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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine and Life—Consider This For 2018

January 2, 2018

Welcome In—2018.

First, thanks to all purchasers of our own Etalon Rouge wine this year.

Second, my December Forbes posts are here.

Now—the new year is here and days getting longer. So consider a little exploration of ideas, drinks and places during 2018. A few simple suggestions are included below.

Black Velvet. 

Friends—both Americans and Europeans—are mostly mystified when I mention this drink. Black velvet is a 50/50 mix of Champagne and Guinness. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this was invented at the Brook’s Club in London in 1861 to mourn the death of Prince Albert.

Try it with friends. This is a Christmas and New Year’s classic (not bad for Paddy’s day either)—rich, stout, and—yes—bubbly. What did you expect?

Reconsider Cork Versus Screw Cap Closures.

The reduction of ‘corked’ wines has been dramatically reduced during the past two decades due to vigilance in hygienic techniques used by cork producers. ‘Cork taint’ derives from fungi coming into contact with chlorides and results in a chemical taint known as TCA [2,4,6 – trichloroanisole] which can spoil the taste of wine.

One alternative to cork as a bottle closure is a metal screw cap. Although more convenient to open, the impact on taste is not necessarily neutral. Some wineries (including in Australia, where screw caps are more dominant than corks in the marketplace) have switched back from screw caps to cork to avoid wine which is overly ‘reduced’ (which occurs when oxygen is sealed out). Check out these abstracts from the Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research, and The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry regarding the impact of corks and screw caps on flavor (another article is here).

I have no qualms regarding either, though enjoy the ‘plop’ of a popping cork as a sound of celebration.

Reconsider Beaujolais—Try ‘Cru Beaujolais.’

The famed ‘Beaujolais Nouveau’ was a marketing ploy that had the advantage of turning the world onto the beauty of wines made from the Gamay grape. However none of the ‘nouveau’ wines were made using the best grapes in this French wine region: the Crus. These wines can last for decades and most are delicious. Considering the quality, their price is also reasonable.

Have a Beer Before Wine.

There are little mnemonic poems that tell you not to drink beer after wine, or wine after beer. These phrases are usually the opposite in the English and German languages. Confusing, yes? A phrase I learned in high school in Europe is even simpler—’Don’t mix the grape with the grain.’ But, honestly? If you drink in moderation and stay clear of poorly made wine, mixing both does not inevitably lead to a headache.

Both Australian and French winemakers often down a glass of lager or beer before they pop open a bottle of wine, especially at mealtimes. The contrast can be refreshing.

The Blame For That Headache Is Probably Not Due To Wine Sulfites.

White wines actually often include more sulfites than red wines, yet many people still complain that the sulfites in red wines can give them headaches. This article gives a brief overview.

If you do have a pre-disposition to getting headaches from red wine, it’s likely due to histamines or tyramine. Why does that matter? Because sulfites are often added to wine, as a preservative, in the form of sulfur dioxide. Blaming this additive as being the cause of headaches is giving it a bad rap. And remember, sulfites are also natural, and found in many foods as well as wines. Some people do have allergies to sulfites, and yes, the prevalence of sulfites in food is rising due to the increased quantity of processed food people eat. However foods such as dried fruit and french fries may have higher quantities of sulfites per serving than wine.

Chilled from Winter? Try this Simple Soup: Wine, Broth, Cream, Egg Yolks and Cinnamon Croutons.

My recently completed book The Winemakers’ Cooking Companion includes 125 recipes from winemakers and wine producers from 18 different countries. One favorite recipe is this because it is simple and flavorful. It’s a taste rodeo—the cream contrasts against the acidity of the white wine while the salty broth contrasts against cinnamon and nutmeg. If you can’t find Terlaner soup, substitute another blend—preferably including Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

Terlaner soup (photo credit: Andrian Wines of Alto Adige, Italy)

Consider Creating A Wine Library.

Whether using virtual e-books or real volumes, having references about wine at hand can be instructive and helpful. Here are a few books and articles I’ve listed over the years. I also recently reviewed books for Forbes about Rioja’s wines in Spain, Lisbon wineries, wines of the world and learning about wine.

