Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New York Wine Experience 2009-A night at the wine 'Oscars'

by Dwight Casimere

It was the Academy Awards of wine, the “Critics Choice” Grand Tasting of the 2009 New York Wine Experience, held at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

The international wine tasting marked the 29th annual Wine Experience and, as always, Wine Spectator’s distinguished Board of Senior Editors chose the finest wine producers from the world’s great winegrowing regions to participate in the Grand Tasting.

There should have been a Red Carpet upon which to assemble the stellar assemblage of the world’s premiere winemakers; Clovis Taittinger of his namesake Champagne Taittinger, Timothy Mondavi from his late father’s Robert Mondavi Winery, Jean-Bernard Delmas of Chateau Montrose to name but a few of the nearly 300 creators of premium vintages, rated 90 points or higher by Wine Spectator.

The owners and winemakers were on hand to personally pour their wines and a sumptuous grand tasting of charcuterie, hot and the Marriott Marquis staff prepared cold cuisine and desserts. The presentation would rival anything prepared by Wolfgang Puck for the Green Room behind the Kodak Theatre on Oscar Night.

“Critics Choice” Grand Tastings are sponsored by the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation, which awards grants to students pursuing careers in oenology and viticulture, wine service and related fields.

Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of Wine Spectator, presided over the event, circulating amongst the wine pouring tables, greeting old friends and generally being the affable host of a fantastic evening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Italian (wine) job

by Dwight Casimere

The 7th edition of Vinitaly US Tour segued into Chicago’s Intercontinental Hotel before moving on to San Francisco and New York. The cities chosen for the second stage of the 2009 edition represent a full-fledged assault on the markets that are key to the preeminence of Italian wines in the consumer market.

Last February, Dwight The Wine Doctor attended the first stage of the Vinitaly US Tour at Miami’s sumptuous Biltmore in Coral Gables and the Hilton Bentley in ultra-chic South Beach.

The Chicago event kicked off with a wide-ranging seminar coordinated by Paul Wagner, Professor of the Napa Valley Faculty of Wine Growing and Oenology and a member of the nomination committee of the Culinary Institute of America. The discussion, “Italian Wines for America Today” featured a distinguished panel including Nicola Moscardo of the Veronafiere Board, which organizes Vinitaly, the world’s largest wine fair, in Verona, Italy. Last year, Vinitaly broke all records with 4,200 exhibitors and 150,000 participants. Nearly a third of them came from North America and more than a hundred countries had representatives in attendance. Dwight The Wine Doctor was among those who opted for the cable car as a method of transportation around the massive exhibit halls, which covered four McCormick Place sized buildings spread over a hundred acre area.

“We’ve got a new generation of wine drinkers developing,” Chicago journalist, author and wine educator Tom Hyland told the capacity audience. “They’ll comprise the largest group of wine drinkers in history. We’ve got to make wine more approachable so these ‘Millennials’ aren’t afraid of wine or put off by the way we present it.

“What do American wine drinkers want?” he asked rhetorically. They certainly don’t want a lesson in chemistry. Their eyes start to glaze over when you start talking about brix and malalactic fermentation and indigenous yeast. They want to hear stories that relate the human factor. They want romance. They want to capture a place and a time and there’s no country better positioned to do that than Italy.”

At the walk around wine tasting for trade operators, importers, distributors, retailers, caterers, trendsetters and the media, the romance and legacy of Italian wines were uppermost on everyone’s mind. The Intercontinental’s catering staff provided a delicious array of Italian cheeses, sliced meats, olives and sliced mushroom and colorful sweet peppers in a light olive oil and balsamic drizzle.

Prosecco, the indigenous Italian sparking wine, garnered the most attention, with offerings from Piera Martellozzo of Friuli Venezia, Fiulia, Italy.

Export Manager Patrick Cappellini poured a delicious glass of sparkling Prosecco Spumante as he rhapsodized about the 2008 vintage.

“Prosecco is unique to Italy and unique among sparkling wines. Its light, fruity and easy to drink. That makes it extremely popular, not just in Italy, but across Europe and the United States, as well.

“Especially with the tough economic times around the world, people are looking for affordable sparking wine and Prosecco fills the bill. Its one of the greatest values out there.”

Among the truly outstanding offerings were the wines of La Togata, Brunello di Montalcino, whose 2004 vintages received ratings above 90 points in all of the major wine publications. One cannot attend a wine tasting of this magnitude and not encounter a Chianti Classico of outstanding characteristic. Dievole Chianti Classico “La Vendemmia” D.O.C.G. 2007 fulfilled all of the right flavor profiles associated with great Chiantis; rich, robust with bright fruit and a smooth, roundness in the mouth. This is the perfect wine for a terrific aged steak or a richly flavored cheese.

