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Photo Splurge – Canary Islands and Madrid Countryside

May 15, 2018

It’s been awhile since posting – mostly due to travel. This post will include only recent images taken on the Canary Islands as well in the countryside around Madrid.

Recent Forbes posts I’ve written include text, and some are:

Why The Vines And Wines Of The Canary Islands Will Twist Your Head With Surprise

Why Swiss Wines Continue To Impress

Wines From Madrid Are Not What You Expect

The Entrepreneur Streamlining The Sale Of Top Wines

Why The Wine Vintage Of 2017 Has A Dual Personality

A Cookbook Created From Picnicking In Paris

Why Bhutan Is Still Out Of This World

 

Now, Photographs taken recently.

Lanzarote Isle, Canary Islands (Spain)

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Tenerife Isle, Canary Islands (Spain)

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Countryside surrounding Madrid (Spain)

Again, thanks for tuning in.

Forthcoming posts during the coming months will include a few doses of Italy as well as a European city more renowned for lager than for wine…

Bordeaux Jewels Of Wine And Life

April 17, 2018

The region where I live in France is a sizable, though little known, portion of Bordeaux (technically and administratively known, basically, as the ‘Gironde Département’) where wine prices are reasonable, historical intrigue is ample and day to day living is blissfully unrushed.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson visited this wine region of Blaye (taking boats from the city of Bordeaux for visits) on the right bank of the Gironde estuary. So has every king of France except one. Eleanor of Aquitaine (queen at different times of both France and England) also passed through here during the age of troubadours and female trobairitz (wandering minstrels who sang love songs) in the 12th century.

We are surrounded here by oceans of vineyards. There are several hundred around the towns of Blaye and Bourg, though it can difficult to discern exactly how many. The winemaker-sponsored website and literature about the Blaye—Côte de Bordeaux appellation neglects to number the wineries within the 12,900 acres (5,213 hectares) of vines. Bourg, which is smaller although in some ways better organized for international visitors, has 157 wineries (châteaux) within 9,800 acres (3,979 hectares) of vines, or about 15 square miles (40 square kilometers) of juice growing terrain.

Within these spaces, winery names can be disarmingly confusing. Many wine châteaux (which is the name of a winery here; singular is château, plural is châteaux) have similar names.

The team from Château Clos de Loup providing tastings at Blaye Printemps des Vins Festival this April

The effort of wine producers to distinguish themselves with striking originality in naming their brand is largely absent. Heritage appears more important than gaining a competitive edge. It is this attitude toward life that, though sometimes illogical, provides a sizable sliver of attraction for this region.

Looking at the estuary from Blaye Citadelle

For example—there’s Château Barbé and Château de Barbe, Château Nodot and Château Nodoz. There’s Château Lagarde and Château Roland La Garde. Château Monconseil-Gazin and Château Mondésir-Gazin. Château Bellevue and Château Bellevue Gazin. There’s Château Canteloup as well as Château Haut-Canteloup.

Most of these wine producers with similar names are veritable neighbors. Driving distances between the above listed pairs of wineries are: 3.8 miles, 4.5 miles, 3.3 miles, 1.4 miles, 0.5 mile and 0.5 mile.

Oddly, few locals appear confused. If you ask the difference between two like sounding châteaux, any local may walk to a window and point outside and inform you that over there is Château Barbé. He or she will then pronounce the two names slightly differently, with subtle tone and mannerisms implying that your linguistic deficiencies may be mildly heathen.

Should you dare mistake Monconseil-Gazin for Mondésir-Gazin, locals will likely shrug, shake mystified heads and query whether you enjoyed too many verre à vin last night?

It is now spring. Suddenly begins a parade of festivals: wine festivals, mountain biking and wine festivals, port festivals, music festivals, a black bass festival, an asparagus festival and a snail festival (which I tend to skip).

We recently had our annual Printemps des Vin de Blaye festival, where some 90 winemakers set up tastings in tents and ancient rooms in the local centuries-old Citadelle in Blaye. For a meager six Euros, visitors received an empty wine glass, a map and a pass that let them sample all the vino they desired for two days.

This is not a high cost or internationally renowned wine region. Yet I’ve tasted some local wines that cost between 7 and 15 Euros. Back in the U.S., some wines of the same quality might cost four times that amount.

Conviviality is key here. Friendless trumps marketing efforts.

Below is a visual tour of Printemps des Vins.

The smiling sisters from Château Lagarde

Each year I taste several wines and compare quality and cost to determine overall value, using my proprietary Vino Value Algorithm.

Below are results for a few reasonably priced good wines, together with value score: Superlative, Excellent and Good Value. (Subjective scores for taste were factored in, although not shown below.) All wines listed in this table are worth drinking. Unless noted, all are red.

