Aug 2009 issue


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PAGES (7-12) August 2009




Six of the Best Sommeliers of the World took the stage at VinExpo 2009, held June 21-25 in Bordeaux, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI). Asked to comment on current issues faced by sommeliers and to outline their vision of the future, the panel offered high-level insight into the state of the profession.

“We aren’t selling wine, we’re selling the experience,” said Andreas Larsson of Sweden, the most recent Best Sommelier of the World (2007) to participate in the discussion. For Piero Sattanino of Italy, one of the first sommeliers awarded the ASI title (1971), the responsibility starts in the vineyard and carries through to the table. “A sommelier needs to understand what the winemaker wants to say with his wine,” he noted, “so that we know how to say it.” Philippe Faure-Brac of France (1992) agreed: “Winegrowers want feedback from us on how their wine was received, like a parent wanting feedback on their child.”

In international competitions, a sommelier may be distinguished more by passion than by technical proficiency. But the panelists were careful to point out that humility must go hand in hand with that passion. “It isn’t only about technique,” said Giuseppe Vaccarini of Italy (1978), a past president of the ASI. “It’s about behavior, outlook, sensitivity, and humility. A real sommelier is not arrogant.”

Nowadays, a real sommelier is trained and educated over years of apprenticeship. “It isn’t just a three-day course—it’s a profession,” said Serge Dubs of France (1989). Dubs believed that sommeliers need to “establish the credibility” of their position in countries where wine service is a more recent development.

International growth was high on the sommeliers’ priority list when they were asked about their hopes for the future. But so were Vaccarini’s wish for more women in the profession and Sattanino’s emphasis on a rapport with the chef and the kitchen. “Younger chefs today have a different mentality,” Sattanino said, “so it’s easier to form a good relationship.” For his part, Faure-Brac pointed to that elusive, but highly prized, wish of sommeliers around the world: a client who comes to the restaurant as a friend. “You don’t drink to forget,” he said; “you taste to remember. When a client remembers, he’ll come back.”
—Cathy Huyghe


Hall Wines is California’s first winery to achieve Gold LEED certification, awarded to the St. Helena producer on July 16. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system measures energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions, indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources.

According to Mike Reynolds, president of Hall Wines, a LEED-certified building was a goal from the beginning: “One of our core values is responsibility, and creating an environmentally responsible winery facility is an important part of that.” More than 10% of the construction materials were extracted, harvested, or manufactured within 500 miles of the project, and more than 10% were made with recycled content. Some 42,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels supply at least 35% of the energy needed to power the building. The winery, owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall, also incorporates radiant floors and low-flow water outlets that provide a 40% reduction in water usage. Drought-tolerant plant species were selected for landscaping, and all landscaping and vineyards are irrigated with recycled water.

Hall’s nearly 500 acres of vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties are all farmed organically; Reynolds anticipates California Certified Organic Farmers approval by early 2010. “In 2007,” he added, “we converted all of our farming equipment to biodiesel fuel to minimize the carbon footprint from our farming activities.” When asked about the difference in cost to build a LEED-certified winery, Reynolds replied, “Actually, I can’t answer that because I don’t know. We never considered building it another way.”


Capitalizing on the BYOB restaurant trend, Chicago’s Everest restaurant has launched a program called Cellar Celebration, in which guests can bring in one bottle of wine at least 21 years old to enjoy with a custom-paired course, courtesy of the restaurant. “We were looking for a fresh idea that incorporates my personal touch and gives guests a unique dining opportunity unlike any other,” said proprietor and chef J.P. Joho. “In this economy, many of our guests have been looking to gems in their own cellars rather than adding to their collections. They have stories around the wines they’ve acquired, and we want to enhance that story by creating a custom course that complements that rare bottle.” Guests also receive a summary of their wine’s history from Everest wine director David Johnston.

