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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Spirit of Exploration

You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. -Andre Gide

This is statement is so true, when I stepped off terra-firma here in San Diego, and boarded that big jet-liner, departing for Slovenia, other than reading about it, I had no idea what to expect. But as I quickly lost sight of my hometown, and settled into my seat, I knew I was 'off' on another wine adventure, and this time I was leaving for parts previously unknown to me. 

As I began to discover new wines from different regions of world, I became discontent to simply pop the cork and enjoy its contents. It's part of the reason I started this blog in the first place. I wanted to visit these amazingly diverse regions directly and see for myself where the grapes are grown, and meet the great folks behind the label. 

For me personally when it comes to wine, I fancy myself as a bit of an explorer. But I think the ever outspoken Coco Chanel who once said, "There is no time for cut-and-dried monotony!" summed it up for me perfectly, life is too short to stay on the monotone shores of sameness, get out there!

So often I wonder where has the "Spirit of Exploration" gone? We all learned about explorers in school, we learned about their exploits both good and bad, their trials and tribulations which are a natural part of the journey. I'm always excited to hear my name called, when it's time for a new adventure, frankly I spent a good deal of last year wondering if my name would ever get called? 

And then it happened in latter part of the year 2013, my name was called and an invitation to travel to Slovenia was put on the table. At first I was thinking where? See I had not even seen a bottle of wine from Slovenia before let alone, having even tasted one. So I did a bit of research to see what I would be getting into, and my interest 'peeked' to say the least. I sent in my enthusiastic acceptance [RSVP] of the invitation to join a few other journalists on the trip. 

So if you're ready for an entirely different white wine experience? This delicious and yes like the bottle says, exceptional Furmint from Slovenia is the ticket for a ride through tasty town. This wine folks is the real deal, and the reason I'm a wine explorer. This wines is among what has not been many, but definitely one of my first pleasurable experiences with Furmint, vibrant acid and tangy fruit come together like few other white wines can deliver.

A touch of beeswax holds the abundant peach and apricot in check, while a fresh cut grass plays bass in the background. Vibrant minerality from the first sip to the last drop, a distinctive white wine experience you won't forget anytime soon. Vibrant freshness easily remains, even a day or two after this screw-cap closure is reattached and stored in the fridge awaiting many happy slurps later. The vintage not seen in the picture above is 2011 and my score 92 points.  

This wine is not expensive, if it could had here in the states, you'd most likely pay just under $20, unfortunately I could not find a source for this wine here in the U.S. If you'd like to explore Slovenia and I recommend that you do so, if you like a beautiful, clean, crisp country that has been "quietly making high-class wines for over two millenia with many of the current wineries founded as far back as the 1500's this is the spot." I'm not sure about you, but I think that's a long time. The folks who call Slovenia home are warm and welcoming, the hospitality is off the charts. 

Oddly enough, while there I had the opportunity to taste a Sauvignon Blanc from 1972, if memory serves me right, that was amazingly beautiful, stunning and quite drinkable. I asked about acquiring a bottle from my birth year, which they said was one of the very best [of course, wink-wink] vintage years in recent memory, but they didn't even mention the [not so affordable] price, as it wasn't really for sale. With so few of them left that was completely understandable.

But if you don't have the coin to take a trip to across the pond right now, especially after getting 'whacked' by Uncle Sam's tax hikes, then may I suggest jumping online, contacting the grape peeps at Blue Danube Wines. They have a great selection of wines from Slovenia, Croatia and Hungry. The good news for my West Coast peeps in the audience, they ship from their location in Los Altos, California. Until next time folks, sip long and prosper cheers!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Who's Who List on the California Wine Scene

“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”

― Andre Simon

Another insiders-look into the world of California Wine, an article written by new guest contributor; Ilona Thompson the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility, she is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief. Look forward to seeing Ilona's contributions here, each and every Wine Wednesday, please help me welcome her to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog.

Many wine lovers follow wine brands. I follow winemakers. They personify the concept of "human terroir" and have demonstrated the power of human impact on the outcome of an agricultural product that some of them elevate to withering heights.These winemakers has shown stellar talent and made many of their client's brands household names in the wine lovers circles. They’re not listed in any particular order.