Vino Value™ Scoring of Selected Wines – Printemps des Vin de Blaye – April 2018
Winery Wine Retail Price – Euros Retail Price – US dollars equivalent Value Score
Château Nodot 2015 € 9.00 $11.07 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Domaine de La Valade 2015 Tradition Rouge € 4.50 $5.54 Excellent Value ♫♫
Domaine de La Valade 2015 Cuvée Prestige Rouge € 5.80 $7.13 Excellent Value ♫♫
Tour Saint-Germain 2015 Cuvée Tradition € 11.00 $13.53 Good Value ♫
Château Rose Bellevue 2015 Secret € 18.50 $22.76 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château La Motte de Lignac 2016 € 7.00 $8.61 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Jussas 2015 € 6.50 $8.00 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Capron (Cantinot) 2011 € 10.00 $12.30 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château du Vieux Puit 2012 Les Racines € 6.50 $8.00 Good Value ♫
Château Clos du Loup 2012 Le Louveteau € 7.50 $9.23 Good Value ♫
Château Florimond 2014 Réserve € 7.70 $9.47 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Haut-Terrier 2015 Élevé en Barriques Neuves € 11.00 $13.53 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Moulin de Prade 2014 € 5.00 $6.15 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Segonzac 2015 Vielles Vignes € 7.00 $8.61 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Les Margagnis 2015 € 7.20 $8.86 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château de Calmeilh 2015 € 6.00 $7.38 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Lagarde 2015 Excellence € 12.00 $14.76 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Les Bertrands 2015 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes € 6.50 $8.00 Good Value ♫
Château Les Bertrands 2015 Cuvée Prestige € 8.50 $10.46 Good Value ♫
Château Magdeleine Bouhou 2015 La Boha € 8.50 $10.46 Good Value ♫
Château Marquisat La Pérouse 2016 Cuvée Prestige € 8.50 $10.46 Good Value ♫
Château Morange 2015 € 6.00 $7.38 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Morange 2014 Vin d’Augustin Morange € 9.60 $11.81 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Monconseil Gazin 2015 € 7.80 $9.59 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut-Colombier 2015 € 7.50 $9.23 Good Value ♫
Château Haut-Colombier 2016 € 8.00 $9.84 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Haut-Colombier 2017 € 8.00 $9.84 Superlative Value ♫♫♫
Château Grillet-Beauséjour 2015 No. 2 € 6.00 $7.38 Excellent Value ♫♫
Château Petit Boyer 2016 Grand Réserve € 12.50 $15.38 Excellent Value ♫♫

Monsieur Stéphane Heurlier, renowned local winemaker

Sampling reasonably priced bubbly from Domaine du Cassard

Monsieur Eymas of Château La Rose Bellevue

The Wizard of Château La Cassagne-Boutet, Nicolas Vergez, once again commands an audience

A cooper demonstrates barrel making

Friends having lunch after tastings

Primeurs 

In contrast to our humble wine region, there are better known, and commensurately more expensive wine regions located nearby. Each year for a few weeks in spring, châteaux hold ‘En Primeur’ tastings of wines made from grapes harvested the previous fall. These events take place to our east, around Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, or across the water to our west, around and within the Médoc, Pessac-Leognan and Sauternes appellations.

My latest Forbes pieces are here, and include a synopsis of tasting some 100 Bordeaux wines during this recent En Primeurs week, and discovering the dual personality of that recent vintage.

Below are a few photos from some of the events to give you an overall flavor of how spring kicks in here in southwest France.

Chilean Rodrigo Sepúlveda Schulz takes time off from Luxembourg financial work to enjoy Primeurs

 

A warm smile from Margot from Domaine des Chevaliers

 

For lunch, a double magnum of 1999 Château Smith Haut Lafitte.

 

Hospitality Manager Alex from Château Smith Haut Lafitte…with four excellent wines

 

Gardens in spring bloom

 

Daniel and Florence Cathiard, generous owners of Smith Haut Lafitte

 

It is the Season…(isn’t it always?)

 

Lunch at Château Rauzan-Ségla

 

This 3rd floor tasting room within Château Haut-Brion includes only nine seats, surrounded by ample bookshelves

 

This olive tree on the grounds of Château Pape Clément was planted in the year 193 AD. It’s still a beauty!

 

Looking down the limestone escarpment from Château Pressac, at Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse, near Saint-Émilion

 

Chãteau de Pressac (Grand Cru Classé) was purchased 21 years ago and renovated by Jean-Françoise Quenin

 

The 2017 Ángelus is a genuine winner

 

 

Clémence Collotte of Château Jean Faux shows a truly unexpected winning wine at an amazing price

 

Bordeaux wine author Gilles Berdin (on the left) enjoys international vintages from Bernard Magrez

Finally, a warm Thank You to Hubert de Boüard and Laure Canu from Château Ángelus in Saint-Emilion; Hélène Garcin-Lévêque and Patrice Lévêque from Château Barde-Haut in Saint-Émilion; Lahcene Boutouba of Clavis Oréa wine; author Gilles Berdin of Bordeaux; Florence and Daniel Cathiard of Château Smith Haut Lafitte; Thomas Hebrard and staff of U’Wine; Marie-Louis Schyler of Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, and Soline Bossis from Château Mouton Rothschild.

The wine and food were wonderful, but your company was the true jewel of the En Primeurs week.

Thanks again for tuning in. The next posts will include wines from a few countries where you likely do not expect it…

Pinerolese Wine From Italy’s Alps

April 3, 2018

The French / Italian Alps, viewed from a flight between Bordeaux and Milan

Welcome to the Italian Alps….

