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Texas Tasting 

This past week spending several days in Texas included me getting to blind taste around 90 wines from the state. The experience was interesting as it gave a sense of regional expression without expectations based on producer. As with any region there was a significant range of quality and style but among the wines were a few world class stand outs it was exciting to see.

During dinners and lunches though we were able to enjoy a few Texan bottles in full view as well. There were three wines that jumped out at me.

McPherson is one of the longest standing well-respected producers of the state. I’ve been hearing good things about his white wines in particular for a while so I was pleased to get to taste his 2015 Roussanne. The wine offers the textural pleasure of the variety in a leaner frame with delicate flavors of dried floral spice sprinkled through fresh orchard fruits. Lovely. It worked really well with our meal.

Duchman 2015 Vermentino from the Bingham Family Vineyard was a new producer for me. It offered bright, textural acidity with lifted flavors of gilded-yellow fruits and a mix of fresh herbal aromas. Definitely made for the table to go alongside food as its freshness and length wash the palate over and over.

The William Chris 2015 Petillant Naturel rosé was all fun fresh bursting red berries and impressively clean through the palate. It’s what I call a hot tub wine – you have a glass and it’s so damned easy the next thing you know you’re in a hot tub with friends you didn’t know you had till now. The flavor and character of it is much like Bugey-Cerdon without the sweetness as the William Chris finishes totally dry. We enjoyed it on the last day of the Texsom IWA Sommelier Retreat alongside pepper cured duck breast. Perfect pairing.

My hope is to get back to Texas just to focus on wine country so I can dig in more to what is going on there in wine.

By the way I totally lifted that William Chris photo from the Instagram of Nicole Hakli, @nicole.hakli, wine director of ACME Restaurant in NYC. Thanks, Nicole!

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup

Integral to Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA) is the Sommelier Retreat. Top sommeliers from across North America are invited to help serve TIWA by preparing wines and glassware for blind tasting during the competition, writing tasting notes for award winning wines, and also doing clean up throughout the competition and after. Integral to their experience though is an educational and training component where they are able to work with mentors from the sommelier community to develop their writing skills, do tasting exams with Master Sommeliers, and take a series of seminars on aspects of the wine, beverage, food, and hospitality industry and experts in their field. Seminars range from the business side of restaurant wine programs to English Sparkling Wines (taught this year by the venerable Laura Rhys MS from Britain) to this year a seminar on Tea from a Certified Tea Specialist, Kyle Stewart. I led a seminar for the Sommelier Retreat this year as well on Arizona wines. As a result, I was invited to sit in and attend this year’s other sessions. The tea seminar was fascinating and fantastic. (I unfortunately arrived too late to attend Laura’s English sparkling wine course but I heard it was excellent as well.)

Kyle became excited by tea decades ago when he realized it helped focus his attention and he enjoyed the complexity of flavors. Soon after he pursued the Certified Tea Specialist designation from the Speciality Tea Institute and has since become an avid tea advocate running his own coffee and tea business, the Cultured Cup, and also leading seminars on tea, while staying up to date via trips to tea regions and regular tea tastings. He compares the process very much to what we do in wine and by the end of the seminar the parallels were obvious. Just as we study and research the fine tuned aspects of wine growing and production tea can be studied. The picking techniques, growing styles, and varietal complexity of the tea plant greatly resembles what we find in wine. It turns out tasting tea is rather similar as well.

Pu’er, a brick of Chinese tea

As Kyle explained, tea has a 5000 year history. In its origin the drink was used medicinally as a tonic. The early uses of the plant arose in China where people took and steeped pieces of it directly so that the beverage included a rather bitter element. In Burma the leaves were also used as food and the tradition continues today in a Burmese Tea Salad. Kyle said that the first time he enjoyed the dish he loved the flavors so much he ate two back to back and then did not sleep for two days. By eating the entire leaf in that way he absorbed higher levels of caffeine as well. Eventually when people began to process the leaves of the plant they were also able to hone its flavors and structure in the cup leading to it becoming a social beverage enjoyed for pleasure.

