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

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),
Cheers!

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: https://www.darioush.com/

















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. 

Conclusion

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: https://irisvineyards.com/

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

Until next time,
Cheers!

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 -- https://www.sanniodop.it/


The Wine House -- https://www.winehouse.com/

Until next time,
Ciao!










Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Italy's Reds & Whites Delight at Marino Ristorante

Wine refreshes the stomach, sharpens the appetite,

 blunts care and sadness, and conduces to slumber.

-- Pliny the Elder


I learned during my years-long study to achieve my WSET Diploma that Italy did not become a nation state, or one unified country, until 1861. This had never sunk in during my high school history classes; it was only when I began studying about Italian wine that I learned that prior to 1861, and after the fall of Rome in the fifth century, Italy was a fragmented collection of numerous, politically divided city states, often at war with one another. Once united, however, Italy faced other obstacles, including two world wars and its own civil war, before ultimately surviving as a democracy and a European power.

In spite of its disruptive history, Italy has consistently been producing killer wines dating back to ancient times. In fact, there is some belief that the first vitis vinifera vines were grown in Italy, although there are some folks in Spain, Greece, and Georgia (the Eastern European one) who would strongly object to this notion!

Regardless, it's safe to say that Italy has been producing wine for thousands of years, in all its different regions, and is much glorified in wine circles throughout the world. The popularity of Italian wine  amongst the clientele of The Wine House in West Los Angeles, where I am employed, is pretty amazing. Folks love Italy, Italian food, and especially Italian wine. Our Italian tasting events usually sell out pretty quickly (in non-COVID times!).

LA Wine Writers recently spent a lunch hour at Marino's Restaurant in Los Angeles, hosted by Bethany Burke of Taub Family Selections & Palm Bay International, where she presented a tour of Italy via the wines of four producers that she represents. We "traveled" up and down the boot of Italy, from Piedmont to Sicily. It was a nice reminder of how diverse and good Italian wines, both red and white, can be, and also how reasonably priced.

(From top left, clockwise) Bethany Burke of Taub Family Selections;
Torbato sparkling wine; the day's white selections; Chef Sal Marino's first course.

Here's what was tasted:

The Whites, and Bubbles

From producer Sella & Mosca, whose estate is on the island of Sardinia, we tasted three wines, two of them whites. First there was Torbato Brut Alghero DOC sparkling wine, made with 100% Torbato, produced using the Charmat method. Turbato is an indigenous grape to Sardinia (although some say it's originally from Spain), and it's been revived on the island. It's made in both still and sparkling, and this sparkling was just lovely, especially on a warm September day in LA. It's also well priced at around $21, and is a perfect aperitif wine.

Also from Sella & Mosca was the 2020 Monteoro Vermentino di Gallura Superiore DOCG, from the northeast section of the island of Sardinia. This area experiences hot days and cool nights, which are perfect conditions for this grape. A lovely summer sipper with crisp acidity, and well priced at around $24.

Like Sella & Mosca, Mastroberardino is responsible for the revival of indigenous grape varieties, but in the Campania region of central Italy. First up was 2019 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Biano DOC. The wine is 100% Coda di Volpe, Italian for "tail of the fox," so named because of the long pendulous bunches these grapes grow in. And ever the romantic language, Lacryma Christi is Italian for "tears of Christ." This is a citrusy, spicy white with medium acidity, priced at about $20.

Also from Mastroberardino was the 2019 Fiano di Avellino DOCG, a more full-bodied white, with notes of almonds, citrus, flowers, and herbs. It's priced at about $22. 

At just 12.5% abv, these beautiful wines paired beautifully with Chef Sal Marino's starter courses of tuna tartar and salad. 

The Reds

After the appetizers and whites, things got seriously red, with three Chianti Classicos and three Nebbiolos. 

From Tuscany, the wines of Rocca delle Macie showcased the beauty of Sangiovese in its various iterations of Chianti Classicos. The Zingarelli family runs this vineyard, which was started by the late Italo Zingarelli of "spaghetti western" fame in 1973, when he moved from making moves to making wine. His son and his family now run the operation, and are active in the Chianti Classico growers' consortium.

The red wines and their pairings.

