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Doctor Wine: More on Genetic Editing

Signed DW
Signed DW | Published on DoctorWine N°225
Laymen and clerics
by Daniele Cernilli 04-09-2017
Riccardo Ricci Curbastro President of Federdoc writes to DoctorWine about genetic editing and the future of winegrowing, and underlines the risk of an idealogical battle.

I received the following letter from Riccardo Ricci Curbastro, a Franciacorta producer and president of Federdoc.

“Dear Daniele,

It was with great pleasure that I read your editorial Trend Topic: Genetic editing. A pleasure because I believe that it is the future of winegrowing, the wonderful and difficult world my children are now getting involved with. I agree with everything that was said: organic methods are not less polluting (since they uses so many treatments, demand more fuel and lead to a copper build up in the soil); and biodynamic methods are difficult to accept three centuries after the Enlightenment during which time science has given answers to what could appear to be witchcraft.

If it has now clearly been accepted that vines contain genes that are “resistant” to disease, then I firmly believe the time has come to move from developing hybrids to genetic editing. The benefit would be that of not modifying the genes that distinguish a Chardonnay from a Sauvignon Blanc but only to give the vines of both varietals the capacity to resist disease.

I have personally studied and worked with hybrids at length and seven years ago, when it was not the fashion, planted a vineyard with PIWI, a resistant, hybrid variety. The experiment worked and the vines have not needed any chemical treatments in seven years.

We are now working with other new, resistant varieties which are again hybrids but have over 95% of the original genes (Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot and so on) with only 5% of the genes from other resistant varieties. It is my hope that my children will have vineyards that are still 100% composed of the original varietal but be “cancer free” thanks to genetic editing allowing a recessive gene to become the dominate one.

Being now close to 60, I will probably see this dream come true from up above but I’m sure it will still fill me with joy there, too. Today we have opened a door to a cleaner future for our children. What dream could be better?

Thank you for putting your pen at the service of these realistic dreams… although from some of the reactions to your editorial posted on your site I can see a long, ideological battle lies ahead of us.

Best regards and hope to see you soon,

Riccardo Ricci Curbastro”

I hope this will help to clarify aspects of a question that will be central to the future of winegrowing in Italy, much the way grafting European shoots onto American rootstocks was after the phylloxera blight at the beginning of the 20th century. Genetic editing is an authentic revolution and I hope that the debate it will spark will be serious and concrete and not just the usual ideological claptrap that will confused matters by dragging up ant-scientific bias much the way clerics did during the Counter-Reformation, those who condemned Giordano Bruno to death and forced Galileo Galilei abjure, just to name a few. The arguments are different but the mentality is always the same.


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Dinner with the Wines of Robert Mondavi in Brooklyn

Michele and I were invited to a dinner and wine tasting in an elegant town house in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn.

The dinner featured the wines of the Robert Mondavi Winery. The innovative chef, Theo Friedman, just 24 years old and founder of Theory Kitchen, prepared dinner. Ted Allen, of the Food Network show “Chopped” and other programs, hosted the evening. Representing the Mondavi Winery was wine maker Joe Harden.

The Robert Mondavi Winery is located in the Napa Valley. Robert Mondavi opened his winery in 1966 and changed the face of California wine forever.

When Michele and I arrived, we were welcomed with wine and a an assortment of starters.
Crispy Maitakes with Cured Egg Yolk and Parsley Ranch Dressing
Piedmontese Beef Tartare with Pickled Mustard Seed and
Chilled Espresso Hollandise

Oakville Fumé Blanc 2014

Made from 79% Sauvignon Blanc and 21% Sémillon. The grapes are hand harvested in the cool, early morning and then the whole clusters are gently pressed, minimizing skin contact to retain freshness and vibrancy in the wine. Joe said that for richness and complexity, they barrel ferment 91% of the wine in 60 gallon French oak barrels. The wine is then barrel aged on its lees for eight months with hand stirring (batonnage) to integrate flavors and develop a creamy texture. Joe said a portion of new barrels (8%) contribute subtle oak spices to the fruit character. The wine was bottled in July 2015.
The wine has hints of lemon and lime with a touch of melon and fennel. $40

First Course
Chilled California Avocado and English Pea Soup,
Citrus, Smoked Salmon, Ricotta, Herbs

Fumé Blanc Reserve 2014, To Kalon Vineyard

Made from 98% Sauvignon Blanc and 2% Semillon. Almost all of the juice was barrel fermented in French oak, 42% new, for a slow cool fermentation. The wine was aged on its lees for nine months and then was hand stirred twice weekly. Joe said this was to create creamy texture and to enhance the volume and length and the small amount of Semillon added gives the final blend a richer mouth feel and more complexity. Two cement egg-shaped fermentation vessels are used to explore the purity of the fruit that comes from the production method and added this wine to the final blend. Joe said the name “To Kalon” is Greek for highest beauty and it is one of Napa Valley’s oldest and most respected vineyards,
This reserve was bigger, richer, and more complex wine with hints of citrus fruit, a touch of spice and vanilla and a creamy texture $52.

