Bubbles Beyond Champagne: Ten Regions for Fine Sparkling Wine


The bottling line at Ferrari in Trentino, Italy.

If you missed my USA Today article, I’ve reposted it here for your convenience. 

Pop, sigh, fizz. The stats are in: Americans love bubbles, having embraced them not only for celebrations but as a year-round drink. Last year, for example, sparkling wine sales in the U.S. grew by 25 percent. Of course, no occasion proves more appropriate for sparklers than the turning over of a new year. As you reach for bottles to celebrate the close of 2017, consider sipping beyond the popular categories of Champagne and Prosecco. High-quality and good value alternatives come from every corner of the world nowadays. So, if 2018 begins with a pledge to broaden your horizons, you can start with the fizz in your glass.

  1. Burgundy, France: Domaine Francois Mikulski, Crémant de Bourgogne

If the best Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Burgundy produces the finest still wines from those grapes, shouldn’t Burgundy have the potential to make wonderful sparkling wine? Well, it does, and it’s called Crémant de Bourgogne. Crémant refers to the category of French bubbles made with the same technique as Champagne, but from outside the Champagne region. Mikulski, a vigneron from Meursault, has some of the finest vineyard holdings in the village, and while his still wines are hard to find, his affordable Crémant (around $24) can still be tracked down around the U.S. Made from 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 15% Aligote, the wine is aged for 18 months on the lees, and provides a perfect jumping off point for discovering the category. The wine shows purity of fruit, lovely mineral notes, and a creamy full mousse.

  1. Loire Valley, France: Chidaine, Brut Nature Methode Traditionelle 2015

Like Burgundy, Loire Valley, too, makes superb fizz. But the white grape that dominates the sparklers of this long, river-hugging region is not Chardonnay but Chenin Blanc. Within the appellation of Montlouis-Sur-Loire, across from Vouvray, works and lives François Chidaine. A biodynamic farmer who strives for transparency and authenticity in his wines, Chidaine is revered by many wine lovers and professionals. Every year in small quantities he bottles a 100 percent sparkling Chenin Blanc. He foregoes the final dollop of sweetness, known as dosage, to make a fully dry ‘Brut Nature’. The result: a crisp, mineral-driven wine with a pretty nose and palate of white flowers, pear, and citrus, on a lengthy finish.

  1. Sussex, England: Ridgeview, Bloomsbury Brut 2014

Once the new kid on the block, British fizz has fast proven itself in a competitive category, winning prestigious awards that confirm it’s here to stay. In fact, a changing – warming – climate almost guarantees a long lifespan for the relatively nascent region of Sussex, England. The local climate and limestone soils are akin to Champagne, almost 90 miles south. Cool nights and an overall cooler climate, allow the grapes to retain their bright, sharp flavors even when fully ripe, making it an ideal growing area for the classic Champagne trio: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Ridgeview is a leading producer and one of the easier brands to find in the United States. The Bloomsbury Brut, a blend of all three grapes, has a fine mousse and great finesse, with lively green apple, white peach and lemon notes on the long finish.

  1. Franciacorta, Italy: Ca’ del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige NV

A competition has long been brewing between Italy’s leading sparkling wine regions. Producers located in Lombardy’s Franciacorta naturally declare themselves to be the finest producers of high-quality Metodo Classico, or sparkling wine made in the traditional (Champagne) method. The wines reflect the style, complexity and quality of the premier French region, but taste very much of place. The appellation of Franciacorta falls within the province of Brescia in the hills just south beyond Lake Iseo in Northern Italy. Thus, a cooler climate near a moderating lake allows for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, plus Pinot Blanc, to thrive. Internationally respected brand Ca’ del Bosco is easily recognizable by it golden cellophane wrapping, but it’s the juice inside that earns admiration. The Cuvee Prestige is a blend of the region’s three typical grapes, the Pinot Blanc adding a touch of floral fragrance. Fine bubbles, flavors of apple, lemon, and apricot, and flashy packaging, make this a great choice for impressing dinner guests.

