Saturday, February 21, 2009

Organic Wine & Food Matching: Domaine Carneros Brut & Authentic Hawaiian Poke

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner.

The French have been making sparkling wine in California for so long, you almost overlook the extraordinary quality of their wines: the closest thing to fine, complex champagne grown and produced outside Champagne, France in the world.

Each of the major firms have made dramatic impacts on the industry: beginning in the mid-1970s, Domaine Chandon with its focus on the three classic grapes of Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) grown in the coolest section (Carneros) in Napa Valley; Mumm Napa with its brilliant blending in adjustment to California’s sunnier climes, Roederer Estate for its bold exploration of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley, and now, Domaine Carneros by Taittinger for its French-like sense of long-term sustainablility, moving towards 100% organic grape growing soon after establishing its 300 acres in Carneros in 1987.

Consider this: in the early 1990s it wasn’t quite hip to be green; especially among neighbors who, although they may farm sustainably, still insist on the option of zapping their vines at the first sign of trouble. After receiving CCOF certification in 2008, Domaine Carneros’ longtime President and Chief Winemaker (since 1989) Eileen Crane (pictured above) remarked, “Certified organic viticulture means you can’t just give the vineyard a shot of penicillin when it gets sick.”

Committing to organics, especially in the beginning, is a process, often at the expense of perceived efficiency. Instead of wiping out mealy bugs with chemicals, for instance, you use chickens, who love mealy bugs. “Now, of course,” says Crane, “we have to protect the chickens from coyotes… if you think outside the box, some experiments might not work out, but you learn from them what the next step should be.”

Green consciousness has always been important to Domaine Carneros (the winery also employs solar power, skylights and underground insulation rather than refrigeration), but the evolution has always been one and the same with that of this centuries old French Champagne house’s first priority, which is producing the finest wines. “We believe that you achieve this through healthy vines,” say Crane, while adding, “you want to be part of something that’s not just for the moment… we want people to enjoy their jobs and the vines.”

I’ll toast to that, which brings up our organic wine match of the day: the 2005 Domaine Carneros Brut (about $26); and make no mistake, this is as fine a sparkler made in California, organic grapes or not. In the classic Taittinger style, the highlight is its texture – creamy smooth, like waves of silk caressing the lips – and wispy fragrances of wildflowers, baking apples, rising bread and buttery slivers of toasted hazelnut, extending over a long, zesty palate of distinct delicacy.

Light and lovely sparklers like this certainly don’t need food to be complete; like food, its refined effervescence is resuscitative in itself. But you can also think of the Domaine Carneros in the same way as you would most lighter bodied, dry or off-dry white wines with crisp, sharply defined acidity that freshens dishes like squeezes of lemon. White fish and minerally shellfish (shrimp, crab, oysters and lobster) are naturals, especially in the form of sashimi, tartare, seviche, salsas, Hawaiian poke, or in salads with mild, winey vinaigrettes.

Authentic Hawaiian Poke

Speaking of which, have you ever had authentic Hawaiian poke (pronounced POH-kay)? Even in the Islands, the variations are endless, but I can’t say that most Mainland renditions, done at the hands of “creative” chefs, come decently close to the Hawaiian originals. When in doubt, stick to the simple, original style, in which you can taste the ocean itself.

Although the early Hawaiian fishermen didn’t use soy sauce or chiles (their poke was probably no more than chopped seaweed, rock salt and ground kukui nuts), this is a version considered basic in Hawai`i today:

2 lbs. sashimi grade ‘ahi tuna, cut into bite-sized cubes (poke means “cut piece”)
½ cup soy sauce
3/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1-2 tbsp. Hawaiian (preferably) rock salt, to taste
1 or 2 red chile peppers (small Thai types), cored, seeded and finely minced
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
½-1 cup limu kohu (seaweed), blanched and chopped
1 tbsp. toasted macadamia nuts (ground or finely chopped)

Making this is simply a matter of tossing and mixing (chill before serving); and if you do it often, you end up going by feel rather than measurements. Although the reddish-brown limu seaweed is a key ingredient in the Islands, you can enjoy the pure taste of poke style tuna – with which a dry, yeasty, refined sparkler like Domaine Carneros washes over like a hissing, foamy soft wave climbing up a feathery, golden sand Hawaiian beach – without it.

The sesame seeds are another nice option; if you find the seeds plain, you can toast them by placing them in a small dry saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden brown (about three minutes). Finally, although I can usually do without the macadamia nuts, I’d add it in for the Domaine Carneros because, like the sesame seeds, it offers a nice flavor bridge to the wine’s toasted nut nuances. To toast whole macadamias, spread them over a baking sheet in a preheated 300° F. oven 5-6 minutes, until lightly browned, and… aloha!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thalassitis Oak Fermented 2008 - Gaia Wines

Vassilis Papadopoulos was born on December 18, 1978 in U.S.A. and currently lives in Athens – Greece. He is a sommelier & wine consultant, working freelance with restaurants, wineries, magazines and websites. He is a co-owner of the “Kazakos Drink Bank” (wine and spirits stores in Athens) administrating more than 1.700 different worldwide wine labels and thousands bottles which lie in the cellars of the stores. Also he is the president of the “KWC”, a Greek wine club which has more than 400 active members and organizes wine tastings, wine dinners, wine trips and more. You can contact him on:

Brand: Thalassitis Oak Fermented

Winery: Gaia Wines

Vintage: 2008

Appellation: Santorini A.O.C. (Greece - Aegean island)

Varietal: Assyrtiko

Winemaker: Yiannis Paraskevopoulos

Oak: 6 months in new 225 lit French oak casks from the Nevers forest

Average Price: 15€

Alcohol: 13,5%

Number of cases: 6.018 (bottles)

Category: Classic! A "banker"; the epitome of its class or ranking, region or country, grape or style

Rating: 4,6 (on a 1 - 5 scale)

Tasting notes:

The Greek island of Santorini produces some of the world's greatest white wines. This wine could be seen as the meeting point of a traditional Greek wine-grape variety with a typically French wine-making technique. Is an Assyrtiko varietal comes from 40 – 80 years old vines. Bright pale yellow color. Aromas of fruits with smoky notes and citrus hints. Creamy apple fruit. In the mouth the wine is full bodied, dry and crisp with a long finish finishing with lime notes. Perfect value for money. A white wine that has great aging potential, it will further develop towards a complex wine under careful storage. Drinking window: 2009- 2014. Best served at 10 –12 ° C.

Winery Notes: GAIA WINES was founded in 1994 in Santorini island (Greece) by Leon Karatsalos (Agronomist, University of Thessaloniki) and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos (Agronomist, University of Thessaloniki, Ph.D of Oenology, University of Bordeaux II).

Vintage Overview: 2008 was a very good to excellent quality for Aegean Islands (Limnos, Paros, Rhodes, Santorini). The heat wave of two years ago influenced this year's harvest in quantity. In addition strong winds have depleted the crop. (Santorini). However, the cool summer gave grapes full of vividness and health. The prices have an upward trend. In Santorini the price reached 1,35€/Kgr. which is a record. However, the low yields had a negative balance for the winegrowers.

Food Pairing Suggestions: sea food, salad, grilled fish, chicken dishes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2006 Dog Point Pinot Noir

Winery: Dog Point

Vintage: 2006

Appellation: Marlborough

Varietal: Pinot Noir

Oak: 18 months new and old French oak

Average Price: $39.00

Tasting notes: Ruby red color, nose filled with meaty tones and ripe red fruits. The palate shows one of a kind balance between the dense oak, ripe strawberries and the light tannin influence. The aftertaste is very interesting and very long, with all above impressions dancing on the tongue.

Food Pairing Suggestions: Normally I am not a very big fan of reds with cheese, but this Pinot does the job very well. Try Epoisses and this wine and be happy. Truffle stuffed Poultry is obvious for this - but fried fish like mullet with red wine sauce and steamed vegetables is also a very interesting match.

Winery Notes: The Dog Point vineyard is somewhat a mysterious winery. Their homepage reveals very little to the consumer. Dog Point makes their wines in a very traditionally way, letting Mother Nature do her part to make these excellent wines. The Wairau Plains vineyards have long hours of sun, which gives fruit-packed pinot noirs.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A little Burgundy Never Hurt!

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

There are a few types of tasting opportunities any wine lover should never pass up. Burgundy is certainly at the top of the list. The relationship between burgundy wines and those who seek them out is love hate. The wines can be some of the greatest in the world and they are priced as such. Not all burgundy wines are great, in fact some are serious underperformers; Throw in a hefty price tag and you have a paradox. There is no magical answer key, will not solve your problems and neither will I. There is some crucial advice I can pass on to you however, taste as much as you can and “always” write notes. Save your notes and re read them, study them. More than any other wines in the world burgundy needs to be studied and reviewed. Your own taste needs to be developed of course but baseline knowledge is of the utmost importance to build. In addition to tasting notes, vintage notes are important to read and put to memory. Try out a few different publications, ask some knowledgeable friends, ask me! Find credible sources but gather a general consensus of average, good, great, and not so great vintages. Knowing your basics of burgundies’ geography and vintages will save you a great deal of money and despair.

Last month I was able to slip my way into a secret burgundy tasting group in Sonoma (I guess it’s not a secret anymore!) The price of admission was a bottle of good burgundy. Through one of my clients I consult for I was able to procure a bottle of 1996 Domaine de Larlot, Clos des Fortes st Georges 1er cru. Upon approaching the house where this tasting was to take place I noticed the flag of burgundy hanging from a post in the front yard, apparently these guys were really serious about there Bourgogne. I immediately noticed I was the youngest taster present by 20 years easily. I find this age thing to be a re occurring theme at most tastings. Among the group I would be tasting with was the general manager of the rare wine company, a fantastic wine author and columnist for the “Wine Business Monthly Journal” Jake Lorenzo, and an a gentleman who has imported burgundy wines for well over 30 years (in fact he brought the first wines from Dujac into the US) Some people might feel a bit intimidated in a situation like this but I’ve learned from experience that if you just stay true to your palate and trust your gut others will follow suit and everyone has a great easy going time. Many wines were consumed over the next few hours, a few of which I unfortunately did not take notes on but the wines that stood out in my mind I was sure to jot down my thoughts on. The following are notes from this tasting:

2001 Monopole, Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru, “Clos de la Mouchere”
- On the nose this wine carries a powerful aroma of raw honey comb, yellow cake, ripe lemon and melon peel with a creamy and buttery character. The palate is surprisingly crisp and fresh with more of a meyer lemon character than the nose, solid mouth feel and acidity make this a tasty white burgundy. 89 points

2004 Etienne Sauzet, Puliginy-Montrachet, 1er cru “Champ Canet”
- Aromas of orange and lemon peel lead off followed by processed honey and a touch of sweet basil. The palate follows suit with more of the wonderful citrus flavors and that sweet basil aspect I found to be pleasing. Fresh alive acidy adds structure to a rounded mid palate and long finish. 91 points

1993 Domaine Gros Frere et Loeur, Grands- Echezeaux, Grand Cru
- A bit of an underperformer for its pedigree but quite pleasant none the less. A nose of strawberry, black cherry and saddle leather was interrupted by a hint of Brett. The palate is where this wine lost me a bit, solid acidity, but the tannin had warn off a bit prematurely even for its age. Orange peel and leather were predominant on the palate. 89 points

1996 Domaine de Larlot, 1er cru “Clos des Fortes”
- A very soft approach on the nose with aromas black cherry, ripe strawberry and a delicious secondary mushroom aspect I always love in Burgundies. Crushed rose peddle adds complexity to the wonderful ripe fruits on the palate. I especially love the beautiful minerality showing through, great acid and tannin structure make this wine the complete package in my eyes. 90+ points

