Category Archives: Wine of the Week

Wine Wednesday: Domain Pushang Marselan, Ningxia (China)

Last summer I had the good fortune to attend a seminar on wines from Ningxia, China’s premier wine region. The seminar was taught by Houghton Lee and Tommy Lam, wine educators. They were fascinating, informative and prepared with a 60-slide presentation. Houghton is the Hong Kong Liaison for the Society of Wine Educators and Tommy has the same title for China. This was my first real foray into Chinese wines. Apparently Ningxia is a young and dynamic region. There are roughly 6.3 million people in the region which they compared to the state of Tennessee. They also mentioned the Hui minority group, a Muslim community as making up 1/3 of the area and that it is 25,000 square miles or about the size of West Virginia. They point out that Ningxia, like France and Italy is between the 30th and 50th parallels. China has begun producing a lot of wine but their drinking per capita has not changed all that much.

China is a very ancient wine producing country. In fact, the title of their seminar was “Old World or New World or Unique.” In 15BC, the Qin Dynasty emperor built an advanced irrigation network in the Helan Mountain foothills. During the years 620-900 AD, there were vineyards in the Tang dynasty. However, the first international varieties were brought to Ningxia’s Yuquanying Farm. In 2003, the first Geographical Indication Protection (GIP) status was approved for Helan Mountain East Foothills. There are five subregions in the GIP and one additional subregion in Ningxia for a total of 6 subregions.

David E Henderson began Dragon’s Hollow winery in Helan Mountain in 2003 and in 2011, the Jiabeilan Grand Reserve 2009 won the International Trophy for Red Bordeaux Varietals at Decanter World Wine Award. These two dates are pretty significant for the Chinese wine community and I heard the same facts this past week when attending another seminar on Chinese wines in New York City. There were 100 wineries operating last summer.

Apparently wine tourism is a huge business in China and chateaux are being created specifically to host tourists.

In terms of the topography in Ningxia, Houghton said that “the whole country is like steps going down from west to east and suggested looking at the direction of yellow river. The river flows North rather than South. The Helan Mountains are also a huge factor in the area as they block the harsh and cold winds. The highest peak in the mountain chain is 3556m (11,666ft) and the range extends for 200 km (138mi). Most of the vineyards in the area are located at very high altitudes, 3600ft-4260ft (1100-1300m). According to Houghton’s presentation, this puts the range somewhere between Valle d’Aosta and Rioja Alavesa in terms of altitude of vineyards. The climate is dry continental and the soils are alluvial fans or a gravel, sand and clay texture from the mountains. There are more stones as vineyards get closer to the mountains. Frost is an issue both early and late in the season. The area is very arid although they do have a short rainy or Monsoon season.

The Helan mountain range also has 30 or so passes and these allow currents of air to get through to the vineyards thereby created notable thermal excursion, hot desert air during the day and cooler temperatures at night.

In terms of the grapes, they have a host of international varieties planted as one might expect and also a couple of Chinese varieties: Bei Mei and Bei Hung which I had never heard of before. They are the local hybrid of Muscat Hamburg and Vitis Amurensis – both are cold-resistant. Interestingly, they grow also grow Marselan, a red French wine grape variety that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache created in the 1960s that you usually see in the Languedoc in France and in a few other places such as California and in Girona, Spain. I used to work with a producer who makes wines with Marselan. I am a fan and that is why today’s wine of the week is Marselan driven.

One of the most fascinating aspects of viticulture in this area is the practice of “banking” or burying the vines to protect them from the harsh cold. It can be -7oF (-22oC) in January. They bury the vines in October-November and unearth them in March-April. They also bury them to prevent dehydration. The practice of burying the vines also leads to different trellising techniques. They use something called a single Dragon backbone and a Chang system which looks like one of the Chinese characters or an inclined Cordon de Royat which is said to give growers flexibility in terms of height and canopy placement.

The whole area is a very complex and somewhat inhospitable so those who work that land seemed to have a pioneering attitude, sort of like the one from Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come…

My wine of the week, Domain Pushang Marselan 2014 is made from 90% Marselan and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It ages in oak, 30% American and 70% second use barrels for 12 months. They make 40,000 bottles and have 16 acres. Their first vintage was 2013. The winery is owned by a young couple and is in the subregion of Yinchuan The wife is the enologist. Surprisingly, at least to me, a lot of the winemakers were women at the wineries and at the winery I was introduced to last week as well. This was quite unexpected. I have in my notes that the wine had black and red fruit, pepper, juicy tannins, minerality and a rich, full finish.

I also liked another wine at the tasting from Kanaan winery Pretty Pony 2013 that was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot with aging in French and Hungarian oak. That one had a lot of eucalyptus prazyne and oak notes.