Try Wines From Different Countries and Regions.

Although I’ve written about excellent wines from Switzerland, Hungary, Corsica [France] and Turkey, this year may be the time to sample wines from China, Moldovia, Israel and England. Consider just some of the grapes you may never before have sampled: Vitis Quinquangularis Rehd, Ezerjó, Jandali and Orion. All are waiting for you to try.

Go On, Try Using An Aerator.

You may have unwrapped one at Christmas.

When to aerate wine? When it’s relatively young, tannic and you don’t have the time to decant it. An aerator might sound gimmicky and the sound of it glugging wine into your glass may lack finesse, but it can be an effective way of bringing out flavors.

Enjoy This Short Multiverse Animated Fiction With A Decent Wine.

And while you watch this seven-minute piece, you may wonder what type of wine they drank in that short opening scene (hint: the name of the restaurant probably gives it away).

Be happy that no one is pushing a ‘reset’ button in your own life.

In 2018 I’ll keep you informed of new places and spaces in the wine world. My Wine Enthusiast article about Corsica comes out in the February travel issue, and this blog will include pieces from Lisbon, Hong Kong and other parts of the world.

Again, thanks for tuning in.

 

 

 

The Surprising Beauty of Hungary and Its Wines

December 19, 2017

 

Parliament Building in Budapest

Hungary, the size of the U.S. state of Indiana, has a population of 10 million and has been a European Union member since 2004. Historically it’s been a doormat for invaders: Tartars, Turks and Soviets.

Let me tell you about wines, first in general, then more specifically. I won’t even mention the famed Tokaji sweet wines here.

There are 22 wine regions in Hungary and about 155,000 planted acres (63,000 hectares).

Wine regions of Hungary – taken from The Tasting Table wine store of Budapest

To learn about these I wandered the massive food market, walked downstairs and bumped into a corner room display about wines—including a model of the country.

The massive market of Budapest

The Celts were growing grapes in the region of Europe now known as the Carpathian Basin three hundred years before the Christian era. Romans then arrived and under Emperor Marcus Aurelius Probus were instructed to plant grapevines all over this region, and cultivated about 80 different species—most of them reds. They stored fermented juice in gourds and amphorae. In the 16th century the current country known as Hungary was split into three. The Turks paid little attention to grape cultivation on their land, but decided not to destroy vines as they could provide tax income.

Today, most Hungarian wines are white, and most reds come from the southwest region of Villány—best known for Cabernet Franc. To taste them, we’ll wander a bit through the capital city of Budapest.

The city of Budapest has a similar social energy to that of Berlin, but with a more mature and relaxed attitude toward time. Youth love going out to social events, but have less of the focused zeal of Berliners. This is a city where strangers meet your gaze and smile warmly in return, which is a refreshing surprise. The streets are clean, the architecture is both bold and magnificent and the people are generally happy now that the subduing and inefficient yoke of communism has been gone since the last Soviet soldier shipped out in 1991.

When you begin walking in this city, it’s difficult to stop because there is some surprise around each corner. You’ll run into visual and sensory overload on streets steeped in history.

A city with surprising architecture

After a half day of wandering you may realize you are embedded in a sizable continental region steeped in spellbinding history—whether from the ruling eras of Romans, Muslims or Hapsburgs—and that you will only see a distant smidgen of this tapestry even after a few days.

The ‘castle district’ is magnificent and wonderful for walking. From the road square of Szvent Mihaly Kápokna with its stone turrets, beneath which visitors cackle on cell phones, you can view the city below and shake your head at the bizarre truth that people still use selfie sticks to take photos.

The pedestrian friendly ‘castle district’ of Budapest

During the fall season, the castle district is sunny and burnished with glorious heaps of unswept leaves and multi colored residences. Sirens wail from the lower city and mingle with the loud chatter of bird songs from feet away.

