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A Real Deal Big Mack: Vintner & Sommelier André Hueston Mack

Sommelier, Winemaker, Designer, Entrepreneur: André Hueston Mack has always had a flair for success. Recognized as one of the country’s top sommeliers and owner of his successful wine brand, Maison Noir, Mack has made his mark in the world of wine in a way few have: encyclopedic knowledge paired with an unbridled passion for championing quality wines through creative presentations.

Mack took the plunge in the world of wine in the early 2000s, leaving behind a career at Citicorp. He become a passionate student of wine, studying and seizing every opportunity to learn and taste. He spent his formative days in San Antonio, Texas, working as a sommelier at The Palm and head sommelier at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood.

Andre
Photo by Stash Photography (www.maisonnoirwines.com)

At age 30 Mack was awarded the prestigious title of Best Young Sommelier in America by La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. He was the first African American sommelier to earn this honor. This recognition led his to a job as sommelier for Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. He went to be become head sommelier at Per Se in New York City, where he oversaw a 1500-selection wine list and consulted with Chef Keller on menu and pairings.

Mack always had a dream to produce wines under his own label. In 2007 that dream became reality with the launch of Maison Noir Wines. Created in cooperation with select growers and winemakers in Oregon handpicked by Mack, the wines of Maison Noir are the end-product of Mack’s dedication to bring joy – and a bit of whimsy – to the world of wine. To that end, he oversees the production and also designs the labels and packaging with eye-popping black and white imagery and names like Oregogne Chardonnay & Pinot Noir, O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot), P-Oui Pinot Noir, Bottoms Up White, and Horseshoes and Handgrenades, a red blend. Wines are available in both stores and restaurants and on his website at www.maisonnoirwines.com

 Horseshoes & Handgrenades is a fruit-driven, full-bodied complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon (Syrah) and Red Mountain Washington State (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

Horseshoes & Handgrenades is a fruit-driven, full-bodied complex red blend sourced from Southern Oregon (Syrah) and Red Mountain Washington State (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot).

Mack also owns & Sons Ham Bar in In Brooklyn, NY. The intimate neighborhood ham bar celebrates the culture of American charcuterie, from cured sausages and country ham to pâtes, and features a small wine list of celebrated vintages from the 1960s-1990s. There is an adjacent retail outlet selling assorted hams and cheeses. www.andsonsnyc.com

A talented graphic designer, his line of tee shirts are inspired by -his description- “Wine Lifestyle/Street Culture” of the punk and hip-hop scenes, while reminiscent of independent skateboard company apparel of the 1990s.” He is author and designer of Small Thyme Cooks, a culinary activity coloring book whose sales benefit the Charlie Trotter Foundation, and the thoroughly enjoyable Mack memoir by bottle, 99 Bottles: A Black Sheep’s Guide to Life-Changing Wines (Harry Abrams)

99 bottles
Buy book here on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3dg9hBa

“Black Sheep” is the nickname Mack’s Per Se colleagues gave him when he was still one of a few African American sommeliers in the industry. As we researched different meaning for this reference, we came to this conclusion: Mack is, indeed, a renegade and a rare breed: a man of integrity and individuality who has made an indelible mark in the world of wine despite all odds.

Listen here to our conversation with André Hueston Mack’s story on The Connected Table LIVE

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Sipping Alsace Wines with Famille Cattin

Considered one of the world’s great wine regions, France’s Alsace has long been a player on the international stage with its exceptional still and sparkling wines. With 12 generations at the helm, the Cattin family has been at the center of this region’s wine production since 1720.

Cattin family

France, you say, has many wine regions, so what sets Alsace apart? While France does boast a large number of regions devoted to making wine, most are warm climate areas where red wines dominate. Alsace, with its moderate climate and northerly geographic position next to Germany, is known for its production of white wines, and so holds a special place in the often-complicated world of French winemaking. Let’s take a closer look.

Jacques & Anais Cattin
Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin

Domaine Joseph Cattin (www.cattin.fr) is the largest independent family-owned winery in Alsace and is located in the small village of Voegtlinshoffen, just South of Colmar. Now run by husband-wife family members, Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin, the winery makes wines across the full spectrum of what Alsace offers, with particular emphasis on Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and their self-professed specialty, Crémant d’Alsace sparkling wine – all of which are widely available in the U.S.

Cattin's Hatschbourg vineyard
Cattin’s Hatschbourg vineyard dates back to 1188. Throughout the centuries vineyards were planted by Augustinian monks, bishops and even a Hungarian Queen. Today it cultivates Alsace’s four “noble grape varieties” – Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Vines are planted on slopes, with an altitude varying from 200 to 330 m. In the heavy, deep and well-drained soils composed of marl, clay and limestone. (reference www.cattin.fr)

The family currently owns just over 160 acres of vines throughout the area, and like a majority of Alsace producers, farms their vineyards organically. “We’ve been farming this land for 12 generations,” said Anaïs Cattin, “by farming our vineyards sustainably, we have a better chance to ensure this winery will produce for the next twelve generations.” Cattin’s wines, all certified vegan, by the way, are produced in two separate wineries, one for still wines , the other dedicated exclusively to the production of Crémant d’Alsace.

