In wine, there's truth. ... The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him [or her!] who drinks it. -- Pliny the Elder

Friday, November 4, 2022

Lugana: Land of Sunshine and White Wine

“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” 

— Galileo

Several years ago, I attended an Amarone tasting in Los Angeles, where there were just few white wines being poured. What was this grape, I asked, and was told it's 'Turbiana.' I'd never heard of it. It's not Trebbiano, the ubiquitous white wine grape of Italy, it's Turbiana, which is the grape grown in the Lugana region of Northern Italy. (Turbiana is a distant relative of Trebbiano, of which there are 30 total.) Turbiana makes white wines, from young and crisp versions to lovely sweet versions, and it also makes a sparkling wine. I was impressed by these white wines at the Amarone tasting, and I truly loved what I was tasting. I dubbed these Lugana whites the 'Chablis of Italy.' Subsequently, at my sales job at The Wine House, I became the biggest pusher of Lugana whites, and would like to think I raised their reputation with our clientele (as well as sales). One year at the "Great Whites Fest" that I've hosted a Lugana white was the best-selling wine. 

I guess you could say I'm a true believer in the lovely white wines of Lugana! 

'Refined Lakeshore White Wine'

The Wine Media Conference 2022 was held in Lake Garda, Italy, in late September, and the main sponsor was Ascovilo, which is the Association of Consorzi Tutela Vini Lombardi, encompassing all the DOCG, DOC and IGT areas of Lombardy, Italy. Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC is a member of this association, along with the following: Oltrepo Pavese, Vini Mantovani, Valtenesi, Garda DOC, Valcamonica, Moscato di Scanzo, San Colombano, Terre Lariane, and Valtellina. (Noticeably absent from the group is Franciacorta, which is still being wooed to join the group.)

While at WMC, I elected to attend the pre-conference excursion to the Lugana area, as I wanted to see where these wines I had discovered years before were from and what Lugana was all about. 

Facts on Lugana

The Lugana DOC sits on a Morainic plane south of Lake Garda, Italy, and extends across two provinces, Brecia and Verona, as well as two regions, Lombardy and Veneto, and encompasses five villages: Peschiera del Garda in the Veneto region, and Desenzano, Sirmione, Pozzolengo and Lonato in Lombardy. The area's viticultural history dates back to Roman times, but the appellation dates just to 1967. It's a fairly small one, about 2500 hectares (about 6200 acres) total.

(Left) Aerial view of Lake Garda today, with the Sirmione peninsula at bottom; (right) drawings from museum at the Grotto of Catullus depicting the glacial flow from the Alps that formed Lake Garda. The Lugana DOC is on the southern shores of the lake.

The area has temperate climate due to the "lake effect," and most vineyards are oriented north-south. The glacier pushed down the soil as it moved and melted, and it's clayey, with rock, red soil, and iron below. The amount of clay varies from 20-40%, depending on closeness to the lake waters. 

Beautiful poster on display in Milan.
The DOC produces 27.5 million bottles per year, 90% of which is still wine, 10% is sparkling. Per Fabio Zenato, the newly elected president of the Lugana Consortium, and a host and speaker at WMC, about 70% of Lugana's wines are sold outside of Italy, with Germany the main market. Note that Lake Garda gets close to 7 million tourist per year, many of them German. Only 5% of Lugana wines make it into the US market. That's something Zenato and the consortium are trying to change. I was really impressed with the marketing materials the Lugana folks have put together, featuring the hashtag #luganalover. Light and lively (like the wines) posters were prominently displayed all around the town of Desenzano, where the conference was held, and even in Milan (see an example, right).  

About 90% of all production in Lugana is using the Turbiana grape, and to be labeled as Lugana DOC, the wine must be a minimum of 90% Turbiana. The other 10% can be any other non-aromatic white, including both local and international varieties.

There are approximately 200 producers in the Lugana, some of them large scale, many of them small scale family owned wineries. Lugana is a "quiet, very strong machine of quality," says Zenato. 

Categories of Lugana DOC Wines

There are five types of Lugana DOC wines, as follows:

Lugana DOC wines are the everyday drinkers, fresh, aged in stainless steel, made to be drunk in their vintage year. They are straw-colored with greenish highlights, and have delicate aromas of flowers and almonds, and on the palate they are light, lively, fairly full-flavored, and quite elegant. They are, to me, the perfect wine to drink while on a beach chair gazing out on Lake Garda (see photo above).

Lugana Superiore wines must age for a least one year from the time the grapes are harvested. They are richer and more complex as a result, with wild herbs, ripe apples, tangerine, hazelnut and spices. These wines can be cask aged, and the choice for most producers is large capacity casks. Like the DOC wines, they have great acidity, with minerality and savory notes. Note that each winery "has it's own interpretation" of oak aging, per the consortium's Zenato.

