Spanish Sherry

When first I heard about Sherry, the only thing communicated to me was that Spanish Sherry was the best in the world. There were few upscale restaurants in San Francisco that had quality Sherry as either an aperitif or an after dinner offering.

At the time I had regularly scheduled tastings with four master sommeliers, usually in a private dining room at the Ritz Carlton. Our tastings included wines from around the world as a testing ground for future advancement in the sommelier world.

I found these tastings to be enlightening, and so very educational. To be around those four guys that had passed their master sommelier exam was a true blessing. It gave me a heightened awareness of the subtleties of wine and the distinctive properties exhibited by terroir and varietal composition.

One of the tastings I’ll never forget involved Spanish Sherry. This wasn’t so much a lesson in determining the varietal or terroir but a lesson in the excellent art of Sherry production. I was told there was only one place that produced the greatest Sherry in the world… and that was Spain.

While there was usually a debate about other varietals related to best in the world… there was no doubt that Spain was the Sherry capital of the world.

The history of Sherry is closely linked with that of Spanish wine production, particularly the political fortunes of the Cadiz region, where it originated. This region saw the Phoenician settlement of the Liberian Peninsula create a triangle of Sherry production that exists to the present day.

The triangular region between the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda is the epicenter for one of the world’s oldest wines.

The evolution of Sherry has been influenced by many of the world’s greatest empires and civilizations : the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish, and British. While Sherry does not enjoy the level of popularity it once did, it remains one of the world’s most unusual and historical expressions.

The Sherry Triangle is an area in the province of Cadiz in southwestern Spain. The secret is the combination of soil. The  chalky, crumbly, moisture retaining albariza, encourages the growth of flor, a type of yeast that forms on the aging wine and prevents it from oxidizing.  The cities mentioned above are where the bodegas store and blend this magnificent beverage. Jerez translates as Sherry in Spanish, and so the wine is named after this region.

There are strict rules to what classifies as Sherry. Only fortified white wines bottled in Jerez and made using Jerez grapes can be awarded the D.O. (Denominacion de Origen). In the Jerez region the predominant grape is the Palomino, named after a 13th century Spanish knight. In other regions this grape is pedestrian. However, in Jerez the magic of the soil and the prevailing humidity allows the growth of the protective flor yeast to exact an exceptional dryness and earthy aroma.

Few things can beat Sherry as a pre-meal aperitif. Ever since Sir Francis Drake ransacked the port of Cadiz in 1587 and made off with 3,000 barrels of Sherry, the British have been addicted to the stuff, and continue to be the main international clients.

Within the category of dry Sherry there is the Manzanilla, which is made exclusively in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Many can detect a hint of sea in this wine due to its proximity to the ocean.

Like Port, Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning extra alcohol is added to bring the percentage of alcohol to around 16 percent. After the grapes are harvested in early September, they are crushed to make a still white wine. This ages for about two years before being put through the criadera and solera system, which is a process to blend different years to ensure the finished product is of consistent quality.

The different types of Sherry are as follows: Fino: clear and perfectly dry with an aroma of almonds. This type of Sherry is served chilled accompanied by nuts or tapas. Manzanilla: this is the Fino Sherry made in Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is even drier and paler than other Finos. Oloroso: The layer of flor yeast is thin, or absent in this Sherry as it ages. There is partial oxidation which accounts for the darker color. Oloroso is a rich amber with an aroma of hazelnuts. The best and oldest is the legendary Matusalem. Amontillados: this Sherry is the mid-way point between Fino and Oloroso with some qualities of both. Palo Cortado: In Jerez they say this is a wine that you can’t make… it just happens. A rare treat, it has an aroma reminiscent of an Amontillado while its color is closer to an Oloroso. One of the best is the 60 year old Sibarita. Cream Sherry: this is an Oloroso Sherry mixed with the sweet Pedro Ximeniz, a good companion for pates or fois gras.

