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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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When Only The Best Champagne Will Do: Six Prestige Cuvées To Drink Now

Champagne Bar Cart. (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

If you missed my article in Forbes last week, I’ve reposted it here…

Luxury Champagne deserves to be drunk on more occasions than milestone celebrations; at the very least, it complements tragedies equally well, if not better. Consider the notoriously depressing events that have defined 2016. Even if you achieved personal bests in health, love, or money, regarding the collective we can agree the year unfolded like a Cormac McCarthy novel, exacting a psychic toll on the country.

From the deaths of legendary musicians Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Leonard Cohen; to the passing of wine icons Peter Mondavi, Margrit Mondavi, Mary Novak, Paul Pontallier; to the ceaseless loop of negative election coverage that failed to end with the election. Brexit, Ryan Lochte, Harambe, the Syrian refugee crisis, Zika, heat records, massive flooding, and Trump’s tweets. Even the year’s most acclaimed film stars an Affleck brother plumbing the depths of Manchester’s saddest janitor. And who knows what December surprise looms ahead. So, I suggest popping corks and putting this broken year out of its misery one month ahead of schedule, and the only wine with the gravitas to pair to the tragicomedy of 2016 (after all, Alec Baldwin returned), is prestige cuvée Champagne.

While no rules define the term prestige, typically these cuvées represent the producer’s best and most expensive bottle; the wine a Champagne house considers its top expression from their finest fruit. This generally entails grand cru grapes from the oldest vines, with extended cellar aging, often with a late disgorgement.

Here are six acme Champagnes to celebrate the end of an outrageous year.

Freshness and Finesse from a Founding Family…

Billecart-Salmon (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas Francois Brut 2002, $200

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Bollinger Discovered A Secret Room Filled With Vintage Champagne, Will Auction One Bottle In NYC

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Do you get a little giddy after pulling a winter coat out of storage and finding a $20 bill in the pocket? Imagine, then, the thrill of discovering a hidden chamber filled with over 600 bottles and magnums of pre-WWII reserve wine for Bollinger Champagne. In the summer of 2010, that’s precisely what happened at this Champagne house in Aÿ. In fact, an intern had been sent to the subterranean tunnels of the property’s cellar to clean. During the process of removing a wall of empty bottles, another wall sealing off an abandoned chamber was discovered. Inside were the personal wine collections of past family members dating back to 1830. Bollinger was founded in 1829.

Through rigorous tasting and analysis, the wines were verified and identified. In 2012, under the guidance of Cellar Master Gilles Descôtes, a restoration project was started to save the rare bottles. All of the wines will remain in the Bollinger Wine Libraries with the exception of one. And that one bottle, comprising Lot 40, is the showpiece of Bollinger’s first ever auction, hosted by Sotheby’s in New York City on November 19, 2016.

Presented by the auction house as “A Century of Champagne Bollinger,” the event will feature a selection of rare wines that have never before left the winery’s cellars in Aÿ, France. In other words, the wines have perfect provenance. The sale is a milestone for the legacy Champagne house, known for its uniquely complex and powerful, yet sophisticated style. Since its founding, Bollinger remains one of the last independent family houses. Other notable achievements: Bollinger’s elegance seduced the Crown of England into awarding it the prestigious Royal Warrant in 1884; and for more than 40 years, Bollinger has served as the Champagne of choice of James Bond.

Bollinger CEO Jérôme Philipon commented: “For the first-ever auction of Champagne Bollinger in the U.S., we are extremely proud to have Sotheby’s as our partner. Not only will we unveil an incredible depth of vintages this November, but we will also demonstrate the unique capacity of Bollinger Champagnes to age. We are thrilled to connect directly with our American customers with these gems from our cellars.”

An intern found a hidden stock of Bollinger reserve wine in a forgotten room in the cellar. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

The auction highlight, Lot 40, will include the historical 1914 vintage, packaged as “The Bollinger 1914 Experience.” The lucky buyer won’t actually take the wine home or transfer it to a remote, high-security facility. Rather, he or she will savor it at the winery, accompanied by three new best friends. The package will be sold as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for four people to taste the 100+ year vintage as part of a private visit to Galerie 1829 at Bollinger. The lot also includes vineyard and winery visits; dinner with Bollinger Champagnes at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Parc at Les Crayères, hosted by Philipon; and accommodation at Le Château Les Crayères in Reims.

