Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Caruso and Minini Marsala: Pioneers of Enotourism Where Wine Tasting Meets History, Culture

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

MARSALA, SICILY--The rugged, wind-swept mountains around Marsala create the most challenging environment for wine grapes to grow, but it is precisely this landscape, with its rich, rocky volcanic soil, that creates the historically great wines of Sicily. Winemakers Caruso and Minini of Marsala are protagonists of the Sicilian wine Renaissance. Their use of the territory's most demanding grapes to make premium wines is the signature of a long tradition.

Stefano Caruso and Mario Minini built their winery in an old 19th Century "baglio" in the heart of the traditional wine-cellar area of Marsala with the expressed goal of creating wines that can charm and surprise the palate while at the same time expressing their originality, character and elegance. The result is wine that expresses the perfect mix of soil, climate and grape.

Each year, the winery hosts over 5,000 guests who have an opportunity to tour the rustic estate, visit the cellars, and go on a unique sensory excursion that allows them to savor the wine, learn its history all while sampling the local cuisine. The experience is part of a growing trend of Enotourism, which provides opportunities for focused, professional wine tastings, while experts share the rich history of the wine and the region.

The enotours are a feast for the eye as well as the palate. The buildings on the estate are faithful to the traditional Marselese architectural style. The large, open courtyard, with its relic of an ancient wine press, is surrounded by buildings that house every aspect of the winemaking process. The entire operation represents the perfect marriage between historic traditions and modern technologies. The winery and its methods are a concrete example of how the traditional Marsalese style is laying the foundation to face the current modern challenges in wine production. The results are astonishing.
 The Founders of Caruso and Minini

 The winemaking team at Caruso and Minini Marsala
 Dwight the Wine Doctor with Agronomist Fernando Paterno
 The wines of Caruso and Minini and the land in Marsala

Friday, July 19, 2013

J. Lohr Estates-A California Central Coast Classic Celebrates a Quarter Century

Wine(s) of the Week:
J. Lohr  Estates showcases distinctive character of Monterey County wines in 25th vintage

by Dwight Casimere

MONTEREY COUNTY, CALIFORNIA--J. Lohr Estates made the first vintage of its eponymous Roverstone Chardonnay 25 years ago. In honor of its first vintage, the winery has just released its 2011 J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay ($14), which includes grapes from its original 1972 estate plantings as well as fruit from newer plantings. The result, from loongtime Winemaker Jeff Meier, is a wine of stunning finesse and elegance. The wine has a softness that brings out its more textural elements, the result of meticulous winemaking and the unique cool climactic conditions that mark the Central Coast region. "We'r not afraid of cool vintages,"Meier says. "Some of my favorite vintages are the coolest, but you have to understand them."

That is an understatement. Meier seems to not only understand the unique climate of the Central Coast, he's also devised a distinctive method of nurturing the gapes through the winemaking process to create a wine that has the full flavor of the fruit, clearly outlined with great definition,  and rich, ripe flavors of apple, citrus and nectarine flavors, to create a wine with intense varietal character, yet with a significant palate weight and palate-cleansing acidity. This is the perfect wine to go with food, especially the types of light, summertime fare that emphasizes seafood dishes, such as scallops, bright pink salmon, shrimp and lobster and crisp, astringent salads, such as Caesar salad, Waldorf salad and that summertime classic, Cobb salad.

The wine has an attractive pale straw color and a slight perfume of roasted hazelnuts and a butterscotch bouquet all couched in a mouthful of citrus and fleshy yellow fruit flavor brought on lengthy barrel fermentation and sur lie (extended yeast contact) aging. The resulting layers of complexity reveal a yummy vanilla toastiness and silky texture that achieves just the right balance of fruit and acidity.

2011 J. Lohr Estates Wildflower Valdiguie, Monterey ($10) is one of the greatest values out there in terms of flavor benefit for an extremely great price! Its perhaps the most distinctive wine in the J. Lohr portfolio. As a conversation starter, ask the guests at your next garden party to blind taste it and guess how much it costs. Don't be surprised if they come in at numbers far beyond its actual price! Grown on J. Lohr's estate vineyars in the cold, windy Arroyo Seco (Spanish for "dry stream"), Valdiguie is a wine reminiscent of the "Crus" (first growths) of Beaujolais, only no where near the price. Red Winemaker Steve Peck did a mix of traditional red wine fermentation with whole cluster fermentation, to achieve a wine with a rare combination of softness and dark fruit notes. The wine is fresh and vibrant with the capability of being both a terrific standalone wine, to be drunk as an aperitif or a raw-room type wine appreciation exercise, or as a great accompaniment to a summertime meal of grilled meats or study, wood-planked or smoked fish. Pick any of your favorite strong cheeses, such as a hefty Roquefort or Blue Cheese or a hearty Stilton, and you'll see how this wine carries the day.

2011 Falcon's Perch Pinot Noir ($17) is another price-friendly creation that proves that California Pinot Noir doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to make a significant statement at the dining table. This under $20 beauty is long on flavor and is one of the most velvety expressions of Monterey County Pinot Noir out there. Distinct, with rich, dark fruit flavors and a velvety texture, it has the depth to take on a grass fed steak or smoky, spice-rubbed ribs with its deep concentration of flavors and fresh, clean acidity.

2011 South Ridge Syrah ($15) similarly accentuates the rich fruit flavors and strong tannins of this classic grape from the Paso Robles region. Its almost a perfect red wine with its hint of smokiness from aging in lightly toasted and just a touch of spice.  The oak never dominates, but only serves to enhance the delicate fruit flavors and soft texture of this red wine that just bursts with red berry flavors. This wine is just brimming with ripe, whole berry flavor!

2012 J. Lohr Estates Bay Mist White Riesling ($10) is another value-priced wine that will stun the would-be wine experts in your immediate circle. The measured approach to winemaking heightened the fresh fruit flavor and bright color of the wine, creating an Riesling of outstanding taste and character.  J. Lohr uses a Stelvin closure (screw cap) to preserve the freshness of the wine and lock in its spectacular fruit flavors. The wine is labeled with the International Riesling Foundation's Taste Profile Scale to mark the wine's place along the dry to sweet spectrum. J/. Lohr has been growing Riesling in the Arroyo Seco since 1972. The 2011 vintage is a testament to the two and a half decades of experience of  Winemaker Jeff Meier and his team. you won't find a better tasting Riesling at any price!

Monday, July 15, 2013



by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK---What looks like vodka, has a taste similar to find sake, is made with all the care of the a fine wine and is versatile enough to be mixed with a variety of fruits or made into a cocktail, yet is just as desirable as a fine sipping drink on its own? Say hello to Iichiko Frasca, a specialty brewed barley wine,  called Sochu, which is similar to sake, yet is prized in its own right as a premium beverage in Japan, dating back to antiquity. It's now finding a new following among lovers of light, clean tasting beverages that are great as an ingredient in cocktails, go great when combined with fresh fruit or taste wonderful just on their own as a clean, low calorie beverage with a rich full-bodied taste.

The roots of shochu dates back to the Edo period of Japan, from Iki island, located between Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula. The island was know for its abundant rice crope, but, because rhe rice was reearmarked for government taxes, the local farmers turned to their barley to make a brew for local consumption. It wasn't until 1979 and the ingenuity of Sanwa Shurui of Ota Prefecture and their lanching of their 100% Mogi Sochu, that the Iichiko barley Shochu campaign became widely popular and sparked an entire category of beverage that became an overnight boom throughout Japan. Now the boom is being heard in the U.S. and its likely to set off fireworks to rival the Fourth of July!

I had an opportunity to taste this unique beverage on an excruciatingly hot summer day in New York and was delighted with its light texture and subtle flavoring. I tried it first as a stand-alone beverage, serving it in a heavy leaded crystal whiskey glass with a single cube of ice. I was impressed with its clean, even taste, It reminded me of the best muti- distilled vodkas, with one noted exception, the distinctive taste of premium select barley made for a subtle after taste of toasted straw, slightly fermented white raisins and the light peat aftertaste and aroma you might find in a single malt scotch. Adding yet another dimension, I tried it on the rocks again with a frozen strawberry, a frozen raspberry and then with a slice of key lime. The flavor combinations were astonishing and perfect for summer. This is a great drink to serve at a summertime patio party as an apperitif or mixed into a terrific fruit-based summer cocktail or as a post prandial treat in your air conditioned drawing room, away from the sweltering heat of an outdoor cookout. The interesting combinations of flavors, especially when combined with different fruits, made for a great conversation piece. The presentation, in the elegant looking carafe shaped bottle only added to the classy mystique! Sochu is mild an easy on the palate and the body. Its actually a sort of "health drink" because it is easily assimilated into the body and burns "clean", with no residual hangover effect. The Japanese love it combined with fresh fruit, like their own pickled plums or preserved lemon. Lemon, lime and other citric acid fruits are perfect when combined with Sochu. You can't ever get fatigue from over drinking because the citric acid naturally protects the lining of the stomach. The Japanese also claim its a natural barrier against disease. when combined with citric acid. Need I say more.  I absolutely love this drink, especially for summer. The fact that it  costs  $70 should not be a deterrent. It is comparable to any other premium spirit, such as a single malt scotch or multiple-distilled vodka. That fact that it is  only 35 calories per drink (per 2 oz shot)  even makes it more attractive and a "must-have" addition to your patio liquor cabinet. The fancy carafe fits nicely in your wine cellar and looks great on the bar or on your buffet table as well. Bonzai!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Voce Columbus-Mecca of Italian Wine and Fine Dining

 Evening views of Columbus Circle from A Voce's main dining room

 The imaginative modern Italian cuisine of A Voce

Diners enjoy wine and food pairings at A Voce

A Voce Columbus Sommelier Marco Fusato with a Melchior of Planeta wine from Sicilly

A Voce wine and food pairings highlight imaginative Italian cuisine with hard-to-obtain wines from their cellars

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere
A Voce Columbus
10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10019

 the view is unexcelled, the cuisine and the wine list, with its concentration on remarkable Italian vintages, many of them unavailable elsewhere, makes it a dining mecca for the pairing of wine and food. With the guidance of Sommelier Marco Fusato, I was taken on a journey through the major wine producing regions of Italy, with imaginative dishes that are inspired by regional Italian cuisine and indigenous ingredients, with a decidedly modern twist.  
NEW YORK--A Voce Columbus, on the Third Floor of the Time Warner Center overlooking New York's sleek Columbus Circle and the southern portals of Central Park, has one of the most dramatic cityscape views imaginable. Particularly at sunset, when the burnished amber glow of the setting sun, creates a visual hush over Central Park. Fading sunlight glints off the statue of Christopher Columbus, which rises majestically before the backdrop of skyscrapers and the reflective glow of dusk.

The view is unexcelled. The cuisine and the wine list, with its concentration on remarkable Italian vintages, many of them unavailable elsewhere, make it a dining mecca for the pairing of Italian wine and food. With Sommelier Marco Fusato as my guide, I was taken on a journey through the major wine producing regions of Italy, with imaginative dishes inspired by regional Italian cuisine.  
Combining both indigenous Italian ingredients with locally sourced produce, seafood and meats from local purveyors, the restaurant takes its inspiration from traditional regional Italian cuisine and executes it with a decidedly modern twist. 

The tasting excursion began with a glass of Prosecco Pasqua from the Veneto region of Northern Italy along with a starter of  Stracciatella, a creamy, delectably nutty Mozzarella appetizer from Puglia in southern Italy, combined with cherry tomatoes, zucchini blossoms and a house specialty, fettunta, which is housemade Italian bread, lightly rubbed with garlic and olive oil, then grilled. The creaminess of the mozzarella and the nutty flavor of the grilled bread made for a unique Umami sensation in the mouth when acccompanied by a sip of the Prosecco. The light toast and crisp citrus notes of the Prosecco cut through the creamy garlic flavors of the Stracciatella. I had opportunities this past year to taste this particular Prosecco while at Vinitaly in Verona and to sample the melt-in-your mouth soft white cheeses of the Puglia region while visiting a wine and food festival in the city of Bari, and can attest to the fact that there is nothing quite like their mouthwatering characteristics that can be enhanced to the hilt by a good, clean dry sparkling Italian wine.  The Insalata bianca composed of Endive, fennel, Meyer lemon, bottarga(Sicilian-styled caviar made with cured bluefin tuna roe)  and almonds, similarly expressed the nutty undertones of the Processo. 

