Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wine of the Week: Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay 2012-$19

A unique wine that lets the Napa Valley terroir "speak"

by Dwight Casimere

NAPA VALLEY, Ca.---When Robert Mondavi began in winery in Oakville more than 40 years ago, he forged a path grounded in the belief that, above all things, the wine he created should be "reflective of a sense of place." The French have a term for it, "Terroir." Like so many things French, it is an elusive concept, but, at its core meaning, it refers to the specific combination of climate, soil and overall growing conditions that give a wine its unique characteristics. Such a wine is Robert Mondavi 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, a magnificent example of Napa Valley terroir and an astonishing $19 a bottle.

  Robert Mondavi Winery Director of Winemaking  Genevieve Janssens has masterfully applied her skills as a winemaker to create the winery's latest edition of its Chardonnay in a fashion that allows the terroir of the Napa Valley to speak in resounding fashion.

Robert Mondavi 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay is only $19.00 a bottle, but the complexity and satisfaction level of its flavor and the extreme care that went into its creation, speaks to a wine many times the price.

This 100% Chardonnay is a perfect accompaniment to the type of easy-to-prepare, light  fare that speaks of spring and summer and endless opportunities for dining out-of-doors. Be it a sidewalk cafe in Chicago's Old Town or New York's SoHo, or a lavish suburban garden party or an infinite evening in the gazebo with fireflies buzzing around the heat lamp, Mondavi Napa Valley Chardonnay is a perfect table mate with its rich flavors of fresh peaches and burnt orange and a touch of toasted almond and hazelnut. 

The wine is authentic in its Napa Valley pedigree in every way; 95% of the grapes are sourced there, with 50% coming from the famed Carneros district, known for its ideal growing conditions of warm, flavor-ripening days, and cool nights and mornings. Mild  conditions, coupled with a long growing season with a lack of ill-timed rain, allowed the grapes to mature slowly and evenly, thus ensuring their well balanced flavors. According to Janssens, "the blend is dominated by fruit from the cooler region in the southern end of the valley, where bay fog and breezes allow the grapes to ripen at a gradual, flavor-building pace while retaining refreshing, natural acidity." In addition to the Carneros grapes and grapes from East Napa and Oak Knoll, a small amount of grapes from the famed Stag's Leap district to give the blend just the right touch of opulence. Partial malolactic fermentation and hand stirring of the yeast lees (batonnage) gives the wine added complexity. Partial fermentation in French oak followed by nine months of aging resulted in a seamless integration of oak and fruit flavors. The wine has a rich, creamy finish that goes perfectly with food. The wine could be enjoyed as an aperitif, but its such a rich and opulent blend, its almost a shame not to have it with a good meal. A dish of chicken legs or thighs simmered in a cup or two of the wine with shallots, tarragon and dijon mustard with a few cherry tomatoes thrown in for color is an easy, one dish, summertime meal that would make for a perfect pairing. Bon Appetit!

Andrew and Rishia Zimmern's Chicken With Shallots
adapted from The New York Times, March 23, 2014
(food photography by Nethia Heyward)

Cooking time 90 minutes
8 chicken thighs
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12-15 peeled medium shallots
2 cups white wine (in this case Robert Mondavi Napa Valley 2012 Chardonnay)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

Rinse chicken thighs in cold water, pat them dry and sprinkle them with flour, salt and pepper
Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet and set over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the chicken in batches, browning it until crisp on all sides, set aside.

Add shallots to the pot saute until they begin to soften and caramelize, about 10 minutes, add the wine to deglaze the pot, add the mustard and tarragon, stirring with a large spoon, then add the chicken thighs. Cover and turn the heat down simmering for 30 minutes.

Add the cherry tomatoes, stirring lightly to combine. Serve with some crusty bakery-fresh french bread, pour the rest of the Robert Mondavi 2012 Chardonnay and enjoy.