  1. Western Cape, South Africa: Saltare, Brut Reserve NV

If consumers were asked about their impressions of South African wine, they might offer “Chenin Blanc,” “Bordeaux-like reds,” or maybe “Pinotage” but few would likely reference Methode Cap Classique, or MCC for short. MCCs are South Africa’s answer to Champagne. They are high-quality, traditional method sparkling wines that have become so good, they deserve greater global recognition. Yet while they’re easy to find in situ, only a handful make it to the American market. Fortunately, one of the best small producers has a great importer who gets her wine to US shelves. Owner-winemaker Carla Pauw of Saltare wines, named after the Latin word for “to dance,” largely focuses on sparkling, producing a Brut Reserve from grapes sourced in the Western Cape. This bottle is one of her more mature sparklers, with a minimum of 36 months on the lees. This extended aging contributes a fuller body, complexity, and a long, toasty finish.

  1. Mosel Valley, Germany: Dr. Loosen, Sparkling Riesling Sekt

German sparkling wine goes by the name Sekt. Given Germany’s most important grape is Riesling, it’s logical that this aromatic white grape provides the base for most fizz. But sparkling Riesling can prove an unusual taste for those unfamiliar with it; hence, consider starting with an approachable example, from both a flavor and pocketbook standpoint. Enter Dr. Loosen from the Mosel Valley. The Loosen estate has been in the family for 200 years, with some of Germany’s best-rated vines within the family portfolio. The business is currently run by Ernst Loosen, who has taken quality standards to new heights while still delivering great value from his wines. Specifically, the Dr. L Riesling, an entry-level sparkler conveying the elegant, bright fruit flavors derived from the Mosel’s famous steep slate soils, sells for an attractive price. At 8.5% alcohol, and medium sweetness levels, it’s an easy quaffing wine, too.

  1. Kamptal, Austria: Bründlmayer, Brut Sekt

Americans familiar with Sekt likely associate it with Germany, but Austria makes their own version. Grapes typically include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinots Blanc and Gris, but it’s the indigenous grape Grüner Veltliner that makes Austrian fizz distinct. Located in the famous wine region of Kamptal, Weingut Bründlmayer produces several variations on Sekt. The Brut, made in the traditional method, blend the latter four mentioned white grapes, and gives fine Champagne a run for its money. Offering trademark bottle aged notes of yeasty toastiness, flavors flow into apple, quince, and lemon zest on the creamy palate. A slight peppery note, characteristic of Grüner, reveals itself in the long, crunchy finish. This is an excellent bottle from a well-known producer that provides a good introduction to Austrian bubbles.

  1. Penedès, Spain: Raventós, i Blanc De La Finca 2014

Most consumers who know Spanish sparkling wine think of Cava. There are several prolific brands offering good, entry-level value. But one family has sought to elevate the category beyond the supermarket and into fine wine territory. That family is Raventos, a lineage boasting winemaking traditions reaching back to 1497. In fact, they are credited with producing the first Cava in 1872. However, in recent years, the family has become synonymous with controversy as their focus on organic farming, utmost quality, and terroir-driven expressions has led them to break from the Cava DO to pursue a new appellation, Conca del Riu Anoia. Fundamental to the Raventos philosophy is the use of indigenous grapes in their wines. Those varieties, Xarel-lo, Parellada, Macabeo, make up the blend in the de la Finca, an exceptional traditional method wine that sees a minimum aging period of three years.

  1. Trentino, Italy: Ferrari, Perle Nero 2009

As awareness of styles other than Prosecco grows, and wine drinkers continue to trade up – often drinking less but better – Trentino provides the obvious next stop in Italy. Tucked into the mighty Dolomites of the north, the area’s sparkling appellation TrentoDOC covers traditional method wines called metodo classico. These mountain bubbles are racy, mineral-soaked expressions delivering precision and elegance as a result of their cool-climate, higher altitude origin. The founding father of fizz in Trentino is Giulio Ferrari, who brought the technique of Champagne production to his village in 1902. Ferrari today has grown into a powerhouse producer by Trentino standards, although production’s a drop in the bucket compared to the big houses in France. Ferrari makes easy to find, standout wines in all price tiers, including the “Perle” line which is a vintage expression. “Nero” references the sole use of red grapes, like Blanc de Noir, which gives the wine a deeper, richer, berry-scented palate.

