Thursday, July 18, 2019

From Improv to Cellar Master: Meet Émilien Boutillat Cellar Master at Piper-Heidsieck

 Champagne is for special occasion and you can find a special occasion every day.” -  Émilien Boutillat

It was another beautiful Spring day in New York City and I was having lunch at Wild Ink at Hudson Yards with Piper-Heidsieck’s new Cellar Master Émilien Boutillat. I’m a big fan of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne but had no idea what to expect from the Cellar Master, this prestige position and the person behind it. Who I met was a handsome young man full of winemaking and viticulture knowledge. He’s funny, personable and a delight to be around.

Émilien Boutillat - Chef de Caves, Piper-Heidsieck (as per his business card)
Émilien joined Piper-Heidsieck October 1, 2018 at the age of 30. I would like to say he is probably one of the youngest to achieve such a position at such a prestigious Champagne House. Growing up in a small town of 300 people on the family vineyard he knew he wanted to be a winemaker but never did he think or have his eyes set on Cellar Master at Piper-Heidsieck. His family vineyard started by his father and today run by his brother-in-law is a contracted grower for Piper-Heidsieck.
When he began to study winemaking and viticulture Émilien knew he did not want to study in Champagne. He wanted an education that gave him a broad spectrum of knowledge and went to school in the South of France. After school, Émilien spent time working in the vineyards and wineries around the world. He spent time in South Africa at La Motte Estate, in Chile at Viu Manent, in California at Peter Michael Winery, in New Zealand at Mud House Winery and in France at Chateau Margaux before becoming Cellar Master at Champagnes Cattier and Armand de Brignac before landing the position of Cellar Master at Piper-Heidsieck.
Piper-Heidsieck feels that Émilien is one of the most promising talented winemakers in Champagne. His technical expertise and achievements show his understanding of sustainable viticulture and his international experience shows his knowledge of both the terroir of Champagne and the wines of the world.
The first few months at Piper-Heidsieck Émilien spent working closely with Regis Camus, Cellar Master who has been with the brand over 20 years. This gave him a full understanding of the Piper style. (Regis is still with Piper but focusing on their Rare Champagne brand)

Just like any person, whether you are making wine or widgets, you want to put your footprint on the product. Asked if he will make any changes to the wines he said he will respect the DNA of the brand with the same style and wine excellence. He will look at the small details and see what small changes he can make to increase the quality. He wants to improve every detail he can in keeping the style and increasing quality.
His first focus is in the vineyard. Focusing on the vineyard and the partnerships they have with the growers. He is looking for sustainability, nice and good balance fruit, not too ripe, not too acidic. Balance is very important between sugar and acidity and the balance between the aromas. The fruit and toastiness need to be there but balanced and mild, he does not want one aroma to take over everything.

Émilien joined the brand because he believes in the style of the wine. He believes champagne should be complex but not complicated, something that is vibrant and elegant and delicate.

Cooking and Improv
Just like you and I, Émilien has some hobbies. At his home, he has a small garden with tomatoes and eggplant and loves to cook. He also does Improv, something he started doing while studying. If you are visiting the region you might be able to catch is improv act the first Thursday of the month at the local improv theatre.

About Piper-Heidsieck
Founded in 1785 as Heidsieck & Cie, Florens-Louis Heidsieck wanted to create a cuvee worthy of a queen and set out to do so. He gave his first cuvee to the Queen and Marie Antoinette became the first Brand Ambassador.

Florens-Louis Heidsieck married Agathe Perthois, and in 1815 Florens-Louis’ nephew Christian Heidsieck and Henri-Guillaume Piper joined them to promote the Champagne House. In 1828 when Florens-Louis died, Christian and Henri-Guillaume decided to keep the venture going. Unexpectedly in 1835 Christian Heidsieck passed away and shortly afterward his widow married Henri-Guillaume Piper. That was the beginning of Piper-Heidsieck and the road it would travel.

Today you can find the Champagne at the Oscars, Sundance Music Festival and many more place including your wine shop.

Piper-Heidsieck Champagne
During this lunch, we were the first to taste the 2012 declared Vintage Champagne. This wine is only made when the grapes are of outstanding quality. The last declared vintage was 2008.

The other Champagne tasted was the 2015 Cuvee Brut, Rose Sauvage, Cuvee Sublime.