The Zimmern's Chicken with Shallots as prepared by Valerie Jo Bradley,
Harlem 144 Guest House

Monday, April 14, 2014

An "armchair" visit to enjoy Prosecco in the Valdobbiadene at Vinitaly

Prosecco Superiore grows in popularity and quality
Could soon rival Champagne in the global consumer market

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, Italy--Prosecco, specifically Prosecco Superiore from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene in the Veneto wine region of north-eastern Italy, not far from Venice, is one of the true treasures of the modern wine world. Like its kissing cousin, Champagne, it is a protected name, by law. Once used casually as the name of both the grape variety and the sparkling wine it produced, it is now defined by law under the designation DOCG, Denominazione di origine controllata  or"Controlled designation of origin", the very highest level of quality assurance under Italian law. The change in legal status also brought another revision,  the  name of the Prosecco grape was recast to its original, ancient name, Glera. Now, with its elevated designation, and a firm footing both in tradition and in the latest technologies of modern winemaking, Prosecco Superiore is now set to take a prominent place at the center of the world wine consuming stage. 

That fact was brought home with stunning clarity during a visit to the massive Conegliano Valdobbiadene pavilion, Carta Vini Vinitaly 2014 in Verona during Vinitaly 2014, the world's largest wine exhibition. The pavilion was a showcase for the more than 100 offerings by producers of 8 separate designations of Prosecco Superiore, including Brut Rive, Brut, Extra Dry Rive, Extra Dry, Dry Rive, Dry, Superiore Di Cartizze and the most captivating, Rifermentato in Bottiglia, sparkling wine which is re-fermented in the bottle, in much the same manner as Classic Champagne. The personalized tasting, which was guided by the  Director of the Consorzio, Giancarlo Vettorello and oenologist Filippo Taglietti, was a revelation.

Having tasted many of the Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut offerings previously during the recent US Vinitaly tour, I dove immediately into the more exotic offerings proffered;  Extra Dry Rive, Superiore Di Cartizze and Rifermentato in Bottiglia selections. Among them, were the names of producers that had now become familiar to me, Villa Sandi, Bartolomiol, Mionetto and Zardetto. Equally demanding of my attention were lesser known , but stellar wines from Colesel, Spagnol-Col del Sas and Val d'Oca. Most of them will be on the shelves of discriminating wine shops over the late spring and summer months, so be on the lookout. Surprisingly, the prices of these liquid gems are quite reasonable. Most, including the Rifermentato, hover in the $15-$25 range. Try getting even a lesser known champagne for anywhere near that value!  

Each style of Prosecco had its unique characteristic.  The Extra Dry Rive's, for example, were very terroir driven, with fine bubbles and a very dry finish. La Farra di Soligo Millesimato 2013 ($20), for example, had a powerful nose of lilac blossoms and potpourri with the taste of very concentrated fruit on the palate. Distinctive flavors of tart lemons and crisp green apples lingered long in the mouth followed by a fresh finish, tinged with just a bite of star fruit. 

Garbara Superiore di Cartizze Extra Dry ($35) is from the Grand Cru of the Valdobbiadene. Grapes are grown on the steep, chalky hillsides farmed by the Grotto family for more than 80 years. This is an elegant sparkling wine with a pale, straw color.  Ultra-fine, pristine bubbles and the lush flavors of ripe citrus fruit nd the smell of very small white flowers are the dominant notes. The structure is very lean with an ample amount of acid to pucker the cheeks in preparation for the long, dry, satisfying finish. Only 7,000 bottles of this sparkling beauty were made. It can be found in the most discriminating wine shops. Sherry Lehmann in New York comes to mind. They'll be happy to ship you a case or two, no extra charge. You can do it online. Stock up for that special party to celebrate the new garden furniture! 

I saved the best for last. Spagnol- Col del Sas Rifermentato in Bottiglia (re-fermented in the bottle) "Il Fondo" 2012 is an absolute steal at $28. This is Prosecco at its finest. With a gorgeous foaming mousse and a crisp,clean palate, this is the benchmark for all prosecco. The wine has so much body and flavor, its hard to believe that it contains a mere 11% alcohol. It makes for perfect springtime drinking as an aperitif or with delicate fish dishes. Do yourself a favor, don't serve this sparkler in the traditional champagne flute. It has so much character, its best enjoyed in a goblet that lets all of the aromas and flavors rush toward your nose and palate in a cascade of wine-drinking pleasure. The avalanche of flavors lingers long in the mouth, enhancing the sheer pleasure of drinking it. Made by the Spagnol family, winemaker Marco Spagnol would be the first to point out the food-friendly nature of this fine example of prosecco produced near Conegliano.

 Most of the prosecco wines I sampled are available in the US, although many are in limited supply. Still, there were a few that I was privileged to taste as a singular adventure, since their furthest reach will never be beyond the confines of the Vinitaly pavilion.   I will treasure them forever. Many thanks to my hosts, Director Vettorello and oenologist Taglietti for the delightful experience!

