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Reaching a Tipping Point

In 2013,  a hemp strain known as Charlotte’s Web drew national attention to the therapeutic benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), especially for children suffering from health issues that make them prone to seizures. Developed by six siblings known as “the Stanley Brothers”—the founders of Colorado-based CW Hemp—Charlotte’s Web represents one of hundreds of commercial CBD products now sold throughout the U.S. that contain THC levels of less than 0.3 percent.

The efficacy of Charlotte’s Web and similar hemp strains paved the way for Epidiolex, a hemp-derived CBD solution approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) June 25. Developed by London-based GW Pharmaceuticals to treat patients as young as 2 who suffer seizures caused by two rare epileptic syndromes, Epidiolex is referred to by the federal government as “Cannabidiol Oral Solution” (CBD-OS) and could be legally available as soon as this fall.

Historically, hemp has played an important role as a utilitarian plant; widely deemed a “superfood” today, it’s also consumed as a nutritional supplement. Once the regulatory floodgates are opened, consumer adoption of hemp-derived CBD as a plant-based medicine seems like an obvious and natural next step.

The FDA’s approval of Epidiolex, as well as the recent introduction of the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 in Congress, will help pave the way for the legal sale and distribution of CBD across the United States. This would be viewed as a boon for the entire cannabis category, as it establishes a precedent for the medicinal value of cannabis and should further the acceptance of CBD as a safe and therapeutic treatment option.

Read the article here CBD Reaching a Tipping Point

Residual light and the color gradation of rose

While the level of residual sugar plays a role in the finished style of a wine, the color of all wines—and the color of everything we see, for that matter—is determined by residual light. Any systematic analysis of wine begins with a careful observation of color and what we see is the result of light waves being reflected by compounds in the liquid.

The plant pigments associated with flower and fruit coloration are known as flavonoids, with the most commonly known being the anthocyanins—derived from the Greek words for flower and blue, anthos and kyanos. These water-soluble pigments found in leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and fruits show us red, purple, or blue hues depending on their pH levels.

Read the article here Residual Light June-July 2018s

Third Year’s a Charm for Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction

Seventy eight lots of barrel-selected 2016 Pinot Noir and three collaborative lots of Chardonnay were auctioned by the Willamette Valley Wineries Association on Saturday, April 7 at the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, Oregon. The event which is now in its third year raked in a total of $800,000, an amount that bested the 2017 take by more than half and exceeded expectations for both average lot ($9,099) and bottle price ($124).

The exceptional quality and range of style of the 2016 vintage was showcased at preliminary tastings held April 6th at Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Stoller Family Estate and the auction lot wines were poured for final consideration during the few hours preceding the live auction. 2018 auction chair Laurent Montalieu, owner and winemaker for Soléna Estate and Hyland Estates, said “We expect 2016 to go down in history as a benchmark year for Oregon.”

Returning auctioneer Fritz Hatton met little resistance from an enthusiastic crowd of national and international bidders almost half of whom were first-timers at the event. Antica Terra winemaker Maggie Harrison’s five-case lot from the Antica Terra Vineyard which she explained during the tasting was “topped up with rocks” to prevent sullying the barrel took top dollar with a bid of $33,000. The wine which is well on its way to becoming a unicorn bottling will only be available to consumers through retailer Unwined located in Alexandria, Virginia.


Rounding out the top five Pinot Noir lots were the Zena Crown Vineyard “Barrel and Foot” Pinot noir: $24,000; Alexana Estate Winery “By A Landslide” Pinot noir: $20,000; Bethel Heights “Vesper Bell” Pinot noir: $19,000; and 10 cases of Hyland Estates “The Perfect Pair” Pinot noir: $20,000. A five-case lot of “Nautical Dawn,” a collaborative Chardonnay produced by Bethel Heights and Walter Scott Wines, was the top-selling white at $12,000.

The Willamette Valley is home to rare vineyards of own-rooted, older Pinot Noir vines planted to a cross section of volcanic Basalt, Jory terra rossa and loess sedimentary soils. In addition to well-known Dijon and Pommard clones, the Swiss Wadenswil clone with its amplified tannin structure plays a role in many trifecta blends.