Celia has been making wine for 30 years, starting at Mt. Veeder, moving on to Silverado, Robert Pepi and then Staglin Family. She made wines from nearly every Napa Valley appellation, from Mt. Veeder to St. Helena. Current consulting clients include Hollywood & Vine, Keever, Barbour, Nicali and Scarecrow. Celia also has her own brand, Corra. Readers are advised to get on her mailing list as her wines are seamless objects of beauty.

Phillip has been a winemaker for 15 years. He hails from Bordeaux, starting his career at Chateau Haut Brion, then moving on to Dominus and Petrus. He counts Haut Brion and Petrus owners as his mentors, as well as the legendary consultant Michel Rolland.

Phillip is a consulting winemaker for the following stellar wineries: ADAMVS, Ashe, Brand, Dana Estates, Entre Nous, Fairchild, Gandona, Gemstone, Hundred Acre, Lail, Moone-Tsai, Parallel, Perfect Season, QTR, Roy Estate, Seavey, Skipstone, Tusk, Vineyard 29 as well as tending to his own brand, Melka Wines.
Thomas's career began in 1997 at Turley Cellars. He experienced a meteoric rise as one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Napa Valley. He earned eight 100pt scores from Robert Parker and two from Wine Spectator. Among his clients are such revered brands as Black Sears, Outpost, Aston, Maybach, Seaver, Revana, Casa Piena, Wallis Estate, Jones, Hobel, Double Diamond and the much heralded Schrader. His latest endeavor, Pulido-Walker is his first wine from Pritchard Hill.

Thomas and his wife Genevieve are owners of one of the most incredible vineyard sites in California, Summa Vineyard. Thomas is praised for his hands off, minimal intervention approach to winemaking. Readers are advised to try wines from his personal label, Rivers-Marie.

4. Paul Hobbs:
Paul Hobbs is the industry's hardest working winemaker. He started at Robert Mondavi, then moved on to Opus One, Simi, Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, and many more. He founded his namesake winery in 1991 and produces wines under both Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn labels. Robert Parker named Hobbs Wine Personality of the Year - twice.

Currently, Paul has more than a dozen winery clients that he consults for in the United States, dozen in Argentina, three in Chile, three in France, as well as Canada, Uruguay (Juanicó Wines) and astoundingly, one in Armenia. Hobbs was the first American winemaker to launch a brand in Argentina (Vina Cobos) in 1999. He is widely regarded as a global visionary who seeks unique, historic vineyard sites.
5. Bob Levy
Bob Levy' career began at Rombauer in 1980s and continued on to fifteen years at Merryvale. While crafting wines at Merryville, Levy met and became friends with a real estate developer named Bill Harlan. Harlan's vision was to create a "first growth" Bordeaux blend in Napa Valley.

The wine, Harlan Estate, became an instant hit with critics and consumers alike. Having achieved the ultimate with Harlan Estate Bob created two additional brands under Harlan umbrella, Bond and Maiden. Subsequently, Levy also started his own brand, Levy & McClellan, in partnership with his wife, Martha McClellan, a renowned winemaker in her own right (Checkerboard, Sloan)

6. Ehren Jordan
A chance meeting with Bruce Neyers at Phelps vineyards set in motion a chain of events that landed Jordan on my list of the top winemakers of our generation. Neyers, then national sales manager for Phelps, offered Jordan a job, and later asked him to make wine at his winery. Jordan also began working for Helen Turley, a.k.a. Wine Goddess, at  Turley Wine Cellars where she mentored him on the art of crafting fine wine. When Helen left Turley to pursue other projects, he took over as winemaker. He makes wine at Turley cellars to this day.

Known for his uncanny ability to create a wide range of wine personalities, from low alcohol, elegant Pinots, Chardonnays and Syrahs under his own brand, Failla Jordan, (which he founded in 1998) to high octane, powerful Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs at Turley, Ehren is an extraordinary versatile and cerebral winemaker. He sources fruit from his own Sonoma Coast vineyard as well as other select sites.

