Kevin Hamel, the producer of Hamel Wines, was my assistant in two periods, for 11 years. His brand, Hamel, was created while he was winemaker at other wineries, and, for various reasons, Kevin has not spent a lot of time promoting his own brand. Recently, we tasted through wines still in cellar and I found two very lovely and thought we should buy both lots. These are the Hamel Pinot Noir 2005 and Hamel Syrah 2003.
The Pinot Noir 2005 is a deep colored Sonoma Coast wine from the Campbell Ranch vineyard at Annapolis that produced part of the 2005 Pinot Noir which I blended for our own label called lla, in honor of my sister. Illa was blended from three casks of Olivet Lane Pinot Noir, the Pellegrini Family winery, where Kevin was the winemaker, and one cask of his wine, this wine, from the Sonoma Coast. A dramatic wine, one can tell immediately by its perfume that this wine is in the Illa blend. The Hamel 2005 Pinot Noir is dark in color, with a fragrant, intense Pinot Noir aroma, medium full body, ripe grape flavors, chewy, with a fragrant aftertaste.
Grown on the Sonoma Coast, where Pinot tends to a certain voluptuousness usual in the variety, this is a dramatic Pinot Noir which will delight both the massive structured wine fan and the lover of fine, intense Pinot.
Not a wine which has to be drunk up, it is one that will grace a table beautifully when even older than it is. This is very serious Pinot Noir which asks and gives no quarter. It has thrown a deposit and will benefit from decanting. After all, isn’t that what decanters are for: to present beautiful wine beautifully?
Hamel Pinot Noir 2005 Wine 14.4% $24.99 750ml (#2950)
Syrah in California is having an identity crisis. It is liked, but no one really knows what it is supposed to smell and taste like. Its flavor profile is all over the board: dark, brooding wines, with bacony, animal scents; others paler in color, extremely tannic with a pruney character. Rarely does it have that vibrancy and spiciness that it shows in the northern Rhone, its ancestral home. But here is a Syrah which I think you will find exemplifies what is positive about the variety and not a caricature. For one thing, it has lovely natural acidity which is already a plus. Nine years old, it is delicious drinking, flavorful and refreshing.
Grown at Timbervine Ranch in Sonoma’s cool Russian River Valley, Hamel Syrah 2003 has that black pepper spice and damson fruitiness which I think is the hallmark of fine Syrah. What this wine has also is a wonderful acid back, which, not only lending longevity, gives the wine a refreshing quality, inviting another sip or mouthful. This is a very “floral” style Syrah.
Now, 9 years old, this is a wonderful Syrah for enjoying. The bottle aging has already been done for you. I cannot think of a better wine for drinking this fall.
Hamel Syrah 2003 Wine 13.9% $19.99 750ml (#2951)
Unique Italian Red Varietals Grown in California
In our store tasting of 23 February 2012, we tasted a series of varietals from the 2010 vintage produced by Rosa D'Oro winery in Clear Lake, Lake County, California. Their Sangiovese was a very good example of the variety and we purchased it. Two other varieties, Montepulciano and Sagrantino were very fine and unusual for California. I would like to tell you about these two wines.
Montepulciano is correctly Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. We have to call it just Montepulciano. The Rosa D’Oro wine is from Mt Oso Vineyards, Tracy Hills, California. Mount Oso, a 3,360 foot peak in Stanislaus County, is part of the Diablo Range. This, then, leads to another possible conundrum: the Tuscan wine known as Montepulciano, correctly, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, comes from the town of Montepulciano but is a sangiovese wine. However, the lovely Rosa D’Oro Montepulciano is from that variety and is very good indeed. Tasting it with the same variety grown in Italy, shows that it fares better than well--and might just be a very good variety for California in the right spot. And the Tracy Hills, just might be that spot.
Tracy Hills is a large viticultural area straddling both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties in northern California. It is on the east side of the Altamont Pass and is a very deep soil region with a special mitigating climate due to the Pacific winds which keep it cool during the day and warm at night.
Four barrels, 96 cases, were produced. We bought 50 cases. This wine has 13.8% alcohol and is fruity with a brambly character and does not have the rustic character which it often shows in Italy. A very good red wine!
