Monday, November 20, 2017

California Wine Strong: A Postcard From Wine Country

View from Hanna Winery in Alexander Valley. Photo by Dave Nershi

We took a 10-day trip to California wine country. We returned with many bottles, scores of photographs and two pads of notes. There is much to say and show about Sonoma and Napa – but nothing is more important than this post.

Eyewitness To Disaster

George Rose is a former LA Times photographer who now devotes most of his time snapping bucolic shots of Napa and Sonoma vineyards and wine estates. At 8:30 on the night of October 8, he was on a shooting assignment with a group of sommeliers but things were about to change in a hurry. He noticed a glow over the hilltops and less than three hours later, the most destructive wildfire in California history was raging, aided by Diablo winds gusting to more than 70 miles per hour.

JP at Lambert Bridge in Dry Creek shows remains of a fire-melted metal platter.Part of a panel on the California wildfires at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Rosa, CA, George switched to journalist mode and became an eyewitness to disaster. For three straight days he shot photos and posted 78 original stories. A fire such as this was never seen before. The fire covered 15 miles in four hours.

The toll is staggering. There were more than 40 deaths and 100 injuries. In Sonoma and Napa counties, 37,000 acres were burned. Sonoma County bore the brunt, with 12,000 homes destroyed or damaged.

For a region that depends on wine production and wine tourism, the fires delivered a staggering one-two punch – personal loss and severe damage to the region’s main industry.

We visited 11 different wineries and met staff from more than a dozen more. With each conversation we learned of the personal impact: burned homes, displaced friends and family, and uncertainty about the future.

Pierre Bierbent, winemaker at Signorello Estates and also part of the panel, was at the winery when the flames caught. He grabbed a hose and with other workers tried putting out the fire until fire crews forced them to leave. The Signorello tasting room, known for its scenic views from Napa’s Atlas Peak hills, burned to the ground.

Despite days of anxiety for Pierre, there was a glimmer of sunlight. The 2017 vintage, already in tanks and barrels, is undamaged.

“We’re Here, We’re Strong, We’re Optimistic”

Patsy McGaughey, communications director for Napa Valley Vintners, had to retreat with her staff from their office, which lost power. The team contacted each member winery to check on the safety of the staff and the status of the wineries. They were puzzled as to why state fire control websites failed to list the percentage of containment. They were to learn later that the racing fires urged on by “wicked and weird” winds had caused emergency crews to focus solely on evacuations in the beginning days of the fire.

The real story doesn’t end with the fire’s containment. It starts there.

Burned hills rise behind the vines at Kenwood Vineyards“We’re here, we’re strong, we’re optimistic,” said McGaughey. She noted that the fires had burned the hillsides, but not the valley and displayed stunningly beautiful aerial photos of Napa Valley shot in the days after the fire.

There’s never a good time to have a devastating wildfire, but thankfully 90 percent or more of the 2017 vintage had been harvested before the flames started. One poignant photo by George Rose shows a harvester machine working in the vineyard at night while a wildfire glows behind the ridge.

Winemakers in general are optimistic about the quality of the 2017 vintage. Grapes left on the vine were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, a hearty, thick-skinned variety. McCaughey points out that there are many unknowns about the effects of smoke on wine. Wine lovers should have no fear of 2017 wines from Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino counties – winemakers will use rigorous and repeated lab testing to make sure there are no ill effect.

Winemakers worry that the 2017 vintage might get a bad rap by consumers. “Only the best and highest quality wine will go to market,” said McGaughey. “It’s our reputation at stake.”

California Wine Strong

This is the audience participation part of the story. The fires certainly were devastating, but even as the wineries and related industries and employees attempt to recover, they are being hit with another blow – a downturn in winery visits, hotel stays, tours and diners in restaurants.

What you should know:

  • Tell your friends that the Napa Valley and Sonoma are OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
  • Tourism is the lifeblood of the local community.The road to recovery is only possible by visitors returning to Wine Country
  • Virtually every winery, restaurant, hotel, B&B, tour operator and transportation company is OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Pierre sums it up well:

  1. Come to wine country.
  2. Enjoy a bottle of California wine.
  3. If you want to contribute to wildfire relief, do so.

Let’s pour out a little love to one of the world’s greatest wine communities.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Parducci 2015 85th Anniversary Wine "Limited Edition,” Mendocino County

Parducci 85We love anniversaries -- especially when the celebration is for a winery. Now we have another reason to cheer. Parducci Wine Cellars is marking their 85th anniversary with a special cuvée.

