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Spring vegetables present unique wine-pairing challenges

My long-time editor David Gadd explores food and wine pairing in this seasonal feature for 805 Living.

Spring on the Central Coast is the time to begin enjoying garden-sourced vegetables, but some, such as artichokes, asparagus, and the brassicas (cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and their relatives) present unique challenges when it comes to finding ideal wine matches.

It seems a Ph.D. in organic chemistry is necessary to fully understand the
issue, but wine science educator Deborah Parker Wong can provide
some insight into what happens when certain vegetables meet the palate.
Take artichokes, for example: “A taste obliterating compound in artichokes
called cynarine blocks most of the taste receptors for acid, bitterness,
and salt, making anything you eat or drink taste vaguely sweet.”

Parker Wong suggests light-bodied red wines to counter that effect. On the other hand, she says, “When pairing wine with brassicas or asparagus, combat their notably high levels of organosulfur compounds and methoxypyrazines with dry, aromatic white wines. Steer clear of wines with overt greenness or pungency, which will only amplify green flavors, and opt for tropical, fruit driven, or perfumed white varietals to
help mask those sulfurous aromas.”

Read his story here –



The Simple Pleasures of Italy’s Native Grapes

Italians like San Francisco restaurateur Francesco Corvucci know that great-tasting food and wine don’t need to break the bank as long as they’re made with quality, authentic ingredients. For great wine value he looks to Sicily and Agrigento-based Fuedo Zitari, a winery that embodies this belief in its approach to winegrowing and yields expressions that are meant to be enjoyed by all.

Standing at the highest point in the vineyards of Feudo Zirtari at 1600 feet, you can see the blue waters of Mediterranean Sea which lies 30 minutes to the south west. The winery and estate vineyards are sited between the communes of Menfi and Sambuca di Sicilia in the province of Agrigento, an area designated for the production of high quality Sicilia DOC and Terre Siciliane IGP wines.

With more than 80 percent of all vineyards on the island found in the western half of Sicily between Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani, the communes of Santa Margherita, Belice, Menfi, Sciacca, Sambuca di Sicilia, Grotte and Campobello di Licata are key areas of production in Agrigento.

The region’s warm Mediterranean climate is quite dry but the Zirtari vineyards and those around them benefit from altitude, the moderating influence of the nearby Lake Arancio “the orange tree lake” and off-shore wind and fog that makes its way from the coast. Ancient marine fossils and sedimentary marl composed of limestone, clay and silt define the soils of the lower elevations and transition to rocky areas at higher elevations.

Flanked on the west by stands of pine, cypress and oak trees of the Risinata Forest, the landscape surrounding Feudo Zirtari is planted to a diverse polyculture of vines, olive groves and almond orchards overlooking Lake Arancio, a 400 hectare-wide reservoir that hosts migratory birds in spring and autumn, and great Grey herons and cormorants during the winter months.

Winegrowing is an ancient practice in Agrigento as evidenced by some of Sicily’s oldest palmenti, the gravity-fed wineries that were carved into the hillsides where the island’s native capers and wild asparagus now grow on rocky outcrops by the ancient Greeks. Although the region’s long history of winegrowing is attributed to the arrival of the Greeks in the eastern part of Sicily in the 8th century BCE, according to native Italian winegrape expert Ian D’Agata, indigenous grape varieties including Inzolia (Ansonica in Tuscany) and Nero D’Avola (Calabrese) are genetic natives.

The happy fate of native grapes

Due in a large part to modern winemaking, the fate of native or autochthonous grapes that tend to be lower in acidity like Inzolia, once primarily used for the production of Marsala, now have a new lease on life. While the variety is grown almost exclusively in Sicily (96%) and found in almost every Sicilian DOC, its resistance to drought means it’s particularly well-suited to cultivation in the Agrigento region. 

Inzolia is a rare example of a naturally tannic white variety; what it might lack in acidity, it makes up for in tannin. Modern viticultural practices and blending with internationally-grown varieties like Chardonnay produce wines that have more structure from extract and citrusy, yellow apple, pear, apricot fruits and nuts nuanced with flavors of spice and a soft, mineral finish.

At Feudo Zirati, the marriage of indigenous varieties and internationally-grown varieties is particularly successful.  The resulting wine style is one that’s contemporary and still tastes authentic to the region.  The Feudo Zirtari Bianco is a 50/50 blend of Inzolia and Chardonnay grown at an elevation of up to 1550 feet on pebbly clay with a good amount of limestone. Chardonnay ripens early here and its affinity for that soil type helps maintain acidity in the grapes and provides a backbone of acidity for the blend.  Inzolia turns golden yellow as it ripens later and the floral and fruit character of both varieties are protected by cool, anaerobic winemaking practices.

The winery’s Rosso is an unoaked 50/50 blend of Syrah and Nero D’Avola, an indigenous variety known as the “little black grape” which is grown on clay soils with some limestone. These deeper soils generate more intensity in Nero D’Avola producing flavors of dark cherries, sweet spices, licorice and cocoa along with the grape’s signature high acidity.  Blended with Syrah the wine is floral with both red and black fruits and a fresh, lean mineral quality.

