Category Archives: Travel

Ningxia Winemaker Challenge: Part 2 – Post ML

It’s been a week since I returned from China after flying over to check on my wine there.  This trip was much faster than my previous trip and I packed quite a bit more into the 8 days that I spent there.  My first three days were spent in Beijing, where I taught a WSET Diploma Unit 5 class for Fongyee Walker’s Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting.  One of those days I took some time for myself and toured the sights of Beijing, including a trip to the fantastic Great Wall of China at Mu Tian Yu and the Summer Palace.

  
 

The Summer Palace

 
After my first few days in Beijing, I spent 4 days in Ningxia.  My first order of business upon landing in Ningxia was to find out how my wine looked.  Remember, last time I tried it only one tank was pressed off and the second tank was pressed on the day I flew back home.  I hadn’t tried it at all since Malolactic had finished and I had no idea how it was adapting to the barrels.  I didn’t even know what shape the used barrels were in when the wine was added to them.  I had left detailed instructions on how to soak the used barrels using a Potassium Metabisulfite and Citric acid solution and could only pray that everything would be ok.  Fortunately, everything looked very good.  The wine is taking to the new barrels quite well and to my surprise this is the treatment that appears to be helping the wine the most.  My DAMY barrels are showing beautifully!  Having never used DAMY in the past I was skeptical at first but I was able to taste some Ningxia wines from 2014 which were being aged in new DAMY barrels and this profile seems to help support the Ningxia terroir quite well.  The used barrels are all French and are helping the wine as well however they are old enough that very little oxygen transmission is taking place which is leaving the wine a little tight and reductive at this point.  Nothing a quick rack wouldn’t get rid of however.  The portion that I left in tank, to hedge my bets a bit just in case the barrels were a disaster, is clearly not as mature as the wine in barrels but it has retained its fresh, fruitiness which should add a nice component to the blend.  Overall, I’m quite happy with where the wine is at the moment.  When I come back in the summer, I’ll be able to get a clear picture of what I want to blend for the final competition.

  

Mr Wu, the winemaker of Lansai Chateau, gets barrel samples for us to taste


 The rose needed some work to be prepped for bottling.  All of the Ningxia wines tend to have quite seedy tannins, even if the wines had very little seed contact including the rose.  I did a fining trial and also bumped the SO2 a bit so that the winery could bottle it shortly.  I’m interested to see how it turns out and also how it sells since the Rose trend that has caught the rest of the world has yet to catch on in mainland China.  My friend, Jose Hernandez, was also in Ningxia at the same time so we were able to tour about a bit and go see some of the other wineries in the area including Chandon Ningxia, Jiabeilan, and a quick visit to Yuan Shi both for their lab services and tasting the 2015 vintage from barrel.  The visit to Jiabeilan was quite fun since I was able to meet the legendary Ningxia winemaker, Zhang Jing.  She was very open, answered questions, and allowed us to taste all of her wines including a very interesting Chardonnay that had the acid of a cool climate but slightly tropical fruit of a warmer climate.

  

Jose and Zhang Jing of Jiabeilan


 My partner winery in Ningxia, Lansai Chateau, is almost finished.  They have done quite a bit of work since I was there in the fall and it is easy to see how much of a destination they are planning it to be.  The guest rooms are almost finished as is the separate kitchen and the Chinese gardens.  Soon there will be tasting rooms and a restaurant available to allow people to visit and enjoy the wines where they were made.  The winery has been designed to be a showplace and I’m sure it will live up to that hope with every detail put in place.

The entryway of Lansai Chateau with Helan Mountains in the background

 

The garden of Lansai Chateau under construction

 
 After leaving Ningxia, I went back to Beijing to have dinner with our Constellation representative, Berny Yang, more sightseeing including the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market, and teach another class for Dragon Pheonix Wine Consulting, this time on Constellation and branding of the Robert Mondavi family of wines. Jose and I also got together with Grape Wall of China writer and Canadian expat, Jim Boyce, to go on a wine sales tour of Beijing.  We visited a general supermarket, specialty supermarket, high end wine shop, and casual wine shop to get a sense of what the market looked like in Beijing, how wines were being sold and what was trending.  See last week’s post on the China wine market for more information from that tour.