First, however, I want to let you know that my recent Forbes pieces are here. They include an article about Txakoli wine from the Basque country, about a young woman about to circumnavigate the world via sailboat without stopping, and why this custom luxury lodge in the Italian Alps respects its origins, as well as ‘building biology.’

Now, back to the mountains.

In the year 218 B.C., a long-bearded Carthaginian general named Hannibal Barca, from what is now Tunisia in North Africa, crossed the French and Italian Alps with an army of some 20,000 motley, yet fierce warriors, as well as 37 elephants. The animals were brought to shock the Romans during Hannibal’s attack. Though few survived the crossing, the army was victorious in a few significant battles against Roman legionnaires.

Val Troncea Natural Park

Another onslaught of foreigners to these quiet mountain villages came in 2006, when Torino (Turin) hosted the winter Olympics here—across a conglomeration of ski slopes known as Via Lattea, or the Milky Way.

From this same region comes a wine you have likely never heard of.

Here’s the gist:

Thanks to two women who live in the eastern U.S. (film maker Camille Broderick Rodier of Juharo Productions and interior designer Lucie McCullough) I recently spent time with an intriguing character, and wines he serves, in the Italian Alps.

He grew up in the same house that his family and ancestors have lived in for over 300 years.

Today, Daniele Ronchail is an accomplished architect who designs and leads renovation teams to improve existing structures. Sometimes he gets the chance for a special project.

Daniele with children Matteo and Giulia in the Val de Troncea Natural Park

(Check out the Forbes piece I wrote about the lodge—Baita 1697— that he and interior designer Lucie McCullough collaborated on.)

Daniele strives to use traditional materials and techniques, and to preserve the structural integrity of ancient buildings.

Like many of the residents from this region of Piemonte, Daniele is seriously focused on work and craftsmanship details, but still loves conviviality, good food and wine.

Skiing down to the ‘frazione’ (village) of Pattemouche, in the larger ‘comune’ of Pragelato

I met Daniele at the restaurant he also owns named Rivet d’Or in the Pragelato comune of the Italian Alps—west of the city of Torino.

Daniele explained how his cellar holds hundreds of different types of wine, but in order not to confuse diners with an exhaustive list, he keeps it to a simple few pages, then changes the list now and then.

That’s refreshingly unusual.

Instead of making his wine list a virtual monument to himself, or an advertisement about his cellar, he modestly provides a shorter list in order to keep clients satisfied and not overwhelmed.

 

Sturgeon with black beans served with Ramìe wine

Because Pragelato is part of the region of Piemonte, much of his wine list includes renowned vintages from further south, such as Barbera, Nebbiolo and Barolo.

(Italy has 20 regions; Piemonte—which means foot of the mountains—is the second largest region, after the isle of Sicily.)

Yet Daniele’s list also includes local wines from the appellation known as Pinerolese, which is located relatively close to Pragelato.

Ski slope lunch in the Via Lattea (Milky Way) ski area west of Torino

A few technical details here….

This Pinerolese appellation region is less than 100 acres (40 hectares) in size and produces less than 10,000 bottles a year. Ten different grapes can go into Pinerolese wine. If it’s called a ‘rosato,’ then half of the grapes must include one, some, or all four of the following varieties—Barbera, Nebbiolo, as well as lesser known Bonarda Piedmontese and Neretto (also called Chatus). If instead a Pinerolese wine is named after some specific grape, such as Barbera or Dolcetto, the wine must contain 85% of juice from that grape. Finally, to call such wine a Ramìe, it must include 60% of juice from Avanà, Avarengo, Bequet and/or Neretto grapes.

Interior of Rivet D’Or Restaurant

Enough details.

The point is this: these wines include some grapes you have likely never heard of before, but added in quantities that cannot be haphazard or recklessly experimental (that is, if producers want to obtain their government denominazione’ quality control certificate, which often helps bottles to sell).

To drink this wine, it’s best paired with food.

So, let’s open Daniele’s menu. This includes a few quotes—perhaps from Daniele himself—such as:

“Do not look at the past with nostalgia … But take the best from it, and bring it into the future.”

Charcuterie with Arneis and Nebbiolo wines inside Baita 1697 luxury lodge in the Piemonte

During dinner we tasted two wines.

The first was on the list—a 2016 Merenda Con Corvi. The majority grape here is Barbera. With this we ate pork belly with oyster sauce, Jerusalem artichokes with a special ‘bagna caoda’ mousse (a specialty of the Piemonte that includes cream, garlic and sardines). The next dish was veal tongue on dried tomatoes. This selection itself formed an Olympic taste menu. The wine included that characteristic blueberry and biscuit taste of Barbera, but was also light and smoky. Barbera historically was considered sort of a common grape for making wine; no longer. In the past decades winemakers have been concocting some seriously flavorful, and more complex, juice from this grape.

I finished glass number two of the same wine before we even moved onto the next dish: rabbit ravioli with butter and hazelnuts.

OMG….Seriously delicious.

A Pinerolese wine based on Barbera

Daniele told me of his life and architecture business, then uncorked a bottle of 2015 Pinerolese Ramìe, made by Coutandin. Only a few thousand bottles of this wine are produced each year (so few that it was not even on his wine list). The included grapes (as mentioned above) were listed as Avanà, Avarengo, Chatus, Becuet, Barbera and others. The taste of this wine has the wake-up acridity of a Barolo, but is still less tannic and easier to drink young.

