Tour de Farm, Part One

World Class Wines, as wine contributor to TOUR DE FARM,  is very pleased to share selections that come from our portfolio of family producers for the first Tour de Farm dinner of 2009.  We picked these growers because they embrace the philosophy of naturally made, hand-crafted wines from vineyards that proudly leave a legacy for the generations that follow.  As more Americans are drinking wine it is important to support the efforts made by family producers from around the world in the interest of conserving the kinds of vineyard practices and winemaking that makes these people proud to put their names on the label.

CAVA- Juve y Camps “Reserva de La Familia”, PENEDES, SPAIN  NV

One of the greatest parts of being in Barcelona is what many would call the “CAVA HOUR”.  In Spain, it’s that just after work, not quite tapas time, when you need a little ray of sparkling sunshine in your life.  The Xampaneria, a bar specializing in CAVA, overflows with people onto the sidewalks and streets around 7 pm.  Ask any Catalonian who the most respected and famous producer of Cava is in Spain and you are sure to get the answer “JUVE Y CAMPS”.  Cava is made in the same method as Champagne, the wine is fermented a second time in the bottle except the grape varieties are indigenous: Parallada, Macabeo and Xarrel-lo, the essentials to classical Cava.  The Reserva de La Familia Cava  is aged for 3 years on the yeast, giving a nutty aroma that mixes with apples and lemons, boisterous and lively bubbles and an assertive acidity that wakes you up and refreshes you.  Perfect for a summer day! Reserva de La La Familia is very appropriately named as it has been the everyday favorite of the  Juvé Raventos family for three generations.

LUSTAU “Jarana” FINO SHERRY

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood wines of the world, FINO is to be thought of, managed, stored, chilled, and consumed as one would a fresh white wine.   It gets its character from aging in wooden barrels, under a blanket of yeast that protects it from oxygen, while being refreshed with younger white wine over a period of about 3 years.  It is DRY and carries the flowers and fruits of white wine, but has the added complexity of the environment around it as the yeasty protection flavours the wine with its character of minerals, yeasts, iodine, and sometimes even a salty note of the sea.  It is one of the few wines that can go gracefully with spicy meats, piquant olives or spicy ham.  No wonder it is so traditionally consumed with tapas.  Lustau, owned by the Cabellero family is a testament to high quality Sherry.  They take no shortcuts and are renowned as one of the great Sherry houses.

KURT ANGERER Gruner Veltliner  “Freisenrock”, KAMPTAL, AUSTRIA  2007

The wine growing estate of Kurt Angerer is a family business and has a tradition of 150 years.  Located in the Kamptal region the vines have south and southwestern exposure protecting them from the rough north winds.  Due to Kurt Angerer’s lack of compromise and commitment to high quality, both in the vineyards as well as during vinification the wines are considered some of the best in Kamptal.  Angerer feels strongly attached to tradition and his vineyard “terroir” which is evident in the names he has chosen for his different wines: Freisenrock refers to the loam this Gruner Veltliner is planted in.   He is also organic in his practices. Rooted in the soils of the Kamptal yet a man of the world, Kurt has found his own style which is being validated by the international awards and achievements he is now receiving.  The Freisenrock, has pineapple and papaya with a little bitter lemon peel that mingles with a minerally note.  Dense but never heavy as its weight is lifted up by a snappy acidity.

LIVELI “Orion” Primativo, PUGLIA, ITALY

The Falvo family has long reputation as a great wine making family in Montepulciano Italy.  10 years ago they purchased this estate in Puglia because it offered a history of great vineyards and old vines.  They overhauled the winery, and set up organic practices in the vineyards, many of which are high- density plantings in the “spoke and wheel” manner of the ancient Romans.  The Primativo, also known to us as ZINFANDEL, is an example of the innovative changes they have made at Liveli.  It is redolent of black cherries, Moroccan spices and herbs, high-toned for a full bodied red, the freshness is amazing considering the warm climate of Puglia.  So juicy, it’s easy to match with any food.

GRAHAMS 10 year TAWNY PORT

It is a tradition for the Symington family to take their Tawny port chilled in the summertime, a necessity in the searing heat that bounces back and forth off the slate slopes that flank the Douro river.  So often we think of Port being sipped by the fireside on a snowy Minnesota evening.  It’s quite a different image to think of patios that overlook orange trees blossoming on rocky terraces above the river, and the clink of ice in a glass, the smell of lemons being sliced, the salty taste of fried almonds followed by the strong and sweet taste of a chilled white or tawny port.   A very summery Portuguese moment indeed!