1997 Joseph Drouhin, Grands-Echezeaux, Gand Cru
- Beautiful strawberry and black cherry aromas followed by a nice earthy spice. The palate carries an impressive structure and copious amounts of mouthwatering fruit. Some hints of charred oak add depth to the overall impression of this wine. Definitely an over performer for this vintage. 92 points

1998 Domaine Thomas-Moillard, Corton Clos Du Roi, Grand Cru
- Another slightly underperforming Grand Cru. On the nose a pleasant black raspberry and baking spice meets warn leather aromas that are more secondary than anything. The palate had really fallen out, the tannin was there but acidity was lacking resulting in an average finish. 84 points

2003 Gerard Raphet, Clos De la Roche, Grand Cru
- A sweet nose of ripe cherry, strawberry and rhubarb gives way to a creamy aroma that is quite pleasing. A firm acidity gives a strong back bone to this ripe luscious Grand Cru, the tannins are refined yet firm and will help provide a sizable drinking window for all to enjoy. Proof yet again that the 2003 vintage still holds onto refinement in certain wines. 90 points

2006 Jacques-Frederic Mugnier, 1er Cru “Clos de la Marechale”
- OK so I know this is just a baby, and what’s worse is I tasted this from a magnum sized bottle as well. I look at this as “research” have to know where a wine has been to appreciate the changes it’s made over time. On the nose a beautiful linier cherry and rose peddle are curiously wrapped in a slatey essence that is almost invigorating. Ripe fruits on the palate are held tightly in place by firm structure. A long finish follows that has only just begun to show where it can go. I look forward to drinking this wine many more times in the future. 91 points

Avaton 2004 - Domaine Gerovassiliou

Vassilis Papadopoulos was born on December 18, 1978 in U.S.A. and currently lives in Athens – Greece. He is a sommelier & wine consultant, working freelance with restaurants, wineries, magazines and websites. He is a co-owner of the “Kazakos Drink Bank” (wine and spirits stores in Athens) administrating more than 1.700 different worldwide wine labels and thousands bottles which lie in the cellars of the stores. Also he is the president of the “KWC”, a Greek wine club which has more than 400 active members and organizes wine tastings, wine dinners, wine trips and more. You can contact him on:

Brand: Avaton

Winery: Domaine Gerovassiliou

Vintage: 2004

Appellation: Regional Red Wine of Epanomi (Northern Greece)

Varietal: Limnio + Mavroudi + Mavrotragano

Winemaker: Evangelos Gerovassiliou

Oak: 20 months in new French oak barrels

Average Price: 35 €

Alcohol: 13,5%

Awards: Avaton 2004 - Gold Medal (Selections Mondiales Des Vins, Mondreal-Quebec, Canada)

Category: Sit-Down Bottle! Something seriously fine and complex to share with fellow connoisseurs

Rating: 4.5 (on a 1-5 scale)

Tasting Notes:
Avaton (meaning forbidden access) is a blend of indigenous greek varieties: Limnio, Mavroudi and Mavrotragano. Limnio – also mentioned by Aristotle – is the oldest attested Greek variety. Deep ruby colour. Concentrated and rich aromas of dark fruits. Grilled meat notes, spices, pepper, red currants and honey. Also some herbal notes. Medium to full-bodied with good acidity and very promising tannins. Really nice balance. Medium aftertaste. This wine will reward years of cellaring (10-15 years). Served at 16-18° C.

Winery Notes:
This is the brainchild of Evangelos Gerovassiliou (studied in Bordeaux). In 1981 he started planting Greek and foreign grape-varieties in the family vineyard of 2,5ha, in the area of Papamola in Epanomi, approx. 25km. southwest of Thessaloniki – in an ideal ecosystem for the vineyard’s cultivation. Domaine Gerovassiliou is a single estate vineyard of 45 ha. It has a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and temperate summers that are cooled by sea breezes. The vineyard is surrounded on three out of four sides by sea at a distance of nearly 3 km, whereas from vineyard’s west side one can see the Thermaic Gulf, Mount Olympus and the sea coast of Pieria. The soil mainly consists of sand with certain loamy substrata and calcareous rocks. Fossils are also found due to the fact that the whole surrounding hilly area was formed by alluviums. The modern winery is surrounded by the vineyard and comprises four large areas. It was constructed in 4 phases between 1986 and 1999.