With this wine, out came the next plate: purple beet tagliatelle, followed by sturgeon with black beans, and then veal ‘cooked by osmosis’ with rocket sauce and rice vinegar.

Rabbit ravioli with butter and hazelnuts

Piemonte wine and food are unlike anything served elsewhere on earth (and appreciated even more after a day of sunblasted powerhouse skiing).

Visiting Daniele’s restaurant highlights how many people living in this Alpine region respect detailed cooking of traditional (and sometimes modern) dishes. Dining here is exposing yourself to a detailed mindset—focused on minutiae in the kitchen, as well as on selecting low production bottles that not only match food, but also surprise diners. Eating and drinking here is tasting cultural history.

While in Daniele’s restaurant I felt temporarily part of a local community. That’s something to savor while it unwinds, because such moments are fleeting.

If you enjoy getting out in fresh air, there’s also plenty to do in these mountains. Food and wine just complement a ski or hiking trip.

During days after eating at Rivet d’Or I shared more dinners at local restaurants with a few exploratory skiing aficionados pictured below. Their smiles tell all.

Ski accomplices Florence and Katie from London

 

Off Piste renegade skiier Matthew from Oxford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*****

Next week, ‘primeurs’ in Bordeaux kicks into full gear—where we will taste 2017 wines to rate the overall quality of that vintage, as well as to compare specific wines. Remember—frost last year knocked out about half the grapes in Bordeaux (and many throughout Europe). The quantity will be reduced, but it’s the quality we’ll inspect.

I have the privilege of begin able to visit Château Angelus, Château Barde-Haut and others in Saint-Émilion, as well as Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux and Château Rauzan-Segla as well as Château Margaux in the Médoc.

Additionally, this coming weekend is the Printemps de Vin de Blaye, when we sample local Blaye-Cotes de Bordeaux wines within the sprawling 17th century local Citadelle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and enjoy music and barbecues on the ample lawns.

I’ll keep you informed.

Once again, thanks for tuning in…!

Highland Wine from Bhutan

March 13, 2018

This post is overdue. I’ve traveled for a few weeks, some of which is covered in recent Forbes posts. A highlight was attending the inauguration of the reincarnated next spiritual leader, or rinpoche, of Bhutan (we met four years ago, and I was invited back after his 3 years of solitary meditation), as well as attending part of the Sail In Festival in Bilbao, Spain. Those posts also include a book review about the attraction of Volcanic Wines.

First—a little piece about Bhutanese wine. Details, admittedly, are sparse.

Dochula Pass on a clear day

Four years ago, during s previous visit, I penned a blog post about searching for Bhutanese wine, mistakenly thinking this little nation of towering peaks and deep forests lacked wine production facilities, and that only rice alcohol (or ‘ara’) constituted the closest cousin to grape wine.

That is not true.

Colorful prayer flags outside Tango Monastery located on a hillside near the city of Thimphu

Apparently Bhutan produces several wines.

Peach wine

In a rest house outside of the city of Paro, I found a copy of the government’s manual of statistics for 2017. Inside, the numbers showed that the leading cause of death in hospitals relates to alcoholism. I suspect the real problem is that most alcohol in this highland country is dangerous, poorly made equivalent of ‘moonshine,’ which can eventually poison drinkers.

A view of Himalayan peaks from the monastery on Dochula Pass, between Thimphu and Punakha

One counteraction is that the Royal Bhutanese Army is now involved with the production of wine and whiskey. First, the profits help support the army; second, the controlled quality of this alcohol is better for the people of Bhutan. The program is known as AWP, which stands for Army Welfare Projects, and was founded in 1976.

There are now a few commercially produced wines in the country (there may have been four years ago; I wasn’t aware then). One wine is made from peaches, and others from grapes. Most, but not all grapes are procured outside the country.

At a rest house in Thimphu I twisted the screwcap off a bottle of ‘Vintria Shiraz Dry Wine.’ The label declared that this ‘…elegant textured Shiraz Dry wine with great fruit flavors reminds of dark berry fruits, hints of oak pairing and vanilla aroma with long-lasting fruit palate aftertaste.’

Though the first sip was imbalanced and the alcohol tasted uninhibited, on the second sip I did indeed detect that vanilla, though the ‘long lasting fruit palate aftertaste’ was not happening. Some other ‘Bhutanese’ wines are actually produced in India and imported. The wine is yet of a caliber that during most of this trip I stuck with extremely good Bhutanese beers—Red Panda, Druk (both 5% alcohol) and Druk 11000 (8% alcohol). With time and more visitors to the country, the wine here will likely improve.

Construction of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery near the city of Paro was initiated in the 17th century by Tenzin Rabgye

I’ve not yet sampled the whiskey, a bottle of which was given to me as a gift by friend and guide Tshering and his wife Wangchuk. The label looks enticing, with a drawing of snowcapped peaks and the words Essence of The Himalayas. It’s a blend of ‘vatted malts from Scotland’ and is produced at the Gelephu Distillery in Bhutan.

‘Essence of the Himalayas’

On left are friends Tshering and his wife Wangchuk and son Ngawang, and on right are KP and his wife Mindu. We all hiked uphill to the Tango Monastery for the rinpoche’s inauguration.

