May 2009 issue


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PAGES (8-13) May 2009




Since a three-year wine-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union expired in March, U.S. wine exports no longer have EU permission to be labeled with certain words. Signed on March 10, 2006, the agreement stated that the EU would “permit the use of the terms chateau, classic, clos, cream, crusted/crusting, fine, late bottled vintage, noble, ruby, superior, sur lie, tawny, vintage, vintage character.” According to the Wines & Vines Directory and Buyer’s Guide, there are currently 15 U.S. winery labels that use “clos” in their name and 60 whose labels contain “chateau.”

Since 1983, the EU had been renewing short-term derogations to its rules for U.S. wine exports; the 2006 agreement was intended to replace these proposals and provide a more stable environment for wine trade. In addition to addressing production and import requirements, the agreement also prohibited the use of European appellation names on U.S. wine labels, including Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Claret, Haut Sauterne, Hock, Madeira, Malaga, Marsala, Moselle, Port, Rhine, Sauterne, Sherry, and Tokay.

According to Mary Ann Vangrin, director of public relations for Napa Valley’s Clos du Val, the winery’s executives are “working with the U.S. Trade Representative through our attorney and are confident that a resolution will be reached.” Vangrin said only a small percentage of the winery’s total production is shipped to EU countries, but that Clos du Val had a pre-existing French trademark that it expects to be honored. “There are no plans to change our label at this time,” she said. Although Clos Pegase in Calistoga, Calif., does not currently conduct much business in Europe, according to Jackie Downer, vice president and general manager, if it were to increase sales to the EU, “our plan would be to slightly modify our label to eliminate the ‘Clos’ and focus our branding efforts on ‘Pegase,’ French for Pegasus, whose image graces each of our bottles.”


Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), or DBR, plans to develop 62 acres of vines in China. Partnering with CITIC, China’s largest state-owned investment company, the producer will plant on the Penglai peninsula in the Shandong province, about 500 miles north of Shanghai; this region currently has about 247,000 acres of land under vine, planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. “Having visited many regions in China, the technicians of DBR finally chose this peninsula as it proved to be the most promising area to produce a great wine, in terms of both its climatic and geographical conditions,” the company said in a statement. Located at 37º north latitude, Penglai produces about one-fifth of China’s annual wine yield, according to its tourism website.

Although DBR won’t likely produce wines for several years, excavation work is scheduled to begin next year. According to a Vinexpo study conducted by the International Wine & Spirit Record, China was the ninth-largest consumer of still wine in the world in 2009 and is expected to rise to No. 7 by 2012. As reported in the March issue of Sommelier Journal , Robert Beynat, Vinexpo’s chief executive, predicted that the country will play a major role in the future of the wine industry: “China wants to understand how to produce wines, and there are good regions to do so.” Added Susan-Anne Cosgrove, director of public relations for Pasternak Wine Imports, DBR’s U.S. importer, “Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) have always been pioneers in the wine world—the first foreign investment in Chile (Los Vascos), the first cru classé to invest in the south of France (Château d’Aussières), and now the first foreign investment in China. If past is prologue, others will surely follow.”


The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) broke ground on a permanent home in St. Helena, Calif., in March. According to Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch Vineyards, current president of the board of directors, the NVV had been looking for a place to call home for some time. The board finally settled on the old Jackse Winery, which, although not on the market, had been vacant since 1951. “The search committee sent a note to the property’s owners to see if they would entertain an offer,” said Kornell. “The location is centrally located, historically significant, and it felt right that the NVV would be saving what would surely be an inevitable tear-down of a piece of our industry’s legacy for probably anyone else.”

The new 7,400-square-foot building will house offices and conference rooms for the non-profit trade association, which represents nearly 350 member wineries. According to Kornell, “the NVV staff managed to squeeze a barrel of wine out of the old grapevines as an educational project,” but has no plans to make any other use of the existing vineyard. The building will be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified, using repurposed and recycled building materials, solar panels, geothermal wells for heating, and eco-friendly landscaping. “Which is appropriate for an association that has initiated the industry’s most comprehensive sustainable farming and wine-production programs, known as Napa Green,” Kornell added. “The current office is already a Bay Area Green Business.” At present, the NVV is housed in a rented office condominium a block away from its new site. “Having our own facility,” said Kornell, “is a way to control our costs for both the association and its annual fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley, which will share the space.”


Any sommelier would love to oversee a 10,000-bottle, temperature-and-humidity-controlled, custom-built cellar. Of course, that’s not always possible, especially in these turbulent economic times. But there are other options, both for the existing restaurant that wants to upgrade its wine-storage capabilities and for the new start-up with limited funds and staffing.

