Mourvèdre “Lower East,” Gramercy Cellars, 2017, Columbia Valley

Texture: Dark and dense, with chewy tannins and pepper acidity.

Over the last decade, the state of Washington has been producing some of the most incredible wines in the world. At one point, there were just a handful of wineries. Now, there are over 1,000. The opportunities to produce great wines in Washington are limitless.

My friend and fellow master sommelier, Greg Harrington, quit his cushy NYC beverage director job a decade ago and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, a place smaller than a small town. Armed with the knowledge of buying thousands of wines a year, he took his incredible palate on an adventure to the Pacific Northwest to create Gramercy Cellars. His winemaking evolution has been extraordinary. Never one to follow the rules, this bullish wine made from the unique grape Mourvèdre showcases his vision for wines of Washington in the future.

What You’ll Taste: Dark cherries, fruit leather, peppercorn, cured meats, violets, and touches of green spices 

Food Pairing: Red wine-braised short ribs with herb roasted root veggies

Price: $28:00

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Chenin Blanc, “Ernesto Wickenden,” Foxen, 2018, Santa Maria Valley

Texture: Medium-plus bodied, sumptuous, with a ripping finish 

Did you know that Chenin Blanc was a more widely planted grape at one point than Chardonnay?

Did you know that Chenin Blanc was a more widely planted grape at one point than Chardonnay? It’s like classic Hollywood—gone but not forgotten. One of the last great Chenin Blancs of a classic era—more Lauren Bacall than Marilyn Monroe—Chenin Blanc is sleek, sophisticated, and unapologetic. This vineyard is a piece of California viticultural history. The folks at Foxen have preserved the integrity of this great grape variety, as well, as Turner Movie Classics has kept the great films of yesteryear alive and available for generations to come. Except this wine takes things from technicolor to digital.

What You’ll Taste: Meyer lemon, bartlett pear, dried yellow flowers, almond skin, and touches of salty minerals 

Food Pairing: Ginger-soy Asian steamed fish and jasmine rice

Price: $27.00

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Côtes-du-Rhône, “Reserve”, Cellier des Dauphins, 2018, France

Texture: Medium-plus bodied, round, juicy with spicy tannins.

Côtes-du-Rhône is the Gene Hackman of wines. They are every man of French wine, but they offer a performance that blows away everything around it when they enter the scene. Typically in Côtes-du-Rhône, Grenache takes the leading role of the blend, with a supporting cast of amazing grapes that brings complexity in every bottle. Don’t be fooled by glossier competitors. These wines bring authenticity and depth at an everyday value. 

What You’ll Taste: Spiced red and blackberry fruits, dried herbs, cracked pepper, lavender, and a touch of sweet vanilla.

Food Pairing: Five-spiced duck breast with sautéed mushrooms.

Price: $13.99

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Verdejo, Marqués de Cáceres, Rueda, 2019, Spain

Texture: Medium-bodied, easy-drinking and vibrant

For all you white wine drinkers stuck drinking the same old Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, this wine is a portal to a whole new world called Verdejo. You may have never heard of this grape variety, but it’s time to pick up a book in a new genre. This grape from Rueda (wine region) in Spain has all the aforementioned whites’ character traits with a little bit of a plot twist when it hits your palate. Verdejo’s offering is a little sassier with tropical fruits and a touch of naughty adventure. For $9.99, it’s cheaper than a page-turner paperback and twice as fun.

What You’ll Taste: Mandarin orange, grapefruit peel, white peaches, and touches of yellow flowers.

Food Pairing: Light cheeses, fresh garden green salad with a citrus vinaigrette, sushi, OR all of them!  

Price: $9.99

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Cabernet Sauvignon, Mirror Napa Valley, 2017, Oakville

Texture: Decadent, layered, and rich, with plush, silky tannins

The newest release from Mirror Napa Valley and former NFL and Notre Dame quarterback Rick Mirer are like a perfectly executed two-minute drive. Mirer’s All-Star collaboration with seasoned winemaker Kirk Venge makes this 2017 Cabernet tough to beat. This small production Cab is out of Oakville, the heart of Napa Valley. Every glass is bold, explosive, and complex—like a high-octane NFL offense. Well done, gentlemen!

What You’ll Taste: Dark and juicy blackcurrants, cassis, candied violets, sweet black licorice, and sandalwood. 