The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Tenuta Sant'Alfonso features 100% estate Sangiovese, and is aged in French oak for a year (retail price $28). The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva Familia Zingarelli is a fine example of the Riserva style, which means the wine has spent at least two years in oak and at least three months aging in the bottle (retail price $28). The 2018 Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva di Fizzano Gran Selezione is the historic cru of the winery, and a fine example of this fairly new category of Chianti Classic, which is above Riserva (retail price $41). The additional requirements above Riserva are .5% more minimum alcohol and 30 months aging, as opposed to 24 months. Paired with Chef Sal's red-sauce pasta and braised lamb with polenta, these were just spectacular wines for the money, and a good lesson on Chianti Classico wines.

Moving to Piedmont, in Northern Italy, we got into the Nebbiolos, one of my favorite grapes. This lighter-bodied wine was presented in three versions, all 100% Nebbiolo, in various vintages, from Beni di Batasiolo, a Dogliani family winery. First up was 2017 Barbaresco DOCG (retail price $40), aged 12 months in Solvenian and French oak plus 12 months in stainless steel. The 2016 Barolo DOCG is a mixture of all five of Batasiolo's vineyards, aged in Slovenian oak for 24 months plus 12 months in stainless steel (retail price $42). Finally, there's the lovely 2013 Barolo DOCG Briccolina, also aged 24 months in French oak and 12 more in stainless steel (retails for $115). Briccolina is a Barolo Cru, in the village of Serralunga. This absolutely elegant wine displayed a brown-tinged garnet color, and aromas of flowers, herbs, berries, delicate spices. The tannins are integrated and lovely on the palate. 

Bonus Reds and Truffle Pizza

Chef Sal shaves truffles onto pizza, served with big bold reds.


From Sella & Mosca there was the 2014 Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. And no Italian wine tasting would be complete without an Aglianico from Mastroberardino. We had the 2011 "Naturalis Historia" Taurasi DOCG. Of note, and because I like quoting Pliny the Elder, this wine is named after his magnum opus. It's a single-vineyard, old-vine, manually harvested wine, there's no doubt that this chewy, dark, opulent wine could age for another 50 years. It retails for about $114.

Until next time,

In vino sanitas!

Helpful Links

Marino Ristorante: https://www.marinorestaurant.com/; Facebook @marinoristorante
Winery Twitter: @mastroberardinowinery; @sellaemosca; @roccadellemacie; @batasiolvini
Winery Facebook: @mastroberardinovineyards; @sellaemosca; @roccadellamacie; @bastasiolo
Taub Family Selections: @taubfamilyselections (Facebook & Twitter)
Palm Bay International: @palmbayinternational (Facebook & Twitter)

The Wine House, which has a huge selection of Italian wines: www.winehouse.com
To search for any wine try: www.winesearcher.com



Monday, September 27, 2021

Applegate Valley's Troon Vineyard Leads in Sustainability

Soon after I visited Southern Oregon as part of the 2021 Wine Media Conference (WMC21) this summer, the Oregon Wine Board released the 2020 Vineyard and Winery Report, which confirmed some of the thoughts I had during my weeklong visit to this beautiful wine region. Some of my thoughts were not so good, based on the horrific wildfires and oppressive heat that were making their presence known in the form of smoky skies and parched fields. But most of my thoughts were positive, based on the fact that my eyes were opened to a whole world of wine possibilities, including the impressive organic/biodynamic/sustainability movement among vineyards in Oregon, as well as the plethora of grape varieties that the Southern Oregon climate is capable of growing successfully.

Some of the key findings of the report, which can be found in full here, support the fact that 2020 was a bad year for Oregon wine, just as it was for most of the world. COVID and wildfires are the main culprits, and both factors were omnipresent in my travels through the region. Statistically, per the report, there was a downward slide in yield per acre (-24%), grape production (-29%), and direct-to-consumer sales (-27%). Factors for these, in order, were a cooler spring, September wildfires, and COVID-caused tasting room closures.

But there were some bright spots, and they point to a rosier future for Oregon wines, although climate-change factors and pandemic-related issues are unpredictable and could have continuing negative effects. That being said, per the report, there were increases in total acreage planted, grape tonnage (particularly in Rogue and Columbia River regions), national sales (both within and outside the state), and international sales.

