Winery of the Month
Known as the King of Radicchio, Lucio Gomiero was the first to farm this wine-red lettuce in the United States. In Italy’s Veneto region, Lucio’s birthplace, the crop is a common one. Now that he has sold his radicchio business, he is focusing on Vignalta, his winery in the Veneto.
Originally, Lucio planted a few hobby vines around his family’s country house in the Colli Euganei, a hilly area beyond Venice that was created by volcanic eruptions 30 million years ago. After harvesting more grapes and making more wine than he could consume or give to friends, Lucio founded Vignalta together with partner Graziano Cardin in 1980. Over time, they continued to plant vines and today have 123 acres of vineyards planted in the Colli Euganei appellation.
The Veneto has always been dominated by Valpolicella, Amarone, Soave, and more recently Prosecco. But because the area shares the same latitude as Bordeaux, Lucio reasoned that Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot would thrive there. He was correct. His red wines are deliciously aromatic and fruity and structured with gorgeous acidity and fine tannin texture. The whites are equally impressive.
Lucio also planted Petite Sirah, having become acquainted with the varietal here in California. The grape came originally from the Rhone Region of France but did poorly there while it flourished here. Today, it is a uniquely Californian wine, at least until Lucio Gomiero began to successfully plant the grape on the Colli Euganei hills.
Lucio produces 20,000 cases a year and since 1998 has repeatedly won Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award, especially for his Gemola, a Merlot-Cabernet Franc blend. Italy’s foremost winerating journal Gambero Rosso writes, “The winery style is a delicate compromise of the rich features offered by the volcanic hill terrain and the elegance typical of great wines.”
Winery of the Month
Bonny Doon Vineyard
Since1984, Randall Grahm has consistently defined part of the cutting edge for California wine. He built his reputation with Rhone grape varieties and especially blends including red Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre and the whites Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne, at a time when few American wine drinkers were acquainted with such wines. But he was a highly articulate spokesman for his obscure production and an even better writer. The James Joyce of the wine business, he reinvented the English language in his famous newsletter, entertaining and educating devoted followers with a brand of humor uniquely his.
By 2006, Randall Grahm was making 450,000 cases of wine and purchasing grapes from many sources. But the big-production direction that the business had taken prevented him from following his original intent. He was interested in exceptional terroir driven wines that expressed the place where the grapes were grown and in natural artisan winemaking methods.
By 2010, Randall had sold off his biggest labels, Big House, Cardinal Zin and Pacific Rim, and had gone back to small-production winemaking. Presently, he purchases the fruit for his wines, much of it organically and bio-dynamically farmed. A seeming contradiction, he is sealing his wines with screw caps, which unlike cork are not biodegradable or recyclable.
“Esthetically and environmentally, I’m drawn to corks,” Randall admits. “But they’re not as effective a closure as the screw cap, nor do they respect the integrity of the wine in the way that a screw cap does… Screw caps are not necessarily the perfect closure, but if you look at the number of wines that are corked or spoiled by corks… There are issues of leakage and the enormous variability of oxygen transmission. You could look at the argument any number of ways, but it’s not entirely obvious that corks are the superior solution. I would like to pioneer an alternative that is neither cork nor screw cap.”
In 2009, Randall acquired 280 acres in San Juan Bautista. He has ambitious plans for the property and expects to produce about 7000 cases of “very special” wine, he says. He plans to farm without irrigation, which potentially produces extraordinary fruit. “I’m very keen on Grenache and Cinsault there,” he says. But he also wants to breed new varieties, crosses between various grapes. “This is the last edge that I’m going to cut. It’s a pretty ambitious project that will keep me busy for awhile.”
ITALIAN Wines of the Month
Vignalta 2013 Sirio Moscato
Mostly made as a sparkling, slightly sweet dessert wine, this Moscato is totally dry at just 11.5% alcohol. Aromatic and crisp, the Sirio is a summer treat that pairs with shell fish and fish in general. Serve chilled.
