About that wine and chocolate thing…

Okay, so, apparently, there’s a thing called Valentine’s Day that’s around the corner? Something to do with chocolate?

Red wine and chocolate pairingActually, according to lots of people (in particular, PR persons), Valentine’s has to do with matching wine and chocolate. More specifically, red wine and chocolate. By which people generally mean dry red wine.

I’m not in your mouth, people, so I can’t tell what’s going on in there, but personally, I think dry red wine and chocolate is, generally speaking, one of the worst possible food and wine matches. And it’s not just a matter of personal taste.

The problem has to do with the sweetness in the chocolate vs the dryness of the wine. While it can be perfectly good to have a drink that shows some sweetness with a dish that isn’t sweet (I really like sauternes over a roast chicken, for instance), the reverse is a lot more difficult to do.

Sugar in the wrong place

Why? Well, have you ever had a piece of fruit – say, an orange – after having a really sweet dessert? All you taste is the acid in the fruit, right? Very simply put, that’s because the sugar that coats your mouth masks the more limited amount of sugar present in the fruit, so that only the acid shows up. In the same way, a red wine that seems unctuous and juicy on its own may well feel overly dry, tannic and acidic, if you sip it over something sweet.

So that big chocolate truffle is probably going to kill that Barossa shiraz you were told to match it with, even though the cocoa, roasted flavors from the heavy-toast barrels may find some aromatic harmony with the chocolatey aromas. At the very least, it’s going to make it a lot less expressive and engaging.

Exceptions to every rule

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. But they generally have to do with what is in the chocolate, rather than with the chocolate itself. For instance, I was surprised to enjoy a piece of dark chocolate bark loaded with dried cherries, along with a nebbiolo from the Langhe, a few months ago.

Two things were at work behind that good match. One, the chocolate was a dark one, not very sweet, which minimized that effect of smothering the perceived sweetness of the wine. Two, the dried cherries appealed to one of the central aromatic components of nebbiolo, a grape that is famous for its tart or dried cherry flavors. And on top of that, the dried cherries delivered some acid that balanced the sweetness, allowing a better continuity with the high acid grape.

I’ll bet you the nebbiolo would have tasted even better with plain dried cherries, though…

Another example is a spicy chocolate, infused with pink peppercorns or hot chili. There, it is the spiciness that is at work, reacting to the spicy notes in grenache or syrah, for example. As I’m writing this, I’m having some with an Argentinian cabernet sauvignon with a hot chili chocolate from Lindt, and it’s not bad. The tannins do seem a bit drier, but the spiciness works well on the finish. (With a classic, sweet chocolate truffle, however, the wine feels acidic and bitter – ugh!)

Another possibility that could make the match work is the fact that some supposedly dry red wines are actually quite sweet, with levels of residual sugar that would be defined in, say, a German riesling, as actually off dry. But if that’s the case, why not go straight to dessert wines?

Stickies and spirits

Port wine or the sweet reds of Roussillon (Maury and Banyuls), or even a Greek sweet wine like mavrodaphne from Patras are classic matches with chocolate – with good reason. Sweeter versions of madeira or sherry are also great pairings. Even the caramel tones of an ice wine or a trockenbeerenauslese could do. Certainly better than a big, tannic malbec or cabernet sauvignon.

Yesterday, when I tweeted my exasperation about the return of the wine-and-chocolate-is-awesome noise that comes with the nearing of V-Day as inevitably as the wine-for-the-turkey pieces come back around Thanksgiving, I got some interesting tweets back from a Kansas City bartender and restaurant owner called Ryan Maybee. He pointed to whiskey and cognac as being an even better match, especially with rich chocolates. I could certainly see a great match with a chocolate coated caramel, for instance… And I’d be willing to give his other suggestion – mezcal with spiced chocolates – a go as well.

With so many good options around, why would you want to test the limits and pair your chocolate with something that is not so well-suited, like dry reds?

After all, isn’t Valentine’s Day supposed to be all about perfect matches?

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It’s official: TasteCamp is headed to Northern Virginia

What I love most about wine writing is the opportunity to discover new wine regions. Since 2009, TasteCamp, founded by my friend Lenn Thompson, has provided me with some of the best opportunities to do so, with a three-day intensive session of tasting and visiting that has taken participants to Long Island and the Finger Lakes, in New York, and in the Niagara region (on both sides of the US-Canada border).

Since last year, I’ve joined the event’s organizing committee and have been happy to work on this next edition, which will take place in Northern Virginia on the first weekend of May. After a first taste of Virginia wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference, last July, I’m happy to return for a more in-depth look at what defines this wine-producing state.