Lugana Riserva must age for 2 years, with 6 months of that in the bottle. The color on Riservas is deeper, and the wine is even more complex and elegant, with smoky and flinty notes, balsamic, and even more minerals on the palate. 

Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva are Lugana's late harvest wines, which are high acid and not unctiously sweet, like many 'dessert' wines can be. The grapes are 'over-ripe,' left on the vine till late October or even later, and the wines are rich, soft, and dense, just delicious! Think Alsace VD or German Spatlese.

Lugana Spumante was a surprise to me. These sparkling wines are made using the Charmat Method. They are simple, crisp, citrusy and just fun to drink. 

So, what really makes a Lugana white so special? According to Zenato, it's the way the Turbiana grapes responds to the unique soils that were deposited hundreds of thousands of years ago by the giant glacier that formed the lake. The soils impart a minerality to the grapes, a 'sipidity' that, combined with the natural acidity of the grape, and its fruitiness, creates a special and unique expression of a white wine. I like to think of it as refined lakeshore white wine! Most producers now make their wines with 100% Turbiana as its a more realistic and authentic expression of a Lugana white, says Zenato.

The average price on the export market for a bottle of Lugana white ranges from $22 to $26. Check out the wines currently in stock at The Wine House.

One more thing: I watched an episode of Italian Wine Podcast where Zenato was interviewed by host Stevie Kim (and a speaker at this year's WMC), and I highly recommend it if you want to hear the facts directly from the President of the Lugana Consortium. He's a charming man, well spoken, and a staunch proponent for Lugana. I was especially pleased to hear him say that the wine that comes closest to Lugana in style and character is Chablis! 

In my next post or two, I will profile some of Lugana's producers.

Until then,

Ciao and Cin Cin! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Love Letter to Lake Garda


"The shores of this lake with its contrasts between beautiful forests and
quiet waters maybe create the most beautiful landscape in the world."  

-- Marie-Henri Stendahl, 19th century French writer


I recently returned from a three-week tour of Italy with my husband, celebrating our wedding anniversary. When the Wine Media Conference (WMC) announced in 2021 that the 2022 version was to be held in Lake Garda, Italy, we jumped at the chance to both celebrate the longevity of our union and to visit the land of 1000+ wine grapes. 

And we both fell madly in love with Lake Garda! For many reasons ...

Fish, Castles, Cheese, and Small White Boats

Lake Garda, in the north of Italy in the province of Lombardy, is Italy's largest lake, formed from an ancient glacier. The Hotel Aquaviva del Garda, which hosted the WMC and where we stayed for five nights, is located in the town of Desenzano del Gardo, on Lake Garda's southernmost shore. Waking up each morning to the view above was a treat (Italians love their sailing), and the hotel's facilities were top notch, with a generous and delicious breakfast buffet as well as reasonably priced spa services in the well-appointed basement-level spa. (I had a facial, my husband a massage.)

Outside the hotel, a well-maintained walkway circles the southern shore of Lake Garda, allowing strollers to stop at a café for a coffee or glass of the ubiquitous Lugana wines (more on these to come), stop and enjoy the view, and to walk into the village of Desenzano, a couple miles to the west. We did all of these things, enjoying our views of the beautiful lake-front homes and hotels, as well as the lake itself, with lots of birds and sea life actively going about their business. And oh, the people watching is so good, and you can hear many languages, particularly German.

Desenzano is a cobble-stoned and lovely village, with a castle, a museum, and other historic buildings, making for a worthwhile stroll. With tourism the main attraction these days, the town can be bustling, which it was on this late September day, with cafes and gelateria (Nocciola is to die for!) doing a robust business, as well as a plethora of touristy shops. The dollar was doing well against the Euro, so I did a bit of shopping!

From top left: strolling along Lake Garda; a glass of Lugana white; Descenzano del Garda scene; (second row, from left) Castle of Descenzano at night; Castle Scaligero in Sermione; Grotto di Cattulus; (third row, from left) Grotto di Cattulus, mosaic from Grotto; town of Sermione

A couple miles east of the hotel is the town of Sermione del Garda, which is on a peninsula that juts into Lake Garda. As part of one of our winery excursions, and to give us a break from an overabundance of food and wine (never!), we did a tour here. The entrance to the peninsula has an intact and imposing Castle, called Scaligero, which dates to the thirteenth century and is almost completely surrounded by water. After strolling through this colorful and charming (and very touristy) town, we ended at the tip of the peninsula at the spectacular Grotto di Catullo, which is the well-preserved ruins of a first century BC Roman Villa. Catullus was a Latin poet from Verona, and if there is a word to describe these ruins and this site it's "poetic." In my opinion, this tour and the ruins themselves, rivaled any tour we subsequently took in Rome. I hate to overuse this word, but this was spectacular, and stunningly beautiful! We had a terrific tour guide, Katerina, an archeologist with expansive knowledge of the ancient roman villa, now in ruins. Who knew they had heated indoor pools in the the first century AD?! 