The wines of Sicily were represented as well and quite elegantly by Donnafugata, among the ten producers represented on the tour. The Wine Doctor visited with Giacomo Rallo and his wife Gabriella at Vinitaly in Verona earlier this year and was pleasantly reminded of the vineyards of Contessa Entellina that had been so beautifully photographed by Chicago wine photojournalist, author and lecturer Anna Pakula, who was also in attendance at the Vinitaly Chicago event.

Kalura Nero d’Avola 2007, IGT Sicilia from Cantina Birgi garnered a great deal of buzz and a lingering throng at their tasting table.

Clever use of a camera made it possible to edge into a prominent place at the tasting table for a healthy pour of the velvety rich, red gold. For more on the exciting wines of Italy, visit www.vinitaly.com,

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trump International Chicago luxuriates in Champagne, Champagne, Champagne

Trump International Chicago luxuriates in Champagne, Champagne, Champagne

by Dwight Casimere

“I really want to promote Champagne as a drink for every occasion and everyday life, not just special occasions.” Those were the words of Trump International Hotel & Tower Sixteen Restaurant Wine Director Steven Lee, as he relaxed in Rebar Lounge on the mezzanine level after one of his champagne tasting excursions.

“What most people don’t realize is how versatile champagne is. It can be served before the meal as an aperitif and then carry you right on through the meal and still be had either along with the dessert or by itself as an after-dinner treat.”

Lee illustrated his point with a stunning, diverse array of Brut Rose Champagnes; Duval Leroy e Seignee NV (non-vintage), Michel Arnould et Fils Brut Rose Grand Cru, NV, Ruinart Burt Rose NV and the piece de resistance, Marguet et Fils, Brut Rose Grand Cru NV. The tasting was accompanied by a mouthwatering sampling of cuisine from Sixteen Restaurant Executive Chef Frank Brunacci, which included a mouthwatering slice of fresh Hamachi (yellow tail Tuna), drenched in a piquant citrus glaze and a flavorful slice of ripe Roblichon fromage from France.

“Most people never think of rose Champagnes as being interesting or challenging. They’re so used to having the syrupy sweet sparklers. What we’ve set out to do here is show an array of Brut Rose Champagnes that can be served from the aperitif right on through the meal to dessert. The Duval Leroy is light on the palate with a touch of sweetness. Its perfect with sushi, sashimi or light appetizers. Things get a little more complex with the Michel Arnould. You’re starting to get into some of that heavy fruit and a bit of the terroir that Champagne is famous for. You’re getting into fruit that gets exposure to intense sun at the higher elevations, and then gets cooled off at night to give the fruit some depth.

“Then comes my personal favorite, Ruinart Brut Rose. This is champagne making elevated to high art.

“Ruinart is one of the prestige cuvées, Dom Ruinart is a true blanc de blancs, made entirely of Chardonnay. The Dom Ruinart Rosé, first released in 1962, resembles the Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs with the addition of 15% vinified red Pinot Noir, giving it its distinct color.

“ What makes Ruinart so special? There’s the full expression of that flinty aftertaste of the limestone soil, called ‘terroir’, that is so prized by true Champagne lovers. It comes from the rocky, mineral-rich soil that stresses the vines and gives the fruit and the champagne a unique flavor,” Lee said with obvious relish. “There’s nothing quite like!”

Surprisingly, Lee’s favorite bubbly is an American sparkling wine from Oregon. “It’s called Soter, from the Yamhill District of Willamette Valley. Tony Soter has made his life’s work the study of viticulture and biodynamic winemaking. Their property is a haven for exceptional Pinot Noir grapes and his winemaker, James Cahill, makes superb sparkling wines. Its totally sold out. I was able to get a few cases. We have it on the wine list at $125 a bottle. At that price, it’s a real bargain, since you can’t get it anywhere else.”

On Wednesday evenings, Sommelier Steven Lee hosts the “Champagne Table” in Rebar’s exclusive VIP area from 5:30-7 p.m. “Sometimes, the evenings are like a formal wine tasting, with me pouring and giving a presentation on the wines. Sometimes, it winds up almost like a casual house party; with me circulating amongst the tables and everybody busy having conversations and enjoying the wines. After a hard day at work, I sometimes just let the participants enjoy the wines. After all, that’s what its really about!”

These spirited, after-work social hours allow guests to sample bubbles from a monthly featured Champagne house, as well enjoy hors d'oeuvres and the stunning views of the Chicago River and the bustling activity on the Michigan Avenue bridge. The cost to attend is $25 per person, exclusive of gratuity. Go to www.trumphotelchicago.com for more information on future tasting dates.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

