Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Open That Bottle Night Set For February 25

OTBN Dave's Phone 056Why let that special bottle gather dust while you wait for that perfect occasion which may never come? Celebrate life now – or more exactly on February 25 – during Open That Bottle Night.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 25.That's the date for Open That Bottle Night.

This is an international event designed to help you celebrate life by savoring a special bottle of wine.
Are you saving a certain bottle of wine for a special occasion that never seems to arrive? Created by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, wine writers for the Wall Street Journal, Open That Bottle Night makes the last Saturday in February just that occasion. Use OTBN as a reason to enjoy that special wine — while it’s still at its prime!

We hope you use this opportunity to pop a special bottle. Let us know about your OTBN experience (click on comment below).

Here are some tips for enjoying OTBN:

  1. Choose the Setting. Alone with a special loved one, at a dinner party with friends, or in a restaurant that permits BYOB.
  2. Select the Bottle. The important concept is that the bottle of wine or champagne have a special significance, not that it be particularly expensive or prestigious.
  3. Stand it Up. Sediment sometimes forms inside wine bottles, so you should set the bottle vertical position a few days before OTBN to let it settle to the bottom.
  4. Watch the Temperature. Both reds and whites are best served at about 55F (12C).
  5. Watch the Cork. Old wine-bottle corks may crumble during removal. If that happens, pour the wine through a coffee filter into a carafe until all the cork particles are separated.
  6. Watch the Oxygen. Older, fragile wines are quickly damaged by oxygen in the air. Keep them closed up.
  7. Have a Backup Wine Available. If your favored bottle has gone bad, you will still be able to enjoy the evening.
  8. Share Your Thoughts. Everyone should say a few words about the significance of their bottle.
  9. Give it Time. Gaither and Brecher report that they often hear of bottles of wine that becomes more delicious as the evening progresses.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cusumano 2015 Nero D’Avola, Italy

Cusumano 2015 Nero D'Avola with PizzaThree billion pizzas are sold in the US each year. What goes best with this Italian specialty? How about a bottle of a little known wine from Italia?

Our Love Affair With Pizza

You know that America’s love of pizza has turned to obsession when research last year showed that six million US adults said they would give up sex for a year before giving up pizza. We do enjoy a good slice, but we’re not part of the six million.

We are part of the demographic that loves the Super Bowl, pizza a good red wine. You can thank GIs stationed in Italy who returned after World War II with a hankering for pizza they had discovered overseas. Pizzerias began sprouting between 1945 and 1960 and then the chains entered the picture. Pizza Hut started in 1958, Little Caesar’s emerged in 1959 and Domino’s came along in 1960. Papa John’s trailed the pack and opened in 1989.

Chain pizza helps us “scratch our itch,” but we prefer to make our own pizza. As the Falcons soared to an early lead, the Green Dragon was artfully preparing a Hawaiian style pizza (ham and pineapple) and a mushroom and pepperoni. To accompany our pizza pies, I selected the 2015 Nero D’Avola from Cusumano.

Autochthonous, Baby!

Yes, I did use “autochthonous” simply to get you to continue to read further. But it is a word with an important wine meaning. Autochthonous grapes are native or indigenous varieties that usually aren’t found in other parts of the world. This contrasts with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay that can grow in numerous locales around the globe.

Italy is known for its vast array of native grapes, including Nero D’Avola. This “black grape of Avola” is the most important red wine grape in Sicily. A good rule of thumb when pairing wine with food is to choose a wine from the same region as the food. Nero D’Avola with a Sicilian specialty like pizza is a perfect match.

While the Falcons were being humbled by a historic come-from-behind loss, we were able to get solace from the Cusumano. This is a ruby red wine with a medium body. It has nice extracted fruit flavors of blackberry with some herbal notes. The tannins are very loose and so this is an inviting and highly accessible wine.

This is 100% Nero D’Avola that the Cusumano family grows in mineral-rich soils on the island of Sicily. Like the best pizzas, this wine is simple and authentic. At less than $15, this is a pizza-friendly and wallet-friendly wine.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal, Grand Vin Mousseux, Savoie

Petit Royal

There were so many unknowns about this bottle of sparkling wine. So, I just had to have it. We popped the cork on a most unusual bottle of French bubbly.

Here a Mousseux, There A Mousseux

I must have looked at this bottle two dozen times. After the morning workout and before heading to the office, I often stop at Walt Churchill’s Market to pick up a muffin. My pit stop usually includes a swing through the wine aisle.