San Francisco restaurateur Francesco Corvucci, a Calabrian native whose gift for the cuisines of Southern Italy has brought life to several once-iconic North Beach locations, is a proponent of both wines. “My lists are devoted solely to Italian wines and my cuisine to Italian ingredients and dishes. In practice, the success of this wine style is undeniable; it more than satisfies a traditionalist like me and is very accessible for consumers.” 

Corvucci’s desire for accessibility and deliciousness runs second only to his vision of revitalizing San Francisco’s North Beach one folded slice of Neapolitan pizza and glass of Feudo Zirtari at a time. “Over the last fifteen years, the neighborhood had begun to lose traction,” he said. “Some of it was due to generational change and that it was no longer a top destination for younger consumers.”

His focus is on casual, absolutely authentic cuisine most notably the three kinds of mozzarella – freshly-made fior di latte and mozzarella di bufala along with an imported burrata –  has made Il Casaro which occupies the former Steps of Rome a destination since it opened in 2014. Il Casaro is just one of his and partner Peter Fazio’s family of four restaurants: Barbara Pinseria & Cocktail Bar, Express Barbara, Pasta Pop Up and there’s a fifth location in the making.

There’s no denying the simple pleasure of a perfect slice and Corvucci’s motto is, “Pizza is for everyone.” He views wine with the same pragmatic idealism. “I want to serve the domestic wines of Italy, the wines that remind me of what I grew up with.” While there are no expensive wines on his lists, the wines consumers enjoy in his restaurants still play an important role. “Wine is a natural partner with pizza and, like pizza, it needs to be a simple pleasure, one that can be enjoyed by everyone.”

The Not-So-Great Divide

Methyl Anthralinate Exposes Differences in Expert and Consumer Likeability

A recent study conducted at jointly at Penn State University and the University of California Davis illustrates significant differences in what consumers and self-described wine experts find likeable in wine.

The wines in question were six pairs of unoaked Chardonnay that had been doctored with increasing amounts of the compound – methyl anthralinate (MA) – that gives some native American vitis labruscana grape varieties their “grapey-ness.”  

Grapey is the labruscana winegrowers preferred synonym for the more common descriptor “foxy” that is used to characterize the distinct, often pungent aromas associated with certain varieties most notably the Concord grape. In contrast, the descriptor “grapey” is also used when describing the characteristics of vitis vinifera varieties like Riesling and Torrontes and, as such, it isn’t always viewed negatively by experts or consumers.  

According to researcher and Ph.D. student Demetra “Demi” Perry, “We didn’t record if the experts could identify MA. The study is meant to address reasons for the [low market value] of labruscana grapes reflected in price per ton.”

It hypothesized that wines with high concentrations of methyl anthranilate would be largely rejected by wine experts in California who view the compound which is inherent to vitis labruscana and found only in those varieties as a fault. Consumers from California and Pennsylvania which has 30,000 acres of Concord under vine and self-described wine experts from California were asked to rate their preferences against a control wine.

As anticipated, the California-based experts were far more likely to reject the MA-spiked wines. Their rejection threshold (130.3 ng/l) was significantly lower than that of non-experts (1704.9 ng/l). But contrary to the belief that experts disdain labruscana characteristics, neither group wholly rejected the samples that had the highest level of methyl anthranilate.  The study also tested 2-aminoacetophenone (2AAP) but the compound wasn’t rejected by subjects at any intensity.

When consumer subjects were further divided in to low and high-interest groups, no wine was “too grapey” for the low-interest consumers. Acceptance of grapey aromas in wine by consumers in Pennsylvania where Concord jams, jellies and grape juice are commonplace can be attributed to the propensity to like the familiar, a phenomenon known as mere exposure. The more familiar you are with a pleasant odor, the more likely you will rate it as pleasant.

Interestingly enough, not all wines described as “grapey or foxy” exhibit high levels of this compound. MA may be an important aroma constituent in some native varieties but their characteristic grapey flavor isn’t solely attributed to its presence. As an isolated compound MA which is also found in gardenias and jasmine is described as fruity, grape-like, orange blossom and musty with a floral, powdery nuance.  

The perfume industry deconstructs its aroma precisely in percentages of odorants: fruity (37%), citrus (25%), narcotic (22%) which is a heady, intoxicating floral note, linalool (9%), muguet (3%) Lily of the Valley, aliphatic (1%) fatty notes, and vanilla (1%).  Highly pungent oxidized aliphatic notes are also found in fox musk but that association has more to do with ripe grapes being an attractive meal for a fox than smelling like one.

Non-vinifera wines also have higher concentrations of compounds with vegetative and earthy aromas: eugenol (clove), cis-3-hexenol (fresh cut grass, leafy), 1,8-cineole (eucalyptus), and the pyrazines 3-isobutyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IBMP), and 3-isopropyl-2-methoxypyrazine (IPMP).  Concentrations of IBMP and IPMP in non-vinifera wines have been measured well above concentrations reported in physiologically-ripe vinifera grapes. The result is seemingly an entourage effect that creates labruscana’s distinct aromatic signature.