All in all it was a very successful trip and I look forward to my next trip during the summer.

 

Tiles on the Temple of Heaven

 
 

Two Nights of Kinship at Kindred Fare

  One of the things Brian and I miss most about living in Napa is the wide variety of amazing food available there.  It was always a struggle to decide, when we were going to go out, where we should go because there were so many great choices, many of which did not need reservations 6 months in advance.  So of course, when a new restaurant in the Finger Lakes comes on our radar we have got to go check it out.

I had heard great things about Kindred Fare in Geneva, NY from many of my friends so I decided to try it, sight unseen, last week with visiting colleagues from San Francisco.  It was a Tuesday night and the crowd was full but not packed which was a good sign.  The wine list is a nice mix of local stars and global examples of mostly cool climate wines which are complementary to the restaurant’s farm to table offerings.  The list is curated by Bob Madill, a local fixture here in the region, likely best known as a tireless Finger Lakes ambassador and one of the founders of Cayuga lake treasure, Sheldrake Point Winery, who is currently working with Glenora.  My colleagues had never visited the area before and I felt that this restaurant, representing the rising foodie scene in Geneva plus their local wine offerings would be a perfect introduction.

  The kitchen sent out an amuse bouche of baked potato with two cheeses which was a lovely start to the meal.  For our appetizer we ordered the flatbread which had braised duck, caramelized onions, and delicious melted cheese topping a fantastic flatbread crust.  It was wonderful.  To pair, we chose the Ravines Single Vineyard Chardonnay (Stone and Chalk) from the White Springs vineyard.  To choose a Riesling would be obvious, but at this point, even the farthest wine lover here in the US has heard that we make good Riesling here.  Chardonnay from the Finger Lakes was an unknown to my two friends so it was a good choice to demonstrate the versatility of the region.

All three of us happened to be duck lovers so we each chose the Roast Duck with plum sriracha, mushroom, bok choy, peanuts, cilantro, and daikon-carrot pickles.  To pair we chose the Red Newt Glacier Ridge Pinot Noir (Elegant and Floral).  This one was exciting for me since I had just finished espousing my passion for Pinot Noir in the Finger Lakes and although many that I taste currently are not where they need to be yet, this one was showing very well and complemented the duck completely.  Yes, we were the three duck table! Dessert was a fantastic bread pudding which is one of my personal favorites.

I immediately went home and began talking about the dinner with Brian and how amazing it was.  As a twist of fate would have it, my mother in law was in town due to my son being sick that week and with him having to stay home from school, we needed backup.  She, always a fan of date nights, suggested that we should go out ourselves the next night.  Thus, I ended up walking back into Kindred Fare the very next night for a second fantastic dinner.  This time we tried the Boundary Breaks clone 239 Riesling (Zesty and Fruity) which was delicious and highlighted everything that I love about the variety.  It was a bit more sweet than expected but still went well with the meal which started off with a mixed bread basket and house made chunky style hummus.

I chose one of the nightly specials, the Coq a Vin (Roast Chicken with red wine based sauce) with various roasted vegitables.  Brian got the Braised beef shank goulash which was a meal choice that I had toyed with both nights that I had been there.  According to him, the meat fell apart at the touch of a fork and had a kick but was not overly spicy (that is why I didn’t order it myself since I try to stay far away from anything with heat spice).  It was mouthwateringly good.  We finished off dinner each with ice cream.  I chose Blood Orange and Brian chose Chicory.  Both were amazing but after the first taste swap neither of us were keen to share.

That is how I ended up two nights in a row at one of Geneva’s newest foodie destinations and I am actually contemplating going back this Friday as well.  Amazing food can be found in the Finger Lakes if one is willing to drive a bit to find it.  I find myself a bit envious of my friends in Geneva, which has become ground zero for the culinary revolution happening here, since they are so close to the action.  I highly recommend a visit to Kindred Fare if you happen to be in the region!

 

 

Exploring the Wines of Montefalco

Pettino – Our Umbrian Village

Italy has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  When I first started studying for my WSET programs it was a toss up between Italy and Germany as to which was the most confusing.  Now, after years of study I understand that I will NEVER, in my LIFE, know everything there is to know about Italian wines.  I have contented myself, however, with exploring a region here and there when I get the chance.  One such chance has presented itself in the last month and I hope to make the most of it.  Montefalco is a small mountain village in the province of Perugia in Umbria almost exactly half way down the boot,  in the middle of the peninsula.  It was originally settled by the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe, which lived in the area from the 9th-4th centuries BC.  In March of this year, Montefalco was named Italy’s Best New Wine Region by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.  It is only a short train ride from Rome making it an easy escape from the bustling city to the mountains.  The region, largely known for their fabulous truffles, olive groves, and amazing hill top vistas is now starting to break out from underneath the shadow of their Tuscan cousins.  Every spring around Easter the town holds a large festival called Settimana Enologica or “Wine Week” to bring tourists in to sample the local wines.   Until recently, the wines of this area have been not well known outside of Italy. However, the Consorzio Montefalco is working to change that and have graciously sent me two wines to taste and explore to get a sense of what this area and the Sagrantino grape are all about.

Colpetrone 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC – Elegant and Floral

The first wine hails from one of the most important producers in the DOCG area.  Montefalco Rosso is usually a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.  This wine is a beautiful blend of both plus a bit of Merlot coming from a vineyard planted in 1997 on limy soil with clay deposits.  A moderately deep ruby colored core followed by a lovely burst of plum and black cherry on the nose.  The wine had none of the “raspberry leaf” character I normally associate with wines from further north in the country but did have a distinctive earthy aroma reminiscent of crushed late fall leaves.  The intensity of the fruit suggests a lack of oak influence which was confirmed by the dossier that accompanied it.  With a moderate body, fresh acid, and structured but supple tannins that hit in the middle of the tongue, this wine is more weighty than a Pinot Noir but just as elegant.  It is strikingly similar in style to Chianti Classicos but with darker fruit and rounded edges.  While this wine can age a couple more years due to its textured tannins I highly recommend taking advantage of it’s fruitful youth!

Azienda Agraria Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino – Power Punch

The second wine comes from the oldest winery of the Montefalco appellation, founded in 1884.  The name Scacciadiavoli, literally translates to “cast out the devils” apparently named for a 19th century exorcist who lived in the village.  The vineyard is 400 meters above sea level on a clay shale soil.  The wine itself is intense with a dense ruby core that is impossible to see through, living up to the expectation that Sagrantino is one of the most deeply colored grapes in the world.  The nose is quite concentrated with aromas of ripe black plum, graphite, and cedar.  The full body continues with the concentrated theme with intensely structured tannins, the description of which is hard to pin down.  It is similar to the texture of Nebbiolo but slightly smoother with the intensity and palate distribution of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The finish is long and the wine is crying out for food as most Italian reds do.  If the body were lighter the tannins would be harsh and out of balance however the richness in the core of this wine was deeply concentrated and left a seamless transition from beginning to end. My hat is off to the winemaker because I know it is quite challenging to balance tannins of that quantity! It is quite unlike anything I have ever tasted before.   This is a 2008, already over 6 years old and I am of the opinion I opened it too young!  This structure is built for aging quite in line with the other hallowed regions of this country.  If you are interested in this wine it seems the previous vintage is for sale at one of my favorite wine sourcing spots, K & L Wines in San Francisco.

These wines have distinctively different styles however both show that this region is focused on making serious wine that can stand on the international market.  The town itself looks charming and it’s views dramatic.  I only hope I get the chance to visit for myself soon!

Picture courtesy of MontefalcoMob.com