A survey of winemakers revealed they predominately rely on traditional Burgundian techniques preferring punch downs or pigéage to pump overs and the use of varying percentages of whole clusters in the tank. The 2016 vintage showed a wide range of styles with leaner, savory Dijon-dominate wines expressing more red fruit while black-fruited, robust Pommards with vanilla, graphite and dark spice were at the other end of the spectrum.

Auction proceeds are slated to fund marketing and education initiatives for the Willamette Valley Wineries Association which represents almost 250 members from Portland to Eugene. The 2019 Willamette: The Pinot Auction will be held April 6 and is open to licensed wine sellers.

Climate change a double-edged sword for Amarone producers

This year the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella marks its 50th anniversary, a milestone that coincides with the release of the challenged 2014 Amarone della Valpolicella vintage one that allowed the top performing wines presented during the anteprima tastings to stand apart.

Due to wet conditions that delayed ripening and diluted fruit concentration, the consorzio wisely moved to reduce the 2014 production of Amarone by approximately half.  As a result, there were 50 percent fewer wines presented at the anteprima in January when 43 wines were poured at the blind tasting in comparison to 83 in 2017. My list of the wines that scored 89 points or greater can be found below.

While vintage conditions in Valpolicella have become increasingly variable, according to University of Verona Professor Maurizio Ugliano climate change is actually working to hasten the drying process that is so critical to the production of Amarone.

Regulations stipulate that producers are allowed to cool the air in the fruttai or drying rooms using fans but they cannot artificially heat it.  As such, warmer conditions during the several months of drying work to reduce pressure from muffa nobile or Noble Rot but Ugliano cautions, “Wines subject to hot, fast drying will be boring.” Winemakers are largely responding to challenging vintage conditions by adjusting their practices in the cellar the most notable being the move away from the use of native yeasts.

Yeast choices for Amarone fermentation

During an interview with winemaker Daniele Accordini who oversees the production at Cantina Negrar, a cooperative of 230 winegrowers in the Valpolicella Classico region, and his own label, Accordini detailed his preferences and rationale for yeast choices and winemaking practices.

For 80 percent of his wines, Accordini prefers the yeast strain “Uvarum” sold by Lamothe-Abiet which combines two species of Saccharomyces: S. cerevisiae and S. Uvarum. The properties of S. uvarum such as cryotolérance, low production of acetic acid, high production of glycerol, strong release of esters (phenyl-2-ethanol) and thiol allow for the development of aromatic, complex and round wines.

Accordini also uses ‘Premium Zinfandel” a which is a 100 percent Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast well suited to high alcohol fermentations sold by Vason, a Verona-based company owned by the family of re known Valpolicella producer Valentina Cubi.


Daniele Accordini discussing a 2008 Cantina Negrar Amarone poured as part of a retrospective tasting that began with a 1950 Bolla, the region’s first commerical Amarone.

The hybrid yeast strain Uvarum is well suited to high alcohol fermentations and early co-inoculations. According to Accordini, fermentation starts slowly at 5 – 6 ° and goes quickly to 16 – 17 ° with volatile acidity between 45 – 47 mg/l producing more glycerol while holding volatile acidity in check. However, he points to lower aroma profiles in his wines which he considers an acceptable compromise given the alternatives.

Accordini switched to Uvarum in the mid-1990s after climate change made the use of native yeast significantly more challenging at Cantina Negrar’s scale of production. However, he still makes a point to taste wines that are made using native yeasts and sees that they show more complex aromas, often have higher levels of volatile aroma compounds and can take several months to complete fermentation.

Beyond higher levels of volatile acidity in the finished wines, this extended period of fermentation can result in far greater potential for stuck fermentations and the problems that ensue when vinifying wines from musts with high levels of sugar.

According to Professor Ugliano, excessively high alcohol in Amarone is largely a factor of manipulating airflow during drying. Theoretically, average alcohols are over 16% when drying is speeded up due to increasing air movement in the fruttai (drying rooms) with fans. This practice concentrates sugar levels in the grapes too quickly and creates potential alcohols of 16 – 17% making it quite easy for the finished wines to reach 18% due to high osmotic pressure.

Historically, potential alcohols were 13 – 14% when a long, slow drying process takes place using only natural air. This protracted period of drying (100 days+) results in greater gene activity and significantly higher amounts of stilbenes in withered Corvina grapes.

