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Columns – Michael Apstein

Age Matters
Michael Apstein
Oct 8, 2019

Winegrowers around the world speak lovingly of old vines. Though the definition is never official, nor even clear, many bottles still carry the moniker, Vieilles Vignes, Vecchie Viti or Viñas Viejas, depending on whether you're talking about French, Italian or Spanish wines. A tasting of Travaglini's Gattinara in New York recently drove home the value of old vines. Cinzia Travaglini and her daughter, Alessia, who represent the 4th and 5th generation of the Travaglini family, presented the wines, not intending to show the importance of old vines. But, for me, the tasting did just that.

A Star on Long Island
Michael Apstein
Sep 10, 2019

Recently, I happened to mention to my friend, Howard Goldberg, the longtime The New York Times wine writer, that I was writing a column about Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc. Howard suggested that I visit Paumanok on Long Island's North Fork because, he said, they made great Chenin Blanc. So, I arranged a visit, insisting that I wouldn't take more than 45 minutes of their time because I was just interested in their Chenin Blanc. Well, not surprisingly, Goldberg was correct about their Chenin Blanc. What was surprising was how a scheduled 45-minute visit morphed into a two and half hour tasting due to the discovery that Paumanok's entire line-up is stellar.

Saumur: Home to Fabulous Dry Chenin Blanc
Michael Apstein
Aug 13, 2019

The Chenin Blanc grape can be transformed into fabulous wine. It makes sensationally riveting dry wines and lusciously sweet ones. In this column, I want to focus on the dry ones. They are exceptionally versatile, equally well suited to stand-alone as an aperitif or with a meal, especially with those foods that can pose a challenge for matching with wine, such as sushi, spicy Asian fare or roast pork. Flavorful, yet lightweight and refreshing, they are perfect in the summer. In truth, they are wonderful regardless of the season.

Beaujolais: A Versatile Wine
Michael Apstein
Jul 16, 2019

One of the many things I love about Beaujolais is its variety and versatility. There's Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage that's almost closer to alcoholic grape juice than to wine, and which many in the American wine press deride regularly. Then there's juicy Beaujolais that are fresh and fruity wines perfect for chilling and drinking at this time of the year. A step up is Beaujolais-Villages, wines coming from any of the 38 villages in this area just north of Lyon that have the potential for better wine. Finally, there's the serious side of Beaujolais. The Gamay grape can reflect its origins or, in modern terminology, be transparent, just as the Pinot Noir in the Côte d'Or.

Surprising Whites for the Rosé Season
Michael Apstein
Jun 18, 2019

It's well known that the red wines from the south of France can provide great pleasure, especially for the price. The whites, in contrast, have received far less attention, in part, because they can be a touch heavy. That may be changing, at least judging from my experience earlier this year. I found that the 2017 whites from disparate areas in the south of French had an engaging vibrancy that make them an easy choice for the summer. Surprisingly, the all-too-prevalent frosts may be responsible, at least in part.

Terroir in Bordeaux
Michael Apstein
May 21, 2019

Part of my enthusiasm for wine, and I'm sure other's as well, is that the character of the wine is, or at least should be, a reflection of where the grapes were grown. For me, this is a fabulous expression of Nature and an almost magical one at that. Wines made from the same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards, separated sometimes by only a narrow dirt path, can often taste very different. This concept can be difficult to appreciate because the producer's winemaking technique can overwhelm the influence of place. When tasting two wines from different locales made by different producers, the question becomes, is it the producer's hand or the locale that is speaking? So, for consumers to appreciate and understand the potential of what is known as terroir, or what noted wine writer Matt Kramer called, 'a sense of place,' it is essential to compare wines from different places made by the same producer.

Guigal: The Birth of a Star in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Michael Apstein
Apr 23, 2019

Although the house of E. Guigal has had an enormous presence in the southern Rhône as a négociant, producing more than 2 million cases annually of their value-packed Côtes du Rhône, red, white, and rosé, as well as Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they did not own vineyards there until 2017. Philippe Guigal, Marcel's son and current General Manager and winemaker, relates that they had been looking to buy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for years. He remarked that they had been making Châteauneuf-du-Pape and selling it via their négociant business since the 1940s. As a result, they had a close relationship with scores of growers. They knew the appellation well and knew what they wanted. More importantly, he added, 'We knew what we didn't want.'

Chianti Classico: The Tale of Two Vintages
Michael Apstein
Mar 26, 2019

Consumers are lucky and should be thrilled that there are two stunning vintages, the 2015 and 2016, of Chianti Classico on retailers' shelves now. Although both vintages are outstanding, the character of the wines is very different. In a word, so to speak, the 2015s are riper and fleshy while the 2016s are racier. So, there's something for everyone, whether you prefer the richer Chianti Classico, the 2015s, or the more traditionally framed ones, the 2016s. Consumers can find many well-priced examples from both vintages in the retail market.

Brunello di Montalcino 2014: Not as Bad as it Sounds
Michael Apstein
Feb 26, 2019

Despite the sour mood in Montalcino caused by the 'difficult' 2014 vintage for Brunello (vintages are never poor, they're just difficult), it is definitely a vintage that consumers should investigate closely because some producers made very good wine. To be sure, the talk is all gloom and doom regarding the 2014 vintage in Tuscany, including Montalcino. Even the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino's rating--self-serving and among the most lenient in the world--awarded the vintage just three out of five stars. In the last 40 years, only four vintages received a lower rating from them. However, despite the overall poor rating of the 2014 vintage for Brunello, consumers should be interested in at least some of the wines because, as is always the case with 'difficult' vintages, talented producers defy the odds. Indeed, it's better to rely on and follow producers than it is to have a blind allegiance to a vintage.

Léoville-Poyferré: Another Super Second?
Michael Apstein
Jan 29, 2019

A vertical tasting of 15 vintages of Château Léoville Poyferré paired with food at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month was proof that this venerable St. Julien property is on the rise. And while Cru Classé Bordeaux is never inexpensive, recent vintages of Léoville Poyferré are well-priced, especially compared to neighboring Château Léoville Las Cases. This is a property whose wines are worth following, not only for their intrinsic worth, but because it is a 'super second' selling for less than super seconds' prices.

The Mother of All Wine Auctions
Michael Apstein
Jan 1, 2019

All hospitals have a Director. But only one--Les Hospices de Beaune--has a Director of Winemaking. (As a physician, I am especially interested in seeing that organizational chart.) The hospital needs a director of winemaking because it owns vineyards--over 150 acres of them, 85 percent of which are classified as Premier and Grand Cru, making it one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy. It, or rather Ludivine Griveau, the current winemaker and the first woman to hold that position, makes wine from these vineyards every year.

The 2017 Burgundies
Michael Apstein
Dec 4, 2018

Everyone was smiling during my visit to Burgundy last month. The cellars were, after all, chock full of wine after two good-sized vintages. At Maison Louis Jadot, the barrel cellars were filled to the brim. For the first time ever, barrels were stacked three high in a cellar designed for just two tiers. The 2017 vintage was normal in volume, but is considered large by comparison to the five short vintages that preceded it. The 2018 vintage was copious as well, which explains why the cellars are so full. Frédéric Drouhin put it succinctly: 'Burgundy is back. We have wine.' The 2018 vintage, just finishing its alcoholic fermentation, is already being hailed--somewhat prematurely in my view--as exceptional. François Labet, President of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne), the organization that represents all Burgundy growers and producers, said--with barely contained enthusiasm--that 'It's shining in Burgundy just like our 2018 vintage, which is ideal . . . close to 1947.'

Chianti Classico: The Times They are A-Changing
Michael Apstein
Nov 6, 2018

With apologies to Bob Dylan, 'The Times They are A-Changing' in Chianti Classico. Three decades ago, producers were embracing the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other so-called 'international varieties,' to bolster Sangiovese. But now, with dramatic improvements in the vineyards, growers have shown the heights that Sangiovese can achieve in Chianti Classico. It no longer needs support. As Francesco Ricasoli, of Castello Brolio, an excellent producer in Gaiole, told me in February, 'Sangiovese in Chianti Classico is unique. We need to preserve it.'

Meerlust's Rubicon: A South African Icon
Michael Apstein
Oct 9, 2018

'He made me an offer I couldn't refuse,' quipped Hannes Myburgh, the 8th generation of the family that owns Meerlust, in response to a potential conflict with Francis Ford Coppola over names. Coppola and his wife own the legendary Napa Valley Winery, Inglenook, whose flagship red wine is also labeled Rubicon. As if the allusion to Coppola's Godfather wasn't enough, he added with a chuckle, 'Plus, I didn't want to wake up with a horse's head in my bed.'

The Best White Wine You've Never Heard Of
Michael Apstein
Sep 11, 2018

Although the Romans cultivated Ribolla Gialla and the Venetians supposedly used the wine made from it to settle debts, I could not have written this column 30 years ago because much of the area where it is grown was in then-Communist western Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, and off limits to Westerners. Furthermore, quality wine was not a focus under the Communist regime and growers were forced to sell most of their grapes to the government co-op, which turned them into an anonymous blend. The epicenter of Ribolla Gialla or Rebula, as it is known in Slovenian, is the small Collio area of northeastern Italy spilling over into the Brda (pronounced ber-da) region of Slovenia. There, among the steep hillsides (collio, as they are called in Italian and brda in Slovenian) the grape thrives.

Marchesi Frescobaldi: 'When you prune, you get to know the plants'
Michael Apstein
Aug 14, 2018

Lamberto Frescobaldi, tieless in a casual sports jacket, has a down-to-earth demeanor and a twinkle in his eye that belies his nobleman status. He is the 30th generation of that famed winemaking family, which in the past traded wine for paintings with Renaissance artists. Lamberto, a man who must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and has a 700-year family legacy in winemaking, explains with a child-like enthusiasm, 'When you prune you get to know the plants.' Many wine producers with such a legacy would hunker down, counting on their past to sustain themselves. Not Frescobaldi. Under Lamberto, who now might qualify as the Master of Merlot, a handful of recent projects highlight the direction of Italian wine.

