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Will The Real Chianti Please Stand Up?

By Thomas Madrecki

Chianti is an old land, and this is an old post, taking literal months to think through a whirlwind tour of Tuscany — and to digest the full experience, food, wine and culture.

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What is Chianti?

Well, there is a definition according to the region’s authorities themselves, which seems to offer up a strict set of guidelines. But as we will see, those guidelines can play out differently in different places. There is more than a “bit” of wiggle room, even in Chianti Classico. Chianti wine is first and foremost wine made in Chianti, and the authorities tell us that:

Other fundamentals and other requisites concern the ampelographical base—or the types of grapes that can be used in the preparation of the wine. The rules provide for a minimum ratio of 80% for Sangiovese, the typical red variety of the zone. Along with the Sangiovese, other red grapes of the area can be used in a maximum percentage of 20%. These grapes include natives like Canaiolo and Colorino as well as “international” varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, all recommended and/or authorized for the production zone. Among the principal sensory characteristics indicated by the production rules, there is the ruby red color that can become at times intense and profound, depending upon the wine’s origin. The odor offers floral notes of violets and irises combined with a typical character of red fruit. The flavor is harmonious, dry and sapid with a good level of tannin that fines in time, becoming soft and velvety. Other requisites requested include a minimum alcohol level of 12 degrees for young wines and 12.5 degrees for the Riserva.

A quick analysis of these guidelines gives us an initial picture of a lithe, drinkable, sanguine wine, originating from the native Sangiovese grape and perhaps a scattering of local field varietals. Flowers and raspberries dominate the palate, and at 12 percent alcohol, it’s quite sessionable.

That is Chianti… or is it?

A more pointed analysis would highlight that the guidelines only specify 80 percent Sangiovese, and that the authorities allow international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 20 percent of either varietal is enough to change the structure and personality of the wine into something much more forward. It’s more robust, perhaps showing oak and age-worthiness. And because the guidelines only specify a minimum alcohol… it can climb higher, into the 14-15 percent range sought by many consumers, especially those in America.

So which is the real Chianti?

Our mid-September trip to Castello di Gabbiano showed us a full range of Chianti wines, from acid-driven, chuggable table wine at Dario Cecchini’s steakhouse to serious reserve bottlings like the Castello’s “Belleza,” which earned the mark of “Gran Selezione.” The Gran Selezione is a new moniker created by the Chianti Classico authorities to designate the most prestigious wines in the region. A panel of winemakers and region experts grades submitted wines on taste and overall character, approving only the “best.” As a whole, the new practice is a clearly bold move to bolster Chianti’s claim as a region producing high quality wines … and to appease to an international export market that demands high-scoring, slightly bigger wines than the kinds of Chianti wines brought to U.S. shores years ago.

And oh, those wines. Straw-covered bottles and served alongside crockery thin-crust pizza, or Americanized Italian red-sauce dishes on checkered table cloths. They were nothing to write home about, and that’s part of the problem for many regions like Chianti that used to produce such inferior wine for export. On the one hand, some of traditional Chianti wine has always been a little lighter, more like good Beaujolais or Loire than ultra serious Napa or Bordeaux. And as in places like rural France, there has always been a culture of table wine or home-made wine, which wasn’t ever intended to compete in magazines for top awards. Moreover, the Chianti region historically viewed wine and food as nearly inseparable — both originate from the terroir of the region. The downside is that, at export, these lighter Chiantis earned a reputation for being second-rate, downgrading the region as a whole. New winemakers and large holding companies believe Chianti has the potential to be a world class region, and so they’ve taken it upon them to produce something different… more developed, bigger, riper. And as in many places around the world, this generation of winemakers and companies is doing so through the use of modern technology and winemaking techniques, to get the most from grapes while meeting international demands. It’s smart business!

But again, that brings us back to our original question… what is Chianti?

At the Castello, I tried several times to push winemaker Federico Cerelli on the question, urging him to elaborate on his vision and what motivates him to make the kind of wine that he does. I wanted to get at the soul of Chianti wine, at least from his perspective. He is a very smart, personable winemaker, and he clearly knows the kind of wine he wants — and needs — to produce, to achieve the results he and his employers want.

Parsing that last sentence out, Federico is, at his core, a modern winemaker. He is well-trained, and the latest releases from Castello di Gabbiano all have a level of quality derived from that training. Looking at the range of wines and Federico’s influence on the winemaking of Castello since coming on board and since the the property was purchased by the Australia-based Treasury Wine Estates, there is a progressional blending of New and Old World attributes as the wines increase in price. The reserve wines, including the Gran Selezione “Belleza,” have an enhanced mouthfeel and gravitas that exudes a certain richness, aging and “proper” correction. You know these are good, ripe, balanced wines. They are well-made and display a consistent value-quality proposition.

