Max Family Cuvee Red (Napa Blend) – New Vintage Update

By Brian Mitchell – Corporate Beverage Director, Max Restaurant Group

Lat week I had the opportunity to visit the Napa Valley in Northern California, and one of the people/places I visited was the winemaker and facility that produce our Max Cuvee Red Blend.  The winemaker is Glenn Hugo, the lead winemaker for Girard Winery, which is a Napa focused winery that has been in existence for over 30 years.  Glenn has been the winemaker at Girard for the past six years and has been responsible for all but the very first vintage of Max Family Cuvee Red.  

This was the first year that I traveled to Napa to work on the Max Cuvee, and when I received the directions for the winery it was not a Napa address, which I was expecting, but instead a Sonoma based address.  Now, I kind of knew what I was going to be seeing, but it was interesting to actually see where the wine is produced – essentially it is in a  large warehouse facility that is home to about 20 different “wineries” and is in an industrial park in Sonoma.  If you are picturing an idyllic farm house winery situated among rows of vines somewhere off the Silverado Trail, you have the wrong image of what a winery might be.  This building is a long warehouse that is broken into “suites” (sections) where a lot of wine-making is taking place – Girard and Max Family Cuvee among them, as well as notable neighbors Patz & Hall.

Even though the wine-making is done in this less glamorous location, the Girard Winery does not down-play this.  In fact, they are proud of the fact that this location allows them to produce wine in both an economical and environmentally efficient manner.  By having a smaller more compact facility, with shared resources and minimal maintenance, the costs are lower than having to maintain a big fancy show-room winery.  Plus they have the ability to use necessary equipment and other resources to make great wine – things that may not always be available on a farm-style winery.  For instance, Glenn Hugo mentioned that the water they use at the facility is reclaimed, filtered through their equipment after use and is actually returned to the city of Sonoma cleaner than when it came in the winery.  It also should be noted that the “winery” part of the winery looks and functions just like any winery, warehouse or stand-alone.  They have all the equipment and space (even more perhaps) than at most of the wineries I have visited, including a lab, ferment and storage tanks, bottling line, and hundreds and hundreds of barrels for aging.  No difference, just not as pretty.

Glenn Hugo - Max Family Cuvee Winemaker

But what comes out of the winery is as good as any comparable facility and priced wines. Glenn spent the better part of the morning walking me through barrel samples of Chardonnay, Grenache (his own label), multiple lots of Zinfandel and other varietals, as well as the new 2011 lots of wine that will ultimately make up the blend for the next vintage of Max Family Cuvee Red.  If you follow the wine media at all you have probably heard that 2011 was a challenging year in Napa Valley.  The weather was not as warm as is typical, and the ability for many to get fully ripe and mature grapes that will shine with big fruit and tannins was not easy.  But this is where the strength and resources of a wine group like Girard comes into play.

Girard is one of the wineries owned and operated by Vintage Wine Estates, a winemaking group owned by industry veteran Pat Roney.  Because they have multiple labels and work with so many wineries this group has a lot of vineyard resources to draw from, and this gives them the ability to make very consistent wines year in and year out – even if the weather is less than perfect.  Max Family Cuvee Red is made from various lots sourced throughout Napa Valley, including vineyards in the Napa Valley proper, some mountain fruit as well as vineyards located in outer vineyard regions like Pope Valley (still part of Napa, though).  By sourcing from these locations, where the affect of temperature and other climate conditions is not always the same, the winemaker is able to really practice his craft and put his blending skills to the test.  When I spoke to Glenn about this he said 2011 was definitely going be a year for the winemaker’s “art”.  By which he meant that he was having to be very selective and careful about how and what he was blending, but that the end result should be very similar to what we have come to know and expect from Max Family Cuvee.

When I tasted through the lots I could see the impact of the vintage  but could also see how changing the varietal blends on a  percentage basis could impact the overall feel and taste of the wines.  I found the 2011 varietals to be colorful, flavorful and have the aromatics that I am looking for, some of them did have a bit less mid-palate resonance, which is a trademark of the Max Cuvee.  We discussed this and tasted some other lots of wine, specifically the Syrah and Cabernet components, which will be used to build more mouth-feel and texture.  The Merlot was delicious – full of cocoa and cherry.  The Malbec was deeply colored and brought added richness.  The Cabernet Franc was beautiful and aromatic. The Petite Verdot was tannic and intense, so will be used sparingly for backbone in the wine.  We will not have a final assembly to taste and sign off on until mid-June, and will go to bottle in July, but I expect that the 2011 Max Family Cuvee Red will be as smooth and rich as the past vintages, delivery every bit of complexity and length as we have come to expect.