Another practice Accordini is trialing is simultaneous malolactic (ML) respiration with the primary fermentation. He co-inoculates early, on the third day of fermentation, and the bacteria eventually succumbs to higher alcohols. Opponents of simultaneous ML in dry wine styles point to finished wines that are less complex and more commercial in style and the practice is generally avoided by winemakers seeking to make wines that transparently express terroir. As Amarone producers seek to express the complexity of the Corvina grape in relation to its terroir, we can’t assume that the practice undermines their perception of wine quality.

Regarding the 2014s, it struck me that many of the wines seemed to be relying on higher percentages of new oak in an effort to amplify depth of fruit flavors and concentration. There also seemed to be a general divide between the wines that were showing well i.e. demonstrating varietal fruit character and balance on the day of the tasting and those that could fare better on another day. Many wines fell right on the cusp, hovering around 89, and I’d certainly revisit them before excluding them from the top picks.

2014 Amarone della Valpolicella producers who scored 90 points or greater in the blind tasting:

Accordini, Stefano – 94

Antiche Terre Venete – 90

Bennati – 94

Ca’Rugate – 93

Campagnola, Guiseppe – 90

Cantine de Soave – 91

Cesari – 91

Collis-Riondo Castelforte – 94

Collis-Riondo Calesan – 91

Corte Archi – 90

Le Bignele – 90

Le Guaite Noemi – 91

Massimago – 89

Monteci – 89

Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine – 90

San Cassiano – 94

Santa Sofia – 89

Secondo Marco – 90

Vignetti di Ettore – 89

Villa Canestrari – 93

Villa San Carlo – 89

Villa Spinosa – 89

Zonin – 91


The pursuit of luxury

Considering the benefits of spending more on wine.

Luxury wine brands rank among a handful of product categories that are an outright contradiction of the law of demand. Known as Veblen goods after the American economist Thorstein Veblen, luxury products like wine, cars, jewelry, and artwork occupy a rarified status among consumers who are inclined to buy more as the price increases.

While conspicuous consumption stands in direct opposition to the pursuit of quality for value that drives many a savvy wine buyer, neuroscientists have reported that when we buy luxury goods, we experience emotions of trust, security, contentment, and confidence over the duration of ownership. Apparently there’s more to the experience of drinking a bottle of ultra-premium Champagne, even if its lifespan lasts just a few hours during dinner.

Authenticity and timelessness are considered the hallmarks of established luxury brands, but it’s possible for newly-minted brands to achieve a similar status when their underlying concept demonstrates those principles. Champagne is unquestionably a luxury product, and many brands and wines of the highest quality occupy the rarified space of a Veblen good. To further explore the taste of luxury, I sat down with Gilles de Larouzière, President and the eighth-generation head of the Reims-based Champagne house Maisons & Domaines Henriot.


Gilles de Larouzière, President and the eighth-generation head of the Reims-based Champagne house Maisons & Domaines Henriot.

The company produces the Cuve 38 La Réserve Perpétuelle NV, a 100% Chardonnay Côte de Blancs Grand Cru which spends five years on the lees and retails for $599 per magnum bottle. Henriot releases 1,000 bottles of wine annually, with the 2012 vintage (drawn from a solera blend of 1990 – 2010)  scheduled for release this year. As a brand, Henriot achieved its opulent status when it was declared the court Champagne of Franz Joseph I, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Royal appointments may now be a thing of the past, but the traditional method of production— although modernized by the introduction of the wire cage, stainless steel tanks, and the gryopalate—is itself authentic and timeless.


Cuve 38 La Réserve Perpétuelle NV, a 100% Chardonnay
Côte de Blancs Grand Cru which
spends five years on the lees and retails for
$599 per magnum bottle.

“We employ the best techniques related to our vision of the wine,” said de Larouzière, who oversees the production of five different wines and 1.5 million bottles annually. “But it’s not our goal to increase volume or accelerate our time to market.” In an effort to quantify the value add of a wine like Cuve 38, I asked de Larouzière about the eight governing principles of luxury. “At a time when unsold wine was being poured into the Marne, my great-grandfather’s patrimonial vision of the business prevailed,” he responded.

Like many family-owned companies, the focused, engaging vision of its creator has been key to the longevity of the Henriot brand. Origin, obsession with perfection, rarity, and exclusivity meld with an attention to detail and appearance firmly reassuring the purchaser that the wine’s price confirms its worth. “The identity of the place [Champagne] can be found in the bottle,” he said.

