Thursday, January 28, 2016


Planet Grape  The SOMM Journal  December January 2015/2016
While the Chinese have an unquenchable thirst for blue chip wines, especially Bordeaux – they are the number one buyer of the 42% exported share of its annual production of 685 million bottles -  they also purchase a lot of wine from Gimblett Gravels, a warm rocky area within  Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island.

First planted in 1981, this former river bed with dirt-poor soil comprised of silt and gravel - the river changed course in 1867 freeing up this gravel - is still today planted to Bordeaux varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. New Zealand’s North Island is warmer than its South Island, and Gimblett Gravels is the warmest point there. Like Bordeaux, it is maritime in climate, if considerably warmer and sunnier.

When presented with a flight of wines curated by Andrew Caillard MW as being representative of the strong 2013 vintage, members of the trade including’s Wilfred Wong, writer Dan Berger and myself kept commenting how closed, taut and tannic they seemed. Was it because they were screw-cap finished? Perhaps, but Warren Gibson of Trinity Hill, one of the wineries present, explained to us that instead of comparing them to New World wines, we should compare them to Bordeaux. Gimblett Gravels Cabernet is not anything like Napa Cabernet. With its gently muscular tannins and restrained fruit it is much closer in style to young, long-lived, high quality Bordeaux, which was quite the shocker. Our whole mindset about New World vs. Old World is thrown on its head here. That is why it is so important for members of the press and trade to go to as many of these tastings as possible. So much of what we read in wine books is inaccurate. The world is changing so fast. Hard copy wine books can take two years from start to finish. What I wrote about New Zealand two years ago is not accurate. The same holds for Paso Robles, Rioja, and of course the eternally moving target Italy. Yet this is one of the very reasons I love wine. It is always a bit out of reach, mysterious, challenging, surprising, and inspiring. Highlights of the tasting were Bordeaux blend wines from Villa Maria, Beach House, Mills Reef, Newton Forrest, Squawking Magpie, Trinity Hill, and Vidal.

Thanks to David Strada of Wines of New Zealand and the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association and to our humble host Peter Palmer of Farallon Restaurant and the Pat Kuleto Group.



Wednesday, January 20, 2016

THE MONK'S ELIXIR - Sagrantino DOCG Ripe for Discover

Planet Grape  The SOMM Journal  October November 2016

While tourists flock to artistic, medieval Perugia and Assisi, landlocked Umbria’s bucolic green rolling hills provide idyllic growing conditions for spicy olives, lentils, wheat and spelt, and the tartufo nero (black truffle) di Norcia. Black pigs roam the verdant hills and lush forests, along with deer, sheep and cows. Grapes thrive on slopes facing south and south-west - Grechetto, an indigenous white, Sangiovese like its western neighbor Tuscany, and the majestic  Sagrantino. Named after the “Sacrament,” monks used Sagrantino raisins for religious ceremonies, and farm workers drank the wine at religious holidays.

Montefalco Sagrantino Secco (dry) tends to be a big, ripe, black-fruited wine of tremendous depth, length, and vigor. It has the power of Brunello di Montalcino, but with more robust fruit tannins and less obvious oak. Montefalco Sagrantino passito, made from raisins, is sweet and port-like. The grape almost completely disappeared in the 1960’s, but thanks to producers like Arnaldo Caprai, whose son Marco has contributed greatly to its renaissance through countless scientific studies focusing on protecting the vineyards as well as the grape, and adding vineyard nomenclature to the label, there are now more than 74 wineries making the wine, 30 of which have been built in the last 10 years.

One of the secrets of Sagrantino’s success, not easy to achieve when hiding in the shadows of Tuscany, is its unique health benefit.  Roger Corder, author of The Red Wine Diet, observed that “the Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano is not only rich and powerful, it also has one of the highest procyanidine contents I’ve ever found.”  Marco explained, “With over 5 milligrams per liter of polyphenolics, Sagrantino seems to be the richest kind of grape in the world for tannins, and that plays a very important role if we want to talk about the benefits of drinking a glass of red wine daily. So many studies to uncover a cause for red wine’s effects have focused on its phenolic constituents, particularly resveratrol and the flavonoids. As it turns out, Sagrantino, with its thick skin, is one of the richest grapes in resveratrol.”

