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I Want To Be a Master Wine Blender…When I Grow Up

What does it take to be a master wine blender? A lot of patience and anxiety, it seems. USQ hosted winemaker Andy Erickson, known for his work at for Ovid, Arietta, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Dancing Hares, and his own label, Favia, for an Art of Blending seminar. The interactive session, complete with five barrels samples of 2011 Napa Valley grapes, pitted three “teams” against one another to come up with unique red wine blends based on Erickson’s own Leviathan. Oh! And USQ made a blend too.

If you want to be a master blender, start off by perfecting your palate. Then gather a bunch of beakers and brush up on chemistry. Might want to learn the metric system. And math, you know, since the percentages of each grape in the blend should add up to 100 percent. After tasting through barrel samples (so fresh they haven’t even been RACKED yet) of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (191 and 337, for the record), Erickson discussed the attributes of each with the group. He mixed a blend on the spot, but assured us that the final percentages always change, as the wines each evolve in their French oak barrels.

On group wanted more Cab Franc and another pushed for Merlot, while the third group wanted a blend much like Erickson’s. USQ? We said toss in 45 percent Syrah (!) just to mix it up. We ended up with a selection of shockingly different wines, each with their own pros and cons. The key to balance is working with blending ideas throughout the aging time, so by the final round, you have some idea how each grape’s elements change over time. Our blend featured a bit too much Syrah for elegant balance, but hey, never know how the Syrah will taste in a few months!

Pinot Talk with Rudy Marchesi

A 1978 Beaune Premier Cru changed winemaker Rudy Marchesi’s perspective on wine. Funny, then, that he would become one of the top producers of Oregon Pinot Noir today, at Montinore Estate. He made his first wine 40 years ago, a student of wine since youth thanks to a winemaker grandfather. He remains a student, though, constanting looking for new and innovative techniques, biodynamic practices, and different grape varieties to grow in the Willamette Valley climate. His fascination with native northern Italian grapes led to his white wine blend, Borealis. His love of food has him producing cheese, cured meats such as prosciutto and salami, and verjus, a pressed juice of unripe grapes that falls somewhere between wine and vinegar. Oh, and did we mention he’s a jazz pianist?

What sets your wines apart from other Oregon Pinot Noir producers?
“We try to find that balance between elegance and concentration of flavor. We are more interested in our wines being seductive than big. And, consequently, I think that our wines are more European in style as opposed to new world.”

What is your favorite dish to pair with one of your wines.
“It’s difficult to answer that question with just one dish because Pinot Noir by nature is so versatile. For example, I recently had a fluke ceviche at ABC Kitchen with our Red Cap Pinot Noir, and it was one of the most interesting and pleasurable pairings I have had in awhile. Likewise, the Red Cap was spectacular with a pork roast I recently had. But I think one of my favorite pairings, as the weather gets warmer, is our Almost Dry Riesling with any kind of grilled seafood.”  

What is the most memorable bottle you have had?
“It was a 1978 Beaune Premier Cru. It was the first time I experienced Pinot Noir at that level of quality. And it completely changed my perspective on wine.”

More on Rudy Marchesi, and his Montinore bottlings here.

Going Vertical: Kanonkop Pinotage From 1998 to 2009

What does a 1998 South African Pinotage taste like? Oddly enough, like a musty, saddle leather-driven Rioja—at least the bottling by Kanonkop.

This week, we tasted ten Kanonkop Pinotage bottlings spanning 11 years with winemaker Abrie Beeslaar. Kanonkop is a historic wine estate in the Stellenbosch region, run by the same family for four generations. They grow Pinotage (a cross of Pinot Noir and Cinsault developed in the 1920s), as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. But Pinotage and its attempt to overcome a negative stereotype in the eyes of the American consumer took precedent during the recent tasting led by Beeslaar. (That’s USQ’s Tom Smith tasting with Beeslaar above.) He noted that wine drinkers tend to judge the variety over the producer, when in fact, we should be judging the producer not the variety. And after tasting stellar examples, such as the 1998, the earthy and complex 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage and the juicy, red berry-focused 2009 Pinotage, his words hit a homerun.