  1. Russian River Valley, California: J Vineyards & Winery, Cuvée 20 Brut NV

As America’s foremost wine state, it should come as no surprise that California produces sparkling wine from myriad regions. However, bubble lovers know the best examples come from cooler growing areas. Why? Brisk air and chilly nights preserve acidity and tension. That’s why vineyards further north in an otherwise warm state, like those in the Russian River Valley, are best suited to the style. One pioneering and widely available producer from Northern California is J Vineyards and Winery. Founded in 1986, J has earned a reputation as one of the best sparkling-focused houses in the U.S. They work with classic Champagne grapes and follow the same traditional method bottle fermentation and aging processes. Their signature sparkler, assembled from their coolest vineyards, is Cuvée 20, a delicious non-vintage brut with 24 months of aging that imbued toasted nut notes to the lively, lemon-custard evocative wine.



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Lebanon: The Greatest Food And Wine Country You’ve Never Visited (Part 2)

I’ve decided to reprint my most widely read articles on Forbes this year. This two-part story on Lebanese historyfood and wine captured the attention of thousands of readers.

For an overview of the country’s history, please read Part 1.

As light from a rain-rinsed morning beamed through the kitchen’s floor-to-ceiling windows, I watched Jamal Shalhoub unfurl damp green packets. I’d heard this traditional dish, warak enab, or stuffed grape vine leaves, was one of the most tedious to make, requiring deft hand skills. She flattened the triangular points on to the table’s surface and placed a pinch of mixture – tomatoes, raw rice, and chopped herbs – in the center. Jamal folded the edges over the filling as if gift wrapping, then neatly rolled the bundle into a tiny cigar. “Now you try” her daughter said, translating a Lebanese dialect of Arabic into English.

I’d come to Lebanon to explore the wines of the country, but effusive praise for the cuisine led me to organize a cooking class prior to arrival. However, the importance of breaking bread was evident enough that anyone with an appetite would have figured it out. I’d discover that the wine and culinary scene of Lebanon boasted an outsize personality wholly out of proportion to its diminutive size, slightly smaller than Connecticut. (And what contribution has CT made to the food world besides New Haven pizza?)

The first night, our international group of Master of Wine students dined with local winemakers at Beirut’s upscale Lebanese hot spot Em Sherif. I’ve always maintained that to gain the strongest impression of a country’s heritage, look to its table; in Lebanon, that table runneth over.

Dinner encompassed dozens of cold and hot mezzes (small dishes), grilled, baked, and roasted fish and meats including lamb and chicken kebabs and kafta (minced, seasoned meat), served with hot Arabic bread for scooping in lieu of a spoon. The sweet finale: bountiful plates of rosewater- and pistachio-flecked desserts served with café blanc (hot water spiked with orange blossom). The sommelier paired dishes with wines made from international varieties and local grapes grown and fermented within 100 miles of Beirut.

The following days would lead us into Batroun and the Bekaa Valley, the source of many of Lebanon’s best vineyard sites. Longstanding producers with large market share included Château Ksara and Château Kefraya. Their successes showed – each property had expansive grounds and wonderful restaurants serving classic and regional dishes. Ksara could even claim receipt of more annual visitors than The National Museum of Beirut.

French influence extended beyond winery names to the grapes planted. Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot were common, as were southern French Mediterranean grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault. Reds dominated, but whites have become more fashionable – and more sophisticated, many made from Viognier and Chardonnay. Lebanon’s most famous producer and the one best known in the States is Château Musar. While the Musar Red has long commanded the highest price in their portfolio, a tasting of Musar’s white from vintages back to the 70’s demonstrated the underappreciated potential of Lebanese indigenous grapes Obaideh and Merwah.