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut - This blend is made up of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Elegant, smooth and creamy with hints of pear, red apple, a touch of toastiness and vibrant. SRP $45

Piper-Heidsieck Rose Sauvage - Émilien wants this blend to be true to the fruit. It drinks more like a wine than Champagne. Dark pink in color, blended with 50-55% Pinot Noir of which 20 - 25% is vinified as red wines, 30 - 35% Pinot Meunier and 15 - 20% Chardonnay. Hints of raspberry, blood orange, cranberry and spice. This pairs really well with food and is great for the Thanksgiving table. SRP $62

Piper-Heidsieck 2012 Vintage Champagne - This is the first declared vintage since 2008. They declare a vintage only when the quality is there. The wine ages at least 3 years which is the minimum. This blend is 52% Pinot Noir and 48% Chardonnay from mostly grand and premier cru vineyards. The complexity in this wine is wider with some peach, apricot, red cherry fruits, touch of toastiness and honey notes. Fruit forward, creamy and soft. A bit seductive. SRP $80

Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Sublime - This is a Demi-Sec wine, a sweeter Champagne with 35% residual sugar. Don’t let the RS scare you, it is so well balanced with the acidity to sugar that you don’t realize the sweetness. The aroma leaving the glass has hints of the Caribbean, so think pineapple, mango, gingerbread and hints of honey and a finish of freshness. This wine will go well with sweet and spicy food. It went extremely well with the pineapple upside down cake we had for dessert SRP $55

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Winephabet Street X is for Xinomavro

Welcome to Winephabet Street Season 1 Episode 24 X is for Xinomavro.

Winephabet Street is a monthly series where Lori Budd of Draceana Wines and I work our way through the alphabet exploring wine and wine regions on letter at a time. The show is live on the third Monday at 8pm and is free, but you must register to attend. Put it on your calendar, pour yourself a glass of wine and hang out with us.

We take you to Greece and discuss the Xinomavro grape and the wine it produces in this episode of Winephabet Street.
Xinomavro is the signature grape of the Macedonia region of Greece. It is grown predominantly in the Naoussa region. The name means acid black and is pronounced ksee-NOH-mah-vroh. For more on the pronunciation watch this video by Constantine Boutari. Otherwise, watch the webinar or listen to the podcast below as we talk Xinomavro.

Xinomavro is a wine that ages well. Can be drunk young or aged. As you will see in the webinar, I had a younger wine than Lori and there were some differences.

Alpha Estate 2016 Xinomavro Single Vineyard Hedgehog
Alpha Estate is located in the Amyndeon region of northern Greece. It was founded in 1997 by viticulturist Makis Mayridis and chemist-oenologist Angelos Latridis.
Hedgehog is a subregion of Amyndeon that has northern exposure and faces lake Petron and Mount Voras. The wine was cold soaked with skin contact and aged sur lies for eight months, then twelve months in French oak and twelve months in the bottle before being released.
I opened the wine about 15 minutes before Winephabet Street began. In hindsight, I should have opened it about an hour before. As the wine began to open the fruit flavors became apparent. The tannins in the wine do hold the flavors on your palate. At first I got a little of tapenade and tomato (yes tomato) and not much fruit. As time progressed there were some hints of plum and red fruit.

Listen to or watch the webinar. If you do find yourself drinking a glass of Xinomavro, I would love to hear your feedback on the wine.

The Webinar

The Podcast

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sanford Winery & Vineyards: The Terlato Involvement

It was a beautiful June day in New York City and I was going to lunch at Le Bernardin with John Terlato and Michael Benedict from Sanford Winery & Vineyards. I wasn’t that familiar with Sanford Winery but knowing they were from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara I knew I was in for a treat.
Michael Benedict, a soft-spoken man with so much knowledge. John Terlato, so excited about what is to come from Sanford!

“The Best Years are Ahead of US!” - John Terlato

About Sanford Winery & Vineyards
Michael Benedict a Botanist, was looking for a cool climate location to plant grapes and craft wines in the 1960’s along with his friend Richard Sanford. He had identified what is now the vineyard as a potentially extraordinary location for planting grapes. In 1971 the Sanford & Benedict vineyard was planted with Chardonnay and Riesling. In 1972 they were the first to plant Pinot Noir in the region.

The vineyards are unique because of the marine-based soils that were deposited there over 10,000 years ago from a landslide. Much of this is Monterey Shale and allows the ground to have an incredible water holding capacity which is good for the vines.

In speaking of the vines, it’s very rare to have a vineyard planted on its own rootstock due to phylloxera. Today Sanford is proud to have 30% of the Founders’ Vines planted on its original rootstock.

The Sanford & Benedict vineyard planted in 1971 has a total of 144 acres is planted with 109 acres of Pinot Noir, 33 acres of Chardonnay and 2 acres of Viognier. Due to the soil content, this allows the vines to stay cook and ripen slowly.