Irrespective of wine and whiskey, the photos below show a sampling of life within this peaceful little mountainous nation, which includes a closed border to the north with Tibet (which China now claims) and a southern, open, border with India.

View of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery from below. It takes about 2 hours to hike there.

The rinpoche we met is apparently the 8th reincarnation of Tenzin Rabgye, who in the 17th century did much to bring together the people of Bhutan. One way he did this was by adopting annual festivals in each town, a notion he acquired from an emissary he sent to visit Nepal. The festivals draw people out of their relatively secluded mountain homes and villages, and are often attended to by politicians or members of the Royal family, coming from distant regions. A few of the following photos and short video below are from the national day festival we attended within the massive and handsome fortress, or dzong, within the town of Punakha.

Punakha Annual Fesitval

Reincarnation of Gyalsey Tenzin Rabgye of Bhutan

How does a ‘reincarnation’ come about? Basically, when the King visited the eastern part of Bhutan for National Day one year, a five year old boy from a very poor family in Trashigang tugged on his clothing as he was walking, and declared that he was Tenzin Rabgye (who had lived in the 17th century). Thinking he was being teased, the King asked him a few questions, and found the boy able to describe the route to, and interior of, Tango Monastery in the west of the country. The boy and his parents had never been there. The King sent two groups, including monks, to meet the boy with his parents. During this time they quizzed the parents, who had not coached the boy, but had sent him at a young age to be trained—as he emphatically desired—as a monk. During quizzing, the boy’s knowledge about Rabgye, the names of his parents and about monuments on the other side of the country convinced the visiting monks this was no ordinary child.

Typically colorfully dressed family attending the Punakha festival

The major cities in Bhutan are Paro and Thimphu, about an hour drive from each other. There are still no traffic lights in either and the pace of life is a bit sleepy, but the number of vehicles is ramping up and the cafes catering to foreigners are multiplying. With road improvements, it’s now about two hours to drive to the town of Punakha, which sits tranquilly along a river valley. During this trip, vehicles cross Dochula Pass. There’s a sizable cafe and a monastery and stellar views—on clear days—of the highest Himalayan peaks in Bhutan, some of which are between 18,000 to over 25,000 feet  (5,400 to 7,500 meters) in elevation.

These 108 stupas, or chortens, were built on Dochula Pass in 2003 to commemorate a short internal war (or battle) that took place in the south against illegal foreign settlers. The then king of Bhutan was involved in the battle.

During both visits to Bhutan it was on Dochula Pass where I experienced unexpected shafts of mental clarity. Which was a little odd. If these were to happen anywhere, I expected it would be while meeting the Rinpoche or hiking to Tiger’s Nest monastery. Both were similar—basically being aware of being ready for far larger scenarios to unfold in life (which occurred after the last visit). Dochula Pass is quite the transition point.

A group of monks at Tango Monastery

Viewed from Dochula Pass is Masang Gang peak, with an elevation of 23,507 feet (7165 meters) above sea level. This is not the highest peak in Bhutan, but perhaps the most visually distinctive. Mountaineering is forbidden in Bhutan, as are ascents of peaks above 19,685 feet (60oo meters) elevation.

That’s all for a brief report on this jewel of a peaceful, mountainous, Buddhist nation.

Recently a friend named Brad, who I spent time with in Angola, Pakistan and on a sailboat in Colombia and who now lives in a small town named Coyote, New Mexico, sent me this New Yorker article about Chinese wine. It’s entertaining, especially the latter portion where the writer is cruising around the countryside with some guys who pilfered wine and drank it from a huge plastic jug.

Thanks for tuning in again. We have a nice lineup for the coming months, including more on Swiss wine and sommeliers, a yet to be revealed Tuscan wine in London, more peeks at Hungarian wine, and perhaps a few vintages from Sicily.

 

The Profession of Tasting Port in Porto, Portugal

February 19, 2018

Recent travels have impacted the timing of this blog (including this post). My father, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, received their alumni magazine. He laughed when he told me that each issue had ‘published occasionally’ printed inside. It’s the same with this Vino Voices web log. I try to get a post out every second Tuesday, but sometimes it’s on a third Tuesday. Or a Thursday. Or, like today, Monday.

Now, onto some exceptionally delicious wine…

Not only a rainbow of flavor, but also colors

The Port and Douro Wines Institute (Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto) is a magnificent and stately old structure on a hillside in the city of Porto, Portugal. Unsurprisingly, this decadent building was once was a bank. During a recent visit, I expected to be bombarded with a slew of port making jargon and discussions of technique, but was fascinated to learn that, because port wine historically had some problems of being tainted with additives, a group of official ‘tasters’ within the building now sample thousands of wines per year, testing each for quality.

A happy lot of visitors, and they haven’t even begun tasting

This position as a ‘taster’ is respected, and even after one year of training, a taster is re-tested four times annually. There are some 13 tasters, who each sample about 5,000 wines per year. Profiles of tasting prowess for each individual are kept and matched against others, and any slippage in ability is noted. These tend to happen when tasters are going through a difficult emotional period—such as a divorce—at which time they will be asked to stop tasting temporarily, and, say, inspect vines instead.

