I had an interesting and mostly fun time last weekend at the 2009 Boston Wine Expo. I volunteered both days taking tickets at wine seminars (classes). When you volunteer at the Expo, in exchange they give you 2 free tickets to the Grand Tasting (value $85 each) for each volunteer shift. So I received 2 x 2 = 4 free tickets for my volunteering and was able to give these 4 tickets to friends to enjoy the Expo.
The first day volunteering was quite well-organized and I received my assignments when I arrived. I took tickets at the following seminars: Champagne Brunch, Rioja and Jerez: Spain’s Wine Royalty, and 2005 Bordeaux ‘The Greatest Vintage Ever!’. A problem with collecting tickets at the seminars is that you often have to leave halfway through the seminar to collect tickets at the next seminar. This was the case the the Rioja and Jerez seminar hosted by the very energetic Doug Frost. I was super enjoying his talk about the history of Spanish wines when I had to get up and leave. Ah, well.
But then I was able to participate in the 2005 Bordeaux seminar hosted by the Bordeaux négociant house Aquitaine Wine Company. This company specializes in distributing wines from less-famous, under-the-radar, more-affordable Bordeaux chateaux. Co-owner Margaret Calvet presented, and available to taste from her company were 18 wines, some quite fine, a very generous tasting. In fact, the class got a bit rowdy after a while, and I actually had to tell a group of 4 women to pipe down as they were partying too hardy.
There were 2 great after-Expo parties but I didn’t attend either of these as I knew I needed to catch the 7:09AM train Sunday morning, as I needed to be back into Boston for a 10:15AM seminar. It turned out I didn’t even have to collect the tickets for that seminar as it was free to the trade only. Argh. However, it turn out to be a super interesting seminar about Biodynamic Agriculture given by Montinore Estate (Willamette Valley, Oregon) winemaker Rudy Marchesi. Mr. Marchesi stressed that he uses biodynamic methods in his vineyards because they work, not because it’s his pagan religion. He stated that, yes, plants have feelings, which I hadn’t heard since the talk from Olivier Humbrecht at Gordon’s last year. When you listen to biodynamic adherents explaining their methods and the results, it’s so clear to me that this is the way to grow happy vines.
I caught a cold or virus from any of 10,000 (?) people but am getting over it now. Also I believe spending so much time running between the World Trade Center and the Seaport hotel in sub-freezing, near zero degrees F weather and generally being nerved up impacted my immune system somewhat.
I saw wine wunderkind and gadfly Gary Vaynerchuk at the Wine Library booth on Sunday and he gave me a t-shirt. He was his usual ebullient, friendly self. I also remembered him mentioning in passing on a WLTV episode that ‘Gary’ is not his actual first name. His real (Russian) name starts with a G and ends with a Y, but is not Gary. Can you guess what it is? First person to guess correctly in a comment will receive a copy of Al Franken’s book The Truth (with jokes) if you want it.
On Sunday with my Press Pass I was able to taste a few wines at the Grand Tasting with my friends. I paid special attention to wines of Greece and wines of New York state. I was curious to taste Retsina again, having experienced the pine-resin influenced Greek wine in the past and found it to be pretty much not palatable. At the Expo, I tasted Retsina from maker Achaia Clauss which was created purely for export to American market, with MUCH less pine-resin influence.
I tasted some great wines from New York state from Dr. Konstantin Frank, including the exotic Rkatsiteli, which is as delicious as it is unusual.
The 13th annual Nantucket Wine Festival will take place on gorgeous Nantucket island off the coast of southern Massachusetts on May 13-19, 2009. This should be a luxurious and edifying experience for those able to attend this wonderful event. I’ve been fortunate enough to vacation on Nantucket island in the past and it is truly a unique and beautiful atmosphere and ideal for this kind of find wine and culinary festival. As per press release, the highlights this year include:
- Expansion of last year’s tremendously popular luncheon symposium program. The equivalent of a graduate course in advanced wine philosophy, the symposia features an hour-long tasting and discussion, followed by a luncheon of exquisite food paired with the wines of the participating vignerons.
- Sultans of Sonoma Coast: San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Ehren Jordan will be joined by two other star winemakers, David Hirsch and Andy Peay, as they explain the attributes of California’s hottest new viticultural region, the Sonoma Coast.
- The Nantucket Historical Association Auction Dinner, held at the White Elephant Hotel and featuring the culinary talents of Daniel Bruce of Meritage at the Boston Harbor Hotel, who is celebrating 20 years of winemaker dinners at the Boston Wine Festival, and the king of all Spanish wine, Jorge Ordóñez of Fine Estates from Spain, the winner of last year’s Luminary of the Year award. The auction is always exciting and this year promises even more excitement as the centerpiece of the auction will be an 1870 Barrister’s bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, considered by man to be the finest example of pre-phylloxera claret.
- Towle’s Hill, a one-man show by former Nantucketer Mark Kenward, which chronicles over 150 years of history at one of California’s oldest wineries, Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma.
- The Nantucket Wine Festival has been famous for the number of great winemakers who visit us in May, and this year’s array of winemakers is absolutely stunning, featuring many of the best talents in the world of wine. Ehren Jordan, owner of Failla Vineyards and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year; Ray Coursen, owner/winemaker of Elyse Vineyards and the winner of the NWF’s 2009 Luminary of the Year award; Jean-Luc Pépin, Directeur Commercial, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé; Jean-Charles Thomas, Head Winemaker, Maison Louis Latour; John Kolasa, General Manager, Château Rauzan-Segla and Château Canon; Rob and Maria Sinskey, owners, Robert Sinskey Vineyards; Jorge Ordóñez, president and founder, Fine Estates from Spain and the winner of the NWF’s 2008 Luminary of the Year award; Jim Clendenen, owner/winemaker of Au Bon Climat.
- The Festival’s signature event, The Grand Tasting, will be held for the 3rd year at the historic Nantucket Yacht Club.
I’m excited to report that I will be attending the Boston Wine Expo again this year. Last year was my first time attending and I wrote up a pretty detailed blog post about my experiences. This year I will be volunteering on both days of the event taking tickets at Seminars. This makes me quite happy as I am very into wine education (evidenced by my frequent blog postings about wine classes at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Culinary Center). I consider this a plum volunteer assignment. I also was gratefully able to garner a Press Pass for Sunday, thanks to this here (mostly wine) blog, but this will be redundant with my volunteer duty that day. Still, I may sport my Press Badge as a unique wine-writer accessory.
I hope to see many of my fellow Boston-area wine lovers there!
On Friday, December 5 2008 I attended another great wine class at Gordon’s Fine Wine and Liquors in Waltham, MA. As previously mentioned in my last post, I was quite impressed with the ‘house’ cuvee of Champagne Henriot, the Brut Souverain NV, at a wine tasting at The Spirited Gourmet. Not that I am any great champagne expert, mind you. I just know what I like.
The class was given by Champagne Henriot New England Sales director Mark Bell. Mr. Bell was formerly a sommelier at Jean Georges, a very fine restaurant in New York City. Clearly he has opened a couple few thousand bottles of champagne in his career(s). He even demonstrated how he would perform Sabrage, which I had never even heard of. This is the art of opening a champagne bottle with a saber. Don’t try this at home. You could shoot your eye out. (Just watched ‘A Christmas Story’ a few days ago).
Photo at left is of Mark Bell, Gordon’s Wine & Culinary Directory Lindsay Cohen, and her assistant at the door. In this class Mr. Bell discussed champagne making at Henriot, and we tasted 5 champagnes from the venerable House. They are a family-owned winery in Rheims, Champagne, France, and have been making champagne since 1808. In France you can only label sparkling wine as champagne if it is from a winery in the Champagne apellation, France, and is created by the Méthode Champenoise, a labor- and time-intensive process. This is described pretty succinctly in this web page, Making Champagne, by Alexander J. Pandell, Ph.D. Those poor yeast cells literally spill their guts so that we may detect that toasty yeastiness in our champagne.
