Saturday, September 24, 2011

KOBRAND Tour d'Italia:a dazzling display of wine ushers in many colors of Fall

KOBRAND Tour d’Italia 2011: a dazzling spectacle of wine from Italy’s most important growing regions

Part One: The wines of Michele Chiarlo of Piedmont

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

  1. Alberto Chiarlo with Dwight The Wine Doctor
  2. The wine caves at Michele Chiarlo of Piedmont
  3. Caveau del Barolo at Michele Chiarlo
  4. Giovanna Moretti of Tenuta Sette Ponti
  5. Roberto Pighin of Fernando Pighin & Figli of the Friuli Grave DOC

New York—A dazzling sun-drenched sky hovered over Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bowery Hotel as Kobrand Tour d’Italia 2011 unveiled a host of outstanding new Italian wines and their proud winemakers. The third stop in a national tour, it would unfold as a seminal event of the season as summer blaze melded into fall’s haze.

Alberto Chiarlo sat in the comfortable outdoor garden of the Bowery Hotel and spoke of the wines of Michele Chiarlo, the seven-generation winegrower from Piedmont.

“Terroir is the key word when describing our wines,” Chiarlo said while opening a bottle of his golden colored Michele Chiarlo Gavi Le Marne DOCG ($18.99). Made from 100% Cortese grapes, the wine, fermented in stainless steel tanks, is an excellent alternative to far pricier white Burgundies, with its pronounced citrus flavors and mineral aroma. “We try to plant our distinctive grapes in areas where they will grow the best. In that way, we can assure that the wine we produce is the best quality possible. Only with our unique terroir can our wines grow in the best possible way.

“This wine we are having has a beautiful flavor of lemon and sage and has a very crisp, clean taste that goes very well with fish, it will be perfect with sushi!

“Second, is Barbera (Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme DOCG-$14.99), our ‘bread and butter’ wine. This is a great wine with food. It’s elegant with fresh, crisp fruit and a very elegant and refined structure. This is a wine that is easy to drink and goes with a wide range of foods.

“The next wine that is very important in our portfolio is the Barbaresco (Michele Chiarlo Reyna Barbaresco DOCG-$39.99). This is a big, spicy wine with a lot of bold flavors of ripe cherries, spice and chocolate. This is a big wine with lots of earth notes and broad fruit flavors. It has big, round tannins and gives a long finish. This is a wine that goes well with aged beef, leg of lamb

or strong cheeses.”

Michele says one of the terrific things about his wines, is their versatility and accessibility. “We have an exceptional wine to match every pocketbook. You can go from our Barbera( Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme DOCG-$14.99) and go to our Barbeera d’Asti ($51.99), all the way up to our Barolo Cannubi or Cerequio (each $102.99). Each wine is unique and provides a flavor experience that is unmatched for its price.”

Tasting the wines against an array of salumi and cheeses provided by the Bowery Hotel catering staff, Chiarlo’s point was well wrought. The Barolo was delicious with the peppery, homemade salumi. Prosciutto and aged Parmesan were the perfect accompaniments for the Barbaresco. I found myself lingering over a handful of figs and dried fruits with the Gavi Le Marne.

Michele advised that I save the tasting of the Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG ($14.99) for last. This luscious dessert wine made from 100% Moscato grapes is a delicate, classic representation of this traditional post-prandial favorite. Named after the famous mist of Piedmont, its name literally means “cloud” in the local dialect. Indeed, unlike many Moscato’s you may be familiar with, it practically disappears on the tongue, leaving only a whisper of sweetness and a faint memory of delicate sweet fruit on the palate. Hence the ‘cloud’ reference. The wine would be great with fruit that had been marinated in the wine and served with a light, lemon cake or, served solitary in a thimble-sized crystal glass. Exquisite!

Next: Part II: The wines of Tenuta Sette Ponti of Tuscany with Giovanna Moretti

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Illinois wines usher in fall colors with a dazzling array of flavors

Dwight The Wine Doctor

Illinois wines usher in fall colors with dazzling flavors

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. The beautiful Galena Valley in historic Galena Territory, Illinois

2. Ulysses S. Grant’s Home, a National Historic site in Galena, Illinois

3. The rolling vineyards of Galena Cellars

4. Galena Cellars Tasting Room and patio overlooking the vineyards and Galena Valley

5-7 Historic Old Galena

8. The view from the forest floor in the Galena Territory

Galena, Illinois—In just a few weeks, the lush green rolling hills of Western Illinois will take on a crimson and gold hue as summer melds into fall. The smell of freshly rolled hay and the aroma of goldenrod and other wildflowers wafts through the air as a lone bald eagle lolls over the sun-drenched valley below. Its nearing harvest time in the Galena Territory; a great time to taste the new vintages of wines that of late, have been putting Illinois wine on the aficionado’s tasting map.

On a recent edition of the Today Show’s fourth hour, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb conducted a tasting of wines made in America with Master Sommelier Alpana Singh of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants and host of Chicago Public Television’s Check Please! Alpana has been championing Illinois wines over the past year. Kotb and Gifford picked Blue Sky Winery’s Vignole and Prairie State’s Cabernet Franc as their favorite white and red wines, respectively. Their selections gave a big boost to the reputation of Illinois wines and confirmed the premise that Singh has been touting, that there are some really outstanding finds among wines produced in Illinois.

A visit to Galena Cellars’ tasting room in historic downtown Galena, known as the post Civil War home of President Ulysses S. Grant and to the winery nestled in the nearby Galena Valley, attested to the superior quality of wines produced in Illinois.

Galena Cellars has been making wine since 1983, after Robert and Joyce Lawlor founded two smaller ventures in McGregor, near their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The established a second winery in an old Milwaukee freight depot in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, before establishing the current winery in 1983 in Galena.

Their daughter, Christine Lawlor-White, took up her parent’s passion and accepted the challenge to become winemaker. In 1975, she became the first woman to receive a degree in enology and viticulture from Fresno State University. Currently, she and her family have a production of more than 40 wine varieties with 60,000 gallons of wine produced annually. Pretty impressive for what started as a small family operation, fostered by a wine making class, taken in the early ‘70s, and an initial output of only 500 gallons of wine!

Christine was tied up, supervising a wedding being held at the winery on the day of my visit, but her able tasting room manager, Rob, guided me through a tasting of about a dozen wines that ranged from semi-sweet & fruit wines, through dessert and specialty wines, on up to semi-dry and dry red and white wines, worthy of gracing any dinner table.

Among the specialty wines the Late Harvest Riesling ($20.50) stood out as a delectable example of his prized wine, which was similar in style to the Icewines I’d recently had in Toronto, near Niagara Falls. Reminiscent of a German Auslese, it had an intense flavor of melons and peaches with a honey finish that makes it perfect with marinated fruit and cheese. For a real taste twist, try it with some Blue Cheese. You’ll be surprised at the flavor rush!

Another favorite was the General’s Reserve Red ($12.99), a big, classic Burgundy-styled wine made from French hybrid grapes. The Illinois Chambourcin ($19.99) was another full-bodied beauty with lots of black cherry and plum on the nose and a touch of American oak on the finish. This is a great barbeque wine and one that I happily paired with a grilled, local grass-fed Black Angus strip steak. You see plenty of prime Black Angus cattle as you roll through the lush farmland near the winery.

Among the whites, the Sauvignon Blanc ($13.50), which I’m drinking as I write this article, is exceptional! It’s loaded with lush honeydew, pineapple and citrus flavor with a light French oak finish for added complexity. This is a light, crisp wine that’s perfect with late summer salads or an all-vegetable dish made with the bounty of colorful squash, corn and heirloom tomatoes available at your local farmer’s market. I ordered a case of this one.

The only way to get Galena Cellars wines is by purchasing it at the winery or on the Internet. A lot of wineries are going the direct-to-consumer route and are having a great deal of success. The prices are lower for some really quality wines because they cut out the ‘middle man.’ Wines can be shipped throughout Illinois and to California, Colorado, Washington, D.C., Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. For more information, visit

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Napa Wine Train:Sunset in California's "Bordeaux"


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The Napa Valley train prepares for its sunset journey

The well-appointed interior of the Vista Dome, Gourmet Express Dining Car and Lounge

Chef Kelly Macdonald in makes a BĂ©arnaise sauce

Dwight The Wine Doctor with Jim Meadlock-sole proprietor Cain Vineyards

The Grand Barrel Tasting at Premiere Napa Weekend

Patricia Harbison-Vintner, Harbison Winery

Action at the Premiere Weekend Auction is hot and heavy with millions raised for charity

Ichizo Nakagawa, the high-bidder paid $125,000 for five cases of 2009 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon at Premiere Napa Weekend, setting a record for a single auction lot. Record proceeds help fund the local trade association’s efforts to promote and protect the Napa Valley appellation

Dwight The Wine Doctor with Dennis Cakebread, Sales Director, Cakebread Cellars

Napa, CA—Sunset is a major event in the languid sundial that governs the Napa Valley. Goldenrod and crimson shards of light fleck their way across the rolling hills as the Napa Wine Train reels past the elaborate signs and stone walls that proclaim the names of some of the most coveted wines among connoisseurs. Cakebread, Mondavi, Louis Martini all reel past and into the middle distance like the credits rolling in a movie. This is just the beginning of the dinner hour and a leisurely journey through the beautiful Napa Valley wine country in the meticulously restored vintage rail cars of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

Dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train is a trip back into the glorious past of rail travel, when the scions of industry and the gold barons of the California Gold Rush dined in private rail cars. Like those railcars of old, each of the dining cars on the Wine Train, either the Vista Dome or the Gourmet Express, is equipped with its own kitchen and a unique menu that spotlights the local cuisine and fresh ingredients of the Napa Valley. Departing at sunset, one experiences the romance and adventure of an antique train traveling through the mysterious Napa Valley night.