On a friend’s recommendation I ate dinner at Zeller Bistro. This is where tattooed locals swig glasses of bubbles. It’s an eclectic mix of upscale and edgy characters. A chap named Attila seated me before a small stage, then served local ham, sausage, celery soup and veal and a bottle from the Gróf Buttler winery called Egri Bekavér. This red wine, known as ‘Bull’s Blood,’ comes from the Eger wine region in northeast Hungary and is a blend of three grapes—Kekfrankos, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This 13,000 acre wine region is surrounded by the Mátra and Bükk mountains. This was a powerhouse of a wine to enjoy with dinner.

Zeller Bistro

It tasted of smoke and oak, blackberries, cranberries, chocolate pudding and ash. It’s a gorgeously layered, bright wine with a serious forward heft of black fruit. It’s a dark, powerful and balanced with a rivulet of raspberry taste.

Live music and wine at Zeller

The next night I went to Borssó Bistro, where as part of traditional celebrations for Saint Martin’s Day, the menu focused on goose products—four courses with four wines. I sat upstairs and the atmosphere was warm and energetically boisterous—soft candlelight and homemade butter with the fresh bread. The intimacy and authenticity there are both welcoming and warm.

A magnificently comfortable restaurant

Together with a local sparkling wine (Hungaria Grande Cuvée Brut) came the amuse-bouche opening dish—parsley cream, French blue cheese and quince. This pairing was a rip-roaring mouthful of contrasting and uplifting flavors.

From all around the wood-paneled room I heard American, Chinese and Irish accents—as well as plenty of local banter.

For the first course: goose soup with stuffed pasta and a 2017 Esterhazy Pinot Noir rosé from the Etyeki-Kûria winery. The Etyek-Buda wine region, just west of Budapest, produces mostly sparkling and white wines. This wine was simple, crisp, slightly fizzy and a clean way to enter the meal.

Hungarian rosé

This restaurant is magnificent. The atmosphere inside, with green lanterns and framed bottle labels hanging on walls, is quiet though lively, with a meld of laughs and silverware clatter and the sound of friends toasting.

Here, some ladies wear furs, some rough woolen cloaks and others designer silk ties. Some where loafers and some wear boots. There are dignitaries and dodgy looking characters, which adds a zip of intrigue to dinner.

The second course—smoked goose breast with cassoulet and green beans had such a full-on, delicious, gamy and wild taste that it was no doubt be too brazen for a more conservative restaurant. I drank a wine from the renowned sunny Villany wine region in the south of the country, near Croatia. Vines here were almost destroyed by the Turks, but in the 18th century German settlers focused on producing quality wines. This 6,000 acre (2,500 hectare) region produces reds and rosés. This was a 2017 Gunzer Zoltán Pincejebol made from the Portugieser grape.

All goose dishes for Saint Martin’s Day celebrations

“Like a Beaujolais,” said the server.

A hearty red made with the Portugieser grape

This tasted like a citric Syrah: dense berries and tar with a streak of lemon. This is a deep and hearty red—with fresh Mediterranean citrus superimposed on dark berries, charcoal and chocolate.

The third course was goose with quinoa with cheese and butter as well as a light red 2016 Szent Gaál wine from the Szent Gaál winery. Made with the Kadarka grape, this comes from the Szekszárd wine region, the ‘Hungarian Burgundy.’ This southern region, west of the Danube River, has a warm and balanced climate with Mediterranean and continental inputs. There are hot and sunny summers and the soil base is calcareous. Typical grapes produced in this region include Kadarka, Kékfrankos (remember our first wine, last night?) and Bikavér.

From the Szekszárd wine region, the ‘Burgundy of Hungary’

The taste of this Kadarka? Blueberries on the nose, sort of like a Barbera. In the mouth it was prunes, tangerines, and high in acidity.

What helps make this restaurant attractive is that it lacks the perfectly precise, sometimes fearful orchestration of a Michelin starred restaurant, which makes it more approachable. There is no residual stiffness from any of the wait staff, no fear that they might be serving some inspector.

Cozy and warm restaurant during a chilly Budapest night

During three nights, several meals and samples of 16 local Hungarian wines, I was never disappointed. Most dishes and wines were stellar and the prices were affordable to make me think, more than once, ‘are you kidding me?’

