Friday, May 19, 2006

Review of the past Two Weeks: May 9th-20th, 2006


The past two weeks have been a bit crazy - there has been so much going on this month with events and tastings that it is hard to keep things straight, sometimes. I have worked with winery owners, attended tasting with celebrities and hosted events myself. Here is a bit of a recap:

Tuesday May 9th - worked the day with David Babich, General Manager for Babich Winery in Henderson, New Zealand. David's family has owned and operated Babich Winery since its inception in 1916, and today they are one of the leading wine families from New Zealand. I have been representing Babich for about 10 years, now, and have always appreciated the quality that is produced by this firm: both reds and whites. Obviously the first thing that is thought of with a New Zealand winery is Sauvignon Blanc, but David and I actually sold a lot of Syrah, Pinot Noir and unoaked Chardonnay, wine styles that are really catching on in this market.


2004 Babich Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand) - about $15
Pinot Noir has certainly been on an upswing for the past 18 month, or so, but I have found few wines in this price point ($15) that show the quality and sophistication that the Babich Pinot Noir displays. One of my clients actually had David line three Pinots up and taste them against one another and give his opinion of each - I joined the tasting and found that against a good quality California Pinot Noir and a well made French Pinot Noir that the Babich was every bit as good a these wines if not a bit better. Better because the balance was there, the fruit was there and the earthy backbone of good Pinot was there - something I rarely find in New World Pinot Noir. (2+)

2005, Babich Chardonnay Unoaked (East Coast, New Zealand) - about $12
Really a fresh but rich style of Chardonnay. David says that with the wines they concentrate on (unoaked, aromatic whites account for about 80% of their production) that the key to success is getting really ripe fruit. In fact, David describes going out to harvest their vineyards two-three weeks later than most other producers. He says that the largest firms are usually done before they even begin picking. What does this mean? It means that with nothing going into the bottle except what the vineyards give you - you have to make sure that the grapes are ripe and flavorful and in balance. Extra hangtime allows for a mellowing of the naturally high acidity of the Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling and more development of the phenols, which impact the aromas and flavor of the final wine. I have always liked their style of whites because I feel they are just more flavorful, yet not as over the top with racy acids. The Unoaked Chardonnay is a great example of this style. (2)

2005, Babich Sauvignon Blanc (Hawke's Bay, New Zealand) - about $13
Beautifully balanced melon and peach fruits with an underlying acid structure and a smooth length that invites you back. Big fan of this wine because it is consistently one of the friendliest hot weather drinkers. Refreshing and quenching without making you look for the Rolaids, if you know what I mean. (2+)

2004, Babich Syrah Winemaker's Reserve (Hawke's Bay) - about $15
This was really the surprise of the day. Supple and round, but with amazing structure and richness - and the fruit just POPS! David told me that the vineyards where they propagate the Syrah is actually an old riverbed that has about 20 feet deep of pure rocks - no soil and very hot. They have to irrigate to grow vines at this site, but the fruit that comes off the vineyard is simply wonderful. Babich co-ferments about 5% Viognier with the Syrah, and this is where I feel the fruit lift can be attributed. The Viognier just makes all the lovely purple flower and berry aromatics come up and out of the glass instead of being snubbed by the intensity that Syrah can have. Why do you think this has been the practice in Cote Rotie for generations? Because it works! Great wine for someone looking for a step up from all those sappy Aussie Shirazez. (2+)

2005, Babich Riesling (Marlborough, New Zealand) - about $13
A very interesting and well made example of one of my favorite grape varieties. This Riesling could easily be mistaken for something German. A more dry style with lovely peach and nectarine aromas; some spiciness. Simply pure fresh fruit. (2)

For more info on Babich, visit their websire: www.babichwines.co.nz

Monday May 15th - Today was pretty cool as far as wine and food go. I went to the Greenwich home of Joe Bastianich, who was hosting a picnic/tasting to promote his several wines.

Joe Bastianich is the son of Lidia Bastianich, who has hosted a cooking show on Public Television and has been involved in the New York restaurant business for many years. In fact, Lidia and Joe and Joe's business partner, Mario Batali, are responsible for some of the most fashionable restaurants in New York city. The secrect is quite simple and is the basis for all good Italian cooking: Quality ingredients, simply prepared. That is really what it comes down to, and this picnic was such a great example of how the cuisine, the wine and the food, can work.

Joe was in attendance as our host. Lidia was in attendance overseeing the production of one of her delicious risotto (see above). And Mario was in attendance cooking the best lamb-chops I have ever eaten (also, see above).

