Class 6: The Wine Region of Rioja

Let me first start this class by saying that I had my syllabus in line to do a class on Rioja before Mr. Eric Asimov’s (who’s online wine school in the New York Times was an inspiration for our own virtual wine school)  latest installment on said region. You’re welcome for the inspiration Eric!

In this blog, we will be touching on a few key topics to take away from this special region. Mainly the geography (climate, soil, topography) , grape varieties, classifications for labeling, and the difference between traditional versus modern winemaking. In discussing the wines we have on hand for this class, we will be focusing in on different levels and bottlings of Tempranillo.

Rioja, sitting directly north of Madrid, is roughly 60 miles in length, and is divided into three subregions, Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Baja.  The region is divided in half by the Ebro River, running north to south, while providing nutrients for a variety of soil types throughout the region. The Sierra de Cantabria mountain range sits above Rioja Alavesa, and provides ample protection from heat and wind, and allows for cooling temps throughout a region, that during summer months, can be scorching hot day in day out.  With different wind currents coming from all directions surrounding Rioja, a true microclimate is formed.  You have the dry air coming up from the southeast in the Mediterranean, and much needed moisture coming off the Atlantic from the northwest, along with the river and mountains, allow for a truly balanced grape growing cycle.

rioja mapRioja Alta is the westernmost of the three subregions and is south of the Ebro. It contains the most total hectares, twice as large in land mass as Rioja Alavesa. Here we find more soils rich in clay, and a climate mainly influenced by the Atlantic.  Rioja Alta is know for producing full bodied wines with medium alcohol that are suitable for aging.

Rioja Alavesa sits north of the Ebro and is nestled right up against the Sierra de Cantabria. With its sloping landscape, we find more soils containing limestone. While it also draws strong influence from the Atlantic, it also receives heat and moisture from the Mediterranean.  Rioja Alavesa is known for lighter colored, aromatic wines,  but produces lots of high alcohol wines with high acidity suitable for aging.

Rioja Baja is the hottest and driest of the three sub regions. It’s climate is Mediterranean, with vineyards at much lower elevations. With its gravely, stony soils, the region produces lots of rose wines and has widespread plantings of Garnacha.


As it relates to grape varieties, four red grapes are allowed in Rioja with Tempranillo comprising 65% of all plantings, the other allowed red grapes include Graciano, Mazuelo (Carinena) and Garnacha. Three white grapes are allowed, Viura, Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca.

As a consumer, it’s important to understand the different classification system put forth in Rioja for how a wine is labeled. Their are three levels of aging requirements to determine which designation gets put on the bottle. There is Crianza (1 year in oak barrel, 1 year in bottle before release), Reserva (1 year in oak, 2 years in bottle) , and Gran Reserva (2 years in oak, and 3-5 in bottle).  Usually, the longer the wine is aged, the higher the price.

There is a variety of winemaking techniques throughout the region, dividing producers into two camps. Old school (traditionalists) and new school (modernists). The traditionalist winemakers age their wines primarily in American oak, where the modernist winemakers go heavy on new French oak.  The old schoolers tend to source fruit from the three subregions, where the new kids in school want to focus on single vineyards to express their terroir or terruno.  The stylistic differences are night and day.  The traditional wines take on a more rustic flavor profile, a bit more elegant, with aromas of leather and earth, and boast great structure and tannin.  The modern wines deliver lush ripe fruit,with bright colors and a silky smooth mouthfeel. Depending on which might prefer, there is a style of Rioja for everyone.

Below I’ve listed links to our website for the three wines I’ve presented in my video. Please try these wines and report back on your tasting experience.

I’ll leave the class with an image of the Sierra de Cantabria from Valserrano’s vineyards, from my trip to Spain back in May of 2012.


Until next time!






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Class 5: Passion for Pinot… Noir that is!

As we enter the fall months, I fall for Pinot Noir!  We will look at Pinot Noir from three distinct areas.  After the wine descriptors, I attached an article I wrote on Pinot Noir.  I hope this peeks your interest in that precarious grape, Pinot Noir.

Le Meurger Bourgogne Rouge, 2011

 When you say Red Burgundy, you are telling a story of 100% Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir has reigned King of Red, here in Burgundy for centuries.  A beautiful expression of Pinot Noir with fruit being sourced primarily from Chorey les Beaune and Volnay, two perfect places for the finicky grape to grow.  Great acidity is backed up with loads of fresh cherries and ample ripe fruit.  A wine that flows gracefully from the glass and offers a reflection of continued continuity from the 2011 vintage in Burgundy from this producer.

