Franco Serra is made by the Sperone family who has produced affordable, premium wines for four generations. In 1920, Antonia Sperone opened a small wine shop in Torino where he sold bulk wine directly to consumers. Unsatisfied with price and quality of the local wine, Antonio started his own winery in Puglia where land was inexpensive and produced good wine. He built a bottling facility in Torino and was soon able to offer his customers quality wines at prices everyone can afford. Sadly, it was destroyed when the city was bombed in WWII. The winery in Puglia survived the war and enabled Antonio’s grandson Giacomo to open a new facility near Milan where he produced vermouth, sparkling wines, spirits, and fine wines.

With the help of his sons Paolo and Antonio, the company grew quickly and achieved distribution throughout Italy and expanded into foreign markets. In 1965, the family purchased 75 acres of prime vineyards in Piedmont and built a new winery in Monferrato. Even as the prices fetched for wines from this increasingly fashionable region continue to climb, the Sperone family proudly focuses on value. The Franco Serra line provides everyone with the opportunity to drink thoughtfully crafted, distinctive wines from Italy’s most renowned region.

A Little About Dolcetto: Dolcetto is a black Italian wine grape variety widely grown in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. The Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one”, but it is not certain that the name originally carried any reference to the grape’s sugar levels: it is possible that it derives from the name of the hills where the vine is cultivated. In any case the wines produced are nearly always dry. They can be tannic and fruity with moderate or decidedly low levels of acidity, and are typically meant to be consumed one to two years after release.

Varietal: 100% Dolcetto

Alcohol: 13.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: Ruby red color tending towards purple. The nose is pleasing and distinctive, light floral, red fruit aromas with hints of smoke. Soft with cranberry and raspberry fruit in the mouth with a touch of tobacco. Light to medium bodied with moderate acidity.

Food Pairings: A great food wine. Ideal with meats, vegetables, ravioli and risotto, to name a few.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Layers of flavor here…ripe berries along with earthy mushroom notes. Great to serve with pork or lamb, or anything off the grill. Dolcetto is a unique grape, and I feel this wine really shows you how good it can be! Enjoy!”-JL

March Domestic Wine: 2011 Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, CALIFORNIA

Sebastiani’s first century in Sonoma winemaking began when Samuele (pictured right) emigrated from the Tuscany region of Italy in 1895 and started Sebastiani nine years later. A stonemason by trade, he quarry-mined the Sonoma hills for cobblestones that were used to build the streets of San Francisco. He worked long hours and saved carefully to buy land in Sonoma County, from which he would make wine for the Sonoma community and San Francisco’s restaurants.

About Mark Lyon, Winemaker at Sebastiani: Mark Lyon’s career in winemaking spans over 30 years of distinction and achievement. Mark graduated with a B.S. in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis in 1978 and was hired by Sebastiani Vineyards one year later. In 1985, he was put in charge of harvest at the winery and was instrumental in making the inaugural vintage of Sebastiani’s famed Cherryblock Cabernet Sauvignon. He has since focused exclusively on producing the best quality wines sourced throughout Sonoma County.

In 1980, Mark and his father bought a 122 acre vineyard in Alexander Valley. His hands-on management of the vineyard has allowed him to develop a tremendous knowledge of winegrowing, particularly in Bordeaux varietals. In 2005, Mark was awarded the “Distinguished Alumni Award” by U.C. Davis for his community service and his development of joint research projects with the University. A biannual recognition, the award has been given to such prominent industry leaders as Robert Mondavi and Justin Meyers. Mark has also been named “Winemaker of the Year” by Restaurant Wine Magazine and was included in “Winemakers to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Varietals: 81.7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10.7% Merlot, 4.5% Syrah and 3.1% Mixed Reds

Alcohol: 13.75% by volume

Tasting Notes: The 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet is dark garnet in color with lovely aromatics that range from dried herbs, tea and black cherry to coconut, vanilla and cocoa powder. The flavors are typical of cooler climate Cabernets including black currants, red licorice, earl grey tea and toasty oak. This medium-bodied wine closes with well -rounded tannins and a long lasting finish.

Food Pairings: This wine pairs well with almost anything. Think about bolder flavors and richer foods. Try short ribs, grilled steak, and roasted veal. Enjoy!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “A very rich, dark and concentrated Red wine. Loaded with fruit and a firm dense structure. 2011 was a very tough vintage in California, particularly in Napa and Sonoma, and this wine truly overachieves. Sebastiani screams Cabernet Sauvignon! A big glass of Cab for the money. I picture drinking this wine with a great steak. I hope you enjoy as much as I do! Cheers!”-JL

December Domestic Wine: 2010 Lange Twins Zinfandel, Lodi, CALIFORNIA

For five generations, the Lange family has been growing sustainable winegrapes in the Lodi Appellation, and in 2006 they opened a winery to showcase their passion for growing winegrapes – because great wine starts in the vineyard.

Building on their successes as a vineyard management company, the winery was their first step into crafting wines made solely from their estate vineyards.  Since opening in 2006, they have continued to expand their state-of-the-art winery to keep up with the demand for their Lange Twins wines as well as private labels and custom winemaking services.

Although they have the latest winemaking technology at their fingertips, they never lose sight of the fact that only great wine can be made from great winegrapes.

About the Winemaker: David, a second generation winemaker who graduated from University of California, Davis, is a 25 year veteran winemaker from Robert Mondavi. As Director of Winemaking at Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, he led a team of enologists in creating and evolving their wine style to improve the quality of Woodbridge wines. He helped pioneer winegrower lot processing for direct wine quality feedback, supported barrel aging of premium wines for enhanced quality, and drove stylistic winemaking for hundreds of different wines. His winemaking philosophy stems directly from Robert Mondavi himself, driving continuous improvements while nurturing a respect for both grape and wine.

Varietals: 100% Zinfandel

Alcohol: 14.9% by volume

Tasting Notes: The 2010 Zinfandel has an aroma of bright crushed blackberry and blueberry fruit. On the palate, loads of fresh vibrant blackberries meld with notes of spice and are balanced by a touch of vanilla oak and soft tannins. It is a luscious wine!

Food Pairings: Zinfandel is a great wine for the cold weather months. Pair this wine with richer foods like braised meats or even with heavy cheeses. Zinfandel can also be a great dessert pairing, especially with chocolate and fresh berries.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich, flavorful, and spicy…loaded with flavor. A great wine for this time of year. Enjoy at home, by the fire, with some hearty soup or chili. The wine will warm you up!”-JL

November Domestic Wine: 2012 Bonny Doon ‘A Proper Claret’ Red Blend, CALIFORNIA

Bonny Doon Vineyard is a winery based in the city of Santa Cruz in the central coast of California. It was started by Randall Grahm in 1983. Bonny Doon was amongst the first Californian wineries to embrace Rhone varietals, giving Randall Grahm the nickname “The Rhone Ranger“. The winery is known for its untraditional labels, including illustrations by Ralph Steadman, Bascove, Grady McFerrin, and Gary Taxali. In recent years, the winery has embraced some slightly obscure Italian varieties, screwcaps, and biodynamic production.

History of Claret at Bonny Doon: Some cautionary words: Bonny Doon Vineyard is, as we all know or should know, a strictly cabernet-free zone, at least it has been for the last twenty-eight years. The last “Claret” produced at Bonny Doon Vineyard was in 1985 from grapes grown at their late Estate in the eponymous hamlet of Bonny Doon. It was a blend of approximately equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, and against all expectation, it was actually pretty damn good. Randall Grahm, owner and winemaker, has expressed opprobrium, occasionally bordering on amused disdain, for this popular grape variety. They are not really at liberty to say how Bonny Doon Vineyard has come to be entrusted with the distribution of a wine made from such improbably alien grape varieties, but suffice to say that the deal was doon grudgingly and harumphingly.

Varietals: 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 8% Tannat, 1% Petite Sirah

Alcohol: 13.2% by volume

Tasting Notes: So, with these caveats listed above, the sentiment at Bonny Doon Vineyard is that if you ever were to drink a cabernet-based blend, this would be one that would serve quite well. It is lean, neither overly alcoholic (weighing in at 13%), nor overly extracted; it is precisely as one would imagine ‘A Proper Claret’ to be. The wine contains a substantial dollop of petit verdot (22%), which adds a silky note of violets and textural elegance, in precision counterpoint to the lead-in-the-pencil firmness offered by the inclusion of the manly tannat (8%). There is a lovely suggestion of cedar and mint, in the nose. The wine has medium tannins, nice acidity, and finishes cleanly.

Food Pairings: Proper (British) mutton, proper leg of lamb, (ideally served with proper Yorkshire pudding).

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich and vibrant! Loaded with flavors of hickory, cedar, and smoke. Gorgeous weight on the palate, with a long and elegant finish. The unique blend is a trademark of Bonny Doon. This is a new wine for us at FWS, and I am happy to share it with you. Enjoy!”-JL

November Imported Wine: 2010 Domaine Mireille et Vincent Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Rhone, FRANCE

Located in the municipality of Richerenches, Domaine Mireille et Vincent covers 15 hectares on the left bank of the Rhone . Very famous for its truffles, the town is also known for its wines! The Domaine was founded in 1980s by Bernard Bizard, who before that worked at several other estates. Bizard named the domaine after the couple’s two children, Mireille and Vincent, with the first vintage in 1985.

History of Domaine MIreille et Vincent and  its Relation to the Environment: The average age of vines at the Domaine is 35 years old, making the vineyards almost entirely old vines. These vines will flourish for up to 60 years, and account for over 45% of the vines planted in this area. The old vines of Domaine Mireille et Vincent are planted on hillsides with red clay and are more or less pebbly. These strong vineyards give the wine a powerful aroma. Other vineyards in the Domaine are located on old truffle fields, and enjoy a refreshing Mediterranean climate, including wind from the Alps. All of these environmental factors give character and distinction to the wines of this area, and especially the wines at Domaine Mireille et Vincent.

“We are not organic, but we believe in the environment,” said Bernard Bizard . Bizard implements new practices constantly to allow the grapes to truly shine. The Domaine produces three separate Côtes du Rhône: one white, one red, and a rosé. The white wine is crafted from traditional varieties (Roussanne , Clairette , Marsanne and Viognier) and have a light color with pale gold shades . The red is typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan and is characterized by spicy notes. Lastly, the rosé is a prettier style but has some spice as well.

Varietals: Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan

Alcohol: 14.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: Cool and elegant, pure, and with a lovely scent of berries.

Food Pairings: Pair this wine with a hearty meat dish, ragu, or even a roast. This wine will be great with your Thanksgiving turkey as well.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Extremely flavorful, with notes of Worchester, garlic salt, and onion. A very pretty and delicate style, with beautiful aromatics. The vintage gives the wine ripeness, but it is not over the top. Enjoy with soups and stews.”-JL

October Domestic Wine: 2010 Viña Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles, CALIFORNIA

Viña Robles crafts wines that represent a stylistic bridge between the Old and New worlds, capturing the finesse associated with European wines, while celebrating the bold natural flavors of their estate vineyards in Paso Robles.

Here, proprietor Hans Nef and managing partner Hans – R. Michel bring their Swiss heritage to California’s Central Coast, where they aim to unite the best of both experiences.

“I want Viña Robles to express a unique balance of European heritage and American opportunity. As individuals, we are rooted in the Old World. As winemakers, we are empowered by the New World. But both worlds bring value to what we do, and we endeavor to capture this distinction in our wines.”-Proprietor Hans Nef

History of Viña Robles in Paso Robles: They first discovered Paso Robles in the early 1980s and became enamored with this emerging wine country. Along golden slopes, where the Pacific coastline unfolds into rugged ranchlands and cowboy ambiance, a new generation of California winemakers was turning Paso Robles into one of the world’s most dynamic winegrowing regions.

In the mid 1990s, they planted their first estate vineyard and established Viña Robles as a family winery specializing in varieties that excel in the region’s diverse terroir. The vision for Viña Robles is summed up by their motto: European Inspiration – California Character.

Varietals: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Petit Verdot

Alcohol: 14.1% by volume

Tasting Notes: “The fruit for our 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was selected from four of our estate vineyards in Paso Robles. It was handpicked at night in small lots to ensure perfect quality and ripeness. Afterwards, the fruit was destemmed and gently crushed into temperature controlled stainless steel tanks. Pump-overs took place regularly to enhance color and help extract tannins from the skin. After pressing, the wine was racked into barrels to complete malolactic fermentation and aging. Before bottling, we blended in 19% Petit Verdot from our Huerhuero and Adelaida Springs vineyards to round out the blend. The Petit Verdot enhances mouthfeel and structure.”-vinarobles.com

Food Pairings: The wine pairs well with richer foods. A great wine for grilled meats, heavier pasta dishes, and barbeque. Also a great match with salty cheese!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Rich and deep, with a lavish style. Layers of flavor and complexity here. In perfect harmony of red and blue fruit here. The wine has great intensity and a supple soft finish. Flavors of cassis, raspberry, and cedar are all intermingled. I love it!”-JL

October Imported Wine: 2011 Godelia ‘Viernes’ Mencia Tinto, Bierzo, SPAIN

Godelia is a relatively young project, at least in its present form. Its wines come from a combination of very old mountain vines and maturing vines from the hill-slopes in the centre of the valley. About 30 of the 50 hectares which go into production of Godelia were planted in 1989 by a former owner, who traded under a different brand name. Godelia as such came into being when Vicente Garcia Vasquez, the pharmacist of Cacabelos, purchased these holdings in 2009.

The now 20+ year old vines and some 90 year old bush vines in the mountains were entrusted to Joseph Serra Guyillen, a Catalan winemaker brought in from outside specifically to avoid local complacency and to revise inherited bad viticultural habits. His brief –freshness and elegance. His right hand in winemaking is Silvia Marrao.

History of Bierzo and Wine Styles in the Region: About 10% of plantings are the white varieties Godello and Dona Blanca. Historically, these were blended in with the reds to make Clarete–fruity, light reds with around a quarter white grapes. These were the typical local wines for a long while–not just here in el Bierzo, but in Ribera del Duero and Rioja too. Like much of Galicia, the wine tale of el Bierzo is one of great loss in recent times. Starting with the onset of phylloxera in the late 19th century, which eradicated 2000 years of continuous vine culture and accretion of knowledge, this loss continued during the 20th century due to the twin barbarisms of the post-civil-war dictatorship and twentieth century chemical-industrial agriculture. Agriculture was shifted down into the fertile river valley and only a remnant of hill-slope and mountain holdings were left planted to vine. Planting virtually ceased between 1950 and 1985 and the region’s population hollowed out with people moving into mining, industry and the cities.

Like Alfredo at Pittacum and Ricardo at DJP (and Telmo and Pablo in other regions), Vicente and Joseph are keenly aware that good viticulture and lovely resultant wines requires a significant investment in untying the 20th century and going back before phylloxera… a deliberate exercise in cultural re-discovery and preservation. Currently, this takes the form of getting the nursery out of the vineyards. Godelia’s 20-odd year-old plantings at Castro and Legúas were planted to ‘clones’ –generic material from the nurseries, and favouring high crop over quality. Josep is grafting these over with quality genetic material selected and transplanted from their best old vines. High up on the slate vineyard of Sobrado and the quartz at 900m of San Pedro de Olleros, are authentic local cultivars which give low yields of sweet-tannined fruit from small grapes in open-habit bunches.

The name, Godelia, is Vicente’s invention –intended to allude to a fresh and feminine Bierzo, it is a made up contraction of Godello and Lias (lees).

Varietals: 100% Mencia        

Alcohol: 13.5% by volume

Tasting Notes: Meaty and plush, the fruit is all wild cherry and blackberry, a dark red fruit confiture with a lovely wild sense –wild hedge and crushed velvet spiciness, earth, bramble, anise and choc-tannins. On the palate, cold rock and dry mineral gives a deep sense of earthiness, which informs the granular tannins and carries lots of scrubby, caney, dried hedge and herb border botanicals through a raspberry-licorice fruit line. ‘Viernes’ by the way is Friday in Spanish and Godelia’s intention is thatthis thing says ‘party time’! I hear it…

Food Pairings: This Mencia could pair with lighter red meats, chicken, and shellfish, especially when cooked with wine or served with a tomato sauce.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “A wine that is rich and flavorful. Full throttle in flavor and loaded with fruit…a wine that has a perfect balance and great backbone of acidity, with a long finish. A great wine for this season, I think you will enjoy with or without food. Cheers!”-JL

September Imported Wine: 2011 Luberri 'Orlegi' Tempranillo, Rioja, SPAIN

Owned by Florentino Martinez Monje, Luberri is located in Elciego in the heart of Rioja Alavesa. Florentino farms 35 hectars of old vines located principally between the villages of Elciego and La Guardia.

A farmer at heart, Florentino was the original winemaker at Artadi before establishing his own winery in 1992. Florentino is hands-on at the winery, working on all aspects of production, but his true love is working in the vineyards. All the plots are farmed with minimal treatment of the soils and vines. Vineyard sites are separately fermented and vinified. By keeping yields low Florentino extracts grapes with great concentration and flavor. Yields are around 34 to 45 hectoliters per hectars.

History of Tempranillo and its Relation to Luberri: Tempranillo is a variety of black grape widely grown to make full-bodied red wines in its native Spain. Its name is the diminutive of the Spanish temprano (“early”), a reference to the fact that it ripens several weeks earlier than most Spanish red grapes. Tempranillo has been grown on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of Phoenician settlements. It is the main grape used in Rioja (Luberri), and is often referred to as Spain’s most noble grape.

Grown early in the 20th century to produce jug wines in California, toward the end of the 20th century Tempranillo enjoyed a renaissance there and throughout the world as a fine wine. The grape has been planted in Mexico, New Zealand, South America, USA, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, Turkey, Canada, etc.  The grape is often blended with Grenache and Cariñena (known in Rioja as Mazuelo), Tempranillo is bottled either young or after several years of barrel aging. The grape often grows best at higher altitudes, giving the wine a ruby color, with aromas and flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, leather, and herb.

Varietals: 100% Tempranillo

Alcohol: 13.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: “Vivid red. Floral- and spice-accented aromas of red fruits, rose and minerals; smells like a Dujac wine. Seductively perfumed in the mouth, with juicy raspberry and floral pastille flavors dominating. Shows impressive clarity and spiciness on the long, sweet finish. This is extremely easy to drink. “-90 Points, International Wine Cellar

Food Pairings: This Tempranillo is the perfect pairing with lasagna, pasta Bolognese, hearty meat dishes, or Mexican cuisine.

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “This is an iconic area of Spain. I love Rioja! The Tempranillo truly shines here. Flavors are dry and savory, with nutty components as well. Loads of cedar and tobacco too. The wine is long and concentrated on the palate as well, with layers of complexity. This wine screams ‘RIOJA!’”-JL

 

August Imported Wine: The Gatekeeper Shiraz, McLaren Vale, AUSTRALIA

Simon Hackett, the man behind this wine, grew up in an atmosphere steeped in wine, spending his boyhood in the Barossa Valley alongside his father, who was General Manager and a Director of the giant Barossa Valley Distillery. The family home was situated next to the sprawling Saltram Winery outside Angaston. Given this environment, it was not surprising that Simon, at the age of eighteen, elected to follow a career in winemaking and joined the team at the neighboring Saltram Winery. In 1984, Simon decided to concentrate fully on establishing his own boutique winery situated in McLaren Vale.

History of Shiraz and its Relation to The Gatekeeper: McLaren Vale is a wine region approximately 35 km south of Adelaide in South Australia. Grapes were first planted in the region in 1838 and some vines more than 100 years old are still producing. Today there are more than 88 cellar doors in McLaren Vale, including The Gatekeeper. The majority are small family-run operations and boutique wineries. McLaren Vale has a Mediterranean climate with four clear seasons. With a dry warm summer, the area has dry weather from December through to March or April, giving an easy change between summer and winter. It is gentle with long warm days and short cool nights. Winter rains of 580-700 mm per annum flow into a fresh spring. The region rarely experiences frost or drought due to its close proximity to the sea. The McLaren district has many different soil types and this contributes to the wines from the area having different terroir. The vineyards are planted on soils including fertile red-brown earths, terra rossa, rendzina, soft sands and dark cracking clays.

Varietals: 100% Shiraz

Alcohol: 14.0% by volume

Tasting Notes: Balanced and bursting with lush fruit, this is a thoroughly delicious Shiraz. The grapes were sourced from the McLaren Vale and the Riverlands and then carefully aged in oak for 6 months — breaking the over-oaked Australian mold a bit… in a very, very good way.

Food Pairings: Barbecued foods with a smoky char pair nicely with Shiraz, as do lamb, venison and game birds. Enjoy before the summer ends!

Jim Lutfy’s thoughts: “Loaded with layers of concentrated fruit, cherries, cassis, blackberry, and blueberry. Red and black fruits intermingle in this glass. A great combination with BBQ!”-JL

July Domestic Wine: 2010 Bonny Doon Vineyard ‘Contra’ Old Vine Field Blend, Contra Costa County, CALIFORNIA

Contra is a wine that reflects the opposite of modern winemaking sensibilities, meaning wines overworked and amped up, pushed and prodded into Procrustean palate-numbing sameness. À rebours, this wine is a contrarian blend of the most old-fangled grape variety, carignane, from several extremely old (100 year+), nongrafted, dry-farmed head-trained vineyards, located in Contra Costa County, and the puer aeternus syrah, young, vibrant, racy and peppery. Contra is a somewhat contradictory flashblack/forward to the straightforward, frank wines of yester- and future-year. A field blend that contravenes contraindicated convention, with aromas of cherries and licorice, flavorful cassis, blackberries, and silky tannins. A wine (hardly) contraindicated for gastronomy, it is above all, contrapuntal.

Ideology of Bonny Doon Vineyard: Dedicated to producing wines in a more unaffected, hands-off style, with a particular emphasis on the expression of terroir, or unique sense of place, Bonny Doon Vineyard fashioned the 2010 Contra from hand harvested grapes from the Central Coast — from the northernmost reaches of old vines from Contra Costa County’s Del Barba and Evangelho Vineyards, and its more Southern climes, Arroyo Seco’s Ventana vineyard, San Luis Obispo’s Alamo Creek vineyard, Monterey’s Rancho Solo vineyard, and Santa Maria Valley’s famed Bien Nacido Vineyard. Hand sorted, indigenous yeast fermented in individual lots, extended maceration and 100% ML, before blending to achieve to a wine that is bursting with life, exuberance and deep vitality.

Varietals: 68% Carignane and 32% Syrah

Alcohol: 13.7% by volume

Tasting Notes: The 2010 Contra marries the fresh blackberry and cranberry aromas of old vine Carignane with the classic old vine Syrah, bringing notes of licorice and leather. This vintage provided a bright acidity with black cherry, blackberry, and a mix of spice on the palate. The silky tannins provide this wine with a texture to savor.

Food Pairings: This wine pairs well with grilled meats and good BBQ!