Once tea became a more popular drink it also became an exchange commodity. It grew only in certain parts of China however and also is rather delicate to transport so ways to make it safe for travel had to develop. The Pu’er (shown above) is an early form of such ingenuity. The leaves were compressed into a quite firm brick of tea that could then be broken into smaller pieces and steeped. The entire Pu’er can make around 150 cups, and the compressed leaves are even strong enough that they can be steeped multiple times (leading to far more cups than the standard). Such bricks were carried around the Tea and Horse Road (which essentially overlaid the more well-known Silk Road) and used for trade. The Tea and Horse Road gets its name from the quite literal trade of Chinese Tea bricks for Tibetan Horses. From what we know, 10 to 13 bricks of tea could fetch 1 Tibetan horse.

As Kyle clarified, tea is a type of infusion made from a very particular plant. Though the word is used rather loosely today, in actuality tea refers only to a drink infused from dried, crushed leaves of the camelia sinensis plant. Beverages infused from other plants such as rooibos, mint, ginger or other flowers, herbs, or spices properly speaking are infusions or, for the French, tiasne, but not tea.

Camelia sinensis has two major varieties. The Chinese variety is known as camelia sinensis sinensis, has a smaller leaf and does better when brewed at comparatively cooler temperatures. He brews any of these cultivars at 175 degrees F. Darjeeling, of course, is an example.

The Indian variety is known as camelia sinensis assamica and has impressively large elephant ear sized leaves. 1000 year old tea trees still exist today. They are considered a cultural treasure that are not used for producing tea today but would have served emperors in their prime.

Just like wine, tea plants adapt to their environment and, as a result, these two varieties have produced hundreds of different cultivars with unique flavor and structure. The differences also lead to very specific cultivation techniques as well as specific plucking methods for making the tea itself in various styles. As Kyle explained, the quality and flavor of specific teas depends on three key elements: the growing conditions of the plant with vintage variation even being a crucial aspect of fine teas, the care in how the leaves are plucked, and the way in which the plant is processed. Amazingly, the weather 1 to 2 weeks prior to the tree being plucked is the most critical time period for impacting flavor. Excessive rain in this time, for example, can overly dilute the flavors leading to imbalanced tea.

side by side tea tasting

There are five major categories of tea as well as one more utterly rare one. The very finest teas in the world can actually fetch as much as $30,000 per kilo. The five major categories include (progressing in order of intensity and processing complexity, loosely speaking) White, Green, Oolong, Black, and Dark, of which Pu’er (shown above) is a type. Additionally, Yellow tea is distinct from these five, however it is so uncommon it is rarely discussed. In his life Kyle said he’s only had Yellow tea once or twice. It has the most complex processing of the types of tea and is quite expensive.

White tea (shown at the top in the image above) has the simplest processing method. The leaves and leaf buds are gathered – White peony includes both leaves and buds, for example, while Ying Chen includes only leaf buds (which are essentially young leaves), not more developed leaves. It takes 4000 buds to create one pound of tea, and all must be hand plucked so it is quite expensive. How and what is plucked determines the style of white tea. Leaves or leaf buds are then air dried on a screen and no shaping of the leaves occurs. Without shaping there is no cellular breakage, which also prevents any oxidation from happening. As a result, white tea is the lightest in flavor with a tendency towards floral aromas, and the highest in anti-oxidants. Kyle recommends steeping white tea with 175 degree F water for about 3 minutes as the tea is delicate and one wants to capture the nuances of the leaf.

Green tea (shown left above) has specific leaf plucking patterns for different green tea types. The leaves from the variety behind green tea are very stiff and crackle readily so the leaves are set out to wilt after plucking to soften them up, much like the way lettuce leaves wilt when left to air after harvest. Once the leaves have softened they can be moved into shape without breakage. Once leaves are shaped into the appropriate form for the style of green tea the leaf is immediately heated to keep it from oxidizing. This step is crucial as oxidation is an important part of what distinguishes green from black tea. In the heating process, Chinese green tea is ironed or pressed to a hot surface while Japanese green tea is steamed. In comparison, Chinese green tea tends to show nuttier flavors while Japanese green tea is all about umami and vegetal notes. With the delicacy of green tea it should be steeped in a similar fashion to white tea – with 175 degree F water for around 3 minutes.

