Archive for February, 2016

Tignanello & Guado Al Tasso Verticals

February 29th, 2016

Tignanello & Guado Al Tasso Verticals
Photos courtesy: antinori.it

Just concluded a busy 8 days at Canada’s Premier Wine Show the 38th Vancouver International Wine Festival (VanWineFest.ca & @VanWineFest #VIWF) showing 1450+ wines from 155 participating wineries representing 14 countries. The focus this year was 60 producers from 9 iconic regions of Italy. Wonderful culinary dinners and educational seminars were among the many highlights. Enjoyed Tuscan Trailblazers featuring the legendary Antinori family who have been making premium wines for over 6 centuries. A vertical tasting of 2 Super Tuscans Tignanello & Guado Al Tasso was led by Stefano Leone Export Director and World Ambassador for Marchesi Antinori participating in VanWineFest since 1987 & knowledgeable Anthony Gismondi wine columnist for The Vancouver Sun, Wine Align and gismondionwine.com. Some of my impressions:

TIGNANELLO: 6 vintages 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2012, 2013 tasted. It is a special Estate on a steep slope at 350-400 metres facing SW with poor limestone rich soil full of rocks that is always under stress perfect for growing quality grapes. White stones reflect the light and help support the maturation of the fruit for a long ripening season. It was the first sangiovese to be blended with non-traditional grapes starting with 1975 (cabernet used and no white grapes added) and to be aged in small oak barrels (started out with coarser Limousin but now using their own coopered larger sized oaks including Hungarian).

In 2015 I opened my last bottle of 1971 the very first Tuscan red table wine which was still very alive and so drinkable with butternut squash ravioli. Note no Tignanello was produced in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1984, 1992, and 2002! Now usually an 80% sangiovese blend with about 15% cabernet sauvignon & 5% cabernet franc. 60% of their production is sold in restaurants. Production about 30,000 cases a year.

2001: Elegant. Leaner from cooler fruit. So savoury with lower alcohol. More rustic tannins. Perfect food wine.

2003: More difficult very hot year resulted in sugars but not a perfect phenolic ripeness in the thick skins. Blend of cooler upper part of the vineyard always so important for aromatics fared better than the hotter lower part. Rich forwardly drinking style now.

2005: Wet (opposite of 2006) with mold and selection issues. Shows good acidity with tannins there but some refinement and elegance.

2009: Showing surprisingly well now (in shadow of highly rated 2010). Pleasant and underrated vintage. Drink and enjoy this while waiting for your 2010 to develop further.

2012: Not lauded initially but turning out to be one of the best. Like the balance and energy with lovely red cherry fruit aromatics showing some spicy balsamic notes.

2013: World first showing of this vintage which is being released on April 1. Slightly lighter rim colour than the 2012 but very well done from a more regular vintage. Young days but impressive balance right out of the gate.

GUADO AL TASSO: 6 vintages 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2012, 2013 tasted. Production about 13,000 cases a year. About 100 km SW of Florence is the coastal Bolgheri region that used to be a swamp but now is a successful wine region with some 40 producers. They have 300 hectares planted in the “Bolgheri amphitheatre” on a magnificent plain surrounded by gentle hills. It has been made since 1990 with roughly 50% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot and 10% syrah and aged about 14 months in new French oak barriques. Soil there generally is too rich and wet with a constant mild wind not the best conditions for successful growing of the sangiovese grape. Milder winters and cooler summers. Starting with 2007 decided to stop using syrah and substitute instead cabernet franc in the blend. Look out for their so impressive 100% cabernet franc bottling.

2003: Ready for drinking.

2004: More balance with that easy soft spice accent.

2005: Cooler and more humid year. Tignanello 2005 seems to be aging better than Guado. Stefano says “Tignanello can last 35 years while Guado can last 25 while both drinking well after 10-15 years”.

2006: Media didn’t acclaim it but has improved in bottle showing more character and elegant complexity than on release.

2012: Big bold concentrated. No syrah but impressive cab franc. More tannins than 2013.

2013: Another excellent blend here. Seems more balanced to me than 2012 but early days for both. Very promising. Much prefer the cab franc substitute for syrah. Better terroir definition of Bolgheri obtained with power depth and richness.

