Thursday, January 30, 2014

A night with Andrea Cecchi (Cecchi) & Alessandra Marino (Cesari)

What a wonderful evening last night at the Tuscan Market in Salem, NH. First of all, the establishment is beautiful, and upon entering you have some of the most amazing artisan options from homemade pastas and breads, desserts as well as gelato, a butcher shop and deli. You can take your purchases home with you or enjoy them in their cozy cafe right there. They have a great small market as well with products from Italy. In the back kitchen there was a pizza making class to add to the atmosphere.

Winemaker Andrea Cecchi from Cecchi wineryCecchi winery - Andrea Cecchi
Of course I was here for the opportunity to meet the prominent figure for the Cecchi brands, none other than the winemaker himself, Andrea Cecchi. It was such an honor and pleasure to be able to conversate with him about his passion and the history and tradition of his family's estate. He is the fourth generation, with his brother, to manage and operate the Cecchi winery. 

He featured four wines including a Vernaccia di San Gimignano named Castello Montauto, a Morellino di Scansano named Val delle Rose in the Maremma region and a Chianti Classico Riserva named Villa Cerna in Castellina in Chianti and another Chianti Classico Riserva named Riserva di Famiglia also from Castellino in Chianti where he resides in Tuscany. All fantastic wines in their own way, but it was interesting in noticing the difference in the Morellino, a clone of Sangiovese, and how it grows in the southern part of Tuscany compared to the Sangiovese in the Chianti Classico's grown in Castellina in Chianti. In the Maremma it's very warm so the grapes are very ripe and the PH is high. In Castellina it's more of a continental climate with calcerous soil. I'm a huge fan of sangiovese myself so they were all very pleasing, but I enjoy the tannins and dryness in a wine so I favored the Morellino di Scansano as well as the Riserva di Famiglia. They both had great structure with beautiful ripe red fruit, a hint of spice, paired with supple tannins and a lasting finish. The Morellino is 100% Sangiovese with the Riserva di Famiglia containing 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon that rounded out the wine creating a beautiful expression of Chianti Classico from this area. I found the Villa Cerna a lot softer compared to these other two, but still a rich wine with nice balance. The Vernaccia I as well enjoyed. I'm a big fan of Vernaccia and it's too bad the average consumer doesn't know enough about it because it's a great alternative to many of the grapes that are internationally known. This Vernaccia was dry and full bodied that displayed bright acidity with nice minerality and was very crisp and fresh.

Val delle Rose 2008 Morellino di ScansanoIn speaking with Andrea he shared that their estate has about 120 employees year round and they own about 850 acres. It's a lot of work! In asking about some changes that he has implemented from the heritage of how the wine has been made through the years and from previous generations, he mentioned that just in the past 5 years alone they have gone through many, many changes. Over the last 10 years they have already replanted 35% of their vineyards. Despite some of the changes they have made, it's important for Andrea and his family to stay true to the traditions that they pride themselves on. This is part of the reason why I love Italian wines because they make changes in the vineyards and production to improve their wines, but they don't gear it towards what the market demands. They stay true to their traditions and the wines that they produce. I don't want to drink what everyone wants to drink, I want to drink what are characteristics of the terroir of a particular region and what makes their wines special. Every person in this world is different and every wine should be able to express itself in its true nature as well.

Alessandra Marino from Cesari wineryCesari winery - Alessandra Marino
Also in attendance last night was Alessandra Marino whom is the Brand Manager exclusively for the Cesari winery. The Cesari winery began in 1936 and it originates in the Verona area. They own and care for 100 hectacres in the well known areas of Valpolicella and Lugana. I enjoyed my time with Alessandra as well. She has a dynamic personality and made my horizontal tasting a lot of fun! She has been representing Cesari for the last 3 years and loves this brand because of their loyalty to tradition, another aligned to what we had just discussed. We tasted the wines from their Due Torri brand and because they are international grapes: Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet, and because they border the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region they label the wines Due Torri from the Grave area in Friuli, whose winemaking dates back over 1,000 years. These grapes were very different from the way the United States produces these international varieties. They were lighter in body, especially the Merlot, which was interesting to taste due to what we're accustomed to here in the states. I found the Due Torri Pinot Noir the most enjoyable as it was very easy to drink, but had a finesse and elegance along with a nice red fruit profile.