According to Landor’s Nick Foley, president, SE Asia Pacific and Japan, the eight principles of luxury are:

1 – Vision which sets the tone.

2 – Rarity and mystery heighten appeal.

3 – Obsession generates excellence.

4 – Origins serve as a touchstone.

5 – Emotional intelligence anticipates needs.

6 – Exclusivity ups the ante.

7 – Appearance coveys status.

8 – Expense is reassuring.

Aszú revolution: Modern styles redefine Hungary’s historic elixir

From grapes desiccated by noble rot in the Tokaj wine region of Hungary burst forth a plethora of traditional and modern wine styles. Rarest among them is the world’s sweetest and most complex grape elixir, Eszencia: a honey-like nectar once reserved for royalty that’s been coveted for centuries. The long history of wine made from aszú fruit (originally meaning “dried grapes,” the term has evolved to include grapes with high sugar levels affected with noble rot, or Botrytis cinerea) in Hungary dates to the mid-16th century.

By the year 1737, a three-tier classification system of the Tokaji vineyards was in place—notably predating the sweet wine classification of Port by several decades and Sauternes by more than a century. Sweet and aszú Tokaji wine styles rely on clean fruit, botrysized bunches, or individual aszú berries. The latter are picked in multiple passes through the vineyard and then worked into to a paste or dough; varying amounts of this material are then macerated in fermenting must or wine.

The two main grape varieties allowed are Furmint and Hárslevelu” , but Sárgamuskotály (Muscat Blanc à Petite Grains), Zéta (Oremus), Kabar, and Kövérszo” lo” are also permitted and used in small amounts. Both sweet and aszú wines are aged in Hungarian oak casks or barrels that can vary in size; two of the most common, Gönci and Szerednyei barrels, hold roughly 136 and 220 liters, respectively.

Finished wine styles are determined using a combined measure of minimum residual sugar and dry extract, which refers to the dissolved solids in the wines that have been elevated due to concentration imparted by noble rot. Traditionally, the wines of Tokaj have been made with oxygen freely available during fermentation, which occurs over a period of many years in some aszú styles. This practice helps stabilize the wine without contributing oxidative flavors and defines these traditional skin-contact sweet styles.

Read the entire article here – AszuRevolution22018

Amorim's Dr. Paulo Lopes.

The Myth Buster: Dr. Paulo Lopes dispels long-held beliefs about cork

When it comes to wine storage, old habits are hard to break. But Dr. Paulo Lopes, Research and Development Manager at Amorim Cork, advises that if temperature
and humidity are maintained at the correct levels, wine can be stored upright
with no ill effects.

In fact, sparkling wine should always be stored upright: a little-known fact that seems lost on many wine experts. During the course of his groundbreaking research, Lopes has seen no difference in the amount of oxygen found in wines that have been stored horizontally or vertically.

Using science to debunk the myths that persist within wine culture is liberating largely
because the facts can be even more compelling than the misleading maxims. In his recent presentation at the San Francisco Wine School on the reductive and oxidative nature of wine, Lopes made it abundantly clear that, after bottling, the main source of oxygen in wine comes from the cork itself.

Atmospheric oxygen doesn’t make its way through the cork (neither does mold, for that matter); rather, the air trapped in cork’s lenticels, or pores, diffuses into the wine over a period of roughly three years. Wines bottled under cork are impressionable in their youth (they’re a bit like humans in this way). How a wine ages over an extended period depends largely on the amount of oxygen released by the cork during the wine’s first few years in the cellar.

Not surprisingly, different grades of cork contain different amounts of oxygen: A longer, higher-quality Grade A cork with fewer lenticels will release less. “Longer corks are
much more homogeneous in oxygen release,” said Lopes. “Also, due to the [sloping]
shape of the bottle neck, the cork is less compressed and thus releases less oxygen.”

Read the full article here – Lopes22018

Twelve months of bubbles

From Asti to Champagne, bubbles were a bright spot in 2017.  While sparkling wine is no longer confined to special occasions, it continues to mark some of life’s most memorable occasions and its charm can elevate the most mundane moments.

For many, 2017 was a year of exuberant highs and abysmal lows which made living in the moment and being grateful for predictable things like the quality of a DOCG Prosecco from Cartizze or the toasty aromas of a Champagne aged on the lees for a decade all the easier. Here’s a look at what I discovered about bubbles during 2017’s twelve months of tastings.