The state currently has 995 wineries, up 10% from 2019, and not surprisingly the bulk of them are in the Northern Willamette Valley. However, Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley AVA  (which includes the Applegate Valley AVA) saw a healthier growth of 12%, bringing the total of wineries to 122.

In my last post, several of the Rouge/Applegate Valley vintners were mentioned, and this highlighted the great variety of varieties that these AVAs are producing, with most of the vineyards using fairly robust sustainability practices. My previous post on Cowhorn Vineyards is a good example of this push toward a "closed-loop" farming system.

There were several other Southern Oregon wineries that provided the WMC attendees with a focused look at the area. Of note is Troon Vineyard, a recognized leader in the sustainability world. Following is a closer look at Troon.

Troon Vineyard

The hospitality and information provided by Troon General Manager Craig Camp was beyond compare. This industry veteran and his team set up a four-part tour of the Troon estate in Grants Pass, Oregon. My tour started in the barrel room, moving on to the vineyard and its terroir, the composting facilities, and finally the viticulture practices. The day was complete with a multi-course dinner cooked by local chefs and accompanied by Troon wines. Talk about a wine geek's perfect day!

All quadrants of the tour (on a very hot day with wildfire smoke in the air no less!) provided insights into the factors that contribute to Troon Vineyard achieving Regenerative Organic Certified farm status, being the second winery in the US to do so (Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, CA is the other one). Troon Vineyard is also Demeter Biodynamic certified.

Following are some facts learned about Troon on this tour.
(From top left) Amphorae in the barrel room make orange wine from Vermentino; cowhorns in Troon's biodynamic arsenal; General Manager Craig Camp with vineyard dogs; Kubli Bench soils of granite loam.


In the Barrel Room

  • All native yeast is used, there is no "legacy" yeast. It's winemaker Nate Wall's belief that the wine is made in the vineyard, and his "minimalist" style prevails.
  • Amphorae are used for Troon's orange Vermentino, which Wall says grows perfectly on the estate. The clay vessels are made by Andrew Beckham of Beckham Estate Vineyard in Sherwood, OR, who is a ceramics instructor as well as a winemaker. The vessels are unglazed and unsealed, allowing for the right amount of oxidation of the wines. Vermentino is Troon's only grape fermented in the amphorae; the grapes sit for three weeks on their skins to produce an orange wine.
  • No new oak is used at Troon, and the newest oak barrel is third fill; barrels are used up to 7 times.
  • Wall would love to use a concrete egg, but so far has not.
  • Most of Troon's wines are Mediterranean varieties. Estate-grown grapes include Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Primitivo, Tinta Roriz, and Tennat.
  • Piquette, or "frugal farmer fizz," per the Troon Web site, is made when the leftover juice and skins are pressed again for a light, fizzy, quaffable wine. We were served this at the end of our tour, pre-dinner (see photo below). Called Piquette!, this 2020 vintage was a delicious aperitif on a very hot day in August.

In the Vineyard

  • Troon's 100-acre vineyard is part of the Applegate Valley AVA, and is situated at 1300 to 1400 feet elevation.
  • The property sits on the Kubli Bench, a geologic plateau of sorts that part of the Siskiyou mountain range, and which has its own meso-climate. The vineyard gets more wind and sun than other parts of the Applegate Valley.
  • The soils are granite loam, pushed up by tectonic plates that collided thousands of years ago.
  • Owners Brian & Denise White bought the vineyard three years ago from Dick Troon, who planted in 1972. In 2017 the Whites implemented the robust biodynamic program which, among other things, meant pulling out diseased old vines and replanting with new vine and new varieties.
  • The vineyard has a thriving native garden and they are moving toward a permanent cover crop, which includes rye and fescue, which increases the earth's ability to hold water. Sheep have been added to the farm's animal life, and they forage on the cover crops.

