March 15 2010 issue


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PAGES (8-17) March 15 2010




In the early ’90s, many Virginia wines were dire and most were middling, with only a few winners from Rhône-varietal pioneer Dennis Horton. Horton still churns out great wines, but his field is now more crowded. On my first journey to the state last September, I was bowled over by the explosion in the number of wineries and the rapid improvement in quality of both reds and whites. Varieties ill-suited to the region have given way to better performers like Viognier and Cabernet Franc.

Wine regions include the northern area, featuring Loudoun County; centrally located Charlottesville and the Shenandoah Valley, including the Monticello American Viticultural Area; and the Atlantic Coast around Williamsburg. Of 156 wineries, the five largest account for 40% of the regions’ 450,000-case annual volume. Unpredictable weather is an ongoing concern, but powdery mildew and Pierce’s disease are virtually nonexistent. Soils are predominately limestone-based, with gravelly and sandy topsoils.

Breaux Vineyards’ 404 acres contain the second-largest contiguous grapevine planting in the eastern United States. Winemaker David Collins wasn’t the last to point out an important factor in Virginia’s recent success: “Loudoun County, along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, has become a tourist mecca.” His Nebbiolo is truer to the Italian model than most West Coast versions are.

In 1993, ex-Marine Jim Bogarty and his wife found a farm at the base of the Blue Ridge, planted 12 acres of wine grapes, and installed their son as winemaker. With only 8 inches of topsoil before hitting limestone, their wines show good structure. Rachel Martin was in Bordeaux taking sensory evaluation classes when the Middleburg site for Boxwood Winery was purchased by her mother and stepfather. Consultant Lucie Morton manages the vineyards, with Bordeaux-based Stéphane Derenoncourt overseeing the vinification.

Santa Cruz Mountains expat John Delmare set up Rappahannock Cellars in the eastern foothills in 1998. He said he evaluated sites in California and Oregon, “but chose the Piedmont for its burgeoning wine industry.” His Solera, a sweet, fortified multivintage blend, is unusual, but worth seeking out. Philip Carter Strother, an attorney servicing Virginia vintners, established his own Philip Carter Winery in 2009 on a 27-acre estate. His goals are to ramp up annual production to 6,500 cases and to “respect our predecessors.”

Andrew and Patricia Hodson, career changers from medicine and futures speculation, respectively, and winemaker-daughter Emily represent two of the four generations of Hodsons living on the Veritas Winery family property. Along with their terrific Cabernet Francs, Viogniers, and Sauvignon Blancs, I tasted the finest Petit Verdots I’d ever tried from the United States. Stephen Barnard, who once worked for his native South Africa’s Groot Constantia, married into the Virginia family that owns the 43-acre Keswick Vineyards, where he’s now winemaker. His best bottling was the 2007 Heritage, an 80% Cabernet Franc-20% Merlot.

Tony Champ’s PhD in organic chemistry and a stint in Napa Valley in the ’60s foreshadowed his development of White Hall Vineyards in the Monticello AVA. “The main challenge for Virginia versus California is we have a lot of disease pressure from the summer rains,” he said. One of the few in Virginia to use screwcaps, he impressed me with his Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Franc. Also in the Monticello AVA, Paul Mierzejewski oversees DelFosse Vineyards & Winery. An early Virginia canopy-management pioneer, he observed that “we’re getting the grapes more mature, using better clones, pulling leaves. In our warm climate, we lose acidity, so I’m not afraid to let the grapes hang longer and then acidify later.” I appreciated the bright, savory character of his 2007 Petit Verdot.

Luca Paschina (pictured above with me) was summoned from Piemonte in 1990 to run Zonin’s U.S. outpost at Barboursville Vineyards and immediately began replanting nearly all of its 153 acres. We sampled many wines at the onsite Palladio restaurant, including my favorite, the signature 2006 Octagon. Williamsburg Winery is Virginia’s largest. Owner Patrick Duffeler, whose interest in wine began with an investment group involved in Burgundy, lured winemaker Matthew Meyer (ex-Heitz and -Grgich Hills) from northern California to work with more challenging climates. “East Coast wines are stylistically more European, possessing more finesse,” Meyer claimed. Williamsburg’s 2006 Chardonnay Reserve displayed a layered unctuousness and a long finish.

