VV in the News!

Kevin brought home a little treat for me today.

The latest copy of the David Burke Magazine. The magazine which features the various David Burke restaurant properties contains an article in this issue about our favorite sommelier, Rory Gurland.

Specifically, the article discusses Rory’s enormously popular 777 Wine Weeks, which allow diners to travel around the world tasting seven wines and seven dishes from seven places. Proceeds from the tasting benefits Common Threads, that educates children about nutrition and cooking (Those of you following Bravo TV’s Top Chef may have seen the episode that featured the kids from that program).

Upcoming events have been scheduled for lunch during the weekdays instead of including the weekends, but patrons will continue to taste seven wines for the very low donation of $7.00 (again going to Common Threads). As mentioned previously, the themes for this year’s 777 Events have been set.

The week of June 2 thru 6 will feature:

  • Chardonnay
  • Cabernet
  • Summer
  • ‘New’ Old World
  • South America

The week of December 1 thru 5 will feature:

  • Sparkling Wine and Champagne
  • Winter
  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain

So come on by, taste some great wines, hobnob with Rory and make a donation to Common Threads! Oh and if you see some crazy woman with a camera taking pictures of her food, say hi to me as well!

Oh and as note, the photograph featured in the article was taken by yours truly.

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Napa Valley Wine Auction Preview

From our Mid-Atlantic correspondent, Richard

From: Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards
To: Richard
Subject: Napa Valley Wine Auction Preview

Auction Napa Valley tickets on sale March 31, 2008

Auction Napa Valley E-Auction Preview

The buzz in Napa Valley has startedit’s almost time for the granddaddy of charity wine auctions, Auction Napa Valley 2008, The American Wine Classic. But you can get in on the bidding excitement, without even attending the event!

Starting on May 23, wine lovers everywhere around the globe will be able to bid on and win lots via the Internet in Auction Napa Valley’s E-Auction.

We invite you to join in the fun by checking out and bidding on these 80 incredible auction lots including the one from Flora Springs that features rare and one-of-a-kind bottles and collections of wine; private events and weekend stays hosted by Napa Valley vintners; luxury items; and more.

What’s more, proceeds support Napa County health, youth development and housing nonprofit organizations. Over the past 27 years, Auction Napa Valley has donated close to $78 million to local nonprofits.

The online lot preview is now open. Start viewing the lots from Flora Springs and our neighbors. We can guarantee the most difficult task will be trying to decide which lots to bid on!

Friday, May 23: E-Auction opens at www.napavintners.com

Friday, June 6: E-Auction closes in three waves, 2:00, 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. Pacific time.

The E-Auction: it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s a great way to experience the best Napa Valley has to offer with items that often can’t be purchased anywhere else all while raising money for a great cause.

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Themes for 777 2008 Set!

Get excited for June and December 777 at David Burke’s Primehouse. Here are the themes:

Monday June 2nd Chardonnay
Tuesday June 3rd Cabernet
Wednesday June 4th Summer
Thursday June 5th ‘New’ Old World
Friday June 6th South America

And for the December 777

Monday December 1 Sparkling Wine and Champagne
Tuesday December 2 Winter
Wednesday December 3 Italy
Thursday December 4 France
Friday December 5 Spain

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My Dinner With Roberto- By Steven Spanbauer

The following was posted by Steven Spanbauer of Maverick Wine here in Chicago. Steven was gracious enough to share this post from his blog with us at vinoverve. I attended this dinner as well, Rory

