From WWI To President Trump, Château Le Puy Pours Vintages From A Century Of Wine

The 1917 vintage of le Puy was remarkably intact.

If you missed my story in Forbes, here’s a second chance to read it…

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.

In 1926, real estate on Broadway and Wall Street sold for $7 per square inch.

In 1936, Robert Redford, John McCain, and Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy were born.

In 1944, The United States and allied troops invaded at Normandy, known thereafter as D-Day.

In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white person.

In 1959, the Cold War-Antarctic Treaty was signed, establishing Antarctica as a scientific preserve.

In 1967, race riots and Vietnam protests spread across the U.S. The 25th amendment was ratified.

In 2017, Donald Trump took office as president of the United States.

A few weeks ago, at the New York French consulate, family-owned Bordeaux estate Château le Puy opened a century’s worth of wine.

To an intimate room of trade and media guests, 13th gene

ration le Puy owners Jean Pierre and his wife Françoise Amoreau presented 27 vintages from 1917-2017, including ones from the consequential years noted above. Coincidentally, the arcane (to some) historical footnote from 1967 — ratification of the 25th amendment in response to the assassination of JFK — was in the news anew the morning of the tasting. (The amendment outlines the transition of power if the president is unable or unfit to serve; it gives the vice president and majority of the cabinet power to remove the president from office.)

Long before there was a president of the United States, however, the Amoreau family was making wine on the right bank in Bordeaux. Historical records for the property reach back to 1610. Vines blessed with views of the Dordogne Valley shared a rocky plateau with neighboring Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. The Amoreau’s called it the “hill of wonders.” Today, almost half of the 247-acre estate is under vine. Largely Merlot, of course, with a block of Semillon made into a varietal wine.

Le Puy media lunch at the French Consulate in NYC.

According to the family, their approach to viticulture hasn’t diverged far from that of their forebears. They eschew chemical agriculture, farm biodynamically (awaiting organic certification), and use a horse in the fields. I sat next to Françoise during lunch. She explained: “after WWI, fertilizers were pushed on the farmers.” While we commonly think of post-WWII as the start of the Green Revolution, she said it came “into vogue” far earlier in France. Around 1924, her husband’s grandfather, Jean, turned down the opportunity to make “vines more productive for less work” mostly because “he was stingy with money. The farm remained organic somewhat by accident” she said.

The Amoreau’s did find themselves seduced by the wave of mechanization that swept through France after the Second World War. “Modernity and convenience” drew them in, but they eventually recognized the adverse effects it had on the soil. Compact and uneven from the weight of machinery, the soil formed water pockets that harbored damaging fungal parasites. So, they returned to horse-drawn plow in 2009.

In the winery, Jean Pierre and his son Pascal work naturally with indigenous yeast. They forego fining and filtration on their top reds, use low- to no-sulphur methods, and work according to the lunar calendar. The red cuvées, “Emilien” and “Barthelemy,” are raised in barrel for 24 months.

The afternoon started with 90 minutes for guests to taste quietly through the wines, all from the Emilien line. Importer Neal Rosenthal was on hand to answer questions and interpret for Jean-Pierre, who admitted to a facility with English akin to that of a Spanish cow. The meal enjoyed after the tasting was prepared by vaunted Parisian chef Yves Camdeborde who flew in specifically for the occasion.

Starting exactly one hundred years ago, I worked through all the bottles twice. A through line of bright acidity, the backbone of an elegant house style that seemed immune to manipulation and trends, became the evident theme. Liveliness, too, especially given the extraordinary age of many wines.

The 1917—born of a year that forever changed the contemporary world — was delicate but still connected like fine, faded lace. Leather and spice served as savory canvas to the specter of cherry fruit. It haunted, much like the events of that era still do today.

When Manhattan real estate was cheap!

If I could go back in time, I’d buy Bordeaux, Burgundy, and New York real estate near Broadway and Wall Street. The 1926 showed a tinge of smoke and caramel, a silky palate still firm with acidity, although was a touch hollow on the mid-palate.

When John McCain was born, a statesman now nearing the final days of life, Jean Amoreau collected the fruit for the 1936 Emilien. According to his records included in our comprehensive tasting book, le Puy enjoyed a “great harvest and nice weather.” Last week, the wine showed vim, still evocative of its youthful days with notes of dried plum and fig.

1944 brought another year of tumult and heartbreak, the death of nearly 425,000 troops during the Battle of Normandy. It was also the only vintage of Emilien made by a woman. Aromas were delicate but still perfumed. “Earthy, sensual, with a touch of sweet fruit still lingering” I deciphered from my scrawl.

Great vintages were found across every decade, although the 2000s had just started to hit their stride. The 80s, such as the ’89, delivered that synergy of maturing fruit, soft tannin, and striking acidity that make drinking older wines so pleasurable.

While the opportunity to drink across a century of wine from an organic estate speaks for itself, taking a journey through history added another dimension of gravitas. Authentic wine, not liquid manipulated in a factory for a commercial audience, provides a snapshot of the people and conditions of a time and place. Granted, what’s in the glass tells a very specific story, but its mere existence decades or a century later gives the drinker pause to consider the events between now and when the grapes were picked, pressed, and bottled.

And if we’re to learn anything from history or a good bottle of wine, it’s that life, like the weather, is often out of our control. We do our best, take care of those around us, hopefully the land, and try to accept what’s beyond our reach. All this leaves me wondering: when someone pours a glass of Château le Puy 2017 in fifty years, what will they consider to be the defining events of our vintage? I can think of a few things, although the year’s not yet over.

2000 was an excellent vintage.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Bordeaux, France

Jamaican-Style Pumpkin Soup with Prosecco

Jamaican-style pumpkin soup is perfect with a glass of off-dry Prosecco.

As many of you know, I’ve been writing recipes with wine pairings for Wine Enthusiast. Here’s another one from the fall guide.

Since North Americans harvest pumpkins in the fall, the Caribbean islands would seem an unlikely source for great recipes. Yet, from the Virgin Islands to Barbados to Nevis, this creamy squash is a popular crop. The type of pumpkin common in Jamaica is close in flavor to butternut, which can be swapped for this recipe. Otherwise, look in Latin specialty shops for the green-skinned Calabaza or Caribbean pumpkin. The vibrant orange flesh has a slightly sweet flavor, and is packed with antioxidants and vitamins. This recipe calls for pureeing the entire batch, but feel free to puree half, leaving whole pieces to float, as is common on the island.

TO PAIR Prosecco
Whether serving the soup as a first course or a simple weeknight entrée with crusty bread, look for an off-dry, fruity Prosecco to pair. The hailing from Italy’s Veneto, the sweetness of the wine not only enhances the flavor of the squash, but it counters the heat of the scotch bonnets.

Serves 3-4; Total time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS
3 Tbs coconut oil
2 large shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium or large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 green onions, chopped plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
3 sprig fresh thyme
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 or 2 fresh scotch bonnets (depends on tolerance for heat)
4 cups of chicken stock, unsalted
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
4 cups of peeled and seeded Jamaican pumpkin or butternut squash (about 1 lb of whole squash)
½ of a lime, juiced
½ cup coconut milk
Toasted pepinos, to garnish

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat coconut oil in a 6-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallots, garlic, green onions, carrot, celery and garlic. Sauté until soft and barely golden, about 5-6 minutes.

2. Add remaining ingredients, except lime and coconut milk. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered for about 35-40 minutes or until pumpkin is tender.

3. Discard bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and scotch bonnet. Using a stick blender in the pot, puree until smooth. Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth (or use an immersion stick blender). Return soup to pot and season with salt and pepper, lime juice and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring to integrate, three to four minutes. Ladle into bowls; garnish with pepinos and parsley. Serve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Jamaican-style pumpkin soup, Recipes and Wine Pairings

Pork Schnitzel with Cucumber Salad and Champagne

Skip the Grüner and pair Champagne with fried schnitzel.

As many of you know, I’ve been writing recipes with wine pairings for Wine Enthusiast. Here’s a recent selection from the fall wine and food guide

Traditionally, Austrians use veal for their Wiener Schnitzel. But “schnitzel” merely describes a cutlet of meat, pounded thin, then breaded and fried, so pork subs in easily. Plus, it’s cheaper and less ethically ambiguous. The cool flavors of cucumber and dill balance the dish, while the salad, as a swap for potatoes, reduces carbs — for those of you who are counting.

To Pair: Champagne
Grüner Veltliner is the traditional schnitzel match, but it’s hardly the only wine that works. Case in point: Champagne, a lover of crunchy, fried foods. Pork is light enough in flavor to let a rich, toasty bottle of Champers shine, while the wine’s brisk character will cut through the meat’s fried exterior.

Serves 4; Total time: 45 minutes

INGREDIENTS
Four 4-ounce boneless pork chops, butterflied and pounded thin (ask your butcher to prepare the meat for you)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons of milk
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
Canola oil, for frying
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving
Cucumber Salad
4 Persian cucumbers
½ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon sherry or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped dill plus sprigs for garnish
Salt and pepper, to season

DIRECTIONS
1. Cut cucumbers into thin rounds and finely chop the dill. In a bowl, add the sour cream, vinegar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Add cucumber slices, dill, then mix. Cover and put it in the refrigerator.

2. Beat eggs in bowl with milk. Put flour and panko on separate plates or waxed paper. Season pork with salt and pepper and dip in the flour, then egg, then panko, pressing gently to coat.

3. In a large skillet, heat a 1/2 inch of oil until shimmering. Add cutlets (in a single layer) and cook over high heat, turning once, until golden, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add parsley to the skillet and cook until crisp, about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer parsley to a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Serve the pork with the cucumber salad. Garnish with parsley.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipes and Wine Pairings

Sherryfest Co-Founder Rosemary Gray Explains Her Love Of Sherry, The Return Of The Festival

Rosemary Gray with Sherryfest co-founder Peter Liem.

Let’s put politics aside for a few days this October to enjoy one of the world’s most fascinating wines: sherry. If you’ve not caught the sherry bug yet, Sherryfest returns to NYC on October 27-29, 2017, with a slew of opportunities to help you do so. From educational tastings, to dinners, to a Sunday brunch (it’s time we swap those diluted mimosas for food-friendly Fino), there’s something for everyone.

In a recent interview originally posted on Forbes, Sherryfest co-founder Rosemary Gray speaks to her love for the wine, her reason for creating the event, and her favorite sherry with oysters.

Why did you create Sherryfest?

Sherry has long been a misunderstood wine category – both within the industry and by consumers. We wanted to give people an opportunity to learn about sherry, celebrate it, and meet the amazing bodegas (wineries) and people of the region. Many people don’t know that sherry is one of the world’s most historically important wines , and while the region is enjoying a bit of renaissance, it’s also struggling and needs support. Our hope is the Sherryfest events will help sherry become increasingly valued by wine connoisseurs and casual drinkers. If people have the opportunity to taste for themselves how intricate, nuanced and multi-faceted sherry is, then we hope they will reach for sherry more frequently just as they would other wines, cocktails, or beverages. Sherry umbrellas an incredibly diverse family of wines, so we created events that would make it easy to learn about and taste that diversity. Many sherries are ideal companions at the table, can age in the cellar, can be ideal as part of a cocktail, or enjoyed as a stand-alone beverage – we want to give people opportunities to experience all of that.

How long has the festival been running?

I co-founded Sherryfest with author Peter Liem (Sherry, Manzanilla & Montilla) along with the support of the Consejo Regulador of the sherry region (the governing body of the D.O.C.) in order to spread awareness of and celebrate the wine. The first Sherryfest was fall of 2012 in New York City. In 2013, we held three Sherryfests – one in Portland, Oregon in the spring, and then back-to-back events in the fall in New York City and Toronto, Canada. In 2014, we held Sherryfest in San Francisco, CA, in 2015 we returned to New York, in 2016 Sherryfest was held in Chicago, and we will again return to New York in October 2017. So, it will be eight Sherryfests in five years.

How has Sherryfest changed since the first year? What’s new this year?

The first year was big – we held something like eight dinner events over the course of a week. We’ve learned it’s best to keep the span of events compact over a couple days, and to offer a variety of activities – dinners, seminars, happy hours, parties all centered around the centerpiece Grand Tasting (a walk-around tasting of over 150 sherries). This year we’ve moved events to the weekend in order to accommodate and welcome more consumers, as well as industry and media professionals. Each year we try something new – this is the first year we are hosting a brunch. It will be the final event of Sherryfest – a Sunday afternoon collector’s lunch for people to share their favorite sherries and socialize with producers and other sherry-lovers.

What have you learned over the last few years of hosting Sherryfest?

I’ve learned a lot about sherry! That sounds obvious, but the truth is when we create spaces for others to learn we learn ourselves. My appreciation and enthusiasm for sherry has grown deeply. Not just with regards to knowledge and understanding of the wines, but also the people, culture and the heart of the region. That connection is a profound reminder that wine is not just a market trend or a consumer good – it’s a special transmitter of stories, and in the case of sherry that story is rooted in a place and that is rich in history, characters, heart and valor.

A tasting at Sherryfest.

How has the consumer’s attitude towards sherry changed?

People are more exposed to the spectrum of sherry now. Instead of just thinking of Cream sherry (one of many types), people are now aware there are dry styles like Fino and Oloroso, as well as the sweet styles. People are familiar with sherry as a cocktail ingredient, and we are even beginning to see wine connoisseurs collecting fine and rare sherries. What we still want to see more of is people enjoying sherry with a meal, because sherry is one of the most versatile food wines. It’s one of the reasons we always have dinner (and now brunch!) events – to give people an opportunity to see the brilliance of sherry at the table.

How has the industry’s attitude towards sherry changed?

The industry has become more knowledgeable. It’s less often that we see dry sherries placed under the dessert section of a wine list for instance. Professionals treat sherry for what it is – a fine wine with many great producers. Industry professionals are now seeking out the great producers and special bottlings and showcasing them in their restaurant and retail wine programs. Also, the bar and cocktail community has really lead the renaissance by incorporating sherry in cocktail programs, and this really increases people’s exposure to the many styles of sherry.

What’s your favorite style of sherry to drink and why?

There sheer diversity of sherry makes it hard to pick a favorite! I love Fino and Manzanilla as an aperitif – the saline, savory tones are thrilling with things like oysters and fried foods. I love sipping on Oloroso or a nuanced Palo Cortado just as I would a spirit like Bourbon or brandy. Amontillado is wonderful with savory foods – it’s a brilliant dinner companion with fall dishes like roast chicken. Also, sushi and Japanese-influenced foods are wonderful with sherry – the umami against umami creates great chemistry. I also love cream sherry as an after-dinner treat – it’s my way of “sipping dessert,” as it’s just lightly sweet and still bright and nuanced.

What upcoming Sherryfest events are you excited about?

I’m especially excited for this year’s dinner and brunch events. I love getting people around the table to experience how wonderful sherry is with food. These events are so fun and convivial; I love giving guests an opportunity to engage with producers, while having a unique and rare food and wine experience with their friends. Here are a few events I’d recommend: the Toro Dinner, the Rouge Tomate Dinner, and the North End Grill Brunch.

Anything else you want to add?

Sherryfest is true labor of love. Peter and I are just two passionate industry professionals that started this because we love sherry, and wanted to create space for others to celebrate and appreciate the wines too. We have great supporting partners, but Sherryfest isn’t really a marketing or sales event – it’s an educational and social experience that is a way for us to bring the beauty of Jerez stateside. Sherry is such a historic and complex wine that is often underappreciated, and every year we feel so fortunate to be able to spread the joy of sherry.

2 Comments

Filed under Jerez

Salmon Avocado Poke Bowl with Spicy Ponzu Sauce Paired with Tavel Rosé

Salmon avocado poke bowl pairs well with a dry Tavel rosé .

I’ve been writing recipes with wine pairings for Wine Enthusiast over the past year and decided I should start sharing the inspiration on my blog. Enjoy!

This increasingly mainstream dish with Hawaiian roots is typically prepared with tuna; I’ve swapped it for salmon and added avocado for a silky texture and a dose of good fat. Nutritious and simple to prepare, these bowls are perfect for autumn nights when you’re starting to dream of palms trees by the sea.

Wine to Find: Dry Tavel Rosé

The wine world banged on about rosé all summer, to the point of jeopardizing consumer interest in the future. Rosé doesn’t need to be a trend, one to be embraced then discarded when Instagrammers get bored. There’s a reason regions like Provence and Tavel are considered classics. And to that point, salmon and rosé are a classic duo, even with a ponzu marinade. The ripe strawberry and watermelon overtones of a Tavel from the Rhône Valley play off the rich flavor of the fish, while the tangy mineral finish contrasts with the fat.

Serves 4
Total time: 20 mins

Ingredients
For the bowls
1 pound sashimi grade salmon, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 avocado, cubed
1/2 cup scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1 cup shelled edamame, steamed
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
Cooked white or brown rice, served hot
Salt and pepper to taste

For the marinade
5 tablespoons soy sauce
5 tablespoons fresh citrus juice (lemon, lime, or orange)
2 tablespoons mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Directions
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients.
2. Add salmon, avocado, half the scallion, and red onion to marinade. Toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning, accounting for saltiness of soy in marinade. Refrigerate until ready to serve. (Fish will start to cook as it sits in the citrus.)
3. Divide rice between bowls. Spoon fish and avocado mixture over rice.
5. Garnish with remaining scallion, carrot, edamame. Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on top. Serve.

2 Comments

Filed under Recipes and Wine Pairings, Salmon Poke Bowl and Tavel Rose

Recipe and Wine Pairing: Salmorejo Soup with Manzanilla Sherry

I’ve been writing recipes with wine pairings for Wine Enthusiast over the past year and decided I should start sharing my inspiration on my blog. Enjoy!

Salmorejo, a chilled soup hailing from the warm climes of southern Spain, is gazpacho’s heartier cousin. Originating in the Andalusian city of Córdoba, it’s creamier and less acidic. It’s also perfect for utilizing abundant end-of-summer tomatoes and day-old bread. The key to building flavor in this otherwise simple preparation: ripe tomatoes, high-quality olive oil, and sherry wine vinegar.

Pair It: Manzanilla Sherry
On a hot afternoon, match this cold soup to a chilled glass of Manzanilla. Produced near the ocean, the sherry’s saline tang and light acidity highlight the bright tomatoes and salty jamón, while echoing the sherry vinegar.

Serves 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
Salmorejo Soup
2 cups of water
½ tablespoon salt
½ loaf of day-old baguette or 2 slices of white bread, coarsely torn
2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes
½ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish
1 hardboiled egg, chopped
Two slices Serrano ham, chopped

Directions
1. Add 2 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a medium bowl. Add bread and let soak for 10-15 minutes. Remove bread, squeeze excess liquid from it, and set aside. Reserve soaking liquid.
2. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a medium saucepan. Make a cross with a knife on the bottom of each tomato and put them in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove and cool slightly. Peel skin, seed, core, and roughly chop. Set aside.
3. In a blender, add tomatoes and garlic. Run 30 seconds on high-speed or until crushed. Add bread and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, blending for another 30 seconds on medium speed. Add reserved soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls if mixture is too thick to blend. Once mixture is smooth, add olive oil while machine is running. Add additional tablespoon sherry vinegar, to taste, and blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Cover and chill, at least two hours, up to 1 day.
5. Divide into bowls and top with chopped egg, Serrano ham, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve.

2 Comments

Filed under Recipes and Wine Pairings, Salmorejo Soup

If you can’t get to Tuscany, enjoy the region’s food and wine at home. Here’s how.

TomatoBasil

Traversing Tuscany’s rolling hills, each prettier than the last, feels like a ride on a magic carpet, while around you, the breathtaking landscape forms a living watercolor. Stone farmhouses and once-noble castles with crenelated towers, now converted into hotels and wineries, sit perched upon each mound. Allées of slender Cypress trees hug the winding drives to the top. In Tuscany’s southeast corner lies the medieval town of Montepulciano, beckoning with its dazzling Renaissance palaces, glorious churches, fine red wine and local restaurants serving regional fare like bistecca Fiorentina. But you needn’t travel halfway around the world to appreciate Montepulciano’s vinous virtues, nor its partner cuisine, now that the great food and wine traditions of this corner of Italy can be enjoyed at home.

The adage “what grows together, goes together” applies in Montepulciano. Reigning as one of the top three places in the world for Sangiovese, the area’s famous wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, is perfect for pairing with all manner of foods. The well-balanced, medium body delivers supple red fruit, moderate alcohol, and juicy acidity, and works with everything from antipasto to soups to tomato-based sauces over pasta; velvety tannins cut the luscious fat of a steak or cinghiale ragu.

IMG_3683.jpg

The origins of modern Tuscan food stem back to its peasant roots, known as cucina povera or “poor cooking.” Cucina povera was born from economic circumstance – the need to make large, hearty, and inexpensive portions from simple ingredients found in the countryside. Spice blends and complicated techniques weren’t used because they weren’t needed when working with fresh, hyper-local products. The only difference today is that adherence to this culinary legacy is a choice. With access to a reliable butcher and good ingredients, Tuscan cuisine can be recreated easily by the home cook.

To replicate the Tuscan experience at home, be sure to preface the meal with a spread of antipasto. The affettatti misti, a platter of cured sliced meats called salumi, typically includes pork – prosciutto, finocchiona — and beef like bresaola. As accompaniment, a selection of cheeses, preferably Pecorino Toscano (which has a DOP), may be served in shades of maturation. Chicken liver pate with toasted bread — crostini di fegato — and delicately fried, tempura-like vegetables such as zucchini and its flowers, round out the selection. With a slight chill, a youthful Vino Nobile, fresh and fruity, drinks nicely with these foods.

Soups play an important role in Tuscan cooking, especially since they use up leftover or excess produce and bread. From ribollita, a vegetable version typically comprised of black kale, cannellini beans and a stale loaf, to Pappa al Pomodoro,prepared with tomatoes, bread, garlic, olive oil, and basil. The surprisingly rich unctuousness of this simple tomato soup pairs brilliantly with the bright acidity and cherry notes of Vino Nobile.

Soups.jpg

Of course, what distinguishes Italian cuisine from the rest of the world is its pasta. Every region boasts cherished recipes, and Tuscany is no different. Pici, for example, is a simple Tuscan pasta that’s easy to make at home. Created by the Sienese pastaii, or pasta makers, pici is an eggless recipe. Based off a simple dough of flour and water, its thick strands are hand-rolled and cut into strips. Cooked al dente, a range of sauces adhere to the pasta, from simple tomato to meat ragu.

For meat lovers, Tuscany conjures visions of bistecca alla Fiorentina. The rotund cattle of Montepulciano’s Val di Chiana, known as Chianina, are the source of this flavorful T-bone. Typically charred on the exterior, and cooked a shade above rare inside, an older Vino Nobile from a winery’s best vines delivers one of the world’s best culinary pairings. Steak isn’t the only meat on the menu in Tuscany. Roasted game, especially cinghiale (wild boar) and hare, abound, either as a sauce for pasta or as the main course, il secondo, itself.

If you can’t get to Montepulciano, try bringing the food and wine of the region into your home. It’s the next best thing to being there, and doesn’t require a long-distance flight.

RuffinoCookingSchoolTuscany.jpg

3 Comments

Filed under Italy, tuscany, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

Why You Should Discover Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany’s Affordable Secret

I was recently in Montepulciano, Tuscany. Here’s a primer on the region’s wine and why  you should consider finding Vino Nobile de Montepulciano in your local wine shop.

MontepulcianoView

Perched high atop a hill in southeastern Tuscany lies the picturesque town of Montepulciano. In the province of Siena, this medieval city boasts elegant palaces, churches, piazzas, and sweeping vistas across the undulating landscape. However, the region’s reputation does not derive from this charming town center alone, despite its cameo in New Moon, the sequel to vampire saga Twilight. The local wine, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, remains the primary draw for wine lovers and tourists today.

Viticulture on the slopes of the Val d’Orcia and Val di Chiana valleys spans back to the era of the Etruscans. By the 15th century, Montepulciano’s Sangiovese-based red filled the glasses of Sienese aristocrats; by the 16th century, it had earned words of reverence from Pope Paul III. The wine graced the pages of French writer Voltaire in his book Candide, was described as the “king of wines” by poet Francesco Redi, and appeared in Count of Montechristo by Alexandre Dumas. Indeed, the use of the word “nobile” in the wine’s name appears to stem from its importance to the Tuscan nobility.

Despite its fame, Vino Nobile entered a period of obscurity, at one point in the 19thcentury finding itself labeled as Chianti. A wave of mediocre wine contributed to its reputational decline. By the 1960s, however, Vino Nobile earned recognition as one of Italy’s classic red wine regions with the awarding of a Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC. In the 1980s, it received a DOCG (Garantita), the highest classification in Italy, finally returning this fine wine to its former prominence, at least in the eyes of the regulatory system. It has take longer to win over consumers.

Wine overlooking valley.jpg

To conform to DOCG regulations, Vino Nobile wine must come from the hills surrounding the city. The key grape, Sangiovese grosso, is referred to locally as Prugnolo gentile. Sangiovese is well-known throughout the world as the most important grape in Tuscany, forming the base of Montepulciano’s more famous neighbors Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico. One difference between these trio of top growing regions, however, is the amount of Sangiovese required in the wine.

Where Brunello calls for 100 percent and Chianti a minimum of 80 percent, DOCG rules stipulate a minimum of 70 percent of Sangiovese in Vino Nobile, the rest a complement of local varieties like Cannaiolo, Colorino, and violet-scented Mammolo. In recent years, however, a new generation with fresh ideas, has taken the helm of wineries; they’ve placed greater emphasis on showcasing a single varietal, often bottling pure Sangiovese for their top wines.

As for aging, regulations require a minimum of 24 months (36 for riserva wines), of which 12 months must be spent in oak barrels. Local winemakers have long used large Italian botti made from Slavonian wood over small French barrique, because the purpose of aging was not to add flavor, but rather to soften and smooth Sangiovese’s firm tannins while preserving freshness and fruit. The smaller barrels, when used too aggressively, can contribute toast and vanilla notes that mask the elegance and transparency appreciated by Sangiovese enthusiasts.

Depending on the producer and their line of wines, Vino Nobile comes in different styles: from accessible, fruity, and youthful, to graceful and complex with significant aging potential. Regardless, Vino Nobile typically displays a ruby-red hue in youth, developing a garnet-orange tint over the years. The succulent, medium-bodied palate is awash with flavors of plum, wild cherry, and raspberry, often accented with violets and spice. Mouthwatering acidity is a hallmark of the grape, making Vino Nobile an excellent food wine, especially in a region with longstanding culinary traditions.

But what fans of Vino Nobile appreciate most is its compelling value: prices and reputation haven’t caught up with the quality strides of recent decades, making it a great value compared to Brunello and Chianti Classico. A fine, noble wine for a song from a beautiful place rich in history? Sounds like an offer that’s impossible to refuse.

Buildings in Montepulciano.jpg

2 Comments

Filed under Italy, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano

Why Ancient Roman Vineyards Are Reopening in Eastern Galicia

Vineyards of Guimaro in Ribeira Sacra.

In case you missed my article in The Independent, here’s your chance to read…

I’m perched on the retaining wall of a narrow vineyard in Ribeira Sacra, sipping a glass of local red wine made from mencia. Joined by winemaker Pedro Rodriguez of the Guimaro vineyard, we peer over the ledge into the canyon, perhaps hundreds of metres down, to the thin ribbon of river below. I toss a rock. It disappears.

We stroll through his vines, careful with our footing. Rodriguez explains he’s in the process of attaining organic certification. “We practise farming like they did in the past,” he says. He’s not kidding – the first people to make wine here were the Romans. Two thousand years ago, the Roman army worked this same site. They built the stone terrace Rodriguez has rehabilitated – as well as others – to grow grapes and make wine.

Rainy and green, Galicia was incorporated into the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus, around 29-19BC. To slake the thirst of troops forging the largest gold mine of the era – Las Medulas in nearby Bierzo – they created their own industry. In this mountainous zone there was no flat land; instead, they carved cascading terraces in surrounding canyons and down the steep riverbanks of the Sil and Mino to plant vines.

The vineyards were abandoned during the Dark Ages, but in the centuries to come, monks moved into the valley and replanted. Land passed from church to civilians, but after plant disease was followed by the Spanish Civil War, their owners abandoned both the vineyards and the countryside. Galicia is full of ghost towns.

To see the region is to understand why they left. While Ribeira Sacra has one of the most breathtaking landscapes in Europe – think of the Mosel Valley in Germany – its beauty belies the treacherous work required to tend its fruit.

Working manually on an incline is backbreaking and dangerous. Many sites are remote and barely accessible to small vehicles, let alone tractor equipment that could mechanise planting and picking. Myriad roads remain unpaved, combining hairpin turns with steep angles. These improbably difficult conditions can yield only tiny quantities of wine. Not large fortunes.

Steep vineyards make picking laborious.

Yet over the past two decades, the Roman vineyards have been making a comeback.

Fernando Gonzalez Riveiro, who owns the Adega Algueira vineyard, spent nearly 30 years buying up fragmented abandanados (what locals call the abandoned vineyards) to quilt together enough land worth farming.

“People talk about ‘handmade’ wine, but for most, that’s a marketing term,” he says. “We have to work by hand – there’s no other option. For example, in the white-winemaking region of Rueda in Castile and Leon, producers can plant thousands of verdejo vines in a day. For us, three.” A former banker, he admitted the numbers don’t make sense, but he is guided by passion, not money. “Passion is like a windscreen wiper – it doesn’t eliminate the storm,” he says. “It allows you to move forward.”

Like Guimaro, Algueira produces fresh, perfumed reds from mencia, the valley’s predominant, most promising grape. They can be pinot noir-like in their delicacy, occasionally sanguine and iron-like, but eminently singular. From the unique circumstances of its cooler climate and soil, Ribeira Sacra reds renounce the richer, riper expressions of Spain’s warmer, southerly climes to produce lighter, elegant, more restrained styles.

Following the Sil river east, I reach the neighbouring, less dramatic landscape of Valdeorras. The name means “golden valley”, a moniker likely attributed to the importance of its precious ancient metal mines. Today, the region mainly trades in wine. The grape that drives this revitalised industry is a white one, godello – another variety that was nearly lost when people abandoned the countryside.

Wine geeks tracking the next “it” grape offering high quality for low prices find godello fits their bill. The finest wines made from this compare to French chardonnay. They can be rich, round, and similarly textured; yet Valdeorras remains a secret. Its remote location has protected it from mass tourism. Not even Spaniards have alighted on the bucolic villages lining the 80-mile stretch of river.

In the hills above the river sits another vineyard, Adega Valdesil. A visit provides important historical context to understanding Valdeorras. Sixth-generation owner-winemaker Borja Prada shows me the thick, gnarled trunks of his great-grandfather’s 1887 godello vines. Propped up with rocks and string, they take on an anthropomorphic quality. Though they barely produce enough fruit to bottle, he keeps them “as a living legacy, hoping to one day put Valdeorras on the world map”.

As the wine world grows increasingly homogeneous, Ribeira Sacra and Valdeorras fulfil the promise of heritage wines that express a unique time and place. That’s why winemakers have returned – and oenophiles are right behind them.

Visit UNESCO site and ancient Roman gold mine Las Medulas, nearby.

Travel essentials

Getting there 

Ryanair flies direct from Stansted to Santiago de Compostela – expect to pay around £130 return during the summer. From there, it’s easiest to rent a car for the 90-minute drive to Ourense. Use this small city as a base for exploring the surrounding landscapes and vineyards of Ribeira Sacra and its Canon do Sil (Sil River Canyon). O Barco de Valdeorras and Las Medulas are a 90-minute drive east from Ourense.

Staying there

A converted monastery overlooking the Canon do Sil, Parador de Santo Estevo is the best option in Ribeira Sacra. Doubles from £90, room only.

Pazo do Castro is the best option in Valdeorras. Another restored historic hotel, rooms are a touch spartan, but antiques provide authentic charm. Doubles from £65, room only.