Rosa D’Oro Montepulciano 2010 Wine, Tracy Hills, 13.8% $16.29 750ml (#2952)
Sagrantino is a variety that has become a bit of a darling in Italy since the mid 1970s. Its home is the area around Montefalco in Umbria where its traditional use is to make a passito wine–wine made from grapes which have been allowed to wither before crushing. Due to the tannic character of this aromatic red variety, it needs the sugar of the sweet wine style to overcome the variety’s innate tannin. The origin of the variety in California is none other than Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards.
The Rosa D’Oro Sagrantino is the best expression of the variety, as a dry red wine, I have ever tasted. Again, it is from the Tracy Hills area, Oso Vista Vineyards. There are only some 10 acres of this variety in California. Four barrels, producing 96 cases, were made. The barrels were 2-4 years old. Alcohol is 14.4%. The aromatic character of the variety is well defined in this wine with a fruity, spicy, but dry character. Usually Sagrantino needs other varieties to fill out the wine, but in this wine it does very well alone. It should age well, enhancing its aroma, flavor, and in this wines’s case, its softness.
Rosa D’Oro Sagrantino 2010 Wine, Tracy Hills, 14.4% $17.59 750ml (#2953)
Valobra Soaps from Genova: A Different Gift (Not Wine)
I would just like to remind you of the Valobra Soaps we offer when you are thinking about holiday gifts and do not want to use wine or foodstuffs. These finely milled soaps are the last soaps made in the historically famous soapmaking region of the Riviera. Please check our web site for the list of soaps and prices from our Holidays 2011 newsletter. I am only reminding you since supplies at the holidays are limited and it would just be wise to be forewarned. We can also send a copy of the Holidays 2011 newsletter for reference should you prefer.
Furmint from Royal Tokaji:: Dűlőválogatás 2009
This wine is a Vineyard Select Furmint, from Royal Tokaji in Hungary, different from the Mézes Mály that we offered in December 2011. The Dűlőválogatás, (meaning vineyard selection,) is a blend of two different vineyard sites, Úrágya (pronounced Uh-Rye-yuh) and Betsek, both in Mád village.
Now that you have been overwhelmed with Hungarian, noted for the difficulty of its pronunciation, we wont be put off if you simply call this wine “Dulo.” Betsek is the largest vineyard owned by Royal Tokaji. Its aspect is a half moon section, tilted north-east, hence colder soil with dark humus mixed with volcanic clay. Betsek makes weighty, pungent wines. Úrágya is a vineyard site that is north of Mád and faces south. The two vineyards produce wines which are complementary, hence their blending.
This Furmint has14% alcohol; total acidity is .64% with 4.2g/L sugar to balance the acidity. Production was 2,036 bottles, bottled April 11, 2011, of which 300 bottles are available only from Corti Brothers.
There is an intensity to the wine’s flavor, a sort of peppermint tone, said to be typical of the Mád area. Tasting at Royal Tokaji in September of 2011, we drank Dulo after tasting the incredible 2003 Essencia. It actually stood up to the intensity of the Essencia. A remarkable feat!
Royal Tokaji Dűlőválogatás 2009 Wine 14% $33.49 750ml (#2954)
Smith Woodhouse Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2000
Smith Woodhouse Late Bottled Vintage 2000 is bottled with a driven cork, immediately telling that it is a serious wine that can be laid down for further aging. This type of bottling is known as “poor man’s” vintage port. Now 11 years old and 8 years in bottle, Smith Woodhouse LBV 2000 is a perfume-y wine, with good deep color and that enticing, slightly leafy scent of “esteva” the gum cistus of the Douro, called “flower of the Douro.”
Balanced in flavor, it is sweet with refreshing acidity; it is a go to wine when you want to open a port during a coolish--getting to be fall evening--and not want to break the bank. Just a good piece of a hard cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gouda, or Cheddar, some plain crackers, possibly some new apples, and the evening is complete.
A superb value, Smith Woodhouse Late Bottled Vintage 2000 is produced by a small, historical house, owned by the Symington family. Smith Woodhouse produces wines that are compellingly drinkable at very pleasant, if not downright bargain, prices. This wine you should stock up on.
Smith Woodhouse L. B. Vintage Porto 2000 $31.49 750ml (#2955)
Yanai Shoyu Saishikome Shoyu of Mitsuboshi
Saishikome is the most unusual of the several soy sauce styles produced in Japan. It is a “double fermented” (saishikome) soy sauce–shoyu, where the water part of normal shoyu production is substituted for by using already fermented soy sauce. Invented some time in the 1790s in Yanai-tsu, Iwakuni feifdom, it was given the name of “Nectar Soy Sauce.” Or, as originally translated “Sweet Dew.” The Inada family has been brewing it since 1874.
Aged for two years before bottling, Mitsuboshi Nectar Soy has a deep color, a very high level of richness and savory umami taste, a delicate saltiness, and a clean aroma and sweetness. It is free of artificial preservatives. Used straight it is a wonderful dipping sauce. It can be used in stews and cooking fish. A drop or two in cream sauces gives a heightened depth of flavor. Store at room temperature and refrigerate once opened.
Mitsuboshi Yanai Shoyu $15.99 300 ml (#2956)
Last Call for Chalaone Chenin Blanc 2007 - Estate Vines Planted in 1919
Chenin Blanc seems to be an unloved variety in California. For a time it was the industry’s darling. So much for fame! However, this Chenin Blanc, Chalone Estate, is a wine you should experience, if for no other reason than it is from the oldest planting of the variety in California. Planted in 1919, these vines are still producing on their original site at the entrance to Chalone winery in the Pinnacles mountains above Soledad in Monterey County.
My first acquaintance with this wine was in 1966 when we offered the 1960 vintage. With the 1966, 1967, and 1968 vintages, I had a hand in both the making and bottling of the wine. In fact, the wines are still holding and show the longevity of this variety as attested by its French counterparts, both sweet and dry, in the Loire valley. We have just a few cases left of the 2007 vintage which will keep very well for five or so years, and when 10 years old should still drink very well. Unfortunately, a lot of winelovers will never have this experience since white wines are not kept as long as red wines. In the long run, however, white wines that will age, like Chalone Chenin Blanc 2007, age much better than a lot of red wines.
Chalone Chenin Blanc 2007 Estate 14.4% $19.99 750ml (#2957)
Vignalta Sale Alle Erbe -Vignalta Herb Salt
Grilling is very fashionable, and Vignalta Sale Alle Erbe is the handiest product I know for bringing flavor and character to simply grilled meat and poultry. When you do not want a typical American barbeque sauce, this jar of fresh herb flavored Sicilian sea salt is just the ticket. I use it any time I am cooking meat: pan frying a steak, grilling lamb chops, or roasting pork baby back ribs; whenever I want the meat flavor to shine. You can see how the herbs are grown at Vignalta winery in Italy’s Colli Euganei, outside of Venice. Just Google Search “Corti TV” or go to the Corti Brothers web and then go to the Blog of Italy
Besides being a very good product, it is also one of our best selling items. It is something you should not be without, ever. We have customers who say they wouldn’t know how to cook without VIGNALTA salt.
Vinegar – The Enticing Sharpness for Salads
My grandfather used to say that good vinegar was worth more than good wine because it took more care to make. This is a concept that a lot of people, especially winemakers, would rather not think about. In the natural scope of things Nature gives us grapes, then vinegar. Wine is, at best, the halfway house.
There are many ways of making vinegar. The best for wine vinegar is letting wine acetify, then age. This cannot be rushed, but should be allowed to proceed slowly, taking care that the vinegar doesn’t remain just slightly acetic. It should have very little alcohol left, just enough to make the product perfume-y. Vinegar which is all acetic acid isn’t very scented and is often bitter tasting. A lot of homemade vinegar is just sour wine, with little acetic acid and a lot of alcohol. Vinegar is the result of alcohol oxidation via a bacterium.
