Tag Archives: Wine

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.

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 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
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.)


Filed under Germany

Does a Rum Brand Ambassador Have the Best Job in the World?


Cristóbal Srokowski mixing a maracuya daiquiri in Panama City.

Today in the Village Voice, I explore the rise of Panamanian rum. In tandem, I interviewed the brand ambassador of Ron Abuelo, Cristóbal Srokowski, whom I met over a couple of ginger and passion fruit daiquiris in burgeoning Panama City.

Brand ambassadors, whether for spirits or wine, lead seemingly glamorous lives. They mingle with celebrities, host events, give seminars on booze, and regularly travel the world meeting new people. It would seem life is a full-time, professional party for these lucky individuals.

Cristóbal Srokowski hails from Spain where he was “discovered” by the Ron Abuelo team while bartending in Barcelona. He now serves as the brand’s global ambassador. Does he think he has the best job in the world? His answer: most of the time.

How did you get the gig with Ron Abuelo?

Four years ago, I found Ron Abuelo in one of the biggest beverage fairs in Barcelona. After tasting it, I immediately acquired it for my venue, Harry’s Bar Barcelona. A few days later, a Latin American gentleman appeared in the bar asking to drink rum. I offered him a “new” one that I just discovered: Ron Abuelo from Panama. After mixing him a few daiquiris with Ron Abuelo 7 and passion fruit, the guy asked if I would like to collaborate with Varela Hermanos (parent company of Ron Abuelo) as the bartender for some events. It turns out, he was Alexis Guerrero, European area manager of Ron Abuelo! Next, I met the Abuelo export director who decided to give me a chance as the brand ambassador. One month after signing the contract, I was traveling for my first time to China!

Is serving as a brand ambassador the best job in the world?

Being a brand ambassador is amazing, I cannot complain but…everything has a price in life. Traveling all the time and changing your home country every six months, gets tiring. It is not an easy job; you have to be the “Mr. Happy” and “Mr. Perfect” all the time. Remember: you’re the face of the brand so you cannot afford mistakes. But if you’re open-minded and hungry for adventure and love meeting new people, being a brand ambassador is a dream job.

What are your responsibilities?

For me, there are generally five components to ambassadorship:

  • Public relations and marketing, social media developing, brand building ideas, and brand development;
  • Sales;
  • Mixology: Developing drink recipes and rum applications in gastronomy;
  • Events creation and organization; and
  • Education: preparing masterclasses for consumers, sales teams, bartenders, and wholesalers.

On top of this, I must always have a good attitude and put forth a positive image, be willing to meet different people, listen to everyone, and be able to adapt to any kind of situation.

What are the drawbacks to the job?

Being far from my beloved Barcelona and my friends, and of course changing time zones and countries four times every month.

What do you like about Ron Abuelo?

This question can be answered in one word or thousands! In short, I would say that the most important part of my product and my company is that we are a family business. My boss, Luis J. Varela, has a certain charisma; he absorbs you and makes you feel part of the family. He falls between a scientist and a magician in the way he assesses the rum blends. And the rum itself has a unique profile and taste. All of the expressions have their own character and beautiful notes!



Clearly ambassadorship has its perks and pitfalls, and it’s probably not the career choice for someone who is married or has children. To read more about the rums and story of Ron Abuelo, visit the Village Voice.

Below, Srokowski shares two of his favorite Ron Abuelo recipes, including the cocktail that earned him the job.

San Isidro (long drink)

1 ½ oz Abuelo 7

1 oz passion fruit liquer (Giffard brand, if available)

¾ oz lime juice

Directions: Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker, shake. Top with Fever Tree ginger beer. Garnish with mint sprig and fresh ginger.

Francis Drake

2 oz Ron Abuelo 7 years

1 oz Passion fruit juice

4/5 oz Cinnamon syrup (Giffard brand, if available)

Dash of curry powder

Directions: Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker, shake. Pour into martini glass and garnish with half a passion fruit of strawberry.

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Filed under ron abuelo, rum

Five Tips on Finding Value Wines in Bordeaux

Château Beychevelle

Sun setting on Château Beychevelle in Saint-Julien.

New year, new you, right? How about new drinking goals instead, like finding ways to experience the fabled Bordeaux that sommeliers like to brag ignited their passion for wine — but without going broke. Left Bank or Right Bank, Pauillac or Pomerol, the finest bottles from the chateaux of these vaunted lands, at hundreds of dollars, occupy an aspirational category few can afford to indulge in regularly, if ever. Unfortunately, the cheaper wines miss more often than they hit since quality varies wildly by vintage and producer. Unlike the reliability of a $15 Chilean chardonnay, one needs guidance when shopping for Bordeaux.

Looking for tips on finding value (as defined by QPR, or quality-to-price ratio), I turned to Hortense Bernard. Bernard is the general manager of Millesima USA (1355 2nd Avenue; 212-639-9463), the American arm of France’s leading online wine retailer. Bernard knows a thing or two about wine, and not only because she grew up tasting it as a bébé. Representing the fourth generation of a venerable Bordeaux family, Bernard moved to NYC in 2011 to lead the company’s U.S. operations. Millesima USA offers an impressive selection of fine and rare wines from France, Italy, and the New World, both online and in the brick-and-mortar store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Bernard shared the following five tips, and does the homework for you by recommending wines she carries in each category. If you commit these to memory, however, you’ll be drinking better Bordeaux for a dime no matter where you are (well, more like a quarter).
(For an even deeper look at the region, check out the Bordeaux wine council’s website, which provides info on grapes, appellations, and deciphering a label).