Stately inner decor at the Porto Wine Institute

Each working day, members of the institute visit six randomly selected port production houses within Porto (and ten per week in the more distant region of Douro) to make sure they are bottling their wines properly, and also to take samples. Samples are covered in plastic bags so tasters can’t identify them. Additionally, readouts on the quantity of wines produced are matched against quantities of grapes picked to check that no additives are included to bulk up volume.

Each port wine is sampled by seven tasters. If the majority accepts it, it passes. If four reject it, it gets re-tasted.

Several grapes are used to make port wine, including Trousseau, or ‘Bastardo’ (you have to love that name) as well as varieties of Touriga.

“Touriga Franca is more angular in the mouth than Touriga Nacional, which is quite balanced,” said Bento Amaral, Director of Technical Services and Certification.

Because it is a public institute, results are reported to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Getting ready for work

The wine region named ‘Porto and Douro’ is exactly that—composed of two separate regions. Porto is on the western, Atlantic coast while inland Douro stretches from mid-country to the eastern border. Douro produces grapes, while Porto processes and ships wine. They are connected by the Porto River. Inland Douro is mountainous and gorgeous, underlain by greywacke/schist and dotted with granite outcrops. Its three regions (Baixo Corgo, Alto Corgo and Douro Superior) include high mountains and deep valleys that protect grapes from wind. This land is also bathed in buckets of rainfall—47 inches (1200 mm) a year. The 965 square miles of this region (250,000 hectares) include 126 grape varieties, many of which have been used to produce wine for centuries, and 25,000 growers who each tend their own estates—quintas—that are on average each about 4 acres (1.7 hectares) in size.

Cork bark is processed and made into corks close to Porto

To be labeled ‘port,’ wine must be fortified (which means that a spirit, brandy, is added) and made from grapes produced within the vineyards of Douro. Port can be white, rosé, Ruby or Tawny and is quite the sexy yet subdued drink—more likely to be mellowly quaffed in an oak library than to be guzzled at some spring music fest. That’s because the alcohol content is usually between 19 and 22 percent, making this wine sweet and rich. Port is also a blend—made from more than one grape.

We tasted Colheita—a single vintage tawny port-which was as sweet as Sauternes, as well as a paler and more delicate 20 year old Sandeman port. We then tasted a Valentina Vintage 2015, which will be able to last for centuries. ‘A vintage port must be full bodied in the middle palate so they will age well,’ Bento said. The years 2003, 2007 and 2011 are declared ‘vintage’ years for Port, a decision made when 60 percent of the port houses deem it so.

A night scene in rainy Porto

Port is eminently part of the cultural and financial identity of Portugal. There was a time when 50 percent of the country’s exports were port wine—often destined for colonies of the Portuguese Empire such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. Heck, it was tax money from wine sales that built the bridges and water supply systems and higher education structures within the city of Porto. Inland, gorgeous Douro became the first ‘demarcated and regulated winemaking region in the world (1756),’ according to a tidy little volume (with a port-colored cover) issued by the institute with the breezingly reassuring title of Port—Celebrating Life. Porto’s historic center became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, while the same status was given the winemaking region of Douro in 2001.

After decades of aging, corks in port bottles can, because of the sugar content, become effectively glued to the glass. This can make the process of opening particularly old bottles potentially messy. The solution is both effective and theatrical: hot metal tongs are used to heat the glass bottleneck, which is then brushed with ice water to fracture the glass.

Since I visited eight years ago, Porto has changed dramatically. It’s more vibrant and alive. Restaurants and wine bars and hotels have geared up—tastefully—for visitors. This hilly and casual city on the water is a prime springboard for visiting Portugal’s countryside.

& & &

My latest Forbes pieces are here – and include the state of the U.S. wine industry, cork production and an around the world sailboat race.

Thanks for tuning in again.

Porto hospitality from the co-owner of Hotel A.S. 1829

Surprised by Portuguese Wine And Impressed by Corks

February 6, 2018

Airborne in Lisbon

Portugal is a culture of navigation

Not just corks and Port, but excellent wine comes from Portugal.

I recently met an excellent crew of people in Portugal, where we began a few meals in Porto with Encruzado white wine. Encruzado is a grape, primarily grown in Dão, with a taste that can be sharp or buttery and is excellent with seafood.

Colares wines are also an exploration. This relatively recent article written by Eric Asimov does a better job explaining than I can.

Acidic Vinho Verde from the northwest of Portugal is also a must have.

 

Corks or screw caps? Your choice, but information about corks interested quite a few readers in a Forbes piece I wrote yesterday (other recent articles include the mother/daughter team running Château Margaux and a Hong Kong stopover for entrants of a grueling round the planet sailing race – the Volvo Ocean Race).

In addition to what I wrote in that piece on corks, Jo Mills of Rippon Wines sent me this information via email. Rippon is located at a stunningly gorgeous patch of land in New Zealand, and the wines they produce are biodynamic. The family also spends part of the year in France.