If, as the Penn State study hypothesizes, MA is universally viewed by experts as an indicator of lower quality wine and a fault, it’s surprising that the experts in this study failed to reach a complete rejection threshold. While that question wasn’t explored, it’s easy to surmise that even at the highest concentrations tested experts are aware MA is an inherent varietal characteristic and, unless it detracts noticeably from wine quality, its presence wouldn’t constitute a fault. 

Perry is also working on another study with Dr. Gavin Sacks involving de odorizing Concord grape juice in an effort to make it more commercially viable. Their goal is to remove grape-derived odorants, such as MA, while retaining the important base chemistry (e.g., pH, titratable acidity, soluble solids) of the juice and without sacrificing color. “There are similar processing technologies currently utilized in the wine industry for remediation of wine flaws, but most are targeted at processing wine whereas we have taken a step back and decided to target the juice instead,” she said.

Beyond the Bar: Wine country visits that take you beyond the tasting room

Gone are the days when wine tasting was synonymous with standing at a bar. Wineries are now offering tasting experiences that include such activities as hiking with your dog, appreciating a world-class sculpture garden and breathing through a yoga class. If you think a standard wine tasting at a bar sounds more like drudgery than a dream day, these four non-traditional wine tasting experiences are for you.

Imagery Estate Winery is located just outside of Glen Ellen in the heart of Sonoma Valley. Enjoy an hour-long Vinyasa class with a sequence that instructor Jes Williams says will keep you present and centered for the rest of the day. After practice, you’ll enjoy a walking tour of the winery, followed by a tasting in the winery tasting room. Yoga + Wine ($25-$35 per guest) is offered from 10 am to 12 pm every second Sunday through September. 14335 Highway 12, Glen Ellen, 877.550.4278,

Spend the morning hiking with your furry friend through Kunde Winery’s 1,850-acre estate filled with vineyards, oak woodlands and native grasslands that stretch from the Sonoma valley floor up into the Mayacamas Mountain range. This moderately strenuous hike runs from 9 am-1 pm and concludes with a much-deserved outdoor tasting and wine country lunch ($90 per guest). Dogs must be on leash. Kunde donates a portion of the proceeds to Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Sonoma County Humane Society. 9825 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707.833.5501,

Jeff and Roberta Kunde with their dogs.

Donum’s 200-acre estate is home to 40 contemporary works by such well-known artists as Ai Weiwei, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois and Keith Haring. Conceived by Danish collector, vintner and co-owner of Donum, Allan Warburg, the Sculpture Park includes site-specific commissions interspersed with 150-year old olive trees, lavender gardens and vineyards. The experience of combining wine, nature and art is, according to Warburg, “far more powerful than if you enjoyed them separately.” Donum is open seven days a week for wine tastings by advanced reservation only.

The private pavilion at Quintessa Winery offers a Zen-like view of Dragon Lake and one of the most elevated tastings found in the Valley. Held in a glass-walled, open-air pavilion nestled among the slopes of Rutherford, this experience takes you far from the maddening crowd. The 90-minute Quintessential Experience begins with a walking tour of the estate winery followed by a seated tasting that includes a vertical tasting, exclusive barrel selections and rare library vintages plus a cheese pairing. The Quintessential Experience ($150 per guest) is offered daily by appointment at 10 am, 12:30 pm and 3 pm. 1601 Silverado Trail S, St. Helena,

Quintessa Winery’s pavilion.

Your guide to the Slow Wine Guide 2019 (free download)

The 2019 Slow Wine Guide arrived in San Francisco on Monday, March 4th, for the Guide’s first stop on a tour of the US that included Portland, Denver, New York and Boston. With more than 100 wineries from Italy and California participating, the tour drew a record number of tasters reflecting the growing interest in wineries whose values and practices are aligned with Slow Wine.

The Slow Wine Guide marks ten years of publication in 2020. This is the second year California wineries have been included with myself as senior editor and Oregon wineries made their debut this year led by Michael Alberty. The addition of urban and negociant wineries to the California and Oregon guides differentiates them from the Italian and Slovenian listings.

Coordinating Editor for North America Jeremy Parzen points out, “Some of the best wines produced in California today are made by progressive winemakers who buy all of the fruit they vinify.” Los Alamos-based A Tribute to Grace winemaker Angela Osborne and San Francisco-based Bryan Harrington of Harrington wines are two prime examples of urban winemakers at the top of their game.

The Guide lists wineries by city, and, in addition to the audit that summarizes vineyard practices, it now includes figures on each estate’s acreage under vine, the total number of bottles produced annually and for each wine tasted, along with a suggested retail price for each wine.