In 1997 the La Rinconada Vineyard was planted adjacent to the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard. While adjacent to the original vineyard, this vineyard soil composition is mostly alluvial soil with some of the Monterey shale. This vineyard has a total of 117 acres with 63 acres planted to Pinot Noir and 54 to Chardonnay.

In 2016 the vineyards and winery were certified sustainable by the Wine Institute.

Vineyard Differences
While the two vineyards may be next to each other they will produce slightly different wines. The grapes from the La Rinconada Vineyard produce more fruit driven wines expressing notes of crushed berries with higher acidity and a velvety smooth finish. While the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard produces more vibrant wines with richer fruit.

The Trelato Involvement
The Terlato family became partners in Sanford Winery in 2002. In 2005 they became the majority owners and purchased the estate in 2007. John said they share a common vision with Michael on what this winery could be and want to focus on the vineyard. “Treat every vineyard block as people John said, are they an introvert, extrovert, like contact. They have to identify what each vineyard block represents and manage them through harvest and vinification to highlight them. There is a definitive progression and that progression is toward the vineyard.”

John believes there are 5 common threads between the great important wines of the world.
1. There is a family involved. Owned by a family. Families have a way of establishing a vision and driving that vision through generations.
2.Specific identifiable vineyards.
3. Families have a crystal clear vision on what they can do with their vineyard holdings. Their vision is based on what the vineyard has to offer.
4. Have a winemaker that is talented and passionate, also aligned with the vision of the family. A winemaker that will allow the vineyard to reveal itself without interference.
5. Produce wines are beautiful when young and are age worthy.

John believes the best years at Sanford are ahead of them!

Sanford Wines

2011 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir - Beautiful and clean with nice fruity notes of cherry and strawberry with hint of white pepper.

2013 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (SRP $140)- Silky on the palate with notes of earth and spice with red fruit and a nice black cherry lingering finish

2014 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (SRP$70) Bright red fruit, medium weight nuisances of baking spices and hint of white pepper.

2015 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (SRP $70)A lighter mouthfeel with brighter acidity and supple tannins. Notes of raspberry and minerality shine through.

2016Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir (SRP $70) Complex aromas of raspberry fields, hint of mocha leads to a palate full of red fruit and spice.

2016 La Rinconada Chardonnay ($50) Beautiful with nice acidity and minerality with notes and citrus, lemon, green melon and hint of stone fruits.

2015 Founders’ Vineys Chardonnay (SRP $70) Nice minerality with citrus shining through, hints of honeydew melon and butterscotch.

2015 La Rinconada Pinot Noir (SRP $72)Hints of earthiness with cherry and black raspberry notes and a hint of anise finishes with a lingering spice finish.

2014 Founders’ Vines Pinot Noir (SRP 120) Silky and elegant with red fruit dancing on your palate is combined with nice acidity and hints of tannins.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Meet the Wineries from Rioja's Haro Station District

Meet the wineries of the Haro Station District of Rioja, Spain, where old tradition born out of innovation.

Haro District

Haro, a historic city was one of the first cities in Spain to have electricity. While winemaking history in the region dates way back, in the 1860’s several wineries made their home near the railway station. It was the Railway that brought them together, put Rioja in communication with the rest of the world and allowed them to showcase their wines to the world.

Today the Haro Station District has the highest concentration of century-old wineries creating incredible wines that are continuing the tradition of innovation and what makes the Haro Station District so special.

I recently went to an event showcasing 5 of the historic wineries in the Haro Station District. I had the opportunity along with my Winephabet Street partner Lori Budd of Exploring the Wine Glass to interview 3 of the wineries from the Haro District at the Rioja Railway Wine Experience held at the High Line in New York City.

Vina Pomal Bodegas Bilbainas

Vina Pomal Bodegas Bilbainas established in 1901 is the oldest winery in the Haro district. It produces still and sparkling wine along with brandy. It has the largest surf area of underground cellars in the region. They have 250 hectares and bottle about one million bottles a year or about 83,000 cases.
Listen to our interview with Nolan Jones as he talks about the history of the winery, the grapes, the tradition, and the wine.

Vina Pomal Wines

2018 Vina Pomal Blanco A blend of Malvasia and Viura with each grape bringing a different element to the wine. Very aromatic, fresh and vibrant. SRP $20

2014 Vina Pomal Reserva This is 100% Tempranillo aged for 18 months in American oak and 2 years in the bottle. Lots of dark fruit and cocoa with soft tannins. SRP $20

2011 Vina Pomal Gran Reserva This is a blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano aged for 2 years in American oak and another 3 years in the bottle. Elegant with layers of black and red fruit. This will pair with many foods. Drink now or age.