Cheers, David Furer


In Sommelier Journal's January 31, 2010, Terroir article on Vigneto Rocche, the caption for the picture on p. 40 should have read: Vietti winery in Castiglione Falletto.



As I arrive at Santiago International Airport eight days after Chile’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake of Feb. 27, customs clearance takes place in huge tents erected on the tarmac. The terminal is dark and empty, but there are no dramatic scenes of destruction here, 217 miles from the epicenter. Driving down the Panamerican Highway, I encounter detours around fallen overpasses and cracked and broken pavement, but the ruined bridges blocking the autopista that filled TV screens a week earlier have already been cleared, and the drive to the Cachapoal Valley takes no longer than usual.

Chile’s wineries, too, have already regrouped and are up and running, ready to start the 2010 harvest. Some were untouched by the quake; others lost stock, buildings, and equipment. For a few, the losses sadly included loyal workers and their families. The earthquake struck right between the Maule and Bío Bío regions and caused major destruction from there to the Curicó and Colchagua valleys, even touching estates on the outskirts of Santiago, more than 180 miles away. René Merino, president of Wines of Chile, reports initial figures of about 125 million liters lost—including bulk, bottled, and aging wine, valued at about $250 million, and roughly 12.5% of the volume harvested in the 2009 vintage.

The final tally is not in, but these figures indicate that much of the lost wine was likely bulk in storage. Although wine was “running in the ditches” of the worst-hit regions in the immediate aftermath, the actual loss of fine wine was relatively light, thanks to the stringent Chilean building codes that producers have adopted in their newer construction. For example, Alexandra Marnier Lapostolle reports that while her family’s original winery in Cunaco suffered significant damage, the state-of-the-art facility that produces the flagship Clos Apalta lost only one barrel and was structurally untouched. Viu Manent lost parts of its historic buildings outside Santa Cruz, but is already getting ready to receive the harvest, thankful that no one was hurt.

Had the quake struck a couple of months later, the industry might have been much harder hit. La Fortuna, another historic family winery near Curicó, lost “only” 50,000 liters and half the cellar building, but export director Juan Oyarzún says he is grateful that harvest has come late this year. At MontGras, outside Santa Cruz, many workers and neighbors lost their homes, but marketing manager Andrea Ilabaca reports sending out three containers of wine five days after the quake. With some Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel grapes already harvested and now fermenting, he foresees no delays in shipments. The harvest is back on track even up north in Casablanca, where Casas del Bosque winemaker Grant Phelps lost about 4,000 liters from damaged tanks and spent several days cleaning up debris.

Andres Schwarzenberg, owner of the 5-acre, 500-case-per-year Rukumilla in Maipo, was not so lucky. His oldest-serving employee, José "Pepe" Piza-rro, was crushed to death along with his family when another building collapsed on their home. Schwarzenberg says he lost 70% of the bottles he had aging, but no production equipment was damaged and the 2010 harvest is looking good. Sven Bruchfeld of Polkura, another boutique bodega located in Marchigue at the western end of the Colchagua Valley, spent 18-hour days manually racking wine from leaking tanks into sound ones and cleaning up broken bottles and barrels—a story repeated by many producers. Derek Mossman of the Garage Wine Co. worked with the staff of William Fèvre Chile in the Alto Maipo, saving barrels one by one. He relates how 21-year-old Cristián, the first hand to show up at dawn after the quake, heard wine running down the gutter and salvaged three-fourths of two tanks of the 2008 Grand Cuvée before the sun had come up, manually racking with hoses from tank to tank, without power.

Rodrigo Sepúlveda, export director of Balduzzi Vineyards, sums up the situation most poignantly: “It is the biggest earthquake of 100 years in our region, but the biggest union for our people.” Chilean winemakers are, as they have been for the past two decades, looking to the future, not the past.
—S. Peter Smith


 Syrah has become an increasingly hard sell for vintners and restaurateurs since the heady days of the Rhône Renaissance in the 1980s. That didn’t stop leading members of the world’s wine trade from gathering to discuss the finer points of the variety and New Zealand’s position on the world scene at the triennial New Zealand Syrah Symposium, hosted by Hawke’s Bay Winemakers in January.