A Mendocino Wine Legacy

Parducci Wine Cellars was founded in 1932 by legendary California winemaker John Parducci and his family. At age 14 John travelled alone with 40 rail cars of the family grapes to sell to home winemakers during Prohibition. He became head winemaker in 1940.

He became a champion of California wines and known as “Mr. Mendocino.” He pushed for varietal labeling, particularly for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, two signature Mendocino County grapes.

Parducci has earned a reputation for high quality – high value wines. The winery has also been recognized by the state of California for their sustainable farming and land use practices.

85 Reasons To Celebrate

The winery anniversary isn’t the only one of note this year. Bob Swain, the head winemaker, is celebrating his 20th year in that role. He selected the best grapes from the 2015 vintage to craft “85,” the special anniversary cuvée (or blend).

The wine is attractively packaged in an understated bottle with a golden “85” marking the front. That might be all that needs to be said. Parducci packed 85 years of winemaking excellence into this bottle.

We’re always looking for a reason to open a special wine. The Green Dragon whipped up some cellentani (which I learned is an Italian corkscrew pasta) with her hearty meat sauce to pair with this Bordeaux style blend.

85 is a mix of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, 8% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. It’s a blend that is dialed in expertly! In the glass 85 is a deep purple. On the nose there are brambly, earthy aromas. On the palate the wine is medium to full bodied.

This is a robust wine that had strong tannins at first sip. As the meal progressed, the wine smoothed out and offered a lush texture and notes of dark fruit and cola.

The special anniversary 85 blend is a limited edition with an SRP of $45. It is a solid value at that price.  We suggest you pick it up while its still available, perhaps one or two for now and a couple to age. If you can’t find it in your local store, it’s available online from Parducci Wine Cellars. Happy anniversary!

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Prosecco Superiore From Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG A Shining Star

Nowhere does Italy’s famous bubbly shine brighter than the hilly region between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. It was the first sparkling wine district in Italy and is the leader in crafting superior Prosecco loved around the world.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Head To The Hills For Quality

Our latest exploration with wine education program #Winestudio is the hilly terrain of the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG of northeast Italy. Conegliano Valdobbiadene is part of the Veneto wine region and was named Italy’s first DOCG for sparkling wine in 2003. We eagerly drank in the step up in quality with DOCG (Italy’s highest classification) Prosecco. The difference between “regular” DOC Prosecco and that produced in Conegliano Valdobbiadene was eye-opening.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene has a unique microclimate particularly suited to growing grapes and vineyards have flourished here since ancient times. The region is situated between the sea and the Prealp mountains ensuring a mild climate.

Constant breezes enable the grapes to dry off quickly after rain. The hills run east to west and provide a south-facing slope, benefitting the vineyard with ample exposure to sunshine. The hills allow for good daytime and nighttime temperature differences, which promotes aromatic qualities in the grapes. Glera, grapes almost exclusively used in Prosecco, has found an ideal environment here. There’s plenty of rain, but the hills provide good drainage.

Rive Prosecco winesNever Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Until our tasting of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG wines, we were unaware of the quality nuances of Prosecco. We've had quite a bit of Prosecco over the years. It’s produced primarily using the autoclave method (also called cuvée close or Charmat method) whereby the wine’s second fermentation takes place in a tank as opposed to in the bottle. This is one reason why Prosecco is less expensive than Champagne.

The Charmat method is used on all quality ranges of sparkling wine, including high end wines. We were delighted to discover that the traditional method, with the second fermentation in the bottle, is used on some of the premium Proseccos.

Kaleidoscope Of Prosecco Quality

We had always thought there was one flavor profile for Prosecco – which we happened to like. Silly us! We were exposed to a variety of styles through our Wine Studio tasting.

We started with Bortolomiol Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Millesimato "Banda Rossa" 2016 and Conte Collalto Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut. In the world of sparkling wine, Dry isn’t necessarily dry. Of the three styles we tasted, Dry was the sweetest, followed by Extra Dry and then Brut. The Conte Collalto had nice froth with decentralized bubbles and was our first indication that we had been missing out on a higher tier of Prosecco tasting.

Our next round of tasting exposed a gap in my Certified Specialist of Wine studies. Nowhere in my studies for CSW did they cover the Rive sub-category of Prosecco. Rive is the local term for the steep sloping hills upon which Prosecco grapes are grown. There are 43 different Rive districts, each with its own unique microclimate. All wines are vintage dated with the grapes hand picked.

