A night of wine, food, the pink jersey & supporting young riders…

cycling, denver restaurants, wine news



A lot of people forget that was has become one of the world’s top professional cycling teams began as a youth development team about9 years ago with a couple of rackety cars and jerseys that matched. It was a team that offered young riders an opportunity to get into the European circuit by starting their careers here. As though overnight, a pro team was born in conjunction with this youth development team.

It certainly takes more to fund a professional team. But its cache and affiliation with such races as the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia make it a little more attractive to sponsors. In the meantime, the young cyclists need you. In fact, they need to raise nearly $30k to exist. Give in a way that gives back to yourself. Next Thursday, June 7th, and join us at Frasca Food & Wine as we come together to support the future of American cyclists. For $500 a seat, you not only get an incredible four-course meal with wine at one of Colorado’s top restaurants, you will also get the chance to take part in an auction of a signed pink jersey from Ryder Hesjedal’s recent victory at the Giro as well as a morning ride with team Garmin-Barracuda’s Christian Vande Velde and Tommy Danielson along with their CEO and former cyclist Jonathan Vaughters. This is a good cause that isn’t half bad for you, too!

The event is limited to 35 people, so reserve today with Frasca at 303.442.6966.

Gluten in some wines?: Why celiacs may not need to cross wine off their list just yet.

Wine Blog, Wine Education, wine news

I just had to share the following email correspondence between a customer and myself regarding gluten in wine. Surprisingly, I have not had to confront this question until now. I always assumed it was gluten free, as my celiac customers would buy their GF beer and a bottle of vino. Turns out, that’s not always true. The good news is that it takes a very, VERY rare and sensitive celiac wine lover to be affected. Read on…



Dear Ashley,

I have read that a lot of wines will have gluten in them due to a wheat based paste they use to seal the barrels.  Also, some will even get cross contaminated from barrels being reused after making of barley based spirits.

What do you know?



Hey M.,

Thanks for the question! I have many celiac customers. All of them drink wine. If any amount of gluten (from clarifying or pre-barrel treatment), it’s so low it doesn’t affect any of them. We are talking LESS than 1 parts per million (ppm) in most cases, though it can be as high as 20 ppm, if you are extremely sensitive. Even ‘gluten free’ foods/beverages can have a small amount but not enough that it can’t declare itself GF. It does seem, however, that it is mostly linked to wine clarification and barrel sealing. Therefore, logic tells me stainless steel tank fermentation or concrete barrels would not have any gluten, or at least the lowest levels comparatively.

I am not a doctor, so I hate to tell you it’s totally fine. That said, you are likely in the clear. The best way to know is just by emailing the winery if the information is not readily available on their website. It may be a pain in the butt, but if you are severely reactive to gluten, it at least allows you to continue drinking wine if the liquid in question is, in fact, gluten free! And some wines DO claim to be ‘gluten-free’, at least according to: http://www.glutenfreefox.com/articles/gluten-in-wine.html.

Here are some other great sites that should help you decide if it’s right for you!

http://www.gfreefoodie.com/is-wine-gluten-free-the-answer-from-a-gluten-free-wine-drinking-foodie/ –This one was written by a celiac for the hopeful of heart. Very easy to read and gratifying if your end goal is to justify a continued relationship with wine.

http://switch2glutenfree.com/misc/is-wine-gluten-free/ –Very pro-wine as well. Includes a personal testimony from a winemaker who has a wine-drinking celiac wife. Even gives links to learn more about barrel production and wine clarification.
http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/glutenfreefoodshoppin1/f/Is-Wine-Gluten-Free.htm– Fairly cut and dry. Thumbnail explanation. The basic facts.
http://www.everydayhealth.com/blogs/the-/does-your-wine-contain-gluten– A hard-nosed opinion by a doctor who specializes on the topic. (Apparently, according to her, I should be taking wine consumption down to 3 glasses per week. I’m in trouble…)

Good luck and stay healthy!


To drink or not to drink: That is the pregnant question.

health, Wine Blog, wine news

Last weekend was a dry one. I visited my sister in San Diego to celebrate the future arrival of her newest family member. Preggo and proud, she was just short of waddling at seven months and looking radiant as ever. I never got to see her the last time she was pregnant. But it’s true… she had that ‘glow.’

And I? I was happily spending a few days free of toxins. A break is always refreshing. But writing this now, I recall how great that first sip was with dinner the night I returned.

My sister and I touched upon the topic a bit during the visit: the controversial decision of whether or not to drink during the pregnancy. She has always had a wild strand spiraling throughout her DNA, making it hard for me to imagine that she could ever keep from a glass here and there. And she admitted she had maybe two once she well into her second trimester. But for the most part, she just didn’t want to risk it. It was a decision her and her hubby made together, so he too would abstain.

It was a sobering thought. What would I do in that situation? Take a hiatus for nine months? I certainly couldn’t imagine that, and I was immediately interested in researching the topic. Getting loaded is one thing, but a few occasional sips here and there (if you even crave it) has always seemed relatively harmless and possibly, dare I say, beneficial, if at certain moments it has the ability to calm the carrier or simply enrich a meal.

Latest research largely confirms my own biased suspicion. In fact, it was only last October that Discovery News released an article put out by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health that followed nearly 12,000 children over a five year period of time and found that not only was it fine to have a glass or even two a week during pregnancy, there was evidence that those children actually performed better on cognitive and behavioral testing than those who were children of moms who abstained (leave it to the British to research this topic so thoroughly). One must keep in mind, however, that the nondrinkers and those who held back only during pregnancy made up 66% of the subjects, while those who were labeled ‘light’ drinkers (one to two drinks per week) only made up 26%. They didn’t make mention of it, but I am guessing a few bad eggs in the first bunch (or a few exceptionally advanced eggs in the latter) are enough to pull the averages overall. Better to have even percentages for accurate representations.

Obviously, heavy drinking is another category altogether. No one benefits from that–pregnant or not.

Although no one is bold enough to declare that occasional alcohol intake is truly better for the fetus, this finding certainly leaves the light drinker feeling a little less guilty. It is a choice every mom must make, and it is a very personal choice.

Though it seems my choice has already been made, it really hasn’t. A million thoughts run through one’s mind when carrying another human being in your being. It is no longer about you. From the very beginning, you must share your body and decision-making with a little helpless human. You are their first contact with the world. So I leave this on a very open-ended note. Know your body and be comfortable with the decisions you make for your body. Keep in moderation everything regardless whether wine, beer, ice cream, pickles, coffee, fish, cheese, etc. Research constantly changes, so you sometimes have to just trust in your instincts.

*Sites used:



Sulfites: My newfound nemesis.

Biodynamic, health, organic wine, sulfites, Wine Blog, wine news

January has long since been my least favorite month of the year. In fact, I begin to fear its arrival just as I am clearing my Christmas dinner plate into the garbage. My stomach notes that familiar drop, that uneasy turn… then memories begin to flood.

I have come to associate January with loss, having seen the closest people in my life slip from me this cold, dark month. And no matter how much I set my mind to embrace this wintry month each year–booking plans, dinners and parties sure to get me through–the other shoe always manages to drop.

Today I said goodbye to my cat. I know. It’s just a cat. He didn’t even die. But I learned recently that I have developed some intense allergy-induced asthma. Sure enough, she was a constant component.

How, you might wonder, does this tie into wine? Well, I shall tell you. In just a week, I have learned more than I ever thought I would about this annoying disease. For one, allergens are the enemy.

I wasn’t quick to turn myself in to the doctor’s office. For about ten months, I have been enduring many sleepless nights up coughing, sniffling and sometimes drugging myself to sleep with Benadryl. I reviewed the control factor in my life, realizing the only daily control factors were my cat… and my wine. Neither of which I wanted them to confirm.

And then there’s that one night… the night every asthmatic can relate to, when you are sitting straight up, coughing without stop, literally gasping for oxygen and wheezing with every inhalation. The thought dawns on you that you are actually scared to fall asleep, for what if you don’t get up? You swear you will see the doctor if some force beyond this world will let you wake up. You make a deal. You fall asleep. You wake up and keep that promise, and call the doctor.

I got my answer pretty quickly: ragweed and cat. I asked about wine, and they reassured me that I wasn’t allergic. However, the next part intrigued me. Though I wasn’t allergic to wine, sulfites are a well-known allergen and asthma irritant. Like scented candles, chemical cleanign products and dust, I am not ‘allergic’ so to speak, but I am sensitive to a plethora of allergens now.

I began to panic. How does one carry on a career with wine? Will it get worse? What does it mean to be reactive to sulfites? Suddenly, it occurred to me how many customers constantly came in and told me they were ‘allergic’ to sulfites. I didn’t believe so many people could possibly share that intolerance. When people asked me if I had sulfite-free wine, I simply said few if any exist… and of the rare wines that see no sulfites added, they’re not all that exciting.

So call it karmic retribution, I am now forced to research it more. And what I am learning is fascinating.

Perhaps a definition is needed first. Sulfites are compounds that are naturally produced from yeast during fermentation, but they can also be added to arrest fermentation and more importantly preserve the wine (it is, after all, a living fruit that will spoil) and its aromatics. Most winemakers also add sulfites to prevent oxidization and insure some degree of ageability without the threat of turning the wine into vinegar or promoting bacterial growth. Aside from ‘organic’ wine, which does not see added sulfites, most wine gets a dose.

What people don’t realize is that the levels are relatively low at roughly 10 mg per glass. Compare this to 2 oz of many dried fruits at a concentrated 112 mg per serving. White wines actually contain slightly more than red, another interesting fact I learned. Also, while sulfites are linked with headaches, this is still not proven so. In fact, it is almost certain to be a urban wine legend. However, what is true is that some people are sensitive, even allergic to, sulfites. Actually, I discovered that women are significantly more reactive to sulfites (definitely true with my customers, as no man has EVER had this issue).

It has also been noted that steroid dependency (inhalers, oral tablets, shots), also increases one’s sensitivity to sulfites. In fact, most people who struggle with sulfites also use a steroid of some sort regularly. Another reason I really want to try and kick this naturally.

When sulfites are ingested, sulfur dioxide is formed in the airways, triggering bronchospasm. Sulfites are found in so many foods: condiments, jams, dried fruits & vegetables, hard cider, soup mixes, and of course wine. Sensitivity does not always mean stop altogether. From what I have learned it means to choose your battles. Minimize overall intake and if you have to have that glass, just cut back on that days’ other sources of sulfites. Some people do, however, have dangerous reactions, even fatal, and must know their limits. See a doctor if you fear you are one of the 5-10% that has a severe allergy.

