Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Viña Pedrosa 1994 Ribera del Duero Crianza

I'm starting to once again become fascinated by the great wines of Spain. Tonight, the night before the last day of 2014, it's a bottle of Viña Pedrosa 1994 Ribera del Duero Crianza - a wine I used to import many years ago and that has been waiting in my cellar for just the right time to appear on my table. That time has come, with sautéed duck breast in red wine sauce, kale sautéed with eggplant, and buttercup squash so sweet it could almost be for dessert. The wine is beautifully transparent in color, still youthful. The nose is violets and red meat with the amazing deep blackberry-currant note still intact, plenty of garrigue too - lavender, a hint of thyme. The palate is all roast red meat and chalky minerality, then comes stewed blackberries, and a thirst quenching, delicious finish. An amazing pairing with the wild duck breast in red wine sauce.

This is an homage to a great wine, not a sales pitch. We no longer sell this wine, and likely never will again. However, one of my new years resolutions for 2015 is to dig back into Spain, looking for wines of terroir and individuality, crafted from fine raw materials, with an eye towards tradition. Wines like this one from Viña Pedrosa / Hermanos Perez Pascuas.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Nardello Soave "Meridies"

If you haven't yet tasted the 2013, you should. It is marvelous...full of complex aromatics with a big floral and peach emphasis, lush fruit on the palate with almost incredible ripeness and yet beautifully balanced acidity. A glorious white wine for summer and beyond.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sailing with Fabio

We've got Fabio Oberto in town for a few days, and I figured I'd take him sailing over the weekend to give him a taste of northern Wisconsin and Lake Superior. Turns out not only does Fabio grow incredible Barolo, but he might be a natural born sailor. Never seasick, completely at home on the boat, more than willing to lend a hand. Hope he can come back for a longer passage.

Below decks, we enjoyed a bottle of JJ Prum 2012 Kabinett, (Riesling is Fabio's favorite grape after Nebbiolo). The wine was stunning, if far too young. We then opened an Oberto 2004 Barolo DOCG from my cellar, which was deep, spicy, and very complex, almost perfect Barolo, but which is yet still too young. It was a more than acceptable pairing with grilled Lake Superior lake trout, caught that very day by local fishermen.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2001 Chateau de Viella

Stunning, youthful, shockingly delicious. This 2001 Madiran from Chateau de Viella has another 15-20 years in it.

Available from WorldWide Cellars by first September, in very limited quantities.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Piaggia arriving this week!

Piaggia is a recognized leader in Carmignano, one of the oldest designated appellations in the world, which is a fact that will surprise some of you. Carmignano is named for the eponymous city of Carmignano, a mere dozen kilometers west of Florence. Long ago ruled by the Medici, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de' Medici took special pride in the area's wines, and in 1716 ruled that the wine-growing area, and the name Carmignano, should have special legal protected status, essentially creating one of the world's first appellations. 

Mauro Vannucci and his daughter Silvia are making stunning, serious wines that show true noble character and cellar-worthiness. Don't miss!! 

Piaggia vineyard, taken just a couple of weeks ago on visit with Tony Lemmo, of Cafe di Scala in Des Moines. Note the calcareous content in the soils that makes them appear practically white, and the traditional chestnut stakes. One can see Florence less than 15 km away from a different angle in this vineyard. 

The next vintage of Il Sasso is 2011, but the 2010 that is on the way has the potential to be a "classic" vintage. 

Tony contemplates the array of wines during our tasting: impressive!

Tony contemplates the enormous bistecca fiorentina that came out for lunch after our tasting at the winery. These steaks come from the famous white Tuscan chianina cattle, and are usually cooked over a wood fire. Needless to say, delicious. Needless to say, I was not able to finish (that steak was for one person). 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Long Island, Lake Superior

There is only the sand, the water, the wind, the waves: everything else.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Barone di Valforte

In Abruzzo, Montepulciano (the grape) is king. In the hands of Valforte, who have 20 hectares in the DOCG zone, Colline Teramane, the king's crown shines bright indeed. Pictured below, Guido Sorricchio shows Tony and I the new gemme, or flowering shoots. The growing season is off to a promising start. 

South facing vineyards in Città Sant'Angelo, where the cantina, and one part of vineyards of Barone di Valforte are located. The vineyards are about 3km from the Adriatic Sea. 

Guido shows off the new gemme, but also evident is the clay soil with an enormous calcareous but also ferrous content, which gives the soil a yellowish cast. 