Soter North Valley Pinot Noir, 2012

 Winemaker and friend of West Side Wines, James Cahill, has done it again with a beautiful Oregonian Pinot Noir.  “First and foremost, Tony and Michelle Soter are Pinot Noir lovers. And as a Pinot Noir lover, Tony has dedicated much of his career to producing versatile, seductively aromatic, and affordable Pinot Noir by blending fruit from numerous sites. His Etude Carneros Pinot Noir has become a beloved staple on restaurant lists across the country, and with the North Valley bottling, he intends to transcend that achievement in Oregon.”  From the Winery:  “Our diverse vineyard sites provided grapes with ample sweetness and fine acidity in 2011, resulting in an aromatically engaging wine marked by lush fruit and soft, silken mouth feel. Red fruits are predominant showcasing wild cherry, raspberry and marionberry with intriguing savory undertones hinting at tarragon and clove. Bright acidity preserves the wine’s inherent sleekness and overall charm.”

B. Kosuge “The Shop” Pinot Noir, 2011

“If you have heard anything bad about the 2011 vintage I can assure you that, for earlyvarieties like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, those bad things are simply not true. 2011 is one of my favorite vintages of the last decade. I will concede that the growing season was hard—growers fought with mildew, the season was late and the crop small. The resulting wines are vibrant, fresh and balanced, and ripe but not jammy. Classic wines, you might say. I always say that the hardest thing to achieve in California is freshness, energy and precision, and the 2011 Pinots and Chardonnays have that across the board.  More and more these days I am looking for wine that is refreshing, aromatic and pure.  Power and size are no longer so appealing. Even though the Shop is always a pretty big wine, it carries itself with grace. As has been the case for my entire career, I make this wine as naturally as possible—the better to encourage the fullest expression of the fruit, to keep it fresh and honest. But I don’t want to be too serious about it, and lately when I have tasted the wine it seems like the kind of wine you could down a bottle of without even thinking. Not that I am advocating chugging it. Carneros Pinot Noir always has a dark fruit component, something almost licorice-like, and that is here, in the background, along with other dark fruits. But there is spice and fresh fruit on top of it that keeps it lively. On the palate, ripe but fresh.”-B.Kosuge


Falling for Pinot Noir…All Over Again and Again!

Well, it’s been nine years since Pinot Noir took to the big screen and Americans began their love affair with this very attractive, although elusive grape variety.  The honeymoon has been over for a while now, so it is time we renew our vows with a wine that deserves our undivided attention. As the leaves start to turn, and there begins to be a slight chill in the air, I find the color of wine in my glass to change from white to pink to a beautiful translucent red, Pinot Noir.  I feel there is no better time of year than Autumn to enjoy this light, but luscious red wine.  A wine that begs to paired with all the fabulous flavors of Fall.  Let’s take a little closer look at the personality of Pinot and try to predict that perfect pairing with my favorite fall fare.

I’m gonna say it, sorry…terroir.  Probably one of the most debated terms in oenology, but I believe it to be very true.  What is it?  Well, it’s the idea a wine, a grape can reflect flavors and even characteristics of the place, the soil that it has been growing, for what could be a very long time.  For instance, if the soil is mostly limestone, you might find the wine to have a certain minerality and precision, but as one author put it, “when was the last time you licked limestone?”  Sure, this can’t be a totally literal idea, but I find Pinot Noir to be a certain conduit that can connect a person with the place.  This can’t be just any place, for Pinot Noir is very particular to where it grows up.  Try to grow it in too hot of a place and it will ripen too early and never achieve the levels and layers of flavor that its’ thin skin can create.  Of all the places on Earth, is the Burgundy region in France, where if all the conditions are right, Pinot Noir can reflect all the slight nuances of terroir.  The only other places that have had any success in producing our fickle friend are New Zealand, Oregon, and the cool corners of California and Chile.  So, what is so great about this grape that people find it worthy of emulating around the world?

Pinot Noir has a duality that is pleasing to both white wine as well as red wine drinkers.  The grape has thin skins with usually light, silky smooth tannins.  Tannis are that drying feeling you get on the side of your tongue, not a bad thing, but could exhaust your palate, and we haven’t even got to the food, so we don’t need an exhausted palate!  The profile of Pinot Noir is a usual suspect of pleasantries; red berries, red cherry, bright and light, and with the more mature Pinots hints of leather and tobacco.  Put a little chill on the wine and it is a “cooler” version with a very bright and refreshing quality.  The greatest thing about Pinot Noir is that it can cross the spectrum of food pairings and meet the needs for red as well as white wine dishes!  Oh well, I can’t take it anymore!  Let’s get to the food!

Autumn has a cornucopia of flavors, fruits and spices that beg to be paired with Pinot Noir.  As well as, a beautiful list of lighter meats that can be braised, smoked or roasted from pork to duck to turkey, Oh my!  The wine calls for earthy flavors such as: truffles, wild mushrooms, coriander.  Pinot Noir is very happy next to fruit flavors such as figs, blackberry, and pomegranates.  Duck breast and duck leg confit is one of my favorite pairings for Pinot Noir.  A wonderful balance of earthy flavors, as well as succulent flavors, that react wonderfully with the fruit and acidity to Pinot Noir.  Depending on the producer and vintage, Pinot Noir can have layers and layers of flavor that can be enjoyed on their own or paired up with some of these classic fall eats.

Please enjoy Pinot Noir this Fall season from any and all the places that hold this grape variety sacred in the process of production.  Making this wine is a testament to the appreciation of soil, wine and tradition.  So, before the weather makes it necessary for a sweater and some flames in the fireplace, remember to pull out that bottle of Pinot Noir and let it dance with every thing Fall.  To leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly: “One Author trying to sum up the difference between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, said, ‘Pinot is James Joyce, while Cabernet is Dickens.  Both sell well, but one is easier to understand.’”  The only thing to understand here is the marriage of Fall flavors and Pinot Noir is an unbreakable one, one to stand the test of time.  Cheers!

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Food and Wine Travels in Vermont

IMG_1325The wonderful thing about living in New England is all the exploring you can do within a “short” drive (compared to much of this vast, beautiful country). While most small towns in this region resonate a quaint character, I love traveling north into what is truly back country. This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to visit Vermont in the peak of fall foliage season, and I can assure you, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Aside from the stunning views of vivid colors and mountains as far as the eye can see, Vermont is a gastronomic paradise.

View from Camel's Hump in Vermont

View from Camel’s Hump in Vermont

Blessed with miles of fertile farmland, Vermont is known for it’s top notch local produce, dairy and craft beer. Some of the country’s most talented and passionate chefs use seasonal ingredients to create unforgettable dining experiences. While I could rave about every single meal I had in the three days I spent in Vermont, I’d like to pay particular attention to a very special experience I had in the beautiful Mad River Valley. The quaint town of Waitsfield is the home of Peasant, a small local gem known for, as chef (and friend) John D’Avignon describes, “European comfort food.” I found it to capture the essence of fine French and Italian cuisine utilizing the freshest and most local ingredients, with that special touch that I can only describe as “so Vermont.”

To make a comparison, my dining experience at Peasant made my husband and I feel exactly like we were back in Italy. The restaurant is family run and operated in a beautifully renovated old home and the owner visits every table at the end of their meal. The service was exceptional and the food was wonderful, each dish highlighting the purest form of ingredients in perfect melody. In addition, the wine list offered a good selection of new and old world wines. I was pleased to see an array of bottlings from Italy, Piedmont in particular. The owner and his family is very passionate about wine; much so that he actually produces his own. (Yes, Vermont makes wine. Closest comparison? Alsace meets the Finger Lakes. Try it!)

Want to hear all the juicy details? I started off with a fun off-menu plate of fried green tomatoes: which were just picked at a friend’s house down the road, lightly encrusted and topped with a spicy remoulade. We then delved into a salad tastefully featuring fresh arugula, cucumber and fresh sweet corn, Grafton cheddar, and a creamy tomato dressing made with heirloom tomatoes, feta and red onion. Crunchy and flavorful, it inspired my palate and prepared for what would follow: a plate of local sheep’s milk brie and a plate of housemade Pâté , so smooth and creamy it practically melted on my palate. We then got a taste of the two pasta dishes: Farfalle with corn, tomato, arugula, chevre and house fennel sausage, another plate of Penne with the house Bolognese made with with ground beef, pork and turkey making it incredibly soft and flavorful. Then came the nightly special: Hunter’s Chicken on a bed of basmati rice, so full of flavor I dropped my fork after the first bite and expressed myself in the fashion of Bill Murray’s dinner table scene in the 1991 classic What about Bob. Cumin, mushrooms, tomatoes, pearl onions, smoky bacon and a duck demi-glaze encompass a fresh local chicken roasted to perfection. It was so tantalizing, I will likely dream about it for the rest of my life.

