Popping the tops of wine in cans

Marisa Finetti and Kirk Peterson

Yeah, put your pinkies down.  We’re talking about wine in cans, and generally speaking, when it comes to drinking – especially wine from a can- it’s a good strategy to not overthink it. Take for example Francis Ford Coppola’s packaging for Sofia Blanc de Blancs, which practically says, “I’m sipping on sparkling wine through a straw out of a mini sized hot pink can, and I’m just going to go with it.”

Oregon’s Union Wine Company markets their Underwood-branded canned wines with YouTube videos that poke fun at oenophiles who over-analyze their beverage.

Paso Robles-based Field Recordings winery packages their wine in tallboy 500 ml cans which recommend drinkers to enjoy by tonight, tomorrow & this weekend.

Finally, the The Infinite Monkey Theorem says their “ridiculously good wine” is made in a back alley of an art district with grapes sourced from the western slopes Colorado. Kind of like the idea that monkeys randomly pounding on a typewriter are capable of producing the work of Shakespeare. We get it.

These eco-friendly, recyclable, portables are the ultimate “take anywhere” beverage, but how do they taste? Here’s a virtual tasting:

1.     Union Wine Company – Underwood

Rosé
Comparatively pleasant due to its lack of flavor, akin to drinking slightly fizzy alcoholic rose water.

Pinot Noir
Virtually devoid of aroma, which is notable for a wine claiming to be made from an aromatic varietal. Light, yet quaffable.

Buy: Trader Joes $7/can
unionwinecompany.com $28 4-pack

2.     Field Recordings
 

Alloy Wine Works – Pinot Noir
Lean on the palate and candied on the nose with strawberry aromas that are decidedly Twizzler-like and confected. The first impression is more reminiscent of Beaujolais than Pinot Noir but with a slight chill the wine is pleasant and drinkable.

Fiction Red
This Zinfandel-based blend was definitely one of the best wines of the lineup. Aromas of ripe red raspberry and black pepper supported by a smooth texture and ample concentration of flavor. If you didn’t witness it being poured you probably wouldn’t suspect that it came from a can… which would be a solid gauge of success for a canned wine company.
Buy: fieldrecordingswine.com $30-40 4-pack

3.     Infinite Monkey Theorem


Red
What this wine may lack in concentration it makes up for with sheer unpretentious drinkability. Medium bodied and relatively refreshing for a red wine with dark red fruit and suggestions of savory herbs that make this wine one of the better wines of the tasting.

Moscato
With a nose full of peaches and white flowers this sweet semi-sparkling wine basically delivers what it promises: Moscato in a can.

Buy: infinitemonkeytheorem.com, $15 4-pack

4.     Sofia Mini Blanc de Blanc
The only sparkling wine of this tasting, it seemingly appeals to a niche “Sex in the City” crowd – wanting a grown up drink.  Made of pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and muscat, it comes in an adorable little can, complete with a bendable straw.
Buy: Target, $17

Like their bottled brethren clearly not all canned wines are created equal but don’t judge a wine by its container, there is real wine to be found in cans if you’re willing to search it out.

This piece originally appeared in VEGAS SEVEN http://www.vegasseven.com

Bocce & Bottles 2016

For a long time, the game of bocce was purely for old Italian men. They wanted to get away from the wives and kids so they could smoke, cuss, scratch themselves when they wanted to … you know, the court was where they could do this all freely.   After all, women would just take the fun out of everything, right?

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These days the game of bocce has evolved to gather all ages, all genders, all abilities, making it one of the most social games, and it has truly become a personal favorite of ours. With a glass of wine in one hand, a ball in the other, it’s a symbiotic relationship that fosters hours of entertainment and laughter.

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Finally, this year, we hosted our first annual “Bocce & Bottles” tournament.  The games got quite exciting!  Those with even the most minimal experience were able to get right next to the pallino. More vengeful players strategically knocked their friends’ balls out of the way. And when two balls were in question, we’d unravel the string from the copper cup to determine whose ball was closer. Yes, so much fun!  We are so fortunate to have such wonderful friends. Times like this is worth capturing and sharing. Here are photos (taken by Shawna Quenneville) to re-cap the event…

THE PLAYERS:group-shot

(L-R): Ada Feliciano, Craig Finetti, Eduard Ajdini, Marisa Finetti, Lisa Ajdini, Alison Bradley, Bill Bradley, Michelle Tenazas, Jared Cooper, Corinne Leo,  Liz Davar, Henry Davar, Kirk Peterson and Allison Bernhardt (George Chambers and Mini not pictured)

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craig

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“Cup the ball” with our homemade measuring device.

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cooper

gathering

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alison
Looks like victory!

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group

THE BOTTLES:

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glasses

Egly-Ouriet, Brut Tradition, Grand Cru NV
Wind Gap Trousseau Gris 2013
Giovanni Rosso, Barbera, Donna Margherita 2014
Contratto For England Rosé 2008
Contratto Millesimato Extra Brut 2010
Jean Foillard, Morgon, Cuvée Corcelette 2013
Chateau Tourans Saint-Émilion 2010
Nigl Grüner Veltliner 2005
Unanime Gran Vino Tinto 2012
The Prisoner 2014
Contadi Castaldi Rosé Franciacorta
Chateau Touran Saint Emilion Grand Cru 2010
Portal Reserva Douro 2010
Leeuwin Estate Riesling 2010

THE FOOD:
An array of delicious food brought by friends, plus local restaurant favorites, like Daily Kitchen’s family meal, which included Brussels sprouts, macaroni & cheese, Mary’s all-natural rotisserie chicken, Certified Angus tri-tip beef, kale salad and flourless chocolate cake.

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Chicharonnes from China Poblano
Chicharonnes from China Poblano

THE WINNERS:

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1st Place – Liz & Henry Davarimg_1586

2nd Place – Lisa and Eduard Ajdini
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3rd Place  – Yours truly – Marisa & Craig Finetti

 

Photos:  Shawna Quenneville

Get personal with Chef Pierre Gagnaire

When I asked the illustrious Chef Pierre Gagnaire to articulate his sheer genius in the kitchen, he leaned over and with a gentle smile that came through his deep steel blue eyes, to say, “I try to create an emotion.”

Clearly, Gagnaire has such an ability.  His food is as artistic as it is delicious. Edible art that is simple, and also ingeniously creative, his creations are capable of drawing out feelings of love, happiness, inspiration, delight, curiosity, ultimate pleasure.

Yet, Gagnaire is modest in every way.  Though he has gained a cult of international devotees and owns highly-acclaimed restaurants worldwide and has garnered three Michelin stars for his eponymous restaurant in Paris, he finds himself short of expressing his brilliance. But he understands that his business is a process and that constant evolution has allowed him to stay at the forefront of the international culinary scene and remain relevant in an ever-changing world.

Gagnaire is the type of individual that is present at every front. By example, this is one of the reasons for his visit to his only U.S. restaurant, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, located on the 23rd floor of Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas. Working alongside his kitchen team, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don, and wine director, Master Sommelier Will Costello, he says that consistency is supremely important – one that takes patience, the ability to empower his team to envision his idea, then organically allow their magic to take place in the kitchen.

“He creates an environment of family which allows me to have his full support when I am creating new menu items,” says Twist’s, Chef de Cuisine Frederic Don. “Most of all, he trusts our team.”

Gagnaire has always encouraged chefs to break free of the rules that have governed the French canon for so long.

“Finally, one day I was ready to open my vision with all these chefs,” says Gagnaire, “A chef has the capacity to translate .. he or she is talented.  I’m obsessed with the quality, and I try to give the process. Not the recipe, never the recipe – just the idea.”

The feeling of creativity, design and artistry delights the senses from the very moment you enter Twist. The majestic floor-to-ceiling windows heighten the energy in the dining room and a dramatic glass staircase leads up to a suspended wine loft.  The restaurant also boasts a most striking lighting feature, which incorporates more than 300 spheres designed to look like bubbles floating across the ceiling. All this, is after being greeted by hundreds of silk purple butterflies that are seemingly an extension of the warm hospitality one receives as a guest.

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Twist by Pierre Gagnaire continues to garner accolades for its groundbreaking menu of classic French cuisine, from vegetarian specialties, like Jardinière (Fava Beans, English Peas, Spring Onions Baby Carrots in Onion and Curry Juice English Pea Soup), to Muscovy Duck from Grimaud Farm (Thinly sliced with Cassis Bigarade Sauce Celeriac-Red Beetroot, Baby Carrots Turmeric Pommes Gaufrettes, Bacon Powder), Chef’s creations are a “twist” on the contemporary.

Gagnaire admits that his life in the culinary world was specified at an early age. His father was a chef, and while his siblings opted for other careers, cooking became Gagnaire’s destiny.  After working under some of the finest chefs in the business, he struck out on his own in the town of St Étienne, where his illustrious career took flight.

Since then, he has overseen the development of a number of restaurants around the world, from London, to Paris, to Seoul and Dubai – each of which stay true to the defining quality and innovation synonymous with Chef Gagnaire.

But, working closely with his team is where he feels most at home.  He explains how relationships are made through food, not only with his guests, but also with his team.

“I didn’t have a [career] choice, but I found that it was possible to tell a story.  Food creates relationships with people, and people are the keys to my life.”

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Seattle’s Spinasse Charms the Palate and Soul

The moment I arrived at Spinasse (pronounced speh-nah-say), in the gastronomically-gifted Capitol Hill area of Seattle, I was in love.  On the street level of this handsome, multi-storied brick building,  an intimate spot welcomes us with charming outdoor seating consisting of wooden plank tables, surrounded by a whimsy of colorful chairs.  An old-world iron sign hangs above the quaint entrance door, of which the window is tastefully etched “Cascina Spinasse.”

Spinasse_sign_

A peek through the glass is like looking into a rustic Italian farmhouse. Wooden trestle tables with knotty imperfections imply generations of celebrations with suppers and wine that had been consumed around them. Soft and delicate ivory lace curtains grace the front windows, wrought-iron chandeliers illuminate the cozy space, and mismatched wood and marble countertops suggest a sense of history and soul.  Any more rustic, and I’d have arrived by wagon.

We sit in a cozy corner table next to the window,  but this isn’t a quiet dinner spot at the 8 o’clock hour by any means. Conversations just inches away give the entire space a comforable, convivial vibe.

Spinasse Door Love and Relish

I knew that Spinasse was one of those places that is hotly acclaimed by fervent foodies. It’s easy to understand why, with robust platters of pan-roasted rib eye with plums and spring onions, lovage and balsamic, to a light arugula, fennel, prosciutto cotto and green bean salad with cherry tomatoes and fennel maioneses – everything is lovingly prepared, oiled, and seasoned.

The pasta is capable of achieving density and delicacy at the same time, in the fine hand cut egg pasta (tamarin) with butter sage – a classic Spinasse dish – or hearty cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiana.  Everything is a masterpiece that pays homage to northern Italian region of Piemonte (Piedmont),  under the creative and passionate direction of Executive Chef Stuart Lane.

Lane attended the Italian Culinary Institute in a castle in Piemonte at Costigliole d’Asti.  He later staged at the Hotel Monte del Re in Dozza Italy outside of Bologna in the heart of Emilia-Romagna.  While there, he crafted tortellini by the thousands and was immersed in the Italian food culture. Today, Lane oversees the menus at Spinasse and the adjacent casual Italian eatery and bar, Artusi.   He is passionate about Piemonte, and you can taste it in the food and in the wine.

Photos by Suzi-Pratt.com
Executive Chef Stuart Lane Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
Egg fonduta _Spinasse
Uovo con fonduta – poached egg with parmigiano fondue and fried sage.
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Pio Tosini 14 month aged prosciutto with cantaloupe and laudemio olive oil. Green bean salad with prosciutto cotto.

handmade pasta

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Tarajin al burro e salvia – Hand-cut egg pasts with butter and sage. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com
Agnolotti di melanzana
Agnolotti di melanzana – eggplant and anchovy agnolotti with peperonata and parmigiano.

handmade pasta Spinasse

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Cavatelli al ragu di manzo – Cavatelli with beef short rib and shoulder ragu with marinated cherry tomatoes and parmigiano. Photo by Suzi-Pratt.com

Barbaresco

Spinasse_Love_and_Relish_Blog
Mascarpone cheese cake with huckleberries.

Overall, the experience is one to remember. The interior is charming and picturesque, with the kitchen-view dining as a portrait in craft, as well as a warm welcome to this old world space. Spinasse is one of Seattle’s most delicious places. I can’t wait to go back.

Meet “Red,” my un-welcomed drinking partner

Ask anyone who has spent enough time drinking with me and they’ll tell you that before long I’ll ask them, “Is my face red?”  I know it drives them crazy, but I have to say, the idea of having “Asian Flush” is something I get quite anxious about, because not only is it unattractive and physically uncomfortable, a candy apple red face would generally appear that I’m drunk, when I’m not.

Patiently, they always say what I want to hear, which is, “No, it’s not red.”  But, I never believe them; I know that “Red” has arrived (or will very soon) because my face (and entire body) is flushed and she always arrives after I’ve had some alcohol.  And when I say “some,” I mean just a few sips. That’s all it takes to turn this girl, who started the evening in complete composure into an insecure walking red beacon, as if calling attention to everyone around.   It’s done.  “Red” has made her entrance.  She is going to stay for the rest of the night, and I never invited her.

“Red” also brings along the dreadfully numbing and buzzing sensation that I get deep in my ears, and this feeling as though my ears are going to pop off like Mrs. Potato Head after she’s been thrown across the room by a tantrumming two-year-old.  Crazy, I know.   It’s generally a miserable feeling, but not nearly as miserable as knowing that “Red” has arrived.

Why do I turn red and you don’t?  Alcohol is broken down in two steps.  Sadly, I get stuck at the end of the first step.  Without getting too scientific, once alcohol enters the body, it breaks down to aldehyde (step one).  Actually, in 80 percent of Asians, this step happens faster than the rest of the population. Then, aldehyde – which is toxic – breaks down further into harmless substances, with the help of an enzyme (step two).  I’m missing this magic enzyme.

The aldehyde that is left stuck in my body after the first step  dilates my blood vessels, essentially turning my skin red. So yeah, that’s the reason for my red face. I’m not drunk. I’m not angry. I’m not holding my breath. I’m not bashful. I’m just stuck with “Red,” the unwanted visitor who invariably arrives late to my party.

Las Vegas Epicurean Affair – A Delicious Soiree

The Las Vegas Epicurean Affair is without a doubt one of the premier events to attend in Las Vegas to satisfy your inner gourmand.  It takes place one night a year in the most gorgeous setting – the Palazzo pool deck – and guests are treated to the most delicious soiree featuring nearly the city’s most renowned chefs, along with 80 restaurants, nightclubs and beverage purveyors.

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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik

This year, on May 26, more than 2,300 guests mingled under the stars on the most perfect night and enjoyed tastings of dishes and specialty cocktails from the illustrious restaurants of The Venetian and The Palazzo, including AquaKnox, B&B Ristorante, B&B Burger & Beer, Carlo’s Bakery, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse, db Brasserie, Delmonico Steakhouse, Hong Kong Café, Lagasse’s Stadium, Lavo Italian Restaurant, Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro, OTTO Enoteca Pizzeria, Public House, SUSHISAMBA, Table 10, and Tao Asian Bistro; as well as other local celebrated restaurants both on and off the Strip, including The Capital Grille, Carmine’s, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant, Hash House a Go Go, Il Mulino, Katsuya, Origin India, Shake Shack, Texas de Brazil and Triple George.

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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik
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Photo: Erik Kabik

In addition to culinary delights, live band The Lift with special guest star Corinne Zarzour entertained the crowd while synchronized mermaids the Water Beauties put on a show in the main pool.

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Photo: Erik Kabik

Proceeds from the evening will fund NvRA’s educational and scholarship programs, including ProStart®, a national high school culinary skill and restaurant management program.

With so many amazing restaurants in Las Vegas, this event will give you a taste of the best the city has the offer.  Then, go back and make a few reservations at your favorite picks!

Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen showcases Sonoma County wines

Could I have chosen a favorite wine that night?

“No favorites…” I was reminded by Dry Creek Kitchen’s wine director Rolando Maldonado.  As if each bottle of wine was a child of his own, not one would be singled out.  Of course, he’s right.  Every bottle and varietal is so perfectly suited to certain foods and/or occasions. But, the selection of Sonoma County wines he showcased paired so harmoniously with every dish, I tended to exclaim, “I love this!  They go so well together, perhaps my favorite!”

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Wine Director, Rolando Maldonado

I hadn’t been to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA in 10 years.  But, last week I had the opportunity to dine there again with two close friends during a work trip.  I loved it then, and I love it even more now. We met Rolando, who maintains Dry Creek Kitchen’s focus on all-Sonoma County wine selections. Rolando honors the traditions and people of Sonoma County by offering bottlings of passionate producers, burgeoning varietals, and well-loved classics. In collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Rolando creates pairings that highlight the flavors and ingredients of Sonoma County to deliver truly memorable dining experiences.  Below are visual highlights from the evening. Delicious food.  Delicious wine.

Dry_Creek_Kitchen menu

The setting: A cold, rainy February night in the charming town of Healdsburg.  After tromping through soft, rain-soaked vineyard soils while witnessing unusually early bud break in neighboring Geyserville, I was ready to drink some wine.

Cut to: Interior of Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen, with a staff committed to gracious conviviality, the atmosphere is welcoming, natural, and elegantly California wine country.

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Dunstan’s rosé of pinot noir 2013. 99 cases produced. Lucky to have tasted this gem!
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Surprise appetizer with foie gras
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
Front Porch rosé of grenache/syrah from Russian River valley
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Quivera Dry Creek Valley Grenache 2012
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A product of Hank and Maggie, Skewis pinot noir 2013
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Risotto with parmesan trio
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Syrah-braised Sonoma lamb shank with Brussels sprouts, turnips, celeriac espuma, lobster mushrooms, and rosemary lamb jus
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Special that day – beet-infused tagliatelle
Martinelli's Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
Martinelli’s Muscat of Alexandria coats the mouth with rich honeysuckle, mango, lychee, passion fruit, vanilla and sweet spices. Delish.
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Portalupi dessert wine to finish the evening.
The one I was calling my "favorite." 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc - 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I'd love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.
The one I was calling my “favorite.” 2014 UNTI Cuvee Blanc – 50% vermentino, 40% granache blanc, and 10% Picpoul. Only 490 cases produced. I’d love to taste it again. A trip back to Healdsburg, I guess.

Studying wine by smelling, tasting, and doodling

Let’s face it.  I’m no Joan Miro. Which is why I’m always so impressed by the creative and artistic abilities of others.  But lately, I’ve been making the attempt – to sketch while I sip.

Here I was, taking notes of the many different wines along the way, when I suddenly started to notice that words on paper alone weren’t actually helping me remember what it was that I had tasted.

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Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux 1985, from dad’s cellar, enjoyed on what would have been his 80th birthday (1.4.16)

I can usually recall the occasion and the company with which the wine was shared (“A toast to new friends!”)  I also typically remember the food that accompanied it. (“Remember that incredible pot roast we made…?”) But after a while, some of the basic information just starts to fade (“What was the name of the producer again?”)

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A delicious gift given to me by my client, T. Lawyer.

So, one day I started sketching the label alongside my notes. Oh,  I don’t spend too much time on it (as you can see).  But, it seems to be just enough time to take notice of a few key visual characteristics.  This helps me remember.  My olfactory and gustatory senses are working all the while, of course 🙂

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Ca’ del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige is one of my favorite sparkling wines. Shared on Christmas 2015.

You see, unlike a sommelier or a wine merchant who handles bottles upon bottles day after day,  I only get to see and/or taste a wine sometimes only once.  And, I’ll also add that the wine app that allows you to snap a photo of the label wasn’t helping me too much, either.

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Christmas gift from friend K. Peterson. Had this wonderful producer just a week earlier (Albe). Both yummy.

So, if you see me take out my little red notebook, don’t judge. I’m studying wine by smelling, tasting, doodling … and now remembering!  It’s old school, but it works.

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Opened during a bocce ball tournament with brother- and sister-in-law Chris and Jen. We had Italian wine, too!

A preview of Premiere Napa Valley 2016

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!PNV-3866

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. Premiere Napa Valley las_vegas tasting
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

Michael Honig, Owner, Honig Vineyard & Winery
Honig Vineyard & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Honig Vineyard & Winery, 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

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

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Premiere Napa Valley wines 2016 barrel tasting_las_vegas
Matt Wood, Newton Vineyard and Domaine Chandon
Newton Vineyard, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Newton Vineyard, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Premiere Napa Valley_newtonMichael 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 Culinary Institute of America is home to the 2016 Barrel Tasting and Auction.
The Culinary Institute of America is home to the 2016 Barrel Tasting and Auction.

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.

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The bidding has begun at Premiere Napa Valley 2015 auction.

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.

Premiere Napa Valley auction tools of the trade.
Premiere Napa Valley auction tools of the trade.

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

Unearthing amphora wines in Las Vegas

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In Georgia, old kvevri are stacked next to the monastery where the wine is made.

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.

Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos,Acate
Jars in the wine cellar at Azienda Agricola Cos, Sicily, Italy.
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Josh Gravner, of Friuli, Italy, opens a Ribolla 2014 amphorae at the end of the whole skin contact period.
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Graver’s Ribolla 2014 direct from the amphorae.

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