Alternatives to Rosé, Even in Provence
Michael Apstein
Jul 18, 2018

With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, rosé to the left of us, rosé to the right of us, rosé in front of us, and there we were, drinking white wine in the heart of Provence. The sommelier at La Presque'îe, a spectacularly situated restaurant--with food to match--on the outskirts of Cassis overlooking the Mediterranean coast, told me that they sell a lot of rosé, but that, like us, many diners order white wine. After all, this is Cassis, a village and appellation just east of Marseille, where roughly three-fourths of the wine produced is white, unlike the rest of Provence where 85 percent of the wine produced is pink. The terraced vineyards are squeezed between expensive residential real estate on steep hills--limestone calanques--that plunge into the Mediterranean.

Will Chinese Wine be as Successful as Chinese Food?
Michael Apstein
Jun 19, 2018

At the end of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, which was held this year in Beijing, I sat amazed at how extraordinarily efficient and smoothly run this wine competition was: A dedicated sommelier for each panel of judges, perfectly timed pouring, not a drop spilled or a glass broken, a bevy of technical support assistants for the tablets judges used to record their scores, even robots transporting bottled water to be delivered to the judges' tables. I commented about this to the Chinese judge sitting next to me. His response: 'We have a strong central government.' An understatement, to be sure, but it explains why I predict that within a decade China will be producing world class wines. When the Chinese government sets its mind to something, for better or for worse, it gets done. And it appears as though the government is intent on seeing top-notch wine come from its shores.

Muscadet is Morphing
Michael Apstein
May 22, 2018

The cru system--as in Grand or Premier Cru Burgundy or the cru of Beaujolais--has reached Muscadet. The growers there are doing what producers throughout the world are doing: They are defining and identifying specific areas within the broader region that are capable of producing distinctive wines. The French wine regulators have agreed that certain villages (crus) within the region have unique terroir and are capable of producing unique wines that are very different from traditional Muscadet. This new AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllée) will carry the name of the village (cru) prominently displayed on the label along with the broader region, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. In some cases, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is even relegated to the back label to emphasize the importance of the individual cru.

2015 White Burgundies: Marvelous for Current Drinking
Michael Apstein
Apr 24, 2018

Having tasted the 2015 Burgundies now that they have been bottled and are on retailers' shelves, I can confirm my initial impression of the vintage --sensational for both reds and whites. Importantly, though, the character of the wines is very different depending on the color. I wrote about the reds last March (link below) so this column focuses on the whites. But, before I delve into the wines, let me address an increasingly common complaint about Burgundy's wines, namely, their prices.

Awful Weather in Burgundy, But Some Awesome Wines from 2016
Michael Apstein
Mar 27, 2018

Usually it is perfect weather during the growing season that results in exceptional wines. Think 2005, 2009 or 2015 in Burgundy. Those 'ideal weather' vintages produced excellent wines almost across the board. In 2016, the capriciousness of Nature was apparent: Hail ravaged some vineyards, destroying the entire crop, but leaving a neighboring vineyard untouched. Unusual wind currents resulted in frost damage to usually frost-averse vineyards, while some frost-prone vineyards did not suffer. The major problems with the 2016 Burgundies are small quantities and high prices, not the quality, the weather notwithstanding.

Brunello di Montalcino 2013: The Virtue of Acidity
Michael Apstein
Feb 27, 2018

If there was ever any doubt,--and, of course, there shouldn't be--that Brunello di Montalcino is one of the world's great wines, a sad event last month should dispel it. Thieves stole about 1,000 bottles of Brunello, including some prized single-vineyard Riserva, Poggio al Vento, worth about $125,000, from Col d'Orcia, one of the region's top producers. They took only Brunello, not Rosso di Montalcino or any other of Col d'Orcia's wines. When criminals target a wine--be it by blackmailing Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or by forging labels, you know the wine has hit the big time--though I'm sure that Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d'Orcia, would have preferred a different form of flattery.

2015 Bordeaux: A Vintage to Buy
Michael Apstein
Jan 30, 2018

The wines from Bordeaux are definitely not the darlings of the breed of new-wave sommeliers whose wine lists are heavy with 'natural' wines, orange wines, or selections from obscure areas--which all too often turn out to be obscure for good reason. But, despite their lack of sex appeal, Bordeaux wines remain benchmarks for Cabernet- and Merlot-based reds, as well as Sauvignon- and Semillon-based whites, whether dry or sweet. And the 2015 vintage reminds us why.

Wines from…Where? Striving for Excellence in Morocco
Michael Apstein
Jan 2, 2018

Readers might reasonably ask why I am writing about wines not available in the U.S. market from one the last places on earth you'd expect to find fine wine--Morocco, a Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden. Why? Because it is a fantastic story about problem solving, a learning curve, and perhaps a little bit of following your heart.

The Mother of All Wine Auctions
Michael Apstein
Dec 5, 2017

The Napa Valley Wine Auction (officially known as Auction Napa Valley), which started in 1981, bills itself as 'the world's most celebrated charity wine event.' To its credit, it raises a lot of money--roughly $10 million last year. Yet this hoopla pales in comparison to the century-old mother of all charity wine auctions, the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune, usually just known as either Hospices de Beaune--if you are an outsider--or La Vente des Vins, if you are from Burgundy. In its present form, the Hospices de Beaune auction started in 1859, which makes the recently completed auction-always on the 3rd Sunday of November-its 157th. The sale raised $13.2 million (11.2 million euros), an all-time record with the proceeds going to the hospitals of Beaune and various other charities.

Grignolino: A Rare but Exciting Choice for Thanksgiving
Michael Apstein
Nov 7, 2017

I never gave much thought to Grignolino, an obscure grape from Piedmont, until Marchesi Cattaneo Adorno Giustiniani poured one, a 1971, from his winery, Castello di Gabiano, at dinner last month. It was show-stopping. One of the qualities that determines greatness for a wine, at least for me, is its ability to develop over time. Wines start their lives redolent of fruit, but with proper aging, the fruit flavors fade and are replaced by non-fruit flavors, such as leather, coffee, mushrooms--it really doesn't matter how you describe them--while remaining fresh and harmonious. Well, at 46 years of age, Castello di Gabiano's 1971 Grignolino ticked that box.

Nizza: A New Italian DOCG Worth Remembering
Michael Apstein
Oct 10, 2017

The new Nizza DOCG, which consumers will see on the label starting with the 2014 vintage, was formerly one of the three subzones of Barbera d'Asti. Part of the reason the wines from Nizza outshine the wines from the Barbera d'Asti DOCG is because this small area is exceptionally well suited to the Barbera grape. Barbera in Nizza is like Pinot Noir in Burgundy or Nebbiolo in Barolo or Barbaresco. Gianni Bertoli, a spokesperson for the association of Nizza producers, explains that since Nizza has always been revered for its Barbera, more than half of the total vineyard area has vines that are over 50 years old. Indeed, the grapes from Nizza have historically commanded a premium.

The Most Beautiful Wine Region That You've Never Heard Of…And They Make Good Wine, Too
Michael Apstein
Sep 12, 2017

Our exceptional bus driver and guide, Matt Wentzell, assured us that he could make it up the steep twisty and bumpy dirt road. I remained unconvinced as the road became more twisted and bumpy. Halfway up, we stopped, carefully disembarked and stepped onto a plateau overlooking the narrow, mountain-lined valley. John Weber, who with his wife, Virginia, moved here a dozen years ago to start Orofino Winery, recounted his first impression upon seeing this view. Driving from Eastern Canada, they took a wrong turn and came over the pass into the valley on this same dirt road instead of the main--and equally beautiful--road. They looked at each other and simultaneously said, 'This is the place.'

No Rosé, Please…Just Chill the Red
Michael Apstein
Aug 15, 2017

As regular readers of this column know--and if you didn't you could tell from the introductory paragraph--I am not a fan of rosé. Although rosés are cool and refreshing, most lack complexity. I realize I'm painting with a very broad brush because there are rosés that deliver lots of character. Rosés from Bandol or Tavel in the south of France, to name just two, can make you sit up and focus on what's in your glass. But most rosés don't demand attention, which, of course, is likely much of their appeal. Most people do not want to think about the nuances of wine, especially in the summer. But for those who want a cool and refreshing, rosé-like experience and want to think--at least a little--about what's in the glass while sitting on the porch or deck, I suggest chilling red wine.

The 'Cru' of Soave: Another Attempt to Resurrect the Region
Michael Apstein
Jul 18, 2017

Soave, one of Italy's great white wines, has an image problem, and, as a result, it gets no respect. Although I'm sure that must be frustrating for the producers, it's a boon for consumers: The wines can be excellent but their prices fail to reflect their quality. If your memory of Soave is bland, watery swill marketed so successfully decades ago by Bolla--consumers have told me that they assumed the name of the region was Bolla Soave--then it's time to try them again. Even Bolla's.

The New Beaujolais, but Definitely Not Beaujolais Nouveau
Michael Apstein
Jun 20, 2017

A recent tasting of Beaujolais reminded me of tasting wines from the Côte d'Or. Yes, you read that correctly--I am comparing Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or. To be sure, I'm not speaking about just anywhere in Beaujolais, only the crus, the 10 villages in the northern part of the region whose bedrock is either pink granite or a blue-black volcanic stone and whose wines are so distinctive that only the name of the village, without a mention of Beaujolais, appears on the label. Despite different grapes (Gamay versus Pinot Noir), different soil (granite versus limestone) and different exposure (undulating hills versus a constant southeast facing slope), both the northern part of Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or are magical winemaking areas where the particular site is paramount in determining the character of the wine.