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Share your love, but not your cellar (Annette’s Thanksgiving advice)

Anyone who is a wine lover usually learns early in life that Thanksgiving is not a time to share your cellar’s treasures. Oh sure, these are the friends and family, that you would donate your kidneys to, but let’s say you’ve selected one of your slumbering babies, carefully cradled it to the table,  announce the arrival of a very special addition to the feast as you carefully ease  the cork from the bottle. You pour yourself a taste, delighted that it’s superb, you pour it for your guests, only to realize you are alone in appreciation. Your sister claps a hand over her glass reminding you she is in training, your auntie tastes it and screws up her mouth declaring it “too sour” for her tastes,  mom tries to be supportive sipping carefully and nodding but when you aren’t looking refills her glass with Vodka.  Dad says “how can you afford fancy wines like this?” and your uncle says “this is like the one we had the Olive Garden last week – what was the name of that honey?”  Then there’s greedy cousin “hollow-leg” who fills his glass to the rim with your cellar nectar only because he’d never buy such an extravagant bottle for himself.   Oh yes, ’tis much better to keep your special bottle under wraps in the kitchen and supply your guests with  wines that conjure zero regret when you carry the bottles to the recycling bin.

Keeping wine gems tucked away assures you will not offend, and will keep your family relations in good form. Although I must say it was relief that I would never have to bring great wine to my in-laws celebrations.  Young and naïve, I thought everyone would have the same experience I did with wine. At 23 years old, I had discovered Burgundy.   It was such a revelation that so much character and flavor could be delivered in a paler, softer form.   I had exposed everyone who was not in the know!  I bought a bottle of 1978 Tollot-Beau Aloxe-Corton and brought it to my in-laws house. I poured everyone at the table waiting to see their amazed and surprised look as they tasted this wonderful wine.   My sister-in-law grimaced as she tasted it and then asked what all the fuss was about.  I quickly relieved her of drinking one more drop of this toxic elixir by pouring her wine into my glass.  I refilled her glass with Inglenook Rhine wine, fresh from the tap while she blotted Pinot Noir remnants from her tongue with her napkin.  She was saved from further punishment while I swilled and swooned.  I was never forgiven.

So what will I offer my loved ones at Thanksgiving this year? After all these years of conditioning my family, their favorite drink is Champagne.    I try to slip them good Cava and Prosecco during these recessionary times. They are definitely on to me.  They are willing to be duped if it’s Adami Prosecco as its fine bead and quaffability goes with almost any hors d’ouevre you can throw at it.  Since we usually have a sweeter Thanksgiving table (no brussel sprouts or wild rice) Gewurztraminer is a demanded favorite.  Last year’s Zind Humbrecht was a huge hit so I will be trying to hit that same level of distinctive fruit.  I love the lime leaf aroma and granny smith fruit of the Loosen Blue Slate. Red wine is a must for Brother-in-law Paul, so Pinot Noir will be on the table, this year Morin Chitry Rouge. Zinfandel used to be a great Thanksgiving choice but due to the evolution away from juicy and simple, to big, alcoholic and wooded, I haven’t had one on the table in a few years.  Seghesio would likely be the choice if I did decide to have Zinfandel.

Place vs. Location … a big 92 point snafu

Hidden Ridge Vineyards, Sonoma

Hidden Ridge Vineyards ... Sonoma

If you think about a ‘place’, it has a name you can attach to it. In wine, Chianti is defined, regulated, laid out.  Likewise for Rutherford, Santa Lucia Highlands, Barossa Valley, etc.  A ‘location’ is simply a spot of land, identifiable by a specific latitude and longitude (and thanks to Google Earth, you can zoom anywhere with perfect accuracy).

160 acres of mountaintop land.  Spring Mountain, to be specific.  52 acres planted to the top Cabernet Sauvignon clones.  Stunning views in a 360 degree panorama.  Your closest neighbors are none other than Paloma (!!!!!) and Pride Vineyards (!!!!!!). And, here’s the kicker, you can only label your wine with the ‘Sonoma’ appelation.

That’s the snafu that Hidden Ridge Vineyards finds themselves in.  We had a great visit with Casidy Ward, proprietor (along with her husband, Lynn) of this cherished property, and she explained that because of the specific location of this vineyard, it falls outside of all designated AVA’s.  Possibly some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grown, yet it can only be labeled ‘Sonoma’ … and thus, it is worth less on the bulk wine market.  Rather than fight the system and try to get Spring Mountain AVA pushed to the other side of the mountain, they decided to make their own label and show just how special this place is.

[Sidenote: My co-worker Brandt and I were talking about our affinity for wineries that produce only one wine, from one grape, from property that was bought based on potential of quality rather than a gold-standard of place name (There aren’t that many out there). It forces a winery to work harder, for the label of a place will not be there to help sell the wine (how many times has a sales pitch started with ‘This is from Rutherford in Napa Valley…”).]

Hidden Ridge Vineyards received 92 points on both their inaugural release (2003) and the current release (2004).  By any sensible terms, this wine is the equivalent of, or better than, almost all Napa Valley ‘cult wines.’ However, just as the winemakers have to work harder to produce this product (a two mile long dirt road following the spine of Spring Mountain gets you to the vineyards!), we have to also work harder to sell this product.

Take out the idea of place for a moment.  And instead focus on location.  After all, it’s the terrior that is supposed to be sacred, is it not?

