Monthly Archives: December 2013

Wine of the Week: Tikves Vranec Special Selection


This week’s wine of the week is Tikves Vranec Special Selection from Macedonia. Vranec is apparently the most widely grown grape in Macedonia, a tiny nation in the Balkans, landlocked between Greece, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Kosovo. Apparently I am not the first to discover this wine from Macedonia’s oldest winery. The grape also grows in nearby Montenegro. The grape is a large one and the vine quite vigorous. The grape is also perhaps genetically related to Zinfandel. It certainly has some similarities to that grape in terms of its spicy aromas but it is also somewhat old world in style albeit a bit overdone in terms of the oak treatment.

I love finding new funky wines in unexpected places. Certainly while shopping at a local food & wine shop in New Jersey called Jerry’s, listening to Christmas music, this wine jumped out at me. I think it would pair well with a heavily meaty dish. I had it with some lighter fare and I think it didn’t do the wine justice. I’ve had another wine from that same grape and producer in the past but a lower end one, T’ga za Jug , which is the name of a poem by the most famous Macedonian poet, Konstantin Miladinov.


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Old World Wines: Enantio from Terra dei Forti DOC, Trentino, Italy

Enantio Terra dei Forti

Sometimes I come upon a grape I have never heard of and am really surprised to learn its history. This time around it was a wine made from Enantio that surprised me. This wine was from Cantina Valdadige . Apparently Enantio is also sometimes called Lambrusco a foglia frastagliata but is not genetically related to Lambrusco from Emilia Romagna. It was a winter wine, hardy with some spicy notes and lots of red fruits. Apparently some of the grapes are given a very long hang time on the vine and are picked when they are slightly over-ripe leading to the richness you find in this surprising wine. It ages in small barrels for 15-18 months. I had it last Christmas I believe thanks to a friend who turned me on to the wine. It is available for sale in the United States as well and you can find it here on

Apparently, Valdadige Terra dei forti is a DOC of the Trentino province. Enantio is one of six varieties that use this Denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.). The area also borders the Northern part of the Veneto. Enantio grows in Brentino, Belluno, Dolce’, Rivoli (Veneto) and Avio (Trentino). Avio is the farthest southern point in Trentino-Altoadige.

A second producer of Enantio, Cantina Roeno notes on their website that, “Plinio the Elder”, in the first century after Christ, concern with wild and planted vines, wrote ” La brusca: hoc est vitis silvestris, quod vocatur oenanthium….” «It is a wild vine called Enantio ».

If you need to add a new wine to your Wine Century Club list, this is for you!

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Sunday Sipping: New World Wines – The Napa Valley

“The Napa Valley, Then and Now: The Evoltion of Grapegrowing and Winemaking” was the title of a seminar I took this past summer at the Society of Wine Educators Conference in Orlando, Florida with Barry Wiss. With the cold weather outside, I am channeling summer and warmth and so Napa came to mind. The seminar was interesting but what I thought was most remarkable was how far the association has come that they are now showing the diversity of terroir, grapes grown and attention to microclimate variations.

I tended to think of Napa as a whole, homogenous region, with a warm climate. I was quite wrong apparently. This above all was made plain in this particular seminar. In the past, I have taken the Napa Rocks seminars about the soil variation but little had been discussed about climate, another fundamental part of what can be defined as “terroir.”

Terroir affects viticulture in terms of site selection, topography, soil composition, drainage, sun exposure, and climate/temperature. Terroir affects viticulture also in terms of canopy management, soil management, irrigation, and trellising systems, root stock selection, and grape varieties.

Napa is divided into many sub-Appellations including Calistoga, Howell Mountains, Diamond Mountains District, Spring Mountains District, Chiles Valley District, St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Atlas Peak, Stags Leap District, Yountville, Oak Knoll District, Mt. Veeder, Wild Horse Valley, Coombsville, and Los Carneros. Each of these American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) has a very different blend of soil, climate, grapes and elevation.

While people usually make the case that Napa is similar to Bordeaux, this seminar was trying to show that it is also comparable to Burgundy, growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in some places as well.

Napa has a long growing season and much vintage consistency as well as a marketing cohesion that is enviable. The Napa Valley Vinters trade association which promoted both this seminar and the Napa Rocks seminar I took in 2010 is very well organized and a great promoter of all things Napa related. The valley also hosts a very well known auction and a Premiere auction, and a green program .

I also learned some facts that surprised me including that the Napa Valley only grows 4% of California’s grapes and that only 9% of Napa County is planted to grapes. Wiss also spoke about how Napa is surrounded by what he called a ring of fire – it is the most geologically active place on earth, between the Pacific plate and the North American plate, and the San Andreas fault. The valley is also bordered by the Vaca and the Mayacama mountain ranges.

