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Elegant Wines | 1 Wine Dude - Page 11

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Churchill’s Vintage Port Recent (And Not So Recent) Releases

“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
– Johnny Graham

As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.

The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).

Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).

Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the  list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…

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Sex? Or Death? Oh, And Rare Monbazillac (Chateau Bonnet Recent Releases)

In high school, I had a math teacher who used to tease us when we were timid in class about providing an answer that should have been obvious. He would hold out his lanky arms in the fashion of scales, feigning the weighing of agonizing choices, while muttering, “Sex? Or… death? Sex… or death? I can’t decide!!”

So when I was in Bordeaux this past September (a media guest of Planet Bordeaux), and oenologist Vincent Cruège asked my group if we wanted to meet André Lurton, I had a flashback to those high school days. Now near 90, Lurton – apart from being a near-legend in Bordeaux winemaking – has been Mayor of Grézillac, a WWII soldier, a Military Cross recipient, member of the Legion of Honour, a Knight of the Agricultural Order of Merit, and a collector of… tanks (not steel tanks, though there are plenty of those on the property, but the kind of tanks that shoot explosive shell rounds).

“Sex? Or Death?”

Hell yeah, I wanted to meet Lurton. I’d want to meet him by virtue of the tank collection alone, actually.

And so it was that our tour of Chateau Bonnet, headed by Lurton’s daughter Denise Moulle (whose husband, Jean-Pierre, was head chef at Chez Panisse for more than twenty years, but as far as I’m aware didn’t cook for us during this visit… the audacity…!) was to conclude with a visit from the tank-collecting legend himself, who basically heard that we were a group of bloggers and wanted to meet the new blood in the wine biz. It would also conclude with the popping of the cork on one of Lurton’s rarer Monbazillacs – something I didn’t know when we toured the grounds on a chilly, wet Autumn mid-morning, but something else I certainly wouldn’t have turned down if it had been offered (talk about “Sex or Death?”)…

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Winemaking, Sashimi Style (Melville Estate Recent Releases)

Vinted on October 18, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

“We don’t make wine. We grow wine. We’re more like ‘sashimi style’ winemaking.”

On a cool morning that will later turn into a blustering day in the midst of a small August heat wave, Chad Melville seemed to be feeding me what ought to be a standard marketing line about winemaking. The kind that end in phrases like “optimal ripeness.”

Suuuure, you don’t make wine; it’s all about the special land upon which your grapes grow… the one that is kissed by col fog in the morning, and bathed in sunlight and warmth during the day. And he is the sales director for his family’s Lompoc, CA wine business, after all (businessman father Ron Melville founded Melville after getting bit by the wine bug in undergrad, and then setting up a grape growing operation in Knight’s Valley; brother Brent is the vineyard manager).

But there was a problem with Chad’s sales pitch about their by-hand fifteen thousand case production: it didn’t come off as a pitch. No references to optimal ripeness, no rococo-esque flourishes of over-endorsement or self-aggrandizement. Chad’s non-pitch was interjected with the firsthand knowledge of a guy who helped to establish and develop the vineyards and business that his family owns, and who previously assisted in winemaking at the estate (winemaker duties are now headed up by Greg Brewer).

In other words, I bought it, because my bullsh*t meter was barely registering a tick. And after I tasted through Chad’s family’s wines – which are high quality while also being almost fiercely unadorned – I’d say the BS meter had some hard evidence to back up its initial assessment…

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Out From Napa’s Shadow (High End Wines Shine At Taste Of Sonoma 2012)

Message to Sonoma: you’re no longer in your neighbor Napa Valley’s shadow.

You’re not the uncool kid at the dance, the next-to-last picked for the two-hand-touch football game during recess, or the slightly-less-talented and almost-as-comely sister when compared to Napa, at least not on the high-end of the vinous spectrum.

That bit of news flash will come as no surprise whatsoever to those producing and enjoying the best that Sonoma has to offer, many of whom I suspect will email me with encouraging (read: angry) words to let me know just how late I am to that party, but it might make those less familiar with Sonoma’s best wines reconsider their options when next given the opportunity to sample them. And reconsider they should, because Sonoma has probably never produced high-end wines quite as good as those that they’re making now.

That was the main takeaway for me when I attended the 2012 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend festivities as a media guest, a multi-event held across the Labor Day weekend and culminating in an Indian-themed (yeah, I didn’t get it, either) auction (their 20th) that raised over $1.6 million for Sonoma-area non-profits. Auction highlights for me included chatting about wines of character with real character viticulturalist Phil Coturri, talking with screenwriter-turned-proprietor Robert Kamen about penning The Professional (because that flik is just awesome), and drinking a bit too much of Joel Peterson’s gorgeously spicy 1997 Ravenswood Belloni Vineyard Zinfandel blend (spookily, Joel had near-perfect-detail recollection of our first meeting back in 2008…).

But I found my highest highlight (if you will) before the auction event, at the “Club Reserve” area of the 33rd annual Taste of Sonoma event (held at MacMurray Ranch)… because that’s where I got properly schooled in real high-end Sonoma juice…

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