For this, Federico and the Castello team should be congratulated, for they accomplished the very rare feat of producing good wine at affordable prices, and secondly, producing good wine that many people will enjoy. One thing gives me pause, though, or at least raises the specter of the original question again — that the wine I enjoyed most at Castello wasn’t a reserve bottling, but the standard Chianti Classico, which is lower in alcohol and lighter overall. And, in discussing that fact with the Castello’s chef, Francesco Berardinelli, we seemed to be in general agreement that the cuisine of Chianti harkens back to these kinds of wines, although there is a clear time and place for more expressive, age-worthy bottlings.

So, what is Chianti? Is it a lighter, more local style? Is it something increasingly worldly and serious? Is it old-fashioned? Is it modern? Is it more natural? Is it more corrected/influenced?

Chianti, as it turns out, is all of these things. The beauty is that we, the consumer, can select a Chianti for every occasion.

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Maryville Concert Series: A Victim of Its Own Popularity

By Bob Johnson

Sad news just in from one of our favorite concert venues in the Pacific Northwest — Maryville Winery. Here is the text of the letter that just went out from the winery to concert patrons…

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At the request of, and in cooperation with, Washington State Department of Transportation and Washington State Patrol, Maryhill Winery & Amphitheater will be taking a one-year hiatus from our summer concert series.
In order to improve safety and traffic flow on Highway 14, we will be installing a secondary entrance/exit at the Maryhill Museum of Art.  Unfortunately, the time required to design, engineer, obtain permits and construct the new entrance/exit requires that we suspend the concert series for one season.
We sincerely appreciate your understanding and are confident that this upgrade will dramatically enhance the experience of our concert attendees by decreasing bus turn around times and improving traffic safety on Highway 14.Remember you can always enjoy live music on our popular vine covered terrace every summer weekend, beginning Memorial Day through September, from 1pm-5pm by some of the best performers in the Pacific Northwest. Visit our website for lineup details.

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Fortunately, other wineries up and down the West Coast and across the country will continue their annual concert series this summer. In coming weeks, Wine Lines Online will be sharing many of those lineups with you… so stay tuned.
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Aventine Restaurant: A Shining Star in the Valley of the Moon

By Glen and Mary Frederiksen

Coming to the North Coast wine country of California is transformational for us. As soon as we cross any of the bridges that lead us north of the San Francisco Bay, our bodies and minds relax, shedding the cares and worries that come with the workaday world to the south.

While the main attraction is the fabulous wine from any of the 2,000 or so wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties, our later, non-poverty-stricken years have found us increasingly driven to, and seeking out, the wonderful cuisine of the region.

We have dined at dozens of fine dining establishments in the cities of Napa, Rutherford, St. Helena, and Calistoga in the Napa Valley. On the Sonoma side, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa have likewise had their share of fine eateries.

One area that has, in the past, been a flyover zone for great cuisine (in our opinion) was the city of Sonoma and the nearby Valley of the Moon. Despite a beautiful central square, Sonoma was more about cafes and bistros than formal haute cuisine.

With the arrival of Aventine, located just outside of Sonoma at the gateway to the Valley of the Moon, all that has changed. The name of the restaurant is from one of the seven hills upon which Rome was founded. Located in a 175 year old building that once was a grist mill, this upscale Italian restaurant is overseen by Chef Adolfo Veronese. He began his culinary journey growing up in his father’s San Francisco restaurant, Osteria Romano. After formal training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Veronese worked for a number of highly regarded establishments, including Drago, Valentino, Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining, and TAO’s Lavo Restaurant and Nightclub in Las Vegas.

In 2009, Veronese returned to his home town of San Francisco (his grandfather was Mayor Joseph L. Alioto), and has pursued his uncompromising passion for authentic Italian, Mediterranean, and Californian food through the Aventine Hospitality group.

Aventine General Manager Fabiano Ramaci presides over the dining room, welcoming guests and seeing to their every need. As if his duties at the restaurant weren’t enough, Ramaci is an accomplished winemaker, owning Mora Estates Winery. He specializes in – what else? – Italian varietals.

"Hello, my name is Fabiano Ramaci. Prepare to dine."

“Hello, my name is Fabiano Ramaci. Prepare to dine.”

On the night of our visit, four of us enjoyed a sampling of signature dishes from the Aventine menu. The food was incredible! Below, Mary has written a summary of the dishes served, with descriptors and tasting notes.

Mary here. The dishes we were served were memorable and delicious. Here are a few notes about each dish.

