Tag Archives: chardonnay

Postcard: Domaine Serene Vineyards in Dundee Hills, Oregon

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View from the top of the tower at Domaine Serene in Dundee Hills, Oregon

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Mindful Drinking Will Make Your Wine Taste Better

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Over the last few years, the term “mindfulness” has steadily crept into mainstream American lingo, becoming an accepted secular pursuit rather than a “New Age” hippie philosophy ripped from the pages of Eastern religions (i.e., Buddhism). Articles outlining the benefits of mindfulness and techniques for observing it in daily life are published across a spectrum of media outlets, from the Wall Street Journal to the estimable HuffPo, which felt compelled to declare 2014 the year of the timeless concept of “mindful living.”

Mindfulness, at its core, is a simple idea: It means to be present, in the moment, intentionally and non-judgmentally. Tasting wine can be an exercise in mindfulness.

Wine professionals are trained to engage their senses, noting the details of color, smell, texture, and taste, blocking out distractions to do so, while putting aside evaluation and conclusion for afterwards (even if it is a mere minute or two later).

How often do you actually taste what you are drinking?

Perhaps you recently gulped down a glass with a friend while rehashing last weekend’s drama or fretting about a looming work deadline, without knowing whether the red wine the waiter dropped in front of you was the Côtes du Rhône. Or did you ask for Rioja?

Our brain runs like an endless chyron, constantly distracting; our thoughts filled with agonies and regrets of the past or worries about the future. If last week no longer exists and next year is still fiction, why do we avoid the present so frequently?

The constant barrage of technology and social media doesn’t help us focus either, while supplying us with new ways to manifest guilt.

The growing number of wine apps encouraging users to photograph, record, grade, and transmit each tasting experience, while earning “likes” and “followers,” makes it difficult to just sit and be quiet with the wine. Can the bottle be as dazzling as we claim if we ignore it while submitting to the compulsion to tweet, Instagram, and Facebook the details of our good fortune? And if it was dazzling, and we — gasp — didn’t take a photo and mark our impressions, are we lazy failures doomed to repeat a cycle of self-reproach?

Moving on to tasting techniques: If you want to be a more mindful drinker, but don’t (yet) trust your ability to analyze wine, consider how you might engage with a pet.

When I need to disconnect from the overload of the world, I break to pet my red Dobie. She’s usually curled up (adorably) and dozing on her bed nearby. I sit down on the floor, observe the warm chocolate color of her fur, and run my hand down her soft head, feeling her warmth, her life, and perhaps catching the scent of her breath (which, admittedly, has its bad days, but I’m not judging, remember?). I pet my dog mindfully, and doing so delivers a few minutes of calm and awareness of the moment.

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Apply this same technique to wine tasting; “pet” your wine, if you will, noting its qualities without worrying about your lack of training or whether the wine fits some subjective notion of good or bad.

Consider the color: Maybe it sparkles in the glass, and mirrors the deep golden hue of straw bales or the Burmese ruby your grandmother wore on her finger.

How does it smell? Is it dull and lifeless? Perhaps a funky Roquefort cheese or barn odor floats from the glass, or a lively fragrance of flowers and citrus inhabits the wine.

Taste it. Do strawberries, stewed with rhubarb and baked in a pie, spring to mind? What about leather, or smoke from a campfire? Lemons and lime? (Highly unlikely you’d detect all of these flavors at once, unless someone mixed white and red in a glass and cruelly gave it to you blind.)

How is the texture? Are the tannins astringent, like oversteeped tea, or silky and smooth? Does the wine linger in the mouth a few minutes, or vanish like a phantom?

The truth of the wine lies in these details.

While you needn’t judge the wine while tasting — we are being mindful, not awarding scores — you should evaluate the experience afterwards. Did you like it? Why did you buy it: because of the price or brand or grape? If you discover you don’t like it (which you may, when drilling down into the details), then why not try something else next time?

Paying attention to your wine, consuming it consciously, will also reward you with another benefit: awareness of your level of intoxication. It’s easy to get carried away with a second or third round of drinks or crack that second bottle, so savoring each sip keeps you focused on your intake.

