January 19, 2012
Courtesy Naples Wine Festival
Oenophiles and philanthropists alike will gather January 27–29 in Naples, Florida, for a seasonal highlight: the 2012 Naples Winter Wine Festival. Attendees will sip rare vintages, feast in style at intimate dinners prepared by world-class chefs (Wolfgang Puck and the festival’s chef de cuisine, Tony Mantuano, are among the 17 participants) and bid at the festival’s live auction, which last year raised $12 million for the Naples Children & Education Foundation. On the auction block this year: a carved 75th-anniversary Chateau Haut-Brion wooden console filled with eight bottles of the vintner’s rarest wines (including a 1935 vintage that has never left the estate’s cellar), a private around-the-world jet tour and the first 2012 Mercedes SLS AG Roadster to be made available in the U.S.
Those in the know will vie for tickets to a special wine tasting and lunch hosted on January 26, before the regular events begin, by the festival’s honored vintner, Prince Robert of Luxembourg. Guests will take part in a side-by-side tasting of five of the finest vintages from France’s Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion, followed by a lunch accompanied by two more extremely rare wines. Which, you ask? It’s a surprise—you’ll have to be there to find out.
March 01, 2012
Buying a new bottle of wine can be risky: for the occasional oenophile, there’s the danger that bottle of Bordeaux might oxidize weeks after the first glass. Or maybe the gleaming reviews forgot to mention a slight vanilla undertone that turns your Sauvignon Blanc into Sauvignon blech. In restaurants, curious diners can try a glass before committing themselves to the bottle, but home connoisseurs often make decisions taste-untested. Starting March 1, TastingRoom.com’s wine-by-the-glass service will deliver high-end wines straight to the doorstep in convenient 100 ml servings. The company uses a patented, zero-oxygen chamber to transfer the wine, guaranteeing samplers the same full-bodied taste they’d get directly from the bottle. Solar-powered Napa winery Silver Oak is the first brand to offer up their vintages for trial-by-glass; their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon will be available for $19 per glass ($70 for a set of four). TastingRoom.com
March 08, 2012
Courtesy Clos du Bois Wines
Warmer weather brings flowers, picnic baskets and fruity Chardonnays—sometimes all in one tidy package. Chic Picnique, the product of a new collaboration between fashion designer Tracy Reese and boutique Sonoma winery Clos du Bois, arrives just in time for a springtime outing. The stylish wicker picnic hamper, lined with Reese’s iconic floral-patterned fabric, is filled with two Clos du Bois wines, reusable travel glasses, a corkscrew, a bottle stopper and two fabric napkins in a matching print. It’s perfect for making toasts alfresco. $135;
July 26, 2012
Copyright: Andrea Johnson Photography
Pinot Noir grapes are notoriously finicky. Grown on the edge of a climatic region, they are challenged each year—too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. In response, some winemakers are as thin-skinned as their grapes, carefully guarding their battle plan in hopes of sinking the competition. It’s different in Oregon, says International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) executive director Amy Wesselman. “Everybody up here gets on the phone and shares ideas.”
The camaraderie among Oregon winemakers creates superb Pinot Noir. (The famously awesome 2008 vintage buoyed the region as the recession hit.) It also makes for one heck of a party. The International Pinot Noir Celebration hosts its 26th annual festival July 27 to July 29 at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, just an hour’s drive from Portland. The festivities begin Thursday with pre-festival dinners at local vineyards, such as scenic Anne Amie’s Counter Culture shindig, which pairs “street food” from Portland restaurants with international wines. Over the course of the long weekend, 800 guests will taste Pinot Noir from 70 wineries throughout the world.
Keynote speaker Kyle MacLachlan kicks off the celebration formally on Friday morning. In 2005, the actor (Desperate Housewives, Twin Peaks) began a partnership with Washington’s Dunham Cellars to create his own wine, Pursued by Bear. His recent satirical stint as the mayor on Portlandia has Oregonians ready to be ribbed.
During daytime sessions, guests split into groups for a grand seminar on campus or a vineyard tour. (The groups swap itineraries on Saturday.) This year, the IPNC introduces the new University of Pinot program, nine seminar-style classes taught concurrently. Alfresco luncheons and suppers punctuate the formal sessions, including an impressive Saturday night salmon bake, where hundreds of alder-staked wild salmon are roasted over an open fire pit. A sparkling wine toast on Sunday morning ends the formal program, and the strong of heart finish the weekend with a Walkabout, an à la carte afternoon tasting of all the wines featured.
“My favorite kind of guest is the guest who shows up and knows very little about wine,” says Wesselman, nodding to the festival’s welcoming vibe. “By the end of the weekend, not only did they have a fantastic time, but they know more about Pinot Noir than 99 percent of the people they will ever run into in the world. Everything is on a level playing field. If you’re at IPNC, you’re with us all weekend long. It’s like a big summer camp.” 800-775-4762; ipnc.org.
