Reserve Wine Tour Breaking News!
After a few months of hard work, we've finalized many of the wineries we'll be visiting during our Reserve Wine Tour of Napa and Sonoma in September of this year. Our winemaker friends are ready to welcome our group, and they have some special surprises lined up. How about a sit-down tasting of Reserve wines at Mondavi, followed by a four-course dinner with Reserve wine pairings?
So far, we've confirmed the following wineries...
V Madrone (our friends Chris and Pauline Tilley)
Caldwell (John Caldwell was one of the first winery owners we invited to the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival)
Seghesio (Ted Seghesio pretty much sets the pace for Zinfandel in California)
Mondavi (Jani di Carlo, who manages the reserve tasting room, has special treats in store)
Benovia (Joe Anderson and his wife Mary DeWayne have very close ties to Southwest Florida)
Andrew Geoffrey (Peter Thompson's vineyard atop Diamond Mountain offers a spectacular view of Napa Valley)
With Peter Thompson in the Andrew Geoffrey Vineyard atop Diamond Mountain
Other surprises are in store. Please email me at email@example.com for pricing and reservation information. You don't want to miss this trip!
Travel With Me
Ready to travel “Inside California Wine Country”?
Join The Wine Whisperer for a special 5-day journey that will take you behind the scenes at some of the most exclusive wineries in Napa and Sonoma wine country. This trip will include a lot more than just wine tastings and samplings. It’s a “reserve” wine experience.
Private "behind the scenes" tastings
Most tourists to wine destinations go from one tasting room to another, just like the crowd. But this September, I will be hosting a group of wine lovers on a trip that goes in the back door instead of the front...right into the winery, where you’ll meet the owners and winemakers personally, and learn how grapes really go from the bunch to the barrel to the bottle.
Spending time in the barrel room
The price is all-inclusive: luxury accommodations at the beautiful River Terrace Inn, wine pairing lunches and dinners, comfortable ground transportation, educational experiences, and a whole lot more. The Wine Whisperer has crafted and designed this exceptional wine journey especially for wine lovers.
The River Terrace Inn
The trip starts from Napa on September 18, with pricing still being set. All travel arrangements will be made by prestigious Preferred Travel of Naples.
Tired of the same old wine country routine? Go “inside wine country” with The Wine Whisperer. This is a customized trip that assures a lifetime of memories in one of the world’s finest winegrowing areas.
For more information, and regular updates on our itinerary, just click on “Contact Jerry” in the upper right corner, and we’ll add you to the list.
Sicily--The Wines You Can't Refuse
Since practically the beginning of time, the Romans (then the Italians) have been toying with the idea of building a bridge over the Straits of Messina to link the island of Sicily with the mainland. Hasn’t happened yet. Maybe never will.
This makes a visit to Sicily a bit of a hike, but one that’s well worth taking. The scenery is spectacular, there are more Greek temples in Sicily than in Greece itself, and the wines are stunning – especially the varietals you never heard of.
For practically ever, Sicilian grapes were used for raisins, while certain varietals were grown to make Marsala, a sweet wine that most people associate with Sicily, if they think about it at all. But over the last 30 years or so, the Sicilians have realized that they can make great wine…and they’ve become very hip to international grape varietals. In fact, Sicily is one of the two largest wine producing areas in Italy, which is saying quite a bit. Producers such as Planeta, Regaleali and Donnafugata make Chardonnays, Syrahs, and other wines that hold their own against anything that comes from the mainland. But if you really want to pick up some great bargains, look for the wines made from grapes that are indigenous to the island.
The Greek Theatre in Taormina
Nero d’Avola, as the name indicates, is native to Avola in the extreme southeast corner of the island, near Siracusa. However, the grape is now grown everywhere, and just about every Sicilian producer makes it. The good news is, no matter which kind you buy, it’s probably going to be good. Since I sample so widely (ahem…) I’ve tasted Neros from many of the major producers, and never met one I didn’t like. The wine has an intense ruby color and flavors of dark fruit, earth, and aromatic herbs. It’s a big, satisfying wine, and great with grilled meats. The two major producers are Planeta and Regaleali, but other brands are well worth trying.