Apparently, the valley has at least half of the world’s soil types in one area or another from alluvial soils to good draining ones, the diversity is clear. It also became clear that elevation plays a role in the various AVAs from the mountains to the valley floor.

We tasted through a very wide variety of grapes from Albarino to Dry Riesling to Roussane and Pinot Grigio, among the whites and from Sangiovese to Malbec, Charbono and Zinfandel among the reds. I like some of the wines, not all (tasting notes below) but what excited me most was the variation.

I have always stayed away from Napa because the wines have been too big, too oaky and too expensive in my view. This class gave me new perspective on the area and a desire to look again at what they are doing.

Tasting Notes:

Hills Family Estate Albarino 2012 $24

The grapes come from the Steward Ranch Vneyard on the valley floor in Los Carneros which has a long, cool growing season. Only 500 cases are produced of this 100% Albarino wine which was made in stainless steel. It was lemon yellow in color with grassy, citrus, floral notes on the nose and palate with good acidity and a long and persistent finish. A nice wine for a salad or a first course.

Waterstone 2011 Pinot Gris $18

The grapes come from the Chiles Valley region of Napa with its clay-loam and shale soils. The area has a long growing season with persistent morning fog. The grapes go through whole cluster pressing and are fermented in stainless steel. Half is then put into oak for 150 days and then blended with the lot that didn’t go through oak aging for the final blend.
I found the wine to be a rich version of Pinot Gris withtropical fruit notes and a creamy finish thanks to the oaky treatment and lees stirring. Only 180 cases were made of this wine.

Trefethen 2012 Dry Riesling $23

This wine from the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley was a favorite with good acidity but also more residual sugar than I would have expected. Nice apple, pear fruit notes on the nose and palate. The wine was beautifully balanced and a nice surprise. 2012 was apparently a classic vintage for the Napa Valley with warm days and cool nights and a dry and warm spring with a cooler than average fall.

Truchard Vineyards 2011 Roussanne $35

The family planted three acres of this Northern Rhone variety in 1998 in the volcanic rock and ash soils of their Carneros vineyard. This wine which I had been curious to taste didn’t show its best that day with the acidity a bit out of balance. I take it to be an issue with that particular bottle and look forward to trying it at a later date.

Terra Valentine Amore 2010 $40

This wine made from 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec was juicy and rich in both its aromas and flavors with spice and lush berry notes. The Sangiovese fruit was sourced from Piero Antinori’s Atlas Peak vineyard then was given heavy oak treatment. Very unlike an Italian Sangiovese, taken on its own, I can see why this wine appeals to a wide audience even those it isn’t my particular style.

Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder 2008 Malbec $75

This 100% Malbec wine was rich and chewy with chocolate notes and dark fruit, oaky with soft tannins, I liked the minerality that came through and was a surprise due to the elevation of the vineyard. Not your classic Malbec, this Calfornia version might please Malbec lovers in any event.

Robert Foley 2010 Charbono $35

The grapes’s original name was Deuce Noir and was imported to Calistoga from the Savoie region in the French Alps in 1880. I found this wine to be interesting albeit a bit thinner than I would have imagined. I have only tasted one other Charbono so I don’t have a lot of comparable tasting under my belt to know if this is a typical expression of Charbono or not. The winemaker notes that this vintage was the smallest on record due to the crop level being the low.

Napa Cellars Napa Valley Zinfandel 2011

This winery also sources fruit and gets their Zinfandel from vineyards in St. Helena, Yountville and Calistoga. Zinfandel only makes up 2% of Napa’s total acreage. Zin is zin and this one was a classic expression of this big, juicy wine with hints of black and red fruit, pepper and spice notes, ripe tannins and sweetness. At 14.7% alcohol, this wine needs big food to support it such as barbecued ribs.


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Italians and Swedes Celebrate Santa Lucia


Santa Lucia is a holiday in many parts of the world including some towns in Italy, particularly in the Veneto and two towns in Lombardy, Crema and Cremona. The latter is a very famous city for its liutai or lute makers as well. Many don’t read Italian, I know, but here is an interesting explanation of this festive day that some consider almost as important as Christmas. Santa Lucia was a Saint from Siracusa, Sicily.

My own reason for celebrating Santa Lucia lies much closer to home with my beautiful niece whose name day is today – Lucia.

With Lucia on Cape Cod

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Coda di Volpe Bianca from Campania

Coda di Volpe is a grape that hails from the Campania region. There are both white and red grapes with this name, although the red is much more rare. I have had the white version often but have never tried the red version of this grape variety. Apparently, according to sources, Pliny gave the grape vine its name. Some say it was due to the color of the grape, others due to the shape.