Smaller Vintages: Smaller, according to Bernard, does not reference the actual size or quantity of production, but rather denotes a “classic” Bordeaux vintage that is perfect for drinking but did not make it to the investment market. These wines are ready to consume earlier, are less expensive, and easier to approach and understand by novices than the greatest vintages. Weather is a key factor in determining the characterization of the harvest, but winemakers also have a major impact. Bernard offers the 2002 vintage as an example: it did not get a lot of attention when it was released; the American market ignored it. However, she says 2002 is drinking “amazingly” right now. She adds that for some estates, the 2002 shows the typical aromas of mature Bordeaux without having to find (and pay for) a 20 to 30-year-old bottle. Bernard emphasizes that the wines won’t have the depth and complexity of long-lived vintages, but drinking them will help neophytes familiarize themselves with the pleasures of aged examples.

Chateau Haut-Batailley, Pauillac, Grand Cru Classé, 2006, $51.99
Château Grand Corbin-Despagne, Saint-Emilion, Grand Cru Classé, 2004, $37.99

Fifth Growth: The 1855 classification in Bordeaux is one of the most famous aspects of the region’s wine industry. All collectors want classified wines, and the top Grand Cru Classés like Château Margaux or Château Latour have prices commensurate with their prestige and demand. The historic ranking (commissioned by Napoleon III for a world’s fair of sorts) of Sauternes and top cabernet-dominant Left Bank estates into five classes, raises some contemporary issues like the exclusion of exemplary estates and appellations (for example, everything on the merlot-heavy Right Bank), and the fluctuation in quality by several ranked chateaux. Regardless, Bernard advises that it’s easier to learn about this very expensive category by starting with the fifth growths because “most of them are affordable and real treasures.” She offers Chateau Batailley in Pauillac as a fifth growth that consistently receives Parker scores ranging from 88 to 94.

Chateau Batailley, Pauillac, 2012, $43.

Cru Bourgeois: “They are the best-kept secret and most misunderstood of Bordeaux wines,” says Bernard, explaining “the Cru Bourgeois classification is a list of wines from the Médoc that were not included in the Classification of 1855, but are still of high quality and represent great and approachable wines that typically retail for under $40 per bottle.” The wines, she says, are all about fruit, perfect for everyday consumption. Cru Bourgeois gives drinkers the opportunity to experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, relatively (a key word) inexpensively. For example, one can try the highly-regarded 2009 vintage for $25 with Chateau Peyrabon, or a famed Bernard Magrez property (he is the sole owner of four Grand Cru Classé estates) with the 2010 Grand-Chênes for $35.

Chateau Peyrabon, Haut-Médoc, 2009, $25
Bernard Magrez Chateau Les Grand Chenes, Médoc, 2010, $35


Inside Millesima’s NYC store.

Second Labels: Bernard says that one of the best ways to experience great Bordeaux without spending too much money (again, relative), are second labels. Drinkers can buy wines from top estates, top vintages, and top winemakers, at a fraction of the price. The concept of “second labels”’ came into being in the 18th century when winemakers were deciding what grapes to use for their first bottling. Instead of disposing of the leftover fruit or selling it in bulk, producers bottled a second wine, derived from the same terroir and winemaker. The grapes were not damaged; they simply did not make the flagship cut. Second labels used to be reserved for the family, but they are now a strong segment of the market. Croix de Beaucaillou is a good example of a second label. The first label, Ducru Beaucaillou, a Saint-Julien second growth, on average retails for over $200 per bottle and is consistently a top-selling and highly rated wine year after year.

Croix de Beaucaillou, Saint-Julien, 2008, $42. 
Lacoste Borie, (the second label of Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste, a fifth growth), Pauillac, 2004, $34.99.

Lesser-known Appellations: Bernard suggests looking for quality-minded estates in lesser-known appellations such as Moulis, or any satellite of Saint-Emilion, Barsac, Médoc, etc. Generally, those areas do not have the same reputation as the best-known appellations, since they lack classified estates, but they still have great terroir. Treasures can be found, but hunters should engage a Bordeaux connoisseur to help discover them as most estates will not have scores.

Chateau Beaulieu Comtes de Tastes, Bordeaux Superieur, $17


Filed under Bordeaux, France

Wine is Too Cheap, and Other Lessons from a South African Harvest (Part 2)

This story is continued from “Wine is too cheap: Working Harvest in South Africa (Part 1)


Cradling Riesling. Paul Cluver makes far too little of this wonderful wine.

As a tasting exercise during meals, Burger pulled two bottles of wine for me and the assistant winemaker Drew to sample blind and guess the grapes and origin. We could ask four strategic questions to narrow down the answer. Swirling and sniffing, we discussed the attributes in each glass. “This wine has the aromatics of a Sauvignon Blanc,” I’d comment, and we’d ponder whether it included Sémillon as a blend. The cellar hands, peculiarly, had little interest in tasting wine with us, despite spending all day in the pursuit its production. Only one team member extended his glass for a sample, although he contemplated the wine quietly at the other end of the table. The rest preferred to drink hard cider (a new Cluver product using their orchard apples.)


The inside of the Cluver cellar.

In my mind, I could ascribe reasons for the local black employees’ lack of interest: they perceived wine as a white person drink or possibly it seemed complicated or expensive or maybe they felt intimidated to talk about it around their white, educated employers. Maybe they didn’t like the taste, or maybe working at a winery was as much a job to them as picking apples or working in a factory; a job they desperately needed in a country with 25 percent unemployment. Too desperate to worry whether the Pinot showed red or black cherry fruit. Whatever the impetus, their disinterest carried a tinge of sadness that seemed to allude to a larger socioeconomic dynamic within the country.