Tucked on a shelf of clearance wine was this bottle – Lambert de Seyssel Petit Royal. The term “mousseux” caught my attention. I knew that this is a word used for sparkling wine in France’s Loire Valley.

What I didn’t know is that the term is used in a number of French wine regions. So when I finally pulled the trigger and bought it, I carried home a bottle with an origin 400 miles east of the Loire.

Savoie Scores Again

I decided to serve the Petit Royal at the wine tasting held at our house. In researching the wine, I was surprised to see that it came from Savoie, one of the easternmost wine regions in France. The area is close to Lake Geneva and the Swiss border. We’ve had Vin de Savoie before, a Domaine Labbe Abymes made with Jacquère grapes. The white wine is crisp, refreshing and dirt cheap.

So I was enchanted with the Savoie connection. Seyssel is one of the best known villages in Savoie and is located on the Rhone river. Vineyards of the tiny Seyssel region were regularly mentioned in documents in the 11th century. In the 19th century a new Seyssel mousseux was created that gained great popularity. Queen Victoria was said to have enjoyed the sparkling wine during her visits to nearby spas.

The Royal Seyssel produced by the Varichon and Clerc families was considered to be the best sparkling Seyssel on the market. When the winery was sold in the 1990s, the quality spiraled downward. Upset with what had happened to this once heralded brand, Gérard and Catherine Lambert teamed up with Olivier Varichon, great-grandson of the founder, to buy back the Royal Seyssel label and recreate the light, floral wine that was once held in very high regard.

A “Somewhat” Traditional Take On Bubbles

There is a wide assortment of French sparkling wine worth tasting, but only bottles produced by the traditional method in the Champagne region can carry that name. The Petit Royal is made in the traditional method, with a second fermentation in the bottle. The differences in the Seyssel bubbly are as towering as the nearby Alps.

The competition ages their sparkling wine only nine months, which is the minimum. Petit Royal is aged for two years while its big brother Royal Seyssel is aged three to four years. This gives the wine more pronounced flavors and finer perlage (a cool French word for bubbles).

Petit Royal also contrasts with Champagne in its choice of grapes. Grapes used are Molette (70%) and Altesse (30%). The vines for the Petit Royal are 10 to 25 years old. Molette is a native Savoie variety while Altesse is a newcomer, being introduced in 1393. Molette has small golden berries and provides high acidity. Altesse is aromatic and provides aging potential.

The flavor left us scratching our heads. We are used to Champagne with yeast, toast and light fruit notes. The Petit Royal, while nicely dry, had a sharp almost peppery taste mixed with threads of floral flavor.

So, while we enjoyed it, Seyssel sparkling wine won’t replace Champagne or Cava in our wine cellar. Petit Royal is worth a sip, but if you can find it, the Royal Seyssel may be the way to go.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Capezzana 2010 'Villa di Capezzana', Carmignano DOCG, Italy

CarmingnanoChances are you are familiar with Chianti, one of Italy’s most famous wines. Time to broaden your Italian wine horizons with Carmignano, which once commanded a price topping any other wine in the country.

A History Worth Savoring

One of the great benefits of the rigorous studying to get the Certified Specialist of Wine designation is the introduction to scores of wines that were completely new to me. Carmignano is such an example.

Coming from a tiny DOCG (Italy’s top tier of wine regions) in Tuscany, Carmignano wines caused barely a blip on my wine radar. My attraction to this wine came when I learned that they were “Super Tuscan” before Super Tuscan was cool.

Super Tuscans are the product of rebellious winemakers in Italy who refused to conform to the traditional and stringent guidelines for grape growing and wine production in Tuscany. They wanted to produce wines with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – strictly verboten by the regulatory council.

They pressed onward, selling their wine as “table wine” instead of the prestigious DOCG. They produced some modern classics, such as Sassicaia and Tignanello and eventually the Italian winemaking world buckled and created the IGT category for these popular wines.

Ahead By A Century

The first Super Tuscan, Sassicaia, was produced in 1968 and winemakers in Carmignano may have chuckled. They have been producing wine using international grape varieties for centuries. The roots of the wine can be traced to 1369 when a document mentions that the wine was four times more expensive than any other wine of that time. In the 1700s, Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici established the Carmignano area as a grape nursery which included Cabernet Sauvignon vines from France.

Enter your time machine and set your controls for the present day (actually last month). I was responsible for selecting the wine for a board of directors dinner in Orlando at well known Italian restaurant Il Mulino. I locked in the 2010 Villa de Capezzana Carmignano for the red choice.