According to Slow Wine Editor Giancarlo Gariglio, “The winery visits [by our field editors] are the key. They’re what sets Slow Wine apart from other guides. We’ve published the Italian guide for almost ten years now and, over the last two years, we’ve applied those best practices to the addition of California and Oregon wineries.”

Slow Wine acknowledges wineries with three different awards: the Snail, Bottle and Coin. Individual wines are designated by tasters with the Slow Wine Prizes of “Great” (highlighted in orange entries) for the top bottles and “Everyday” (highlighted in light blue entries) for excellent value under $30.

To determine the stops for the 2019 tour, Gariglio polled participating producers who asked for Denver and Boston as “good markets to cultivate with strong Slow Food nation communities.” “This is out most ambitious tour to date,” he said. “The US is by far our most important market. Asia knows the larger brands but, for these wineries, Asia is like the US market 30 years ago.”

Download your free copy of the 2019 Slow Wine Guide at this link.

Emilia-Romagna: Exploring Iconic Italian Flavors at Enologica

Best known by Americans for its iconic food products—namely prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, Balsamic vinegar, and its effervescent Lambrusco wines—there’s far more to Emilia-Romagna than these familiar tastes. The city of Bologna reputed for being la dotta(the learned), is home to the Western world’s oldest continuously-operating university, the University of Bologna, and is a place full of surprises.

The tapestry of this region, one that bisects central Italy from coast to coast save for a few kilometers devoted to Liguria before you reach the Mediterranean Sea, is defined by the Po River. The terroir of the river valley leaves its mark on everything produced within its fold. Bologna lies about 45 minutes south of the river and is relatively compact—it’s slightly larger than San Francisco with a population of 1 million people in the urban center.

Cultural Immersion

While it’s a mecca for students, Bologna isn’t overrun by tourists and it flourishes with cuisine, art, and music. In 2006 Bologna became a UNESCO City of Music, one of 30 cities globally that are part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. The University which was founded as the “Studium” by students in 1088, was legally declared a place where research could develop independently from any other power, political or ecclesiastic, in 1158.

Enologica, an extraordinary exhibition of the region’s wines and typical food products is hosted by the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna (ERER) and held annually at the beautiful Palazzo Re Enzo in Bologna. 

Within the city and surrounding countryside there are 50 museums and galleries, many of which are connected to the University, that house collections both large and small. Delve into Italy’s terroir by visiting the Collezione di Mineralogia “Museo Luigi Bombicci” to pour over the impressive Italian Regional Mineralogical Collection and the University of Bologna Herbarium, one of the oldest in Europe, where you’ll find dried plant collections that date from the 16th century onwards.

The collection of extant garments and some six thousand fabric samples at the Museo Del Tessuto e Della Tappezzeria “Vittorio Zironi,” is also captivating. In what would otherwise be called “a wax museum,” the Collezione Delle Cere Anatomiche “Luidi Cattaneo” preserves marvelous 19th-century anatomical wax models that were created for medical students by the Florentine modeler Clemente Susini and Bolognese wax-modelers Giuseppe Astorri and Cesare Bettini.

A 19th-century anatomical wax model of a hand from the Collezione Delle Cere Anatomiche “Luidi Cattaneo” in Bologna.

Clues to the long history and importance of the region’s wine culture can be seen in the 10,000 everyday life objects used by local farmers between 1750 and 1950 that are displayed at the Museo della Civiltà Contadina (museum of peasant farming culture). It’s with these humble artifacts that modern-day life in Bologna was forged. The beautiful historic grounds include gardens, orchards, hemp fields, a park, and the museum itself.

On a much larger scale just outside the city limits you’ll find Fabbrica Italiana Contandina (FICO) Eataly World. Described as a cultural theme park, FICO covers two hectares of fields and stables housing several hundred animals and 2000 different plant cultivars. On display is food processing at 40 farming factories where you can see firsthand how meat, fish, cheese, salumi, pasta, oil, wine, beer, sweets, and other Italian products are processed and you can taste all of them as well.

Winemaking and wine culture are taught at FICO through vineyard tours and tasting classes that explore Italy’s most important native vines including Albana and Pignoletto, both indigenous to Emilia-Romagna.

A Tale of Two DOCGs

The Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto, one of Emilia-Romagna’s two DOCG wine production areas, lies just west of Bologna. The DOCG Romagna Albana region lies southeast of Bologna bordered on the east by the Adriatic Sea with the towns of Ravenna in the north and Rimini to the south.

The wines of these areas and Emilia-Romagna came in to focus for this taster during Enologica, an extraordinary exhibition of the region’s wines and typical food products that’s been hosted by the Enoteca Regionale Emilia Romagna (ERER) in Bologna for the last seven years. The ERER has been in place since 1970 with the charter of promoting and improving regional wine production.

Author of “The Utimate Guide to Italian Wine,” Daniele Cernilli.

Italy’s First DOCG White Wine

The well-drained foothills of the Apennines are home to vineyards sited on clay and limestone at high elevations. The region’s hot, dry Mediterranean climate is tempered by cooling breezes from the eastern seaboard that provide relief during the summer months.