There are about 30 different varieties of fish in Lake Garda, and with 90 miles of shoreline, fishing is a major activity, and commercial fisheries supply local restaurants and trattoria. Farm-to-table and sustainability were prevalent philosophies at many of the meals we had, both at wineries and at  restaurants.

Grana Padano cheese and logo; Isabelle Perego of Ar.Pe.Pe; souvenir book of Lake Garda

Additionally, there's lots of cheese in Lake Garda, specifically Grana Padano. A WMC session featured a tasting of three different 'vintages' of Grana Padana cheese at the Rambotti Civic Archaeological Museum. Grana Padano has its own D.O.P., or Protected Designation of Origin, assuring that only cheese made to its standards from cow's milk produced in the Po Valley can be labeled as such. The youngest is aged between 9 and 16 months, and is softer and creamer than the other two. The older cheeses, aged 16+ months and 20+ months, are harder, nuttier, and more suitable for grating. The oldest cheese can be individually tested for quality and marked with a fire-brand of "Reserva." 

A Side Trip

My husband and I had an unscheduled trip via rental car through the Alps, returning to Desenzano from the village of Sandrio in Valtellina, a valley area situated in the mountainous area north of Lake Garda, almost at the Swiss border. Valtellina is renowned for its Nebbiola-based wines (they call the grape Chiavennasca here), and I was particularly thrilled to meet Isabella Perego of Ar.Pe.Pe. This was a post-conference excursion set up by the WMC, but alas our trip was cut short due to illness, hence the drive back to Lake Garda over the Alps, which happened before I could visit her winery. (I will be linking to my colleagues' posts on Valtellina in the near future.)

(From top left) Aprica, high in the Alps; Medieval town on banks of Lake Iseo; (second row) snow-capped peaks in early October; downtown Aprica; (third row) mountains and forest everywhere; view of Lake Iseo

But making lemonade out of lemons, we chose to enjoy the car ride and took in the stunning (that word again!) views high up in the Alps. The drive took us along the eastern shore of Lake Iseo, Italy's fourth largest lake. The views here were breathtaking, as you can see from the above. The lake boasts several medieval towns on its banks, one more picturesque than the next. And speaking of lemons, I was surprised to learn that they are a staple here in Northern Italy, which, because of the lake effect from Garda and the other lakes, is the most northern area of Italy to experience Mediterranean climate. Lemon trees, olive trees, and agave are ubiquitous here.

To remember Lake Garda, I will always treasure the book, pictured above, which was a gift to all who attended the conference, full of beauty shots around the lake and recipes for the typical foods served from the bounty of the lake and its environs. 

If you're planning a trip to northern Italy, Lake Garda is a must see. It's a two hour train ride from Milan and the trains run smoothly and are comfortable. The wonders of Lake Garda are worth exploring, and the wines, which I will delve into in my next posts, are unique, well made, and delicious.

Until next time,


For more information, follow these links:


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Sweet Wines Myths Dispelled

My friend and colleague Melanie Webber says it all in her article about the pure deliciousness of sweet wines. I agree that they are often maligned and misunderstood, and she explains it all for you here, in her article From Nun to Nirvana: Dispelling Sweet Wine Myths and Putting the Sweet Back on Your Wine List! This is an informative and fun read, so make sure you read all three parts of this article! 

Until next time,


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Halleck Vineyard: Drawing Inspiration From Around the World

Owner Ross Halleck blends old world sensibilities into his California wines.

Discovering new (to me), artisan, family-owned wineries is one of the best perks of being in the wine business. But sitting down for a beautifully paired luncheon at a top-notch restaurant with both a well-known sommelier and a winemaker ... that's just spectacular. Some days, my life is very good.

This most recent good day was at the acclaimed A.O.C. Wine Bar in the toney Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Co-owned by dynamic restaurant duo Caroline Styne and Suzanne Goin, this lovely spot was the location for an LA Wine Writers luncheon with Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard of Sebastopol, Calif. A.O.C. is known for its small plates, which are well suited to a wine tasting lunch. 

At this food-wine pairing, we were introduced to one rosé, two whites, and two reds from Halleck and four small plates, chosen by Styne.

Who Is Halleck Vineyard?

It's always nice to be introduced to a California producer who has old world wine-making sensibilities and it's even better when said wine maker pulls the best traits out of both California and the Old World. Owner and winemaker Ross Halleck takes his influences seriously, from Provence to Sancerre to Burgundy, Alsace, and even Kenya, applying what he can to his Northern California-grown grapes, from his own estate as well as from other carefully selected Sonoma Coast vineyards. 