Oolong tea lets the tea leaves oxidize anywhere from 10 to 95%. The little bit not oxidized lends an additional flavor complexity to the tea in comparison to black tea, which is fully oxidized. The tea master determines when to stop oxidation by aroma and feel of the leaf in relation to the style desired. With the dance of oxidized and unoxidized notes Oolong tea can be quite floral. The intentional oxidation releases quite different aromas from the plant such that an Oolong can be full of natural fruits and flower notes, even tasting exactly like peaches, for example, without any added flavors. Oolong tea can be hot or cold brewed. For hot brewing (shown right above) Oolong he recommends using 195 degree F water for 4 minutes. Cold brewing (shown bottom above), he clarifies, requires more leaves but since the leaves are not extracted in the same way by heat they can be steeped repeatedly and reveal more pretty, uplifted flavors. Ultimately, then, cold brewed Oolong ends up being more economical as well.

Dark tea includes an additional step of fermentation. The method arose from the need to safely transport the beverage at a time when temperature and shelf controls were not possible as they are today. By fermenting the leaf the shelf quality remains consistent. Such teas are generally sold as bricks, such as the image above, or formed cake. Pu’er is one type of dark tea that originates from a specific area of the Yunnan province and is so recognized because it is aged in specific caves of its region, which impart characteristics to the tea much like the limestone caves of Roquefort inform the cheese of that region.

Kyle additionally recommends that filtered water is best used for making fine teas. The mineral content of tap water tends to overpower the more delicate flavors of a high quality tea so that even just a Brita filter improves the flavor. He cautions though that one should not use distilled water.

Interestingly, Kyle has worked with wine specialists to lead wine and tea tastings where in some cases wine and tea pairings are done such as green Kukicha stem tea paired alongside a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for example. He also though suggests that teas can be an appropriate palate cleanser through serious wine tastings as they not only shift the palate but also refocus the mind.

Additionally he points out the playfulness and import of serving vessels. Cold brewed teas can be served in aperitif and cocktail glasses quite nicely to elevate the experience. Finer examples of Oolong teas do nicely in smaller porcelain. Part of the tea experience that he values is that power of being in the moment present with the full range of sensory experience as well as the steeping process.

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Texsom IWA

Opening Texsom IWA with a palate calibration exercise – two top award wines from last year
photo from June Rodil MS

The last two days have been spent judging wines from around the world for the annual Texsom International Wine Awards (TIWA). The event brings top tasters from across the planet together to judge global wines. It’s one of my favorite events of the year as the way the tasting panels are designed is a hugely educational experience and the caliber of tasters in the room is mind boggling. There is no other event that brings together such a high concentration of distinguished wine professionals from all aspects of the wine industry. In addition to the wine judges the wine service is handled by top sommeliers and buyers from all over North America. It’s one of those events where essentially every person that walks by stirs a jolt of recognition and high regard for what they’ve accomplished in their careers. Even better, everyone here seems to recognize the import of our being here – that we are surrounded by the best in field for the wine world to respectfully review and award wines from across both hemispheres – and to be genuinely grateful for the opportunity. Event meals are such an awesome chance to hang out and catch up with each other.

TIWA originates out of the Dallas Morning News Awards started in 1985 by Rebecca Murphy. Rebecca did a remarkable job building an internationally recognized wine award program after first focusing on wines of the United States. For the first 14 years of the event the competition provided a kind of seedy and growth opportunity for producers all over the country as she included top tasters from the US wine well respected by the nation’s wine professionals. Eventually the program expanded to assess global wines. The event became an opportunity not only to award top wines but also for tasters to gain greater insight into regions around the world.

Around a decade ago Texsom founders James Tidwell and Drew Hendrix began working with Rebecca to shift the Dallas Awards to Texsom management, relaunching it as Texsom IWA four years ago.

This year the Awards received a record number of entries with 3581 wines from 28 countries and 25 US states. The selections included classic regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, or Rioja as well as newer categories like Mexico or Texas wines. The price range of wines submitted went from as little as $2.99 all the way to $700 with the average price being between $32 to $36.

Wine judging is handled by four-judge panels focused on discussion to achieve consensus. By creating panels of four judges final decisions can never be reduced to a swing vote and instead judging panels discuss their assessment before the final award is determined. The discussion is one of my favorite parts of being a judge for TIWA. Judges are also encouraged to set aside wines that they want to allow more time for so that they can be more carefully assessed. What I learn not only about my fellow judges’ views of wines but also about my own tasting process and preferences from the discussion is both fascinating and irreplaceable. All wines are tasted blind by category so that we are given the wine appellation, grape type or blend and vintage, but we never know the price or producer. Because of the care that goes into discussing assessments as well as the caliber of judges present wines that are otherwise rarely entered in competitions make it into TIWA.