Malibran CredamoraWe rolled out some pheasant pate and parmesan crisps and sampled three Rive Prosecco. The Val d'OcaValdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Nature "Rive di Santo Stefano,” packaged in a unique squat bottle, had a nutty taste and a steady perlage. Masottina Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry Rive di Ogliano 2016 was crisp and clear in color with notes of tropical fruit. Tenuta degli Ultimi Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive di Collalto "Biancariva" had minerality and a twist of lime.

While 95% of Prosecco is made using the autoclave, the 5% done with the second fermentation in the bottle are special indeed. Our two tastes were Bellenda Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut "Sei Uno" Rive di Carpesica 2015 and Malibran Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG "Credamora" Rifermentato in Bottiglia 2015. The Sei Uno offers tastes of toasted brioche and energetic streams of bubbles. The Malibran is aged sur lie which gives it a complex yeasty flavor with a dollop of lemon cream. This was one of our favorites.

The “Grand Cru” Of Conegliano Valdobbiadene

Without a doubt, the pinnacle of Prosecco is Cartizze. It is produced only in a tiny 264-acre region, where the southern exposure allows grapes to ripen to a higher sweetness. This is balanced by the minerality of the ancient soil. Cartizze was typically produced in a Dry style, meaning sweeter. Now Brut Cartizze is being made by more producers. We tried one of each style:  Colesel Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Brut and ​Le Colture Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG Dry.

Cartizze is complex sparkling wine that will please any lover of fine wine and grab the attention of those who stick primarily to Champagne. The wafting flavors of apples and pears, with nutty undertones and a creamy froth of fine bubbles made these wines a delightful experience.

If you see Cartizze online or on the shelf, buy it! The same goes for any Prosecco from our new favorite sparkling wine region. It is sensational wine and the perfect expression of the people and terroir of Conegliano Valdobbiadene.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Montes Gives Wings To Chilean Wine Quality

Montes 2

At the entrance to Montes Winery stands an angel. It is a symbol of the winery’s commitment to be a positive force and influence. Those wings have also lifted the quality and reputation of Chilean wine.

An Introduction To Montes

Our eye opening introduction to Montes Premium Wines took place in Ohio. We were putting together a special “south of the equator” wine tasting at Zinful Wine Bar.

Montes TrioThe owner allowed us to select the lineup from their stock and we had some great selections. There was none better than the Montes Purple Angel, which was a special bonus wine at the end. Purple Angel is the best example of Carmenère I’ve ever experienced.

As the Malbec grape is to Argentina, so Carmenère is to Chile. It is the iconic grape of the country and perhaps nowhere else does it shine so brightly.

We had a chance to revisit Purple Angel and two other Montes wines during a recent Wining Hour Chat online tasting.

The Wine Revolution

Viña Montes was born in 1988, founded by Aurelio Montes and Douglas Murray. Murray’s survival of two near fatal automobile crashes led to his faith in angels and their images now grace the Montes labels.

Montes and Murray believed that Chile had wine regions capable of producing premium wines, not just inexpensive bulk wines. Montes proved this by crafting high-quality wines that revolutionized the local industry and set a positive course for Chilean wine over the next 25 years.

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The granite-filled foothills of the Apalta Mountains in western Colchagua were cleared and they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines grown from pure French clones. They selected the best fruit, aged the wine in new French oak, and in 1988 debuted their first signature wine – Montes Alpha M, a Bordeaux-style red. Purple Angel, a luscious Carmenère crafted from Chile’s top grape, soon followed to wild acclaim.

Montes flagship Alpha range, comprised of single varietal wines, were the first premium value wines from Chile. They have since launched several lines, including Outer Limits wines from an untouched new terroir, Zapallar, located more than 100 miles northwest of Santiago near the Pacific Ocean.

The winery is committed to sustainable farming and maintains local plant and animal biodiversity. Its vineyards are home to foxes, hog-nosed skunks, ferrets, lambs, llamas and horses. Social responsibility is also key, and Montes has a program to help employees with their academic studies and partners with a school in the local village of Apalta.

Purple AngelTrio At The Top

We sampled three outstanding Montes wines: Montes 2014 Purple Angel Carmenère, Montes 2015 Alpha Carmenère,  and Montes Limited Selection 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon – Carmenère.

The Cab-Carmenère blend is from the Limited Selection line, which aims to provide universally appealing but serious wine. We have to agree with its appeal. This is a wine that should delight just about anyone, with rich fruit flavors of blackberry and plum. It has 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Carmenère. It retails for about $9 but drinks like a much more expensive wine.

