huge fan of market research driven concoctions.
Jameson has been on a release train the past few years, bringing a new item out each year or so and working to capture or maintain drinkers with 'innovative' and timely concepts, such as the IPA Cask Edition last year. Now I guess Cold Brew is the thing, although I think we got over the Cold Brew moment a couple of years ago. Maybe it took a while to get to Ireland, or wherever the decisions are made on new items.
Smells like coffee. Tastes like whiskey and coffee. Falls off a little quick, but for those looking for a more delicate attack on the palate - this will fit your bill. True whiskey fans will pass. Fans of flavored shite will like it.
As part of my day-job, I get to work with winemakers and craft a few of wines that are sold with good success in the restaurants. I would never go so far as to say I 'make' the wine, of course, but I do get to sample and comment on the style and production methods, to a certain point. A couple of years ago when I was looking to add a new wine to the portfolio, I wanted a particular style of Chardonnay, from a particular source region, and in a certain price-point. I was able to find this with the guys at Campbell & McGill - Kevin McGill being a friend and supplier here in CT.
Kevin makes a wine in Sonoma that he markets under his own label, and when we discussed the opportunity to make one for my needs, we decided to piggy-back the production to keep costs in line with what our combined goals were. The result is a Sonoma County designated Chardonnay. Our first vintage, which is out and selling now, was the 2018. This week, I had a tank sample of the 2019 vintage delivered to my desk inorder to preview and comment. One of the criteria I had from the beginning and certainly after the initial vintage was made, was to increase the amount of oak used in the making and aging of the wine. For 2019, we bought a number of additional barrels, and stepped up the aromatics and mouthfeel by employing more wood in the program. With lees stirring on a regualr basis, we are able to build great fruit and balance, with delicious apple and pear flavors that are slowly being wrapped by toast and vanilla. Even at this young age, the 2019 shows a ton of promise.
Taking into consideration that we were briefly not sure if there would even be a 2019 vintage made, as the winery was evacuated due to wildfires back in October/November, this wine is a real pleasure to drink, and I cannot wait to release it later this year.
If you are working the floor in the wine business, you know the value of a good, no hopefully GREAT, corkscrew - or wine key as we sometimes refer to it as. I get asked somewhat frequently what my favorite corkscrew is and the answer often surprises. Most people expect that I have a fancy (read that as expensive) wine key form a top producer. Well, I have a few of those, but most are actually broken.
The brand I prefer to use has a number of different styles and feels, but ultimately Coutale is what I have come to value for its durability and styling, which is comfortable and functional. For the most part, I get wine keys form suppliers for no cost, and these are given out to my staff to use. But for my personal needs it is Coutale in my pocket. And when I am working an event or taking care of guests as a Sommelier, I prefer to have two keys in my pocket - never know when one will break - and different corks sometimes call for different means of extractions. What does that mean?
The Coutale Sommelier series of wine keys has multiple levels (see the picture), of which there are slight differences in how they are made. Each has a slightly variation to the worm, the blade, and the way it is engineered - giving a different feel or practical nature to various corks and other closures.
For me, these are the tools of the trade that are there and reliable when needed. It may seem like a small thing, but when you open 30, 40 or more bottles every day - you need something that you can count on - and hopefully is a little stylish, as well.
If you are studying for a qualification through any of the programs offered in the wine community, you have probably used flashcards - I personally have thousands of them. One thing becomes clear after a while, they can be helpful but take up space and hard to keep organized.
Over many years I have added to my collection as I have worked through various programs and levels of study, and now with some very high level exams on the horizon in my personal plan, as well as in conjunction with the many candidate students using this website for WSET classes - I have made my cards available online. This was a big jump that I took on a few years ago, but it helped me to revamp and organize the cards, as well as use them anywhere I had my phone or tablet available - such as while traveling, commuting or simply while lying in bed. I also have the ability to edit the cards as new or modified information becomes available.
