Exploring The Red and White Wines of Northern Italy

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by


You ever insisted on something being true even after, time and time again, all your suppositions prove misguided? This happened to me while I was treated to a wine-tastic meal by Wayne Young. He’s the Sales, Communication, and Marketing Manager for the wines of Bastianich and La Mozza.

We started out exploring the Adriatico series of white wines of the former winery, a trio of Sauvignon Blanc (2012), Friulano (2011), and Malvasia (2010 and actually Croatian). All these wines had a wonderful presence on the palate that kept me asking if each wine saw some time in oak. It’s not that they were buttery, cotton-candy type of oaky. There just seemed to be something beyond the work of the stainless steel tank happening.

Here’s pretty much how it went:

ME (timidly): “Is there some oak on this Sauv Blanc, maybe a little used, neutral oak?”

WAYNE: “Nope.”

ME (more assertively): “Surely, however, this Friulano is imbued with some of the richness-giving powers of judicious oak use.”

WAYNE: “Again, no.”


WAYNE (slowly backing away): “I’ll e-mail you the tech sheet. Uh, I think I hear my car being towed.” (Exit stage left, post-haste.)

Ok, it didn’t go down quite like that. It was more like this:

Wayne regaled me with a tale how he came to make wine in Italy and how he returned to his current role. I also calmly asked, if it ain’t oak, what the heck is going on with these white wines? A red wine grape, Refosco, was discussed. A quick trip to Tuscany was undertaken. Finally, more geekiness was achieved by considering the Picolit grape. Here’s my interview with Wayne conducted via e-mail and after I had returned to the world of the sane.

JF: Along the wines of “Go west, young man”, Joe Bastianich told you to “Go make wine.” Except you went east, to Italy. How did this brief mandate transpire and tell me a little bit about your resulting winemaking experience.

WY: “Basically I was burning out on the restaurant and sommelier work in NYC. Nights and weekends were getting me down and I needed a change. I had a good rapport with Joe as my boss so I decided to tell him I was looking to leave. He basically asked me if I wanted to “Go make wine”. I had no idea what I was in for. It was the first vintage of the winery and we were making our wine in our Friend Valter Scarbolo’s small cellar. It was the wettest, physically-hardest and longest in terms of hours-per-day work I have ever done in my life. Nonetheless, there is something deeply satisfying about it. The fact that you survived, the idea that you had a direct hand in the creation of something great and enduring. And I learned so much about the mechanics of making wine, the effort required, the attention to detail.

“Then it was over and I decided to stay through the season and work more in the vineyards, which was less of an enlightening experience (and honestly I wasn’t very good at it.. I was too slow!) but the most important thing was the nervous excitement and anticipation of the NEXT harvest during the slower summer period! How could I be excited about getting my ass kicked 7 days a week for a month or so? But there it was, and I attacked the nested vintage ready for what it had to offer and it fought back with the single most difficult and physically demanding harvest I have ever done. 1998′s harvest lasted almost 40 days from first grape to last, due to cool weather and bouts of rain. 1999 was a hot year and almost everything ripened at the same time. First grape to last was about 3 weeks, half of the previous year, and there were nights where we worked non-stop, 2 of us staying until 5am and 2 of us leaving at midnight only to return at 6am. It was grueling, but again, I had survived and after that vintage, everything seemed easy.

“I went on to do 2000, 2001 and 2002 in the cellar. After 2002 I felt as if I had done and learned all there was to do in the cellar as a cellar-hand. I knew press and filter inside out, know the foibles of every tank and pump. Yet, I was not educated enough to look at lab analysis and understand what was going on. It was then that I either needed to start studying enology or think about moving on.

“Again, a conversation with Joe led to the idea of my working in promotion, PR and Marketing, which is where I find myself today.”

The lineup of “Adriatico” wines I tasted with you (Sauvignon Blanc, Friulano, and Malvasia) all had a richness and texture that I kept guessing had something to do with oak…but that’s not the case. How is it that this trio of wines have a viscosity to them without the benefit of barrel-aging?

