Friday, August 15, 2014

A South African winemaker reinterprets a French classic

 Mulderbosch Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc-$33
 Dwight Casimere with Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason
 The Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Series
 The winetasting seminar at New York's Cork Buzz in the Village

Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason

"People generally don't know that there's a lot of Chenin Blanc in South Africa," said Mulderbosch winemaker Adam Mason, while preparing to introduce the latest vintage of his Single Vineyard Series of Chenin Blanc in the U.S. "Most people associate it with the Loire Valley in France, but there are bush vines in South Africa that have a history behind them. With regards to Chenin Blanc, South Africa has a real story to tell."

Mulderbosch Vineyards first captured the palates of ardent wine loves with its award-winning Suavignon Blanc and Rose' wines.  Their racy lean structure and fruit-forward taste quickly established Mulderbosch and South Africa in general as a source for world-class wines. The new Chenin Blancs are no less distinguished.

With regards to Mason's comments on the French origins of the varietal, he speaks with some authority. Mason first came into winemaking after a harvesting experience in France. He then graduated from Stellenbosch University with a degree in Oenology and Viticulture.  He returned to France to the Languedoc to become the "Flying Winemaker" alongside the legendary wine entrepreneur and negotiant,  Tony Laithwaite. He subsequently returned to France for four more vintages as a contract winemaker for Laithwaite's wines across the South of France and the Bordeaux region. 

After cutting his winemaking teeth in France, he returned to South Africa and the Cape where he spent two years as general manager and winemaker for another negotiant and winemaking business,  International Wine Services South Africa. His big break came when he was appointed winemaker at Klein Constantia, where he produced the highly rated dessert wine Vin de Constance. While at Klein Constantia, he also worked with Andy Erickson at Screaming Eagle, one of the landmark labels in winemaking, before the seed was planted for his eventual move to Mulderbosch Vineyards. He created his first vintage as the official winemaker at Mulderbosch in 2012 and the rest, as they say, is winemaking history. 

The wines he created in his first vintage year there have won him accolades from both members of the wine press  and the wine drinking public and the single vineyard wines of the 2013 release are no less well received. The 2013 vineyard Block A,  S2 and Block W  have each received a 94 point rating from Master of Wine Tim Atkin.  As Mason has been bicycling them through guided tastings with wine critics, the wines have been receiving similar distinction.

"These are wines with an unctuous succulence," Mason explained. "They have powerful structure. What they really are is a showcase for each single vineyard from which they are derived and exemplify  our commitment to represent them as authentically as possible. Our goal is to make high quality, desirable wines with a distinctive character."

"The combination of sandy soil, slate and clay has a profound impact on the grapes. That combined with the closeness to False Bay, has a major impact on regulating vineyard temperatures. The result is a wine rich in aromatics and flavor."

The wind-swept environment and moderate temperatures have also contributed to the overall health of the vines themselves. "We have vineyards with hundred year old vines. They've been able to thrive so long because of the combination of  high winds and the moderating inflluence of the maritime climate. This  means that there's no disease. It's a double-edged sword, however, because the maritime breezes keep temperatures down, which ultimately affects the ability of the grapes to ripen. Fortunately, we have in the Cape an abundance of sun."

The three wines Mason is presenting are all 2013 vintage and cost $33 a bottle;  Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc-Block A from the Eikenhof farm in the Bottelary Hills above False Bay is the first. The wine radiates with flavors of tropical fruit-mango, pineapple and Meyer lemon. "The grapes are grown in light, sandy soil. This makes for a delicate fresh and citrusy wine. The soil is a composite of clay and granite that gives the wine an acidic backbone and structure that produces a really clean sensation in the mouth. Many people who taste this wine blindly are surprised to learn that it's not French," Mason said with pride. 

Vineyard Block S2 Stellenbosch Chenin Blanc is characterized by soils derived from the ancient Malmesbury Shale. "Shale soil really gives the grapes a different flavor concentration. The grape gets a lot of mineral contact because the minerals move more freely through the soil structure. The wine is laced with an exotic perfume and hint of subtle spice."