Only one of our wines, the Rippon Osteiner is under screwcap, all others are under Diam cork. The reds have always been under cork (we moved from natural cork to Diam with the 2004 vintage) while we had a few years (2002-2005) during which time the whites were under screwcap before reverting to Diam for them too.
The Osteiner, for want of a better term and talking to someone based in France, is our ‘vin de soif’ and, until we recently ceased hosting it, was the wine available to 5,000 thirsty festival goers every other February at the Rippon music festival…we return to our love of the label and the bottle and, for this wine, drunk in the year of its production, have decided that the current design and brand, even with a piece of aluminium atop it, is something we would like to keep.
This, then, explains the anomalous use of the screwcap with the Osteiner – no scientific decision, purely one based on aesthetics!
Thanks Jo…and thanks all for tuning into this brief and overdue post!

Wise Words From The Universe Of Wine

January 14, 2018

 

2018 is here…The world of wine, food and travel is Wide Open!

Vino Voices has much to be grateful for:

Wine Enthusiast Magazine published our Corsica piece in their February Travel issue.

Recent Forbes pieces are here, and include another piece about the wines of Hungary, about the Penedès wine region near Barcelona, Spain, and a review of a book that matches Portuguese wines with recipes.

Forthcoming pieces to be published later this month and in January will cover a wonderful lunch—last Friday—with both the owner, Madame Mentzelopoulos, and managing director, Philippe Bascaules, of Châteaux Margaux in the Médoc region Bordeaux. There will also be articles about cork production in Portugal as well as coverage of an around the world yacht race, and wines, in Honk Kong.

Also, a recent blog piece about Hungarian wines was re-printed by Robert Scott of WineLine Radio. Much appreciated, Robert!

I’ve now written 95 articles for Forbes. After having combed through these, glass of vino in hand, I collected a few dozen memorable quotes relating to wine and life. These are below.

Speakers are identified below each quote (or quotes).

SAGE WORDS….

 

“Making good wine is like cooking. What’s important are the raw materials.”

Dominique Léandre-Chevalier, of Domaine Léandre-Chevalier, Bordeaux, France

 

“We put so much energy and experience into what we’re doing. At the end, we have great wine. But you have to put a lot of heart into this business.”

Isabelle Chety of Château Mercier, Bourg, Bordeaux, France

“Travelers think good Bordeaux means huge prices, and some of those wines are no good. They don’t know there are a lot of small estates making good value, good quality wine—with soul.”

Nicolas Vergez of  Château Cassagne-Boutet, Blaye, Bordeaux, France

 

“The glass is so important. It’s the last thing between the mouth of the customer and the wine itself.”

“What makes a good wine glass? It doesn’t matter how curvy the sides are. The edges need to come toward each other at the top to focus aromatic potential. If it’s too small it will hide the aromas and crispiness. For a Grand Cru wine, use a bigger glass because it has so much to say.”

Sommelier Alexandre Morin, Bordeaux city, France

“Why should people in Denmark not be able to come up with cheese as good as any cheese in France? Scientifically there was nothing that would prevent it. How do I sell this idea to people? How do I get them to understand? How do I route this idea in parliament and not just in socialist circles?”

“Food became for me the weapon, the secret tissue through which you could impact life. It was not a matter of being a cook or coming up with wonderful recipes, it was a matter of using food to impact life in Denmark.”

Claus Meyer—television chef and owner of several restaurants, including Agern and The Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station, New York, USA

 

“Biodynamics was at first a challenge, but it respects vines and biodiversity. Yet it’s also simple and we add nothing to the wines.”

Winemaker Guillaume Hubert, Château Peybonhomme-Les-Tours, Blaye, Bordeaux, France

“Because we are so widely exposed to wines that are ‘big’ and loud, we generally don’t respond so well to wines that say what they have to say in a much quieter fashion.”

Randall Graham – Winemaker and owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard, California, USA

 

“When you move to a true taste, which means farming that permits the root to feed on the soil and the leaves to feed on the climate, you don’t need technology, on the condition that your yields are not too high. If you want to return to a true wine with a true taste, eight times out of ten the yields have to be significantly reduced. Then it’s an economical problem for people who have loans.”

“Suddenly people are not considering farming as just mechanical, but as the commitment of human beings toward the earth. I find that very promising. A way of thinking. A way of behaving. A way of giving meaning to your life. Because if the meaning of your life is just to get more money and you don’t get it and then—surprise—you are in your coffin.”

“If you come up with a product which is not the result of technology and sort of engineering wine, if you come up with a product which carries specificities of your climate and geology—there is a market for this.”

Nicolas Joly, owner and winemaker at  Coulée de Serrant vineyards, Loire Valley, France

“Unfortunately many producers are competing with a younger generation of consumers who choose wine as much by what’s on the bottle as what’s in it. If labels are not innovative, provocative, new and refreshing, the wine may be lost in the noise. The new generation of French wine makers—who are traveling to wine fairs around the world—are starting to understand this.”

Stephen Barrante of Atomic Kids Studios, Connecticut, USA

 

“Everyone has feelings, histories and potentials that are different. Our memories work in different ways. We try to make wine pairings that connect with courses in an emotional way. Every menu is different. Every season is different, and with every season there is a new challenge.”

