Monday, September 27, 2010

A "little star" shines at major international wine competition

The Wide World of Wine, New York City

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

The wood-paneled loft wine library of mid-town Manhattan’s Beacon Restaurant was the scene for the east coast road trip for the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition Double Gold medal winners. In many ways, the New York showing was a bit more comprehensive than the one in Chicago and presented some different and unique gems. Among them, the winner of the Best In Show white wine, Whitecliff Vineyard 2007 Riesling ($15) from a tiny, family-owned winery in upstate New York.

Unless you visit the winery in its obscure, remote location on McKinstry Road in Gardiner, New York a couple of hours outside Manhattan, or dine at the trendy American Nouveau restaurant, Gramercy Tavern in the Flatiron District on East 20th, near Park Avenue South, you will not have an opportunity to taste this most luscious of golden-colored wines. The winery has a total production of less than 4,000 cases a year. A pitance, even by boutique winery standards.

Owner Yancey Stanforth-Migliore and her husband Michael started the winery thirty years ago, in what was then an empty field. Their objective, all along, was to develop artisan wines that honored both the agricultural traditions of the Hudson Valley and the European style of producing complex, yet approachable wines. Never in her wildest dreams, did Yancey, who was on hand to personally pour the wines at the Beacon tasting, imagine that her wine would walk away with a prize at a top international wine competition, much less, one of its highest honors.

“We’re really tiny in the scheme of things, so you can imagine that my jaw dropped when they called and told me that we had won best of show.”

As if to corroborate the declaration, one of the journalists attending the tasting chimed in; “you won in a blind tasting of 1,200 wines!” That put the exclamation on a point well made.

“We don’t like to enter our wines into competition, so we entered the San Francisco competition reluctantly,” she said. “Sure enough, we got a call from UPS that our entry bottles were completely crushed and were sent back to us. We were already at the deadline, but when we called the competition, they said they would still consider us if we could overnight the bottles.”

From that inauspicious beginning, a Double Gold, Best of Show award was born.

Michael Migliore has an impressive pedigree and seemed destined from birth to live a life in wine. He studied for a master’s degree in organic chemistry at SUNY, New Paltz. In 1978 he started work at IBM as a chemical engineer in semiconductor manufacturing, and soon after began experimenting with grape growing as a natural expression of his background and his skills in chemistry. Wine had figured prominently in his upbringing: his German and Italian grandfathers both made wine at home, and it was part of every family dinner.

His wife, Yancey joined in the planting soon after they met—through rock climbing on the Shawangunk Ridge—and married in the early 80’s. While she doesn’t bring technical skills to the business like Michael, she has developed the ability to teach about wine that contributes to Whitecliff’s Tasting Room.

Today Michael works closely with Cornell Cooperative Extension testing new grape varieties, and pushing the envelope on the quality of grape growing in the region. In that capacity he also serves as president of the Hudson Valley Wine and Grape Association.

I poured myself a healthy glass of the golden-colored Riesling and settled into one of the Beacon’s cushy leather library chairs and savored the wine along with a fistful of Laura Chenel’s superb, creamy American Chevre goat milk cheese from Sonoma County, California. It was a heavenly match with the slight tang of the goat’s milk tempered against the fruity ebullience of the wine. The cheese acted as a sort of automatic palate cleanser between sips of wine.

In spite of its effusive fruit, there was a hint of restraint in the wine. That’s probably what impressed the judges. I know that it nearly knocked me off my feet. There was a perfect balance of acid, fruit and a little bit of terroir coming through on the finish. This was a perfectly executed Riesling. I was reminded of the first encounter I had with German Riesling. It was a Rudesheimer Riesling Spatlese. I had purchased it from the old Chalet wine shop in Chicago’s Sandburg Village. I was just learning about wine at the time and the shop steward, a distinguished-looking grey-haired gentleman of German ancestry, was quick to point me in the direction of the wines of his homeland. He even opened a bottle and poured me a copious taste. It was liquid gold. Tasting the Whitecliff Riesling reminded me of that experience. Yet, it was something quite different. It was not quite as austere as the German wine. It was also very expressive, with overtones of the region and the soil it came from. You could almost imagine the wine-swept vistas of the Hudson Valley in every sip. In every way, it was a picturesque wine. International Chefs Congress: A Kitchen Without Boundaries

The Wide World of Wine-New York City

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

New York--Celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson was chief among the galaxy of star chefs presented at’s 5th Annual International Chefs Congress at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.

The host of the cooking series “The Inner Chef with Marcus Samuelsson" on the Discovery Home Channel was at the author’s table autographing copies of his latest book “New American Table.” The 1999 James Beard Rising Star Chef award-winner was also announcing the birth of his new restaurant, Red Rooster in Manhattan’s fabled Harlem community. “We’re going to be honoring the legendary history of Harlem through innovative American cuisine,” he explained. “The Red Rooster was the meeting place for all of the great minds and luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance and the intellectual incubator for the Civil Rights Movement in its later years. That was where you might see people like Adam Clayton Powell, Miles Davis, Max Roach and Lionel Hampton all together in the same room trading stories and discussing their plans for the future. We plan to honor that rich tradition and the great culture of Harlem with the Red Rooster.”

His new book, “New American Table” similarly celebrates the unique direction that American cuisine is taking in light of the impact of multi-culturalism. “People so often talk about the ‘melting pot’ in America. Nowhere do we see that more vividly displayed than in the kitchen and on the dining room table.

Samuelsson, Ethiopian-born, Swedish raised and both European and American trained, knows well of what he speaks. “What I do in the book is introduce you to friends I’ve met along the way,” he told me during an interlude in book signing. “I’ll introduce you to a couple where the wife is Korean and the husband is from Senegal. You can’t imagine the flavor combinations that turn up on their dining room table at night, but somehow, with their love and artistry, it all comes together and the results are fantastic!”

Samuelsson makes the point that “the notion of American cuisine is past the checkered tablecloths, burgers and fried chicken of the past. It can be Italian, African, Asian or Indian or any combination thereof."

Each year, the Starchefs Congress is the fountainhead of knowledge and cutting edge technique and innovation. For three days, some of the best chefs in the country gather to glean the knowledge of their esteemed peers such as Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in the culinary wellspring of Napa Valley wine country in Yountville, California and attend business seminars led by industry leaders such as Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, Chicago.

Wine is an integral part of cuisine and that fact was brilliantly displayed in an international presentation of wines from the far corners of the globe. Bodegas Riojanas, the Great Wines of Spain, made a spectacular presentation of their Reserva, Crianza and New Wines.

Among the most outstanding was Gran Albina Reserva ($36.97), a blend of classic Spanish grapes: Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano. “This wine represents the new trend in Spanish wine,” said Javier Hernandez of Frontuara y Victoria. “ The wine is very intense. Witness the cherry-red color and rich aromas. The wine has great structure. You can feel it in the mouth. It is concentrated and tannic, but well balance. The flavor is wrapped in excellent wood, having been aged in new oak casks for 20 months, then aged in the bottle for at least 24 months before being put on the market.”

I walked a healthy glass of this rich elixir over to the booth where I tasted it along with a killer Gorgonzola, a type of aged blue cheese. The astringent and pungent flavor and aroma worked perfectly with the almost port-like taste of the intense Spanish wine. I could very well have finished the afternoon then, but there was a great deal more culinary territory to cover. What a surprise to run into an old friend of mine from Miami, gastropod Miami (, a food truck that served the best pulled pork fajitas and short-rib “sliders” with aioli and a hint of salsa that is one of the best and most inspired sandwiches I’ve ever had.

“The restaurant business is just so darned stubborn,” said Antoinette Bruna, Editor-In-Chief of and organizer of the conference. “It never ceases of amaze me how it is constantly reinventing itself. Pop-up restaurants and food trucks are thriving right alongside avant-garde, high tech kitchens as chefs adapt to the changing economic climate. Yet they maintain their creative edge. Its their passion that drives them.”