My journey on the Napa Valley Wine Train was the capstone to a spectacular weekend of wine tasting with the owners and vintners of the valley’s premiere boutique wineries. Napa Premiere Weekend was center pieced by a grand Barrel Tasting and Auction of rare lots of wine, especially created for that single event. The funds generated from the auction were donated to programs sponsored by the local vintners association to further education and public awareness of the winemaking industry.

After rubbing shoulders and tasting the exclusive, one-of-a-kind wines of the valley’s most storied winemakers, this was a chance to ease into a plush leather booth in the expertly refurbished 1915 Pullman Car lounge and savor the sight of the rolling hills and vineyards at sunset and sip some great wine along with Chef Kelly Macdonald’s superb cuisine.

The menu features environmentally responsible ingredients, including humanely raised, hormone-free meats and fresh, line-caught fish.

Schramsberg Champagne is the beverage of choice in the lounge cars as you gaze out of the picture window at the unobstructed view of the valley. Honduran mahogany paneling, etched glass partitions, brass accents and original artwork by Nepo bathe the eye in serene delight. A visit to the kitchen car shows the chefs in action, preparing sauces from scratch. It’s a marvel to watch the intricate preparations they are able to accomplish in such a limited space! Relaxing in the wine bar, a sommelier/waiter is ready to assist with the wine choices for the evening meal. Cakebread was mine, since I had just spent part of the afternoon with Dennis Cakebread, Sales Director for the pioneering Napa Valley vintner, who gave up a lucrative trucking business to take a gamble on an abandoned farm to build one of the most celebrated wineries in the Napa Valley. Cakebread Cabernet is one of the treasures of the winemaker’s art. It was just the thing to have with the local grass fed Grilled and Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Potato SautĂ© topped with Roasted Mozzarella Artichoke Heart. The Baby Lettuce Salad with Candied Walnuts and Smoked Goat Cheese in Honey Cider Vinaigrette and the Intermezzo of Harlequin Sorbet, a delicate trio of the train’s own Sorbets left little room for dessert, but I forged ahead anyway, with a ‘death-by-chocolate’ creation infused with zinfandel and fresh local berries and more ‘train-made’ sorbet. I downed a final sip of Cappuccino as the train pulled into the downtown Napa train station under a full moon that bathed the valley in its luminous glow.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic

Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic pairs best wines of the world with top local chefs, gourmet foods

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass—Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic, now in its seventh year, filled the Grand Tasting tent to overflowing with wines from 80 vintners from around the world who brought their best vintages to pair with the Boston and New York region’s top celebrity chefs and locally sourced gourmet foods that would rival anything found in France or Italy.

The Hudson Valley Foie Gras served up by the chefs at Bistro Zinc’s table was the litmus test. Served simply with a sprinkle of Grey Sea Salt or a dollop of locally made fresh pinot grape preserves, the pristine nuggets of goose liver glistened with a diamond-like luster. I had tasted Hudson Valley Foie Gras before, but never like this. The creamy, mouth-watering delicacy literally melted in my mouth, leaving behind just a whisper of its fresh game flavor. I walked quickly to a nearby table to grab a glass of Cabernet to wash it down with, when I made another delightful discovery, the wines of Kathryn and Craig Hall of Napa Valley. The wines are literally a work of art. I’d not had their wines in years and, each time I had visited Napa Valley, failed to squeeze a visit into my tight tasting schedule. What a coincidence to run into their wines at Tanglewood and have an opportunity to taste them with such exquisite fare!

Hall Wines is a 21st Century winery that employs organic, small vine viticulture. Its six Estate vineyards stretch from the ancient river beds on the Napa Valley floor to the sun-drenched foothills, producing classic Bordeaux varietals; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Kathryn Hall 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($74) was rated #20 of the Wine Spectator’s top 100 wines of 2009. The 2006 vintage ($95) was equally praised and the newest release ($34.99) is already showing promise. The wine has a silky finish that makes it compatible with most food choices. You don’t have to reserve it for Foie Gras. It goes perfectly with a well-marbled steak or a nicely marinated slab of Berkshire Heritage Pig baby back ribs.

Hall 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($21.99) is one of the most focused reflections of the varietal that I’ve encountered. Its lovely grapefruit and citrus flavors are well balanced with just the right amount of acidity to give it finesse and a polished minerality that makes it a foodies’ choice. Soft, ripe fruit gives it a pleasing and refreshing taste that cleans the palate between bites of fresh salmon or lightly curried shrimp. The smell of tree blossoms and hints of mineral notes on the finish makes this a wine to linger with on the patio long after the brunch plates are cleared away.

Wandering back over to the Bistro Zinc table, and then to the Kerrygold Cheese stand for a taste of their latest spreadable lite Blue Cheese from Ireland, I was convinced that I’d found culinary nirvana. The array of locally produced cheeses and salumi was also dazzling, particularly the selection from Fortuna’s Sausage Co. and the fresh semi-soft cheeses from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. The summer diet quickly went out the window. It’s time to start fattening up for the onslaught of winter’s cold anyway!