Tasting at TIWA is also a unique opportunity to get to know a regions’ overall profile and quality as judges are often give the position of tasting wines from across an entire area. Though individual producers aren’t known, since wines are all tasted blind, tasting through an entire category and region can do a lot to educate a judge on the state of wines in a specific part of the world. Tasting here has led me to further investigate wines from an area after in a way I wouldn’t have known to do otherwise.

After the completion of TIWA judging the Sommelier team stays on for an educational component focused on learning more effective wine writing handled through both a writing seminar and then writing the actual tasting notes for TIWA award winning wines, and then a series of seminars on various topics from the wine, beverage, food and service world. This year, for example, I am leading a seminar on Arizona wine. We just finished a super fascinating class on tea.

If you want to see this year’s list of judges you can check them out here: https://www.texsomiwa.com/Judges/Profiles

This year’s serving sommeliers can be seen here: https://www.texsomiwa.com/Somms/Profiles

Results for this year’s award winning wines will be announced by Texsom IWA later this Spring. Keep an eye out for them on their website: https://www.texsomiwa.com/featured/wines

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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A Conversation with Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow

Last night UC Davis hosted a conversation between Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow in celebration of her donating her papers, tasting notes, notebooks, photographs, etc from across her wine writing career back to 1976 to their wine library. Warren Winiarski helped fund work with the acquisition. Alder was invited to interview Jancis about her work, her various preferences (she likes skim milk while her husband Nick prefers whole, for example), and how the wine industry has changed.

The hour long conversation was followed by Q&A from the audience, which included one of my favorite moments from the evening as it showed Jancis’s brilliant, quick, dry wit.

An audience member asked her jokingly what wine would best pair with meatloaf, and she quickly responded, “Do you mean audible or edible?” Once he figured out her joke and confirmed he meant edible meatloaf rather than that he was having the (overly dramatic) rockstar to dinner, she suggested that a good California Zinfandel (and then again confirmed a good one) would do the job nicely.

The entire conversation was more than engaging as she is a natural on stage with a talent for making the whole room feel as if they are hanging out with her, and Alder did an excellent job at using their easy rapport to guide the conversation, though in truth Jancis needs little guiding. She readily answered questions with complexity and depth. Alder would then bring her to a new level of inquiry while also helping us to see her more personal side along the way.

Esther Mobley wrote up the celebration in today’s SF Chronicle so I don’t want to give away too much more detail about the conversation itself. Esther did an excellent job sharing many of those insights. I’ll include the link below. What I do want to say though is how much I appreciated the ways the conversation showed Jancis’s thoughtfulness. She’s a reflective and curious thinker and the audience was given glimpse of that through Alder’s interview.

During the Q&A, she answered a question from the audience asking what she looks for in selecting the writers on her website. He wanted to know what she believes they all have in common as, the audience member pointed out, her columnists have quite distinct voices from each other yet all work together in contribution to her site. She thought for a moment. Then said she believed everyone that works for JancisRobinson.com are rather independent thinkers, not easily swayed by trends, and also a bit inclined to bend over backwards for the undiscovered. Traits I admire in anyone. It also highlights how much her work is about supporting that sort of genuine curiosity.

Her support for it goes beyond her own website. I have seen Jancis go out of her way to encourage other writers as well. When Esther Mobley first debuted at the SF Chronicle, for example, Jancis made sure to reshare Esther’s first article online and welcome her to her new position. It appears perhaps a small boost but one that at the same time has important significance. She’s a supporter of hard workers comparatively earlier in their careers.

Esther’s article on Jancis’s contribution to the UC Davis Wine Library is well worth reading and hits on many of the interesting points from yesterday’s conversation I have not mentioned here. Here’s the link.

http://www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/British-wine-critic-Jancis-Robinson-donates-her-10938893.php?t=ce7dae6304&cmpid=twitter-premium

[Incidentally, that is likely behind paywall.]

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Adventures in Christchurch

After departing Central Otago we headed to North Canterbury for a series of regional tastings as well as time in the city of Christchurch. Christchurch has been embattled by a series of severe earthquakes and this summer (it’s summer for them now) horrible wildfires as well. In 2011 the area was hit with a 6.3 earthquake that caused damage the region is still recovering from. This late 2016 brought a 7.8 earthquake just outside the area. The more serious damage and loss of life occurred in the 2011 quake, which caused buildings throughout the city to collapse. New buildings codes have since been instituted that require structures to be built to survive tremors rated up to 9 on the Richter scale. As a result, Christchurch today has the safest buildings in the world. Even so, the city is still recovering.