Passion was the operative word as chef Matt Hill of Charlie Palmer Steak in Washington, D.C. artfully prepared a freshly killed Long Island duck, stuffed with fresh seasonal vegetables and herbs from local purveyors before an audience packed with chefs from around the country in the Main Stage arena. An announcement over the PA system declared that this was the most well attended Congress in the event’s history. It certainly felt, drank and tasted like a world-class culinary event!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anthony Dias Blue takes San Francisco Double Gold on the road

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Chicago-Anthony Dias Blue is one of the most influential wine writers, food critics and lifestyle personalities in the United States. The James Beard Foundation Award-winner is sought after as a commentator on both TV and radio and in cyberspace. His best-selling books (Anthony Dias Blue’s Pocket Guide to Wine, Fireside, $13.50), Anthony Dias Blue’s Complete Book of Spirits, Quill, $24.50) are read by thousands of wine and spirits consumers around the globe. As Executive Director of the San Francisco International Wine Competition, he serves as the leader of the largest and most influential wine judging event in the United States and is the Founding Director of its sister event, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Some 15 years ago, I had the privilege of serving on the Wine Judging Panel of the San Francisco International Wine Competition. The tasting sessions were held at the University of San Francisco. I can attest to the rigorous tasting standards and the esteemed character of the tasting panel members that, at the time, included such august names in the food and wine industry as Jeremiah Tower, Harvey Steinman, Stanley Eichelbaum, Patricia Unterman and Ruth Reichl.

This year’s judges were equally as prestigious. Arriving from all points across the United States, 45 wine industry professionals convened June 18th, 19th and 20th to evaluate 3,897 wines from 1,290 wineries during the San Francisco International Wine Competition held at San Francisco’s Hotel Nikko. In its 30th anniversary year, the San Francisco International Wine Competition examined wines from 28 states and 27 countries. The medal count included 160 Double Gold awards (a wine is elevated to Double Gold status when all judges on a particular panel agree that a wine deserves a Gold medal), 276 Gold medals, 1,118 Silver and 1,343 Bronze.

“Best in Show” awards went to: Whitecliff Vineyard 2009 Riesling, New York, $15, for Best White Wine; Sequana 2008 Pinot Noir, Sarmento Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, $32, for Best Red Wine; Piper Sonoma NV Blanc de Blancs, Sonoma Coast, $17, for Best Sparkling Wine and Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate 2007 Vidal Ice Wine, Proprietor’s Reserve, Niagara Peninsula, Canada, $40, for Best Dessert Wine.

Hess Family Estates, Napa, California, was recognized with the “Portfolio Award” for excellence across a spectrum of brands. Winemaker Amanda Cramer, Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles, California, won the coveted Andre Tchelistcheff “Winemaker of the Year” award. The Tasting Panel Magazine “Winery of the Year” award went to De Tierra Vineyard of Salinas, California.

Best of Varietal” winners were awarded in eighteen different categories in 2010: Brancott Vineyards, 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, B, Marlborough, New Zealand, $26, won Best Sauvignon Blanc; Church & State Wines, 2008 Chardonnay, Gravelbourg Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, Canada, $25, won Best Chardonnay; Clavo Cellars, 2007 Petite Sirah, Dreamer, Catherine’s Vineyard, Paso Robles, $30, won Best Petite Sirah; Consensio Cellars, 2008 Tempranillo, Symphony of Wine Series, Amador County, $30, won Best Tempranillo; Elk Run Vineyards, 2008 Cabernet Franc, Cold Friday Vineyard, Maryland, $28, won Best Cabernet Franc; Gonzalez Bayass, NV Nectar, Superior Selection, Jerez, Spain, $18, won Best Sherry; Goose Watch Winery, 2009 Diamond, Finger Lakes, $10, won Best Native American Varietal; Hahn SLH Estate, 2007 Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands, $27, won Best Syrah; Jeff Runquist Wines, 2008 Barbera, Amador County, $24, won Best Barbera; Kavaklidere, 2009 Egeo Roze, Aegean, Turkey, $19, won Best Rose; Maple Creek Winery, 2007 Zinfandel, Artevino, Largo Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino County, $26, won Best Zinfandel; Montevina Wines, 2009 Pinot Grigio, California, $10, won Best Pinot Grigio; Niner Wine Estates, 2007 Fog Catcher, Paso Robles, $58, won Best Bordeaux Blend; Okunomatsu, 2009 Shizukuzake Juhachidai Sake, Fukushima, Japan, $50, won Best Sake; Paradise View, 2006 Malbec, Sonoma Coast, $32, won Best Malbec; Quinta do Vesuvio, 2007 Port, Douro Portugal, $73, won Best Port; Robert Hall Winery, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, $18, won Best Cabernet Sauvignon and Still Waters Vineyards, 2006 Merlot, Estate, Paso Robles, $22, won Best Merlot.