7. Helen Turley
Helen Turley already had a blossoming winemaking career when she was tapped by her brother Larry to make wine at his winery. It was at Turley Cellars that she became famous for her unmistakable style of bold, ripe, larger-than-life Zins and Petite Sirahs. She went on to consult at a host of well-known wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Colgin, Bryant Family, Peter Michael, B.R. Cohn, La Jota, Landmark and many more.

Her longest relationship was with Martinelli where she made a number of well-received Chardonnays, Pinots and Zins that quickly garnered cult following. Particularly noteworthy was her famous Jackass Hill Zinfandel. Along the way, Helen started her own label, Marcassin, which produces Pinots and Chardonnays that are next to impossible to obtain.
8. Mark Herold
Herold's career began as enologist at Joseph Phelps, where he worked on improving the quality of the wines of the renowned brand. After seven years with Phelps, he started his own label called Merus, which became an instant hit with Robert Parker. Herold's wines have been perennially praised for fruit driven, uber-concentrated, yet balanced wines. After selling Merus he launched yet another label, Mark Herold Wines. His past and present consulting clients include Kamen, Hestan, Harris, Buccella, Kobalt, Celani, Maze, B Wise and Vineyardist.

9. Luc Morlet
Luc grew up on his family’s fourth-generation vineyard, Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Champagne. He earned a Masters degree in enology and holds both a viticulture degree and an MBA in wine business. After several internships in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Luc became a winemaker for the Val d’Or Champagne Cellars. In 1993, he was asked to become a winemaker at their French subsidiary in St Helena.

He subsequently replaced John Kongsgaard, his then mentor, at Newton Vineyard. Later, Peter Michael came calling and Luc stepped into the shoes of legendary winemakers such as Helen Turley and Mark Aubert. His next job was at Staglin where he worked closely with the famed David Abreu. In 2006, Luc and his wife Jodie launched their own brand, sourcing fruit from both Napa and Sonoma. Their wines immediately became sought after and were recently featured at a State Dinner at the White House. Luc's current clients include Bure, Cabaud, Carte Blanche, and Vineyard 7 & 8 of Spring Mountain fame..

10. Kale Anderson
Currently Anderson is the winemaker at Pahlmeyer, where he is crafting stellar wines for this iconic brand. Kale's past jobs include Colgin Cellars, Terra Valentine, and Cliff Lede. Kale's mentors were David Abreu, Philippe Melka and Mark Aubert. His own brand, Kale Wines receives lots of buzz for his thoughtful, elegant, and exquisite Syrahs.

Friday, March 21, 2014

About San Diego: J. Brix "Vins de Garage"

“Everything you'll ever need to know is within you; the secrets of the universe are imprinted on the cells of your body.” ~ Dan Millman

Unfortunately I can't read those notes about the secrets of the universe, but what I can do is find some of those seemingly secret garagiste wine-making facilities, quietly located right here in the midst of a San Diego neighborhood.

Where it's exactly, is not really important, for the purposes of this article, that will remain a secret. But what I will reveal is the fact that J.Brix is getting most of its fruit from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard and the wine being produced is going to turn a lot of heads. Just remember you heard it here first.

While home wine-making is nothing new, nor is it big "news", however finding a home winemaker putting out amazing juice is a big deal. That said, I'd to shine a big, bright light on J.Brix, a local San Diego winemaker who in my opinion has got his craft dialed in, just like the some of the better known and more established wineries I often visit in traditional settings. 

I was introduced to them my by a good friend and fellow wine blogger, Beau Carufel [Beau's Barrel Room] who gave me tip about the quality of wine being produced by J.Brix, boy was he right. All the red wines I tasted scored 90 points and higher across the board, with each of their wines set to sell for a paltry *$25, making for some very nice QPR [*prices are subject to change without notice]. They've a very tasty selection of of wines, many from what I like to call the Rhone-Zone, a few variations of Grenache and Syrah and a off-beat Riesling. And it looks like they have plans for a Pinot Noir. 