Verdicchio dei Castelli de Jesi Classico Sartarelli 2011 from the Marche region (just to the east of Tuscany) provided a light, crisp lemon and lime foil to the magnificent Animelle, a dish composed of Pan roasted Veal Sweetbreads, with a puree of English peas, capers, cipollini onions and bacon. This was one of the standout dishes of the evening, with the mouth-watering, creamy texture of the sweetbreads contrasting with the tart acidity of the Verdicchio. The bright flavor of the wine contrasted with the slightly "sweet/sour " flavor of the sweetbread dish, enhanced by the opposite flavors of the onions and the capers. This  made for a Yin and Yang tasting experience.The sensational combination should have me running back to A Voce time and time again!

The main course, Luccio con asparagi; Seared Long Island Pike, with white asparagus brodo, and luxurious lobster vinaigrette was a signature dish that proved why A Voce is head and shoulders above similarly positioned contemporary Italian restaurants. The flavors of the food were outstanding and the presentation was without peer. It was paired with contrasting vintages in the wine spectrum, a dry Sauvignon Blanc Meroi 2011 from the Friuli region of Italy to the North and a special treat, a superlative red blend of Caberrnet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc Burdese 2008 from the world-famous Planeta estate of Sicily to the South. the latter was spectacularly served in a large-format bottle, a Melchior, which is the equivalent to 24 standard bottles of wine,  one of the largest wine bottles available in production,  which nearly dwarfed Sommelier Marco Fusato.

That was only a prelude to the evening's crescendo, Bomboloni alla Toscana (Italian-styled round doughnuts, similar in shape to our doughnut holes, only larger, filled with warm, melted dark chocolate sauce. Heavenly!) paired with Alexander Prosecco Grappa from Veneto, which was also served in a large format, decorative bottle. Abbondanza! Bravissimo! Bella Cucina, A Voce! (Can you tell, I've been studying Italian this summer?).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wine(s) of the Week: Waterstone 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Napa Valley Merlot (both $18)


NAPA VALLEY--Here's a unique twist, a spectacular California wine from a pair of Napa Valley winemakers who own no vineyards and have no production facility. Perhaps that's why Philp Zorn and Brent Shortridge can offer a stunning pair of Napa Valley wines in the form of their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2010 Napa Valley Merlot for only $18 a bottle.

Zorn brings a European sensibility to the whole process. Although born in the U.S., he was raised in Germany and educated at one of that country's top enology schools before working with noted wine producer Weingut Pieroth. Returning to the 1984, he became winemaker at a number of top California wineries, developing a keen understanding of the Napa Valley's unique microclimates and subregions. When he was introduced to Brent Shortridge, the two realized they had a shared vision of creating great Napa Valley wine at an affordable price. Brent Shortridge came to the winemaking business from a biochemistry background and a desire to enter mmedical school. His is one of those stories of serendipity. When he took a summer job at Sonoma;s Buena Vista winery as a chemist, he came in contact with the great winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Under the tutelage of The Master, he soon realized that wine was his calling. Shortridge quickly immersed himself in the business of winemaking. Waterstone wines are the sum and substance of Zorn and Shortridge's collective experience.The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) just screams with flavor. Bright and crisp, it has accents of lemon and tangerine with soft herbal notes of sweet tarragon and French thyme. The use of neutral oak barrels gives the wine a European finesse, as the oak is used to balance out the flavors and enhance their richness rather than imparting any wood flavor. The result is an elegant wine that is rich with fresh fruit flavors that go well with any type of light summer meal or as a delicious and palate tingling aperitif.  Chicken Caesar salad, grilled bream or salmon in a honey dijon mustard and dill glaze, served either hot or cold are as cojuple of suggestions for a terrific meal in the garden or on the patio. Take it along to Ravinia or Tanglewood for a terrific accompaniment to a gourmet picnic at an outdoor concert. You won't go wrong.

Waterstone 2010 Napa Valley Merlot ($18) is a luscious  Merlot with a distinctive flair. The wine is a unique hybrid of grapes from the Truchard Vineyard in Carneros, which provide the backbone, and the balance of the fruit sourced from the Nichelini Vineyard in Chiles Valley. The two vineyards are on opposite ends of the Napa Valley and have disparate microclimates., Carneros with its cool nights and mornings and Chiles Valley with its blazing daytime sun on the valley floor adding intensity and layers of rich fruit flavor to the berries, which gives the wine a long finish. The grapes were picked at the peak of maturity when they were dripping with rich fruit flavor. Gently crushed and fermented, the wine was then aged in French Oak barrels with extended contact on the lees for two years. The resulting wine explodes with dark and red fruit flavors and a hint of toasty oak. This is a great grilling wine. I went nuts on the smoker with thick-cut strip steaks and thick, meaty St. Louis and Baby Back Ribs. Using a rosemary, black pepper and garlic rub, there was no need for any additional barbeque sauce, The lingering flavors of dark cherries, plums and a hint of peppery spice complemented the wine and completed the flavor picture. It created a perfectly jammy, yummy sensation in the mouth that provided a stunning crescendo to the summer holiday barbeque season! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Francis Coppola Winery-An Oscar Winning Director Makes Award Winning Wines

Wine of the Week
Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret 2010 ($18)

An Oscar-winning film director makes his mark with award-wiinning wines

By Dwight Casimere

 Oscar winning director and winemaker uses the wine thief to sample the new vintage from the barrel
 Diamond Collection Claret
Francis Ford Coppola at the Cannes Film Festival

NAPA VALLEY, California-When multiple Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola purchased the old Niebaum Estate in Rutherford in 1975, it was intended as just a quiet country place to allow he and his family to get away from the rigors of Hollywood. He had no intention of creating great wines there, other than for his own personal use. It was Robert Mondavi and his wife Margrit Biever, his neighbors just down the road, who welcomed them to the Napa Valley and that casual dinner in a rustic little guest house over a bottle of ancient, unlabeled wine they found in a boarded up wine cellar, changed the course of Coppola's personal history. ""I have a vision that you can make great wine from this property," Mondavi told him. According to Coppola's wife and filmmaking partner Eleanor, those words inspired Francis and he began pursuing a course to make fine wine.  Coppola has since developed a spectacular winery and wine themed park at the former Souverain Estate in Sonoma County. With winemaker Corey Beck, he is producing some of the finest examples of wines that are appellation-specific and classic expressions of California favorites that are full of character and complexity. Francis Coppola's Diamond Collection Claret  is a perfect example of the type of bold, dynamic wine that fully expresses the unique climate and grape characteristics to create an exquisite wine that has become the flagship of the Diamond Collection. Francis Coppola Diamond Collection 2010 Claret Cabernet Sauvignon is a luscious, fruit forward red wine that is terrific with a huge steak or meat grilled in the open air on the barbecue. I had it with some grilled lamb skewers that had been marinated in a spicy Satay peanut sauce, Indonesian style, and found it to be one of the most satisfying meals so far this summer. The wine is rich with dark and red fruit flavors, such as black cherries,  cassis, blackberries  and hints of roasted coffee. Best known for his Oscar and Cannes Film Festival Award winning films (Patton, The Godfather, Godfather !!), Coppola has made his mark as a California winemaker ever since his purchase of the Niebaum Estate in Rutherford in 1975 and revival of the adjacent Inglenook winery. His neighbor, Robert Mondavi, first encouraged Coppola and his wife and filmmaking partner Eleanor to start making quality wines, saying "I have a vision that you can make quality wines at this property." Mondavi's vision inspired the filmmaker and he embarked on a path that has produced a series of successful wine varietals. Diamond Collection Claret 2010 is a blend primarily of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a composition of 79% Cabernet, 13% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec and 3% Cabernet Franc. The wine is lush and rich with concentrated flavors, layered with velvety textures and lingering aromas. Careful aging in French oak has enhanced its character, giving it a richness and body that you would normally find in wines quadruple the price. At 13.5% alcohol, this wine has a solid structure that can stand up to some cellar aging, but its ready to drink now, so that may prove to be a mute point. I have found myself returning to this wine time and again, ever since I received the first sample bottle from the winery. It's quickly become my favorite this summer. I'm sure it could be yours too!