Wineries of the Month
Located in the Veneto region, the 123-acre Brigaldara estate commands a hill near San Floriano, overlooking the Marano Valley. The vineyards are planted on terraces between 640 and 2707 feet above sea level with the traditional grape varieties of the Valpolicella Classico and with a distinct emphasis for the high-quality varieties Corvine and Corvinone over Rondinella and Molinara. The Cesari family has owned the winery since 1928, and presently, Stefano Cesari directs the business. The estate’s Amarone wines are regular recipients of the highest Tre Bicchiere (Three Glasses) award from the prestigious Italian wine rating journal Gambero Rosso.
The small Monte Faustino estate is located in the middle of the Veneto’s historical Valpolicella Classica area, overlooking the hamlet of Monte Faustini, next to Bure of San Pietro in Cariano. Founder Giuseppe Fornaser planted the vineyard, located at 850 feet above sea level, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Since then the family has purchased two more vineyards in the area, Vigneto Traversagna and Vigneto Costalunga. But grapes for its finest Amarone wines are harvested from the oldest Monte Faustino vineyard. Brothers Faviano, Giorgio, Massimiliano, and Paolo Fornaser, the third generation to run the business, focus on the classic local wines of the area, including Amarone, Valpolicella, and the dessert wine Recioto.
Graziano Pra` has managed the winery since 1980, following his father and grandfather. Pra` is one of few producers that excels with both Soave and Amarone, although Graziano has made his reputation with Soave. Altogether he has 74 acres under vine, including the vineyards in Soave and Monteforte, where he grows the whites Gargenega and Trebbiano, and another vineyard at Morandina in the upper valley of Mezzane at an elevation of 1640 feet, where he cultivates grapes for Valpolicella. He farms organically, “an act of love towards a land, which is untouched and uncontaminated and from which the vines steadily rise from ancient marl fossils.” The Straforte Soave earned wine guide Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award in 2006, 2008, and 2011.
Winery of the Month
Shannon Ridge Family of Wines
Clay Shannon bought his first Lake County parcel in 1996. Less than 20 years later, he is the largest vineyard owner there with 90,000 acres, some of the most beautiful in California. Although Clay was already making wine, he intensified his efforts after the 2008 crash when finding buyers for fruit became difficult. Making more wine from perishable grapes gave him added control over his business and the vagaries of fate. He now has a handful of labels, some with a small production and some much larger. Vigilance, High Elevation, High Valley, and Single Vineyard Collection comprise his super premium brands.
More recently, Clay has pushed his commitment to the health of his vineyards to new levels. He would consider organic farming overly idealistic, and yet, he’s moving fast in that direction. He talks with admiration about fourteen hundred sheep and the dogs that manage them and protect them from eagles, coyotes, and bears.
Because of the sheep, he has dramatically reduced his use of herbicides along with tractors and mowers that require fossil fuel and compact the soil. Fertilizer is no longer necessary since the sheep provide it. Beneficial insects have moved into the vineyards now that it’s safe, and owls and snakes consume the rodents that would otherwise be eating his vines. He uses only organic compounds as fungicides. And by the way, he shears the sheep for wool, and although the idea is decidedly unromantic, he slaughters a few for food, his grass-fed lamb in demand among San Francisco Bay Area restaurants.
ITALIAN Wines of the Month
Brigaldara 2013 Valpolicella
This Valpolicella is a typical blend of 40% Corvina, 20% Corvinone, and 40% Rondinella, Molinara, and Sangiovese, the same grapes that make up the noble Amarone. The difference is that Valpolicella is a lighter, fruity wine, fermented after harvest, and Amarone is made in the following spring after the grapes dehydrate in airy barns and ferment into a dense intense wine. This delicious wine shows fresh fruit and spicy aromas (13.5% alcohol).
Pra` 2013 Soave Otto
Made from 30 to 60 year-old vines, the Soave Otto is 100% Garganega. The wine has a lemony color and a bouquet of flowers and crisp fruit. On the palate, the wine is medium bodied, flavorful, and fruity with clear mineral notes (12.5% alcohol). Serve chilled.
