VINE CUTTINGS

News and Notes from the World of Wine




VINEXPO HITS AMERICA'S SHORES
Legendary Semiannual Trade Show Debuts in New York This Month

You know you're a wine- or restaurant-industry professional when you plan your tasting and vacation schedules around the hubbub that happens June in Bordeaux every odd-numbered year. Last June, the folks at Vinexpo kowtowed to Asia's burgeoning wine market by debuting Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, held in Tokyo, which drew 13,000 visitors and 700 exhibitors. This month, after many years in the making, Vinexpo Americas debuts in the Big Apple.

The event opens its doors to trade and media wine professionals on October 22, at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City. Vinexpo officials expect that over 600 exhibitors from 28 countries and 15,000 visitors will converge during the three-day event.

Dozens of seminars and forums are scheduled during Vinexpo Americas, including a conference on Bordeaux wines, featuring Robert Parker and Michel Rolland, and a seminar on tasting methods, featuring Wine Enthusiast's tasting panel.

"This is not only an amazing opportunity for America's wine professionals who may not be able to travel to Bordeaux's Vinexpo," says Adam Strum, editor and publisher of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. "It shows Vinexpo's confidence in New York as one of America's gastronomical hubs, even in the wake of last year's tragic events. Wine professionals will not only get to meet exhibitors from all over the world, they will be supporting New York when New York needs it most."

Vinexpo Americas, unlike other U.S. beverage conferences, is geared solely toward those who work in the wine and spirits industries; restaurant and hospitality professionals, retailers, importers, wine press and wine educators, for example, will be in attendance. The exchange of ideas that will take place October 22-24, to be sure, will have a lasting impact on the American wine industry, and will give industry insiders plenty to talk about when they meet again in Bordeaux, at Vinexpo 2003.

For more information on Vinexpo and Vinexpo Americas, visit their website: www.vinexpo.fr.

 

Petit Verdot:
The new "it" wine?

At long last, the "little green one" from
Bordeaux is bottled on its own.

I had just left a wine shop in Manhattan when something in its window brought me up short. There it was: the words

"Petit Verdot," right below the winery's name and in sizeable bold script.

Petit Verdot ("little green one" in French) is the scullery maid of Bordelais varieties. Its berries ripen even later than Cabernet Sauvignon. It is often picked "green," in its native Médoc, or left to hang so long that the rains spoil it. This grape that proved hard to grow in its native France is proving successful in the New World, particularly in California and Australia, where long, hot growing seasons allow it to ripen fully. Winemakers who added small, experimental plantings for use in their blends are now bottling it as a single-varietal wine.

Australia has about 1,000 acres of the Petit Verdot planted; the grape particularly thrives in the heat of the Riverland and the McClaren Vale. Since the mid-90s, Petit Verdot has carved out a niche, albeit a tiny one, in Australia's domestic retail market. Its success has prompted Salena and Kingston to add a reserve bottling to their lines.

In the U.S., Australian Petit Verdot is the easiest to find on retailer's shelves. The 1999 Pirramimma ($20), all the better for its two years in new American oak, is the most delicious of the bunch. The 2000 Ellen Landing from Salena Estate ($20) aged mostly in neutral casks, is a juicy, violet- and raspberry-scented wine. Salena Estate's single-vineyard 1999 Bookpurnong Hill ($54), which contains 15 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, has smoky fruit and a good five years of life ahead of it.

About a dozen Petit Verdots are produced in California, mostly in small lots of 100 to 200 cases. California's Petit Verdots are sold one customer at a time, usually in a tasting room.

"Petit Verdot needs to be hand-sold, and tasted, but once people do, they become fans. We have customers that like to buy these more unusual limited-production wines, so we see very little risk," says Joe Benziger of his winery's Imagery Series Petit Verdot.

The 1999 Geyser Peak Petit Verdot (about $20) is a good middleweight 100 percent PV. Benziger's 1999 Imagery ($33) is an opaque, inky, fuller-bodied one. Also recommended is the Murphy-Goode 1999 PV ($32), which is rounded out with 21 percent Merlot. Delia Viader's 1998 V, which is made with 55 percent Petit Verdot, 35 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Cabernet Franc, is certainly the most profound and ageworthy wine of the group.

"Petit Verdot's very high quality fruit is known for being extremely tannic with high natural acidity," says Viader. "Trying to make it round and more soft-spoken is the kind of fun a winemaker likes to have."

