Monthly Archives: January 2021

An Afternoon at the Opera by the Fireside

Once again we were invited to watch an opera and have lunch with friends. This time, another friend joined us and he brought the Burgundy. We watched Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart starring Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn TerfelIMG_4258

sitting by the fireplace as we enjoyed our Prosecco.

IMG_4246With the wine, we had a assortment of charcuterie, including duck rillettes, a pate campagne with black peppercorns, a rabbit pate, prosciutto, bresaola, fontina cheese, and rustic sourdough bread.IMG_4243

Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2018 Brut Natural Silvano Follador made mostly from Glera with a small amount of Perera, Bianchetta and Verdiso. There is a careful selection of the grapes. The grapes are fermented slowly and then aged on the lees for 6 months. In the spring the second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank (Martinotti method) and at the end the yeasts are eliminated by slow filtration. It always ends with less than 3g/l of residual sugar so that it is a Brut Natural. The wine is aged 6 months in steel before release. It has hints of fresh fruit, green apple, a touch of citrus fruit and a floral note.IMG_4249

Meursault 2002 1er cru “La piece sous le bois” Robert Ampeau & Fils 100% Chardonnay. Located in the Puligny – Montrachet region of Burgundy covering 10 hectares of vineyards. The harvest is by machine and this allows other plants to grow between the rows of vines. The wines are not released by the winery until they feel they are ready to drink. The wines are fermented without stalks in cement cuvees and aged in barriques, mostly used for 10 months. The wine has hints of honey, butterscotch, pear, citrus fruit and nuts with mineral notes and good acidity.

IMG_4252After a couple of acts, we put the opera on pause and headed to the dining room for our main course which was a classic coq au vin served with steamed little potatoes.

IMG_4253Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Lavieres” 1999 Robert Ampeau et Fils made from 100% Pinot Noir. This premier cru is actually located in Meursault, though it is sold as Volnay.  This is a complex wine with dark ripe fruit aromas and flavors, hints of strawberries, cherries, currants, plum and a touch of spice. It is a very impressive Burgundy.

IMG_4256Michele provided the dessert, sliced navel and blood oranges marinated in orange syrup with the orange zest and Gran Marnier. It was light and refreshing.

Back by the fire, we finished watching the opera with glasses of Armagnac.

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Tom Maresca on Places or Grapes

What’s in a Name: Places or Grapes?

Tom’s Wine Line

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Europeans say Bordeaux and Burgundy, Americans say Cabernet sauvignon and Pinot noir. That difference isn’t merely cultural – though no cultural difference is really mere – but in a sense ideological. It points to two different orientations to wine and the wine world.

I was reminded of this recently by an online article of Daniele Cernilli’s called “Beyond the Varietal.” This was not another rehash of stories about the meaning of terroir, but a reasoned argument about what matters in a wine besides its grape variety. Essentially, Cernilli argues that to speak of, say, Richebourg, as Pinot noir is to completely miss what is distinctive about that wine; and to talk only about, say, Nebbiolo, is to fail to understand what makes Barolo Cannubi great. Here, I’m less interested in that than in why the US makes so much of varietals.

There are complex reasons why Americans think of variety first, many of them deeply rooted in the brevity of our history with wine. As a nation, we have no tradition of wine drinking, save for a few exceptional individuals like Thomas Jefferson, who championed it. But such examples only tended to push wine drinking and wine knowledge further out of the mainstream and to isolate it as an aristocratic interest of the landed and wealthy.

This of course was intensified by the whole area of wine being so completely dominated, for so long, in the consciousness of English speakers, by French wines, all of which bore place names that conveyed no information, in a language that many Americans continue to find impenetrable and unpronounceable.

I think it is safe to say that wine in the US did not begin to take hold among the general population until non-aristocratic Italians and other southern Europeans began arriving here in significant numbers. We Americans who now love wine owe a huge debt to those once-looked-down-upon spaghetti joints, with their checkered tablecloths and candles stuck in wicker-wrapped Chianti bottles. Those were probably the first wine bottles many Americans had ever seen. And drinking what had been in those flasks to accompany their “exotic” spaghetti and meatballs was probably the first experience of wine many of them had ever had. It’s important to remember that that world doesn’t lie very far in our past: It’s still relatively recent history.