Brigaldara 2009 Valpolicella Ripasso
A blend of 40% Corvina, 30% Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, and 10% other varietals, the Ripasso undergoes a second fermentation with the grape skins of the Amarone, which enriches the wine with additional aromas and flavors that normal Valpolicella lacks. On a scale between Valpolicella and Amarone, Ripasso is in the middle. Garnet red in color, the Ripasso Il Vegro shows aromas of cherry and vanilla, followed by dried fruit and spice from the Amarone lees. The wine is full-bodied, elegant, and complex (14.4% alcohol).
Monte Faustino 2003 Valpolicella
This 12 year-old Valpolicella is a special experience for those who may not normally drink old wines. Over time, tannins and color fall out of solution, leaving the essence of the wine. Color is brick red, the aromas subtle, and the flavors elegant, and the tannins velvety. Serve at cool room temperature, and savor the wine (13 % alcohol).
Par 2007 Soave Straforte
Made from 30 to 40 years-old vineyards, the Straforte is 100% Garganega, fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. The wine shows aromas of fresh apricots and peaches, as well as dried chamomile, white flowers, and elegant mineral notes. On the palate the wine is smooth and round and has a long finish with nuances of exotic fruits and fine herbs. The Straforte pairs with fish or lobster dishes, but also with white meat such as rabbit or poultry (13.5%). Serve chilled.
Monte Faustino 2008 Amarone Classico
The 2008 Amarone Classico blends 70% Corvina and Corvinone Veronese, 20% Rondinella, and 10% Sangiovese, Croatina, and Oseleta. The grapes were picked in September, dried in wooden boxes, and fermented in the spring. Aged for 36 months in French barrels, the wine shows aromas of ripe prunes, cherries, and almonds with the addition of vanilla, coffee, and chocolate. At 15% alcohol, the wine is rich and concentrated, but balanced with plenty of acid and fine tannins. Serve with roasted meats or as a meditation wine with dried fruit, nuts, and aged cheeses.
Brigaldara 2010 Amarone Classico
This Amarone Classico is a blend of 50% Corvinone, 20% Corvina, 20% Rondinella, and 10% other varietals, harvested from 30 year-old vines at an elevation of 820 feet. The grapes were dried for 120 days, fermented, and finally aged for three years in barrels and casks. The wine has a translucent garnet color, smooth tannins, and aromas of cherry and spice. Despite its elegance, it boasts a powerful 17% alcohol. Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso awarded this Brigaldara Amarone its highest Tre Bicchieri award. Decant to enjoy its full expression.
ITALIAN Region of the Month
Venezia, a city built into the sea, is haunted by the princes and poets of its past and by centuries of tourists. The cities of Padova, Vicenza, and Verona, originally frontier posts on the Roman trade route between Venezia and Genova, grew into Renaissance splendor. Nature exhibits its own marvels, the Dolomite Mountains in the north, the Euganean hills in the south, vast Lake Garda in the east, and to the west, the Adriatic with its beaches and ports. Today, Veneto is a thriving agricultural center, ranking first with classified DOC wines. There are three areas of premium production: the western province of Verona, the central hills, and the eastern plains. Verona is the leader in classified DOC wines, especially Soave, Bardolino, and Valpolicella, a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara. When young, Valpolicella is a fruity red, but when the grapes are partly dried, they become Amarone, one of Italy’s most noble wines. Bardolino is made from the same grapes but is a lighter version. The central hills produce Soave, Tocai, the Pinots, Merlot, Cabernet, and sparkling Prosecco. The eastern plains have been dominated by Merlot and Cabernet Franc for decades.
CALIFORNIAN Wines of the Month
Vigilance 2012 Cimarron Red Blend,
Full of delicious fruit and spice, Cimarron is a blend of 45% Zinfandel, 39% Syrah, 8% Petite Sirah, and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested from sustainably farmed vineyards at elevations between 1,400 to 3,000 feet within the Red Hills appellation. The brand is named after vigilant dogs that guard the sheep, which in turn eat weeds and enrich the soils. Medium bodied at just 13.9% alcohol with beautiful texture and acid, the wine was aged for 12 months in French and American oak. So good!
Vigilance 2014 Sauvignon Blanc,
This delicious wine shows grapefruit and pear with a lot of spice on the finish. At 13.9% alcohol, it is crisp and clean with captivating aromas and flavors. Serve chilled. See above for vineyard practices.
High Valley 2012 Barbera
A blend of 95% Barbera and 5% Petite Sirah, the grapes were harvested from vineyards between 1600 and 3000 feet elevations in the High Valley AVA, one of the coolest appellations in Lake County. A thousand sheep roam the vineyards, composting the weeds into nutrients for the rocky red volcanic soils. Warm, round aromas and flavors of cherry, berry, and mocha expand in the glass. The wine was aged for 18 months in French and American oak barrels and is beautifully balanced with smooth tannin texture and acid (14.5% alcohol).
High Valley 2011 Petite Sirah
Petite Sirah is traditionally a blending grape for Zinfandel, providing pigmentation, tannin, and spiciness to the blend. But many appreciate Petite Sirah on its own. The grapes were harvested at elevations between 1600 and 3000 feet in the High Valley AVA. This wine shows seriously inky color and a mouthful of spicy blueberry fruit. Aged for 16 months in French and American oak, the wine is balanced with acid and tannins, both of which complement the fruit flavors (14.5% alcohol). Pairs with roasted red meats. See above for vineyard practices.
Shannon Ridge 2013 Chardonnay,
Vigilance Vineyards, Red Hills
This Chardonnay is irresistible, whether the grape is a favorite or not. Apple, pineapple and spice fill the nose and mouth, diffused into a crisp and textured whole. Amazingly without wood overload, the wine was fermented and aged for 14 months in new French oak barrels (14.2% alcohol). In a word, delicious! Serve chilled.
CALIFORNIAN Region of the Month
Without easy access, Lake County is an obscure location despite its natural wonders although just two and a half hours from San Francisco. Narrow country roads wind up to an elevation of 1,400 feet, where Clear Lake stretches 23 miles across its basin, the largest lake in California. Above the lake, volcanic Mount Konocti with five distinct peaks rises to 4,300 feet. This mountainous area boasts the cleanest air in California. Spanish missionaries were the first to plant vineyards in the 18th Century, followed by European settlers in the 1840s. The County has always been an agricultural haven, but crops have changed, premium winegrapes dominating now. With 30 wineries, most with tasting rooms, and 8400 acres of vineyards at various altitudes, the county is developing a diverse viticulture, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Sangiovese. Because land values are much lower that surrounding Napa or Sonoma counties, prominent growers and winemakers are developing vineyards there, Andy Beckstoffer, one of Napa’s most important growers, among them. The region now has five American Viticultural Areas, including Benmore Valley, Clear Lake, Guenoc Valley, High Valley, and Red Hills Lake County.
MENU OF THE MONTH
Mother’s Day Lunch
Platter of prosciutto, mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, and assorted
olives, served with freshly baked baguettes
Community Grains fettuccine with asparagus, fava beans,
and peas braised with extra virgin olive oil
and served with a grating of Parmegian cheese
Arugula and pear with a lemon-olive oil dressing
Orange olive oil cake, served with fresh strawberries
and a dollop of whipped cream
Orange Olive Oil Cake
Much of the country is still cool if not cold and inspires a hardier lunch, which you see in the menu above. Oranges will probably still be in the markets, so solicit a family member, who is not a mother, to make this wonderful cake, light but delicious, and even more so with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Adapted from Peggy Knickerbocker’s Olive Oil, from Tree to Table.
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs at room temperature separated
4 teaspoons shredded orange zest
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8-inch spring-form pan with olive oil, dust with flour, and tap out excess flour.
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the orange juice, honey, olive oil, egg yolks, and orange zest. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. In yet another medium-sized bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
Using a wooden spoon, stir the orange juice mixture into the flour mixture. Using a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites until they are well integrated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 minutes to an hour. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for ten minutes or more. Remove the sides of the pan and let the cake cool completely. If you wrap the cake, it will taste even better the second day. Serve with fresh fruit and whipped cream.