The final wine came from Recas wine in Transylvania. Made from the Feteascā Neagrā wine grape (a Moldavian grape, the name meaning ‘old maiden’).

Named La Pulere, it was like a casual Californian Pinot Noir with bright raspberries, strawberries, plum, peach and lime. This dark forest of smoky berries includes shortbread, strawberries, currants and prunes. This went with the dessert – Lúdláb cake.

Chocolate tart and a good red wine -an indication of the Christmas season

The end of communism in 1990 brought many changes to Hungary. One was an attitude toward making wine. Production was no longer always considered as just a high volume, low quality endeavor but as a way for producers to distinguish themselves by creating higher quality products. Some of their current wines are stellar – rich and delicious.

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Here are a few of my latest Forbes posts (and I will write another article for them, from a different angle, about Hungary in January).

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For those interested in a remote sommelier, I am including a menu below that was provided, and paired with wines, by Julien Pouplet—the ‘reluctant wine guru’ living in the Pyrenees Mountains of southern France.

The suggested wines are available in the U.S. (and some outlets in New York city are identified).

IF you would like to subscribe (for a modest fee) to menus paired with French wines by Julien every two weeks, let me know and I will put you in touch.

OR, if you have your own menu but want Julien to act ‘remote sommelier’ and provide French wine pairings via email, this can also be arranged. The first pairing is free.

This week’s sample menu (no photos, unfortunately) is below.

Julien in the Loire Valley some years ago

 

Apertif –

Ibérico Ham

Suggested wines:

Clos Uroulat ‘Cuvée Marie’ – Jurançon Sec (available at Mr. Wright Fine Wines and Spirits, New York).

Hirutza Hondarrabi Zuri Txakolina (available at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

Appetizer –

Asparagus steamed in bamboo, curled parmiggiano cheese flakes and olive oil.

Suggested Wines:

Les Choisilles’ from François Chidaine of Montlouis S/Loire (available at The Wine Connection, New York).

Côteaux du Vendomois ‘Vieilles Vignes’ by Patrice Colin (available at the Amsterdam Wine Company)

The Basque country of southern France

Main Course –

Roast chicken with homemade French fries.

Suggested wines:

Château Penin Bordeaux Supérieur (available at Pavilion Wine and Spirits, New York)

Château de Bellevue Lussac Saint-Émilion (available at Flatiron Wines & Spirits, New York)

Winter nouriture

Dessert –

Orange segments with grated cinnamon and fresh mint salad.

Suggested wine:

Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine by Francois Chidaine (available at Flatiron Wines & Spirits)

Enjoy the Holidays 🙂

Crus du Beaujolais Tastings

December 5, 2017

Looking out over the Moulin-À-Vent wine region within Beaujolais, France

This is a supplement to the regular Vino Voices blog, and complements a Forbes piece I wrote about tasting several Crus du Beaujolais wines.

For a background on Crus du Beaujolais wines (which are generally excellent), you should read the above article.

The following are brief tasting notes regarding several additional Crus du Beaujolais wines, in addition to those mentioned in the other article. All of these wines, in my humble opinion, score above 90 points on a 100 point scale. These are generally excellent value wines, many of which will age for several years, if not decades.

Jeff Kralik and Charlotte Perrachon at the Moulin-À-Vent (windmill)

Cave du Château de Chénas. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Granit. 2015.

Light plums on the nose which turn slightly smoky after a minute in the glass. Opens in the mouth to a taste of luscious and light raspberries; delicate like a Fleurie. Very mild tannins.

Château de Bellevue. Moulin-À-Vent La Roche. 2015.

Mildly pungent on the nose. Gorgeous black fruits in the mouth. Slightly layered. Weak to medium tannins.

Château de La Terrière. Moulin-À-Vent Le Moulin. 2015.

Luscious and opulent black fruit and cherries on the nose. Slight citrus in the mouth. Medium tannins.

Château de La Terrière. Moulin-À-Vent Le Moulin. 2016.

Similar to the 2015 (above), but bigger black cherries on the nose. Rounded and elegant.