Vintage Overview: The viniculture year of 2004 was normal for the area of Epanomi. In contrary to previous years, the sufficient rainfalls and snows during the winter very much helped water collection of the area. The winter was wetter than average and this helped the correct structure of the grapes. The spring was relatively wet and helped the correct grape development. From the beginning the production seemed to be very good. Many producers have done what we say "Green harvest" by throwing down grapes, before they were matured, so as to decrease the average production and improve the quality. The weather during summer was cool with low night temperatures, which favoured the fenolic grape maturity. The harvest started on 19th August with the white varieties and continued until the beginning of September, when the harvest of the red varieties. These show big extracts of their fenolic elements (colour and tannins), and the wines have sufficient body and excellent quality

Food Pairing Suggestions:
Best enjoyed with game, red spicy meat and matured cheeses.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Le Tour De France des Vins

"Wilfried Sentex is born in Bordeaux, France and for sure his passion for wine comes from his home country. At present he is working in New York, at Bar Boulud, Daniel Boulud Wine bar. For more information you can reach him at"

France is a wonderful wine country with a great variety of grapes, climates and soils and some talented and devoted winemakers. For a better understanding of French appellations and different wine styles I decided to do a Tour de France Des Vins (France's wine Tour).

As a native of Bordeaux I wanted to start with this part of France. Bordeaux is divided in two parts, known as The Left Bank and the Right Bank, due to the two rivers ("La Garonne" and "La Dordogne"), which separate the vineyards from Bordeaux in two Banks. In Bordeaux a variety of different grapes is planted, such as Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot for the reds and roses and Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle for the whites and sweet wines. In Bordeaux there are also 57 appellations and 6 main classifications.

But let's talk today about the Left Bank which is divided in two parts, the Medoc and the Graves. Set between the ocean and the Garonne river (following the river for 150km) and protected from the sea air by big pine forests, the soils are mostly composed of gravel (graves) and pebble (galet), but you can also find some sand and limestone. Because of the location and the climate, the soil gets warmed up faster during the day and can keep the heat during the night, therefore the vines will not suffer from the day and night temperature differences.

As for the grapes you will mostly find Cabernet Sauvignon (often blended with some Merlot) and maybe some Malbec and Petit Verdot (the last two in small quantity). Cabernet Sauvignon gives a tannic and aromatic wine (black fruits, rose and licorice) but blending it with Merlot will bring some structure and power to the wine. Those wines are usually better drinking after a few years depending on the vintage but it could be either 3 years or 20 years old after the stockage factor is playing.

Medoc is situated on the north and consists of 8 appellations: Medoc, Haut Medoc, Listrac-Medoc, Moulis-en-Medoc, Pauillac, Margaux,Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe. Graves region includes the Pessac Leognan.

In 1855, for the Universal Exposition, Napoleon asked for the classification of the Bordeaux wines. Following his order, the wines were classified by the following criteria: reputation of the Chateaux and the price of the production (which at that time was directly related to the quality of the wines). In this classifications 88 wines were selected (61 reds and 27 whites) in importance from the First to the Fifth growth. Only 4 wines were classified as First growth: Chateau Lafitte Rothschild, Chateau Latour (both from Pauillac), Chateau Margaux (from Margaux) and Chateau Haut Brion (from Pessac Leognan). In 1973 two more wines were added, Chateau Mouton Rothschild as First growth and Chateau Cantemerle as Fifth growth.

The next stop will be the Right bank with the Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

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The entaste team is in the meantime working hard to get the other mobile applications out on the market. We are preparing couple of applications, both for iPhone and Blackberry, with many cool features. While you are waiting for them to come out, read our blog and try out some new wines!!