The winery in Champagne (the region) is located some 95 miles northeast of Paris. The weather is not warm and the wines before fermentation(s) are low in sugar and quite high in acidity. They are so acidic as to be basically unpalatable. The soil in the region is full of limestone chalk and this chalkiness and minerality is reflected in the champagnes. Three types of grapes are used in making Champagne (the drink): chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot munier. Henriot however chooses not to use any pinot munier in their champagnes. They also do not use any wood at all to age the wines in: all toastyness comes from the lees (champagnes aged on lees/sur lie). All champagnes are aged in stainless steel.
The 5 champagnes we tasted are as follows, with some of my notes:
Brut Souverain NV: “House” style champagne, reflects the approach, style, and taste of the Maison Henriot. Aged 30 months on lees. Blended from 35 crus, from several vintages, 40% chardonnay, 60% pinot noir. Light, crisp, toasty, redolent of brioche and stone fruits. Lovely.
Blanc Souverain Pur Chardonnay NV: 100% chardonnay (blanc de blancs), aromatically more intense and interesting than Brut Souverain, also fuller bodied and rounder in mouth. My personal fave. Fabulous.
Rose Brut NV: 42% chardonnay, 58% pinot noir. Still pinot noir part of blend to make color pinkish-orange, saignee method not used. Dried red fruits, spice and earth.
Brut Millesime 1996: 48% chardonnay, 52% pinot noir. 1996 was a great vintage in Champagne hence this vintage effort. Primary notes of truffles and fig.
Cuvee des Enchanteleurs 1995: The house “tete de cuvee”, their top of the line cuvee. Majority of blend is chardonnay. After 13 years of aging, this shows great richness and complexity. The nose is port-like and smells *very* strongly of truffles. Personally, I prefer the brighter, younger, crisper, not very aged champagne style.
So this was very fun and Mr. Bell was very entertaining and a gracious presenter. Kudos yet again to Gordon’s for offering such a variety of fun wine classes.
On October 14th 2008 I attended another tasting/class at Gordon’s which featured some wines from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; specifically, some from their Antinori portfolio of wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates acquired the rights to sell Antinori wines approximately 2.5 years ago. Interestingly enough, I had just watched a 60 Minutes piece on Antinori 2 days previous to the class. The CBS site shows the segment here. So I was naturally pretty curious about their wines. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, based in the Columbia Valley, Washington, represents, owns, or distributes wines from at least 18 different labels including of course Chateau Ste. Michelle.
In this class, National Wine Educator George Foote chose to highlight 7 wines from Antinori. Generally, the wines tasted in the class are on offer at Gordon’s, and this was no exception. However, no Guado Al Tasso nor Tignanello at the tasting; they are still on my ‘wish list’ from Antinori. The 60 Minutes piece on Antinori stated that the winery has been owned by one family since its inception in 1385 from its home base in Tuscany.
My favorites from the tasting include one white wine and one red. The 2007 Antinori Santa Christina Campogrande Ovieto is an affordable, refreshing white wine made from some unusual grapes: 40% Procanico, 40% Grechetto, 15% Verdello, and 5% Drupeggio & Malvasia. It is from the Orvieto Classico DOC in Puglia. I found this floral, fresh, fruit-forward, with a nice zingy acidity that always make me happy. My favorite red of the evening had to be the 2004 Antinori Marchese Chianti Classico Riserva from the Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG in Tuscany. This is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet. I found this to be intensely fruity and spicy, yet balanced and smooth Chianti. A real ‘double bubble’ wine – delicious now, but could be aged for 10 years or more.
On September 8th 2008 I had the pleasure of attending a tasting of 7 of the wines of Belle Vallée Cellars of Corvallis, Oregon (in the Willamette Valley appellation) with one of its founders, Mike Magee, in the very agreeable Fine Wine & Culinary Center at Gordon’s in Waltham, MA.
Belle Vallée Cellars is a smallish winery founded in 2002 specializing in Pinot Noir which grows famously well in the Willamette Valley. Chief winemaker is Joe Wright, former winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Mr. Magee is a self-described former beer maker with a large family (7 children) whose glassmaker wife designs the beautiful and colorful labels on the wine bottles.