Carmignano is a dry red and it did not disappoint paired with a variety of entrees from pasta to steak. Carmignano is at least 50% Sangiovese and requires 10% to 20% of either Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc in the blend. Canaiolo Nero can also make up to 20% of the mix.

Tenuta di Capezzana is a winery with a long history in Tuscany and today produces more than half of all the DOCG Carmignano each year. That’s fine with me. The 2010 bottle was rich in fruit and powerful with blackberry and dried cherry flavors. It finishes with a drying sensation on the tongue.

The Capezzana 2010 Carmignano retails for about $26. That’s a bargain for a Super Tuscan with a boatload of history.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Max Ferd Richter: Delivering Riesling Goodness Since 1680

Max Ferd Richter

Yes, we love Riesling. Our taste runs dry. What’s the verdict when we uncork some of the sweet stuff from Mosel?

More Than Three Centuries Of Practice

If practice makes perfect, German winery Max Ferd Richter must surely have perfected Riesling by this time. The winery began as a wine export company in 1680. Today the ninth and 10th generation of the Max Ferdinand Richter family own, manage and operate the winery. With the belief that great wine comes from the vineyard, grapes are cultivated on the steep slopes of the Mosel Valley. All harvesting is done by hand using sustainable farming practices.

During a recent session of the wine education program Wine Studio we had a chance to taste two 2015 releases from Max Ferd Richter.

Germany’s Best Known Wine Region

The Mosel wine region, which takes its name from the Mosel River, stretches from the French border to where the Mosel joins the Rhine. Fifty percent of the vineyards are Riesling. The steep slaty hillsides produce excellent minerally Riesling which is capable of aging for many years.

Max Ferd Richter produces only Riesling and can draw upon some of the best vineyards in this renowned region. We sampled the 2015 Richter Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Riesling  and the 2015 Richter Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett Riesling.

There was no indication on the label of the sweetness of the wine. With German wines, you can get a good estimation by looking at the alcohol percentage. The lower the alcohol level, the higher the sweetness. Fermentation of wine is basically sugar being converted into alcohol and the less sugar converted into alcohol, well you get the picture.

Both of these wines are sweet – but in a lush, opulent way. Green Dragon prepared an assortment of dishes seeking to find the perfect match with this duo of German Riesling. We started with roasted honey balsamic Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and ham. Then the Dragon amped up the culinary event with some spicy Pad Thai shrimp.

That gave us some sweet dishes to pair as well as one with some flashes of spice. Ham is always a good match with Riesling as is Asian food.

Delivering The Verdict

These were enjoyable wines, and quite affordable at $22 SRP. I’m not sure it will reverse our longing for crisp, dry Riesling – but it was refreshing to have full, rounded flavors without the sharp-edged acidity.

Acidity does provide balance to these wines, but never interferes with a full spectrum of honeyed flavors. Himmelreich means “kingdom of heaven” and the flavors were indeed heavenly with citrus and floral notes.

Brauneberger (brown mountain) is one of the most prestigious vineyards in the Mosel and Juffers is a single vineyard designation on the location of a former convent. This Riesling edged to the top position in my judging, with more noticeable acidity, a lovely tropical citrus aroma and a smattering of minerality.

Max Ferd Richter produces a full range of Riesling from bone dry to ice wines. They even offer a sparkling Riesling. This is a name and winery you can trust for wines to please all palates. Their quality has been proven for more than 300 years – and in case that isn’t enough, I verified it once again last week. Cheers!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dry Creek Vineyard 2013 Merlot, Dry Creek Valley

DCV Merlot 1

Pinot Noir may get the lion’s share of attention in Sonoma, but Merlot is well represented in vineyards. This classic Bordeaux variety shines in this bottling from Dry Creek Vineyard.

Small But Mighty

Merlot isn’t made in great quantities by Dry Creek Vineyard, which is known more for its Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery has the capability to turn out some great Merlot and has had some outstanding reserve and single vineyard vintages.

The 2013 harvest will be remembered for near perfect conditions. It was one of the driest seasons on record in Dry Creek Valley, one of our favorite subregions of Sonoma. The summer was mild followed by a crisp fall – ideal conditions to allow the Merlot grapes growing on red, iron-rich soil to ripen slowly and fully.

Massive Flavor

We have been sampling a number of white wines recently, so Green Dragon demanded a bottle of red. I was happy to oblige with this DCV Merlot.

In the glass this is deep in color and opaque, creating a sense of mystery. As we unwrapped the mystery, we enjoyed a full body. The blend is 85% Merlot with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. That’s a righteous Bordeaux-style blend that provided an abundance of flavor.

Flavors were bold and expansive. Notes of currant and black cherry mix pleasantly with a layer of earth and a nip of spice.

