"Wine... the intellectual part of the meal." --- Alexandre Dumas, 1873

I’ve come across this grape before and each time, it seemed to present a chameleon like character: very unique as a varietal, sharing characteristics from label to label, but different in presentation from each vineyard.  What made me think about it again was recently tasting and writing about a Macedonian Pinot Noir that was blended 5% with Vranec.  VranEc is the Macedonian, and in Serbian, it has the “ac” ending. Whichever language, the grape itself goes back to the Middle Ages and has been cultivated since then in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia and, generally, throughout the southwestern Balkans.

Vranac is somewhat vigorous, and high yielding. It produces thin-skinned, black grapes in small bunches and with large berries and is sensitive to both frost and botrytis. But I’m unfamiliar with Vranac being made in a sweet style having been affected by “Noble Rot.”   The berries’ high sugar content can result in wines with high alcohol content (think Zinfandel).  In fact, it was often confused with Primitivo (think Zinfandel again) and modern DNA research shows they are closely related. Primitivo is sometimes blended with Vranac, through the wine of Monastery Tvrdos is not.  The bottle I enjoyed was 100% Vranac.

Monastery Tvrdos, I should explain, is the winery. Vines have been cultivated there (on and off) since the 15th century. The monastery was rebuilt in 1924 but the original stone cellar remained and is still used by the Orthodox Monks in conjunction with a newer one, built above, and allowing for gravitational transport of wine during processing.

Monastery Tvrdos is in Herzegovina, 15 miles from the Adriatic Sea. Conditions here are dry and Vranac, being best suited to warm soil, thrives here. In fact, it has been a Protected Geographical Indication in Montenegro since 1977 and is considered the most important variety, and one of the most important in Macedonia.

It can produce wines with some bitterness, though I’ve always found this character pleasant in the finish of the various Vranac I’ve tasted and it has never been overbearing. Regardless of the producer, Vranac wines will be dark ruby in the glass. From there, you will generally have a wine of moderate aroma but with flavors that may include fresh berries, forest berries, sour cherry, blackberry, blackcurrant, chocolate, cinnamon, mint and vanilla (barrel imparted).

Vranac wines are ageable due to the variety’s high tannin content and levels of acidity, and wines can improve with age, becoming rounder with tannins softened and more integrated. Like Sangiovese and others, Vranac is an autochthonous variety. It does seem to be the product of natural cross breeding and mutations over the years within this particular area. I’ll leave the specifics of that horticulture to experts, but Vranacs share a character and unique taste that, once experienced, is not forgotten.  These grapes are not grown elsewhere. The wine truly is unique.
So, given what makes Vranac all the same, what is it that separates one label from the other, specifically the Vranac of Monastery Tvrdos?  Look again at the descriptors two paragraphs above. Most, though not all will be present, in varying layers of dominance.  I didn’t get mint and vanilla, for example.  Monastery Tvrdos ages in old, neutral wood. And all palates are personal but what I did get (as did another taster) was fig – in the aromatics. That seemed unique to this label. Red fruit? Yes. But dominant was dried cranberry.  With the wine recently opened, in fact, the dried cranberry was rather assertive, though not displeasing.  Over the course of an hour, the cranberry became less sharp as red cherry notes developed to compete. Overall, the wine of Monastery Tvrdos had smoother tannins than other Vranacs I’ve tasted. It seemed slightly more “new world” in style, more fruit forward and less bitter.

Although this wine seems a natural pairing to grilled meats and sausages, goulash or stuffed peppers, I’m thinking this label – with the wine’s unusual cranberry notes – would be particularly delicious against ribs in barbeque sauce.  At the very least, thinking so gives me an opportunity to enjoy another bottle.

………………. Jim

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Varietal:                              Vranac, 100% (pronounced vra nats)
Producer:                            Monastery Tvrdos
Vintage:                              2012
Region:                               Bosnia-Herzegovina
Aging:                                24 Months, Old Monastic Oak Barrels
Filtered:                              Minimally
Alc:                                     13.7 -  14.5%

Terraneo Merchants


“No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God”.
---  Plato, Greek philosopher, (c. 427-347 BC)

Alpha Estate’s Xinomavro (the grape is Xinomavro), is from the Amyndeon (a PDO) region in northern Greece.  Grapes for this wine are from a single vineyard (called “Hedgehog”) and grown on a plateau at elevation of 690 meters (about 2264 ft) with a northwest exposure, and face both Petron Lake and the Voras Mountain. Winters here are cold and the proximity of a body of water moderates the continental climate. With poor soil of sand and clay, but with excellent drainage, vines are water stressed. Berries are small with intense red color and concentrated flavor. As is so often the rule, good wines come from marginal areas.

