Monday, March 29, 2010

America's best wines in gala Florida showcase

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

A lush, tropical early spring night in West Palm Beach, Florida in a Mediterranean garden provided the backdrop for one of the most prestigious events to celebrate the nation’s finest wines. The Gala Dinner of the American Fine Wine Competition was held at the Lincoln Culinary Institute (formerly the Florida Culinary Institute) in West Palm Beach. This wine fantasy presented nearly 500 award winning American wines paired with an amazing menu prepared by South Florida’s most revered chefs.

“This is strictly a celebration of American wine” Patrick Sullivan, Wine & Spirits Editor for Dine Magazine told me over a glass of Ferrante Pinot Grigio,Grand River Valley ($14.99) of Geneva, Ohio, about an hour outside of Cleveland, the Best of Show winner at the night’s festivities. As a member of the distinguished panel of unbiased judges for the 2010 American Fine Wine Competition, Sullivan had a unique vantage point from which to view the evening’s celebrants. “The wines honored here tonight are unique in the world for the quality and sophistication. Every wine we have here flies in the face of some of the biases that exist out in the marketplace that the United States can’t produce wines of equal quality and versatility as those in France or Italy. There are wines here tonight that could go toe to toe with any European wine and win hands down!”

Winemaker Nicholas Ferrante of Ferrante Winery & Ristorante, was practically giddy with delight over his wine’s singular honor. “There aren’t a lot of people who believe that a fine wine can come out of Ohio, but when you look at the reality of terrain and climate, there’s not too much different between our part of the world and the Loire Valley in France. This is a landmark night for the American wine industry. Everyone here, including myself, will walk out of here with our heads held high, knowing that we are not only the best in the country, but standard-bearers for the entire American wine industry.”

Presented by Patrick Risk Management, the winners of the invitation only wine competition had their offerings poured by 40 local “wine angels,” including event organizer and chairperson Shari Gherman. As she poured me at glass Rombauer 2006 Zinfandel ($24), she gushed, “This evening is all about passion. You can feel it in the air and taste it in the wine and the food.”

After a wine-tasting ‘cocktail’ hour that included hors d’oeuvres such as BBQ spiked, skillet seared shrimp with mango cocktail sauce and Leg of Duck Confit ‘Cakes,’ the evening included dinner prepared by award-winning chefs, including Johnny Vinczencz o Johnny V’s in Las Olas and Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on The Mile in Miami.

An appetizer of pan seared Alaskan Diver Scallop with fennel, potato and duck confit, segued seamlessly into an entrée of Short Rib of Beef with Lobster and Wild Mushroom Break Pudding, expertly served by the culinary students at Lincoln Culinary Institute.

The selections of wines served at the dinner were worthy of any you’d find in the cellars of the most discriminating collectors. To have them served all under one tented “roof” was like having Ambrosia amongst the gods. DeLoach 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($21.99) was the first of many outstanding offerings I accepted from the ‘wine angels.’ It’s hard to believe that a pinot noir, especially one so well structured, is available at this price. This is a wine that will age beautifully in the cellar, but why wait; it’s so perfect now! With the short rib and mouth-watering side dish of the lobster bread pudding, this southern take on ‘surf ‘n turf’ was enough to make culinary necks ‘snap’.

Likewise the Arrowood 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Speciale, also from the Sonoma Valley ($110) was a rare opportunity to taste one of the truly great California wines that will be talked about for many years as a benchmark. The wine is only available in limited quantities. (There’s a six-bottle purchase limit). You’ll most likely only encounter it at the most discriminating wine shops or on wine lists at the nation’s most prestigious restaurant venues such as the Ritz Carlton or The Palm or Morton’s Steakhouse. If you see it retail, snatch it up because you’ll probably fork over a hefty tariff at a restaurant.

Joseph Phelps is another California winemaker who never disappoints in the red wine category. His Insignia red blend ($149) remains one of the benchmark American Bordeaux styled blends with its concentrated aromatics of lush black fruit and back notes of coffee and rich cola syrup. This is the wine to have with an exquisitely aged prime steak. If you’re a real wine connoisseur, you won’t want anything with this wine but a proper Riedel glass and perhaps a good Dominican Maduro cigar or a crackling fire and some Mozart or Miles for atmosphere!

There were a number of serious wines poured in the $100 plus range that made this a signature evening for wine lovers. There were also a number of wines in the $20-$45 range that also stood out as America’s best. That’s the beauty of American wines. There are still some terrific buys out there. All you need is an adventurous palette and an opportunity for exposure such as the one provided at the American Fine Wine Competition Gala Dinner. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Stand aside Argentine, the 'real' Malbec is in town!

by Dwight Casimere

Move over Argentina, the “real” Malbec is coming to a wine retailer near you direct from its historic home in the south of France.

Wine producers from the Cahors region of southwestern France, where the Malbec grape variety originated more than 800 years ago descended on the Holiday Inn, Coral Gables, Florida, near Miami, to hold a day-long immersion in the lush, fruity wines from their region. Many of the wines have yet to obtain distribution in the United States, but there are a few labels that can be found on local store shelves and at $10-$15 dollars a bottle, they represent a real value when tabulating the taste to price quotient.

One wine that is available at online wine stores and some specialty wine retailers is Chateau de Cayx, a small production historic estate owned by His Royal Highness Prince Consort Henrik of Denmark. Guillaume Bardin is Director of the prestigious Chateau, which is located on the site of the Quercy Ancient Fortress that dates from the 18th Century.

“I started working with Prince Henrik a long time ago for one big reason, I, like the Prince, am very passionate about wine. The second reason is that three years ago, the Prince asked me to take charge completely of the sale and marketing of the wine in the United States and around the world.

“The Prince bought the Chateau in 1975 and built the winery in ’93. Since 2007 we have been selling the wine directly from the Chateau. Before that, we sold through a negotiant. The wine used to only be available to people who came to the Chateau for a visit, now, we are selling directly to retailers.”

Prince Henrik is somewhat of a celebrity in France, on the order of a minor-league Wolfgang Puck, with TV shows, magazines, videos and cookbooks that he hopes will catch on in the United States and elsewhere. Surprisingly, his wines, which are 100% Malbec, sell in the $13 to $20 range.

“The Prince is very passionate about the role of wine in food. He’s written three cookbooks, one of which has just debuted on the English-speaking market. He likes to combine food with wine as well as with poetry, which he writes as well. He’s something of a Renaissance man in that regard.”

The wines are dark red in color and very intense. They have a delicate aroma of ripe cherries on the nose and a silky feel in the month. Hints of pepper and spice linger on the back of the throat as the concentrated flavors work their way across the palette. Surprisingly, no oak is used in the vinification of most Malbecs of the Cahors. The entire flavor comes from the rich, chalky ‘terroir’ or soil character and the gnarly, wooden-like ‘old vines’ that date back some sixty years. “To us, these are still considered new vines, because everything was wiped out by the deadly War. In the U.S, these would be considered ‘Old Vines’, but to us, they are still new.”

The Miami tasting marked the U.S. premiere of Chateau de Cayx’s newest wine, Cuvee Majesty. “We have been looking for an excuse to come up with a new cuvee, so we decided to celebrate the Prince’s 70th Birthday with the release of Cuvee Majesty,” Guillaume said proudly.

“The wine is very special because it best represents the terroir of the estate. The terroir is very special because it is primarily on the slopes of the property. The wines all grow on terraces. All of the vineyards face the meandering river. It’s a very beautiful and the soil is very different if you up high on the hill as opposed to down the hill. The concentration and consistency of the soil is constantly changing as you approach the higher elevations. That’s what gives the wine its intensity and elegance.”

Chateau de Cayx was but one of the superb wines of the Cahors represented at the tasting. Christian Villand lives in the south of France but spends a great deal of his time in the United States promoting the sale of the more than dozen labels of wines of the Cahors that he represents.

“Everybody thinks Malbec was born in Argentina, but that’s not true. We are the original! But, in all fairness, its probably our fault because we didn’t communicate with the rest of the world. First of all, we are all very small producers and we don’t have the kind of marketing engine behind us that Argentina has. We’re the only region in France that’s raising Malbec and using it almost 100% in the production of our wines. Bordeaux sometimes blends a small amount in their wines, but we use Malbec almost exclusively. Therefore, that makes us more special.”

Cahors, the French Malbec is a new player in the world wine marketing arena. Look for the words “Cahors Appellation on the label when perusing the shelves in the French wine section of your local retailer. You might be in store for a pleasant and affordable surprise.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

St. Supery of the Napa Valley-Wine as Art

by Dwight Casimere

The first thing that strikes you as you enter the expansive private tasting rooms of St Supery Winery along St. Helena Highway in the Napa Valley, are the modern paintings, all by local artists, that line the walls.

Strategically placed picture windows reveal the presence of large stainless steel tanks and row upon row of oak wine barrels, letting you know that this, indeed, is a fully functioning, first-class winery, but it is the art that makes a definitive statement.

Within moments, the tasting room manager arrives with a selection of wines-the latest releases-which firmly makes the case for wine as art.

All of the wines at St. Supery are estate wines and reflect the French heritage of the owners, the Robert Skalli’s of Bordeaux. “The family has made wine in the South of France for several generations,” the tasting room manager informs me, “and the family owns wineries and vineyards all over Europe. This is their first and only American venture and they’ve been quite successful at it. “Robert Skalli was inspired to purchase the property during the 1970s by the lush beauty of the Napa Valley, which reminded him of the hillsides of his native Bordeaux. The first plantings at Dollarhide, a former horse ranch, were primarily of the noble grapes of Bordeaux and are the source of his celebrated Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Élu and Virtu are blends of classic Bordeaux grape varietals, crafted from St. Supery’s estate-grown fruit by winemaker Michael Scholz. These blends combine the best wines from our estate of each vintage.

“The wines are well established on the wine lists at most fine restaurants around the country, but they’re also available at most fine wine shops and retailers who carry finer wines.”

I was seated at a private table facing a wall of exquisite paintings. It was like sipping wine in a private gallery at a modern art museum, like the Guggenheim in New York.

I tasted a broad selection of wines that ranged from the winery’s everyday drinking wines, 2009 Sauvignon Blanc and 2008 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay to its 2008 Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc and 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, to the small lot Limited Edition wines that are extracted from unique vineyards plots within the estate and the Library Selection which are perfectly aged wines that are for special, limited-time release and are available primarily on the most discriminating restaurant wine lists, to wine club members and at the winery.

As I tasted the wines, I found myself writing furiously with a thesaurus’s list of superlatives that would fill a Dostoyevsky novel.

The 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($23) is the flagship of St. Supery winery. The ‘vin ordinaire’ of the winery’s offerings, it is anything but. It has an intense citrus nose with pronounced grapefruit and citrus notes on the palette and a focused flavor of lemon and lime. There’s a hint of guava and clover as it cascades down the back of the throat, but the finish stops short there. It’s an excellent wine to serve as a starter, or aperitif for a garden party or afternoon barbeque. It goes great with salads and fruit and won’t break the pocketbook. I’d say load up on this one if you see it at your local wine store or supermarket.

The Barrel Fermented Chardonnay ($30) is a different story altogether. This estate grown Chardonnay could stand up to anything more than twice its price. It has a lot of complexity for a medium-priced Chardonnay. This is where the art of winemaking comes in. Spiced baked apples come to mind when you smell the aroma of this well-crafted Modigliani. Ripe pears and the distant aroma of newly cut grass on a summer’s day make you long for the languid, summer days of youth. It’s the kind of wine you’d have on a sailboat, bobbing listlessly in waters becalmed by light, afternoon breezes. There’s a nice balance of toasty oak and a hint of spice that would make grilled lamb or flavorful kielbasas or Cajun-spiced chicken andouille or shrimp etouffee a perfect flavor combination. This wine is truly delicious!

Dollarhide Limited Edition wines firmly make the case for the winery’s unique Dollarhide Estate and the winemaking skill of Winemaker Michael Scholz and the stewardship of Vineyard Operations manager Josh Anstey. Its 600 to 775 foot elevation, diverse terrain and unique microclimate give the wines a distinctive character that is particularly accommodating to Bordeaux-styled grape varieties. Hence, the kind of intense flavor experience that only a handcrafted wine can bring.

2008 Dollarhide Sauvignon Blanc ($37) is first up. Bright apricot and nectarine envelope the tongue and melt into the floral and mineral aftertaste that lingers long on the palette as nutmeg and allspice begin to dance across the back of your mouth. I’m thinking of a delicious Thai curried chicken or Tofu dish; perhaps something with a little bit of coconut in it.

2005 Dollarhide Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) has the entire dark, rich black cherry flavor you would expect from a well-crafted Napa Valley Cab. Cinnamon and vanilla and a rounded oakiness give this wine elegance and structure. There’s a touch of chocolate and tobacco at the end that lets you know this is a wine that can age just as beautifully as it drinks now. Savor this with a prime aged New York Strip or marinated Leg of Lamb done on the grill. Morrell mushrooms or Truffles would make a nice addition if you were in the mood to splurge. Why not, you only live once!

The Library Selections, 2005 Dollarhide Cabernet ($85)

And 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) were in a class by themselves. The 2000 Cab reveals layer upon layer of deep plum and raspberry flavor with a hint of licorice. This wine is almost too complex to have with food. A well-stocked fireplace and your favorite music in the background are the only accompaniments you would need or want. Food would just get in the way. The 1999 Cabernet is a more elegant and refined version of the same. It’s a real example of what oak aging will do to a truly great wine. This one is to be enjoyed now and for fifty bucks ($36 for Wine Club members) it’s a steal. You owe it to yourself to seek this one out. You might even catch it on sale at your local wine shop. I took a bottle of each home to savor at my leisure. I felt like Indiana Jones bringing home the Holy Grail.

“By the way, there is no St. Supery. It’s strictly a figment of the owner’s. One of the early names attached to the property was Supery, so the owners took it from there. We even had a contest to inspire local artists to come up with a likeness for our logo.” Thus, wine inspires art!

St. Supéry Vineyards and Winery
8440 St. Helena Hwy. PO Box 38
Rutherford CA 94573

Phone Numbers: 
Winery phone 1.707.963.4507
Fax 1.707.963.4526
Winery toll free 1.800.942.0809

Monday, March 1, 2010

South Beach Food and Wine Festival 2010

by Dwight Casimere

BAM! Emeril Lagasse added the verbal exclamation point to one of his signature recipes at a cooking demonstration cheered by thousands on the outdoor Kitchenaid Stage at the very entrance of the ninth annual Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

More than a hundred thousand foodies and wine connoisseurs crowded at the opening gate for the two day gourmet extravaganza like crowds waiting for the rushing of the bulls at Pamplona. Souvenir Waterford Crystal glassware in hand and orange goodie bags at their side, they were set to sample the best of Miami’s and the nation’s top chefs and wine and spirits offerings from the leading wine and beverage makers of the world.

Daniel Server of The Grill on the Alley, Aventura, Florida was one of the 60 chefs and restaurants that stirred, chopped, Chipotle’d and sautéed for enough greedy gourmands to fill a Super Bowl Stadium. “We wanted to do sort a Surf ‘n Turf ceviche. So, we’ve got a little bit of smoked rock shrimp, beef tenderloin and Aji Amarillo, a type of Peruvian yellow chili. When we decided to do the event, we thought it was going to be really hot, so we thought a nice, cool ceviche would work. The beef gives it a nice, rich flavor that will go with the wines. It’s South Florida, so you’ve got to have some (Latin) ceviche going on. The rock shrimp are native to Florida, so we thought it would be something nice to do to give it a local glair!”

France was well represented with the French Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Pierre Vimont, presiding over the ribbon cutting, which opened the three-day festival. Ross Wasserman represents the wines of the Loire Valley in France. “We’re a range of Loire Valley wines. It’s a very large region with very diverse climates and terroir. We have Muscadet from the coastal area around Nance; we have Sancerre, which is Sauvignon Blance, from the birthplace of Sauvignon Blanc, which is a definitive Sauvignon Blanc. We have Vouvray, which is Chenin Blanc from the Turin region. A then we have two reds. We have a red Sancerre. Sancerre is best known for its white wine, but they also make an excellent red. We have Chignon, which is an unblended Cabernet Franc and finally, we have an off-dry Haut Medoc. We basically, have a wine here for every dish that is being served. They’re very food-friendly wines that are not oaked. Oak tends to make wine very heavy and these are very light. For ceviches and any of the shellfish they are serving, the Sancerre and the Puilly Fume would be perfect. For the richer foods, like crab or lobster or grilled meals, the reds would be perfect. The reds would also go perfect with grilled salmon.”

There was more food than could possibly be eaten in a single afternoon. To top things off, volunteers were passing out samples of desserts, spices, coffees and condiments to take home. Barilla pasta handed out packets of its signature pasta sauces. Bertolli olive oil gave out a really handy plastic cutting board that was lightweight and versatile and colorful as well.
Paula Deen passed out samples of her new line of frozen entrees and Southern-inspired side dishes, due in grocery stores in the Spring. She got the catfish just right. Now for a power walk on the beach for the mile and a half trek home!