Walking downtown empty lots dot the landscape. Most today have been filled with art installations to make the lots into interactive space. One of the coolest examples was an outdoor public dance floor complete with surround sound speakers, dance lights, and a disco ball. For a $2 coin anyone can plug in their ipod or phone to play 30 minutes of music. Daniel Toral, David Keck, Jamie Goode and I spent an evening wandering the city and busted into a full session on the dance floor (shown above). (From what I can tell, we’re all horrible dancers but dang was it fun.)

Traveling the world of wine it’s fun to find new hangouts in other countries. They become a sort of comfort in the midst of so much change. Shop Eight in downtown Christchurch was one of those places – it felt great to hang out and it was easy to feel at home with the menu even in seeing unusual offerings. The food selection features a seasonal menu of small plates with a range of local produce, seafoods and meats meant to pair well with her eclectic-while-tasty menu of wines and beers. We had a great time exploring around the menu.

After selecting our wines we asked the server to go ahead and bring us her favorite food options. The wine menu has a focus on freshness with an array of options from the quirky side. They’re wines that bridge the gap between wine and beer lovers, which I find refreshing in the right circumstances.

The Naturalist 2016 sparkling wine from Cambridge Road was our first wine of the evening. Cambridge Road makes fantastic Pinot noir from the Martinborough region on the North island (some of my stand out wines from the trip), as well as Syrah, and then also plays with more experimental projects exploring vinification with low sulfur and lower intervention sparkling wine methods. The Naturalist was one such example – a refreshing and delicious, savory methode ancestrale sparkling wine made of equal portions Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. It relies on wild fermentation and no added sulfur, and while the wine is certainly wild in the glass with sediment and textural density, it is also clean without worry of being pristine. It’s one of those bridge the gap wines that reaches towards the advantages of beer without going rogue into unbearable faults. It hits more at a level like spending several days camping on the beach with an outdoor shower, rather than either living in a germ free clean room of formica and steel on the one hand, or falling into a swamp with poor drainage or little water flow on the other. It also comes in at only 11.5% alcohol. Super easy to drink.

The Black Star 2016 Field Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer from Waitaki Valley fruit made by Theo Coles goes a bit farther with the camping metaphor. It’s more like you’ve been camping on that same beach for several days with an outdoor shower and are now coming down from that handful of shrooms you ate this afternoon. The lights are still bright so that sunset is killing it but it’s also giving you way more feels than you have usually, your stomach is a little more sensitive and you’re not really ready to eat yet. Even so, you’re there to drink it in and enjoy it. The cofermented varieties certainly create some of what’s unusual about this wine but it’s also just meant to be funky without going full microbial. It’s made without sulfur and drinks well with a bit of chill on it.

After leaving Shop Eight we wandered around the city and found our way to an incredible playground that’s been built since the devastating 2011 earthquake, the Margaret Mahy. It’s an incredible installation with loads of fun for kids of all ages. The four of us had a great time running up and back down slides, racing on ziplines and not-quite peeing ourselves on a series of buried trampolines. Then we wandered down the road to the late night beer garden and drank a beer.

Christchurch is experiencing devastating wildfires right now. The 2016 earthquakes gratefully did far less damage to the city than those in 2011 but the coastline was seriously hit with many communities getting hampered by road loss from the heaving effect of the tremors. The fires now come at a difficult time when people were just recovering from structural damage. It’s a beautiful and special region full of utterly genuine and somehow gentle people. I hope the fires ease quickly and that people stay safe. I’m grateful for such a fun night in their city.

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Photos from North Canterbury

After traveling Central Otago we flew to North Canterbury where we toured and tasted for two days through the Waipara and Waikari Valleys with an adventurous train ride through the Weka Valley, before then spending the evening in the Banks Peninsula. The excursion included a night in Christchurch too that was amazing as you can see below.

Following is the collection of photos I shared to Instagram from our time in North Canterbury including our travels from the area. There are multiple videos included along the way. Be sure to watch them too. Wine professionals being ridiculous. Too funny.