One pioneer in the revival of the Obaideh (also spelled Obeidy) grape has been agronomist and winemaker Joe-Assad Touma of Château St Thomas. He’s worked on the Wine Mosaic Project to preserve and promote local varieties, an important point of differentiation for a country with thousands of years’ worth of winemaking history behind it. Research has focused on finding heritage grapes with the greatest potential for commercial cultivation into quality wine; the hunt for a red varietal counterpart to Obaideh and Merwah continues.

One pioneer in the revival of the Obaideh (also spelled Obeidy) grape has been agronomist and winemaker Joe-Assad Touma of Château St Thomas. He’s worked on the Wine Mosaic Project to preserve and promote local varieties, an important point of differentiation for a country with thousands of years’ worth of winemaking history behind it. Research has focused on finding heritage grapes with the greatest potential for commercial cultivation into quality wine; the hunt for a red varietal counterpart to Obaideh and Merwah continues.

Also in the Bekaa, a young, forward-thinking team runs the country’s oldest winery, Domaine Des Tourelles. Founded in 1868 by French adventurer François-Eugène Brun, the estate was the first commercial cellar in Lebanon producing wines, arak and other spirits. Today, winemaker Faouzi Issa views old-vine plantings of Cinsault and other Mediterranean grapes as significant to the future of their wines, especially considering climate change – the growing season is getting hotter and drier. He has also organized the farming of premium anise for their house-distilled arak – a response to the loss of Syria as a provider of the world’s finest licorice-like herb.

Further into the Valley sat Domaine de Baal, a newish winery painstakingly carved from scratch out of the mountains. Terraced vineyards, farmed organically through backbreaking labor, encircled the property. The effort seemed to be paying off – de Baal produced one of the crispest, tangiest whites tasted on the trip, a blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

From de Baal’s patio I could see shells of unfinished apartment buildings perched on the hills nearby. Why, I asked owner Sebastien Khoury, were so many of these structures scattered throughout the Bekaa?

“The government is a ghost” he said. “There is no government. We’re going to end up a country full of houses, without farms. There are no restrictions on land use, no zoning laws, and everyone wants to build.” Land prices had shot up significantly as demand rose in a space-challenged country. Speculation over the spike in unfinished projects ran from corruption, to tax-avoidance, to developers running out of money.

Back towards the coast in Batroun, an area just north of Beirut, we visited another two young but promising projects. Both surprised with their sophisticated and polished style still reflective of terroir. Ixsir, set inside a renovated traditional stone house, poured savory, mineral-flecked Syrah-based blends from some of the highest vineyards in the country. Outside on the patio, under the shade of trees, we enjoyed a superb lunch: a mezze-filled heaven available to all visitors from their on-site kitchen. Not far away, producer Atibaia has focused on making one wine well: a Bordeaux-blend red.

Throughout the course of our visits, I considered the dichotomy of Lebanon: the fragility of its existence balanced against the strength and persistence of its people, many who adhered to their values through times of strife. Serge Hochar, for example, helped build international recognition for Musar by sharing the story of his family’s commitment to winemaking and employment of staff through fifteen years of civil war. But they weren’t the only winery to have unbroken production.

As Laura Nakad of Château Nakad, explained, “we don’t invite war, but we’re used to it.” I understood what she meant, although it left me thinking long after she said it. Calluses helped us to survive but they could also inure us sufficiently from symptomatic pain to never seek remedy for the root cause.

Finally, after several long days of driving between wineries, I took a break to linger over food in Beirut. I spent an afternoon grazing through the buffet at Tawlet. This ground-breaking restaurant from the team behind Souk el Tayeb (Beirut’s first farmers market), rotates female cooks from Lebanon’s hinterland into the kitchen each day for lunch. The guest chef prepares dishes from her region to share face-to-face with eager customers in the city. It’s a way of preserving provincial culinary nuance; laborious foods the younger generation claims to have no time to cook. It’s also proven integral to helping people heal, said Christine Codsi, partner to founder Kamal Mouzawak. “Women from different communities, different faiths, are putting the mindset of war and who they saw as enemies behind them to focus on cooking and friendship.”

