Prior to starting Novovino Wine Company, Robert was a wine consultant at one of the finest wine shops in Munich, Germany named Feinkost Kafer. He built the original wine program at Park Hyatt's Nomi Restaurant, here in Chicago, which is where I first met him. I remember when he told me he was leaving the floor to start his own distribution company and I was absolutely thrilled for him. The beauty of Robert’s portfolio is that it reads like a wine list and his selections very much reflect a sommelier’s perspective: wines that you’ve discovered and can’t wait to share with your customers. Robert often visits wine regions to seek out what’s new and interesting. He has somehow developed a knack for sweet talking wineries with already precious case productions into allocating a few cases for him to bring to the Chicago market. Needless to say there’s a sommelier camaraderie at work here and I look forward to featuring Robert’s selections at The Boarding House.
I recently visited Robert and his associate, Jillian Dowd, at their offices where we tasted through an extensive array of wines, including an interesting assortment from Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. Here are my notes:
NV La Maison du Cremant Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc, Burgundy -- More than a century of knowledge and experience has made La Maison du Cremant one of the leading producers of Cremant de Bourgogne. Vincent Sauvestre (Chartron et Trebuchet and Domaine Vincent Sauvestre) took over running of the company in 2003. Made from a blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Pale gold color. Crisp and clean on the palate with notes of honeysuckle and toast, good value. Moderate + acidity.
NV La Maison du Cremant Cremant de Bourgogne Rose, Burgundy – 100% Pinot Noir. Pale rose pink. Aromas and flavors of raspberries, strawberries and slight earthiness comes through. Touch of orange rind, brioche and cassis.
2005 Louis Barthelemy Saphir Champagne -- Founded in 1923 as Baudry Lebrun by Russian Princess Baudry, this Epernay hosue was purchased in 2002 by the Chancel Family (owners of Chateau Val Joanis in the Rhone Valley). The names was changed to Louis Barthelemy. The family produces five different cuvees, each named after a precious stone. 96% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Noir. Saphir means “Most gorgeous thing” in ancient Greek. Very youthful style, notes of jasmine, stone fruits and toffee. Moderate + acidity, tart green apple and lemon zest, very fresh and youthful.
NV Louis Barthelemy Rubis Brut Rose Champagne – Blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir (sourced from Grand Cru vineyards in Bouzy). Aged on the lees for 3 years. Brilliant rose color. Aromas of strawberry, watermelon and juicy red fruits. Fresh and vibrant on the palate with flavors of tart red apples.
NV R.H. Coutier Tradition Grand Cru Champagne – Champagne R.H. Coutier has been in the grand cru village of Ambonnay since 1619. In 1946, Rene Coutier’s father became the first to plant Chardonnay in a village that has become well know for its Pinot Noir. Blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. iPale straw color. Aromas of lemon & lime, crisp green apple, slight toast. Crisp and lemony on the palate with laser crisp acidity & toasty richness.
NV Agrapart Blanc de Blancs Les Crus 7 – Located in Avize, Agrapart was founded in 1894 by Arthur Agrapart. The fourth generation of Agraparts – Pascal and his brother Fabrice – took over in 1984 and now control every aspect of their 10-hectare estate by emphasizing natural viticulture and the expression of terroir. The Agraparts’ vineyards are spread over 62 parcels, the majority of which lie in the grand cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oiry and Oger. The 7 Crus is made from a blend of vineyards in Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay Val d’Or, Bergeres les Vertus and Mardeuil, which translates int0 70% Grand Cru and 30% Premier Cru fruit. Straw gold color. Notes of green apples, lemon zest, roasted hazelnuts and minerals. On the palate, the flavors are somewhat like charcuterie (mortadella & salumi) with a salty mineral component. Refreshing green apple acidity.
2011 St Urbans-Hof Urban Riesling -- St. Urbans-Hof is named after the patron saint of German winemakers, St. Urban, and Hof (the German word for estate). Located on a hill in Leiwen, it was founded in 1947 by Nik Weis’ grandfather. Fruit was purchased from growers in Mehring where Weis is now a landholder through his wife’s family. Pale straw color with green hues. Off-dry on the palate, green apple, honeysuckle & tropical fruits. Quaffable and juicy with high acidity.
2011 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling QbA – pale straw color with green hues. Roasted pineapples, citrus oil, and smoke. Fresh and well balanced with off-dry sweetenss and additional flavors of apricots and wet stone.
2011 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Kabinett – 9.5% alcohol and much richer than you would expect from a Kabinett. 38% Residual sugar. Straw color. Powerful aromas of peach, ripe apple, cream, spice and an underlying toasted caramel note. Sweet on the palate with moderate+acidity, rich and lush texture with notes of smoked peaches.
2011 St. Urbans-Hof Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Spatlese – Pale gold color. High toned aromas of white flowers, petrol, green apple, lime and peaches. Richly lextured and luscious on the palate. Sweet with moderate+acidity.
2011 St. Urbans-Hof Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese – Pale gold color. Tropical fruit bomb in the nose with pineapples, mangoes and passion fruit. Rich & luscious on the palate with vibrant acidity, unctuous and sweet but still juicy.
2009 Cave Spring Cellars Chenin Blanc, VQA Niagra Peninsula -- I visited this winery a couple of years ago on a trip to the Niagra wine region and I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of wines from them, especially the Rieslings. More than three decased ago, the Pennachetti family helped to pioneer the cultivation of noble European varietals on the Niagara Peninsula with the planting of their first Riesling and Chardonnay vines at the Cave Spring Vineyard. Overlooking Lake Ontario, the Beamsville Bench has proven ideal for cool-climate viticulture. The Chenin Blanc originates from a single 1 ha block of 7 year old vines at Cave Spring Vineyard. Pale gold color. Aromas of mango nectar, passion fruit, crushed minerals and pineapple juice. Off-dry on the palate with a limey mineral component. Excellent pairing for Asian dishes – especially with sweet/sour components.
2011 Brunn Gruner Veltliner, Kamptal -- Weingut Brunn is a small family owned and run winery in the Kamptal region, situated north of the Danube. This is packaged in 1 liters. Pale straw color with green hues. Notes of green apples, white pepper, stone fruits and minerals. Varietally correct Gruner Veltliner in terms of flavor. Light-bodied, crisp with moderate + acidity.
2011 Anne Amie Cuvee A Amrita Oregon -- Anne Amie is the baby of Robert Pamplin, Philanthropist, Author, Minister, Environmentalist, Educator, and much more. He purchased Chateau Benoit in 1999 in Willamette Valley and hired winemaker Thomas Houseman. They kept one vineyard with Muller Thurgau, and pretty much replanted, grafted and generally changed everything else. Anne Amie would, appropriately, focus on the 3 Pinots. L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe practices were instituted, and Anne Amie was eventually certified. The Amrita is made from a melanges of white grapes (Riesling, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Roussanne, Marsanne, Pinot Auxerrois and Vermentino). Straw color. Aromas of juicy fruit gum, peaches and apricots. Light bodied and crisp on the palate but finishes dry. Another good match for Asian food.
2011 Kozlovic Malvazija Istra, Croatia -- Istra is the most northern and the largest peninsula on the Croatian Adriatic, bordering Friuli region of Italy. Kozlović family has been making wine in Istra since 1904 and currently has 17 hectares of vineyards, planted 60% with Malvazija grape, 20% Muškat and the rest is Teran, Pinot Noir and few other varietals. Most of the vines are over 40 years old and sustainable viticulture is practiced in their vineyards. Pale gold color. Aromas of tropical fruits, pineapples, white flowers. Crisp, fresh, dry on the palate and easy to drink with pear fruit notes.
2010 Crna Posip, Korkula-Croatia -- Pošip is a white wine grape that is primarily grown in the Dalmatian region of Croatia on the island of Korčula. The island of Korcula is Dalmatia’s most populous island and is the historic birthplace of the explorer Marco Polo. Pale gold color. Aromas of yellow apple skin, pineapples and spinach. There’s an interesting green, leafy quality to the flavor. Moderate plus acidity.
2010 Pullus Pinot Grigio, Slovenia -- The producer of Pullus, Ptujska Klet is the oldest winery in Slovenia, its underground cellars dating back to 1239. Since Slovenian independence in 1991, the winery has adapted modern practices of international winemaking and now produces premium wines from grapes that are harvested from the terraced vineyards around Ptuj. This Pinot Grigio underwent ML, lees aging and 10% barrique maturation. Deep Sauternes like gold color. Very ripe in the nose with aromas of peaches, apricots, honey and white flowers. Dry, crisp and vibrant on the palate with a medium rich texture that reminds on more of Friulian Pinot Grigio from across the border.
2008 Pullus Traminer G, Slovenia – Gold color. Fully aromatic tropical nose of pineapples, apricots and honey. Crisp yellow apples on the palate with a fresh and vibrant finish.
2011 Szőke Mátyás, Irsai Oliver, Matra, Hungary -- The Matra wine region, marked by the Matra mountain range, is located approximately 80 km from Budapest and is next to the famous Eger wine region. Mátra is Hungary's second largest wine region and the country's largest exporter of Hungarian wine with approximately 40% of total exports. Szoke Matyas set up his family-owned winery in 1990 in Gyongyostarjan about five kilometers northwest of Gyongyos. The former machinery designer researched market trends and has built his name on fruit forward style reds and whites. In Budapest alone, his wines are served in over 100 restaurants. Irsai Oliver is a Eastern European cross of Pozsony and Pearl of Csaba and is strongly reminiscent of Muscat. It was originally developed as a table grape. Aromas of eucalyptus, geraniums, orange rind and white flowers – like drinking a dry muscat.
2011 Coca I Fito, Jaspi Blanc, Terra Alta, Spain -- The Coca i Fitó brothers (Toni and Miquel) come from a family of farmers from the Alt Penedès, literally growing up in vineyards. They started creating their own singular wines in 2006. Terra Alta – Spanish for “high land” – is the highest DO wine zones in the Spanish Catalonia. As in Tarragona to the east, winemakers are paying serious attention to the formerly maligned Garnacha Blanca grapes. The Jaspi Blanc is made from a blend of 70% Garnacha Blanc and 30% Macabeo. Pale straw color, aromas of white flowers, crushed minerals, green apples and savory herbs. Moderate + acidity, crisp green apples, lemony and vibrant.
2010 Weingut Garlider Sylvaner, Sudtirol, Italy -- Azienda Agricola Garlider is a husband & wife organic farmstead located in a tiny alpine village nestled in the northerly reaches of the Isarco valley, in the bilingual Alto-Adige / South-Tyrol region of Italy. Christian and his father Alois had been selling the estate-grown grapes to the local cooperative cellar for many years before making the decision to vinify the crop on their own in the year 2000. Pale straw color. Fresh and clean in the nose with aromas of green herbs, lime zest and minerals. Vibrant and crisp on the palate with additional bright lemon notes. Would be a nice pairing for a savory turnover.
2011 Peirson Meyer Sauvignon Blanc Ryan's Vineyard, Napa Valley – From the creators of L’Angevin comes this companion label. Winemaker spent five vintages at Peter Michael Winery as well as two vintages as winemaker for Lewis Cellars. For 20 years, Alan Peirson was designing, building and managing what is now the Peter Michael Winery Estate. Aged in Chardonnay barrels. Aromas of Pina Colada with a nutty pineapple, coconut component. Moderate acidity, creamy lush texture.
2009 Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa – Ataraxia was founded in 2004 by husband and wife team Kevin and Hanli, in parternship with a few friends. The winery is named after the Greek word for a tranquil state of mind, free from worry or preoccupations. Pale straw color. Aromas of fresh cut grass, green bell peppers, green herbs. Herbaceous, vegetal component with bright moderate+ acidity and a crisp aand clean finish.
2009 Ataraxia Chardonnay, Western Cape, South Africa – Pale gold color. Reminds me of white Burgundy in the nose. Roasted quince, hazelnuts, crushed minerals and lemon curd. Well-balanced oak on the palate with flavors of vanilla and more lemons and crushed minerals. Moderate+acidity.
2010 Eric Kent “Sangiacomo Green Acres Hill” Chardonnay, Sonoma – Kent Humphrey, his wife Coleen and sister Renee are behind this boutique operation. The feature emerging artists’ work on their labels. This wine was aged for 14 months in French oak barrels, which 40% were new. Pale gold color. Aromas of buttered popcorn, baked apples, baking spices and caramel. Ripe apple fruit notes on the palate with moderate acidity along with additional notes of toast and vanilla.
2011 Chateau Routas Rouviere Rose, Provence -– Founded in 1992 by Philippe Bieler, the estate was purchased in 2005 by Scottish entrepreneur Sir David Murray, former Chairman of the Glasgow Rangers Football Club. Day-to-day operations are handled by former Domaine Ott enologist Jean-Louis Bavay and Vineyard Manager Philippe Saraciva. The rose is made from a blend of 55% Cinsault, 23% Syrah, 14% Grenahce and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Pale pink color. Juicy and vibrant on the palate with flavors of red berries. Delicious rose with some texture to it.
2009 Routas “Wild Boar” Cabernet Sauvignon, Provence – Named for the boars that roam the forests of the Routas Estate. Black cherry color. Aromas of green bell peppers, black olives and cassis. Distinct herbaceous note on the palate with moderate tannins and moderate acidity.
2011 Rosa del Golfo Rosato, Salento, Italy -- The Calo Estates were founded two centuries ago in Salento area, where Leopoldo Calo owned a small farm producing grapes and olives. In 1963, Rosa del Golfo developed a rose wine from Salento, which soon established such a high reputation it inspired to the company its name accordingly in 1988. Mino Calo was one of the first producers in the Salento, the ’heel’ of Italy’s boot, to believe in the quality potential of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, and his wines were already showing well in the 1980’s. 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera. Vibrant pink color. Aromas of Frango mint, strawberries and other red berries.
2009 Rosa del Golfo Scaliere, Salento -– In the Salento dialect, Scaliere refers to the person who made the first furrow in a new vineyard. 90% Negroamaro and 10% Aglianico del Vulture. Black plum color with garnet edge. Aromas of raisins, figs, dark plums and animal. Additional funky leathery notes on the palate.
2009 Ayoub Brittan Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills -- After a long and careful search to find the best site possible to plant Pinot Noir, Mohamad “Mo” Ayoub found the land he dreamt about nestled in the Dundee Hills. The volcanic jory soils, south-facing slopes and fertile land made it an easy decision to plant four prized acres of vines in 2001. The Ayoub wines were an absolute revelation for me. Stunning, gorgeous and magnificently delicious Pinot Noir! Black cherry color. Mix of exotic spices in the nose along with lavender and roasted beets. Complexity continues on the moderately concentrated palate with more spices, black cherry liqueur and fresh turned earth. Very well balanced structure with so much going on.
2009 Ayoub Estate Pinot Noir –- Not as concentrated as the Brittan Vineyard and more elegant in nature. Flavor spectrum includes cloves, allspice, licorice, red cherries and vanilla. Beautiful wines!
2008 Demetria Cuvee Constantine, Santa Ynez Valley -– This is the old Andrew Murray property that was purchased by John Zahoudanis in 2005. Blend of 67% Grenache, 27% Mourvedre and 6% Syrah. Black plum color with garnet edge. Aromas of black plums, dried herbs and black pepper. Surprising amount of tannins on the finish as the wine is juicy and silky upfront.
2009 Lindstrom Cabernet Sauvignon, Stag’s Leap District -– Each year, Lindstrom produces a single, estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon from their four acre, hilltop Nicali Vineyard. Celia Welch (Scarecrow, Corra, D.R. Stephens and Staglin Family Vineyard) is the winemaker. Blackberry color. Aromas of dark berries, cassis, violets, spice and vanilla. Well structured on the palate with blueberry fruit flavors. Dense, rich and chewy with moderate+tannins. Reminds me of Shafer Vineyards.
2008 Culler La Palette, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley – After graduating from UC Davis in 1984, Karen Culler started a 6 month internship at Robert Mondavi Winery in their Research Department which turned into two years when Robert Mondavi purchased Vichon Winery. Karen decided to move up the Oakville Grade to Vichon as Assistant Winemaker in 1986 and in 1989, she became Winemaker. Karen decided to keep her roots in Napa Valley started her own label, Culler Wines, with the harvest of 1997. She also consults as winemaker to various other wineries in Napa Valley, such as Wolf Family Vineyards, Ladera, Renteria and Rivera. I am a huge fan of Karen Culler’s wines and have been selling her them since 1995. For me, she can do now wrong. La Palette is her Bordeaux inspired blend. Black plum color. Aromas of black cherries, blueberries, cocoa and vanilla. Additional blue fruits on the palate with cassis, firmly structured but soft and elegant. Simply delicious!