The Montes Alpha Carmenère is a step up in quality and oak aging. There is 10% Cabernet in the blend, 55% of which is aged for a year in new French oak. This wine has aging potential for a decade or more. This has a nice smooth texture and notes of cocoa to go with ripe berries. You’ll find it a nice match with a steak or spaghetti. Retail is about $21.

As you know by now, Purple Angel is a favorite wine of ours. The vineyards are in the Marchigϋe and Apalta sectors of the Colchagua Valley, with granite and clay soils. The 2013 growing season was cooler than normal. As a result, the grapes ripened slowly and had a tremendous concentration of flavor.

To add to its heavenly flavor, 8% Petite Verdot is added to the Carmenère. This wine has several layers mingling rich red berries and a dash of toast and tea leaves. The 18 month aging in new French oak contributes the aroma of vanilla. The finish seems to go on forever – and we wish it would!

Purple Angel retails for about $61. We highly recommend it. When you taste it, you experience the magic of Montes and Chilean winemaking at its best.

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Newcomer Lidl Shakes Up Supermarket Wine With A Tasteful And Diverse Wine Lineup

LidlSupermarket wine doesn’t evoke images of greatness. Often you are settling for the best of a mediocre selection. What if your supermarket offered a curated selection of great international wines? What if…

Lidl Thinks Big

It started happening in June. European grocery store Lidl began opening stores in the U.S. Lidl is a German discount supermarket chain and is the chief competitor to Aldi. The chain started by opening 37 stores this summer and is expected to have more than 100 stores open in the US by mid-2018.

It is a no-frills store that saves money and passes the savings on to the consumer. They import many low-priced gourmet foods from Europe and also source foods locally.

All this is interesting to me but, as you may have guessed, our focus is on the wine. Lidl’s approach to wine is capturing much attention.

Curated Wine Selection Hits The Shelves

You may think, “So, a grocery store sells wine. Big deal.” Lidl’s approach is vastly different than your average Piggly Wiggly. The wines for Lidl are a curated selection by Master of Wine Adam Lapierre. He tasted more than 10,000 wines in order to select the highest quality wines for Lidl. Which may cause you to ask, “How do I get that job?”

Lidl has three distinct collections in their stores:

1. Everyday Range - well-made examples of popular varieties from around the world
2. Wine Discoveries – for those who are wine-obsessed or simply want to sip something new, there are insights and novel tastes with the Wine Discoveries picks. Each month, Lidl’s Master of Wine selects a range of wines for a changing monthly theme.
3. Wine Fair - a few times per year, Lidl has Wine Fair promotions. In these special months, they go all out to present a large, comprehensive selection of wines from a particular country or wine style.

We had the opportunity to sample three wine added to the Lidl collection in October.

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madiranTasting Of The Trio

The trio of wines we received are from France and our first to sample was a 2015 Madiran from négociant Vignobles Raymond. The wine is produced in and around the village of Madiran in Gascony in the South West France region. There was no breakdown on the grapes used, but wine from this region is mostly Tannat, supplemented by Cab Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. We enjoyed this wine with a rustic meal of spaghetti and meat sauce cooked on a wood stove. This is a serious value at only $5.99. It drinks like a $30 bottle.

Continuing on, we opened the second bottle of red. This was the 2015 Terroir des Dentelles. This is from the Vacqueyras AOC in the southern Rhone. It is a medium bodied blend of Grenache, Syrah and perhaps Mourvedre. It is graceful with red berry flavors and a juicy finish in the Cotes du Rhone style. This is another surprising value at a mere $9.99.

The white wine we enjoyed was the 2015 Domaine Saint Prix Saint Bris Sauvignon. What makes this an oddity is that it is a white Burgundy, but is made from Sauvignon Blanc, rather than Chardonnay (which is the region’s most famous white grape). It is the only region in Burgundy where Sauvignon Blanc can be vinted. Sauvignon Gris grapes can also be used and the wine is simply labelled “Sauvignon.”

This is a pleasant, but but not astounding white wine. It is dry with a bit of green apple and a slight zestiness. It is an easy drinker and will pair well with light entrees. At $8.99 it is an affordable buy, but not a great value like the two reds.

With corks popped and glasses drained, we emerged with this conclusion: Lidl has an eclectic selection of wines with high QPR (quality price ratio). The value is such that you can fill your cart with wine and still have money left over to buy groceries!