More information

Adega Algueira

Guimaro

Valdesil

Galicia Tourism

Winery visits and tastings are by appointment.

2 Comments

Filed under Galicia, Spain

Finding Soulful Spanish Wine in a Monastery: The 2017 Espai Priorat Exhibition

Winemaker bringing bottles into Scala Dei Monastery for the Espai Priorat Tasting

Twenty years ago, I fell in love with wine as a student of Thomas Jefferson’s college, the University of Virginia. As America’s first wine lover, his spirit lived on in the surrounding vine-covered hills of Albemarle County where I tasted the first bottle that sparked my curiosity, a Viognier from the aptly named Jefferson Vineyards. On a student budget, I had limited money for sampling the great wines of the world. Instead of drinking Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Champagne, I read about them in my monthly subscription of Wine Spectator. Around that same time, the late 90s, an issue of the magazine praised an up-and-coming region I’d never heard of: Priorat.

Not long after noting to watch out for this Catalan DO, I embarked on a summer adventure across Europe. I found myself in Barcelona for a few days and nearing the end of my trip, stopped in a wine shop. Scanning the shelves for anything labeled Priorat, I found three bottles and purchased them. Of course, I had no idea what they were; apps like Vivino, to scan labels for clues as to what flavors lay inside, didn’t exist. The clerk packed them neatly in a three-pack box, as the luxury of carrying alcohol into the cabin at the time remained. Thrilled to return to Virginia with the bottles, I carried them on the train to Madrid for the last leg of my trip before flying home. And it was on that train, at my feet beneath the bench, that I left that box as I scrambled off the car to avoid missing my station.

I would not return to the wines of Priorat for nearly a decade after. I graduated, moved to New York, and finished law school. I worked miserably as a lawyer before exchanging that career for a less lucrative but more honest, happier one in wine. And I wouldn’t alight upon one of Priorat’s mountain villages until nearly two decades later, which is where I sit now, typing this story.

Village of Porrera, where I stayed during the exhibition.

As a Master of Wine student, I received the honor on an invitation to attend the fourth annual Espai Priorat this year. The three-day exhibition encompassed 44 wineries from 9 villages and featured vineyard visits, intimate dinners, and winery tastings, culminating with the presentation of all the wineries inside the ruins of Scala Dei Monastery.

Scala Dei is considered the birthplace of present-day Priorat’s wine industry.  As with many renowned wine regions, we have religion, namely monks, to thank for their existence. As with many renowned wine regions, we have religion, namely monks, to thank in part for their existence. In Priorat, the Carthusians from Provence settled in the foothills of the Montsant mountain range in the 12th century, and were the first to recognize the suitability of the land for grape cultivation.

But this remote, hardscrabble area southwest of Barcelona would see de-population in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. First, the phylloxera louse ravaged vines; later, the economics of rural life coupled with the socio-political effects of the Spanish Civil War drove flight to urban centers. Only a fraction of the region’s families remained behind to tend the Grenache (Garnatxa/Garnacha) and Carignan (Cariñena) vines – today’s 80- to 100-year-old wizened beauties. Little else could grow in the poor, rocky soil. To see Priorat is to understand this reality.

And this week, I finally saw it. After scrambling to the top of a steep and slippery Mas Doix holding, my eyes swept across the landscape first painted by words inside that oversize glossy wine magazine. Hemmed in by the beautiful Montsant in the north, evocative of the American West in its steel and bronze striations, I beheld Priorat’s impossible vineyards. Broken slate called ‘licorella’ defined the soil. Hillsides as precipitous as roller coasters or carved into narrow terraces, defined their difficulty. And the small return for all this labor, yields as low as 300 grams of fruit per vine, evidenced growers’ tenacity.

A stunning but hardscrabble landscape.

A lot has happened in those twenty years. The arc of my life and search for my identity is perhaps not so different from the evolution of Priorat since modern pioneers like Barbier, Baste, Pérez, and Palacios propelled the region out of obscurity and into a DOQ award by 2000. Since then, winemakers have separately and collectively searched for their wines’ authentic voices against the pressure of market trends, economic realities, and style preferences, especially from certain influential critics whose baritones now, thankfully, wane. Debates over ripeness versus elegance, new versus used oak, modern versus traditional winemaking and farming techniques, irrigation versus dry farming, and using international varieties like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon versus showcasing the native grapes of Grenache and Cariñena, persist, with the addition of a new concern: climate change.

But my takeaway from interviews and tastings across the week is this: having spent the better part of a rapid ascent to the top looking in all directions, producers are now refocused inward — to the truth of their land, their fruit, and themselves — to answer these questions. And from introspection springs wine with soul.

Later this week, I will publish my top ten wines from the Espai Priorat Exhibition.

2 Comments

Filed under Priorat, Spain