Food Pairing: Dry-aged pan-smashed burger with bacon, cheddar, and spiced aioli

Price: $95

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IN THE DRINK with ROBERT MARK KAMEN – SCREENWRITER of KARATE KID, TAKEN, and TRANSPORTER owner of KAMEN WINES

 

You’ve written some of Hollywood’s iconic franchises—The Karate Kid, Taken, Transporter. How did you get into wine?

When I was in grad school, I spent time in Afghanistan, and I wrote a novel about it. A cousin of mine is a film director. He showed me three screenplays. So I turned it into a screenplay, and Warner Brothers bought it for $135,000 in 1979. I came up to Sonoma to celebrate and drank a lot of wine. My friend took me to this magical place, wherefrom the top you could see the San Francisco Bay. I said, “I could stay here forever.” He said, “You can. It’s for sale.” And so I bought 300 raw acres of a place I’d never been to before.

I never had it in mind to make wine. Everyone told me the wine business sucked, and it does. It wasn’t until after the big fire here in 1996 that people kept telling me what a great vineyard I had. And then, Jean-Georges (Vongerichten) came to the vineyard and said, “You must make wine. I’ll sell it in the restaurant.” I made 500 cases, and he took 50. I said, “I thought you were going to sell it!” And Jean-Georges said, “Why did you make so much?”

Kamen Vineyard

The Vineyard is amazing!

It’s a lava block. You’ll never see anything like it. We took every stone bigger than your head and hand-carried it out of the vineyard. They are all piled up in this swale—80 tons of rock. We planted 2,000 vines to the acre. It’s all Cabernet, with a half-acre of Cabernet Franc, and it’s all planted in rock. There’s no dirt. We’ve planted 50 acres, which give us 4,000 cases, including 300 cases of white, 200 cases of Syrah, and a half-acre of Viognier. The rest is Cabernet.

There is a fun story about how your top wine, Kashmir, came to life.

Yes, my winemaker, Mark Herold, insisted that we make a cuvée from the best performing barrels. My vision was an estate where all the wine was blended into one great wine. Mark had sent me samples to taste to make the call. Fearing cellar palate and bias, I called you up and asked to taste the samples with me to make the final call. I pulled up to your restaurant on my road bike in full gear, and we went down to your cellar and tasted through. You said #3 is best, #1 the least, and #2 in the middle. You nailed it, and I was on the phone with Mark telling him to proceed, and Kashmir was born! 

Robert Kamen, Winemaker Mark Herold & Biodynamic Farming Guru Phil Coturri

Do you have a vision for the future of your wine?

I ripped up the irrigation system and installed misters because the climate is changing, and it’s getting hotter. You don’t want to have canopy collapse in the middle of the summer. When it gets above 95 degrees, the mister automatically comes on, the heat rises, things get hydrated, and it lowers the temperature two-to-three degrees, enough to keep the canopy from collapsing. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. This vineyard will be here long after I’m gone.

Practicing Tai Chi

You created The Karate Kid and now people love Cobra Kai. I was watching it, and I noticed a scene in there that is your origin story. Did you give that to the writers?

I did. My first karate instructor was Ed McGrath. He was a former marine drill instructor, a big rough and tough Irish guy who taught me how to fight. We were in Northport, Long Island, doing my blackbelt test. I did all the stuff, and he didn’t say anything.

Afterward, we go to a bar in a strip mall across from the dojo. There were all these construction workers there. I never went to these places. I was a little, scrawny Jewish kid. Ed was 6-foot-3, and he goes up to this 6’2” guy and starts flirting with his girlfriend, and the guy was like, “What the hell is wrong with you?” So Ed says, “Mr. Kamen, take care of this issue for me. So I clocked the guy. I hit him as hard as I could in the solar plexus. Two other guys jumped in, and my nose got broken. I came out of the bar with blood all over my blue and white striped shirt. McGrath, an alcoholic, takes me to his car and says, “Kneel!” We’re in a parking lot! I’m like, “OK, Sensei!” My nose is throbbing, my rib hurts. He hands me my blackbelt… in a strip mall in Long Island.

You don’t just write your own great movies; you’re also well known for being a script doctor. 