Composting & Viticulture

  • Troon Vineyard has a 3,000 square composting area, which is managed by Andrew Beedy, an Organic and Biodynamic farming consultant, who has implemented a robust biodynamic program. Beedy also consults with Cowhorn Vineyard, which also has an impressive biodynamic program (read about it here).
  • The vineyards have been managed by viticulturist Jason Cole of Pacific Crest Management since 2018. He also manages about 10 other Oregon properties.) 
  • Cole has slowly transitioned the Troon property to young vines, pulling out the old vines post-harvest when the soils are dry.
  • The goal with water (which appears to be getting scarcer year by year) is to become "off-dry,"
    says Cole. The young vines require more water in their youth, but as they age they will require less.

Dinner by Fire + Wine


Mary Cressler and Sean Martin of Vindulge not only presented us with a copy of their newly published cookbook Fire + Wine, they also barbecued each and every course of our open-air dinner, from appetizers to dessert. Capping the evening, the aforementioned winds did sweep in, although not as robustly as per usual on this very warm evening. 
(From top left) Troon at sunset; Troon's Piquette! 2020; Fire + Wine cookbook authors Sean and Mary Cressler.

Until next time,

Cheers



Useful Links



Travel Southern Oregon Web site: https://www.southernoregon.org









Thursday, August 26, 2021

Rogue Valley, Oregon: A Little Wine With Your Shakespeare

The recently held Wine Media Conference (WMC) 2021 brought wine writers to Eugene, Oregon, this year, and as always, the excursion prior to the main event was a highlight, providing an in-depth discovery of one specific region in the state. Along with about 25 other wine writers, I chose to take a closer look at Southern Oregon's Rogue Valley, about which I knew very little. 

About three hours by bus from Eugene, the Rogue Valley, along with neighboring Applegate Valley, sits just above the northern California border in Oregon. The destination town for the wine media was Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the gorgeous old Ashland Springs Hotel, where we stayed. Dating from 1925, and originally known as the Lithia Springs Hotel, this nine-story hotel boasted that it was "the tallest building between Portland and San Francisco," and brought European elegance to the area, known for the gold rush, mineral springs, and the Chautauqua lecture series, which were an educational/self-improvement movement popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (they are still on-going in NY State). The facility for the Chatauqua meetings became the present-day facilities of the popular Shakespeare Festival. Tudor-style themes dominate the town as an homage to Shakespeare.

The hotel was refurbished in the 1990s with a "cabinet-of-curiosities concept based on education and travel," per an Architectural Digest interview with its owners Doug and Becky Neuman. I was personally intrigued by the hotel's lobby with its magnificent display cases of the aforementioned curiosities (see photos below).

The Ashland Springs Hotel has a "cabinet of curiosities" design inside, and a beautiful art-deco exterior.


Rogue Valley Wineries


At a reception in the Ashland Springs's beautiful cobblestone patio and flower garden (which replaced a pool during restoration), several knowledgeable representatives of Southern Oregon organizations extended their hospitality and welcome to the writers. Among them were Lanessa Pierce, author of "What to Do in Southern Oregon;" Gina Bianco, Executive Director of Rogue Valley Vintners; Bob Hackett, Executive Director of Travel Southern Oregon; Dana Keller, Director of Food & Beverage at Rogue Creamery; Chris Spirko, GM/CFO of Sharffen Berger chocolates; and representatives of 10 area wineries.

Following are the wineries, and their wines, in the order they presented, with just a few notes on each. Each wine was paired with cheese, chocolate, or a delicacy from Lark's, the restaurant in the Ashland Springs Hotel.

Hummingbird Estate: 2020 White Pinot Noir, a white wine from a red grape, retails at $32 a bottle. Hummingbird has a tasting room and Bed & Breakfast on their property, and they also produce three different wines in a can, a growing trend.

Dwell Wines: Based in Applegate Valley, Dwell is a woman-owned winery, and her plans are to open a  tasting room in January 2022. The wines are made at Barrel 42, an off-premise facility. We tasted their 2020 Rose of Pinot Noir

Coventina Vineyards: The 2017 Chardonnay, priced at $20 a bottle. The name is from the Celtic for purification and regeneration. Their wines are also made off-premise at Barrel 42.

Irvine & Roberts: 2018 Estate Chardonnay, $35 a bottle. Winemaker Vince Vidrine explained that he does one early pick of grapes which produce crisp clear juice, and one later pick, which produces a richer, rounder juice with high sugar, and he combines these in barrel for this estate wine.