I think it is important to understand that Max Family Cuvee Red is a “real” wine, not just a contract wine with a label slapped on it sold to anyone.  Since it was first conceived six years ago, there has been input from the Max team on how the wine should be styled and any changes that we feel need to be made to make it better.  By going out and tasting directly with the winemaker, helping to select the exact lots and the exact blend for this wine, I am taking my own experience as well as direct guest feedback to the winemaker and giving him this critical information on how to create each year’s blend.  This is something that not a lot of restaurants do.  We sell a lot of Max Family Cuvee, and I want to make sure it is the best wine for the money.  By working with Glenn and the rest of the team at Girard, I feel confident this is the case – hopefully you agree.

That was the morning.  That afternoon I went to meet the winemaker for our new wine, the Max Family Cuvee White Blend.  Check out the next post to get all the details on this wine, which is just about to arrive for us.

Cocktail Trivia – Derby Day & The Mint Julep

With Derby Day upon us, I thought I would take a moment to discuss the history of a category of drinks that are popular this time of year, namely the SMASH, of which a Julep is one variation.  Traditionally a smash would have been a drink with ample crushed ice, mint, a strong base such as whiskey, and some fruit for added sweetness.   The Mint Julep first appeared sometime around 1800 (or maybe earlier), and was a drink that was one of a number of variations on the smash theme.  In fact, these drinks may not have always included Bourbon, but any spirit such as brandy or rum.  Along the way the smash and the julep parted ways so that now the smash is relatively unknown and juleps are mainly known for the minted styles.  The little problem is that juleps are really only thought of around this time of year as they have been associated with the Kentucky Derby since 1938, when Churchill Down’s began selling it as a signature drink in a souvenir cup – it sold for $.75 a drink.  Today, the Kentucky Derby serves more than 80,000 juleps over the two-day event. At Max’s, by making the most of quality fresh ingredients, plus mint, which almost everyone can enjoy, we can offer a quick, delicious and refreshing warm weather drink option that can be enjoyed anytime of the year, not just the first Saturday in May.


This year, three Max locations will be featuring the Mint Julep as part of Derby Day specials.  Max Downtown (Hartford), Max’s Oyster Bar (West Hartford) and Max’s Tavern (Springfield) will each be hosting Derby Parties for those who love the races and want a touch of Southern refreshment while watching the races.

 

For the perfect Mint Julep you will need some fresh mint, crushed ice, a good bourbon (Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey are suggested), and some simple syrup.  A julep cup is classic for this drink as it holds the coldness from the ice very well and gets all frosty when you stir the drink.

2 oz. Bourbon of choice

1 oz. Simple Syrup

1 Fistful of Mint

Muddle the mint in the simple syrup in your julep cup or a regular low-ball glass, add bourbon, fill with crushed ice and stir till the outside of the cup/glass get frosty.  Garnish with a ‘spanked’ mint sprig.

The simple syrup can be made with plain sugar (2:1 water to sugar ratio), or can be made as a mint syrup (just simmer some fresh mint in the water for 15 minutes before straining and adding the sugar).

 

 

 

Southern Tier LIVE Pale Ale now at Trumbull Kitchen and Max Burger WH

Bottle conditioned ale is always a great choice as the inclusion of living yeast cells does any number of things to the beer over time – primarily adding complexity to the aromas and flavors.  This beer is called LIVE because those little yeasty guys are added to the bottle just before capping and they continue to make the beer so much more interesting as time goes by.  

This is a relatively new additional to the year-round selections from Southern Tier, a brewery that I have come to enjoy more and more as I taste through their products.  We have added this lovely Pale Ale to the lines at Max Burger West Hartford and Trumbull Kitchen this week, and will keep it rotating in from time to time at our other spots.  It just tastes great, is not heavy or full in style and is about as interesting as it gets.

Southern Tier Brewery operates out of Lakewood, NY, and has been making beers since 2002.  We rotate their beers through our lines on a regular basis.  You can check out their website at this link:  http://www.stbcbeer.com/

Cheers, Brian Mitchell

New Chablis By-The-Glass at Max Downtown

The Dauvissat family has been hand-crafting wonderfully precise and complex Chablis for many years.  This is a fabulous style from a great vintage.  We are very pleased to be able to offer this wine through the Spring, although supplies are fairly limited and we will run out by summer.

Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat
Chablis Saint Pierre, 2010
Sebastien Dauvissat works a two hectare parcel of vines at the village level. The vineyards are situated on the “back side” of the 1er Crus. The soil here is infused with a particularly high percentage of limestone which permits this cuvée to make a clear statement of its origins.

Jean Dauvissat, and his son Sebastian, are the most recent in an extended line of the Dauvissat family that has been in possession of this notable domaine since 1899. The cave is positioned under the family house which dates from the 17th century and where the road to the hamlet of Chichée begins. The first formal bottling of wines under the Dauvissat label occurred on a limited scale in 1963. Then, in 1978 and 1979, Jean Dauvissat increased production to 3,000 bottles per annum. The physical expansion of the domaine under his management, along with ever-increasing quality and accompanying renown, has resulted in the cessation of sales to negociants and the bottling of the entire annual production of approximately 50,000 bottles. An unfortunate accident resulted in the untimely death of Jean Dauvissat several years ago. Sebastien Dauvissat continues the work of this historic domaine in collaboration with Evelyne Dauvissat, Jean’s wife. The domaine encompasses slightly less than 10 hectares of vineyards. The Grand Cru vineyards are south-facing; the 1er Cru vineyards have a full southeast exposure; and the village property faces northwest. All are hillside sites with an “argilo-calcaire” soil composition heavily marked by small stones that provide for excellent drainage. Of course, the entire vineyard surface is underlain by the Kimmeridgian limestone that makes Chablis one of the most unique wine-producing areas in the world.

The domaine encompasses slightly less than 10 hectares of vineyards. The Grand Cru vineyards are south-facing; the 1er Cru vineyards have a full southeast exposure; and the village property faces northwest. All are hillside sites with an “argilo-calcaire” soil composition heavily marked by small stones that provide for excellent drainage. Of course, the entire vineyard surface is underlain by the Kimmeridgian limestone that makes Chablis one of the most unique wine-producing areas in the world. Harvest levels vary extensively according to age of vines and vintage conditions. Levels for the village wine may reach 60 hectoliters per hectare in particularly generous years whereas the 1er Cru vineyards usually yield approximately 45 to 50 hectoliters per hectare. However, the old vines section of Vaillons (composed in large part of vineyards in excess of 65 years of age) frequently yields less than 25 hectoliters per hectare. The other vineyards are planted to vines between 20 and 40 years of age. The cellars of the Dauvissat domaine are equipped with the most modern materials. Fermentation and elevage of the village and premier cru wines occurs for the most part in stainless steel. The old vines cuvee of Vaillons and the Les Preuses are partially barrel fermented and barrel aged with about 25% of the oak being new. The wines are traditionally bottled 18 to 20 months after harvest. On occasion, certain of the other 1er Crus may pass part of the elevage in barrel as well, particularly when harvest levels are low.

Max Downtown Adds Two Limited Production Whisk(e)y

This week at Max Downtown, two new Whisk(e)y were added to the library offering of specialty spirits.   I say Whisk(e)y with the (e) because one of these products comes from the USA – High West Distillery from Park City, Utah, and the other comes from Scotland – the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland.  The practice for spelling whiskey without an “e” is common in Scotland and some of the Commonwealth regions, so we must adhere to this.  It just helps to tell them apart a bit easier.

The first product from High West is the fourth whiskey we have from this unique and quite frankly compelling producer in Utah.   This product is the American Prairie Reserve Whiskey, which is a blend of two whiskies; the first of which is aged about six years and is composed of about 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley, while the other portion is from ten year old whiskey, which is composed of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley.  You will not see an age statement on the label of this whiskey, as it is illegal to do so when there are blended ages such as this, but you will find a truly balanced and deeply flavored whisky that hits the palate with rich flavors of sweet oak and grains, with a smoky and soft finish.  Really one of the finest that we have tasted from this distillery to date.  Available for a limited time. basically while supplies last, which is usually not very long as aged whiskies are becoming more and more of a challenge to acquire.

The second whisky that was acquired by Max Downtown this week is the Glenmorangie Ealanta.  This Scotch is a beautiful whisky that is part of a very limited production range called the Private Edition.   It isa 19 year aged whiskey that has spent its time in virginAmerican oak casks sourced primarily from Missouri.  The affect of this style with so much age is an ultra-smooth, richly flavored whisky with deep flavors of orange peel, brown sugar and roasted almonds.  The expression is almost unique in the world of Scotch, or whiskies in general.  Extremely limited production, this whisky will go quickly and be gone forever.

 

 

Follow-Up to 2 x Italian Winemaker Dinner at Max Amore

Last night at Max Amore Ristorante in Glastonbury, over 30 guests were treated to a fabulous dinner and the wines of two of Italy’s favorite winemakers.  Chef Ted Burnett was on his game with a menu that touched on both traditional Italian cuisine as well as influences with a modern twist (see the menu below).

Primo Franco, Mark Conley, Diego Cusumano @MaxAmore

Guests were also treated to wine coming from both the north of Italy as well as the far south.  Starting and finishing with the Prosecco from Primo Franco, a third generation winemaker from the heart of the Prosecco region and his family estate called Nino Franco Winery.  Delicious wines that, as Primo pointed out, “are a way of life and can be great anytime of the day or night as they are light and refreshing”.

In between guests were treated to the deliciously fruit driven wines of Diego Cusumano from Sicily.  From the youthful and value priced Nero d’Avola (a wine featured on the Max Amore wine list) to the fabulous blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah called Benuara, to the final wine, a 100% Nero d’Avola called Segana, which is sourced from the best vineyards at Cusumano Winery, these wines were as good as it gets.

Next up at Max Amore, Chef Burnett teams up with Max Restaurant Group Beverage Director Brian Mitchell to present a Max Wine & Food School Seminar, theme: Regional Italian Wines and Cheeses.  Feb 11th.  See the Max Restaurant Group website Calendar for full details.

Primo Franco
head of the famed Prosecco house in Venuto, Italy
NINO FRANCO &

Diego Cusumano
of the respected Sicilian winery
CUSUMANO WINERY

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 – 6:30pm
menu created by Executive Chef Ted Burnett

RECEPTION
Prosecco ~ Rustico Nino Franco

COURSE I
Scallop Crudo
Frescobaldi extra virgin olive oil | sea salt
Cusumano ~ Insolio Sicilia, 2010

COURSE II
Berkshire Black Sopressata
grana padano | rustic crostini
Cusumano ~ Nero D’Avola, 2011

COURSE III
Calamari alla Sicily
kalamata olives | capers | melted anchovies | basil |
San Marzano | toasted polenta cake
Cusumano Benuara ~ Nero D’Avola, Syrah, 2010

COURSE IV
Five Hour Roasted Duck
sweet fennel Italian sausage | duck fat with house made linguine | ricotta salata
Cusumano Sagana ~ Nero D’Avola, 2008

DOLCE
Cannoli
sicilian impastata ricotta | candied oranges
Prosecco ~ Nino Franco Valdobbiadene, 2009

Winery Direct Series with 2010 Fess Parker Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills

Max Restaurant Group is First in the Nation with New Wine from Fess Parker Winery

Winery Direct Series Brings Fess Parker Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, 2010, to market

Most people will remember Fess Parker for his acting roles as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in the 1950s and 60s.  He passed away in 2010, but did you know that he and now his family have owned a 715 acres winery and vineyard estate in Santa Barbara for the past 30 years?  That his wines have won countless awards? And that this region grows some of the best Pinot Noir in the country?

The Max Restaurant Group is very pleased to announce that we will be offering the newest wine from the Fess Parker Winery; the Fess Parker Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills, 2010.  In fact Max Group will be the very first location in the country to offer this wine for sale.  We have made special arrangements to list this wine directly from the winery before it becomes available for wider distribution later next year.

As part of this promotion, the $18 glass price will be available for $13 and the customary $66 bottle price will be reduced to $48.  Supplies at these prices are limited and will only last through February.

Stop into any Max location to try this fabulous wine from a great wine region.

 

A little about the Sta. Rita Hills AVA…

First created in 2001, the Sta. Rita Hills viticultural appellation is uniquely situated to receive maritime influences that create the ideal climate for growing exceptional wine-grapes. Inspired by the incredible potential offered within this wine region, a diverse group of talented growers and winemakers are producing some of California’s most exciting Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and other varietals. As with any new region, the winegrowers and winemakers have developed a camaraderie stemming from their love of this region and the excitement of the achievements made thus far.

Sta. Rita Hills is a relatively small appellation of approximately 100 square miles. Intersected by the Santa Ynez River, the cool climate appellation is located between the towns of Buellton and Lompoc in Santa Barbara County, California.

Cool weather, fog, wind and the soils limit vine vigor, crop yield and intensify the flavors of the wines. Distinct geology and geography combine to form an absolutely unique maritime corridor. Two east-west oriented valleys represent some of the most incredible dirt and unique climatic influence in the Pinot Noir world.

Other great growers and producers from this fabulous region include: Brewer-Clifton, Clos Pepe, Foley Estates, Foxen, Pali, Sea Smoke, Siduri, Sanford, and many others.