January began with a traditional sparkling toast courtesy of the Boisset Collection whose exceptional Buena Vista “La Victoire” Champagne ($50) honors the history of Sonoma’s Buena Vista winery, the first to introduce méthode traditionelle sparkling wine to California in the 19th-century. “La Victoire” is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir from Premier Cru vineyards from the Montagne de Reims, and 30% Chardonnay mostly from Grand Cru Mesnil sur Oger and Chouilly. The wine has a dosage of 8.7 g/L and was aged more than three years on the lees. It was served at midnight with a bittersweet chocolate soufflé, a pairing designed to showcase the wine’s dosage and mirror its texture.

JordanARFebruary was a celebration of the exquisite cuvees of the Champagne AR Lenoble family from Damery, France. Lenoble’s Antoine Malassagne and Jordan’s Lisa Mattson arrived for a morning tasting that included the soon to be released Jordan Cuvée by Champagne AR Lenoble ($49). 500 cases of a limited release of the AR Lenoble Brut Intense were bottled exclusively for Jordan. This non-vintage brut is produced by Antoine using grapes from his family’s vineyards and long-term growers. The blend is 30% grand cru Chardonnay from Chouilly, 35% premier cru Pinot Noir from Bisseuil and 35% Meunier from Damery. Twenty-five percent of the blend is composed of reserve wines, and the base wine is from the 2011 vintage. This wine has a dosage of 5 g/l and spent four years aging on the lees. Jordan Cuvée is available for purchase as the winery and can ship to addresses in California.

March lauded producers whose sparkling wines rose to the occasion at the Finger Lakes Wine Competition. Sonoma producer Gloria Ferrer’s Blanc de Blancs took the Best Sparkling category and Double Gold medals were awarded to Slovenia’s Chateau Topoľčianky’s Sekt 1933 and Tabor Hill Grand Mark Sparkling. Chateau Topoľčianky’s Sekt 1933  is a méthode traditionnelle blend of 80% of Chardonnay and 20% of Pinot Blanc grown in the Nitra and South Slovakia regions and aged for nine months. This wine is not yet imported. From the Lake Michigan Shore region, Tabor Hill Grand Mark Sparkling is a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend noted for its signature Macintosh apple, citrus and toast flavors with a richer dosage that retails for $30.


April brought winemaker Sébastien Walasiak from Ay-based Champagne Collet produced by the region’s oldest consortium COGEVI dating to 1921.  The house is inspired by the Art Deco period and wines range from the NV Brut Art Deco ($49) which is 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier with 9 g/l dosage and four years on the lees. The exquisite Esprit Couture ($120) is a hand riddled-blend of 40% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir and 10% Meunier from just ten Premier and Grand Cru villages. Espirt Couture is aged for a minimum of five years in a proprietary bottle that can’t be mistaken for anything other than haut couture. More reviews of Champagne Collet wines can be found at Planet Grape Wine Review.

img_0361.jpgMay saw the arrival of a new designation for single estate Cava ‘Cava de Paraje Calificado.’ The list of producers and their 12 approved vineyards includes Codorníu’s La Pleta, El Tros Nou and La Fideuera sites.  Director of Winemaking Diego Pinilla poured  Codorniu’s Ars Collecta 2007 456 Brut a blend that hails from all three sites: Xarel·lo (10%) from La Fideuera, Pinot Noir (45%) from El Tros Nou and Chardonnay (45%) from La Pleta.  The wine spends 7.5 years on the lees.  Percentages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are creeping upwards in all designations of Cava although single vineyard wines including Codorniu’s 2008 Finca La Fideuera ($125), 100% Xarello Paraje aged for over 7.5 years, reflects the terroir expression of the indigenous Xarello.


Krug’s Garth Hodgdon

June was a return to Champagne with a visit from Ben Cuaresma of the Strategic Group and Garth Hodgdon, U.S. Ambassador for Champagne Krug. The maison is historically last to market with their vintage wines, the current release is 2002 ($260) (disgorged in 2015) which relies on 21% reserve wine. A powerful style that’s deeper gold in color with intense autolytic aromas of vanilla and toast, hazelnuts, oyster shell, truffle, white mushrooms and saline minerality. Krug Rosé ($150, 375 ml), first released in 1983, a coppery color with savory notes of bouillon and broader, earthy flavors thanks in part to fermenting in small oak barrels making for an ideal gastronomic wine. Krug CEO Margareth Henriquez known as the “turnaround CEO” has since been promoted to the role of president of LVMH’s Estates & Wines which she will assume in January 2018.