While it’s been openly contested for its rank as Italy’s first white wine to be awarded DOCG status (in 1987), Albana di Romagna—known since 2011 as Romagna Albana—has demonstrated its prowess over the years. During a presentation at Enologica, led by Daniele Cernilli aka “Dr. Wine,” Cernilli selected a flight of six wines demonstrating a range of styles and the finesse and power that earned Albana its DOCG birthright.

Albana is a thick-skinned, white grape loaded with polyphenols and the catechins that comprise white wine tannins. It’s vinified in four styles—dry, amabile, dolce, and passito/passito reserve styles that can rival Sauternes and Vouvray for their opulence. According to Cernilli, Albana was first planted in southern Italy, but expresses higher levels of tartaric and malic acid when grown in northern climes. Sparkling Albana is successful due to the variety’s elevated acidity but only carries the DOC designation.

Noted for distinctive peach and almond notes, the wines Cernilli poured also exhibited lemon zest, fennel, tropical fruit, quince, saffron, and pear, with the riper passito; the passito reserve had notes of apricot, peach, petrol, honeycomb, and ginger due to the required presence of botrytis.

  • 2016 Caviro Romio—made by the largest co-operative in the region which produces very a high-quality, organic bag-in-box wine with lemony intensity attributed to skin contact, the wine had notes of almond and medium plus acidity.
  • 2016 Poderi dal Nespoli showed high acidity with floral notes, lemon zest, fennel, and unripe pineapple. It’s possible the picking decision was rushed for this particular vintage but time in bottle could improve the finish.
  • 2016 Leone Conti Progetto was rich with almost gritty tannins, almond and saffron and saline mineral notes pointing to the influence of the Adriatic.
  • 2016 Celli “I Croppi”—a broader, fleshier example with varietal flavors of pear and peach described by Cernili as a “traditional style.”
  • 2014 Cantina di Forli “Volo l’Aquila”—a deep, rich, golden amber-colored passito with high-toned, fungal, peachy flavors, and a clean finish.
  • 2013 Fattoria Zerbina “Scacco Matto”—a honeyed, floral passito with petrol, crème brulee, saffron, and ripe peaches in a classic late-harvest style.

Formerly part of the Colli Bolognesi DOC, Colli Bolognesi Classico Pignoletto was established as a separate DOCG in 2010 and expanded in 2014. There has been a forty percent increase in plantings of Pignoletto here over the last few years that many attribute the “bubble wave” to. Pignoletto has the ability to make a diverse range of styles, four are made in the DOCG: classic, classic superiore, frizzante, and spumante with the biggest challenge being timing the picking decision for the intended wine style.

The wines are required to be 95 percent Pignoletto with an exception for older vineyards that may include field blends of other varieties. This aromatic grape once thought to be Grechetto has lively acidity and tart flavors of lime and green apple along with higher tannin levels that contribute texture and weight to the finished wines. Sparkling Pignoletto is comparable to Prosecco and the DOCG has begun fostering more organic production. Several Pignoletto wines were included in the Enologica tastings led by different experts.

  • 2015 Tentuta La Riva—a pét-nat style showing pear, Fuji and golden apple with yeasty, apple cider-like flavors.
  • NV Terra Quilia “Terre Bianche”—frizzante pét-nat style, was dry, tangerine skin, lemon, green plum, green apple, light-bodied, and austere with a savory bitter finish.
  • NV Caviro Terre Forte Frizzante was crisp and delicate, charming with clean, precise varietal flavors.
  • NV ll Monticino had notes of white blossoms, white tree fruits, intensity from dry extract, and elevated tannins on the mid-palate, clean finish.

Snapshot of New Mexico

Young winemakers are leveraging the wisdom of the state’s winegrowing founding fathers

story and photos by Deborah Parker Wong

Home to three large American Viticulture Areas: Middle Rio Grande Valley, Mimbres Valley and Mesilla Valley and over 2,500 acres of grapes under vine, wine culture in New Mexico is flourishing.

New Mexico has a 400-year history of winegrowing. Spaniards first brought vines to the region in the 17th century and Italian wine culture was imprinted there when Jesuit priests arrived in the 1860s. By the end of that century, the state was among the top five winegrowing regions in the country. Prohibition and a crippling 100-year flood of the Rio Grande were severe setbacks for the industry until commercial production resumed again in the late 1970s.

But the recuperation of New Mexico’s wine industry began in earnest when Italian, German, and French viticulturists brought their expertise to the state in the 1980s. Winegrowing in New Mexico continues to be influenced by these modern-day founding fathers, their families and a host of young winegrowers who are quickly elevating the quality and style of the region’s wines.

Laurent Gruet (l), Bernd Maier and Paolo D’Andrea, the modern-day founding father’s of New Mexico’s wine industry.