Corti Brothers has had its own vinegar for years and it is very good. There are other wine vinegars that we have that are distinctive and delicious. Then there are other styles, flavored with herbs and such, that are wonderful for enlivening a menu. Here are some of my favorite vinegars.
At the top of the vinegar quality pyramid is Traditional Aceto Balsamico. Ours comes from San Geminiano, the Violi family acetaia in the hills of Reggio-Emilia. There are two presentations, both exclusively from their own production. The major presentation is the unique bottle used for the Consorzio bottling; the other is the San Geminiano bottling of the same product, Passione Per Balsamico. The difference is price.
The Consorzio bottling is from batterias dating from 1855 (Extra Vecchio) and from 1970 (Vecchio). Then, there are the Violi bottlings called Passione Per Balsamico. These are the same products as the Consorzio bottlings, bottled at the estate and not by the Consorzio. Passione are in a “globe and shaft” bottle.
There is the Passione 8, which is the youngest aceto. Formerly, a blend called Mix for Salad and Cooking was bottled. The mixture of Traditional Balsamico and old vinegar, which was the MIX, is no longer allowed by law. So, this young traditional balsamico is bottled as Passione 8. It can be used just as it is with good oil to make a splendid salad dressing. Agrestum is the young balsamico, formerly Mastro Acetaio.
The Passione 12 and Passione 25 correspond to the Vecchio and Extra Vecchio of the Consorzio bottlings. They are used in the same way: As a condiment for meat, with strawberries, shards of Parmigiano, cubes of mortadella, and as an after dinner “liqueur.” A bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is certain to make a memorable holiday gift.
San Geminiano Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Vecchio $83.99 100ml (#2959)
San Geminiano Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Extra Vecchio $139.99 100ml (#2960)
San Geminiano Agrestum Made from boiled down must aged for 3 years $15.99 250ml (#2964)
Corti Brothers Red Wine Vinegar Good red wine vinegar $5.99 375ml(#2965)
Vignalta Aceto di Vino Rosso based on red wine from 2001 vintage $9.99 500ml (#2966)
Auntie Si Lemon Grass Vinegar Rice wine vinegar with fresh lemongrass $12.99 8.1 oz (#2967)
Baia Pasta Made in Oakland, California
Baia Pasta is the name of a new dry pasta (pasta secca or asciutta) production in the San Francisco Bay area. Historically, the Bay Area made lots of pasta, especially the semolina flour and water type, extruded, called in American English, “spaghetti.” This type of pasta is extruded through dies, the best through bronze dies, and is similar to the pasta made in the south of Italy.
Traditionally it is made from durum wheat, hard winter wheat, that, when milled is called semolina flour. After kneading with just cold water, the dough is extruded and the cuts dried. In the production of this type of pasta, two things are of paramount importance: the wheat and its source, and the length of time for drying the pasta. Baia Pasta uses durum wheat from Montana, brass dies for the special texture they give, and dries the extruded pasta cuts for at least 48 hours at low temperature.
Baia Pasta is created in Oakland, California., by Renato Sardo and Dario Barbone, two young Italians from Piemonte who were attracted to the notion that a lot of Italian made pasta is produced from American and North American wheat shipped to Italy and the resulting pasta shipped back to America. They thought, why not short cut the process and make pasta here for sale here; and so they do. Production officially began February, 2012.
The line up of Baia Pasta currently is short cuts, not long cuts like spaghetti. Corti Brothers is delighted to offer 6 cuts of durum wheat pasta, one whole durum wheat cut, and one spelt cut. I am particularly taken by the flavor of the durum wheat pasta which is truly marvelous. I cannot recommend it too highly.
Baia Pasta Conchiglie (Shells) 1 lb. $6.99 (#2968)
Panevino Grissini No 6 (Breadsticks to Us)
I can think of no better snack than a slice of good salame and a breadstick (better possibly, are two breadsticks.) Panevino Grissini are breadsticks made by a small producer in the Napa Valley, and found in the tasting rooms of several local wineries. I recommend these breadsticks to you as delightful, crispy baked goods that are excellent alone and wonderful with savory cold cuts. They come in a clear plastic tube, are 7-1/2 inches long, and in three flavors: sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, Fiscalini bandage wrapped cheddar, and French oil cured olives and herbes de Provence. Made with extra virgin olive oil, they have an unctuousness that makes them appealing.
Grissini in Italy are a specialty of Torino and Piemonte. They were made famous in the rest of Europe by Napoleon who called them “les petites bâtons de Turin.” Traditionally, they are hand rolled, “stiratti a mano,” are irregular in thickness, and baked to crispness. Panevino's Grissini No.6 are rolled out by machine and then laid by hand in their baking trays so that their shape is even. They are then slowly baked until crisp. The dough is the same as for making bread. they do require more handling and more careful handling than bread. The result is wonderful and deliciously flavorful. This is another of those “I’ll bet you can’t eat just one!” things.
Corti Brothers Aglianico 2010 is a wine that celebrates a number of things. The first one is our 65th year in business. The second is that it was grown and produced at a winery in Amador County, Monteviña, (now Terra D’Oro) that I had a hand in creating in the 1970s. It is now owned by the Trinchero Family of Napa Valley, with whom, this year, we have been doing business for 50 years.
I wanted to have a wine from 2010 vintage that would be bottled in 2012. I asked the Trincheros and the answer was that they had small parcels of several wines. I asked for samples, found one wine delicious, the Aglianico, and we bought the parcel. There were 110 cases bottled under Stelvin caps. Under 14% alcohol, it is labeled as “table wine.”
Aglianico is a southern Italian variety famous for a wine called Taurasi, grown southeast of Naples, and another wine produced in Basilicata, Aglianico Del Vulture, named for the extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. This variety in its home area produces a nicely colored, transparent red wine, with a characteristic fruity scent, tannic when young, acquiring a licorice character when aged.. When I tasted the Amador County version, I found it to be nicely colored, aromatic, showing wood maturation, with a balanced flavor and body and that delicious more-ish quality of charming, savory fruitiness that makes it a real pleasure to drink. I think it is a wonderful anniversary wine that might just see us through to our 75th anniversary!
Aglianico is of uncertain origin. Some think that it is a Greek variety brought in when southern Italy was a Greek colony in the 6-7th century B.C. (Ellenico=Aglianico.) Some think that it was called “aglianos,” ‘clear,’ or “agliaia,” ‘shining,’ in classical Greek, to distinguish it from darker, more common varieties, producing coarser wines. Others think that it is the variety that produced Falernian, the famous wine of Roman times. In any case, I suggest you try the wine and then decide which origin to believe.
Corti Brothers Amador County Aglianico 2010 Wine 13.5% $13.99 750ml (#2979)
A Unique Bottling: Tío Pepe Fino Sherry “En Rama”
This is a wine which has just arrived and there is very little available. It is a bottling of Tío Pepe Fino, bottled “en rama,” that is, just as it comes from cask. This wine has not been fined or filtered, just bottled and shipped. It is an experiment. If well liked, more could be bottled like this and offered on the market.
Sherry producers are reluctant to ship wine in this “ unfinished”state, but would if the market accepted it. Since we are now looking to find wines in their most “natural” condition, “en rama” sherry is about as natural as it gets.
This is not a wine to buy and lay down. It is a wine to buy and consume so that you can appreciate the crisp, salty, very fragrant, yeasty character of fino sherry. At 15% alcohol it is not an overly alcoholic wine, which wine drinkers sometimes confuse sherry as being, but this is a refreshing, savory wine that does act as the almost perfect aperitif. It is also a very good table wine for certain dishes, notably fried things and shellfish. Serve cool, not iced.
Even in its home, Jerez de la Frontera, Fino En Rama is rarely available commercially. You have to go to a bodega to try it. Once tried, it is not forgotten. The sherry shipper, conservative by nature, is looking for our reaction to this wine. I hope that you will find it appealing and perhaps we can get more of this type of bottling, “En Rama.” Gonzalez Byass, producers of Tío Pepe are to be commended for taking this unusual step.
Gonzalez Byass Tío Pepe “En Rama” Sherry 15% $22.99 750ml (#2980)
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