Coincidentally, it was through Tawlet’s founder Mouzawak that I discovered the cooking class in the mountains. Mouzawak had renovated a beautiful centuries-old house into a B&B called Beit Douma in the well-preserved village of Douma. Jamal, who had shown how to gift wrap warak enab, was the mother of the inn’s property manager.

What I learned from Jamal’s class and my week in Beirut was that Lebanese food reflected the refinement of Western-European cooking while conveying the spices and flavors of the Middle East. The definition of a culinary crossroads. And the country was a paradise for vegetarians. Salads of fattoush and tabbouleh, fruits, whole grains, fresh cheeses, yogurt, vegetable dips – the hummus! – greens and legume stews, all woven with the flavors of olive oil, herbs, tahini, garlic, and lemon further testified to the brilliance of the Lebanese kitchen: its reliance on fresh ingredients. It would’ve been healthy if I could’ve stopped eating, but Lebanese hospitality considered the empty plate of a guest a veritable crime of etiquette.

While recent news – as in the resignation of the Prime Minister in the last 48-hours – may leave one questioning whether now is the time to visit, consider this: tourism, long an economic driver, has been depressed for years but the infrastructure is ready (as is Uber). As examined in Part 1 of this article, Beirut operates with kinks and quirks, but it runs. Today, especially during the off-season between fall and spring, the finest 4- and 5-star hotels, from high-end boutique Le Gray to luxury resort Kempinski Summerland, offer incredible rates. Especially as compared to other cities with a similar standard of fine dining, shopping, and nightlife. Visitors can easily make day trips to visit wineries in Batroun and Bekaa Valley, making Lebanon the greatest food and wine country – that’s waiting for people to visit.


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Lebanon: The Greatest Food And Wine Country You’ve Never Visited (Part 1)

I’ve decided to reprint my most widely read articles on Forbes this year. This two-part story on Lebanese historyfood and wine captured the attention of thousands of readers.

As the plane lifted into the sky above Beirut, the last vestiges of the city’s inky hills, flickering with the headlights of crepuscular movement, disappeared. The Lufthansa Airbus banked west over the Mediterranean towards Frankfurt. For a few minutes, the pale pink of dawn veiled the landscape in the foamy beige of a vintage or romance filter popular with Instagrammers. I squinted through my portal at the rising sun. It glinted eerily with the silver of a newly minted nickel. Clouds unspooled around it in sharp, shiny threads. Below, the sea spread into the corners beyond my vision like a pool of glittering mercury. What a strange sunrise, I thought, as I finally shut the shade and started to type.

The last nine days in Lebanon had been strange, but in an unfamiliar and surprising way. Sure, it’s a messy place. The burden of a violent past has contributed to the current contentious, and by most accounts, gridlocked, religion-based political structure. Unchecked sprawl and unfinished development projects devour the coastline and blight swaths of the interior. Syrian refugee camps seep into cities and countryside, threatening local security while straining resources. Traffic congestion that makes New York look like the wilds of Idaho forces locals and visitors to rethink their day-to-day schedules – or abandon plans wholesale. Regularly scheduled power outages force businesses and the affluent to run generators, leaving those without resources literally in the dark.

These points alone may be enough to convince someone not to go. Indeed, trepidatious tourists should avoid reviewing the U.S. Department of State’s list of warnings. They’d never board the flight otherwise. But beneath all the chaos of a country trying to modernize with little planning or restriction, subject to what some call a thinly veiled multi-theocracy, lies the true heart of Lebanon: it’s generous people, their hospitable culture, their curiosity, openness, and enthusiasm for sharing their rich traditions of food and drink. And for this, I found nine days insufficient to know this tiny mountainous country on the fringes of the Middle East – but I tried.

Before delving into why Lebanon deserves recognition as one of the world’s greatest food and wine destinations , it’s critical to have historical perspective. Thus, this article is broken into two parts.