Mr. Magee stated that Belle Vallée Cellars sources fruit from 16 vineyards in the area with pinot noir as the primary grape; fruit is handled gently, hand-sorted, and the aim of the wine making is to not ‘get in the way’ of the fruit. All wines are blends from various combinations of fruit from the 16 vineyards. In farming, they have at various points used irrigation, but not always; they like to plant more vines and have fewer grapes per vine, which is “unlike the CA model.”
On hand to taste were as follows: 2007 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, 2007 Willamette Pinot Noir, 2006 Reserve Willamette Pinot Noir, 2005 Grand Cuvee, 2005 Southern Oregon Red, 2003 Rogue Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Port of Pinot Noir. My notes (some pretty abbreviated) are as follows:
2007 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir – Their entry level pinot, all stainless steel, sees no oak, easy-drinker, quaffable, quite light in color and body, entire grape plant (seeds, stems, skins) used to provide structure, dusty tannins, rosé like, BBQ wine, serve chilled
2007 Willamette Pinot Noir – Produce about 8000 cases/year, most popular wine they sell, grapes from 8 vineyards, in Wine Spectator top 100 list in 2006. Nose of rubber bands cherries, and earth, lots of acidity, cinnamon, butterscotch, and vanilla on palate. *my favorite*
2006 Reserve Willamette Pinot Noir – Produce about 1000 cases/year, earthy, dark fruits, intense
2005 Grand Cuvee – Produce about 350 cases/year, extracted, a bit hot, very earthy nose of forest floor, well-made
2005 Southern Oregon Red – Disagreeable nose
2003 Rogue Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – No notes
2004 Port of Pinot Noir – One of very few ports made from pinot noir in the world. Only 6 barrels produced a year. The nose smells of cough syrup and plastic, but sweet and rich and complex on the palate. Quite a special aperitif (or digestif).
My cudos again to Gordon’s for another infomative and delicious wine class. Attendees also receive special discounts on all wines tasted, which is also awesome.
Last night I attended a pleasurable tasting/class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center featuring winemaker/producer Olivier Humbrecht (pronounced oom-bresht) of very well regarded winery Domaine Zind-Humbrecht of Turckheim, Alsace, France. Gordon’s really is one of the neatest places in my area to attend a formal tasting, wine class, or culinary class (no, I don’t work there). It is so beautifully outfitted for the purpose. Here’s a photo showing the 2 overhead screens. I like this pic as it shows the old nag dragging the plow through one of the vineyards in the domaine:
Olivier Humbrecht is one very smart (and tall) French wine producer who can claim to be have passed the very difficult Master of Wine examination, the first French man to do so. His winery produces a really impressive range of classic Alsation white wines including generic varietal wines, village-level (5), vineyard-level, and 4 Grand Cru level. Varietal wines are made from Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat a Petit Grains, and Pinot Gris. There is also a wine called Pinot D’Alsace which is made from Auxerrois and Pinot Blanc.
The Domaine practices organic and biodynamic grape growing practices. It produces about 180,000 to 200,000 bottles per vintage and employs 25 people (not including more at harvest times). Alsation white wines are generally more spicy, aromatic, and rich than the German counterparts. He explained that his idea of terroir not only includes the land and growing conditions, but the people and culture who inhabit the land. As far as biodynamic practices, he does indeed pay attention to moon cycles, homeopathic practices, and maintaining biodiversity. I’m pretty sure he stated that they do the buried cow manure in the horn thing, and believes that plants communicate with each other in a natural system that is not totally understood. He believes in a lot of up-front effort in the vineyards, and the simplest most non-interventionist vinification possible after harvest. He stated that machine-harvesting of grapes is a completely heinous process (although 6x less expensive than hand-harvesting) which produces ‘pulpy wine mush’ which includes a lot of stems and extraneous stuff that then has to be dealt with by the winemaker (all Domaine Z-H wines are produced from hand-picked fruit).