It may come as a surprise to some American wine professionals that New Zealand has an appealing and identifiable Syrah style. British journalist Tim Atkin, MW, a speaker at both the 2007 and 2010 symposiums, reminded producers that three years ago, he had told them Syrah could “save the day in Hawke’s Bay.” Indeed, it combines the unmistakable peppery character of the Northern Rhône with riper, California-style blackberry fruit. The finest examples from Waiheke Island and Hawke’s Bay have an elegance and a streak of acidity rarely seen in the New World. But no one seems to have taken Atkin’s advice. In the past three years, New Zealand plantings of Syrah have increased by a meager 40 acres, to a total of only 726, while Sauvignon Blanc still covers more than 34,500 acres.

Syrah has the same problem as Riesling: the trade loves it, but consumers don’t get it. To make things even more confusing, it has another name—Shiraz. In the United States, Syrah represents only 4% of wine sales, down nearly 8% by volume in 2009. As Evan Goldstein, MS, president of Full Circle Wine Solutions, explained at the symposium, “Consumers, even knowledgeable ones, don’t really know how versatile Syrah is. There’s a huge range of Syrahs and Shirazes, and people are confused.” But Goldstein wasn’t ready to give up on the variety: “It is one of the few grapes that can chameleon. It can be a pure wine or have a bit of Viognier, Grenache, or Mourvèdre. And it’s great with comfort food because it’s a bold, sincere, flavorful wine.” Unlike Pinot Noir, Syrah is easily approachable. Considering its wide geographic spread, Goldstein advised producers to promote varietal wine flights, by-the-glass offers, and events such as Wine Australia’s recent Shiraz masterclass.

The popularity of Australian Shiraz has waned since its boom years in the 1990s and early 2000s. At the symposium, a debate about overzealous acidification was reignited when some of the country’s top Syrahs showed sour finishes. Before the conference, Andrew Jefford, a senior research fellow at the University of Adelaide, had complained to Australian producers, “Misjudged acid addition is, for me, the defining fault of the Australian wine industry, and I regret the fact that it is rarely, if ever, viewed as a fault here. I’ve tasted hundreds of wines that I truly feel are defaced by acidity.” The criticism has apparently touched a nerve, as indicated by the discussion in Hawke’s Bay.

Markus Hendrich of the Australian Wine Research Institute revealed why some cooler-climate Australian Shirazes have the same peppery characteristic as those from New Zealand and the Rhône. One drop of a compound called rotundone is powerful enough to make an Olympic-size swimming pool smell peppery. The Australian study showed that rotundone exists mainly in cooler growing regions and is also present in high levels in Graciano grapes.

Whether you call it Syrah or Shiraz, the variety has a great deal to offer sommeliers, as this symposium demonstrated. Sauvignon Blanc may fill most New Zealand wine sections today, but in the view of conference attendees, it may be time for the country’s wine industry to start championing its terroir-driven, rotundone-charged Syrahs.
—Rebecca Gibb


The American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers held its first national conference in January at The Inn at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach, Calif. Seventy-two members of the Court participated in wine tastings, seminars, and meetings in which they shared ideas and established goals for the organization’s future. Wine Australia offered an opportunity to sample Seppeltsfield tawnies and brandies, and each member also brought a favorite bottle of wine to share.

“It was truly inspiring,” said David Glancy, MS, CWE, wine school director for the Professional Culinary Institute. “We heard from the board of directors their vision for the future of the organization.” In addition, Glancy said, a marketing seminar put on by the Court’s public-relations firm, Barbary Coast Consulting, provided attendees with useful tips on how to spread the word about the Court, their individual employers, and themselves. “The highlight was meeting a handful of Masters for the first time and getting to know others better,” Glancy added. “The conference truly brought us together in a shared mission to continue to promote improved wine knowledge and service throughout the Americas and around the world.”


