Carole Meredith and Steve Lagier don’t pay much attention to the ever-changing fads in Napa Valley, because they simply don’t need to. Speaking with Carole, you are quickly struck by the depth of knowledge and authority with which she speaks, yet all the while in the most comforting and informative ways. This is not just great wine, these are really great people, who have been chasing their dreams for the last thirty years.
Lagier Meredith started as a small project, and what probably seemed like a long shot at the time. In 1986, Carole and Steve bought a piece of Napa Valley land, high up on Mount Veeder; it was a piece of land that it seemed no one else wanted, but what they’ve done with it is amazing.
My first experience with Lagier Meredith was courtesy of one of their loyal customers, of which they have many. I still remember being told that the Syrah was “the closest thing you’ll find to the Northern Rhone without going to the Northern Rhone.” At the end of the tasting, it was a resounding “wow” that was heard from around the table. This wasn’t an overipe California Syrah. Instead it was a towering, dark beauty of a wine, with all the earth, floral and meaty notes, which you’d expect from the Old World–not the new.
Steve, with over thirty years of experience making wine in Napa, and Carole, who was a professor at UC Davis up until 2003, march to the beat of their own drum. With the combined knowledge and experience of these two people, you have one of the best winemaking teams in the valley, and it shows in the wines. What also shows is terroir. At 1300 feet, in shallow, well-draining soils, these vines enjoy cooling ocean breezes, which naturally extend the growing period, while also regulating the ripening process. The result is perfectly ripe fruit of balance and intensity.
What’s more, is that they mature beautifully in the cellar. Having recently tasted the ’01 and ’02, what stood out the most was how young and vibrant they still were. As the 2002 sat in a decanter over the course of hours, it just kept on getting better and better.
I can’t possibly recommend these wines highly enough.
My recent notes on Lagier Meredith Syrah:
2001 Lagier Meredith Syrah – The nose was earthy with a mix of sweet and savory blackberry, plum sauce and spice, hints of rosemary, green olive, crushed stone and undergrowth. It spread across the palate like waves of heavy silk, driven by a saline minerality, offset by ripe dark fruits, peppery spice and charred meat, which lasted into the finish. Dark fruits lingered on the palate for well over a minute. The 2001 Lagier Meredith Syrah is beautifully balanced and firmly in its drinking window, speaking more of the northern Rhone than California. Well done. (92 points)
2002 Lagier Meredith Syrah – The nose showed intense, ripe blackberry and spice up front followed by notes of crushed blueberry, tobacco, green olive, violet florals and hints of animal musk. It was like velvety on the palate, yet fresh and lively throughout, as ripe black fruits and spice flooded the senses with sweet herbs and hints cherry liquor. The finish showed spiced cherry and blackberry fruit with mineral tones lingering long. (93 points)
2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah – The nose was very pretty and floral, showing dark berries and spice with crushed stone, and violets. On the palate, it entered rich and brooding, yet quickly livened up with notes of tart berry and herbs. Notes of pepper and spice with berry concentrate lingered long through the finish. (91 points)
At a recent tasting with Carole, I was surprised to find that it was not the Syrah that came out on top, although it was very good. Instead, it was the Mondeuse. Mondeuse is a cousin variety of Syrah, which Carole had decided to work with some time ago. Production is tiny, with only 97 cases, and there was a part of me that wanted to buy them all. This wine screams of the Northern Rhone, and must be tasted to be believed.
2012 Lagier Meredith Mondeuse Noir – The nose showed masses of ripe black fruits, spiced berry, violette floral tones and a hint of wild herbs. On the palate, it displayed rich textures with saturating dark fruits, citrus and spice. The senses seemed to be coated in sappy black fruit throughout the finish, yet still with a sensation of balance as inner floral tones and spice lingering long. (93 points) @Morrell
Article and tasting notes by: Eric Guido
With the arrival of summer comes the desire for different tastes, lighter fare and less cooking time in the kitchen. For me, it also arouses a desire for tastes of the Mediterranean, of southern Italy and the flavorful versatility of poultry. Olive Chicken takes all of this into account and is an immensely pleasing dish on a number of levels. From the chicken lover that wants to eat right off the bone to the fine dining party where superior flavor and presentation are a must, this dish will deliver the goods. What’s more, it’s a meal you can make for a party of adults, which the kids will enjoy as well.
Olive Chicken is a melding of flavors that truly speaks of the Mediterranean to me. The chicken takes on the flavors of the garlic and bay leaf. The olives soften and sweeten in the pan and mix perfectly with the toasted nutty flavors of the pine nuts. Eat it with knife and fork or just eat it with your hands, but what you must make sure of is that you are ready to supply your guest with seconds – yes, it’s that good.
Now what about sides? A sauté of broccoli rabe and a quick polenta will do the trick by both contrasting and fortifying the flavors of the olive chicken and by creating a canvas of flavors and colors to wow the senses. The best thing about these three items is that you can easily create this entire meal in three pans on your stovetop. All you need is to take the time to prep your ingredients beforehand and to plan each dish around the cooking time of the other two.
When it came time to pick the wine, I decided to go with complements, as opposed to contrasts, and that would be Riesling. There’s something about the crisp citrus and minerality in Riesling that pairs perfectly with olives. Maybe it’s the herbal earthiness and salinity from the olives that complete the perfect taste profile when mixed with the taut focused fruit and lively acidity in Riesling. For this occasion, I choose one of my favorites, Willi Schaefer’s Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett. I strongly urge you to try it, and if you have the chance, it’s perfect with the Olive Chicken.
Olive Chicken with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Polenta
(Make sure to prep and start your sides before the Chicken)
- 4 chicken thighs
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 1 cup Italian olives (I use Bella di Cerignola, olives from Puglia)
- 2/3 cup white wine
- ¼ cup of pine nuts
- 2 Tbls. garlic (smashed or rough chop)
- 2 Tbls. butter
- 1 Tbls. olive oil
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- salt and pepper for seasoning
1. Pit the olives by slicing around the center and then lying flat on your cutting board. With the broad side of your knife against the olive, press down or give a good pat (with your hand) on the knife to separate the olive from the pit. Place the prepared olives on the side.
2. In a sauté pan, melt one tablespoon of butter over low-medium heat. Once the butter has melted and foam has settled, add the pine nuts. Watch closely to assure they do not overcook. Once the bottoms begin to take on a slight color (a toasty smell should begin to rise from the pan), flip the pine nuts and allow them to toast on the second side. When the second side is done, move them from the pan to a paper towel to drain.
3. In a large heavy gauge steel or cast iron pan, add one-tablespoon butter and one-tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Allow all the foam to cook off the butter and stir the mixture until consistent. Season the chicken thighs and drumsticks with salt and pepper and place skin side down into the hot oil mixture. Lower the heat to a low medium and cover. Let the chicken cook for eight – ten minutes.
4. Remove the top from the pan and turn the chicken. Raise the heat back to medium. Add the crushed garlic and bay leaf. Cover the pan again and cook for another ten minutes. (If the skin side of the chicken did not take enough color to your liking, don’t worry; we’ll address that later.*)
5. Remove the cover from the pan. Move the chicken around the pan carefully to assure even color and allow it to cook for another five minutes. Now add the olives and the wine and reduce to a saucy consistency (about 5 more minutes). Lastly, add the pine nuts to the pan to warm them and remove from the stove to plate.
* If you feel that you haven’t achieved the proper color on the chicken, turn your broiler onto high heat and move the chicken (skin side up) onto a sheet pan. Place under the broiler and watch closely to make sure it does not burn. (A minute or two works wonders.) While doing this, keep the pan with the sauce and olives over a very low flame. Once the chicken is browned to your liking, remove it and plate immediately.
For the Sides: Sautéed Broccoli Rabe
- 1 large bunch broccoli rabe (washed with stems trimmed)
- 4 cloves garlic (crush or ruff chop)
- 1 – 2 Tbls. extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have an ice bath and sieve ready on your counter. Place the broccoli rabe into the pot and make sure that all leaves have been submerged under water.
2. Allow this to cook for five minutes. Then pull the broccoli rabe from the pot and place into the ice bath. Allow it to rest submerged for no longer than 2 – 3 minutes, at which time you should place it into the sieve to drain.
3. When your Olive Chicken is about five minutes from being done, place the olive oil and garlic into a sauté pan and bring the heat up to medium. Season the garlic with salt and pepper. Watch closely to assure that the garlic doesn’t take on too much color.
4. Once the garlic has begun to brown slightly, turn the heat up to medium-high and immediately add the broccoli rabe to the pan. Remember that the broccoli rabe is already cooked and this process is to heat it through and impart it with the flavors of the garlic and oil. Flip the broccoli rabe around the pan and make sure to move the garlic from the bottom of the pan and on top of the broccoli rabe.
5. Once heated through (about 2 – 3minutes), turn off the flame and plate.
Much of what you do with the polenta depends on your tastes. Follow the package instructions. I like to buy a rough-cut polenta. For this recipe, substitute half of the recommend amount of water with chicken stock and add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. When it’s near completion, season with salt to taste. To plate, simply place one ladle full right from the pot onto the plate and shake the plate gently until the polenta spreads out evenly. If your timing goes off a bit, you can always refresh the polenta with a little hot water to make sure it stays loose enough to ladle onto the plate.
Article and Original Recipes by Eric Guido
Without a doubt, one of the most exciting wine-producing regions today is Tuscany–or, to be more specific, Chianti Classico. I know that many of us long-time wine collectors would cock an eyebrow after reading this sentence. The fact is that many of us still recall the days of untamable and overly rustic wines which used to fill the shelves of Italian wine retailers. Then there’s also the famous Chianti Fiasco that will always be remembered for adorning the tables of countless pizzerias and often recycled into ornate candle-holders.
The truth is that Chianti Classico is now at the head of the pack in Italy today. Some of you will ask, what about Brunello and Barolo? Of course these two categories are producing world-class wines, with Barolo enjoying a modern day renaissance and Brunello having achieved a level of “branding” that will keep it firmly at the top of the food chain.
However, what Chianti Classico has going for it is that it’s the undiscovered country for “high-quality” Italian wine. Obviously, the region has been producing wine for hundreds of years, but it’s only been in the last two decades that a quality wine revolution has started to take place, and now we are reaping the rewards.
It started as far back as the sixties and seventies, as the parents of many of today’s great wine-makers bought up land in Chianti Classico to use for vacationing and agriculture. Most of them produced wine, but this wasn’t their primary focus. However, as their children grew up surrounded by Tuscan landscapes and with the raw materials for fine wine production under their feet, things began to change.
Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi is a perfect example of this. In 1979, the Manetti family moved full-time to their property in Tuscany. Giovanni was only 16 at the time, but his interest in Tuscan wine was already well established. The family’s holdings, located at the heart of Chianti Classico in the “Conca d’Oro” (the golden shell), placed him in the ideal place to grow high-quality Sangiovese. The Conca d’Oro is a natural amphitheater of hillside vineyards with soils consisting of Galestro (crumbling schistous rock). Here, the high-altitude vineyards mixed with the warm Tuscan sun creates a push and pull of day and night temperatures, which is perfect for achieving depth and ideal ripening.
The catalyst of Fontodi’s fame took place in 1981 with the creation of Flaccianello (a 100% Sangiovese made in an International style). Flaccianello would go on to become one of the top Super Tuscans, and to this day is hunted for by collectors. However, what may end up being remembered as an even bigger move in the company’s history was in 1985 with the creation of the single-vineyard Chianti Classico Riserva, Vigna del Sorbo.
Fontodi was now a force to be reckoned with. The Vigna del Sorbo, which was at the time a blend of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, went on to become a cult classic and one of the greatest values in Chianti. Many producers would have been happy to rest on past laurels, but Giovanni continued to push forward. The first example of this was moving to organic practices (being known for using manure from the family’s own herd of Chianina cattle as fertilizer). What’s more was their avid participation in the Chianti Classico 2000 project (a region-wide movement to identify the best clones for Sangiovese production and replant old vineyards).
Quality continued to rise, as did the scores from professional critics, and hence the popularity and scarcity of Flaccianello and Vigna del Sorbo. Still, Giovanni thought he could push forward. His real passion was for Sangiovese and his belief in the exceptional quality of the Sorbo vineyard. In 2008 Fontodi purchased a second parcel of old-vines for Vigna del Sorbo, and quality soared once again. In order to allow the Sangiovese to shine, he then began to dial back the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and toast levels on his barrels. The release of the 2010 Vigna del Sorbo was a perfect example of Giovanni’s understanding of just how great this wine could be and will always be remembered as the vintage that Vigna del Sorbo was declared, by critics around the world, as Fontodi’s new flagship wine. The new Chianti Classico designation of Gran Selezione, saved for a Chianti producer’s top wine, was given to Vigna del Sorbo.
This summer, we will see the official release of the 2012 Vigna del Sorbo, a wine that is now 100% Sangiovese. Giovanni couldn’t be more proud of what he’s created, and I believe it’s warranted. Having tasted Vigna del Sorbo in many vintages, the uptick in quality is evident. I still remember my first experience with the 1999, a wine that showed its addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, yet did so with such grace while demanding your attention. Now as I taste the ’10, ’11 and ’12, I find myself wondering just how much better this can get. The 2010 is epic, the 2011 is seductive and the 2012 is utterly classic.
As I said, Chianti Classico is one of the most exciting wine-producing regions in the world today, and Fontodi, is one of its crowning jewels.
On to the Tasting Notes:
2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose was rich with depths of red fruits, yet there was a bright and lifting quality to the fruit which added alluring contrasts. Cherry, crushed strawberry, minerals and hints of spice wafted up from the glass. On the palate, I found wild berry fruit with hints of herbs and cedar, as a wave of acidity pulsed across the senses. The finish showed tremendous length along with imposing structure, yet the fruit remained rich, intense and ever-present. The 2012 Fontodi VdS is now 100% Sangiovese, and it has firmly found its place as one of the top wines of the region. (EG 94 points) @Morrell
2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose showed deep, dark red fruit with hints dark soil and pine. On the palate, it was rich with silky textures showing ripe black cherry, espresso, spice and minerals, which coated the palate throughout the finish. It was a more immediate wine than the ’10 and ’12 yet extremely enjoyable all the same. (EG 93 points)
2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo – The nose was a lesson in contrasts, as it was rich yet fresh, intense and yet utterly classic and refined. Notes of dark red fruits, herbs, tobacco, cedar, minerals and undergrowth came together in a gorgeous and haunting expression of Sangiovese. On the palate, I found a mix of cherry and strawberry with cedar giving way to gripping tannin with balancing acidity. Balance is the key here, as this came across as painfully youthful but enjoyable on its potential alone. Incredibly concentrated yet focused fruit lingered long on the finish. (EG 96 points)
2008 Fontodi Chianti Classico Vigna del Sorbo – It’s amazing how much the 2008 Vigna del Sorbo has changed in the last few years. The bouquet seemed to reach up from the glass, delivering dark red fruit with sweet spice, graphite and herbs. On the palate, it was still firm, yet has gained richness and depth as intense dried cherry, cedar, and herbal mint seemed to saturate the senses. It finished with hints of tannin tugging at the palate, while lingering notes of red fruit and spice slowly faded away. This still requires a few years to come together but is already so enjoyable on its potential alone. (EG 94 points) @Morrell
Article and Tasting Notes by: Eric Guido
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