 Dwight The Wine Doctor with Consorzio Director Giancarlo Vettorello and oenologist Filippo Taglietti
 Oenologist Filippo Taglietti with examples of Superiore Di Cartizze
 Examples of Extra Dry Rive Prosecco Superiore
     Malibran Rifermentato in Bottiglia (re-fermented in the bottle) "Sottoriva"

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Many Faces of OperaWine 2014; Finest Italian Wines, 100 Great Producers

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, Italy---OperaWine 2014 is the premiere event of Vinitaly International, the world's largest wine exhibition held each year at the massive VeronaFiere exhibition center in central Verona. Each year, the city, best known as the setting for William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" becomes the epicenter of the enology and culinary worlds. Now in its 48th edition, Vinitaly is focused on greater internationalization. This year's event featured more than 4,000 exhibitors  and 155,000 visitors from 120 countries around the world. Organizers set a record for exhibition space sold, making it the beggiest edition of the event in history. In addition to a larger-than-ever complement of international exhibitors and visitors, Vinitaly 2014 featured a new area for business-to-business meetings which was set up to encourage international operators to build relationships and alliances. Vinitaly 2014 also debuted a special exhibition for producers of certified organic wines.

OperaWine 2014 featured 100 Great Producers as identified by Wine Spectator, the leading opinion maker for all things wine related. The stars of the Italian wine world walked the red carpet up the steps of the Palazzo Gran Guardia on the Piazza Bra, with its dramatic view of the historic Arena. If there were ever an Oscar Night for wine, OperaWine 2014 was it!
Mr. and Miss Vinitaly 2014, Andrea Amadel (l) and Alessandra Scarci (r)
The father/son team of Francesco and Santiago Cinzano of Col D'Orcia of Montalcino
Wine pr and marketing maven Constantine Press (l)
With Marilisa Allegrini (c) and her guests at OperaWine 2014
With Jose Rallo of Donnafugata winery of Sicily
Stevie Kim (r) Managing Director, Vinitaly International

Stefano Leone, Direttore Commerciale of  Marchesi Antinori of Chianti Classico
Donatella Ferrucci of Castello Di Ama
Tre Bicchieri award winner Federico Terenzi (l) of Terenzi Morellino di Scansano and his wife
Marchese Anselmo Guerrieri Gonzaga of Tenuta San Leonardo

With my winemaking "cousin" Casimero Maule and daughter Sara Maule of Nino Negri
Giorgio Pasanisi of Umani Ronchi
With Italian Food blogger and Sommelier Jenny Viant Gomez (l)

and with my good friend Jamie Stewart, Brand Ambassador to Ferrari of Treviso

Friday, April 11, 2014

OperaWine 2014: Finest Italian Wines 100 Great Producers

Third Edition of OperaWine previews 48th Vinitaly
Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, Italy--If there ever an "Oscar Night" for wine, then OperaWine 2014, the premiere event to Vinitaly 2014, the world's largest wine fair, is certainly it. Presenting 100 Finest Italian Wines as selected by Wine Spectator magazine, the evening brought out the brightest stars in the galaxy of Italian wines. 

Among the standouts, Allegrini Valpolicella Amarone della Classico 2004, Arnaldo Caprai 25 anni Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG 2009, Donnafugata Mille e Una Notte Contessa Entellina DOP 2008, and Damilano Cannubi Barolo DOCG 2010. The wine makers and the more than 500 guests turned out in their best evening wear to celebrate the best of Italian wine in the elegant surroundings of the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, overlooking the historic Piazza Bra and the ancient Arena that dominates this most elegant and romantic of Italian cities. 

At an earlier news conference,  Vinitaly International Managing Director Stevie Kim, Ettore Riello, President of VeronaFiere, site of Vinitaly 2014, and  Giovanni Mantovani, CEO and Director General of VeronaFiere, discussed the evolution of the OperaWine event over the past several years, including the association with Altagamma, the Italian luxury brands and lifestyle coalition, which was launched at the Opera Wine news conference two years ago, and last year's introduction of the Vinitaly Wine club, now completing its first year of operation.

This year, Managing Director Kim introduced Mr. and Miss Vinitaly 2014, Andrea Amadel and Alessandra Scarci. "There's will be the face and image of Vinitaly to the world as we seek to make inroads in the 18-34 young adult market. They will serve as ambassadors of Italian wine to youth within Italy and around the world. Their faces will rejuvenate the face of Italian wine."

Kim, along with Veronafiere General Director Giovanni Mantovani, accounced the launch of, the wine club of the daily Italian business paper Il Sole 24 Ore. The new collaboration with Il Gruppo 24 Ore will allow Italian consumers to expand their knowledge of Italian wine, accessing an inital offering of 250 wines from all 20 regions of Italy, starting with the 100 Finest Italian Wines presented at OperaWine 2014.

Stevie Kim concluded the news conference with a reminder of the importance of social media in the wine trade, highlighting Vinitaly's international social channels-Facebook, You Tube, Instagram and  the Chinese platform Welbio, and a re-vamped website that broadcast live-stream photos of Vinitaly.

Wine Spectator is the world's leading authority on wine, reaching more than 3 million readers worldwide. Wine Spectator is solely responsible for the choice of producers at the OperaWine event.

Vinitaly International also announced the appointment of Dr. Ian D’Agata as the scientific director of its new educational initiative Vinitaly International Academy (VIA). An innovative masterclass series that combines focused tastings with academic lectures on Italian grapes, VIA is designed to explain, divulge, and broadcast the characteristics of Italian wine, for all levels of wine knowledge from novice to expert, tailored to each international market.

Opera Wine is the premiere event to Vinitaly 2014. It is a precursor to the type of quality presentations that would mark the next four days. According to Ettore Riello, President of Veronafiere, the event has confirmed its leadership as the main landmark for the international wine business, with a 6% increase in visitors for a total of 155,000 people over the 4 days of the event. Business and the quality of that business also increased, with the number of foreign buyers up to 56,000, representing  36%  of the total.
Verona 2014 ended with a significant event. For the first time ever, an Italian Prime Minister visited Vintaly. Matteo Renzi traveled to Verona for the final day of the International Wine and Spirits Exhibition, which was held alongside the Sol and Agrifood Exhibition of Quality Agro-Foods and Enolitech, the Wine-Growing and Olive-Growing Technology Exhibition.  In his address to the body, Prime Minister Renzi launched an initiative with the objective of a 50% increase in wine exports from Italy to the world by 2020. He also announced an 18-point simplification plan in support of agriculture in general and agricultural enterprises and young people. The plan involves outreach to youth through the internet and social media. The Prime Minister promised "a major investment undertaking"in these areas of growth over the next several years. The 49th edition of Vinitaly is scheduled at Veronafiere March 22-25, 2015.  
OperaWine "cast members" in full Opera regalia
Dwight The Wine Doctor with Sabrina Tedescbi and her Monte Olmi wine at OperaWine 2014
Mother, daughter team of Federica Mascheroni Stianti and Giovanna Stianti of Castello di Volpaia of Chianti
Marco Caprai (l) winemaker at Arnoldo Caprai of Umbria, last year's European Winemaker of the Year
My good friend and fellow wine writer "Charlie" Artuola (r)

With Marilisa Allegrini of Allegrini Wines
Stevie Kim, Managing Director, Vinitaly International
Andrea Amadel and Alessandra Scarci, Mr. and Miss Vinitaly 2014

Below; Stevie Kim, Managing Director, Vinitaly International, Dwight The Wine Doctor, Thomas Matthews, Executive Editor, Wine Spectator, Giovanni Mantovani, CEO, Vinitaly International, Dr. Ian D'Agata, scientific director, Vinitaly International Academy                                       

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Berlucchi Brut: A Classic Italian sparkler from the founder of Franciacorta

by Dwight Casimere

VERONA, Italty--In 1957, an ambitious young winemaker, Franco Ziliani, was given a mission by wine estate owner Guido Berlucchi; develop a fine sparkling wine in the Metodo Classico style that would be worthy of the highest classification, according to local Italian wine law. The result was Berlucchi Franciacorta Brut and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since 2003, Franciacorta has been the only Italian wine not obliged to declare its DOCG appellation on the label, in the same manner that French Champagne is permitted to exclude a similar distinction from its label. The comparison doesn't stop there,  The sparkling wine, with its fine persistent bubbles and delightful fragrance, is as fine as any from France.