Here is a very involved explanation of the name from the blog, Fringe Wine, for those want to have a better understanding of its etymology. What is pretty much agreed upon is that this grape was first noticed during the Roman era.

The grape itself, its “bianco” version, produces a light-bodied wine with nice fruit and floral aromas and flavors. It is seen in a number of Denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wines such as those from the Campi Flegri DOC, Greco di Tufo DOC, Sannio DOC, Taburno DOC, and Vesuvio DOC. It prefers volcanic soils and is grown in the provinces of Benevento, Avellino and Caserta.

Coda di Volpe

I recently had this example from Terredora.

Other producers such as Donnachiara make Coda di Volpe as well. I know Illaria from Donnachiara but haven’t had the pleasure of trying her Coda di Volpe wines as of yet. Maybe next time I see her at VinoVip Cortina or Vinitaly.

con Illaria Petitto - Donnachiara at VinoVip Cortina

This wine tends to retail at anywhere between $14-$18 and pairs well with a variety of antipasti, cheeses, charcuterie, pastas, salads and fish. It can stand up to poultry but it is a bit too light for most meats in terms of its structure. Definitely a grape to try, especially for those who now see Greco di Tufo and Falanghina as old hat. Try another white from Campania. It is often blended but you can find it in its purest form as a single variety wine. I’m trying not to use the word mono-varietal which causes so much consternation in the wine community.

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Wine of the Week: Edelzwicker from Mittnacht-klack (Vin d’Alsace)


This week’s wine of the week is Edelzwicker from the Domaine of Mittnacht-klack in Alsace. This $15 bottle of wine is a perfect blend of grapes that was a very pleasurable aperitif before going to see the Rigoletto a few weeks ago. The wine can be found here.

I had it as an aperitif before a show at the Indie in Lincoln Center but it would pair beautifully with salads, white meat or pasta. It was somewhat full-bodied with stone fruits and lots of minerality as well as good acidity and length. I really enjoyed it and would definitely repeat the experience.

The wine hails from Alsace, specially from the town of Riquewihr where the winery is located. The winery was started in 1973 by the union of two winemaking families, hence the double last name.

The term Edelzwicker refers to a blend of noble white grapes. They do not have to put the percentages of the grapes used on the label and the grapes can be vinified either together or separately.

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New World/Old World Wines: South Africa & Madiba On My Mind

South African Flag

Like much of the world, I have been watching hours of programs about Nelson Mandela’s life and his example. He is so inspiring that one can only try to be joyous and cheerful when thinking about his spirit despite the fact that he has left our earthly domain. As this is a wine blog, of course, I am thinking about South Africans and the South African wine industry. I had the occasion to try a number of wines from South Africa paired with South African cuisine at the Institute of Culinary Education earlier this year. Jim Clarke led the lecture and the event was part of the Snooth PVA blogger weekend.

I also had the great fortune to work on a project for Stellekaya and to befriend the wonderful Ntsiki Biyela, their wine maker. All this to say that South African wines have a special place in my heart although I still have not visited that beautiful country.

At the Snooth luncheon we tasted through a number of wines made from international varieties and one Pinotage. I’ve never been a huge Pinotage fan but I was willing to be more open-minded.

I showed my open-mindedness by trying ostrich for the first time as I am already quite familar with Biltong, a South African cured meat.

Of the wines, my favorites were the following:

Graham Beck Brut NV with its refreshing, yeasty aromas and flavors coming from the 15 months it spends on its lees.

Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009, a wine I know well from previous tastings. It was lush and rich with the right waxy, mineral notes I look for in Chenin. They also make great Cabernet Franc wines.

De Morgenzon Chardonnay 2012 was not my usual style, a big, oaked Chardonnay but something about it pleased me that day whether it was the pairing or the fact that they pipe Baroque music into their winery.

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2010 interested me because I had never had a Pinot Noir from South Africa. As you would expect, it had mushroom, earthy notes and was lighter than most of the other red wines we tried.

Warwick Pinotage Old Bush Vines 2011 with its full bodied mouth and rich chocolate flavors made me think that Pinotage can have a place at the table. I might have put it at the end of the meal with dessert.’

Ken Forrester “T” Late Harvest 2010 was a delicious late harvest wine in the same style as many from Alsace. I am a crazy about sweet wines so this one fit the bill. Forrester is another winery that I know well, having tried much of his Chenin Blanc at previous tastings.

I will be toasting Madiba all week and keeping his exceptional lessons of perseverance and forgiveness forever in my heart.

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