Halleck, like many California winery owners, has a high-tech background, with a career in Silicon Valley graphic design, working for such heavy hitters as Apple and HP. He also ran his own agency for 20 years, which included wine clients like Beaulieu, Kendall Jackson, and Cain. Halleck planted a backyard vineyard at his home in Sebastopol, and when he "aged out" of the graphics business he turned to his wine passion, and has been producing wine ever since.

Not Your Mother's Dry White Zinfandel

Halleck's philosophy was apparent in the first wine tasted at this luncheon, the 2021 Not Your Mother's Dry White Zinfandel, a Provence-inspired California wine.

My WSET Diploma mates always got a laugh out of this category of wine. The words "white zin" conjure cheap, fruity, mass-produced white-red blends that appeal to the most uneducated wine palates ... yes, we can be a bit snobby about our wine!

But I would label Halleck's as a 'serious' rosé, that is, it ticks off all the things a pink wine should be: light, crisp, floral, refreshing, with light berry fruit notes, but strong enough to pair with a variety of foods, from salad to steak. This 100% zinfandel rosé is produced Provencal style, says Halleck, meaning the grapes are grown to become rosé and are not just a by-product of red wine production -- known as the saignée (or 'bleeding off') method -- which is used by many California winemakers. This cold glass of rosé was just the ticket on this warm summer day in Southern California. Could Zin-based rosés be the future in the warming climate of California? Halleck is betting on it.

Halleck lived in Kenya for three years, and ate at Indian restaurants, which paired their savory curry-based dishes with  Alsatian whites. This was his influence for his dry Gewurtztraminer, which was voted #1 white wine by the Press Democrat and at the California State Fair (see all of Halleck's awards).

The first food-wine paring was Halleck's 2021 Calandrelli Vineyard Dry Gewurtztraminer, served with a savory butter lettuce salad with heirloom tomatoes, Jimmy Nardello (Italian origin) peppers, alorena (from Spain) olives, paprika and buttermilk dressing. Wow, this was a satisfying pairing, and Ms. Styne, a certified sommelier, chose wisely.

I usually have a hard time liking Gewurtz wines, as I find they are often too floral and sometimes "soapy," but this one has subtle floral notes that matched the floral notes in the salad, including the olives.
My first thought was this could be my Thanksgiving wine this year, and Mr. Halleck chimed in that this is his fastest-selling wine, which sells out in October for the Thanksgiving holiday. Halleck's wine club seems to know a good turkey-pairing wine!

Next was Halleck's savory 2021 Little Sister Sauvignon Blanc paired with white bass with summer squash, green harissa, cream and hazelnut dukkah, which was dreamy. 

By this point in the luncheon, I was thinking "why have I not heard of Halleck before now? These are seriously good wines!" 

Halleck says his inspiration for this wine is white Sancerre, with its "hint of cat pee" and stainless steel fermentation. However, he does put 30% of the juice in neutral oak, lets it sit for 6 weeks, and blends it back in, imparting a soft creaminess to the wine, which is my kind of Sauvignon Blanc. Just delicious.

It was on to the reds, and the next course -- hanger steak with nicoise olive butter, arugula, pine nut crumbs, and aleppo fries --  was paired with 2018 Three Sons Cuvee Pinot Noir.  

This is Halleck's first pinot noir beyond his estate wine (first produced around 2003), which is grown at 1,000-foot elevation in the Russian River Valley. Halleck refers to it as the "little brother" to the estate pinot. 

It should be noted that Hallack does have three sons with his ex-wife Jennifer, who is still his amicable partner in wine. They also work with Rick Davis as a contract wine maker, and he is the proprietor of his own brand called CalStar Cellars.

The final course and wine were three cheeses with accompaniments (nuts and dried fruits) and the 2019 Clone 828 Pinot Noir

This lovely old-world style pinot is single-vineyard, from Black Knight Vineyards in Sebastopol, and is produced from Dijon clone 828.

Clone 828 vines were originally planted in the area by Brice Jones of Sonoma Cutrer fame. Long story short, Halleck was one of the first to purchase these clone 828 grapes from Jones. Halleck made his pinot, and after Jones tasted it, Halleck was forced to go searching for another source as Jones kept the grapes for his own wines. Halleck found that source in Black Knight Vineyards around 2008, and the first crop of the 828 clone was harvested in 2013. 

Halleck's 2019 is gorgeous, with the earthy, fruity nose of an old world pinot, and luscious cherry fruit and baking spices.