Canadian Pinot Noir: Who Knew?
Michael Apstein
May 23, 2017

When I told friends that I was going to Edmonton to taste and judge Canadian wines, the predictable response was, 'Oh, icewine.' Having tasted Canadian wines during trips to Ontario and at a previous edition of the Northern Lands Festival Canadian Wine Competition in Edmonton, I knew that Canada made more than just icewine. What I didn't know at the time, but know now, is that Canada makes sensational and unique Pinot Noir that reflect the diversity of sites where the grapes grow.

Canadian Pinot Noir: Who Knew?
Michael Apstein
May 23, 2017

When I told friends that I was going to Edmonton to taste and judge Canadian wines, the predictable response was, 'Oh, icewine.' Having tasted Canadian wines during trips to Ontario and at a previous edition of the Northern Lands Festival Canadian Wine Competition in Edmonton, I knew that Canada made more than just icewine. What I didn't know at the time, but know now, is that Canada makes sensational and unique Pinot Noir that reflect the diversity of sites where the grapes grow.

Lugana: The Perfect Summertime White
Michael Apstein
Apr 25, 2017

With their crispness and cutting acidity, the refreshing wines of Lugana, a small Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) on the southern edge of Lake Garda in northern Italy's Lake District, are perfect for drinking in the summer--or year round for that matter. (Just don't confuse Lugana, the wine, with Lugano, a neighboring lake.) A bonus is in finding an area that produces distinctive and unique wines using an autochthonous grape come to life, rather than succumbing to the allure of planting international varieties.

2015 Burgundies: Superb for Both Colors...Don't Miss Them
Michael Apstein
Mar 28, 2017

After having tasted literally hundreds of barrel samples from négociants and small growers while on my annual pilgrimage to Burgundy in November, followed by a series of important importers' tastings New York City earlier this year, (again, mostly barrel samples), it's clear to me that the 2015 Burgundies are stunning. With her typical understatement and wry smile, Véronique Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, summed it up, 'There's no question it is a good vintage.' I would go further--2015 is a great vintage for both the iconic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based wines.

The Renaissance at Jessiaume: A Multi-National Collaboration
Michael Apstein
Feb 28, 2017

In parochial Burgundy, where even French citizens from outside the region are viewed with skepticism, an American--and a woman no less--is leading the Anglo-American-French team that is intent on resurrecting Domaine Jessiaume. With the quintessential Burgundian tiles adorning their building, Domaine Jessiaume, which dates from the mid-19th century, is one of Santenay's iconic properties. Of course, looks aren't everything, and in years past, I can recall thinking: If only the wines were as captivating as the building. Well, now they are…thanks to the newly installed Directrice, Megan McClune, and her young French winemaker, William Waterkyn.

Bordeaux's 2014s: An Excellent, Well-Priced Vintage
Michael Apstein
Jan 31, 2017

The press regarding the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux, written in the spring of 2015 after the 'en premieur' tastings (a week long series of tastings of 'representative' barrel samples in Bordeaux) was lukewarm. The vintage was damned with faint praise (e.g., 'It's the best of the lesser vintages,' or 'The best since 2010,' which of course isn't saying much, given the trio of mediocre vintages, 2011, 2012 and 2013). Hence, I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus (UGC) tasting in New York City with a lack of enthusiasm. At this tasting, 89 major chateaux poured 102 of their 2014s, which, unlike the wines sampled during 'en primeur,' were finished wines, bottled and ready for sale, not barrel samples. What a pleasant surprise!

A Champagne Article After the Holidays? What is He Thinking?
Michael Apstein
Jan 3, 2017

To some it will seem odd to read a column about Champagne after New Year's and the holiday season. (My editor will say it's because I've missed yet another deadline.) After all, the vast bulk of Champagne and sparkling wines are purchased and consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Non-holiday consumption is usually reserved for special occasions. In restaurants, sommeliers report that two-thirds of bubbly sales are because of celebrations, according to a Guild of Sommeliers 2014 survey. By comparison, only a trivial amount of Champagne is consumed at other times. And that's a shame!

Is It Terroir or National Origin? Burgundy in Oregon
Michael Apstein
Dec 6, 2016

What's more important in determining wine quality-terroir, or the nationality of the winemaker? Almost everyone agrees on the importance of terroir, the idea (best exemplified in Burgundy) that where the grapes grow is critical in determining the character of a wine. Equally important in the estimation of many wine experts is the role of the winemaker or producer. But what is driving the winemaker--conscious decisions or some subconscious force, such as national origin? The Burgundians' foray into Oregon offers a chance to explore this question.

Umbria: Italy's Forgotten Region (Until Now)
Michael Apstein
Nov 8, 2016

Ask consumers to name their favorite Italian wine regions and you're sure to hear Tuscany and Piedmont. Italian white wine enthusiasts no doubt would add Friuli and Trentino to the list. And Campania would certainly be on most people's short list. Umbria? Not really. Most people, even wine aficionados, can't even locate the region on a map. (It's the landlocked region between Lazio in the south and Tuscany to its north.) Though significant earthquakes have rattled Umbria recently, even the Italian media refers to it as,'Central Italy.' There were good reasons, until now, for Umbria's wine obscurity.

Sicily: Diverse Land, Diverse Wines
Michael Apstein
Oct 11, 2016

The wine culture of Sicily--a little bit of everything--mirrors that island's unique character. Over the centuries, Sicily has been invaded and colonized by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Spanish, and the French, to name just a few. These diverse cultures have all have left their unique marks on the island--Catholic churches built by Arab workers look like mosques from the outside. Monuments to Spanish kings dot the streets of Palermo. Much like the invaders, Sicilian wines are diverse and have arrived on our shores in waves.

Wine Fraud: More Common Than You'd Think
Michael Apstein
Sep 13, 2016

The mother of all wine frauds belongs to Rudi Kurniawan, who was convicted in federal court in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for essentially selling millions of dollars of counterfeit wine. In a separate, but related matter, Kurniawan agreed to pay billionaire wine collector Bill Koch $3 million in damages to settle a lawsuit in which Koch claimed Kurniawan sold him fake wine. So, wine fraud is clearly big business…at least when the 1% of the 1% are involved.

Robert Mondavi: The Father of California Wine
Michael Apstein
Aug 16, 2016

No one is more responsible for the success of the California wine industry than Robert Mondavi. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the winery that bears his name and is an appropriate time to look back on his extraordinary accomplishments.

Beauty in Beaujolais: the 2015 Vintage
Michael Apstein
Jul 19, 2016

When I was in Côte d'Or and Beaujolais last November, all the producers with whom I spoke were absolutely raving about the 2015 vintage. The exuberance in Beaujolais--perhaps because the wines were closer to being finished than in the Côte d'Or--was even more palpable and universal. Pierre Savoye, a top grower based in Morgon, was effusive in his praise for the vintage. Showing a broad smile, he could barely contain himself while saying, 'This year, the weather made the grapes and the grapes made the wine. The winemaker did nothing.'

Siepi, a True Super Tuscan
Michael Apstein
Jun 28, 2016

Today, the term Super Tuscan has become almost meaningless because its widespread use encompasses anything from expensive wine made entirely from Sangiovese to low-end blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Sangiovese. The original Super Tuscan moniker referred to innovative wines, blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, or those varieties with Tuscany's traditional Sangiovese. The wines arose in two distinct areas of Tuscany for different reasons.

Surprising Portugal
Michael Apstein
May 31, 2016

Though my predictions lack the consistency of Nate Silver's, I will stick my neck out and say that Portuguese wines will be the next 'hot' item in the US wine market even though pronunciation issues may be an impediment. After spending a week in Portugal judging at the 2016 Concurso Vinhos de Portugal (Wines of Portugal Challenge), tasting a vast array of Portuguese wines (including Port, of course, but also a bevy of hearty reds and refreshing whites) and discussing them with Portuguese winemakers and wine judges from around the world, I came away thinking that Portuguese wines are poised to take-off, much as Italian wines did 30-plus years ago.

Carmignano: The Original Super Tuscan
Michael Apstein
May 3, 2016

No doubt the producers in Carmignano, the smallest DOCG of Tuscany and located just northwest of Florence, bristle when they hear praise lavished on the so-called 'Super Tuscan' wines…and are envious of the prices they command. Although the term Super Tuscan became popular about 35 years ago as a way to describe wines that were made either from Bordeaux grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (or a mix of those grapes with Sangiovese, the traditional grape of Tuscany), the concept has been around a lot longer--a whole lot longer. Cabernet Franc has been in Tuscany, not for 35, but for 500 years. Catherine de' Medici brought it back from France in the 16th century and planted it in Carmignano where it was--as still is--called Uva Francesca (i.e., 'the French grape').

Chianti Rùfina: Wines Worth Knowing
Michael Apstein
Apr 5, 2016

It's well worth unraveling the confusion that often prevents consumers from embracing Chianti Rùfina, for the wines from this area are a joy to drink. Some people mistake this subregion of the greater Chianti area for Ruffino, a prominent producer of Chianti and Chianti Classico (Ruffino makes no Chianti Rùfina, though). Others stumble over the pronunciation--the accent marks the emphasis, making it ROO-fi-na, not Roo-fin-NA. The wines from Chianti Rùfina are very different from those of Chianti Classico, the best-known subregion of Chianti whose wines are easily identified by the black rooster logo on the neck label. Indeed, Federico Giutini Masseti, from Fattoria Selvapiana, one of Rùfina's top producers, wishes the name of the area were simply Rùfina. A cooler climate--Rùfina is further north and east compared to Chianti Classico--explains, in part, why the wines from the two areas are so different, the wines of Rùfina marked by an elegance and austerity that complements their black cherry fruitiness.