The Wine Enthusiast B.Y.O. (Build Your Own) Wine Cellar kit includes everything necessary to assemble a full-size wine-storage unit at a low cost. I found construction to be relatively easy because of the convenient cam-lock hardware system. I built the 220-bottle cellar myself in less than an hour, and a friend and I built one of the 500-bottle units in a little less than three hours. The included Grand Cru 800 Cooling Unit runs within the typical decibel range for comparable technology and has always maintained proper storage temperatures in both of my cellars, which have operated perfectly for years.

Each unit plugs into any household outlet, can chill an entire cabinet full of wine in about six hours, and has four low-heat interior LED lights for illumination in dimly lit restaurant environments. High-density insulation keeps the cellar at a constant temperature when it’s not cycling, and 24 adjustable, two-deep shelves accommodate all types of 750-ml bottles, including Champagne. Each unit comes in mahogany or ebony trim with a reversible glass door that locks for security.

One downside is that the utilitarian, tubular metal racking doesn’t slide out, which means second-row bottles aren’t always easy to reach. Another issue is the single-zone temperature control, which may be insignificant in a busy restaurant with constant wine turnover. Actually, the units are so inexpensive that a sommelier could order one for reds and one for whites. In dry areas, the lack of a humidifier might require one to sacrifice a bit of storage space to implement the old wet-towel-in-a-bowl-of-water trick.

With comparably functioning wine cabinets costing three to six times as much, it’s easy to see why these no-frills cellars have become a serious option for today’s budget-conscious restaurateur. The B.Y.O. 220-bottle kit costs $1,095, but only $770 for the wine trade (plus $275 shipping). The B.Y.O. 500-bottle kit costs $1,495 retail, $1,045 for the trade (plus $350 shipping).

—Benjamin T. Weinberg


The American Sommelier Association has awarded the title of Best Sommelier in America for 2009 to Michaël Engelmann, sommelier at Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco. The competition, which involved wine pairings, blind taste tests, decanting, a written exam, and more, was held April 5-6 at the Essex House Jumeirah Hotel in New York City. Among the 20 candidates, the three other finalists were first runner-up Fernando Beteta, MS, of NoMI in Chicago; second runner-up Inez Ribustello of On the Square in Tarboro, N.C.; and third runner-up Hristo Zizovski of Jean Georges in New York City. Engelmann will represent the United States at the 2010 Concours du Meilleur Sommelier du Monde in Barcelona, Spain, where he will compete for the title of Best Sommelier in the World.

In England, Laura Rhys, head sommelier for Hotel TerraVina in Southampton, has been named 2009 U.K. Sommelier of the Year. The 15 semifinalists, chosen from among 150 entries, were examined on skills including a blind tasting, a test of wine knowledge, and a rapid-fire set of business-related questions. The Academy of Food & Wine administers the competition.


In San Francisco, midi has opened with Michelle Mah, previously the executive chef at Ponzu, at the helm, while George Morrone, a partner at Boca Steak & Seafood, has become chef de cuisine of Sutro’s at The Cliff House. The French Laundry’s chef de cuisine, Corey Lee, is leaving to open his own restaurant in San Francisco; Timothy Hollingsworth, who has been with the restaurant for eight years, will be his replacement. This fall, Thomas Keller will open a new Bouchon in the Garden Building in Beverly Hills, Calif., with Rory Herrmann as chef de cuisine. Chef Lisa Nakamura and wine director Dawn Smith have left bin vivant in Kirkland, Wash., where former chef de cuisine Scott Lents is now the head chef. Restaurateur Danny Meyer is partnering with hotelier Ian Schrager to open a new Italian restaurant in New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel in the fall. Open now in the city is NIOS, a restaurant and wine bar with Patricia Williams as the executive chef and Emily Wines, MS, as the sommelier in charge of a wine list with 100 international selections. Eric Hara has left his executive chef position at Fishtail by David Burke and David Burke Townhouse and moved on to The Oak Room; John Tesar is his replacement. A full-service, student-staffed and -operated teaching restaurant, Technique, has opened inside Boston’s Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Star Restaurant Group CEO Dan Mesches has opened Potenza in Washington, D.C. The Italian restaurant’s menu was developed by the company’s executive chef and partner Bryan Moscatello, and vice president of operations Ralph Rosenberg created the wine list. Also open is BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier in Alexandria, Va. Chef de cuisine Chris Watson sources his ingredients from Virginian and eco-friendly farmers; the adjancent BRABO Tasting Room and The Butcher’s Block offer wine, Belgian beer, and treats. In Chicago, Via Ventuno has opened with an Italian menu matched by American and Italian wines; Jim Kilberg is the executive chef, and Justin Leone the wine director. Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges will open their first restaurant this summer at St. Regis Deer Crest resort in Park City, Utah. Sander Edmondson, former executive chef for Fairmont and Gunter hotels and his own restaurant, Bistro Time, is now the executive chef of 17 in Houston. Also in Houston, chef Bradley Manchester has left Monarch Restaurant, to be replaced by former sous chef Aaron Neeley. Gray Kunz will open Café Gray Deluxe in the Upper House hotel in Hong Kong in September. Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard in Charlottesville, Va., has named Katell Griaud its new winemaker, while Keith Emerson, director of winemaking for Vineyard 29 in St. Helena, Calif., has also been appointed consulting winemaker for Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Darius Allyn, MS, has been appointed chairman of the Sommelier Department at the Professional Culinary Institute branch in Orlando, Fla.