Super-modern winemaking facilities include state of the art controls for all of the winery's stainless steel vats. 

Sun setting over Colline Teramane

After a hard day of winery visits, multiple plates of seafood at Osteria Della Loggia Di Bruno Mancinelli, in Alta Silvi...high in the hills. The meal was absolutely breathtaking. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Michele Alois

Don Michele Alois shows how it's done: we arrived to find him working in the vineyard, and somewhat annoyed that his vineyard guys had missed tucking some of the leafy canopy under the training wires, and had missed tying up a few newly planted vines that weren't tall enough yet. We found the Alois vineyards in a gorgeous state; in one of the 4 vineyards that hadn't been mown yet, flowering alfalfa giving the impression of a garden of Eden. Soon enough it will be mown, and the result saved to feed the farm's three horses (one of Michele's hobbies and passions).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


A couple of days ago Tony Lemmo and I paid a visit to Lamberto Vannucci and his father Mariano. It was Sunday, and the weekend of Cantine Aperte. There was a major party at the winery which was finally broken up by a thunderstorm (happens every year here for Cantine Aperte, apparently). Lamberto's top cuvées, Castellum Vetus, are stunningly impressive interpretations of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (DOCG Colline Teramane) and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. Both wines are age-worthy in the extreme. 

Live rockabilly band for Cantine Aperte

Lamberto and Mariano show their 2006 Castellum Vetus Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. The wine was magnificent. Lamberto refuses to take any credit for what he has produced, preferring to credit the vineyard. 

Looking out the window of the tasting room, one sees the vineyard for Castellum Vetus Trebbiano. The vines were planted in 1982, and trained on pergola, the old way. It's harder to control yields with pergola, so a green harvest is necessary. However, these vines are Trebbiano Abruzzese instead of the now-often-planted Trebbiano Toscano. An important distinction if terroir is what you're looking for in your wines.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A visit to Le Marche

One of my favorite places on earth: the Conero. Monte Conero looms over the Adriatic and the surrounding landscape, imposing its massive presence on all visitors. The Moroder winery is entirely within the Parco Nazionale di Monte Conero. The farm uses only biological practices and has been certified by Ecocert since the 2011 vintage. They've farmed organically for far longer. The family's restaurant on the property,"Aion," uses 80% of ingredients farmed right on the 52 hectares of property owned by the family. Even the flour for the pizza crusts is grown on the property. And even the truffles - glorious black truffles that ripen at various times during the year, growing in the tartufaio planted by the Moroders several years ago. And of course, the wine. The ultimate farm to table. 

The wines, by the way, seem to be better every vintage, and are undergoing a packaging renewal in order to bring the line together visually and to update and modernize the image (except Dorico, the Moroders' flagship Cru, who's label will remain the same). They have introduced a new red wine, Rosso Conero DOCG Riserva, made from a selection of Dorico, and from a selection of the Rosso Conero Moroder Classico. Tasted for the first time at dinner last night, the wine was deeply impressive - all black and blue fruits, depth, and with the Moroders' signature gorgeous, velvety, mineral structure, brooding tannins, and extreme finish. 

Yesterday we spent the day with the Brunori family. The 2013 vintage continues to impress for whites, Le Gemme being astonishingly aromatic, super clean, refreshing, with superlative fruit. The vintage was more difficult for reds, but I found myself appreciating the herbaceous notes that came through on the nose of 2012 Rosso Piceno "Torquis," reminding me a bit of the Loire Valley.

Monte Conero makes its presence felt all over the landscape. Photo taken from an overlook on the Moroder property, above the tartufaio

Marco Moroder and Argo walk through the tartufaio. Unfortunately, we had little luck finding truffles today. Argo is NOT a truffle dog, and is of no use at all but to be big and lovable. 

Remains of some of the damage done at the beachside restaurant "Da Marcello," one of my favorite restaurants in Italy. 

Left to right: Carlo Brunori, his father Giorgio, with Cristina Brunori and Tony lagging behind in one of the family's steeply sloped, south facing vineyards for Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi. This is San Niccolò, an old parcel, planted using selection massale to preserve the genetic heritage of the vines found on the Brunori property. Farming is organic. 