If Lot 40 eludes you — after all, there can only be one winner — other highlights of the sale include:

  • Six lots of the exceptionally rare and hallowed Vieilles Vignes Françaises from historic vintages. The wines recall pre-phylloxera days, as they are made from a minute production of ungrafted Pinot Noir vines in two Bollinger-owned Grand Cru plots: Chaudes Terres and Clos St. Jacques in Aÿ;
  • Thirty-five lots of Bollinger R.D. library stock spanning four decades from 1973 to 2000; and
  • Bollinger’s Special Cuvée in eight different formats, from half-bottles to a Nebuchadnezzar.

Serena Sutcliffe MW, Honorary Chairman at Sotheby’s Wine, advised potential bidders: “if you plan to buy vintages to keep for important anniversaries and family milestones, remember to stock up on show-stopping ‘grands formats.’” She had the pleasure of tasting through Jeroboams down to bottles, and noted that not only did the larger formats maintain their freshness and youthfulness, but they retained more pressure and thus effervescence. And I’ll add one more comment to that: they look spectacular when served. So, when you have the choice of a Jeroboam, take it.

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Why Bordeaux Blanc Should Be A Household Wine Staple

Sommelier Pouring White Bordeaux. (Image Provided by Bordeaux Wine Council)

Sommelier Pouring White Bordeaux. (Image Provided by Bordeaux Wine Council)

This article was previously published in Forbes on October 6, 2016.

Why have consumers generally ignored white Bordeaux? There’s a degree of absurdity to the fact that while wineries everywhere — in Australia, New Zealand, the U.S, etc. — strive to emulate this classic region, bottling Sauvignon Blanc with Sémillon to create “Bordeaux-style blends,” the original flounders and languishes on shelves. And it’s even more astonishing, giving the spectacular rise in popularity of Sauvignon Blanc, that many drinkers of the variety don’t connect the grape back to its spiritual homeland in France.

I attended the “Somm’ Like It Bordeaux” tasting last week at Sons & Daughters restaurant in NYC. In total, the Bordeaux Wine Council presented thirty-six very good wines, but the six that stunned me were white. They were fresh, lively, aromatic, intensely flavored and all around f’ing delicious. And isn’t delicious drinkability what we want in our glass? I kept thinking “If I didn’t live in a ridiculously tiny NYC apartment, I could order a case of this. And this. And also this one. And probably this one, too. I really need to move.” Several examples achieved that elusive balance between precise acidity and creamy texture, and they all demonstrated versatility with food. For an average cost of $20, producers over-delivered on taste and complexity. So, if you’re tired of Chardonnay, drink white Bordeaux. If you’ve had enough NZ Sauvignon Blanc, drink white Bordeaux. If you’re looking for a white with enough heft to pair to heartier autumn foods, try white Bordeaux. These wines solve a lot of conundrums and should be household staples. So why aren’t people drinking white Bordeaux?

In the 1950s, dry whites represented 60% of Bordeaux production. Today, they make up a fraction of that number at 7-8% with the rest given over to red. The turn to vin rouge came in the ’70s, largely due to changes in consumer preference coupled with commercial viability; growers responded by ripping out white varieties to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But the partnership of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, with the occasional dollop of Muscadelle, is a classic for a reason. Sauvignon brings crisp acidity, herb and fruit flavors, and expressive aromatics, while Semillon adds body, ageability and a textural honeyed roundness.

The finest white Bordeaux (for many, measured by journalists’ scores and price tags), derive from Pessac-Léognan and Graves. Pessac wines are often oaked, expensive, and capable of improving in the bottle for decades. Producers like Château Haut-Brion, Château Pape Clément, Château Carbonnieux are household names for oenophiles and make exceptional examples. Alternatively, those who venture into the area of Entre-Deux-Mers can find charming, easygoing, and extremely affordable whites.

With the mantra “drink white Bordeaux” in mind, listed below are my tasting notes on the six bottles I sampled last week. If you can’t track these down, don’t worry; a bevy of options exist in the market at great prices. For a change, Bordeaux Blanc offers the chance to pay a better price for an original than a copy.

Vines in the Region's Characteristic Gravel Soils.

Vines in the Region’s Characteristic Gravel Soils.