If you are scratching your head wondering what the bleep is Garagistes or Vins de Garage? Frankly it's just a fancy way of saying you make wine in your garage. It's not a new term, but the onset of this practice is definitely "nuevo"

It's one that has really caught fire of late. In places like Paso Robles, they even have a festival going down this year to celebrate the many wine-making out-laws and renegades, who are producing some serious vino in their garage or in low-budget shared wine-making facilities, where there are no fancy Chateau's, but boat loads of passion for making seriously artisan styles of wine. If you want to find out more, make plans to join the, 2012 Paso Garagiste Festival coming up November 10, 2012 at Windfall Farms.

J.Brix is the first successful "garagiste" producer I've come across here in San Diego and one I'd highly recommend that you get to know better. Their wines are of such a high quality, that they could command some serious price points in the future. I'd say their future is so bright gotta wear shades!

Their wines are as good as many of my favorite Central Coast producers, I'd invite you to seriously consider getting to know both Emily and Jody Brix Towe [great folks, whose passion for wine-making is evident from the first splash to the last drop] and give their wines a swirl at their next open house, donations to their harvest fund are always welcomed and appreciated. 

Wow, talk about boutique-producers, they've got that going on in spades and with only producing about 25 cases of each wine, with quality like this, those case counts could be gone in a flash. Below, I reviewed a couple of great examples I tasted just last weekend.

2011 Uncontainable Vin Gris of Grenache: Not only is it not-containable, it's also quite refreshing and just plain fun to drink. A nose of dried rose petals, but wow, this wine has a nice body to it, I'd say more like that of a tiny-dancer. On the palate it’s light and lean, graceful, and definitely a nice bit of substance, a rich mouth-feel sharing generous flavors and aromas, think cranberries and fresh summer strawberries and a splash of citrus, hello summer time pool-side companion. It has me thinking, roasted chicken and freshly grilled veggies, I scored this wine 89 points, very nicely done. 

2009 Grenache La Paloma Libresca: Very generous fruit is up front and has a nice follow-through on the finish. While chock full rich spiced red fruit and boysenberry, dark cherry with smooth, warmly textured tannins, which you won't find too heavy handed. A fun but none-the-less subtle exotic spice note quietly plays bass in the background, very compelling. This wine says; back yard barbecue favorite all the way, grab some free range chicken, your favorite marinade or BBQ sauce, it's time for a party. I gave this wine a score of 91 points, again wow, nicely done.

2009 La Belle Rêveuse Grenache, Syrah Blend: The wine is based on very fresh fruit; it is intense and full of energy, something like; 60% Syrah and Grenache 40%. A wine impressively endowed with nice girth and weight to it. Ripe red and black fruits give it a generous mouth feel, the barbecue spices, and underbrush tie the whole package together. Wonderfully textured, it’s rich, and very impressive from the first splash to the last drop. Another impressive effort, 92 points, wow!

Until next folks, have a winetastic weekend; remember as always life is short, don't settle for commodity wines and sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wine and Dine: How to Speak With a Sommelier

Here's a wonderful post on about interacting with the Sommelier whilst dining out, written by guest contributor Jolan Turkington. She is the Director of Communications for a wine-making franchise called Vintner's Circle, she is a certified Sommelier and regular contributor to the The Unreserved.

Having worked as a sommelier in the fine dining world for quite some time, I learned a lot from my customers. I learned common preferences and common qualms, how to recognize if someone is intimidated by the wine list, and how to deal with rather cranky tables. 

I learned that wine is an integral part of enjoying a meal, and that the happiest customers walk out not only having had great-tasting food and wine, but having had service that made the evening go so much more smoothly.

I’d like to share some of my experience with you, to help you get the most of your money’s [and time’s] worth when eating out. A quick note: Sommelier is pronounced “sum-all-YAY” [I especially like the yay!]. Not all restaurants have a designated sommelier; if not, you can simply apply the following tips with your server.

1. Be polite: 

This tip seems like a no-brainer right? But it’s most definitely worth the top spot on this list. You would be surprised at how many people are rude to restaurant servers – resulting in bad, or at the very least, sub-par service. Rude customers make servers reluctant to return to the table, to check on satisfaction, or to quickly attend to complaints.