I managed to, well, ingratiate myself to Olivier by asking if he implemented malolactic fermentation in his winemaking. This is a secondary fermentation process by which tart malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid and CO2 post alcohol fermentation. I thought the 2006 Pinot Gris varietal wine tasted kind of round and buttery. He wanted to know why I asked, and then explained that all the wines we tasted had undergone malo *except* for the Pinot Gris. Well, I knew it was SOMETHING about the Pinot Gris that was different! (I’m telling myself to feel better). There’s a cool presentation of the malolactic fermentation process from Ellen Butz of Purdue University Dept. of Food Science.
In a Q&A session, someone asked Mr. Humbrecht his opinion of Finger Lakes NY wines, and he thought the grapes were grown in the wrong plots of land – the grapes are planted where the potatoes should be and vice-versa. Someone else asked about global warming, and he stated a general trend towards earlier and earlier harvests at his Domaine. When asked about optimum grape ripeness, he stated that the grapes are fully ripe when the pips can grow more vines!
We tasted 10 wines that were all delicious and aromatically extremely exciting. My favorites were the generic 2006 Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Pinot D’Alsace. I didn’t love the Pinot Gris, but was sitting near someone who thought that was the most outstanding, so of course everyone’s palate, opinions, and life experiences are different. The 2005 Riesling Gueberschwihr and Turckheim (2 village-level wines) were extremely delicious. The 2005 Riesling Herrenweg was extremely spicy and perfumed and had a super long finish. The 2005 Gewurztraminer Wintzenheim was so pungent and extracted it reminded us of a liquor, almost.
All in all it’s probably obvious I found this a very interesting and informative tasting. Also Gordon’s had some special pricing which was also quite nice and appreciated.
There are some reviews of some of these wines at the example issue of Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar for those interested.
On Saturday I attended an interesting class at Gordon’s Fine Wine & Culinary Center in Waltham, MA: The Rhone: Evolution in the Face of Global Warming. The instructor was Nick Cobb, “Food and Wine Guy” (wine broker). We tasted 9 wines of the Southern Rhone – 5 Côtes du Rhône (1 Rose and 4 Red) and 3 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (all Red). He talked about the distinctive rocky terroir in CndP and the problems producers are facing with global warming. Higher sugar and alcohol levels are affecting the traditional elegance and minerality in CndP wines. He talked of the traditional method of fermenting wine in cement used in wines of the Southern Rhone, and why that isn’t a bad thing. These wines are primarily Grenache and Syrah based, with some added Cinsault, Carignan, and Mourvedre (but up to 13 varietals allowed).
I want to mention the wine of the day – Domaine de Deurre Vinsobres Côtes du Rhône 2005. This wine is the best seller in Cobb’s portfolio and that is completely unsurprising. 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 100% hand-selected and de-stemmed berries. 100% fermented in steel – all the tannins are from the fruit. On the nose, burnt orange, cherry licorice, and lavender. Totally excellent mouth-filling fruity midpalate and a long, pleasant finish. Sooooo good. And sells for ridiculous $15.99. Tastes like a million bucks. Cobb mentioned that it tastes like CndP used to taste like ….!
Here are a few words about my experiences at the 2-day Boston Wine Expo which was held at the World Trade Center in Boston this past weekend. This was my first time attending this since my intense interest in wine is a fairly recent development. The only way for me to attend the Expo was to volunteer my time for the event. In exchange for one day of volunteering, they gave me 2 “Grand Tasting” tickets for the other day. So Saturday I attended, and Sunday I volunteered.
It took about an hour and 45 minutes for my friend Adrian H. and I to get into Boston from out here in Groton, MA. We initially tried to get into the Expo on the end opposite of the actual entrance – but this was a blessing in disguise as I found where the office was where I needed to collect our tickets. So we figured out the proper entrance, got our glassware, and entered the humongous Grand Tasting area.
This stadium-sized floor plan was divided into approximately 8 rows of wine vendors and 1 row of ‘Lifestyle’ product or service providers. We had a complete list of vendors so I tried to tick off the ones of particular interest. Since I’m a newbie, I really only noted about 10 producers. But of course by far the most *ridonculously* interesting attraction to me was the Wine Library tables located in row 800 starring the very addictive and energetic and over-the-top host Gary Vaynerchuk (see WLTV link on this page).