Bodegas Roda

A fairly young winery that was founded in 1987 they are considered the most classic of the modern in the region. Our discussion is with Maria Santolaya who spent some time with us talking about the winery and Cirsion.

Bodegas Roda Wines

2010 Bodegas Roda Roda 107 Made with 3 year old vines, although made with young vines this wine is complex. Notes of vanilla, bright red raspberry, blackberry layers and bursts of white pepper on the finish.

2015 Bodegas Roda A blend of 86% Tempranillo, 8% Granacha and 6% Graciano from vines older than 30 years. Ripe red fruit with cherry dancing throughout. Hints of cinnamon and clove on the finish.

2016 Cirsion This wine is made with individual selections of the oldest vines. It is not made every year. The 2016 is a blend of 89% Tempranillo and 11% Graciano. Earthy notes with black and red fruit. Powerful yet delicate with fine tannins, hints of licorice notes dance on the palate. SRP $325

Bodegas Muga

Founded in 1932 by Isaac Muga and Aurora Cano. They were closet winemakers, making wines in an underground cellar until 1968 when they built their winery. They have their own onsite cooperage with a Master Cooper and three assistants. They are the only winery in Spain that makes their own barrels. They are now in the third generation and follow their grandfather’s philosophy of winemaking
We had the wonderful opportunity to interview Juan Muga as he talks about his family winery his wines and the history behind it.

“Power is Balance”

Bodegas Muga Wines

2015 Bodegas Muga Torre Muga This is a blend of 75% Tempranillo 15% Mazuelo and 10% Graciano. It spent 18 months in new Allier French oak barrels and 6 months in oak vat. It’s big, it’s nice, easy drinking with black fruit and nice black pepper spice on the finish. SRP $110

2010 Bodegas Muga Prado Enea Gran Reserva A blend of 80% Tempranillo 10% Garnacha with the balance of Mazuelo and Graciano. Aged for 9 months in new French oak and then 27 months in second-fill French and American oak barrels. Then the wine is bottled and aged 36 months in the cellar before released. This particular vintage was a “perfect” vintage in their eyes. Beautiful plum and dark fruit with the black pepper spice and soft on the palate.

2015 Bodegas Muga Reserve Another wine made with a blend of 70% Tempranillo 20% Garnacha and 10% Mazuelo and Graciano. This was aged 24 months in 70% French oak barrels and 30% American oak barrels. Then aged for another 12 months in the bottle before release. Nice red and black fruit, cherry, blackberry, violets and white pepper on finish. SRp $30

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Winephabet Street W is for Weissburgunder

Welcome to Winephabet Street Season 1 Episode 23 W is for Weissburgunder.

Winephabet Street is a monthly series where Lori Budd of Draceana Wines and I work our way through the alphabet exploring wine and wine regions on letter at a time. The show is live on the third Monday at 8pm and is free, but you must register to attend. Put it on your calendar, pour yourself a glass of wine and hang out with us.

Weissburgunder as it’s known in Germany, but you may be more familiar with it as Pinot Blanc. In German Weiss means White and Burgunder means Pinot, hence Weissburgunder - white pinot grape. It is a mutation of Grauer Burgunder which is Pinot Gris which is a mutation of Pinot Noir. Yup, lots of mutations here.

The grape originated in Burgundy and there was no distinction between Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. Pinot Blanc is somewhat of a full-bodied wine as is Chardonnay. When you see a wine labeled Bourgogne Blanc it has Pinot Blanc blended in with the Chardonnay.

La Maison Willm 2016 Pinot Blanc Reserve

The wine for this episode I chose a 2016 Willm Pinot Blanc Reserve. Founded 120 years ago by the Willm family. Adolphe Willm both a restaurateur and winegrower. His passion for the wine side was stronger and he decided to go at it full time giving birth to Maison Willm.
Willm’s wines were among the first Alsace wines to be exported to the United States when Prohibition ended.

The 2016 Pinot Blanc Reserve was hand harvested and fermented in stainless steel. It matured on its fine lees for 2 to 3 months. It’s full of lemon, pineapple and grapefruit with refreshing acidity. They say it will keep up to 5 years, but I would drink it now.

Listen to or watch the webinar and let me know your thoughts on Weissburgunder.

The Webinar

The Podcast

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Explore the Unknown in Alto Adige

Often you have to go out of the box. Pick up that wine made from a grape you have no knowledge of, from a region you know little about. You are shocked by how good that bottle is and want to learn more about the region and the grapes that are grown there. That was my experience with three wines from the Alto Adige-Südtirol region of Italy. So fascinating I want to visit this region that has a lot of influence from other countries that it was once a part of.

The Alto Adige-Südtirol region is located in the northeastern Italian Alps. It’s Italy’s northernmost wine region with German influence. The region was passed back and forth between Italy and Austria until the end of World War II when it rejoined Italy. It is a bilingual region but German is the primary language.

A mountainous region with the vineyards planted on the hillsides ranging in elevation from 600 to 3,300 feet above sea level boasts a continental climate with 300 days a year of sunshine. With warm summer days and cool evenings, it allows for the aromatic development of the grapes and provides for a slow and gradual ripening.

Native Grape Varieties

Lagrein and Schiava/Vernatsch, two grape varieties that are new to me and native to the Alto Adige - Südtirol region.


Cultivated in the Alto Adige-Südtirol region since the 13th century was once the most exported wine to German speaking countries. The grape itself has large berries and the wine produced from them are light in color with moderate alcohol, low tannin and refreshing acidity. They are meant to be consumed young and slightly chilled.

Shiava doesn’t refer to a single variety but a group of unrelated varieties that share common characteristics. The word in Italian comes from the Latin ‘sclavus” meaning “female slave.” In the Alto Adige-Südtirol region this group of grapes is known as Vernatsch meaning native.


Lagrein has been around since the 11th century. It’s is an offspring of the Teroldego grape. Lagrein is one of the Italian grapes that has a very high concentration of anthocyanins. Wines made from these grapes produce a full-bodied high tannin and acidic wine packed with berry fruit. The wines are sometimes referred to as Scuro/Dunkel meaning dark. If you find a Rosato made from the Lagrein grape it is often labeled Kretzer.

The Wines

I was honored to be sent samples of some of the wines made from these grapes as well as a Gewűrztraminer which makes it’s home in the Alto Adige-Südtirol region. I was blown away with all three of these wines, very impressed! The Gewűrztraminer was one of the best Gewűrztraminer’s I’ve ever tasted!

2017 St. Magdalener Südtirol Alto Adige - The blend is 95% Vernatsch and 5% Lagrein from the same vineyard. The wine is fermented with skin contact in stainless steel tanks and after malolactic fermentation it is transferred to concrete tanks. A beautiful garnet ruby in color with aromas of candied red and black cherry with a hint of violets. Medium bodied the palate was bursting with red fruit and a hint of cherry jolly rancher. It paired very well with sausage and pepperoni pizza.

2015 Kellerei Bozen Cantina Winery Lagrein Riserva Taber Südtirol Alto Adige - Wowza! These grapes were picked from 80 year old vines that grow in sandy porphyry soil in Bolzano. Fermentation on the skins and 12 months in new and one to two year old French oak barriques. This wine is powerful yet sexy. Very dark intense red with subtle tannins. Complex layers of coffee, chocolate covered cherries, cocoa and a mid-palate that brings out the acidity.

2017 Castel Sallegg Gewűrztraminer DOC Atlo Adige - I have to say, this is one of the best Gewűrztraminers I’ve tasted. Perfectly balanced, aged in stainless steel tanks on fine lees for 4 months. It’s an elegant easy drinking wine, pale yellow with a light greenish hue. Jasmine and floral notes with hints of lychee and soft white pepper on the finish.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Lodi's German-Austrian Collection

When you think Lodi you think all things Zinfandel. Did you know there is a German side to Lodi where there are 51 varieties of German and Austrian grapes planted?

While I was in Lodi we met the Koth family, third generation grape growers. They grow the German-Austrian Collection. You may wonder why German grapes? In the 1990's Bob’s daughter Ann-Marie was in college studying in Germany. This led Bob and Marylou to visit where they fell in love with the German varieties. Upon his return, he studied the German varietals and now grows 51 of them at his Mokelumne Glen Vineyards called “The German Austrian Collection.”

The vineyard is located on the banks of the east side of the Mokelumne River. The rivers sandy loam, crushed granite soil lends itself to give the grapes the natural acidity needed as if in a Mediterranean climate.

The German Austrian Collection is gaining popularity with-in California. There are nine wineries that currently purchase grapes from the Mokelumne Glen Vineyards with interest from neighboring wineries in Napa and Sonoma.

All the wines that we tasted were very good, but the one standout for me was the Trailmarker Wine Company 2017 Lodi Blaufrankisch. The fresh expression of the fruit and bright acidity won my palate, I’d say blew me away. I am not a Blaufrankisch fan but the way this wine is produced makes if light, fun and enjoyable. I can even see it slightly chilled on a summers evening.

Listen to the podcast of our tasting of the German-Austrian Collection. You’ll hear from the owners of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards along with a few of the wineries that produce wine from purchasing their grapes. You’ll get a feel of the winemakers and owners and the passion they have for what they do.