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Salta la Linda

Aaron Epstein has been passionate about wine since before he could legally drink it, and at 27 he now has more than 5 years of professional wine experience. His love of the grape was born in Spain, took root in Italy, and has since led him around the world to work wine jobs in almost every aspect of the industry, most recently in Mendoza, Argentina. He is currently preparing for a return to his home city of New York, where he will be racking up airline miles as a broker for some of South America’s finest wines.
For more information visit Aaron’s wineblog Vino e Vita, or contact

Cafayate 6

My first post comes direct from Cafayate, Salta, the source not only of some of Argentina's best (and unknown) wines but also of its most impressive landscapes. In the two days I've been here I have honestly been torn about whether my time is better spent tasting wine or taking photographs.

With an average vineyard altitude of almost 5,500 feet above sea level and as many cactus as grapevines, the terrain here in Cafayate is like no other wine producing region in the world. The high altitude, desert climate, and drastic temperature contrast between daytime highs and nighttime lows result in concentrated, idiosyncratic wines that reflect the unique geology of the land as well as the artistry of the local winemakers. I must say that even after almost a year and a half tasting wine in Argentina, I have been impressed since I got off the plane in Salta.

While the wines from this region have only begun to emerge on the international scene in the past 5 years or so, leading the way are the those made from the Torrontés
grape which has quickly come forth as Argentina's emblematic white varietal, with the undisputed best coming from the region of Salta and more specifically Cafayate. More and more established producers in Mendoza are buying grapes from here, and slowly but surely Torrontés is entering the consciousness of wine consumers around the world. So let me tell you a bit about it.

Recent studies show that
Torrontés is related to Malvasia, a grape that is widely planted in both Italy and Spain, as well as Portugal where it is used in the production of the sweet wine Madeira. While nobody's exactly sure how it got down this far south there are now three varieties of Argentine Torrontés: Torrontés Riojano, Torrontés Sanjuanino, and Torrontés Mendocino, each of which is named after a region of Argentina (La Rioja, San Juan, and Mendoza). Of these three, Torrontés Riojano is by far the most common.

Torrontés is best known for its fresh, floral aromas, although in the warm regions where it seems to grow best it does run the risk of a high alcohol content which can lead to added weight and some heat on the palate. I often get tropical fruit on the nose as well as grassy notes similar to those normally associated with Sauvignon Blanc. This morning I had the pleasure of visiting Finca Las Nubes here in Cafayate, owned and run by the producer of one of my favorite Torrontés bottlings, José Luis Mounier. It was the first time I've had his 2008 Torrontés, which I found to be refreshing, perfectly balanced, nicely acidic, and with a alluring bouquet full of pineapple and spring flowers. If it were bottled as a perfume, well, it would be hard to keep me away from the woman wearing it.

I've also been quite impressed by the Laborum
Torrontés produced by my new friends at Bodegas El Porvenir de los Andes, which is not surprising as it was their red wines that blew me away when I tasted them in Mendoza several months ago and inspired me to visit Cafayate in the first place. It's not an exaggeration to say that to my palate El Porvenir is making some of the best wine in Argentina, and having now visited their vineyards and winery I will be a loyal fan for life. Their wines are deeply concentrated and lushly textured, with fruit bursting out of the glass along with attractive notes of earth that truly do evoke the mountains surrounding the property. I'll be posting some more detailed tasting notes at the end of my trip here, but for the moment let's just say that the loving care in both vineyard and cellar shine through in everything they put their hands on. Winemaker Luis Asmet is a genius, and the expertise of consulting enologist Isabel Mijares, "flying winemaker" and confederate of renowned consultant Michel Rolland, gives the wines a depth and character that while distinctly Salteño provides a context well beyond the confines of the new world.

Unfortunately you can't taste the wines virtually, but I hope the below photos help you get a feel for the place.

Cafayate 7

Cafayate 12

Cafayate 20