We chose a Barbera d’Asti to accompany the meal, since we had such a variety of flavors, we wanted a red that wouldn’t overpower the food but would compliment the subtleties of each unique dish.

If you’re heading to Peasant anytime soon, make sure to get John’s Chocolate Porter Cake: holy delicious. Rich is an understatement, with notes of malt from the pint of porter in every batch. No frills, just real, good, homemade cake.

While my time in Vermont was brief, I was left with a strong impression. I hope to bring some of the zest Vermonters have for hospitality back to Connecticut and radiate it to all. Why not make the best of what we have? Especially in the autumn, we’ve got plenty to work with.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my latest food and wine travel report. Tune in soon!

Cari Saluti,


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Montaribaldi Wine Dinner @ Treva

IMG_1325Whenever people ask me how I became so passionate about wine, I look back to my days living in wine country. Meeting the people who live and breath the wine they make brings a whole new meaning to a bottle. When we live far away from these enchanting places, the impression we make of a wine is only a dull reflection of a larger, more beautiful picture.

Connecting a face, a story, a laugh, a meal with wine personifies it. We call it pretty, seductive, bold, zippy, fun, serious. Our encounter with the wine leaves a lasting imprint in our memories. Just as we begin with a first impression of a person we meet, the more understanding we have of wine, the more special and memorable our encounter with it becomes.

Moreover, anyone who appreciates food, as I do, will learn to love wine, as the famous french Edouard De Pomaine argues: “For a gourmet wine is not a drink but a condiment, provided that your host has chosen correctly.” 

This is why I love attending wine dinners and industry events. Without traveling thousands of miles, we’ve brought the experts to guide us through the wine’s background: to understand the soil, the terrain, the weather, the people who make the wine, will introduce us to the many layers that create the flavors we adore.

Wednesday evening’s wine dinner allowed us to get a feel for a simply marvelous set of wines. Chefs at locally renowned Treva Restaurant worked closely with Diedre Magnello of DM Solutions to create a menu that would showcase the magnificent wines of Montaribaldi from Barbaresco. Owner Luciano Taliano and export manager, Giorgia Tontodonati, joined a lovely group of 25 guests, to guide us through a truly magical evening full of laughs and extraordinary flavors.

montaribaldi dinner

Giorgia, myself and Luciano

We were fortunate enough to have a warm evening so the dinner took place outside in the back patio, where our group was able to converse with Luciano and Giorgia as they led us through the wines.

Among the favorites were the Roero Arneis “Caporal”, which paired beautifully with a poached pear salad; scents of chamomile and apple lingered throughout a full and lingering mouthfeel. It evoked nostalgia of flower blossoms on warm spring days, inviting me to enjoy every last sip.

The Langhe Nebbiolo “Gumbarin” gave us a good laugh. Giorgia explained the long, arduous trip required by foot to arrive to the vineyard the grapes are grown: one must be “gumbarin,” which in Piedmont dialect best translates to “physically capable,” the original adjective in Italian “in gamba”– on your legs. This wine is aged in larger oak casks as opposed to small barrels, as to add a subtle depth without comprising the fresh, vivacious aspect of the younger Nebbiolo.

Coined the “party” Barbaresco, “La Palazzina”, was poured alongside the more serious and deep  “Sori Montaribaldi” to match a Venison duo with mint and cinammon that so perfectly melded with the aromas of the wine I was wondering if the two were destined for harmony. I found “La Palazzina” to be elegant and soft, with hints of vanilla, tobacco, menthol and spice, a lovely tannin, while the “Sori Montaribaldi” exuded the same overall profile in a bigger way, with more intense fruit and tannin overall.