Clos des Lunes “Lune d’Argent,” Bordeaux, 2014, $20

Delightfully vivid and aromatic, notes of grapefruit, white flowers, and clementine marmalade flecked with vanilla, pop from the glass. Medium-bodied, slightly waxy in texture, but full-flavored, shows great tension on the long, mouthwatering finish. This zesty wine would pair well to a seafood ceviche with mango and habanero, or fried soft-shell crabs.

Clos Floridene, Graves, 2011, $25

A vibrant hue of yellow-gold, this fuller bodied, lively wine offers a breath of fresh-snipped herbs and gooseberry layered behind grapefruit, golden apple, and lanolin. Beautifully balanced, the Sauvignon Blanc adds verve, the Semillon, roundness and texture. Try with spicy coconut mussels or spinach-stuffed chicken breast.

Château Moulin de Launay, Entre-Deux-Mers, 2014, $14

Like perfume for the wrist, this affordable, fragrant wine impresses with its orange blossoms, peaches, pears, and spritz of mandarin on the nose. Packed with sweet fruit, the palate balances flavor with a bright line of tension, finishing long and round. Would pair nicely with grilled fish or autumn rice salad with dried fruits and nuts.

Château Auney l’Hermitage, Graves, 2014, $29

Concentrated with mouthwatering freshness, this layered wine offers aromas and flavors of honeycomb, pithy citrus, and white flowers with a zip of chalky minerality on the brisk finish. Delicious now, but will further integrate and evolve with more time in bottle. A great partner to sushi or lemony veal piccata.

Château Peybonhomme-les-Tours, “le Blanc Bonhomme,” Côtes de Bordeaux Blaye, 2014 $22

This 50/50 blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc mingles ocean spray minerality with golden apples, fresh herbs, and lemon custard to build a racy, yet exuberant wine. Texturally rich, but still fresh with a long finish, this should convert Chardonnay drinkers to white Bordeaux. Would go well with chicken with mushrooms or linguine with bottarga.

Château les Charmes-Godard, Côtes de Bordeaux Francs, 2014, $20

More mineral-driven than overtly fruity, this dynamic wine shows green, grassy flavors mixed with a dollop of orange marmalade and beeswax. Clean and taut with great focus from start to finish, at a nice price point. For a classic pairing, serve with a seafood tower or seared scallops with brown butter.

When she’s not in a vineyard or the ocean, Lauren Mowery covers drinks, food & adventure/luxury travel. Follow her around the world on Instagram and Twitter.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Visiting Germany’s Wine Regions

Mosel Valley in April. (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

Mosel Valley in April. (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

Originally published in USA Today on August 18, 2016.

Seeking security, my right hand grasped at the nearest wooden pale as my left foot slid on the loose slate. I needed to stretch my camera two more inches beyond another row of stakes, each one supporting a heart-shaped Riesling vine, to get a clean shot of the valley.

I risked more than my dignity by dangerously leaning over the steep crest of the Mosel Valley’s fabled Piesporter Goldtröpfchen vineyards. Below, the region’s namesake river slipped around a wide curve with such stillness and grace, it appeared a watercolor of dappled blue and green. The quaint village of Piesporter straddled the bend, another fixed detail of the still life fanned out before me. The scene deserved the skill of a painter’s hand, not me and a Canon 70D, I thought.

Village of Piesporter in the Mosel.

Village of Piesporter in the Mosel.

Showstopping scenery abounds throughout Germany’s wine regions. Minimal development keeps the countryside bucolic; combined with the classic architecture and fachwerk homes (timber-framed), the effect transports visitors to another century. The other recurring theme across all thirteen appellations or anbaugebiete (“ahn-baw-jeh-beet”): Riesling. Deutschland serves as the spiritual home for the noble white grape, which accounts for almost a quarter of all plantings. The wines come in various styles from dry, off-dry, to sweet, and a range of quality levels. (Tip: Look for the acronym VDP with an eagle logo on the capsule. It designates a wine from a members only association committed to high farming and winemaking standards.)

However, climate change and the domestic predilection for red wine has given rise to black grape plantings, notably Pinot Noir (aka Spätburgunder.) A relative secret outside of Europe due to small production levels, Germany’s Pinot competes with the finest from Burgundy (and Switzerland). So, book your flight to Frankfurt and bring an empty suitcase; these three regions should top any first time visitor’s list.

VonWinning Vineyards in Pfalz.

VonWinning Vineyards in Pfalz.