“A traditionalist has the most respect for terroir and grape variety,” So declared Roberto Conterno of Giacomo Conterno at dinner this evening, Monday April 7th. “The barrique has many advantages but one drawback, its external additions to a wine obscures varietal expression and terroir,” so continued Roberto’s discussion of traditional versus modern in the Piedmont. When asked about any changes at his family’s property over the last three generations he seemed confused. Why change what wasn’t broken.
Frequently ranked as one of the top producers in the Piedmont and at the vanguard (or more correctly rearguard) of the traditionalist faction in the region, Giacomo Conterno is farmed organically and Roberto, the current proprietor, is a proponent of intensive farming practices to ensure the highest quality possible in the finished wines. In 2002 enormous time and energy was put into pulling leaves away from the bunches in the Cascina Francia vineyard so the grapes could be exposed to as much air and light as possible. Spared the devastating hail with decimated vineyards in the surrounding villages the crop in Cascina Francia benefitted from two months of warm weather after the rains in August. These two months ended on October 22nd when a small harvest was brought in of such quality that the property will only be making a Montfortino in 2002.
Roberto uses two measures to determine when to harvest his Barbera and Nebbiolo: taste and laboratory analysis. If harvested too early, Nebbiolo will derive too much of its tannins from the unripe seeds rather than ripe tannins from the skins of the grapes and since long macerations are the rule here (3-4 weeks for Nebbiolo) tannin management is of primary importance. The main deciding factor in the decision to harvest is how the grapes taste and Roberto has waited up to two weeks after the laboratory has pronounced the grapes ready to harvest to actually begin.
The Barbera is harvested first and due to limited space at the winery it will be fermented in either wood or a combination of wood and stainless steel. If the Nebbiolo appears to be ripening early a portion of the Barbera will be fermented in two stainless tanks to make room for the Nebbiolo. There is no cold soak for either variety, as Roberto explained, mainly because there was an issue with setting the color. In the absence of alcohol, the color compounds from the skins of the grapes do not become fixed and can precipitate out of the wine before the end of fermentation. Furthermore during the last week of maceration (normally 3-4 weeks for Nebbiolo and 2-3 weeks for Barbera) the skins reabsorb some color so every step must be taken to prevent a loss of color extraction at the beginning of fermentation and maceration. This last week is also important for the polymerization of anthocyanin and tannin in the final wine establishing color, mouthfeel and balance.
After fermentation and maceration the wines are racked into large botti for malolactic fermentation. Barbera is aged for two years, Barolo Cascina Francia for four years and Barolo Montfortino for seven years. All wines are bottled in July without fining or filtration and after blending. The proof of the quality is in the bottle:
2005 Barbera d’Alba
A dense, complex and savage Barbera nose with a deep ruby color. Briary, bitter cherry flavors and rich but beautifully balanced with an elegant and lifted mid-palate impression from the combination of ripe tannin and good acidity.
2003 Barolo Cascina Francia
From the bottom of the vineyard as these were the vines the least stressed from the heat and drought of the vintage. Surprisingly deep color for a Cascina Francia, when it was mistakenly poured in place of the Barbera I did not notice until I smelled the wine. This is a seriously rich and brawny Cascina Francia but very forward and drinkable. The aromas were rather shy throughout but the palate displayed the characteristic tarry and mineral flavors. How this wine will develop in the bottle completely baffles me.
2000 Barolo Montfortino
Sadly infanticide was committed with this wine but even I cannot afford to cellar Montfortino even with the employee discount so I will take it when I can get it. Floral aromas hinting at roses and tar with menthol underpinnings made me just want to smell this wine all night. The wine was rather tight and youthful on the palate but the balance and mouthfeel was readily apparent. A complete contrast with the previous wine the Montfortino, which is a selection made in the Cascina Francia vineyard, showcased the approachable style I’ve found in many 2000 Barolos just much more concentrated and intense.
The dinner at A Tavola matched the wines beautifully and conversation really got going as the wines flowed. The entire sales and brand management team were in attendance…
Thanks Steven for a beautiful description of the night and the iconic wines we tasted. For more musings by Steven Spanbauer (about a lot more than wine) visit:
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Master Sommeliers – Wine Experts, Service Mavens, Blind Tasters

The Court of Master Sommeliers are in Chicago again to test for Certified Sommeliers (12 of 23 passed at the Conrad today, one of them being Rachael Johnson one of the Sommeliers on staff here at The James – Congratulations Rachael!). Tomorrow they will administer the Introductory Course to future Sommelier hopefuls.

Court of Master Sommeliers, have you heard of them? I hadn’t until 2002 when I was hired as a waiter at Blue Fin in New York City’s Times Square. The restaurant wine program was lead by corporate beverage director Greg Harrington, MS. Those last two letter referring to the title ‘Master Sommelier‘. Back then, as I was told, Greg was a pretty big deal. Not only was he one of 50 or 60 Masters in the country, but he also had the record for being the youngest to ever pass the test. Like I said, Greg was a pretty big deal. These days there are almost 100 Master Sommeliers in the US, with 9 newly anointed MS titles going out in 2007 alone. So what does it mean and why is it a big deal?

The Court of Master Sommeliers originated in London (where they take wine very seriously) and an American chapter was initiated in 1977. The goals of the organization include setting a benchmark and awareness of service standards and knowledge in the sales and service sector of the wine industry. Not a bad goal. So what does one need to do to become a Master Sommelier? Let’s just say that its really really hard. Those that even get invited (yes, you have to get invited) to take the MS exam have already passed a series of rigorous tests that include blind tasting 6 wines in 24 minutes, answering detailed questions about obscure wine regions, and exuding graceful and composed service while being harassed by sitting Masters. That process will get you a title of Advanced Sommelier and allow you into the world of eligible Masters candidates.

To become an Advanced Sommelier you must receive sponsorship from an MS, and have also passed the Certified Exam. I passed my Certified last March here in Chicago and will hope to sit for the Advanced in early 2009. Now that Rachael has passed the Certified I have a great study buddy and blind tasting partner.

More on the Court of Master Sommeliers to come…

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A lovely "Marytage"

By Richard Takamoto
Mid-Atlantic Region Correspondent

First, let me say that finding a store in Maryland with fine wines, or one with a broad selection, has been a challenge of immeasurable proportions. Chicago has left me very spoiled. To make matters worse, Maryland is one of those states with archaic laws that do not allow residents to receive shipments of wine from out of state. Perhaps there are ways to get wines from out of state, but I have not heard how. I have found most wine and beer stores in Maryland are small, and many are not much bigger than those pre-fabricated shops you find at a gas station. Yes, it is depressing. Surprisingly, the better wine stores in Maryland are those run by the county itself. I have walked out of many wine stores in Maryland after opening the front door and becoming overwhelmed by the smell of old crabs. This is Maryland after all, and crabs are considered mandatory. I have discovered the county-run beer and wine stores stick to beer and wine, smell much better, and are more reasonably priced.

I was recently referred to a county-run wine store in Sliver Spring, simply known as, the “Montgomery County Liquor” store on International Drive. At this point, I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to follow-up on this referral. It is a small wine store with a limited selection (and did not reek of decaying crabs). I did note this store was the first I have found that offers more than a few types of beers. I was also happy to find there is a small section with Maryland wines. Since moving to Maryland, if I happen to find Maryland wines, I will try one every now and then. As you know, one of my favorite wines is “Trilogy” by Flora Springs winery in California, which I have not been able to find anywhere in this state. So, I was excited to find a meritage from a Maryland winery, Solomons Island. Since this is Maryland, it is appropriately labeled as a “Marytage.” This “Marytage” is blended and bottled by the Solomons Island winery in Lusby, Maryland, which is located in the southern part of the state near the Chesapeake Bay.

I opened the bottle and poured myself a glass to let it breathe. It was disconcerting when a white foam formed on the top of the poured wine, which can be seen in the attached photo. The first sip was difficult, but I find that is true for most wines. I brought out some cheese, took a bite, and then tried the wine again. The difference was remarkable. The wine tasted much lighter and drier. I found the wine dry (which I like) and the taste “quick” while eating something. Later, while drinking the wine alone, there was a longer aftertaste which was borderline sharp, but I believe typical for a red table wine such as this. It was not an unpleasant aftertaste. I finished the wine the next day and enjoyed it. The taste remained dry and quick, which (again) I like. I will buy this wine again (unless the FDA posts a warning about foaming wines from near the Chesapeake Bay).

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The Wine Trail – Chile, A Wholesale Perspective

By Ryan Arnold of VinDivino and Bill Bendelow of Lauber Imports

CASA SILVA: The Real Deal

In spending a week with Casa Silva a few things were made clear – 1) Chile is much more pleasant than the Midwest in January, and 2) we have a great producer in our book. I hope this will shed more light onto why Casa Silva is indeed a brand (I feel) that we should be proud to speak of and present.