July welcomed Ashley Parker-Snider and Tim Snider from the Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos who brought their second release of  “Fesstivity,” ($48) a Santa Rita sourced sparkler with 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay that’s barrel aged in neutral French oak for eight months. Labeled as Blanc des Noirs but with no style indication, the wine was bright with crisp green apple, nuts and a touch of caramel, this is one of the Central Coast’s best.

IMG_0873August was a study in Prosecco with Bisol’s Stefano Marangon.  Learning to differentiate between Prosecco DOC and Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG, in this case Bisol’s 2013 Private Cartizze ($35) was simply a matter of tasting the wines side by side with their maker. The 2013 Private Cartizze is made using the traditional method. It ferments in bottle and spends 21 months on the lees with .5 g/l residual making it a zero dosage style. Lip smacking intensity is a hallmark of this 100% Glera wine with yellow pear and riper fruit flavors, candied citron, almond and leesy apple skin on the mid palate and a smoky, flinty intensity through the finish. Slated for a fall 2017 release if you can find this wine, time for an upgrade to your Prosecco budget.

September brought the focus back to California with an inaugural release from the Bacigalupi Vineyards best known for growing the Chardonnay purchased by Chateau Montelena and made by Mike Grgich into the white wine that won the 1976 Paris Tasting. Their Russian River Valley inaugural release “Brilliante” ($70) is 50% Wente Clone Chardonnay and 50% Wente Clone Pinot Noir aged for three years on the lees with .75% g/l dosage. The wine pays homage to Pamela Bacigalupi’s father Paul Robert Heck and his lasting influence on the production of sparkling wine in Sonoma County.


Lugana’s Carlo Veronese, Laura Donadoni and Lugana producer.

October was spent further exploring Italy’s Veneto with a comprehensive tasting of the wine styles of the Lugana with Vinitaly International Academy Ambassador Laura Donodoni. Lugana sparklers can be made using the tank or classic method with the indigenous Turbiana variety (a biotype of Verdicchio) the dominant grape. Ca’ Maiol Brut Metodo Classico Non Vintage (not sold in the U.S.) was aged on the lees for 36 months and showed precise and leesy with markers of fennel, citronella, lemon and pear. This high acid variety is well suited to spumante styles but very little is produced and most of it is consumed locally. The Santa Margherita Wine Group recently became the majority shareholder in Cà Maiol which has been one of the star producers for the Lugana DOC for the last thirty years.

5DD7C93C-8ABC-45E7-890F-3C8607A395F0November Asti Spumante has a long history as the iconic sparkling wines of Italy’s Piedmont region. Casa Martini marks its 50th anniversary in 2018 and Director of Operations Giorgio Castagnotti presented both Prosecco and Asti DOC wines. The Casa Martini Prosecco DOC made by Livio Prandi showed delicate honeysuckle, green apple, citrus, pear and sage with 14 to 15 g/l residual sugar. Asti being made by a different tank method is considered an inherently natural product driven by the pretty aromas of Muscat with lively acidity and childhood memories of orange creamsicle. The wine is proposed as an ideal partner for Indian cuisine.


Mionetto Technical Director Alessio Del Savio brought a phenomenal technical tasting of base wines from Friuli, Treviso, Conegliano, Valdobbiadene and Cartizze illustrating the quality of the different terroirs and the importance of blending. As one of the first producers to advocate for zero dosage, Mionetto’s 2016 Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene DOCG 130th “Cuvee Anniversario” Brut Nature ($25) epitomizes that preference and relies on fruit grown within ten mile radius of the winery. Evoking crisp citrus laced with chalky mineral notes, according to Del Savio the Glera variety is far more successful in this Brut Nature tank method than when made using the traditional method. Del Savio used 30% of his previous vintage in the incoming vintage adding more depth and intensity to this intentionally fresh style.