So, the thing is, that most of the wine being proffered is not necessarily anything of any special interest to the wine aficianado. This event is more of a gigantic party. The (audible) volume on the floor starts at a low bustling hum and ends at the end of the afternoon in a semi-deafening roar. The vendors of special interest have rather huge crowds in front… if you don’t feel like waiting and pushing through those, you will tend to quickly sate yourself with stuff where no line is there to fight. Here we are.
The tendency for first-timers is to drink too much of the readily available stuff, and we did. However, there were a couple of standouts that I noted, as follows, with my extremely abbreviated tasting notes:
Michael-David Petite Petit Sirah 2005
Smashing Petite Sirah & Petit Verdot blend with knockout nose and smashing lingering finish. Yumitude.
Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay 2006
I remembered that this was top-rated in Wine Spectator, and this did not disappoint. Remarkably complex and pleasing in the mid-palate for an inexpensive CA Chardonnay, with no evidence of over oaking. Bravo.
Mionetto Sergio Prosecco NV
All the Mionetto Prosecco offerings were outrageously tasty, and this particular extra-dry sparkler added some other local grape varieties to the mix (30%) for maximal interest.
WE MET GARY VAYNERCHUK
The 32-year old host of Wine Library TV was very sweet, attentive, and polite to us. And I have to say he’s even cuter in person than on his taped show (tv.winelibrary.com). He’s obviously very sharp. He’s serious about buying the New York Jets, and I definitely wouldn’t put it past him. We met his wife Lizzie briefly, and saw his Dad Sasha talking on his cell rather excitedly. Also little bro AJ was around, just having turned 21. Saturday it was surprisingly easy to speak with him (I expected to fight through a mob of Vayniacs). Sunday I saw him briefly too and there was a much larger mob of fans about, and I was nervous as I had no Dutch Courage to help me with my shyness problem.
WE MET RICHARD STALLMAN
On the ride home on the T to Alewife, where we parked, we were sitting next to a wild-haired gentleman typing emails on this laptop. Accompanied by 2 young fans/acolytes, he started talking to us about the non-necessity of constantly being hooked into the Internet. Adrian joked – who are you, Stallman? He admitted that, well, yeah, he was. We were shocked as all getout and rather thrilled to be chatting with the legendary Free Software Foundation guru/People’s republic of Cambridge lefty. In fact, in one of my IT positions, I used GNU tools extensively. He seemed pretty happy and was friendly with us.
Sunday morning I wasn’t feeling all that wonderful (surprise!) but needed to get into Boston for my volunteer shift 11-4. So pretty much I was taking Advil all day until the late afternoon. It somehow only took me an hour and 15 minutes to get into Boston this time. I had 3 shifts on Sunday taking tickets at Expo-hosted seminars. This was great. This particular volunteer task is wonderful as usually you get to participate in the seminar when there are no-shows, which there usually are.
The first seminar was Champagne and Artisan Cheese Pairings. There was a completely full house for this one, and we had to turn away Press people, who apparently always try to crash the seminars (and are usually successful). The second seminar was my fave – Zinfandel Madness. Here there were quite a number of no-shows, so both of us ticket-taking volunteers got to participate in the tasting. The Four Vines guru Christian Tietje presented four of his Four Vines Zinfandel offerings including the outrageous “Sophisticate” and the luscious “Maverick”.
This had the most outrageous nose I’ve ever experienced in my wine newbie life. I could have kept my considerable shnoz in the glass all day. Basically, a fruit and spice blockbuster with lots of jammy goodness and a considerable finish. If this is a New World Fruit Bomb, then I LIKE IT!
The third and last seminar for me was Pinor Noirs of the World. Again, quite a few no-shows at the end of the afternoon, so I got to participate. There were so many no-shows that I just let a couple of the Press crash it. There were 8 wonderful Pinots there with an expert panel presenting.
Archery Summit Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2006
Next year, I’ll definitely volunteer again, and if I attend the Grand Tasting again, will avoid the expediently available plonk and just taste what I have a reasonably good feeling will be worthy of my attention.