Hot Picks


2008 Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc Reserva, Casablanca Valley $10
Pale-green-gold in color, this reserva has a nose of gooseberries, cucumber, and lime zest. In the mouth, it is polished and bright, with classic flavors of lime juice, kiwi, and gooseberries. Zesty acids and tart fruit make this a mouthwatering wine that finishes crisply. Varietally true, and just what you want from Sauvignon Blanc. Importer: Franciscan Estate Selections, Ltd., Rutherford, Calif.


2005 Weingut Robert Weil Riesling Kiedrich Gräfenberg Erstes Gewächs, Rheingau $60
Pale-gold in the glass, this Riesling has an exquisite nose of minerals, pears, and white flowers that you can smell from several feet away. In the mouth, it is silky and beautifully poised, with perfect balance between acidity and juicy fruit. Lightly tart green-apple and pear flavors are intertwined with jasmine and pink-grapefruit flavors that linger through a nice finish. Made from one of Germany’s most famous “first-growth” vineyards, the Weil will drink well for decades to come. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections,


2006 Marc Kreydenweiss Perrières, Costières de Nîmes, Languedoc $14
Medium-garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and dried herbs and has a light, grapey quality that conveys “juiciness.” In the mouth, it is smooth and round, with light tannins and flavors of grapes, black plums, river mud, and a hint of pine sap that stay on for a long finish. Made from biodynamically grown fruit by one of Alsace’s best-known winegrowers. Importer: Wilson Daniels Ltd.,


2006 Kapcsándy Family Winery Merlot Roberta’s Reserve, Napa Valley $195
Opaque garnet in the glass, with aromas of espresso, bitter chocolate, and dark fruit and a texture that makes you want to take your clothes off. Satiny, sexy black-cherry flavors and beautiful acidity swirl with complex espresso and earth for minutes in the mouth. Well into the finish, the tannins, smooth as butter, begin to emerge. Made from 94% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc, it is almost certainly the best Merlot in Napa Valley, attaining a stature likely to get it confused with a premier cru Bordeaux. Only 265 cases made.

Founder and Editor


2006 Borgo di Colloredo Falanghina, Molise $14
Falanghina from Campania is refreshing, with lemon and peach notes and often a complex and intriguing aroma of crushed mint leaves. This version, from nearby Molise on the Adriatic coast, is beautifully expressive of the varietal, offering a nose of daisies, hay bale, honey, mineral, and mint. On the palate, it is round and creamy—heavier than Campanian versions—with peach, lemon-cream, and almond notes. Oak-free, it has balanced acidity and is pithy and peachy on the finish. Importer: Tesori Wines,


2005 Helfrich Riesling Steinklotz Grand Cru, Alsace $25
No, the price is not a typo. This 100% Riesling from a section of the Couronne d’Or (“Golden Crown”)—an association of local vineyards running through the middle of Alsace—displays aromas of Golden Delicious apple, Asian pear, white flowers, slate, chalk, lanolin, wax, and musk. The medium-bodied wine has an intense core of steely minerality, racy acidity, soft-apple and floral notes, and just a touch of residual sugar for equilibrium. Beautifully expressive of varietal and terroir, and excellent with fresh oysters. Importer: Underdog Wine Merchants,


2006 Château d’Aussières, Corbières $15
This blend of 70% Syrah, 20% Grenache, and 10% Mourvèdre from Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) has crowd-pleasing top notes of juicy red and black berries and dark chocolate, along with sage and laurel for complexity. It is medium in body and has a refreshingly moderate alcohol content of 13.5%. Importer: Pasternak Wine Imports,


2005 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley $55
Piero Antinori’s magic touch is evident in this lovely, softer style of Napa Valley Cabernet. As with the family’s other projects outside their home base of Tuscany, the wine demonstrates a sense of place rather than of a person or brand. In fact, the only common elements across the wines of the Antinori empire are their innate elegance, breed, and finesse. This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon features notes of sage brush, eucalyptus, dried leaves, moss, blackberry, cherry cola, and cocoa. Tannins are fine and well-integrated into this seamless wine, and the finish is long and expressive.

Planet Grape LLC
San Francisco