December culminated in an exploration of luxury with Gilles de Larouziére, President and the eighth-generation head of the Reims-based Champagne house Maisons & Domaines Henriot. The company produces several wines with the Blanc de Blancs ($60), an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region, which has 30% reserve wines. The luxury Cuvée 38 La Reserve Perpétuelle NV, a 100% Chardonnay Côte de Blancs Grands Crus, spends five years on the lees and retails for $599 a magnum bottle. Henriot releases 1,000 bottles of wine annually with the 2012 wine scheduled for release in 2018.


Gilles de Larouziére, President and the eighth-generation head of the Reims-based Champagne house Maisons & Domaines Henriot.

As a brand, Henriot achieved luxury status when it was declared the court Champagne of Franz Joseph I, emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Royal appointments may be a thing of the past but the traditional method of production – although modernized by the introduction of the wire cage, stainless steel tanks and the gryopalate  – is itself authentic and timeless “We employ the best techniques related to our vision of the wine,” said de Larouziére who produces five different wines and 1.5 million bottles annually.  “But it’s not our goal to increase volume or accelerate our time to market.” A rare sentiment in today’s world.

The gifts of Bacchus: Gilding the lily with Bordeaux Gold

“Human beings have been inventing wine for some eight thousand years,” said author Paul Lukacs who in his 2012 work Inventing Wine: A New History Of One Of The World’s Most Ancient Pleasures marks the emergence of modern wine culture at the point when consumption of wine shifted from need to choice.

Sweet wines made using different methods to concentrate sugars in the grapes are one of humankind’s oldest forms of wine production. The Greek poet Hesiod who, in his didactic poem “Works and Days” which is a farmers’ almanac of sorts written in the 7th century BC, invokes the muses and spells out the production method for producing Commandaria, the famous sweet wine of the ancients. The Greeks and the Italians after them employed the appassimento method of drying grapes to concentrate and preserve the sugars in wine.

But in regions where air drying grapes wasn’t practical due to year around rains, Mother Nature offered an alternative method for making sweet wine that relies on the fungus Botrytis cinerea commonly called Noble Rot.  The history of this method dates to 1571 in the Tokaj region of Hungary where the production of Azsú was codified in 1720. The German’s also lay claim to its origin when the harvest of 1775 was delayed at Schloss Johannisburg resulting the Spätlese or late harvest wine style.  Today, Tokaj, the German Pradikat wines Berenauslese and Trockenberenauslese and Sauternes are the benchmarks for this extraordinary method.


In tracing the history of sweet wine production in Bordeaux, necessity seems to have been the mother of invention. The popularity of Botrytis-affected wines is attributed to the Dutch who came to drain the Medoc in the 17th century.  Their thirst for sweet wines that were often further adulterated with syrups and herbs created a market for the style but historians believe the production method was not widely advertised until the wine had achieved notoriety largely because Botrytis-affected grapes are unappealing.

The production of Sauternes was first classified in 1885 at the request of Emperor Napoleon by local merchants and codified under AOP rules in 1936. At the time of the 1885 classification, the wines of Sauternes and neighboring Barsac were valued above Bordeaux’s dry wines and merited the creation of an über-category of ‘Superior First Growth’ for Ch. d’Yquem but for which no red wine was deemed worthy.

Of the five communes allowed to label their wines as Sauternes — Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues, and Preignac – producers in Barsac are allowed to bottle under the Barsac appellation although considerably less wine is produced there. The production of Sauternes relies on a pain-staking and costly method that uses multiple passes through the vineyard to select individual bunches and berries that have been attacked by Noble Rot.

After a long fermentation, the resulting wines have high levels of residual sugar and acidity with an extraordinary range of opulent flavors that can include honeysuckle, acacia, citrus, tree fruit (quince) stone fruits (apricot/peach), tropical fruits (pineapple), orange marmalade, candied fruits, vanilla, rye bread and roasted nuts.

Although levels of residual sugar vary based on vintage and producer, these wines are best served as an aperitif or as a pre or post dessert course where they can be fully appreciated without the distraction of a dessert that is more or less sweet.

The sweet wines of neighboring communes that lie on the right bank of the Garonne River in Entre-Deux- Mers including Cadillac, Loupiac and Crois du Mont are made using the same method though often have lower percentages of Botrytis-affected grapes and can have lower acidity. While still mirroring the flavors of Sauternes, this somewhat subdued style is considerably more versatile at the table can be successfully paired with a range of cuisines.