Xinomavro is the predominant grape of northern Greece. Alpha Estates also makes a blended wine using it along with 40% Syrah, but I wanted to try an unblended “Xino”.  This is seriously good wine and an education for anyone having an interest in indigenous grapes of the world.

In the glass, its core is pale garnet falling to pale ruby with a thin iridescent rim and producing tinted tears.  Opened and poured, the nose offers cranberry and red licorice in a glycerin mouthfeel of tart cherry. My first thought was that this would be an interesting alternative to Zinfandel with any BBQ.  But more interest is solicited from this wine with air over the course of just two hours. Black plum, black cherry and raspberry become apparent with strong notes of cola.  Tannins are evident, but not harsh despite the “Xino” grape having that characteristic. The mouthfeel remained rich with strong notes of cherry cola, but the nose became more complex adding aromas of chocolate plum and brambled forest berries. The finish was long with notes of dark cocoa.

A powerful wine made so by the grape itself, I was impressed at the restraint and balance of tannin, acid and fruit in Alpha Estates’ Xinomavro.  In fact, the name Xinomavro translates to “acid-black”. But Alpha Estates‘ rendering of this grape into wine is a testament to the winemaker’s art and craft. It’s a harmonious composition.  Rather than BBQ and Zinfandel, I began thinking of this wine as a Nebbiolo and, indeed, the tannins inherent In “Xino” make it a wine suitable for aging, though it’s certainly enjoyable now. This is classic food wine offering notes too of leather and clove once properly aired.  

Or enjoy with some baked Greek cheese!
Vacuumed pumped and sealed overnight, fruit became more evident and the wine (though dry) exhibited a deceptive sweetness of candied cherry. A wine of a “thousand faces” (all enjoyable) from a country that has been making wine for thousands of years. Don’t deny yourself this experience because you’re not Greek (neither am I). So you won’t serve it with stuffed grape leaves. O.K., but stuffed peppers? Why not?  Try it with any BBQ or red sauced pasta and eggplant; grilled red meats and sausages.  In fact, the most fun could be trying a bottle or two over a period of time to see for yourself how the wine develops.  After all, Greece didn’t just develop Democracy. They’ve been developing wine grapes for thousands of years.

……………….. Jim
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Varietal:          Xinomavro   (Ksee no ma vro) 100%
PDO:                Amyndeon
Producer:        Alpha Estate
Vintage:           2011
Yield:               4200 kg grapes per hectare / 3,747 lbs per acre
Alc:                  14%
Vinification:     Sur lIes 8 months
Aging:              12 months French oak 50% new/50% second year, light 
.                        12 months additional in bottle. 
Robert Parker: 92 Points
ARP:                 About $20. (Found for $18 locally).
Importer:         US: Diamond Importers
                        528 Wrightwood
                        Chicago IL 60614
                        Tel: 773-549-6211

Alpha Estate   
2nd Km Amyndeon - St. Panteleimon
Tel. +30 23860 20111
Fax. +30 23860 20132


“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”  …. Galileo Galilei

If you love wine, if you’re passionate about it, read about it, want to know how it’s made and more, and if you have lived long enough to have tasted many bottles, there will be moments in memory that occasionally flash forward to you today.  One such, for me, was a 1947 port my sweetie gave me as a birthday gift.  Matured in wood 50 years before bottling, it was spiritually healing.  Another came along with another birthday as my brother gifted me with a single-vintage port from my birth year.  There were tastings and meetings with wine makers that still bring a smile of fond recognition.  But for the wines themselves, such experiences are rare by definition and, therefore, very special.

The most recent such was my experience with a Mount Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir (2010). As the label mentions, grapes are grown, fermented and estate bottled 2000 feet above the floor of the Santa Clara Valley on a peak of the Chaine d’Or in the Santa Cruz Mountains (an AVA in California). 
While the wines (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon included) of Mount Eden Vineyards are consistently rated highly, 2010 was unusually cold.  Vines for Mount Eden’s pinot noir, grown on a soil of shale, enjoy cool and sunny conditions above the fog line. But with the particularly cool conditions for the 2010 vintage, hang time was extended. Maturation was slow and steady with exceptional phenolic development.  It was perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

And the vines themselves are among the oldest in California, brought to California and propagated by French winemaker Paul Masson. Martin Ray, of Mount Eden, planted them in 1945. Masson was friends with the family of Louis Latour (Burgundy) and it’s likely the selection came from the family’s finest vineyards and were brought to California by Masson in the 1880’s.