Sometimes when I dine at an upscale restaurant where I know the Chef will be offering many dishes, I do not eat the bread course at the beginning of the meal. This night, it would have been a mistake. Please be aware that the bread served at Aventine is not to be “skipped”. It was soft, moist, flavorful and addicting – perfect for sopping up the sauces that accompanied several of the dishes. It was served with a Port Butter that was exceptionally tasty. If they sold this bread and butter in the restaurant lobby, I would have purchased a loaf and a pound of the butter to take home.

Margherita Pizza

Margherita Pizza

Our next course was the Margherita Pizza. The dish was classic mozzarella, tomato and basil with a perfect balance and freshness. This could be a meal by itself.

Gamberoni

Gamberoni

Gamberoni (jumbo shrimp) was our antipasti course. The prawns were wrapped in prosciutto and sautéed, with sage and a balsamic glaze. Firm but not overcooked, they were so fresh and tasty!

Lasagna al Forno

Lasagna al Forno

The Lasagna Al Forno (al forno means any dish that is baked in an oven) was expertly prepared with a combination of beef, veal, pork, ragu, creamy béchamel, mozzarella, parmigiano and, instead of nutmeg, Chef Veronese used cinnamon. A nice touch and a well-balanced dish.

Ravioli di Formaggio

Ravioli di Formaggio

A signature dish of Chef Adolfo Veronese followed and this was my favorite of the evening. This dish has made it to “My Last Meal on Earth” menu. The Raviolo Di Fromaggio contained peas, wild mushrooms, white wine sauce and shaved parmigiano. Black pepper accented the rich and yummy entrée of perfectly cooked raviolois. When I next return to Aventine, this will be my main course. Thank you, Chef!!

Branzino

Branzino

Branzino (sea bass) was the next course. This whole grilled European Striped Sea Bass, infused with rosemary and lemon, was so fresh it tasted like it had just been pulled from the sea. It was accompanied by roasted peewee potatoes, roasted vegetables, oregano and a wonderfully flavorful citrus vinaigrette. WOW!

Scottadito

Scottadito

Scottadito was next. In Italian, the word scottadito means “burned fingers.” This dish is so named because the lamb chops are so delicious that you can’t resist eating them sizzling hot, straight from the grill and burning your fingers. Chef used grilled Superior Farms lamb chops with sides of sautéed greens, fingerling potato chips and a balsamic mint reduction sauce. Mary “had a little lamb” and she was a very happy diner.

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank

Lamb Shank with Lentils in an Amarone Sauce was a special dish that was not on the menu. Pork shank is the on-the-menu dish, but it had already sold out for the evening. It was beautifully presented and prepared, although some at the table felt the flavor a bit too strong.

Funghi

Funghi

For the vegetable course, called Contorni, the chef offered Funghi, a dish of sautéed seasonal mushrooms, roasted garlic and Italian parsley. The flavors “popped,” with a spicy impression on the palate. It was savory and delicious.

Caramel Budino

Caramel Budino

The final two dishes were desserts. Budino is defined as any type of soft, sweet dessert thickened — usually with flour — and baked, boiled or steamed. The one we were served contained chocolate-pecan crumble, salted caramel and soft whipped cream. It was delicious! I wanted to lick the bowl but, because four of us were sharing, I refrained. It was creamy, fresh and light, with a perfect sweet crunch from the crumble.

Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake

Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake

Finally, a warm flourless chocolate cake arrived. It, too, had salted caramel and was served with a vanilla gelato. Sadly, there were a few bites left in the dish but that was only because we had run out of room! I refrained from asking for a to-go box for the remaining dessert.

Compliments to Chef Veronese and all the staff who served us! It was a dining experience I will not soon forget.

Aventine
14301 Arnold Drive
Glen Ellen, CA 95442
(707) 934-8912
http://glenellen.aventinehospitality.com/

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A Warm Entrée for the Winter Weather

By Mary Frederiksen, AKA The Happy Cooker

(Editor’s note: This recipe was first published in the March 1999 issue of the High Desert Wine Explorers newsletter)

Lately all I see on the television newscasts are stories about the winter weather. It is winter but somehow the snowstorms and cold temperatures are news worthy. It is wonderful not to live in the inclement conditions in the north and the east. I did that when I lived in Ohio for the first 25 years of my life… That was quite enough for me. Once I found out there was better weather elsewhere, I was on the move.

If you are in an area where the weather is very frigid and stormy, this recipe may be just the thing to chase away the cold and gloom. It is a hearty dish and has that “stick to your ribs” quality that your parents told you about. Add a loaf of crusty bread and perhaps a salad to the meal and you will soon forget the storms and cold around you.