Second Course
Country Style Pork and Chicken Terrine, Fig Mostarda

Maestro 2014 Napa Valley

Made from 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. Appellation: 100% Napa Valley, To Kalon and Wappo Hill vineyards. Joe said this wine is inspired by Bordeaux blends, at heart it is a free sprit. Rather than a set style, they take their cues from each vintage from the vineyards. Cabernet Sauvignon in 2014 was fantastic in the Wappo Hill and To Kalon vineyards.
The grape clusters were gently destemmed directly into traditional French oak tanks for cold soak, fermentation, and extended maceration for a total of 24 days of wine to skin contact. Joe said this maximizes the extraction of varietal character and complexity while keeping the tannins fleshy and supple. The wine was drained and gently pressed into 28% new French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation. The final blend was assembled though repeated tasting. The wine has hints of dark and red fruit, juicy plum, and cassis with a touch of cinnamon. $50

Third Course

Hudson River Duck Breast, Cocoa and Malt Glaze,
Preserved Berries Maitake

Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2014, To Kalon Vineyard

Made from 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petite Verdot
The grapes were hand harvested with three stages of strict sorting, on the vine, by individual clusters, and then by single berry following destemming. Harvest was from September 2nd to October 17th. The selected grapes went directly into traditional French oak tanks for cold soak, fermentation, and extended maceration for a total of 34 days of wine to skin contact. Joe said this is done to maximize the extraction of varietal character and complexity while keeping the tannins round and supple. The wine was drained and gently pressed into 100% new French oak barrels for alcoholic fermentation and assuring seamless integration of fruit and oak. The final blend was assembled through repeated tasting over twenty-one months of barrel aging. This is an intense, complex and full-bodied wine with hints of blackberries, cassis, cocoa powder and vanilla. $165


Selection of Cheese and Crackers,
Dried Apricot and Clove Preserve, Roasted Nuts

Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis 2002, Napa Valley

Made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. In 2002 they handpicked the botrytis-affected clusters from the Wappo Hill vineyard in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District AVA as the clusters reached a sugar level of 40%. Due to the fungus’ dehydrating effect, the grapes were richly concentrated with pronounced flavor intensity. After gently pressing the grapes as whole clusters, the juice was fermented in 60 gallon French oak barrels, 13% new, to give the wine complexity and depth. The wine fermented slowly for two months until it reached 12% alcohol at which time the yeast activity naturally stopped, leaving a residual sugar of 16.1 percent. The wine was aged on the lees and gently hand stirred each barrel once a month, to increase the creamy structure of the wine, during 19 months of barrel aging. Because of the botrytis cinerea, this dessert wine has hints of orange marmalade, honey, orange zest, brown sugar and almonds. Residual sugar is 161 g/L. $NV


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Daniele Cernilli on Genetic Editing

| Published on DoctorWine N°224
Trend Topic: Genetic editing
by Daniele Cernilli 28-08-2017
Parola d’ordine: cisgenetica editoriale doctowine daniele cernilli
Studies on genetic editing made by professor Attilio Scienza and by the Edmund Mach institute in San MIchele all’Adige oper the path to the creation of vines resistent to diseases. Will this be the future?

Recently, I have been often citing Attilio Scienza and his observations but I do so because I believe they are illuminating for the future of winemaking. For those who do not know who he is, he held the chair for viticulture at the University of Milan for years, was the head of the Istituto Mach di San Michele all’Adige and is the author of many books on both scientific and other subjects. His latest research, carried out at San Michele, dealt with gene or genetic editing, scientifically known also known as cisgenesis, and removing certain genes from a vine DNA in order to create grapes that are resistant to botrytis, above all. If we consider that anti-botrytis treatments represent the majority of those carried out in the vineyard, using these grapes would eliminate a significant percentage of polluting substances. But would this make organic and biodynamic methods useless?