Vignalta 2010 Venda
A blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, the fruit for this delicious wine was harvested from the Venda Vineyard, the highest elevation in the area at 1500 feet. Pronounced aromas and spicy fruit flavors combine with attractive acidity
Vignalta 2009 Rosso Riserva
A blend of 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Rosso Riserva is deliciously balanced with pronounced aromas, spicy berry and ripe plum flavors. Compelling acid and tannins provide background texture. Aged for two years in French and Slovenian oak barrels without intrusive oak flavor, the Rosso Riserva complements grilled red meats, poultry, and summer vegetables (14.5% alcohol).
Vignalta 2008 Agno Tinto
Lucio Gomero has the only vineyard in Italy planted with Petite Sirah, a California winegrape, originally from France. His Petite Sirah is stylistically like his other reds with pronounced aromas and beautiful structure and balance between fruit flavors, acid, tannins. The Petite Sirah is perhaps a bit more tannic but well suited to grilled beef. Lucio Gomiero happily holds back wines until he thinks they are ready for release. The 2008 is the current release (14.5% alcohol). Serve at cool room temperature
Vignalta 2013 Fior d’Arancio
This very special wine is lightly sparkling and made from a clone of Moscato, the Orange Moscato clone, so named for obvious reasons once you hold it up to your nose and take the first sip. It’s a terrific brunch wine but also delicious as an aperitif on a summer afternoon or as a dessert wine, simply with fresh summer fruits, summer fruit tarts or even with goat cheese (6% alcohol). Serve chilled.
Vignalta 2009 Gemola
The Gemola is Vignalta’s flagship wine, a delicious blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. Aged for 24 months in the finest French oak barrels, the aromas are pronounced and the flavors striking. The wine takes its name from the Gemola Vineyard with vines between eight and 24 years old. Lucio Gomiero bottles the Gemola only in the best vintages. The 2009, like its predecessors, is a recipient of Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award. Italy’s foremost wine rating journal describes the wine as follows: “Its aromas, joined by red fruits, express a lovely symphony of spices and aromatic herbs, replicated perfectly in a crisp, firm and very long palate.” Serve at cool room temperature (14.5% alcohol).
Vignalta 2000 Cabernet Riserva
Like the Gemola, the Cabernet Riserva is released only in the best vintages. Entirely Cabernet Sauvignon from vines that are 45 years old, the wine has amazing aromas and is beautifully balanced with fruit flavors, acid, and fine tannin texture. This Cabernet Riserva was aged for 18 months in new French oak barrels (14.5% alcohol). Serve at cool room temperature.
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 as Valpolicella 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
Bonny Doon Vineyard
2011 Tempranillo, Arroyo Secco
Spain’s noble grape Tempranillo in this case makes a fine California summer red with lots of berry flavors and soft tannins. At just 12% alcohol, you can chill it down just a bit in the refrigerator, and it will provide a versatile pairing with a number of dishes from any food with pesto to sausages on the outdoor grill.
Bonny Doon Vineyard
2014 Vin Gris de Cigare
This deliciously crisp rosé is exactly what a pink wine should be, mouth-watering with crisp acidity. And by the way, guys love pink wine too. The wine is a blend of different grapes but mostly Grenache. Serve chilled with seafood, chicken salads, and appetizers (13% alcohol).
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2007 Ca’del
Solo Estate Nebbiolo, Monterey County
Randall Grahm is as much a fan of Italian grape varieties as he is of French. This wine is 100% Nebbiolo, one of Italy’s most prestigious wines. The vines were farmed biodynamically, the most rigorous and sustainable farming method that exists. You’ll taste the fruit but also its mineral core in this lightly pigmented wine, true to the grape variety. Elegantly beautiful, the wine is structured with acid and soft tannins. Bonny Doon made just 765 cases (alcohol 13.7%).