For the films Devil’s Own and Angel Has Fallen, I was a script doctor. I do it if it comes up. I turned The Karate Kid into a Broadway musical. If COVID didn’t hit, it would be on Broadway a year from this month, but we’ll have to push it back a year now. I try to do three scripts a year. The best thing now is I don’t have to go to L.A. anymore. I push a button and send the script to them. We’ll have a Zoom meeting; It’s fantastic. It’s the poor man’s version of Count Tolstoy.

Could you pair one of your wines with one of your iconic movies?

Yes! I would pair my Syrah (taken from Chave in Hermitage, some of the best Syrah vineyards in the Rhône) and Taken. They both have dark overtones; you have brooding dark fruits, chocolate, spices, tobacco, and in the end, the Viognier skins give a floral lift and a happy ending.

Thank you for the time, Robert! Your movies and legacy stand strong! 

“Put em’ in a body bag”! 

Find Kamen Wines here.

 

GODELLO, “ULTREIA”, BODEGAS RAUL PEREZ, 2018, SPAIN 

Texture: If you dig Chardonnay, you’ll dig this. Medium-plus weight, unctuous texture, and a long, precise finish.

Come to the white side of the Danger Zone. Raul Perez might not be a household name, but in the wine industry he’s a top gun and considered a pioneer and a maverick. He’s turned winemaking in Spain upside down. Unconventional and fearless, Perez has changed the sensibilities of winemakers around the world and how they approach their craft. He’s gone so far as to age wine in the ocean hundred of meters below sea level. Crazy, right? His muse for this wine is the grape Godello, and it hits all the targets: stylish, sexy, explosive in the palate. Every sip leaves you wanting the sequel.

What you’ll taste: A lemonade with every citrus you can imagine, peaches, crushed stones, yellow flowers, with a little familiar taste of oak vanilla

Food Pairing: Pan-roasted cod or flounder with fresh herbs and butter

Price: $28.99

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Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Cape Mentelle, 2017, Australia

Texture: Full, rich, dark, and decadent.

Every wine drinker knows Cabernet, and probably every wine drinker knows Shiraz, but have you had them together? Cape Mentelle has been making this unlikely blend for a few decades. This blend of the straight man Cabernet and the unpredictability of the Australian Shiraz makes this the Lethal Weapon of blends. It provides taste explosions, unexpected laughs, and some twists and turns along the way on your palate. 

What you’ll taste: Brooding blackberry, black cherry, eucalyptus, black licorice, leather, and smoked meats.

Food Pairing: Your favorite fast-food burger, but be careful, “because they fuck you at the drive-in!”

Price: $18.99

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White Blend, “Curator,” Badenhorst, 2019, South Africa

Texture: Medium-plus weight, fun, juicy, and energetic white blend.

If you haven’t ever tasted wines from South Africa, here is the lowest entry barrier that you will find, hands down. Badenhorst makes some of the best wines in all of South Africa, and this little white gem, for just about $10, blows it up. This blend of aromatic grapes—Chenin Blanc and Viognier—is framed by the more familiar Chardonnay. The combination is like a ballet dancer; it’s elegant, beautiful, and dynamic but anchored by muscular strength. If you’re a fan of quaffable yet slightly complex whites without any fuss, this is a great value.

What you’ll taste: Exotic citrus, white peaches, honeysuckle, ginger, and a touch of sunshine in your glass.

Food Pairing: The perfect picnic wine to enjoy with light cheeses or at home with your favorite sushi.

Price: $10.99

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Champagne Brut, “Cuvée St. Anne”, Chartogne-Taillet, NV, France 

Texture: Rich, bold, creamy, and persistent.

Most people know Veuve-Clicquot and bigger Champagne brands, but there’s a whole other world of smaller Champagne producers called Grower Champagne ( aka Farmer Fizz). What does this mean? It means that the producer grows and produces its own wines. Most Champagne’s that we know and love buy their grapes from a variety of farmers. In this case, these farmers grow their own grapes and create their own wine to bring incredible value to the glass! Tasting Grower Champagnes of this ilk are like the first time you saw a Tarantino film. This producer is your entree into the auteur world of indie Champagnes. It’s frenetic, mind-blowing, and you walk away wondering how they made that?

What you’ll taste: Baked apples, lemon curd, smokey mineral, oyster shell, and Pillsbury biscuits

Food Pairing: Dry-aged burger on brioche with truffle-oil French fries

Price: $48.99

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