Luna Rossa

Italian know-how has been a driving force in the evolution of the state’s modern industry, thanks to the D’Andrea family. Fourth-generation winegrower Paolo D’Andrea, a native of Fruili, arrived in Deming, New Mexico in 1986 to train workers how to prune grape vines and to manage the state’s largest vineyard, a 300-acre site in the Mimbres Valley. With 2,000 acres under vine, Mimbres was established in 1985 and is the state’s largest American Viticulture Area (AVA). Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian varieties are dominant here and the valley’s terroir is compared to the Mendoza region of Argentina.

By 2001 Paolo and his wife Sylvia had founded their own winery, Luna Rossa, as well as a highly successful rootstock grafting business that supplies grape vines to growers throughout The Southwestern United States. Today, their son Marco, the fifth-generation D’Andrea, is winemaker at Luna Rossa.

After touring the company’s vineyards, grafting facility, and two restaurants (an Italian and Mexican restaurant both operated by Sylvia) I checked in with Marco for an update on the 2018 harvest. “Overall I’d say this year was above average,” he said. While white varieties generally had higher acidity­­—a plus for this warm region—he noted that sugar levels spiked in the more sensitive varieties like Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. Given that the D’Andreas prefer lighter-bodied, Italian-styled wines versus a more opulent, weightier style, he expects excellent Malvasia Bianca, Riesling and Ribolla Gialla with a sparkling base from this vintage.

“The reds matured at correct analytical levels with rotting at less than one percent so I expect to see more excellent quality reds in comparison to previous years. Overall harvest has gone well; the rain rarely hindered us from picking so we were fortunate for that.”

Winegrowing in New Mexico can be considered extreme due to altitude and the dry, continental climate. There’s risk from frost in the late spring, it’s windy during set through May leaving some varieties prone to shatter, soils can have a high saline content, and because there is little or no fall, it’s a headlong plunge into winter. Growers must also hill-up or mound soil around the trunks to the graft point to winterize the vines.

Given how dry the climate is, winegrowers typically irrigate during the winter months to keep some humidity in the soils. “We need deep-rooting vines for humidity and we’ve modified our growing practices. For example, we use a modified spur pruning that leaves longer canes to combat frost,” said Paolo D’Andrea. Vineyards in Deming sit at 4,300 feet above sea level and the diurnal shift helps grapes retain acidity during hot summer days. The southern part of the state sees more pressure from pests but on average D’Andrea only treats his estate vineyard four times a year.

“PH can be a challenge in finished wine,” he said. “We often lose acid in an effort to ripen the yield. Typically we’ll have lower brix at harvest due to the short growing season and pressure from weather during harvest makes picking decisions key.”

  • Luna Rossa 2016 Riesling—rich, bright, focused showing stone fruit and yellow plum.
  • Luna Rossa 2013 Nini—is a blend of six grapes: Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Refosco, and Montepulciano with extended barrel aging of 58 months showing smooth, spicy tannins, and apparent oak flavors.

Amaro Winery

Bernd Maier came to Engle, New Mexico to plant vineyards in 1984. He arrived from Baden, Germany with his young family including his son Benjamin who was three at the time. Maier planted many vineyards and among them is a site now operated by the Gruet Winery which is located in Albuquerque. In 1989 Maier moved to Las Cruces where he began advocating appropriate trellising systems, canopy management, and varieties that were better suited to the New Mexico climate.

He became the state’s first Extension Viticulture Specialist in 2006 and is credited with installing a climate station network and beginning important work on a multi-state grape variety trial. Maier’s considerable contributions to the New Mexico wine industry were acknowledged in 2010 when he received the New Mexico Vine and Wine Society’s Distinguished Service Award.

He and his son Benjamin bring their expertise with vineyard architecture, viticulture, irrigation, and frost protection to the industry as consultants and are credited with planting many of the state’s most successful sites. Their 12-acre estate vineyard contains 27 varieties including Gewurztraminer, the southern Italian variety Negro Amaro, Chenin Blanc, Muscat, Teroldego, and Verdelho planted to colluvial and loess soils created by the wind on the floodplains of the Rio Grande.

Benjamin Maier and his wife Lisa operate the company’s Amaro Winery in downtown Las Cruces which they founded in 2009. As winemaker, Maier works with his own estate fruit and sources from growers in southern New Mexico to produce both dry wines including a Malbec and sweeter styles like the popular blush, Cruces Sunrise. In 2016, Amaro and the wineries of the Mesilla Valley introduced the Mesilla Valley Wine Trail Festival which runs the length of the valley from north to south and includes the state’s first modern, commercial winery, La Viña in southern Doña Ana County.

  • 2017 Malvasia—notes of vanilla, pear, and creamsicle with medium acidity.
  • 2015 Chenin Blanc—with 20 grams per liter of residual sugar, was rich like an apple-pear tart.
  • 2017 Negro Amaro—a leaner style with more red fruit and complexity.
  • 2017 Gewurztraminer—showed dried white peach and lower acidity.
  • 2014 Malbec—dark and moody with blue and black fruits and earthy grip.