Joseph Cattin
Winery namesake Joseph Cattin was a viticulturalist whose expertise in grafting rootstock played an important role in saving Alsace vineyards from phylloxera in the 19th century.

Cattin’s whites are textbook Alsace wines, with each expression showing true varietal character whether made as AOC classified wine or coming from specific “Cru d’Alsace” vineyards – those next level properties showing unique terroir that are designated as the best vineyards in Alsace. A hallmark of Alsace wines is their beautiful compatibility with food. “While they can be consumed anytime, these are food wines,’ said Jacques Cattin, “their weight, acidity, and depth of flavor all condone pairing with not just the local cuisine of Alsace, like our famous choucroute, but with a variety of other foods, including cheeses, meats, and even fish.”

Crémant d’Alsace, sparkling wines made in the Méthode Traditionelle, are vinified in the same way as Champagne, but utilize the grapes varieties of Alsace in addition to those traditionally used for making champagne. The most popular styles are Brut, usually made with local white grapes but can also include Chardonnay; and Brut Rosé, which can only be made with Pinot Noir.

“Alsace’s dry climate and cool evenings during the growing season create the perfect combination for giving our grapes the acidity needed to make excellent sparkling wines,” said Jacques of his family’s Crémant d’Alsace. “And not having to rely exclusively on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of the industry’s most expensive grape varieties, allows us to make wines of individuality and also keep costs in check, which in turn allows us to provide wines of great value for the price.”

With most Crémant d’Alsace wines priced at under $25, it’s a win-win in our opinion, and helps make Crémant d’Alsace Brut and Rosé some of France’s best sparkling wines.

Cattin wines we tasted; all available in the U.S.A.  Imported by T. Edwards Wines.

Cattin wines

Riesling AOC Alsace 2018, SRP: $17. Appearance: bright and pale yellow with green reflections. Nose: mineral with citrus flowers. Palate: fresh, dry and mineral, with grapefruit flavors. Pairings: sushi, choucroute, goat cheese.

Gewurztraminer AOC Alsace 2017, SRP: $18. Appearance: clear, pale gold. Nose: perfumed nose with lychee and mango aromas and a delicate touch of rose water. Palate: ripe exotic fruits with floral notes; well-balanced between spiciness and freshness; a long-lasting finish. Pairings: curries, chicken or vegetable chili, strong cheeses (e.g., real Munster cheese from Alsace).

AOC Crémant d’Alsace Brut, SRP: $22. Appearance: bright pale gold; fine bubbles. Nose: fresh; green apple and white flowers. Palate: fresh and dry palate; lively acidity balanced with fruitiness of green apple and lemon; fine and creamy bubbles. Pairings: apertif, fish, white meats.

AOC Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, SRP: $20. Appearance: clear; elegant salmon pink; abundant and dynamic bubbles. Nose: fruity especially red fruits such as cherry and black currants. Palate: refreshing and creamy with fruity aromas such as strawberries and lemon. A clean and long lasting finish. Pairings: spicy Asian  dishes, fruit desserts.

If you visit Cattin Winery, try the wine and cheese pairing. We learned Jacques Cattin is a cheese enthusiast who studied cheesemaking.

Listen to The Connected Table Sips with Jacques and Anaïs Sirop Cattin

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Alsace Grand Cru Wines: A Best Kept Secret Revealed

Grand Cru wines are the cream of the crop in regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, but here’s a tip: Alsace also makes outstanding grand cru wines, and they deliver exceptional quality for value.

We visited with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation of family-run Domaine Gustave Lorentz and winery president. Established in 1836, Gustave Lorentz is located in the heart of Alsace’s Grand Cru wine country near Altenberg de Bergheim. The winery is the essence of Alsace: historic, decidedly French and welcoming to visitors.

Georges Lorentz
Georges Lorentz

While we were familiar with the fact that 90 percent of Alsace wine production is white, we learned a few key points during our discussion with Lorentz:

Alsace has a unique micro-climate

Located in northeast France bordering Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is a small region with big secret Lorentz shared with us: “Alsace is protected by the Vosges Mountains and has a unique micro-climate that delivers drier and warmer temperatures, ideal growing conditions. In fact, Colmar is considered the second driest town in France.” Most producers practice organic and biodynamic farming. Gustave Lorentz has farmed organically since 2012.

Altenberg-Bergheim slopes
The Altenberg region in Bergheim is the heart of the Alsace Grand Cru wine country

Alsace Grand Cru wines are a rare find

While Alsace produces seven grape varieties, only Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat are permitted in the Grand Cru regions of Kanzlerberg and Altenberg de Bergheim near Gustave Lorentz. Here, vineyard plots are small, with concentrated plantings and lower yields in soils that are mainly clay and limestone, producing exceptional grapes. The wines deliver more complexity and can age well. Lorentz told us, “Alsace Grand Cru wines represent only five percent of production, so they are a rare find and exceptional value.” Most average $35/45/bottle.

Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace
Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace- versatile and food friendly

Alsace Is a top sparkling wine region

Alsace is the oldest and largest producer of crémant, sparkling wines made in the traditional method. One can find crémants made from blends of Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is also permitted to make Crémantd’Alsace. These wines are elegant and refined, delivering great value as well, averaging $30 bottle.


Alsace vs. Germany- Styles

Historically, Alsace has bounced between French and German occupation. However, the heritage, culture, and wines are very much French, as Lorentz explained: “Both Alsace and Germany used the same seven different grape varieties; but Alsace’s vinification style is decidedly French. Germans tend to enjoy drinking wine outside their meals so vinify their wines accordingly, making wines lighter in body, alcohol and style, and also sweeter with less acidity. Conversely, Alsace wines a made to enjoy with food and therefore made with more body, higher alcohol and also drier with better acidity.”

We were impressed with the finesse of the Gustave Lorentz wines we tasted:

Gustave Lorentz Riesling Reserve
Gustave Lorentz Riesling Reserve (importer: Quintessential Wines)

 

Riesling Reserve2017, 100% Riesling with white floral and citrus notes, fresh acidity and a hint of minerality. The finish is dry and fresh. A nice aperitif wine or paired with seafood, white meat chicken or a classic Alsace Choucroute (pork and sauerkraut).
12.3% ABV SRP $21

Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris (importer: Quintessential Wines)
Gustave Lorentz Pinot Gris (importer: Quintessential Wines)

Pinot Gris 2018, 100% Pinot Gris, that, while white, shows more like a red wine in structure. Creamy texture and underlying yet distinct backbone of acidity, it shows notes of pear and quince with a subdued smokiness in the finish. A beautiful wine that pairs well with roasted chicken, venison, or cheeses like Comté or Parmesan. 13.5% ABV, SRP $24.

Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace

Crémant d’Alsace Brut, 34% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Blanc, 33% Pinot Noir. Made in the méthode traditionnelle to bring a refinement to the bubbles. Zesty and crisp with notes of lemon rind and a hint of red berry. Made our mouths water for a plate of smoked gouda and country ham, or a plate of grilled shrimp. 12% ABV, SRP $26

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, a 100% Pinot Noir made in the méthode traditionnelle. Pale salmon pink in color, this crémant is lovely to look at as well as to sip. Fresh and fruity with flavors of wild strawberry and raspberry, softer palate and more roundness. 12 % ABV SRP $25 Enjoy with a heartier dish like roast pork, pasta with tomato sauce or to complement a light fruit dessert. 12% ABV, SRP $25

Gustave Lorentz wines are imported in the U.S.A. by Quintessential Wines. www.gustavelorentz.com

Listen to our SIPs podcast with Georges Lorentz, seventh generation family member and president of Domaine Gustave Lorentz:

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The Beaujolais Wine Route: A Snapshot

The Beaujolais region in France has been designated a “Paie d’art et d’histoire,” recognizing its centuries-old heritage, picturesque villages, historic sights and many wine estates. Nearly 200 wineries are open to the public.

The official Beaujolais Wine Route covers roughly 85 miles. To the south are the larger regions of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. Moving north you’ll find the 10 smaller crus. Like the wines themselves, each appellation has a unique character based on its climate, altitude and diversity of soils which include an indigenous pink granite, clay, schist and limestone.

Map of beau
Map of the Beaujolais Terroir

Here’s a snapshot, of the Beaujolais Wine Route:

Comprised of 72 villages, AOC Beaujolais, the southernmost appellation, is three times larger than neighboring Beaujolais-Villages, to the east. While reds made from the Gamay grape dominate, one can experience vibrant rosés and white wines made with Chardonnay. Whites from the Beaujolais appellation can carry hints of peach and apricots ,while Beaujolais Villages whites can have aromas of pear, fresh almond and tropical fruit and a touch of almond and vanilla.

Pierres Doree
The Golden Stones (Les Pierres Dorées) Photo: www.beaujolais.com

Here are some fun facts about these two areas: In AOC Beaujolais, Les Pierres Dorées, which translates to “golden stones,” refers to a cluster of picturesque villages dotted with large golden stones that can be quite spectacular in the sunlight. In fact, this area has earned the nickname “Little Tuscany,” thanks to its steep hills and gorgeous landscape. One example is the hilltop town of Oingt ( oh-engt), which is named one of the most beautiful villages in France.

The hilltop village of Oingt has been called one of the most beautiful villages in France. Photo: www.beaujolais.com

For a nice introduction to the region, visit the historical capital of Beaujeu (BO-JU), located in Beaujolais-Villages. The Beaujolais Museum has information on the region’s viticultural history.

Venturing northward lie the 10 Beaujolais crus. Cru wine styles change thanks to geology and climate. One can try Beaujolais wines that are softer like Brouilly, Fleurie and Chenas to more supple and structured like Julienas, Morgon and Moulin A Vent.

Brouilly and Côte-de-Brouilly are the southernmost crus. Brouilly wines are more fruity- plummy with some minerality. Côte de Brouilly wines are slightly fuller bodied. This is due to soils and elevation. This area has a mixture of four soil types: pink granite (unique to Beaujolais), limestone marl, river rocks and clay.

