In 1976, at the historical Judgment of Paris tasting, one humble Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley left the discriminating panel of French palettes gobsmacked. Awarded first place, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’s 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon effectively catapulted California’s name onto the international vinicultural map.
Maintaining its reputation for elegant wines of velvet intensity, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars has become one of the most essential stops on the Napa Valley wine trail for oenophiles. Now, thanks to the winery’s brand-new Stag’s Leap FAY Outlook & Visitor Center, it’s even more of an attraction for design enthusiasts, too.
The 6000-square-foot space was built in collaboration by Barcelona-based architect Javier Barba and local architect Dan MacDonald and will host myriad tastings, events and private club activities. Designed with the surrounding landscape in mind, over 300 tons of stone boulders were sourced from the winery’s land; a wall of glass windows offers a panoramic perspective on the winery’s estate vineyards below and the appellation’s namesake palisades beyond.
“I took inspiration from the angles of the Stag’s Leap rock formation and elements of the stories Native Americans told of an enormous Stag that eluded hunters as it leapt to safety from rock to rock,” says Barba. “The Visitor Center is exposed, growing from the site, embracing the sky and the surrounding countryside. Its emotional appeal is rooted in the integration of the wine-tasting experience held within the estate vineyards, right where the wines are produced, with views of extraordinary beauty.” 5766 Silverado Trl.; 707-944-2020; cask23.com.
There’s no better way to toast the coming autumnal season than with Taylor Fladgate’s brand-new release: the maker’s first-ever 151-year-old Tawny Port.
More than a century and a half since its harvesting, the 1863 Single Harvest Tawny Port arrives on select U.S. shelves this month in a specially crafted crystal decanter, housed in a burled maple veneer box ($3,700). With only 1,600 bottles available worldwide, this extremely rare port owes its singularity to more than just its age, but to its exceptional provenance, as well.
With grapes plucked from the port house’s vines and foot-treaded in the Douro Valley, not only does the vintage mark one of the best harvest seasons since 1834, thanks to a year of intense heat and a resuscitably rainy August, but also one of the very last harvest seasons before the outbreak of phylloxera—a pest that ravaged vine roots in the 19th century and changed the course of grape growing.
The single-harvest fortified wine (colheita in Portuguese)—which, unlike other bottles offered by the port house, is unblended—then fortuitously sat waiting in two wooden casks in Taylor Fladgate’s massive, dark, damp port lodges in Oporto. (All tawny port, unlike vintage ports left to mature in bottles, is aged in wood.) The facility’s conditions, brought on by cool, humid winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean and the Douro River nearby, provided the ideal conditions for the vintage’s maturation.
One hundred and fifty-one years later, this singular fortified wine boasts a subtly spicy (nutmeg, pepper), sticky-sweet nose (molasses, marzipan) and a full-bodied, mellow, lightly acidic flavor that’s entirely unique to the vintage, proving that the adage “patience is a virtue” is never truer than when applied to port. taylor.pt/en/.
Photo courtesy of iStockphoto
As with many of the finer things in life, wine is an area of expertise that never ceases to expand: The more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know.
To feed that thirst for knowledge—and then some—Belmond Charleston Place, in Charleston, South Carolina, has launched a three-day Wine U program that covers the essentials with help from Rick Rubel, the hotel’s advanced sommelier and wine director, and a number of guest speakers.
From August 22 to 24, dedicated students can learn about wine varieties, deductive wine tasting, the chemistry between food and wine and personal stocking strategies for at-home cellars. And to show how serious the program really is, the weekend wraps with a blind-tasting exam for all 20 of its pupils.
Attendees can expect to try rare, exceptional wines from the likes of Adelsheim, Zind-Humbrecht, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Krug and Shafer, and unwind after a hard day of study with a gourmet lunch and an eight-course dinner at the hotel’s Charleston Grill. Rates start at $3,000; 205 Meeting St.; 800-383-2335; charlestonplace.com/wineu.
Photo courtesy of Dom Pérignon
Good things come to those who wait, and this month that applies as much to those who patiently anticipate the first release of Dom Pérignon’s Second Plénitude (P2) edition as it does to the process of making the buzzed-about Champagne itself.
The story begins with the brand’s winemaker, Richard Geoffroy, who discovered not long ago that Dom Pérignon’s Champagnes actually mature in a series of plateaus, or “plenitudes,” after their second in-bottle fermentation rather than the more gradual arc of improvement most wines undertake as they age.
In other words, Geoffroy and his team discovered that letting the bottle rest on the lees—which means keeping the yeast sediment in the bottle—greatly influences the quality of the wine in three distinctive phases, each spaced roughly ten years apart, rather than incrementally over time. (The first plenitude is about seven to nine years, the second is a minimum of 12 years and the third is at least 20 years.) The result, of course, is the ability to capture and present the same vintage at each of its most exemplary stages.
As the first vintage to come out under the new name (wines of this maturity were previously known as Oenothèque), P2-1998 ($375) is a welcome addition to the brand’s repertoire. Rather than the weighty, fatty feel you might expect from a Champagne this age, the 1998 vintage has a delightful minerality, with citrus, floral and spice notes and the slight buttery quality that Dom Pérignon is known for. Skip the flute and sip P2 in a large white-wine glass to take full advantage of the complexity.
The release is limited and will be available in stores beginning this month. And while you can expect more P2’s in your future—most vintages will reach a second and third plenitude—there’s no reason not to call the first one your own.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; 675 E. Durant Ave.; 970-920-4600; thelittlenell.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.