As a rule, Mondays aren’t fun days, but for every rule there’s usually an exception. For example, take my last two Mondays. Most recently, a high-end Duckhorn pairing lunch at Bluedorn overlapped with the again annual Taste of Italy event at the Omni Riverway. There, I sat on a panel with my podcast partner in crime, Jeremy Parzen, and Spec’s wine buyer Tom Dobson discussing the merits of pairing Italian wines with Texas Barbeque, in this case prepared by one of our finest, Ara Malekian, a Swiss-trained chef turned uber-pitmaster at his Harlem Road Barbeque in Richmond.
We’ll get to those wines in a moment. First, let’s speak of Duckhorn, which has long been dear to my heart. One of my earliest wine epiphanies happened while tasting Tom Rinaldi’s mid-1980s Napa Valley Merlots, especially the Three Palms, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to sample the 2019 vintage of same this week (and note my recommendation for regular 2020 Duckhorn Merlot). It didn’t disappoint. Rinaldi has long since moved on to other projects, including crafting Houston Master Sommelier Guy Stout’s wines, but the current team hasn’t missed a beat.
The star attraction of the lunch, however, were the two new Kosta-Browne offerings . . . from Burgundy.
Duckhorn, of course, owns Kosta-Browne and had the financial clout to take on such a seemingly complicated venture, one that had Kosta Browne GM Neil Bernardi “holding my breath” as the project came to fruition. You can almost count on one hand how many Americans have ventured into the fabled French AOC. Duckhorn, it seems, entered into a hush-hush partnership with a Côte de Beaune winery that’s calling most of the shots, certainly when it comes to harvesting decisions.
Working with the negociant model — Duckhorn hasn’t yet tried to acquire any vineyards, which are the world’s most expensive — it has released pinot noirs from Beaune and Gevrey-Chambertin (the two we had the privilege of tasting) as well as Pommard and Volnay, plus a chardonnay from Mersault. The reds will sell for $125 and the white for $120. Mailing list wine club members will get first crack at purchasing the wines, although “select markets” will get some, too. Presumably, Houston will be one, since it did make the cut for Duckhorn’s 2023 Pinnacle Tour itinerary.
The wines were vinified and aged in Burgundy — about 30 percent in new oak, at Kosta-Browne’s behest — then transported via temperature-controlled containers to the home base in Sebastopol, Calif., where they were bottled. Both already-fermented juice and whole grapes/must went into the mix.
I found it interesting that Kosta-Browne choose to have the word’s “pinot noir” and “chardonnay” printed on the respective labels. Bernardi — that’s him below — said it was important “to educate the consumer” as to what varietals they would be tasting, although one would assume anyone who would fork over $100-plus for a burgundy wouldn’t need to be told they were drinking, by French law, pinot noir and chardonnay.
But my top tout in the tasting? The spot-on 2020 Calera Mt. Harlan Jensen Vineyard Pinot Noir. Calera is, of course, now under the Duckhorn umbrella, too. It also sells for $125 and is arguably the closest California cousin to the Burgundian reds because of the limestone in the dirt.
Calera’s visionary founder Josh Jensen, who died last summer at the age of 78, found his perfect location for growing pinot noir on the remote slopes of Mount Harlan in San Benito County about two hours southeast of San Francisco. The Calera Wine Company, taking its name from the Spanish word for limekiln, opened for business in 1975. Jensen, Bernardi pointed out, had paid $53 an acre for the hardscrabble land, which is 2,200 feet above sea level in the Galiban Mountain Range. You couldn’t touch a single vine for that today in Gevrey- Chambertin.
Now, back to Italy. All of Dobson’s selections, shown below, worked splendidly with Malakien’s sublimely smoked brisket and ribs, including, somewhat counterintuitively, a pinot grigio. Better still, all can be purchased at Spec’s for under $30, cash price. And one was the 2018 La Casa in Collina Barbaresco from ViteColte, a steal at $29.44. My other favorite in the mix was a 2020 barbera from the Cerrino cooperative, priced exactly the same as the can of Illy coffee beans I purchased on my Spec’s excursion: $14.99.
As per usual, there were way more lovely wines in the walk-around room than could be possibly be tasted and most were here seeking importers/distributors in Texas. I’d had the same overwhelming experience the previous Monday when a band of Bordeaux brothers and sisters passed through town. But it’s flattering to see how valuable the Houston market has become for the new wave of winemakers around the world. They wouldn’t be arriving en masse if we didn’t matter.
The surprises in the French lineup were the half-dozen cremants from Bordeaux, pictured below. I’d never tasted one before. They dazzled while offering way better value than those from Burgundy. But, for the moment, availability remains limited.
Separate from the Taste of Italy shindig, I also spent quality time with Alessandro Rotolo, who now presides over the Schiopetto wines launched in 1970 by the legendary Mario Schiopetto, and the Rotolo family’s slightly less famous but no less satisfying Volpe Pasini portfolio. (That’s him below with Schiopetto’s world-class “M.”) Nobody does it better in Friulli than Rotolo’s two teams. My pick in that lineup was the Volpe Pasini “Grin” from the 2021 vintage, which might be the most satisfying pinot grigio I’ve ever tasted and it can be purchased through http://aocselections.com for well under $20.
Sippin’ with Sporty
2022 Revelation by Goose Ridge
From the winemaker: “The blush pink hue with a floral bouquet is only just the beginning, followed by bursting notes of strawberry and watermelon. A reminder that style and strength are more than just this season’s fashion, they come from within.”
From me: The blend of fruit from the expansive Pacific Ridge Vineyard — Washington’s largest — in the arid southeastern corner of the state is syrah-centric but includes grenache, mourvedre, chardonnay and pinot grigio, surely the first of its kind. The wine has a bit of heft to it and lovely lingering finish. It’s a project of the three generations of women in the Monson family and was released to celebrate International Women’s Day. Brava!
$18 at http://gooseridge.com
2017 Capella Sant’Andrea Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Clara Stella
From the winemaker: “Pale lemon in color. Scents of apple, yellow fruits and some white flowers. Fresh acidity and light complexity. Good length with somewhat creamy texture.”
From me: Grape growers and winemakers Flavia Del Seta and Francesco Galgani are organic, minimally interventionist farmers through and through, right down to their use of only spontaneous fermentation. This is a beautiful expression of a wine that often disappoints when made by less meticulous producers.
$22 at Tuttilili Wines and Specialty Foods (http://tuttilili.com)
2020 Duckhorn Merlot Napa Valley
From the winemaker: “Embodying the alluring beauty of great Napa Valley Merlot, this wine reveals vibrant aromas of red currant, ripe plum, black raspberry, cherry and sweet baking spices, with hints of tea leaves and cocoa. The palate is rich and luxurious, with silky tannins and flavors of ripe red berries, pie crust and fig compote gliding to a bright, elegant finish.”
From James Suckling who scored it a 93: “A juicy and fruity Merlot blend with plum, chocolate and hazelnut aromas and flavors. Full and layered with fleshy tannins and a flavorful finish. Velvety texture. Lovely approachability.”
From me: This reference-standard California merlot has a 17-percent cabernet sauvignon component plus tiny amounts of cab franc and petit verdot in the blend. It’s something of a miracle wine given the terrible impact wildfires had on the region in 2020. Renee Ary’s winemaking team did a splendid job of getting the tainted grapes out of the mix. The yield was smaller, of course, but there was no downtick in quality.
$47.99 at http://wine.com
Boutique wines from Spain tasting: 4 p.m. Friday, March 10, at Memorial Wine Cellar. Free http://eventbrite.com
Downtown Wine and Bear Walk: Noon, March 18, in Rosenberg. http://bit.ly/3WZ81Ja
Bay Area Wine Fest: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Morgan Falls Event Center, Alvin. http://eventbrite.com
Rodeo Whiskey and Winefest: 4-7 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Big Brothers and Sisters. $50 http://eventbrite.com
Dionysus Imports French wines tasting: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 23, at the Alliance Française Houston. 713 526-1121 $25.
Champion Wine Garden Presented by Frost Bank at NRG Carruth Plaza, in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo: http://eventbrite.com
Katy Sip N Stroll: Saturday, April 15 at The Ballard House. http://sipandstroll.com
The Sports Page
Raising a glass to . . . Kelvin Sampson
The real season, a.k.a. March Madness, starts now, but finishing the practice season as the No. 1 team in the country is nothing to sneeze at. This old Coug ar stands in awe of Sampson’s magnificent rebuild of the University of Houston basketball program. Eat ’em up, eat ’em up, rah rah rah!!!
Podcast: Sporty Wine Guy
Facebook: Dale Robertson
Others to follow
Jeremy Parzen (http://dobianchi.com)
Jeremy, shown above, gives us the full lowdown on the hot new Nizza appellation for barberas in Italy’s Piemonte.
Sandra Crittenden (http://winelifehouston.com)
Sandra reports on a recent tasting she participated in at the Texas Wine School with Jean Trimbach, whose Maison Trimbach sells more wine in the U.S. than any other Alsatian producer.
Russ Kane (http://vintagetexas.com)
The Texas Wineslinger takes a far-afield detour from his usual stomping grounds and samples the wines from Sojourn, which works with some of the best vineyards in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
Jeff Kralick (http://thedrunkencyclist.com)
Jeff touts the best wines he has been sent as samples of late. All of them, as it happens, are French.
Katrina Rene (http://thecorkscrewconcierge.com)
Kat tells us everything we need to know about what’s happening in the world of Texas wine this month.
Pingback: Standing room only for Texas BBQ and Italian wine, a new Houston tradition. - Taste of Italy
Pingback: Standing room only for Texas BBQ and Italian wine, a new Houston tradition. – Iacctexas