The chapel of Mont Brouilly, in Beaujolais, Rhone department, France

Mount Brouilly straddles the two AOCs -Brouilly at the base and Côte-de-Brouilly on the mountain slopes where vineyards grow in rocky, volcanic soils, some dating to Roman time. At the summit of Mt Brouilly is Notre- Dame- aux Rayzin (The Chapel of Our Lady of the Grapes). It was built in 1857 to protect the vineyards.

Venturing north, Régnié is a small cru spread over just one square mile with pink granite, mineral-rich terrain. Grapes are grown on hillside around 1,150 feet above sea level. Régnié produces aromatic wines with notes of raspberry, red currant, blackberry and a touch of spice.

Morgon-Saint-Joseph-Cru-du-Beaujolais-Gillet-Inter-Beaujolais-

Morgon is the second largest Cru after Brouilly with 250 producers in 4.5 square miles. It is named after the local hamlet of Morgon. The soil in Morgon is rich in iron oxide with traces of manganese and volcanic rock. Morgon wines are fuller-bodied with a deep garnet color and favors of ripe cherry, peach, apricot and plum.

Chiroubles has been called “the most Beaujolais of all the crus.” This region has a higher altitude, 1,475 above sea level and cooler temperatures Wines are ruby red with light floral votes of violet and peony.

Fleurie, a northern cru, covers just three-square miles. The soil here is almost entirely made up of the pinkish granite unique to this part of Beaujolais. Fleurie produces softer, aromatic wines with floral and fruity essences of iris, violet, rose, red fruit and peach.

Le Moulin A Vent in the backdrop of winter vineyards. Photo: www.beaujolais.com

The highest rated of all the Beaujolais crus, Moulin-à-Vent is ruby to dark garnet in color with lush floral and fruit aromas. It’s a wine that evolves and becomes more complex with age, delivering more earthiness and spice. Moulin a Vent means windmill, a nod to the giant windmill located in the town of Romaneche-Thorins

Chenas in a small cru located in a mountainous area that was once a dense forest before King Phillippe V ordered the trees be repaved with vines. Chenas is considered one of the finest crus, whose garnet-ruby red wines can be aged for a few years. Chenas wines were a favorite of King Louis XIII.

Vineyards in Julianas

Moving northwest in Beaujolais, Juliénas produces earthier wines with a deep ruby red color and strawberry, violet, red currant and peony characteristics. Juliénas are powerful wines with essences of vanilla and cinnamon laced into the red fruits. The name, Julienas is taken from Julius Caesar; many vines here date to the Gallo-Roman period.

Beaujolais’s northernmost cru is called Saint-Amour. Wines can range from soft, fruit and floral to spicier, with notes of cherry kirsch. Saint-Amour is known as the most romantic Beaujolais. In fact, 20 to 25 percent of Saint-Amour sales occur in February around Valentine’s Day.

Now that we took you on a snapshot tour, we hope you are ready to taste. For more information on Beaujolais and its wines visit www.beaujolais.com

Listen to our SIPS podcast on The Beaujolais Wine Route below (stream), or click here: https://bit.ly/TCT_BeaujolaisAppellations

 

 

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Virginia’s Barboursville Vineyards: Southern Hospitality with an Italian Accent

We’re fans of Virginia wines and the region itself and made our third visit to explore the state in October. The weather was perfect and fall foliage was just starting. We spent three nights staying at the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, located in Central Virginia’s Monticello AVA.

This was our first visit to Barboursville, and we produced a live show with general manager and winemaker, Luca Paschina, who shared the estate’s history over a dinner he prepared for us with a selection on Barboursville’s wines.

 

Luca Paschina has been the winemaker at Barboursville since 1990.

Barboursville’s America-Italy Connection

Barboursville was the 19th century estate of Virginia’s Governor, James Barbour, a colleague and good friend of Thomas Jefferson. The two were practically neighbors- in rural Virginia that can mean several miles away which many may still say is “up the road a ways.” Jefferson’s historic home, Monticello, is about a 20- minute drive near Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.

Barboursville Estate (photo from winery website www.bbvwine.com

)

Historically, Barboursville was a farming estate for sheep. Like many centuries-old farms, it changed hands over time. In 1976 Italian vintner, Gianni Zonin, acquired the estate to create Barboursville Vineyards, the only winery for the Zonin family outside Italy. This was a bold move for the Zonins, whose family dates back seven generations, and it marked a major milestone in then-sleepy Virginia wine history. The Zonins happen to be the largest privately family-run wine company in Italy. By selecting Virginia over locales like Napa and New York’s Finger Lakes to start a U.S. winery, the Zonins made quite a splash in the wine news world.

First grape plantings at Barboursville Vineyards in the 1970s
Gianni Zonin pictures at the first grape planting at Barboursville Vineyards in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Barboursville Vineyards

Luca Paschina has served as general manager and winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards since 1990. Paschina is from a Piemontese winemaking family and is doing some amazing things with Italian varietals in this area of Central Virginia, notably Fiano, Vermentino and Nebbiolo. Barboursville’s selections also include Viognier and Cabernet Franc, which both flourish in this area. Most well-known of the estate’s wines is Octagon, Barboursville’s signature Bordeaux style blend.