Aging is for 17 months in French and Hungarian oak with 35% being new. That translates to subdued oak notes and smooth tannins. The finish is long with spice again on the backside.

The 2013 DCV Merlot was named one of the best Merlots in California in a 2016 competition (Fifty Best) and we can’t argue with that. This is a immensely satisfying Merlot. for $26 SRP makes it even more so.

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

Friday, January 27, 2017

5th Annual Glass City Wine Festival March 4 In Toledo

torbackTickets are now on sale for the Glass City Wine Festival. The fifth edition of this popular event will take place March 4 at the Seagate Convention Center in Toledo.

Admission tickets are from 1:00 to 4:00 PM ($25) and 6 PM to 9 PM ($30). VIP tickets cost $10 more and get you in one hour earlier. All tickets sell quickly, especially the VIP tickets. The VIP tickets are well worth the extra expense and allow you to avoid long lines. You get the hint, if you are planning on going, you should buy your tickets now.

Glass City Wine Festival is an opportunity to taste regional wines, sample gourmet cheese and fare from local restaurants and shop for unique gifts from a number of local, craft businesses. Many popular Ohio wineries will be pouring at the event.

This has turned into a great annual celebration of wine. It’s fun and fashionable with plenty of great wine. Around 20 wineries are expected to participate. You can find the list of confirmed wineries here.

For more information, and to order tickets, visit the Glass City Wine Festival website here.

Photo Credit: torbakhopper Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Exchange Club of Toledo Sets 5th Annual Wine Tasting February 25

Wine SelfieMembers of the Exchange Club of Toledo will host a wine tasting with paired appetizers at the historic Oliver House in downtown Toledo 6:00 – 8:00 PM Saturday, February 25.

The event will benefit their Youth of the Year and Accepting the Challenge of Excellence scholarships. Both scholarships benefit seniors in high school from our area with monetary scholarships for either being an exceptional student and young citizen or overcoming a life changing obstacle and achieving success. The Exchange Club works with students from the TPS system.

The event promises tasty wines and food pairings in a comfortable, historic downtown setting. There will be several irresistible silent auction items, the famous “wall of wine” and the company will be just right.  Tickets are $50 per person. For information or tickets, contact Gail Weller at  (419) 343-2426 or at . All major credit cards accepted.

The Oliver House is located at 27 Broadway St Toledo. At 150 years old, the pre-Civil War hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Oliver House is currently the home of a number of Toledo favorites, including Maumee Bay Brewing Co. and Rockwell's Steakhouse.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Karthäuserhof Quality Leading German Trend Of Dry Riesling


Think all German Riesling is sweet? The times they are a changin’ and Karthäuserhof is helping to lead the trend of drier German wine.

Lovers Of Riesling We Be

Our love affair with Riesling had its beginning with German Riesling. Through tastings with the Les Ami du Vin group, Green Dragon and I were exposed to German Riesling and its sweet goodness. This was many moons ago.

It actually launched our love of sweet white wines and it was a number of years before our palates zeroed in on drier wines, both white and red. As our oenological journey continued, we came back to Riesling and became strong fans of dry Riesling – particularly those from the Finger Lakes.

Germany Dries Out

There’s a good reason why German wines are sweet. The country is home to some of the coldest climate vineyards in the world. The cold temperatures cause the wine to stop fermenting before the sugar has all converted to alcohol. Thus you would have a sweet German Riesling with low alcohol. For centuries this off-dry to sweet style was prized internationally.

As tastes changed in the late 20th century, German exports tumbled. The German wine industry began promoting production of dry wines.

Karthäuserhof Tradition Plays A New Tune

Karthäuserhof is no newcomer to winemaking. The historic wine estate is nestled near the confluence of the Mosel and Ruwer rivers. Recent findings reveal this location was a settlement that practiced viticulture dating back to Roman times. For 200 years it has remained in the same family. This single vineyard estate makes wines solely from the Karthäuserhofberg vineyard. Most of its production is dry.

Through the Wine Studio educational program, we had an opportunity to sample two Karthäuserhof Riesling – the first a 2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling Ruwer QbA and – a real treasure – a 2009 Karthäuserhof Riesling Grosses Gewächs.

For our meal, Green Dragon prepared a dish with chicken asiago sausage topping noodles and fried apples, onions and cabbage with caraway seasoning. Having delicious Riesling with sausage is about as German as you can get – topped only by a bratwurst and stein of beer.

I was pleased to see the eagle emblem of VDP on the bottle. This is the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, known to friends as Verband Deutcher Prädikatsweingüter. VDP was founded in 1910 by a group of Germany’s top wine estates.