Scienza doesn’t think to. “The birth of agriculture was an act of genetics. Already in the Neolithic Age, man was selecting plants and animals to raise to serve as food. The common trait in innovation is fear. Biodynamic and organic farming seek to preserve natural resources and thus are a response to a fear of losing them but we need to go beyond this. Organic farming is not convincing because it is a dead-end street. We cannot return to the past because this would mean denying the future. It would be like trying to preserve the Ship of Theseus”. Is genetic editing a back door to creating genetically modified organisms (GMO)? Not at all because GMOs are created by inserting foreign genes into the DNA to be modified whereas as genetic editing removes genes from the host. If it were possible to eliminate the gene that causes cancer from a person’s DNA, wouldn’t everyone be in favor of this?

While this may be an extreme and, at present, a hypothetical example it serves to prove a point. In regard to wine, if genetic editing can be used in a way that does affect quality, then it would be possible to eliminate enormous amounts of harmful substances in the vineyard. I am convinced that genetic editing in winegrowing will be the topic of the day in the very near future and it will be interesting to see what positions will be taken by groups like Slow Food or the farmers’ unions Coldiretti and Confagricoltura, not to mention the ministry of agriculture and the European Union. In the wine sector, there will be a confrontation between science and ideology, between believers and deniers, between the future and a nostalgia for a past that, between climate change and limitations on the use of polluting substances, can only remain a distant memory.

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Champagne and Pizza at La Pizza Fresca

Every month a group of Champagne and Italian wine lover’s meet, usually at La Pizza Fresca.
The group is called the G6. The organizer for the events is Ed “Champagne” Mc Carthy, author of “Champagne for Dummies.” Only 3 members of the G6 attended the last get together: Mary Ewing Mulligan, MW, Ed Mc Carthy, and me. Ed invited three guests, David E. Cohen, US Brand Ambassador for Dom Perignon, Nicole Burke, US Brand Ambassador for Krug, and Lacey Burke, US Brand Ambassador for Dom Ruinart. There were 4 Champagnes and two Italian reds but the Champagnes really stole the spotlight.

Champagne Blanc Blancs Extra Brut NV Valentin Le Feflaive created in 2015 by Olivier Feflaive from Burgundy and Erick de Sousa from Champagne. Made of 100% Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blancs. Harvest is by hand and the soil is chalk. The wine is vinified in used Burgundy barrels. This was the first time I have had this Champagne and I was very impressed. It has fresh citrus aromas and flavors, with a touch of brioche.

Moet & Chandon Champagne Dom Pérignon Plenitude Deuxieme P2 1998 made from 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.
This Champagne spent 16 years in the cellars. After 7 years the P2 Bottles are turned upside down, sur pointe, to slow down the oxidation process. The wine is regularly tasted by the Dom Pérignon oenologist to determine the perfect time for release. Each bottle is disgorged by hand prior to release.
This is elegant, intense and complex Champagne with notes of honey, orange fruit, ginger and a touch of almond. It was not showing any signs of age and would be the perfect with caviar.

Champagne Krug Brut 1995 made from 48% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 17% Pinot. All of the wine is fermented in small oak barrels. Ed Mc Carthy in Champagne for Dummies wrote, “Krug Champagnes, which really resemble mature, full bodied white Burgundies in their structure, should be enjoyed with food, preferably with dinner. They are just too full and flavorful to sip as an aperitifs.” This is a very complex full-bodied Champagne with aromas of baked gingerbread, candied fruits, ripe melon and a hints of almonds and honey on the palate. It has a remarkable finish and an aftertaste that goes on and on.

Moët & Chandon Champagne Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 The blend was made by using 81% Grand Cru Chardonnay, 69% of which comes from the Cötes des Blancs (Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger) and 31% from the Montagne de Rheims (Puisieulx, Sillery), with the addition of 19% Pinot Noir made into red wine, coming only from the Sillery cru. Manual harvest. Alcholic fermentation takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats (18 to 20C). Malolactic fermentation takes place. Dosage 4.5g/l
Ruinart was founded in 1729 in Rheims making it the oldest Champagne House.
This is an elegant rosé with a light pink color. It is slightly aromatic with hints of raspberry, currants, strawberry and a note of red roses. It is a rosé that goes with many different foods.


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Three Pre- Birthday Celebrations with Wine and Food

The first celebration took place at the Oriental Gardens restaurant in New York Cities China Town

Soft Shell Crabs and they were fantastic!

We started with the Champagne Krug 1990  from the Krug Collection.

Then a fried sole with scallions.

Chablis Grand Cru just great

Puligny- Montrachet needs more time

1979 Chinon excellent

There was more food and wine but I got caught up in the eating and drinking.