Today, we’re glad to make the first official announcement about the fourth edition of TasteCamp. Without further ado, here is the official press release about the May festivities.

* * *

TasteCamp 2012 heads to Northern Virginia

Fourth edition of wine bloggers and wine writers’ meeting heads to Loudoun County, May 4-6.

The organizers of TasteCamp are proud to announce that after exploring the regions of Long Island, the Finger Lakes and Niagara (US and Canada), the event will hold its fourth edition in Northern Virginia wine country on May 4-6, 2012. Several important partners and sponsors have confirmed their participation and are working together to create an exceptional opportunity to discover the very best that Virginia wine has to offer.

The 2012 program will feature the combination of vineyard visits, grand tastings, conversations with winemakers and camaraderie that has made the event so successful over the last three years. Participants will also take part in what has become a TasteCamp tradition, a BYO dinner where wine lovers share special bottles in a freestyle evening of discovery and one-upmanship.

TasteCamp founder and New York Cork Report executive editor Lenn Thompson said that there was much reason for the event to head for the vineyards of Virginia: “The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference was a great opportunity for both Virginia and bloggers, but I wanted to bring TasteCamp to Northern Virginia to offer a truly immersive experience. We want attendees to eat, drink, sleep and breathe Virginia wine for three days. It’s of course impossible to fully explore a region in just a weekend, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.”

Over its three first years, TasteCamp has generated significant attention for the wine regions where it has taken place, generating dozens of stories and articles every year. It also offers emerging wine regions an exceptional opportunity to have their wines tasted by a passionate outside audience that brings a different light to local wine production and creates new conversations with local winemakers.

Essential Virginia partners

Three of the region’s top wineries will be hosting TasteCamp participants for lunches, dinners and grand tastings of Virginia wines, where many other wineries will provide a portrait of what this increasingly important wine producing state can offer. The three confirmed host wineries are:

-       Breaux Vineyards, in Purcellville overlooking the valley between the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountains, is one of Virginia’s most popular estates, with over 100 acres under vines.

-       Boxwood Winery, founded by former Washington Redskins’ owner John Kent Cooke, is located in the historic village of Middleburg, and produces Bordeaux blends from 100% estate-grown fruit, in collaboration with renowned consulting winemaker Stéphane Derenoncourt.

-       Tarara Winery is located in the foothills of the Catoctin Mountains on 475 acres along the Potomac River in Leesburg. One of Loudoun County’s oldest wineries, Tarara focuses on single-vineyard wines.

TasteCamp 2012 organizers are also excited to be counting on partnerships with two key Virginia organizations. The Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office (Virginia Wine) and the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association (Visit Loudoun) will both be partners of the event, offering logistical, financial and/or transportation support.


Rooms have been set aside at the National Conference Center, in Leesburg, Virginia, only 12 miles from Dulles International Airport and a short drive from most of the vineyards visited over the weekend. A special room rate is offered to TasteCamp guests at this large-scale facility located on a quiet 110-acre campus.

TasteCamp 2012 organizers will have more announcements as the wine weekend approaches.

About TasteCamp

The concept for TasteCamp, created in 2009 by Lenn Thompson, executive editor of the New York Cork Report, is a simple one: getting enthusiastic journalists and bloggers together in a region that is new to them, to taste as much wine as possible and speak to as many winemakers as possible over the course of a weekend.

Most smaller, lesser-known wine regions in the world would love to get their wines in front of new audiences, but it can be a challenge. With TasteCamp, the new audience comes to them.

This is not a junket — attendees pay their own travel expenses, including their hotel rooms and meals.  Through generous sponsors, some meals may be deeply discounted.

Follow the Latest updates on TasteCamp 2011:

• On Twitter: #TasteCamp

To participate as an attendee, contact Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com

To participate as a sponsor, contact Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

For more information, contact co-organizers Remy Charest (remycharest (at) mac.com) and John Witherspoon (vcuspoon1 (at) comcast.net)

Media and interview requests:

Lenn Thompson at lenn (at) newyorkcorkreport.com or
Frank Morgan at frank.j.morgan (at) gmail.com.

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Wine From Here: exploring the natural wine movement in California

What is natural wine? What does it mean to make a natural wine? And how is natural wine taking hold in the vineyards and wineries of California? Those are the questions that Wine From Here, a documentary by Martin Carel and his brother Matthieu that is premiering on Thursday night in San Francisco.

Photo by Martin Carel

Wine From Here certainly has the tools to give any wine lover a good look at what natural wine is in today’s American wine production. It relies mainly on interviews with several of the winemakers who have been championing a natural approach to wine, meaning organic in the vineyard and minimally interventionist in the cellar (chiefly using fermentation without addition of cultured yeasts, and generally avoiding or minimizing the addition of sulfur in the wines).

Among those who contribute their knowledge and point of view are Tony Cotturi, a veteran and one of the most vocal champions of organic wine in California, Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyard (where the approach is presented as a form of pre-industrial winemaking), Kevin Kelley of Lioco and the Natural Process Alliance, Hank Beckmeyer of La Clarine Farm, Steve Edmunds of Edmunds-St John, Jared Brandt of A Donkey and Goat and Gideon Beinstock of Clos Saron. These vignerons are joined by Hardy Wallace, at once a commentator and now winemaker, Ian Becker of Arlequin Wine Merchant and, especially, by Alice Feiring, the wine writer most dedicated to the cause of natural wine, with her simple definition of what natural wine is: nothing added, nothing taken out.

It is interesting that Wine From Here is premiering just as Alice Feiring is releasing her new book, Naked Wine, and touring California to present it, and also just as Jamie Goode is releasing his own book, Authentic Wine, co-authored by Sam Harrop. An alignment of planets and stars worthy of the best moments of the biodynamic calendar?

Martin Carel

In any case, I’m particularly happy to see Wine From Here come to fruition, on a rather personal level. I had the pleasant surprised of being contacted, late last year, by filmmaker and fellow Quebec City native Martin Carel, who told me about his project and about the fact that this post on this very blog had given him the original impetus to start the project. That one of my posts could lead someone to start a movie project is extremely flattering, to say the least.

Since then, Martin Carel and I have exchanged emails and met once to discuss the project, and I had the chance to see rough cuts and the final cut online. I think there is a great amount of knowledgeable information in the movie, and some fascinating points of views from the vignerons who seek, first and foremost, to express the particular sense of place of the vineyards from which they draw their grapes. To make wine from “here”, in other words – wherever their “here” may be.

It’s hard for me to give the documentary an actual review, having followed its development as a close and involved observer. But what I can tell you is that I did learn things, listening to the interviews, and found some well-informed points of view on what terroir means and how you should seek to express it. I am confident that others would find it similarly stimulating and enlightening.

If you’re in San Francisco this Thursday, August 25, you can get to see the very first public screening of Wine From Here, at the Victoria Theatre on 16th Street. The screening is at 7 p.m., and it will be followed by a natural wine tasting, so you can join practice with theory. Tickets can be bought online right here. If you go, please comment on this blog. I’d love to know what other people are thinking about this movie.

Posted in California, United States, wine, winemaking, wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Live Wine Blogging from Charlottesville, Virginia – now, the reds

Yesterday was the Live Wine Blogging session for white wines at the Wine Bloggers Conference. Today, after a great keynote speech by Eric Asimov, who insisted on tasting wine in context, we’re stepping right into this speed dating format. Ironic but fun.

CalNaturale 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

I was not terribly impressed by the white TetraPak wine from this winery, yesterday, though the intentions (organic and environmentally-friendly) are laudable. I like the cabernet sauvignon better. Not great depth, but a rather pleasant sort of warm ripe fruit, with some structure. Not too heavy, not too sweet. The grapes are from Paso Robles. Okay for 13$.

The Climber NV Cabernet Sauvignon, Cliff Family Winery

It’s like we’re doing yesterday’s tasting in reverse, with the alternate packaging starting instead of ending the live wine blogging at our table, today. I like the bag format, very practical and seemingly able to help with the freshness of the product. Again, the bag shows up fresher than the Tetra Pak, at a lower price (17 bucks for two bottle equivalent). Nice fruit, no great depth, but fine picnic wine.

Banfi 2008 Centine, Toscana IGT

Sangiovese (60%), cabernet sauvignon (20%) and merlot (20%) blend from Tuscany, sold for 10-12$. Pretty good for the price, with very decent fruit, acid and tannins. Smooth but not overly soft. Sangiovese character does come through fairly well. Good value.

Willakenzie Estate 2008 Pierre Léon Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Oregon pinot noir with bright cherry and soft spice, pretty decent tannins, but a slightly drying finish. Willakenzie Estate has 100 acres of vines on a 400 acre estate. This is a selection from different parts of the estate, where elevations and exposures vary. Accessible, nothing to say against it, but I’m still more attached to more Burgundian, higher acid styles.

Mountfair Vineyards, 2009 Engagement, Monticello, Virginia

Merlot blend from just around here, with 10% each of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and petit merlot. A little over 100 cases and a retail price of 25$. Slightly dusty nose, with red fruit compote notes and a little spice. Fine tannins on the finish. Middle is a little soft, but it’s drinkable.