Part of the cellar crew.

When I first arrived at the farm, I asked Burger if any other interns would be joining us. “A few months ago I had two German wine students emailing me about flying down” he said. “However, this season I decided to give the work to the local men who needed the position – and pay – more than a foreign intern student [interns are unpaid].” His decision demonstrated a smart and solicitous attitude towards the welfare of his community.

Speaking to some of the cellar staff over punch downs or mopping, they seemed happy for the work they had. But few believed moving up in the wine industry – beyond a cellar rat role – would ever be possible. Did they want for enterprise, or believe in the existence of an employment ceiling, knowing better than I with my American optimism, that black South Africans just don’t get assistant winemaker jobs? (It’s important to note that most winemaking positions require viticulture and oenology degrees, and have become scarce even for those holding one, due to increased competition. Of course, aspiring winemakers need money to attend school in the first place.) Clearly these are complicated questions with roots deeper than my time in South Africa afforded me to dig.

According to Burger, programs to provide training and certification to cellar staff interested in pursuing long-term employment in the industry are growing. Also, the Cape Winemakers Guild, of which Burger is chairman, instituted a protégé program to help young students with demonstrated aptitude, finish school and gain winemaking experience through a three-year paid internship at Guild member wineries. It seems there is progress afoot.


Most gals sorted and cleaned, but she ran the forklift.

For two weeks, I aided a tight knit team of people in the process of moving grapes from vine to barrel (obviously I wasn’t there long enough to see any wine through to bottling). Ascending and descending ladders; lifting, bending, squatting, and standing all day on one’s feet. Winemaking isn’t for out-of-shape acrophobes afraid of injury and long hours. And, frankly, it is still a male-dominated industry, from the head winemaker, down to the cellar hands (at the majority of wineries I’ve visited around the world, not just in South Africa). It’s not that women can’t do the physical labor (yes we can, dammit), but it could be a limiting factor for some women when considering winemaking versus wine marketing, as a career path.

The experience also cemented my belief that consumers demand too much wine for too little money. The number of hands (and risks) involved in turning healthy grapes into a characterful, lively drink, let alone one with a soul that speaks of a singular time and place, are numerous.

Vines only bear usable grapes several years after planting. Pruning, pests, disease, weather, and now a changing climate: all these variables demand management and determine the quality of the fruit. Add training in proper picking and sorting technique, ensuring healthy ferments, keeping the power on so your temperature controlled tank stays cool. There are many critical points in the process where mistakes (not catching bacterial spoilage in the wine), accidents (falling into a tank and dying), and natural catastrophes (birds wiping out a vineyard), can lead to long-term consequences. Producers only get one vintage a year from which to earn an income.

Winemaking IS washing.

Winemaking is washing.

And what about the farm workers: the cogs in the wheel of the wine industry? Minimum wage for agricultural labor in South Africa is 130 rand a day (about $10 U.S. dollars). Many employees live on the farms of their employers; those that don’t, and can’t afford cars (most), are transported by trucks en masse from their villages to work and then home again at night. The Cluvers commendably provide education and health care for employees and their children, but these basic securities aren’t accessible to many others around the country. (Not to single out South Africa, the U.S. has a troubling reliance on cheap Mexican and Central American labor.)


Fermentation cap on an ambient yeast Chardonnay.

The wine business is fraught with fragility, tenuously held together by people who share a common devotion to its cause, not big salaries and handsome margins. But that doesn’t justify forcing producers to price wine arbitrarily at $11.99 because consumers have decided that’s all they want to pay or because they perceive, to use South Africa as an example, the wines to be cheap because they historically were. Government and our three-tier distribution system all take big bites out of that figure, too. Writers that argue solely in favor of drinking cheap wine do an injustice to the industry at large by perpetuating the notion that wine should be inexpensive and accessible to all at all times, while failing to acknowledge that often the only way to achieve low price points is at the expense of someone else’s livelihood, or quality, or worse, both.

Shouldn’t the producer turn some profit to compensate for their risk and investment in the business? Shouldn’t winemakers afford to pay off education loans and save for their future? Shouldn’t a laborer earn a living wage to buy a $20 dollar bus ticket to see a sister in Johannesburg, the equivalent of two bottles of weeknight Merlot from the supermarket?

Before my sojourn to South Africa, I admired winemakers for their labor of love, but mostly as a notion, an ideal. After spending two weeks with one – especially one making wines of purity and finesse (now that I’ve tasted Burger’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), while balancing the well-being of his team and minding the pesky bottom line – I’ve found that ideal chiefly congruent with reality. While I’m not sure I want to follow in his footsteps permanently back up that ladder, I might work another harvest; after all, in their line of work, I’m cheap labor.


Drew, Andries, Me, and Dr. Cluver

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Filed under Harvest, Harvest Paul Cluver

Wine is Too Cheap, and Other Lessons from a South African Harvest (Part 1)

Looking at its narrow frame and spindly rungs, lashed to the top of a seemingly skyscraper-high steel tank by a single, knotted rope, I was briefly prompted into panic. But winemaker Andries Burger’s comment echoed in my head: “the two French girls we had last season did everything the men did. They carried buckets up those ladders.” With my right leg trembling, I fought the instinct to remain grounded and clambered to the top, balancing the metal handle of my plastic container of nitrogen addition (to keep yeast happy and functioning), awkwardly in the crook of my elbow.  It would be a small, short-lived victory. By the end of the day, ladders posed no more challenge than climbing into a car. I had a new problem: how to punch down Pinot Noir grapes without falling into the tank (and suffocating from CO2).Winemaking is a physically demanding job. Particularly during harvest when hours are long and grapes are waiting; days can start as early as five in the morning and continue well past the last rays of light for months. As a writer on the topic, I felt understanding the finer details of the process, set within the broader framework of the wine industry as I already knew it, would make me a better, more insightful journalist, and possibly more sympathetic to the challenges and choices winemakers face.

Riesling grapes waiting to be sorted.

To sample the experience, I elected to join Paul Cluver in Elgin, South Africa for an unpaid, two-week internship during the recent 2015 vintage. My participation was part of a larger initiative aimed at encouraging women to work in the wine industry, the brainchild of Kathy Jordan of Jordan Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
The “women in wine” mentoring program elicited applications both from around the world and locally, in conjunction with the support of Jancis Robinson (the world’s most notable woman wine journalist), to join harvest with a member winery of PIWOSA (Premium Independent Wineries of South Africa, a collection of likeminded producers pooling their marketing dollars and power.) Applicants needed to hold either a winemaking degree or the WSET Diploma. I carry the latter.My résumé was selected by a winery nestled in the cool-climate Elgin Valley. Burger, the longtime winemaker, earned a reputation for producing elegant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with one of the finest sought after Rieslings in the country. Not being available in the New York market, I banked on the Cluver reputation by flying to the southern hemisphere to work at a winery without having first tasted its wines.

Tall and burly with vivid blue eyes, I figured Burger for the winemaker as I exited Cape Town airport. We drove off in his bucky (South African for truck) and 45-minutes later arrived for lunch at the local Elgin farm stall/bakery/pie shop Peregrine. Eager to jump into the rhythm of the country’s meat-hearty diet, I opted for a taste of the native game and ordered springbok pie (antelope-gazelle, ubiquitous around southwestern Africa).


Zebras and an ostrich sharing a feeding bowl in the sanctuary. Likely a tenuous friendship.

My accommodations (like many of the winery employees, as well as the entire Cluver clan) sat two kilometers deep into the family farm, a sprawling property of apple and pear orchards, and vineyards, defined partially by mountain borders. The Cluvers carved out space for a wildlife sanctuary (home to two zebras and two ostriches, comically fed from jumbo bowls) and built a challenging mountain biking course to tempt ripped athletes in colorful Lycra from around the world. A natural amphitheater set within towering ghost gum trees drew a large domestic audience for monthly summer concerts.

I was assigned a modest cottage, an old laborer’s dwelling that sat at the base of several vineyards (the same Pinot grapes I’d be fighting with later in the week). A rondavel formed the attached bedroom. It had a conical thatched roof like those that capped traditional dwellings in the bush or luxury safari properties mimicking the experience for well-heeled tourists. My temporary home fell midway on the spectrum between the two (I had hot, running water, but lacked a dedicated gin and tonic butler.)

That first night, I collapsed on the bed; I hadn’t lain down in nearly thirty hours since departing New York. Peering into the shadows of the cone-shaped ceiling, I wondered if I might find a bird (or a bat) nesting in its cavity. Outside, the wind surged and retreated, beating at the hut’s walls like the pounding of ocean surf against an intruding rock. At that point, the reality of my location finally switched from dream state to “on.” I was alone, in the dark, on a wine farm, in Africa. Mercifully, sunlight washes clean the dramas of the nocturnal mind and I awoke fresh for the start of my first day.

Mornings at the winery started just past seven. One facet of the harvest experience I would escape was grape picking. Hand harvesting of bunches occurred in the chilled air of night. Local workers were trucked out to designated rows at ten o’clock P.M. where they snipped with shears and headlamps until dawn.  It looked difficult; exhausting. But the grapes, ranging from Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, to Pinot Noir, remained cool, plump, and taut for pressing the following morning, while the workers avoided the grueling daytime heat.


The ladies found me hilarious for a number of unfavorable reasons.

The days took on a fairly predictable, labor-intensive routine. After the dawn delivery of fruit (the pickers would head home to snooze until dusk), grapes were hand-sorted to pull out rotten, infected, shriveled, or generally defective specimens. Pictures posted near the table reminded workers what flaws to identify. The female team, composed of permanent and seasonal employees, always sorted. Never the men, who made up the core team of cellar workers. The ladies chatted and laughed about the daily soap opera viewed the night before (so they said). Speaking Afrikaans, their dialogue was inscrutable, but they seemed amused at teaching me words so they could snicker at my atrocious pronunciation.

After the sorting table, grapes went through the de-stemmer (unless left intact for whole bunch pressing, e.g., Chardonnay). White grapes then went to the Vaslin press, and red grapes went into tanks to start cold maceration. The rest of the day was spent monitoring the progress of presses, cleaning, tasting and recording the development of ongoing fermentations, cleaning, punching down red grapes (the act of puncturing the thick “cap” of grape skins and solid matter that float to the top of a tank so as to integrate it back into the juice below), cleaning, making additions with buckets on ladders (like the aforementioned nitrogen), transferring wine between tanks, cleaning, and then washing down equipment, followed by cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning. I started to believe winemaking was 50 percent cleaning. (Another winemaker I met estimates it at 75 percent).