How to Taste and Purchase Halleck Wines

Halleck Vineyard produces just 2500 cases per year total, so each wine noted above is produced in rather small quantities. About 80% of Halleck's sales goes to wine club members and another 20% goes to restaurants and private clubs. However, you can purchase wine directly from Halleck's Web site, so check there for pricing and availability.

Halleck says he "lives and dies" by wine tastings, which he does at his home, by appointment only.  He pairs his wines with local delicacies, including Valley Ford Cheese Co. Reserve a Sonoma wine tasting reservation at their Sebastopol estate and give them a try.

Until next time,


Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Drinking Wine Like the Kings of Ancient Persian

For me, the most beautiful setting in all of Los Angeles is the Getty Villa in Malibu. It's just about my favorite place in the world, and I was pleased to see that the Villa was selected for the 9th Summit of the Americas dinner on June 9th, where President Joe and Dr. Jill Biden hosted 20 heads of state. 

I have been to the Villa often, for the art, for the theater (both indoor and outdoor), and now, for the wine, and have enjoyed the ocean view as well as the night skies there. I recently attended a lecture called "Drinking Like a Persian King: The History of Wine in Iran," which is part of the Getty's "Bacchus Uncorked" series of lectures and wine tastings. This one featured Dr. Touraj Daryaee, Maseeh Chair in Persian Studies and Culture and Director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies & Culture at the University of California, Irvine. Also featured was sommelier and Master Taster Christian Barion, who presented and discussed the four wines selected to taste after the lecture.

The Getty Villa has artifacts that show how much the ancients loved all things wine-related. Top left, clockwise: Bacchus carved into a sarcophagus relief, statue of Baby Bacchus, detail of fresco depicting Bacchus and Ariadne, statue of a small boy protecting his grapes, and detail of a sarcophagus carving, showing children among the grapes.

Dr. Daryaee's lively presentation focused on the earliest known wine discoveries as depicted in antiquities, many of which are on display in the Getty Villa. He discussed the fact that everything points back to the invention of pottery, which allowed the ancients to cook and ferment both beer and wine. As a result, much of the research that attempts to date wine's inception deals with sediment analysis on full or partial pieces of ancient pottery vessels. Another technique Daryaee mentioned is the "sniffing out" of these vessels, where researchers actually sniff the pots, much as one would sniff a wine glass before drinking.

And the Oldest Wine Is ...

Research has been pushing back the date of the earliest known wines as new evidence gets unearthed. Where it was once thought that the date was about 5400-5000 BCE, it's now believed that wine-related discoveries in Armenia in the Areni1 Cave date back to 6000 BCE. But the oldest, per Daryaee, is in Georgia, which shows evidence of Stone Age wine production even earlier than that in Armenia.

Persians "Are Very Fond of Wine"

Herodatus, an ancient Greek historian, wrote extensively of the Persians, and observed that they really liked their wine, and used it to help them make important decisions. He is quoted as saying: 

"The Persians are very fond of wine ... It is also their general practice to deliberate upon affairs of weight when they are drunk; and then in the morning, when they are sober, the decision to which they came the night before is put before them by the master of the house in which it was made; and if it is then approved they act on it; if not, they set it aside. Sometimes, however, they are sober at their first deliberations, but in this case they always reconsider the matter under the influence of wine."

In the 200-year span between about 550 and 330 BCE, Professor Daryaee noted that the Persians refer to wine-related processes, close to what we have today, by naming producers of wine, referring to both women and men winemakers, and created terminology for such things as wine press (called a hankra). Most significantly, during this period they had a designated person who brought the wine to the king, aka the cup-bearer (tagar in Persian), who checked that there was no poison in the wine, and knew how to pour the wine correctly and to also hand the vessel over to the drinker properly. Ancient drawings and writings show that such a person carried the wine with just three fingers, the etiquette of the day. The most famous cup bearer, or ancient sommelier, was Nehemiah, who served King Artaxerxes in the fifth century BCE.

In addition to ancient vessels for making and storing wine, drinking vessels are depicted in ancient art, and many, in metal and earthenware, survive to this day. The Getty has a large collection of such vessels, including beautiful drinking horns, or rhytons, with elaborate animal carvings. 

During the Sasanian period, the last of three Persian kingdoms during this period, there was terminology for red, white, clarified, and clear wine, says Daryaee. 

Daryaee says that when the Muslim era began, it's a myth that drinks were prohibited, and there's evidence that wine culture and trade continued. However, fast forward to the revolution of 1979, and all wine production became illegal. Hence the selection of wines tasted  after this lecture are not from modern Iran.

Wines to Tickle the Palate

"The Persian king had vintners scouring every land to find some drinks that will tickle his palate."
-- Xenophone in Agesilaus 9.3

"I could drink much wine and yet carry it well."
-- Darius the Great in Athenaus The Dinner Philosophers X.434d

Professor Daryaee quoted the above during his lecture to emphasize the perception of the Persians as luxury-seeking aristocrats who wanted only the best in food and wine, no matter how far they, i.e., their minions, had to go to get it.