The offer applies at dinner Tuesday through Thursday; diners must make reservations and let the restaurant know which wine they are bringing at least 48 hours in advance. According to Joho, “Everyone who has heard about it thinks this is a refreshing idea that is truly one of a kind.” Noteworthy bottles brought in so far include a 1945 Château d’Yquem, a 1947 Jean Bourdy Château-Chalon, a 1953 Château Lafite-Rothschild, a 1961 Château Latour, a 1964 Vega Sicilia Único, a 1971 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte-Hune, and several 1982 Château Mouton-Rothschilds.


The Mott has opened in New York City under executive chef Brian Bieler. A new wine bar in the city, Bar Luna by Turgut Balicki, features small plates from chef Jacques Belanger. Aureole has reopened in a new location, with an interior designed by Adam Tihany, offering a $115 four-course tasting menu by executive chef Chris Lee. Chad Newton, formerly of Redd, Postrio, and Baraka restaurants in New York City, is now the chef at Fish & Farm . Italian Wine Hall of Fame inductee Piero Selvaggio and executive chef Luciano Pellegrini will open PS Valentino Vin Bar in Houston’s Hotel Derek this fall. Also in Houston, Alberto Alfonzo has launched Tintos Spanish Restaurant & Wine Bar, which has a retail-wine license, with Lisa Hudson as wine director. Traci Des Jardins will open Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton Highlands in Lake Tahoe, Calif., serving French-inspired California cuisine in time for ski season. Restaurateur Steven Singer has opened Pizza Vino 707 on the site of his former West County Grill in Sebastopol, Calif., with an adjacent wine shop in the works. In San Francisco, chef Charlie Kleinman is serving New American cuisine at the recently opened Wexler’s ; general manager Ed Puccio oversees the wine list. Chef and culinary director Laurent Manrique is leaving San Francisco’s Fifth Floor Restaurant & Lounge ; executive chef Jennie Lorenzo will transition the menu toward New American fare. David Lynch has moved from New York’s John Dory restaurant, where he was general manager and wine director, to become director of wine and beverage at Quince in San Francisco. Brandon Hughes has replaced chef Josh Brown at bouchon in Santa Barbara, Calif. ROOF is now open in Chicago’s theWit Hotel, where chef Todd Stein serves small plates paired with a large selection of European wines from beverage manager Josh Kaplan; also open in the hotel is State & Lake , under chef Bradley Manchester. Stephen Starr has opened Steak 954 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with Jason Smith as executive chef and Marcus Tschuschnig as wine director.

Hot Picks


2007 Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Cuvée Classique, Loire Valley $14
Guy Bossard’s Muscadet is a great value and an excellent food wine for the times when full-on flavor is not required. A crisp, light, and subtly flavored white, it has a lingering, savory minerality that will complement fresh seafood. Importer: Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd., .


2002 Heidsieck & Co. Champagne Monopole Gold Top $70
2002 was a lovely vintage for Champagne, yielding rich, approachable, balanced wines. Heidsieck’s lively Gold Top is now showing a delicious maturity, with soft, yeasty complexity and a mouth-filling roundness. Perfect as an aperitif, it has enough character and weight to pair with food as well. Importer: Vranken Pommery America, New York


2005 Domaine des Chesnaies (Lamé-Delisle-Boucard) Bourgueil Cuvée Vieilles Vignes, Loire Valley $10
This wine shows the classic pencil-shavings nose of Loire Cabernet Franc, along with some truffly development. The fruit is deliciously sweet, the tannins smooth, and the finish fresh and appetizing, as befits a good Loire red. It’s a ripe and elegant wine that is very much of its place and well priced. Importer: Ideal Wine and Spirits Co., Medford, Mass.


2004 Château Pontet-Canet, Pauillac $75
Overdelivering for its rank and vintage, this is a stunning wine that rivals the more highly rated 2005. It will easily keep for a decade or more, but is enormously enjoyable now, with richly concentrated cassis and cedar flavors and a supple, integrated structure. Importer: Royal Wine Corp., .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal


2008 Señorío de Sarría Garnacha Viñedo No. 5, Navarra $11
Navarra is known for outstanding rosados, and this one is as good as pink wine gets without bubbles. Made from the estate’s 80-plus-year-old Garnacha vines, the 2008 shows remarkable richness and depth, with notes of concentrated red-cherry-berry fruit and hints of flowers, spices, and minerals. Importer: Kensington Distributors, Inc., .