Serenella Moroder shows off one of several gigantic black truffles presented in a basket and served with eggs in the opening salvo last night at restaurant Aion. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Flavio Fanti

Good winegrowers all know: it's about the vineyard, stupid. You can't produce great wine from grapes that are not ripe and healthy. Most of the farmers we work with spend 90+% of their time working in the vineyard to ensure the quality of the prima materia, the raw material, respective to time in the cellar. Here, Flavio Fanti of La Palazzetta gives Tony and me a tour of a new vineyard parcel he has just this spring planted. I was shocked to find the vineyard covered in alluvial stones, closely resembling the rounded galets found in the Southern Rhone Valley in France. But then again, one of the things that makes Brunello from Castelnuovo del'Abate so special is the extreme variation in soil types - galestro, calcareous, ferrous stone, darker richer friable clay, vineyards seem to change in soil composition every 10 or 20 meters. 

Flavio Fanti

Newly planted vineyard. Note the rounded, alluvial stones resembling the galets of the Southern Rhone. The difference is, here we are not in a river valley but high in the hills of Montalcino. 

Baby Sangiovese vine planted this year in March by the Fanti family. Vineyard area has now expanded to about 20 hectares. This vine will not be fully productive for 5 years. 

Starting another trip: Montalcino

On Tuesday this week, I arrived in Rome to meet Tony Lemmo: Ristoratore, music-lover, and amateur philosopher. Tony owns Cafe di Scala in Des Moines, Iowa...a marvelous Italian restaurant with food inspired by his Calabrian family, and an all-Italian wine list. This was the start of a nine day tour, to include stops in Tuscany, Le Marche, Abruzzo, and Campania. Our very first stop, after dropping our stuff off at La Palazzetta, was the Enoteca at the Castello di Montalcino, in Montalcino proper. Along with a plate of salumi, we tasted a lineup of Brunello that included 2009 Mastrojanni, 2007 Poggio di Sotto, 2005 Biondi Santi, plus a 2008 Riserva from a producer I'd never heard of, Franci, who turns out to be one of the owners of the Enoteca. Only 1000 bottles of Franci 2008 Riserva was produced. The wine was pretty alluring - depth, complexity, length, delicious.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Our visit to Domaine Alain Voge

Near the end of our trip, we got to spend a bit of time with Alberic Mazoyer, Alain's partner and managing director of Domaine Alain Voge. The purity and minerality of the Syrah grown in these parts is absolutely unparalleled. We are very, very fortunate to get our small allocations of these wines.

Some of the steepest vineyard sites in the world, it is amazing indeed that anything can grow in the arid, decomposed granite here, but to produce wines such as these is a miracle itself. It takes about 1000 man-hours to work one hectare of this vineyard, according to Alberic. The farming methods are directed from biodynamic principles. The 8 or so hectares owned by Voge covers some 30 parcels. The lowest vineyards are at about 150 meters asl, while the highest are at about 350. There is a 3 week differential in ripening and therefore in the vendange.

Looking down on the village of Cornas from the lieu-dit "les Chailleau", where cuvée Les Chailles comes from.

Alberic talks with Peter Vars about vine-training.

This photo might start to convey the incredible steepness of these vineyards. It is truly Heroic Viticulture that is conducted here.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lake Superior May 14, 2014

Where in the world is Joe? On the south shore of our magnificent Lake Superior, waiting for this year's nearly 100% ice cover to finally melt away, making way for another season of sailing on this spectacular body of water.

Does the concept of terroir extend beyond traditional definitions; is the idea of somewhereness apt, even beyond wine growing?

Let's not call it terroir, for that pushes even my liberal definition beyond reasonable limits. Let's call it awesomeness, let's call it amazing, let's call it yet another special place on earth, with its own gigantic personality, its own frigid charm. Let's not call it terroir but let's acknowledge that once one feels the differences that "place" can confer upon a wine, it's pretty easy to understand the magic, the flavor of a place even when that place has nothing to do with our sacred beverage.

Call it what you like.

I'll call it love. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Têtes

Our little group made a side-trip on Sunday a couple of weeks ago to Vincelles, in the Jura, where is found the cellar of Domaine de l'Aigle a Deux Têtes (of the Eagle with Two Heads). The harvest from this micro-domaine of barely 3 hectares was reduced below the point of ridiculous when the 2013 crop was decimated in part by frost, and in part by ravenous birds. What remained, however, provided the raw material for some of the most exciting wines we tasted on our entire tour, which is saying quite a lot.

The signpost outside the tiny cellars of the Domaine

Henri Le Roy shows us vines in his vineyard Derriere la Roche. According to Henri, the site is capable of growing some of the greatest Chardonnay in the world, but is very susceptible to frost.