FETTUCCINE WITH GORGONZOLA AND WALNUTS

Ingredients:

½ cup of walnuts, broken
1 cup of heavy cream
8 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
A pinch of nutmeg
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
12 ounces fresh (or 8 ounces dried) fettuccine, cooked and drained
Grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

Heat a small skillet over low heat. Stir in the walnuts. Toast gently until fragrant and lightly browned. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until hot, but not boiling. Stir in the Gorgonzola until melted and the sauce is creamy. Add the nutmeg and the pepper.

Cook the fettuccine according to package directions and drain.

Toss the fettuccine with the sauce, sprinkle with toasted walnuts and serve with the grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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Two Remarkable… But Distinct… Vintages from Wakefield Estate

With all of the advancements in technology — both in the vineyard and in the cellar — some are of the opinion that vintages don’t matter anymore.

But as our tasting of two recent vintages of Wakefield Estate’s “The Visionary” Cabernet Sauvignon reveal, that’s simply not true.

Both wines are exceptional, and built to age. But we found that the younger 2010 vintage actually is drinking better now than the year-older 2009 bottling. There are some similar characteristics, but a careful analysis reveals that these are two very different wines — different because of their vintages.

You can read our reviews of these two Aussie beauties HERE.
And to learn more about Wakefield Estate, read Glen Frederiksen’s blog here.

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Holiday Wine, Part 2 – More Sparkling Wines

By Glen Frederiksen

What with the Holiday season upon us and all, it is a little hard to stay focused on the job at hand. Work commitments, shopping, family, friends, and celebratory parties all conspire to keep the diligent wine blogger from making his appointed rounds.

But nothing could keep me away from the December 20 wine luncheon at Marché Bacchus. Beside the insanely good food provided in the three course lunch, ten high-end sparkling wines and Champagnes were slated to be served. With great gastro-intestinal fortitude, the Happy Cooker and I forced ourselves to partake in the luncheon offerings.

From left, John Smith and Beth Williams of Wirtz Beverage join Your Humble Scribe

From left, John Smith and Beth Williams of Wirtz Beverage join Your Humble Scribe

Let’s dispense with a description of the dishes served. All were excellent, with plates piled high with tasty fare. One would be hard-pressed to consume all of the food at any of these wine lunches at Marché Bacchus, wine or no. The lunch itself is already a bargain; the wine is a delightful bonus. So on to the tasting notes!

Below are my on-the-fly scribblings as each one ounce pour was presented. It is a great cross-section of the world of sparkling wine – both Old World and New World, different countries, different styles, various grape varietals. In other words, something for everyone’s palate preferences. Since the tastes were poured in regular wine glasses, I was unable to evaluate the mousse and beads.

Angelo Reyes, Marche Bacchus Sommelier

Angelo Reyes, Marche Bacchus Sommelier

All are available for purchase at Marché Bacchus, either to dine in with or to take home for your own festivities.

2006 Duval-Leroy “Design Parts” by Leroy Neiman Brut, Champagne
Artist Leroy Neiman was a good friend of Carol Duval-Leroy and designed this bottle for the Cuvée Paris series. The initial impression is of toast and lees in the nose. There is crisp acidity on first sip, then it turns creamy with a caramel kiss. Some baked apple, and a strange herbal note.
Marché Bacchus price: $32.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

NV Poema Cava Brut Rosé, Cataluña, Spain
In today’s marketplace, the wines of Spain represent good value. This is a delightful sparkling wine made from the rare red grape Trepat. Aromas and flavors of plump red berries and rose hips are held in check by a crisp acidity, followed by a noticeable crystal minerality from the limestone soils the grapes are grown in. A Wine Lines Value Vino.
Marché Bacchus price: $15.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

NV Ca’ del Bosco Cuvée Prestige, Italy
A pretty sparkler from Chardonnay grapes that delivers ample baked apple, nuts, and caramel notes, with a final whiff of honey. Lively on the palate, with a lingering finish.
Marché Bacchus price: $35.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

NV Domaine Carneros Brut, California
A lovely estate property in the Carneros region of California’s North Coast, it is owned by the prestigious Champagne house Taittinger. A refined style, with moderate aromas and flavors of white flowers, apple, citrus, toast and vanilla. It has a crisp entry to the palate, then rounds out to a creamy finish. New World fruit with Old World refinement.
Marché Bacchus price: $31.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut, California
Ample bright citrus, crisp pear, and white flowers. Initial juicy entry turns creamy. A clean and refreshing style of bubbly.
Marché Bacchus price: $35.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

NV Ayala “Brut Majeur” Rosé, Champagne
A beautiful salmon color. The aromas and flavors are delicate and feminine for a rosé, with wisps of almond, cherry, and white raspberry. Well knit and oh-so-drinkable.
Marché Bacchus price: $55.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