The wine from Jiabeilan was also interesting and elegant. Made by another female winemaker, Helen Zhang, also made in the subregion of Yinchuan, it was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%) and Merlot (40%). Black and red fruits, oak, pepper, dusty undertones and chocolate lifted off the palate. Acidity and alcohol were also nicely balanced.

Gaoyuan Silver Heights also had a female winemaker, Emma Gao. Also from the subregion of Yinchuan, it was a Cabernet/Merlot blend, 65%, 35%. It was the first of the wines to show a floral note

For longer and more complete tasting notes on all of the wines, please read these two posts I found while looking for the winery’s website: on Vintrinsic by Roger C. Bohmrich MW and by Dwight Furrow at Food and Wine Aesthetics. A real treat, I am happy to have revisited this tasting today.

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Filed under China, Society of Wine Educators Conference Seminars, Wine of the Week, Wine Wednesday, wines

Wine Wednesday: Si Mon Père Savait(Cotes du Roussillon)

Simonperesavait

This week’s wine Wednesday is about a wine from Bernard Magrez, Si Mon Père Savait. Made from a blend of 69% Syrah, 17% Carignan, and 14% Grenache, it screams Southern France and particularly Roussillon. Infact, it is from the Côtes du Roussillon. The vines are grown on schist soils. The grapes are vinified separately in inox and then blended in a second step. Half the wine ages in barrels and half in inox and then they are blended. The vines are on average 30 years old. The Grenache and the Carignan are bushed trained and the Syrah is on a royal cordon trellising system. It had that wonderful “garrigue, Mediterranean vegetal aroma” and really made me want to visit the south of France. Berries and bramble, earthy notes and black fruit made it a great pairing for my weekly Peruvian chicken. I found this page about it on wine-searcher.com. This was the 2011 so the blend is a little different. Bernard Magrez is world famous for his big Bordeaux estates like Château Pape Clément. This is an  very affordable and delicious sample of what he can produce.

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Filed under Cotes du Roussillon, France, Wine of the Week, Wine Wednesday, wines

Wine Wednesday: Petite Arvine from Ottin (Valle d’Aosta)

Ottin Petite Arvine

This week’s blizzard has really made me miss ife on the slopes, all of it. I always remember the panini with speck and asiago cheese that I would eat when skiing in Italy and the desire to drink Vin Brule but the knowledge that too much of it would make me a worse skier. Hopefully, a settimana bianca will again be part of my life as Niccolo’ learns to ski and wants to go. It’s a great tradition in Italy that I miss.

This week’s wine of the week for wine wednesday is about Petite Arvine from Ottin. It was very clear and crisp with nice minerality and acidity. A straight-forward wine, “franco” the Italians wood say.

This is a fresh and friendly white wine which is a perfect drink on the mountains after a tough day on the slopes or after a hike in that beautiful countryside. I’ve always had it with mountain cheese such as Fontina DOP, charcuterie such as Jambon de Bosses DOP, Lard d’Arnad or alone as an aperitif.

I wish I had great pictures from the Valle d’Aosta. It is such a marvelous and special place. I have been skiing there a number of times (Monte Cervino, Monte Bianco, La Thuile) in my years in Italy and each time came back with a renewed respect for the mountains, the land and the wines. I have not spent much time there during the summer but I am sure the hiking rivals the skiing.

Each year they have an exposition for their wines in September. The association is called the Associazione Viticulteurs Encaveurs. In Italian, the term “viticultura eroica” means that those harvesting the wines are basically “heros” because it is so difficult in terms of the slope of the terraces.

In terms of wine production, there are a number of cooperatives as well as many individual producers. I also learned that some 40% of the members of the cooperatives are women, a fact I found quite interesting.

I spent a long time with a sommelier from the Valle d’Aosta at VInitaly one year. He was so incredibly well prepared and knowledgeable that I felt I had taken a trip through the region and through the vineyards with him. In fact, I highly suggest going to the sommelier booths at Vinitaly in years to come. You learn a lot and can taste many wines. I went on the last day of the fair at 900 AM and was alone with him for about one hour. I realize not everyone has that luxury. I felt very lucky that I did. It was one of my favorite tastings at the fair and among the most instructive.

For now, just an invitation and a suggestion – visit the Valle d’Aosta on your next holiday, winter or summer and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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Filed under Indigeous varieties, Valle d'Aosta, Wine of the Week, Wine of the Week, Wine Schools, Wine Wednesday, wines

Wine of the Week: Caiarossa Pergolaia (Tuscany)

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This week’s wine of the week is from a wine called Caiarossa. I first discovered this winery last year at Vinitaly. I was attracted to their labels with the enigmatic bust on them and the esoteric names of their wines.

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The winery is owned by a Frenchman and the grapes grown are mostly international or French varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, etc. He also grows Sangiovese but most of his wines are blends. Usually this would put me off but I persevered and am glad I did.