Henri draws a taste of his marc de Jura from an ancient cask

After spending the afternoon visiting Château Chalon, the wonderful wine museum in Arbois, and all three of Henri's vineyard sites, dinner by this talented amateur chef (Bresse Chicken with fingerling potatoes) didn't start until after 11pm, and didn't finish until 130am.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Domaine du Banneret

This tiny (3.5 hectare, 8 parcels), historic property is in the process of transition to the new generation...here Audrey, daughter of Jean-Claude and Marie-Francoise Vidal, applies a label the way they do it at Banneret: the old fashioned way, by hand with a glue brush. Winery profile (finally!) coming soon to our website. Check back tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Domaine Rouge-Bleu (DRB)

We had a chance last week to spend a couple of nights with Thomas and Caroline, the lovely new owners at Domaine Rouge-Bleu ("DRB," not to be confused with "DRC"!). All of us were extremely impressed by the warm hospitality, and the beautiful wines. Most of the domaine's vineyards were planted in 1955, meaning the plants are able to fully ripen the stems which are thus included in the fermentation - imparting structure, complexity, and cellar-ability. We love the packaging update on the 2011 Mistral (and the wine is absolutely gorgeous!). 

Thomas, and his wife Caroline, have taken over principle ownership and management of DRB. Here Thomas walks through their lovely, stony syrah vineyard. 

Another DRB vineyard shot

The Lunatique parcel - gnarly 100 year old bastards!! They loose a few plants every year...Lunatique will be even more scarce! 

The barrel room conveniently houses a bed...perfect for putting up tired pickers, or in this case, letting a few bottles of 2010 Mistral repose peacefully with a corkscrew. 

A glorious view of the Dentelles de Montmirail range: pure limestone bedrock that was forced straight up 90º by two tectonic plates crashing into one another, now standing watch over Gigondas, Vacqueyras, plus more distant appellations of the southern Rhone Valley. The picnic table at DRB is just the place to enjoy the view, with a glass of delicious Rouge-Bleu rosé in hand and maybe some ratatouille, why not? 

Thomas finished a day of plowing, parked the tractor, took a shower, and was still so covered in dust and dirt that he could raise a cloud by smacking his leg with a hand. Might have to lather, rinse, and repeat next time! 

A close up view of the family tractor's bumper sticker. I love it! 

Family meal at DRB with our little group included skewers of beef and sausages done on the grill, potato salad, and couscous. I feel like Thomas and Caroline must have been pretty lonesome for us when we left. Not for long however: they are expecting their own little bundle of joy in June/July!! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Grati Chianti again

No photo opp, no travel data, just a quick message to say how happy I am with the Grati 2012 Chianti that arrived last week...it is just perfect. Thank you Gualberto!!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Rock Burglar

Last November, Massimo Alois (Fattoria Alois) accompanied me on a trip in Tuscany and Le Marche, in part because he wanted to add soil and rock samples to his growing collection of "terroir" from around the world. Massimo has samples from Napa Valley, the Mosel, Finger Lakes district in NYC, and even the St Croix River Valley in Minnesota, displayed in jars at his winery in Pontelatone, near Caserta, in Campania. After our recent trip in France, he can add Le Montrachet (pictured above), Romanée Conti, plus vineyard sites in Cornas, Brouilly, Côtes de Jura, Châteauneuf du Pape, and others. By the end of the trip, the suspension on the little car rented by his buddy Giovanni (our van was too small for 6 people, after Giovanni arrived midway through the trip) was showing signs of ...mmm...stress. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Chassagne-Montrachet: Domaine Fernand et Laurent Pillot

A teaching moment: Laurent Pillot discusses vine pests and bud development in his 0.37 hectare parcel of 1º Cru Grandes Ruchottes. Laurent produces wines from 22 appellations in 7 villages (Chassagne-Montrechet, Puligny-Montrechet, Beane, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Santenay), a whopping 54 separate parcels, covering a mere 15 hectares. According to Laurent, the Premier Cru Grandes Ruchottes was once considered for Grand Cru status, and has a terroir comparable to Le Montrachet. He considers it, in his understated manner, "one of the best 1º Cru" of Chassagne. We tasted through his delicious range last week and were stunned by the precision of the wines. The 2005 Pommard 1º Cru Les Charmots he brought to dinner at the Auberge du Vieux Vigneron in Corpeau showed the quality of this vintage and the age-worthy quality of his wines - something I've been fortunate to have experienced many times now, tasting as far back as the spectacular 1993 Chassagne-Montrachet 1º Cru Vide-Bourse (blanc), tasted in November 2008.