Moving ahead, fermentation at Mount Eden incorporates a large percentage of whole cluster, including stems. The vines themselves benefit from vertical shoot positioning, keeping the canopy well aerated and shade free as possible, maximizing sun exposure and providing circulation between leaves (particularly important for thin-skinned pinot noir). Already “old vines”, they are even thinned, as necessary, to providing for yields not exceeding two tons per acre; typically one to one to one-and-a half tons per acre.
Coq-Au-Vin, purple carrots. Simple. Elegant and so
Perfectly Complimented by the Wine

All wine begins in the vineyard and the vineyard here produces excellent grapes.  But what you do with those grapes is the partner to how they are grown.  Whole cluster fermentation … classic. Using natural yeasts, fermenting in small, open-top fermenters ten to fourteen days, with hand punch downs. Wine is matured in 75% new French oak (25% one year old wood) then aged 18 months. Not filtered. Not fined. This is as close to Burgundy as California can get without a major shift in our earth’s tectonic plates. (Not something anyone in California wants to hear).   

The wine is complex and balanced from first sniff to last taste. Dark fruit. Deep, rich, mashed black plum on the nose, black cherry, black pepper and sandalwood carry into the taste. The mouthfeel is rich. Tannins are soft but develop nicely in a warm finish that seems to never end.
If you can discipline yourself and refrain from drinking this wine too quickly, magic begins in the glass. Air opens the wine to whispered notes of strawberry, raspberry, earth and blueberry. Still dominant with black fruit, this balanced menage continues to promote sandalwood complexity and black fruit but now adding red notes.

I had been making Coq-au-Vin and knew I wanted a Pinot Noir. Mount Eden’s was highly rated, but new to me. My only regret is that I purchased only one bottle as a sample. From its original price of $55, it now is available on line for $125.  Fortunately, the 2011 vintage is still on the shelves. With an average score of 93.5 from Wine & Spirits Magazine, Vinous, Tanzer and Wine Advocate, this vintage too is certain to impress.  History speaks very well of Mount Eden: Its 2009 vintage earned an average score of 92.67.

But, as noted, these wines are classic and made for aging.  I’ll be buying several of the 2011 and cellaring them in the good faith I’ll be here to enjoy them. As for the 2010, I’ll be having another birthday soon. Maybe I should drop some hints.   

………………. Jim
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Yield:                           1.8 tons per acre
Harvest:                       SEPT 1-26th
Brix (at Harvest)         23.5
pH:                               3.45
Acidity:                        8.5g
Alc:                              13.5%
Bottled:                       Sept. 2011   (804 Cases)                                

Mount Eden Vineyards
22020 Mt Eden Rd
Saratoga CA 95070
PH: (408) 867-5832
email: not available



“The discovery of a good wine is increasingly better for mankind than the discovery of a new star.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I enjoyed this wine before, on my second visit to Sonoma; the tasting at Stonestreet graciously arranged by some wonderful people at Kendall-Jackson (another story).  That was in October of 2014. I tasted the wine, (a 2011) bought it and others and tasted them again at home almost immediately upon arriving. I remember being so impressed by the balance and finesse of “Broken Road” that I later brought it as my partner to a dinner party.  It was voted the most important person at the party. That was last year, 2015.

Today, cooking (wild caught, Copper River, Alaskan) salmon, my reflex is Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley, France).  It’s my preference for salmon; a “go-to” reflex.  But cooking the salmon on the grill and sheathing it in cedar wraps, I thought it may be better to go with a wine of more weight. I pulled out my last bottle of Stonestreet’s 2011 “Broken Road” Chardonnay from the Alexander Valley AVA.
Cedar wrapped salmon on the grill.
Not much to say. Generally, you like
fish or you don't like fish.

It was a good choice.                                                                   

And proof again that wine is a living thing, which develops both in the bottle and, with air, in the glass.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of all the reviews: Tanzer, Advocate, and Spectator. I’ve seen them since and certainly Stonestreet doesn’t need my humble opinion. But not to put it out here would be remiss and disrespectful to the winemaker’s art and craft.  It is, quite simply, a beautiful Chardonnay.

Unlike the previous two bottles, this – just opened – put out some smoky notes.  Enough that I wondered if the barrel for this had been over charred. Then again, all palates and preferences are personal and there are those who prefer this character over everything.  But it seemed an anomaly
Salmon, flourless gnocchi,and (yes) asparagus with
and without jamon serrano. Delicious. But the wine
was the star. and elevated everything (even asparagus!).
because my recollection of that characteristic didn’t come to mind from the previous bottles.  It wasn’t offensive. Just different from memory.  Disciplined writers keep better notes. Then again, here you get the pure experience of the moment.  Either way, with air, the smoke diminished and allowed the fruit to resurface.   

But fruit is handled with finesse. Subtly hinted, melded, it draws you in instead of clubbing you. Oak is deft; there is no overload of vanilla. In fact, one of the most enjoyable aspects of this wine is its push-pull interplay of notes. The nose offers orange blossom. Its flavor includes notes of butterscotch that change to tart citrus toward its finish. There’s a soft lime opening than morphs to tangy citrus. In-between this concert is lemon verbena, hazelnut, and unsweet tropical fruit, with pineapple mildly forward. The wine is an education: a high-low of fun notes in the mouth. Somehow, Graham Weerts (winemaker) composes this symphony of tastes in a balance that peaks interests and invites you to take another sip and explore what’s going on. Despite all this fruit, the wine is elegantly austere, southern Burgundian like, but not shy. It doesn’t scream California, but it whispers it with classic notes of sea breeze and sea shell and finishes with enough acidity and tannin to be a Burgundy step child.  Weerts has every reason to be a proud father.

………………. Jim
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Galloni                         94 Points
Parker Points                93
Tanzer                          92

AVA:                            Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
Mountain Range:        Mayacamas Mountains
Region:                        North Coast, California
Elevation of Vineyard: 1800 ft.
Slope’s Exposure:        Southwest
Rootstock:                   110R
Clone:                          4
Avg. Ripeness:             22.8
Fermentation:              100% barrel, lees stirred monthly, native yeasts(!)
Aging:                          10 months, 47% new French
Alc:                              14%
TA:                               .59      

Since all wine begins in the vineyard, credit goes also to Gabriel Valencia, Vineyard Manager.                


“Wine is bottled poetry.” ……. Robert Lewis Stevenson

One of my favorite whites, I tried it originally after noticing Michel Gassier’s name on the label, and have been buying it ever since.  I first encountered winemaker Michel Gassier when tasting “Cercius”* (the red; a blanc is also made).  It’s 85% Grenache and 15% Syrah, 100% delicious and tastes much higher than priced.  A Rhone wine, it is consistently well rated, consistently good, and consistently priced budget friendly. 

But with weather warming, I tend to drink more whites (and forgive me purists – rose wine too, but that’s another subject).  Anyway, names mean things after a while.  They become trustworthy. Brands in themselves. Gassier, born in Algeria (when it was part of France), later lived in the U.S., moved to the South of France where his family had land and grew fruit and wine grapes. With his training in agricultural engineering, Gassier began getting practical experience.  In time, he began developing confidence in being able to produce a wine reflecting a sense of place and wines made with minimal intervention.

Nostre Pais (my bottle a 2013) is 60% Grenache Blanc, 20% Clairette, 15% Rousanne and 5% Viognier. I mention the year because the percentages may change each year. In 2014, it was 52% Grenache Blanc, 22% Roussanne, 17% Viognier, 7% Clairette and 2% Bourboulenc.  Rainfall and the Mistral winds are every winemaker’s partner in the Southern Rhone and Michel understands that wine begins in the vineyard.

He began, in 2007, converting his fields to organic, using indigenous yeasts, reducing the use of Sulphur and fermenting with whole clusters.  For Nostre Pais, he picks the Rousanne early, while it still is high acid. But he ferments in old wood, adding texture to what might otherwise be a “thin” wine.  New wood gives oakiness, neutral wood gives texture.  Picking grapes early is almost counter-intuitive: wines, you’d think, would be herbaceous, not fruity. And Michel believes in making wine with minimal manipulation.  But all wine is juice that has been manipulated in some way. It’s just a question of degree, or how.

Fermenting one-third in barrel is how. Aging the juice on its lees for eight months adds texture naturally. Six to eight months in French oak rounds the blend. I enjoyed aromas of honeydew melon, banana, and green grapes along with mineral and floral notes. The wine is lovely - feminine with seamlessly integrated notes of kiwi, creamy lemon-lime, and buttered citrus on the palate. Most impressive is how elegantly all this is all done.  Nostre Pais has the texture (body) one expects from Rhone Roussanne, but does not lie flat and lifeless on the palate. It sparkles with freshness and a purity in a balancing act one can only admire. If there was any question  attached to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s quote of more than a hundred years ago, one taste of Michel Gassier’s Nostre Pais will dispel it.  Well made, it is bottled poetry.

ALC.:    13.5%
ARP:     $18.00, 750ml
Suggested Cellaring:  Drink now or within 3 years. 

…………….. Jim
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·         Cercius was a joint effort of Michel Gassier, wine maker Philippe Cambie and Eric Solomon.  

·       Costieres-de-Nimes is an AOC in the Southernmost Rhone. Its soil is rolled pebbles (“galets”), sandy alluvial, red shale and clay.

·         Imported by European Cellars, LLC., Charlotte, NC.


RIAS BAIXAS, Albarino and Spring and Summer in a Glass

“It's a smile, it's a kiss, it's a sip of wine ... it's summertime!”  Kenny Chesney

Pity the fortunate who live where the seasons don’t include wind driven sleet that slices through your clothing and leaves your bones quaking from a chill that last for months.  Those poor fortunates never experience the heights of joy we hardies do when greeted finally by the renewal of warm weather.  No, we’re able to celebrate the “changing of the wine” in true spirit.  We move to white wines. Crisp wines. Wines of joy and cleanliness and youth that celebrate the season’s promise of variety. Wines we can enjoy outdoors. Wines that pair so perfectly with many of the lighter meals enjoyed in warmer months.

SOMM Jill Zomorski presenting
Rias Baixas is home to these wines. A region in Northwest Spain, Rias Baixas is hillsides of hard granite beneath a top soil of mineral-rich clay, silt and gravel.  With abundant sunshine, but a cool maritime climate, the area’s five sub-regions, while unique, share in producing aromatic wines of mouthwatering acidity.  These wines are a joy for both the nose and the palate and bring out the best in summer food pairing.

Over 99% of all wine produced here is white.  Twelve grape varieties are permitted, but the most well-known (and produced) is Albarino.  It accounts for 90% of all plantings.  Thinking you know Albarino is like thinking you know a vegetable because you’ve tasted it.  But just as the same vegetable from a different country offers a different experience, Albarino from Rias Baixas offer a unique taste and sensory experience.

Getting Ready to Taste
I enjoyed a tasting of several of these wines in April in Chicago with Sommelier Jill Zomorski presenting information as we moved along, pairing the wines with different small plates prepared by the talented chefs at the Little Goat Kitchen.  As a group, Albarino wines may show aromas of green apple, honeysuckle, citrus, ripe melon, peach, pear and apricot. They are dry, but fruity with moderate alcohol, mineral tones and refreshing acidity that is both palate cleansing and mouthwatering.  But each of
Spring onion pierogi with chive yogurt
and rhubarb relish made by the talented chefs
at the Little Goat. Delicious. Demonstrating
too the versatility of Albarino. 
the five sub-regions within Rias Baixas will contribute its own characteristic. And winemakers will do the rest: Many now favor fermenting with wild yeasts. Some will ferment and/or age – or age some portion – of the wine in wood. Some will extend contact with the lees (spent yeast cells) making for a rounder texture and enhanced flavor.  Others may allow some malolactic fermentation.  Any of these techniques may be used, or used in combination, wholly or in part to make each Albarino unique. What is universal is the characteristic that has made Albarino from Rias Baixas the standard by which all others are judged.

Following is a listing of the wines I tasted and a brief description of each wine’s differing highlight:

VALMINOR 2015: Clear, clean, pale lemon with a green hue. Aromas of ripe peach, white flower. Ripe, juicy fruit aromas but clean on the palate. No malolactic, no extended lees contact – all steel. Quince, lime, floral notes. This is freshness in the glass. (Alc. 12%). SRP $18.99

CONDES DE ALBAREI 2014: Fermented with wild yeasts. Nose is more ripe, more melon with tastes of kiwi and melon. Not sure if there was any malolactic. No (or very short) skin contact.  Another example of the freshness of Albarino. (Alc. 12%). SRP $15.

I enjoyed the wine so much, later I made
roasted sea bass with parsley sauce on a
bed of  chickpea puree and quick-picked
Watermelon radish spirals. Great wine
allows for such versatility.
PAZO SAN MAURO 2014: From further inland and south, this wine does not rest on its lees for any length, but develops color from six hours of skin contact. Aromas of apricot and peaches. Rich, ripe and rounded softly with notes of orange blossom. Flavors of jasmine, peach and minerality. (Alc. 12.5%). SRP $17.

PAZO DE SENORANS 2015: O.K. Time out.  2015 was a great year, I mean terrific, for Albarino in the Rias Baixas.  Consider that when I tell you I so enjoyed the floral nose and rich creaminess of this wine. No malolactic, but 5 months of lees aging can account for the rounded creamy mouthfeel.  Jill points out the aroma of beer foam in the nose.  I’m very suggestive, but now that she mentions it, I must agree, and I love it. (Alc. 12.5%).  SRP $25.

PACO & LOLA 2014:  15% Malolactic Fermentation, three months less contact, the nose is delicate but artful with some herbaceous notes, then lemon-balm and jasmine with fruit notes developing as the wine airs in the glass. Flavor of lavender and apple that is mellow and absolutely delicious. As with all Albarino, this too is dry but with fruit characteristics in balance like a Flying Wallenda.  (Alc. 12.5%). ARP $22.

TERRA DE ASOREI 2015:  Oh, oh, another 2015!  Soft, rounded, floral with peach. Lovely aromatics and flavors in balance play delicately against each other. A push-pull of finesse. (Alc. 12.2%) SRP $14.99

BODEGA VEIGA NAUM 2015: (For my palate) a different approach, but one that works successfully on successive sips.  Detecting some chamomile (?) which is different – or could be attributed to the various small plates I’ve been tasting.  Really should taste this again, and separately, to be fair.  (Alc. 12.4%). SRP $15.

MARTIN CODAX 2014: What you may be thinking of when you think of Albarino. Delicate aromas of lime with white floral notes that carry into the taste. All steel for freshness, 40% Malolactic Fermentation to round it all out. (Alc. 12%). SRP $16.99.

BODEGAS LA CANA 2014:  A standby, I’ve enjoyed it several times. Available at most retail outlets. Native yeasts. Eight months on the lees make it gentle yet naturally peachy with mineral notes. (Alc. 12.5%).  SRP $17.99.

ALTOS DE TORONA 2015: Not just a 2015, but a blend of Albarino, Loureiro and Caino Blanco. Lots of lavender and honeysuckle.(Alc. 12.5%). SRP $16-$20.

Albarino and Rias Baixas: a grape and a region (D.O.) that, coming together, make for a perfect storm of wines with unique character; a sense of place and joyous wine that is food friendly and celebratory of the season with prices that are budget friendly.  What I particularly appreciate is the diversity within the same varietal and region of Rias Biaxas that respects any particular preference you may have for that moment.  Wines that are softer, more delicate, less acidic or more so.  Wines so perfectly complimenting a plate of appetizers, wines enjoyable on their own under a patio umbrella with cooling breezes on summer days and blue skies accented with puffy white clouds.  But throughout it all is the common ancestry of fresh, light-medium bodied wine, with alcohol addresses only in the 12 neighborhood that are refreshing and crisp and just so enjoyable.  

Albarino is fast gaining popularity in the United States. A thick skinned grape that makes for fresh, fruity, but dry wines with luscious aromas and cleansing acidity that is so refreshing.   Wine Mizer advice?  Try several. Invite some friends and have a “blind tasting” with bottles in numbered bags Be  prepared and have on hand some appetizers that can be served at room temperature or chilled and enjoy the gifts of spring and summer and the Rias Biaxas.  You may like them all, but you’re sure to pick a favorite.

……………. Jim

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“Misunderstanding is generally simpler than true understanding, and hence has more potential for popularity.”   Raheel Farooq

Misconceptions are sticky things.  Like dried thistles adhering to your clothing as you walk through the woods, you acquire them without notice.  And the longer you carry them around, the more they seem to affix themselves. Misconception about viticulture are similar. I picked up a few without notice. And as I carried them around, they became fixated --- accepted as logical enough so as to be true. I should know better.

Getting Ready to Taste
the Wines
Then I received an invite to taste wines from Israel, specifically those made under the Yardin label of the Golan Heights Winery. I often taste wines and have tasted wines from all the countries that immediately come to mind and several from those that do not.  I knew too that Israel produced wine, but Israel didn’t have the climate for quality viticulture: too hot, dry, arid and desert like. And “kosher” wine?  We all remember those brands.  That and one or two other misconceptions I’m embarrassed to admit having sticking to me were quickly self-realized once I tasted Yardin wine.  As in Italy, and other areas, elevation is one key to quality viticulture. So is soil. And the Golan Heights offers both in the type for quality viniculture.  Finally, having tasted the wines, and freeing myself from these misconceptions, I’ve become a self-appointed publicist.

Without going into geographical detail (more to hide my ignorance than to risk boring you) the earth’s tectonic plates are constantly shifting and have done so for millennia.  The Golan Heights (you’d think “heights” would have been a clue wouldn’t you?) is a volcanic plateau with varied and distinct soil types.  Vineyards on the Heights are chosen based on elevation, aspect, and soil type and are among the coolest in Israel. Vineyards range from the Sea of Galilee to Mount Hermon reaching up to 3,900 feet.  Golan Heights Winery cultivates 1500 acers of vineyards here, dividing the vineyards into 400 blocks.