NV Pierre Péters “Cuvée de Réserve” Blanc de Blancs Brut, Champagne
A classic Champagne nose – in all of the good ways. Toast, lees, bread, nuts and red apple aromas and flavors show good complexity. Perfectly knit together, with a persistent finish. This was a new producer for me, but I will be on the lookout for it in the future.
Marché Bacchus price: $73.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

NV Vilmart & Cie “Cuvée Rubis” Brut Rosé, Champagne
More than most Champagnes, this Rosé communicates a sense of terroir. A blend of 90% Pinot noir and 10% Chardonnay grapes that receive wood aging prior to transforming into bubbly. Lots of ripe apple, cherry, raspberry, and a ghostly whiff of honey waft in and out of the glass. Juicy on the palate, with a long afterflavor. Power and refinement in a glass.
Marché Bacchus price: $95.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 93

NV Varnier-Fanniére “Cuvée Saint Denis” Blanc de Blancs, Champagne
It has a seductive nose of rich baked brioche, almonds, citrus, and candied apple. The initial mouthfeel is steely, then the ample acidity gets the juices flowing. It has an amazingly clean finish. Purity of expression makes this stand out from the crowd.
Marché Bacchus price: $85.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

NV Marenco “Pineto” Brachetto d’Acqui, Italy
What a pleasant surprise! Imagine Asti Spumante, but made with red grapes and without the cloying, candied viscosity. Ta da! That is Brachetto d’Acqui. Neon coral color. Can roses be honeyed? One whiff will have you convinced. Add in some red berries and notes of geranium. Throw in a creamy mouthfeel. What do you have? The perfect celebratory sparkler for your next Big Event. I will definitely be opening one this New Year’s Eve.
March´´Bacchus price: $26.99 (December 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94

Marché Bacchus is located at:


2620 Regatta Drive, Suite #106

Las Vegas, NV 89128

(702) 804-8008

To make reservations for coming events, get on their email list, peruse their menu, or otherwise contact Marché Bacchus, click on the link below:


http://www.marchebacchus.com/

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Uniquely Austrian: A Heurigen Hike

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

The Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna is the home of the heuriger — a unique version of a winery tasting room.

By Bob Johnson

I have a feeling I would have liked Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Among the numerous reforms he enacted, he ended censorship of the press — something a lifelong journalist like myself certainly respects and appreciates. And for wine lovers, August 17, 1784 was a big day. That’s when Joseph issued a decree that permitted all residents to open establishments for selling and serving wine.

Although the laws have changed considerably over the decades, that legacy can be experienced in the Grinzing neighborhood of Vienna, which is home to a uniquely Austrian enterprise known as the heuriger.

Grinzing is easily accessible from downtown Vienna, using the city’s Underground and Tram systems. My fiancée, Michelle, and I were fortunate to have a local tour guide provide us with a detailed set of directions that made the trip a snap (keep this blog in mind in case you decide to go):

  • Board Underground Route 4 (U4) in the direction of Heiligenstadt
  • Exit on the fourth stop: Spittelau
  • Transfer to Underground Route 6 (U6) in the direction of Sievenhirten
  • Exit on the first stop: Nussdorfer Strasse
  • At street level, walk to the stop for Tram 38 in the direction of Grinzing
  • Exit at the tram’s final stop…

…which puts you right in the middle of the neighborhood, with heurigen in every direction. We stopped at two, each of which offered flights of their wines featuring very generous pours.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

Check out the size of those pours — a good reason to take public transportation to Grinzing.

At the first stop, Zum Martin Sepp, I decided to simply soak in the atmosphere. We were given printed placemats complete with in-English descriptions of the five wines we’d be tasting — Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Zweigelt and Pinot Noir. This heuriger had a buffet stocked with hot and cold items, and the place was packed with locals partaking of the various dishes.

From there, we walked down the street to Wein Gartnerei Uhler, where the flight consisted of six wines, accompanied by tasty bread that reminded us of a light pumpernickel. This time, I decided to take notes…

  • 2013 Zweigelt “Monia” Rosé — Bright and refreshing, with notes of strawberry, rhubarb and banana. Would be perfect with pulled pork.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner — Apple, baking spice and white pepper notes. Clean and crisp.
  • 2013 Wiener Gemischter Satz — A blend of four varieties, showing apple, pear, peach and brown sugar. Nicely balanced, fruit-sweet and easy drinking.
  • 2013 Riesling — A white flower aroma leads to flavors of apricot, peach and melon, with a kiss of sweetness and a lingering finish.
  • 2013 Gruner Veltliner “Der Jubilar” Reserve — “Bigger” than the “regular” bottling, with luscious fruit impressions of papaya, grapefruit and apricot, framed by caramel and butterscotch notes. Lip-smacking good.
  • 2012 Cuvee Rot “Quartettensatz”— This four-variety blend has a dark purple hue, and offers impressions of lavender, blueberry, boysenberry, mint, bubblegum, vanilla, red cherry and crème brulee. Rich, smooth and delicious.

