An Iconic Wine Looks at 30

The year was 1984: the first Apple Macintosh computer was on sale and Ronald Reagan was in office. “Terminator,” “The Karate Kid,” and “Ghostbusters” were in the theaters and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” ruled the radio. The “MTV Video Music Awards” came into existence, and the Soviets boycotted the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, as payback for the Western boycott of the Moscow games. While all of this was going on, a young winery nestled in the heart of Napa Valley gave birth to what would become an icon among American Bordeaux blends. Flora Springs was in its sixth year of operations when they decided to create something spectacular; a hand-selected, signature red blend from the best lots of their estate vineyards that they would call Trilogy. The inaugural 1984 blend (the same vintage as a certain wine blogger) was composed of a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, giving rise to a big, bold wine with plenty of structure to age gracefully (just like yours truly)…

1984 Flora Springs Trilogy

But perhaps the best test of time, at least in the wine world, is a vertical tasting pitting an “aged” wine against a younger, newer version of itself. For this meeting of the vintages, I compared the 1984 Trilogy with the 2008 Trilogy, pairing them both with the archetypal big red wine meal: a juicy steak, roasted Brussels sprouts, creamy mashed potatoes, and a bright, beautiful salad. Let me tell you, it was magic.

1984 and 2008 Flora Springs Trilogy wines

The 2008 Trilogy is a blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Merlot, with a smattering of Petit Verdot and Malbec for good measure. Aged for 22 months in 100% new French oak, this wine has plenty of character. Perfectly balanced tannins intermingled with the right touch of oak and black fruit flavors to yield a delicious wine, with and without food accompaniment. Thirty years into its development, the 1984 Trilogy displayed the brick red hue one might expect, and offered a candied, dried fruit bouquet. These flavors carried through to the palate, offering notes of dried plum and baking spice. While some might say this wine was “past its prime” I liken it to the Audrey Hepburn of wines; an icon, displaying classic beauty throughout its time.  The mature character of the 1984 vintage allowed it to do what we all strive to accomplish: leave a lasting legacy in the mind, and the palate wanting more.

Corks: 1984 and 2008 Flora Springs Trilogy

Cheers!

Is it Butterflies… Or the Bubbles?

Butterflies_BubblesHappy Love Month to all you Valentine’s Day enthusiasts out there! For those of you that are less enamored with the forced love celebration, at least it’s an excuse to drink champagne with the one you love. Not that you need an excuse, mind you, but there are lots of great deals and promotions this time of year that make taking advantage of this Hallmark-driven holiday a rather attractive proposition (and honestly, how tough can a great meal and bubbly with your loved one really be?).

This Valentine’s Day, why not explore the wonderful world of Sparkling Rosés? This group generally pairs beautifully with the luxurious and decadent world of gastronomy that always seems to envelope this day of love, and provides the extra panache to make your celebration sparkle. Here are my favorite deals for Valentine’s Day 2014:

  1. Wine.com is running a spectacular deal from one of my all-time favorite Champagne houses: the Piper-Heidsieck ROSE-SAUVAGE-BRosé Sauvage “Bodyguard” Limited Edition sparkler is just $49.99 with this deal. That’s 33% off! It’s a dry sparkler, with plenty of brioche notes, red fruit flavors, and toasty richness. The flamboyant, pink crocodile (latex) skin bottle also makes this one perfect for a Valentine’s girls night out! Wine.com also has a number of great deals on sparkling wine and chocolate packages (you know, if one-stop shopping is your thing).
  2. Mumm Napa Brut Reserve Rosé is 20% off for Valentine’s Day; pair it with some pink roses, as they suggest, and you’re on your way to one romantic evening. Mumm even has a creative, easy appetizer recipe to pair with this dry bubbly to set the tone for romance.
  3. At just $14 a bottle, Michelle Brut Rosé doesn’t need a special promotion. A dry sparkler with plenty of character, Michelle offers some cocktail recipes to dress things up even further. While the French Kiss may seem like the logical place to start, my pick would be Everybody’s Sweetheart.