Mt. Etna is still active
At the eastern end of the island, the still-active volcano of Mt. Etna broods over the landscape. It’s 10,000 feet high, snow-capped all year round, and emits a steady column of white steam into the deep blue sky, just to let us know it’s not dead yet. But on the eastern slope the Nerello Mascalese grapes grow, and while we might never think to walk into a wine store and ask for a bottle, maybe we should.
Often blended with other wines, Nerello Mascalese makes a great quaff in its pure form. Medium bodied, spicy, and with strong notes of deep fruit, violets, earth, and forest floor, it’s a bit like Cabernet Sauvignon, supports relatively high levels of alcohol, and pairs well with steaks, chops, and other hearty meats.
The point: don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar wine varietals. There’s a discovery in every bottle.
Surviving the Wine Experience
This October marked our 16th year attending the Wine Spectator Wine Experience. For those who don’t know, it’s an almost-three-day even when wine lovers from all corners of the globe gather to taste samples of wines that almost nobody can get their hands on.
Some are produced in microscopic quantities, while others are so expensive that you’d have to hock your BMW to buy them.
First comes the Thursday night Grand Tasting. At the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, there is a fifth-floor ballroom and another on the sixth floor. We always start on five, where over 125 tables are set up and where winemakers dole out small splashes of wines such as Salon Champagne ($400 a bottle) and Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux ($900 a bottle). There is a prodigious amount of swirling, sniffing, and sipping, but also an equal amount of spitting. If you taste your way through a hundred or so wines and don’t spit, you’ll never make it back to your hotel room.
Grand Tastings on Thursday and Friday nights
Friday morning tastings start at around 9, where we sit at long tables and encounter 16 empty glasses that will soon be filled with Grand Cru Burgundies, California Pinot Noirs, First Growth Bordeaux, and other delicacies. This goes on until noon, when we’re ushered into a vast dining room for lunch, where each table holds 10 or 12 bottles of Argentinian wine.
Debi Greenfield charms Wine Spectator Editor Jim Laube (L) and Angelo Gaja
Then it’s back to the seminars for the afternoon session, followed by a nap and the Friday night Grand Tasting. We’re on the 6th floor for this one, visiting winemaker friends like Sparky Marquis from Mollydooker in Australia, and Andrew Vigniello from AP Vin in San Francisco.
Saturday starts early with more conducted tastings by Bill Harlan, Angelo Gaja, and a sample of Wine Spectator’s top 10 wines of the year. Lunch brings us a table full of wines from Washington State, like Milbrandt’s delicious Merlot. And again, we return to the seminar room for vertical samplings of Penfold’s Grange and Mouton Rothschild.
Attendees prepare for the first tasting -- 9AM Friday morning
Even though the Saturday night banquet includes a pre-dinner Champagne reception and wines matched with the meal, everyone in our group brings a special bottle to share. There was 2000 Cos d’Estournel, 2003 Napa Reserve, and so many others that I lost track. Next year I’m going to bring six of my own glasses and write the names of the wines on the tablecloth.
Debi gets ready to swirl and sip with cousins David Lazer and Caroline Levy
There were plenty of discoveries, and I’m sure we’ll be hunting them down to purchase over the next few weeks. More reports and tasting notes to come.
The way we describe wine is a little out of whack
Mmmmm! These Pencil Shavings are Delicious!
Every once in a while, a wine topic flares up in the consumer and trade press and our attention is attracted. Recently, there’s been quite a bit written on the topic of how we talk about wine: how critics and others describe the flavors, aromas, and other sensations offered by this marvelous, mystical liquid.
Problem is, the terms they use, which are called “descriptors,” often give us very little real information and are, at times, completely off the charts.
To put it bluntly, wine is nothing more than spoiled grape juice. Apple juice tastes like apples and orange juice tastes like oranges. Let either of them ferment, and the result is lousy-tasting juice that will probably kill you if you drink it. But when grape juice becomes wine the final product often tastes like anything but the fruit it’s made of. As the mysterious chemical rearrangements of fermentation occur, and winemakers apply their art, the juice gives up flavors that have no resemblance to the Welch’s we all grew up with.
When I first started drinking wine critically I was both shaken and stirred by the twisted tastes critics discovered as they swirled and sipped. They detected flavors in wine that I didn’t even want to think about, let alone put in my mouth. And the vocabulary they used to describe the flavors is a psycholinguistic study in itself, requiring readers to come at the English language from a perspective that’s more than a little out of plumb.