These wines includes a range of styles from both the classified communes and Entre-Deux-Mers areas representing excellent quality for value:


Chateau Manos Cadillac 2015: $12.99

Produced by vintners Damien Chombart and Caroline Meurée of Chateau Lamothe this wine ferments 50% in tank and 50% in barrels (6 months 100% 1 year old barrels) and shows honeysuckle, medium plus body, yellow peach, apricot, delicious fruit purity and commendable length on the finish.

Chateau La Rame Sainte Croix du Mont 2014: $20

This 100% Sémillon has 110.6 g/l residual sugar. 70 percent is fermented in stainless steel vats and the remainder in oak barrels.  Stylistically much richer, unctuous with somewhat lower acidity, the oak flavors are dialed up and balanced with ripe pineapple.

Chateau du Cros Loupiac 2014: $15

A 90% Sémillon, 5% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle that spends 12 months in barrel (30% new) with pronounced floral aromas of green tea, tangerine peel and candied fruit flavors through a very clean finish.

Château Dauphine Rondillon Loupiac: $28

This 70% Semillon, 30 % Sauvignon Blanc blend sees no oak but is almost savory with earthier dried apricot and a finish laced with smoke and minerality.

Chateau Filhot Sauternes 2009: $40

A Second Cru Classification Sauternes blend of 60% Sémillon, 36%  Sauvignon Blanc and 4%   Muscadelle that ages for 22 months including 12 months in oak barrels (1/3 new barrels per year). “A lively wine, sterling acid, beeswax, roasted apples, pears, cardamom and white roses.” Jamesthewineguy.

Chateau Lapinesse Bordeaux Sauternes 2014: $39.99

A 100% Sémillon aged for 12 months in stainless steel tank. “Sweetness here is balanced with a gorgeous acid character showing yellow peach, beeswax, wet stone and flowers,” jamesthewineguy.  “Complex and well balanced showing lots of minerality with lovely aromas of honeysuckle and orange zest lifting it at the end,” Catherine Todd.

Chateau Lauvignac Cuvée Sahuc Sauternes: $18.99

A blend of 85% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle and 5% Sauvignon Blanc fermented in concrete vats and stainless-steel tanks.  “Yellow citrus peel, almond, crushed sea shells and pine nuts,” credited to jamesthewineguy.

Haut Charmes Sauternes 2015: $20

This Ciron valley estate blends of 80% Sémillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc aged in barrels (50% new; 50% one year old). A study in candied melon, saffron and succulent white peach.


The dark matter of dirt

With millions of unknown species existing in a ton of soil, biologist Edward Osborne Wilson has called bacteria “the dark matter of the biological world.” While our knowledge of the roles known bacteria play in the vineyard enables us to make delicious wine, the unknown far exceeds the understood when it comes to analyzing these soil microbiomes.

According to biochemist Paco Cifuentes, who has compared studies from hundreds of vineyards, there’s a distinct kingdom of organisms found only in soils farmed sustainably with organic fertilizers. When evaluating the health of a vineyard, the presence of these organisms becomes a marker for sustainability and diversity. “In a conventionally-farmed vineyard, you’ll find on average 500–700 different types of microorganisms,” says Cifuentes. “In sites that are farmed sustainably, we find anywhere from 1,000–1,200 microorganisms, the majority of which are bacteria.”

This promotes an environment of checks and balances where beneficial organisms can effectively suppress harmful organisms and help prevent disease. That vast array of potentially present microorganisms includes “a dozen or so very distinctive organisms that never show up in sites that are farmed conventionally,” Cifuentes adds, but the role they play in the flavor and quality of finished wine is a puzzle that’s slowly being pieced together.

Cifuentes imports a portfolio of organic and Biodynamic wines from several Spanish regions under the banner Whole Wine Trade, and says he sees less skepticism among producers there who want to understand their soils the same way they understand their grape varieties and rootstocks. “There’s a mentality of growing both grapes and microbes in the vineyard, and an awareness that keeping the soil healthy is important part of the job,” Cifuentes explains. This approach marks the distinction between winemakers who want the same organoleptic characteristics from every vintage—and are, in effect, making wine in the winery—from those whose goal is to “remove the noise from the wine” and express both vintage and terroir. Read the entire article here — DarkMatterofDirt