September 13, 2012
Courtesy Dom Pérignon
When it comes to fine wine, many consider the question of terroir or provenance neither here nor there, accepting any glass as long as it packs a punch. (The proof is not in the pudding—the pudding is in the proof.) But to a certain order, the experience approaches the religious, and to close one’s eyes and drink deeply from a renowned vintage is to see the face of God. If you count yourself among the enlightened, a pilgrimage to a certain abbey near Epernay, France—freshly restored in loving historical detail—may be a source of spiritual ecstasy.
The Abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers—a Benedictine monastery founded around 650—has attracted pilgrims for more than a millennium. While most have visited to pray at the relics of St. Helena, zealots of a different sort have also crowded its cloisters in modern times. The abbey happens to be the resting place of Dom Pérignon, the namesake of Moët & Chandon’s prestige cuvée and a leading contender for the patron saint of sparkling wine. Though Pérignon did not invent Champagne, he is often cited as its father because he perfected nearly all the techniques that go into making it—and he did so right in this monastery, whose vineyards and wine cellar he directed in the late 17th century.
This month, more oenophiles than ever will come to pay their respects as Moët & Chandon completes the massive renovations it began in 2009. The project, in collaboration with architect François Chatillon, required the use of master craftsmen, 17th-century methods and specially commissioned, antiquated tools. In a stunning feat of piety, Moët & Chandon has managed to restore the cloisters, the gardens, the wine rows, the library and the abbey’s famed Saint-Hélène portal to the state of grandeur that Brother Pierre Pérignon would have recognized.
Visitors seeking the vine inspiration will be happy to learn that the miracle is ongoing. Richard Geoffroy, chef de cave of Dom Pérignon, frequently walks the grounds when in search of new ideas. “The Hautvillers Abbey continues to inspire the creation of Dom Pérignon vintages,” he says. “It is essential to my work. This is where it all began.” For a tour, call the Moët & Chandon visitor’s center in Epernay at 31-3/26-51-20-00; moet.com.
January 03, 2013
Photo courtesy of Vranken Pommery
Late last year, 70 highly coveted magnums of Les Clos Pompadour Champagne by Pommery arrived at Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits on Park Avenue. Going for approximately $520 a bottle, the sparkling wine is the only portion of the 3,000 bottles of Les Clos Pompadour produced this year that will reach the United States.
In case you missed it, we recommend heading to the Pommery Estate in Reims, France, where tastings are offered year-round. An unusual, annually developed show of contemporary art also occupies the estate’s historic landscape, with much of the same elegant mischievousness that a magnum of Champagne brings to a party in a Manhattan apartment.
This year Bernard Blistène, director of cultural development at Paris’s Centre Pompidou, curated Expérience Pommery. Rather than using existing works, the estate—under Blistène’s guidance—commissioned artists such as Piero Gilardi, Haim Steinbach, Alicja Kwade, Huang Yong Ping, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Richard Fauguet, Anita Molinero and Davide Balula to create new, site-specific works. Blistène spoke to us about creating a contemporary show in a historic space.
Q: How were you introduced to Expérience Pommery?
A: I followed the Pommery Expériences from the beginning. Each time I was struck not by the audacity, but by the freedom that Nathalie Vranken—wife of Pommery’s proprietor, Paul-François—gives the curators she invites. It seemed to me that one could recognize in that freedom the state of contemporary creation.
Q: What did you enjoy about curating this exhibition?
A: I have organized numerous exhibitions in historical buildings, such as the Château at Chambord or the Conciergerie [the old palace and prison] in Paris, but the cellars in Reims are unique. It goes without saying that the idea of white cube has been questioned for many years—but here you will find, perhaps, its antidote or its opposite. I believe that there is no experience of art without drama, and this place offers a drama that most places with which we’re familiar cannot.
Q: Sculpture parks like Storm King in the United States or Gibbs Farm in New Zealand have grown increasingly popular in recent years—clearly contemporary art loves a landscape. Do you think exhibits on private estates will become more common?
A: After the skepticism—or even moral indignation—that contemporary art generated originally, today it creates curiosity. This is partly due to the influence of institutions like the Centre Pompidou, but also largely because of individuals, at the same time or after Vranken, who realized that art should be shared and taught.
Q: Where were some of your favorite installations?
A: The artists invited to this anniversary exhibit have occupied a lot of corners. Art is in the trees, the rooftops, the staircases—regardez bien!
Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, 505 Park Ave.; 212-838-7500; vrankenpommery.fr.
January 16, 2013
Constant Winery © Courtesy of Bardessono Hotel
Bardessono, an eco-friendly, 62-room boutique hotel in the Napa Valley, raises the bar with its Elevated package, a four-day artisanal wine-and-food tour of some of the most elite mountain wineries around. Limited to just 12 couples, the intimate tour leads guests through a series of private tastings at wineries not normally open to the public, like Tusk Estates, Lokoya, Constant and Ovid Vineyards.
To become a member at Tusk, for example, one must be invited by a current member. (After that, expect a wait-list.) But Tusk opens its doors for Bardessono, featuring an evening reception and accompanying dinner starring the vineyard’s limited-production—and extremely rare—wines. Equally uncommon is the opportunity to hobnob with owners Michael Uytengsu and Tim Martin. “Normally when you go to a tasting room, you never get to meet these people,” says Kini Parente, director of sales and marketing.
Other highlights of the weekend include an off-road tour of the vineyards at Constant in a Pinzgauer Swiss Army transport vehicle and a private lunch prepared by chef-owner Mary Constant, with views of Mount St. Helena framing the winery’s infinity pool in the background. “The theme of the event is wines produced at high elevations,” Parente explains. “Each place has something unique to offer.” January 24–27; $8,500 a couple; 6526 Yount St.; 707-204-6000; bardessono.com.
February 28, 2013
Dorchester Women and Wine
“It is unusual to have three female sommeliers at one company,” says Vanessa Cinti, head sommelier at London’s 45 Park Lane hotel. “So for International Women’s Day 2013, we are joining together to embark on a wine road trip.”
The trip kicks off in London on March 6, moves to Paris on March 7 and ends in Milan on March 8 (the date of International Women’s Day). In each location, Cinti and her Dorchester Collection colleagues, Alessandra Veronesi of Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan and Estelle Touzet of Le Meurice in Paris, will engage guests in conversations about female winemakers (and their palates), next-generation wine families and what it’s like being a woman in the sommelier world.
But lest you think of the event as purely academic in nature, there will be plenty of fine vintages to augment the dialogue. Each night the sommeliers will compare old-world and new-world wines with two selections from the United States, France and Italy. “These evenings will be a celebration of all that wine brings to an occasion and the moments that different wines evoke for the individual woman,” Cinti says.
As for the future, Cinti believes that more women are opting to become sommeliers than ever before. “The wine industry is constantly evolving and changing fast,” she says. And as far as wine trends go? Cinti says Londoners should prepare for the upcoming popularity of the California Merlot and the German Riesling in 2013. We’ll certainly raise our glasses to that. March 6–8; $2,600 (includes a one-night stay at each property and wine); 45 Park Lane, Mayfield; 44-20/7493-4554; 45parklane.com.
September 26, 2013
Courtesy of L'Auberge de Sedona
Sedona, Arizona, is known for its creative art community, spiritual seekers and, above all, majestic red rocks. But over the past decade it has added to its appeal with a rise in boutique wineries.
The town is located in the Verde Valley, a region that—thanks to its soil (rocky, mineral-rich) and higher elevation (conducive to more complex flavors)—is ideal grape-growing territory. And though the area is in the early stages of its evolution, it is swiftly making a name. “Although we are relatively new to the wine industry, we are the fifth most Googled growing region in the country,” says David Crans, restaurant general manager at L’Auberge de Sedona (rooms from $225; 301 L’Auberge Ln.; 928-282-1661; lauberge.com), a resort with Sedona’s most extensive wine menu. “As this is such a young industry in the Verde Valley, there is much debate still as to what will be the signature varietals.”
In 2011, L’Auberge de Sedona finished a $25 million renovation, which included its Veranda Bar. Overlooking lush Oak Creek, with seating next to a granite bar inside and a fire pit outside, Veranda features Arizona varietals and blends that fill a full page of its 24-page wine list. Try the award-winning Malvasia Bianca, which pairs well with the Mediterranean-style dishes on the bar menu.
Wine lovers can also celebrate the burgeoning region with the lively annual Sedona Winefest (September 29–30; sedonawinefest.com). In its fifth year, the gathering is timed to the grape harvest and features more than 60 wines along with live music, food and art exhibitions.
Or ride down the Verde River in an inflatable kayak to a wine tasting on the Classic Water to Wine tour, led by Sedona Adventure Tours (877-673-3661; sedonaadventuretours.com). A guide takes guests down the gentle river, lined with sweeping willows and cottonwoods, and stops at the Tuscan-style farmhouse of Alcantara Vineyards (3445 S. Grapevine Way, Cottonwood; 929-649-8463; alcantaravineyard.com) after an hour of paddling. Relax and taste the offerings there before taking a shuttle back to the launch site.
November 28, 2013
At the first ski-in/ski-out wine cellar and tasting room in the world, located at The Little Nell in Aspen, Carlton McCoy, the property’s new wine director and the youngest master sommelier in the country, is taking full advantage of his 20,000-bottle collection. “I look at this as sort of a secret wine club,” he says. “This is not a cookie-cutter cellar tasting room. Everything is personal, from what you drink to the music you listen to.”
McCoy consults with guests to design a theme based on individual preferences, from a grand cru flight of Burgundies to Champagnes by smaller, lesser-known producers. After a final run on Aspen Mountain, skiers meet a concierge who will rack their skis and provide them with slippers, an alpaca blanket and glass of private-label Champagne. Tastings (from $500 for up to six guests) take place in an intimate, custom-designed space in the wine cellar (complete with housemade charcuterie and a local cheese plate), which allows McCoy to pull bottles on the fly.
“This is a great opportunity to have wine you cannot access anywhere else in the world,” he says. “The sky’s the limit.” For inquiries, e-mail email@example.com; 675 E. Durant Ave.; 970-920-4600; thelittlenell.com.