The wine brand most widely associated with New Mexico is, without question, Gruet which was founded by the Gilbert Gruet family from the Gruet et Fils winery in Bethon, France. Gilbert’s son, Laurent Gruet, a native of Champagne who studied at the Lycée Viticole de la Champagne in Avize, is the winemaker and owns the winery with his sister Nathalie.

Having completed his 32nd harvest in New Mexico, Gruet is a traditionalist who employs barrel fermentation and traditional method Champenoise techniques to produce wines that are considered among the top 100 in the world. According to Gruet, his wine quality is directly tied to the low pH in the soils that allow grapes to retain acidity while ripening in desert conditions with little water and lots of ultraviolet light. He also fully blocks malolactic in the wines which is another way of protecting their fine acidity and chapitalizes the must to reach a desired level of alcohol.

A champion of Meunier, formerly called Pinot Meunier, Gruet has planted it side-by-side with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to an austere vineyard site––the Tamaya Vineyard—between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Located on the Santa Ana Pueblo at 5,110 feet, the site is a protected clos nestled between two arroyos that create a warmer mesoclimate. Thanks to clonal material ideally suited to the site––an “Uber Chardonnay” and high-yielding 407 Pinot Noir clone––and strategic row orientation, Gruet has completed his second and most successful harvest from the vineyard.

The Gruet winery was founded in 1984 when the family purchased a vineyard near Elephant Butte Reservoir at 4,245 feet in Engle, and the first release followed in 1989. In 2013 Gruet partnered with Precept Wine, and now, with 75 acres under vine, Gruet produces 150,000–175,000 cases of sparkling annually. Gruet also sources Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the D’Andrea’s Luna Rossa vineyard. In addition to his famous sparkling, Gruet now produces still Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “2016 was the earliest harvest on record for us,” he said, noting July 18th as the date, but according to local news reports the 2018 harvest of Pinot Noir at Tamaya began on August 6th.

  • 2014 Gruet Blanc de Noirs—shockingly youthful, nutty with notes of vanilla and raspberry.
  • 2017 Pinot Noir barrel sample—red and black fruit, pencil shavings, leather, brown spice, and briefly astringent.
  • NV Grande Reserve Sparkling—100% Chardonnay and a blend of vintages 2010–2015 aged in foudre that showed massive intensity with mineral and smoky pear notes.

The connection between the founding fathers of the New Mexico’s modern wine industry—D’Andrea, Maier, and Gruet—and the progress that’s being made by the next generation of winegrowers like Jasper Riddle, and brothers Jesse and Chris Padberg, points to the bright future of the state’s industry.

Noisy Water Winery

Jasper Riddle’s, Noisy Water Winery, sources fruit from no less than eight different vineyards and often more from sites focused in the northern regions of the state. “We champion the fruit of local growers,” he said, and in doing so he’s found a ready local market for his wines. Riddle is a fifth-generation farmer and winemaker who bought Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso in 2010. He credits his Italian heritage and early exposure to wine culture by his sommelier father for helping him dial in his passion for wine.

“2018 was good for us with new vineyards coming online. However, we did see a late freeze after bud break in the Las Cruces area and that reduced yields there by 70 percent at some sites.” Riddle who finished his tenth harvest in 2018 said he crushed about 200 tons of fruit in 2018. A native of Ruidoso, which is north-east of Las Cruces, he works with more than 30 grape varieties and bottles more than 40 types of wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, blends, and popular Hatch chile-flavored wines.

Riddle is on the move and his success hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has doubled the size of his existing 6,000-square-foot winery facility and has a string of tasting rooms across the state that are thriving. The company has six locations in four cities and employs 44 people with plans to hire ten more. Currently producing 25,000 cases, the winery is on track to reach its goal of 100,000 cases by 2024. Earlier this year he was named “New Mexico Small Business Person of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Vivác Winery

The Vivác Winery estate vineyard in Dixon is one of the most dramatic and beautiful winegrowing sites I’ve encountered. Located in the Middle Rio Grande Valley AVA, north of Santa Fe, Jesse and Chris Padberg and their wives Michele and Liliana, respectively, founded The Vivác Winery (named for the Spanish term meaning “high-altitude refuge”) in 1998, and released their first wines in 2003.

Born and raised in Dixon, the Padbergs are continuing their studies at the University of California at Davis, and work every aspect of production from pruning their estate vineyards to bottling. Committed to a “slow and steady” approach, the brothers also source fruit from the D’Andreas in Deming.

In 1999, they planted the organically farmed Fire Vineyard which sits at 6,000 feet. The site is planted to French hybrids, including Léon Millot, Baco Noir, and Marechal Foch. Their newly-planted 1725 Vineyard sits at 5,800 feet, on land that once belonged to Francisco Martin, a great-great-grandson of the original Francisco Martin who settled the Embudo Valley in 1725. It’s planted to several varieties including Gruner Veltliner, Petit Verdot, Meunier, Riesling, and Arrandell. The winery produced 4,000 cases in 2017 with plans to produce 6,000 cases.