We could bog you down with copious notes on each wine, but overall, the wines showed a variety of red wine descriptors, from tints of deep cherry to aromas of smoked meats to flavors reminiscent of classic Burgundies. The 2008 Cape Winemakers Guild Pinotage, designed specifically for auction by winemakers invited to the guild, stood out with its 100 percent new oak aging, dark, earthy nose, and complex brown shoe leather and dark fruit notes on the palate. It seemed quite similar to the 1998, with its musty funk and still juicy fruit cocooned with strong earth and leather notes. One person even joked that it was like Chateau Musar, the infamously wine geek red wine blend from Lebanon. Yet even the young, but “will mature beautifully” 2009 had many fans, thanks to its powerful structure, red berry flavors, and balanced tannins. If we’re going to judge Pinotage, we’re going to rule in its favor, at least when we’re talking about Kanonkop. -Stephanie Cain

Get the 2009 Kanonkop Pinotage here.

Wine Director Jesse Salazar and Spirits Director Tom Smith journey to the vineyards of South Africa with distributor Cape Classics. Check out photos of their adventures on our Facebook page.

Wine Director Jesse Salazar and Spirits Director Tom Smith journey to the vineyards of South Africa with distributor Cape Classics. Check out photos of their adventures on our Facebook page.

Oregon’s Montinore Estate: An Evening with Rudy Marchesi

Join USQ as we welcome our good friend Rudy Marchesi to the Salon tonight, from 6pm to 8pm, for an evening of top-flight wine from his Willamette Valley-based Montinore Estate. Attendees will enjoy luscious white wines like the honey-scented Pinot Gris and Borealis, a unique blend of Muller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. We’ll also uncork four Pinot Noirs, including two single-vineyard offerings from the superb 2008 vintage.

Since purchasing the farm in 2005, Rudy has turned the estate into one of Oregon’s finest producers of organic- and biodynamically- farmed wines. A staff and customer favorite of ours since 2006, we feel the wines at Montinore have never been better. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet and mingle with Rudy Marchesi during this limited two hour tasting event.

Admission is free, and reservations are not required.

Stephane Tissot Talks Jura

Stéphane Tissot boasts just as much character as his well-respected, nuanced, biodynamic wines from the Jura. A wine region nestled between Burgundy and Switzerland, the Jura’s chillier climate, late harvest times, and marl, clay and limestone- based soils provide the framework for unique and innovative wines, such as the sherry-like Vin Jaune and the native variety, Trousseau. Tissot’s “quest for aromatic diversity” has led to the creation of more than 30 different varietals, including such bottlings as his 2008 Traminer and 2010 Poulsard. He makes seven different Chardonnays alone, including the 2009 Chardonnay “La Mailloche,” which he poured at USQ along with five other bottlings in late February. We chatted with the exuberant Tissot about his Demeter-certified biodynamic wines, German Riesling and family vacations.

How would you describe Jura wine to someone who has never had it?
“How would I describe it? Oh my. Well, Jura is a small area between Burgundy and Switzerland. When you speak about Jura, you think mountain. We’re 80 kilometers from Burgundy but a completely different climate and soil. We have a very different history. We were Spanish for 80 years in 17th century. We have five different grapes [Chardonnay, Traminer, Poulsard, Trousseau, Savagnin] and a totally different style of winemaking.”

Do you blend the five varieties?
“No, the only blend is in the Crémant.”

What sets your wines apart from other Jura producers?
“I’m in the north of the area. I have an estate of 46 hectares. In total, I produce more than 30 wines, and for example, I make seven different Chardonnay. Every one is from a different soil—clay, marl, limestone—and each produces a different style of the wine. It’s clay soil on the ‘La Mailloche.’ It’s got lots of character, a very spicy Chardonnay, and lots of concentration but very nice acidity. Lots of acidity why? Because clay soil is a very fresh soil and results in nice acidity.”

You mentioned during the tasting a certain dish to pair with your Chardonnay. What was that?
“ ‘La Mailloche has lots of power, minerality and acidity. It goes well with chicken with cream of mushroom.”