For those studying for certain qualifications, I have broken the cards down into appropriate level material, as well as by subjects and sub-topics. The wine world can be intimidating with the vast amount of information, but having a cohesive and level-appropriate set of study material available has helped a lot of my students work through their programs - assuring that we all are able to handle the info we need.
Brainscape is my flashcard program of choice, and there are a number of 'decks' that I have built in my account for various levels of study. You can access the list via the Resources icon at the top of this page, or by clicking here. I am currently in the process of revamping the Advanced Sommelier decks, taking care to remove redundant ones and update/correct the rest. I will also be adding WSET Spirits Level 1 decks, shortly, as we have added that the New England Wine Academy class offerings this week.
Brainscape is available to add to your phone or tablet by clicking here or in your App store.
For fans of Rum (and you can count me in as one), there are a number of opportunities to attend Rum Festivals throughout 2020, and in various locations around the country. I have not attended any of these particular events, so go at your own risk, but they look like a lot of fun. I am of course a big fan of the classic rum drink - the Daiquiri - so this seems like it would be a great opportunity to find some new and creative ideas for making different variations of this iconic drink.
I will attach the specific dates to the calendar, but here is the link to the host company for the festivals in Miami, Chicago, New York, Puerto Rico and California - all throughout 2020.
Here is the link to find all the info from the Rum Lab...
New online class scheduled by New England Wine Academy. See the full schedule on the Classes page or directly below. Online classes cover the same material as in-person classes, and can have the advantage of providing a flexible schedule for study and tasting while still providing structure to the schedule preparing for the exam. This can be great for those with busy or non-traditional work schedules, such as can often be the case in the restaurant industry.
Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 1 Award in Wine ONLINE
Mon 24 February 2020 - Sun 22 March 2020
Mon 4 May 2020 - Sun 31 May 2020
Mon 29 June 2020 - Sun 26 July 2020
Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 Award in Wine ONLINE
Mon 27 January 2020 - Sun 1 March 2020
Mon 17 February 2020 - Mon 23 March 2020
Mon 23 March 2020 - Sun 26 April 2020
Mon 13 April 2020 - Sun 17 May 2020
Mon 8 June 2020 - Sun 12 July 2020
Mon 22 June 2020 - Sun 26 July 2020
Please pay attention to the registration deadlines. Because WSET is based in London there is some lag-time for ordering materials and getting you registered for specific classes. Each posting above details the cut-off dates. For additional information, please contact NEWA.
So here is the thing...CT has a reputation for not drinking vermouth (depending on who you ask), but there is an in-the-know, under-ground contingent that actually do drink vermouth - and the choices are better than ever.
The other thing that is notable about vermouth is that it is GOOD, and is low in alcohol, and it tastes great. Ok, that may have been three things, but it's good.
The Poli family is one of the oldest producers of grappa and other distillates in the Veneto region of Italy. Going back as early as the 1400s, they have been responsible for maintaining production of a product, grappa, that is a little misunderstood (at best) and often not liked by many (except older Italian guys). Poli grappa and the bottles that it often comes in, have become iconic, and have led to other producers making delicate and ornate bottles in order to sell their product. This is done to elevate the lonely grappa to a level of perceived elegance that it never really had, and thus give it a place in the drinking world that it would not normally have had. Poli grappa are pretty outstanding actually.
But this is not a story about grappa. Poli also makes wonderful vermouth. Gran Bassano is the label and there is a Bianco and a Rosso. Gentle, surprisingly delicious beverages that are perfect to drink on their own.
Gran Bassano Bianco is based on Vespaiolo, a grape that grows in the Veneto - the huge wine region that covers most of the northeast part of Italy. I think when most people think of vermouth, they are thinking Martinis or Manhattan cocktails, and are not really excited. What has been (re)discovered though, is that when you put this over ice with a little twist of lemon or orange, then you will have some thing incredible. This is the way vermouth was meant to be drunk. The Bianco is delicious on its own or mixed into a simple drink with soda and ice, perhaps.