“For the Friuli wines (Sauvignon and Friulano) it’s all about the soil! The ponca we have here is the key to the weight and longevity of wines from Friuli Colli Orientali (and Collio too). Calcareous marl, with calcium as it’s most important element gives the hillside wines here the body you felt in these wines. Clay and rock, good drainage, great exposition, ripe fruit.. all of this contributes to the weight you feel in these wines. There may also be a small portion of skin contact with Sauvignon and Friulano, and some vats may rest on the lees for a little longer, but really I think the soil is key.

“The Malvasia is slightly different since it is made in Istria. There is a type of soil there called ‘terra bianca’ which is a chalky soil that is ALSO calcium rich. This is the key element in the creation of great white wines.”

I found the Vespa Rosso to be very refreshing and was curious about the role that Refosco plays in the wine. What makes this grape unique and what does it bring to the table?

“Refosco is the perfect foil for the Merlot in Vespa Rosso. Merlot in Friuli is beautifully round, fruity and polished. But it lacks a little character, a little acidity and tannic structure. Refosco is an acidic variety with good tannins. It definitely gives the Merlot the “nerve” it lacks, along with a little wild berry and some leafiness that adds complexity… That’s the beauty of blends. Refosco also has incredibly stable colour. I have opened bottles of 10-year-old Refosco that have the fresh colour  like they were bottled yesterday.”

The Maremma area of Tuscany is best known for its “Super Tuscan” wines composed of Bordeaux grapes and sometimes Syrah. The La Mozza Aragone, though, has a good chunk of Alicante. Along the lines of my question about Refosco, why Alicante?

“It’s adaptability to the hot, dry climate of the Maremma is key. It needs a long hot season to grow well and ripen, and that’s what we normally have here. We also wanted to spiritually connect with Spain, Sardinia and Southern France, in keeping with the ‘Super Mediterranean’ blend concept of Aragone. We wanted to be different and not do another Bordeaux blend in Tuscany.”

Ok, one more grape nerd question. The Vespa Bianco is primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but there’s also a percentage of Picolit in the mix. You called this unfamiliar grape the wine’s “secret weapon”. Tell me why.

“Actually, Sauvignon is ‘Friuli’s Secret weapon’ according to Bobby Stuckey. Picolit is only known as a dessert wine, but vinified almost dry it is very interesting. Picolit is ripe, with very good acidity with this honeyed aroma that I think really comes out in Vespa Bianco. It adds richness without flabbiness, adds complexity without weighing the wine down, which is already pretty big and structured! We always remark on how Vespa Bianco is never complete without Picolit. I taste through with the enologist and consultant during all of the blending sessions and it’s only when we start getting near the end and we begin blending in the Picolit that the try character of that vintage’s Vespa Bianco begins to become apparent. The wine would not be even close to the same without it… Amazing what a difference 10% makes!”

The Definition of BBQ with Jack Timmons of Seattle’s Jack’s BBQ

Posted on: November 13th, 2014 by

How do you define BBQ? I posed this question to Jack Timmons of Jack’s BBQ in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. He answers on my Wine Without Worry podcast.

Also discussed:

  • The recipe for Jack’s top-secret, laboriously constructed brisket rub? REVEALED!
  • When pulled pork goes wrong.
  • Do sides matter?
  • My pick for the #1 BBQ wine, which you can enjoy at Jack’s.

Here’s the show, recorded at Jack’s on a Saturday right when they open the doors. Enjoy:

Photo of humongous beef ribs courtesy Jack’s BBQ Facebook page:

jacks bbq seattle

Salud: Providing Healthcare Access for Oregon Vineyard Workers

Posted on: November 12th, 2014 by

“¡Salud!’s mission is simple and straightforward. We work to provide access to healthcare services for Oregon’s seasonal vineyard workers and their families.”

This succinct statement sums up why you should know about ¡Salud! I sent a few questions about this organization to Donna Morris of Winderlea Vineyard and Winery. Along with her husband, Bill Sweat, she founded this Willamette Valley winery. And she’s volunteers for ¡Salud!, helping out with its steering and marketing committees.

The organization’s big Oregon Pinot Noir Auction is this weekend. If you can’t attend, Morris offers some other ways you can lend your support to this collaboration between winemakers, vineyard owners, and healthcare professionals.

