Jim Baker is a visionary when it comes to the wine he makes at his Chateau Niagara Winery located on the Niagara Plain near Lake Ontario in Newfane New York. Jim isn’t afraid to think outside the box or even outside of North America when it comes to the grapes he grows, styles of wine he makes or even the techniques he uses in the cellar. Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 is a perfect example of a blend of two well-known white grape varieties that yield a surprising unique wine when they are made using centuries-old methods from the fabled cradle of wine making.
Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Riesling with a R.S. of nominally 0 and an A.B.V. of 12%. Everything from how this wine is made, to the fascinating character these two highly stylized grapes yield when blended together using a process almost exclusively reserved for red grapes is far from the common place. Du Monde 2020 must be tasted to be understood but don’t wait because only twenty three cases were made. I asked Jim to explain how he makes Du Monde so we can appreciate the nuances of his wine.
“Du Monde is a wine made as a Georgian style white. These wines are traditionally skin fermented in clay amphora called qvervi for long periods of time. We did not use a qvervi, but we did a long skin maceration of eight weeks. This is similar to red wine making technique and results in a wine with many red wine characteristics such as deep color of amber rather than red. The skin tannins and phenols that give a sense of drinking a red wine, with a white wine finish. Our Du Monde is a 50/50 blend of Riesling and Chardonnay making a unique and promising blend. The combination yields a certain spiciness that is not apparent in either grape variety. This results in Du Monde pairing fantastic with all sorts of Mexican food.”
It would be correct to say this wine is a simple 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Riesling but that is a much too simple description. It would be better to use the analogy of two perfectly matched dance partners where neither one outshines the other so you can enjoy their performance in its entirety. Chateau Niagara Du Monde 2020 opens with notes of candied fruit leading into flavors of melon and tropical fruit followed by a medium finish with a tinge of lemon peel. This wine is perfectly balanced and displays a deep amber color in the glass.
All of Jim Baker’s wines can be purchased online at http://chateauniagarawinery.com and by visiting or calling the winery at 2466 West Creek Road Newfane NY 716-778-7888
You might be familiar with the name Meiomi from its immensely popular Pinot Noir, That Pinot has the dubious honor of being deemed “drinkable” in the controversial 2/4/2019 New York Times article by Eric Asimov titled “Supermarket wines are poured, and worlds collide.”https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/dining/drinks/wine-school-grocery-store-wines.amp.html In his article Mr. Asimov named three “processed” wines, as he called them, to show the divide between how the consumption of wine is viewed between two distinctly different groups of consumers. He used Apothic Red Blend, Meiomi Pinot Noir, and The Prisoner as examples of wine manufactured and marketed to the masses as an industrial product while another smaller group of wine consumers are targeted by the producers of wine that is made in small batches and is an artisanal agricultural product. He also mentions a third even smaller group of wine drinkers who can appreciate and move between both groups. I am a member of that group. While I can enjoy wine from both of Eric Asimov’s groups, I must be careful when recommending a bottle that is in limited distribution making sure it can be found in traditional distribution channels.
Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 is widely distributed and is very affordable with a price tag under $20. This California Chardonnay is made to check as many of the boxes that Chardonnay drinkers are looking for as possible. It is a blend of grapes from Santa Barbara County, Sonoma County, and Monterey County. Meiomi Chardonnay 2019 was fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks and underwent 100% malolactic fermentation before being aged with French oak. This is not a bone-dry California Chardonnay but has a little sweetness to it, along with flavors of apple, pear, and vanilla followed by a buttery finish.
Meiomi Chardonnay is a crowd-pleaser because it is made to appeal to the broadest range of tastes while maintaining consistency from year to year. If you are planning a gathering where the majority of your guests are casual wine drinkers, I think serving a popular mass produced wine is a wise choice. It is better to be throwing out empty wine bottles than to be pouring half-full glasses of wine down the drain.
This year has certainly been a stressful and unnerving time for everyone. Our dependable way of life has been thrown into chaos with no foreseeable return to normalcy anytime soon. Traditional Thanksgiving festivities will be adapted to conform to the pandemic protocols just like every other holiday or event had to do in 2020. Since our Thanksgiving dinners will hopefully be celebrated with a smaller gathering of friends and family then why shouldn’t we treat ourselves with good wine?
A Chardonnay with a touch of oak will stand up to all the flavor profiles of a family-style turkey dinner. My choice for a Chardonnay with all the right characteristics is Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2018. This California Chardonnay shows well in the glass with an alluring straw color and aromas of oak, apple, and vanilla. It has a good structure that supports flavors of apple, pear, melon, and, citrus that are accentuated by its medium acidity.
Often you need a red wine as a counterpoint to the white wine you are serving your guests. Saldo Zinfandel 2018 by the Prisoner Wine Company will accent your table with its beautiful ruby color and notes of oak. The flavors of dark fruit on a balanced bold body, supple tannins, and mouthwatering acidity are certain to please your red wine lovers. TIP: Decant before serving.
For me, no Thanksgiving dinner would be complete without a Riesling on the table. If you have read my blog then it is no secret that I like Finger Lakes Riesling but they can be hard to find. The two wines I have recommended are substantially above the price point I tend to cover so when I need to buy multiple bottles I have found this Washington State Riesling to be a great pick to fill that need. My go-to Washington Riesling for value and taste is Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2019. This Riesling is made in a very approachable style that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. It is easy to drink with crisp acidity and flavors of citrus, tropical fruit, and peach. The price point is in the $10-$14 range.
I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and please stay safe.
Just off Exit 146 of the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the foot of the Allegheny mountains lays the little town of Bedford. Nothing along the quaint business district in the center of town would give you any clue that something extraordinary is happening at 107 E. Pitt Street. That is the address of the tasting room for Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery, one of the best wineries in Pennsylvania. You might think that’s only my opinion of their classic European-style vinifera wines but I have a second opinion from someone with creditability greater than my own, Mr. James Suckling! Yes, you heard right, that James Suckling the world-famous wine critic.
At a recent tasting of more than 800 non-West Coast wines Mr. Suckling gave Briar Valley Chardonnay 2016
Briar Valley Vineyard & Winery Chardonnay 2016
a score of 92 points calling it “Concentrated and fresh, this is an elegant cool-climate Chardonnay with bright lemon and herbal notes. Very long mineral finish.” Quite a coup for Tod & Jean Manspeaker owners/wine makers at B.V. Mr. Suckling went on to award B.V. Lemberger 2016 an 89 point score and B.V. Cabernet Franc 2016 87 points. These two Reds are among my favorite Pennsylvania wines. It is easy to see why Tod & Jean have recently expanded their winery with a new production facility because when you make wine this good you will need extra capacity.
You can find these wines and all the other quality wines that Briar Valley offers at their tasting room in Bedford, Pa, online at http://briarvalleywinery.com or at many fine dining restaurants around the state.
On every trip there is one experience that stamps its indelible mark on your memory. On this trip it was meeting Marti Macinski and the time we spent at her Standing Stone Vineyards & Winery. Upon our arrival she greeted us with a genuinely heart-felt welcome. Marti was accompanied by her personable and outgoing intern Griffin Lehman. She lead my wife and I through a tasting of all of her excellent wines. I was very impressed by how good all the wines were. If I were to use one word to describe all of the Standing Stone wines we tasted that day it would be balanced. Balance is very important to me when I taste wine because it allows me to taste all aspects of the wine without having certain overdone or underdeveloped characteristics create a biased wine. When you drink a wine made by Marti Macinski you can taste every nuance of the wine and the terroir of her vineyards.
Her Riesling were some of the best that I tasted in the FLX and I tasted the best Riesling that I have ever tasted there on this visit. I really liked her Saperavi and it confirmed my opinion that this grape has great potential in the Eastern U.S.. She convinced us to try her Ice wine even though we were never fans of Ice wine. We are glad we did because we loved all four of her offerings : Chardonnay, Vidal, Grwürztraminer and Riesling. The entire menu of wines offered by Standing Stone Winery are well crafted and certainly worth your attention when you visit. I can highly recommend a visit to this Seneca Lake winery in Hector N.Y. for anyone attending the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference or someone visiting the area looking for superior wine. Standingstonewines.com 607-582-6051 9934 Rte 414 Hector, N Y 14841
View of Seneca Lake & Vineyards from Standing Stone
The flavor and aroma of oak in wine is only second to Red or White in dividing wine drinkers. Many people simply will not give themselves a chance to appreciate how oak can be artfully used to enhance wine quality whether it’s Red or White. I like the flavor of oak in any of its applications especially when it is used to shape a wine into a more complex version of itself. Wine makers have leaned on oak barrels for centuries to give their wine both structure and flavors. The oxygen that seeps into the barrels helps mature the wine while causing the loss of a small amount of wine that is said to be the ” Angel
New Oak Wine Barrel
Share”. Oak wood for wine barrels is grown throughout the world and has a distinctive flavor associated with each region from which it is harvested. American Oak has a pronounced level of flavor that is imparted to the wine while French Oak is said to be more subtle (Let the arguments begin). Coopers are able to give wine makers more control over their flavors by the amount of toasting they do to the inside of a barrel, mixing different kinds oak staves used to make a barrel and even making the oak wood in to chips or sticks that can be floated in vats of wine. Today’s wine makers don’t have to paint the portrait of a wine using only broad brush strokes of oak, they can paint shadows of light and dark accents of flavors with the precision of an artist using small brush strokes to bring out all the nuances of a wine. The organic compounds that are released into the wine give it structure and flavor while drawing out hidden flavors to add complexity to the wine. When done correctly the addition of oak can produce a truly unique wine. The difference that oak makes in the personality of a wine can be seen by tasting three different Chardonnay. The first being made entirely in stainless steel to preserve fruit flavors, the second aged in used barrels for texture only and the third aged in new oak to get a creamy texture plus an aromatic vanilla taste. After tasting the differences in the three you will be able to the tell which methods you like the best.
I am not a huge Chardonnay fan but I do like the style made in the Finger Lakes. They tend to be dry but not the bone dry examples that are so popular in California. We had a bottle of Wagner’s Vineyards 2011 Chardonnay and decided to pair it with our Easter dinner. It paired well with the sugar-cured ham that was the centerpiece of the meal. This dry Chardonnay has a full and solid mouth feel that allowed it to stand up to the flavors of the meal. Since it is fermented in small oak barrels it has an aroma of vanilla and the flavors of pear and melons which can be tasted throughout its smooth finish. Wagner’s Vineyards offers several different styles of Chardonnay that I had the opportunity to sample during my last visit to their tasting room in 2012. Each one was distinctly different in style , flavor and dryness. This wine is a good value at $13.99 from the Wagner Vineyards website. wagnervineyards.com
Christian W. Klay Winery Photo Courtesy: Christian W. Klay Winery
I had the pleasure to drink several Christian W. Klay wines at a friend’s wedding reception that was held very near the Klay winery’s home in Chalk Hill,Pa. I enjoyed their Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both displayed good structure and a medium body that paired well with my steak dinner. The Chardonnay I tried didn’t impress me as much as the Cab and Merlot. When I asked my wife for her opinion on the White Zinfandel she gave me a favorable comment saying it was pleasing and easy to drink. The Christian W. Klay winery has been a mainstay of the wine industry in Western Pennsylvania since opening in Fayette county in 1997 and has always raised the quality of their wines with every vintage. These wines, as well as the wines of many other W.Pa. wineries, continue to improve every year and I look forward to the offerings that will come from the superb 2013 vintage. www.cwklaywinery.com
The Goulart Winery is a partnership between Mauricio Parodi and Erika Goulart. Mauricio Parodi is one of the most knowledgeable and accomplished agronomist in Mendoza and Erika Goulart, whose grandfather lead the overthrow of the Brazilian government in the 1932 Constitutional Revolution. Erika is a successful entrepreneur who with the help of Mauricio resurrected her grandfathers Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Mendoza that were originally planted in 1915. It took six years to rehabilitate the vineyards back to the point of perfect balance that is necessary to produce high quality wine and after the enlightened hiring of Luis Barrund all the pieces were in place for a world-class winery. Goulart wines have been hard to find, especially in Pennsylvania, below I have posted the New Vintage releases for the United States so you can focus your search for the wines of this exceptional producer. You can visit www.fincalugildegoulart.com.ar or click the link to the left to visit Erika’s Facebook page for more information that also includes the releases for Europe, Asia and South America.
There is real value to be found inside the bottles of the second label offerings of famous wineries. These are very well-made wines by renowned wine makers that do not quite meet the high standards required for being sold under the flagship label of the winery. The November 2012 issue of Men’s Journal Magazine had an interesting article on this category of wines. Stoney Hill Winery is one of this country’s greatest white wine estates with their flagship label Stoney Hill Chardonnay costing $42 but the second label is SHV Chardonnay that can be yours for only $24. Opus One is well-known to everyone with the 2009 vintage selling for $225 but did you know that Overture is their second label and is only $80. You can buy a bottle of Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon for $225 or go with the second label CRU Cabernet Sauvignon for $54. Great values can be found with some research and if you want to do some detective work who knows what wine secrets you will uncover. Here is an example of a great value that could be easily overlooked by the uninformed wine shopper. Boekenhoutsko is one of South Africa’s top producers and it’s flagship label sales for $45 but their secondary is called The Wolftrap 2010 and retails for $8. Second label wines are an affordable alternative to their big-name and highly touted first label counterparts and can competently fill the need when a well made wine at a reasonable price is the challenge presented to you.