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Posts Filed Under elegant wines

The Other Side Of Oz (Beechworth’s Small Producers And The Heart Of Bareknuckled Australian Winemaking)

Vinted on May 24, 2012 binned in elegant wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Beechworth, a rural (even by Aussie wine region standards) area in eastern Victoria that sits just south of Rutherglen. The region was made famous by Giaconda, whose premium Chardonnays are in such high demand that they’re now offered en primeur.

But I’m not here to see Giaconda (okay, that mostly had to do with the fact that it was closed when I visited). I’m across the street, where Keppell Smith has set up shop for his Savaterre brand – and at seventeen years running, he’s just gotten around to building a modern winemaking facility. This is the other side of Oz, where handfuls of tiny producers are setting up garage-style winemaking efforts, using natural cork, and otherwise eschewing the penchants of ginormous Aussie wine conglomerates’ for squeaky-clean, screw-capped, and what many wine geeks often criticize as characterless wines.

Smith comments on what he’s trying to avoid, and his words, I come to learn later, more-or-less sum up the approach of producers throughout Beechworth: “Fuck me dead! There’s nothing worse than a ‘so what’ wine!

Ask Smith why he chose this spot to plant grapes, and his answer, similarly, will tell you everything; only this time, it’s everything about his approach to winemaking (and, I gathered, to life itself – Smith seems incapable of hiding his true feelings about anything… even by Aussie transparency standards).

“Because of this,” he says, picking up a handful of brownish, unforgiving, decomposed granite. “Because of this shitty, shitty, crappy, shitty soil!”…

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What’s In A Name, Anyway? (Recent Releases From Steven Mirassou’s Not-Quite-Family-Named Brands)

After six generations of pressing grapes in California, the Mirassou family has only one son left who owns a wine brand: Steven Mirassou.

But he can’t legally use his own name on his bottles, despite the fact that Mirassou’s have been making wine since the mid-1800s, probably longer than any other CA winemaking family. He cannot use the family name because Gallo picked up the Mirassou brand in 2003. David Mirassou now represents that brand for Gallo, but the San Jose winery where they once made their products is long gone.

The family-name-scooped-up-by-the-big-conglomerate story that seems to be rampant in the wine world (whether you’re a Mondavi in CA or a Taylor in NY) doesn’t seem to have slowed Steven Mirassou down much, though.

After setting up shop under the Steven Kent brand (which is as far as he can go legally in terms of sticking his name on the bottles) in Livermore, along with La Rochelle winemaker Tom Stutz he’s crafting some of the most stunning – and exciting – wines in all of California…

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In Pursuit Of (And Catching) Balance With Raj Parr’s Sandhi Wines in NYC

Vinted on May 3, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

With the In Pursuit Of Balance tasting (which recently hit NYC), co-creators Parr and Jasmine Hirsch (of Hirsch Vineyards) have brought together some of the most exciting – and highest quality – producers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in California (many of which hail from the West Sonoma Coast, where those wines are rapidly reaching world-class status).

For me, their invitation to attend the NYC event was a chance to catch-up with some of the wines and producers I’d first been introduced to last year at the inaugural West Of West festival in Occidental, catch-up with Raj, and maybe get introduced to some new wines.

I expected to find some really (really!) good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at the IPOB tasting recently at City Winery in NYC.

I just didn’t expect some of best of those wines to be Raj’s.

But there you have it – the wacky world of wine, in which a sommelier can team up with a California native (Sashi Moorman) and make better wines than some people who have been at it for decades longer. And I’m merely calling it as I see (er, taste) it – the juice is the juice, and in this case the juice is pretty damn good; in fact, it was some of the best offered in a room full of wines where sub-par offerings were hard to come by…

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Cleaning Barolo’s Clock? (Going Old School With Travaglini’s Recent – And Not So Recent–Gattinara Vintages)

Vinted on March 29, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road

Italy’s northwestern region of Piedmont gets a lot of attention in the wine media world. Or, I should say, its tiny subregions of Barolo and Barbaresco, the anointed spiritual homes of the Nebbiolo grape, get the lion’s share of the area’s wine media attention – the rest of the dozen or so winemaking appellations in northern Piedmont more or less get ignored by all but the geekiest among us.

Which is both a curse and a blessing: on the curse-this-damned-oppression side of things, it means that the other areas in Piedmont struggle to achieve recognition and market share; on the bless-me-I’m-rich-in-all-things side, wine lovers can grab elegant, food-friendly, and extremely long-lived Nebbiolo wines for prices that, while still expensive, can be a fraction of what the most celebrated Barolos and Barbarescos command. And I suspect things are likely to stay that way, given that these wines are such a “hand sell” at the moment – they need food, and in many cases a lot of time in bottle to round out. But in terms of value for money? They might just be poised to clean Barolo’s clock…

The trick is that you need to be down with Old School wine. And when I attended a Wine Media Guild of New York luncheon at Felidia in NYC to taste wines from one of those competing northern Piedmontese wine regions – Gattinara –  things were definitely old school. Ever met Ed McCarthy? He was our M.C., and he is totally awesome – but totally awesome in a totally old school way. And the wines of Gattinara, when done well, are similar to Ed – awesomely old school. As in earthy, a little funky, and making the most sense when put into proper context: in this case, after aging to let those massive Nebbiolo tannins and acid settle down and smooth out, and put into your mouth when eating good food…

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