Mountains of limestone in Waipara. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

A post shared by Hawk Wakawaka (@hawk_wakawaka) on

More idyllic New Zealand countryside here the Three Peaks in Waipara of North Canterbury. The folds, cut and lift of the fault lines are visible throughout this region where the plates are pushing against each other causing mountain uplifts surrounded by canyons. Sizesble earthquakes happen here regularly with the last serious one being Mid 2016 and before that Early 2011. Both caused significant damage through the area and multi-billion dollar demolish and rebuilding projects in Christchurch. Stone masons and builders came from all over the world to repair the city. Today it holds the safest buildings in the world, built to withstand earthquakes over 8 and even up to 9 on the Richter scale. #nzwine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot 

One of the opening features of the recent Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event were wonderfully done videos made by Mike Bennie and Nick Stock. The videos brilliantly dug into each of the Pinot growing regions of New Zealand individually giving a good feel for the people and place of each region in a few minutes of focused interviews with the key players of the wine community.

Check out Mike Bennie‘s (I love that guy) nicely done look at Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot Noir. Thanks to Pinot Noir NZ for posting the video!

Central Otago and Waitaki Pinot Noir NZ 2017 Mike Bennie from Pinot Noir NZ on Vimeo.

 

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Central Otago Pinot Noir

the view from Rippon along Lake Wanaka

Our first day in New Zealand included a walk around tasting hosted by Mount Edward winery in Central Otago. Producers poured two wines each – both Pinot noir – of their choosing. While some offered multiple vintages others selected different cuvées from the same release year. The tasting was an interesting first look at wines for our trip.

While a relatively young region, Central Otago has done well at establishing itself quickly on the world stage for quality Pinot with its own distinctive varietal expression. Younger vines and younger winemakers established an initial reputation for more fruit focused and rounder wines than what one sees from the region today. As vintners have gained experience and become more familiar with their own dirt, and vineyard plantings have expanded into newer subzones that early enthusiasm has deepened into another level of confidence that shows through a greater diversification of styles. At the same time, our several days in Central Otago plus time with the producers later in the trip during the Pinot Noir NZ festivities in Wellington showed that the initial enthusiasm remains. I was impressed with the verve and curiosity that seems common through the people of Central Otago.

Central Otago is one of the most remote growing regions in New Zealand. In the southern part of the southern island it stands as one of the most distant viticultural zones in the world from both other major wine regions and wine markets. Getting off the plane the landscape immediately struck me with familiarity. It shares so much in common with my home in Alaska. The commonality showed through peoples’ personalities there too. I found myself interacting with people in Central Otago as if I’d long known them, and would have to occasionally remind myself it was my first visit and first meeting with them too. I obviously can’t help but have an affection for the area as a result. The quality of the wines shown during our visits was also reliable. That is, the base line of quality for Central Otago was relatively high. If there was issue with a wine it was more often about stylistic preference than winemaking faults.

Central Otago’s presence on the world stage is also coupled with the region’s producers having a strong investment with study abroad. Producers we met tended to speak in relation to other viticultural areas around the world they’d spent time as well as wines they’re often tasting. A surprisingly high proportion of them have spent time working in Willamette Valley, for example, as well as attending Oregon’s International Pinot Noir Celebration. Central Otago though also has an incredibly strong history with Burgundy. The two areas have had an official exchange program for over 11 years that includes support for winemakers to travel and work between the two regions, with program participants placed in major houses for harvest in which ever of the two they are visiting. The program is quite significant with Central Otago being the only growing region in the world that Burgundy does that sort of official exchange.

Following are a handful of the stand out Pinots from the walk around tasting our first night in Central Otago.

Mount Edward

Duncan Forsyth and Anna Riederer poured two vintages of their Mount Edward Pinot noir – the 2013 regional blend and the 2011 Muirkirk Vineyard. The wines speak to the regional signature of Central Otago with their midpalate density, deep toned red fruits and glittering acidity but they also show layers of flavor and a kind of jovial confidence I find pleasing. The Muirkirk carries greater complexity and depth to the Central Otago Pinot, which is refreshing and satisfying. There is plenty of savor here nose through palate with notes of tobacco and just picked herbs housed in mouth stimulating sapidity on the Muirkirk. There is plenty of fruit to the wine but it isn’t about that, rather its about the layers of flavor. Supple tannin gives a sense of something to chew on while that mouth stimulation carries through to a long finish.