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I very much enjoyed all of the wines I tried and the gentle hand of the winemaker was pretty consistent throughout the wines. The goal of the owner, Eric Albada Jelgersma who also runs two chateaux in France, Chateau Giscours and Chateau du Tertre is to express the particular terroir of the vineyards. The vineyards at Caiarossa have red soils and “ghiaia” or small stones. They are certified organic and biodynamic. I tasted a couple of the wines again at the Slow Wine event in February. She wasn’t a fan but I found them to be to my liking much as I had a year earlier. I found the blend in Pergolaia, Sangiovese with a small percent of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, engaging and juicy both on the nose and palate with rich red fruits, tertiary earth notes and foral undertones. I thought it had a long finish and would work beautifully with a light pasta or a chicken dish.

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I think this is a winery to watch. Not inexpensive, I thought the wines were worth it.

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Filed under Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Tuscany, Wine of the Week

Wine Wednesday: Syrah from Baracchi Winery in Cortona

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I first was introduced to Baracchi Winery at Vinitaly a couple of years ago. The owners are very involved with their falconeria and I had a hard time concentrating on the wines. I think I gave them only a cursory run through the first time I met them but this summer I was in their beautiful city of Cortona in Tuscany and was able to appreciate the wines for what they are.

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They own a beautiful winebar on the coroner of the main street in Cortona and the name Baracchi is hard to ignore in that beautiful city. Syrah has found its home in Cortona thanks to the microclimate and the soils.

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Here one could discuss whether international varietals should be grown in Italy or if they should only concentrate on indigenous varietals. While many bloggers and journalists are of the traditionalist view, I tend to think that a winemaker can explore what they want to do with their land. While I don’t necessarily believe in planting extreme varietals or at all costs trying to grow something one thinks will sell in a particular market, I do believe that if the soils can be a good home to a varietal as they are with Syrah in Cortona, then why not grow it there.

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The Syrah was beautiful, elegant with good fruit and spicy aromas and balanced alcohol. The winery owns 30 hectares. Some plots have more sandy and others clay and gravel. I would love to do a vertical tasting of their wines and see how they develop with time. I imagine the results will be interesting. I am glad I took a second look.

Cortona, a city I had never visited is a fascinating city where everyone should head at least once in their lifetime. It sits on the top of a mountain but what was amazing to me was the Etruscan art museum. They have an incredible collection that includes an old chandelier. My pictures don’t do the works of art justice I am afraid. I loved the museum. My mother was getting her PhD in Etruscan Art at Columbia when pregnant with me and we joke that that is why I love Italy so much. Perhaps it is true.

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Whatever it was the day, the city where Jovanotti was born, Baracchi’s Syrah, Etruscan art of the small stuffed animal of a Cinghiale I bought for my son, Cortona was perfect and a place to visit for all, in my view.

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Filed under Italian wineries, italy, Memorable Events, Travel, Tuscany, Wine of the Week

Wine Wednesday: Tocai Friulano from Millbrook Vineyards & Winery

Hudson Valley 3

My wine of the week is from Millbrook Winery in the Hudson Valley. Their Tocai Friulano appealed to me when I tried it for the first time many years ago and still holds my interest. Fruity but dry with nice mineral notes and crisp acidity, I thoroughly enjoy this wine.

I love the Hudson Valley and always have. I spent many a summer as a little kid and adolescent at camp in the Valley. It was such an important part of my life that my camp friends and I still get together, all these years later.

Camp Reunion

This photo was taken a few years ago but more or less we look the same and still see each other. I was lucky enough to be in the Hudson Valley today and am always thrilled by its beauty.

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Wine Wednesday: Pol Roger Extra Cuvee Reserve

Pol Roger

Celebrating life with Champagne. I love Champagne and I love this particular one quite a lot. Pol Roger is one of the last few champagne houses that are still entirely family owned. In fact, my very first wine tasting in New York years ago was a Wildman portfolio tasting, Pol Roger’s importer, and a member of the family was there pouring their wines. A very elegant older gentleman, it was a memorable experience. The family has some 220 acres of vineyards, mostly in the south of Epernay and the Cotes de blancs. This particular Champagne is composed of one third Pinot Noir, one third Chardonnay and one third Meunier. It spends three years on its lees. Each grape brings different aspects to the blend: Pinot Noir brings body, Pinot Meunier provides freshness and fruit notes and Chardonnay enhances the experience by adding an elegant lift.

This Champagne has a beautiful perlage, lovely floral and fruit notes as well as nutty and toasty aromas and flavors that make this a classic and a great one to celebrate sweetness in your life. I drank it right after my beautiful, long desired son arrived in 2014. Every time I have this wine, I think of how marvelous that bottle was indeed. Cheers to life and to Niccolo’, my exquisite boy.

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Filed under Champagne, France, Memorable Events, Pol Roger, sparkling wine, Wine of the Week, Wine Wednesday, wines