Taste of Mendocino 2017

The Taste of Mendocino brought to you by Mendocino Winegrowers is returning on Saturday, June 10, to the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Mendocino County, famous for its redwood forests, boasts some of the most beautiful areas to visit in Northern California, but because of its remoteness it requires more effort to access than Napa or Sonoma County. A tasting in San Francisco is the perfect opportunity for bay area residents to sample the food, wine and attractions from Mendocino County sans the two hour drive.

Taste of Mendocino is a personal favorite of mine because of its intimacy. There are only about thirty to forty wine and food purveyors and the room is always cozy but not cramped. The majority of the vendors, I've discovered in the past, are usually the principal owners or winemakers. There's ample parking on the marina waterfront and the four hour tasting window from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. allows plenty of time to meet everyone and go back for a second visit if you like. If you want to experience a good vibe and the wonderful flavors that Mendocino County has to offer don't miss the Taste of Mendocino.


As always drink like a pro:

  • Get a good rest the night before. You'll want to be at your sharpest.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water before during and after the tasting.
  • Wear dark clothes. You might not spill red wine but others may.
  • Once you've received you sample pour:
    • Be mindful of others that may be waiting behind you to be served.
    • Questions are good, but if you have an inordinate amount of them to ask, simply make room for others as you converse.
  • Taste and spit... very few people look cool spitting, but you'll remember more.
  • Have a good healthy meal before the tasting. Consuming alcohol on an empty stomach is not a good idea.
  • Respect others and don't wear perfumes or colognes.

Hope to see you there. Cheers!


Interview with Maura Balbo

This spring, mother nature has not been kind to farmers in Europe. A mild spring prompted early bud break, pushing some vineyards as much as two weeks ahead of their normal vegetative cycle.  An unusually late season cold snap in late April and early May hit many grape growing regions throughout the continent. Late-spring frosts are the cause of many sleepless nights for vineyard owners; growers with ample resources attempted to ameliorate the frost damage by lighting candles and oil drums and burning them between the vines. Others used water sprinklers in the vineyards.  Wealthier operations were using wind machines and even helicopters to keep the air circulating in the vineyards to lessen the damage.  Reports of widespread frost damage hit the news, first from Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy and there has already been speculation of billion dollar losses for growers in France alone. Grape prices are expected to rise and consumers will likely experience higher prices for European wines in the future. With frost events high profile areas often get all the press and the lesser known regions that were also affected, often go unnoticed.

I first met Maura Balbo on twitter when I saw pictures she had posted showing what three nights of frost can do to the new bud growth in a vineyard. Her post ended with " My vineyard is KO!". For other farmers the pictures had to be gut wrenching.

Where are you from?

I'm from Fontanile, a little town in the Asti district of Piedmont, in northwest Italy. My husband was born in Bergamo (Lombardia) on July 7th, 1961. I'm forty-three years old. The winery name is Roberto Urscheler Winery. His father was Swiss and his mother is from Bazzana di Mombaruzzo.


Where are your vineyards located?

In the Mombaruzzo , Asti district, Piedmont, northwestern Italy.


What's the size of your estate?

Ten hectares.


How long have you farmed this land?  

We have farmed this land since 1987. Before that the land was farmed by my husband's grandfather on his mother's side.


Did you ever imagine you would own a vineyard?

Yes, of course.


How involved do you get in the vineyard?

All my time is spent in the vineyards and the winery.


How are your vineyards trained?

We start with pruning them, then we tie and clean the vines by hand (It's the work I'm doing during these days). That means we let all the shoots with the bunches and we cut off the other ones. Then we set the shoots upright. In July we make a double selection in the vineyards: this means that only the best bunches are destined for harvest. The others are cut off. Finally we harvest in the month of September the Moscato and the Barbera grapes. In October, usually the first week, we harvest the Albarossa.


How many different grape varieties do you work with and do you have a  favorite?

We produce three kinds of Barbera wines: Barbera d'Asti d.o.c.g., Barbera del Monferrato d.o.c. 85/15 and Barbera del Monferrato d.o.c. La Rosina; then we produce the Moscato Carpe Diem, two white wines: Cortese dell'Alto Monferrato d.o.c. and a Greek Malvasia which is called Aphrodite; then Il Cantore: an aromatic red sweet wine produced with a blend of twelve ancient aromatic grapes; then the Piemonte d.o.c. Grignolino and the Grappa (Spirit) which is dedicated to my husband's grandfather (mother's side): Grappa di Nonno Rinaldo.


Where are you positioned organic wine or not?

We don't produce organic wines, but traditional wines.

We initially met via twitter and have briefly spoken about the devastating frosts this spring in your area. How have your vineyards been affected?

Because of three frozen nights in the month of April, we lost 35 to 40% of our whole production. Yesterday night it hailed in Monferrato. Fortunately we didn't have any damage due to hail.


What's the biggest challenge for a grape grower in Nizza?

To produce quality respecting the tradition.


Are you allowed to irrigate your vines?

No, in Italy it's absolutely forbidden.


Your husband makes the wines and you are the marketer. How were you introduced to winemaking?

By marrying him I was introduced to the winemaking world. My father worked in a grape nursery. I did not meet him. He died when I was 16 months old, in a tractor accident.


What are your export markets?

Switzerland, Germany, Austria and some private French customers.


How do you know you have a good vintage?

We don't know until we harvest; too many unknown variables. First of all the weather. In 2013 we lost 90% of our production because of a twister. Yes, we had a twister in Piedmonte. These days it's hot, too hot for the month of May.  


What is your favorite wine and what makes it your favorite?

Barbera is my favorite wine because it's the typical Piedmontese grape, not as well known as Nebbiolo unfortunately. Barbera has so much potential leading to deep ageing. Acidity is her power, and the deep ruby red color.


What changes do you see in the coming years regarding climate change?

Weather and climate change are dangerous enemies for the agricultural world.


Battle of the Côtes-du-Rhônes

                                                                 Battle of the Côtes-du-Rhônes

Côtes du Rhônes have always been a go to wine for me. The problem for the average consumer is the wines can vary greatly in style. On one hand they can be easy drinking, fruity and relatively straightforward. While on the other hand more structured, brooding and complex and anywhere in between. Knowing what's in a bottle requires some trial and error. A good retailer that knows your palate can help steer you in the right direction. 

Côtes du Rhônes (CDR) come from Southeastern France, in the southern part of the Rhône Valley. The wines are not labeled by varietal, so you won't see Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay on the labels. So how do you know what type of grapes are in the bottle?  A lot of the larger cooperatives and brands will show the grape percentages on their back labels, but most of the smaller more quality minded vignerons (winemakers) may not provide that information. The dominant grape in the area is Grenache, Syrah a distant second, followed by Mouvèdre , Carignane and Cinsault. There are a host of other grapes that are also allowed in the blend for red wines, twenty-seven in all. Generally the red wines are predominatelyGrenache with Syrah and Mouvèdre completing the blend. There is also a small amount of Rose made and an even smaller amount of white CDR made. 

What makes Côtes du Rhône wines so likeable? They can at the entry level offer good insight into the character of the wines from the area. If you want to get a preview of what the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas or Vacqueyras might offer, check out the Côtes du Rhônes of the vintage first. There are more than a few Côtes du Rhône vineyards that are right next door to these more prestigious crus. Here's where CDR excels in value, because many of the vineyards are in the right neighborhoods. Most good quality CDR can be had in the $12 to $20 range. 

If you aren't familiar with CDR wines now's the time to jump on board. Recently in the wine world, especially for the more pricey brands,  there'sa lot of hype regarding the new vintage coming on offer. Though I've only tasted 8 or 9 of the 2015 Côtes du Rhônes that are now hitting the retailer's shelves, I'm ready to concede, the hype is legit! These are the best wines I've tasted from the CDR appellation since 2010. And there's more good news. Word is that the 2016's are on par and perhaps even better. In fact generally speaking after several years of anxiety producing growing seasons for wine growers throughout Europe, the wines from 2015 are showing remarkable quality and consistency. 

Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône-Villages (a step up in classification from grapes grown at better sites with lower yields) are not wines for laying down and cellaring for years. Instead they are vinified for early consumption, usually within the two to five year window of their vintage. These are wines that you can pair with a wide variety of foods and because of their price point you can afford to have them grace your table nightly. 

For this tasting flight we choose four wines from the 2015 vintage. The wines are from the areas of Cairanne, Séguret , Vinsobres, and Estézargues. 

