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Wine Club Newsletter - November 2015

A Couple Things I Learned in Italy Recently

By Gary Parker, Owner

I spent 40 days in Italy in September and October, traveling from the distant northeast corner down to the Bolgheri Coast and finally ending up in Tuscany. We took two separate tour groups, about twelve days for each group, seeing the sights, visiting wineries and dining out.

I tasted wine at a total of 55 wineries throughout this period, sampling about 300 wines from various wine regions. I met a lot of wonderful people in our industry, and had an ungodly amount of great food to go with all the fabulous wines.

Yes, I am more adept at understanding Italian wines than I was before. I now understand that the Italians make their wines specifically to go with food, unlike us here in the States. For a time, Italians broke away from their traditional winemaking values and began producing wines that were powerful and well-oaked, like we do, but that turned out just to be a trend. The bulk of those who experimented are returning to the old, traditional methods where the wines aren’t highly extracted and treated with new oak barrels.

One of the most interesting stops we made was the very last one of the entire trip, at Sergio Mottura Winery in Civitella D'Agliano. Sergio was a great host, and opened six or so wines for us to try. One fascinating wine was his Grechetto, an underused grape varietal of Greek origin, grown almost exclusively in Umbria.

The wine reminded me of a Chardonnay in color, weight and richness. I found the forward peach fruit flavors to be delightful and the wine very complex. With a nice firm line of acid in the wine, I asked Sergio if the Grechetto had aging potential.

Without saying a word, Sergio glided over to his cellar and pulled out a five-year-old Grechetto of his. It was fantastic, and still seemed to have a lot of life left in it. Upon telling him this, he raised his finger and went back over to the cellar and pulled out a ten-year-old Grechetto. This one was a little disappointing, as I told him it was oxidized and past its prime.

So Sergio went back to his cellar and pulled out another Grechetto, the exact same wine and vintage I just found too old. This one was perfect, absolutely perfect. What was the difference between the two bottles? The second one was sealed with a screw cap, no cork!

I was totally blown away by this wine. I am seeing if I can get some sent over, and perhaps one day we’ll have a Grechetto for our WineSellar Club members made by “The King of Grechetto”, Sergio Mottura.

From Sergio:

“In 1994 we produced Latour a Civitell for the first time, and in 2001 it became the first white wine from Lazio ever to obtain the coveted ‘3 glasses’ in the Gambero Rosso ‘Guida ai Vini d’Italia’.”

When in Reims

By Gary Parker, Owner

Great Champagne is a culinary treasure, and we use it often to commemorate special events. Champagne is also a great wine to have with food, as its firm, bracing acidity is perfect when combined with rich foods.

On every wine lover’s bucket should be a visit to the most famous wine area in the world, the Champagne region of France. The region is not difficult to access, as it is about 90 minutes from Paris by car, but even more convenient, about 30 minutes by train.

You could make Champagne a day trip the next time you go to Paris, or better yet, go there for a couple days and enjoy a few estates and walk the town of Reims. The bus system is fairly easy to use in Reims, or you could rent a car at the train station.

A recent visit to Champagne illustrated just how much better the big Champagne houses are at receiving guests. A decade or two ago, you didn’t see tours of the Estates, let alone get a tasting of their wines. Now, the larger Champagne houses have hired multi-lingual tour guides to escort wine enthusiasts through the (120 miles) caves, the fermenting tanks, the barrels, the bottling line, and finally to offer you a taste or two of their delicious products.

Enjoying one of these tours and tastings can take as much as two hours of your time, so two or three tours with a break for lunch would be a pretty full day. In the city of Reims, the recommended tours are as follows:

Ruinart - Established in 1729, the tour is remarkable with miles of caves a hundred feet below the surface. They have made a model illustrating how the caves were dug out centuries ago, and the stories of the people involved in the process is totally fascinating. The Champagnes are remarkable and age-worthy.

Veuve Clicquot – Established in 1772, the facilities at Veuve Clicquot are the most commercial-oriented of the big houses. That means there is fun artwork, opportunities to purchase Champagne-related gifts and souvenirs. Famous for its “Yellow Label”, don’t miss a taste of “The Grande Dame”.

Taittinger – 4th century chalk mines and the vestiges of a 13th century abbey 50 feet below the planet’s surface make the visit quite intriguing. Taittinger specializes in the use of Chardonnay, and the “Comtes de Champagne” they produce about three times per decade should not be missed.

2011 Samsara Syrah, Melville Vineyard

Growing Region:  Sta. Rita Hills, California
Varietal:  Syrah
Fermentation:   Barrel Aged, Neutral Oak
Alcohol Content:  13.5%
Suggested Retail:  $47.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $40.49

Broad Strokes:                    
From the Winery: “Samsara is a Sanskrit word meaning the eternal cycle of life. The world we live in now. One of passion, oneness and harmony. This idea is key to the philosophy of Chad and Mary Melville’s Samsara wines. Chad and Mary produce limited releases of Pinot Noir and Syrah from micro-sites within carefully selected vineyards.” Only 132 cases of this wine were produced. Over the last nine years, this wine has averaged 93 points by The Wine Advocate.

Great-looking bottle, with the embossed label and striking, easy-to-read “Samsara” contrasting in black ink. Good strong message. It’s kind of hard to read ‘Syrah’, though. The wine is very dark red/black, with some brick hues.

The great Cote-Rotie wines from the Rhone Valley of France meets a very well-made California Syrah. That’s my take on this wine, and I’m sticking to it. Spicy, pepper, coffee, asphalt, smoke, olives, black fruits and game.

Medium to medium full in body, it is a generous mouthful of concentrated fruit and spice. Still tannic, it levels out with air relatively quickly to reveal solid Syrah fruit through to a satisfying finish.

Typical Syrah characteristics: olive, black fruits, black and white pepper, herbs (eucalyptus especially), smoke and meat. IU also got dark chocolate, wood notes, a touch of tar/asphalt, flint and root beer.

Serving Suggestions:
This will improve in the cellar for another 3-8 years. It will also make for great drinking this winter at the dinner table with hearty dishes like lasagna, pastas, ripe cheese, garlic bread, steaks and cheeseburgers.

2012 Fog Theory, Pinot Noir

Growing Region:  Sta. Rita Hills, California
Varietal:  Pinot Noir
Fermentation:  Barrel-Aged
Alcohol Content:  12.5%
Suggested Retail:  $24.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $20.69

Broad Strokes:                    
Here’s my new go-to Pinot Noir for an Andrew Jackson. What a score! The Fog Theory is another exclusive for the WineSellar Club members, meaning it is doubtful you’ll find this anywhere else in San Diego.

I really am a fan of their packaging. First, I like the name “Fog Theory”. It says something about their product and evokes a nice visual. And for the visual, the wine bottle has good-looking label and another one of my favorite things for wines like these, screw caps! The color of the wine is a beautiful ruby, with the wine becoming clear on the edge of the glass.

Perfectly Pinot, with aromatics of spiced fruit (clove), strawberry and cherry, mushroom, underbrush, a hint of wood, more mushroom, truffle, earth and herbs. It is quite sophisticated, red Burgundy-like, and ever-changing in the glass.

It is medium in body and weight. The fruit comes through quite rich. There is a bit of tannin in the beginning, say for about 20 minutes after opening, which eventually fade and meld into an elegant, silken feel in the mouth.

Delicious! The rich fruit is fortified with dark cherry fruit and dark cherry skin, strawberry, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, wild mushrooms, truffle, black and white pepper, cinnamon (almost like a warmed baked cinnamon bun), Graham cracker, earth and herbs. Just fabulous!

Serving Suggestions:
Make sure you give it adequate breathing time, say twenty minutes minimum. It will age for a couple years, if you want to do that. But at this price, I almost feel like I’m cheating. I will use it a lot over the coming months with all kinds of foods.

2013 Samsara Pinot Noir

Growing Region:  Sta. Rita Hills, California
Varietal:  Pinot Noir
Fermentation:  Barrel-Aged, 25% New Oak
Alcohol Content:  14%
Suggested Retail:  $36.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $30.59

Broad Strokes:
For those of you in the Two-Rouge Club, your treat this month is getting two Pinot Noirs from Sta. Rita Hills Appellation, north of Santa Barbara. A lot of excellent wines hail from this Appellation, and this Samsara Pinot shines bright in my book.

Great looking bottle, with the embossed label and striking, easy-to-read “Samsara” contrasting in black ink. Good strong message. It’s kind of hard to read Pinot Noir, though. The wine is quite pretty, dark crimson and dark gray at the core, heavy legs on the inside of the glass.

Gorgeous! Awesome! Wines like this are why I am in this industry. Three inches over the glass I am getting ripe cherry, Chambord, pomegranate syrup, some smoke and oak. It reminds me a bit of a Rhone wine, with its floral, violet, raspberry fruit. Dazzling!

Rich Pinot Noir fruit is commanding attention, provoking thought. The texture is seamless, just about perfect in its acid and fruit balance. Smooth and rich in fruit, and very long on the finish.

Can I say vinous orgasm? Well, I guess I just did. We’re all adults, right? Ripe cherry, smoke, oak, spice, pomegranate fruit, with cola, root beer and milk chocolate. Elegant, refined California Pinot Noir at its best.

Serving Suggestions:
I am socking away 12 bottles of this wine, and will drink it over the next ten years or so, depending on how it develops in the bottle. This is really special, people, and I urge you to try your bottle soon and buy some for your cellar. Small production.

2014 Picpoul de Pinet, Domaine Font Mars

Growing Region:  Picpoul de Pinet, France
Varietal:  Picpoul Blancs
Fermentation:  Stainless Steel
Alcohol Content:  12.5%
Suggested Retail:  $18.00
WineSellar Club Price:  $15.29

Broad Strokes:
A not often seen wine in our city, the Picpoul de Pinet is a charming wine from the South of France. Both red and white Picpoul are made, but the white wine is the main event from this area.

If you like Sauvignon Blanc, Gavi, Pinot Gris, basically a white wine with some zesty acid and mineral components, you’ll like any Picpoul. What’s very interesting about Domaine Font Mars is the property is littered with fossilized dinosaur eggs.

Good-looking tall green bottle dazzles with the dark label, embossing, and yes, my beloved screw cap! The wine is very clear, with a straw-like hue and a slightly green tinge around the edge.

The nose is delicate and floral, with white flower scents, rose petal, casaba melon, kiwi fruit, peaches and a hint of pineapple.

It is medium-to-medium-light in body and weight. Crisp, racy feel in the opening sips gets the mouth watering. It finishes clean with edgy, lively acid.

With rainwater freshness, the lively fruit exudes elements from the nose, especially the kiwi fruit and melon. Ginger, orange citrus, lemon-lime join with elements of mineral to make the flavors dance in your mouth.

Serving Suggestions:
I was amazed at how well this went with goat cheese. I highly recommend oysters, shellfish, seafood of all types, fruits and cheese. Great as an aperitif wine, and it also belongs on your dinner table. Buy it by the case and quaff it down!

Mushroom and Butternut Squash Risotto

With Pinot Noirs in every WineSellar Club this month, I thought a recipe that works well with Pinot Noir was most appropriate. This will also work with an assertive California Chardonnay.

Yields 6-8 servings.


  • ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 5 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
  • ½ pound Cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 ounces butternut squash, peeled, seeded, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup Pinot Noir wine
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry


  1. In a small bowl, combine dried porcini mushrooms, sherry and hot water. Let stand for 30 minutes to soften. Remove mushrooms from liquid and set aside.
  2. Using a mesh colander, strain the mushroom liquid into a bowl. Chop the mushrooms and set aside.
  3. Pour stock into a pan and simmer. Keep it hot but on low heat.
  4. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the chopped onions and garlic and sauté until browned (10-12 minutes). Add butternut squash, porcini mushrooms, Cremini mushrooms and fresh sage. Stir for about 2 minutes and then lower the heat to medium.
  5. Cover pan and cook until the butternut squash is tender, 6-8 minutes.
  6. Add the Arborio rice, stir and cook for about a minute. Add the red and white wine and stir until absorbed. Add mushroom liquid and a ladle of the stock.
  7. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed.
  8. Continue adding stock gradually, stirring constantly until rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, about 20-25 minutes.
  9. When you are satisfied the rice is tender and the liquids absorbed, add the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Spoon into individual bowls and garnish with the sage.

The original recipe was courtesy of Rachel Voorhees, Certified Sommelier. I made changes by replacing 2/3 cup of white wine Rachel called for and substituted the red wine and the dry sherry and two cloves garlic to make this dish more suitable for pairing with Pinot Noir.

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