All six wines in this flight were well made, nicely balanced and exhibited no flaws. Unlike the out-of-balance, high-alcohol, in-your-face wines favored by some vintners, Uhler cuvees are extremely food friendly.

It would be easy to spend a full weekend visiting the heurigen of Grinzing — heaven on Earth for a wine lover.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

All of the Uhler wines are well made, beautifully balanced and extremely food friendly.

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Creative Uses for Those Used Corks

By Bob Johnson

If you’re like me, you save the corks that you pull out of wine bottles. In my case, I fill baskets with them and place the baskets around the house.

But if you have some artistic talent, you can put those corks to even better use — either for your own pleasure, or for creative gifts.

Pictured here are two ideas from our recent trip through the winelands of Austria.

 

 

CorkPlanter

CorkWreath

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Marché Bacchus Wine Lunches, Year 2

By Glen Frederiksen

Last winter, there were a series of wine lunches presented at Marché Bacchus restaurant in Las Vegas. They were great fun, and a stone bargain besides. With the coming of spring, they disappeared. I wondered if they would come back as the weather cooled, and if they would be as good as before.

Guess what? They are back, and better in every way!

Let’s start with the food. Marché Bacchus is renowned for being the best French Bistro food in Las Vegas not on the Strip. Add to that the wine shop in the front that stocks some of the best, hard-to-find labels on the planet, and you have a combo that is hard to beat. And yet, over the past year, Marche Bacchus has done just that – gotten better.

Jose Aleman, Executive Chef

Jose Aleman, Executive Chef

A big part of the reason is Executive Chef Jose Aleman. He crafted the menu for the luncheon event, and the meal was outstanding. There were two choices for each of the three courses. I will list the ones I had for lunch – others at the table had the remaining dishes, to similar rave reviews.

Cream of Celery Soup

Cream of Celery Soup

My first course was a Cream of Celery Soup. Light and almost mousse-like in texture, it was an outstanding match with the first three wines we tasted. I showed no couth, lapping up the last of the soup with a hunk of the bread provided.

Coq Au Vin

Coq Au Vin

My main entrée was Coq Au Vin. This classic French bistro dish takes chicken and braises it in red wine, bacon, pearl onions, mushrooms, and fingerling potatoes. The two California Pinot Noirs tasted were a perfect match. More bread was ordered so I could sop up the reduced wine sauce left in the bowl.

Apple Strudel

Apple Strudel

For dessert, I ordered the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Gelato. This was an Americanized version, much sweeter than the Strudel I used to have when I lived in Germany. Think of it more like Mom’s homemade apple pie. That said, it was delicious.

A baker’s dozen wines were presented by John Smith, veteran wine educator and representative of Wirtz Beverage Company. The quality of these wines across the board was outstanding. The notes that follow are my on-the-fly impressions. The prices given are what they retail for at Marché Bacchus.

2012 Domaine Laroche Chablis “St. Martin,” Burgundy, France
Lightly perfumed, with honeyed lemon-lime aromas and flavors. In the mouth, there is minerality and a juicy acidity. Very clean.
Marché Bacchus price: $23.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2011 Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer, Alsace, France
Lush and opulent, with rosewater, white flowers, lychee, green apricot, and a hint of geranium. Impressive quality for this pricepoint.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2013 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé, Burgundy, France
In contrast to the Chablis above, this Chardonnay has riper, honeyed stone fruits. It shows a medium weight on the palate, good acid balance, and a clean finish.
Marché Bacchus price: $29.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 88

2010 Schloss Schonborn Estate Riesling, Germany
Pretty honey-kissed apple with pine needle notes. There is a nice round, sweet impression in the mouth, kept balanced by ample acidity.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2011 A. J. Adam Riesling Spatlese, Dhron Hofberg, Germany
While classified as a Spatlese, the sweetness level of this wine is more in line with an Auslese. Quite decadent, initial pine needle scents lead to honeyed tropical fruit and apricot. In the mouth, the overtly sweet fruit is nicely counterbalanced by young, prickly acidity. This wine will drink well for a decade and more.
Marché Bacchus price: $54.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2013 Rueling Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast
No expense spared here… A high quality Pinot Noir vineyard planted to cuttings from DRC La Tache and DRC La Romanée-Conti was used to fashion this delicate rosé. Moderate aromas and flavors of strawberry, passion fruit, and rose petals are found in this sleek, clean rosé. It is light on its feet, more Old World in style than New World. Enjoy this as a welcome wine.
Marché Bacchus price: $19.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 89