2007 Schäfer-Fröhlich Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg Grosses Gewächs, Nahe $67
Although the Erste Lage category is still a relative newcomer to the German wine industry, examples like this will quickly establish its international reputation. The Schäfer-Fröhlich offers the depth, intensity, and minerality of a grand cru Chablis, combined with the seductive fruit and charm of German Riesling. Drink now and over the next three to five years. Importer: Rudi Wiest Selections, .


2007 Bodega Séptima Malbec, Mendoza $10
Argentine Malbec has been quietly taking over the red-wine world with its superb value and drinkability in every price range. Case in point: this delicious 2007 from Séptima, a winery known more for sparklers. Look for a perfect balance of juicy, ripe black fruits and just enough tannins. A great red wine by the glass. Importer: A.V. Brands, Inc., .


2002 Señorío de Arínzano Gran Vino de Pago, Navarra $125
52% Tempranillo, 32% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. Arínzano is one of seven wineries in Spain currently holding the Denominación de Orígen de Pago designation. The estate combines outstanding vineyard sources with local architect Rafael Moneo’s brilliant winery design. This 2002 Gran Vino is easily one of the finest Spanish wines I’ve tasted recently, offering notes of black and red fruits, violets, sandalwood, cocoa powder, and new wood. Importer: Kobrand, .

Director of Education
American Chapter, Court of Master Sommeliers


2008 Domaine Pellehaut Family Réserve, Côtes de Gascogne $15
The Beraut family, like many Armagnac producers encountering slow sales of fine brandies, has ventured into winemaking with credible results. This blend of Petit and Gros Manseng and “une touche de Sauvignon” comes from the region’s Ténarèze district. Its medium-bodied, starfruit-and-vanilla character is buoyed by a cool-climate backbone and well-attenuated oak. Tastes posher than its humble origins would indicate. Importer: Charles Neal Selections, .


2008 L’Astore Masseria Il Massaro Rosa, Puglia $8
Among the many fine producers in Italy’s heel, L’Astore is a forward-thinking estate with ancient agricultural roots. Negroamaro makes up the entirety of this dry, balanced pinkie with briary, dried-strawberry aromas. It’s lightly tannic, with medium acidity and length—perfect for serious summer sipping. Importer: U.S. Wine Imports, .


2007 Weingut Ziereisen Syrah, Markgräflerland, Baden $40
“The French swear by their terroir—in this respect, I am a Frenchman,” states the ebullient Hanspeter Ziereisen. With his 2003 and subsequent vintages, this newcomer has earned recognition for producing one of Germany’s two or three best Syrahs. Two years’ care in German barriques allows the wine to fall bright of its own accord, so it can be bottled without filtration. Along with his wife, Edel, Ziereisen is supported in his efforts by Hartmut Bick (formerly with Werner Näkel) and Reinhard Löwenstein. Unfortunately, their wine sells out before its release. Ziereisen’s village of Efringen-Kirchen is a 20-minute drive from the Basel airport; book your flight today, and be sure to stay in the winery’s bed and breakfast. Not imported to the United States.


2007 Channing Daughters Meditazione, Long Island $40
A blend of Sauvignonasse, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Ottonel, Chardonnay, Viognier, Malvasia, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc, this wine sees nine days of mixed skin contact, three to four daily punchdowns for a week, and 13 months of aging in new French oak, though one would never know. It’s reminiscent of some western Slovenian whites: long and grippy, smelling of roses, acacia blossoms, and damp, warm earth. Paul Grieco of New York’s Terroir restaurant touts this as “the greatest white wine in America”—which may be overstating the case, but you get the idea. Only 108 cases were made by the perpetual-student partners, the stoic Larry Perrine and the kinetic Christopher Tracy. .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal