Joe Spellman on JUSTIN Vineyard and Winery and Landmark Vineyards

I have previously posted about the excellent seminars at Rom Toulon’s 24 Hubert Wines in Tribeca (see my posts about Alphonse Mellot and Fritz Wieninger’s Wiener Gemischter Satz). This past week I attended another top-notch seminar at the Manhattan store, presented by master sommelier Joe Spellman, winery sommelier for JUSTIN Vineyard and Winery in Paso Robles, on California’s Central Coast. 

Joe Spellman

Master Sommelier Joe Spellman

Tracing the history of JUSTIN Vineyard, Joe explained to us that Justin Baldwin purchased 160 acres of the limestone-rich soils of the Santa Lucia Mountains of Paso Robles in 1981 with the dream of making Left Bank Bordeaux-style blends from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc on California’s Central Coast. With its elevation of 1,200-1,500 feet, Pacific Ocean breezes, and wide day-night temperature swings, Paso’s microclimate allows the grapes to develop flavor, structure, and balance. Justin Baldwin realized his dream in 1987 with the first release of Isosceles, now his flagship wine, named for the three varietals that make up the blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

We tasted three wines from JUSTIN Vineyard and Winery, each one of them beautifully balanced:

2013 Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc, $14. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel tanks; no malolactic fermentation. Alc. 14.5%. Citrus, apple, and pear, with a crisp, refreshing minerality and a long finish. Lean, clean, citrusy and meant to be enjoyed young.

2012 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, $25. Juicy, ripe red and black fruit, hand picked and hand sorted, aged in small American oak barrels (30% new) for 16 months, and displaying the very low and soft tannins typical of Paso Robles. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, along with some Syrah and Petite Syrah, although the exact blend is not divulged. Alc. 14.5%.

2011 Paso Robles Isosceles, $88. A spicy, aromatic, full-bodied wine modeled on the Left Bank wines of Château Margaux. 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc. Aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 21 months. Unfiltered; racked twice per year. Alc. 14.5%.

Joe also brought two wines for us to taste from JUSTIN’s sister vineyard, Landmark Vineyards, located at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain in Sonoma Valley in northern California.

Landmark has a very interesting history. It was founded in 1974 by a group that included Damaris Deere Ford, great-great-granddaughter of John Deere, who invented the steel plow. The first vintage of Landmark’s flagship wine, Overlook Chardonnay, was produced in 1991. In 1993, Landmark hired world-renowned enologist Helen Turley, now owner of the 9-acre boutique winery Marcassin Vineyard, who helped craft Landmark’s signature style: grapes harvested by hand and pressed whole cluster, fermented by naturally occurring wild yeasts, and aged in French oak barrels. The philosophy of Landmark’s current winemaker, Greg Stach, is “the best grapes make the best wines. The less the wine is manipulated, the more flavors and aromas remain for the consumer to enjoy.” 

The two wines we tasted were:

2012 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay, $25. 100% Chardonnay, with the grapes sourced from 22 vineyards in the following counties: 83% Sonoma, 11% Monterey, and 6% Santa Barbara. Grapes are whole-cluster pressed and native-yeast fermented in 100% French oak barrels for 10 months. Lees are stirred throughout the wine in the barrels twice per month, to create roundness, richness, and texture. Alc. 14.3%.

2012 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir, $25. 100% Pinot Noir, with the grapes sourced from cool-climate vineyards in the following counties: 53% San Luis Obispo, 40% Sonoma, and 7% Monterey. Grapes are harvested and sorted by hand, fermented in small single-vineyard lots, and aged for 10 months in 100% French oak barrels. Winemaker Greg Stach and his team taste and select from the individual barrels and create the final blend. Alc. 14.5%. Stach’s goal for this wine was to craft a fruit-forward, accessible, and reasonably priced wine with good acidity.

24 Hubert Wines has several other appealing seminars coming up. Check out their schedule here.

Cheers!

Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland

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Bosoms, Bubbles, and Bollinger: What Shape Is Your Champagne Glass?

34, a swanky restaurant in the heart of London’s Mayfair district, commissioned British sculptor Jane McAdam Freud (daughter of the celebrated late painter Lucien Freud) to design a Champagne coupe molded from the left breast of supermodel Kate Moss, to celebrate her 40th birthday and her 25 years in the fashion industry. A spokesman for 34 described the glass as “an intricate abstract design reminiscent of Art Deco symmetry which, when held at an angle, shows a beautiful curvy shape.” The coupe has a long, slender stem and “her ‘Kate’ signature accompanied by a small heart at the base.” (The Independent, August 25, 2014)

Photo: British Vogue

Photo: British Vogue

On October 8, 2014, Kate Moss will host the launch of the coupe at 34. Filling the glasses will be Dom Pérignon’s P2-1998 (a rebranding of the latest release of the 1998 vintage from the Oenothèque series). The coupe and a bottle of 1995 Oenothèque will cost £2,123 (US$3,515).