The biggest part of American wine history of course belongs to California. How many of us remember when California produced Chablis, Chianti, Burgundy, and Rhine Wine – even Champagne? For a good many years, California marketed wines that way, until the fledgling European Union made ending that commercial appropriation of historic and important place names one of its chief goals.

That was when naming wines for the grape varieties that made them started to be the norm in America. It succeeded not just because it was the ethical thing to do, but largely because for a tyro wine drinking nation it was easier to learn and remember the names of a few grape varieties than all those European regional and town names. Varietal naming told you something about what was in the bottle that, unless you already knew a fair amount about wine, names like St. Julien or Chambolle-Musigny didn’t. And popular wisdom had it that connoisseur claptrap didn’t matter. Who cared who made the wine or where it was made? It was all Cabernet sauvignon or Pinot noir or Chardonnay, wasn’t it? (No prizes will be given for the correct answer to that question.)

That simplicity also greatly aided marketing, and it’s safe to say that marketing is king in America. You could order a glass of Chardonnay with your dinner, and for most people that was the end of it. You didn’t think about it, you had no opinion of it: It was safe and you hadn’t embarrassed yourself. Why complicate things by considering whether the wine was a good example of Chardonnay or not? What does that mean anyway? Besides, those who worried about whether they had gotten a good Chardonnay needed only to check its 100-point-scale score: Over 90 and you were gold.

You certainly didn’t want to complicate things further by worrying about where your Chardonnay was made: Napa? Sonoma? Paso Robles? Mendocino? North Fork? Finger Lakes? Where are those places? Who cares? My wine got 92 points from the Spectator and a whole paragraph of soft-core palatal porn from Parker:  I’m good. So what if it’s from a plot of land that until a few years ago grew scrub oaks and mesquite, and from a producer who until a few years ago was a roofing contractor? This is a brave new world, that has such markets in it.

And that of course is the point: Marketing is what it’s all about. Americans are not challenged to go beyond varietal in evaluating a wine because varietal is marketable, and knowledge and taste and judgement are not – unless you can articulate them numerically. How do you assign numerical value for 800 years of continuous grape cultivation in a single spot, dating back to Cistercian monks, or for generations of family winemaking? How many points is it worth for an Emperor to have had his troops salute a vineyard as they marched by? (There will be no prizes for the correct answers to these questions either.)

I know this sounds snobbish, but the inescapable fact is that anything that involves knowledge, let alone knowledge and taste, is snobbish. Oh, it’s true that in this country, some kinds of snobbery aren’t snobbish: We’ve all been bored to tears by a baseball or football super-statistician, or a micro-brewery maven, or by the person who knows everything that can be known about the Grateful Dead. Those lore lodes don’t involve too many foreign names, so they sound comfortably American – and they certainly don’t seem to imply that “you think you’re better than me,” which is what wine snobbery is considered to imply.

At bottom, I think it is that implicit non-egalitarian threat that has kept Americans wedded to grape varieties as their passport to wine, despite all the limitations of that approach. This may be changing, as more Americans do become more seriously engaged with wine, and as Europe, despite the best efforts of the EU, succumbs more and more to the attractions of mass marketing. Small European cheese makers have already felt the chilling effects of this process. Can wine makers be far behind? Probably not, so be a snob and enjoy it, while you still can. We may live to see the day when, to be sold in the US, St. Julien and Chambolle-Musigny and Barolo Cannubi will all have to be pasteurized. Absit omen.

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Daniele Cernille on Blind Tasting

by Daniele Cernilli 01/18/21 | 
Daniele Cernilli degustazione
I agree with this article by Daniele Cernilli (aka Doctor Wine) and I think you will find it interesting

Blind tastings are not easy, they demand a great deal of concentration and skill to interpret. Added to this is the essential factor of the sequence in which the wines are presented.

After decades of blind tastings, I would like to share with you what I have understood and what are the pros and cons of this method. There are those who believe it is sufficient to cover the labels in order to be impartial and “objective” and I must say that while this point of view is based on good intentions it is also somewhat naïve.