2015 Comte Louis De Clermont-Tonnerre Cairanne Côtes-Du-Rhône Villlages Vieilles Vignes  

 I know, what a long name. Alain Corcia started in 1983 as a negociant in Burgundy and has extended his gift for locating good wines to the Rhône region. This wine is a direct import that's only available at KL Wines. Wines made in Cairanne were just awarded "Cru" status, so 2016 will be the first vintage to bear the name Cairanne without having to have Côtes du Rhône Village appended to it. The classic label and embossed bottle are fitting because this bottling is all show and go. Harvested from old vines (Vieilles Vignes) it has a medium ruby color, a very floral nose, violets, lavender, red fruit and garrigue. On the palate it's medium bodied with a juicy strawberry and red fruit profile. It finishes with good length. The wine shows well upon opening and evolves wonderfully as it gets exposed to more air. $12.99 - 14% abv -highly recommended

2015 Saint Cosme Côtes- du-Rhône - (pronounced Saint Comb)   

 Saint Cosme,  based in Gigondasis run by the Barruol family and has operations throughout the Rhone region. My first introduction to Saint Cosme's wines was their Little James Basket PressRed, a solera system CDR that could be purchased for about $7 in past years. Back then it offered everything a basic CDR should be, at a great price point. Fast forward to present and the Barruol's are still offering a real true to type, basic CDR, at a fantastic price point. The fruit is harvested around Vinsobres and the wine is 100% Syrah a bit unusual for CDR but not for the Gigondas area. Dark purple colored in the glass the nose shows black and blue fruit, iodine, licorice and sea salt. On the palate black fruits and pepperwith medium tannins and a firm mid palate. The finish is medium length with furry tannins and spice. This wine was number 43 on Wine Spectators annual Top 100 wines of 2016. $13 - $15 14% abv - highly recommended

2015 Malmont Côtes du Rhône 

 The Malmont (bad mountain) property located in the hills above Séguret, due north of Gigondas, is owned by the Haeni family. The four hectare project was started in 2002 and the vines were planted four years later. Click here to check out the incredible terracing work that was done to establish the vineyard. The winemaker Nicolas Haeni farms the vineyards himself with minimal outside help. The first vintage for Malmont was 2013. Who said winemaking was quick and easy? A labor of love Nicolas's boutique winery is attached to his home. The blend is 55% Grenache and 45% Syrah. Deep purple colored, the first sniff took me back to my childhood as it smelled like a newly opened packet of Kool-Aid. On the second sniff the Kool-Aid is gone. Was it ever really there? And the nose is showing red raspberries, strawberry jam and violets. In the mouth the red fruits continue, backed by a tart, firm acidity. While the nose sings the mid palate is a bit hollow. The tannins are soft and elegant, but thefinish is disappointingly short. The wine is nicely structured but the fruit is hiding. Perhaps it will emerge with some more bottle ageing. $19 - $20 13.5% abv - recommended

2015 Domaine De Pierredon Signargues Côtes du Rhône Villages

Signargues (pronounced see-nargues) is an elevated plain on the right bank of the Rhone River due east of the town of Avignon. The Pierredon family organically farms70 hectares near the town of Estézargues. The wine is born from a strength in numbers philosophy having been made at the Les Vignerons D'Estézargues cooperative. What makes this cooperative unique? They have ten principal growers and for each one they make a separate special cuvee from each growers best grapes, designating the name of their estate on the labels. Moreoverthe wines are made with no yeast additions, no enzymes, no sulfur additions at harvest time and no filtering or fining. That's a considerable difference from the large batch methods of most cooperatives. This CDR is 50% Grenache and 50% Mourvedre. Medium ruby in color the nose displays black cherries and white pepper. It's fresh with juicy black fruit on palate, medium bodied, with minerality andgood depth. Very enjoyable, moderate tannins and a savory finish.  $15 - $17 14.5 abv - highly recommended

These four wines were excellent examples of the variety of wine styles one can find from the southern Rhone region. Buy them and enjoy them now. Côtes du Rhônes are good matches for charcuterie,  grilled or roasted meats, pastas and stews.  With their wallet friendly price points and back to back high quality vintages headed to retailers shelves, you should consider putting some CDR's on your buy list for your next wine buying trip.

Who was the winner? The winner of the battle for me was the Domaine De Pierredon. Even though I enjoyed all the other wine as well (not a dud in this bunch), the Pierredon was to my liking, the most complete and enjoyable of the group. 