Tarara Winery  2008 Casanova, Virginia Red Wine

Niagara College graduate Jordan Harris is here again to present a red wine from his vineyards near the Potomac. Kind of a black forest cake feeling with tannins. Slightly funky notes on the nose – herbal, maybe. Mouth is fairly big, you can feel the extraction mentioned by the winemaker. Pretty coherent, though a little chewy for me. 60% merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 10% cabernet franc.

Barboursville Vineyards 2006 Octagon

Another bordeaux blend from Virginia, from one of the founding wineries in the state – and from what I’ve tasted, one of the best. Very classic nose, open and pretty seductive. Mouth is very pleasant with very good length and a very pleasant, open and sexy finish. Coherent, balanced, without any excessive oak. I’ve liked every one I’ve tasted from Barboursville, since yesterday, from the crisp vermentino to the beautiful and expressive nebbiolo. I’ll need to visit that place.

Château Mukhrani 2007 Saperavi, Georgia

Estate goes back to a Georgian prince who built the estate in the 19th Century, with an interruption during the soviet era. The estate was replanted in 2003 with traditional varieties like this saperavi. Distinctive and tasty, with lovely tobacco notes on the nose, and on the finish as well. Slightly drying finish, but the spicy, tobacco notes on the end strangely make it all come together. Distinctive and delicious. 19$ retail price is great.

Boxwood Estate 2009 Boxwood, Virginia

Blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot from the estate vineyards on the Boxwood farm, a historical estate owned by the former owners of the Washington Redskins. Retails for about 25$. Nose is funkier than what I remember from yesterday’s pre-conference tasting. Fairly consistent, with significant roasted notes – a little obtrusive. I like Topiary better, overall, but this is all right too.

Old World Winery 2009 Abourious, Russian River Valley

The winery chose the Wine Bloggers Conference to unveil this unusual wine made from a teinturier variety called Abouriou, originally from France. This is a wine I’d like to have more time to assess. Lots of fruit with spicy notes and a rich character. Very big, very original. Worth checking out, if only for curiosity’s grape.

Sivas-Sonoma 2009 Sonoma County Old Vines Zinfandel

Big, juicy zinfandel from a winery run by Donny Sebastiani, fourth generation of that well-known name in California wine. The nose is typical zinfandel, with plums and tobacco and such. Vineyards (45 years old) are located in the Russian River Valley. The zinfandel character is well-defined on the mouth, too. However, there’s too much residual sugar for my taste, which sort of swallows up the varietal character.

Decibel 2009 Malbec, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Very different from malbecs from Argentina. Fairly floral character, tasty, good fruit, but the acid is a little low, which makes the finish rather muddled. Interesting character, but I think there is a bit of work to do to make it really pleasant and, more importantly, balanced. Still, I’d rather have that than sauvignon blanc!

And that’s it for this year. More distinctive selection than with the whites, thanks to Georgia and the Abouriou, notably. And the Barboursville was fine, too.

Now, I’m tired. Maybe beer before dinner…

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Live wine blogging from WBC11 in Charlottesville, Virginia

The fourth annual Wine Bloggers Conference started officially at 1 PM today in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a great, down to earth keynote speech from Jancis Robinson, followed by breakout sessions (including the one on local wine, which I was happy  to take part in with Lenn Thompson, Frank Morgan and Dave McIntyre).

But now, the crazy stuff is back: the first of two speed-dating sessions where wineries have five minutes to introduce a wine that we blog about live, also in the same five minutes. Quick, exciting, no time for second impressions, which I always like.

The notes will be added as the wines are poured. Ready, set…

Tabarrini Adarmando 2008

Slightly vegetal nose on this unoaked trebbiano spoletino that sees extended lees contact, made in Montefalco, Umbria. A unique vineyard, says the winemaker, of 70-year old vines. There is a depth to the wine that is interesting, probably partly from old vines, partly from the lees contact. Good value for the retail price of 17-22$. Some tropical notes, good length, and a combination of fattiness and good acid that I like. Original.

Michael Shaps 2008 Monticello Viognier, Virginia

Small production viognier (couple of hundred cases) made at WineWorks. Glad to taste my first Virginia viognier, which seems to be gaining a following. Pretty fresh nose with a slightly leesy character. Feels a little tight. Very fatty, significant texture, sharp acid. It is certainly very young. Vinified in stainless, bottled early on. Interesting, but I’d like to have more time with it to have a more definite opinion.