Château des Gimarets. Moulin-À-Vent Espirit de Ma Terre. 2014.

Black fruit, earth and blueberries on the nose. Light to medium structure. Slightly gravelly and fruit full beauty in the mouth.

Château des Gimarets. Moulin-À-Vent Tradition. 2015. [91.5 points]

Deliciously soft raspberries on the nose and additional violets in the mouth. Luscious with subtle tannins.

Édouard Pârinet of Château Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

 

Château des Jacques. Moulin-À-Vent Clos de Grand Carquelin. 2014. [91.5 points]

Huge bouquet of focused black fruit, tar and cherries on the nose. Soft and nuanced in the mouth with mild tannins.

Domaine Anita. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Vigneronne. 2015.

Mild earth, truffle and blackberries on the nose. Luscious cherries with medium complexity in the mouth.

Domaine Bourdon. Moulin-À-Vent. 2014.

Distinct on the nose and mildly pungent—similar aromas to Cabernet Franc. Deep dark fruit. In the mouth raspberries; medium tannins.

Domaine Bourdon. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Raspberries and dark plums on the nose. A hefty and commanding mouthful with black cherries and black pepper. Well balanced with medium tannins.

Domaine Cédric Vincent. Moulin-À-Vent Les Merizes. 2015.

Beautifully soft and elegant on the nose with violets and truffles. This is a gorgeous fruit filled mouthful. Slightly acidic. Low to medium tannins.

Domaine Cédric Vincent. Moulin-À-Vent L’Harmonie. 2016.

Deeply beautiful Pinot Noir like aromas on the nose, though mildly acidic. Opens to red fruit in the mouth, with soft tannins.

Guarding the terroir

Domaine de Bel-Air. Moulin-À-Vent Granit & Manganèse. 2015.

Raspberries and Play-Doh on the nose. Bright cherries in the mouth. Smooth, well-balanced easy to drink wine. Deliciously delicate.

Domaine Céline & Nicolas Hirsch. Moulin-À-Vent. 2016.

Bright raspberries on the nose, slight citrus in the mouth. Crisp, slightly pungent.

Domaine de Colette. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Plum and tar on the nose, gorgeous black cherries and raspberries in the mouth. Delicate, weak tannins. This is an easy drinking beauty.

Domaine de Gry-Sablon. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2015.

Hefty black fruit on the nose. In the mouth—focused florals and black cherries. This is a commanding wine: fruit forward, balanced and firm with medium tannins.

Domaine de La Chèvre Bleue. Moulin-À-Vent Réserve Philibert. 2015.

Red fruit on the nose. Fine chocolate and cherries and slight tarragon in the mouth. Layered and somewhat complex. Mild tannins.

Domaine de La Paillardière. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée 12M. 2014.

Black fruit and beef on the nose. Orange rind, pepper and red fruit in the mouth. A well rounded mouthful with medium tannins.

A range of cru wines from Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

Domaine de L’Iris. Moulin-À-Vent Domaine de L’Iris. 2016.

Light, barely distinct fruit on the nose. Bright lavender and mandarin in the mouth. Mildly tannic. Mildly distinct minerality.

Domaine Des Caves. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée Étalon. 2014.

Mildly pungent aroma. Mingles with black cherry to provide a commanding, balanced nose. Gorgeous full fruit mouthful.

Domaine des Caves. Moulin-À-Vent Cuvée Étalon. 2015.

Nose includes hibiscus and pear—pleasant and also floral. Full and hearty mouthful of fruit with slight minerality.

Domaine des Fontaines. Moulin-À-Vent. 2015.

Mild blackberries on the nose. Slightly citric and round in the mouth. Will go well with fish or game.

Domaine des Pierres Roses. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Gorgeous Burgundian like nose. Violets and acorns and slight tar. A full mouthful with tangerines and red fruit.

Domaine de Rochegrès. Moulin-À-Vent Domaine de Rochegrès. 2016.

Light raspberries, mild lemon rind and caramel on the nose. In the mouth the same. This is a well-balanced basket of fruit.