There is also an onsite grape drying facility to make passito.
The inn itself also offers some smaller houses. When we were there it was quiet aside from two or three other couples staying on-site. However, the tasting rooms, inside and out, were busy with day trippers enjoying wines and a light lunch from the on-site Palladio restaurant. The tasting room team did a great job managing safe social distancing. Throughout our Virginia winery visits, everyone was incredibly careful about this.

What’s left of James Barbour’s home, designed by Thomas Jefferson and destroyed in a fire.

Paschina noted that the tasting room is open every day except three holidays, and one can visit the property and the ruins of Barbour’s house, which was designed by Jefferson. Sadly, the house was destroyed in a Christmas Day fire in 1884. The estate also has some stunning gardens and a patio to relax with a glass or two of wine and gaze at the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.

Barboursville Harvest Toast
Luca Paschina and Fernando Franco toast the end of harvest.

On our final day at Barboursville, harvest ended as we were saying our goodbyes. Vineyard manager, Fernando Franco made the final “victory lap” through the vineyards and up to the tasting patio in the big blue harvester. Out came the cameras and a bottle of Barboursville sparkling wine which Franco sabered. Glasses were raised in celebration to toast the end of a harvest that, many local vintners admitted to us, has its challenges thanks to a frost in May which had everyone scrambling to protect the buds. Paschina made a speech and thanked his team for their hard work. What a special moment to capture and savor in the vineyards among friends!

The Connected Table Live at Barboursville with Luca Paschina.

Here are the show notes and link. You can also hear it anytime on your favorite podcast platform.


 

Photos not provided by Barboursville Vineyards were taken by The Connected Table.

 

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Sipping Hamilton Russell Oregon Pinot Noir

 

We have a soft spot for South Africa after a visit to the wine country and the bushlands in late 2006. So, it was a pleasure to visit with Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell, proprietors of Hamilton Russell Vineyards, a producer of estate-grown wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near the fishing village of Hermanus in Walker Bay. It’s one of the southernmost wine estates in Africa and benefits from a cooler maritime climate, ideal for producing their Burgundian style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. (listen The Connected Table Sips)

Hamilton Russell Vineyards is one of the southernmost wineries in South Africa

Now, after producing 40 vintages in South Africa, the Hamilton Russells have spread their wings and have invested in making wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Their first two releases, vintage 2018 deliver classic Pinot Noirs with opulent fruit and spice balanced with masterful restraint and purity. The wines are available through Vineyards Brands in the U.S.A.

The couple had looked into investing in Burgundy but decided the Willamette Valley offered a better opportunity to work with some of the region’s best AVAs, Eola-Amity Hills and Ribbon Ridge.

Anthony and Olive Hamilton Russell in South Africa with Vineyard Manager Johan Montgomery and Winemaker Emul Ross

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is recognized for its iron- rich volcanic soils formed by ancient lava flows combined with marine sediments and alluvial deposits. The maritime climate allows for a steady cooling sea breeze during the long, warm growing season Ribbon Ridge is a sub-appellation within the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Here, the soil is uniformly marine sediments with fine silt, sand, and mud.

“After sanctions (in South Africa) were lifted in 1992, we knew we wanted to expand long-term. We visited the U.S. often and saw an extraordinary opportunity in Oregon with Pinot Noir. While Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa exhibits a bit more austerity, the Oregon wines capture the more purity of fruit. Interestingly, the alcohol levels, acidity and PH balance are almost the same,” said Anthony Hamilton Russell.

Hamilton Russell Oregon wines, both 2018, are like fraternal twins. They share a similar DNA – Willamette Valley Pinot Noir -but exhibit different character, due to terroir. Olive Hamilton Russell has a culinary background and is a passionate forager. She shared some pairing tips for each wine.

 Zena Crown Oregon Pinot Noir 2018, Eola-Amity Hills is aged 14 months in French oak.  SRP $85.99. Olive says, “This wine has darker fruit and spice. It exhibits more austerity and fine tannin. I suggested pairing with a rack of lamb, slow roasted meats, or a mushroom risotto.”
Bramble Hill Pinot Noir 2018, Ribbon Ridge is aged 14 months in French oak. Bramble Hill Vineyard is recognized for producing grapes for some of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noirs. SRP $85.99. Olive says, “Here, the wine has more open red fruit and lively minerality. Consider pairing with turkey and cranberry sauce with Brussels sprouts and date syrup; cod and miso or duck with orange sauce.”

Listen to our podcast with Olive and Anthony Hamilton Russell #TheConnectedTableSips (under 12 min.)

 

 

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Lirac – Stylish Wines from the Rhône Valley’s Right Bank

One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations (established in 1947), AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s gem. The wines were prized among European nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 18th century, local magistrates in Roquemaure started to authentic the origin of Lirac wines by branding the casks with “C.d.R.” Lirac wines were the first in the region to use the term “Côtes du Rhône.” Today, Lirac wines continue to draw a strong following among sommeliers and other wine aficionados.

Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white, and smaller amounts of rosé wines. AOC guidelines require all to be blends, mainly using indigenous varieties. Red wines, which comprise 85 percent of Lirac’s production, must contain a minimum of 40 percent Grenache. The remaining amounts are usually Syrah, Carignan, Mourvèdre or Cinsault (the latter is popular for rosés). Around 10 percent of production is white. Clairette is the superstar white variety in Lirac followed by Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and, to a smaller degree, Picpoul and Ugni Blanc. The white wines lean toward aromatic with balanced acidity. While overshadowed by the reds in the global market, Lirac’s whites are well worth seeking out.

A windy day among the vineyards in Lirac. In this vineyard vines date back 140 years.

During our visit in early March 2020 (thankfully before the travel shutdown), a robust mistral blew in, practically knocking us over. The locals are used to the mistral wind which average 180 days of the year. Lirac’s climate in the southern Rhône Valley is Mediterranean, but a mistral can have you reaching for scarves and jackets even under a brilliant sunny sky.

These winds, unique to this part of France, combined with more than 220 days of sunshine, play a key role in shaping Lirac’s terroir. They help purify the air to keep humidity low, chase away pests and nurture healthy vines.

The round river rocks in Lirac’s vineyards are called “galet roules”

Another key factor are Lirac’s three soils. Alluvial river soils scattered with large round stones, known as galets roulés, produce intense red wines with dark fruit and savory spices, offering long aging potential. Limestone soils deliver minerality and aromatics, a hallmark of the whites which are fruit and floral with balanced acidity. Sandy soils produce fresh lighter wines, low in tannins, ideal for Lirac’s fruitier style of rosés

Sunday at the covered market in Avignon

Avignon serves as a great base to visit both Lirac and Tavel, its next -door neighbor which only produces rosé wines. If you stay in Avignon, a visit to the Palais du Papes (the Popes’ Palace) is a must, and allow plenty of time (advanced reservations are suggested.). We had the chance to spend a Sunday in Avignon where locals and tourists gather at the covered market for casual Sunday dining or to pick up provisions. It’s great people watching!

bottles Lirac wines
A selection of Lirac wines we discussed on The Connected Table Sips

We visited with several Lirac producers during our trip. When asked how they would define “Lirac style,” they all underscored “freshness and lush” as a backbone of the wines and what they refer to as “the Rhône Valley’s “right bank style.” In contrast, left bank wines, such as those in Chateauneuf-du-Pape just across the river were described as “concentrated and more intense.” A number of producers in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, have invested in vineyards in Lirac.

Melanie and David in the vineyards
In the vineyards at Chateau de Montfaucon with owner, Rodolphe du Pins
With Fabien de Chaunac, Château de Ségriès
Map showing Lirac
For more information visit www.vins-rhone.com

Lirac is home to many independent wineries; many are family-run Here are the producers we met and their U.S. importers.

Château de Ségriès. This historic winery is one of the first in the appellation. by Count Henri de Régis de Gatimel inherited Château de Ségriès in 1940 and was one of the first to replant vines in the region. The Count was the first to petition that Lirac be awarded AOC status, which occurred in 1947. (U.S. importer: Kysela Pere & Fils).

Château de Montfaucon.  The center piece of this estate is a lovingly restored fortress dating to the 12th century owned by a noble family. Proprietor Rodolphe du Pins showed us a pre-phylloxera vineyard dating back 140 years. (Winebow)

Domaine Maby. Owned by the Maby family for generations, the estate’s sixty acres covers Lirac, Tavel and Côtes du Rhône. (DB Wine Selections)

Domaine La Lôyane. Started by a family of growers dating back four generations, the winery is run by  Romain Dubois and his wife, Laure.  Organically run, this winery is home to five vineyards including one whose Grenache vines are 150 years-old!  (Elixir Wine Group)

Domaine Lafond Roc-Epine  The Lafond family has been making wine in the Rhône Valley since 1780. “Roc-Epine” was established in 1970 and started to bottle wine in 1978. The name commemorates “Roquepine,” a famous horse race.  (Skurnik Wines)

Château Mont-Redon. The original name, “Mourredon,” dates to 1344, when the property was part of the Pope’s land; it was recognized as a vineyard in the 18th century. Today this winery, is owned by the largest landowner in Chateauneuf-du-Pape who saw the potential in making wine in Lirac.  (F. Wildman)

La Maison Ogier. In 800 A.D. with “Ogier the Dane” fought with Charlemagne’s soldiers and settled in the area. The family entered the wine business in 1859.  Ogier was founded in 1948. Today it is a leading negociant in the Rhône Valley. (Folio Fine Wine Partners)

More info: www.vins-rhone.com

With Lirac producers
With Laure Dubois,  Domaine la Lôyane, and Jean-Baptise La Fond, Lafond Roc-Epine at Restaurant la Louisa in Lirac.
At La Fourchette restaurant in Avignon with Pierre Fabre, Château Mont-Redon, and François Miquel, Ogier

 

With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby
With Richard Maby, Domaine Maby

Listen to The Connected Table Sips. Discover Lirac!

