- Steven Kolpan
- Steven Kolpan is Professor and Chair of Wine Studies at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY. Steven is co-author of Exploring Wine, which has sold more than 125,000 copies, and was nominated as Best Wine and Spirits Book by the James Beard Foundation. Steven is also co-author of WineWise, a consumer-friendly guide to the wines of the world, which won both the 2009 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Beverage Book and the 2009 Georges Duboeuf Award for Best Wine Book of the Year. He is also the author of A Sense of Place, a history of Napa Valley's Niebaum-Coppola / Rubicon Winery (foreword by Francis Ford Coppola) that received the prestigious Versailles Award for Best American Wine Book in 2000. He is a contributing editor and the wine columnist for The Valley Table and Salon.com. In 2007, Steven Kolpan was named Wine Educator of the Year by the European Wine Council. He has been a member of Slow Food International for 20 years. Steven Kolpan lives just outside of Woodstock, New York.
Washington Post's Kim O'Donnel Interviews Steven Kolpan
1. Your picks for most oversipped/overhyped, time to move on:
I really do believe that overly-oaked/high alcohol Chardonnay has seen its day, and I believe the same thing about overly ripe/high alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines are drama queens, produced to create a “wow” factor at the expense of balance, and to satisfy the palate of wine critics. These wines are really not very food friendly. I’m beginning to see that the members of the American wine-drinking public is being to trust their own palates, and are looking for wines that are balanced, even subtle; a very good thing.
2. Timeless classics, at any price:
• Great cuvée de prestige Champagnes, such as Salon Blanc de Blancs, Pommery “Louise, ” Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Rosé, or Bollinger “RD.”
• Vega Sicilia “Unico Gran Reserva” from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain, produced only in the best vintage years, and not released for a minimum of ten years. For me, tasting the 1962 in 1985 was my wine epiphany; I had never tasted such a great wine.
• Rare grand cru red Burgundies from classic vintages, such as 1990, 1995, and 1999. Favorites include La Romanée, Richebourg, and La Tâche (all from the village of Vosne-Romanée).
• Truly Old Vine Zinfandel from great California vineyards, such as Monte Rosso “Gnarly Vines,” or Dry Creek Vineyard “80+ Year Old Vines,” both in Sonoma County; many Old Vine Zins from Amador County (Scott Harvey, Shenandoah Vineyards, Cloud 9, Sobon, Renwood, others); Ridge, Dover Canyon, and Piedra Creek produce extraordinary wines from near-90 year old vines of the Benito Dusi Vineyard in Paso Robles, and Napa Valley’s Benessere “BK Collins Old Vines” Zinfandel, from a vineyard planted in 1922 by Chinese vineyard workers. Classic wines for the price of an affordable luxury ($20 to $50, most of them in the low $30 range).
3. Most underestimated wines over the past few years:
Europe: the red wines of Greece, which can be spectacular. The red wines of Sicily, Sardinia, and Puglia in Italy; Rioja from Spain; red wines from Portugal’s Douro Valley (better known for Port); red wines from France’s central Loire Valley, made from Cabernet Franc.
USA/North America: The red wines of Mendocino County; Zinfandel from the Sierra Foothills; wines from Long Island; Riesling from the Finger Lakes; Syrah from Washington State; Pinot Gris from Oregon; Riesling from Canada.
Southern Hemisphere: Sauvignon Blanc from Chile; Torrontés from Argentina; Verdelho, Sémillon, and Sauvignon Blanc whites from Australia, as well as Grenache from Australia for reds; New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon; South African Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
4. Top three picks for great value, at any price:
1. Vintage and “Prestige” Cava from Spain; extraordinary bubbly for under $25 (most under $20). Some to try: “Reserva Heredad” from Seguras Viudas, Freixenet “Brut Nature,” “Reserva Raventós” from Cordoniu, Juve Y Camps Reserva de la Familia, Gramona III Lustros Gran Reserva, and Llopart “Leopardi.”
2. Conha y Toro “Marques de Casa Concha” line of wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay. These are extraordinary single-vineyard, estate-bottled wines for less than $20. The reds are ageworthy, but enticing at a young age, and the Chardonnay is balanced, with good acidity, and subtle hints of tropical fruits.
3. Dry and off-dry Rieslings from both Germany and Australia. These are incredibly food-friendly wines with real depth of flavor and fruit. The German wines tend to have a bit more minerality and earthiness with zesty fruit flavors emerging from the background, while the Australian wines emphasize citrus fruits, floral aromatics, spice, and lightness. From Germany look for the bargain-priced Qualitätsweins from Looosen, Burkln-Wolf, Prüm, Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt, Selbach-Oster, St.-Urbans-Hof, and Baron zu Knyphausen, among many others. German Rieslings from the Mosel tend to be lighter, while those from the Rhine regions tend to be richer. Bargains in Australian Rieslings are easy to find these days from producers such as Leasingham, McWilliams, Yalumba, Jacob’s Creek, Annie’s Lane, and Alice White, among many others.
5. What to drink on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year:
As autumn turns to winter, I like to sip a warming, welcoming true Vintage Port throughout the long night, perhaps served with a Stilton blue cheese. Some classic vintages to consider: 1985, 1977, 1970, 1963
6. What to drink with baked ham:
Because of the high salt content, the more fruit and the less tannin the better. My favorite: Gewürztraminer or Riesling from Alsace, France (these whites are red wines in drag), or a fruity red such as Valpolicella Classico or this time of year, Beaujolais Nouveau. And, of course, bubbles.