Those of us at the Bacchus Uncorked event had only to rely on the sommeliers present to tickle our palates with four wines that represented ancient Persia ... loosely.

The closest representation was the Papara Valley "Qvevri 11" Kakheti-Saperavi 2020. This inky dark purple wine was truly a mouthful, with intense tannins and acid along with layers of intense purple fruit, camphor, peppercorns, and cured meat. Wow, this pummeled my palate with its boldness. This wine is produced in Georgia, in qvevri, or large clay earthenware vessels, an 8000-year-old tradition. The wines are fermented and stored in these large vessels, undergoing four weeks of maceration. In other words, the wine is born, matures, and resides in the qvervi. The wine is naturally fermented with indigenous yeast, and the producer has 20+ qvevri on three terraces and the wine, over 10 months, makes its way down via gravity to the lower qvevri, and in this cases ends up in #11. The Saperavi red grape is one of 500+ indigenous grapes in Georgia, and is grown on cinnamonic soil, a combination of iron and clay with cinnamon-like consistency. Kakheti is one of the important wine regions of Georgia.

The St. Joseph "Offerus" from J.L. Chave 2019 was  chosen to represent the importance of the Syrah grape in ancient Persia. Shirāz is the modern Persian interpretation of a city first referenced, per Dr. Daryaee and other scholars, in the Elamite clay tablets which date back to 2000 BCE. So you get the connection, right? This classic northern Rhone is 100% syrah, with mixed wild berries on the nose and palate plus spices and game meat, a lovely wine.

There were two other wines, a chardonnay and a Bordeaux blend from Darioush of Napa. This is not exactly near Persia, but Darioush Khaledi is a transplant from modern-era Iran, who escaped the country during the 1979 revolution, came to Los Angeles, started a successful grocery chain, and then pursued his dream of starting a winery in Napa. It's a true success story, and Mr. Khaledi is now director of the Napa Valley Festival, and can boast of one of the most spectacular, palace-like wineries in toney Napa Valley.

The Darioush 2018 Chardonnay is estate grown, full of acid and freshness, which sommelier Barion likened to a Chassagne Montrachet or a Meursault. I tasted quite a bit of oak, but enjoyed the wine. The 2018 Caravan Napa Valley Red Blend is a classic Napa Meritage, well made and totally pleasing as well.

The Getty pulled out all the stops for those of us who purchased the $90 tickets to this lovely evening. A generous spread of small bites, including Persian meatballs, was included.  And we were allowed to linger well into the evening and wander around the grounds as the sun set and the lighted balls in the wading pool changed from one pastel color to another. The air was clean and fresh, and I felt transported back to ancient times in this spectacular setting. 

Tâ ba’d (until next time),

Useful links:

The next Bacchus Uncorked event, Drinking (and Eating) with Greeks and Persians, is July 9th and 10, 2022. You can purchase tickets now.

Darioush Winery:

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Iris Vineyards: Reaching Its Full Potential

Iris Vineyards in Oregon's Southern Willamette Valley

When Aaron Lieberman took the job as head winemaker for Iris Vineyards in Oregon's southern Willamette Valley in 2008, little did he know that in 2020 he'd be doing pre-fermentation thermovinification treatment (that's heating the wine must till almost boiling) on his Pinot Noir bottlings to remove smoke components from the wine, as well as post-fermentation treatment, including racking off the lees and replacing them with white lees to soak up smoke compounds.

But such is the winemaker's life in a world of climate change and devastating wild fires. The current realities of the world  have forced winemakers like Lieberman to practice wine-salvaging techniques in order to save some of their harvests, and thank god for people like him.

Iris winemaker Aaron Lieberman

According to the 2020 Vineyard and Winery Report published by the University of Oregon, 62% of Oregon's grape growers reported fire impact as did 18% of Oregon wineries. Lieberman and other growers and winemakers are learning to adapt to this "new normal," which almost definitely includes more wildfires. 

Both Lieberman and the report noted that lessons have been learned from their southern neighbors in Napa, Calif., where wildfires have ravaged the wine industry for longer. Specifically, Lieberman practices micro fermentations, whereby he picks grapes early, ferments them dry, and then analyzes them in order to make the decision on what to pick and what not to pick. He then allows the selected grapes to ripen as much as possible before harvesting them. 

Lieberman also noted that the color of the grapes is a key factor in mitigating the smoke effect. Because smoke taint is in the skins of grapes, white grapes and those that require a lighter pressing can provide a small assurance that there will be a crop in spite of smoke in the air.