Along with the rest of your 2015 resolutions (how are those going, by the way?), consider adding mindfulness when drinking your next glass of wine. You may find you love — or loathe — that Chardonnay more than you’re now unsure if you remember.

(For more information on mindfulness, and meditations that help you achieve it, start by looking into the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He launched a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program back in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He’s written lots of books on the topic that are easily downloadable onto Kindle for subway self-improvement sessions.)

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The 2014 Long Island Harvest Through the Lens of Macari Vineyards

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All photos by Carl Timpone

In case you missed my column Unscrewed, here’s a second chance to read about the 2014 Long Island harvest.

For the New York wine industry, nervous anticipation of fall isn’t about the return of fireside cocktails, knee-high leather boots, and felt fedora hats, or tacit permission to eat like a grizzly headed into hibernation. Autumn equals harvest, and depending on the quality of the growing season, which runs right up until the minute each cluster of plump berries is separated from its life-giving vine, that can be a joyous or heartbreaking occasion; a single, severe storm at or before picking can decimate a year’s worth of toil.

As the last grapes of the season were collected, I consulted the family and winemaker at New York’s Winery of the Year (awarded by the New York Food & Wine Classic), Macari Vineyards, for a report on the vintage and the future of Long Island’s 2014 wines. Prognosis: Expect deliciousness.

Winemaker Kelly Urbanik-Koch gave a resoundingly positive weather account: “We experienced a relatively cool and dry summer. We usually receive rain in September and October, and summer humidity is frequently an issue, but this year, humidity was mercifully lacking, resulting in little to no disease pressure in the vineyards.” Urbanik-Koch is one of few female winemakers in the region. She’s also young, at 34, making her a refreshing anomaly in the older, male-dominated Long Island wine industry.

The Macari family has owned and worked the 500-acre waterfront farm in the North Fork since 1963, although the winery wasn’t established until 1996. Joseph Macari Sr. planted the vineyards with his son Joe Macari Jr., fulfilling a lifelong dream that began in a Depression-era basement in Corona, Queens, where he made his first batch of wine.

A shining example of the term “family business,” Macari Vineyards is now run by three generations, including Joe Sr., now 87 years old, and each contributes to its success. Joe Jr. manages the vineyard and cellar teams, while his wife, Alexandra, oversees the tasting rooms and wine club and gives feedback on blending decisions. Their four children — Joe Macari (yep, a third Joe, and also a vineyard manager), Thomas Macari, Edward Macari, and Gabriella Macari — all keep the gears greased, especially during the intense, backbreaking hours required by harvest.

Gabriella, who oversees distribution and marketing, expects the 2014 wines to be elegant and expressive with intense and complex flavors due to a slow and steady ripening season. She said their biggest challenge of the year was being restricted in the amount of experimentation they normally do: “With such gorgeous fruit, we weren’t limited by nature, but rather time. All those healthy grapes kept us too busy pressing to think about anything else. It’s a good problem, but it made for a very laborious year.”

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Adding to the strenuous nature of vineyard work is the Macari philosophy of farming along biodynamic principles, a practice Joe Jr. incorporated long before the concept gained mainstream awareness. “We are by no means certified biodynamic and do not follow it rigidly, but we believe small implications have helped our vines tremendously,” says Gabriella. The family tends a herd of cattle that contributes manure to the composting program. They also keep bees and sell a small amount of honey to local restaurants, the remainder given as gifts to fortunate friends.

Continuing unintentionally ahead of the trend curve, the Macaris produce a low-alcohol Chardonnay they release right after harvest called Early Wine; it sells out quickly every year. (Low-alcohol wines have been a growing category around the country.)

However, it’s Long Island’s classic grape, Cabernet Franc (if there is a designated “classic” yet), that has the family excited about the new vintage.

When young, Cab Franc expresses North Fork terroir with savory herbaceous notes mixed with bright red fruits and refreshing acidity. With age, olive and dried herb notes can develop, while high-quality wines retain balance and acidity, have length, and develop silky tannins, like the Macari 1997.