7. Roast turkey:
White: Dry/Semi-dry Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier from California or Virginia, Rueda from Spain, Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico from Marche, Italy.
Red: Cru Beaujolais (such as Brouilly or Fleurie), inexpensive (lighter) Pinot Noir or Zinfandel, crisp Rosé, such as Tavel from the Rhône Valley or Bardolino Chiaretto from Lugano, Italy.
8. Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve:
This is a traditional southern Italian feast, so think about Falanghina, Fiano di Avellino, or Greco di Tufo, all great whites from Campania. Speaking of “Greco,” an ideal match: Moschofilero from the Mantinia province of Peloponnese, Greece.
9. Hanukah latkes and jelly doughnuts:
While spinning the dreidel, enjoy kosher Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc from the Galilee or Shomron wine regions in Israel with the potato latkes. Producers include Barkan, Binyamina, Carmel, Dalton, Galil, Recanati, and Yishbi, among others). With jelly doughnuts, try an Asti (formerly Asti Spumante; spumante means “sparkling”) or better yet, a Moscato d’Asti from Piemonte, Italy. Bartenura and Rashi produce kosher versions.
10. New Year's Day Hoppin' John:
A great dish, a bit on the salty side, so choose a fruity white or red, without oak and with low tannins. My favorite with this southern New Year’s classic, Champagne or other good American méthode champenoise bubbly from Oregon (Argyle), Washington State (Domaine Ste. Michelle), New Mexico (Gruet), North Carolina (Biltmore Estate), or California (Iron Horse, Roederer Estate, Gloria Ferrer, and Schramsberg come to mind.)
11. If I handed you a $20 bill to buy two wines to take to a holiday party, what would you pick?
The holidays call for bubbles, in this case budget bubbles. So, I’d choose a bottle of Cristalino Rosé Cava from Cataluña, Spain (about $8), and for a still wine I’d go with a Montevina “Terra d’Oro” Zinfandel from Amador County, California (about $12).
12. Favorite New Year's sparklers:
Brut, “La Grande Dame,” Veuve Cicquot, Champagne, France 1995
Brut, Nicolas Feuillate, Champagne, France NV
Brut, Lucien Albrecht, Crémant d’Alsace, Franc NV or
Brut, Blanc de Noirs, Gruet, New Mexico NV
Bubbly on a Beer Budget:
Brut Prosecco, Bortolomiol, Veneto, Italy NV or
Brut, Paul Cheneau, Cava, Spain NV
13. How to buy wine for a party -- how much wine per person:
Half a bottle per person is the usual guideline (that’s 2 to 3 glasses over the span of the party). Then, buy a few more bottles so that you don’t run out, or in case a guest shows up with an unexpected reveler. If it is an extended dinner party with several wines, perhaps a bit more. If most people are driving, err on the side of serious caution.
14. Best and worst wine news:
Best: The United States is the #1 wine consumer in the world (not per capita, but total consumption), and wine is now the #1 alcoholic beverage in the United States. In an era of Change, this is an exciting – and civilizing – change.
Worst: Continuing consolidation by multinational owners of wineries, and a serious reduction in the number of wine distributors, both of which can lead to a “sameness” in the wines, and discourage small wine producers who may suffer for lack of a market. Also, the impact of global warming and climate change on wine is beginning to be felt around the world, and the prognosis is not good. The issue is serious, as wine grapes are the most climate-sensitive crops in the world, like canaries in coal mines.
15. What can we look forward to sipping - grapes, vintages, growing regions, trends:
Today, the wine consumer is queen or king. We are in the midst of a serious economic collapse, and while folks continue to drink wine, they are choosing their wines more carefully, looking for bargains. Fortunately, bargains abound if we know where to look (The last chapter of WineWise, “Got Cash?”: Our Bargain Choices” is a good place to start; more than 500 great wine bargains from all over the world). So, bargain-hunting is definitely a trend.
In that vein, I think we’ll see folks trying more wines from off the beaten path: wines from Greece (all regions) , Portugal (the Douro Valley and Dão), southern Italy and islands (Puglia, Sardinia, Sicily), Argentina (Malbec, Bonarda, and the white Torrontés), Canada (Riesling and other whites). Chile will continue to be strong in Cabernet Sauvignon, but also in Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. More upscale Chilean wines, but still at affordable prices, will be purchased. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will continue its rise, too. Australia has had four straight years of drought, so prices will rise, and its marketing juggernaut may be placed on pause. The inflated prices of mediocre to fair California wines will have to contract in order to compete on the world stage. I hope that people will finally discover France as a great place for wine bargains, with vin de pays and lesser-known AOC regions gaining traction in the US market. Italian wines overall will continue to dominate; the Italians have shown a real ability to read the American wine market.
I also think we will begin to appreciate our local wines – all 50 states produce wine now – which will only encourage local winemakers to do an even better job, and for all of us to decrease our carbon footprint.
And as always, I hope we Americans will be enjoying our wine with our daily meals and in moderation, to preserve wine’s place as a healthy beverage in a healthy society.