2012 WHOA Farm Pinot Noir, Crane Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
Perfumed aromatics of red cherry, beet root, and anise, with subtle notes of oak. Sleek in the mouth, with flavors of red berries and orange peel.
Marché Bacchus price: $55 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 Melville Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills
Layered, complex, and exquisitely balanced, this smooth red delivers orange, black raspberry, dark flowers, black tea, sandalwood, and fennel seed. The best estate Pinot Noir from Melville I have tasted.
Marché Bacchus price: $42.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2011 Chateau des Jacques Moulin-A-Vent, Burgundy, France
Full of berries and fleshy cherry. Many shy away from young Cru Beaujolais as they can be tannic and earthy, if not downright gritty. Such is not the case here. These wines can age gracefully for 10 to 20+ years. Good value.
Marché Bacchus price: $27.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2010 Buglioni “Il Bugliardo,” Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC Ripasso, Italy
Deeply perfumed with a concentration of fleshy black fruits (plum, currant, and cherry). A rich style of red well-suited for meat roasts or mature cheeses.
Marché Bacchus price: $39.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2011 Clau de Nell Cabernet Franc de Anjou, France
Opaque purple/black color. This dense red has an iron-tinged minerality that leads to leather notes and black fruit. Full and chewy in the mouth, with drying tannins at the back. This one could use a decade of cellaring.
Marché Bacchus price: $47.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

N/V Caposaldo Sweet Sparkling Moscato, Italy
There is a chalky edge to this sweet bubbly, showing aromas and flavors of rose geranium, honeyed stone fruits, and sweet lime.
Marché Bacchus price: $15.99 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 90

2003 Clarendelle Amberwine, Bordeaux, France
From Chateau Haut-Brion comes this new mid-priced line of wines, Clarendelle. This one, Amberwine, looks like and drinks like a Sauterne – but without the stiff pricetag. Typical aromas and flavors of marmalade, honey, and dried apricots make this a pleasant and affordable substitute for its more expensive big brothers.
Marché Bacchus price: $25.99/500 ml. (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

At a nickel under $38, the wine luncheons at Marché Bacchus are a steal. The wine pours are just tastes, but the three courses are full servings. You will not go away hungry.

Marché Bacchus is located at:

2620 Regatta Drive, Suite #106
Las Vegas, NV 89128
(702) 804-8008
To make reservations for coming events, get on their email list, peruse their menu, or otherwise contact Marché Bacchus, click on the link below:
http://www.marchebacchus.com/

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Old Friends: Sonoma-Cutrer and Winemaker Mick Schroeter

By Glen Frederiksen

For thirty years, I have followed my wine muse. She has taken me to wine education classes, to wineries all over the world, to numerous wine clubs and tasting groups, to dozens of wine dinners, and many wine tasting events.

I began my own wine education group and held monthly tasting seminars. I organized wine dinners, led tours to the wine country, published a monthly wine newsletter, became a wine judge, and was director of an international wine competition.

Those thirty years have left me with many memories, nearly all of them good. Unlike most industries, the wine community is one rife with sharing and camaraderie. I have belonged to many special interest groups over the years, and the world of wine is uniquely friendly and positive. Maybe it is because all wineries share the same struggle with Mother Nature to bring in the harvest each year. Perhaps it is the free flow of information that occurs because winery personnel move around so often.

Or maybe drinking wine on a regular basis just makes everyone happy and mellow.

An email from my favorite Las Vegas wine shop/restaurant, Marche Bacchus, indicated that they would have a free tasting event on Tuesday, November 11. The featured winery was Sonoma-Cutrer and would be attended by winemaker Mick Schroeter.

Sonoma-Cutrer and Mick Schroeter. Two old friends.

The Sonoma-Cutrer Winery should be familiar to any casual wine drinker, diner, or bon vivant. For the past 25 years, the Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Chardonnay has been declared the most ordered Chardonnay in fine restaurants across the USA. I first tasted their wines in the late 1980s, and loved their clean, fruity, spicy take on the Chardonnay grape.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery was established in 1973 in the heart of the Russian River Valley, bringing its initial vintage of Chardonnay to the marketplace in 1981. True to the terroir of the Russian River Valley where the estate resides, Sonoma-Cutrer specializes in only two varietals – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Helping to maintain its trademark expression of these two Burgundian varietals, the winery has employed only three winemakers over the more than three decades of vintages. The first was William Bonetti. Second was Terry Adams. And, beginning in 2010, Michael ‘Mick’ Schroeter took over the reins.

