News and Notes from the World of Wine

Antinori Comes
To Monterey

Having started restaurants in Florence, Zurich and Vienna, Italian vintner Piero Antinori has opened his first-ever restaurant in the United States. Peppoli, at the Inn at Spanish Bay resort in Pebble Beach, California, overlooks the world-famous Pebble Beach Golf Links and features stunning views of Monterey Bay. As might be expected, Peppoli (pronounced "PEPP-oli") has a Tuscan theme. Antinori himself was involved in creating the menu, which features elegant Florentine fare as well as rustic country dishes. Entrée prices range from $15 to $30. The extensive wine list is highlighted by several wines made by Antinori or his relatives, including the Super Tuscan blend Tignanello, the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Sassicaia, and the single-vineyard Chianti Classico after which the restaurant is named. Most wines are offered in multiple vintages and the list also carries aselection of California wines, including an offering from Atlas Peak, Antinori's Napa Valley property. In its previous incarnation, the site housed the Bay Club, which was more staid and old-fashioned. Peppoli, however, is modern, with an open kitchen, grill and rotisserie. Reservations can be made by calling 831/647-7500.

—Steve Heimoff


David Ramey's Retro Chardonnays

If what goes for the martini goes for wine, then David Ramey is onto something. Ramey, who has spent the past 20 years making some of Northern California's finest wines, believes that America's taste for all things retro can apply to Chardonnay as well as cocktails.

Now the full-time winemaker at Rudd Estate in the Napa Valley, David Ramey previously logged time as winemaker at big names like Simi, Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, and most recently Dominus. In 1996, he launched his own label, Ramey Wine Cellars, mostly because Dominus lacked a white-wine program. His first release was, to put it succinctly, tiny—just 250 cases of Chardonnay from the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros. Largely unknown and unadvertised, the wine was a stunner, albeit one enjoyed by only a few lucky wine drinkers, ourselves included. It garnered 96 points in the Value Issue of Wine Enthusiast and was rated our white wine of the year for 1999.

In the abundant 1997 vintage, Ramey has added a Hudson Vineyard Chard ($48) to the Hyde bottling ($46), and the total release of the pair is 1,000 cases. Ramey made the wines at the Luna facility in the Napa Valley, while both the 1998 and 1999 vintages are now in the works at Rudd.

In describing his style of winemaking, Ramey doesn't hesitate before offering two rather synonymous descriptors: neoclassical and retro. "I still respect and have great affection for the great models, particularly Lafon Montrachet from a ripe vintage." When interviewed, Ramey had just returned from a tasting mission to Burgundy, which he said confirmed a tenet to which he has long subscribed. "The truth of the matter is you can't make Montrachet in California—just too warm. But the issues of balance and harmony between richness and finesse can still apply. I get great fruit from these two sites. The Hyde is probably more forward, while the Hudson is more masculine and dense."

In our opinion, Ramey is right on in assessing his own wines. As far as the '97s are concerned, the Hyde Vineyard is a splendid example of Burgundian-style Chardonnay. It's subdued but simultaneously forward, with gorgeous citrus and tropical fruit, and layers upon layers of subtleties. The Hudson Vineyard wine is more typical of top-flight California Chardonnay—it's bolder, fatter and highlighted by ripe pear fruit and vanilla and caramel from the oak treatment. (See a future Buying Guide for full reviews and ratings.)

Lost Dr. Seuss Verses Delight Educators, Wine Lovers
The finding by literary archeologists of The Rat in the Vat, a long-lost manuscript by the well-loved children's writer Dr. Seuss, has sent a ripple of excitement through both the early education and wine communities. Apparently conceived of as a sequel to his classic The Cat in the Hat, a dozen or so well-preserved pages of verses were recently uncovered in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at the country home of the late author.

Dr. Phil D. Glass, director of Future Enophiles of America (FEA), commented on the discovery at a Napa news conference. "We're more than enthusiastic. We had heard about this lost manuscript for decades, and we are convinced that this book will play an important role in the development of future wine lovers. In addition to a lovely rhyme scheme, the story is well structured and has a great finish."

Here is an excerpt certain to be included in the book, which is expected to be published by Random House:

The tasters were stunned
They just could not accept
Aromas so foul that a few of them wept
the truth was so awful
it had to be that
The cause of the stench was
A Rat in the Vat

Merle Lowe, a San Francisco specialist in early reading with close ties to the California wine community, could barely control her enthusiasm. "Not only will young readers enjoy the word flow and wonderful rhymes, they will also learn about the importance of positive aromas and the negative effect that any foreign element, especially a small furry rodent, can have on a wine." Lowe was clearly referring to the following stanza:

Far beyond barnyardy
More than off-putting
A smell such as this, did it come from no-gooding?
Did an angry employee toss one in by the tail
Or did a lost little furry one take a dive and a sail?
A stench of this caliber cries out "Taster beware
Do not put in your mouth the rude flavor you can't bear."
Now connoisseurs are convinced that a stink such as that
is the dreaded result of a
Rat in the Vat.

—Mark Mazur

And what about all this retro stuff that Ramey preaches? You can see it in the packaging: simple and stately, just like a grand cru white Burgundy. Old-fashioned also defines the winemaking process. Ramey employs what he calls "all-natural techniques," like whole-cluster pressing, wild yeasts, natural malolactic fermentation, 16 months of sur lie aging, and bâtonnage, or the stirring of the wine and lees to enhance richness. Ramey gives his wines three rackings over the course of 21 months in barrels, which, combined with all the other stuff, "is how you develop secondary complexities and nuance. After six months the wine is as oaky as it's going to be," he insists.

Ramey asserts that his wines, despite their full-bodied prices, are products for the people. "I don't believe in direct sales, mailing lists or the Internet. I have a distributor for each of the 18 states I'm in and I have four international importers."

Utilitarian Ramey's Chardonnays may not be, but for anyone interested in intellectual wines made in a traditional style, look no further. And in the future, keep an eye open for a Sonoma Coast as well as a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, and a Bordeaux-style red sourced from a single vineyard in Napa Valley. —M.S.

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