Cellars below Château Moulin-À-Vent, Beaujolais

Domaine des Rosiers. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes. 2015.

Nose is light with mild scent of plum. Balanced cherries and nuts in the mouth. Mildly, and nicely, crunchy in the mouth.

Domaine des Rosiers. Moulin-À-Vent Vieilles Vignes 2016.

Bright and powerful plumbs on the nose. In the mouth—raspberry, pleasant and full taste of plumb and graphite. This is an easy drinking wine, far more fruit than minerality.

Domaine du Penlois. Moulin-À-Vent Sous L’Aile du Moulin. 2014.

Bright fruit and florals on the nose and in the mouth. Beautifully easy drinking wine.

Domaine Labruyère. Moulin-À-Vent Coeur de Terroir. 2015.

Gorgeously soft and supply black pepper on the nose. Rounded, mineral and very approachable in the mouth. Perfect for fish or light game.

Domaine Labruyère. Moulin-À-Vent Le Carquelin. 2015.

Spice and black fruit on the nose. Rounded, well-balanced and includes a fully approachable fruit mélange in the mouth.

Domaine Louis Boillot & Fils. Moulin-À-Vent Les Brussellions. 2015.

Black pepper and green pepper on the nose. Rounded and full in the mouth.

On a clear day, you can see the Sâone River and beyond

Domaine Merlin. Moulin-À-Vent La Rochelle. 2014.

Simple raspberries and mushrooms on the nose, creamy minestrone and spice in the mouth. Slightly tart, easy drinking.

Domaine Jean-Pierre Mortet. Moulin-À-Vent. 2014.

Peaches and caramel on the nose. Rounded raspberry rodeo in the mouth. Supple, satisfying. Low tannins.

Domaine Richard Rottiers. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Light fruit, mild tannins, easy drinking.

Juillard Wolkowicki. Moulin-À-Vent Éole. 2015. [91.75 points]

Light and beautiful florals. Lavender and black cherries in the mouth.

Maison Jean Loron. Moulin-À-Vent Champ de Cour. 2015.

Less than distinct nose, but full and gorgeous rounded tropical fruits in the mouth. Mild tannins.

An array of colorful Beaujolais tastes

Maison Le Nid. Moulin-À-Vent Tradition. 2015.

Mild on the nose. An attractive raspberry and pepper package in the mouth.

Maison Mommessin. Moulin-À-Vent Domain de Champ de Cour. 2015.

Bright, light and fruity mouthful. Light tannins and low complexity. Subdued, but easy drinking.

Manoir du Carra. Moulin-À-Vent Famille Sambardier. 2015.

Bright plumb and pepper on the nose. Raspberry and plums in the mouth. Fruit forward, few discernible tannins.

 

 

Orange Wine in Milan, and Secrets of Northern Italy

December 5, 2017

First, my latest Forbes pieces are here. They include another wine book review, challenges facing Barolo wine, and excellent Crus du Beaujolais wines that are smoking hot values.

Second, we’ll take a quick tour of lesser known locales within northern Italy that serve excellent food and wine (and we’ll learn a bit about ‘orange wine’).

Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II near the main cathedral of Milan

I recently enjoyed dinner in the city of Milan, Italy, with a couple living there—Diletta Sereni and her boyfriend Niccolo. I had met Diletta, a food journalist, earlier this year in Abruzzo. She writes about food, farming and sustainability. Diletta insisted that, if in her city, I should get in touch to sample local food and wine. Because Milan was a stop off point during recent travels, I decided to stay there for a day and evening to explore.

Inside Museo del Duomo in Milan

For hours I walked through the city—buying roasted chestnuts, pacing under the high glass ceiling of Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, wandering on the flagstones past restaurants on Via Brera, eating a sfogliatella napoletana pastry and getting a haircut from a barber named Silvio. After spending time wandering through museums—Natural History, Novecento, El Duomo—I met Diletta and Niccolo at Ratanà. This restaurant, they explained, had no Michelin stars but was twice listed as the best restaurant in the city by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra (“The New York Times of Italy,” they told me).