One of my favorite aspects of the dinner was learning the main differences of the soil in which the grapes are grown, which is extremely important to distinguish the characteristics of the each wine. To simplify Giorgia’s explanation: the Arneis is grown in Roero, known for it’s minerals. In Asti, where Barbera is grown, the soil is sandy. In the Langhe, where their Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and other wines with the Langhe designation, the soil is primarily clay. At industry events such as the famous VinItaly, the winery displays jars containing some of each soil. The photos below are examples:

Montaribaldi soil

Montaribaldi soil 2


Having such a tangible way to understand the wine-quite literally from the ground up- is invaluable. Much of what we taste in wine is due to what’s in the soil, but also how it drains water and supplies it to the vine’s roots, among other details. Trust me, next time you visit a vineyard, be sure to scope out the ground beneath you! It’s far more interesting than you may have ever imagined.

Thanks again for all of you who attended the dinner. I look forward to the next one! I also can’t wait to visit Montaribaldi in Piedmont on my next trip to Italy; they were really lovely, just like their wines!

Cari Saluti,





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Class 4: Zinfandel-An American Story


Zinfandel: An American Story

When choosing the subject matter for the most recent wine school class, I harkened back to before I was in the wine business for inspiration, when I was just beginning to develop my interest in and appreciation for wine.  As it turns out my corporate job then required for me to travel to San Francisco on an annual basis for about five years in a row.  On the back end of these business trips I made it a point to stay on and visit wine country  in Northern California, specifically Napa Valley and Sonoma County .  While on these visits I tasted and enjoyed many wonderful wines, yet I became particularly smitten with the Zinfandels from a variety of producers. At that time I was drawn to the wines bold flavors, versatility for food pairings and as well as its lock of pretentiousness and drinkability. Owning a wine retail store for over 14 years now, I select and carry many amazing wines, in a variety of styles from around the world yet I still have a soft spot for Zinfandel and always make sure the stores offerings are deep and varied.   I am still drawn to Zinfandel now for many of the same reasons when I first started exploring wine. It is a distinct wine in that it walks the tight rope between serious and fun!

Historically, Zinfandel first arrived in California in the 1850’s. Originally thought to be a native grape to Italy, Primitivo, research carried out between 1998 and 2000 revealed that Zinfandel’s original roots were of Croatian origin and the grapes Crljenek Kaštelanski and Tribidrag. Initially it became popular as a table grape. Yet because of the varietals ability to produce in quantity by the turn of the century it became California’s most popular planted variety.  It was being regarded as California’s own claret and occupied some of the choicest North coast vineyards.  However, through the majority of the 20th century California Zinfandel was relegated to “jug” wine status due to its ability to produce in quantity. It was often planted in unsuitably hot sites and expected to yield more than was good for it. Zinfandels fate during this period is similar to the recent fate of Shiraz in Australia which suffered the same lack of respect simply because it was the most planted red grape variety.  Thanks to the enormous popularity of White Zinfandel, a blush off dry style of Zinfandel, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, many of the original Zinfandel plantings, which were declining, were saved. The resurgence of Zinfandel continued into the late 1990’s as red Zinfandel began to enjoy an almost cult-like status driving total planting in California to 50,000 acres in 2003, which is only slightly less than Merlot and two-thirds as much as its most important red variety, Cabernet Sauvignon.  While California remains the predominant grower of Zinfandel some South African growers have taken advantage of their climate’s suitability while Australia has as well due to its obvious location.  If you’d like to delve more deeply into the history of a Zinfandel a great book to consider is “Zinfandel – A History of the Grape and Its Wine” by Charles Sullivan, a leading expert on the history of California wine.

Now that we have some background perspective, let’s talk about the Zinfandel of today. The most common description of Zinfandel is that it produces a wide range of different styles of wine.  However it is probably best at producing still, dry, bright red wines with relatively high alcohol content , lots of extraction, reasonable acid, and a great nose full of brambly fruit flavors. The term “brambly” is often used in describing Zinfandel which in general is a category of aromas and flavors which includes blackberries, loganberries and raspberries. However, it is also often applied to wines with prominent tannins and alcohol and a prickly, peppery character.