They talk about wine having “backbone,” and “stuffing.” There are wines that are “muscular,” and others that are “shy” or “supple.” Tannins can be “velvety.” Wine can be “chunky,” and “chewy,” or even “jammy.” It can “resonate,” it can be “round,” and certainly “seductive.” Clearly, wine writers are especially adept at putting a little… well, English on the language.
But those words are nothing compared to the “descriptors.” Here, the language soars skyward like an exultation of larks, but the flavors go in exactly the opposite direction. Just to show that I’m not making any of this up, here’s a sample of actual reviews of some top-end wines that often sell for outer-spatial prices.
“…scents of underbrush, smoke, saddle leather, soy, and other assorted Asian spices begin to emerge along with kirsch liqueur and black fruit notes.”
“…cooked apple, lemon, and petrol.” I think that means gasoline.
“Reticent but lively aromas of black raspberry and blackberry syrup...Very expressive, super ripe flavors of plum, nuts, game and animal fur.” Animal fur?
Not having much of a life my own self, I started making lists of my favorite weird wine tastes and aromas as I encountered them in the critics’ reviews. Here are some examples.
Forest floor. Like wet leaves, moss, damp trees. Wine with flavors like this are far from spoiled. Au contraire, they cost a bundle.
Horse sweat. Goes right along with the saddle leather, if you know what I mean.
Barnyard. The bouquet of the chicken coop is unmistakable. We’ve never experienced it firsthand, but recognized it a lot quicker than we care to admit.
Pencil shavings. It takes you right to the second grade, and that gray crank machine screwed to the wall, full of wood and warm graphite smell. That’s this.
Ask the Wine Whisperer
“What is ‘blanc de blanc’ Champagne?” – Eric S. Miami
Sparkling white wine made according to the traditional Champagne method is generally a blend of three different varietals: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meuniere. A blanc de blanc (‘white of whites”) is made from chardonnay only.
This week’s discovery is Liberated Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma County 2014. Light in the glass, it offers a nose of apple and tangerine, but on the palate there are nutty flavors of cashew and almond, with good acid balance and a label with a design that’s completely unreadable. WW 88-89
We also enjoyed Blair Estate Chardonnay 2013 with peach and white flowers on the nose, and apple, peach, and honey flavors with a medium-long finish. WW 90.
Sample widely. Send in your questions.
Thunder from Down Under
We’re at lunch in McLaren Vale, sitting across from Sparky and Sarah Marquis, with several glasses of their legendary Carnival of Love Shiraz in front of us. As I sip through the vintages, I’m blown away for several reasons. First, their wines are consistently ranked in the world’s Top 100, and as a couple they’re practically legends or national treasures or something. Second, the wine is arguably one of the purest expressions of what Australian winemaking is all about.
Americans like the Aussie approach so much that the country will soon be the second largest importer of wine to the US. For a country that spent much of its winegrowing history making sweet wines, that’s quite an achievement.
With Sarah and Sparky Marquis at the New York Wine Experience
In this category, it’s the big fruity reds that capture our attention and interest most vividly. In fact, the big Shirazes and blends can be so powerful they need to age for eons before you’d dare open the bottle. (I attended a vertical tasting of Penfold’s Grange a few years ago, and we drank the 1971. It could have used another 10 years in the cellar).
Unlike other countries, most Aussie wines, even the greatest ones, are blended from fruit that’s sourced from very extensive areas. The designated winegrowing regions are enormous, and the grapes that wind up in the bottle may come from hundreds of miles in every direction. It would be like Napa winemakers blending in grapes from as far away as Washington State. They’d sooner slit their wrists.
Another thing that makes Australian wines so much fun is that they like to put puckish and whimsical names on their bottles. The Monkey Spider. The Dead Arm. The Stump Jump. Woop Woop.
My recommendations, in no particular order…
D’Arenberg The Dead Arm
Mollydooker Carnival of Love
Mollydooker Enchanted Path
Anything by Rosemount
Penfold’s Bin 707
Until next time….g’day, mate! (They really do say that.)
Considering their winemaking success, the Australians have no native grapes. Everything grown in the country originated at one time or another from cuttings brought from Europe and South Africa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.