“We opened our ’97 Cab Franc for a tasting last March at Astor Center and it blew me away,” says Gabriella. “The wine could have held on a couple more years. It’s proof that our wines have world-class longevity, and it is motivation for my family to keep producing the grape as a single varietal.”

For those eager to sample the vintage without waiting for the 2014 Cab Franc, not likely available until late 2017, Macari just released the Early Wine last week. The wine can be purchased in one of its two tasting rooms or on its website.

Fortunately for most Long Island vintners and their fans, 2014 was an excellent vintage. If the best wines age as well as the 1997, made in an average year, then expect remarkable results.

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Felton Road, Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand

FlyingwithBlairSetting a new definition for the term “flying winemaker”, Blair Walter is both renowned winemaker of Felton Road and local pilot. I had the pleasure of spending heaps (to use a Kiwi term) of time with this charming fellow during the Central Otago Pinot Fest, at the winery, and up in the air, soaring above the Milford Sound of South Island. Fortunately, the day was clear and still so we didn’t have to test his poor weather flight skills.

Blair has been the winemaker for Felton Road–founded in 1991–since 1996. He took some time before my arrival in New Zealand to answer questions about his winemaking, as well as reveal he was formerly a guitarist in a rock’n’roll band, the “Shagnasty & the Texan Medium Fries”. Fortunately, after visiting in person, I can say that the wines are phenomenally better than the name of that band.

Signature Wines and Prices:

  • Pinot Noir ($40-$75 USD)
  • Chardonnay $30-$40)
  • Riesling $26 USD)

About the Vineyard (from the site):

Considerable research by Stewart Elms (hence the Elm tree logo) in 1991 identified the north facing slopes at the end of Felton Road, Bannockburn as being one of the warmest and most ideal sites in Central Otago for the growing and production of premium wine. Heat summation data and soil maps of the area, developed as a result of the construction of the Clyde dam, were helpful in this decision. The three different soils identified are free draining with low fertility characteristics, and combined with the unique climate, are ideal for the production of premium quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Our vineyards are managed by our own viticulturist, Gareth King, and his team of dedicated staff. Meticulous summer management of a single vertical shoot positioned (VSP) canopy ensures even and early fruit maturity. Shoot thinning, shoot positioning, leaf plucking and bunch thinning are all carried out by hand as required to ensure optimum quality fruit. We have inter-row planting of various different cover crops in order to assist in controlling vine vigour, improve soil health and general biodiversity.

What philosophy guides your winemaking? Our aim is to make vineyard-expressive wines of clarity, finesse, and precision; farm as sensitively as possible (Biodynamic certified on all 4 properties) and make the wines as hands-off as possible.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? We have low rainfall and low humidity; pair that with our warm days, and cool nights, plus high sunshine hours, and we’ve got very low disease risk. We get bright acidity from the cool nights that translates into vibrant wines; schist soils contribute to the mineral infused and driven wines.

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What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The ever increasing quality from ageing vines and minds!

How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? The rest of the world regards NZ Pinot Noir as the finest Pinot Noirs outside of Burgundy. In America, it is different because you have your own very large domestic production of fine Pinot Noir.

What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Burgundy. Least? I love all wine regions that are making vineyard and regionally expressive wines (there will be some that don’t focus on this but I am not about to try and name them!).

Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Riesling is a bit of a challenge for some – incredibly interesting and versatile as a food wine because of the possibility in our cool climate to make very balanced and poised wines of varying sweetness levels.

What do you drink at home when relaxing? White or Red Burgundy.

How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Sailing, flying, mountain biking, and tramping (hiking).

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Vietnam.

Give one surprising fact about yourself. Was guitarist in a rock’n’roll band called “Shagnasty & the Texan Medium Fries!”