We spent lunch as a family, or at least I felt like I carried the Cluver surname given the warmth they extended and interest they took in my city life back in New York. Burger actually is family: he married Inge Cluver, the eldest daughter of Dr. Paul Cluver (the patriarch and a former neurosurgeon), who works in the office alongside her brother Paul (the managing director), Karin (production director), Inge (financial manager), and sister Liesl (marketing director). For a family that lives a short stroll away from each other, and works an even shorter distance apart, they maintained a remarkable harmony.


Night picking by headlamp to avoid the heat of the day, for both worker and grapes.

Repast discussions toggled between updates on the vineyards to updates on the orchards. The other hot topic: installation of a new solar panel system. South Africans have endured a year of “load shedding,” a polite term for the equivalent of rolling power blackouts scheduled (and sometimes not) around the country, instituted by the mismanaged, national power company to deal with an aging, overloaded grid. With many more years of blackouts projected, the Cluvers had the foresight (and wherewithal) to reduce their carbon footprint as much as to protect their investments.

The energy at dinner was different. The cellar staff and winemaking team gathered for evening family meal (exclusive of the women who cleaned and sorted). Offerings cooked or purchased by the daytime staff, were simple and hearty — sausages, chicken, hot dogs, and salami sandwiches. Most nights, dinner only provided a break in the work before the men returned to the floor to finish the last press and then, of course, clean.

Continued tomorrow in Part 2: The life of a cellar worker.


Harvest ink.


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Women & Wine: Three New Books Explore the Fermented Drink

Three New Wine Books by Women

Recently published in the Village Voice

The year of the sheep is turning out to be the year of the woman wine writer. Yes, talented females published plenty of books prior to 2015. For decades, in fact. But a recent spate of tomes illustrates how the ladies aren’t just catching up to their male counterparts, they are setting sea change momentum to outpace them.

Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World Through the Lens of a Wine Glass (Provisions Press)

Two weeks ago, Forbes.com contributor Cathy Huyghe toured New York wine shops and bookstores and met with the local chapter of the #WineLover group for the launch of her first full-length literary effort, Hungry for Wine. I confess to a slight bias toward her work; we first met on a week-long excursion through Turkish wine country exactly a year ago. I knew she planned to capture in her book an especially poignant exchange with a winery owner near the tip of Gallipoli, so I was anxious to read her illustration of that moment.

Wine books often take an educational tone primarily useful for the student or serious oenophile, making for dull reading. Wine is a pleasure studied by the senses; how could words compete? Yet Huyghe makes reading about the fermented drink rewarding. Her memoir/travelogue reveals twelve stories about twelve wines, and the people and places that produced them, to deliver heartfelt and humbling allegories for our lives.

From Chapter 1: How to Live Your Wine Life With No Regrets, the author urges us to reexamine how we live — do we oscillate between regretting the past and pinning redemption on the future? Huyghe describes an elderly man’s cellar. He filled it long ago with fine wine, kept under lock and key, while he awaited a special occasion. Sadly, no visit from a friend, nor celebration, ever met his standard of worthiness, and eventually, every wine expired past its prime. Life shouldn’t be left for enjoying later, a time that may never come, she reminds us.

In Chapter 8: How to Make Wine When Your Country Is at War, a Syrian winery continues with the business of grape growing and winemaking despite the civil conflict at its door. Huyghe explains how the war has complicated the simplest matters of production. For example, grapes must be sent over the Lebanese border on ice via taxi for testing and sampling. Yet the owners of Chateau Bargylus persist. They entrust day-to-day operations to trained locals, paying them above-market salaries to keep them there, hoping “to create a sense of cohesion and purpose.” People facing intractable hardships still go on with the business of living; war doesn’t define them; our difficulties don’t define us.

North of the Syrian border lies Turkey, another country undergoing a political battle, though of a different sort. Turkey has a nascent wine culture that draws from its ancient viticultural past. New wineries have sprung up to embrace indigenous grapes and create a compelling, modern wine industry. But the pro-Muslim, anti-alcohol government has banned alcohol marketing, which Huyghe’s seventh chapter, How to Market Wine When It’s Forbidden to Market Wine, addresses. In it, she touches on the themes of perseverance and defiance, raised by the founder and owner of Suvla Wines in Gallipoli. I’ll defer to the reader to judge the point of the story.

Despite the weight of several of her topics, the paperback is a fairly quick and easy read. Both neophytes and experts can derive value from it, whether by introduction to a new wine region or by inspiration to create a “special” occasion on a Tuesday night to open that long-awaited wine.

Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking (Rizzoli Ex Libris)

Earlier in the year, Lettie Teague, longtime wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal, published a collection of essays called Wine in Words: Notes for Better Drinking. Although her assemblage of thoughts on a range of topics, from wedding wine to New Zealand’s screw cap contribution, reads like sketches logged over years in a frayed notebook, they’ve been compiled into a butter-yellow, textured hardback (jacketless, thankfully) intended to endure.

The entries are organized into three parts: Fun to Know, Need to Know, and Who Knows. Since these categories reveal little about their content, the book is best sampled by whimsically flipping it open with a “feeling lucky” attitude, landing on a random page. Readers who seek more structure might find this frustrating.

By conventional standards, her essays aren’t necessarily useful; some, like the entry on wine and food pairing or another on grocery store wine, merely stimulate the reader to think about the topic independently, choosing whether or not to use the tools of her annotation. The thing about wine — the thing Teague gets — is that there isn’t always one “answer.” It’s not a mathematical problem to be solved. While she doesn’t hesitate to share her opinion (she really doesn’t like pinotage), she doesn’t force it on readers as the sole possible conclusion, like many bombastic (often male) wine industry vets.

