Thursday, August 30, 2012

Italian Wine Laws Change

For all of us who have battled for years the alphabet soup of Italian wine laws  (DOC, DOCG, IGT, VDT), get ready to have your world rocked as they are changing.  Originally formulated in 1963, the laws are being standardized to match the other member countries of the European Union (EU).

The purpose of the laws, both original and new, is to protect the reputation of regional wines and prevent knock-off products (e.g. Algerian wines bottled as a pricey Barolo).  The laws protect not only the names and origin of wines, but other food products such as cheeses (Parmiggiano-Reggiano), hams (Prosciutto di Parma), balsamic vineagar (Balsamico di Modena).

Here’s a recap of how the Italian laws will change:

  • There will be no more D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. wines
  • D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. will now be called D.O.P. (“P” for “Protected” origin)
  • There will be no more IGT wines
  • I.G.T. wines will now be called I.G.P. (like above, “P” for “Protected” origin)
Just like when Italy’s currency changed from the Lire to the Euro, there will be a period when both the old and the new systems will be used.  This is good news for consumers who can gradually ease into the transition of the new system (note:  it is unknown at what point this dual system will end).

While standardization among EU countries will make it easier in many ways, it’s still hard to teach an old DOCG new tricks.   In some ways, one could argue that the new DOP is for DOPEs.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Zealand Winemaker Dinner

                              Daniel Brennan of Unison Vineyards and Decibel Wines

On our reconnaissance trip earlier this year to New Zealand for our future 2014 tour, we were very impressed with the caliber of wines at Unison Vineyards. (  Unison has received all kinds of accolades but one of the best comes from internationally renowned wine authority and Master of Wine  Janics Robison---Unision was the only New Zealand winery included in Robinson’s list of up-and-coming wine producers in the world.   Wine-Knows was fortunate to host Daniel Brennan from Unison Vineyards and a group of local wine-lovers for dinner recently.   

Daniel presented 6 wines, 2 of which were from Unison, as well as one from his own label, Decibel. (Daniel is now making wine under his own label.  Formerly in the music business, he has appropriately named his wine “Decibel.”)   To round out the program, he brought wines from 2 other producers, Cloudy Bay and Desert Heart…both of these producers we visited in New Zealand earlier this year.  Here’s a recap of all of the wines:

  • 2008 Unison Vineyard Gimblett Gravels 'Classic Blend' (Merlot/CabSav/Syrah)
  • 2009 Unison Vineyard Gimblett Gravels Syrah
  • 2009 Decibel Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2008 Cloudy Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2008 Desert Heart 'Untamed Heart' Central Otago Pinot Noir
  • 2008 Desert Heart 'McKenzie's Run' Single Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir
The evening began with a comparative tasting between the Sauv Blancs…an overwhelming majority preferred Decibel’s rendition which was more aromatic as well as more complex.  Desert Heart’s two Pinots were tasted as the next flight, followed by the two from Unison special vineyards on the extraordinary Gimblett Gravels.  All of these reds were so well constructed that there was not a consensus about which was the best.

While Cloudy Bay has been imported to the US for some time, Unison, Decibel and Desert Heart have only recently begun to be available.  Learn more about these wines (or purchase them) below.   Looks like they’re offering a 10% case discount to jump-start their inaugural importation:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

2 Great Summer Whites for a Song

Northern Portugal's dramatic vineyards 

I'm singing with great glee after learning about these 2 bargain Portuguese wines at a recent Society of Wine Educators meeting.  I took a group to Portugal last year…the tour sold out in record time.  There were some serious wine folk on the trip, many of whom had traveled with us to Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo etc.   It didn’t take long to convert them to Portuguese wine lovers and I can’t wait to share with them and others these latest finds…perfectly timed for summer.

Both white wines are from northern Portugal not far from the Spanish border.  Adega Ponte de Lima Adamado 2011 is a rock-star considering its price. has it for the incredible price of $6.79---even with $40 case shipping, that’s still an unbeatable $10 bottle.  Made from a combination of 3 local grapes (regrettably, none of which we have in the US),  its 10% alcohol level makes it the ideal choice for a hot summer’s evening aperitif.  Although I loved the floral and white peach nose, as well as the lemon and slight spritz on the palate,  it was its acidity that made it sing. 

The next find, Quinta de Carape├žos Alvarinho 2011, is made from the popular grape known as Albarino across the border in Spain.   This Portuguese rendition packs in aromas of white peaches and flowers, along with layers of honeysuckle and citrus in the mouth.  A great finish put it at the top of hit parade.  At present this is not imported, however, I understand that it will soon be.  Cost is expected to be well under $20 per bottle. 

If you’ve not been to Portugal recently or not tried their wines in the last 10 years, you should understand that the quality of many Portuguese wines has grown leaps and bounds.  Once a Mateus and Lancer’s landscape, Portuguese wines (both white and red) have moved well into the 21st century and represent some of the best quality/price ratios on the planet.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

It’s Greek to Me!

I’m on a roll from my recent Society of Wine Educators annual conference.  I haven’t stopped thinking about the best I tasted out of <200 wines…a couple of them were from Greece.   I’ve had a love affair with Greece since my first visit in 1976.  On the Wine-Knows 2005 tour to Greece, however, I fell in love with their wines which are now of a caliber that even Dionysus, the Greek God of wine, would endorse.

The Society’s seminar title, “The New Wines of Greece,” was the perfect moniker.  With mega financing in the 1980’s and 90’s from the European Union, Greece invested a bazillion Euro’s in its wineries.  Greek winemakers are nowadays trained in Bordeaux, Burgundy or the best wine universities in Italy.  Modern wineries in Greece are sleek and sexy enough to be in Napa.  Most importantly, the quality of the country’s wines are now fit for their Greek Gods.

Although Greece makes some killer red wines, the two wines that knocked my socks off at the symposium were both white.  I’ve already ordered a case on the Internet of the 2011 San Gerassimo Robola by the Cephalonia Cooperative. Cephalonia is a small island on Greece’s western coast (the movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin with Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz was filmed in this idyllic spot).  The wine’s peach and apricot flavors were nicely balanced with some interesting mineral notes---no doubt contributed by the island’s volcanic soils.  A beautiful finish completed the $22 package.

My other favorite was a fabulous fruit bomb called Gerovassilious Malagousia.  The 2010 vintage, this wine is made in Greece’s northern area of Macedonia.  Here are my tasting notes from this session: 
  • “Color:  deep yellow
  • Nose:  ethereal apricot and white peach…almost a Viognier
  • Taste:  apricot and yellow peaches with a hint of cinnamon.”
Little did I know until I researched the Malagousia post conference, that Robert Parker is a fan, along with a host of wine critics around the globe.  This is a great little wine for $25.

Not a white fan?  OK, I’ve got a great red producer for you.  While these wines were not showcased at the Society of Wine Educators meeting, I have visited the winery in Greece and I’m a raving fan.  Domaine Skouras is located south of Athens in the Peloponnese…not far from the historical Olympus, Marathon and Spartacus.  Established in 1986 by a Burgundian-trained Greek, George Skouras, it’s a major player in Greece’s quality wine arena.  Skouras is working wonders with local indigenous grapes, as well as blending with international varietals such as cabernet and merlot.

Those lucky 12 persons who have secured spots on next year’s trip to the Greek Islands will hopefully be tasting these wines on board the private yacht that Wine -Knows has chartered.  If you would like to travel to Greece but cannot, these wines are about as close as you can get to this drop-dead beautiful Mediterranean country…a kind of Greece in your glass experience.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tempranillo Shootout

Last week I attended the annual meeting of the Society of Wine Educators (SWE).  This is one of my favorite wine events each year in that over a 3 day period we typically taste a couple hundred wines.  I’ve been a member of SWE since 1981, so that means 6,000 wines that have passed through my lips thanks to this wine group…many have been wines and/or producer I did not know.  This year there were some real standouts---one of the best I learned about in a seminar titled, “Tempranillo Shootout.”

Tempranillo, a very popular grape in Spain, is now grown in several countries of the world.  The seminar featured 10 different producers, from 7 different wine areas on the globe. All wines were blind tasted….the only way to go.  Moreover, all wines were roughly the same vintage to reduce age variability. 

There was one clear winner, heads and toes above the others in terms of complexity and finish.  Out of the nearly100 wine educators in the room, >33% voted this wine the top spot (a huge number of 1st place votes considering a blind tasting of 10 wines).  Are you ready for the victor?  You’ll probably be as shocked as I to learn it was a Tempranillo from Lodi.  Yep, Lodi, CA!   The producer?  One I’ve never heard of---Bokisch Vineyards.  The wine?  Bokisch’s Liberty Oaks Vineyard, 2009.  The best of all is the price---$22 of solid heaven.  It beat out wines that were nearly 3 times the price.

After the conference we were dinner guests of dear friends who are wine lovers.  I began telling them the above story but when I got to Bokisch they grinned and said “One of the wines we’re pairing with dinner tonight is a 2007 Bokisch Graciano.”   (Graciano is another Spanish varietal). Long story short, this Graciano was as good (if not better possibly due to its additional age) than the producer’s Tempranillo.

The next day I searched the Internet for several cases of both wines.  I learned from my friend who introduced us to the Graciano that Bokisch Vineyards has long been sold out of the Tempranillo and Graciano (he’s a member of their wine club).  The two wines have received all types of awards and the older vintages were not easy to find….but were worth the patience in locating them.   You can check out Bokisch Vineyards at  

Bravo Bokisch!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

DOLCETTO…Piedmont’s Little Secret Wine

Even if you’re a well-seasoned traveler to Italy, you may not know this wine.  Primarily made in the Piedmont (Piemonte) district, Dolcetto is little known to those who live outside of Italy.  After all, the spot light is on Piedmont’s world renown Barolo and Barbaresco.  Well-crafted Dolcetto, however, is no ugly step-sister.

Made from the Dolcetto grape, this darkly colored dry wine pairs very well with food due to its moderate acid structure.  Flavors of black cherry, blackberry, plum, licorice and nuances of almonds further work well with the local cuisine.  Modern vineyard practices and more advanced winemaking have taken this once simple table wine to new heights.  Dolcetto is not typically placed in expensive French oak barrels, nor does it require aging.  For the consumer, this translates to a fair-priced wine that can be drunk young. 

Some of my favorite producers of Dolcetto are Spinetta, Elvo Cogno and Paolo Scavino.  Most of these are available online in the U.S. for under $30.   If you’re coming on the October tour to Piedmont, we’ll be visiting these producers.  I suspect that after the tour, Dolcetto will no longer be a secret.