Brilliant Bottles

The 2015 Karthäuserhof Riesling was an instant favorite with Green Dragon. It offers a pleasant tingle on the tongue typical of Mosel Riesling. The slight sweetness is balanced with acidity. A delightful blend of citrus and honeysuckle kept us returning to this bottle throughout the evening.

The 2009 is a rare treat – aged Riesling from a top German wine estate. Karthäuserhof has achieved the highest rating in the VDP system, Grosse Lage or “great site.” Dry wines from Grosse Lage estates can earn the title of Grosse Gewächs (GG). There is a limitation on yield per hectare, the grapes must be picked by multiple runs through the vineyard and then the wine must undergo a sensory test.

Good to know that someone in Germany has our back in ensuring top quality wine.

The 2009 GG Riesling is certainly that. On the nose there are wafts of petrol (hey, it is a good thing) and on the tongue there are coating flavors of orange, smoke and honey. The finish is long and precise. This is some of the best Riesling I’ve had in the last several years.

Karthäuserhof is distributed by Massanois and is currently available in New York, New Jersey and California. Some wines are available through a leading online wine retailer. I hope to see a rapid expansion washing over the US with quality Riesling!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Masthead 2014 Sangiovese, Mohr-Fry Block 433, Lodi


What happens when you give four wine bloggers a chance to create their own wine? Read all about it!

Wine Bloggers Turn The Tables

The 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, was an eye-opener. Those who considered Lodi the land of Zinfandel alone, were exposed to a veritable Garden of Eden with more than 100 different grape varieties. There are grapes native to Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Rhone and all of California’s leading varieties.

Lodi also sports grapes from Italy. This includes Sangiovese, one of our favorites. Sangiovese from Lodi plays a leading role in the Masthead project, which saw a quartet of wine bloggers step away from their tablets and computers to create an impressive new wine.

The Blogger Brain Trust

Masthead is a joint project of Scotto Cellars and four wine bloggers: Nancy Brazil and Peter Bourget (Pull That Cork), Melanie Ofenlock (The Dallas Wine Chick) and Cindy Rynning (Grape Experiences). The Scottos are one of the true pioneer winemaking families of California. They have been making wine for five generations, dating back to southern Italy before the turn of the last century. Great grandfather Dominic Scotto sold wine from a wooden cart in the Italian neighborhoods of New York beginning in 1903.

The bloggers were invited to Lodi to visit the uber-cool Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyards, the source of the grapes for Masthead. They had a chance to become acquainted with the old vines of Zinfandel and Sangiovese and the other varieties that distinguish Lodi. They then moved to the new Scotto tasting room in downtown Lodi to work with legendary winemaker Mitch Cosentino and Scotto Cellars’ own Paul Scotto to produce an exceptional wine.

I must admit, 11 barrels of premium wine and four thirsty wine bloggers sounds like a recipe for disaster. Happily, I am proven wrong, because the results are delicious. After three hours of consideration and tasting, the group decided on a final cuvee combining two barrels of Sangiovese – one aged in Hungarian oak, the other in French oak. The end result is 528 bottles of liquid magic, also known as Masthead.

Lodi Wine ReceptionMasthead Debuts

In August, the opening reception for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference was at Mohr-Fry Ranches, a historic 225-acre vineyard farmed in accordance with the Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing.

At a tent during a pleasantly warm evening, I had my first sip of Masthead. That’s quite good, I thought. Then it sunk in that this was the creation of four fellow bloggers – aided by some very skillful professionals. Wow.

Opening night fun continued during the Masthead party at the Scotto tasting room downtown. No one should ever worry about being “stuck in Lodi” especially if they are near the Scotto tasting room.

We recently received a bottle of Masthead and anxiously popped it open a few days ago. In the glass the wine is a cranberry red. It’s light and elegant on the tongue.

Masthead is a playful mix of cherry flavor intermingled with touches of spice. The Green Dragon, my wife, says there is a taste of sweet tart. Whilst first opened, it seems a bit firm – perhaps that’s the Hungarian oak. We revisited the wine the following evening, and it was even more satisfying. It drank smoothly with tannins much more relaxed.

Masthead is a labor of love – but one you can try for yourself. It is available in select markets around the US with an SRP of $30.

What’s next, political bloggers running the White House? Fantasy football fans calling the shots for the Dallas Cowboys? We’re unsure where this might lead, but the initial foray by wine bloggers into winemaking is a tasty success. We raise a glass of Masthead in salute to all involved!

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