Portland Wine Week Blog
Insider insights and added perspectives on the people, places. . . and (of course), wines, that make Portland Wine Week a can't-miss summer festival! Keep checking back here for new stories.
Chatting with Michael Madrigale
by Stacey Kors
There’s nothing like a glass of champagne to celebrate a special occasion. Or is there? “A champagne may cost $60, but a sparkling wine from the Jura, an area south of Burgundy, costs $20,” says Michael Madrigale. “They're using the same grapes—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir—and the quality is equal.”
In his June 18 tasting seminar, Expensive Wines and Their Designer Imposters, Madrigale, an acclaimed New York sommelier who has built his reputation on democratizing wine, will be pairing wines from well-known regions with those that, while similar in taste, sell at a much lower price point, to challenge the notion that you need to spend money on a famous wine region to get an exceptional product.
“You can say Bordeaux, you can say Burgundy, you can say Napa,” explains Madrigale. “and all these wines have good reputations. But there are, say, 10 times the amount of wines that don't have the reputation but have the great terroir to grow grapes and also have great winemakers—what they don't have is recognition.” The tasting seminar will introduce Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs, and other varietals that “will show that there's much more out there than the established wine regions. It’s something to make you think, and to give you the knowledge that these wines exist and are worth exploring.”
Madrigale is so passionate about promoting lesser-known regions and vineyards that he’s starting a new business around this idea: grandecuveewine.com, a website that will showcase a new wine every day. “Everybody has the opportunity to buy something great,” he says, “and it doesn't have to say Brunello di Montalcino or Sancerre. Sure, we’ll offer wines from those regions, from France and from Italy, but we're also going to have wines from all over the world.
“The real fun part of this business,” he adds, “is finding the stuff that isn’t as known but is much less expensive—for what they cost, the quality is twice. Hopefully this will be a way to get the word out for these certain wines. It’s all about being willing to open your mind and try something new.”
Expensive Wines and Their Designer Imposters will be held on Monday, June 18 from 2-4pm at the Cumberland Club, 116 High Street, Portland.
in the vineyard with channing Daughters
by Stacey Kors
With its fertile soil and maritime breezes, the North Fork of Long Island, New York, has established itself as a top wine-making region on the East Coast. Among the area’s notable wineries is Channing Daughters, which has gained a reputation for its experimental approach to wine-making. “We like to push the envelope of what's possible in our regions, in our vineyards, in our cellar,” says Christopher Tracy, both a partner in, and the winemaker for, Channing Daughters. “We work with over two dozen different grape varieties and make a number of different styles of wine, with the tandem goals of reflection of place and deliciousness.”
Tracy will introduce Channing Daughters’ deliciousness at one of Portland Wine Week’s not-to-be-missed events: an intimate, five-course Library Vintage Dinner with the James Beard Award-winning chefs at Hugo’s on June 19.
Recognized for their reds, Channing Daughters is even better known for their extraordinary and unusual selection of whites—around a dozen varieties every year. “Some are meant to be fresh and delicious, and consumed in their first couple of years of life,” says Tracy, “while others are more complex, richer, and have a much longer life ahead of them—five, eight, 12, even 20 years.” And we’re not just talking about whites and pinks, as they like to refer to them on their website, but also oranges.
“It's an ancient style of making wine,” explains Tracy, “before the advent of technology and modern presses and refrigeration, where white wines were fermented on their skins. That's not such a common occurrence nowadays; more often than not, white grapes are harvested and their juices expressed immediately off their skins. When you ferment them with their skins on, more like a red wine, the wines have more color, they have more tannins, they have more aroma and flavor. it really opens up a wonderful world at the table.”
While Tracy admits that the average wine consumer these days tends to treat white wines less seriously than reds, he’s quick to point out that that hasn’t always been the case. “The pendulum swings back and forth,” he says. “For a long time, white wines were considered superior, by far, way above red wines. If you go back a few hundred years, whites like German Rieslings were sought after more than anything else; now you can't get people to pay more than $20 a bottle for it.” At both the x tasting and y-course, wine-pairing dinner at Hugo’s—Tracy’s favorite Portland restaurant—the winemaker hopes to help swing the pendulum back in the direction of whites.
“We’ll probably be serving an older vintage and something with 10 or so years of bottle age on it, and then a younger vintage as well,” says Tracy. “So that will be an opportunity for people to see what a world we offer in terms of complexity, balance, and age-ability, and how truly wonderful white wines can be.”
Channing Daughters Library Vintage Dinner is on Tuesday, June 19, from 5:30-7:30 at Hugo’s, 88 Middle Street, Portland. Tickets are $150, all-inclusive. www.channingdaughters.com, www.hugos.net
Decoding NaturaL WInes with Ned Swain
by Stacey Kors
What does it mean for a wine to be “natural”? And how is that different from a wine that’s “organic”? These and other questions will be answered at Portland Wine Week’s eye-opening tasting seminar/panel discussion on June 19, What, really, is a “natural” wine?
“There’s still a lot of debate surrounding what makes a wine ‘natural,’ says Ned Swain of Devenish Wines, who was at the forefront of the natural wine movement. “When I say natural wine, I mean wine that's fermented with wild yeast from the skins of the grapes. That's the real dividing line. Some wine makers still add a little bit of sulfur. Some add none. Some use some temperature control. Some don't use any temperature control. there's a lot of different approaches and variations. But the idea is minimal intervention.”
At one point, of course, all wine was produced naturally, simply because there wasn’t another option. “There wasn't temperature control. There weren't color additives,” explains Swain. “Nowadays, you can add all kinds of different colorings. You can add yeast to make more alcohol. You can remove alcohol. You can add water. You can add more of the chemical compounds that are naturally occurring in wine to change the way the wine tastes.”
A great example of this, says Swain, is Beaujolais Nouveau. “Beaujolais Nouveau is generally fermented with a particular variety of yeast that was found on tomatoes, then isolated and bred in a lab. It creates the flavors of candied bananas when it ferments wine. So a lot of Beaujolais Nouveau smells like candied bananas.”
The change in approach came in the mid-20th century, as Europe was rebuilding following World War II. “Governments were pushing to modernize things, and pushing people to use these new techniques, saying things like, ‘Use these new pesticides because they'll allow you to produce more wine. They will boost our industrial output. Make us a richer nation,’ Swain says. “So there was a period where everybody went to technical school and was taught that to make wine you had to spend money on all this high-tech equipment.”
The backlash began about 30 years ago, with pesticides being a driving force. “Different wine makers were saying things like, ‘Spraying these pesticides is destroying my land.’ ‘There aren't birds or insects anymore.’ ‘I'm getting chemical burns on my arms from the pesticides I'm using,’ explains Swain. After learning to successfully grow grapes organically, some winemakers wanted to take it a step further and lose the added enzymes and colorings as well. “They started talking to old farmers who had never gone to school to make wine, but just made wine for themselves, and whose parents had taught them how to make wine. People wanted to recover those old techniques.”
“It's fascinating to me that the natural wine movement was not market-driven,” Swain continues. “It was a grassroots movement, just people saying on their own, ‘I am going to change things,’ and then slowly hearing about other people figuring it out.”
What, really, is a “natural” wine? will be held on Tuesday, June 19 from 1-3 pm at the Cumberland Club, 116 High Street in Portland. Tickets are $35
Flying high at the closing Gala
by Stacey Kors
If you’re tipsy with delight from Portland Wine Week’s myriad offerings—everything from classes and lectures to tastings and food pairings with some of the city’s best restaurants—the spectacular closing gala is sure to leave you flying high! Along with five delectable courses prepared by five of Portland’s most renowned chefs and paired with an exceptional selection of sommelier-chosen wines, the gala dinner, which benefits the Preble Street Teen Center, will feature “cirque” aerial performances that will surely leave your head spinning in the best possible way. In fact, after seeing this beautiful and balletic art form, you may feel compelled to try it yourself.
“The first time I ever saw somebody performing with aerial fabric, I said to myself, I want to do that!” explains Mel McGovern, who teaches and performs aerial work through her Portland-based company Circus Haus. “I just fell in love from the moment I took my first fabric class.” Jessica Hill, who works with the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro, Vermont, had a similar experience. “I saw an aerial trapeze performance at a festival about nine years ago,” she recalls, “and decided I wanted to do that.”
Both women, along with Jessica Jones, an aerialist and acrobat who has performed with companies such as Salto Entertainment, Cirque Dreams, and Celebrity Cruises, will present a spellbinding sampling of aerial arts to gala-goers, including fabric, rope (also called “corde lisse”), and hoop work (also called “lyra”). “It’s really fun to perform at galas,” says Hill, “because the people watching are usually not that familiar with circus—so they tend to be really excited about it and don’t know what to expect. It’s great to talk to the audience after and see what they thought about it.”
While these amazing aerialists won’t be able to partake in the wonderful wines being featured at the gala—“no wine tasting before I perform!” jokes Hill—they do enjoy sipping a glass during their “down” time. “I like dry red wines,” Hill says. “My favorite at the moment is Tempranillo.” McGovern also gravitates towards dry reds. “I often go for Malbec, Cabernet, or Tempranillo,” she says. After all that gasp-inducing work in mid-air, who can blame them for choosing earthy wines?
Portland Wine Week’s gala wine dinner will be held on Sunday, June 24, from 4:00-7:00 PM at O'Maine Studios, 54 Danforth Street, Portland. Tickets are $150, all-inclusive, with proceeds to benefit the Preble Street Teen Center.