Malbec That Makes You Think
Michael Apstein
Mar 8, 2016

Subtlety and Malbec are two words rarely used in the same sentence. Malbec, at least from Argentina, usually produces a big, ripe, jammy monotonic red wine with little structure or finesse. But then, along came Count Patrick d'Aulan and his team at Alta Vista in Argentina and, later, at Altamana in Chile. Together, they have shown that New World Malbec can convey both subtlety and a sense of place. D'Aulan and his current team at Alta Vista, led by head winemaker Matthieu Grassin, produce Malbecs that makes you think by focusing on single vineyards that contain old vines--more than 60 years of age.

2013 Bordeaux: Like Wagner's Music, It's Not as Bad as It Sounds
Michael Apstein
Feb 9, 2016

In November 2013, Alan Sichel, chairman of Bordeaux's guild of wine merchants, told Bloomberg Business, 'No one will be excited by the 2013 vintage [in Bordeaux].' That comment turned out to be high praise compared to how others in the trade described the vintage--'a catastrophe'--at the time. With that background, it was with trepidation that I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting in New York, an event at which about 100 of the major Bordeaux properties present finished and bottled wines to the press and trade.

Beaujolais Rising
Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2016

A transformation is occurring in Beaujolais, and within a few years the world will see the wines from that region in a whole new light. For most consumers today, Beaujolais is synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau, which all too often is a grapey, gooey wine. But, in my mind, the future of Beaujolais surely lies with its crus, which are prohibited from making Nouveau. These ten villages, located in the hilly northern reaches of the region, have unique granitic soil and produce wine that is distinctive enough to be labeled solely with the name of the village, often omitting the name Beaujolais entirely. It's what's happening within the crus--a Côte d'Or-like parcelization--that explains why Beaujolais will reclaim its reputation as a top wine region.

Seeing White at Château Lagrange
Michael Apstein
Dec 15, 2015

Just when you think it can't get any better, it does. At least that's the case for Château Lagrange, the Cru Classé property in St. Julien, which is making yet another name for itself with--of all things--a dry white wine, Les Arums de Lagrange. Although white wine is no surprise in Bordeaux (think Graves and Pessac-Léognan or even Entre-Deux-Mers) it is a real rarity in the Médoc in general and in St. Julien, in particular. Indeed, the regulations for those Left Bank appellations don't even recognize white wines, so Les Arums de Lagrange is labeled only as Bordeaux, not St. Julien.

How Women Transformed Champagne
Michael Apstein
Nov 24, 2015

Dom Perignon, step aside. Although that monk is often credited with 'inventing' Champagne, in reality, the women of the region made it what it is today. Two hundred years ago, Champagne's major production was thin, acidic, still wine, not the bubbly symbol of luxury and celebration of today. Champagne's evolution from coarse swill to refined elegance gives new meaning to the cliché that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, the 'mothers,' widows suddenly thrust into leadership of the Champagne houses, provided the vision necessary for the transformation.

All Smiles in Burgundy
Michael Apstein
Nov 17, 2015

There were smiles all around Burgundy--at least before the horrific events in Paris on Friday, November 13. And with good reason: The 2014 whites are stunning. And overall, yields in 2014 were closer to normal--70 to 80 percent--after four short harvests, though, as Frédéric Barnier, winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, noted, 'We are still looking for a full [normal] crop.' Barnier continued, 'We knew from the outset we had something special with the [2014] whites, but the quality of the reds was surprising.' He said that the reds were initially difficult to assess because they went though malolactic fermentation very early--soon after the alcoholic fermentation--due to the unusually warm fall that year. He was pleased with them after this transformation had occurred.

New Zealand Wines: An Update
Michael Apstein
Oct 20, 2015

Although still focused primarily on Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is showing a lot of vinous diversity these days, both with that variety and with other grapes. In the cellars, winemakers are branching out by using oak barrels for fermentation and aging of Sauvignon Blanc. In the vineyards, growers are experimenting with Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Syrah, to name a few. And the results are very encouraging. In many ways, this experimentation is just a natural extension of New Zealand's already rapid rise in the wine world. Its modern winemaking history dates back only about 35 years, yet its wines, especially those made from Sauvignon Blanc, have taken the world by storm.

Rating Wines: Is a 94-Point Wine Better Than an 88-Point Wine?
Michael Apstein
Sep 22, 2015

I hate the 100-point scale for rating wines. Of course, I use it, like the vast majority of wine writers, because it has become the standard scale and because many consumers expect and embrace it. My dislike is really not with 100-point scale itself, but rather the way many consumers use it, which goes something like this: Plug in the name of the latest 90+ point wine on wine-searcher.com and find the cheapest place in the country who allegedly is selling it. If you live in most states--Bingo!--the wine will appear on your doorstep in a matter of days. It's all very appealing. But let's drill a little deeper. Looking at all those retail 'shelf-talkers' prominently proclaiming this wine's or that wine's score, you'd be excused if you thought the 'number' was the only information you needed when selecting a wine. But what does the point score really mean? Is a 94-point wine 'better' than an 88-point wine? Well, as in most things about wine, it depends.

Sommeliers: Love Them or Hate Them?
Michael Apstein
Aug 25, 2015

Somms--and oh, how I hate that word--are the newest darlings of the wine world. Sommeliers have been anointed the opinion leaders, directing trends in wine consumption, replacing, in many instances, the voices of established wine critics such as Robert Parker, Jr. or The Wine Spectator. Wine producers either love them (if their wines make it onto their lists) or hate them (when their wines are ignored).

The Trouble with Vouvray
Michael Apstein
Jul 28, 2015

Vouvray is home to a fabulous array of under-valued white wines. A major impediment to more widespread popularity is the confusion that surrounds their level of sweetness. (This confusion is surely a major reason the wines remain undervalued, so perhaps--for those of us who love the wines--I should stop here.) A superb trio of wines from Domaine Huet, perhaps the appellation's greatest producer, puts the problem in clear relief. The three cuvées, each made from separate vineyards (Haut-Lieu, Le Mont and Clos du Bourg) in the superb 2014 vintage, were surprisingly different in sweetness despite all being labeled Vouvray Sec.

Chinon: Burgundy in the Loire Valley
Michael Apstein
Jun 30, 2015

Chinon as Burgundy? At first glance, it is an unlikely comparison. Chinon growers use Cabernet Franc almost exclusively for their reds, while Burgundians use Pinot Noir. And Cabernet Franc is no winemaker's Holy Grail, unlike Pinot Noir. Few consumers are passionate about Cabernet Franc, nor do they search for it the way they clamor for Pinot Noir. Cabernet Franc's widely recognized downside is that it can convey an unpleasant vegetal character, reminiscent of cooked green beans or asparagus, when it doesn't ripen fully. Many California producers combat this tendency by harvesting it very ripe and producing a robust red wine that is usually oak-aged and focuses more on power than delicacy. By contrast, however, producers in Chinon have managed to produce graceful wines without a hint of under-ripeness while keeping alcohol levels in check.

Bargains Abound in Burgundy, Part II
Michael Apstein
Jun 2, 2015

Although the quality level of all Burgundy has risen over the last couple of decades, the leap in quality in lesser-known appellations has been truly amazing. These appellations have benefited disproportionately from climate change because they encompass sites where grapes could not achieve adequate ripeness a decade or two ago. But there's been an equally important reason for the increased quality of the wines from these locales according to Amaury Devillard, who owns a number of estates in Burgundy, including the superb Château de Chamirey: 'Advances in viticulture and winemaking have revolutionized the quality of the wines from these areas as a new generation of winemakers have taken the reins.'

Bargains Abound in Burgundy--If You Know Where to Look
Michael Apstein
May 26, 2015

Faced with a shrinking--or at best, not an expanding--supply and a rising demand, what is the Burgundy-lover to do? One solution is to win the lottery and buy the famed examples from Grand Cru vineyards that start at hundreds of dollars a bottle. A better strategy is to search for lesser-known areas, both within and outside of the famed Côte d'Or, where talented producers deliver more than the prices suggests. In these appellations, such as Marsannay, Santenay and Mercurey to name just three, the quality of the wines is rising far faster than their prices. But if history is any judge, these undervalued, lesser-known appellations will not remain unrecognized forever. Just five years ago, the white wines from St. Aubin, a village in the Côte d'Or hidden in a valley behind Chassagne-Montrachet, were selling for about $20 a bottle. Now, as their quality has increased and consumers recognize them, it's hard to find one selling for under $50.

The 2010 Brunello: Don't Miss Them
Michael Apstein
May 5, 2015

You've heard it before, usually from Bordeaux, 'It's the vintage of the century!' Although perhaps not 'the vintage of the century' (it is a little early to round out this century), the 2010 vintage will certainly rank among the greatest ever for Brunello di Montalcino. The vintage is truly spectacular and distinctive for both quality and consistency. Even though production of most Brunello estates is small, so many of them made easy-to-recommend (that is, 90-plus point) wines that consumers will have no trouble finding great examples, even if their first or second choice is sold out.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Michael Apstein
Apr 7, 2015

Consumers can be excused if they have no familiarity with Vernaccia di San Gimignano. A well-respected California-based wine writer (who shall remain nameless) recently admitted to me that (s)he didn't even know that Vernaccia was a grape, let along that Vernaccia di San Gimignano was considered one of Italy's great white wines. Indeed, it was the first wine to be awarded DOC status. That's correct: Vernaccia di San Gimignano received Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1966, before such recognition was granted to the big names of Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello. It was further promoted to Denominazione Origine Controllata Garantita (DOCG) status--the highest accolade for Italian wine--in 1993.

Chianti: Confusing, But Worth Understanding
Michael Apstein
Mar 10, 2015

We Americans adore Chianti because, more often than not, it delivers real value for the price. Chianti is surely the 'go-to' wine for Italian dishes because its acidity and verve make it an ideal foil for Italy's olive oil- and tomato-based cuisine. But its fine tannins also make Chianti an excellent choice for a variety of other dishes, such as hearty stews or simply grilled meat.

Why Are Italian Wines So Popular?
Michael Apstein
Feb 10, 2015

Italian wine has always been popular in the U.S., and today accounts for a staggering one out of every three bottles imported into this country. The growth of Italian wine imports has been constant over the last decade, with a consistent 3-5% annual increase, according to data supplied by the Italian Trade Agency. Indeed, as a country, we drink more Italian wine than the Italians, according to Leslie Gevirtz, a reporter who analyzed the numbers in an article for Reuters last year. So why are Italian wines so popular with Americans?

The Luberon: A Source of Wine for Winter Fare
Michael Apstein
Jan 20, 2015

Those of us in New England are now in the heart of winter. The short cold days and long nights fairly scream for hearty fare, such as lamb shanks or other slow cooked 'stick to your ribs' fare--as my mother used to call it. And of course, hearty red wines to accompany it. Where does one turn for hearty reds that are suited to the foods of the season? I suggest you try the red wines from the Luberon, an overlooked part of the Rhône that supplies robust reds that are ready to drink and that sell for modest prices.

Apstein's Winery of the Year for 2014: Maison Louis Latour
Michael Apstein
Jan 13, 2015

Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy's best négociants, is my choice for winery of 2014 because it excels with wines at all levels, especially the less prestigious ones, and even their 'simple' Bourgogne Rouge. A case in point: About five years ago, I served, blind, a 1985 Latour Bourgogne Rouge to a wine savvy group in Boston, including a prominent and highly experienced sommelier and representatives from Maison Latour. The wine was a mature (but still-full-of-life) Burgundy that no one could identify accurately. All guessed its pedigree to be at least a premier cru, with one muttering that it could be Latour's Romanée St. Vivant. So here was a 25-year old Bourgogne Rouge masquerading as premier or grand cru. There are few négociants--or growers, for that matter--who could have managed that.

Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise: A Forgotten Gem
Michael Apstein
Dec 9, 2014

Trends in wine can be hard to understand. Current fashion, for example, catapults high-scoring 'cult' wines, often more suitable for tasting than for drinking, to frenzied popularity and stratospheric prices. By contrast, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a well priced and versatile wine that is equally at home before dinner as it is at the end of the meal, risks extinction. And that would be a tragedy…because these sweet wines can be exceptional. With only about 1,200 acres and a total annual production of just over 100,000 cases--an amount Gallo might spill in a week--Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is tiny. But in this case, size doesn't matter. This is an appellation to explore and to know by any standard.

Are Old Vines Important?
Michael Apstein
Nov 11, 2014

What does it really mean when a label touts a wine as being made from 'old vines?' (This would be rendered as Vieilles Vignes, Vecchie Viti or Viñas Viejas, depending on whether you've got a French, Italian or Spanish import.) As with many factors in the world of wine, the answer isn't straightforward. There is no legal definition of what actually counts as an 'old vine,' so the first two questions that spring to mind are, 'What do you mean by 'old,' and 'how does one know how old a vine is?'

Estate Wines: What are They, and Are They Worth the Price?
Michael Apstein
Oct 14, 2014

The word 'Estate' on a bottle of wine lends prestige and often entails a bigger price tag. But what does the term really mean…and is this designation actually worth the price premium? The Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (a.k.a. TTB) regulates wine in the US. According to their rules as detailed in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR) (Title 27, Chapter 1, Subchapter A; Part 4.26) a winery can label a wine as 'Estate' if: 1) the winery grew all the grapes on land it owns or controls with at least a 3-year lease; 2) the entire wine making process took place at the winery, and 3) the winery and the vineyards are in the same AVA (American Viticultural Area). An estate wine should not be confused with a 'single vineyard' wine, which may or may not also be an estate wine, depending on whether it conforms to the TTB regulations.

Back to School
Michael Apstein
Sep 16, 2014

Along with the burgeoning interest in wine among American consumers has come an explosion of opportunities to learn about wine. It's a far different state of affairs now than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was learning about wine. Back then, there were few opportunities for novices to attend reasonably-priced tastings to develop their palates. Indeed, the sort of in-store tastings that have become commonplace were actually illegal in many states not long ago. Today, however, those who are just becoming interested in wine are fortunate to have a diverse set of opportunities by from which to learn about the wonders of the grape.

A Chablis Primer, With Good News Regarding 2012
Michael Apstein
Aug 19, 2014

Forgive me for beating this drum again, but Chablis remains one of the best--and perhaps the single best--white wine value in today's world. As for recent developments, the 2012 vintage now on retailers' shelves is not to be missed. Although the wines from 2012 are not quite up to the superlative level of the 2008 and 2010 vintages from Chablis (which are largely sold out), the 2012 vintage is not far behind. Making them even more appealing, the 2012 Chablis have retained their quintessential vibrancy and electricity, which are characteristics lacking in many whites from the Côte d'Or in this vintage.

Prosecco: The Pinot Grigio of Bubbly?
Michael Apstein
Jul 22, 2014

What is real Prosecco? The name has such wide spread recognition that it is already becoming synonymous with 'I'll have a glass of bubbly,' especially among Italians, and much to the dismay of the Prosecco producers. Much as most American consumers refer to any wine with fizz as 'Champagne,' Italians, at least in the Veneto, the region in the northeast that includes Venice and the Prosecco production zones, refer to all bubbly as 'Prosecco.'

Age-Worthy Italian White Wine is not an Oxymoron
Michael Apstein
Jun 24, 2014

Livio Felluga's Terre Alte redefines Italian white wine for me. Andrea Felluga, the current winemaker and general manager of the family-run firm, was recently in New York and led a vertical tasting of eight vintages of Terre Alte, spanning 15 years, back to 1997, that showed how magnificently this white wine can develop with bottle age. People marvel that a white wine can still be alive at 15 years of age--and truthfully only a small fraction of white wines, no matter their origin, are. But these Terre Alte weren't just alive; they had improved and developed flavors than arise only from aging, while remaining fresh and vigorous.

Jadot in Oregon: Another French Invasion?
Michael Apstein
May 28, 2014

Jadot's seemingly sudden expansion into Oregon was, as Pierre Henry Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot, one of Burgundy's top producers, describes it, 'a perfect storm,' though a good one in this instance. Their recent (August 2013) purchase of the 20-acre Resonance Vineyard in the Charlton Yamhill AVA was not, as it turns out, in the works for years, according to Gagey. Rather, he describes it as 'Having the right people available at the right time. For something like this to be successful, you need the right people. The timing was perfect because Jacques (Lardière) had just retired after doing 42 vintages for us (at Jadot) and was ready for a new project and to accept a new challenge.' Moreover, he notes that his son, Thibault, had worked the harvest at Domaine Drouhin Oregon the previous year and would be the perfect person to manage the new venture should it become successful.

Groundbreaking Rosé From a Bordelais in Provence
Michael Apstein
Apr 29, 2014

Sacha Lichine's upbringing in Bordeaux explains to me why his rosés from Provence are so stunning. Of course, it helps that Lichine's consulting enologist, Patrick Léon, was, for almost 20 years, the Managing Director in charge of the vineyards and winemaking for all of Baron Philippe de Rothschild's properties, including Château Mouton Rothschild.

An Unknown Tuscan Treasure
Michael Apstein
Apr 1, 2014

Move over Brunello, Chianti Classico and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. There's a new kid on the Tuscan block, Montecucco, which is positioned to join this elite trio of regal red wines. With only 2,000-planted acres and about 70 small producers, Montecucco is tiny. But remember, as recently as 1980, when Brunello was awarded Italy's top official wine designation (Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita, or DOCG), it was also a small area with only about 50 producers.

Gran Selezione: The True Pinnacle of Chianti Classico or Hype?
Michael Apstein
Mar 4, 2014

With the 2010 vintage of Chianti Classico, consumers will see a new class of wine identified by the words 'Gran Selezione' on the label. Whether this new category represents progress depends on whom you ask. The Consorzio of Chianti Classico announced the world wide inaugural release of Gran Selezione with great fanfare in what could not have been a grander setting.

Why Wine Prices Are Rising
Michael Apstein
Feb 11, 2014

I'm no economist, but the idea of supply and demand is a fundamental economic principle that even we non-economists can understand. As far as fine wine is concerned, the demand is rising rapidly and the supply is not. My recent trip to Hong Kong and Vietnam demonstrated just how much demand is rising. The broad Chinese market for fine wine is still in its infancy but it is poised to explode. And even Vietnam, with 'only' a population of 90 million (compared to China's 1.3 billion and India's 1.2 billion), provides an insight into the future of wine consumption in Asia.

Are Barrel Tastings Worthwhile?
Michael Apstein
Feb 4, 2014

Every spring, as predictably as the blooming of daffodils, journalists and merchants attend the en primeur tastings in Bordeaux and bombard us with reams of tasting notes. Indeed, wherever great wines are made, producers are eager to show them early on, just as critics and merchants are keen to taste them for comment or purchase. Despite the enthusiasm of these various participants, I would assert that what can be learned from these tastings is actually quite limited and that, with rare exceptions, one ought never make pronouncements about particular wines.

Apstein's Winery of the Year 2013: Mastroberardino
Michael Apstein
Jan 7, 2014

Mastroberardino is my Winery of the Year for 2013 because it excels, not only by consistently making a fine range of wine, but also by preserving history. They make distinctive and enticing lower end--as measured by price, not quality--wines, such as Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio and Greco di Tufo. At Mastroberardino, they produce stunning upper level wines, such as Taurasi, which are under-priced for what they deliver and, at the same time, rival Italy's more famous Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello. With Mastroberardino's focus on indigenous grape varieties, they have preserved Italian heritage, and with their Pompeii project, they are bringing history alive.

Burgundy Bargains from 2011 Vintage
Michael Apstein
Dec 10, 2013

The 2011 vintage in Burgundy runs the risk of being forgotten despite producing very fine wines. The first strike against it is that it was sandwiched between two stellar vintages, 2010 and 2012. The 2010 vintage in Burgundy was superb for both whites and reds, and some of these wines remain on retailers' shelves. Though the 2012s are still a year away from the retail market, they are developing beautifully and have already received high praise, justifiably so judging from my tastings in Burgundy last month. Strike two is the price of the wines. Poor weather resulted in low yields in 2011, forcing prices up. And even lower yields in 2012 put further pressure on the prices of the 2011s. Once producers saw that yields were down by an astonishing 50 percent in 2012, many raised the prices of their unreleased 2011s because they knew they couldn't raise the prices of the 2012s sufficiently to accurately reflect the paucity of wine.

Lambrusco: A Wine for Thanksgiving
Michael Apstein
Nov 12, 2013

Just the idea of taking Lambrusco seriously causes snickers. We all know that it's nothing more than a sweet slightly bubbly red wine, right? Well, no--it isn't just a cheap sweet bubbly after all. Or at least not all Lambrusco fits that description. There is, after all, another Lambrusco, a much more serious one, and indeed it is a wine made just for Thanksgiving.

Franciacorta: A Stylish Sparkler from Italy
Michael Apstein
Oct 15, 2013

Most wine geeks are not familiar with Franciacorta, so it's understandable that this terrific Italian bubbly is not on the radar screens of most casual consumers. When I told a friend I was going to Italy to learn about their sparkling wines, his response was, 'Oh, I love Prosecco.' He, like most Americans, was unaware of any other Italian bubbly. Christina Ziliani, currently the head of the communications for the Guido Berlucchi winery, cringes when she hears the all-too-familiar refrain from importers that, 'We don't need a new category. We already have Prosecco.'

The Stunning and Affordable 2010 Bordeaux
Michael Apstein
Sep 17, 2013

For me, the real success of the 2010 vintage in Bordeaux lies not in the Big Name Châteaux, but in the wines of the Cru Bourgeois. They are harmonious and delicious. Best of all, the Cru Bourgeois are relatively affordable. Enticing to drink now, they have the requisite balance to be cellared and transformed into complex wines to be sipped and savored. For example, I recently had a1982 Château Greysac, usually one of the most widely available of all the Cru Bourgeois, which was marvelously mature yet still fresh.

Chilling Red Wines
Michael Apstein
Aug 20, 2013

I had to look twice. On a warm June night in a lively Paris bistro many years ago, diners had bottles of Crozes-Hermitage in ice buckets. I found this surprising, because the wines were red and conventional wisdom tells us to serve red wines at room temperature or--among sophisticates--at 'cellar' temperature, but certainly not chilled.

The Left Bank Bordeaux Cup: The College Bowl of Wine
Michael Apstein
Jul 23, 2013

Hollywood could not have orchestrated the prelude to the Left Bank Bordeaux Cup any better. On a breezy summer evening under a brilliantly blue sky, the judges, guests and contestants assembled on the beautifully manicured lawns outside the cellars of Château Lafite Rothschild, snapping pictures and chatting nervously. After the judges and contestants were whisked away, the guests were ushered down the dim candle-lit steps into Lafite's breath-taking illuminated circular barrel room. Then, from stage right, the contestants--15 men and 9 women--took their seats at the eight round tables, each with three chairs, arranged on the podium. Finally, amid the regal sound of trumpets, the judges, 10 members of the Commanderie du Bontemps de Médoc et des Graves Sauternes et Barsac, dressed in their official robes and hats entered and seated themselves at the long head table facing the contestants.

Mike Grgich: Multi-National Treasure
Michael Apstein
Jun 25, 2013

It's better to be lucky than smart. Of course it's better to be both, like Miljenko 'Mike' Grgich. Time after time, he's been in the right place at the right time, although at the time, neither the place nor the situation seemed appealing. But in each instance he's been smart enough to take advantage of what came his way, 'turning lemons into lemonade.' Naturally, Grgich is known for his Grgich Hills Estate winery, which makes some of California's best wines. To me, Grgich Hills Estate's ability to produce equally stunning red and white wines is what places him among the world's best producers.

The Illusion of Knowledge
Michael Apstein
Jun 4, 2013

Everyone buying and selling wine--wineries, wholesalers, retailers and consumers--does it. We wine writers also fall into the trap. We carefully note the blend of grapes in a particular wine and what oak treatment the winemaker has chosen, as though that gives us valuable information about the wine. It's a form of shorthand, much like a number on the 100-point scale, that's supposed to impart knowledge. However, it is far too easy to allow a fixation on varietal character and composition to eclipse other factors that can be even more important in determining how a particular wine actually strikes our senses.

Port: It's Not Just for Winter any More
Michael Apstein
May 7, 2013

When I asked Adrian Bridge, CEO of The Fladgate partnership, the family-run company that owns Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft, 'Do you drink Vintage Port in the summer?' he responded with a laugh and a smile, 'Why not?' But then he spewed out statistics that only a CEO has at his fingertips. He noted that on-premise sales (sales in restaurants) of Port vary very little month to month. The type of Port consumed changes, but overall consumption, according to Bridge, is fairly constant. In the winter, restaurant sales of Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage Port do indeed increase, but in summer restaurants see a surge of sales of Aged Tawny Port.

Does the World Need Another Super Tuscan?
Michael Apstein
Apr 30, 2013

Caiarossa is the new Super Tuscan on the block and the other 'aias' should take note. It's not yet in the league of Ornellaia or Sassicaia, but based on my first introduction to this young estate, it could be soon.

Chianti Classico's Gran Selezione: Grand Idea or Grand Mistake?
Michael Apstein
Apr 2, 2013

Chianti Classico producers have been hitting home runs with recent vintages. But they are on the verge of striking out with their new category, Gran Selezione, debuting with the 2010 vintage. Francesco Daddi, one of the grower representatives on the Board of Administration of the Consorzio of Chianti Classico, the group that has promulgated the new category, and owner of Castello La Leccia, a star producer in the region, says the Gran Selezione designation is meant to 'stress the importance of soil, or to use the French word, terroir.'

Vintage Matters…and So Does Ownership
Michael Apstein
Mar 26, 2013

Bruno Eynard, the man in charge at Château Lagrange, the St. Julien estate in Bordeaux classified as a 3rd growth in the Médoc Classification of 1855, was in New York recently to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Suntory's ownership. To demonstrate the dramatic turnaround at the estate since Suntory, the Japanese drinks company, acquired it, Eynard led a tasting of 19 vintages of Château Lagrange extending from 1959 to 2010 (plus 5 vintages of Les Fiefs de Lagrange, their second wine, dating from 1990 to 2009). The results were impressive, and strikingly so.

Feat of the Feet
Michael Apstein
Mar 5, 2013

Treading the grapes by foot 'is fundamental for making Vintage Port,' insists Natasha Bridge, the chief blender at The Fladgate Partnership, the family run company that owns Taylor Fladgate, Fonseca and Croft, three of Port's best houses. 'It may only account for a 3 to 4% difference in quality, but it's one of the differences between making good and great Port.'

The Languedoc is Worth Exploring
Michael Apstein
Feb 5, 2013

The Languedoc is undergoing a tremendous transformation. Formerly known as France's 'wine lake,' this vast area in Southern France that extends in an arc from the Rhône River towards the Spanish border is evolving into one of France's most exciting wine regions. Experimentation abounds as many producers eschew the traditional appellation d'origine controllée (AOC) regulations, preferring to bottle under the more flexible IGP (indication geographique protégée) designation. The commitment of the growers and producers, most of whom are small, is apparent: fully one-third of France's organic vineyards are in the Languedoc. It's an area where you find wines that we all are looking for--those that deliver more than their price suggests. But finding them takes work, a bit of trial and error and a willingness to experiment.

Castilla-La Mancha: The Place for Value
Michael Apstein
Jan 8, 2013

Everyone is looking for value in wine, which I define as a wine that delivers more than the price suggests. Using that definition value can be found in Bordeaux where an $80 wine wows you the way a $120 wine does. More commonly though, consumers looking for value wines are searching for the $10 or $15 wine that tastes like it cost twice as much. And these days, those wines are easier to find than you'd suspect, especially if you head for Spain's Castilla-La Mancha region.

Thank you, Jacques Lardière
Michael Apstein
Dec 11, 2012

Pierre-Henry Gagey, President of Maison Louis Jadot, set the tone for a dinner honoring the retiring legend Jacques Lardière with the invitation he sent months in advance. The invitation noted that the dinner was to thank Lardière for all he has done for 'Burgundy and Maison Jadot.' Note the order--Burgundy and Jadot. It was not thanking him just for what he had done for Maison Jadot, which was enormous, bringing Jadot from a small négociant to one of the preeminent Burgundy producers of today, nor was it for Jadot and Burgundy. It was first and foremost, for Burgundy.

Chablis: The World's Best White Wine for Food
Michael Apstein
Nov 13, 2012

That's a bold claim, but I think it holds up to scrutiny. The only other contender would be Champagne, but once one takes price into account, the medal goes to Chablis because these wines are so well-priced. Albariño from Rias Baixas, a region tucked away in Galicia in Spain's northwest, is in the running, except so little is made and distributed that it's not a reasonable choice. So Chablis gets my vote, and here's why.

Burgundy Update: Tiny 2012 Yields Presage a Pricey Future
Michael Apstein
Oct 16, 2012

'The most expensive vintage ever,' was how Louis-Fabrice Latour, President of the prestigious Beaune-based négociant, Maison Louis Latour, and current head of the association of Burgundy négociants, described the 2012 vintage in Burgundy. 'Yields are down by 60% in many areas and we [négociants] are paying growers up to 30% more,' he explained.

Sicily: Hotbed of Italian Innovation
Michael Apstein
Sep 18, 2012

Winemakers in Sicily bubble with enthusiasm and a sense of discovery the way Etna bubbles with lava and smoke. Three decades ago, Tuscany was Italy's epicenter of experimentation. It was there that a revolution took place, expelling white grapes from Chianti, demonstrating the stand-alone greatness of Sangiovese, introducing French varieties as fuel for 'Super Tuscan' wines, and propelling Brunello into stardom. But today, if you want to see a comparable outburst of imagination and creative energy, you'll need to turn your gaze to the south, especially Sicily.

Good Dirt, Yucky Dirt
Michael Apstein
Aug 21, 2012

As I drive around Alexander Valley with Ronald Du Preez, the assistant winemaker at Jordan Winery, he points across the road and exclaims enthusiastically, 'That's really good dirt,' or in an equally emphatic manner, 'that's yucky dirt over there.' He is expressing a paradigm shift in California winemaking philosophy that's exemplified by Jordan's now virtually complete transformation from an 'estate' winery to one that buys almost all of their grapes from local farmers.

Negroamaro: Black & Bitter from Italy's Heel
Michael Apstein
Jul 24, 2012

'Black and bitter.' It certainly wasn't a name create by a public relations firm. To be fair, Luigi Rubino, President of the Puglia Best Wine Consortium points out the name really means 'black and black' from both the Latin (negro) and Greek (amaro) for black. Whatever the etymology, consumers should embrace Negroamaro, a wine from Puglia, the sunny heel of the Italian 'boot,' because it fills a void. It's a robust red that's not tannic or astringent even when young, and has an appealing bitter black cherry finish. This makes it a complete contrast to the many over-ripe New World wines that finish sweet, and a great choice for the remainder of the 'grilling season' or to pair with hearty wintery fare.

Puglia Will Fool Ya
Michael Apstein
Jun 26, 2012

Puglia, the heel of Italy's boot, is hot, mostly flat, and sun drenched. Italy's third largest wine producing region after the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, Puglia accounts for more wine even than Sicily. This is, basically, a recipe for low-quality bulk wine. Indeed, in the past, Puglia's been an ideal place for tanker trucks to load up with large amounts of ripe high alcohol red wine to be shipped north--often to France--for blending with wines that could use a little help. Yet, I was continually surprised during my recent visit to Salento in southern Puglia.

Banfi Does It Again
Michael Apstein
May 29, 2012

Earlier this month a $12 wine, Castello Banfi's 2010 Centine, was voted the best red wine at the Ninth Annual Critics Challenge International Wine Competition held in San Diego. To be voted best red is a high honor for any wine, but is absolutely extraordinary for one costing twelve bucks. Nevertheless, the judges' selection of the 2010 Centine, a blend of Sangiovese (60%) and equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as the best red wine does not surprise me. I've been a fan of this wine since I first tasted it over a decade ago, calling it my 'Wine of the Year' in 2006.

Chablis Short List
Michael Apstein
May 1, 2012

One of my goals for Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, a weeklong series of tastings held in Burgundy every two years, was to learn about the differences between vineyards in Chablis. It was the ideal setting, a day-long tasting with over 100 Chablis producers pouring over 600 wines, all from Chablis. The owners or the winemakers, sometimes both, did the pouring and were more than willing to discuss the wines. With the vast number of growers and négociants represented and all showing a wide array of their wines, you have the opportunity to revisit producers you know, taste wines from those you've heard of but don't know well, and discover new growers.

Chablis: The World's Greatest White Wine Bargain
Michael Apstein
Apr 3, 2012

Chablis has a long history of being misunderstood. The appropriation of this regulated site-specific name to generic white California jug wine--Gallo White Chablis (as if there were red wine in Chablis)--ruined Chablis' image and cachet for decades. Now, with the movement away from super ripe, buttery, oaky New World Chardonnay and the increasing popularity of 'unoaked' Chardonnay, interest in Chablis is making a resurgence.

A Tale of Two Vintages
Michael Apstein
Mar 6, 2012

Is it hype or is it true? Do 2009 and 2010 represent back-to-back great vintages for Burgundy or is it just another case of the French crying wolf with yet more 'vintages of the century?' My vote goes to truth rather than hype, although the two vintages couldn't be more different. Both vintages are currently available for purchase. The 2009s have just arrived on retailers' shelves along with a few whites from 2010. Most of the 2010s are currently being sold as 'futures' (pay now to reserve the wine and receive them in a year or two).

2009 Bordeaux: Voluptuous Wines
Michael Apstein
Feb 7, 2012

They're here! The much-praised 2009 Bordeaux, the region's priciest vintage, has arrived. Representatives from the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) were in New York this past week as part of their nationwide tour to give the trade the first comprehensive look at this much-heralded vintage.

The Scientific Low-Down on High Alcohol Wines
Michael Apstein
Jan 10, 2012

Absent from the controversy about wines with high alcohol content--those over 14 percent--is the effect these wines have on blood alcohol level. Many winemakers and consumers don't even consider the effect, or discount it if they do consider it. When discussing this topic with consumers, and even winemakers, I've often been told that an additional one or two percent is 'trivial.' Hearing this, the image that pops into my mind is that of an ostrich with its head in the sand.

The Paradoxes of Champagne
Michael Apstein
Dec 13, 2011

Champagne must not have gotten the memo about the French appellation controllée (AOC) laws. They have their own regulations--after all, Champagne is an AOC--but they seem to have originated in Rome or Athens, not Paris. Elsewhere in France, the most prized and expensive wines come from individual and distinct vineyards. But in Champagne, most of the prestigious and expensive wines, such as Moët & Chandon's Dom Perignon, Roederer's Cristal or Laurent Perrier's Grand Siècle are the equivalent of Burgundy's or Bordeaux's down-market 'regional wines' made from grapes grown in vineyards spread all over the region.

Sardinia: Italy's Other Island
Michael Apstein
Nov 15, 2011

'People can't find Sardinia on a map,' complained Valentina Argiolas, a member of the family that owns Sardinia's leading winery. She was speaking literally in describing the fundamental hurdle producers need to overcome to sell their wines. At a recent tasting and seminar of Sardinian wines in San Francisco and again in Japan, she was mortified when the map the organizers projected onto the screen failed to show Italy's second largest island. 'There was the boot and Sicily, but Sardinia was nowhere to be found,' she said, lamenting that Sardinians constantly need to remind people that they are part of Italy.

Our Burgeoning Wine Culture
Michael Apstein
Oct 18, 2011

Despite the economic turmoil, wine consumption in the United States continues to increase. Up only a mere one percent in 2010, according to the Wine Market Council, but that was enough to make us the world's largest wine market, surpassing France. Although our per capita annual consumption, about 10 liters or 2.6 gallons, lags well behind the French (53 liters or 14 gallons per person), our much larger population catapulted us into first place for total consumption.

A Simple Strategy for Buying Burgundy
Michael Apstein
Sep 21, 2011

Burgundy produces some of the world's most exciting wines. Although many, such as those from Domaine Romanée Conti, Domaine Leroy, or Domaine Rousseau are priced in the stratosphere, affordable well-priced Burgundies do exist. But finding them can be like walking through a minefield.

Krug: How to be the Best
Michael Apstein
Aug 23, 2011

In June, I was one of three Americans included in a group of about 20 journalists from the United States, Japan, China, and Europe that Krug brought to Reims for what they called, 'Voyage d'Assemblage,' an in-depth view of the exceedingly complex art of blending Champagne. Although I was fascinated at the prospect of learning the intricacies of creating this marvelous beverage from still wines, my deeper mission during our 36-hour visit to their cellars and vineyards was to discover why Krug is, in the microcosm of Champagne, simply the best.

Beaujolais Renaissance
Michael Apstein
Jul 26, 2011

Six centuries after Philippe the Bold exiled the 'vile and noxious' Gamay grape from Burgundy in favor of the 'elegant' Pinot Noir, Burgundians are once again embracing the grape in the wines of Beaujolais. The region has long been known primarily for Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage closer to alcoholic grape juice than wine, but is now undergoing a dramatic change as Beaune-based négociants buy vineyards and identify unique parcels for separate bottlings. In short, even the most skeptical need to reacquaint themselves with Beaujolais.

Location, Location, Location: Port's No Different
Michael Apstein
Jun 28, 2011

In all the great wine producing areas of the world it is an article of faith that where the grapes grow determines the style and quality of the wine. However, when we think of Port, we tend to forget this fundamental notion. Perhaps this is understandable on grounds that Port is a blended wine made from several grape varieties--and then fortified with brandy. It is conceivable that blending and fortification would mask the influence of vineyard location on the character of the finished wine. This might be conceivable, but it isn't correct according to David Guimaraens, winemaker for the Taylor Fladgate Partnership.

China and Wine: We've Not Seen Anything Yet
Michael Apstein
May 31, 2011

By now every wine lover knows that the Chinese are having an enormous impact on the world's wine market. But the current wave of wine buying frenzy by the Chinese may seem tame compared to the potential tsunami coming in the future.

Under the Radar: Long Island Merlot
Michael Apstein
May 3, 2011

Some wine areas are vaguely familiar but not well known or fashionable. Parts of Southern Italy, such as Puglia, fit this category, as do parts of Spain, such as Manchuela. But there are other areas, such as Long Island, that fly almost completely under the proverbial radar, showing up on the 'screen' of very few consumers. This is understandable enough in the case of Long Island, which evokes images of traffic jams and suburban sprawl rather than vineyards.

The Alchemy of Wine: A Reason to Cellar
Michael Apstein
Apr 5, 2011

Wine is distinguished from other beverages by its potential for undergoing a transformation--almost akin to alchemy--in which simple fruit flavors give way over time to other nuances such as leather, coffee, leaf, or damp earth. All winemakers start their work with fruit, and good young wines have plenty of appealingly ripe, succulent fruit flavors. But great wines, even when young, tantalize you with something else. It's hard to describe precisely what that 'something else' is. Some call it minerality, others earthiness. The near magical transformation of fruit to non-fruit flavors that occurs with extended bottle aging may be hard to describe, but it is impossible to miss.

Not Just Any Port in a Storm
Michael Apstein
Mar 8, 2011

In the cellar of a small grower was a family heirloom, four barrels of Port that had been passed from one generation to another. No one ever thought they had the right to sell it. But when the last surviving family member, a widow without children, died and the estate was left (to nieces, nephews, the museum of the Douro and the social security office of Portugal), the executor needed to raise money to resolve the estate. He contacted Taylor Fladgate, which had been interested in the wines while the widow was alive, but never reached agreement. Now they did. Taylor originally planned on using the wine in their 40-year-old Tawny blend, but after tasting it, they decided it was unique. They had never seen a wine quite as complete as this.

Renaissance in South Africa
Michael Apstein
Feb 8, 2011

'We had to leapfrog the sanctions,' explained Simon Barlow, the affable owner of Rustenberg Wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa, as he described the dramatic transformation of his family's estate following the democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 that marked the official end of apartheid. Since that point, the renaissance at Rusterberg has been emblematic of the advance of the entire South African wine industry.

Malbec: Another Merlot?
Michael Apstein
Jan 11, 2011

Malbec is the new 'black.' Then again, maybe not so new, since the wine from Cahors in south central France, the traditional home to Malbec, was known as the 'black wine' in the 13th century because of its power and concentration. But you know it must be a hot wine today when the French, who eschew putting grape names on labels of their appellation controllée wines, start labeling the wines from Cahors with the Malbec moniker.

Gifts for the Wine Lover
Michael Apstein
Dec 14, 2010

Friends and professional colleagues always tell me they shy away from giving me wine. They profess not to know what to give. They say that they don't want to embarrass themselves with an 'ordinary' bottle. Those excuses, and all the others, are silly. Wine lovers typically love all types of wine, not just the 'important' ones. So there's no need to shy away from giving wine to your wine geek friends this holiday season. Here are some suggestions.

2009 Burgundies: A First Look
Michael Apstein
Nov 16, 2010

The Bordelais are not the only ones licking their chops as they offer the 2009 vintage for sale. Burgundians too are smiling as they taste their 2009s currently aging in barrels. In the words of Philippe Prost, the technical director at Bouchard Père et Fils, the wines are, 'La beauté du Diable,' a French idiom that roughly means 'too good to be true.'

Burgundy: Sorting Out the '0 Tens'
Michael Apstein
Oct 19, 2010

The vintage will be remembered for two things: an extremely small crop and a pleasant surprise. Louis-Fabrice Latour, the current head of Maison Louis Latour and president of the négociant organization, thinks the crop could even be smaller than in 2003. Fetzman noted that they could understand the short crop that year because of the drought and heat. But the size of the crop in 2010 caught many by surprise. Bruno Champy, tapped by Domaine Latour to replace Fetzman in 2012, said that the bunches of grapes weighed half of normal.

In Defense of the Burgundy Négociant
Michael Apstein
Sep 21, 2010

I am always surprised how many experienced Burgundy aficionados, be they sommeliers or just plain passionate consumers, overlook or denigrate Burgundy's négociants while heaping praise on the growers' wines. Sommeliers may shun them because of commercial reasons. Négociants' wines are more widely available and many sommeliers prefer to list wines from small growers whose wines are difficult for diners to find in retail stores. But other Burgundy lovers have no excuse and are missing the boat.

Rose Love In Bloom
Michael Apstein
Aug 24, 2010

Despite the tsunami of enthusiasm that appears every summer, I've never been a fan of rosés, except, of course, for rosé Champagne. The argument for rosé is that they are perfect for summertime because they are not too serious, they stand up to and go with hearty cold salads or grilled fish, and they cut through summer's heat and humidity. I don't dispute that some rosés have those attributes. Far more are limp and innocuous, lacking energy. More often I have found a chilled light, low-tannin red wine, such as Beaujolais or an aromatic vibrant white wine, has far more character and fills the bill better than rosé-until now. A rosé included in the first tasting during a week-long visit to Navarra, a region in northern Spain nestled between the French border and Rioja, made me rethink my previous opinion.

Riesling: America's Favorite Wine Grape?
Michael Apstein
Jul 27, 2010

It's not of course. Chardonnay still holds that position. But to listen to wine professionals, it should be. Belinda Chang, the talented and charmingly enthusiastic sommelier at the Modern in New York effuses, 'I've yet to find a food that doesn't go well with Riesling.' (Alsace Wines has adopted the clever--and appropriate--promotional phrase, 'Just Add Food,' to reemphasize Chang's statement.)

Ornellaia: An Italian Icon, Part 2
Michael Apstein
Jun 29, 2010

As Axel Heinz, the winemaker at Ornellaia, pointed out, luck played a role in Ornellaia's success. It was lucky that Lodovico Antinori, Ornellaia's founder, went to California in search of vineyards because it was there that he met André Tchelistcheff, Beaulieu Vineyards' legendary winemaker. Without Tchelistcheff's urging, he may not have looked to Bolgheri, on the Tuscan coast, for his project. Nor after starting the project would he have focused on Merlot and planted it in the Masseto vineyard. After all, Lodovico had already made a mistake--bad luck--by planting Sauvignon Blanc, for which he had a passion, in what was later determined to be a prime area for red grapes. But it's not luck that Ornellaia makes consistently exceptional wines. It's their attention to details.

Ornellaia: An Italian Icon
Michael Apstein
Jun 1, 2010

'It was luck,' according to Axel Heinz, the winemaker at Ornellaia, that accounted for the extraordinarily rapid ascent of Ornellaia in the eyes of the world. 'It was lucky that Mario Incisa della Rocchetta [owner of Sassicaia] planted Bordeaux varieties when [in the 1940s] and where he did [Bolgheri]. Remember, there were no consultants or elaborate soil testing back then to help determine what to plant and where to plant it.' But the story of Ornellaia's success is far more than luck. There's good ol' fashioned sibling rivalry, a clear vision and extraordinary attention to detail.

Spring Whites
Michael Apstein
May 4, 2010

Few regions deliver the extraordinary diversity of wines, especially whites, like the Loire Valley. From the flinty Muscadet in the west to the herbal Sancerre in the east and the lush sweet wines from Coteaux du Layon, consumers can find every style of white wine perfect for summertime fare. The Loire producers with whom I spoke recently are very enthusiastic about the quality of the 2009 vintage there. The 2009 Muscadets I have sampled confirm that assessment.

Brunello di Montalcino 2.0
Michael Apstein
Apr 6, 2010

These tastings reinforced my image of Brunello as a powerful, yet classy, wine. It should deliver a distinctive core of bitter cherry, dark chocolate, and/or an earthy minerality. The black cherry fruitiness of Sangiovese is apparent, but Brunello should convey what I call a "not just fruit" element-an alluring, dark, pleasing almost bitter aspect. Around the core are firm but polished tannins and the bright acidity characteristic of Tuscan wines in general.

Manchuela, or Mushrooms After A Rain
Michael Apstein
Mar 9, 2010

One of the great things about wine is how new areas appear or spring up seemingly overnight--almost like mushrooms after a rain--and wind up producing world class wines. It happens all over the world. The Marlborough region in New Zealand was a cow pasture, but now is producing great Sauvignon Blanc and showing strong potential for Pinot Noir as well. In the United States, it was brave pioneers like David Lett who showed that Oregon's Willamette Valley was well suited to making high quality Pinot Noir. All of which brings me to Manchuela, which, in 2000, became Spain's latest Denominación de Origen or DO.

California Chardonnay: A Paradigm Shift
Michael Apstein
Feb 9, 2010

It may be odd that I, a confirmed Francophile with a special affection for Burgundy, should be extolling the virtues of California Chardonnay. But it's true. Don't think I'm comparing California--or any New World Chardonnay--with Burgundy. I'm not. Burgundians insist their wines are vehicles for transmitting the flavor of the vineyard--a.k.a. terroir--not the flavors of the variety. Jacques Lardière, the masterful winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, has said more than once, 'If you taste Chardonnay in my wines, I've made a mistake.' He means of course that you should taste the minerality of Puligny-Montrachet or the earthiness of Chassagne-Montrachet.

Please, No More Killer Cabernets
Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2010

My hope for the New Year is that winemakers turn down the "volume" so we wine drinkers can savor the music. It is clear that current popular taste embraces the ultra-intense style of wine--both white and red. Alcohol levels in these wines often soar to 15+ percent--and acid levels drop--as winemakers leave grapes on the vine to achieve ever more ripeness. What is less clear to many consumers is that there is a downside to making wines is this massive-but-soft style--regardless of its present popularity.

Burgundy on the Rise
Michael Apstein
Dec 15, 2009

Burgundians were heralding the quality of the 2009 vintage--perhaps another 'vintage of the century'--even before the grapes were harvested, let alone transformed into wine. That's because the weather during the growing season predicted an extremely successful vintage. Prices at the just concluded 2009 Hospices de Beaune auction confirm the locals' enthusiasm for the vintage. The average price of the red Burgundies was up by 31 percent compared to last year, while prices for the whites overall fell by about 3 percent. And that's in euros. Consider the weakness of the dollar over the past year and we Americans can expect an even greater increase in price.

The Wines of . . . Madrid?
Michael Apstein
Nov 17, 2009

When you think of Madrid, what pops into your mind? Vino or Prado? Prado, of course, one of the world's most magnificent museums. But Madrid, not the city proper, but the autonomous region of Madrid--the roughly 3,000 square miles around the city--is home to about 50 wineries who produce a wide range of wines from indigenous as well as international grapes. They range in price from $10 to over a $100 a bottle.