Magazine Article

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World of Fine Wine Feature: Strange Synchronicity

Look! That’s me there featured on the cover! 

World of Fine Wine Issue 49

A peculiar thing happens for those of us who spend all our time tasting with winemakers: The wines begin to taste like the personality of the man or woman in front of us. It’s a strange moment to find synchronicity between the character of the wine and that of the winemaker, but there it is. More often than not, they match. “That’s why I love Burlotto wines,” Ceri Smith tells me. Together we are drinking, and talking, Italian wine. She’s begun to tell me about the work of winemaker Fabio Alessandria of Piedmont’s GB Burlotto, and to compare his wines to his personality.

Ceri Smith owns the respected Italian-focused wine shop Biondivino in San Francisco and she created the wine list at the reboot for famed Italian restaurant Tosca, in the same city. In her decades of work with Italian wine, Smith has gotten to know a range of Italy’s best winemakers.

She continues describing Alessandria’s character, and his work in wine. “Fabio is quiet, shy, and introverted, and his wines are these beautiful floral expressions. They feel just like Fabio: quiet, delicate, and strong.”

Later, viticulturist and winemaker Steve Matthiasson describes a similar experience. Matthiasson manages esteemed sites throughout Napa Valley such as Araujo, Chappellet, and Trefethen, while also making wine for his own eponymous label.

As Matthiasson explains, several years ago a group of Napa Valley winemakers were able to taste a range of wines from Burgundy with the Domain de la Romanée-Conti co-gérant and winemaker Aubert de Villaine. The group had gathered a series of paired wines. Each pair was made from the same vineyard but by two different winemakers. De Villaine knew the sites and the winemakers well. Throughout the tasting, Matthiasson relates, the wines from each vineyard set would share some core flavor commonalities but have a starkly different sense of character. One wine would seem flamboyant and lush compared to its sibling’s reserved austerity. One wine would feel edgy and intellectual, while the other was more immediately pleasurable. Tasting through all the wines, Matthiasson says, de Villaine consistently explained the contrast between the paired wines with reference to the personality of the winemakers. The flamboyant wine always matched the effusive winemaker; the reserved wine, the more reticent one.

This experience occurs with American wines as well. In one of my strangest tasting experiences, I tasted a California Tempranillo from a winemaker I’d never met and knew nothing about and discussed the wine with her assistant. While tasting the wine, I described aloud what I saw as the character of the wine. It drank with a sense of sophistication and rusticity simultaneously. I said, “as if she’d been raised in a fine family with all the lessons of etiquette but in adulthood went on to become a rancher.” In describing the wine, I was speaking of if like a person. I went on, “She still carries herself well in a dress but works hard in the dusty outside.” Looking up from the glass, I realized the assistant had fallen quiet. He explained that the winemaker had been raised in an upper-class family in the southern United States and then moved to California to grow grapes in the Sierra Foothills. Though the winemaker wasn’t a rancher, she did spend all her time farming grapes in the dusty mountains. The similarity of my description of the wine with the winemaker’s life stunned both of us.

It seems unlikely that a science of personality in winemaking could ever develop. Go too far, and it starts to sound like blind tasting winemaker personalities, or the vague generalities of horoscopes. Even so, such strange synchronicity often occurs. So, let us begin to explore the phenomenon. And to start, let’s consider how personality develops. …

To continue reading this article you’ll need to pick up a print or electronic copy of Issue 49, September 2015, of World of Fine Wine.

I couldn’t be more thrilled than by being the cover feature for an issue of this magazine. My admiration for it runs deep. It’s a must have subscription for any passionate wine lover, regularly showcasing writing from the finest wine writers in the world including Andrew Jeffords, Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Jasper Morris and others. The magazine also strives to seek out and find fresh new voices. Additionally, the magazine reviews fine wine from around the world via a multi-taster panel. The advantage of this rests in its multiple perspectives. The tasting panels print reviews from each of the (usually three or four) tasters so that you can get a more in-depth view of each wine from three differing, respected palates. If you’re interested in high quality long-form wine writing taking in-depth profiles of region’s and producers, plus regular reflections on wine like mine on personality and craft in winemaking, look into subscribing. Here’s the info. 

The cost of subscription is not inexpensive, but the mass of writing you get, the independent reporting and tasting, is comparable to none.

