For two decades, Napa Valley’s top winemakers have auctioned futures of innovative, one-of-a-kind wines for the unique portfolio of wines known as Premiere Napa Valley. This day-long extravaganza of barrel tastings, lunch, and bidding takes place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, with a full week of parties and educational tastings leading up to Premiere. What a week it will be!
Proceeds from the event support Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association in their efforts to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation. In 2015, an arousing display of uniformly passionate bidding on a range of unique wines resulted in a new record $6 million fundraising total for the Napa Valley Vintners.
As a preview to the 2016 event, Napa Valley Vintners brought six winemakers to Las Vegas in November to offer Premiere Napa Valley barrel samples and a panel discussion led by Master Sommelier Lindsey Geddes. Held within the grand arches of Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas‘ dining room, along with trade professionals and buyers, I had the opportunity to taste the current releases and barrel samples, as well as hear from the following vintners/winemakers (you can search all the 2016 lots here).
Jimmy Kawalek, Ancien Winery
Ancien Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Ancien Winery, 2013 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
Steve Reynolds, Winemaker, Italics Winery and Reynolds Family Winery
Italics Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Italics Winery, 2012 Coombsvile Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Reynolds Family Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Reynolds Family Winery, 2010 Stags leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
Matt Wood, Newton Vineyard and Domaine Chandon
Newton Vineyard, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Newton Vineyard, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Michael Scholz, Winemaker, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, 2012 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The experience in Las Vegas was just a small sample of what Premiere Napa Valley will bring in February in Napa, but an exciting representation of the quality and diversity of the Napa Valley AVA. At Premiere, the wines will be previewed and then live-auctioned before an invite-only audience of licensed wine buyers. These wines are truly unique from year-to-year and may be a varietal blend, or a single vineyard expression, a delicious and artistic collection of sub-appellations, or a remarkable vintage.
This year marks the 20th anniversary. And, for those around the world that cannot join, an online auction will be unveiled, offering 25 lots featuring unexpected varieties and early release date wines in 60, 120 and 240 bottle lots.
I consider myself fortunate to experience this on February 20, 2016, and I can’t wait to share more when that time comes!
Select photos: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners
Archeologists have traced the origins of wine-making back to 8,000 years ago to the country of Georgia. Wine was produced – and continues to be produced today – using clay vessels called kvevri. Essentially, fermentation of red and white wine in clay involves prolonged contact with the skins. In wine circles, the term “amphora” is commonly used to describe this style of wine.
It goes something like this: perfectly mature grape bunches are placed into kvevri that are sunken into the ground, a stone lid secures the top, then it’s opened the next spring or summer to skim the finished wine from the grape bunches that have accumulated at the bottom.
Georgia has been producing natural wines like this, without the use of chemicals, foreign yeasts, or filtration long before it became a stylistic trend. In the last decade, however, winemakers in other parts of the world, especially Italy and Slovenia, have embraced this ancient way to making wine, and they deserve some attention.
While amphora wines can be made with red or white grapes, the wines made with white grapes end up with an attractive orange hue. Typically, these wines have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins, due to the time spent with the skins. When in Las Vegas, try them at the following places listed below. The sommeliers have provided the dish they’d pair with each one:
Josko Gravner Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2003 Taste at:Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Manadrin Oriental Pair with: Roasted Tomato “Provencal”Ratatouille of Vegetables, Diced Baby Squid, Saffron Fish Soup
Sommelier’s Notes: “This is a super complex dish with the earthful flavors from the ratatouille, the “sweetness” of the squid, the saffron brings the lightly aromatic flowery thing. All of these you would find in something like Gravner’s wines. Just a whole lot going on.” – Will Costello, Master Sommelier/Wine Director, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire @ Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
COS Pithos Bianco, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2012 Taste at:B&B Ristorante, The Venetian Pair with: Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Marianati and Spicy Limoncello
Sommelier’s Notes: “The COS Pithos Bianco has the delicacy to compliment seafood while offering the power to stand up to the flavorful char on the octopus, as well as the spice of the limoncello vinaigrette.” – Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, B&B Hospitality Group, Las Vegas
Josko Gravner, Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2005
Taste at: Bazaar Meat, SLS Pair with: Whole Turbot, Josper-Roasted with Olive Oil and Salt from La Coruna, Spain
Sommelier’s Notes: “The Turbot is a large flat fish found primarily in shallow waters close to shore, it has bright white flesh, a delicate flavor and can have a slightly oily texture. The texture of the fish provides contrast while the simplicity of preparation of the Turbot compliments the flavors of the seafood and wine pairing.” – Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier, SLS Las Vegas
A few more producers:
Luigi Tecce, Campania, Italy Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Adega José de Sousa, Alentejo, Portugal
As I sat at lunch adoring this luminous, copper-colored wine, Valter Scarbolo said, “Every single grape must be perfect to make that wine.” Which meant that at the time of harvest, each Pinot Grigio grape would have to be healthy, perfectly ripened, and free from any marks and blemishes, to become this delicious liquid rose gold he calls Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio. Certainly, I made sure to indulge to the very last drop.
Then, not more than ten minutes went by while having lunch at Inyo in Las Vegas with newly-met friends from the food and wine world, I felt like Valter was offering to take us on a virtual trip to his vineyards, located 5,800 miles away in northeastern Italy in the region of Friuli. How could I resist his contagious energy and enthusiasm? Valter, with his robust personality and bright, expressive eyes, talked about how he acquired a passion for viticulture and viniculture from his father and set out to expand his family’s winemaking traditions. He grew to love each vine as a beloved friend, while holding the utmost respect for the land, as well as the wildness of nature that creates day-by-day challenges … and gifts.
His vineyards, located on the right bank of the river Torre in Lauzacco, is about an hour northeast of Venice. He and his family also own a popular road-side tavern called La Frasca.
As he introduced his wines, he spoke with passion about the land where the grapes originate – how the earth (red, clay-heavy soils with alluvial deposits, minerals and chalk) provides excellent drainage and imparts unique characteristics of the region’s wines. He explained how the cool Alpine breezes and warm marine flow from the Adriatic create the optimal thermal balance, allowing grapes to mature more slowly and evenly, resulting in rich flavors, well-defined aromas and a charge of acidity. And, while the area takes its cues from neighboring Austria and Slovenia, the wines are very much “deeply rooted” and unmistakably Friulian.
Dominated by small, family-owned producers, like Scarbolo, Italy’s northeastern corner – Friuli Venezia Giulia – has long been a powerhouse of fine white wine production. The ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, as well as other whites like Sauvignon and the local Friulano, have contributed to fresh, modern whites since the 1970s. Increasingly accomplished reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Refosco are also found in this magnificent region.
“Friuli is the frame of a beautiful canvas, colored with paint of our white wines.” – V. Scarbolo
Clearly, Valter is his land’s best ambassador. He wanted me to not only visualize the area but to also “taste the land.” With each sip, I was gently reminded that the vines are trained for lower yields, and that all his grapes are carefully harvested by hand and vinification and aging is carried out meticulously to demonstrate full varietal expression.
So with that, I’ve listed his offerings below, followed by my casual and very personal descriptions. Look them up for more refined tasting notes at Scarbolo.com. Then, go taste them!
Scarbolo Pinot Grigio – Pinot Grigio with character! Apples, honey, elegant minerals. Fresh, light, absolutely loved it.
Scarbolo Sauvignon Fruity, like peaches and tropicals, herbaceous and great acidity. Want more! Scarbolo Friulano Pure, chalky, wildflowers, super enjoyable and picnic-perfect. Scarbolo Merlot Soft and silky, bright and juicy – unlike any Merlot I’ve had. Scarbolo Cabernet (Cabernet Franc 70%/Cabernet Sauvignon 30%) Driven by one of my favorite varietals (Cabernet Franc), I was captivated by the deep ruby in color. It’s rich, robust, and delicious. Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio Skins spend six days with the juice, resulting in the copper hue. Gorgeous, remarkably special, crushed red berries, silky. My Time A “super white” with a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvingon, and Friulano, Valter dedicates this wine “to life.” There’s great meaning behind this wine, and I find it to be inspiring and delightfully delicious – fruity, exotic, mineral, elegant, perhaps my favorite from this list.
Scarbolo Campo Del Viotto (100% Merlot) An exciting and fascinating way to interpret Merlot, approximately 40% of the clusters are dried out for 20 days. Aged in barriques, the color is intense ruby, the experience – voluptuous and powerful.
Scarbolo Refosco – A native Friulian varietal that dates back to the Roman Empire. Amazing, fruity, spicy and what I call “playfully romantic.”
“Wine is the vessel that carries the Spirit of the land, its culture and traditions.” – V. Scarbolo
Valter is tenaciously passionate about his wines and it stems from the respect that he has for the land and “what happens under the sky” – even if it’s unfavorable. He mentioned how a devastating tornado blew the roof off his winery years ago and how it undeniably tested his determination. However, nature’s wild setback made him and his family stronger and more committed to producing wines that reflect the richness of the land.
After tasting his wines, I asked him how he came up with the art on the label, which depicts a set of agricultural wheels. He said that while he had asked designers to offer him specs for his consideration, ultimately it was he who sketched out his own design. It’s profoundly symbolic of his story. The wheels represent the daily work, the continuous evolution and the new challenges that each day brings.
It’s perfectly clear how much dedication and love he puts into his work. The unmistakable bottles, graced with his unique trademark, reflect his philosophy and passion and give true meaning to Scarbolo wines, which make tasting them all the more amazing. Keep the wheels turning, Valter!
Rosés are a masterful match for almost any dish. These wines are versatile because they fall in between the extremes of red and white — less intense than a big, tannic, mouth-busting red, but with a little more depth than a super-light white.
I recently enjoyed a special lunch prepared by Chef Luciano Pelligrini at the quaint Marché Bacchus French Bistro in Las Vegas. The luncheon was accompanied by a sampling of rosé wines presented by John Matthew Smith, a well-known wine authority of Wirtz Beverage Nevada. All the wines were rosés – dry, refreshing, absolutely riveting – from places that beautifully express their terroirs.
In addition to the line-up was a sweet surprise, which wasn’t a rosé at all. It was a German riesling that paired nicely with dessert.
Below is a list of wines that were poured during the luncheon. What’s truly special about Marché Bacchus, besides the waterfront patio setting, is the wine shop, which boasts over 950 different labels of American and International wines. Any of these wines are available for purchase, to be taken home, or enjoyed with your dining experience at Marché Bacchus.
While rosés are great suggestion for warm weather, don’t let temperature dictate what you enjoy; they are perfect year-round. Enjoy!
Champagne Ayala Rosé Majeur
Le Grand Courtâge Brut Rosé
Pierre Boniface Les Rocailles Apremont 2013 (Savoie)
Chateau de Calavon, Coteaux d Aix-en-Province Rosé 2013
Domaine De La Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rose 2013
Chateau Beaubois Costieres des Nimes Expression Rose 2013
Domaine Collotte, Marsannay Rosé 2013
Reuling Vineyard, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2013
Albert Bichot, Savigny Les Beaune Rouge AOC 2011
Chateau du Donjon, Grande Tradition, Minervois 2011
Dr. F. Weins-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2013
Yet here’s another reason why orange continues to be my favorite color – orange wines. I recently had a chance to try this gorgeous copper-hued wine, the 2011 Paolo Bea “Santa Chiara” Umbria Bianco.
Why is it so special? This one hails from Umbria, Italy. Often referred to as the “green heart of Italy,” it’s the only Italian region without access to the sea or international borders. Wines from here are not exactly famous, but they are interesting, delicious and definitely worth seeking. Next, orange wines are generally not widely available. In other words, they are rare treasures. Such is the case of this wine producer – Bea’s wine-making practices focus on high quality artisanal wines, however, their production is low.
Paolo Bea’s “Santa Chiara” 2011 is a fascinating orange wine with a unique field blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Garganega. If these are all white grapes, then what makes the wine orange? To clarify, it has nothing to do with orange fruit. Orange wines are white wines produced more like reds, with prolonged contact of crushed grape skins and seeds. This contact produces the distinctly beautiful hue. Ranging in color from butterscotch to tawny brown, they can also vary from vintage to vintage.
Often made in clay vessels or wooden barrels, this is an ancient wine making style that has recently been revitalized by Italians and Slovenians, and are produced today by enterprising winemakers worldwide.
It’s not easy to describe the “Santa Chiara.” It has a very different and unique aroma and quite generous in flavor – with spice, cantaloupe-like, rustic, earthy good funk going on in the glass.
Generally speaking orange wines often possess the body and tannins of red wines and the fruit and minerality of white wines, which it probably why I like it so much. They are stylistically unique, and many offer earthy savoriness, with a richly textured mouth-feel.
Some claim orange wines to be a fad, but I think they offer a wealth of virtues. They are quite hard to find, however.
As for trying one out, look for a restaurant with a solid Italian wine list. In Las Vegas that would be none other than B&B Ristorante (The Venetian) and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse (The Palazzo).
Occasionally, I’ll drop in to the thrift store to hunt for treasures, such as an overlooked vintage Bauer or McCoy pottery. But, this time I came across a display of coffee from Vietnam. It wasn’t too surprising, since Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil. But, what I didn’t know was the partnership between the coffee farmers in Vietnam and The Salvation Army. If you haven’t already heard of this coffee, it’s a good story.
Pleiku, which is located in central Vietnam, is largely covered with coffee plantations. The local people live in small villages wedged between the plantations, and through years of isolation, these communities have developed their own language and culture. In an effort to help these poor communities, The Salvation Army started a partnership with the Pleiku coffee network in 2009 with the purchase of 44,000 pounds of beans. It’s been going strong ever since.
In general, the world loves Arabica coffee beans, but what is largely grown in Vietnam is Robusta, which has a harsher, stronger taste. Its higher caffeine content (double that of Arabica) also makes it slightly more bitter.
The Salvation Army hired a San Francisco coffee company to come up with the right blend: 75% Robusta from Vietnam and 25% Arabica from Guatemala. If you’re wondering what this blend tastes like, think Café Du Monde without the chicory. What you’ll find in The Salvation Army stores is called Cafe La V. The brown foil bag features a big map of its country of origin. I love the saying on the back, which reads, “FRESH HOT HOPE.”
While Robusta is generally regarded as inferior to Arabica, it’s still good coffee. The slightly bitter, earthy flavor of the Robusta is balanced with the more delicate sweet flavor of the Arabica.
Try preparing the coffee Vietnamese-style by adding one to four tablespoons of rich and gooey sweetened condemned milk to your cup. Knowing that the proceeds from the purchase of this coffee assists local farmers and various projects in Vietnam makes each sip a sweet “feel good” experience.