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…)

The Secrets of Chablis, a Northern France Wine Region

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares the secrets of the beautiful French wine region, Chablis:

For the longest time, the name Chablis conjured up sweet, cheap, white California bulk wine; the kind of wine, if it was the only wine offered, that would make the modern wine aficionado have a beer. American wine marketers stole the Chablis name from the Burgundy region of France, of the same name; they used the term Chablis for generic white wine that was extremely inexpensive and, as a result, very poor quality. If you were dining at a restaurant and asked for a glass of Chablis, you were likely requesting this super cheap white house wine. While most wine drinkers may recognize today that Chablis is not from California, they still are uncertain what Chablis is and are surprised when they find out.

The Region

Chablis is about one and a half hours southeast of Paris and is the northernmost region of Burgundy. In fact, it is one of the more northern fine wine regions on the planet. Chablis produces only white wine and is made from 100 percent Chardonnay. But the style of Chardonnay made there is quite different from the Chardonnay we experience from California or other new-world countries and other parts of Burgundy.

The northern climate is cool, and in cool climates, grapes produce wines that have tarter tasting fruit, moderate alcohol and high acid. They are light-to-medium bodied wines with more fragrance and elegance, and they tend to be more enjoyable with a wide range of foods. Additionally, the soil has a high content of limestone and contains millions of tiny marine fossils – remnants of a vast sea hundreds of millions of years ago. Tis soil – called Kimmeridgian – helps cause the wine’s acute minerality.

While a few producers use oak, the majority of Chablis producers do not. Some experts will say that Chablis is the quintessential expression of Chardonnay, as it is unadulterated by oak and expresses the fingerprint of Chablis and not the fingerprint of winemaking. While there are certainly exceptions, warm climate grapes produce wines that have very ripe and almost sweet-tasting fruit, high alcohol and low acid. They tend to be medium-to-full bodied, rich and powerful wines that are very enjoyable to drink by themselves or with simple foods. Trying a cool climate Chardonnay, such as Chablis, next to a warm climate Chardonnay, such as a Napa Valley, is an enlightening experiment that is definitely worthwhile.

The region of Chablis has an important hierarchy. There are four levels of Chablis, all of which are good but range from the lightest to the most bodied, complex and what is considered the finest: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru. There are seven Grand Cru Chablis: Les Clos, Vaudésir, Valmur, Les Preuses, Blanchot, Bougros and Grenouilles. Aspect and soil are the determining factor in this quality hierarchy. In a cool climate such as Chablis, ripening is aided by better sun exposure of south-facing vineyards, such as the location of all of the Grand Crus vineyards and the best Premier Cru Vineyards. The previously mentioned Kimmeridgian soil is the soil of the finest Chablis vineyards and all of the Grand Crus. While most Chablis should be consumed three to four years from the vintage, a Grand Cru can develop aromas of dried honey, a broader mouth feel and multiplicity of favor for a decade.

The Wine

Chablis is an exceptional wine to pair with food. When pairing Chablis, think seafood. The naturally high acidity goes well with seafood but especially shellfish, such as oysters, shrimp and clams. Try the wines of Chablis with goat cheese and with roasted chicken as well.

Recommended Chablis

Drouhin Vaudon Chablis 2009

The Drouhin Family have been winemakers in Burgundy for over 125 years, and Chablis is their specialty. The wine is pale gold with green highlights. Dry and very crisp with the delicious bright favors of green apples, lemon zest and grapefruit. Linear and intense with enjoyable wet stone minerals that add a level to the complexity. Elegant, vivacious, fresh and medium-bodied. Drink as a flavorful aperitif or as natural accompaniment with seafood.

Scott is General Manager of the Bristol Bar & Grille-Jeffersonville and is Wine Director/Sommelier for the 5 Bristol Bar & Grille’s in Louisville and Indiana. Scott is a Master Sommelier and a Certified Wine Educator.

Banyuls, a French wine region to visit

Have you ever been to France? If not, Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares why you should visit the beautiful French wine region of Banyuls.
Very close to the Spanish border, located in the southern area of Languedoc Roussillon, France, is Banyuls; as a matter of fact, it is the southern-most appellation in continental France. While you may have never heard of this incredible wine region, grapes have been growing there for thousands of years. Moreover, it was one of the first regions to be delimited by French wine law in 1936, the same time as Champagne.

The Region

Banyuls is a ruggedly beautiful region located on the Mediterranean, and as a result of this location, it averages 325 days of sunshine a year. Tis warm consistent climate has no problem ripening lush rich grapes. The vineyards are striking with some terraced vineyards graded at a steep 40 percent. Tis sheer aspect does not allow for mechanical harvesting; hence all harvesting is done by hand, and it is done by passing through the vineyards multiple times to be sure to pick only perfectly ripe grapes.

Banyuls

The Wine

If you make dry white, rose or red wines in the region, it is labeled Collioure. White Banyuls may be made and is quite rare, but red Banyuls is what the region’s reputation is built on. Red Banyuls is made predominantly from the Grenache grape, and if you make it from a minimum of 75 percent Grenache and age the wine 30 months in wood, it earns the Grand Cru Banyuls appellation.

Banyuls is a Vin Doux Natural (VDN), which is a dessert wine created by mutage, also known as fortification. Fermenting grape juice is muted or fortified with pure grape brandy. This mutage or fortifcation halts the fermentation process, leaving the wine naturally sweet with its own grape sugar, nonetheless boosting the alcohol to 15 to 20 percent alcohol.

A Banyuls may be vintage dated, and if so, it is likely to show its close approximation to Spain by having the Catalan term rimage on the label, meaning vintage. These Banyuls are typically bottled a year after harvest and are considered non-oxidative. Non-vintage Banyuls wines are aged for several years through oxidative maturation (exposed to air) in glass jugs or oak barrels and sometimes even outside. Tis oxidative process adds a unique character that tastes of dried fruits and nuts. Banyuls is usually bottled in a smaller 16.9 ounce bottle (half a liter), as opposed to the typical 25.4 ounce bottle (750 ml), which makes a perfect size for two to four people to enjoy.

Probably the best attribute of Banyuls is its ability to go with chocolate. The natural sweetness, full-body and chocolate favors go quite well with chocolate desserts or chocolate pieces and nuts. But remember that Banyuls needs to be at least as sweet as the dessert; otherwise the dessert will overwhelm the wine. Bittersweet chocolate pieces or dessert with a high percentage of cocoa as opposed to a high percentage of sugar works best. Also, slightly salty blue veined cheese pairs well with Banyuls. The salty and sweet seem to come together and create a synergistic effect of caramel. Banyuls is best served just below room temperature at around 65° F. Some even like it as an aperitif, but I think it is best placed at the end of a meal with dessert or even as a dessert all by itself.

Here are three very good producers of Banyuls:

  1. M. Chapoutier 2007

Made from 90% Grenache grapes this wine has the favors of rich black fruits, raspberries, stewed fruits, anise and cocoa. Its fortification is noticed but adds warmth and balance to the wines seductively rich, sweet and delicious full-body. Tis is from the excellent Rhone Valley producer M. Chapoutier who labels all of his wines with Braille labels as a hommage to Maurice De La Sizeranne an important nineteenth century figure in the blind community.

2. Les Clos de Paulilles

3. La Tour Vieille

Ingelnook

Have you ever heard of the historic Ingelnook wine estate? Have you ever tried Ingelnook’s premium wine? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares the history behind the Napa Valley region and recommends a few wines to try.

The Place

Having amassed a fortune in sea ferrying, in 1879 Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum purchased a vast estate in Rutherford, California named Inglenook, with a goal of producing wine on an estate that could rival its European counterparts. The word ‘Inglenook’ is a Scottish expression meaning “cozy corner”, but in this case it should denote a copious cozy corner, as the estate, which includes a brilliant European-style château, would eventually encompass more than 1,500 acres.

From north to south, the Napa Valley is about 30 miles in length, which is not nearly as big as most people think. The region’s width tops out at five miles and goes down to a single mile at its narrowest point. Mountains surround the valley on both sides: The Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east.

The History

Inglenook’s first vintage was produced 1882, and the picturesque château was completed in 1887. In 1891, Inglenook wine was revered enough to be served in the White House for President Grover Cleveland. It may seem hard to believe, but in 1901 you could enjoy a bottle of Inglenook Claret for less than a dollar.

Lamentably, wine making at the estate ceased in 1908 for three years following the death of Gustave Niebaum at the age of 66, until his widow subsequently resumed the estate’s production and its critical acclaim. In 1914, John Daniel Jr., the grandnephew of Gustave Niebaum, and his sister Suzanne moved to the estate after their mother died to be reared by the widow Niebaum.

From 1919 to 1933 the ludicrous happens: prohibition declares the production of wine illegal, leaving the great estate to continue producing grapes but not wine. After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, John Daniel Jr. took leadership of Inglenook, eventually becoming its owner in 1939. Daniel was the first vintner to use Napa Valley on his label, thus emphasizing the importance of the wine making region. It is during this time that John Daniel Jr. made truly one of the greatest wines ever produced in California: the famous 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon.

With the motto “Pride Not Proft” firmly in place, Inglenook’s obsession with quality as opposed to financial security ultimately led to its downfall, compelling Daniel to sell the name Inglenook along with the great château and some of the vineyards in 1964. The new owner was a large national company that eventually evolved into the company named Heublein. Tis company did no favors to the name or the wine, making inexpensive wine of mediocre quality, although they did make some very nice Cabernet Sauvignons as part of its Reserve Cask series.

Daniel continued to maintain a sizeable share of the land as well as the Niebaum mansion where he and his family lived until his death in 1970. In 1975, his wife sold the portion of the estate her family had maintained to Francis and Eleanor Coppola, who renamed the estate Niebaum-Coppola. They produced the first vintage of their flagship wine Rubicon in 1978, but not in the great château, as it was still owned by the large national company. In 1995 Coppola bought the château and the vineyards Daniel sold in 1964, thereby reuniting the great property and restoring the glory of the Inglenook château. Finally and gratefully the Coppola’s acquired the Inglenook trademark in 2011, and once again the property is named Inglenook.

I have had the great fortune to visit the estate on numerous occasions, watching the evolution before and after Coppola purchased the final elements of estate and the château. The culmination of my appreciation of the estate occurred at the legendary Aspen tasting in 1991, where we tasted a selection of wines from 1941 to 1986. I was in astonishment of how well the 1941, 1946 and 1959 showed truly incredible wines.

Precious few estates in California or in Napa Valley have a history and legacy like Inglenook. Perhaps Buena Vista, Gundlach Bundschu, Charles Krug or Beringer could rival it, but today there are few historic estates in California under the ownership of individuals or families as opposed to multinational conglomerates. Inglenook has been through both and survived with its renewed grandeur thanks to Francis Ford Coppola.

The Wine

1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California)
On my list as one of the best wines I have ever had. I tasted this classic Napa Valley Cabernet at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic in 1991; Robert Parker was the moderator and it was a most memorable occasion. At the time of the tasting its auction value was $1800.00 a bottle; a taste of Napa Valley history.
Intense nose of currant and anise, it is amazingly long, rich and concentrated. A seductive bouquet of caramelized fruits remains in the glass even after the wine was gone, ethereal and multidimensional.

2009 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Rubicon (Napa Valley, California)
Rubicon is the famed river in Northern Italy that Caesar crossed with his troops, irrevocably committing himself to his destination. Rubicon signifies Coppola’s own commitment to wine making at the great Inglenook estate. This is the first year Rubicon and Inglenook share a label. Blackberries, currants, violets, baking spices, and toasty oak round out this full-bodied and rich wine that has plenty of tannins for ageing.

Spanish reserve wines to try

Whether wine is produced in America, Spain, France or Italy, can we all agree that it tastes better with age? Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his knowledge of notable wine region’s in Spain, their aging process, and a few Spanish reserve wines to try.

Ribero del Duer0

Located on the eastern edge of northwestern Spain, the name Ribero del Duero comes from the Duero River. It sits within Spanish reserve wines to trythe region of Castilla y León or “land of castles,” named because of the fortifications that dot the landscape. These fortifications were built to hold off the Moors in the Middle Ages. The Ribero del Duero is one of Spain’s finest wine regions. People often mention it in the same breath as the other notable wine regions of Rioja and Priorat.

The most important quality wine grape in Spanish reserve wines to try is Tempranillo. It makes up the majority of the Ribero del Duero blend. Tempranillo also makes great wine in other regions such as Rioja. As in other countries, the same grape has different names in different regions. People in Ribero del Duero call the Tempranillo grape Tinta del País. People can add up to 25 percent of other grapes such as Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Up to five percent of Garnacha and Albillo Mayor may also be added. While Ribero del Duero makes mostly red wine, they also produce rosé, or rosado as the Spaniards call it.

Aging process

Unlike American wines labeled reserve or grand reserve, Spanish law defines the terms Cosecha, Crianza, Reserva and Spanish reserve wines to tryGrand Reserva. Cosecha, also known as Vin Joven, ages the least, with no or less than a year of oak aging. Crianza ages for two years: one in an oak barrel and one in the bottle. Reserva ages three years with a minimum of one year in oak and two years in the bottle.

The winery’s very best wine is Gran Reserva. It must have the character to stand five years of aging. Out of these five years, it ages in oak for two years and three years in the bottle. This aging takes place in oak cask. It takes place in American oak, which the Spaniards love for its favor of vanilla, coconut and dill. It also takes place in the less assertive French barrels, and even a combination of the two.

To drink mature wine from most wine regions, you must age the wine yourself. However, the long aging of Ribero del Duero Reserva and Ribero del Duero Gran Reserva allows the aficionado to purchase mature ready-to-drink Ribero del Duero. For a very interesting tasting, acquire a bottle of each of the aging levels, preferably from the same producer. Then taste side-by-side a Cosecha, Crianza, Reserva and a Gran Reserva. This is a brilliant way to see the influence of oak barrel and bottle aging of four wines from the same region and same grapes. And in the case of the Reserve and Gran Reserve, you can even get the same vintage. The oak aging adds complexity of flavors of baking spices, such as vanilla, toast, cinnamon and nutmeg. It also adds cocoa, coffee, coconut and dill, among others. Oak barrel aging can also change the texture making a wine suppler.

Spanish reserve wines to try in Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz

Vega Sicilia, Dominio de Pingus or Tinto Pesquera are three of the standard bearers in Ribera del Duero and command high prices. While quality Ribera del Duero is never inexpensive, the Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz winery offers a relative value and reasonable availability of Spanish reserve wines to try.

The winery was founded in 1972. It was one of the original wineries when the Ribera del Duero region was officially established in 1982. It is the only winery in the province of Soria. Linajes, or lineage in English, is the name of the flagship wine of the Viñedos y Bodegas Gormaz. It is a tribute to the 12 Knights of Soria. This is represented by 12 shields in circular emblems on the label. The equestrian figure of Alfonso VIII surrounds these emblems in similar fashion to the Knights of the Round Table.

Ribero del Duero Crianza 12 Linajes 2009

Dark red/purple with flavors of strawberry, red and black cherry, vanilla and roasted coffee beans in a medium-bodied wine that can benefit from some breathing to help smooth out its tannins.

This wine comes from the Tempranillo grape. it ages in French and American barrels for 14 months before it ages in the bottle for 12 months. Try with roasted herb-encrusted pork loin.

Ribero del Duero Reserva 12 Linajes 2007

Dark red/purple with the flavors of blackberry, strawberry, chocolate and oak-induced baking spices. Excellent Spanish wine with a few years bottle age, exhibiting violets and lavender in a full, silky body with a touch of earth.

This wine comes from the Tempranillo grape. It ages 24 months in French oak barrels before it is ages for a further 24 months in the bottle. Try with grilled rack of lamb or a grilled bone-in ribeye

How a wine’s style and flavor are impacted

Did you know there are many influences on the style and flavor of wines? Consequently, there have been many books written, classes taught and research done all about how a wine’s style and flavor are impacted. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper believes there are no more important influences than climate and wine making. In order to describe the dramatic effect these two elements have on wine, he says one must generalize. And there are certainly exceptions to every rule. But more times than not, these are true.

How a wine’s style and flavor are impacted: Climate

Let’s start with the all-important climate of the vineyard. Keep in mind, climate is different than weather. Climate is the long-term behavior of the area, where weather is the short-term behavior.

Although there are many growing influences that affect the complexity and intensity of how a wine’s style and flavor are impacted, the climate has the largest effect. Certainly we all realize this is a general statement. However, if you say the world divides into cold, cool, warm and hot climates, these broad general classifications paint a mind’s eye view of the world’s climate. One of the exceptions to these generalities, which speaks to the importance of vintage, is there are warm years in cool climate areas and cold years in warm climate areas. Toss in climate change, and it gets very interesting.

Professionals tend to divide the world of wine into two climates: warm and cool with the modifier moderate, as in moderately cool or moderately warm. But for our purposes, we will keep it simple and general, especially as we do not see wine that produces in cold and hot climates.

In warm climate, grapes produce wines that have very ripe, almost sweet tasting fruit with high alcohol and low acid. They tend to be medium to full-bodied, rich and powerful wines that are very enjoyable to drink by themselves or with simple foods. Examples of warm climate areas include California, Australia and South America, among others.

In cool climate, grapes produce wines that have more tart tasting fruit with moderate alcohol and high acid. They are light to medium-bodied wines with more fragrance and elegance. They tend to be more enjoyable with a wide range of foods. Examples of cool climate areas include Germany, Austria, northern France and northern Italy, among others.

How a wine’s style and flavor are impacted: Wine making

Winemakers can put their fingerprint on the wines they make, or they can keep the wine’s fingerprint. Some call this Old World or traditional wine making versus New World or modern wine making.

France, Italy, Spain and Germany are historic wine producing regions that mostly practice Old World wine making. This method emphasizes the flavor of the grape through How a wine's style and flavor are impactedregionalism; therefore there is less use of oak and wine making techniques.  A lack of technology means these wines will not be squeaky clean, so wine making does not cover secondary flavors of minerals, stones, earth, and forest floor develop.

Young wine producing regions such as the United States, Australia, South Africa, South America and New Zealand mainly practice New World wine making. It focuses on producing a specific style of wine regardless of grape type.  Marketing dictates the use of technology to make lush, fruit-forward wine that is lavishly oaked and garners big points from the wine critics.  The winemaker is the star, not the grape or region.

There are exceptions to these generalities, such as New World and modern wine making in Old World countries or Old World wine making in New World countries.

Cool climate wine

Sancerre Merlin-Cherrier 14 (Loire, France). Loire Valley arguably makes some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. The region that makes the best Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley is Sancerre.  Sancerre includes Meyer lemons, gooseberries, fresh herbs and minerals. The wine is dry with a light body and high acid. It is also a domain bottle.

How a wine's style and flavor are impactedWarm climate wine

Viognier Zaca Mesa 14 (Santa Ynez, California). The grape viognier originally hails from Northern Rhone, France. It it ultra-ripe, with an amazing full body, texture and perfume. It is also rich, low acid and dry, with flavors of white peach, honeysuckle and an explosive oral fruit basket.

Old World wine makingHow a wine's style and flavor are impacted

Barolo Paolo Scavino ‘05 (Piedmont, Italy). Barolo is from the northern Italian region of Piedmont. This wine comes from the Nebbiolo grape and also is arguably one of the best grapes in Italy for red wine. The wine is dry and tannic with a full body and flavors of blackberries, leather, earth and roses.

New World wine makingHow a wine's style and flavor are impacted

Cabernet Blend Chappellet Mountain Cuvee ‘07 (Napa Valley, California). This wine is made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 51%, Merlot 46%, Malbec 1%, Cabernet Franc 1% and Petit Verdot 1%. This is a big, rich, spicy and oak-filled mouthful of a wine with flavors of cola, blackberries, plums and mocha.