As is the case with any wine grape variety, it produces its best wines when it is treated properly and grown in the right place.  Zinfandel has a nasty habit of uneven ripening ;  the same bunch can sport hard green pellets and luscious full ripe berries.  If it is grown in conditions that are too hot it can easily start to shrivel and raisin so fast that the sugar levels shoot up towards the end of the growing cycle. Therefore the ideal growing conditions for Zinfandel are fairly cool with lots of sunshine while high altitude sites work as well. Although a large percentage of Zinfandel is grown in the Central Valley of California (San Joaquin County) which is mainly used for jug wines, certain regions are regarded as exceptional for growing and producing Zinfandel each with identifiable flavor characteristics.  One of the most notable is Sonoma County.  Sonoma County has the largest “quality” Zinfandel-producing land area in California.  The county contains the Dry Creek AVA (American Viticultural Area) known for its juicy Zinfandels with bright fruit, balanced acidity and notes of blackberry, anise and black pepper.  Another notable area is the Napa Valley AVA which is known for Zinfandel wines described as plummy and intense, tasting of red berry fruits with cedar and vanilla. A few other areas of note are Lodi, which has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in California with juicy approachable styles of Zinfandel, Amador County with its reputation for big, full bodied Zinfandels and Mendocino County which is lesser known and marketed yet producing high quality Zinfandels.

As I stated in the introduction, one of the most appealing aspects of the Zinfandel is its versatility in paring with a massive variety of foods.  It pairs well with all kinds of meat:  lamb (my go to wine), poultry, pork, game and some fish, under a variety of cooking styles (grilled, stewed, braised). It continues its versatility with favorites like fish tacos, spicy fare (Cajun or Asian) to BBQ (ribs, brats and burgers).  Finally, because of its versatility Zinfandel is a perfect wine for the Thanksgiving feast and its  wide array of side dishes complementing the bird not to mention that it is a truly American wine for a distinctively American holiday.

Wrapping this discussion up, to follow are three wines that I’ve selected that demonstrate quality Zinfandel yet also provide Zinfandel from three of the top  Zinfandel producing  areas mentioned above.

  • Ridge Vineyards “ Geyserville”, 2012 (Sonoma County) – Founded in 1969 Ridge Vineyard’s and winemaker Paul Draper,  is considered one of the most important figures in the history of Californian Zinfandel, rescuing the grape from obscurity and demonstrating its full potential as a serious wine. Geyserville is one of the many single site Zinfandel bottlings produced by Ridge. It is a traditional field blend of zinfandel and its complementary varieties: carignane, petite sirah, and mataro (mourvedre).  The wine is a star in Ridge’s lineup of Zinfandels and is a classic example of the zinfandel from Sonoma County with its rich and complex style.  This is serious Zinfandel from a master of the grape.
  • Green & Red “Chiles Mill Vineyard” Zinfandel, 2012 (Napa Valley) – Green & Red Vineyard, founded in 1972, named for its red iron soils veined with green serpentine, is located in the steep hills on the east side of Napa Valley and is one of my personal favorites producers.  One of three Zinfandel bottling from the winery, the Chiles Mill Vineyard overlooks upper Chiles Canyon and is 1000 to 1200 feet above sea level with a north-west exposure which is ideal for growing Zinfandel. The wine is dark purple with plum and raspberry flavors dotted with sage and black peppercorns, again indicative of Napa Valley Zinfandel.
  • Klinker Brick “Old Vine” Zinfandel, 2011 (Lodi) –  A relative newcomer to wine production, Klinker Brick was started in 1995 by 5th generation grape growers from Lodi.  The winery is named after the type of brick utilized in many of historical-craftsman style buildings in the Lodi area.   In a short time they established a reputation for producing high quality Zinfandels from vines ranging from 40 to 120 years old in the juicy approachable style Zinfandel that Lodi has become known for.

Other wonderful Zinfandel producers to consider are Dashe, Peterson, Biale, Seghesio, Marrietta, Hendry, and Joseph Swan.  And if you can find them, wines from Turley and Martinelli are special treats.  Finally, I would be remiss in not mentioning the producers Ravenswood and Rosenblum.  Particularly Ravenswood and its founder Joel Peterson, who like Ridge’s Paul Draper, is one of the pioneers of Zinfandel as a serious wine.  Unfortunately, in the case of both wineries they we sold to multinational beverage companies and in the process, in my humble opinion, lost their emphasis on quality and equally important, that intangible the “soul of the wine.

Hopefully you now know a little more about Zinfandel than when this lesson began. More importantly I hope that you try some of the Zinfandels recommended above or from any of the other producers that I mentioned to gain an appreciation for this this fun yet serious, uniquely American wine!