Bonny Doon Vineyard
2009 Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard
From famous Bien Nacido Vineyard in Monterey County, this 100% Syrah was aged for 20 months in French oak puncheons, which is to say larger barrels than typical for California wine. Since the greater volume of wine is exposed to less wood, the wine ages properly but derives less flavor from the wood. Syrah’s wonderfully peppery flavors are balanced with proper acid and smooth tannins. Consider decanting this wine to release it full aromas and flavors (alcohol 13.3%). Please note that Randall Grahm lists ingredients in the wine on the back label. Everyone should.
Bonny Doon Vineyard
2010 Le Cigare Blanc Reserve
A blend of 56% Roussanne and 44% Grenache Blanc, the grapes were farmed biodynamically in the Beeswax Vineyard, located in the Arroyo Seco area of Monterey County. The wine is richly fruity and pairs with lobster, roasted poultry, and vegetarian dishes (alcohol 12.4%). Serve chilled.
CALIFORNIAN Region of the Month
Monterey County was the capital of California under Spanish and Mexican rule before California statehood in 1850 and is home to some famous destinations, including three historic missions built in the 1700s, Pebble Beech Golf Links, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, 99 miles of spectacular coastline, and various state parks, including Big Sur. But the County also has an agricultural sector that produces almost $4.5 billion in revenues mostly from row crops and grapevines. The Monterey American Viticural Area is located in the eastern part of the County and is part of the larger Central Coast AVA. Arroyo Secco, Hames Valley, San Bernabe, San Lucas, and Santa Lucia Highlands are all sub AVAs. Chardonnay comprises almost 50% of vineyards. In the north, Riesling and Pinot noir are popular, while in the south, Bordeaux varietals are most often grown. The County has three distinct areas, the Salinas Valley, the Galiban Mountains in the east, and the Santa Lucia Mountains along the Pacific Coast. These diverse micro climates, soils, and elevations accommodate a wide variety of grapes, including French, Italian, Spanish, and German, altogether about 36,000 acres and 100 wineries.
MENU OF THE MONTH
Something different on the grill, Pizza!
Platter of Fra Mani salami (without nitrates), Prosciutto di Parma, and
Mortadella, served with sliced baguettes and bread sticks
Grilled Pizza Margherita
Mixed organic greens, dressed with lemon-olive oil vinaigrette
Peach cobbler, served with vanilla gelato
Grilled Pizza Margherita
Grilled pizza is fun, and you don’t have to be an Italian mamma from the countryside to make the dough. It’s easy. My favorite is Pizza Margherita, but choose your favorite topping or several different ones. Your guests will be overjoyed. The following recipe was adapted from The Silver Spoon, Phaidon Press.
Ingredients for the dough
2.5 to 3 cups flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 ounce fresh yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
Ingredients for the topping
10 tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Mozzarella cheese, sliced
Fresh basil leaves, slivered or whole
Salt to taste
Sift the flour and salt into a mound on a counter and make a well in the center. Mash the yeast in the water with a fork until very smooth and pour into the well. Incorporate the flour with your fingers to make a soft dough. Knead well, pulling and stretching until it becomes smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, cut a cross in the top, place in a bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place for about 3 hours until almost doubled in size. Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand and divide in half. Shape each half into a ball and roll out on a lightly floured surface to rounds about 1/4th inch thick, leaving a slightly thicker rim. Use your fingers to stretch the dough into 10-inch oblongs. While the dough rises, preheat a gas grill to high. Brush one piece of dough with olive oil and place it oiled side down on the grill. The dough will begin to puff almost immediately. When the bottom crust has lightly browned, reduce the heat to medium and use two spatulas to turn the dough over. Working quickly, brush olive oil on top of the crust and add topping, first the tomatoes, then the garlic, a sprinkle of salt, and then the mozzarella cheese. Close the lid and cook the pizza until the cheese melts. Remove the pizza from the grill, scatter the basil on top, remove and set it aside while you repeat steps for the second pizza.