Alessandra shared that their wines are hand harvested and within 20 minutes are picked and pressed so you can imagine the laborous days during their harvesting time. One of the honorable things that Alessandra shared with me is that Cesari donates money from the cases sold of Due Torri to the American Red Cross due to the assistance of the them from 1859 in the battles and war that they had assisted the Italian citizens with. The money has gone on in providing free educations for the families of those that suffered or lost their lives during this terrible time.

Overall, it was a fantastic night meeting some prominent figures in the wine industry in Italy and learning of their traditions and their terroirs and experiencing a great flight of wines. Any opportunity you have to meet with winemakers, owners or representatives of the brand in the wine industry, take it because it will provide depth into the history of these wineries and further your education in the wine world.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Monte Antico from Neil Empson while out on the snowmobile trails

2008 Monte AnticoThis weekend I did what I love doing in the winter, snowmobiling! Even though the temperatures were well before zero there is nothing like sledding deep into the woods and exploring the natural beauty of the Great North Woods in NH beautifully covered in snow. Then another great part is coming home, taking a hot shower and relaxing with a bottle of wine. Who said you can't be classy and rugged at the same time!

This weekend I decided to open a bottle of Monte Antico from the portfolio of Neil Empson. I learned about Neil years ago when I worked for Martignettis and my boss at the time had exposed me to their impressive Italian portfolio. 
Monte Antico, meaning “ancient mountain”, is actually their own wine whom they have paired with the famous winemaker, Franco Bernabei, to produce. The wine is actually a Super Tuscan containing primarily Sangiovese with some Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. The grapes are hand picked from the Tuscan countryside of the Maremma, Colline Pisane and Colli Fiorentini areas. It's aged a year in oak and another 6 months in the bottle.

I found this 2008 bottle to be well rounded and balanced between the acidity and ripe red fruit. It's a solid medium bodied wine that is very smooth with soft tannins and a nice finish. What made it even easier is that it had a screw cap! It's very reasonably priced as well at $10-12 a bottle on average.

Have you had any of NeilEmpson wines?  If so, which ones are your favorite?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Tips on preserving your wine

Some people may have this problem and others may say that it never happens to them, but how do you preserve your wine that you didn't finish in the bottle?  Some may just put the cork back in and leave it on the counter, but there are some additional steps that you can take to help preserve the wine even if you are having it 24 hours later.  

The one factor that spoils a wine is oxygen.  When you open a really youthful bottle or maybe a more complex wine like a Barolo or Brunello it may benefit by aerating the wine and pouring it into a decanter to allow some oxygen into the wine to get it to open up a bit and be more approachable.  Letting oxygen into the wine during this stage is much different than expecting to open a bottle and then drink some the next day or later in the week and expect the same benefits.

I recommend taking the following measures to help preserve some of the characteristics of the wine for a later tasting.  The longer you wait you won't be able to capture a similar experience tasting the wine from when you first opened the bottle, so the sooner you can consume the wine the better.  The easiest, no cost and quickest preservation method is to put it in the fridge instead of leaving it out on your counter.  The cold tends to preserve the wine better where if you leave it in a room temperature room the warmth of the room tends to create bacteria and with the oxygen exposure it will lead you to a fast declining wine.  Another option is to pour the leftover wine into a half bottle of 375ml, cork it and store it in the fridge, this way there is less oxygen exposure to spoil the wine.  If you are one of those folks that tends to always have some wine leftover to enjoy later, I would invest a small amount in the Vacu-Vin.  It’s a small plastic piece of equipment with a rubber cork that goes into the bottle and essentially vacuums and pulls the air out of the bottle.  They are easy to find to purchase and you can locate them in a supermarket or local wine shop for cheap money.  I have been using this for years, including storing it in the fridge, and it does a decent job at keeping the wine as close to intact as can be.  Some other wine folks use inert gases like nitrogen or argon that they spray into the opened bottle to replace the oxygen in the bottle with these gases. 