Looking at the expansive field of candidates and the breadth and scope of the wines before me, I could see instantly how both the competition and the industry has grown since the reference point of my involvement in the competition 15 years ago.

Fast forward to 2010 and we once again encounter Anthony Dias Blue holding center court in the upstairs private dining hall of the EPIC restaurant and wine bar in Chicago’s hot River North dining Mecca where he is presenting the ‘best of the best’ of the competition’s 2010 Double Gold Winners.

“These truly are some of the best wines and spirits to be had anywhere. I have to really give our panel of judges their props for taking the time to give all of the entries the serious consideration they deserved. The surprising contrast between what’s being offered to consumers now and what you may have experienced when you were a judge all those years ago, is the quality of the wines. Overall, what we’re seeing in the marketplace is a dramatic increase in not only the quality of the wine, but the variety of expressions by the individual winemakers. No longer are we seeing producers developing wines in a lock step as to how a Chardonnay or a Pinot Noir should taste, but we’re now seeing the distinctive mark of the winemakers come through. We’re also seeing some surprising developments in some ‘newer’ areas of the wine-growing world that were totally unfamiliar to wine drinkers on these shores as little as a decade ago.”

Recalling the exacting standards imposed in the judging of the wine and spirits entries, Blue offered promising prospects for the future of wine and some insights into how they are judged.

“There’s really a lot of common sense involved in addition to the technical knowledge and expertise. The judges look for the same things in the wine as the consumer does and they ask themselves a lot of the same questions. First of all, is it a good wine? Does it taste good? Does it have body and character? What are some of the flavor components and do they work well together? It involves more than just looking for acid balance or the presence of tannins or taking a bunch of tasting notes. The overall impression is that all of the factors come together to give a complete and satisfying tasting experience. That’s what the judges look for and that’s what wine drinkers who will ultimately buy these wines are looking for as well.”

Words well said from the Maestro! After posing for a few pictures, Blue led me through a tasting of some of the wines that especially drew his attention. One of the distinct favorites and the wine that was judge Best Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2007 Robert Hall Winery Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles. This was a surprising value-priced $18 a bottle.

This was truly a Cab lover’s cabernet in every way. It had a long, deep finish with rich flavors of blackberry and smooth tannins. There was a rich mouth-feel that revealed hints of lavender and smoke as it reached the back of the throat. There was a selection of gourmet goats’ milk cheeses, including a ripe Mobier and a Humboldt Fog chevre from Sonoma County. They proved to be a rich counterpoint to the lavish notes of the wine.

Jules Taylor 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand was another favorite that brought me back several times. This was another entry that made the statement with resounding resonance that a great wine need not be also expensive. At a mere $15, it is on par with the great Sav Blancs of the world.

Italy brought forth the ultimate value of the Double Gold winners with its $12 2008 Corvina-Ripasso, IGT from Veneto (Venice). Crisp and fruity, it is a wine intended to stand up to good food, but it can also be offered as an aperitif. Chilled and served with an array of fruits and cheeses, it is the perfect introduction to any great garden party.

To close things out, I turned to an old friend I’d recognized from my recent trip to Sonoma for the Wine Country Weekend and Auction. Just one week prior, I had been in the grape fields of Gloria Ferrer Sparkling Wine Caves in the Carneros District, where workers were busily harvesting the Pinot Noir grapes for next year’s release.Double Gold Medal winner Gloria Ferrer 2005 Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine, Carneros ($24).

Fun became the operative word as Blue, ever the event planner and fun-lover, ushered everyone to the lower level dining room for a blind tasting of a dozen rums that were entered into the International Spirits Competition. “This time, YOU be the judge,” Blue challenged the assembled tasters. This promises to be a tasting tour like none other. The Double Gold winners are scheduled to travel to New York, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Kansas City, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, Las Vegas, Seattle, Miami, and Beaver Creek, Colorado. I plan to catch up to the tour in New York to see what surprises he has in store then. Sante’!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sonoma's poet laureate of wine

Amapola Creek's Richard Arrowood sets words and music to his handcrafted vintages

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

"Wine is bottled poetry” Robert Louis Stevenson

Sonoma Valley, California. --If wine is poetry in the bottle, then winemakers are its creators and poets. Richard Arrowood has devoted the last 45 years of his life to creating great wines. He began his quest while still a college student, working for Korbel Champagne Cellars while earning his BA degree in organic chemistry at California State University. He later became wine master to Chateau St. Jean when the founders chose him as their first employee in 1974.

That was the start of a long and illustrious career that brought numerous awards for his handcrafted small lot, single vineyard wines. In 1980, Arrowood achieved the unprecedented feat of producing and marketing nine single-vineyard Chardonnays from within Sonoma County under the Chateau St. Jean label. By doing so, he demonstrated the significance of site, or terroir, a concept that is the bedrock of French winemaking, but relatively new to America.

By using virtually identical winemaking techniques for a given varietal, he proved that the differences in the resulting wine came from the vineyard, not the cellar. It was a revolutionary concept to many, but essential to Arrowood in his strive for perfection.

His elusive search for perfection is not unlike Ernest Hemingway’s quest for the reasons behind the discovery of the frozen carcass of a leopard in his short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro (first published in Esquire magazine in 1936, then republished in a collection of short stories In The Fifth Column and the First Forty-nine Stories in 1938 and published again in 1963 as a collection under the story’s familiar title. It was made into a film of the same name in 1952.) In that respect, he bears a close spiritual kinship as well as a striking physical resemblance to that greatest of American writers.

In a personal, in-depth interview, Arrowood eschewed the comparison, but there is much about the man and his career-long quest to argue in its favor. Simply taste the rich, deep red elixir he draws from the barrel with a wine "thief" and the comparison is obvious. His wine tastes like the mineral-laden soil from which the grapes emanate and gives hints on the nose and palate of the wind swept hills and sun kissed grapes from which it is handcrafted. If this is not poetic eloquence in the glass, then I don't know what is.

The route to Arrowood’s founding of Amapola Creek winery is as circuitous and as laced with legend as a Hemingway novel and as ephemeral as the seasonal creek that runs through it. The creek is partially responsible for the winery’s name, as is a connection to the Big Band music of the War Era and the romance between his parents.

Just as a flower blooms due to the complex collision of circumstances that relate to soil, wind, sun and water, so did Amapola Creek blossom in the midst of a series of economic storms and tectonic ownership shifts that nearly shook the financial bedrock of his namesake winery.

In the midst of this uncertainty, Arrowood and his wife Alis forged ahead with the fire of their love and faith in the future to lay the foundation for the creation of Amapola Creek winery. Freed of the day-to-day management responsibilities of Arrowood, he was finally free to devote his full attentions to Amapola Creek.

The name of the winery has both personal and territorial significance. “Amapola means ‘poppy’ in Spanish,” he explained. “Its also the name of the seasonal creek that runs through the property. Each spring, the poppies bloom. It’s also the name of my mother’s favorite song. In fact, my father, who played string bass as an avocation in a local dance band, loved the song as well. It was a huge hit in the Big Band era, first with Jimmy Dorsey with Helen Forrest, then again with Benny Goodman, again with Helen Forest doing the vocal. There was always music like that playing in my house when I was growing up. “Amapola” made the Billboard top 100 on my mother’s birthday. During my childhood, I’d heard that song many times. So, when we came out with our first vintage, we released it on my mother’s birthday and named it ‘Amapola Creek’ in her honor, March 14, 2008.”

Amapola Creek is located on the western slope of the Mayacamas Mountains, near the tiny community of Agua Caliente near Sonoma. The winery has a unique combination of soils and climate that are well suited to growing exceptional Cabernet and Zinfandel.

“We get all of our Zinfandel grapes from Monte Rosso, off some funky gnarly old vines that were planted in the late 1890s right next door to us. Not too many people can brag about fruit that old!”

Walking through the barrel aging room, Arrowood pulled wine from the Frenchoak aging barrels, using a glass wine thief. Swirling the deep red liquid in the glass, he began to rhapsodize about its creation.

“We do everything organically here. At first, I fought it tooth and nail, and then I began to realize that the best way to make great wines is to do only that which will not harm the land or the wine in any way. Here at Amapola Creek, we let the vines and Mother Nature make the best that the vintage has to offer. Phil Coturri, our Vineyard Manager, is one of the founders of organic grape growing and vineyard management in the Sonoma Valley.”

The wines speak volumes about Arrowood’s philosophy of winemaking. Over lunch in the tasting room, they shone like brilliant diamonds of light on a sun-dappled lake. An informal sideboard of local freshly made cheeses and charcuterie (cured meats) and local organic fruits and vegetables provided the simple, straight-forward backdrop for a bravura performance of winemaking expertise.

“This is our 2007 Monte Rosso Zinfandel, Vinas Antiguas ($40), I was telling you about,” Arrowood said with the pride of a parent introducing his favored child. “You’ll see that its unique character comes from those 115 year old vines I talked about earlier.”

The wine had a depth of fruit flavor that can only come from old vines and months of oak barrel aging. There were subtleties throughout the tasting experience. Nuances of black raspberry and aromas of fresh sage, and hints of licorice burst forth on the tongue. There were hints of black cherry and bits of chocolate on the finish. The wine is unrefined and unfiltered, a cornerstone of Arrowood’s philosophy of winemaking. “The filter is designed to take bad things out of the wine, but it also takes away all the good. If you don’t put anything bad into it in the first place, what’s the point?”


Amapola Creek 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon at $100 the bottle is worth every penny and more. You’d probably pay upwards of $300-400 a bottle for a comparable French wine. Aged for 18 months in new and seasoned French and American oak barrels, it is dense and concentrated. I could spend an entire column creating a written portrait of its symphony of flavors. Black cherry, blackberry, currant and cassis meld perfectly with hints of oak. Ripe tannins make for a perfect finish in the mouth. This wine needs no accompaniment other than perhaps a warm fire, a Brendel plays Mozart CD and a favored companion.

As I exited the tasting room, Arrowood invited me to come back for a lesson in his favorite recreation, skeet-shooting. It’s just the kind of manly sport ol’ Ernest would have enjoyed. I’m sure he would have loved to have tasted Dick Arrowood’s wine while he was on safari, hunting that elusive leopard!

Windy City and Naperville Wine Fests Celebrate Food & Wine

-Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Naperville, IL. —Naper Settlement is the location of the Naperville Wine Festival, presented by INVESCO on Friday, September 17 from 4pm-10pm and Saturday, September 18 from 3pm-9pm. More than 200 domestic and international wines will be featured along with cooking demonstrations, wine seminars and live music.

Dwight The Wine Doctor previewed the event by attending the 6th Annual Windy City Wine Festival, presented by US Bank at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. The two-day tasting September 10& 11 benefited the Grant Park Conservatory. Title Sponsor US Bank put out a sumptuous array of delectable appetizers to accompany an international array of wines including Earthquake wine, which was presented exclusively at the event and MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay of Sonoma Valley, California.

In the tents that ringed Buckingham Fountain, more than 400 tasters had an opportunity to sample wines from across the globe; Banfi Vintners from Italy, Barefoot Wines of California, Cline Cellars of Sonoma, Ste Michelle Wine Estates from Washington State, the Washington Wine Commission, Hess Collection Winery of Napa Valley.

Chefs and Restaurants also took center stage, including aria, Caoba Mexican Bar $ Grill, Sullivan’s Steakhouse, The Melting Pot, Stefani’s Palermo’s Pizza, and Markethouse.

Among the wines, Dwight The Wine Doctor caught up with a few favorites. Sonoma-Cutrer presented its new 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($22.99), a classic California Chardonnay with pronounced fruit aromas that make one think of sliced apples and Asian pears. Citrus top notes of Meyer lemon and a floral touch of honeysuckle and orange blossom cascade into a lush, creamy combination of candied pecans, shortbread and a hint of sweet key lime pie with layers of toasty oak. This wine creates a complete flavor sensation in the mouth. It also makes a great accompaniment to shrimp lobster. The fish tacos at Caoba Mexican Bar & Grill were a great match!

Ste. Michelle Estate Wines of Washington State near Seattle never disappoint. They’re probably one of the greatest values out there and are the perfect first-tier wines for those just getting into the wine-tasting game. You certainly can’t beat the prices. All of their wines are priced comfortably in the $10 to $24 range. I absolutely love their 2007 Indian Wells Riesling. At $14.99, I would put this up against any of the German Kabinet wines of the same variety. Indian Wells has a light, tropical style so typical of the warmer climes of Washington’s Columbia Valley. One could almost taste the Steelhead Trout that would go so perfectly with this lush, crisp white wine. I took a long savoring sip as I watched the sun set in a dramatic flourish of color over the towering skyscrapers ringing Grant Park. The dancing lights of Buckingham Fountain made a perfect visual partner to the flavors that did pirouettes in my mouth. For event information on the Naperville Wine Festival, visit, or call 847-382-1480.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Endless Sonoma" celebrates the Wine Harvest

Photo captions:
1. MacMurray Ranch Ambassador Kate MacMurray and Dwight The Wine Doctor
2. A ray of sunshine at MacMurray Ranch
3. Geyser Peak Winery Director of Winemaking Ondine Chattan
4. Beach Blanket Babylon goes Bananas!
5. David Brown, Vice President of Business Development, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Winery
6. The Ladies of Magnum Force
7. Celebrity Chef Hubert Keller
8. Surfer Dude in action
9. Harvest worker at Gloria Ferrer
10. The mysterious Lady in Red savors the moment

The Wide World of Wine-Sonoma Valley, California

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Sonoma-The incessant crowing of a rooster pierced the early morning fog as the sun struggled from a deep slumber over the rolling hills of this winemaking paradise. Before the first rays of light began to peek through the clouds, workers were busily pruning the ripe fruit from the grapevines that stood in neat rows along the endless expanse of vineyards at Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards. Gloria Ferrer one of the first wineries to greet visitors at the entrance to the Sonoma Valley in the atmospheric Carneros District.

Pinot Noir is one of the primary grapes used by Gloria Ferrer in the making of its sparkling wines.

“Pinot Noir is a ‘ cool weather’ grape. It’s also one of the most expensive grapes used in the winemaking process,” said David Brown, Vice President of Business Development for Gloria Ferrer, who was pouring their new Va de Vi sparkling wine ($53)in the “Bubbly Lounge” of the 31st Annual Taste of Sonoma held at MacMurray Ranch, one of the signature events of the 2010 Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.

“It’s a real ‘chick magnet’,” Brown joked while pouring for a group of anxiously-awaiting ladies. “I’d like to think it was me, but it’s really the Gloria Ferrer.”

“ Our vineyards are located in the Carneros District,” he continued, “which is one of the coolest areas of the Valley with its ocean breeze and dense fog that cools things down at night and in the early morning hours. We grow primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. That makes us one of the earliest vineyards to come to harvest. Each year, we’re probably among the first to pull grapes.”

Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee ($19.98)and Blanc de Noir ($15.99) figured prominently in the ensuing event. They were among the live auction lots offered at the 18th Annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction, presented by Trilogy Glass & Packaging.

“Endless Sonoma”, the event theme, was a riotous, homespun production with elements of “Beach Blanket Babylon” intermingled with California Surfers and the Beach Boys thrown into the mix. Culinary Chair John Ash led an all-star roster of Sonoma’s most renowned chefs in preparing a multi-course ambrosial feast of the region’s freshest bounty. Guest Chef Hubert Keller of San Francisco’s Fleur De Lys restaurant of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and PBS TV’s Secrets of a Chef worked alongside Kendall-Jackson’s Chef Justin Wangler to create the luncheon menu’s first course, Oxtail, Fingerling Potatoes and Truffle “Cappuccino”.

Lunch provided an opportunity to mingle with the winemakers who brought their best selections to table in order to pair them with the menu of locally sourced ingredients, including Wine Barrel Stave Roasted Certified Angus Beef Natural “Steak Florentine” , Pomegranate & Herb Grilled California Lamb Loin with Fregola and San Andreas Salad and a selection of local cheeses and accojmpaniments, including Manchego cheese, aged in Cline Cellars Wine Caves, Bellwether Farms Pepato and Herrbed Redwood Hill Chevre (goat’s milk cheese).

Geyser Peak Winery Director of Winemaking Ondine Chattan brought a stellar array of wines from her cellars, including many that are only available at the winery.

“We’re having our Russian River Sauvignon Blanc($10.99) , our Bin Wines, including Viognier ($16.99)and our Block Collection Sauvignon Blanc($17.99). I’m really happy to bring out our Bin Collection, which are our high-end wines. They’re really beautifully structured. We also brought our Tasting Room only wines. These are the one’s I’m proudest of; our Tawny Port and Late Harvest Riesling. We’re going to have a lot of fun!”

Her words proved prophetic as the auctioneers gavel rang down on a $60,000 winning bid on Lot Number 13, Big Bottles and Bikini Babes with the Ladies of “Magnum Force” parading the oversized bottles of wine that included Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut Sparkling Wine, among a bevy of premium wines. It was a stellar ending to a magic carpet ride through the Sonoma Valley.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New Yorkers "Wine Down" with sunsets on the Hudson

Story and Photos by Dwight Casimere
1."The Girls" enjoy the scene at Wine Down Wednesday at Hudson Terrace
2. Tasting room at Jacob's Creek Winery, Barossa Valley, South Australia
3. Barossa Valley at sunset
4. Dwight The Wine Doctor and Chief Winemaker Bernard Hickin of Jacob's Creek
5. Jacob's Creek vineyards
6. The view from the tasting room
7. Jacob's Creek Chief Winemaker Bernard Hickin
8. Hudson Terrace and its new retractable roof
9. Sunset over the Barossa Valley
10. Sunset over Hudson Terrace with the USS Intrepid and New York Harbor in the offing

With the sun setting over the bow of the USS Intrepid, visible from Hudson Terrace lounge with its new retractable roof overlooking the Hudson River in Manhattan, wine lovers take a weekly excursion known as “Wine Down Wednesdays.”

Generous pourings of a half dozen wines from the major wine producing regions of the world give drinkers a chance to explore the various flavors and styles of winemaking while enjoying the spectacular setting and munching on an innovative array of hors d’oeuvres. The promotional event turns the Happy Hour into a fun opportunity for folks to learn about wine in an informal setting.

On this night, the tasting featured two selections from Jacobs Creek of Australia’s Barossa Valley, which I had the pleasure of visiting last year during the Landmark Wine Scholar Tutorial sponsored by Wines of Australia. Jacob Creek Reserve Pinot Noir, 2007 ($10.99) and Jacob Creek Reserve Shiraz 2007($16.79) headed a list that included Rosenblum Cellars Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier 2008($17), Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Chardonnay Atalayas Vineyard 2008($16.99), Notorious Grillo Sicilia 2007($9.78) and Monsanto Chianti Classico($17.99). Despite their being from the far corners of the winemaking globe; South Austrlalia’s Barossa Valley(Jacob’s Creek), California’s Lodi Valley (Rosenblum), Chile’s Casablanca Valley (Lapostolle) and Italy’s Tuscany region (Monsanto), they all had one thing in common, they were all highly approachable, drinakable wines that can be had for $10-$18 a bottle. The wines could stand on their own as a cocktail or they can serve as an excellent accompaniment to food.

Back to the Jacob’s Creek wines, which I became familiar with through my visit to the winery in Australia, where I had a private tasting with Chief Winemaker Bernard Hickin.

“Our Pinot Noir is one of our most popular wines and certainly one of the most luscious,” he told me during the tasting session in the winery’s picturesque tasting room, overlooking the historic property. “The first thing that strikes you is the aromas of fresh strawberrys and black cherries. That’s because the wine is made from grapes from regions that have two distinct climates, one quite warm, which gives off the strawberry characteristic, the other quite cool, from which you get the flavor of dark forest fruit.” The wine stands on its own, but its also great with a range of dishes from that Australian favorite “shrimp on the ‘barbie” to a rack of lamb.

Shiraz is Australia’s national grape and Jacob’s Creek celebrates it in fine style with its Reserve Shiraz 2005($16.79). “This wine features rich blackberry and plum flavors with the added hint of spice balanced by coffed and vanilla flavors with a hint of cedar notes derived from oak aging,” Hickin rhapsodized. “This is really an excellent value, considering that you’re getting a wine that could easily age for another 10 years and grow in character, but it sells for less than $20.”

Hickin’s words echoed in my ears from all those months ago and thousands of miles away as I lifted my glass toward the setting sun and allowed the crimson light to dance across the like-colored wine in my glass.

The music from the DJ amped up and the crowd became more lively. As the wine flowed, the retractable roof began to allow the cooling evening breeze from the Hudson River to flow across the room, providing a fitting punctuation to a perfect evening.