Sunday, May 23, 2021


May 23, 2021 


Dear Readers, 

I may be stepping away from writing "Gerald D Boyd On Wine," for a short time, while recuperating from an operation. 

If possible, I'll keep the weekly publishing schedule, but it all depends on how I feel. 

I'll be back in touch as soon as I can.  Meanwhile, keep drinking wine. 


Gerald D. Boyd

Friday, May 21, 2021

Savoring Soave

Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) is the regulated system of Italian wine laws.

Roberto Anselmi has long had two great passions: driving in a fast car as though his hair was on fire and changing the face of Soave wine.

That was my impression of Anselmo back in the day when I first visited him at his winery in the Veneto village of Monteforte d'Alpone.  It was a time when Soave was undergoing a quiet revolution about quality and image. Traditionalists, represented by large wine companies, like Bolla and the Soave Consortium, wanted Soave to be made the way it always had.  Modernists, led by Anselmi, were arguing for change. 

The way Anselmi saw it, Soave, the popular white Veneto wine, was average and boring and in need of updating.  Anselmi claimed there was too much average Soave in the market, due to over production of the primary grape, Garganega, especially on the valley floor.  In the 1990s, Soave produced 6 million cases annually, mainly from large wine companies and cooperatives.

Anselmi -
Garganega vines in San Vincenzo vineyard

Anselmi also was pushing to update vineyard trellising from the traditional pergola to more modern systems.  And he would tell anyone who would listen that the Soave Consortium may be satisfied with wine's status quo, but he wasn't.

So, starting with the 1999 vintage, Roberto Anselmi left DOC Soave, declassifying his wines.  That meant he could no longer call Anselmi wines by the Soave name and he must use the more general IGT designation.  In the highly regulated world of Italian wine, such a move could prove fatal.

Digression -- By law, DOC Soave is 70% Garganega, with 30% Trebbiano di Soave or Chardonnay,  Pinot Bianco and/or Sauvignon Blanc.  IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was created by law in 1992 and is the Italian equivalent of the French Vin de Pays, or a wine typical of its geographic area.

"Pazzo!" cried some Soave producers who thought Anselmi was crazy for leaving the consortium. The criticism just made Anselmi more determined to prove his point that Garganega showed more character when grown in the hills instead of the valley floor. 

Rather than make nondescript white wine called Soave, quality oriented producers, such as Anselmi, Pieropan and Gini, concentrated on grapes from hillside vineyards, in the eastern part of the classico zone where the soils are composed of volcanic rock.  These wines are flowery and herbal supported by bracing acidity and a honeyed texture with age. 

But official Soave still had the problem of excessive yields pulling the reputation of Soave down, so something had to be done.  A DOCG was added to Soave In 2002, in hopes that it would solve the problem, but instead the DOCG was not limited to hillside vineyards. So a general Superiore category was added, further confusing the situation.  

Today, wine consumers scanning Soave labels have to sort through four official denominations: Soave Classico DOC; Soave Colli Scaligeri, for hillside vineyards outside the Classico zone; Soave DOC, mainly the plains; and Soave Superiore  DOCG. 

Thus, it's important to know what you are buying with Soave. Bolla Soave sells for $12, Pieropan Classico goes for $17.  Anselmi's IGT Veneto wines include San Vicenzo, $20, Capitel Foscarino, $25 and Capitel Croce, $28.   

Garganega grapes in a Soave drying room

If sweet wines suit your palate, look Recioto di Soave, made from dried Garganega grapes by the appassimento process.  Many years ago, grapes would be dried outdoors on straw mats.  Today, recioto is carried out in drying rooms hanging on racks or on shallow trays.  The drying process reduces the water in the grapes, concentrating the sugars.  Thus, fermentations are longer, raising alcohol. The minimum required alcohol for recioto is 14%. 

True Soave is one of Italy's best white wines. So, don't let the label mumble-jumble stop you from trying DOC Soave or Anselmi IGT Veneto wines.

Next blog: Sierra Foothills

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Thursday, May 13, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 14

 "Experience is the name men give to their follies or their sorrows." Alfred de Musset, French romantic dramatist and poet

In episode 13, Marvin Shanken, owner and publisher of the Wine Spectator and I met a little unexpected antagonism in London and then spent a couple of days in Barbaresco and Barolo enjoying northern Italian food accompanied by the wines of Angelo Gaja.  Once back in the states, we continued to move the Spectator forward.