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In the news and reviews: Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey

IMG_1325Wine Spectator’s September 2014 issue has featured one of our favorite producers, Pierre-Yves Colin Morey. Mentioned as “some of the best white Burgundies on the market,” according to Mitch Frank of Wine Spectator in the article Chasing Dreams in Chassagne-Montrachet, this producer has achieved serious success in what is already a world renowned wine growing region. This is not the first news we’ve come across on this producer, and it won’t be the last!

We’re proud to carry a fantastic selection of the highly allocated Pierre Yves Colin-Morey wines. Both the 2011 and the latest 2012 vintages are in available the store in an array of his finest bottlings. This includes the esteemed Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2012, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Champs Gains” 2012, St. Aubin Premier Cru “En Remilly” 2012, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Les Chenevottes” 2012, Chassagne-Montrachet “Les Ancegnieres”  2012 and 2011, Meursault Premier Cru “Les Genevrieres” , Meursault “Les Narveaux” 2012 and 2011, Meursault “Les Charmes” 2012.


This wine is not only a fantastic to enjoy now, it’s got some serious age-ability! So come on in and make sure to put away a few bottles in the cellar; as you may know, White Burgundy is not in abundance due to severe weather problems in the past few years. Take advantage before it’s too late!

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Virtual Wine School Class Three: Prosecco

Let’s talk about bubbly! This month, it’s my turn to share expertise on the wine I am most familiar with, Prosecco.

Featured Wines for August’s Virtual Wine School

Having lived in Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, Italy, the center of the most important Prosecco growing region, I’ve had the privilege to live and breathe this wine: from witnessing the first buds on vines in the spring time, to harvesting Glera grapes in the steep hillsides, to drinking it in many forms in the company of its producers. Prosecco is not only a livelihood in this region, it’s a passion.

Vineyards in Valdobbiadene

My main mission in this particular Wine School lesson is twofold: First, to distinguish the essential elements that define Prosecco, and second, to elaborate on how these distinctions are quintessential to a truly remarkable wine that is extremely versatile in nature. Then, I will show you three of our best examples of this Sparkling wine that we carry in the store.

To begin, I’d like to point out that Prosecco’s main production method is different from that of Champagne. According to the NYTimes article Prosecco Growers Act to Guard Its Pedigree:

Prosecco is generally made using Charmat (also known as the Italian method), whereby wine, following its primary fermentation in stainless steel, undergoes a second fermentation in large pressurized tanks called autoclaves to make it sparkling. This practice was developed in the late 1800s at the Scuola Enologica in Conegliano, Italy’s oldest wine school, and local producers have an almost paternal affection for it.

In contrast, Champagne’s secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle, which can be a method some Prosecco producers chose, but is less common in Prosecco’s imported to the US. The Charmat method produces a wine that is fresh and lively in flavor and can be enjoyed young, without necessary ageing in the bottle.

Now, I’ll summarize the terminology on the labels that identify the essential elements I’d like to describe: 1) Classification, 2) Style and 3) Level of sweetness.

1) Classification

If you look closely, most Italian wines have one of three classifications: DOCG, DOCG or IGT, with the former two being indicated on the bottle neck with a distinct sticker issued by the government. The new laws relating to these classifications was passed in 2009.

doc label

DOC label

docg label

DOCG Label

Today, I will focus on DOCG and DOC Prosecco: the higher and most important classifications to understand. (While IGT, Indicazione Geographica Tipica, is a level higher than Vino da Tavola, or Table Wine, it simply focuses on the region the wine originated from, with less regulation on grapes used or methods of production.)

Thanks to my friends at the Consortium of Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, who have kindly allowed me to refer to their website’s extensive information and use some of its fantastic visuals, I will lay out the important details below.

What makes Prosecco D.O.C.G. Superior? Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita translates to Controlled Designation of Origin Guaranteed: the most stringent of zoning laws throughout Italy that are enforced and guaranteed by the government. Wines under this label will be the best of the best. Why? This is where the original vines were grown. Not only do they have more age (yielding better grapes) they are grown in the ideal place for the grapes to flourish. It is now a crime to grow these grapes outside of the designated region and call it Prosecco Superiore.