Lebanon’s food and wine history extends back thousands of years. The Levant, as it was known generally before a series of contemporary political borders shaped it, was where humans first learned to farm. Moving from a hunter-gatherer existence to a semi-sedentary agricultural society gave people the freedom from day-to-day survival to pursue advanced interests like weapons, tools, and wine. But the history most Lebanese refer to as having the greatest implications for modern life, is that of the 20th century.

Before war erupted in the 1970s, Beirut went by the moniker Paris of the Middle East. “With its French Mandate architecture, its world-class cuisine, its fashionable and liberated women, its multitude of churches on the Christian side of town, and its thousand-year-old ties to France, it fit the part” wrote Michael J. Totten for City-Journal Magazine in his piece “Can Beirut Be Paris Again?” But in 1975, a nasty civil war broke out that shattered both city and country. As Totten reported, more than 100,000 people were killed – when the population numbered less than 4 million. And “civil” was a misnomer. “The war sucked in powers from the Middle East and beyond—the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel, Iran, France, the Soviet Union, the United States—but no country inflicted more damage than Syria, ruled by the Assad family’s Arab Socialist Baath Party” Totten wrote.

When The War ended in 1990, as differentiated from a subsequent conflict between Israel and Shiite militant group Hezbollah in 2006, the country was in tatters. Bombs and bullets had decimated entire sections of Beirut as fighting split across the Green Line — the division between opposing religious groups. The Taif Agreement, negotiated in 1989, restructured the existing sectarian power-sharing scheme that favored Christians to divide governance equally between them and Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Knowing Lebanon’s history gives valuable context for new visitors. While Tuscany has a long, complex and even salacious past, the movie set magic of its landscape checks many of the sightseer’s boxes. They’d be forgiven for inquiring about the wine list rather than the power struggles between medieval era Guelphs and Ghibellines. But much of old Beirut and surrounding areas were destroyed, often rebuilt haphazardly or with an eye to luring monied Gulf Arabs with luxury consumerism. Heritage buildings continue to be demolished for high-rises; architectural footnotes erased. Thus, Lebanon requires a deeper look than surface level viewing.

Modern Life

Despite the pernicious tenacity of war, daily life in Beirut goes on, albeit on different planes. Consider the newly built Beirut Souks in downtown. The façade of this outdoor mall is meant to recall an old Middle Eastern market. But watching parents chase gleeful children next to women in platform stilettos walking tiny dogs in front of 5th Avenue shops, one can imagine being in any metropolis of the developed world. A few blocks away: Roman ruins abut the towering minarets and blue dome of Sunni Mosque Mohammad Al-Amin. Further afield, slums and refugee camps.

About a mile away, the Gemmayzeh zone attracts the young and outgoing, and is more down to earth than the sterility of wealthier, high-rise dotted districts. Rue Gouraud supplies vibrant street life rife with Parisian-style cafes, coffee bars, revisited Lebanese restaurants, and cocktail dens. Here, bits of former Ottoman and French-fashioned architecture remain, either reconstructed, reimagined, or in a state of florid Venetian-esque decay. Art galleries and book stores line unpaved streets with crumbling sidewalks, while electric cables strung like holiday lights, connect buildings.

It was deep on a Saturday night in Gemmayzeh that I understood Lebanese openness. A key metric of any city is the friendliness of strangers, and I met more on the streets of Beirut in a few hours than I have in New York City in a year. Walking along Gouraud revealed throngs of good-natured revelers spilled out into the night, the fragrance of apple-mint shisha clinging to the air. Striking up a conversation was easy. Most were curious about my presence in Beirut, pleased I knew of the city and wanted to visit. How other Americans perceived Lebanon was a question asked repeatedly in earnest. I replied truthfully: I was surprised by the torrent of positive interest in my trip; more than any destination I’d been to all year. And the most frequent comment was: “You’re going to love the food.”

Part 2: Contemporary Food and Wine Scene


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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.

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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

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

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.


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

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

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.


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.


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

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

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.


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

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
1 hardboiled egg, chopped
Two slices Serrano ham, chopped

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Filed under Italy, tuscany, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano