Archive for October, 2014

New World vs Old World with Mary Burnham – October 14

Friday, October 17th, 2014

As the line between new world and old world wines continues to blur, we found ourselves stumped this evening as we blind-tasted through 6 comparisons of typical varietals made by old world and new world producers. With each pair, the class was literally split every time on which was which. As Mary explained, when we talk about old world, we mean Europe, while new world encompasses everywhere else. Old world wines are generally more earthy and savory, with marked acidity and minerality and less alcohol. New world wines are typically more fruit-forward, less acidic, and higher in alcohol. Did these generalizations hold up in this group?

In the first pair, wine #1 was fruity and dry, with grassy notes, citrus peel, and marked acidity. Many guessed it was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – but it was a white Bordeaux. Wine #2 was creamier, with sweet vanilla oak, lemon merengue, and peach; more complex, silky but still crisp. Were we in Pouilly-Fumé, France? Actually, Washington State. I didn’t even know anyone was making Sauvignon Blanc in Washington – this was actually majority Semillon (61%) with 20% Sauvignon Blanc – but I expect I will be re-visiting this producer, Buty.

In the next pair, many immediately thought #3 was a German Riesling due to its pungent petrol character. I got beyond that and began to think we were in Australia, since theirs take on that character as well but tend to be very lime-y and dry, which was how I would characterize this wine.  Wine #4 was more floral and peachy, like many Rieslings I’ve had from Finger Lakes producer Hermann J. Wiemer that highly mimic a German Mosel style when young.  The big reveal – #3 was from Oregon and #4 was Austrian!

The next two sets were a bit more obvious to me – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. New World chardonnay tends to have more pronounced oak, and I almost always prefer a more refined French style. With Pinot Noir, new world versions tend to be very fruity, whereas French versions are more funky and earthy, which I also prefer. Both sets were more typical expressions of new world and old world, though not obvious to everyone.

The second set of reds was a fun one – meaty, savory and spicy with firm tannin against brambly, sweet spice and soft tannin. We had ourselves a Crozes-Hermitage Syrah against a Barossa Valley Shiraz. We learned that the Barossa Valley does not cool off at night, so the grape skins don’t thicken, contributing to softer tannins in the wine. This was a great pair that solidified my favorite for the night in the Crozes-Hermitage, since I love this style and producer and the price cannot be beat, especially for a wine that will continue to improve with cellar time.

The last set was another tough one, mostly because both these wines were very tight and could use some more aging and air. The first had a eucalyptus nose with black fruit and violets on the nose. The second was a bit more closed on the nose but we could discern some vanilla. With a few bites of cheese, things started to become clearer – these were Cabernet-dominated wines, Bordeaux from Graves against Napa Valley’s Opus One.

A wonderful selection of wines with some curveballs…

  1. Chateau Lamothe de Haux White Bordeaux 2011 ($15)
  2. Buty Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc-Muscadelle 2010 – Columbia Valley, WA ($25)
  3. Chehalem Willamette Valley Dry Riesling Reserve 2007 – Oregon ($20)
  4. Hogl Wachau Riesling Smaragd Bruck 2007 – Wachau, Austria ($30)
  5. Domaines Leflaive Macon Verze 2012 – Burgundy, France ($39)
  6. Wente Riva Ranch Estate Chardonnay 2012 – Arroyo Seco, Monterey, CA ($18)
  7. Flowers Van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000 – Sonoma Mountain ($60)
  8. Domaine Trappet Chambertin Grand Cru 2000 – Cote de Nuits, Burgundy, France ($200)
  9. Alain Graillot Crozes Hermitage 2012 – Northern Rhone Valley, France ($30)
  10. Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2011 – Barossa Valley, Southern Australia ($28)
  11. Chateau Smith-Haut Lafite 2006 – Graves, Left Bank, Bordeaux, France ($90)
  12. Opus One 2006 – Napa Valley, CA ($290)

-Melanie Solomon

Madeira Master Class – October 10

Monday, October 13th, 2014

We were thrilled to host this Madeira Master Class at SFWC, led by professionals from The Madeira Wine Institute – the governing body of winemaking on the island of Madeira, Portugal. Madeira is a fortified wine known for its longevity – but did you know the best Madeira can last 300 years? Rui Falcao, our instructor, told us about the oldest Madeira he’s tried, which was from 1715. It was not only good, but very good – nowhere near tired or gone. How does this tiny, mountainous island whose subtropical climate is always 70 degrees produce one of the world’s most indestructible wines? Acidity! Like Champagne, Madeira’s wine grapes produce extremely acidic wines that are undrinkable in their normal, vinified state. But this acidity provides the backbone of a wine balanced by natural sugar levels and the addition of neutral spirit to raise the alcohol from about 9% to 18%. With the right amount of aging, a beautiful, complex wine emerges.

Madeira is always a single varietal wine. The 5 main permitted varietals vary in natural sweetness, so their wines will usually follow suit. Sercial is a always a dry wine; Verdelho – medium dry; Boal/Bual – medium sweet; Malvasia/Malmsey – sweet/rich; Tinta Negra is the only red varietal, vinified as a white, and it can be any level of sweetness. Though it accounts for 82% of Madeira production, it used to not be talked about, but as recently as the day of this class it had been recognized as a Noble grape varietal and will be included on the label going forward.