A visit to Speri Viticoltori

My latest trip with my wife to Italy was not for work,  but for relaxation, so we only visited two wineries during our stay, one of which was Speri Viticoltori. For part of the trip we stayed at B&B Locus Amoenus in Pompegnino, a small village near the southwestern shores of Lake Gardain northern Italy, the largest lake in Italy. Gabriella Festi and her family were wonderful hosts during our stay. The location of their B& B served as a perfect base for touring northern Italy.   

Speri, located in the village of Pedemonte is a fifteen minute drive northwest of Verona. Ironically we passed the historic cellars of Bolla just before we turned down Fontana Street towards Speri. Even if a taste of wine has never crossed your lips you've heard of Soave Bolla. Our request to visit Speri was made and accepted on short notice and upon arrival we were greeted by Luca Speri. Luca represents seven generations of Speri grape growers. His business card doesn't sport a title, aside from his name, the only information on the front of it is Speri Viticoltori.  Viticoltori is Italian for wine growers and after spending just fifteen minutes with him, it's obvious he's the brand's ambassador and knows the operations from top to bottom. During our time together we discovered that he was getting married in a few days. Harvest was just a week away and his Dad was asking his assurance that everything was in order, just before he prepared to lead us through a tasting of his wines. While we discussed his operation and his wines, his phone buzzing every now and then, I was struck by his ability to compartmentalize. His focus for the time that he was in our presence was on us and I truly appreciate him taking the time to show us around.   

Their tasting room and business office occupy the same building, separated by a modern glass wall. The set up gave me the same feeling I get from a well executed exhibition kitchen. It's contemporary, well appointed and comfortable.

One could say that the Speri's make only one wine, but several different styles. Luca explains, "We focus only in the native varieties, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara and Corvinone, no Cabernet , Merlot, Sangiovese or Syrah and we focus only on our things and the things we know deeply". 

The Valpolicella area spans 8,000 hectares and the Speri's farm fifty hectares, all in the classico zone, the very best vineyard sites. Although the vineyards are in northern Italy, they still benefit from a Mediterranean influence because of their close proximity to Lake Garda. They make five wines and the labels denote the different vineyards or "crus" where the grapes are grown. All of their vineyards are family owned and farmed naturally. The Speri's do not purchase any grapes, juice or wine to go into their bottlings.  

If you look closely at the capsules of Speri wines you will see the logo for the Vignaioli Indipendenti, an association of growers that helps to protect the interest of smaller growers and wineries. Insiders know that if you are looking for a artisanal, good quality, small grower wines from Italy, to watch for the Vignaioli Indipendenti logo. 

After a challenging harvest in 2014, for the 2015 year the Speri's produced just over 31,500 cases of wine.  Not a small operation, but as Luca says, "We are the biggest of the smallest". The Speri's farm organically, so the wet and cold summer of 2014 muted grape quality, lowered yields and brought plenty of extra work in the vineyards. Luca elected not to make a Amarone for the 2014 vintage in an effort to improve the quality of his other offerings. A costly concession when you consider the price differential between Amarone and the other bottlings. 

Their newest cellar built in 1958, sits directly underneath the tasting room and holds about 80% percent of the wines that are ageing in oak. The remainder ages in the nearby original cellar. The cellar is seven meters underground and maintains the same temperature and humidity year around. The room is filled with 40 and 50 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks and a small amount of barriques. Luca says that they use french oak barriques for the Recioto only, when the wine needs more oxygen , not for the taste. 

2015 Speri Valpolicella Classico - A traditional Valpolicella in the truest sense, 60% Corvina, 30% Rondinella and 10% Molinara. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and raised in concrete tanks then bottled the following February.  In the glass a light ruby color, the nose showing red cherries and a beautiful perfume. It's light bodied, lightly spiced, very tasty, with good acidity, displaying a wonderful freshness and typicity. At 12.5 abv it would pair well with salumi,  cheeses, soups and other light fare.

2014 Speri Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Molinara and 10% other native varieties. Fermented in the same manner as the Valpolicella Classico, but the wine is passed over the skins of the Amarone and held in tank for nine days. The process called "Ripasso" gives the finished wine a bit more alcohol, body and richness. It's aged for twelve months in 20 hectoliter Slavonian oak casks. Slightly deeper in color than the Valpolicella Classico, the aromas are of red cherries and violets, medium bodied, soft and round texture with good acidic backbone.  