Diletta and Niccolo – wonderful hosts in Milan

After aperitifs of Anisos Vallagarina (a biodynamic white wine) for Diletta, Crémant d’Alsace Extra Brut for Niccolo (crémant is sparkling wine, made the same way as champagne, but from outside that region) and Franciacorta Brut (a sparkling wine from the northern Lombardy region of Italy) for myself, we ordered dinner. The key to the main course of Osso Bucco, they explained, came at the end when we could eat the bone marrow (for which we were provided a special tool that resembled a miniature whale flensing knife).

My Italian is rudimentary; fortunately, Diletta and Nicolo translated

With this we drank a local organic wine from north of the city—a 2015 Buttafuoco Cerasa that includes three grapes: Croatina, Barbera and Ughetti di Solinga (Vespolina). This tasted of light and bright raspberries, with a mild crunchiness and taste of chestnuts. Diletta and Niccolo suggested this wine because it apparently matches well with food rich with fat. Milan is located in the Lombardy region of Italy, and this is primarily where Croatina grows. Vespolina is grown primarily in the Piedmont region (just west of Lombardy). The Barbera grape, grown in the Monferrato portion of the Piedmont region since the 1200’s, was considered a table wine until its quality and status recently began being boosted.

A light and refreshing blend of three red grapes

Just as most people associate Italy with Leonardo da Vinci and poet Dante Alighieri, most Italians are also well aware of artist Umberto Boccioni. I showed the couple photos taken earlier that day in the Novecento (‘nine-hundred’) art museum and they immediately recognized the works as created by Boccioni. Diletta then pulled a 20 cent coin from her pocket to show that one side included an image of one of his bronze sculptures (titled: Unique Forms of Continuity in Space).

‘Elasticity’ by Umberto Boccioni

After dinner, bloated, we walked through the Isola portion of Milan. Although Leonardo Da Vinci designed a church that still stands there, the region transformed a magnet for drug dealers and prostitutes in decades past, until a surge of recent upgrades. The region is now a magnet for businesses and young professionals. The Bosco Verticale towers (vertical forest) with their 900 trees on apartment porches were recently given an award for best ‘tall building worldwide.’

We soon sat inside the couple’s local wine bar—Enoteca Surli, where 24-year old sommelier Lorenzo Scarsi served glasses of orange wine.

Sommelier Lorenzo Scarsi at Enoteca Surli in the Isola region of Milan

Orange wine?

The first was a non-filtered 2016 Quinto Quarto Rebula from Franco Terpin from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Made from Ribolla Gialla grapes, this apparently typifies an ‘orange wine,’ common in northeast Italy. An orange wine is a white wine that ferments with skins and seeds. It’s basically a white made like a red. The green skins are not removed after pressing, which gives the juice a distinct orange color.

Quinto Quarto orange wine from winemaker Franco Terpin

This orange wine was acidic and distinct, like a white but heartier. We next tasted an Ein Quantum Weiß 2016 from Austria, a blend of 12 grapes, which also had a distinct taste—tannins and toast. The taste of orange wine undoubtedly grows on drinkers with time.

An Austrian orange wine blended from 12 grapes

We next tried an Orano Sangiovese from the Le Marche region on the Adriatic coast—north of Abruzzo and east of Umbria, then finished with a biodynamic and unfiltered 2016 Mille from I Cacciagalli. Made from the dark Aglianico grape as well as the Piedirosso grape, this is slightly vegetal and pungent on the nose, similar to a Cabernet Franc. Lorenzo told us this is one of the bestselling wines at the bar.

Biodynamic, unfiltered and distinct

Lorenzo held the bottle to the light.

“Non passa niente,” he said. No light passed through that dark wine.

The evening was enjoyable and instructive. Grazie mille Diletta and Niccolo!

Next stop—Lugano, Switzerland (don’t worry, we’ll soon scoot back into Italy).

Looking from Monte Brè toward Monte Salvatore over Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Looking from the city of Lugano toward Monte Salvatore (right) and Monte Brè (left)

In Lugano my friend Elena took me on a whirlwind tour not of southern Switzerland, but of hidden dining gems within the backwoods of nearby Italy.