Photo: Wine Spectator

Photo: Wine Spectator

This is not the first time that a Champagne coupe has been modeled from a supermodel’s breast. In 2007, Dom Pérignon commissioned German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld to create an advertising campaign for the release of its 1993 vintage Oenothèque. Lagerfeld’s muse, Claudia Schiffer, also happened to be a top model for Dom Pérignon at the time. Lagerfeld honored her and her bosom with a design that has a white breast-shaped bowl with a pink nipple sitting atop three white porcelain miniature replicas of Dom Pérignon bottles on a silver tray bearing Lagerfeld’s and Schiffer’s signatures. This assemblage, accompanied by a bottle of Oenothèque, could be purchased in December 2008 for $3,150.

Why did McAdam Freud and Lagerfeld cast their interpretation of the Champagne coupe from a beautiful woman’s left breast? And why did Lagerfeld make his coupe and miniature Dom Pérignon bottles of milky white porcelain? Here are some possible explanations:

Milk Bowl (Breast Bowl), from the Service for the Dairy, together with tripod base for Queen Marie Antoinette. 1788. Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. Painted by Fumez, after design by Jean-Jacques Lagrené and Louis-Simon Boizot. Photo: M. Beck-Coppola (Musée National de la Céramique, Sèvres).

Milk Bowl (Breast Bowl) with tripod base, from the Service for the Dairy for Queen Marie Antoinette. 1788. Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory. Painted by Fumez, after a design by Jean-Jacques Lagrené and Louis-Simon Boizot. Photo: M. Beck-Coppola (Musée National de la Céramique, Sèvres, France).

This Sèvres porcelain milk bowl, complete with a nipple, is one from a set of four made in 1788 by artisans from the Sèvres Porcelain Manufactory as part of a 65-piece dining set that Louis XVI commissioned for his queen, Marie Antoinette, to use at the royal dairy at the Château de Rambouillet. The tripod base on which the bowl sits features the head and hooves of a goat, the Queen’s favorite animal.

The bowl is modeled after a Greek drinking cup produced by Athenian potters, a mastos (meaning breast, udder), made from terracotta in the shape of a female breast, with nipple.

Attic black-figure mastos cup attributed to Psiax, ca. 520-510 BCE

Attic black-figure mastos cup attributed to Psiax, ca. 520-510 BCE. Photo: Getty Museum

In the early 19th century, Josephine Bonaparte commissioned Sèvres to make an updated version of the breast bowls for her, using the original molds. Hers were of white porcelain and 24-carat gold and were also used in the Rambouillet dairy.

Musée National de la Céramique, Sèvres, France

Photo: Musée National de la Céramique, Sèvres, France

The gift of the Sèvres milk bowl from her husband may have inspired Marie Antoinette with an idea for a reciprocal gift to him: round Champagne glasses made from casts of her breasts (or her left breast in particular, depending on who tells the story)—the first Champagne coupe, so the tale goes—so that Louis XVI and their courtiers could drink to her health from them.

Kate Moss heard this story about “the Marie Antoinette coupe” too. She said, “I was excited to participate in this project. What an honour to be alongside Marie Antoinette—she was a very intriguing and mischievous character.”

Artwork by Lisa Falzon

Artwork by Lisa Falzon

But legend also has it that the saucer-like Champagne coupe was cast from the breasts of—take your pick!—Madame du Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Empress Josephine, Diane de Poitiers, Helen of Troy, and 1930s American model and photographer Lee Miller. Why? Because their men—respectively, Louis XV (twice), Napoleon, Henry II, Paris, and surrealist artist Man Ray—greatly admired their lover’s breasts and fantasized about drinking Champagne from them. In the case of Diane de Poitiers, one version of the story says that her husband, Henry II, cast the mold solely from his wife’s left breast.

Are these tales all born of men’s fantasies, the coincidental shape of a glass, an homage to a beautiful woman’s chest, and celebrity sex symbols, perhaps? In fact, the coupe was designed and made in England around 1663, which predates du Pompadour, du Barry, Josephine, Marie Antoinette, and Lee Miller and postdates de Poitiers and, if she existed at all, Helen of Troy. 

Marketing and celebratory hoopla aside, why all this fuss (and expense) over a glass whose shape is spectacularly ill-suited to drinking sparkling wine, especially a sparkling wine as miraculous as Champagne?

Photo: The Vintage Type

Photo: The Vintage Type

The large surface area of the wide, shallow coupe dissipates Champagne’s bubbles, warms the wine, and quickly renders it flat. As Benoît Gouez, chief winemaker for Moët & Chandon since 2005, says about drinking Champagne from a coupe, “You won’t have enough focus. The effervescence will go everywhere, the flavors will go everywhere, and you’re going to lose a lot of it.” (Ironically, the Dom Pérignon being served in those modern-day reinterpretations of the “Marie Antoinette coupe” is a Moët brand.)

But when the coupe was invented in the 17th century, sparkling wines were not nearly as effervescent as they are today. Sparkling wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished because bottles had not yet been invented that could withstand the internal pressure created by a secondary fermentation. Exploding bottles and popping corks led to the wine being called “the devil’s wine.” For those more sedate sparkling wines of the late 17th century, the design of the coupe was probably very appropriate.

The coupe was popular from the 1930s to the 1960s, thanks in part to the Stork Club, black-and-white films of the 1930s and 1940s such as Casablanca, Shall We Dance, and The Thin Man, and the penchant at wedding receptions for stacking layers of coupes into a “tower,” with Champagne poured continuously into the top glass and flowing down to fill the others below.

Personally, though I acknowledge that it’s far from the ideal glass from which to drink Champagne, I love the look and shape of the coupe. Yes, some are very plain, sturdy, and workmanlike, but those with a beautifully faceted stem, a diamond-shaped capital atop the stem, a graceful bowl, and a thin lip are exquisite to me, aesthetically. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for the 1940s glamour that I associate with them. My parents’ vintage Champagne coupes have a hollow stem, all the way to the base—a design feature that visually highlights the upward-spiraling bubbles in a most delightful way (even while the drinker’s fingers around the stem warm the wine prematurely, alas). Coupes are great for cocktails, and, when beautiful, are both fun and sophisticated to drink from!

FluteThe stemmed tall, narrow, very unbreastlike flute (so named because of its resemblance to the musical instrument) replaced the coupe as the preferred Champagne glass in the 1960s (although Audrey Hepburn was drinking from a flute as early as 1954 in Sabrina). Designed to remedy all the problems of drinking Champagne from a wide, shallow coupe, the purpose of the tall, slender flute was to preserve carbonation (and, as a side benefit, to allow more glasses to fit on a tray). There’s a much higher concentration of carbon dioxide Shoulder Flutein a tall, narrow flute than in a broad saucer. The bottom of the flute’s bowl can either taper into the stem or sit perpendicular atop it. Holding the glass by the stem prevents warming the wine, and the narrow opening at the top of the glass exposes less surface to air, retaining the effervescence and reducing spillage.

The better flutes have a rough spot deliberately etched inside the bottom center of the bowl that acts as a nucleation point for the bubbles to gather and then stream continuously upward to the top. In this way, the effervescence remains in the wine longer, which is probably why the flute is the best glass to display a sparkling wine’s bubbles. The flute will keep the wine bubbly longer than any other shape of glass. Supposedly, the narrow diameter of the top of the flute concentrates the wine’s aromatics, opposite to the way that the coupe’s wide bowl dissipates them, but I’ve never been able to discern much, if any, of a Champagne’s aromatics in a flute. Inside such a narrow diameter, the wine has no room to breathe, open, or develop. The diameter of some flutes is so ridiculously narrow that it’s impossible to drink from them without one’s nose getting in the way. Others are so tall that they become top heavy. Decorative arts and furniture appraiser Soodie Beasley said that “flutes, the extra tall ones anyway, remind me of big hair and the 1980s and ’90s.”

Trumpet fluteThe trumpet flute, with its wider mouth tapering outward from a slender stem, is a variation on the straight up-and-down flute. Because its wider opening at the top of the glass diffuses aromas rather than focusing them toward the nose, I can’t see that this design is an improvement over the standard flute, except that its wider mouth allows sipping without bumping one’s nose against the rim.

An improvement over the flute’s constricted aromatics, the tulip glass features a bowl that curves outward slightly above the midpoint, enabling some space for swirling, then curves back in at the top, directing the aromatics toward the nose.

Tulip2

Tulip

Starting around 2010, sommeliers and heads of Champagne houses such as Krug began advocating drinking Champagne, which is a white wine, out of a white wine glass, in order to taste the wine’s fullness in a way that’s impossible in a flute. The wine glass’s bowl is wide enough (and wider than the tulip glass) for the wine to breathe, open, and develop, and release its aromas and flavors. The inward-sloping sides at the top of the glass deliver the aromas into the nose and the flavors onto the palate in a much richer way than a flute can. Because of this, the wine’s finish is longer as well.

This past week a friend and I shared a bottle of Agrapart Les 7 Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs NV at the newly opened Chelsea Market (Manhattan) location of Laura Maniec’s Corkbuzz wine bar. (The “7” in the wine’s name refers not to the seven permitted grape varieties in the Champagne AOC but to the seven villages from which the grapes come: Avize, Cramant, Oger, Oiry, Avenay Val d’Or, Bergères-les-Vertus, and Mardeuil.) When the sommelier asked if we wanted the wine poured into flutes or white wine glasses, we replied, “Both, please.” We wanted to conduct our own taste test of the two glasses. As we expected, the white wine glass was far superior to the flute. We could not really smell anything in the wine in the narrow flute because its slender shape prevented the wine from coming into contact with oxygen; consequently, the aromas could not open or develop. In contrast, the white wine glass gave the wine room to open, breathe, and release its concentration of aromas. And the wider opening at the top of the glass gave each of us the room to swirl the wine and tilt the glass toward our face without spilling the contents; we had room to really put our nose into the glass and smell the aromas. Because more than 70 percent of what you taste with your mouth comes from your olfactory sense, being able to smell the wine is very important to your overall enjoyment and appreciation of Champagne!

If you’re in the fortunate position of being able to drink older, more complex, vintage Champagnes, then you owe it to yourself and to the wine to pour that precious liquid into a white wine glass in order to savor its elegance, depth, and aromas. Remember, that wine has spent anywhere from six to twenty years or more inside a bottle. How else will it open and reveal its concentration of complex aromas of yeastiness, toastiness, and brioche unless it’s allowed to come into contact with oxygen? And served at the right temperature, by the way (50°F/10°C)! Serve your Champagne too cold, and you will suppress its aromatics.

Dom Pérignon      P2-1998

Kate Moss’s festivities aside, Richard Geoffroy, cellar master at Dom Pérignon, must have to turn a blind eye to the colossal lost opportunity represented by pouring P2-1998 into a coupe, even one modeled on Kate Moss’s left breast. P2-1998 spent 12 years aging and maturing on its lees (the spent cells of the yeast that gave their bodies to the wine) and an additional two years resting postdisgorgement (after the yeast plug is removed) in the Dom Pérignon cellars. Earlier this year, Geoffroy described P2-1998 like this: “The 1998 is about energy: the wine is already 16 years to the vintage. You could well expect the maturity of the wine to be based on weight and power—paradoxically, it is not. It is full, packed with energy—so lifted, so Dom Pérignon, so penetrating; energetic and dancing, nothing weighty, nothing tired or oxidative.” I hope the guests at 34 at the christening of Kate Moss’s coupe in October will appreciate these characteristics of the remarkable wine they are privileged to drink, coupe or no. 

Benoît Gouez observed that “if you pour one bottle [of Champagne] into ten different glasses, you will have ten different wines. The glassware does affect a lot the tasting experience.”

But if your budget, as does mine, prevents you from regularly spending a minimum of $45 for a bottle of more complex Champagne, then it’s perfectly fine to drink your more simple sparkling wine from something other than a white wine glass! Personally, I’m on the lookout for a hybrid glass—something between a narrow flute and a small white wine glass. A Riesling glass, perhaps, or else a voluptuous tulip glass, both of which are wider than a flute. If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way! My most important considerations, as I evaluate glasses, are: How does the glass feel in my hand? Is it beautiful to look at? Do I enjoy holding it and drinking from it? I want my chosen glass to feel special—and playing into that equation of elegance are overall aesthetics: the lightness and thinness of the glass and the lip, and the glass’s height. And most important: Does its shape allow the wine’s aromas and flavors to develop?

While I’m looking for my ideal glass, I’d like everyone to take a minute to remember Lily Bollinger, who ran the Bollinger Champagne house from 1941 to 1971, and what she said about drinking her Champagne. I wonder what shape of glass she used?

I drink my Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.

Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone.

When I have company, I consider it obligatory.

I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am.

Otherwise I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.

Madame Lily Bollinger

Madame Lily Bollinger

Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland

Flatiron Wines & Spirits: Wines of Terroir and Tradition in the Heart of Manhattan

The folks at JancisRobinson.com are running a writing contest in support of independent wine retailers worldwide. They asked readers to submit an account of their favorite indie wine shop. The winning writer and winning retailer will be announced in September. Until then, Jancis and her colleagues are publishing one entry a day from those they consider the best. I was thrilled to see my submission published today (August 19, 2014) on JancisRobinson.com! Here it is.

Flatiron LogoOn the stretch of Broadway that extends from the Union Square Greenmarket to Madison Square Park, and within view of the much-photographed Flatiron Building, you’ll find a gem of a wine store: Flatiron Wines & Spirits. The first time I set foot into this shop, shortly after its opening in May 2012, and explored its selection of more than 2,000 (and growing) wines, I, like many others, wanted to buy every bottle in the store. This shop stocks my kind of wine: wines of depth and nuance that express a sense of the place they come from, made with minimal manipulation. The selection emphasizes organic, natural, biodynamic, and sustainable wines, though wines that don’t fit neatly into these categories are stocked as well. As Beau Rapier and Dan Weber, the shop’s founding managers, said, “We’re grower-driven and not dogmatic.”

Photo by Andrew Chen

Photo by Andrew Chen

Flatiron’s well-curated selection of wines and more than 200 artisanal spirits is displayed on custom wooden racks in an attractive open space with exposed brick walls, high ceilings, and large windows. Highlighted wine regions include Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Loire Valley, the Rhône Valley, Champagne, Piedmont, Tuscany, the Mosel, and California.

Wines from other regions and countries are available as well: Rioja, Bordeaux, Alsace, the Jura, the Wachau, Greece, Lebanon, Slovenia, and distinctive cool-climate wines from the Southern Hemisphere, including a few wines from Uruguay. Flatiron also stocks what just may be the largest selection in New York City of natural wines from Sicily. The store promotes newly emerging wine regions, such as Ribeira Sacra in Spain, and carries a wide selection of wines produced locally in New York State. You can also find kosher and sparkling wines, dessert wines, and sake.

Prices are competitive and fair. The bulk of Flatiron’s selection is at the $15 and above price point, but the store also features three tables of $15 and under wines from around the world—red, white, and rosé—that deliver value and quality.

Subscribers to the weekly e-mail newsletter are the first to learn about new wines coming into the shop and so get first crack at prearrival offers on the wines (many of which are highly allocated), and at special-discount pricing.

Flatiron holds free weekly tastings, Friday through Sunday (though a bottle of something delicious is usually open every day from 5 pm). Bubbles are spotlighted on Fridays, the wines of a particular producer or region on Saturdays, and spirits on Sundays, and all are offered at a discount during the tastings.

Customers can subscribe to eight e-newsletters on single topics: Burgundy, Champagne, Riesling, Italy, U.S., rare wines, “geek” wines, and spirits. Each newsletter features an informative article written by a staff member about the wines offered at discounted prices for subscribers.

Flatiron’s staff is its heart and soul. Each individual (special shout-out to Sarah, Susannah, Rosemary, and Andrew!) is knowledgeable, passionate, experienced, and articulate about wine and can suggest a bottle to suit what you’re looking for or guide you to something new to try, regardless of your level of knowledge about wine. Martin Texier, son of winemaker Eric Texier, interned at the store for a few months this past year. Staff members contribute to the newsletters and the interesting and educational blog posts on the shop’s website. And they are friendly and welcoming! On my second-ever visit, Sarah and Andrew greeted me by name. Living as I do among more than 1.6 million people on the island of Manhattan, I was bowled over to receive that level of attentive customer service at a shop I had visited only once before.

The store’s creators envisioned a space where they and their customers could explore and learn about wine in a fun, friendly, communal setting. Hosting free tastings with visiting winemakers is one way they realize this goal. Taking place in the back room around a big wooden farm table set with slate boards bearing cheeses, charcuterie, and baguettes, these tastings let customers mingle informally with the winemakers and one another while tasting and eating. One of my favorite of these stand-up tastings was billed as a New Wave California Wine Party and welcomed Nathan Roberts from Arnot-Roberts, Sam Bilbro from Idlewild, Ryan Glaab from Ryme Cellars, and Pax Mahle from Wind Gap.

Photo by Susan Berkowitz

Photo by Susan Berkowitz

The big communal table sees more formal and focused sit-down tasting seminars as well, also free, with winemakers who’ve included Patrick Piuze from Chablis, Benjamin Leroux of Comte Armand (Burgundy), Jean-Herve Chiquet from Champagne Jacquesson, and Alex Bautista from Cellar Credo de Recaredo. Imagine my surprise when, at Peter Veyder-Malberg’s seminar on the terroir of the Wachau, I found myself sitting across the table from Yo-Yo Ma!

Through their generosity of spirit at these free tasting parties and educational sit-down seminars, our Flatiron hosts foster a welcoming atmosphere of camaraderie and goodwill that inspires their customers’ goodwill in return. This was demonstrated one night at Flatiron’s publication party for Ray Walker and his book, The Road to Burgundy. Flatiron did not have any of Ray’s wines for attendees to taste, but a customer, who has been a supporter of Ray’s endeavors since his first vintage in 2009, brought one of her own (very expensive) bottles of Ray’s Pinot Noir for all of us to try.

Flatiron also hosts intimate wine dinners with winemakers at local restaurants where the chefs create menus that perfectly complement the wines. Producers who’ve been featured at these special occasions include Johannes Selbach, Steve Edmunds, Pierre Larmandier, Domaine Huet, Chateau Simone, and Montenidoli.

The shop offers free neighborhood delivery, New York City delivery, and shipping to elsewhere in the U.S. Customers can also shop on the store’s comprehensive website.

Flatiron Wines & Spirits has been featured in the New York Times, Food & Wine, Financial Times, The Village Voice, The Daily Beast, and on Dr. Vino.com.

Flatiron’s founders wanted to create the wine store where they would want to shop. They’ve certainly succeeded in creating the wine store where I want to shop. See for yourself: after you experience their impressive selection, excellent customer service, and educational tasting events, Flatiron Wines & Spirits will be the place where you want to shop too.

Flatiron Wines & Spirits | 929 Broadway | New York  NY  10010 | 212.477.1315

http://www.Flatiron-Wines.com | info@Flatiron-Wines.com

Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland

Should You Open That Bottle of Wine Today?

It depends. If you believe in the principles of biodynamic agriculture, which acknowledge lunar and astrological influences on soil and plants, then you would first check your biodynamic calendar to find out whether today is a fruit day or a flower day. Wine tastes best on fruit and flower days and not at its best on leaf and root days.

What in the world am I talking about? And what do lunar cycles and star constellations have to do with it? Here is a simple, admittedly too simple, explanation of how this works:

The movement of the moon influences more than just the tides. It affects all living, growing things on Earth. And because wine inside a bottle is a living, breathing organism, the moon’s rhythms influence it too.

Every two or three days, the moon passes through a different one of the twelve star constellations of the zodiac, from Aries to Pisces. From astrology we know that each constellation is associated with an element: earth, air, water, fire. In biodynamic agriculture, the twelve constellations and their elements correspond to four types of days:

Earth element: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn: Root day

Air element: Gemini, Libra, Aquarius: Flower day

Water element: Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces: Leaf day

Fire element: Aries, Leo, Sagittarius: Fruit day

Biodynamic farmers recognize that each element affects a different part of a plant: roots grow deeply into earth, flowers need air to disperse their scent, leaves store water, and fruit must have warmth (fire) to ripen.

The moon’s passage through a constellation on a specific day and at a specific time on that day determines whether the day is a root, flower, leaf, or fruit day.

And the type of day determines whether the day is a favorable or unfavorable one for planting and harvesting specific crops and even for drinking wine (grapes, after all, being a crop).

When the crop is the root of the plant, such as carrots or beets, then it is best planted and harvested on root days. Fruit crops are best planted and harvested on fruit days, and so on.

How Do I Know Whether It’s a Fruit, Flower, Leaf, or Root Day?

To learn what type of day it is, you can consult the monthly biodynamic calendars in a handy little book called When Wine Tastes Best: A Biodynamic Calendar for Wine Drinkers by Maria and Matthias Thun and published annually by Floris Books in the United Kingdom.

photo

Maria Thun

Maria Thun

Maria Thun (1922-2012) grew up on a farm in central Germany and spent a lifetime observing radishes. In her early twenties, she began studying Rudolf Steiner’s principles of biodynamic agriculture, which he formulated in the 1920s. To discover whether sowing, plant growth, and harvesting really were influenced by the moon’s passage through the star constellations, Maria Thun experimented with planting radishes. She noted that even with identical soil conditions and seeds, the shape, size, and yield of the radishes varied daily depending on the moon’s position in the specific constellation in which they had been planted. Thun continued experimenting with many other types of plants and concluded that the moon’s movement through the zodiac had the same effect on those crops as it had on the radishes. Based on her observations, she then divided the passage of the moon through the zodiac into four types of days: leaf, root, fruit, and flower, each indicating which type of plant is best sown on that day.

This photo clearly shows that the radishes (a root vegetable) harvested on a root day appear to be the most robust. (Illustration from Wine Folly and Backyard Biodynamics.)

This image clearly shows that the radishes (a root vegetable) planted and harvested on a root day appear to be the healthiest and most robust. (Illustration from Wine Folly and Backyard Biodynamics.)

From her extensive experiments and observations of the effects that planting and harvesting in conjunction with cosmic rhythms have on the quality of fruit and vegetable crops, flowers, and even on animals, weather, and bees, Maria Thun developed a planting calendar. The Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar has been published annually for fifty-two years and translated into twenty-seven languages. Since her death, both the calendar and When Wine Tastes Best continue to be published by her son, Matthias.

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How Do I Use the Monthly Calendars in When Wine Tastes Best?

It’s very easy! Here’s a picture of the April 2014 calendar:

IMG_0994

 Find today’s date in the left-hand column. (The next column tells you which constellation the moon is passing through that day.) Then slide your finger across the line and look at the colored bars for that date. The bars cover the 24-hour period from midnight to midnight, and the hours are listed along the top of the chart. The four types of days are indicated with colored bars: fruit days (red bar), flower (yellow bar), leaf (blue bar), and root (purple bar).

Again, the best days for drinking wine according to this system are fruit and flower days. I’ve read that aromatic grape varieties such as Torrontes and Viognier are best drunk on flower days.

A dotted line indicates that the time period is not good for biodynamic planting, harvesting, or wine drinking. Reasons for this can be because of an eclipse or the influence of other planetary interactions.

When you look at the calendars, you will notice that fruit and flower days don’t last for precisely one day. This is because the moon moves in and out of the different constellations at different times, so a fruit day might start at 2 AM on a Tuesday and finish at 10 PM on a Thursday.

The times in the calendar are GMT/British Summer Time. You’ll need to add or subtract hours from the charts according to your own time zone.

There is also a When Wine Tastes Best app for the iPad and iPhone, which you can try for free. You can search by month, week, or day, and the app automatically adjusts for your time zone.

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Whether you find these ideas intriguing or completely wacky, at least give them a try! After all, wouldn’t you want that expensive bottle of wine to taste its best at your next dinner party?

Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland

Berries of the Field

Some winemakers and wine drinkers believe that the only wines capable of fully showing their terroir are those made from a single grape varietal from a grand cru vineyard. But consider for a moment the beautiful wines made from humble field blends. These wines, and their mélange of grape varieties grown all together in a winemaker’s back plot or in vineyards within Viennese city limits or in a historic California vineyard or on some of the best vineyard lands in Alsace, turn out to be a far cry from humble. In this post, I’ll look at three examples.

What is a field blend, you ask? It’s a wine made from two or more, and sometimes many more, grape varieties that are interplanted on the same parcel of land and then harvested and vinified together. By contrast, most blended wines are made by growing, harvesting, and vinifying the grape varieties separately, then blending them.

What were the original reasons for planting different grape varieties together? Necessity, perhaps? Maybe winemakers simply did not have sufficient equipment to ferment different varieties separately. Another reason could have been to protect against risk in the event of a poor harvest or unfavorable weather and ensure, as much as possible, quality and quantity from year to year.

In a field blend, one grape variety’s ripe lusciousness balances another’s racy acidic character; another variety adds tannic backbone, and another adds color, such that the resulting wines are not too high in alcohol or too lean on fruit. Because all the grapes are picked at the same time, they are at different levels of maturity, ripeness, and acidity. Some are overripe, some are underripe, but the mixing of all the grapes results in complex blends that are greater than the sum of their separate parts—a whole orchestra, if you will. “The results are more in Nature’s hands,” says Austrian winemaker Fritz Wieninger.

The Compagni Portis Vineyard

The Compagni-Portis Vineyard

One such site where this synergy occurs is the historic Compagni-Portis Vineyard at the western base of Mount Veeder in California’s Sonoma Valley. Part of the original Buena Vista estate of Agoston Haraszthy, an early developer of California’s wine industry, the six-acre field now known as the Compagni-Portis Vineyard (after owners Natalie Compagni and Stephen Portis) was planted in 1954 with a diverse mix of white grapes: Riesling, Burger, Trousseau Gris, Gewürtztraminer, Green Hungarian, and Sylvaner among them. The soil is rich in white volcanic ash, and yields are most often less than one ton per acre.

The vineyard is one of sixty-eight vineyards registered by the Historic Vineyard Society of California and is one of the few mixed-white vineyards remaining. Its vines are dry farmed and organically farmed by Phil Coturri, one of Sonoma Valley’s leading organic viticulturalists and a member of the Coturri winemaking family.

At least six vintners have used grapes from the vineyard: Bedrock Wine Co., Arnot-Roberts, Ravenswood, Carlisle, Bucklin, and Gundlach Bundschu.

Boyhood pals Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, two of my favorite of the low-alcohol, low-interventionist “New California” winemakers, produce their Arnot-Roberts Old Vine White Field Blend from grapes from this site. Grapes are pressed whole cluster, then fermented with native yeast in stainless steel, and aged in neutral French oak barrels for twelve months. I first tasted this sublime wine in 2011 and love its intense aromatics of orange blossom, ripe pear, and lanolin, its bright acidity, and crisp finish. Absolutely delicious! 

Update, April 2014: Observant fans of this beautiful white field blend wine will have noticed that the label on the 2012 bottling does not include the words Compagni-Portis Vineyard, as labels from previous vintages did. Nathan Roberts recently told me the reason for this. He and Duncan Meyers learned last year that the vineyard is divided into three separate parcels that are owned by different families. They had not realized this before, because the Compagni-Portis family was the most active in the vineyard and interactive with Phil Coturri. Because of this divided ownership of the parcels, Arnot-Roberts has stopped using, as of the 2012 bottling, the Compagni-Portis name on the label of the field blend white wine.

The information about this vineyard in the records of the Historic Vineyard Society of California does not yet appear to be updated.

An Urban Field Blend

Vineyards within the city limits of Vienna? Yes! Believe it or not, Vienna has more than 1,700 acres planted to vines. And one of the traditional Viennese wines is Wiener Gemischter Satz (mixed set)—a field blend of white grapes. In 2013, a new Austrian DAC (designation of origin similar to the French AOC) was added: Wiener Gemischter Satz, and the specific geographic region associated with this DAC is the city of Vienna.

By law, a Viennese Gemischter Satz must comprise white grapes only and must include a minimum of three different grape varieties and not more than twenty. The predominant variety must not constitute more than 50 percent of the vineyard. All grapes must be planted, harvested, and vinified together. Typical grapes in a Viennese field blend include Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürtztraminer, and Grauburgunder, among others. Some field blends comprise as many as fifteen different grape varieties.

Fritz Wieninger is an Austrian biodynamic winemaker who has been a stalwart in reviving the traditional Viennese practice of making white wines from field blends. “Especially close to my heart is the Wiener Gemischter Satz,” he says. “This is a Viennese classic that had been nearly forgotten.”

The grapes in this field blend grow in soils of shell limestone and weathered limestone with a high clay content.

I tasted Fritz’s 2012 Wiener Gemischter Satz at a recent seminar with Fritz and his Kamptal winemaking colleague and friend Fred Loimer at Rom Toulon’s 24 Hubert Wines in Tribeca, 24hubert.com. The complex blend of eleven different white grape varieties was fragrant and floral, with vibrant acidity and fruit, pronounced minerality from the limestone soils, low alcohol (12.5 percent), and was delightful in every way. “All of Vienna in one wine,” as Fritz says.

2012 Wieninger Wiener Gemischter Satz

Fritz Wieninger’s Wiener Gemischter Satz

“Mixed Blacks”

Not all field blends are made from white grape varieties. Some older Zinfandel vineyards in California are referred to as “mixed blacks” because the Zinfandel grapes were coplanted around 1900–1905 with several other varieties, including Petite Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre. Ridge Vineyards’ Lytton Springs Vineyard is one example of a “mixed blacks” field of heritage varieties.

And Now to France . . . 

Other field blends, like Jean-François Ganevat’s J’en Veux (I want some), combine red and white grapes to make a red wine.

Ganevat’s grapes, a mix of seventeen non-AOC approved varieties indigenous to the Jura region of eastern France, include Petit Béclan, Enfariné, Gueuche, Coreau, Gouais, Argant, Portugais Bleu, and Seyve-Villard. These are some of the “lost” grapes of the Jura, now almost forgotten, that used to be the staple varieties. They are coplanted on a small bit of land behind Ganevat’s house. The vines, on their own rootstock, were planted in 1900. Ganevat’s domaine was certified biodynamic in 2006. His soils are a mix of schist, clay, and marl.

Each year, Ganevat destems the grapes for one of his wines entirely by hand. In 2009, this wine was the J’en Veux. Using scissors, he and his workers cut each berry from the cluster and leave only a trace of the stem still attached to the grape, resulting in intact grapes and no bleeding juice from tugging the grape from its stem. The grapes are then dropped individually into the barrel for a whole-berry fermentation. All grape varieties are cofermented. In 2009 about one hundred cases of J’en Veux were made.

The 2010 J’en Veux that I tasted was complex and pure, with aromas of fresh red fruit, earth, and minerals. Light body, low alcohol, and no added suphur. Bliss in a glass!

Ganevat changes the J'en Veux label design often. This one is an older version. Bottles with the latest version of the "shocking" label are not allowed into the U.S.

Ganevat changes the J’en Veux label design often. This one is an older version. Bottles with the latest version of the “shocking” label are not allowed into the United States. But if you do a Web search, you’ll find it!

Tempest in a Wine Glass

To those who fiercely believe that only a single grape varietal can best express terroir, Alsatian winemaker Jean-Michel Deiss takes the opposite stance. He coplanted his best vineyard sites with white field blends to highlight the site over any particular grape. He calls the resulting wines his vins de terroir. I have yet to taste any of these wines but am certainly eager to.

Personally, I believe that any field-blended wine can express its terroir just as ably as any single-varietal wine.

I am absolutely smitten with field blends and would love to hear about your favorites.

Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland

Like Sitting Inside a Jewel Box: The Astoundingly Pure Wines of Alphonse Mellot

Alphonse Mellot, whose family has been making wine in the Loire since 1513.

Alphonse Mellot, whose family has been making wine in the Loire since 1513

My notion of what Sauvignon Blanc is was blown off its rocker by a tasting at Rom Toulon’s 24 Hubert Wines in Tribeca of four exquisite wines from Alphonse Mellot of Sancerre, in the Loire. Was it just me, or did you too dismiss wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape (one of the seven noble grape varieties notwithstanding) as smelling and tasting like “cat piss” or, in my experience, canned peas?

Last night, Alphonse Mellot, the nineteenth member of his historic winemaking family to bear that name, showed me the essence of Sauvignon Blanc in my glass.

The medieval hilltop town of Sancerre lies about 125 miles south of Paris.

The medieval hilltop town of Sancerre lies about 125 miles south of Paris.

The town of Sancerre traces its origins to Julius Caesar and Charlemagne. The Mellot family’s roots in Sancerre wine date to 1513, when they were vine growers and wine producers of excellent reputation. Ancestor César Mellot was the wine advisor to Louis XIV in 1698. By 1881 the family was shipping its wines throughout France and the world. Ever since then, the eldest son has continued to bear the name Alphonse.

All farming and grape growing at the Mellot vineyard, La Moussière, is organic and certified biodynamic (since 1999), with only copper and sulfur being used on the vines—copper to combat peronospera (downy mildew) and sulfur to guard against oidium (powdery mildew). Alphonse Mellot is one of only five biodynamic producers in Sancerre. In a region where some 98 percent of fruit is machine harvested, Mellot meticulously picks his grapes by hand into small 25-kilogram (about 55 pounds) cases.

The large percentage of old low-yielding vines, with some parcels planted in 1931, 1948, and 1951, grow in soils of limestone, flint (silex), clay, and chalk, which lend tremendous complexity to the wines.

Each one of the three whites we tasted—2012 Pouilly-Fumé, 2012 La Moussière Sancerre, and 2011 Satellite Sancerre (from vines planted in 1951)—was such a precise and refined expression of lemon, lime, and grapefruit, and of its minerals, acidity, and soil. I was stunned. Complexity, structure, substance, balance, and pure deliciousness. These wines have so much energy; you can almost feel the vibrations zinging off your glass, as if it were a tuning fork.

The last wine, 2011 La Moussière Sancerre Rouge, was made from Pinot Noir and had all the beautiful, mind-altering aromas and tastes of that grape’s red and black fruit and earth. Move over, Burgundy!

2011 La Moussière Sancerre Rouge

2011 La Moussière Sancerre Rouge

The fastidious attention to detail that Alphonse Mellot displays in making his wines is so evident in their expression. The impression his wines leave you with is indelible. 

Thanks to Rom Toulon for hosting another exceptional seminar at 24 Hubert Wines. These outstanding events with the winemakers provide a terrific learning experience in an intimate setting and allow for thoughtful interaction with the wine in one’s glass.

 Copyright © 2014 by Carol Hartland