Berlucchi  Franciacorta Brut greets you with the aroma of fresh cut white flowers and the flavor of crisp Golden Delicious apples. Further notes of  ripe pear,  pineapple and star fruit, make it  the perfect apperitif. The lingering note of cinnamon spice on the tongue makes it possible to carry it on into the meal. Lightly poached salmon  or sauteed scallops drizzled with blood orange juice or couscous with grilled vegetables, Cobb Salad or pasta primavera as a light spring brunch, come to mind.

Franciacorta is a unique sparkling wine from Lombardy and most of the great sparkling wine in the region comes from the Berlucchi estate. 100% Franciacorta fruit spends 18 months fermenting before it is disgorged to reveal its full elegance. The light, fragrant nose, crisp, rich taste and appealing appearance and mouth feel make it the perfect guest at your first formal brunch table of the season!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tenute di Emera: Discovering the art and history of wine

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

GUAGNO, Puglia, Italy---Entering the winery Tenute di Emera one would appear to be entering a spac emore like Terra Museum or a private art museum than a winery. The outer courtyard is dominated by a huge outdoor sculpture complete with an inscription from Homer's The Illiad. The interior is filled with artifacts witnessing the founding of the region by Greece and its indelible imprint in the planting of the first wine grapes, which came to be known as Negroamaro, the wine varietal exclusive to Puglia.

The wine tasting room is dominated by a free-hand mural created by the artist Ercole Pignatelli.  Emera's winemaster, Claudio Quarta, has been recognized by Gambero Rosso, the Italian culinay institute and media conglomerate for his oontributions to the scientific advancement of viticulture.

The sculpture garden at Tenute di Emera

The winery's award-winning "Wall of Respect" reflecting its Gambero Rosso honor of 2013
Polish online wine journalist Marta Wrzesniewska in the aging cellar which is an integral part of the art gallery
Alessandra Quarta the Marketing and Exports Manager

The mural in the tasting room by the artist Ercole Pignatelli

Tenute di Emera began in 2003 when Claudio Quarta bought an estate near Pulsano, the homeland of the indigenous varietal Primitivo di Manduria.Utilizing the superb vineyards along the idyllic Salento Ionian coast, he began to make wines of distinction.Using the existing 16th century "masseria," or farmhouse, he created a unique winemaking facility that combined the latest in technology with the winery's architectural and farming history. On the cutting edge of viticulture, the winery is in the midst of an ambitious project to recoup ancient and extinct varieties of grapes, and to compare different vines. Currently, the winery and its vineyards are home to 500 grape varieties from around the world.
Scenes at Tenute di Emera

Alessandra Quarta with Dwight The Wine Doctor

The wines of Tehute di Emera:

Anima di Primitivo-$13
Manduria is the spiritual home of Primitivo, even if it is thought to have originated somewhere near Croatia and may, in fact, be the same grape varietal, or, at least the kissing cousin of California Zinfandl. Called "primitivo" because it is the first (prime) grape to ripen in the harvest cycle (as is Tempranillo), ths is the most widely planted grape in southeastern Italy. Puglia is located in "the heel of the boot", where Primitivo is its most planted grape. Here, this inky, tannic wine finds its expression in a medium bodied wine, Ruby-red in color, with the fragrance of crushed red roses, and flavors of Bing cherries, licorice and plums. Long nd intense on the palate, it can be served slightly chilled. Its right at home with barbecue and grilled meats and loves slow-cooked meats, hams and other cured meats.

Emera Rose Lizzano Negroamaro Rosato=$12

Negroamaro has been grown in this region for hundreds of years, but it was only in 1988 that the DOC, from which it comes, was created. This medium textured wine is created from hand-picked grapes that are allowed to macerate  on the skins while being gently pressed, thus giving the wine its bright, coral highlights. Floral notes, Meyer lemon, a hint of Mandarin or Clementine orange and a  mouthful of pleasant blueberry and cherry flavors make this a great wine, well-chilled, with fish. The long finish simply cries for fresh Salmon!

Salento Rosso Sud del Sud-$20

A blend of grapes grown in Salento, including the native grapes Negroamaro and Primitivo, combined with the international varieties of Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet, this is a big red wine with intense Ruby color and juicy red fruit flavors of black plums and currants. There's a hint of vanlla and cinnamon baking spice, but no wood was used in the aging of this wine. It's all wrapped in stainless steel from start to finish, so what you're tasting all comes from the fruit. A touch of sage and oregano gives the wine complexity and balance. Its best with aged cheeses and a really good piece of steak or herb encrusted lamb.