Pfalz
Located in the far southwest corner, Pfalz, by German standards, boasts balmy weather. The climate favors a range of agricultural products like almonds, and citrus trees, as well as grapes. All those warm, sunshine days translate into bigger, more opulent wines with Riesling generally fermented dry. The region is a wine tourist’s paradise that few Americans have tapped into. It’s easy to navigate around the rolling, vine-covered hills. Wineries, open daily, are commonly staffed with English speakers and often have leafy, outdoor restaurants attached.

Base yourself in the cute village of Deidesheim, about 90 minutes driving from Frankfurt. There are several tasting rooms in town, relieving visitors of driving duty.

Weingut Von Winning in the Pfalz.

Weingut Von Winning in the Pfalz.

Weingut Von Winning
Walk from your hotel to the winery for a tasting, then stay for dinner at the excellent tavern called Leopold. If the weather cooperates, opt for a seat outdoors on the patio. Their wines have good distribution across the U.S., so don’t feel compelled to squirrel away bottles in your luggage. Von Winning takes the unique tack of fermenting its grand crus in oak. While the top wines can get expensive, the basic, delicious Win Win Riesling is affordable at less than $15. VDP member.

Modern marketing drives Schneider Wines.

Modern Marketing Drives Schneider Wines.

Weingut Markus Schneider
Markus Schneider has eschewed the heavy, nay somber interiors of classic German homes for modern, airy, and sleek. And that dismissal of tradition extends to his contemporary branding and gregarious personality, all of which nearly steal the spotlight from this striking project’s wines. If he’s on-site, feel free to engage with him on topics such as food, travel, and naturally, wine. Whether he’s a marketing genius or giving the people what they want, his atypically bold reds, especially the Syrah, have been wildly successful.

Exterior of Reichsrat von Buhl.

Exterior of Reichsrat von Buhl.

Reichsrat von Buhl
Founded 150 years ago, von Buhl Rieslings were served at the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Today, the estate bottled wines are made from organically farmed grapes in a bone-dry style, which you can sample by walking to the historic winery (open daily) from your hotel in town. Don’t miss the sparkling wine Germans call Sekt. VDP member.

Vineyards in Rheinhessen.

Vineyards in Rheinhessen.

Rheinhessen
Rheinhessen sports a roster of the country’s most dazzling winemakers. With a focus on dry Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc (called Weissburgunder), a young group of open-minded, quality-driven producers helped stage the appellation’s resurgence with critics and collectors. While the prized red soils of the Roter Hang were once the dominant source of Rheinhessen’s top wines, good juice now can be found throughout. Two names to know — Wittman and Keller – make some of the most sought after bottles. Keller doesn’t sell at the cellar door, so consult wine shops or restaurants for his small production (and expensive) Riesling and Pinot Noir.

Wittman in his cellar in Rheinhessen.

Wittman in His Cellar in Rheinhessen.

Weingut Wittman
A local leader partially responsible for reviving the legacy of quality winemaking in Rheinhessen, Philipp Wittman’s reputation doesn’t preclude access to his wines by wine lovers of modest means. Tastings of the biodynamic line-up occur in a modern facility off a garden oasis, and can be had by anyone, by appointment. His entry-level Gutsriesling is a great value, as well as introduction to the Wittman style, at less than 20 Euros. VDP member.

Joch Dreissigacker at his winery in Rheinhessen.

Joch Dreissigacker at His Winery in Rheinhessen.

Weingut Dreissigacker
Former apprentice to icon Klaus-Peter Keller, the current proprietor of Dreissigacker, Jochen took over this family winery in 2001. He instituted critical changes, most notably converting the estate to organic viticulture. He is another example of Rheinhessen’s current generation of quality-over-quantity focused vintners. Taste through his well-priced range of dry Rieslings in the winery’s stylish tasting room in Bechtheim, by appointment.

A line-up of excellent wines at Schätzel.

A Line-up of Excellent Wines at Schätzel.

Weingut Schätzel
Step into the depths of Kai Schätzel’s centuries-old cellar, and smell the fragrance of history clinging to the damp earth and walls. Many vintages of Rheinhessen Riesling have passed through this room, and an earnest Schätzel will regale guests with stories of his family’s winemaking past. Kai, however, took over in 2008, raising quality and earning entry into the prestigious VDP. Tastings are conducted by appointment in the dark-timbered main house, appointed in traditional Germanic décor.