When lavender last in the vineyard grew

Dwight The Wine Doctor: MatanzasCreek Winery, "When Lavender, last in the vineyard grew"-by Dwight Casimere
Lavender, as far as the eye can see, is the first thing that strikes your eye and your senses as you approach the mountain retreat tasting room of Matanzas Creek winery in Sonoma’s rustic and secluded Bennett Valley. Lavender is one of the most aromatic and diverse flowering plants in the world. Its uses range from culinary to medicinal and cosmetic. In France, it is ubiquitous, appearing as a decorative adorment, a room deoderizer and as a featured component in bath, body and beauty products.
In France, as at Matanzas Creek winery, Lavender is in full bloom everywhere. The sight and smell is as prevalent as the vineyards that blanket the countryside. In many ways, Matanzas Creek mirrors the topography and ambiance of the French countryside, so it is no surprise that the winemaker, Francois Cordesse, is a native of Languedoc France.
"Wine is very much a product of the senses," Cordesse told The Wine Doctor at a recent lunch in the vineyards during the recent Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. "You smell, you drink, you taste. It is something very sensual.
" Wine is full of symbolism and archetype. Its very, very complex. We try to produce wine that is bold, fleshy and very aromatic. It is both a product of nature and a product of the art of the winemaker. "
The owners of Matanzas Creek became aware of Cordesse while he was head winemaker at Domaine Saint Hilaire in his native Languedoc. While at Saint Hilaire, his Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were awarded double gold at the Grand prix d’excellence des Vinalies, a renowned international wine competition sponsored by the French Oneologist Union. This accomplishment brought François to the attention of wine producers around the world, and in 2001, he joined the team at Matanzas Creek Winery and became Winemaker in 2005.
"Matanzas Creek is truly a Grand Dame estate of California. I am honored to be a part of this special place. "
Cordesse feels he was ordained from birth to create great wine. "My mother was a teacher at the French Culinary Institute. She taught me that if you pay attention to detail, but are willing to take some risks, you will be rewarded."
The Matanzas Creek luncheon was a showcase for a selection of the winery’s current releases: 2008 Matanzas Creek Bennett Valley Rose, paired with a watermelon and calamari salad, 2005 Jackson Park Merlot with grilled skirt steak, fingerling potatoes and Sausalito Springs watercress and 2007 L’Ultime Red Dessert Wine.
"When you are in California wine country, you are surrounded by flagrance. When you walk through the fields, you are surrounded by smells. When you touch a tree, you have the smell of bark and certainly, when you approach the vineyards, your senses are filled with the promise of the new wine yet to come. Our wine is aromatic and bold. Its what we try to capture here at Matanzas Creek. We just try to preserve what Mother Nature provides to us year after year.
"Here in the Bennet Valley, we are blessed by the God of Wine. We have three mountains here. When it is hot, the warm air goes up inside the valley. The mountains then act like a vacuum that sucks the cold air inland where it will be trapped here in the valley , which is a closed environment.
Our fruit also has an eastern exposure. The combination of cold air and warm ground creates some intensity in the grapes. The sun then dissipates the fog, which makes for some very intense fruit."
Francois also says the soil, or ‘terroir’ has a great deal to do with the complex flavors of his wine. " Here in Jackson Park, we have at least six different kinds of soil, so that gives the grapes a great deal of complexity. The combination is perfect; correct exposure, fog in the morning, very cold at night with oxidized clay. That makes the wine extra interesting and exciting."
The vineyard luncheon provided a format to showcase the full spectrum of Matanzas Creek’s award winning wines. "The Bennett Valley Rose is something new for us. It is a summertime wine, light, fun, yet complete. It has a crispness and fruitiness that lets it stand on its own, yet, it can hold up to food, especially seafood. We chose the Calamari salad to give expression to the bright fruit of the wine combined with its ability to stand up to a fish with a strong, oily back note."

Matanzas Creek Merlot has a distinctive flavor profile that makes it one of the most sought after Merlots in the Sonoma Valley. "Our blending technique at Matanzas Creek produces something that is velvety and fleshy but with a good tannic structure. It also has a dark profile that comes from the vineyard floor. We are also looking for something more mineral from our premium wine. It will be easier to match food and wine when you get that minerality. We temper the wine with a bit of Cabernet from Knight’s Valley, which is warm. We produce something that is extremely aromatic that is able to age.
"When you go back and record the history of Matanzas Creek, you will see a hint of botrytis in each of the vintages that adds to its complexity. In its younger days, Chardonnay should have flavors of white peach, green pear and a hint of honey. Then later on, it should start to develop some minerality, which makes it perfect with food. We here at Matanzas Creek make wine for food. The two should have a good synergy."
Back at the tasting room, there were a wide variety of new wine releases to sample and an opportunity to load up on gift boxes of the precious, aromatic lavender for cooking and for spreading around the house for an aromatic lift. A dizzying selection of bath and fragrance products also made for a terrific shopping experience. Combined with a few bottles of wine, the assorted bath and beauty products will make for great gift baskets during the Holidays.
I have a favorite recipe for roast duck for the Holidays. At the very end of the cooking process, I heat the oven to 500 degrees and return the fully roasted duck to the oven for ten minutes after covering the skin with a dusting of dried lavender. It not only tastes great, but gives the whole house a fantastic aroma that greats your guests, guaranteed to put them in the Holiday spirit.