Henry Wine Group -- Wine Tasting For The Trade

On their website, the Henry Wine Group says, "Warner Henry began by founding Vintage House Distributors in southern California and eventually acquired a select group of regional fine wine companies. The merging of this collective formed a company that is now the largest importer, distributor, and broker in the United States dedicated exclusively to fine wines." I can't say if they are the largest, but certainly they pulled out all the stops for the 2010 Trade Tastings, which according to blogger Fred Swan of Norcal Wine, were the first for sixteen years. Touring & Tasting, plus yours truly, were fortunate to be invited by our Henry Wine Group rep, Antonio Gardella, to be included for a fabulous afternoon of tasting and wine education. The Los Angeles Trade Tasting was at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel and featured hundreds of wines, many with the producers present to pour and answer questions and informative panel tastings. I attended the Piedmont Communes Producers Panel--ahh, those lush Barbarescos and Barolos!--the Tuscany Terroir Producers Panel--Chianti and Brunello--and the 2008 Burgundies--including white Burgundy: nectar for the gods! I'm going to try and limit my use of exclamation points, but it will be difficult as I'm feeling effusive. I'll start with the wines I know the least--the French white Burgundies because they were a revelatory discovery for me.
Before the panel began, we were perusing the price points which ranged from $264 to $2250 wholesale per case, meaning the top priced Bouchard Père & Fils 2008 Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru would retail at for at least $375 per bottle (it's selling for $500 and more in some places). I was grousing that the price probably had more to do with hype than anything, but what I learned from the tasting was the true meaning of the word "mouth-watering". Writers often use the word as a synonym for delicious, but in fact, what I experienced was a taste so tantalizingly appetizing that my mouth physically watered at the anticipation of having the experience again--now that is the meaning of "mouth-watering": the involuntary response to a sublime taste experience.  The Sommelier said of this wine, "if you don't like this wine, then get out!" and as a red wine lover, I have to agree that these wines could make a convert of anyone with functioning taste buds. Can you imagine a wine with enough body to have a satisfying weight in the mouth, yet be as light as a spring breeze, filled with the yearning, the promise, the fecundity of the first breath of spring? Do you know the feeling of ebullience that comes after a long winter and the first wave of spring air comes floating in, spurring "spring fever" and heralding a profusion of flowers? That was the experience of this wine. Plus, it evolved. As our panel stated, "this wine you can keep in your glass and every 15 minutes, you'll have something different." The Burgundy producers represented were the above-mentioned Bouchard Père & Fils, Domain Xavier Monnot, Domain Jean Marc Joblot, Domain Albert Morot, and Maison Ambroise. Burgundy has the highest number of appellations d'origine contrôlée (AOCs) in France, and it was fascinating to see the slides of the vineyards that are small lots (some less than a hectare or a little less than 2.5 acres), carefully classified according to their quality by designating the top as Grand Cru, the next highest as Premier Cru and the rest as simply part of the AOC and how a minor change in microclimate or elevation, for example being at the foot of a hill instead of the middle of the hill, does affect the profile of the wine. This was the concept of terroir physically tasted by sampled by tasting the same varietal planted in proximity but with varying influences. A proficient wine connoisseur would be able to elaborate further on this, but suffice to say that I could taste the minerality of the vines in more chalky soil and the round mouthfeel of the old vine grapes. Favorites: the toasty Domaine Xavier Monnot 2008 Meursault Chevalieres, the floral old-vine Maison Ambroise 2008 Nuits St. Georges Vielles Vignes from 150 year old vines, and the floral, spicy, red Bouchard Père & Fils 2008 Volnay Caillerets Ancienne Cuvee Carnot. The wine I drink normally is below $40 per bottle, so this tasting of French white Burgundy was a revelation and much appreciated experience.

I love Italian wine, but I'm even more sure now that they need food to showcase their flavors. I wish we had even a little hunk of Parmesan to nibble with the Tuscan wines that seemed brusque on their own after the finesse of French Burgundy. These were highly-rated wines, for example, the 2004 Poderina Brunello has a 93 point rating from Wine Spectator and the Ciacci Piccolomini 2004 Pianrosso Brunello garnered a 94 point rating. They just needed something edible as a counterpoint to their powerful tannins and earthy flavors. Other exceptional wines were the Luiano 2007 Chianti Classico and the Luiano 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva. Some things I learned: Tuscan winemakers are moving away from 100% new oak in order to "respect the grape"; Sangiovese doesn't grow well above Tuscany which is ideally suited to the grape, however careful selection of the particular clone to fit the individual vineyard is mandatory, also important to preserve the genetic history of the Sangiovese grape; and that the "Classico" part of "Chianti Classico" refers to just 5 or 6 villages that are part of the oldest and original Chianti region. Whereas some Chianti producers can harvest 90 tons of grape per hectare, in the Classico region, only 7.5 tons per hectare are harvested, meaning the grapes are more concentrated, the wine more extracted. 
Lastly, we turn to the Piedmont Producers with their wines that taste and smell like the rich humid air on a summer day in Asti! If the French white Burgundies were the essence of spring, the Piedmont Barolos, Brunellos and Barbera are the essence of a hot summer day with fertile land yielding its ripe bounty. This is the kingdom of noble Nebbiolo which is a sensitive grape, meaning it is difficult if not near impossible to replicate its native growing soil and climate, so the Piedmont remains its regal domain. It is buds early and is harvested late, making it susceptible to coulure, a failure to develop after flowering, and it needs a certain amount of sun to develop the sugars to balance it's natural acidity and tannins. Therefore, each vintage will have its own characteristic. It's a wine to cellar and enjoy over the years, sampling the changes--our panel recommended buying half a case of a vintage to cellar and enjoy. 1971, 2004 and 2005 are particularly excellent vintages with the last two selling at discounts due to the recession. Check back next Thursday for the Italian wine discount special Touring & Tasting is going to run...better yet, sign up for the newsletter I send out every Thursday with wine discounts--no obligation, cancel any time, your information remains private! Newsletter signup.

It was March when we covered Russia in week #8 of Culinary School, and I posted the sauce recipe, but not the full recipe for: RUSSIAN STUFFED CABBAGE:
Sauce Ingredients:
3 ripe tomatoes
1 apple, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup golden raisins, optional
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
Other ingredients:
1 head cabbage
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 lb. ground pork sausage
1/2 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked rice or barley
4 Tbsp. dill + some for garnish
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
To make the sauce: cook the tomatoes briefly in water that is at a full boil, just long enough for the skins to split. Save the water for the cabbage. When the tomatoes are cool, peel and seed them. Mash the tomatoes in a saucepan or puree them in a blender. Simmer them in a saucepan with the vinegar, sugar, honey, and raisins for 15 minutes, then salt and pepper the sauce to taste.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Carefully pull apart the largest cabbage leaves and place in boiling water. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the leaves are softened but not mushy. Drain. When cool, trim away the thick base of each leaf so it is is the same thickness as the rest of the leaf (so it will roll easily). Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onions and pork sausage until the onions are translucent. If the sausage is fatty, drain the excess oil. Put the meat and onion mixture in a mixing bowl and add the raw ground beef, rice, dill, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well, add the egg and mix well.
With the cabbage leaf base towards you, place a small amount of the meat mixture on the lower third of each leaf, fold up once, fold in the sides, then fold up until the cabbage roll is folded all the way up to the top. Place with the seam side down in a baking pan. Cover the cabbage rolls with sauce, cover the pan with tin foil and bake for 1 hour. Take off the tin foil, spoon the sauce from the side on top of the rolls, then bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. Top with a dollop of sour cream and some fresh dill. Makes 4 servings. Serve with the 2007 Edward Sellars Blanc du Rhone currently in the Touring & Tasting cellar.

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