On the other hand, a friendly, polite table will naturally encourage the server to not only give great service, but to go above and beyond. I always wanted to do something special for genuinely nice customers, whether they ordered the least or most expensive bottle on the wine list. By engaging in warm conversation, or simply smiling back at your server, you will often get special treatment – a glass of wine on the house, perhaps, or a specialty cocktail with dessert. Good manners go a long way in the restaurant business.
2. Ask for suggestions: 

No matter your price point, asking your sommelier for his or her suggestions can be a great value. A wine list is a sommelier’s baby – he or she will most likely have chosen with care some, if not all, of the wines available. The sommelier is incredibly familiar with the list, and though the restaurant must offer a wide range of styles and prices (that is, if the wine list is good), there will be a few gems that you may not recognize on your own. 

Think of ordering wine in restaurants as a great opportunity to explore – the mark-up is high, so don't order a bottle that you could normally buy in your neighborhood shop for half the price. Ask for something special, and you will very likely be rewarded.

3. Ask for a decanter: 

Decanting isn't just for older, fine wines. Many wines, especially young tannic reds, are helped by an hour or two of fresh air. Exposure to oxygen essentially speeds up the aging process, mellowing out harsh tannins and developing flavors. Technically, you may not need your wine decanted – that is, slowly pouring the wine into another container, to separate any accumulated solids from the liquid. You simply need to let the wine aerate for some time to enjoy it best while you're eating out.

If the restaurant is more casual, and there are no decanters available, ask the sommelier to open the wine and pour it into your wine glasses. Simply uncorking the wine and letting it sit in the bottle will not ensure proper aeration. Wine glasses (the bigger, the better) provide a greater air-to-surface area ratio. Let your wine open up while you enjoy cocktails or your first course.

4. Wine Recommendations: 

Asking your sommelier for recommendations is a great way to experience new wines. However, as it has been said time and time again, taste can be extremely subjective taste is extremely subjective. Even if your sommelier recommends something in line with your preferences (say, suggesting an Australian Shiraz to those who like full-bodied, fruit-forward wines), there is no guarantee that you will indeed like the wine. 

If you don't like it, say it. A good sommelier will take the bottle away, recommend something different, or have you order something else – and absolutely not charge you for the wine you didn't like (and didn't drink).

When ordering on your own, though, you should be responsible for your choice. If you didn’t like that Australian Shiraz, and the wine was in fine condition, chalk it up to a learning experience. Ask if you can take the bottle home – laws vary from state to state, but if you can, bring the bottle with you, stick it in your refrigerator, and cook with it the next night.

5. Let your sommelier know if the wine is flawed: 

If you think something is off with your wine, let the sommelier know! While he or she may not be able to wave a wand over the wine to fix it, the sommelier can whisk the offending bottle away. 

Good service dictates that the sommelier should ask you if you 1) want to try another bottle of the same wine, or 2) ask if you would like to choose a different wine

I know people who are reluctant to send food or wine back, not wanting to be an annoyance. But the sommelier and the restaurant are extremely interested in keeping you happy (and keeping you spending money), so please, please, please – understand you deserve to enjoy the best possible experience while eating out.

6. Bring your own bottle: 

BYOB (that is, Bring Your Own Bottle) restaurants provide the opportunity to enjoy good food, in a comfortable place, without requiring you to spend money on highly marked-up wines (but be happy to share with your Somm) or be limited by the restaurant’s wine menu. Bringing your own wine to a restaurant means you have an extra level of freedom, to some degree, when dining out.

However, bringing your own bottle (or bottles) also entails a certain degree of etiquette. It is not necessary, by any means, to offer your sommelier or server a taste of the wines you have brought, but it is certainly a nice gesture. An offer shows respect not only for your sommelier, but more importantly, for the wine you have chosen for the night. I always appreciated my customers asking me if I would like a taste of their wine – and isn't enjoying wine with people what it’s all about?

Bringing your own wine still entitles you to proper wine service: Chilling to achieve the right temperature, decanting or aerating, and good wine glasses. [A quick note: your restaurant may not have 10 different types of specialty wine [stems] glasses, but they should at least have clear glass stemware, large enough so that you can enjoy all the wine’s aromas.]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kosta Browne: The Story of a Cult Classic

Kosta Browne: Rockin it Double-Magnum Style

A timely article written by new guest contributor; Ilona Thompson the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility, she is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief. Look forward to seeing Ilona's contributions here, each and every Wine Wednesday, please help me welcome her to the Cuvée Corner Wine Blog. 