2013 Speri Sant'Urbano Valpolicella Superiore - 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% other native varieties. Although this wine holds the same title as the former and is finished at the same alcohol level, 13.5, it's conceptionally made in a different manner. The grapes come from their best single vineyard Sant'Urbano, located in Fumane at 280 to 350 meters above sea level. After hand harvesting the grapes are dried for three weeks, fermented and then aged for eighteen months in 500 liter Allier oak. The nose shows a mix of red and black fruit, hints of baking spice and cocoa. Medium bodied with more concentration than one would find in a typical Valpolicella Superiore, black cherry and spice notes are in perfect balance with the acidity. The wine is fresh, energetic and easy to drink. Try it with Lasagna or one of your favorite meat dishes.

2011 Speri Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano - 70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella and 5% Molinara. Hand harvested from their best single vineyard the grapes are dried for 100 days, then crushed and fermented in January, remaining on the skins for about a month. The wine is aged in oak casks for three years. In the glass deep ruby red giving aromas of black raspberries,  plums, figs and chocolate. On the palate if you're looking for a big bombastic wine like some Amarones can be you'll be disappointed. In the mouth this Amarone displays a wonderful depth of fruit, with the oak showing a supporting role, but clearly buried in the background. With the illusion of sweetness on the nose, the mid palate and finish are full and persistent.  A wonderful example of an elegant and traditional Amarone. I t would be a great companion on your dinner table and yet it's so approachable now that you could enjoy it all by itself. 

2012 Speri Recioto Della Valpolicella Classico "La Roggia" - 70% Corvina, 30% Rondinella. The grapes are grown in Cariano and once they are harvested they are dried for 130 days. The secret to this sweet dessert wine is the fermentation is stopped with cold temperatures leaving some residual sugar. Deep ruby red almost opaque in the glass, jammy concentrated black fruit and spiced cocoa envelope the palate, followed by a firm mid palate with waves of black cherries, licorice and baking spices. It finishes long and one you've swallowed, the freshness and acidity encourage you to take another sip. Serve this one for friends after the dinner with pieces of fine dark chocolate.  Careful though, your guests may never leave.

During our visit Luca also gave us the opportunity to taste their 1997 Amarone.  He explained, "We keep of every good vintage a minimum of 3 to 4 thousand bottles". The 97' was drinking extremely well and Luca assured us it had ten to fifteen more years of life ahead of it. Each year they release older library wines (at the tasting room only), so if you're visiting the area and you want to experience a properly aged Amarone at its birthplace stop by Speri Viticoltori. Cheers!

VinoWeek Episode 35 - Mergers and Acquisitions

Jackson Family Wines makes another investmentin Oregon. What's driving the move north? Are there more mergers and acquisitions on the horizon? 

Alison Spiegel gets some of the nations coolest sommeliers to drop some insider secrets.

Winemakers are preparing to mount a battle against the regional government in Chablis. A proposed tar plant is the source of the conflict.

Peter Gago, head winemaker at Penfolds has lost his faith in screwcap closures for wine bottles and is now researching the efficacy of glass as a cork alternative.

The Drunken Cyclist shares his experience of two very different nights at Antica Bottega Del Vino in Verona.

Thank you for listening and tell a friend. Cheers!

Wine and Spirits Top 100 Tasting


Tickets are now on sale for the 13th Annual Top 100 Tasting. The event will be held at the City View at Metreon venue on Monday, October 10, 2016, in San Francisco. It's always well organized with a good cross section of wines from the top 100 wineries of the year and if you enjoy sparkling wines and oysters, it's game on. In concert with local purveyors, putting out some of their signature specialties, many of the wineries have the winemakers on hand.  If wonderful wine and fantastic food isn't enough to get you onboard, consider that proceeds from the Top 100 event go towards San Francisco Bay Keeper to help fight water pollution. Fast becoming one of my favorite wine tastings to attend, tickets for this event will sell out quickly. Click here to get discounted pre-sale tickets.

The top 100 wineries for this year is not out yet, but you can check out last year's 2015 top 100, a noteworthy list to say the least. A tasting of this type is probably one of the best ways to explore, expand your palate and find some new discoveries in the world of food and wine. Here are a few photos of last year's event to whet your appetite. We'll see you at the oyster table. Cheers!


VinoWeek Episode 34 - Wine Crimes

The former owner of Premier Cru wines a now defunct retailer in Berkeley, California has pled guilty to running a wine Ponzi scheme and has cut a deal with federal prosecutors.   

There's gold in those hill. At least that's what famed grape growers Andy and David Beckstoffer are hoping for as they work to raise the quality and notorietyof grapes grown in the Red Hills of Lake County, California.

The Soberanes Creek fire continues to burn causing lots of concern for residents and farmers in Monterey County. There have also been a number of wildfires in Europe.  

Adam Teeter pens an informative post on understanding tannins in red wine.     

Here's a good post to show what organic farmers battle through to provide us with a healthier product.    

John Fodera has just posted a comprehensive report on currentChianti wines. If you're a fan of Chianti Classico it's a must read.   

As always thanks for listening and please tell a friend.

VinoWeek Episode 33 - Its Fire Season

On the west coast of the United States it's fire season and the Soberanes fire near Big Sur, California and a wildfire near Prosser, Washington has caused lots of concern for farmers and winery owners.  

Antonio Galloni pens a wonderful piece, while offering a sobering viewpoint on the recent sale of one of Barolo's gems, Vietti Winery to American businessman Kyle Krause. Mr. Galloni also has some suggestions on how to start a wine collection.

Here's a quick primer on the differences between Left Bank and Right Bank Bordeaux.

Michele Parente explains why wine costs what it does

Bill and I discuss these stories and a few more as we get back into the swing of things after a brief hiatus.

As always thanks for listening and tell a friend about us. Cheers!

VinoWeek Episode 32 - Winery Buyouts

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates makes another investment in Northern California, while Jackson Family Wines adds to its portfolio of Oregon wine properties. It looks like the Robert Rue label has been retired as Venge Vineyards has purchased the property  in Russian River Valley.

We're number one or are we? Check out this graphic by Decanter Magazine highlighting the top 10 wine consuming countries.

Want to brush up on your Chianti Classico knowledge and get a heads up of what's available in the marketplace? Don'tmiss Richard Jennings' awesome post.

Is that the world's most interesting man. No, it's Vijay Mallya, India's most wanted man.  

It's easy to steal rare wine but much harder to fence it, or so it seems for two Northern California men who have been charged with trafficking in stolen goods.

Bill and I discuss these stories and a few other on this week's podcast. Thanks for listening and tell a friend. Cheers!

Terra Moretti in San Francisco


Vittorio Moretti , President of Terra Morettia holding company and Marco Sabellico, Senior Editor of Gambero Rosso Vini D'Italia hosted a memorable dinner for Italian wine distributors and wine writers in San Francisco. The dinner was held at the Ristobar in the Marina district, on the eve of the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri grand tasting at the Fort Mason Center. 

Vittorio Moretti serves as the President of the Consorzio Franciacorta and is the owner of Contadi Castaldi and Bellavista (beautiful view)  properties in the province of Brescia, in northern Italy, situated about an hours drive east of the fashion capital of Italy, Milan. Signore Moretti also own Petra winery in Maremma, along the Tuscan coastline near the Tyrrhenian sea. Since the 1970's wines from Maremma have been made from grape varieties not typically used in Tuscan wines and were initially glossed 'Super Tuscan' by members of the Antinori clan. Although the term Super Tuscan has no legally codified meaning,  it has stuck, its use denotes wines of small production, sporting whimsical names, with high quality and lofty prices.   

After being introduced to Mr. Moretti by Sara Pedrali - Brand Ambassador for Terra Moretti, I quickly learned that my 50% Duolingo rating for the Italian language holds little weight in the real world. I spoke just well enough to momentarily convince Signore Moretti I could carry on a conversation, but we both soon realized that any conversation of depth was not possible for us. 

Fortunately for us Marco acted as the interpreter for the evening and served that role splendidly. We also had the good fortune of sitting next to Eleonora Guerini, another Senior Editor of the Vini D'Italia. She was gracious and kind as Bill and I peppered her with questions throughout the evening. 

Before seating, we were offered Contadi Castaldi Saten 2010 Franciacorta, paired with grilled crostone with Swiss chard and burrata cheese.  You could walk in a hand full of specialty wine retailers in the San Francisco area and you would be lucky to find three different labels of Franciacorta wines. Even rarer would be a Saten. Saten is a sparkling wine from Franciacorta that is made using only white grapes, typically Chardonnay, but Pinot Bianco can be used also. Franciacorta Saten is bottled with less pressure so the wines have a softer mouth feel.  The bitterness of the chard and the sweetness of the burrata were good foils for the Saten. Contadi Castaldi's Saten is 100% Chardonnay and after fermentation is aged for seven months in stainless steel and barrique. It's aged for about three years on the lees. Light straw colored it offers up a floral nose with hints of yellow apples, citrus and yeast, with soft persistent bubbles.

The next course featured Star Route Farm of Bolinas grown puntarelle with Oregon Dungeness Crab meat. Paired with Bellavista Teatro Alla Scala 2010 Franciacorta Brut, this was another bitter vs sweet combination prepared by Chef Massimo Covello that worked beautifully. Putarelle is an Italian green that belongs to the chicory family. Composed of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Nero, 30% of the wine is fermented and matured in small white oak casks for at least seven months. Once it's blended with the other wines it spends five years on the lees. A pale yellow color with a tinge of green, the nose showed lovely apple, pear and toasted brioche notes. Vibrant acidity and showing its power, the finish is extremely long. Unfortunately for us this wine is not exported, as all the bottles are reserved for the Teatro Alla Scala in Milan. 

The next pairing was my favorite, house made cavatelli with Full Belly Farm black eye beans, sausage and dill. Cavatelli are inch long rolled pasta shells that look like miniature hot dog buns. The savory earthiness of the dish pared perfectly with the 2012 Petra Quercegobbe, 100% Merlot. A loose translation for Quercegobbe would be hunchback oak. I have a soft spot for Tuscan Merlot and the Petra Quercegobbe did not disappoint. Quercegobbe is fermented in 620 hectoliter oak barrels and is aged in new French barriques for eighteen months. Once bottled it's stored at the winery for another eighteen months before release.  Deep ruby red in color, the nose showed red fruit, herbs, tobacco and anise. Full bodied at 14.5% abv, the wine displays modest power, excellent structure and supple tannins.  The oldest vines next to the winery are less than twenty years old, so Quercegobbi will be one to watch. It's just down the road from Masseto and can be had for a fraction of the price. $53 - $60

There were two offerings for the main course, Stemple Creek Ranch "Prime" New York served with Bolinas broccolini and Rossetti Ranch lamb chops with Green Gulch Farm spinach. The wine paired with these dishes was the tre bicchieri awarded 2012 Petra IGT Toscana. The presentation of the lamb was superb and the execution for the steak was bang on. The Petra is 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot.  The wine spends eighteen months in French oak, 30% new and is aged for eighteen months in bottle. Black berries and currants dominate the nose, supported by bold tannins and fresh acids. On the palate a herbaceous, red fruit profile with a delicious medium length finish. It was a wonderful match for the New York steak, but the $100 plus dollar price tag for the Petra would have me looking elsewhere. 


Next up was a cheese plate featuring items from Andante Dairy in Petaluma, Ca. Cavatini, Melange and Contralto cheeses were paired with Bellavista Vittorio Moretti 2008 Franciacorta. Cavatini is made from pasteurized goat's milk, is white and has a grey-white colored rind. Melange is a blend of goat's and cow's milk and resembles Brie in flavor and texture. For our group the Contralto cheese was substituted for a cow's milk triple cream cheese. The 2008 Franciacorta rests for a minimum of seven years on the lees and is composed of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir. Citrus and yellow apples on the nose are complemented by yeast, baked apples and caramel on the palate, ending with a long creamy finish. $120 - $130

Dessert was a delicious panettone paired with a magnums of Bellavista Vittorio Moretti Meraviglioso. The Panettone, a yeast leavened sweet bread assembled with eggs and butter for extra richness was sublime.  If your'e ever in the Marina District of San Francisco and you're looking for a good place for dessert put the Ristobar, 2300 Chestnut Street at the top of your list. Meraviglioso (wonderful) is a blend of six vintages 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995,2001 and 2002, and is only bottled in magnums. Priced at $1,100 dollars and up a bottle, Meraviglioso is ultra- premium and very rare Franciacorta, with only 5000 bottles produced. We were honored to be offered the opportunity to taste it. Initial notes of apple and pear on the nose are complimented by secondary notes of yeast and brioche. Complex and muscular, Meraviglioso finishes long, it's built for the long haul. 

A special thanks to Vittorio Moretti, Ristobar owner Gary Rulli, Chef Massimo Covello and their staff for hosting a wonderful food and wine event. While we tasted the upper tier of Terra Moretti Wines, the group offers a wide range of high quality sparkling and still wines at modest prices. Franciacorta wines are currently being aggressively promoted in the United State, so we should be seeing more examples of these wonderful wines on retailer shelves in the future.