AOC Lirac on the Rhône River’s right bank is a small cru appellation producing lush reds and aromatic whites. Lirac has an ideal terroir: over 200 days of sun, purifying mistral winds and three different soils: rocky galets, calcareous and sandy, with most vineyards organically farmed. AOC Lirac Co-President Rodolphe de Pins is owner of Château de Montfaucon, where some vineyards date back 140 years. He discusses how Lirac’s different soils shape the character of its wines. www.vins-rhone.com

One of the Côtes du Rhône’s first cru appellations since 1947, AOC Lirac is a wine lover’s rare gem, just northwest of Avignon. Lirac wines were prized among Europe’s nobility and the Avignon papacy in the 14th century. Lirac is rare among the 17 Rhône crus for its range of red, white and smaller amounts of rosé wines made from blends of mainly indigenous varieties. Château de Montfaucon’s Rodolphe de Pins, AOC Lirac Co-President, discusses the region and styles of wine. www.vins-rhone.com

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Sipping J Vineyards Sparkling Cuvées

We're Sipping J Vineyards’ Sparkling Cuvées at Home

Everyone needs a versatile sparkling wine on hand to enjoy with home-cooked meals and to uncork for impromptu entertaining. J Vineyards & Winery is one of Sonoma’s top sparkling and varietal wine producers whose cuvées are made in the traditional method. The six vineyards are all located in the Russian River Valley, a cool climate setting that delivers wines of exceptional, fresh fruit crispness and balanced acidity.

Underscoring the popularity of these wines for casual entertaining, J Vineyards & Winery’s tasting room near Healdsburg offers special culinary experiences. A popular one is the J Bubble Room, a gastronomical experience led by Executive Chef Carl Shelton and Winemaker Nicole Hitchcock, which includes both sparkling and varietal wines. Chef Shelton shared, “Many of our visitors come to taste the sparkling wines and leave with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnays.”

The Bubble Room at J Vineyards
The Bubble Room at J Vineyards where exceptional wine and food pairings take place.

What we tasted:

J Cuvée 20 Classic Brut. The winery’s twentieth anniversary is a blend of 51% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier with aging on lees to add complexity. It delivers notes of toasted almond and brioche toast, baked apple, white peach and Meyer lemon. Pair with creamy brie, seared cod, poached lobster, grouper and truffle pasta. SRP: $38

J Vineyards & Winery Brut Rosé gets its soft salmon pink color and ripe red cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors from Pinot Noir. The blending of 32 percent Chardonnay into this wine adds notes of slivered almond, kaffir, jasmine and lemon meringue. We recently enjoyed our J Rosé with a harissa spiced  shrimp over rice.  SRP: $45

Photo of J Cuvees

Both wines are available nationwide through many retail outlets, and you can order direct from the winery.  www.jwine.com

Chef Carl Shelton, J Vineyards & Winer
Chef Carl Shelton, J Vineyards &Winery

J Vineyards & Winery Executive Chef Carl Shelton joined us on The Connected Table Sips to share  pairing tips. Listen here (link) or click below:

 

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Sipping Louis Martini Cabernets with Chef Jeffery Russell

There is nothing like a Cabernet Sauvignon paired with grilled steak or a perfectly cooked leg of lamb. One of California’s iconic names in Cabernet is Louis M. Martini Winery, which has produced world-class wines from exceptional vineyards in both Napa and Sonoma counties for over 85 years. Louis M. Martini Winery dates to 1933 and was one of the first wineries to open after Prohibition. The winery’s namesake, Louis M. Martini, was a founding member of the Napa Valley Vintners and a force behind the appellation’s pursuit of wine making excellence.

Monte Rosso Vineyards
Monte Rosso is a single vineyard owned by Louis Martini since 1938. The name “Monte Rosso” means “red mountain” and refers to the nutrient-rich red volcanic soil found in the vineyard.

Following a major restoration in 2018, the winery offers an expanded tasting room and visitors’ center focusing on culinary experiences overseen by Executive Chef Jeffery Russell. A native New Yorker from the Finger Lakes region, Russell studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and worked with the Chef Charlie Palmer in both his New York and California restaurants and at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs.

During a podcast recording with us, Chef Russell shared that working at Louis M. Martini Winery is like having a “culinary playground” to create one-of-a-kind tasting events, cooking classes, lunches and dinners. Tip: Join the wine club for special offers!

Louis M. Martini’s new visitors center offers special culinary experiences.

 

But one doesn’t need to fly to California to taste these wines. They are available nationwide through many retailers as well as direct through the winery.

We tasted two wines made by Louis M. Martini winemaker, Michael Eddy.

Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Napa Valley is the brand’s flagship. Grapes are sourced from three vineyards, Sun Lake, Cypress Ranch and Sage Canyon. This wine was aged 21 months in French and American oak barrels (30% new). It’s a full-bodied Cabernet flavors of black currant, dark plums, sage, tar, leather and cacao and muscular tannins envelope your mouth at first taste. Suggested retail: $40

Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard 2015, Sonoma County is sourced from the Monte Rosso Vineyard  in the Mayacamas Mountains at about 1,300 feet altitude. This is a full-bodied with black cherry, cedar, toast and spice notes and silky tannins that characteristics of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignons. The wine is aged for 28 months in 75 percent new French oak, the rest in new American oak. This is an outstanding wine made for long aging. SRP $100

Where to Purchase

Louis M. Martini wines are available nationwide at many beverage retailers. Here is a link to buy direct from the winery: www.louismartini.com  Shipping is included on 3 or more bottles.

Also available for delivery via Instacart, Vivino and Drizly.

Follow on Instagram @louismmartiniwinewinery

Louis M Martini Winery Executive Chef discusses pairing tips on The Connected Table SIPS.

In this edition of The Connected Table SIPS, Chef Jeffery Russell recommends pairings and explains the differences between the two styles of the two Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignons we tasted.  #listen iHeartRadio #share

Podcast link or click below to listen:

 

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Tasting Georgian Wines with Khareba Winery

Khareba Winery
Khareba’s underground qvevri
We tasted four wines made from indigenous grapes:
Khareba Krakuna. A dry full-bodied white with aromas of apricot. peach and citrus. Great acidity! Pair with seafood cheeses. Sip on this: Krakhuna wines  age well, becoming more complex with time.
Khareba Qvevri Mtsvane. Made in the traditional qvevri, this dry white wine has a golden-apricot hue and notes of dried orange, mushroom and hazelnut. Pair with fish, white meats and vegetarian stews. Sip on this: Georgia is a leading producer of hazelnuts.

Khareba Saperavi.  Saperavi is an indigenous black grape that produces wines loaded with cacao, spice, tobacco and tar. This is a wine for grilled and roasted meat and game but would also work with a meatier fish. Sip on this: Saperavi means “place of color.” Unlike many other red grapes whose flesh is white, Saperavi’s skin and flesh are both red.

Khareba Saperavi Classical 2016. A more modern style red aged in new French oak for eight months. Dark spicy berry notes with a touch of smoke. Enjoy with hearty pasta dishes, pizza and vegetarian casseroles. Sip on this: Khareba Winery’s cellars are located in a deep tunnel cut into the Caucasus Mountains measuring  7.7 km (4.8 miles). Currently more than 30,000 bottles are being aged in the tunnel

Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Vladimer Kublashvili. Click here:

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Sipping with Stefano Chiarlo, Michele Chiarlo Wines

Home to some of the world’s most sought after wines including Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, and Moscato d’Asti, Piedmont is regarded as one of Italy’s great wine regions.  Michele Chiarlo Wines, founded by Michele Chiarlo and now run with the help of his sons Alberto and Stefano, has been a leader in the region since 1956.

Alberto, Michele and Stefano Chiarlo

Always family owned and operated, Michele Chiarlo owns vineyards in three of Piedmont’s most important growing regions: Langhe, Montferrato, and Gavi, and focuses exclusively on making single vineyard wines. Their vineyard in Cerequio, in the heart of Barolo, is considered one of the finest plantings of Nebbiolo in the region and is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. The same is true for La Court, the Chiarlo Vineyard in Barbera, which also caries the UNESCO moniker.

Cerequo vineyards

Purists at heart, the Chiarlo family creates their wines exclusively from indigenous grape varieties including Barbera, Cortese, Nebbiolo, and Moscato, and over the years has helped lead Piedmont’s quality revolution in both winemaking and farming practices in through leadership, innovation, and dedication to their craft. “Preserving this land for the future is vey important to us,” says Stefano Chiarlo, who oversees wine production, “therefore we helped establish standards of quality for the DOC winemaking laws in Piedmont, and spearheaded green harvest practices, for all of Italy, in 1984.”

Never comfortable to rest on their laurels, The Chiarlo family is constantly working to find the next big wine and as such has heavily invested in the region’s new Nizza DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, Italy’s highest level of quality for wine), in order to build that new winemaking appelation’s reputation for quality in the marketplace.

Michele Chiarlo Barolo Vineyards

 

The following selection of Michele Chiarlo wines are a good way to get to know this iconic brand, which is imported into the United States by Kobrand Wine & Spirits.

Le Marne Gavi DOCG: Made in the Gavi region, and area known for its white wine production from the Cortese grape variety, Le Marne shows citrus and mineral notes and jumps on the palate with lively acidity. A perfect white to pair with food.  SRP: $19.99

Cipressi Barbera Nizza DOCG: Grown at Le Court, the Chiarlo estate in Barbera, this 100% Barbera wine is shows classic notes of ripe cherry and red fruit through a lush, yet elegant palate. A perfect wine for lighter meats and pasta dishes. SRP: $29.99

Tortoniano Barolo DOCG: 100% Nebbiolo from Piedmont’s pre-eminent wine region, the Tortoniano Barolo spends 2 years in barrel and one year in bottle prior to release. A highly structured wine, yet also quite approachable at an early age, this wine is a wonderful food wine perfect for pairing with meats, pastas, and aged cheeses. SRP: $59.99

 

Listen to The Connected Table SIPS with Stefano Chiarlo. Click this image and stream: