Vino Travels celebrates 6 years of blogging about Italian wine

When the reminder popped up on my computer that it had been 6 years that I start blogging about wine I couldn’t believe how fast time has gone.  As I’ve mentioned in the past I started a wine blog to encourage myself to read, research and learn as much as I can due to my love and passion for Italy and wine, especially Italian wine.  I will never claim myself as an expert as I’m far from it, but this is my own personal journey and I’m very thankful to my readers for joining me along for the ride.   
In trying to think about what wine I wanted to feature for such a special occasion it’s hard to just pick one bottle.  There are wines that I brought back from my travels from Italy over the years that I’m aging in my basement.  The question is what am I waiting for.  Life is too short, but for special bottles I do like to take a moment to sit and savor the sips and with 2 little munchkins running around my house that’s not always the easiest to do. 
I decided to enjoy a 2008 Secretum Brunello di Montalcino DOCG that I must have brought back from Italy some years ago.  I’m not sure why I had picked this particular bottle and if my memory serves me correct I was in a wine shop in Montalcino and chose this bottle to take home and try.  Unfortunately, after countless efforts online I couldn’t dig up any information about the winery, which is what I love to tell most of to my readers. 
So why did I pick this particular wine?  Well, I fight with the question of what is my favorite Italian grape and it’s impossible to pick just one.  I always seem to lean towards sangiovese in its many styles whether it’s chianti classico, vino nobile di montepulciano, brunello di montalcino or from southern Tuscany in the Bolgheri wine region where it’s blended with international grapes.  There are also great sangiovese wines from Emilia Romagna known as Sangiovese di Romagna that you don’t see too much of, but are definitely something to try. 
The 2008 Secretum Brunello di Montalcino DOCG was deep garnet in color with a hint of orange on the rim (typically comes with age).  On the nose were beautiful ripe cherries, almost with a hint of cherry chapstick to it with some notes of licorice at the end.  Classic sangiovese cherry notes on the palate with nice acidity and moderate to firm tannins.  The wine needed a little time to open up as initially the tannins overpowered the fruit.  A good lengthy finish with notes of vanilla at the end.  Overall an enjoyable brunello with a smile on my face as I look back at how far I’ve come with a long road ahead.   
2008 Secretum Brunello di Montalcino

Please drop me notes or leave comments as I love to hear from my readers and it doesn’t happen all too often.  I love all sorts of feedback and comments and for those that participated in my survey earlier this year I greatly appreciate the feedback so I can bring you more of what you’d like to read.    

 


Restaurant Talk: At College Restaurants, Students Run the Show (Wine Spectator)

Class is in session—until midnight. That might sound like drudgery, but it’s all part of the lesson plan for hospitality students eager to gain experience in real restaurant settings—the elite somms and ace chefs of the next generation.

At many universities, the future tastemakers enrolled in hospitality and culinary programs don’t even need to leave campus to get this experience. Situated among lecture rooms, dorms and dining halls are a handful of Wine Spectator Restaurant Award winners, where the impressive wine service is largely student-run. These restaurants serve as an additional classroom for students, and the coursework ranges from hosting, wine service, inventory management and bartending to overseeing a floor or kitchen team of their peers; students receive internship or course credit.

Three of the best such restaurants are Michigan State University’s the State Room, in East Lansing, Mich., the Dining Room at the Nittany Lion Inn at Pennsylvania State in State College, Pa., and Bistro Perrier at Walnut Hill College (formerly known as the Restaurant School) in Philadelphia. Editorial assistant Brianne Garrett spoke to the State Room operations manager Marianne Bacon, Walnut Hill wine director and instructor Philippe McCartney and Dining Room at the Nittany Lion Inn operations manager and wine director Sean Caviston about treating students like regular employees, how to get over the nerves of opening your first $300 bottle of wine tableside, and the satisfaction of watching young alums go on to make it big in the restaurant world.

Courtesy of Walnut Hill College

Walnut Hill has a number of different types of restaurants that function as hospitality classrooms; Bistro Perrier, Italian Trattoria, American Heartland and the Pastry Shop are a few.


Wine Spectator: How do you go about “hiring” students and determining which roles they will carry out?

Philippe McCartney (Walnut Hill): In the restaurant itself, students take different positions—servers, occasionally sommeliers; we have students act as bartenders and hosts and hostesses, so they fill all of the positions. It’s the student leaders who are designated by the faculty as being superior, having a good grade point average and things like that, [who are] allowed to work more in the supervisor role.

Sean Caviston (Penn State): I have [students] for an entire semester and try to get them up to speed on the whole world of wine. It’s pretty fast and they’re usually with us anywhere between 20 to 22 hours a week, three shifts a week. In regards to the supervisor positions, I’m taking someone that I’m developing to be a future leader directly in the restaurant industry.

Marianne Bacon (MSU): Student team members apply online for entry-level positions in the State Room through MSU’s standard application and interview process—same as any regular employee. We feel applying and interviewing for jobs is valuable experience that will benefit the student as they begin to apply for real-world jobs.

[After basic training,] they shadow a full-time manager for a period of three to four weeks, learning open and closing duties, report processing, beverage inventory and team leading. Once fully trained, the student supervisor acts as the manager on duty to make sure we meet our standard of excellence with every guest.


WS: How do you train students on wine service, specifically?

SC (Penn State): [The wine-training process] begins really fundamentally. The very first thing is the etiquette of properly opening a bottle of wine, tableside. We spend the first couple of weeks doing that, because some people don’t really know how to serve—I mean, they’re young, they’re 21, and probably haven’t had a lot of exposure to wine drinking. From there, we always begin with where wine grows, what grapes are. I’m more about demystifying wine and making it approachable rather than making it about having all this tremendous knowledge. And then we work in the deductive tasting.

One of the simplest deductive tastings I can do with [students] is taking a Chablis, an American Chardonnay from Napa Valley and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. One is intense and zesty and aromatic, the New Zealand; Chablis might be a little stony; and then the American Chardonnay is oaky and aromatic and round and voluptuous, right? That’s the most fun day, when they have that “aha” moment. That’s when they’re like, “Wow, not all [wines] are the same.”

MB (MSU): Servers are trained in proper wine presentation, and practice opening bottles and serving teammates at pre-shift meetings. Many find it daunting at first, but through practice our servers grow confidence. The State Room carries over 700 offerings, so we do not make our servers memorize our list. We place emphasis on participation by asking questions and offering verbal descriptions so that our students may feel confident when speaking with guests about wine. They can mispronounce “Châteauneuf-du-Pape” at pre-shift and not be embarrassed because they know we will coach them to get it right before meeting with guests.

PM (Walnut Hill): The sommelier [position] is really more accessible for the more advanced students. They’re involved with selling and promoting wine and serving wine and things like that. They also help train the younger students, the newer students, on basic wine skills. Certainly wine opening is probably the most important thing that they need to learn, otherwise they’re not very comfortable in the restaurant.

We do have the students [help] create the wine list. We give them a wine, they do research and they write a blurb about it, so that they [can] explain it. And we put all this on our iPads. If a guest hits one of the iPad links, it goes to the student’s description. If they hit another link, it goes to the winemaker’s webpage.

Courtesy of Michigan State University

At MSU’s the State Room, students start as “entry-level” staff, but the best can become floor managers.


WS: What is the guest reception to having students work in the restaurant?

SC (Penn State): The guests are so excited. So much of our clientele are either local and are university professors or work at the university, so they’re excited to see the students applying directly an education that they’re giving them already. The alumni love coming back, for football weekends and all that, and they love talking to the students, because they had a great experience here and they’re like, “How’s it going for you?”

MB (MSU): Our guests are impressed with the professional training of our students … Guests are always patient with new students as they learn to work through the nerves of selling and opening their first $300 bottle of wine.

PM (Walnut Hill): We are lucky—the guests are very understanding. Some of them, if they see that a student is struggling, they even offer to help. I try not to—I want the students to go through the whole process—but it’s cute. They will point out mistakes and errors and things like that, but they’re very gentle, because they want to encourage the students.


WS: What’s the best part about having students on staff?

MB (MSU): I love working with students. They keep us energized and challenged. This is the best part of my job, because the students want to learn. They are full of fresh ideas and are constantly keeping us on our toes. They help us find new ways to tackle problems and keep us sharp.

PM (Walnut Hill): Many of our students graduate and become sommeliers within the city [of Philadelphia]. Bobby Domenick is the sommelier at Vetri Cucina, one of the better restaurants on the East Coast. It’s nice to see these guys progress outside of our coursework.

SC (Penn State): The best part is seeing some of these students that were supervisors walk out the door and get a really high position at a really reputable restaurant. The best part is helping young people take that classroom education and directly walk across the street and say, “Ah, it reads different in the book, but now I get it.”


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Bordeaux Vintners Excited About 2018 Wines, Uncertain About Futures Campaign (Wine Spectator)

Bordeaux could be excused for feeling smug in the wake of the annual barrel tastings introducing the 2018 vintage, the world’s first chance to taste the wines before futures go on sale. Early reports compare the wines to recent excellent vintages.

Wine Spectator‘s lead taster for Bordeaux, James Molesworth, has spent two weeks in the region, meeting producers to discuss the vintage’s character and quality, and conducting blind tastings of more than 280 barrel samples. The wines show great promise.


Wine Spectator website members can check out James Molesworth’s preliminary scores and tasting notes for the top 2018 Bordeauxs; his reports on more than a dozen visits to top châteaus are free to all.


And despite global economic uncertainty, a gratifyingly large and diverse throng of professionals from around the world arrived for the barrel tastings, which stretch over three weeks. “We have broken the record for the number of people visiting us. We will have more than 2,000 people,” Hervé Berland, general manager of Château Montrose, told Wine Spectator. “It’s due to the fact that everybody has come: Americans are here, U.K. people are here, Chinese are here, Germans are here.”

Other leading estates reported the same high attendance. At the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) tastings, another barometer of interest, close to 6,000 visitors attended, a “rather high figure, in comparison to the previous years,” said Ronan Laborde, UGCB president and CEO of Château Clinet. That spike in attendance was led by international buyers. “The American wine merchants took a large part of that increase, so did the Europeans,” said Laborde. “The Chinese visitors were as many as the previous year.”

But there’s a big difference between tasting and buying. Négociants were wary about drawing a correlation between attendance and an appetite for futures. “It’s always difficult to translate the number of visitors—I’m cautious. A lot of people might be curious about the vintage but not buy the wines,” said Yann Schÿler, CEO of Maison Schröder & Schÿler, a leading négociant firm.

The success or failure of a futures campaign relies partially on its economic context, and while the global economy continues to grow, anxiety does too. Current trade spats and the looming shadow of Brexit are sure to have an impact on this campaign.

At Château Mouton-Rothschild, CEO Philippe Dhalluin told Wine Spectator, “Of course for the Bordeaux wine merchants, there is a lot of interest in the vintage, they don’t want to miss it. But they will probably only focus on the top, very secure brands, the 40 wines you need to have in your cellar. The international market is difficult to feel—there is a lot of interest from all countries, but there is a lot of economic incertitude.”

The U.K. has long been Bordeaux’s most loyal market. But Brexit has now been delayed until Oct. 31. No one is sure if the U.K. will leave the European Union on favorable terms, with relatively few trade barriers erected, or if there will be a hard Brexit or perhaps no Brexit. The uncertainty is impacting the buying power of the pound.

“The vintage is always priced on two factors linked to each other: the first is quality and the second is market conditions—demand will be affected by external factors we can’t control, like Brexit,” said Mathieu Chadronnier, managing director of négociant CVBG.


Check out Wine Spectator’s “How (and Why) to Buy Wine Futures” for more on the benefits and pitfalls of en primeur purchases.


Of course, négociants are hoping a reasonably strong U.S. dollar combined with the quality of the 2018 vintage will pique American interest. “American consumers have always been here for the great vintages. They never miss one,” said Schÿler, adding that Bordeaux relies on the American market. “The U.S. market has the greatest potential for the long term. It’s always growing.”

But U.S. merchants told Wine Spectator their customers show little interest in futures. With so many good vintages currently on the market, most Americans are happy to wait for the 2018s to arrive in stores before they buy.

China, on the other hand, is a capricious market, and there’s been a recent, worrisome decline in shipments. According to customs figures, China imported $1 billion in French wine last year, a 9 percent drop from 2017.

And when it comes to en primeur, Chinese buyers haven’t forgotten their losses in 2011, when overheated prices plunged. So absent speculation from Asia, this year’s pricing will need to take into account what the négociants and markets will support.

Keep in mind that while China and America are priority markets, négociants travel the globe, drumming up business. “We have markets buying en primeur now that weren’t players 10 or 15 years ago. There is a perception that the campaign is small but that doesn’t reflect the global market,” said Chadronnier.

Prices, Schÿler anticipated, would be in line with the 2015 and 2016. “That would be logical. The vintage is very appealing. There is quality across the board—Right Bank, Left Bank—it’s outstanding. We are speaking the same language as the 2015 and 2016, with slightly more concentration,” said Schÿler.

This week, Château Angélus released its wine at the same price as the 2015 vintage. “I respect their decision to come out early and at that price,” said Chadronnier. CVBG had sold the wine in 15 countries by early afternoon the same day, including in the U.S. and China but also in smaller countries like Slovakia and Denmark. “It was the right price for Angélus, but we can’t say, across the board, that prices should be in line with the 2015 or 2016. If they release en primeur, it needs to be a success or it affects their reputation.”

Clay McLachlan

Château Angélus released its futures early, hoping to make a splash.

Château owner Peter Kwok also released his wines early, but with a slight increase over the 2017, which Chadronnier said was in line with demand for Kwok’s Tour Saint Christophe and Bellefont-Belcier, wines he described as “rising stars in St-Emilion.” He also championed the petit château category. “For the category of wines that retail for €30 or less, always with reasonable pricing, offering terrific value, we need to trade fairly with them so they can invest in their estates for the future.”

Some think the lack of demand could be an opportunity for consumers. “The state of the economy and exchange rates also has an influence, which could mean that considering the very good vintage and the general economic uncertainty there could be some very good deals to be had,” said Allan Sichel, head of the trade group CIVB.


Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator’s free Breaking News Alerts.


Whether the wines sell now, or down the road, vintners are happy with the quality. At Lafite Rothschild, technical director Eric Kohler said, “I will say it’s much more classic than we imagined. Here in the Médoc, not perhaps on the Right Bank, we thought it could be a little bit too much, a Californian vintage. I think it’s more classic than 2009. It’s closer to a 2016.”

Chadronnier said he feared that “we talk too much about pricing, when what is crucial and essential is the wines. The conversation of pricing overtakes the conversation of quality. The 2018 is a compelling vintage. For some estates, it will be a new benchmark.”

Mexican Street Tacos

Mexican Street Tacos - Easy, quick, authentic carne asada street tacos you can now make right at home! Top with onion, cilantro + fresh lime juice! SO GOOD!

Easy, quick, authentic carne asada street tacos you can now make right at home! Top with onion, cilantro + fresh lime juice! SO GOOD!

Mexican Street Tacos - Easy, quick, authentic carne asada street tacos you can now make right at home! Top with onion, cilantro + fresh lime juice! SO GOOD!

You truly begin to miss things once they are gone. That’s not just a saying. It’s real life.

See, I lived a block away from a famous taco truck back in LA. And as much as I love street tacos, I only went there maybe four times a year.

And now that I’ve moved to Chicago, all I think about is the proximity of that taco truck back home in Los Angeles. If that taco truck were here in Chiberia, I would go four times a day!

But until I get back to LA, here is my rendition of my favorite street tacos that I miss so dearly.

It’s a quick recipe using a simple marinade for your skirt steak. It just needs 1 hour of marinating before you throw it onto a skillet. From there, you can top off your tacos with diced onion, cilantro and fresh lime juice.

It’s simple, it’s easy and it’s just perfect. That is, until you can get back to Los Angeles!

Mexican Street Tacos - Easy, quick, authentic carne asada street tacos you can now make right at home! Top with onion, cilantro + fresh lime juice! SO GOOD!

Mexican Street Tacos

Easy, quick, authentic carne asada street tacos you can now make right at home! Top with onion, cilantro + fresh lime juice! SO GOOD!

1 hour 15 minutes15 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 12 mini flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, lime juice, 1 tablespoon canola oil, garlic, chili powder, cumin and oregano.
  2. In a gallon size Ziploc bag or large bowl, combine soy sauce mixture and steak; marinate for at least 1 hour up to 4 hours, turning the bag occasionally.
  3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add steak and marinade, stirring often, until steak has browned and marinade has reduced, about 5-6 minutes, or until desired doneness.
  4. Serve steak in tortillas, topped with onion, cilantro and lime.

Did you Make This Recipe?

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