Saturday, August 24, 2013

Tasting Lustau Sherries

My Sherry epiphany happened about 20 years ago at a friend's house in Pacifica, California, near the beach. We were opening all sorts of wines from California, Burgundy, and Bordeaux at the party. Then my friend pulled out what he said was his last bottle of Sandeman Palo Cortado Royal Ambrosante. I've had Sherry before but it wasn't a big deal for me back then. But this one blew me away. We all forgot about the other wines we were drinking and fought for a pour of this last bottle of Palo Cortado. The solera where this Sherry came from no longer exist, gone some years back. To this day I still remember the beauty of that Sherry.

Sherry is one of the great classical wines, perhaps even the greatest, as it has amazing versatility, complexity, and affinity with any food. Not least of its many advantage is its affordability. It is a wine that offers maximum pleasure for minimum outlay. Yet, Sherry has always been a tough sell in the US. We have plied it to customers over the year with ho-hum results.

Lately, however, there is a surge in Sherry interest. The popularity of Spanish cuisine--tapas in particular--no doubt has something to do with it. But I think the young generation of somms, who have fallen in love with Sherry are the chief instigators. Their ardor seems to resonate more on younger drinkers who regard Bordeaux and Napa Cabs as unexciting. Younger drinkers have taken to Sherry more readily than the older generation of wine consumers weaned on Bordeaux and Napa Cabs by wine critics over the last few decades. Before, wine lovers typically started with something sweet like Boone's Farm or Liebfraumilch, then to jammy Zinfandels, Shiraz, and Cabernets, followed by Bordeaux, and finally graduating to Burgundy. Today's younger generation of drinkers start with craft beer followed by natural wines, Jura and Sherry. It's a more compact wine journey. 

Our Sherry Primer Tasting yesterday focused on Lustau Sheries. Lustau's range of Sherries is second to none. Though one one of the leading Sherry producers Lustau is smaller in size than its rivals and more focused on higher quality, artisanal style Sherries. In fact, Lustau started out as a small Almacenista in 1896 before it expanded.

Almacenistas are family-owned, small, artisnal Sherry producers equivalent to Burgundy's negociant-eleveurs. These old families have been keeping and aging Sherries in small soleras for generations. They don't bottle the Sherries but sell them to Sherry produers that bottle and label them for sale.

The quality of the Sherries produced by these Alamcenistas is usually superb and one-of-a-kind. In the past their small production was sold to large Sherry producers that blended them with other Sherries, thus losing the individual quality of the Almacenistas Sherry. However, in the early 1980s Lustau started to bottle each one individually, identifying the particular Almacenista family and solera on the label.

Since then Almacenista Sherry was born. These Sherries are rare because of the tiny production. Almacenista soleras usually consist of less than a hundred butts (oak casks) versus many hundreds of butts for typical Sherry producers in their soleras.

Drake McCarthy, West Coast regional manager of Europvin USA, exclusive importers of Lustau, shared his extensive knowledge and experience of Sherry to everyone. A useful lesson I picked up from Drake is ideas for pairing each type of Sherry with different kinds of food.

We had lovers of Spanish of food and wine attending the tasting, including, of course, La Liga aficionados. 

Post-tasting a group of us checked in at a neighborhood sushi joint lugging a bunch of left-over Sherries from the tasting. At the dinner table is where Sherry excels, and the Sherries we brought proved that. The Lustau Fino Solera Reserva "Jarana" and the Lustau Almacenista Sanlucar Manzanilla Pasada "Manuel Cuevas Jurado 1/80" were perfect with the dozen oysters and sashimi of ama-ebi and hamachi.

Following that, a plate of ankimo (monkfish liver), grilled asparagus, and fried shrimp heads from the ama-ebi were superb with the Lustau Almacenista Amontillado del Puerto "Jose Luis Gonzalez Obregon 1/10"

Finally, with both the Lustau Jerez Palo Cortado "Vides 1/50" and the Lustau Almacenista Jerez Oloroso "Pata de Gallina Juan Garcia Jarana 1/38" we enjoyed slices of garlic flavored melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef tataki and a sashimi fillet of whole iwashi flown in from Japan. The bone was served deep-fried, crisp as potato chips. All perfect with the Sherries.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Another Italian Wine Dinner at Ferrari Silicon Valley F-1 Bistro

We're back last month at the Ferrari Silicon Valley for another wine dinner at their cool F-1 Bistro, the only eatery inside a Ferrari dealership in the world.

I love the simple, rustic food prepared by Chef Dave Peatrowsky. He puts his own spin on well-worn classics as Caesar Salad, Braised Lamb Shank, and, yes, Tiramisu. In his hands, the dishes came out wonderfully refreshed and tasty.