 Block S2 is redolent with flavors of dried apricots, fresh vanilla and hints of cinnamon baking spice. "All of that spice and aroma is imparted from the ancient decomposed Malmesbury shale soil on the Sonop farm in the Botterlary Hills.  You'd be amazed at how granite crumbles when its decomposing to reveal its base components for this amazingly rich soil."

Mulderbosch Vineyard Block W is the ripest of the three wines and the real star of the show in my opinion. Made from grapes grown in the wind swept vineyards overlooking False Bay, it is the epitome of what a well-balanced Chenin Blanc is all about. There's enough acid there to give it real muscle and structure and a bold texture, yet the wine is further enhanced by flavors of a freshly baked Italian holiday cake called panacotta, or the rich custard base of that ubiquitous Italian dessert,  tiramisu. There are hints of wildflowers on the nose that make you imagine that you are actually standing in one of Stellanbach's windblown vineyards. 

Mulderbosch Single Vineyard Series Chenin Blanc is a once-in-a-lifetime flavor experience. The fact that there is so little available makes that statement more fact than hyperbole. "There are only a hundred cases of each of the wines that were produced-making for 300 cases in all. They're only available in a three-pack, consisting of each of the single-vineyard wines, Mason stressed. 

"These wines are not only unique because of their flavor character. They are aged in French oak barrels on the lees, then racked and lightly filtered. The wines have firm body and structure and are capable of maturing in the cellar for 10 years from the date of vintage." Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc is a truly special wine. It's a pity that I'm not the recipient of a sudden inheritance that would allow me to buy the whole lot of it!
 The beautiful estate of Mulderbosch Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Enotourism in Italy: A great way to end summer with a bang!

The city of Treviso, described as "the Little Venice"

The Gorgazzo Spring near Treviso

Story and photo essay by Dwight Casimere

TREVISO, Italy--Known as "the little Venice," Treviso is famous for its Renaissance and Medieval architecture and the rivers running through the city that caress them. The source of the main tributary is the Gorgazzo Spring, a natural cavity at the mouth of the river. Created by the erosion of water through a fault which runs through it, it is evidenced by a small lake seen on the surface. It is one of the focal points of eontourism in Italy, one of that country's fastest growing industries. Tourists combine visits to wineries with winetasting and the sampling of local cuisine prepared by award-winning chefs and side trips to ecological wonders, such as the Gorgazzo Spring. The grape harvest will also begin in earnest the latter part of August and through the month of September and early October. The weather is perfect, the atmosphere is filled with the rapture of winemaking and the vistas are ablaze with fall colors. There could not be a more excellent time to visit.

An inspiration for famous painters for centuries, the Gorgazzo Spring is a sight to behold. The famous Italian geographer, Giovanni Marinelli (1846-1900) penned these poetic words in describing it:

"Take the emerald color, the turquoise and the beryl ones, put them into a sea of lapis-lazuli, so that everything mixes and at the same time, each of them keeps its own originality, and you have that one piece of liquid sky that is called Gorgazzo."

In geographic terms, the spring was created when water erosion and tectonic discontinuity created the hollow of the springs. The surface pond was created from the collapse of a vault under the thrust of water. Not far beneath the surface is a cave, which has attracterd numerous divers to traverse its narrow and curvy tunnel. Divers have yet to reach the end. Unfortunately, a few of these underwater explorations proved to be fatal, and the cave has been closed to diving since 1999. But, each year, divers gather at Christmas at a lighted statue of the Christ, erected as a guardian at the mouth of the cave, for a beautiful underwater mass. Despite vast research and  numerous theories, the exact source of the Gorgazzo Spring remains a mystery.

The Gorgazzo Spring is also a destination for lovers. There is no more romantic experience in all of Italy than to have your feet washed by your loved one in the Springs of Gorgazzo!

