MacNeil’s Wine Bible is the best-selling wine book in the U.S., with almost a million copies sold, and since its first edition, we have recommended it as a great gift for the wine lover in your life, and we do so again.
dorothy j. gaiter
Over the years, we have read quite a bit about how wine palates change. The conventional wisdom is that people tend to start with sweeter wines, then move to dryer wines and then move to more elegant, softer wines. The cliché then was that your parents liked Bordeaux while your grandparents preferred Burgundy.
We were at a small wine shop, looking for a nice end-of-summer white. We spotted the bottle at the same time and both said, “Awwww.” It was Menetou-Salon, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, which we don’t see that often. When we do, we think of Windows on the World in New York’s World Trade Center, where we first tasted it decades before terrorists brought down the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, killing almost 3,000 people. We recalled that first bottle when we had another Menetou-Salon at a French restaurant in St. Maarten during a cruise in 2006 and toasted our dear wine-loving friend Cathy, who we lost in that devastating attack 21 years ago.
We were at a large tasting hosted by the Association of African American Vintners in Oakland a few months ago when John sampled a Grenache Blanc, a variety we generally consider more solid than exciting. This was an exception. It had a combination of generous fruit, tropical life and an earthy roundness that made it complex and delicious. When John said all of this, the man who poured it smiled and said: “That’s good to hear because otherwise I wasted a whole lot of money on terra cotta pots.”
John rushed to get Dottie to taste the wine. Then we vowed we’d find out more about this man and his wine.
The man is Raymond Smith, owner of Indigené Cellars, with a winery in Carmel Valley and a tasting room in Paso Robles. It turns out he has a story quite unlike any other we’ve heard over the years, featuring bottling lines, the value of mentors and even a soul food supper club for at-risk youth in San Francisco.
And many amphoras.
Amphoras are ancient, but also a little bit of a trend in local winemaking. Famed Napa Valley winery Dalla Valle Vineyards has used some since 2018. In a recent press release, winemaker Maya Dalla Valle said the use of amphora “adds to the complexity of the wine without introducing higher quantities of new oak to overpower the fruit and nuances it contains.”
Smith, who is 59, studied journalism in college, but he found a job at a large winery in Paso Robles. “I learned all about bottling and barrel work, like the mid-part of winemaking,” he told us when we called.
A few years later, someone contacted him about helping to start a mobile bottling operation. “So we got this business up and running,” Smith said. “These guys were the money part and I was the sweat equity part, the guy who had the knowhow. It changed my perspective of winemaking from learning from one guy to learning from 400 guys because I was traveling all over California and meeting new people and learning about new ways of blending wines, new ways of making wines.”
As a result, Smith speaks with intimacy about multiple regions of California in a way we’ve rarely heard.
In a short time, Smith bought the bottling business. That’s when his education really took off. He told us he always had mentors, winemakers who were eager to discuss everything with him. Many had one thing in common: “I always for some reason was hooked up with some crusty old Italian guy. I always met Italian varietal makers for some reason and kind of stayed close to them and these were guys who I had a deep relationship with.”
We think his secret was that he listened. As he put it: “I had no problem ever saying I didn’t know and once I did that they had information for me every time I showed up.”
We hopped the M10 to attend a tasting in Harlem recently. We had no idea the bus would transport us to a different time. We were on our way to sample wines from Chile. Among the wineries represented, one named Santa Rosa de Lavaderos, from the Maule Valley in central Chile, was offering a vertical – 2018, 2020, 2022 – of its País. País? We rushed over.
We were at the Association of African American Vintners’ 20th anniversary celebration in Oakland, Napa and Sonoma. Twenty years ago, three vintners – Edward Lee “Mac” McDonald, Vance Sharp and Dr. Ernest Bates – came together as the first members of an audacious undertaking, an association of Black winemakers. Audacious because at the time, Black faces were rare throughout the global wine industry. Although the number of Black people in the wine world is growing, from vineyard workers to those who make it and who sell it, of the more than 11,000 wineries in the U.S., fewer than one percent are owned by Black people or have a Black winemaker.
Iris Duplantier Rideau is a legend and, at 85 years old, is finally getting the attention she deserves. She is Creole, born in New Orleans of mixed cultures and race; became a prominent businesswoman and social activist in Los Angeles; and then opened Rideau Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara, becoming the first Black woman to own a commercial winery in the U.S.
We had an interesting journey recently that took us back in time and to a future, we hope, when there are more ageable white wines on shelves.
We are often asked when a wine will be at its best, but that question is usually about red wines. There’s an assumption that whites won’t go the distance. In our case, we love white wines with some age. We came to that honestly: Throughout the 1980s, we bought and drank German Rieslings from the 1971, 1975 and 1976 vintages. They were not popular even back then, which meant we could afford them.
Over the years, some of our most remarkable experiences have been with older white wines, not just Riesling but others, such as well-cared-for Muscadet. In 1987, we visited a winery in Napa that was selling a decade-old Gewürztraminer from its library collection. We opened it right there at cellar temperature, shared it with the tasting room staff, and it was delicious.
Whites with some age can be hard to find. One of many reasons we enjoy Crabtree’s Kittle House Restaurant & Inn in Chappaqua, N.Y., is the collection of carefully cellared older white wines at reasonable prices on its list. Those wines are often once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like the delicious Alain Coche-Bizouard Meursault “l’Ormeau” 1994 that we enjoyed about two years ago for $85.
“Over the last year I have been tasting and assessing the quality of a lot of our older white Burgundies and others and am happy to say that there are many jewels in the cellar for those who can truly appreciate the unique qualities of gently aged, beautifully crafted wines,” owner John Crabtree wrote us when we inquired about the older whites he carried. His famous wine list is 155 pages long and has 5,000 selections for a total of 45,000 bottles.
All of this came to mind because of a small tasting the two of us had that we really didn’t expect to take us on this journey. A while back, a representative of Domäne Wachau, the famed Austrian co-op, sent us some samples when we couldn’t do a Zoom session. We have been fans of the winery for a very long time. Its wines are thoughtful, focused and often excellent values. The samples included Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Ried Achleiten 2019 ($46.00) and the 1999, fully 20 years older from the same vineyard but before regulations required that Ried, denoting a single vineyard, precede the vineyard’s name. On a ripeness scale for white wines from the Wachau, Smaragd is the ripest and must have an alcohol level of at least 12.5 percent. They are known for being long-lived.
We kept them for a few weeks to try them side by side, waiting for the right moment. We were sure the young wine would be tasty. We had high hopes for the 1999, but we also thought it might be more interesting than good, a bottle we’d enjoy drinking because of its history but lacking intensity and life at this point.
We were so wrong. Here are our notes, how we talk about w...
Kitá Wines of Santa Barbara County, the first U.S. winery and vineyard owned by a Native American tribe with a winemaker from the tribe, will close its doors, Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, said Tuesday.
In 2010, the coastal Chumash tribe purchased 1,400 acres from the estate of Fess Parker with the intention of building housing that the reservation needed and a community hall. The land, which was once property the tribe had lived on for 9,000 years, according to its website, included the 256-acre Camp 4 Vineyard, on the eastern boundary of the Valley, at the entrance of Happy Canyon AVA, home to other vineyards. Camp 4 refers to the stage coach stop on the route from San Francisco to Yuma, Arizona. Kitá, in the Chumash language, Samala, means “Our Valley Oak.”
(Winemaker Tara Gomez)
The tribe hired as winemaker the daughter of one of its elders, Tara Gomez, 48, who in 1998 was one of two women to earn enology degrees from the University of California, Fresno, and who had interned at Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard while a student followed by a fulltime job there after college, and later nine years at J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines. Before taking on the assignment, she also traveled to wine regions in Germany, France and Spain, learning how winemakers in those regions worked.
The tribe had funded her studies at UC-Fresno and her first releases in 2013 of the 2010 and 2011 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Grenache proved its trust well-placed as the wines won awards and garnered positive reviews. The sustainably farmed vineyard grows 19 types of grapes and Kitá produced 2,000 cases annually.
“The tribe, with a focus on diversifying our investment portfolio, has made the business decision to leave the wine industry at this time. Tara Gomez successfully produced award-winning wines while telling the story of our tribe to a new audience. We thank Tara for the years of dedication and hard work she poured into Kitá Wines, and we congratulate her on cementing her legacy as a top-flight Native American woman winemaker,” Kahn wrote in response to our query. “Thank you to all of you who enjoyed and supported Kitá Wines throughout the years.”
Dorothy J. Ga...
"When it comes to wine, your New Year’s resolution should always be the same: Try new things, even an upscale Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa with a really long name." Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher