January 31 2010 issue


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PAGES (7-14) January 31 2010




Until my September 2009 visit, I had always thought of Texas wines as “big hat, no cattle.” In the 1980s, following the lead of California, a handful of wineries planted masses of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc vines—almost all inappropriate for the soils and climate. Today, however, with nearly 200 wineries in the state at last count, the situation is clearly improving.

Although Texans consume 25 million gallons of wine each year, they produce less than 10% of that. Still, 95% of Texas wine is sold within the state. With 2,500 acres of vines divided among 280 vineyard owners, the majority of growers maintain minuscule sites. The Texas Agricultural Department (TAD) recently spent more than $4.5 million on viticultural research and a marketing program, but many vintners, like Torre di Pietra owner Ken Maxwell, think that isn’t enough. As TAD’s Bobby Champion, developer of the “Go Texan” campaign, acknowledges, “We have more knowledge than 10 years ago, but we’re still pioneering.” I was able to evaluate the state’s progress first-hand at wineries in the Texas Hill Country American Viticultural Area, around Austin.

Flat Creek Estate’s Rick and Madelyn Naber lost 95% of their 20-acre crop in 2009 because of a hailstorm followed by a late spring freeze, complicated by root damage from the recent two-year drought. “Early budbreak is a regular problem,” said owner Rick Naber. Winemaker Charlie Kidd’s trademarked Super Texan is blended from Sangiovese, Syrah, and Tempranillo; his 2006 was one of my favorites in this style, as was his Port, based on Tinta Cao, Tinta Madeira, and Touriga Nacional from a five-to-six-vintage solera.

Deep in the northwest Hill Country, at Lost Hills Winery, former security systems specialist David Brinkman has planted 3 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in heavy clay topsoils over granite and limestone. Like those of many other growers, his vineyards were decimated by hailstorms and a freeze in 2008, forcing him to rely on his tasting room and restaurant, the paella pit out back, and live music (a common area attraction).

At Becker Vineyards on Highway 290, Francophile Richard Becker, an endocrinologist, spends his weekends surrounded by 80 acres spread over two properties. The winery’s 70,000-case signature wine is its value-priced Prairie Rotie, a meaty, medium-bodied Grenache-Carignan-Mourvèdre blend. Pierce’s disease, a primary concern in the Highway 290 corridor, prompted the sale of 4 acres of vineyard land to Brian Heath and Jennifer Evenson, who created their Grape Creek Winery in 2006. The Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah I tasted bodes well for this new venture.

David Kuhlken of Pedernales Cellars began planting vines in 1994, but did not break ground on a winery until 2006. Kuhlken owns the only basket press I saw on this journey; he uses it for Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and Merlot. “Texas should never aspire to be California, but rather look to finding niches for its good wines,” he said. His 2008 Garnacha is just that.

Kathy and Gary Gilstrap live among 25 acres of “too many” varieties on their 130-acre Hill Country estate. They claim to share the same soil type as their Italian friend Paolo de Marchi’s Isole e Olena, although they freely acknowledge the difference in climates. The Gilstraps eschew barrels in favor of micro-oxygenation and oak chips. Grapes for their spicy Kick Butt Cab are culled from the oldest commercial vineyard in Texas.

An Italian flag is planted at Mandola Estate Winery’s 17-acre property, where self-educated vineyard developer David Reilly “became the guy who hired myself,” working harvest and never leaving. Like many Hill Country wineries, Mandola lost 100% of its 2009 crop. Its estate-grown, berry-accented Montepulciano join Barbera, Muscat Canelli, Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, and Vermentino in one of the state’s most purposeful operations. Partner Damian Mandola has a long career in the restaurant business, as attested by the popular, on-site Trattoria Lisina.

During my visit to Austin, I was impressed by the caliber of its wine professionals and their collective knowledge. Among my new friends were a few Master Sommelier candidates, pictured above at the city’s best wine bar, Vino Vino.

Cheers, David Furer



California wineries and vineyards can now be recognized under the state’s new green certification program, Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing (CCSW). Voluntary participants who meet minimum standards and adhere to a “process of continuous improvement” in the adoption and implementation of sustainable winegrowing practices are eligible to receive this third-party verification.

The new certification is part of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program established by the California Statewide Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA), which was formed in 2003 by the Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers. Participants must annually meet 58 prerequisites among the 227 criteria included in a Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices Self-Assessment Workbook. Using a scale of 1 to 4, a grower must score a 2 or higher on five prerequisites to be eligible for certification; for 39 prerequisites, a participant scoring a 1 must enact an action plan to achieve a 2 or higher within the first year of certification; and for the other 14 prerequisites, a score of 1 requires an action plan, but there is no time limit on raising the score. A third-party auditor must verify the accuracy of the reported scores and practices, and the producer must then identify key areas for improvement and implement action plans to accomplish those improvements.

Seventeen companies that participated in a pilot program have received certification for some or all of their vineyard or winery operations, including Clos LaChance Wines; Concannon Vineyard/Concannon Winery; Constellation Wines U.S.; Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards; Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines; E. & J. Gallo Winery; Fetzer Vineyards/Bonterra Vineyards; Goldeneye Winery; The Hess Collection; Honig Vineyard & Winery; J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines; Kunde Family Estate; Meridian Vineyards/Taz Vineyards; Monterey Pacific, Inc.; Roberts Vineyard Services; Rodney Strong Vineyards; and Vino Farms. To date, 1,566 organizations, representing 68.1% of California’s vineyard acres and 62.5% of the state’s 240 million annual case shipments, have evaluated their operations using the workbook. “With a majority of our industry already involved in CSWA’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program, the new certification option evolved as the appropriate next step,” said CSWA executive director Allison Jordan. “Every organization is at a different point in the sustainability journey, so our program allows businesses to use their own baselines to determine a set of goals based on their region, operation, and other factors, and then focus their resources on the practices that will make the most difference for their company, the environment, and the community, continually improving year after year.”

Approved winegrowers may use the certification logo on websites and marketing materials, and they will also be listed on CSWA’s website. They are currently not permitted to use the logo or related claims on wine bottles. “The best way to look at it is a lifestyle choice,” said Michael Honig, a CSWA board member. “Is it important to you to save water? To turn off the lights? Pay your employees a living wage? It gives us the ability to go to the market and say, ‘Look, if you do these certain things, you can be a certified winery.’ It helps other people see what Honig is doing, what Gallo is doing, and say, ‘Hey, if they are doing that, I should be able to do that, too.’ I’m really excited to share my ideas, and if others share something we haven’t tried, we are certainly going to try to explore those ideas as well.”

When asked the difference between organic and sustainable certification, Honig replied, “Organic is limiting to herbicide and pesticide usage. There are many other things becoming important when you run a business. When we look at sustainability, organics is part of that ideal, but there are other things, too. We’re trying to say that there’s even a next level—not necessarily higher, but different. It includes organic herbicides and pesticides, but it also talks about water and employee benefits. It’s not either-or; we’re trying to say you can be organic and sustainable, and by doing either or both, you’re going to be a better producer than those who don’t.”


The first Big Sur Wine and Food Festival brought a splash of the local chefs’ and vintners’ art to the wooded and sharp-cliffed California coastline on Nov. 6-7. Billed as the world’s greenest food-and-wine event, the festival strove to reduce its carbon footprint by including only wineries and restaurants from within the 100-mile watershed surrounding the area.

Events were woven throughout the landscape, often invisible from Highway 1. For example, the Grand Public Tasting took place under towering redwoods at the lodge of the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Local favorite Big Sur Bakery hosted events on both days, including a sold-out dinner with winemaker Gary Pisoni. The Esalen Institute served food from its own garden, just “a few dozen feet above the pounding surf,” along with wines from Alma Rosa Winery.

The headlining silent auction, reception, and dinner, staged on the back deck of the Ventana resort’s restaurant, provided stunning panoramas of the Pacific Ocean—not to mention stunning auction lots, many culled from the private cellars of local supporters. Chefs came not only from Ventana, but from Pèppoli at The Inn at Spanish Bay, Piero Antinori’s Pebble Beach restaurant; Highlands Inn; and Bernardus Lodge. Wines were sourced from one end of the watershed to the other, including Ventana’s own limited-production River Ranch, along with Bernardus, Chappellet, Justin, Michaud, Ridge, and Talbott Vineyards.

Wineries from Monterey and Carmel to the north and as far south as Paso Robles were partnered with local restaurants for food pairings. Santa Barbara County made a particularly strong showing, with Palmina bringing its Italian varietals and Pelerin Wines pouring its luscious, mocha-nuanced Syrahs. “I was grateful for the quality and attention to detail by the culinary and wine staff regarding the food pairings,” said Chris Weidemann, owner and winemaker of Pelerin. “So often, events fail to account for how large an impact that element has on the presentation of the wines and on the overall experience of the taster.”

Toby Rowland-Jones, president of the festival, called it “a magical two days of joy, friendship, and an outstanding Big Sur welcome.” The festival raised money for a variety of nonprofits, including the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade. This year’s event is already planned for an expanded three-day schedule, Nov. 5-7.
—Ben Narasin


Barbacco , the sister restaurant to San Francisco’s Perbacco, has opened under chef Staffan Terje and Umberto Gibin. Sarah Burchard heads the kitchen, and Mauro Cirilli is the wine director, offering more than 120 options from the West Coast and Italy, about half of them available by the glass, taste, quartino, and mezzo litro. At Fifth Floor , Jacques Bezuidenhout has introduced a new cocktail program featuring classic cocktails and a roaming bar cart; Bryan Lascarro, former assistant general manager of Michael Mina Bellagio in Las Vegas, is the restaurant’s new general manager. Douglas Bernstein is the new chef at Bacar , while Evan Rich, formerly of Quince, is the new chef de cuisine at Coi . The city’s Metro Café , Zinnia , Côté Sud, South Food + Wine Bar , and Carnelian Room have all closed. Doug Westin is the new executive chef at Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, Calif., where David Haskell, former owner of BIN 8945, is the managing director. Long Meadow Ranch’s Farmstead farm-to-table restaurant will open soon in St. Helena, Calif., headed by chef Sheamus Feeley, formerly of Rutherford Grill; the adjacent olive-oil- and wine-tasting room is already open. Innovative Dining Group has launched Delphine in the W Hollywood, with Sascha Lyon creating the Provençal fare. Meritage at the Claremont , the third Meritage concept restaurant developed by Boston chef Daniel Bruce, has opened in the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa in Berkeley, Calif. Executive chef Josh Thomsen offers a weekly “Vineyard to Table” menu featuring ingredients grown by local winemakers, and general manager Nicholas S. Dolata heads the wine program. The Super Room and Frog’s End Tavern are open in the new Glenmere hotel in New York’s lower Hudson Valley, focusing on regional wines selected by sommelier Michael A. Cimino. In New York City, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich have announced a summer opening for Eataly , a 60,000-square-foot Italian marketplace with a food market, a wine shop, and a rooftop beer garden. Also opening in the city are Pulino’s from restaurateur Keith McNally and chef Nate Appleman, formerly of San Francisco’s A16 and SPQR; Bread and Butter , in the former Le Petite Marché spot, by owners Rob Weiner and Daniella Silone; Jesse Schenker’s Recette , serving charcuterie, cheeses, and larger plates; and Michael White Restaurant , from chef Michael White, Chris Cannon, and other partners, with a menu of Italian dishes from the Emilia-Romagna region. Replacing the recently closed Craftsteak is another Tom Colicchio-owned restaurant, Colicchio & Sons , focusing on small-batch fare under chef de cuisine Shane McBride. Other city closings include The Kitchen Club , after 20 years of service in SoHo, and the landmark Tavern on the Green . In Chicago, Tru’s executive chef, Tim Graham, has moved on to Brasserie Jo ; replacing him is former sous chef Anthony Martin. Sable Kitchen & Bar is due to open in the city in March, with chef Heather Terhune creating the New American menu; Emily Wines, MS, selecting the 100-bottle wine list; and master mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout crafting the cocktail program. Chef Daniel Stern and chef de cuisine Alex Ureña have launched R2L in Philadelphia. Opening there next month is Garces Trading Co. by Jose Garces, which will feature a built-in, state-owned wine shop. Christopher Bates, CWE, former general manager at The Inn at Dos Brisas in Brenham, Texas, is now executive chef and general manager of the Hotel Fauchère in Milford, Pa. Moving with him is Isabel Bogadtke, a recipient of the Mobil Five Star Award for Best Service in the Country and a Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Kellari Taverna bar and lounge, from Stavros Aktipis and chef Gregory Zapantis, has opened in Washington, D.C.; Greek for “cellar,” Kellari offers 350 Greek and international wines by the bottle. Chef Barbara Lynch will open Menton by early next month in Boston, featuring tasting menus of Italian cuisine with a French twist. Southern Wine & Spirits of America, Inc. has promoted Ted Simpkins to executive vice president winery relations of California’s wine districts. Caroline Higgenboom, former assistant winemaker at Dana Estates in St. Helena, Calif., has been appointed as winemaker at Persimmon Creek Vineyards in Clayton, Ga.

Hot Picks


2009 Viña Tabalí Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial, Limarí Valley $13
On a recent trip to Chile, I was enormously impressed by the wines I tasted from the coolest, coastal sites. Of the whites, this was the star—the first vintage from a vineyard situated right by the ocean. Rare for Chile, the soil contains a high percentage of chalk. This wine has a salty, chalky nose, with lemon, lime, and mineral flavors. It’s the deliciously savory, crisp style of Sauvignon that I love, a world away from the simple, fruit-salad concoctions that too often characterize this grape variety. With its complexity, length, and elegance, this is a wine that I predict will rise quickly in price. Snap it up now while it’s still cheap. Importer: Southern Wine Group, www.southernwinegroup.com .


2008 Pegasus Bay Riesling Aria Late Picked, Waipara Valley $37
Just one of the many strings in the bow of top-notch New Zealand producer Pegasus Bay, this is a wonderfully refreshing yet intensely sweet wine. Immediately identifiable as Riesling, it has a lemony, zesty freshness and superb balance. Residual sugar is 101 grams per liter. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this wine. Importer: Empson USA, Inc., www.empsonusa.com .


2005 Mas d’en Gil Coma Vella, Priorat $34
Although Priorat has a reputation for producing the most highly priced wines in Spain, there are some excellent values to be found lower down the price scale. With less oak and more obvious, up-front fruit, these wines are not only approachable earlier, but are often better in their own right. Here’s one of them. Bright ruby in color, it offers an enticing nose of smoke and ripe, dark cherries. The palate is mid-weight, but packed with an only-from-Priorat mineral, stony, iodine intensity. The wine has lovely freshness on the finish and a warm, fruity aftertaste that lingers. Highly satisfying. Importer: C&P Wines, New York.


1996 Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, Pauillac, Bordeaux $275
Sadly, this is not the kind of wine I get to drink every day, but it’s a reminder of just how great the 1996 vintage was in Bordeaux. The Pichon-Lalande has an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (75%), with the remainder made up of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Despite the lower-than-usual proportion of Merlot, it’s a classic wine from this consistently excellent Pauillac second growth. Just starting to drink beautifully now, the wine is beginning to reveal its cedary complexity of aromas. The palate is silky-smooth, with excellent concentration, complexity, and balance and a linear acidity that flows through to the fresh, fine finish. Fabulous now, but there’s no hurry to drink this up. Importer: Maisons Marques & Domaines, Inc., www.mmdusa.net .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal


2007 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley $17
Clear and silvery, with a faint tinge of pink. Exotic notes of Honeycrisp apple, clementine, orange-flower water, spring honey, and mineral emerge on the nose. Pleasantly textural on the palate, the wine finishes with clean acidity and moderate length. A balanced New World Pinot Gris, with a little more than 13% alcohol, from America’s first producer of this varietal. www.eyrievineyards.com .


2007 Evening Land Vineyards Chardonnay Summum Seven Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley $100
Clear, pale straw color, with glints of gold. On the nose, this wine shows Gala apple; zesty lemon curd; fresh, tangy cream; acacia flower; and wood toast. It’s unusually mineral for a New World Chardonnay, with aromas of crushed white rock. The palate has even more richness and fruit than on the nose, displaying fleshy pear, melon, lemon curd, and toasted brioche. Beautifully balanced and an excellent candidate for aging, it is quite possibly the best example of this varietal being produced in the United States. Only 115 cases were made. www.eveninglandvineyards.com .


2007 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate, Willamette Valley $29
Pale ruby color, light in concentration, with a bright pink rim. This wine hits all the pretty, high-toned floral notes one normally associates with Pinot Noir grown in the Rheingau or lower Austria. Dried and crushed red-flower petals, sandalwood, and earth are layered on top of lovely red-cherry and wild-raspberry aromas. The wine is light-bodied and bright on the palate, with more intense, sweet red cherry, wild raspberry, and pomegranate accompanying some brown spice and earth. This Pinot Noir is entirely unaffected by new-wood aromas; its élevage program includes barrels from the winery’s beginnings, back in the mid-1960s. www.eyrievineyards.com .


2006 Cristom Pinot Noir Sommers Reserve, Willamette Valley $41
Bright ruby in color, with a pale pink rim and medium concentration. There is always a high percentage of whole-cluster fruit in the Cristom wines, and the Sommers Reserve shows the exotic perfume, spice, and stem aromas that can also be found in the wines of Domaine Dujac or Domaine de l’Arlot in Burgundy. Wild red cherry and raspberry complete the aromatic profile, leading to sweet red fruit on the palate. More spice and stem notes are found in the mouth, with an underlying stony minerality and earthiness, along with sweet oak flavors in the distant background. The fruit for this wine is sourced from 15 sites, including Cristom’s four estate vineyards; the Reserve designation indicates longer barrel aging and more severe selection by winemaker Steve Doerner. www.cristomwines.com .

Périphérique Wine Services
San Francisco


2007 Domaine Roland Schmitt Muscat Glintzberg, Alsace $19
The Schmitt family has been producing wine in northern Alsace since the 17th century. After Roland Schmitt’s passing in 1993, the wines have been made by his wife Anne-Marie and her two grown sons, Julien and Bruno. This Muscat shows a pale color and a delicate nose of fresh flowers, peach, lime zest, and wet rocks. Despite a honeyed richness, the wine finishes just barely off-dry. It is clean, balanced, and easy-drinking, with lingering minerality. Wonderful as an aperitif or with sashimi. Importer: Beaune Imports, www.beauneimports.com .


2006 Bruno Colin Puligny-Montrachet La Truffière, Burgundy $65
Bruno Colin produces wines from just less than 20 acres of vineyards in Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. He worked for his family at Michel Colin-Deleger et Fils until producing the first vintage of his own label in 2004. The 2006 bottling from the premier cru La Truffière vineyard is delicious, with notes of lemon curd, golden apple, and cream. Chalk takes over on the palate, and the crisp finish lingers nicely. Try it now with Dungeness crab, but the wine will improve with one or two years of age and will last well beyond that. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, www.kermitlynch.com .


2007 Abadia Retuerta Rívola Vino de la Tierra, Castilla y León $16
Abadia Retuerta, a large wine estate founded in 1996, is in the village of Sardón del Duero, which lies just outside the Ribera del Duero region in the province of Castilla y León. Rívola is made mostly from Tempranillo, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2007 is a medium-ruby color with pink-purple edges. Notes of violets, granite, and tart cherries emerge on the nose, followed by cranberries, a hint of dill, and charred cedar plank. Potpourri, dried fruits, and smoke linger on the palate. Try it with smoked meats or duck with pomegranate sauce. Importer: Kobrand Corporation, www.kobrandwineandspirits.com .


2002 Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon HĀLo, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley $175
Trefethen Vineyard, established in 1968, has been run by the family for three generations. HāLo, from the estate Hillspring Vineyard in Oak Knoll, is named after John and Janet Trefethen’s children, Hailey and Loren. Although 2004 is the current vintage, the 2002 is still opaque and purple, and there are no real signs of age, either visually or on the nose and palate. The wine is rich and round, with notes of stewed blackberry, mocha, clove, and cinnamon and hints of raisin and eucalyptus. It has tons of fruit and almost as much oak; the tannins are sweet and integrated, and the finish long and powerful. Try it now with simply prepared filet mignon or rosemary-crusted rack of lamb, or lay it down for five to 10 years. www.trefethen.com .

Director of Wine Schools
Professional Culinary Institute
Campbell, Calif.


For sale: Boutique Winery near Sedona, Arizona. Ten-plus rolling acres, large tasting room, brand new winery, living quarters. Great location. Asking $2,350,000. Call Mike at (928) 649-0290.