JF: Seasonal vineyard workers don’t get talked about a lot. How critical is their work when it comes to the Oregon wine industry?

winderlea wine

Donna Morris and Bill Sweat of Winderlea. Photo from their website.

DM: Our seasonal workers are critical to the success of the Oregon wine industry. The health and welfare of our vineyards rest, in large part, in their hands. From pruning in January and February to hand harvesting our grapes in September and October, it is our seasonal workers who make up the core of our workforce during our growing season. Growing Pinot noir in Oregon is very labor intensive. In fact, on average, each vine in our vineyards is touched 11 times per year from pruning to harvest. We couldn’t tend our vineyards and grow the quality of grapes we do – without our seasonal workers.

What are the challenges that seasonal workers face when it comes to obtaining health care?

Most of the seasonal workers are not employed by a single vineyard or winery. They may work in 3 to 5 vineyards over the course of a week or a month. In addition, many of our workers move from state to state adding an additional layer of complexity. This makes their ability to obtain health care very difficult if not impossible.

Concurrently, what obstacles does ¡Salud! encounter in providing care for a migrant population, not just the workers but their families as well?

¡Salud! must first identify and enroll workers in order to provide services. There is a trust factor that must be established. Next, ¡Salud! provides a lot of education around how to most effectively access and use healthcare services in the US. Some of our seasonal workers do have their own healthcare plans, but they are not always sure how to use the services or are wary of providers. Teaching them how to use their plans and helping them to understand their benefits for themselves and their families is a key role ¡Salud! has assisted with over the years.

Tell me about your personal involvement, and Winderlea’s, with ¡Salud!. What is it about this organization that you find particularly inspiring?

My husband, Bill Sweat, and I were introduced to ¡Salud! in 2006 when we first came to Oregon and purchased our vineyard and started our winery, Winderlea. We were introduced by fellow vineyard and winery owners and were immediately impressed with the mission and the execution of healthcare services that we being offered. It was clear to us after owning a vineyard for just a few months that the health of our vineyard was in our workers hands and that we had an obligation to keep our workers as healthy as they were keeping our vineyard. We decided we wanted our primary philanthropic focus as vineyard and winery owners to be with ¡Salud! and made the commitment to use our tasting room fees to fund a monthly contribution to ¡Salud!

For those who can’t attend the Oregon Pinot Noir Auction and the events surrounding it, what is the best way to help?

For those who cannot attend the ¡Salud! auction in person, they can help in a number of ways.  First, they can make an online contribution via the ¡Salud! website at www.saludauction.org. Or, they can contact the ¡Salud! office and make a silent bid on a one of a kind case of wine, one of the ¡Salud! Cuvees made by one of the ¡Salud! Vintner Circle Winery members or on any of the items in our live or silent auction.

Guacamole with Pomegranate, Tomato, Mango Verde, Chile de Arbol, and Walnuts

Posted on: November 9th, 2014 by

Guacamole Nogada Puesto.I’m a guacamole purist. Over a decade ago I dated someone who had a profound influence on how this iconic dish should be made. The recipe involved three ingredients and three ONLY:

Avocado, lime juice, salt.

So I’m skeptical of attempts to guild the lily when it comes to my guac. Don’t be putting stuff in it and diminishing my avocado per bite ratio!

That’s why I was mightily impressed with San Diego’s Puesto. I was there as part of a most excellent assignment for Dabble Magazine. (Stay tuned.) Myself and ace photographer (and wonderful traveling companion) Angela Auclair were treated to a magnificent meal highlighted by the consumption of numerous fresh seafood dishes in taco form and beyond. Please check out her fantastic work:

Angela Auclair Photography

But back to the guac. This creative take, named Guacamole Nogada, had these additions not muddled together (BOO!) but rather prominently placed on top (YAY!)

And those add-ons were: pomegranate, tomato, mango verde, chile de arbol, and candied walnuts. (Though our nuts were un-candied, which I actually think is the way to go.) For purists you can still seek out an avocado-laden bite or get a little playful with all of the additions. The latter of which I found surprisingly delightful.

So what do you drink with your Guacamole Nogada? A Margarita, DUH! But you know this is a wine-friendly dish as well. I have two suggestions on Dabble, the second I ended up ordering. You can peruse the whole issue or jump to my contribution.

Note: Puesto also has a location in La Jolla.

Thanks to Angela for use of the photo.

Harvest Moon Over Sagemoor Vineyards at Dawn

Posted on: November 3rd, 2014 by

sagemoor vineyard harvest moon

As a photographer, what does it feel like when you watch an image come together…perfectly? Richard Duval shares the story behind this astonishing photo capturing the harvest moon at dawn over a portion of Washington State’s Sagemoor Vineyards.

Also, how about my Wine of the Week? I’ve been flipping for the Fossil & Fawn Pinot Gris from Oregon. Find out why.

But wait, there’s more Richard Duval. Check out my extended conversation with him at Woodinville, Washington’s Barrage Cellars:

And there’s additional Fossil & Fawn over on Grape Collective.

Please head to Richard Duval Images for more inspirational images. Thanks to Richard for use of the above photos.

This Wine Has Three Cats On The Label And It’s Awesome

Posted on: October 29th, 2014 by

san lorenzo rosso conero la gattara

Dang, is this wine for real? YES! It came recommended from a highly trusted source and did not disappoint. The story of how it all transpired started like many others in the year 2014: Facebook.

My buddy Cameron posted that this wine is available at the restaurant he manages. (Tavolata in Seattle; excellent, do go there.) And it’s good. (Duh, like he’d hype it just for the felines.) Naturally, I needed to find out how good. So this scene played out when I stopped by for dinner:

Me: “Hi, I’m looking for a red wine from Italy and, uh, it has cats on the label.”

Server: “Uhhhhh…I’ll have to ask someone about that.” [Backs away slowly, prepares to dial 911.]

Luckily, Cameron was there that night to retrieve the bottle, assisting the (justifiably) puzzled waitress. And it turned out to be fantastic:

2008  Fattoria San Lorenzo Rosso Conero La Gattara

It’s from the Marche region in central Italy. And it’s a big, rich red. No shrinking violet here! Yet never over the top. It also got better and better the longer it was open. I ended up buying a sixer of this three cat wine for the purposes of squirreling (!?!!) awaw a few bottles for a spell. If you crack one open now definitely give it a big decant. I guarantee you by the second glass it will be purring like a…well, you know. (Hint: Not a squirrel.)

In conclusion, this blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese unites two things that make life grand: wine and cats.

What Red Wines Are Good to Drink With A Chill?

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by

Opera 02 LambruscoWith autumn’s chill permeating the air, I return to red wines. But how do I like to enjoy them?

Three words: With. A. Chill.

Red wines served too warm are a scourge of some restaurants as well as folks who live in a home heated to a kiln-like temperature. Warm red wine is just plain gross. (Unless it’s mulled.) I strongly advise you to stick all your red wines in the fridge for like 20 minutes and drink them with a touch of coolness.

There are some red wines that lend themselves to be serving fairly cold or seriously chilled. My favorite would have to be Lambrusco. Not only is it an amazing food wine–probably the best pizza wine in the history of the world plus awesome with beef jerky–but its frizzante nature (aka semi-sparkling) makes it super-fun to drink. Purple foam y’all!!!

rachel belle

Pretty much how the podcast recording with Rachel went, except sub red wine for (The) Champagne (of Beers). Photo by Michael Clinard.

I was delighted to find a partner in crime for a chilled red wine adventure: Rachel Belle. She had a bit of an epiphany regarding chilled red wine on a recent trip to Italy. So I knew I had to have her as a guest on the podcast. I strongly suggest you tune in to KIRO Radio to hear Rachel on the Ron and Don show as well as the Ring My Belle Weekends podcast. Do it! Rachel is super quick-witted, funny, smart, and has an inquisitve cat.

Other wines we enjoy? Marchione Grignolino. It’s a red that is very light in color but not lacking depth in the flavor department. (Both the Opera 02 Lambrusco and Grignolino are from importer A.I. Selections. Cheers, AI! BTW, AI does not stand for Artificial Intelligence nor Allen Iverson. Rather, “Acid, Inc.” Because that’s how they like their wines: lively.)

