Premiere Napa Valley Bids Back in the stratosphere

The big bucks have returned to Napa Valley. It showed in the results of the ninth annual Premiere Napa Valley auction, which raised $1.46 million, topping last year’s $987,200 total by nearly a half million dollars. With top bids such as $50,000 for five cases of Rombauer Cabernet Sauvignon (that’s $833 per bottle), it’s no surprise that the final numbers were stratospheric.

"The wine market is hot right now," said V.J. Zazirvar, from the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City and the winner of the Rombauer lot. "Koerner Rombauer has been a good friend to Oklahoma. After the bombing, he helped us raise money for the victims."

The event unfolded on Saturday, February 26, at the Culinary Institute of America’s West Coast Campus at Greystone. Hundreds of people in the wine trade were able to taste unique blends created by 165 different Napa Valley wineries. It was an exceptional opportunity to preview the 2003 vintage, and acquire highly unusual wines.

"Unusual blends are what this is all about," said Dave Miner, of Miner Family Vineyards. "It helps us explore possibilities we haven’t even imagined." Miner’s lot offered 60 percent Cabernet Franc and 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon—far more Cabernet Franc than the vintner typically uses. The fanciful Ceja Vineyards blend served up Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. Perhaps the most unique blend came from Schweiger Vineyards—a mélange of 11 vintages of Cabernet dating back to 1991.

The bidding was fast and furious, particularly among rival retailers like top bidder Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in Madison, New Jersey and Mark Pope, from the Bounty Hunter in Napa. In a duel of bidding paddles, Pope won the coveted 5-case Bond lot (Bond is Bill Harlan’s new venture) at $30,000. Pope also won 10 cases of Joseph Phelps Backus for $48,000, which put Pope at rank number three in the day’s tally. "Backus is one of the most breathtaking vineyards in Napa Valley," the retailer said. "When you talk about terroir, Backus is one of the crown jewels. Overlooking Screaming Eagle, it’s not a bad address."

Unlike the Napa Valley Auction in June, Premiere Napa Valley is open only to the trade. Proceeds fund the Napa Valley Vintners, their marketing efforts and education programs such as those offered at the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America.
– Jeff Morgan

Top 5 Lots

1. Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet
Sauvignon, 5 cases; $50,000
2. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus
Premiere Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 cases; $48,000
3. Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 cases; $34,000
4. Bond Red Wine, 5 cases; $30,000
5. Silver Oak Petit Verdot-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet Franc, 20 cases; $28,000

Top 5 Bidders
1. Gary’s Wine & Marketplace,
Madison, New Jersey 2. Capitol Cellars, Roseville, California
3. The Bounty Hunter, Napa, California
4. Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
5. Petroleum Club, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma



The L.A.-based radio sexpert turns his attention to the worlds of wine, spirits and beer.

Tom Leykis is the host of The Tom Leykis Show, a controversial call-in radio program focusing on relationships and the battle of the sexes. Broadcast from Los Angeles, it can be heard daily in 50 markets around the country. He is also the host of The Tasting Room with Tom Leykis, a new weekly show covering wine (and occasionally spirits and beer) now airing in Los Angeles and soon to go national.

Wine Enthusiast: Do you expect The Tasting Room to be controversial?
Tom Leykis: No, not at all. I mean the most controversial that it will get is to talk about things like whether there should be screwcaps on wine bottles. I’m in favor of them. I love the romance of a cork, and the history of it, but I’ve also had a lot of cork taint.
WE: Do men know more about wine then women?
TL: I don’t think gender has anything to do with it. It’s a sensibility about taste, about what message the wine is trying to send. Sure, it’s a man’s world. But there are female winemakers—Heidi Barrett, Helen Turley—who are every bit as good as the male winemakers.
WE: How do you discover new wines?
TL: I read reviews, but I have found the best way to find wines is to go into a tasting room and ask the people behind the counter. They get tired of drinking their own product all the time. And if you go to two or three tasting rooms, you start to get a consensus about wines that are bubbling under the surface that nobody knows about yet.
WE: What’s your marital status?
TL: Ah, don’t even get into that. Four divorces.
WE: If you had to use wine terms, how would you describe the women in your life?
TL: Bold and complex, harsh and acidic—I’ve had a few of each of those. One of them didn’t drink much, one of them drank a lot and wasn’t very discriminating about what she drank.
WE: You tell men not to spend more than $40 on a date. So what do you drink when you’re on a date?
TL: Booze. When you meet a woman who drinks Southern Comfort, there’s no doubt where you’re going at the end of the night. When you see a woman drinking Jack Daniels, you don’t have to ask her if its okay to kiss her. She is waiting for you to do it.
— Chris Rubin


Is that Möet on the left?

The 20th annual Anthony Spinazzola Foundation Gala Festival of Food and Wine took place on January 28 at Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. Sponsored by American Express, this black-tie extravaganza kick-starts the Boston Wine Expo, also held at the Seaport. Gourmet dishes were presented by more than 130 restaurants, top wines were poured by 90 wineries (including Möet et Chandon, above left) and a bevy of nationally recognized celebrity chefs (Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert and Suzanne Goin among them) supervised culinary students. Over 4,500 guests, dressed to the nines, reaped the benefits. Proceeds go toward culinary scholarship assistance and hunger relief.


Sips, Tastes and Thieves

Two new restaurants celebrate alternative ways to present and store wine

Todd Rushing is a self-described wine geek, but he doesn’t have a single bottle of wine in the bistro he opened in Atlanta in October. At TWO.urban licks, 42 wines are housed in stainless steel barrels. Each 15.5-gallon barrel, which holds the equivalent of six and a half cases of wine, is displayed in a 26-foot, glass-and-steel, temperature-controlled tower, situated prominently in the restaurant. Wines are poured through spouts and presented in what Rushing calls a thief, a modern-day version of the carafe. A full thief is equivalent to five glasses, a half is three, and a mini-thief is a glass and a half.

Two years ago, Rushing began asking winemakers if his storage system was feasible. Everyone said yes, but only a few would commit to supplying their wine. "Breaking the traditional mindset was difficult, but serving wine out of barrels is actually more economical and cost-efficient," Rushing claims. "The stainless-steel barrels keep the wine fresher and the acidity brighter. The fruit profile is more vibrant, and the wine’s characteristics aren’t lost because there’s no corking."

Rushing, who has run a number of restaurants over the past 17 years, is proud of his eclectic collection. "I’ll never serve a wine you’ll find in a grocery store," he boasts. "I’d much rather stay focused on the small boutiques and serve my guests the most interesting and highest quality of wine available." Some of his favorites are Andrew Geoffrey in Napa, Van Duzer in Oregon, and Forgeron, located in Washington.

The Silverleaf Tavern, a new restaurant in Manhattan, is solving the indecisive drinker’s quandary. The Silverleaf offers diners a "Sip. Taste. Drink. Discover." menu that ends diners’ dilemmas about which wines to order. Now customers can literally sip, taste or drink up to 21 different wines.

"Wine is all about choices," says Kelley Jones, vice president of restaurant operations and creator of their innovative menu. "We offer guests a unique chance to have a different wine with each course, or to sample high-end wines until they find one they love."

The menu is divided into three tiers, the first being the least expensive section. To sip, a customer can try a 3-ounce beverage of their choice, be it white, red or bubbly, for $4. A 6-ounce Taste costs $8. And to Drink, which means you have your choice of sampling an endless amount of seven carefully picked wines, the fee is a mere $35. For $83, you can try all 21 wines. Among the economical selections are Bonny Doon’s 2003 Vin Gris, and Beringer’s 2002 Merlot; on the high end, guests can choose from Rosenblum Cellars 2002 Zinfandel, or Miner Family’s 2000 Chardonnay.

Because a bottle stays open for only three or four days, the staff is quickly learning which wines are popular and which need to be removed from the menu.

"We’re finding larger tables are taking advantage of the ‘Drink’ portion of the menu, and smaller groups who are either dining with us or sitting at our bar, are leaning towards the Sip/Taste sections," Jones explains.

Drinking, for the most part, is responsible even if the menu offers a bottomless drinkfest. "We’ve seen one or two people who are here just to drink the night away, but that’s going to happen anywhere," Jones says. "But this is a food-pairing menu, so everyone’s been really excited and receptive rather than reckless."

TWO.urban licks, 820 Ralph McGill Boulevard, Atlanta; tel.: 404.522.4622. Silverleaf Tavern, 43 East 38th Street, New York: tel.: 212.973.2550.
— Alix Strauss


Destination Cardiff

The welsh capital comes into its own…again In the 1800s, the city of Cardiff held a place at the forefront of industrialized Europe, its bustling ports vital to the export of Welsh coal. Today, as it celebrates its centennial anniversary as a city (the Welsh capital was not recognized as a legitimate city until it had a cathedral within its borders), Cardiff is undergoing a rebirth of sorts. The city is experiencing enormous physical, cultural and economic regeneration, anchored by the opening of the stunning, new, multipurpose arts facility, the Wales Millennium Centre.

Overlooking the same waters that once served hundreds of cargo ships, the St. David’s Hotel & Spa is the jewel in Cardiff’s portlands redevelopment. Opened in early 1999, St. David’s artfully stunning exterior, capped by a massive, arching steel canopy, is reflected in the design of its interior’s 115-foot atrium and 132 balconied rooms, each of which have a view of Cardiff Bay. The city’s visitors are also revelling in the new Holland House Hotel, which is located mere minutes from the shopping district and Cardiff Castle, and features unusually spacious rooms and perfectly attentive staff. (St. David’s Hotel & Spa, Havannah Street, tel: 029 2045 4045. Holland House Hotel, 24-26 Newport Road, tel: 0870 1220020).

For urban ramblers, central Cardiff boasts a multitude of arcades snaking off the main streets, dissecting the city center and, as locals will tell you, providing the best shopping in town. Among my favorite emporiums is the wonderfully traditionalist Wales Tartan Centre. If your interests lean more toward comestibles than kilts, however, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Cardiff Market, where Welsh cheeses like the nutty Celtic Promise are sold cheek by jowl with sugary Welsh cakes. Upstairs a variety of household items, from CDs to pet supplies, are sold. After shopping, enjoy a pint of ale from Cardiff’s own Brains Brewery at the iconic Old Arcade pub, perhaps alongside the local dish known as "faggot and peas," a plate of sausage, green peas and gravy. (Wales Tartan Centre, Castle Arcade, tel: 029 2022 8272. Cardiff Market, between High Street and Trinity Street, tel: 029 2082 2670. Old Arcade, 14 Church Street, tel: 029 2021 7999).

For a more tranquil meal, where there’s less chance of encountering rowdy rugby fans, stroll to Le Monde, a rustic seafood restaurant where perusing the menu means eyeing glass-fronted cases full of impeccably fresh fish and crustaceans, both indigenous and foreign. Ask for the wine list and you’ll be directed to large chalkboards hung above the bar, where they have listed a surprisingly extensive selection that includes first-growth Bordeaux alongside a house claret. More locally oriented is the cuisine of the Armless Dragon, a cozy, unpretentious restaurant where chef and owner Paul Lane offers a menu best characterized as a modern take on traditional Welsh fare. Your starter will be a five-plate "Taste of Wales," which highlights such local ingredients as Pembrokeshire spider crab and the cooked black seaweed known as laverbread, while mains may feature Welsh black beef, or leek tart served with Welsh rarebit. (Le Monde, 62 St. Mary Street, tel: 029.2038. 7376. Armless Dragon, 97-99 Wyeverne Road, tel: 029 2038 2357)

For easy day trips, take your pick of whisky or wine. Less than an hour’s drive from Cardiff center is the town of Penderyn, home to the Welsh Whisky Company, whose very fine, unpeated Penderyn single malt is the only whisky to be distilled in Wales in over 100 years. Closer still to the capital is Llanerch Vineyard, located just 15 minutes west of downtown. As surprising as the idea of Welsh wine may be, the winery’s four whites and two rosés, marketed under the Cariad label, are of impressive quality, particularly the sparkling Cariad Blush. In addition to tastings, self-guided vineyard tours are offered, as are elegant B&B accommodations. (The Welsh Whisky Company, Penderyn, tel: 01685 813300. Llanerch Vineyard, Hensol, Pendoylan, tel: 01443 225877).
— Stephen Beaumont


Antinori Plans New Chianti Winery

Tuscan vintner Piero Antinori unveiled design plans in March for a 240,000-square meter winery in Chianti Classico near Bargino and ushered in what some are calling the second Florentine Renaissance. Built "from and in nature" with local stone and primary materials, the showcase winery reflects ideals: Its size and proportions mirror those of Florence’s landmark Santa Croce church. "My relationship with Marchese Antinori is like the one Vasari had with Cosimo I of the Medici family," said architect Marco Casamonti of Florence’s modern-day wine benefactor.
— Monica Larner


For more of this month’s Enth Degree, check out the May issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine

New York poised for another AVA

Valentine’s Day came early for winemaker Mike Von Heckler, proprietor of Warm Lake Estate in Lockport, New York, which is near Niagara Falls. He received word from Washington on February 9 that his proposal for a Niagara Escarpment AVA had been posted on the Federal Register. Von Heckler had been waging a campaign for official recognition for a year and a half. At press time, formal designation was scheduled for April 2005. The new designation would bring the number of American Viticultural Areas in New York to nine.

"The AVA recognizing [us] will be a great marketing tool for the region. I can’t wait to start putting it on my labels," Von Heckler commented. Warm Lake Estate, founded just five years ago, produces only Pinot Noir. The winery made 2,500 cases in 2004, and hopes to eventually increase production to 10,000 cases.

The Niagara Escarpment is an area shielded from weather extremes by bluffs running from the American side of Niagara Falls into southern Ontario. While there are more than 50 wineries on the Canadian side, the handful of vineyards on the American side has, until recently, concentrated on grapes for juice production. There are now five wineries in the AVA area, and another five are being developed.

Jackie Smith Connelly, an owner of Niagara Landing, was thrilled with the AVA news. "Now we’re no longer the unmentioned brother at the end of New York State," she said, referring to maps which show the state’s principal vineyard regions but omit the Niagara Wine Trail. — Mort Hochstein

Just Say "Node"

With Intel sensors, vineyards go high-tech

Sure, you’re used to seeing "Intel Inside" on all kinds of products, but on a wine label? Well, okay, that won’t actually happen, but you may soon be tasting wines produced with help from the Silicon Valley firm. Intel has been experimenting with sensors planted in vineyards, according to Richard Beckwith, a research psychologist with the company. The nodes can evaluate moisture, temperature and other variables, and then transmit that information to the winemaker’s computer. How useful is the technology? "In just a two-hectare area, we found variations as substantial as the average difference between the Mosel in Germany and Tuscany in Italy," he insists.

The nodes lay dormant in the soil until the winemaker or vineyard manager wants to take a reading. "You wake up the sensors from your computer, and can then check moisture, acid and other things," Beckwith says. The nodes cost nearly $200 each at the moment, making the technology somewhat impractical, but Beckwith anticipates that prices will drop to single digits in the near future.

Expect to see wines made with this technology within a few years. "These [nodes] will be used in virtually all high-end vineyards in the not-too-distant future," Beckwith predicts. "They will be inexpensive, and they make the winemaker’s job easier. Why wouldn’t you use it?"

But don’t expect to come across a wine from Intel. "You won’t see a Pinot Centrino," he assures. — Chris Rubin


Goody Goody Gumbo

Those of us who can’t make it to the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience this month (May 25-29) can still enjoy some of the city’s best cuisine. The gumbo at Mr. B’s Bistro is famous—so famous that the New Orleans restaurant sells 50 gallons of it a week. Once you try it, you’ll know why.

Mr. B’s chef, Michelle McRaney, comments that the most crucial aspect to making this gumbo correctly is getting the roux right. Roux is a cooked mixture of flour and fat used as a thinkening agent. Gumbo Ya-Ya requires a dark roux, which can take up to one hour to prepare. Its deep, nutty flavor is a great enhancement to the gumbo.

Chef McRaney says this recipe makes enough gumbo to feed 20 people, but can be frozen for up to six weeks.

Gumbo Ya-Ya
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 medium onions, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
11¼4 gallons (20 cups) chicken stock
1 pound andouille sausage, cut into 1¼4-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons Creole seasoning
2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus additional to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 bay leaves
A 31¼2-pound chicken, roasted and boned
Hot sauce to taste
Boiled rice as an accompaniment

In a 12-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat. Gradually add 1 cup flour, stirring with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Again add 1 cup more flour and stir for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup more flour and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Continue to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it is the color of dark mahogany, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Add bell peppers and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add onions and celery and stir for 30 seconds. Gradually add stock to the roux, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps. Add andouille, Creole seasoning, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, chili powder, thyme, garlic and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Simmer gumbo, uncovered, for 45 minutes, skimming off any fat and stirring occasionally.

Add chicken meat and simmer 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and hot sauce. Serve over rice.

From The Mr. B’s Bistro Cookbook by Cindy Brennan (Self-published, $30). Reprinted with permission.

U.S. Set to Unseat France as Consumption King

With Intel sensors, vineyards go high-tech

According to a research study funded by Vinexpo, the United States will become the world’s largest wine-consuming country by 2008, overtaking France and Italy. The same study already places the U.S. as the lead wine-consuming nation in terms of value. The International Wines and Spirits Record, author of the report, projects that U.S. wine consumption will go from 22.66 million hectoliters in 2003 to 29.02 million hectoliters in 2008, with imported wines seeing a greater proportional increase than domestic wines.

