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Joe Donelan was a paper executive who believed in the power of reinvention. Like many successful people, he traveled in California and France and fell in love with wine---not wine by itself, but the culinary universe that accompanied it, along with the fellowship and bonhomie that wine culture inspired. That passion eventually caused him to actualize his belief in reinvention and pursue a career in the field.
In 2000 Donelan joined forces with Pax Mahle to create Pax Wine Cellars, a venture dedicated to making Syrah from cool-climate vineyards in Sonoma and Mendocino. The brand was successful, but we can infer that the venture was not a happy one. The Pax website refers to “a rift in partner relations” and “a lengthy legal battle” before the company was dissolved in 2008. The following year, Joe founded Donelan Family Wines with his two sons, Tripp and Cushing.
Compared to Pax, the Donelan website is full of cheerful optimism. We’re told that “Wine is a journey, not a destination” (a motto repeated on every wine label), and reminded that Joe took “the road less traveled.” It adds up to a distinctly Irish/Buddhist approach to the wine business. On a more concrete level, the Donelans are passionate believers in terroir. Joe feels that he is a steward of the land, and that vineyard selection ultimately trumps everything else. Irish Buddhism aside, it’s a very European philosophy that wine is made in the vineyard, and the job of the winemaker is not to screw up nature’s bounty.
Donelan Family wines is primarily dedicated to making Rhone-style blends, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the Burgundy model. The operation is based in Santa Rosa, but fruit is sourced from cool-climate vineyards throughout Sonoma County. The Donelans now own four vineyards of their own: Obsidian (Knights Valley), Richards Family (Sonoma Valley), Kobler (Green Valley/Russian River) and Walker Vine Hill (Russian River). A total of 15 wines are produced, and 80% of the output is sold through a mailing list, but there’s enough available for key restaurants and retail shops. Their business model deviates sharply from the standard California winery of 2017; in that equation, Cabernet and Chardonnay are the meat and potatoes, accompanied by a side dish of horseradish (Pinot Noir and/or Rhone blends) for the adventurous individual who might stumble upon the property at random. The Donelan wines are subtle, elegant and complex, yet very pleasurable to drink.
The 2013 Nancie Chardonnay ($52, 1620 cases produced) has a seductive nose with aromas of citrus and tart green apple, along with strong evidence of acidity. The wine is medium to full-bodied in the mouth, delivering all the acid promised on the nose; flavors of Meyer lemon and vanilla mix with an intriguing edge of spice, and hints of cinnamon keep poking up through the citrus. The texture is creamy, the mouth feel is opulent and distinctive, and the wine is exceedingly complex: just when you think you have it figured out, it offers up another facet of itself. The finish is exceptional: long, rich and resonant, with echoes of spice and vanilla.
Two Brothers Pinot Noir 2012 ($60, 1942 cases made), from the North Coast, is named for Tripp and Cushing Donelan---directors of sales and marketing, respectively. The nose offers a range of pleasant earth notes, with enticing aromas of dark berries mingling with whiffs of forest undergrowth. It’s light and pleasant on entry, but expands quickly in the mid palate to reveal flavors of black raspberry, rhubarb and red cherry. The texture is feather-light and the mouth feel is graceful---despite an alcohol level of 14.2%, there’s no suggestion of heat. The finish is just as elegant as the wine itself, filled with resonating flavors of red and black berries.
On the Rhone side, the 2012 Cuvée Moriah is a blend of 64% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre and 12% Syrah. The nose reveals rich aromas of black raspberry, leather, black pepper and bramble. In what seems to be the Donelan signature, the wine starts out as smooth and full-bodied but expands significantly in the mid palate with mineral-infused flavors of tart black fruits, amplified by good acidity. Balance is the key element here: fruit, tannin and acidity complement each other as the wine builds toward the finish, which is dramatic and persistent.
Yesterday, beverage giant Diageo announced they were buying the Casamigos tequila brand for $1 billion: $700 million up front, and the rest in performance incentives. Casamigos was founded four years ago by George Clooney and his friend Rande Gerber, husband of supermodel Cindy Crawford.Read more
A roundup of the most interesting food, wine and spirits stories on the web recently (because even Al Gore, who invented it, doesn't have time to read it all).
Katz’s Deli is on the move:
Several weeks ago we reported that Katz’s, the legendary deli on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was building a production facility in New Jersey and planning to ship worldwide (The Global Power of Pastrami). Now it seems they’ve opened in Dekalb Market Hall in Brooklyn, a culinary center showcasing 40 vendors “who reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the borough.”
Here’s one blogger’s account of a Katz’s pastrami sandwich in Brooklyn:
Can Japanese whisky be just as good as it's Scottish counterpart? The world of distilled spirits was thrown into an uproar when the 2015 edition of The Whisky Bible (Whitman Publishing, $19.95) named the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 the world’s best whisky. The annual roundup is edited by expert Jim Murray, who gave the Yamazaki 97.5 points out of a possible 100 and claimed it had a flavor of “near indescribable genius.”Read more
It’s not easy to bridge the gap between funk and fusion, but The Southern Steak and Oyster Bar in Nashville manages to do just that.Read more
The conventional wisdom is that Nashville is the new Charleston, but there are differences. In Nashville, the frenzied pace of high-rise construction is obliterating what’s left of the historic downtown. Like Charleston, though, restaurants exist on one end of a continuum: either rustic, down-home BBQ joints or temples of new-wave fusion.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the last in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, who has been eating his way through Asia
I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in the United States,
France, and several Asian countries. I
recently spent two weeks eating my way from one end of Vietnam to the other and
quickly realized that before I got here I had absolutely no clue what
Vietnamese food was all about.
By Ken Schechet
Eating his way through Asia, our correspondent has reached Vietnam. Here is his report on the street food vendors of Hanoi.
Like many foodies I have a Tony Bourdain addiction. I have followed him through three networks, actually ran into him filming in a butcher shop in Tuscany, and have seen every show he’s done from his favorite country, Vietnam. According to a recent New York Times Magazine story he seriously considered moving to Vietnam, specifically Hanoi, a few years ago. So Vietnam went to the top of my bucket list and I finally got there recently.Read more
Speyburn was founded by John and Edward Hopkins, two brothers from Speyside, in 1897. They located their distillery near the town of Rothes and close to a pure water source, the Granty Burn, which was a tributary of the River Spey. John Hopkins appointed Charles Doig, the celebrated distillery architect, to design the plant, and Speyburn still has the classic pagoda ventilator for which Doig is best known.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the second in a series of dispatches from our correspondent, Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.
Singapore is probably the most food obsessed place I’ve ever been. It is a constant topic of conversation. Cab drivers ask you where you’ve eaten. It’s a place where WTF stands for “Where’s the Food” (I didn’t make that up. It was on a billboard.) Being a major trading and banking center there are no end of fine restaurants, but what Singapore is famous for is street food.Read more
By Ken Schechet
This is the first in a series of dispatches from our correspondent Ken Schechet, who is eating his way through Asia.
If you’ve ever been to South Philadelphia and are a foodie, you have probably been to the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue where the two signature cheese steak joints, Pat’s and Gino’s, are directly across the street from each other and staring each other down constantly. Of course, you need to try them both. Rivalries like these are so delicious to me, on so many levels, that when I heard about two similar situations in Singapore I had to see them on a recent visit.