First off, the quick history is both impressive and easy. The Bouchon family migrated from St. Emilion to the Colchagua Valley via Santiago in the late 19th century. They became the very first people to plant Vinifera varieties in that valley – Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, both in 1912 (these vines are alive and well and still in use today (the 1912 Sauvignon Blanc vines, at the home estate called Angostura, are included in both the Casa Amada SB/Sem and especially the Casa Silva Reserva SB). The Silva family married in and is now the owners of the winery. The winery itself started in only 1997, but has quickly become very well-known in Chile and is (according to various things I’ve read) the most awarded winery in Chile (when it comes to Chilean wine awards). Finally, the Silva family has made two great strides in expanding and perfecting the potential and in some ways the definition of the Colchagua valley as a whole – 1), their pride and joy viticulturally speaking is the Los Lingues vineyard, planted in the early 1990’s, and 2) the Lolol estate, planted in 1998.

Los Lingues is important as it was the first vineyard planted in the Andean foothills in the Colchagua valley (probably in the whole Central Valley of Chile, which is essentially the part of Chile that encompasses all vineyards in the country). This unique positioning gives them a very different microclimate (cooler at night), a very different soil type (a 1-8 foot layer of alluvial soils atop the typical Colchagua base of sandy clay mixed with quartzite gravel) and a much fresher, more consistent source of water (being closer to the snow melt run-off from the Andes).
The Los Lingues vineyard also has plenty of rolling knolls, hillsides and a few rivers running through it. The far side, closer to the mountains themselves, is cooler than the vines closer to the main road. All of these provide a wide range of variables to give complexity of the grapes grown there (mainly Carmenere and Cabernet, along with several others, some for blending, and some for experimenting). Los Lingues has become a well-known vineyard in Chile, much along the lines of the Apalta vineyard in the Santa Cruz area further west (but at a fraction of the price of those wines). Casa Silva’s dedication and focus on this vineyard’s nooks and crannies (i.e. planting vines in such a way as to even out sun distribution on canopies from dawn to dusk as the sun moves across the sky, and “microterrior” projects – essentially fine-tuning viticulture and winemaking to match each and every unique plot of each vineyard) is much like what is done at classified-growth Bordeaux chateaux — again, at a fraction of the price.
Los Lingues is the backbone of the Carmenere program at Casa Silva. This vineyard has proven to give not only what late- and unevenly-ripening Carmenere needs that is typical in Colchagua (a totally dry growing season through harvest – zero rain is the norm from late spring until early winter), but adds the bonuses of poorer, rockier soils and cooler nights. The cooler nights are essential in the perfection (or at least proverbial perfection) of Carmenere.
A vertical tasting of the Los Lingues Carmenere (’99, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’05, ’07) showed how Casa Silva is learning to play in a realm of Carmenere that is well above that of most producers. Rather than ripe and soft, with a variable of concentration, these wines had structure typical to that of Bordeaux wines from ripe years – acid, tannin, earth and fruit, etc. Winemaker Mario Geisse acknowledged that Carmenere is indeed troublesome when it comes to harvest – the difference of a week or a few days on the wrong side of ideal can result in “green” or “raisiny” flavors (or both if blended from different plots/vineyards). The earlier vintages showed a bit of both, and the more recent vintages were a little more fine-tuned: moving away from the green-and-raisin bookends of flavor and keeping the range of peppery, smoky black and red fruits that is Carmenere. Sitting with the wines open for about 15-20 minutes (after they were decanted) revealed how well these wines had and will hold up.

