An Afternoon at Brane Cantenac

“We are not lost,” she said. “I know exactly where we are.”

I was on a bicycle in the middle of Margaux. A few of us had stopped for a photo and lost the rest of our group. Marie Helen of Brane Cantenac was my guide, and she assured me we would reconnect. “They are probably headed to Chateau Margaux,” she said. I nodded and gleefully started peddling. A few minutes later, we coasted down the driveway to one of the most recognizable wineries in all the world. I didn’t mind being stranded.

Chateaux Margaux

We unfortunately didn’t taste the famous first growth that day; but soon after we reconvened with our colleagues and continued our rainy but scenic adventure.

In spite of the persistent clouds, we circled through vineyards and made brief stops at about a dozen other chateaux including Palmer, Rauzan Segla, and Lascombes. These are gorgeous, impeccable properties worth a visit, although I might recommend you drive instead.


The changes in weather here are amazing. From sun to clouds to pouring rain, then sun again—mixed with a wide range of temperatures, we saw it all during our three hour journey. One wonders how the vines keep up, but the canes were growing tiny buds, and already a new cycle is underway. It’s all great for grapes, but not for bicycle riding. I will never talk of microclimates or terroir the same way again. Luckily at the end we were treated to lunch and a memorable afternoon at Brane, considered among the best of the Second Growths.

Henri Lurton, third generation owner and star oenologist, met us in the tasting room with a glass of 2015 Margaux de Brane. This was refreshingly approachable. It is made from the youngest vines on the property, and treated with minimal oak to retain the youthful fruit character.

The Brane team then led us through a vertical of the three most recent recent vintages of Baron de Brane and Brane Cantenac. Henri explained the blending and selection process, which happens in January. They sometimes taste 120 different samples, eventually taking the best from each plot and creating the blends for each label. He told us “It isn’t easy to make less of our first wine but these [other labels] are also gems, they’re just different.”

Among what we tasted, the 2015 Baron was a favorite. It’s led by merlot, with flavors of cherry, plum, anisette, and cedar, marked by medium body and supple tannins.  The 2015 Brane was also fantastic, with notes of cassis, black cherry, spice and violets. This blend is driven by a much higher percentage of Cabernet, lending itself to more structure and a lingering grippy finish. It is a rich, almost opulent wine, but retains a surprising balance of tannin and acidity, characteristic for Brane. This was only eclipsed by the new barrel sample of 2016. It is flashy and youthful but impressive, with loads of spice, lush black cherry, minerals, and vanilla, finishing with a burst of racy black currant, graphite and cedar on the long finish. A benchmark for 2016 for sure.

Henri Lurton

Throughout our tasting and lunch, Henri shared his expertise and thoughts about Bordeaux, his rich family history, and his passion for wines from all over the world. His enthusiasm and high standards are impressive. He insists on creating wines that express their terroir and strives to make the best wine possible from its region. We also discussed the exciting 2016 vintage, which many have attributed to extremely lucky circumstances. James Suckling recently lauded the newest offering “The best Brane ever.” When asked about this, Henri smiled humbly and said “The new baby is always considered the best,” but recalled several other successful vintages with pride. In the end we were all taken with the classic 2000, which is long gone from stores, but collectors should be pleased.

My sincere gratitude and best wishes go out to Kimberly at LD Vins and the terrific team at Brane Cantenac for the hospitality.

Unforgettable Day at Brane Cantenac

A Proper Celebration

Jackson Square Rock n Roll Nola, 2016
Jackson Square
Rock n Roll Nola, 2016

Sea Spray“THAT is how you celebrate a marathon,” I said, while strolling leisurely down Tchoupitoulas. I then texted my colleague a picture of the prettiest bubbles I’ve ever seen. My exhausted but proud and inspired description read “It’s like dancing a waltz in a lilac field on a plush carpet of fresh raspberries, while wearing a cape made of lemon custard and vanilla, all by the soft light of ocean breeze and dreamsicle scented candles.”
Sea Spray

This beautiful sparkling wine was the 2012 cleverly titled Sea Spray- a Blanc de Noirs from Sea Smoke. This all pinot stunner from one of California’s elite producers easily ranks among the best sparkling wines I’ve ever had, and for only half the price of a fine Champagne of this caliber.

Treat yourself. Marathon in New Orleans optional.

An Evening with Paulo Scavino

A couple months ago my stepmom asked me to help her find something special for my dad’s sixty-fifth birthday celebration.  We going to have a “once in lifetime” sort of dinner at The Lodge at Torrey Pines in San Diego and we wanted to do something really unique.  After a good amount of research and with a bit of a budget in mind, we decided to surprise Dad with a mini-vertical of Paulo Scavino’s Bric dël Fiasc Barolo.

A colleague who’s been collecting for a couple decades generously sold me an ’88 and ’89 from his cellar.  I packed them very carefully and sent them off in my luggage, with a wave and a furrowed brow.  Several times throughout the flight I worried not for my own life, but for the fate of those priceless bottles.  I imagined myself on the shoreline, with the cast members from Lost, frantic over two bottles of Italian wine.  When I arrived in reality in CA I eagerly found them still snuggled in their stryofoam amongst my t-shirts.  I unpacked them and set them down carefully on my brother’s kitchen counter with strict instructions that sounded something like “Don’t touch these or I’ll kick your @$#%ing ass.”

The next day, observing all speed limits and taking each turn with extreme caution, I drove from Lemon Grove to La Jolla like this:

Buckle up, Paulo!

I arrived at Torrey Pines a little before sunset and took in the view.  La Jolla is without question among my top three favorite places in the world.  Then I very, very gingerly took the bottles from the backseat and walked through the lot.  I fought back the anxiety of dropping one or both of them and tried to apply football’s four points of pressure technique. I made it safely inside and I gleefully handed off the bottles to my curious father.  A round of hugs ensued, followed by a chorus of “I need a glass of wine” and we went into the restaurant.

The Lodge at Torrey Pines is certainly an experience.  We arrived just in time to see the grandeur of the last rays of light shining on the fairway below, with the roaring Pacific just in the distance.  The dining room was smaller than I expected, quaint and even a bit old fashioned, but extremely comfortable.

Our attentive server opened and decanted our Barolos for us while we sipped a superb demi-sec Champagne.  The plan was to save some to accompany dessert.  Yeah, right.  We enjoyed our amuse bouche and ordered extravagantly.  Sweet corn and crab soup for me, followed by an elegant seared duck breast with cous cous.  Incredible! My parents shared something delicious I don’t quite remember and Steve had fish that wasn’t, thankfully, the salmon he almost ordered accidentally.  The food overall was very good, although not wonderfully original or memorable.

The desserts however, were simply spectacular.  To be fair, the pastry chef is the daughter of a friend of my parents, and was responsible for our royal treatment that evening.  But what she sent us for dessert exceeded anyone’s wildest imagination.  I remember figs, and apricots, a custard, and chocolate, and home made sugar plums…. plates and plates of creative gluttony that would put Willy Wonka to shame.  I tasted each blissfully and flirted with both the remainder of the demi-sec and a fantastic 20 year tawny.  If I were to re-visit this restaurant I would simply take in the exquisite dessert course.

Bric dël Fiasc

As for the main event.  The wines were extraordinary, although the ’88 took longer to open up.  Once it did, it showed violet, truffle and hints of rustic raspberry.  It was soft and refined, although not extremely substantial.  The feeling was that while delicious, this wine was teetering on the end of its long, illustrious life.  The ’89, on the other hand, was truly remarkable right out of the gate.  It still possessed all the power of a great Barolo, but had softened and evolved into a beautiful, elegant masterpiece.  It still tasted of ripe, exotic berries, plums, red and purple flowers and something rich and stewy.  1989 was a stellar vintage in Piedmont and this was an eye-opening experience in what a difference a year makes.

We had an amazing evening at Torrey Pines, thanks to good food, great service and incredible (albeit too many) desserts compliments of the lovely Jennifer Costa.  But mostly this night was all about Paulo Scavino… and my pops.

Happy birthday Daddy!

Dinner at Torrey Pines

Field Stone Winery & Vineyard

Estate Petit Sirah
Field Stone

It’s only fitting that my first post is about this wonderful winery in Alexander Valley.   The view of the vineyards and rolling hills is spectacular.  The picnic area is lovely; the tasting room is quaint.  And the people are just amazing.

You see, both my parents work here.  Nepotism aside however, this spot is one you simply have to visit.

Field Stone produces some of the best wines in Sonoma, though you’d never know it from their modest price point.  They make great wines in the tradition of Alexander Valley, like cab, merlot and chard.  They make a snappy sauv blanc for hot afternoons, and a port-style fortified wine for cool evenings.  But winemaker Pat Murray’s best work is on sangiovese, petit sirah and viognier.  Inevitably I will talk about some of these in the future but for now, just believe me when I say every bottle is a homerun.

So book a trip to Healdsburg California and visit Field Stone Winery.  Ask for Tom in the tasting room, and tell him his daughter sent you.  You will not be disappointed.

Here’s their info:

10075 Highway 128

Healdsburg, CA 95448

1-800-54-GRAPE (1-800-544-7273)