So how should the reader enjoy her compendium of tidbits? Comparing the book to the drink itself, she suggests her essays be digested in sips, making Wine in Words the perfect bedside dresser companion to color one’s dreams with wine.

Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island (Cider Mill Press)

One of Long Island wine’s most vocal champions, Eileen M. Duffy, editor of Edible East End and Edible Long Island, has bestowed the region with a detailed depiction of its rise from the first optimistic plantings in the Seventies to the world-class region it has become, in her spring publication Behind the Bottle: The Rise of Wine on Long Island.

Rather than give a textbook chronicling of the region’s evolution, however, her sharp prose brings to life the complexities of this singular place through the stories of a dozen local players and their wines. Duffy tapped community relationships, fostered for over a decade, to score revealing interviews with growers and winemakers. She has broken the book into four parts: The Pioneers, The Craftsmen, A Vision of a Sustainable Island, and The Future of Long Island Wine, each section highlighting contributors to the overarching concept.

Duffy opens with Louisa Hargrave under The Pioneers. Hargrave, the original architect of the North Fork wine industry, converted the first potato field to Vitis vinifera in 1973. Her vineyards are long sold, but Hargrave had an indispensable hand in shaping the region, as do younger entrants like Kelly Urbanik Koch, a Napa-bred winemaker working with the organically- and biodynamically inclined Macari Vineyards. At just over forty, East End wine is still fairly young — but catching up to the world fast. Lovers of Long Island cab franc, or tales of American ingenuity, should read this book before Duffy is compelled to pen the update.

More New Releases From Women…

Madeline Puckett, founder of website Wine Folly, known for pairing digestible distillations of complex wine topics with colorful infographics, has just released her first book with partner Justin Hammack:Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine.

Finally, students of the ferment should update their libraries with two more contributions to the reference book genre: the revised edition of Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine and Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible.

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Postcard: Il Castello di Soave, Veneto


The famous castle in the wine region of Soave, “Il Castello di Soave,” was built in the 10th century to ward off invading Hungarians. Now, tourists stroll its walls during breaks from the town’s enotecas and wineries.

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Six Boutique Paso Robles Wineries Shipping DTC

Morning view of westside Paso Robles vineyards

All images by Lauren Mowery.

If you missed my article in the Village Voice

Halfway between L.A. and San Francisco, bucolic Paso Robles has exploded with wineries over the last twenty-five years. The region, long home to cowboys and farmers, grew from a handful of pioneering grape growers who arrived in the late Seventies to over 200 hopeful winemakers working in eleven recently delineated American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Although new plantings have stalled due to serious water woes, to locals and visitors, vineyard saturation is palpable, especially when driving along one troublingly expansive, deep-pocketed project. But to East Coast drinkers, the area’s wine boom has largely gone unnoticed.

Because most of Paso’s wineries are small to mid-size, their offerings rarely penetrate the competitive, Eurocentric NYC market. Only a few famous names stick in the minds of drinkers. For example, Justin, known for its red Bordeaux “Isosceles” blend, and Saxum Vineyards, the label that earned a Wine Spectator Wine of the Year award in 2010, put Paso on the map for wine collectors. Tablas Creek, a successful endeavor founded by the Perrin family from Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery Château de Beaucastel, helped drive the red and white Rhône blends that have come to characterize the area’s wines. Now, with the expanded reach of direct-to-consumer (DTC) shipping and growing interest from local retailers, New Yorkers can tap into Paso’s wealth of up-and-coming, boutique brands.

“Paso Robles is an interesting alternative to other California regions because there is a lot of experimentation going on with different grape varieties right now,” said Jennifer DiDomizio of downtown Manhattan retail shop California Wine Merchants. “Of course there are the Rhône varieties and the more traditional zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, but we are seeing more French, Italian, and Spanish grapes and blends coming out of Paso.” DiDomizio also noted Paso’s big improvements in quality, “particularly as producers match their micro-climates to suitable grape varieties. I’ve heard very high praise for these newer projects, and there is an excitement about the energy that a new generation of winemakers are bringing to the region.” California Wine Merchants currently sells a handful of Paso wines, and rotates its selection regularly, but DiDomizio said the percentage of Paso wines in the shop will continue to grow, reflecting the region’s dynamic growth.

From Italian grapes and organic vineyards to unique bottling methods, here are six exciting Paso wineries to watch, all now available at your doorstep.

Tucked into the back of Tin City, an industrial zone recently revitalized by a flurry of new tasting rooms, Giornata specializes in varietally correct Italian grapes stamped decorously by the California sun. A darling D.I.Y. clan, because of their practical-and-fun-and-good-for-the-environment ethos, owns the winery. Husband and wife Brian and Stephy Terrizzi, along with their small children, take a hands-on, sustainability-minded approach to every facet of the business, from the vineyard to the cellar. The family even uses a bicycle-powered grain mill (read: good for exhausting energetic kids) to experiment in making flour from locally grown whole grains.

Giornata produces the finest American iterations of nebbiolo and barbera I can recall tasting. “Joyful” is not an adjective I use often in a note, but the 2014 Barbera’s ($25) electric cherry fruit and silky texture elicited the descriptor. Even a simple white, the 2014 Il Campo Bianco ($20), provided delights in its floral and citrus echo of an Italian garden, and over-delivery on price.