The significance of terroirThis region consists of 15 communes (tiny villages) that are comprised of steep hills. Consider each hill, called Rive in dialect, the equivalent of the Cru classification in France. Each Rive has a unique elevation and micro-climate that contribute to qualities impossible to replicate elsewhere. The soil is also very unique, comprised of the following elements, varying in ratio site by site: marl, calcareous clay/chalk and marine sandstone. Calcareous clay, with high amounts of limestone and calcium carbonate, plays a large role in neutralizing acidity and giving the soil excellent drainage, which is important during seasons of heavy rain. Another important detail as a result of the hilly terrain is that the grapes are picked manually, taking great care of the vines, contributing to higher quality wine.

Production Restrictions: While the maximum yield allowed for DOCG is 13.5 tons per hectare (roughly 33 tons per acre), similar to the limits in Champagne, yields rarely rise 9 tons per hectare (about 22 tons per acre), producing the highest quality grapes with more concentrated flavors.

The entire region of DOCG equates to only 6,000 hectares (1,482 acres).

DOC regulations are also very strict since the laws have been changed in 2009. Giancarlo Vettorello, director of the Consorzio Tutela Vino Prosecco DOC Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, explains: “the difference in quality of wine is not only a matter of soil, climate and identity, but also yields.” While DOC land itself can be flatter and, in some cases, distant from the DOCG area, Prosecco DOC is allowed a maximum of 12 tons per hectare (about 29 tons per acre), whereas IGT is DOUBLE that. According to the Consorzio Tutela DOC site, “When the grapes are harvested and the wine produced and bottled exclusively in the provinces of Treviso and Trieste, the special mention Treviso or Trieste may be written on the label in recognition of the invaluable part these two provinces have played in the history of Prosecco.”

To be clear, DOCG and DOC producers are not in competition with one another. Indeed, many producers have labels under both denominations. Quality and origin are essential to both wines.

Now that we are clear on the fact that location matters, let’s move onto…

2) Style

DOCG and DOC regulations allow for Spumante, Frizzante and Tranquilo Prosecco.

Spumante equates to greater than 3.5 atmospheric pressure units in the bottle. Quite simply, this means, it has the most bubbles.

Frizzante, instead, contains 1-2.5 units of atmospheric pressure. To me, the best translation in english is “slightly sparkling.”

Tranquilo means still wine. Yes, DOCG and DOC laws permit still Prosecco, too! It can be a very refreshing companion to your daily meals, as can Frizzante. Unfortunately, not many bottles have come to the US. In today’s course, I’m focusing on three different Spumante Proseccos, since this is the most commonly celebrated style here in the USA.

Lastly, we discuss…

3) Levels of Sweetness (Sugar Content)

Prosecco in Italian literally translates to Very Dry. However, varying levels of sweetness can be discerned by the following general terms:

Brut= maximum of 12 grams of sugar per liter

Extra Dry= 12-17 grams of sugar per liter

Dry= 17-32 grams of sugar per liter


Il Colle nonvintage Treviso DOC: Spumante Brut $17.99

Made from grapes in the Conegliano hills, just outside the DOCG zone, the terroir is very similar to that of its neighbor, giving the wine a “typical” flavor profile. The nose is fruity and characteristic, with a dry and elegant flavor. It is perfect as an appetizer and excellent with meals.

Bisol “Il Crede” Prosecco Superiore DOCG Spumante Brut $23.99

Made from 85% Glera, 10% Pinot Bianco, 5% Verdiso, grown on the Estate’s hillside with south-Southeast exposure at 250 meters above sea level. Ideal sun exposure produces ripe, rich fruit and cool maritime air lends to balancing acidity. Typical aromas of wildflowers, mature orchard fruit and lychee, with a bouquet of apples and pears on the palate. Finishes with a rich and refined savory flavor that allows a pairing with almost any meal. Sugar content: 7.5 grams per liter.

Adami Rive di Colbertaldo “Vigneto Giardino” DOCG Prosecco Superiore Dry $24.99

Made with 100% Glera grapes. Grown on the estate in clay soils, over calcareous rock, low-nutrient and fairly shallow, well drained. Average altitude 250 meters above sea level on Steep-sloped hill, with vines contoured to the slope, forming an amphitheatre, facing south. Dry and particularly fruity, well-balanced, with a rounded, light-bodied palate, it is a superb aperitif, but enjoyable as well when sipped at meal’s end, either by itself or paired with fresh fruit or dessert. Sugar content: 19-21 grams per liter.

Now, take all this theory to your palate and taste these wines out for yourself! Can’t wait to hear your feedback.



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