However you decide to celebrate, here’s wishing you a romantic evening worthy of one of these great deals. Cheers!

Foodie Friday: Fondue to Keep you Warm

With the Polar Vortex looming large over most of the United States, who couldn’t use a little winter warming action to cozy up this weekend? Enter cheese fondue: a perfect complement to a warm fireplace, made better only by the right wine and company. Here’s what you’ll need (for 4-6 servings):

  •  A bottle of dry white wine, like Chardonnay (or if you really want the full Swiss experience, Petite Arvine
  • 1 cup of Kirsch liqueur
  • ½ pound Gruyere cheese (if possible, spring for one with “AOC” on the label)
  • ½ pound Emmentaler (or Emmantal) cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • Bread cubes or slices, cornichons, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, blanched asparagus, apple slices, and anything else    you want for dipping!

Here’s how you do it:

  1. In a bowl, shred the cheeses and add the cornstarch. Toss to coat the cheeses, and set aside.
  2. Use the halved garlic clove to rub the inside of a ceramic fondue pot (any enamel pot will work if you don’t have a fondue pot).
  3. Over medium heat, add 1 cup of dry white wine and 1 cup of Kirsch liqueur
  4. Slowly add the cheeses, stirring and allowing them to melt as you go along
  5. Once the cheese is fully melted and smooth, add the nutmeg
  6. Serve immediately with your dipping elements. Enjoy!

The (drinking) Wine:

I like a clean white wine to accompany a decadent fondue with enough acidity and body to stand up against the creaminess of the cheese. Try a Petite Arvine from the Valais, or a crisp Chenin Blanc such as Ken Forrester (indulge in the FMC is it’s a special night, or stick with the Petit brand if you’re on a budget).

Stay warm and fondue on. Cheers!

A California Winemaker Plants Roots in Virginia

At 868 Estate Vineyards, the quest for greatness is about more than just wine. It’s about taking what nature provides, artfully transforming that raw material and packaging expressive wines that, when combined with gourmet food, create a uniquely beautiful sensory experience.

The winemaker behind that quest is Carl DiManno. Unlike most winemakers, DiManno discovered his passion for great food and wine pairings long before diving into the art of winemaking. Attending school in New Orleans, where partaking in decadent, delicious food is as common and frequent as breathing, the concept of using food and wine to create atmosphere and provide artful experiences formed early. That passion found structure when DiManno moved to California and discovered a new level of appreciation for the art of winemaking.

Carl DiManno among his Virginia Vines

Carl DiManno among his Virginia Vines

As it turns out, that appreciation has led to meticulous attention to detail and a careful blending of old world techniques that highlight terrior, with new world practices that help showcase the best characteristics of the fruit. This approach has earned DiManno numerous awards in competitions that pit his creations against well-known labels from California, Europe and South America. These awards have earned his new winery, 868 Estate Vineyards, a significant following and recognition as quality producer of Virginia wines.

Two of 868's award-winning wines

Two of 868’s award-winning wines

Recently, I sat down with DiManno to find out why he’s chosen to put down roots in Virginia (pun intended).

CC: How did you become a winemaker?

DiManno: At one time, I considered buying a vineyard and learning the entire process from growing to bottling on the job. Turns out, vineyards are expensive. But I knew I wanted to be involved in the entire process. Going to school in California was a stepping stone to that. The winemaking program at UC Davis provided a good entree into the industry, but the goal at that point was to own a vineyard/winery. After finishing that program, I learned that winemaker and vineyard manager were important roles to gain perspective on the entire industry.

CC: What do you love most about it?

DiManno: The best part of winemaking is the completed task. To have a finished product in hand, and have people enjoy it is really the most satisfying and rewarding aspect of this role. It represents all the hard work, effort, and the countless decisions that go into crafting that final product.

CC: Is your winemaking philosophy more New World or Old World? Describe it for us.

DiManno: I try to use best practices from both schools of thought, but I suppose my philosophy falls into the New World camp. While there are non-interventionists out there, I am not one of them. I also do not believe in throwing the book at a wine or following a recipe.