Two wine professionals have earned Master Sommelier status, passing the Court of Master Sommeliers’ examination held the last week in February at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, Calif. Sommelier Journal congratulates Eric Entrikin, wine director of Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, Calif. (see the May 2009 Restaurant Spotlight) and Melissa Monosoff, sommelier at Savona Restaurant in Philadelphia. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for this my whole career,” said Entrikin. “It is the greatest achievement I could think of for someone in the restaurant-hospitality industry. I’m truly honored to be part of this extraordinary group of wine professionals and look forward to contributing to the Court.” Added Monosoff: “I’m really excited, partly because it’s over, but also because it’s a new beginning. I’m humbled at being part of the group.” There are now 105 Master Sommeliers in North America and 170 worldwide.


Austria’s Weinviertal Districtus Austriae Controllatus (DAC), the country’s first winegrowing area to market under a region-specific name, has introduced a DAC Reserve category with the 2009 vintage. Any producer that wants to sell its wines under the designation must file for a government approval number no earlier than March 15 of the year following the harvest. A first-time applicant must provide prior written notification to the Regional Wine Committee Weinviertal. For a Grüner Veltliner to earn approval, four of six tasters must agree it displays the typical Weinviertal style: peppery, with a dry, dense body and a long finish (mild botrytis and wood notes are also acceptable). Non-estate grapes may be purchased only from within the region, and any bottling that occurs outside the Weinviertal must be approved by the committee. Each bottle must carry the distinctive capsule used for all Weinviertal DAC and DAC Reserve wines, and the minimum alcohol content of 13% must be printed on the label. Beginning with the 2012 vintage, every winery producing a Weinviertal DAC Reserve will be certified under a regional quality-management system and monitored by an external auditor.

Five other Austrian regions have also been granted both DAC and DAC Reserve status: Mittelburgenland, Traisental, Kremstal, Kamptal, and Eisenberg. Leithaberg produces only the DAC Reserve category.


Few restaurant customers understand much about palate fatigue, but the ability to remove this dulling sensation from the mouth might be one of the most useful services a sommelier can offer. SanTásti Palate Refresher is a low-calorie, carbonated beverage developed in 2008 by two former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students, company CEO Andrew Macaluso and president Nicole Chamberlain. The drink is refreshing and delicate because of its minimal carbonation, finishing slightly citrusy on the palate.

SanTásti is made from just a few ingredients, including citric acid, which is used to simulate the acidity of wine and to mitigate dryness by stimulating saliva flow. In the resulting low-pH environment, the drink can be produced without preservatives; it also contains no essential oils or essences. Other ingredients are sugar (only 10 calories’ worth, to balance the acidity and maintain a sugar level consistent with that of wine), fruit pectin and cellulose gum (to mitigate astringency on the palate), and carbonated, reverse-osmosis water (to ensure a low mineral and salt content).

On the company’s website,, a six-pack costs $14.99, a 12-pack $27.99, and a 24-pack $49.99. Samples are available, and for one cent and the cost of shipping and handling, SanTásti will send you two bottles to try (limit one offer per customer). The product comes in the classic citrus flavor, peppermint, and cinnamint. Currently available at selected stores, restaurants, and wineries in California, it will soon be rolled out nationwide. As the company’s promotional materials exhort, “Be P.C. (Palate Cleansed)!”
—Benjamin T. Weinberg