Foris: "Meticulously crafted. Amazing Affordable." This phrase comes from their Web site, but everyone at this event was floored by the $20 price tag on the very good 2019 Foris Rogue Valley Pinot Noir. Founded in 1974 by Ted Gerber, an early pioneer of the west side of the Rogue AVA, the winery has 40-year-old vines featuring the heritage varieties of Oregon: Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. Like Barra of Mendocino (see story here), Gerber owns his land and chooses to pass on the concomitant savings to his customers. 


Naumes: 2018 Barbera, $40. This was paired with Rogue Creamery Caveman Bleu Cheese, which would taste good with just about anything, in my opinion, but the Barbera was delicious with it. Naumes also produces sparkling wines, a growing category in Oregon.

Quady North: 2018 GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre), $25. Herb Quady is the son of the Quady wine family, known for their sweet red and white wines made from Muscat grapes in California's Central Valley. The family purchased Oregon property and Herb now makes Rhone-ish and Loire-ish style wines (his words). Quady noted that the Mourvedre in the Rogue is lighter in style, but still maintains the "funk" that is its hallmark, and that the Syrah is the "glue" in his GSM that does well in just about every vintage.  

RoxyAnn Winery: Claret is RoxyAnn's signature red wine, and the 2017 Claret is composed of 40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest Cab Franc and Malbec. The winery is on the site of one of the oldest orchards in Oregon, dating back to 1908 as the Hillcrest Orchard, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The propety has 3 VRBO properties, and features a 120-year-old horse barn tasting room, which is open 7 days a week, and is also "kid friendly."

Weisinger Family Wines: While Eric Weisinger's father, a pioneer of the Rogue Valley, felt Gewürztraminer was the future of Southern Oregon when he first began growing grapes, it didn't quite turn out that way, and the son was pouring his 2018 Tempranillo for us wine writers. This grape is the easiest to grow on their property, says Eric, and since he is a self-proclaimed "lazy winemaker," that suits him fine! (There will be more on Weisinger in a future post, as they hosted an in-depth tasting for WMC 21 attendees.)

Belle Fiore: This producer has the most opulent estate, comprising a French-style chateau with magnificent views of the Ashland area, and offers private tastings by appointment in their Italianate tasting room. They grow 15 different varieties and have three distinct labels, of which the Belle Fiore Winery brand is one. The 2016 Numinos wine, poured for us, is a Bordeaux blend, with 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cab Franc, 9% Merlot, and some Malbec and Petit Verdot to round out the blend, which retails for $49.



Foods of Southern Oregon


Not to be overlooked or overshadowed were the food pairings for the above wines. Lark's chef prepared gorgeous small plates, and Rogue Creamery provided their award-winning cheeses. 

Another presenter was Chris Spirko of Scharffen Berger, the company known for producing baking chocolate. Spirko explained how this 25-year-old company was sold to Hershey 15 years ago, and purchased back from them in 2020. They are developing a "bean to bar" facility in Ashland, Oreg., employing 25 people, and at the time of this tasting in early August 2021 they were doing first trials of their products. Baking chocolate is a majority of their business, and they have partnerships with chefs and bakeries.

"Team Oregon"

Going into this excursion, I believed that as a Southern Oregon winery, it must be a constant thought that you are living in the shadow of your northern neighbors in the Willamette Valley with their world-famous Pinot Noirs and 700+ wineries. 

I was wrong. Per Herb Quady of Quady North, it's not a South vs. North mentality in the Rogue, in fact "I'm Team Oregon," he says. The Rogue Valley is a newer wine region, with more freedom and openness, with a youthful character, and presenting different opportunities. We certainly saw that in our visit with Cowhorn, with two women in their twenties as owner and winemaker (see my last post).

I also wanted to know what the signature wines of Southern Oregon are, assuming they were like Willamette Valley in this respect. It turns out that this is no signature wine, or signature grape, or even signature influence (i.e., French, Italian, Spanish, etc.). We sampled Sauvignon Blancs, Viogniers, Rieslings, Gewurtztraminers, Grenaches, Pinot Blancs, Chardonnays, Barberas, Cabernet Sauvignons, Pinot Noirs, Tempranillos, Mourvedres, Bordeaux blends, Carmeneres ... a veritable kitchen-sink of wines. 