As I stated the event was really to show-off the wines, which all three hosts are involved with to varying degrees. Lidia is originally from the northeast region of Italy known as Friuli. In the late '80s, Joe spent about five years in Friuli working as a winemaker before returning to the U.S. and his involvement in the restaurants. In 1997 Joe and Lidia purchased some property in Friuli and began to produce some wines from the vineyards. In 2000, Joe and Mario purchased property (about 100 acres) in southern Tuscany near the coastal wine region known as the Maremma, where Morellino di Scansano is produced. Joe oversees the wine production and has garnered some of Italy's top awards for a number of his wines. Here is a quick listing of these fabulous wines:

2005, Bastianich Rosato Friulano (Friuli, Italy) - about $12
This is made from 100% Refosco - a locally cultivated grape that is wonderful on its own or as a blender to beef-up lighter varietals. This is a very deeply colored Rosato - easily drinkable as a light red wine. Perfect accompaniment to the various cheeses and olives and salami that was offered. Great for summer drinkin'. (2+)

2004, Bastianich Tocai Friulano (Friuli, Italy) - about $12
Zippy and fresh with a light almond edge on the finish. Peaches and wet stone - such a good combination - also works perfectly with lighter anti-pasta dishes, but can easily hold up to seafood. (2)

2002, Bastianich Bianco "Vespa" (friuli, Italy) - about $25
This is a beautiful combination of Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Tocai. It has the richness from the Chard, the raciness from the Sauvignon and the minerality from the Tocai. Most awarded wine from the Bastinich production. (2+)

2002, Bastianich Rosso "Vespa" (Friuli, Italy) - about $32
Substantial wine. Very deeply colored. Really rich, inviting aromatics. Dark fruits and smoke on the palate, but smooth and very refined. Long finsih that went very well with the lamb-chops. (2)

2004, La Mozza 'I Perazzi' Morellino di Scansano (Grosseto, Italy) - about $17
One of my favorites. This wine just sings with ripe berries and a juicy/grapey bouquet that makes it so pleasant with procuitto, cheese and olives - also works well with suckling-pig sarnies. This is a star for the money! (2+)

also tasted:
2005, La Mozza IGT (Grosseto, Italy) - to be released fall of 2006 at about $17
A "mediterranean" blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, Montepulciano and maybe something else that I didn't quite catch. This is the new wine from La Mozza and is a flavor packed little gem. Rippin' with fresh young fruit that is smooth and juicy. Good stuff. (1+)

This was obviously a rare opportunity, but one that will stick in my mind for quite some time. The wines were outstanding. The food was exceptional and the hospitalty could not have been better. Having experienced this, it is really no surprise why these folks have been so successful at what they do.

For more info about the Bastianich wines, visit the website for Italian Wine Merchants in New York city: www.italianwinemerchant.com. This store is owned by Joe and Mario and their partner, Sergio Esposito.

Wednesday May 17th - Today I hosted a luncheon for about 50 guests, almost all of which are regulars to this event, which is sponsored by one of my retail clients. This event was held, as always, at the River Tavern, in Chester, CT. The River Tavern is owned by Jonathan Rapp, a CIA trained chef whose father operates a restaurant and wine bar in New York called Etats Unis (242 East 81st Street), where Jonathan worked before coming to Chester. This is one of the finest restaurants in CT, with a daily rotating menu and a diversified wine list that is almost unequaled - especially when you account for the size of the establishment (50 seats).

The wines I presented were from the Frescobaldi line-up and included wines from their Friulano estate, co-owned by the Attems family, as well as three of their Tuscan estates. The food was presented in three courses and the wines were shown one after the other. Here are my impressions of the wines:

2004, Attems Tocai Friulano Collio (Friuli, Italy) - about $17
Having just had the Bastianich Tocai several days prior - I was interested in seeing how this wine compared. It was not quite as juicy or racy as the Bastianich, but it was quite lively and had a delicious white peach/nectarine finish. Great minerality and length. I did end-up selling a lot of this wine as it went over very well with the crowd. I have found that consumers generally do not know Tocai, but once they taste it they usually like it very much. Tocai has a lot of the same appeal as Pinot Grigio - except it has more flavor and charm. (1++ )

2004, Marchesi de'Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti d.o.c.g (val de Pesa, Tuscany) - about $11 (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot)
This wine is it. Beautifully aromatic and juicy fruit, very smooth on the palate and great length. Really a great Chianti for the money. (2+ )

2003, Marchaesi di Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni i.g.t. (val de Pesa, Tuscany) - about $28 (approx. 68% Cabernet Sauvignon with the remainder mostly Sangioves and lesser parts of Merlot and Petite Verdot)
This wine has garnered many high reviews and awards from the mainstream wine-media, and rightly so. It is a very dark and supple red; a great choice for American wine drinkers, especially fans of Cabernet Sauvignon. Has the plummy, cassis, berry aromas from the Cabernet, but this is backed by the inky fruit of the Petite Verdot and the structure of the Sangiovese. Very tasty. (2+ )

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