Rippon

Nick Mills of Rippon poured their 2013 and 2010 Pinots made from older vines on their home vineyard. You’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t like these wines as their beautifully made and from a distinctive site. If you ever have opportunity to speak with Nick about his family estate and the history of the area it’s also well worth doing. He presented on the subject at the recent Pinot Noir NZ 2017 event and shared his thoughts and practice of taking a multi-generational view to the land. It was an inspiring talk. (Alder Yarrow published a transcript of Nick’s PN NZ 17 talk on his site Vinography that is worth reading. Here’s the direct link to that article: http://www.vinography.com/archives/2017/02/turangawhaewhae_a_maori_expres.html).

The Rippon 2013 offers nuanced perfume full of aromatic woods that persist through to the palate with ample sapidity through a persistent finish. The acidity is mouthwatering and a pleasure, well integrated into a vibrant leanness that carries ample flavor through a lean frame. The 2010 was my favorite of the two, offering additional depth from a bit of bottle age.

Growing up in remote Alaska one of the things I became familiar with was this sense of concentrated aromas and flavors that come from miniaturized plants. Much of the land in Alaska is tundra, which consists, essentially, of a multitude of wild berry and wild tea plants grown in miniature because of the difficult and wet soils beneath them. Walking across tundra is this overwhelming experience of releasing mixed and highly perfumed scents. Because the plants have grown so slowly and so small their scents and flavors are more concentrated and so then also more powerful to experience. Walking over them breaks their aromas free so that every step uncovers a new overwhelming fragrance of wild cranberry mixed with labrador tea to wild blueberry rubbed by a fresh break of pine and a smudge of peat. Growing up with such smells is what led me eventually into the world of wine – outside extreme environments such as Alaskan tundra a glass of wine is the only place left to find such complex scent.

The 2010 Rippon lifts from the glass with that intensity of smell, a multitude of unexpected and concentrated flavors like the smells from a walk across fresh broken tundra. There is a wildness to it carrying a multitude of miniaturized plants. The palate starts dense and savory then lifts into mouth watering sapidity and a flash of those same tundra scents. It’s a wine with plenty of density that moves fresh and lively through the palate.

Prophet’s Rock

Paul Pujol poured both a current and older vintage of his Prophet’s Rock Pinot from their Home Vineyard. The 2009 was one of my stand out wines from the entire trip through New Zealand. As he explained, it was an unusual vintage where fruit came in with uniquely pale color while still having ample tannin. It became important, then, to avoid over extracting for color as it would lead to too much tannin in the glass. The 2009 from Prophet’s Rock offers a wonderfully delicate persistence on both the nose and palate. It’s somehow ethereal, engaging and stimulating drinking simultaneously pretty and savory with an enlivening lightness. It was a wine I wanted to sit and enjoy through the evening.

The 2014 offers notes at a deeper register compared to the lifted prettiness of the 2009. There is immediately greater density and depth to the aromatics that point in the direction of brooding without quite going that far. The palate too offers more power in comparison but still pours through a light bodied frame. I am a fan of that balance Paul pulls off in his Pinot of bringing impressive depth and nuance in still a mouthwatering subtlety. Refreshing, savory and pretty.

Aurum

the Kawarau River of Central Otago

I somehow managed to miss taking a photo of the Aurum 2014 Madeline Pinot Noir (even though I tasted it through multiple vintages no less!) so I’ve snuck in a photo of the beautiful Kawarau River, which we crossed on our way to visit Aurum instead – my apologies though if you want to see the label it is on their own site here: https://aurumwines.co.nz/notes_files/stacks_image_1000.jpg.

Winemaker Lucie Lawrence does the Madeline Pinot entirely as foot tread whole bunch from the 667 clone, which she feels does well with stem inclusion from her home vineyard. The wine is dense and needs time in cellar to fully release its pleasure but it is full, nose through palate, with lush aromatics of rose petal and bush that swaddle a savory backbone. The tannin is ample but succulent rather than aggressive and the acidity comes in with nice balancing length. Let this sit in bottle for a few more years to allow the dense weave of the wine to open but with that it has a lot to offer.

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Wine & Spirits Editorial Feature: Eat | Drink : Flagstaff

Once a stop on the way to the Grand Canyon, this southwestern mountain town has become a destination in its own right, says Elaine Chukan-Brown, dishing on the best new bars and restaurants.

My reviews for five top restaurant food & drink programs in the charming mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona, set on both the famed Highway 66 and the cross-continental railroad, appear now on the front page of WineandSpiritsMagazine.com. Check them out there or in the current issue of the print magazine. Here are the direct links to the reviews online. 

Root Public House

Longtime local restaurant talents chef Dave Smith and bartender Jeremy Meyer have transformed what was a longtime dive bar south of the tracks into a destination for food and drink. Go early and head to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail while watching one of Arizona’s big sky sunsets; then head down to the dining room for dinner. Arizona peppers star …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/root-public-house

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.rootpublichouse.com/

Pizzicletta

In a quirky, cozy space squeezed into the point of an odd-angled intersection, Caleb Schiff has gained a cult following for his pizzas. He starts with a wild-yeast dough that ferments for three days before he rolls it out, then tops it with house-made mozzarella or burrata and a select array of local and Italian ingredients. Cooked at 900˚F in a wood-fired oven he had custom built in Italy, the Neapolitan-style pies …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/pizzicletta

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.pizzicletta.com/

Shift Kitchen & Bar

After stints at Frasca in Colorado and Ubuntu in California, husband-and-wife team Dara and Joe Rodgers set out to redefine mountain-town cuisine at Shift. In a spare, airy space in a historic building in downtown Flagstaff, they find creative ways to present regional ingredients, from the sorrel …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/shift-kitchen-bar

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.shiftflg.com/

Coppa Cafe 

Brian Konefal and Paola Fioravanti helped spark Flagstaff’s modern food scene when they opened Coppa in 2012, converting a nondescript stripmall space into a little piece of Europe. Konefal, who met his future wife and restaurant partner at culinary school in Italy, presents Arizona ingredients in unexpected guises, like the state’s own heritage grain, Sonoran white wheat, served risotto-style with a clay-baked duck egg, or local …

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/coppa-cafe

Check out the restaurant page here: http://www.coppacafe.net/

FLG Terroir

Late last year, Fred Wojtkielewicz transformed local downtown favorite The Wine Lo into FLG Terroir, a conversation-friendly wine lover’s retreat. The space is warm and expansive, with stone-cut tile, an exposed beam ceiling and an open kitchen. The wine list, which centers around boutique wines from Europe and California, including unusual finds…

Continue reading here… http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/food/dining-entry/flg-terroir

Check out the restaurant page here: https://www.flgterroir.com/

Rajat Parr (pictured above tasting from tank) and Sashi Moorman (pictured below in the Seven Springs Vineyard) of Domaine de la Côte and Sandhi wines in Santa Barbara County, and Evening Land Vineyards in Willamette Valley, have become two of the strongest proponents of good quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the west coast United States. They are also two of the more controversial. In California, their work is strongly associated with the now-retired provocative organisation In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB). Parr was, of course, one of its founders while Moorman made several of the brands poured in its tastings. Before starting IPOB, Parr also famously founded the RN74 restaurant wine list with the promise of no wines over 14% alcohol. While IPOB itself never made such claims, Parr’s association with both it and the under-14% cause inextricably linked the two. The idea led to anger from the California wine establishment attached to defending balance in bigger-bodied wines.

In Oregon, the controversy appears differently. There Evening Land Vineyards (ELV) in its original inception stood as an example of an earlier wave of outside influence in the still mildly insular Willamette Valley. The difficulty there, in its origin, was that the organisation secured a long-term lease on one of the region’s heritage vineyards, Seven Springs, thus reducing the availability of its fruit for long-time locals. After purchasing Willamette Valley’s portion of Evening Land Vineyards in 2014, Parr and Moorman undertook a complete renovation of the project design and winemaking. Most of the previous team left as the original project was dissolving, and the rest departed just after new ownership took hold. The rapid change led to some further dismay on the part of locals. Even so, together Parr and Moorman make some of the finest examples of the varieties in the two states.

SashiMoormanWalkingSevenSprings-7.jpg

What is unique about Parr and Moorman’s wines is not as simple as just making wine under 14% alcohol, nor simply picking earlier, although they do both. The two of them work well together because of their shared vision. While both are attracted to wines of finesse, informed primarily by the great classics of France, they have sought to achieve such style through truly marginal vineyard sites. …

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/parr-and-moorman-light-burgundian-touch

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.