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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Winemakers

Argentina’s Great Imported Winemaker

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Alberto Antonini is one of the world's most influential winemakers, consulting on wines everywhere from his native Italy to Uruguay, California and Portugal. I recently sat down with Alberto to taste through a selection of wines he's consulting on for Bodegas Nieto Senetiner in Argentina's Mendoza region. We had a fascinating conversation about the importance that he places on making each wine specific to the place it's from, rather than aiming for a broad international style. As winemakers become more international, this ongoing discussion of terroir will become increasingly interesting.

Philosophies aside, the Bodegas Nieto Senetiner wines are standouts, with gorgeous, concentrated flavors thanks to the grapes' growing conditions: very warm days and cool nights. Here's what we tasted.

2008 Reserva Torrontes ($11, find this wine) Argentina's top white, Torrontes, has inherent floral notes, but this bottling has a tremendous white-flower aroma of orange blossoms, jasmine and magnolia alongside bright citrus flavors. This is the perfect wine for these hot summer days. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.

2007 Reserva Bonarda ($30, find this wine) Alberto told me that Bonarda has a particularly long growing season and needs lots of sunlight. Extra time on the vine gives this soft, rustic red its spicy black fruit.

2007 Reserva Malbec ($11, find this wine) Alberto ferments this juicy, cherry-scented Malbec in concrete tanks, because he thinks it gives the wine fuller flavor.

2006 Don Nicanor Malbec ($17, find this wine) This deeply colored Malbec is loaded with black cherry and blackberry, plus a refreshing menthol note that keeps it from overloading the palate.

2005 Cadus Malbec
($45, find this wine) This single-vineyard Malbec is surprisingly fresh, even though it's also quite structured. It's long and elegant with pretty, spiced-cherry flavors.

Winemakers

Is Malbec Next for Long Island?

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People have come to think of Long Island for good Merlot and perhaps to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc is also getting a bit of buzz. In new wine regions, producers and wine writers love to proclaim the new hot grape variety every few years, but in truth, it takes many generations to truly find what works best. After visiting Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island this weekend, I'd like to submit another potential for the future king of the region’s grapes: Malbec.

Far from a climate like Argentina, you say? Absolutely correct. But not so far from that of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where Malbec grows quite successfully as a minor grape variety. It’s no surprise that 2007 vintage—Shinn’s first for Malbec—was successful: It was a banner year for Long Island with a nearly perfect, very dry growing season. It resulted in a rather plush wine with the scent of violets and blue/black fruit.

Was 2007 a fluke? After tasting a barrel sample of Malbec from 2008—a more typical LI vintage—I think not. The wine was leaner, with lots of bright acidity, but it was still floral with lovely fruit. Plus, it had an appealing meaty quality, as many good Malbecs do. It reminded me of versions made in the Loire Valley, where the grape is known as Côt.

In all honesty, Malbec will probably never reign on Long Island the way Merlot does. Co-owner and vineyard manager Barbara Shinn has to devote more than twice as many labor hours to Malbec compared to other grape varieties—it needs all that love and care to ripen properly. That extra labor doesn't come cheaply: Shinn will be selling the small amount of Malbec they made in 500ml bottles for $35 upon release this fall, but the wine is delicious nonetheless.


Winemakers

Friday Night Tribute to Alice and Olivier de Moor

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Friday evening found me hanging out at the Lower East Side wine bar Ten Bells with a couple of friends who were in from Paris and with the wines of Chablis producers, Alice and Olivier de Moor. This pair has been making wine together in Chablis since 1994, striving to makes wine in the most hands-off way possible by using organic grapes, pneumatic presses to squeeze the grapes, gravity to move juice from one phase of winemaking to the next and without the addition of sulfur. Strangely enough, we didn't try any of their Chablis, but ordered three of their other wines, which led to an impromptu investigation into what else they can do. Each was dramatically different from the next, but all had clean, driven acidity and graceful balance, as might be expected from people who are experts at Chablis. Here was the line up:

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Aligoté ($23; find this wine)
In Burgundy, the grape variety Aligoté is often overshadowed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but this wine, with its ripe green-apple zip and stony minerality, shows that it has some potential of its own.

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Chitry ($25; find this wine)
The de Moor's Bourgogne Chitry comes from a region just beyond the Chablis appellation. This chardonnay is long and streamlined with delicate sweet citrus fruit and peppery baking-spice notes.

2007 Alice & Olivier de Moor Sauvignon de Saint-Bris ($22; find this wine)
This region to the southwest of Chablis produces old-vine sauvignon blanc that tends to be much fuller and more lush than in other regions like the Loire. This vintage from the de Moors keeps giving and giving bright candied lemon flavors with intriguing salinity.

These all were nice accompaniments to the garlicky baby eel salad, thick brandade, salty boquerones, and grilled octopus and potato salad that we had with them, making for not only a study in de Moor wines, but in all things seafood, as well.

Wines $20 to $40

Aspen Recap 2: Burger Bonanza Wines

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The 2009 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen wrapped up this past Sunday, but I figured I'd blog about one or two highlights from it anyway. One of them, not to blow my own horn, was the slightly crazy blind-burger-pairing-old-world-vs.-new-world-wine-smackdown that I ran as one of my seminars on Friday. 

What I did was pick three pairs of wines, one from Europe and one from the U.S. in each case, and pair them with a series of mini-burgers prepared by Ryan Hardy, the immensely talented young chef at Montagna at the Little Nell. The audience—more than 120 people; the room was jammed—tasted each pair of wines with the appropriate burger, then voted on which wine worked best. It was a hoot, unsurprisingly, helped along substantially by the insanely good burgers.

The winners? With a crabcake slider served with a tarragon aioli, the fave wine was from Italy: the 2007 Nino Negri Ca'Brione ($35), a lightly honeyed, spicy, richly citrusy blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Incrocia Manzoni (a hybrid of Pinot Blanc and Riesling), and, even weirder, a small proportion of Nebbiolo fermented without its skins so the juice remains white. White Nebbiolo, you bet. Regardless, it was a lovely wine, and if you happen to be serving crabcakes with a tarragon aioli, go for it.

[More]

Wines $20 to $40

A Great Old Wine

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As I seem now to do every year, I stopped last week in Boulder before heading up to the F&W Classic in Aspen for the annual pre-Aspen wine dinner that Travel & Leisure's contributing wine editor Bruce Schoenfeld throws. As usual, it was a crazy grab-bag of wines (and people), many of them extraordinary (both the wines and the people).

Among the standouts? First, a 1982 Associated Vintners Dionysus Vineyard Riesling, notable partly because it was the first single-vinyard Riesling bottled in Washington State—or so I was told—and partly because it was actually still quite alive, with appealing lemon and stone notes. Later, a 2000 Contino Graciano had aromas of earth, leather and ripe black raspberries and was lush and inviting; an interesting development from a wine that's always quite tart, tannic and palate-zapping on release. I loved the 1982 Giacosa Barolo Falletto that came my way—hazy red in color, smelling of licorice, roses and caramel, with flavors that recalled dried spices like cardamom and cinnamon—though for some reason not everybody did. (Go figure. Lunatics, the lot of 'em.) And a 1999 Yarra Yering Dry Red #1—from a winery that made news lately by getting sold—had aromas of tea leaves and kirsch, then luscious berry fruit poised on the edge of age but not quite there. A very pretty wine.

The wine of the night, though, by general acclaim, was a 1991 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, which was just fantastic. Aromas of forest floor, spiced currants and graphite led into layers of soft cherry-currant fruit, silky tannins, and more lingering graphite notes. It had aged gorgeously and was in perfect condition, and isn't even Ridge's top Cabernet (Monte Bello is). The current vintage will set you back $40. Not bad. And I like the fact that Paul Draper, on the back label of the wine, suggested that it would age only five to ten years. As it turns out, a very modest prediction.

Wines $20 to $40

A Surprise from Bonny Doon

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I’ll admit it. I didn’t expect much from the 2005 Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca’ del Solo Nebbiolo ($30, buy this wine)—most domestic wines made with Italian grape varieties that I've had have tasted generic at best. But when I stuck my nose in the glass, I couldn’t believe what I smelled: Italy. The wine had those telltale notes of rose petals classic to Nebbiolo, and while it wasn’t as beguiling as a great Barolo or Barbaresco, I still fooled my in-house wine snob. He guessed the wine I poured was a Chianti (not a bad guess, as there were also a lot of licoricey notes, too, common in Chianti). The fruit was ripe but tart and the tannins gripping rather than soft and plush—two qualities that are common in Nebbiolo but that often seem to scare California winemakers. The finish was shorter than I would have liked (I suspect the vines are young), but I’m thrilled to see that even in the U.S., Italian grapes can taste like themselves. —Kristin Donnelly

Wines Above $40

Sojourn Cellars: Impressive Pinots & Cabernets

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Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

© Ray Isle
Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

If you've read through our just-released June issue you may know that I spent some time a little while back engaged in a cork-taint sniff-off with a Labrador named Ziggy. A fun story to write—but I didn't get to run a picture of Ziggy along with it, so I'm rectifying that now. Cute, isn't she? And don't ever try to get a TCA-tainted barrel stave past her.

The other thing I didn't have room to write about in the story were the wines of Sojourn Cellars, a partnership between Craig Haserot, Ziggy's owner, and winemaker Erich Bradley. That's a shame, because they're well worth writing about. Sojourn makes a number of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets from various Sonoma vineyards, and is open for salon-style tastings (by appointment) in the small white house off the main square in Sonoma where I had my showdown with Ziggy.

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36) is a blend from four different vineyards, pale ruby in hue, with appealing sweet strawberry and cherry cola notes and a hint of rhubarb. It has an impressively silky mouthfeel, which jibes with Haserot's comment as I was tasting: "From a philosophical standpoint, we are hyper-focused on mouthfeel. It has to feel good before it tastes good. So we focus a lot on tannin management."

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Windsor Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) offered cooler fennel-herbal notes with dense, sweet berry fruit, a touch of candied raspberry, and smoky tannins on the end; lots of saturated flavor here.

My favorite of the Pinots, the 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) has impressively sustained flavors of ripe wild raspberries and spice, a note of grapefruit peel in its acidity, and, overall, just exceptional balance and poise. The section of Sangiacomo that Haserot sources grapes from is, he says, "a nice cool spot right at the base of Sonoma Mountain, with a lot of marine influence; essentially the northern end of the Petaluma Gap."

Of the Cabernets, I thought the 2006 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) was a steal for the quality it offers. The vineyard's called Home Ranch because it's essentially Haserot's backyard; the wine itself is luscious and rich, with mocha and black currant flavors and a touch of minty eucalyptus—a big, robust, embraceable Cabernet. Thinking about it makes me want to go out and grill a bunch of steaks right now.

On a different note, the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is powerful and dark—much more a classic mountain-fruit Cabernet—with blackberry and black-currant fruit that's wrapped up in gripping but ripe tannins. The wine comes from the best seven barrels off Sojourn's Mountain Terraces vineyard; it's drinking very well now, and it should be drinking even better after four or five years in the cellar.

Sojourn's wines are available in some shops and at restaurants, but the production is fairly small, so they're easiest to find by getting in touch with the winery directly.

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Join celebrity chefs, renowned winemakers and epicurean insiders at the culinary world’s most spectacular weekend, the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.