The Padbergs have added ten acres of vineyards around the tasting room and have plans for a production facility there. An iconic white sandstone mountain, the Barrancos Blancos, overlooks the tasting room and surrounding vineyards which are planted to Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Petit Verdot.

  • 2015 Refosco—clean and light-bodied with grilled berries, earth, and toast.
  • 2015 Petit Verdot—balanced, medium-bodied with good varietal typicity.

Are you experienced?

Even the simplest wine contains hundreds of aroma compounds. More are
present in red wines than in white and certain compounds are more dominant in some grape varieties than others, but, taken as a whole, we recognize them as the smell of wine.

Psychology tells us that when you’ve become familiar with a particular
scent, you’re apt to enjoy it even more. Vanilla is a perfect example of a familiar aroma most never tire of, but context plays an important role in the amount of pleasure we derive from our sense of smell.

The odor of wet dog isn’t exactly something we want to detect in wine, but
experiencing this scent after a communal hike at Kunde Family Winery in Sonoma Valley could actually prove enjoyable. This “moderately strenuous” walk traverses Kunde’s 1,850-acre estate through vineyard rows, oak woodlands, native grasslands, and chaparral that stretch from the valley floor up into the Mayacamas Mountains. The morning wraps up with a much-deserved al fresco tasting and lunch, with Kunde donating a portion of the proceeds to the Dogwood Animal Rescue Project and Humane Society of Sonoma County.

During a visit to the tasting room at Imagery Estate Winery, located just outside the hamlet of Glen Ellen in the heart of Sonoma Valley, visitors can taste an unusual flight of small-production Biodynamic wines.

A few times a month, Imagery also offers outdoor yoga classes—and what
better place to practice yoga than a pristine, Demeter-certified Biodynamic vineyard?After an hour-long vinyasa sequence that instructor Jes Williams says will help build confidence and leave participants present and centered for the rest of the day, visitors can savor a pour of Sauvignon Blanc on the walk back to the tasting room. With their senses heightened, they’ll find the wine will very likely taste more like the grass and fresh air with a hint of saltiness, creating an invigorating experience that’s somewhat uncommon in the world of wine tasting.

Meanwhile, at fellow Sonoma winery Donum, large-scale sculptures have
replaced the dairy cows that once dotted the gentle swales of this Carneros estate vineyard. On a warm summer day, this 200-acre property smells more like lavender than fertilizer. Strolling through the 150-year-old olive trees, gardens, and vineyards to view 40 works by a who’s who of contemporary artists would certainly seem like a distraction from the estate Pinot Noir, but for Danish collector and vintner Allan Warburg, Donum’s majority owner, the experience of combining wine, nature, and art is “far more powerful than if you enjoyed them separately.”

The rise of this philosophy indicates that the days of confining wine tastings solely to a tasting room or terrace are long gone. Experiencing wine in a different context is something we may have to become familiar with to fully enjoy. According to the phenomenon in psychology known as mere exposure, we grow to like the familiar. If the approach this trio of wineries is taking is any indication, tapping into activities like hiking, al fresco yoga, and tours of a world-class sculpture garden are making this shift possible.

New Mexico winery makes some noise

Young winemakers in New Mexico are leveraging the wisdom of the region’s winegrowing founding fathers and creating some buzz for the state’s expanding industry. One of whom is Ruidoso native Jasper Riddle whose Noisy Water Wine Co. sources fruit from no less than eight different vineyards and often more from sites focused in the northern regions of the state.  “We champion the fruit of local growers,” he said and in doing so he’s found a ready local market for his wines. Riddle is a fifth-generation farmer and winemaker who bought Noisy Water Winery in Ruidoso in 2010. He credits his Italian heritage and early exposure to wine culture by his sommelier father for helping him dial in his passion for wine.

“2018 was good for us with new vineyards coming online. However, we did see a late freeze after bud break in the Las Cruces area and that reduced yields there by 70 percent at some sites.”  Riddle who finished his tenth harvest in 2018 said he crushed about 200 tons of fruit in 2018.  A native of Ruidoso which is north-east of Las Cruces, he works with more than 30 grape varieties and bottles more than 40 types of wine including Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, blends and popular Hatch chile-flavored wines. 

Riddle is on the move and his success hasn’t gone unnoticed. He has doubled the size of his existing 6,000-sq. foot winery facility and has a string of tasting rooms across the state that are thriving. The company has six locations in four cities and employs 44 people with plans to hire ten more.  Currently producing 25,000 cases the winery ison track to reach its goal of 100,000 cases by 2024.  Earlier this year he was named “New Mexico Small Business Person of the Year” by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Noisy Water produces both dry and sweet wines styles with off dry being the larger market.  Riddle is absolutely catering to a clientele that includes Texans who prefer sweeter styles and enjoy the nearby Ski Apache resort.The snow-covered slopes of the Sierra Blanca can be seen as visitors wind their way up the mountain to the winery’s tasting room and solar-powered event barn.  

See the full feature on New Mexico on the refreshed website in February 2019.

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…

First-ever Slow Wine Guide to Oregon and second California edition coming online…
— Read on