Two very different Super Tuscans!

More details available at antinori.it.


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Book Review: Au Revoir To All That: : Food, Wine, and the End of France

February 26th, 2016

Book Review: Au Revoir To All That: : Food, Wine, and the End of France

By Joseph Temple

For countless decades, many Americans have viewed French cuisine as the undisputed gold standard of gastronomy. Of course, with visionaries such as Antonin Carême, Auguste Escoffier and Paul Bocuse combined with legendary restaurants like La Pyramide and Taillevent, it was pretty hard to dispute the notion of French supremacy over the culinary arts. “In France,” wrote Julia Child, “cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.”

But for many years, a disturbing trend has been occurring all across this great nation. Talented chefs have fled for greener pastures with numerous restaurants and wineries closing up shop for good. Even worse, the much-despised antithesis to haute cuisine, McDonald’s, became the country’s largest private sector employer in 2007. In less than thirty years, has France gone from a culinary mecca to a culinary backwater?

This is the controversial subject matter of Au Revoir To All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France by wine writer Michael Steinberger. First published in 2009, the author backs up his suspicions about the decline of French fare by speaking with an array of vintners, restaurateurs and industry experts who offer a stark contrast to the many myths surrounding French superiority. While many of us tend to look at France and its distinct culture with rose-colored glasses, Steinberger shows that the reality of the situation is very different.

Beginning in 1981 with the election of Socialist President François Mitterrand, the government’s transformative policies have had enormous consequences for restaurant owners and aspiring chefs. In order to fund the generous entitlement programs and a thirty-five-hour work week, harsh new taxes were created under Mitterrand. One such levy, known as the value-added tax (VAT) was set at a crippling 19.6 percent for restaurant bills, which also included a built-in 15 percent gratuity. These policies, the author contends, have forced many establishments to close their doors for good. “Chefs need prosperous patrons”, writes Steinberger. “Notwithstanding their other effects, the Reagan and Thatcher eras made the rich richer and spawned vast new wealth, money that bankrolled gastronomic revolutions in the United States and Britain. The French economy stagnated and French cuisine did likewise.”

With the balance of power shifting to other parts of Europe, and America, scores of French chefs have also left their native land—essentially becoming economic refugees. As home to approximately four hundred thousand expatriates, President Nicolas Sarkozy even joked that London has become “one of the great French cities”. But back in Paris, a huge labor shortage is occurring in restaurants and bistros, which is clearly affecting the food being served on your plate. Compounded by the fact that Spain and its la nueva cocina movement has placed that country at the culinary vanguard, Steinberger eloquently shows that France is clearly feeling the ramifications of left-wing policies now deeply embedded into their political culture.

Ironically, the law of unintended consequences has greatly benefitted the fast food industry, or what the French call la malbouffe. Having only a 5.5 percent VAT since they are considered “takeaway” establishments, restaurants like McDonalds have seen phenomenal growth with about a million customers per day, making France the second most profitable market for the American-owned hamburger chain. Appealing to a frugal population suffering from chronic unemployment, McDos has also been helped by the changing culture. “Younger French people today don’t understand or care about food. They are happy to gobble a sandwich or chips, rather than go to a restaurant,” said one restaurateur to Steinberger. “They will spend a lot of money going to a nightclub but not eat a good meal.”

In addition to these uncomfortable truths are the dim prospects for many French winemakers. With nearly half of all vineyards receiving appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status by the mid-2000s, including many underserving one’s, some feel that this has diluted the country’s reputation for quality on the global stage. But it pales in comparison to the makers of vin de pays and vins de table wines, who are no longer protected by government subsidies. As part of France entering the EU, makers of these cheaper wines have been left to fend for themselves, especially in backwater regions like Languedoc, which has been hit particularly hard by this crisis. With domestic consumption in decline and stiff competition from countries like Argentina and Chile, the global demand for lower-end French wine is evaporating quickly. So while estates like Pétrus and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti have little to worry about with wine collectors across the world eagerly paying top dollar for their latest vintage, Steinberger reminds us that the gap between rich and poor is rapidly growing across France’s many vineyards.

Another fascinating chapter that makes this book a must-read is the story surrounding the world-famous Michelin guide. Considered a cherished bible for many restaurant-goers, its secret on what constitutes its highest honor—a three star rating—is closely guarded along with the recipe for Coca-Cola and Google’s SEO algorithm. However, many French restaurateurs have long suspected that the difference between two and three stars has nothing to do with the food on the plate and everything to do with décor. Requiring enormous sums of money to install fancy carpets, tablecloths and chandeliers, the result has been an increase in menu prices—a notion that doesn’t sit well with many owners who are dealing with a cash-strapped economy. Feeling the economic burden of having to satisfy anonymous Michelin inspectors instead of many potential customers, several chefs have even turned in their stars, opting instead for competitively priced dishes.

Discussing the many problems French cuisine faces as the twenty-first century kicks into high gear, Steinberger has written an exceptional book that raises a lot of serious questions for those who still think France is at the cutting edge of gastronomy. While some may disagree on the state of the country’s culinary future, it is important to note that during his research for this book, the author interviewed many prominent supporting figures. Bottom line: whether France is your native land, you have an interest in the culinary arts or are planning your next vacation to Paris, definitely pick up a copy of Au Revoir To All That.


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Ask Sid: How many states have at least one winery?

February 24th, 2016
Ask your question here The International Wine & Food Society

Ask Sid: How many states have at least one winery?

Question: How many states in the USA now have at least one winery?

Answer: All 50 of the states in the United States of America now have at least one winery. California is still the clear leader with nearly 90% of the total production but locations include even Hawaii & Alaska. Maybe with this continuation of global warming Alaska and some of the colder parts of Canada will turn out to be the new hot cult regions for growing grapes.

Be a locavore and support your local state winery!


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Comparing Bordeaux Twin Vintages 1989 & 1990

February 22nd, 2016

Comparing Bordeaux Twin Vintages 1989 & 1990

Over the past year I enjoyed 4 dinners each featuring 9 different 25 year old top Bordeaux organized into the left and right banks and from the vintages 1989 and 1990. The purpose was to see how the wines have developed and whether one vintage is clearly better than the other. Certainly the weather conditions were somewhat similar. The 1989 was initially heralded as vintage of the century when picking commenced in late August the earliest start since 1893. The 1990 was at the time one of the most sunny, dry and hot vintages in Bordeaux history. Both had big productions from smaller berries with quite low acid and higher tannins.

1989 Right Bank: All wines on an easy drinking fleshy plateau. Solid vintage for Pomerol. Slight nod to Trotanoy though Canon (St. Emilion) also shining brightly. Support for L’Angelus, Vieux Ch. Certan, La Fleur Petrus, La Fleur De Gay & the more unique Figeac. Underrated La Dominique lovely with La Grave Trignant de Boisset serviceable with food. Good showing group.

1989 Left Bank: Mouton the clear winner for me exhibiting power, structure and cedary class though others preferred Wine Spectator Wine of the Year intense flavourful Pichon Baron. Impressive solid fruit Montrose, lighter but more elegant seductive Palmer, and the plummy forwardly Latour all had supporters. Lynch Bages combined power with minty finesse while the Pape Clement showed more earthy. Leoville Barton and Gruaud Larose both good but drier and more angular in this company. Some outstanding wines.

1990 Right Bank: Canon showed well again as did Trotanoy and L’Angelus but the clear winner on the night was the outstanding Cheval Blanc. Troplong Mondot & Parker 100 pointer Beausejour D-L competing well while Vieux Ch. Certan & La Dominque showed better in 1989.  Mixed results.

1990 Left Bank: Montrose coming around with big fruit but more charm than I expected and maybe approaching that 100 point Parker rating. Lafite superb but still closed needing another 5-10 years to blossom out. Prefer the better depth of fruit and structure on the Pichon Baron over the also very good 1989 (noticed this before). Leoville Barton has that iodine noted deep fruit, Rauzan Segla creamy texture and long finish, and Lagrange classy with buckets of fruit and best value of all these wines. Palmer had that always astonishingly attractive nose but leaner and drier (1989 better), Pape Clement ripe and jammy, but the big expectations for Leoville Las Cases were unfounded as unfortunately it was corked. Mouton & Pichon Lalande not in this flight but have shown rather disappointing in other tastings compared to their 1989s.