Freeze is another factor Oregon winemakers must face. The frost-prone parts of the Willamette Valley experienced snow and freezing temperatures in May of 2022, and it doesn't look good for some of the grapes. Lieberman thinks that loses could be as much as 50% of the average in such areas.

A Tasting of Iris Wines

Iris Vineyard's Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris

Recently the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association, or IFWTWA, hosted a Zoom tasting with Iris Vineyards' Lieberman to discuss the winery, its history, and to taste a couple of Iris' wines.

Those of us on the Zoom call did not know about the treatments the red wine has received. I personally formed my opinion of it knowing nothing about its lineage. The 2020 Iris Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a soft, cheery bottle, well priced at around $23 retail, that I would recommend to anyone. It's typical Oregon Pinot Noir, with notes of bright fresh cherry and cranberry, a bit of earthiness, baking spices, and super soft and smooth mouth feel, with just 13% alcohol. 

I had no idea that this "little wine that could" started life with the disadvantage of smoke taint in the wine skins, but Lieberman, like a surgeon, performed his treatment and saved it from being dumped, and also saved Iris Vineyards from even greater financial loss. I applaud his wine making and find it commendable that Lieberman could produce such a lovely wine under such abysmal conditions.

We also tasted the Iris Vineyards 2020 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, which had a less troublesome upbringing than the Pinot Noir, as it was not affected by wildfire smoke. This lively, refreshing Pinot Gris again typifies the variety grown in Oregon. I find Oregon PGs so much more flavorful and substantial than most on the market. This one had notes of apple and citrus, was bright and cheerful, and retails around $17. I would recommend this to anyone, especially as a summer sipper. This wine was awarded Best in Show (Double Gold) at the McMinnville Wine Classic. 

Iris Vineyards History

Iris Vineyards is committed to reforestation and sustainability.

Iris Vineyards is in an isolated part of the southern end of the Willamette Valley, just north of neighbor King Estate, which is the southern-most Willamette Valley winery. Iris is situated on 870 acres, 37 of which are planted to vines, which were planted in 1996 (the land was purchased in 1992). The vines are at about 1000 feet elevation, which is instrumental in keeping the grapes' acidity at refreshing levels. The winery produces 14,000 cases, making it a medium-size Willamette Valley winery -- the average winery there produces less than 5,000 cases. 

The owners, husband and wife Richard Boyles and Pamela Frye, are natives of Eugene Oregon, come from a farming background, live on the vineyard, and are committed to community work, and also to reforestation of their land. Sustainability is a priority for Iris, and their vineyard manager has been with the property for longer than Lieberman. While not certified due to the restrictive nature of attaining such, the winery does follow guidelines including minimal herbicides and use of organically certified treatments.

In addition to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, the Iris estate buys Chardonnay and Viognier grapes from other Willamette Valley growers. They also purchase grapes from warmer regions in the south, i.e., Applegate, Umpqua and Rogue Valleys, including Viognier, Temparanillo, Syrah, Merlot and GSM blends. Grapes are also sourced from northern Oregon, specifically the Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla AVAs (but only from the Oregon side!). Oregon wines are stricter than other AVAs, and 100% of the grapes must be from the state, and 85% from the stated AVA. 

From Tasting Room to Wine Bar

Iris closed its on-site tasting room during the Covid pandemic, but has just opened (officially June 2, 2022) an off-site "wine bar" (not a tasting room!) on historic Main Street in the town of Springfield, Oregon (yes, the Springfield of Simpsons fame!). An old rough-and-tumble town that is seeing a renewal, Iris will be part of the emerging hospitality industry in Springfield, located just east of Eugene, and will serve wine-based cocktails as well as bottles and glasses of their wine. Wine cocktails initially include a Negroni, a Manhattan, and a Gin & Tonic. I don't know what these taste like, but I will surely check them out on my next trip to Southern Oregon.

Areté Reserve Wine & Sparklings

In addition to the Iris Vineyards label, which comprises 90% of production, the owners also produce the Areté reserve label, which consists of  their estate-grown "finest expressions" of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and sparkling wine. The term is ancient Greek for, loosely, "living up to one's full potential," a philosophy that both the owners and winemaker adhere to.  

Winemaker Lieberman says his favorite wine to produce is sparkling, which is done in the traditional method. The entire production is done in-house. 


As consumers, most of us don't question what goes into a bottle, the human and environmental side of the story. I hope this post sheds some light on that, and I suggest that if you're looking for wines that are well priced, exhibit bright fruit, are acid driven, with lower alcohol, and that are food friendly and ethically produced, take a look at Iris Vineyards.  