The Lolol (pronounced just like the chorus of the famous Kinks song) estate is another vanguard if you will. The Casablanca Valley, far to the north of Colchagua (straight west of Santiago, basically) has become famous for being “Cool Climate Chile” and is known for Chard, SB, and Pinot Noir. Casablanca is very similar to Santa Barbara in that it opens up almost directly to the ocean, allowing cooler breezes and fog to come in (the entire Central Valley of Chile is basically the space between the “Coastal Range” and the Andes). The issue us that fog is problematic during harvest time and is (at least in the case of Casablanca) not as consistent and reliable as other areas (resulting in inconsistent affect on sunlight and temperature). The Lolol estate in Colchagua solves this problem by being closer to the ocean and farther south (making it cool as well) but free from fog as it’s still protected by a lower part of the Coastal Range (keeping harvest fog and hence moisture-free).
This project started only 10 years ago but has already made believers out of many people, including those who used to proudly proclaim that Colchagua as a whole is only good for red wines. The reality is, Colchagua is as diverse as Sonoma and Napa combined. Several other producers have raced to get land in this area since Casa Silva has had so much success; the best site has already been secured by our supplier.
Lolol is planted mainly to Syrah, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. The SB is a fresher style and compliments the 1912 vines from warmer Angostura very well. But the real show here is with Syrah and Viognier. The Lolol Syrah is very much a “new world take” on northern Rhone, with great white pepper and pure Syrah flavors on a non-flabby frame needing air to show themselves. Even with the youth of the vines, this wine shows the property’s great potential. The Lolol Viognier is maybe even more head-turning, not only is it a great wine but it also happens to be Viognier from Chile! This is a white that really needs to be decanted. With air it shows great pure aromas of flowers and white peach in that heady but not heavy way that can be so elusive with this grape. I took a bottle of it out last summer and it got better and better as the day went on — even the next day! Not many new world whites costing $10 wholesale can do that, and especially not Viognier. Lolol will continue to provide better SB as time goes on. We also tasted a 2007 Pinot Noir in the Reserva range that was mainly Lolol fruit — we were all impressed at how good it was for vines so young and for the price – way better than anything from anywhere I’ve ever had in this price range. This should be in export-level production soon.

As for the future, they have another project that holds great promise, another vineyard (that is actually in the coastal range at a high altitude and even closer to the ocean) near the famous surfing town of Pichilemu. This is 2 years old, planted to mainly SB, Viognier and PN and should be great – cool, sunny, breezy and very dry. Like Los Lingues and Lolol, Pichilemu is looking to prove to be another place where Casa Silva went first, only to have many others follow.

Overall, Casa Silva has taken 5 generations of learning viticulture seriously and since bottling their own wines starting in 1997 has made great strides toward quality, especially at the price points when compared to other New World producers. The future can only get better as far as Casa Silva’s quality is concerned.

A quick wine summary:

First of all, according to them ALL of their grapes are harvested by hand, even for the cheap stuff. They hire 500+ additional people during harvest, which in all their vineyards can span over a month. This additional expense is necessary due to large parts of the properties that are definitely NOT tractor-friendly, and can be easily tasted when comparing other Chilean wines at the same price points.

Casa Silva Reserva Range – these come from a blend of fruit of the 3 vineyards they own:
*SB Reserva – mainly Angostura (with the 1912 vines), with Lolol; GREAT value and unique style that isn’t trying to mimic NZ, more like a firm dry Bdx white
*Chard Reserva – very little oak, actually needs air to open up; Angostura with Lolol
*Carmenere Reserva – great wine to lead with; Los Lingues, Angostura and Lolol shows their more serious approach to this grape
*Cab Reserva – Los Lingues, Angostura and Lolol; a lot of wine for the $ also
*Merlot Reserva – Angostura and Los Lingues
*Syrah Reserva – Lolol and Los Lingues.

Casa Silva Gran Reserva Range – vineyard designates; give ‘em air and they get better and better

Quinta Generacion – a blend of typically Carmenere and Cab with Syrah and Petit Verdot. Compare it to many wines costing at least twice as much – decant it to let it strut its stuff.

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New Arrivals

Yes, it has been a banner week for Long Island wine shipments here at VinoVerve! At Kevin’s office, I discovered the Wölffer 2003 Estate Selection Merlot. I suspect, I will need to cook up some lovely read meat to go along with it. I also got a lovely selection of Vosges chocolate bars for Valentines day… I wonder if any of those would work this wine….

We also received the Bedell 2006 Merlot and the 2005 Musée. I have always liked the Bedell Merlots so I am sure this will be excellent as well. The Musée will be the interesting experiment. It is a blend of 78% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. It seems to be taking the place of another favorite of ours, the Cupola wines which they stopped making a couple of years ago. This seems a higher end wine for them($65) and has a beautiful photo from artist/East End resident Chuck Close.

I get the feeling that I will have to plan three separate events around the tastings of these wines…


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