Elena outside Hostaria di Cacciatori near Ferrera di Varese in northern Italy

We drove south, from Lugano into Italy, and headed in the direction of Varese. After some 40 minutes, we stopped at Hostaria dei Cacciatori (‘the hunters’ restaurant’) near a small rural town.

A Saturday lunch gathering in the restaurant

Inside this home with starched linen tablecloths and large wine glasses, the owner and chef—Aurora and Paolo—told us that Aurora’s father opened this restaurant 50 years ago. When we were ready to order, there was no menu; Aurora recited what was available that day.

Paolo and Aurora

After a glass of sparkling Prosecco, we ordered a fine bottle of Brunello di Montalcino wine made from Sangiovese grapes from Tuscany (Aurora recalled that Elena ordered the same wine when she ate there last, almost a year ago), then ordered an appetizer of lentils and sliced salsicha sausages, followed by pasta with shaved, fresh truffles from the local forest. The pasta was yellow because it is made in freshly in-house, and egg yolks impact the color.

The entrance lobby at the Hostaria

World renowned Brunello di Montalcino wine is made 100% from the Sangiovese grape (which is also the main grape constituent in Chianti). Brunello was the first wine that was awarded the highest quality ‘DOCG’ (Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita) designation in Italy; today there are a total of 74 DOCG designations throughout Italy.

Pasta with shaved truffles (which, fortunately, were still available)

The next evening we drove again into the hills of Italy to find a family owned restaurant in the countryside—Agriturismo Barcola. This is a ‘grotto’ restaurant; this local word describes family restaurants that were once adjacent to outdoor caves (grottos) where they kept meat cool and cured. Elena navigated down a single lane on a dark mountainside into a dirt parking lot completely filled with cars.

The entrance to Barcola

Inside, families bantered and locals toasted and we ate appetizers of tomino cheese wrapped in bacon, followed by tagliatelle pasta with shavings of fresh wild boar (cinghiale) and a bottle of delicious red Valtellina Superiore Sassella wine. This excellent wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape on the steep slopes of the Rhaetian Alps northeast of Milan, near the border of Switzerland.

From the Rhaetian Alps, which you have never heard of

For a digestif we drank homemade (‘fatta di casa’) crema di limone—similar to limoncello. When I asked for the bill the owner scribbled a number onto a torn scrap of paper and handed it over. For all that dinner and wine and digestif for two persons the cost was 56.50 Euros. Very reasonable. When we reached the parking lot it was a mishmash of cramped cars, parked randomly within a circular dirt arena, and drivers trying to extricate their vehicles without banging into too many others. Being in Italy, though, this turned into a laughing, camaraderie forming event.

Tomino cheese wrapped in bacon. You know you want it.

And Lugano? Beautiful. I once lived there, and enjoyed every moment. I wrote a piece about the Merlot wine from that region of Switzerland years ago.

Sitting outside Osteria La Lanchetta before Lake Lugano, enjoying sundowners

The beauty of the meals described above came from spending time with people who live in the region—people who recommended where to go because they appreciate excellent local foods and have, through time, filtered out locations they consider prime for visiting.

As a teenager, I spent years living in Lugano. I thought I knew it all about the city and its countryside.

Nonsense. In the space of 48 hours, Elena opened up new dimensions to this region that blasted previous concepts.

Sant’Abbondio church in Certenago, Switzerland, in the municipality of La Collina d’Oro (‘the Hill of Gold’)

As you travel, you will meet others who will invite you to visit. To spend time at their spot on this planet.

Do It!

Go. ‘Throw Caution to the Winds.’ Buy the Ticket.

This will expand Your Horizons, change your thinking, and even—bizarrely—help solve problems that you were concerned about taking time away from.

Funds will come and go, and problems will arise and diminish.

Memories and camaraderie? They are to be seized.

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Thanks again for tuning in. I write this blog and another (roundwoodpress.com) and also write for various publications (shown below). I appreciate your visit to this site and hope you will continue checking out Vino Voices!

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