The Sarah Jane English Newsletter: 10th Edition
April 22, 1998
This issue's highlights...
SPECIAL REPORT:
Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival
TEXAS VISITORS:
Chuck Ortman of Meridian and
Harry Parsley of Buena Vista/Racke U.S.A.
A Visit to Napa Valley Joseph Phelps: The First 25 Years
wine.gif (1421 bytes) NEWS
CHARLES KRUG, PETER MONDAVI FAMILY, makes an excellent extra-virgin olive oil in addition to its many delicious wines. The Charles Krug Estate has olive trees dating back as early as the founding of the winery in 1861. The 1997/98 Charles Krug olive oil is 100% unfiltered to ensure a rich and flavorful oil. It’s wonderful. The 200 ml, three-sided, Italian glass bottle sells for $18, available from the winery. Call (888) SIP-KRUG (747-5784).

DOMINUS Estate in Yountville has a new oenologist, Boris Champy. David Ramey, winemaker, will continue to consult.

WINE INSTITUE reports that the revenues for California wineries in 1997 were the best ever, up 11 per cent over 1996’s $5.3 billion to $5.9 billion in 1997. Volume sales for California wine to the U.S. and abroad reached an estimated 410 million gallons.

BERINGER WINE ESTATE hired Aaron Pott as imports winemaker, reporting vice-president/winemaker David Schlottman, to oversee the day-to-day production of Rivefort de France from Languedoc in France.

RACKE USA reports that C.A. Kupferberg & Cie will sell BRICOUT Champagne to a company in Bouzy, France. Racke markets Bricout in the U.S.

ARTISAN & ESTATES announced that LA CREMA and HARTFORD COURT wineries have a new general manager, Thomas Hinde.

KNUBIS Communications now represents VENTANA, a 60-room award winning property situated on 243 acres, in Big Sur, CA. Sal Abaunza is general managaer of the Mobil Travel Guide Four Star, AAA Four Diamond Ventana. For information contact: Gabriela Knubis, 408/659-0162

NEW RELEASES
1995 AMBERHILL Cabernet Sauvignon California $13, fresh herbal nose, tart/sweet berries and light oak. 1996 AMBERHILL Merlot $13, medium body with jammy fruit and roasted flavors.

1995 RAYMOND Estates Cabernet Sauvignon $15, medium body, plum and berry flavors, resolved tannins and nice balance.

RAYMOND NAPA VALLEY RESERVES are here: 1996 Sauvignon Blanc $11, crisp, lean, soil character, melon and lemon; 1996 Chardonnay $15, pineapple, vanilla, green apple, soft and round; 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon $20, rich, full, 20 months in oak, well-balanced dark fruit flavors; 1995 Merlot $20, perfumy, wood odors, olive, currant and berry, mellow; 1995 Pinot Noir $19, nice balance between fruit and acid, light red berries and hints of oak.

1996 CHARLES KRUG Peter Mondavi Family Chardonnay, $15, winemaker says, "Lovely melon and pear aromas, medium-bodied with crisp acidity and touch of oak.

1995 CHARLES KRUG Peter Mondavi Family Cabernet Sauvignon, $15, winemaker says, "Rich, berry nose with hints of oak and mint, medium-bodied, well balanced with long, fruity finish.

1993 DOMAINE CARNEROS Brut Cuvee, $18, is available for your pleasure. This blend is 57% black grapes and 43% white grapes—predominently pinot noir and chardonnay. (Black and white grapes—so called in France--translate to red and green grapes here.)

1996 R.H.PHILLIPS Estate Bottled Toasted Head Chardonnay, $12, represents the best of the barrel lots. It’s ripe and rich with pineapple and luscious fruit and oak nuances.

NAPA VALLEY VISIT
I visited Napa Valley in early March to attend the COLLEGE OF THE OAKS, a program sponsored by Beaulieu Winery and Seguin-Moreau barrel coopers. We (several wine writers) were invited to come learn how to build a wine barrel and then to make a wine that would be completed by aging in that barrel. It was fascinatingly informative and great fun. Three teams were comprised of three writers and two advisors—a winemaker and a cooper. All ultimate decisions, however, were made by the writers.

We learned—so much: an overview of coopering by following and participating in the process; the differences between American and French oak forests and wood; selecting, harvesting and caring for the wood, American forest management, the marriage of wood and wine, raising and shaping a barrel, economics of barrels, differences between aging wine in American and French barrels and blending wine varietal components.

American oak has earned the respect it deserves. Aged in the time-tested manner of French oak, it is no longer the stepchild of coopers—indeed, I’ve enjoyed the flavors imparted by American for more than a decade in wines from ZD, Beaulieu, Caymus, Silver Oak, Jordan and others.

Each team will receive bottles of their "Beaulieu-components" wines and I’ll report on it after it ages in oak for the next 18 months. If our wines are decent enough, Beaulieu will donate some for a future auction item.

There are volumes to be learned about oak barrels, but the overview was very enlightening. When next in Napa Valley, plan a tour of Seguin-Moreau, and down highway 29 a bit, to Beaulieu Winery.

While in Napa, I also visited friends at JOSEPH PHELPS. Winemaker Craig Williams and I tasted through a number of his wines (please see related story). Craig tells me he is concentrating more on the vineyards and believes this approach will continue to help make JOSEPH PHELPS wines better than ever.

During lunch at ROBERT MONDAVI Winery with my friends Nancy Light (director public relations) and Regina Lutz (coordinator public relations), I tasted the new luxury ultra-premium Chilean wine Seńa, a rich and elegant, compellingly delicious red wine from the partnership of the Mondavis and Eduardo Chadwick of his family winery Vińa Errázuriz. We also enjoyed the 1995 Robert Mondavi SLD Sauvignon Blanc, 1995 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot and the 1996 La Famiglia di Robert Mondavi California Moscato Bianco. Again and again I experience that the best wines are enjoyed at the winery. Wines seem to prefer staying at home more than traveling.

We also visited the old VICHON Winery (VICHON is now Mediterranean in wine production) which has become the home of LA FAMIGLIA di ROBERT MONDAVI. Freshly spruced up with bright Italian vineyard scenes, the old hospitality center has a new look and handsome Italian pottery and foodstuffs to tempt any taster. The wines were fresh and fruit-filled as well.

JOE CAFARO took me for a tour of his new vineyard located in the Stags Leap District. I couldn’t believe the size and number of the huge boulders extracted from the land. Special equipment was brought in just to move several boulders out of the way—far to big to convert to stone fences, which is the current use in vogue. It costs about $35,000. an acre to get land converted to vineyards in this area—after you own the land. Fortunately, everything doesn’t happen at once so the payout is over several years. Joe will still buy grapes from his faithful growers. His own vineyard will add varietals—new and old--and permit more production; however, it will take three years

Joe specializes in two wines: CAFARO Cabernet Sauvignon and CAFARO Merlot. These are lovely indeed and should be sought out diligently because they are in limited supply.

JOSEPH PHELPS VINEYARD: The First 25 Years
With the celebration of a silver anniversary and some remarkable statistics for fine wines, the Joseph Phelps staff quietly continues the work it does so well. I tasted wines with Winemaker Craig Williams and asked for an update.

"We’re paying especially close attention to temperature control, and the computer brings precision to that task; however, we realize it’s only a tool. We still want to hug the tank, as we say. Computers tell you the solenoid valve is open—but there may be other problems. Humans still must go look, see, smell and taste to find out what exactly is happening. Technology and instinct always have to be balanced."

JOSEPH PHELPS WINE NOTES

1996 Viognier: crisp, nice acidity, lime and floral with rounded dimension.

1996 Carneros Chardonnay: classic nose, wax candle, crisp acidity, mellow and light-to-medium body.

1996 Grenache Rosé: sweet fruit, tart and refreshing.

1996 "Pastiche" Vin du Mistral: vinous, charcoal, vanilla and oak—light and fresh [blend of grenache, zinfandel, mourvedre, syrah and alicante bouschet (to add color)].