Sagrantino Talking Points

-          Rich robust central Italian DOCG red

-          Unique to Perugia, Umbria

-          Potential Health Benefits


Recommended Recent Releases

2010 Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG $47.99

Importer: Zigzando, Total Beverage Solution (and others)

2009 Colpetrone Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG $30

Importer: Vias Imports

2009 Arnaldo Caprai Collepiano Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG $60

Importer:  Folio Fine Wines

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG $40

Importer: Vinity Wine Company

2007 Antonelli Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG $45

Importer: Omniwines Distributing Co.

For complete reviews of these Sagrantino wines go here:

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


At about halfway through the non-stop eleven day feeding frenzy packaged as the Crystal Harmony Wine and Food Festival, a luxury cruise through the Panama Canal, our bodies had somehow adapted to, even expected now, multiple daily servings of butter, lobster, chocolate, caviar, ice cream, rich sauces, pastries, and so forth. Why on earth would you want to make room for the much too healthy fruit and vegetables? That could wait until after vacation. Now was the time for well-deserved self-indulgence. Besides, the thought of the effort required to chew through all of that raw fiber was just unbearable. You see, the well-trained staff, which attended to our every need, had by now hopelessly spoiled us. Even as you would reach out to fill your coffee cup on the more casual breakfast option, a buffet line, some swarthy young European would swoop in and say, “Please allow me. Regular or decaf? And don’t you look wonderful this morning.” Would they peel my banana or peel and slice an apple? Of course, but who had time with Salsa II in ten minutes.
So it should come as no surprise that as our ship anchored in a remote archipelago off of the Colombian coast, and as the natives approached in their dugout canoes, and began chanting “money, money, money,” we started tossing apples overboard! Nickels were the suggested token gift, but there was just, well, something that felt so good about sharing such a healthy, crispy treat with those impoverished citizens. Of course, as the guest wine lecturer, I had to be discreet. I didn’t dare toss over whole pineapples, or handfuls of Seahorse Mints, or those cute little bottles of shampoo, let alone apples. The guest chef, however, was not so discreet later, when he discovered that the ingredients to make his signature Tarte Tatin had literally been tossed overboard. I think his words were curses. I am not sure, because he was yelling in his native French. I would put money on it, though, at least a nickel.
The laughter, the day’s shared events, the surprise, and the love – all create an experience that nourishes both the body and the soul.
—The Crystal Cruises Cookbook

Thursday, January 7, 2016


What better place on earth than Relais et Chateau Les Crayeres in Reims, Champagne, to birth the Champagne glass of the 21st century? Chef Sommelier Philippe Jamesse, disappointed with how the traditional Champagne flutes masked much of the distinctive aromas and flavors of his deep, broad collection of the world’s finest bubblies, searched for an alternative, a glass that not only would encourage and allow the steady stream of effervescence, which is what the flute does well, but would allow it to happen in multiple points at the base of the glass, thereby freeing the Champagne itself, and giving the guest a much more complete expression of the wine, its origin, its personality.
Lehmann "Jamesse Prestige" Grand  Champagne 
Jamesse, describing Champagne as a “she,” says, "In a flute, the carbonic effervescence is minimized. Effervescence is the natural motor of Champagne. In the Jamesse Prestige Grand, she is completely free, showing the identity of where she is coming from.” He adds, “today’s best Champagnes are being made with less dosage (so they are drier) and have a purity, an expression of terroir, their iodine and chalky flavors.” Many stateside somms and Champagne producers use a white wine glass to really get at the character of the Champagne, but it goes flat so quickly.
Champagne expert Jamesse, who opens hundreds of bottles a week at the most prestigious restaurant in the region, created his Jamesse Prestige glassware, merging both the triangular bottom of the traditional flute with a sphere or bowl of a white wine glass, with the help of Gerard Lehmann of Lehmann Glass in Reims and Gerard Basset, the MS, MW, Wine MBA and former owner of the Hotel du Vin chain in the UK.
The end result, the Lehmann “Jamesse Prestige” Grand Champagne Mouth Blown Wine Glass, sold in sets of 6 for US $198 or individually for $37.50, is a revolutionary glass that will change the way people drink Champagne. When tasting the same wine in his glass vs. an ordinary flute, the difference was extraordinary. As Jamesse says, “the wine can be in peace, out of its prison, stretching out on its bed, giving a proximity with it and an immersion with it. Her 10 million bubbles will be at liberty.”
Read my review of the Jamesse Prestige Grand Champagne glass here:
PG 99 points