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Carl van der Merwe, Winemaker for De Morgenzon Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa

De Morgenzon Carl2

Today marks the culmination of a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life as he was buried in his childhood village of Qunu, South Africa. Continuing my conversations with South African winemakers, Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon takes a few minutes to share his thoughts on Mandela, the state of S.A.’s wine industry, and why a tainted wine from a faulty cork is the worst part about being a winemaker.

A brief background on DeMorgezon Wines

“Our slopes rise from about 200m to nearly 400m above sea level and our vistas embrace Cape Town, Table Mountain…with the ocean as a backdrop. While we could call ourselves ‘mountain vineyards’ we prefer to be known as ‘garden vineyards’. In Spring specially, chosen wildflowers flourish between our vines. We have no doubt that a biodiverse and ecologically sensitive environment produces infinitely better grapes and the beauty of our gardens is captured in every bottle of our wine.  We pipe Baroque music through our vineyards 24 x 7 and believe that the power of music positively influences the ripening process. At DeMorgenzon, we are totally committed to excellence and focus on crafting wines which express our unique terroir and fruit within a classic structure – we believe that the finest South African wines combine New World-style fruit with Old World-style elegance.”

Signature Wines:

  • DMZ Rosé ($11.99 SRP),
  • DMZ Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99)
  • DMZ Chardonnay ($17.99), DMZ Syrah ($17.99)
  • De Morgenzon Chenin Blanc ($34.99)

Where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born in Cape Town and have stayed near the mountains and the sea ever since. I am currently living in the greatest wine producing region in Africa, namely Stellenbosch!

How did you get into the wine business?

Before deciding on a career, I did an in-depth analysis of what I wanted and needed in a job to best express my values and interests. I narrowed it down to natural sciences in an agricultural field and being a lover of the outdoors, figured that working in the winelands, which tend to occupy some of the most beautiful spots on earth, was the best option. I planned my course of study and have spent a lot of time travelling around the world to various wine regions in search of inspiration and perspective.

The world witnessed Nelson Mandela’s passing and burial this week. Do you feel he made a contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the wine industry?

Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and subsequent formation of a transitional government, aided the dropping of sanctions that strangled not only South Africa’s ability to trade internationally, but also South African wine producer’s desire and ability to be exposed to an international wine market. Since 1993, a greater percentage of winemakers have traveled abroad and returned with a keen sense of South Africa’s unique selling points, and the importance to produce wines that compete on an international level. Winemakers, although proudly South African, benchmark their wines and abilities against the best in the world and have brought a new sense of focus to the industry. Winery owners desire to make “world class” wines has assisted in raising the quality bar with the necessary investment in facilities and vineyards.

What is the mood around the country right now?

South Africans are a resilient, hopeful and strong people. We have weathered the storms of migratory, political, social and environmental change. At times we have been on a tipping point but hope, forgiveness and a genuine desire to “make it work” is evident amongst the vast majority of us. We are all saddened at the loss of Mandela, but his legacy surpasses his physical presence.

What is most and least rewarding about being a winemaker?

Most rewarding are probably the people who all share a common interest in good food and good company–not to mention good wine! Least rewarding and bottom of the list are great bottles of wine tainted by faulty corks.

What are the challenges of making wine in your region?

The Cape can get very hot and windy in summer and this can result in stressed vineyards and rushed picking dates. To achieve a balance of freshness and ripeness one needs to be very in tune with your vineyards and able to make rapid picking decisions.

What excites you most about South African wine right now?

Freedom. We are not bound by rigorous industry control and there is so much opportunity to innovate and be recognized.

What do you drink when relaxing at home?

A glass of cold South African Chenin Blanc is always a treat, otherwise, I have a small cellar of international wine and I really enjoy drinking great wines from around the world.

If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be?

In Piedmont, Italy during truffle season!

Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected?

Nebbiolo from Barolo or Barbaresco.

What types of food do you enjoy?

I love cooking with fresh ingredients, especially fresh sea food. Fresh mussels cooked in white wine cream and herbs with fresh crusty bread is one of my favorites. Fresh Cape Crayfish, lightly boiled and finished on the barbecue is also a great treat.

What music do you listen to?

