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Monday, July 24, 2017

'The Package' delivered by Philip S. Kampe

                                                           The Package

There is a knock on the door and suddenly the bell rings loudly. There is another feverish knock. I open the door and the post man smiles and says, ‘Sign for this please’ and hands me an electronic pad to sign. 

After business is taken care of, the post man smiles and suggests that I open the package-as is the case when packages that contain wine are delivered to me. Its sort of a ritual for the two of us.

He comes inside. I take out a paring knife to open the secured brown box, which is bound with brown, sticky tape. I open the box-there are no technical sheets or a handwritten notes-just four bottles of wine. The mailman, as part of the ritual, takes out bottle number one. It is a 2016 Sancerre named ‘Liberte’. I grab the second bottle, a 2016 Vermentino ‘Tuvaoes’from Sardegna. I’m beginning to think oysters…

The mailman lifts the third bottle out of the box-it’s a Rose-but, one I have read about and heard that it was the Rose everyone drinks in the Hamptons-Maison Belle Claire 2016 from Provence. I took out the final bottle, number four. It was red, from Tuscany and a 2014 Terigi Pugnitello-probably made with one of my favorite grapes-Sangiovese.

The opening of The Package was complete. Like normal, I assured the postman that I would leave a quarter of each bottle for him to sample. I would put the bottles in a canvas wine bag and leave it for him inside the garage door. We have been doing this exercise for many years-it’s educational for him, as I leave notes with each wine he samples.

This is our pet project.

The wine was delivered Saturday morning. By Sunday evening, I had the usual suspects over to share a meal and taste and comment on the wine. With four bottles and six people, the task should be flawless.

I am not one for matching food with wine, but, the Sancerre, Vermentino and Rose all call out for seafood: clams, oysters, scallops and shrimp.

For dinner, I made a seafood stew with saffron and the seafood I mentioned except oysters, which we ate on the half shell-definitely intended for the Vermentiono.

The wines which arrived were from Romano Brands, owned by a very innovative importer/distributor, Michael Romano, who I met nearly twenty years ago, as I began my wine journey. I do know, his Rose, Maison Belle Claire is a homage to his wife, whose name is Claire (the same as my mother).

Before reviewing the wines, I must admit that the four wines that were sent to me immediately made me realize that Michael Romano put a lot of thought into the contents of the package, a Sancerrre, a Vermentino, a Rose and a Tuscan red.
Our findings:
2016 Liberte Sancerre
This Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley is magnificently crafted. The limestone delivers a creamy and rich white wine that epitomizes what acidity and smokiness can do when paired effectively together. Its an amazing bottle that retails for under $20. The wine has magical qualities that develop in the palate and grow in length as it seems to bubble an ambitious lemon-lime flavor in your mouth.

2016 Tuvaoes Vermentino di Sardegna by Cherchi. The origin of Vermentino in Sardegna is unclear. But in 1996, the first DOCG Vermentino was acknowledged. Since then, high quality Vermentiono’s have been making their way into the New World. With Tuvaoes at a little under $30 a bottle, you are reaching the islands ultimate product, a soft and fruity white wine that must be served very cold. The citrus notes scream for a little spice on the palate, if not, seafood. This bottle was extremely pleasing, seamless, bright, dry, crisp with truly balanced acidity. Personally, this was the best Vermentino I had sampled in my lifetime.

2016 Maison Belle Claire Rose.  This mixture of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault stole my heart. Its crisp acidity and light, dry citrus notes create a complex, dry Rose that is both rich and fresh on the palate. We first sampled Maison Belle Claire as an aperitif, then put it in its rotation after the Vermentino. The wine is stunning-it’s the talk of the Hamptons and the world beyond. At well under $20 a bottle, the Rose steal of the summer and beyond is here to stay. Its not a wine to cellar, but, one to drink immediately.

2014 Terigi Toscana Pugnitello. The Sangiovese grape is what Tuscany is known for. Think Chianti. Add a specific indigenous grape, Pugnitello to the blend and, in this case, you create a special red wine that is terroir specific. It’s a big wine meant to pair with beef, lamb and cured meats. The plump tannins cut the fat, while the acidity helps to balance this monster of a wine. The dark hue from the pugnitello grape adds distinction to this rich, bold wine. (under $25)

The tasting has ended and four, quarter bottles of wine are waiting for our mailman to retrieve.
I wonder what his thoughts will be???

To learn more about these wines and others, visit:

Philip S. Kampe

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Time To Get To Know Gascony's Treasure: Armagnac by Philip S. Kampe

                                              Gascony’s Treasure: Armagnac

Imagine finding gold and not being able to sell that gold to the world because you are basically cut off from the rest of the world. Well, the Armagnac community from Gers (Gascony), in southwest France, had that same problem many years ago. Their problem arose, like the gold, from an area that had been cut off from the outside world in such a way that the Armagnac that was produced by well over two hundred, independent distillers had little means of getting their product to the world. There were and are no airports, oceans or large rivers nearby (inland, the Garonne is the closest), no super highways or large train stations that run through Gascony.

For years, Armagnac has the best kept secret of France, while Cognac, with its large houses, such as Remey Martin, Martell, Hennessey and others have provided the access for the worldwide growth and recognition that Armagnac lacks.

The cognac area has airports, large train station and super highways nearby. Cognac is north of Bordeaux and Armagnac is south. They really aren’t too far from each other, but, far enough to make one area, Cognac, overly successful and the other, Armagnac, vying, finally for worldwide attention.

Much of Armagnac’s newly found success must be contributed to the Armagnac Academy, an educational group that travels the world promoting Armagnac. 

I am a recent graduate of the Armagnac Academy and believe in the promotion of Armagnac. I taught my first class about Armagnac and am beginning to suggest to wine shops that they should carry a full range of products from Gascony.

The understanding of Armagnac is quite basic.
The Arabs brought the alembic stills (wood fired copper continuous stills) that produce Armagnac to the world in the 10th century..

The Romans brought the vines.

Armagnac was first developed for its therapeutic qualities-an excuse I use each day when consuming my daily dose. Master Vital Dufour explained in 1310 that ‘the spirit sharpens the mind, preserves youth and delays senility, when taken in moderation.’

In 1410, the Dutch traders exported Armagnac through the port in Bordeaux.
Louis XIV favored Armagnac in Versailles.

In 1441, a treatise described more than 30 medicinal uses of Armagnac. An ‘elixir for life’ recognized medicinal benefits of the wonder drug.

From 1775-1783, Armagnac sold well in the United States because of the war with the British.

By 1818, local Gascon hero, D’Artagnon and the Three Musketeers upheld the rights of Armagnac. Today, Gascons uphold the same spirit of passion and love of life, acknowledging that Armagnac is their DNA.

Today, there are nearly 13,000 acres of grapevines for Armagnac. Only ten varieties of grapes are allowed. The reality, only four grapes account for the overall production.

Armagnac is divided into three specific regions: Bas Armagnac, Tenareze and Haut Armagnac.

Two-thirds of the vineyards are in Bas Armagnac, known for its sandy, loamy soil.
Clay and limestone occupy Tenareze’s demgraphics, where nearly a third of the vines grow.

Haut Armagnac has few vines and produces a very small percentage of Armagnac today.

The four major grape varieties include: Bacco, Folle Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Colombard.

Armaganac spirits are distilled once and are aged at cask strength, about 48% alcohol. Water is not used, like Cognac, to reduce its strength.

Six million bottles of Armagnac are produced a year compared to Cognac’s 180 million bottles. The largest producer of Armagnac produces around 25,000 cases a year, while most of the smaller houses produce 200-300 cases a year.

Single distillation produces a bigger spirit with more weight. Aged in used French oak for up to 25 years, the end result is deeper, richer flavors that are full of depth versus Cognac’s double distillation, added water and smoother finish.

With its 700 year history, Armagnac is France’s oldest eau-du-vie.

VS Armagnac is aged a minimum of 2 years> golden orange in color with a dominate fruit bouquet.

VSOP Armagnac is aged a minimum of 4 years> golden amber in color with candied cooked fruit that dominate the nose.

XO Armagnac is aged a minimum of 6 years> Amber with mahogany highlights and a nose bursting with dried fruit, nuts, figs and prunes.

Hors d’Age is aged a minimum of 10 years> dark chestnut in color with a lengthy spicy finish.

To me, Armagnac is a lot like Scotch Whisky-full of character, complexity and natural flavors that linger on your palate. (Armagnac is normally priced half that of Cognac)

Isn’t it time to sample Armagnac?

                                                      Laubade Vintage 1987
                     Laubade is a fine producer with availability throughout North America
                                                        Laubade XO Armagnac
                                                       Laubade VSOP Armagnac

Philip S. Kampe