“There is history in a landscape, a terroir, a grape, a moment, an area. The winemaker has to write the history that is there, being careful, honest. The sommelier? We tell that history to the people. It’s important not to make a value of wines. We are not judges. We tell histories. Histories we don’t love? Don’t tell them. Behind each wine, a lot of people are working. We have to be careful with that. It’s like when you buy a CD. You listen. If you don’t like it, don’t continue to listen. Maybe it’s not your music. And maybe a wine is not perfect for you, but is for another person.”

Sommelier Ismael Álvarez of Nerua Guggenheim Restuarant, Bilbao, Spain

“If there’s one word to describe Rioja, it’s diversity.”

Winemaker Clara Canals Sotillo of Bodegas Campo Viejo, Rioja, Spain

 

“When you talk with people from Burgundy, people from the Rhone Valley, they all say more and more—our consumers want wine with a bit less alcohol, with more fruits, with less extraction and with elegance and finesse. This is really the new goal for us, to make wine that is very fresh and with great energy.”

Hubert de Boüard de Laforest, owner and winemaker at Château Ángelus, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France

“What is exciting is that every morning when I wake up I ask myself—what can I make better? There are things we can make better everywhere. The little details. Every little detail matters that we can use in this quest for excellence.”

Stéphanie de Boüard-Rivoal, Executive Managing Director of Château Ángelus, Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux, France

 

“The sub-$20 price point in America? The wine is really not that good. The sub-$20 price point in Europe? You can find great wine. In Europe there’s a demand for good wine. People won’t tolerate bad wine the way we do. Prohibition really set us back, in that we aren’t really a wine savvy country.”

“If you put a craft wine at the same price next to a mass-produced wine, nine times out of ten a person is going to choose that craft wine. There’s a lack of harshness, a lack of flaws, an interesting character, a natural acidity that is not an additive. There’s a cleaner, refreshing finish.”

“I don’t believe in muddled, weak concepts. They do not have longevity. I think you really have to stay the course with a strong concept.”

Mary McAuley of Ripe Life Wines, California, USA

“You can have the best plans on earth, But if, on the people basis, you don’t get along—it’s very complicated.”

“Our common values are the long term view. Family values. Quality. The patience to produce something good rather than earn money right away. Respecting clients first.”

“There are no secrets. Our new projects need seven years from the moment we begin. We try to make the best wine possible. It’s very easy to say, not so easy to do. It’s also important to maintain the personality of the wine’s region. If all the wines are the same, it’s very boring.”

Baroness Ariane de Rothschild, co-owner of Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia, Rioja, Spain

 

“Expensive wines are not always the best wines. First it’s necessary to show that the quality of our wines is great.”

Pablo Álvarez, co-owner of Bodegas Benjamin de Rothschild & Vega Sicilia, Rioja, Spain

“You always need information—the chemistry in the soil, the climate, rainfall, humidity, sunlight intensity. But the last word comes from your feeling with the place.”

Alberto Antoninim, winemaker of Balasto wine from Bodega Garzón in Uruguay

 

“I love fruit in wines, Sometimes I get the suspicion that people use too much oak in wine, too many tannins, to hide faults.”

Richard Serisier, owner of Château de Cadillac, Bordeaux, France

“If you want to build a winery, it’s not for everyone. It’s a beautiful world, an amazing world, but there is a lot of sacrifice. You want to produce the best wine in the world that everybody knows. So you need to know about vineyards, about wine, about marketing, about vinification and finance. It’s a job where you need to know a little bit of everything. You have to be curious.”

Miriam Masciarelli of Masciarelli Wine Company, Abruzo, Italy

 

“A wine needs to have the taste of where it comes from. I think it’s boring just to taste raspberry, whatever fruit. I need more complexity, terroir, minerality, length. Those very big Malbecs? I don’t honestly believe a Malbec should be like that.”

“What Argentina brought us is knowing that when you gain a certain point in maturity, you tend to lose identity. You have grapes, especially Merlot…more fragile to heat, that tend to be the same when too ripe.”

Hélène Garcin-Lévêque, co-owner of Château Barde-Haut in Saint-Émilion, France

 

“Show me a great man and I will always show you one or several women who have made him.”

“Winemakers today focus on selection. They produce a great wine only with a vat of great juice. I am convinced that well installed, marginal—including mediocre—juice, can make the great even greater.”

“Talleyrand said some privileged men never create the event, they adapt to the event. And when they are clever, drive them.”

“The visitor must leave you believing he is a member of your family.”

“My story is of a modest man in complicity with a fantastic vineyard, soil and extraordinary terroir. My story is just luck. What is genius? Just luck that lasts.”

Henri Duboscq, owner and winemaker at Château Haut-Marbuzet, Médoc, Bordeaux, France

 

“American consumers are looking to drink wines made from indigenous grapes. They love Barolo because it’s distinct. American consumers do their homework, and are knowledgeable about wine. Consumers appreciate finding a wine characterized by a specific terroir. The American market loves unique wines.”

Giuseppe Capuano, marketing manager of Vias Imports in New York City USA

“Life is too short to use just one grape. Why so many varieties? It’s like a painter. The more colors they have, the more complex art they can produce.”

Josep María Albet i Noya, owner and winemaker at Albet i Noya in the Penedès wine region of Spain

 

“Time is important for our products, but we’re not in a rush.”

Maria Rosa Vallès, owner of Rovellats Cava in the Penedès wine region of Spain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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