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Napa Winery’s Plea: Let The Public Know Wine Country Is Open For Business

Napa VineyardNightly images of the devastation from the Napa and Sonoma fires broadcast around the world have given the impression that damage to wineries and vineyards is widespread.  It is not. 

Thankfully, Damage To Wine Country Is Minimal

If you’re a wine lover like me, you have focused intently on coverage of the recent fires that have blazed in Napa and Sonoma. We’re getting ready for a trip to Santa Rosa (which is where many news reports originated) so we’ve been particularly concerns about the situation.

Yesterday I received a news release from V. Sattui Winery in Napa. Not only do they make awesome wines (we really like their rosé) but they want to reassure wine lovers that wine country is open for business and looks forward to welcoming visitors. Here are some of the facts:

Of the nearly 500 wineries in the Napa Valley, only 7 wineries were severely damaged or lost.

  • Damage to vineyards was very minimal, as vineyards make effective fire breaks and 90% of crop was picked prior to the fires.
  • The fires burned predominantly in the forested hills and the well-known wineries situated between Hwy 29 and Silverado were nearly untouched by fire.

The impression left by these graphic images in the news have caused many to cancel plans on visiting Wine Country.  The perception of devastation in the Napa Valley is greater than reality.

Overall in wine country, Wine Spectator reported that: More than 200,000 acres have burned in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. The death toll now stands at 42, with more than 7,700 structures destroyed, including at least 11 severely damaged or destroyed wineries and dozens more reporting property damage.

Those numbers sound like a lot but there are almost 500 wineries in Napa and about 250 in Sonoma. The general public, however, is skittish.

Wine Country Gets Double Disaster

The fires certainly were devastating, but even as the wineries and related industries and employees attempt to recover, they are being hit with another blow.

  • Innkeepers are reporting that most reservations in the next month have been cancelled
  • Tour Operators are reporting mass cancellations
  • Wineries and restaurants are seeing a fraction of the number of visitors that are usually here during the harvest season.
  • No traffic.The traffic that many locals complain about is nonexistent.  Roads are empty.
  • Many of the victims of the disaster are experiencing a double disaster for lack of work and or layoffs due to lack of business.

As Sattui pleads, Napa and Sonoma “need visitors more than ever to support the rebuilding  of our community by putting everyone back to work by visiting our wineries, drinking our wines, staying in our hotels and eating in our restaurants.”

The Napa And Sonoma Economy Is Based On Wine Tourism


  • 3.5 million visitors annually to the Napa Valley
  • Visitor spending annually in Napa Valley – $1.9 billion
  • Jobs supported by the Napa Valley Visitor industry – 13,437
  • The tourism industry generated over $47 million in TOT (transient occupancy tax) revenue to fund essential services and programs throughout Napa County

What You Should Know

  • Tell your friends that the Napa Valley and Sonoma are OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
  • Tourism is the lifeblood of the local community.The road to recovery is only possible by visitors returning to Wine Country
  • Virtually every winery, restaurant, hotel, B&B, tour operator and transportation company is OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Domain Duffour 2016 Cotes de Gascogne Blanc

Domaine DuffourCotes de Gascogne is a region for French Vin de Pays, or “country wine.” A humble origin, however, doesn’t make this wine less satisfying.

Interesting Cast Of Characters

Cotes de Gascogne is in the Gascony region in Southwest France. It produces mostly white wine – but the allowed grapes are not your typical ones. That’s what attracted me to this bottle.

The permitted white grapes include: Colombard, Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Len de l'El, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Muscadelle, and Ugni Blanc. So sure, you’ve heard of Sauvignon Blanc – but Len de L’El, no way. The Domaine Duffour consists of Colombard, Gros Manseng and a dash of Ugni Blanc (also known as Trebbiano).

Colombard, also called “French Colombard” was popular in California jug wines in the 1980s. It also is used in France to make Cognac.

The Judgement Of Gascogne

The Colombard on the label caught my eye and so I grabbed a bottle of the 2016 Domaine Duffour from Cellar 55 in Fuquay-Varina for about $10. It was part of my wine booty to be enjoyed at a family event in upstate New York. I had plenty of reds on hand and needed to equalize.

In the French wine world, Vin de Pays is the next step up on the ladder from table wine. It can be labelled with a geographic indication, which is usually pretty broad. Unlike the top notch AOC wines, Vin de Pays can usually be had for a song.