This has been a lot to take in, however, I am learning that there are so many things, even outside of sulfite ingestion that I can do to treat asthma drug-free. First things first, remove known allergens. Sadly, that was my buddy– a big, chubby Siamese cat. Got a sneak peak at her new home today, and I think she’ll have a good life with her new siblings– another cat and dog. I also turned my apartment upside down and cleaned like mad today, which is critical for keeping allergens low. I am buying an air purifier tomorrow, taking a ton of Vitamin C and trying to cut down to ice cream only once or twice a week (from about five days), in order to keep to mucous down. This goes for all dairy… even cheese (sniffle). I have also turned to dark side and bought, yes… a neti pot. I have yet to really figure it out. I swear I keep getting salt water stuck in my head. But the theory is that it will keep my sinuses clear, prevent post nasal, minimize coughing, but most importantly, allow me to analyse wine better with a healthy, clear nose.

Am I nervous this could develop into a more serious problem? You bet. But I’m not only an optimist, I have never been one to beat those kind of odds. Luckily, I am pretty average. I mean, heck, 20 million people are reported to suffer from asthma. And that’s just who is reported. So of course I have it. Only 5-10% of those, however, are really allergic to sulfites. The day I make those odds is the day I guess I’ll need to seek out my other hidden talents.

Until then, Salud! And thank God for February…

Sources used:




And the many people I know who deal with it daily and have found many natural ways to cope just fine.

what doesn’t kill you… the moldy cork explained.

Wine Blog, wine news

An alarmed customer walked into my store the other day with a wine capsule foil torn to reveal the rim. Before she even tried to explain, I knew what was coming. Her face scrunched up as she pointed to the greenish-white mold atop the cork. I assured her it was okay, when it occurred to me that I had no real reassuring explanation. I had an idea–humidity, age–but I lacked the confidence true mastery of a topic exudes.

My friend came to the rescue and delivered a most romantic tale about how the most traditional, organic farmers have for centuries soaked their corks in wine before plugging the bottles. This archaic practice was supposed to reduce the prevalence of cork taint as well as assist in better preserving of the wine without the aid of additional sulfites and preservatives. It was a more natural process of bottling. He referred to the icky mold as ‘ullage‘–a much desired trait that we should only be too happy to see upon breaking the seal.

Then and there, we removed the mold ridden cork and produced a sensational glass of Sangiovese.  This is, without a doubt, my new favorite value in the store: 2003 Pertinello Sangiovese. For $12, you can experience an old world red that is beaming with personality and peaking at this moment. As opposed to Tuscany, this Sangiovese, born in Emilia-Romagna, bears slightly more sweet cherry fruit (not quite so tart) and a seemingly spicier song (perhaps the oak and heat?). Acidity isn’t quite as high, but it is equally friendly with food, particularly those with Italian roots. They are generally simpler when compared to the great Chianti Classico Riservas, Vino Nobiles and Brunellos of Tuscany, but for everyday value, I have seldom met one I didn’t rave about based on the quality to price ratio.

I have written of this region, Emilia Romagna, before. It is a wonderful piece of Italy that is responsible for some of the most staple elements to Italian cuisine, such as Parma (Parmesan cheese), Bologna (yep, Bolognese sauce), Modena (balsamic vinegar), amongst other delicious foods like egg pasta tagliatelle and tortellini. Unfortunately, what most people think of when they recall this region in America is the cheap, sweet Reunite Lambrusco that was born here. It’s true, Emilia Romagna is home to Reunite, but what many people don’t get a chance to do is try some of the superb examples from Lambrusco producers that are finally returning to the market after such a harsh blow post-70’s, such as La Battagliola, Pederzana and Lini. All under $20, by the way. A steal.

But we still haven’t addressed the topic at hand: mold.

I decided to do a little research. There is one producer whom continuously bears the mark of mold: Leroy of Burgundy. In fact, it was a representative of this producer who first told my colleague the elaborate explanation of cork soaking. I couldn’t get through to the winery, but I did get a hold of my regional rep for Martine’s Wines. He was certain it had nothing to with organic cork treatment, rather, having actually been in the cellar of Auxey Duresses himself, it was more to do with the mold that grows rampant in the ancient, European cellars. They are perfectly damp and cool, making it a haven for mold growth and prime for ageing. In more traditional wineries, like Leroy and possibly Pertinello, wines are not released until they are ready for consumption, so in the meantime they hangout and collect mold, as bottles in moldy, damp cellars will do. The thing is, too little humidity is harmful to wine, but it can never really be too humid, as this helps to prevent the cork from drying out. It’s just that in extremely humid environments, you increase the chance for mold. Before being shipped, they are pulled, given a swift wipe and capped, certain to still have some remnants of that beautiful bacteria from the depths of the cellar.

To answer another question, the term ullage has nothing to do with mold. It defines the unfilled space in a bottle of wine, from the bottom of the cork to the wine below it. This is the same term used for the headspace in a barrel of wine. Over time in any vessel, the wine will slowly evaporate. Therefore, ullage increases with age. The ullage, or ‘fill level’ when referring to a bottle, becomes crucial when studying old wine and their drinking potential. To be below the ‘neck’ of the bottle is a sketchy sign for the wine’s drinkability, as this indicates a great possibility of oxidization.

Ullage also increases with wines that have long corks, as the cork tends to soak up more of the wine and promote respiration and possibly even oxidization. Pertinello Sangiovese certainly has a longer cork than many others, therefore the wet cork evident in many of the bottles have also creeped out many customers. Yes, this can indicate heat damage. But after opening several bottles, I know this is not the case with the Pertinello. All you have to do is taste it for proof.

So why even store it on its side? Sure, there is a chance of oxidizing the wine more quickly laying on its side, however if kept upright the cork will dry up if it is not kept moist by the wine, which can only happen laying down. When not in contact with wine and living in dry conditions (as in, not mold-friendly at all), the cork will dry up, shrink, loosen and allow more air to come through and spoil the wine.

And so, this was a lesson of incredible variety and rambling prose, but it boils down to this: mold isn’t bad. Just give it a cursory wipe, if you will, and pour its lovely contents into your glass. At worst, it indicates a stodgy old traditional winemaker who would put out his own eye before buying state of the art humidors that will provide the same damn thing minus the mold.

All things considered, and knowing full well what $12 can get you in this pricey world of wine, it is no mystery why I have fallen for this cheap, aged, moldy red gem.

Finally, if anyone has any insight on soaking corks outside of sanitation purposes, I am chomping at the bit to be enlightened! Send your comments this way…

unapologetic: barolo grill and the need for criticism to promote culture.

denver restaurants, food pairing, Wine Blog, wine news

It was brought to my attention that not everyone follows Denver’s Westword publication–a free journal that explores local events and issues.  Just a couple days ago, I was thrilled to finally have my 2 seconds of famed and was featured in their ‘Comment of the Day’ section online. It was in response to their food editor, Laura Shunk’s, article on Barolo Grill. I would read that first, then mine and feel free to voice your opinion…that’s the point afterall!

“In the entire, albeit short, history of my time living in Denver, I have never experienced such a stir in reaction to a food review such as the one that appeared a couple of weeks ago when Laura Shunk — food critic for Westword — put her opinions on Barolo Grill in print.

As a fellow writer of a local wine blog, The Persistent Palate, I was deeply intrigued by the conversation her candid criticism gleaned. In so many words, she decided that Barolo — once pinnacle of Denver’s culinary scene — had fallen short in recent visits. It didn’t deserve the accolades, or credit card transactions, it had graciously gathered in the past. To put it simply, for Shunk, it was no longer the cat’s pajamas in a city of ever-blossoming burrows of memorable bites.

But not everyone agreed with Shunk. In fact, the majority of those I spoke to and the evidence on Westword‘s online commentary were proof that her insights were not only ill-received but they actually left people downright incensed. I get it. I even honestly found myself immediately defensive of my beloved Barolo Grill — the first place that really caught my attention when I moved to a gastronomically deprived Denver six years ago. But then I thought of Shunk, as a fellow writer, as a commentator of life’s leisurely sector, and I wondered how she was handling the criticism. Would she have changed how she wrote that article now? Would she have kept it exactly the same? Are there better ways to execute the same opinion in a less touchy manner? Would it have ultimately been as effective?

It wasn’t long ago that I received my first official bad review to one of my blog entries. I envisioned the day that it would come — promising myself I simply could not take it personally. But it didn’t matter. Reading that your writing is “superfluous,” “‘pretentious” and hardly worthwhile in a world where there are more relevant events taking place outside of improper glassware for a bottle of liquid, it is difficult not to move outside oneself and evaluate one’s meanderings as petty and annoying. Who am I to critique another person’s hard work in the fields? Who am I to say Sauvignon Blanc is rubbish with beef tenderloin? And if writing isn’t always consequential, is it merely self-motivated scribbling? Amidst a spiral of such centrifugal force, I am near quitting a career in wine altogether with the dash of an unapproving pen, it takes a more positive comment — the nine in ten I typically receive — to remind me that I am exactly where I need to be.

It is the positive note that compels me to stay at it. That’s for sure. However, it’s that one in ten negative review that propels me to improve the way I shape my opinion.

At a very basic level, wine, food and really all things art and entertainment are hobbies. They are the particles of life that make the moments more enriching…more meaningful. Most of one’s life is spent sleeping, while on the other side of the sun it is spent working, stressing and making ends meet. How often do we treat ourselves to a good meal? A special bottle of wine? Hours to do nothing but read? A three-hour play? An overnight in the mountains? A concert in the park? A movie? A croissant?

When I signed up for working in a wine shop and writing on the side, I decided to do so because I realized something: I had passion. Such passion, it was contagious. Such passion, it was wrong not to share my enthusiasm and curiosity for the hard-grown grape. It becomes those comments nine times of ten where someone discovers a fabulous pairing for the first time or the comments where people relate to a story that compels me to produce yet another portrait in prose.

At first glance, I admit, I was defensive of Barolo Grill — one of my near and dear eateries in Denver, regardless of how many sensational spots are opening every couple of months. I mean, it was only a couple of months ago I actually gave it a very glowing review myself, so good my experience had been one crisp autumn night — a setting that makes it impossible for me to stay away from its cozy, comfortable ambience. I adore so many of those who work there, not the least of them Blair, Fletter and Burch — each of whom make it so special every time I drop in for a bite. But I realize, too, that my lens is biased; I know these guys professionally.

From Ms. Shunk’s perspective, there were very concrete and critical levels of service that lacked for her — from wine service that neglected the fact that she was the person who ordered a bottle and not her male counterpart, to some of the dishes that appeared to have slumbered under the heat lamp a little too long before stumbling to her lips.

In the end, the point is that she, too, is allowed an opinion. In fact, it is precisely opinions such as hers that push art, food and entertainment forward as a whole. It is irrelevant whether her opinion is correct, for subjective input can never be by nature. However, what is a fact is that her words ruffled more than a few feathers. Whether Barolo Grill likes it or not, patrons will have their eyes (and taste buds) on them over upcoming months, anxious to prove her wrong…or confirm her premonition that Barolo Grill needs to “try a little harder.”

Like any criticism, this is a perfect opportunity for Barolo to take it up a notch, prove Shunk wrong and reclaim its position as one of Denver’s most essential restaurants.

Likewise, Shunk herself will be under closer surveillance in the next several reviews. She has inserted herself in the public’s eye, and it is up to her how she will shape her restaurant critiques. I know for myself, there is always a silver lining of truth in every negative review. I strive to not take it personally and learn from its intended message. As a result, I am learning to find my writer’s voice — a voice that remains true to my ultimate motivation for the article, but a voice that is a little more palatable to the everyday consumer/reader.

Personally, I cannot think of a culinary scene in Denver without Barolo Grill, but then again, I have a soft spot for its mid-’90s decor and traditional execution. As we move forward and continue to impress the country with our culinary capabilities in this one-horse metropolis, places like Barolo will increasingly become a rare commodity — an esoteric gem in its rigidly classic way.

Criticism, whether good or bad, breeds response, conversation and the evolution of culture. It gives purpose and meaning to life’s superfluous moments. Criticism gives us the language to discuss and contemplate life’s purely poetic parts. But it is difficult. I do not envy Shunk’s newfound audience — many of whom are quite angered by her unapologetic review. She has remarkably held a tight grasp on her words and intentions. In the end, I believe the key is balance. A healthy dose of positive criticism with a dollop of the murkier matter are the ingredients to forming well-received insight. That, compounded with several more years and articles proving one’s ability to maintain that balance over time, will eventually prove the worth of one’s words in a world where people are skeptical of a writer’s experience, skill set and credibility. It is unfair to disregard Shunk, or me for that matter, until we have rightfully developed and earned a pertinent place within the food and wine writing community.

And like a left bank Bordeaux… that may take some time.

— Ashley Hausman



champagne: it really does go to your head.

Bubbles, health, Wine Blog, Wine Education, wine news

Billie Holiday may have meant tipsy when she wrote about bubbles in a glass of Champagne going to her head, but I’ll have you know those  little carbonated beads of perfection do more for your head than you might think.  Red isn’t the only color of wine that provides health benefits.  Recent studies have revealed that the occasional glass of champagne actually works to protect the brain in particular.

A well-known antioxidant called polyphenols are responsible for this benefit.  The highest concentration may be in red wine, but bubbly isn’t far behind.  Polyphenols keep cells alive with oxidative stress.  Plus, sparkling wine contains other phenolic compounds like tyrosol and caffeic acid.  Both work as anti-inflammatory substances (preventing response to injury) as well as detoxifiers.  One writer described them as “cellular mops, essentially cleaning up and removing hazardous chemicals from the body.”

When tested in mice who were set up to stroke out (so sad), the ones who were ‘penetrated with Champagne extract’ were able to fight off damage significantly and, in fact, completely restored their brain cells with time.  Those who didn’t get a little boozy…vanished.

Not that I needed another excuse…but how great are these findings?!  Now there are more reasons to celebrate when raising a glass.


Sites Referenced:



the business of bordeaux.

Bordeaux, french wine, French Wine Travel, Wine Blog, wine news, Wine Travel

Following the last week of the 97th Tour de France, I was thrilled to set my eyes (and lips) upon one of the most famous wine regions in the world: Bordeaux.  Not only that, but my manfriend and I had the rare pleasure to tour and dine with Jean-Charles Cazes—son of the owner of the highly revered, classified Fifth Growth Pauillac estate: Lynch-Bages.

To me, left bank Bordeaux, where Pauillac can be found, was more awe-inspiring than adorable—more immense and impressive than say the charming dips and curves that tangle themselves up in the little brick vineyard homes of the Rhone or Burgundy.  In Bordeaux, the vast, manicured fields of vines were dotted with massive Chateaux.  It spoke of wealth, power and success.

You don’t have to reach beyond a few hundred years to really learn about the rise of the Bordelaise wine industry.  Sometime thereabouts 1500-1600, it was actually their Cahors neighbors who were filling the mouths and minds of English royalty with rich, dark Malbec-based reds.  Of course, their only shipping port to the UK was through Bordeaux.  It didn’t take long for this merchant hub to see the writing on the wall.  Soon after, taxes soared and Cahors could no keep up with the exporting fees.  Meanwhile, Bordeaux found that their sandy-stone, chalky, clay-based soils weren’t too shabby.  Cabernet loved it as did Merlot, Cab France, Petite Verdot, Carmenere and even a little Malbec.  They put these grapes together and won the hearts of England.  By the early 1700’s, estates like Lynch-Bages were securing a corner of economy through wine and enjoying great success.

Though the primary land that comprises Lynch-Bages was developed in 1729 and saw many changes over the next 200 years, the Cazes family took over in 1934.  The current owner, Jean-Michel Cazes, is a friendly, humble older gentleman.  At this point, he has left the management of the business to his son (Jean-Charles) and daughter (Sylvie).

I say ‘business’ quite deliberately, as it very much speaks to the pulse in this region—a pulse that was established hundreds of years ago but beats persistently into the present.  Here, it is less about selling romance as it is about selling futures of wine.  The 2009 vintage is all the buzz right now.  The weather was perfect, the progress in the barrel ideal.  Hurry they say… buy it up now before it’s too late!

In the next entry, I will talk less about Bordeaux as a whole and more about my time spent at Lynch-Bages

Mineral, elegance, focus, balance: Martine’s 2010 Portfolio Tasting

french wine, Wine Education, wine news

As I sit at San Francisco’s airport, I savor the moments that filled the past two days. I flew into San Fran for the annual tasting of my favorite importer’s portfolio: Martine’s Wines—a French wine importer who lives in California and is renowned for her exceptional global selections of wine. The one common denominator these wines share is regional integrity. Each embodies the soil of their respective birthplaces.

This tasting—a meeting of all these fabulous finds—is a highly anticipated event for the wine community. Needless to say, it is an event that compelled me to make the trip with little hesitation.

It began with yesterday’s Sunday afternoon informal luncheon reception at no other than Martine’s home in Marin County. She lived upon a marsh-like pond that recruited numerous birds from the Bay area. It was peaceful, sunny and filled with sounds of insects and birds alike. I knew straight away that this, compounded with the fact that I was to chat with some of my favorite French producers, would make this a most memorable afternoon.

From the delicate, focused bubbles of Champagne producer Stephane Coquillette and mineral laden Muscadets of Metaireau to the heavenly honeyed Vouvrays from Vincent Carame and almost startling sophistication of Christophe Perrot-Minot’s Burgundian Pinot Noir (a 2000 was opened just to give one an idea of its unquestionable ageworthiness… this baby was just starting its life).

I was all smiles, listening to each and every thickly accented French winemaker explain their reasons for applying various viticultural techniques as well as their family histories of winemaking. Many come from a long tradition, a family tradition, which speaks to the importance of history, family and steadfast integrity to be found in Martine’s portfolio. It is a book in which I could select any bottle blind and know with certainty that it will be among the best of its region. They are of the utmost in purity and expression of terroir. In a word, they are important wines, as they communicate each region’s personality and greatest potential.

Though I sipped each wine on Sunday with only a hint of frustration (oh, how I long to break free from the crowd and revert to my reclusive, research self, writing copious notes on each wine), I reserved my palate academic undertakings for today’s elaborate five-hour tasting, which was held at the gorgeous Golden Gate Club.

The setting couldn’t have been better. It was lovely—open, airy and teeming with eager oenophiles, such as myself, glass in hand, whilst holding a pen and paper packet in the other. Thirty-four tables were arranged, and nearly forty producers were represented—most of whom were there in the flesh to pour their creations. Some people envision an afterlife of hot fudge sundays and palm trees. For me, this was my version of paradise.

Though I could go on about each and every wine sampled, the following were particularly striking. They are the ones I would keep an eye out for if I were a collector, burghound, or general wine geek (disclaimer: please pardon the number of times you will read the descriptors ‘mineral,’ ‘elegant,’ ‘focused’ and ‘balanced’… Then again, why use another word when that succinctly sums so many of the wines up?):


· Stephane Coquillette Cuvee Diane Brut Champagne ($65)—Biscuity nose with hints of floral, a silky soft mouthfeel, notes of apple and pear. Light, focused, and worthy of its namesake (and price tag) “Champagne.”

· Gonet-Medeville Rosé Extra Brut 1er Cru Champagne ($65)—Perhaps what describes Xavier Gonet best is his reaction to Fernet Branca (a herbal—might I add ghastly—digestif). He winced it down and remarked in his charming French accent, “Why would someone drink of somesing so not nice… I spend a life of mine trying to make somesing that is very nice and lovely and people will want to drink… somesing that tastes very good.” He is dedicated to uphold Champagne’s prestige by producing some of the best bubbles in the entire region. He has a way of expressing the region’s distinct terroirs, whilst utilizing organic farming principles and applying low dosage to his wines. The rosé is a perfect example of his expertise—radiant minerality, precise structure and enticing aromatics. Everything a bubbly from this region should be.

Unforgettable Whites…

· 2007 Louis Metaireau ‘One’ ($25)—There’s a reason this Muscadet wears a higher price tag. It is their most complex selection. Vinified from grapevines planted back in 1937, this mineral-rich, dry, serious white is not made every year. Only the best vintages wear the name ‘One.’ A paragon of its class. A must-have with oysters.

· 2008 Clos de la Briderie Touraine-Mesland Rosé ($16)— A rosé for the season. A fun bubble gum palate, showing strawberries and cream. Elegant, balanced, and oh so very pale. This pink immediately had me pining for summer. Plus, it’s biodynamic, such as several are in Martine’s portfolio.

· Vincent Careme Vouvray ($22-35)—Where does one start? The whole gamut is remarkable, from the ‘Sec’ (dry) to the sweeter styles of Chenin Blanc. A truly sensational showing of such a classy varietal (the Coco Chanel of white grapes).

· 2007 Laporte Sancerre ‘Domaine du Rochoy’ ($30)—Oh, yes. This is Sancerre. Flinty, focused and loaded with mineral rain. Only shimmers with glimpses of grapefruit and zest. The acid is knee-bending. Even their little ‘Le Bouquet’ Sauvignon Blanc is worth more than a second glance at only $16.

· Jean Marc-Brocard ($15-$60)—Again, I must simply say that Brocard’s range of Chardonnays from Chablis (plus his Sauvignon Blanc from Saint-Bris) are all incredible values. Each wonderfully reflect the rainwater minerality and razorsharp acidity that defines this region’s whites. He is competitive with such negociants as Drouhin and Bichot, but the quality far surpasses any other in this price range. Quite simply, the most for your money when you are in the mood for Chablis.

· 2007 Domonique Cornin Macon-Chaintre ($16)—If you are fan of unoaked Chard from the Maconnais, don’t pass up Cornin. This biodynamic producer has taken the reigns of a vineyard that was started by his father in 1938. His goal: the wine must translate the language of the soils from which it came. No exceptions. This selection is well-rounded, reminiscent of apple and pear fruit, but certainly not exceedingly fruit forward. A mineral essence as well as stiff acidity provide it the backbone it needs to graduate to a more serious Maconnais.

· 2007 Vernay Condrieu ‘Coteau de Vernon’ ($125)—This was the most incredible white of the day. Its presentation was flawlessly correct in accordance to region and varietal. A walk through a spring garden, it dripped with honeysuckle, marmalade and mandarin. Its 12-18 months time on the lees gave it richness on the palate, a decadent indulgence of the senses. The sure-handed acidity kept its rotund body in check. This Viognier promised decades of enjoyment. A wine to visit every couple years for the next twenty or so…

Riveting Reds…

· 2006 Charles Audoin Marsannay ‘Les Longeroies’ ($30)—This bright-faced boy of a young man was such a delight to meet. I have carried his wines for a while—they are always such a good value. But getting to know him makes them taste even better. He is a fifth generation vigneron, and at the ripe age of twenty-seven is now the head of the estate. This wine offers so much for the price. It is pure, layered with spices, floral tones, earth, dried fruits and cherry. A fabulous preview of Burgundy if you have not yet ventured into that wonderful (albeit sometimes intimidating and pricey) world…

· 2007 Rion Chambolle-Musigny 1er crus ‘Les Charmes’ and ‘Les Fuelles’ ($95)—The wines of Patrice Rion bedazzled me. Each vineyard sang such a different tune. It was hard to pick a favorite, as each bottle seemed to call for a different context, meal and year for consumption. It came down to these two, though. If you want to sip on one relatively soon, open the ‘Les Fuelles’, which displayed a lovely perfumed bouquet and traces of dried tea leaves. It was light-footed and sweet-hearted. However, if you were looking to lay some burgs down, I would likely opt for the ‘Les Charmes.’ This one had a bit more muscle flex—the tannins and color were richer, the structure more prominent, the acid racing. A stunning wine I wish to revisit in a decade…and beyond.

· 2007 Clavelier Vosne-Romanee ‘Les Beaux Monts’ 1er Cru ($110)— This was my favorite Burgundy producer of the tasting. You could tell I was not alone. Everyone lit up when they put this liquid to their lips. They were all brilliant. But there was one, in particular, that compelled me to swallow the entire 2 ounce pour (aside from my heart, Chateau Rayas, as well as a ’52 Vintage Port from Niepoort, I did not consume the entirety of any other of the other hundred or so wines…I rarely swallowed one sip of many to be honest, for could you imagine?!). Alas, the wine I refer to was the ‘Les Beaux Monts.’ The nose was not quite ready to tell its life story. It was shy, but intriguing. It wore every characteristic of Burgundy one should ever hope for: baking spice, cherries, tea, damp forest floor, and above all else: complexity in structure. It gave one a sense of life—the reminder that wine is a living thing. This wine is in its infancy… a prodigy to be realized.

· 2006 Mortet Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Lavaux-St-Jacques’ ($170)—Albeit these wines are, well, pricey. But they are worthy of the investment. This, the ’06 Lavaux-St-Jacques, is most distinctive for its elaborate spice box. I could take in that introduction on the nose for eternity. It is connected to the earth, loaded with dried violet and rose petals, and reminiscent of a free fall kind of dream. It has a seemingly endless depth that pulls one into a state of slow suspension.

· 2007 Perrot-Minot Chambertin ‘Clos de Beze’ VV Grand Cru ($300)—It may be expensive, but if you are an investor who is looking to spend, this would probably be a good bet. Unwavering in its focus, this tightly structured Pinot was born to live a long life. It may be hard to understand in its youth, but give her time. She will have so many stories to tell one day…

· 2007 Leroy Bourgogne Rouge ($35)—An affordable introduction to a legendary name in Burgundy. Madame Leroy inherited one of the most sought-after cellars in the world, home to possibly 2 million bottles. The philosophies hold that wines are released once they have finally achieved a most accurate personality—a true sense of terroir—by which the world can finally understand them. Though the rouge is more for quality everyday enjoyment, try the 1995 Leroy Cotes de Beaune Village for a more accurate representation of Leroy’s intention and overall integrity of product.

· 2007 Domaine du Pegau ($90)—If, like me, your heart is often pulled towards the Rhone, this is an estate not to be missed. Pegau is among the leaders in Chateauneuf du Pape, and their Blanc and Cuvee Reservee Rouge continuously demonstrate a traditional style. These wines are meant to age, so although today I wanted to fall in the glass, so in love with the nose was I… I know it was only a glimpse of what is yet to come in a few years…

· 2006 Pignan Chateauneuf du Pape ($90)—Though it is tempting to prattle on about the current release of Chateau Rayas (inspiring as always), I was quite taken with Pignan CDP this afternoon, which was half the price. Made from slightly more ripened vines, this Grenache still had all the makings of Rayas—that unmistakable mixture of tea leaves, garrigue, and dried cranberries. Insanely addictive…the nose, that is.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this snapshot of Martine’s portfolio. If you have yet to explore these producers, I am super excited for you!  Many of these producers cultivated my passion for wine.  If you have more questions about these or other wines in the book, I very well could have tasted them and am more than happy to go into greater depth with you. Just give a shout…

Conclusions: South African wine, part five.

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Never again will I stand by and listen to another dismissal of South African wine.  I refuse to participate in this tired dialogue.  This weekend was incredibly eye-opening for me.  Finally, I could taste a plethora of SA wine and choose for myself what I thought.  And what I think is that although there inevitably is some sludge that travels far in the form of South African wine, it is no better or worse than the sludge to be found everywhere else—including America.  What blows me away, though, is that people (myself included) rarely spend the $15-50 it takes to really begin a discovery of South African wine, yet those same people will not blink at the cost of Napa, Bordeaux, Barolo or Burgundy.  Okay, fine.  The big ‘B’s’ are exceptional, in my opinion.  But so many people easily justify California wines that break $50 without giving thought to the $20-30 bottles around the world that sometimes reflect (no, actually, often reflect) better quality and certainly greater value, such as Priorat, higher end Chilean wine, higher end Rhone, and now South Africa, apparently.

They convinced me.

It was disheartening that the tone of the weekend was marked with defense and self-promotion.  Typically at these functions, the seminars consist of winemakers sitting back, explaining how they do things—their style and tradition, and then they answer questions that are filled with awe and profound respect.  Though the paying participants were certainly eager to taste and learn, their questions and the ambassadors’ responses were continuously answering the question: How does South Africa measure up?

These folks were on trial.

Everyone loved the wines, including myself.  But everyone was tripping over themselves with surprise… like myself.  What South Africa needs is a little more time, I feel, to show serious wine consumers their more serious side.  Every wine region has swill.  Unfortunately, most wine under $15 and nearly all wine under $10 is going to lack in much personality, finesse, and balance.  Therefore, you may have to up the ante if you really want to get to know South Africa’s capabilities.  And not much more.  Most of the wines we tried actually were in the $12-20 range.  What amazed me, though, was what $30-$70 did.  The proof was in the pudding.

There were three most memorable wines.  The first, a 2004 Delheim Vera Cruz Shiraz.  At $40, it compared to many Cote Rotie Syrahs I have tasted that are the same, if not twice, the price.  Rich bacon-fat nose, incredible structure, tannin, and depth.  Awesome, awesome wine.

Can South Africa make an ageworthy wine.  In two words: hell yes.  The second, and most exciting wine this weekend, was a 1999 Delheim Grand Reserve Cabernet.  This red was fully integrated and drinking beautifully.  Lord I love old Cab.

And finally, and my favorite of the event, was the 2005 Columella.  Oh… my… gosh.  So that’s what $70 gets you in South Africa.  I want to blind everyone in the industry on this one.  It is so insanely good.  This red contained so many layers, from briary fruit—raspberries and blackberries—to coffee beans, cocoa dust, minerals, damp earth, almost a wet garrigue essence, dried flowers and fennel. It was comprised of mostly Syrah (80%) with the rest being Mourvedre.

I loved hearing about the winemaker, too–Eban Sadie of Sadie Family Winery.  The representative described him as a “man on crack like you’ve never seen.”  His methods are extremely meticulous.  He maintains fiercely low yields and he is solely focused on producing the best of quality, first class wine.  He strives to hone the grapes’ natural characteristics–its soul, so to speak.  They explain it best: “What is most important to remember in vinification is that nothing of essential value can be introduced — but a great deal can be lost. The ‘winemaker’ cannot, in fact, create: he must understand the soils and what they produce, learn the best means of preserving what is received from nature’s vineyards and deliver its potential as fine wine.”  This is a first class wine.  I do believe you would be hard-pressed to find this kind of complexity or thought-provocation from more popular wine regions at this price.

Thanks for sticking with me as I walked you through my assessment of South Africa.  It was a learning experience for me, as I hope it is for you.  If you want to find any of the wines I have mentioned, just ask.  If you are in Colorado, it’s a cinch.  If elsewhere, I’d be happy to do some sleuthing for you.