To subscribe electronically: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/world-fine-wine-magazine/id894045101?mt=8

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You can also purchase individual issues singly: http://finewinemag.subscribeonline.co.uk/back-issue

Cheers!

A Search for Radiance

Bob Varner

It’s evening in March. We’ve just finished barrel-tasting 2011 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with Jim Varner. The conversation has focused on a calm but passionate exploration of the principles expressed behind the wine. Listening to Jim’s account, what becomes clear is that the focus is one of supreme gentleness. The subtle power of such an approach echoes through the wines as we taste them. Twins Jim and Bob Varner have now celebrated 18 vintages making wine from their Spring Ridge site, though they began planting it 34 years ago. From it they produce wines under the Varner and Neely labels, Bob managing the vineyard and winemaking, and Jim running the office and business. Spring Ridge rides the rim of Portola Valley, on undulating slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The Valley had not been cultivated to vines when the brothers began their project.

Through much of the Santa Cruz Mountains, vineyards grow out of sight from each other, giving winemakers a sense of isolation from outside influence that is rare to most wine country. The region still echoes today with solitude, though it also carries in it some of the deepest, most respected heritage of California wine.

In the 1870s, Paul Masson, a Burgundian winemaker, found his way on to the elevated slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains and established vineyards for sparkling wine. The fog and cooling influence of two bodies of water-the San Francisco Bay to the east, and Pacific Ocean to the west -combined to offer the structural assets of a cooler climate needed for sparkling wine. In the 1940s, Masson’s enterprise led local entrepreneur Martin Ray to establish even higher vineyards and to begin making varietally specific wines from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and later Cabernet Sauvignon, an enterprise essentially untried in the state before. The site would come to be known as the historic Mount Eden.

To continue reading this article continue over to the World of Fine Wine website where the article appears in full for free online. Here’s the link: http://www.worldoffinewine.com/news/a-search-for-radiance-varner-and-neely-4678090/

Sonoma’s Far Coast: A haven for pinot noir

Wine & Spirits pinot noir

We step out of the forest into a glade where light pours through. Ted Lemon has guided me to the top of a hill at 1,200 feet of elevation in The Haven. He has been farming half of this tenacre property since 2001, using biodynamic methods, and he left half of the land wild.

“This is why it’s called The Haven,” he says of Littorai’s estate vineyard. The surrounding forest and coastal scrub provides animal habitat to foster biodiversity. Behind us, pinot noir, chardonnay and chenin blanc grow from a mix of shale, iron sands, compressed clay and serpentine.

These hills are part of Sonoma’s coastal mountains, most of which remain covered in conifers, too steep for cultivation. Vineyards have only arrived in the last 30 years, almost all planted in the 1990s or later on the gentler slopes and hilltops. (Until 1994, when Williams Selyem, Kistler and Littorai came knocking, even David Hirsch’s now sought-after fruit was going to Kendall-Jackson for blending.)

To read the rest of this article click on over to the Wine & Spirits Magazine website. It’s currently free-for-all there. Here’s the link: http://www.wineandspiritsmagazine.com/S=0/news/entry/sonomas-far-coast-a-haven-for-pinot-noir

The Return of Cal-Ital

Palmina

By the early 2000s, Cal-Ital was dead. It was almost impossible to sell California wine made from Italian cultivars. During the following decade consumer interest in the phenomenon remained minimal and few sommeliers would consider such wines. Recently, however, there has been a renaissance of the category. But the return of Cal-Ital hasn’t been easy. It’s proven a study in resilience. It’s also meant a shift in philosophy. While much of the original Cal-Ital movement arose from producers making wines such as Sangiovese as a side project to their more central Cabernet focus, today’s Cal-Ital has meant a more complete shift in thinking. In the last several years, a handful of newer Italian-focused California labels have been launched, bringing breadth to a conversation that for a decade was maintained by only two or three producers.

Digging out of the Cal-Ital problem

California’s wine industry was historically rooted in Italian immigrants bringing cuttings from their home country but after phylloxera and Prohibition, plantings shifted predominantly to French cultivars. Before 1980 varieties such as Sangiovese existed only in the historic Italian-Swiss Colony of the North Coast. Barbera had a presence throughout the state but did not enjoy the prestige of other Italian varieties. It was seen as an able blender rather than as a varietal wine in its own right.

In the 1980s and 1990s, however, a rush of interest brought Sangiovese to Northern California, made most famously by producers such as Robert Pepi; Atlas Peak in Napa Valley, co-owned by Tuscan winemaker Piero Antinori; and Ferrari-Carano in Sonoma. By 1997, 2,500 acres (1,012 ha) of the grape were spread across the state but the variety was primarily being made by vintners treating it as a side project while they focused on French varieties. Quality suffered. The unique needs of Italian wines were inimical to the techniques familiar to most California producers of Bordeaux varieties. By the start of this century, the almost two decades given to North Coast Sangiovese seemed inadequate to stabilise quality and critics were severe. Although producers in Southern California, such as Santa Barbara County’s Palmina, were also making Italian-inspired wines, critics looked to North Coast examples and declared Cal-Ital an experiment that had failed. Led by negative reviews, consumer interest all but disappeared.

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com. You will need to have a subscription.

Here’s the link to the article: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/cal-ital-wip

If you don’t have one already subscribing is relatively easy and affordable. Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and 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.

The Queen of the Bench

Congratulations on 25 beautiful years, Cathy!

“I feel like I’ve had a front row seat from the 1970s to now,” Cathy Corison tells me. Corison specializes in single-varietal Cabernet from Napa Valley’s Rutherford bench, and the recent release of her 2011 vintage marks the 25-year anniversary of her eponymous label.

In June 1975, when Corison arrived with all she owned – just the goods that fit inside her white Volkswagen bug – Napa Valley was an economically depressed, rural, and largely unknown farming community. Driving the length of the valley included swaths of unplanted land; today it is covered in vines. “There were about 30 wineries in Napa Valley in 1975,” Corison says. “I arrived in June. The Paris tasting was the next spring in 1976. It was a really exciting time.” The success of California in Steven Spurrier’s famous Judgment of Paris’ tasting would instigate a rush of interest in wine from the region after decades of struggle. Corison would be among the sprint pack bringing Napa into a whole new course of winemaking. …

To keep reading this article, you’ll have to check out the current issue of Noble Rot MagazineIf you haven’t read Noble Rot Magazine before, it’s likely right up your alley. That is, if you are into the kind of work I do here, you’ll find writing there you’re likely compatible with. Each issue of Noble Rot digs into the world of wine with a combined sense of playfulness and geeky fervor. 

You can order single issues or subscribe to the magazine, depending on which suits your interests. That means you can order just Issue 8, The California Special, that includes my Corison article, if you wish. But I recommend considering a full subscription. It’s worth the price.

Here’s the link to Noble Rot Magazine‘s Tumblr. http://noblerotmag.tumblr.com/subscribe

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A Guide to Long Island (and tasting notes)

Larry Perrine, Channing Daughters

A two-hour drive east from Manhattan sits Long Island wine country. While winegrowing in the region began in the mid 1970s, it didn’t develop a concentration of vines for another 20 years. …

For those of you that follow along on Instagram, you already know I spent an intensive 8 days digging further into the wines of Long Island. I’ll be writing more on the movers and shakers of Long Island wine here over the next few months. But I’ve already published an overview of the conditions and challenges, as well as a dig into some of the stand out wines over on JancisRobinson.com.

Here’s a link to the overview article: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a-guide-to-long-island-wines

And to the tasting notes: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/long-island-the-tasting-notes

The articles are pay-to-read but subscriptions at JancisRobinson.com are pretty straightforward and affordable. The site offers excellent articles every day about wine all over the world, as well as news events as they happen.

Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and 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.

West Sonoma Coast: A Guide

Near Sebastopol

If you were following along on Instagram, you already know I spent a ton of time visiting vineyards and winemakers throughout the mountains of the West Sonoma Coast. I’ve turned that several months I spent studying and tasting the region into a six-article series over on JancisRobinson.com.

Here’s the link to a guide for all six articles. http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/west-sonoma-coast-a-guide 

The articles are pay-to-read but subscriptions at JancisRobinson.com are pretty straightforward and affordable. The site offers excellent articles every day about wine all over the world, as well as news events as they happen.

Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and 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.

Cheers!