I recall my friend Jim, who would frequently lament that people just don’t realize how much affordable good French wine is available. I must agree. Some folks are intimidated because of the French labels with the region as opposed to the grape. Certainly the top quality French wines do carry a serious price tag. That shouldn’t deter you from scoring some excellent French wines for under $15 – and Domaine Duffour is a good example. The bargains are out there.

The Domain Duffour (we can call it the Twin-D) came through in the clutch. My family members are a diverse bunch. I needed a wine that has some degree of sophistication but also delivers easy to enjoy flavors. Check and check. This wine has juicy flavors of melon and citrus. This is a dry wine, but with mild acidity. The fruit flavors come through cleanly as this is a young wine and hasn’t undergone any oak aging.

This can be classified as a PNP (pop and pour) wine and at a price point (around $10) that you can pick up a half dozen bottles for your next party. It works well with light appetizers, vegetarian dishes, chicken or seafood. In fact, we can call this Triple-D, because Domain Duffour is a Dependable pick for your next social event.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wine, Travel & Food News From Vino-Sphere: October 13, 2017

Ruth Gruber in Alaska, 1941-43 (portrait by unidentified photographer)

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU Presents Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist

Ruth Gruber: Photojournalist is a new exhibition on view Oct. 16 - Jan. 7 at the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU in Miami Beach. It celebrates the remarkable life, vision, and heroic tenacity of a twentieth-century pioneer and trailblazer, and is the show's southeastern U.S. premiere.

Once the world’s youngest PhD, Ruth Gruber passed away recently at the age of 105. The show features more than 60 photographs including gelatin silver prints plus an archival trove of personal letters, telegrams, printed magazines, and assorted ephemera documenting the artist’s career.

The photographs in this exhibition span more than fifty years, from Gruber’s groundbreaking reportage of the Soviet Arctic in the 1930s and iconic images of Jewish refugees from the ship Exodus 1947, to her later photographs of Ethiopian Jews in the midst of civil war in the 1980s. The museum is located at 301 Washington Avenue, in the heart of Miami Beach’s historic Art Deco District.

Dunham Releases Fall Wines

Dunham Cellars of Walla Walla has announced its fall release wines. That includes 2014 Trutina, a $29 blend of 44% Merlot 38% Cabernet Sauvignon 10% Malbec and 8% Cabernet Franc. Two other reds are being released: 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon XX ($45) and 2015 Three Legged Red ($19)

Michter’s To Release $800 Bourbon

Michter's Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann has approved the release of Michter's 25 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon to the company's distributor network for sale this November. The 2017 release marks the first bottling of Michter's 25 Year Bourbon since 2008. he proof of this 2017 release is 116.2, and the suggested U.S. retail price for a 750ml bottle is $800.

20170417_192027Breaking Ground Selected as Beneficiary at MICHELIN Guide and Robert Parker Wine Advocate Event in New York City

Michelin and Robert Parker Wine Advocate are pleased to announce that New York non-profit, Breaking Ground, will receive the proceeds from a live auction to take place on Oct. 30. The auction is a component of a gala event, hosted by Michelin and Robert Parker Wine Advocate at the Ziegfeld Ballroom. 

Attendees will have an opportunity to bid on unique travel and leisure experiences from Michelin and other participating sponsors. Since 1990, Breaking Ground has provided permanent, safe, and affordable housing and services for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. ickets and information about the gala dinner are available on the website:

Fall surge in wine sales continues with October Signature Sale set to exceed $2 million Oct. 13-14 in Beverly Hills

More than 1,300 lots of the best of Burgundy, Bordeaux and more are poised to surpass $2 million when the gavel falls Oct. 13-14th in Heritage Auctions’ Fine Wine Auction in Beverly Hills, California, simulcast to Hong Kong. Riding the wave of momentum generated by Heritage’s September Single Owner Sale, The Romulus Collection: Rare Burgundy from a California Gentlemen which was 100% sold at nearly double its presale estimate, the October auction will feature 250 lots of First Growth Bordeaux, 40 lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and 30 lots of Screaming Eagle, among others.

“The Wine market has been very strong through the spring and summer, leading to some exceptional results at our previous auctions,” Heritage Auctions Fine and Rare wine Senior Director Frank Martell said. “We expect that trend to continue at this event.”

Several important private collections are featured in the October sale, including one owned by Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams. A noted philanthropist and businessman, Adams is an ardent wine collection and several lot lots such as Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 Bottle (12) (est. $22,000-30,000) are on offer.