Fat Angel , a new San Francisco wine bar, features a small-plate menu and 38 wines by the glass; Jason Kirmse and Cyrick Hia are the owners, and Diane Dillon oversees the wine department. Also open in the city is Bistro Central Parc by Jacques Manuera and his wife, Claude Belliot, with chef Nicolas Jardin creating the classic French-bistro fare. The former South Food + Wine Bar has been transformed into Marlowe by owners Anna Weinberg and executive chef Jennifer Puccio, while sommelier Gerard O’Bryan has revamped the wine list. Chef Bruno Chemel’s new Baumé in Palo Alto, Calif., has a contemporary French menu comprising five-, 10-, and 15-course tastings paired with a predominantly French and Californian wine list. SR24 from Josh Woodall and Howard Schindler has opened in Oakland, Calif.; the international wine list was created by Guillermo Guerra. In Napa, Calif., Michael and Christina Gyetvan, owners of Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca, have launched Norman Rose Tavern , with Reed Herrick as chef and Michael Gyetvan and Pat Jeffries overseeing the beverage department. Dish Bistro & Bar is open in Pasadena, Calif., where chef Job Carder creates the restaurant’s California-northern Mediterranean cuisine. Matt Bergstrom is the bar manager, and general manager Andi Miller has worked with both large-scale and boutique Sonoma County wineries to fashion the wine list. Chef Quinn Hatfield and pastry chef Karen Hatfield have opened Hatfield’s in Los Angeles, with sommelier and mixologist Peter Birmingham running the bar. Also in Los Angeles, chef Rick Bayless has launched his latest venture, Red O Mexican Cuisine by Rick Bayless . Angelo Ingrati has joined the sommelier staff at Addison at The Grand Del Mar in San Diego. Stephane Lacroix has left his position as wine director at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco to become general manager of Gilt in New York. Scarpetta chef Scott Conant has turned New York’s former Table 8 space into the Italian restaurant Faustina . Chefs Maryann Terillo and Elisa Sarno have opened Bistro de la Gare , featuring a Mediterranean menu with Italian and French influences. Joey Campanaro will be the executive chef at Kenmare , while Akhtar Nawab, former chef at Craftbar and E.U., has been named chef de cuisine at Zengo , both set to open in the city this spring. In Chicago, John Manion, formerly of Goose Island Brewery, is now the chef at Branch 27 ; Andrew Hroza, a certified beer sommelier, is his replacement at Goose Island. Bruce Cakebread, president and COO of Cakebread Cellars, has been elected president of the Napa Valley Vintners board of directors, and Dave Batt is the new president of the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission. Joel Aiken, former vice president of winemaking at Beaulieu Vineyard, has joined Amici Cellars as winemaker and partner. Jesse Katz, formerly with Screaming Eagle, is the new winemaker at Lancaster Estate Winery in Alexander Valley. Jim McMahon has been promoted to winemaker at Luna Vineyards in Napa Valley, and Jeff Pisoni is the new winemaker at Fort Ross Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast.

Hot Picks


2007 Graf Hardegg Riesling Vom Schloss, Niederösterreich    $19
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of litchi, pear, white flowers, and paraffin. In the mouth, it has explosive, juicy flavors of lemon and grapefruit; a light floral quality melds with the underlying wet-stone minerality. Completely dry and very tasty, with a long finish and gorgeous balance, it’s perfect for a by-the-glass program and a great introduction to the joys of Austrian Riesling. Importer: Monika Caha Selections, .


2006 Renaissance Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills    $35
This light-yellow wine displays a nose of buttered toast and lemon curd. In the mouth, it is gorgeously lemon-driven, with tangy lemon-curd and lemon-zest flavors that sizzle with great acidity and lovely balance. Not even the tiniest hint of oak obscures the delicate mineral undertones that make this wine easily mistakable for a white Burgundy. Truly excellent, and one of the best values in top-end California Chardonnay on the market. .


2007 Cornerstone Cellars Grenache Stepping Stone, Red Hills, Lake County    $20
Medium-to-dark garnet in color, this Grenache shows aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cedar. The palate is velvety, with pleasant acidity and soft tannins gripping flavors of cherry, wet earth, and chocolate. Cornerstone Cellars is a relative newcomer to Napa Valley whose top-end Cabernets are beginning to attract some well-deserved attention; the value-focused part of its portfolio offers unusually high quality for the price. .


2007 Ravenswood Zinfandel Belloni Vineyard, Russian River Valley   $31
Ravenswood has done an admirable job of remaining focused on high-quality, small-production Zinfandels like this one, even as it cranks out millions of bottles for supermarkets around the country. Dark garnet in color, the Belloni Vineyard bottling smells of blackberry pie and blueberry jam. In the mouth, it is beautifully restrained, offering earthy notes of cassis and blackberry against a backdrop of excellent acidity and wonderful texture. The long finish is beautiful. This is certainly one of the best vintages of the wine in several years, and it represents everything good about California Zinfandel. .

Founder and Editor


2007 Val d’Orbieu Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois Les Petits Grains, Languedoc (375 ml)    $10
This vin doux naturel from Languedoc-Roussillon is soft, perfumed, and light, with notes of honeysuckle, pear, peach, and apricot. Its delicacy would make it a nice pairing for desserts that showcase more subtle flavors and textures, or for delicate cheeses. Importer: Pasternak Wine Imports, .