Conclusion: Both 1989 and 1990 have developed well at 25 years of age on the right and left banks. As you would expect some properties have done better in one vintage than the other. My favourite group as a whole was the 1990 Left Bank wines (even with Las Cases corked!) but all four events had some treasures. Do you tend to prefer one vintage of the twins over the other?


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Champagne from Rheims … New York?

February 19th, 2016

Great Western Champagne new york

By Joseph Temple

As some of the Finger Lakes were being connected to the Erie Canal, Judge Lazarus Hammond, realizing how prosperous this new trade route could be for the entire region, decided to develop a port on the southern tip of Keuka Lake. Also known as “Crooked Lake” due to its Y-shape, the area became home to a small village named Hammondsport in honor of its financier. And for several decades, this part of Upstate New York, which included numerous vineyards, was essentially German in character. With local winemakers such as Johann Weber, Hiram Maxfield and Mathias Freidell, it was no surprise that the Finger Lakes also became known as an “American Rhineland.”

Then came the Champenois!

The first to arrive in 1857 was Charles Davenport Champlin who quickly saw many similarities in climate, soil and drainage between his native land in France and the cool countryside of Western New York. With the hills near Keuka Lake providing shelter for the surrounding vineyards along with the late frosts, the prophetic Champlin thought the region was ideal for producing sparkling wine. Four years later as America began fighting a brutal Civil War, he and a dozen other men established U.S. Winery License No. 1—a company created “to produce native wines,” which soon became The Hammondsport and Pleasant Valley Wine Company. Unfortunately, the bubbles that Champlin created for the first couple of years were largely lackluster, requiring him to send in some reinforcements.

Over the next decade, two hired guns—Joseph and Jules Masson—were employed by The Pleasant Valley Wine Company to hopefully put them on the map. With their success in helping to create a sparkling empire in the state of Ohio for Nicholas Longworth, Champlin hoped the two French experts could replicate their accomplishments in Hammondsport. They would not disappoint.

Great Western Champagne advertisements

The first successful vintage came in 1870 by using a blend of Catawba and Delaware grapes. Taking this Vitis labrusca combination to Marshall Wilder, the head of a Boston agricultural society, Champlin asked for his opinion on what to call this sparkling wine. After sipping it at a dinner party, he declared it to be the greatest champagne in the entire Western continent and a legend was born! Three years later, a tidal wave of publicity occurred at the 1873 Vienna Exposition where the “Great Western Champagne” won first prize. This triumph, along with top honors in Brussels and Paris, allowed Pleasant Valley to market its sparkling wine as award winning for the next hundred years.

With Champlin blazing the trail, others followed suit and by the end of the nineteenth century, more than fifty wineries around the Finger Lakes were producing bubbles on a grand scale. At one point, historians estimate that over seven million bottles were being sold annually with an astonishing 90% of all American sparkling wine coming out the Hammondsport area. Great Western champagne was taking off!

Of course, this name infuriated the Champenois who to this day believe that no sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region can use that designation. Hoping to put a stop to what they considered to be a flagrant misuse, the French delegation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference slipped in Article 275, which sought to protect Champagne from others who incorrectly used that name on their labels. But since the United States Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, American winemakers were free to use the name champagne for the remainder of the twentieth century. And what must have been seen as rubbing salt in the wounds of the Champenois, The Pleasant Valley Wine Company successfully lobbied the U.S. Post Office to rename the hamlet where they were located. After that, they could now market their Great Western champagne as being from “Rheims, N.Y.”

Today, Hammondsport, New York is largely seen as the cradle of aviation, being the birthplace of Glenn Curtiss, an early pioneer in the history of American flight. But with the breakout success of Great Western champagne in the nineteenth century, Hammondsport should also be regarded as the cradle of American viticulture.

 

Sources:

Falk, Laura Winter. Culinary History of the Finger Lakes: From the Three Sisters to Riesling. Charleston: The History Press, 2014.
Figiel, Richard. Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014.
Kladstrup, Don & Petie. Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Merrill, Arch. The Lakes Country. Rochester: Louis Heindl & Son, 1944.
Pellechia, Thomas. Over a Barrel: The Rise and Fall of New York’s Taylor Wine Company. Albany: SUNY Press, 2015.


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