Is Petit Verdot ready for its 15 minutes of fame? Hardly. Except in Australia, it remains a curiosity. Most consumers know it as a footnote to Bordeaux. Petit Verdot as a varietal wine owes as much to the strides made in viticulture and vinification over the last 30 years (and the "creation" during these years of savvy, curious wine consumers), as it does to the grape itself. Global warming hasn't hurt, either.

But the wine is definitely worth searching out for its saturated color; its peppery, berry fruit that never completely loses its vegetal edge; its gorgeous floral aromatics and its refreshing mouthfeel that's a product of its high acidity. Its distinctive leanness reminds tasters of the vegetal nature of the grapevine, and its dependence upon soil and weather. Even in the New World, there's something of the Old about Petit Verdot, like a rustic arriviste whose fancy dress can't quite conceal his muddied feet.

—Ed Brivio

Italian Style Meets Argentinean Soul
Masi introduces Mendoza wines made from Veneto grapes

When Plinius, a Roman scribe in the first century B.C., wrote that Veronese grapes cry when grown outside of their native Veneto, he and every other European knew nothing of Mendoza, Argentina. Nearly 2,000 years later, Plinius is being proven wrong.

Six years ago, Masi Agricola, makers of authentic Venetian-style wines, planted about 25 acres of Corvina (the heart and soul of Amarone and Valpolicella) and several other Italian grape types near Tupungato in Mendoza. They wanted to see if the grapes would grow as well in Argentina as they do in the Veneto. Now with nearly 175 acres of Corvina, Malbec, Merlot and even some Rondinella thriving in its La Arboleda vineyard at the base of the Andes Mountains, Masi Tupungato, as the project is called, is preparing to release its first wines.

The two wines, due out in the United States sometime in 2003, are being made in a unique Venetian style: A style that involves either drying grapes on racks before pressing (appassimento), or adding partially dried grapes to freshly fermented wine in order to trigger a secondary fermentation (passo doble). Masi has championed these unconventional winemaking techniques at home in northern Italy with great success, but until now no one has adapted such methods outside of the Veneto.

Exporting Venetian winemaking techniques and indigenous Italian grapes to Argentina was the idea of Sandro Boscaini, Masi's president and director of the esteemed Masi Technical Group. Boscaini believes that Corvina has taken to the elevated, well-irrigated vineyard lands of Argentina because of the unlikely climatic similarities between Mendoza and the Veneto.

"After 12 years of researching in California, Australia, New Zealand and Chile, we know that Argentina is most similar to our home," says Boscaini. "The big difference is that Argentina is more dry, so we have built a lake in the vineyard to replicate Lake Garda and the humidity here in the Veneto. Corvina has been wonderful in Argentina."

The first wines from Masi Tupungato are a pair of "experimental" bottlings from the excellent 1999 vintage. The appassimento wine is called Corbec, a name that reflects its blend, which is 70 percent Corvina and 30 percent Malbec. To make the wine, selected bunches of grapes are dried on racks for about three weeks, where they lose about one-third of their weight. After destemming and pressing, the wine is fermented in stainless steel and then moved to French oak barrels for 18 months. The resulting wine features mammoth grape and black fruit flavors, hints of dried fruits, and a soft, velvety mouthfeel. The alcohol is 14.7 percent, which by any standard is high, but as with Amarone, you simply do not feel heat or heft. The Corbec will be approximately $20 when it is released.

The passo doble, a play on words referring to a tango dance step and the double fermentation technique, features 62 percent Malbec, 30 percent semidried Corvina, 8 percent Merlot and which is added into the fermented Malbec and Merlot. It spends about a year in barriques prior to bottling, and will sell for approximately $13 a bottle.

—Michael Schachner

 

"Cathedral of the Pinot Noir"
Design Unveiled
Frank Gehry calls les clos jordan, the new Boisset-Vincor partnership in Canada, a "precedent-setting facility"

During a special presentation in July, renowned American architect Frank Gehry presented his design for the winery at Le Clos Jordan, a vineyard estate partnership between Boisset and Canadian-based Vincor International. The project is expected to bring worldwide attention to Canada's Niagara Peninsula, and its potential to produce super- and ultra-premium wines.


Exterior view of Le Clos Jordan


Interior view

"Our investment in Canada is a first for a Burgundy wine producer," said Jean-Charles Boisset, vice president of Boisset, La Famille des Grand Vins. "This property enjoys similar soil and climatic characteristics as the Côte d'Or in Burgundy, with its cooler summers, equivalent growing cycles and rich clay loam soils."


Jean-Charles Boisset and Don Triggs

Located in the town of Lincoln, Le Clos Jordan is situated in the middle of the winery's 35-acre vineyard, which was planted in 2000 with vines that were shipped from Boisset's native Burgundy. The winery has recently acquired two more vineyard properties adjacent to their property, which will bring their total number of planted acres to 137. Three-quarters of the land will be planted with Pinot Noir; the remainder will be planted with Chardonnay.

"At other wineries," Gehry explains, "you see the process of wine production [pressing, fermenting, bottling] one step at a time. Here, you will see the whole thing all at once. The making of the wine will seem like part of the architectural experience." Indeed, the architect (who also designed Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum and Seattle's Experience Music Project) has outdone himself with Le Clos Jordan. The winery's great hall—from which visitors will be able to see the winemaking facilities, tasting lounge and wine boutique—feature floor-to-ceiling, ice-like columns that extend from the underground cellar. The building's exterior features a shimmering metal roof that reflects the sky and the surrounding landscape.

"What we see [in the design] is a very real expression of what we expect from our Le Clos Jordan wines—it is a real feast for the senses," says Don Triggs, president and CEO of Vincor International. "As our wines pleasure the palate, so the design of the winery, both inside and out, will be a beautiful experience for our eyes and our imagination."

Groundbreaking for Le Clos Jordan's "Cathedral of the Pinot Noir" winery will take place as soon as they receive the necessary development approvals. The winery's first Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are expected to be released in 2006 and 2007, respectively.

Q&A Gavin Newsom would-be politician and co-owner of PlumpJack Winery

He's been called a rock star politician, a pretty-boy princeling. His new wife is the "babe prosecutor of San Francisco," a former Victoria's Secret model and now assistant district attorney. He owns (with Gordon Getty) PlumpJack, one of Napa Valley's most glamorous wineries. He also runs a growing empire of glitzy restaurants, hip nightclubs and clothing stores. His patron is the city's mayor, Willie Brown, and he's all but announced his own candidacy for mayor next year, a race for which Brown has endorsed him. His ambitions appear to be limitless, and all this at the age of 34. Gavin Newsom recently did the Q&A thing with Wine Enthusiast.

WE: PlumpJack was the first premium winery in California to use screwcap tops. Did you get any backlash?

Gavin Newsom: It's incredible. We got overwhelmingly supportive responses from everybody, from Robert Mondavi on down, although Mondavi said, "I'm glad it was you first!"

WE: Your reserve Cabernet costs $155 a bottle. Is Napa Cabernet overpriced?

GN: Well, is it? When I sit there at a tasting, and it's $400 for new releases for European wines that have 40,000-plus case productions, are we overpriced? In many respects, California wines are underpriced.

WE: What do you drink at home?

GN: Pinot Noirs right now. I go through phases. Chardonnay phase, Zinfandel phase—I went through my two-month Zinfandel phase, which I enjoyed.

WE: Do you have a cellar?

GN: I'm just starting a cellar. All these years I've never had one.

WE: What are you putting in there?

GN: I've been buying a lot of [Domaine] Dujac Burgundies. I [also] bought a lot of the new DRCs.

WE: Do you have any older stuff?

GN: We still have 11 bottles of '47 Cheval Blanc. That's my prized possession. But I'm frankly going have to sell them back, because I can't afford to drink them.

WE: If I looked in your refrigerator now, what would I see?

GN: About 80 small bottles of water, an orange juice container, and one apple. I have not eaten at home in six or seven years.

WE: You've met Bill Clinton many times. Any good anecdotes?

GN: We went out with Robin Williams and visited the White House, and I'll tell you, that's an experience for the ages! Every room we went through, Robin did shtick. And we went to the wine cellar, and my memory is how disappointed I was. I was expecting, you know, 1783 Jeffersons, the original stash. It's an absurdly small closet. And with respect to Mondavi Coastal Chardonnay, I kid you not—that was disproportionately the wine in the cellar!

WE: Would you like to be President?

GN: Aw, no. I mean, honestly, honestly, my aspirations are limited.

WE: But if you are President?

GN: We're going to expand the White House wine cellar!

—Steve Heimoff

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