This because blind tastings are more difficult than one would assume and it is not unusual to be totally in left field. It is not uncommon to lose concentration when you try to guess and when the tastings are done as a panel and the samples are many resulting in an unescapable tendency to prefer wines that are more immediate and have greater body, no matter what their type and origin. You have to be skilled to taste under these conditions, you have to be consistently concentrated and understand when you have to take an interpretive leap, to place the wines in their proper framework rather than judge them based only on an organoleptic point of view according to one’s owe tastes.

Allow me to cite an example to better explain myself. Years ago, during a group tasting of Langhe wines for the Gambero Rosso and Slow Food guide, there was a fan and almost a fanatic for the wines of Bruno Giacosa. The Barolo were great, the Barbaresco traditional, elegant and complex but certainly not outstanding for structure. During the blind tasting, however, he consistently rated these wines below the others, which may have had a more modern style and a body with less of a punch. When the labels were uncovered, he first protested that, evidently, the samples were defective, but later he wanted someplace to hide. He then asked that his reviews be taken out of consideration because that day he was clearly out of sorts or some other excuse. And this was a person of high esteem and skill, yet one who in a context like this one became somewhat confused and lost his bearings amid all these wines.

This is just one example but I could tell you of many others that took place during similar “blind tastings”, including some in which the producer himself gave a “thumbs down” to his own wine, not having recognized it, or when a famous enologist had to agree with the opinion of a less esteemed colleague. The drama was almost comic.

The truth be told, “blind tastings” are a great exercise, they allow you to understand many things, they allow you to avoid bias, even unintentional, but to end up with a reliable conclusion certain parameters need to be respected. One is to place a certain wine in different flights to see it gets the same rating or something similar. If a higher level of wine is placed with distinctly inferior ones, it will stand out. If it is place with top-self wines, then it will not shine so brightly.

It should be clear that all this has little to do with “objectivity”. A key factor is the technical expertise of the taster, along with their ability to concentrate and hold up. Tasting a slew of wines is not like working in a mine but it can be more trying and, at times, even more boring than one would imagine. Sometimes you get tired, without knowing it, and slip into giving imprecise and unreliable reviews and ratings. Thus one needs to pace and manage their own efficiency. Not everyone can run a marathon, it takes training. The same goes for tastings and it is important to realise this. The bottom line is that while “blind” ratings are all well and good, sometimes the verdict is on he who judges.


 

 
 

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An Afternoon at the Opera

Friends who live close by invited us to spend a Sunday afternoon watching an opera and having lunch. What a great way to send a long Sunday afternoon!  The opera was a 1976 version of La Boheme with Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto.

During acts 1 and 2, we had appetizers.

IMG_4172These were toasts with roasted peppers and marinated anchovies.

IMG_4173Then we had spicy vegan empanadas filled with roasted Korean pumpkin, miso and ginger.  They were very tasty and are just one of a new line of vegan foods designed by well known vegan chef Adam Sobel.  They can be ordered on line at the Cinnamon Snail by Nuchas.

IMG_4174Champagne Cuvée Réserve Pol Roger NV made from equal parts of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay from 30 different crus. Once harvested the grapes are delicately pressed. The must undergoes a first debourbage (settling) at the press house and a second at the winery. The grapes rest at 6C for 24 hours. Alcoholic fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats at a low temperature, with the production of each village kept separate until the final blend. Malolactic fermentation takes place. After tasting, blending and bottling, there is the secondary fermentation (prise de mosse) and the maturing for four years. The blend has 25% reserve wines.  It has hints of pear, mango and apricot with a note of brioche and a touch of orange peel.

Because of the predominance of red grapes in the blend, this was the perfect Champagne to stand up to the spicy appetizers.

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During the first two acts, a classic beef stew had been simmering on the stove.  It reminded us of memorable meals we have eaten in France.

IMG_4178The stew, made with carrot, onions, peas and other vegetables was served over buttered noodles.

 

IMG_4182Crozes – Hermitage Jaboulet “Les Jalets” 2006 made from 100% Syrah from a 6 ha vineyard with 25 year old vines.. The soil is sandy mixed with large smooth stones called “jalets” in old French. The grapes are destemmed, crushed and fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. The wine is then aged in vats and bottle before release. The wine has hints of blackcurrants, black cherry, blackberry, and plum with a touch of licorice and leather and a savory note.

The last time we had had dinner with these friends, this was their back-up bottle.  We didn’t get to drink it, but I had said that I hoped they would reserve this bottle for me, as it is one of my favorites. Not only did they do this but they also made the stew which was perfect with the wine.  The dark fruit flavors of the Crozes-Hermitage were complemented by the savory richness of the beef.

IMG_4180A fresh salad with walnuts and nuggets of blue cheese followed.

IMG_4183The opera had ended and it was time for desert.  Homemade Prune and Armagnac Ice Cream was a wonderful finale deserving of many curtain calls!  This is something we always look for in France and it should be better known here — truly adult ice cream.

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A glass of Calvados warmed us up for the short walk home.  Bravi! to our hosts for another superb meal.

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On a Cold Winter’s Day

We went to a friends house for the weekend.  He had been planning to roast a leg of lamb, but due to a mix-up, the lamb did not arrive.  Luckily, he was able to get lamb shanks, which Michele offered to cook.  

Outside it was cold and snowy.

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Dinner began with two kinds of crostini:  one with warm mozzarella and anchovies and the other with Michele’s fig and olive tapenade.

IMG_4158Beneventano Falanghina IGT 2017 Donnachiara made from 100% Falanghina. The vineyard is the Torre Cuso, the best location for Falanghina. The soil is volcanic, chalky clay, the vines are 16 years old, the training system is guyot and there are 2,500 vines per hectare. The grapes are not destemmed or crushed before pressing. Cold fermentation is in stainless steel and there is extended maceration. This is a crisp white wine with citrus fruit aromas and flavors, nice acidity and good minerality. It is one of my favorite white wines  and my friend always has some chilled and ready to drink

IMG_4145Braising the lamb shanks

IMG_4154Mashed potatoes

IMG_4163On the plate, braised lamb shanks with mashed potatoes and sauteed escarole.

IMG_4165Here’s another picture because it looked so good and tasted so delicious.

IMG_4171Brunello di Montalcino 1999 Lisini made from 100% Sangiovese. The are 3,300 plants per hectare in the old vineyard and 5, 400 plants in the newer vineyard at 300 to 350 meters. The grapes are hand harvested and a selection takes place. Fermentation and maceration is in stainless steel with skin contact for 20 t0 26 days. Aging is in large Slavonian oak barrels of 20 to 50 ha for 42 months. The wine is aged another 6 to 8 months in bottle before release. This is a traditional Brunello with hints of red and black fruit, blueberries and rasperries and a touch of violet. It was drinking extremely well.

IMG_4159Taurasi “Radici” 1996 Mastroberardino made from 100% Aglianico.  The vineyards for Taurasi “Radici” are located on two hills, Mirabella vineyard at 500 meters and the Montemarano vineyard at 550 meters. Because of its position on the hill and its altitude, the temperature at the Montemarano vineyard was much colder and the grapes are picked a little later. Harvest is from the end of October into the beginning of November. The vinification is the classic one for red wine, long maceration with skin contact at controlled temperatures. The wine is aged for 24 months in French barriques and Slovenian oak barrels and remains in the bottle for 24 months before release. The barriques were second and third passage. This is a wine with hints of black cherry, plum, spice and a touch of leather.

For Dessert, we ate a selection of cookies with ice cream.

IMG_4147We finished the dinner with Single Malt Scotch Whiskey from Ardmore Distillery to keep us warm.

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Wines of Romagna Part II

Marina Thompson, of Rome-based Thompson International Marketing, is a wine marketing expert and a long time friend. She invited me to attend two Zoom telecasts to discuss the wines of Romagna. The telecasts took place a few days apart in the middle of December

The speaker for both was her husband Daniele Cernilli.  Daniele Cernilli, aka Doctor Wine, is the author of The Essential Guide to Italian Wine 2021 and one of the foremost authorities on Italian wine.  Daniele pointed out that Emilia-Romagna is considered one region, but as far as wine and food are concerned they are very different. See Wines of Romagna Part 1

Daniele said the three most important grapes in Romagna are Albana (the first Italy white to be awarded the DOCG), Sangiovese, and Trebbiano.

He also spoke of one of my favorite Italian restaurants San Domenico in Imola where I had a wonderful lunch in November 2019. He also mentioned one of my favorite cites to visit, Ravenna because of its long history and wonderful mosaics

All these Romagna wines are available in the US.

IMG_3931Albano Secco “ I Croppi” 2019 Celli made from 100% Albana. Production area Bertinoro. The soil is a clayey mixture with limestone and the exposure is east-south east. There are 3,000 to 500 plants per hectare and the training system is double guyot. Harvest was the first week of September. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks as is the aging. The wine has hints of yellow peaches, apricots, a touch of citrus with salty and mineral  notes.  Imported by SolStars Inc.IMG_3930

Albano Secco “Bianco Di Ceparano” 2019 Fattoria Zerbina made from 100% Albano. The vineyard is high-density bush vines trained to a single stake which is a return to the tradition of the Romagna hills. There is the advantage of a 360 degree exposure of the canopy to direct sunlight and harvesting can be in any direction. Six months in cement tanks and then in stainless steel. The wine has hints of ripe citrus fruit, apples, pears and a touch of honeydew. Daniele said all of their wines are top quality and some are among the best in the country.  Imported by Sussey Wine Merchants.

IMG_3924Romagna Sangiovese Predappio 2018 Notturno Drei Dona – La Palazza made from 100% Sangiovese from the best grapes in their vineyards. There are 3,300 and 5,000 plants per hectare. Fermentation is in steel and concrete at a controlled temperature. The grapes are harvested, vinified and aged separately then assembled to complete the wine. The wine is aged for about one year is 15 and 25HL traditional casks and 500 liter tonneaux. The wine is bottled unfiltered. The wine has hints of dark red fruit, blackberries and blueberries, a touch of sweet spice and a note of caramel. Daniele said this estate is a point of reference not only for wine lovers but also for other producers. Imported by LNJ Brands, Inc

IMG_3928Sangiovese Superiore I Diavoli Le Rocche Malatestiane made from 100% sangiovese from vineyards between San Clemente and Gemmano in Rimini. The soil is tinted clay and chalk adjacent to the town of Gemmano at 250 meters. The wine is aged for six months in concrete tanks and one month is steel tanks. The production area for I Diavoli is close to the Natural Reserve of Onferno, called inferno (hell), because of the vapor rising from the crevasses and the bats, “the devils,” who lived in the underlining karst caves. The wine has hints of black cherry, blueberries, wildflowers and a touch of spice. It is part of the Cevico Group with 5,000 suppliers-partners that offers well-made wines at affordable prices.  Imported by Terre Cevico

IMG_3929Sangiovese Riserva Bertinoro 2014 Fattoria Paradiso made from 100% from the Vigna Delle Lepri Sangiovese Grosso. The wine is aged in cask for 18 months and 6 months in barriques followed by 12 months in bottle before release. I visited the winery a number of years ago and was impressed by this particular wine. The wine will be available in the US early this year.   The wine has hints of blackberry, black cherry, licorice, dried roses and a touch of chocolate. Imported by Panebianco LLC

IMG_3927Romagna Sangiovese Predappio 2018 Noelia Ricci La Pandolfa 100% Sangiovese large berried type (Romagna biotype) from the Godenza vineyard in San Cristoforo in Foli. The vineyard is at 300 to 340 meters and the soil is ochre-colored clay and calcareous marl, with traces of sand. Vines were planted in 1999. There are 4,500 plants per hectare and they are spurred-cordon trained. Manual harvest the second week of September. Grapes from different clones are harvested together for fermentation. Fermentation and maceration take place on the skins in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Skin contact for about 28 days followed by 8 months in steel tanks and 12 months in bottle before release. The winery is converting to organic farming. The wine has hints of red fruit, raspberries and with a hint of spice.

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They owners have a fascination with the animal world and went through illustrations from late 19th century archives to illustrate their labels.  These figures lend themselves to a certain freedom of imagination. The most advanced of animals, the monkey, is represented on the oldest wine, Godenza. Imported by Artisanal Cellars

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A Post-Christmas Dinner

The spirit of Christmas lasts longer than 12 days at our house so we decided to invite a friend over to commemorate a meal we had shared last year in Beaune, France.  The menu was simple.  Our friend loves roast chicken and Michele had a slightly different roasting technique she wanted to try.   Our friend brought the Burgundy wine.

IMG_4029We started with chicken livers with onions on crostini.  A drizzle of high quality balsamic vinegar and sprinkle of flaky salt really enhanced the flavor.

IMG_4031On the plate

IMG_4046Meursault – Perrieres 1995 Robert Amprau et Fils Located in the Puligny – Montrachet region of Burgundy covering 10 hectares of vineyards. They harvest by machine and allow other plants to grow between the rows of vines. The wines are not released by the winery until they are ready to drink. The wines are fermented without stalks in cement cuvees and aged in barriques, mostly used for 10 months. The wine has hints of ripe fruit, honey, apricot, nuts and a touch of brioche. The wine is at its peak.

IMG_4033For extra crispy skin, Michele first butterflied the chicken, then left it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight so that the skin was very dry.  The result was great.  Moist meat and crispy skin.

IMG_4035Broccoli rabe with garlic

IMG_4036Mashed Potatoes with lots of butter

IMG_4037It was a simple meal, just what we wanted after the holiday feasting.

IMG_4045The wine Volany-Lantenots 1999 Robert Ampeau et Fils made from 100% Pinot Noir. This Premier cru, is actually located in Meursault, is sold as Volnay.  This is a complex wine with dark ripe fruit aromas and flavors, hints of strawberries, cherries, currents, plum and a touch of spice. It is a very impressive Burgundy.

IMG_4039A bloomy rind French cheese, the name of which I cannot recall, was all we needed to finish the wine.

IMG_4043We enjoyed slices of pannetone for dessert.

IMG_4044Followed by just a small glass of Vieil Armagnac 1983

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New Year’s Day 2021

The holiday celebrations were most unusual this year, and New Year’s Day was no exception.  We did manage to stick with one tradition — eating lentils.  As in many other cultures, Italians eat lentils to celebrate the coming of the New Year.  The legumes are thought to resemble coins and eating them brings the promise of prosperity and all good things for the year ahead.

IMG_4110The view from our window on New Year’s Day.  The Befana, a witch who comes on her broom bearing gifts on January 6, made an early stop at our house.

IMG_4111We started our meal with speck, smoked ham, and mostarda, fruits preserved in a mustard syrup.

IMG_4117Next we had cotechino, an imported Italian pork sausage, which comes pre-cooked.

IMG_4116These are the lentils.  They were simmered with prosciutto rind, celery, carrots, onions and garlic until they were tender and flavorful.

IMG_4120Though mashed potatoes often are served with cotechino and lentils, we opted instead for sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and chili.

IMG_4118Cotechino and lentils, ready to be served.

IMG_4122On the plate, the cotechino, lentils and broccoli rabe with a piece of mostarda.

The Wine

IMG_4124Ciliegiolo IGT Toscana 2016 made from 100% Ciliegiolo from the Pisa Hills. Fattoria Fibbiano The soil is medium and rich in marine shells. The vineyard is at 200 meters and the planting density is 2.29 x 0.80 and the pruning is spur pruning cordon. Hand harvest takes place in the middle of September. The grapes are destemmed and crushed and then go into specialized stainless steel tanks for 10 days. Alcoholic fermentation takes place through indigenous yeasts living on the skins. The wine is aged for 4 months in cement tanks where malolactic fermentation takes place. Then 12 months in Slavonian wooden barrels and finally 4 months in bottle before release. This a fruity red wine with hints of cherry, raspberry and blackberry and a touch of leather. It was a delight to drink and a perfect combination to the food.

For dessert, we nibbled on some Christmas cookies and toasted with Champagne to a happy and healthy Year 2021.  Happy New Year to all!

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