Chef Dave's Lamb Shanks have been braising for about 3 hours and just about ready to be plated and paired with the red wines I'm pouring.

But before we got to the reds I opened Pra's 2012 Soave Classico--a rich vintage, yet absolutely crisp and vibrant. Soligo's Brut Prosecco NV is always a crowd fave at many of our Italian wine dinners, and, yet again, it didn't let us down.

All three reds drank like champs, especially with the lamb dish. Villa Medoro's 2010 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo was a dream and for just $15, an unbelievable value. Valdicava's 2010 Rosso di Montalcino, from the greatest vintage in Montalcino in recent years, showed the structure and complexity of a Brunello. This is too young at the moment, but should be amazing given perhaps 5 more years. Whereas Canalicchio di Sopra's 2008 Brunello di Montalcino, from a more accessible vintage, was absolutely stunning. A beautiful Brunello with Canalicchio's trademark charm, relaxed style, and classic refinement. Its perfume of red fruits, spices, and earth was beguiling. Its seamless balance help make it pleasurable to drink even now, though as always it needs ten years to evolve to its full potential. It is worth the wait.

Post-dinner, we were treated up-close to some of the most exotic cars in the world, like the rare Ferrari Aperta, a convertible 599, of which only 80 were built.

Ah, the Ferrari F40, one of the most coveted Ferraris by collectors. It is a special edition to celebrate Ferrari's 40th anniversary. My first time to view one this close, it looks intimidating even standing still.

Frankly, the Ferrari I would love to own is the new FF, the four-wheel-drive, four-seater. The first Ferrari "family car".  It is a radical departure for Ferrari to build a four-seater and a four-wheel-drive. I love its long, sleek, body lines. Totally sexy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Two Very Affordable Sicilian Wines From Rockstar Twenty-Something Winemaker Arianna Occhipinti

Sicily is one of the oldest winegrowing regions in the world having been colonized by the wine-loving ancient Greeks and Romans who spread winemaking wherever they went.

The same way as Bordeaux has Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and Burgundy its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Sicily has its own native grapes, too. Two classic Sicilian grape varieties are Frappato, a red grape, and Grillo, a white grape. Both these grapes make delicious aromatic and complex wines with their own expressive character. They are fun and versatile to drink year-round, especially during summer.
  • Grillo is best compared to Chardonnay (some producers even blend the two), as it is rich and full-bodied, and offers extra with its alluring floral scents.
  • Frappato is akin to Pinot Noir, not a heavy wine but fruity and aromatic with bright cherry and strawberry flavors. It makes for really charming wines. Like Pinot Noir, Frappato is a delicate grape and can be finicky to grow.
Thanks to a new generation of Sicilian wine producers, today, who are producing top quality wines from these two grape varieties. One of the brightest young winemakers, whose wines are perhaps more sought-after than any Sicilian wines in the US right now is Arianna Occhipinti.

Now in her late-20s, Arianna has been making wine for the past ten years, initially under the tutelage of her uncle, Giusto Occhipinti, of COS estate, a leading light among fans of traditional Italian wines. She debuted with the 2004 vintage under her own label at the ripe age of 21!

Arianna farms all her vineyards biodynamically. She is well recognized as a proponent of natural winemaking, and also a champion of Sicily's indigenous grapes, including Grillo and Frappato.

Aside from her 10-hectare estate vineyard, Arianna also makes wines from grapes grown by her close friends under the label Tami'. The Tami' vineyards are planted with vines that are at least ten years old and also farmed organically and biodynamically. With the intent of making wines that are enjoyable upon release, Arianna applies a short maceration of one week and then six months aging in stainless steel before bottling.

Freshness, charming fruit, and purity of flavors are what these wines from Tami' deliver. They are great values and made as authentic as possible by the meticulous Arianna Occhipinti.

Sicilia Bianco IGT Grillo, Tami' 2011 $17.00 (click to buy!)

Sicilia Rosso IGT Frappato, Tami' 2011 $16.00 (click to buy!) 

Olio di Oliva Extravergine "Gheta", Arianna Occhipinti 2012 500ml $25.00 (click to buy!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wine Memories

Each summer many of us come back from vacation with lasting wine memories. This is one of those for me, a wine I've not had before, a Friulano from Vini Crastin. I've never seen this label in the States. God knows we need more good Friulano in this country.

This particular bottle had a little bit of age on it, a 2008 I noticed on the label. The sommelier/proprietor of the ostaria said he kept it for another two years or so as he didn't think it was ready on release. Judging from this bottle, I can't disagree. It was fresh, bright, and aromatic. As lovely as the day.