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

Laying out the vineyards at Hidden Ridge

New York Times jumps on the wine in a box bandwagon

This morning at 9:30 am, Tuesday August 19th, the single most emailed story on the New York Times website was not that Obama has decided a running mate, it was not the war in Iraq, it was not the Olympics.  Here’s the true measure of the popularity of wine in today’s culture: it was about boxed wines.

A full third of all wine sold in Italy today is packed in Tetra-Pak.  The boxed wine selection in most stores is about five times the size it was three years ago (with several prominent large brands taking up less and less space, I might add).  It’s all about finding better, but not best, juice in boxes for the sake of convenience and environmental karma (plus value, of course).

(Sidenote: I still think that if a prominent Napa Valley Cabernet producer, somebody with a stellar reputation, released a TINY amount of their wine in box format — imagine paying $300 for a 3L box! — it would generate enough buzz to be the story of the year.  Talk about free advertising!)

However, the really interesting part is to be found here, in the New York Times comments section.  If you want to keep on the pulse of current public opinions, the newspaper comments section is a good place to find the more aggressive, passionate, and loud voices (that inevitably influence the more passive and quiet ones).

Shipping containers 101

Shipping Containers.  Image by Flickr user melted_snowball

Shipping Containers. Image by Flickr user melted_snowball

They move the wine we love.  They transport millions of tons of goods across the oceans.  They are shipping containers, and like everything else, the price of using them is going up.

In the quest to help you understand the true costs involved in the wine business, it’s important that you read this snippit from an article in today’s New York Times about the cost of shipping containers.

Australian wine, which has dominated the under $8 market thanks to one brand alone, will obviously be the most affected … it’s a long trip from Sydney to the shores of California.  That is to say, that particular brand and others in its price range will be feeling a bigger hit vis-a-vis a percentage of their price.  But this transportation increase will be felt throughout the system and with any and all imported goods.  It’s suddenly far cheaper to consider American wines for the ‘affordable pour’ at your restaurant!

From the New York Times:

The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the United States has risen to $8,000, compared with $3,000 early in the decade, according to a recent study of transportation costs. Big container ships, the pack mules of the 21st-century economy, have shaved their top speed by nearly 20 percent to save on fuel costs, substantially slowing shipping times.

The study, published in May by the Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets, calculates that the recent surge in shipping costs is on average the equivalent of a 9 percent tariff on trade. “The cost of moving goods, not the cost of tariffs, is the largest barrier to global trade today,” the report concluded, and as a result “has effectively offset all the trade liberalization efforts of the last three decades.”

An introduction to Umami, and how it pertains to wine

Want to out geek the wine geeks in the room? Start tossing around your ability to sense the umami in a wine. Introduced to me first by Terry Theise, who describes it as “the taste of yourself tasting”, umami has a legitimate role in the world of wine tasting, and definitely in the food world.

As said in a Wall Street Journal piece in 2007: “Chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten are offering what they call “umami bombs,” dishes that pile on ingredients naturally rich in umami for an explosive taste.”

So what is it?  It’s a Japanese word basically meaning savory, and it’s quite common in the likes of roasted tomatoes, seaweed, mushrooms, great aged cheeses, and anchovies.  Once you’re attuned to taking notice of it, it’s amazing how often it comes up in a wine.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this: the ‘new European red taste profile’ that Annette Peters has been talking about so much is based in the savory finish of many of those wines.  The new wines from Peuch Ariol, as well as new Sicilian selection forthcoming all contain this base of lasting flavor.

For more information on this fascinating subject, read this Wikipedia entry, take a look at this CBS News story, or this Wall Street Journal article.

Lastly, here’s a great article by Randy Capsaro writing for The Wine Lover’s Page on ‘Deconstructing Umami’.

Zinfandel and Ribs: a perfect fourth of July

(photo by Flickr user barron)

Happy Fourth of July to everybody! And in the quest for the ultimate summertime fare, keep in mind the wonderful combination of ribs (beef, short, pork, baby back, St. Louis style, Texas style, doesn’t matter!) and red wine, especially Zinfandel. Particularly good this year are the 2005 Seghesio Old Vine, and the 2006 Ridge Geyserville. Both are showing great expression and personality. Absolutely outstanding wines to have with ribs. Below are some great links regarding ribs and wine.

Wine Review Online: Wine with baby back ribs

Daniel in NYC: Short Ribs with Celery Duo recipe

Newswire article: Zinfandel makes a patriotic wine pairing with ribs

And finally, here is my own pork rub formula, guaranteed to increase your enjoyment of ribs. Rub generously on the ribs (or any pork cut) at least three hours before smoking. (A little hint as well: marinate the ribs in Italian salad dressing overnight before smoking them!)

We call this the ‘family rub’ because everybody in my household loves it. All quantities are in parts to make it easy to make as little or as much as you want.

3 parts Kosher salt
4 parts granulated garlic
1 part granulated onion
4 parts Spanish paprika
1 part fresh ground black pepper
2 parts raw cane sugar (don’t use regular brown sugar – too much water content)
1/2 part dried oregano
1/2 part rubbed sage

The mix can be stored in a tight jar, in the dark, for up to four months.