Useful Links

Iris Vineyards Web site:

For more on thermovinification, see the article Thermovinification Heats Up Interest from

Until next time,

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Sannio Wines: Ancient Varieties Meet State-of-the-Art Wineries

Sannio is a wine-producing sub-region of Campania, an area in the west of Italy, located on the "ankle" of the boot-shaped country. Campania produces wines made from ancient grape varieties with equally ancient-sounding names like Aglianico, Falanghina, Coda di Volpe, Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Piedrosso. These grape varieties have been making a comeback in Campania since the 1980s, helped along by contemporary winemaking technique and enthusiastic wine makers interested in preserving the viticultural history of the area.

The Sannio sub-region specializes in Falanghina and Aglianico, grapes that do well in the region's altitude. Sannio is a hilly area north of Naples that straddles the provinces of Benevento and Avellino. The mountains in the area mitigate the warm inland temperatures, allowing the grapes to retain their freshness and acidity, and the soils are clay and limestone.

Dairy farms are prevalent in Sannio, and pizza is a popular dish, made with the area's Buffalo Mozarello and Pomodoro tomatoes, and pork is the most prominent meat.

A recent LA Wine Writers luncheon, held at n10 restaurant in Los Angeles, and hosted by Italian Wine Girl Laura Donadoni, featured four of the wines of the Sannio Consorzio Tutela Vini. The four wines tasted, three Falanghinas and one Aglianico, were paired with the restaurant's contemporary Italian food. It should be noted that 95% of the Falanghina grapes in Italy are grown in Sannio.

Sparkling Falanghina 

Our group was introduced to a sparkling wine that most of the 12 people at the luncheon had not experienced before. This is not surprising, as sparkling Falanghina comprises just 3% of the wines produced from this grape in Sannio. 

And it was a treat. A refreshing, lovely alternative to Prosecco, this bubbly Falanghina had a wonderfully floral nose, a touch of salinity on the palate, and a slightly bitter, almondy finish, which is typical of Italian white wines.  

This bubbly is made using the Charmant method, the same as used for Prosecco production whereby the fermentation takes place in large stainless steel tanks, preserving the fresh, fruity characteristics of the wine. This one, produced by Corte Normanna, has 12% alcohol, making a great aperitif that pairs well with a variety of foods. 

I've long been a proponent of what I call "other bubbles," which are sparkling wine that are more affordable alternatives to pricey Champagne, and this one fits the bill at under $20 retail.

A Tre Bicchieri Winner

Wine number two was another Falanghina, but a still version, from Terre Stregate, called Svelato. In 2019 this wine received the Tre Bicchieri ("three glasses") award from the Vini d'Italia guide published by Gambero Rosso, which is its top award.

This lovely version of Falanghina is also floral, salty, and with a bitter almond finish, which paired perfectly with the simple crisp salad course.

The third wine, also a Falanghina, was Janare Sanate, another gorgeous version with citrus, flowers, fresh hay, and a minerally finish. Both of the above Falanghina wines are aged in stainless steel.

These wines reminded me why I often go to our Italian wine section at The Wine House when I'm looking for an inexpensive but lovely and refreshing white wine to go with my dinner. They offer so much, with a pleasing complexity, acidity, and finish that pleases my palate every time. Both of the above are priced below $20 retail.

Sannio Falanghina wines are sourced from the hills, and the area has has it's own designation, called Falanghina del Sannio DOC. The word Sannio derives from "Samnium," which means "land of the Samnites," a pre-Roman civilization ... this should give you an idea of just how ancient these ancient grapes are.

Aglianico, a Big Red

While 67% of the grapes of Sannio are white Falanghina, 12% are of the red variety Aglianico, specifically Aglianico del Taburno, which received DOC status in 1986, and DOCG status in 2011.

The Fattoria La Rivolta is 100% Aglianico, although regulations allow up to 50% of other varieties. The grapes are grown at even higher altitudes than the Falanghina so the wines retain their freshness and acidity. Additionally, La Rivolta's wine is organic.

Our luncheon paired this with a meaty pasta dish, which was perfect, but it also paired well with the sweet sweet profiterole served for dessert. This tasty Aglianico sells for about $25 retail.

Other Aglianico Regions

Aglianico del Taburno DOCG is distinct from the other Aglianicos of Italy. Taurasi, the most well-known, comes from Campania, and is named after a town in Avellino and has been referred to as the 'Barolo of the South.' This version must age three years before release. Another is Aglianico del Vulture, which is a DOC/DOCG in Southern Italy's mountainous, land-locked and wild area of  Basilicata, which features volcanic soils, giving its wines power and structure.

Aglianico, regardless of source, is generally a well structured wine, with delicious dark fruity flavoring and tangy acidity, which pairs well with a variety of foods, including meats, vegetables, pasta, risotto, and, some would argue, chocolate. Popularity of Aglianico wines has been growing rapidly in the last 10 years. 

Useful links

Sannio Consorzia --

The Wine House --

Until next time,