Analog Wines For the Digital Age

Friday, December 17, 2010

G.D. Vajra 1/2 bottles make great stocking stuffers . . .

Moscato d'Asti is the essence of summer in a glass. With aromas of peaches, apple, apricot, and pineapple and flavors to match, this wine, if you can call it a wine, is the perfect antidote for the winter blues.

Harvested the first week of September, this is usually the first wine out of the gate to consumers providing some quick cash so that the other wines that will be in barrel for many months to come have a safe home. But don't let it fool you. A good Moscato can last for years, especially in those vintages with high acidity.

The Vajra Moscato is a little hidden gem of a wine. Only a few hundred cases are made and only recently has it been offered here in the states.

I have 1/2 bottles and full bottles for sale of the 2009, but I would go for the 1/2 bottles as they will fit nicely in the stocking.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Prosecco "Colfondo" - Costadila`

So the holidays are coming up and I have the perfect wine for you. The Costadila` Prosecco 450 SLM "Colfondo". An organic sparkling wine from the Prosecco grape made in the Veneto, it isn't like your average Prosecco. At the time when most Prosecco makers are taking the yeast out of the bottles, the Costadila` people are letting them sit in there, in each individual bottle, and letting the lees (yeasts and sediment left over from fermentation) continue to add flavor and texture to the wine. Each bottle can taste a little different and unique, but still be fresh and zingy and fun.

Click on the link below to read a little bit about a new group of producers making Prosecco in this way in the Veneto and doing it in style:

The Do Bianchi blog is the brainchild of Jeremy Parzen, who was on UCEAP Padova in 1987/1988 and I was there 1988/1989 so we never crossed paths but we heard a lot about the previous year's students as they were a pretty fun group that had a huge effect on the University at the time (or at least the Monte Cengio dormitory). Lots of Italo-American cultural exchanges (read: drinking and going to the discotheque) and a few marriages, just like my year.

Jeremy and I have connected over our passion for wine and especially wine from Italy and it just so happens that we travel in some of the same circles and his love for the types of wines that I am importing from Italy shine through. Luckily, I only buy wine from people that I like and respect so this makes it easy for me to love not only their wine, but the people behind the wine making them special.

As for now, please ask your local retailer or restaurateur here in CA, "Where is the Costadila`?!"



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dinner with Gerald of Weimax Wine and Spirits - Burlingame

So here was a pre "winemaker dinner" dinner on Sunday night in the Bay Area with a good friend, Gerald of Weimax, hosting Giuseppe and me for a 7 0r 8 course meal at his house. Lots of fantastic food and wine and good company. Below is Gerald's blog posting of our dinner together with pictures.


of the G.D. VAJRA winery
Halloween 2010

On the last Sunday in October, we had the pleasure of hosting our friend Giuseppe Vaira from the famous Barolo/Riesling/Pinot Noir/Barbera/Dolcetto/Moscato estate in Vergne close to the town of Barolo.

He flew in from Europe and in the late afternoon we began a small celebration of Giuseppe's arrival.

We popped the cork on a 2001 Schramsberg Reserve...

This was extremely elegant and quite dry...nicely toasty, too. This was matured for 5+ years on the spent yeast.

Then we sat down at the dinner table and opened a bottle of Trefethen's 2009 Napa Valley Dry Riesling to accompany a little salad.

The salad had a lemony vinaigrette with a nice mustard character to it. The salad featured assorted mixed greens and some white and green asparagus with some warmed pancetta on top.
Ellen brought some of her home-grown cherry tomatoes...very nice.

The next course was "crab cakes." I browned some butter in a couple of frying pans and we mixed up the crab fixin's...

Rinascimento Wine Company President, Chief Cook & Bottle Washer Justin Gallen enjoyed the proceedings.

So did Ellen...

We paired this with a bottle of Selene's 2009 Hyde Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Napa's Carneros region.
This is a spectacular California Sauvignon and one of the best in the state.
It was quite dry and mildly citrusy with nice stony overstones.

Giuseppe was amused by the palate cleanser, made from a lovely, fruity Dolcetto from one of his neighbors.

We then opened and decanted a couple of 1998 Napa Cabernets.
The "vintage chart" tells you 1998 is a poor vintage and consumers are urged to by-pass this sort of year. We were curious to see how a couple of Cabernets had fared...were they worth cellaring? Were they still alive? Were they any good?

Giuseppe helped serve the wine.

Meanwhile, the kitchen work was mostly finished...

Toasted Israeli Couscous with mushrooms...
Lamb shanks braised in Dry Creek Zinfandel...
Stewed artichokes with zucchini.

The 1998 Dunn "Howell Mountain" seemed okay at the start, but as it sat in the glass, this bottle's funky notes took over and Ellen said it was corked...
After a few minutes, we could see that, in fact, the corky element was increasingly apparent.
So...I looked in the cellar and found another bottle...a bit older.

This was a 1981 Ridge "Jimsomare."

The vittles were passed around the table...

Giuseppe realized the Ridge was old than he!

The Ridge showed some of the dill-like notes typical of wines aged in American oak. It had plenty of acidity and a touch of tannin...a medium-bodied red, this was elegant and nicely mature. It was also relatively low in alcohol.
And the bottle still had its ten-buck sale-price tag on it!

The other wine was a 1998 Araujo "Eisele Vineyard" Cabernet from an old site near Calistoga. Ridge had made a spectacular wine from this vineyard in 1971 and it was later vinified by Conn Creek and Joseph Phelps. After being acquired by the Araujo family, it appears exclusively under their label.
The 1998 vintage was declared by most critics as a "wash out" and there wasn't much praise for Cabernets from such a "difficult" vintage.
Well...anybody tasting this bottle would be hard-pressed to embrace the notion of it coming from a so-called "off" vintage.
This was full of dark fruit aromas and the oak was sweet and cedary/vanillin. The wine was supple on the palate...remarkably fine!

At one point during the dinner conversation, Justin mentioned wines from his birth year, the lovely 1968 vintage.
Giuseppe, it turns out, made his way into the world shortly before the Nebbiolo grapes were picked in 1985.
And...I had selected a bottle of wine to pair with the various (mostly) local cheeses...

What luck!
A 1985 Vajra Barolo, imported years ago by Crosse & Blackwell!

I brought this out in the decanter and did not announce its identity...

We sniffed and tasted and some guessed it to be an old Cabernet, possibly from Howell Mountain.
Finally I brought out the bottle and Giuseppe was amazed. The cork, he noted, was clearly put in the bottle by using a hand-operated device.

At this point the paparazzi descended and Giuseppe and his birth year bottle were the subjects of numerous photos.

We then served some cheeses, mostly locally-made....

And we enjoyed the berryish, spicy Pinot Noir from the Arista winery in Sonoma's Russian River Valley. This was deliciously fruity, showing sweet cherry notes and some spice and wood tones.

Dessert tasted especially sweet, as our San Francisco Giants baseball team had been victorious in winning their third World Series game...

Bob brought pears poached in red wine and I made a Cinnamon-Vanilla Gelato.

Adam Tolmach's late harvest Viognier was right at home in this company.
Ojai Vineyard. 2002. Viognier.

And, having been awake for more than 24 hours, Giuseppe was ready to head for his hotel and hit the sack.

This was a lovely evening...thanks to all who participated.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Castel Noarna 2005 Lagrein

Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Take Castel Noarna for example. The wines are great but I just couldn't sell them to save my life. And, as I said, the wines are really good.

Having the 2005 Lagrein from above with dinner tonight and it is just awesome.

Made from organically grown grapes in one of the most beautiful places ever, the little tiny village of Nogaredo in Trentino, right up the road into the mountains from Verona and next to a picturesque castle from the 9th Century.

Clear with a deep ruby core out to a garnet rim. Developing aromas of crushed violets, cranberries, cherry compote, black licorice and a tiny touch of white pepper. Slightly bloody meat and iron/lead pencil in the mouth. Dry with medium plushy-round tannins, surprisingly medium plus acidity and a long, say 5 second, finish. Flavors of cranberry and soy along with that cherry/cranberry combo combine in the mouth to make for a very complex and interesting wine.

Spaghetti with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce, some good bread and a bitter green salad were just the foods to have with this wine on a night when Fall has shown herself for the first time here in SoCal. (And yes, we have seasons, and rain. Too much rain if you ask me. I may have to move back to the Bay Area to find some sunshine!)

My last bottle of this wine and I guess the last one in California as I don't think anyone has picked up this winery to import since we parted last year.

Ah well. La vita va avanti come sempre. I would order some just to drink myself but I think I would have to get so many cases that I wouldn't be able to drink them all on my own.

Care to join me? ;-)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

G.D. Vajra dinner at Sociale in San Francisco with Giuseppe Vaira (and me!)

Join us for a fantastic dinner on Monday, November 1st, at 6:30 pm
where we will showcase the wines of G.D. Vajra in Barolo.

Aldo Vajra as a winemaker has been called the most modern of traditionalists as well as the most traditional of modernists. His wines toe the line so well between having old world structure, acidity and finesse side-by-side with new world clarity, definition and power. A professor by trade turned winegrower and winemaker in the 1970's, Aldo embodies the dichotomy between the new and old.

Technically proficient in all the latest wine making trends but he leans more toward just letting the grapes speak for themselves. Aldo has struck a chord with wine lovers all over the world with his wines that touch the heart as well as the mind.

His son Giuseppe Vajra, who will join us for dinner, is now part of the family enterprise and following is his father's footsteps. He has been crisscrossing the Atlantic to promote the family winery here in America, just one of the many countries he visits every year. World traveled though he is, if you ask him where he would rather be, he will gladly tell you either in the winery or the vineyard.

We will pour five Vajra wines to pair with a five course dinner Chef Tia will prepare.

The wines will be:
G.D. Vajra Langhe DOC Bianco (Riesling) 2008
G.D. Vajra Barbera d'Alba DOC 2007
G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso (Freisa) DOC 2006
G.D. Vajra Barolo DOCG "Bricco delle Viole" 2005
G.D. Vajra Moscato d'Asti 2008

"I try to make wines that give people joy.
In the past wine was a food, it was necessary for sustenance. Today that is not the case; we choose to drink for pleasure.
I want to make wines that bring people happiness" - Aldo Vajra

Dinner will start at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, November 1st, and will have limited seating.
The cost of the dinner will be $110 per person not including tax or gratuity.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

David Nichol and Tia Harrison

SOCIALE / 3665 Sacramento Street
San Francisco / CA / 94118
415.921.3200 /

Monday, October 18, 2010

VAJRA | Moon Nebbia Dawn on Bricco delle Viole

From my buddy Giuseppe Vaira the other morning:

Cari Amici

This was the view earlier today, out of the kitchen door, heading to the cellar. We couldn’t have a better start of the day and just wanted to share it with you. Today is calm. After a rainy Monday, a chilly night full of wind and a starry sky, we are taking care of Dolcetto waiting for more Barbera to be picked. The fruit is exceeding our expectations and hopes.

Buona giornata a Voi tutti!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Looking for a new name for my import company . . .

. . . and I want your help!

Rinascimento Wine Co. has served me well. It was truly a rebirth when I created this company three years ago. That said, since no one can pronounce the company name (except the Italians) and no one knows what it means (except the Italians), it is time to move on.

Thus, a contest is born. A case of my finest wine to the winner!

What is in a name? What makes it resonate with customers and clients?

So here are some helpful hints:
  1. This is an Italian wine import company but I represent other importer portfolios, too.
  2. Must not already be taken!
  3. Latin is good but somewhat rough for some. No Bacchus, please.

That is about it.

Let's get the press some grapes and see what kind of juice comes out!


Monday, September 13, 2010

Harvest begins in the Lower Loire Valley, Pays Nantais, Muscadet - Yea!


Les vendanges ont commencées ce matin sous un beau soleil.
Comme vous pouvez le constater sur les photos prises hier sur la parcelle du pavillon, le millésime 2010 s’annonce très prometteur.

Hervé et Nicolas

Grapes (Melon de Bourgogne) used to make Muscadet from the Loire Valley

Noticeably absent of rot (Botrytis), these grapes look really healthy and ripe so it is going to be a good vintage for dry, fruity wines.

Very promising, as the owners of Domaine Haut Bourg say above.

Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu
Gros Plant, Vin de Pays

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A great post on the development of the "Natrual Wine" movement in Italy . . .

This gives you an idea of the history of the movement and where it is going today. It also mentions in passing a new wine I picked up lately, a Prosecco, Costadila`, that is going gangbusters.

Check it out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vajra Barolo Albe on the Do Bianchi website . . .

Great little article on the Vajra Barolo Albe from Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi.

This wine is currently by the glass at Camino in Oakland, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Sociale in San Francisco, Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles and a few others, too.

And for you that want to purchase it at retail, there are a few bottles left through K & L Hollywood and their central warehouse at a really good price:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vintage II at UCLA Extension Summer 2010 part 2

2007 Roland Schmitt Pinot Gris

Clear with medium straw color, with weak to moderate youthful aromas of green apple, green pear, white flowers and mineral, ginger snap, apricot, fruity pebbles,

Dry in the mouth with low to medium acidity, weak flavor and short finish. Flavors of palate different than what is in the nose, mineral and not on the palate.

Conclusion is that it is 79 points that it is a poor and out of balance.

Many in the class disagreed with this review and I thought it was tasting great but as we know, de gustibus non est disputandem!

2008 Bott-Geyl Gewürztraminer Les Elements

Deep golden color, exceptionally aromatic, reminded of late harvest sauternes with aromas aged. Aromas of orange blossom, roses, geranium, guava, lychee nut and cardamom and star anise, full flavor and intesnisty and a medium long finish and and slightly off dry, ginger snappy character and a long finish.

It was mentioned thought it would pair it with strong cheese.

2001 Domaine Roland Schmitt Riesling Grand Cru Altenberg de Bergbeiten

Clear and bright with deep gold color, aromas of classic petrol, caramel, butterscotch, developed and aged and powerful aromas of straw or hay and a little coppery , fruity parmesan and peaches.

Sweet, low in acid or high in acid (depending upon who you asked) with medium alcohol with moderate to powerful medium finish.

Flavors of mineral green apple, citrus, lime and overall balance was good. Tasted like a classic delicious Riesling


So that is it for Champagne and Alsace and now we are on to Burgundy!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vintage II at UCLA Extension Summer 2010 part 1

So I teach this class at UCLA Extension and we taste a lot of wines from France, Italy and Spain.

Our first class was the other day and we talked about Champagne and Alsace.

Here are some pictures and notes (collectively taken by the students and by me) on the Champagnes:

Agrapart & Fils Les Sept Crus NV

Blanc de Blancs

Clear, light to medium, straw, with yeasty, apple, butter, slightly anise and petrol

Moderate intensity, and developing.

Persistent fine bubbles in the mouth, dry to medium dry, medium acidity, medium body, flavor intensity was moderate and the finish was long

On the palate, slightly off dry, lemon finish also on the finish a sweetness. Taste a little bit of creaminess, lemon, apple.

Really good balance and liked it a lot.

92 pts

Agrapart & Fils 1998 Mineral Grand Cru

Blanc de Blancs

Clear and medium straw color and tiny bubbles visually.

Rich and full aroma of moderate and powerful, developed and aged aromas of more floral aromas, honeysuckle and definitely yeasty and complex.

Dry with medium acidity, and medium bodied, no tannins, with moderate oak, amd powerful flavor intensity and a medium to long finish.

Flavors with more minerality, nutty, and yeasty and less acidity. A little of baked apple, a little mushroomy and fungoid, pretty smelly and slightly dried leaves and woodsy.

89 pts to 93 pts, slightly off aromas and flavors contribute to a less than ideal experience. Some loved it and some hated it.

R.H. Coutier NV Brut Grand Cru

1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Meunier

Clear, medium straw to gold and with aromas of mushroomy, loamy, wet earth, walnuts and green apple croissant, and a little straw, cherries, berries,

Dry, with medium high acidity, medium body, a little bit of grape tannin, flavor intensity is pronounced.

Clear, medium straw to gold and with aromas of mushroomy, loamy, wet earth, walnuts and green apple croissant, and a little straw, cherries, berries.

89 to 92 pts from the class.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

1987 Chateau Musar Rouge from Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

This was the last wine of the evening and it was just lovely.

Karyn and I visited Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley more than 5 years ago now and it seems like yesterday. The earth there is bright red with iron. Kind of reminds me of the garance colored soil of the Southern Rhone but lots deeper topsoil.

Anyway, you can taste the soil in this wine, and a whole lot of other things.

First things first. We brought back this 1987 bottle from our trip after tasting 20 different vintages in the cellar with Serge Hochar and his son, Gaston. The 1987 stood out to me as one of the best Musar wines I had ever had so Serge kindly offered me a bottle to take home on the plane. (I also brought home a bottle of the mythical 1968, a rain-damaged vintage that he has kept, all 30,000 bottles of it or so as he won't tell me how many he actually has, in their vast cellars hoping that it would one day miraculously turn into something more. But in our tasting of it, there was no possible of a miracle happening. :-( But since it is my birth year wine, I had to have some . . .)

This wine has knocked around our garage for the past few years and although that couldn't have been good for it, there was no discernible flaws from heat or light.

The color was deeper than you would have thought for a 23 year old wine. I would say a ruby core out to a more ruby/orange rim.

The nose was the first thing that jumped out at me. And it literally jumped out of the glass after being decanted by Jon of Jaynes. It is a mix that is hard to describe. On one hand, there is the almost balsamic vinegar of a little volatile acidity wafting into your nose but at the same time, the crushed violets, smell of creosote and other herbs of Provence balance this out. Cranberries, cigar box (cedar and tobacco together) and almost a menthol like eucalyptus were all there.

In the mouth, the wine was surprisingly vibrant with lots of acidity and tannins that were soft and plush but a little gritty, too. The balsamic note and maybe a little soy sauce could be tasted as well as cranberry jelly and warm blood, like that of when you bite your lip. Every sip of the wine tasted different and with food, it was even better.

With every mouthful, I was transported back to Lebanon for another sense memory moment of our trip. The smell of the land and of the ocean which can be smelled from almost everywhere.

The beauty of the people and the unforgettable hospitality, unlike any other.

If you can still find some, I highly recommend you go seek this wine out.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 7, 2010

1997 Goisot Corps de Garde Gourmand Sauvignon de Saint Bris "Fie` Gris"

This was the mystery wine of the night as even I thought it was Sauvignon Blanc instead of the Fie` Gris that it actually turned out to be (see the fine print below everything else.

Turns out that Fie` Gris or Sauvignon Rose` as it is also called is an ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc. An ancestor that was of a slightly different color. Almost all grapes the have Gris or "Gray" in their name are slightly red colored when they are ripe, think Pinot Gris/Grigio et al., and thus seem to have a little more body and texture in the resulting wines than the wines that have Blanc in them. Don't know why this is, but it seems to hold true.

This particular Fie` Gris is from the Cotes d'Auxerre region of France that used to be part of Chablis, and shares much of the same soil and climate as Chablis, but somehow after phylloxera was determined to be on its own. Probably not a good idea from a monetary standpoint but certainly good for us as Fie` Gris is allowed to be planted (as well as Pinot Noir) in the Cotes d'Auxerre whereas they are not allowed in Chablis (or at least to be called Chablis proper).

The 1997 was definitely one for the weird wine file. Deep gold core out to a water-white rim, the wine certainly had the aroma of an older wine, all lanolin and honey in the nose with a touch of backed pears and surprisingly a little bit of fresh heirloom tomato stem, just off the vine.

In the mouth was where the wine really came alive with also sorts of flavors dancing on my tongue from baked pears to wildflower honey with a little pine resin as well (in a good way). The acidity must have been overwhelming in its youth but has now calmed down with time although it was still pretty racy. The mouthfeel was round and juicy.

Overall, for a 13 year old white from an obscure grape variety, pretty damn good.

We have the new vintage, the 2007, but I haven't tasted it yet. Maybe I should to make a comparison?

2006 Heretiers Lafon Macon Villages

From a vintage that could be considered middle of the road, this was a nice surprise. Not a surprise in the sense that Dominique Lafon ever makes bad wine, but that it was head and shoulders above any other Macon-Villages you will ever find.

Sure, the price is more than most Macon-Villages by a few dollars but even with that handicap, this wine was great.

Crystal clear with a pale yellow gold color this wine in the nose was all lime flower and toasted yeast, baked apples and lemon zest.

In the mouth the wine was rich but definitely not fat, lots of acidity but balanced out by just the right amount of alcohol and body. Flavors of baked apples, lemon bars with graham cracker crust (trust me on this one). The finish was long as that acidity kept it going and going.

It was the perfect compliment to the white bean puree and grilled levain bread (French sourdough) with Peppadew sweet peppers from South Africa.

This was just the beginning.

Sunday, May 9, 2010 interview . . .

Did an interview with a new website that focuses on gathering information on all the different facets of the wine business. It was fun. I don't usually think of my "career" in the wine business as a "career" but I guess after almost 20 years in the business of wine it has become one.

I hope you enjoy it.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

1992 Domaine de L'Hortus Cuvee Classique, Coteaux du Languedoc

Another treasure from the Beaune vault.

Bright garnet with just a touch of orange. Immediately upon hitting the glass, the distinctive aroma of black perigord truffles wafted upward into my nose along with a touch of white pepper, and stewed cranberry sauce. There is definitely a touch of garrigue in the nose as well.

In the mouth the L'Hortus is soft and velvety, still with punchy acidity and tannins that although present, are resolved and integrated into the wine. Flavors of black truffles, cranberry, soy sauce and spiced smokey meat. Still lots of life in this wine!

I don't know the exact cepage of this cuvee but it is definitely Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The Mourvedre I would know anywhere as this is the grape that gives the typical aroma and flavor of black truffles. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, this wine proves that oak is not needed to make great, flavorful reds. Alcohol is 12.5%. Certainly a thing of the past.

L'Hortus is located in the Pic St. Loup area of the Languedoc and it is one of the most stunning places in the world to grow grapes and make wine. You can go here if you want to learn more about the winery and see pictures.

A humble wine that usually sells for less than $15 at retail, the current vintage is 2007 and it is stellar as well.

Lunch with Francesca Vaira at Terroni DTLA . . . best lunch ever!

Francesca Vaira  2010 Langhe Freisa Kye` Library  2006 Langhe Freisa Kye` Library 2014 Luigi Ba...