Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier

Scott Harper, MS, CWE

Meet Bristol Bar & Grille’s Master Sommelier Scott Harper.

To say he is a wine aficionado would be an understatement. The man lives and breathes wine.  Harper’s love of wine go way back to before he was legally old enough to enjoy a glass. He worked in a restaurant as a teenager with a wine list written entirely in Italian. Growing curious about what the foreign words meant, he bought his first book on wine. Around that time he bought his first book on wine. He quickly became immersed. Harper studied everything from history and geography of wine, to the science behind making it. Most importantly he studied the language. (more…)

Celebrate with Champagne

Are you celebrating anything soon? Make sure to toast with a glass of Champagne. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the French drink:

Champagne is the drink of celebrations, the drink of special times and the drink of congratulations. I think we should drink Champagne more often, perhaps Madame Lily Bollinger said it best: “I drink my Champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it unless I’m thirsty.”

About Champagne

Champagne wine hails from one of France’s most Northern wine producing areas, about 90 miles Northeast of Paris. The region is only about 60,000, acres; if that seems large Napa Valley is 225,280 acres.

While admittedly Champagne for most of us is a generic term for sparkling wine, in the EU and according to French law sparkling wine made outside of the Champagne region may not be called Champagne! The Champagne production method is quite unique and is the highest quality method to produce great sparkling wine. Some inexpensive sparkling wines actually gain their bubbles by having carbonation added to them in much the same way soft drink manufacturers add carbonation to their soft drinks. In Champagne it is the law that you must make your sparkling wine using the Champagne method.

The Champagne Method

The champagne method starts out like most wines although Champagne grapes are higher in natural acidity, a function of a cool growing region. There are three grapes used for Champagne; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the grapes used most often. Red wine gets its color by macerating the pressed juice with there skins. Champagne’s red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier make white Champagne by not allowing skin contact. Some small producer of Champagne buy or grow their grapes from only one village, but most of the larger well, known, and still high quality Champagne houses purchase grapes from all around Champagne. There are 17 villages rated the highest quality to grow grapes for Champagne. These are called Grand Cru villages, and if all of your grapes come from one of the 17 villages you may put Grand Cru on the label. The grapes by law are hand picked and are pressed by only one type of Champagne press.

The wine then ferments. Yeast and sugar create alcohol with a by product of Carbon Dioxide. In this first fermentation, as in still wine, the Carbon Dioxide is allowed to escape. Numerous vintages are blended together to make non vintage Champagne while vintage Champagne is the product of one year. The still wine is filled in the bottle it will eventually be sold in with a small amount of yeast and sugar and caped with a temporary closure. The wine ferments and with the bottle closed the Carbon Dioxide stays in the bottle intergrating into the Champagne. When this secondary fermentation is completed you have a sparkling wine. The dead yeast must stay in the bottle for at least 15 months for non-vintage Champagne and 36 months for Vintage Champagne during this time the yeast cells enrich the wine giving it a deliscious yeasty fresh baked baguette flavor. When the dead yeast must be removed, the champage bottles are put in a rack and are shaken and turned and eventually end up completely up side down with the sediment (dead yeast) at the end of the neck of the bottle. When the Champagne bottles are completely up side down the neck of the bottles are placed in freezing so

lutions. The bottles are removed form the freezing solution, the temporary closure is removed and the frozen sediment ejects itself from the bottle. The Champagne is then topped off with a small amount of Champagne and sugar that determines the final level of dryness. Champagne can be Extra Brut- bone dry, Brut- dry, Extra Sec-dry to medium dry, Sec-medium dry to sweet and Demi Sec-Sweet. Most of what you see will be Brut. The Champagne is corked and has a wire cage placed on it to prevent the cork from shooting out of the bottle prematurely, after all there are 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure in a bottle of Champagne. This gives you an general idea of the labor intensive process that gets the bubbles into Champagne. This is the principal reason why Champagne is expensive.

My wife Georgia and I love to drink Champagne and on a recent very special occasion we had the 1996 Dom Perignon. It was a generous gift from two very thoughtful, regular guests. It was majestic and full flavored with the flavors of fresh baked baguette, allspice, citrus and apple. It was crisp with a medium body and long after taste. The bubbles were tiny and copious and lent a delicious creamy mouthful. I can see why Dom Perignon said he was drinking the stars!

The Italian wine region of Montalcino

Have you ever wanted to go to sip Italian wine in Tuscany? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of the Italian wine region of Montalcino:

In South Central Tuscany lies the great hilltop town and wine region of Montalcino. It is located about 40 kilometers south of the city of Siena and rises up to almost 1,900 feet. This virtually sphere-shaped region is just over 90 square miles and is one of the regions that accounts for Italy’s fine wine reputation.

Montalcino

Montalcino’s some 5,000 residents owe its superior viticulture history to Ferruccion Biondi-Santi for the initial quality plantings of the sangiovese grape. In the 1800’s, Biondi-Santi isolated a clone (sub variety) of sangiovese grape that was planted in Chianti. This clone was slightly larger clone called grosso, which was later called Brunello. He realized that the Brunello clone was more resistant to vineyard problems and produced an excellent wine in the soils and climate of Montalcino. At that time in Maltalcino the wines were immediately drinkable and simple. He started to make serious age worthy wines that were revered. The 1888 Biondi- Santi has been a wine of mythical proportions, there are still supposedly a few bottles still in existence at the winery. Today Montalcino is generally considered the finest area in Italy to produce high-quality sangiovese!

 

Italian Wine Law

Italian wine law has a hierarchy that starts, in theory, with the highest quality DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata), IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) with finally Vino da tavola or table wine.  The wine laws are in place to control the origins, grape varietals, production methods, style and protect the names, among other things for Italian wine. Montalcino has one DOCG- Brunello Di Montalcino and 3 DOC- Rosso Di Montalcino, Sant’Antimo  and Moscadello Di Montalcino. All the wines of Montalcino have basically the same geographic boundaries as Brunello.

Brunello Di Montalcino

Brunello Di Montalcino’s importance was confirmed by making it the first DOCG of Italy in 1980. There are approximately 200 growers that make around 500,000 cases of wine a year. The wine must be made with 100% Brunello (sangiovese grosso). The wine must be aged 5 years total and a minimum of 2 years in wood. A Brunello may be labeled Riserva if it is aged a total of 6 years, one of the longest ageing requirements in Italy. Many Brunello producers make a Rosso Di Montalcino utilizing it as an outlet for young or newly planted vineyards or lots that aren’t as age worthy, hence improving the quality of Brunello. Rosso Di Montalcino has shorter ageing requirement of one year versus Brunello’s 4 years but, is still made from 100% Brunello (Sangiovese grosso). Rosso Di Motelcino it is considered a “Baby” Brunello and is a less expensive alternative to the very expensive Brunello. In addition it is an interesting reference point or comparison to Brunello. The DOC of Rosso Di Montalcino was made in 1983 and has aided in facilitating the high quality of the Brunello through producer’s declassification of Brunello to Rosso Di Montalcino.

Sant’Antimo DOC was formed in 1996 and named for a beautiful twelve century Benedictine Abbey of the area. A number of Brunello producers were experimenting with cabernet sauvignon and other the non-indigenous grape varieties, the wine couldn’t be called Brunello Di Montelcino, so this area was created to bring these nontraditional wines of Montalcino into the wine law hierarchy and therefore did not have to be labeled as simple vino da tavola. These wine may include the so called “Super Tuscans”, Cabernet sauvignon blends, pinot noir, merlot, chardonnay, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc. Castello Banfi’s Sant Antimo are good example of this DOC and the wines can be found in the U.S.

Moscadello Di Motalcino

Moscadello Di Motalcino is the sweet wine of Montalcino. Made from at least 85% Moscato Bianco and up to 15% of other local white varietals the wine may be still or slightly sparkling which is what Italians call frizzante. Either way this is a light, sweet wine meant to be consumed young and fresh. Castello Banfi has helped revitalize this wine after it was nearly instinct in the 1970’s.  La Podeirina and Caprilli also make fine Moscadello Di Montalcino.

Keegan Cellars: A Hidden Gem in Sonoma

Bristol Bar and Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper discusses his friendship with Eugenia Keegan of Keegan Cellars in Sonoma, California:

About 12 years ago, I was working on updating the Bristol’s wine list, and I was having a tough time finding a quality Pinot Noir that I could serve for around $20. I tasted through a dozen or so wines, there were some good ones in the lot, but all the very good wines were more expensive than I was looking for. After the tasting, I was a bit frustrated and started to think about what other options were out there. I recalled a winery called Bouchaine, which I was sure was in the price range I was looking for. I called Matt Baugher, the outstanding wine manager at the wholesaler that once carried it, and asked him about it. He recalled that they made an excellent Pinot Noir and at the price I was looking for but, they no longer carried it for a reason he couldn’t recall but certainly not because of quality. He told me if I was interested in putting it on the list he would pick it back up.

Winemaker Eugenia Keegan

I gave the winery a call the next day. I introduced myself and told the person who answered the phone that I was very interested in their wines but would like to get a sample bottle. This is a very common practice for anyone serious about their wine program and the quality of wine they sell. I told the lady on the phone that we had two restaurants (Bristol Bar & Grille Hurstbourne opened a few years later) and we could special order it through Matt Baugher. She said she would be happy to send me samples of two vintages and if we did not place the wines on my list that she would charge me for the samples. My knee jerk reaction to her suggestion was that I would accept the samples for serious consideration but would not accept a bill for them under any circumstances. The conversation immediately switched to where to send the wine. The wine arrived several days later with a note. I tried the Pinot Noir and loved it. It was exactly what I was looking for. After trying the wine I looked at the note. The note gave some information about the wine and thanked me for trying there wines, it was signed by the President of Bouchaine winery, Eugenia Keegan, the lady I spoke to on the phone.

So, after buying dozens of cases of their wine over the next few years or so, I was at the annual Cincinnati Wine Festival. I tasted wines while working my way around the room and came up to a table marked Bouchaine Winery. I said to myself, cool I would love to try their latest release of Pinot Noir. Again it was delicious, and I told the nice lady behind the booth that the wine was quite good, and I and carried Bouchaine wines in Kentucky. Much to my shock she said, “You must be the Bristol guy!” As I responded yes, I thought it couldn’t be, but it was Eugenia Keegan. We spoke for awhile about the wines, and how she appreciated us serving her wines.

A few years later, I was on a buying trip to Napa Valley with my friend Len Stephens. We had some free time and thought we would stop by the Bouchaine winery in Carneros. For some reason, we expected to see Eugenia who I had only meet once and had not made an appointment with. Low and behold, she was walking out as we were walking in. She had big news, she was resigning from Bouchaine to start her own winery Keegan Cellars. Her first vintage was 1994. I asked her to put me on the list and let me know about her wines.

Over the subsequent years, I bought the very limited amount of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay that I could, as they are produced in very limited quantities. For the first five or six years, I was the only place in Kentucky that served her delicious wines. She makes high quality artesian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Now, when I go to California, we almost always visit either at her home, the winery or at dinner at a tasty Napa restaurant like Bistro Jeanty. I have tried almost every wine she has made but recently, thanks to my friend John Kelly, I drank for the first time her first vintage 1994. It was absolutely delicious, soft velvety smooth with excellent red cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit, light oak, cinnamon and violets. It was one of the best mature new world pinot I have had.

Current releases of Keegan Wines

Chardonnay “Buena Tierra Vineyard” Russian River Valley, California 2002

The yellow/gold color suggests the richness to come. The nose confirms it with intense and complex flavors of yellow apples, lemon, pear, nectarines and toasty, buttery oak. The medium to full body adds to the richness but is deftly balanced by crisp acidity.

Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, California 2002

The velvety texture encompasses the full ripe fruit of black cherries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Cinnamon, oak and smooth long tannins seduce you in this beguiling flavorful wine. This is a top notch Pinot Noir.

Wines Off the Beaten Path

Looking to try some new wines? Bristol Bar and Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares some unfamiliar wines that might become your new favorites:

The old cliche variety is the spice of life couldn’t be truer when it comes to wine. Sure, we have our favorites and our tried and true wines and there is nothing wrong with that. These are the wines we don’t have to think about, the wines we order in a restaurant when nothing else seems to jumps out at us, the wines we pick up at the wine shop when we need to run in for a quick bottle for dinner. But, why not occasionally if not regularly try something new or different, sometimes change for the intention of change can be enjoyable. I know when I was first getting into wine, I would try a new wine, go home and pull out a wine book and read about it. Doing this afterwards, some how made it more intriguing, more interesting and memorable. It is a great way to learn about wine. You may find yourself remembering a wine more than you normally would because it creates more of an experience that evening as well as the next time you order that particular bottle again.Sauternes wines to try

The wines I want you to try may be commonplace depending on what you’re drinking customs are, and by no means am I suggesting that you regularly stay away from the big ones, but for the criteria of wines off the beaten path we will be avoiding Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel. No, nothing is wrong with any of these grapes. As a matter of fact, some of these grapes are my favorites varietals.

Now when you go to order or buy wines off the beaten path, you may want to do a little bit of Cork versus screw topinquiry first. Ask your knowledgeable restaurateur or wine shop person, but don’t get to much information, as it will spoil the fun of your research afterwards. You may just want to know ahead of time, for example if it is dry, sweet, full-bodied or light-bodied and from there let the fun begin. Also, the producer of the wine can be as fascinating as the wine itself, lending even more interesting facts and complexity to the wine and its experience.

Here are a few wines to try that are off the beaten path and a little bit of info on each, so you have only an idea of what you may be trying. When going off the beaten path, you may find that, unfortunately, one of the wines you try you don’t like. But more than likely you will have a new favorite, a wine you would have never known about if you hadn’t been a little venturesome . Below there is also a list of three recommended books. With all the information available on the internet it isn’t really necessary to purchase a lot of wine books when a Google search engine will do the trick, but it is good to have a couple of wine books to read while you are in your easy chair drinking your wine off the beaten path.

Whites

Gruner Veltliner is a light, dry wine from the most popular grape in Austria.

Riesling, yes Riesling. Riesling gets a bad wrap because of its stereo type for being sweet. Riesling from Alsace is rarely sweet and there are a lot of Rieslings from Germany, Australia and New Zealand that are fruity, crisp and dry.

Albarino is a light, dry and vivacious wine that is the hot white wine of Spain.

 

Reds

Rioja is an excellent medium-bodied dry wine that is arguably one of Spain’s finest.

Rosso Piceno is a medium-bodied, dry and tasty Central Italian wine value.

Vacqueyras is a Southern French wine medium to full-bodied and dry.

 

Dessert

Malmsey Madeira is an excellent full-bodied, rich sweet wine to end your meal with.

Books

The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson 2001. This book is an absolute tomb of information with plenty of facts, maps and assessments on almost every wine region in the world. A handy reference wine book clearly not meant for arm chair reading.

 

Wine Companion by Hugh Johnson’s Fully Revised and Updated by Stephen Brook 2003. A More concise and up to date wine book than “Sotheby”, with more producer information and producer profiles.

 

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil 2001. Clearly one of the best value wine encyclopedias out there at about half the price of the above two books. This is a book you can just pick up and read or look up your wine’s information.

Napa Valley’s Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Have you ever been to Napa Valley? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares the secrets of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards:

It has been about 10 years since I first visited the Robert Sinskey Winery. I had briefly met Robert Sinskey (son) in Louisville a few months earlier and squeezed in an unannounced visit to his winery on a very busy trip to Napa Valley. For my second visit in March of 2007 there would be no hurry! On this occasion we learned much more about the winery and its wines. Unfortunately we were unable to see Robert on this trip, but the very knowledgeable Eric Sothern showed my friend Brett Davis and I around and told us all about the winery.

The History

Located in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley Bob Sinskey, MD (father) planted his first 15 acres in Carneros in 1982. Selling the grapes to Acacia winery was part of his retirement plans. In 1985, Acacia sold to Chalone and as a result in 1986 Robert Sinskey crushed his first grapes for his own wine. He made plans to build his own winery off the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley. Bob Sinskey, MD (father) created the “Sinskey modified J loop intra-ocular lens.” This new invention for an artificial human lens, transformed cataract eye surgery and kept the good Doctor very busy. Dr. Sinskey talked to his son Rob about helping him with the winery; Rob was to spend six months helping his father, creating a marketing and distribution plan for Robert Sinskey Vineyards (RSV). He fell in love with the vineyards and wine and is still there running the winery for the last 20 years.

The Winery

In 1988 the winery and caves were opened and Sinskeys vineyards were in excess of 100 acres. Today the winery makes about 25,000 cases of organic wine from about 150 acres of vineyards most of which are in the moderately cool growing region of Carneros, and in Stags Leap District, California. They do not buy grapes all their wines are grown, produced and bottled by RSV.

The Organic Farming

Organic farming is a natural way of farming, growing grapes without the use of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, fighting the same problems that you would use chemicals for naturally. Two examples would be birds and free-range chicken that will eat the natural vineyard pest. And on our trip we saw the natural lawn mower, sheep, munching away between the vines managing the cover crops between the rows of vines, these are just small examples of how organic wine growing works. Organic wine growing is about high quality naturally farmed grapes that reflect a sense of were they are made, this is what the French call Terroir. RSV is the second largest farmer of Organic grapes in Napa Valley. After all you can only make great wine with great grapes. RSV is working its way to becoming Biodynamic.  Biodynamic is an enhanced method of organic farming that looks at the interrelation of all the organism of an individual vineyard in relation to rhythms of nature. Less than 1% of the world’s vineyards are Biodynamic with France leading the way with the most. It suffices to say that, this kind of intensive care of the vineyard and the land makes great wine!

The Wine

Wine for RSV is a natural accompaniment for food and what better way to show your wines than with food. Go to the tasting room of RSV, and you will see what I believe is the only tasting room in Napa with a kitchen. Sure lots of wineries have kitchens but this one is in the tasting room. An open kitchen right next to the tasting bar. What an absolute treat to be able to try their wine with food. The winery chef makes an assortment of delicious dishes to accompany the RSV wines. This surely is a result of Rob Sinskey marring an accomplished chef Maria Helm Sinskey who is the Culinary Director for the estate.

 

Some California wine is about being big, rich, ultra extracted, and low in acidity these are built for big scores from wine critics. RSV wines are the antithesis of this. They are wines that are balanced, elegant with ample natural acidity. Their wine strikes a balance between old world elegance and new world freshness of fruit. These are balanced wines.

 

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Pinot Blanc, Los Carneros 2005

This is a medium-bodied dry wine that is quite balanced, crisp and is brimming with fresh juicy, melon, pear, apple and citrus flavors. Citrus blossom and minerals pervade the palate and nose. An excellent companion to fresh fish on the grill possibly seasoned with fennel!

Abraxas Vin de Terroir , Los Carneros 2005 “Scintilla Vineyard”

Delicious Alsatian-style blend of 37% Pinot Blanc, 26% Riesling 19% Pinot Gris & 18% Gewurztraminer.

Abraxas is the Egyptian god of 365 days.

Honey suckle and lemon blossom support the peach, apricot, tangerine and lemon zest flavors in this dry, crisp medium-bodied white wine. Try with seared sea scallops with saffron rice.

Pinot Noir, Los Carneros 2005

Supple, silky texture envelops roses, strawberries and red cherries, hints of earth, oak and baking spice. Dry medium-bodied with a satiny texture and low tannins. Splendid with grilled yellow fin tuna with shitake mushroom and Pinot Noir sauce.

Merlot Los Carneros 2003

A Merlot with purpose, this is one of the best Merlot from California. Dry and full-bodied with flavors of plums, raspberries, vanilla, oak and fresh cut herbs. It has a velvety texture and is drinking very well at 4 years of age. Try with roasted pork loin with fine herbs and Merlot jus.

Vineyard Reserve, Napa Valley 2002 “RSV Proprietary Red”

Flavorful Saint Emilion-style blend of 46% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc.

This wine is dry and full-bodied with the flavors of plum, black currant, cherries, smoke, vanilla, cocoa and oak all in a supple texture. Steaks on the grill or slow roasted meats would make a delicious food and wine pairing with this wine.