Wednesday, July 29, 2009

International Pinot Noir Celebration

I was quoted in the blog of Washington Post wine writer, Dave McIntyre.  I'm still writing my recap of the amazing event.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"40 Things Every Wine Lover Should Do," Decanter

In the recently arrived August issue of Decanter (my favorite wine magazine), Margaret Rand wrote a fun article, "40 Things Every Wine Lover Should Do."  Here they are. 

1. "Learn to decant" This is an easy one.

2. "Buy some mouth-blown Riedel glasses (and then drop on)...Now, you've got four instead of six and you begin to wonder if maybe you could make do with something cheaper.  There's a great feeling of liberation when you've smashed some of your most treasured stemware."

3. "Marry a winegrower...You have to like living in the country."

4. "Drink wine from your birth year"

5. "Make love in a vineyard" (Do I have your attention?) "German vineyards might be perilously steep; parts of Chateauneuf du Pape would be uncomfortably stony." She bet on the "sheltered corners" of Burgundy.  I can't speak from experience, unfortunately, but I can see the possibilities.  Of course, this would likely arouse the ghosts of those long ago Cistercian monks.

6. "Dine off of fois gras and Chateau d'Yquem"

7. "Drink first growth from a plastic cup with a takeway" (movie "Sideways")

8.  "Visit Vega Sicilia" Most famous wine estate in Spain....Fort Knox is easier to get into.

9. "Drink Madeira from when Marie Antoinette was on the throne of France (or at least when Victoria was on the British)"  Or when Calvin Coolidge was President.

10. "Pick up fossils in a Chablis grand cru vineyard"

11. "Go to a charity wine auction"

12. "Watch the races on the beach in Sanlucar de Barrameda"  Back to the horse again.

13. "Drink Gruner Veltliner by the half-litre at a Buschenschank"

14. "Start a wine club"

15. "Stay at Les Crayeres in Champagne"

16. "Eat grapes from a great vineyard"  Be careful

17. "Do an architecture-and-wine tour of Rioja"

18. "Try Essencia from Tokaj"

19." Take the train from Oporto to Pinhao"

20. "Take a wine tour by camel in McLaren Vale" I know at least one take on this one.

21. "Tread Port grapes in a Lager"  Lucille Ball beat us to it.

22. "Sabre a bottle of Champagne"  A how to video is in the movie "Bottle Shock."

23. "Do a wine course...."

24. "Buy wine direct from a wine estate's cellar door"

25. "Drink vintage Port young, with pudding"

26. "Take a helicopter tour of a wine area"

27. "Try Ice Wine..."  That's not ice in a glass of wine.

28. "Run the Medoc marathon..."  "lots of wine and oyster shops en route."  Are there any finishers?

29. "Recognize a corked wine and argue (successfully) with the sommelier"  Been there, done that.

30. "Breakfast on top vintage Champagne." Now were talking

31. "Plan a dinner party solely around the wines"

32. "Visit the cellars at Chateau de Beaune"

33. "Work a vintage"  Be careful what you ask for.  Oh! My breaking back.

34. "Have lunch at the Factory House" (in Oporto)

35. "Drink wines made from vines older than you."

36. "Buy a case in primeur" (futures)

37. "Discover the Loire Valley castles and vineyards by bike"  High on my list.

38. "Get lost in Pomerol"  Getting lost anywhere is never a problem for me.  

39. "Go kangaroo-spotting in the Hunter Valley"  Cool!

40. "And...drink your best bottles"  This sounds obvious, but better to drink too young than too old. 

Now, there's the "Decanter" 40.  What would you add to the list?  Please share, but keep it printable.

Early Harvest Report from Burgundy

I spoke with my friend and fabulous wine grower, Romain Taupenot, of Morey St. Denis in Burgundy this week who offered an early report for the upcoming harvest.  According to Romain, "09 should be great so far in every aspect.  We will cross our fingers, till a month before the harvest."  It would be nice to have a top Burgundy harvest to follow the extraordinary 2005 vintage.   After all, I have the pending arrival of a grandson in October.  I must begin stocking his wine cellar with some age worthy wines from his birth year.  I have already pre-ordered a magnum of the Ridge Monte Bello for him. The kid isn't born and he has a wine cellar.   His 21st. birthday should be a lot of fun. 