Other highlights include a visit to the Maglio of Francenigo, the blacksmith mill near the town of Galarine, a seminal location of the local culture. The mill speaks to the agricultural origins and the rich history and traditions of the town. Farmers came to the mill to repair their tools.  A blacksmith still works daily at the mill, recreating the pichforks, plows, hoes, shovels and other farm implements. The blacksmith working at the mill is not a theme-park actor. He's a real blacksmith who has worked at the mill  since he was 14 years old. He is 75 years old and as dedicated to his work today as he was as a fresh-faced teen. This is followed by a delightful lunch and wine tasting at San Simone di Brisotto Srl in Procia in the province of Pordene. The buffet, prepared by a local award-winning chef featured a Frittate (Italian omelet) filled with local crustaceans; baby fresh-water shrimp and tiny soft-shelled crabs which the chef only moments before had scooped with a net from a lake within one of the vineyards. Served with San Simone Il Concerto Prosecco DOC Brut, it was an exquisite repast.

A leisurely boat trip to Livenza tops off the afternoon, before a visit to Portobuffole', a comune (municipality) in the province of Treviso in the Veneto, about 30 miles northeast of Venice. The sights include the Duomo (Cathedral) which was originally a Jewish synagogue, which was reconsecrated in 1559. During the Middle Ages, the town, which was of Roman origins, was under the rule of the patriarchs of Aquileia, bishops of Ceneda, the comune of Treviso (1166) and then again under the bishops of Ceneda in 1242. After a period of rule under de Camino (1307-1336), it became a part of the  Republic of Venice, beginning in 1339.

Wine tasting and dinner at Cantina Paladin followed, Learn more about their exquisite wines and Prosecco DOC at

The magical city of Venice is the final stop and the scene of an informal celebration of my birthday after a walking tour that included a stop at the famous Bridge of Sighs and a night at a boutique hotel on the Grand Canal.  Our tour group indulged me with an impromptu birthday celebration and toast at the Oster Mauro Lorenzon, so named for the locally famous owner, who is a Sommelier and chef and madcap prankster. He is known for such antics as popping a champagne cork using a light sabre. Somewhat of an artist himself, Sommelier Lorenzon is also a winemaker with his own label. His animated face and demeaner has invited many caricatures and the walls of the restaurant are lined with renderings of his distinctive visage, which were drawn by artists from far and wide who come to visit his unique restaurant. The atmosphere is casual, the wine and food are "squisito" (delicious).  Many of Mauro's culinary creations, such as his signature Risotto made with his own label of Dorona wine, are prepared by him in a chafing dish right at the wine bar. It makes for an exciting, and sometimes comical, display of culinary wizardry! Morning capuccino on the deck overlooking the Grand Canal was the finale on a sun-drenched morning in the world's most romantic city.

Scenes in and around the Gorgazzo Spring

A stroll on the river banks creates time for contemplation
A boat trip to Livenza

      At the commune of Portobuffole in the Province of Treviso
      Below: Inside the cathedral which was once a synagogue        

The blacksmith mill of Francenigo near Galarine

The Mayor of Galarine (left) and local town officials greet our party of visiting wine journalists
blacksmiths forge the blade of a farm tool
Ancient farm tools made at the mill
Glera grapes in the vineyards at San Simone
An afternoon winetasting and buffet lunch at San Simone winery

Fresh apricots grown among the vines will later wind up on our buffet table

Dwight Casimere with Anna Brisotto, Global Sales Director at San Simone di Brisotto Srl
Flowers are planted strategically at the ends of vineyard rows to give indications of problems that could affect the grapes
The stainless stell fermentation tanks at San Simone
The aging cellars at San Simone

The wines of San Simone

San Simone Prosecco DOC kicks off a sumptuous feast
An award-winning chef prepares Fritatte (a vista)  con Schiette

Baby fresh water shrimp and soft shell crab plummed from a local lake provide the filling for the frittata
Risotto mantecato (creamy) made with San Simone Prosecco
Approaching Venice Harbor by water taxi    
Celebrating my birthday with our delightful tour guide, Gabriella Venezia at Oste Mauro Lorenzon in the heart of Venice

The Grand Canal at dusk
The revelry went into the night with Sommelier and chef/owner Mauro Lorenzon preparing his signature Risotto at the bar
One of the many caricatures of Mauro Lorenzon done by local artists, which line the walls of the restaurant. Lorenzon is a local celebrity, famous for his madcap antics, such as removing the cork of a champagne bottle with a light sabre
Sommelier Mauro Lorenzon pours wine of his own creation, made from the rare Dorona grape, found only on the island of Sant Erasmo
Mauro Lorenzon pours a bottle from his own wine label at the restaurant which bears his name

With Stefano Zanette, President of Consorzio di Tutela della DOC Prosecco
A birthday toast presided over by Sommelier Mauro Lorenzon

Nightime revelry at the nearby restaurants and wine bars near Piazza San Marco

The party's over-a parting shot with a cup of capuccino near the Piazza San Marco

Story and photo gallery by Dwght Casimere

TREVISO, Italy---The kids are at computer camp, so Disney is out this year. You've already done the all-inclusive resort and the mega-cruise thing. How about combining your love of wine with taking in the beauty of nature and the rich culture and history of Italy through the relatively new avenue of tourism called Enotourism.

Wine tourism is the latest frontier in the travel industry. In Italy alone, the figure stands at approximately five million travelers, generating two and a half billion euros in revenue.  The impact is extraordinary, both on the wine industry and on the travel industry in general. 

No place lends itself to Enotourism more than the Veneto and  Valdobbiadene  Conegliano regions of northeastern Italy, the home of Prosecco, Italy's premiere sparkling wine. Take a drive along the famed "Prosecco Road."  The rolling hills and lush valleys you'll pass are not only home to some of the most luscious grapes for winemaking, but they are steeped in natural beauty and history, the perfect combination for a delightful end-of-summer retreat. Along the way, natural wonders await. The mouth of an ancient river is one of the region's anomolies. Pause for a visit to a local blacksmith, the single remaining remnant of the area's agricultural past. Stop for an elaborate brunch in the vineyards at a local winery, then take a trip down a lazy river in the heart of Italian wine country. Followed by a day or two side trip to Venice, one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, this makes for the perfect getaway.
Treviso, the "Little Venice" with its rivers and bridges running throughout the town

Dwight Casimere on the bridge at central Treviso
Below: A chef prepares frittata at a winetasting buffet lunch at San Simone winery
Local ham is the centerpiece for a sumptuous meal
The vineyards at San Simone

Anna Brisotto, Global Sales Director at San Simone
Below: buffet lunch and winetasting at Paladin winery

The World War I memorial at Motta di Livenza

Inside the secret tunnels at Villa Sandi where Allied Troops sneaked to the front lines in World War I. The tunnels are now the underground wine cellars of Villa Sandi
Vintage World War I motorcycles left behind by the Allied Troops of World War I
Inside the magnificent Palladian estate and private gardens of Villa Sandi

With Giancarlo Moretti Polegato-owner of Villa Sandi
A private tasting of Prosecco DOC with Villa Sandi winemaker Stefano Gava

Lunch at Locanda Sandi, which is owned by the winery, specializing in local cuisine

Mushroom risotto at Locanda Sandi
Locanda Sandi is situated just at the edge of Villa Sandi's vast vineyard properties. It has several comfortable rooms for enotourists who visit the winery

The water taxi to Venice for the final leg of the press tour

The famous Piazza San Marco in Venice
At the famed Bridge of Sighs, so named by the great English poet Lord Byron
Gondolas pass under the Bridge of Sighs, so named because it connects the Doge's Palace to the old prison, giving prisoners a final view of the beautiful canal before their confinement
Legend has it that lovers will be granted everlasting love and eternal bliss if they kiss on a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset

Venice was the first to begin the tradition of Carnival during the Renaissance era, which ends with the Celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. The festival is famed for its masks and elaborate costumes. The festival was banned in 1797 when Venice was under the rule of the King of Austria, but was revived in 1979 by the Italian government to bring back the history and culture of Venice and revive tourism. Each year three million visitors come to Venice to celebrate Carnival. Artists compete for "la maschera piu bella" (the most beautiful mask), judged by an panel of international costume and fashion designers.