Mysterious Musqué Clone – Once Near Extinction – Finds Its Revival

The grape growers and winemakers of the Arroyo Seco AVA, a cool climate growing region in Monterey County, California, have revitalized the once popular Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc, a clone which nearly fell into extinction. Today, the Musqué clone is not only surviving but thriving in the Arroyo Seco AVA, where it’s surpassed only by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in total acreage. Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino have all taken note and are producing varietals from the clonal lines of the Arroyo Seco AVA.

The Arroyo Seco AVA benefits from a distinctive climate: plenty of sunshine and direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean, making it an ideal region for growing cool climate grapes that benefit from long hang times. he Musqué clone was imported to the area from the Viticoles d’Arboriculture at Pont-de-la-Maye in the Gironde region of France in the early 1960s by University of California at Davis’ Dr. William Hewitt. It was then popularized by Ventana Vineyards’ Doug Meador, who discovered that the Musqué clone did not show excess vegetal character in the cooler climate of Monterey County. While it was once an established variety in the area, the clone eventually fell out of popularity due to the increase of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir plantings. With 420 acres planted, 5% of the Arroyo Seco AVA is now dedicated to the variety.

Recent Heat Wave Makes for Exceptional Grape Harvest at Debonne Vineyards

The recent heat wave was a blessing for the grapes and for all the area grape farmers in Ohio’s Grand River Valley. Debonne Vineyards, Ohio's largest estate winery has over 160 acres of grapes in the region. Their team of workers began September 19th, 7 days a week until all the grapes were picked, many of those days from sun up to sun down. Gene Sigel is the vineyard manager for Debonne Vineyards and Grand River Cellars as well as owner of South River Vineyards. "The recent spell of exceptionally hot, dry weather in September has been like a gift from a fairy godmother," states Mr. Sigel. "Earlier in September we thought the grapes were on the verge of disaster with excessive acidity and low sugar creating a lack in characteristic flavor. The heat wave has allowed the grapes to dehydrate and accumulate sugar and develop the intense flavors and characteristics of our best vintages."

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Nino Franco Continues Legacy Of Premiere Prosecco In Italy’s Valdobbiadene Region

Nino FrancoYou may be familiar with Italy’s bubbly treat: Prosecco. But did you know that there is a level of high quality beyond what you usually experience? Pop a cork and read on…

Prosecco A Popular Choice

We’ve been fans of Prosecco for a long time. The main reasons are the delicious taste and a cost much lower, in general, than Champagne. You get to rock the bubbles without going broke. We had a chance to sample the Prosecco of Nino Franco during the Wine Studio educational program.

Prosecco, the sparkling wine specialty of the Veneto region of Italy, is made by a different process than Champagne. Carbon dioxide gas is a natural byproduct of fermentation. Most sparkling wine undergoes a second fermentation to create the bubbly beverage. For Champagne, the second fermentation is in the bottle. Prosecco uses the Charmat method whereby the second fermentation happens in a pressurized tank. Numerous high quality sparkling wines are made with this method.

Stepping Up In Quality

In Italy, the peak of wine quality is the DOCG label. This is Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, whereby you have a whole lot of people watching your back. The higher level classification is not only controlled, but the quality guaranteed. What I didn't’ realize until our Nino Franco tasting, was the immense step up in quality DOCG Prosecco represents.

The Nino Franco winery traces its roots to 1919 when Antonio Franco founded the “Cantine Franco” winery in Valdobbiadene. Valdobbiadene is located at the foot of the Prealps, in the Venetian region, and is famous for the Prosecco vine and wine production. Nino Franco is one of the oldest wineries in the Valdobbiadene.

We had the opportunity to sample an outstanding range of wines:

  • Nino Franco Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, SRP $27
  • Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico Valdobbiadene Superiore DOCG, SRP $19
  • Nino Franco Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG 2016, SRP $29
  • Nino Franco Grave di Stecca Brut Sparkling 2010, SRP $49

SteccaPopping The Cork On Nino Franco

Leading off our exploration of Nino Franco was the Prosecco Brut Superiore. The Glera grapes for Prosecco Superiore are grown on the wild, steep hills in Valdobbiadene, as contrasted with non-Superiore Prosecco which comes from low-lying valleys. Terroir does make a difference as the quality upgrade was noticeable on the first frothy sip. This wine has crisp apple flavors with bubbles that stream and disappear quickly.