The tasting began with a Yarden Blanc de Blanc (2008) sparkling wine. 100% Chardonnay from grapes grown at high elevation in the most northern and coldest region of Israel.  Lemon zest, tart green apple, and (for me) some white pepper on the nose. Citrus and minerality on the palate, from soils of basalt, clay and limestone. The mousse was fine and persistent and the wine was creamy with mild autolytic notes.  No surprise it was made according to the traditional method: whole cluster pressing, secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Disgorging began after more than five years of bottle aging on the yeast.  All this for a suggested retail price of $32?  I was interested.

What followed was a 2014 Yarden “Odem” (organic) Chardonnay (100% Chardonnay), rich, balanced with caramel and deep lemon colored with notes of pie crust, smoky oak and a rich texture, it comes from the single vineyard. If that’s not your style of choice, consider the 2013 Yarden Chardonnay, a blend of pure Chardonnay and very much like a white burgundy. I found it graceful and finessed with balanced creamy notes played opposing tart citrus in aromas of orange. The blend benefits from full lees contact making the mouthfeel rich but is only partially subjected to malolactic fermentation, keeping fruit fresh. Aged seven months in French oak (50% new) the oak is present but unobtrusive.  At an ARP of $22, this is a great value and struck my “happy spot”.  I’ve since bought it at retail.

We then moved on to a wine that completely cleansed me of my misconceptions: Yarden 2T (vintage 2012).  The only problem I have with this wine is the difficulty I encountered in finding it at retail. It’s a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Tinto Cao.  Its somewhat herbaceous nose opens to a joy of Portuguese fruit: blueberry, plum, ripe berries, vanilla and nutmeg in a wine with bright acidity and violet.  Married with Tinto Cao, the blend picks up floral notes, spice and enough tannin to make the wine age worthy. These are the grapes used in making port, but through the skill of winemaker Victor Schoenfeld, are made into still, dry, red wine that intrigues and captivates. Cocoa, spice, white flowers and oak. I absolutely fell in love with this wine. From Israel?  Yes, and wonderful.

We finished with a 2012 Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon.  Lots of bright notes, I enjoyed its old world style of restrained fruit that developed with airing.  ARP $32, I wanted to play more with this, initially thinking it might contain some Cabernet Franc (it does not) and whether it was grown in a cooler site, as the fruit was not California fruit-forward in style.  Aged 18 months in French Oak (40% new) I enjoyed blackberry layered with spice and some earthy notes all balanced seamlessly. This wine can age easily 10 more years and I’d like to be able to taste it then and enjoy how those bright notes have moved with time.  

My interest piqued, I later hunted down some additional Yarden
wine by myself and found a 2011 Pinot Noir. If I could be convinced by this challenging wine, then I’d be committed to being a fan. I’m now a fan!  Unusual and interesting, the nose offered dried herbs, eucalyptus and pencil shavings with flavor of black cherry and cola but true to its varietal character. A shade “new world” in color, it was nonetheless fruit restrained. On the second day, the wine lost no character, still offering black cherry but now combined with sweet cherry. Its nose promoted more complex black licorice. It had a medium finish with soft tannins and great balance.

Victor Schoenfeld (l) With the
Wine Mizer
Winemaker Victor Schoenfeld graduated from the University of California (Davis) in 1988 with a degree in Enology. He spent time at Robert Mondavi, Chateau St Jean and Sonoma’s Preston Vineyards and joined Jacquesson & Fils (the 200-year-old Champagne house) before arriving at Golan Heights Winery in 1991. Committed to the application of new technology, Schoenfeld is regarded as one of Israel’s most influential winemakers and has developed sophisticated viticultural analysis in the belief that knowing exact soil type, climatic conditions, variety, clone and rootstock are essential to making quality wines in a “new” region. New technology, old soil and premium wine have resulted.

………………. Jim

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“Life began with waking up and loving my mother’s face.” George Eliot

Loving mom comes easy.  The bond is formed at birth and gets nurtured over years of dependency.  Appreciation is different.  It takes time.  Genuine appreciation, after all, requires awareness of things and people and their needs outside our self.  Sometimes decades later, finally removed from being aware of only our own wants,  can we then truly appreciate the sacrifices “mom” made. Seems hardly sufficient that “mom” gets only one day a year then, doesn’t it?   

Recently, throughout Chicago-land, several restaurants teamed up with Anna de Codorniu (Spain’s bestselling sparkling wine) to promote Mother’s Day each weekend in May with special brunch menus.  I’ve been a fan of Anna deCodorniu “Cava” (what sparkling wine from Spain is called) for years. The Herrington Inn & Spa in Geneva, Illinois features a beautifully appointed dining room with lovely views of their patio and garden, a talented chef and a gracious staff that elevates the experience into the special occasion mom deserves.