Jefferson Vineyard 2010 pinot gris, Virginia

86 % pinot gris and 14% viognier in this wine from this local Charlottesville winery. Property has a historical connection to *the* Jefferson. This wine was bottled in April. It’s a little reserved, nose has a limited apple expression. Mouth is dry, with good weight, and the apple character of PG with a little papaya or tropical notes in the back. Retails for 18.95$. Okay, but a little more grigio than gris to me.

Sivas-Sonoma 2010 Sauvignon Blanc

Made by the Sebastiani family in Sonoma County. The winery production is 10,000 cases on four varieties. The sauvignon blanc is Sonoma County, mostly from the Sonoma Valley (62%) and from Russian River (38%). Those who follow me know my dislike for NZ sauvignon blanc, and sadly, this one has the grassy, vegetal, slightly stereotyped nose I can’t really take. Things are better on the mouth, for me, with a white grapefruit component and some herbal notes. Well-made in its style – it’s too bad it’s a style I can’t stand.

Maycas del Limari 2008 Chardonnay, Limari Valley, Chile

Oak-fermented chardonnay from the Limari Valley, north of Santiago. 10 months in oak – but not new. Pretty nice and crisp, with a fair bit of oak, but the acidity and freshness keep it together. No malo on the wine, to preserve that freshness. There’s a nice white fruit character, floral elements. The nose didn’t speak to me much, but the wine is pretty pleasant, if a little constrained in style. True enough, it is a 2008, and could keep going for a good while. For 20$, no complaints.

Keswick Vineyards  2010 Verdejo, Monticello, Virginia

The winemaker, Stephen Barnard, talks about keeping the acidity and freshness in this young Verjdejo, but the nose is floral and aromatic and the mouth feels ripe and well-rounded – oh, wait, there’s that acid on the finish. Apple notes on the mouth. Tasty and fresh, indeed, overall. A pretty great summer sipper for under 20$. I agree with Stephen that it’s a good idea to show some of the variety that Virginia can bring to the table.

Tarara Winery 2009 Nevaeh White, Virginia.

70% viognier with 30% chardonnay in that blend from Northern Virginia. Vineyard is close to the Potomac River, which has a cooling effect and produces a mineral character, says the winemaker Jordan Harris. Oak-aged wine, with 20% new oak and malo that goes if it goes in a cool cellar. Nice sort of lemon curd/meringue aspect, good acid with a well-rounded character from the aging. Winemaker is a graduate from Niagara College, interestingly enough.

Williamsburg Winery 2009 chardonnay, Virginia

Classic oak-aged chardonnay, with some refreshing bitterness at the back. Pretty well-integrated, although there is something a little soft and consensual about it, for me. Apple-pear with a little vanilla, good length. Pretty good, but I’m looking for something specific and not sure if I’m finding it. Oz Clarke liked it, apparently…

Cornerstone Cellars 2010 Coralina syrah rosé

Designed as a rosé, says Craig Camp, Cornerstone’s man in the house and Wine Bloggers Conference fixture. Rosé de presse, not a saignée: spends two hours in the press, soaking in the color, and then pressed. Round feeling to it and great, great acid, fresh and flavorful, nice garrigue, smoke and red fruit on the nose. Good length, well-made. Maybe a tad dry on the finish, but very nice to taste.

Emma Pearl 2009 Chardonnay, Central Coast

Inaugural vintage from this winery. 90% chardonnay, 10% viognier. Round and full-bodied, very aromatic, expressive nose, floral pieces. Ripe Central Coast fruit, a little on the rich side, but sustained by acidity. 3.3 pH when it comes in, says winemaker Nova Cadamatre. Good stuff for the price. Has personality and strikes a nice balance, with even a little minerality on the finish.

CalNaturale 2009 Chardonnay, Mendocino, California.

Organic chardonnay in Tetra Pak – chosen for environmentally-friendly reasons, we’re told. Apples – and a tad of browning apple or raw apple juice. 12$ or so, retail. Even at that price, I find it lacks a bit of freshness. I’ve had worse in Tetra Pak or bag-in-box, but I’m not enthused.

Cliff Family Winery NV The Climber Chardonnay

The wine comes in a 1.5 liter bag format. Original and interesting, packaging wise. Simple, green apple, a little lemon. But for the price (17.95$ for the equivalent of two bottles), it’s really, really a good deal. Clean, refreshing – what more would you want for your picnic in the summer heat? Nice job.

Aaaand… we’re done. Until tomorrow, for the reds. Lots of wines around 18$, this time, and it felt a little uniform, overall. Standouts for me were the Umbria Trebbiano, the syrah rosé, the Emma Pearl chardonnay and this last one. Good stuff.

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