Each wine is different and has varying support needs to be the best wine it can be. My job is to do whatever it takes to make that wine be the best it can be. If that means leaving the wine alone and allowing nature to take its course, that is what I will do. If a wine needs finessing in the form of additives, high end filtration, fining, filtering, concentration, blending or whatever, then at is what I will do to put the best product possible in a bottle.

CC: How did you decide to settle in Virginia after starting your career in California?

DiManno: The east is home for me, and I always knew I would end up back here. I also believe that the east coast represented an opportunity that CA could not provide. The wild, wild east had tremendous opportunities to improve, grow, and expand. The chance to affect real change in the quality of wine in the area was really attractive. I had been consulting for a number of labels in California, as well as one or two back east, but an entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and the allure of new vineyards, new wineries and a rapidly expanding wine industry was too much to resist.

CC: Having made wine in both locations, do you prefer winemaking in Virginia or California?

DiManno: A boutique winery in CA is 50,000 cases. There is no way you can do everything yourself or even with a small team. In Virginia, winemaking is much more intimate. You know the fruit. You know the growers personally if you are buying fruit from other vineyards. You get your hands dirty. Winemakers in California often don’t touch grapes. Someone brings them samples of wine and they make winemaking decisions as part of a team from an office. I love the hands-on nature of winemaking in Virginia. When you buy a Virginia wine, you can be very sure that the winemaker actually touched the raw material, and played a significant role in every phase of production.

CC: You have a relatively new vineyard in Virginia. A blank canvas, if you will; how did you decide what to plant, and what is it that you think Virginia does really well?

DiManno: Well, I planted what I like to make (and ultimately drink), and what I think will do well in a particular site. For example, I believe that mid-Atlantic Cabernet Franc a true expression of the varietal, and some of the best Cabernet Franc you can get anywhere. So, of course I planted a lot of Cabernet Franc. Many Francs also benefit from being blended with other varietals, to soften what can be very austere tannins. Complementary grapes such as Merlot and, to a lesser degree, Cabernet Sauvignon provide the blending material to make great Cabernet Franc wines and great blended wines.

I have been very a happy with Dijon clones of Chardonnay, so we have planted some of those. Virginia’s signature grape is Viognier. While we have some Viognier, I am more interested in seeing what else will do well in Virginia soils. Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah are experiments. They may do well; they may also prove too unruly to make good wine. Time will tell. Vermentino is another one. It could produce a nicely balanced, lively wine. Maybe it falls flat. Time will tell.

CC: Why should wine drinkers visit Virginia wineries? What is it that makes Virginia different?

DiManno: Most Virginia wineries are small and do not distribute to restaurants, wine shops and grocery stores. If they do, it’s on a limited basis. The best way (and really the only way) to really experience Virginia wine is to go to the wineries. There are some very good and even great wines being made in Virginia. But, they will not come to you for a while. You will have to go to them.

The Virginia is a wine region still in its infancy. Here, you can be part of its growth and experience the changes and improvements that go along with the development of a region and its identity. It is small enough to provide an intimate relationship between vintner and consumer.

CC: What is your vision for 868 Estate Vineyards?

DiManno: 868 will be among the larger wineries in the region, but still small enough that the elements that make it charming are not lost. 868 will produce high quality wine and will have well made wines for every taste and palate.

In 2007, I made a wine that I thought was very good. Not only a good east coast wine, but a good wine at its price point. This wine could compete with any wine from anywhere in the world at its price. That is really my vision for 868: to transcend the VA label. I want 868 wines to compete with wines from all over the world at their particular price point. When I don’t have to hear “this is nice, but I can get a Argentinean Malbec that is just as good for $5” then we will have succeeded.

CC: What is your favorite food and wine pairing?