1995 Merlot: charcoal, smoky, dark fruit, big and mouth filling—big tannins.

1995 Insignia: complex fruit and oak, integrated, vanilla, black current and cherry, lovely and mouth-filling with long finish. (One of the original Bordeaux style blends in Napa).

1996 Eisrébe; In 1994 in an innovative program, high brix grapes were picked late in the season and frozen. At press time, these grapes were gradually thawed, then cold-fermented to 20.9 % residual sugar. The result was this luscious, balanced wine.

1996 Johannisberg Riesling Late Harvest: made in Anderson Valley, Mendocino, where grapes profit from cool temperature and a long time on the vine which allows the botrytis to spread evenly among the vines to produce naturally high grape sugars—a delicious honeyed, nectar with pear and peach flavors.

TEXAS VISITORS

WINEMAKER CHUCK ORTMAN, a friend of long standing, and I had a lovely dinner at the Four Seasons Café to taste through his recent MERIDIAN Vineyards releases. All of Chuck’s wines show his particular skills—fabulous winemaking! I asked him what was new.

"We bought the property for MERIDIAN in 1988 so this is my 10th year and we’re always doing something new. We’re adding more barrel rooms and stainless steel tanks and we’ve just acquired 140 acres in Paso Robles. "

MERIDIAN WINE NOTES

1997 MERIDIAN Sauvignon Blanc, California $8.50, crisp apple and melon and refreshingly tart—a perfect food wine and beverage to start an evening. Separate lots had a quick crush and gentle press with 50% of juice fermented in French oak barrels and the remainder into stainless tanks. This year Chuck added 16% semillon for a rounder, fuller mouthfeel.

1996 MERIDIAN Limited Release Chardonnay, Santa Barbara $25, ripe and rich with buttery peach, full-flavored, 100% barrel fermented in French oak, underwent malolactic, aged 8 months sur lie and stirred once a week with selected barrels blended and unfiltered.

1996 MERIDIAN Reserve Chardonnay, Edna Valley $15, 100% barrel fermented in French oak, aged sur lie 11 months and stirred twice monthly and malolactic,. "I kept all lots separate until aging was complete and then selected and blended the best lots," Chuck says.

1996 MERIDIAN Syrah, Paso Robles $14. "The sandy loam soils of Home Vineyard are naturally restrictive, but prunning and thinning grape clusters also keeps yields low. About three tons to an acre or less is what I like to see with our Syrah, an amount that produces dense, concentrated flavors, " Chuck says.

1995 MERIDIAN Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon $20, rich and full-bodied with smooth tannins and delicious integrated complexity that is fruit dominated.

PRESIDENT and CEO HARRY PARSLEY of BUENA VISTA Carneros Winery and Racke U.S.A. and I enjoyed luncheon at Café Josie tasting the BUENA VISTA, HAYWOOD and ROBERT STEMMLER wines marketed by Racke.

Buena Vista is California’s oldest premium winery, established in 1857 by count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California viticulture.

"Over the years, Buena Vista has meant many things to many people," Parsley says. "Our most recent phase began nearly 20 years ago when we initiated a major expansion of our land holdings in Carneros."

The Buena Vista Estate is the largest in Carneros,--1,360 acres. Sustainable agricultural practices are followed whenever possible with a similarly balanced approach in the winery. All efforts try to preserve the integrity of the vineyard.

"As Buena Vista celebrates its 140th Anniversary, we’ve revamped and upgraded virtually every aspect of our viticulture and winemaking. We believe there is no better place in California to grow distinctive, world-class wines than in the Carneros, " Parsley says.

RACKE WINE NOTES

1996 BUENA VISTA Sauvignon Blanc California $8.50; crisp and lightly tart with citrus and pears.

1995 BUENA VISTA Carneros Chardonnay $14; a nice balance of lime, apples and vanilla butteriness.

1996 HAYWOOD Vintner’s Select California $8; a wonderful value with softly floral nose, fresh green grapes and tropical fruit.

1995 BUENA VISTA Carneros Pinot Noir $16, light to medium body; floral, cranberry and red berries.

1995 ROBERT STEMMLER Pinot Noir 26; rounded and balanced, nutmeg and tea.

1995 BUENA VISTA Carneros Estate Merlot $18; rich and full-bodied, blueberries, dark chocolate and manageable tannins.

1996 HAYWOOD Vintner’s Select Merlot California $9.50; medium bodied with herbal hints, berries and touch of soft oak—it would be difficult to find a better merlot buy.

1995 HAYWOOD Vintner’s Select Cabernet Sauvignon California $8; lovely complex nose, dusty, oak, berries with good acidity—note the price!

1994 BUENA VISTA Carneros Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $16; dark bing cherry, cigar box, charcoal,, silky, nice medley of fruits, rounded with good finish.

food.gif (1390 bytes) Mobil Five-Star Restaurants number only fourteen. There is one in Texas, The Restaurant at MANSION on Turtle Creek, and one in Louisiana, The GRILL ROOM at Windsor Court Hotel.

DE VILLE BISTRO, 2037 Metairie Road, Metairie LA 70005, 504/837-6900, has excellent reports coming back to me from diners who insist I did not exaggerate when I said Chef Christy Fisher was one of the best young chefs in America. Put the De Ville Bistro on your dining list for your next visit to New Orleans. It’s a special way to be extra nice to yourelf.

DOMINIQUE’S, 1001 Rue Toulouse, New Orleans, 504/525-5334 continues to win recognition by food and wine magazines. The restaurant is also featuring vintner’s dinners, including one by New Orleans native Sandra MacIver of MATANZAS CREEK during April. Sandra was named one of the 20 most influential people in the modern wine industry by the WINE SPECTATOR in 1996. MATANZAS CREEK Chardonnays are some of the finest, and the Merlot reputation is well established.

specialreport.gif (2134 bytes) TEXAS HILL COUNTRY WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL REPORT

Star chefs and vintners created heavenly pairings at the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival this year, the thirteenth for the event, once again at the Austin Four Seasons Hotel. Chef Elmar Prambs and the staff skillfully orchestrated the four-day events.

The fęte began in 1985 when Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards roused a small group (including me) to be the founding board members. The idea was to showcase Texas wines, Hill Country food products, and Texas’ celebrity chefs. It caught on in a big way. This year major chefs across the state and vintners from Texas, California, Oregon and France participated. The Festival is one of the foremost of its genre in the country.

Also this year two newly added luncheons launched activities on Thursday at Texas Hill Country wineries, Fall Creek Vineyards and Becker Vineyards. Thursday evening, Veronique Drouhin and her family were honored guests at the Four Seasons opening dinner. All proceeds from the dinner benefit the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Foundation, a trust established last year (1997). Festival Vice-President Larry Peel announced that the money will fund wine and food charities and scholarships.

Friday evening offered opportunities to discover wines from 18 wineries: Texas, California, Oregon and France. Guests pair food selections from 29 Texas chefs with the wines: TEXAS: Becker, Bell Mountain, Cap*Rock, Fall Creek, Hill Country Cellars, Llano Estacado Messina Hof, Spicewood, Ste. Genevieve; CALIFORNIA: Buena Vista, Carneros Creek, Cuvaison, Chalone Wine Estates, Iron Horse, Meridian ; OREGON: King Estate Winery, Domaine Drouhin; FRANCE: Maison Joseph Drouhin.

Chef Richard Chamberlain, CHAMBERLAIN’S PRIME CHOP HOUSE in Dallas, and Chef Tom Perini, of PERINI RANCH STEAKHOUSE in Buffalo Gap served tender and succulent beef complemented nicely by the excellent, new, blended red wine from FALL CREEK called Meritus, a lovely BELL MOUNTAIN Pinot Noir and the outstanding 1996 SPICEWOOD Cabernet Sauvignon. The meat-filled, tasty crab cakes from Chef Christian Svalesen’s restaurant, FISH, paired nicely with the MERIDIAN Sauvignon Blanc and the IRON HORSE sparkling wines. Chef David Garrido of JEFFERY’S served orange duck with white truffles and mushrooms and it paired easily with every wine. Chef David Holben of TOSCAN served smoked duck tenderloin with toasted orzo pasta and a burnt orange balsamic vinaigrette—lovely with the CARNEROS CREEK Pinot Noir.

A Saturday morning Champagne breakfast featured the dishes of Chef Miguel Ravago of BERTRAM’S accompanied by lovely Taittinger Champagne. Some of the dishes included were Pescado Tikin Xik (snapper baked in achiote), Chiles Rellenos, Cebollitas (onion, tomatoes, basil and mozzarella), Ensalado De Nopalitos, Ensalada Madrid, Ensalada De Palmitas, Guacamole, Escabeche, Budin (Mexican Corn Souflle) and Huevos Rabo De Mestiza and so much more.

Then the annual wine-panel seminars followed with "Texas Futures . . . New Innovations in the Texas Wine Industry" at 10:15 A.M. and "Pinot Noir" at 11:30 A.M. Winemaker luncheons satisfied guests at five different downtown restaurants: Carmelo’s, Manuel’s, Gilligan’s, Café at Four Seasons and Shoreline Grill—where I had the pleasure of Chef Daniel Haverty’s fine food: Ivory King Salmon, a hook and line catch flown in from Alaska (the fish does not process beta carotine so the meat stays white-- now on my to-die-for list) served on Lobster Risotto and Serrano Basil Aioli with 1996 Llano Estacado Cellar Select; Morita Tenderloin with Celery Root Green Chili Potatoes and Ancho Cajeta Sauce and the 1995 Cuvaison Pinot Noir followed by a Pasion Fruit Mousse Filled Chocolate Tower and the Messina Hof 1996 Muscat Canelli Late Harvest "Glory" [a three coast (East, West and Texas) gold medal winner].

The Culinary Master’s Dinner on Saturday evening was orchestrated by two of the original Festival chefs-- Dean Fearing and Robert Del Grande—and joined by chefs Tim Keating, Michel Ginor, Jean-Louis Palladin, Joe Abuso and Carmen Hernandez. The dinner was outstanding: Grilled Lobster Salad "Tex Mexican Beach Style" was half a lobster in shell with shredded vegetables tossed across it; Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Squab and Sweetbreads with Wild Mushroom Emulsion--(this superb dish, richly flavored and textured, defies description); Roasted Guinea Fowl with Cocoa Beans and Cinnamon Saucisson de Pintade & Black Truffle Barley followed by a Trio of Desserts—Caramelized Apple Pecan Cake, Mexican Chocolate Empanada and Cajeta Flan. I was an extremely happy diner. Three wines accompanied each course. Despite our substantial dinner, Bill Bishop of Carneros Creek and I managed a jazzy swinging dance to celebrate our fine experience.

The Sunday Fair at the Salt Lick country restaurant offered everything from Ancho salsa, Candelari’s Turkey Jalapeńo Sausage, to Paula Lambert’s Mozzarella Cheese. I moderated a panel of Texas winemakers to an interested and responsive audience that had lively questions about the varietals tasted: Llano Estacado Sangiovese, Becker Vineyards Texas Iconoclast (a Rhone blend of 34% mourvedre, 33% syrah and 33% grenache), Ste. Genevieve Sauvignon Blanc, Bell Mountain 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Spicewood 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon.

One of the record-setting 3,000 grazers at the 1998 event summed it up nicely: "It’s a perfect way to spend a perfect day with the best of everything in the Texas Hill Country." I think I heard the same comment last year. Plan now to attend in 1999.

CONTACT Frances Kurio, 1006 Mopac Circle, # 102, Austin, TX 78746, 512/329-0770, FAX 512/329-6431