As for Taupenot-Merme wines,  I plan to take his 2000 Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru to a salmon bake at the International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon next week.    

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Value in Revana

Recently I visited my San Francisco friends and serious food and wine lovers, Ilene and Jeff Bragman.  I was in California for the Beyond Extra Virgin olive oil conference and had one day following the conference to explore Napa Valley.  I had not been to Napa since attending the wine studies program at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in the spring of 2005.  Being a bit out of touch since most of my recent wine travels have been in France, I asked Jeff to recommend a few high quality, under the radar Napa wineries to visit.  Jeff, who has an extraordinary wine cellar and is an astute and well-informed California wine enthusiast, gave me a short list. At the top and written in bold letters was REVANA.

I emailed Revana requesting an appointment and received an immediate positive response from Todd Newman, the director of sales and marketing.

As I drove through entrance gate, I noticed immediately that the lane to the winery was lined with beautiful olive trees.  Now, remember this blog is Crush and Press, crush the grapes and press the olives.  With the co-habitation of these noble fruits, I was on sacred ground.

For a little of the Revana story, Dr. Madaiah Revana, who had been an avid collector of the Bordeaux’s finest, had the keen sense of purchasing a high quality vineyard north of St. Helena in 1997.  His wisdom continued with the hiring of the renowned Napa winemaker, Heidi Peterson Barrett.  Heidi is most noteworthy as the former winemaker at Screaming Eagle (1192-2005), the most sought after cult wine in Napa.  Good luck finding it.  She’s also the winemaker for one of my long time Napa favorites, Paradigm Winery in Oakville.  Karen MacNeil, head of the professional wine studies program at CIA-Greystone and author of the Wine Bible, told us in class several years ago that she considered Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon ($62) excellent value and the equivalent of or better than many Napa three figured wines. 

Now, let’s get to the juice.  Revana Family Vineyards is a portfolio of one.  There is no Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, or lesser bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon. Revana is totally committed to a single Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.    The focus is on producing one exceptional wine by masterfully blending the seven blocks spread over nine acres.  This is the Bordelais way, but even they have a second label.  As another example, I have always respected the traditional single label Chateauneuf du Papes producers such as Clos des Papes, Domaine Charvin and Vieux Donjon.  They have not surrendered to the lucrative lure of multiple single vineyard bottlings and higher prices for each.  They contend that the blending adds to the complexity and consistency each year.  

The proof is in the glass. Revana hits the mark.  With a dark ruby to purple color the wine is silky and elegant.  Elegance isn’t a descriptor I often associate with California Cabernet Sauvignon.  Yet, the wine is full-bodied and laced with cocoa and herbs. Its velvety texture offers a wonderful mouthfeel. Enormous complexity and concentration bundled in absolute harmony and balance.  No spit bucket required.  

What’s a bottle of Revana going to set you back?  The release price at the winery is $125.  OK, so this isn’t your Wednesday night pizza wine.  Value is always relative.  When compared to the upper echelon of other Napa cult wines, such as Harlan and Screaming Eagle, Revana offers outstanding quality without the supreme ego price tag.   My friend, Jeff,  feels that Ridge’s Monte Bello ($150 release range) and Revana are two of the best values in Napa. I agree.

I like to categorize my wine collection by having weeknight, once a week, once a month, once a year, and once in a lifetime wines. For me, Revana is a once a year wine.  To grow as a wine lover, it’s fun to stretch yourself by experiencing the exceptional occasionally or even frequently.  We all deserve it.

To acquire Revana, log on to and become an allocation member. 

During my visit I tasted another Heidi Barrett Napa Valley wine, Amuse Bouche, a Pomerol-style Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend.  This small production wine offers the cassis fruit with chocolate and a velvety mouthfeel.  Again, a wine of rich elegance.

If you are interested in visiting Revana on your next trip to Napa, please call ahead for an appointment.  There’s a reasonable $20 tasting fee.  I must ask a favor of you. The staff at Revana is courteous, friendly and knowledgeable, but small and busy.  They are not equipped to handle a horde of tourist like other Napa wineries.  Out of respect for their staff, I urge you to visit the winery only if you have serious intentions of buying their wine.  

By the way, the other wineries on Jeff's list were Frank Family, Hall and Alpha-Omega. Stay tuned for more on these. 


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Beyond Extra Virgin Conference Recap

Over the past decade, American consumers have embraced the advantages of fresh, local produce and ingredients.  The popularity of farmers markets and the growth of Whole Foods Market are vivid proof of this culinary transformation. Yet, consumers continue to use rancid, fraudulent and inferior olive oil with these tasty fresh ingredients.  Too often, the bottle is labeled Extra Virgin olive oil. 

Beyond Extra Virgin, an international olive oil conference, held in Davis and at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in California sought to address this issue and give legitimacy and meaning to the term, Extra Virgin.  Presented by the University of California-Davis Olive Oil Center, the CIA-Greystone and others, 300 industry professionals from growers to chefs gathered to discuss how to improve quality and educate consumers and the culinary world about the advantages and uses of Extra Virgin olive oil.

Dan Flynn, Executive Director of the UC-Davis Olive Oil Center, offered an accurate metaphor for explaining the current standards (actually there are none in the U.S.).  According to Flynn, "we are all too familiar with the school grading system: A,B,C, and the dreaded D and F.  With Extra Virgin olive oil, it is a pass-fail system." There are no A, B or C grades.  A turtle could jump over this bar.  Mediocrity reigns. To add to the saga, Flynn noted “an oil can even fail when it passes if adulterated oil has been added.”  It’s not uncommon for an Extra Virgin olive oil to contain another seed oil or refined olive oil.

To bypass legislation and pursue excellence, a major focus of the conference was a new vision offered by the charming and eloquent Claudio Peri, President of the Association TRE-E.  Through its membership, TRE-E is seeking to establish quality by seeking worldwide recognition of a Super Premium grade of Extra Virgin olive oil.  Members are subjected to rigid standards requiring direct control of the production process from tree to bottle, and even transportation and storage.  The reaction from Californians and international growers was mostly skeptical, but the concept has the support of the U.C Davis Olive Oil Center and the CIA-Greystone.  Regardless of the product, farmers are an independent species and are not often fond of regulations and control.  It’s worth learning more about this concept of Super Premium Extra Virgin olive oil. More information can be found at

An encouraging note came from CIA-Greystone’s efforts to educate chefs about the multiple uses of olive oil.  Every night on the Foodnetwork a well meaning, uninformed celebrity chef is telling the audience not to cook with Extra Virgin olive oil, mostly because of the smoke point.  A long stream of international chefs and researchers debunked that myth.  The two major advantages of olive oil over other oils are flavor and health benefits.  Extra Virgin olive oil is more than a monounsaturated fat.  The phenolic (antioxidants) compounds separate it from all other oils. 

The language of olive oil was on trial at the conference.  The importance of merchants and the rest of us to speak in layman’s terms about the style of the oil (mild, medium and robust) and the sensory language was emphasized frequently. Richard Gawel, a top researcher and expert in Australia, suggested using apple as way to describe an oil—green to yellow.  Most people can relate to a green or an over ripe yellow apple. The use of the term bitter in our sensory evaluation caused a bitter exchange among attendees.  Typically, Americans don’t like bitterness and pungency, which I can confirm from my own education efforts over the past ten years.  On the other hand, it was argued that the success of high quality chocolate has used the term bitter successfully.  As is usually the case on these issues, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  There’s no doubt a large segment the American consumers have a distaste for bitter.

There was considerable attention given to pairing styles of olive oil with food.  Here, I must take slight exception.  There is value in knowing not to use a newly harvested Tuscan olive oil on a filet of red snapper.  By talking too much, however, about pairing food and olive oil, runs the risk of complicating and confusing the newcomer to olive oil.  I’m reminded of an old adage in organizational behavior, which advises to only employ an intervention that the organization (or patient) is ready for.  I’m not convinced the American consumer is ready for food and olive oil pairings.  The KIS (keep it simple) principle is advisable.

In the final analysis, Beyond Extra Virgin was an outstanding conference and most definitely worth attending.  It was in one word—provocative!  I have been an event planner of conferences for many years and provocative is always the most desired objective.  Simply having a gathering of clapping seals does not ensure an excellent conference. 

Beyond Extra Virgin will be in Florence, Italy in 2010.  I can already taste the steak Florentine and the Brunello di Montalcino.