Any one of these options that you choose is much better than just leaving it out at room temperature.  Remember that if you put your wine in the fridge and it’s a red, that you must take it out at least a couple hours before to help bring it back down to room temperature for consumption.  There is nothing enjoyable for me personally drinking a cold red. So explore your options and give your wine some extended life.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Choosing the right wine for your wedding day

wedding day and wine selections
Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your lives and having just experienced it for myself in Italy with our immediate family and then coming back to the US and celebrating it with the rest of our family and friends I can definitely concur. There are many, many things to think of in planning a wedding and choosing wine, even outside of a wedding, can create enough anxiety or issues. Take a deep breath and remember to enjoy all these aspects of planning because it will be over before you know it and there are some steps that you can take to avoid the pressure of picking the right wine for your wedding.

Finding the right wine
You can attend wine tastings that are typically free at many of your surrounding wine shops. Every time you buy a new bottle throughout your time planning for the wedding pick a different one to experiment with. Do the same when you go to dinner or attend parties and events and make notes of those that you like and don't like. 
It also depends on where you having the event. I have attended weddings in the northeast at both Zorvino Vineyards in Sandown, NH and Saltwater Farm Vineyards in Stonington, CT that were beautiful establishments and served their own wines for cocktail hours and/or during the reception. I feel that if you are going to get married at a vineyard than you should enjoy the wines that are produced from that vineyard itself to add to the character of the wedding. If you're not having it at a vineyard then it depends on if you can bring in your own. Bringing in your own depends on the venue and if that is allowed, but many places if they do allow it will charge you a corkage fee. Depending on what they charge for their wine and what you can purchase your own for plus the corkage fee it may end up being beneficial to buy your own. If you do think about purchasing it on your own you can buy your wines in bulk and by the case where you can get additional discounts. If you have to use the venue's wine itself expect to pay about double or potentially triple the wholesale or retail price. Make sure to ask to sample the wines so you can choose what you like. After all it is your wedding day and you should choose what you enjoy the most. 
What types of wine
I personally prefer wines that are a lighter to medium body during cocktail hour because there are a large variety of appetizers that are being served that can be tricky to match all of them and usually at this time frame people are hungry and big, heavy, full bodied wines can be too much. I would suggest something like a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio for a white and pinot noir or a beaujolais for a red. During dinner typically you have a chicken option and a sirloin or prime rib where you can go more fuller bodied to a merlot, cabernet or even a malbec. If you are going to bring in your own wine you can experiment with some countries that have great wines like Spain, Australia and New Zealand, but since they don't do as much marketing or because they are not mainstream wines they may be a better value. These wines are just as great if not better than say your popular Californian wines that may have a higher price tag.

Many folks tend to prefer white over red since a lot of people that aren't huge wino's start with whites before they eventually move to reds so you can possibly expect to have more white wine drinkers. It also depends on the season. Many won't want to drink a full bodied red that may potentially have higher alcohol creating a lot of heat in your mouth on a hot summer day, especially if it's an outside venue so keep the season in consideration. 
How much do I need?
You can typically factor about a half a bottle per person during cocktail hour, which is about 2 glasses and then also that much at dinner as well. It's better to have more than not enough. The venue may allow you to take home leftover wine bottles and if you happen to have brought in your own and it hasn't been open you may have the opportunity to return it back to the wine store or build upon your wine cellar at home.

Sampling wines are a lot of fun so make sure you have fun with it. This shouldn't be a stressful part of your planning. The best way to learn about wine is to drink, so when other parts of the wedding are stressing you out keep trying different bottles and in the meantime you're working on checking off another part of your list, selecting the best wine for your wedding. Enjoy!

Friday, January 17, 2014

France fighting the Senate on issues facing the French wine industry

France is currently facing some issues with a bill in the Senate that is requesting a higher tax be imposed on wine.  They are stating that it's dangerous to an individual’s health so there is also a proposal to label the wine stating “alcohol is dangerous for your health”.  These two matters are still awaiting a decision, but one other proposal has been rejected, which was to make it illegal to allow blogging and internet discussions of wine and liquors online.

I don't personally agree with any of these proposals.  Of course every government is always trying to produce more income, but wine and liquors brings in a tremendous amount of money with it being the 2nd largest export in France.  Plus, in European cultures in particular, with France being one of the leading wine producers, it’s part of their culture.  That was just one of the greatest things when I lived in Italy is that they enjoyed wine all times of day.  I mean who doesn’t want to unwind at lunch with a glass of wine and not only that, but it costs less than soda and other beverages!  Imposing a tax could potentially hurt the consumption within France itself and their exports.  When it comes to alcohol being dangerous to one’s health I don’t agree adding a label stating that.  In Europe in particular smoking is very common and I can't help but feel this is far more dangerous to one's health than a glass of wine.  I’d rather pick up a glass of wine any day over a cigarette (also considering I don’t smoke).  There have proven to be many health benefits of wine in moderation.  Especially in a lot of European countries children are raised with wine as part of their culture and I’m sure the abuse rate and the repercussions of alcohol is far less there than in the US.  I’m all for being healthy and consider staying in shape and eating well a big part of my life, but a glass of wine in moderation won’t be detrimental to one's health.  

I guess we'll wait and see how this plays out in France, but hopefully things can remain as is.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fun facts on the world of wine

My daily wine calendar from Kevin Zraly "Windows on the World" had such great facts that I thought I would share with everyone to give you a great overview of the world of wine and to understand the key players in production throughout the world.  If you want daily suggestions and fun facts this is a great calendar that I enjoy.

Over $100 billion of wine is sold worldwide according to "Wines & Vines".

There are over 800 regions and 60 countries producing wine.

6 major importers of wine into the USA that make up over 87% of the total wine that is imported into the US:
  • Italy (30.5%)
  • France (22%)
  • Australia (15.6%)
  • Argentina (6.6%)
  • Chile (6.3%)
  • Spain (6.2%)
Top 10 producers of wine in the world with the top 4 making up over 50% of the wine in the world:
  1. France
  2. Italy
  3. Spain
  4. USA
  5. Argentina
  6. Australia
  7. China
  8. Chile
  9. South Africa
  10. Germany

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Wine and food pairing with Treana from Hope Family Wines

I had a fantastic wine this week in the wine cellar room at The Tuscan Kitchen in Salem, NH celebrating with my family and loved ones for my rehearsal dinner. If you are local to the area it’s a beautiful establishment and the food was fantastic. I was recommended this wine, Treana, from the bartender. Treana is just one of the brands under the Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, CA right on the Central Coast. They produce 5 brands in total with one in particular that some may be familiar with, Liberty School. The winemakers of Hope Family Wines partner with about 50 vineyard sites on the Central Coast stretching from Santa Barbara to Santa Fe. They work together in making sure that these vineyards will produce the optimal quality grapes in use for the quality wines that Hope Family Wines produces.
Treana wine of Hope Family WinesTreana is a blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Syrah. It was nicely full bodied and had a deep, rich dark fruit profile with beautiful length and balance. The grapes are sourced from eight different vineyard sites and after the summer the best of both the Cabernet and Syrah barrels are blended together to provide a balanced harmony. This wine has a good structure where you could sit on this wine for about 10-15 years. The bottle retails for about $45. I paired this with a filet mignon dressed with a Barolo demi-glaze and some cappellaci stuffed with butternut squash. A fantastic meal, wine and atmosphere surrounded by our friends and family made for a beautiful night!