Mosel Valley in April. (Photo by Lauren Mowery)

The Charming Village of Bernkastel-Kues.

Mosel Valley
At some point during a first trip to the Mosel, you’ll wonder if people actually live there. It has a quaint, quiet movie set perfection. And due to its cool location at 50 degrees latitude, Mosel is one of the northernmost quality wine regions in the world. But yes, people reside in the Valley and have made wine in it for nearly two millennia, since land-grabbing Roman conquerors spread cultivated grapevines to its slate-rich soils. In fact, the locations of recently excavated Roman presses discovered along the river, coincide with today’s top growing sites. The namesake river has two tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer. All three valleys produce delicate, aromatic, and vivid wines, often enhanced by a touch of sugar. As reward for their singular character, Mosel Rieslings accompany Bordeaux and Burgundy in the cellars of prestigious restaurants.

Nik Weis in the Vines

Nik Weis in the Vines on Slate-Covered Slopes.

Weingut St. Urbans-Hof
Nik Weis, third generation vintner, has become a global ambassador for the Valley, traveling regularly to educate and promote Mosel wines. But his tasting room and winery in Leiwen remain open, even when he’s on the road. While he produces a variety of dry Rieslings, he believes Mosel wine has an inherent affinity for a cushion of residual sugar, and makes several examples dedicated to that style. Because the region’s Riesling has naturally high acidity, a touch of sugar serves to soften the sharpness, not make it taste sweet. VDP member.

Wine Bottles at Carl Loewen's Tasting Room.

Wine Bottles at Carl Loewen’s Tasting Room.

Weingut Carl Loewen
A father and son run this family winery founded in 1803. Based out of a modest property in Leiwen (not far from St. Urbans-Hof), guests can make an appointment to taste Riesling from some of the oldest vineyards in the world. Production hits the 8000 case mark, and the wines are imported into the U.S., but they are hard to find outside major cities. Definitely save room in your luggage for a few bottles, especially the “1896”. This Riesling, named after the year the vines were planted, is made in a style akin to methods used during that time.

Dr. Loosen's Cozy Living Room.

Dr. Loosen’s Cozy Living Room.

Dr. Loosen
Family-owned for over two-hundred years, the Dr. Loosen estate owns some of the finest, ungrafted, old vine sites in the Middle Mosel Valley, with six of its holdings equating to grand cru, or Grosse Lage quality. The current owner, Ernst Loosen, is building a beautiful new tasting room addition to the main house outside of Bernkastel. It should open to visitors this fall. In the meantime, tastings are available by appointment, booked via the website. Try to sample the small production “Reserve” line, denoting dry Riesling from top sites subject to extended aging. VDP member.

Mosel Valley Hotels

In the Countryside
Landhaus St. Urban
If you’re eager to enjoy more Nik Weis Riesling over an elegant dinner in the countryside, book a table at Rüssel’s Landhaus. Run by his sommelier sister Ruth and her talented chef and husband Harald Rüssel, the duo turns out gorgeous plates of locally-inspired fare paired to regional wines in a converted mill. Enjoy the terrace in the summer or sit inside the chic, recently renovated dining room. If you over-indulge, make a reservation at the adjoining hotel. The rooms are simple, but the scenery is the star anyway.

Weinromantik Hotel in Mosel Valley.

Weinromantik Hotel features a spa and several restaurants near the vines.

Near the Vineyards
Weinromantikhotel Richtershof
Near the banks of the Mosel River on the site of a winery dating from the 1600s, sits this mid-size, old-fashioned property. The floral motif in a pastel palette may evoke your grandmother’s notion of romantic décor, but its dated sensibility works in the setting. Several restaurants including a bistro bar, and an upscale dining room replete with wine cellar, keep guests busy after a day at the Roman-style spa and beauty salon.

Marchenhotel in Mosel Valley.

Marchenhotel has fairytale theme rooms and a snug restaurant.

In The Town of Bernkastel
Märchenhotel
Occasionally, you’ll want to dine in town and walk home rather than drive (because wine.) The village of Bernkastel-Kues offers a good selection of restaurants, wine bars, and time-capsule scenery without feeling garishly touristy. Towards the back of the Bernkastel-side and along the wall where the vineyards begin, is the Märchenhotel. The half-timbered, boutique property dates back to 1640. Room are decorated individually, each with a fairytale theme. (Märchen means folk- or fairy-tale.)

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