It’s entirely possible to go through life eating nothing but the most familiar foods, reading books by the customary best-selling authors or listening to a stock set of composers – so begins last weeks The Pour column in The New York Times. Wine critic Eric Asimov goes on to profile a dozen obscure grapes that are the foundation of some great wines and illustrate the diversity the world of wine has to offer. It’s a great article and I encourage you to check it out.
In a similar vein, while Burgundy, Champagne and Tuscany have the fame; there are many “undiscovered” wine regions that produce some of the world’s most exceptional wines. Here are five phenomenal wine regions you may not know but should – including Meteor’s own Coombsville.
Ribeira Sacra – Some of the steeply pitched vineyards in the region of eastern Galicia have been planted for nearly 2,00 years, and yet it is only in the last five years that their renown has grown beyond the boundaries of Spain. The wines are based on the Mencia grape and offer a delicate spiciness and minerality that pairs with a broad range of food. Like the Mosel in Germany of its nearby neighbor Duoro Valley, the sheer grandeur of the area makes a trip a must.
Tokaji – Yes, many wine lovers are familiar with the unctuous botrityzed wines of Tokaji, yet one of the most exciting developments since the fall of communism has been the production of DRY wines from the native grapes of the area. Specifically keep your eyes open for dry furmint – medium bodied, with tart, slightly under ripe pit fruit character; these are awesome wines for seafood dishes and warm summer afternoons.
Santorini – While many revel in images of Santorini as a sun splashed vacation destination, few are aware that some of the most interesting white wines in Europe are produced on the volcanic rich soils of the island. The grape Assyrtiko is the primary planting here producing crisp white wines with powerful minerality and purity.
Lipari Islands – Malvasia delle Lipari has been produced on the Lipari Islands off the coast of Sicily at least since 100 B.C. (though there is potentially evidence of the wines on coins dating back to 4th and 5th centuries B.C.). Though dry wines are produced, the magic here comes from the sweet wines of the Island. Simultaneously unctuous and fresh, these wines are dripping with aromatics of fresh cut flowers, honey and ripe pit fruit. Stunning.
Coombsville – While it my seem obvious I’d include Coombsville in this line up, it deserves to be here because the wines and wineries of the area are distinctive and distinctly different from the experience you get in more recognized appellations like Oakville or Rutherford. What makes the wines special? In a word, balance – the wines couple dark fruit and textural richness with vibrant acidities and fine-grained tannins. The red wines tend to be very dark in color with flavors of blackberries, black plums, mulberries, and dried herbs and black olives.
Our celebrity obsessed culture has fueled many trends in recent years, from reality television shows where people name their abdominals (how did “Snooki” make it into the NYT this past Sunday????) to chefs whose stain free jackets attest to careful preening rather than frenetic cooking. In the world of fine wine we have seen the incredible growth of winemakers whose names are seemingly more important than the wine they are producing. Some of this is justified, yet the readily recognizable names are only the beginning. Many of the best wines in the world are produced by winemakers you have never heard of – (even if their name is on the label)…
Here are 4 of my favorites;
I posted a first pass of this on facebook and twitter and thought it worth listing a number of others that I left off the “list”; Karen Culler, Celia Welsch, Kathy Corison, Wells Guthrie, Pam Starr, Amy Aiken, Ken Bernards.
Nathan Halverson’s article in the Press Democrat on Tuesday gave voice to a concern and conversation raging around Northern California. Cool temperatures and late rains into the spring already delayed bud break in many vineyards and the continued moderate mid day highs are doing little to help the vines catch up. For delicate skinned grapes like Pinot Noir, there is the grave fear of mold if the grape are still hanging when the fall rains begin. The same is true of Chardonnay where even a few spores of botrytis can multiply beyond control, in some cases inside the cluster where it is not even readily visible. These are concerns for Cabernet Sauvignon producers as well, though the thick skins make them less susceptible. The biggest concern is ripeness – bringing the tannins and fruit into balance before the suns arc lies too low on the horizon, or the incessant rains force people to get the fruit off the vines.
I noted a tweet earlier in the week of verasion in merlot at Frediani Vineyard just east of Calisotga, but Cabernet producers up and down the valley are scratching their heads and laying out plans for diligent and aggresive vineyard management.
