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 Pinot Noir Grape

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommoler Scott harpers discusses why Pinot Noir is his favorite grape:

Sometimes a wine professional gets asked questions about wine that are very difficult to answer. These questions are difficult to answer not because we lack the knowledge or resources to research the question, but because the question is of a very subjective nature.

These questions start out like this: what is the best wine, what is your favorite wine, if you were stranded on a dessert island and you could take only one wine with you what would it be, what is the best wine you have ever had or the most expensive wine you have ever had? I used to say, well, my favorite wine is the next one I have. Wanting to try the newest release from a certain winery or a new wine from an emerging wine region seemed like a good answer, but that didn’t work with most people. Then I would answer the question with the wines that I have had that were truly memorable, not just because of the wine but because of the place, the winemaker or the people I drank them with.  Here are some of the wines I would mention, 1941 Cabernet Sauvignon Cask Reserve Ingelnook Napa Valley, California (I know what you are thinking, Ingelnook? But at the time I tasted the 1941, its auction value was $1,400.00 and it had a perfect 100 score in the wine magazine “The Wine Spectator”), 1961 Barbersco Fontanafredda Piedmont, Italy, 1998 Gewurztraminer Marc Tempe “Selection De Grains Nobles, Mambourg” Alsace, France, 2000 Volnay Joseph Voillot “Les Brouillards, Premier Cru” Burgundy, France and 2000 Chateau Petrus Pomerol, France. I found for the most part after the second or third wine people’s eyes will start to glaze over, as if they asked the wrong question. So, at least for now my answer is, the red wines made from Pinot Noir.

The Pinot Noir Grape

Pinot Noir is obviously a grape not a specific wine, but this allows the conversation to continue. Most people would ask why not Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Nebbiolo or Sangiovese? And of course, I do very much enjoy wines from these grapes, but I must pick one so there it is Pinot Noir! Pinot Noir can be one of the most textured, alluring, ethereal grapes grown. It can produce wines of great flavor, intensity, elegance and food compatibility. From a poor vintage or an unscrupulous winery it can also be very disappointing. The fact that its quality can be allusive may be what makes it so intriguing. But, when its quality is high it is as good as it gets.

Pinot Noir is a grape not fully understood by most. I am fond of saying that most people who like Merlot really want Pinot Noir. Merlot is often described as being round, soft and supple. I am not sure the last time I had a merlot that fit this description. Although I am sure the last time I tried a Pinot Noir that fit that description. Pinot Noir is one of the most textured and polished red wines there is. That is not to say there are not excellent examples (mainly in Burgundy) that are more masculine and tannic but, these wines too, if well made, will evolve in to textured flavorful wines for the Pinot Noir hedonist. The Pinot Noir grape is one of the most difficult to produce, which is illustrated by its nickname “The Heart Break Grape”. Pinot Noir is one of the three grapes of Champagne but, it originally hails from Burgundy, France. In tiny parcels of land that the French government have delimited and classified into a hierarchy as Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village and Regional, the Pinot Noir grape reaches its zenith. But after some time of learning from the Burundians and experimenting the new world now makes some of the most delicious Pinot Noir any were. Places in California like the Russian River Valley, Carneros, Mount Harlan, Chalone and Santa Barbara make excellent Pinot Noirs. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley and other places around the globe such as, New Zealand’s Marlborough the Pinot Noir excels. This is by no means an all inclusive list of great growing areas of Pinot Noir, but it does help answer the question, what is my favorite wine made from? The Pinot Noir grape!

Scott’s  Favorite Pinot Noirs

Because of their silky texture and low tannins these wines are good to drink with full flavored fish like yellow fin tuna and salmon. They will also go well with lighter meats such as roasted chicken or pork. And to show Pinot Noirs food compatibility allow its vivacious fruit to stand up to full flavored meats like roasted lamb or buffalo.

Kenwood Russian River Valley, California 2001

One of the best value Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs around, it is medium-bodied, with a supple texture and flavors of red cherry, spice, oak and violets.

Kim Crawford Marlborough, New Zealand 2002

Don’t be scared off by this wines screw cap closure instead of a cork, for it is a delicious full flavored Pinot Noir. A deep rich nose is highlighted with red fruits, spice and oak. It is medium-bodied, dry, supple long and complex.

Alexander Valley Winery

Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper shares his views on the Alexander Valley Winery in California:

Alexander Valley Winery is located off highway 128 in the Alexander Valley of Northern Sonoma County about an hour and a half hour north of San Francisco. One might think that the winery named itself after the area in which it is located. Why not? It is a quite famous wine growing area in Sonoma, noted for among other wines excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. But in reality Alexander Valley viticulture area and Alexander Valley Winery are named for the once owner of the property as well as rancher, gold miner and prominent community leader, Cyrus Alexander. In 1846, Cyrus Alexander was one of the first to plant grapes in the area and he was builder of the areas first school house among other public buildings. 

More than 100 years later in 1962 Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a sizeable portion of the estate from the heirs of Cyrus Alexander and named it Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV). There first wine was produced in 1975 by there winemaker son Hank Wetzel.

The Winery

On a recent visit I found the property beautiful! The winery and tasting rooms set back off the highway partially shielded by trees with long rows of grape vines going up and down the softly rolling hills in front of it.  Once passed the trees you see a winery adjacent to the hillside and a large door in the base of the hillside. Here, there are some 14,000 square feet of caves that took the better part of a year to complete. These caves house 3,000 barrels of there Estate wines and allow the wines to ferment and mature at ideal year round temperature and humidity with out the use of air conditioning or heat. Also on the Estate is the Alexander Valley School House, built in the late eighth century it has been renovated into a quaint guest house full of character and hunting trophies from years past. My brother Brent found the enormous tree in front of the school house particular striking. A swing hung down from a branch about 30 feet off the ground as if it was the playground of children 150 years ago.

The Wine

The winery produces only two white wines the ever-present Chardonnay from Alexander Valley, and more off the beaten path New Gewurz from the North Coast. New Gewurz is a fresh slightly effervescent white wine made from the spicy Gewürztraminer grape, it has just a touch of sweetness and full fruit flavors that will awakened your palate and pair nicely with spicy or zest foods. AVV is really more known for their reds, they make: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese and Zinfandel.

The Zinfandel fanciful labels are reflective of the wines names. Sin Zin has been made for 27 years and has been recently countered by a second Zinfandel named Redemption Zin. Sin Zin fruit is sourced Alexander Valley and the Redemption Zin naturally would be sourced from a different area, the Dry Creek Valley. One would have to suggest drinking the Sin Zin first and the Redemption Zin second. Interestingly the Redemption Zin has an extra half degree of alcohol. I guess it takes a little bit more alcohol to be forgiven then to sin?

AVV’s flagship wine was made as homage to Cyrus Alexander. Named simply Cyrus it was first released in 1985. Cyrus is an excellent example of what a $50.00 (retail) bottle of wine should be. The 2001 vintage was released on March 15, 2005, Cyrus Alexander’s 200th Birthday. The wine is a Bordeaux style blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 11% Cabernet Franc. It is aged in both French and American oak barrels giving it full oak flavors of vanilla, coconut, toast and smoke, add to that the ripe flavors of black cherry, cassis and mocha. It is a full-bodied, robust wine that would do well with hearty food such as beef or lamb.

The Wine of Chile

Did you know? Various countries in South America produce many types of wine. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier Scott Harper discusses the wine-making process in the country of Chile:

On a recent trip to Chile I was astounded and learned much about the dramatically improving quality of Chilean Wine. Having always thought of Chilean wine being a great value, I now know that they are great value wines at every price level. In fact, Chile is undergoing a wine revolution headed by many young wine makers that have trained abroad and are pushing the quality bar perpetually up.

The Chilean Climate

Chile is similar to an Island, in the North it is sheltered by the Atacama Desert which is one of the world’s driest, to the South is the Patagonian Ice Fields, to the East the Andes Mountains which is the source of irrigation, to the West the Pacific Ocean and in the center is a winemaker’s paradise, a veritable garden of Eden with an almost perfect Mediterranean climate that produces exceptional grapes as well as some of the best fruit I have ever tasted. It is the long thin strip of land starting about the midpoint of the West side of South America and running down to the tip of the continent, Chile is no more than 110 miles wide but is 2,900 miles long. These natural barriers have worked to the viticulture advantage of Chile by protecting the vines from pest and disease. As a matter of fact, the vines are predominately own rooted, meaning the fruiting vine is not actually on root stock, hence considered to be the true expression of the fruit. Very few vineyards in the world, let alone entire countries are own rooted, as they are very susceptible to a root louses called phylloxera, but because of the natural boundaries Chile has the oldest vineyards in the world and has a large percentage of “green” wine!

The Vineyards

The traditional area of Chilean vineyards is the vast Central Valley with its sub-regions of Maipo, Rapel, Curico and Maule Valleys. While these areas produce very good wine there is a strong move to the cooler growing areas of Chile with the aim to produce wines with greater finesse and elegance. It is ironic that despite Chile’s undersized width there is a bigger difference in soil and climate from East to West than North to South. Some of these cool growing areas to look for are Elqui Valley, Limari Valley, Casablanca Valley, San Antonio Valley and Bio Bio Valley.

The Wine

The Spanish Conquistadors started viticulture approximately 460 years ago in Chile to celebrate religious ceremonies. Their primary grape varietal was Pais which produces low quality but a high quantity of wine, and still exists in very small amounts. The French brought the noble varieties in the 1880’s and hence most of the grapes now have French lineage. Chile makes seventy five percent red wines and twenty five percent white wines, with most of the wines being from Bordeaux varietals.  Cabernet Sauvignon is king and is produced more than triple the amount of any other grape. Merlot comes in second place and the very interesting if not esoteric grape. Carmenere is the third. Filling out the top five are Syrah and Pinot Noir. Carmenere, once thought to be Merlot in Chile, is an ancient Bordeaux varietal brought to Chile in the 1800’s from Bordeaux. It is extinct in France, but thrives in Chile for its uniqueness. Carmenere has soft tannins, deep red color, red and black fruits flavors, a herbaceous character which is decreasing as winemakers allow the grape to ripen longer, and qualities similar to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and of course Merlot. It is commonly used as a blending grape and is more and more frequently seen as a varietal labeled wine. For white wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are almost evenly produced with the Moscatel of Alexanderia coming in third. Moscatel is used in making the grape distillate Pisco which when mixed with lemon juice, sugar, egg whites and bitters forms the national drink of Chile the Pisco Sour. Lastly ,Viognier, Riesling and Gewurztraminer are also seen from a limited number of wineries.

Chile offers values in every price range and frequently over delivers in each of those ranges.

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’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.