Next on to La Pizza Fresca

We started with Krug NV

Then Chianti Classico 1971 Riserva Ducale from Ruffino

Pizza Margarita

Chateaueuf-du-Papes 1990 right on the money

Amarone 1967 Bertani

Pizza with Prosciutto

A young man waiting for his pizza


Next was Gastronomia Siciliana Norma

Buratta with arugula

Spaghetti with sea urchin (ricci di Mare) was fantastic

Chianti Classico 1996

Pizza with porchetta

Barolo 1989 – barolo at its best 1989 was a great vintage!




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Rosé Wine and a Tomato Tasting on the Terrace

We live on the 20th floor of a Manhattan apartment building. The terrace is very sunny and Michele grows blueberries, tomatoes, mint, basil, etc. A few years after we moved in, we noticed a couple in the apartment building right across the street from us who also were growing tomatoes and other vegetables.

One night, we noticed the couple was out on their terrace having dinner with some guests. Next day on Facebook, a friend posted pictures of her and her husband having dinner on that very terrace. We contacted our friend and asked if she was visiting the people across the street the night before and she said, yes she was. She offered to introduce us to them and we became friends.

Valerie and Mitch are passionate about vegetable gardening tomatoes and grow many different varieties of tomatoes, plus eggplants, peppers, carrots and so on. Every year they invite us to a tomato tasting dinner.

We started with baba ganoush with peppers from the garden for dipping.

Then we had Caprese salad with two kinds of sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

A delicious gazpacho followed.

Last but not least was fresh fettuccine with carrot top pesto and cherry tomatoes. If you have never tried it, carrot top pesto, with a delicate parsley flavor, is a nice alternative to the usual basil variety.

It was a lovely evening as we sat on the terrace finishing the last of our rose wine.

Maison Belle Claire Rosé 2016 Cotes de Provence made from 35% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 30% Cinsault. The soil is clay and limestone. The grapes are destemmed and there is temperature controlled pneumatic pressing without maceration.The wine has a light salmon color very typical of the Rose from the Cotes de Provence. It has intense red fruit with hints of strawberries and raspberries, good acidity and a very pleasing finish and aftertaste $18.


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Tom Maresca and Diane Darrow on Champagne, Prosecco and Food

A Sparkling Wine Tasting Dinner

 A few coincidences set the stage for a very interesting dinner at home this week.

  • Beloved Spouse, having decided to write a post for his wine blog on a comparison between prosecco and champagne, brought home a representative bottle of each, first for a formal tasting, then to test with dinner foods.
  • I had just read Fatal Pursuit, a detective novel by Martin Walker that has Perigord police chief/gastronome Bruno Courrèges making blinis of an unusual kind to serve with local caviar – a kind I wanted to try to make.
  • We had a little jar of American transmontanus caviar in the refrigerator.

Everyone who reads the Bruno books knows that their lavish descriptions of the hero’s cooking are virtually narrative recipes. I’ve written about re-creating some of his dishes here. The blinis in this story are not the traditional Russian ones in several ways. Bruno doesn’t use any buckwheat flour; he adds chopped chives to his batter of flour, milk, egg yolk, and melted butter; and – because he doesn’t have time to raise the blinis with yeast – he beats the egg white into peaks and folds it in. I did the same.

I dropped the batter by tablespoonsful into very hot butter in a frying pan. (Bruno remarks that this is one of the few places he doesn’t use duck fat!) They cooked quickly and neatly, making 20 fluffy 2-inch pancakes.

After we’d had the formal tasting of the sparkling wines alone, we opened our caviar and sat down to find out how the champagne and prosecco would go with our dinner dishes. The blinis themselves were fine – light and delicate, an excellent vehicle for the caviar. I think the leftovers, which I froze, may be just as good with smoked salmon or sturgeon.

We did the same tasting of the two wines along with the dinner’s main course, which was sauteed soft-shell crabs on toast and a summer vegetable mélange of okra, corn, and tomatoes (which I’ve also written about here).

I’ll leave the detailed results of the wine-wine and wine-food comparisons forTom’s blog post to report. What I’ll say is simply that Bruno’s blinis were a success, all the food was delicious, both the wines were delightful, and the entire evening sparkled like the wine.

Prosecco and Champagne: Tasting Beyond the Bubbles

August 7, 2017

I have been enjoying both Champagne and Prosecco for many years now without ever thinking of making a direct comparison between them. I had, without a lot of thought about it, consigned them each to its own niche: Prosecco light and pleasing and sort of frivolous, Champagne a more serious wine for more important occasions. But I was brought up short recently by an innocent question from a wine civilian about what really was the difference between the two.

I had started giving the stock answer about the different grapes that each is made from, when I realized that in fact I had never drunk them side by side so as to be able to give the answer that my civilian friend was really seeking – the differences in how they taste and how that affects what one ought to drink them with. Not a glaring omission, you might think, except that that kind of side-by-side comparison is exactly what my first book, Mastering Wine, is based on and is what I have always believed is the best basic method of learning about wines. Color me embarrassed.

To make up for that slip, and with Long-Suffering Spouse as a willing collaborator, I put together a tasting of a representative Prosecco and a representative Champagne designed to explore the two thoroughly: first, tasting alone in the classic clinical way; then with two stages of a dinner – first as apéritif alongside caviar, then alongside a main course of sautéed soft-shell crabs. (No one says a wine tasting can’t be a little self-indulgent.) It would be understatement to say the experiment was very interesting. You can read Diane’s account of the foods here.

To keep the playing field as level as possible, I wanted to use readily available wines. Ideally, I would have liked them to be similar in price, but that proved impossible. No Prosecco in my local markets came anywhere near the price of most Champagnes, so I availed myself of an Astor Wines sale on sparklers to buy Nino Franco’s Rustico at about $15 and Pol Roger’s Brut NV at about $38. That’s close to standard price for the Prosecco and a very reasonable price for the Champagne. Rustico is a DOCG Prosecco Valdobbiadene, which is one the best zones for Prosecco, but it’s Nino Franco’s basic bottling. (The firm makes others, including a brilliant vintage bottling that is capable of great aging, but none was available locally.)  The Brut NV is Pol Roger’s most basic Champagne, so in that respect there was no tilt in the playing field, but I’m afraid the difference in price between the two wines definitely provided one.

So what did the tasting show me? Visually, there’s not much difference between them, both a pale gold, the Champagne a shade darker. Both had lovely fine and persistent perlage, despite the fact that the Rustico was made by the Charmat method and the Pol Roger had the benefit of the full méthode champenoise (not topics that I can go into here).

The aromas showed more differences. The Rustico was yeasty smelling, hinting of fresh bread, while the Pol Roger was a tad more intensely bready, hinting of toast. Both were pleasing and inviting.

In the mouth, the Rustico tasted light and fresh, with floral and fruity notes, and specific suggestions of apple, while the Pol Roger showed more wheat and less fruit (though hints of pear popped up), by comparison seeming even a little austere on the palate and in the finish. The Rustico finished long, with a touch of elegance polishing its freshness.

This direct comparison was very instructive. Of the two wines, the Prosecco seemed the more direct and – I considered two words here – simple or honest. It was more obviously fruity, though we’re talking about nuanced fruit here, not in-your-face jam. It struck me as more immediately enjoyable, less demanding of attention or analysis. The Champagne seemed less direct or accessible – more intellectual, so to speak. It seemed weightier, more imposing. (The Prosecco had 11 degrees of alcohol, the Champagne 12.5.)

I deliberately used white wine glasses, not flutes, because I wanted to taste the wines and not just the effervescence. As the two wines sat for a while in the glasses and their sparkle faded, the fruit of the Prosecco showed better, while in the Champagne the winemaking came to the fore.

I would say that with neither of these wines is fruit the point. It’s an attraction, of course, but sparkling wines are a contrivance, and the point of the contrivance – at least in my opinion – is lightness and pleasure first and everything else after. Obviously there are outer limits of how much lightness and how much or little of anything else is desirable, and every winemaker and every drinker has to decide what those are for themselves.

Nothing I tasted in this match-up pushed me to prefer one wine over the other. Both offered high levels of pleasure of slightly different kinds, but in fact the two wines surprised me by how similar they were. And those similarities persisted with different foods, both wines tasting equally satisfactory in their own ways with caviar and blini and soft-shell crabs on toast.

Each dish called up the Prosecco’s light, fresh fruit and the Champagne’s relatively greater weight and depth (the latter, I am certain, the result of being vinified from a blend of grape varieties rather than a single one). So there were no knock-outs or TKOs, just two excellent contenders of very slightly different weight classes, each performing in character in a variety of circumstances. As old carnival barkers used to say, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

I could certainly have gotten more dramatically different results by choosing different wines – Nino Franco’s impressive vintage Primo, for instance, or Pol Roger’s always wonderful Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill – but I wanted to get as near parity in my selections as I could. Likewise, other palates making the same comparisons might come to different conclusions or perceive greater differences than I did. All I can tell you is what I tasted, and urge you, if you’re curious, to make the comparison for yourself.

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