I often have to listen to my children’s CD’s for as long as I can handle; otherwise, my personal choice is varied and suited to my mood. Anything from classical to jazz and hard rock.

Winery dog?

Yes–Dottie and Jane, Jack Russell terriers.

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The Lightness of Being Australian Chardonnay

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting

Aussie Chardonnay Tasting @ Corkbuzz

Today’s Topic: Chardonnay from Australia. Writing that took a lot of nerve, so please refrain from grumbling and hear me out. I probably elicited a cask’s worth of groans over my Shiraz post last week; maybe you are wondering how I can now press you to read about Chardonnay. Where are the Hungarian whites? The Romanian Pinots? Even the Australian Pinots! I will be getting to those too, promise.

Remember, the point of this blog is to not just uncover regions and wines you’ve never met, but to revisit categories whose cobwebs deserve to be dusted off. Carrie gave Mr. Big a second chance and they ended up married–yes, I just referenced Sex and the City and it felt icky, but I’m trying to make a point here. Should Australian Chardonnay get another shot at your affection?

As I mentioned in my Shiraz piece, I am in an ongoing Wines of Australia immersion class during which we explore different regions/styles/varieties in each session. This week we sampled Chardonnay.

I admit to never, ever, ever, never reaching for a bottle of Chardonnay, ever. Not when sitting down to dinner at home (truth be told, we eat sitting on the couch, but still) nor for a post-work aperitif with the ladies; not ever at a wine bar with a long list of white Burgundies (value problem in this case) nor when a restaurant only offers a choice of either Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. Well, maybe then, but if that’s the extent of their wine program, I should probably be ordering a cocktail. Simply. Never. Do. I. Drink. Chardonnay.

Now that you know how low Chardonnay ranks on my personal beverage totem pole, here are 5 Australian Chardonnays that I would not only drink if I had to, but would twist open on my couch, sacred place that it is, because I want to. This demonstrates an overarching principle that I too must be reminded of: We have one shot at this life; always keep an open mind.

We tasted through two flights of wines populated with pretty examples of how refreshingly different Chardonnay can be. In fact, one reason Chardonnay is so loved by growers and winemakers is for its adaptability and malleability: Stainless steel; lightly oaked; Mediterranean sun; cool climate. Each unique set of circumstances and choices provides a distinct rendition on a general theme.

I prefer a lightness and brightness in my white wines; imagine the weight of a balloon drifting into the sky and the brilliance of a sunlit diamond. Many of the Australian Chardonnays showed those qualities and were fresh, perfumed, and perhaps most important to consumers, competitively priced. Gone were the heavily oaked, dull palates of many earlier forms of Aussie Chardonnay.

Australia does some other varieties extremely well, in ways that no one else can touch: Inimitable Clare and Eden Valley Riesling, and Hunter Valley Semillon, for example. So, I can’t agree I believe the way to America’s heart should be through Chardonnay, but at least these wines prove they have a place on the wine drinker’s table—or couch.

I have included some tasting notes with each wine. Truth be told, the personalities of each wine evolved so much, that each note is merely a snapshot of a moment in a glass.

  1. Wirra Wirra Scrubby Rise Unoaked Chardonnay 2011, Mclaren Vale, SA, $12.00: Refreshing, good value offering mandarin-orange aromatics and peaches and pear on the palate.
  2. West Cape Howe Chardonnay 2011, Western Australia $17.99: Bright and fresh with kiwi, guava and lemony-citrus notes busting out of the glass.
  3. Stonier Chardonnay 2007, Mornington Peninsula, VIC $20.00: Elegant and lively showing ripe lemon and stone fruit laced with minerality. Interesting savory note on finish.
  4. Heggies Chardonnay 2011, Eden Valley, SA $20.00: Jasmine and orange-blossom evolve into ripe white fruits and citrus with an herbal edge. Well-balanced and priced.
  5. Giant Steps Sexton Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Yarra Valley, VIC, $35.00: Obvious but lithely applied oak-influence, balanced with bright apple and notes of garden herbs. Delicious.

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