We know you like experimentation. What are some of the projects you’re working on?
“We don’t enough! Every year we are trying to make something different and new. Each year is an experiment. Something new I’m doing now, is, well, most Jura producers make one Vin Jaune. I have enough Savagnin that I make four Vin Jaunes, each from different soils. When you speak about Vin Jaune, you speak about the winemaking, of the style, of the power, of the concentration, but sometimes we miss all the complexity of the wine on every soil. For me, four different Vin Jaunes is a step forward for winemaking.”

Describe the process of making Vin Jaune.
“Vin Jaune is very similar to Sherry. We use the grape Savagnin. There is a lot of alcohol capacity in these grapes, and we leave these grapes for six years in oak barrels. We leave a floor of yeast at the top of the wine, and this floor of yeast protects the wine [from the air] and gives a character to the wine.”

Why did you decide to go biodynamic?
“We have been biodynamic since 04. When you’re biodynamic, you have a different life in your vines, in your grapes, and in this way, you can make very easy wine. It leads you. You can keep your yields low, and it increases the minerality. When you drink a glass, you want to drink another one, because they have very nice acidity.”

What do drink at home?
“Oh, at my place, I drink wine from my estate, of course, but I really drink wine from everywhere. When it’s good, it’s good. I have lots of different styles of wine in my cellar. I like Syrah; the Rhône can be very very good. I like a good Riesling, too. You know, in France, it’s not so common to find a really good Riesling from Germany.”

What is the most memorable bottle you’ve had?
“One that is very interesting is…we bought land in 2001, and I had wine from those vines, a 1959. Very very good.”

What are some of your other hobbies besides wine?
“Mountains are very important in my life. I like skiing. I love to spend time with my family outside. Sometimes, I’m too busy to see my family. When a winemaker is working, he’s working. You have to take time with your family to visit without the wine.”

Does that mean family vacation? Where do you go?
“When we go on holiday, we like to rent a small boat on the channel in Burgundy and spend four or five days just winding along the channel.”

Check out his wines available at USQ here.

Viaggio a Italia

Take a stroll through “la dolce vita” this Saturday as USQ takes you on on a tour of Italy with our Viaggio a Italia Tasting. Sip more than 15 wines from famed appellations of the Mediterranean country, such as Barbaresco, Valpolicella, Chianti Classico, Campania, and Fruili, among others. We’ll have producers in the house too! Chat with winemakers and representatives, including Bruna Grimaldi, Claudio Morelli, Pier Busso, Alberto Vaona, Enrico Pierrazuoli, Isabela Blasig, and Mattia Ca Montanari, who will be pouring selections of their current offerings.

Admission to this tasting is free, and reservations are not required. Find out more information here.

Fabio Alessandria on Video Here


Fabio Alessandria of G.B. Burlotto visited the Salon for a tasting of his Barolo wines, including a vertical of his Barolo Cannubi. One our favorite tasters captured his talk on video. Check it out here.

At Barrel with Daniel Boulle of Domaine les Aphillanthes

Rising southern Rhône producer Daniel Boulle considers himself a vigneron before a winemaker. Having tended vines and sold off his grapes for years, he, in 1999, began crafting his own Côtes du Rhône wines. Robert Parker wrote that they “may be the richest Côtes du Rhône I have tasted” and we appreciate the ripe character about them. USQ welcomes Boulle to the Barrel for a Tuesday evening of Domaine les Aphillanthes tasting. 

Boulle’s domaine is located in the small town of Travaillan, just northwest of Gigondas, and he produces several cuvées of Côtes du Rhône, with his wife, Helene. He employs a series of biodynamic practices in the vineyard and believes in minimal intervention. He ferments in concrete vats and bottles without filtration. What results are powerful and expressions of Rhône blends, such as his 100 percent Syrah, the Cuvée du Cros, and Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre cuvées, Cuvée des Galents and Cuvée des Trois Cepages. Swing by for sips and stories on the Domaine les Aphillanthes current releases.

Admission to this tasting is free, and reservations are not required.