A Cal-Italian with a Rich Family History of Winemaking
I recently attended a “Meet the Winemaker” event at Veritas Wine Bar. It was wonderful to taste so many new wines, but it was even more interesting to hear the stories behind the bottle.
Mario Monticelli is the winemaker at Trinchero, a winery located in California’s Napa Valley.
Chatting with Monticelli over a glass of the well-balanced and easy drinking Chicken Ranch Merlot, he told me an incredible history of wine in his family.
His great grandfather immigrated from Italy, importing wine into America before later returning to Italy during prohibition. 2 generations later, Monticelli’s father came to the States from Italy as a child.
Monticelli told me of growing up drinking wine around the dinner table, a glass of water with just a splash of wine mixed in as a young child, progressively graduating to proper glasses of the family grown wine.
Trinchero produces around 12,000 cases of wine a year, including five single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. Monticelli described these single vineyard productions as a “Cabernet for every occasion.” Some skew decidedly old world in style- a nod to the Old Country with subtle and earthy notes. Others exhibit the big, bold, juicier characteristics one would expect from a Napa Cab.
When asked his favorite wine, Monticelli hesitated. He’s obviously proud of his single vineyard productions, as he should be, but described the Meritage as his “desert island” wine. One of the most versatile wines in the Trinchero portfolio, the Meritage is intensely approachable. “You can pair it with anything you like: salmon, steak, chips…”
Tasters at the event agreed, “I would definitely take this to a dinner party if I didn’t know what was being served- it’s easy drinking and hard not to like!”
Visit the Trinchero website for even more family history, photos, and information about their wines.
What would your “desert island” wine be?
So Many Favorites…
I often get asked what my favorite wine is. To which I invariably respond: “What’s the weather? What am I eating? Who am I with? What is the occasion? Am I inside? Outside? On a boat? What is my mood?”
I have a different favorite for each of these occasions and combinations!
On one recent day I was asked- somewhat jokingly- by three separate people what wines to pair with an emotion or life circumstance. There’s a wine out there to complement virtually any emotion or occasion!
1. From a dear friend nearing the culmination of her PhD:
Q: I need some consultation on what red pairs best with abject hysteria upon approaching an impending 5-year deadline?
A: I’m feeling like you need an Italian. They just do abject hysteria better than most! A Barbaresco or Brunello is the way to go!
She agreed that she did, indeed, “need an Italian”!
2. From a sister who was recently given the brush off by a guy she was dating:
Q: What wine pairs best with being dumped?
A: Easy. A cava. It’s light and celebratory! You clearly dodged a dating bullet, plus those bubbles say, “Who cares, I’m fabulous!”
Bohigas cava is a family favorite!
3. From a neighbor whose wife was in the hospital, seeking a wine with which to unwind:
Q. I know you’re not supposed to drink heavy, dark reds when it’s this warm out, but that’s what I generally enjoy.
A. Nonsense! Drink what you like! A heavy, brooding red fits perfectly with your current situation.
I brought him a bottle of Trim Cabernet Sauvignon. For medicinal purposes, naturally.
When was the last time you paired a beverage to your mood?
In Memoriam of Larissa
Throughout history, alcohol in general- and wine- in particular, has carried with it certain rituals, culture, ceremony, and history.
A sommelier practices wine rituals almost religiously: the laying of the cork on the table, the decanting, the swirl, the sniff.
One of the reasons I believe these rituals are important are the strong associations many have with the consumption of wine. The sights, sounds, and smells are often tied to significant life occasions.
The clink of glasses over a meal with dear friends, the pop of a cork at a wedding, the blessing of a silver communion chalice: there are strong cultural and emotional associations with these rituals and the tastes that accompany them.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of a family friend. As one of the few Americans at the service, I was surrounded by the funeral rituals of foreign cultures- in this case, Ukranian and Russian.
Russians take their rituals seriously, and the traditions regarding drinking perhaps even more so. Wine filled many glasses. Cognac in others. Bottles of chilled vodka were scattered liberally around the banquet room where loved ones had gathered after the service to mourn, to tell stories, to honor, and reminisce over a life well lived.
As I listened to stories in a foreign tongue, I could only pick out the occasional word: Grandmother. Very. Love.
Absent from the day’s drinking ritual was perhaps my favorite Russian word of my very limited vocabulary: “na zdarov’ye” or “Cheers! To Good Health!” Its absence spoke volumes, even to my American ears.
These rituals bring us together during times of triumph, sadness, religious sacraments, joy, mourning- an unspoken understanding among people of varying cultures and languages. It is on these occasions when the rituals outweigh any wine critic’s score or marketing pitch.
And so I raised my glass in communion with others to Larissa: a mother, grandmother, sister, and friend to many.
When has the ritual of wine meant more to you than the contents of the bottle?
*Photos courtesy of Yelena Oleynik
‘Cause it’s hot as hell
With DC facing heat advisories for the rest of the week, I could think of no better time to recommend some of my favorite wines to cool down with during these dog days of summer.
1) Grüner Vetliner
- This Austrian grape offers crisp acidity, often with green apple and citrus notes. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a good chance you’ll like this, too!
2) Provençal Rosé
- Aromatic, with lovely fruit notes on the palette and a dry finish, rosés are immensely food friendly. Gone are the days of syrupy sweet white zins! This easy drinking wine makes it chic to drink pink, and most can be had for well under $20!
3) Vinho Verde
- This lightly effervescent wine from Portugal is perhaps the quintessential warm weather wine. Vinho Verde is known for being refreshing & extremely easy on the wallet! The New York Times recently ran an article on this mainstay of summer libations, calling it “cheap and cheerful”.
- I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this grape, as 2013 has been dubbed the “Summer of Riesling”. More versatile than many people realize, many Rieslings are actually dry! They can be quite refreshing and are immensely food friendly. Try one from the New York Finger Lakes, Austria or Germany!
- If you like your sparkling wine on the crisp side, Spanish cava is a sure bet to cool off these hot DC days!
Want to taste some of my personal picks?
I’ll be hosting a happy hour and teaching a wine class at Tabula Rasa on August 1 featuring wines to get us through the Dog Days of Summer in style! Check out the details on my events page for more info!
What’s your favorite wine to beat the heat?
As a DC wine consultant, I’m often asked what I think about nearby Virginia wineries. To be honest, I haven’t always had an overly favorable view of the region. A visit to Linden Vineyards changed that.
Jim Law, the owner, is particular about promoting what a Virginia winery can and should be. I found the results of his philosophy and commitment to quality wine-making refreshing. In a region addled by notoriously difficult weather conditions, Law is committed to producing wines to be taken seriously.
Early Chardonnay grapes on the vines.
Despite being in business for nearly 28 years, Linden’s vintners are constantly re-evaluating which varietals grow best on each site and adapt accordingly. They display an overt commitment to the French notion of terroir, loosely translated as a “sense of place.” Terroir is about respecting the land, and letting wine grown in a particular place reflect its unique characteristics. There is a definitive old world sensibility to the wines produced by Linden Vineyards.
You won’t find Linden Vineyards in the Virginia guide to wineries, and they have a strict policy that limits groups to six people. There are no bachelorette parties, busloads of tourists, or even limos (which are prohibited) at Linden. Cell phones don’t work on the Hardscrabble property. The result is a tranquil respite that focuses on serious wines and a feeling of true escape from life’s day to day demands.
When I met the owner, he came straight in from a day tending the vines, extending his calloused hand from sleeves of a wine splotched shirt. Jim takes bi-annual trips to France to taste and learn more about his craft. He’s less interested in the best vintages, but eagerly pursues knowledge about how French vintners contend with difficulties and challenging weather conditions- lessons that have served Linden well during the more difficult years.
Alison and Linden’s owner, Jim Law
Linden Vineyard’s Director, Shari Avenius, gave us a behind the scenes tour of the property and explained that each of the winemakers on Linden’s three properties spend about 90-95 percent of their time outside tending the vines. She described wine growing in Virginia as, “riding the wave the whole growing season, you don’t know what’s coming next.”
Currently they’re contending with the region’s historic rainfall, as well as the emergence of the 17-year Brood II cicadas. According to Shari, the worst threat to the carefully tended vines is undoubtedly, “The H-word. Hail. We try not to say it.”
Long-time Linden employees, two of the cousins Chavez, tending the vines.
Every vine on each of Linden’s three properties is tended to an average of 12 times before harvest- a testament to both the staff’s respect for their product and fickle Virginia growing conditions. It’s this type of vineyard vigilance that allows Linden to adhere to a policy of non-intervention in the cellar.
After touring the grounds and enjoying the reserve cellar tasting, we decided to forego another winery visit, opting instead to finish our afternoon on Linden Vineyard’s scenic porch with wine and charcuterie, a decision we didn’t regret.
2011 Linden rosé with locally sourced cheese and summer sausage.
While the coveted seats are reserved for the vineyard’s most loyal clients on weekends, members of the case club, the tables are open to all clientele during weekdays.
Linden produces around 5,000 cases of wine per year, and while they sell 95% of their wine on site, you can also find their products at high end restaurants and wine bars in and around DC. Visit www.lindenvineyards.com to learn more about their tasting room, reserve cellar tastings, case club, vineyard tours and more!
We enjoyed all of the wines we tried during the reserve cellar tasting, but couldn’t leave Linden without these two standouts!
For more behind the scenes photos, visit Bon Vivant DC’s facebook page!
What do you think of Virginia wineries? Let me know the good, the bad, and the ugly!