Alta Colina
This small, family-run estate winery in West Paso focuses, like many, on Rhône grapes. Founder Bob Tillman departed the high-tech business world after 35 years to launch the label in 2003, and claims to embrace “the big, extracted style that naturally follows from this terroir.” I found the wines robust, but not pushy, which I attributed to their impeccable balance. For example, the 2011 Toasted Slope syrah ($45), featuring a splash of viognier à la Côte-Rôtie, pushed the boundaries of alcohol on the label, but not in the glass, where traces of booziness floated effortlessly away into a perfume of smoke and blackberries.

Tillman and his daughter Maggie, who runs their marketing program, believe in long-term stewardship of the land, and thus converted the entire mountain farm to organic. “It is a way of life, not just a business,” Tillman explained, adding that “this enterprise is intensely personal. We are constrained by only two things: The fruit must come from our vineyard, and we must be self-financed.” In addition to syrah, Alta Colina produces a viognier and grenache blanc for its whites, and a range of GSMs (grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah blends) and petite sirah.
While limited direct shipping is available, their NY distributor is Wine Source Group.

Field Recordings
Canned wine might not seem like the obvious choice for a dinner party, and perhaps it’s best left relegated to pool, park, and beach events where glass is prohibited, but the juice inside this innovative company’s packaging is worthy of a glass bottle.

The winery name, Field Recordings, came from analogizing the term used for audio recordings produced outside of a studio, and often of natural occurrences, to the thought process behind the vino — “the wine being the stories of people, places, and grapes, captured in a bottle,” explained founder Andrew Jones. With regard to using an aluminum conveyance, Jones said he was impressed with all the positives he discovered when researching the canning process. “It is extremely gentle on the product versus a bottling line, it is infinitely recyclable, it provides huge savings to the end consumer, and overall, it is the most convenient packaging around for enjoying wine,” he said. Not all of his offerings come with a pull tab (most don’t), but the FICTION blends, like the red made from zinfandel and a vintage dependent rotation of five to seven other varieties, do. FICTION white and a rosé are also available. Four 500 mL cans are $40.

The Kentucky Ranch Barn owned by Thacher Vineyards

Tired of working as a Silicon Valley cubicle drone, Michelle, along with her brewmaster and winemaker husband Sherman, sought to leave their urban lifestyle in Santa Cruz permanently. In 2006, they purchased an old horse ranch in the Adelaida area of Paso Robles, and opened a winery and tasting room by 2008. “We showed up and it was trial by fire,” said Sherman, “but we embraced it.” Despite the picturesque backdrop of dips and hills, complete with a historic barn emblazoned with “KR,” denoting “Kentucky Ranch,” the emblem of the former owners, Thacher buys most of their grapes. Their land isn’t as suitable for farming as it is for photographing. But the world of fine wine has proven repeatedly that solid grower contracts can be as good, if not better, than estate fruit.

Uniquely for the area, Thacher produces a medium-bodied, savory, tea- and spice-evocative 2012 mourvèdre ($45). Blended with a dollop of lively, strawberry-leather-scented grenache, it’s a nice break from the rich, fruity overtones of the region’s reds. The 2013 grenache blanc ($28), from La Vista Vineyard, also offers a refreshing take on this local white grape, with its bright salty-lime- and green-apple-soda-tinged flavors.

Ranchero Cellars
Ranchero Cellars is the tiny, personal label of Amy Jean Butler (only 650 cases a year), who is better known for making other people’s wine. Butler adheres closely to the wishes of her clients, but when it comes to her grapes, which she buys through longstanding contracts, she strives for an acid-driven, restrained style — a tough combination to find in Paso.

Butler learned to love acid, she says, working at California sparkling house Schramsberg, and her wines prove it. The 2014 grenache blanc “chrome” ($28) rips with zippy citrus fruit, and her 2013 La Vista Vineyard viognier ($30) portrays the leaner, more delicate side of the too often blowsy grape. But Butler’s real passion project is working with little-respected carignan, or, as she describes the grape, “the wild, brambly, and gnarly red beast.” Her vivid 2012 Carignan ($32) expresses crushed blackberry Pez and an herb crust akin to one you might find on a lamb roast. If the description sounds weird, the wine tastes delicious.
Purchase wines online or contact NY distributor Vine Collective

Clos Solène
Successful wine brands have compelling backstories, made more so when the tale incorporates true romance with a superb product. Such is the case for Clos Solène, a label born of two aspiring French winemakers, lovestruck Guillaume and Solène Fabre. Clos Solène began in 2007 with two barrels housed in a nearby winery; doubling in size each year, the pair now have their own tasting room in Tin City.

Their wines are unabashedly voluptuous, embracing the region’s propensity for naturally high alcohol without transforming the Rhône grape-based blends into diesel fuel (unlike a few of their peers). Flavors are intense, like the red-berry-concentrated 2013 La Petite Solène ($65), an SGM. While the wines sit at the top of the price pyramid for the region, they have received critical acclaim, resulting in regularly sold-out offerings. Production amounts are small, so if you love their wines, join the mailing list.

Afternoon view of vineyards on Paso’s east side


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Southeastern Europe Lures Wine Drinkers with Unique Grapes, Good Prices

Images by Lauren Mowery. Istanbul's Bosphorus at Dawn

Images by Lauren Mowery. Istanbul’s Bosphorus at Dawn

Looking to inject spice and exoticism into your staid wine-drinking routine? This June, head east. Pass Long Island, cross the Atlantic, skip over Spain, France, Italy…then stop. You’ve hit a cluster of emerging wine regions vying for the attention of sommeliers and tastemakers that are superseding Georgia as the new “It girl.” Start with gorgeous Croatia, a wine-rich culture blessed with a long Adriatic coastline, and continue east, curving around the Black Sea with Moldova, Bulgaria, and Turkey; each country offers indigenous grapes at affordable prices, allowing imbibers to visit far-flung locales, via wine, for less than $20.