The Gran Bassano Rosso is a red vermouth based on Merlot, and just jumps with strawberry and rhubarb, vanilla and spice. Not heavy or too sweet, but balanced. Finish is a little sweet as expected, but this makes it better. Ice and a swath of orange peel - perfect pre-dinner cocktail. Low in alcohol and just the right way to enjoy a meal.
If you are on the dry / low alcohol wagon, or even better you are on the I-like-to-drink-good-things-only wagon, then get a bottle of vermouth such the Gran Bassano from Poli and enjoy.
When I am looking at various wines throughout the week, once in a while something really tasty comes across my desk (literally). This week, I was happy to find two wines that I find fit this bill, and so there is a tie for Best Value of the Week.
The first wine hails from Italy:
Az. Ag. Valle Reale Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, 2018
Certified organic, chewy and little tannic/dry through the finish, fruit is a tad short, but this wine has structure and finishes with balance. Retail is about $12-15.
Wine two is a southern French standard:
Saint-Cosme Cotes du Rhone, 2018
Being sourced from the northern Rhone, this wine is 100% Syrah - pure core of fruit with a flash of spice. Chewy, jammy fruit, good length, with earthy and floral notes (violets) with more of the pepper spice through the finish. Tasty wine that delivers year in and year out...about $15.
This week was one of those weeks where it seemed like everyone got back to work after the long-ish holiday break. I saw (too) many suppliers, who were loaded with full bags of interesting and diverse products. I also had more than a few new supplier contacts come through the office - some with interesting items and some not really worth considering - so goes it.
Monday started off with attending (at the very end) a retail tasting featuring a perennial favorite from Piedmont - Frattelli Alessandia - with Vittore Battista, 8th generation winemaker, in attendance. A family estate dating back to the 1830s, this is one of the most consistent producers of relatively affordable Barolo - especially when you consider the selection of Crus - on an annual basis. Tasting the 2015 San Lorenzo once again reminded me of why this is a producer to follow. The wine is round and full of fruit, with a focused core of acid and tannin that is well integrated. Winemaking here is a combination of looking back and looking ahead. Without being cliche, there is a fine balance between the traditional and the modern camps, but the use of larger wood with modern vineyard and winemaking practices is sort of the new norm employed by many winemakers in the region. Fruit in the San Lorenzo hangs on the palate, but the wine finishes long with supple tannins. Great style. I would very much enjoy this with an earthy mushroom dish. Should age gracefully for another 10 years easily before really any signs or thoughts of "age". Look for this in the $72 range for retail.
Tuesday looked south of the equator to South Africa and the wines of David Finlayson from Stellenbosch. One of the most iconic winemakers in the country, David Finlayson has been at the forefront of wine production from a number of regions and across any number of styles for many, many years. Working since 1993 at family owned property - specifically Glen Carlou - David has set the stage really for the entirety of the modern age of wines in South Africa and post-apartheid.
The wines I had the pleasure to taste are not quite available in the CT market at this point, but may become so soon, and I would recommend finding these once they are. Across the range there is balance and elegance. My notes detail high scores across the range - not an easy task.
The wines tasted ran the range as can be seen in the picture below, but one wine in particular stood out: Old Vine Chenin Blanc, 2017 from the Camino Africana range. This wine is chewy and chalk, just fabulous texture that flows into a long, rich and smooth finish. I don't really care if you like white wine or not, this is really great wine. Only about 100 six pack cases are made, so might be a hard time finiding - well worth the search, though.
Not to be out done, the rest of the range is quite good.
Cabernet Sauvignon, 2017 - shows great length with dark fruit and super chewy tannins from mountain fruit - tasty.
Chardonnay, 2018 - was well balanced and chalky with just enough acids to create lift and length - a pleasure to drink.
Cabernet Franc, 2014 - this was the other wine that really shined, and is a testament to why Loire Valley grapes need to be taken seriously no matter where they are grown (see notes above about the Chenin Blanc). Earthy, dark fruit with a touch of wild/herbal notes that build through the long finish, which is carried by moderate tannins.
Also in this tasting was another wine from South Africa: the Luddite Saboteur, 2015, from the Bot River Region, which is in the southern-central wine region close to the southern oceans. With a focus on Shiraz, this self-proclaimed garagistes has a wine in the Sabateur that pays homage to all things non-mechanized or industrialized, especially winemaking. Whatever you like to see here the wine was good and the packaging is cool. A blend of Shiraz, with smaller percentages of Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, this wine is super juicy and smooth to the point of being rich almost in a 'New World" way, but without all the sappy, confection styling you might get from a true New World wine. It maintains a touch of Shiraz at the core with peppery spice notes that flows into a super smooth and very long finish. "Delicious" was my last comment.
Last wine in this group is a wine from the southern hemisphere, but from a different continent - South America, and specifically Argentina. The Vina Alicia Brote Negro Malbec, 2014, which is a beautiful example of what can come from Lujan de Cuyo in the Mendoza region. Herbal and loaded with red fruits, there is an earthy side to this wine that balances so well. Supple tannins create a chewy feel through the finish. Long. Kind of expensive at about $75 retail, but quite good wine if you can find it.
Next vendor tasting (still Tuesday morning), was the reps from Broadbent Selections and the wines of Weingut Huber from Austria. This was a look at selections for an up-coming event and a revisit for me on wines that I have been selling in some capacity for many years. included in the grouping were new vintages and a at least one new wine to me. The Huber family has been making wine from their estate in the Traisental for generations. These are precise and classically styled wines that represent Austria very well.
Wines tasted include:
Gruner Veltliner Hugo, 2017 - green and fresh with elevated acidity makes this easy drinking
Gruner Veltliner Terrassen, 2017 - from select sites in the Traisental, this is a mineral driven, fresh and airy style of GV
Gruner Veltliner Ober Steigen, 2017 - 25-50 year old vines from a single vineyard, this is complex and dense, with a big feel on the palate plus pear and stone fruits
Zweigelt, 2015 - bright berry popping notes with a little spice and wood notes - this is made half in stainless and half in vats to add roundness
Rose Sparkling - which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt. This is soft and fruity and fizzy, just an easy wine with a touch of residual sugar that makes sense for my event to be served with dessert.
Tuesday morning continued with a tasting from a local supplier with a mixed bag of wines that really resulted in nothing of note. The afternoon continued with a whiskey tasting of a wide range of American producers that covered about 25-30 selections. I will write about these in another post as this is all wine related items, but my tasting was cut short because some knucklehead kid ran his car into my daughter's car int eh school lot, and I had to cut my tasting short. Failed to get the picture of the table, but just imagine 30 bottles of whiskey. Smelled good, too.
Thursday continued the tasting parade with some great wines from South America. This is the opportunity to consider the fact that there are tariffs in place and perhaps more on the way for wines sourced in Europe. The current administration has been waging a war on European aerospace and tech taxes to the benefit (and most likely behest) of large American companies. The problem with this is that these tariffs are having an impact on goods that thousands of Americans in the wine and spirits trade count on to sell, and many of these people are in jeopardy of loosing their jobs as prices escalate, costs (especially labor) are being scrutinized, and sales decline. So, while limited number of airplane manufacturers and tech companies get to keep more of their overseas income (do they pay taxes on that income?), thousands of American jobs in the wine and spirit wholesale and supplier segment, as well as restaurant and retail business are placed at risk of being eliminated. Or the costs simply get passed along to the American consumer, which impacts everyone in the supply chain.
ANYWAY...back to Chile.
Here is a close contender for the best values and tastiest wine(s) of the week - especially if what you like about wine is supple, juicy, rich fruit. Take a look at the Primus range from Veramonte. Veramonte is more of a retail/grocery oriented wine brand with large production of fairly reasonable priced wines. The Primus range, though, is a selection of wines from the Apalta region in Colchagua. It is a region that is highlighted due to the soils, which are based on old riverbeds and contain less organic material but more gravel/alluvial structure. This all makes for more intensity and fruit in the wines, and Primus wines have this.
Primus Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 - currently Maipo, but with newer vintages will be sourced in Aplata. Black fruit with a little green pepper notes. Good, not great.
Primus The Blend, 2015 - full and rich with a good dose of black fruits and supple tannins. Still a bit of bell pepper notes.
Primus Carmenere, 2017 - this is the star of the line-up and could easily be the contender for Wine Value of the Week. Full, super-smooth fruit and a long finish. The red currant mixed with deeper notes of plum that are just short of true black fruits, make this elegant in a lush way. Long finish. Very good wine and the star of the lineup, as it should be.
Check out the next posts for the Value Taste of the Week, and The Vermouth You Should be Drinking, Now...
Unless you have been ignoring the news lately, you probably have at least a basic knowledge that the land down under is on fire. Not just any fires, but intense and long lasting wild fires. These fires reportedly have been devastating on many levels: acreage burned (12 million + acres, which is about the size of the state of Maryland), speed the fires are spreading, irreparable damage to human homes and wildlife habitats, possibly the destruction of trillions of insect, millions of animals, and of course as many as a third or more of the wild Koala. We have not heard much about the impact to vineyards as many of these fire areas are not in major wine regions, but the weather conditions that have caused these conditions are certainly impacting wine regions - mainly the high heat and dry conditions that provide fuel. At this point these fores have been burning for months.
Not only have I seen the daily reports on the news, but now the impact of these fires has even managed to find its way into television commercials for charity agencies - if you watched some football today, you will have seen a number of relief requests (see link below).
This week, though, I was reminded of these fires for a different reason: I came across a posting on IDTT for a wine education site called Australian Wine Discovered Education Program on the Wine Australia website. The program is a "comprehensive" and free educational program provided by the Australian government. There are a ton of topics to work through, including info on grape varieties, regions, and other resource topics. There are also tasting sheets if you want to organize your own tasting sessions. All good stuff to enhance your understanding of Aussie wines.
While it is cold here in the northeast in mid-January, remember it is mid-summer in Australia, and they are getting ready to pick the 2020 harvest, soon. I remember the time when Australian wines were all the rage and everyone was drinking wines with "critter" labels. While the fortunes of the Aussie wines in the US market have changed significantly over the past 10-15 years, the Australian wine producers have continued making tremendous wines. The difference is that today you can find more outstanding wines at a good variety of price points. For regions unaffected by the fires, the hope of course is to have a good vintage and continue to make exceptional wines. Unfortunately with the effects of climate change taking a bigger and bigger hold on wine regions, we may get to a point where some of our favorite wines will no longer be viable from a production point in certain areas.
So whether you are a fan of very good inexpensive wines from Australia or maybe are a little more selective in your grape or regional choices, this is the time to support Australian winemakers, be it because of the fires or simply because they are under pressure from increasing climate changes. Take a look through and learn about some wines, regions and producers you are less familiar with and throw some support to a region taking the force of climate change on the chin.
SOME LINKS TO CHECK OUT...
Australian Wine Discovered - great education site for everything Australia
I'll Drink To That (IDTT) - this is the site I found the Australian Wine Education Program on, and I will mention again that if you have not found Levi Dalton's site - you are not doing everything you can to maximize your wine knowledge. This is the best resource for the deep dive into wine, period.
Red Cross website - the Red Cross works in the US and around the world to help those in need, including Australia.
ABOUT THE Author
Brian Mitchell runs The New England Wine Academy, and is responsible for the content of this blog. With 30 years of drinks industry experience, Brian has learned a few things, but everyday he is learning more. This blog helps to bring that knowledge to you.