And the wines are good ... no tasting notes to share, but I have a fairly trained palette and I know good wine when I drink it. And there is so much value wine, or bang-for-the-buck wines. Most of the wineries we visited sell direct to consumer either via Internet sales or wine club, so check them out via the links above.

I've also never seen a region that is so conscious of the environment, with the words organic, biodynamic, and sustainability on the lips of just about every owner/winemaker. The farm-to-table movement is also vibrant, with mouthwatering world-class food available. 

Southern Oregon deserves a closer look ... and possibly an extended vacation. In addition to the wineries and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, there are lakes, caves, mountain trails, and much more to see. If you do go, see below for some important links. 


Until next time,

Cheers!

Important Links:

Travel Southern Oregon: https://www.southernoregon.org/

Ashland Springs Hotel: https://www.ashlandspringshotel.com/

Rogue Valley Vintners: https://rvv.wine/

Rogue Valley Wine Country: https://roguevalleywinecountry.com/

Rogue Creamery (they have tours): https://roguecreamery.com/

Scharffenberger Chocolate: https://www.scharffenberger.com/

Oregon Shakespeare Festival: https://www.osfashland.org/

For ideas on things to do with a family: https://www.whattodoinsouthernoregon.com/






Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Cowhorn Vineyards of Southern Oregon: Moo-ving the Needle on Biodynamics

This year's in-person Wine Media Conference finally landed us attendees in Southern Oregon. Postponed for a year due to COVID, the annual event never fails to impress and amaze, giving us the opportunity to dive deep into a wine region ...  usually one that I've never been to. Southern Oregon gets overshadowed by the northern Willamette Valley, known primarily for its Pinot Noirs. My Oregon Pinot Camp experience in the summer of 2018 opened my eyes to these beautiful wines, as well as the Willamette's Rieslings, Chardonnays, Pinot Gris.

But Southern Oregon is a different place. Sitting between two mountain ranges, the Cascades to the east and the Coastal Range to the west, it encompasses the Rogue, Applegate, and Umpqua valleys, extending from the northern California border up to the beautiful city of Eugene, which lies in Lane County and sits in the southern tip of the Willamette Valley. 

The wines of Southern Oregon are a world of different grapes from the Northern Willamette. You'll find Rhone varieties, Spanish varieties, Italian varieties and many more. In fact, the South cannot be summed up with one grape the way its northern counterpart can. At #wmc21 we were treated to Tempranillos, Mourvedres, Viogniers, Gewurtztraminers, Marsannes, Roussannes, Syrahs, Carmeneres, Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Blancs (one of my favorites!), Grenaches, and more. Additionally, there is an enthusiastic embrace among the wineries of biodynamic, regenerative, and organic agriculture, as well as natural winemaking. Yes, orange wines are plentiful here!

Cowhorn Vineyard & Gardens

Owner Katherine "Mini" Banks (upper left)  and winemaker Sarah Thompson (bottom middle). The "little homes" for Grenache are seen in the photo on upper right.




















One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden. This Biodynamic and Organic property changed ownership in April 2021, and is now owned and operated by Katherine "Mini" Banks, who put together a team of of young, energetic, forward-thinking vineyard workers. The team's enthusiastic and warm embrace of our group of wine writers was much appreciated.

Our day started with one of the most in-depth tours of a vineyard property I've had, led by Banks and winemaker Sarah Thompson. We learned about the the #500 (horn manure) and #501 (horn silica) preparations for biodynamic farming, which Banks says are the most critical for creating, maintaining, and enriching the soils in a vineyard. The #500 spray is a "tea" preparation created from the rich hummus made over the winter months in the horns of cows buried in the ground, containing nutrient-rich cow dung. This tea is spread on the vineyard soils in the spring during bud-break. The #501 spray is a silica solution made from ground up quartz and water. It's sprayed onto the vines, giving them a light-reflective coating, which helps with photosynthesis and disease prevention, among other good things.