O.K. maybe I’m not all that removed from my own wants.  I did say Anna de Codorniu after all. Let me explain.  As a wine critic who has had some training and grew up with wine, I’ve enjoyed numerous sparkling wines. What’s so special about Anna Codorniu?  It’s not, for example, the brand Frank Sinatra routinely ordered. Nor is it the trendy sparkler of famous rap singers visiting Las Vegas. But I’ve never believed that price was a determinant of quality.  In fact, I’ve always been more concerned with value received in exchange for money spent.  And then, there’s that thing about Anna de Codorniu being the bestselling wine of its type in Spain, where it happens to me made.  And the Anna legacy goes back to 1551. Could be those people know a thing or two about sparkling wine.

To start:  Anna’s non-vintage Brut (Blanc de Blancs) is 70%
The Herrington's Beautiful
Dining Room
Chardonnay and 30% Parellada (an indigenous grape used in making high quality Cava, it contributes a green apple and citrus bouquet and makes for balanced wines with a crisp finish).  Anna, by the way, was the first Cava to incorporate Chardonnay into its coupage. In fact, Anna’s descendant, Josep Raventos, was the first to master the “Methode Traditionelle” of making sparkling wine in Spain. Methode Traditionelle means the wine is made in the traditional method, i.e. fermented twice in bottle.  Spain’s Regulatory Board requires all Cava be aged a minimum of nine months; “Reserva” 15 months (many are aged longer).  Everyone will tell you that white sparkling wine of this type is great with oysters, and it is. It’s great with all kinds of seafood and shellfish.  And while I enjoy oysters, I know they’re not at the top of every mom’s “I want” list.  So may I suggest a Mimosa for mom?  Try piercing three grapes on a pick and then freezing them.  Then fill a glass one-third with Anna De Codorniu,
add the frozen grapes and top the glass with orange juice.  I also find this refreshing and crisp wine pairs well with so many appetizers, most any white fish, fruit desserts (such as honeydew melon carpaccio) and sushi-sashimi.  O.K., I’ll bring it down a notch.  Try pairing this sparkling wine with potato chips and your favorite movie. Seriously, the wine works well against salt. You’ll thank me.

Enjoyed by itself outdoors (on your deck or patio) and in the graceful, breezy air of summer, you’ll be rewarded with aroma of sea shells, dried pineapple with persistent notes of citrus and a hint of chalk in a sparkling wine pale lemon in color with a golden hue.

Anna also makes a Brut Rose, 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.  The wine has a delicate cherry color with strawberry tones; aroma of fresh strawberry and cherry with hints of green apple.  Grapes for both wines come from the Cava-Penedes region in northeast Spain, a “Denominacion de Origen”, or D.O., like an AOC, DOCG, or our own AVA designated area of origin).

Like most dry, sparkling wines, both these finish with an alcohol content of 11.5% to 12%. Easy drinking, light, fresh wines that won’t hurt mom and you’ll enjoy too. I’ve enjoyed the Rose paired with salmon. The crisp finish of Anna Rose cleanses the palate from the healthy Omega-3 fat of salmon and works surprising well with some lamb and pork dishes also.

But what works especially well with either Anna is the price.  ARP is under $15! (Expect to pay more at restaurants and tasting rooms: they have expenses too).  When I referred earlier to “value received in exchange for money spent” Anna matched that requirement perfectly.  It’s a Wine Mizer recommendation and commonly available at many retail outlets.  Mom used to say, “A king’s taste and a peasant’s pocket book.”  I think she would be proud.  


As with all sparkling wines, please remember to chill the wine thoroughly before opening. All sparkling wine is corked under pressure.  Untwist, but retain the cage, cover with a towel, twist the bottle while holding on to the cork (and keep its direction pointed away from you or your guests).  To enhance the enjoyment of the Rose, you may want to allow it to warm on the counter for 5 minutes (after opening) before serving.    

It’s said that wine makes any meal better and I agree. But some meals are at their best when you don’t have to prepare them.  Toward that end, I’ll be revisiting The Herrington Inn restaurant in Geneva. In addition to its lovely surroundings, gracious old-world ambiance and creatively interpreted classics that delight the palate, the staff at the Herrington all seem gifted with ESP. Needs seem to be anticipated before you become aware of them yourself.  Service is attentive without being intrusive. Worse – the plating is beautiful, and the meal itself so much better than  I could have done!  Fortunately, I had some Anna de Codorniu to comfort me in my shame. As I said, genuine appreciation takes time, and enjoying the brunch at The Herrington made me appreciate the difference between being an accomplished home cook and a professional chef.  The Herrington Inn and Anna Codorniu – a great partnership!  Bring mom there next May, but check them out yourself in the meantime.  

…………….. Jim
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