                                      Judging at Los Angeles International Wine Competition - Social Vignerons

Newspaper publishing is non-stop and it doesn't recognize business trips. Take a week off to visit Europe and stories are waiting for you when you return.  Such was the case when I got back to my desk, plus I knew we were planning for the first Wine Experience in New York and before then, I had a wine judging. 

Unlike today, where it seems like there is a wine competition every other week, in the early 1980s, there was only the Los Angeles County Fair Wine Competition.  It was a big event, held over three days at the fairgrounds in Pomona.  

The LA competition attracted judges from across the country and occasionally, from Europe.  There wasn't anything like it in the United States and European wine people were not yet interested in the concept of wine competitions.

Nathan Chroman, a Los Angeles attorney and part time wine consultant, ran the competition.  It was considered an honor to get a phone call from Nathan inviting you to come to Los Angeles to judge wine.  As a writer, it was a rare opportunity to taste and learn about hundreds of wines in a controlled setting, without having to buy the wines yourself.  

The roster of wine judges then included many recognizable members of the California wine community or folks associated with wine: Robert Lawrence Balzer (Los Angeles Times wine writer), Belle and Barney Rhodes (original owners of Martha's Vineyard in the Napa Valley), Dimitri Tchelistcheff (winemaker son of Beaulieu Vineyard's famous winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff), Peter Sichel (New York based head of the German wine family), Phil Posson ("father" of California sherry), Bob Thompson (noted wine book author), Darrell Corti (wine buyer for Corti Brothers and noted wine authority), Steve Mirassou (member of the Mirassou wine family), and many others, plus a collection of "friends of Nathan," aka wealthy wine savvy Southern California consumers, including a few members of the so-called "Wine Mafia."  

Bleary-eyed and hungry, for at least a cup of coffee, we filed into the tasting room at the fairgrounds in Pomona to face our assignments for the day.  Chroman announced the panel assignments and admonished the judges to be fair to the wines.  There were four judges to a panel and each judge had a tasting table, surrounded on three sides by curtains. A large can with a couple of inches of saw dust served as the spit bucket. 

Every year, Chroman invited a "guest" judge, someone prominent in the wine, food or hospitality industries that would add a little class while, hopefully, drum up publicity for the competition.  The wine boom of the seventies was past and newspapers and magazines were cooling to the idea of promoting wine competitions. 

In 1979, my second year as a judge at Los Angeles, Chroman invited a young New York restaurateur who just happened to have the hottest restaurant in Manhattan at that time.  It turns out the hapless guy didn't know much about about wine and even less about the workings of wine competitions.  

About midday, his panel mates were waiting at the caucus table to discuss a flight of wines and they looked over at their missing judge's cubicle and were surprised to see the errant judge with his head on the table and a bone dry spit bucket on the floor beside his chair.  No one had told the poor guy to spit not sip so after about six flights of 10 wines each, he was blitzed! 

Since this was my second year, I felt a little more at ease, even though I had never goten any feedback on my performance as a judge on Darrell Corti's panel the previous year.  Corti always tasted with Phil Posson, the recognized expert in California on fortified wines.  On the first morning, I arrived at my panel to see an array of California "dry" Sherries and thought, this must be a test for the new guy.  

                          The “We Hours”. On needing one another more than ever. | by Sherry McGuinn  | Medium

Corti quickly got introductions out of the way and we adjourned to our tasting cubicles, where I discovered how variable a line of fortified wines can be. 

But it was at the caucus table where I learned a lot about how fortified wine is made and in particular what makes a good California Sherry.  It was soon clear to me that Spanish Sherry is unique and as pleasant as California Sherry may be, it is not the real thing. And I also found out that I wasn't being tested.

I have judged at Los Angeles for a number of years and noticed that every year one or more odd wines would be entered.  Every year, a Southern California winery entered a green mint-flavored wine that became known by the judges as "Scope," since it looked and tasted like the popular mouthwash.  

"Scope" was always awarded an Honorable Mention, even though most of the judges did not like it as a wine.  Honorable Mention was an award unique to the Los Angeles competition.  But by awarding a wine an Honorable Mention, judges could identify the wine, since only the names of winning wines were released.

I could write a book about my experiences as a wine judge, but it's time to move on. In the next episode of "My Life in Wine," I recount the entertaining happens of the first Wine Spectator Wine Experience, held at Windows on the World in New York. 


Next Blog: Savoring Soave

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Cote de Beaune

"Wine is the intellectual part of the meal."  Alexander Dumas

 In the last edition of this blog I wrote about comprehending Chablis, a Chardonnay made in a part of Burgundy separated by 60 miles from the main part of Burgundy in the Cote de Beaune, which is also known for Chardonnay. 

At the heart of Burgundy is the Cote d'Or, a narrow band of celebrated vineyards, running roughly from Dijon in the north to Chagny in the south, a distance of about 35 miles.  The Cote d'Or (Golden Slope) is divided into the Cote d'Nuits, known for red wines made from Pinot Noir and the Cote de Beaune, famous both for Pinot Noirs and white wines made from Chardonnay. 

The city of Beaune is the capital of Burgundy, although the political capital is in Dijon.  It has been that way since the area was settled as a Roman camp. A Beaune landmark is the Hospice de Beaune, a Middle Age charity hospital that serves today as the site for the famous auction of Burgundy wines, held annually at vintage.

The first merchant houses were founded in the 18th century.  Today, the names Bouchard, Jadot, Drouhin and Latour are synonymous with great Burgundy.

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Hospice de Beaune

South of the city of Beaune, is where the Cote de Beaune really starts.  First is Pommard, then Volnay and Monthelie.  Three of the most vaunted names for white Burgundy -- Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet -- follow.  Santaney is the most major southern wine town.

Digression -- Burgundians would think it strange to mention the grape in the region's wines.  Unlike California where it is common for wines to be labeled by the grape name, most French wines (Alsace is an exemption) are identified by a place name, such as the Cote de Beaune. 

The nature of French wine making is to discuss the various component parts of a wine, of which the grape is but one component part of a specific terroir.

Puligny and Chassagne are two communes that wisely added the name of the most famous Chardonnay vineyard in the world, Le Montrachet, to the commune name: Puligny-Montrachet.  The reputation of the coveted Le Montrachet is far greater  than the size (20 acres) of the vineyard.  Some observers maintain the Chardonnay rooted in limestone is key to the depth and complexity of Montrachet. 

There are four other top-end Chardonnays with Montrachet attached to their names: Batard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet and the rarely seen Criots-Batard-Montrachet.

Soil is an important factor in distinguishing the red wines of the Cote de Nuits and those of the Cote de Beaune.  In general, soils in the north are richer, redder and with more iron, while those further south are lighter and with more sand than iron. This difference means that Cote de Beaune reds are medium in body and more likely to be at their peak in less than 10 years, while Cote de Nuits reds are richer, with more body, structure and aging potential. 

There is a great deal of variation in the fermentation and aging of Cote de Beaune reds.  Some producers prefer a long maceration with added stems, while others go for a shorter maceration with a little or no stems. 

Resting the fermented wines in barrel for one year is the general rule, but the time in wood can be up to 18 months. There's also the type of oak to consider, plus the cooper and how much to toast the barrels.  Finally, the question is to fine and filter or not. The main reason not to fine and filter is the belief that the practice reduces the flavor and aging potential of the wine.

Burgundy grand cru: small volume, high prices | BKWine Magazine |
A typical Burgundy barrel cellar

Digression -- Prior to bottling, a winemaker ponders whether or not to fine and filter the wine.  Fining is a process aimed at clarifying the wine by using an agent such as egg whites or bentonite clay as a coagulant, causing microscopic particles to fall out of the wine, thus keeping it from turning hazy.  Filtering is a process for removing solid particles, such as yeast cells, from a wine.  Generally speaking, fining is gentler on a wine than filtering, making filtering a more controversial practice in the cellar.

Why am I going into wine making detail?  Because when you're  staring at a shelf lined with red Burgundies, it's important to know that stylistically, there are differences between a Clos de Vougeot  (Cote de Nuits) and a Volnay Callerets (Cote de Beaune).   Vougeot is dense and robust when young, but with bottle age, develops a refined earthiness.  On the other hand, Volnay is lighter with less finesse, becoming fruitier and more robust with age.

Prices for Cote de Beaune wines vary widely.  At the low end there's a standard Santaney, $30, while a Clos de Cortons Grand Cru will cost you $230.  Other prices: Beaune 1er Cru, $38 to $50; Pommard 1er Cru, $190; Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru, $40 to $60, Clos Vougeot, $480.

What foods to serve with Cote de Beaune Burgundy is always a matter of personal taste. The classic match with red Burgundy is game birds.  A more practical choice might be a lightly seasoned beef stew made with the same wine.  With white Burgundy, the classic match is fish or a lightly sauced chicken.  Whatever your choice, save your best bottle for the table and use a lesser wine for the recipe, such as a Volnay or Cote de Beaune, rather than the Volnay Callerets. 


Next blog:  My Life in Wine Episode 14

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