In the vineyard, we saw "happy" vines (see photo below), or "Dr. Seuss vines," as Banks describes them. This is due to the head training favored by the vineyard, which they believe makes the vines self-sufficient as their roots need to go deeper to "ground" themselves. Thompson and team use natural sissal twine to help stabilize the vines when winds come in, which occurs daily late in the afternoon in Applegate Valley. These winds are brought in on a natural funnel off the ocean, which is about a four-hour drive away. These winds were especially helpful this summer to help blow out the fire smoke that was invading all of Southern Oregon in August, due to the horrific wildfires to the east of Cowhorn. 

Of particular interest was the "little homes" vine management project that Thompson and Banks are testing, whereby the stray vines are tucked into the main part of the plant (see image above), which they believe signals to the plants that they have enough sunlight. They will see over time if this creates more or less sunburn on the vines and how the vines will react to this system in a rainy year. I hope to revisit this issue in a couple years.

One of Cowhorn's goals is to become completely dry-farmed. They currently irrigate, and have sprinklers in the vineyards for frost mitigation. Their watering is done at long intervals, as they want the grapes to be "stressed" to be healthier. 

The vineyard also features an asparagus field, which in April through June produces about 1,000 pounds per week. The asparagus ferns are harvested after growing season and re-seeded for the following year's crop. Additionally, lavender fields attract a variety of pollinator bees, and blackberry bushes and oak trees (brought back to life since new ownership took over) round out the polyculture estate that Cowhorn is creating to reach their biodynamic, self-sustainable goals. The future goals, in order to make the property into a closed loop, is to house employees on the property and have the farm animals reside there as well. Currently the cow manure is brought in from Rogue Creamery an organic creamery nearby that produces Rogue River Blue, which was named World Champion Cheese at the 2019/2010 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy, a first for an American cheese. This was probably the best cheese I've ever eaten.

Cowhorn currently has 117 acres of vineyard area, not all of which is planted, with 90% planted to Syrah, and the remaining parcels planted to Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo. 


Asparagus ferns sway in the wind (top left); lavender fields attract pollinating bees (top right),
and happy Grenache vines reach for the sky (bottom).

The Wines ... and Lunch

The above-mentioned Rogue Creamery Blue wrapped in Cowhorn Syrah Leaves with Crips was the first course in the splendid luncheon provide by Chef Kristen Lyon of Jefferson Farm Kitchen. This luncheon was served with several Cowhorn Wines which, because of the recent change in ownership, are the offspring of the previous owners, which Banks has inherited. There will be more wines coming from new winemaker Sarah Thompson, which she says will likely have less new oak and more whole-cluster fermentation. 
(clockwise from top left): Cowhorn's 2020 Grenache Rose; Mini Banks doles out barrel samples
of the 2019 Syrah; lunch overlooking the vineyard; the barrel room
.


We sampled the following wines:

2020 Grenache Rose -- tasted as beautiful as it looks in the photo above!
2014 Reserve Viognier -- luscious and lovely.
2014 Grenache -- lively, youthful, full of fruit and acid.
2020 Spiral 36, a Rhone style blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne -- class Rhone white blend, crisp and fresh, with mouth-coating viscosity. $28 retail
2019 Reserve Syrah, as a barrel sample -- I see the potential for this once bottled (which was to happen August 10th, right after our visit) and aged for another year. Lovely fruit popping through.

While I did not get pricing for most of the above wines, and the Cowhorn site does not list these, I was told by Mimi that the 2019 Estate Syrah will be about $50 and the Reserve will be about $75. 

Cowhorn is a winery to watch going forward. Banks and Thompson, along with co-owner Grant Gustofson, make a dynamic team, and with Raj Parr consulting, you know good things are still to come. If you are going to Oregon, plan a visit, but be sure to make an appointment, as that's the only way to get in. Hours are listed at www.cowhornwine.com.

Important links:

www.cowhornwines.com  -- to purchase wine and make an appointment
www.roguecreamery.com -- to purchase some of the best cheese in the world!
https://roguevalleywinecountry.com -- Rogue Valley Wine Country website
https://www.southernoregon.org/ -- Travel Southern Oregon website, for other things to do and see
https://www.southernoregon.org/attraction/wine-hopper-tours/ -- to help you get around while doing your wine tours
https://www.biodynamics.com/preparations -- to learn more about biodynamic sprays and manures


Until next time,

Cheers!