In October we are going to this magnificent area of Spain to participate in our own Sherry tasting. Going to the source where centuries of wine making have produced products indigenous to only one region… is truly a gift. Meeting the winemakers and owners of these bodegas is a once in a life time trip. The sensory experience involving the landscape, grapes, barrels, and those that participate in its creation will be like stepping back in time. Their focus and thus acclaim is a testimonial to generations of Spaniards engaged in producing what many believe… is the best aperitif and after dinner beverage in the world.

Madeira, A Wine that Stands the Test of Time!

 

When I was the GM at the Fairmont in San Francisco, I was in charge of the “owners” restaurant, Masons. Mel Swig was the owner of the Fairmont Hotel and the gentleman that started that iconic brand. He hired me as the GM to  upgrade the food, beverage, and service.

The restaurant was built for magnificence, with rare Brazilian wood pillars that framed the Connemara marble floors. The walls were adorned in hand-woven silk tapestries that were custom made to fit each panel outlined in the blonde, Cerejira, Brazilian wood, polished to a mirror like finish. Carpet was outsourced from India and the ceilings reflected a complex checkerboard design sculpted in Avodire, African wood.

The Chef I outsourced from the famous L’Etoile restaurant at the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill, his name was Claude Bogaurt.  When he left for Masons, they had to close L’Etoile. His culinary acumen was unparalleled, adding a sophistication to proven dishes loved by the residents of Nob Hill and tourists alike.

I also added world famous piano player Peter Mintun, (also from the Huntington Hotel), making Masons synonymous with international sophistication.

Herb Caen the famous San Francisco gossip columnist wrote about Peter Mintun over 100 times. Celebrities and musicians alike revered Peter Mintun for his repertoire from memory that spanned from the 1920’s to the present day popular songs.

With those pieces in place I expanded the wine list and added another very important composition to this culinary puzzle, Madeira. Madeira is produced on the island of Madeira (Madeira means, “Island of the forest”), 480 miles southwest of Lisbon, off the coast of Portugal.

Madeira is oxidized through a unique process involving heat and aging. This intense process results in a virtually indestructible wine that will last (even in an open bottle!) for centuries. The style is characterized by a dark color, and a rich texture with coffee and caramel flavors. The wine is made from the Malvasia grape used because of its high levels of acidity which balances the high sugar content.

There are four main recognized different types of Madeira:

  1. Sercial is a white grape that produces some of the driest Madeira wines. This varietal originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisbon.
  2. Verdelho is semi-dry characterized by a bitter, nutty taste with aromas of dried fruit and honey.
  3. Bual is semi-sweet with distinct notes of spice, dried fruit and a touch of botrytis (noble rot), accentuating it’s late budding, not allowing it to be exposed to spring frosts.
  4. Malmsey is the most famous Madeira wine. This is the richest, sweetest style of Madeira. Light golden, smooth and luscious on the palate with chocolate notes woven with caramel, hazelnut, a finish of honey, and a threat of mango. This  ultimately makes Madeira one of the most desirable dessert wines in the world.

Shortly after accepting the GM job, I was invited to a Madeira tasting at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill sponsored by the Wine Spectator. I was excited because this tasting featured one of the most famous wine critiques in the world, Michael Broadbent. After writing his classic book, “The Great Vintage Wine Book”, Mr. Broadbent went on tour teaching restaurateurs about one of his favorite wines, Madeira. Mr. Broadbent actually has his own line of Madeira’s bottled for him by Blandy.

This event at the Ritz wasn’t only a tasting of vintage Madeira’s but an opportunity to taste some of the rarest expressions of that grape. I tasted quite a few Madeira’s at that tasting. It was really the first time I had been exposed to such a variety of this rare wine. Most restaurants of an elegant nature didn’t serve Madeira’s as a dessert drink option.

I thought that this was the perfect pronouncement of elegance to finish a fine meal. Thus, I brought Madeira to the Fairmont for the first time in it s illustrious history. This event was written up in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Bringing Madiera to Nob Hill is a flawless gesture for a beverage that is the perfect end to a meal. What could be better than to have dinner at this elegant restaurant, finishing with a vintage Madeira,  while listening to the unbridled music mastery of Peter Mintun?”

I brought in non-vintage Bual and Malmsey as choices that were not priced to high for the average guest, and thus summarily promoted by our staff. I did however also bring in a Madeira for the more adventurous. I purchased a case of 1863 Madeira which I served at $100.00 a glass.

When asked by patrons that were interested in renting our private dining rooms, “Is that 1863 Madeira worth the price per glass?” I would exclaim, “Personally, I drink nothing this century. Yes, it’s a beverage experience that creates a fond memory. How much is that worth?”

And so, later this year, Nancy and I will venture to the island of Madeira. This is a dream come true. Madeira is my close second favorite wine behind the red Burgundy of France. The journey to explore wine regions around the world, learning the exciting variables that honor these artists and create memories in a bottle is an expedition to a time and place never to be forgotten.

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Wine, Part II

 

In the deepest recesses of a restaurant in Tiburon California, after work, the GM, Fritz, said to me, ” Jack, it’s time for you to try a red Burgundy from France.” I will set the mood…this was the Private dining room at the Caprice which featured a rock fireplace carved out of the California coastline, wood wine cases from expensive French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines that acted as the fascia over the existing ceiling.

To further add ambience to this most beautiful space was a bar, crafted out of redwood, adorned with a nautical bell, and other sea fairing memorabilia. Two final touches made this a world class space.

First there were the port holes from the USS Texas dotting the southern wall facing San Francisco Bay. As the waves would crash against the side of the building washing the building with salt water, the remaining sea water would proceed under the structure to cool the wine in the cellar to a perfect 59 degrees.

Keep in mind that day in 1972 I didn’t know a red Burgundy from a Cabernet. I was just happy to be taken under the wing by Fritz whom was well versed in all aspects of beverages. That night in 1972 I tried a Chateau Corton, red Burgundy, in the proper glass, as God intended. I was completely blown away. That was the start of my love for wine and specifically, red Burgundy.

Today I will speak of my three favorite red wines. If I broke down each red varietal available, this blog would read like War and Peace. The three wines I refer to are as follows:

  1. Pinot Noir
  2. Cabernet
  3. Syrah

Pinot Noir was Napoleon’s favorite wine. Specifically, the wines of Chambertin. He used to carry a barrel full of Chambertin wine in a wagon wherever he would travel along the French countryside. His favorite vineyard was “Clos de Beze”.

So I’m telling you the former Emperor of France, Napoleon, in the country for centuries revered as the greatest producer of wine, had only one favorite, and that wine was Pinot Noir.

I won’t detail the complexities of the vineyard designations, but when Nancy and I viewed this area of France… it was a dream come true. Grape vines cropped short, beautifully cascading up and down the hills of Burgundy with a gentle mist adding mystery to magnificence.

The flagship of Burgundy are the Domaine Romanee-Conti (DRC), Grand Cru vineyards. The production consists of 5,000 bottles per year. It is simply not possible to produce anymore and maintain the high quality because the vineyard is only 1.8 hectares.

This domain produces a total of eight different wines, from eight plots. Each plot has Grand Cru status ( the grandest of wines, both red and white account for less than 1% of the region’s production) . These eight are located in the Vosne Romanee. However, in 2008 another vineyard was added, the only vineyard in the Cote de Beaune, Corton.

To best illustrate its magnificence I have chosen the  1990 LaTache red Burgundy, agreed by many to be an amazing representation of this region. This ’90 La Tache is tasting better than all other La Tache wines tasted to this point. This wine has an explosive nose of lovely raspberries, some charred oak with great intensity and length. An experience by which all others would be judged.

Pinot noir is very difficult to produce. When you try the subtle earth first flavors (old world) followed by raspberry, blackberry, cherry, spices, and a whisper of oak, you will drift to the sublime. The DRC pinot noir is the purest, most aristocratic and most intense example of pinot noir you could possible imagine. Not only nectar; a yardstick with which to judge all other Burgundies.

Pairing pinot noir with food involves the simple expression of the product prepared from farm to table. Lamb, Veal, Chateaubriand, are all great choices.  The simplicity of preparation will add value to the quality of the pairing.

Next is Cabernet, again available in many different countries. The best examples are from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Washington State. Napa Valley cabernet was put on the map in 1976 (The Famous Paris Judgement) when it entered the 1973 Cask 23 Stags Leap Cabernet (and won) against the finest representations from the Bordeaux region of France.  This included the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, and a 1970 Chateau Montrose from Saint-Estephe.

Today’s Cask 23 Stags Leap, 2019, combines the signature perfume notes of Fay vineyard with structure and dark fruit. Fragrant fresh aromas of red and black currant, black tea, anise and nutmeg fill the nose. The wine has a vibrant mouthfeel with savory and velvety tannins along with blackberry and currant flavors. As an important side note, new world wines are fruit forward and old world wines are earth first.  The Napa Valley represents a punch in the palate as the blackberry and current explode in your mouth.

The first growth Bordeaux wines are a blend of five different varietals. This blend tones down the bigger varietals and gives the old world, earth first signature another layer of expression.

Another region that produces fine Cabernet, is Washington State. This state produces a Cabernet that has exploded on the scene over the last twenty years and has captured more 100 point Wine Spectator recognition awards than any other winery in the United States.

The winery I refer to is Quilceda Creek located in the Columbia Valley, Washington State. The 2021 Quilceda Creek Cabernet uses 100% French oak and grapes from the Champoux, and the Mach One vineyards.  This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon combines power with finesse. Paul Golitzin, the winemaker, comes from a great pedigree of winemakers that traces their roots back to the original Beaulieu Vineyard winery in the Napa Valley.

That original winemaker at BV was the famous Andre Tchelistcheff, “the Maestro”. His nephew, Alex Golitzin, launched Quilceda Creek. Pairing this wine crafted by this genus with game meats, salmon, or hand-crafted pasta dishes would be a magical mystery tour of textures greeting grapes.

The last wine I will discuss is Syrah, the King of southern France and specifically the Rhone valley. Some of the most famous Syrah wines come from the appellations in Northern Rhone: Cote-Rotie. The vineyards are unique because of the steep slopes facing the river and their stone walls. Cote Rotie can be translated in English to “the roasted slope” and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these slopes receive.

The wines featuring Syrah also contain up to 20% Viognier, a white grape used for its aroma. If Viognier is used it must be fermented at the same time, a process known as “co-fermentation”.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous AOC (Appellation d’ Origine Controlee) in the Rhone Valley. Within the Rhone Valley Chateauneuf -du- Pape is an historic appellation as it is the very first in France and therefore in Europe. The gratification of this wine is both intellectual and hedonistic in nature. The flavors mimic a Provence marketplace with its flavors, and wide array of aromas, rich and round, sumptuous and opulent.

As with Pinot Noir the only place to truly enjoy this wine is from the Rhone Valley in France. However, if your vacation would limit you to the US, then the obvious choice would be Paso Robles, and the Herman Story Winery. A Boutique winery that features only Rhone varietals and blends of said varietals.

Russel P. is the winemaker at Herman Story and provides the most entertaining and substantive experience in all of Paso Robles. The wine produced by this winery represent the best in full-bodied, rich, deep fruit, and oriental spice on the market today.

Pairing Syrah is simple. Go out and shoot something, grill it, oven roast it, or barbecue it, and you will find the richness of the wine will enhance the flavors of the game.

Syrah is a complex wine with an intense ruby color, deeply-rich, with blackberry, boysenberry, and pomegranate. The fruit on the nose is complemented with allspice, pepper, and tobacco.

I hope you enjoyed the excursion into my favorite red varietals and remember… life is too short to drink cheap wine.

What is Your Favorite Wine?

 

my restaurant career began here

Usually when you’re starting off drinking wine, we tend to like the sweeter versions, and of course… the cheaper versions. Who wants to spend a lot of money on something which is an acquired taste?

In college I started with Moselle wines from Germany. This one liquor store in Chico had a whole barrel full of Moselle wines positioned right near the front of the store. I’d go in and usually grab a German Riesling called the “Black Cat”. Unlike other Rieslings from Germany it was easy to pronounce, easy to remember, moderately sweet, and had a smooth finish. That was my go to and was the right price for under four dollars a bottle.

I kept that liquor store busy filling up that barrel over the course of my tenure at Chico State University. Later as I was introduced to red Burgundy’s from France and Cabernet’s from the Napa Valley, my wine world expanded. Over the course of the years I probably could have bought a small yacht for all the money I’ve spent on wine and the food to accompany that wine.

Anyway the point of this blog is not to tell you about my spending habits related to wine and food. No, the jest of this blog is to help you understand the paring of wine and how it relates to weather, food, and atmosphere.

Enjoying wine can be enhanced by the correct choice. This is an art form that evolves through experience. First let’s delve into the world of white white wine. In this blog we will only broach the subject of the three most common white varietals:

  1. Chardonnay:
  2. Sauvignon Blanc
  3. Riesling

If you’re going to drink Chardonnay only drink the finest… life is too short to drink cheap wine. The most critically acclaimed Chardonnay comes from three places in my humble opinion. Don’t get me wrong, there are other places that claim they produce top notch Chardonnay but please… they can’t compare with these places.

First and by far the best, is the Burgundy region of France. The Cote de Beaune is the Belair of white Burgundy production. The roughly 25 kilometer strip of the Cote de Beaune produces some of the most show-stopping, intense expressions of Chardonnay on the planet. Just a couple examples would be the 2017 Domaine des Comtes Lafon Montrachet Grand Cru, or the 2015 Domaine Leroy Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru. These earth first representations are the most delightful mix of being full bodied, rich and powerful, with intense aromas and flavors of almond, apple, white flowers, spices, with incredible length in the finish which propels you to a place few wines can take you.

Second on my list of exceptional chardonnay but definitely a notch below the above mentioned… the Russian River region of California and the Napa Valley of California. The buttery constitution of the California chardonnays mixed with the terroir add flavor to a rich composition. The top two I’d list in these two areas would be Kistler (Russian River) and Kongsgaard “The Judge” (Napa Valley). Kistler has many different vineyard options and they vary from year to year. Cuvee Cathleen and the Dutton Vineyard are my two favorite representations from this winery.

For the Napa Valley I would have to choose the Kongsgaard “The Judge” Chardonnay. Aromas of honeysuckle and green apple with candied lemon peel and soft French oak notes. At $840.00 a bottle this is the most expensive Chardonnay in California.

The pairing of Chardonnay with food is an easy match. Usually with a more robust fish such as Salmon, or shell fish, shrimp, mussels, crab cakes, and even lighter meats prepared in a lemon butter sauce such as veal.

Chardonnay at an out door party in the summer is a wonderful introduction to any pass around hors d’ oeuvres. Drink in one hand, food in the other, smile on your face… perfect!

Sauvignon Blanc is a green skinned grape variety that originates from the city of Bordeaux in France. The Loire region is famous for this varietal and produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc’s in the world.

The district in Loire that produces the most famous Sauvignon Blanc is called Poully Fume. Les Chemins De I’Abbaye is an elegant example that bursts with vibrant, citrus-fruit flavors. Most Sauvignon Blanc in this region is aged in stainless-steel and bottled while fresh and youthful. However, later, as in any evolutionary process the finest wines of Pessac-Leognan in Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc is blended with other white grapes and fermented and aged in oak.

Other regions that produce quality Sauvignon Blanc include South Africa, New Zealand, Napa Valley, Sonoma, Central Coast California, Santa Maria California, and even the Algarve southern coastline of Portugal.

Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire region of France is typically a crisper, more herbal, refreshingly chalky minerality with a whisper of floral. Each region producing Sauvignon Blanc has its own characteristic that pronounces its terroir.

As a rule, (depending upon the region) the dryer region character I enjoy from the Loire is perfect with more delicate fish, or higher in acid items that contain capers like carpaccio. Of course this is another wine that pairs perfectly with shell fish, especially west coast oysters (higher in salt content).

One of my favorite parings is with a dish indigenous to the Balkans, Moussaka, a eggplant based dish stuffed with ground meat. The acid in the wine pairs perfectly with the richness of this Balkan/Middle Eastern dish.

Finally there is Riesling. There is really only one place to obtain Riesling, and that is Germany. There are five different Riesling types from dry to sweet. I will only be talking about one type for the simplicity of this discussion.

The type I will discuss is not the type I drank in college. My taste buds evolved as I grew more accustomed to pairing Riesling with food. The Riesling I enjoy the most is Kabinett the lightest style of Riesling in the German Pradikat System.

This fresh off dry white hails from colder German wine regions like Mosel and Rheingau. It usually has intense floral aromas and delicious apple, peach, pear and fruit flavors. In 1971. the term Kabinett was officially noted in German law. It was defined as wines that are light and non-chaptalized (no sugar added to grapes during fermentation.)

Kabinett is naturally high in acid and minerality and can age in your cellar for up to ten years. I love pairing this wine with salads. Especially salads that have a variety of different vinegars that enhance the flavor of the fruit and vegetables. Fresh fish, and complicated versions of vegetable dishes make for the perfect pairing.

As with most white wines the perfect season is from spring through the fall. Although anytime of year is perfect for a wine that has the quality and strength of composition to relate its history of terroir in every sip.

 

Jazz, Wine, and Food

The beat of your heart dances to the rhythmic sway of music, no matter what the genre is. This coupled with a glass of wine and a wonderful plate of food makes for the perfect evening. Of course some may not wait for evening. You could say, in your defense, that it is evening somewhere.

When I was knee high to a grass hopper my parents would love to listen to my dad’s orchestra play, or popular music, and even jazz. Those albums would play when my parents hosted parties out on the deck overlooking the trees in the Cascade area of Fairfax California. My parents friends and family members would dance, drink, eat, and definitely be merry. Most of the attendees were musicians, teachers, or family that were less than inhibited as the party lasted well into the night.

As for my love for music, other than the above mentioned occasional parties, I was influenced by my dear friend Jimmy Putman. Jimmy learned to play the guitar at an early age and for some reason was drawn to jazz. After listening to his passion for music I learned to love the music he played the most: Performed by the great jazz musicians of the day, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Maynard Ferguson, Dave Brubeck, and the great Sarah Vaughan among many others.

My parents moved when I was in the third grade. As fate would have it the Putmans moved too. They moved to Greenbrae, California, which was less than two miles from our new home in San Rafael, California.

I would ride my bike over to his house (he had a pool) and we would swim, play football at the school accessed from his back gate, or play music (I played the violin). It was so fun doing those activities and eventually (on the weekends) we’d ask to do sleep overs. This way we could get out of chores and have fun until we had to go to our respective schools.

In high school we both had drivers licenses so we would go to concerts in San Francisco, back when there were no homeless, or other degenerates. We’d go to the Keystone Corner and listen to Rahsaan Roland Kirk who played three saxophones at the same time. Also playing at the Keystone Corner and establishing the Keystone Corner as one of the top jazz nightclubs in the country were Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, and Stan Getz.

Another favorite venue was the Great American Music Hall. I saw at this venue Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Stephane Grappelli, and McCoy Tyner. Each time I went to this venue and other jazz venues I felt the energy of the musicians. That energy would vibrate through the concert goers creating an unparalleled connection. Then, as one, the audience would explode as one with thunderous applause.

My connection with music led to other heart felt relationships with wine and food. The joy that is felt when you sip a Gevrey Chambertin red Burgundy, decanted perfectly, and poured into the ideal glass, promoting the terroir and skill of the wine maker… flawlessly, is magic.

To take this experience to the next level, one must pair this wine with food (as God intended). The complexity of the wine exhibiting earth first quality must be paired with a regional product produced with the freshest ingredients. The quality of the dish is of course, first and foremost, followed by presentation.

The wine will make the food taste better and the food will make the wine taste better. It is a complex pirouette between chemical composition and the nuance of flavor profile. This, coupled with the saxophone of Stan Getz, Coltrane, or Cannonball Adderley will surely take you to a place as close to perfection as you could possibly experience in this life.

 

 

Surprise is the Magic of Discovery… a Story that will AMAZE you.

 

Alex Golitzin’s family had escaped from the Russian Revolution to move to the wine region of the Loire Valley in France, and that is where Alex was born. However, when WWII broke out  Alex Golitzin and his family moved to Paris.

When the war was over the Golitzin’s felt there was still a threat from Russia based upon the power they gained relatively quickly. They felt Russia was aggressively taking over countries and ruling with an iron fist, which was unnerving to many Russian immigrants in Europe.

The Golitzin family could have never guessed that their son, Alex, would become a key player in establishing the production of great Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. Even more unbelievable was that he would be helped by an uncle who would arguably become the most famous U.S. winemaker of all time.

Luckily, Alex had a maternal uncle in the United States who could help him and his family emigrate. To be clear, it wasn’t any ordinary uncle…it was the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff, know as the “Dean of American wine making”.

Andre had been left for dead in the Russian Civil War. He escaped and fled to Paris where he became a student of chemistry and agronomy. A Frenchman named George de Latour convinced Andre to work for him at his winery, Beaulieu Vineyard in the Napa Valley in the late 1930’s… and the rest is history. Tchelistcheff became the most influential individual in the history of California wine making which led to the Napa Valley  achieving worldwide recognition.

Andre went on to help his nephew, Alex Golitzin, and his wife Jeannette, to start a winery in Washington State. That would become one of the critical pillars of establishing the Columbia Valley in Washington State as an area for producing one of the finest Cabernet’s in the world.

Andre’s main advice was to “make one wine and make it really well.” And so, they made an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon and named their winery after a nearby creek, Quilceda Creek Winery, releasing their first vintage in 1979.

Alex and Jeannette’s son, Paul Golitzin, was bitten by the winemaking bug at an early age (no wonder, since his great-uncle was Andre Tchelistcheff). Paul learned a great deal from Andre and his son Dimitri, which keeps Paul, to this day, always trying to find improvement in reaching a higher level of excellence.

A great winemaking prowess is undoubtedly present in the very talented Paul Golitzin. As he approaches the 50th anniversary of his family winery he is focused on Quilceda Creek Cabernet’s balance between power and elegance.

As the director of winemaking his goal is to express the nuanced differences of terroir between his Champoux vineyard, the cooler climate Mach One vineyard, and several other vineyards owned by the family.

Paul has been working towards not only single vineyard bottlings of his Cabernet Sauvignon but also adding another facet to the expression of place, a single clone Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety that matches the aspect and soil of a particular plot.

Quilceda Creek is now taking another leap forward by bringing attention to the unique “thumbprint” of each clone to the ideal plot of vineyard. One recent bottling of the 2020 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon “Palengat” was awarded 100 points from the Wine Advocate, which is sourced from a plot of their Mach One vineyard using Cabernet Sauvignon clone 685.

When it comes to assessing a historically significant person’s legacy, it is always difficult to say whether they achieved more while they were alive or if they achieved a greater pronouncement of their achievements in death.

It is a debate that has merit on both sides. Still, there is one defining principal not to be ignored: Paul Golitzin benefited from the knowledge passed on from Andre. He’s going to show the world there is so much more to Cabernet than possibly imagined.

The exquisite beauty of these wines are breathtaking, with lovely structure as the tannins feel like delicate lace. Exotic aromas from each single vineyard balancing the terroir with the skill of a master craftsman gives us pause as to the possible greatness still to come from this award winning winery.

 

 

A Magical Last Trip of the Year

What a wonderful year for travel. Our final destination of 2023 was with our dear friends Marty and Lisa…the perfect get-a-way.

Lisa secured this beautiful Cabin at the Big Sur Lodge in Big Sur California. Big Sur is a famous enclave that boasts forests of majestic redwoods, streams, waterfalls, and of course the Pacific Ocean. Views from the not so distant cliffs afford the participant with an unparalleled panoramic seat to the vibrant sea below.

The Monterey aquarium was first on our list to visit. Each of us had been to the Monterey aquarium decades before, but not in the last ten years.  We were most certainly not disappointed by the colorful and creative displays. Each area presented different views of the tide pools to the deep ocean.

To think that all of this marine life was literally within a fingertips reach away was truly amazing. The coral reefs with their bright colored fish weaving in and out made for an almost hypnotic display.

Other equally interesting and vibrant displays involved the jelly fish. Their canopy of jelly floating effortlessly (usually back lit with a bright blue light), showcased their smooth transition from the top of the tank to the deepest recesses of their ocean water hide-outs.

The Sea Otters were in rare form as they look somewhat human as they groom themselves to the delight of the crowd gathered around their domain. Each area at the Monterey Aquarium is carefully designed to engage the guests and add a wonderful educational narrative.

After the self-guided Aquarium tour we ate at our favorite restaurant on Cannery Row. The Lalla Grill Oceanside is best known for Clam Chowder and other seafood delights. Marty and Lisa enjoyed the atmosphere, view, and of course the food.

Later that day we enjoyed dinner at Carmel’s Bistro Giovanni. Each day and night along the way led to wonderful conversations with Marty and Lisa and excellent culinary delights shared by all.

Our fourth day was wine tasting day. We loved the Bernardus winery with their focus being a Bordeaux blend, pinot noir and chardonnay. After about eight glasses of wine, we purchased the Bordeaux blend and were placed on the mailing list.

Then it was off to a French restaurant for lunch. Excellent sandwiches were enjoyed by all as they provided us with the fuel we needed to make our way to the next winery, Talbot.

Talbot was an exceptional experience with wines that accurately reflected the terroir of the region. After purchasing a couple pinot noir varietals we were off to dinner at Clint Eastwood’s restaurant, the Carmel Valley Ranch. This was like stepping back in time.

The Ranch offers a wonderful piano bar with guests singing to their hearts content. This was a sensory experience heightened by the topography of the land. The ocean air, exotic flowers, and a beautifully restored resort added to the excellently prepared food. Although it was cold outside on the patio where we sat, large heaters provided the warmth to make the outdoor space comfortable.

Our last day in the Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey area afforded us a memorable dining experience. We dined at the Sardine Factory, a world renown dining institution which has been a cornerstone of the culinary scene in Monterey since the 1960’s.

The four course meal met and even exceeded our expectations. The food, paired with a Gruet sparkling wine from New Mexico and then a Gruner Veltliner white wine from Austria (with our entrees) enhanced the flavors of both food and wine.

If you have a chance to venture to this magical area, take time to enjoy the sunsets, vistas, and of course some of the best seafood in the world.