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…)

Wine 101

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper gives us a few lessons in Wine 101:

When asked to write an article about wine, it seemed rather intuitive to begin with a wine tasting primer. Undoubtedly, a large number of you reading this publication drink wine regularly, but you may still have numerous questions, while there are others who are just getting into wine and are thirsty for some basic wine tasting knowledge. Wine, I believe, is meant to enhance our life. It should bring us pleasure in many different ways. Wine aids in digestion; it can improve our health; and, it encourages friendships around the table. Understanding wine a bit more can enhance your enjoyment of it. It is from this premise where we will begin.

For discussion purposes we will use a specific wine so, if you wish, you may do this tasting primer as you read.  Please use a quality wine glass of eight or more ounces to fully appreciate this primer. Our wine will be the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley, California, with an approximate retail price of $20.00.  I actually helped pick (with an emphasis on helped) grapes one morning during harvest for this wine.

Three major points of emphasis in wine tasting are Sight, Smell and Taste.

Sight- Usually a full color will suggest a full wine and a light color will suggest a light wine. Our wine is pale yellow, clear and bright.

Smell- I use the acronym FEW to help remember this part of the tasting.  F stands for fruit and floral, E for earth and W for wood or oak. Fruit can cover the entire world of fruits, but think about fruits that are in the range of the color of wine.  For example, white wine may have flavors of citrus and apples; red wine may have flavors of red cherries and black berries. Earth can encompass everything from the smell of fresh tilled soil to mushrooms, minerals and beets. And lastly, wood or oak is used to age a good deal of wine, but not all. It can give a wine the smell of cinnamon, toast, vanilla and certainly the smell of oak. To better smell your wine, try swirling it in your glass to release the aromas and make it easier to describe its flavors. Our Sauvignon Blanc smells of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs, no oak and light wet stone minerals.

Taste – Our taste buds are equipped to sense four things: Sweet, Sour, Bitter and Salt.  Sweet is the presence of sugar in wine.  Dry is the absence of sugar in wine.  Medium-dry falls in somewhere between the two.  You usually detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue. To better understand dryness in wine, try this simple demonstration:  Place three glasses of water in front of you.  Into the first glass of water, pour an entire packet of sugar – this equals sweet.  Put a half packet of sugar into the second glass – this equals medium-dry.  No sugar will be put into the third glass of water – this equals dry.

Sour refers to the acidity in wine, and while it carries a negative connotation, it really refers to the zippy-crisp component in wine. It typically can be sensed on the sides of your tongue. Let’s take our three glasses of water again. Into the first glass of water squeeze an entire lemon – this would be very crisp. Into the second glass of water squeeze half of a lemon – this would be crisp.  Put only a few drops of lemon juice into the third glass of water – this would be low acid or not very crisp.

Bitter refers to the tannin in wine.  Like sour it carries a negative connotation, but it refers to the mouth puckering quality of wine. It may be sensed all over your palate. A heavily tannic wine can make any part of your tongue, gums, etc. contract and dry out. You can say a wine can be light, medium or heavy in tannin. Tannin can be sensed in grape skins, long steeped tea and espresso. Tannin is typically found in red wine because of the extended skin contact with the unfermented and fermenting wine during red wine production.

When you taste wine, allow the wine to stay on your palate for a minute, letting all parts of your palate touch the wine. This will allow you to more accurately use the various areas where you sense the flavors of the wine. The 2009 Honing Sauvignon Blanc is dry and very crisp.  Also, through taste you can establish the body or weight of a wine. The body of a wine is described as light, medium or full bodied; like a glass of water, milk and heavy cream respectably. Our Sauvignon Blanc is light bodied.

Hungarian vineyard

Your olfactory system senses smell in your palate as well as through your nose, so you will also be able to use your smelling technique again when the wine is in your palate. This helps you to connect the wine’s smell and taste. The aftertaste is the lingering flavor you get after swallowing the wine; an aftertaste is only bad when it tastes bad!  A good aftertaste is pleasant and persistent. Our Sauvignon Blanc has the flavors of lemon, grapefruit and fresh herbs and a very pleasant aftertaste.

So, we would characterize the 2009 Honig Sauvignon Blanc as pale-yellow with a nose and palate of lemon, grapefruit, fresh herbs, no oak oak and wet stone minerals. It is dry, very crisp, and light-bodied with a pleasant aftertaste. And don’t forget the easy descriptors like: this deliciously tasty little Sauvignon Blanc is superb.

“Green” Wines: Wine Made Through Eco-Friendly Agriculture

 

Did you know? Wine can also be made in an eco-friendly way. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper provides everything you need to know about “green wine”:

I remember trying an organic wine more than 20 years ago. I said to myself, “Does that make a wine not listed as organic inorganic?” How can the earth’s most natural alcoholic beverage be inorganic, when, after all, grapes crushed with the natural yeast on their skin is what makes wine? Trying organic wine and assessing its quality was even more confusing because it simply wasn’t that good. Now two decades later, organic wine presents a totally different experience as it relates to quality and protecting the environment.

There are several types of “green” wine, or wine made through eco-friendly agriculture, including sustainable, organic and biodynamic. These three methods of farming grapes are different but share two things in common: taking care of the environment and making quality wine. The following paragraphs provide a brief primer on this trio of methods as it relates to vineyards.

Sustainable

Conventional farming follows a predictable system. It is either time to spray pesticide to prevent a potential problem or mitigate an existing one. Conventional farming has negatives in that it can be harmful to the soil and the environment. Sustainable farming is about using what works best by considering what the vineyard really needs and what is the best way to treat the situation with the environment in mind, not simply resorting to spraying chemicals. The French phrase lutte raisonée (“reasonable prevention”) makes the most sense. Sustainable farming includes taking care of your employees; being socially responsible; recycling; having animal habitats (like installing owl boxes rather than poisons for rodent control); conserving soil, water and energy; and using alternative energy sources, including solar power.

Spanish reserve wines to try

Organic

Organic may be the easiest to explain. Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, as well as chemical-based fertilizers, on or around vineyards. The vineyard owners use natural substances to fight vine problems and beneficial insects and birds to control pests. Genetically engineered crops are forbidden.

Labeling terms include “made with organic grapes” or “made with organically grown grapes,” and wines labeled with these terms allow low levels of sulfites to be added – less than 100 parts per million – in the completed wine. Wines labeled “organic” may not add sulfites. All wines contain sulfites, as it is a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation and harmless unless you are hyper-allergic to them.

When looking at most non-organic vineyards, you will often see nothing between its rows of vines – a complete monoculture – whereas with organic vineyards one might find yellow mustard, birds, insects, hawks and sheep grazing between rows, among other things.

Sauternes wines to try

Biodynamic

Biodynamic farming is a little bit harder to understand, but it is essentially organic taken up a few notches. It follows the philosophy of 1920s Austrian scientist-philosopher Rudolf Stein. Biodynamic manages the farm as a comprehensive ecosystem; it is holistic, self-sustaining and self-regulating. Biodynamic farming utilizes renewable natural methods to reinvigorate the soil and attempts to not deplete the earth’s resources. Planting animal horns filled with herbs and other compost in the vineyard and planning vineyard work according to phases of the moon have left some thinking biodynamic practices are viticulture voodoo, but these practices have been proven to help and improve the vineyard and certainly do no harm.

So “green” wine is better for the environment, but does this growing category make better wine? When you talk to most winemakers they will say that wine is made in the vineyard, which speaks to how important the quality and purity of the grapes used to make wine are. You can make great wine from great grapes, but you cannot make great wine from mediocre grapes.

It is generally accepted that vines are more balanced and are able to fight issues better because they are healthy and produce more consistent harvests when they are farmed “green.” Long-term costs are similar to conventional farming, despite initial conversion costs being higher. Some wineries may make the change in order make better wine, take care of the environment and/or provide a point of differentiation from a marketing standpoint with organic or biodynamic certifications, but many wineries do not even list that they produce their wine “green.”

Whatever the reason a chosen winemaker chooses to produce “green” wine, they are certainly leaders in a move toward greater sustainability, and we are all the benefactors of it.

WHITE GREEN WINES

Grüner Veltliner Nikolaihof  “Hefeabzug” 2012 (Wachau, Austria)

Nikolaihof is one of the oldest wine estates in Austria, dating back to Roman times. Today the Saahs family operates the vineyard in accordance with the regulations of the Demeter Association, one of the strictest control systems of organic agriculture. This Grüner Veltliner is straw/pale yellow, dry and medium-bodied and very crisp with Myer lemon, green apple, white grapefruit and a slight herbaceous tone with copious minerals. It is a refreshingly, delicious wine that goes well with oysters, cheeses and veal and is certified biodynamic, as listed on the back label.

Vernaccia Di San Gimignano “Simone Santini” “Tenuta Le Calcinaie” 2013 (Tuscany, Italy)

In 1987, Simone Santini planted 15 acres of organically farmed vernaccia, an ancient white grape variety, at Le Calcinaie, his Tuscan estate near the famous town of San Gimignano. He has since doubled his acres, and the winery is certified organic by ICEA, the Italian Institute for Ethical and Environmental Certifcation. Tis wine is pale yellow with green highlights. Te wine is dry, crisp and very linear. Tere are favors of citrus, apples and almonds, all in a compact medium-body that is quite tasty. Try it with roasted chicken and Milanese dishes.  Made with organic grapes as listed on the label.

RED GREEN WINES

Les Baux De Provence Mas de Gourgonnier 2011 (Provence, France)

Operated by Nicolas Cartier and his sons, the Mas de Gourgonnier employs biological farming methods, and grapes are harvested by hand. Tis wine is medium-purple with a nice smell of leather, earth, black currants, black cherries and Herbs de Provence. Te wine is dry, with medium tannins and a full body. Try with grilled meats or short ribs. Made with organic grapes as listed on the front label.

Monastrell Tarima 2012 (Alicante, Spain)

With an opaque purple color, this wine is big and rich with ripe fruit of strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. The favors of espresso, spice and licorice are found in this forward wine that is delicious with oven-roasted ribeye. Made with organic grapes as listed on the front label.

Cabernet Sauvignon Honig 2012 (Napa Valley, California)

The Honig Vineyard and Winery employs sustainable farming methods such as planting cover crops to nourish the soil; installing owl boxes for rodent control; mechanical tilling in lieu of spraying herbicides; using “sniffer dogs” to detect vine mealybug; powering their operations with solar energy; and drip irrigation. Tis Cabernet Sauvignon is dark purple with favors of blackberry, cherry, plum, allspice, vanilla and oak, all in a full-bodied frame with well-integrated tannins. Drinks well now but will improve with a few years of additional aging. Sustainably farmed as listed on the back label.

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.