By volume, Italy was the largest exporter to the U.S. in 2003, with 35.5% of the import market, ahead of Australia (25.1%), France (16.2%), Chile (8.7%) and Spain (4.6%). The study doesn’t make projections regarding whose wines we’ll be drinking come 2008, just that we’ll be drinking more. Despite that, Vinexpo President Jean-Marie Chadronnier was noncommital when asked about Vinexpo Americas returning to the States in 2006: "If the exhibitors want it, we’ll do it," he said.

Open exclusively to the trade and press, the 13th Vinexpo will be held this June 19-23 in Bordeaux, with more than 2,400 exhibitors from 47 countries.
— Joe Czerwinski

The nodes lay dormant in the soil until the winemaker or vineyard manager wants to take a reading. "You wake up the sensors from your computer, and can then check moisture, acid and other things," Beckwith says. The nodes cost nearly $200 each at the moment, making the technology somewhat impractical, but Beckwith anticipates that prices will drop to single digits in the near future.

Expect to see wines made with this technology within a few years. "These [nodes] will be used in virtually all high-end vineyards in the not-too-distant future," Beckwith predicts. "They will be inexpensive, and they make the winemaker’s job easier. Why wouldn’t you use it?"

But don’t expect to come across a wine from Intel. "You won’t see a Pinot Centrino," he assures. — Chris Rubin


From the WE bookshelf

In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes
Alice Waters, Sara Moulton, Zarela Martinez, Gale Gand, Lidia Bastianich—there are over 50 superstar chefs who contributed recipes to In Mother’s Kitchen (Rizzoli, $30) by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes. But culinary star power is just one element that makes this book special. The heart of this book are the kitchen memories about their mothers and grandmothers that each chef writes to accompany her recipes. Most recipes also include "pantry tips" and "mom’s advice" that offer invaluable, outside-the-box arcana on ingredients, storage, shopping and preparation. It’s impossible to generalize about the recipes themselves, of which there are hundreds. There is only one way to sum this book up: Home.

La Cocina De Mamá: The Great Home Cooking of Spain
A less sentimental and more oblique tribute to the contributions of Mom and family is found in La Cocina de Mamá (Broadway Books, $30). Author Penelope Casas, whose previous book, Tapas, is a treasured volume in many a home, has created a love poem to the vibrant cuisine of Spain, filtered through the sensibilities of generations of chefs and their families. Chefs in Spain are the current darlings of the avant-garde culinary world, but Spanish cooking never strays far from its rustic, family roots. The 175 recipes include everything from dainty tapas to expansive seafood dishes and one-pot wonders. The wine advice? Short, to the point, predictable and accurate: Drink Spain.

Rosé: A Guide to the World’s Most Versatile Wine
Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editor Jeff Morgan has made no secret of his love for rosé; Exhibit A is the rosé wine he makes, SoloRosa. Exhibit B is his new book, Rosé (Chronicle, $20). Along with some history, an explanation of production methods and profiles of the major rosé- producing regions, Morgan demystifies many of the misconceptions about rosé, particularly in terms of style: "It is not a narrow wine category bound in a shallow, one-word descriptor." The book includes reviews of over 200 rosés from major international producers. Morgan further cements his belief that rosé is the ideal food wine with about a dozen, well-targeted recipes, including Braised Rabbit and Fish Soup with Aioli. Photos are by Frances Ruffenach.

A Double Scotch: How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons
Wine Enthusiast Spirits Tasting Director F. Paul Pacult exalts two of the greatest whiskies in the world by chronicling their colorful family histories: the Chivas Brothers (James and John) and the father-and-son team of George and John Gordon Smith, whose life work as farmers in the Highlands district of Glenlivet was slowly overshadowed by what began as a part-time malt-whisky business. Far from a dry business tract, A Double Scotch (John Wiley & Sons, $17) is a tale of families enduring in a cutthroat business beset by crime (of all sorts, from smuggling to murder), government interference and world war. — Tim Moriarty

Simply Red

Simply Red lead singer Mick Hucknall debuted his latest Sicily red IGT wine (100 percent Nero d’Avola, under his Il Cantante—"the singer"—label) at the beginning of this year. In an interesting move, a two-bottle package of the new wine (production: 1,000 cases) can be ordered through branches of Banco di Sicilia for 49 Euros. The British pop star owns six hectares of 35-year-old head-trained vines on the slopes of Mt. Etna. Enologist Salvo Foti makes the wine.
— Monica Larner

Published on May 1, 2005
About the Author
Dylan Garret

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