As luck would have it, I spotted Meteor Vineyard manager Mike Wolf strolling around block 3 this morning – a perfect opportunity to get his thoughts. His decade long history of vineyard management in Napa Valley entails myriad scenarios, and he is quick to point out that every season has its peculiarities and unique circumstances.
“I have heard several people already compare 2010 to 1998, which was one of the most maligned and misunderstood vintages of the last 20 years.” Indeed, in retrospect, many of the wines from the 1998 vintage are fascinating expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon with vibrant acids and tannins allowing for graceful aging.
Perhaps his most telling comment was one of process.
“We may have to get a little Draconian.”
And here lies the essence. It is vintages like 1998 that separate out the great producers from the middling. Tough decisions are made and implemented. Anyone can make a great wine in a vintage like 2007 (I was going to say 97 but then thought of all of the pruny and overripe wines where there really was need of intervention) – who will stand out in a vintage like 2010?
The vineyard team is making its first green harvest pass now, and I expect to see several more as the months wear on…
Yes South Florida is known for the glitz and glam (and incredible Art Deco architecture) of South Beach, the posh houses and sophistication of Palm Beach and the tranquil beauty of Naples and the Gulf Coast, but it should also be recognized as a destination for a incredibly sophisticated food and wine scene (I am sure the cocktail scene is just as innovative – will have to save that for a personal trip).
In Miami’s South Beach, the beach was the furthest thing from peoples minds last week, with temperatures holding in the mid 60’s during the day and dipping in to the 40’s in the evenings. Couple that with a constant stiff breeze (wind chill in Florida?????) and people are indoors drinking and eating ( a few brave soles braved the beach, huddled among blankets and sweaters, eyes tearing against the whip of Atlantic winds and staring blankly at a distant warm and tropical place).
Much has been written about the influx of money to update many of the classic hotels of South Beach; the Fontaineblue went through close to a 1 billion dollar refurbishment, the Delano is sparkling and reaching back to a romantic period past, the Betsy pulsing with the energy of B Bar and BLT Steak. Each hotel also understood that sophisticated travelers are looking for more than just ocean views, spa service and high thread count sheets; dining is now an integral and essential part of every renovation.
The Fontaineblue houses three of the of the best restaurants in Miami; Alfred Portale’s Gotham Steak serves up classic range of steaks and seafood along with a great wine list (The French Laundry’s lead sommelier Dennis Kelley’s sister in law runs the cocktail program),Scott Conant’s Scarpetta takes Italian dining in Miami to a completely different level, and Hakkasan, London’s Michelin starred Chinese food restaurant, makes a splash with innovative and perfectly executed Chinese cuisine.
At the Delano, The Blue Door, Claude Troigros fuses the cuisine of his french roots (yes, that Troisgros family) with influences derived from his year cooking in Brazil. For something less formal, Plat Blue is the perfect place to relax for the evening taking in the famous Delano scene.
Though easy destinations, these restaurants are only the beginning of the culinary tour. Emeril’s South Beach outpost continues to turn out Emeril’s classics (the night I was there was Emeril’s South Beach Food and Wine VIP event and the place was PACKED). Steak houses, ok – hip steakhouses, remain a staple with Red, The Steakhouse, Meat Market, and Prime One Twelve serving perfectly cooked steaks, eclectic wine lists and slightly over the top cocktails. One little side note, and you will not find Meteor Vineyard here, but my favorite lunch place is the tiny, outdoor seating only sandwich place Le Sandwicherie on 14th Street. One of the best sandwich shops in the U.S.
When you are exhausted of the painfully cool scene in South Beach, its time to head to what may be the most exciting restaurants in the city (and slightly north). Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink has garnered tremendous acclaim, all of it justified. This small “neighborhood” restaurant in the Design District turns out some of the most compelling and authentic food I have tasted anywhere. Perfect ingredients prepared with precision and honesty. It didn’t hurt that they were pouring Krug by the glass (for $28 – incredible!) as well as Diamond Creek. Former S.F. sommelier Matt Turner has escalated the wine list at Michael Minna’s Aventura outpost of Bourbon Steak to a work of art with the worlds greatest producers represented on page after page (look for Meteor Vineyard soon). The stunning beauty of the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key only adds to the allure of Azul. Sommelier Cynthia Betancourt oversees a diverse and cutting edge wine list. The champagne bottles chilling along the center of the bar suggest (loudly) the best way to start the meal (and end it).
The recent New York Times article on Palm Beach ( 36 hours in Palm Beach, Fl ) did a decent job capturing the vibe of the tony seaside enclave (and the continued introspection of its residents post Madoff), but missed the breadth of options on the dining scene. The Breakers dominates the northern end of Palm Beach Island, historically and in presence. The dining scene alone makes this a must stop. Not one but TWO Master Sommeliers (Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez) oversee a massive wine program that form the foundation for everything from L’Esaclier to the Seafood Bar. Cafe L’Europe remains one of the most loved restaurants in Palm Beach (beware the video on the home page of the website – it doesn’t do justice to the elegant sophistication to say nothing of the epic wine program) and Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel added an element of cool to the downtown dining scene.
I suppose all of this befits an area know as South New York City. There are far worse places to while away the winter…
Linda Viviani excels at providing her clients access to some of the most exciting wineries in Northern California. In this video she speaks with Tracy Schuler about finding the property that is now Meteor Vineyard and the elements that make it such a unique and compelling place.
There have been some heated exchanges recently between sommeliers in San Francisco and winemakers from the surrounding regions. Although nearly every chef in San Francisco embraces the concept of buying local products, wine buyers have shown little such interest, creating wine lists that are largely based on imported wines from both classic and emerging regions from the far corners of the globe while ignoring the innovations of myriad winemakers in California. A recent blog post from New York Times wine and spirits writer Eric Asimov ignited debate, with San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonne following on his heals with an article of his own.
As a longtime sommelier and lover of wine from around the world who now manages a small winery in Napa Valley, I was approached repeatedly about weighing in – but thought it best to let the dust settle. Recent rains have settled that.
My first true wine trip took place nearly 15 years ago when I boarded a plane to Malpensa in November and made my way to the town of Alba. Anyone who has spent time in Alba in November knows that the streets are perfumed with the beguiling musk of white truffles. The streets are full of revelers and seekers, those who make the yearly pilgrimage to this famed northwestern region of Italy to secure and consume one of the worlds most beguiling products.
Aside from white truffles, the other defining product is wine. From the famed nebbiolo based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, to the more approachable dolcetto and barbera (and cortese), the bars and restaurants of Alba, and Nieve and every other town in the region, are full of locals and visitors alike enjoying the fruits of the nearby land. Order a plate of tajarin with butter and white truffle along with a pristine bottle of 1978 Barbaresco (ok, there are probably very few left in the cellars) and you are in heaven.
For many who travel to the worlds great wine growing regions, one of primary reasons for the trip is to taste the wines of the area. When I am traveling around the Willamette Valley, I am not likely to order a bottle of Angelus. If there is Coche-Dury on the menu at a reasonable price, I may HAVE to buy it, otherwise I, and most everyone else traveling in the region, is going to order pinot gris, chardonnay or pinot noir grown in the surrounding vineyards. Wine lists are full of the new as well as the established, the iconic and the eccentric. This is as true in Champagne as it is Bordeaux, in Rioja as it is in Mendoza.
Lovers of wine in all of these regions (simply living in a famed wine region doesn’t immediately qualify you as a true lover of wine) seek out compelling examples from around the world and well chosen restaurant lists highlight the local while looking outside the immediate evirons for compelling expressions of far flung varieties. THERE IS GREAT WINE MADE IN NEARLY EVERY WINE GROWING REGION IN THE WORLD. As a lover of fine wine you would be doing yourself and your customers a disservice NOT finding the best examples. Coercing the Burgundians to pull the cork on a bottle of Bordeaux is no small feat, and yet if you are truly compelled by the potential for myriad expressions of grapes, you seek them out, ask around. At Cyrus, in the heart of the Sonoma wine country, I was DEDICATED to finding the best examples of wines from throughout the region while paying homage to the greats from around the world. The local wine lovers asked after Burgundy and Piedmont, the visitors after Ceritas and Copain.
So why the allegations that the Bay Area, long home to one of the worlds most progressive and locally sourced food scenes, takes a dim view of its winemaking neighbors to the north and south?
The reasons raised are predictable, if more complex than understandable by a cursory glance.
Buyers are accused of romanticizing the foreign, of coercing their customers into trying wines that fit their preferences and not those of their guests, of simply being too busy or lazy to fully understand the wines and winemakers that work diligently in their own backyards. There is an aura of eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity, with Gruner Veltliner posing as the poster child for a whole era of copycat consumption where suddenly every restaurant in the larger Bay Area was pouring it by the glass (I include myself in this criticism, at Gary Danko I had 2 full pages of Gruner Veltliner…).
Winemakers, also predictably, are accused of making wines that taste the same whether pinot noir or cabernet, of slanting production methods towards the palate of reviewer, or worse, of planting grapes in places that should have remained apple orchards or grazing land. Most damning is the accusation that the local wines simply don’t go with food – all of the ripe rich fruit and wood morphing into some indistinguishable reduction of sweetness and cooking spice.
There is truth to all of these accusations; however, to delve so superficially into the debate is ludicrous. Are there overripe wines that declare themselves the primary point of the meal? Yes. Are buyers wary of preparing lists that are identical to the restaurant down the street? Absolutely. But if we in the Bay Area are devoted to the idea of localization, then buyers need to work harder finding the unheralded gems and innovative winemakers and winemakers need to continue to evolve their approach beyond one that is purely score based and more soul based.
Wines like Lioco are embracing old school methods of non intervention (including un-oaked chardonnays) and seeking out compelling sites that produce wines of balance and individuality. Parr selections is picking fruit early to preserve freshness and balance and demonstrating that wines from California and Oregon can have a sense of place. There is Peay and Corison, Dyer and Melville, Hirsch and Von Strasser – there is Meteor making distinctive site specific wines with structure, balance and elegance that rival (and often transcend) any of the worlds greatest wines!
Asimov and Bonne are right to question and buyers are not wrong to question, but to make grandious statements about an entire industry and declare yourself a supporter of “local” agriculture is hypocritical at best and naive and lazy at worst.
Prior to Meteor Vineyard gaining renown for our own label, excitement was building among winemakers and proprietors throughout the valley. In this video we speak those whose passion for the fruit is close to our own. Winemaker and viticulturalists Andy Erickson, Annie Favia, Philippe Melka, Jon Priest, Franci Ashton, Dawnine Dyer and Mike Wolf talk about the unique nature of the fruit from the vineyard; while Fritz Hatton and Robin Lail talk about what compels them about the site and what it adds to their wines.
One of the most incredible things to watch over the last decade has been the growth of wine knowledge and consumption across the globe. It doesn’t matter if you are in Hong Kong, Moscow or Hawaii – people around the world are compelled by the worlds greatest wines.
In fact, Hawaii was one of the first places in the world to actively embrace the inaugural release of Meteor Vineyards. Warren Shon, one of the most savvy people in the wine trade the world over, has carefully culled some of the finest cabernets from Napa Valley (and Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gruner-Veltliner, grower Champagne et al.) to introduce to wine lists and retail shops throughout the islands.
On Maui, a thriving food and wine scene exists on both the West and South shores. On the West coast, the ever popular Lahaina Grill continues to offer one of the most interesting wine lists in Hawaii and the Kapalua Resort and it’s enclave of excellent restaurants continues to offer compelling food and wine destinations at the Pineapple Grill, Sansei and Merriman’s. The South shore is home to the ultra deluxe Four Season’s resort and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and the incredibly excellent Duo. The other place that never disappoints is Capische! in the newly refurbished Hotel Wailea (one of the great deals in all of Hawaii).
Oahu, home to the bulk of permanent residents, has long been known for it’s cuisine and the wine programs have followed pace. From the original Roy’s in Waikiki to Alan Wong’s eponymous destination, from the ultra deluxe Halekulani to the adventurous retailers like Tamuro’s and HASR – the food and wine scene is HOT. Check out the wine bar Amuse in the Honolulu Design Center for some incredible wines by the glass!
One year after the economic meltdown or the “Great Deep-cession” business sectors are taking stock of where things are. With all of the focus on the bail-outs of the financial industry, and the desperate circumstances of US Auto manufacturing, it comes as no surprise that there aren’t many tears being spilled over the current state of the Wine biz. While there has been solid coverage by Sonoma’s Press Democrat of the local businesses, here in Napa Valley, there is much more of a stiff upper lip.
The fact is, there is quite a bit of turmoil around America’s (perhaps the world’s) leading wine region and considering the state of the economy, this should come as no surprise.
Before delving in, it’s worth a bit of a sidebar to note that the domestic wine industry is quite stratified into distinct market segments. The high volume, $20 and under category represents the big dollars and is really part of the broader beverage industry selling beer, soda, and other various bottled/canned consumables. As we venture up the chain above $25 we enter the premium wine category and a broad variation of products. Circa 2008 well crafted wines up to $75 might have been considered value wines. Over the last decade, the above $100 “A-list” of Napa fine wines has become increasingly populated . This list ranges from worldwide brands such as Duckhorn and Stags Leap to the boutique micro wineries. From there we go into pricing stratosphere. Everything from very select bottlings of names like Dominus, and Staglin to the highly inaccessible Shafer Hillside Select, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle. These, along with others have (prior to last year’s meltdown) have been rapidly pushing into the price zone of Bordeaux’s venerable first growths. $400- $800 and beyond on release. Note these very same brands were hovering around $250 per bottle about five years ago, so we have clearly experienced accelerated pricing expansion in the short period between the busts (post 2001-pre 2009) in the ultra-premium or so called cult wines.
But here we are in October of 2009 harvesting another crop while Napa is in the middle of real bottle shock. While the dust is settling and the economic fog starts to clear, there are two schools of thought about the lasting impact of this current meltdown:
1. Glass Half Empty: This is a forever re-calibration of the fine wine business. It will be a long long time, maybe never before we see high volumes of California wine selling at $100-200 price points.
2. Glass Half Full: This is a normal part of the boom bust cycle, once the bust is over, the survivors (note those who survive) will pick up right where they left off.
Know one knows which theory is correct but there are a few clues and certainly historical patterns to follow. We have seen a great expansion of the wine drinking population in the last 20 years. This has been great for the industry. The very highly priced wines’ success is always closely associated with wealth and particularly the creation of new wealth. Our current financial crisis has hit people’s net worths very hard. It has smashed the Wall Street crowd and all but eliminated the NY power lunches replete with $1000 bottles of something Napa-licious. Yes there is still plenty of wealth around and love of great wine but ostentatious displays of excessive lifestyle are definitely not vogue at the moment. So I guess the bottles of Harlan are being opened in the pantry at Per Se.
The positive effect in the midst of all of this is that wine fans have turned their attention down-market and are discovering that there are indeed many many wonderful wines for $50 (and less) and there can be great joy in their discovery. After all, it doesn’t take much skill to buy the most expensive bottle on a wine list. Industry numbers are reflecting that the economic downturn has indeed been a boon to producers of lower priced wines. Two Buck Chuck a visionary indeed.
So how does all of this shake out? My own point of view is this crisis has always been a cyclic downturn. A deep and bad one, but a necessary release of hyper-growth. I am old enough to have lived through three of these and in each one the naysayers were predicting apocalypse and citing all the reasons why this particular crisis was different than all of the others. When you have a deep recession like this, Darwinian theory holds true: the strong survive. How do you define strong? Companies with products and services that have loyal customers who value them (no matter what the price). And Companies that have a solid enough financial foundation to tough it out. Those who were rapidly expanding and growing their expenses with the expectation of ever growing sales and those who are highly leveraged or require credit to sustain cash flow are having hard times. Newer brands that have not yet established a customer base and also are highly leveraged are the most vulnerable. There is plenty of inventory around and that will lead to lower production. Lower production and the growers get hammered.
And what of California wines rising to $200 and $400 and in some cases $700/bottle and beyond? Was that a simple blip, a short aberration or will they find a lasting sustainable customer base. If you turn to France and the history of the fabled First Growths you would conclude that if the wine is spectacular and gets even better over time, there will be an audience appreciates it and is willing to pay the price. Yes there will be ups and downs, but the great wines of France have survived world wars, recessions, depressions and phylloxera for centuries and have proven to be wines for the ages. Now we’ll see if Napa can as well. There clearly is plenty of pain going around, but long term my money is where my palate is, right here in Napa.