Last weekend, Kosta Browne held their semi-annual release party at their state-of-the-art production facility located in Sebastopol. Many know Kosta Browne label for their cult wines, long waiting list and endless Wine Spectator accolades. I know them as wonderful folks who I have enjoyed over the years.

Michael Browne's journey started very humbly. He initially moved to CA from his native WA state to be an architect. Instead he ended up in the restaurant business where he worked for nearly 15 years, mostly at John Ash & Co.  Eventually he joined Deerfield Ranch Winery to learn the craft of winemaking. That's where his love affair with Pinot Noir began. Michael was determined to pursue his passion and harness the pleasures of the grape many refer to as "elusive".

Along the way, Michael decided to produce his own wine. As the story goes, he and his partner Dan Kosta, a fellow employee at John Ash, pulled about $2500 in tip money and Kosta Browne was born.

It's near impossible to talk about Michael without mentioning his wife, Sarah. Michael quickly acknowledges that Sarah's partnership was a big part of the key to his success. With his wife's backing, and a growing family to support he worked three jobs: his day job at Deerfield Ranch, his night job at John Ash & Co., and a new side job, making Pinot Noir for Kosta Browne.  With few fundraising prospects to support the fledgling brand, the couple endured some ups and lots of downs for the first four or five years.

As the saying goes, there is a great woman behind every great man. With Sarah's unwavering support, Michael found his voice in California wine scene. Now wine aficionados can now enjoy his gorgeous wines. We should all raise a glass to Sarah in thanks.

What accounts for Kosta Browne's success?

A Clear Vision:

How does one go from selling wine from a back of a pickup truck to mailing list 10,000 customers strong, a 5,000+ waiting list and hundreds of worldwide fine dining restaurants, begging for allocations?  The simple answer, hard work and unwavering vision like those of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs both had in spades. What is the degree of separation between a leader and a follower; it’s a single-minded vision and the ability to draw others into it.

"Michael's vision for his wines centered around and on intense, unapologetic/unabashed varietal and terroir expression."

While other producers were wringing their hands and second guessing themselves in terms of what critics or sommeliers may like, Michael focused on one thing: maximizing potential of the fruit. Like his love for rock music (as evident from the etchings on his big bottles) that he often plays loudly in the cellar, he wanted to not only capture but amplify Pinot Noir's natural voice.

Stellar vineyard selection:

Kosta Browne sources fruit from roughly 30 contracted vineyards, from the edges of Sonoma Coast to the Santa Lucia Highlands. This wide assortment of fruit sources account for Kosta Browne's astonishingly strong portfolio of blends and single-vineyard gems. The winery influences the vineyards viticulture practices and controls the timing of the harvest, a key factor to the wine's inception.

Strong Partners with Complementary Skills:

Kosta Browne has a stellar management team. Chris Costello, a founding partner, has been with Dan and Michael from their humble beginnings. Tony Lombardi, their charismatic Brand Manager and PR Director previously worked at Allied Domecq, Constellation, and J Vineyards.  

General Manager, David Hejl, who joined the company in 2011, has quite a resume, with a 30 year career span that included executive positions at Nabisco, Gourmet Award Foods, Ruiz Food Products, and CPI International. And last but not least, Bill Price, the Visionary.

A self described proponent of fostering fierce customer loyalty, Bill has been in aggressive acquisition mode and his choices have been stellar to say the very least. Kosta Browne, Kistler, Gary Farrell, Buccella, Gap's Crown Vineyard... impressed yet?

Price was one of the original founders of TPG Capital, one of the largest private equity firms worldwide. He orchestrated the purchase of what's now known as Beringer Wine Estates for $350 million, which TPG took public. Then it acquired Chateau St. Jean, Stags’ Leap Winery and St. Clement before selling to Foster’s for a reported $1.5 billion. His most personal purchase to date is a magical 200 acre Durell Vineyard which sells grapes to 23 boutique producers and has its own label, Three Sticks.

It was Bill's newly founded Vincraft, backed by TPG that purchased Kosta Browne for a record 40 million, highest amount paid for a Sonoma based winery that does not have any vineyard holdings. As evidenced by the flourishing success of Kosta Browne, Bill's decisions and bets are spot on.

Have a vision for your brand:

Kosta Browne has always believed in direct-to-consumer sales, which currently comprises roughly 90% of their total sales. Early on would have been financially tempting to put their wines into the three tier distribution system and trust third parties to market their wines. By distributing the wine themselves, they've maintained tight control over their brand image and are continuing to build strong relationships with their customers.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, live the life you imagine."- Thoreau

Cultivate Customer Loyalty:

As the wine brands experience growth and success they are afforded a wider variety of choices. Most raise prices, stop pouring at public events (citing small staff and limited product), some shroud themselves with mystery and become entirely inaccessible. Kosta Browne have barely raised their prices, even on the coveted, micro-production single vineyard wines, even though given the demand, they easily could have doubled them. They believe their customers deserve value.

Many 'release parties' are somewhat impersonal affairs, typically manned by tasting room staff and caterers, but Michael and his partners personalize the events making every visitor feel welcomed and this weekend's event was no exception.

To my astonishment, Michael Browne walked into his stunning Large Bottle Room and pulled out not one, not two, but three single vineyard Double Magnums and generously shared them with his guests.

He opened a 2009 Koplen, a 2009 Keefer and a 2006 Keefer. Michael shared with his guests the story of this vintage; a story that made my heart skip a beat. Michael spoke quietly, but powerfully about the difficulties of shepherding a wine in a challenging year, how difficult it was to learn that it received the poorest critical reception.  He described how he battled to produce this wine, which from what I tasted ultimately showed bright acidity, excellent delineation, elegance and precision.

I rarely post tasting notes, but this one merits an exception:  "Red fruit, raspberry and redcurrant fill the glass. Floral and citrus aromas emerge unexpectedly and play headily with your senses. Razor sharp acidity is softened by a mouth filling core of berries, spiced apple, cranberry, forest floor fruit...lingonberry. Mid palate gets deeper, richer and picks up creamier and punchier notes of blackberries, Chambord and a hint of Cointreau. The finish refuses to end, caressing the palate in soft, silky, seductive waves."

In each significant wine lies a story. Some are happy, some wistful, but each great story has the ability to touch you emotionally.  The 2006 Keefer Ranch told a powerful tale of love, beauty, struggle and redemption. Most importantly, Michael's and Sarah's story of struggle and success unfolded in this fabulous wine. I, for one, could not get enough.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Delicate Inexpensive Barolo: 2009 G.D. Vajra Albe

2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo “Albe” -

It could be said that I am fond of all good wine, but in recent years I have acquired a particular fondness of Barolo. I love that my palate seems to change with time and experience. I also know it is an experience that is not unique to me. Early in my wine drinking experience, I wanted ripe, bold flavors packaged with a round, full mouth-feel. 

The progression from then to now has been driven by exploration and opportunity. Over time the progressive acquisition of the ability to discriminate among aromas and flavors reveals dimensions in some wines that I certainly could not have appreciated at an earlier time.

I enjoyed tasting the 2008 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe and stashed some in the cellar – so I have been quite looking forward to tasting this 2009 release.  G.D. Vajra is a family-run winery, with an artisanal heart and an unstinting focus on quality.  Their farming practices are sustainable and their wines are elegant, often delicate with great acidity and food-pairing potential.

Three vineyard locations (La Volta, Fossati, Coste di Vergne) contribute fruit to the Albe, ranging in altitude (1200-1350 ft) and aspect. In combination they have demonstrated the potential to yield a beautiful and multifaceted Barolo at remarkably reasonable cost (under $35).  

In the Commune of Barolo, the Nebbiolo harvest takes place in the latter half of October.  Harvesting by hand and transportation in small crates protects the grapes from damage – No “Bruised Grapes” here.  

Similarly, careful manual selection of clusters continues from the vineyard to pressing, and fermentation is allowed to persist for up to 40 days (vintage dependent).  Prior to bottling, the wine spends approximately 36 months in Slavonian oak barrels.