We also sample a bottle of Raisins Gaulois, from iconic Beaujolais producer Domaine Marcel Lapierre. It’s a slurpable Gamay.

Finally,  we get scientific with one of my favorite bargain red wines: Castaño Monastrell. (Note: I had five graphic designers critique its label.) Now this is not a red wine I would recommend drinking cold, but, for comparison’s sake we tried some served at room temperature and some chilly from the fridge. How was the wine different? TUNE IN:

All wines provided as samples. Thank you to A.I. Selections, Kermit Lynch, and Eric Solomon Selections.

Go Haywire for Pink Bub Sparkling Rosé From British Columbia

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by

PINK BUB!!! #bcwine

I don’t know if a wine gets more fun than this Haywire Pink Bub sparkling rosé, which I had the pleasure of enjoying while on a trip to the Okanagan Valley. (Read all about it and listen to the podcast, too.) An almost equal mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the welcoming personality of this wine starts at the top. Of the bottle. With a crown cap aka bottle cap:

haywire pink bubYou want more BC Wine? You got it:

Talkin’ Concrete Eggs With Haywire Co-Owner Christine Coletta

Electric Riesling from Tantalus

Dabbling in Dry Muscat

BC Wine 101 With Luke Whittall 

Luke II: Wine Without Worry Podcast

A Gewürztraminer that Rules the Roost

Image via Okanagan Crush Pad.

British Columbia Winery Tour: Interviews at Six Okanagan Wineries

Posted on: October 16th, 2014 by

St. Hubertus

What a pleasure to travel to British Columbia and visit wineries up and down the Okanagan Valley. I had my handy audio recorder with me and captured six interviews with six fantastic folks while on a media trip put together by Wines of British Columbia.

You may have gotten a taste of my experience there when I previously told you about the electric Riesling at Tantalus Vineyards. There’s more from this winery, but first let’s get to know Andy Gebert, Co-Owner of St. Hubertus Estate Winery.

He poses with grapes:

St. Hubertus

And pours us Chasselas, which is a white wine grape I’ve never tasted outside of bottles from France’s Alsace region. Cool!

St. Hubertus

Who else will you get to know on this episode of the Wine Without Worry podcast?

Quail’s Gate Winery: Rania Peters, Marketing Manager

Meyer Family Vineyards

Peach Cliff Rock at Meyer Family Vineyards

Meyer Family Vineyards: Janice Stevens, Co-Owner

Tantalus Vineyards: Jane Hatch, General Manager

Black Hills Estate Winery: Glenn Fawcett, President and Wine Evangelist

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery

Burrowing Owl Estate Winery: Chris Wyse, President

Without further ado, here’s the show:

For more British Columbia, just say, “Hello BC.”

Food Photography Philosophy From Leigh Beisch

Posted on: October 15th, 2014 by

the essence of wineDo you have an emotional connection with lychee? How about when it’s in your wine?

I hadn’t given it that much thought until I got a review copy of The Essence of Wine to check out on my tablet. The words are provided by Vinography’s Alder Yarrow and the beautiful photos by Photographer Leigh Beisch. It’s a meditative visual work considering many of wines most classic flavors and aromas (oak and pear, for example) along with Yarrow’s picks for bottles that exemplify each essence. Lengthier essays on wine can be found throughout the book as well.

Read Yarrow and Beisch’s thoughts regarding the creation of the book and how the process impacted them on Grape Collective.

The food dude in me had to ask Beisch about photography. I was really impressed how energetic all of these inanimate objects were in every photo. My query and her response, the latter I enjoyed for its philosophical insight as well as practical advice:

JF: Many of the pictured fruits are squeezed, smashed, and/or sliced; they look very dynamic. Can you give a casual photographer a quick tip for shooting food so it doesn’t look it’s “sitting there doing nothing”?

LB: “Food is an experience. We share it, we desire it, we need it to survive! Don’t think of it as a static object when photographing it. Food has a life span, it dies quickly, sometimes subtly. Shoot it quickly, passionately. Show evidence that it was enjoyed.”

Lychee by Leigh Beisch. Please peruse her photography portfolio.