Local experts weigh in on why these wines will intrigue you, and what bottles you can find on the market now.

Cliff Rames is a New York City sommelier certified by the Court of Master Sommeliers. He has devoted most of his free time to his labor of love, Croatian wine. He’s both founder of and brand ambassador for Wines of Croatia, and he has conducted masterclasses in NYC on behalf of the Association of Winemakers of Croatia.

“The wines of Croatia may be new to international consumers, but vino has been an embedded part of the region’s lifestyle for more than 25 centuries. The tradition continues with a new generation of winemakers focused on preserving indigenous varieties, such as graševina, malvasia istriana, and plavac mali — an offspring of zinfandel, which originated in Croatia — grown in some of the world’s most unique terroir. From the cooler continental region, look for certified organic Enjingi Graševina 2012 [SRP $13], a savory, refreshing white with dusty notes of dried apple, pear, honey, and petrol. From Croatia’s hot, island-studded coast, the Bibich R6 Riserva 2011 [SRP $20] is a tasty glimpse into the potential of indigenous reds: a blend of babić, plavina, and lasina, it’s vibrant and balanced, finishing with notes of ripe cherry, dried fig, roasted Mediterranean herbs, and distinctive friškina — ‘scent of the sea’ — minerality.”

Last October, the promise of tasting seldom-exported indigenous grapes lured me to three different wine regions scattered across Turkey’s vast, rumpled landscape. What I found was a country in the midst of a vinous renaissance, enjoying a decade of boutique-winery growth stretching from the Aegean to Georgia.

Bulgaria’s southeastern boundary adjoins Turkey, but viticulture doesn’t stop at the border despite the predominantly Muslim population that lies within. In fact, winemaking in Turkey dates back nearly 7,000 years to the time of the Hittites. International grapes have sneaked their way in; cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc commonly share vineyard space with hard-to-pronounce natives like the juicy, cherry-flavored öküzgözü and the tannic red boğazkere. In the Ankara province, however, Vinkara Winery focuses exclusively on local grapes like narince, a refreshing, stone-fruit- and citrus-laced white, perfect for summer sipping, and kalecik karasi, an earthy, berry-fruited red with a delicacy reminiscent of pinot noir. Try the Vinkara Winery “unoaked” Narince 2013 (SRP $15) and Kalecik Karasi Reserve 2011 (SRP $25).

Although winemaking is still legal, recent years have seen the Muslim government lead an anti-alcohol campaign in the name of public health, marked by the passage of new, restrictive laws that threaten to strangle the burgeoning industry. For example, wineries cannot market themselves or their product: It is illegal to hand out business cards and informational brochures, or host websites referring to wine. Their future is uncertain, making the international market extremely important to their survival. Drink Turkey and lend your support!


Turkish Grapes

Turkish Grapes


Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen earned their moniker, “World Wine Guys,” the hard way: by traveling to every corner of the planet in search of exciting wines (tough, but someone must do it). They’ve shared their wisdom in books and magazines, on television, and, most recently, during a seminar they hosted on Moldovan wine in NYC at the Astor Center.

“Wines from Moldova face more of a challenge in the U.S. at the moment because there are fewer of them in the market. Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, wedged between Ukraine and Romania, but with financial help from the European Union they are holding trade tastings in countries such as the U.S. and England. If you can get your hands on a bottle or glass of feteasca alba or feteasca neagra — respectively, white and red grapes indigenous to Moldova and Romania — give them a try. Feteasca alba is a pleasing aromatic white, while feteasca neagra is vinified into a complex red with flavors of cassis and dark berries. They are hard to find, but one producer that has a presence in New York is Purcari Estate, like the Purcari Rara Neagra 2012 [SRP $17]. Wine drinkers who like to ‘drink their way around the world’ should definitely seek out indigenous varieties from Moldova.”

Hot on the heels of their Moldova presentation, the World Wine Guys hosted a Bulgarian wine lunch at Corkbuzz.

“Although Bulgaria is one of the oldest wine-producing countries in the world, with archeological evidence of winemaking dating back 9,000 years, its wines are almost completely new to the American market. Wines are made from international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, and viognier, as well as native grapes such as mavrud, a rich, deep red. One of the best things that Bulgarian wines offer to wine drinkers is value for price, with a surprising number of recent ‘Best Buys’ in Wine Enthusiast, where Jeff tastes wines from the ex–Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. A terrific bottle to try is Chateau Burgozone Chardonnay 2012 [SRP $14] from the Danube River Plain, which has tropical fruit flavors and a crisp, clean finish.”


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What Happened on My Visit to Turkish Wine Country?

Sneak Peek: My piece on the clash between Turkey’s blossoming wine culture and the current government’s politics, debuts in Melbourne-based drinks journal Alquimie in one week. If you’re not a subscriber, order a copy of the fifth edition here. In addition to my article, the issue covers tequila’s smoky, rustic cousin mezcal, Rhone Valley Syrah, and a range of fun apéritifs. Gorgeous photography and fine writing guaranteed.


Image by Lauren Mowery of Vinkara Winery near Ankara, Turkey


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