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1995-05 May Classic Newsletter


May 1995 Newsletter

Wines evaluated last month: 208 Rejected: 187 Approved: 19 Selected: 2

This month we renew our acquaintance with two old friends and bring back some fond memories of one of California's finest viticultural growing areas.

Two years ago we featured a terrific Chardonnay from Sylvester which was grown on Sylvester Feichtinger's estate vineyard in Paso Robles and made at Castoro. Today we are proud to offer a classy Nebbiolo from that vineyard which is also made at the Castoro Winery.

My dad was one of the first wine merchants to take a serious look at the Paso Robles area over 15 years ago. He was featuring wines from HMR, Martin Brothers and Estrella long before the rest of the world caught up, so it is with a certain degree of pride that we are still able to tout this fine area.

A few months back we featured the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Villa Montes in our Limited Series. The response from our members was overwhelming. Our import is one of the cleanest and most well-endowed Sauvignon Blancs we've ever encountered from Chile. This one is sure to be a hit and I'm looking forward to your comments.

One member asked an interesting question regarding all the rain recently and the impact on the wine industry. It was a real learning experience for us to get the information from our friends in the wine industry. I believe you'll find this month's member inquiry particularly educational. Salude!

Domestic Selection

NEBBIOLO, 1993. SAN DOMINICO
Neb-ee-Olo. San Doe-Min-eeko

The story of our domestic selection is filled with so many twists and turns it seemed we would never be able to sort it out in a fashion that one could understand. Hopefully we did.

First, let's begin with the name. San Dominico is not a winery. It's the last name of Sylvester Feichtinger's grand¬father. Sylvester owns 500 acres in Paso Robles where this wonderful Nebbiolo comes from. The wines are made at Castoro because the vineyard is close by and the Feichtingers are close friends of Castoro's winemaker, Tom Meyer. (Are you still with me?) As a matter of fact, Sylvester uses only a small part of his grapes for his own label. The rest are sold to Castoro for their wines. We've featured Castoro wines in the past with great success. Undici means eleven in Italian and refers to the vineyard, which was eleven years old in 1992 when the grapes were harvested. What does all this mean?

One of the basic tenets of choosing wine is knowing the name of the person who put his name on the bottle. The grape, vintage, foil, etc., are secondary. Although Sylvester doesn't own a win¬ery, he owns the most important part of the great wine equation, the vineyard. And that's what this wine is all about ... great grapes make great wine.

Nebbiolo is one of the finest grapes, if not the finest grape, to be made into wine in Italy. It accounts for the long-lived and densely extracted wines of Barolo and Barbaresco in the Piedmont region. It is a tough grape with a thick skin. If grown in an unsuitable environment, it produces a tannic, astringent and unpleasant wine. In the right' place, it yields one of the greatest wines in the world.

The term "nebbia" means fog in Ital¬ian. The grape was so named because it grows best where it is exposed to early morning fog during the growing season. The fog eventually burns off, exposing the grapes to blistering afternoons top¬ping the 100 degree mark. This condi¬tion allows the grape to ripen slowly and, as a result, tames the fiery compo¬nents which would result in a very harsh wine. There are hardly any plantings of Nebbiolo in California. There just aren't enough suitable sites for this temperamental grape. Fortunately for us, Sylvester Feichtinger found one.

The color is bright red, but not as dark as Cabernet or Zinfandel. The nose is a fusion of red berries including, but not limited to, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry. There is a hint of spice and an earthy quality that seems to follow all the way down. Light and delicate fla¬vors in the beginning turn into substan¬tial ones at the end and finish with an authoritative grip. Great with grilled meats, lamb or a roast pork loin glazed with Madeira and a touch of honey, fresh rosemary and swiss chard.

Cellaring Suggestions: Starting to come together. Will definitely improve with another two to five years.

Imported Selection

SAUVIGNON BLANC, 1994. VILLA MONTES
Soo-veeng-Yohn. Blohnk. Villa Mon-tez

As prices continue to spiral for many of the sought-after "must-haves" from California and Europe, we continue to turn to countries like Chile for our selections. When dis¬cussing the wines of Chile in today's world, as opposed to ten years ago, we no longer refer to them as "good for the money." Chilean wines can stand on their own against many of the world's greatest wines. That they beat out the competition every time in the price arena is a bonus but not the whole, or even the main, story.

Chile's wine story begins at about the same time as California's. French winemakers came here in the 1850s searching for suitable land that was more affordable than in Bordeaux. Af¬ter all, land was $20 to $30 an acre! Can you imagine what they would have thought if you had told them then that today that same acre sells for more than one half million dollars?

The French introduced Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sau-vignon Blanc and Semillon, along with their advanced techniques in grape growing and winemaking. The timing of this occurrence was quite propitious. A scant 10 years later Europe was hit by a plant louse called phyloxera, coinci¬dentally imported from America, which destroyed all the vineyards there in less than 20 years. The only remedy was to graft the European varietals onto American rootstock. Oddly enough, the louse lives in the American rootstock but doesn't destroy it as does the European counterpart. Because Chile had original rootstock that had never been infected with phyloxera, its grapes are grown on ungrafted vines. Some feel this situation makes a better wine. We're not sure, but it can't hurt.

Sauvignon Blanc is considered one of the finest food-friendly wines on Earth. Its high acidity leaves the taster with a tangy sensation, perfect for en¬hancing the flavors of the most demand¬ing of dishes. In Chile's Curico Valley it yields one of that country's finest white wines, overshadowing its famous rival, Chardonnay.

Villa Montes is a relative newcomer to the wine business, having been founded in 1988. Being new, however, does not mean lacking experience. Own¬ers Discover Wine Ltd. bought or con¬tracted with the finest vineyards in Curico. They enlisted the guidance of one of Chile's finest winemasters, Aurilio Montes, and founded a class operation that bears his name. We feel that Villa Montes is one of the new wave of Chilean producers that will make the rest of the world take notice.

The nose features an outstanding array of apple blossoms and melon. The mouth delivers a full frontal fruit explo¬sion depositing flecks of nectarines and fresh herbs and continuing to a lip-smacking finish. Serve chilled with shrimp sautéed in pesto with a splash of gin.

Cellaring Suggestions: Very enjoyable now. Will hold for another year or two.

Member Inquiry

"Paul, how did the recent rains we read about in Northern California affect the vines and the 1995 harvest?"
E.McG. , Ventura.

In many places it had a profound ef-fect. However, in order to understand that effect, you should understand how the vine's cycle works. The yearly cycle be¬gins early in spring, usually the first week of March. This year it came in February, before the last rainstorm. Because of this early warmth, the sap stored in the vine's root system rises through the vine trunk and upward into its branches, called "canes." On each cane are many tiny nod¬ules, called "buds," from which new growth is generated.

By controlling the number of buds on each cane through pruning, the viticulturist can control the number of grape clusters generated. This will affect the final yield of the grapes. To grow great Chardonnay grapes, it is generally thought that a yield of 2.5 to 3 tons per acre is desirable. Only by eliminating grape clusters is this possible. If left alone, the vineyard would produce 7 to 9 tons per acre of very ordinary, flavorless grapes from which you would make ordinary, flavorless wine. The root system can only provide so many nutrients to the grape clusters. Generally speaking, each clus¬ter will get its share as long as there aren't too many other clusters on the vine in competition with it.

The sap rises, and the pressure in-creases. This forces the buds to swell un¬til their protective covers split and the first tiny leaves and floral clusters emerge. This is called "bud break." The "shoot" of new growth containing the first leaf, the floral cluster, and additional tiny leaves then grows at a very fast pace, as much as six inches per day, form-ing new canes. Each cane, with its supporting leaves, will bear 1 to 2 bunches of grapes.

This is the most critical cycle for the vine. At this point the vine "thinks" it's time to produce a flower and the result¬ing fruit. That's when the rains came. The vines froze up and dropped many of those clusters. Then, just a couple weeks later, it warmed up and new clusters began to emerge. The biggest problem in this situ¬ation is that you have a plant with one set of flowers, which will eventually turn into grape clusters, that are two to three weeks ahead of a new set of flowers, which will also turn into grape clusters. Which ones do you pick? It's impossible to tell the early ones from the late ones six months later when it's time to harvest. If you test the earlier grapes, and they're ready, the others on the same vine are not. They will be too acidic. If you wait for the later crop, the earlier ones will be over-ripe and lose their acid.

The solution is to go through the en¬tire vineyard right after the new crop ap¬pears and cut all the new growth off the vine. That way there's no guessing which grapes were early and which were late. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, the cost of this procedure is enormous and, until the wines are released, we won't know which winemakers bit the bullet and spent the money and which didn't.

Suffice to say that we will have our work cut out for us when evaluating the wines from the 1995 harvest. This isn't to say that there won't be any good or even great wines. There certainly will be. It will just take a bit more work to find them.

Adventures in Eating

One of the greatest taste experiences has to be eating carnitas in Mexico prepared on the traditional manner. That authentic manner is the slow braising of a pork shoulder in a little wine and spices for three to four hours. It cooks in its own fat, which is why it tastes so good.

My main mission in life as a cook is to produce great tasting dishes that are low in fat but don't taste like it. I'm not talking about skinless, fatless and, above all, tasteless food! I'm talking about using some fat but not excessive amounts and substituting some meats for others. In this case turkey for pork.

You'll need a large stock pot or Dutch oven and small saucepan. Pork carnitas are one of life's great foods. Just think of it: a fatty piece of pork butt cooked in its own fat and juices for about 6 hours until the meat gets crusty on the bottom of the pan. Yes, I too succumb once in a while, but if the urge gets too great too often, I'll use turkey.

TURKEY THIGH CARNITAS
4 turkey thighs
1 cup red wine
10 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 cup enchilada sauce
Remove skin from thigh. Scrape off and discard large portions of fat from skin and meat. Heat large stock pot, add skin only and cook 2 minutes. Add whole thighs (do not cut into pieces). Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until they turn color. Add rest of ingredients and stir for 5 minutes more. Reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours. When done, allow to cool. Remove bones, cartilage and skin. Drain off liquid and reserve. Remove fat from liquid and discard.
Heat liquid in saucepan and reduce to approximately 1/4 cup or until about the consistency of cream. Shred remaining meat and add reduced liquid. Use for tacos, burritos, pasta, or just snacking. Serves 6.

Earlier Selections

Item: Description Qty. Member Reorder Prices Total #595A Nebbiolo, '93. San Dominico "Bright, cherry and spice." Reg. Price $7.99 20.03% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#595B Sauv. Bl., '94. Villa Montes "Fresh, melon and pineapple." Re2. Price $6.99 28.61% disc $59.88/case $4.99/each
#495A Semillon, '93. P. Thomas "Fresh fig and melon." Reg. Price $7.99 25.03% disc. $71.88/case $5.99/each
#495B Rosso di Mont, 1992.ColOr. "Raspberry fruit, earthy." Reg. Price $9.99 36.04% disc. $76.68/case $6.39/each
#395A Cab. Franc, '92. L. Martini "Fresh cranberry and spice." Reg. Price $9.99 37% disc. $75.48/case $6.29/each
#395B Colombard, '94. Swartland "Clean melon and tangy citrus." Reg. Price $7.99 37.55% disc. $59.88/case $4.99/each
#295A Gewurzt., '93, Son. Creek "Spicy pineapple and tangerine." Reg. Price $8.99 30.03% disc. $67.08/case $5.59/each
#295B Cabernet Sauv., '91. MzzCrn "Light berry, clean finish." Reg. Price $7.99 33.37% disc $71.88/case $5.99/each
Please call for shipping prices outside CA in states where Sub-Total permissible. Recipients must be 21 years or older. 8.25% CA Sales Tax
(Bottles) 1-2: $3.75; 3-4: $4.65; 5-6: $7.65; 7-8: $10.50; 9-10: $11.25; 11-12: $11.50 S&H Check enclosed for $_____. Charge my: □Visa□M/Card□AmEx.□Disc. TOTAL
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