 Saturday evening – It’s my turn to cook, so it’s also an excuse to pull the cork on the 2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe.  I decided to decant this bottle, anticipating that it would need some significant air-time, and I left it alone for an hour or so.  While the wine was breathing, I prepared a family-sized portion of meatballs, spaghetti and marinara sauce.  

There is nothing complicated here, no table or place settings.  This was Saturday movie night at home seated and eating in front of the TV with the family. Sometimes life just tastes better that way.

Sample was kindly provided by The Country Vintner
The 2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe is a beautifully translucent ruby. The nose is delicate, showing dried rose petals, underbrush herbs, black tea and red currants. The palate too is delicate, elegantly displaying the fine-grained dusty tannin and high acidity typical of Nebbiolo.  A finely proportioned fruit core is balanced well by savory meat and herb contributions, and edged by sour cherry and plum skin.  Over the evening it becomes progressively more open. As the palate becomes more expressive, notes of anise and spice also emerge, and the finish elongates.  It's cleansing and the wet stone, tannic finish is prominent but the fruit and herbs remain.

Clearly, tasting Barolo upon release is a challenge. The 2009 Albe is painfully young, and although not quite the stature or character of the 2008 (which I rated 93+ points), this is a delightfully elegant wine.  It performed very well with the pasta and meatballs. It does need time, however.  I might recommend tucking this away for a few years and allowing it to develop a little further in the bottle.

My rating based on the experience and the cost would be 90 points, although my numbers may rise a little as the wine gains a little bottle age and begins to integrate its component parts. It's absolutely worth the price of admission, and well worth tucking one or two away for comparison with other vintages.  It should not be difficult to find.  Check it out!


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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wine of the Week: 2012 Martinenga Langhe Doc Nebbiolo

"Drinking good wine, with good food, in good company, is one of life's most civilized pleasures." - Michael Broadbent 

Happy Wine Wednesday everyone and welcome to my Wine of the Week featurette. Another tasty, well made Nebbiolo from Langhe and a great find that sells most places for under $20. If you're a fan of zippy acidity, cutting tannins and just the right amount of ripe fruit then you're in for a treat. 

I had initially done a quick, down and dirty review via Delectable on this little Piedmontese gem I discovered at Cook, an amazing locals hotspot located in lovely St. Helena. But I fear, my vinosapien nature took over a bit as I did a bit of 'bogarting' the Nebbiolo. 

It's a great place to grab a bite, anytime. I choose two wines from their menu and both were rock solid performers, both reasonably priced food pairing champs, which compliment their menu selections quite nicely. I had dinner there with new friends John and Felicia Tudal, which made for an amazing evening of off-the-record conversation. 

We came in through the back door, waited a few moments for our seats, rustled up a tasty white wine from Campania #WBTG, and eventually grabbed a few seats right at the bar, which you see pictured below. It was memorable experience, very much like an idyllic scene from a movie, in a place where everyone knows your name. 

Below you see my initial thoughts on this tasty little number, but thinking back about this wine, I stand by those impressions and I'd invite you to seek this wine and give it a swirl for yourself.
"Doesn't get much better than this, Nebbiolo the star of tonight's Italian [@Cook in St Helena] themed dinner blazing acidity carrying a truckload of flavor on its back!"
The wine won't blow anyone's hair back in strict stand-alone tasting. But when paired with the right foods, like those on the Menu at Cook, you'll see why I'm at least 88 points this wine. It's a food pairing champ, and instead of getting in the way of what you're eating, it compliments every bite, nicely preparing the way for the next bite. I can say that, because not only did it pair very well with my chosen dish, but it also paired nicely with the other shared dishes. It is easy, elegantly floral wine, with a nice interplay of dark and red berries, mild tannins hung over a taut but nonetheless lasting finish. 

If you find yourself in St. Helena, by all means do yourself a big favor, eat like a local at Cook and if a great wine pairing champ is on your mind, then a bottle the 2012 Martinenga Langhe Doc Nebbiolo will fill that need very nicely. Until next folks, remember life is short, enjoy the good times, live well, dine well and remember to sip long and prosper cheers!
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