DiManno: I like Riesling with pork rinds. Actually, Riesling is a good answer. Given the diversity of our region, there are a lot of foods that do not pair well with specific varietals. Mexican, Thai and Indian are difficult pairings. The answer is Riesling. The cool, steely citrus notes of the Riesling provide a refreshing counterbalance to the robust, spicy flavors in those foods. Cabernet with curry is horrifiying; Riesling with curry is a nice night out.

 CC: Of course, inquiring minds want to know… What is your all-time favorite wine?

DiManno: This may be my all-time least favorite question. My favorite wine is whatever you are pouring! I don’t have a perfect answer. I have tried some truly stunning wines. I have also had many wines that were supposed to be stunning that fell flat. And I still have a lot more to try. I have had some Burgundies that were outstanding, but can’t even remember their names.

I tend to fall for dry sparklers. There are very versatile and can be enjoyed every day, since the price of good domestic sparkling wine has come down so much. If I need one for a special occasion, it will probably be Veuve Clicquot.

You can meet Carl DiManno at 868 Estate Vineyards’ upcoming “Meet the Winemaker” event on August 18that the winery in Purcellville, Virginia. 

An Inniskillin Initiation

First things first: happy Canada Day!

On a recent jaunt to visit our neighbors to the north, I was fortunate enough to visit Niagara on the Lake. While I wasn’t there long, I am completely smitten. Niagara on the Lake offers a special charm all its own; a unique blend of New England-esque appeal and a burgeoning wine industry. Think Nantucket-meets-Napa, all wrapped up with the quintessential Canadian congeniality.

Located just below the Niagara Escarpment, the region is often pigeonholed as producing cloyingly sweet, flabby ice wines; an unfair assessment given the full breadth of excellent wines, and the veteran winemakers who call Niagara home. One of the founding wineries in the area, and perhaps most well-known, is Inniskillin, which planted roots in the region (literally) in 1974 and had their first harvest in 1977. Since then, the winery has grown substantially, opening a second location in Okanagan, British Columbia and winning countless awards over the years for table wines and ice wines alike.

Inniskillin outside

Inniskillin welcomes visitors to their flagship Niagara Estate Winery by rolling out the green carpet of rolling vineyards, a revolving menu of gourmet lunch options, and a bevy of table and ice wine tasting options. Never one to be overwhelmed by options, I bellied up to the table wine tasting bar to begin my Inniskillin Initiation.

Starting with the table wines, I tried three white wines, a rose, and two red wines. The star of the show was the 2011 Reserve Series Three Vineyards Chardonnay which immediately transported me to Napa Valley. A lovely, full-bodied wine that showcases beautifully balanced oak nuances, notes of vanilla, and slight pear on the palate. I would absolutely recommend this wine to all my chardonnay fans that like a little oak and a lot of body in their glass.

Because ice wine is serious business in this neck of the woods, Inniskillin has an entirely separate bar in the tasting room to showcase these sweet, aromatic wines. To start the program, our veteran tasting room server poured the 2011 Sparkling Vidal Ice Wine. While sweet, this wine packs a wealth of flavor and acid to structure the wine on the palate. Clean stone fruit flavors predominate, with notes of spice developing later. The effervescence is refreshing and lends this wine a special character, making this a perfect wine to celebrate a romantic occasion, or big news!

Inniskillin

From there, our adventure consisted of a series of still ice wines, made from Vidal, Riesling, and Cabernet Franc grape varieties. Our tasting consultant (Donald – highly recommend him!) demonstrated an illustrative party trick, in which the same wine is poured into two glasses – the Riedel ice wine glass, and a simple non-tapered white wine glass. Full disclosure: I did not need to be sold on the idea that glassware can significantly alter the aroma and flavor profile of a wine (by changing the way the vapors are directed and the liquid rolls over your tongue). But the differences between the two glasses were astounding. Definitely an experiment to try at home, or at your next tasting party!

Perhaps the most unique and expressive wine of the entire tasting was the 2011 Oak Aged Vidal Ice Wine. I found the winemaker’s notes to be spot-on with this wine: “peaches and apricot aromas and flavors develop into complexities of marmalade […] ample natural acidity is softened by the oak aging adding a creamy vanilla flavor.” This wine showcases all the fruit a Vidal should, while introducing delicate flavors of vanilla, imbued with a delightful creaminess.  Definitely my favorite wine of the entire tasting.

Overall, the experience was awesome. A visit to Inniskillin certainly demonstrates why the winery has been so successful, and the incredible depth of their offerings as one of the founding wineries in the area. If you find yourself crossing the border, definitely make time for your very own Inniskillin initiation.

Foodie Friday: Spicy Melon Salad

In celebration of summer’s belated arrival, this Foodie Friday post is devoted to a refreshingly simple, yet flavor-packed, appetizer salad. A seemingly odd set of ingredients, this salad never fails to please at summer event,s and full credit for this incredible creation goes to Fusions Cuisine of Northern Virginia. The sweet, juicy melon provides a refreshing, cool background for the interplay of spices between the sambal and onion. The cilantro and mint then follow through to balance the heat on the finish.

My palate doesn’t always jump at the chance to mix savory and sweet in the same dish, but this salad is theater for your tongue. Try it. Trust me.

Ingredients (serves 4-6):

  • 1 Honeydew melon
  • 1 Red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Sambal (a chili-garlic paste; find it in your grocery store’s international aisle)
  • ¼ cup Sugar
  • ¼ cup Red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp chopped Fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped Cilantro

Directions:

  • Peel and seed the honeydew, then cut the melon into one inch cubes
  • Add the other ingredients and toss to coat
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper

Suggested Pairing:

This salad has a ton of flavor, so you need a wine that will stand up to it. At the same time, the refreshing nature of the salad deserves an equally refreshing wine. Go with a Moscato d’Asti – it will stand up to the spice without competing with the dish. Try Cardinale Lanata Moscato d’Asti with a bright floral nose, and plenty of white peach on the palate.

 

Cardinale Lanata

Cardinale Lanata

Foodie Friday: The Magic of Meritage

Happy Friday! Today’s Foodie Friday post focuses on the true magic that can take shape when powerhouse varietals are blended together in order to highlight the best characteristics of each one. Bordeaux is perhaps the classic example of how grape varietals can be used to bring out the best in each other; combined in a way that contributes the best characteristics of each grape in order to elevate the final wine’s entire profile. At least, that’s the goal.

In 1988, a collective of American winemakers formed the Meritage Association (which is now the Meritage Alliance), taking their name from the amalgamation of the words “merit” and “heritage” (which, by the way, is how Meritage is pronounced – it rhymes with heritage).  Believing that blending grape varieties to make a better, more expressive wine is one of the highest arts in winemaking, the Alliance was formed to identify high quality wines that cannot be varietally labeled because they do not consist of at least 75% of a single grape variety. The initial mission of the Alliance was to standardize and increase visibility for the American version of these Bordeaux blends.

Meritage

The Meritage Alliance Website

Today, Meritage is still made using the “noble” grape varieties. These include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc for red blends, and Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle du Bordelais for white wines.

Like Bordeaux blends, Meritage can fetch impressive prices, but that doesn’t mean that high quality versions aren’t available at a more palatable price point. Case and point: Genesis Meritage by Hogue Cellars. This wine from Columbia Valley, Washington is available at $12 a bottle, and packs a beautiful nose of blackberry and fig, with more dark fruit, delicious vanilla, and warm spice coming through on the palate. With its soft tannins and full body, this wine makes the perfect dessert pairing.

Hogue Cellars Genesis Meritage

Hogue Cellars Genesis Meritage

For this Foodie Friday pairing, I’m keeping it super simple (it being the Friday before a holiday weekend – I know you have BBQs and celebrations to plan): pair this wine with Ghirardelli assorted dark chocolate squares. Since these are bite size and come in a great variety, this pairing really lends itself to a backyard party (and won’t overwhelm those who may have already, ahem, overeaten).

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, and please don’t forget to take a moment and raise a glass to all our Servicemen and Women who make incredible sacrifices for all of us! Cheers!