Avantis Estate Melitis Sweet Table Wine, Evia (500 ml)    $25
Greece has long been a source of some the world’s finest, if often overlooked, dessert wines. From the 2006 harvest (no mention of vintage is allowed with the appellation “Sweet Table Wine”), this 100% Muscat is fortified to 15% alcohol and aged in barrique. It is full and luscious, showing notes of orange blossom, white rose, apricot, hazelnut, and marzipan. With its high natural acidity, the wine is beautifully balanced, but will also stay fresh after opening, so it’s worth considering as a premium pour. Importer: Cava Spiliadas, .


2008 Quady Elysium Black Muscat Dessert Wine, California (375 ml)    $14
This violet-red dessert wine features notes of blackberry, litchi, rose petal, and white chocolate. It is rich, but not cloying. Something this unique and inexpensive is a good candidate for a featured pairing on your dessert menu. Quady turns out a large quantity, though, so check the local chain retailers first. .


2006 Luciano Landi Passito di Lacrima di Morra d’Alba, Marche (500 ml)    $40
Here’s an Italian red dessert wine that is delicately sweet, with notes of tangerine, cherry, white flowers, and candied orange. Pastries prepared with Marche cheeses—fresh pecorino and ricotta—are a slam dunk. It may be hard to find in your market, but that makes it all the more special. Importer: Italia Wine Imports, .

Planet Grape LLC
San Francisco


2007 Domaine de l’Aujardière Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie, Loire Valley    $14
Muscadet from its home in the Loire’s westernmost Nantais region is capable of sublime elegance, with the ability to produce both lighter styles for near-term consumption and wines with terroir-driven complexity for aging. Siblings Eric and Gaëlle Chevalier, working in the lesser-known Grand Lieu subzone, use native yeasts and extended fermentation to “express the vintage and the location.” A granitic foundation gives this wine a reticent nose, with quince, grapefruit, and lemon-peel flavors. Medium-bodied, it shows a discreet minerality, coupled with a medium-long finish, and should improve with a few years of aging. Importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, .


2008 Wittmann Westhofener Morstein Riesling Trocken Grosses Gewächs, Rheinhessen    $50
Elisabeth and Günter Wittmann began growing organically in 1985, and son Philipp instituted Biodynamic viticulture in 2004. A complete tasting of his ’08s demonstrated the vintage’s extremely high acidity, which demands long-term cellaring. The Kirchspiel and Brunnenhäuschen bottlings are both outstanding, but my top choice is the grand cru Morstein, with its intense minerality and pungent herbal aromas. Immense minerality echoes on the dense palate, with boundless yellow fruits ripped through by the acidity, and carries through on the remarkably long finish. Importer: Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd., .


2008 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge Cuvée Domaine, Loire Valley    $20
Cousins Jean-Dominique and Jean-Laurent Vacheron are Biodynamic pioneers who maximize the flint and calcareous soils of their renowned village to fashion Pinot Noirs that are a far cry from the anemic wines this cool climate once delivered. Their basic red is a mix of juice from 35-year-old, densely planted vines grown on both of these soil types. Still young, the alluring nose gives way to a taut yet balanced, medium-bodied palate. A savory wine that drinks well now with some decanting, but promises several years of cellaring. Importer: North Berkeley Imports, .


2007 Niepoort Batuta, Douro    $76
Winemakers in the home of Port, such as Niepoort’s Luis Seabra, are excited about their Douro table wines, recognizing that history is being made with each new vintage. This blend of organically grown, mainly north-facing, old vineyards, some of which are ungrafted Tinta Amarela (a favorite conduit of terroir among old-timers in the region), was fermented with native yeasts in both stainless steel and wood, then aged 22 months in barrel. On the nose, it’s an understated, intriguing mix of spicy oak and punchy minerality. The complex earth and spicy black fruits hold great depth and power on the palate while maintaining the wine’s poise and length. Importer: Martine’s Wines, .

Contributing Editor
Sommelier Journal


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