Madeira has a total of just 900 acres of vines. Vineyards are managed separately from the wineries, and there are only 8 Madeira wineries in existence. One of these opened 3 years ago and it was the first new winery in 60 years. Clearly, Madeira winemaking is a very old tradition. (Fun fact: the fathers of the U.S. Constitution toasted its signing with Madeira!) The Madeira Wine Institute does all of the analytics on each wine and tastes them before bottling to make sure the wine matches its proposed labeling criteria. After a blind tasting, an approval allows the winery to bottle and sell the wine. Madeira wines are either a blended style (meaning a blend of different years, not grapes); a Colheita single harvest – also known as a “baby vintage” that must be aged for a minimum of 5 years to be labeled as such; or a Frasqueira/Vintage – which must be aged for a minimum of 20 years to be labeled with that vintage.

The tasting included a wonderful sampling across these grape varietals and aging categories. We learned that Madeira should be served cold, and one shouldn’t try to follow it with any other wine – the finish is long and lingering.  Despite the “sweet” character of many Madeiras, the bracing acidity actually balances that sweetness, making it a friendly wine on its own or with food.

Typical Madeira aromas include toasted almond, caramel, molasses and raisin. My favorite was the Colheita 1996, with its honey and orange blossom character; the finish went on forever. The Malvasia 1989 was also a treat, with burnt orange peel and caramel.

Wine List:

  1. H&H Sercial 10 Años
  2. The Rare Wine Co. Savannah Verdelho
  3. Broadbent Malvasia 10 Años
  4. Blandy’s Colheita 1996
  5. D’Oliveiras 1989 Malvasia

Thank you to Rui and the Madeira Wine Institute for choosing SFWC to host this informative and delicious tasting!

-Melanie Solomon

The Three Big B’s of Italy with Mauro Cirilli – September 30

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Last week in wine school we were educated about the subtle but significant differences between the 3 Big B’s of Italy: Barolo, Brunello & Barbaresco.  Mauro Cirilli, Italy’s top Sommelier, returned to SFWC for another round of his Italian wine series.  These 3 wines (named for their regions) are known for their longevity, structure, acidity and food friendliness.

Barolo and Barbaresco wines are both made 100% with the Nebbiolo grape. These northern Italian regions of Piedmont have a cooler climate, and the food of the region tends to be rich, so Nebbiolo pairs well with the cuisine. Minimum aging requirements for Barbaresco include 26 months in oak for regular wines and 50 months for Riserva wines. In Barolo, minimum aging for regular wines if 38 months and 62 months for Riserva. These two regions are a bit like Burgundy in that all wines are single vineyard designated. Despite their proximity, these two regions vary in climate and style due to Barbaresco’s closeness to the Tanaro River, which provides a maritime influence that helps Nebbiolo ripen a bit earlier than in Barolo. This results in earlier fermentation and less maceration, so the tannins in a young Barbaresco are not as tough as in Barolo, hence the reduced aging requirement.  Barbaresco is more approachable than Barolo earlier, but it won’t age as long. Barolo is one of the greatest wines of Italy, with its trademark calcareous soils and vineyard slopes contributing to the complex aromas of tar and roses and extremely long cellar life.

Brunello – short for Brunello di Montalcino – is in the region of Tuscany, known for olive oil and lighter foods, and the 100% Sangiovese wines complement this cuisine perfectly. Montalcino has one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, and this particular clone of Sangiovese is unique to the region – it ripens more fully and consistently here than anywhere else in Tuscany, contributing to the body, color, extract and tannins commonly associated with Brunello di Montalcino. Sangio in Italian means blood, but in contrast to the Sangiovese in Chianti, Brunello is described as “fleshier.” Minimum aging for these wines is 48 months or 60 for Riserva.

Traditional wineries use large oak vats while modern wineries may used smaller French barriques. All 3 of these wines are lightly pigmented and tend to have a garnet color, with high tannin, high acidity, and medium to full body.

We tasted Barbaresco first, enjoying the licorice, spice, dried fruit flavors. My favorite was the 1990 Ceretto, from Bricco Asili. It took a while to open up but once it did I loved the roses and that smooth finish.

Barbaresco:

2007 Produttori del Barbaresco, Riserva, Montestefano (in Barbaresco)

2007 Gaja (in Barbaresco)

1999 Scarpa, Tettineive (in Neive)

1990 Ceretto, Bricco Asili (in Barbaresco)

Next, the Barolos. Meaty, savory, rich with sweet spices, violets and roses, rhubarb, licorice and fennel. The 2001 even had an interesting combination of mint crème and butter toffee along with tar and dried flowers. It was tough to pick a favorite in this group but all of them could definitely age much longer.

Barolo:

2010 Andrea Oberto, Rocche (in La Morra)

2006 Boroli, Villero (in Castiglione Falletto)

2001 Giuseppe Mascarello, Monprivato (in Castiglione Falletto)

The Brunellos were more approachable, with juicy ripe fruit and savory herbs and earth.  My favorite was the 2004 Casanova di Neri, which also showed dark violet, prune and sweet licorice in beautiful balance.

Brunello di Montalcino:

2006 Gianni Brunelli

2006 Gaja, Pieve di Santa Restituta

2004 Casanova di Neri, Cerretalto

All of these wines had amazing acidity and structure and could age even longer. They would be fabulous with a meal but we did fine with a delicious assortment of Italian cheeses.

Next up with Mauro: Indigenous varieties of Italy on Nov 4. I can’t wait for this class – join us!

-Melanie Solomon