I’ve known Mick for some 15 years now. We first met when he was working at Geyser Peak Winery with Daryl Groom. These two Aussie transplants had originally worked together in the Barossa Valley at Penfolds Winery. When Groom came to California to take over the winemaking operation at Geyser Peak, Schroeter followed shortly thereafter. They took a winery better known for everyday table wine and crafted a brand that produced dozens of different bottlings, from everyday “fighting varietals” to reserve level reds and whites that could hold their own with the best in the state. Their everyday Sauvignon Blanc, all stainless steel fermented and on the shelf just months after harvest, became an industry standard for the varietal, garnering gold medals and Best of Class awards in nearly every vintage.

Interestingly, neither Penfolds in Australia nor Geyser Peak in the Alexander Valley of California produced a Pinot Noir, and their Chardonnays were solid but not exceptional. I asked Schroeter why he took on the role of winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer Winery, a Burgundian varietal specialist. The best sense I could make of his response was the desire for a new challenge at an established, world-renowned facility. It was this wanderlust, the desire to “do it all” in the wine world, that had brought Schroeter to California in the first place, after making wine in Australia and Chile.

From the wines I tasted at Marche Bacchus that evening, Schroeter is doing a magnificent job overseeing the winemaking at Sonoma-Cutrer. The current releases are among the best I have tasted from the winery. And the 2012 Founder’s Chardonnay, only the second such designated bottling from the winery, is the best Chardonnay I have had this year.

After years of not being open to the public, Sonoma-Cutrer now welcomes visitors to the estate property for tastings and tours. For more information, check out their website, drop them an email, or give them a call.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winery
4401 Slusser Road
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 237-3489
http://www.sonomacutrer.com

Below, please find my on-the fly assessment notes of the Sonoma-Cutrer wines tasted at Marche Bacchus, with winery pricing:

2013 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Russian River Valley
This is their flagship wine, found only in fine restaurants and at the winery. This vintage is bursting with honeyed, spiced, apple fruit that screams Russian River Valley. An opulent style of Chardonnay, but with impeccable balance. This is one of the best RRV bottlings ever produced by the winery.
MSRP: $28 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

2011 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
True to its name, wet stone minerality interplays with perfumed white flowers, notes of honey, toasted nuts, baking spices, apple fruit, and citrus notes. Complex and well-knit. This should gain complexity and drink well over the next decade. The 2011 harvest in the North Coast was a difficult one, but you wouldn’t know it from this bottling. Superb!
MSRP: $42 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 92

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Founder’s Chardonnay
Only the second rendition of this bottling, a selection blended from the best five barrels of the vintage. Enticing aromas of exotic flowers, hazelnut, lemon chiffon, light apple, stone fruit, and crème brulee. This is decidedly feminine and seductive – not your typical California oak-and-fruit monster. Exquisite.
MSRP: $65 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 94+

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
Wood notes of cinnamon spice frame a potpourri of red and black fruits (strawberry, raspberry, and black cherry). Notes of orange rind. In the mouth, it is sleek and supple, with flavors mirroring the nose. There is a moderate, youthful, tannic grip at the back. This is a great wine to enjoy now, but it will continue to provide pleasure over the next six to eight years.
MSRP: $34 (November 2014)
Wine Lines rating: 91

More fun! Following the tasting at Marche Bacchus, Mick and the winery reps put on a special tasting for the Sommeliers of Las Vegas at Ferraro’s restaurant just off the Strip. I was allowed to tag along. It was a vertical tasting of the iconic Les Pierres Vineyard Chardonnay, noted for its Burgundian style and longevity. The vineyard, which derives its name from its rocky soil reminiscent of Burgundy, is located just outside the town of Sonoma. Here are my impressions:

2012 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Crisp minerality. Lightly perfumed, showing white flowers and apple fruit with a whiff of smoky oak. Notes of roasted nuts. Hint of herbs. Unevolved, but showing great promise for the future. Mouth filling, with a long finish.
Wine Lines rating: 92

2009 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Ample fruit punctuated by nuts, wet stones, and clarified butter. It is medium-full in the mouth, with a long, lip-smacking finish.
Wine Lines rating: 91

2004 Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
At first whiff, a note of petroleum, which gave way to butter-kissed lemon curd fruit and distinct minerality. The nose is piquant, but it is silky smooth in the mouth.
Wine Lines rating: 89

1999 Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, Les Pierres Vineyard
Wow! Perfumed, with pretty clove woodspice and apple fruit. Still seems young and vibrant, with a perfectly smooth feel in the mouth. Beautiful and compelling, with a long life ahead.
Wine Lines rating: 93

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