The Rustico name is connected to the old local tradition of making wine with a short second fermentation and leaving sediment in the wine. That’s no longer the technique, but the name remains. Rustico has a nice creamy froth and a balanced flavors. Like the Brut, this has an 11% alcohol content.

We continued to climb the quality ladder with the Primo Franco Prosecco Superiore 2016. “Under the hood” I got a surprise. The wine is sealed with a metal clasp called an agrafe. After a few minutes of puzzlement I pried the agrafe off with a knife – nothing could stop me from the prize! This bottle offered wave after wave of perlage (those wonderful bubbles) and had a creamy foam. This was savory and nutty adding to a delightful sipping experience.

The pinnacle of our tasting was the Grave di Stecca 2010. To add to the allure, this is packaged in a yellow cellophane wrap. Unwrapping it built the anticipation. This Prosecco stood alone in the quartet we tried. The seven years of aging ratcheted up the complexity. The bouquet combines fresh fruit and herbs.

In the glass, the Grave di Stecca offers a minerally flavor with some chalkiness. It has additional aging on the lees (the dead yeast cells) and that adds wonderful savory notes. On the palate it is remarkably smooth. It was a golden experience to be sure.

Nino Franco Prosecco has received a multitude of awards and it is easy to see why. Each bottle was crafted to produce a delicious experience. The pricing is such that opening a bottle doesn’t need to wait for a special occasion. Even the highest priced bottle we enjoyed is under $50. We highly recommend the wines of Nino Franco and want to nudge you to step up from the basic Prosecco to the DOCG Prosecco Superiore of Valdobbiadene.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kosher Wines Breaking Geographic and Style Boundaries

Kosher Wines - Carey Nershi

If your perception of Kosher wine is fixated on that sweet bottle of Manischewitz from years ago, you should know that times have changed. It is now produced in every conceivable style and not only in Israel but throughout the world, including premium wine areas like Napa Valley and St-Emilion.

Kosher Wine Quality: Onward And Upward

In decades past, Kosher wine was associated with sweet Concord wine from wineries founded by Jewish immigrants to New York. Starting in the 1980s, the upgrading of the Israeli wine industry and a focus on producing dry, premium wines changed the picture entirely. Starting in 2000, the number of wineries in Israel doubled in just five years. Today, Israel produces nearly 36 million bottles of wine annually.

We recently had the chance to taste three bottles that show the quality and breadth of available Kosher wines. Each has a price tag of under $20.

Three Continents, Three Wines

Our trio of wines from Royal Wine Corp. included Carmel 2016 Selected Mediterranean Blend, Shomron, Israel; Herzog 2016 Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg, CA; and Terra di Seta 2013, Chianti Classico. We have North America, Europe and Asia represented. A good thing too, because I took the bottles to a family event with a wide range of palates.

The Selected Mediterranean Blend is a mix of 45% Shiraz, 30% Carignan, 20% Petite Sirah and 5% Viognier. That’s an awesome assortment of grapes. Noteworthy is the inclusion of Viognier, a white grape, in this red blend. Adding Viognier to Shiraz (aka Syrah) is a time-honored practice in France’s Rhone region.

Royal Wines - Dave Nershi“Evaporating” almost immediately in a swarm of family and friends, the Selected blend proved very popular. It is light with a bit of fruitiness. We enjoyed it with some vegetarian spinach puffs and assorted cheeses. Shomron is is the largest wine-growing region in Israel, running along the coast from south of Haifa down to Tel Aviv. Carmel is one of Israel’s top wineries.

Chianti Classico is one of our favorite wines. Chianti is primarily Sangiovese, a luscious grape. Just thinking about it gives me the itch to find a corkscrew. Chianti Classico must contain at least 80% Sangiovese and come from the historic heart of the Chianti region.The Terra di Seta was my first Kosher Chianti, and it didn’t disappoint, with a medium body and tart cherry flavors.

Our last wine was reserved for dessert. The Herzog Late Harvest Chenin Blanc was a delightful pairing with a chocolate layer cake with white frosting, prepared by talented niece Carey Nershi – who also provided the feature photo at the top of this article. The residual sugar is 11.5%. Paired with the cake, the sweetness was tempered and made for a perfect match. The Herzog was light and balanced, not weighty and syrupy. The taste is of crisp apples and pear with a round and pleasant finish.

These wines are perfect for holiday entertaining. Jewish or not, you’ll enjoy the quality and food-friendliness at a great QPR (quality price ratio).

Full disclosure: We received these wines as a marketing sample.